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.