Sprint to the end: Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres and the Last Enemy/ and the Philosopher’s Stone

“You’d have lost,” said Alastor Moody. “And the Boy-Who-Lived didn’t just take out Voldie, he set it up so that his good friend Hermione Granger came back from the dead at the same time Voldie resurrected himself. There’s no way in hell or double hell that was an accident, and I don’t think it was David’s idea either. Amy, the truth is, none of us know what the keeper of Merlin’s legacy has to do. But we’re not the right kind of crazy for this crap.”

Amelia Bones frowned. “Alastor, you know I’ve dealt with strange things before. Dealt with them quite well, in my opinion.”

“Yeah. You dealt with the crap so you could go back to real life. You’re not the kind of crazy that builds a castle out of the crap and lives there.” Moody sighed. “Amy, on some level you know exactly why Albus had to leave who-knows-what-job to the poor kid.”

quirrell

 

Such Is Alastor Moody’s evaluation of the crazy world in which Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres lives. This conclusion to the fan fiction series goes out with a bang, bringing together elements of all seven books of the original and compressing the finale down into the plot line of the first book. This time I will refrain from giving any spoilers or plot summaries, but will hint that it includes a trip down to the Sorcerer’s Stone. I have also chosen to write about the last two books at once, as I couldn’t stop reading once I got started. However many its flaws, the book is all-engulfing once you begin it.

Some readers may actually find the books a bit dull, because many of the long chapters are filled with endless dialogue, both internal dialogue between Harry’s many selves (Ravenclaw 1, Ravenclaw 2, Slytherin 1, Slytherin 2, Hufflepuff, Gryffindor), and with other external characters. He engages in philosophical debates, logical arguments, and utility functions. There is plenty of action as well, but it’s like a physics professor wrote it. A good chunk of the humor in the book is poking fun at apparent flaws in the original series. For instance, this exchange between Harry and Hermione is quite good:

“I can just imagine it,” Hermione said. “Harry James Potter, Sorted into Gryffindor, aspiring Quidditch player -“
“No. Just no.”
“Remembered by history as the sidekick of Hermione Jean Granger, who’d send out Mr. Potter to get into trouble for her, and then solve the mystery from the library by reading books and using her incredible memory.”
“You’re really enjoying this alternate universe, aren’t you.”
“Maybe he’d be best mates with Ron Weasley, the smartest boy in Gryffindor, and they’d fight side by side in my army in Defense class, and afterwards help each other with their homework -“
“Okay, enough, this is starting to creep me out.”
“Sorry,” Hermione said, though she was still smiling to herself, appearing rapt in some private vision.

But again, I have the same qualms about Harry as I mentioned in previous posts. I mean, part of the appeal of fan fiction is pure entertainment value, pushing boundaries within the original series, and introducing elements that seem foreign to the world-building of the original universe. But still. To me, rather than a book with a well-developed plot, it is a mix of a logic puzzle and a childish fantasy. For instance, the pre-finale chapter is entitled “Final Exam” and the author sets up an impossible-sounding scenario, and asks his readers to propose solutions. It’s like “Thinking Physics” (which is well-referenced throughout the book) for wizards. The childishness part is how both Harry’s expectations and the actual responses of characters almost seem to bend entirely to Harry’s will. Harry’s logic is presented as so all-encompassing and complete that any opposing arguments are either mowed down, or none are proposed at all. Ultimately, things go exactly as Harry plans them. Reality doesn’t work like that. You have to accept that people aren’t going to bow to your will just because you have a well though-out argument.

I think this is a good place to summarize Dorothy Sayers’ five problems with detective novels. While this fan fic isn’t a detective novel, Harry does fulfill the role, and seems curiously similar to, Sherlock Holmes. He is a rationalist, solving problems purely with his intellect. The one I find most fitting, and Harry’s fatal flaw, is the detective problem is solved in the same terms in which it is set:

Here is one of the most striking differences between the detective problem and the work of the creative imagination. The detective problem is deliberately set in such a manner that it can be solved without stepping outside its terms of reference. This is part of its nature as a literary form, and the symmetry of this result constitutes a great part of its charm. Does not an initiate member of the Detection Club swear to observe this entirely arbitrary rule?

PRESIDENT: Do you promise that your detectives shall well and truly detect the crimes presented to them, using those wits which it shall please you to bestow upon them and not placing reliance upon, nor making use of, divine revelation, feminine intuition, mumbo jumbo, jiggery-pokery, coincidence or the act of God?

CANDIDATE: I do.

But life is no candidate for the Detection Club. It makes unabashed use of all the forbidden aids (not excepting mumbo jumbo and jiggery-pokery) and frequently sets its problems in terms that must be altered if the problem is to be solved at all.

All Harry needs to solve all his problems is Muggle science. There is no real dawning moment where Harry learns something new, because there seems to be nothing new to Harry. Yes, he learns new things as he learns magic at Hogwarts, but he still works within the same basic framework. My wife said that Harry never changes, he never learns or grows. And he doesn’t. He is just reinforced in his belief that he is always right, he can solve any problem, and others are lower forms of intelligence.

The other problems with detective novels, also applicable to Harry Potter-Evans-Verres, are:

  • The detective problem is always soluble
  • The detective problem is completely soluble
  • The detective problem is finite

If you are interested in reading the entire essay, it is called “Problem Picture” included in the book “Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine.”

These books include another condescending discussion of roles: how we often don’t live life consciously, but live by a pattern or a role. Harry unleashes quite the rant on Professor McGonnagall accusing her of living the role of the strict disciplinarian. Harry seems to think he has somehow transcended such lowly approaches to life in the nirvanah of pure logic. I couldn’t help but recall a similar discussion by Paul Tournier in The Meaning of Persons:

A foreign colleague remarked to me recently that he was in the habit of taking part in meetings for ‘collective psychoanalysis’, where he said the strict rule is that everybody must say exactly what he thinks, without any pretence or keeping anything back. I confess I burst out laughing. That was naughty of me, or those people are undoubtedly sincere, and believe that they do keep their rule. But I am very much afraid that, all trained in the same school of psychoananalysis, they unwittingly remain subject to a tacit convention of some kind. Psychoanalysis has liberated them from certain social conventions, but inevitably it has created new ones. Every society and every movement eventually acquires its own particular vocabulary and code of behavior. One does not notice it if one is on the inside; it is those outside who see it. Every army has its uniform. Even the language we speak inescapably moulds the way we express ourselves.

No matter Harry’s arguments otherwise, he too plays the part of a role, and a very obvious one pointed out above: the rational detective. It also has its blind spots and its weaknesses.

There are many instances in the book where I would disagree strongly with Harry’s proposed solutions. Perhaps he’d accuse me of being one of the NPCs on the Wizengamot. One book Harry probably hasn’t read is Road to Serfdom, which I would also recommend to the author.

On a positive note, the book is absolutely fun, although a little dark at points. It does challenge you to re-evaluate how you think, and catch a few more of your own biases.

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