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.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A worthy home for Harry Potter

Wand on top, movies, books, special books
If you are like me, your Harry Potter collection is getting a little bit out of hand. Even if you limit yourself to the original seven novels (and eight movies), even if you refuse to purchase each new edition of the books as they are released, your probably are starting to amass quite a pile of Harry Potter related stuff.

What do you do?

Naturally, you choose a book shelf some where in your house and put all of your HP books there. You might even put your DVDs or Blu Rays there. But it doesn't seem enough, does it?

Are you really showing your allegiance to Harry and the wondrous Rowling World by shelving her books beside your copies of The Hunger Games? No way.

Feeling that I was doing a disservice to my Harry Potter passion and realizing that I wasn't showing my collection to advantage, I decided to commission a carpenter friend Robb to build me a custom-made, carefully measured Harry Potter book shelf.

It's oak, stained dark to look like the wood from which the Nimbus 2000's handle is made, and it has beautifully carved accents: the glasses and lightning scar at the top, the HP on the sides and even the Nimbus 2000 logo hidden on the right of the bottom shelf.

I just got the final product yesterday and, as you can see by the photos, it is spectacular.

Note the HP carved on the sides
My official HP wand holds the place of honour, on the top shelf, just below the inscribed glasses and lightning scar. On the second shelf, you'll find the Blu Ray movies and all of the Jim Dale audio books on CD. Below that, the books themselves: seven novels in English (plus a second copy of The Deathly Hallows that I literally read to pieces), the seven novels in Menard's wonderful French translations, and finally the ancillary canonical books from Rowling herself, accompanied by a couple of other odd Potter-related works.

The bottom shelf is still a work in progress. On the left, a limited special edition hard cover copy of The Philosopher's Stone that I picked up at the Studio Tour in England. In the centre, the first of the illustrated versions of the Harry Potter novels (the shelf is scaled for this book -- I can only trust that the next six will be the same dimensions) and finally my studio tour guide book. I plan to add my hand-knit Gryffindor scarf (thanks Lynn) to the bottom shelf as well, at least until the other illustrated books join the collection.

I have to admit, I'm arguing with myself as to whether or not I should add my copy of The Cursed Child to the shelf. It was such an awful piece of work, it wasn't written by J.K. herself and I don't consider it canonical so I probably won't honour it by placing it here.

That leaves the question: do I add the script for Fantastic Beasts when it comes out? It was written by Rowling so it should probably be considered both canonical and worthy of inclusion on my shelf. But I'll have to think about that.

To be honest, I'm not even sure the film versions deserve to be there but many HP fans might consider their exclusion to be nothing short of heretical.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why didn't the Trace give young Tom away?

I still haven't been able to figure out the "Trace" and, to be honest, I'm not sure J.K. has either.

If I recall correctly, the Trace was first mentioned, perhaps not by name, in The Chamber of Secrets when Harry receives a warning from the Ministry after Dobby's infamous Hover Charm that dropped a big frothy dessert on Aunt Marge. As it developed, the Trace is explained as some kind of charm that attaches (automatically?) to underage witches and wizards to permit the Ministry to "trace" when they perform feats of magic outside school and only lifts once the particular person comes of age.

I wonder, by the way, if the Trace is what permits Hogwarts to locate Muggle-borns with magical powers and then invite them to enroll when they become of school age. But that's an aside...

In The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore explains to Harry that the Ministry "can detect Magic, but not the perpetrator" -- that the Trace gives Ministry officials notice only that an act of magic has been performed in the vicinity of an underage witch or wizard. If there are adult witches or wizards nearby, the Ministry simply assumes the magical act was performed by an adult and takes no action. Further, Dumbledore tells Harry that the Ministry cannot tell the difference between House Elf magic and human magic, so Harry took the blame for Dobby's Hover Charm.

A lot is made of the Trace in The Deathly Hallows since Harry, who doesn't turn seventeen until his birthday during the summer before seventh year, cannot start his search for the Horcruxes until the Trace is lifted. After his seventeenth birthday, when Harry, Hermione and Ron encounter Death Eaters in the coffee shop immediately after fleeing the Weasley wedding, Hermione wonders whether perhaps the Voldemort-controlled Ministry has found a way to keep the Trace on Harry even though he is now of age.

Ron objects: it's not possible, he says. The lifting of the Trace at 17 is wizarding law.

So that's the stage against which I ask the following question: in the HBP, why did the Ministry not know immediately, via the Trace, that an underage Tom Riddle had performed the three Avada Kedavra spells that killed his father and grand parents?

Dumbledore explains to Harry that the Ministry did not trace young Tom's magical acts in Morfin's presence because they simply assumed the adult wizard (Morfin) had performed them. But he also tells Harry that "we can be fairly sure what happened. Voldemort Stupefied his uncle, took his wand, and proceed across the valley to 'the big house over the way'. There he murdered the Muggle man who had abandoned his mother, and, for good measure, his Muggle grandparents."

Yet, the Ministry failed to recognise that it was young Tom who killed his Muggle parents, an act that was apparently witnessed by no other person, Muggle or Magical. Should not the Trace have made it very clear to the Ministry that the three Avada Kedavra spells were cast by the only magical person in the vicinity, the under-age Tom Riddle?

Is it possible that Tom forced Morfin to accompany him when he visited the Riddle house to commit the murders, thus leading the Ministry to be more ready to blame Morfin? That would have made the act much more difficult to accomplish, especially without attracting notice from passersby, but it would at least address the potential Trace-related issue.

Another side question arises: why would the Ministry not place a Taboo on the three Unforgiveable Curses so that they have instant notice that the curse has been used and can arrest the culprit immediately? Sure, the Taboo likely only works on words that are spoken out loud (rather than simply thought) but I don't recall a single instance when Avada Kedavra is used, for example, that it is used nonverbally.