DENNIS O’NEIL: “No wizard left behind”
At the end of last week’s exciting episode, the cute schoolteacher and I were involved in a tense debate about which showing of the new Harry Potter movie we would attend. (Yes, we media people do have lives that throb with excitement.)
We decided, and went.
The schoolteacher, who really does carry Potter devotion to an extreme, at least in one Muggle’s opinion, was enthralled. The Muggle – me – thought it was a pretty good summer flick. I’m a Muggle who can enjoy some good, old-fashioned, British Acting-with-a-capital A, and the Potters are full of A-list thespians. (There may be a pun in there somewhere, but, trust me, it’s not worth the effort needed to find it.) I think British movie acting is still partly influenced by its grandiloquent, stage-bound forebears, and that makes it appropriate to material that is the antithesis of realism, much as Brando’s naturalistic Method acting was appropriate to Tennessee Williams’s realism.
But the Pottery pleasure the teacher and I could share equally began when Dolores Umbridge entered the story. Miss Umbridge, splendidly embodied by a pink-clad Imelda Staunton, is an educational bureaucrat whose saccharine exterior conceals a heart of bile. She’s a stooge for the local politicians whose mission is to insist on a largely useless curriculum and on tests which accomplish nothing except make it impossible for real educators to do their jobs.
“No wizard left behind,” I whispered to the schoolteacher, who nodded vigorously.
I don’t know much about J.K. Rowling, Potter’s creator, but I do know that she must have been writing the novel on which the current movie is based about seven years ago, and that she works and lives in England. Those facts make it unlikely that in conjuring up Miss Umbridge she was commenting on and/or satirizing the Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind farce. So maybe art was anticipating life. Whatever the reason, Miss Umbridge could step from fantasy into the real life milieu of those involved in the president’s – ahem – educational efforts and feel right at home.
Miss Umbridge gets hers, though it appears that she survives to be rotten another day, and I rejoiced. I think schadenfreude is a pretty crummy emotion when it’s directed toward people we know, but it’s perfectly acceptable, and maybe even expected – maybe even desirable – when aimed at creatures of the imagination. And despite what the schoolteacher might want to believe, J.K. Rowling does write fiction.
RECOMMENDED READING: The Assault on Reason, by Al Gore.
Dennis O’Neil is an award-winning editor and writer of comic books like Batman, The Question, Iron Man, Green Lantern and/or Green Arrow, and The Shadow, as well as all kinds of novels, stories and articles.