Thursday, January 16, 2014

Melodrama in Harry Potter

Passage (Sorcerer's Stone, p. 298):
"Call him Voldemort, Harry.  Always use the proper name for things.  Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself."
"Yes, sir.  Well, Voldemort's going to try other ways of coming back, isn't he?  I mean, he hasn't gone, has he?"
"No, Harry, he has not.  He is still out there somewhere, perhaps looking for another body to share... not being truly alive, he can not be killed.  He left Quirrell to die; he shows just as little mercy to his followers as his enemies.  Nevertheless, Harry, while you may only have delayed his return to power, it will merely take someone else who is prepared to fight what seems a losing battle next time-- and if he is delayed again, and again, why, he may never return to power."
Harry nodded, but stopped quickly, because it made his head hurt.  Then he said, "Sir, there are some other things I'd like to know, if you can tell me... things I want to know the truth about..."
"The truth," Dumbledore sighed.  "It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.  However, I shall answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, in which case I beg you'll forgive me.  I shall not, of course, lie."

"Call him Voldemort, Harry.  That's his name.  Being afraid of it will just make you more afraid of him."
"Yes, sir.  Well, Voldemort is going to come back, right?  He's not gone, is he?"
"No, Harry, he's not.  He's out there.  He cannot be killed.  He let Quirrell die; he values the lives of his followers just as much as he values those of his enemies.  But Harry, if people keep doing what you were able to do, he may never be able to regain power."
Harry nodded.  "Sir, I have some questions for you.  Things I want to know the truth about."
"The truth," Dumbledore started.  "Can be good or bad, so we need to be careful with what we know and what we share.  But I'll answer your questions unless I have a very good reason not to, and if that's the case I apologize.  But what I do answer I will answer truthfully."

It is difficult for me to call a figure like Dumbledore melodramatic.  That's a word I use to describe my teenage sister, or a character in much shallower literature (the kind you can read at a crowded pool because it does not call on you to think critically or even attentively).  But that's just my former misconception of melodrama; I associate it with the silliness of exaggeration.  My instincts for this rewrite were to exchange words like "however" for "but," and to condense.  And while melodrama may certainly use and even rely on choices in style and vernacular, it also underlies theme, molds characters, and shapes events in a story. Altering or eliminating the features which characterize the melodramatic tone in a Harry Potter novel would compromise the effects of the people and the story on its audience.  Messages of virtue, such as in the above passage, are not only enhanced by melodramatic rhetoric, they are product of it.  Dumbledore is melodramatic!  It works!  It is critical in the majestic setting of the novel, in the gravity of its themes, and in the authority of his character.

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