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[personal profile] bobquasit
While re-reading the Harry Potter series and watching the movies, I was struck by the ways in which J.K. Rowling's style resembles that of Agatha Christie. They share an intensely English, insular outlook - and rather a nationalistic, even racist one.

This is most evident in Rowling's portrayal of the two "visitor" schools in the Triwizard Tournament. Beauxbatons is a caricature of the French, at least as many older Britons perceive them: superficially attractive, concerned mainly about appearance (although to her credit Rowling did make an exception to that point later in the series, when Fleur surprises Mrs. Weasley by not breaking her engagement after Bill is badly scarred), and ultimately light-weights in every way (except, perhaps, in the field of romance). The movie accentuates this by representing the Beauxbatons student body as almost entirely female, and throws in a gratuitous mass-ass-wiggling scene which is simply ridiculous.

Likewise, Durmstrang is a heavy-handed parody of Russians and East Europeans in general. Virtually all male, sullen, buzz-cut, large, taciturn, and given to violence; the personification of the racist fantasies of some angry, graying old Briton, and an old-fashioned one at that. If they weren't school-age, I'd imagine Rowling would have made them drunks, too!

I almost wish that Rowling had included Americans in her books. Dame Agatha would doubtless once again have provided the template: quaint accents out of a 1930s western movie, combined with exaggerated New England ones from the 1890s. Ridiculous Biblical names like "Hiram", "Ezekiel", and "Jedediah". Poor taste in virtually everything. Far too much money than is good for them, and a propensity to throw that money around thoughtlessly. Ignorance combined with overweening arrogance. And I'd bet there'd be at least a touch of over-reliance on technology or its magical equivalent, as well - with a good solid comeuppance in the end, as our plucky British heroes prove that old-fashioned spunk and stick-to-it-iveness are the qualities that really matter when the chips are down.

Date: 2011-06-28 08:46 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I was under the impression that Beauxbatons was a girls only school and Durmstrang a boys only school and Hogwarts was the the co-ed school. So naturally the boys only school would be overflowing with testosterone and the girls only school very feminine. I never thought of it as stereotyping, but that is a good point. But I don't think the it's so much stereotyping the French or the Germans, but rather female and male stereotypes.

Date: 2011-06-29 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Well, the names themselves are rather revealing! Unless I'm mistaken (which is certainly possible, I failed French several years in a row), "Beauxbatons" translates to "beautiful rods", which is a very Gallic name for a girls's school. And Durmstrang seems an obvious mashup of "sturm und drang" - which encapsulates a view of Germans, Russians, and other eastern Europeans that I've seen in many older English novels.

I think you're right about the girls school/boys school point, but I'm not 100% sure - I thought there were a few mannish, hulking female students of the East German bodybuilder-type among the Durmstrang attendees in the movie. But of course, Rowling isn't responsible for that.

Date: 2011-06-29 08:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Why yes my dear old colonial chum. We are as prone to our national stereotyping as any nation, and indeed our cliches have a life all of their own. Why, we even play up to our own, which can be either quite fun or quite difficult.. many nations still think of the Brits as reserved and polite, when in fact we're rather outspoken and rude.. although we can also do cutting quiet sarcasm well.

But.. and this is worth noting, just like many nations and more so than many we are a mongrel lot in the UK, as Len Deighton writes in the Ipcress File, there is nothing more English than a foreign name. [Yes, yes, Rowling is a Scot.]

Was the ass-shaking in the book or only the film? I suspect it's riffing with a Renault advert we have over here that is set to a song which basically is "Shaking that Ass", in this case the car.. so some in-jokes there.

I have never read the Potter books but have watched the films. I grew up reading my Mother's copies of girl's boarding school books by authors like Angela Brazil, and boy's boarding school books like Jennings. I didn't really want to read a new lot with the addition of magic. Like most Brits I read most of Enid Blyton. If you want a much clearer concept of the roots of Harry Potter, go there.

I have watched and enjoyed (with decreasing pleasure) the movies.

Agatha Christie wrote almost entirely of cliches, her characters are like pieces in the game of Cluedo, they are ciphers from which the moves of the game are made. They're not essentially wrong, but everyone in a Christie is there as a placeholder and as such they're all fairly two dimensional.

No idea where this comment is going, must be conforming to some absent minded academic stereotype, toodles!

Date: 2011-06-30 05:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
For what it's worth, the nice TV Tropes people have a bunch of "National Sterotyping Tropes" pages. I've recently been amused by the "Anime Land" page which has as an illustration a chart of "What Japan Consists of According to Anime" with over half of Japan being "Perfect, Overdeveloped High School Girls" and most of the remainder about evenly divided between "Average Guys Who Get Those Girls." "Tentacle Monsters," and "Ninjas."

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