Monday, July 30, 2012

Revisiting the disappointment of the last movie

Every time I watch the last movie in the Harry Potter series, I feel like I need to take a long, hot shower to clean the ickiness off me.

I don't even know why I try to watch it anymore.

I made the mistake of giving it another shot yesterday, when an extremely hot, humid Sunday afternoon drove me into the coolness of our basement rec room. I watched Part 1 first (not bad, great in some places, a little yucky in others) and then, encouraged, slid Part 2 into the Blu-Ray disc player.

My my, what a mistake.

And what upsets me the most is that, because they made this monstrosity, there is no way anyone is going to come along anytime soon to remake Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as a film.And, even if they do, the stars of these movies (Radcliffe, Watson, Grint et al) will be be too old to play their roles and, to be honest, those three have become the hero trio for most of us around the world.

It's such a huge loss, in my opinion, because I think that Rowling's seventh novel would make a great movie (or series of movies) if done properly.

What do I hate most about the eighth movie as it currently exists? Good question:

1. I hate the fact that the screenwriter and director decided they were entitled to rewrite the story completely, keeping only brief signposts and glimpses of J.K.'s fantastic book;
2. I hate the fact that they removed Harry's internal debate between pursuing the Hallows and destroying the Horcruxes that plays such a key motivational role in the book;
3. I hate that they changed the circumstances and motivations for the first kiss between Ron and Hermione;
4. I hate that they felt compelled to change the balance of the final battle so that it became Harry and a small band of Hogwarts people against Voldemort's massive army rather than a pitched battle, the tide of which turned when the people of Hogsmeade and the rest of the magical community, the Centaurs and the House Elves all united to help the Hogwarts people defeat the Death Eaters;
5. I hate the fact that they made the final two very public duels (Molly Weasley versus Bellatrix Lestrange and Harry versus Voldemort) take place in relative obscurity;
6. I hate the fact that they have Voldemort mock Neville rather than attempt to recruit him into his army;
7. I hate that Hagrid's half-brother Grawp has no role in the final scenes;
8. I hate that the film version has significant internal inconsistencies: how does Luna end up back at Hogwarts   as a student after the hero trio helps her escape from Malfoy Manor, why are the Hogwarts students who are hidden in the Room of Requirement when Harry, Hermione and Ron arrive safe to join the rest of the students at Snape's school meeting?;
9. I hate the fact that it wasn't good enough for the filmmakers to have Tom Riddle simply fall down dead at the end;
10. I hate the fact that Harry doesn't mend his own wand with the Elder Wand before breaking it and that he doesn't return to the headmaster's office to explain to Dumbledore's portrait what he's done with the Hallows.

I could go on.

Sure, there are some really good parts of this last film that I'd like to save. I like the escape from Gringott's, which was very well done. I think they did a nice job with the actual duel between Molly and Bellatrix (I just don't like the way they placed it in the greater scene). I thought the scene were Harry brings back his loved ones using the Resurrection Stone was very good as was the scene with Dumbledore in the mystical King's Cross Station after Harry appears to have been killed by Voldemort in the Forest.

So it's not a total loss. But I still think that Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 is such a stinging disappointment that I have to limit my exposure to it.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Quibbling about Quaffles

I think we're missing some important information about Quidditch.Particularly about the scoring ball, the Quaffle.

I've been thinking about this for some time. I've tried to pay special attention whenever I read a passage in one of the novels where J.K. explains the game or describes people playing it. There's something that I don't get.

We know that the Chasers carry the Quaffle, pass it back and forth between them, and attempt to score goals (worth 10 points each) with it when they get down to the other team's end, right? We also read descriptions of the action in the various matches and find that the Chasers quite often lose control of the Quaffle when they are harassed, hit or otherwise hindered by either players from the opposite team or one of the Bludgers. Still with me?

My question is this: why do they lose control of the Quaffle so often?

The descriptions of this particular ball do not suggest that it is very large, nor very heavy, nor that it vibrates or jerks around on its own or attempts to escape anyone who holds it. And, when it is presented in the films, the Quaffle appears to me to be no larger and no more active than your average softball.

So why do the Chasers drop it so often?

Think about North-American-style football. In that game, the players carry a decent-sized ball and get hit, hard, often by several powerful players, on each play. And quite often the players from the other team actively try to pry the football from the ballcarrier's control. And yet fumbles are quite rare.

In Rowling's descriptions of Quidditch matches, whether played by the Hogwarts students or world-class pros, the Chasers are constantly dropping the Quaffle, sometimes even when a player from the other team does nothing more than nudge them.


I personally think the Quaffle must have some kind of energy of its own. It reacts when the player carrying it comes into contact with a player from the other team or a Bludger, making itself very hard to hold. That would explain all the fumbles, I think.

Maybe J.K. simply forgot to tell us about this special feature of the scoring ball in the sport of Quidditch.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Early perceptions of Arthur Weasley and the family's poverty

I like Arthur Weasley, Ron's father. I really do. I think he is an admirable character with mostly the right motives. It turns out that he's fun and he's kind and, despite his mild manner, extremely brave.

And I think it's interesting the way J.K. uses the relative poverty of his family to create tension, especially when it comes to Ron's misbehaviours in school. Just about every time Ron gets into trouble, the issue of his father losing his job comes up with the ruin of the family looming behind it.

But there's a scene involving Arthur Weasley early in The Chamber of Secrets that makes me uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. Every time I read it, I cringe.

Rowling includes a number of scenarios in the first fifty pages of the book to show just how poor the Weasleys are, from Fred and George worrying about how their parents will be able to afford all the expensive books on their school reading lists to descriptions of the Burrow that focus on its shabbiness to the fact that they will have to buy most of Ginny's school things second-hand for her first year at Hogwarts.

Things come to a head (for the reader and for Harry) when they all arrive at Gringotts. Rowling reports that Harry "felt dreadful, far worse than he had in Knockturn Alley, when [the Weasleys' vault] was opened. There was a very small pile of silver Sickles inside and just one gold Galleon. Mrs Weasley felt right into the corners before sweeping the whole lot into her bag."

It is very clear that the Weasleys are poor and that every Knut they have will be spent buying school supplies for their five children who are still at Hogwarts. It's even clearer that, despite committing every Knut, they will still be forced to buy most things second hand, resulting, for example, in Ginny heading off for her first year at school with "a very old, very battered copy of A Beginners' Guide to Transfiguration."

And there's nothing wrong with that. Most families have to economise in some ways and we can all respect that the Weasleys, including their children, are content to spend what money they have on important things (like helping Harry, supporting each other, etc.) even at the sacrifice of their own interests.

What bothers me is this: moments after Molly sweeps every last Knut they can lay claim to into her bag to buy second-hand supplies for her kids, Arthur Weasley feels no compunction about "taking the Grangers [Hermione's parents] off to the Leaky Cauldron for a drink" so that he can satisfy his curiosity about Muggles. He's ready to spend some of that desperately needed money at the pub even as his wife works very hard to see to the needs of their children with what's left.

Maybe it's because of my own background but I find this decision by Arthur very distasteful. He's basically putting his own personal interests ahead of those of the rest of his family. I know, most readers probably read through that section without any concerns but it just hit me as a problem the first time I read it and has stood out for me ever since.

Of course, it probably had a greater impact on me the first time I read The Chamber of Secrets because, at that point, I was just meeting Arthur for the first time. If you take this incident and add it to the other early hints that Arthur is not necessarily as supportive of his wife and family as he could be (hiding Muggle relics in the shed, putting spells on them at the risk of his own job, failing to recognise that the boys' decision to take the car and rescue Harry could have a serious impact on the entire family so that their behaviour should be the subject of discipline rather than interest and delight), you start with a decidedly negative view of this man and his commitment to his family.

Thankfully, of course, we learn as we finish reading the second book and continue into the later novels that Arthur Weasley is a thoroughly likable, honourable and committed character. But, for me at least, these first glimpses are not particularly positive.

A couple of other thought pop into mind as we read these early descriptions of the Weasley family's financial challenges:
1. Why would they buy Ginny a used copy of a textbook that Ron, Fred, George, Percy and likely the two older brothers have all had to buy as well? Why not just pass their copies down to her?
2. Where did they get the money for Ginny's wand? We know that Ron's is a hand-me-down but we get no explanation as to where Ginny's wand comes from. We learned from Harry's trip to Ollivanders in Book One that a new wand can cost seven gold Galleons so how could the Weasleys afford a new one for Ginny?
3. I find it very believable, but also very tragic, that Harry at twelve is incapable of doing anything but feel shame when he compares his own loaded bank vault with the empty one of the Weasleys. If he were older and more mature, he probably could have found ways to deal with his shame by contributing to their family economy, perhaps by paying board for the times he stayed with them or purchasing a load of groceries or something. It becomes less of an issue as the novels progress, of course. I would guess that, as Charlie and Bill develop their careers, they begin to send money back to their parents to alleviate their financial stresses.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jedusor explained and questions on House Elf magic

First, if you haven't read the excellent comment just posted on my blog entry, "Tom Jedusor, give me a break" (posted August 31, 2011), please go back and read it. It's chalk full of really helpful information on the French translation of Voldemort's original name. Thanks so much, Ananse, for sharing this with us.

Second, I've been thinking a little bit about House Elf magic. I'm starting to read The Chamber of Secrets again, the book which introduces not only Dobby, our favourite house Elf, but also House Elves in general. Harry has certainly never heard of them before Dobby appears in his bedroom and, as this novel progresses, we learn more and more about them. Our understanding of House Elves is even further developed in later novels, culminating in Dobby's death and Kreacher's emergence as an ally in Book Seven.

We learn in The Chamber of Secrets that House Elves have a set of magical capabilities that are very powerful and greatly different from those of wizards and witches. In later books, we learn that House Elves, for example, can apparate in and out of Hogwarts, something no wand carrier can do. Further, we see that Kreacher is capable of escaping the Inferi in the lake in Voldemort's cave, an eventuality not even the Dark Lord himself had anticipated.

And Dobby holds his own in a battle against such powerful witches and wizards as Bellatrix Lestrange, Narcissa Malfoy and Draco himself.

So my question at this point is this. As fascinating and different as the magic of House Elves seems to be, how is it that the Ministry of Magic mistakes Dobby's hover charm in the Dursley kitchen for an act of magic performed by Harry. As you will recall, Harry receives a letter of warning from the Ministry for performing an illegal charm outside of school.

We learn later, of course, that the Ministry's ability to sense illegal magical acts performed by underage students is quite limited, that a child can probably get away with performing magic outside of school if he is surrounded by adult witches and wizards at the time he casts his spell because the Ministry will naturally assume that one of the adults cast the spell.

So, when a hover charm is used in the Dursley kitchen, and the only wand carrier in the vicinity is an underage wizard, the Ministry assumes that the magic was performed by that underage wizard.

I get all that. But wouldn't House Elf magic be different enough for the Ministry to recognise that no wizard could have performed that particular charm? Or are there some spells and charms that are shared by both races such that they are indistinguishable to the Ministry?

Here's what I'm getting at: Dobby must have performed at least one other act of magic to get into Harry's bedroom in the first place (an apparition, perhaps) but the Ministry doesn't notice or address that. The hover charm, however, is noticed by the Ministry and attributed to Harry. How did they miss Dobby's apparition?

In order for this all to make sense, I guess, the following must be true:
1. House Elves enjoy completely different magical powers than do wand carriers, such that the Ministry does not track them;
2. Despite that, however, House Elves and wand carriers do share some spells and charms and, when such spells and charms are performed by a House Elf, the Ministry is unable to tell that an Elf, not a wand carrier, performed that bit of magic;
3. Either apparition is not a trackable magical act under normal circumstances (though the Ministry proves later that it can control the use of apparition as a means of travel) or, more likely, the form of apparition performed by House Elves is fundamentally different from a wand carrier's apparition.

What do you think? And, if all of this is true, how do you explain the fact that, in Book Seven, Kreacher leads the House Elves out of the Hogwarts kitchens to fight the Death Eaters with knives, rather than employing their own very powerful form of magic against the evil doers?