Measure Thrice. Cut Once
by Dennis Greene
I’m very new to this writing business and still experience a thrill upon seeing my own words in print. This past year or so, I have had over a dozen short articles published in the highly regarded BOLLI Journal and in the BOLLI Matters blog. I now sometimes dare to refer to myself half seriously as a “writer” instead of a “story teller,” and I confess that, deep down, I feel smugly pleased with the idea. But “pride often goes before the fall.”
In the interludes between the important activities that occupy my time, like watching tv series, doing BOLLI homework, reading my ever-growing pile of recommended books, and watching the stock market, I occasionally take a beak to reread and admire my published work. Today, I was happily perusing my recent piece on Harry Potter when I came upon a paragraph that didn’t sound correct. I realized I had violated one of the cardinal rules of non-fiction writing. I had relied on my memory (which has lately become less and less reliable) to recall some facts which led me reach an unjustified conclusion. I didn’t check the facts. While fact checking does not seem currently in vogue, I highly recommend it for those with integrity.
Here is what happened. I had recalled that Professor Slughorn, a character first appearing in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, had formed a “club” to which he invited only students who were either from very noteworthy wizarding families or students from less notable wizarding families who themselves possessed extraordinary talents and were likely to become noteworthy. The Professor sought to elevate himself by cultivating contacts with rich and famous wizards. Based on this recollection. I speculated that the Slughorn character might have been based on Professor Harold Bloom, the Yale literary critic. I suggested the possibility that Professor Slughorn, and by implication, Professor Bloom, was an insufferable snob, a social climber and a bigot.
When I checked the source, I confirmed that Professor Slughorn did select his invitees based on family prominence or extraordinary talents. Those receiving invitations included Neville (famous Auror parents), Harry (the Chosen one) and Ginny (because of her amazing hexing powers). All three were “purebloods.” But Professor Slughorn’s favorite student had been Harry’s mother Lily, who was not a pureblood but, rather, a “Muggle.” Furthermore, when the Professor became aware of Hermione’s extraordinary talents, she was invited to join without regard to her Muggle antecedents.
So I owe Professor Slughorn, and, by implication, Professor Bloom an apology and a retraction. Professor Slughorn is an insufferable snob and a social climber, but he is not a bigot. I should have checked my facts before I rushed to print. Mea Culpa.
Dennis spent five years as an engineer and then forty as a lawyer–and sixty as a pop culture geek and junkie. He saw “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in 1951 when he was seven and has been hooked on speculative fiction ever since.