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.