Master Manipulators: Petyr Baelish

One thing we love doing in the fantasy community is pitting random characters against each other in grand showdowns. I suppose this has a lot to do with the form of the genre, where really, each series/book ends in a dramatic encounter between the ‘good guy’ and ‘bad guy’, or, to give them their genre-specific names, prophesied hero and dark evil overlord. In our time out of the books however, we like to toss characters from different series against each other, to figure out who would win if, say, there was a cross-world war and Harry Potter found himself facing Darth Vader.star-wars-vader-force-choke

 

vs.harry with wand

No contest. Clearly Vader would win. Harry could Expelliarmus his Jedi sword, but Vader does have that nifty little strangulation technique.

In my upcoming posts, I’m profiling characters of a certain type in preparation to pitting them against each other—four master manipulators who pull strings and make puppets dance in their respective worlds. You can thank a rather intense and nerdy discussion on Facebook. What makes this comparison difficult is that all their worlds are so different, and their particular skills and positions are largely shaped by the world they inhabit. Therefore, removing them from their contexts and trying to view them objectively is  trifle problematic, but I’m going to ignore such purist concerns in favor of the potential entertainment these comparisons will afford.

Without further ado…

petyrPetyr Baelish

Strengths:

Utter and complete lack of permanent alliances. Littlefinger is loyal only to himself. He shifts and shuffles his allies according to his convenience, does each major house enough ‘favours’ to make them believe that he is firmly part of their team.

Money matters: Littlefinger has his hands on the economic pulse of Westeros, or whatever passes for it. He finds money where there is none to be found, makes his own from his brothels. Money is might, in any universe, and his gold is what allows Littlefinger to buy knives, protection and loyalty from those who have no other reason to work for him.

Lack of discernible agenda: This is, perhaps, Littlefinger’s greatest strength. He always keeps his opponents guessing. Does he support the Lannisters? Yes, for a while. Why? We don’t know. Does he think the Tyrells should have the power? He certainly seems to let them think he does. He plays people so well because he knows what everyone else wants, which is usually power or vengeance, but no one has the same grasp on him because his long-term plan is so hazy. Does he want to marry Sansa and rule through her? That’s a possibility. Does he just want to do whatever upsets Varys’s plans? Also a possibility. Five books in, we have no idea.

Weaknesses:

Lack of physical strength: Granted, we haven’t actually seen Littlefinger in a fight, but from what we know, he’s a small man who, more often than not, hires people to do his killing. He has never been a soldier, was quite thoroughly routed by Brandon Stark when he did try to pick a fight (fine, he was ‘little more than a boy’ but I’m pretty sure that if he had any latent martial skill, it would have manifested by then), and he does not seem the kind of man who has time to invest in physical training. No, Baelish is much too sophisticated for the old school chivalric/martial code of lords like Ned and Robert. It’s precisely why he looks down on them.

Lack of allies: If push came to shove, who would back Baelish up? No one. Even Sansa is, obviously, playing her own game with him. This is the flip-side of being a totally rogue agent. He has no family connections, no romantic connections (except Lysa, who is now dead) and the one bond he does seem to have, with Sansa, will, I predict, be the one that ends up destroying him.

Conclusion: Littlefinger is formidable. He couples immense intellectual capacity with financial know-how, and plays a game that very few seem to be able to see, let alone guess the object of.  I wouldn’t even call his bond with Sansa a weakness, since we don’t know how far he’s playing her and what his eventual aim with her is. I somehow doubt he’s going to be easily seduced and left for dead. No, Littlefinger’s going to have a bigger plan than just getting into bed with her.

sansa-and-petyr-sansa-stark-34188034-950-525

 

And if he doesn’t, I’ll be rather disappointed.

Next time, I’ll assess the second contestant in this face-off. Who’s it going to be? Now, that’s a surprise.

Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop the Taylor Love

This post has been a long time coming. A couple of months ago I put up a status that shared my newfound delight at listening to Taylor Swift. ‘I’m binge listening to Taylor Swift,’ it ran, ‘and discovering she has some profound things to say about life.’  Surprisingly, quite a few people ‘liked’ it, and it incited a great deal of debate on the topic Avril Lavigne versus Swifty. Of course, I supported Swifty in that debate.

I started listening to Taylor Swift (henceforth, I will call her Taylor because that seems to imply we are good friends, a feeling she totally encourages with her down to earth and VERY insightful lyrics) just about a year ago, coming, as ever, late to the music party.  I’m not sure how it started, what brought me to open up lists on 8tracks that were tagged ‘Taylor Swift’, or how long it took for me to realize I was listening to her not out of a hipster-like sense of irony, but because I genuinely liked what she was saying. Or, even if I didn’t like it, I understood it, in a way I haven’t understood any other singer.

taylor striped

A friend of mine once told me half-jokingly that every girl has a Taylor Swift song. He asked me what mine was. At that time, I hadn’t listened to much of her music. If he were to ask me now, I still wouldn’t have an answer, unless it is ‘All of them’.

What I find incredible about Taylor’s music is how very accessible and relatable it is. Sure, many songwriters have penned lyrics that seem to describe exactly what you, the listener, are going through at any point of time, and there are many I could name, but no one sounds as close to me as Taylor does. Listening to Taylor is like reading pages of an old journal; she is unapologetic, she is ‘emotional’ in the manner that many snooty people deride, she, in short, sounds like she’s talking on the phone to one of her best friends. When you’re listening to her, you feel let in, part of a circle, a safe space where your most vulnerable side can be shared, because that’s exactly the privilege she is extending to you.

kim insta

Lookee! Thanks to instagram we now know what Kim Kardashian is…eating? Buying? Wearing? I have no clue what those things are.

‘Nearness’ is something that popular culture seems more and more invested in emphasizing. What else explains the surge of reality TV, the stardom of Youtube vloggers—people like you and me, broadcasting to the world from their homes and smartphones, the fame of the common tweeter, many of whose followers number in the hundreds?  Despite this revolution however, stars and celebrities seem in some ways, further than ever. It’s easier to get famous, maybe, but the fame of these idols is of a different kind from that of the Youtube cover artist or reviewer-tweeter. Perhaps it’s the vestiges of the almost supernatural aura that once surrounded big record labels and studios, that impossible-to-define something that made someone recognized by one of these powerhouses ‘better’ than his/her peers. Whatever it is, despite their instagrams and tweets, celebs are still in a clime of their own, perhaps even more so for all the show of their accessibility. 

Taylor though, seems to have something genuine in her music. Cynics will sneer (I know a couple of my friends who definitely will) and say that her music too, like that of her fellow pop stars, is crafted to appear so, tailor-made (pun so intended) to convince me that she understands me and thus gull me into buying her songs and overpriced concert tickets. I might believe them, if it weren’t for the fact that Taylor often gets lambasted for the very reasons I find her music appealing. Her ‘emotional’ songs are roasted as being too whiny, too ‘angsty’ and ‘teenybopper’. She’s raked over the coals for writing songs about the men she’s dated, for giving voice to the sort of insecurities that many young women have in romantic relationships. I think the tag of ‘emotional’ is an extremely sexist one— are men ever derided for being ‘emotional’ in their music? I can think of many men who would certainly deserve that ‘charge’, Sam Smith and even legends like Eric Clapton come to mind.

I could ramble on about her half-philosophically, but here Im going to quickly list five Taylor songs and illustrate, through them, five points that make her music so appealing to me:

‘Story of us’: Taylor seems to say that it’s okay to be a little heartbroken when things don’t work out the way you expected. She gives voice to the nagging pettiness and worries that eat away at a person at the close of a relationship and I, for one, find the words ‘This is looking like a contest/Of who can act like they care less’ much closer to reality than beautiful words about wanting to find ‘someone’ like one’s ex. 

Sorry, Adele.

Sorry, Adele.

‘Red’: You can laugh at the strange comparisons in this song (‘Forgetting him was like trying to know somebody you’ve never met’?) but there’s something so heartfelt about every single one that I found myself strangely moved and agreeing with her on the choice of words. Taylor manages to do that, more often than you might think. She takes the weirdest of words and jams them together and has them make sense and sound right in a manner that few other people do.

‘All too well’: This is, to me, the most realistic break-up song ever. It talks about navigating the morass of emotion evoked when confronted by an ex, the what-ifs that tangle with memories both pleasant and unpleasant. That one line, ‘You call me up again just to break me like a promise/So casually cruel in the name of being honest’—I thought it was sheer poetry, even before Taylor commented that it was one of those she is proud of. The song winds through a series of emotions, confused and elated and wistful and angry all at the same time, and it astounds me again and again that she is able to pack all that into four minutes of music.

taylor1

‘We are never, ever, ever getting back together’: This song illustrates the fun side of Taylor. Have you SEEN the video? It never fails to cheer me up. It is so ludicrously over the top that you can’t help but laugh along with her. The song seems to say, as many Taylor songs do, that shit happens but you know what? We’re just going to cut our losses and move the hell on.

And dance while we do it.

Also, confession. The lyric that makes me crack up is ‘While you hide away and find your peace of mind/With some indie record that’s MUCH cooler than mine’. Too close for comfort.

 

‘Begin Again’: This is wistful Taylor, a Taylor who pops up in ‘Cold as You’, ‘White Horse’, ‘You’re not Sorry’—all slightly sad songs that nonetheless end on a note of hope. I love how her music, despite describeing unhappy scenarios, never descends to pure caterwauling or pleading to be taken back. It’s always a sort of wistful ‘I’m sad this didn’t work out’ vibe that plays through them, and they never descend to self-hate or self-doubt.

 

I think that, in effect, is what I love about Taylor. She dramatizes the emotional whirl storm that is a part of growing up and trusting people, but she never lets the bad encounters color her, or your, perception of life. She ‘can’t stop, won’t stop moving’, and will keep shaking herself off and going on. And she does it with such a delicious sense of self-parody, like in ’22’.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty damn inspirational.

Shake off the doubts yo, shake them off.

                                                               Shake off the doubts yo, shake them off.

An Empire State of Mind

It’s easy to find blogposts and listicles about how important it is to travel in your 20’s. The writers of these posts say inspiring things about how travel builds perspective, travel doesn’t have to be the provence of the rich, travel brings you face to face with people and situations you would never expect. I’ve seen so many of these, some of them with agendas more clearly discernible than others (for instance, there’s one about how girls should travel in their 20’s rather than get married. I have a problem with posts like these simply because they seem to judge those who do choose to get married in their 20’s, which I find a little discomfiting. People should be able to get married whenever the hell they want, and that includes in their 20’s), but rants aside, they all make this one point: travel broadens horizons, and really, you should do it.

I would describe myself as an indifferent traveler. I don’t really enjoy meeting new people all the time, neither do I need to throw myself into particularly ‘exciting’ and ‘new’ experiences in order to find my life enriching and fulfilling (I think I do well enough building and dispensing drama on my own—just ask any of my close friends). Certainly I enjoy seeing famous and touristy places, but my ambition does not include that oft cited by so many people: ‘I want to see the world’.

Having said all this, there are a few places I would like to visit, a short list of countries that includes, for various reasons, Peru, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Morocco, Canada and one particular city: New York.

top-of-the-rock-photo-ispI visited New York for a day in 2009. It was a there and back again trip, consisting of a hurried Chipotle lunch with cousins, a quick trip through the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art), three hours standing in line waiting for tickets to a Broadway show at Times Square, hurried gobbling of cheesecake, strolling through a little bit of Central Park—I remember rocks—and then rushing to Majestic Theatre, where I lost my heart to a singing Phantom and his Gothic tunes. We then took a night train back to the domestic haven of New Jersey, and New York and its treats were left behind.

This quick visit was enough to give me what I thought of as a ‘sense’ of the city, and the only word I could use to describe it was ‘life’. The moment I stepped out of Penn Station’s underground caverns and onto the street, I felt an almost electric thrill shoot through me. Here, I thought, is where I want to be. Ever since then I’ve dreamt of walking down fifth, sixth or seventh avenue, clutching a rapidly cooling coffee as I make my way to my skyscraper-housed office. This vision may or may not have been unduly influenced by The Devil Wears Prada movie. Given how much importance that movie and various other NY-based books/TV shows (cough Gossip Girl cough) have in my imagination, I wouldn’t be surprised.

28annehathawaygoldpurseoutfit

Totes going to be me some day.

I finally had the opportunity to stay in the Big Apple. I crashed at a close friend’s place on 125th and Broadway (like a true New Yorker, I have learned to locate places based on street and avenue number/name), very close to Columbia University. I took the Subway on my own—woohoo!—and travelled about Manhattan. I met a range of interesting people, old friends and new as the cliche goes, and undertook the grand mission known as ‘finding oneself’. I walked past humongous skyscrapers multiple times, looking up at the windows and wondering when I would sit inside and look out upon the commuters and tourists scurrying below. I stood outside the NewsCorp office for a full five minutes and plotted takeover, even messaged a partner in crime about how we would one day rule the publishing and television world from there. 

I have very small dreams, you see.

New York was everything I dreamed it would be. Granted, I spent only ten days there and didn’t actually have to brave rush hour crowds, eke out a living and pay a humongous rent, so my picture of the city is rather rose-tinted. But it felt, more than anything, like a bigger, more international version of Delhi, perhaps shinier and the teensiest bit safer, in some ways. In other ways, more dangerous.

Perhaps this, its Delhi-like feel, made me even more desperate to be seen as ‘part’ of the city, a true ‘local’. It’s impossible, at a glance, to tell who is from New York. It houses people from every race, every country probably, ever sort of social, economic and religious background. Given the smorgasbord of humanity, it’s easy enough to blend in, be perceived as someone completely at home here. I figured out the easiest way to pass off as a local, i.e, not a clueless tourist (which, whatever I say, I was) was to plaster a confident, vaguely arrogant expression on my face and just stride off in the direction I thought I was supposed to take. Luckily for me, my face assumes this expression almost by default, and even when I took the wrong exit from a subway, quick glances at the street corners enabled me to reroute myself properly.

Why was I so desperate to blend in? Perhaps I just wanted to extend the illusion of being part of the city, convince myself that yes, I am here and I will be here. If people validate this notion, all the better.

Did traveling to New York give me the much vaunted ‘perspective’? Yes. It taught me how very much I want to be seen as successful, creative, a force to be reckoned with—all images one associates, thanks to pop culture, with NYC. More than that, it showed me that I want to be all those things there. I want the skyscraper-housed office, the overpriced coffee, the snootiness of an Upper East or West side address. Impossible to get? Well, like Jay-Z said, ‘If I can make it here/I can make it anywhere’.

Challenge accepted. 

blair

Bring. It. On.

I AM Harry Potter

Imagine being famous for doing something you can’t even remember, or did when you were a child. It’s a little horrifying.

Kill Your Darlings screening - 57th BFI London Film FestivalI remember reading an article years ago, headlined with the provocative words ‘I AM Harry Potter’. The piece was one of those generic ones about the up-and-coming Daniel Radcliffe, written shortly after the second film had been completed. Radcliffe had gone on to sign for the remaining Potter films in that time period—that was the article’s main focus.

When I first saw Daniel in the various newspaper clippings and magazine articles that came out before the filming of Philosopher’s Stone, my one thought was: ‘Yes, he’s cute, but why does he have blue eyes?’ I was shocked that no one had disqualified him on that basis (shows what I knew about the movie industry, or any industry, for that matter). I decided to dislike him, no matter how cute he was, or how adorably he tried and failed to bring Harry to life. The Harry I saw on screen was NOT, i thought, the ‘real’ Harry Potter. For all his Englishness and cuteness, Dan Rad could never do justice to my childhood love.

This is, in retrospect, a very uncharitable feeling. I refused to take into consideration the fact that this boy was my age, struggling under the weight of expectations that most 11 year olds never have to bear—that of starring in the leading role of a franchise that was still very new, whose first readers were very much alive and waiting to judge what a big-budget studio would make of their favorite books. As he signed on for more films, Daniel agreed, whether he knew it or not, to grow up in the public eye. He might have known what this entailed at the age of 12. If so, he was a prescient child and wise beyond his years. Certainly, I would have seen nothing but the glamour and appeal of being a movie star.

Because of my (unfair) expectations and (unjustified) disappointment, I dismissed his claims of ‘being’ Harry Potter. ‘He wishes’, I’d sneer, and dive back into contemplation of my Harry who had, thankfully, the proper emerald eyes so reminiscent of fresh pickled toads. It was only years later that I began to appreciate Radcliffe at all—after I matured and decided not to sit around being bitter about a little boy’s inability to deliver exactly what i wanted. Instead, i realized that he had been right. He was, still inescapably is Harry Potter. Deathly-Hallows-daniel-radcliffe-16653482-442-334

What makes Harry different from many of his fantasy hero brethren is the fact that he is famous before he even enters the story in any conscious manner. Frodo, Rand, Arthur—these heroes are perhaps prophesied and awaited, but they have to consciously do something in order to earn that approval and mantle. Harry becomes a hero almost by default, because of the actions of someone else, and he grows up entirely unconscious of this before being thrust summarily into the public eye. Once he enters the magical world, he becomes somewhat of a celebrity, stalked by the paparazzi (in Goblet of Fire), recipient of hate and fan-mail both and, later, gets painted as a major terrorist in a sustained media campaign. Harry’s actions and words are constantly judged and scrutinized, with little or no heed paid to context. Even his time in Hogwarts, within the school walls, is marked by this celebrity-dom, at least for the first half of the first year.

Harry, for these reasons, grows up aware of his importance, and is never entirely able to escape the weight of expectation that comes with it. Everyone is waiting for him to do great things, based on an event he remembers only as a flash of green light. This first encounter with Voldemort quite literally marks him for the rest of his childhood, and despite his decision to let it go at the close (by giving up the Elder Wand), I doubt his success, especially since he went ahead and joined the Aurors.

Dan Rad is, in many respects, similar to Harry. He got a HUGE role at the age of what, 11? That role defined his life for the next ten years. The world watched him grow up and through the films, scrutinized his relationships and decisions and wardrobe choices. He’s gone on record saying that he wants to shed the image of Harry Potter, a desire that prompts him, perhaps, to take up more ‘adult’ and ‘dark’ projects like Equus and Horns. But despite all he does, the distance he tries to put between himself and that first role, I think he’s pretty well marked. As long as he, and the generation he brought Potter to life for are alive, he won’t be able to run away from that first step.

Grandiose claims, maybe, to call himself Harry Potter. But you have to admit that guy’s got a rather bittersweet truth to his statement. The fact that he seemingly bears up under the weight of that label is impressive and, acting be damned, I think I like him just for that.

Theon Greyjoy: Fairy tale Prince

Warning: MASSIVE spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire ahead.

Excerpt from a conversation with a friend a few months ago:

Friend: I like Jon Snow. And Tyrion of course.

Me: Of course, I like them too! But liking them is so predictable. I mean, don’t you think…

Friend: (vaguely amused and partly scandalized) Who do you like then? Wait, let me guess. Theon Greyjoy?

By now she’s laughing.

theon fan art 1Yes, I like Theon Greyjoy. He is, believe it or not, my favourite character in G R R Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books. I’ve liked him ever since he smirked at Jon in A Game of Thrones and pissed him off. This was because it was fun to see that something could piss off the otherwise broody and angsty Jon Snow.

Perhaps it’s no surprise that Theon is my favourite, given my soft spot for tormented, good-looking men who mask their vulnerability with wit and martial prowess. Of course, Theon is a bit of a jerk (as most men in ASoIaF seem to be), but that seems part and parcel of being smart, good looking and rich in Westeros.

I think Theon, in many ways, acts as a foil to Jon Snow and Tyrion Lannister. If you place the three characters on a spectrum, it would range from Jon, loved and respected by his ‘father’ but uncertain of his place to Tyrion, long detested by his true father and condemned to die by his own family. Theon sits in the middle: he was raised by a man he respected, but he could never be certain of his regard (he states that Eddard Stark always made it clear that, if necessary, he would kill his ward to ensure Balon Greyjoy’s continued good behaviour). He returns to a less-than-warm homecoming and feels that the only way to win back his father’s approval is to turn his back on his foster family. Of course, this only ends in disaster with the Greyjoys, apart from Asha, abandoning him.

I thought this last was illustrated powerfully in HBO’s adaptation of the books when Balon Greyjoy, on receiving Ramsay’s grisly present, states that he ‘has no son’.

Another group Theon can be placed in is that of characters who have lost a sense of self, home and family. The theme of familial belonging is one that runs through the series: characters make decisions keeping in mind the survival of their Houses; those who act selfishly are eliminated. ‘Family’ comes first for many Houses, most notably the Tyrells (whose matriarch, Olenna, engineers a complicated murder in order to ensure her granddaughter gets a good marital deal), the Tullys (their words are, after all, ‘Family, Duty, Honour’) and the Lannisters (it’s all Tywin Lannister can talk about, and Cersei and Jaime do a good job of keeping everything in the family). Characters who lose a sense of where and whom they come from are often the most misguided.

In a previous post I stated that Sansa Stark, Daenerys and Theon are among those who ‘lose’ a sense of self in the series. All three make the mistake of trying to be something they are not: Sansa seeking to bury her northern roots and become a ‘true southron lady’ and Dany trying to purge the violence of her heritage by locking away her dragons. Theon is even more complicated than these two: instead of forsaking his roots, he turns to some half-hearted version of them, seeking to earn back his place in a long-abandoned family. Theon’s revelations and upward climb only happen when he accepts and later, gives voice to the desire that has driven him all along. He never wanted to be one of the Greyjoys; he wanted to be one of the Starks.

But for all his conflicts and complications, what I really like about Theon is quite simple: his arc, despite being hellish and terribly painful in parts, is really the most hopeful. At its corny best, fantasy is about hope. It’s about overcoming darkness and fear and living to fight another day. In the world of ASoIaF, it’s easy to forget that basic moral because Martin does such a good job of tweaking our expectations and playing on conventions. Westeros is no Middle Earth, where all you need is an Aragorn-type nobility and steadfast Hobbit courage to win the day. It’s not even Randland, where ‘love’ and willing sacrifice play such a vital role in the Last Battle. Westeros is not an idealized version of our world; it is our world, with all the petty politics, rivalries and screwing around for advantage. Only, it has the added magic of dragons and unpredictable Fire gods, as well as some strange people called the Others. theon fan art 2

In this dreary, depressingly ‘real’ world, Theon stands out. He makes terrible mistakes, but unlike most other characters, he seems to feel a huge sense of remorse, one that propels him to make a painful journey through A Dance with Dragons. Honestly, I thought Theon OWNED that book. He was the one character who quite visibly progressed through its pages: from ‘Reek’ through to ‘The Prince of Winterfell’ and ending, finally, with ‘Theon’. What really got me was that, honestly speaking, there was no real need for Theon’s story that I could see. Like many of my fellow readers, I assumed that, when Ramsay sent strips of skin to Robb in A Storm of Swords, he was dead. To my mind, he had fulfilled his function in the plot: turn against Robb, harry the North, throw everyone into confusion and thus start the Stark fall. And then it turned out he was alive, if barely. I wondered what Martin would do with him. I did not expect the sort of redemption story I got.

Of course, Theon’s crimes are pretty unpardonable. But I don’t think he’s doing any of what he’s doing (saving Jeyne, reclaiming his sense of self) in order to mitigate his actions and earn himself a lesser sentence. This seems, more than anything, a personal quest, a way in which he can die with some sense of peace. In a universe where everyone wants power or vengeance, it’s heartening to come across a character who wants something like this.

Turning the superficial, smirking jerk into this world’s version of an idealist: Theon is Martin’s dark, twisted but ultimately hopeful fairytale.

 

 

 

 

Ten ways in which reading fantasy screws up your love life

Lo and behold, herein are written the ways in which an overdose of the fantastical can screw up any right thinking, clear headed person. As though the socially accepted form of insanity doesn’t do that well enough anyway.

1) When someone says ‘I can’t be with you’, you automatically assume they are being self-sacrificing and noble and trying to protect you from some darker power.

arwen and aragorn

2) Because of this, you only decide to love them more.

3) You think ‘waiting’ for said person is a wonderful thing and will surely result in a reward, i.e., returned regard.

There is still hope.

                 There is still hope.

4) Even if it doesn’t, literature and the heroes have taught you that unrequited love is the most noble and wonderful thing evah. Just look at all the love Snape got after it was revealed he was crazy about Lily Evans.

5) This is a lie. Unrequited love is a bitch and it would hurt like hell to love like Severus Snape. But you’ve ‘known’ otherwise for so long that it will take you months, maybe even years, to accept that.

snape and lily

‘Always': Not a word to be uttered lightly.

6) When all your friends tell you that someone is wrong for you, is not giving you what you deserve, you think it’s just because they don’t see the nobility and courage the other person hides so successfully from the rest of the world. Only you are blessed with that vaunted ability because you are not fooled by the mundane world and its standards.

7) Also, fantasy heroes and heroines are always ridiculed at some point in their lives for their beliefs, so you think it’s part of the deal to be considered a complete, blind idiot. At some point, like all those heroes, you’ll have the chance to turn around and say ‘I told you so.’

'Everybody thinks I'm lying. That's okay. I'm used to it.'

‘Everybody thinks I’m lying. That’s okay. I’m used to it.’

8) There is no such thing as bad timing, or coincidence, or, for that matter, all-around unbeatable circumstances. There is only Fate and you, the lone warrior who will defy it in order to be with the one you so desperately love. Bring on the shitstorm, universe!

'I can totes handle this.'

‘I can totes handle this.’

9) The more reasons the person throws at you to stay away, the more drawn you feel to them. Because they are just more demons for you to overcome and prove yourself a worthy champion.

10) Fantasy heroes never give up, you tell yourself. No matter how tough the going gets, no matter how terrible they feel, they don’t ever give up. And neither will you, no matter how much it might kill you to flog yourself on.

'I shall carry on until I collapse and even then I will crawl my way up this damn mountain. You shall not defeat me!'

‘I shall carry on until I collapse and even then I will crawl my way up this damn mountain. You shall not defeat me!’

Ain’t no love like tortured, angsty fantasy love.

 

After all, they lived happily ever after...for a while.

After all, they lived happily ever after…for a while.

Growing up Potter: The Sins of the Father

In the third year of the my undergrad degree, my class studied a play called ‘Ghosts’ by Norwegian heavyweight, Henrik Ibsen. The play brings to life an old adage, ‘the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons’. Oswald, a bright, young artist is laid low by a congenital disease he’s inherited from his debauched sire, and ends the play (spoiler) mindlessly chanting ‘the sun, the sun’ while his mother wrestles with the weight of a past that has brought them to this.

Now, a lot’s been written about the role of mothers in the Potterverse, how they shape their children, provide a grounding force in the face of evil and sometimes, literally give their kids another chance at life with their sacrifices. In this post, I want to look at the other half of that parenting equation, with a study of how fathers shape their (specifically) sons. I would argue that this shaping is, more often than not, a root cause of several problems that characters face. It seems a negative rather than positive force in many male characters’ lives, a negativity that is only corrected with the application of a mother’s love and influence.

In short, fathers mess up the sons so that the mothers can set them right.

I’ll illustrate this with, what seems to me, the most glaring examples in the Potter canon. By asserting that fathers are often a negative force, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the integrity and character of the fathers themselves. Some of them, such as Arthur Weasley and James Potter, are no doubt wonderful (in James’s case, become wonderful) human beings, who do all that can be expected, and more, to defend and protect those they love. Nonetheless, their actions, whether meant in good faith or not, often rebound in a negative manner on their offspring. Let’s consider a few examples, shall we?

1)       James and Harry Potter

jamesJames is absent for most of the books, but it was his behaviour in school that, allegedly, caused Snape’s undying hatred of him and resulted in the bullying that Harry faced for six years. If Lily had married someone else, would Snape’s virulence been as pronounced? Idle speculation, probably, but no doubt his hatred of Harry was exacerbated a huge amount by the fact that he was his schoolyard rival’s son.

 

James is held up as a shining paragon for all of four and a half books—until that terrible moment in Order of the Phoenix where all of Snape’s worst stories seem to be confirmed. The viewing of ‘Snape’s worst memory’ causes perhaps the most profound moral crisis Harry has faced until this point, a crisis that never really gets resolved, given that James, from this point on, begins to lose his lustre (a move that only gets cemented with the death of his staunchest supporter and the strongest link—Sirius) and Lily becomes much more of a player in Harry’s life.

 

2)      Lyall and Remus Lupin

remusThanks to recently published information on Pottermore, we now know that Lyall Lupin, Remus’s father, was a ‘world renowned authority on Non-Human Spiritous Apparitions’ such as Boggarts. He was unlucky (and bigoted enough) to express an opinion on werewolves to Fenrir Greyback, calling them ‘soulless, evil and deserving nothing but death’. To teach the Ministry man a lesson, Greyback retaliated by biting his almost five-year-old son, Remus Lupin.

You can read the full story here: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Lyall_Lupin

Do I really need to spell this out for you? Remus’s whole life has been shaped by that moment, his ‘furry little problem’ dictating both his career and personal
choices for many, many years. Right until Deathly Hallows, Remus is struggling with his identity as a werewolf, his fear of his own strength and darkness prompting him to run away from his pregnant wife.

 

3)      Lucius and Draco Malfoy

lucius and dracoIf there’s one thing that little Draco knows, it’s the power his father’s name commands in the wizarding world. ‘My father will be hearing about this’ is his catch phrase, and he uses it on everyone, from Hagrid to fake!Moody to Ron and Harry. Lucius is the brick on which Draco rests his own importance, whether it be his facilitating Draco’s entrance into the Slytherin Quidditch team in Chamber of Secrets or cozening up to Snape and suggesting that he take up Headmastership in Dumbledore’s absence. Draco’s near hero worship of his father reaches a head at the end of Order of the Phoenix when he promises to make Harry and his friends ‘pay’ for putting him behind bars. Draco’s unquestioning love of his father extends to a wholesale acceptance of his ideals, leading to an unthinking parroting of conservative pureblood attitudes from a very young age. It also, scarily enough, leads to his acceptance of a position in Voldemort’s circle.

There’s no doubt that Draco’s Death Eater status is a result both of his espousal of their ideals (or what he thinks their ideals to be) and careful bullying from Voldemort’s supporters. Draco’s service under the Dark Lord is marked by a crumbling of illusions; by halfway through Half Blood Prince Draco has understood the reality of his position and the complete lack of glamour it possesses. It’s thanks to Narcissa’s snap decision in the Forbidden Forest that Draco gets out of Hogwarts relatively unharmed. I don’t see him lasting happily under Voldemort’s reign.

 

4)      Arthur and Percy Weasley

arthurI know, this is an incredible assertion to make: Arthur Weasley, model father in the Potterverse (i.e. the only one who fulfils basic criteria like being alive, being one of the good guys and not running out on his family, unlike the three previously mentioned) messed up his son? But consider this: one of the reasons Percy gives for walking out on his family is that his father was unambitious, that he didn’t do all he could to better the status of the family or his own position in the Ministry. Percy sees Arthur’s lack of ambition and eccentricity as a handicap, something he has had to struggle against in his own professional life. A self constructed sin, perhaps, but certainly something that resulted in Percy’s morally questionable actions and decisions in the latter half of the series.

 

5)      Barty and Barty Crouch Jr., Tom and Tom Marvolo Riddle

Barty_Crouch_JrFake!Moody/Barty Crouch Jr himself draws the parallels between him and his master at the close of Goblet of Fire. Both are ashamed of/opposed to their fathers; both were ‘abandoned’ by them; both paid the ultimate price for their abandonment. Crouch’s negligence of his home life, the subject of furious gossip after his son’s trial, resulted perhaps in his son’s straying to the ‘wrong’ side. Tom Riddle’s abandonment of Merope resulted in Tom growing up unloved in an orphanage, setting in course a series of events that would see him rise as a vengeful Dark Lord with no desire for forgiveness or understanding. If Tom Riddle Sr hadn’t left his wife, would Voldemort have turned out the way he did? Rowling stated that he was ‘incapable’ of love since he was conceived under the effect of a love potion, but perhaps the presence of a parental figure might have remedied that. Who knows?

And so we have it: the dad’s job in the Potterverse is to pass on prejudice, be the cause for prejudice, or set up skewed morals in his son. There’s a hint of this being carried on even in Harry’s generation: Ron warns Rose against Scorpius Malfoy, telling her that she has to ‘beat him in every test’ and that ‘Grandpa Weasley’ would never forgive her if she married a pureblood. Hermione, strikingly, says nothing.

You have to admit this is a little disturbing: Scorpius is being judged, much like Harry was, on the basis of his parentage and not his own merits or lack thereof. Evidently some things don’t change.

 

 

 

 

Slytherin the Saviour: How Selfishness won the War

slytherin_crest1 In previous posts, I’ve discussed the Sorting of students at Hogwarts and the ramifications their houses have on their futures. I’ve also admitted that my own placement in said Houses has changed over the years, chiefly because my assessment of what’s really important to me (i.e., how I want to be perceived) has shifted. Last but not least, the idea that you can actually choose which House you go into sort of throws into doubt the whole magical and more-knowledgeable-than-thou air of the Sorting Hat in the first place.

Here though, I want to talk about a very specific thing, and that is the importance of the Slytherin trait of self-interest to the winning of the Second Wizarding War.

We all know the basics, right? Gryffindor is the house of the brave, Ravenclaw of the intelligent, Hufflepuff the hardworking and Slytherin the rich, obnoxious and/or bigoted. In the Battle of Hogwarts, the Slytherins were supposedly evacuated en masse, and didn’t stay behind to help defend their school or the ‘right side’. What defines them is their selfishness, their cunning and their penchant for supporting the wrong authority figures. If anyone won the Battle of Hogwarts, it was the selfless Gryffindors and their staunch allies. Slytherin didn’t do anything—besides start the war in the first place.

I don’t want to take away from the sacrifice of the ‘light’ soldiers, but I believe that much of their effort would have been for naught, if two Slytherins hadn’t done what they did to win the war.

First of all—Severus Snape. If he hadn’t passed on those Harry-is-a-Horcrux memories, would Harry have gone out to face death in the manner that he did? Probably not. He might have continued fighting, surprised when the destruction of the known Horcruxes didn’t have the expected effect. He might possibly have killed Voldemort once, but surely the Dark Lord would have sprung back and AK’d him before Harry knew what was happening. Without Snape’s revelations, Harry would not have walked out unarmed and unsupported to face death and end one more of Voldemort’s connections to life.

Second—this gallant sacrifice on Harry’s part would have, once again, been for nothing if Narcissa Malfoy had not, for whatever reason, declared him ‘dead’. While I think Voldemort was an idiot to send Narcissa and not, say, an unreservedly faithful follower like Bellatrix, this was a stroke of luck for Harry. Narcissa’s desire to get back into the castle and get to Draco outweighed any interest she might have had in figuring out what went wrong with the Dark Lord’s curse, and this lie provided her a deadly revenge on the man-snake who had been terrorizing her family all year long.

Again, if Narcissa had not done what she did, I don’t think Harry would have left that clearing alive.

Why did these people act as they did? Certainly there was bravery involved, but what defines both Snape and Narcissa’s behaviour here is self-interest, the domain of Slytherin house. Slytherins fight not for ideals or abstract concepts, apparently, can follow the dictates of their selfish desires to good ends. Snape, a great example of a tenacious Slytherin, joined Dumbledore’s side because of his love of, not freedom or humanity in general, but Lily. His desire to serve against Voldemort was born of a selfish exchange: so long as Lily was safe, he would fight for Dumbledore. Even after she died, it was in her memory that he fought on, as well evidenced by the gravelly ‘Always’.

Narcissa wants to do nothing but get back to her son. Not for her the politics of the war or the questions of right and wrong thrown up by it: what matters is the preservation of those she loves, and all the rest can go to hell.

I think, with the Slytherins, Rowling proved that you don’t always need sweeping ideals or larger-than-life courage to be a hero. Sometimes, devotion to purely selfish interests does do good. As the Sorting Hat said, ‘Those cunning folk use any means/To achieve their ends’. Not all of those ends, nor the means, are evil.

And in some ways, this makes Slytherin house the most realistic of them all.

 

My first nomination!

…is for the Liebster award given to me by none other than Isa, a lovely doodler and writer over on Only an Artist’s Way. I am quite touched and grateful. The award involves answering questions put to me by her, talking about myself (which, like any self-important megalomaniac, I love to do) and put out a few questions for my own nominees.

I’m totally pulling a powerful!Ginny pose.

Image

Oh, yeah.

 

And here are the rules, shamelessly copied from Isa’s blog:

  • Post the award on your blog
  • Thank the blogger who presented the award to you and link back to their blog
  • Share 11 things about yourself
  • Answer the 11 questions given to you by the person that nominated you
  • Nominate 3-5/ 11 bloggers who have less than 200 followers
  • Create 11 questions for your nominees to answer
  • Notify your nominees by posting your nomination on their blog.

So without further ado, here are 11 things about me:

1)       The first Harry Potter book I read was Prisoner of Azkaban, and that was only after a lot of cajoling from my mom. I was pretty sure no British wizard was going to impress me.

2)      The country I most want to visit is Peru. I think this has something to do with Macchu Pichu.

3)      I had a crush on Disney’s Robin Hood, the fox. In my defense, I was five years old.

4)      The song I really want to sing in a crowded karaoke bar is Maroon 5’s ‘Payphone’ because I find the lyrics hilariously angsty.

5)      To this day, I regret not getting on a flight to London and auditioning for the role of Parvati Patil in The Goblet of Fire movie. This missed opportunity has made my destined meeting with Daniel Radcliffe much harder to pull off.

6)      I really want, at some point in my life, to cut my hair short, i.e., above my shoulders. It’s been longer than that for as long as memory serves. I think I’m too cowardly to follow through.

7)      I wrote a trilogy of plays which featured me and my classmates as superheroes with names and powers based on our (rather juvenile) email addresses. I still read it and marvel at the wit displayed, from time to time.

8)      When I started blogging, I had no idea how much I would come to love it. Seriously, no idea.

9)      I wish I had trained in archery and horseback riding. It looks so badass.

10)   My ideal man is a combination of Sirius Black, Remus Lupin and Harry Potter and hence, probably doesn’t exist.

11)    I call myself a Slytherin in some twisted form of wish-fulfillment. I’m actually far too emotional and headstrong and hence, more likely to be a Gryffindor.

My answers to Isa’s questions:

1)     Listen to the Harry Potter theme song (Hedwig’s Theme) the Lord of the Rings or the Hobbit theme (The Shire) and the Star Wars theme song. Which do like best?

Easy enough, the Harry Potter one! I love how it can be played to sound either intimate and soft, or sweeping and epic. It can almost be said to encompass the moods of the books. Also, here’s a secret: it’s the music I would love to have playing in the background of a marriage proposal. Yes, rather romantic of me.

2)     What is your favorite book?

Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. I know that’s technically two books, but they usually come as one!

3)     If you could go anywhere right now, where would you go?

New York City, the home of DC and Marvel and all the good things associated with them.

4)     Favorite Piece of Clothing?

I love scarves.

5)     Favorite Animal?

I know it’s almost a cliché, but oh well, I love horses.

6)     What fictional character would you have for a best friend?

Hermione Granger from Harry Potter. Smart, fun (in a within-the-rules sort of way), ambitious and ever so loyal.

7)     Mechanical Pencil, Regular Pencil, Pen or Quill?  :)

A pen. Quills are just so much trouble, plus they tear paper way too easily.

8)     Pick a time in history you would like to visit. Where and why would you go?

I would like to visit Cleopatra’s court in Alexandria. I’ve always been fascinated by her and would love the chance to see her in full, regal action.

9)     Cookies or Cupcakes?

Cupcakes, please!

10)What traffic sign is your favorite and why? (I know it’s a weird one, but answer it)

In a country where traffic signs don’t really exist (and are unheeded), I don’t know. Does a zebra crossing count?

11) Any advice for the people of the world?

Read between the lines.

 

And, last but not at all least, my nominees and my questions for them!

I hereby nominate:

Jeff Coleman from Jeff Coleman Writes

Jeyna Grace at Jeyna Grace

Eveline Versluys at Fashion, Food and Flirts

My questions for my nominees:

1)       If you could transport yourself to any fictional world, which would you choose and why?

2)      A bear, a boar or an anaconda—which would you rather face off with in a fighting pit?

3)      Who is your favourite superhero?

4)      If you could write one bestselling novel, what would it be called?

5)      Who are the two people you would thank in your Oscar acceptance speech?

6)      If you could bring just one character from a kids’ book to life, who would you choose?

7)      What’s your theme song?

8)      How many languages can you read in?

9)      What has been your most valued birthday gift till date?

10)   How do you feel about the ocean?

11)    If you could pick a character to be in any book, who would you want to be and why?

 

Ta, and thank you all!

 

 

 

 

Maya and the Mutants

How do you  know you’re a literary superstar? When you can say sappy things and have people read them as profound and status update worthy. angelou

Last week, Maya Angelou, writer, activist and feminist icon, passed away. As expected, Facebook and Twitter erupted, people outdoing each other in a bid to provide the most thought-provoking quote they had come across either through reading her work or, if you subscribe to the more cynical school of thought, via a quick Google search. I wasn’t surprised, really, given that this was exactly what had happened when, earlier this year, other literary/political greats passed away.

My own reading of Angelou has been very limited: I was introduced to her through a credit course I did in my first year of undergrad. She was part of a collection of writers brought together under the heading ‘Gender’, ostensibly placed there because the piece we were reading, ‘I rise’, was meant to be studied (in that particular course) in its feminist context. Beyond that poem, I have read nothing of Angelou.

Until the status updates appeared.

Among the many beautiful pieces I was thus treated to was one that a friend of mine had chosen to use, for whatever reason, as her display picture on a messaging app. The quote, which trailed above a picture of Angelou, was this:

Have enough courage to trust love one more time, and always one more time.

Now, plenty of people have said similar things. For instance, Auden declared, rather melodramatically, ‘We must love one another, or die’. Singers and songwriters state that love makes the world go around in various ways and Harry Potter, arguably one of the most influential literary icons of the last century, wins because he symbolizes and fights for, at some level, the power of love.

In all these cases, love does not restrict itself to the sense that it has gained in most commercial domains: that of romantic attachment. Yes, this is probably the most lucrative form of it, selling as it does cards, perfumes, books and loads of jewellery, but it is not the only one out there. What a lot of these writers, Rowling included, gesture towards with the term is a sort of universal agape, a feeling of hope born out of the hero’s ability to connect with and care for his fellow beings.

I am at an age where the idea of ‘happily ever after’ and perfect worlds seems laughable, where to even hint at believing in such things is to invite ridicule. The ‘adult world’, I’ve been told time and again, is no place for such escapist ideals. This is a land where to be open with your feelings is to expose yourself as a weakling; where courtship, whether romantically inclined or not, is a game that you play with half your attention on the board, the other half plotting ways of ensuring that you don’t ‘lose’ more than your opponent does. You can’t ever look as though you are completely earnest in what you do or feel or say; that’s just not safe anymore.

So, given all this scepticism and general cynicism that usually floods conversations, it was more than a bit surprising and, really, refreshing to see tributes to a woman who, quite vociferously, argued for the power of love. And argued for it despite having a life that no Disney moviemaker would touch with a ten-foot pole.

Angelou’s words came back with a bit of a bang when I watched the latest superhero blockbuster to hit screens: Bryan Singer’s X Men: Days of Future Past. Unlike its cousin, The Amazing Spiderman 2 (which released a little earlier this year and that I blogged about here), X Men is not halfway as stereotypically feel-good. X Men, arguably, never has been, chiefly because its primary villain, Magneto, is such a complicated, shades-of-grey character whose agenda of a mutant-run-world is all too close to the reality of sentiments that govern (and, to many eyes, justify) the behaviour of the state of Israel.

But Magneto and his almost-Zionism are a topic for another day.

Like any good superhero movie however, Days has its soaring speeches and breakdown moments. At a particularly low moment, young Charles buckles under the pressure of all the ‘despair and pain’ he sees in the world: ‘I don’t want your suffering, I don’t want your future!’ Then comes a heartwarming speech from a mentor figure, about finding the power of ‘hope’ within all that morass, the strength that people like Charles need to exude to their friends and followers. ‘We can bear their pain’, he is told, if he can bring himself to ‘hope again’. x-men-days-of-future-mcavoy-patrick-stewart-636-370

Isn’t that a superpower? The ability to look the world head on, see its evil, and yet find reserves of hope to take it on? Angelou basically said what every superhero movie, even the stylishly dark Nolan-Batman, depict. No matter what dross the world throws at you, what terrible agenda the villain has cobbled together, always trust hope, love, basic human goodness, one more time and always, one more time.

It’s the only thing, apparently, that can save the world.