August 30, 2010

Voldemort is not the bad guy

Yes, another post, but Harry Potter was slighted in my comments and I must avenge his honor! Not really, but a commenter presented an interesting observation about the Harry Potter saga that I think warrants interesting discussion. (I will mention some book 7 spoilers, if you care.)

Chad said:
The magic stuff and basic story elements are fine enough but the bad guy is terribly boring. He's like a villain from Captain Planet or something. "Blast, foiled again because I do not understand basic concepts of love, friendship and turning the water off while brushing my teeth!"

This comment is funny, but I think it misses the point. Voldemort is not the bad guy in Harry Potter, in my opinion. Voldemort is the personification of pure evil. The "bad guys" are the ones that are seduced by Voldemort's (evil's) promises of greatness and power. The worst offender is Bellatrix LeStrange. She is just about as cartoon-evil as Voldemort himself. But all other bad guys are varying shades of gray.

J.K. Rowling does some really interesting things with the concept of "bad guys" throughout her series. We first meet Voldemort in book 1 physically attached to Professor Quirrel. Our first introduction to the "bad guy" has him completely consuming one of his followers. I think this is significant. The true power of Voldemort is his influence over those that follow him.

We see him again in book 2 as Tom Riddle, before he became Voldemort. His "bad guy" status isn't readily apparent, but like in book 1, he only gains power when someone willingly opens up to him. Rowling shows us that even Ginny Weasley, who throughout the rest of the series is completely good (in an awesome, kick-ass kind of way), is vulnerable to Voldemort's power. Ginny's weakness was her insecurity and fear, and evil preys on our weakness. Book 1 shows us that the danger of Voldemort lies in his influence over people, and book 2 shows us how easy it is to allow that influence to consume you.

By the time Voldemort comes into full power, I think Rowling has presented a wide range of bad guys. The Dursleys, Gilderoy Lockhart, Sirius Black, Lucius Malfoy, Peter Pettigrew, Severus Snape, Draco Malfoy, Barty Crouch Jr., Cornelius Fudge... these are the bad guys. But even the worst bad guys have redeeming moments of love, friendship, and loyalty. One of my favorite moments in the series is in book 7, when Voldemort asks Narcissa to see if Harry Potter is alive. She lies. Not because she has any change of heart, but because she loves her son. As Sirius says in Order of the Phoenix, "the world isn't split into good people and Death Eaters." He was talking about Dolores Umbridge, of course. A perfect example of how sometimes the very worst bad guys work for the "good" side.

There is no personification of good in the book. Lily Potter comes close. The power of her love goes head-to-head with the power of Voldemort, and I can't think of any character flaws. But besides Lily, all of the other good guys are just as imperfect as the bad guys. Even Dumbledore has his serious flaws and regrets, as we learn in book 7. The heroes of the book all have their less-than heroic moments: Ginny Weasley opens the chamber of secrets, James Potter severely bullies Snape, Remus Lupin nearly kills a bunch of people as a werewolf, Sirius Black almost causes Snape's death and is extremely cruel to his house elf, Ron Weasley abandons his friends in a fit of jealousy, and even Harry Potter gets so obsessed with the deathly hallows that his carelessness leads to the group's capture, Hermoine getting tortured, and Dobby getting killed. These aren't small mistakes, they are bad enough to make them the bad guys in small snapshots of the overall story.

One of the best things about Harry Potter, in my opinion, is that it blurs the line between good and evil. But it does it in a very subtle way. For the most part, you know the good guys and you know the bad guys. (Except for Snape, until the very end.) Voldemort is not a subtle or nuanced bad guy, but his affect on the bad guys and the good guys is subtle, ambiguous, and devastating. It's what drives the books. How do we deal with evil? What does it look like when we encounter it? Can we recognize it? Can we recognize it in ourselves?

(p.s. In Chad's defense, he's only judging Harry Potter by the movies. I'm sure if he read the books, he'd be totes bees.)

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World

Holy cow two posts in one day. After 20 days of no posts even. It's almost like I'm avoiding something I don't like doing... but I can't imagine what that would be, in the middle of a rainy Monday morning.

Movie review time! I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World on Saturday. I wanted to see this movie two weeks ago, but a return appearance of Tubes! (Jill's arch-nemesis) foiled those plans. SPOILERS AHEAD. BE YE WARNED.

The best part of this movie was Michael Cera's whiny pouting. And I even thought I was starting to get sick of him. I was wrong! He has emo-whiny pouting down to an art. I am trying to perfect his delivery of "'s haaaard," slouching halfway down a chair, wallowing in my own abject despair, complaining about my non-problems. I wallow in abject despair at my own non-problems ALL THE TIME, so it's very useful to learn how to do it properly. Today I've already used this new skill to whine about the following things: you can't seem to find long straight skirts at stores anymore, I'm not wearing a giant sombrero, people can see my face, Harry Potter isn't real and I'm not magic, I have a headache, people keep talking to me, it's not raining, it's raining, and the expectation from society that I take a shower every single day. These are very serious non-problems and I'm glad this movie has shown me how to effectively complain about them.

The worst part of this movie was the choice at the end. Scott has to choose between Knives and Ramona, and I don't know enough about why he liked either girl to really care much about which one he chose. But I still felt like he was picking the wrong girl, at least according to the movie. The most recent fight scene seemed to be saying that Scott and Knives were the best team, but then he goes off with Ramona? Like I said, I don't know enough about why Scott even liked Knives (other than the fact that she looked like an anime character... and I guess anime characters are hawt?) to care that he didn't chose her, but it did feel like the movie itself was pulling the Knives to prevail. And I didn't buy that she suddenly didn't care if Scott left her for Ramona.

Overall, good movie. It was really fun to watch, and very funny throughout. But there was something missing with character development. I enjoyed watching the characters, but didn't care much about what happened to them.

Aw man. It's raining again, but not raining enough. *pout* Why can't I just get exactly what I want every moment of every day? Is that too much to ask? Why is life so hard?

How Jamie Learns About the World

I've completely dropped the ball on those Monday Morning Memory memes. Big surprise to all of you who know me, I'm sure. Jill is especially disappointed, I'm guessing. So to make up for it, here are several short memories where I learn something new about the world. (And I promise, the titles of these stories may make you nervous, but you have absolutely nothing to worry about.)

Jamie Learns About Lesbians: Jill and I were riding her bike. Well, Jill was pumping and I was sitting on the seat, cracking a whip demanding she go faster. (Kidding! It was totally loving and tender. Maybe a little too loving and tender.) We pass some boy from school and he shouts at us "You guys are lesbians!" Not knowing what he was talking about, but sensing it was an insult, I yelled back, "So are you!"
Scene: Later that day, Jamie sitting in the kitchen with her mom.

Jamie: Mom, what's a lesbian?

Mom: You don't need to know that.

Jamie: [leaves the room to find the dictionary]

Jamie Learns About Masturbation: I'm about 11, trying to blend into the background while the grown-ups talk about things. The current grown-up topic: the Michael Jackson trial. Pretending to be invisible and eavesdropping on adult conversations was one of my favorite hobbies as a kid. This eavesdropping session the grown-ups used a new word, saying it in hushed tones while stealing furtive glances at the girl on the couch pretending not to be listening.
Scene: Later that day, Jamie sitting in the kitchen with her mom.

Jamie: Mom, what does masturbate mean?

Mom: You don't need to know that.

Jamie: [leaves the room to find the dictionary]

Jamie Learns About the "F-Word": It's the first day of 7th grade and a kid in the hall yells an unfamiliar word that starts with "f." I spin around and gasp in shock. (I think I may have pointed as well.) Could this be that "f-word" I've heard so much about?
Scene: Later that day, Jamie sitting in the kitchen with her mom.

Jamie: Mom, does the f-word rhyme with "duck?"

Mom: You don't need to know that.

Jamie: [leaves the room to find the dictionary]

Jamie Learns About Polygamy: In 7th grade (again), girls in the P.E. locker room joke about how one girl is a "lesbian polygamist." Thanks to my trusty sex-ed teacher (the dictionary), I know what a lesbian is, but I'm not sure about "polygamist." And I'm sure I've heard this word before.
Scene: Later that day, Jamie sitting in the kitchen with her mom.

Jamie: Mom, what's a polygamist?

Mom: You don't need to know that.

Jamie: [leaves the room to find the dictionary]

The dictionary was useful only about half of the time, and I'm very glad I didn't have the internet as a child. "Dictionary" would be replaced with "google" and even though I thought I wanted to know everything, there were some things I really didn't need to know. Some of those ages and dates are a little embarrassing to admit, but "embarrassing to admit" could be the title of a movie based on my entire pre-teen/teen life. When you are the oldest kid in a sheltered Mormon home, growing up with mostly Mormon friends, some things just take a little longer to figure out.

August 10, 2010

I just wrote a book

In less than five minutes. Well, the premise to a book, but with a premise this strong, the book pretty much writes itself. Here it is, tell me what you think. (Be honest, but only if you think it's awesome.)
In a neo-noir one-way spaceflight, a young techno-obsessed geek stumbles across a time-traveling soldier which spurs him into conflict with a profit-obsessed corporation, with the help of a shape-shifting female assassin and her reference book, culminating in wish-fulfillment solutions to real-world problems.
You can write one too. Just go here. Or if you are really lazy and less concerned about the details of your book, go here. My favorite bad guy? Computer viruses made real. I don't know why, but that sounds like the coolest villain ever. How did they get real? What do they look like? What happens when they infect humans? (I didn't pick it for my story because I have an artistic hyphenated-word theme going on. It's a metaphor for the way the characters feel about each other, or something.)

August 4, 2010

Deep Blue

I walk in the cemetery, minutes after sunset. I watch the lightning over the Salt Lake Valley. The city lights slowly brighten as the wild sky darkens. It’s not a picturesque rolling thunder storm, with majestic hues of deep blue and purple. It’s a hasty smear across the sky, the color of a massive bruise. Like the one that covered half of my thigh the entire summer of 1994, after the fall down the water slide. Brown and black with a fleshy orange undertone from the lingering sunlight. Lightning flashes in quick bursts, behind the Wasatch mountains, above the ball park, over the lake. I hear no thunder over the pulsing bass of the The Suburbs.

I open a new google doc, to write this all down before I take a shower. I read last night’s document, my scripture journal, where I wrote about doubt and fear and starting on a new spiritual path. I re-read my self-assigned study topic from last night: to re-read the reaction of King Benjamin’s people after his prophetic address and ponder on my reaction to the “fear of the Lord [that] had come upon them.” Nine years ago my reaction to those verses had triggered my first true conversion to religion. I re-read it today and wonder what’s it like to know something wild or to truly feel fear.