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Fanfic Book Club: The Prisoner's Cipher by Ecthelion3

Discussion in 'DLP & Chill' started by BTT, Sep 4, 2018.

  1. BTT

    BTT Headmaster

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    For the second edition of our fanfiction book club, we'll be reading The Prisoner's Cipher by Ecthelion3. Some quick data: 9 chapters, nearly 70k words. It was started in August 2011 and ended August 2015. Its DLP rating is 4.70, the fourth highest rated story.

    As in the previous thread, I've thought up some simple questions to get discussion started. These are meant as guidelines to anchor your thoughts to.
    • This story's divergence is that in HBP, Dumbledore becomes more of a mentor to Harry and teaches him more intricate magic. Eventually, things go horribly wrong. How do you feel about this divergence? Do you think it makes sense for it to happen and do the consequences make sense?
    • This story belongs to two genres on FFN: Adventure and Mystery. Does this story represent both genres well, or has one genre sometimes suffered under the yoke of the other?
    • As part of the story, the author introduces magical theory not included in canon. Does this new information square with how you feel magic should be? Is this new information used adequately within the story or is it just thrown in?
    • This story is complete. How do you feel about the ending? Was every plot thread resolved satisfactorily, did the ending fit the rest of the story?
     
  2. Zombie

    Zombie John Waynes Teeth Prestige DLP Supporter

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    So I'm of two minds about the divergence. The setup is super slow so by the time you realize everything that's happened, its already over with. I like the divergence because I'm a sucker for Mentor!Dumbledore. I like the idea of him as a teacher and I think he's really under utilized. Someone of his supposed skill and age, its weird to not see him in a teaching position. One could argue that even in canon well after his years of teaching, he was still teaching, but in fanon, that's not really evidenced.

    I think that there is a bit of weakness in this divergence because we're only told that the relationship between Harry and Dumbledore ran as deep as it did after the fact. It was implied that because in the fifth year, Harry goes off to be taught by Dumbledore and then the formation of the relationship happened off screen. We basically get the entire back story through memory flashbacks, as interpreted by Hermione. So even then, its not from the horses mouth, but possibly by something that could be biased. There is a lot of the story that focuses on Hermione trying to rationalize the Harry of Fifth year and prior to the Harry that came after, and the Harry that was in prison. They're three distinct personalities of the same character.

    Does it make sense? In the confines of this universe that is created here, then yes. Because I have nothing else to rationalize it against. Not even canon. The relationship between Harry and Dumbledore is an extension of the relationship that is showcased in canon, but taken to an nth degree.

    It fits both genre's easily. Less so on the mystery. I think adventure, much like general has become a catchall. There are true mystery elements contained within the story, but the nature of a mystery is that the reader can take context clues and solve the case along side the MC of the narrative. There really wasn't much here that I could go off of.

    I suspected there was something going on when Harry gave Hermione his papers that he was writing on with the codex of his cipher. Mostly because he was able to use magic, I'm assuming, to place them on her person without anyone else watching noticing. I think in retrospect Harry's confinement is really a weak plot point. Its only explained later why it actually happened. Which I explain the gist of below in the spoiler:

    The reason being that Harry allowed himself to be incarcerated because he needed the magic draining properties of the room he was contained within to keep his evaporating sanity intact.

    The adventure elements are a bit more straight forward. There is a need to complete a certain series of steps to get a result. That's what the adventure boils down to, which is basically the discovery of the root of the mystery. If that makes sense. Hermione goes on an adventure, given to her by Harry when he gives her the documents. The adventure is the discovery of the person Harry has become. Which is closely tied to the mystery. Its kind of convoluted. I think that Adventure could be dropped entirely in favor of just giving it a mystery tag and being done with it.

    I feel like the very nature of runes is constricting. They're not covered in depth in canon other than them being in existence. We know there is mathematical composition as well as magical elements linked to the symbol of the written word. That's it. Fanon has the idea that Runes are powerful because you can write down the intent and give the magic a framework in which to operate on. Runes have multiple meanings and intent, that much is obvious. A more common example of runes in fanon would be For the Love of Magic, or Dagger and Rose. Each of them operate under a similar concept, that runes are magic and inscribing them does magic, basically, and they must have intent and magic behind them -- as well as there being another cost associated with them. Be it blood, your first born, etc.

    This is less common in that Harry has basically created his own runic language and have gave the language power based on the symbology inherent in his person. Each symbol is crafted and representative of something about him. And then he uses it to write a story of about himself to lure Hermione into helping him. I can't say that this gels with my idea of HP magic. I feel like magic in HP just is. Runes in general give a lot of structure and backbone to something that seems more ephemeral. I had to suspend my belief a bit that Harry was able, even with Dumbledore's help to craft his own magically functioning runic language. I feel like this was both pro and a con. A pro because its something new, and a con because its so outside the normal that I have to try and wrap my head around it. This information is used adequately in the story, the entire story is built around this principle. I don't think there was much more the author could honestly do to use it anymore than they did.

    The ending of the story is the weakest part in my opinion. It feels rushed and if you go off the author notes its something the author kept coming back to at different points in time. So their story varies a bit in tone and pacing. I don't think that's what made it bad.

    Basically the ending is that Hermione has been lured to Harry under some scheme for him to restore the missing half of his soul, of which he gave up in an effort to save Dumbledore after he died. The runes tie into this a bit in the sense that the underlying nature/explanation of their meanings mean more than the actual runes themselves. Harry, in his first attempt, lacked the innate understanding of Dumbledore to fashion him into a real human. He brought him back to life, but using only the good qualities of himself as the price. This in turn caused both of them to become not Good and Evil, but Chaotic.

    We're lead to believe early on that Dumbledore kills himself after Harry revives him, but this later proved to be false, more on that in a sec. Meanwhile, Harry becomes a serial killer hell bent on murdering people in a very methodical, premeditated, convoluted way as possible. The death of the Creevy brothers, the death of Neville are each chosen so that, I think, have more impact on the reader than the actual characters in the story, although there are emotional ties there.

    I feel that the method of getting to the end of the story was a bit forced, it felt more fabricated than anything. We're never really given justification for the murders other than Harry did them to feel whole again (I think, or something similar to that). His internment within the ministry holding room was on speculated charges because he pulled the murders off so perfectly that no one had any evidence on him. But, Hermione knew it was him because of certain trademarks. I feel like I was reading a criminal minds analysis of Harry as a person more than anything that conveyed anything to the plot. I feel like if we just stuck to him as a prisoner, his motivations for being a prisoner (using the wards to leech his magic and to stop his descent into madness) and spent a bit more time on his relationship to his mentor and what would drive him to want to try and resurrect him more than just muh mentor, muh father figure, muh etc.

    The ending scene with Dumbledore and Harry battling as Dumbledore tries to use his waning sanity to fix what Harry has done, the fact that Harry ultimately plans to die, and the fact that Hermione was still key to this is all largely unexplained until after the fact. There is really no mystery here because my mind didn't jump to those conclusions, honestly expected a different outcome.


    I also think that Hermione as a narrator is both a good and bad point of this story. In the terms of the memories I think her interpretation of them is a bit telling. I'd have rather seen it from Harry's perspective because his motivations would have been more concrete in my mind rather than Hermione just asking the question in the end.

    Overall, I'd not rate this story has high as I initially did. I think looking back I might have given this a 4.5/5. I'd give this a solid 4 now. There were very few technical issues that I noticed, the writing over all was serviceable. Compared to some stories, this held up better to time than say Denarian Renegade, but still has weathered a bit over time. Mostly because the concepts contained within have been beaten into the dirt by other authors that really suck. Runes is one of those cliche topics of the HP fandom that you either like or you hate, and they're so blank slate in terms of the canon universe you're often scabbing concepts from other universes to make some approximation of sense with your own utilization.

    I liked the chance to re-read this. I've reread other stories more, but this one held more to my memory than anything else I've read more than once. There is a fidelity to the concept that I appreciate now, just as I did back when I first read it.

    If the author happens to read this, good job m8. You did a good story.
     
  3. Miner

    Miner High Inquisitor

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    This... isn't my cup of tea.

    I read all of it, for what it's worth, but I couldn't particularly enjoy it, especially once we delved into Harry's background and why he is the way he is.

    Magical Theory

    The story expands on magic in many ways that goes far beyond what we see in canon. And to be totally honest, the whole emphasis on duality was lost on me when it started delving into the soul. I can fully appreciate the concept of duality, and I can tell that the author went to great lengths to make it succeed, so to speak, in a logical and reasonably sound way. But the resurrection scene with Dumbledore killed it. Semantics of the whole situation aside (giving a body a soul does not create life, nor does the absence of a soul destroy what one could define as life.)*** , I'd argue that it is impossible for Harry to create a being of perfect "goodness". There are instances in the story where Harry disagrees with Dumbledore. There are, or at least should be, off-screen moments where they fight, where they disagree. Even if Dumbledore, as a whole, is held up to be a paragon of virtue, much like he is for young Harry in the series, there are always niggling doubts. Parts of his character that are questionable. Parts that Harry disagrees with, that he sees are wrong. There could be a terrible imbalance with the resurrected Dumbledore in terms of "goodness" and "badness" (which, by the way, I don't believe to be quantifiable things at all, but we'll accept that they are in the context in this story), but a being purely "good" should be impossible to create.

    I think that was the gist of my problem with the story. It leaned heavily on a fundamental concept that is correct in principle, but does not apply in extreme cases. I think that the magical theory does an admirable job holding up in the world that it was created in, but since I couldn't buy it I couldn't enjoy it.

    *** You can find my thoughts on soul vs. life here:
    We see in multiple instances in canon that the Dementor's Kiss does not truly kill the victim. They are a mere shell of their former selves, a body with no agency on its own, but that body is very much alive and breathing. The heart is pumping, the lungs are working, the functions that make a human body "work" still continue, even though that person is irretrievably "gone." In PC, Dumbledore is dead, so biologically speaking all his bodily functions have stopped working. Harry ripping apart his soul and shoving a part of it into Dumbledore should not, therefore, logically revive him, as even a whole complete soul cannot reanimate a body without necromantic elements involved. Now, one could argue that the spell cast contained necromantic elements that reanimated Dumbledore as well, but that would be a different conversation.

    Genre

    Not much to say here. I'd say it fit the bill pretty well. I'd certainly say that the adventure tag was warranted, given the flashbacks and Hermione's own journey throughout the story. It certainly was a mystery, insofar as I spent half the story immersed in constant speculation of "what the fuck is wrong with him?", only to be relatively disappointed with the explanation.

    Ending

    I felt it was odd. I probably wasn't reading too closely, because at that point I was reading more due to the Ovsiankina effect than anything else. Maybe this is just me but giving the story a closed ending felt a lot worse than it might've been if the story had been more open-ended. I didn't really want to know what actually wound up happening to Harry. I would've probably preferred it if Hermione had taken the opportunity, followed Harry (and Dumbledore's) repeated instructions to run. It's hard to really describe, but there's something poignant, I think, if Harry simply... vanishes again, never to be heard from again.

    Rating

    I... I'm biased. I'll be honest, I didn't really enjoy the story once the big reveal occurred. I'll say this though, the author's hook is very very strong. I got pretty invested in the idea of Harry as a prisoner writing his own autobiography pretty quickly. I wanted to know what happened to him. I was excited for another interpretation on the whole "Harry turns Dark!" trope that pervades the fandom nowadays.

    I suppose it's because of the excitement that I kind of felt real disappointment when the reveal wasn't something I could really buy into.

    But eh, to each their own I suppose. 3/5.
     
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