Tuesday, July 31, 2007


Loyal, Brave, and Not Very Bright

Walter Jon Williams has posted some ruminations inspired by the last Harry Potter book. He suggests that Potter himself is a return to a heroic type not often seen since the First World War.
Harry is a throwback. He's the ideal of the 19th Century hero, which of course is the sort of person that the English public school system was intended to create. Tom Brown's Schooldays was the first and most successful of a raft of fiction set in British boarding schools, and which eventually produced such unforgettable works as Dean Farrar's Eric, or Little by Little, Elinor Brent-Dyer's Chalet School series, Elsie J. Oxenham's Abbey Girls series, and many more. (Which in turn produced a reaction or deconstruction, which included benign examples like Charles Hamilton's Billy Bunter, who was the fat kid at his school, through the Molesworth books, to Harry Flashman, and then to outright demolitions like George Orwell's Such, Such Were the Joys.)
I've not read past the third book in the series, as I've probably mentioned before, but I'll admit that Williams's thoughts pretty closely parallel my own on reading those early installments.
The 19th Century hero, trusting and brave and somewhat dim, marched off to war in August 1914 and never really came back--- following d'Artagnan, who died for a social order that viewed him as scum at worst and cannon fodder at best. Heroes are a lot smarter and cynical now. James Bond is brave as hell, but you can't picture him shouldering his Lee-Enfield and marching over the wire into the German machine guns; and if you asked him to, he'd sneer at you.
What do those of you who've read through to the end think? Is Williams onto something here, or off base?

Generally I'd say he's right, although I'd quibble with calling Bunter a benign deconstruction. Bunter was intended as comic relief, rather than the hero of those stories. Even in stories where he's the protagonist, he's not intended to be the hero.

But otherwise, yes, he's right, both about the assumptions of what's heroic in 19th century lit and in Harry Potter itself. (Although Hermione isn't scorned for her smarts, as would have been the case in the 19th century).
I was curious to hear your take. Good point about Hermione, though.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by 

Blogger. Isn't yours?