Thursday, July 05, 2007


Think of the strangest 4th of July experience you could have as an American citizen. You may be having fanciful visions of oppression in Iron Curtain Europe, or malaria in the jungles of Panama, or subsistence in some remote African village where they may not even know it is the Fourth of July, or even care for that matter. And yes, you'd be right, those would be strange Fourths of July indeed. How about sitting in the common room of a French campus of an American university? This would involve colored mood lighting--not red, white, and blue, mind you, but red and orange. It would incorporate that most American of music genres, jazz, as performed by a duo of French musicians. The food would not be entirely out of place: sausage, chicken, and pork on the grill, but with a strange European twist of paprika-flavored potato chips. (This was later determined to be a conspiracy, as these tasted strangely similar to barbecue chips back from the States.)

And the day's entertainment? No fireworks, of course, but that can almost be excused on the basis of a rainy morning and afternoon. This rainy morning and afternoon, spent in the World War I battleground of Verdun. Verdun is a strange choice for such a day of American patriotism, as no American regiments actually fought at Verdun. One American was killed at the battle, an ambulance driver who volunteered with the French army, but the good old AEF would not enter the way for another year at that point.

More than just being a strange place to celebrate American patriotism, Verdun is a strange place to celebrate much of anything. I think the operative word here is "somber." Touring the inside of Fort Douaumont is at least historically interesting, and the memorial has plenty of military relevance in the form of artillery and old uniforms. Taking a look around, though, you see acre after acre of shell-shocked land, miniature hills and valleys that have been a part of the landscape since 1916 that nobody has any reason to think will ever go away. Then you come to the graveyard: row after row of "mort pour le France," "mort pour le France." Taking all of this in combination with weather that Seattle seems to have modeled itself off of, and you get a 4th of July that's more depressing than anything.

And apple pie? Forget about it, though there were some tasty apples available; imagine crust and cinnamon and sugar and you're almost there.

Tangent: I just found the drop-down that lets me access Blogger in English. This made me very, very happy, despite the cloud cover that is still reminiscent of an Atlanta February.

I know when I've been beaten, and it looks like time to clarify my position on the Harry Potter finale just a little bit. It's interesting how negative the reaction has been to using Norton's standards of "classic" to describe the Harry Potter books. Even so, I believe my argument remains essentially the same, even disregarding the entire "classic/not a classic" framework. To quote Nick's comment from the previous post, "there is substantial difference between a book that is enjoyable and layered throughout [...] and a book that sacrifices all of that hard work for the sake of a pat and satisfying ending." And to me, making Snape a clear-cut Good Guy or a clear-cut Bad Guy is doing exactly that: taking the only morally intriguing character in the series and defenestrating everything that was interesting about him.

One hallmark of a good piece of literature--whether a "classic" or whatever else you want to call it, is allowing the reader to consider what's happening in it and make his own conclusions about at least a few points. In Harry Potter, we're told virtually everything else outright; allowing her readers to make their own conclusions regarding Snape is the least Rowling could do.

One comment Gina made on the Book of Faces goes like this: "Snape is too intelligent not to understand the bigger picture and to have an opinion on it." Too true. And the only thing that makes sense, given everything that we know about his character from books 1-6, is that this "opinion" is "how do I manipulate everyone so that I come out the best for myself?" He's a Slytherin, so he's nothing if not ambitious.

One further comment by Gina: "If she does have him turn out to be good, it further enforces what Sirius (or perhaps Lupin) says in Order of the Phoenix, 'The world isn't broken down into good people and Death Eaters.'" This one I definitely disagree with. If he turns out to be a Good Guy (or a Bad Guy, for that matter), it shows that the world absolutely is broken down into Good Guys and Bad Guys. When I read that quote, I immediately thought of Snape. Virtually everyone else we know of it one or the other (aside from the people at the Ministry of Magic, who are probably the least compelling and developed characters in the series). I still argue that not only does the setting Rowling has created benefit immensely if he's somewhere in between, it actually suffers if he's not.

A final question on the issue: what does everyone think about having Snape's allegiance go completely unresolved? What if Rowling were to kill him off before we knew for sure? We already know that this isn't going to happen of course, but I'm interested how people would see that. A cop-out, merely a literary trick to escape making a tough narrative decision? Or an act of realism, a final stroke to give the reader something to think about once the book is finished?

Currently listening: "Kalimba Story," Earth Wind and Fire


Nick Simmons said...

I know I'm late to this post, but I've been without internet for the better part of the last 2+ weeks.

The last part of my Fourth of July consisted of an hour-long car ride and attempting to remove one sock without removing the shoe also covering the foot. I was foiled by my biggest toe. Now, all I can see is, "Snape: Friend Or Toe?"

No, I don't think that's funny. Other than that, I saw fireworks from a blanket on a hill with friends (and a few guys to the left making up horrible-sounding songs with lyrics mostly consisting of, "I Loooooove Uuuuuhhhhh-mericuuuuuuhhh") and so, minus food, had a relatively classic Independence Day.

Which reminds me: my hackles raise when I hear the word "classic," though it's just a sensitivity to the vocabulary of literary criticism. Your argument does hold up, with or without the word, and to spend too much time debating "whose classic, what is a classic, why classic," doesn't necessarily get us anywhere.

I still haven't obtained or read the new book. If Snape does save the day or turn out to be "good," it undermines everything. If he betrays Harry in some way (though "betray" may not be the term), that doesn't necessarily make it the one-sided conclusion. There are ways it could play out where he contributes "one way or the other," but doesn't become automatically good or evil.

The idea of his dying before any conclusive statement about his allegiance is great. Drum up questions about him and then let them go unanswered? Oh, my. That would be something.

Matt Pavlovich said...

Even so, "I Loooove the Eeew Essss Aaaaay" would probably be preferable to "bizarre jazz in French."

I finished the book, and it's sort of interesting how it resolved itself. I'm a little unconvinced, but I think it could have been a lot worse. I'll be making a longer post to that effect later; interested to hear what you have to say.