Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Best Stupid Questions About Wizards.

As everyone in the world probably knows, this week saw the opening of the final installment of "Definitely not Willy The Wizard And The Deathly Hallows", a/k/a "Also Definitely Not Larry Potter and The Deathly Hallows" a/k/a "Didn't that scene in the one book where Harry Potter squared off against a giant spider seem awfully familiar"? a/k/a "No, it didn't, you moron, do you want to get sued into the ground"?

Anyway that movie is attracting a lot of attention, and cashing in on other people's hard work is sort of my thing, although sometimes I do it only inadvertently, and in keeping with the way I roll, I'm going to go ahead and jump, with only a little further ado, into this post, with the small amount of further ado (it's just a tiny bit, really, of ado) being to note that so far as I know, nobody has ever written a book in which a wizard just has unlimited powers and absolutely no scruples about using them -- no limits on his power, no qualms or moral objections to using his power, no reason not to just magic up everything in the world...

... with one exception: Disney.

In Disney's Aladdin, remember, Jafar wished to be transformed into a genie, which is more or less like a wizard, too (you'll see I'm expanding the rules in this post) and under the rules of that movie, genies were more or less all-powerful. So Jafar was the first all-powerful wizard with no scruples whatsoever about using his powers, but he had limitations-- because genies, in that movie, are tied to a lamp and must do the bidding of whoever holds the lamp. That was how they trapped him, remember?

(Oh, and, um, SPOILER ALERT!)

But then, at the end of the movie, Aladdin uses his third wish to free the genie, whose name I think was genie, and so at the end of the cartoon Aladdin, Jasmine is the Sultaness, Aladdin is the Sultan-in-waiting, people in Agrabah are happy, and there is an all-powerful being who is definitely not human and maybe not bound at all by our human concepts like "enslaving everyone for fun is wrong".

I never saw Aladdin 2, because by the time that came out our first pack of kids were too old for Disney cartoons, having reached the age where they were more interested in making up bizarre stories about how the dent got into the car, and our backup children, Mr F and Mr Bunches, had not yet arrived.

But I'm sure that in Aladdin 2, either all of humanity is laboring under the oppressive regime of Genie The Almighty, Ruler of All The Cosmos, or the world has been turned into a paradise. Either way, good work, Disney!

Now, on to those Best Stupid Questions About Wizards!

1. What was the genie's name in Aladdin?

At first, when I began to write this post and tried to remember what the genie's name was, I thought "I must have forgotten it," because I'm terrible about names and faces and am about one step away from that guy who mistook his wife for a hat.*

*(Not a paid referral of either the book or hats.)

It seemed to me he must have a name, because genies aren't a person, they're a thing, even by the rules Aladdin set up: Jafar, when he uses his third wish to become a genie, doesn't become Genie, as played by Robin Williams; he becomes a genie.

So is Aladdin's genie just called "Genie"?

He's Genie the genie?

(As an aside, I've now typed the word genie so much that it's lost all meaning to me.)

Other genies have names; in the Aladdin series, I'm told (by a message board filled with people who have way more time than I do, and way less to occupy it) one female genie was named Eden.

So I gather that Aladdin's genie had a name, but nobody bothered to tell us that name.

Or, I gather instead that Aladdin was so shallow that he never bothered to ask genie's name -- even at the end, when he supposedly learned his lesson and stopped being such a jerk fixated only on riches and being someone he was not. Having gotten everything he ever wanted, Aladdin couldn't even be bothered to say, to the person who helped him get it, "Hey, by the way, what's your name?"


2. What, exactly, was it that saved Harry Potter's life?

Initially, question 2 was going to be something like why didn't Dumbledore ensure that all students at Hogwarts were taught the spell that protected Harry from the death curse, making it useless and ineffective? I mean, seriously: the Avada Kedavra curse is the wizarding equivalent of hollow-point bullets, and whatever helped Harry is a full-body bullet proof vest, but wizard students spend their time at Hogwarts learning to grow plants?

But then I did some research into the question -- yes, I research stuff, from time to time -- and found that the answer to the question I wanted to ask -- why didn't Dumbledore, etc. etc., -- couldn't be found, because that answer doesn't exist, because...

... nobody really knows how Harry lived.

I thought it was just me, but I'm pretty sure it's just not, and I'm pretty sure that J.K. Rowling, by the end of the seventh book, had more or less forgotten about this and/or decided it was too complicated to explain, and so she explained how Harry lived via this not-at-all-a-deus ex machina:

"It was love. You see, when dear, sweet Lily Potter gave her life for her only son, she provided the ultimate protection. I could not touch him. It was old magic. Something I should have foreseen."
That's Voldemort talking. So, er... love? That's all? Love and giving her life for someone? And Voldemort was aware of all this but never bothered to come up with a counterspell to it?

And old magic? Magic older than all the other magic that took seven books to explain and took years for students to learn? Who, exactly, invented this old magic? Is it still used? Is it centaur magic?

J.K. Rowling never explained -- but the legions of people who desperately want Harry Potter's story to make sense have: they've come up with a whole page of explanation. Basically, they explain, Lily Potter cast a spell of "sacrificial protection." (Where did Lily learn that... never mind.) That's a spell cast by someone who consciously chooses to give their life for another; they must, the page says, be given a chance to save their own life, or someone else's. So Lily can cast the spell because Voldemort promised he wouldn't kill her unless she got in the way -- but then she did, and she chose to give her life to save Harry's.

Later in the books, then, Harry casts the same spell on all his friends -- by turning himself in when Voldemort has demanded that he either do so within the hour or be killed. Harry's turning himself in, rather than fleeing, is the kind of sacrifice that allows him to cast the spell of protection on all his friends at once. (Where did Harry learn that... never mind.)

That poses a problem, though, as Harry's dad, James, also opted to fight rather than flee. So why didn't James' spell protect Harry... and Lily? Apparently (according to the Potterites on that page) you have to be given more than a minute to flee, as James was. Harry's hour of freedom was sufficient time to trigger the ability to cast the spell he never learned and save his friends by having Voldemort cast the death spell on him.

(None of this is explained in the books, mind you. Unless it was when Dumbledore met Harry in that dome thing. I sort of skimmed that part.)

What's also not explained in the books, or on that page, is why Harry's sacrifice works... when Harry himself is not killed? Voldemort's death curse blasts apart the Horcrux in Harry, not killing Harry at all - so Harry has managed to cast a sacrificial protection without, you know, sacrificing anything.

Oh, and, um... SPOILER ALERT?

That all brings up a different question... the question being:

3. Why did Voldemort think he could kill Harry at all?

I'm not going to get into why Voldemort didn't know that his Horcrux was in Harry, or why he didn't know that it would be killed instead of Harry, or why a Horcrux can be killed at all when the whole point is they're not supposed to be killable. Some questions are better left unasked and unanswered, and among them are:

Who would make a "hot" video of James and Lily Potter set to Avril Lavigne's music? Because someone did:


Anyway, here's a bigger question: So Voldemort knew about the sacrificial protection spell, and it being old magic and all... and he knew that his previous death curse had failed.

What was his plan?

"Shoot him again!" ?

If the sacrificial protection spell is so great that it beats his dead-on curse when Harry's a baby and can't consciously use any magic power at all, why would Voldemort think that years later the same exact curse would work after Harry's been to wizard school? Do sacrificial protection spells wear off? Do they grow weaker over time? If they do, and if Voldemort needed Harry Potter dead to complete his plans, why not wait a few more years, until the protection is completely gone?

And why didn't Voldemort, for that matter, simply get one of his all-too-loyal minions to sacrifice-protection him?

Moving on!

4. Why didn't Gandalf just destroy the bridge before the Balrog was even on it?

For copyright reasons -- and because I'm pretty sure all my resources are going to be tied up defending against J.K. Rowlings' lawyers' claims -- I can't show you the actual Lord of the Rings footage of the epic battle between Gandalf and the Balrog, but here's a pretty decent recreation:

Now, I've always had a problem with the idea that Gandalf has any powers, at all. To recap his "magical" "exploits", he: blew smoke rings and made them change colors; used ventriloquism, rode an eagle, broke a bridge, and resurrected himself (maybe, on that last one; someone else might have done it. We don't know how Gandalf came back.) Granted, that's more impressive than that one brown wizard who could only talk to birds, but it puts Gandalf on a par, magically speaking, with David Copperfield.

Back to the battle: When the Fellowship is running from the Balrog, Gandalf turns and stands on the bridge, telling the Balrog You shall not pass.

And then, the Balrog grabs him and he breaks the bridge and they fall.

From which we can surmise:

1. The Balrog cannot leap or fly.

2. Gandalf can break the bridge.

See where I'm going with this? Gandalf just had to break the bridge before the Balrog got there, and the Fellowship could have gone on -- with his help -- and the Balrog couldn't have gotten them, and then in the future Gandalf and the rest could've gone and fought the Balrog at their leisure.

Maybe it's not that Gandalf didn't have any real magical powers. Maybe he was just too stupid to use them.

5. What about Merlin?

Merlin being the only other wizard I can think of right now, I'll finish up with him, and all I could think to say was the question: What about Merlin?

Which, you'll have to agree, is a pretty stupid question.

Was Merlin the loveable clumsy backwards-living magical guy that showed Wart the way to pull out the Sword in the Stone that Disney wants us to remember?

Or was he this sinister guy who helped Uther Pendragon rape a lady?

That clip is from Excalibur, which I remember as being the coolest swords-and-sorcery movie ever when I was a kid; of course, I ranked it that way for two reasons: (1) the armor was very shiny, and (2) it was on HBO, which meant there was nudity. I never even saw the whole thing, because my parents wouldn't let us watch it, so I'd have to be watching it with the sound way down low late at night when they thought I was watching Don Kirschner's Rock Show.

Merlin began his life as an amalgam of historical figures, including a madman and someone named "Ambrosius Aurelianus" who helped win a battle in the Fifth Century. It's a short hop from that to "being fathered by an incubus," as the Merlin of popular legend was soon said to be, and living backward, as Merlin was also supposed to do:

to being a kid, as the BBC now has it. (Because what's more family friendly than "backward living half-human son of an incubus rape assistant?)

Did Merlin have any real powers? What was he, anyway? For the definitive take on that, I went to Wikipedia, this being the only sort of thing that site is really good for.

Where I learned that things are even worse, or more interesting, or both, than I thought. At one point, Merlin was said to be the antiChrist son of the devil born to a virgin, only to have the plan foiled by the mother, who got the baby baptized (But why couldn't the Devil stop...never mind.) At other times, Merlin is a shapeshifter and a prophet, but also a dumb guy: at one point, Merlin falls in love with a woman and promises to teach her all his magic, unaware that she's going to use the magic to control him, which she then doesn't do, opting instead to imprison him in a tomb for all eternity because she's disgusted by him and his demon heritage.

(Which Merlin somehow did not foresee...never mind.)

Merlin has been featured in, by my count, lots of movies, TV shows, and books. He's met just about everyone in every place.

Which brings us to our final question:

6. Did Merlin ever meet Batman?

Yes. And it was awesome.

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