Harry Potter 101: Wizards Don’t Learn Math

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Abra Cadabra, Lord Voldemort.

What is Harry Potter?

Harry Potter’s a wizard.

No, I mean, like, the series.

Oh! Harry Potter is a book series, written by J.K. Rowling, about a secret world of wizards.

Harry Potter is an ordinary eleven-year-old who lives with his aunt, uncle, and cousin, the Dursleys, until he finds out he is a wizard, and goes to a wizard school called Hogwarts.

Why’s he live with his aunt and uncle?

His parents are dead. Lord Voldemort, the most powerful, evil wizard ever known, killed them, when Harry was just one year old.

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Which is not to say he doesn’t have fun with it.

Wow.

Yeah, that’s kinda Harry’s reaction to all that, too.

Why did he kill Harry’s parents?

He killed a lot of people, to be fair. Harry’s parents were just the last before he disappeared. And he killed them because he wanted to kill Harry.

Why’d he want to kill a baby?

Magic.

C’mon…

No, really. And I can’t say much more, without spoiling a few plot twists. But the basic answer is: magic.

Okay, smart guy, how does a baby beat the biggest, baddest wizard around?

That’s complicated, but the simple answer is: the spell Voldemort used rebounded from Harry and hit Voldemort instead. Harry walks… well, crawls away with just a scar in the shape of a lightning bolt.

That’s pretty metal.

Hellz yeh.

Does it give him any special powers? Aside from wizardry, I mean?

He can talk to snakes, which is weird, and never very useful. It does some other cool stuff that becomes important in later books.

How long is this series, anyway?

Seven books. They start out standard sized, about 300 pages, until the fourth book. From there, they grow until the last, which I think is an 800 page whopper. The first two are basically kid’s books – I’d have no problem letting a 7 or 8 year old read em. The third and fourth are more young adult. By the fifth and sixth, though, the books get pretty dark, so if your kid wants to read them, check them out yourself, first.

That’s a lot of reading. Can’t I just watch the movies?

You can, and some of the movies are actually good. As the kid actors grow up, they get even better. But Harry Potter is all about the weird, fun little details, and most of those get dropped from the movies.

What kind of details?

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House Elves like Dobby, simultaneously the best and worst doll you could give a child.

Like goblins and house elves and centaurs, and how wands work, and the Ministry of Magic working with Muggles and… a lot of nerd stuff that’s probably boring you. But trust me, it’s awesome

Wands? Really, like goofy sideshows, “Hocus Pocus!”? And what’s an effing muggle?

A muggle, sir or madam, is a non-wizard. There’s also Squibs (wizards who can’t use magic), muggle-borns (wizards born to muggles), and pure-bloods (wizards born from wizards).

Ugh…

And a wand’s important. It’s like the wizard’s lightsaber, except it uses Phoenix feathers and Dragon heartstrings instead of jewelry. It’s pretty metal, too. Unless you’re saying Dragonforce isn’t metal…

I would never say that.

Good.

And I think there was something about the government in there…

Yeah, the Ministry of Magic. The series takes place in England, and the Ministry governs the wizards and tries to keep them out of sight of the muggles.

How can that work? Wouldn’t somebody just take a picture of some kid levitating and post it to Instagram?

Probably, and I want to see that sequel, but not in the series. The series begins (in-universe) in 1991, and ends in 1998, the year the first book was published. So, give it like a decade, and muggles will probably be all up in the wizard’s business (if you’re reading, Ms. Rowling…)

All right, all right. Now I’m rereading this… I mean, reviewing our conversation, and you said Harry goes to wizard school? So this is what, Magic Times at Wizard High?

Harry goes to school with about a thousand other wizard kids from age eleven on, at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. A big part of the books are about classes and sports and friends, wrapped around the plot.

Isn’t a school full of adolescent wizards, uh, dangerous?

For Harry, it’s practically a deathtrap. For everyone else, it’s just mostly dangerous. But Harry would be dead a lot if not for his best friends Ron and Hermione.

How in the world do you pronounce that name?

Ron. RAH-AHN…

No! The other one!

Oh, yeah. Hmmm… HER-MY-OH-KNEE. I think. Or HER-MY-KNEE, for short.

There is no way that name is worth struggling over. 

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Don’t sass Hermione. Ron is Harry’s best friend, and he’s got some great snarky and bright moments, but Hermione holds them together. She’s the brains and badass wand-slinger of the series. There’s an article over here, all about her (NSFW and spoilers).

I still don’t know. I mean, I haven’t read them, and they’re really old now. Is there any point to going through them at this late date?

I think so. I still read through them occasionally, and I usually find something new to enjoy. But I’ll put it this way: If the idea of rebellious wizard-Jedi, led by Gandalf, in a war against Magic Hitler doesn’t sound appealing, I don’t know what to tell you. Except that Hermione’s in it, and she is totally awesome.

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At some point, they really should have renamed the series after her.

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Sourcerer’s 11: Questions for Author Alex Hurst

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Welcome to the September edition of Sourcerer’s 11, our monthly interview series. I’m chatting today with fantasy, science, and speculative fiction author Alex Hurst. You can find her on WordPress at Alex-Hurst.com and on Twitter @AlexHurstTweets.

Meet Alex. She's cool.

Meet Alex. She’s cool.

Welcome, Alex!

Thank you! It’s an honor to be here. I’ve followed your blog for a long time, and was pretty chuffed when you asked to interview me.

Yay, us!  (Alex is the one speaking in boldface, just so you all know. I am speaking from here on out in italics. And I am pretty stoked about the fact that the word “chuffed” has just been used on my blog for the first time ever. Let’s do this thing!) 🙂 Q&A time!

Q.1: Earlier this summer, you released D.N.A., a serial, illustrated novella. As you know, we love illustrated fiction, sci-fi, and superheroes around here, so I’m intrigued. Can you tell us a little bit about D.N.A. and how it came about?

Art by Kevin Nichols

Art by Kevin Nichols. We almost went with the cover image, but thought the better of it and decided to do something special. We have more art from Kevin Nichols today 🙂

D.N.A. came about sometime in the latter part of last year. The fiction writing group I belong to had a call out for superhero-themed fiction, and that being a genre I’d always loved as a kid, I simply had to try to get a story in. D.N.A. was accepted into that anthology (Writers’ Anarchy III: Heroes & Villains), but is re-released now with minor alterations and a handful of illustrations.

I started the story with a concept (Alta’s “power,” but then decided to also use the world that rapidly developed as a vehicle for discussing feminism, LGBT, and social issues. Alta is a woman, a person of color, and a lesbian, and the story and characters all amount to the big question I hope to ponder with the series: What does it mean to be human?

Q2. Do you have another fiction project in the works you’d like to give us an early teaser for?

I have a few projects on the back burner right now, mainly because I don’t have the knowledge to move forward. My current novel-in-progress is a non-European epic fantasy told from the perspective of the villain, but it’s on a stall because I need to do some serious world building in regard to military and poverty functions within the regions.

Q.3 Since you live in Kyoto, I can’t pass up the opportunity to ask you about Japan. I’ve always had a fascination with Japanese culture, but I think we often get an overly-simplistic view of other cultures in the U.S. Can you tell us something interesting about life in Japan that the average North American could never learn from the television and travel literature?

Hm, I’ll have to think about that one for a second. There are a lot of things that many people find shocking or surprising about Japanese culture, but it really depends on how much the person has studied or what kind of person they are in general.

That being said, I think that most of the world would have the impression that Japan wastes very little. Just last week, I saw a NYT article that discussed the philosophy of “mottainai” or “Such a waste!” In theory, this is inline with what we learn about Japan. They recycle, they take care of their things, etc., etc. So, it was very surprising to me to find out, when I came here, that there are a lot of micro-wastes in the culture, like individually wrapping every cracker or cookie in a package, or triple shrink-wrapping electronics. Even books, when you go to the book store, are all shrink-wrapped with paper “obi,” or belts, which are all thrown away, generally.

Likewise, many restaurants don’t offer a doggy bag option for food that you can’t finish at the restaurant. Grocery stores won’t stock food that isn’t absolutely perfect, and tons of food simply gets thrown out every year. What it comes down to is that they are very good at not wasting some things, but not others, and I think that’s true of any country in the world.

Q.4 Let’s talk about blogging for a bit. Your Archetypes series is one of my favorite blog series of all time, and it seems to be generally well-received. How did you come up with that idea? And if you don’t mind sharing, how long do those posts take to produce?

There's an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. :-) Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

There’s an archetype to be found in this image, or a few. 🙂 Image by Kevin Nichols for D.N.A.

Well, thank you very much! I have a lot of fun writing those posts. I can’t actually remember much how it happened. I think I was looking at critical analyses of fairy tales and came across the terms “anima” and “animus,” and thought it’d make a good blog post. Then, because I was there anyway, I decided to have a look at Jung’s twelve archetypes, because I find them way more flexible than traditional stereotypes used to fill a cast.

The posts themselves don’t take long at all to introduce, but I did spend two days before starting the first one building the graphics. I decided ahead of time what sort of look I was going to go for, prebuilt the wheels and made a template for the featured banner. Since the images are done, it’s just a matter of filling in the text once a month. I usually start thinking about who I want to use for each archetype a few days before the post, and find the images on Google…. The actual writing of the posts takes about 4-6 hours, give or take, though the Creator post only took me one hour to churn out. I’m definitely a seat-of-the-pants blogger; shame my fiction writing doesn’t work the same way!

Q.5 Everyone who’s blogged for any length of time has favorite posts, and in my experience, bloggers’ favorite posts are rarely their most popular. In your own opinion, what’s the best post you’ve published so far?

Another hard question. I think my favorite post is another series that hardly got any love, Tackling Poe. I made that series my first year of blogging, though, and didn’t know anything of what I know now. I’m actually going to be repackaging the whole series over the next couple of years, now that I know how to push it properly.

Q.6 Most bloggers make a lot of mistakes in the early going, so those of us who have been at it for awhile usually have a list of things we’d do differently if we could go back to the beginning and start all over again. Do you have any tips to offer bloggers who are just getting started and want to be successful?

If I could do anything again, it would be deciding FIRST if I want a self-hosted domain or WP.com domain, because I switched three months in to self-hosted, and lost so many of the followers I’d struggled to gain in the beginning. 

I would also say participate in a couple, but not too many, weekly memes in order to meet people. However, the most important thing, to me, for any blog, is that your blog have something personal to say. Personal not just in the stories you tell, but in the voice you use to get them out there. Don’t be afraid to offend people, or not be interesting… just be you, and be honest.

Q.7 Since you write both fantasy and sci-fi, I’m curious to know which you prefer as a reader. Which do you read/enjoy more of, and do you have any favorite stories you’d like to share with us?

I’ve gone in and out with the genres I like. I was heavy into fantasy when I was younger, but I ended up finding so many problematic themes (mythical creatures as pets/pedestals, women having no other conflict than to be raped, etc) that I simply stopped reading the genre after 14. I’ve picked up some science fiction novels since then, but I mostly enjoy science fiction in short stories (see: Lightspeed: Women Destroy Science Fiction)

As far as my favorites, those are also variable. I’ve come to really enjoy the idea of Roger Zelazny’s Book of Amber, even if I found the writing ineffective. Right now, my heart is more with speculative fiction, as in Gaiman’s Neverwhere, or with fantasy, Brust’s Jhereg or Abercrombie’s First Law Trilogy, though I didn’t like the entirety of the end in the latter!

Q.8 You mention in your WordPress profile that you volunteer as an admin for the online community Fiction Writers Group. Since many of our readers are fiction writers, I think some of them might be interested to know what that community is about. Would you give us a brief run-down?

Sure, I’d be happy to! Fiction Writers Group is a Facebook community of authors from all around the globe. We currently have over 8,500 members, and we produce 2-3 anthologies a year that are only open to those in the group. I admin, I keep up with the website (writersanarchy.com) and do the proofreading and interior design for the anthologies. Definitely check out the website, because there’s way more information there, but my favorite part about the community is how generally helpful everyone is, and the mock publishing process we have for our Writers’ Anarchy series, which boasts no form rejections and the opportunity to resubmit after feedback. I think it really helps people take baby steps to a thicker skin!

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain't good art, I don't know what good art is.

One more from Kevin Nichols. If this ain’t good art, I don’t know what good art is.

Q.9 Any advice for writers, artists, and other creative folk who are struggling to break in and find a large audience for their work?

Have an idea for your audience, but don’t write with the intent of reaching a large audience. Write first with the intent to tell a good story, and have that story edited — not just proofread, but truly edited. Indie and self-published does NOT mean do everything yourself! There are a ton of resources out there. 🙂

Once you have your story the best it can be, then think about platform. I think there’s nothing for it but blood, sweat, and tears. Unfortunately the work isn’t over once you type The End. There will be many, many more hours of marketing and reviewer searching ahead of you…. but, don’t give up!

Q10: Give us your best elevator pitch. In four sentences or less, why should we read your stories?

I like to write about the human condition, and what it means to be human in an unhuman world. My works, no matter the genre, are character-driven more than plot -driven, but that doesn’t mean the plots are lacking! I like diversity, not just in skin tones and gender and disability, but also in personality, and the reactions and actions people who aren’t me would take in any given situation. If you’d like a free set of stories to read, check out my works on Out of Print. “Scalawag” and “Passing Over: The Handbook” are, I think, the best stories to read to get an idea as to my range. 

Q.11: If you could own one magical artifact or piece of out-of-this-world technology, large or small, from the simplest magic wand to a Death Star, what would it be?

I think Jim C. Hines answered this best with his Libriomancer series (imagine, pulling any loved item from any book ever written!), but If I had to choose one, and it couldn’t simply be a magical or supernatural skill, I’d want a wand from Harry Potter… a common answer, but there’s so much you can do with it! (As long as the Ministry of Magic isn’t on my trail, too!)

Star Wars Saturday: Representation Matters (and a Book Announcement)

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If we can’t write diversity into sci-fi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones. – Jane Espenson

In almost 40 years of existence, Star Wars has done some good work in terms of diverse characters, though there is still room for improvement, even in more recent creations.

Source: Wookieepedia.

Source: Wookieepedia.

I grew up with favorites such as Leia Organa, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Han Solo and Lando Calrissian. I fell in love with Mara Jade when reading Timothy Zahn’s Heir to the Empire in the early 90s. I jumped up and down when we got Mace Windu, Bail Organa and Padme Amidala in the Prequel Trilogy. I can’t wait to see the new trio in Episode VII, as well as the new and returning characters.

Star Wars has had recurrent missed opportunities with depiction of disability. So far, most romance and characters presented were straight. I hope to see more characters of colors and other species have important roles in the future, as well as even more compelling female characters of all ages.

Yet, the franchise has done good things since it was created. It was what prompted me to return to my collection of essays A Galaxy of Possibilities: Representation and Storytelling in Star Wars, and revise it, as well as add two new chapters. Tackling the whole universe would be a lifetime work, but the following essays aim at shedding some light and discuss aspects of diverse representation in the franchise:

  • Introduction: Why Representation Matters and Why Star Wars has a Role to Play
  • Chapter 1: Star Wars Rebels: A New Text to Link the Old
  • Chapter 2 : Lando Calrissian : Iconic Scoundrel
  • Chapter 3: Star Wars’ Jedi Younglings: A Benevolent but Controversial Education System
  • Chapter 4: Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II – A Milestone for Star Wars Female Characters
  • Chapter 5: Mara Jade: Pillar of the Star Wars Expanded Universe
  • Chapter 6 : Female Wizards: Jocasta Nu and Kreia
  • Chapter 7: Tenel Ka: Negotiating Acquired Disability
  • Chapter 8: Nala: The Missing Link between Disney Princesses and Leia Organa
Cover designed by Jennifer A. Miller.

Cover designed by Jennifer A. Miller.

The New Revised Edition will be available in Kindle format on September 9 (print version TBA later this year), on all Amazon sites, including Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Canada. You can also find the book’s Goodreads page here. I’m always happy to connect with my readers!

What about you, fellow Star Wars fans? What aspects of diversity do you think were well done in Star Wars and which ones do you hope to see improve in the future?

Throwback Thursday: My Endless Tolkien Series, part 18

Originally published at Part Time Monster as “The Mirkwood Affair Concludes.” This is the most recent installment, so until I write more of these for the Monster, we’ll be doing something else here on Thursdays. I hope you’ve enjoyed  this run!

Part 18 of an ongoing series.

At dusk of the day after the battle with the spiders, Thorin-and-Company-Minus-Thorin are waylaid by the Wood-elves. The dwarves are armed only with small knives. They are so hungry and exhausted they are “glad to be captured” and give up without a fight. Bilbo puts on the Ring quickly enough that the elves don’t notice him and follows them to the royal stronghold. (1)

Map by Deviant Artist silentrageleon

Map by Deviant Artist silentrageleon

The passage where he makes the decision to enter the stronghold is interesting.

He did not at all like the look of the cavern-mouth and only made up his mind not to desert his friends just in time to scuttle over at the heels of the last elves, before the great gates of the king closed behind him with a clang. (2)

Since we’ve established already that Bilbo recorded these events, the wording here is important. He enters out of loyalty. Sticking by your friends and family is even more a virtue in Middle Earth than it is in the here-and-now. Also a big deal: keeping one’s promises.

I read this passage as a signpost that points us to even more evidence of Bilbo’s innate goodness than we’ve already seen, and there is a passage at the end that works the same way. They’re like bookends – but before we get to the second passage, we need to give at least a little attention to intervening time.

image by  lucasmt

image by Deviant Artist lucasmt

There’s not much putting-on and taking-off of the Ring in this chapter because Bilbo is wearing it continually to avoid being seen by the elves, and the dwarves are held captive for a period of three or more weeks. It’s worth noting that the Ring is not doing all the work. When Bilbo slips in and out the gate behind elven hunting parties he does not “dare to march among them because of his shadow.” So he’s using his wits, and he’s actively hiding the whole time. (3)

The elf-king imprisons the dwarves because they refuse to tell him why they are travelling through the Woodland Realm. They don’t want him to know what they are after the treasure of the Kingdom Under the Mountain. The elves treat them well enough, for prisoners, so they hold out for weeks and eat the elves’ food. (4)

The dwarves are all held in separate parts of the palace, so Bilbo has to learn the layout of the elven stronghold and figure out where Thorin is stashed away. He carries Thorin’s orders not to give away the purpose of their journey unless he gives the word to the other dwarves. Thorin’s motives are clear in the passage where he gives the order:

For Thorin had taken heart again . . . and was determined not to ransom himself with promises to the king of a share in the treasure, until all hope of escaping in any other way had disappeared; until in fact that remarkable Mr. Invisible Baggins (of whom he began to have a very high opinion indeed) had altogether failed to think of something clever. (5)

It’s also worth noting that Thorin is looking to Bilbo for salvation here, just as the other 12 dwarves did after the encounter with the spiders. (6)

Eventually Bilbo finds the water gate the elves use to return their provision barrels to Lake–town. He finds the opportunity to make an escape attempt on a night when most of the elves are feasting in the woods. He catches the butler and the guard chief sampling the king’s wine, which is stronger than they realize and makes them fall asleep. (7)

Bilbo steals the prison keys and releases the dwarves. They all make their way to the cellars and stuff themselves into food barrels. There are two quotes from the escape incident that deserve highlighting, because they tell us both about Bilbo’s relationship with his companions and about his own character. (8)

When Bilbo frees Balin from his cell, the dwarf (as is typical of Balin) bombards Bilbo with questions. Bilbo responds:

“No time now!” said the hobbit. “You must follow me! We must all keep together and not risk getting separated. All of us must escape or none, and this is our last chance . . . Don’t argue, there’s a good fellow!” (9)

This exchange is important because it places Bilbo clearly in charge. Is shows that he not only understands the stakes, but is also capable of taking leadership of the whole group if need be. “All or none” also demonstrates that he is fully invested in the success of group.

Before they go to find the barrels, Bilbo makes a decision that is at least as good as his refusal to attack the unarmed Gollum. He sneaks back into the room where the guard chief is sleeping and slips the keys back onto his belt.

“That will save him some of the trouble he is in for,” said Mr. Baggins to himself. “He wasn’t a bad fellow, and quite decent to the prisoners. It will puzzle them all too. They will think we had very strong magic to pass through all those locked doors and disappear.” (10)

Bilbo Art by Deviant Artist Deviant Artist Duh22

Bilbo Art by Deviant Artist Deviant Artist Duh22

Here we see the two elements of Bilbo’s character that inform his decisions to spare Gollum and to sneak invisibly into the midst of the dwarves before slipping off the Ring after his escape in one delicious passage. He’s showing the jailer mercy, but he’s also taking a bit of delight in some dramatic mischief.

Perhaps this is why he gets away with wearing the Ring continuously for nearly a month (and, ultimately, possessing it for so long) without it drastically affecting his personality. He’s good even to his adversaries when he has a chance to be good to them. And he loves a good practical joke. Could humor and compassion be the antidotes to the lust for power and obsession with forbidden knowledge that do so many of Tolkien’s characters in?

We’ve talked more about Bilbo than the Ring in the last few posts, but I hope you see why I said when I started this arc that understanding Bilbo is the key to understanding the nature of good in Middle Earth.

This series takes the next several weeks off so we can do the A to Z Challenge up right, both here and at Sourcerer. I’ll continue with Bilbo beginning in late May or early June.

Notes (Bibliography)

All page numbers are from The Hobbit

1. p. 167

2. p. 168

3. p. 169

4. p. 168-69

5. pp.171-72

6. p. 163

7. pp. 171-73

8. pp.173-76

9. p. 174

10. p. 175