Archives for October 2013

Guest Post: The Christlike Sacrificial Deaths of Tris and Harry

Tris the Christlike? A comparison of some Christlike qualities of Tris Prior and Harry Potter

Isaiah Mary Molano, OP

Many of my fellow Hogpro fans are disappointed with Allegiant. However, Veronica Roth’s work is not in vain. I would propose that we peer into the Tris of the last 20 pages and see that there is a solid attempt to insist that Tris is a Christlike character. I would like to propose to compare and contrast this with the Harry’s ending in the Dark Forest and see how the two Christlike scenes come off each other.

Now, short review session. To my knowledge, when it comes the Christlike arcs in both stories, the common three sections seem to follow: (1) an act of self-sacrifice, (2) a resurrection scene, and (3) a demonstration of a change of character of a deeper knowledge of a theme of the overall work. (Self-sacrifice is almost always motivated by love for another, a freely made decision to die for another for their sakes without caring about the costs of self.)

Any Harry Potter fanatic worth a box of every-flavor beans would have the images of Harry’s death scene engraved in their minds. Harry explicitly knows what he is doing. He puts on his cloak and intentionally avoids people that will take him away from his sacrificial act. He avoids Ron and Hermoine, he thinks of Ginny, he avoids the Order. The only person he does talk to his Neville, and it was for a perfectly sensible reason and Neville would not have had the power to persuade Harry from his sacrificial act.

While he is dead, he has a vision with Dumbledore, who himself is angelic. They discuss the deeper themes of the entire saga—love, sacrifice, death, even the quest for immortality. And when Harry is resurrected, he has knowledge that will propel him to defeat Voldemort in a profound way. In a sense, it is not the Elder Wand that saves Harry and destroys Voldemort. Rather, it is Harry’s experiential knowledge, and Voldemort’s ignorance, of love and sacrifice that saves the day. Harry’s deep knowledge of love and sacrifice saves himself and Hogwarts and all his loves. And it is this very knowledge that destroys Lord Voldemort.

While in the King’s-Cross-of-Harry’s-mind, he obtains this knowledge in its fullness and can come back to his friends and save them via the very same magic that saved him 16 years prior.

In comparison and contrast, we have Tris Prior of the Divergent series. I think we’ve all lost our breath when Tris said, “Caleb, give me the backpack.” We’ve all fallen in love with this spontaneous girl, and all knew exactly what she was going to do. And I would bet that we all had the same reaction. And moreover, when she said, “Tell Tobias that I didn’t want to leave him,” you can have one of two reactions—tears or anger—and I was angry. Like Harry, she had only one message before she went to her death, and it was given to someone she knew that could not persuade her to change her mind. She even rationalizes that perhaps she can survive the death serum. She thinks of Tobias, and her parents and Christina. And she sacrifices her life for the sake of her city—a community whom she loves (even the Erudite), a community in which a grave injustice is being done.

However, when she passes through her veil of death the first time, she stands up and accidentally faces her accuser, her Satan figure—David. She is changed—insofar that she discovers that she, like David, is immune to the death serum. She discovers (to David’s ignorance in a nice twist of irony) that she has perfect genes, the perfect immune system—a superwoman whose genes ought to be preserved in perpetuity.

Though she goes through the veil of death serum, she falls onto the floor, and rises, on the other side. Yet unlike in the formulaic Christ arcs, she does not come away changed (in a human, immaterial sort of way) and she eventually dies again, never to return. Unlike Christ, who promises to come back after he has ascended, we do not know where Tris goes.

She does not obtain deeper knowledge. Harry learns how to be selfless and sacrificial. Through his sufferings, psychological, emotional and physical, he learns compassion and unconditional love. After her “resurrection” she learns that David loved Natalie. She learns that Natalie knew that she willingly died for the sake of her son and daughter. Yet she doesn’t learn deeper. She simply learns more.

Moreover, I think that Harry’s deeper learning of compassion and unconditional love weighs more potently upon the reader. We fall in love with Sirius and Hedwig and Fred in ways that we cannot love Will and Albert and Uriah. Rowling gave us those quiet moments in which we can laugh with Sirius and Fred, those times in which we wished we were feeding Hedwig. I suggest that we do not get the same quiet times with Will, Albert and Uriah simply because of Tris’ frenetic and short life.

Tris Prior is almost a Christ character. I think the mechanics of the Divergent world hinders the possibility for her to be a Christ character in the fullest sense. The trilogy lives in a world in which personality is reduced, and is caused by, material genes. In other words, Tris having a conversation with Natalie on the train, in which Tris asks if their conversation is real or inside her head, doesn’t seems to fit the concept of the Divergent world. Tris’ world is too materialistic, it seems, to allow immateriality to reside.

We come really close to allowing Tris to be a Christlike character. It’s just that she doesn’t seem to have acquired deeper knowledge of love and sacrifice. But then again, all Christians are called to be Christlike characters in our own stories, and repeatedly fail. And perhaps, that is part of the point.

‘New Fairy Tales’ Published! Get Your Free Copy!

Hogwarts Professor John Patrick Pazdziora’s book, New Fairy Tales: Essays and Stories, a collection of both critical essays and original fantasy pieces that he edited with Defne Cizarca, is now in print and available for purchase as either a real or an e-Book. To mark the occasion of this important work, whose breadth and depth of critical reach is only matched by the challenging and rewarding contemporary fairy tales it features side by side, FairyTaleMagazine.com is giving away two copies of the book in a promotional exercise. Get thee hither, post haste!

Congratulations, John Patrick, on your PhD from St Andrews University (huzzah!) and the publication of this outstanding collection!

Did Roth miss the Epigenetic Boat?

This post is a follow-up to Chana McCarthy’s keen insights in her guest post.  Allegiant was not the book I expected; and I must admit it is not love at first sight. But, having read the bombshell ending yesterday, and with a little recovery time I am liking it more and more. I am eager to go back for a re-read, so I can’t hate it too much.  I’ll come back with a post about what I did like later.

Right.

But, like Chana, I was most disappointed in the science of it, particularly when the psychology and neuroscience were so well handled in Divergent and Insurgent. The “genetic engineering study gone bad” is simply not believable on any level, even from the basic test they do in the lab. Helllooooo? If you need to do a genetic test on someone, it is far easier to take a cotton swab and scrape out some cheek cells than it is to inject your subject with some sort of micro-computer-packed serum.

Wrong.

I’m quite sure that the technology of basic cheek cell harvesting, of the type practiced in 9th grade biology classes all over, is not going to be lost over the next 300 years, no matter how many Purity Wars we have. The compound scientists may be reasonably well off financially, but there is no need for them to waste resources on a complicated serum when a Q-tip will do.

Second, if you have the technology to go in and “knock out” certain genes (for cowardice, low intelligence or whatever) it stands to reason that you would have the technology to reinsert the original sequences. It’s done with mice all the time. A basic understanding of DNA replication should make it clear that there is no reasonable mechanism for “healing” genes over time… the only way to “heal” a mutation is to rewrite the DNA sequence to get the original gene back: not something to be done one step at a time, over generations.  In fact, assuming the “experiments” started out with a population of diverse broken genes (some intelligence, some courage, etc) the last thing you want to do is isolate them and let them interbreed with each other for generations.  You are just as likely to wind up with people carrying multiple mutations that they inherited from different parents as you are to see people “healed.”  There is only one good reason for isolating genetic undesirables together: to make it easier to exterminate them all.

Interestingly, there is one hot new area of science that could have been used to make a bit more sense out of this storyline: epigenetics. Which is, in a nutshell, modifying not the DNA itself, but how it is packaged, to make certain genes more or less expressed or silenced entirely. [Read more…]

Allegiant Guest Post: A Better Answer to Divergent Questions

Science and the Factions by Chana McCarthy

Full disclosure — So far I’ve only skimmed through Allegiant since the story just failed to grab me.  I’ll look for inspiration from John and HogPro readers to see if a close reading is worth the time.

I loved Divergent. Tris and Tobias were strong, well-drawn characters and their growing love story was compelling.  The idea of the Factions was absolutely fascinating and my interest in life in the varied Factions even carried me through Insurgent (though I thought it a weaker book).

Any work of fantasy or science fiction has to be plausible enough for a reader to suspend disbelief; this is particularly challenging for authors who attempt multi-volume series.  Every ‘alien’ world begs certain questions.  The Harry Potter reader has to be able to believe that witches and wizards are roaming around contemporary London without us Muggles being any the wiser.  JK Rowling accomplished this with the Statute of Secrecy and the self-segregation of Wizarding kind.  Indeed these simple plot devices provide much of the ongoing humor in the Harry Potter series (consider one of my favorite chapters, The Other Minister).

The world of Divergent raises three basic questions:

1. Why was everyone in Chicago isolated from the outside world?
2. How did the Faction system evolve — or alternatively why was it imposed?
3. Why were the Factionless and Divergent considered a threat?

Allegiant postulates that the system arose out of a failed genetic experiment, but this answer is quite implausible and leaves Question 3 largely unanswered. It is unfortunate that Roth (a very talented, but young writer) seems to have done too little research and apparently never ran her ideas past any one trained in biology and/or medicine.  In fact there is a very simple, scientifically possible answer to the three questions that would have given the series a more interesting direction. [Read more…]

Allegiant: First Twenty Discussion Threads Round-Up

1 — Delighted or Disappointed?

2 — Predictions Scorecard

3 — ‘Choice, Real Choice’

*Guest Post: A Better Answer

4 — Allegory A: On Racism

5 — Allegory B: On Psychology

6 — Son of Mockingjay?

7 — Plato’s Cave: The Puppeteers

8 — Voice(s)

9 — Alchemy

10 — Mirror of Divergent Beginning and Allegiant End

11 — The Sacrifice

12 — Sex in the YA Novel

13 — Tobias’ Family and Choices

14 — Tris’ Brother and Parents

15 — O’hare Airport

16 — Forgiveness

17 — Supporting Roles

18 — Epistemology

19 — Review Links

20 — ‘Be Brave’

This will take me a week or two, I’m guessing. Thank you in advance for your patience. In the comment box below, please suggest/vote for Allegiant thread topics you’d like to see at HogwartsProfessor!