Thursday, December 26, 2013

It's about time. It's always about time...

I am on record (numerous times in fact) as to how much I like and admire Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I think it is one of the best of Rowling's seven HP novels and I look forward to reading it every time I pick it up.

But I have to admit, I really regret the fact that J.K. introduced time travel into her magical world.

I have felt the same about the introduction of time travel into all kinds of other wonderful works of fantasy and science fiction: time travel, if it is accessible and fairly easy, completely ruins the drama and introduces all kinds of problems with the story at hand.

In Rowling's third book, time travel allows the creation of a very exciting, interesting plot and a very creative resolution, to be sure. But...

1. If time travel is so dangerous and so strictly controlled by the Ministry, why is it made available to a 13-year-old girl who wants to overload on classes at school?

2. If time travel is so simple to perform, why does the Ministry not use it to avert any of the major disasters that take place in the Potter novels, like the rise of Voldemort, the death of Harry's parents, the murder of dozens of people by Peter Pettigrew, the escape of Sirius Black from Azkaban, the escape of Wormtail, the attack on the Department of Mysteries, the murder of Cedric Diggory, Voldemort's resurrection in the grave yard, Dumbledore's death, the final battle of Hogwarts and on and on and on?

3. If Hermione and Harry can go back three hours in time just by turning the time-turner three times, why not go back five, six, ten hours in time and catch Peter Pettigrew before all the drama begins?

4. Why, in the seventh book, when Harry seeks the Resurrection Stone in a desperate hope of seeing his parents again, does he not, instead, decide to go back in time to save his parents from death in the first place?

5. Why does Voldemort not steal a time-turner and go back in time to avoid his pivotal attack on the infant Harry?

When you introduce time travel, you introduce problems.

I also have to ask the question: why does Dumbledore send Harry and Hermione back in time to save Buckbeak and Sirius rather than simply going back himself? Surely, he would be much more likely to succeed than would these two underage wiz-kids.

As usual, I ask these questions with a smile on my face. These are small issues when compared to the strength of Rowling's creation.

Monday, December 23, 2013

What did Snape know about the Map and Messrs M, W, P & P?

As I have said several times before, The Prisoner of Azkaban is probably my favourite of the Harry Potter books and films. So I approach reading this third novel with a great deal of anticipation and, most often, I sit down to the watch the film when I am coming to the end of the book.

I just love the way the film presents the time-turner elements of the story at the end.

My most recent reading, however, has raised some confusion in my mind, confusion with regard to what is actually going on in the scene in which Snape and Lupin square off over the discovery of the Marauders Map in Harry's possession.

What does Snape know about that map? And about "Messrs Moony, Wormtail, Padfoot and Prongs", its creators?

Certainly, he appears to know a great deal: when he says to Lupin, "You don't think it more likely that he got it directly from the manufacturers", he seems to be indicating that he knows that Lupin and his friends created the map and that Lupin had, in fact, given it to Harry.

So why, then, does Snape allow Lupin to lie to him so blatantly in claiming that the map "looks like a Zonko product to me"?

And why doesn't Snape keep the map and take it to Dumbledore as evidence to support his theory that Lupin is helping his old friend Sirius Black?

We know that Snape is fully aware that Lupin is a werewolf (suggesting the nickname "Moony"); why would Snape not then be able to start to unravel what the other nicknames imply and then figure out how Sirius was able to get past the Dementors and enter the school?

I'm not trying to be critical; I am simply confused. Am I reading this wrong? Is Snape not fully aware of who the manufacturers of the Marauders Map were? Help me figure this out.

A couple of other points on The Prisoner of Azkaban:

On at least two occasions in this book (when Neville breaks a tea cup in Divination and when Hagrid drops a milk jug in his hut), we see magical characters scurry to clean up the mess. Why didn't they deal with the mess with magic?

In the film, when Lupin has his Defence Against the Dark Arts class first face the Boggart, we actually see the Boggart transform into a Dementor on Harry's turn. Lupin doesn't intervene until we, and everyone else, actually see the Dementor. Why, then, does Lupin later suggest that he intervened because he thought it would turn into Lord Voldemort?

In the book, Lupin intervenes before the Boggart transforms, which makes his explanation plausible. But, in the film the Dementor actually appears before Lupin steps in...

Two things to think about, I guess. And please help me to understand what Snape knew and did not know about the Marauders Map and the various nicknames for Lupin and his friends.

Monday, November 25, 2013

The Chamber of Questions: Talking to the Basilisk...

A couple of questions that came to mind as I finished re-reading The Chamber of Secrets:

1. What would have happened if Harry had spoken to the Basilisk in Parseltongue, telling the giant snake not to attack him, to go to sleep, to take up knitting?

2. Since Hagrid has now been completely cleared of opening up the Chamber of Secrets and causing the death of Myrtle 50 years before, why does he not buy a new wand and take private training to become a fully qualified wizard?

I have often wondered about what the Basilisk would have done had Harry started to give it orders in Parseltongue. Clearly, Tom Riddle has control over it, thanks to his mastery of the serpent language, but wouldn't that mean that Harry, also a Parselmouth, could give it commands as well? It's not like Tom Riddle has spent a lot of time developing a relationship with the Basilisk. Could Harry not have at least confused it by countermanding Riddle's orders and substituting some of his own?

It raises the question of whether the ability to speak Parseltongue gives a person control over snakes or simply the power to speak to them. In Harry's first encounter with a snake, at the beginning of Book One, Harry has a conversation in Parseltongue with the Boa Constrictor in the zoo. Harry doesn't give it orders; he simply chats with it.

In his second encounter with a snake, however, Harry orders the snake Draco Malfo conjures not to attack Justin and it immediately obeys him. All Harry has to say is 'Leave him!' and, to quote JK, "miraculously -- inexplicably -- the snake slumped to the floor, docile as a thick black garden hose, its eyes now on Harry."

So what would have happened if Harry had said to the Basilisk, "Lie down", or "Leave me alone", or perhaps "Kill Tom Riddle"? Would the Basilisk have responded? Would it have become confused by being given orders by two different people, such that Harry could have escaped?

It's a wonder Harry didn't try to speak to the Basilisk at all.

With regard to Hagrid, it is one of the main pillars of Hagrid's backstory that he was expelled from Hogwarts while he was still young and, further, that his expulsion led to his wand being broken in half such that he could no longer perform magic properly.

We learn in The Chamber of Secrets, of course, that Hagrid was expelled because he was suspected of having opened the Chamber and letting loose the monster within.

Thanks to Dumbledore, he is allowed to remain at the school as the keeper of keys and grounds. But he is not a wizard, nor is he permitted to carry or use a wand.

So, now that Harry has proven that Hagrid is an innocent victim of Tom Riddle's treachery, why would Hagrid not immediately return to training to be a wizard? Why at least would he not buy a new wand and get back to doing magic properly?

I know it would change a great deal in the last five books but it's always bothered me. The man was cleared of the crime: why does he still have to be subject to one aspect of the punishment for that crime?

Did I miss something along the way? Is there any explanation at all for this in the final five Harry Potter novels?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

What did Lucius know about Tom Riddle's diary?

I have open before me two paperback books: the first, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets; the second, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.


Because I'm comparing passages dealing with Tom Riddle's purpose in re-opening the Chamber from each novel. I had thought I would find discrepancies and inconsistencies between the second book, in which Riddle (through Ginny Weasely and his diary) actually re-opens the Chamber, and the sixth book, in which Dumbledore explains to Harry Horcruxes and what information the Head Master was able to glean from the events from Harry's second year at Hogwarts.

What did I find?

Remarkable consistency.

In the second book, the memory of Tom Riddle tells Harry:

"I decided to leave behind a diary, preserving my sixteen-year-old self in its pages, so that one day, with luck, I would be able to lead another in my footsteps, and finish Salazar Slytherin's noble work."

In the sixth book, Dumbledore explains:

"[The diary] worked as a Horcrux is supposed to work -- in other words, the fragment of soul concealed inside it was kept safe and had undoubtedly played its part in preventing the death of its owner. But there could be no doubt that Riddle really wanted the diary read, wanted the piece of his soul to inhabit or possess somebody else, so that Slytherin's monster would be unleashed again."

Consistent and helpful.

Even more interesting to me is that these passages seem to hint at why Lucius Malfoy would choose the particular moment he did to pass the diary along to a Hogwarts student after holding on to it for 50 years: he recognized the threat Harry Potter himself posed to Voldemort's return and hoped, by slipping the diary into Ginny Weasley's text book, to give whatever evil force the diary contained the chance to deal with Harry before Harry grew up and grew strong.

It had always been a puzzle to me why Lucius chose that moment to re-introduce the diary and, of course, there is at least one moment in the stories where he is questioned for that decision, for disposing of a precious piece of Voldemort's soul so carelessly. We are led to believe, by Dumbledore's own comment at the end of Book Two, that Lucius chose to give the diary to Ginny so that the Weasley family's reputation would be tarnished and Mr. Weasley's Muggle Protection Act would be thwarted.

But I think it was deeper. I think Lucius Malfoy knew, at least to an extent, what the diary contained and was acting under instructions from Voldemort to place it at Hogwarts when things seemed most opportune or when an intervention of this nature was most needed.

Malfoy saw the danger Harry posed on an on-going basis to the Dark Lord's return -- Harry had, after all, defeated Voldemort once again at the end of The Philosopher's Stone -- and decided it was time to bring his Master back to deal with that threat.

I agree. There is no way Voldemort told Lucius Malfoy about his intention to create Horcruxes, nor that the diary he was entrusting to Malfoy was a Horcrux, but he must have explained to Malfoy that the diary contained a power that could open the Chamber of Secrets and wreak havoc at the school.

That's my theory, at least, but I have to admit that I'm not one-hundred per cent convinced of it even now. What do you think?

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Enemies of Quidditch Beware...

Does it make you laugh too that, even as a crowd of Hogwarts teachers is gathered around a Petrified Mrs. Norris trying to figure out what happened to her in The Chamber of Secrets, Snape's first thought is how to use the situation to help Slytherin win at Quidditch?

I laugh out loud every time I read the scene.

Here they are, facing what is to that point one of the most significant, scariest threats ever to face Hogwarts and Professor Snape's only worry is how to gain an advantage for his Q-team. He suggests to Dumbledore, in his silkiest of voices, that Harry should be suspended from playing Quidditch until the mystery is resolved.

Love it.

Even better is the fact that Professor McGonagall, Deputy Head Mistress, immediately jumps to her team's defence.

Love it love it love it.

Further to the question, does it seem fair to you that 1) McGonagall was allowed to purchase the latest racing broom for her team's new Seeker in Book One, making it all but assured that Gryffindor's quidditch fortunes would improve significantly by giving its team a HUGE advantage over everyone else and 2) that Mr. Malfoy would be allowed to buy the entire Slytherin team even better brooms the following year?

I have to admit, I think it's kind of poetic justice that McGonagall's cheating is so effectively and overwhelming countered by the Malfoys in book two. If glorious, honourable Gryffindor can cheat, then certainly Slytherin can cheat too and do an even better job of it.

The Vanishing Cabinets appear...

As anyone who has read this blog will know, I'm quite interested in attempting to find objective evidence, in the texts themselves, of the extent to which J.K. Rowling had planned the seven-book Harry Potter story arc when she was writing the early novels.

My suspicion is that, while she may have had some vague notion that she would try to write a novel for every year Harry was at Hogwarts and while she recognized from the outset that the underlying story would be the Harry-vs-Voldemort plot, she had not really started to plan things in detail until the fourth or even fifth book.

Then I run smack into the Vanishing Cabinets.

As you all know, the Vanishing Cabinets play an extremely important role in the pivotal events of The Half-Blood Prince. Draco Malfoy uses the connection between the Cabinet that he finds at Bourgin & Burkes and the one that exists in the Room of Requirement to sneak Death Eaters into Hogwarts on the fateful night when Dumbledore meets his end.

What's amazing to me (and a clear suggestion that J.K.'s planning was much more extensive than I tend to give her credit for) is the fact that Rowling shows us both Vanishing Cabinets early in Book 2, The Chamber of Secrets. Even as she wrote her second Harry Potter novel, it appears clear that Rowling had at the very least an inkling that she would use these cabinets again.

Even more importantly, she introduces us to the idea that one of the cabinets, which she does not yet identify as a Vanishing Cabinet, is in Borgin & Burkes and the other one is already in Hogwarts.


When Harry's first attempt at travelling via Floo Powder goes awry, he ends up in the creepy shop on Knockturn Alley. When Draco and his father walk into the shop seconds later, Harry hides himself in what Rowling describes as "a large black cabinet".

Not long thereafter, when Nearly Headless Nick wishes to save Harry from Flitch's clutches, he persuades Peeves to drop a very heavy piece of furniture on the floor directly above the caretaker's office. That piece of furniture? A "large black and gold cabinet", which after Peeves is through with it is badly damaged and in need of repair.

Repair that would come four books later at the hands of Draco Malfoy.

Now, it's possible that J.K. wasn't planning anything when she wrote these scenes for the second novel and that it was only when she came to book six that she realized she might be able to use them to help her plot along at that point in time.

But I'm more apt to think that Rowling had a plan, even as early as The Chamber of Secrets. She purposely introduced us to these two cabinets and she purposely placed one in the Dark-Arts store and one in Hogwarts.


One question, however. I have always thought of Hogwarts as being a huge stone castle. If the floor between the classroom and Filtch's office is stone, would it have transmitted the crash of the dropping  Vanishing Cabinet down to the occupants of the office below?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Reflections on the Mirror of Erised

I have a quick question about the Mirror of Erised. You know, the magical mirror that Harry encounters in The Philosopher's Stone and that Dumbledore uses, later in that same book, to create an extremely clever protection for the Stone itself?

First, I should say that I think the Mirror is an amazing creation that J.K. uses rather brilliantly to give us a peek into the deepest secrets of two of the central young characters in the series. Through the use of the Mirror, Rowling very quickly lets us know that, for Harry, the lack of a real family, a loving family, exists as a hole in the centre of his soul. His greatest wish, we learn through this surprisingly simple technique, is to be a part of a family. This would become a driving force for Harry throughout the books.

Further, Rowling uses the Mirror to help her with the much more difficult challenge of showing us some of the issues that stand at the centre of Ron's psyche. Why is this a "much more difficult challenge" for Rowling? Because she uses a third-person limited narrator to tell her story: her narrator describes what happens in the stories from an objective position (the narrator does not actually take part in the action) but, for the most part, she limits her narrator to being able to see into the mind of one single character. Harry.

We know what Harry is thinking from scene to scene but rarely do we ever get to know what other characters are thinking.

So it is not so difficult for Rowling to help her reader to understand Harry because we are privy to his thoughts and reactions in relation to every incident that occurs. We learn about him by knowing his thoughts and feelings.

It is much more difficult for J.K. to help us understand the other characters whose minds are, for the most part, closed to us. We learn about them only from what they say and do, not from what they think.

The Mirror gives her a unique opportunity to let us into the mind of another character: Ron. When Ron stands in front of the Mirror, he describes what he sees and it is himself earning all kinds of different awards and accolades. This ties in with something he said to Harry earlier in the book: that he arrives at Hogwarts already knowing that he won't live up to the standards and expectations set by his older brothers.

So, from the Mirror, we learn that Ron yearns to stand out on his own, to emerge from the long shadows cast by Bill, Charlie, Percy, Fred and George.

As an interesting aside regarding Rowling's narrative technique, note that the reader "sees" what Harry sees in the Mirror (the narrator describes his family to us) while the reader only learns about what Ron sees in the Mirror from what Ron says to Harry about it. It's as if, like Harry, the narrator cannot see what Ron sees in the Mirror.

Okay, that's all a set up for this question about the Mirror:

Does the Mirror show Harry his family as it actually existed or does it show him his family as he imagines it to be?

The narrator tells us that Harry sees a large family, some members having eyes like his and his mother, others having knobbly knees like Harry. It is through these similarities that Harry realises that this is his family he is seeing and, in fact, that these are his parents in the middle of the group.

That suggests to me that the Mirror is not drawing these images from Harry's mind or imagination because, if it were, he would recognise them right away. J.K. would have written something like "Harry saw the family he had always imagined he had".

But, instead, Rowling makes it clear that, for Harry, this is the first moment in his life when he feels a part of a larger, loving family. He does not recognise them at first; the recognition comes slowly as he examines them.

So then we must conclude that the Mirror, after reading Harry's soul and realising that his greatest wish is to know his family, was able to find, somehow, images of his actual ancestors to show him.

A small point, sure, but that's what this blog is about: finding and considering small and large points about the Harry Potter world.

I find it interesting that, in the film version of the first book, the producers/directors choose to include only Harry's parents in the Mirror, to amend Harry's psyche from wishing to be part of a large family (which then ties him even closer to the Weasleys in the books) to wishing to know his parents (which makes it a much more personal thing).

It also makes the argument that the Mirror is only showing Harry that which it draws from his own mind because Harry's memory likely still retained images of his parents from his infancy.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

If only memory charms were real...

I am reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again. I can't even guess how many times this makes (10, 20, 50) but I still get something out of it every time.

And, in some ways, it makes me kind of sad. Why? Because I really wish I could be reading it again but for the first time.

Does that make sense?

A friend of mine is a big fan of the TV show "Breaking Bad" which, as many of you know, just came to an end with a big, much anticipated finale. This friend told me that the finale was "perfect".

Now, I have only seen one episode of this hit show and, to be honest, I didn't much care for it. I noticed, however, that several of the early seasons of "Breaking Bad" are now available on Netflix so I told her that, since she loves it so much and I respect her taste, it is my intention to give it another try. I plan to watch the entire first season of "Breaking Bad" and then decide whether to continue or not.

To my surprise, her response to this declaration was not one of delight, as I expected it to be, but instead it was simply a groan. I asked her about it: she said, "Oh, you are so lucky. I wish I could go back and watch it all over again for the first time."

We talked a little bit about this idea and both agreed that, often when you first read a book or watch a TV show that becomes hugely important in your life, you don't really understand how great it is and how important it will become. You don't savour it and, in fact, you don't savour your own experience of reading or watching it.

Weird, eh? But true, I think.

To be honest, I can't even remember clearly reading the first Harry Potter book for the first time. I do know that I read it while visiting my partner in England where she was going to school. I remember that I had heard great things about this Harry Potter book and that, in order to enjoy it together, I would often read it aloud to her.

But I can't bring back how I felt while reading it that first time, how it impacted me or even if I realised while reading that Harry Potter would become such a fun, important part of my life.

And then I think about my response to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. How I spent an entire year waiting for the book to be published. I was working at a University in Ontario and there was a group of us who were all Potter fans. We'd sit on our lunch hour or our breaks and talk endlessly about the first six books and what we expected to happen in the seventh.

And then, when Deathly Hallows finally came out, we all bought and read it in a single day. I remember being so caught up in finding out what happens that I completely neglected to enjoy the journey from page one to the end.

I remember reading the last 200 pages so quickly that, when I reached the end, dealt with the intense emotions it elicited, then caught my breath, I had to go back and read them again. And again.

But I worry now that I didn't really savour that first reading.

So, yes, as illogical as it may sound, I do now wish that I could go back and wipe it all out of my memory and read Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone again for the first time.

I want to feel again the wonder of discovering Harry's new magical world, the delight at the fullness of Rowling's vision of Hogwarts and its society, the intensity of the suspense as he, Ron and Hermione investigate the mystery of the Philosopher's Stone.

To be honest, I think I cheated myself the first time around. Oh well, you can't go back. We don't have memory charms that would allow me to erase the last 16 years and start all over again, fresh and new.

I guess I'll just have to do my best to enjoy the 20th (or 50th reading) instead.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Rowling's working on something New(t)

I think it's quite fitting that, on the day J.K. announces she will be writing the screenplay for the new Newt Scamander movie -- okay, let that phrase roll around in your brain for a minute -- I have made the decision to abandon my recently announced "read every book in the house" challenge and return to Harry Potter.

I'm not sure how I feel about the Scamander announcement. One, I really didn't think much of the actual book and, two, Rowling seems to think that the fact that she witnessed the writing of the screenplays for the Potter movies was sufficient training for her to take on this task as her first screen writing effort.

I guess I'll just have to keep an open mind. I am interested in the plot J.K. has come up with for the movie and I'm interested in seeing how she integrates the magical world into the real world of New York in the 1930s and '40s. I have a deep admiration for Rowling's imagination and her skills as a creator of characters and situations. So I'll wait things out and see how it turns out.

Meanwhile, I get to go back, after a break of several months, to reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. It will be neat to see how I respond to it after being away for so long.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

What's behind a name?

I know that there is probably a website out there that traces the source of all of the character names in the Harry Potter series but I haven't looked at it.

That's why I was amazed to find the name "Mundungus" in a book I am reading: Laurence Sterne's 18th Century comic travelogue, A Sentimental Journey. The notes to Penguin Classics version of this book explains that "Mundungus" is the author's nickname for Dr. Samuel Sharp, a travelogue writer from the 1760s.

Is it possible that this is where J.K. came up with the wonderfully descriptive name for the sneak thief Mundungus Fletcher? What a great source of names!

This experience, of course, reminded me of the fact that I also found the name Hermione used in another 18th-Century work of fiction. To be honest, I can't remember if it was in Charlotte Lennox's The Female Quixote or one of the Anne Radcliffe novels I just read but I was pleased to see it anyway.

As I said, for many readers of this blog, this may come as no surprise but, for me, it's a joyful discovery. And it doesn't surprise me that Ms. Rowling is well-versed in the rich history of women's writing in England.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"R" has a lot of good stuff to say about my last post

I recently had the good fortune to receive a number of comments on my last post, "Rowling and the art of the family", by a reader who identified him or herself only as "R".

I seem to have struck a nerve with R in some of the things I said in that post and R's response is fantastic. This is a person who really knows the Harry Potter books well and obviously loves them. Since the comments R created were broken into five parts (Blogspot limits how long each comment can be), I have taken the liberty of copying them all into a single entry into the blog itself.

I have also taken the liberty of replacing a couple of swear words with "[*]" since young people read this blog and I have deleted the half sentences at the end of some paragraphs that got cut off by the comment function. Other than that, what follows are R's words. Thanks, R, for taking the time to read and to respond. You might not always agree with me but I'm glad you're willing to explain to me where you feel I've gone wrong. I hope you will find stuff in other entries on this blog that you find more acceptable (or that prompt more fantastic responses).

That being said, here is R's response to my blog entry:

What I think? I think that this post is pretty stupid. No offense but what are you trying to say? That J.K. Rowling is a horrible family hater? First thing first, only because you write about something doesn't mean you think about it the same way. But since you didn't get the point during any of the seven books: HP is very pro family. James died so save Lily and Harry. Lily died so save her son. Sirius died to save Harry. Molly and Arthur would have died for their children and for Harry and Molly's biggest fear was to lose them. What says more about love and family than "I'd die for my family."

Just because some characters aren't in a relationship or have children doesn't mean they don't worship families or don't know how to love. But it's also one of the greatest things about Harry Potter and the difference between HP and Twilight. “Harry Potter is about confronting fears, finding inner strength and doing what is right in the face of adversity."
But to the next part of your text: "Think about that: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Sprout, Hagrid, Lupin, Lockhart, Flitwick, Trelawny, Moody, Slughorn, Quirrell, Pomfrey, even Umbridge... They're in live-in positions and yet not one of them is shown with a spouse and not one of them mentions a spouse. Sure, Lupin eventually marries Tonks but, at the time they're teaching, they are single. No matter their age."

First thing first: Dumbledore is gay. Do you really expect him to find a wife? Next thing: Snape is still in love with Lily. He would have married her some day if she required his love but she didn't. Poor Snape but that doesn't say anything about family. Quirrell traveled after his 7th year and was possessed by Voldemort ever since ... But I guess Voldemort would have been a great daddy. To Lupin: He marries Tonks so where is the problem? Oh because he wasn't married right after he left school? Excuse me, I forgot that people aren't allowed to live their own lives.
"And then ask yourself the question: how many of the families in the Harry Potter series have more than one child?" More than you named. You forgot Fleur for example. Also you forgot the "Next generation". Harry has three kids. Ron and Hermoine have two kids. George has two children. But to the characters without siblings:

Harry: I'm sure his parents would have been were happy to have more than one kid. A shame they [*] died when their first born was a year old.

Neville: I'm sure his parents would have been were happy to have more than one kid. A shame they [*] went insane when their first born was a year old.

Voldemort: I don't know if his mother would have wanted another child after the heartbreak with Tom Riddle Sr but we will never know because she died during [*] childbirth.

Luna: I'm sure her parents would have loved another child. To bad her mother died when Luna was still a kid.

Hagrid: Nope, Hagrid DOES have a brother. Only a halfsibling but still.

"Of the five main child characters in the novels (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville and Voldemort), three are parentless, one abandons her parents to join the magical world and the fifth is Ron of the massive family." There are reasons for three of them being parentless and this reason is not Rowling’s hate towards families. Hermoine also didn't abandon her parents to join the magical world, you [*] idiot. The deleted their memories of her so they wouldn't get killed during Voldemort War II. It was said from the very beginning of their journey in book seven that as soon as Voldemort was defeated, Hermoine would give her parents their memories back. Hermoine did this to save them and it did break her heart. And "Ron's massive family"? There is no way to please you, is there? Either there aren't enough kids or there are too many. And again: The book isn't supposed to be lovey-dovey no-one dies everybody's happy and has a perfect family with 2.5 children.

PS: "Your comment will be visible after approval." There is no way in hell you're going to approve of my comment, is there? So I really wasted one hour of my life. Yippie-Ya-Yeah.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

J.K. and the art of the family

I'm on a bit of a break from Harry Potter, to be honest. Not for lack of interest, just too many other projects and priorities getting in the way.

I can't say I'm lamenting having to leave HP on the shelf for a while: it should mean that, when I finally come back to him, I'll be coming to him fresh again.

Of course, the simple fact that I'm not reading Harry right now doesn't mean I'm not thinking about Rowling's world. I have... and I've been having some interesting thoughts.

For example, I've been wondering about J.K. Rowling's relationship to families and her representation of family relationships in her books.

It started when I realised that, despite the fact that we meet and get to know a number of Harry's teachers pretty well in the novels, we never actually meet any of their spouses or partners. In fact, not one of the teachers we know pretty well even has a spouse or partner.

Think about that: Dumbledore, McGonagall, Snape, Sprout, Hagrid, Lupin, Lockhart, Flitwick, Trelawny, Moody, Slughorn, Quirrell, Pomfrey, even Umbridge... they're in live-in positions and yet not one of them is shown with a spouse and not one of them mentions a spouse. Sure, Lupin eventually marries Tonks but, at the time they're teaching, they are single. No matter their age.

So what does that say about Rowling and her thoughts about family and longterm relationships?

Now let's count how many actual couples exist in the books. Yes, we have the Weasleys. And the Durlseys, the Malfoys, the Lestranges, the Grangers, the Longbottoms, and the Potters. Who else? Ted Tonks and his wife. Lupin and Tonks.

How many lead normal lives to natural deaths?

The Potters were killed as a young couple. The Longbottoms were tortured into insanity also as a young couple. Lupin and Tonks die just after having their first child.

And then ask yourself the question: how many of the families in the Harry Potter series have more than one child?

The characters who have no siblings include: Harry, Dudley, Hermione, Neville, Voldemort, Draco, Hagrid, Luna. The only multi-children family we see are the Weasleys, the Blacks, the Dumbledores, the Creeveys and the Patil twins. Oh, and Lily and Petunia.

Do you not think of this as strange? Do you not wonder about Rowling and her attitudes toward families based on this incredible under-representation of even moderately normal families in her books?

The average family in the magical world of Harry Potter is a single parent, single child family. Of the five main child characters in the novels (Harry, Hermione, Ron, Neville and Voldemort), three are parentless, one abandons her parents to join the magical world and the fifth is Ron of the massive family.

I don't really know what this all says about J.K. but I just find it strange. And telling. What do you think?

Sunday, April 28, 2013

How long does it take to produce a portrait?

I'm confused by the portraits that hang in the Hogwarts headmaster's office.

Okay, maybe I'm not confused by the portraits themselves but I'm confused by the process by which they are created.

And especially how long it takes after the death of a headmaster for his or her portrait to appear.

As we all know (I won't give a 'spoiler alert' since anyone who has read this far into this entry must have read all the Harry Potter books at least once), Dumbledore dies near the end of The Half-Blood Prince.

If I understand the 'Avada Kedavra' curse properly, it kills the instant it strikes its victim. So Dumbledore was dead even as his body was "blasted into the air" by Snape's curse, before it disappears over the battlements and ends up lying at the foot of the tower.

By the time Harry makes his way with now Headmistress McGonagall to the Headmistress' office just 27 pages later (in my paperback edition), Dumbledore's portrait is already hanging on the wall behind the desk. I take it that the position directly above/behind the desk is the place of honour for the last Headmaster but I may be wrong about that.

In those 27 pages, Harry fought his way out of the castle in pursuit of Snape, engaged in several duels with Snape and others, helped Hagrid put out the fire that was engulfing his house, returned to the crowd surrounding Dumbledore's body, then made his way up to the hospital wing to see poor Bill and sat with the Weasley family through Fleur's revelation of the true depth of her love for Bill.

Let's say that entire process took, what, two hours at most? Perhaps not even that long since Rowling says that the office, when Harry and McGonagall enter it, "looked exactly as it had done when he and Dumbledore had left it mere hours previously" and those "mere hours" also included the fateful trip to the cave for the locket.

Okay, so the process of creating a portrait of a headmaster takes at most two hours from the moment of death to the appearance of the portrait in the office. Right?

Now let's move forward to The Deathly Hallows and (no spoiler alert) the death of Headmaster Snape.

Snape dies of wounds he receives from Nagini.  Immediately thereafter, Voldemort calls for a cease-fire in the battle and gives Harry one hour two join him in the Forbidden Forest, or else the Dark Lord will join the battle himself.

Harry goes almost directly to the Headmaster's office to use the Pensieve. When he gets there, he finds every portrait absent, every frame empty. Harry "glances hopeless at Dumbledore's deserted frame, which hung directly behind the Headmaster's chair". So it hasn't moved to make room for a new portrait, one of Snape. And there's no mention of a new frame, even an empty one, where Snape might have hung.

Okay, so Harry takes a full hour to view Snape's memories, gird himself and walk into the Forest to face his death. He confronts Voldemort just as the hour expires. It would appear that the scene at King's Cross with Dumbledore takes no time whatsoever, since Harry returns to the Forest mere seconds after his duel with Voldemort.

So we're still at an hour. But then there follow a series of scenes that take some time. In fact, when Harry finally defeats Voldemort, the victory occurs just as the rising sun bursts into the Great Hall. So it's morning.

And Rowling then writes that "[t]he sun rose steadily over Hogwarts, and the Great Hall blazed with light and life." News comes in from every corner "as the morning drew on".

So, by the time that Harry, Ron and Hermione finally make their way to the Headmaster's Office for their final chat with Dumbledore's portrait, anywhere from three to say 12 hours have passed since Snape's death.

And yet... no sign of Snape's portrait. Dumbledore still sits in the "largest portrait directly behind the Headmaster's chair".

If Dumbledore's portrait can appear in two hours or less, why does it take so long for Snape's to appear?

Four possibilities: 1) Snape's portrait is there but Harry simply does not notice it and Snape chooses to say nothing; 2) Snape's portrait is delayed because the portrait painter is otherwise occupied (in the battle and the celebration that follows, perhaps): 3) Snape will never get a portrait because he was not a true Hogwart's headmaster; or 4) Snape isn't dead.

With regard to 1), I doubt it. Harry would notice it or at least Snape would not be able to stay quiet. I would also think that Harry, having seen all that Snape had done for him, would have taken the opportunity to thank him at the end of the book.

As to 2), I guess it's possible. I always thought that the portraits were produced by some magic of Hogwarts itself, not by an individual witch or wizard. But it is possible it was delayed.

I don't buy 3) because Harry himself, in the epilogue, tells little Albus Severus: "you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew." So Snape was, indeed, a Headmaster.

As for 4), hmmm.... In describing Snape's death earlier, Rowling wrote: "after a second something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more." Snape sounds pretty dead to me.

So I guess it must be 3) after all. What do you think?

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rowling is still Rowling in The Casual Vacancy

I have finally gotten around to reading J.K. Rowling's first adult novel, The Casual Vacancy. I am only about 100 pages in so far so I'm in no position to make any sweeping conclusions about it but I will say this: Rowling is still a wonderful writer.

Alright, maybe that's a sweeping conclusion.

But, whatever one might think about this down-and-dirty adult novel, you have to admit that J.K. Rowling writes beautiful sentences, crafts memorable descriptions and creates effective and affecting characters.

With that being said, I have two very early comments to make about this book and, sorry Joanne, but both involve me comparing The Casual Vacancy to your Harry Potter books. I can't help it. I'm a HP fan and can't help but to hear the echoes of your earlier works in this latest one.

First, at the beginning of Chapter Monday X of TCV, Rowling writes the following in the wake of Barry Fairbrother's death and its announcement on the Parish Council's website: "little knots of pedestrians kept congregating on the narrow pavements to check, in shocked tones, the exactness of their information."

Doesn't that remind you, just a little, of Rowling's descriptions of the way the wizarding world reacted to Voldemort's disappearance at the start of the Harry Potter series?

Early in The Philosopher's Stone, she wrote: "there seemed to be a lot of strangely dressed people about. People in cloaks...They were whispering excitedly together." And later, Professor McGonagall complains that, in the aftermath of Voldemort's historic first encounter with Harry Potter, "People are being downright careless, out on the streets in broad daylight, not even dressed in Muggle clothes, swapping rumours."

Not the same words, sure, but the exact same effect, don't you think? For me, it's kind of neat to see this kind of pattern in Rowling's thinking and writing.

So far, my favourite character in TCV is Krystal Weedon, the misery-hardened teen who feels her chance of escape has disappeared with Mr. Fairbrother's death. As I said, I'm only about 100 pages into this book and already I've developed a deep-seated empathy for this character.

Rowling is at her evocative best in chapter Wednesday I, the first that really takes up Krystal's point of view. And what a heart-rending chapter it is, as Rowling subtly, carefully allows us to see how devastating her coach and teacher's death is to this seemingly callous, hardened young woman.

As I read it, I can't help but thinking of Snape when he was young, a lost, lonely boy living a loveless life, with no real hope of something better.

It is a credit to Rowling that she is able to create such empathy for these apparently distasteful characters, that she can capture so effectively the devastating impact of poverty and abandonment on a young life. If Weedon (and what a great name that is for this character) is brutal and nasty and offensive, it is life that has made her that way. But that doesn't mean that she's not human, that she doesn't at some level of her soul recognise what she is and what she has become and hope for something better.

I'm quite enjoying The Casual Vacancy. I'll probably write more on it as I work my way through it.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The voice of the Dark Duke

What a strange feeling!

The other day, I found myself flipping through the television channels and I came across a film called The Duchess, starring Keira Knightley and Ralph Fiennes.

Yes, that Ralph Fiennes. The Voldemort Ralph Fiennes.

I think it's the first time I've seen a film with Fiennes in it since The Deathly Hallows Part 2 came out. And how strange it was to hear that voice again! Scary.

Fiennes plays the Duke, controlling and emotionally inaccessible husband to Knightley's title character. In some ways, his character here is almost as evil as the Dark Lord, using and abusing the people around him for his own purposes, never caring what they might want out of their lives.

But it was the voice that got me. That was Voldemort's voice Fiennes was using in the worst of the scenes and it sent a shiver through me. No, not the ridiculous voice of the cavorting Dark Lord in Part 2; the evil whisper of the earlier Voldemort, from The Goblet of Fire and The Order of the Phoenix.

As strange as it was, however, it was a lot more welcome than seeing Daniel "Harry Potter" Radcliffe doing a soft shoe on last night's Oscar telecast. Ugh.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Harry Potter and The Rebound

Just a quick note on something interesting that happened today.

We decided to pop in a movie this morning and chose from our collection a film called The Rebound, starring Catherine Zeta-Jones and Justin Bartha. It's a romantic comedy from 2009 and, frankly, I had never even heard of it when I picked it up for really cheap ($3.33) at a local video store.

Written and directed by Bart Freundlich, The Rebound is a surprisingly good rom com with just the right amount of heart. It tells the tale of a 40-year-old divorcing mother of two (Jones) who hires a sweet 25-year-old man (Bartha) to be the full-time nanny to her kids while she re-starts her career.

One of the key challenges facing their romance is the difference in their ages. Jones does a nice job in it and Bartha brings a convincing innocence to his role. We really enjoyed the film.

Why write about it on a Harry Potter blog?

Because it's really the first movie I've seen where a character is seen reading J.K. Rowling's novels on screen. First, we see Bartha holding Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (it is an American movie, after all) while babysitting Jone's children. I guess we're supposed to understand that he had been reading the book to them.

In a later scene, Bartha is seen reading The Deathly Hallows in bed. Knowing that his youth is already being held against him, Bartha argues that, while his choice of reading materials might seem juvenile, a lot of adults also enjoy these books.

I couldn't agree more.

And it's really fun to see these books I love so much appearing in this film. It made me wonder, however: I know that a lot of films and TV shows make Harry Potter references but how many so far have actually shown the books onscreen?

Friday, February 1, 2013

Harry, Dumbledore and the Resurrection Stone

I have a question. When Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest to face his death near the end of The Deathly Hallows and turns the Resurrection Stone thrice in his hand, why doesn't he invite Albus Dumbledore back from death as well as his mother, father, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin?

I think it's really nice, and quite fitting, that Harry calls back those four people.

But why not Dumbledore, the man about whom he has been mooning for the entire duration of the book? It doesn't make sense. Given the opportunity to talk to someone, anyone who is already dead, why wouldn't he choose to talk to the man with all the answers?

It's strange. It doesn't make sense, really, when you consider where Harry's mind has been for months prior to that pivotal moment. I think it's a lovely scene as written (and as filmed, to be honest), but it doesn't seem right to me.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Oh cursed spite: The Half-Blood Prince of Denmark

Harry bent over him; and Snape seized the front of his robes and pulled him close.

A terrible rasping, gurgling noise issued from Snape's throat.

"I am dead; thou livest; Report me and my cause aright to the unsatisfied."

Something more than blood was leaking from Snape. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, it gushed from his mouth and his ears and his eyes, and Harry knew what it was...

"Look ... at ... me .... " Snape whispered. "In this harsh world draw they breath in pain, To tell my story."

The green eyes found the black, but after a second something in the depths of the dark pair seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.

Sorry, a little bit of poetic license there. But every time I read J.K. Rowling's affecting description of Harry's last encounter with Snape and the Half-Blood Prince's death near the end of The Deathly Hallows, I am strongly reminded of the dying wishes of another Prince from another legendary English writer: Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, by William Shakespeare.

And so I've taken the liberty of combining Rowling's scene with that written by Shakespeare. They fit together quite well, don't you think? Certainly the words Shakespeare provided to Hamlet to express his request that Horatio explain his story, his plight to the disbelieving world capture exactly what Snape, in his gasping last breaths, is asking of Harry Potter.

I know that the tendency must be to compare Harry himself with Shakespeare's tragic prince, and there are ample reasons to do so, but I think this scene, the last moments of Snape's rather tragic life, align the Half-Blood Prince quite closely with the Shakespearean hero.

I'll probably write more on Harry Potter and Hamlet in a later blog entry but, for now, I'm quite pleased with the blended passage I've created above. What do you think?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

On fickle fondness, falling to pieces and Pottermore

I think, if you read this blog from start to finish, you would probably find that I have posted entries saying how much I love each one of the seven Harry Potter books in turn but, at some other date, have stated very strongly how much I hate every Harry Potter book in turn.

It's funny how much my opinion changes on some of these books each time I re-read them.

For example, I have just finished re-reading The Half-Blood Prince.  If memory serves, I have often said that this is one of my least-favourite of the seven. And yet, this time out, I really enjoyed it. It was a fun read and I found the trips into the various memories to learn about Voldemort's past very interesting this time around.

Strange. And now I'm on to The Deathly Hallows again. This, along with The Prisoner of Azkaban, has always been one of my favourites. I wonder if I'll like it as much upon this reading.

Another strange point: I find myself ridiculously proud of the fact that my copy of this long last novel, a hard cover copy no less, is starting to fall into pieces. I have actually read this book so many times that it's starting to fall apart. Wow. That's devotion.

And I've joined Pottermore finally. My Pottermore name is "Bloodquill 19500" so, if you enjoy reading this blog and are a member of J.K.'s site too, why not friend me? We can duel. I'm a terrible duellist so far so you'll earn your House many many points by taking me on.

Have I mentioned that I was sorted into Gryffindor on Pottermore? Have I said how proud that made me feel? Cool.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

J.K.'s Harry is more human... and more interesting

I've always been interested in the difference between literature and film as narrative forms. In fact, I wrote my Masters dissertation on how his work as a screenwriter in the 1930s impacted F. Scott Fitzgerald's approach to his novels.

So it should come as no surprise that I find myself comparing how J.K. Rowling told the Harry Potter stories in her books to how the same stories were re-told by the movie makers.

I'm interested in how the medium impacts the manner in which the story is told but I'm also interested in how the narrative decisions made by the story tellers, as affected by the medium, impact how we understand the characters and the events they encounter.

That's a really high-falutin' way of saying I saw something interesting when I re-read The Order of the Phoenix recently, an interesting difference between how a particular scene takes place in the book versus how it was later presented in the film.

Remember the scene where Harry is taking Occlumency lessons in Snape's office and ends up inside Snape's own memories?

It's a neat scene and very important both to our understanding of Snape and to our understanding of Harry himself and his relationship with his father.

But there's a really interesting difference between what Rowling wrote and what ended up in the film.

In J.K.'s version, Harry chooses to invade Snape's memories, memories which the Potions master had very carefully attempted to safeguard by placing them in Dumbledore's pensieve before beginning the lesson. It is very clear in the book that Harry is in the wrong when he decides, while Snape is temporarily absent from the room, to dive into the memories Snape has so carefully set aside.

In the movie version, on the other hand, Harry's invasion of Snape's memory occurs by accident. When Harry attempts to defend himself from Snape's assault, Harry is somehow propelled into Snape's mind.

I can understand why the filmmakers decided to simplify the whole process. It would have taken a great deal of screen time to show Snape using the pensieve, to set up the reason for Snape's absence and then to explain that Snape has returned. As they so often do, the filmmakers identified what was truly important to the plot (Harry entering Snape's memory) and tried to figure out the simplest, fastest way to include that event in the film.

But the decision has a an impact and, I would argue, plays into a much larger ongoing campaign the filmmakers were on: their effort to show Harry as much more of a hero than he comes across in the books.

Rowling wants us to see that Harry is a a real, flawed human being, subject to the same kinds of unkind, inappropriate temptations as the rest of us. Harry sees Snape's memories swirling in the pensieve, realises he has some time and succumbs to the temptation to snoop.

And maybe, as Snape's memory of being bullied by James Potter and Sirius Black shows him a side of his father Harry doesn't really like, Harry also starts to recognise that he, himself, can behave poorly, can treat others badly.

In the film version, however, Harry's invasion of Snape's memories is purely accidental. Harry experiences something he shouldn't but through no fault, no choice of his own. Snape's fury at him thereafter is unfair and we come away from the incident feeling that, while James Potter might have been a bully, Snape too behaves inappropriately in shouting at Harry.

Nothing in the way the incident takes place in the film makes us question Harry's virtue.

And that ties in well with the way Harry is portrayed in the rest of the films: as the pure, virtuous loner with no flaws, as the all-American kid, as the hero with a capital "H".

I like Rowling's Harry much better. He's human and that makes his willingness to sacrifice himself so much the more interesting and valuable.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Out of Order in the Film

I find The Order of the Phoenix such a difficult book to read. In fact, it's a little like torture. Which shouldn't be much of a surprise since the first three-quarters of the book involves the torture of our favourite wand-carrier, both directly by Dolores Umbridge and more subtly by the Ministry, the wizarding community and the other kids at Hogwarts.

Even though I know what's coming, I still cringe when I read this book.

That's not an insult to J.K. Rowling. In fact, it's a huge compliment. J.K. wanted to make this book an ordeal both for Harry and her reader and she succeeds remarkably.

That's why I get so angry when I watch the film version of it. I honestly don't know which movie I detest more, The Order or the Deathly Hallows Part 2, and that's saying something since I really really really hate Part 2.

The fifth novel is a claustrophobic, harrowing ordeal. It's a gut-wrenching experience of a kind that is rarely found in literature. Because we identify so closely with Harry after the first four books, we feel every tiny sting he receives in this fifth one. We hurt for him and suffer with him.

So why did the movie makers have to turn this ordeal into a slapstick comedy (and a poor one at that)? Instead of ominous and evil, Umbridge is presented as a silly nuisance in the movie. I'm not taking a shot at Imelda Staunton -- she does a beautiful job of acting the role she was given -- but the role itself is a mockery of Rowling's villainous original.

The only thing, in my opinion, that saves the movie is the very strong performances of Evanna Lynch (as Luna Lovegood) and Katie Leung (as Cho Chang). These two make strong impressions, with some great scenes, even if the film reduces the part played by each in the main plot.

So I leave the film version of The Order of the Phoenix on the shelf while I battle my way through the tremendously well written novel. Too bad. Another wasted filmic opportunity.

Oh, and by the way, I've finally joined Pottermore. And I'm happy to report that I was sorted into Gryffindor House, meaning I can keep my wonderful hand-knit scarf! I don't have as much time as I wish I did to enjoy this amazing, interactive site but I'll keep plugging away.