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Canon Perspectives: Building Up vs Tearing Down

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Taure, Nov 18, 2019.

  1. Taure

    Taure Magical Core Enthusiast ~ Prestige ~ DLP Supporter

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    There's a common theme in certain parts of the fandom that to apply "common sense" or "rationality" to the Harry Potter world means you have to tear large parts of it down.

    I don't believe this is the case. Rather, the way in which you engage with the source material is a choice. That choice is between a constructive or destructive approach.

    Constructive

    The fundamental feature of this approach is that it seeks to preserve what has been established. It acknowledges that there are weaknesses in canon (e.g. population numbers) but rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, it seeks to find canon-compatible, reasonable solutions.

    The hallmark of the constructive approach is taking canon at face value, then making reasonable inferences to fill in gaps.

    Destructive

    The destructive approach seeks out problems with canon, hoping to find problems. Where a part of canon can be interpreted multiple ways, and some of those interpretations lead to contradictions/plot holes and others do not, the destructive reader will prefer the interpretation that leads to plot holes.

    The hallmark of the destructive approach is scepticism, which is perhaps why it is so often conflated with "rationality".

    Example 1: Why did Dumbledore place Harry with the Dursleys?

    The constructive answer:
    • Dumbledore honestly believed that the Bond of Blood was the only magic capable of fully protecting Harry. If he did not place Harry with the Dursleys, he would be killed.
    • Dumbledore knows more about magic than the reader, who only has superficial insight into the magic of HP.
    • Dumbledore knows more about the political situation in 1981 than the reader.
    • Dumbledore is very intelligent.
    • Therefore the reader has no real basis on which they can challenge Dumbledore's conclusion. If the reader thinks they have thought of a clever solution, probably Dumbledore has already thought of it and discounted it as adequate protection.
    • Therefore the only criticism remaining to the reader is one of values: is it acceptable to place a child into an abusive household if the alternative is the child's death?
    (There is one further criticism, which is why Dumbledore doesn't take action to force the Dursleys to treat Harry better, but here the constructive answer is: he already did as much as he could by placing Mrs Figg there. We know the protection works on the Dursleys' willing acceptance of Harry; probably Dumbledore is concerned that if he pushes the Dursleys too hard, they will withdraw their consent and the protection is lost.)

    The destructive answer:
    • The reader can think of various uses of magic to protect Harry, such us using the Fidelius Charm.
    • Since Dumbledore didn't use these, he either failed to think of them or deliberately didn't use them.
    • If he failed to think of them, he's incompetent.
    • If he deliberately didn't use them, he's evil.
    • Either way, his placing Harry with the Dursleys was wrong.
    Example 2: Why are unbreakable vows/magical contracts not used much more widely?

    This is a potential plot hole.

    Couldn't magically binding agreements be used by people to prove they are telling the truth, thereby eliminating all doubt from social interactions (including trials)? Couldn't they be used by the Ministry to create a perfectly lawful society? Couldn't they be used by Voldemort to create a perfectly loyal following?

    The constructive answer:
    • You observe that as a matter of fact, binding agreements are not commonly used in canon, and therefore seek to find a reasonable explanation to preserve the society observed in canon. Possible answers include:
    • Perhaps binding agreements can only be used to swear to perform actions, and cannot be used to warrant the truth of statements.
    • Perhaps the wizarding population has strong views about the limits of government and view compulsory vows as unacceptable.

    • Perhaps binding agreements cannot be used for broad concepts like loyalty/betrayal but rather have to be specifically worded, and so it would be impossible to envisage every possible means of betrayal.

    • Perhaps Voldemort believes that if word got out that he demands binding agreements from all his followers, people would stop joining him altogether.
    The destructive response:
    • Maybe wizards are so stupid that they haven't thought of these incredibly obvious ideas.

    • Declare the society as observed in canon and the existence of unbreakable vows irreconcilable and therefore conclude either:

    • Let's say that magically binding agreements don't actually exist (despite their prominence in both GoF and HBP), or
    • Let's say magically binding agreements are widely used. Infer that there is a secret conspiracy (led by a out-of-character Dumbledore) to explain their lack of use in Harry's experience.
    So: do you prefer the constructive or destructive approach?
     
  2. Sataniel

    Sataniel High Inquisitor

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    Let's take a radically centrist approach - a mix of those. There are gaps that can be filled in in interesting ways, and there are things that are stupid and trying to pile up explanations on them is just a waste of both writer's and readers' time that doesn't even give good results.

    This really can be seen in a single work as well. Where the writer will put in something stupid and then try to explain it so it will make sense, and the explanation will create new problems which will also have to be explained, etc. But in those cases the problem is bigger since this already exists in the continuity of the work. On the other hand when writing a fanfic you create your own continuity and can ditch and change whatever you don't like from canon without problems.

    What baffles me are the writers who have destructive mindset but won't take a destructive approach. If you think that Dumbledore putting Harry with Dursleys is stupid then have him not do that, instead of wasting time on characters harping about this.
     
  3. Shinysavage

    Shinysavage Madman With A Box ~ Prestige ~

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    Broadly constructive, but it can depend on who I'm discussing it with; ranting about something with close friends, I'm more likely to lean into destructive for the fun of it, but in a fandom discussion I try and tend more towards constructive, especially if there's a strong destructive element in the conversation.
     
  4. Faun

    Faun Third Year

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    A constructive approach. Canon is mostly Harry Potter and friends and how awesome they are.

    Example 1:
    Dumbledore had to place Harry with Petunia because that's how guardianship works and Bond of Blood was the best protection Dumbledore could invoke given where he had to place Harry. The fact Harry was neglected was never brought to his or law enforcement's attention.

    Example 2:
    Unbreakable vows and magical contracts are not widely used because wizards and witches have no way of knowing how they function, their scope and how to repudiate them. On the other hand legally enforceable contracts are much more manageable because law of contracts is well developed.
     
  5. Silirt

    Silirt Order Member DLP Supporter

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    Approach 1.1: Ignore canon I don't like, constructive approach after that.
    The way this basically works is that I'll pull bits and pieces of lore from the wiki, but I don't actually care if I get the lore right, it's basically just a starting point for mostly original lore, since the lore as it is paints an incomplete picture, but gives the work a somewhat decent HP feel. If you create enough of the lore yourself, you're basically writing your own story, which is fine, but there's another website for that. As an example, I'll use Ekrizdis, the supposed founder of Azkaban, but what they have on the wiki doesn't serve as a background for the purposes of the story. If I have to make something up, I'll make it up and I don't care if JK makes him an old-timey trans activist in a year when the next movie comes out. By contrast, I'm sticking with every damn narrative sentence in the seven books come hell or high water, but that's just the narration, the thoughts and words of the characters may not be accurate statements about the universe, and I prefer to assign a higher probability of accuracy to statements that come from honest people rather than dishonest people; knowledgeable rather than ignorant. If, for example, Dumbledore says something, and it's not revealed to be a lie by the end of the series, I'll stick with it almost all of the time. For the record, I mostly do not need to directly contradict any of the characters, and I consider that to be a credit to JK, for all her faults.
    I absolutely despise the destructive approach; it's always some variation of 'x character is just stupid'. I think Less Wrong set some records when he just decided that Sirius Black was actually guilty because JK's explanation broke Occam's Razor. HPMOR was written entirely out of contempt for the series, the dialogue was just calling everyone stupid all the time, so it's not like any argument can be made that he improved the universe, he even made the laws and economics stupid by just assuming you can't take out loans and assuming that galleons and sickles were pure gold and silver respectively. He didn't look at the universe and decide it was inescapably stupid, he made assumptions to force it to be stupid (For the record, there are circumstances under which the constructive approach is untenable. There is no way for Hermione to be white and black at the same time; there is no way for McGonagall to be 46 in 1981 and have a teaching position in Crimes of Grindelwald. A purist of approach 1 would be writing something contradictory, hence the creation of approach 1.1.)
    I have seen works that appear to follow approach 1.1, they might actually make up the majority of the stories that I've read/liked, but I'm willing to tolerate bits of destructiveness if it doesn't destroy the universe. An example would be the love potions, which many writers seem to use to charge Molly Weasley with rape. Though nothing sexual is described to have come about it, that's par for the course; we have to assume all the sex is going on behind the scenes. It's a minor detail that's rarely been the subject of debate, so if that's a writer's impression of the canon, it doesn't bother me that much; the writer probably just assumes that it's analogous to circumstances where rape is ignored, justified, or found comical by society at large, so really it's only a fault of interpreting the character and the situation. I'll be a bit disappointed that the writer didn't come up with some sort of reasonable explanation, like saying the potions were diluted to make their subjects more noticeable to their victims, who find themselves a bit stiff in the trousers.
     
  6. Jeram

    Jeram Elder of Zion DLP Supporter

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    I only write from the constructive perspective. Other people can do the destructive if they like, but it's rare that I find one that really works.
     
  7. jitenshasan

    jitenshasan Squib

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    I definitely like constructive best. Destructive always feels like not only taking the characters for idiots but also the reader (because it always ends up being just as plotholey than the original).

    I think there is so much destructive perspective because the books, at least the first ones, are for children (I read them as a child at least, and with a childish understanding).

    As a child I wouldn't understand that Dumbledore was born and grew up in the 19th century where child abuse was certainly not understood as it is now. So he wouldn't understand the concept of emotional abuse (and let's not delude ourselves it happens often and may be recognized nowadays, but the authorities mostly don't have the will/possibility to really help kids in this situation). From his point of view Harry is perfectly safe, even if not happy, so its perfectly acceptable (and Harry didn't exactly give him details, just asked to live elsewhere without arguing why).

    As a child I saw the philosopher stone just as a fun (!) adventure. As an adult I see the plot as 1. A test of Harry's character (will he help, feel responsible) and at the same time 2. A rescue attempt of Quirrel (I can't imagine Dumbeldore didn't know he was possessed but was ready to let him run around for a while in the hope to manage to separate QQ from VM)
     
  8. James

    James High Inquisitor

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    I don't think anyone is going to go for tearing down, because it's so obviously the worse option.

    I think that even the thousands of shitty "lol dumbeldork evil" fanfics were made in attempt to make sense of stuff. Poor attempt with bad results, but attempt nonetheless.

    Except MoR, because that's just MoR stroking his ego.
     
  9. Ched

    Ched Da Trek Moderator DLP Supporter

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    Both? Neither? All of the above?

    In the stories that I plan (and then apparently don't write) it depends on what I want/need for my plotlines.

    One story I'm writing has a well-intentioned, skilled Dumbledore who in some ways lacks a few pieces of information. But he's not evil and he's not incompotent. Therefore in my story I use a constructive approach to things like Harry being placed with the Dursleys (Dumbledore thought it was literally the only safe space) and the Obstacle Course (there's reasons for how it was done that don't involve 'testing' Harry).

    I deconstructed the population a bit though. It didn't make sense to me that there were so few students at Hogwarts per year so I added more schools (with Hogwarts being the clear flagship institution). Not sure if that counts though, hrm. I probably did deconstruct something properly though, if only because these can offer convenient plotlines if you do it sparingly.

    As for neither? One big one for me is Lockhart. It didn't make sense that Lockhart really was that incompotent, but I didn't want to 'explain' how his canon self worked with him being reasonably skilled. So I ignored his canon characterization except for his obsession his his looks/fame (as a trademark feature) and otherwise remade his character to suit me.

    I think most people pick and choose unless they set out to either (1) explain canon constructively or (2) deconstruct canon to bash something or other.
     
  10. MF DOOM

    MF DOOM Second Year

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    Whichever one author of TOHF and LoM use.
     
  11. Oruma

    Oruma Unspeakable

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    Constructive is the superior option.

    My approach to the "Harry in Petunia's care" question is to state that there actually were diehard Voldemort supporters out for blood during Harry's childhood, that were detected and stopped only through the wards (with Arabella Figg's husband and/or others as casualty).

    Canon compliant, and offer something that would not have been noticed from Harry's perspective alone.
     
  12. Mal'sSerenity

    Mal'sSerenity Second Year

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    Constructive is What You Leave Behind, destructive is Methods of Rationality. Obviously constructive is better.

    Except for when it involves numbers. Do whatever you want with numbers, cause they just don't make sense. I've always got the feeling that the Hogwarts population was supposed to be bigger than it was and Rowling just didn't do the math right. I think she stated at one point or another that she pictured Hogwarts as having around a thousand students or so, which makes since otherwise the halls shouldn't be anywhere near as full and noisy as they are described as in book.
     
  13. Sataniel

    Sataniel High Inquisitor

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    Is it though? WYLB doesn't usually try to explain or build on canon "problems" but just remove them.

    Why did Dumbledore allow Harry to suffer with Dursleys?
    He didn't.

    Why did nobody did anything to check if Sirius was really guilty?
    Dumbledore's situation was quite different and Sirius escapes earlier.

    Why didn't Dumbledore train Harry so he would be better prepared?
    He trains him.
    Etc. Etc.
     
  14. Gaius

    Gaius Squib

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    Great question, Taure. I am interested in the imperative that the rational viewpoint seems to hold in your original post.

    From the responses here it is apparent most people think that a well-intended, creative fic will (or must) try to work within the logic, feel, etc. of HP otherwise something is lost.

    I agree with you that this is a choice, but the language of the responses (“constructive is obviously better”) implies a kind of imperative as well.

    Is there a case where the constructive and destructive don’t have a kind of imperative behind them? Or can be used to different ends than you’ve supplied? Or must they since, at least as you have framed them, they have firm ideological/philosophical beliefs behind them?

    Ched alone has used the word “deconstructive” instead of “destructive,” which I think is more charitable than the latter (as someone in literary studies). Although they also said this option is used to bash.

    Deconstruction can lead to interesting, against the grain readings of texts, so I’m curious if anyone thinks that a fic can have this approach while not necessarily bashing. Do you have an example of such a fic?

    Edit: Forgot to mention that Sataniel's reading of WYLB as "destructive" (see above) shows, I think, there can be interesting, creative fics that fall into this second category.
     
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2019
  15. Mal'sSerenity

    Mal'sSerenity Second Year

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    All right bad example. Constructive is Forging the Sword then.
     
  16. MonkeyEpoxy

    MonkeyEpoxy Prisoner DLP Supporter

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    (TFW you realize What You Leave Behind hasn't been updated in 1,580 days but it feels like you first read it just yesterday)

    Complete, totally, unashamedly, thirsty tag of @Newcomb
     
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2019
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