Why It Might Actually Suck to Live in the Harry Potter Universe

Some of you may regard this post as rank heresy, but I assure you, it’s all meant in good fun.

My husband and I like to play a silly and very geeky game I affectionately call, “Would You Live In That Universe?”

Okay, I don’t actually call it that, and it’s not really a game, just an ongoing discussion we pick up every few weeks or months, usually when we’ve read or watched something new and interesting. It basically just involves analyzing whether or not we’d live in a particular universe and why. Neither of us would live in the Puella Magi Madoka Magica universe, for example, but we’d both consider living in the xxxHolic world. We’re iffy on the Star Wars universe, and we’ve agreed to steer well clear of Westeros. I’d pick up and move to Hyrule, though, and Drew would probably tag along.

But the Harry Potter universe is a point of contention.

harry-potter06

I, with my Deathly Hallows tattoo and yearly reread of the books, would obviously be down with living there—at least, if I got to be a witch and not a Muggle. My husband isn’t really in favor of it, though, and after my most recent reread… well… I’ll admit he has a few points.

  1. Wizards have a shockingly lackadaisical approach to basic education and real world skills. How on earth did someone like Ron learn to read? And Mr. Weasley can’t even identify basic British currency by the numbers written on the notes? That’s some frightening ignorance, right there. We get the impression that wizard children don’t have much exposure to the Muggle world, and while I’m not a huge fan of public education, I can admit it has its values. Socializing children and teaching them to recognize basic numerals and, you know, LETTERS, is pretty important.

    And it shows, guys. It shows.

  2. Every single witch and wizard is packing. Seriously. Think about it. Wizards describe guns as a sort of metal wand that Muggles use to kill each other. Wands = guns. Every single person in this universe is carrying concealed (or waving the damn thing around in the air). At any moment, someone could hook you into the air by your foot or stupefy you or silence you or much, much worse.. If that’s not a recipe for disaster and serious bullying, I don’t know what is.

    “Oops.” Yeah, right.

  3. Animal cruelty has been institutionalized and is taught in schools. We don’t hear a lot about what happens to those hedgehogs that are getting transfigured into pincushions, but we do know they feel pain—a poorly transfigured pincushion will curl up in fear. How sick is that? And what happens to the disembodied rat tails and vanished kittens? How do we know that tail isn’t feeling unbearable pain? I don’t know about you, but I’d feel really uncomfortable transfiguring another living creature without its consent or a confident, scientific assurance that it’s not feeling any pain.

    totslly barbaric

    Killer chess pieces? Barbaric. Disembodied rat tails? Totally fine.

  4. A huge percentage of wizards are classist or ableist or racist. Okay, this one isn’t that much different than our world, but it’s still disappointing. Ron is constantly bullied for being poor. Hermione is called Mudblood how many times? Squibs are essentially disowned and banished to the Muggle world. And Muggles are regarded as precious oddities at best and disgusting animals at worst. I’ll admit that our heroes are far kinder to these subgroups, but a huge number of wizards we encounter take a very poor attitude to people who don’t look and act exactly as they do. Birth is everything in this world. Pity the Mudbloods, man, but pity the Squibs even more.

    Manners matter, Malfoy.

  5. The government is everywhere. Everyone is magically tagged until they reach the age of 17, and after that point, the magical government is still watching to make sure you don’t take one step out of line. Characters are imprisoned at the drop of a hat, or just to make people feel better (Hagrid in Azkaban? SERIOUSLY?), and the government has a hand in everything from education to medical care to journalism. I know the books are set in a time of war, but the whole question of the Trace makes me feel a little iffy about just who would be watching me.

    …because we’ll sure as damn hell be listening!

  6. Everyone seems to get married, have kids, and die really, REALLY young. Lily and James were, like, 20 when they had Harry. And in the epilogue, Harry is 36ish with three kids. That’s awesome, and great if it’s what you want, but where’s the magical birth control? Are witches and wizards at least being taught how to practice safe sex? And while it seems like Hermione and Ginny go on to have interesting careers, we don’t hear a lot about what other generations are doing. What’s Fleur doing after her marriage to Bill? What did Lily Potter do? And where on earth are Harry’s grandparents? Life expectancy in this world can’t be much more than about 50—and that’s with people like Dumbledore and Bathilda Bagshot throwing off the curve. I’d be a little concerned about burning the candle at both ends, if I lived in this universe. I’m 30 and I’m not an Auror OR a parent yet. What am I even doing with my life?

    With middle age comes… bags under the eyes?

See what I mean? Would YOU live in this universe?

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Mothers and Daughters

If you’re reading this, you have a mother. It’s an indisputable fact. It’s also an indisputable fact that here in the United States, it’s Mother’s Day. Today is a day when we honor our mothers. We thank them for what they do and did for us, and we generally spoil them as they’re never spoiled for the rest of the year. Today’s the day to thank your mom for all she’s ever done for you.

It’s also an indisputable fact that I’m a daughter. (Yup. I am female. SHOCKING.) And I’m sure you won’t be surprised when I say that I invest a lot in fictional characters and their relationships. Because of this, my Mother’s Day tribute is a top 10 list of fictional mothers and daughters. Fiction, fantasy, classic, contemporary—here are some of my favorite daughter/mother pairings.

What others can you add to my list?

This list is worth reading, but lest you read something you regret, I warn you…

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10. Scarlett and Ellen O’Hara, Gone with the Wind

“It’s only natural to want to look young, and be young, when you are young.”

Poor Ellen. She’s setting a wee trend on this list: the long-suffering mother whose death forces her daughter into adulthood and maturity. Ellen is the mainstay of the O’Hara family. She keeps Gerald in check, she reins in Scarlett, she oversees the morals and health of the entire plantation. Her calm, steadfast presence is Scarlett’s rock, the safe space Scarlett longs for once the Civil War really gets going (read: impacts Scarlett herself). Although she dies, and Scarlett fails in her attempts, Ellen is Scarlett’s role model and unchanging idea of virtue. She is the daughter’s ideal of her mother.

9. Jaye and Karen Tyler, Wonderfalls

Karen Tyler, heart of the family. Sorta. Okay, maybe it’s the housekeeper. But still.

Sure, Jaye has a ‘sode, works in a tourist shop, hears/sees inanimate objects talk, and isn’t quite what hyper-successful Karen expects from her children. But Karen loves her all the same and, at Jaye’s request, grants her youngest child more words in Karen’s newest book’s bio page.

What I’m saying makes no sense? Yeah, that’s the joy of Wonderfalls. But whether or not you understand that reference, the Jaye/Karen dynamic is one of my favorites in contemporary television. They push and pull against each other, but they love each other all the same.

8. Paige and Max Connors, Heartbreakers

A typical day in conning. Yup, normal mother-daughter stuff.

I am a longtime devotee of Heartbreakers. I saw it in the theater in 2001, bought the DVD when it came out, and continue to love it wholeheartedly. (The John Lennon song from the wedding night scene—erm, one of them—was the song I walked down the aisle to!)

Paige and Max’s is about the weirdest relationship on this list. (See #6.) They compete, seduce and con men, and, well, lie generally. But when push comes to shove, Max puts Paige’s welfare above their conning success, and she encourages her daughter to come clean with the man of her dreams. If you haven’t seen this underrated flick, check it out.

7. Toula and Maria Portokalos

The horror of wedding-planning. The horror! THE HORROR!! … and the joy.

Well, she’s not your pretty, normally housewifely Greek woman. She wants a new life, works with computers, and fights against her heritage. But Toula loves her family, and the biggest conflict in her semi-unconventional life is her perceived need to choose between her family and desire to break with tradition.

In spite of that, her mother, Maria, fights on her behalf. She argues with her husband, Toula’s father, for Toula’s independence. She welcomes Toula’s “normal” husband, Ian, and his family into their Greek clan with open arms. And she loves her daughter unendingly.

6. River Song and Amy Pond, Doctor Who

Daughter and mother, and…

Mother and daughter, and…

Mother and daughter? What?

Yup, weirdest relationship on this list. Conceived in the TARDIS, River has a time-head and some Timelord qualities. She’s taken away from Amy within moments of her birth, and transformed into a girl we never see again. THEN she becomes a teenager(ish?) and insinuates herself into Amy’s life as her best friend. AND THEN she becomes the fabulous River Song, badass, role model, wife of the Doctor, and… loving daughter? What?

Regardless of all that weirdness, they make it work. They love each other. And that’s what’s important.

5. Jo March, Meg, Amy, Beth, and Marmee, Little Women

There it is, right there: mother-daughter love.

This is the go-to gold standard of mother-daughter relationships. Marmee encourages and reprimands her daughters with tender kindness; she nurses their hurts, she tends their dreams, she waits out their wacky antics. My favorite portrayal of Marmee is 1994 film starring Winona Ryder and Susan Sarandon. While some may complain about Marmee’s almost-modern sensibilities, I love her for encouraging Jo to write and “find herself, and for holding revolutionary transcendentalist beliefs. She’s a remarkable character, and what every mother should hope to be.

4. Elizabeth, Jane, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, and Mrs. Bennet, Pride and Prejudice

Mrs. Bennet and the girls, always waiting on a man.

Whatever opinion you hold of her methods, you have to admit that Mrs. Bennet puts her daughter’s futures in a priority position. Plus, she’s hilarious. She’s ridiculous, outspoken, unenducated, and a little rude, but she’s still a delight, and a wonder of forward-thinking planning. Her first concern is for her daughters(‘ future wealth).

I once read an introduction to one of the many editions of Pride and Prejudice I have lying around that argued that Mrs. Bennet is a far better parent than ironic Mr. Bennet, who openly prefers clever Lizzie to all his other daughters. I’m not sure if that’s true, but I won’t deny Mrs. Bennet’s limitless concern for her children.

Plus, the woman had FIVE daughters. Give her a break.

3. Bridget and Pamela Jones, Bridget Jones’s Diary

Ah, mothers and their gherkins.

Poor Pamela. Bridget and her father have their “grown-up club of two,” always judging and laughing at mad old mummy. But when Pam has an affair, cheating on Bridget’s dad, she does tell her daughter about the, erm, remarkable new relationship. Bridget sides with her father, of course, but she doesn’t cut her mother out.

In the end, Pam wants Bridget’s support and approval. This relationship reminds us that, just occasionally, parents screw up, too. Mothers make relationship mistakes as often as daughters, do, and sometimes daughters have to hold their tongue and let their mothers live their own lives.

2. Cora and Mary Crawley (and Sybil and Edith), Downton Abbey

Nothing brings mother and daughter together like a dead body.

How many mothers would help their oldest daughters carry the body of their dead lovers back to their rightful bedrooms?

Unclear pronouns aside, Cora is a mother among mothers. Yes, she judges Mary. No, she never forgets the awkward moments of carrying Mary’s dead lover’s corpse back to his bed. But she, too, lives for her daughters’ welfare. Cora advocates for breaking the entail on Mary’s behalf, she lives and breathes Mary’s future prospects, and she hates the thought of Mary loving a man she doesn’t love.

She also fights for Edith’s best prospects, and she lives and dies with Sybil’s choices and misfortunes. Cora is, in short, a realistic mother. She is the unconditional, if hopeful, love a mother gives to her daughters.

1. Buffy and Joyce Summers, Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Loving and accepting, and letting it burn.

“Mommy?”

You knew, YOU KNEW, this one would be on this list. Come on. It’s me, after all.

Buffy and Joyce have just about the most realistic mother-daughter relationship of them all. Joyce has to accept Buffy’s, um, quirks (“Have you tried not being the Slayer?”), to watch her daughter fight every day and night for her life, and to let her daughter attempt to become a grown-up.

And in turn, teenage Buffy has to watch her mother have her own life. She accepts her father’s flaws and the mutual reasons for her parents’ divorce. She has to release some of the centrality she assumes she has in her mother’s life. And Joyce has to trust her daughter to oversee her (Joyce’s) death with grace and maturity.

As Giles says, Joyce teaches Buffy everything she needs to know about living. And there’s nothing more we can ask from our mothers.

 

Star Wars: The First Time

Oh, what the dirty minds out there are thinking, I’d love to know.

My husband and I just finished watching Star Wars: A New Hope for approximately the gazillion and fifth time—and it’s still damn good, no matter how many times we watch it.

As the opening text was rolling, though, Drew said, “I can’t imagine what it’s like to watch this for the first time.

I looked at him and said, eloquently, “Huh?”

When he stared at me blankly, I said, “What do you mean? For the first time in the theater? For the first time as the Special Edition? For the first time with the crappy new ones?”

“No,” he said. “As just the first time—I’ve been watching these movies since before I can remember.”

“Oh!” I said. “Well, I CAN remember, and it was magical.”

You see, I was in sixth grade when I first saw Star Wars. I don’t remember exactly how it came about, but somewhere in the midst of my Anne McCaffrey and Dragonlance obsession, my mother realized I’d probably like Star Wars. She told me about it, and I dimly remember crinkling my nose and saying something like, “I dunno…”

I vividly remember, though, going to Planet Hollywood and finding the TAPE (yes, the VHS) of the remastered version, released (I believe) shortly before the Special Edition films hit theaters in 1997: I was 11 and 12, respectively. We found the remastered version of A New Hope in the ‘popular releases’ section, and I remember we were both puzzled by the ‘Episode IV’ subtitle. We asked the nerdy guy at the counter if it was truly the first movie, and he assured us that it was in fact the right starting point.

Luke, Leia, and Han in all their 70’s glory.

We watched it that night on the “big” TV in our black-and-white basement (with the surround sound!), and my entire world changed. I was obsessed, in the way that only pre-teens can get obsessed with something. We watched all of them within a week, and I had to BEG my mom to let us rent and watch a movie on a weeknight.

Being a good mom, she indulged me. (Hi, Mom.)

Return of the Jedi ‘done me in’. Ewoks? Yeah, I loved them—still do, in fact.

They’re like teddy bears with weapons! (May the piracy furies forgive me… Image via starwars.wikia.com)

After that, I collected action figures, even though I was probably too old. I remember finding the remaster VHS trilogy in my parents’ closet for Santa to bring me, a month or so before Christmas. I had a Star Wars sleepover birthday party, to which I made all of my (female) friends wear Star Wars costumes. (I was Luke, naturally.) I bought all the soundtracks and listened to them obsessively. I watched the movies on the tiny TV/VHS system in my bedroom, and I have fond memories of snuggling up to watch them when I was sick. I even read some of the novels.

It shaped my life in the same way that Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series, Braveheart, and the Dragonlance novel Dragons of Autumn Twilight all changed who I was. Honestly, it’s up there with the moment I read Hemingway’s short story, “Cat in the Rain,” in high school and realized that I wanted to study English literature in college. My life has never been the same.

I think, oddly, of the How I Met Your Mother quote when Ted’s best friend Marshall says to Ted’s almost-wife, Stella:

Look, Stella, that is Ted’s favorite movie of all time. He watches it when he’s home sick with the flu. He watches it on rainy Sunday afternoons in the fall. He watches it on Christmas Eve. Ted watches Star Wars in sickness and in health; in good times and in bad. Do you really think you can pretend to like a movie you actually hate — for the rest of your life?

Could I have married a man who didn’t like Star Wars? I’m not sure—all the guys I’ve ever been involved with have liked it. My high school boyfriend’s mom liked to tell the story of how her first date with my boyfriend’s dad was to see A New Hope. (They’ve since had a messy divorce… hmm…)

A New Hope was magical for me in a way that Brave would have been if I’d seen it at 8, that Harry Potter has always been, The Lord of the Rings was when I was 17, and Buffy was when I was 24. It’s one of those worlds you can get lost in and not emerge from for months.

So, can I imagine the first time?

Oh, yes, I can. I will never forget it. If I have kids, I’ll save this movie until they’re old enough to appreciate—unlike my husband, they’ll remember the magic of the first time. Any friend of mine will have to watch it. And I’ll always go back to it when I need a boost, or when I’m happy, or when I just want to get away for awhile. It’s part of who I am.

Do you remember the first time you watched Star Wars, friends? Tell me your story. What other stories have had this impact on you?

Four Reasons to Love The Secret World of Arrietty

My fiance and I celebrated his three-day weekend today in our usual fashion: we went to see a matinee on a weekday.

While I’m typically skeptical of anime (see the future for a blog post on why that is), I was sold on The Secret World of Arrietty from the first time I saw the preview. I’ll watch anything that’s full of fairies (or Borrowers, as the case may be) and is set largely in a garden. Add a cat, and you just get double bonus points. It’s what my fiance calls “a Kristin movie.”

Anyway, I loved this one, and here’s why you should love it, too:

1. It’s based on the classic children’s novel by Mary Norton called The BorrowersI don’t think I ever read this as a child, but I wish I had. My fiance distinctly recalled his mother reading it to him when he was a youngster, and I think my kiddish self would’ve loved it. Had the movie come out when I was little, too, I would’ve been obsessed. I would have made tiny furniture and left it out for the Borrowers; I would’ve put out sugar and berries and anything else I think they would have liked. In fact, I’m still tempted to do it, because I suspect they’ve “borrowed” my Monty Python DVDs, which I would surely like back.

2. It’s beautiful yet understated. No big fight scenes or computery-graphics in this movie, no sir. But the animation, the backgrounds, the characters themselves are beautiful all the same. Likewise, the music is gorgeous but not overwhelming. This movie reminded me of one of my childhood favorites, The Last Unicorn, and not just because of its Japanese origins: both are beautiful and poignant and sad, even as they’re uplifting.

3. The tiny little girl teaches the boy about bravery. When the six-inch girl teaches the full-sized boy with a heart condition to be brave, you know you’re watching something wonderful. There are no standard roles here: Sean is brave, but Arrietty must teach him to let himself be brave. He’s a dreamer, too, even more than she is, willing to believe that the impossible is possible. Arrietty just teaches him to apply that belief to himself.

4. It teaches kids (and grown-ups) to never give up. Think you’re the last of your kind? Think you’re going to die on the operating table in a few days? Well, don’t let that stop you from seeking others, from trying to live, from having hope and believing in the goodness and unending wonders of the world out there.

This is the (tiny) face of courage. Image via FilmOFilia.com

Bonus reason: She wears a clothespin in her hair and has knives in her shoes. How cool is that?