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!