Quidditch And The Snitch Problem: This Sport Makes No Sense [Harry Potter]

All Harry Potter fans love quidditch. And that love causes us to look the other way at some of the more obvious absurdities of the sport. Because quidditch is delightful! A pure joy for all readers and the fictional characters who play it. Picking a fight against this beloved sport would be unnecessary. A person would have to be a real jerk to sit down and take the time to attack our collective favorite fictional pastime.

But I got some real problems with quidditch… Actually, it’s one big problem and some offshoot problems it creates. The big problem is the scoring. I am by no means the first to vocalize the absurdity of making each score of the Quaffle worth ten points, and then catching the snitch worth ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY POINTS. 

And since I am not the only one to vocalize this absurdity and since Twitter exists, Rowling has responded to these, incredibly fair, criticisms. Here is her response…

“It makes total sense. There’s glamour in chasing an elusive lucky break, but teamwork and persistence can still win the day. Everyone’s vulnerable to blows of fate and obstructive people, and success means rising above them. Quidditch is the human condition. You’re welcome.”

Okay, Rowling. Slow your roll with the ‘you’re welcome.’ You didn’t mic drop anyone. It is a good response, but it does not come anywhere near satisfying my complaints. Her argument comes from two fronts. She answers in regards to the logistical way this plays out in sports, and she answers it from the life lessons sports can teach us.

I want to start by addressing this from a sport’s logistics perspective. Everyone recognizes the off balanced nature of the snitch, what Rowling referred to as the ‘elusive lucky break,’ but the problem is not that the lucky break exists, but that it is the end all be all. The seekers are not chasing ‘glamour.’ They are trying to end the game, and because that action ends the game, and for the amount of points that action receives, catching the snitch is the only thing that matters. I actually like the idea of it being an elusive lucky break, but in order for this to be the case, Quidditch would need to have a clock or periods like every other sport on the planet. But no, she wanted to be too cute for that, and it creates a situation where everything other than the catching of the snitch does not matter.

Why would anyone care what happens outside of the seekers? Even in a scenario where the lead on the pitch increases beyond the one hundred and fifty point lead required to be safe from the devastating snitch catch, we are still just waiting for that team’s seeker to catch the snitch. The massive lead only makes the game less interesting, because only one person will be ‘seeking,’ but always, the game will be decided by the battle between the seeker. So no Rowling, ‘teamwork and persistence’ cannot win the day, only the elusive lucky break can, because it, quite literally, ENDS THE GAME. 

But, you might say, what about Viktor Krum. He caught the snitch to end the game because he recognized his team lost. Therefore, teamwork and persistence can win the game. Let’s get one thing straight. Viktor Krum is a loser, and he presents the largest case that quidditch is not a sport. If quidditch was a sport like football or basketball or soccer, which aired on ESPN and had fans like these other sports had, then Krum would be the equivalent of Lebron James or Tom Brady. And if Lebron James or Tom Brady quit in the middle of the Super Bowl or Game 7 of the NBA finals, they would be eviscerated for the rest of their careers. Lebron gets routinely criticized for not taking the last shot and passing it to the open man… imagine if he went to the bench in the third quarter because he *checks notes* recognized his team couldn’t win.

And this leads to the second vein of thought in Rowling’s response. The psychology of sport. A fictional sport must necessarily have a component of sport’s psychology to both move the narrative of the story and to be a sport that makes sense. And this is the portion of Rowling’s response that reveals quidditch as a nonsensical sport. Rowling defends the imbalance of the sport by comparing that to the ‘human condition.’ Which is probably fair. I think all sports fans see sports as a commentary on the human condition. That is what gets us out of our seats for big comebacks and brings us to tears over a terrible loss. But her explanation as to how quidditch represents the human condition is lacking…

She explains that there is ‘glamour’ in chasing the snitch as a lucky break and that ‘Everyone’s vulnerable to blows of fate and obstructive people, and success means rising above them.’ This sounds super poetic. And it is a terrific representation of Harry Potter as a series, but this is definitely an explanation of sports from an author, not a sports fan. Rowling may even be a fan of sports, I am not sure. What I am sure about was that this response only shows that quidditch is a great narrative device, but a nonsensical sport. 

There is no glamour in lucky breaks in sports. The lucky break of the ref’s flag that bailed out a team, or the non-call that went in the winning team’s favor, are only derided as things that ruined the game. And the snitch more closely resembles these bail outs from something outside the competition than any last second shot or incredible goal ever did. Because a last second three contested by the opponent is won in the same way the game had been played all along, not by some external factor that was a completely different part of the game. Which is exactly why I’m not buying this explanation that everyone is vulnerable to blows of fate and obstructive people, and success means rising above them. That’s true, and as wonderful as all the other stuff Rowling writes. However, the Chasers get beaten by Bludgers too, and the Beaters are obstructed by other people too, and the Keeper is just as likely to break an arm as a Seeker is. Yet only what the Seeker does matters. Quidditch would be ripe for harrowing tales of Keepers making last second saves to win the game, or Chasers with broken arms carrying their team to a victory. But no, none of that matters when all of those amazing feats of sport are wiped away with the snatch of a Snitch.

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One thought on “Quidditch And The Snitch Problem: This Sport Makes No Sense [Harry Potter]

  1. I think about this all the time now that I’m reading the books to my children.

    It drives me nuts.

    If they made it worth ZERO points, that would be interesting, because then the down team could try to regain the lead before the snitch is grabbed.

    Like

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