Monday, August 15, 2011

Another Thing J.K. Rowling Wrote that She Totally Wish She Hadn’t

Harry Potter is most beloved for its richness and depth — it feels like a real world; it's staggering and intimidating and unmasterable in its largeness. That’s part of what makes the series so good.

2) Marauder’s Map, Time-Turner, House-Elf Magic and Other Rule-Breakers

The most difficult part of these depth, however, is what to do with all the loot.

The Marauder’s Map shows people’s names — but no one notices Wormtail or Crouch or VOLDEMORT (the twins have the map in book 1, remember) wandering the steps of Hogwarts. House-Elves seem to be able to apparate in and out and through barriers like it’s nobody’s business.  Paintings and photographs are inhabited, turning every furnished home into a fantastic 1984 Big Brother dystopia.

And there’s a Time-Turner that — oh, god — there’s a time-travel device in this universe.

The point is that you can’t keep track of all the different objects, all of which operate under different rules. This move is great for giving us that “whoa” mindset much akin to a Muggle being dropped into a magical universe, just like Harry Potter. But it also makes it all the more impossible to anticipate anything that goes on in the Harry Potter world.

This leads to all sorts of mysteries: if there is Floo Powder, why does Dumbledore use a broom to return to Hogwarts at the end of book one? if all the portraits can see, why does none of them ever see the basilisk? if we have a working truth serum, surely we could use it on someone sometime -- and why doesn’t anyone use the Time-Turner to solve innumerable problems (spoilers, naturally: save Cedric, stop Harry from going to the Ministry of Mysteries, stop Wormtail from escaping once his cover is blown, etc.)

Rowling herself shuts down a dozen artifacts throughout the series: the Philosopher’s Stone, the Time-Turner, etc. for sheer fear of what to do with all of them. But it's that fine balance: you need a thousand objects to make a novelistic universe seem real, but you need a dustbin to put those objects into from time to time, lest your storyline get choked with all the Deus ex Clutter. 

In the end, Harry Potter evokes a very large universe, one I wish I could visit -- and maybe order an old Time-Turner at the second-hand shop.

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