Tuesday, September 30, 2003

I'm worth twelve of you, Malfoy, even if Harry's not watching!

I don't know the first thing about novel-writing theory. I don't even know what the correct term for it is. I haven't written a piece of prose fiction since third grade. Heck, I don't even do all that much reading. But still, I think I can notice when something's funny. J.K. Rowling has now written five Harry Potter books. They vary in seriousness and length (and quality), but for the most part, the narrative style is consistent throughout. Our narrator follows Harry, and never leaves him -- the reader never knows more than Harry does, unless he remembers something Harry forgot, or focuses on something Harry deems unimportant. We never "see" a scene in which Harry is not present or observing. Almost never. There is a prologue at the beginning of book one, which deals with Harry's arrival at the Dursley's as a very young child. This isn't an exception, it's just a prologue. I think I found an actual exception, though, right in the middle of a chapter. It's very odd. It's in Chapter 13 of book one, during the second Quidditch match. Harry has gone to the locker room to prepare for the match, and the narrator follows him there. Fred delivers some good news to Harry... and then the following transition occurs:
Harry could have laughed out loud with relief. He was safe. There was simply no way that Snape would dare to try to hurt him if Dumbledore was watching. Perhaps that was why Snape was looking so angry as the teams marched onto the field, something that Ron noticed, too. "I've never seen Snape look so mean," he told Hermione. "Look -- they're off. Ouch!"
And for the next several pages, the narrator ignores Harry -- who is flying around above them -- and tells us about Ron and Neville's fight with Draco Malfoy. Eventually, Rowling non-transitions us back to Harry's point of view:
"Ron! Ron! Where are you? The game's over! Harry's won! We've won! Gryffindor is in the lead!" shrieked Hermione, dancing up and down on her seat and hugging Parvati Patil in the row in front. Harry jumped off his broom, a foot from the ground. He couldn't believe it.
Now I don't really feel like getting into an argument on the literary merits of Harry Potter just now. I'm not positive that this is a horrible inconsistency... after all, I read it a number of times before noticing it. (I won't tell you how many times I've read the book, (1) because I'm embarrassed to, and (2) because I've lost count. Ok, so mostly just (2).) Do authors do this kind of thing frequently? Would I get marked down in novel-writing class if I had a sudden point-of-view shift like that? It's just so weird, because otherwise, the whole cannon is from Harry's point of view.

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