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Author Topic: Article on LOTR, Harry Potter, and Star Wars in Reason.com
Noemon
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I was reading an article on reason.com that was talking about and examining why the Harry Potter, LOTR, and Star Wars movies resonated with audiences to such a degree, and while I hadn't come across anything brilliant yet, I was enjoying the essay well enough until I came across the following:

quote:
One of the contemporary discontents to which all three series respond is a general boredom with modern bourgeois existence. The escapism of these stories is an antidote to the routine that is the special curse of safe, static middle-class life. The suffocating and vulgarly materialistic world of the Dursleys, the family that initially raises the orphaned Harry Potter; the pettiness and relative inconsequence of life in the Shire, where Frodo Baggins was born; the laborious and task-centered existence of the young Luke Skywalker on his aunt and uncleís dusty provincial farm -- all bespeak the ordinary world of the middle class.
Emphasis mine.

I don't really agree with his characterization of The Shire. You could argue that The Shire is the whole point of the books

The author goes on to say that

quote:
It is no accident that all three series initially focus on the fortunes of an adventurous youth. Harry, Luke, and Frodo all secretly hope not to become like their elders. Though by no means revolutionary firebrands, all rebel against the older generation.
I think that he's having to shoehorn the stories into the mold he wants them to be in, at least to a certain extent. What he's saying here is absolutely true, for Star Wars. It doesn't really fit either Harry Potter or LOTR though. With Harry Potter, Harry isn't rebelling against an older generation so much as an oppressive and stifling pair of step parents. In LOTR, Frodo is actually emulating a member of "the older generation" when he sets out on his quest. You could easily say that he's rebelling against society, of course. I don't know, maybe I'm just splitting hairs here.

quote:
Each generation thinks of itself as progressive and its parents as conservative or reactionary. Yet the traditions of the older generation are in no way deeply rooted in the past, emerging instead from a relatively recent rejection of the norms of a not-so-distant generation.
What? How does this apply to LOTR at all? For that matter, it doesn't really quite seem to fit for Harry Potter either. If you kind of unfocus your mind's eye and look at Harry Potter it starts to *seem* like this might apply, but even then it's a huge stretch.

quote:
To become a wizard, a Jedi, or the Ring bearer is to claim an ancient title...
I know I'm just being petty here, but Ring Bearer isn't some ancient title. There's no tradition associated with it.

quote:
Were the heroes of these films to leave their tedious lives for a world utterly alien from the mundane ones they had known, these stories would offer pure escapism. Instead, each encounters a hellish version of the modern world he has fled.
He ends up making a pretty good case with this for Star Wars and LOTR, but doesn't really do so for Harry Potter. I think that, again, he's trying to draw stronger parallels than actually exist between the three stories, and is having to shoehorn one of the stories to do it.

quote:
That the defenders of individual freedom and democratic liberty might paradoxically come to resemble the totalitarian enemy they once opposed is darkly suggested by the final scene of the first Star Wars film. Lucasí concluding shot of Han, Luke, and Chewbacca triumphantly advancing toward the dais on which stands Princess Leia recalls a famous scene from the Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will: Leni Riefenstahlís high-angled shot of Hitler and two top aides (including Goebbels) walking in measured fashion between the vast crowds at the 1934 Nuremberg rallies.
You know, I've never felt like anything was "darkly implied" by the scene in which the rebellion honors. It's an interesting idea though. Has anybody ever seen Triumph of the Will? Does Lucas really mimic the scene the article is referring to, or did the author just think "ah-ha! Three people walking together in a formal procession! Obviously this is an allusion to a Nazi propaganda film"? If the rest of the article were stronger I'd be more inclined to assume that the author knew what he was talking about, but he's made it fairly clear to me that he's willing to talk out of his ass if it serves his purposes, so I'm skeptical.

quote:
The grim suggestion of the Star Wars films, borne out by the more spectacular but dramatically less compelling second series, is that the regime that once represented freedom and democracy has itself become corrupt, centralized, soulless, intrusive, despotic, and imperial.
This is definitely what the second trilogy is all about, but again, I never felt like that was suggested in the original trilogy. In fact, one could argue the opposite, that Lucas's message is that in the grand sweap of time societies will always move toward freedom, and that totalitarianism is always destined to fail--"the more you tighten your grasp, the more systems will slip through your fingers" philosophy espoused by Leia in the first film. Alternatively, you could also argue that Lucas's message is that patterns of totalitarianism and freedom are cyclical, or that neither extreme is sustainable. There are quite a few options that could be argued for, but I think that the one this guy chooses is a little weak.

quote:
...Frodo learns that Sauron built the fearsome Tower of Cirith Ungol not for defensive purposes but in order to keep those under his power within the borders of Mordor.
I could very easily be misremembering, but I thought that Cirith Ungol was built by the Westernesse to keep an eye on Mordor, but that eventually Sauron had gained control over the tower himself. Belle? Aka? Scott R? Am I remembering incorrectly? I'm only about 55% sure I'm right about that, but I don't have ROTK here at work to double check.

quote:
the most exclusive (and illustrious) house at Hogwarts: Slytherin.
The most what? Exclusive and illustrious? How so? Exclusive maybe, if it only accepts pure blooded wizards, although I think you could make the argument that all of the houses except Hufflepuff are equally exclusive in their own way, but illustrious? I would think that title would probably go to Gryffendor.

[QUOTE]Like postwar Britain, the Shire survives, but only in diminished form, the quaint and picturesque relic of a once-glorious Elvish past that shall come no more. The Shire serves chiefly as a holiday stop for old wizards and displaced elves who indulge in one final nostalgic visit before heading "to the West" and to oblivion.[/QUOTE}

What? What the hell is he talking about. The quest changes Frodo, and he can never really go home again, but the Shire after its restoration is very much a vibrant, living thing. It has nothing at all to do with an Elvish past, and whether or not Elves or wizards pass through the Shire is really irrelevant to it, in the larger picture. Wizards and Elves are, for the hobbits, the stuff of stories and far away places. Did this guy read the same books I did?

The author actually does occasionally have interesting overservations, but you have to sift through a lot of what looks like crap to me in order to find them.

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BannaOj
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It sounds like he was writing a college paper for a biased professor, and pulling stuff out of his derrier in order to kiss the prof's derrier. I bet it would be an A+ paper there though. I've even written that variety of paper before.

A lot of that paper should be flushed and end up in a sewage treatment plant, but he does make the occasional interesting point.

AJ

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Noemon
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Yeah Banna, that was my initial thought too (and I'm ashamed to say that I've written one or two of that type of paper myself), but he's an associate professor of English at Duke.
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msquared
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Even a blind squirel finds a nut now and then.

msquared

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VŠna
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I'm quite sure you're right about the tower - I reread RotK not long ago.

As for the paper - yeah, shoehorning is a good word. It's too bad - there are certainly some interesting points. Just...it's a bit sloppy. Why couldn't he have just use whichever two stories work best for those points where all three are not appropriate? Would it really have weakened his arguments that much? I think they're weakened more by the false information and sketchy interpretations he's making.

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Noemon
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I completely agree Vana--if he'd just gone with two of the stories he'd probably have been okay. If I were a professor getting this paper I'd probably have given him a straight C, because while he ultimately fails to accomplish what he was trying to, it was a fairly ambitious idea, and he did have some good stuff in there.
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Noemon
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Thanks for confirming what I remembered about the tower--when I initially read what the guy had written about it I though "What? That's not right", but then I started doubting my memory. He had me half convinced on that one.
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Noemon
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As for why he went with three rather than two, my guess would be that there were a number of reasons. First, as Squick pointed out awhile back, three is sort of a magic number for our culture. In this case, I expect that it was just the number of examples that felt right. I expect that having three different examples to draw on also felt more solid, just as a tripod is sturdier than something that has to balance on two legs. Finally, I expect that he'd seen a number of parallels between any two of the three, and that the observation of these various parallels was the germ of the article. It's just that while there are plenty of parallels between any two of the stories, there are few that genuinely exist in all three.

There's a link to his email at the top of the article. Think I should send him a link to this thread? If you'd had an article published somewhere, and somebody kind of thrashed it, would you want to read what they'd said, or would you rather remain unaware of it?

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Dan_raven
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For an English proffesor he should know about the "Epic Structure."

I took a course on Epic's from Gilgamesh to LotR. They all follow a well proven story structure. YOu start and the common, have several adventures, each leading to farther, less common, more mythological areas, only to return to the common a changed person.

Yes, LotR, Harry Potter and Star Wars both purposefully sought to follow this traditional epic format. I have read quotes from George Lucas and JRR Tolkien explaining this.

So does Dante's "Divine Comedy."
So does Shakespeares, "Mid Summers Night Dream."
"Hamlet" begins with our hero leaving the regular stayed student life to come home to the wierd and the wyrd. Of course he does not go back to that normal life, but Horatio does.

Basically, it would be like complaining that since these stories all use the letter E somewhere in them, that it is socially signifigant.

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Noemon
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Good point Dan--the whole "Hero With a Thousand Faces" bit is really almost omnipresent in the history of human storytelling.
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TomDavidson
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DEFINITELY link. [Smile]
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VŠna
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That's not quite what I meant - I really meant more, go ahead and use all three, but only use the ones that are relevant to a particular point while making that point. As in, use LotR and Star Wars for Pt. A, use Star Wars and HP for Pt. B, use HP and LotR for Pt. C, use all three for Pt. D, etc.

Does that make sense? And would it have harmed his paper more than the stretched interpretations he used to make things "fit"? (Darn - does the question mark go inside or outside the quotation marks?)

[ August 07, 2003, 12:36 PM: Message edited by: VŠna ]

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The Editor-in-Chief
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The question mark goes outside in that case because you're not quoting a question; you're questioning a quote.
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VŠna
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Thanks! *scurries off to fix it*

That'll teach me to second-guess myself. Maybe.

[ August 07, 2003, 12:36 PM: Message edited by: VŠna ]

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Noemon
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Oh, that makes sense Vana. Yeah, that would have been better, I think.

So what does everybody else think, to link or not to link?

Tom votes "link", but that could be the fumes from his staining the deck talking. [Smile]

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saxon75
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Link. What's it going to hurt?
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Noemon
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Yeah, you're right. Linked.
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BannaOj
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It was interesting, generally he would start out with a good point at the beginning but he picked all of the wrong data to support his point, and it would fall apart by the end of the paragraph!

The stuff linking Harry Potter with the British elitist culture etc. was interesting, but he could have used far better evidence. And I think he is imposing the author's possible influences on each story far more than the author wanted them to be imposed. I would argue that both Tolkein and Rawlings wanted you to be able to read the story without being blindsided by their own biases, and did such a good job of it that you have to manufacture references in order to prove it.

Though, some of the points were valid. It would have helped if he'd actually read the books and used something that was in them as a reference rather than manufacturing his own fantasy about what he thought they contained.

AJ

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Noemon
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Huh. I haven't heard back from the author, and he hasn't posted here.

I wonder if he hasn't gotten the message, or if he got it, checked out the thread, was dismayed, and decided not to respond. I know that if I were tipped off to the fact that an article I'd written was being discussed, I'd be physically incapable of checking out the discussion. I expect that that's true of most people. I would also probably feel compelled to respond, but I don't know whether that would be a common response or not.

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Alucard...
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I find it a shame that anyone takes three of my favorite things and "shoehorns" them together to try and wield the power of "Newfound!" "Esoteric!" "I wear Black Turtlenecks all year round!"-like "knowledge" with the same wreckless abandon as a kid with a Red Ryder BB gun.

The whole thing smacks of sensationalism. I am trying not to give it any more lip service, with the hope that I do not inflate the author's already bulging ego.

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