Revisiting Harry Potter: Crying early and often

You guys. This book. How can everyone be so brave and good, and everything go so terribly wrong for them all the time? All through this readalong I’ve been excited to get to the final segment of Order of the Phoenix because, in my opinion, there is no finer set-piece throughout the entire series (and there are a lot of good set-pieces!) than the sequence in the Ministry. It is so fucking tense. Actually, this entire section of the book is fairly intense. Which is why this post is in a state of near-total incoherence and book quotes. Sorry. But, I don’t know what else could have been expected.

Like this? It is both scary and awesome.

Harry could see the tiny outline of Fang, attempting to defend Hagrid, leaping at the wizards surrounding him until a Stunning Spell caught him and he fell to the ground. Hagrid gave a howl of fury, lifted the culprit bodily from the ground, and threw him: The man flew what looked like ten feet and did not get up again.

RAWR. HAGRID. Really, as much as I hate the overarching Hagrid plotline in this book, it nevertheless shows everything that is good about Hagrid. How he is so loyal to his brother, even though it sucks for him, and how he is tough and scary in defense of the people he loves, and also at the end how good and kind and gentle and supportive he is with Harry over losing Sirius. Y’all, real talk, before the seventh book came out, I made a list of four people who absolutely must not die, and three of the four died, but the fourth was Hagrid, and if I’d had to choose only one of the people on my list to survive I’d have chosen Hagrid.

Exceptionally wonderfully, this section of the book brings up Harry’s “saving-people-thing”. Hermione, our emotional insight machine and frequent authorial voice, makes us all take a beat and address the fact that Harry, whom we love and admire for his heroism, is sometimes being heroic because he is very, very damaged.

“You…This isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do…sort of…I mean — don’t you think you’ve got a bit of a — a — saving-people-thing?” she said.

What’s fantastic about this is that the books have never made you think about this — Harry’s been the archetypal hero, struggling along trying to do the right thing whenever he can — but once Hermione says it, you immediately recognize it as true. He exactly has a saving-people-thing. He lost his parents, he doesn’t want to lose anyone else — the kid’s got a saving-people thing. Everything Hermione says is right, and in this book, for the first time, it’s not serving Harry well. His saving-people thing is, cruelly, the reason Sirius dies. WHY, J.K. Rowling? WHY?

Anyway, this reread may have the record for how early on I started crying. Ordinarily I start crying when Harry’s facing the Death Eaters and he’s all alone, and Neville comes running down the aisle, all beat up and screaming that he’s still there to fight with Harry. (No lie, just writing that made me start crying.) But this time I started crying way sooner, viz., when:

“We were all in the D.A. together,” said Neville quietly. “It was all supposed to be about fighting You-Know-Who, wasn’t it? And this is the first chance we’ve had to do something real — or was that all just a game or something?”

Dammit Neville.

And look, I know y’all are maybe going to be angry at Harry for taking everyone to the Ministry and putting them in danger, but he had to — I mean, he had to, forget having a saving-people-thing, which he does, he had to go. He couldn’t not go. And once he’s there, and everything’s awful, I think he does a really good job of handling his shit. He figures out the leverage he has, and then he figures out a plan for getting them past all the Death Eaters, and he just does a really really good job with a shit hand of cards. I don’t care what you say, I AM PROUD OF HIM.

Oh how many tears did I cry? Many tears, friends.

But some part of him realized, even as he fought to break free from Lupin, that Sirius had never kept him waiting before…Sirius had risked everything, always, to see Harry, to help him…If Sirius was not reappearing out of that archway when Harry was yelling for him as though his life depended on it, the only possible explanation was that he could not come back.

GODDAMMIT. I don’t care about Ron! I wish Mr. Weasley had died and Sirius had lived and I do not care what you say! Ron has like sixteen thousand family members, and Harry has only exactly one. He needs his one family member, dammit! I wish Mr. Weasley had died! I wish it to infinity! I don’t care! I don’t care! I don’t care!

In case you couldn’t tell, I am writing this post approximately two seconds after finishing the book, and I haven’t yet cycled all the way through the stages of grief over Sirius’s death. I cried all the way through Dumbledore telling Harry how it was his fault what happened (and like, yes, Snape had to pretend not to take Harry seriously, but don’t you feel like any other person, i.e., anyone with a scrap of mercy for Harry’s feelings, would have figured out a way to indicate to Harry that he was going to take care of it? The kid is fifteen years old and you’re talking about the death of his only family member), and I cried when Harry found the mirror and when he talked to Nearly Headless Nick and then I cried extra when he talked to Luna, and I cried when the members of the Order came and threatened the Dursleys for him. Oh Harry.

My favorite moment of the fifth movie: When Sirius has come to save Harry at the Ministry, and Harry’s saying he wants to stay and fight, and Sirius says, “You’ve done beautifully. Now let me take it from here.” Totally destroys me. I don’t love those movies, but each of them has moments that make them worthwhile — and weirdly, it’s usually moments they haven’t pulled from the books.

The moral of the fifth Harry Potter book is: Good intentions will lead you to misery and awfulness. Excuse me while I throw away a handful of snotty Kleenex and proceed onward to the sixth book, wherein good intentions frequently produce good outcomes.

Thanks as ever to Alice for hosting this readalong!

Revisiting Harry Potter: Defending Sirius, Part 2

I will acknowledge the following up front: Sirius is a little pissy in this book. At one point, he is pissy to Harry, and it hurts Harry’s feelings. My thesis is that you would be too so dial down the judgment.

I’m going to take this to a slightly personal place right now. Bear with me. 2012 was an awful awful year, and the quality of its awfulness to my family was lots and lots and lots of unrelenting Life Stress. The quality of its awfulness to me, since I live far away, was lots and lots and lots of seeing people I cared about feel crappy, knowing that I possess qualities and resources that could help them feel a little less crappy, and not being able to employ those qualities and resources in pursuit of that end. Because I live thousands of miles away. Of course it was worse for them. They were the ones with all the shit going on. But it was not fun for me either. It made me cranky and sad and guilty.

Are you judging me for those feelings? Probably not, right? You are probably thinking of a time that you were not in a position to help your loved ones when they needed help, and how crappy it made you feel.

So now let’s imagine that instead of being a lazy layabout who is perfectly happy to lie on the couch and read for days at a time, I am Miniature Roommate, who after about three hours of a hurricane goes mad with cabin fever and starts flinging herself wrathfully about the apartment issuing jeremiads against the storm. And imagine that instead of being trapped in a pleasant-if-small New York apartment for a few days, it is a house where I was loathed my entire childhood by my screaming hateful parents, a house that still features some of the same people who made my life miserable as a kid, and those people are every day providing a large helping of the exact same verbal abuse I managed to escape from twenty years ago; and also there is no prospect of my being permitted to leave it, ever. And instead of all my favorite people facing regular life stress (albeit a disproportionate amount of it at one time), they are all out fighting evil. And not just fighting evil but also trying to conceal from the government that they are fighting evil because if the government finds out about the evil-fighting it will most likely chuck them into Depression Prison on trumped-up charges.

Do you suppose that under these circumstances I would show to best advantage? Do you think that you would? Or do you think that you’d probably be crazy stressed and likely to snap at people and get into arguments about stupid things and make a stand on even stupider things because you just really, really needed to feel like you were doing something for once?

And I agree. Sirius is not perfect in this book. He is not his best self. He’s sort of grumpy with Harry at times, and he shouldn’t have gone to the rotten train station (although, dog hug!, awwww), and there are moments at which he talks to Harry a little bit too much like an adult. I agree with you about that. However, I do not agree with anyone who would argue that Mrs. Weasley and Dumbledore are right to keep Harry in the dark (nobody in this readalong is arguing that, so hooray), and I strenuously disagree with anyone who is cross about Sirius urging Harry to form the D.A. Forming the D.A. is a genius idea that saves lives and turns Neville into the insane badass we all love so much. Way to go Hermione! Way to employ some judicious rule-breaking in pursuit of an important goal.

Here’s why you’re mad, friends. Sirius asks Harry if he can come to Hogsmeade to visit him next time they have a Hogsmeade weekend, and Harry says no, and Sirius’s feelings are hurt.

“You’re less like your father than I thought,” he said finally, a definite coolness in his voice. “The risk would’ve been what made it turn for James.”

“Look–”

“Well, I’d better get going, I can hear Kreacher coming down the stairs,” said Sirius, but Harry was sure he was lying. “I’ll write to tell you a time I can make it back into the fire, then, shall I? If you can stand to risk it?”

And yes, this is mean. That was a mean thing to say. Not the kind of thing a parent should say to a kid. But let’s maintain a normal amount of perspective. He snaps at Harry ONE. TIME. Do you know how many times I snapped at Mumsy and Social Sister last year? Like infinity! And parents snap at their kids all the time! Even the best parents in the world (mine) said unfairly critical things to us sometimes that totally hurt our feelings, and they were not under quite the same pressures that Sirius is under. And there is also this:

“I want you to take this,” he said quietly, thrusting a badly wrapped package roughly the size of a paperback book into Harry’s hands.

“What is it?” Harry asked.

“A way of letting me know if Snape’s giving you a hard time. No, don’t open it in here!” said Sirius, with a wary look at Mrs. Weasley, who was trying to persuade the twins to wear hand-knitted mittens. “I doubt Molly would approve — but I want you to use it if you need me, okay?”

I can’t even with this. It is totally merciless to write off Sirius completely for flaws he has in this book, and I say that as someone who used to love Lupin the best of all the characters and stopped completely because of that thing in the seventh book OH YOU KNOW WHAT I’M TALKING ABOUT. Sirius hurts my heart with how much he wants to do for Harry and how little he actually can do. If they launched an It Gets Better campaign for good children of dark wizards, the videos would be like, “Nothing gets better. It gets so much much worse. You will be in a torturous hell for the bulk of your adult life; your efforts in the fight against evil will regularly go for naught; and (spoilers) your eventual death will be a trauma and a ruin to the kid you love more than anything.”

Appendix A: A conversation I had with Social Sister when I was writing this post.

Jenny: I am writing up my Second Defense of Sirius Black right now
Social Sister: Haha, for Mom?
Jenny: NO.
Jenny: …yes.
Jenny: but for the blog, I mean.
Social Sister: It’s okay. We all know.

Touche, Social Sister.

Appendix B: Sirius and Lupin give Harry a fancy set of books about defensive magic. Real talk: Lupin cannot afford presents. Sirius bought those books himself and put both their names on, right? This is not part of my defense of Sirius. It’s just what I think probably happened. It must suck to be Lupin and always accepting money from Sirius and James because he can’t get a job. Also, is Snape still making Lupin the potion to make him safe when he transforms? I hope so! That would be a nice thing for Snape to do.

Revisiting Harry Potter: I have nothing to say about Grawp

I’m not going to do a big post defending Harry because nobody on this readalong is saying Harry doesn’t deserve to get angry. Everyone who minds this book just says that reading about Harry yelling at everyone all the time is not fun. Which, fair enough. I do not mind it but I can see why a person would.

Isn’t it kind of heartbreaking, by the way, to see who Harry does and doesn’t lose his temper with in this book? He stomps all over Ron and Hermione because he doesn’t consider them an emotional flight risk. But he hardly says a single angry word to any of the adults in his life — not Mrs. Weasley, not Dumbledore until the very end, not Sirius, not Lupin, not Hagrid. That gives me sad feelings for Harry, y’all. Adult love and protection should not feel so fragile to him.

Anyway, sorry to have missed last week but here I am now to feel feelings and say things. This book. This one here. It grieves my heart to see everyone so unhappy, yet I do love the moral complexity that starts getting shaded in as soon as this pervasive evil and fear settles over the wizarding community. Nice people do not-nice things, like Seamus Finnigan not believing Harry, and Mrs. Weasley basically taunting Sirius for being falsely imprisoned for most of his life, and oh my God, Percy writing that letter to Ron. That’s the shittiest letter ever, and like Hermione I felt an upsurge of affection for Ron when he tore it all up. I just like this book a lot because good people do bad things without bad intentions, and later they will have to figure out how to fix their mistakes, and that is a thing I enjoy reading about.

So here’s a fun debate for us to have: Who is worse, Umbridge or Voldemort? Captain Hammer says Umbridge! I say, eh, they’re both pretty bad, but at least Voldemort doesn’t pretend like he’s doing you a favor by torturing you. Umbridge’s blood-quill writing lines punishment is maybe the creepiest thing to me in this entire series. It’s at least in my top five, up there with that thing that happens to the Muggle Studies professor in the seventh book. I think they’re just as bad as each other, and I hope Umbridge got put on trial for war crimes or whatever at some point. I don’t care if it’s in a kangaroo court! She deserves a kangaroo court!

(Grumble grumble grumble. I don’t really want Umbridge tried in a kangaroo court. I want her to have a fair trial. I believe in a proper justice system, dammit, even for people who are genuinely terrible. (I’m looking at you, Charles Taylor.))

If I weren’t going to love the fifth book for any other reason, I would love it for Dumbledore’s Army. That is my favorite Hermione idea in all of history (I mean, that one plus the jinxing thing). This?

“Don’t sit there grinning like you know better than I do, I was there, wasn’t I?” he said heatedly. “I know what went on, all right? And I didn’t get through any of that because I was brilliant at Defense Against the Dark Arts, I got through it all because — because help came at the right time, or because I guessed right — but I just blundered through it all…You think it’s just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you’re in class or something? The whole time you know there’s nothing between you and dying except your own — your own brain or guts or whatever — like you can think straight when you know you’re about a second from being murdered, or tortured, or watching your friends die — they’ve never taught us that in their classes, what it’s like to deal with things like that — and you two sit there acting like I’m a clever little boy to be standing here, alive, like Diggory was stupid, like he messed up–“

I love Harry for saying all this. He’s spent most of the book so far feeling only put upon, thinking so much about what he’s done and earned and deserved (which is true), and it’s great to have him acknowledge that yes, it’s accurate that he did all those things; but yes, it’s also accurate that a lot of his survival is owed to circumstance and not skill. I just love this scene — and Hermione, she’s the best and responds to this tirade perfectly — for letting those two things sit side by side.

Dumbledore’s Army is a great idea because it’s a great idea, and it’s a great idea because it grows Harry up a lot in a hurry. The founding of the D.A. doesn’t mark the end of Harry being shouty in this book, but it does force him to realize that helping other people and building them up makes him feel better than screaming at them. And also, just, it’s nice seeing Harry be a leader a little bit. That’s not really his thing, but he does an awesome job. HARRY. I like for him to live that thing Dumbledore said about the wizarding world being only as strong as they are united. True facts, Dumbledore.

Next week: I defend Sirius with some personal anecdotes from my own life.

Booking Through Thursday

I like this one:

This can be a quick one. Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.

So here are my fifteen books that will always stick with me, more or less in the order in which they entered my life:

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Jane Eyre
, Charlotte Bronte
Emily Climbs, L.M .Montgomery
Ender’s Game, Orson Scott Card
Macbeth
, William Shakespeare
The Chosen
, Chaim Potok
The Color Purple
, Alice Walker
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
, J.K. Rowling
Greensleeves
, Eloise Jarvis McGraw
American Gods, Neil Gaiman
The Invention of Love, Tom Stoppard
I Capture the Castle
, Dodie Smith
Showings
, Julian of Norwich
The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
The Ground Beneath Her Feet, Salman Rushdie

These are all books that left me breathless.  Is that what we were after?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling

I saw this graph one time on something connected with the Lemony Snicket books, and it showed how as time went on, the number of fortunate events decreased. And that is what I always think of when I read the fifth Harry Potter book. It contains so many depressing things – dementors, Umbridge, writing lines in blood, everyone thinking Harry is crazy, an acknowledgement of Harry’s psychological issues, Cho Chang – and the end makes me feel so very, very sad, for Harry and for Dumbledore. I stayed up until midnight for this book when it came out, at the Bongs & Noodles near my place, which was fun because of the big party they were having. I kept running into people from my high school who tried to pretend they weren’t there for the Harry Potter book but I KNEW BETTER. And the cover was so cool and mysterious! And then once we got our books, me and my big sister and our friend Jane went back to Jane’s house to read it, and they both got cross at me if I made a single noise when I was reading. And Jane’s dogs got really tired because we never turned the lights off, and they kept falling over when they tried to walk. It was good times.

I mean, sort of. If you ignore how sad this book is. In this one, Voldemort’s back, and nobody believes it. Harry and Dumbledore are totally discredited in the wizarding world, and everyone is constantly telling lies, repressing stories about dreadful things happening, and punishing Harry when he tries to tell the truth about Voldemort. There is a new awful Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher called Dolores Awful Umbridge, who spends her time turning Hogwarts into a Fascist state. Snape continues being horrible to Harry, and we sort of find out why. Harry’s psychic connection with Voldemort deepens (ugh), and Hagrid makes Harry’s life harder (again) (but I still love him). A few cheerful things happen, but they are few and far between, and they are quickly cancelled out by all the awful things that follow in their wake.

The adverbs in this book hurt me. I tried not to notice them but it was difficult when they were clawing free of the page and burrowing into my eyeballs. My recollection is that the sixth book isn’t as bad about this, but we’ll see. I feel like the adverbs in this book are worse than they’ve been.

My mother doesn’t like it when Harry yells at everybody all through this book. I kind of do. I mean, not the all-caps business, which just shouldn’t be allowed, but I feel that at this point, he’s entitled to a little anger. You know, the kid loses his parents, gets raised by assholes in total ignorance of his heritage, and when he does go off to wizard school and escape from the jerks that didn’t parent him properly, the adults in his life continue to not parent him, not even managing to protect him from Dark wizards trying to kill him (I feel guilty even writing this because I was so sniffly when I was reading the bit about how guilty Dumbledore feels about Harry at the end of this book), and then, when the person who killed his parents returns to start killing more people, everyone he knows quits talking to him for half the summer. Oh, and the wizarding world staunchly denies that his very traumatic experience of watching Voldemort return ever happened. So hey. I’d be mad too.

(Apparently growing up with these books has made me very protective of Harry.)

Now I will have spoilers.

On rereading, I find myself much fonder of Luna Lovegood, who grew on me in the sixth book after I originally completely loathed her (how did I ever loathe her? I’m so weird). I find Umbridge and Snape’s nastiness with Harry actually more upsetting now than I did originally, because I know that Umbridge is never getting her comeuppance, and because I feel like Snape could really have made more of an effort to be nice to Lily’s kid, especially when the kid in question is going through a very hard time with hostility on all sides. That jerk of a Snape. Lily’s looking down from heaven and saying You asshole. I found it incredibly woeful when Lupin told Mrs. Weasley that of course Ron and Ginny would be taken care of if something happened to the Weasley parents. In light of what I know is going to happen to Lupin, that is rather depressing.

On the positive side, I love their top-secret underground Defense Against the Dark Arts Group. I love it when Fred and George take off for good, and everyone in the school works to sabotage Umbridge and her reign of terror (that writing lines in your own blood thing is damn creepy, I must say). I am pleased each time I read the scene where Dumbledore fights off all the Aurors and goes on the run. As much as it pains me, I am interested in the scene from Snape’s memory with James and Sirius – because, I hate him, but it’s about time we found out some extenuating circumstances about Snape. And I am glad about how Hermione confronts Harry about his “saving-people thing”. She’s so clever and perceptive, and if Harry had just damn well listened to her, Sirius wouldn’t have died. So it was nice to have that out there.

I have not yet reconciled myself to the fact that Sirius dies. I cry every time I read that scene. My own father’s so lovely! Imagine having no father and then when you finally acquire a father figure who, okay, has some issues to work out, but nevertheless is devoted to you, HE DIES. It’s so unfair. Poor Sirius. Poor Harry. Actually, the sequence in the Department of Mysteries is a tense and upsetting sequence. Everyone is so brave, and particularly darling Neville is so brave! Oh, when he says that Harry’s not alone, he’s got Neville, and when, oh, Neville, when he tells him not to give them the prophecy, and…

Suffice it to say that – this always happens – I started crying when Neville starts being so brave and wonderful, and I carried right on crying through Sirius’s death, Dumbledore’s fight with Voldemort, and especially all through the part where Dumbledore is explaining everything to Harry. Just don’t even talk about how many tissues had piled up next to me by the time he told him why he didn’t make him a prefect. Oh, right, and at the exact second when I managed to begin drying my eyes, I got to the bit where Harry finds the mirror, and then just when I was feeling proud that I didn’t cry when Harry talks to Nearly Headless Nick, I got to the part where he talks to Luna, and that destroyed me all over again.

…I have a lot of feelings.  The more of these books I read the more emotional I get.  I’m going to have a thing or two to say about Rufus Scrimgeour after I read the sixth book.