Thursday, May 3, 2012

Magical School Story, vague idea

As one might expect, the general goings on at my university have been influencing my thinking of late, maybe a week or more ago that combined with some unexpected thinking about Harry Potter to form an idea that's vague to the point of being Schrodinger's premise.

I haven't written about it before because there's not much to write, but given that my last three posts have been, basically, Selma Botman No Confidence Vote Part 3, Selma Botman No Confidence Vote Part 4, and Selma Botman No Confidence Vote Part 5 I felt like there was need for a change of pace, but I have a headache, I'm tired, and I'm not likely to come up with something new on the spot.

So, the idea, which shifts like sands in an extremely mobile desert, is that there's a series of stories at a magical school... and already we're getting into the "Is the cat dead, alive, a zombie, a werewolf whose transformation went suddenly and unexpectedly feline, what?  And what's it doing in a box anyway?" territory.

See, on the one hand there's a lot to be said for the Rowling approach of starting them young.  An early phase of one's education makes sense for one's introduction to magic, there's a lot of room for bringing an appropriate sense of wonder, there's also a lot less to unlearn.  It's also a good time for beginnings, if the students are just starting out then you don't have complicated back-stories to wrangle, you can just jump right in and basically know what there is to know about what's going on.

On the other hand, if you start off with older students there can be completely different dynamics involved.  Even in isolation someone entering middle school is not like someone entering high school who is not like someone entering university.  But when you put them with other people then everything changes.  There's no way, for example, that I could have had the relationship I have with some of my current teachers when I was a child.  I had good relationships with teachers, some I would have even counted as friends, but it's completely different when it's a relationship between adults.  And that's important because, as noted, part of the basis for this idea is stuff from the real world bleeding over into the land of magical schooling.

So lets get to that.

In Harry Potter you had goings on at the school which took a backseat to goings on beyond the school.  Book one you have sports and the house cup being important, but the real story is the evil unicorn eating I-can't-take-someone-called-you-know-who-seriously* trying to steal the philosopher's stone (or as it was known in America, the magic guy's rock.)

That would continue, though through the second and third books with the goings on at school important but taking a back seat to the greater evils that screwed with Hogwarts from the moment Potter stepped through the doors.  Then in the fourth book the school stuff was pushed much more to the back seat.  The house cup was cancelled, as was the only magic-land sport, in favor of an event specifically intended to strengthen international bonds in preparation for the wider war.  Schooling was pushed to the background in favor of the wider world.

In the fifth book the school was made into a tool of the larger problems of the universe.  And that's where I left off.

What I'm imagining is the opposite.  The ordinary functioning of the school is the ongoing narrative, the fights with ultimate evil are the distractions that seem less and less important as one grows up.  Mismanagement and destructive short term thinking are the real enemies (perhaps with a bit of vindictiveness thrown in), and the true act of bravery isn't standing up to the overlord, it's sticking your neck out to stand up to the administration.

You could even use the shortsightedness to justify why there's a catastrophe in need of averting every year.  They failed to replace the person in the [whatever] position and so there was no one to keep the ancient evil at bay, or maybe it was like the government that doesn't repair a water main to save money on maintenance only to have it blow up in their faces, only with some sort of magical thing.

And for that I think a sort of magic university might be better, because then I think it's somewhat more believable that the students, instead of the parents on the PTA, are the ones getting involved to try to help those who cared stop the administration from fucking things up.  Of course if real life experience is any indication then the students couldn't do a damn thing, but this is a magical land, so by the time they graduate maybe they can fix things.

And there will be dragons, because that's more or less a requirement for these sorts of things.

Also I imagine the big confrontation at the end of the first book beginning when one of the students reaching the place where ultimate-evil-of-the-book is working toward their evil goals of evilness and reacting with a "Damn.  I was hoping it would be [bad administrator].  That would have solved a lot of problems," or something like that.  Because that might have seemed like the only viable solution at the time, "If we can catch [bad administrator] breaking some law, then we can be rid if zir, and all our problems will be solved," but then it turned out to be not that simple.

Key points are these:
1 School.  Magic.  Magic school.
2 Financial problems are doing damage to the school, but not nearly as much damage as done by the way those in charge respond to those financial problems.
3 While some people on the wrong side of the school conflict might be involved with the evil of the book, the wrong side is on the whole untainted by that sort of thing.  Their evil is a much more Tea Party kind of thing than a Voldemort kind of thing.  They'll destroy your world while telling you they're preserving it for future generations, and they might even believe it when they say it.
4 The students start out completely unaware of the school's problems, by the time they leave they're as deeply involved as the teachers.
5 By the end of the series it's clear that healthy survival of the school is more important than the evil of the book, because every book has an evil of it, and such things will keep on cropping up, but if the school should fail then that's a great loss and it means that future combatants of evil will be poorly trained.
6 If there is something like a house system the protagonists should be drawn from all of the houses.
7 I'm tired, I'm going to stop this and go to sleep now.


* All of the pseudo-Latin and they couldn't just call him "The Nefarious One" or something?  (Nefarious comes from nefas, which is ne-fas.  Ne is doing some negating, Fas is a multimeaninged word with roots in speak, thus nefas= unspeakable, but it comes to mean a sort of divine law or will, thus nefas = sin or wrongness.  If Voldomort were called "The Nefarious One" you'd get "he who must not be named" and "that evil bastard" all in one name.)


  1. If you make it an university you can also make research a big topic. And the influence funding has on that research.
    I think the idea that large parts of magic have yet to be discovered is far more interesting than a curriculum that hasn't changed in the last 5000 years, anyway.

  2. But but but... are you saying there's actually some research behind the dog latin in the series? Surely you jest. (The whole spell system is just gaaaah. Makes my head hurt to try to make sense of it. Why Englishy dog latin of all things? (Useless tidbit of the day, Finnish equivalent of dog latin translates as pig german. Schweinhund!))