16

Usual disclaimer: this is not a rant, even if it may appear to be. I'm genuinely trying to understand if "there is a point", i.e. I may disagree with the community, but I may also be surprised and some member of the community might show me a different way to approach this.


Every setting has its own rules, every saga has its own pros and cons. While Harry Potter saga is really great for many reasons, internal consistency definitely isn't one of them: the author herself told time and again she genuinely doesn't care and "can't do math" and that this is fine for her and for most of her fans.

On a setting such as B5 or The Wheel of Time, or even Star Trek to some extent, while there are of specific instances of contradictions or mistakes made for the sake of entertainment, they still tend to be internally consistent and "make sense".

HP settings feels very "magical", in a traditional sense, and has a very strong and beautiful atmosphere, and this is a good thing. However, to accomplish this, it tramples any kind of stability to the setting, having plenty of contradictions, plot-holes, events, behaviour, plans that plainly just don't make any sense.

What I'm wondering is what's the point of trying to force some canon into that? If the answer is "the author just didn't care, the story is great nonetheless", what's the point of forging an answer anyway?

While there are some genuine and useful questions, most of them fit into this category instead, and I always feel quite awkward reading those.

If a single episode of Star Trek messes up an established fact, forcing some explanation might make a sense, since the setting as a whole is fine anyway... but here there's no consistency, there's no stability, so I kind of miss the point.

Hope this is clear and answerable.

  • 15
    Well, not everyone has the same level of canon knowledge. It's not a matter of J.K. Rowling admitting she has multiple plot holes and is terrible at math (her words, not mine); it's a matter of conveying this to her readers. How else can a reader suss out a plot discrepancy than by asking about the section in question? "Because it's a plot hole and the author has acknowledged this" is a perfectly legitimate answer to a question, as long as it's true. Your question -- "What's the point?" -- could be applied to multiple canons for the reasons you cite. It's not just Harry Potter. – Slytherincess Aug 6 '14 at 18:14
  • The point is to give you the opportunity to educate people who may be trying to force consistency about the fact that the author genuinely doesn't care, which many may not know. If you don't allow people to ask this type of question, by sitting back and doing nothing you also do nothing to stop the behavior that you dislike, and it moves elsewhere and spreads. – Jason C Aug 10 '14 at 22:08
31

Well, from one point of view, there is no "point" to this entire site, since it is entirely about works of fiction.

So the subject covers a gamut of books, movies, TV series, comic books, etc that have wildly varying levels of realism, attention to detail, and internal consistency. Who is to say that there is some minimum level of quality that must be demonstrated by the work in question before there is a "point" to it? How would adherence to such a quality standard be measured?

A site like this is what its users make of it. Sure there are questions that seem useless to me () but there is also a great deal of interesting and useful(?) stuff.

20

"What's the point" is an amazingly good question. For me it breaks down to three main reasons:

  • You'll gain enjoyment in answering the question. A well-written answer is its own reward, regardless of the upvotes gained.

  • You'll gain a greater enjoyment in the HP canon by exploring it in more detail (note that most of the questions asked do actually have reasonable answers).

  • It will allow you to take part in a community based around answering questions about HP.

Although it's not the done thing, I'll turn your question around and ask "Why are you looking at the Harry Potter questions if you don't think they're worthwhile?"

  • 1
    Ahahah nice try. Well, after reading several of them I had this awkward+annoying feeling and stopped doing that almost completely, then finally I managed to ask this question ;) – o0'. Aug 6 '14 at 17:51
  • 4
    You are aware that you can just "ignore" a tag? – Valorum Aug 6 '14 at 17:55
  • Yes, thanks, but: 1. there are some interesting questions and 2. I'd really want to know what's the point of the others, and I asked here to get insights about that (which I'm getting, so far so good) – o0'. Aug 6 '14 at 17:58
  • 2
    I answered a question about tricorders the other days and it made me feel positively giddy with joy that I was the only person on a site with literally thousands of Trek nerds that knows why they're called tricorders. – Valorum Aug 6 '14 at 20:14
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    @Richard - a whole site with literally thousands of Trek nerds who can't use Google? "The word "tricorder" is an abbreviation of the device's full name, the "TRI-function reCORDER", referring to the device's primary functions; Sensing, Computing and Recording" - First paragraph of a Wikipedia article – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 8 '14 at 18:46
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    @DVK - Guess who added that to the Wikpedia article... – Valorum Aug 8 '14 at 18:50
  • @DVK - en.wikipedia.org/w/… – Valorum Aug 8 '14 at 18:51
  • @Richard oh great. Canon inconsistencies. Like Harry Potter wasn't enough – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 8 '14 at 19:10
  • @Richard The meaning of "tri" was definitely known, if not the exact reference (although I do remember having seen it before, I don't know where). Take a look at the first sentence, which has existed in some form almost since that page was created: "a tricorder is a multifunction hand-held device used for sensor scanning, data analysis, and recording data." – Izkata Aug 9 '14 at 1:18
  • @Izkata - Precisely. That's the exact wording from the manual and the encyclopedia but none of the "usual sources" had the correct reference. – Valorum Aug 10 '14 at 16:49
12

I think that there's a huge difference between Futurama-style inconsistency, where canonicity and continuity is explicitly thrown out the window, and Harry Potter-style inconsistency, where Rowling admitted, as you say, that she didn't cover every corner-case and inconsistency.

There's a wide spectrum of options between "No continuity, no consistency" and "Everything must fit, every plot hole must be retconned or fixed to accommodate a coherent canon". Harry Potter might not be on the far edge of that spectrum, but it certainly leans towards coherency, much more than many long-running serialized franchises (Doctor Who, anyone?).

As such, there's a lot of merit in delving into that world, which is mostly coherent - not entirely, but enough for most people. Compared to franchises like Futurama, the plot holes in Harry Potter are much fewer and far between, and can be clearly marked (as @Slytherincess commented) as "this is a known plot hole, try not to step in it" while focusing on the other 90%.

3

The point is to give you the opportunity to educate people who may be trying to force consistency about the fact that the author genuinely doesn't care, or that it is an honest plot hole, which many may not know. A good example is Is Herpo the Foul still alive?, where the (not yet accepted) answer is basically "this information does not exist" - and that is a legitimately useful answer.

If you don't allow people to ask this type of question, by sitting back and doing nothing you also do nothing to stop the behavior that you dislike, and it moves elsewhere and spreads and eventually makes it back here ten-fold. If the askers were already aware that the HP series had these qualities, they wouldn't be asking - they came here to learn something and this is a good opportunity to give them information they do not have, which is one of the main points of these sites in general.

3

While some questions really may never be completely answerable, others are not and the understanding of another person may illuminate the questioner. Today I asked a Harry Potter question on a perceived problem I've always been bothered about and got a different perspective on the issue that changes my view. It seems like a worthy reason to ask and answer questions on the subject.

  • It's always nice to see a question that has a solid, canon-based answer that wholly satisfies the questioner. – Valorum Aug 12 '14 at 20:20
3

With respect to Harry Potter in particular:

There is a huge amount of official canon information that is outside of the books: i.e., Pottermore.

While it's not the only work with an official website, it seems like i's one of the few where the author explicitly expands on information in the books and movies, as opposed to merely supporting a list of FAQs. Rowling has provided a lot of information as to her thoughts on things that happened between the lines, or before or after the books. And, as noted elsewhere, she's been willing to admit when something was a simple mistake.

I should note, however, that providing an explanation for mistakes in fictional works is far from unique to her. In the 1960s, Marvel Comics began awarding "No-Prizes" to fans who wrote in, pointed out a seeming goof, and provided a reasonable explanation for it. (At first a No-Prize was a literal description - all you got was a reference in the letter column. However, as people found that confusing, they started to send out empty envelopes (giving people some physical proof of their feat beyond the letters page).)

People enjoy sharing in the act of creation of their favorite universes. Some do it by writing fan fiction; others by finding vaguely reasonable ways to legitimize errors, instead of just saying, "Don't step in the plot hole."

2

If it were impossible to find any form of continuity, I would agree it was pointless. But the numerous questions with canonical answers indicate there is continuity. And, if it exists, it has the same point as the continuity of any other series discussed on the site.

You say that some answers are just "It's magic" or "JKR doesn't know how to do math." But what questions have that as their answer? With Pottermore and the various interviews, Harry Potter has a lot more canon than quite a few works. Questions people have that were not canon are answered by Word of God, making them canon.

I cannot see how questions that can be answered within the scope of this site could ever be considered pointless. Your premise that they can't be answered is, I believe, false.

-6

The point here is that this a place for people to goof off from work (unless they're SF writers).

This site is like a big book store and all the people there: I don't like every book that gets published and don't understand other people's fascination with those, but I respect the fact that the other people read at all (instead of shoplifting or joining the Djihad or whatever people do for relaxation).

The whole point to the HP questions (and everything else that relates to any books) is that it is civilized, yet fun. Or in other words: the point is that no one dies when such a question gets asked.

Reading the newspaper each day has made me extremely tolerant of anything that does not involve dead children.

  • 8
    I have a problem with this approach, because it basically says that everything's in good fun and nobody should have a cow. While not having a cow is a good thing, this answer can be given to any number of things we, as a community, decided we don't want to see here. It can be said about questions like "Why does The Phantom Menace suck so much", or "Where can I buy DVDs", or "Give me a list of all time-travelling robots" - all questions that don't add much value to the site and have been deemed off topic. Is anything off-topic? – Avner Shahar-Kashtan Aug 9 '14 at 18:31
  • So many of my questions have been closed as off-topic, that I now get a warning whenever I want to ask a new question. I fundamentally oppose the rules of this site, because they impose rules that make sense on a technical solution site such as StackOverflow, where they originated, but are random and counterproductive on sites for topics where questions are generally not of the "how can I get this running"-kind. – user30564 Aug 10 '14 at 8:19
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    @what - if you oppose the rules, you can convince the site community to change them, or abide by them, or quite and ask your questions at a better site with no rules *cough* Yahoo Answers *cough* – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 10 '14 at 18:54
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    @what - Well, you've only asked 4 questions. Two were attempts to create a discussion topic, one was too open-ended and you've not even bothered to respond to the story-identification question you posted. Hardly and illustrious record thus far; scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/65216/… – Valorum Aug 10 '14 at 19:08
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    @Richard "you've not even bothered to respond to the story-identification question" Are we living on the same planet?!? I replied to comments to that question with two comments of my own! What did I not reply to? I don't feel like downvoting the answer that disregards part of my question (recent!!! publication, Dick is not recent), and answers such as "thanks" (and supposedly "no, thanks") are discouraged on this site. So what else should I have written there? The question contains everything that I have, I'm not so stupid as to leave out information, as some comments imply, so I ignore them – user30564 Aug 11 '14 at 6:25
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    And about the "discussion topics": for me those were not discussion topics but had a clear definite answer (and I've found it elsewhere). Just because you don't know the answer or feel like discussing my questions, does not make them discussion topics. Sometimes leaving a question open for a few days would show their potential for good answers. But posting on SE is like filing a request in some bureocracy: the hadful of minions you are allowed to talk to interpret some vague rules accoding to their personal taste and emotions, terrorizing the population with meanness disguised as righteousness – user30564 Aug 11 '14 at 6:31
  • @what - I would consider it polite to post to say "no, this isn't it" or "sorry, this is too recent". – Valorum Aug 11 '14 at 6:32
  • 1
    @DVK I've found Yahoo Answers to be oddly helpful over the past few years, especially when I get there by way of a Google search. – Izkata Aug 11 '14 at 12:53
  • @Izkata - of my last 10 searches that included Y!A hits, only 1 yielded aything remotely useful :) That included some HP searches as well. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 11 '14 at 13:18
  • @izkata , DVK: Google is actually an infinitely better search engine for indexing into Yahoo Answers than Y!A's own search feature. Google will filter out bas or junk answers; and also sort by incoming external links. Another sad but true milestone for Y!A. – smci Aug 16 '14 at 22:24
  • @smci - Oh, I always use Google. I never actually tried to use Y!A as a resourse in and out of itself, just one of the links from a Google search. Even so, the results sucked. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Aug 17 '14 at 19:06
  • @DVK: Googling keywords site:answers.yahoo.com gives much better, more complete and more discriminating results than Yahoo's own index. It's a very sorry day for Yahoo that they can't index their own content properly. – smci Aug 18 '14 at 19:02

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