FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

So, what's Harry Potter about, anyway?

Chapter 32 of Shifts ("Charms") just went up at SQ.

Okay, more from the Card books. In both How to Write SF/Fantasy and Characters and Viewpoint, he talks about the so-called "MICE quotient," dealing with where the focus of a story is and what kind of implicit contract it has with reader expectations. It made me curious, because how we perceive the HP books may have a lot to do with how we're speculating about the ending--the type of story determines what sort of ending we find satisfying. I think Harry could fit all four, from various points of view, and I'm curious as to what other people think.

To break it down, Card says that there are four basic ways to focus a story. Is it a Milieu story, an Idea story, a Charcter story, or an Event story? All of the elements are there in every story, of course, but one or the other tends to be the focus. The same thing could start all of them. For the sake of examples, let's say that a story opens with a young woman finding a dead body. This is my gloss on what Card says:

Milieu stories are based on exploring a setting--physically, culturally, whatever. Our young woman finding the dead body calls the police, and is so fascinated by what they do that she decides she wants to go to the police academy, and the story focuses on her adventures in learning the ins and outs of the department, finally ending when she finishes her training and goes back to her neighborhood as a beat cop. She's pretty ordinary; she mostly just sees the world of the police academy for us. It will change her, but that's not the point.

Idea stories pose a question. In the case of our girl, the obvious question is "Whodunnit?" and the story ends pretty much when the question is answered. She'll probably be the one to solve the case, but she could just be an incidental before the detective arrives. In any case, the story is a puzzle to solve, and when it's solved, the story is over.

Character stories are about changes in people. Of course, all stories have characters who learn and grow a bit, but character stories are skewed completely to it. Our girl finds the body, and it's her beloved father, who died of natural causes. She now has to adjust to life alone, and the story ends when she comes to terms with her life and is able to face it.

Event stories deal with, unsurprisingly, events, and how they change everything. There's an imbalance, a force of chaos in the world, and the story ends when balance is restored. She finds the body... and he's the crown prince, and his death leaves the kingdom with a power vacuum. Feuding factions vie for the throne. The story ends when either one side or the other wins, or when the kingdom lies in ruins, chaos triumphant.

I think that HP can be looked at in each of these ways.

Milieu: Harry is everyman, and he goes into a world with all kinds of funky little details. Rowling gives him a chance to see more and more of them in each book as he gets older and gets access to more parts of the magical world. If it's a milieu story, then the story ends with the end of Harry in the milieu--he returns to the Muggle world, leaving the magical world behind, or maybe the magical world is irretrievably changed, even destroyed, by the war, and what we've seen is a last cataloguing of it. Once it's done, the story is over.

Idea: JKR herself has talked in terms of an idea story ("What you should be asking is, 'Why did Voldemort live?'"). We open with a mystery--what happened in Harry's house, and how does one defeat Voldemort? We learn a bit more in each book, and ultimately, Harry will solve the mystery and use the answer he finds to put an end to Voldemort.

Character: These books are definitely focused on Harry growing up and learning, making a new place for himself in the world, learning who he is, and so on. Each year, he learns something about himself that he didn't previously know, and he has to learn to interact with the world in a different way. The proper way to end it is to have Harry ready and able to start a new life, with a new understanding of the people around him.

Event: The world is out of balance--we opened with a double murder, and a dark wizard who can't die. This sets in motion the conflict of the series, one battle after another, and it will end when balance is restored to the world. So...

From the above descriptions, I would say Harry Potter is:

A Milieu story, and the most satisfying ending would be Harry returning from his exploration of the wizarding world, or audience knowledge that the wizarding world as we have seen it is now something that's in the past.
An Idea story, and the most satisfying ending would be when Harry learns the answers to the questions raised.
A Character story, and the most satisfying ending would be seeing Harry learn what he needs to learn about himself and others, so he can go on with a new path.
An Event story, and the most satisfying ending would be the restoration of balance and order to the wizarding world.

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