Maeve Visser Knoth: J. K. Rowling- good and evil is defined by hair length?

Guest Book - Please let me know who you are or ask a question (Click here)!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

J. K. Rowling- good and evil is defined by hair length?

When the seventh and final Harry Potter book, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, came out I had to wait until my son had finished to get my hands on the book. To tell the truth, I was curious about how she would handle the ending but not terribly worried for Harry.

I have many more years experience with reading than many of the kids reading the Harry Potter books so I came to the seventh with some very adult expectations. I doubted that she would let evil win in the end- children's books may include strong forces of evil but rarely does the book end without a strong sense of hope for the future. As soon as I read Rowling's opening quote from Aeschylus I knew that Harry survived and the children would "triumph". The second quote, from William Penn, led me to believe that the children would pay a high price for their win. Yes, some beloved characters would die so good could be restored.

I read quickly through the book and enjoyed much of the novel. I particularly enjoy Rowling's wordplay. She gives characters names that recall ancient mythologies. She makes intriguing references throughout and she can make me laugh out loud.

I do have criticisms that I do not hear from young readers. Rowling spends much too much time explaining details of plot and emotion. When Harry is embarrassed or ashamed, she tells her reader exactly what he is feeling instead of letting the reader deduce from Harry's words or actions. Rowling does not trust the reader to figure out much on her own.

The biggest failure, from my perspective, is Harry's conversation with Dumbledore in the waiting room outside the afterlife. In real life we never get to hear from our heroes once they are dead. They don't get a chance to explain their warts and bad decisions. Of course Rowling is not writing realistic fiction but I don't think she needs to spell out every last moral complexity for her reader. It weakens the book. I would love to know what F.D.R. was thinking when he signed the order to imprison Japanese-American citizens during WWII but since I can't I have to use what I know about humans to come to my own conclusions. I have to accept my own relatives' mistakes. They are no longer here to explain their actions. I can not forgive myself until I can forgive others their mistakes and in the world I inhabit, I have to forgive without full knowledge. I wish Harry were required to do the same.

So what's this about hair length? When I was reading the final book I noticed that Rowling is obsessed with hair. She often describes the color, texture, length and cleanliness of a character's hair when introducing him or her. Good characters, those we grow to love because Rowling loves them, have clean, well trimmed hair. Evil characters show signs of neglect and those signs often translate into stringy, overly-long, dirty hair. Snape starts his Hogwarts career with dirty hair. James Potter starts school with a tidy cut. Sure Harry's hair is unruly but he keeps it cut and clean.

When I pointed out Rowling's connection between cleanliness and godliness to my son, he mused..."are you telling me something? Do I need another haircut?" If this blog were a research paper I would have to go back and quote the many examples throughout which prove my thesis. Luckily I don't have to. I just leave you to go back and find out if my impressions are right. Is J.K. Rowling really an advocate for attractive, clean hair?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

My dear Ms. Visser Knoth,

I respectfully disagree regarding the conversation with Dumbledore at King's Cross Station.

First of all, in spite of how you feel, thousands (probably millions) of children AND YES ADULTS were desperate to see some sort of contact with Dumbledore again, even if he really was dead (which he was). I grant you that real life doesn't work this way, but to compare your frustration over a historical event (what was FDR thinking?), with your expectation that readers of magical children's fiction should feel frustration over never seeing Dumbledore again in any form in her books, just for the sake of "reality" (in a book where fantastic things happen, no less) is -- pardon me -- no less than expecting Rowling to cater to adults only -- and those who prefer the hard knocks of reality to "what if" magic, at that. Not a fair call for this sort of book.

On the other hand, you also wrote, "I can not forgive myself until I can forgive others their mistakes and in the world I inhabit, I have to forgive without full knowledge. I wish Harry were required to do the same."

You may be right to wish this. However, Harry IS required to do the same. Snape's death gives him that opportunity.

You might say, "No, it isn't without full knowledge, because Harry has access to Snape's memories at the end." Maybe, but in fact Harry had known these things all along, and still was not able to forgive.

He ALREADY knew Snape loved his mother, Lily Evans Potter, from the earlier memory he'd spied on (in which James Potter, clean hair or not, cruelly turned Snape upside down for everyone to see his undershorts), and yet did not forgive at that time. He also already knew that he himself had falsely accused Snape in book 1 of trying to kill him, but still Harry did not forgive. Harry furthermore knew Snape hated him all along, but throughout the books, did not forgive.

Which means that Harry's later naming of his own son "Albus Severus" was only the result of his having to come to understand and forgive Severus Snape over the course of his growing up years, which to my mind, is very close to what you say you wish Harry had to do.

And a very realistic, grown-up thing it was for him to do.

Your fan,

Geo Ploomb

9/24/2008 1:34 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home