Sunday, November 27, 2011

Thoughts on Wizard Combat and Other Geek Thoughts

OK, bear with me.  Geek talk ahead.  This is important only in that it gets a series of thoughts out of my head that have been swishing around and around for a while.

Like I mentioned yesterday, I just finished watching the last movie in the Harry Potter series.  It's a good yarn, and the writers and directors did an excellent job in entertaining me.  But some things have been nagging at me.

The finale of the entire series is a huge battle between the hordes of evil Voldemort followers and the small, but plucky band of good wizards centered around Harry Potter.  The good wizards are holed up in Hogwarts and are preparing for a battle to the death.  The entire scope of their protection is to put up some force fields, mine a bridge, and banish the untrustworthy students to the dungeons for the duration.  Once their protection spell on the castle is defeated, the battle pretty much falls down to a large series of single combat encounters.  Individual wizards face off, with the winner living and the loser becoming something to be squeegeed up.  The battle doesn't go well for our intrepid heroes, and they win only because Harry Potter defeats Voldemort in single combat.

Basically, the wizards are conducting combat in the same way that ancient barbarian warriors and medieval knights did:  single combat between heroes.  There is no magical version of the phalanx or the maniple.  There didn't seem to be the wizard version of the archer or crew served weapon, and there certainly wasn't any use of the castle as an urban warfare trap.

Now remember, the good guys have spent several years demonstrating that they are stronger because they depend on each other and work together.  But when it finally comes down to the big battle, they dissolve into little one and two man fighting teams.

Remember, these are beings who have the ability to turn ordinary substances into deadly explosives and poisons, are armed almost exclusively with ranged weapons in the form of spells, and with the aid of brooms can fly like birds.  Where was the "You guys on the Quidditch team take these flasks and start dropping them on all of those bad guys.  Don't get caught up in the vapors from the explosions."  or "You guys go down to the owlery and lay down a base of fire with the "Mess a Guy Up" curse while we draw them into the halls of the castle so we can ambush them."?

This also brings me to something that bothered me about an incident in "The Half Blood Prince".  Harry Potter learns a pretty effective spell, sectumsempra. Basically, it's a "Cut that guy into little pieces" kind of curse.  He uses it once, then is so shocked by its effectiveness that he gets rid of the book he found it in.  As far as I can see, he never taught it to anyone else, even knowing that a battle was coming and that his friends would need as many tricks in their bag as they could in order to survive.  This mentality seems to run through the entire story.  "Let's do the minimum necessary to defeat Voldemort, but let's never do anything we might have regrets about later."   Again, the attitude of individual combat and personal limits on how to fight peaks through.

And what do the good wizards do once the battle is won?  Voldemort is dead, and so are a lot of his top lieutenants.  But a lot of bad guys are still around, and what are the victors going to do about them?  Also, the Ministry of Magic is probably still controlled by a Voldemort toady, so what was done to reform the government?  Since we know that Harry's family is alive 19 years later, we can infer that something was done so that he could show his face in public without someone trying to burn it off, but what?  After the last wizard war, they seem to have held Truth and Reconciliation hearings, where sins were forgiven for all but the worst criminals.  After seeing how badly that worked, can we assume that the good wizards then went on a hunt for the bad guys and exacted some justice in a rather sticky and smoky manner?  If you've tried just forgiving and forgetting and got another war as soon as the bad guys could find one, isn't the next logical step to start putting a whole bunch of people against a wall?

What bothers me about all this is the message it conveys to the young readers.  The bad guys in this tale are basically a gang of bullies and thugs.  The good guys are good ladies and gentlemen.  The good guys fight as gentlemen; the bad guys pull out all the stops.  What I teach my kids is that when faced with a bully, you hold nothing back.  Kick, bite, scratch, grab whatever is handy as a weapon, but the final goal is to stop the threat.   The good guys in these stories seem to be willing to only go so far in fighting, but no further, which seems to be the reason they tend to get their heads handed to them until some hero comes along to save the day.

Anyway, I'm putting way too much thought into a children's book and movie, but things like this tend to get stuck in a loop somewhere in my cranium, and this is the best way to get them out.  Y'all got any thoughts?


Auntie J said...

I've not read the books or seen more than snippets of the movies (I was never that interested, and my kids are so little that the oldest is only just learning to read).

But I have to say...I concur. Bad guys don't fight nicely. Be a good guy, but that doesn't mean don't pull out every last trick you have in order to eliminate the bad guys. Yeesh.

Your thoughts remind me a little of LawDog's here:

DaddyBear said...

They're basically Dickensian melodramas, and are an enjoyable read. You have to remember that they're not high literature and they're targeted at an audience that isn't old enough to drive.

DaddyBear said...

Oh, and thank you for the comparison. LawDog is one of the Great Old Ones.

bluesun said...

I find it hard to believe that the bad wizards could withstand sustained fire from a few M2's set up in nice defensive positions, while the other good guys do the magic thing. Why doesn't Hogwarts have any pillboxes?

Or, as Vlad Taltos says "I don't care what kind of hotshot wizard you are, a knife between the shoulder blades will seriously cramp your style."

Rauðbjorn said...

Gotta remember, Rowling's a brit. The thought of violence as a good and useful tool has been programed out of most of 'em over the last 50 years or so. Heck even before that, there were... disincentives for violent behavior (remember that the British empire was built by the blood of the Gael). It never did pay to let the peasants get ideas. Seriously, any british author esposing teens using weapons and horrificly graphic violence (even in defense of life and liberty, and especially at school)is just queueing up for an ASBO sentence.

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