gladiusdei
 member, 612 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 20:33
Realism in Harry Potter Question
I read the first five books of the Harry Potter series years ago, and I've seen all of the movies.  It really struck me that there is a disconnect from reality in them, and I don't mean the fantasy world.

it just strikes me as unrealistic that nearly no wizards use weapons aside from their wands, and have no real sense of how to fight except dueling each other.  What makes it really stand out is the few times weapons ARE used, they are dang effective.  The story about the brother from the deathly hallows who has the elder wand has his throat slit in the night.  And Bellatrix's use of a knife seems pretty effective as well.

add to that, the characters just don't really come across like they are fighting for life.  Real combat is a horrid, chaotic mess of people scrambling to do anything they can to win and not die.  That doesn't happen in this story.  Even when faced with their mortal enemies that have killed many of their friends, they so rarely resort to actual deadly violence it seems a bit ridiculous.  Why disarm bellatrix lestrange?  why not kill her in one shot when she doesn't even know you're coming? (yes, I know, it's good versus evil, but that just doesn't fit in the situation she builds.  It's war.  you fight to the death in war.)

I guess I'm wondering if JK rowling ever gave a better explanation for why this is so.  I know it is a teen novel series, but she brings in a lot of adult themes and really ramps up the seriousness and sombre tone, yet her characters never truly seem like they are at war.
engine
 member, 546 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 20:42
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
I don't feel a particular need to explain why the books are the way they are. They're either enjoyable as is, or they're not. There's no reason that the characters do anything, or don't do anything, other than to make the books entertaining enough to sell, and sell to a rather specific audience.

I keep this in mind with every aspect of popular culture (especially role-playing games) and it helps me relax immensely.

This message was last edited by the user at 20:45, Sat 10 Feb.

Togashi Kenshin
 member, 54 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 20:47
Realism in Harry Potter Question
I agree with your main points. The Potterverse is honestly a little wonky on its metaphysics and the working of both magic and magical society. It was meant to be a commentary of the worst aspects of the Britain that Rowling grew up in, a horrifically abusive public school system and an ineffective government leading to a society that is honestly repressive and ossified.

If memory serves me right, the main reason that weapons are absent from the Potterverse is that wizards are just that vulnerable to them. A trained longbowman can kill a wizard outside of hex range and Rowling herself did intimate that the average muggle armed with a shotgun will defeat a wizard handily. I have heard the theory advanced that in-universe the number of wizards is small enough that they evolved a non-lethal form of duelling as their main mode of combat to decrease the lethality of any armed conflict.

Theoretically just lopping off both hands off a wizard would make it very difficult to work spells, a punishment that has been around since the Bronze Age. Perhaps their society has grown in such a direction because they have become so insular, they are still stuck with the notions of "romantic combat" from Chivalric Romances as opposed to the blood and guts battle of real life. Most of the cast have absolutely no idea how to fight physically. There are no sports that promote it, no popular media or cultural touchstones. Wizards in the Potterverse trying to fight physically would be pretty inept at it.

A part of me is sad that Harry's trump cards did not come from his muggle heritage like a can of pepper spray and half a brick in a woolen sock.

TL;DR: For the Potterverse to function as it is, it must be in that state because anyone who could smuggle in any working modern weapons would be a killing machine. Also if anyone was halfway competent, Voldemort would never have been anything resembling a real threat.
azzuri
 member, 263 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 20:52
Realism in Harry Potter Question
I've never seen any of the movies, read the first book after some pressure at an unrelated book discussion group. I made it through the first, and have tried get into the second- to no avail after at least five tries.
engine
 member, 547 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 20:59
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
Togashi Kenshin:
TL;DR: For the Potterverse to function as it is, it must be in that state because anyone who could smuggle in any working modern weapons would be a killing machine. Also if anyone was halfway competent, Voldemort would never have been anything resembling a real threat.

Exactly. Do we want fun but rather unrealistic books, or do we want a thought-experiment that is perfectly logical and self-consistent, but only a paragraph long?

Above what I quoted are several good ways to think about it for people who want the books to be the way they are. People who don't, who aren't bought in, are likely to dismiss them.
gladiusdei
 member, 613 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 21:05
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
I didn't mean my post as total criticism of the books.  They are actually really good for their target audience, as you said.  I was just wondering if I missed something that was left out in the movies, or in other books or things JK has written since then, that better explained it.

I get that the threat has to be big and serious, but also center on the kids the story revolved around.  So it had to be big and small, at the same time.  I just think her inclusion of the Nazi-esque regime in the last two books stretches that plausibility a bit too far, for me anyway.


My wife had never seen the movies and wanted to watch through them, so this question came back to me.  That's why I asked.  Honestly, watching it again just made me think of ways it could be made more serious and realistic in that sense, and what sort of story that would make.
Togashi Kenshin
 member, 55 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 21:08
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
engine:
Exactly. Do we want fun but rather unrealistic books, or do we want a thought-experiment that is perfectly logical and self-consistent, but only a paragraph long?

Above what I quoted are several good ways to think about it for people who want the books to be the way they are. People who don't, who aren't bought in, are likely to dismiss them.


I don't know. Is it not possible for it to be both? To both incorporate fantastical elements but be internally consistent and logical? The Dresdenverse from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books and the setting of American Gods by Neil Gaiman both have magic in our contemporary time but still are far more logically consistent than the Potterverse.

Granted even the Forgotten Realms can be more internally consistent than the Potterverse sometimes so that is not exactly a high bar. Personally I think the Potterverse does lie on the far side of suspension of disbelief because its internal consistency is so low.
bigbadron
 moderator, 15505 posts
 He's big, he's bad,
 but mostly he's Ron.
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 21:16
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
engine:
Exactly. Do we want fun but rather unrealistic books, or do we want a thought-experiment that is perfectly logical and self-consistent, but only a paragraph long?
More to the point, do kids (the original intended target audience, even though many adults read them) want their fantasy literature to be a fun read, or something more logical and realistic?

Whatever the actual audience turned out to be, JKRs earnings from these books might suggest that the answer is "Fruit realism, fun all the way please."
engine
 member, 548 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 21:24
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
Togashi Kenshin:
I don't know. Is it not possible for it to be both? To both incorporate fantastical elements but be internally consistent and logical?

No, by it's very nature.

Togashi Kenshin:
The Dresdenverse from Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden books and the setting of American Gods by Neil Gaiman both have magic in our contemporary time but still are far more logically consistent than the Potterverse.

"Far more." It meets your personal level of realism, but it's not, on the whole, substantially more realistic. Another entirely reasonable person could find it laughably unrealistic.

Togashi Kenshin:
Granted even the Forgotten Realms can be more internally consistent than the Potterverse sometimes so that is not exactly a high bar. Personally I think the Potterverse does lie on the far side of suspension of disbelief because its internal consistency is so low.

You say "the far side of suspension of disbelief," but there's not really anything that's intrinsically harder or easier for anyone to believe. It comes down to what they find interesting and what they want to believe. Some people want to believe Star Trek is real, so they ignore the blatant unreality of it, or maybe come up with huge technical manuals that explain away (for them, if not anyone else) why it all actually works. Some people want Harry Potter to be real, so they do the same thing.
gladiusdei
 member, 614 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 22:03
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
I guess I disagree with your subjective view of realism.  But that, too, could be subjective I suppose.  I agree with Togashi in that the Potterverse is built a lot more on rules that don't follow the way most people would act or think.

again, I only think it really starts to show when she begins to contrast it so much with real world horror.  She wanted to make a statement about Nazism, fascism, and how people could go along with evil because they were afraid.  But it makes the rest of her set up look very childish in comparison.  Prior to Voldemort's return, that contrast is a lot less front and center.
engine
 member, 549 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 22:24
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
gladiusdei:
I guess I disagree with your subjective view of realism.  But that, too, could be subjective I suppose.  I agree with Togashi in that the Potterverse is built a lot more on rules that don't follow the way most people would act or think.

You can decide that, or you can decide that it does, in some way the author was unable to make readily apparent to you, make sense. If you're enamored of the concept you'll do one, if you're not, you'll do the other.
Wyrm
 member, 647 posts
Sat 10 Feb 2018
at 23:51
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
In reality, I doubt the book was ever meant to go beyond The second (if even that) when she first penned The Philosopher's stone. It is too dependent one one evil and one good person that even the most mighty of contemporary wizards would find themselves "outmatched". And yet Harry can foil him out of pure luck and the benefit of others. As is shown in later books, he's also only really handy with two spells specifically designed to be combat of evil. And blows it with a third "evil" spell.
Der Rot Konig
 member, 149 posts
 Educated Pirate
Sun 11 Feb 2018
at 14:32
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
Just to go off on a small tangent, but if we're going to throw around the hat of realism...why do they hire half the teachers/workers at that school?!  You've got Filtch, or something like that, who is the most horrid person to have around children.  Snape...that man loathed anything under the age of 21.  The bullying was rampant!  The only sport they had put the students dozens, if not hundreds of feet in the air sitting on a stick!  And not to mention, some of those classes were straight up dangerous as hell!  Why not teach defense day 1 cause, you know, super dangerous forest surrounding said school with all manner of death awaiting the unwary.

Ok, I feel better now :D
facemaker329
 member, 6991 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Mon 12 Feb 2018
at 04:11
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
Another way of looking at it...how many of the 'problems' that have been pointed out may just be cultural baggage?  Someone pointed out that Bellatrix was one of the few people to use a practical weapon...what if they've been raised, since ages long past, that resorting to physical weapons is 'Muggle stuff', and wizards just don't do it that way?  I mean, there's a locality in South America that doesn't bother with legal wrangling...twice a year, anyone who's got a gripe with his neighbor can call the guy out, and they settle it by fighting until one or the other concedes that he was wrong.  Several Native American tribes used to fight against each other by counting coup, rather than actually engaging in lethal combat.  We humans do some very silly stuff in the name of tradition...

I always took the lack of lethal weaponry amongst wizards as something of an insight on their society...they solve their problems with wits and/or guile and magic, not by making sure they've got the biggest gun or can fire faster than the next guy.  Combat with actual weapons is gauche and unappealing.
gladiusdei
 member, 615 posts
Mon 12 Feb 2018
at 04:27
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
I guess that's the sort of thing I was looking for, something like that that JK Rowling might have written in to help explain it.  But it isn't, and even if it was, it sort of goes out the window when it's a full scale war resulting in hundreds or thousands of deaths and horrible pain and suffering.  People are very quick to give up that sort of feeling when pushed to fighting for their life. Not to mention the wizarding community still gets a small injection of muggle blood at a consistent rate, bringing in people who would not see things the way they do.

But I guess, ultimately, it doesn't matter beyond making me feel a bit dissatisfied with the story.  I'm not the target audience, though, so I guess it doesn't matter much beyond that.
icosahedron152
 member, 842 posts
Mon 12 Feb 2018
at 04:36
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
The books were written piecemeal over a number of years, as the author's own children grew up. The initial stories were aimed at young children, for whom 'realism' would have been inappropriate. Later ones were aimed at teenagers who were a little more worldly-wise and needed a more realistic story to maintain their interest. In Rpol terms, the early books were General rated, and the later ones maybe ventured into Mature.

Trying to make a single canon fit such a range of stories is never going to be internally consistent and, with a series of novels, you can't recall all the earlier stories and retcon them. Even if you wanted to.

You need to accept this changing remit as you read. The early stories were never meant to be realistic, they were fairy stories for children. You do not teach children to kill their enemies before their enemies kill them. Nor do you teach them that fairy magic can be defeated by a bad man with a gun.

If you want to game the Potterverse, and you're unhappy with the changing degree of 'rose-tint' on the author's spectacles as the stories progressed, you should decide for yourself how much 'realism' you want in your game, state clearly in your house-rules what changes to canon you think are appropriate (spells to slow bullets, perhaps?), and then attract like-minded people to game with you.

If you want to play a General rated game with your kids, that's fine, if you want to play an Adult rated game with guns and secretive activities behind the bike sheds, that's fine too. You can make your game as internally consistent as you like.

But providing a consistent setting for a RPG was never the author's intention.

Regarding sacking the teachers:
In my youth (and in Rowling's too, no doubt) teachers like that were quite commonplace. They were employed for their ability to impart knowledge, not as surrogate wetnurses. I remember the days when Quidditch wasn't the only time sticks would have made contact with kids' backsides...

Realism may be in the eye of the beholder.
facemaker329
 member, 6992 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Mon 12 Feb 2018
at 20:43
Re: Realism in Harry Potter Question
Yeah...I had some well-respected teachers in Grades 7-12 who utilized disciplinary measures that would get a teacher fired for life, today...one teacher threw a roll of masking tape--hit me square in the middle of the forehead when aiming for the guy behind me...then, when I tossed the roll back, threw it again and nicked my ear (but got the other guy)...I asked for a different seat.  Had a Health teacher who prowled the class with a wooden dowel and would slam it down on a desk anytime he felt the class was getting out of hand...not necessarily the desk of anyone that was being noisy.  Another teacher gave a kid (ironically, the same kid sitting behind me in the first example) a black eye because he threw a chalk eraser at the guy for talking too much during class...it skippedoff the kid's desk as he was ducking and ended up hitting him, end-on, right on the edge of his eye-socket.  All three were teachers that were well-respected as instructors by their peers, the community, and the students.

So it wasn't all that difficult for me to buy the antagonistic attitude of some of the Hogwarts instructors...