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Fiction Fails in the Real World

Some years back, I started reading J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series.  As fiction goes, the stories were very good, but hardly the best I have ever read.  Comparisons aside, Ms. Rowling is no Lewis, let alone a Tolkien or a Zelazny.  The only reason I bring that up, is because there seem to be a large number of people determined to find a way to prove Harry Potter is real.  That, or they simply don't have real lives enjoyable enough, to spend their attention there for the most part. 


To see what I mean, look at the economics of the Wizarding world for a little bit.  Consider the coinage.  Wizards are still on the Gold Standard, and a strange standard it is.   Harry's magic wand, for example, is a critical tool for his education and is designed to last a lifetime.  At first the price of seven gold pieces (or 7 Galleons, as they call them) seems reasonable.  But a simple pewter pot for potions costs 10 Galleons, 42% more than a magic wand, even though the wand has rare and exotic materials and is crafted by an expert - in fact, we are assured that Ollivander may be the world's best wandmaker, yet here he is selling priceless artifacts for less than the bookstore down the street charges for some of their schooltexts. 


Let's also think about the use of gold and silver and copper.  The Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts use gold, silver, and copper, and while that's very attractive as an image, it falls apart when you work it out.  We find out, for example, that there is an exchange rate between Wizarding money and Muggle (our world) money. I have read that a Galleon works out to about 5 British Pounds or 10 dollars US, and if that were the case I'd be buying up Galleons as fast as I could.  You see, the price of gold varies but even before the current economic crisis it was well above a thousand dollars an ounce.  Since no coin is made with less than a tenth of an ounce of gold, even that tiny amount would make a Galleon worth more than a $100 US, so anyone able to work out even basic math would buy up all the Galleons he or she could.  It's less extreme, but the content value of the metal in Sickles and Knuts would also be higher than their face value, which is the opposite of how governments coin money.  One reason people stopped spending ten and twenty dollar gold pieces, was because those coins soon became worth more than just ten or twenty dollars.  Using precious metals for coins makes them unfeasible for commercial use, by the nature of inflation and the simple fact that precious metals are rare.


I could go on, to discuss things like the lack of demand curves and employment indices in the Wizarding world, but I think you see my point.    Rowling was telling a story, and did it well indeed, but she was not describing anything real or factual.  And anyone trying to impose such an artificial, contrived world onto our own, will find it simply does not fit.  This is the same problem faced by the more extreme fans of Sherlock Holmes, certain Aliens from movie adventures, and fans of Michael Moore and Al Gore.


Which brings me at last to my point.  Politics is about story-telling and fantasy as much as any novel or movie.  Some few leaders are able to convey the real world into political terms, to help people understand the way things really work and how they can act for their own rights and the nation's welfare.  But too often it's the opposite, some political story-teller trying to paint a picture to sell to voters.  And the problem there, is that the voters like the picture but don't stop to consider how close to reality it may or may not be.  And rather than admit they were unrealistic, the politicians in this case simply move on to the sequel, continuing to sell illusion to people who really should know better.    


Like the fable of how punishing rich people for financial success will somehow lead to a better life for everyone else.


Like the myth of needing to outlaw a gas which not only harms no living thing, but is actually vital for life.


Like selling folks on the idea that if we wish really, really hard, we can make energy out of dreams and politics, instead of relying on hard science and practical experience.


Like the lie that killing a child before it's born is not really killing a human being, and the most innocent of human life.


They're not evil, those people.  They've just forgotten that they are being told a story.  They like the story so much, they'd rather have the story than the truth.


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Comments (19)

Why don't poorer wizards an... (Below threshold)
Joe Miller:

Why don't poorer wizards and witches, financially and academically, get preferences in admissions? And shouldn't Ron get some kind of clothing voucher so he can buy a decent gown?

Trash the wizards, but leav... (Below threshold)

Trash the wizards, but leave Sherlock alone! hee hee hee

<a href="http://papers.ssrn... (Below threshold)
James H:
Delighted to see that someo... (Below threshold)

Delighted to see that someone else has read the late, great Roger Zelazny. I was hooked in the early Chronicles of Amber.

Well, Drummond, if that's a... (Below threshold)
gaius piconius:

Well, Drummond, if that's an example of what's stored in your cerebral attic hurry up and bring us some more. Damned good showing, ya know, damned good showing! All that Wizarding galleons, and Muggle, sickles and knuts, and, damn me eyes, not a trace of horse-cock to be seen. But that second last, dealing with innocent life ya know...could be hurtful in circles of a purer intellect.

Rowling is a hack. A very ... (Below threshold)
Pile of Pooh:

Rowling is a hack. A very rich one to be sure, but a hack nonetheless. It's no surprise the books appeal so widely; they are utterly devoid of original content. To say that her "works" are highly derivative would be a grave insult to derivative fiction.

Rowling's real achievement is in figuring out a way to transpose the vapid (but financially successful) romance novel formula onto child-targeted fantastic fiction. I've read (and in some cases written) Tolkien-derived fantasy for over thirty years now, and I can tell you that even the lukewarm stuff from people like Eddings and Feist is better than Rowling at the top of her form -- they just didn't have the marketing muscle and the child-centric themes behind their novels. Personally, I'd rather read the sideboard of a cereal box than a Potter novel, but I have adult friends who claim to really love the stuff.

Having said all that, it's not actually sour grapes on my part. I have quite a successful career outside of writing, which I now only indulge as a hobby on occasion, and I truly admire the woman for succeeding so spectacularly in the cutthroat world of fiction publishing. She's got more talent than that other elephant in the fiction industry, Stephen King -- though that's probably damning with faint praise.

Good for her; I hope she is enjoying her earnings.

"They like the story so muc... (Below threshold)

"They like the story so much, they'd rather have the story than the truth."

Therein lies the problem. About 1/3 of the population would rather be told a story than FACE THE TRUTH.

Aided by mainstream media M... (Below threshold)

Aided by mainstream media Mr. Obama can say anything without the slightest fact checking, inquiry or questioning. It is as if they know his level of incompetence and what they have to do to keep him going.

This Presidents level of sophistication on any subject other then community organization and Russian nuclear deterrents is absent. Who is feeding him information? He has no basic understanding of America, how it works, how people interact, how business supports ideas and in return how people support business. I am trying to figure out what he knows. Honestly he is at a pre-teen level of understand.......hope and change, that's it!

The other rotton part of th... (Below threshold)

The other rotton part of this is that us Republicans, Conservatives, Libertarians, and Tea Partiers are all horrible at storytelling. We pay the propoganda no mind because we're immune to it for one reason or another, and yet we are dumbfounded when people believe it.

There are three parts to every economic activity, whether for monetary gain, good causes, or other benefits such as being elected:
1. Production - making the goods or performing the services; in politics, making and enforcing laws, and judging their applicability or constitutional legality.
2. Distribution - getting the goods or services to the customer, or vice versa; in politics, this is handled by lawyers mostly, and elections.
3. Marketing - making the potential customer aware of a solution to a need, or making them want something they didn't know about before; in politics, this is propoganda, news, press releases and press conferences, bumper stickers, election campaigning, speechifying, and everything else that DEMOCRATS AND LIBERALS DO BETTER.

Of Republicans, only Chris Christie and Sarah Palin have any skill in marketing themselves. Let's not fool ourselves: Bush 43 got elected on his name and party affiliation, not his reputation as Governor of Texas, and not his public presentation skills.

Ronald Reagan was called The Great Communicator for a reason: he made naysayers look crass with his grandfatherly smile and gentle voice, while his polite and intelligent words were clearly from the heart.

One could presuppose that t... (Below threshold)
jim m:

One could presuppose that the coins in Harry Potter are all sandwich coins like the US Quarter and that the precious metal is merely a layer on their surface. Since it is a magical world one could then posite that the actual precious metal content of the coin fluctuated becomming thicker or thinner with the actual value of the metal thus allowing for a precious metal coinage that was a fixed exchange rate.

As for the fantasies that the left spin (utopian societies based on green energy and vegan diets), I find JK rowling far more believable and closer to reality.

If the President can talk o... (Below threshold)

If the President can talk out of the top of his head, so can the Secretary of State. Really who cares?????????

"U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Sunday the Obama administration has done more for Israel’s security than any other U.S. presidency." Didn't add any facts to back it up when asked to do so.

Pooh,Just because ... (Below threshold)
jim m:


Just because Rowling writes within a well described genre does not make her a hack. On the contrary, the fact that she writes well and is so successful tells us that she is not.

My mother published an article back in the 70's while she was working on her PhD in English Lit, discussing various themes found in certain genres of adolescent fiction. The fact that these genres exist does not make them or the works within those genres invalid. On the contrary, the fact that such genres exist demonstrates that there is a social or psychological need that they fulfill. Additionally, well known genres actually make it far more difficult for any one work to stand out or transcend the medium. Rowling's work does just that.

No it isn't Shakespeare but it is well crafted literature. People who would denegrate it reveal less about the novels than they do about themselves. And yes my PhD educated parents in their 70's and 80's enjoyed the books. Because you are unable to appreciate them does not make them trash.

I recall as a teenager people denigrating tolkien in much the way you do Rowling. Today he is very much more in vogue, but there was a time that outside of the small community of fantasy fiction readers his works were considered weird and he was not recognized as a great author. I do not mean to represent that Rowling is on a par with Tolkien, but to point out that what is fashionable today was not always so and deriding something as crap because it does not appeal to you is simply narrow minded and ignorant.

This is what J.K. Rowling i... (Below threshold)

This is what J.K. Rowling is: the first author in at least half a century to get the formula for fairy tales right.

Because that's what the Harry Potter series is: a fairy tale. Not the kind of disneyfied nonsense that is rightly scorned by intelligent authors and readers, but the real thing, the kind of thing that Charles Perrault and the Brothers Grimm wrote two hundred years ago. As such, the oddities of money, and dress, and technology, or rather the lack of technology, are all completely in keeping with the story's nature. All of that gives it the aura of Long Ago And Far Away that has always been essential to fairy tales.

The Harry Potter series wor... (Below threshold)
James H:

The Harry Potter series works, IMO, because the books grow with their readers. Rowling was quite aware that somebody who read Sorcerer's Apprentice at age 7 would be a somewhat different reader by the time they got to Deathly Hallows at age 13 or so.

You saw the same storytelling trick with Toy Story 3. The filmmakers there knew very well that kids who watched the first movie at 5 were now 19 ... and they did a darn good job of capturing the bittersweet moment when you leave childhood behind.

Too bad the fable of Hope a... (Below threshold)

Too bad the fable of Hope and change has no storybook happy ending. Not even a good plot to it.

There is a more widely read... (Below threshold)

There is a more widely read book of fable, myth, majic and belief that is vastly more poorly writen than Ms Rowling's novel(s). I bet you've read it and absolutely rave about it.

.... They're not evil, thos... (Below threshold)

.... They're not evil, those people ....

Perhaps not -- but they effect evil.

For all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that "those people" keep doing what they're doing. (With apologies to Edmund Burke)

There is a more wi... (Below threshold)
James H:
There is a more widely read book of fable, myth, majic and belief that is vastly more poorly writen than Ms Rowling's novel(s). I bet you've read it and absolutely rave about it.

Terry Goodkind's Sword of Truth? Robert Newwcomb's Chronicles of Blood and Stone

Excellent article Mr.Drummo... (Below threshold)

Excellent article Mr.Drummond,
Your key line - "there seem to be a large number of people determined to find a way to prove Harry Potter is real.." is the truth of the matter. Potter is a concoction derived entirely from the work of others. The myth of his origins is so shot through with lies and deceptions from the insulting "idea on a train" nonsense to the very name of the author J.K. Rowling so-called fabricated by Rowling's publishers Bloomsbury so that kids would believe a man wrote the books. They actually said that. What else do you suppose these arrogant con-artists have been up to? The truth will out eventually most probably in the High Court of London early next year. There is telling tales and writing fantasy and there is conning the world so as to make a fortune. The former is literature, the latter is theft. Theft of ideas, plots, characters etc, etc, from books, films and videos. You have intuited the truth and you are perfectly right. Potter has his origins and continued existence in relentless theft. There are a great many people working hard to promote the lie and the deceptions that underpin it. You may take it they are handsomely paid for their services. You may also pause to question why her agent and discoverer Christopher Little remains incognito and well away from the public spotlight, his agency a virtual bulwark against any form of intelligent inquiry into Rowling. It's a sick world. Rowling and her buddies will be unmasked sooner or later.

As for the political dimensions you refer too in the whole thing... Rowling named her son after ex-PM Gordon Brown who is also a Freemason Grand "Wizard". Take it from there. For the true and authentic origins of Potter I would strongly urge you to check out; http://www.travelswithlipo.com






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