Monday, 19 April 2010

Child decisions

I'm not a huge fan of Harry Potter, but I found the latest movie rather enjoyable, apart from the instances where it's obvious JK Rowling doesn't know how teenage boys behave - I stand firm that the series would be 10x better had the protagonist been female. Anyway, I thought I'd share this particular scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
Dumbledore steps back, ponders the basin. Notes the CRYSTAL GOBLET
sitting beside it. Smiles ruefully.

It has to be drunk. (as Harry reacts)
You remember the condition on
which I brought you with me?
Harry starts to respond. Stops. Nods.

This potion might paralyze me. It
might cause me to forget why I'm
here. It might create so much
pain I beg for relief. You are
not to indulge these requests,
Harry. It is your job to make
sure I keep drinking this potion
even if you have to force it down
my throat. Understood?
Why can't I drink it, sir?

Because I am much older, much
cleverer... and much less
(taking the goblet)
Your good health, Harry.

Dumbledore dips the goblet into the gleaming liquid and brings
it to his lips. Drinks deep. Closes his eyes.

Dumbledore shakes his head, silencing Harry, then dips the
goblet once more. Twice more he drinks. His hand TREMBLES
and he grips the side of the basin.

Professor? Can you hear me?

Dumbledore says nothing. The corners of his eyes TWITCH.
His hand TREMBLES, savagely this time, and he nearly drops
the goblet. Harry reaches out, steadies his hand.
Don't... don't make me...

Harry eyes Dumbledore's anguished face, steels himself.

You... you can't stop, Professor.
You've got to keep drinking. Like
you said. Remember.

Harry staggers back, so primal is Dumbledore's plea.
Dumbledore's arm goes slack, the goblet clanging dully
against the side of the basin. Harry takes a breath, steps
forward, places his hand over Dumbledore's, lifts the cup.

Make it stop... Please... make it

It will, sir. It'll stop. But
only if you drink...

Harry, his own hand TREMBLING now, tips the goblet over
Dumbledore's lips.

My fault. It's all my fault...

Harry brings the goblet up once more. Dumbledore drinks.

Too much... I can't... take it...
I want... to die... kill... kill

Your word, Harry! Your word!



Harry stands paralyzed, unsure what to do. Then...

Dumbledore collapses, rolls onto his back. Harry pelts
forward, dips the goblet into the basin and kneels by

One more. Just one more. And
then -- I promise... I'll do what
you say.

Dumbledore, jaw clinched shut, eyes Harry.
I promise.

Dumbledore's jaw relaxes and Harry pries open his mouth,
tips the liquid down his throat. Pain ripples through
Dumbledore's face. He tries to speak, Harry eyeing him
with trepidation, fearful of what he will request.
Again and again Dumbledore struggles and then...
his Find Harry.

A shudder of relief goes through Harry.

Rather impressive, no? The key to this scene is that the tension builds and builds to the climactic ending when Harry must force Dumbledore to drink. Had this not been the case, there'd have been no reason for Mr Potter to go cave-dwelling at all!

That's the problem with having a child protagonist - you have to make sure they aren't just along for the ride - they have to make decisions, they have to act, they have to be the protagonist.

For example, the above scene could have been written with Dumbledore forcing himself to drink from the goblet, leaving Harry to watch on in awe. That would render Harry a passive - and consequently pointless - character.

In broader terms, take a look at the story of Harry Potter on the whole - the boy makes a conscious decision to enter this magical world. Yes, he is taken there by Hagrid, but it's ultimately his decision. Just like the decision to walk through the wardrobe in The Chronicles of Narnia. Or Lyra's decision to get involved in events in Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Or little Kevin, whose own beha viour and charatcer is what results in him being left home alone.

All these child characters act, as opposed to being passive protagonists who are merely acted upon. You have to make sure your character is one of those kinds - they make decisions!
So I might not like a lot about JK Rowling, but she definitely understands that a character has to act, rather than take a back seat. That said, take a look at this fight scene from The Order of the Phoenix - is Harry making decisions here? Is he acting? Is he the protagonist? Does it matter if he's not in this one moment? You be the judge.

No comments: