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It's my LJ-versary, and I'll rant if I want to - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
It's my LJ-versary, and I'll rant if I want to
I officially gave up on reading Reading Harry Potter this morning after an essay first fudged canon by claiming Lucius supplied the Slytherin team with Firebolts, then went on to lament the fact that Harry appears to be a relatively polite young gentleman of the middle class who would--to the apparent horror of the essayist--help an old lady cross the street. The books are therefore not revolutionary. Leaving aside the question of why in the world the books would be judged on such an arbitrary criterion*--though it was a fairly major WTF??? moment for me--I wanted to look at the horrific accusation that HP encourages good manners, and how that applies to fanfic.

*Oh, who am I kidding; of COURSE I'm not leaving that question aside
*(To begin with an aside... hello? Why in the world would a person pass judgment on Harry Potter for not being "revolutionary"? At what point does the text claim that it's even trying to be revolutionary, and why should it want to be? This is as silly as claiming that the books are immoral because Harry and his friends don't attend the Hogwarts chapel every Sunday. If you're looking for stories that are making some kind of pedantic political point of whatever stripe, you're pretty much limiting yourself to truly wretched, barely disguised tracts. A good story is not concerned with politics except inasmuch as the politics are reflective of the characters' struggles. The SW prequels are very political, but the political situation is a macro mirror of what's happening with Anakin in micro. In HP, politics are certainly present, but only as they interact with Harry's story. Real stories are about people, and about human nature, and human nature has a stubborn habit of nonconformity to anyone's political theory. End mini-pre-rant.)

Okay, on to the manners question. As it happens I agree with the essayist that the books promote a certain kind of manners. It was one of the first things I noticed about them, and with some approval--we so often see the snotty kid being touted as a rebel hero that it was nice to see a relatively polite kid get top billing... and thrilling to see those books end up consumed with indecorous voracity by other kids. I'll even grant the position that it's a specific branch of manners--middle class Anglo (and Anglo-Am) manners. Which is hardly surprising given that Harry lives in middle class England, and JKR originates there. Was she meant to appropriate some different system of manners? (It's not stated directly, but the position seems to be that he shouldn't be mannered at all, which would of course make the unimaginably rude Dudley Dursley the ideal hero, with odious Aunt Marge as his sidekick.)

So what does that have to do with fanfic?

Simple: You can't ignore it.

It shocks me how often people will jump on an obscure canon detail or a minor matter of Britpicking the language, but how very rarely people seem to say, "Er, I'm sorry... I'm sure I misread you, but it seems, just on the surface, that you've IGNORED THE ENTIRE MANNERS MILIEU OF THE SERIES!... er, excuse me, I didn't mean that of course..."

Like it or hate it, the etiquette of the Potterverse is as much a part of the setting as the elf-heads on the wall at Grimmauld Place. You can't just say, "Feh, those are yucky. I'll decorate with cute pictures of doggies instead."

So here are some rather major points of HP manners, and their fanfic consequences.

Separation between children and adults
Harry is corrected by no fewer than three adults (Dumbledore, Molly, and Snape) about addressing Snape without the honorific due to him. It doesn't matter how angry he is or how obnoxious Snape has been--Snape is his teacher and an adult, and Harry is expected to extend him the courtesy of a title. He is also instructed to always refer to Aunt Marge as "Aunt Marge," no matter how much he despises her.

More to the point, the only adult so far with whom Harry has had contact who isn't given a title is his guardian... and frankly, I'm willing to bet from experience that, had he grown up with Sirius, it would be "Uncle Sirius." Remus Lupin may eventually make the switch to a first name if he stays in Harry's life, but for now, Harry refers to him in his mind as "Lupin" and calls him "Professor Lupin." No matter how much Harry loves the Weasleys, the privilege of calling them "Molly" and "Arthur" has neither been offered nor sought (and certainly not appropriated without permission). Dotty as she may be, Mrs. Figg remains Mrs. Figg, not "Arabella."

Fanfic consequence: Calling an adult by his or her first name is not a minor matter for Harry (or his friends, who appear to be bound by the same rule), to be tossed off in a fit of affection or even anger. Further, it would not be tolerated in his milieu by the adults. Molly and Arthur would take it as something of an affront (even if subconsciously) and any faculty member, no matter what the state of his or her relationship with Harry, would flatly forbid it... and yes, that includes Lupin, if he ever came back. It would include Lupin if Lupin adopts Harry after book 5--in school, he's a teacher, and is Professor Lupin. Snape is never going to welcome being called Severus (or, ugh, Sev) by a student, and for those who write Snarry, this would be even more true if they were conducting an affair, which would have to be hidden from general view as it's against every rule of proper student-teacher conduct. Harry's not going to address Madam Bones as "Amelia" or go to hang out in "Albus"'s office. And if the privilege were ever offered by any of these adults, it would be take a fairly significant change of Harry's personal paradigm to actually get himself to do it. (Heck, I am an adult and I still have a hard time remembering that my landlady is J____, and not Mrs. A____.") So please, for the love of Miss Manners, remember that Harry is not going to raise his hand in Transfiguration and say, "Hey! Minnie!"

EDIT: A tangent of this is that a child's adults aren't belittled by other adults. Mrs. Weasley makes a special effort not to badmouth the Dursleys in front of Harry, and while she disagrees with Sirius in his presence, she doesn't insult him or tell Harry he can do better or whatnot. In "The Body," Stephen King refers to badmouthing a friend's parents, no matter how bad, as the "fabled automatic"--the thing guaranteed to get you a knuckle sandwich. It's just Not Done.

Public displays of affection
Don't you love that scene where Harry watches Mr. and Mrs. Weasley smooching in the back garden? And all that pawing and groping on the dance floor at the Yule Ball? And, oh, when Cedric and Cho kissed on the Quidditch pitch...!

What? Didn't happen?

You mean, the people kissing at the Yule Ball were doing so while hiding in the bushes? Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, despite having seven children together, are never seen sucking face in the kitchen at the Burrow? And all the not-exactly-disinterested Harry saw of the Cedric/Cho romance was hand-holding in the corridors? And being out at Mrs. Puddifoot's among kissing couples was... revolting and embarrassing to him?

I got into a brief discussion about this with webbapettigrew about the Sirius/Remus hug in the PoA movie, which looked more Latin to me than gay, because frankly, even if they were as gay as the 1890s and in love with one another, the Remus and Sirius of the book would not be that touchy-feely in front of the kids. The brotherly embrace that there is is probably the absolute limit of whath two adults raised in this particular manners scheme would show, no matter what the state of their relationship.

Public displays of affection beyond handholding and perhaps a kiss on the cheek--perhaps--are considered, either overtly or subconsciously, to be uncouth. Harry's reaction in Mrs. Puddifoot's isn't aberrant or caused by lack of exposure to love (or wub), but very much in line with his cultural milieu. When else have we seen him exposed to this?

Fanfic consequence: The chances of Ginny sitting on Harry's lap in the Great Hall and kissing egg yolk off the corner of his mouth as she feeds him breakfast are nil. I mean, we're talking about a school where she's been going out with someone for the better part of a year before anyone notices!

Public Displays of Emotion
This principle extends beyond romantic groping. The hug Harry gives Hagrid at the end of the CoS movie is way out of line with both the character and the milieu. Harry and Ron think Hermione is barking mad when she cries after they've reconciled, and Hermione's own opinion of Cho is quite condescending when she finds out that Cho has been crying all over the place. (The bit of psychobabble suggests an intellectual understand of it, not any sort of acceptance.) Like it or lump it, it's a milieu that values the ability to control one's expression of emotions. Harry's OotP outbursts aren't portrayed as healthy escapes from a constricted emotional life, but as evidence that he's skating very close to the edge mentally. Ron and Hermione are both a bit afraid of him from time to time during the year.

Fanfic consequence: Whether or not a writer thinks it's healthy for Harry to be shouting, people in the milieu will not applaud it, and in all likelihood will see it as a sign of mental instability. They may give him a bit of love and affection if he does it, but it will be with a "Poor dear! He's not quite right just now" attitude. Which Harry isn't going to like very well.

Money is rude
No, don't ask it to make sense. The middle class formed around the idea of making money to make a life, but it's always been considered poor form to discuss money outside of business settings. Further, to note someone's wealth or poverty--as Malfoy does--is horrible, and frankly, even the fuss over the Firebolt is borderline.

More importantly, Harry is dead right when he realizes how insulted the Weasleys would be if he offered them half of his Gringotts fortune, no matter how poor they are. The same would be true of Lupin. The idea of being financially self-sufficient--"We'll manage," as Molly curtly says of the Lockhart books when one of the twins brings up finances in front of company--is so deeply ingrained that I don't think it can be overcome. Harry finally manages to funnel some money to the Weasleys, but only by becoming a shareholder in a family business. And you can bet that any help the now-solvent twins give their parents will be in the form of gifts to replace run-down things and so on, and not in the form of money.

Fanfic consequence: Sure, it would be nice if Lupin had a bit of money, or the Weasleys had a little security cushion after buying the kids' books every year. And Harry would sure like to give it to them--he doesn't need all that money. But Lupin would never take it, and the only way Harry could get the Weasleys to accept spending on their behalf would be if he married Ginny and was literally part of the family. And then, as with the twins, it would have to be couched in terms of gifts to spruce the place up. "Oh, Mother Weasley, I noticed when I was here last time that I, er, sort of overused your cauldron and it burned through, so here's a new one..."

EDIT: On a related note, the way Harry receives presents, no matter what they are, is an example of ideal manners--he's simply delighted that someone thought of him (with the exception of the Dursleys, of course, who deliberately send insulting things). It's contrasted with Dudley, who commits the extreme rudeness of counting his presents. He also apparently asks for specific things, and while this has become more common in recent years than it used to be, giving other people a shopping list for gifts is, I think, still a little questionable.

A lady only has her name in the paper three times...
Finally, there's the issue of notoreity.

There used to be a sexist saying that a proper lady's name would only appear in the papers three times--her birth, her marriage, and her death. This wasn't sexist because it thought gentlemen could be in the paper any old time, but because it assumed that ladies would not do anything properly of note, and therefore any other reporting on them would be of the gossip variety. Gentlemen were presumed to have other business... but the gossip mode would have been no more happily accepted by them than by women. I feel absolutey humiliated for the Queen whenever a member of the royal family ends up on television or in the papers talking about personal family matters.

In GoF, we see that this is a working structure of etiquette for Harry et al. The Slytherins deliberately embarrass Harry by telling tales to Rita Skeeter, and Hermione, though she deals with it better, responds coldly by waiting for it to go away, not by saying, "Oh, cool! My name's in Witch Weekly!" Snape's taunt about Harry keeping up with is press is angled to imply that he likes his fame, which, it is obvious by context, is considered a great failing. Susan Bones, in OotP, makes a point of telling Harry how much she hates the attention after the escape of the Death Eaters makes her famous. (And in case we need an object lesson, the person who likes his fame is the empty-headed Gilderoy Lockhart. For everyone else, it's nothing but a nuisance, right up until Harry reluctantly uses it for the Quibbler interview... which he still doesn't like.)

Fanfic consequence: Angling for attention isn't going to be looked upon kindly, no matter how super-spectactular your OC is.

Well, this is getting pretty long. I think that's enough of a rant, eh?
54 comments or Leave a comment
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cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: November 29th, 2004 12:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Excellent points, all of them!
From: (Anonymous) Date: November 29th, 2004 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: November 29th, 2004 12:58 pm (UTC) (Link)
My library has this book. I think it's time to check it out for some literary wankery amusement.

Then again, I need to finish these papers. Okay, next year.
jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: November 29th, 2004 01:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Seconded, thirded, fourthed and fifthed. :)

You should publish that rant where more fic writers can read it. Then maybe we would be spared some of the truly cringeworthy fics that are out there. :)
shezan From: shezan Date: November 29th, 2004 01:05 pm (UTC) (Link)
How wonderful! You've perfectly defined why Harry Potter is so English (and no, I won't use "British" here); and, incidentally, why, in the midst of a fairly dramatic progression, we still have this safe feeling about Harry. Harry belongs. While Voldemort may kill him at the end of Book 7 (or take over the world at the end of Book 6, to be eventually defeated at the end of Book 7) we know that victory or defeat will be handled within a certain set of values.

I'm sure that's why the nincompoop you reference in the beginning hates the books so much. Me, I welcome another soldier in the Good Fight against Derrida and Foucault. Take that, Deconstructionists!
sreya From: sreya Date: November 29th, 2004 01:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
Okay, seriously Fern... you need to write your own lit-crit book. You always have such a wonderful handle on the books and very good insight into what really makes them tick. Even if you only end up making an e-Book and publishing it on your website, I think it would do the fans a lot more good than the books in the stores!

Or we could always petition a publishing company to really publish it... wonder how well that would be received? *picturing dazed and baffled editors reading through a swamp of petition forms*
shellebelle93 From: shellebelle93 Date: November 29th, 2004 01:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant, Fern! Good points, all of them!
shezan From: shezan Date: November 29th, 2004 02:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
It's just been mentioned to me that the book you mention is a collection of essays by separate writers, and that each wrote completely independently from the others; so the pathetic postmodern critique you mention may not mean the entire book is in the same vein.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 29th, 2004 03:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Another one said the books supported neocolonialism, and a third, hilariously, declared that Harry's journey was really about discovering his feminine side, and that, despite appearances, he is coded as girl and it's therefore all right for little girls to read the books.

Methinks there's an editorial bias happening...
glitterdemon From: glitterdemon Date: November 29th, 2004 02:11 pm (UTC) (Link)
you're amazing, truly. thank you for all of this. it's interesting, because there are similarities to american culture (we're not strangers to manners ;), but there are certainly little quicks that i can only think are distinctly british (i.e., the money issue - apparent in both cultures, but things such as christmas lists are much more accepted here, and it's not uncommon for inter-household family members to help out in financial matters).

also: i absolutely agree that there is no "gay" factor in the brotherly hug, and it bothers me to see it ascribed that meaning even in jest. and i do 'ship remus/sirius! i wonder what you mean by calling it "latin."
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: November 29th, 2004 03:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, it was in the context of the movie version of the hug, which a lot of R/S shippers interpreted as so obviously gay that it put paid to any notion of them being straight. Having lived in the southwest for awhile, it struck me as being much more related to the Mexican bias of the director... Latin American culture encourages more physicality than Anglo culture, and it struck me as a glaring Mexicanism more than a great big "gay" sign.
From: hobviously Date: November 29th, 2004 02:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
1. Happy LJ-versary.
2. Fab rant! I am entirely in agreement.
3. Firebolts? Please.
antonia_east From: antonia_east Date: November 29th, 2004 02:45 pm (UTC) (Link)
Coming from the same sort of background as Harry I have to say 'Well done!' Perfect summing up of manners.
tiferet From: tiferet Date: November 29th, 2004 03:09 pm (UTC) (Link)
Despite the fact that there is PDA in my RPGs (because, well, they're RPGs, and a certain amount of Americanism is going to slip in), all I have to say to this is wordy mcword with a slice of word pie and a side of word soup.

I sometimes think that no-one else in the fandom has ever done any reading on etiquette and I still get annoyed when I have to thump people in my 1942 era RPG for complaining that female characters never ask male characters out.
From: ireact Date: November 29th, 2004 03:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
You tell 'em, fernwithy!
mafdet From: mafdet Date: November 29th, 2004 03:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Happy LJ-versary!

These are all excellent points. Mind you, I asked on the SQ's Britpicking forum about how British kids addressed their friends' parents and the answer was that they mostly called them by their first names. However, the HP books have a somewhat old-fashioned air, so I can see why Harry calls the Weasleys by their surnames. Young adults not in parental roles, I did notice that Harry refers to more informally - Bill and Charlie Weasley, as well as Kingsley Shacklebolt, are called by their first names, and Tonks, of course, is Tonks, not Miss or Madam Tonks.

Re the Malfoys flaunting their wealth: Am I the only one who thinks that they are not "old money" but vulgar as all get out? The way Draco, and Lucius, act, just shouts "Jumped Up Nouveau Riche!" to me.
arclevel From: arclevel Date: November 29th, 2004 05:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Re the Malfoys flaunting their wealth: Am I the only one who thinks that they are not "old money" but vulgar as all get out? The way Draco, and Lucius, act, just shouts "Jumped Up Nouveau Riche!" to me.

I've seen this suggestion discussed before, and I do rather like it. However, I (and others) get the impression that they're *supposed* to be old money, but that either JKR doesn't know the difference (rather unlikely, IMO) or that they're supposed to be rich, and they're supposed to be evil, so the best way to do that is to make them obnoxious about being rich.
rosetapestry From: rosetapestry Date: November 29th, 2004 04:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
woooohoooo - it's your LJ-versary but we get the party! I love the rant - well put, as usual :)
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