Friday, December 30, 2011

Part 2 still makes me angry, even after the fifth viewing

I can't watch The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, without getting angry. The filmmakers did such a good job with Part 1, I can't figure out how they could make such a mess of J.K.'s spectacular, dramatic, yet subtle ending.

I know I've complained about it before but I simply cannot believe that Steven Kloves et al would turn the final battle into such a farce, such a mano-a-mano battle between Harry and Voldemort, such an over-long, over-blown, comic-strip encounter. All subtlety is lost. All poetry. All class. All gone.

I'm finding myself getting wound up again. I have to stop writing.

For now...

Monday, December 26, 2011

A glorious Gryffindor surprise waiting under my tree

Christmas brought a Harry Potter surprise for me in the form of a fabulous Gryffindor scarf knitted by my sister. She tells me the pattern writers studied freeze-frame images from the movies in order to ensure that the knitted scarf would recreate, stitch by stitch, the scarves worn by our favourite characters. And she ordered the Gryffindor crest over the internet to add even more authenticity to the scarf. It's fantastic and warm and I love wearing it.

This photo was taken this afternoon as we began a walk through the woods with our dog. I guess, considering the popularity of the Harry Potter books and films, I shouldn't be surprised that the first person we encountered on our walk looked me up and down and said, "Gryffindor, huh? I consider myself more of a Ravenclaw".

A great response that made my day. The fact that I also found another Harry Potter surprise under the tree (the Blu Ray of The Deathly Hallows, Part 2) made this an even better day. I sat down this afternoon and evening with some friends who are visiting from out of town to watch both Part 1 and Part 2. They're huge Potter fans too so it was a pleasure to get the chance to watch the movies with them and then hear their thoughts on them as well.

I'm excited to get the chance to watch the special features on the discs too -- I watched part of the Daniel Radcliffe - J.K. Rowling conversation and was delighted with the quality of the discussion. I'm looking forward to watching that soon too. More on my recent conversations and the Blu Ray experience in upcoming posts.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Why I think The Prisoner is the best book of the bunch

I haven't posted anything in a while (probably my longest break this year, though I may be wrong on that) due to the simple fact that I am struggling with what I want to say about Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.

I just finished re-reading this the third novel in J.K. Rowling's series last week and thought immediately, "I have to blog about this book". But when I sat down at the keyboard, time and again, words failed me. Why? Because I was struggling to convey just how much I like this book.

For me, The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the seven novels. I've read them all enough times to be able to say this with some conviction. Expressing the "why" is by far the tougher challenge.

And, instead of attempting to write paragraph after paragraph extolling the virtues of this novel, its plot and characters, the writing style, etc., I think it might be simpler if I reduced it all down to a list.

So here are the ten reasons I think The Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of Rowling's seven excellent novels:

1. It is the last of the shorter books, which means you can read the whole thing in a brief period of time, in one sitting almost, and get the absolute most intense reading experience from it;

2. It is the first of the more "adult" books in the series; whereas The Philosopher's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets are clearly childrens' books, with simple plots and a great deal of time spent (deliciously) wondering at the magical world into which Harry is suddenly thrust, The Prisoner of Azkaban sets a terrifically complex, subtle and often terrifying adult story in a magical world we already know, with which we are already comfortable;

3. It tells an exceptionally exciting tale of its own but also starts to set the stage for later novels. From first page to last, a shadow (of the Grim, really) looms over Harry and, with her characteristic flair for misdirection, Rowling makes us feel the tension build as Sirius Black slinks closer and closer to our hero. On the flip side, however, Rowling lays down important building blocks for the return of Voldemort, with Trelawney's eerie prediction and Peter Pettigrew's final escape.

4. The novel introduces two extremely important characters who will play significant roles in Harry's life from now to the end of the series: Remus Lupin and Sirius Black;

5. The book stakes philosophical ground in the discussion of good and evil, of perception and truth, that will have reverberations throughout the rest of the novels;

6. The Prisoner of Azkaban gives Hermione her first real chance to shine, to prove herself a worthy heroine to stand beside Harry and Ron, while still not losing that part of her that made her interesting in the first place: her commitment to education, intellect and rationality, even in the face of the scorn of her friends;

7. The book gives us our first real glimpse of the lives of Harry's parents, both through the characters who knew them (Black, Lupin, Snape, Rosemerta, McGonagall, Hagrid, et al) and through Harry's horrific recollection of his parents' last moments alive, a recollection that Rowling carefully builds in each successive encounter with the Dementors;

8. The novel gives us our first real indication that Harry could be a truly great wizard. His perfection of the Patronus Charm, a piece of truly advanced magic, shows us that he does, in fact, have it within him to take on the challenges we are starting to realise lie in wait for him;

9. The book deals with the issue of time in an interesting way, creating a truly memorable set of climactic scenes; and

10. The Prisoner of Azkaban gives us our first warning that Rowling doesn't intend to make Harry's life, nor ours as readers of the series, easy. There are some gruesome scenes in this book and some very violent passages: I find Harry's recollections of his parents' murders incredibly effective, serving notice that we're not reading simple childrens' books any more.

I know. I will probably now read The Goblet of Fire, The Order of the Phoenix and the other books again and declare that each one, in turn, is the best. But right now I have to say that The Prisoner of Azkaban is the standard bearer in the Harry Potter series.

Do you agree? What's your favourite Harry Potter novel and why? Use the Comments function to tell me your thoughts.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A Bagshot surprise

I didn't think it was possible. Not in this country. Not in this day and age.

I actually found myself in a room with 11 other people and not one of them (not ONE of them) was a fan of Harry Potter. In fact, none of them had even read or watched Harry Potter enough to know who Bathilda Bagshot is.

How did I find this out? Well, the room in question was a classroom at my place of work. And the 11 other people were my classmates and my French instructor. And the way I learned it was about as embarrassing as you can imagine.

I had to do a ten-minute oral presentation on a well-known personage from French-Canadian society. The personage assigned to me was a 20th Century union and anti-poverty activist from Caraquet, New Brunswick by the name of Mathilda Blanchard.

I decided to start my presentation with a joke, by telling my classmates how excited I was to have been assigned Mathilda Blanchard, since she was such an interesting character from the novels of J.K. Rowling.

I was playing on the similarity in the names between Mathilda Blanchard, well-known activist, and Bathilda Bagshot, author of "A History Of Magic" as featured in the Harry Potter novels and films. I even produced a photograph of Bathilda from the movies.

I expected big laughs. I expected dawning realisations and happy faces.

What I got was... nothing. Blank looks. Slow blinks of non-comprehension. The instructor was staring at me like I'd lost my mind.

Oh well. The presentation went well and I got the chance to tell more people about the wonders of Harry Potter and Poudlard, that famous school of witchcraft and wizardry.

But I also left wondering: will I ever again, as long as I live, meet 11 people at the same time, none of whom have read the Harry Potter novels nor seen the films?

Not likely.

Monday, November 21, 2011

That's the spirit, dear

The Prisoner of Azkaban has produced another one of those nice but unobtrusive moments that I love so much.

Early in the book, Harry finds himself staying in a room at the Leaky Cauldron for the last two weeks of the summer. When he first stands in front of the mirror in the room, he tries to smooth his unruly hair and the mirror says, in a wheezy voice, "You're fighting a losing battle there, dear".

That, in itself, is a funny little moment. Mirrors talk in the magical world.

Even better, however, is a moment nine pages later, after we've already forgotten about the talking mirror. Harry thinks about the fact that Sirius Black has apparently escaped Azkaban to find and kill him and declares, "I'm not going to be murdered."

To which the mirror responds, in a sleeping voice, "That's the spirit, dear."

The mirror's response surprises me every time I read the book. And it makes me laugh out loud.

It's a great moment, a fun moment at a point in the novel when the tension is just starting to build. Great writing.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rushing past the hints Rowling gives us

It's funny to be re-reading the opening chapters of The Prisoner of Azkaban, knowing so well how the plot develops.

Everywhere you turn in the opening chapters of this book is Ron's rat, Scabbers, who ends up playing such a large part in the plot in the latter stages of the novel. He's in the Daily Prophet's photo of the Weasley family in Egypt, he's front and centre in the scene where Harry first encounters Hermione and Ron in Diagon Alley, Crookshanks attacks him in the pet store and, just to make sure we're aware of him, the pet shop owner actually tells us that it is highly unusual for a rat to have lived as long as he has.

So why is that, when I first read this novel, I didn't pick up on this sudden focus on Scabbers and recognise that he would play such a big role in the novel?

It's amazing, I think, how our mind works when we read. A skilled writer can give us all sorts of hints and clues about what's to come and yet, unless we're extremely observant, we just flow right past them.

Remember, in The Philosopher's Stone, how Rowling is very careful to tell us that Hermione bowls Professor Quirrell over as she rushes to distract Snape during the Quidditch match? Same thing happened to us there: we're so caught up in the action, so quick to accept the conclusions that the characters draw from the evidence before them, that we miss the hints J.K. gives us about what is really true.

It's good writing. And it makes re-reading the novels even more interesting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Waffling on who wrote A History of Magic

I started re-reading The Prisoner of Azkaban yesterday on the plane back from Toronto and two things jumped out at me.

The opening scene of the novel has Harry hiding under the covers of his bed at Privet Drive, trying to do his summer homework without being discovered by the Dursleys. As you will recall, Harry's uncle and aunt have forbidden him from doing anything related to magic or Hogwarts in their house so we find him, in his room, blankets pulled over his head, quietly reading his text on the history of magic.

First thing that jumped out at me: who the heck is this Adalbert Waffling and when did he write a competing history text to challenge the great Bathilda Bagshot? My paperback copy of the novel clearly states that Harry is reading A History of Magic by Adalbert Waffling. Interestingly enough, it seems that J.K. corrected this error in later editions of the novel. Does that make my little book valuable? And what does that do to the sanctity of the canon if Rowling can publish a book, then go back and "correct" it like this.

I would point out, of course, that Harry's relationship with this particular book (whether written by Waffling or Bagshot) is strange: in book one, he finds the name for his Snowy Owl (Hedwig) in A History; in the third novel, Harry reads this text in order to complete his History of Magic homework; but in later novels Harry claims never to have to opened it.

The second thing that jumped out at me was this: in the original novel, Harry is clearly described as reading A History in the light of a "torch" (which is the English term for what in Canada we call a "flashlight") because he is not allowed to do any magic outside of school. In the film version, however, Harry uses his wand and the "Lumos" spell to provide the light to read the book: a clear breach of magical law. Yet he is never punished for it. He fears that his accidental use of magic (blowing up his aunt) will get him expelled from Hogwarts but feels no compunction about using magic to help him read.

Ahh, if we spent our days finding all the inconsistencies in the movies, we'd never get anything else done, would we? Still, it's fun to point them out when they arise!

Thursday, November 10, 2011

On Snape and scones

I love hanging around with people who know and enjoy Harry Potter to the same extent that I do.

For the past couple of days, I have had the honour of spending some time with Emily and Clare, two young women who have shared my passion for J.K. Rowling's creations for many years.

I think we drove the other people in the house crazy but it was still a lot of fun. Especially when, during a conversation about how to make the perfect scone (because their mother makes the world's best scones), Clare and I both jumped to a HP reference at the exact same time.

You see, people were complaining that, while Mom makes the best scones in the world, anyone else who tries to follow her recipe is doomed to fail. Why? Because Mom has made some changes to that recipe for better results but, unfortunately, has failed entirely to add her recommended changes to the written recipe itself.

They're recorded only in her head.

Have you figured out the reference we both made? Of course: at the exact same time, Clare and I said: "The Half-Blood Prince". Harry was so successful in his sixth year potions course because the Half-Blood Prince had been kind enough to scrawl his improvements to the potion recipes right there in the book that Harry inherited from him. So Harry could follow his amendments to the recipes and be successful.

There's a lesson there for us all: if you find a way to improve a recipe, then please write your improvements on the recipe itself so that we can all enjoy the improved results. If Severus Snape can do it, so can you!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Movie Harry wouldn't have been safe at the Burrow(s)

The Blu Ray/DVD is coming out in one week. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, will be available in stores on November 11. So exciting!

Seeing that advertisements for the new discs has gotten me thinking again about the film versions of The Deathly Hallows and the many ways in which they strayed from the original novel.

And here's one difference that has been bothering me, mainly because it creates in my mind a significant inconsistency within the film narrative itself.

In the novel, J.K. takes great pains to establish that the plan to remove Harry from Privet Drive involves the creation of many different Harrys, each of which will be taken by a member of the Order to a different safe house. Each Harry will then travel by port key to the Burrow. Harry and Hagrid, in fact, barely escape Voldemort by entering the safe zone established around the home of Ted Tonks, Dora's father. From there, Harry and Hagrid travel to the Burrow to meet the others.

Even if Voldemort is able to distinguish the real Harry from the fakes, as he does in both the book and the movie, his efforts to find and capture Harry will be frustrated by the fact that he will not know to which of the many possible safe houses Harry has been moved and the fact that each of those safe houses is magically protected. In other words, it will take him a great deal of time and energy to track Harry down.

In a time-saving measure, the film version edits out the extra step. Instead of scattering to different safe houses, all of the Harrys and their escorts are told by Mad-Eye to "head for the Burrows" as they prepare to take off.

Outside of the fact that the name of the Weasley household has changed, this revised plan creates a real problem: since all of the Harrys went to the Burrow, Voldemort therefore knows that the real Harry will be at the Burrow. It will be the first place Voldemort lays seige to in his search for Harry.

Sure, the Burrow is magically defended but, as the Dark Lord proves later in the battle of Hogwarts, even the most powerful of magical protection cannot hold Voldemort off for long. Hogwarts' formidable defenses crumble within minutes once Vodelmort joins the assault. We can't expect the defenses around the Burrow to last any longer.

So how is that Movie Harry is able to spend several peaceful days at the Burrow before its defenses finally fail?

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Prefects and House Points

In The Chamber of Secrets, when Percy finds Ron, Harry and Hermione sneaking out of Moaning Myrtle's bathroom, he takes five points from Gryffindor for their inappropriate behaviour. Interesting: Prefects can deduct points in the House Cup competition.

This raises three questions for me:

1) can Prefects also award points for good behaviour?
2) can Prefects deduct or award points from students in other Houses? and
3) if the answer to questions one or two is "yes", what is to stop a Prefect from deducting (or awarding) points so as to change the result in the House Cup competition?

I don't recall another situation where we see a Prefect awarding or deducting points from other students. I certainly don't recall a situation where a Prefect deducts points from a student in another house. For example, when Percy comes across Draco Malfoy (with the Polyjuiced Harry and Ron) in the basement later in the second book, Percy does not deduct points from Draco as a result of Malfoy's insolence towards him.

The whole House Point system is a bit odd to me, to be honest. But more on that for another time.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The vanishing cabinet appears

More evidence that maybe J.K. was planning the whole series right from the start: in the second book, The Chamber of Secrets, Peeves saves Harry from Filch's clutches by dropping a massive object onto the floor above the caretaker's office.

The object? A vanishing cabinet.

As we all know, it was with the help of that same vanishing cabinet that Draco Malfoy managed to sneak Death Eaters into Hogwarts to help him kill Dumbledore in The Half-blood Prince, the second to last book.

I realise that much more careful readers than me have noticed this little detail a long time ago but it jumped out at me this morning as I read the second novel over breakfast. Peeves drops a vanishing cabinet! Amazing.

So either Rowling had it all planned, and took care to describe the dropped furniture as a "vanishing" cabinet rather than just a "cabinet", or she got to the sixth book and thought, "hmm, how should Draco do this? Didn't I mention an interesting piece of furniture in one of the first books that might help me out now?"

As always, I'm a little bit in awe of both her writing and her planning/memory.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

In search of decent used copies

I have come to the conclusion that I am going to have to start replacing my paperback copies of the Harry Potter novels, especially the early books. They are simply becoming too battered and the spines on a couple of them are starting to release the pages from their grip.

My plan is to purchase two sets of the seven novels: paperbacks as working copies and hard cover versions for display and careful reading purposes. I'd like to do it on a budget since this plan could easily cost me upwards of $300. So I'm looking to find used copies in good condition wherever I can.

My complaint? Every time I pull a promising-looking volume from the shelf in my local used book store, I come away disappointed. The other day, a hard-cover version of The Half-Blood Prince turned out to have writing all over it and it looked like somebody had dumped a glass of Kool-Aid over the cover. Today, I found The Prisoner Of Azkaban in hard cover, only to discover that it's got sticky brown stuff all over it (don't worry, I managed to avoid much touching and I washed my hands thoroughly afterwards but I hope to goodness that was chocolate!).

I know, I know. These are kids' books. I should expect to find kids' kinds of damage to them. Still, it would be nice to find a pristine copy or two for my collection.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Raised to be evil, grown to resist it

Is Draco evil? Or just a product of his upbringing?

I've often wondered about this question, not just in the context of Harry Potter but also as it might apply to children in the real world too.

Draco Malfoy is raised in a family where allegiance to the Dark Lord is a way of life, where brutality to house elves is normal behaviour, where intense malevolence toward people who are not of pure blood families is commonplace. Should we then see Draco as evil simply for following the beliefs with which he was raised?

Especially when he is still a young kid, perhaps too young to question those beliefs?

This is why I find the movie portrayal of Draco Malfoy to be so interesting, almost more so than the original literary character. In the films, it becomes very clear that Draco, at 16 and 17, is starting to question his parents' behaviours and beliefs that were so much a part of his upbringing.

He can't bring himself to kill an unarmed Dumbledore, even though he knows he will be punished for his failure. He refuses to identify Harry to Bellatrix when Harry is dragged to Malfoy Manor by the Snatchers. He weeps over the death of his friend in the all-consuming Fiendfyre in the Room of Requirement.

And, when push comes to shove in the final battle of Hogwarts, he and his parents walk away from Voldemort and his army.

As I've written before, Draco is redeemed by his own refusal to commit the most egregious acts of evil that are demanded of him as he approaches adulthood.

In an interesting parallel, Dudley Dursley also gets a brief moment of redemption, at least in the book version of The Deathly Hallows, when he says he doesn't feel that Harry is a waste of space and actually comes over to say a proper goodbye to his cousin. Dudley, raised in a household where Harry-hating is an accepted form of behaviour, actually comes to recognise some value in his cousin. As he grows up, he is able to set aside the prejudices his parents have fed him for his entire life and redeem himself. (Oddly, this scene was shot for the film but left on the cutting room floor. You can see it as part of the "Deleted Scenes" section of the DVD/Blu Ray).

My point is that, although J.K. presents both Dudley and Draco as the epitome of evil to the young Harry in the early novels, she recognises that, as they grow up, they gain the ability to question the beliefs among which they have been raised. They are only truly evil if, once they reach an age of awareness, discernment and decision, they choose to embrace their parents' evil teachings.

And both choose a different path in the end.

And I think the filmmakers go even further to bring that point home in the case of Draco Malfoy.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the "broken" family

Harry Potter lives with his aunt and uncle (just like Luke Skywalker, by the way, but that's another issue).

Neville Longbottom lives with his grandmother.

Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore's father died in prison when they were in their early teens and their mother died in an accident just a couple of years later.

Rubeus Hagrid was raised from a child by his father after his mother left them. His father then died while he was still young.

Sirius Black ran away from home at 16 to live with the Potters.

Tom Riddle was raised in an orphanage, his mother dead and his father having rejected him.

There sure are a lot of boys in J.K. Rowling's world with non-traditional family structures, aren't there?

What does that fact say about the author and her experience with, and understanding of, family? And what does it say about the four major characters who have been raised in what is often called a "traditional" family: Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger, Dudley Dursley and Draco Malfoy?

To her credit, Rowling doesn't seem to associate a "broken" home with the development of an evil or damaged character. In fact, only Riddle went astray among the boys from the non-traditional families. The others are all on the side of good.

And, also to her credit, Rowling doesn't simply assume that a strong "traditional" family background guarantees the child will turn out to be good: while Ron and Hermione certainly turned out okay, Draco Malfoy and Dudley Dursley are both rather nasty creatures, at least until they redeem themselves, at least partially, in the seventh book.

Also of interest to me is the fact that, aside from the Weasleys and the Dumbledores, every family we see in the Potter novels has only one or two children. Harry is the only child of James and Lily. Neville is his parents' only offspring. Hermione, Hagrid, Tom Riddle and Draco are "only" children too. Sirius has a brother but left him when he moved to live with the Potters. And Dudley is an only child, but for the presence of his cousin, Harry, in his home.

And it's interesting that J.K. seems to present the Weasleys (the one really "big" family) as the ideal family: close, loving, supportive. Percy's decision to abandon his family is shocking and it seems almost inevitable, in the context of these books, that he will be reconciled with them before the end. And he is.

What does this mean? I'm not sure. I'll have to think about it. But it's interesting. And it's something I'll be thinking (and writing) about more in the future. Add it to the list.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Nagging thoughts and Free Elves

Two things:

First, in re-reading The Philospher's Stone this weekend, I came across a funny bit of dialogue between Ron and Hermione that gains some resonance when we know they're bound to get married. When Hermione reminds Ron how to cast the Leg Locker spell ("Locomotor Mortis") prior to Harry's second Quidditch match, Ron says to her: "I know... Don't nag." Hmmmmm... a taste of things to come for Ron?

Second, after making a reasoned argument in my last post about why the hero trio can't call on Dobby to help them more often in The Deathly Hallows (he's a Free Elf so they can't simply summon him; he's able to come to them only once he's heard from Aberforth where Harry is and that he needs help), I watched the film version of Part 1 on TV. In the movie, Harry simply pulls out Sirius' mirror, sees Aberforth's eye and says, "Help us." Then Dobby appears.

In the movie world, Dobby apparently can apparate to Harry even when he does not know where Harry is. So why doesn't he do it sooner?

Every time I turn around, I find another piece of evidence that the magical world of the books is very different from the magical world of the films. Different rules apply in each and they are not consistent. Too bad.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Solving the House Elf mystery

A couple of days ago, I posted some thoughts on House Elves. In particular, I wondered why our hero trio didn't summon Kreacher or perhaps Dobby while they were on the run in The Deathly Hallows.

Special thanks to reader WilliamBurr who pointed me in the right direction for the answer and confirmed my own thought that, somewhere in the book, J.K. had given explanation for their failure to use the House Elves to help them more.

WB has helped me locate a useful passage in Chapter 15 ("The Thief") of the seventh book. Harry, Hermione and Ron have just escaped the Ministry with the locket but, in getting rid of Yaxley, they've been forced to abandon Grimmauld Place and flee to the wilderness. In the process, Ron has gotten splinched.

J.K. writes: Harry "and Hermione had already decided against trying to summon [Kreacher]; what if someone from the Ministry came too? They could not count on elfish Apparition being free from the same flaw that had taken Yaxley to Grimmauld Place on the hem of Hermione's sleeve."

A helpful passage, to be sure, and yet more proof that Rowling really thought things through and covered all her bases when she planned and wrote these books. But is it a complete answer to my question?

I think it answers the question with regard to Kreacher for certain. They didn't summon him because to do so would risk bringing trouble directly to them. But what about Dobby? He was safe in Hogwarts' kitchen. Surely he was safe.

Here's my answer to that question: they couldn't summon Dobby because Dobby is a free Elf. Harry doesn't own him so he can't summon him.

The connection between House Elf and Master is such that it makes summoning possible: the Master simply says the name of the Elf and the Elf then apparates directly to the Master, no matter where he or she is and even if the Elf doesn't know where the Master is.

We see this happen at the start of Book Six when Dumbledore decides to find out if ownership of Grimmauld Place has truly passed to Harry by telling Harry to summon Kreacher. Harry says Kreacher's name and Kreacher appears, apparently against his own will.

So, for Harry to call Dobby, he would have to have some way to communicate with him directly and to tell Dobby where Harry is. When Harry, trapped in the cellar of Malfoy Manor, sees Aberforth's blue eye in Sirius' mirror, Harry tells Aberforth that he's in the cellar at Malfoy Manor. Aberforth communicates this information to Dobby and Dobby then apparates to Harry.

I think, based on this reasoning, that we have a complete answer to my question. Harry and Hermione decide it's too risky to summon Kreacher and they can't summon Dobby because Harry doesn't own him. It's only when Harry can communicate (through Aberforth) to Dobby his own location that Dobby can come to help him.

Cool. I like resolving mysteries. And thanks WB!

Saturday, October 15, 2011

17 Sickles equal a Galleon (and an ounce of Dragon liver)

Okay, small thing. Really nit-picky. But J.K. left so few strings untied that it's neat to find one every now and then, isn't it? And this one is even smaller than most.

I'm re-reading The Philosopher's Stone, luxuriating in every word. It's such a fun book, filled with wonder and excitement: wonder at this fabulous new world Harry is discovering, with us readers in tow; excitement because Harry no sooner starts to feel comfortable in this wonderful new world but finds himself caught up in a rather frightening mystery.

So I'm in Chapter Five, "Diagon Alley", getting my first look at a real magical community and, like Harry, wishing I had "about eight more eyes", and we pass a "plump woman outside an Apothecary" who mumbles: "Dragon liver, seventeen Sickles an ounce, they're mad...". It's clear that Rowling is using this and every other little detail she describes to show us how different, how foreign everything in the Alley is to Harry.

But that's not my point. Two pages later, Griphook has escorted Harry and Hagrid to the Potter vault and Harry has discovered his parents have left him well cared for. Hagrid then explains to Harry the magical money system: "Seventeen silver Sickles to a Galleon and twenty-nine Knuts to a Sickle." Simple enough.

So, here's my point. If seventeen Sickles equals a Gold Galleon, why wouldn't the plump woman outside the Apothecary be complaining that the price of dragon liver had risen to a full Galleon per ounce? I mean, if something I was used to paying 75 cents for suddenly cost me a dollar, I wouldn't complain, "Coca Cola, a hundred cents a can, they're mad..." I'd say: "Coca Cola, a buck a can, they're mad.."

Wouldn't I?

As I said, a very very very small point but fun nonetheless. Goodness knows I've made enough mistakes like that in my writing: a character sits down in a chair and stands up from a sofa; she puts on a scarf when she leaves her home and takes off a hat when she arrives at the restaurant; she's reading a magazine as she waits for a table but puts a book back in her bag when the waiter comes to seat her.

But it's interesting to see J.K. work things out as she goes along. Clearly, when she wrote the sentence describing the woman outside the Apothecary, she hadn't yet worked out the magical money system. And then, once she did set it as 17 Sickles to a Galleon, she forgot to go back and change the woman's line of dialogue!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Fredngeorge: So far, they're a single character

I'm starting my review of the seven novels to see how J.K. has depicted Fred and George Weasley: as two different individuals or as a single character with two names?

With the review of The Philosopher's Stone almost completed, here are my initial thoughts on the subject: as she wrote the first novel, Rowling didn't plan to portray these guys as two distinct characters.

Their first introduction comes in King's Cross Station as Harry searches desperately for a way to reach Platform 9 3/4. He spots this family of redheads with an owl (!!!) on their trunk and thinks, "Aha! They must be heading to Hogwarts train too. I'll follow them."

Two things jump out at me from this scene.

First, Molly Weasley actually asks her kids what Platform the train is on. Isn't that bizarre? Throughout the rest of the novels, the fact that the Hogwarts Express leaves Platform 9 3/4 at 11 a.m. on September 1 is one of those great accepted constants in the world. Everybody knows it. Everybody banks on it. Furthermore, Molly Weasley has probably been delivering kids to the train on Platform 9 3/4 every year for the past decade or more. And yet she has to ask her kids in this first book which platform. Wow.

Second, the first thing we learn about Fred and George is that everyone, even their own mother, can't tell them apart. Throughout this scene and the following scenes on the train, we learn their names but we get no indication from the author of any difference between them.

As the book progresses, J.K. even goes so far as to skip identifying which of the twins delivers which line of dialogue. She presents conversations involving Fred and George as if they are a single person: when Harry, for example, talks to the twins, the twins' side of the conversation is never attributed to either George or Fred.

Weird. Neat. But does it change?

My expectation is that I will, indeed, find differences between Fred and George written into the later books. But I may find them indistinguishable until we get to The Goblet of Fire at least.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Thinking about House Elves

I've been thinking about house elves lately, for some crazy reason. If my memory serves, we've met four of them directly in the Harry Potter novels: Dobby, Winky, Kreacher and Hokey (the House Elf owned by Hepzibah Smith, the woman who introduced Tom Riddle to Hufflepuff's Cup). We met several others in the kitchens of Hogwarts when Harry, Ron and Hermione went down to visit to see Dobby but they play little or no part in the stories.

And we've seen some of their powers:
1. they have magical powers that they can use without a wand;
2. those magical powers include the ability to apparate, even in places where witches and wizards cannot (such as Hogwarts, Voldermort's cave, and Malfoy Manor);
3. when they apparate, they can take a number of other people with them;
4. they are able to disarm witches and wizards at short distances;
5. they can hear their masters calling to them no matter where they are and immediately go to their masters;
6. they appear to be good at tracking people and are remarkably strong for their size.

Although it has never been directly discussed, I believe, however, that the magical powers of the House Elf are limited in many ways. They certainly have never been able to escape the servitude to wand carriers in which they have been placed. Although they seem to be able to combat wand carriers fairly effectively in brief encounters, it does not appear that they could openly revolt against them. They do not carry wands and do not appear to have made any attempt to expand their powers to include wand use or to rival the powers of the wand carriers.

Okay so far, right? So my question is this: if a House Elf's powers are limited but still very useful (note, Harry has Kreacher track down Mundungus, Regulus Black uses Kreacher to help steal the locket from Voldemort's cave, the hero trio certainly do owe their lives to Dobby, who saved them from Malfoy Manor), why does Harry not make more use of Dobby and Kreacher in Book Seven?

I will have to research the question because I think Harry makes some mention of the possibility of using the House Elves somewhere in the middle of The Deathly Hallows but I'm not sure. I would think, however, that they could at least have solved their hunger problems by having Dobby bring them food every day from Hogwarts.

I must be missing something.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Two vexing questions: the Weasley twins and Sirius' mirror

I've run myself aground on two questions and they're paralysing me. They're stopping me from my usual free-flow of thinking around the Harry Potter books and films and, therefore, blocking me from posting to this blog.

The two questions are:

1. Did J.K. write the characters of Fred and George Weasley in such a way that she's made them clearly different individuals or was she content simply to present them as one person in two bodies?

2. Why didn't Harry use Sirius' mirror to contact him at the end of The Order of the Phoenix, rather than allowing himself to be lured into the trap at the Ministry?

I've talked a little bit about the first question in earlier posts and it still vexes me. I will have to find the time to review all seven books, chart the descriptions and dialogue for each of the twins and see what I come up with. I can't think of any other way to answer the question. The problem is finding the time.

With regard to the second question, my colleague who is currently reading the books for the first time raised it recently as we were talking about how different the fifth book is from the fifth film. She said it really bothered her that Harry didn't just use the mirror to check on Sirius -- after all, Sirius must have had it with him when he was caring for Buckbeak and not available to Harry through the fireplace.

I have to admit: that issue never bothered me because, in the numerous times I read the novel, I never really registered the mirror and its importance when Sirius first gave it to Harry. It wasn't in my mind as I read the remainder of the book.

But my colleague saw all the films several times before reading the novels so the mirror, which is so vividly depicted in the film versions of the seventh novel, remains strongly in her memory as she reads.

I write all this here for two reasons: in hopes that, by writing about these two questions that have been othering me, I'll clear them from my mind and allow myself to think of other Potter-related things and in order to spur myself into action to pursue both questions on the coming long weekend.

What are your thoughts? Do you think of Fred and George as seperate entities or just two names for a single character? Does it bother you that Harry failed to use the mirror to check on Sirius?

Monday, October 3, 2011

Are Fred and George really different people?

Which do you prefer: Fred or George? One lost an ear, the other lost his life. Other than that, the Weasley twins appear identical, not just in appearance but in every other way.

I'm sure someone somewhere has conducted a study to see if J.K. made any effort to write them even slightly differently throughout the course of the seven novels. You know: does Fred have a habitual turn of phrase? does George focus more on feelings than Fred does? is one more prone to act first and ask questions later? That kind of thing.

In the novel Lord of the Flies, the twin brothers Sam and Eric are so indistinguishable that the author, William Golding, actually reduces them to a single entity which he calls "Samneric". In the play Hamlet, Rosenkranz and Guildenstern are inseparable and indistinguishable too. They're not twins but they, together, fill a single role in the play.

Are Fred and George portrayed in such a similar way that they are little more than a single character in two bodies?

Even Mrs. Weasley has trouble telling them apart. Can we?

Certainly in my incomplete Rowling-world novel, The Way Forward, which follows the lives of George Weasley, Aberforth Dumbledore and Miverva McGonagall after Voldemort's downfall, I am forced to imagine George as an independent person, dealing with the loss of his twin brother, but did Rowling make any attempt to make them different in her books?

I may just have to do some looking to figure this out.

You can find that incomplete novel, by the way, here:

Friday, September 30, 2011

Getting to know the Dark Lord

Ever since my online conversation with Anonymous, I've been thinking a lot about Voldemort, his life and his portrayal in both the books and movies in the Harry Potter series.

Just yesterday, I was reading the last part of Harry Potter et La Chambre des Secrets (the French translation of Rowling's second novel) and reviewed, once again, our first meeting with Tom Riddle, the Dark Lord's youthful self. What an interesting presentation that was!

Voldemort's shadow hangs over the early novels, even though his appearances in these books are brief. In The Philosopher's Stone, Harry learns of Voldemort at first from Hagrid and it is Hagrid's fearful, halting explanations of who the Dark Lord is and what he had done to Harry's parents that set the tone for Voldemort's influence on the rest of the series of books.

In the movie version of that first novel, Robbie Coltrane does a great job of capturing the fear and paranoia that continues to grip the magical world, even though ten years have passed since Voldemort disappeared. I am particularly fond of the way Coltrane spits out the word "Codswallop" in that scene. He's just so vehement about it: "Some people say he's dead. Codswallop, I say."

We catch our first glimpse of Voldemort at the end of that first book, a shrivelled face that emerges from the back of Quirrell's head in the final battle over the fabled Stone. But it is only when Harry plunges into the diary in The Chamber of Secrets that J.K. begins the wonderful process of serving up, in tantalising pieces, the story of Voldemort's younger years. The scene in the Chamber provides even more of these morsels.

The Tom Riddle of the second novel is a handsome, well-spoken, seemingly quiet young man. We learn he is an orphan, with a Muggle father and a magical mother, that he desperately hopes to escape the orphanage and that he is a remarkably brilliant student. We also learn that he is a Parselmouth and, oh yes, that he is the direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, one of the four founders of the Hogwarts School.

This all seems very positive, especially if you can see the Slytherin relationship as merely a sign that Riddle is related to magical royalty rather than a sign that he is associated with a Muggle-hating bigot.

But then we meet the memory of Riddle in the Chamber. This Riddle is portrayed as self-centred, vindictive and judgmental. He brags about his ability to charm people in order to get his way. For the first time, we see his willingness to see others as pawns in his game, as tools to be used and cast aside. His ridicule of the 11-year-old Ginny Weasley for the childishness and banality of her diary entries, for her little girl hopes and fears, confirm him as a hateful, spiteful individual and his complete lack of concern or empathy over her impending death is a telling foreshadowing of his future behaviour.

We also get a glimpse of two weaknesses in Riddle that would continue to plague Voldemort in his adult life. The first is his fear of Dumbledore. Already as a 16 year old, Riddle struggles with the power Dumbledore seems to have over him, with his frustration over his inability to charm the brilliant wizard, to blind Dumbledore to his evil intentions. Even as he brags that Dumbledore was chased from Hogwarts by the mere memory of Voldemort, Riddle reveals his own inability to deal with Dumbledore's unique ability to stand up to him.

The second weakness we encounter is Voldemort's underestimation of the power of things that do not interest him or that he does not understand. It never occurred to Riddle that Lily Potter's decision to sacrifice herself out of love for her son would provide Harry with the protection he needed to survive Voldemort's attack. And when Harry points this fact out, Riddle both recognises and dismisses it, seeing it only as evidence that Harry alone could not have withstood him.

When Fawkes, the Phoenix, arrives to help Harry, bringing with him the Sorting Hat, Riddle mocks Harry and Dumbledore relentlessly. A song bird and a moth-eaten hat, he laughs. This is the help the great Dumbledore sends you? Even as a 16-year-old, Riddle understands only certain types of power, only certain kinds of magic. And he pays for it. The hat provides Harry with the Sword of Gryffindor, the weapon he needs to kill the Basilisk. Meanwhile, Fawkes proves invaluable, first blinding the great snake and then saving Harry from the Basilisk's venom with his healing tears.

We can't forget that one of Voldemort's greatest flaws is his inability to recognise power in forms he cannot or refuses to understand. He is all but destroyed by the power of Lily's love and sacrifice for Harry. He underestimates the power of house elves, never considering that an elf like Kreacher could infiltrate the cave and escape with the locket Horcrux. He dismisses the possibility that Snape's love for Lily Potter might be so strong that Snape would spend much of his adult life working to bring about the defeat of Lily's murderer.

That's a great deal of information to pack into what is, in fact, a relatively short scene in the second novel. It speaks volumes for J.K.'s abilities as a story teller but does it undermine Anonymous' criticism that Voldemort is flat and one-dimensional throughout the books?

I have to admit that I'm not sure it does. I may have to accept that Anonymous is right but credit Rowling with intentionally creating a single-minded, one-dimensionally evil character and leave it at that.

What are your thoughts?

Friday, September 23, 2011

On Draco's Redemption and Voldemort's humanity

I received some great comments from "Anonymous" on the issues of Draco's Redemption and the portrayal of Voldemort in the final film. As you might recall from some of my earlier posts on these subjects, I was more mystified than anything about the way Draco behaves in the seventh and eighth films and I was very unhappy with the way Stephen Kloves wrote Voldemort for the final movie, turning him, in my opinion, into a bit of a putz.

I think Anonymous makes a great point when she/he says that Draco's behaviour is actually laudable, that Draco's decision to join his mother and father just before the last battle and to leave Hogwarts while the battle still rages fits well with J.K.'s theme that real courage is shown in standing up against your friends. Draco and his family clearly make a decision that, even if Voldemort wins his fight with Harry, they no longer want any part of the Dark Lord and his monstrous ways.

On the issue of the portrayal of Voldemort in the final film, however, Anonymous and I will have to agree to disagree. Anonymous argues that Voldemort is more real, more human in the eighth film than in the final book and Anonymous likes that. I respect that position but I would argue that Rowling intended to make Voldemort less and less real, less and less human, more and more flat and one-dimensional in the later books precisely because of what he had done to his soul.

By splitting his soul into eight pieces, Voldemort filleted himself and his humanity. By the time only two bits of his soul survived (the one in him and the one in Nagini), Voldemort's humanity is paper thin. He is flat and soulless.

I think the movie version betrays what J.K. was trying to do. In the novel, Harry tells Voldemort that he can repair the damage to his soul by showing sincere regret for his evil deeds. By that time, however, Voldemort no longer has enough soul left even to consider being anyone other than his evil self. There is no regret coming because there is no regret possible for such a decimated person.

You can find Anonymous' very interesting and well-thought-out comments attached to the posts of July 28 (Draco's Redemption: How Can he just walk away?) and and July 20 (The film's Voldemort becomes a sad and silly caricature). I'm interested to read what other people think!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

All hell breaks loose

"When have any of our plans ever worked? We plan. We get there. All hell breaks loose."

Harry says that to Hermione in The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, just after they've escaped Gringott's with Hufflepuff's Cup. He's told them that Voldemort knows they're hunting Horcruxes and that the final one can be found at Hogwarts.

When Hermione objects to the idea of going immediately to the school, saying they should plan instead, Harry responds, "When have any of our plans ever worked? We plan. We got there. All hell breaks loose."

Harry's right of course but it's an interesting line for the screenwriter, Steven Kloves, to have added to the story (it's not in the novel). Why does he throw this line in, since in some ways it sounds to me like a criticism of Rowling's books?

I doubt he intended to criticise Rowling in any way. I think he puts it in because he needs a quick explanation for why they have to go to Hogwarts immediately, without planning.

In the novel, the explanation is much deeper and more subtle. Voldemort realises they're hunting Horcruxes and decides that he has to visit the site at which he's hidden each of the others to confirm that they are still there.

Harry sees inside his mind as Voldemort thinks of each one and makes the decision to leave the one hidden at Hogwarts until last, feeling that it must be safe there with Snape in charge.

That gives the Hero Trio some time to get to Hogwarts and begin the search, while the Dark Lord is visiting his grandfather's shack and the cave by the sea.

They can't plan because they would be wasting the precious time granted them by Voldemort's search. It's a much more plausible and interesting explanation.

But, of course, the movie Harry is right. No matter how hard they plan, they always seem to survive on their wits alone.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Adults struggle with that magical leap of faith

J.K. wrote the Harry Potter series for kids. One of the major triumphs of the seven novels is the way the writing in each successive book matures with its intended audience.

For example, the first novel, The Philosopher's Stone, is aimed at the eight-to-ten-year-old group while the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire, caters to the early teen audience. By the time you get to the final novel, The Deathly Hallows, Rowling is writing for a nearly adult group in their late teens. And she does it well.

What I don't think she or her publishers expected, at least in the early going, was the huge following the books would earn from adults. My impression is that it started with the parents and teachers who read the first couple of books to their kids. These people became fans in their own right, then told other adults about the series and so on and so on.

The problem, of course, is that much of the ground work for the Rowling world, as I call it, was laid in those early novels, the ones J.K. wrote specifically for kids, never thinking that adults might pick them up and enjoy them on their own.

So she required leaps of faith so to speak that children are much more willing to take. Like the International Statute of Secrecy that requires wizards and witches to keep their powers secret from Muggles.

Rowling wanted to allow a child reader to believe that maybe, just maybe, the magical world does truly exist: it's just purposely hidden from the rest of us Muggles. It's a wonderful ploy and it obviously worked. Children have gobbled up these novels and dreamt of discovering that they, like Harry, have hidden magical powers that will get them invited to Hogwarts.

But adults have more trouble accepting it. We pick at it, like a scab. If there is a Statute of Secrecy, and a Department in the Ministry of Magic dedicated to preserving that secrecy, we wonder, why do they keep inviting the children of Muggles to Hogwarts? Why do they tell each new British Prime Minister of the existence of this wonderful world?

How do you keep a secret, in other words, if you keep telling people?

You would think that, by the 21st Century, every Muggle in England would know at least one person who had a family member, a friend, a friend-of-a-friend, a distant pen pal, who knows someone who went to Hogwarts.

So everyone would know and the Statute would be useless.

I actually had a fellow fan raise this concern with me the other day. She was seriously troubled by this logical inconsistency in the books.

My answer: take the leap of faith; accept the implausable; suspend your disbelief.

After all, the Harry Potter novels are children's books, first and foremost, and a wonderful, exciting, exhilirating ride as well.

Be a child again and accept the unlikely. After all, you're buying the existence of an all-powerful evil wizard who can split his soul into eight pieces and hide them in cups, snakes and bits of jewellery. Why not buy this little lie too? Just for the fun of it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Waiting for the discs

How long does it take for a movie to be put on a DVD or Blu Ray? I mean, it's been weeks now since Part 2 closed in my local theatre. I've been watching the first seven movies, I've been reading the books (in French and English) but I just can't wait until the last film comes out on disc.

I've already kind of accepted that I'm going to buy the movie as soon as it becomes available, on Blu Ray and in the biggest package available. I'm becoming almost as addicted to the Extras as to the movies themselves.

How much is that going to cost me? Yikes. But it'll be worth it, I'm sure!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

When Harry Potter was new...

I think I've mentioned my colleague at work before, the one who has seen all of the Harry Potter movies (several times) but had not, at the time of the release of The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, read any of the books.

Well, she tells me now that she's finally taken the plunge into J.K.'s original world, working through the first three novels over the course of a two-week holiday. She says, however, that she finds herself sometimes wishing that she had read the books first, since the movies have robbed the literary plots of much of their suspense. She knows the major events that are coming, even if the novels give so much more depth and character development.

Meanwhile, I envy her that absolute delight of reading the novels for the first time. I don't have much of a recollection of my first readings of novels one through six. All I know is that I roared through each one at breakneck speed the first time, then had to go back to read them over again at a slower pace, with more time to savour the quality of the writing and the intricacies of the story.

I do, however, have a very vivid recollection of the excitement that built up as I, and so many of my friends and colleagues, waited with anxious anticipation for the seventh novel to be released. We would talk about the first six books endlessly and have a seemingly non-stop conversation about what we thought the final novel would bring.

Was Snape truly evil or was Dumbledore right to trust him after all? Would Harry die? What would Draco do in the end? And what about Neville: was it possible that he really was the true Chosen One? Would Hermione and Ron finally get together or would Hermione come to her senses in time?

And when the book finally hit the bookstores, I bought it on the first day and literally disappeared into the world of Rowling for the next forty-eight hours. I galloped through it the first time, slowing only to weep as Harry bravely walked into the Forbidden Forest to face his death. Then I went back and read the last hundred pages or so more slowly, to make sure that I understood, that I recognised the power and beauty of Rowling's writing.

And then I read the novel once more from start to finish. Only then did I feel I could talk about it.

I know my colleague will never be able to feel that level of anticipation, that depth of excitement in the reading. She knows the plots. She has a good idea of the major events.

But I hope she can find a way to immerse herself in the details, find amazement in the ways in which J.K.'s novels are so much better than the films. Enjoy the intense excitement of discovering for the first time just how great these books really are.

And, if she can, I'll envy her every step of the way. My experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (both in the anticipation of its release and the intensity of the first couple of readings) was such a rush that I hope I'll find another book someday that will give me something even close to that feeling.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Rowling fools us into suspecting Hagrid

It's interesting the way J.K. gets her readers to believe that Hagrid was guilty of opening the Chamber of Secrets the first time fifty years before the novel of the same name.

She simply shows us Tom Riddle's memory and, despite the fact that it proves absolutely nothing, we believe it to be proof. And then she has Harry, Hermione and Ron fighting very hard not to believe that Hagrid is the culprit but finally convincing themselves (and us) that he is, in fact, guilty.

It's neat writing. By having her characters argue the same points that her readers are arguing, she convinces both them and us. She preempts our doubts by presenting them directly to us through the terrific trio.

And then, once we're completely fooled, she turns the table on us.

Even neater is the fact that, even though she's shown us that she can use this strategy effectively to prove Hagrid guilty when he is, in fact, innocent, we still fall for the same trick with regard to Snape throughout the rest of the novels.

Writers can learn a lot from reading Rowling and paying attention to the strategies she uses to beguile her readers. We can all learn a thing or two from the master.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Tom Elvis Jedusor? Give me a break!

Well they sure fooled me. I've looked in every French dictionary I can find, I've asked French-speaking friends at work, and I can't find any proof that "jedusor" is, actually, "riddle" in French. Which means that either I am a terrible researcher or Google translation is wrong and the translator of The Chamber of Secrets is too clever.

So Tom Jedusor is a made up name that has no relation to Rowling's original Tom Riddle. That kind of stinks, I think.

And imagine my surprise when I turned the page and found out that the French Voldemort's full name is Tom Elvis Jedusor (which, by the way, turns out to be an anagram of the sentence "Je suis Voldemort", the French version of "I am Voldemort"). I actually snuck a peek at the end of the book to confirm this.

Now, in the original English, his name is Tom Marvolo Riddle, which is an anagram of "I am Lord Voldemort", with Marvolo representing his grandfather's name. Does that mean that the French grandfather is actually Elvis Gaunt (or however they translated Gaunt into French; my dictionary says it's "Decharne"). So maybe Riddle's grandfather will turn out to be "Elvis Decharne".

I know, some of you have already read the rest of the books in French and know what Marvolo Gaunt's name turns out to be but don't tell me. "Elvis" was a bit of a shock but fun nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Jedusor me this!

I know that my online French dictionaries are telling me that the word "jedusor" means "riddle" in English. And yes, this straight translation from "Tom Riddle" to "Tom Jedusor" in the French version of The Chamber of Secrets (La Chambre des Secrets) is, therefore, technically correct.

But I still find it weird to find "Jedusor" where "Riddle" should be. I'm not sure which change bothers me more: Rogue for Snape or this one.

And I wonder: if I had been born and raised as a French speaker, would the word "Jedusor" carry with it all of the same connotations for my French self as the word "Riddle" has for my English self?

"Riddle" has so many meanings and associations for me that it certainly imbues the character, Tom Riddle, with automatic depth. "Riddle" means a puzzle but more difficult. "Riddle" means to splatter something or fill it with holes. "Riddle" recalls the "Riddler" from Batman fame, especially Frank Gorshin's incarnation of the Riddler on the cheesey Batman TV show of the 1960s. You remember: he kept sending Batman notes saying, "Riddle me this". What should it be: "Jedusor me this"?. "Riddle" brings back that quote about being a mystery wrapped up in an enigma.

Does "Jedusor" carry all of those meanings, all of those associations, all of that depth.

You encounter a character named "Riddle" and you already have an idea of what he's like. Can we say the same about "Jedusor"?

I'm not sure. But I do know that the word "Riddle" is, for me at least, a great deal more sinister sounding than "Jedusor". And that's important too.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rowling handles evil in brilliant ways

As any reader of this blog will already know, I'm kind of in awe of J.K. Rowling and her story-telling skills. Every time I read one of the Harry Potter novels, I see something new and exciting about how she's structured her series, how she's developed her characters or how she's worked to capture and hold her readers' interest.

Just look at the villains in the Harry Potter series. Voldemort turns out to be, of course, the key villain and yet, when the stories begin, we're not even sure he's still alive. His shadow looms over the entire series and yet Rowling is wise enough to avoid over-using him even in the seventh novel.

We learn about him in so many ways -- through rumour, through his own 16-year-old self in the diary, through people's automatic fearful reactions when he is mentioned (or not mentioned), through his history, through Dumbledore's careful investigation of his life, through Harry's dreams and nightmares and visions -- long before we get a chance to meet him in any significant way in person.

Even by the end of book seven, however, we don't really know him beyond the legend, the image, the fear he instills in people.

We learn about him only as Harry learns about him and Voldemort dies before that knowledge is even close to complete.

And then there are the other villains: Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape.

Rowling's use of each of them is nothing short of brilliant.

Draco, for example. He serves early on as Harry's rival, his competition and nemesis at Hogwarts. While Voldemort (and other villains) lurk in the background, Draco becomes the embodiment of evil in young Harry's world. As the two boys grow, so does their rivalry. But, as Harry proves himself worthy of the role of Chosen One that has been thrust upon him, Draco proves himself incapable of committing the truly evil deeds he is asked to perform.

Draco is not so evil as we were lead to believe. He retreats from true evil (at the top of the Astronomy Tower when he has Dumbledore alone and defenseless, at Malfoy Manor when he could give Harry away to Bellatrix, and even at the end of the novel, when he weeps over the death of his friend and withdraws from the battle) and shows a depth of complexity to his character that is rare in novels of this kind.

Draco's father, Lucius, follows a similar path. As Harry grows (both in age and in strength), Lucius Malfoy starts to become the central representation of evil for him. But Lucius, too, begins to falter and Rowling does a wonderful job of showing him as a broken, lost man trying to regain his reputation, his place among Voldemort's minions.

And then there's Snape. What a great character Severus Snape turns out to be. All the way through the first six novels, Dumbledore (the living embodiment of wisdom and intelligence) firmly stands behind and trusts Snape and yet Rowling does a wonderful job of undermining that endorsement, of convincing us that Harry's suspicions are right, that they have to be right. Even when we find out that it's Quirrell who is the problem in the first novel, we still believe Snape is evil.

Why don't we trust Dumbledore's judgement?

And of course, then you have the end of The Half-Blood Prince, which proves to us fully and completely that Dumbledore was wrong, that Snape is truly evil. He kills Dumbledore. We see him do it. He must be evil.

The amazing thing for me is that Rowling, in book seven, continues to provide us with reason after reason to distrust, to hate Snape, to believe Dumbledore to have been mistaken in his trust. She's got us completely and absolutely convinced by the end.

And then she turns it all around. Not only does she make us believe that Snape was, in fact, on the side of good, she also gives us compelling reasons for why Snape, despite his decision to abandon Voldemort and support Dumbldore, could still hate Harry.

What we learn is that Rowling very cleverly misled us to believe that Snape's hatred of Harry absolutely had to be proof that he was evil. We never once considered that perhaps he could be good and still detest our hero.

And yet, in the end, we see that he is both good and perhaps justified in his antagonism toward Harry (as the son of James, his tormentor).

It's brilliant. It's unexpected. It's Rowling at her best.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Ron-Hermione romance doesn't work on film

I've been trying to figure out why the Hermione-Ron romance is so much more believable to me in the novels than in the films.

I think one reason is that, in the novels, Rowling takes a lot more time to develop their relationship, to show them interacting and drawing closer to each other, so that the major events in their romance (like Hermione crying when Ron is dating Lavender or the big kiss in The Deathly Hallows) don't seem to come so much out of the blue.

I'm thinking, for example, of the many scenes in The Goblet of Fire where Ron reacts with jealousy to Hermione's relationship with Victor Krum. Those scenes didn't make it into the movie.

But I think the most significant reason is physical: the Hermione and Ron, as described by J.K. in the books, fit together. Hermione is a bookish girl with bottle-brush hair and too-big teeth. Ron is a tall, gawky red-head with a big nose. They seem right for each other.

Emma Watson and Rupert Grint, however, don't look well together. Watson is just too classically pretty by the end of the series whereas Grint's handsomeness is more lunky and sheepish. You can see Watson's Hermione ending up with someone like Cedric Diggory (had he lived), an athlete with a ready smile and movie-star looks.

In reality, it's probably a combination of the two factors but the movie relationship just doesn't work for me like the book one does.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Watching Harry Potter in French

I've just come back from an immersion course in French. In order to try to keep up the momentum, I thought I should try to expose myself to the language every chance I get.

So, yesterday when I sat down to watch The Deathly Hallows, Part 1, on Blu Ray (since Part 2 is no longer playing in my town!!!!), I thought I should switch over to the French soundtrack and watch the movie entirely in French. In order to aid my efforts, I also turned on the French subtitles so I could read as I listened.

Two problems quickily appeared.

First, it would appear that two different people translated the script into French for the spoken and written versions. As a result, what you read is NOT what you hear being spoken. It got so confusing, I actually turned off the subtitles after a while.

Second, since the reality is the French language usually uses more words to express the same thought than does the English language (and, for the sake or realism, the people doing the French-language soundtrack try to ensure that the spoken French matches the moving lips on screen), they speak VERY QUICKLY on the French soundtrack.

In other words, it wasn't the most satisfying experience I've ever had.

On the other hand, I was very pleased to see that the French soundtrack followed the French versions of the novels when it came to names of characters and places. For example, in both the French novels and the French soundtracks, Hogwarts is "Poudlard" and Snape is "Rogue".

I still don't understand why the translator changed the names in the first place but at least they're being consistent!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Living in a hick town...

Okay. I live in a hick town. Clearly.

I decided that I wanted to go to see Part 2 again today so I went to CinemaClock to find out the times at my local theatre.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2, has ALREADY LEFT my town!

Can you believe it? I can't. I can't accept it. I've only seen it TWICE! What do I have to do, wait for the Blu Ray before seeing it again? This is ridiculous.

And I'm a 70-minute drive from another city where it might still be showing. I can't drive almost two and half hours (in total) to see this film, can I?

Can I?

Friday, August 19, 2011

A French Parselmouth is "un Forchelang"

I'm still working my way slowly through The Chamber of Secrets in French and quite enjoying it. I've just read the part where Harry first discovers that he is a Parselmouth (in French, that's "un Forchelang").

There's a scene where Harry has gone to the Library to try to find Justin Finch-Fletchley to explain to him what really happened at the Duelling Club. Instead, Harry overhears several Hufflepuffs talking about him. It's a nice little scene and our true introduction to Ernie MacMillan and Hannah Abbott.

This reminded me of the fact that they actually filmed this scene for the second movie, with Ernie explaining to the others why he thinks Harry is the son of Slytherin. It was edited from the theatrical release. It's included in the extras on the Blu Ray, however, almost word for word as it is presented in the book.

The funny thing is, this is one of the scenes that I was very happy they cut. As I said above, it's not a bad scene in the book but, in the film, the acting is so poor and mechanical that it really took away from the impact of the movie. I figure the young actors in the scene must have been pretty disappointed to find themselves on the cutting-room floor but I think it was a good decision to leave this scene out.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Evanna is the question mark for me

I've been wondering lately if any of the young actors from the Harry Potter films will be able to continue with successful acting careers.

I know that Daniel Radcliffe has made some much-talked-about appearances on the stage and Tom Felton is currently playing a supporting role in the film Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which is getting a lot of positive reviews. Will they be able to make it last? Once the Harry Potter luster has worn off, will they and their young colleagues still be getting good parts in big films, plays or television shows?

Much to my chagrin, the actor I think has the best shot at making a lasting career out of acting, Emma Watson, seems to be the least interested in doing so. I read somewhere that she's returning to University to complete her degree with no immediate plans to accept new roles. It's too bad. I thought Watson was by far the best of the younger set of actors in the films and would have been interested to see her continue to grow as an actor.

I think Felton has a future, especially if he's willing to continue to play villains. I'm not so sure about Radcliffe: as you already know, I think he was the weak acting link in the Potter films so, unless he gets better quickly, I can't see him doing much.

And what of Rupert Grint, Evanna Lynch, Matthew Lewis and Bonnie Wright, who played Ron Weasley, Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom and Gina Weasley respectively?

I like Grint and I think the entertainment business will always have room for the big, lunky, lovable guy with the easy smile. Lewis seems to have attracted a big female fan following, which should help him to land roles, at least for a while.

I can see Wright doing well too. She has a classic English beauty in both her physical appearance and her demeanour. I can see her keeping very active in the busy British film industry.

Evanna Lynch is the big question mark for me. I'm not sure what will happen with her. I think she's fantastic in the Potter films but I'm not sure if the Luna character is really that great a representation of Lynch the actor as she is today. Casting directors will want to place her in roles that are similar to Luna but I'm don't think Lynch will be able to pull of mystically bewildered innocence any more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Looking for things to look forward to

So what do we have to look forward to now?

With the last film out and J.K. swearing not to write any more books involving these characters, there really isn't much to get excited about, is there? We're just left to read the novels over and over again, watch the movies, and wonder.

I guess we can anticipate the release of Part 2 on DVD and Blu Ray. That's still in the future. Okay, I'll focus on that.

And maybe we can start a groundswell of support for the idea of a series of graphic novels that will translate the novels faithfully into that amazing format.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

What does Rowling really think of the plight of house elves?

It's interesting to meet Dobby once again, for the very first time. I'm reading The Chamber of Secrets, this time in French, and I'm finding it really fascinating to have this little house elf introduced to me at this point, when I already know so much about his future fate.

I can't say I ever liked Dobby. I found him irritating in the books and even more so in the films but he does play a more and more important role as the series goes on. I'm also not sure how J.K. really feels about him: certainly she gives him a hero's role and a hero's death but she also pulls no punches in showing that the rest of the house-elf community sees him as an embarrassment, an elf without shame, so to speak.

His relationship with Winky is also interesting. While both have been freed from their service, Winky responds to this emancipation with shame and humiliation. She worries about her former master and would no doubt accept her enslavement back were it to be offered to her.

Is Rowling sympathetic to Winky? Does she believe that house elves have the right to choose to be enslaved (if that makes any sense)? Would she support Hermione's campaign for house-elf rights, even when the house elves Rowling herself created seem to reject it?

When I think about questions like that, I can't help but go back to the scene where Dobby, having accepted a paid position in the kitchens of Hogwarts, brags about how he argued Dumbledore down to a lower salary and fewer holidays.

To me, the house-elf issue is one of the more interesting philosophical questions that emerge from the novels: is the plight of house elves truly enslavement, such that all right thinking witches and wizards should oppose it, or does it represent a happily symbiotic relationship between the elves and their masters, where both benefit? And what does J.K. have to say about all that?

Friday, August 12, 2011

Talking about Bill Weasley

Let's talk about Bill Weasley. One of Ron's older brothers, husband to Fleur, lunch date for Frenrir Greyback.

In the books, Bill is a likeable, capable character. He plays a decent-sized role and gets some useful scenes. I especially like the fact that he takes Harry aside at a key moment in The Deathly Hallows to talk to him about understanding Griphook's motivations and what drives Goblins in general. It's a good scene, a useful scene.

I also like the Fleur/Bill subplot in The Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince. It's interesting and fun and ends with a surprisingly emotional scene after Bill is attacked where Fleur pushes Molly Weasley aside to tend to her scarred, future husband.

Because I quite like him as a character, I don't understand what they did to him in the films. And, oddly, I want to argue that Bill should actually get less screen time in The Deathly Hallows, rather than more. I mean, if you plan to diminish the character so far, then at least have the courtesy to reduce him to wallpaper completely.

Bill doesn't appear in any of the first six films but then, in the first part of The Deathly Hallows, Yates and Co suddenly feel they have to give him some air time. In what I consider to be one of the worst scenes in all of the eight films, Bill walks into Privet Drive and introduces himself to Harry, points out his scars and says he's looking for a chance to pay Greyback back one day.

It's a clumsy, ugly, unnecessary moment. I guess the film-makers would argue that they had to introduce Bill early so that the viewer would know who he is when the Hero Trio takes shelter at Shell Cottage at the opening of Part 2.

I don't agree. We recognise Fleur and we see Bill with her at their wedding. We see them together at Shell Cottage once Harry and his pals arrive there. We know who he is.

The damage Greyback did to him has no importance in the rest of the films and Bill is given no further lines in the film. He is merely another redhead fighting on the side of right.

So why include that ridiculous scene at Privet Drive? It's embarassing. It's awkward and silly. And it serves no real purpose.

If they didn't plan to do Bill justice in the films, Yates and Co should have left him alone completely.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Poor old Hufflepuff House

I often wonder about the fourth house at Hogwarts: Hufflepuff. With the Far Friar as its ghost and the non-descript Professor Sprout as its head, it often seems to me to be the forgotten house.

Certainly, Hufflepuff never seems to compete seriously for the House Cup (in The Philosopher's Stone, for example, Hufflepuff falls to fourth place when Dumbledore awards his year-end points to the hero trio and Neville) nor for the Quidditch Cup. In fact, when loyalties are tested, Hufflepuff members are less likely to support Harry than are Gryffindors and Ravenclaws.

In that first novel, the Sorting Hat describes the qualities valued by Hufflepuff as being loyalty, a sense of justice and a willingness to work hard. Very laudable characteristics, to be sure, but hardly up to the same calibre as Gryffindor (bravery, daring and nerve), Ravenclaw (a ready mind, wit and learning) or even Slytherin (cunning).

Now turn to The Order of the Phoenix and the Sorting Hat is almost dismissive of Hufflepuff. In describing the students each school founder wanted to accept into his or her house, the Hat says Slytherin wanted those of purest blood, Ravenclaw sought those who were the most intelligent and Gryffindor recruited those with brave deeds to their name. Hufflepuff? Well, she'll take what's left and "treat them all the same".

Wow. That's not a stirring recommendation for Hufflepuff, is it?

Few of Hufflepuff's members play prominent roles in the novels and even the Cup of Helga Hufflepuff, which is one of the Horcruxes, garners the least attention of all the Horcruxes in both the books and the films.

Being placed in Hufflepuff appears to be an assessment that there's nothing special about you. I find it odd that J.K. quite purposely creates this sort of magical netherworld of the mediocre. Other than Cedric Diggory, I had a hard time naming one of its members.

Basically, Hufflepuff includes a list of minor characters like Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, Justin Finch-Fletchley and the detested Zacharias Smith. It turns out, of course, that Nymphadora Tonks was also a Hufflepuff, perhaps that House's most distinguished graduate. She and Cedric tend to carry the torch for this undervalued house, I guess.

I wonder if J.K. ever considered having just three houses at Hogwarts?

Friday, August 5, 2011

Colin Creevey and Rowling's cleverness

J.K.'s cleverness and creativity as a writer never cease to amaze me. As you know, I'm currently reading The Chamber of Secrets in French, which is giving me a chance to re-read that second novel with the intense concentration required when reading in a second language.

This time through, I noticed the really neat way Rowling came up with to explain the rules of Quidditch again without making it seem repetitive and boring for people who had read her first novel over and over again. She introduces Harry's biggest fan, Colin Creevey, and has him grill Harry with questions about Quidditch as Harry heads out for his first team practice of second year.

This approach allows Rowling to develop both of their characters, move their relationship forward and re-explain the rules of Quidditch all at once. It's pretty clever and also helpful for those readers who haven't read the books over and over again.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why is "Use The Force, Harry" attracting so much attention?

Would someone please explain to me why my blog entry of some time ago, entitled "Use the Force, Harry", has become so popular?

I've got visitors from all over the world looking at that posting. What's up?

Maybe there's been an explosion of interest in the way the Luke-Skywalker and Harry-Potter stories are so similar. I don't know. But I'd sure like to find out.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Wondering why the Basilisk's body is still there

In the second book, Harry Potter discovers the entrance to the fabled Chamber of Secrets beneath Hogwarts and enters the Chamber to save Ginny Weasley. He must duel both the memory of Tom Riddle and his pet Basilisk to do so. Once he's killed the Basilisk, Harry uses one of its fangs to destroy Riddle's diary, which turns out to be a Horcrux.

Fast forward to the seventh book. Ron and Hermione, realising that they need some magical weapon with which to destroy the remaining Horcruxes, decide to return to the Chamber to fetch more Basilisk fangs. Ron manages to imitate the Parseltongue sounds Harry made to open the entrance, allowing them to fetch the fangs.

Now, in the novel version of The Deathly Hallows, J.K. never describes Hermione and Ron's journey into the Chamber nor what they found there. She simply has them show up a little while later, fangs in hand, to tell Harry what they did.

The film version of the last book, as I've mentioned earlier in this blog, actually lets us travel into the Chamber with Harry's friends. We see the skeletal remains of the Basilisk and watch as Ron pries the fangs from its skull.

Remember, the book Hermione found in the second novel tells us, "Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land, there is none more curious or more deadly than the Basilisk" (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury, p. 215).

My question is this: if the Basilisk is a rare, extremely dangerous species, why wouldn't any of the academic types at Hogwarts (such as the Care of Magical Creatures professors like Hagrid or Grubbly-Plank, Dumbledore or even one of the Defense Against the Dark Arts teachers) have gone down into the Chamber to investigate, examine and likely remove this specimen? Why is it still lying there, virtually untouched, five years later when Ron and Hermione go to find it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Not so fond of Dolores Umbridge

If there's one character in the entire Harry Potter series who really makes me mad, it's Dolores Jane Umbridge. Even more so than Voldemort himself, to be honest. Not only is she an inherently nasty human being but she also seems infinitely adaptable.

First, she's all for Cornelius Fudge, who appoints her to Hogwarts in the first place. Then, when Fudge is ousted, she's right there with Scrimgeour, as if old Cornelius never existed.

When the lion-maned one is killed off by the Death Eaters for refusing to divulge Harry Potter's whereabouts, Umbridge merges seamless into the new regime of Pius Thicknesse which is, after all, merely a cover for the Dark Lord's takeover of the Ministry.

As long as you're in power and just a little bit sadistic, Dolores Umbridge is there with you. At least the Dark Lord is consistent. Umbridge is like an evil chameleon.

The amazing thing is, I've known people just like her. People who seem to be able to float effortlessly from one position to the next, always moving on just before the roof falls in, only to reappear unscathed in a new role, with new bosses, ready to continue their nasty lives.


Monday, August 1, 2011

Rowling's website and the Christian influence

I visited Joanne Rowling's website today for the first time ever. Strange, isn't it? Here I am, a huge fan of Rowling's works, and I never bothered to visit her own Harry-Potter website.

To be honest, I was disappointed. There wasn't much there and what there was turned out to be pretty dated. I had thought there might be links to interviews she's done and things like that but no such luck. I even tried to do the quiz but you have to have a student ID and I can't figure out how to get one.

Oh well. You can't have everything.

I also tried to search the web for any sign that J.K. has commented on the issue of whether or not (and how) the early films might have influenced her writing of the later books. No luck. Just about every hit I got when I typed into Google "Rowling, influence, films, novels" or something like that seemed to be a discussion of the Christian community's response to her works.

And, to be honest, I am NOT interested in reading about that. I guess I have to do some research on my own.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wondering if the early films influenced the later novels

I was watching the special features on some of my Blu Ray editions of the Harry Potter movies today and was surprised to find that there are some that I had not yet watched (including deleted scenes from the first two movies. Wow!).

In an interview on the Prisoner of Azkaban disc, one of the producers mentioned that the shrunken head character they added to the Knight Bus was enough to convince J.K. to introduce shrunken heads in a later novel. I hate to admit it but I can't recall which later novel shrunken heads appear in but I'll have to check.

The comment got me wondering, however, about something that I have thought about from time to time in the past: since the movies started being released while she was still writing the later novels, how much (if at all) did the film versions of her world impact how Rowling wrote the final three books.

The first film was released in 2001, just after the publication of the fourth novel, The Goblet of Fire, but while Rowling was probably still writing the fifth book in the series (The Order of the Phoenix). That means that the final three books were written after Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint had started to inhabit her main characters, after Hogwarts had been made real for the films, and after her early plots had been tinkered with to make them more filmic.

In fact, four films had been released by November of 2005, about the time when one expects Rowling was working diligently on the final novel.

So did the films have any impact on her writing? It's an interesting question. I wonder what J.K. would say about it. She's probably been asked so I might do a little on-line research to see if she's given an answer.

But we have to remember: even the author's thoughts on a question like this are not definitive. A writer can be influenced without even recognising it is happening.

I'll have to think about this one and get back to you. Meanwhile, any thoughts?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

What's Mrs. Figg doing in a raincoat?

I think there's a continuity error at the start of the film version of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.

Think about the opening sequences of that movie. It's a brutally hot, sunny day and Harry encounters Dudley and his gang in a local playground. A terrible storm suddenly develops, bringing howling winds, pouring rain and finally Dementors, which attack Harry and his cousin in the underpass leading from the playground back to their neighbourhood. It's a sudden, freak storm that no one could anticipate. So sudden and so freaky that Dudley automatically thinks Harry has created it.

Harry fights off the Dementors and, in a key plot point, old Mrs. Figg appears at the end of the tunnel in a rain coat, umbrella in hand, to help Harry home.

Are you with me?

We've got a sudden, freak storm on a broiling hot, sunny day. Yet somehow Mrs. Figg is dressed for rain when she arrives. Strange, isn't it? And I don't think you could argue she saw the storm brewing, put on her raincoat, then walked all the way to the underpass in the time available. She's too old and slow and the storm and attack both happened too quickly.

I think the filmmakers blew it.

Please note, in the book, Mrs. Figg arrives panting and in her slippers. One of her cats warned her that Harry was out and that Mundungus Fletcher had abandoned his guard duty. She immediately set off to find him and was as caught off guard by the storm and Dementor attack as Harry was.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Harry Potter and the Borrowed Wig

I've just watched Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Not a bad movie but not great. I think we lose too much of the Rita Skeeter subplot, which is too bad because Miranda Richardson does such a great job with the role.

The one question I have, though, is: what's up with the hair? Especially the hair on Harry and Ron? Harry looks like he stole Chekov's wig from the original Star Trek series. Seeing as their hair was a lot more conservative in both the previous and following films, I don't get why the Goblet inspires this kind of silliness.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Draco's Redemption? How can he just walk away?

I wrote some time ago about Draco's redemption. I talked about the scene in Part 2 where Draco and two of his cronies (where's Goyle, by the way? or is it Crabbe who's missing? I can never tell them apart) catch Harry as he searches for the Diadem in the Room of Requirement (Room of Hidden Things version). Confronted, Harry asks Draco why Draco didn't identify him to Bellatrix back at Malfoy Manor (you remember, in Part 1).

The discussion makes it clear that Draco recognised Harry but refused to turn him over to the Death Eaters.

I thought perhaps that this was a sign of Draco's redemption. He couldn't kill Dumbledore. He couldn't turn Harry in. He was actually a decent sort after all.

So what do we make of the fact that, in the final confrontation between Death Eaters and Hogwarts defenders, Draco leaves his schoolmates and joins his parents on the side of evil? Is this simply an indication that Draco is evil but lacks guts? Is he only about saving his own skin?

And what about the fact that Draco and his parents actually abandon the scene even before the final battle plays out?

I can't figure it out. What do you think? Use the comments function to tell me how you interpret all this.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Kloves' Harry-Hermione hug scene is a nice addition

Stephen Kloves invented much of the film's final act, straying quite far from J.K.'s original version in the novels. I have to admit, I'm not altogether happy with much of what Kloves did but I do like one scene: the one where Harry tells Hermione and Ron that he's going into the Forbidden Forest to die.

That's not in the book. Rowling is very careful to make this a personal, lonely decision for Harry. In fact, he admits in the novel that, if he were to stop to tell them, he probably could never gather the will to leave them again. He encounters Neville on his way out of Hogwarts and tells Neville that, whatever happens, the snake (Nagini) must die. He also sees Ginny but chooses not to stop for her. Again, he likely would not be able to go on with what he must do.

It's a moving passage in the book and beautifully written.

Although I don't thank Kloves for straying so far from J.K.'s terrific original, I do think the screenwriter does a nice job in that little scene on the stairs of Hogwarts between Harry and his two best friends.

I can't recall the dialogue word for word but Harry tells them that he has learned he carries of piece of Voldemort's soul. "I guess I've known for quite a while," he says, then turns to Hermione, "and I think you have too." They both finally acknowledge what they each had figured out on their own: that Harry must die.

It's a lovely moment. A true moment between three good friends.

Daniel Radcliffe plays it very well. He's calm, reserved, almost non-chalant when he says it, which is exactly how I think Harry should be. And Emma Watson responds perfectly. As the calm, fairly rational Hermione, she allows her emotions to flare briefly in the hug but makes no effort to talk him out of doing what she knows he must do.

I'm not sure what instructions Rupert Grint got on how to play his part but he tends to drop into the background in this scene. I'm not sure if we're supposed to read that as to mean that Ron doesn't know what they're talking about, doesn't understand what Harry must do, or that he's working hard to contain his emotions by standing back and watching.

Ron does eventually join the other two but not until after the hug is coming to a close.

I think it's a really nice scene. I think it gives us, the viewers, a much needed moment to take part in the emotional relationships of our hero trio, to see in front of us the devastation that Harry's fate causes for them.

Of course, I still think that Rowling's choice (not to have any such scene for the sake of realism and to put the focus on Harry's personal journey) is the more elegant, subtle one.

But I understand why Klove's added this scene. And I enjoyed watching it.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kingsley Shacklebolt impresses in my second viewing

I'm just back from my second viewing of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. This time, I caught the 2D version and, frankly, I think it was a big improvement.

I'm still not entirely sold on the revisions to the ending but I came away feeling better about the film. I just loved Helena Bonham Carter channeling Emma Watson in the Gringott's scene and I thought the more emotional passages (especially Snape's memory montage and the Resurrection Stone scene just as Harry enters the Forbidden Forest on his way to his own death) were exceptionally well done.

I have to admit, I was also impressed with Daniel Radcliffe's performance in this film. I have often been critical of his acting in the earlier movies but I think he does a pretty good job here.

Kingsley Shacklebolt is rapidly rising in my estimation as a character in the films and I think George Harris brings him vividly to life every time he gets a chance. I just love the way he emerges from the white swirl in the battle scene of The Order of the Phoenix (a tough, proud man at the top of his form) and I think he provides that same sense of strength in the final film. Too bad Harris wasn't given more to do.

I also noticed this time through (something I missed the first time around) that, when Pansy Parkinson screams for people to grab Harry and turn him over to Voldemort at the beginning of the Battle of Hogwarts, the first four characters to step in front of Harry to protect him are female: Ginny, Hermione, Luna and I think Cho Chang. I am not often impressed with the roles given to female characters in the novels or the movies so this was a really nice moment for me.

I have to think more about this film, both its really great points and the stuff that still bothers me. And, I have to admit, midway through the movie when a guy near me decided he just had to rattle his popcorn bag for about five straight minutes, I found myself thinking: boy, I can't wait to get this on Blu Ray!

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Prisoner is Hermione's film

Next up on my film festival, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban. I have to admit, I am one of the many people who think of this movie as one of the best, and possibly the best, in the series.

I love the direction and editing, the very artistic transitions between scenes and the intense atmosphere the director creates throughout the picture.

But mostly I love this film because, let's face it, Hermione owns it. This is her film. Emma Watson is coming of age and so is Hermione, and both dazzle us in this third movie.

In the first movie, it was mostly Ron and Harry and, even when Hermione gets a chance to shine, she lets herself take a back seat to Harry. I hate it when, as Harry prepares to move on to face Quirrell and Voldemort on his own, Hermione dismisses her own impressive powers as mere "cleverness", telling Harry that he is the true hero. Yuck.

In The Chamber of Secrets, Hermione is petrified for most of the important events, leaving it to her male colleagues to carry the day.

So it's just great that, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, J.K. puts Ron on the injured list and leaves it to Hermione and Harry to set things right, with Hermione firmly in the lead. I love the punch (both in the book and in the movie) and I love the fact that Hermione is the one who is in control as things get crazy at the end.

In this film, the kids are starting to grow up and the stakes are getting high. Emma Watson is proving herself to be the best actor of the three leads and it's nice to see that the script gives her a meaty role with which to show off her increasing skills as an actor.

She just continues to get better as the series progresses but it's in The Prisoner of Azkaban that both Emma and Hermione get their real first chance to flex their muscles and take over.