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[Meta] “Fuck the Mage” – a look at the politics of Carry On’s most and least popular characters

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“One will come to end us; and one will bring his fall” - the narrative drive of the Chosen One story

It is a truth universally acknowledged that ‘Carry On’ is based on ‘Harry Potter’. More than that, though, it’s specifically a challenge to the kind of book that Potter is – in which a hero is chosen and fulfils his destiny defeating the big bad. It purposefully subverts the expectations of readers familiar with that sort of story.

That means that, where the villain in ‘Harry Potter’ is a racial supremacist who is obviously and actively evil, the supposed big-bad villain in ‘Carry On’ doesn’t really exist. The Humdrum is just an echo of Simon, who by the end of the book identifies himself as the villain as well as the hero. This is a neat twist on the format. It isn’t supposed to be an argument that all heroes are actually the causes of their own destruction, although you could read it that way.

The real villain is the Mage. Who in classic Dumbledore fashion left Simon to be raised in horrible conditions and never gave him enough information to make his own choices. He also murders Ebb, locks Baz in a coffin in inhumane conditions, and let vampires into Watford – an event that directly or indirectly led to the death of Natasha Grimm-Pitch.

This is again a twist on the format. The Mage fills the role of the wise mentor and we find out as early as ‘Fangirl’ that he’s Simon’s father. Even though there’s a strong movement that argues that Dumbledore is a manipulative dick who used to date a Nazi, I don’t think anyone would call him the villain of Potter. He’s still far more good than bad and he’s still absolutely necessary in helping Harry work out how to defeat Voldemort.

That’s why the Mage has to be the villain – it’s because you wouldn’t expect it of the person in his narrative role or with his political views. (I’d guess it’s not supposed to be a statement about all wise mentors, though it could be. Or even all socialist reformers.) It’s also because the kinds of things that Dumbledore did to Harry are worse when viewed through the more personal lens of YA romance, rather than the more traditional school-story fantasy of Potter.  

Fandom is essentially united in its absolute condemnation of the Mage as a character.

He’s almost always written as an abusive father in fic. (This is particularly noticeable for me in non-magic AUs where he often physically and mentally hurts Simon outside of the fantasy genre where sending a child to take on a dragon is loosely acceptable.)

Penny tells us that he’s sexist (although Agatha – who also doesn’t like the Mage – points out that it’s possible the Mage just hates everyone). Penny tells us that anyone can call themselves the ‘Great Reformer’ and she’s right. The Mage’s Men are actively equated to Nazis through their raids, which is backed up by other familiar emotive language like ‘banned books, banned phrases’.

But the thing is, the Mage really was a great reformer. And Baz’s family really were a bunch of privileged, self-centred assholes who deserved not to be in charge, no matter how much we like them. We don’t talk about it much, beyond how Malcolm’s (very standardly conservative) homophobia affects Baz on a personal level, because the emotions of the story lead us down a different path.

Baz is the romantic hero, Natasha Pitch is his dead and wronged mother, and the Mage is the villain. Not because he’s a Nazi (he isn’t). Not even because he killed Ebb or imprisoned Baz.

It’s primarily because, unlike Natasha, he isn’t a good parent.

Which is fineIt makes sense for all the reasons above, and the Mage is a bad parent

But the problem with ‘Carry On’ being an inversion of the tropes of traditional narratives is that we end up with a canon that (even though it’s full of POC characters and gay characters and disabled characters) almost asks us to be OK with the politics of Baz’s family and class, because we like Baz and we don’t like the Mage.  

And they’re really not OK.

 

“Not one of ours” – the Old Families as Conservatives

I’ll talk more about the Mage later, but he exists as a reaction to the Pitches, so let’s talk about their political leanings first. Specifically, I’m going to talk about Loyalty, The Other, Vampires, and Taxes.

To start you off, the Conservative party is currently the ruling party in the UK. They're also known as the Tory party for historical reasons. They're less right-wing than the US Republican party, but that's the equivalent here. While they increasing appeal to the middle-class voter, primarily the Conservative party seeks to protect the interests of the establishment. In general, they seek to privatise rather than nationalise, reduce welfare, etc, and our current government is formed from those who championed Brexit. While there are a number of political parties within the UK, Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition (i.e. the official opposition) is the Labour party, who have recently branded themselves as the party 'for the many, not the few' (i.e. they are in opposition to the Conservatives, who are for the few, not the many).

When this discussion was going around on Tumblr, an anon (sorry if this was you!) said that Rainbow would never have really meant for Baz to be read as a Tory. 

But I’m pretty sure she did and I respect how much she didn’t shy away from it.

In fact, the only way I can imagine Baz and his family not voting Conservative/Tory is if they just didn’t vote at all, because they thought Normal politics were unimportant. Which is also a highly privileged position to take as it assumes that none of them will ever need to take advantage of Normal public services and that it’s no concern of theirs what happens to everyone else in the country i.e. this is the one situation where not voting Tory is actually the most Tory thing you could ever do. 

1. Loyalty

Now obviously Baz’s family do care – passionately – about the people they care about. This is one of their most appealing characteristics as characters. It’s very likeable and understandable. Rainbow has suggested Baz is a Hufflepuff. Hardworking – and (this is the key) loyal. I see it, although I think he would have turned out very differently if he’d been told from the age of eleven that this is who he was, rather than being essentially told he was a Slytherin. But that’s a detour.

The problem with being loyal is that there are people you aren’t loyal to, and you can see this clearly in the Pitches. The people they love must be protected, even at the expense of everyone else. Its barely a choice. Although the Pitches would never betray each other, they’re famous betrayers.

I adore Fiona, she’s one of my favourite characters. But she is also – as Rainbow stated recently – ‘a dangerous lunatic’. She is hardly bothered when the specific action that she insights Baz (a child) to take against Simon (a child who hasn’t done anything to her) causes Philippa Stainton (another child who really hasn’t done anything to her) to be permanently disabled.

Baz is almost unable to comment on how this event makes him feel even in his POV - probably because he’s loyal and he doesn’t want to criticise Fiona. Although we know it causes him to stop trying to kill Simon, so I’d guess that it troubled him, even if it didn’t trouble Fiona. (We’ll come back to Baz as part of his family later.)

2. The Other

If Natasha were still in charge of Watford, Trixie wouldn’t be allowed to attend. Gareth wouldn’t be allowed to attend. Simon wouldn’t be allowed to attend. The Minotaur worked on the grounds, since ‘creatures weren’t allowed on the staff’ (which is horrifically racist language, even if it’s true.)

Oddly, Simon is able to voice this within the text (probably because he’s been hanging around with the Mage so much), although his opinion is disregarded because it sounds naïve and because even he tell us that he doesn’t understand what’s going on.

“I still don’t think it’s a war,” Agatha insists. “It’s just politics, just like in the Normal world. The Mage has power, and the Old Families want it back. They’ll bitch and moan and cut deals and throw parties—”
“It’s not just politics.” Simon leans towards her, pointing. “It’s right and wrong.”
Agatha rolls her eyes. “But that’s what the other side says, too.”

“It’s not just politics,” he says again. “It’s right. And wrong. It’s our lives. If the Old Families had their way, I wouldn’t even be here. They wouldn’t have let me into Watford.”
“But that wasn’t personal, Simon,” Agatha says. “It’s because you’re a Normal.”

Firstly – it probably was personal, let’s face it. But secondly – even if it wasn’t personal-personal, it’s still an example of a prejudice that echoes the distain people like the Malfoys have for ‘Mudbloods’. Just because Simon could be the first Normal to gain magic, doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be allowed to join Watford. The Mage shouldn’t have to give him a title and a sword just to get him in.  

Simon’s right, even if he doesn’t mean it this way. Politics affects people’s lives.

“Ask Natasha Grimm-Pitch about suicide rates among low-magicians,” the Mage tells Mitali Bunce – who is right that killing people isn’t the answer, but also not nearly as progressive as she thinks she is. “Ask your Coven what they’re doing to fight pixie sticks and every other magickal disease that doesn’t affect their own sons and daughters.

3. Vampires as a specific example of the Other

Natasha and the Old Families were in charge when Nicodemus Petty joined the vampires. It wasn’t the Mage who struck Nicodemus’s name from the book and pulled out his fangs. Which we’re told is fine, actually, because it’s against Mage Law. Even though the idea of this happening to Baz is horrific and unthinkable, and even though we have no evidence that Nicky ever killed anyone. Just that he wasn’t human.

If you’ve read ‘The Mage’s Heir’ you’ll know I think Nicky is a very interesting character to bring into this space. He’s powerful and he’s innovative, inventing spells Baz has never heard of even after he has his magic taken away from him. He’s like the Mage, and like the Mage (who is from Wales, which is traditionally a very poor area of the UK), he’s clearly from a low-class family. The accent that both he and Ebb have is East-End London, which means they’re poor. Even though they’re powerful magicians and therefore theoretically as valid as the Pitches in the Pitch-world order.

Yes, he chose to become a vampire and Baz didn’t but partly he’s punished for being poor and trying to become more powerful in a way that the Pitches don’t understand. He wasn’t necessarily going to kill anyone.

Are vampires even bad?

Because Baz isn’t bad – or not just because he’s a vampire, anyway. We see Simon wrestling with this in ‘Wayward Son’ and he struggles because of his personal hatred for Lamb.

Even (and perhaps especially) under the Mage, the World of Mages just uniformly accepts that a whole group is evil. I think ‘Wayward Son’ begins to trouble this, even as Lamb betrays Baz and vampires are the enemy. But we find Baz actually thinking: “I’m not used to thinking of vampires as fellow victims.”

What he means is that he’s not used to thinking of them as people.

It’s completely appalling to keep Baz in a coffin – I’m sure we all agree with that. If it was another vampire, would the Old Families and the rest of the World of Mages feel the same way, or would they think that was a proportionate response?

When we talk about the death of Natasha Pitch we talk about the Humdrum having killed her, or the Mage having killed her. The vampires are presented as a random instrument of death (which if they had been taken over the Humdrum they would have been), rather than people who were paid by the Mage to do something.

The way the situation is presented to us in the Record, by Natasha herself, and by popular memory is that monsters broke into the nursery and would have killed Baz and Natasha if she hadn’t responded as she did.

However, Nicky says to Baz: “For what it’s worth, I don’t think he meant for your mum to die – but I don’t think he minded much. Made everything a lot easier.”

So it’s at least worth contemplating a reality where this is what happened:

  • The Mage paid vampires to break into Watford and cause a disturbance. He didn’t think anyone would die.
  • One of the vampires bit Baz but didn’t intend to either kill or Turn him, which we know is now a possibility but which nobody in the World of Mages had ever bothered to find out.
  • Even if the vampires did intend to Turn Baz, it could easily be a political statement – an opportunity to show that even a Pitch could be a vampire and that the World of Mages might like to reappraise its choices.
  • When Natasha arrived, she saw her son being threatened, acted on her prejudices and didn’t ask questions. She murdered a large group of people who had broken into her school, but who otherwise hadn’t necessarily done anything wrong.

I don’t say this is what happened, just that it’s a possibility. 

Even if these vampires are evil and this was a terrorist attack (a phrase I’m using deliberately) the fact that presumably most of the others aren’t evil is still relevant. We barely scratch the surface of what this means for the World of Mages even in ‘Wayward Son’. 

One of the things I think that’s most interesting about the Mage’s rise to power is that he does using the same hateful speech that the Old Families use, just exclusively directed against the Dark Creatures, rather than all creatures and low-powered magicians. It probably made it easier for him to gain support because these are views that everyone holds, but it’s completely at odds with his whole stated reason for being in charge.

Definitely not ideal. We do deserve better.

4. Taxes

Baz also tells us that his family are against the idea of taxation, which the Mage has introduced largely to benefit people who aren’t like Baz.

‘Taxes to cover all the Mage’s initiatives; most notably to pay for every faun bastard and centaur cousin, and every pathetic excuse for a magician in the Realm to attend Watford. The World of Mages never had taxes before. Taxes were for Normals, we had standards instead.’

I’m writing this post in November 2019, about a week after the Labour manifesto has dropped. It has this to say about taxes:

Universal public services, collectively provided through general taxation and free at the point of use for all, are how we guarantee the right to a good life.
Public services do more than make sure everyone has the basics. They create shared experiences and strengthen social bonds. They make our lives richer and more fulfilling.
A decade of Tory cuts has pushed our public services to breaking point. Labour offers real change – we will make Britain’s public services the best and most extensive in the world.
We will pay for this by creating a fairer taxation system, asking for a little more from those with the broadest shoulders, and making sure that everyone pays what they owe.
We will reverse some of the Tories’ cuts to corporation tax while keeping rates lower than in 2010.
We’ll ask those who earn more than £80,000 a year to pay a little more income tax, while freezing National Insurance and income tax rates for everyone else.
We will end the unfairness that sees income from wealth taxed at lower rates than income from work. VAT is a regressive tax that hits the poorest hardest and we guarantee no increases in VAT.

The Conservatives have launched a rival site called https://www.labourmanifesto.co.uk/ It has this to say about taxes:

“Hardworking taxpayers would have to pay an extra £2,400 each year in tax on average to cover Jeremy Corbyn’s reckless spending.”

The language of the Conservative party is about how higher taxes will negatively affect you the voter, rather than benefit the whole country. It’s also about tradition and how brilliant it is.

We Will Put You First
Getting Brexit done. Investing in our public services and infrastructure. Supporting workers and families. Strengthening the Union. Unleashing Britain’s potential.
The future is there for us to grasp. Not a future in which we endlessly refight the battles of Brexit and the Scottish independence referendum, or in which Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell – propped up by Nicola Sturgeon – lead a Government which rejects everything that has made the UK great.

I’m not saying traditions aren’t important (unless they’re bad traditions – like imperialism, which made the UK great, for sure), but they’re definitely less important than helping large groups of people through public service. Also Brexit sucks and is incredibly bad for the economy the Tories claim is so important to them.

If you aren’t from the UK (as I’d assume most readers aren’t), it may not be so cripplingly obvious that Baz’s family are rich therefore Conservative. But they’re also conservative – and therefore Conservative.

 

“a Tory vampire” – Baz’s own politics

Baz is a version of Draco Malfoy, who calls Hermione a ‘Mudblood’ and supports Umbridge and then Voldemort, although he later regrets it.

I haven’t really read any Harry/Draco (I was in Wolfstar), but I’m guessing that a lot of the fic builds on the fact that Draco cries in a bathroom, is unable to go through with murdering Dumbledore and Harry, and that his family ultimately decide to leave the Final Battle rather than support Voldemort. I’d guess that we argue that he was young and stupid, didn’t understand the full impact of what he was doing until it was too late, and then had to stay with the Death Eaters because he was afraid for his life and the lives of his family.

Baz, I am arguing, comes from a similar upbringing and has similar beliefs, even if he never got to the murdering Mudbloods stage. (He’s given an out in a way by never being in power when we see him.)

I’d also argue – because I really like Baz and I don’t want him to be ‘racist and speciest’ – that his actions and beliefs are, like Draco’s, massively affected by situational factors outside of his control. And that he, too, was young and stupid. I find it almost impossible that he could arrive at Watford with any other ideology – and I say this as an ex-Remus/Sirius shipper, who clearly found it totally reasonable that Sirius would hate his family and side immediately with a bunch of do-gooding Gryffindors.

The key there, though, is that Sirius hates his family; whereas Baz and Draco love their families and are (see above) incredibly loyal to them. One of the reason it’s easy for me to sit here and say ‘voting Conservative isn’t a thing I would ever do’ is that my family are hardcore ‘Not Conservative’ voters. If I ultimately decided I didn’t agree with them, I could do that, but I started out thinking they were probably right. This is the case with Baz and Draco – they have further to go than someone like Penny who was raised by Mitali and still tells Shepard that imagining being a Normal is like imagining being a frog.

I think Baz is a more sympathetic character than Draco Malfoy by a long way, but Draco has a strong justification for being more evil in that Voldemort will literally murder him if he doesn’t perform hateful actions. Baz merely worries that the Mage will “drive his whole family out of magic” if he doesn’t fight Simon, which is a bit of a weak argument when you think about it.

What has the Mage actually done? He’s forced the Old Families off the Coven – of course he did. They would have voted against his reforms. He’s raided their houses for dark objects that they do actually have. He doesn’t let them meet in large groups – which is an edict that they’re clearly ignoring given that the Club (so Tory) exists and also that the Old Families do actually have a Consortium that meets to try and work out how to seize power through potentially illegal means. 

Are these actions designed to win the love of the Old Families? Of course not. Could there have been better, less repressive strategies? Yes, absolutely.

But how empty are Baz’s coffers really? They still have at least two massive houses that we know about. They’re not exactly on the streets.

All that aside though, Baz does have a very good reason for acting the way he does, much better than Malfoy. His entire life that has been warped around his mother’s death.

The fact that she’s dead, and that she died in (arguably) heroic circumstances, makes it very difficult for Baz to think of her as anything other than completely perfect and right about everything. Even when he thinks about how she’d probably kill him for being a vampire, even though he knows that he’s never hurt anyone and therefore does not deserve to die, even then he still thinks that she must be right and that he is a monster who deserves to die. Fiona has exactly the same reaction.

Because he thinks his mother was perfect and because everyone around him tells him what a good headmistress she was (and because the Mage is presumably very bad at this part of his job), he also has to regret the fact that she isn’t in charge of the school anymore. Education is important to him.

And the timing of Natasha’s death is also specifically and strongly linked to the loss of power, and the two are inextricably bound together. If Baz is to love and honour his mother, to regret her loss, he must also regret the loss of the things that she stood for.

Now the Mage isn’t in power anymore, and Baz’s mother is at peace, he probably can start to think differently about the way the society is structured.

I believe that ‘Wayward Son’ – in which I don’t think Baz thinks a single racist thing, and instead queries the idea of going to America given the ‘current political climate’ – shows that he’s already starting to consider his view on the world differently.

Part of this is because of who he is personally. He’s gay – and of course he’s a vampire, both of which wouldn’t normally be acceptable to his family. (Although you can be gay and a powerful Conservative, of course. It’s much less unacceptable than being poor.) (Incidentally, I know you didn’t ask, but I don’t think the Mage would care if Simon was gay. He’s a liberal. He’d want to be OK with it, even if he wasn’t. But he’d care that Simon was dating a Tory and would definitely try and forbid it.)

Baz has more reason than any other Pitch to reassess his family’s politics, because they negatively affect him personally.

The trick will be to see if he can look outwards from himself, and care about things that don’t help him at all. Which I think he can.  

 

“He’s still more good than bad, I think” – the Mage and his poor decisions

OK, here we go. The most controversial part.

So, the Mage is the villain and is also a bad guy who left Simon in a home, tortured Baz, killed people, and incited hate against vampires. As I said right at the beginning, I’m not going to argue that you should forgive or even like him because ultimately I can’t if eighth year plays out as it does in canon.

But Lucy tells us that we shouldn’t take him as a straight-forward villain and if we’re willing to give the Pitches the benefit of the doubt over some things, I think we should at least give it a try for the Mage.

Here’s what I’ve got.

1. The political situation at the start of ‘Carry On’

In a story where the Mage was the hero, the book would have finished where he got into power. We’ve defeated the evil oppressive empire and now it’s a chance for reforms, hurrah! Everything will probably be good.

What we actually find at the beginning of Simon’s eighth year is that the Mage has been fighting the Old Families solidly for the last twelve years. They’ve resisted absolutely everything he’s tried to do, and far from being powerless now they’re not in charge, they’re actively and effectively using extreme wealth to obstruct the process of normal government:

“Half of Wales has stopped tithing. The Pitches are paying three members of the Coven to stay away from meetings, so we don’t have quorum. And there have been skirmishes up and down the road to London all summer long.”
“Skirmishes?”
“Traps, tussles. Tests – they’re all tests, Simon. You know the Old Families would seize the reins if they thought for a moment I was distracted. They’d roll back everything we’ve accomplished.”
“Do they think they can fight the Humdrum without us?”
“I think they’re so shortsighted,” he says, looking over at me “that they don’t care.”

Now, obviously, this is the Mage’s viewpoint on what is happening and so can’t be trusted in terms of the Old Families motivations. We also can’t ask them because we only hear from Baz (and once, briefly, from Fiona) who has his own view of the world which is coloured massively by his relationship with Simon and his mother.

Shockingly Simon again said it best: “That’s the problem with all the Pitches and their allies – it’s impossible to tell when they’re up to something and when they’re just being people.”

I sort of expect that the Mage is right, though, based on everything I know and feel about the Old Families. The Humdrum hasn’t directly affected them – or it doesn’t until the hole in Hampshire – meanwhile the Mage “will drive them out of magic.” (Will he though? Or will taxing people who earn over £80k a year not actually affect their lifestyle all that much?) 

To be fair, I think the Mage probably thinks that the Old Families are the greater threat as well - they were the threat that he summoned the Greatest Mage to fight – although it’s the threat of the Humdrum that drives him to try and take Ebb’s magic.

I’m not saying that if they cooperated the Mage would have been able to work out what to do about the Humdrum, but their refusal to acknowledge that fighting the threat is important is probably infuriating.

 

2. He’s alone, overworked, and doesn’t trust anyone

The Mage has the two most important jobs in the World of Mages. It’s strongly implied that these were held by separate people before he took them both. And the reason he took them both is that I doubt he thought anyone else could be trusted, because until he became a political figure, only one person had ever treated him as anything other than a complete lunatic. After that, he gets people like Premal and the Mage’s Men (and Simon and Lucy) who obsessively and unquestioningly follow him, which also can’t be good for him.

He probably wasn’t very old when he worked out how to summon the Greatest Mage, probably 22-23. He doesn’t go to university and took power before he was 30, well before most Normal politicians. (Natasha, obviously, also wasn’t very old, so take that as you will.)

He’s doing two incredibly difficult jobs at a time when there’s a world-level threat (that admittedly he caused, but by accident) as well as a constant political threat. Of course he’s shit at both of them. Of course he didn’t think he could take care of a child on his own while this was happening.

He doesn’t have Dumbledore’s excuse of ‘Old Magic’ keeping Simon safe during the holidays, but I think he probably thinks it’s for the best and doesn’t see many other options when he’s so time-poor himself.

He doesn’t have any friends and never has done, because he’s never valued the personal over the global. He doesn’t have time for friends and family; finds it impossible to forgive the lightest of slights, like Mitali valuing tradition as well as wanting change; and even if he did have time for friends and found someone to be friends with, he wouldn’t be willing to spend time enjoying himself while what he perceived to be injustice was going on. People have headcanon-ed Simon as autistic before; if he is, it’s not impossible he got it from his father.

By the time we see him in ‘Carry On’, I assume the Mage is exhausted and angry and making the worst decisions of his life in an attempt to try and stop the Humdrum from destroying the world.

That doesn’t justify any of them, but I think it puts them into perspective. And for me – it means he is redeemable in an AU if you avert Baz’s kidnapping, which is unforgiveable even if you assume he didn’t know how the numpties would treat him.  

It doesn’t mean he will have been a better father to Simon, though. Simon will still have had to have grown up scared and hungry and alone, for the greater good.

So it depends what you think makes a villain.