Saturday, September 8, 2012

In praise of The Prisoner but with questions

I love The Prisoner of Azkaban. The more often I read the Harry Potter novels, the more I come to recognise how clearly this novel rises above the others in my estimation.

I think J.K. has been quoted as saying that it was the easiest of the books for her to write and I think that shows too, in the quality of the narrative, in the smooth flow of the writing, in the intensity of the experience for the reader. It reads like a spectacular roller coaster ride, a smooth but terrifying journey.

I'm about a fifth of the way through Azkaban again and, as usual, enjoying it very much. I enjoy our first meeting with Stan Shunpike as much on this, my 20th or so reading, as I did on my first reading. I am impressed with the way Rowling, truly one of the most clever writers I've ever read, is able to focus the attention of the story on Ron's rat, Scabbers, in the early part of the book without giving the reader the slightest inkling that the rat is, truly, the central character in the novel.

Rowling simply inserts Scabbers (and his conflict with Hermione's new cat, Crookshanks) as a constantly arising point of conflict between Ron and Hermione and allows her reader to focus on the conflict without recognising that she is putting Scabbers squarely into our field of vision on a regular basis.

I have a couple of questions, though, on issues which I think might be engendered by the speed with which Rowling wrote this book:

1. Why does no one mention, either to Harry or otherwise, that Sirius Black was a member of the Order of the Phoenix in this novel? Shunpike, for example, states in a matter-of-fact way that Black was one of Voldemort's key supporters. Was he? We learn later that he was a member of the Order, the group actually fighting Voldemort. Could his apparent betrayal of James and Lily and his purported murder of 13 people be sufficient to make everyone forget his role with the Order? I would think they would be talking more about his betrayal, in the end, rather than his place with Voldemort.

2. Why does Lupin have "Professor R. J. Lupin"  stamped "in peeling letters" on his case at the start of the book? He wasn't a professor before this year and he doesn't continue to teach afterwards. We get no indication throughout the rest of the novels that he is a trained educator: his position teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts in Harry's third year appears to be a "one of" for him, welcomed employment thanks to Dumbledore. So why would he own a battered old case with "Professor R. J. Lupin" stamped on it in peeling letters?

3. Why do the Weasley's choose to take a holiday in Egypt as their "special treat" with the winnings from the Daily Prophet Grand Prize Galleon Draw? Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had gone to Egypt just the previous Christmas, a trip that their children were apparently welcome to enjoy with them but had chosen not to do so (see The Chamber of Secrets). Wouldn't they have chosen some other place for their celebratory holiday, a place they hadn't just visited?

4. What happens to Crookshanks in the rest of the books? He plays such a big role here and certainly Sirius says later in the book that Crookshanks is "the most intelligent of his kind I've ever met". Yet he doesn't really do much for the rest of the series of novels. Why not?

Picky points, I know. As readers of this blog know, I just love to find these little questions, to point out these minor issues in Rowling's incredible books. I hope I'm not offending any one; I just find it fun to do.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Similarities tie Fifty Shades to twilight

Not really a Harry Potter post, to be honest.

In fact, not even really related to Harry Potter but perhaps still of interest to those readers who enjoy YA fiction and keep track, as I do, of the recent cycles of massively popular books that appear to build upon each other.

I know that this is a bit simplistic but I can't help but think of the Harry Potter series as having inspired twilight and twilight as having inspired The Hunger Games. Perhaps not directly in terms of the writing but certainly indirectly in terms of the promotion and popularity of each series.

Each is a series of YA novels involving a likeable, lonely young protagonist finding her/himself lifted out of her/his difficult life to face significantly greater excitement and challenges in a strange, often supernatural, world.

So imagine my surprise when, last night as my partner was describing to me her experience of reading the first 100 pages or so of the new adult megahit Fifty Shades of Grey, I couldn't stop thinking about and comparing that story to twilight, the first novel in that series.

The parallels between the two stories are remarkable. So much so that I can't help but thinking the author of Fifty Shades owes Stephenie Meyer a real debt of gratitude.

Now remember, I have not read Fifty Shades and am basing my impression on my partner's description of the start of that novel, but consider these similarities:

1. Both are told in the first person, through a sweet, innocent, self-doubting young woman thrust into a new and unknown social situation;
2. Both involve that protagonist meeting an intoxicating, irresistable man and both include long descriptions of his incredible beauty, with a focus (believe it or not) on his scent;
3. Both males are masterful, powerful and worldly; both are older and more experienced than the female protagonist and enjoy a great deal more social and physical power;
4. Both stories are told as romances with a background of fear and terror;
5. In both stories, the sexual relationship between the two main characters involves significant danger of physical harm to the woman.

According to my partner, Fifty Shades is terribly written with no literary merit whatsoever. I'm glad to say that twilight is at least well-written and interesting.

After thinking this all through, I did a quick search of the relationship between the two novels on the internet. My reading suggests that Fifty Shades might actually have begun its life as fan fiction related to twilight. Wow. I thought there was a relationship there.

Too bad it didn't begin AND END its life as fan fiction. From what my partner told me, Fifty Shades does not deserve to see the light.