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!

Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Grim tea cup to add to my collection

Everyone was staring, transfixed, at Professor Trelawney, who gave the cup a final turn, gasped, and then screamed.
There was another tinkle of breaking china. Neville had smashed his second cup. Professor Trelawney sank into a vacant armchair, her glittering hand on her heart and her eyes closed.
'My dear boy -- my poor dear boy -- no -- it is kinder not to say -- no -- don't ask me...'
'What is it, Professor?" said Dean Thomas at once. Everyone had got to their feet, and slowly, they crowded around Harry and Ron's table, pressing close to Professor Trelawney's chair to get a good look at Harry's cup.
'My dear,' Professor Trelawney's huge eyes opened dramatically, 'you have the Grim.'
The Grim in my teacup
In our first introduction to the memorable Professor of Divination, Sybil Trelawney, we experience the second prediction that Trelawney makes about Harry.

The first, of course, was the prophecy offered up before Harry was even born that set into motion the tortured relationship that was to develop between the Dark Lord and our orphan hero.

The second one, the prophecy of Harry's death in this scene from The Prisoner of Azkaban, was perhaps not so meaningful. Sure, it tied in with Harry's many sightings of a strange black dog that was haunting his life at that time but it was certainly not very accurate.

My HP shelf
The tea leaves might have looked like The Grim -- the giant spectral dog that haunts church yards which is an omen of death -- to Trelawney but they certainly didn't give notice of Harry's imminent demise.

I write of this section today not because I have any great insight into what is happening in the scene but simply to introduce my latest Harry Potter acquisition: a handmade Grim tea up, with Trelawney's immortal words on the saucer. It's gorgeous and so really very cool. It was made by the young friend of my friend Steph and was a gift to me at Christmas this year.

I just love it. And it fits in so nicely on the lowest level of my handcrafted Harry Potter shelf, right next to my hand knit Griffyndor scarf!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wondering who killed Ariana Dumbledore

This priori incantatem spell is still hanging around in the back of my head.

A useful little spell, isn't it? It causes a wand to spew forth, in reverse chronological order, all of the spells it has cast in the past. How far back it goes, I don't think is ever established, but it can be used in a variety of ways to understand how events transpired, to interact with people who died under that wand, to prove guilt or innocence even.

Useful, yes, but not used often enough, I think.

For example, the events of The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows establish very clearly that Albus Dumbledore is haunted by the death of his sister, Ariana, and the thought, the fear that he himself could possibly have cast the spell that killed her.

His fear and remorse show themselves when he drinks the potion that protects the Slytherin's Locket in the middle of the lake in the cave by the seaside. He becomes emotional again in the "King's Cross" scene at the end of The Deathly Hallows, telling Harry that he fears that he himself cast the spell that killed Ariana.

Which begs the question: why, at some point in the 100 or so years between the Ariana's death and Dumbledore's own demise, did he not think simply to perform priori incantatem on his own wand and perhaps on Aberforth's as well. I will accept that Dumbledore would not have had access to Grindelwald's original wand but, if he tested both his own and his brother's, that should be sufficient to prove who cast the killing spell.

Okay, if priori incantatem is time-limited (or limited in the number of spells it can spew forth), perhaps Dumbledore could run out of time... but why wouldn't he think of it immediately after Ariana's death? He was a masterful wizard at the time. Perhaps he was too distraught and, by the time he thought of using this spell on his own wand, he had run out of time.

The situation begs another question: in all of Harry Potter lore, we have seen only one spell that kills its target (Avada Kedavra) -- does Dumbledore's reaction to his possible part in Ariana's death mean that he, Aberforth and Grindelwald were duelling to the death that fateful day?

Were all three of them throwing the Avada Kedavra around as they fought a boys' fight?

Or is is possible that an already weakened Ariana succumbed to a lesser spell?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ah, the stories Bellatrix's wand could have told!

So I'm reading The Deathly Hallows in French and I have come to the scene at Shell Cottage where our hero trio are about to apparate to Diagon Alley to attempt to break into Gringott's.

Hermione expresses her horror at having to carry the captured wand of Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry tells her it should help her live the part. Ron tells her to imagine all the powerful magic that has been done with that wand.

Ron's comment only serves to make matters worse as Hermione points out, with absolute disgust, that  Bellatrix had used that exact wand to torture Neville's parents into madness and then to kill Sirius Black.

Harry's immediate reaction is one of revulsion. He expresses the wish to throw the wand away, to get as far from it as he possibly can.

It's too bad he didn't remind himself of Priori Incantatem, the spell that forces a wand to reveal the spells it has previously cast in reverse order.

We saw Priori Incantatem in the graveyard in The Goblet of Fire when Voldemort returns to bodily form -- Harry's wand forces the Dark Lord's wand to spit out shadows (albeit talking shadows) of its most recent victims, including (I believe erroneously) Cedric Diggory and Harry's parents -- and, earlier in the seventh novel, Harry reminds Hermione and Ron that, by using Priori Incantatem on Hermione's lost wand, the Death Eaters will soon learn that Harry's original wand had been broken.

In that graveyard scene, remember, the shadows that emerged from Voldemort's wand of his recent victims were actually able to speak to Harry and to take steps to protect him as he made his escape. In a way, while simply shadows of spells past, they were also thinking beings.

So it's too bad that Harry doesn't think to perform Priori Incantatem on Bellatrix's wand so as to get a chance to speak, at least briefly, to his godfather. I'm not sure what good it would have done any one, to be honest -- it's not like Sirius would have any great insights into the Deathly Hallows or how to break into Gringott's or what the last three Horcruxes were -- but it might have given Harry, Hermione and Ron a welcome moment with their beloved mentor.