Saturday, November 22, 2014

Defending Rowling's first post-Potter novel

Let's talk about A Casual Vacancy for a minute, shall we?

When J.K. Rowling's first big after-Potter book came out several years ago, I resisted buying it. I am a fan of Harry Potter, not necessarily of Joanne Rowling. I recognize that we would have no H.P. without J.K., of course, and I think the books are beautifully written, but I am not regularly in the habit of following authors no matter what they write.

I then found a mint condition hard cover copy of A Casual Vacancy at a local book sale for just two dollars and I thought, "Why not?"

I read it and I enjoyed it and, even if the subject matter was not necessarily my cup of tea, I recognized that it was extremely well written. Sometimes I think the quality of Rowling's writing gets lost in the excitement and pace of the Potter novels but, in ACV, it comes shining through.

So I was surprised when a friend from work brought up the subject of the book the other day and complained that he felt that Rowling was "trying too hard" in her first big non-Potter novel. "Trying too hard" were his exact words, implying that Rowling overdid the emotion, the complexity, the maturity of ACV in an effort to prove to the world that she is not just a writer of Young Adult fiction.

I'm not sure how I'm reacting to this criticism. I don't agree with it, to be certain, but why am I so angry about it?

If I had to take guess, I'd say that the criticism is unfair to Rowling because the problem is in the reader not in the writing. Since my friend knew J.K. only as a YA writer, he was likely hyper-sensitive to the adult themes of ACV. If he had come into the new novel not knowing who had written it, he probably would have liked it a lot more; because he knew it was Rowling who wrote it, and he associated Rowling with writing for young people, he felt the impact of the mature themes of the new book much more strongly, perhaps too strongly.

Does that make sense?

I'll have to continue to think about it. I do know that I appreciate in ACV the sincere effort Rowling made to do something different, the impressive complexity of her plot and character roster in this book and the strength of the emotional impact of the book.

I also know that, like Dick Francis, Rowling displays an effortless command of the language, of grammar and punctuation, of plot construction and character development.

She is a remarkably polished writer and someone like me, who considers himself to be something of a writer himself, can learn a great deal, must by reading Rowling's books.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pottermore posts not on my radar

So J.K. has put up some more "essays" on Pottermore, offering further information on various aspects of the Harry Potter world. I understand that one of them involves giving a history of Hogwarts and its headmasters, for example.

Note my use of "understand". I say "I understand" because, to be honest, I don't really know on account of the fact that I have not bothered to go read these new pieces of Potterana.

I'm not sure how I feel about them, to be honest.

I think my apathy is real and not driven by some nasty side of my personality, like jealousy, envy or spite. I think I really really don't care about these extra bits Ms. Rowling keeps throwing out into the world.

This is coming from someone who has read each volume in the Harry Potter series of novels at least 20 times. This is from someone who has already owned the eight movies both in DVD and Blu-Ray format and yet still will stop to watch them whenever they appear on regular TV. This is from someone who has become something of a resource in the lives of the Harry Potter fans among his friends and acquaintances.

In some ways, it makes me feel kind of sad that J.K. is still tossing bits of bread out onto the waters with regard to Harry Potter and hoping we will all snap them up.

I wonder why she can't either:

1. "let it go" and accept that her Harry Potter days are over and she should now focus on her really quite wonderful Galbraith novels; or
2. "suck it up", admit that she, like us, is addicted to Harry Potter and sit down to write another full length novel. I have no doubt that she could write some exciting books detailing Harry's adventures as an Auror, supplemented by plots involving Ron, Hermione and the others as they attempt to find their way in a post-Voldemort world.

The little tidbits she keeps offering seem pathetic, to be honest. Indecisive and sad.

And so I will choose not to read them anymore. And still treasure the seven spectacular Harry Potter novels I do read.

Monday, September 22, 2014

If not me, who? If not now, when?

I read, appreciate and enjoy the Harry Potter books and, to a lesser extent, I watch, appreciate and enjoy the Harry Potter movies.

But, as I have stated several times on this blog in the past, I have no interest in learning everything there is to know about Joanne Rowling, the author, or Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson and the other actors who starred in the films. It is enough that J.K. produced a series of novels of such power and fascination -- I don't need to delve into her personal life nor follow every drop of coverage the media offers about her.

And I feel the same about the actors from the films.

Lately, however, Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger with such charm in the movies, is making it hard for me to continue to ignore her life outside the films.

Some time ago, in fact, I wrote about how impressed I was with her commitment to continue and, in fact, complete her university education.

And now it is her work for the U.N. and the marvellous speech she recently gave on the issue of gender equality and the He For She movement that has me impressed.

Don't get me wrong, I don't necessarily agree with everything Ms. Watson said in that speech. As someone who has spent 10 years of his life working against harassment and discrimination of all kinds in higher education, I was all too aware of the Eurocentrism that pervaded her talk.

And I find it highly ironic that Watson described the first hint she experienced of gender inequity as coming when she was just eight years old and was described as being "bossy" when she wanted to be given the same rights and powers as her male friends.

Why ironic? Because J.K. Rowling used exactly that word, "bossy", when she first introduced the character Watson played, Hermione Granger, in The Philosopher's Stone.

All of that being said, however, there was a great deal to admire in Watson's speech to the U.N., not the least of which is the fact that this world-renowned actress was visibly nervous as she spoke and admitted to the fact as part of her speech. It was clear that the issue means a lot to her and that she wished to be effective in getting her message across.

She spoke slowly, clearly and with a tremor in her voice that added that much more power to her message.

She made another important admission as well. She said, early on, "My life is a sheer privilege," and went on to thank all of the people who offered her opportunity and equity, people she called "the inadvertent feminists who are changing the world today."

Watson recognized that she has been afforded opportunities that few other women have enjoyed and she used that point to acknowledge the responsibility her good fortune placed upon her to use her position of power in our society to speak out about the issue.

Her main point, and the point of the He For She movement, is that both sexes share equally in the fight for gender equity, that men suffer as a result of the imposition of gender stereotypes, even if to a lesser extent then do women.

"I have seen men feel fragile and insecure by a distorted sense of what constitutes male success," she said at one point. And later: "Both men and women should feel free to be sensitive; both men and women should feel free to be strong."

I think there is a great deal of good in what Watson said to the U.N. and I am impressed to the highest degree that 1) she has taken on the responsibility to deliver that message and 2) she has done so with such openness, honesty and emotion.

I became aware of Emma Watson because she played a beloved character in a series of films; I am a fan of Emma Watson because of everything she has done, and continues to do, outside of her film career.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

No feet up on Harry Potter

So I'm watching Orange is the New Black on Netflix, the award-winning show about an upper middle class woman who ends up spending a year in prison for a crime she committed when she was younger.

I was just cruising through the first season, trying to figure out what all the buzz is about. So far, I'm not totally sold on it. It's okay, I guess. Kind of hit and miss. Not as funny as I had hoped and somewhat lacking in interesting characters.

Then, out of the blue, there's a scene in the prison library. One of the women is wishing to borrow a book and the inmate who works in the library, thinking she just wants to borrow a thick book to use as a foot stool, refuses to let her borrow The Order of the Phoenix.

It came and went in a flash but I think the line was something like, "You ain't puttin' your feet up on Harry Potter. You want something to stand on, you borrow [James Joyce's] Ulysses. I tried to read that s---. That's for puttin' you feet on."

Now, I've read Ulysses and it's really very good. It doesn't deserve to have people stepping all over it either. But what a moment of joy to be watching this crazy, crude, violent, disturbing television show that seems so far away from J.K.'s magical world and to find that, even in this prison, Harry Potter is revered.


Saturday, August 30, 2014

Is it remake time yet? Please...?

By my count, it has now been more than three years since the second part of The Deathly Hallows film hit the theatres.

I have one question: is it still too early to hope that they are finally going to start work on a remake? One that's better than the first? One that actually stays true to the book and doesn't undermine everything J.K. Rowling's awesome original stood for?

Actually, I am only partly kidding. As anyone who has read this blog with any regularity will know, I really detest the last two (and perhaps three) of the films made of Rowling's works.

I have no issues with the actors -- I thought Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson and Rupert Grint were excellent choices for the major child roles. It's just the decisions made by the screen writers that I abhor.

So, what do you think? Can we start hoping to hear an announcement that work has begun on the remakes soon? And can we ask for veto rights on the script?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

On paintings, portraits and plots

I've written before about the role played by paintings in the magical world of Harry Potter, particular the portraits of former Hogwarts headmasters that hang in Dumbledore's office (sorry, I can't bring myself to refer to it as Snape's office).

It is clearly established that people captured in paintings can communicate with the living people who  wander past them. This happens all the time. It is also clearly established that the characters in the paintings actually carry on linear lives, lives that are situated within the same chronological context as the living beings.

These painting people experience events at a particular moment in time, then move on to other events while carrying memories of the earlier event. The Fat Lady recounts several times, for example, how she was attacked in book two, and finally identifies her attacker as Sirius Black. In the final battle for Hogwarts, the painting people carry information from place to place in the castle.

And the portraits in the Headmaster's office, in particular, appear to carry the memories, the attitudes, the opinions of the living people they represent. They are an extension of the earlier headmasters and appear to add the experiences and memories they accumulate as painting people to the experiences and memories they held when they were living people.

Does that all make sense?

Okay. So why would Harry ever feel abandoned by Dumbledore in Book Seven? Why would his first goal not be to break into the Headmaster's Office and have a long talk with Dumbledore as a painting person, to obtain the answers to all the questions he has?

If the painting Dumbledore is an extension of the real, formerly living Dumbledore, why would Harry, Hermione and Ron not try to find a way to get to the portrait and find out how to destroy Horcruxes, where the remaining Horcruxes might be, what the deal is with the Hallows, etc.?

And why wouldn't Snape have found some way to help Harry and the gang gain access to Dumbledore's portrait without raising suspicion?

Again, I am concerned that, in creating these magical portraits in so much fascinating detail, J.K. Rowling has set a trap for herself that actually ends up undermining the effectiveness of these wonderful stories she's written. Wouldn't it have been possible to tell the stories without making these portraits so fully functional as to undermine the plots?

Monday, August 18, 2014

Galbraith sparks interest; Warbeck draws yawns

You know, I was aware that J.K. had written a couple of mystery novels under some other name but it never really clicked to me that there were two new J.K. Rowling novels out there that I haven't read.

Now that two friends have mentioned the Robert Galbraith books to me again -- and told me how very good they really are -- I'm all atingle to get my hands on them and enjoy some more original Rowling writing.

More on that soon...

Oddly, the news that Rowling has written a new piece for Pottermore on Celestina Warbeck (the sometimes heard but never seen popular singer of the Harry Potter books) has had absolutely no effect on me. I find I really don't care. Maybe it's because the Warbeck piece doesn't sound like much more than another post-Potter sound-bite.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Birthday wishes for two important people

Happy Birthday, Harry Potter!

Happy Birthday, J.K. Rowling!

I am delighted to celebrate, in my small way, the birthdays of two people who have brought so much happiness to my life. Even if one of them is a fictional character.

I am also delighted to report that, when the CBC news website posted two special Harry Potter editions of their "Who Said It?" quizzes (one of quotes from the HP good guys and the other of quotes from HP villains), I got a perfect score on both.

To be honest, there were two on the villains quiz that I wasn't completely certain about but I was lucky enough to be able to figure both out.

And I am ridiculously proud of that accomplishment.

So Happy Birthday Harry, Happy Birthday J.K. and congrats to me!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Taboo should have been taboo for J.K.

Let's talk about the "Taboo" for a moment.

We're introduced to the Taboo mid-way through The Deathly Hallows. Ron explains that Voldemort's name has "been jinxed, Harry, that's how they track people! Using his name breaks protective enchantments, it causes some kind of magical disturbance... Anyone who says it is trackable!"

First of all, I agree with Ron. Voldemort and the Death Eaters make very clever use of the Taboo since they know that only people who are members of the Order of the Phoenix or might otherwise prove a threat to the Dark Lord still use the name "Voldemort". The Death Eaters refer to him as "the Dark Lord", for the most part, while the good guys and innocents all prefer to use "You Know Who" or "He Who Will Not be Named".

So placing the Taboo on the word "Voldemort" will provide excellent results for the Death Eaters: they will be able to track really problematic people with few false alarms.

Clever. Very clever.

But let's look at the Taboo itself. As explained in the book, the Taboo allows me to place a jinx on a word so that if you use that word you lose all magical protection that you have sought to place on yourself and I can track where you are.

Wow. That's a pretty powerful tool. And we see it work very powerfully later in The Deathly Hallows when, despite all of their tried and true protective enchantments, the Taboo exposes Harry and the crew to the clutches of the Snatchers.

So why isn't it used more often? For example, if the Death Eaters were so interested in finding Horace Slughorn prior to the events of Book Six, why didn't they just put a Taboo on his name (or on "candied pineapple") in order to find him? Sure, there might be some false alarms but they'd probably be worth the trouble.

Why would they not put the Taboo on the names of all of the Order members in order to find them and break down the enchantments protecting them.

And remember, at the start of The Deathly Hallows, Snape tells Voldemort that, Harry will be taken to a safe house that has been prepared for him and has been "given every protection that the Order and Ministry together can provide". Snape concludes: "there is little chance of taking him once he is there."

Wait a minute? If capturing Harry is job one and they have a weapon as powerful as the Taboo available to them, why wouldn't they try jinxing a whole bunch of names or words associated with Harry and the Order, accepting that the large number of false alarms they might face would be well worth the possibility that the Taboo would eventually beak all of the protective enchantments the Ministry and the Order have put in place and allow them to track and capture Harry?

Let's just say they Tabooed the word "Hagrid"? Wouldn't that be enough? I mean, not that many people would say Hagrid's name about then but members of the Order are sure to do so. Why not use it to track Harry and strip away his protections?

Again, I think the Taboo is a very interesting idea. And I agree that the Death Eaters were very clever to have used it to expose members of the Order.

But, like the Time Turner and Felix Felicis, I wonder if it wasn't a dramatic mistake for Rowling to introduce the Taboo into her world. Once she establishes that this powerful tool exists, she has to consider when and how it might otherwise be used to effect in the story.

Then she has to account for why it was not used (it is an extremely difficult jinx and a person can only cast one Taboo at a time, for example).

If she doesn't, in my opinion, she undermines the drama of her narrative.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Deathly Hallows films make me cry, for all the wrong reasons

The film version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows makes me want to cry.

No, not because I'm so upset about the death of Hedwig in the early going. Nor does the sweep of music that accompanies Dobby's last words bring tears to my eyes.

I'm not overwhelmed with emotion when I see the bodies of Fred, Remus and Nymphadora lying on makeshift cots in the Great Hall of Hogwarts in the intermission of the great battle.

And, no, I am absolutely NOT overcome with tears of relief when Voldemort's body finally breaks into little black leaves and floats off into the ether, signifying his final parting from this brave world.

No, I want to cry when I watch the movies of The Deathly Hallows because I HATE THEM SO MUCH. I want to cry because I am so angry at the scriptwriter and director and everyone else associated with the movies for taking our one real chance to translate J.K. Rowling's deep, moving psychological masterpiece of a seventh novel into film and WASTING IT with this ridiculous, corny, over-wrought, under-intellectual piece of revisionist S__T.

And I sincerely wish that J.K. Rowling would come out in public and make even the mildest statement that says she too recognizes how much of a disappointment these last two movies are.

I mean, under perhaps the greatest pressure of expectation any author has ever faced in literary history, Rowling wrote a lovely, fascinating, deep and philosophical novel, one that delivered more action than anyone could ever have hoped for supported by an amazing exploration of love, trust, friendship and camaraderie.

Despite its flaws, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is, in my humble opinion, a literary masterpiece produced when the author could have hammered out a simple action yarn and most of the world would have been satisfied.

This novel is a credit to Rowling, proof that she is a master writer first and a business person second. She gave the world more, much much more than any one would have required her to give in this final novel for the simple reason that she felt she owed herself, her characters, and us, something fabulous.

So why did she permit the film-makers to turn her final masterwork into this shallow, often silly piece of dreck that leaves out just about every morsel of poetry she lovingly wrote into the book?

Why did she permit them to eviscerate the wonderful philosophical, moral Hallows-vs-Horcruxes story-line, leaving in just enough to make it a mockery of the original?

Why did she let them walk away from the intense internal conflict faced by Harry as he discovered more and more about Dumbledore and his intensely secret ways?

Why did she allow them to turn the Battle of Hogwarts into a mano-a-mano war between Harry and Voldemort when it is clear, in the book, that it is Harry's love for his friends and colleagues, and their love and support for him, that eventually wins the day?

There's so much more (or less) in the movies that I want to complain about but I think I've made my point.

J.K. Rowling's novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is a beautifully paced, philosophically rich poetic piece of writing.

The two films that were made out of this book are simply sad reminders of what could have been, tragic wastes of the opportunity to make something as magic on film as the book is on paper.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The most magical of magic potions was a dramatic mistake

Sometimes I feel like I have to start a post with a reminder to everyone of how much I love the Harry Potter novels and how much I respect J.K. Rowling as a writer.

Her seven-novel sequence is a triumph, both from a dramatic standpoint and from the standpoint of outstanding writing in a technical sense.

I think all of us wannabe writers out here can learn a great deal from Rowling and her works because they are so outstanding. But, if we can learn from the strengths of the Potter novels, we can also learn from some of the less successful stuff in them as well.

And, as I mentioned in my last post, I think Rowling fell into traps on several occasions, introducing an element into her magical world that might work very well dramatically in the story in which it is introduced but that can become a bit of a problem over the course of the entire story line.

I think the issue of time travel is one of those traps, as I discussed last time.

And I think the introduction of Felix Felicis (liquid luck) in the sixth book is another such trap.

Here's an edited version of the passage wherein Rowling (through Professor Slughorn) introduces us and her characters to this most magical of magic potions:
...a small black cauldron standing on Slughorn’s desk. The potion within was splashing about merrily; it was the colour of molten gold, and large drops were leaping like goldfish above the surface, though not a particle had spilled... 
“It’s liquid luck,” said Hermione excitedly. “It makes you lucky.”... 
“It’s a funny little potion, Felix Felicis,” said Slughorn. “desperately tricky to make, and disastrous to get wrong. However, brewed correctly, as this has been, you will find that all your endeavours tend to succeed… at least until the effects wear off.” ... 
“…if taken to excess, it causes giddiness, recklessness and dangerous overconfidence,” said Slughorn. “Too much of a good thing, you know… highly toxic in large quantities. But taken sparingly, and very occasionally…” 
"One tiny bottle of Felix Felicis,” said Slughorn, taking out a minuscule glass bottle… “Enough for twelve hours’ luck. From dawn to dusk, you will be lucky in everything you attempt. 
“Now, I must give you warning that Felix Felicis is a banned substance in organized competitions … sporting events, for instance, examinations or elections."
We are then treated to two stirring examples of how effective Felix is in the real world: Harry's success at finding Slughorn and convincing him to give up the key Horcrux memory and the survival of all members of Dumbledore's Army after the battle with the Death Eaters that leads to Dumbledore's death.

In the context of The Half-Blood Prince, Felix is a fun, effective dramatic tool. It works (both literally and as a dramatic device).

But what are its larger implications?

I would argue that the very existence and potency of Felix Felicis raise serious questions that tend to undermine the realism and effectiveness of every other plot, every tense situation in the whole seven-book adventure.

If Felix exists, why don't more people use it more often? Sure, it's hard to brew and, sure, you can't take it too often without risking negative consequences (which, to be honest, appear fairly trivial when compared to the alternative -- death) but it does exist and it does work extremely effectively.

And, if Slughorn can brew it successfully, then certainly Snape and Dumbledore could brew it as well. I wouldn't put it past Hermione either, since she was successfully brewing the incredibly complicated Polyjuice Potion in only her second year at Hogwarts.

If a substance like Felix exists, I would expect that we would see it used more than twice in the entire Harry Potter tale. I would think that Dumbledore, Slughorn, Snape and even Hermione would all brew up a batch from time to time and dispense it (albeit with discretion) to themselves and their loved ones whenever a particularly serious, potentially life threatening challenge is looming.

Wouldn't, for example, Dumbledore use a little taste of it before setting off for the cave in search of the locket Horcrux?

Wouldn't Snape use it any number of times throughout the course of his very dangerous mission?

Wouldn't Slughorn be distributing it to all and sundry as the defenders of Hogwarts prepared to do battle with Voldemort and his minions in the final book?

Wouldn't Hermione have used some for their invasion of the Ministry, their break-in to Gringotts, their search of Hogwarts in Book Seven?

My point is, the very existence of liquid luck allows these questions to be posed and, as a result, undermines the effectiveness of these exciting scenes. It makes absolutely no sense to me that no one tried to use Felix at least once more in the books.

To make matters worse, I honestly don't think it was necessary at all for Rowling to introduce Felix in book six. Sure, it's fun and effective and it irons out certain plot difficulties.

But she could have written both scenes in which Felix is used in The Half-Blood Prince (Harry's approach to Slughorn and the battle between Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters) without resorting to this magical potion. Felix wasn't absolutely necessary to either.

Harry could have run into Slughorn on his way to Hagrid's house and convinced the Potions master to accompany him to Aragog's funeral without Felix. Slughorn's interest in the giant spider's venom would have been sufficient to get him to come. Slughorn would likely have gotten involved in his drinking spree with Hagrid without any help, if only to get his hands on the other valuable magical substances that Hagrid has lying about. And the alcohol, plus Harry's clever emotional plea, could plausibly have driven Slughorn to disclose the memory, even if Harry had not taken any liquid luck.

Further, the survival of fighters in any battle depends on a number of factors. We have already accepted that Harry survived his encounter with Quirrell in book two, that Harry, Ron and Hermione survived werewolves and Dementors in book three, that Dumbledore's Army survived their battle with Death Eaters at the Ministry in book five: why wouldn't we accept that Ginny, Luna, Neville et al could survive the fight in book six even without Felix?

My feeling is that J.K. created all of the problems I identify above by introducing Felix to her world when she really didn't need to do so. Felix was fun but not necessary to the outcome of the sixth book.

And, finally, if Slughorn had a stock of Felix with him, why didn't Draco steal some of it when he was apparently stealing Polyjuice Potion from the new Potions master?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Time travel drives me crazy, dramatically

I hate time travel in stories.


Because, if the characters in the story can travel through time, it means that nothing matters. That any major plot development can be undone. That any death can be circumvented.

Simply by having a character travel back in time and avoid the development, stop the death from happening.

The movie Star Trek: Generations is a case in point. In that film, the writers establish that any character who enters a particular zone (called the "Nexus") can choose to leave the Nexus again at any point in time and space.


When Captain Picard enters the Nexus, therefore, he has the ability to go as far back in time as he wants and change history. Nothing that has happened in the past is therefore set in stone. He can go as far back as he wants and CHANGE EVERYTHING bad that's happened.

Once that fact is established, the plot loses all sense of suspense. There is nothing at stake anymore.

And then Picard chooses to emerge from the Nexus just in time to stop the bad guy from destroying an innocent planet -- chooses that moment rather some earlier moment where he could, for example, stop his beloved brother and nephew from dying in a fire (a major plot point earlier in the movie), then block the Klingons from interfering and then find the bad guy and arrest him before he can do any harm.

Picard's decision makes no sense. In the context of the reality established by the movie, Picard (the film's hero) is, in fact, a fool.

So when J.K. Rowling introduced the possibility of time travel in book three of the Harry Potter collection, I cringed. Really and truly I did. She had fallen into the trap. Nothing else could possibly matter if characters can travel back in time. Nothing bad that happens is ever permanent.

To her credit, Rowling makes excellent use of the time-travel trap in The Prisoner of Azkaban by having her characters travel back in time to save Sirius and Buckbeak.

She actually does it really well. It's a surprisingly exciting read and one of my favourites of the seven novels.

But it begs the Picard question. If they can control how far back in time she travels simply by spinning the Time Turner more or less times, why does Dumbledore not send them back far enough to allow Ron to capture Scabbers, lock him in a box and then use him to help clear Sirius' name without all the drama?

Or send them back 14 or more years to stop Voldemort before he really got started? If Voldemort is stopped before he kills Harry's parents, none of the terrible things that followed upon those murders would have happened. No one would have suffered.

In fact, why didn't Dumbledore himself go back in time right after he realized Tom Riddle was going to be a royal pain in the bottom and put a stop to Riddle's shenanigans?

Sure, we fans can invent all kinds of rules to avoid these questions: Time Turners can only take a person so far back in time and no more, for example. But Rowling doesn't make such rules clear in the book.

Now, in The Order of the Phoenix, Rowling tries to make this right. Or at least to remove time travel as an option that could be used to avoid the final battle of Hogwarts. She has all of the Time Turners destroyed in the Department of Mysteries (and allows us to develop a fan rule that no one alive is capable of making a new Time Turner).

Fine. Great. But I still think the introduction of the possibility of time travel in the magical world of Harry Potter serves to undermine the drama throughout the course of Harry's adventures. Rowling would have been better off not introducing it at all.

Even if it meant having to change the plot of the magnificent third book completely.

In a later blog entry, I'll talk about how I feel that Rowling's introduction of Felix Felicis, of the talking portraits in the Headmaster's office and of the idea of the Taboo also raises significant dramatic problems for these books.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The death throes of The Deathly Hallows

Seven years ago, I purchased my hard-cover edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the day it hit the bookstore shelves.

Today, after more readings than I can count, my original hard-cover edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows split at the spine and began to fall apart at the seams.

It's not about the quality of the novel; it's about the quality of the book.

So, with a gift-card I recently received for my birthday, I marched out to my local bookstore and bought a new, paperback copy. This will be my official reading copy, until it eventually falls apart too.

At some point, I will buy a complete set of the hard-cover books as my show copies, my bookshelf editions, but not right now. I'm considering trying to find English first editions of each -- and that will take a lot of time and a lot more money.

For now, I will be a little bit in awe of the fact that J.K. Rowling wrote a book that I like so much I literally read it to pieces.

Something Wiki this way comes...

Wow, the people who update the Harry Potter Wiki site are fast, aren't they? No sooner does J.K. publish the Rita Skeeter article about the Quidditch World Cup and someone has already updated the Wiki entry for Hannah Abbott to include the details related to "Hannah" included in the Skeeter piece.

But are they right to do so? The citation for the information added to the Hannah Abbott Wiki entry is the Skeeter piece, according to the site, but I have to figure there is more than one Hannah in the magical community. And Skeeter omits any reference to the birth name of "Hannah" in her article.

So how can they be so sure that Neville Longbottom, in fact, married Hannah Abbott, rather than some other Hannah (Smith, Jones, Leduc, Jeudesor)?

And why do the entry editors assume that whatever Hannah Neville married would take his last name in place of her own? They refer to her as "Hannah Longbottom (nee Abbott)" in the entry. Why make that assumption?

And why do they describe her as the "landlady of the Leaky Cauldron" in the Wiki entry? The Skeeter article merely says that Neville and Hannah "lived above the Leaky Cauldron"; it makes no mention of her having been the landlady (and, therefore, owner) of the pub.

Don't get me wrong. I think the Harry Potter Wiki is an amazing resource and I respect the work that went into creating (and still goes into maintaining and updating) it.

But this update of Hannah Abbott's entry causes me some concern about the accuracy of all of the other entries as well.

I shall have to take the information included on the Wiki with a grain of salt from now on, won't I?

On the other hand, when I read in the Skeeter article that Neville had married a woman named Hannah, I too immediately thought of Ms. Abbott. But the Skeeter article certainly falls far short of confirming that the Neville's partner is indeed Hannah Abbott.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Yes, I admire Hermione as a literary character

I have to admit, I am delighted that J.K. Rowling has decided to use her latest Harry Potter storylet to assign to Hermione a more clear, more public future.

Don't get me wrong. I have absolutely nothing against the idea of a man or a woman deciding that his or her best destiny is to commit his/her life to staying home to raise a family. One of the people I admire most in this world, my mother, did exactly that.

But I did indeed feel a somewhat disappointed when I read the Epilogue of The Deathly Hallows for the first time and discovered that Rowling had given no indication of a public life for Hermione.

Hermione is a singularly fine character in the Harry Potter books. She is moral and ethical and hard working. She is, in many ways, the conscience of the male characters in the book and, at times, her fastidious devotion to rules makes her the object of appropriate teasing.

She is caring and nurturing and lovely to her friends and to strangers too.

On the other hand, however, Hermione is much much more. She is brilliant and creative and brave. She is eloquent and clever and thoughtful.

She is witty and fun.

She is one of my favourite characters in literature. Where I find Harry often a little bit overwrought and Ron sometimes silly and unlikeable, Hermione is well described and well rounded. She is a fully realized human being, with both strengths and weaknesses. She is real and believable, an amazing accomplishment in an imaginative world of magic.

If there is one thing I find hard to accept, it is that Hermione ends up with Ron.

But at least she ends up, thanks to J.K.'s new article, with a future befitting of her, as a wife, a mother and a public leader.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Rowling's latest HP offering

As anyone who might be interested enough in Harry Potter to bother reading this blog likely already knows, J.K. Rowling has just posted an amazing, if brief, prologue to the epilogue of The Deathly Hallows on her Pottermore site.

Written in the form of a gossip column piece by Rita Skeeter, this three-page article describes, in typically acid terms, the buzz created at the 2014 Quidditch World Cup by members of Dumbledore's Army, including Harry, Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna.

From what I can calculate, this new piece is set before the Epilogue to The Deathly Hallows. Here's how I figure it:

  1. Harry turned 17 at the start of the final book;
  2. The seventh book covers the next year and ends just as the Hogwarts school year would have ended;
  3. That makes Harry just about to turn 18 when he kills Voldemort;
  4. The book's Epilogue is titled "19 Years Later" and takes place on September 1 of that year;
  5. This means that Harry would be 37 at the time of that scene at Platform Nine-and-Three-Quarters that brings the seven-book series to a close; and
  6. Rita Skeeter says that Harry, at the time of this most recently published article, is "[a]bout to turn 34."

It's a nifty little piece and, as some commentators have already said online, in many ways more satisfying than the original Epilogue from the epic final book.

With all of that being said, however, what new information do we actually learn from this latest tidbit. To be honest, quite a bit (SPOILER ALERT):

  • Harry is still called the Chosen One at age 34;
  • The mere presence of the former members of Dumbledore's Army is sufficient to stir up near riots at the QWC, with Harry as the focus of most of the attention;
  • Harry has moved on to become an Auror, as was his dream while at Hogwarts;
  • Ginny is a budding sports reporter;
  • Ron worked briefly for the Ministry, then joined George at Weasleys;
  • George is "wealthy";
  • Viktor Krum is still playing international level quidditch;
  • The search for the Voldemort's Horcruxes is now public knowledge;
  • Hermione is the Deputy Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement;
  • Neville, a popular prof at Hogwarts, is married to someone named Hannah who is now a Healer;
  • Luna Lovegood has twin sons with her husband Rolf Scamander;
  • George is not married;
  • Percy is the Head of the Department of Magical Transportation;
  • Victoire and Teddy Lupin are already together; and
  • Rita herself has written a new book about Dumbledore's Army itself.
There are probably more nuggets in there but that's a pretty good start.

Some thoughts, to go with the point that this piece is set three years before the Epilogue of the final book.

First, I think Rowling bowed to pressure from Hermione fans in making it clear that our favourite witch continued her meteoric public career, on top of being a wife and mother.

Second, Skeeter makes a lot of hay over a nasty new cut on Harry's face, a cut which must have healed fully before the Epilogue took place, or else Rowling would have mentioned it.

Third, if Harry and Co attract enough attention at 34 to cause near riots at the QWC, why does their appearance on the Platform three years later create no stir at all?

More thoughts from me on this later. What are your thoughts

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A magical muggle moment

Another Harry Potter moment.

I'm sitting in the car with our golden doodle, waiting for my partner to emerge from the grocery store.

A young woman, perhaps 14 or 15 years old, tall and thin with that angularity of body that speaks of a recent growth spurt, walks past, supporting an elderly woman, apparently her grandmother.

She's wearing jeans and a mauve t-shirt that appears at first to be unremarkable.

Then, after helping her grandmother into the front seat, she turns and looks past me and my car toward the door to the store. For the first time, I catch a glimpse of the front of the shirt.

It says "Muggle" in a flowing script.

That's it. Just "Muggle".

Brilliant. I'm so used to seeing people (like me) wearing items that suggest they are members of the magical world of Harry Potter -- like my own Gryffindor scarf, for example -- and here is this young woman making no such claim.

She's one of the world's non-magical folk. And she's proud of the fact.

I wonder where she got the shirt.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Dumbledore and the Diadem... Something got lost

Help me understand something.

In all of the time Dumbledore spends teaching Harry about Voldemort's past and the existence of the Horcruxes, why doesn't Dumbledore ever mention the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw?

Dumbledore takes great care to ensure that Harry learns two things that will help in his search for the Horcruxes: 1) that Voldemort will use important items to create his Horcruxes and 2) that Voldemort has a special affinity for relics related to the four founders of Hogwarts.

The Headmaster identifies three of relics related to the school's founders: Slytherin's locket; Hufflepuff's Cup; and Gryffindor's sword. Only the sword is still safe from Voldemort's clutches.

If there are six Horcruxes, Dumbledore and Harry agree, then they can deduce that they know the identity of five of them: the Diary (destroyed), the Gaunt ring (destroyed), Slytherin's locket, Hufflepuff's Cup; and Nagini. The identity of the sixth remains a mystery but they believe it must be associated with Rowena Ravenclaw, the school's fourth founder.

So why, at that point, does Dumbledore not say, "And I believe it likely to be Ravenclaw's lost diadem" or at least "I would suspect that it might be Ravenclaw's lost diadem if it weren't for the fact that it is, indeed, lost".

The way the scenes between Harry and the Headmaster in The Half-Blood Prince play out, it would appear that Dumbledore is unaware of the existence of, or the legend of, the lost diadem.

And that makes no sense to me. Dumbledore knew more about Hogwarts and its history than anyone. It is not possible that he would be unaware of the diadem and its story. And he was determined to give Harry as much information about the possible location of the Horcruxes as he could. It is also not possible that he forgot to mention the diadem to Harry at that point or chose not to so so.

The only possibility I can think of is that Rowling had not yet conceived of the lost diadem when she wrote the sixth book. That it was simply fortuitous that she had Harry use a tarnished tiara to mark the location in which he hid his potions book in The Half-Blood Prince and that then, when she came up with the idea of having a lost item of Ravenclaw's be the final Horcrux in order to add more suspense to the ending of The Deathly Hallows, she realised that she had already inserted just the thing in her story.

If that is actually what happened, I think it's awesome! I am in awe of Rowling's creativity and care in crafting these incredibly rich, detailed stories. I will be even more in awe if it is confirmed for me that, at the height of her writing, she was able to make such an amazing, inspired connection with an innocuous detail from her earlier novel to such dramatic effect.

But, if not, then Dumbledore should have mentioned the diadem to Harry.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Caught up in translation

Ahhh, Quebec City in the summer time.

What a beautiful city! What amazing weather!

What a great opportunity to practice my French!

And what a great opportunity to visit a number of used book stores and find, at really great prices, the final four Harry Potter novels in their French translations.

I now own the entire seven-book series in French. I have written several posts on this blog related to these translations and they have been some of the best read entries of all.

As much of a challenge as it is to read the books in another language, it is also very rewarding. Despite some of my earlier reservations, I find the translators have done a wonderful job of capturing J.K.'s original language and imagery, of recreating the magic of her world, even of coming up with inventive names for some of the characters.

And, by forcing me to read the stories more slowly, the French translations have more than once permitted me to notice details that I have missed in my many readings of the English versions in the past. I get so caught up in the story in English that I tend to speed right through each and every time.

With the French, I have to read slowly, look up unfamiliar words, think about what I'm reading in order to keep up. And that means I sometimes notice more.

Stay tuned. My plan is to read The Deathly Hallows in English (since I have just finished reading the first six novels), then start over again with the French translations. It should be fun!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Two awesome scenes between Headmaster and Dark Lord

Two of the most intense individual scenes in The Half-Blood Prince, in the entire seven-novel Harry Potter adventure in fact, play out inside the Pensieve.

In my opinion, the two encounters between Professor Dumbledore and younger versions of Tom Riddle that Harry experiences from within Dumbledore's own memories represent J.K. Rowling's writing at its very best.

The first takes place at the orphanage where Riddle grew up. Dumbledore has arrived to deliver the boy's Hogwarts letter and to explain to him that he is, in fact, "special". It's brilliantly paced and beautifully written.

And it opens with a wonderful moment between Harry and the Headmaster. When Harry first spies the younger Dumbledore on the bustling, old-fashioned London Street, he is amused to see that Dumbledore is sporting a garish plum-coloured velvet suit.

"Nice suit, sir," Harry says "before he could stop himself".

I don't know why, but that line and the fact that Dumbledore "merely chuckled" in response always make me laugh.

And then Rowling moves us directly into the austere and somewhat ramshackle neatness of Mrs. Cole's orphanage and the wonderful scene of Dumbledore plying the good woman with gin, trying his best to wheedle information from her about her youthful charge, Tom Riddle.

The conversation develops in a natural, almost poetic way and, when Mrs. Cole blurts out, "He's definitely got a place at your school", it's a nice, subtle indication of both how much she wants to tell someone of her suspicions respecting young Tom Riddle and how concerned she is to be rid of him.

Rowling is at her best when she finally leads us into Riddle's room. She knows that this a moment her readers have anticipated for some time yet she refuses to permit herself to indulge in any phoney melodrama.
It was a small bare room with nothing in it except an old wardrobe, a wooden chair and an iron bedstead. A boy was sitting on top of grey blankets, his legs stretched out in front of him, holding a book. 
There was no trace of the Gaunt's in Tom Riddle's face. Merope had got her dying wish: he was his handsome father in miniature, tall for eleven years old, dark-haired and pale. His eyes narrowed slightly as he took in Dumbledore's eccentric appearance. There was a moment's silence.
This is wonderful writing. Subtle, almost anti-climactic. The greatest dark wizard of all time is, at this point, just a handsome, quiet boy sitting on a bed.

And the ensuing conversation between the boy and the teacher involves a wonderfully slow evocation of several aspects of Riddle's character, aspects that Dumbledore later takes care to draw to Harry's attention: his independence, his distrust of others, his personal power and the streak of cruelty that comes with it, his certainty that he is, in some way, "special", his wish to impress but his refusal to trust, his interest in collecting trophies to mark his moments of greatest power and cruelty.

And then there are these paragraphs:
"Hogwarts," Dumbledore went on, as though he had not heard Riddle's last words, "is a school for people with special abilities --" 
"I'm not mad! 
"I know you are not mad. Hogwarts is not a school for mad people. It is a school of magic." 
There was silence. Riddle had frozen, his face expressionless, but his eyes flickering back and forth between each of Dumbledore's, as though trying to catch one of them lying.
"It's... it's magic, what I can do?"
This is the moment when Riddle finds out just how special he is, when it starts to dawn on him the possibilities that lie in front of him. For Harry, this moment led to a longer period of disbelief (that it simply wasn't true) and worry (that he would fail as a wizard). For Riddle, the moment was confirmation of what he had long believed: that he was special, powerful.

Later in The Half-Blood Prince, Harry experiences a second interview between Dumbledore and Tom Riddle from the past, this one having taken place several years after Riddle, now calling himself Voldemort, had graduated from Hogwarts.

It is another, gripping, evocative scene. And it begins with that wonderful moment when Voldemort asserts himself and his new name, an assertion of power that Dumbledore deftly turns aside.
Harry felt the atmosphere in the room change subtly: Dumbledore's refusal to use Voldemort's chosen name was a refusal to allow Voldemort to dictate the terms of the meeting, and Harry could tell that Voldemort took it as such.
Harry's perception of the incident is, in my opinion, accurate and a reflection of how much Harry had already learned from Dumbledore with regard to the subtle ways power plays out in seemingly harmless conversations. Recall, for a moment, how deftly Harry had handled Rufus Scrimgeour when Scrimgeour had cornered him at the Burrow over Christmas.

Although not as courteous at every moment as his Headmaster, Harry proved himself to be equally adept at controlling the terms of the conversation, using his own silence to keep the Minister for Magic off-balance and uncertain.

Rowling does a wonderful job of building the tension in the Dumbledore-Voldemort scene slowly. She uses small details in the conversation (Dumbledore's refusal to use Voldemort's assumed name, Dumbledore's familiarity with the term "Death Eaters", and Dumbledore's detailed knowledge of the "friends" who had accompanied Voldemort to Hogsmeade and who were waiting for him at the Hog's Head) to render Voldemort increasingly ill-at-ease so that, when Dumbledore finally challenges him to be honest about why he wants to return to Hogwarts and refuses to offer him a job, Voldemort is enraged.

We, like Harry, wonder if Voldemort might draw his wand then and there.

These are two effective, wonderfully written scenes, real to the tiniest detail, enlightening for the reader in so many ways. They are Rowling at her very best.

It's almost like most of what took place in the five and half novels up until that point were leading directly to these moments of intense interaction between these two powerful, yet very different, wizards.

And Rowling doesn't disappoint.

Monday, June 16, 2014

From 500 to five-hundred-million

While I love the Harry Potter books and, to a lesser extent, the Harry Potter movies, I am not one of those fans who wants to find out everything there is to know about the author, the actors, or the other people involved in the creation of the Harry Potter world.

I don't spend my time online, searching for the latest tidbit that has fallen from the lips of J.R. Rowling or Daniel Radcliffe or anyone else. Sure, if I encounter a piece of news related to the magical world, the books, the movies or the people of Harry Potter, I won't turn away but I don't spend my time actively seeking such nuggets.

That explains why it is entirely possible that something I write about on this blog that seems like a remarkable revelation to me might just be old hat to the more dedicated Potter fans who have stumbled across my humble offerings. Things that are new and exciting to me, I often discover, have already been recognized and talked over in the more public fandom.

Oh well...

That being said, I still feel a bit of a thrill when, in the course of my meanders through life, I run across an interesting bit of information about the Harry Potter books.

And exactly that happened to me today.

As a Father's Day gift, my dog bought me a trade paperback copy of Allison Hoover Bartlett's 2009 book The Man Who Loved Books Too Much (Penguin). Hoover Bartlett's book is a perfect gift for me (Marlee Marie knows me well!) and I'm very much enjoying the opportunity to read it.

On page 22, however, I came across the piece of Potter-data that has me quite interested.

Hoover Bartlett, in setting out a brief list of some of the rare books collectors look for at book fairs, identifies the first edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone as one of them.


She also states that there were only 500 copies of The Philosopher's Stone printed in that first edition. I was stunned, to be honest. That was a piece of Potter-data that was completely new to me. 500 copies. That was it.

Unbelievable. That's why a copy of that first edition is now worth, according to Hoover Bartlett, $30,000 in American money. Wowweeee.

I'm a bit of a book collector myself. I don't go to book fairs or buy expensive copies from dealers but I do like to browse garage sales and used book shops and charity book sales, looking for books of interest to me. I've picked up several autographed volumes along the way, as well as a volume of poems by John Milton from 1674 and a first edition Ian Fleming, which is apparently worth a bit.

I guess I'll have to keep an eye out for that Harry Potter first edition as well. Not that I expect to find one here in my remote little corner of Canada but you never now.

And wouldn't it be great to own one of those rare 500, the books that represented in and of themselves a triumph for J.K. Rowling when she first saw them delivered from the publisher, the advanced guard, so to speak, of what would eventually become the Harry Potter empire.

And spawn adoring blogs like this one.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Brief encounter, Harry Potter style

A  Harry Potter moment:

Due to a broken toe, I've been taking the bus every day this week to work, rather than enjoying my usual half-hour walk into the office.

And, on those occasions when I do take the bus, I try to remember to bring a book to read while I stand at the bus stop and then enjoy the 10-minute ride downtown.

Today, I brought The Half-Blood Prince with me for the trip, complete with my hand-knit Gryffindor bookmark, which mimics the red and gold pattern of the scarves from the later movies.

So I'm sitting there on the bus, enjoying the scene where Rufus Scrimgeour corners Harry at the Burrow over Christmas, the bookmark on my knee, and I look up for a second to find a young woman, maybe 20 years old, gazing avidly at the bookmark and trying to get a clear look at the cover of my open book.

I close the book briefly so that she can see blue, red and green cover. She smiles, nods, then goes back to her iPad.

I go back to my reading and, when the bus comes to a stop downtown, we both head off into our lives. No words exchanged. No other glances.

Just a brief moment on the bus to share our love of Harry Potter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Rowling's missed opportunity in The Half-Blood Prince

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out why I think that The Half-Blood Prince is the weakest of the seven Harry Potter novels. What is it about this book that simply does not work?

Sure, I've read the critics who disregard THBP as merely a set-up for the grand finale. And I think there's some merit to that argument.

But I think there's something more.

And I also think that, despite its limitations, THBP also has a lot to offer, a lot of really interesting scenes and great writing.

My analysis is by no means complete at this point but, if I had to say today what most concerns me about this novels, I'd have to say that it's the fact that, for the first and only time in the Harry Potter series, the main line of action in the book does not involve Harry, Hermione and Ron directly. In fact, the novel's central plot -- Draco Malfoy's desperate attempt to kill Dumbledore and redeem his family in the eyes of the Dark Lord -- happens almost entirely "off stage", so to speak.

It's an odd choice for Rowling and, in my opinion, a missed opportunity.

J.K. shows, in the first two chapters, that she is willing to permit her narrative voice to venture far away from our hero, Harry. In fact, Harry does not even appear in "The Other Minister" and "Spinner's End" -- in these opening chapters, Rowling presents the story from the perspective of the Muggle Prime Minister and of Narcissa Malfoy and Severus Snape.

What I don't understand is why she then commits herself so firmly and irrevocably to Harry's point of view from the third chapter onward. Especially when the central tale is with Draco, an interesting and enigmatic character who finds himself facing an extremely difficult challenge.

Wouldn't you have loved to have experienced the entire main plot of the sixth book through the eyes of Draco Malfoy, to understand the pressures he is under, the mixture of fear, anger, and desperation he must feel as he tries to figure out a way to accomplish the task set before him?

Wouldn't that have been a fascinating way to see the magical world in the Harry Potter series?

And wouldn't you have been much more caught up in the building suspense of the main plot of the book?

My point is that Rowling set herself a very difficult task in THBP: to try to keep her reader enthralled in the story without actually permitting us to experience in any real, ongoing way the development of that story.

And I think she, for the most part, failed.

I don't think the brief glimpses we see of Draco, the tiny hints to which we become privy throughout the novel, the suspicions of Harry that are brought to our attention but dismissed by everyone else are sufficient to keep us riveted by that story line.

And I don't think that other things Rowling offers in THBP -- the quidditch subplot, the romantic story lines, even the investigation of Voldemort's childhood -- are sufficient to make up for the lack of a gripping main plot.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

So that's what happened to Karkaroff

I have often commented on how impressed I am with J.K. Rowling's ability to juggle so many characters, so many locations, so much information about her invented magical world and yet maintain absolute consistency in it over the course of seven novels. The continuity mistakes are few and far between in her seven-book adventure.

She must either have a prodigious memory or an amazing filing system or both.

So I am not at all surprised that, after posing a question in this space some time ago about the fate of Professor Karkaroff (the Durmstrang Head Master who plays such a large role in The Goblet of Fire and then disappears late in the TriWizard Tournament, fleeing in fear when his Dark Mark begins to grow clearer), I find my answer early in The Half-Blood Prince.

Rowling didn't forget Karkaroff. No, she followed up on his story with her usual subtlety and grace.

One hundred pages into book six, she has Remus Lupin drop in for dinner at the Burrow with some updates on how the war is progressing.

"...they've found Igor Karkaroff's body in a shack up north," he says. "The Dark Mark had been set over it -- well, frankly, I'm surprised he stayed alive for even a year after deserting the Death Eaters; Sirius's brother Regulus only managed a few days as far as I can remember."

As is typical for J.K., she manages to connect one small piece of information from the past (tying up the Karkaroff loose end) with a much more important piece of information for the future: confirming that Regulus Black was a Death Eater, then had a change of mind, then died.

This will become very important later in The Half-Blood Prince.

Even more impressive is the fact that this one little comment foreshadows and comments upon the events of book seven. Lupin's point seems to be: unless you are Albus Dumbledore, if Voldemort wants you dead, your time remaining on earth is short.

So, in fact, he's commenting indirectly on how miraculous it is that Harry has survived this long and that Harry, Hermione and Ron manage to stay alive throughout the course of The Deathly Hallows, despite the fact that the Death Eaters, the Snatchers and the Ministry are all hunting for them and anyone who might be sympathetic to the trio is too afraid to help them.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Snape and the big moral questions...

J.K. Rowling's sixth Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, is aptly named. This book really is about Severus Snape, Hogwarts' enigmatic Potions (and now Dark Arts) teacher.

Central to the story is the overwhelming question: whose side is Snape on?

Ever since they met in book one, Harry and Snape have loathed each other. Slowly, over the course of the next four books, we discover the story behind that mutual enmity, an enmity that is rooted in Snape's own experience as a loner and outcast, tormented by Harry's popular father during their school years.

And, even more important, we receive hints in book five that for some reason (which will become clearer in the final novel) Harry's mother, Lily Evans, took on a somewhat protective, big sister role in relation to Snape at Hogwarts. We know at that point that James Potter and Lily are destined to marry, produce one child and then die at the wand of Lord Voldemort. We don't yet have a clear idea of how the relationships presented in Snape's own memory in The Order of the Phoenix (with James Potter and Severus Snape seemingly mortal enemies and with Lily Evans protective of the latter and involved in a conflicted relationship with the latter) result in Lily and James married and Snape on the outside looking in.

Further, we discover that Snape was, in fact, a Death Eater and still bears the Dark Mark on his arm.

On the other hand, we also know that Dumbledore trusts Snape no matter what anyone else says. And, to be honest, despite behaviour on Snape's part toward Harry that is downright abusive in some instances.

Rowling very carefully establishes this important question: is Dumbledore right to trust Snape or is this just another instance of the aging Head Master choosing to trust where trust has not been earned? Is Snape still Voldemort's man or is he truly loyal to Dumbledore?

In the sixth book, Rowling takes great pains to convince us of the answer to this question. Snape, she argues persuasively, is still Voldemort's man. Dumbledore is wrong to trust him and pays for his error with his life at the end of the book.

We begin The Deathly Hallows hating Snape as much as Harry does.

And then find out, at the end of the final novel, that Dumbledore was, in fact, right and Snape was truly loyal to the cause of right and good.

That's a fairly long introduction to the moral issue I really want to address in this post: now that we know that Snape is a good guy, how do we feel/what do we think when we go back and read The Half-Blood Prince and hear Snape tell Bellatrix and Narcissa: "The Dark Lord is satisfied with the information I have passed him on the Order. It led, as you perhaps have guessed, to the recent capture and murder of Emmeline Vance, and it certainly helped dispose of Sirius Black..."?

Snape is a good guy and yet he helped bring about the deaths of two other of the good guys: Emmeline Vance and Sirius Black.

At its heart, this is a moral question. Is it morally acceptable to sacrifice at least two lives in hopes of avoiding the deaths of many many more?

Of course, Snape could simply be lying at this point, taking advantage of the two recent deaths to strengthen his argument that he is loyal to Voldemort.

But I don't buy that. Snape could not possibly have convinced the paranoid and overly protective Dark Lord that he, Snape, was a loyal Death Eater if he was unwilling to play an active part in the deaths of members of the Order. We see even more evidence of this at the beginning of the final book.

So can we forgive Snape the deaths of Vance and Black simply because Snape turns out to be a good guy? Is it really acceptable to argue that "the good of the many outweighs the good of the few, or the one"?

Even further, is it appropriate for Snape to sacrifice others on that basis rather than just himself?

I have long believed that Rowling has a very strong cold-blooded side to her, at least in her writing. She makes it clear throughout these books that, in times of war, good people are going to die.

Cedric's death, for example, is not strictly necessary: he was, in fact, a "spare" in that graveyard scene, as Voldemort calls him. His sacrifice was intended to 1) cement Harry's good side, 2) introduce the fact of death to the looming battle, and 3) provide an ongoing challenge for Harry's developing personal life in the next several books. But it was not absolutely necessary to the plot of the book.

Further, Rowling kills off Hedwig at the start of book seven and the beloved owl's death is particularly meaningless. Hedwig is killed by an errant spell while trapped in her cage, riding in the sidecar of Hagrid's motorcycle. Her death is merely collateral damage. (As I have mentioned elsewhere, the film-makers rejected this meaningless death and actually revised the scene to make Hedwig's sacrifice heroic: she flies in front of a killing spell to save Harry's life).

But, for Rowling, Hedwig's death was a way to show us, very early in The Deathly Hallows, that this was going to be a very difficult journey. That people would die. If she could kill off a beloved animal so casually in the first pages of the book, we knew she was prepared to kill of any of our favourite human characters as the story progressed. By killing off Hedwig, Rowling set up her reader to take nothing for granted, to understand that anyone (including Harry, Hermione or Ron) could die.

And, of course, there is Dumbledore's willingness to sacrifice Harry to ensure Voldemort is killed in the end. Even Snape finds Dumbledore's coldblooded approach to Harry surprising and chilling. I don't have the passage in front of me but I believe Snape describes the Head Master's preparation of Harry for the final confrontation with Voldemort "like preparing a lamb for slaughter" or something like that.

Rowling is, as a writer at least, incredibly cold-blooded.

But, from a moral standpoint, can we forgive Snape for the part he has played in the deaths of a number of very good characters simply because he was doing it for "the greater good"?

Friday, May 30, 2014

In real life, the Dursleys would be considered child abusers

A scary story appeared today on the CBC News website ( on May 30, 2014 under the headline: 

London, Ont., couple charged after boy, 10, found locked in 'squalid' house

Boy's aunt and uncle face charges of forcible confinement

For fans of Harry Potter, the story sounds eerily familiar:

A couple in London, Ont., face charges of forcible confinement and failing to provide the necessaries of life after their 10-year-old nephew was found malnourished and locked in a bedroom of a house that police describe as "filthy" and "squalid." Police said they found the boy locked in a bedroom that has an ensuite bathroom. Police believe the boy had been confined there for 18 months to two years. The boy, who police say was underweight and suffering from malnutrition, was taken to hospital. He has since been released from hospital and is in the care of the Children's Aid Society. The couple facing charges have a biological child who was also living in the house at the time. That child, whose age and gender have not been released, is also now in the care of the CAS. Police said there is no evidence that the couple's biological child was confined inside the house.

How often was Harry left locked in his tiny bedroom by his uncle and aunt, with only short breaks to go to the bathroom and with only the most basic of meals provided through a flap in the door, while his cousin Dudley enjoyed complete freedom?

Now, granted, Harry was only confined for a couple of days at a time, not for 18-24 months like the poor child in the news story but, when you think about it, locking a child in a bedroom for any extended period of time is abuse and a pretty serious offense.

It's a wonder none of the neighbours in Little Whinging ever called the authorities on Vernon and Petunia Dursley!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Lauding Watson's commitment to education...

A momentary change of focus to this blog.

I just want to send out my personal congratulations to actress Emma Watson, who played Hermione Granger in the film versions of J.K.'s precious books, on the occasion of her graduating Brown University with a degree in English Literature.

I know, what's the big deal? Lots of people graduate from universities and many of them have earned more advanced, more difficult degrees than a BA in English Lit.

True. Very true.

But Emma Watson continued to pursue her education despite the fact that she is already set for life financially. I can't imagine, after eight Harry Potter movies and several other successful films since (including "The Perks of Being A Wallflower", in which I think Watson was fantastic), that Watson needed to earn a degree in order to make a living or improve her professional standing.

She could easily have skipped post-secondary education entirely and lived a very full and successful life.

So I can only imagine that she pursued her degree either simply because she understands the on-going value of education in her life, or because she recognised that the college experience itself is of real value to a person, or both.

Frankly, I think that's great. I also think it's great that she managed to earn her degree despite the extra, day-to-day, often intrusive scrutiny she was probably under while she attended Brown.

Harry Potter often acknowledged how difficult he found it to attend school as a person of fame. I'm sure Emma Watson discovered the same kinds of challenges at Brown (even if she didn't have an evil wizard plotting to kill her).

So I congratulate her on valuing education, on her commitment to pursuing that education, on her ability to focus on her studies despite the many distractions her fame likely threw her way and on recognising how much the experience of college can mean to her life.

Well done, Emma.

Friday, May 23, 2014

What a wonderful thing an animagus is...

Let's talk for a moment about animaguses. (Or are they "animagi"?)

We learn some things about animagi throughout the course of J.K.'s seven-book adventure but, to be honest, not a whole lot.

We know, for example, that Minerva McGonagall is an animagi and her animal form is a cat. We know that, for the most part, animagi are born not created but we also learn that James Potter (stag), Sirius Black (dog) and Peter Pettigrew (rat) somehow managed to transform themselves into animagi while at Hogwarts.

We learn from Hermione's research that, for some reason, animagi are required to register themselves with the Ministry of Magic, complete with a description of their animal forms. It would appear that failing to register oneself is an offence, subject to some pretty hefty punishment.

Finally, we know that Rita Skeeter is also an unregistered animagus who takes the form of a beetle.And that Skeeter is so afraid of being turned in to the Ministry that she is willing to give up her career and fall into destitution rather than face the punishment for being an unregistered animagus.

Interestingly, like McGonagall, Skeeter's "animal" form has markings on it that represent her glasses. I have to admit, I find that strange since, if McGonagall and Skeeter were born animagi, why would their animal form have markings representing human-made devices that they acquire some time after their birth?

There are a lot of other questions about animagi that I have as well.

As I am now reading The Goblet of Fire, however, the one that currently stands out in my mind is what determines the animal form any particular animagus might take.

And what relationship does that animal form have to your true nature?

Okay, so I have two questions that stand out.

The questions are both, obviously, related. And here is my proposal as to the answers.

First, I believe that the animal form of a natural born animagus is innate within that person. I mean, they're too young to make any kind of decision anyway so it must come from somewhere, right? The fact that the annoying, buzzing Rita Skeeter is a beetle seems to bear this out, doesn't it? You could argue further that McGonagall has cat-like tendencies.

This suggests the answer to the second question: the animal form is clearly related to, and a commentary on, the person's character.

But what about the created animagi? I believe Sirius tells Harry, Hermione and Ron during their pivotal confrontation in the Shrieking Shack in The Prisoner of Azkaban that he and James chose animal forms that were big and strong enough to be safe in the presence of Remus Lupin when he was a werewolf. So it was a choice, plain and simple.

It was natural for James to become a stag in his animal form since it is both big and strong and it matches the form of his corporeal patronus. So that might mean that Sirius' patronus would take the form of a dog but I don't think we ever see it, do we?

And what do we make of Peter Pettigrew? Would he really consciously have chosen to be a rat? I mean, a rat is a rat, after all. It's considered vermin by most people and likely to be killed on sight in many situations. Further, it doesn't have much of an ability to defend itself physically from attack, nor would it be safe in the presence of a werewolf.

Pettigrew's animal form seems more of a match for his treacherous character than the result of a sound, conscious decision. Yet, if the above analysis is true, Peter chose to be a rat. Hmmm... maybe he was already aware, while hanging out at Hogwarts with James, Sirius and Remus, that he would someday need to hide.

I have to admit, I don't think I'd be very happy if I were Rita Skeeter either. I mean, how safe is it to be a beetle out there in the world. There you are, flying up to the top of the tower to listen in on Harry's Divination class and suddenly a swallow darts out of nowhere and chomps you down in a single bite!

Scary. It's a wonderful she lasted so long.

Monday, May 19, 2014

A brutal, brutal experience

I'm in the middle of reading The Order of the Phoenix. I find this one of the most difficult books to read that I have ever encountered.

J.K. had gotten us well-hooked by the time she wrote this, the fifth book in the series, and we have learned to care very deeply for her characters, especially Harry, Hermione and Ron.

So it's really tough to read a book where Harry in particular is so battered and abused, so isolated and alone, as this one. And J.K. pulls no punches. Not only does Harry suffer so badly in The Order of the  Phoenix, she also makes sure he is very well aware of the unfairness of it all.

In North American football, we'd call it "piling on".

First, there are the Dursleys. Not only is Harry stuck in Little Whinging, alone with the a family of the worst kind of Muggles, he is also completely isolated from a wizarding world that he knows must be changing as a result of the return of Lord Voldemort.

And yet, for some reason, no one from that wizarding world is bothering to contact Harry or keep him informed.

Then come the Dementors, the revelation that Dumbledore has arranged to have Harry watched (without telling Harry about it), Harry's expulsion from and later re-instatement to Hogwarts and finally his rescue from Privet Drive. But he's not taken to his beloved second home, The Burrow; he's taken instead to a dingy row house in London that is completely foreign and unwelcoming.

Things don't get any easier. Harry finds out he has been undermined and attacked by the Ministry and the Daily Prophet, that he has been deliberately kept in the dark on what's going on with Voldemort, that his god-father is desperate and lonely and potentially no longer trustworthy to have Harry's best interests in mind, and that his mentor is completely avoiding him.

Things will be better when I get to Hogwarts, Harry tells himself.

Not so fast, young man. At Hogwarts, he comes face to face with the fact that known Death Eaters who are actively supporting Voldemort are still at large, their kids have been put into positions of authority over him at school, and the Ministry itself has installed its own operative into the school, seemingly for the sole purpose of torturing him both physically and psychologically.

Plus school work piles up, Hagrid is nowhere to be found and Snape is even more vile toward him than usual.

Yikes and yikes.

I'm nearly three-hundred pages in and I don't think Harry has gotten a single break yet. Even his Quidditch captain is furious with him for receiving unjust detentions and missing practices and now he has to worry about his friend Ron falling to pieces as Gryffindor's new keeper.

It's like Rowling sat down to write this book and thought: My characters, and my readers, are now old  enough to deal with reality. In fact, they're old enough to deal with a world that is much more rotten than some people's reality.

And she doles misery out in massive proportions, especially to Harry.

It makes for a very, very difficult read. We suffer through every page with Harry and his friends. We experience the injuries and the injustices right along with him and we suffer with and for him.

It's an interesting choice by J.K., to be sure, to make us and her character suffer so. But, once the choice had been made, she certainly committed herself completely to it and wrote this book with an intensity that one rarely experiences in literature.

I find that I read The Order of the Phoenix very quickly, whenever I return to it, simply because I want to help Harry find a way out of all of this suffering as soon as possible.

It's a testament to Rowling's effectiveness as a writer, I think, and to her uncompromising dedication to making these books memorable.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Problems with Priori Incantatem and the wand that killed Cedric

Here's where it all started:  Harry's dream/vision in Divination class in the middle of The Goblet of Fire.

Although I have always believed that these "visions" of Harry's, in which he was able to see what Voldemort was up to, were real, I realized that J.K. was about to give me absolute proof of the fact when I got to the end of the book.

When Harry's wand, you see, forces Voldemort's wand into Priori Incantatem in their duel in the graveyard, the Dark Lord's wand "regurgitate[s] spells it has performed -- in reverse. The most recent first... and then those which preceded it". That's how Dumbledore explains the effect.

So I knew, if Harry's vision of Voldemort's using the Cruciatus curse on Wormtail was actually true, we should see that spell emerge from Voldemort's wand in the graveyard.

And if the Cruciatus curse did not emerge from the wand, then either Harry's visions were not real or... Rowling simply forgot to include the torture curse when she wrote the scene.

I was very pleased, then, when my test worked and confirmed that Harry's visions were real. The first curse to emerge from Voldemort's wand was described as "screams of pain", which would be the Cruciatus Curse the Dark Lord had just used on Harry, then Wormtail's new hand, then "more shouts of pain" (Voldemort's torture of Wormtail to test his wand), then Cedric, and then more screams of pain (which would likely be the curse I was watching for: Voldemort's punishment of Wormtail that was depicted in Harry's Divination-Class vision).

Cool. So the visions were real. I already believed that they were but this confirmation was nice to have.

Unfortunately, I discovered several new problems through my careful examination of the Priori Incantatem effect on Voldemort's wand.

First and most importantly, Voldemort's wand did not apparently cast the curse that killed Cedric Diggory. As you will recall, just after Harry and Cedric arrive in the graveyard, Wormtail approaches carrying a terrifying bundle. Before the two boys even understand what's happening, "a high, cold voice" says "Kill the spare".

The cold, high voice is Voldemort, still barely alive, giving orders from inside the bundle. And then, "A swishing noise and a second voice, which screeched the words to the night: 'Avada Kedavra!'"

That second voice is Wormtail's -- he casts the spell that kills Cedric Diggory.

Perhaps Wormtail was using Voldemort's wand at that point, you suggest.

Perhaps. But there are three arguments against that:

First, Rowling makes no suggestion that Wormtail changes wands before he performs several other feats of magic soon after killing Cedric, including the Lumos charm, the spell that creates the cords that bind Harry to the gravestone and the several bits of magic involved in preparing the cauldron for Voldemort. Yet none of those spells emerge from Voldemort's wand under the Priori Incantatem effect.

Second, it is very clearly established in The Deathly Hallows that Voldemort is protective of his own wand. He even mocks Lucius Malfoy when Lucius dares to believe that the Dark Lord might trade his own wand for Lucius', rather than simply taking it.

Third, and most compelling, when Voldemort recovers his full, adult body in the graveyard, Rowling indulges in a very careful, very detailed description of that recovery. She tells us that Wormtail gives the Dark Lord a robe from the bundle he had used to carry Voldemort into the graveyard. She describes Voldemort's careful examination of his recovered body in great detail.

And then... she says, "Voldemort slipped one of those unnaturally long-fingered hands into a deep pocket, and drew out a wand."

Until that point in time, the Dark Lord's wand had been hidden deep inside the bundle of robes.

So, I think we can agree, Voldemort's wand did not kill Cedric Diggory. So Cedric should not have emerged from the wand under the Priori Incantatem effect. And Cedric never should have been in a position to ask Harry to take his body back to his parents.

It was a lovely scene, no doubt, but it makes no sense at all in the context.

That's not all. There appears to be another inconsistency in the Priori Incantatem scene.

I believe that it is well established that, when the Dark Lord came to Godric's Hollow to kill Harry in the very beginning of the entire tale, Voldemort first killed Harry's father and then offered Harry's mother the chance to live if she would simply step aside and allow Voldemort to kill the baby.

Lily Potter refuses and dies attempting to protect Harry. This selfless act provides Harry with the ancient magic that allows him to survive Voldemort's curse.

I honestly cannot recall where the passages are found in the seven books that confirm this version of the events but certainly the films present this version very clearly.

So why, if Priori Incantatem effect causes a wand to "regurgitate spells it has performed -- in reverse. The most recent first... and then those which preceded it", does James Potter emerge from Voldemort's wand before Lily does?

Lily died last and, according to Dumbledore's explanation of the effect, should have emerged first. This is not so bit a problem as the whose-wand-killed-Cedric-Diggory conundrum above but it is still an error in the writing.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Accio, Harry, Accio...

"Harry pulled out his wand and struggled to touch the Marauder's Map, to wipe it blank, but it was too far away to reach."

Did anybody else read this passage from the middle of The Goblet of Fire and think, "Accio, Harry, Accio"?

Harry is on his way back from the Prefects' Bath in the middle of the night. He's solved the egg clue for the second task of the Triwizard Tournament but managed to get himself trapped by the trick step in the hidden stairway, dropping both the Map and the egg in the process.

Even though he's still hidden under his Invisibility Cloak, Harry is in danger of being caught out of bed late at night, with Mr. Filch and Mrs. Norris arriving on the scene. Maybe it's too late for him to summon the egg but the Map... well, he still has time if he keeps his wits about him.

Harry spent much of the first part of the book perfecting the Summoning Charm (Accio) for the purposes of the first task in the Triwizard Tournament. He used it effectively while facing an angry dragon to summon his Firebolt and ace that first task.

So why wouldn't he use it again here? Surely he can't have forgotten it. And I can't believe he is feeling more panicked facing Mr. Filch than he did facing the Hungarian Horntail in the first task.

He had his wand in his hand and time on his side. Is it really believable that Harry would forget the Summoning Charm under such circumstances?

Saturday, May 3, 2014

A buzz outside the window....

I no sooner post my last entry and I come across the scene with Harry's nightmare in Divination class.

Clue number four: the insect buzzing outside the window as Harry falls asleep.

How did I miss all these hints????

Subtle clues should have had us buzzing...

Ahh, J.K., how you do toy with us, your faithful readers!

Here we are, working hard alongside Hermione, trying to figure out how Rita Skeeter managed to listen in on so many private conversations at Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament, and you keep dropping subtle little hints all over the place.

It's only when we re-read The Goblet of Fire -- or re-re-re-re-re-re-read The Goblet of Fire -- that we finally start to notice the bread-crumb hints you've been so kindly leaving for us.

First, at the Yule Ball, you have Percy Weasley complain about how hard a life his boss, Mr. Crouch, has had of late at the Ministry: "...And then we had the Tournament to arrange, and the aftermath of the Cup to deal with -- that revolting Skeeter woman buzzing around -- no, poor man, he's having a well earned, quiet Christmas."

Good one, Joanne, very good. Long before Hermione figures out Skeeter is an unregistered animagus who can turn herself into an insect, you have Percy describe her quite innocently as "buzzing around" the way an insect would.

Neat. And, of course, it didn't register with us, your readers. We just thought it was an apt description for the behaviour of the annoying reporter.

Then you have Harry try to distract himself from Hagrid's revealing conversation with Madame Maxime by watching a nearby beetle. Seems innocent enough. Harry doesn't want to listen, so he watches a beetle. The fact that this is one of the first insects you have mentioned in the entire series of books doesn't bother us, doesn't make us wonder why you choose that moment and that insect: nope, you slide it in subtly by giving us another legitimate reason for Harry to notice the bug

So maybe it's okay that we didn't clue in there. You were very subtle.

But we have no excuse for not catching on when, at the end of the second task, you actually have Victor Krum say to Hermione, "You haff a water-beetle in your hair..." That's a dead give away. Two mentions of bugs in the same book when you rarely if ever mentioned bugs before. In fact, two mentions of "beetles" plus the "buzzing" comment. How can we miss it?

Of course, you did explain away Krum's comments as well. You guide our attention skillfully away from the clue you've just dropped by having Harry wonder about Krum's motivation in making the comment, rather than the fact of the beetle itself.


You drop three major clues -- hints that should stand out for a careful reader like neon signs on a dark night -- and we miss them completely. You plant the clue, then steer us immediately in another direction. Very nice.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Hermione comes of age

I'm not sure I have much to say in this entry other than I really like the way J.K. Rowling writes Hermione's "coming out party" in the form of the Yule Ball in The Goblet of Fire.

In the first three books, the descriptions of the young Ms. Granger were not particularly flattering. In fact, the first time we meet Hermione (aboard the Hogwarts Express in The Philosopher's Stone), she is described as follows: "She had a bossy sort of voice, lots of bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth."

The words "bossy", "bushy" and "large" used in this context do not make a for a very positive first impression.

And Rowling is very consistent throughout the first three books on these points: even though she becomes best friends with Harry and Ron, Hermione continues to be described as a bookish girl with bottlebrush hair and big teeth.

Things begin to change, however, in The Goblet of Fire. First, Rita Skeeter describes Hermione as "a stunningly pretty Muggle-born girl" in the Prophet article on Harry as a Triwizard Champion. Now, we have no evidence at that point that Skeeter had ever laid eyes on Hermione and Pansy Parkinson later undermines the description by shrieking "Stunningly pretty? Her?... What was she judging against -- a chipmunk?" so perhaps we shouldn't put a lot of stock in Skeeter's words but her article does represent the first time there is even a suggestion that Hermione might be growing into her looks.

Then comes the Yule Ball and the desperate search for dates. It is at this point that Rowling lets us in on a little secret: she had very cleverly used an earlier wand duel between Harry and Draco Malfoy as a mechanism to allow Hermione to "fix" her teeth.

As Ron points out, since Hermione returned from having Madame Pomfrey undo the damage Malfoy's curse had done, Hermione's teeth had become "straight and -- normal sized". Harry confirms this by commenting that Hermione's smile had indeed changed: "it was a very different smile to the one he remembered."

That's all great stuff and clever writing. But what I love most is the way Rowling sets up Hermione's grand coming out. First, she reminds us of how little romantic attention Hermione had been getting from anyone by having a very funny exchange where Ron and Harry have to admit that even they had failed to recognize that Hermione is, you know, a girl...

Then she establishes that someone has asked Hermione to the Yule Ball but no one, other than the couple itself, knows who her date will be. J.K. allows that mystery to deepen as Ron, in particular, obsesses about finding out who Hermione will be accompanying to the Ball.

Then Rowling has Hermione remove herself from the scene "to get ready for the ball" while the boys are still involved in a snow-ball fight. "What, you need three hours?" Ron gasps.

And finally, as the excitement builds and students gather in the Entrance Hall to wait for the Ball to begin, Hermione is nowhere to be seen. Where is Hermione? people wonder.

Then comes Rowling's topper: she has Hermione walk right into the Entrance Hall, on the arm of perhaps the second most famous student in attendance, and no one recognizes her.

"Krum was at the front of the party," Rowling writes, "accompanied by a pretty girl in blue robes Harry didn't know."


Even better, when Harry looks again over at Krum moments later, his jaw drops.

The "pretty girl" with the Durmstrang champion is none other than Hermione.

"But she didn't look like Hermione at all," Rowling writes. No kidding.

And the reactions of the other students are absolutely precious: Parvati gazes at her with "unflattering disbelief", Pansy Parkinson "gaped at her" and Ron "walked right past Hermione without even noticing her."

It's a wonderful moment for Hermione and for Rowling. Beautifully written and entirely within character.

I have to admit, I did look up the timing of the writing of The Goblet of Fire in comparison to the filming of the Harry Potter movies to see if Rowling's decision to create a coming out party for Hermione in the fourth book was in any way related to the development into a lovely young woman of actor Emma Watson, who played the role of Hermione for the films.

Nope. There doesn't seem to be a connection. Rowling published The Goblet in 2000, the same year casting for the first Harry Potter movie was carried out. At that point in time, Emma Watson was still and awkward little girl, a perfect match for the Hermione of the early books.

Okay, maybe I did have a lot to say....

Monday, April 21, 2014

Wondering about the Durmstrang Headmaster

Whatever happened to Karkaroff? You remember him, the head of Durmstrang in The Goblet of Fire? What ever happened to him after that book?

He's an interesting character. We find out from Sirius that he was a big Death Eater but that, once imprisoned in Azkaban, he sold out other Voldemort's supporters in exchange for his release from prison. One of those he sold out was... Barty Crouch Jr.

But, unless I'm mistaken, after he disappears at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, Karkaroff never appears in the Harry Potter books again.

Is that right? Karkaroff simply disappears? Or am I missing something?

It's a great story line from Rowling but it makes you wonder how Crouch Jr., in Hogwarts in the guise of Mad-Eye Moody, doesn't succumb to the temptation to do exact vengeance on the man who sent him to Azkaban in the first place.

In all my readings of the Rowling books, I have never paid much attention to Karkaroff and his fate. I will have to be more attentive in the future. I have a feeling Rowling does drop a line into a later book that says what happens to the sinister Durmstrang headmaster but I cannot remember it now.

In The Goblet, Karkaroff serves many purposes, including giving J.K. a ready-made villain to throw at us as an easy explanation for the peril in which Harry finds himself. Who put my name in the Goblet, Harry wonders. Karkaroff, Sirius tells him. Who is trying to kill me? Karkaroff. Who is the biggest threat to me here? Karkaroff.

It's just like Rowling to use this kind of misdirection, to keep our attention on one possible threat while the real villain does a tap-dance right in front of us.

Interesting too that, other than coming to the conclusion that Karkaroff is the enemy rather than Mad-Eye Crouch Jr., Sirius has got most of the Voldemort's recent activities just about right. Sirius has connected Bertha Jorkin's disappearance in Albania with the Death-Eater activities at the World Cup with the other recent developments and come up, quite correctly, with Voldemort.

Again, it's just like J.K. to tell us exactly what's going on in such a way that we almost refuse to believe it.