Values in Harry Potter, Twilight, and How to Train Your Dragon

On December 21st, I watched the movies How to Train Your Dragon and Twilight: Eclipse. That is when I thought up a novel idea: Let's take two book and film franchises (Harry Potter and Twilight) plus a stand-alone film, all radically different, and compare some values that I've seen within them.

To begin with, I must preface this by saying that I am no professional literary or cinematic critic, nor do I have a great deal of depth or research behind my understandings of each of these works. I have read all seven Harry Potter books, and I've seen all the movies but the most recent. Concerning the Twilight series, however, my only prior experience was really writing this post - which aside from making general criticisms of the books based on non-content-related criteria was largely a denunciation of Ketchikan's woeful lack of recognition as supreme rainfall capital of the United States. But raininess I shall set aside; I ranted quite enough on that in that previous post.

My history with Harry Potter goes way back. Just like many many other kids my age, all around the globe, I got really excited about reading the HP books - and like almost as many other kids, I read them. I believe that J. K. Rowling's great selling point was her plot: The HP story arc ended up, at least to me, seeming like an amazingly well-constructed and well-connected saga, but within each book too there were always great twists or mysteries to be solved. However, there was always one thing that annoyed me about the plot in every Harry Potter book and through the story of the series: Harry always won by doing stupid things.

I'm serious. Expulsion from Hogwarts is already a joke by the second book, if not the first. One can seriously understand why Snape gets so infuriated by Harry, seeking to punish him for whatever he can; it's because Harry gets away with absolutely everything else. But it's not only constant rule-breaking and law-breaking (muggle, wizard, all of it) that gets Harry through his day, but also doing anything that will defy common sense. What's more, all of these actions are what move the plot, and they always lead to Harry's success. In the end, it's very clear what value Rowling is pushing on all the children reading her books - courage. After all, this is the value of the great Gryffindor House, of Dumbledore, the Order of the Phoenix - and perhaps most importantly, in a long conversion from the boringness of knowledge, preparation and careful consideration, Hermione is seized by the perfect panacea of courage too.

Now, obviously, being courageous doesn't mean you can't be knowledgeable or can't think things through. Harry, however, perpetually under-achieves in his studies and perpetually throws himself into situations he would never be able to handle - until something falls in his lap along the way that he can use to emerge victorious through the sheer force of his courageous will. Don't get me wrong - courage is important, and there are times when I could probably use a little more of it myself. Ultimately, however, Harry Potter was never a character I could relate to; his values and those of his books - that one need only be courageous and everything else will magically fall into place - just don't align with mine.

Eclipse is the third film installment of the Twilight series, but the first and only I have seen. For all my previous ranting, I actually thought that Eclipse was ok - largely because it shows off beautiful views of the Pacific Northwest and has a fun little psuedo-historical montage that I enjoyed. What are the film's and and the author's values? Chastity is probably the most obvious one; the film's messages on marriage are so blatantly presented that, given the author's background, Twilight seems it could be very easily characterized as a Mormon morality play. On the other hand, in regard to Bella's relationships, it seems like Twilight suffers from a significant lack of values. While the books may send clear messages about marriage, in my movie watching it seems they fail to present what a principled relationship would look like - one in which partners actually work well together as a unit, don't constantly cheat on and/or lie to to each other, and express their love in non-creepy ways.

Lastly, How to Train Your Dragon is in many ways not at all comprable to these other two much more acclaimed, substantial, and popular phenomena; it's basically just a flash-in-the-pan kids movie. Nevertheless, I have to say that the film really had some good messages. The core values in HTYD seemed pretty clear to me: Be open-minded about others; show compassion and empathy; war can be senseless, destructive and utterly futile.

Inter-species understanding as a metaphor for solving modern conflict

Although I really think this film could have been given a much better title, and the consistent use of Scottish accents for Viking adults and American ones for the children utterly confounds me, I think its clear that out of the main values expressed in each of these literary and cinematic features, How to Train Your Dragon has the greatest message.