Friday, August 31, 2012

Hermione would never tear a page from a book!

Sometimes I worry I'm too picky when I'm spotting problems in the Harry Potter novels, especially the early ones. I mean, no writer is perfect and, especially in novels aimed at children, we shouldn't expect the story to make perfect sense to an adult every step of they way.

So I try to tell myself to back off, give J.K. a break, the benefit of the doubt.

But I still can't get past the fact that, in The Chamber of Secrets, Rowling has Hermione tear part of a page out of an old library book and carry the scrap around with her. It bothered me the first time I read the book - I remember saying to myself, "Wait a minute, the Hermione I know would never damage a valuable old book like that!" - and it still bothers me now.

The Hermione I know loves books so much that she would never purposely damage one, not to mention an old and valuable one owned by her school. Remember how scandalised Hermione was in The Half-Blood Prince when she saw Harry tearing apart his new potions text? She was outraged.

And yet we're supposed to believe that, just over three years earlier, that same young woman would have gone into the Library, taken an ancient reference book down from the shelf and ripped a part of a page out of it? No way. Our Hermione would have copied the short section she wanted onto her own piece of parchment, noted the title, author and publication date of the book from which the information came, and returned the book carefully to its place on the shelf.

I think, to be honest, that this little issue is an example of how, in the early novels, Rowling didn't quite have as clear and settled an understanding of her characters as she would have when she wrote the later novels.

And it's also an interesting demonstration of how sometimes the readers of a series of novels feel they've gotten to know the characters very well very quickly, so much so that they are willing to challenge the actions of those characters in the novels when such actions don't match their understanding of the character.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Understanding Hermione at an early point in their friendship

One of the things that impresses me most about J.K.'s writing is how good she is at having her characters develop self-awareness realistically.

O.K. That was a bit of a complicated sentence to go with the complex thought.

Let me start again. I am impressed with the way J.K. shows her characters learning about themselves and about each other. She does it in such a realistic way and it adds a great deal to our enjoyment, as readers, of her books.

Yes, that seems a simpler way of expressing the thought.

Here's an example of what I mean:

Late in The Chamber of Secrets, as the hero trio makes their way to a quidditch match against Hufflepuff, Harry hears the Basilisk's voice for the first time in several months. He jumps but Hermione and Ron hear nothing. This leads to an epiphany for Hermione.

"I think I've just understood something," she exclaims. "I've got to go to the library!"

And she sprints away without explaining further.

A great moment. A classic Hermione moment. We as readers register it as just that: a classic Hermione moment. And, thanks to Rowling's creativity as a writer, so do Ron and Harry.

Harry asks, "What does she understand?" and Ron replies, "Loads more than I do."

It's a laugh out loud moment. But it's so true. Even though we are only about a book and three quarters into the story, we know that Hermione understands loads more than do Harry or Ron.

In her genius, however, Rowling doesn't just leave it there. She follows up with the self-awareness piece-de-resistance. Harry says to Ron, "By why's she got to go to the library?"; Ron's response captures the essence of the character of their friend:

"Because that's what Hermione does," he says. "When in doubt, go to the library."

Wonderful. True. And oh so real. It would become a running joke of the novels that Hermione turns to her books or to the Hogwarts library whenever a question arises that she cannot answer instantly.

And I think it's absolutely fitting that, in this particular moment of The Chamber of Secrets, Ron would voice this understanding of Hermione's character out loud.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Wondering about Mr. Weasley's wonderful Ford Anglia

What ever happened to Mr. Weasley's car?

 If I recall correctly (and I haven't quite gotten there in my re-reading of The Chamber of Secrets), the enchanted Ford Anglia that carried Harry and Ron to Hogwarts and rescued them from Aragog's family disappears into the Forbidden Forest late in that novel.

But what happens to it then?

I have to admit, I'm quite surprised that J.K. didn't find some way to bring it back one more time in one of the later novels, at least to give us some hint of how things turn out for this memorable vehicle.

I loved that car. It starts off all innocent as simply a vehicle magically bewitched to fly. Then we find out it is remarkably spacious inside. Then it flies all the way to Hogarts on a single tank of gas (gas?). Finally, its full personality comes out when it flings the boys and their belongings out and escapes the Whomping Willow on its own.

We shouldn't be surprised when this gritty little car comes back to save Harry and Ron from the kingdom of the spiders. That's one feisty automobile.

I wonder what became of it. Certainly Voldemort didn't tame it when he and his Death Eaters took over the Forest in Book Seven. It makes no appearance as a slave to the Dark Lord.

I like to think it took off to the seaside, found a nice garage and lived out its life in peace. What do you think?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What does George know about the Basilisk?

Does George Weasley have some extra sense that no one else shares? Does he have some understanding of  the dark arts that everyone else lacks?

Stupid questions?

Maybe. But consider this.

There's a point about two-thirds of the way through The Chamber of Secrets, when Harry is feared to be the Heir of Slytherin and no one, not Albus Dumbledore nor even Hermione Granger herself, has figured out what creature dwells within the fabled Chamber. Fred and George have decided to have fun with everyone's fear of Harry by loudly telling people to get out of his way as he makes his way through the halls of the school.

Percy attempts to intervene but George tells him to to get out of Harry's way because Harry is "nipping off to the Chamber of Secrets for a cup of tea with his fanged servant."

Hmmm... "fanged servant", eh?

As you will recall, the creature in the Chamber was, in fact, a Basilisk, a massive snake with long, curving fangs, deathly poison and a killer glance. But, at the time of George's comment, the only thing anybody knew about the creature was that it had petrified a number of people.

Nobody had been bitten; no blood had been spilt.

So help me to understand why George would refer to the creature as Harry's "fanged servant".

A good guess, probably. Merely a coincidence.

Or did George know something more?

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Matching wits with a Harry Potter expert

There's nothing nicer in the world than a visit from another avid Harry Potter fan. One who knows the books and movies every bit as well as I do and probably even better.

For the past two weeks, we've been enjoying the company of our friends Sue, Louise, Nikita, Miranda and Tate from Ontario. While all five of these wonderful women have a working knowledge of the Rowling world, Miranda is the resident expert in Harry Potter among the group.

And she's pretty sharp with the trivia. We got into a quick game of "Stump the Other Expert" yesterday and the battle ended in a draw, with Miranda catching me unable to name the spell Ollivander uses to test Fleur's wand before the Tri-Wizards Tournament (it was "Orchideous") while I stumped her with the question: What is the name of Bellatrix Lestrange's husband ("Rudolphus").

Outside of those two tough ones, it was a pretty good duel. And it turns out that Miranda and I have exactly the opposite feelings about the eighth film, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2: as anyone who reads this blog knows very well, I hate the last film but Miranda has a much more positive feeling about it.

I plan to ask her to send me a written defense of this film so that I can share it with you. I am still amazed that someone who loves Harry Potter so much and knows the Rowling world at least as well as I do could possibly love that last movie!

Anyway, a group of us will be watching one of the HP movies together later this evening. After much discussion, we agreed we'd view the third film, the wonderfully dark and challenging Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Although one member of our party argued against watching that particular film because it is "too scary", everyone agreed that it's one of the best, if not the best, of the Harry Potter movies.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Separating the wheat from the Harry Potter chaff

I think I'm going to have to accept the fact that, while I'm still revelling in the world of Harry Potter, many other people have now moved on to other stories, other interests.

A couple of weeks ago, for example, my sister-in-law and her three kinds came out to visit. I was excited at the thought of talking Harry Potter with my 12-year-old nephew and nine-year-old niece. Unlike so many other people in my world, I thought, they'd still have Potter fever.

"Harry Potter sucks," my nephew told me when I first raised the subject. He then mentioned three other writers and their series of novels and told me that each of them is "way better than Harry Potter."

My niece, while more polite, seemed to be of the same opinion: Harry Potter is now old news and there are a lot of other, more exciting books out there for them to read.

My heart sank. Is this what the world is coming to? I myself have also started to read other books (I'm delving into adult science fiction at this point) but, even so, I haven't turned my back on the wonderful works of J.K. I still have at least one HP book on the go at any given time and watch the movies from time to time.

I try to keep an open mind. I read The Hunger Games trilogy a couple of times, for example, but it just didn't grip me, it didn't have the breadth and depth of Harry Potter to keep  me interested. I'm having to accept that the passage of time tends to distill just about anything down to its basic elements and that goes for Harry Potter fandom too. As long as new books and movies were coming out from time to time, casual fans stayed tuned. But once the stream of new material came to an end, those fans slowly faded away, finding other things to interest them.

Until only the truly hard-core people were left. Like you and me.

It's sad, I guess, but predictable too. I can't say I like it when former Potter fans who have found something new feel they have to declare that "Harry Potter sucks" but I understand that some people will drift away over the years.

Not me, of course. I'm dyed in the wool. I'll keep reading, watching and writing about Harry Potter until I have to make the ultimate decision: stay on earth as a ghost or "move on".

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The mysterious disappearance of the wizarding robes

Where are their robes?

It's just occurred to me. The filmmakers have virtually done away with the wearing of robes, so prevalent in the novels, in Part 2 of The Deathly Hallows.


We see the Hogwarts students in their school robes first as they march into the castle under Headmaster Snape's watchful eye early in the film and then again in the school assembly scene where Harry finally confronts Snape. But, other than those two scenes, the wearing of robes seems to have disappeared completely.

Harry, Hermione and Ron remain in Muggle clothes throughout the entire film, except for Harry's decision to don (someone's) robes to slip into the school assembly scene. The members of the Order, the Death Eaters, everyone else seems content to wear anything other than the traditional garb of witches and wizards as so clearly established in the books.

Now, let's think about this for a moment. J.K. presents to us a wizarding world where the wearing of robes is as natural to the magical people as wearing jeans and tops is to many of us Muggles. Wizards and witches would feel comfortable, normal in robes and would find wearing anything else strange.

Yet, by the eighth film, suddenly they're all taking the first opportunity to dump their robes and put on slacks and sweaters. It doesn't make sense.

Rowling describes very carefully how Harry makes sure to tuck his Invisibility Cloak and his wand away in his robes when he goes into the Forbidden Forest to die at Voldemort's hand in the seventh book. In the movie version of this scene, Harry's in Muggle clothing.

Why? Well, I know why. It's cheaper, it's easier and it helps viewers identify with the good guys in the final battle. They're just like us. The Death Eaters, while not in robes per se, wear strange dark outfits that set them apart. The good guys dress like we, the audience members do.

I get that. But I don't like it. It's a cop out. And it's not right.

One last question: where do all the robes go between the school assembly scene (where all the Hogwarts students are in their robes) and the battle scenes that follow? There's no temporal break between McGonagall's duel with Snape and the Death Eaters' attack on Hogwarts and yet somehow all of the robes disappear.

That must be some closet they've got there in the Great Hall to hold all those robes.