Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lord Voldemort : The Hits Keep Coming

Last time we discussed the Darkish Lordy fellow, the focus was mostly on his behavior in the fourth book. Now let's see what he got up to for the rest of the series.

(I like it when the red water comes out...)


THE EVIL PLAN - As discussed in Harry’s entry, the plan in this book was to feed Harry false memories in order to lure him to the Ministry of Magic so Harry could retrieve a recorded prophecy about the two of them. Once Harry did so, Voldemort’s men, who had themselves just strolled in, would take it from him.
EVIL GRADE - D-. Voldemort, who tends to be at least medium evil in his everyday life, falls short here by basically going and picking up some paperwork. The prophecy itself was built up as some kind of game-changer, but it turns out kind of useless, stating that “Neither can survive while the other lives.” This sounds ominous at first, but on closer inspection makes no sense at all. They’re both going to be dead if they’re both alive? What? Really all it says is that one of them is going to die before the other. Frankly, that seems likely to begin with.
PLAN GRADE - F+ I discussed this a bit in my last entry, but there are three things I had forgotten that I need to clarify now. For one, he sent Harry because only those who the prophecy was about could take it, though I have no idea why. Harry and his friends certainly have no problem knocking them off the shelves easily enough, and when the glass ball containing them breaks, everyone hears what was said. So his men could have gone in, found the prophecy, (labelled “H. Potter & Dark Lord.”) smashed it, and took notes. And even if we take them at their word on that stipulation, there’s still another issue. I've previously pointed out that if his right-hand woman, a prominent prison escapee, could break in, there’s no reason Voldemort, who’s presumed dead, could not. This proved particularly problematic when I was reminded that he actually did. He was in the building the whole time, hanging around the atrium. The third thing is that his plan actually relied completely on Harry being stupid and the adults in his life being neglectful. Which actually is a pretty safe bet, so well done there. That kind of forethought is what bumped him up from an F-.

(I have no idea why his crotch is glowing. Is FairyWinkles to obscure a toy to make jokes about? Well, I just did, soooo... Yeah.)

THE EVIL PLAN - To have his man on the inside (well, boy on the inside) at Hogwarts kill Albus Dumbledore, after using a forgotten plot device from an earlier book to sneak an army of Death Eaters into the school.
EVIL GRADE - B. It’s hard to argue with the killing Dumbledore for straight-up evil, and having a mentally unstable teenager do it, while it’s going to knock some points off in the planning scores, is the icing on the cake. Draco Malfoy spends the entirety of the sixth book having a slow nervous breakdown, and Harry Potter, being the sensitive soul that he is, spends the entirety of the book ignoring Draco’s transparent cries for help. What a dick.
PLAN GRADE - D+. As evil as it was to make Draco do it, it doesn’t make much sense. Apart from a fairly decent set of potion-making chops, Draco is not the top student in the school. He’s smug and arrogant to the point of overconfidence at the best of times, and now he’s clinically depressed. Not the kind of guy you want running your sensitive black ops. By contrast, Voldemort also has Severus Snape, the potions professor at the school. Snape is, as far as Voldemort knows, a double agent, and more importantly, an extremely competent wizard, and MORE more importantly, a freaking adult. If Voldemort wanted Dumbledore dead, he could have had Snape poison him at any time. He didn’t even need the transportation cabinet, since his army doesn’t do squat while they’re there. They just wait until Dumbledore’s dead and flee. The least they could do is take out Hagrid or something. So yeah, hiring a crazy teenager to do a complex job, not even telling the fully capable adult what that job is, and eventually sending an army on an assassination job. Wow. Usually the Dark Lord relies on coincidence too much. I think this is the first time he’s over planned.
Actually, there’s a coincidence in his favor, anyway. Dumbledore had been away attempting and failing to get a bit of Voldemort’s soul to destroy, and had to drink a hell of a lot of poison to do so. Known side effects of this poison include massive weakness in the short term and gibbering insanity in the long term. So the Death Eaters found him in a position where not only was he unable to defend himself, he was actively seeking death. Hmm… maybe sending an army wasn’t a bad idea. I’m not raising the grade, though.

(Wuh indeed.)

THE EVIL PLAN - Engage in a top-secret takeover of the wizard government through sneakery, propaganda, and mind control. Once done, foster a paranoia and mistrust of the good guys. A sub-evil plan is to make everyone think that muggle-born wizards don’t have internal magic, and they have stolen it from real wizards.
EVIL GRADE - C. Not that conquering the government isn’t evil, it’s just… Well, for one thing, it’s kind of small. I thought bad guys were supposed to conquer the world, not a tiny percentage of the population of one smallish, though prominent, country. Of course, Voldy hates all humans and wants to kill and enslave them eventually - or does he? Maybe he’s smarter than we thought and has realized that in open war, the wizards don’t stand a sulfurous rock’s chance in a snowball factory. But probably not. I do like his plan to discredit muggle-borns, though. You’d think that after 5,000 years or whatever, the wizarding community would have figured out that sometimes, wizards are born to muggles. It’s got to be established fact. Doubting it would be like people in the real world doubting that evolution is real, or thinking vaccines cause diseases, or that 9/11 was a conspiracy - just because some shady people with no sense of logic and immediately obvious ulterior motives told them so! Hey, wait…
PLAN GRADE - C-. From a pure planning perspective, assuming he goes ahead with the smaller scale evil, the underground approach makes sense. Let’s face it, Hitler couldn’t have gotten reelected in 1961. No matter how many followers Voldemort used to have, his name being the ultimate embodiment of evil for the past 16 years is the kind of bad publicity it’s hard to recover from. Despite that, there are some… unusual decisions made in the process. For example, after a tenure of only a year, Minister of Magic Rufus Scrimgeour is secretly assassinated, and a new minister put in his place. Surely you have already guessed that Voldemort orchestrated his removal and put one of his men in charge, or perhaps used polyjuice potion to impersonate him. Well, you're half right. In fact, he simply has the new Minister put under a mind control spell, and assigns his closest men to take high positions in the Ministry to direct and monitor him. Far be it from me to question the Evil Genius, but why not just mind-control the guy who was already there? Or, since you seem to be able to get your guys all the best jobs, put one of them in charge? Or at the very least, make the puppet Minister someone other than the head of Magical Law Enforcement, who is undoubtedly trained to resist such spells.
Voldemort also took control of Hogwarts, making attendance mandatory (not that we ever saw any other options in the first place), and manipulating classes, particularly history and Dark Arts, to suit his views. This is once again a great idea that was executed poorly. For example, Snape is made headmaster, which is right and proper from Voldemort’s perspective. As far as he knew, Snape was a dedicated double agent and knew the school well, and his protection of students from the new, evil teachers went unnoticed because he was though to be above suspicion. So I can blame Voldy for missing that. I can blame him for leaving Minerva McGonnagal in the position of assistant headmaster. What the hell? She was Dumbledore's right hand, and a prominent critic of the Ministry's tactics before, as well as one of the teachers who was closest to Harry Potter. Leaving her in charge is just stupid.
There's some smart stuff here. They put a spell on the very word 'Voldemort' that causes anyone who says the word to be located instantly, knowing that only Potter is saying it frequently. They spread misinformation through the wizard's only radio station and newspaper. They find Ministry officials with similar views and promote them. There's a lot of very solid how-to-take-over-a-country here. It's just the boneheaded evil overlord stuff takes over and knocks a B+ plan down to barely passing.
Of course, maybe Volds would be doing better if he weren't only thinking with a ninth of his brain.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Harry Potter: Idiot Teenager.

And now the time has come to examine Our Hero. The Boy Who Lived. The Chosen One. Holder of Capitalized Nicknames. Harry Potter. But We Need To… Whoops. Ahem. But we need to ask ourselves, is this guy really as all together as we would like our heroes to be? It’s undeniably a good thing for a hero to have a bit of an anti-authoritarian streak, to do things his own way, but sometimes, one can go a little too far with that, and just be… well, stupid.

(Rather Dashing)

Take, for instance, his attitude to occlumency. What is occlumency, you ask? Well, don’t. It’s annoying, and you know I’m going to tell you anyway, so don’t interrupt. See, in the Potterverse, there are equal and opposite forms of magic called Legillimency and Occlumency. Why mency and not mancy, you ask? Jeez, you’re mouthy today. Legillimency is the forcible reading of another’s mind, and occlumency is the art of blocking your mind from being read. Around the middle of the series, it is revealed that Harry’s scar has given him a connection to Voldemort about which the Dark Lord is unaware. This connection allows him to, at random points, see what Voldemort is up to. His evil plots, his wicked killings, his breakfast burritos, etc. When Dumbledore figures out what’s what, he orders Harry to take occlumency lessons. Harry doesn’t want to, because he figures it’s good to see what the bad guys are up to. Dumbledore very sensibly points out that not only does it go both ways, but Voldemort has quite the knack of ligillimency, and could feed misinformation into Harry’s head. But Harry, assuming he knows best, slacks off on his occlumency lessons. Guess what happens next?

(Look, I can't be held responsible for fanart.)

Yes, sure enough, Voldemort feeds Harry a terrifying vision of his godfather, Sirius, being tortured in the secret subbasement of the Ministry of Magic in London. Rather than wonder how they captured Sirius, who is hiding in a secure location, or why they brought him to the basement, or what part of what he just saw made sense, Harry gathers up his friends (The smart one, the hot one, the fat one, the crazy one, and Ron) and rushes off to the Ministry to save Sirius from the Death Eaters. Surprise! Not only is Sirius not there, but the Death Eaters are lying in ambush, and the six 15-year-olds are surprisingly outclassed by the dozen adult psychos. Fortunately, word got out to the grown-ups, who come in to save the day, including Sirius, who takes a death spell to the chest and falls into oblivion. (Literally, I’m not being poetic. They just keep some oblivion in the basement, apparently.)


BONUS VOLDEMORT IS STUPID MOMENT - The whole reason they had to lure Harry down there in the first place is because Voldemort needed to retrieve a record of a prophecy that concerned him and Harry, and only people involved in the prophecies can retrieve them. So… why didn’t he just go and get it himself? It’s clearly not had to break in there, as in one night it was infiltrated by a team of thugs in evil robes and spooky masks, a gang of truant high school students, and another group of random people. Included on those teams are two people who work in the building, but I should think they’re more than offset by the two prison escapees, who occupy the top two spots on the wizards’ most wanted list. So clearly, anyone who wants can get there. So why not just stroll in, take it, and leave? Moron.

(Look, I already said, I can't be held responsible!)

ANYWAY - You may be thinking that Harry would try harder at occlumency if he was being taught by someone else than Snape. You’re thinking that, but you’re too smart to say it. Because why should Harry not trust Snape? In the first year, Harry’s mistrust of Snape was well-founded, since he looked like he was up to no good. But the surprise reveal was that Snape had been going out of his way to fight for the good guys, and even though he was a jerk with a grudge against Harry, he was still a good guy. That’s the lesson we all learned from that, but not Harry, who spends the next 6 years mistrusting and despising Snape against all evidence. Malfoy, also. Draco Malfoy was, for most of his sixth year, a quivering, nervous wreck. Harry could have taken countless opportunities to target his obvious fear and displeasure with the bad side and turn him to the good, as Snape was attempting to do. But in Harry world, being an asshole is equivalent to being irredeemably evil, and he refuses to even consider that there’s more to the world than black and white morality.

(LOOK! I SAID... Wait, actually, I like this one.)

Okay, some of this can be forgiven, I admit. He’s a teenager, after all, and they are not a breed known for their sensible natures. But you know what? Spider-Man was a teenager. So was Captain Marvel Jr. So are the Young Avengers, the Runaways, and Invincible. And they all ring true as legitimate teenagers while still being able to bear their responsibilities, battle evil, and oh I don’t know how about FIGURE OUT THAT IF SOMETHING HAPPENED THE LAST FIVE TIMES, IT’LL PROBABLY HAPPEN AGAIN! Harry! Book Seven! I know you know that Voldemort cast a spell on his name so that anyone who says it is easily detected. SO STOP GODDAMN SAYING IT! I can forgive your grudges, your attitude, your general truculence, but this? This is just boneheaded.

That’s not the end for this guy, but it’s enough for now. I don’t want to be too hard on him all at once. He doesn’t handle criticism very well.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lawyers, Guns, and Money


I am writing this in the Kean University Human Rights Gallery. The walls are decorated with large posters of the 30 human rights, and I find myself wondering how may of them are violated by the wizard courts. And by the way, nice job putting this thing together, Kean. If I was a little more interested in the displays, I wouldn’t be thinking about Harry Potter. I would still be thinking about Star Trek, though. I always am.

The court system for wizards is called the Wizengamot. This is, as I’m sure you’re aware, a pun on the Witengamot, a council of advisors to the king in pre-Norman England. (This was also the root word for the Entmoot in Lord of the Rings, making “The Witengamot in popular culture” one of the nerdier subheadings on Wikipedia.) As the name seems to imply, it is a council of respected wizards who rule on the guilt or innocence of accused criminals. The first time we see them, they are shown releasing a wizard with known Evil associations because he is a famous athlete, then taking testimony from a guy whose defense is to randomly yell out the names of his co-conspirators in a desperate attempt for leniency. The Wizengamot collectively laughs at him until he says a name they haven’t yet heard, whereupon that person is immediately arrested based on the hearsay of a desperate evil lunatic. I mean, he was right, but they had no reason to believe that. 

(Meanwhile, at the Hall of Justice...)

We finally see a full trial in the next book. Harry and his non-magical cousin were attacked by dementors, which are these sort of corporeal downers. Harry cast a spell to get rid of them, and being an underage wizard in a Muggle area, is seen by Brother Eye, and brought in by the Ministry of Magic. They’re none too happy that Harry’s been telling everyone Voldemort’s returned and want to throw the book at him, so he’s sent to the Wizengamot for a trial. On the day of the trial, the first thing they do is change the time of his appointment without telling him. Then his lawyer, Dumbledore, shows up, despite A) Also no having been informed of the time change, and B) representation for the defendants amazingly not being a usual part of the proceedings. Dumbledore has brought a witness with him, and needs to remind the court that he is allowed to do so. The witness is unreliable and nervous, but this seems to convince many of the council. I guess since they arraigned him for no particular reason, they’re easily swayed. The rest of Harry’s trial is an argument between Dumbledore and the head of the council on whether the Ministry ordered the attack, which is irrelevant; the council refusing to hear further testimony, which is unethical; and the council attempting to pin Harry on a number of unrelated charges outside of their jurisdiction, which is stupid. Dumbledore keeps the council on track and demonstrates a clear understanding of Wizard law, which is probably why they fired him a few weeks before these events.

In closing, the head of the council holds the title of “Chief Warlock”. The word warlock comes from the Old English “w√¶rlog”, which roughly translates to “liar”. No further comment.


The Wizard aversion to convenience is one that I’ll return to for a full article later. For some reason, they use scrolls and quills to write when pens have been around since 1888 and looseleaf paper has been around since… I don’t know, forever? But one of the weirdest instances of this was in the newspaper report of Sirius Black’s escape from Azkaban. Black was considered extremely dangerous, and in order to make the Muggles aware of this, the newspaper tells us, they have been told he has “a gun, which is a type of metal wand Muggles use to kill people.” WHAT? Guns have been around in one form or another since about 1150, and they are, as Michael Moore will not hesitate to tell you, a major part of culture. Yes, even in England. How on Earth are they ignorant of what a gun is? It then occurred to me that a gun could be a huge benefit when fighting a wizard. No magic is going to block a sniper’s round fired from a quarter mile away. Even face to face with a wizard, there’s not some sort of standing shield spell they could use. Just keep popping off shots until one gets through. Give ‘em the old six rounds rapid. And when the giants joined the war, everyone was worried because they’re naturally resistant to magic. You know what they’re not naturally resistant to? Tanks. And speaking of giants, think how much good a gun would do Hagrid! 

See, there’s no electricity at Hogwarts, because the intense magical field messes it up. This is obviously just a gimmick in order to give the books a mysterious and antiquated feel, and that’s fine. But they’ve also established that an old Muggle camera with no electronics in it will work. So while electrical things will break, mechanical things will not. Hagrid’s job as Hogwarts’ groundskeeper frequently requires him to go into the Forbidden Forest, which is filled with horrible hairy whatnots. And he goes in with a crossbow. Crossbow? Those things take like five minutes to reload! If you’re getting attacked by a rampaging acromantula, time is not on your side.


(Image courtesy of a rapper's t-shirt.)

Money in the Potterverse is a tricky thing. Consider American money. Basic unit: Dollar. Denominations: Four common coins under a dollar, coin and bill forms of the dollar, and five common bills for multiple dollar amounts. The subdivision is the cent, of which there are 100 in one dollar. This makes taxes and change simple to calculate. Easy, right? Now let’s look at wizard money. Basic unit: The galleon, worth about eight dollars. Denominations: Two coins under a galleon, one coin for the galleon. Division: 17 sickles in a galleon, 27 knuts in a sickle, making taxes and change not only difficult to calculate, but downright counterintuitive.

As if that wasn‘t annoying enough, just as Hogwarts appears to be one’s only schooling option, there is also only one bank for wizards, namely Gringotts. Financial issues are conducted by goblins, who are short, greedy, and have big noses. Did George Lucas come up with this part? But the enchanted mystical Jews are among the smaller problems with this system. For example, unlike Muggle banks, where they keep a record of how much money you have, and you can withdraw it at any branch, at Gringotts, everyone keeps their money, as in the actual coins that they own, in a special vault in one branch. These vaults may be accessed by underground roller coaster. Practical!

(Plus the place was designed by Bloody Stupid Johnson.)

Of course, given that the goblins are so concerned with protecting the wealth within, and given the crazy levels of security, Gringotts has a reputation for being the safest place in the world to keep anything. It’s as secure as Azkaban! By which I mean apparently really easy to break into. Just as a dying looney and a dog can leave Azaban whenever they like, Gringotts’ number-one top-security vault is broken into by a fat clown with a face growing out the back of his head. The goblins were baffled, and there were no leads. I’d recommend security cameras, but they’d just ignore me.

(The Gringotts staff.)


Speaking of that one school, one bank, etc thingy, has anyone noticed that there seem to be only three drinks in the wizarding world? Seriously, do they ever drink anything besides pumpkin juice, butterbeer, and firewhisky?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Arthur Weasley: Bad At His Job.

I’d like to take a moment, if I may, to discuss one Arthur Weasley. Art is notable for being one of the only positive father figures in the whole of the Harry Potter series, and the only one to survive the series. He is married to Molly Weasley, and they have 178 red-haired children. Okay, seven, but that’s still a lot for someone on his salary. See, he’s a minor government functionary in the Ministry of Magic, which is british for Department of Magic. His specific role is in the not-terribly glamorous… sorry, glamourous Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office. This extremely vaguely-defined department policed spells placed on mundane objects to make them do things other than what they were intended for. Like you can enchant your tea kettle to boil on its own, but not to bite intruders. Except they were all the time trying to keep them away from Muggles entirely, so maybe you couldn’t even do the first thing. Except that every dang magic person in England does all their housework by magic. Maybe it’s only spells that remain on the object? Whatever. I’m not here to explain his job. Just why he stinks at it.

(I've noticed that people on message boards who rant and rave over minor appearance issues in the movies never seem to care that Movie!Arithur has hair and no glasses. This is either because those kind of people idolize Chris Columbus and idealize his soulless schlockfests of movies, or because it's Arthur Weasley, so who gives a crap?)

See, Ron is all the time telling anyone who’ll listen that his father could be promoted any time he wants, he just stays at his job because he likes it. You know, when it comes to defenses, “My dad’s not stupid, just lazy,” is not one of the best. Also, I’m not so sure he is any good at his job. He has a tendency to steal from the office. You know, paper clips, pens, creamer, A CAR. Yes, in Artie’s garage is a Ford Anglia that he has magically modified to fly, to be bigger on the inside than the outside, and to turn invisible. Yes, like a cop who deals drugs, Arthur goes home and does exactly the thing he’s paid by the government to stop other people doing. But he only does it because he’s so fascinated by Muggles, right?

(Apparently this artist reads about Arthur and thinks "Creepy English Professor.")

Well, let’s see. Among Mr. Weasley’s wonderings about Muggle life include the specific workings of batteries, bus stops, and “escapators”, which are all pretty self-evident. He collects plugs, though he is uncertain of how they work. He can’t figure out appropriate postage, which I guess he finds more complicated than paying a bird to carry your mail. His dearest wish, the books tell us, is to learn how airplanes fly. This guy works in London. Even if he somehow can’t grasp the concept of public transportation, there are several large and notable libraries he could go to. Hell, if he can figure out a computer, five minutes on Google could get him everything he needs to… Oh, wait, the books ended in 1997. Okay, 40 minutes on AltaVista.

(Arthur Weasley and the Hat of Unimpeachable Dignity)

It’s hard to say what his most bone-headed error is. Probably trying to stitch himself up after being attacked by a magic snake. Actually, since the snakes venom was stopping any magical attempts to heal him, that’s not a bad idea, even if he only had a vague clue how it worked, and was mostly guessing. And unlike most wizards his age, he knows how to dress, in a snazzy pair of pinstripe pants and a bomber jacket. Plus, he’s a caring father who raised his kids to be good people. Sure, he really should have tried for a more profitable position, but when the one of your seven progeny who turns evil turns good again, that‘s pretty good for a wizard. And his wife killed the biggest badass on the villain’s side, so good on her. Yup, ol’ Arthur’s got quite a lot on the ball.

But seriously, man… Muggles are your job.