Let me kick things off with blasphemy: Conflict is not the engine of story.
Allow me to explain.
The longer I teach, the more writing texts I seem to read, if only to find out if someone else has a clearer, simpler, or more insightful way of presenting the material. (To my chagrin, that’s often case. Fortunately, I’m not too so old a dog that I’ve forsaken new tricks.)
In some of my recent reading, though, I’ve detected a bit of an uproar over the supposed centrality of conflict in our stories.
I’ve had parts of this written for a while. I was going for something a bit more lighthearted, but some seriousness* crept in.
I’m a die-hard Potterfan, as the HP series was one of my first fandoms. I’ve spoken a bit about that before. Sometimes though something reminds me. Those of us who grew up on Harry, Hermione and Ron were shaped by the stories – at least potentially, according to research.
Harry Potter has been analysed by many, from a fan viewpoint (like Melissa Annelli or the myriad of fansites across the internet) to a Professorial one (like Professor John Granger). There are Fan Conventions and Academic Conference(s).
Something I was reminded of recently was the distinctions between canon and fanon. Those distinctions are murkier than you’d think. Remember what I reblogged about Chuck Wendig and Star Wars a few weeks ago?
Anyway, there’s a vast world of info out there which you can choose to partake in or not. This is true for many, ah, popular fandoms. Of the books/ series/ films/ etc. first created in “today’s” timeframe (say, the past twenty years), I’d say Harry Potter is one of if not the largest.
The “Potterverse” is huge and complex. Everyone’s got an opinion about things in it.
One of the interesting things about it is how the ideas of the Potterverse can be used. Remember what I said last week about fiction exploring ideas. Harry Potter is set in “modern” times but, by adding magic, things become less real and more flexible.
The books are fictional escapism. But they can still explore concepts meaningfully, as well as the “right” and “wrong” ways to react. You can learn things!
The characters are flawed in (mostly) realistic ways…even if we wouldn’t like to meet some of them if they were real, their very shaping is superb, in my opinion. Again, though, one person’s interpretation of a message or theme in the books may not be the same as another person’s….or even that of J.K. Rowling’s.
Jessica Seymour does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond the academic appointment above.
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What would Dumbledore do? It’s a question that’s galled many die-hard fans of JK Rowling’s phenomenally successfully Harry Potter books since the author last week signed an open letter opposing a cultural boycott of Israel, and instead advocated for cultural dialogue between the two countries.
That talking wasn’t enough to end conflicts. Look at the Wizarding War […] If Harry had tried to coax Lord Voldemort to a UN summit in Geneva rather than destroying his Horcruxes, everyone would have ended up dead. Not just Tonks, Remus Lupin and one of the Weasley twins.
I am writing to you in response to your public support for Israeli-Palestinian dialogue and opposition to the BDS movement in the Guardian’s Culture for Coexistence. As a Palestinian, I have to say that I was completely disappointed when I read about this, because your books have been the very source of all the hope I have for peace and justice in my homeland someday.
I’ve received a lot of messages over the past few days that use my fictional characters to make points about the Israeli cultural boycott. This isn’t a complaint: those characters belong to the readers as well as to me, and each has their own life in the heads of those who have read them. Sometimes the inner lives of characters as imagined by readers are not what I imagined for them, but the joy of books is that we all make our own mental cast.
What began as a debate about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has since developed into a discussion about whether Rowling had the right to use Dumbledore’s characterisation to support her argument. It’s a discussion that raises interesting questions about the relationship between authors and fans of their work.
According to French theorist Roland Barthes, the author has been dead for many decades, but Barthes was writing before social media gave us unprecedented access to authors’ thoughts and feelings. The author has, in a manner of speaking, been revived. But does this change the audience’s relationship with authorial intent?
While the latter point may be valid, it would be remiss not to acknowledge the way Harry Potter books explore grand themes such as racism and discrimination.
As fans have noted, the wizarding world becomes obsessed with purging “muggle-borns” during the reign of Voldemort, despite the fact that many talented witches and wizards come from non-magical backgrounds (Hermione Granger, Harry’s best friend and the brightest witch of her age, is a prime example of this).
The desire to attack people who are different is the central concern of the story, and as Rowling herself noted in her Twitter exchange:
It was true in the Potter books and it is true in life that talking will not change wilfully closed minds.
Rowling’s use of a fictional magician to articulate her political beliefs was considered by some to be “misguided” – particularly because, in some cases, fans considered her approach to be a misinterpretation of the spirit of the books. To which Rowling responded:
I can only say that a full discussion of morality within the series is impossible without examining Dumbledore’s actions, because he is the moral heart of the books. He did not consider all weapons equal and he was prepared, always, to go to the hilltop.
What we must remember when discussing the interpretive potential of Dumbledore and the Harry Potter franchise as a whole is that the books are more than just books. Hogwarts is not an object that people can examine objectively – every fan of the Harry Potters series has interpreted it in their own way, and often the way that it is interpreted can say more about the interpreter than it does about the story.
There are generally two ways that people tend to approach interpreting the Harry Potter universe: through the canon, which is all of Rowling’s writings and commentary, and extra-textual spaces such as Pottermore.com; or through “fanon”, which is how fans have developed the series through their discussions, fan-produced art and stories, and their “head canons” (or their personal interpretations of characters and events).
Fans have begun to approach Rowling’s extra-textual interpretations of the texts by examining them, deciding whether they fit into their overall interpretation of the work, and either incorporating or discarding them. Readers may embrace the ridiculously-named Fleamont Potter (Harry’s grandfather) but take issue with Rowling’s assertion that Remus Lupin never fell in love before he met Nymphadora Tonks (because many fans interpret him as bisexual, with a potential love interest in Sirius Black).
It is heartening to see Rowling acknowledge the fraught relationship between reader interpretation and authorial intent. In the response Rowling posted on Twitter, titled “Why Dumbledore went to the hilltop”, she wrote:
Sometimes the inner lives of characters as imagined by readers are not what I imagined for them, but the joy of books is that we all make our own mental cast […] All books dealing with morality can be picked apart for those lines and themes that best suit the arguer’s perspective.
There is a question of ownership at work here which will not be resolved through a social media exchange, but it is clear that while the author may have been revived the fans are not taking her words as gospel. At this point, Dumbledore is under the joint custody of JK Rowling and her legion of fans.
(I meant to post this earlier in the week. Ah well. I’ll post it now so that it doesn’t become overdue, what with the next episode dropping soon.)
So who saw the latest Doctor Who episode (weekend of 7th/8th Nov)? As I mentioned earlier, I loved it.
One of the reasons I love Doctor Who is that it explores various concepts and uses the construct of a two-hearted alien in a blue box to do so. A creator of another great series, Gene Roddenberry of Star Trek fame, supposedly once said that, “Although we were in a seemingly simplistic medium (television), this simplistic medium allowed us to really ask very deep questions. And we didn’t always give deep answers, because it wasn’t possible”.
Fiction, perhaps especially science and or fantasy fiction, allows for the exploration of “current” concepts and situations, set in an “alternate” universe of some sort – past, future, another galaxy or world, etc. This perhaps gives more flexibility to explore these issues. You see that in Doctor Who, the most recent example being the past two episodes (a two-parter).
I love that sort of “referencing the real world” trick and will get exasperated or annoyed with those who dismiss ‘fantasy’ fiction as “just fiction” – the implied meaning that it’s not as important because it’s “not real”. Just don’t. It might not be “real”, but the ideas and concepts explored in it often are, whether they’re espoused by aliens or not.
As a fan of Doctor Who I’ve mainly seen New Who. This latest episode was brilliant. So, allow me to geek out a bit. I’ve tried to minimise spoilers, but still some probably are present, beware.
Let’s start with some of the more superficial though still important stuff:
While the Osgood box(es) were styled like the Moment from the 50th, I’m sure the colours were a nod to the Matrix too… I actually said, “Red pill, blue pill” when I saw them.
Overall acting was great this episode, not just Capaldi: Jenna was brilliant. The differences between Clara and Bonnie were clear – though of course, they were still similar enough for the Doctor to know. 😉 Bonnie’s decision was well-played, too.
I like how Osgood got to be the companion for this episode while Clara was busy. The bit at the end was nicely done.
Now for the rest. All the references (real-world and in-world) made me so happy. I love it – it shows continuity as well as giving greater impact to the show. Pointed political commentary/ illusions/ inference – mixed with snarky comedy and feels – ftw. Twelve (Capaldi) is a link back: to the classics and to the other “New Who” Doctors. The War Doctor is the bridge between Old & New chronologically, but Twelve is the one with the Knowledge. * More on that below.
My goodness! Asdfjkl, that speech – all you who have watched the episode, you know the one – was an amazing speech. There are a few people in this world who need that to be given to them personally!
Capaldi was gold. I’ve been warming to him over the past few episodes, but – as someone else said – that speech was his moment. The one when even the doubters know that he is the Doctor. This is confirmed by the amount of people (say, on the fanpage Doctor Who and the TARDIS for instance) who are geeking out over it. 😀 !! I’d known he was the Doctor already (I’ve seen the spark there earlier), but this finally cements it. This is the speech that is his, the one that will be written down and remembered. I saw it coming, a little, as it built on other similar speeches he’s given in the past, but wow. Three episodes ago, he realised why he had “this face”. Now we do, too.
* = Reflecting on the speech and the past few episodes, as well as what I know of other eps, I personally realised exactly how Capaldi’s Twelve is the link. Those of who’ve seen the 50th Anniversary Special, please remember for a moment the scene when the War Doctor asks the others if they know how many Galifreyans die if he pushes the button. Their answers are telling. Of the New Who (which I know best), there’s [setting aside the War Doctor for a second]: Nine; the broody PTSD one who believes he’s the Last of the Time Lords by his own hand & has seen the horrors of war etc. He’s bitter and angry and determined to help so others don’t suffer. When that happens, things are “Fantastic!” (One of his Moments among many: the heart-breaking, “Just this once, Rose, everybody lives!”). He wasn’t in the special, but you’d think he’d remember very well. Then Ten; still a bit broody and prone to philosophy, but is a bit happier. He remembers too, but continues on (“Allons-y!” his catchphrase, meaning “Let’s go” in French – the explanation behind his use of it sums him up perfectly). Finally (in this scene), Eleven; the happiest of the bunch, at least at first. He’s still rather reflective, knowing the importance of people. He has losses, but that is paired with a gung-ho attitude and stubborn, geeky pride (“Bowties are cool”, as are glasses – and he wears a fez!). He does not remember the number. When asked by the War Doctor, he says he “forgot”, to the shock of Ten and War Doctor. Of course, the events of the Special change things up – and the rest of his timeline give him his own melancholia. Then, at last, Twelve is added (and – though I missed actually seeing the ep – the way in which he regenerated from Eleven apparently has interesting implications for continuity beyond him). Twelve (Capaldi) knows the secrets revealed in the 50th. He remembers all the lessons learnt. He is determined to do better, with a touch of humour and gravitas – so he will. That is who Twelve is. Capaldi, as shown in the latest episode, fills that role beautifully.
I’m calling it: this (& its predecessor for continuity) is one of those episodes that will go down as one of the ‘favourite’, ‘marker’ episodes – a cornerstone one that’s on the ‘must-watch’ list.
I saw the ‘articles’ last week and raised my eyebrows with a little smile. O.o
I then went looking for the article(s) that talked about the actual topic of Shorten’s visit, but found very little online. That annoyed me. 😡
As an aside, Shorten has actually been cleared of wrongdoing by the Commission, if a bit late in the day. So hush – and let’s get on with it, shall we? Don’t get sucked into their bull***. I thought Shorten held himself quite well on Q&A when he was there for a one-on-one a month or so ago.
There are only two weeks until the People’s Climate March. Sign up and march, to show leaders we mean business. Climate action now, before it’s too late.
‘The frontline of climate change’ was the appealing subject of the email I received from Labor this morning. It read:
We often talk about what effects climate change will have on our economy, or on agricultural land, or how many more natural disasters we’re likely to suffer.
What we talk about less is how climate change is affecting some of our closest neighbours right now. And it’s devastating. The Papua New Guinea and island nations in the pacific are facing real, existential threats from climate change.
This is an issue that isn’t going to go away – we’re likely to see and hear a lot more about it as the International Climate Change Conference in Paris approaches at the end of this month. We’ll keep you informed as much as we can.
Now you’d think that’d be a good thing. Here we have a group of politicians and a political party taking climate change seriously and placing it front and centre on the table. And added to that, they are engaging with counties that are most likely to be the first victims of rapid change.
In most countries this concern and their initiative would be applauded. But they might just happen to be countries where the Murdoch media doesn’t have the same influence as it does here. Instead of it being applauded, we see it derided. Andrew Bolt of The Herald Sun led the way:
LABOR leader Bill Shorten will test the honesty of journalists this week when he tours Pacific Islands he claims are drowning.
Will they dare report that most of the islands are in fact growing or stable? Or will they again prove they cannot be trusted to tell the truth about the global warming scare?
Shorten and deputy Tanya Plibersek plan to visit Kiribati and the Marshall Islands.
As the gullible Sydney Morning Herald announced: “Labor wants to put climate change at the centre of public debate in the run-up to a major United Nations summit in Paris later this year.
One would think that the Murdoch media don’t like the idea of someone taking climate change seriously.
Personally, I’ve had it up to my teeth with the Murdoch media. How can any important issue or any non-Coalition politician get a fair run in this country while the Murdoch media has so much power and so many right-wing fanatics spreading the Murdoch gospel?
Hey everyone! Here’s a post from Chuck Wendig about Fandom Canon and why it’s messy.I’ve said before (when reviewingBattle of Five Armies that I have a system for what I consider canon or not, though I’ve grown more flexible over time. I always took as canon whichever came first out of book, film, whatever – and then the rest is quasi-canon, requiring my discretion whether or not I consider it canon. That personal rule encompasses everything from Harry Potter, Middle Earth, Star Trek, Doctor Who….and Star Wars (etc.). It’s good to be flexible as I read more than I watch things (ease of format) – it also means that if I dislike something from the ‘quasi-canon’, I don’t have to “add [it] to my collection”. Yes, I just quoted Grevious, deal with it. Of course, now Star Wars has both book & movie canon, then “Legends”. When I first heard about the, erm, ‘reboot’ of Star Wars … oh goodness, saying that makes me laugh – both Star Wars and Star Trek have been rebooted now! Or will be by December anyway. Ahem. I grumbled a little – okay, a lot – at first when I heard of the take-over, but I’m excited now. My one itch was how many good characters had to get scrapped along with any not-so-good ones and the bad deaths. I’ll be curious to see what, if anything, they do regarding kids and love interests.
Aftermath, written by Chuck Wendig, is the first book in the new canon bridging the gap between Episodes VI and VII. It’s out now and on my TBR list. Read the post below by Chuck and tell me what you think! I’m off to do uni work, blah and get caught up on Star Wars Rebels. …Oh yeah, warning for ‘coarse language’, I guess, if you’re someone who doesn’t like that.
WHO IS CHUCK WENDIG?
Chuck Wendig is a novelist, screenwriter, and game designer. This is his blog. He talks a lot about writing. And food. And pop culture. And his kid. He uses lots of naughty language. NSFW. Probably NSFL. Be advised.
POINTING THE CANNONS AT CANON
so is this cannon canon or what
For a great many years, I was rather enamored with the idea of canon in the pop culture feast that I consumed. This continued well into my 20s, maybe into my 30s, and even now I still feel its needle-stitch tug inside my heart. (For those who don’t know, the idea of “canon” originates with the notion that in a given topic, study or series, there exists a genuine, bona fide list of books that are considered sacred and original. In pop culture fandom, “canon” takes this idea to mean that some stories or ideas are “true” in the context of the internal history of that particular narrative.)
As by now all of you — except that guy who has been living in a nuclear bunker from the 1950s — have figured out that I wrote a Star Wars novel. *clears throat* I have not exactly been quiet about it. And this novel is the first “canon” novel to appear and start to build the bridge between Episode VI (aka Return of the Jedi) and Episode VII (aka The Force Awakens). It builds immediately off the events in VI, while planting seeds for what will eventually become the garden of new material that sprouts in VII. Again, it is to be considered “canon” — it is real and it is true in the context of the narrative story-world (“the galaxy far, far away”).
Ah, but, post-RotJ books already existed, and they were canon-ish. Zahn’s original trilogy (which I adored as a kid and which were held as sacred texts) launched a major mission into the unknown void beyond the borders of the galaxy we knew. Lucas said, “No new trilogy,” and that opened up the doors to dozens upon dozens of new books told in that space. These books were canon more by default than anything else (they were not to my knowledge explicitly made so, and as I understand it, Lucas always considered the books secondary to the visual media around the storyworld), but the books were close enough for horseshoes and hand grenades, as the saying goes. The Expanded Universe was as the name suggested: the galaxy became bigger, richer, wider, weirder.
Now, though, all that has gone. Those books have been re-classified as Legends.
See, Star Wars has always been more Tolkien than Marvel or DC. What I mean is this: the continuity of Star Wars has mostly remained a single, unbroken chain. Tolkien’s narrative storyworld is unified in the same way — whereas with the two major comic book houses, you get a massively fractured narrative. You get hundreds of chains, some broken, others soldered together, others still just random links floating in the void. The storyworlds of Star Wars and Middle-earth are histories beholden to isolated timelines; the storyworlds of DC and Marvel are shattered mirrors representing a variety of alternate dimensions or single-shot universes. Middle-earth has little variance in its historical thrust — no alternate histories. And, up until recently, that was somewhat true of Star Wars, too. (I say “somewhat” because how exactly do you classify the video games? The comics? The “Droids” cartoon?
Read more here: http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2015/09/29/pointing-the-cannons-at-canon/