Review of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince in the works. Meantime:
One of the things I've liked about the Harry Potter books and movies is J.K. Rowling's and Harry's own ambivalence about Harry' status as the Chosen One.
It's gotten to the point where I can't sort out whose Chosen One-ness came first and who's chosenness is informing whose, but it's now impossible for me not to see the two boy-heroes Anakin Skywalker's and Harry Potter's stories as running commentaries on each other.
Actually, there are three heroes to deal with. George Lucas tied Luke Skywalker's story explicitly to Harry's in the final scene of Revenge of the Jedi when he let John Williams quote the Harry Potter theme as Obi-wan delivers the baby Luke to his anti-Dursley aunt and uncle.
It's Luke who's Harry's double now, and in that doubling Anakin becomes a double for Tom Riddle, which amounts to George Lucas doing a self-edit, rejecting earlier conceptions of Anakin as the tragic hero of his saga in favor of returning to his original concept of Vader as the villain, a point Rowling started from. Vader. Voldemort. The irony is that Rowling gave up her original conception of Tom Riddle as a fallen angel in favor of making him a textbook sociopath.
In The Half-Blood Prince it's established that if Riddle wasn't born evil, neglect and abuse caused him to fail to develop a conscience or any sense that other people matter for more than their usefulness to his own narcissistic desire for power and he became a monster at a very young age. He became a monster before he had a chance to become a person.
That was disappointing because it meant that Harry was never in danger of going over to the dark side.
It wasn't that Riddle had given in to temptation. It was that he'd never been loved. This is psychology not literature. From that point the outcome of the final book was never in doubt. Not that it ever was. Rowling wasn't going to give her series an unhappy ending any more than Lucas would have ended his with the Rebellion's defeat. But the imaginary possibility of an alternative ending was closed off, in a way it never was in the Star Wars saga. We were and still are free to imagine Luke's giving in to Vader's offer or losing his last light saber duel. That failure is foreshadowed in the failures of various other Jedis in their battles with the Sith. Even Yoda fails. Dooku fights him to a draw and he loses to Darth Sidious. Qui-gon, the essential man, the one who could have trained Anakin by taming his ego, is defeated by Darth Maul, and even though Obi-wan slices Maul in two his victory is Pyrrhic because now he's responsible for Anakin and he's not up to the task. And of course he loses his important battle when he walks away without making sure Anakin is dead.
There are no similar catastrophic defeats in the Harry Potter backstory. Dark wizards are apparently as common as crooked Congressmen but ultimately just about as destructive. Voldemort is a once in a thousand years or more natural disaster, a particularly virulent strain of flu that infects other wizards whose moral immune systems have already been weakened by vanity, ambition, or fear. (This is why the most interesting character in the new movie is Draco Malfoy. Moral illness in inherently dramatic, but even more important, he's the only one in the movie who's shown as being in actual danger.) A powerful Sith lord calling across the chasm "Join me on the dark side" isn't necessary for a good Jedi to fall. The temptation is constant because it comes from within, from a Jedi's own self. It is the self. But Voldemort is a virulent germ and he's wiped out by a potent anti-biotic, Lily Potter's love for her child.
Both of his defeats, the one that starts the series and the one that ends it, are about as dramatically exciting then as the "defeat" of the Martians in War of the Worlds. He's not beaten by our hero. He just encounters an anti-body his own system can't handle.
This isn't necessarily a criticism. It just makes Voldemort a less interesting villain than Anakin/Vader. I mean as a literary conception. Ralph Fiennes is a far more interesting screen presence than Hayden Christopher Christensen. (Thanks to Bradley D. for the copy edit.) But it has the effect of making Harry's status as the Chosen One something of a bitter joke.
Anakin is the Chosen One because he is special. He is the most powerful and talented Jedi and he could be the greatest force for good the Force has ever produced. But the choice is his. Harry is only special because he's the Chosen One. There's nothing else extraordinary about him. Extraordinary relative to other heroes in other boy's adventure stories. He's Jim Hawkins with a wand instead of a flintlock pistol, smart, brave, resourceful, in over his head, and finally dependent on the grown-ups around him to save the day for him. Compared to other students at Hogwarts, he has more than ordinary amounts of luck, pluck, and decency, and he can think faster on his feet or on his broom than most other young wizards. But he's not a talented wizard. He's not inherently more powerful than anyone else and he doesn't show any signs he's developing any faster or that he wants to. He's not on his way to growing up into another Dumbledore or a Voldemort. That's not his ambition. He wants to be an auror---which is to say he wants to grow up to be a cop. He wants to be a top cop. Being an auror is the wizard equivalent of being a DEA agent working the Mexican border. But it's still a cop, a pretty ordinary dream job for a kid. That's the point, though.
Harry is fairly ordinary. And he'd like to stay that way. He doesn't want to be the Chosen One, and who would, given what the job entails, which is mainly hanging around waiting for Voldemort to try to kill you and hoping you survive his attacks until somehow, some way history repeats itself and Voldemort dies making one attempt too many. Not much of a plan and it's key that Harry's own survival is not a necessary part of the plan. He has his mother eyes, after all. No reason to think he hasn't inherited her decidedly mixed luck too.
For Anakin, and then for Luke, being the Chosen One is a destiny, and they are free to choose not to be chosen, as Luke does. Luke makes his own destiny. Harry can only get out of being the Chosen One if Voldemort lets him, and that isn't about to happen. For Harry, being the Chosen One is an assignment he didn't volunteer for and which he can't refuse. He's an agent of well-meaning adults who don't necessarily seem to regard his survival as important to their desired outcomes. There are times when Harry, and we, suspect that even Dumbledore's plans don't depend on Harry being left alive at the end and that the prospect of Harry's death doesn't seem to be as much of a downside in Dumbledore's mind as Harry would like it to be. Agent, then, may be a nicer way of saying "tool," and it's no wonder Harry doesn't want the job.
Which is fine with me. The proliferation of chosen ones in fantasy films and literature is a problematic theme. The ancient prototypes of chosen ones, from Hercules and David to Arthur are divinely chosen. The gods or God marked them for greatness from birth and they are more than agents of divine will, they are expressions of it. They are avatars, and when they come into their own they are more than surrogates for whatever divinity chose them, they are practically incarnations of that divinity. Jesus of Nazareth is the myth reduced to literalness. This has meant that every chosen one who has followed since have that element of god-ness in their chosen-ness. A chosen one isn't simply "special" he or she is superior, a demi-god or demi-goddess in disguise, and the implications of that when young readers or audience members are encouraged to identify with the chosen ones and see in them encouraging signs of their own "specialness" are frightening, or ought to be frightening, to societies that don't particularly want hordes of self-anointed supermen and women swaggering about and throwing their egos around, and it's no wonder then that in a more democratic age and culture stories of chosen ones are often cautionary tales or that one of the signs of being truly chosen has become that you don't agree with the gods' choice and actively resist it.
In short, the reason we know that Aragorn and Carrot are the one the true king of their respective fantasy worlds is that neither one wants to be king and each goes out of his way to avoid having to take on the job. And the reason we know that Superman is the greatest super-hero is that for him the most important deed he has to accomplish is to inspire human beings to create a world in which a Superman isn't needed.
One of the weaknesses of the Star Wars prequels---one of the many weaknesses---is that Anakin's attitude towards his chosen-ness is never a dramatic issue. In Attack of the Clones he's too wrapped up in sulking about, well, everything, and in Revenge of the Sith he's too busy mopping up messes from the Clone Wars until he goes over to the Dark Side and only then does it seem to dawn on him that he might be a demi-god. It's possible, then, that for a long time Anakin was rejecting the idea that he was the Chosen One as aggressively and successfully as Aragorn rejected his kingship and that his fall is even more tragic than we know.
What's not in doubt is that Luke never lets it cross his mind that he's now the Chosen One.
But Harry's resistance to his chosen-ness is different, partly because unlike the Skywalker boys he has no choice about it---resistance is futile in his case, which makes it more admirable but less heroic---but mainly because in Rowling's conception being the Chosen One is not a heroic thing. Divine ordination has nothing to do with it either. In fact, the grown-ups' use of the term Chosen One is as superstitious as their fear of saying Voldemort's name. One of Harry's more admirable traits of character is that for a wizard he is remarkably realistically-minded. He's almost like a divinity student who's an agnostic. His lackadaisical attitude towards his studies often seems to stem from the fact that he doesn't believe in magic. What his teachers are calling magic is a higher science they don't understand or know how to teach right. It's no wonder he accepts and follows the notes in the Half-Blood Prince's old textbook so readily and enthusiastically---besides saving him the trouble of having to do the work himself, those notes are clearly the work of a scientific mind, the mind of someone who doubted, questioned, tested, experimented, who looked for reasons.
The way he refers to himself as the Chosen One makes it clear that he regards the whole idea as a load of dragon dung. In this he's not just being a precocious skeptic. He's being a typical teenager looking at the adult world and deciding it's not all that adult or attractive and there ought to be an alternative to growing up into it.
Over the course of the series, J.K. Rowling moved away from the simple boys (and girls) adventure stories she started with and while she never arrived there towards the kind of young adult novel Judy Blume used to write. She let her thematic interests expand and mature with her characters' and her readers' interests and concerns as they matured. And an effect of this has been an undercutting of her own concept of Harry as a hero because she has made Harry's chosen-ness not a sign of his specialness but of his ordinariness.
What it means to be the Chosen One is very close to what it means to having to grow up.
What Harry has had to deal with as the Chosen One is the knowledge that life is full of sorrow and pain and loss, that those never stop, if anything they only get worse, that when one trouble ends or a problem gets solved, another one moves right it to take its place, that people place expectations upon you that are unrealistic and at odds with your hopes and desires, that you have responsibilities you didn't ask for but that you can't escape, and that just getting through the day is as much a matter of luck as anything else, that just being a good guy isn't enough, and that no matter how hard you work, no matter how smart you are, no matter how talented, no matter how hard you try, you can still fail or screw-up, and that you have to keep going anyway because there's no other choice.
Like I said, it's not a particularly heroic conception.
Which is why I like it.
Unfortunately, it's not a particularly dramatic conception either.
I should say it's not an easily dramatized conception and it's harder to do inside the confines of a fantasy-adventure.
Consequently, the movie version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince continues a trend that began with Goblet of Fire and continued through Order of the Phoenix, anti-climactic climaxes.
But this is something I'll get into when I write my review.
Like you need a review from me: Matt Zoller Sietz has been there, done that, and liked it enough to have bought the t-shirt or at any rate write a positive review: Darkness Rising.
Craig Lindsay, however, thinks Harry isn't growing up as much as he's just getting old.
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