Drew (babyofthegroup) wrote in idol_reflection,

Which broomstick? Oliver Wood (HP)

Character: Oliver Wood
Fandom: Harry Potter
Author: Drew (babyofthegroup)
email: babyofthegroup AT gmail DOT com

SPOILERS: books 1 through 4

Note: this essay presupposes some general Harry Potter-verse knowledge; if any specific term seems unfamiliar, it can probably be found defined [here] at the Harry Potter Lexicon, a fantastic resource for all Potter fans.

Raving psycho or quidditch hottie? The Oliver Wood Question.

Oliver is so hot!
Oliver is a freaking psychopath!
and why it matters

Introduction and personal blather
Oliver Wood. The name generally conjures mental pictures of the actor who portrayed him in the movies, [Sean Biggerstaff]. Almost immediately, two versions of reality begin to diverge -- the first book describes Oliver as "a burly fifth-year", and Biggerstaff (bring on the penis/broomstick/Wood jokes!) is probably better described as slim. Having read the books first, I was briefly bothered by this -- Oliver was being presented much more like a pretty-boy than the linebacker I had expected. Of course, then I was intently focused on the screen due to said boy's prettiness and all relevant thoughts left my brain. But let's examine this issue, because it is at the root of most of the discrepancy.


A really critical thing to point out about Oliver, as deepsix pointed out to me, is that he never does anything unless he's doing it all the way. As she said, "his character hinges on total lack of moderation. When he's up (eg. having won the Quidditch Cup), he's way up, but when he's down, he's trying to drown himself in the showers." This whole-hog approach to life is illustrated not only in his canon portrayal, but in fanfiction as well. Here are the two major archetypes of Oliver Wood in fandom.

Oliver Wood, charming hottie
Sean Biggerstaff won more than a few teenage hearts with his portrayal of Wood -- and caused some serious problems at the same time. His effects on fandom are widespread: an overwhelming tendency to show Oliver as blindingly hot is often paired with a toning-down of his blustery demeanor and a marginalization of his intense focus on the Quidditch Cup. Pretty!Oliver seems to be equally portrayed as a sly seducer with wit that would make a Slytherin proud or the wide-eyed naif who is subject to another's seduction. Pretty!Oliver tends to show up most often as the seducer when the seducee is younger than he is, or when the object of seduction is Percy. Doe-eyed!Oliver shows up when the other party is bigger/stronger/older than he is, and is generally a bottom.

Oliver Wood, complete psycho
On the flipside, we have fucked-up!Oliver who is completely quidditch-obsessed. He trains his team in the bleary hours of the morning. He devises complicated plans. He tries to get Harry's Firebolt back from McGonagall and we see a very driven boy: "Just because I told her I didn't care if it threw you off, as long as you caught the Snitch first" (PoA, ch12). A match over the physical well-being of a teammate? It all makes sense to Oliver. He has to win -- he's been playing quidditch for so long, and getting flattened by Slytherin so often, that he's simply desperate to hold the Quidditch Cup. Quidditch-mad!Oliver is, as far as I know, not quite so popular. I've written him, and he's a lot of fun to write, provided you can get over the somewhat twitchy nature of his desire to haul off and beat the opposition (and his own teammates) senseless trying to win.

So where do you come in?
Me? I thought I'd made that clear! I'm much more in the second camp than the first -- for one thing, it holds up to canon a lot better, and when all we really have to go on about a character is what High Lord JKR has told us, I think it's generally better to stick to that information. Of course, I've read really good stories in the first category, so I don't want to belittle it, but I think the stories were good more from the fact that their authors wrote well than from their in-canon portrayal of Oliver. I think a balance, weighted toward the second category, is really the way to look at Oliver Wood. He's clearly a jock. And that's something I think most many authors tend to overlook, which is a shame. We don't know if he's good at anything other than quidditch -- in fact, he could be a miserable failure at most of his subjects (not a complete failure, because he passes and graduates after his seventh year), and therein lies the fun in writing characters that aren't quite so clearly delineated as Harry et al. Still, we have to acknowledge that quidditch at least seems to be Oliver's raison d'etre -- we even see him (briefly) in book four, excitedly telling Harry that he has been signed to a professional team. So Oliver is a professional-caliber athlete, and it's ridiculous to fail to address quidditch in any story involving him, pretty much at any time after Harry enters Hogwarts. So unless you're writing baby!Oliver stories, quidditch is going to enter the picture.

I love writing jock!Oliver, probably because it's my way of getting into athletics -- something I never really did, due to not only lack of aptitude but lack of desire. And now that one of my favorite characters is a jock, I get to visit a culture that's slightly foreign, and yet at the same time quite like things I knew growing up -- both of my brothers are three-sport athletes (sorry if that's too much personal information, but it's part of how I come to the character). I know what someone is like after a game/match/practice/etc. and how deeply emotional athletes can be about their sports. So whenever I pull out Oliver to write, I get to do something different, and that's a lot of fun.

Strengths and Weaknesses
I'm trying not to beat the Oliver-is-good-at-quidditch point into the ground, so that's the only mention of it in this paragraph. As stated above, he's canonically "burly", which suggests at least moderate physical strength. We really don't know about his academic record or his subjects, except that he was pulled out of Defense Against the Dark Arts by McGonagall during his fifth year -- O.W.L. year -- to be introduced to Harry when Harry became Seeker for the Gryffindor quidditch team. We really can't say anything from that, though, because Defense Against the Dark Arts is a required O.W.L. exam, so therefore it would be a required class. In the weaknesses category, we know Oliver has quite a temper -- witness him blustering at Marcus Flint near the beginning of book two about how Oliver had booked the quidditch pitch when Marcus and his team come out with Snape's note about needing the pitch to train their new Seeker (Draco Malfoy), and his apparent row with McGonagall over Harry getting to ride the Firebolt. Other than that and his desire to win, we also don't know much about Oliver's weaknesses -- there's only so much that can be wrung from canon before it becomes fan-based speculation and canon no longer.

Flat as a board -- character evolution (or, rather, the lack thereof)
Wood as a character is fairly boring, if taken exclusively as JKR presents him. The only real evolution we see him go through is a gradual progression of his desire for the Quidditch Cup from anxious through despondent and out the other end, manic as can be. We see him at the beginning of book four, oh-so-briefly, jumping for joy at having been signed to a professional Quidditch team (well, the reserve squad of one; not bad right out of what amounts to high school). But since Harry is the focal point of the books and Quidditch is the only context in which Harry knows Oliver, it makes sense that we would only see one facet of his personality. For some authors, a character like this is a godsend -- practically a blank slate on which to pin any and all of their plans for everything from epic romances to down-and-dirty smut. Much as Draco Malfoy (similarly one-sided in his relationship to Harry) is ill-defined and left up to the fic writer's imagination, Oliver is capable of being shown in any number of different lights. Most of these characterizations grate on the essence of Oliver as I see him (see Archetypes, above), but given the right setup, they're no less valid than any of the six thousand faces of Draco Malfoy. To be sure, they're all fictional -- that is, non-canonical -- but since we have such hazy and limited canon, debates about the validity of any particular portrayal of Oliver are likely to be a waste of time; unless, of course, such a portrayal reduces or ignores the effects of Quidditch on his life. So to all the Oliver-writers out there: develop all you want, but keep the sport!

Who Fucks Whom, or How Did His Broomstick End Up There? -- Oliver and relationships
Again, canon fails us -- this time in our quest to get the keeper laid. Pairings? None that we know of. As such, fanfic jumps up to fill the void. The most popular pairings at this point seem to be slash ones: Marcus Flint; Percy, Bill, Charlie, Fred, George, and Ron Weasley; Harry Potter; and Cedric Diggory. Some of the less-written pairings are ones that squick the hell out of me, but whom I to judge? A few I've seen include Oliver/Snape, Oliver/Draco, Oliver/Sirius, Oliver/Bill/Neville, and Oliver/Hermione, the sole het pairing of the bunch. I'm going to focus on Oliver/Percy and Oliver/Marcus for this essay, mostly because they're the pairings I know best, but also because they're by far the most frequent.

Give it to me rough in the broomshed, baby -- Oliver Wood/Marcus Flint
Here we take a full-on leap into the world of the unexplored. The only interaction we see Wood have with Flint is in going out to the Quidditch pitch the morning Draco Malfoy is revealed as the new Slytherin seeker (book 2). Oliver blusters at Marcus, and there is hostility there, but that's all we see. In the grand tradition of Mortal Enemies Having Sex, however, many authors stick these two in a broomshed/locker room/closet/etc. and watch the hot and heavy happen. If we're going to approach this pairing, it's important to recognize that these are not two characters who are going to wax philosophical or poetic about the other's beauty -- these are two teenagers (or 20somethings or however old you make them) who are, bluntly speaking, jocks. Jocks who, in all likelihood, are ready to jump just about anything that moves -- remember, in the books they're teenagers, and the hormone overload is probably running fast and furious in these two. If an author forgets that, that is, turns one of them into a lofty academic or pouting fop, then you're not really reading Marcus/Oliver slash -- you're reading original character fiction written in the Harry Potter universe.

For more on Marcus/Oliver, see apillarofsalt's 'ship essay (and some of my responses) in ship_manifesto, [here].

The nerd, the jock, and the three other people in the room -- Oliver Wood/Percy Weasley
It's kind of strange that we don't see Oliver and Percy interacting more in the books. Actually, we don't really see them interacting at all, which is beyond bizarre. Why? Oliver and Percy are both the same age, and in the same house. As we know from Harry's experiences, this would be like Harry never interacting with Neville, Seamus, Dean, or Ron. Though JKR has been a bit vague about the number of students at Hogwarts (saying "a thousand", yet seeming to have only 10 per house per year, for a total of 280), it does seem odd that Percy and Oliver, who share a bedroom in Gryffindor tower, do not interact in front of Harry as Harry interacts with is own class year. To a slasher, this is a golden opportunity. Since we have, in effect, a skeletal backstory and zero details, constructing the history of Oliver and Percy's relationship is a free enterprise, open to each new author that comes along.

The biggest theme in this pairing is the difference between Oliver, the jock, and Percy, the brain. This difference can be brought out, in which case you end up with (predictably) a PWP, in which Percy is looking for some hot jock lovin', or it can be downplayed, as in the case of bringing out the familiarity the two must have after spending 5 (depending on what year your story happens) years together in the same dormitory. Usually stories in the latter category use differences for plot points, but don't spend a lot of time psychoanalyzing the two and how they grew apart. This seems to me like a great idea for a story; if someone has written it, please let me know! A more nuanced view of the characters can lead to more engaging fiction, so please don't take this section (The Jock/The Brain) as the last word on the relationship between Oliver and Percy -- it's mostly just foundation on which to build something more interesting.

Why do I do it? (Stay interested, that is)
What draws me back to Oliver Wood, time and time again? For one, he's mercifully uncomplicated. In many other fandoms, the characters may take completely inexplicable actions, and the writers are left to pick up the pieces and attempt to make sense of them; with Oliver, you more or less always know where you stand. I like pairing him with Marcus Flint (a character for whom there is much more fanon than canon) and letting the two of them slug it out, be it on the Quidditch pitch, the bed/locker room bench/shower, or both. And then there is the opportunity to push Oliver's psyche in different ways, to great effect. A little nudge here and he's a beaming, happy drunk; a poke there and he's so focused on Quidditch that he's literally willing to kill for a victory. I don't stretch him so far in any direction that he's not recognizable as Oliver, but since we're given so little to work with, some creativity is obviously called for.

For those who are interested, I heartily recommend anything and everything by V (site: [hoping is out of style]), Halrloprillalar (site: [prillalar.com]), and pretty much anyone recced at [Switchknife's Slash Recommendations]. There is also a Marcus/Oliver community (which I just discovered a few days ago, to my chagrin) at roughquidditch and a Percy/Oliver community at weasleys_wood. I would also mention that I have quite a few Marcus/Oliver fics up at [my site], but that would be shameless self-promotion, now wouldn't it? You can feel free to email me at babyofthegroup AT gmail DOT com and I will happily engage in discussion on this and any number of other issues.
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