Tag Archives: Literary Criticism

Two Things About Harry Potter

For the most part, I stopped reading the Harry Potter series at the sixth book. I should’ve stopped at the fifth. The middle and the last part of the “Half-Blood Prince” was utter garbage (except the chapter where he takes the good luck potion) and the ending was just an excuse to kill off a main character (and a lame death too, amirite?). I started reading “Deathly Hallows” but sadly never finished it. Thankfully, I stopped watching the films at the fourth one, since I knew it could only go downhill. “Harry Potter & the Goblet of Fire” tops both lists. I saw the movie version of the “Prisoner of Azkaban” and it was atrociously bad indeed. They even cut out the famous scene where Sirius Black gives a speech to Peter Pettigrew, telling him he should’ve died for a cause rather than betray his friends. That scene is the main reason that “Prisoner” is one of the most consistently high-rated books of the series.

They also managed to make the revelation that Ron’s pet rat was a man in disguise all along dreadfully ho-hum, and I don’t think I was the only person in the theater who was disappointed they both castrated the grit out of Harry’s “Snape’s abnormally large nose” line and made the final revelation a noisy, incoherent scene of chaos rather than the medium-paced, deliberately plot-heavy conversation it originally was.

After that experience, I almost couldn’t bear to go back to see the other movies, but I dragged myself to “Goblet of Fire” because it was also my favorite book. Again, they completely ruined the slow drama of the final scenes in exchange for loud noises and flashes that made it almost incomprehensible, but overall it got my stamp of approval, and upon giving it, I decided barring insanely convenient circumstances where it would be easy to do so (which rarely come, I’ve noticed) I wouldn’t see the other films. I am certainly not going to tolerate Dumbledore not being Richard Harris.

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The word “modernism” is intentionally ambiguous, and perhaps without realizing it is a fitting term for such a literary movement. In the most common usage it refers to the twentieth-century movement that began with the concept of the “modern” (obviously, since without this word how could one have modern-ism?) and ended up being a collection of authors and works characterized by efforts by the individual character and author to remold and reshape reality while reflecting its social ills. This is quite a simplistic analysis of an entire movement, but I will go into greater detail below.

Modernism took elements from realist literature in that it sought to realistically portray the growing social isolation and alienation of individuals caused by industrial capitalism. Characters are almost always withdrawn, and the entirety of the work contains a bitter cynicism bordering on absolute nihilistic despair. The main geographic sites for this movement were England and America post-Industrial Revolution, blooming during the periods between World War I and World War II, the main places where this system had taken hold. These first few decades of the new century begin with writers such as Joyce, Eliot, Pound D.H. Lawrence, who all stepped forward onto the literary scene by creating texts that were called highly experimental on content rather than merely form. This is the movement we now call “modernism,” though I don’t mean to use it in a reductive sense to imply that outside of these few head writers there exist no modernist movement.

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The Concept of the “Other” in Kim

Kipling seems to fancy himself as the first Eric Schlosser. In his story Kim, the presence of the concept of the “other” is scarce, even nonexistent, to the point of a noticeable, glaring omission. British, Indian and Tibetan cultures have minor contradictions with each other, but none is presented as particularly “domineering” over one another even within the context of colonial relations. No one is demonized; no one is more advanced or nobler than the other. Whatever ideologies might justify it, there is no particularly sharp mention of the destruction of previous forms of social organization (symbolized by characters such as the Lama), which seem merely dizzied rather than lost. Without realizing it himself, since this is the nature of ideology to fill the gaps and to consist on what the text hides, Kipling has constructed here a highly differentiated examination of pre-globalization before such a term existed. One cannot separate the full explanation of imperialism from late nineteenth-century colonialism and the necessary spread of capitalist production that comes from those particular stages. Such a spread, such as that from Britain to India, is globalizing, and imperialism has the ability to hide cultural and ethnic conflicts as much as it has the power to aggravate them for monetary and political gain. This is what we see a slice of in Kim.