Thursday, May 31, 2018

What is Harry's crime in the Half-Blood Prince?

There is something that has always bothered my about one of the key scenes in The Half-Blood Prince.

As you will no doubt recall, in the later stages of the novel, Harry sees on the Marauders Map that Malfoy is in a boys bathroom with Moaning Myrtle. Harry enters the bathroom and finds Malfoy leaning over a sink, crying, while Myrtle attempts to soothe him.

Harry takes no action, other than to stand looking at Malfoy. Malfoy pulls himself together and looks up into the mirror. He sees Harry standing behind him, draws his wand and casts a spell at Harry. That spell misses and a duel ensues.

The two are well-matched (surprisingly so, considering Harry's experience and training, but I wrote about that in an earlier post). After several shots back and forth, Malfoy attempts to cast the Cruciatus curse on Harry but Harry is a shade quicker, hitting Malfoy with the mysterious Sectum Sempra spell that he found in his potions text.

Malfoy collapses to the floor, bleeding profusely and dropping his wand. The duel is over. Harry takes no further offensive action but merely stands by as Myrtle screams and Snape thunders into the room to render aid to the bleeding Malfoy.

From what I can tell, Harry did nothing wrong. He walked into a public bathroom. He watched a schoolmate cry. He responded to an attack by that schoolmate. He avoided being tortured by that schoolmate (who was attempting to use an Unforgiveable Curse on him). He took effective action to render his attacker incapable of continuing the attack, without actually killing his attacker. He took no further aggressive steps once his attacker was incapacitated.

Where is the crime? Why is he punished? Why is he subjected to such significant vilification from Professor Snape, Professor McGonagall and even Hermione?

Malfoy cast the first spell and started the duel with no more provocation than that Harry happened to be standing there watching him cry. Malfoy escalated the duel by attempting to cast an Unforgiveable Curse. Harry defended himself once attacked and stopped once he had rendered his attacker incapable of continuing to attack.

Malfoy was forgiven for attacking Harry and forgiven for casting an Unforgiveable Curse.

Harry was found guilty of defending himself effectively from an unprovoked, serious, perhaps deadly attack.

Okay, I can understand that Snape, who hates Harry immensely for a variety of perhaps understandable reasons, might see this an opportunity to get at Harry. Fine.

But McGonagall? Once she heard Harry's story and interviewed Myrtle, wouldn't she intervene in support of Harry? Wouldn't she demand that Malfoy, once recovered, be punished (and likely expelled) for launching an unprovoked attack on a schoolmate and for attempting to hit that schoolmate with an Unforgiveable Curse?

And Hermione? Sure, she doesn't like the Half-Blood Prince's book. And sure, she quite properly chastises Harry for using an untried curse on someone like this. But why does she so thoroughly condemn Harry for his actions?

From a narrative perspective, on the other hand, I can understand this scene and its outcome. It provides action in the middle of a fairly static plot. It permits the duel between Malfoy and Potter that we have been hoping for since book one. It creates a reason for Harry to be forced to miss the final Quidditch match and sets up the climax of the Harry-Ginny romantic build up.

And, of course, if Malfoy were punished or expelled at this point, the climax of the entire novel would be impossible -- with Malfoy kicked out of school, there would be no way for Dumbledore to be trapped by Death Eaters on the top of the tower that fateful night.

So I see the value in the duel and Harry's punishment to Rowling as a writer but... the outcome of the duel still does not make any sense in the world of the novels.

Rowling would likely have been better to have the duel start less decisively -- Malfoy and Harry square off, trade words, then begin to duel together. And she should never have had Malfoy attempt an Unforgiveable Curse. It doesn't have much impact in the course of the action scene, it is unsuccessful and it creates the problem of Malfoy getting away with attempting to cast it.

Then, Harry could legitimately face punishment for using a curse without knowing what it did and, perhaps, for responding to Malfoy's less nasty attack with a ferocious spell that endangered the life of a schoolmate.

These are not major changes I am suggesting but I think they would make the outcome make much more sense and not seem so contrived.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Voldemort versus Grindelwald: Who was the more powerful?

Okay Harry Potter fans, easy question: between Grindelwald and Voldemort, which evil sorcerer was more powerful?

Perhaps not such an easy question. And, unless J.K. decides to find a way to have the two of them duel each other, probably not one we will ever be able to answer definitively.

But, for the sake of the intellectual exercise, let's look at the evidence that Rowling does provide in the seven Harry Potter novels.

The only direct comparison made in the books appears in Rita Skeeter's scathing biography of Albus Dumbledore, which is excerpted extensively in The Deathly Hallows. In her book, Skeeter writes: "The name Grindelwald is justly famous: in a list of Most Dangerous Dark Wizards of All Time, he would miss out on the top spot only because You-Know-Who arrived, a generation later, to steal his crown."

In Skeeter's estimation, Voldemort was the more dangerous of the two. Does that mean he was more powerful as an individual wizard? Not necessarily: from my understanding, it means only that, in Skeeter's highly untrustworthy opinion, Voldemort posed more of a danger to the wizarding community than did Grindelwald.

But Skeeter does make an important point: in any comparison of the two evil wizards, Albus Dumbledore is a useful measuring stick. After all, Dumbledore faced both Grindelwald and Voldemort in battle.

Of Grindelwald, Dumbledore himself says this: "They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I did him...Not what he could do to me magically. I knew that we were evenly matched, perhaps that I was a shade more skilful."

And, of course, Dumbledore defeated Grindelwald in their fateful duel.

So Dumbledore believed and then later proved that he was slightly more skilful (powerful?) than Grindelwald.

What about Voldemort?

It is common knowledge that Voldemort feared Dumbledore. This is a fact repeated over and over again, by any number of knowledgeable persons, throughout the seven novels, beginning in the first chapter of the first novel when Professor McGonagall says, "Everyone knows you're the only one You-Know -- oh, all right, Voldemort -- was frightened of." At that point, of course, Dumbledore admits from the outset that "Voldemort had powers that I will never have".

It is also a fact that Voldemort never sought a direct confrontation with Dumbledore: their duel in the Ministry of Magic took place only because Voldemort arrived not knowing that Dumbledore was there already and ignored Bellatrix's attempts to warn him of Dumbledore's presence in the building; and Voldemort sent Draco Malfoy to kill Dumbledore in Book Six and assigned Snape the task of murdering the headmaster if Draco should fail, rather than confronting Dumbledore himself.

(Another interesting question: did Voldemort at that point know that Dumbledore had been injured by a curse? I doubt it. Even though Snape did not know about the Horcruxes, I would expect that he would withhold the key information about Dumbledore's injury from the Dark Lord. Imagine how differently the story would have played out if Snape had, in his ignorance, told Voldemort that Dumbledore had been injured cracking open ring? Would Voldemort have put two and two together and realised that Dumbledore was hunting Horcruxes?)

It also important to note that Bellatrix, one of Voldemort's most trusted followers, believes that it is imperative that she warn the Dark Lord that Dumbledore is in the Ministry, even though, at that very moment, she fears for her own life and faces severe punishment for her failure to obtain the prophecy. In fact, she tries not once but twice to warn him ("Master, you should know..." and later "But Master -- he is here -- he is below --"). This suggests that Bellatrix knows that Voldemort would not wish to meet Dumbledore in the Ministry, or at the very least might change his approach if he knew his former teacher was present.

And Voldemort's own reaction to Dumbledore's sudden appearance is also telling: "'What --?' cried Voldemort, staring around. And then he breathed, 'Dumbledore!'"

So Voldemort's is afraid when he discovers that he must face his former teacher.

In the duel that follows, Dumbledore's focus is split between fighting Voldemort, keeping Bellatrix trapped and protecting Harry, and yet he is still Voldemort's match. The battle ends in a draw, with the Dark Lord choosing to withdraw (first by possessing Harry in a vain attempt to get Dumbledore to kill the boy and then by fleeing the Ministry) rather than continue to fight Dumbledore.

 It would appear from this evidence that Voldemort did indeed fear Dumbledore and that Dumbledore was the more powerful of the two.

I come to this conclusion even though Rowling writes, just before Voldemort possesses Harry: "For the first time, Dumbledore sounded frightened." From the context, I would argue that Dumbledore is not afraid of Voldemort at that point but for Harry. He recognises the threat to Harry and fears for his welfare.

I may be wrong, of course. Perhaps, in that moment, Dumbledore felt personally afraid of Voldemort. But even then, that does not prove that Voldemort was more powerful than Dumbledore but merely that, momentarily in a duel in which Dumbledore's attention was divided, Voldemort momentarily seemed to gain the upper hand.

So that leaves us with two Dark Wizards, both of whom feared Dumbledore and both of whom were unable to defeat him in a one-on-one duel. Grindelwald battled Dumbledore straight up and lost. Voldemort fought a distracted Dumbledore and withdrew.

It's not conclusive by any means but my gut tells me, based on the evidence in the novels, that Grindelwald would have bested Voldemort had the two ever duelled each other.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Concussions can lead to good things

A recent severe concussion left me warned off reading, watching TV, listening to music... thinking for two weeks. After that, I was permitted to read but only very simple books, only children's literature.

For some people, that restriction would be an absolute curse but, when you're a huge Harry Potter fan, it's more like a blessing. I was basically told that I couldn't go to work, I couldn't do any work around the house; I just had to sit around and read Harry Potter. What a nightmare!

So, in the next four weeks, I read the entire seven-novel series over once again, from Philosopher's Stone to Deathly Hallows.

An amazing experience. A testament to the greatness of these seven books and their author.

And I noticed some things this time around (I have read each of the seven books at least 20 if not 30 times), things about which I will have to write future Potter Thoughts posts:
  1. J.K. does an amazing job of creating voices for her different characters -- this leapt out at me while re-reading The Chamber of Secrets with the newly introduced Gilderoy Lockhart and Colin Creevey especially;
  2. The books have some laugh-out-loud moments -- the scene where the Weasleys get trapped behind the fireplace insert at 4 Privet Drive, for example, and many others;
  3. Albus Dumbledore is unfailingly polite in all situations, a practice I would do well to imitate, even if his politeness sometimes hides humour;
  4. I'm not sure if Rowling remembered how she designed Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in The Order of the Phoenix by the time she came to write The Deathly Hallows -- there seem to be too many inconsistencies and discrepancies.
 I also picked up the third of the illustrated versions of the novels -- The Prisoner of Azkaban. Like the first two in this fabulous series, this one is fantastic. Beautiful. Gorgeous. Surprising!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Magical Beasts are not worth finding

To put my cards on the table, I am not a huge fan of either of the two "new" Potter-world tomes. Neither the play The Cursed Child nor the film Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them fills me with a great deal of joy.

I have written earlier about some of my concerns with the play. I don't think, however, that I have written much about the film.

I watched Fantastic Beasts for only the second time last week. I read the script when it originally came out and then bought the Blu Ray of the film when it was released. I have pretty good equipment at home (50" 4K UHD TV and a topline Blu Ray player) so I figure I got about as good an experience of the film as I could possibly have, outside seeing it in iMax 3D or something.

And I was not impressed.

The story is overly complicated and yet meanders, the characters are sketchily drawn and the special effects, while at times impressive, remind me more of the original Ghost Busters than anything else. The CGI 1920s New York City looks about as fake as the CGI 19th Century Toronto of CBC TV's relatively low budget success The Murdoch Mysteries.

The film also seems to lack a sense of itself. Half the time, it comes across as a middle grade comic adventure (at the level of, say, The Philosopher's Stone) and the other half it is gritty and nasty and violent (The Deathly Hallows).

If that weren't bad enough, Rowling indulges in a great deal of revision of the world she herself created. For example, if I'm not mistaken, in the books, a Legilimens has to look into the eyes of the person whose mind they are invading -- in this film, Queenie can invade minds without even being particularly close to people. This power is played for cute in the movie but it's use here undermines its frightening power in the novels.

And then there is the character of Percival Graves. A highly placed and respected member of the MACUSA, identified as an auror on various websites, Graves has significant magical powers that go way beyond what the average witch or wizard exhibits, reminding the viewer of, well, Voldemort and his powers.

SPOILER ALERT: It turns out that Graves is, in fact, Gellert Grindelwald who, at the film's opening, is the subject of a world-wide search after he disappears in Europe. In the film, we see Newt Scamander cast a spell on Graves and watch as Graves (a dark haired Colin Farrell) dissolves into Grindelwald (a white haired Johnny Depp).

So we must conclude that Grindelwald is, at all times, Graves and that Graves did not have an independent existence before Grindlewald arrived in the US. Which raises the question, how did Graves rise to such a high, trusted position in a MACUSA organization that is, self-admittedly, on the brink of open war with No-Majs (Muggles in America), in JUST A FEW DAYS?

Grindelwald had just disappeared as Newt was arriving in New York with his bag of tricks. We see Graves already in a significant position in MACUSA almost as soon as Tina arrests Newt. Tina arrests NEWT on his first day in New York. That means Grindelwald created Graves and rose to a lofty position in MACUSA in a matter of days, if not hours.

Sure, you could argue that Grindelwald killed an already existing, highly placed auror named Graves when Grindelwald first arrived in America and assumed his physical appearance and his identity but how was he able to fool so many people without knowing anything about Graves' life, character, behaviour? And why wasn't his impersonation spotted, especially in an organisation as security conscious as MACUSA?

The plot is full of holes, I tell you. It's poorly designed, horribly paced and weakly presented.

I may still own the Blu Ray of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them but I doubt I will ever watch it again.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

I just noticed that Rowling made a boo boo

People seem shocked when I tell them that I am constantly in the process of reading a Harry Potter novel -- that there is not a day that goes by when I am not somewhere at the start, in the middle or nearing the end of one of the seven novels by J.K. Rowling.

I've lost count of how many times I've read them (though conservative estimates place the number at 25).

So how is that I missed this?

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. In the chapter entitled "Veritaserum". Page 594 of the Canadian first edition, published in 2000. Eighth line from the bottom.

Barty Crouch Jr. has already transformed back into himself after being stunned by Dumbledore and deprived of his next dose of Polyjuice Potion. The real Alastor "Mad Eye" Moody has been discovered in the bottom of his own magical chest and Barty Crouch Jr., under the influence of three drops of Veritaserum, is explaining everything to Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Harry and Winky, the house elf.

Crouch's transformation back into himself is complete and Rowling has been referring to him as "Crouch" for almost an entire page. Then Dumbledore asks him:
'How did your father subdue you?'
And, in the eighth last line of page 594, Rowling writes the response:
'The Imperius curse,' Moody said. 'I was under my father's control....'
"Moody said" is the tag. Not "Crouch said". "Moody said". Even though Crouch has fully transformed back into himself and Rowling has been referring to him as "Crouch" for more than a page, somehow "Moody" sneaks back in when it is clearly Crouch who is speaking.

How did I miss that error in all my 24 previous readings of the book? How did Rowling miss it in her original writing of the scene, in her numerous reviews and revisions? How did her editors miss it?

To be frank, I missed it because I am always, even after more than 20 readings, so caught up in the action at this point that I speed read the entire chapter. This is the first time I've been able to slow myself down enough to notice things... including continuity errors.

Wow. I'm sure a million other Harry Potter fans have spotted this error in the past but it's the first time I've seen it. It's like Harry Potter is new to me again... after 24 readings.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Another side to Rowling's talent

Have you ever tried to write a screenplay? Or even a play? I have and it is NOT EASY. Writing stories and novels isn't easy either but at least they use the same kinds of sentences and paragraphs and stuff that we learned in school.

Screenplays are truly little bits of normal writing jammed between other nonsensical stuff that seems more like code than anything else. And then there is the structure of a screenplay -- sure, it has the same basic elements (beginning, middle and end) that a normal story has but it also requires a whole pile of other bits that they didn't teach us about in the classroom.

That's why it's amazing to me that J.K. Rowling's screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is so impressive. A master story teller in traditional prose formats -- her novels include not just, well, novels but also short stories, fables, news articles, magazine articles, advertising copy, and much more in terms of the forms of prose writing, all beautifully written -- J.K. seems to move effortlessly into the world of screenwriting as well.

To be honest, I don't really think Fantastic Beasts is a fabulous screenplay but it is indeed very very good, an amazing accomplishment for a novelist like Rowling. Sure, she probably got lots of help from the professional screenwriters who worked on the Potter films but still -- she has produced a credible, professional quality, exciting first screenplay.

I finally broke down and read the script after I missed Fantastic Beasts when it came out in theatres. My town is so small that films, even major motion pictures, only stick around for a week or two and, if you're distracted by life at the time, you're bound to miss out. I thought I could hold out on reading the script until the film came out on  Blu Ray but... nope. I fell about three weeks short.

And, to be honest, I'm glad I did read it. I have gained a new appreciation for Rowling as a writer (a multi-talented writer) and I now have a clear idea of the story and the characters as I wait, with a great deal of impatience all of a sudden, to get my hands on the Blu Ray to see how this fun, lively, face-paced script was brought to life.

With The Cursed Child, I wanted to see the play to redeem what I consider to be an awful script; with Fantastic Beasts, I want to see the film to see this amazing story on the big (TV) screen.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

At last, my Hogwarts acceptance letter

I have been accepted to Hogwarts School, the best school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world. That's what the letter I received today says. It's about four decades too late but at least it got here.

 In fact, I got the whole Hogwarts acceptance package: the letter, the list of supplies and books, the train ticket. Very very exciting. I even tweeted to J.K. Rowling to ask her help in finding the Leaky Cauldron and the entrance to Diagon Alley -- I have a lot to buy and I'm not sure Canada has its own magical mall.

I believe that my sister Lynn created these exquisite reproductions (because, let's face it, they're not real... unfortunately) and they have instantly become one of my favourite Harry Potter items, alongside my Gryffindor scarf (also hand-crafted by Lynn), my Grim tea cup and my Harry Potter shelf, all hand-made, one-of-a-kind items.

And these are perfect reproductions. Gorgeous and perfect in every way. The envelope came tied with a string, with the red Hogwarts seal on the back. And, if I'm not mistaken, the letter is perfect, right down to the signatures, while nothing is missed from the supply list enclosed.

I especially love the train ticket, which is plasticised slightly, to keep it firm and clean. I'm not sure everyone in the world would be as enthralled by this little package as I am but I guess that's the nature of presents: they are intended to please and delight the receiver. And, if my sister's excited anticipation of my opening the gift over the past two weeks is any indication, she's as delighted by this as I am!