Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Fantastic Beasts coming soon

Today, we got our first peek at "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", the new Potter-world film slated for release in 2016.

The timing is interesting (at least to me) since today is also the day the first reviews of the new Star Wars film have come out (with wide release either today or tomorrow) -- I wonder if the Potter people were sending notice to the Star Wars people that there's a new cinematic bully in town that isn't planning on giving up its position of dominance so easily.


That being said, I approached the new FB trailer with a great deal of enthusiasm.

First, I am very excited to see J.K. Rowling's debut as a screen writer. She's proven her skill in so many different forms of writing over the years: novels for children, novels for young adults, novels for adults, mysteries, (fictional) text books, (fictional) history books, short stories and even newspaper articles (for the Daily Prophet) but this is her first attempt to write a film.

But, for some reason, she always left the screen writing to others. And I think the film versions of the Harry Potter books were much the worse for that.

So I am very interested to see how Rowling shapes up as a script writer. I have no reason to expect anything but greatness in this script but I find myself quite excited to find out how great the final product really is.

Second, I just love the initial creativity of Rowling's play on the title of the original book (Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them) in the approach to the plot for the film. The book is written as a text: here is a description of a fantastic beast and here is an explanation of its natural habitat.

Not surprisingly, the film abandons the text-book approach and introduces a plot that still ties closely and effectively to the title: we've brought in a case full of magical beasts, we've lost some of them, and now we have to figure out where to find them again.


Now, the trailer is the only thing I have seen or heard with regard to the plot of the new film so I may have missed some information out in the virtual world that might address some of the following questions but here are a couple of things I am already wondering about based on the brief trailer:

1. Since the film's plot apparently involves the arrival in New York City (from England, I suppose) of Newt Scamander with a case full of beasts, the escape of some of which causes the chaos that ensues, does that mean that there are no such beasts that are native to North America?
2. Since the beasts in question arrive inside a brief case, does that mean that they are all tiny? So no Centaurs, Grindylows, Hinkypunks, Hippogryffs, Dementors or anything like that?

And finally, on the trailer itself, while I think it's brilliant that the trailer begins with a well-known Potter-world spell ("lumos maxima"), I have to admit that I am very frustrated that the filmmakers have chosen to continue the ridiculous conceit that "lumos maxima" is a spell that needs to be renewed over and over again. This conceit was introduced in one of the early movies and, to be honest, makes no sense at all.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

It's not all about you, mate

In honouring Snape, Harry hoped in his heart that he too would be forgiven. The deaths at the Battle of Hogwarts would haunt Harry forever.

So stated J.K. Rowling in a tweet response to the argument over why Harry and Ginny would name one of their children, at least in part, after Severus Snape.

Whenever I read the later Harry Potter books, I just wish someone had pulled Harry aside and said, as clearly as possible, "Look mate, this is NOT all and only about you. No one is sacrificing themselves for you. This is a battle over our freedom; this is a battle of good versus evil. Just because you happen to have been placed at the centre of it, that doesn't mean we are fighting and dying for or because of you. Stop trying to make this all about you."

Ron makes a speech like this in the first part of The Deathly Hallows film and it is one of the very few things about that film that I actually like.

Because a speech like that needed to be made. Harry needed to get off his high horse and realize that the war was much bigger than him. He needed to understand that the battle was not all about him, any victory was not to his credit alone and any defeat did not fall entirely on his shoulders.

I read quotes like the one at the top of this entry from Rowling and I wonder what she really feels:

1. Is she making the point that Harry is a flawed individual, with a bit of an egotistical streak, who actually continues to believe that this was all about him and that, therefore, he is responsible for the "deaths at the Battle of Hogwarts" such that he needs to be forgiven for them? or

2. Does she, as the author, truly believe that he requires forgiveness? That the battle and the deaths were his fault?

I trust... I sincerely hope that the first possibility is true.

Is Snape good or evil? Is he even really one character?

Is Snape good? Or is Snape evil?

According to a report on the CNN website, that argument has again erupted, this time in the Twittersphere and this time focusing on why Harry and Ginny would choose to name their son "Albus Severus", honouring both Harry's biggest mentor and guide in the wizarding world, a man who was almost without fail kind and fair with Harry, and the man who was, for most of the seven-book series, sadistically abusive of Harry and his friends.

Even our favourite author, J.K. Rowling, entered the heated fray.

After what sounds to have been a long and surprisingly vitriolic debate, Rowling tweeted: "There's a whole essay in why Harry gave his son Snape's name, but the decision goes to the heart of who Harry was, post-war."

And further: "In honouring Snape, Harry hoped in his heart that he too would be forgiven. The deaths at the Battle of Hogwarts would haunt Harry forever."

And finally: "Snape is all grey. You can't make him a saint: he was vindictive & bullying. You can't make him a devil: he died to save the wizarding world."

Now, you can go back through my earlier posts on this blog and find snippets here and there that might help you understand my own interpretation, my "take" on this debate and on Rowling's approach to it (and I would encourage you to do so -- I've had a lot of fun writing all these posts and I hope you will be willing to invest some time in reading them) but allow me to summarise my thoughts on the subject here.

First, I agree in some ways with Rowling: Snape is an amalgam of good and evil. Shaped by his early personal experiences, he is a proud, angry, vindictive man. We know that his father was abusive and his parents fought all through his childhood. We know that he was bullied by James and Sirius and their gang and we know that, in the midst of all that, he fell very deeply and irrevocably in love with Lily Evans, one of the few major characters in the books who is presented as being without fault.

But I also think it is important that, while Snape turns out to be fighting on the side of good, he was also a brutal, nasty, horrible person in situations where such egregious behavior was not at all necessary. Nothing required him to bully Neville throughout his years at Hogwarts; nothing required Snape to pick on Ron and Hermione either.

Even if we buy the argument that Snape's terrible relationship with James Potter in some way explained and excused his behaviour toward Harry, I doubt very much it can possibly excuse just how awful he was to our boy hero. Not even the argument that Snape needed to convince and re-convince Voldemort that he was not an agent for Dumbledore could explain away just how unnecessarily cruel Snape was to Harry and his friends.

Further, even if we accept that Snape is a good guy, he did help bring about the deaths of two other of the good guys: Emmeline Vance and Sirius Black.

How does that fact impact the argument with regard to Snape? As I have written before, 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? And, if we can forgive Snape the deaths of Vance and Black simply because Snape turns out to be willing to sacrifice himself to help defeat Voldemort, can we forgive him his earlier behaviour toward these children, when he was in the role of teacher, for the same reason?

I think our analysis of Snape has to take into account the evolving complexity of the books, the characters and their situations, from The Philosopher's Stone (which is a children's book) to The Deathly Hallows (which is a fully adult novel).

In the early books, Snape was basically a cardboard figure who represented evil. He was only and utterly Harry's nemesis. Whether or not Rowling had fully fleshed out, when she wrote the first three books, the complex and contradictory role Snape would eventually play in the later novels, Snape is presented early on as a flat, mysterious, horrible character.

More importantly, he was the key to one of the earliest examples of one of Rowling's favourite narrative strategies: misdirection. In The Philosopher's Stone, for example, Snape had to be presented as irredeemably evil in order to draw the reader's attention away from Quirrell, one of the two true villains of that story.

I would argue that, as the novels progressed and increased in depth and complexity, Rowling added more depth and complexity to her characters. She added shades of grey, to use that now horrible expression, to what had been black and white, flat, stock characters.

You see this most specifically with regard to Snape and Dumbledore, though Dumbledore's shades are mostly added only after his death in The Half-Blood Prince.

If I had to state things bluntly, I would say that the Snape of the first four books (especially books one and two) is not the same character as the Snape of the last three (especially the final one). To hold the actions of the early Snape against the later Snape is almost unfair.

In the end, this is not a question of Snape's personality or moral goodness; this is a question of Rowling's narrative strategy.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Nicholas Flamel was a real guy

I haven't had the chance to do much Harry Potter reading lately, what with the release of my own new book of children's stories and the reading requirements of my alt-sci-fi-fantasy book club, but that doesn't mean I'm not thinking about J.K.'s magical world.

In fact, sometimes I am disturbed at how deeply Harry Potter and his pals have penetrated my psyche.

Names that come up in general conversation are immediately mapped back to the characters of the seven books. If I hear or read "Hermione" or "Peverell" or even something as common as "Harry", I immediately think of the novels.

Places I encounter in my daily life get referred back to the Rowling books: Charing Cross Road? Oh, that's where Hermione apparated them in The Deathly Hallows, for example.

So imagine my reaction when I came across the following book at the local library's book sale: The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel, written by Michael Scott and published in 2007. Nicholas Flamel?? NICHOLAS FLAMEL????

I know that name. That's the guy in The Philosopher's Stone who had the last known Stone and who was good friends with Dumbledore. He had to permit the Stone to be destroyed in order to thwart Voldemort's efforts to steal it -- in essence, he had to sacrifice himself to stop the Dark Lord.

The Scott book referred to Nicholas Flamel as an "alchemyst" and said he had lived for hundreds of years. "Wow," I thought, "this Scott guy is borrowing liberally from Rowling. I trust he has credited her properly."

I scanned the book but found no mention anywhere of J.K. Rowling or the Harry Potter books. Scandalised, I put the offending book back on the shelf and returned to my office.

And did some research.

And discovered that Rowling hadn't invented Flamel and his story -- like Michael Scott, she had incorporated a real life person from centuries ago into her own story.

So I owe Michael Scott and apology. At least for what I was thinking.

And I come away even more impressed with J.K. Rowling (and Scott too) for the depth of their research and the scope of their creativity. In my own books, I have worked hard to mix historical fact with fiction, to mingle real people with my imaginary characters.

It's nice to see the Rowling and Scott have done the same, with such wonderful results.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

A rat by any other name....

I am trying to figure out the thought processes that lie behind the French translations of the Harry Potter books.

And I am hoping that someone out there can help me.

I am currently engrossed in the third novel, Harry Potter et le Prisonnier d'Azkaban. It's slow going (because my understanding of written French is not perfect) but excellent.

What I am noticing, however, is that certain names get translated/changed while others do not. The most notable of the names that are not translated are those of our hero trio: Harry Potter, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley are all the same in the French translation. The Dursleys retain their English names, as do Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore. And the two major new characters in the third book remain "Sirius Black" and "R.J. Lupin".

But Professor Snape is changed to "Rogue", Hogwarts becomes "Poudlard", Hogsmeade becomes "PrĂ©-au-lard" and Neville Longbottom becomes "Neville Londubat". As I have discussed before, Tom Riddle becomes "Elvis Jedusor" and Draco Malfoy becomes "Drago Malefoy" (note, Crabbe and Goyle remain Crabbe and Goyle).

Among the animals, Hedwig and Errol keep their names (perhaps owls are exempt) while Scabbers is translated into "Croutard" and Cruickshanks becomes "Pattenrond".

I could go on and on (and maybe I should to see if a pattern develops) but, as things are now, I don't understand when the translators decided to keep a name the same and when they chose to "translate" it.

I would think that Sirius Black would be a fairly easy translation: Sirius Noir. But that translation is not made.

I wonder why? I am not intending to criticize the translators -- I think they do a tremendous job -- and I am certainly not questioning how they translate the names when they choose to do so.

I just don't understand the pattern of translation/non-translation for the names of people, places and pets.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Rowling shows great care in orchestrating her climactic scenes

As I finished reading The Chamber of Secrets (actually, La chambre des secrets, since I read it in French) the other day, it occurred to me that J.K. was very careful to ensure that Harry faced the final confrontation in each novel alone.

And, since I have been highly critical of the fact that the film makers did everything they could to make the ending of the final movie, The Deathly Hallows, Part 2, a duel between Harry and Voldemort with the fate of the entire world hanging in the balance (where I felt Jo made it very clear 1) that the battle was not Harry's alone and 2) that the tide was actually turning in favour of the defenders of Good before Harry duels the Dark Lord), I wondered why Rowling took such great pains to separate our hero from Ron and Hermione at the end of each of the first two books.

I doubt the following summary is necessary for anyone who is into Harry Potter enough to be reading this bug but, for anyone not familiar with Books 1 and 2, here is what happens:

In The Philosopher's Stone, Hermione and Ron are with Harry when he first sets out to get past all of the protections around the Stone to save it from the antagonist but Ron drops off after he gets injured in the chess match while Hermione solves the potions riddle for Harry only to be forced to turn back since there is only enough of the move-forward potion for one. Harry is, clearly, the one who must go on (as Hermione points out) so he is alone for the final battle.

Meanwhile, in The Chamber of Secrets, Hermione has already been petrified, leaving Harry and Ron to use the information she has collected to find the Chamber and save Ginny. But Harry loses Ron when Ron's wand backfires on Lockhart and causes a cave-in that can't be shifted in tie to save Ginny. Harry is past the wall of rubble; Ron trapped behind it with the befuddled Lockhart. Once again, Harry must face the final battle alone.

The question is: why?

Rowling makes it a clear point of focus as the novels move on that, while Harry is at the centre of the storm that is Lord Voldemort's return, the battle against the Dark Lord and his minions is shared by everyone. Hermione and Ron, in particular, show continued dedication to the battle throughout the rest of the books.

I thought about this question for some time and I think the answer is quite clear. And fairly simple.

When Harry finally faces Voldemort with a companion in tow (Cedric Diggory in the fourth book, The Goblet of Fire), Voldemort is cold-blooded about what he requires his disciples to do with anyone who shows up other than Harry. While the Dark Lord's instructions with regard to Harry are clear and consistent ("Leave him to me"), Voldemort does not hesitate in the graveyard in book 4 when Harry shows up with a friend: "Kill the spare," he orders and Diggory is summarily dismissed.

Rowling recognised in the first two books that it was in the Dark Lord's character simply to kill anyone who gets in his way. She could not permit Hermione or Ron to be there at the end because they would die instantly. Not only would that be an incredible waste of these wonderful characters, it would be a great deal too much for the young readers in the target audience to bear.

As a result, she arranged things to ensure that Harry met Voldemort alone in Books 1 and 2. Book 3 involved only the Dark Lord's henchman and not You Know Who himself, so Hermione and Ron could take part in the climax of the story.

Then, when Jo felt her readers were mature enough, she ends Book 4 with the death of Harry's companion at the climactic scene. And she makes darn sure it's not one of her readers' beloved inner circle.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Potter It Forward, if you can

I have been struggling for the past two weeks with the writing of my next post for this blog. Why? Because I have been caught up in this whole "Potter It Forward" movement and decided that my next entry should be that message I would write if I ever decided to Potter It Forward and slip a message to new Harry Potter readers into new copies of the HP books at my local bookstores.

The problem is: the majesty of the idea has got me a little bit paralyzed.

What exactly could I write to express just how much of an impact these books have had on my life, how important I feel they are both as models for how children's and young adult novels should be written and as wonderful, exciting, intriguing stories in themselves, how significant they have been in bringing the excitement of reading to a whole new generation? How do I say all that without writing a message that actually turns out to be longer than the Harry Potter novel into which I slip it?

I don't know where to begin. And I certainly wouldn't know where to end.

I think the whole "Potter It Forward" idea to be quite remarkable. I have had to stop myself from going to Chapters just to go through all their copies of the Harry Potter books to collect any PIF messages I may find. I hope to goodness someone will (if they haven't already) create a website where we can post our messages and read other people's messages at our leisure.

The Harry Potter books have literally changed our world. They have infiltrated every aspect of our lives and they have created a common language that so many of us can speak, no matter where we live. They are a point of connection that helps us bridge the gaps between us in terms of age, gender identity, race, religion, cultural background, economic status, and any other aspect of our identity that you can imagine. And that might normally keep us apart.

If I wear my Gryffindor scarf, people smile at me on the street. People nod and point and smile and laugh and, sometimes even, tell me that they were sorted into Hufflepuff, or Ravenclaw or even Slytherin.

I have enjoyed Potter chats with strangers of many different races, of all ages, of every gender identity you can imagine. I'm an middle-aged white guy and yet I have been welcomed as a Harry Potter lover into so many situations by people from all kinds of backgrounds and identities.

How do you sum all that up in a single passage? And how do you deal with the fact that, even if you can sum all that up in a single passage, you've left out the quality of J.K.'s writing, the masterful way she constructs her stories, the living, breathing, incredible true characters she has created.

So, if you're wondering why I haven't posted in a while, that's why. Because there is simply too much to say.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Those are some pipes!

Question: How big are the pipes that inhabit the walls of Hogwarts Castle?

Seriously, what is their diameter?

I'm currently re-reading The Chamber of Secrets (in French) and it has occurred to me that I have always simply taken it for granted that the Basilisk that lives in the Chamber makes its way around the school through the pipes, as Hermione deduces.

But think about it. That great big snake is described in the climactic scene of the novel as being massive. Fawkes, a fairly good-sized bird, flies around its head in an effort to blind it. Harry battles it with the Sword of Gryffindor, a pretty fair sized weapon in its own right, and kills it by thrusting this sword into the Basilisk's head.

That means that the pipes through which it travels must be fairly large themselves. Huge, in fact.

Does that make sense? Don't pipes need to be large enough to perform their function but small enough to fit within walls and floors, to keep the water that passes through them under enough pressure to be useful?

I don't know what the answer is. Maybe the Basilisk can make itself very long and thin. Or maybe the pipes really are ridiculously large.

But it seems strange to me, that's all.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Getting to know Jo

A Preface to this Entry: I read over some of my recent posts and realized that, if you just read those entries, you might come away feeling like I have a problem with J.K. Rowling. I spend an awful lot of time trying to find mistakes in her work, contradictions in her public statements. I must really hate her. I wrote this latest entry, at least in part, to refute that impression. Jo herself admits in an early interview that, while she didn't expect the Harry Potter books to become so massively popular, she did have hopes when she sent the first novel to the publisher that a small group of nerds would fall in love with and marvel in the incredible detail in the books. Well, Jo, I'm one of those nerds. And I love the detail. So much so that I glory in both its triumphs and its failures.

All of that said, on with my latest blog entry.

I've been watching a lot of video lately. Video of J.K. Rowling... of "Jo Rowling", as she is constantly reminding people... and I have to say: I've come away very impressed.

Sure, we all know what a wonderful and talented writer she is. After all, I'm writing and you are reading this blog because we love a certain seven-book series Jo wrote about a young orphan wizard named Harry Potter.

But, as I watched interview after interview in my quest to understand the whole Voldemort pronunciation question, I became more and more impressed with Jo Rowling as a person. I watched dozen of interviews spanning the decade and a half between the publication of The Philosopher's Stone and the release of the final film and there were a number of things about how she came across in her dealings with the media that left me rather in awe.

First, she is invariably polite and diplomatic while still standing her ground. Wait, when I read that sentence again, I realize I have named three somewhat different qualities so I will deal with each of them in order.

First, Jo is polite. She listens to the question being posed, she treats it and the person asking it with respect and she does her best to answer the question honestly, even when the question is stupid, invasive, inappropriate. She must have been asked the same questions hundreds of times and yet she answers them each time as if they were new and interesting. When she faces interviewers who seem to be in love with their own voices, she lets them prattle on rather than interrupting.

Second, she is diplomatic. I have seen interviewers try to tie her up in knots, upset her, catch her out and, in every case, she responds calmly and with a level of diplomacy that would do well in world politics. I have witnessed numerous journalists ask her blunt questions about her wealth -- questions which I consider to be horridly inappropriate and somewhat tasteless -- and she invariably provides an interesting, often funny answer that manages to point out the impropriety of the question without directly insulting the interviewer.

Third, she stands her ground. This ties in with "Fifth" below. Jo Rowling proves again and again that, when presented with a situation that she feels is problematic (especially when it involves children) she will speak out. Diplomatically, of course, but still strongly. One striking example of this came when she was speaking at the NY Press Club (I think that's when it was) and the moderator was reading to her questions from children in the audience. The moderator made some disparaging remark about one question and Rowling immediately challenged him on it and obtained an apology. In another interview, she was talking about the "begging" letters she receives from people and she made it very clear 1) that she cannot respond to such all or even many of such requests and 2) that some of them are completely ridiculous, like the woman who asked Jo to pay her a regular stipend so that she and her husband could attend the theatre.

Fourth, she clearly delights in being among children, whom she respects and admires as much as, if not more than, most adults. She appears to have infinite patience for young people and never shies away from nor disrespects their questions. In fact, she says on more than one occasion that children ask the best questions and she takes great care to respond honestly and openly to them. I was struck in particular by how often she remembers details about children whom she's encountered (in person or through the mail) in her promotional tours.

Fifth, she has a strong moral core. She is clear as to what she believes is right and wrong. As I said, this ties in with standing her ground. She is also very clear as to how much she loves her creation and how hard she will work to protect her characters and their world.

Sixth, she is humble. This is a person who has sold more books than anyone, who is famous around the world and who is as rich as rich can be, yet she doesn't seem to have allowed it all to go to her head. She recognizes that, when it comes down to it, she wrote a book. She wrote it well and she believed in it. But then outside forces took over. I didn't see a single instance where it appeared she was suggesting that she is a better writer than everyone else, or that she's smarter or harder working or more capable. She simply does her best and accepts (sometimes with awe) the results.

Seventh, she is smart. Her intelligence comes through in every interview. Not forcefully, not in an obnoxious, aggressive, I'm-smarter-than-you way. But it is clear, when you watch and listen to her, that Jo Rowling is a very well-educated, thoughtful and intelligent person. And that intelligence informs everything she says and does.

As I said, I've come away impressed. Sure, her wealth and fame have had an impact on her -- it would be ridiculous to think they wouldn't. But these basic aspects of her character appear to remain unchanged by her success. And that's something I can really respect.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jo, you really should watch yourself (or at least listen)

If you have had enough of the Voldemort pronunciation issue, you may want to move on. Because I'm talking about it again.

The whole question arose, according to CNN, when one tweeter tweeted “the "t" is silent in Voldemort, according to @jk_rowling” and Jo tweeted back “but I'm pretty sure I'm the only person who pronounces it that way.”

One clever responder immediately pointed out that actor Jim Dale also pronounced Voldermort without the "t" in the audio books of the first two novels. Then, of course, he saw the movies and immediately starting saying "Vole-de-morte".

Since, however, I am a bit of a detail nerd, I decided to check to see if Jo Rowling really has always pronounced Voldemort with a silent "t". I headed to the internet and started watching as many of the interviews with the author as I could find.

The first thing that struck me, to be honest, was how seldom (if ever) she actually says the name at all. I watched interview after interview and, while she mentions Harry, Hermione, and Ron quite often, I still haven't found an interview in which she mentions the Dark Lord by his chosen name.

Is it possible that even J.K. Rowling has "fear of the name"?

That being said, I then decided a better approach might be to review videos of Rowling reading from the books themselves. Even if she avoids saying "Voldemort" when she is just chatting, there was no way she would bleep out his name when reading from a novel.

That's when I came across this video on Youtube. It's Jo reading the first chapter of The Deathly Hallows on the evening of the book's release. She is at the British Museum, reading to a huge crowd of children.

It's the perfect passage to test our question. After all, the entire first chapter of seventh novel involves Voldemort and his most trusted Death Eaters discussing plans to ambush Harry Potter.

And, as she reads her way through Chapter 1, Rowling says "Voldemort" with a very distinct "t" sound on the end. "Vole - de - morte".

Hmmm..... The person who claims to be the only person who pronounces Voldemort with a silent "t" actually pronounces the name with quite a strong "t" sound at the end. At least on this particular occasion.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fly from Death? Steal from Death?

I am still brooding over the question of how to pronounce the Dark Lord's chosen name: Voldemort.

I will accept as a basic assumption J.K. Rowling's assertion that the name should be pronounced as a French word with no "t" sound at the end.

That makes sense to me. I can't say I was smart enough to catch it when I first read the books -- I have called him "Vole-de-morte" in my head from the beginning -- but it makes sense to me now.

But, as I asked several posts ago, now that we have the pronunciation of the last syllable of the name correct, how do we pronounce the first syllable?

I pointed out that there seem to be two options for that first syllable (and that each option has been used in the films by different characters): "Vole", with a long "o" sound, and "Vol", with an "a" sound to rhyme with "ball" or "tall" or "call".

I prefer the former, personally, but which is correct?

Jo says it's a French word and should be pronounced as a French person would.

So I spoke to a colleague of mine who is both a native French speaker (born and raised in France) and a big Harry Potter fan.

Interesting conversation.

First, she said that, because she is French, she pronounces the name "Vole-de-more".

Perfect. Question answered. Proper pronunciation established.

Then she said she had never noticed that, in the movies, the name's last syllable was always pronounced "morte" and its first syllable was sometimes pronounced "Vall" and sometimes "Vole". She simply heard it pronounced the way she would say it herself.


We then talked about what the name means in French. If you break it down into its three syllables, you will find that it is made up of three French words:

"vol", which can mean either to "steal" or to "fly";
"de", which means "from" or "of"; and
"mort", which means to "die" or "death".

Wow. My friend had never thought that through. "She's brilliant, isn't she?" she said with a smile, thinking of how carefully J.K. had developed the name.

I would have to agree. The Dark Lord's chosen name means either "fly from death" or "steal from death".

And that's exactly what he has attempted to do throughout his entire life: to escape death, to cheat death, to steal from death.

And that's exactly what the Deathly Hallows are about, aren't they:

The Cloak is meant to allow its bearer to escape Death;
The Stone is meant to allow its bearer to steal from Death (by bringing people back); and
The Wand is meant to allow its bearer to defeat/cheat Death.

Cool cool cool. So cool, it's almost scary.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Mispronunciation mortification

How do you pronounce the Dark Lord's adopted name?

Do you say Vole-de-morte (with the "t" pronounced)?

Or Vole-de-more (no "t")?

Apparently, J.K. Rowling has now announced that the proper pronunciation is the latter: more, not morte.

She has also said that she might be the only one on earth who actually gets it right but, to be honest, I expect that every French speaking person in the world pronounces "mort" as we English speakers would pronounce "more".

And, of course, Jim Dale uses the no "t" pronunciation in his readings of at least the first two novels in the audiobook versions. It would seem that, after the first couple of movies came out, which probably make the hard "t" version popular, Dale felt compelled to follow the crowd and say "morte".

I hate to admit it (especially now that Jo has said it's wrong) but I tend to say "Vole-de-morte" when I mention his name (or, in my head, when I read it). Oh well, I can't be right all the time.

And I am quite tempted to call up every video interview with J.K. that's available online to see if she really does (or did) use the no "t" pronunciation.

With the "more"/"morte" pronunciation question finally clarified, I have to ask: Do you pronounce the first syllable with a long or short "o" sound: Vole or Vol?

Maybe it's questions like these that are the real reason we should call him "You Know Who" or "He Who Must Not Be Named" or "the Dark Lord"! Because nobody really knows how to say his adopted name!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Personal sacrifice, personal loss: Who suffered most?

A friend, who is also a bit of a Harry Potter fan, sent me this captioned picture today and it got me thinking: of all the characters in the Rowling world who themselves survived the entire situation, which one would you say suffered most as a result of the Voldemort's rise to power and the war to defeat him?

The caption would suggest that Hermione made the greatest sacrifice and I might be willing consider this possibility (that Hermione made the greatest sacrifice of all by erasing herself from her parents’ memories) if it weren’t reversible.

But she can reverse it.

What cannot be reversed are the Weasley family’s losses (one son dead, two sons injured), nor the losses suffered by Mrs. Tonks (her husband [Ted Tonks], daughter [Nymphadora Tonks], son-in-law [Remus Lupin] and sister [Bellatrix Lestrange] were all killed, leaving her alone with a half-werewolf grandson). 

And you have to figure that Hermione and Ron set out for Australia fairly soon after the war ended with Voldemort’s death to track down her parents, reverse the obliviate spells she cast on them and remind them who she is!

Note, in Chapter five (the last chapter I’ve finished) of The Way Forward, my fan fiction post-Deathly Hallows novel, I make it clear that Hermione and Ron go to Australia to retrieve her parents!

I will have to take some more time to think about this question as I am sure there are a whole cast of characters, minor or major, who suffered great losses as a result of the events of the Rowling books.

The "club-house leader" is Mrs. Tonks, by the way. But is there someone out there who sacrificed more?

Explanations and Rowling's writing prowess

I have been re-reading the first Harry Potter novel in French. As I think I've mentioned on several occasions in the past, I have found that reading the books in French or listening to them in their audiobook format really helps me notice things that I miss when I read them in English.

Well, it's happened again.

As I read the confrontation between Harry and Quirrell/Voldemort at the climax of Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers, I was struck by how expertly J.K. Rowling handles a common problem faced by writers of mysteries and thrillers: how do you provide the reader with greatly needed background information and explanations as to certain plot points while keeping the action moving and suspense building?

The challenge is all too common. As an author, you lead your reader through a complex, fast-paced plot, filled with twists and turns, and then you arrive at the moment of discovery, the instant where all things hidden come to light. How do you explain to your reader how the resolution fits in with all of the various twists and turns from earlier in the novel without losing the sense of urgency required to carry the novel to its completion?

And, in some cases, how do you make it realistic that the villain, now discovered, will be willing to divulge all this information to the protagonist?

Anyone who has read mysteries and thrillers, or who has even watched these genres on television, has probably experienced dozens of examples where this explanation challenge defeats the writer. How many times have you encountered a climactic scene where the hero says something like, "But, how did you...?" and the villain says, "Well, since you are about to die, I'll tell you..." or "Since I am now caught and have nothing to lose, I'll explain everything to you."

If you watch "Foyle's War" at all, you've seen numerous episodes that end with the bad guy willingly explaining to our favourite Deputy Chief Superintendent what he did and how he did it, once it's clear that he has been caught. It's one of the few true flaws in what is otherwise an excellent and entertaining show. The writers got lazy.

In other cases, the writer simply has the hero explain everything to a minor character in the denouement:

Watson: "But Holmes, I don't understand how Moriarity managed to accomplish this!"

Holmes: "Elementary, my dear Watson. He bought a ticket on the 8 o'clock train but stowed away on the 7 o'clock train so that he could arrive an hour earlier and commit the crime at 7:30, with his alibi tucked safely in his pocket."

Watson: "But that doesn't explain how he got his hands on the poor victim's letter opener!"

Holmes: "I think you'll find that there were two identical letter openers at play here..."

Etc. etc.

In simple terms, it is a key component of mysteries and thrillers that things happen throughout the plot that go unexplained but either provide clues to the identity of the villain or serve to obscure his identity. In order for the story to be satisfying to the reader/viewer, these unexplained things must finally be explained in a manner that supports the resolution of the mystery.

Yes, that's a very long lead up to what I want to say about Jo and her first novel. Sorry. But I did enjoy writing it, to be honest.

What I find so impressive about Rowling is the fact that, in her very first novel, she found an interesting and exciting way to explain the unexplained that actually serves to heighten rather than undermine the tension of the climactic scene.

How does she do it?

By making the explanations a part of the suspense. Harry is trapped in the room with Quirrell/Voldemort and the Mirror of Erised, desperate to keep Q/V distracted so that they cannot find the Philosopher's Stone before help arrives to save the day. So Harry asks for explanations. He asks point for point about every key event in the story about which he (and the reader) needs more information.

Isn't it Snape who is trying to get the Stone? Why did Snape try to kill me in the Quidditch match? Why did Snape want to referee the second match? Who let in the troll at Hallowe'en? Why was Snape on the third floor rather than helping to deal with the troll? Why was Snape threatening you in the forest? Weren't you talking to Snape in the classroom when you finally gave in?

And he got his answers. Delivered by a Q/V in an offhand way as he tried to figure out how to get the Stone out of the Mirror.

We, the reader, were caught up in the suspense and fully engaged with Harry in his attempt to keep Q/V from working out how to get the Stone. The questions and answers not only did not undermine the tension of the scene: they were actually part of the build up of suspense.


I have often said that book seven is my favourite of the Harry Potter novels, with book three close behind.

But, when I think about which book is the greatest accomplishment for Rowling as a writer, I have to say it must be Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Despite the fact that it represents the first novel she ever wrote, it is a virtual masterpiece of writing. In it, she handles with seeming ease challenges that have defeated much more experienced writers.

Including the problem of providing explanations without undermining suspense.

Monday, August 24, 2015

First step: Acknowledge the addiction

HP and the DH... again
Ok. I admit it. I'm addicted. Harry Potter has become an addiction.

You want evidence?

Check out my new copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, in paperback. My third copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Why did I buy it?

Because it was in the library book sale, it was in perfect condition, it has a cover that I don't already own and it was just ONE DOLLAR.

That's why I bought it.

And then what did I do immediately after I bought it? I started reading it. Again. And enjoying it. Again. And thinking... my goodness, this first chapter is remarkably well written, considering the pressure J.K. must have been under to produce this seventh and final book.


I have to accept that I am now officially addicted to Harry Potter. The novels. Not the movies. Oh no, never the movies. I tolerate the movies. I am addicted to the books. I am currently reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone in French (Harry Potter a l'ecole des sorciers [insert accents where appropriate]) and, now, apparently, the Deathly Hallows as well.

And I am enjoying every word of each. Even the ones I am not sure I fully understand without looking them up in a French dictionary.

If you are reading this and nodding your head, thinking, "What's so crazy about that?" -- get help.

And enjoy the greatest series of books every written. In English and French!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rewrite and Rowling: Thoughts on Failure

I am a sucker for a good romantic comedy. My favourite movie is Notting Hill, with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts. And I have an infinite capacity for watching other schlocky romcoms like Wimbledon, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Ground Hog Day, Kissing Jessica Stein, over and over again.

So it's no surprise that when Netflix suggested a new romcom to me, Rewrite (with Mr. Grant and Marisa Tomei), I immediately settled in to watch it.

Is it a classic? No, not really. In fact, it's pretty run-of-the-mill as romantic comedies go. But, it has some witty dialogue and the script writer(s) display a pretty neat knowledge of films and film history.

Moreover, it did prove to me that Grant's schtick still works and that Tomei has aged beautifully. She is warm and lovely in this movie and extremely sympathetic. A great counterpoint to Grant.

And... it involves several conversations related to Harry Potter and his world.

Most fun for me was listening to the Grant character (a one-hit wonder of a screen writer trying to get his career back on track by taking a job as Writer-in-Residence at a small university in New York State) and his agent discuss J.K. Rowling's thoughts on the importance of failure from her Harvard address to which I referred in a blog post some time ago.

It is an interesting moment. The agent quotes Rowling at the struggling screen writer in an effort to cheer him up and give him hope. The struggling screen writer shoots back: "Yeah, that's easy to say after she's banked about a billion dollars and is ridiculously famous" (not a direct quote, probably not even close, but you get the drift).

And it got me thinking. While I agree with what Rowling has to say about the value of failure, of having your life carved back to the its bare essence so you understand what is important and what isn't, that you focus on what's real and central and valuable without the distraction of that which is trivial, she does say it after she has achieved success at a level that few in the world will ever achieve.

Rowling's is an enduring success (and, please don't get me wrong, she deserves it and continues to merit it with her post-Potter-book behaviour) that, even if she never writes another word, will carry her through the rest of her life. She will always be known, respected and sought out. She will always be comfortable financially and loved by the public.

But what about someone, like Grant's screen writer, who had a small taste of that kind of success, then all but lost it. For whom recognition in public takes the form of "Aren't you the guy who?" and then inevitably "But what have you done since?" For whom failure comes after success, not before it?

Rowling's argument would likely be that, even then, failure is still valuable. Painful, for certain, but also valuable.

And, after all of the above, I think she would be right. Failure, even when it comes after success, helps one to figure out what is truly important. In Grant's character's case, he realises that his relationships (with his son, with Tomei's character, with his students), are more important and fulfilling than the more esoteric relationship he enjoyed with his "fans" or, more generally, "the public".

I am probably attributing more to this little film than it deserves but that reference to Rowling's philosophy on failure added its own depth to Rewrite.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Draco's wand chose his mother (apparently)

I am writing this in the middle of the night and without my books in front of me but, as I was reading the French version of The Philosopher's Stone (A L'ecole de sorciers), two issues came to mind, one minor and one fairly major.

The minor one is simply this: at the time the translation of The Philosopher's Stone was undertaken, J.K. Rowling and her publisher had already amended the book so that Adalbert Waffling was NOT listed as the author of A History of Magic on Harry's first year book list. As we all know, Bathilda Bagshot (or, as she is known in the French-speaking world, Bathilda Tourdesac) penned this all important tome.

The translation was done, however, before Rowling corrected the little addition error where she has a woman complain that an item in Diagon Alley costs 17 Sickles (or "dix-sept Mornilles") which, we find out later, is the equivalent of one Galleon ("Gallion"), leading to the question: why wouldn't the woman complain that the item costs a Galleon?

The more major issue that arises in the early part of the first book is related to the subject of wand lore that becomes so important and oft-discussed in the later books.

It is a well-known fact among Potter fans that "The Wand chooses the Wizard". The scene where Harry first vista Ollivanders' to purchase his wand is a classic, in fact, and the allegiance of a wand, how it can be won and lost, and how a wand both learns from and teaches its chosen witch or wizard, are all wonderful aspects of wand lore that we cherish in the Potter world.

What has really jumped out at me in reading the first book in French, however, is the reality that Jo had not really developed her detailed theories of wand lore when she wrote The Philosopher's Stone. These ideas that the Wand chooses the Wizard and that, once that choice is made, a genuine, intimate relationship develops between the two simply do not seem to exist in her mind at that point in time.

Why do I write this?

First, even before Harry visits Ollivanders', he meets a young Draco Malfoy at Madam Malkin's, being fitted for his school robes. What does Malfoy say to Harry? To paraphrase, he says: "My mother is off buying my wand". Yikes! No wand is choosing Draco -- his mother is picking one up for him as she might a new pair of socks or a telescope.

And second, Ron later complains to Harry that he has a "hand-me-down" wand, that used to be his brother's. Wait a minute: that single sentence implies first that a Wizard might decide, after being chosen by his Wand at age 11, that he simply feels like going out and buying a new one. What about he relationship, the teaching and learning? Second, it means that Mr. and Mrs. Weasley have no concerns about their youngest son using a Wand that has not chosen him. Wow. I know they're poor but...

I am smiling, of course, as I write this. I know that it is much too much to expect that Rowling had every detail of her incredibly complex magical world nailed down when she sat down to write that first book. But it is interesting to be able to trace the development of some of the more important details and themes in the books themselves.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

"Fantastic Beasts" might just be fantastic

I have just read on an online news outlet that Colin Farrell has joined the cast of the upcoming Potterworld movie "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them".

Which, of course, led me to recognize that this new Potter movie is currently in development and I have been paying absolutely no attention to it.

I am a massive fan of the Harry Potter books, as this blog by itself would attest, but I can't seem to get myself wound up about the idea of a new movie based not on a Rowling-written book but on a Rowling-written screenplay.

And maybe I'm wrong not to be more excited.

I became increasingly disappointed with as each of the original Harry Potter movies was released. Although my discontentment was based on a number of factors, one of the main issues I had was that the movies (especially the later ones) failed to convey the depth and beauty of Rowling's art.

I think my lack of interest in this new movie is a hangover from the old antipathy. If it's a movie and it's related to Harry Potter, goes my thought process, it's bound to be a disappointment.

This recent news item (and my blah response to it) has caused me to pause to reflect and that's a good thing.

"Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them", if its screenplay is indeed penned by J.K. Rowling, would represent our first opportunity to see what this immensely talented writer can do with an entirely new literary form.

She wrote wonderful books. It was someone else entirely who then wrote increasingly awful screenplays from those books.

It is entirely possible that, in approaching this new story as a movie script from the off, Rowling will show the same kind creative talent for the screenplay that she showed for the novel form.

So maybe I should be more excited about the upcoming release of "Fantastic Beasts".

Wait a minute: I think I already am!

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Throwaway line raises questions

I caught a very brief moment from The Chamber of Secrets on TV yesterday and had to laugh. The moment I saw involved Lucius Malfoy and Mr. Weasley at the end of their confrontation in Flourish and Blotts.

As you know, the two get into a fist-fight in this scene in the book but, in the movie, the confrontation is reduced to a lot of sneering and menacing talk. Be that as it may, it is an important scene to the plot as Lucius uses the melee to place Tom Riddle's diary in Ginny Weasley's book.

The book version begins with Malfoy saying to Weasley: "Busy time at the Ministry, I hear."

The book version ends with Malfoy sweeping out of the shop.

The line I caught from the movie has Malfoy exiting with the line: "See you at work."

I had never registered this line before. In the film, Malfoy apparently works at the Ministry too. In the books, he is presented as a wealthy aristocrat who has no apparent job. His influence at the Ministry is a function of his money, not his employment.

So why, in the film, do they present Malfoy as working for the Ministry? It makes no sense. It's a throwaway line, to be sure, but why is it there at all?

The next time I watch the films (if I ever watch them again!) I will have to be very careful to watch for any other evidence, in any of the films, that Malfoy in fact works for the Ministry of Magic. I can't imagine Lucius Malfoy ever working at all! Other than working at ingratiating himself with the Dark Lord :).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Who Fears Death, Harry Potter?

It is true that there are only a limited number of stories available to tell. Dress them up as you might, you are still basically telling the same stories that have been told over and over again in the past.

The story of the outcast who discovers that he/she/it is actually a hero/monarch/superstar in another world is one such archetypal story.

And it has been told and retold many times in western pop culture over the years:
  • Peter Pan, where a young boy discovers he is a key figure in Neverland, destined to save the Lost Boys from the evil pirate Hook;
  • The Narnia Series, where a group of young kids discovers that they are royalty in the land of Narnia, destined to lead it through a series of challenges;
  • Star Wars, with orphan Luke Skywalker discovering that the "Force is strong" within him and that he is destined to battle Darth Vader (his father) and the evil Emperor;
  • Harry Potter, with orphan Harry Potter discovering that he is a "wizard, and thumping good one" and that he is destined to battle Voldemort and his evil plans;
  • The Hunger Games, with impoverished and practically orphaned (her father is dead, her mother emotionally absent) Katniss Everdeen volunteering to leave her family, fight in the ritual games and finally become the symbol of the revolution against the evil Capitol;
  • Twilight, with lonely and depressed Bella Swan discovering that there is something special about her that attracts the interest of two mysterious and supernatural heroes and who finally becomes the key figure in their confrontation with the evil Volturi coven; and
  • many more.
The popularity of this story seems, in my opinion at least, to be based on the fact that the main character escapes an unbearable life to discover that he/she is actually very powerful, very famous, very important. It is a wonderful dream for any of us who have ever been sad, or depressed, or unhappy with our lot in life. Maybe, just maybe, we really are special, if not here then in some other world.

The most stunning example that I've encountered recently is Nnedi Okorafor's 2010 novel, Who Fears Death (Daw). A powerful and gripping book, WFD shares a number of significant parallels with Harry Potter, both in its basic plot and in its detail.

Before I go on, however, I should warn you that Okorafor's book is NOT a children's novel. In the first 40 pages, she describes in graphic detail both a very violent sexual assault and a female circumcision. The violence and sexuality throughout the book is definitely for mature readers and the novel is written at a philosophical and emotional level that would be beyond most young people.

The story is told by the main character, Onyesonwu, a mixed-race outcast who is the child of rape. Onye's life in a small village is a miserable one, but for the love of her mother and her adoptive father, as she faces derisions, rejection and violence at almost every turn. As she approaches adulthood, however, she discovers that she possesses magical power that dwarfs even that of the local sorcerer. Further, she finds out that she is "The Chosen One", the mythic figure the arrival of whom has long been foretold and who is destined to end the subjugation and annihilation of the Okeke race.

In order to do so, however, she must face and defeat the most powerful and evil sorcerer in the known world: a man named Daib, who turns out to be her mother's rapist, Onye's own biological father.

It's a beautiful and powerful novel, one that tackles massive social issues in a spine-tinglingly exciting story.

And it also shares a number of points with the Harry Potter novels. A child with a violent beginning, outcast in his/her world, who begins to find strange "magical" things happening to him/her, things that frighten the people around him/her. A child who discovers both her/his power and her/his terrifying destiny, almost at the same time.

"The Chosen One" appellation was the similarity that struck me the most but there are other details that Who Fears Death and Harry Potter share: the often difficult relationship with the teacher figure; the early introduction of a powerful enemy and the suspense of whether or not the main character will be ready when the inevitable confrontation actually occurs; the creation of a group of friends and supporters through one or more dangerous experiences; the challenging journey undertaken by the hero that leads to the confrontation; and much much more.

I haven't finished Okorafor's novel yet but I'm anxious to do so, as much because I want to trace the ongoing parallels with Harry Potter as because the book is, itself, a riveting tale.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Harry Potter on the Cash Cab

Harry Potter is everywhere

I'm sitting here watching Cash Cab on TV. For those who don't know it, Cash Cab is a game show that involves innocent cab passengers being asked trivia questions for money as they drive along to their destination.

This episode saw five bright young women from Newfoundland -- they seem like a fun bunch, to be honest -- jump into the cab and then reel off correct answer after correct answer.

Why am I writing about this on my Harry Potter blog?

Because one of the questions they faced was something like "A Centaur is a mythical being made up of two types of animal: human and what other animal?"

Without hesitating for even a second, several of the young women called out "a horse" and then started chanting "Harry Potter, Harry Potter".

It was an awesome moment for all of us Potter fans. I'll even forgive these fine young Newfoundlanders for asking that their Harry Potter moment be edited out before the show was aired.

Sadly, despite bringing me such joy, the five managed to lose all their money on the final, all or nothing question, when they didn't know that an ice berg floats because it is less dense than the water in which it floats.

Oh well. They had their moment in the sun. And they got most of the questions right. And they made a Harry Potter fan very happy.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Filmic regression: Lupin meets Granger in a strange world

So, Hermione Granger and Remus Lupin are together again!

I just caught the teaser trailer for the upcoming film Regression, starring the delightful Ms. Watson. It looks like a reasonably interesting thriller, with lots of eerie stuff, a chilling mystery and numerous dark and rainy nights.

From the trailer, I can't really tell what accent Ms. Watson uses in the film: English, as in Harry Potter, mid-Atlantic (as in The Perks of Being a Wallflower) or something else. She seems to do a lot of crying in the film, unfortunately. Did she ever give us a scene of outright weeping in the eight Harry Potter movies?

Ethan Hawke also stars but the big surprise was to find David Thewlis in a fairly major role. Now, I know Thewlis has been a busy working actor but, until he portrayed Remus Lupin in the magical movies, I had never really noticed him.

Now, he's back with Watson again in another supernatural film.

He's not in the trailer enough to make any kind of assessment of his performance but it will be interesting to see how he does. I always liked him in HP so I expect he'll be fairly strong.

It makes you wonder, however, whether casting directors worry about putting two major Potter actors in the same post-Potter film. Doesn't it seem like they're running a risk that movie-goers won't be able to get beyond the Rowling connection to enjoy them in their new roles?

Monday, July 6, 2015

Harry Potter and the Costco Cashier

In line at Costco. Making sure the cashier notices that I have a case of ginger ale in the bottom of my cart, hidden by the massive Costco bags I bring with me every week.

"Thanks for pointing that out," she says, scanning the code from the ginger ale. "You wouldn't believe the stuff people try to sneak out of here without paying."

Me, surprised. "Oh, does it happen that often?"

She nods, laughing. "It happens all the time but what is even more amazing is how often they're successful... with really really big items."

"Like what? Air conditioners and things like that?"

She nods again. "Air conditioners. TVs. It's really crazy. I don't know how they get these things past all the security."

And then she makes the comment that endears her to me forever.

"It's like they have an Invisibility Cloak or something!"

Awesome. Harry Potter and the Costco Cashier.

And, of course, I am immediately reminded of the fact that, when Hermione used the Invisibility Cloak to grab food from a grocery store in The Deathly Hallows, she took great care to deposit the money to pay for the items she was taking into an open cash drawer before she left.

If only we would all be as honest as the good Ms. Granger.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Too big for my iPod

Did you know that the audiobooks of the Harry Potter novels do not fit on a 2MB iPod Shuffle?

For some reason, I find that completely amazing.

I just bought an iPod Shuffle, to replace my old Discman for walking-to-work music (yes, I still had and used a portable CD player). I thought: I'll just load the Jim Dale versions of the books onto the iPod's harddrive, then fill the rest up with music on a separate playlist.

No dice. In fact, the audiobooks would apparently fill up just over 3GB of space. Wow.

So I will have to keep my disc players available, I guess.

And, since just listened to the 150+ hours of Jim Dale's reading, I doubt I'll be loading them up again any time soon.

Which leads to the question: what next from the Harry Potter standpoint?

To be honest, I think my next experience will be reading the books in French. I've read the first three in that wonderful language but just acquired the rest of the French versions late last year. That means it will be a whole new adventure.

Much slower, to be sure, since my French is good but not perfect. And then maybe I'll watch the movies with the French soundtrack engaged!

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Sometimes I just wish Jo would leave well enough alone

J.K. continues to use Pottermore as an outlet for more and more of the backstory she had created for the Harry Potter stories.

Now, though I now have two Pottermore accounts, I can never remember my username nor my password for either account so I don't ever actually visit the site. So I am forced to rely on news reports of Rowling's little disclosures.

As a result, it is possible that I am not getting the complete story when I read, for example, the Guardian's summary of the author's latest Pottermore article, this time disclosing the source and history of the enmity between the Dursleys (Vernon and Petunia) and the Potters (James, Lily and Harry), I am not getting the full story.

But there are a couple of things in Rowling's latest release (as reported in the Guardian) with which I have real problems:

1. According to the Guardian, Rowling reports that, when James and Lily were first in a relationship, "James told [Vernon] of the solid gold his parents had in the wizarding bank Gringotts" but that Vernon remained unimpressed. Wait a minute: on several occasions in the novel Harry makes it clear that, if Uncle Vernon were to find out that James and Lily had left Harry with a pile of gold, Uncle Vernon would immediately try to get it away from Harry. Now Rowling tells us Vernon has known all along that James had gold and that Harry must have inherited it? Sorry, that doesn't fly with me.

2. Rowling appears to take great pains to explain, in realistic and adult terms, the horrific treatment Harry suffered at the hands of his Aunt and Uncle. What she seems to be losing sight of is that the most ignominious treatment (locking Harry in a cupboard under the stairs, putting bars on the windows of his bedroom, starving him, behaving in a physically intimidating even violent manner toward him) occurs in the early books of the series, books that were intended as books for children, where good and evil have to be presented in clear, unequivocal terms. This is fairy-tale evil, not realistic, adult evil.

Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon in the early novels are caricatures, not fully rounded characters -- they are most akin to the evil step sisters of Cinderella. It is folly for Rowling to attempt to rationalize the comic-book evil she presents in the early children's novels in adult terms. I have often celebrated the fact that Rowling's books matured with her readers -- that her later novels are written at a higher level, with more depth, complexity and sophistication, than were her earlier books. It's a great thing. A masterpiece. But it does that mastery a disservice to try to rationalize the simplicity of the early novels in a manner more suited to the adult world. The Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon of The Philosopher's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets are the purely evil villains of fairy tales. She should leave it at that, not try to explain it, rationalize it, justify it in the adult terms of the later novels!

3. According to the Guardian, Rowling says in her article that she feels that, in The Deathly Hallows, she presents Aunt Petunia “in a way that is most consistent with her thoughts and feelings through the previous seven books”. I believe that is a direct quote from Rowling's piece: "the previous seven books". Jo, there were only six previous books. You seem to be confusing your own series of seven wonderful novels with the increasingly awful eight films that were made from them.

I may be wrong about what's in the Rowling article. I hope I am. I hope the Guardian's report has misled me.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

A film's disdain for subtlety and beauty

Every time I watch the films that were made out of The Deathly Hallows, I feel a little sick.

Sometimes, I want to take a bath, to wash away the gross and icky feeling the movies leave me with.

Other times, I want to sit down and read J.K.'s original novel from cover to cover immediately, just to remind myself of how great her book is, to remove the disgusting taste that horrible film adaptation left in my mouth.

Even as I watch them, feeling more and more sick, disappointed, resentful, I can recognize that there are actually some pretty good scenes in the films. Some brief moments where David Yates and Stephen Kloves actually got it right and did credit to Rowling's original.

For example, I quite like how the Part 1 opens, with brief shots of Harry at Privet Drive watching the Dursley's pack up and go, of Hermione at her home obliviating her parents and their photos to remove any trace of herself, of Ron, standing pensively with the Burrow in the background, looking out over the fields, thinking of what is to come.

I think they do some of the bigger action scenes quite well: the assault on the Ministry, for example, and the escape from Hogwarts.

Emma Watson has some nice moments, as I've written here before, such as her smirk when the freshly returned Ron "votes" to go to see Mr. Lovegood or when she tosses Harry the sword in the Estrange vault.

I quite love the artful way they render the story of the Three Brothers. It's creative and lovely.

But then I am smacked in the face again with the bigger problems of interpretation that plague these movies, with Kloves' and Yates' apparent disdain for the subtlety and beauty of Rowling's deep psychological and emotional tale.

This disdain comes out in many different ways, in numerous decisions they made as to how to present the story, both large and small.

Among the small ones: did you notice that Harry does not liberate Mad-Eye's magical eye from Umbridge's office door at the Ministry? did it bother you that Harry, Hermione and Ron don't spare a moment's feeling for Mr. Lovegood's fate after he summons the Death Eaters? did it phase you that Harry does not mend his own wand before dealing with the Elder Wand nor make the last visit to Dumbledore's portrait in the headmaster's office nor explain why he chooses to dispose of each of the Deathly Hallows in the way he does?

Does it bother you that, in the film version at least, NO ONE except the small group of fighters within Hogwarts joins the battle against Voldemort and the Death Eaters, not the parents of the students, not the people of Hogsmeade, not the Centaurs, the House Elves nor even Grawp?

Does it not drive you absolutely crazy that, while the Hogwart's fighters die simple human deaths, both Bellatrix and Voldemort evaporate into the ether when they die?

That Rowling's single most basic point -- in the end, we are all human and we all are born, live and die just like everyone else, no matter who we are and how powerful we are during our brief stay on earth -- is completely lost in the film?

Saturday, June 20, 2015

At last, a tiny impact of films on novels

I have often wondered if, in writing the later books, J.K. Rowling was at all influenced by the film versions of the earlier novels.

As the chart below shows, Rowling must have been in the process of writing The Order of the Phoenix at the time the first two films were released. Four films were already out by the time she was writing The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows. The possibility of influence definitely existed.

Book Release
Film Release
1 – The Philosopher’s Stone
2 – The Chamber of Secrets
3 – The Prisoner of Azkaban
4 – The Goblet of Fire
5 – The Order of the Phoenix
6 – The Half-Blood Prince
7 – The Deathly Hallows
8 – The Deathly Hallows (2)


To be honest, I have re-read the books several times with this question in mind and, until I listened to the audio books, I could find no evidence that she was influenced at all by the movies. I find that fact both remarkable and impressive. Jo must have had a very clear, unshakeable vision of her characters, her settings, her magical world to be able to resist adapting that vision to match the very vivid, very imaginative presentation offered by the films.

I say, "until I listened to the audio books", however, because, as Jim Dale read to me the chapter called "Gringott's" in the seventh book, I heard it... a very small, very minor bit of evidence that Rowling might just have been influenced, however slightly, by the films as she wrote the later books.

Don't get too excited. It really is a very minor example. And if it is the only example, it is practically meaningless. But interesting nonetheless.

It involves the presentation of the gateway to Diagon Alley located at the back of the yard of the Leaky Cauldron. Here is how Rowling describes the movement of the bricks and the formation of the gateway in The Philosopher's Stone (1997):

The brick he had touched quivered -- it wriggled -- in the middle, a small hole appeared -- it grew wider and wider -- a second later they were facing an archway...

Now imagine how this same scene was depicted in the first film in 2001. Hagrid touches the brick with his umbrella/wand and the bricks begin to spin and rotate out of sight. The archway takes several seconds to form as the bricks twirl. It's a wonderfully visual event and a brilliant way to introduce the splendours of Diagon Alley.

Now fast forward five years to 2006 as Rowling is in the process of writing the final novel. Harry, Hermione and Ron arrive at the Leaky Cauldron (suitably disguised, of course), on their way to breaking into the Lestrange vault at Gringott's, and Jo describes the opening of the gateway to Diagon Alley as follows:
Hermione... tapped a brick in the nondescript wall in front of them. At once the bricks began to whirl and spin; a hole appeared in the middle of them, which grew wider and wider, finally forming an archway...
In her initial description of the formation of the gateway, Rowling says that the brick "quivered" and "wriggled"; the film presents the bricks as spinning out of sight; in her final description of the formation of the gateway, Rowling says that the bricks "whirl" and "spin".

I know. I know. I know. It's nothing huge but... doesn't it seem like the filmic version of the event changed, however slightly, Rowling's description of the way the archway changed.

For some reason, this discovery delights me to no end.