Friday, August 24, 2012

Oh, Harry Potter, You Make Everything Better

… the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night

These lines concluding Matthew Arnold’s fine poem, “Dover Beach,” present a bleak world view, one that Voldemort, as created by J. K. Rowling, would like to bring about on earth. He Who Must Not Be Named wants to crush everything light and good and loving, including spunky kids and wise mentors.

Each book about Harry Potter is an unambiguous battle between good and evil, but unlike the recent Batman film and others featuring Scorched Earth villains, Harry’s saga delivers satisfying endings book after book and film after film. Why? What’s the difference? Harry, of course.

Both Bruce Wayne and Harry Potter grow from childhood trauma. Both of them lose their parents suddenly and unexpectedly. Bruce is older than Harry when an evil-doer shoots his parents on the streets of Gotham, leaving Bruce burdened with that vivid memory. But Bruce also has enormous wealth and a good and faithful servant, Alfred. Harry is just a babe in arms when Voldemort executes his parents. He may not remember the event as Bruce does, but Harry carries the memory as a lightning bolt burned into his forehead and a searing scar branded upon his heart.

Unlike Bruce, Harry has no good and faithful servant until he reaches the age when children enter Hogwarts. Then Hagrid and Dumbledore come into his life, but only after many years of isolation and deprivation in the home of Harry’s aunt and uncle. Their disdain and dislike wound Harry, perhaps teaching him empathy for sufferers and gratitude for what he receives at Hogwarts. Still Harry, like the once and future king Arthur, is slow to believe that he is lovable, worthy, and gifted.

Bruce has no such doubt to overcome. Alfred tells him every day; nevertheless, Bruce is lost, sometimes reckless, occasionally wasteful, and conflicted about his purpose. Even when Bruce becomes Batman, he struggles against despair, in part because he chooses duplicity, jeopardizing his happiness by keeping secrets.

On the other hand, Harry soldiers on. He watches the loving Weasley family with a touch of longing, but spite never finds a permanent home within him. Harry respects Hermione’s wit and intelligence; he's sometimes irritated by her interference, but always grateful for her fierce loyalty. Every day after his parents die, Harry faces loss, loneliness, and danger without becoming embittered or vindictive. He simply fights for right, following his moral compass as it points to friendship and courage and sacrifice. The world may still be in harm’s way at the end of each book and film, but Harry’s heart, his friends, and his mentor have endured to fight another day without losing their hope, without needing to retreat from this world into caves or Italy or fine mansions. In affirming man’s great triumphs: the triumph of courage, friendship, and love over self-interest, Rowling leaves readers satisfied, comfortable in the knowledge that the Dystopian dark has been kept at bay.

Nolan leaves viewers uneasy. Batman needed much more than friends, good character, and a bit of magic to turn the tide of evil. Bruce Wayne needs wicked skills, including physical prowess and technology, and the peace he makes is fragile because he himself is compromised by impulses comparable to those within his enemies. We cheer for his courage, of course, but we know that Harry is purer of heart, and this brings a more permanent sense of peace.

Reading Challenge:

Read The Dark Knight Rises, any and all of the Harry Potter books, and any and all of the films made from the Harry Potter books. Compare Bruce Wayne and/or Harry Potter to the heroes in the Star Wars saga or The Once and Future King by T. H. White.

Writing Challenge:

List the character traits that Harry Potter, King Arthur, and Luke Skywalker share. Uncover other comparable characters and list the traits they have in common. Then write a new story line set in a place other than Hogwarts, Camelot, or far, far away.

GUM (Grammar, Usage and Mechanics): Back to School  Basics

Three more words are sound-alikes and often misused. Save your teacher’s red ink by proofreading for them. They are:

·      There, an adverb indicating a place: “Put your coat there.” Also a word used to open an English sentence pattern: “There are advantages to this health plan.”
·      They’re, a plural pronoun and state of being verb contraction for two words, they are: “They’re a happy couple.”
·      Their, a possessive plural pronoun: “I like their uniforms; in other words, I like the uniforms belonging to them.”