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.