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!