The Book Mine

A gal over at one of my watering holes started talking about plot, mentioning it as a process. I keep seeing plot mentioned in and around the stellar chatter of the interweb system channels, so I figured I’d tackle this one.

Simply stated, plot is “what happens”.

Not to be confused with premise, which is “what it’s about.”

I wonder about the aversion some people have to formulaic plots.  I don’t believe that’s what people object to exactly.

For example, I think of the TV show House, which is the same plot every episode—cranky doctor solves medical mystery despite obstacles.  Even though it’s the same thing every episode and the premise is never actually addressed—it’s better to be an honest jerk than a well-meaning phony—I still see it as an interesting show because it is reliable.

I think what people object to is the use of writer force to override viewer authority.  In other words, bad technique.

Plot, like light, is actually both a wave and a particle. It can be both a thing and a process.  The question is whether we are dealing with prep or improvisation.

Plot emerges from the work through the resolution of situations (character plus setting equals situation).  When it’s a process it arises from the working out of the story.  When it’s a thing it is exerted upon the story as a planned phenomenon.

Both have an underlying structure, a platform in which they emerge on-stage.  Both require practice in order to put on a good show.  Both have strengths and weaknesses it pays to spend time understanding.  Both are legitimate courses of exploration that can be adjusted to fit the project.

061_the_new_literacyAll right, enough already!  The sexual tension between these two forms is driving me nuts.  Nobody buys this mutual dislike as anything but a prelude to getting a room and making babies.  Get on with it!

For a long time we had a bunch of privileged intellectuals manufacturing consent by dividing the peanut butter and the celery between LIT and RACY, also known as high and low literature.  The “stuff that matters” from the unwashed laundry of the masses who don’t count because they are the bewildered herd and must be told what to value.

Along comes the E in Ebook and all of a sudden Pbooks are revealed for what they are—form, not the actual consciousness that inspires culture.  The entire social control mechanism that maintains access to distribution to consciousness is laid bare.  People naturally begin to ask questions, particularly those in the bewildered herd who have never known expression before.

That delicious E is the hammer in the Apple ad.  Thor’s hammer, the bolt of the storm that is the Aquarian lightning age, connecting thought.  The contact that is the point of all literature both high and low, author and reader touching each other, both one and apart, oscillating in response.  AUM.

In that moment of explosion, she joins the LIT and the RACY into LITERACY, one of the more stunning discoveries of this medieval age of thinking.  Now paper (earth) can be thought (air) and vice versa.

This is an unavoidable revolution in consciousness occurring right before our eyes.  As this bolt of electricity strikes earth and ignites a firestorm in the forest of paper, a lot of people are going to have to flee for their lives as their comfortable burrows and nests burn to the ground.

Make no mistake; this is a painful thing for a lot of ordinary folks who depend on the old growth forest for their lives.  But understand those who welcome the change as well as those who cringe in the foliage.  Everybody, and I mean EVERY BODY on any side of the fence is in on this.  We all get to participate as the forest burns down around our ears.  Open your heart and listen to the things you haven’t heard.

I emphasize with the struggle; those about to be hurt by the flames could be me, or someone I care about.  I’m excited and terrified both—where do I run?  Where do you run?  Who is already cut off from the lake—wait, is this the dry season?  That cave a safe haven or a future oven filled with smoke?  What is right action?  Shock the monkey!

It is a time for fear.

The copyright-royalty model is outdated and inefficient.  It is primarily a system for putting access to the forms of consciousness into the hands of concentrated centers of impersonal power, justified by projecting an image of the properly compensated and approved artist for their labors.

Don’t delve too far into that model—for every lucky artist you’ll find thousands ripped off, their rights in the vault of some conceptual entity that doesn’t count as a moral agent.  The millions who don’t get to participate at all because only “artists” can do that stuff?  They get to pay to know what they think.

Alternate economic models and mechanisms of access have been out for years.  Novels were the death of real books, just as recordable audiotape was the death of records and libraries would destroy bookstores.  Those with privilege, who stand to lose the most by sharing, always cry bitterly when community insists that people raise their standard of living more humanely.  Specialists are going to have to share their space with more generalists.

Access to data is still affected by class.  The decline of fossil fuels and rare metals leads to a cage match between military contracts and consumer electronic manufacturers.  The iron rule of oligarchy always obtains.  But humans are naturally moral and strive for freedom.  The human condition is nature’s way of making us figure it out.

The Kindle and the iPad are already ancient history.  You think that’s what the kids are using?  I’ll let that one be a surprise.  Developers hate Apple.  Who is going to put Ebooks in the hands of starving villagers with a credit card?

The price for everything is inflated.  People want what they want now and they want to pay what they want to pay.  You going to tell the vast majority of mindless beasts how to think?  Good luck!  Prices will have to fall and the money to be made will shrink.  Subscriptions and proprietary ala Carte tollbooths are yesterday’s memories.  Get used to it, what you think is right doesn’t matter.

How are you going to control the exchange of thoughts?  No, seriously?  Actions can be directed with a truncheon or a lawsuit, but you going to tell people what to do with their thoughts?  Even brutal dictatorships let people think what they want as long as they obey.  Rust always trumps the iron rule in the end.

Nobody can predict the future.  If you think that’s what I’m doing you aren’t paying attention.  Invigorated by the conflagration, the forest will grow back.  The new life is always greater than the old.  The status quo is death; plenty of new species will migrate to fill the void.  That’s the scary thought—who will be the new neighbor?  Won’t you be my neighbor?

The playing field gained a new dimension as well as a new form.  This isn’t squeezing anything out; it’s rather that the old way of doing things is not going to dominate any more.  It will have to content itself with being a smaller fraction of a greater whole.

Yes, this means even the crap gets a say.  Or do you mean “the crap we don’t approve of”?  I say let the crap hounds have their say and show us what they got.  If they can’t ante up they’ll make for some fine fertilizer in the new forest.  Freedom of speech means the right to participate alongside the great names and have your turn to speak—look at any sportscaster program with call-ins.

All of us start at the Level Zero crap hound bottom.  Never forget we all begin in ignorance and grow according to many variables outside our conscious control.  It’s in all our interests to create ecosystems of variable creative exploration.  It’ll do both the wizards and the crap hounds some good.

Physical objects are totems to show allegiance.  Don’t underestimate that.  Also keep in mind that whatever is not nailed down is mine and whatever I can pry loose is not nailed down.  Thoughts want to be free, so let them be so!  Air always escapes a prison.  The point is to hook up people who have an affinity with your thoughts and gratify them with stuff they actually want.

Youth culture is already doing this.  They grow up with everything that ever was at their fingertips, creating their own wants and satisfying their own curiosity.  Literacy is exploding like a thunderbolt.  Get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand.

Doomsday fantasies of resentment can eat my shorts.  We’re already there.  The hum of the lightning age moves through an emerging electro-agrarianism that will bring both a shadow we’ve never encountered before and a worldwide literacy the likes of which cannot be conceived of.

Just wait until you see the child Pbook and Ebook make together.

The hybrid is the message of the savior of humanity, believe it!

Okay, all right.  Permission to matter blah blah blah stakes whatever man.  What’s the DEAL?

The deal is, you’re going to have to play with these concepts until you can arrange them into a formula that works for you.  Your goal is to internalize them so that they influence what you create on an unconscious level—mental muscle memory as it were.

Just by reading about this, even if you don’t buy it, you are pouring ingredients one into the other and back.  The dance of temperance leads to more informed decisions and greater consciousness.

Here’s another thing to keep in mind:  Stories resolve.  That means they have an endgame, a way for a storyteller to say “I’m Done”.  This is often personified in the conflict—tension—resolution story formula.

This is actually harder than it looks.  Many writers can’t bear the thought of a resolution.  It’s much easier to do what’s called false tension, where you introduce a conflict, build up tension, and then back off from the resolution by removing the source of the conflict in some way.  They are revoking the principle of Permission To Matter for saw tooth storytelling.

Saw tooth storytelling is a kind of zilchplay.  But it carries with it another danger—running out of narrative ammunition.  There are only so many conflicts you can introduce before you begin to repeat yourself.  There are only so many conflicts you can repeat before the tension vanishes.

Think of it in half-life terms.  The first time the girl detective is faced with “follow my dream or please daddy’s image of me” is 100% tense.  The next time, 50%.  After that your audience is going to stop caring.

Get on with it.  Consequences are thrilling and exciting.  They inspire meditations—what if girl detective decides to please her daddy and become a hippy painter like him?  Is following her dream worth the cost?  Is it even right?  Or is it a case of “whoa that was a close one, that’s so cool she made the right decision?  OMG what if she hadn’t followed her dream?”

Keeps you awake at night.

What you’re looking for is a steady reward cycle.  Reader is rewarded for following the story.  Characters who do stuff are cool.  It keeps the narrative clip loaded and firing, bang bang bang.  If you keep firing and never hitting anything, you’re just wasting shots and soon to run out of places to go.

So here’s a simple formula:  Character plus setting equals situation—Resolve, repeat until done.

  • Newbie woman engineer plus starship equals keeping things running smoothly, or
  • Girl detective plus high school equals solving mysteries without flunking, or
  • Humaniform alien female plus stuck on earth while making escape ship equals survive culture shock without being discovered

You don’t have to buy it, just consider it.

My dear friend Kim tweeted this link my way, and since I enjoy finding out new nuggets of cultural development concerning female characters I checked it out.  Over in the Justine-land Broiler-anza the trail of the moment became the ingredients of compelling fiction.

Okay-okay already I’ll rattle this loose.  I got molecular prizes tumbling in my mind now that these two bad girls stirred things up without even realizing it.  Time for crazy time rumblings of doom as I pull out a few mental calculations I used to toss about a few years back.

What I draw a circle around is permission to matter.  That is, actions have consequences.  Not my idea; I’m adapting.  It rises up out of roleplaying game theory from a real phenomenon, wherein characters are blocked from contributing meaningfully to a creative exploration.

Very often this phenomenon is hidden from players’ (or readers’, or audience members’) view by a technique known as illusionism.  The illusion of permission to matter is fostered so that a game master (or writer, or director) can pursue an agenda.  When illusionism fails a follow-up technique known as force is used to railroad participants back to the agenda.

This results in dysfunctional play; players reach states of frustration and boredom.  Some resort to manipulation of the game master or the group to obtain their entertainment.  Whatever the case may be, it is a situation referred to as fun never.

You can apply this to other art forms as well.  Television and movies are especially prone to illusionism and force.  The agenda is to keep you watching passively, or to expect that the movie you are about to watch will entertain you because it is a “good movie”.

But getting back to writing.  When characters don’t get to matter they engage in what is known as zilchplay, or going nowhere.  Their actions have no consequences and what they do doesn’t matter.  You could substitute them for someone else and there would be no change.

Another name for permission to matter might be “agency”.  A character has to be able to affect the story.  If, for example, a woman is an engineer yet never gets to save the day with her engineering skills then it doesn’t matter who she is—zilchplay.  You could have a glass of water, call it an engineer, and watch as the designated character or plot element moves the story along because its time to go to the next scene—force.

Hand in hand with permission to matter is the concept of stakes.  When a conflict arises, there must be something to lose and something to gain.  Girl detective has to fast talk her way from the dinner table or else she’ll get to the crime scene too late to test her sudden intuition.

And not just the main character(s).  The minor character(s) have to be capable of succeeding and failing all on their own.

Permission to matter also requires consistency.  If the humaniform alien female demonstrates expert skill with computers only when the plot requires it, you have zilchplay.  A character doesn’t always have to succeed, but they do need to face conflicts with regard to established resources.

What you will find is that when you give your characters permission to matter, they will do things you never expected.  Complications will ensue and matters will unfold in ways that will surprise and inspire.  Even mundane outcomes have resonance—the girl detective predictably gets to go to the prom, but she’s earned it.  That is what being compelling is all about—being remarkable.

Chew on that for a moment.

057_sufferingwithOh yeah, you know it.  Here comes another bunch of Catcher In The Rye flotsam your way.  Especially because you’ve heard all about J.D. what’s-his-name’s passing on to new realms of existence.

I read the book in high school and thought it was dumb.  But I still remember it, after all these years.  Maybe I was too young to appreciate it fully.  Now that it’s passed before my view again I think I’ll crack out my copy and re-read it.

I heard some bleating on the Internets about Holden being a whiner, that when he grew up he sold out or became a loser.  That the author didn’t do a sequel because he couldn’t get his pen up to deliver the master stroke again, so to speak.

Yo, I’m calling that out.  I still remember Holden discovering what he wanted to be and articulating it as being “a catcher in the rye”.  That is, protecting young people from going bad, from falling off the cliff.  He moderates that with the balance of realization that kids have to fall down and get hurt to know life.  It’s an incredible vision of discovery.

Also a noble goal.  Because we are all phonies who need to awaken to this knowledge.  Only short-sighted people would be unable to look beyond the surface and not see this is where greatness comes from.  To see the fakery of our make-believe illusions with bitterness, yet still long to be of service is the birth of the heart chakra.  It is the opening up the human being to life.

Others may console themselves with imaginations of Holden selling out as he grew older, of failing to live up to his ideals and joining the treadmill of existence like everybody else.  As if anyone ever avoids this fate!  Guess what suckers, you still have to try even though you have lost your youthful innocence and are an adult now.

It takes very very very good karma to want to be someone who helps others.  If as a teenager he lacks the means yet to accomplish this goal, what of it?  We expect all our youth to know everything before its too late, even though they are doing the best that they can.  Even though they too shall lose everything anyway and come to wisdom in their own way and in their own time.

For this is where the seeds of the mature adult king or queen takes root, bringing order that will blossom later in life.  We should all be so lucky to have such a healthy vision of our destinies.

Wisely, the end is left open-ended, because like all advanced stories it is the reader who must write the rest.  It is their response that says more about themselves than the character or the creator of that character.

We’re all phonies.  Terrible, yes.  And also human, which might be our only hope.

Open your heart.

I’m unsure if I should open this canister of two-four-five trioxyn, as my comprehension is limited.  But over here at the Diamond Island conversations tend towards the rare and unusual, so what the Hek.

Scott McCloud talks about comics, but I believe his ideas are applicable to probably just about any art form.  In his book Making Comics, he speaks of four kinds of approaches to comic book creation, but just substitute any art form and you got the idea.

  • Classicists want to create art that displays a certain kind of technique worthy of being admired, as an image of what art should be.
  • Animists want to create art that tells a story and relates to the emotions of the audience.
  • Formalists want to create art that tests the boundaries of what an art form is capable of.
  • Iconoclasts want to create art that has integrity and honesty to an ideal, unbeholden to any mainstream influence.

This is useful in determining what your stance is when you write, or create art of any kind.  You might say it’s the purpose you are drawn towards.  All of them are worthy; although the various camps will claim theirs is the only kind that is true art.  Yet each has a purpose that supports and encourages the other (but don’t tell them that).

Moving on, in Chapter 7 of Understanding Comics Scott also brings up the six steps of art creation.

  • Step 6 (Surface): What you see at first glance.
  • Step 5 (Craft): The skill involved in making the art.
  • Step 4 (Structure): Understanding what goes where and why.
  • Step 3 (Idiom): Speaking the language of a particular flavor.
  • Step 2 (Form): The materialization itself—book, vase, speech, whatever.
  • Step 1 (Idea/Purpose): Why am I doing this?

Basically, you start at Step 6 when you admire and are inspired by a work of art to get involved.  Each stage requires you to pass several thresholds of challenge to progress. At the end, you choose whether to go to Step 2 (re-imagining the form itself) or Step 1 (exploring the ideas available for expression within).

It’s a little strange for me to even contemplate these paths, for they reveal a pattern to our thinking and feeling, our efforts to create art which are grounded in the fundamentals of brutal survival.  Sex, Danger, Play (Art) are as necessary as anything we do.  Going further down you get to things like breathing, making hormones and the like. Then it’s molecules and elements.

The one indispensable part (so far as we know with our nervous system) of the process is the connection between artist and audience.  This relies on the system that delivers the contact between the two, which needs effort to make it effective.

Throw in the formulations of audience expectation of GNS roleplaying game design theory and you have the reader (or whatever the audience is called) demanding fun in the form of their creative agenda:

  • Gamists who want to be challenged by systems that show who cuts the mustard.
  • Simulationists who want the right to dream in an authentic ‘as if’ situation.
  • Narrativists who want conflicts that resolve premise.

These match up with Scott’s ideas of art asserting our identities as individuals through exercise of our organs (gamist, or sports/mental games), the exploration of the world for useful knowledge (simulationist or discovery in language, science and philosophy), and outlets for mental imbalances aiding in survival (narrative, or self-expression through catharsis).

This is an extremely simplified view of GNS theory, but what I have found is it demands a retraining of the brain to expand one’s mind to the horizons available for meditation.  What you have, I believe, is a re-thinking not just of roleplaying games but recognition of the audience as participant, rather than a top-down gamemaster (or artist) responsible for everyone’s fun.

Take a step further in today’s digitized, mouse-driven age and you have the hierarchy of gamemasters telling people what to buy breaking up under a realization that everyone is both artist and audience, and capable of producing their own supply at will.

Demand is going to create supply, that is, people will create their own needs and fulfill them themselves without having to run the gauntlet of traditional gatekeepers, who dilute the message and inflate the price.

Or even demand that price exist at all.

In a free market, might not money be one of several other options (say, companionship and glory) as means of exchange?  Physical objects like books just become part of a series of modules (a way to make money on one end and a way to show allegiance on another).  Traditionals might have to content themselves with doling out prestige. If they’re lucky, that is—when one can count the number of followers they have does one even need a traditional stamp as a mark of “making it”?

This means the costs will have to go way down.  If someone can make a hit movie for ten thousand dollars, or a bestseller without the chain-gang, how will concentrations of power compete?  They’ll have to.
It can be done if they accept the reality of lower profits and less control—the alternative is extinction.  We are on the downslope of energy anyway, moving towards inner space and not outer space (it was a nice dream while it lasted).

“What about quality?!”  What about it? There’s no quality now, only your good and my bad.  Everyone is going to have to step on up and improve their game if they want to work on the delivery.  Contact is the only game in town now.  There’s no ‘elite’ telling you what works and what doesn’t.

Friends will guard you from crap.  Fans will make sure you don’t starve.  Both will “poopcan” (that is, work the dodgy parts out) your art for you if you are serious.  Just do the stuff.  Everybody’s on the same field and there’s no limit right now.  It’s a conversation; You talk, I talk.

The big question is, “what is your form about and what do audience members do?”

Fun.  NOW.

While there has been some progress in the raising of racist and sexist issues in fiction, I believe we are still struggling to pull ourselves as writers out of the dark ages.  One has only to read minimized perspectives to realize the American fiction market still has work to do.

For comic books, the women in refrigerators syndrome has come to the forefront of some very interesting conversations.  I’ve followed it, mainly because I’m no longer interested in conventional stories.

I’d like to see rare and uncommon points of view get more play in the mainstream.  But this is difficult, because the system of manufacturing consent internalizes values in those who develop the privilege of being able to generate culture beyond a step 6 or 5 art line.

A while back, while examining the question of agency for women characters, I came across a checklist chart from heroplay.  You basically counted the number of situations a hero was helpless (in need of rescue), tortured, and turned evil/sexy for women and men characters in a story.  Are the characters struggling or helpless during the situation?  Defiant or frightened?

Techniques like these are useful for rationally examining what one-sided tropes of a story might be manifesting.  I’d like to see more tools like the Bechdel Test (not just for women but other under-represented groups) appear out there, so we can reflect on what we’re doing.

They aren’t foolproof systems of thought, just springboards for constelating coordinates.  A means of asking questions and identifying positions so that we might test them.  The point is to make more-informed decisions, not proscribe or enforce lines of thought.

So, Tribal Writer explores writing like a bad girl.  This is not an easy approach, as it’s not an either-or proposition.  Women have both qualities existing inside of them as if they were living characters themselves.  Allowing both a wholeness of expression is the moral problem.

Too much good girl and there’s no joy of life.  Too much bad girl and personal relationships disintegrate.  The key, I think, is to generate tools that give these qualities a means to exist free from repression—personal or societal.

I think of the good mother/bad ogress in Japanese culture.  The endlessly patient, yielding and long-suffering mother figure is serious business there.  Everyone else is subordinate to that, even father—who is often portrayed as an impotent buffoon.

But the ogress is always waiting to jump out, tenaciously strong and voraciously sexual.  The housewife manages the finances, goes on golf trips with her girlfriends, and makes arrangements for her husband’s mistress.  Both figures exist side by side without contradicting the other.  This is as natural as a mountain vista.

So, I’ve been contemplating another tool—a checklist of characters based not on situations but on qualities.  Specifically, how often do male and female characters in a story show:

  • Desire
    Actively pursuing the fulfillment of sexual appetites or ambitions?
  • Mobility
    Actively demonstrating a literate mind or a useful/practical/marketable skill?
  • Interiority
    Actively confronting authority or asking difficult/awkward questions?

How many predominantly unambitious, timid, unskilled male characters will one come up with?

Actually that sounds rather interesting to me.  But the point of this exercise is to examine your own fictional characters, or the characters of others.  With the hope one will gather clues and learn how best to construct characters for one’s own formula.

Because each of us has a magic potion we are formulating in our combination of technique, inspiration and meditation.

Yes, exciting updates for those who desire non-returnable and un-consumer Mr. Nice Car exposure.  It’s all about the mysterious sightings when it comes to avoiding the “go back 3 spaces, now go back 1 space, now go back 5 spaces, now go back to start” phenomenon.

My favorite month of the year is right around the corner, and the weather is taking a turn towards a new season of attempts to request unlimited credit.  I’m just trying to keep my brain pan clear of any banker tendencies, just in case Count of Monte Cristo random encounter comes a-callin’.

So what’s in the psychic hopper?  Still have some garden goods in the line-up, and the herbs are still going.  But definitely this is the wind-down to post-harvest.  Tomatoes are canned, and all the major events are taken care of.  It’s only a matter of time before the basil gives up the ghost, for example.

Ran into my super-duper, techno-webmaster friend for lunch.  The monolith-monster barrier reefs were impossible to pass, so it was hard for us to have a bite and catch up.  We parked right next to each other in the parking lot, but looked for each other on opposite ends of the food trough mall.  That’s how it’s been—connected by the roots, but branched out at different angles due to the wind.

He’s a wise old turtle, reminding me that “it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”  Thanks for busting through the reefs man.

Now that the currents have changed, all sorts of things have been stirring up out of the nutrient stream.  I’m particularly excited about the imminent publishing of Carl Jung’s Red Book.  This is a journal the psychoanalyst started during a period of mental turmoil in his life.  He decided to use active imagination to explore the depths and meaning of his, well to put it mildly, schizophrenic crack-up.  When Jung passed away his family locked the thing away in a Swiss vault.

I’ve caught glimpses of the vividly stunning pictures and nakedly personal writings, enough to make me wish I could be one of a dozen people who had ever seen the thing.  Now in a month I’ll have a chance to behold the journey into madness and insight myself.  I can hardly wait.  Since when do I ever get excited about stuff that’s coming down the line?

Well, I’m also excited about Crumb’s graphic novel take on the Book of Genesis.  This too, promises to be awesome.  The guy’s art is a national treasure, every tortured line of his artistry both difficult and energizing to behold.  Rumor has it he started out on the project with a irreverent take, but then decided that wasn’t working.  He started over and played it straight.

From the previews I’ve seen, I think this was the right way to go.  If he was going for mockery or sarcasm, then his own artistic style is enough to carry that through on an as-is presentation.  This allows the reader to bring their own take to the material and come away with a richer panorama.  But I’ll have to see for sure with the book in my hands and see what the impact is.  Reading Crumb is a personal meditation, just as contemplation of any great artist tends to be.

On the semi-manga bandwagon, I’ve been reading parts 2, 3 and 4 of the Scott Pilgrim series, as well as the newest batch of Courtney Crumrin.

Scott Pilgrim faces the usual slacker challenges of growing up, while working on his relationship with Ramona Flowers (his true love).  Of course, he still has to defeat her seven evil ex-boyfriends in kung-fu video game challenges.

I’m enjoying how the story is unfolding, but the 3 volumes I read didn’t pack any of the gobsmacking punch of the first volume.  I literally was stunned with laughter and delight at the style and execution of that first volume.  In 2-4 the complications just don’t flow as well.  Creative, amusing, but something I just can’t put my foot on is draining the momentum.

Maybe it should have been three evil ex-boyfriends.

Courtney Crumrin is as well drawn and skillfully executed as ever.  The previous three volumes I think are destined to become classic graphic novels.  The latest in what I presume will be another series, Courtney Crumrin’s Monstrous Holiday, is like a bonus round of birthday presents.  I’ve been itching to know what would happen on the trip that ends the previous series.

Courtney the witch and her warlock great-grand uncle go on a tour of Europe in a two-part adventure.  The old theme of “bad things happen sometimes” continues, first with an opposite ends of the tracks love story in which Courtney tries to lend some help.  Then a “bad news” boyfriend who has a not-so-healthy hunger for Courtney.

The young witch is learning about love and limitations.  Hopefully, she is learning from her poor (if very understandable) decisions.  Uncle Aloysius is looking like he might not be there for her for much longer.  Definitely a more mature book than the ones we’ve seen before.  Moar pleez!

There’s a scene in the movie version of Harry Potter And The Order of the Phoenix where Harry saves himself from Voldemort’s magical possession by focusing on what makes him different from the villain.  He chooses to focus on his friendship with people (his proper social adjustment) and that he has something to fight for (a magic system of us and them, wizards and non-wizards).


Voldemort doesn’t have “friends”?  In the movie version of Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire there’s a scene where Voldemort talks shop with his death-eater buddies.  True, it’s presumably a co-dependent, master-minion relationship.  How is this dysfunctional, hierarchical arrangement different from the one where Dumbledore is forced to allow a minister bureaucrat to torture children (that nasty pen that uses your blood business)?

I would say Voldemort’s relationship with his minions is the more honest one.  He fixes his minion’s hand, even after castigating the guy for not being dedicated enough!  Save for the scene where Harry’s broken bone is fixed improperly (and played for laughs), I never saw anyone in Hogwarts heal Harry of his injuries.

Don’t they at least have a Cure Light Wounds spell at Hogwarts?

Near as I can tell, Voldemort and his evil buddies are all in on the evil plan to do whatever it is they plan on doing.  I never see the evil buddies struggling to share information or share clues with one another.  I get the feeling that unlike the professors, who keep their plans hidden from Harry, Voldemort at least lets everyone know what’s up.

Does Harry share what he knows with his “friends” and “mentors”?  No, when he has dark dreams or finds out crucial information he clams up.  Until the plot demands he reveal what he knows.  And his “friends” never call him out on this.  They seem to take it for granted that he always hoards information.

Voldemort doesn’t have something to fight for?  Admittedly, I’m a little unclear as to what the big dude evil guy’s plan is.  Nobody in the white hat section seems able to articulate much more than “he’s evil, has killed people and is very dangerous.”  Isn’t mere self-interest something to fight for?  We could venture a guess and say he wants to be King and Pope of the wizard republic.  It’s an unhealthy, narcissistic dream.  But still a dream that can inspire someone to go all out.

If its just causes we’re talking about, I’d say defending a repressive, aristocratic republic from a dictator’s coup does put Harry on stronger ground.  This gets to the core of what I think really makes Harry different from his counterpart:  moral choices.

Dumbledore brings this up with regards to the sorting hat and Harry’s choice to override the hat’s decision.  Harry and Voldemort are essentially the same person in terms of character sheets.  But Harry chooses differently.  That’s his point of reference—our choices make us who we are.

You pay the price for what you do in who you become.

The idea that because Harry has “friend” versus “minion” under followers on his character sheet, or “fighting for the status quo” versus “fighting for my supremacy” in the motivation text box, makes him different is ludicrous.  It’s the character of those differences that makes the difference, not the differences themselves.

Both are tinged with a certain degree of good and evil, with Voldemort favoring the shading more than the line.  It’s much less uncomfortable (and therefore easier) to identify with one side or the other.  Who wants to admit to being in the middle of things, between the awful pounding of the cliff sides with teeth?  Yet that is exactly what is required, to recognize the other within one’s own self regardless of the discomfort.

What lies between the twin pillars of fear and desire?  Can one pass through the gap created by the two guardians and into the sacred space of nothingness?

How much more complete Harry might have been if he had admitted his own shadow?  The good guy with a scar of evil running across the side of his forehead, the voice of his conscience and the source of his destiny (the evil figure is always charged with the irresistible life-force of fate).  Is not the tarnished good guy, the anti-hero, an intriguing and interesting figure?

How much more human Voldemort might have been if he had accepted his own inability to carry collective expectations?  To admit weakness and failure brings a cost as surely as refusing to do so, but it’s a human cost rather than an archetypal one.  Is not the bad guy who acts for others despite himself a compelling figure?

Voldemort could not expunge the good in his nature no matter how often he tried to kill his enemy, his only true friend.  Harry ultimately defeats the figure that does not conform with our image, but at the cost of losing what might be the best part of himself.  Love thy enemy, for thy enemy is the instrument of thy destiny.

Each, by repressing the other destroyed themselves.  The keepers of the grail groan to themselves and do a facepalm.

The two ought to have joined forces.  These irreconcilable opposites are precisely the ingredients for the mysterious solution.  The world of the non-wizards needs magic.  This locking away of magic by the forces of ministry ogre-know-it-alls and their patrician-professor gatekeepers is the reason our world is a ball of confusion.

And perhaps only Voldemort and Harry working together might have stolen the fire from the false gods of wizardry and given it to the public, to the people.

May the old fart loser-evil failure Voldemorts and young impressionable good wizards recognize each other.

Because we need magic today.  Many lives are so often not magical.

Flash back to when there were only three Harry Potter books out.  I decided to buy the first in the series—Harry Potter And the Sorcerer’s Stone.  The cover art looked compelling, the titles seemed catchy enough, and I enjoy fantasy fiction.  Most of all there seemed to be a buzz about the books.

I’ve read much worse (as in literally incomprehensible), but I still found the book a chore to read.  It made me never want to read another Harry Potter book again.

The sixth Harry Potter movie came out this weekend.  For the umpteenth time the communications channels have been abuzz with the excitement.  The whole phenomenon leaves me wishing it would end.

It’s like having a friend of the family show up every year with their enormous brood of brats and eating your brain.  I’m looking forward to the seventh and final book to appear in movie form (although the book will be split into two movies to prolong the thrill).

I decided I ought to get caught up on the source of all this legerdemain, and actually watch the movies.  Despite what I might think of the books, we are talking about one of the defining events of culture for the generation after mine.  These new mutants get to have it all—the past movements of creative wonder as well as the freshly minted attempts at civilization.  They are growing up with tremendous potential, and great things are expected of them.

As was said in the Spider-Man movie cash-in of sixties experimentation, “With great power comes great responsibility.”  I’m reminded of the mature numerological cycle of the twenty-one, wherein one has the same potential for ultimate creation and destruction as the ten.  However, there is accumulated wisdom in the world symbol as seen from space, so there is hope.

I believe that is the core of why this series is so popular.

You have the professors of the school of magic who represent an earlier, older generation who carried with them similar expectations as today’s generation.   But their race is run, their choices are made, and their failure remains supreme:  The student who turned to the dark arts and became Voldemort.  He Who Must Not Be Named.  The carrier of the ten, which is the first number to combine the one (human beings) and the zero (the divinity).

The highest fall from the highest pinnacle of achievement.  Dumbledore gets a vomit flavored bean.

Then you have the new student generation with Harry representing the hope that the dragon of the past can be overcome.  Great things are expected of him, and in no small part his friends Ron and Hermione.  Here you have a collective teen group of friends, which is not unlike the roleplaying adventure parties of today’s online games and dice-rolling dungeons and dragons crew.

The fellowship is as age-old as we can imagine.  Bands of hippies, parties of adventurers.  Carrying the ring to destruction, trying to level up.

You have the four student houses, which represent the four pillars of the world, the universe, the world, twenty-one.  The magical school Hogwarts is the setting in which choices the professors faced will play out again, in similar form.  Harry is carrying the thwarted dreams of the past and the pensive expectations for the future.

Slay the dragon that slew us, say the professors.  Give us a toffee bean.

I wonder if anyone’s back is that strong.  So often adults, parents in particular, put their fears and hopes into children.  Choke the child’s life out of them and make the child live a life that isn’t theirs.

Even Voldemort seems to have this problem.  His evil plans invariably end up involving Harry in some way or another.  See, there is a larger problem at hand than any of the principal players of the story can comprehend.  There is a need, I think, in this series for a Promethian act.  A stealing of fire is required, which they all only faintly grasp.

The professors tried to realize this unconscious dream and ended up serving the system.  Or dispossessed in some fashion.  Sirius Black is a framed criminal, Hagrid is a loner go-fer, the Weasleys are “poor” and Harry’s parents end up as corpses.  The Voldemort buddies?  Those who threw their lot in with the bad guy appear to have descended into fanaticism.  And there’s the bad guy himself who has probably gone mad and likely doesn’t remember what he was meant to do anymore.

Victims, fanatics and crazies.  You could say that the weight of the world has made them what they are.

Jung talks about this in his psychological studies.  Every child bears with it the pressures of the dead to succeed where countless millions have fallen down.  Those who have failed and yet still live, pray for deliverance before they die.

No wonder the books are so popular!  Talk about relevance to today’s moral problems.  The books are telling a story that the new mutants feel in their bones because it’s of their time.  One the professors of the sixties still hope will blossom into a rain-song sunrise.

Alas, in the Harry Potter books they are all doomed.  No one here gets out alive.  Have an earwax bean.

I believe that’s why I reacted so strongly against the series.  Even in the first book, it speaks of hope (projected images on the backs of youngsters rather than ourselves), but delivers inevitability (meet the new kid, same as the old kid — but with more obedience).  Starting at the very beginning, it perpetuates the illusion that there can ever be good without evil.

Can nature create an individual who can lead us out of darkness and redeem our previous attempts?  That is, can the terrible furor and despair of the times lead to a new imagining?  In The Road Warrior, it’s in the wasteland that Mad Max learns to live again.  Perhaps what is needed is a Parzival-like characteristic—a natural empathy, an opening up of the heart.

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