Friday, July 22, 2011

From Harry Potter to News of the World

“So Mom,” my eight-year-old daughter queried from the back seat of the car. “Is Rita Skeeter evil, or is she just, like, doing bad stuff?”

My daughter has been listening to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire on CD for the past few months. We read the first three books in the series aloud together, but apparently, I wasn't quick enough for her on the fourth book. And really, despite my best efforts, who can compete with Jim Dale?

After being subjected to her begging and begging, I allowed her to watch the fourth film one day early this summer. We had seen the first three, the pattern being after we finished one book, we would watch the film together. Goblet on film proved to be a bit much—not because (spoiler alert) Cedric dies, but because she didn't much like having to watch Brendan Gleeson's rolling magical eye. I can't say that I blame her.

But her queasiness for the effect did not dampen her love of the story, and despite having finished listening to the tale at least once already, she has returned to the beginning and is having another go. Occasionally questions surface about plot details: “Was the Moody Dumbledore met at the beginning of the term at Hogwarts the real Moody?” and sometimes she's analyzing things on a deeper level, such as wondering what makes Rita Skeeter tick.

I immediately jumped into English teacher mode and turned the question back to her. “Well, what do you think, Syd? Do you think she's really evil? Or do you think she's just doing bad stuff and making bad choices?”

There was silence and I waited. I waited a while, and I remembered that she was only eight, and that wait time in elementary school is infinitely longer than in high school. And I felt fortunate that I didn't have to rush her along because there were 19 other students in the classroom, competing for my attention, exhibiting off-task behavior, or doodling in books.

Well,” she said, finally, “I think she was just doing bad stuff. Making bad choices.”

Interesting,” I responded, wondering how long I could stretch out this literary discussion without her losing interest. “Why?”

I'm not sure,” she said, after a few seconds. “But didn't she put a spell on her Quick Quotes Quill? So it wasn't really her making bad choices?”

Hmm, I thought. Very literal interpretation. But she's eight.

That's one way to look at it,” I said. “And I would tend to agree with you—I don't think she's evil.” I left out the diatribe about whether characters (and people) could be purely evil for the moment, as I don't think I can really get into that with an elementary-aged student. “But I do think that Rita will do anything to get the story. And that's where she gets in trouble.”

Like where she knew about Hagrid? And no one knew how she knew about Hagrid?” Syd queried.

Exactly. How did she know about Hagrid?”

There was silence, and I wasn't sure if my daughter didn't remember the plot, or didn't put two and two together. “Well,” I said, putting my teacher hat back on. “What's her full name?”

Rita Skeeter,” she said.

Yes,” I said. “Do you know what 'Skeeter' is short for?”

No,” she said.

I sighed ever so slightly. This is where her being too young for the series comes in sometimes.

It's a nickname for a mosquito. Do you remember at the end of the story? Hermione figures out that Rita Skeeter can transform herself into a mosquito. And that's how she knows about Hagrid—she was a mosquito at the time, so she was able to buzz around and overhear him talking to Madame Maxine.”

Oh,” she said. “I get it.”

But I wasn't sure if she did. After all, she does fall asleep to the CDs, and Hermione's revelation comes near the end of the novel. Maybe she'll hear it on her next time through, now that she knows what to listen for.

I decided to try for one more angle. “Rita Skeeter is a journalist, Sydney. Do you know what that means?”

I know what a journalist is!” she retorted.

Okay, okay!” I laughed.

And you know how journalists always have to tell stories, right?”

I looked in the rearview mirror and saw her nod.

Well, there are right ways and wrong ways to go about getting a story. It's called 'ethics,' and it has to do with how a journalist gets the information for her story. Rita Skeeter did it the wrong way.”

Like with the quill? When it wrote down the things that didn't happen?”

Exactly. She made things up, and she listened in to conversations that she wasn't supposed to. And I think that J.K. Rowling....”

Rowling.” Here she corrected my pronunciation, and I had to laugh.

Rowling, by this point in writing the series, was so tired of journalists making things up about her, or taking one little story and blowing it way out of proportion, that she invented Rita Skeeter to get back at them. To poke a little fun at them. Do you get it?”


So is Rita evil, Sydney?”

No, I don't think so.”

We sat for a moment, digesting all of this, and then I decided to push my luck one more time. “You know, there is a story in the news right now about journalists getting information in an unethical way. In England. A newspaper—a tabloid—just shut down because some of the people who work there hacked into people's cell phones.”

What do you mean, 'hacked'?”

Like, listened into, without permission.”

How did they do that?” she asked.

I have no idea, and to be honest, I don't want to know, because I would never do anything like that.”

What did they hear?”

Who knows?” I said, not liking the direction the discussion was taking, but trying to roll with it. “Maybe what color shoes Miley Cyrus was wearing, or where somebody else famous was getting coffee.” I certainly wasn't going to give her details about what Rupert Murdoch's employees intercepted about a slain 13-year-old girl. “The point is, they didn't get their information in an ethical way, and now the newspaper is shutting down. Done. Finito. Kaput.”

Why does anyone care what color shoes Mily Cyrus wears?”

Exactly,” I said, exhaling. I didn't realize I had been holding my breath. “I don't know. But some people do care about those things. Some people care about what famous people are wearing and who they are dating. And they want to see pictures of those people. And that's what Rita Skeeter was representing.”

She was quiet for a moment, as traffic picked up a little and we crawled somewhat closer to our destination.

Are we there yet, Mom?” she asked.

Oh, I think so,” I said, smiling at her in the rearview mirror. “We've definitely arrived.”

1 comment:

Applecart T. said...

i agree.
wish you could have more f2f convos with dd, but driving is almost as good (and she has to stay in the back, of course, and it won't be long before she can, by laws, let's not go there, be side by side).
excellent writing, btw.
it's sweet she's still innocent enough not to know what hacking means.

more, please!