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.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The end of an amazing audio experience

I am amazed, and half sorry, to report that I have now completed my 150+ hour journey through the seven Harry Potter novels as read to me by actor Jim Dale.

It's a credit to just how good these recordings are that I listened to them every chance I could over the past three months. And, to Dale's credit, the recordings got better and better as they went along, with Dale reaching his peak as the stories came to their final climax at the end of book seven.

Another amazing fact about this journey is that my 25-year-old discman survived the ordeal as well. In fact, it performed very well, despite a number of bumps and bruises. The only question in my mind now is: when should I start the whole cycle again?

Saturday, June 6, 2015

In praise of fan art (and my birthday card)

Harry Potter on the front of my card
The message inside

Harry Potter art -- an under appreciated aspect of the whole Potterworld fandom.

I continue to be impressed with the artwork that decorates the boxes and cases of the audio book collection I received for my recent birthday, the Jim Dale version with artwork.

I believe that the artist's name is Mary GrandPre, if I interpret the information on one of the CD jackets correctly.

The artwork that decorates these box sets is so incredibly good that I wish this artist would be hired to do a set of graphic novels of the Harry Potter books. I love the fact that her little pieces of art include not only entire scenes from the novels but also entire images devoted to smaller details, like the symbol of the Deathly Hallows or someone's hand or a single building.

I have also mentioned the wonderful artwork on the covers of the French versions of the books, published by Folio Junior. These paintings were created by Jean-Claude Gotting and they are truly magnificent.

Now take a look at the beautiful birthday card I recently received from a young artist friend of mine (presented above). I love the square, card-filling image of Harry, complete with his Gryffindor scarf, on the front of the card -- but I think the little snitch and witch's hat (the "Sorting Hat" perhaps?) that decorate the birthday message (delivered in perfect Harry Potter film font) make the whole card a magnificent piece of work.

I have looked through Pinterest and on the web and seen many many more fabulous examples of fan art for Harry Potter. Fantastic stuff. I just wish I possessed even the slightest artistic talent!