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Harry Potter and the Godless Morality

14 Jul

Today the last Harry Potter movie is being released across the United States. I’m not as excited as I perhaps could be as a Potter fan, but that’s because, as far as I’m concerned, Harry Potter ‘ended’ when the last book was released back in 07.  But the movies have steadily improved as the years have gone by, so I’ll certainly go and see it, though I did not attend the midnight showing due to poverty and a strong need for sleep.

Also a promise to go see it with my Mum, who would not go to a movie theater at midnight downtown even if you paid her. So that’ll have to happen sometime in the next week.

I do love Harry Potter though. I grew up in England, so the books are rather close to my heart as I essentially grew up with Harry over the years. The books not only entertained me, but due to the long gaps between installments (seriously, 3 YEARS between a few of them) I found myself perusing the shelves of my local library and discovering other fantasy authors such as Pullman, Tolkien and Pratchett. Harry Potter helped shape me into the nerd I am today, and I will always love them for that along with the memorable characters, creative world-building and clever wordplay.

Potter isn’t loved by all of course. I admit, it’s not ‘quality literature’ akin to the likes of Austen or Hemingway but I tend to think that such ideas and standards are silly bullshit that get in the way of caring about a good story and good characters. The strongest outcry is of course from extreme religious groups, most of them Christian in America at least. Their reasoning involves the fact that Harry Potter is about witchcraft and evil and other such things, and that it will corrupt the youth of the nation to turn to Satan.

This tells me that these people have never so much as looked up a synopsis of a Harry Potter book, much less read one.

Harry Potter is about a lot of things, and sure, there are witches and wizards involved. But I have another theory about why the religious right is so scared of harry potter, and it’s a theory I’ve had for a long time now, and it’s this:

The world of Harry Potter is a world without God. 

No seriously. Think about it if you’ve read them. Harry Potter and his friends, the ‘good guys’, fight and defeat the forces of darkness, they have adventures, they grow up and change and learn and figure things out with some guidance from wise figures and lessons, but, and this is the big but…

No God. None. Nowhere. Seriously, go hunting, I challenge you to dig up anything in Potter that refers to God except for the occasional character exclaiming “my god” or similar.

As far as we’ve seen, the world of Harry Potter, at least the wizarding world, is almost entirely secular. Perhaps this is due to a more black and white morality at first glance, but when you dig into the meat of these books, that’s not at all the case. Take some of the ‘grey area’ characters who either fluctuate between good and bad or simply sit in uncomfortable places. Like the ‘New Ministry’ of the seventh book. Oh, spoilers, for those of you who are afeared of them. Umbridge is not a good person. She’s power hungry, vindictive and cruel, and creates what is effectively a police state akin to early Nazi Germany. She’s not full-blown Voldemort evil either, not killing babies or puppies or similar, but she’s decidedly not running around saving folk either. Then there’s characters like Snape who might as well have installed a revolving door on his predicted Alignment. Is he good? Is he bad? Can he ever be good because he was once bad? It certainly confused the heck out of me my first readthrough.

My point in this, is that the morality in the Potterverse isn’t subject to a big higher power in the sky, or in the ground, or anywhere. It’s a real universe with real people who are good, evil and everything human in-between (and by human I mean imperfect beings who sometimes act like twits even when their intentions are good). The people are capable of selfishness and ignorance and kindness and bravery, all of it.

And God has nothing to do with it.

Harry Potter and his friends are good because it improves the world, makes it a better place, keeps it safe from evil bastards like Voldemort and his homeys and all the evil dudes who came before him. They save the world because they have the power to do so, not because it’ll get them a better seat in the afterlife, or favor with some divine boogedy boogedy. The evil dudes aren’t being evil because they’re possessed by the devil, it’s because of their own motivations, their lust for power or revenge. People are motivated internally, by themselves, and though they of course try to shift responsibilities to others, it’s nothing like ‘the devil made me do it’ or ‘I”m following God’s divine law’. The wicked are brought to justice by the good, not by religion or deities or divine intervention.

Harry Potter is morality without religion. It encourages personal responsibility for one’s actions and improving the world for the world’s sake, not for some carrot-and-stick morality of ‘this will get you to the good place when you die and if you don’t do it, it’s off to the bad place for you’.

Maybe I’m biased because I’m so against extremist Christianity, which encourages a lack of rational thought, blind devotion and a lack of questioning. It employs a ‘do this or be punished’ method of morality, sort of a ‘good because if I’m not I’m going to be screwed’ idea. And this is propagated in the youth of America because Christianity is ingrained in our culture.

And that’s why I love Harry Potter, and think it’s one of the best books you can give to a young person in the 21st century. It teaches that morality comes from within, not religion or some institution of punishment and reward. Harry Potter teaches free thought, friendship, loyalty, responsibility, love, kindness and justice. Other children’s books do too, but so many of them (Narnia anyone?) have such thick religious implications that they, intentionally or not, encourage a narrowed view of how to be a good, worthwhile person in society.

Religion, faith, spirituality, they work for some people. I love the Narnia books, don’t get me wrong. This isn’t me hating directly on religion. It’s not my cup of tea, and it’s certainly not for everyone, and we learn our morals, our responsibilities to the world around us, through stories, both biblical, fictional and from reality. Harry Potter has given us a story, a world, with an unreligious, godless morality system. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s far from antireligious propaganda or the like. I have no idea about Rowling’s religious affiliation or if she had intention in this moral view.

It just presents an option. An opportunity. A view that demonstrates the possibility of an areligious morality. And seeing as many views as possible can lead us all, young and old, to make better, more informed decisions about our views, religious or otherwise, instead of following one option because it’s the only one we’ve ever seen.

So that’s why the evangelicals get all hot and bothered about Harry Potter and his friends. Because they have no God, and they’re doing amazing, wonderful things for each other and the world. A view that presents an alternative to the deity-centric view of morality that’s so common in the modern world. And whether or not that works for everyone, it’s a different view that could make all the difference in someone’s decisions about their morals, values and motivations.

Happy Harry Potter day everyone. Whatever you love about this book, I hope it’s brought you as much joy – and provocation of thought – as it has to me.

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All the Updates

18 Mar

Because I’ve been neglectful, here are various updates regarding the state of The Uncomfort Zone:

General Life Update:

I just finished week 2 at the new job, my parents are out of town on alternating weekends meaning I’m spending a lot of time keeping both my mother and father company. And by that I mean eating them out of house and home. Jeff’s about to go on Spring break, which he will spend gaming and studying while I work. It’s Friday, I have a beer in my hand, and I”m gonna make fajitas for dinner. After I clean the kitchen.

Work Update:

Like I said, it’s the end of week two at the New Job, and things are going well. I’m still typing up comments on surveys, and passing the time listening to the Drunk Tank podcast from the guys at Rooster Teeth. Other than that, I’ve been spending my breaks reading Jim Butcher books (currently reading Furies of Calderon) and fighting the possessed demon vending machine. Also, I’ve been occasionally taking the bus to save gas.

Money Update:

I am poor. As dirt. Assuming dirt is as poor as I am. I get paid for honest reals a week from today, so I get to experiment with stretching my meager money resources until then. At least I still have beer.

Social Life Update:

I joined a new D&D group, which won’t start until the end of the month. It’s a Pathfinder game, and I’m playing a half-elf druid, who doesn’t have a name yet, but I’ll get there. Other than that I’ve been a complete hermit.

Art/Writing Update:

Due to the abject poverty I’m hoping to start trying to get some of my stories published, work on my novel and start offering commissions on DeviantArt. That stuff’s all in the works anyway. I’ll get to it… eventually.

Health and Food Update:

Well, I’m walking more. I’m hoping to get back into actually exercising next week now that I’ve got something resembling a work routine. I’m eating as well as I can on a poverty budget, but taking sammiches to work definitely helps with that. That and cooking more, despite the constant state of disaster our kitchen is in.

TV Update:

I finished watching Ugly Betty. It was cute, and I really enjoyed it. Now I have a void in my life where TV should be. Any suggestions folks?

Gaming Update:

I’m not done with Pokemon Black yet, which is why I haven’t blogged about it yet. Sadly, I think I burned myself out a little playing HeartGold for a week straight before Black came out. But I’m almost 4 badges in, and started with Snivy. I promise I will write a real review when I’ve finished. I’m also playing Oblivion on the 360, which is definitely fun. I’ve been blogging about my gaming habits on my new side blog, Not Your Gamer Girlfriend, over here. You should check it out. It’s fun to write 🙂

Twitter WTF: Decoded

2 Mar

I’ve been on twitter for about a year and a half now on a daily basis, and one of the things that never fails to mystify me is the little cluster of Trending Topics on the sidebar. Hashtag fever is still an epidemic, and I find myself indulging in them myself on occasion, whether it’s to make fun of myself, denote something as a drunk tweet, or shamelessly fangirl at one of my favourite movies, TV shows or musicians.

The other purpose of hastags, it would seem, is to confuse the hell out of me every time I look over to the little Trending Topics sidebar. I find myself staring down the list of names, portmanteaued words and unintelligible nonsense, and click them only to find that most of the top hashtags are people asking ‘what the hell does #muttonchip have to do with anything?

So, after days and days of staring and pondering, I present to you Lora’s Trending Topics of the hour Decoded, as of 6:00pm CST on March 2nd:

Trending Topic #1: #Focusrally

This appears to be related to the Ford Focus, and it’s at the top of the list because it’s the Promoted Topic. It appears to be related to this and involves people driving across the country completing challenges, reality TV style. I assume the prize is they get to keep the car? I don’t know. The promoted TT’s seem to defeat the purpose of the concept to me, so I pretty much write them off as shameless adspace that keeps the glory of twitter alive.

TT #2: #sorryjustin

Guess what, another Justin Beiber TT. Because the whole ‘ZOMFUG Why didn’t Justin win a grammy whine whine my life is over’ fangirl twitter mess wasn’t enough, now there’s more drama? This twitter apology apparently comes from the fans due to the actions of a crazy fangirl who punched his girlfriend on his birthday? Or something? ‘Beliebers’ remind me a little bit of Twihards, and that’s not something I want to see more of in my life Twitter. Thanks.

Also, the Beibs is only turning 17? Dear Gog, America. You depress the ever living crap out of me.

TT #3: #tigerblood

This is apparently related to Charlie Sheen. And a fellow named Frank McCourt. I don’t know. All I care about with Charlie-boy is that finally they’ll stop making Two and a Half Men. Here’s a relevant link, for the confused or amused.

TT #4: #tipicasmentiras

Roadblock: I know no spanish, and that appears to be the language this originated in. I’m at a loss folks. Even google has given up on me in this case. I think it’s something to do with a facebook app, but the only way to find out was to give the app access to my info. This is harder than it seems folk.

TT #5: McLobster.

Okay, WHAT. Apparently McDonalds is really upping it’s game in the class factor, because the McLobster sandwich is real.
I kind of want to go punch the guy who came up with this in the gut. The words ‘Fast Food Lobster’ should ALWAYS be an oxymoron.

TT #6: Sleepwalker

This appears to be a reference to at least one song. So far Twitter thinks it’s related to an Adam Lambert tune. I’ve never heard it, and I can’t say I care enough about Adam Lambert to track it down, but that’s what that is I think. I guess. Twitter is a thrilling place today it seems.

TT #7: Fleur Agema

Fleur Agema is apparently a Dutch Politician, once again limiting my ability to understand why the hell she’s trending. But here‘s her wiki page, and I think a couple of the tweets referenced racism, so whatever it is, I’m sure it’s thrilling.

TT #8: McSushi.

Okay. No. Just. NO. But it’s real.
That sound? It’s the sound of my hope for humanity dying. Violently.

TT #9: Limburgers

This? I have no clue, but I’m guessing it’s not to do with the slightly pungent cheese. That would be just too boring for the world of gossiphounds and nutjobs that frequent the twitterverse. Or it might be something to do with the Dutch elections. I guess the Loop is off in the distance and I’m over here watching dumb TV.

That or it’s another Charlie Sheen thing.

TT #10: Selic

… yeah, not sure. I think though, judging from all the Portuguese, it’s something to do with this.

So that’s today’s Twitter roundup. Justin Beiber has crazy fans, McDonalds is still gross, and there’s a lot going on with the Dutch. That’s Tuesday in a nutshell on the Twitterverse.

New Short Fiction: Cheshire

20 Feb

I’m starting to get back into the swing of writing again. Here’s something I banged out while listening to Homestuck Vol. 5 today:

*

Cheshire

Four dark walls with a patch of light in the center of the floor. Four walls covered in cloth, soft, padded. Rough like an airbag but not hard enough to bruise or traumatize. Hands crawling across the square panels of cloth, counting out of boredom, of idle curiosity. Each square is three hand-lengths high and wide, and there are six squares up the wall, along the wall, across the floor and the ceiling. There is room to move around, to walk and stretch. There is a door, somewhere, but it is covered in the pads the same way the rest of the room is, soft and safe, so it’s indistinguishable from the rest of the wall when closed and locked. Attempts to discern it have failed, even after weeks of trying.

At least I think its weeks. The colour of the light through the gap in the ceiling is the only indicator of the passage of time. If I stand perfectly still under it on the right nights, I see the stars move across the sky, sometimes even the moon. I’ve seen many starry nights standing on the padded floor staring up through the glass hole in my padded ceiling. I have no way to keep count because they will not give me pencils or pens or markers or ink, except under close supervision, and then only after good behavior.

‘Good behavior’ means remaining silent. It means not biting or scratching myself or any of the guards or the other inmates. It means eating all my food in the allotted amount of time. It means taking the pills when they give them to me and not just hiding them in my cheek or puking them back up again. It means not trying to bash my skull against the wall or tear the cloth padding. It means not singing songs to the people on the other sides of my walls or telling stories. Good behavior is, as far as I’ve learned, being invisible.

If the doctors deem my behavior good enough, I sometimes get to go outside. Some days I’m permitted an hour in the common room down the hall and to the left, with some of my friends, or people they expect me to make friends with. I’m uninterested. They all stare at me like I’m one of them, like I’ve lost my mind and found madness to replace the hole in my head. Once we played cards, but I started to talk to the Ace of Clubs more than Gina across the table, so they put me back in with the padded walls. They gave me a jacket that trapped my hands so I couldn’t braid my hair or scratch my nose or count the squares with my hands.

The pills make me lethargic; I can’t stand up when my dosages are higher. My sleep is dreamless and dull, full of figments just out of reach. The doctors watch me take them now and make sure I’ve swallowed them though; I can’t escape my walls into dreamland, because when I do I wake up with blood on my hands and scratches on my arm and I’ve written it again and again all over the walls of my room in red smears: “WE’RE ALL MAD HERE” or sometimes “OFF WITH HER HEAD”. They find me laughing to myself, or so they tell me. They always want to know what’s funny about what I’ve done to myself. I never tell them. Never give them words, only a grin, a cat-smile that leaves them alarmed and writing figures on paper that correspond to dosage levels.

I see Doctor Carroll three days a week, sometimes more if I’ve not been demonstrating good behavior, and he spends each of our sessions asking me questions about what he calls my delusions. After four meetings, I stopped answering with the truth and responded to his questions with silence. We both know progress will not be made unless he starts believing me or I start believing him. We are both people of faith and strong conviction, and we are not willing to waver in our certainties. I imagine this is what religion is like.

Once they permitted me an hour outside on the green with some of the other inmates; I chased a rabbit to the perimeter before they caught me. It did not have a pocketwatch out, nor did it wear a waistcoat. I told them I was perfectly aware of this, I merely wanted to ask him if he knew the Queen. They kept me inside after that, and now I only see the rabbits through the windows in the common room, and none of them are white.

Doctor Carroll tells me that I’ve been with him for six months; I ask him if we should celebrate and if he has any tea and he abruptly changes the subject.

They brought me here because I tried to walk through a mirror, that’s what they said. Found me in the study with my arms covered in broken glass and blood pooling at the bottom of the mantle. Apparently I whispered to them of nursery rhymes and chess pieces before falling unconscious. I’m not allowed to play chess either, because I inform my opponent that we are at war and that the black pieces are supposed to be red. Like the cards, when I refuse to touch the red cards and ask them where the tarts went.

Everyone sounds mad without context. Dreams do not qualify as context, however, as dreams qualify as slightly lesser forms of delusions and therefore should also be considered a symptom of my problem.

Sometimes I think Doctor Carroll encourages me to tell him my stories because he’s writing a book. He takes much longer with his notes than any other doctor I’ve seen. His grins are never Cheshire; they’re worse. He indulges me more than most when I do talk. Even calls me Alice when he knows that’s not the name on my file.

I wonder if he’ll note me in the dedication. Call me his muse and label it a breakthrough when I eventually rejoin regular society while receiving fat royalty checks for sharing the story he told me was nothing but the delusion of a girl with little to do and a big imagination.

I will probably never get out of here. The bars on the ceiling are too high and the padding of the walls is too thick. Even if I lie and pretend that I know none of what happened to me was real or true, they will know my intent is to escape and I will merely return to them two weeks later with more injuries and ravings about caterpillars and queens.

Sometimes I think the moon is my friend; I see it in a crescent and think it is smiling. Cat-smiles coming to rescue me from a realm where madness is unacceptable and treated with medicines and babble. Four walls bleached white to cover the bloodstains. White padded squares, dented where my head has rested upon them. A hole for the sky that taunts me with its Cheshire curve when the moon waxes or wanes.

We are all mad here. No rescue from hatters or hares. No cakes or drinks to help you shrink or grow away. No more roses or teacups. The only jabberwock I have to slay is the one that pulls me between what I know to be true and what tells me my truths are mere madness. None of my days are frabjous.

Four walls to keep me in. Walls to keep me safe, safe from myself and the dreams. Dreams I wish would come back. I stare up at the Cheshire sky before the pills damn me to dreamless sleep and tell it I miss it, and if it could bid my old friends hello the next time he visits them for tea. I would like that very much.

*

Comments, suggestions etc. are welcome. Inspired by Alice in Wonderland.

 

Of Pokemon, Trolls, My Long-Distant Childhood and other Oddities

19 Feb

I’m not ashamed to admit it; I’ve been a Pokemon fan since I was ten.

No, really, I’m a horrific geek for Pokemon. I’ve played through the Red, Yellow, Gold, Silver, Platinum and Heartgold versions. I’ve watched several of the movies as well as the TV show. I’ve owned stuffed pikachus and keychains and posters and comic books and other nerdy memorabilia. I collected the trading cards. I bought a DS in college for the sole purpose of playing Pokemon, and it is the only game I’ve played on it. I even bought the hideously awful soundtracks to the movies and sang along with the love songs that had nothing to do with Pokemon at all.

I was, and still kind of am, obsessed.

So, what happens on a Friday evening when I’m a little bored and I start jonesing for the release of Pokemon Black/White in 12 days? Which I might not even be able to buy due to being unemployed and impoverished?

I start a new save game on Heartgold just for funsies of course!

So here’s where I’m at, and those of you who aren’t much for Pokemon should flee now because none of this will make any sense.

(Also, most of the clicky-links related to Homestuck are rife with spoilers, so proceed at your own risk if you have not read Homestuck. And if you haven’t I highly suggest you do)

I’m three badges in, just made it to Ecruteak City. My player name is Terezi (After my favourite Homestuck Troll), which I went with due to a love of theme-naming my pokemon games. My rival’s name is Gamzee, though he hasn’t HoNKed at me yet, which is a blessing.

I’m in the process of building my party in the appropriate roles and playing to a balanced set, which is difficult so early in the game. My pokedex only has 25 so far, but I’m getting there.

So, as for my party:

STARTER:

Pokemon Name: Cyndaquil
Gender: Male
Pokemon Nickname: Strider (Named for the coolest kid in school, Dave Strider)
Current Evolution: Quilava
Level Received: 5
Current level: 20
Moves: Tackle, Smoke Screen, Ember, Flame Wheel

*

Pokemon Name: Zubat
Gender: Male
Pokemon Nickname: Sollux (named for the Troll)
Level caught: 3
Area Caught: Dark Cave
Current level: 14
Moves: Leech life, Bite, Astonish, Roost

*

Pokemon Name: Mareep
Gender: Female
Pokemon Nickname: Kanaya (named for the Troll)
Level caught: 6
Area Caught: Rt 32 (between Violet City and Union Cave)
Current Evolution: Flaaffy
Current Level: 19
Moves: Tackle, Flash, Thunder Shock, Thunder Wave

*

Pokemon Name: Gastly
Gender: Male
Pokemon Nickname: Aradius (maleified form of the troll Aradia‘s name, because I couldn’t for the life of me find a female Gastly >.< )
Level Caught: 5
Area Caught: Sprout Tower
Current Level: 16
Moves: Hypnosis, Lick, Curse, Night Shade

*

Pokemon Name: Sentret
Gender: Female
Pokemon Name: Nepeta (sure, Sentret isn’t a kitty, but she was too cute not to name after this troll)
Level caught: 3
Area Caught: Route 29
Current Evolution: Furret
Current Level: 16
Moves: Surf, Foresight, Cut, Headbutt (can you tell Nepeta is sort of turning into my TM/HM mule?)

*

Pokemon Name: Eevee
Gender: Female
Pokemon Nickname: Vriska (named for the lovably sociopathic troll. I plan on evolving her into an Umbreon)
Level received: 5
Area Received: Goldenrod City
Current level: 5
Moves: Tackle, Tail Whip, Helping hand

Thus begins my quest to be the greatest Pokemon Master. I’ll be over here being a total geek now. *sits in the corner, huddled over her DS)