What I want you to know. Which is everything.
Thursday, July 28, 2005
I just finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. I think it was my favorite one so far. I started reading the Harry Potter books when I was working at the Dallas Theater Center as an intern. During the first show of the season, Hedda Gabler, I was assigned to run sound. If you are familiar with Hedda then you know it's about 3 hours long. Don't get me wrong, it was a wonderful performance of a classic, but seeing the play 50 times and only having about 20 cues during that 3 hrs., gave me ample time to ponder the complexities of Hedda's psyche. So I spent the time reading. I read whatever I could get my hands on, including a Vanity Fair magazine that had Annie Leibovitz photos of the first Harry Potter characters. Of course, I hadn't read any of the books and therefore didn't know who any of the people on the pages were, but I was intrigued. The primary reason that I was had a copy of VF in the first place was because a few of the other stage hands were ga-ga over the books and were going on about the pictures in the magazine. So I asked one of them if I could borrow a copy of the first one to read. It turns out at least one copy of each of the four books that were written at the time were floating around the theatre and I was able to read the first three in the matter of two weeks, and finished the fourth the night that the show closed. I remember trying desperately to finish the last chapter of The Goblet of Fire before my boss got me to working on striking the set. Needless to say I thoroughly enjoyed the books and when the fifth came out I had my reserved copy. My wife and I are both fans, actually, so we bought two copies so that we could read it at the same time (something that would have served us well to do this time and solved more than a little dispute over the book).
But something always bothered me about the books. No, it's not the writing or story points or plot twists. It's not even the fact that the first two books are rather elementary and rely heavily on a deus ex machina to resolve the story tightly in the end. After all the books are intended for youth, especially the first two. No, my disagreement was with the sport of choice for the wizard and witching world: Quidditch.
The first time I heard of Quidditch I was very interested. I am a huge sports fan and the idea of something that resembled basketball on broomsticks sounded like a lot of fun. I could just imagine myself flying through the air with the quaffle dodging opponents and finally working the Keeper so that he think I'm about to toss the ball in to one of the hoops but actually go for the other. The moment I started reading about it I was very careful to take in each detail, I wanted to imagine what this fascinating would really look like. The idea that something is made up and couldn't actually happen and therefore it is ridiculous to imagine it so is about the most detrimental think a person can think of when dealing with fantasy. Fantasy is all about putting yourself into this world, and believing, if only for the time you are reading that everything contained within the pages of the book are true. For this reason, I wanted to fully believe the world of magic and wizards and Hogwarts and Quidditch.
The first book introduced the world to this sport played on broomsticks on a pitch (oval, roughly the size of a football field) in which two teams see who can score the most points. Points are scored by sending the quaffle (a magical ball) through three hoops on either side of the pitch each hoop worth a different number of points. The game seemed simple enough, almost like basketball or soccer. The addition of two team members whose job it is to send a second enchanted ball, the bludger, batted at various opponents with the intention of disorienting them, and at times knocking them clean off of their broomsticks, seemed a little unnecessary for game that already took skill and dexterity to play, but I bought into it. The problem with me arose with how the game of Quidditch is ended. There is a third ball, called the Snitch, which has wings, is golden and smaller, and about the size of tennis ball while the others are closer to a volleyball. This elusive little ball flies around the pitch the entire game hiding and ducking and evading capture by the player known as the Seeker. The Seekers job is to fly around the pitch, find the Snitch, and catch it. (Here comes my big argument) Once the Snitch is caught the game is over and the team whose Seeker catches the it first receives 150 points.
Now, granted, sending the quaffle through the hoops, (which have a more official name that escapes me) can rack up the point, being that they are worth 20, 30, and higher numbers like that (click on the title of this entry for complete rules). But it seems to me that in a supposed team game, there are really two separate games taking place: the game called Quidditch and the game called Find the Snitch. It is up to the Seeker and the Seeker alone to win the game for their team by finding and catching the Snitch. As a Keeper, your only real job is to make sure that your team doesn't fall behind by more than 150 points because no matter how well you've done, the Seeker will win or lose the game for you in the end and all of your sweat and effort has accounted for little or nothing. I could think of no other sport, in the real world, were one team member's actions and performance had as little bearing on whether the game was won or lost. And so it goes, every time Quidditch is played in Harry Potter's world this issue becomes a problem because one team will be fast ahead but lose because the other team's Seeker was faster or more agile or just lucked out and caught the Snitch.
I wonder if this is a problem that J.K. Rowling either didn't foresee, or simply didn't think mattered or has even noticed. I kind of imagine her sitting down writing the second and third books and kicking herself because she essentially wrote herself into a corner. She obviously can't change the nature of a game that has been played in the magic world for centuries, not to mention that the outcome of these games very rarely if ever deal directly with the primary plot. But, if it were me I'd be a little agitated that the rules of a game that would never work in real life (flying brooms notwithstanding) and would have had these kinks dealt with throughout the years by the natural process of being played, is now sealed within the billions of pages in circulation, not to mention the minds of every dorky little eighth grader in the world.
My issued with Quidditch by no means diminish my love for the books themselves. They are obviously very imaginative and exciting and have spurred millions of children to read who might not have otherwise. I especially enjoyed the way that Alfonso Cuarón imagined the game in the most recent movie adaptation of The Prisoner of Azkaban. Soon enough I was able to get pasted and it would simply take me out of the world for a moment while reading, if that.
I know that there are some obsessive people with regard to Harry Potter and they would be quite upset to hear my objections to a game that my sister-in-law Amy believes is the only game worth playing, but its a small thing that I can easily get over. But, I am interested to hear if any other Harry Potter fans havefeltt the same way. It's okay, you can come out, too. Nobody's gonna hurt ya.
[***UPDATE*** SPOILER WARNING: the comments area for this post is full of spoilers from the book. Proceed with caution.]