Thursday, 05 February 2009
Dan deals with That Woman again
A quick mea culpa, added 20.09.09:
A random anonymous troll picked me up yesterday on the title of this article - okay they actually picked me up on "whining" so I suspect they were just an outraged fanboy, but they were actually quite right that reaching for gender-specific insults as a first recourse in an argument with a woman, even one you're not actually talking to, is not okay.
I'm leaving the title as it is, because I don't think you should try to cover these things up, but I do actually regret the choice. It's a rather nasty silencing tactic, and it shouldn't have been my first instinct.
While Kyra was writing her review of the insestimably worthy On The Jellicoe Road, a genuinely moving book about love and pain and hope, I was reading The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a genuinely infuriating book about what a great writer JK Rowling is.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a mercifully short collection of “stories” the sole function of which is to provide JK Rowling with a vehicle to have Albus Dumbledore suck her children's book cock.
Want to hear more? Here's a quick summary of the stories:
The Wizard and the Hopping Pot
Summary: Good Wizard helps Muggles with magic. When he dies, his bad son decides not to help the Muggles, the good Wizard's magic pot starts jumping up and down and annoying the crap out of him, so he eventually gives in and helps the Muggles.
Cheap point scoring: Notice that while the hero of this story is the Good Wizard who helps Muggles with magic, and that the villain is his selfish son who refuses to help Muggles with magic, that in fact the Wizards in the world of Harry Potter never so much as think about using their magic to help anybody with anything (often including themselves – see “but why didn't they cast ...” moments passim ad nauseam).
Favourite Lines: “'Begone,' cried the son. 'What care I for your brat's warts!'”
Dumbledore Apologia: Rowling uses the first set of Dumbledore's notes to introduce us to two straw men who will remain with us throughout the book. The first is Brutus Malfoy who (along with many other “Muggle Haters” tried to suppress the story of the Wizard and the Hopping Pot because it was “Pro Muggle”. Because these books are about tolerance get it? The second figure that Rowling invents to make herself look good is Beatrix Bloxom who “believed that The Tales of Beedle the Bard were damaging to children because of ... their unhealthy preoccupation with ... death, bloodshed, wicked magic ... and eruptions of the most disgusting kind”.
Do you see? Because JK Rowling writes really dark, books where dark things happen in dark ways, and some people just can't take that.
The Fountain of Fair Fortune
Summary: Three witches and a Muggle knight travel to the Fountain of Fair Fortune, which can reverse all your misfortunes. One of the witches is terminally ill, the other is extremely poor, the last is heartbroken. The Knight is just a Great Big Loser. They face perilous quests, get to the top of the hill, and discover that It Was The Journey That Was Important. It turns out that The Fountain Isn't Magic After All. The knight marries the heartbroken witch.
Cheap Points Scoring: What the fuck? One of those chicks was suffering from an incurable fucking illness. You don't just make that sort of thing go away with positive thinking.
Favourite Lines: “The sky was rent with the first ray of the sun.” “The crowd surged forwards, each of them shrieking their claim for the Fountain's benison.”
Dumbledore Apologia: The Muggle-Haters tried to have it banned again! (Lucius Malfoy this time, because a witch marries a Muggle at the end). But Dumbledore was like, no way man, because people should totally be allowed to marry Muggles if they want to. I'm so glad that JK Rowling is presenting these thoughtful, incisive comments on the nature of racism to the British youth.
The Warlock's Hairy Heart
Summary: Actually this one's alright, because it's essentially ripped off from other, better fairytales and doesn't have anything to do with the Harry Potter mythos. Warlock cuts out his heart, tries to marry a hot chick for prestige, she asks him to put his heart back in, he does but it's gone TOTALLY EVIL and he kills her, then himself.
Cheap Point Scoring: Not from the text of the story, but Rowling takes pains to note in her introduction that the maiden in this story is the one exception to the rule that “Beedle's witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines”. Becaues JKR is a FEMINIST. You can tell by the huge numbers of well realised, empowered female characters who get things done on their own behalf in the Potter books.
Favourite Lines: “Though many a maiden was intrigued by his haughty mein, and employed her most subtle arts to please him, none succeeded in touching his heart. The warlock gloried in his indifference and the sagacity that had produced it.”
Dumbledore Apologia: Dumbledore first of all tells us that the whole “removing your heart” thing isn't possible in the Harry Potter world. We had already worked this out because it was kinda cool, and Harry Potter magic sucks donkey balls. Then of course he goes on to tell us that this story is all about love love love love love love love. Because I don't know if you caught it, but the power of love was what the Harry Potter series was all about. That and tolerance. And death. Gosh they were a profoundly complex series of books.
I should also add that Dumbledore's explanation of this story is particularly heavy handed: “And sure enough in seeking to become superhuman this foolhardy young man renders himself inhuman. The heart he has locked away slowly shrivels and grows hair, symbolising his own descent into beasthood. He is finally reduced to a violent animal who takes what he wants by force, and he dies in a futile attempt to regain what is now forever beyond his reach – a human heart.”
Okay I know I was keeping these summaries short but what the fuck. I mean, I know JKR was always keen to have people interpret her work correctly, but even I never thought she'd be this blatant. I mean she is literally, literally having Albus Dumbledore tell you how to interpret the story. Literally. Fuck.
Babbitty Rabbity and her Cackling Stump
Summary: Stupid king wants to learn magic. Hires a conman to teach him. Conman gets Babbitty Rabbity to do magic so that the King thinks it's him doing it. This all goes wrong when the King tries to use magic to bring back a dead dog, because death is srs bzns in Harry Potter, oh yes. So Babbitty Rabbity runs away, and then threatens the King with a curse which makes everything better. Oh by the way, witches are being persecuted in this story because it is teh burnining tiemz!
Cheap point scoring: Babbitty Rabbity and her Cackling Stump is mentioned in Deathly Hallows. Were I feeling cheap, I'd suggest that Rowling wrote this completely fucking nonsensical story because having stuck herself with the title, she couldn't think of a remotely sensible way to make it work. I mean really “Babbitty Rabbity”.
Favourite Lines: “Seeking a vent for his fear and anger, the charlatan approached the window of Babbitty the washerwoman.”
Dumbledore Apologia: Dumbledore, of course, insists that this pile of nonsense involving stupid kings, fraudulent magicians and the like is all about the tragic and irreversible nature of death. This set of Dumbledore Apologia is particularly hilarious because it's basically a venue for JK Rowling to say “death is totally irreversible in my books, even though you can talk to dead people, and they can come back as ghosts, and portraits of them possess all the features which they had in real life, and are capable of experiencing all the feelings and emotions that person would in real life, death is still totally overpoweringly important in this world”.
I'm going to digress again, but the more JK tries to explain the whole death thing, the more stupid it sounds. No magic can bring somebody back from the dead. Okay, the mirror of Erised can show you your dead parents, but that's not bringing them back. Okay, your dead parents can appear out of a wand, and talk to you and give you messages from the other side, but that's still not bringing them back. And okay the dead literally watch over you in this world. And okay, magical artefacts exist which allow you to literally see the dead people who are literally watching over you. And okay, there are ghosts. And okay, if a portrait is made of a dead person you can talk to that person exactly as if they were still alive, and they'll have all the thoughts, feelings, and memories of the dead person, and you can talk to them every day, and they can express pride in your triumphs and console you in your failures, and they can make independent decisions, but that doesn't mean you can bring people back from the dead, oh no. Death is final in this world. So final that once you're dead you certainly can't show up and have long conversations with people in imaginary train stations. Oh wait.
Basically the prohibition against bringing back the dead in the Potterverse is like that business with the British Sausage in that episode of Yes Minister. You can have your dead relatives about talking to you and walking around all you like as long as you don't say they're back from the dead, it's okay. The moment the “B from the D” label gets put on somebody, they become a hideous twisted abomination created by a man's foolish desire to cheat nature.
The Tale of the Three Brothers
Summary: See here.
Cheap point scoring: See here.
Favourite Lines: “It was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son.”
Dumbledore Apologia: See here and here.
In short, The Tales of Beedle the Bard sucks whatever unfortunate item or items you might care to present to it. It's written in this faux-Brothers Grimm style which sounds like a nine year old's first attempt at creative writing. Of its hundred and eight pages only fifty-six are taken up with the actual stories (including illustrations) the rest being Rowling's self-serving introduction and “Dumbledore's notes”.
Like everything JK Rowling wrote after Prisoner of Azkaban, The Tales of Beedle the Bard fails on pretty much every level. It's not a book of children's stories. Fairytales and folklore can't be deliberately created, not even by the world's best-selling novelist. No child is actually going to grow up listening to the story of the Fountain of Fair Fortune.
Ultimately, TToBtB is not about the tales themselves, it's about Dumbledore's notes. It's about providing with yet another way to tell her readership, directly, what they are supposed to think about love, death, the relationship between Wizards and Muggles, and of course about Albus Dumbledore and the Harry Potter books.
I rather suspect that her next published work will simply be a single note saying “having read this, you feel that you better understand the nature of love, sacrifice, and mortality.”