1. Why Harry Potter is like Titanic, and why both of them annoy me, inspired by a conversation with Darkthirty.
2. Why Snape isn't weak, inspired by reading Mike-Smith, who thinks he is.
3. Finally, my problem with superheroes. Inspired by the conversation above.
I am, of course, starting with the first. Here is a quote from "The Independent". It's by Andrew Gumbel, and dated January, 2002.
The producers of Titanic besmirched the reputation of a Scottish officer called William Murdoch by depicting him shooting at the passengers in panic – an act committed by someone else entirely. After Murdoch's family pointed out that their ancestor was in fact a hero who gave away his own lifejacket, the producers gave $5,000 (£3,500) which went to a fund in Murdoch's name.
To which I said, good for Murdoch's family for complaining! That scene, among other things, annoyed me mightily when I saw Titanic. But it was not just an (eventually corrected) slander on a brave man. It was a part of a larger problem with the movie. Unlike the classic 1958 version, the new Hollywood film emphasizes the cowardice of the crew. We scarcely ever see a crewman simply doing his job, much less acting noble about it. Yet, according to the historic record, most of the men on board did exactly that, and that is why most of them died.
This brings me to my much, much larger problem with the movie. It is dealing with a real-life tragedy in which hundreds of innocent human beings died, and it attempts to make that tragedy more "interesting" by tacking on a contrived love story between a couple of fictional passengers. Then it ramps up the so-called interest by including cliched scenes - the young couple making love in the back seat of a car, the arrogant upper-class fiance pursuing the virtuous working-class youth with a pistol, and then cheating his way onto a lifeboat - that are apparently supposed to add drama to the story. This is offensive in the extreme. Again, we are dealing with a real-life tragedy in which more than 1,500 people died! Any movie about the Titanic should focus on that - not on a fictional love affair, or a necklace lost to the depths, or a painting of questionable value (and, when that so-called work of art was pulled intact from a safe that had been underwater for a couple of generations, any slack I'd been cutting the movie was gone for good.) I thought this film dishonored the dead.
How does this relate to Harry Potter? Quite simply, Rowling makes similar, and deliberate, use of the Nazi Holocaust. One can quibble about numbers, but there is simply no denying that anywhere up to 10 million human beings died in the Nazi camps and ghettos. (Jews, Poles, Russians, Gypsies, dissidents of all kinds - and the handicapped. They are too often forgotten.) And - Rowling uses the Nazi classification of half-bloods, and has it used by her good guys. She has the bad guys talking about blood purity, and giving something uncomfortably like the Nazi salute. She makes her chief villain a half-blood. There is simply no doubt that all of this is deliberate - but, as far as I can see, she doesn't deal with these very serious issues seriously. Instead, like the producers of Titanic she tacks on a non-story about a hero who never grows up. She throws in a lot of cliches from school stories, and, worst of all, by implication and in interviews, she says her bad guys are right! Magic really is genetic; all Muggleborns really do have a Wizarding ancestor somewhere; and Muggles who steal wands can produce bursts of uncontrolled (and therefore dangerous) magic.
Now, it's bad enough that she proves her villains right in her interviews, and that her hero ends up so unlikable. Far worse is that she is making use of a real tragedy to tell her story, and is not dealing seriously with that tragedy. It's highly offensive. What makes it even worse is the number of readers who simply accept her story as it stands and think that all is really well in the Wizarding World at the end of this saga. Nothing is well in the Wizarding World. Nothing at all. I would feel happier with these books if I could be certain Rowling meant that, but I would still dislike her borrowing Nazi imagery for her villains. It's tacky at best, and offensive at worst.
2. Now, the second question. Mike Smith insists that Severus Snape is weak because he did everything for Lily, who did not love him after his insult to her. He's not alone in thinking so; even some Snape fans are saying that DH Severus is a weaker character than they had imagined. Mr. Smith also said he agrees with Rowling, and that Severus is a worse person than Voldemort for betraying his beloved - because he was loved, and Voldemort never was. Let's look at these questions.
The betrayal, first. There are several things wrong with the story Rowling finally gave us. For one thing, we never really understand what Dark Arts are, why young Severus was attracted to them (if he was; that's not so clear, either), and why he joined the Death Eaters in the first place. But, even given all these open questions, it's quite clear that Severus did not know he was betraying Lily when he reported the prophecy. Heck, it's even doubtful that the prophecy refers to a baby. I was among the readers who thought it could mean Severus himself. A second problem, though, is even harder to understand. Given that Sev was a Death Eater at the time, it makes some sense that he might report the prophecy. But - why didn't Dumbledore stop him? He was a kid, no more than 20 or 21, and, Aberforth had him by the collar. Dumbledore was a mature, powerful wizard. He has had no problems confunding and obliviating others in the story - then why not do likewise to Severus? But Aberforth and Albus let the boy go to do whatever he wanted - and then Albus Dumbledore, at least, blamed him for acting in a way that was easy to anticipate. This makes no sense.
So the story of the prophecy, in the end, just doesn't hang together. Maybe, though, Mike is talking about an earlier betrayal? Maybe he means that Sev betrayed Lily when he became a Death Eater.
This is possible, but it again requires several assumptions. First, you need to assume that Severus knew Voldemort's true agenda, and also approved of it. This is doubtful. After all, as I mentioned above, anti-Muggle racism is rife on the "good side" in the Wizarding World. And we don't know how Voldemort presented his agenda to his impressionable young followers. We do know that he snagged most of them very young.
Second, you need to assume that Sev really was a Dark Arts geek and really believed in Voldemort's agenda (however it was presented). This is also doubtful. I simply do not see a power-hungry or sadistic person in the rather gentle, lost soul Rowling presents to us, particularly in the last book. It seems likely that he joined for companionship, belonging, or even protection.
This brings me to my third point. If Severus betrayed Lily by joining the Death Eaters, she also betrayed him, much earlier. She sided with his tormentors. And we know from DH that they began tormenting him without cause, and they were relentless. I think it's possible for a reader to sympathize with, and be critical of, both Sev and Lily in the Pensieve scene. But, as Jodel has remarked, the Wizarding World is very small. Once you are typed in school, there is no escape. If an influential and wealthy group within this world made your life a living hell for seven years, and if someone opposed that group and offered you (1) protection, and (2) a chance to get back at them, wouldn't you be tempted?
This brings me to the question of Severus as (1) more culpable than Riddle, because he has been loved, and (2) weak. After I read DH, one of my first questions was, "Who loved Severus"? Lily certainly didn't. Yes, they had a casual, childish friendship, but I wouldn't call that love. That Severus did, and that he clung to Lily so desperately, indicates just how bleak his life was. It seems that he never got unconditional love from anyone - not his parents, not Lily, and certainly not Dumbledore.
Young Tom Riddle was emotionally neglected. His mother abandoned him because of her death, and he grew up in an orphanage. I understand that even negative attention is better than no attention, but negative attention can be pretty damaging, and, based on his reactions, I'd guess that's what young Sev got. He doesn't seem to know how to relate to people, and he accepts emotional abuse as his due. Is that weak?
I can see why some readers would think so. I don't. As I've said before, Severus, as a young adult*, shows clear signs of clinical depression. That he remembers what little affection he received with such faithfulness and gratitude (shown by his patronus); that he soldiers on and meets all his obligations; that he manages to grow morally and emotionally with no support at all, however stunted he may still seem - these things, to me, are signs of incredible strength. If he is weak, who is strong? It isn't easy to act freely - or at all - when you are hampered by a chronic disease. It isn't easy to grow morally and emotionally when you are in the clutches of an emotional abuser (as Sev is with Dumbledore). Yes, Severus is a sinner; he was wrong to join the Death Eaters, and he's wrong to blame Harry for existing. He's not perfect. But he's a hero in my eyes, all the same. I've said it before, but it bears saying again.
Mike remarked that he likes superheroes because they are proactive and get things done. That's probably the big difference between us, and why I find Severus much more heroic, and even inspirational, than he does. I do not like superheroes. Superman always bored me because he was basically invulnerable, and too good to be true. I liked Batman better because (as a reviewer commented when reviewing Batman Begins) he has no superpowers. He is strong because he has the discipline to work out; he can fight because he practices; he uses intelligence, the help of loyal friends, knowledge, and discipline to get the things done he wants to accomplish. Oh - and cool gadgets and lots of money. He has those, too, I grant you. But still, he is human, and a human haunted by demons. He is not perfect, and he has no superpowers. Superpowers bore me.
And what cartoon character did one of my fellow panelists compare Severus to? Batman!
That's it for me. A longer ramble than I intended, and I hope Mike doesn't mind my critique. I do enjoy his site, even though I often disagree with him.