Tag Archives: harry potter

Can a computer replace J.K. Rowling?

Not yet.

As you know, JK Rowling is the author of the famous Harry Potter series of books (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, etc.), and more recently, of a series of really excellent crime novels (if you’ve not read them, you need to: The Cuckoo’s Calling, The Silkworm, and Career of Evil, with a fourth book on the way, I hear).

Intuit’s Max Deutsch fed the seven Harry Potter books to a computer and told it to write a new chapter. It did. It came out as gibberish.

However, it isn’t just random gibberish. When you read the new text, you can see that the dialog for each character is styled somewhat like Rowling’s original characters. The fact that a large number of the sentences make no sense at all, and that many are agrammatical, kinda ruins the flow. It might have been a good idea to run the output from this computer through a grammar checker.

And, of course, other than the random novelty one gets when flipping coins, there is nothing new, no interesting plot elements, new characters, or novel magical tropes in this new text.

Here is an example:

“He’s cheer to their advantage,” Moody retorted suddenly.

“Sorry,” Harry shouted, panicking?—?“I’ll leave those brooms in London, are they?”

“No idea,” said Nearly Headless Nick, casting low close by Cedric, carrying the last bit of treacle Charms, from Harry’s shoulder, and to answer him the common room perched upon it, four arms held a shining knob from when the spider hadn’t felt it seemed. He reached the teams too.

“You believe if we’ve got friendly to come down and out of the library. I think I’ve found out Potter, I asked you he had . . . me. I think he’s not telling Dobby if yeh get with our Hogwarts …”

“What are you doing, Harry?” said Hermione, staring down at her. “Would Malfoy let me easier?”

“Professor Karkaroff slipped down the steps to get the second row of silver hair?”

Harry stared at the shadowy clearing, and pointing to a long, old grin. But she had been many times more like having cards, standing all around and began to sob down the steps over the brakes and Control of Magical Creatures class just pushed with gold.

I think J.K. Rowling gets to keep her job for a while longer…

Harry Potter and the 2014 Election

The Potter Metaphor

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is the first in a series of books that are metaphorical of the central theme of politics and society in the Western world. Voldemort represents purity of race and racism, the good Witches and Wizards of Hogwarts represent the struggle of self aware consensus around the idea of fairness. The key protagonists — Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley, together with a few others — succeed because of the diversity in ability they collectively represent.

One of the key moments in J. K. Rowling’s book is the solution of the potions challenge on the way to the hidden room containing the Sorcerer’s stone. There are several challenges and problems, and each one is met by a different protagonist. Harry has the ability to make Hagrid reveal his poorly kept secrets, so among other things the three students find out how to control Fuffy, the giant three-headed hound. He is also a skilled Seeker, and can thus grab the flying key. Hermione is the one that notices the trap door. Ron for all his failings is a master at Wizard Chess. The theme here is obvious. The three students often fail to understand each other and often do not see eye to eye, but by combining their different strengths and working together, they accomplish what no individual Witch or Wizard could do. The part about the potions challenge is a notably extreme case of this.

Voldemort and his death eaters, and the Slytherin such as Draco Malfoy and his father, as well as Snape, resent the half breeds and muggle-born. They wish to see those who are not pure removed from their society, by any means. The historical fact that Voldemort himself is a halfbreed, a thinly veiled reference to Hitler’s Jewish connections, is beside the point. But it is the muggle-born Hermione who solves the potions puzzle using a Muggle capacity rarely found in Wizards. Wizards, we are told by Rowling, have magical minds, not logical minds. Among the Muggles we find those like Hermione, who probably spent hours with brain teaser books as an eight year old, who are capable of solving complex logical problems, problems that seem impossible but in fact have only one solution. When Hermione and Harry reach the potions challenge, where drinking all of the liquids but one will cause a horrible outcome, but that one potion will open the next door, her Muggle mind comes into play. Harry does not understand how Hermione has solved the problem, but he trusts her with his life.

It is very unfortunate that this scene was left out of the movie version of the story, even though it is alluded to after the fact. As far as I can tell, the scene was never shot (correct me if I am wrong). To me, this is a key message in Rowling’s book. The fact that it was not transferred into the movie version, and that commentary on the book vs. movie differences tend note it but do not lament it, is a bit disappointing.

Death Eaters, Good Witches and Wizards, Republicans, and Democrats

Ask yourself, what is the message of Voldemort and the Death Eaters, other than racial purity and a high degree of intolerance? There is only one, revealed by Voldemort himself, and others including the Sorting Hat, in a few places throughout the story. The only thing that really counts is power. There is no good and evil. Just power.

That is a simple message, easy to understand. You don’t have to be smart, or learned, or thoughtful, to get this point. It may be untrue, but if you say it enough times, and live by it, it becomes true to the faithful. Professor Quirinus Quirrell is a prescient example of how this can play out, that character written almost as though Rowlings had a crystal ball allowing her to see the future of politics in the four largest Anglophone countries. Quirrell is like a working class Tea Party faithful. It does not matter how much pain he will suffer to serve his master, he will remain faithful, and he will keep repeating the message, and in this way, he will continue to believe the message.

Now ask yourself, what is the central theme for the the rest of the Witches and Wizards? There really isn’t one. I’ve alluded to consensus, and there is that. Fairness too, a theme we see played out, naturally, in the sports related manifestation of the greater metaphor, on the Quidditch field. But really, they are all over the place. They vary greatly in approach, what they think is important, what they are good at, and what they like to do. They are like Democrats.

Rowling’s three main protagonists, Harry, Hermione, and Ron, have differences that could and occasionally did interfere with their camaraderie. They couldn’t be much more different in background, proclivities, and abilities. Harry is rich, Ron is poor. Harry and Ron are not particularly intellectual, Hermione is an egghead. Harry throws himself into danger, the others are more cautious. And so on. Often, they annoy each other. This is seen in the early days of their relationship and comes to a head later in the series more than once. But when a task that requires multiple approaches is set before them, they manage to succeed by using these differences. Their power does not come merely from fetishizing power, it comes from piecing together a battery that is stronger as a whole than the sum of its parts. Again, they are like Democrats.

The 2014 Election

During the 2014 election, and this has happened before, many Democrats ran against their leader, President Obama. A Republican strategy would have been different. Keep the message clear; our leader is the greatest ever and we are all on the same page.

A large scale, if imperfect, overhaul of the country’s health care insurance system was badly needed and totally undoable, yet President Obama did it. Democrats fell into the trap of over acknowledging the imperfection, and many with other important agendas (like addressing climate change) decried the health care reform effort as a distraction. Well, the Affordable Care Act certainly is imperfect, and climate change action may have suffered from the distraction, but Republicans would not have used these points a razor to cut their own wrists. Democrats did. Democrats acted like Harry, Hermione and Ron over-bickering and failing to get through the challenges set to keep them from the Sorcerer’s Stone. Had the three young wizards acted like Democrats usually act, Voldemort would have succeeded in his plan to seize power before the second book was written. Had Democrats, in the 2014 election cycle, acted like Rowling’s characters actually did (fictionally) act, this may not have been a midterm washout.

What Democrats Need To Do

Democrats need to be more thoughtful about when they go about the important business of eating their own young. American politics has a two-stage configuration, conveniently divided by Primary Day. Before Primary Day we fight within parties, and after Primary Day we fight between parties. Or at least, that is the theory. But that is not how Democrats often do it. With a simple message that is usually not muddled at any stage during this process, Republicans can be in lockstep as they advance their political agenda (gaining power). Democrats see this as a deficit. There is no real conversation in the Republican party. A small number of loudmouths yell out the marching orders and everyone marches. The few who do not are fallen upon and devoured quickly. Democrats recognize that this approach does not solve problems. Republicans recognize that this approach wins elections.

What Democrats need to do is to take a page — one page — from the Republican playbook. They need to recognize what it takes to win elections, and go win some. This does not mean failing to have the conversation, failing to try to solve problems. It can be accomplished, rather, by doing a better job at dividing up the process into its proper stages. Democrats have compensated for their failure to come together the day after Primary Day by getting very good at the technical aspects of getting out the vote, that sort of thing. But Democrats who don’t think the Republicans won’t figure this out and get just as good at it are deluded. Having a great database and a great call center to get out the vote is necessary but not sufficient over the long term. Democrats have refined the medium, now they must refine the message.

Today is the day after election day, and we see Democrats already fighting about what went wrong. That is probably helpful, that is an important conversation to have. Democrats need to shift quickly into fighting about the solutions to our nation’s and our world’s real problems (at the local level too) and pretty quickly start fighting about who to put up for election next term. Fight and bicker and whinge but try to keep the conversation productive. Then, on Primary Day, put on the marching boots and the big girl and boy pants and all head in the same direction and act like a team. No, don’t act like a team, be a team. If your favorite candidate and your favorite issue failed to emerge as everyone else’s favorite, acknowledge that you are not the only person on the planet, suck it up, and get on board. It only seems like our election cycles go on forever. In truth, it is only a few months between Primary Day and Election Day. Everything you do that is off course during those months is self harm. Stop doing that.

Then, win.

Then, start up again with the bickering and consternation, conversing and cajoling, until the next cycle. Rinse, repeat. The Democratic Party represents a larger share of the American Public than does the Republican Party, yet it is not in the majority. This is not because Republicans win more. It is because Democrats lose more. Stop doing that.

Harry Potter Goblet of Fire Plot Hole Filled

I recently discovered that there is a widespread belief that there is a huge, gaping, plot hole in Harry Potter Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowlings. Or so people say. Greta Christina pointed it out on a Facebook post of Sarah Moglia’s, and when I googled it, I discovered widespread dismay about the pointlessness of the entire book.

The claim is made that there is no reason for any of the things that happen in this book to have happened. The ultimate result of most of the book’s plot is to get Harry Potter transported to the clutches of the Dark Lord in order to contribute, as an ingredient, in the ontogeny of Voldemort 2.0. The question is, why did all this stuff have to happen, with Barty Crouch Junior disguised as Mad Eye Moody manipulating the entire tournament, only to have Harry Potter touch a live and active portkey? Why not just hand him a portkey, or trick him into touching one?

Some people in responding to this question have noted two things that are worthy of mention, though they are not the answer to this mystery. One is the fact, which I’m sure is true, that Barty Crouch Jr. could not be discovered for what he really was, so an indirect means of doing anything is preferred. Handing Harry a portkey may have been too easily figured out. But really, en entire Triwizard just for that? Clearly, that is not the simple answer to the plot hole question, though it is part of it. No matter what Barty was doing, he’d want a certain amount of misdirection and secrecy.

The other thing people mention is the timing. The hot dish wasn’t ready, as it were, until a certain time and that time happened to be at the end of the Triwizard. That may be true, but it does not de-Macguffinize the entire book.

Perhaps this is because of my background in anthropology, but when I first read the book the point of the plot was utterly obvious to me once the penultimate scene developed (after Potter’s transport to where all the death eaters are). The simple, straight forward reason for having Potter transported at that time and in that way is the same for faking Potter’s entrance into the tournament and having him win. I shall explain.

Harry’s blood was to be used to reconstitute Voldemort. Quite possibly the blood of any wizard would do, but there is a handful of reasons that Harry Potter’s blood would be better. For one thing, there is the accidental horcrux-ish effect, with Voldemort’s power having bounced off Harry’s Head once. Whether or not that would really make Harry a more powerful ingredient is unclear, but these are Wizards. They believe this sort of thing. Second, Harry’s mother (and her love, bla bla bla) was obviously very powerful and was inserted into Harry on her death. More mojo. Generally, though, it is pretty clear by the big battle scene in Goblet, with the dueling wands, that Potter and Voldemort are roughly equally matched. Any wizard might do as this particular ingredient in the reconstitution of Voldemort 2.0, but Harry would be better …

… and even better, would be super-Harry.

The winner of the Triwizard is not just any wizard, but is special, esteemed, more powerful and more highly regarded in the Wizard world. When I discussed this with Julia she pointed out that Harry’s being in the tournament and his success along the way allowing him to win were all rigged. So, not meaningful.

Muggles.

First of all, in Wizard Land, technicalities are always important. LeviOHsa, not LeVIohsa. He won the tournament and gets whatever that gives you. Second, Harry Potter’s status as the youngest Tri-champ ever is reified only in the eyes of the non-Death Eater wizards, and they were unaware of the rigged nature of the deal. Third … think about it … what, ever, does a Dark Lord do that is not rigged in some way? It is the way of He Who Shall Not be Named.

Heroes become heroes by winning a series of challenges. Seven, classically. What were the challenges that Harry had won before the Triwizard started? Near the beginning of his life, he defeats Voldemort. In Philsopher’s Stone, Harry defeats Voldemort/Quirrell. In Chamber he defeats the Basilisk. In Prisoner he defeats the Dementors. So, at the beginning of Goblet of Fire, Harry has defeated four foes in four challenges. Since heroes normally defeat seven foes in seven challenges before becoming full blown heroes, three more challenges would make him in some ways the most powerful wizard he could possibly be, yet at the same time, those additional victories would not be against Voldemort, if Voldemort rigged them. The blood of a full blown hero would be significantly better than the blood of a mere prodigy, and this was a way for Voldemort to get that extra potent ingredient more or less safely.

Endoplasmic Voldemort engineered Harry Potter’s rise to hero status among his peers in order to have the most powerful possible ingredients in the Voldemort 2.0 hot dish. There is no plot hole. Only unmitigated evil.

So, fear not, you did not read Goblet of Fire needlessly. Perhaps you merely enjoyed the story and missed the point, but that’s no big deal. People have been doing that for thousands of years.


Other posts of interest:

Also of interest: In Search of Sungudogo: A novel of adventure and mystery, which is also an alternative history of the Skeptics Movement.

This is Banned Book Week: Which ones have you read?

Banning books is so hard to do these days that the new phrase we use is “challenged.” Which makes sense. I mean, really does a list of books banned in North Korea or Iran have any purpose other than pointing out the obvious? What is more interested is seeing which books get challenged by self righteous citizens or groups in the context of a “free” society.

So let’s have a look.
Continue reading This is Banned Book Week: Which ones have you read?