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June 28th, 2011
04:10 pm

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J.K Rowling and Agatha Christie
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.

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From:donnad
Date:June 28th, 2011 08:46 pm (UTC)
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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.
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From:bobquasit
Date:June 29th, 2011 12:33 am (UTC)
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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.
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From:klyfix
Date:June 30th, 2011 05:36 pm (UTC)
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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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