Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1) Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone discussion

Harry Potter, Orphan Annie and Will Hunting

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message 1: by Monty J (new) - added it

Monty J Heying I woke up at 3:30 the other morning thinking about Harry Potter and couldn't go back to sleep until it came to me why I have such a visceral dislike for him, what little I know about the character from the one page I read and the DVD of the first book in the series. It was enough to see where kids can be entertained, but I wouldn't have shown it to mine without telling them the truth.

If I sound strident about Harry Potter, the reasons will be evident. I am sorry if any feelings are hurt. His fans number in the millions, but this is my perception. No one can invalidate someone's perception just because theirs is different, no matter how many are fans of Harry.

Potter is supposed to be an orphan, yet he has this magical life, gets to go to a witch's boarding school, rides a broom and solves his problems with a magic wand. That blatantly manipulative pose is so unlike the real world of orphans and foster kids that it's painful to think about.

Harry Potter is an insult to me and all the other real orphans in the world. Ninety-eight percent of the kids in American orphanages and foster care were taken from their parents for neglect and/or abuse. He's an insult to Charles Dickens, who did a marvelous job of bringing attention to the plight of orphaned, abandoned and exploited children.

I grew up in an orphanage along with a lot of my friends. Most of us were physically abused, some sexually. Some were tortured and struggle with PTSD from childhood trauma.

It isn't fair to us for the world to be misled about the plight of orphans. JK Rowling's millions feel like just another form of exploitation. What is it about the Brits and exploitng orphans? Harry Potter has given the British aristocracy a free pass, papering over their monumental transgressions.

Picture an orphan's real parents, having recovered from financial difficulty, returning to a nineteenth-century British orphanage only to find their children were sent to Australia as slave labor. This really happened and the British Crown condoned it, while the queen sat in her castle wearing a million-dollar necklace eating roast pheasant. Here's a Wiki article about this atrocity: http://www.independent.co.uk/life-sty...

The problem with fantasy is it allows an author to dehumanize a defenseless minority, to sidestep or even distort history with no accountability. If we can't see what is real, if we can camouflage and disarm reality, how can we do anything to change society for the better?

Before Harry Potter, when we thought about British orphans it was Oliver Twist that came to mind. Now it's boys on brooms waving magic wands, having fun. In the decades since Oliver Twist was published, stories like Harry Potter, Orphan Annie and Batman have insidiously warped the collective unconscious.

Poverty is a major factor in parental neglect and other social ills. If anybody ever deserved knighthood it was Dickens for calling attention to the plight of the poor in Britain. The fact that he never became "Sir" Charles Dickens is an appalling condemnation of the British aristocracy. He shamed them, and they'll never forget it.

Harper Lee shamed White America into facing its bigotry and racism. She received a Pulitzer Prize and the highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And don't get me started on L'l Orphan Annie. That pandering comic strip was pure pro capitalist propaganda, trumpeting the benevolent generosity of wealthy oligarchs during the Great Depression. The threat of communism was rapidly rising. What better way to hide the most embarrassing evidence of the failure of free market capitalism--abandoned malnourished children--than to reinvent one as a resilient little fantasy girl rescued by Daddy Warbucks, and pubish it in all the papers.

I have found nothing to suggest the strip's creator, Harold Gray, ever went near an orphanage. Like Rowling, he merely exploited the orphan concept. Here's a Wiki-blurb about him: "Gray reported in 1952 that Annie's origin lay in a chance meeting he had with a ragamuffin while wandering the streets of Chicago looking for cartooning ideas. 'I talked to this little kid and liked her right away,' Gray said, 'She had common sense, knew how to take care of herself. She had to. Her name was Annie. ...I chose Annie ...made her an orphan, so she'd have no family, no tangling alliances... .'"

So he said. Funny how no journalist followed up on his story to interview the realAnnie.

My major concern is how fantasy characters like Harry Potter, Orphan Annie and Batman soothingly massage the collective unconscious by distorting reality. Over time, the unreal becomes perceived as real. Propagandists know this. Industrial psychologists and advertising agencies know this. Political strategists and public relations consultants know this.

Entertaining stories have their place, but we need to be aware of their subliminal suggestions.

My people don't become superheroes or geniuses like Will Hunting.* Although it's nice to imagine we can, it is not reality. But it soothes the public conscience to think so.

It is true that Rowling set out to tell a good story, not to tell a distorted version of orphan life. But the unintended consequences are real. Even Dickens, bless his rusitng hallowed bones, led us to believe that orphans get rescued by benevolent landed gentry. He had to pander to sell books because poor people in his day were illierate.

Writers are unwitting guardians of the collective unconscious. There is a duty to get it right so mankind can move forward authentically. When the desire to make money distorts reality it erodes our collective sense of self, undermining the mastery of humandkind's collective destiny. Literature and cinema are powerful tools and we must be careful how we use them.

Orphans have no voice, no organization, so they get exploited in film and literature. It's time someone spoke up. I am new at this, but I will get better at it.

These veiws may be troubling to many.When a member of a disadvantaged minority speaks out it can sound strange. Even today, bigots are telling black people in America to "get over it; slavery ended in 1865." It is similar with Holocaust survivors and Nazi war criminal hunters. I witnessed this first hand and was shocked speechless.

The vast majority (over 80%) of kids who grow up in American foster care and orphanages end up incarcerated by their mid-thirties. We are a prime recruiting ground for prostitution and crime. I escaped these statistics because of some small heroic individuals and a Juvenile Court judge who bet on me and saw that I had a scholarship. THESE are the people who deserve recognition in our literature, for unlike fantasy figures, these real people have earned it.

A hundred years ago America had the orphan trains. For seventy-five years they solved the problem of vagabond street children in our big cities, but many of these abandoned and neglected children ended up not in the arms loving foster parents but as slave farm labor. Even today in Brasil, Thailand and other places, unwanted girls are sold into prostitution. Abandoned boys, those not drawn into crime, are sought after to be butchered for their organs.

Superheroes and magicians are fun to fantasize over, but they give few solutions. This is what Holden Caulfield (in The Catcher in the Rye) was talking about when he said DB was prostituting himself in Hollywood. As long as people keep buying, Hollywood and book publishers will continue feeding us mind candy by the truckload.

But when we deal with reality there's hope for real solutions. Philomena, The Italian, Precious and The Antwone Fisher Story didn't traumatize anyone to watch. There need to be more stories like these.

We're out of balance.

*I give Affleck and Damon high marks for showing attachment disorder and fear of abandonment with such depth of understanding, especially considering how young they were when they wrote the script.

message 2: by Somerandom (last edited May 24, 2014 07:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Somerandom Harry Potter, like most stories, (especially the ones aimed at kids) is essentially wish fulfillment, in the same vain as most Disney movies are.

Of course it's not what reality is like, it's a fantasy, not a factual manual to life.

I agree with you that we're out of balance.
But stories like Harry Potter, Annie, the Little Princess (forgot her name) Anne of Green Gables, Matilda and Pippi Longstocking (to name but a few orphan stories) are for kids, mate.
I agree that we need to prepare our kids for the real world and all. But Kids need something a bit more uplifting than.......well life from time to time.
What use is it to escape into a fantasy realm if it's just bitter reality anyway?
We read to escape that crap and dream of something better. Is it real? Of course not, but it's fun to dream if only for a little while.

Authors are paid to write. It's fantastic that a great many choose to impart their views, thoughts and values into their stories. And use them as guides to help kids experience feelings and imagination. They are not paid to promote things, they are not paid to teach children or adults, they are not even paid to reflect reality. They are paid because they happen to be talented in some aspect of storytelling.
What you choose to take from a story is up to you. It's a two way street. They're not bastions of our society, but we support their endeavors because they give us entertainment and sometimes food for thought.
Stories are for entertainment, they sometimes reflect reality or the society of the time, whether by reason or unthinking habit on the part of the author. But they are also used primarily as a means to escape one's own hardships and live vicariously though a character who usually has far more luck in life (or in this case magic.)

Of course stories are a vital part of our society and all that good stuff. But, especially nowadays, sometimes they are just a piece of entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that. It's just how we tend to consume our media.

I'm not saying you are wrong or anything. I agree that Harry Potter is an unrealistic portrayal of orphans. But that's almost to be expected in a children's fantasy series!
I mean we didn't even attempt to read the likes of Oliver Twist until freaking High School.
Hell even Huckleberry Finn you could argue is a tad unrealistic.

Is it exploitation of a certain group of people on the part of JKR? Ehhhh, I don't know. The downtrodden orphan lucking out and finding a better more exciting life is a pretty common trope, especially in children's stories. And has been for a century. Tropes work and as such you tend to see them often. They are just a tool for authors/writers to use. Not some big statement about society and the way it treats it's citizens.

See the real difference between Oliver Twist and Harry Potter is the genre. Both had to appease their audience. But both had to write it differently.
Oliver Twist is a contemporary Fiction novel and as such had to be more gritty and realistic with it's portrayal.
Harry Potter is fantasy and therefore had to be more fanciful and fantastical. And let's be real here. Kids aged about 10 til 13 are more likely to gravitate towards JKR's writing than Dickens. Why?
Dickens tends to be a little bit too challenging for some younger kids. His downright depressing way of writing and the sad atmosphere in his books is often off putting a lot of young kids and it might be a bit too harsh for them at that particular time. By contrast JKR's writing is easier to access, whimsical enough to be soft whilst still having a bit of darkness to it (Harry Potter is abused by his Aunt and Uncle throughout the series) and it's fantastical enough to let their imagination soar.

Am I saying JKR is a better author? Of course not. Am I saying kids shouldn't be reading Dickens? No way in hell. But the harshness of a lot of Charlie's novels, the advanced vocabulary and the very heavy themes/symbolism found in his books makes a very good case for them being more for young adults/adults, rather than Harry Potter's intended audience. At least whilst they're still young enough to enjoy their naivety.

And stories aimed at kids, even in the harsher times of Dickens, was usually more uplifting than real life anyway. Even Hans Christian Andersen stories were at least a tad unrealistically hopeful. Even though some of them were downright depressing.

You bring up some fantastic stories like Philomena and Precious and the likes. And I agree, we need more of those.
But again, age demographics. Those Stories are more or less aimed at an older crowd then JKR was aiming for. 10 year old kids reading Harry Potter may (or may not, depending on the kid) find those stories a tad strong at that age. You might need to put them on the shelf for a couple of years. Maybe not. Kids grow at different paces.

What I'm trying to say is, there's a reason Harry Potter is so soft and unrealistic. Children's stories usually are and have been for a lot longer than JKR has been alive. She was just really aware of her audience's boundaries.
I don't know if I'd go so far as to blame her for it. Or accuse her of exploiting orphans, more like the orphan trope.
At least she did weave a few dark elements into her story and there are a few good things for kids to learn found in her books. Sacrifice, love, bravery etc. Which is more than I can say about some children's authors!

Again, I'm not disagreeing with you per se. Just offering a perspective.

message 3: by Monty J (last edited May 24, 2014 09:34AM) (new) - added it

Monty J Heying Somerandom wrote: "Harry Potter, like most stories, (especially the ones aimed at kids) is essentially wish fulfillment, in the same vain as most Disney movies are.

Of course it's not what reality is like, it's a fa..."

I agree with you completely. And thanks for taking the time to post so thoughtfully.

Yes, JKR knew her audience, but there are a surprising number of adults who seem to revel in Harry Potter. I can't figure that one out, unless they just need some mind candy to get them through. Or to keep up with what their children are reading.

My main point is the consequence of decades of creative exploitation of the orphan archetype, especially in North America, is a general insensitivity to the special needs of this large social subcategory.

It is sociopathic in the sense that society suffers because of this lack of sensitivity. A gaping self-inflicted collective wound. The preponderance of orphan children become prostitutes, killers and thieves, or involuntary organ donors, a shame and a waste of humanity and an enormous drain on the public budget.

The pendulum needs to swing. I'm giving it a shove. I am convinced we will all benefit. They've been abandoned by their parents, their families and by society. Someone has to fight for them and prove there's a public benefit.

message 4: by Somerandom (last edited May 24, 2014 03:43PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Somerandom Monty J wrote: "Somerandom wrote: "Harry Potter, like most stories, (especially the ones aimed at kids) is essentially wish fulfillment, in the same vain as most Disney movies are.

Of course it's not what reality..."

Hmm, there is a saying that once you are an adult you are old enough to appreciate a good children's book. You can recognize techniques, plot devices and little tricks that authors often use (for example, many of the names of characters in Harry Potter are obscure adjectives which describe said characters.)
And of course many children's authors like to put in little jokes or references for adults.

I myself like to occasionally reread a Roald Dahl novel and chuckle at his humor or parental jokes that I missed in my youth, or have a Harry Potter marathon just to wrap myself in nostalgia for a while. =)

Harry Potter is rather wholesome. There's very little swearing (and the only time there is it's considered rude by Americans, and very mild by the Brits.) The pop culture of the Universe in the book is rather quaint and kind of cute. The trio have a very strong friendship and there's not a whole lot of "bad influences" as parents would say.
I guess parents and adults find it somewhat refreshing that a popular children's and YA series has no real sex or drug references or adult fare for their youngsters. And Rowling's writing style is rather whimsical and fun to get into, if you like that style.

I can't really comment on the state of treatment of orphans in North America since I am in Australia.
The worst thing for orphans, in my opinion, is the broken foster system that helps but a fraction of children in need. But I chalk that up to Government and lack of updating procedures, rather than pop culture. And we do have charities and whatnot to support foster/orphans. So I hope we, as a society, aren't indifferent to their plight.

But I do agree that the media should be aware of how they present orphans. JKR is British so I'm assuming there's some differences in culture and usage of the orphan archetype in there somewhere.

I agree that these poor kids need a voice, and I'm glad you're willing to provide it.

Robert Wright Monty J -
Interesting perspective.

But literature, IMO, has more functions than to hold a mirror (direct or indirect) up to reality. That the orphan/foundling trope has been an element of storytelling for millennia, says that it is speaking to some inner need or truth of the audience, if not the reality of orphans or foster children.

Beowulf, Oedipus, Romulus & Remus, Moses, Huck Finn, numerous Dickens characters, Frodo Baggins, Superman ...none of these are intended as a "real" portrayal of the life of an orphan, especially in the 20th/21st century. Dickens, true, did better than most at a portrayal of the hardships of his era, but he was hardly journalistic in his style.

I don't think JKR or other authors who use the trope are intentionally cashing in or seeking to trivialize or marginalize the reality by using the trope in their fiction.

Certainly, I can appreciate how your real experiences make it difficult to appreciate a fantasy based on that trope.

Perhaps, since you seem to feel more realistic depictions of the situations are lacking in fiction, you can turn your own hand to writing some? Your post certainly demonstrates a passion for the issue and a way with words.

message 6: by Monty J (last edited Jun 23, 2014 01:39PM) (new) - added it

Monty J Heying Robert wrote: "Perhaps, since you seem to feel more realistic depictions of the situations are lacking in fiction, you can turn your own hand to writing some?"

Believe me, I'm on it: http://redroom.com/member/monty-heying

(And thanks for the compliment.)

Robert Wright Interesting. Thanks for the link.

message 8: by Monty J (new) - added it

Monty J Heying Robert wrote: "Interesting. Thanks for the link."

You're welcome.

message 9: by Remusmdh (new)

Remusmdh I was doing research for a short story I'm revisiting that I abandoned some time ago when I came across this post of yours via google. The story has an orphaned girl in it as POV/MC and I was poking around for if "evil orphanages" had become too clique in publisher's eyes and I found your post.

As someone who was abused for twenty years and dealt with all sorts of bad people in the system who had me firmly believing until five years ago (for forty years) I was just a bad person, worthless kid, a "cancer on society", I know the system can fail people. And grand irony, I had two parents the whole time. None of this clique single parent stereotype BS.

Though I write supernatural and spirit guardian themes, as I have come to find, this is all how my brain tries to cope with what happened to me for the first twenty years of my life (although subtle forms of abuse continued until I was 35), but you have given me food for thought.

Yeah, Harry Potter does gloss right over the prolonged trauma PTSD issues and potential dissociative issues, and a lack of self esteem and confidence, (all of which I deal with) he quite likely would have suffered from his childhood of apparent sustained abuse, amongst other things he could have developed, but it does do one thing semi... good. It tries to, in not the best of ways sadly, how positive role models in the preteen and teen years can help. But this is like sticking your finger in the dam as it crumbles around you. IE, Rowlings made it look too much like one or two good people in your life will fix it all and make it magically better, and that is not wholly realistic.

You've given me quite the food for thought.

At the least I am now no longer worried about IF "evil orphanages" are overplayed in fiction and whether or not I could get this piece published (neither is it writing is my income source). At the least... more stories with REALISTIC characters in these situations are important.

I'm reminded of what many online friends have told me the last five years: baby steps. Keep talking about the downtrodden who do not have a voice, until someone does listen.

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