Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Making sense of the Goblet's plot

A small thought. Voldemort required the blood of an enemy to be brought back to life. He desperately wanted that enemy to be Harry. So he needed Harry's blood.

If that's all he needed, why did he go to such ridiculous (and risky) lengths to have Barty Crouch Jr. shepherd Harry into and through the entire Tri=wizard Tournament just to get him to the graveyard in Little Hangleton at the end of The Goblet of Fire?

Why not just have Crouch siphon off some blood and be done with it?

I know, I know. That would kind of kill the whole plot of the book. If all the Dark Lord required was Harry's blood and it was so easy to obtain, he didn't need to attack Mad-Eye Moody, he didn't need to interfere with the entire Tournament, he didn't need Crouch to sneak Harry's name into the Cup, etc. etc. etc.

Not much of a book, sure, but at least it would have made sense.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A quick bit of Potter trivia

Here's a new little trivia question I picked up while reading The Goblet of Fire for the umpteenth time. See if you can answer this one without looking it up (online or in the book).

Who owned the Sorting Hat before it started sorting, when it was just a plain ol' hat?

The answer to the question is in the Sorting Hat's own beginning-of-term song in the fourth book. I'm amazed that I never really noticed this little bit of trivia before.

Did you get it? Do you know the answer? Do you remember?

Well, the answer is Godric Gryffindor. Yep, the Sorting Hat tells us Gryffindor took the hat off his own head and made it into the Sorting Hat.

So we've got his Sword and his Hat playing a significant role in the magical world. Neat.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Is Rowling speaking to us through Arthur Weasley?

I'm not sure what to make of the following passage from The Goblet of Fire:
At this, the Veela lost control. They launched themselves across the pitch, and began throwing what seemed to be handfuls of fire at the leprechauns. Watching through his Omnioculars, Harry saw that they didn't look remotely beautiful now. On the contrary, their faces were elongating into sharp, cruel-beaked bird heads, and long, scaly wings were bursting from their shoulders -- 
'And that, boys,' yelled Mr. Weasley over the tumult of the crowd below, 'is why you should never go for looks alone!'
I have to admit, I don't like the implication that could be drawn from what Mr. Weasley is saying -- physically attractive people are often evil monsters underneath -- and I particularly don't like the fact that he aims this advice at the boys in the group, leaving out the two girls, Hermione and Ginny.

Before I go into that, however, I will state that my even bigger concern is what this could say about the author, J.K. Rowling herself.

Now, I'm the last person in the world to read a novel and immediately attribute anything and everything that is said in the book (either by individual characters or even the narrator) to the author, but we have already seen that Rowling often puts her philosophy, her thoughts and ideas and opinions, into the mouths of certain of her adult characters.

Certainly, Albus Dumbledore is one such character. I think we can safely argue that Rowling uses Dumbledore to voice her perspective quite often throughout the novels. I would argue that J.K., to a lesser or greater extent, often uses other adult characters who take on parental roles in Harry's life (such as Arthur Weasley, Molly Weasley, Sirius Black and Remus Lupin) to fulfil a similar function: to inject into the narrative the author's perspective and philosophy.

So is Arthur Weasley the voice of the author in this scene? Is he speaking a life-lesson not just to the boys in his family but also to all boys reading the novel?

I hope to goodness that is not Rowling's intention since I find the sentiments expressed (that beauty often hides evil, that feminine beauty, in fact, often hides evil while masculine beauty does not, etc.) highly offensive.

But, if the intention here is not to express the author's philosophy, why is Mr. Weasley's comment included at all? It's not funny. It doesn't tell us anything about the Veela or the situation that is evolving at that moment.

The only thing the comment does is make us think a little less of Arthur Weasley. I've written on other occasions how I often feel Mr. Weasley is not portrayed as a particularly admirable character in these books but this is a low point even for him.

The passage also raises another, less serious question: if pure-bred Veela turn into nasty bird-creatures when angered, what happens to part-Veelas like Fleur Delacour when she gets mad?

Friday, March 7, 2014

I can learn from Rowling's subtlety and careful planning

One of the reasons I like to read and re-read the Harry Potter novels is because they are so well written. As an aspiring writer myself, I feel I can learn a great deal from how J.K. Rowling both in terms of plotting and in terms of the actual writing.

It has struck me, as I dive into The Goblet of Fire again, how well constructed this story is. We are all very familiar with incredibly dramatic ending of this book, with Harry and Cedric agreeing to share the Triwizard victory, then being instantly transported to the graveyard in Little Hangleton where they encounter, with world-shaking, deadly consequences, Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters.

What impresses me is how carefully Rowling sets the stage for the dramatic conclusion in the earliest parts of the book, how meticulously she prepares her readers for the fast-paced action that brings the novel to a close.

Take the concept of the "Portkey", for example. We have never seen one before this book. It's new and, as we find out, it is a key aspect of Voldemort's plan to bring Harry to the graveyard. Rowling needs to ensure two things as her readers head into the climax of the book: 1) that we understand and are comfortable with what a Portkey is and how it works; and 2) that she doesn't have to slow down the action and the build-up of suspense late in the novel to explain all that to us.

So J.K. introduces the Portkey to us early in the book, when she can do it slowly, carefully and with a full explanation of what it is and how it works. Its introduction at the top of Stoatshead Hill becomes, in fact, another part of our fascinating and ongoing introduction to the world of witches and wizards.

And, since Harry is as new to that world as we are, Rowling can plausibly have Mr. Weasley explain Portkeys to us (and to Harry) when they are first introduced.

Even more clever is the fact that Rowling chooses a very memorable metaphor to describe how it feels to be transported by a Portkey. It feels like "a hook just behind [your] navel has been suddenly jerked irresistibly forwards." That metaphor is not only incredible effective at conveying a feeling (I can just feel that hook yanking me from the centre of my body) but it is also very memorable in its description.

So memorable, in fact, that when, 500 pages later, Harry and Cedric grasp the Triwizard Cup together, all J.K. has to do is tell us that "Harry felt a jerk somewhere behind his navel" for us to know that the Cup is a Portkey and that Harry and Cedric are on their way somewhere they don't want to go.

Rowling also takes great care to introduce (or re-introduce) us to Cedric Diggory in a much more sympathetic way in this book. Since it is a key to the success of this book that we like Cedric by the end, in order to make his death more dramatic and affecting, it is important that we see him as more than the ridiculously handsome boy who actually beat Harry in Quidditch.

How does J.K. accomplish it? With her usual subtlety and style. Instead of giving us some extended scene where he comes across as weak or even maudlin, Rowling shows Cedric being embarrassed by his father's boasting and attempting to clarify that he at least understood why the Quidditch match had turned out as it had.

Thanks to this very brief moment in the early part of the book, we are much more willing to give Cedric the benefit of the doubt when he gets thrust into the unenviable position of being painted as Hogwart's wronged champion later in the novel.

I learn something from Rowling every time I read one of her books. And The Goblet of Fire contains as many lessons for an aspiring writer as any of them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

On Dudley and choice seats for Quidditch

A couple of thoughts from the first couple of chapters of The Goblet of Fire.

After Fred and George managed to tempt Dudley with a Ton-Tongue Toffee and blow his tongue up like a balloon, do you think Harry told them about what Hagrid did to the kid? It would be a natural conversation, wouldn't it? "That was funny what you did to Dudley, but it's got nothing on the pig tail Hagrid gave him four years ago!"

And what do you make of the differences between how the book deals with the seating arrangements at the Quidditch World Cup and how the film version addresses the same issue? In the book, both the Weasley party and the Malfoy family are seated in the top box, leading to that nasty confrontation. In the movie, however, the point is made clearly that, while the Malfoys are guests of the Minister for Magic himself in the top box, Mr. Weasley could only afford the cheapest seats for his family.

That's not the only difference. In the book, Rowling makes it clear that the seats at the top of the stadium are the best and most costly; in the movie, Lucius Malfoy mocks Mr. Weasley's seats which are so high up in the stadium that, if it rains, the Weasley's will be the first to know.

First of all, why change it at all? Second of all, when the sport is Quidditch, the best seats must be at the top the stadium, where all the action is. So why does the movie version make it sound like it's better to be lower in the Stadium? Is that just because most Muggle movie-goers would automatically think lower is better because that's how it works at all of our sports venues?

I don't know. I don't get it. I can't figure out why the movie makers kept changing little things like that when the original book is clearly right.