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RE: [mythsoc] Of Sitcom Plots and Pocket Framistans: The Trouble with Rowling's Plotting

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  • darancgrissom@sbcglobal.net
    You are aware these books are intended for children...right? If adults had started listening to Harry after the first book the intended audience would no
    Message 1 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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      You are aware these books are intended for children...right? If adults
      had started listening to Harry after the first book the intended audience
      would no longer have the main connection to the main character. Adults don't
      listen to children. This may be children's number one complaint about the
      world up until adolescence. Thus the child identifies with Harry, Hermione,
      and Ron (Also finishing the book might help). It may very well be a
      contrived plotline, but it has sold countless books. "Matilda" by Dhal
      comes to mind but I know of better example which I can't think of at the
      moment. Also children are not so picky about repeated plots as adults are.
      Lastly I would just like to point out that the comic misunderstanding is a
      very old and time honored (some might say worn) tradition in writing, one
      example that springs to mind is "The Comedy of Errors," nobody said "wait a
      minute" in that play.

      As to the second argument, I have the same complaint. They are always
      taught the spell they need the year they need it. I whish my Middle and
      High school educations had gone that well.
      -----Original Message-----
      From: WendellWag@... [mailto:WendellWag@...]
      Sent: Saturday, November 08, 2003 7:23 PM
      To: mythsoc@yahoogroups.com
      Subject: [mythsoc] Of Sitcom Plots and Pocket Framistans: The Trouble with
      Rowling's Plotting


      I'm 63 pages into the fifth Harry Potter book, and I'm annoyed once again
      by
      J. K. Rowling's reliance on the same flimsy plotting tricks that bothered
      me
      in the first four books. One of them is similar to a cliche of bad
      sitcoms.
      Something will happen to Harry and some adult will blame him for what
      happened
      without making the least attempt to find out what really happened.
      Nothing
      Harry says will change this person's opinion of him (even though Harry had
      shown
      himself to be trustworthy in all previous situations). This is why it
      seemed
      to me that all the adults in the books were idiots. I couldn't figure out
      why Harry would want to join either wizard or muggle society, since they
      both
      seemed to be filled with corrupt, stupid people. You would think that
      eventually people would learn to listen to Harry, if only to keep
      themselves from
      looking like such idiots when he turns out to be right about things. (The
      similar
      sort of sitcom plot is the one where one character starts talking about
      something, and another character will misinterpret everything the first
      person is
      saying as being about something else, usually something with a sexual
      meaning.
      It never once occurs to the second person to interrupt and say, "Wait,
      just
      what are you talking about?". This makes the second person look like an
      idiot.)

      The second problem is similar to what Isaac Asimov called in an essay the
      use
      of pocket framistan. He was talking about the difficulty of writing a
      science fiction story that's also a good mystery story. It's tempting for
      a bad
      writer of such a story to have the main character at the climax of the
      story
      whip out his pocket framistan and announce, "Luckily I've brought along my
      pocket
      framistan. Using it, I can tell that the murderer was . . ." It's
      cheating
      to introduce hitherto unmentioned contrivances to solve plot points.
      There
      doesn't seem to be any bounds to the magic that can be performed in
      Rowling's
      universe. There doesn't even seem to be any coherence to the sorts of
      magic
      that exist there. In each novel she's introducing new aspects of the
      wizard
      world that ought properly have been introduced much earlier, but she seems
      to be
      saying to her readers, "Oh, I've got to tell you about this completely new
      aspect of the magical world, which I need to make the present novel
      possible."

      In many ways Rowling is a good writer, which makes it all the more
      irritating
      that she never learned basic lessons in writing which would have prevented
      her from relying on such absurd plot cliches. I wish that when she had
      submitted the first novel to the publisher, some editor had told her,
      "O.K., we're
      going to accept this book, but you've got to write the rest of the series
      before
      we publish it. Then I'm going to sit down with you and we'll straighten
      up
      the plot. And we'll keep the later novels to a reasonable size."

      Wendell Wagner


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    • juliet@firinn.org
      ... I perhaps shouldn t butt into this conversation, but it bothers me when people think that books intended for children need not adhere to the same standards
      Message 2 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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        On Sun, Nov 09, 2003 at 01:14:09AM -0800, darancgrissom@... wrote:
        > You are aware these books are intended for children...right?
        >
        I perhaps shouldn't butt into this conversation, but it bothers me when
        people think that books intended for children need not adhere to the same
        standards of quality as those intended for adults. I agree that young
        children like more repetition than adults do in general (my one- and three-
        year-old children are evidence of that), but if we as adults provide them
        with good quality literature from a young age, they will, like Wendell,
        be bothered by the shortcomings of literature containing glaring oversights.
        If they're not bothered, we can blame ourselves as adults for not exposing
        them to enough higher quality literature.

        That's my $.02 as a parent.

        Julie
      • David S. Bratman
        ... happened ... I agree that this can be rather annoying, and that it works only in an outright farce like Comedy of Errors - and even then for only a
        Message 3 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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          At 07:23 PM 11/8/2003 , WendellWag@... wrote:

          >Something will happen to Harry and some adult will blame him for what
          happened
          >without making the least attempt to find out what really happened. Nothing
          >Harry says will change this person's opinion of him (even though Harry had
          >shown
          >himself to be trustworthy in all previous situations). This is why it seemed
          >to me that all the adults in the books were idiots.

          I agree that this can be rather annoying, and that it works only in an
          outright farce like "Comedy of Errors" - and even then for only a limited
          period of time.

          But it's not unrealistic. I am very VERY used to people disbelieving or
          ignoring everything I say, and portraying themselves as idiots as,
          frequently eschewing actual arguments, they insult and abuse me in absurd
          terms very similar to those that Prof. Umbridge uses on Harry in "Order of
          the Phoenix." I wonder how she gets away with it, and I wonder how they
          get away with it too.


          >There doesn't even seem to be any coherence to the sorts of magic
          >that exist there. In each novel she's introducing new aspects of the wizard
          >world that ought properly have been introduced much earlier, but she seems
          >to be
          >saying to her readers, "Oh, I've got to tell you about this completely new
          >aspect of the magical world, which I need to make the present novel possible."

          Here also I agree. The example that bothered me most was ... now I've
          forgotten exactly what it was. (Another problem with these books: I don't
          find them very memorable.) But it was the teleportation system, or magical
          flying bus, or something, that showed up in book ... two? three? At any
          rate, it could get you to Hogwarts with no fuss nor muss, and completely
          obviated the need for the famous school train.


          >In many ways Rowling is a good writer, which makes it all the more irritating
          >that she never learned basic lessons in writing which would have prevented
          >her from relying on such absurd plot cliches.

          Yes, she is good at what she does, but could be much better without losing
          her good qualities. Sort of like Peter Jackson.


          >I wish that when she had
          >submitted the first novel to the publisher, some editor had told her, "O.K.,
          >we're
          >going to accept this book, but you've got to write the rest of the series
          >before we publish it.

          Ah, now that might indeed have made a difference. The Lord of the Rings
          drafts suggest very strongly that if Tolkien had written and published it
          one volume at a time, he would have dug himself into some very deep holes
          indeed. Even as it is, the stylistic and subcreational clashes between
          LOTR and "The Hobbit" have often been noted, and that even after Tolkien
          substantially rewrote portions of "The Hobbit" to make it fit better.

          On the other hand - Ransom is hardly the same character throughout the
          three books of Lewis's trilogy, and not just because of the experiences
          he's undergone, monumentally life-changing as those were. But I can't
          imagine that OSP would be improved had Lewis re-written the character in
          the mold of how he appears in THS.


          >And we'll keep the later novels to a reasonable size."

          I, however, consider books 4-5 to be superior to books 2-3 because they
          have room to breathe. I prefer my school stories to be about school and
          not just about the plot. But this seems to be a minority taste: I
          considered that feature to be the prime virtue of Pamela Dean's "Tam Lin"
          while others considered it the book's principal flaw. Rowling's amazingly
          zippy writing style keeps them from bogging down, though the
          repetitiousness is beginning to get to me.

          - David Bratman
        • Berni Phillips
          From: ... Butting in further, I don t think darancegrissom was implying that children s books have lower standards of quality but that the
          Message 4 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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            From: <juliet@...>

            > On Sun, Nov 09, 2003 at 01:14:09AM -0800, darancgrissom@...
            wrote:
            > > You are aware these books are intended for children...right?
            > >
            > I perhaps shouldn't butt into this conversation, but it bothers me when
            > people think that books intended for children need not adhere to the same
            > standards of quality as those intended for adults.

            Butting in further, I don't think darancegrissom was implying that
            children's books have lower standards of quality but that the point of view
            is that of the kid's. A child may feel he is not being listened to when an
            adult feels he has listened to the child -- it's all in the point of view.

            In the Peanuts comic strip, Schultz chose not to have adults in it because
            it was all from the kids' point of view. In Calvin and Hobbes, you have
            both, and some of the best humor was showing the same scene from Calvin's
            point of view and also from his dad's, getting two radically different
            interpretations.

            In Potterworld, we have adults and kids (although they are rapidly
            transitioning into young adults) but the point of view is always Harry's and
            his friends'. Right through book 5, we have a very puzzling portrayal of
            Dumbledore who is acting totally different from how he was in earlier books.
            He's cold and unresponsive and doesn't seem to care about Harry. This is
            all from Harry's point of view. It's not until the end of the book that we
            find out why Dumbledore has behaved like this.

            Berni
          • Elizabeth Apgar Triano
            Well, okay. Some of these complaints are pretty legit, but as has been pointed out, it s actually a familiar experience to be in the right and have nobody
            Message 5 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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              Well, okay. Some of these complaints are pretty legit, but as has been
              pointed out, it's actually a familiar experience to be in the right and
              have nobody believe you. And as a kid, or, worse, an adolescent, life is
              very much like that. I haven't picked up book #5 yet, but I'm only human,
              and I'm awfully adolescent, so the POV of the beleaguered adolescent would
              seem to make sense, at least sometimes.

              I do agree with wanting to keep juvenile fiction to some kind of standards.
              Just sorting through the stuff offered by the primary school libraries, and
              the Scholastic take-home papers, can be enough to make one pretty upset.

              And pick as we want, Ms Rowling is a successful gal. Remind me if I ever
              get published to turn off my list mail.

              Lizzie Triano
              lizziewriter@...
              amor vincit omnia
            • Elizabeth Apgar Triano
              Right through book 5, we have a very puzzling portrayal of Dumbledore who is acting totally different from how he was in earlier books. He s cold and
              Message 6 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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                Right through book 5, we have a very puzzling portrayal of
                Dumbledore who is acting totally different from how he was in earlier books.
                He's cold and unresponsive and doesn't seem to care about Harry. This is
                all from Harry's point of view. It's not until the end of the book that we
                find out why Dumbledore has behaved like this. >>

                PLEASE tell me that we find out the scoop about Snape. I will read that
                book sooner rather than later if I have some sort of carrot reward to look
                forward to.

                Lizzie Triano
                lizziewriter@...
                amor vincit omnia
              • Carl F. Hostetter
                ... Yeah, the Internet is quite frustrating that way, ennit? ;)
                Message 7 of 10 , Nov 9, 2003
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                  On Nov 9, 2003, at 11:31 AM, David S. Bratman wrote:

                  > But it's not unrealistic. I am very VERY used to people disbelieving
                  > or
                  > ignoring everything I say, and portraying themselves as idiots as,
                  > frequently eschewing actual arguments, they insult and abuse me in
                  > absurd
                  > terms

                  Yeah, the Internet is quite frustrating that way, ennit? ;)
                • alexeik@aol.com
                  In a message dated 11/9/3 3:30:40 AM, Wendell Wagner wrote:
                  Message 8 of 10 , Nov 10, 2003
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                    In a message dated 11/9/3 3:30:40 AM, Wendell Wagner wrote:

                    <<There
                    doesn't seem to be any bounds to the magic that can be performed in Rowling's
                    universe. >>

                    You may change your mind about this particular point once you actually finish
                    the book. One of the main things Harry learns in this volume is that there
                    *are* rigorous bounds to what magic can do.
                    Alexei
                  • Berni Phillips
                    From: Elizabeth Apgar Triano ... Well, in a way. Harry sees Snape as a student and gets an understanding of why Snape is so
                    Message 9 of 10 , Nov 10, 2003
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                      From: "Elizabeth Apgar Triano" <lizziewriter@...>
                      >
                      > PLEASE tell me that we find out the scoop about Snape. I will read that
                      > book sooner rather than later if I have some sort of carrot reward to look
                      > forward to.


                      Well, in a way. Harry sees Snape as a student and gets an understanding of
                      why Snape is so distrustful of him.

                      Berni
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