To say that I’m a fan of the Harry Potter series would be a gross understatement.  I love the books, have read them all multiple times, and can give long-winded speeches on the stories from any angle.  I even enjoy the movies, an easy thing to do when you consider them as their own artistic medium instead of worrying about how faithfully they follow the books.

I’ve written other posts on Harry Potter, including this one which seems to attract a lot of span comments.  In addition, however, I’ve done some other Potter writing that I talked about way back in the beginning of this blog–a couple of fan fiction pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed working on, even if I knew they were, for the purposes of someone looking to be published, a futile effort.  One of these pieces was “Bare Bottomed Longbottom”–a short story that takes place during Harry’s fourth year at Hogwarts and centers on poor, mistreated Neville Longbottom.  In the story, Neville is invited by the Weasley brothers to participate in an “age-old Hogwarts tradition” in the form of a nude race through the castle in the middle of the night.  It was a fun little story and, to my surprise, it won the 2009 QuickSilver Quill Award for Best Humor Story from Mugglenet.  Behold:

Now, in addition to my short story, I also wanted to write a longer work.  In keeping with J.K. Rowling’s formula of each book taking up a year of Harry’s life, I asked myself what would happen in the year following the events of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  How would the characters cope with the aftermath of the war with Voldemort?  How would they pick up the pieces of their lives and move on with celebrating their victory while grieving for the enormous cost. (Note:  If you have neither read the last book or seen the final movie, there may be spoilery information to follow.  Not that I care, because if you haven’t read the books, you’re dead to me anyway.)

And so, Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher was born.  It would be posted a chapter at a time, per Mugglenet’s policy, and would describe the year following the Battle of Hogwarts.  I would try to keep as close to Rowling’s style as possible while still making it my own story.  Finally, I would do all the work knowing there was not even the remotest possibility that I would ever make any money off of it–it would be a tribute to Rowling’s masterwork, nothing more and nothing less.

Now, as we come to the end of an era, the culmination of more than a decade where there was always something to look forward to on the Harry Potter horizon, I’m going to serialize my incomplete manuscript of HPGS on here.  It is incomplete because, despite how much fun it was to write, I felt I needed to focus on other work in my limited amount of free time, work that stood a chance of getting published.  Still, I have twelve chapters done and, if the mood strikes me, I may add more at some later date.

(Disclaimer:  This story is fan fiction.  I do not claim any rights to the characters or other elements of J.K. Rowling’s works.  This story is a humble tribute to what she created and I am forever in her debt for creating such a rich, fertile world of the imagination.)

Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher

Chapter One–The Malfoys

Draco Malfoy sat in the drawing room of his family’s manor and stared at the roaring fire.  The orange flames provided the only light in the room, the heavy curtains blocking the late-afternoon light, and shadows danced about the room.  The elegant furniture had replaced the long table and numerous chairs that had occupied the room up until a week ago.  Up until the Dark Lord had been defeated.

The face gazing at the fire was not that of a young man just graduated from Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.  No youthful innocence or eager ambition showed in the fair skin and tightly pressed lips.  Instead, worry and sorrow marked the pointed features, aging it far beyond others of his age.  The furrowed brow and haunted eyes, motionless before the flames, spoke of profound lessons learned at a terrible price.  His white hands, folding in his lap, clutched each other as though afraid, the skin beneath the long, thin fingers paler even than that around it.  To a casual observer, Draco Malfoy might have been a statue, a waxwork tableau erected in tribute to the lost cause for which he and his family had fought so many years.

A single chime sounded in the house, clear and resonant.  It reached every corner of the massive structure and, at its signal, Draco moved for the first time in hours.  Standing, he strode across the drawing room and entered the long entrance hall.  Lamps lit themselves as he entered the room.  His father and mother, both dressed in sumptuous robes of dark green, reached the front door at the same time as their son and they all looked at each other as though questioning who would answer the tolling bell.  After a moment, Draco stepped forward to a large mirror hanging near the door.

“Show me,” Draco said, his voice low and weary.  Behind him, he could feel the tension in both his parents as they watched over his shoulder.

In the week since the fall of Voldemort at the Battle of Hogwarts, as it was now being called in the papers, the Malfoys had lived in absolute fear.  Any moment, they reasoned, the Ministry of Magic might send a group of Aurors to take them into custody, possibly whisking them all to die ignominious deaths in the wizarding prison, Azkaban.  They had, everyone knew, been supporters of Voldemort and had even harbored the Dark Lord in their home as he spread his reign of terror over Britain.

Still, the Ministry of Magic was not who the Malfoys most feared.  They, particularly Narcissa Malfoy, had played a role in the defeat of the Dark Lord at Hogwarts.  Draco’s mother, now quivering in fear behind her son, had lied to Voldemort, saying that Harry Potter, once again subjected to the killing curse that had failed to slay the”Chosen One” the last time Voldemort had cast it upon the boy, was finally vanquished.  Concerned only for the safety of her son, she made it possible for Harry to defeat the Dark Lord, thus betraying the Death Eaters that considered the Malfoys some of his most ardent supporters.  The remaining Death Eaters, those few still at large, would likely seek revenge on the Malfoys as soon as the Aurors grew weary of hunting them.  The sacrifice Narcissa had made to save her son would be his death sentence should Voldemort’s supporters return to Malfoy Manor.

Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy looked, if anything, worse than their son.  They shared the same haunted look as Draco, their eyes looking out from deep hollows in their sharp faces, but the lines around their eyes, barely visible only a few weeks ago, seemed to have eroded until they looked like great gorges in their nearly transparent skin.  Both had lost weight from their constant state of anxiety and Draco’s mother, already thin, looked as though she might blow away in the winds of change now sweeping through the wizarding world.

The image of the three Malfoys in the mirror lasted for a second, then dissolved into gray mist.  The mist swirled, gathered, and reformed into another image.  Now, the mirror showed not the entrance hall of the manor, but the country lane that led by the high hedge separating it from the grounds of the estate.  A line of wild brambles could be seen on the opposite side of the lane.  Lit by brilliant daylight, the image in the mirror cast a warm glow on the blanched faces of the three people observing, faces that grew whiter still when several figures appeared in the lane.

Draco Malfoy heard his mother give a small moan of despair behind him, but said nothing, keeping his eyes fixed on the figures now standing before their front gates.

A dozen wizards stood outside the Malfoy estate, but the most prominent was the one in the center of the group.  Tall and black, he issued a few silent orders to those around him and the Malfoys saw several heads nod as the figures moved to either side of the front gate.  The leader, sunlight reflecting off the dark skin of his bald pate, raised his wand and tapped the metal front gate.

Another chime rang through the house, this one higher pitched and louder.

Draco turned and looked at his father.  His mother, shivering with fright, was pressed against her husband, her wide eyes glazed with tears.  Lucius looked back at Draco and nodded.

Raising his trembling white hand, Draco touched the mirror and spoke.

“Who is it?”

They watched in the mirror as the tall, black figured answered.  “Mr. Malfoy, it’s Kingsley Shacklebolt, Minister of Magic, here to see you and your parents.”

Draco turned again to his father, who nodded again.  When he turned back, he raised his hand again, this time using his finger to wipe vertically down the glass surface of the mirror.  When his hand returned once again to his side, they saw the figures on the lane move back as the iron gates swung inward, allowing them entrance.  He waved his hand in front of the glass and the mirror grew misty again, swirling and reassuming the image of the three frightened Malfoys in the entrance hall.

Before any of them could say anything, a knock came at the front door.  The sound boomed through the large house as the warning chime had, but carrying a much more ominous tone.  It spoke of finality, as though it would be the last time they would hear such a sound in their own house.

(more…)

(Yes, I know I’m posting this early on Wednesday, but as I worked late and haven’t been to bed yet, it’s still Tuesday to me.  Get over it.)

Last weekend, I made my sojourn to Frankfort, Kentucky, for the annual meeting of the Statewide Selection Committee for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program.  As usual, I had a great time seeing old friends and making new ones, despite my car biting the dust when I got to the hotel.

The committee is made up of volunteers—mostly people who, unlike me, work in education in some capacity–from all over who have insanely agreed to put off every other event in their lives for a couple of weeks in order to score nearly 2000 applications from students hoping to attend the program.  Some of us attend every year, mostly for the excellent lunch provided by the staff, and some do not attend at all for various reasons.  I try to make it every year, and not only for the lunch, but for the conversation.  It’s nice to learn what is new with the program, what changes are being made, and how the many hours I spend scoring applications benefit students from across the state of Kentucky.

During this year’s meeting, two of the members were discussing how little imagination children seem to have compared to what we had growing up and, as a fellow committee member and a parent and a writer, I have a few thoughts on this topic.

I used to score a part of the GSP application we called “The Unique”.  We asked the students to write a short description of something that set them apart from their peers, something that would make us take notice and say, “Now, there’s a kid who should be a Governor’s Scholar.”  I have talked about the shortcomings from this part of the application before, so I won’t rehash them here.  For the five or so years I scored Uniques, they collectively got worse and worse until, last year, the program decided to scrap them in favor of a Leadership Project that the students would describe, in bullet point format, from conception to execution.  The project could be something they actually plan to do or purely theoretical, but the entire idea was to get the students to think about what they could do to help their communities and, from our perspective, to see how organized and pragmatic their thinking processes are.  So far, the feedback has been generally positive about the change within the program, but the people scoring them have complained about the same general idea that I and others did with the Uniques—lack of creativity and imagination.

Sadly, I see the same problem in my own children.  It seems that my children can’t be outside for more than a few minutes before they are whining about wanted to come inside because there’s nothing to do.  They don’t want to jump on the trampoline or play with all the toys we’ve bought for them or watch the movies lying tossed like frisbees around their bedrooms or read any of the books bulging from the shelves.  You simply cannot walk into either of their bedrooms without stepping on something that is now too boring for them to play with.

As a child, I was certainly not deprived, but I wasn’t overwhelmed with material goods the way other children I knew were.  I loved to be outside playing baseball, even if “playing baseball” meant throwing imaginary no-hitters against a brick wall at the church next door or slaying invisible dragons with the straightest stick I could find in the brush pile.  Everything I needed to entertain myself for hours was lying around my yard and inside own head.

Nowadays, every stimulus children have comes from outside.  They have video games and movies and internet and all the other assorted things that the generations before first imagined, then brought into being.  Studies have shown that young people read less than their older counterparts, and while a number of legitimate ideas have been offered as to why this is, I think one of the most important, yet least discussed, is that with stimulus thrust upon them, children have perhaps lost the ability to produce these things inside their own minds, to see the invisible dragons or the fierce batters ready to spoil that historic moment in sports history.  Why imagine a thing when you can put a disk into a little machine and experience it without all the effort?  Are we driving our kids to the point where they cannot appreciate the simple act of creation that can occur inside the imagination and will we miss out on what those imaginings can provide for us in the future?

I have other fears regarding the loss of imagination as it affects my writing.  Children who cannot focus enough on a story to see what is happening without having it on Blu-Ray will not, as a rule, be potential readers.  On a larger scale, what will happen to literature as more and more children lose the ability to imagine stories themselves, to create the future of what we will read?  Even as the publishing industry shifts to a modern, digitized format, I wonder if there will be much worth reading when my children’s generation are the movers and shakers in society.

There is hope, however.  J.K. Rowling, for example, has done as much as any single person to reverse this awful trend.  The Harry Potter series gave children (and adults, for that matter) such a rich world, with vibrant characters and brilliant settings, that an entire generation learned to imagine again, creating a ripple effect in the Young Adult market and making it probably the only bright spot in the book world right now.  Not only is the Harry Potter generation reading more, they are writing.  I see young people all the time who are writing novels or short stories with the ultimate goal of being published.  Now, if they could only spell and use proper grammar . . . but that’s a rant for another day.

Imagination is not an intangible thing.  Without it, there is no industry, no innovation, no progress.  It’s hard to look around and not see the advances in technology that started, in their embryonic stage, as an idea.  An imagining.  How will society progress as more and more of our ideas, our very thoughts, come from the television or the internet?  Who will rise up and have the original thought that changes the world?

Why not me?  Why not you?  Go out, find a child, and slay the invisible dragons.

 Have you taken my advice from Part One and done as you were told? Gone off to write the next great novel or short story or personal narrative or radio jingle? Have you left my post with great intentions but no idea where to start? I thought you might be back. Well, dear reader, I have a suggestion.

Fan fiction.

To someone with Pulitzer ambitions, who has already been practicing their interview for when their novel becomes an Oprah Book Club selection, fan fic seems like becoming a literary whore, but I say there are benefits, particularly for someone new to the writing process, from whoring yourself out.

First, the essence of fan fiction is that the authors write about something they like–a favorite book, a great movie, or even a cheesy television series. The stories can be true to what they know or can vary widely from existing canon, coupling characters that would never, under any circumstances, get together; or exploring beyond what we know about the inspiring work. One of the benefits, aside from the sheer act of creation, of writing fan fic is that you are often writing about something you have a passion for. Right now, for example, in between work on the final couple of chapters of my novel, I am working on a Harry Potter fan fiction that picks up where J. K. Rowling left off after the Battle of Hogwarts in the last book. (For anyone who would complain about the vague spoiler here, I would say that if you haven’t read the book yet, you’re not a true fan anyway.) I am an avid fan of Rowling’s work and can’t stand to see Harry, Ron, and Hermione age nineteen years in the time it takes me to flip a page. Damn it, I want to know what happened in those nineteen years and if she won’t tell me, then I’ll figure it out on my own. That passion, the overriding need to know what happened or what could happen under the right circumstances, is what creates good writing. No author ever became successful by being indifferent to his or her subject. Every novel you see is an act of passion and if you learn to harness the passion you already have for something else, it will be easier to do when you have an original idea. When you physically, mentally, and emotionally need to know what happens in your own story, you can drive yourself through all self-doubt and cast aside all excuses until the work is complete.

The second benefit to writing fan fiction is that, on most online sites, readers are allowed to review your work, allowing you continuous, and sometimes immediate, feedback on the quality of your writing. However, you should brace yourself for this fact–not all feedback will tell you how great you are. Some people who review your work will offer constructive criticism meant to improve your writing while some will, for reasons still unknown to me, trash you simply for the sake of tearing you down. Once you weed out the trash talkers, use the constructive comments to improve your writing. If one person sees a flaw in your story, your style, or even your grammar, more will probably see the same thing, particularly editors and agents who do such things for a living. As you write and read what people think of your work, you become more aware of the blind spots you have and are quicker to seek and destroy them. The editorial process, something which many authors have trouble with, becomes easier as you learn to look for your mistakes rather than to look over them. Another benefit of reader reviews is that when they are good, they boost your confidence. Anyone who has ever poured their heart and soul into a piece of writing, only to ship it off to some publishing entity, wait for six months, and receive a form rejection letter can tell you of the importance of keeping your confidence up during and after the writing process.

One more positive that I’ll touch on regarding fan fiction is the sense of community you find on many fan fiction sites. When a group of people get together and apply their imagination toward a single thing, regardless of the form their creativity takes, it allows people of similar interests to share ideas and, in many cases, help each other build confidence in their work. Fan fiction communities, in this sense, offer the same benefit as conventional writing groups, that sense of camaraderie that comes from common interests, common labors, and common dreams.

I was skeptical at first about writing fan fiction. I thought that adding my own two-bits to Rowling’s series would be a waste of time, a distraction from the works that I thought might be commercially viable. Then, I realized that, by thinking along those lines, I was missing the point of writing entirely. We don’t write to make money, to make friends, or to make it sound like we’re trying to get out of our miserable jobs. We write because we are driven to write. We write because we have passion and that passion needs to be expressed when and where we can find an outlet. For your writing to be worth reading, it has to fill a need, not a want. I want to make money. I want that Pulitzer. I want to be on Oprah. I NEED to write.

And that makes all the difference.

P.S. If you would like to read my contribution to the Potter universe, go to Mugglenet.com’s fan fiction site and find “Harry Potter and the Golden Sepulcher” by leesmiley (my less-than-imaginative pen name). Feel free to leave me a review and read some of the other works on there. Very creative, we Potterphiles.

 

In a little more than three weeks, the seventh installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, will be released. Millions of readers, myself included, eagerly await this final year at Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry to see how the boy wizard resolves the destiny chosen for him when he was only a baby, and whether that resolution will cost him his life.

Though the first book was published a decade ago, each new release rekindles the controversy that surrounds the books. Many people see the books as promoting the occult and non-Christian values and some have gone so far as to organize protests, petitioning for the books to be banned from schools and libraries. To many parents, Harry Potter is evil and should be avoided at all costs.

These people are, as Ron Weasley might say, mental.

Harry Potter is, first and foremost, a brilliant work of fiction (that means, to people who are not familiar with the term, that the stories are made up) and bear only an acquaintance with the world we know. The elements of muggle life that Rowling incorporates (e.g. Dudley tossing his PlayStation out the window) only serve to add a touch of verisimilitude to an otherwise fantastic tale. Rowling herself is not a witch, nor does she want anyone’s child to convert to witchcraft, wave sticks around, and speak nonsensical words in the hopes of levitating some object. Like any storyteller, she only wishes to entertain. The values she promotes in the books are admirable regardless of faith–hard work, courage, friendship, and love. There is evil in the books, but in the same context as other novels beyond count in the form of the antagonists such as Voldemort, Professor Snape, and the Malfoys. Harry’s battles against these forces are not a fight-fire-with-fire scenario, but a good-versus-evil struggle comparable to many tales found in Christian works. If children, or at the very least parents, cannot differentiate between true occultism and the portrayal of magic in the Harry Potter series, then the problems lies with the environment of the reader, not with the tales themselves.

Another objection some find to the Harry Potter series is the lack of Christian morals in the books. Even beyond the portrayal of magic in the books, the rule-breaking and mild swearing sometimes employed by Harry and his friends is seen as sending the wrong message to impressionable children and teens. Children whose parents hold this view will miss out on volumes of great literature that do not promote this idealistic view of the world–The Grapes of Wrath, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to name a few–and will find themselves living in a vacuum of their own faith. To further the point, the Bible contains many tales of Christian heroes–Moses, David, Solomon, and others–who often do not show what we would today consider Christian values. Are we to deny these children the Bible because of the examples set by these and other characters within? Perhaps that is best, considering how biblically illiterate most Christians are. In a 1997 survey, only 34% of Anglican priest could name all Ten Commandments without help. In a survey of American Christian teens, the Bible Literacy Project found that less than half of those polled could identify the event that led Jesus to change water into wine. Given a choice of four quotations, nearly two-thirds could not identify a passage from the Sermon on the Mount. If people are not reading the Bible, are not even familiar with what it says, how can they speak out against a book that, in their uninformed opinion, promotes anti-Christian values? Many of the people who speak against the Harry Potter books are less familiar with the actual content of Rowling’s stories than they are the Bible and have no factual knowledge on which to base their opinion, which is similar to protesting the Bible because it has stories of rape, murder, and incest. Uninformed opinions are much more dangerous than children’s books. Bear in mind that so-called “Christian values” brought about the Spanish Inquisition, the Salem Witchcraft trials, and ethnic cleansing in the former Yugoslavia. While I believe in the moral lessons demonstrated by Jesus in the Bible–forgiveness, compassion, and love for your fellow man–I truly wish the interpretation of Christian values could be left to more reasonable minds.

Violence is another complaint often given when discussing the Harry Potter novels. Throughout the series, Harry and his friends are forced to battle the forces of evil through various means that, in some cases, leads to injury and death. While I admit that the books, particularly the later books in the series, may not be appropriate for younger readers due in large part to the increasingly pitched battle between good and evil, I offer the Bible as another example of a book rife with violence of the sort that makes the passages of Harry Potter look like a quiet outing. The Old Testament, often overlooked by Christians except when defending creationism, is full of harrowing stories of mass murder, rape (including sodomy), theft, and horrific battle. Again, those who attack the Harry Potter stories glaze over this aspect of their religion, the founding and preservation of which was secured through spilled blood and savage warfare much more than universal love.

Others argue simply that the events described in the Harry Potter series are too fantastic; nothing in the novels could really happen in life. As one person told me, “I can’t believe any story where someone turns a stick into a snake.” When I reminded said person of Moses turning his staff into a snake in Egypt, I was met with a blank stare. “But that’s different,” the person argued. In truth, it’s no different. If a person can suspend their reason for elements of the Bible in order to establish his or her faith, why can that person not suspend their reason in order to be entertained by a creative story? Regardless of whether the events in the Bible happened just as they are portrayed (highly unlikely, considering they were often recorded centuries after the actual events took place), a person who cannot imagine the magic in Harry Potter probably cannot truly imagine Jesus walking on water or raising Lazarus from the dead. These people, with no imagination and no true belief, seek only to satisfy their social need to be Christians rather than actually committing themselves to what they are taught to believe.

Not so long ago, I challenged a co-worker of mine to read the first Harry Potter book. This person was one of the most devout Christians I knew at the time and I was prepared, when she finished the book, for the argument that I knew would ensue. To my surprise, she loved the book and has subsequently read the rest of them because she understands that Harry Potter, like Atticus Finch or Mickey Mouse, are fictional characters. They exist only in the mind of J. K. Rowling and in the minds of the readers, who must interpret the characters based not on what they believe, but on how they would react in the setting in which they are placed. Harry Potter is not presented as an infallible beacon of ethics and morals. Such a character would not only make for a poor story, but would also make for an impossible standard for the imperfect souls that read the novels. Harry’s struggles, not only with the forces of Voldemort, but also with his own temptations, desires, and sins make him more realistic to the average reader and, more importantly, more representative of Christians who continually face such obstacles themselves. Rowling never says in her novels that Potter is a Christian–to do so would be pretentious and would create more controversy by far than the omission of religion has done–nor does she say he is not. What she does is portray Harry as an orphan who struggles to find his place in the world, then learns that the fate of his people rests in his, in his opinion, ill-equipped hands before accepting his responsibility and charging toward his destiny head on even if it means his death. If that story sounds familiar to Christians, it should if they have read the tale of Moses in Exodus.

I am not comparing the Harry Potter series to the Bible here. I am not advocating someone start the Church of Harry Potter and hold services every Sunday and Wednesday. There are events in Rowling’s work that allude to events in the Bible, but that can be said for a great many books by authors from Twain to Faulkner, none of which have gained the infamy of Harry Potter. What I am advocating is that people form their opinions based on what they know rather than what they think they know. To do otherwise makes a person seem ridiculous and ill-prepared to defend their half-formed ideas. I welcome any debate on this or any other topic, but only if my opponent has a clue about what they are speaking about. William G. McAdoo said that “It is impossible to defeat an ignorant man in an argument.” Therefore, if you wish to display your ignorance, steer clear of me. I only fight battles I can win.