Saturday, July 11, 2009

Harry Potter and Language Games

For whatever reason, my family follows Harry Potter closely. My two step-daughters are almost the age of the actors and actresses and so have grown up with them. When my youngest children are bored at a restaurant waiting for food, they often play "famous people" with the characters from Harry Potter a regular feature. My wife has already bought us all tickets for the 11:59pm showing Tuesday night and has been rereading the books and having Potter marathons in the evenings at home.

And I have to begrudgingly acknowledge that Rowling is quite brilliant. The narrative world she has created is phenomenally clever at point after point. I come at these movies with a little different lens since I consider myself a philosopher of language and not too shabby a narrative critic.

Last night we watched The Prisoner of Azkaban (the best, I think) and I turned off The Goblet of Fire just before the last challenge. There's a brilliant line from a philosophy of language standpoint in Goblet. Harry and Ron aren't speaking to each other, so at one point they have Hermione brokering a conversation.

Finally, exasperated, she exclaims, "I am not an owl!"

I love that line. In any normal conversation in the real world (read "language game"), it is completely meaningless. What do you mean? You're not wise? You don't stay up at night chasing rodents?

Rowling has successfully created an alternative universe, a narrative world. In the language games of that world, owls carry messages back and forth between people.

As I once said similarly of Jack Handy, frustrated at my own mediocrity, "She's a master!" Bill Patrick, are you out there?


Doug Chaplin said...

I agree with you on Azkaban being the best – but sadly, judging by box office, we're in the minority. Sadly I won;t get to see HBP until next Saturday.

Michael Cline said...

Cassie has been trying to get me to watch the movies for the last couple of years, but I've refused.
My roommates at IWU were into the films, but I just couldn't do it (maybe because I was so busy studying?...No..that's not it).

But I'm starting to cave and have put the first few films on our Netflix list. Had I known Rawlings was such a Wittgenstein fan, I'd have checked out the films earlier. :)