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hogwartsplates
Hogwarts dining hall: This look like 1000 kids to you, or closer to, oh, say, 300?
(Photo courtesy of BeyondHogwarts.com)

Reading and watching fiction always takes a certain amount of willing suspension of disbelief.  You have to believe (temporarily, to a certain extent) powered armor can work and alien/human hybrid clones can be created and controlled through wifi to watch “Avatar” without getting irritated; that Humbert Humbert can obsess over a barely-nubile girl; that Benedick and Claudio can swallow the transparent BS of Hero having a previously unremarked twin sister; etc.  Great or small, you have to go along with a certain amount of nonsense, scientific hand-waving, plot holes, and other problems to enjoy your fiction.  That’s the contract you make with the author/playwright/screenwriter.

Different people are thrown out of this state by different things, obviously.  There are some people who simply can’t watch science fiction at all, for example.  I can understand that.  For me, where I often trip up is on simple arithmetic.

For me, the most blatant example is the Harry Potter books.  J.K. Rowling, when asked, has stated that Hogwarts has “around 1000” students.

Hogwash.  Do the math, Jo!  It ain’t hard!

Each entering class is sorted into 4 houses.  Gryffindor in Harry’s year has 5 boys, 5 girls.  10 total students, then.  If the other houses are similar, that’s a class size of 40.  7 years at Hogwarts, 7×40, is 280 students.  Not 1000.  Not even close.  Rowling isn’t even close, because she didn’t do the math.

Think I’m being unfair to Rowling?  At Hogwarts, incoming students take Potions, Herbology, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Transfiguration, Charms, and Care of Magical Creatures.  It is clear that all these subjects only have a single teacher; you constantly read of Snape being frustrated at not being made “the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor”.  “The”.  i.e., one and only.  And if you have 7 years of students, and only one Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, he or she can’t teach more than about 280 students, anyway.  Each class contains two Houses, which means about 20 students.  If you taught 7 times a day–which from the books it is clear they don’t–that’s only 140 students per day.  Even if you alternate them–Gryffindor & Slytherin on Monday and Wednesday, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw on Tuesday and Thursday–you still can’t get anywhere near 1000 students, not with only a single teacher each for Potions, Herbology, and whatnot.  Mathematically impossible.

Hell, it’s probably not even as high as 280, since some kids bail after their fifth year.  Rowling didn’t do her math.

(By the way, I’ve read a number of Harry Potter readers’ defenses of Rowling’s count, and they all boil down to, “Well, she must have planned it out, so I’m sure she’s right, right?”  They’re not doing the math, either!)

Or take “The Hunger Games”.  I don’t have the book in front of me, but in the movie they take a train that is stated to go “200 miles an hour!  And we’ll be there in only 2 days!”  Seriously?  The only way a train going 200 miles an hour can take two days to arrive at The Capital from Appalachia (where District 12 is) would be if The Capital is in Sydney, and someone had dug a tunnel under the Pacific Ocean to get there.  200mph x 48 hours is 9800 miles.  From Miami Beach to Seattle–the longest straight-line distance in the continental U.S.–is only a smidge over 3100 miles; you can make that in less than 16 hours at 200mph.  Two days?  Someone didn’t do their math!

This is how I personally get tossed out of my warm zone of suspended disbelief; these simple, easily-corrected math errors made by people who were either too lazy or simply didn’t care to do simple arithmetic.  I know these are artists we’re talking about here, but jeez, this is multiplication.  I’m not talking about calculus or algebra or even long-friggin’-division here; just simple multiplication.  I know Creative Folks don’t enjoy math–if they did, they’d probably be engineers or something–but c’mon!  Balancing your checkbook is harder than this!

Anyway, that’s my excuse for staring at the page or screen and saying, “Oh, COME ON!”  What’s yours?

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