Category Archives: Books

The Muggle gene, or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Population

I’m certainly not the first to speculate on the genetic inheritance of magic in the Potterverse, but I think I’ve found an angle that the articles I’ve just linked gloss over, or at most mention in passing. And it ties in nicely with my old post on the division between wizard and Muggle societies.

First, the genetics. The simplest model of genetic inheritance of magic that’s consistent with canon is magic as a recessive allele. Rowling is on record somewhere referring to magic as “a dominant and resilient gene,” but I’m writing this off as her being only passingly familiar with Mendelian genetics. If magic was the dominant allele, two Muggle parents could only produce a wizard child through a genetic mutation, and it should be more common for two wizard parents to produce at least one Squib (nonmagical) child. We know that Muggleborn wizards are relatively common and Squibs are rare, which is much more consistent with magic as a recessive gene.

Let’s review the possible pairings in more detail. We’ll call the Muggle allele M and the magic allele m. Suppose two wizards have a baby. Both parents would have the genotype mm, therefore any offspring should also have genotype mm and be wizards. Squibs would have to be the result of a genetic mutation, but they’re rare enough for this to be plausible.

Now let’s consider two Muggle parents. The possible genotypes for a Muggle are MM and Mm, with the latter being a carrier for the magic gene. If either parent is homozygous dominant (MM), then all offspring will be Muggles. However, if both parents are Mm, there’s a 75% chance of a Muggle child and a 25% chance of a wizard child. Of course, there must be many Mm couples who have only Muggle children and remain in blissful ignorance of the wizarding world. But while there’s only a 25% chance of a wizard on the first try, with two children there’s a 44% chance at least one is a wizard. (Including a 6% chance that both are–hi, Colin and Dennis Creevey. Though we don’t know if they had any Muggle siblings…) The probability of at least one wizard rises to 58% for three children, 68% for four, and so on.

Here’s where, to me, it gets interesting. What happens when a wizard and a Muggle have children? It depends on the Muggle parent’s genotype. If the Muggle parent is MM, all children will be Muggles, and if the Muggle parent is Mm, it’s 50-50. But how common are wizard children of such pairings? Half-blood wizards seem to be in the majority, but the term “half-blood” is freighted with wizard supremacy and includes anyone with any Muggle ancestry at all. For example, Harry is considered a half-blood even though both his parents were wizards, because Lily was Muggleborn.* We do know of a few wizards with one wizard and one Muggle parent–Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, Severus Snape, and, ironically, Voldemort. It’s possible that it’s just not that common for wizards and Muggles to interbreed; as I mentioned before, wizards and Muggles don’t seem to have much social interaction. But it’s also possible that there are more who just never mentioned it in the books.

So where are all the families with both wizard and Muggle children? Even if it’s actually rare for wizards and Muggles to interbreed, you’d expect it to be more common than not for Muggleborn wizards to have Muggle siblings–remember, the more children an Mm couple has, the more likely at least one will be a wizard. Of the wizard/Muggle offspring mentioned above, only Dean has any siblings–half-siblings, in fact, children of his Muggle mother and stepfather. Among Muggleborn wizards’ families, we know of Lily and Petunia Evans.** I mentioned that we don’t know if the Creevey brothers have any Muggle siblings–remember, we had no idea Colin had even one brother until Dennis arrived at Hogwarts. Do other Muggleborn wizards have Muggle siblings who just haven’t been mentioned? And if they do, is this another worrisome sign of how completely Muggleborns seem to cast off the Muggle world, family and all?

What must it be like growing up in one of those households? We know Petunia grew to hate and resent magic for taking her sister away. Are Dean’s siblings fascinated by their wizard brother, or jealous, or confused, or worried? We know Dean continues to follow soccer (sorry, “football”), which makes him one of the few wizards, even Muggleborns, who engage with Muggle culture at all. I wonder if having Muggle siblings has kept him connected to that world, more so than an only child like Hermione. And what’s it like for, say, Seamus, with one wizard and one Muggle parent? His father is absent when he and his mother go to the Quidditch World Cup. What’s it like for Mr. Finnigan, being cut off from the world his wife and son live in?

For that matter, what must it be like for a hypothetical wizard whose spouse and children are all Muggles? What must it be like to know that your parent is a wizard but you yourself will have to live your life in the Muggle world? Would the wizard parent use magic around the house? What if the wizard parent chooses to live like a Muggle in family solidarity? And if the parents conceal the existence of magic from the children, does it all come out if any of the grandchildren are wizards? (Which they could well be–the Muggle children of a wizard would carry the recessive m allele.)

This has been the thrust of a lot of my Harry Potter posts, I think: I get why the wizarding world is more spectacular and cool to focus the books on, compared to the Muggle world, but there’s a lot of storytelling potential to be had in the seam between the two.

*Note that genetically, half-blood and Muggleborn wizards have the same mm genotype as purebloods and the same odds of producing wizard offspring, which is a nice poke in the eye for pureblood supremacists. All that inbreeding for nothing!

**We don’t know Petunia’s genotype, but since both her parents must be Mm, there’s a 2/3 chance she’s a carrier for the wizard gene–which means at least a 1/3 chance that Dudley is. Higher if Vernon is also a carrier, which I’m sure would horrify him. I am so here for the narrative possibilities of Dudley having a wizard child.

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Sailing for adventure on the big blue wet thing

The thing about thinking about tropes as much as I do is that it starts to follow you around. Today, I just wanted to see a funny movie, and I ended up thinking about genre standards and suspension of disbelief.

The movie in question was Muppet Treasure Island, and of all things, I focused in on the sailing. I blame Scott Lynch, because Red Seas Under Red Skies so thoroughly deconstructed the idea of a character taking off to sea without knowing how to sail a ship. This previously came up when I read A Darker Shade of MagicLight spoilers ahead: the ending of that book included a character going off to become a pirate, with no previously indicated nautical experience. After having read Red Seas, this bothered me to the point where it’s part of the reason I haven’t yet read A Gathering of Shadows.

The part where I noticed this in Muppet Treasure Island was when Jim told Squire Trelawney to take the helm of the ship. For context, in the Muppet version Squire Trelawney is played by Fozzie Bear, he refers to the ocean as “the big blue wet thing,” and everything he does is on the advice of an imaginary friend who lives in his finger. So Trelawney’s lack of sailing experience is almost the least of the reasons this seems like a bad idea. But Jim asks him to take the helm and nothing goes wrong. And I’ve been trying to figure out why that didn’t bother me more than it did.

I think the answer comes down to genre and suspension of disbelief. Now, sci-fi and fantasy get some kinds of suspension of disbelief standard in the package. All but the hardest of hard sci-fi is allowed FTL travel, and fantasy novelists don’t have to explain how dragons exist or why they’re physically able to fly, unless the author is really into that sort of thing. But that doesn’t mean those genres get a free pass on everything; accepting the existence of aliens or magic doesn’t preclude applying other kinds of real-world logic. (This is where most of my Harry Potter posts come from.) So I can accept characters in A Darker Shade of Magic traveling between worlds, but that doesn’t stop me wondering how exactly a character with no sailing experience is going to fare at sea, because it’s outside the category of things the author set up as part of the fantasy world.

Comedy, though, is playing on a totally different field. Under Rule of Funny, almost anything goes; as long as we’re laughing, we’re not going to question the logic of it, which is how Mel Brooks, Monty Python, and Douglas Adams get away with all sorts of ridiculousness. But as a corollary, the sillier the surrounding work, the lower the standard for suspension of disbelief overall. Going back to Muppet Treasure Island, the moment where Jim tells Fozzie to steer the ship isn’t really setting up a joke in itself. But… come on, it’s a Muppet movie. It just seems silly to quibble about the realism of anything in it.

Of course, suspension of disbelief also varies from person to person, based on your particular background. I have friends who are much more concerned than I am with the realism of spaceship physics in Star Trek, where I tend to handwave it and get on with the story. But since this one particular issue of realism has popped up for me, I’m trying to think of other examples across genres of when this particular issue did or didn’t bug me. The one that springs to mind is the Redwall series; I’m sure that had a few characters who went off sailing and did it skillfully the first time, but Brian Jacques more or less made it work, and I couldn’t say how much of that was the suspension of disbelief allocated to a talking animal story and how much was Jacques (a former sailor) genuinely knowing his stuff. I might also have grouched about this back when I read Midshipwizard Halcyon Blithe, but it would have been the tip of the iceberg of my complaints about that book.

Maybe the sailing issue is just standing out to me because of Lynch; I should start paying attention to other instances of characters succeeding immediately at something that should really take extensive training. Which, let’s face it, fictional characters do all the time.

Edit: It occurred to me later that it’s not just Rule of Funny that gets exemptions from plausibility. Welcome To Night Vale, for example, runs on Rule of Weird: the weirder something is, the better it fits into the established setting. Everything in the show is so surreal that when something doesn’t quite make sense, it comes off as intentional weirdness rather than a plot hole. (And the authors can patch actual plot holes by invoking the town’s weirdness to invent a bizarre law or local phenomenon that explains the discrepancy.)

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Ace headcanons (and a TV pitch)

Coming in late to Asexual Awareness Week, but I had to jump in on the AAW Fandom Challenge! Since I only just discovered the challenge, I’ll do a few days at once (cherry-picking the ones where I had something to say).

Sun 22nd, Day 1: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in books and comics.

Canon: Jughead, obviously! I might do a post later about Riverdale and ace erasure and trying to watch the show with my Wishful Thinking Ace Goggles on. But comics!Jughead is an ace representation treasure.

Headcanon: The Fool, from Robin Hobb’s Farseer/ Tawny Man books. He/ she (the character is canonically genderfluid) clearly has a massive thing for Fitz, but gets really offended when Fitz construes that as being necessarily sexual. I think the Fool is asexual and Fitz-romantic, which kind of sucks because they keep running headlong into Fitz’s wall of heteronormativity, allonormativity, and transphobia, none of which their universe has words for yet. The later books, where the Fool spends more time in their female identity of Amber, have some painful scenes of Fitz Tries and Fails At Allyship.

Mon 23rd, Day 2: Post about canon and headcanoned asexual/spectrum characters in shows and movies.

Canon: Sadly thin on the ground (see my earlier lament about Riverdale), but apparently I need to watch BoJack Horseman.

Headcanon: Adrian Monk. It’s been a while since I watched Monk, but I remember him being very sex-repulsed. He clearly had a loving relationship with his late wife Trudy, but there’s a scene with his therapist where he refuses to discuss their sex life that I choose to interpret as evidence that their relationship was non-sexual. I’ve just learned the term acevague (asexuality influenced by neurodivergence), which I think applies here because it’s likely his sex-repulsion is tied up with his OCD and germophobia.

Sat 28th, Day 7: Post about asexual representation in general. What does it mean to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? Why is it important to you to see asexual/spectrum characters in the media you consume? What sort of stories/plotlines would you like to see about asexual/spectrum characters? What genre do you really want to see asexual/spectrum characters in? How would you like to see asexual/spectrum people represented?

I’ve written this post already, but it bears repeating: asexual representation is how we normalize asexuality. It’s something for aces to latch on to for validation of our identity, but it’s also for the benefit of people who don’t know much about asexuality–like, say, that it exists. I also think that wider awareness and normalization of asexuality might help challenge some of our toxic cultural narratives about sex, which hurt both aces and allos. (And hoo boy, has this been a month for confronting the consequences of our culture’s fucked-up ideas about sex and consent.)

For example, compulsory sexuality. In the older post, I mentioned the asexual relationship at the heart of Pushing Daisies. Even though neither Ned nor Chuck is asexual, I love that their inability to have sex with each other isn’t really an obstacle to their relationship. In contrast, I had soooooo little patience for Richard and Kahlan’s angst over not being able to have sex in Legend of the Seeker.* Ned and Chuck can’t even hug each other! Stop whining about your lack of orgasms when you’re supposed to be saving the world! I want to see more fictional relationships that aren’t centered around sex, and having ace characters in the mix is a great way to bring that issue to the surface. I would love to see ace/ace couples in fiction, but I’d also love to see long-term ace/allo couples who have figured out something that works for them.

But hey, the aros can come join the party too! Let’s have some plots about aro characters dating and figuring out that it’s not really what they want, or dealing with the social expectation that they’re supposed to date.** Let’s have some gray-A and demisexual characters. The more I think about it, the more I think there needs to be a rom-com anthology series about every shade of the ace spectrum. Love, Asexual Style?

 

* Yes, I watched Legend of the Seeker. I also watched every episode of Heroes Reborn. I hesitate to use the term “pop culture junk food”, because I hate genre snobbery and that kind of judgment gets disproportionately aimed at SF and fantasy, but it really is a bit like eating a whole bag of potato chips when you know you should have a proper meal.

** For example, the story in Jughead where aroace Jughead goes on a date with Sabrina the Teenage Witch, thanks to a misunderstanding and Archie’s misguided attempts to play matchmaker. Sabrina tries casting a love spell that will amplify any tiny bit of attraction someone feels. On the one hand: that’s perilously close to date rape. Not cool, Sabrina! But I appreciate that in this case all that happens is that Jughead feels hungrier.

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The pack survives

(Here be Game of Thrones spoilers! Also wild speculation, but if any of my guesses happen to hit the nail on the head, I take no responsibility for spoiling the future.)

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The trouble with elves

It’s been a while since I read Lord of the Rings, but this post brought back some old memories.

I was never really an elf fan. My favorite characters were the hobbits, because the hobbits seemed like people rather than Heroes of Legend. They’d rather have been at home than off adventuring, and they wanted to know when the next meal was going to be, and they mostly spoke in casual vernacular rather than solemn pronouncements. The elves were graceful and poetic and magical, and that was the problem–they were too perfect. They never seemed quite real the way the hobbits did. One of the great things about Lord of the Rings is that in a landscape lousy with elves and kings and wizards, it’s the humble little people who aren’t anyone special who make all the difference. Frodo isn’t a Chosen One of prophecy; he volunteers for a job that needs doing. And arguably the real hero in the end is Sam, who’s the most ordinary of them all.

I was reminded as well of another series, A.J. Hartley’s Will Hawthorne books. My feelings about those are more mixed, and I frequently outright disliked Will Hawthorne himself. But I usually liked him a lot better than his traveling companions, because they were all upright and noble adventurers on a quest that they took very seriously, whereas Will had a sense of humor, not to mention a healthy sense of self-preservation. (The generic-fantasy-photo covers on the author’s website are kind of unintentionally hilarious with the actual content of the books, which are narrated from Will’s sardonic perspective.)

I’ll take a character who seems like a real person, warts and all, over a paragon any day. The elves are impressive and all, but they’re kind of boring.

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