Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Sirius should look at himself before judging Crouch

Quick "Spotting Test". Read the following quotation from a Harry Potter novel and tell me who said it and in what context.

"If you want to know what a man's like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals."

What do you think? What book? Who said it?

As you probably already know from reading this blog, I've been enjoying The Goblet of Fire again so it's no surprise that the quote is from that novel. But you might be surprised, based on what we learn of this character in later books, who actually says it.

It's Sirus Black. He's talking to Harry, Hermione and Ron in a cave outside Hogsmeade and the subject is Barty Crouch, Sr. Sirius is advising the hero trio to recognise that the manner in which Crouch treated his house elf, Winky, earlier in the novel is indicative of the evil within him.

Surprised? I was. Sirius' comments in this novel will come back to haunt him in The Order of the Phoenix when we see how poorly Black treats his family's own house elf, Kreacher.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, if J.K. actually had a clear plan of what would happen in The Order of the Phoenix at the time she was writing this passage in The Goblet of Fire.

After all, Sirius is absolutely right when he tells the trio that Crouch's treatment of Winky is, in fact, a measure of him as a man. But would Rowling be putting these words into Sirius' mouth in the fourth book if she knew how she was going to portray his treatment of Kreacher in the fifth book?

Either Rowling had not planned her books to that level of detail or she really wanted to show us how lacking in self-awareness Sirius is.

What do you think?

Monday, February 27, 2012

Crouch's "kindness" to Neville makes more sense in the film

Anyone who reads this blog will know that I'm not always a big fan of the films. I tend to use this space to vent my frustrations at the liberties the movie-makers have taken with J.K. Rowling's treasured novels.

As a result, I feel that it is important for me to make a big deal of it whenever I find something in the films that I really like, especially when I think the movie version is better than the novel in some small way. It happens so rarely, after all, I might as well make a point of writing about it.

For example, I am enjoying reading The Goblet of Fire right now and, with a quiet Sunday facing me, I broke down and decided to watch the movie as well. I'm not big on the idea that the filmmakers decided to make Durmstrang and Beauxbatons single-sex schools (Durmstrang with boys only and Beauxbatons with girls), nor with the loss of the whole S.P.E.W subplot, the roles of Dobby and Winky, etc.

I recognise that they had to cut a lot out of the 600-page novel in order to get the story told in a 140-minute movie. I'm just not happy with some of the changes they made.

What I did like, however, was the decision they made to have Neville give Harry the tip about Gillyweed for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament. I think it really works.

You will recall that, in the book, it is Dobby who finally gives Harry the Gillyweed, just ten minutes before the task begins. That's fine and works well. But it fails to take advantage of the fact that Crouch (as Moody) had, in fact, given Neville a text on Herbology earlier in the novel.

The filmmakers take the Dobby connection out entirely in order to save time but, in doing so, they take full advantage of the earlier kindness Crouch showed to Neville. In the novel, this kindness is actually kind of strange: why would a character so completely bent on helping the Dark Lord capture Harry and return to full life take the time to be kind to a kid at the school?

The movie version works better. We find out that Crouch's "kindness" was simply another step in his cunning plan to help Harry win the tournament without anyone realising he is doing so.

In this case, at least, the filmmakers actually improved on the original.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Rowling tells us stuff but doesn't let us register that we know it

I finished my Christmas reading. 13 books in seven weeks. Not bad.

Now back to Harry Potter. When the gift books started flowing in back in December, I was about 100 pages into The Goblet of Fire, the fourth novel in the series and the first of the really long books. This morning, I plunged back in.

And the first thing that struck me was how skillfully J.K. slips Barty Crouch Jr.'s attack on Mad-Eye Moody, a key plot point, into the novel without the reader realising that something major has happened.

We are first made aware of the incident when Malfoy reads out Rita Skeeter's article describing the attack in the Entrance Hall at Hogwarts. Malfoy uses the article to tease Ron, focusing not on the attack itself and its possible significance to the story but, instead, on the fact that Ron's dad was sent to investigate it.

The passage of the book is even more tricky because Rowling then has Moody himself enter the scene and intervene in the wand duel between Harry and Malfoy that ensues. By burying the revelation that Moody had been attacked deep within a very exciting, action-packed scene (after all, Moody transforms Malfoy into a ferret to punish him, then McGonagall arrives to chastise Moody), Rowling gives us key information but immediately draws our attention away from it.

I remember reading this book for the first time and, when it was revealed that Crouch had actually trapped Moody in his own box and taken on his identity, I felt tricked. How was I supposed to have guessed that?

Then I re-read the book and found out that Rowling had, in fact, played fair with her reader by telling us about the attack early on in the novel. I simply wasn't attentive enough to notice it.

And neither was the hero trio. Instead of asking Moody what happened, they get caught up in the drama that follows and thoughts of the attack itself disappear.

Fab writing. She gives us loads of information that could help us figure out the plot but distracts us from it almost immediately, so that we don't, in fact, catch on.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

J.K. Rowling's next adventure in writing

I read on the CNN website that J.K. Rowling is planning to publish what they are calling an "adult novel". She says it's a significant departure in her writing from the Harry Potter series.

Sounds good to me. I'm interested to see how she does with all-new subject matter and a different narrative approach. If she's as good a writer as I think she is, the book could be great.

My question is, however, why are people so quick to focus on the fact that the new book will be an "adult novel", as if that's something she's never done before? In my opinion, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows was, itself, an adult novel. It dealt with mature themes, contained graphic scenes and featured a complex narrative structure using sophisticated vocabulary.

Despite the fact that it grew out of a children's story (and Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone was definitely a children's story), The Deathly Hallows was for all intents and purposes an adult novel.

The question is not whether or not J.K. Rowling can write at an adult level -- we already know she can. The question is, can Rowling create another set of characters and situations that are as compelling as those presented in the Harry Potter novels?

I'm interested to find out. Aren't you?

Sunday, February 19, 2012

He Who Must Not Be Stored

My Christmas reading list is thirteen books long so I haven't been spending much time with Harry and friends in the past two months.

Although I miss Rowling's world (and I was in the middle of The Goblet of Fire when the gift parade began in December), I'm wondering if some time away might actually be a good thing. As I mentioned several times when I began reading the novels in their French translations, sometimes it's helpful to approach something you know really well from a new angle.

Or, to put it another way, sometimes you learn to appreciate your close friends even better when you endure an extended separation from them.

I am also avoiding addressing my withdrawal symptoms by slipping a Blu Ray in and watching one of the film adaptations. Yes, it would be a quick hit of Harry Potter but I really want my next exposure to be the real thing, the pure Rowling product.

That doesn't mean, of course, that I don't get a thrill when I see Rowling's world sliding its way into other areas of pop culture. For example, the other night while I was watching a "Storage Wars" marathon on A&E, I was tickled to hear Brandi tell the audience that they don't speak Dave Hester's name out loud: "He's sort of like our Voldemort," she told the camera.

"Storage Wars" is one of my new addictions and, any time you combine Harry Potter with one of my addictions, I'm happy. Thanks Brandi!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Teddy Lupin: Harry Potter, the Next Generation?

How did I not recognise this? It's sitting there, staring me in the face! Once you see it, it is so obvious you're amazed you didn't notice it as soon as you read the seventh book.

Teddy Lupin is the next generation of the Harry Potter character.

Orphaned in the final battle against the Death Eaters, son of two of Voldemort's staunchest opponents, left to fend for himself in the magical world. With Harry Potter as his god father.

I have to credit Emily and Clare for opening my eyes to this fact this past Christmas. They pointed it out as we watched the extras to The Deathly Hallows, Part 2.

It's brilliant. And it speaks so much to how J.K. Rowling imagined her magical world continuing to develop, even after the end of Voldemort.

If the death of the Dark Lord represents the final defeat of the "pure blood" movement, then it also represents the beginning of the fight against other forms of oppression in the magical world, including the oppression of Goblins, House Elves, Centaurs and, yes, Werewolves.

Teddy Lupin represents that future.

It's interesting to note that there are at least three examples in the Harry Potter novels where Werewolves are allowed to join wizarding communities:
- Remus Lupin is, of course, the most famous example, welcomed by Albus Dumbledore to Hogwarts as a student and, later, as a teacher, befriended by James, Sirius and Peter while at school, a respected member of the Order of the Phoenix in both wars against darkness;
- Voldemort and his Death Eaters, the champions of the pure blood cause, include Fenrir Greyback in their army, although it is clear from the way Greyback is treated by Bellatrix at Malfoy Manor that the Werewolf is not seen as an equal; and
- I believe that there was a Werewolf guest at one of Slughorn's parties: Sanguini, wasn't it? Sorry, I don't have access to my books right now and the internet is not helpful on this score.

I think it would be very interesting if someone were to write a fairly serious novel following Teddy Lupin and the challenges he faces growing up in a society that is still not particularly tolerant of his racial background. It could be a real metaphor for the modes of oppression people currently face in our own society.

And, of course, in writing that book, the author could also have some fun with the idea that Teddy is really Harry, the next generation.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Harry Potter Uncut and the Parallels with Star Wars

The similarities between the Harry Potter series and Star Wars just keep popping out at me.

I just stumbled upon this website (, which offers the original Star Wars movie, later subtitled "A New Hope", completely refilmed in a world-wide smashup of styles. The organiser divided George Lucas' epic film into 15-second segments, then asked people from all over the world to sign up to recreate each segment in their own fashions. He then collected the resulting pieces and sewed them together in to a single film, a bizarre and bizarrely effective retelling of the original.

The result is hilarious, often surprising and sometimes artistically impressive. It's worth a look.

But, as I watched the final film, I couldn't help but notice all of the small details that Rowling seems to have adopted, adapted or paid homage to in her novels.

Most striking to me was Obi Wan's whispered assurance to Luke that "the Force will always be with you" as the film draws to a close.

It reminded me so strongly of Albus Dumbledore's repeated assurance to Harry that "help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for/deserve it".

I know, the words are very different but the sentiment, and the situation, are very similar.

I'm not suggesting that Rowling did anything inappropriate (no more than Lucas did when he borrowed so heavily from Akira Kurosawa's film, The Hidden Fortress, in writing Star Wars). I'm just saying that the parallels between these two great stories are interesting and often amazing.

Even more amazing to me is the fact that not one contributor to Star Wars Uncut seems to have seen the Harry Potter parallels and included references to it in their contribution to the film. Goodness knows there are enough Star Trek references littered throughout the final version of Star Wars Uncut!