Thursday, December 29, 2016

A Grim tea cup to add to my collection

Everyone was staring, transfixed, at Professor Trelawney, who gave the cup a final turn, gasped, and then screamed.
There was another tinkle of breaking china. Neville had smashed his second cup. Professor Trelawney sank into a vacant armchair, her glittering hand on her heart and her eyes closed.
'My dear boy -- my poor dear boy -- no -- it is kinder not to say -- no -- don't ask me...'
'What is it, Professor?" said Dean Thomas at once. Everyone had got to their feet, and slowly, they crowded around Harry and Ron's table, pressing close to Professor Trelawney's chair to get a good look at Harry's cup.
'My dear,' Professor Trelawney's huge eyes opened dramatically, 'you have the Grim.'
The Grim in my teacup
In our first introduction to the memorable Professor of Divination, Sybil Trelawney, we experience the second prediction that Trelawney makes about Harry.

The first, of course, was the prophecy offered up before Harry was even born that set into motion the tortured relationship that was to develop between the Dark Lord and our orphan hero.

The second one, the prophecy of Harry's death in this scene from The Prisoner of Azkaban, was perhaps not so meaningful. Sure, it tied in with Harry's many sightings of a strange black dog that was haunting his life at that time but it was certainly not very accurate.

My HP shelf
The tea leaves might have looked like The Grim -- the giant spectral dog that haunts church yards which is an omen of death -- to Trelawney but they certainly didn't give notice of Harry's imminent demise.

I write of this section today not because I have any great insight into what is happening in the scene but simply to introduce my latest Harry Potter acquisition: a handmade Grim tea up, with Trelawney's immortal words on the saucer. It's gorgeous and so really very cool. It was made by the young friend of my friend Steph and was a gift to me at Christmas this year.

I just love it. And it fits in so nicely on the lowest level of my handcrafted Harry Potter shelf, right next to my hand knit Griffyndor scarf!

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Wondering who killed Ariana Dumbledore

This priori incantatem spell is still hanging around in the back of my head.

A useful little spell, isn't it? It causes a wand to spew forth, in reverse chronological order, all of the spells it has cast in the past. How far back it goes, I don't think is ever established, but it can be used in a variety of ways to understand how events transpired, to interact with people who died under that wand, to prove guilt or innocence even.

Useful, yes, but not used often enough, I think.

For example, the events of The Half-Blood Prince and The Deathly Hallows establish very clearly that Albus Dumbledore is haunted by the death of his sister, Ariana, and the thought, the fear that he himself could possibly have cast the spell that killed her.

His fear and remorse show themselves when he drinks the potion that protects the Slytherin's Locket in the middle of the lake in the cave by the seaside. He becomes emotional again in the "King's Cross" scene at the end of The Deathly Hallows, telling Harry that he fears that he himself cast the spell that killed Ariana.

Which begs the question: why, at some point in the 100 or so years between the Ariana's death and Dumbledore's own demise, did he not think simply to perform priori incantatem on his own wand and perhaps on Aberforth's as well. I will accept that Dumbledore would not have had access to Grindelwald's original wand but, if he tested both his own and his brother's, that should be sufficient to prove who cast the killing spell.

Okay, if priori incantatem is time-limited (or limited in the number of spells it can spew forth), perhaps Dumbledore could run out of time... but why wouldn't he think of it immediately after Ariana's death? He was a masterful wizard at the time. Perhaps he was too distraught and, by the time he thought of using this spell on his own wand, he had run out of time.

The situation begs another question: in all of Harry Potter lore, we have seen only one spell that kills its target (Avada Kedavra) -- does Dumbledore's reaction to his possible part in Ariana's death mean that he, Aberforth and Grindelwald were duelling to the death that fateful day?

Were all three of them throwing the Avada Kedavra around as they fought a boys' fight?

Or is is possible that an already weakened Ariana succumbed to a lesser spell?

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Ah, the stories Bellatrix's wand could have told!

So I'm reading The Deathly Hallows in French and I have come to the scene at Shell Cottage where our hero trio are about to apparate to Diagon Alley to attempt to break into Gringott's.

Hermione expresses her horror at having to carry the captured wand of Bellatrix Lestrange. Harry tells her it should help her live the part. Ron tells her to imagine all the powerful magic that has been done with that wand.

Ron's comment only serves to make matters worse as Hermione points out, with absolute disgust, that  Bellatrix had used that exact wand to torture Neville's parents into madness and then to kill Sirius Black.

Harry's immediate reaction is one of revulsion. He expresses the wish to throw the wand away, to get as far from it as he possibly can.

It's too bad he didn't remind himself of Priori Incantatem, the spell that forces a wand to reveal the spells it has previously cast in reverse order.

We saw Priori Incantatem in the graveyard in The Goblet of Fire when Voldemort returns to bodily form -- Harry's wand forces the Dark Lord's wand to spit out shadows (albeit talking shadows) of its most recent victims, including (I believe erroneously) Cedric Diggory and Harry's parents -- and, earlier in the seventh novel, Harry reminds Hermione and Ron that, by using Priori Incantatem on Hermione's lost wand, the Death Eaters will soon learn that Harry's original wand had been broken.

In that graveyard scene, remember, the shadows that emerged from Voldemort's wand of his recent victims were actually able to speak to Harry and to take steps to protect him as he made his escape. In a way, while simply shadows of spells past, they were also thinking beings.

So it's too bad that Harry doesn't think to perform Priori Incantatem on Bellatrix's wand so as to get a chance to speak, at least briefly, to his godfather. I'm not sure what good it would have done any one, to be honest -- it's not like Sirius would have any great insights into the Deathly Hallows or how to break into Gringott's or what the last three Horcruxes were -- but it might have given Harry, Hermione and Ron a welcome moment with their beloved mentor.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

A worthy home for Harry Potter

Wand on top, movies, books, special books
If you are like me, your Harry Potter collection is getting a little bit out of hand. Even if you limit yourself to the original seven novels (and eight movies), even if you refuse to purchase each new edition of the books as they are released, your probably are starting to amass quite a pile of Harry Potter related stuff.

What do you do?

Naturally, you choose a book shelf some where in your house and put all of your HP books there. You might even put your DVDs or Blu Rays there. But it doesn't seem enough, does it?

Are you really showing your allegiance to Harry and the wondrous Rowling World by shelving her books beside your copies of The Hunger Games? No way.

Feeling that I was doing a disservice to my Harry Potter passion and realizing that I wasn't showing my collection to advantage, I decided to commission a carpenter friend Robb to build me a custom-made, carefully measured Harry Potter book shelf.

It's oak, stained dark to look like the wood from which the Nimbus 2000's handle is made, and it has beautifully carved accents: the glasses and lightning scar at the top, the HP on the sides and even the Nimbus 2000 logo hidden on the right of the bottom shelf.

I just got the final product yesterday and, as you can see by the photos, it is spectacular.

Note the HP carved on the sides
My official HP wand holds the place of honour, on the top shelf, just below the inscribed glasses and lightning scar. On the second shelf, you'll find the Blu Ray movies and all of the Jim Dale audio books on CD. Below that, the books themselves: seven novels in English (plus a second copy of The Deathly Hallows that I literally read to pieces), the seven novels in Menard's wonderful French translations, and finally the ancillary canonical books from Rowling herself, accompanied by a couple of other odd Potter-related works.

The bottom shelf is still a work in progress. On the left, a limited special edition hard cover copy of The Philosopher's Stone that I picked up at the Studio Tour in England. In the centre, the first of the illustrated versions of the Harry Potter novels (the shelf is scaled for this book -- I can only trust that the next six will be the same dimensions) and finally my studio tour guide book. I plan to add my hand-knit Gryffindor scarf (thanks Lynn) to the bottom shelf as well, at least until the other illustrated books join the collection.

I have to admit, I'm arguing with myself as to whether or not I should add my copy of The Cursed Child to the shelf. It was such an awful piece of work, it wasn't written by J.K. herself and I don't consider it canonical so I probably won't honour it by placing it here.

That leaves the question: do I add the script for Fantastic Beasts when it comes out? It was written by Rowling so it should probably be considered both canonical and worthy of inclusion on my shelf. But I'll have to think about that.

To be honest, I'm not even sure the film versions deserve to be there but many HP fans might consider their exclusion to be nothing short of heretical.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Why didn't the Trace give young Tom away?

I still haven't been able to figure out the "Trace" and, to be honest, I'm not sure J.K. has either.

If I recall correctly, the Trace was first mentioned, perhaps not by name, in The Chamber of Secrets when Harry receives a warning from the Ministry after Dobby's infamous Hover Charm that dropped a big frothy dessert on Aunt Marge. As it developed, the Trace is explained as some kind of charm that attaches (automatically?) to underage witches and wizards to permit the Ministry to "trace" when they perform feats of magic outside school and only lifts once the particular person comes of age.

I wonder, by the way, if the Trace is what permits Hogwarts to locate Muggle-borns with magical powers and then invite them to enroll when they become of school age. But that's an aside...

In The Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore explains to Harry that the Ministry "can detect Magic, but not the perpetrator" -- that the Trace gives Ministry officials notice only that an act of magic has been performed in the vicinity of an underage witch or wizard. If there are adult witches or wizards nearby, the Ministry simply assumes the magical act was performed by an adult and takes no action. Further, Dumbledore tells Harry that the Ministry cannot tell the difference between House Elf magic and human magic, so Harry took the blame for Dobby's Hover Charm.

A lot is made of the Trace in The Deathly Hallows since Harry, who doesn't turn seventeen until his birthday during the summer before seventh year, cannot start his search for the Horcruxes until the Trace is lifted. After his seventeenth birthday, when Harry, Hermione and Ron encounter Death Eaters in the coffee shop immediately after fleeing the Weasley wedding, Hermione wonders whether perhaps the Voldemort-controlled Ministry has found a way to keep the Trace on Harry even though he is now of age.

Ron objects: it's not possible, he says. The lifting of the Trace at 17 is wizarding law.

So that's the stage against which I ask the following question: in the HBP, why did the Ministry not know immediately, via the Trace, that an underage Tom Riddle had performed the three Avada Kedavra spells that killed his father and grand parents?

Dumbledore explains to Harry that the Ministry did not trace young Tom's magical acts in Morfin's presence because they simply assumed the adult wizard (Morfin) had performed them. But he also tells Harry that "we can be fairly sure what happened. Voldemort Stupefied his uncle, took his wand, and proceed across the valley to 'the big house over the way'. There he murdered the Muggle man who had abandoned his mother, and, for good measure, his Muggle grandparents."

Yet, the Ministry failed to recognise that it was young Tom who killed his Muggle parents, an act that was apparently witnessed by no other person, Muggle or Magical. Should not the Trace have made it very clear to the Ministry that the three Avada Kedavra spells were cast by the only magical person in the vicinity, the under-age Tom Riddle?

Is it possible that Tom forced Morfin to accompany him when he visited the Riddle house to commit the murders, thus leading the Ministry to be more ready to blame Morfin? That would have made the act much more difficult to accomplish, especially without attracting notice from passersby, but it would at least address the potential Trace-related issue.

Another side question arises: why would the Ministry not place a Taboo on the three Unforgiveable Curses so that they have instant notice that the curse has been used and can arrest the culprit immediately? Sure, the Taboo likely only works on words that are spoken out loud (rather than simply thought) but I don't recall a single instance when Avada Kedavra is used, for example, that it is used nonverbally.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Burrow burnt; the Burrow rebuilt

So I'm watching the last three Harry Potter films... just because. I don't particularly like them but, once in a while, I feel the need to see them again. Especially when I am re-reading the novels.

As I read The Half-Blood Prince (in French), I thought I'd throw in the Blu Ray of the movie version, which led to where I am now, with The Deathly Hallows, Part I, in the Blu Ray player, watching the opening scenes.

And it occurs to me, as it has several times before, to ask the question: if the film-makers decided to take the creative liberty in the sixth movie of introducing an all new scene in which Bellatrix, Greyback and several other Death Eaters attack and finally burn the Burrow to the ground, why is that particular domicile back at the start of the seventh film, rebuilt exactly as it was?

The Burrow was always, in novels and films, a ramshackle collection of rooms, pieced together over years and years, making no sense, comfortable almost in spite of itself. In the books, it never burned so there was no reason for Mr. and Mrs. Weasley to rebuild it into a more practical, more comfortable structure.

In the film, however, we see the Burrow completely engulfed in flames and we get a close up of Molly Weasley, standing by, helpless, as it burns to ashes.

By the time the seventh film starts, however, the Burrow is back in one piece. Exactly the same ramshackle, ill-designed piece that burned only a few months before. Why not improve it? Why not make it a more sturdy structure, bigger, better designed,with better flow, better light, better everything?

Sure, you can tell me that the Weasley's made the decision to rebuild the Burrow exactly as it was before out of a sense of history, of sentiment, of not wanting to lose their "home". But it makes no sense to me.

Is it possible the film-makers simply forgot that they burned it to the ground????

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Is Snape really speaking directly to the readers?

Do you think it's possible that J.K. Rowling wrote the scene near the start of The Half-Blood Prince in which Narcissa and Bellatrix visit Snape at least in part to respond to suspicions raised by her readers?

As you no doubt know, the question of whether or not Snape is on the side of good or the side of evil is one of the principal tensions that underlies the greater story arc of the seven Harry Potter novels and one that the author cultivates very carefully.

Rowling is so effective at maintaining that tension, at keeping the truth hidden, that the revelation of Snape's true story at the climax of The Deathly Hallows is one of many emotional highlights of the entire series.

By the time J.K. started to write the six novel, the Snape conundrum was already the subject of much discussion and debate among fans. Rowling gives us a great deal of material to support the argument that Snape is a Death Eater and has not renounced his evil ways. She also gives us some grounds to support the argument that he is not, grounds that many readers latched onto to suggest that Rowling (as an extremely clever writer) was pulling the wool over our eyes.

In the scene at Spinner's End, Rowling gives Snape the chance to defend himself from those who argue that he is not a true Death Eater, that he is a spy for Dumbledore. And she does it very cleverly, by having another major, fearsome character challenge him with just the kinds of suspicions that her readers had at that point in time.

It's a great scene. And an effective one. Snape takes the time to address everyone one of Bella's concerns and, in doing so, convinces the reader as well.

Amazingly, one of the main planks of Snape's argument is that Voldermort himself has accepted Snape's explanations. We are convinced because Voldemort has been convinced.

Rowling quite brilliantly address our concerns as readers by referring to an authority that she herself created. I don't know about you but, when I first read the Spinner's End scene in THBP, I said to myself: "That's right. Snape convinced Voldemort so he can't possibly be a spy for Dumbledore. The Dark Lord would be able to see right through any form of deception".

And I was satisfied with that. As Rowling wished me to be. And I was blown away by the revelation at the end of the series.

It's great writing. But I also wonder if it was writing that responded to the fans of the books (a consideration outside the magical world of the novels) as much as to the reality created within the book itself.


A chance Potter encounter in a strange place

I am currently reading The Half-Blood Prince in French. Yes, I've made it that far... I am quite proud of myself and very much enjoying this new way of reading Harry Potter.

And it led to an interesting conversation with a blood technician at our local hospital. I was sent, you see, to have blood drawn for some routine tests and, thinking I would likely have to wait in several lines for an hour or more at the hospital, I brought my HP book with me..

Surprise! Surprise!

With their new scheduling and check-in system, the hospital has actually managed to streamline its process immensely and I spent no longer than 5 minutes in total waiting. Impressive.

It turns out the young technician who took my blood was both a native French speaker and a Harry Potter fan. He spotted my book immediately and complimented my on my taste in literature. This led to a conversation about what it's like to read Harry Potter originally in French.

He laughed at my questions about the challenges posed by reading an English book in its French translation in which, while most characters speak English, several recurring characters speak French or, at times, English with a French accent.

I asked him specifically how a French reader would deal with the situation, as takes place in The Goblet of Fire, where the main characters (who are English but, in the French translation, are speaking French) encounter a group of Beauxbatons students (who are French and are, in the French translation, are still speaking French) and yet cannot understand each other.

He thought it was an interesting question. "I guess," he said, his eyes wide, "that we just naturally read it with the understanding that they are speaking different languages, even though they are both written as if they are speaking French."

Then he realised how bizarre his statement sounded and laughed out loud.

But it made sense to me. In order to cope, French readers of Harry Potter must make some mental note that differentiates between the English speaking characters and the French speaking ones.

It was a fun and interesting conversation, one that made what I had anticipated would be a difficult experience actually rather enjoyable.

Two other thoughts that arose in this context:

1. Despite the fact that I have always been angry that Scholastic Books in the U.S. required that the original books be "Americanized" for publication in the States, I have come to realise that it would be more profitable if I treated the Scholastic Books version as translations of the original: from English to American.

2. On several occasions now, I have noticed that the French translator (Menard) has substituted appropriate French metaphors and sayings for the English ones that Rowling originally included. There is so much more to translating a novel than simply translating the words!!!!

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Cursed Play and the death of subtlety

That must be some production in London to be getting all those rave reviews.

Because, having now read the "Special Rehearsal Edition Script" of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Parts 1 and 2), I can tell you: it's a really bad play.

Worse still, it's bad Harry Potter.

I had high hopes for The Cursed Play, looking forward to seeing what J.K. Rowling, who (to my mind) is a brilliant, masterful writer of prose, would do with a Harry Potter script. Could she translate her remarkable gifts into this very different style of writing?

But this play was not written by Rowling: it was written by Jack Thorne, "based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne", according to the new book's cover.

What exactly does that mean? It's clear that J.K. has endorsed The Cursed Play -- she promotes it every chance she gets -- but how much input did she really have in the its writing?

From the quality of the written script, I would say, "Not much".

The plot is as complicated and silly as they come. Albus makes friends with Scorpius, two loners who find each other as they try to survive their first year at Hogwarts, each struggling under the weight of his real or suspected lineage.

Albus hates his father (though we're never sure exactly why) and so, when he overhears Harry Potter refuse old Amos Diggory's request that he use a newly discovered Time Turner to go back to the Tri-Wizard Tournament and save Amos' son Cedric, Albus decides that he and Scorpius must steal the Time Turner, save Cedric and put his father forever in his place.

All kinds of mayhem ensues, including multiple incursions into the past, the creation of several alternate (and successively darker) timelines, extensive dream sequences, murder, deceit, and the inevitable return of Lord Voldemort.

Thorne manages to introduce or mention just about every character of any stature from the original seven Harry Potter novels, to revisit location after location from those books and to raise for discussion most of the major emotional themes Rowling wove so carefully into her original story.

It's like really bad fan fiction. Or like a rabid Potter fan wrote down every character, location and theme they could think of, threw the list at the playwright and said: "Write a play that mentions every one of these, no matter how long and convoluted it becomes." And Thorne seems to have accepted that challenge as ranking in importance above any need to structure the plot, for example.

Worse still, Thorne's dialogue is remarkably bland and banal. If he isn't copying directly (or at least, semi-directly, with whatever revisions he sees fit to make) from the books themselves, Thorne is typing out long-winded, white-bread dialogue the voice and diction of which changes little from character to character and which often has characters displaying remarkable, unbelievable levels of self-awareness.

Whereas Rowling managed to tailor her dialogue perfectly to her different characters, to create unique voices for each (using everything from word choice to the rhythm of their speech), Thorne uses a one-voice-fits-all kind of approach. I guess he figures he should leave it to the actors to give his dialogue personality. To some extent, that approach makes sense but it doesn't excuse the absolute lack of personality in the dialogue.

I can imagine that the stage production of the play is fantastic. The budget must be enormous to create underwater scenes, dream sequences, wand duels and all kinds of magical effects. Add to that a total of 75 scenes across four acts and a cast of more than 30 actors playing uncountable numbers of roles.

What really worries me, however, is that The Cursed Play does not even seem to me to be good Harry Potter.

For example, isn't it well established that no witch or wizard could even see the Potters' home in Godric's Hollow while James and Lily were still alive unless they had been told where it is by the Secret Keeper, on account of Dumbledore's powerful Fidelius Charm? So how do Scorpius and Albus look in its windows when they arrive to intercept Delphi?

And isn't it also well established that Polyjuice Potion takes months to brew? If so, then how do Scorpius, Albus and Delphi manage to get some for their highly derivative incursion into the Ministry? And why do they ever consider using it in Godric's Hollow?

And, although never clear, isn't it true that Harry's scar hurt because 1) he had a bit of Voldemort's soul inside him and 2) Voldemort was either nearby or really emotional? So how come Harry's scar hurts in this book when the bit of soul is gone and Voldemort is long dead and nowhere near?

And why does the transfiguration of Harry wear off?

Those are small questions. Even more problematic in my mind are the several scenes of dialogue in which characters attempt to address moral, philosophical or emotional questions left hanging in the original novels. Particularly egregious among these is that awful scene in Act Four, Scene Four where Harry and Dumbledore (through the former headmaster's portrait) manage to say all the things that were left unsaid at the end of The Deathly Hallows and to pledge their eternal love for each other.

It's bad enough that anyone attempts to write a scene like this when Rowling went to such great lengths to create a lovely, balanced, strife-ridden, subtle, often unspoken relationship between the two major characters. It's worse when it's someone of the evidently limited talents of the current playwright.

Perhaps the greatest sin of The Cursed Play is that it puts the lovely subtlety of J.K. Rowling's original novels to a slow, agonizing death.

I'm not sure what's going on with Rowling. For a long time, she seemed prepared to leave Harry Potter behind, to view the seven original novels as perfect and complete. She turned her attentions (and prodigious talents) to other projects, including the creditable series of detective novels she penned under the name Richard Galbraith.

Now, she can't seem to leave Potter alone. We've got a new movie, this new play and, from what I saw when I picked up my copy at my local big-box bookstore, a veritable gift shop full of new Harry Potter paraphernalia, cheap plastic tidbits that years ago Rowling delighted in decrying.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The year of behaving badly

I have written over and over again on the subject of how hard I find it to read The Order of the Phoenix. This is a gloomy, claustrophobic novel in which no one... and I mean no one... behaves well.

Of course, the antagonists -- Dolores Umbridge, Draco and Lucius Malfoy, Cornelius Fudge, even Percy Weasley, Voldemort -- are insufferable. That's to be expected.

But even the so-called "good guys" are not at their best.

Mundungus Fletcher leaves his post and permits Harry to be attacked by Dementors.

Sirius Black is childish and moody throughout most of the book. putting his own unhappiness ahead of the interests of his godson, Harry.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley treat the teenagers like toddlers and refuse to let them in on what's going on with the Order of the Phoenix. Further, they fail entirely to prepare Harry adequately for the trial at the Ministry.

Professor McGonagall seems oblivious to Harry's suffering while at Hogwarts, continually chastising him for letting Umbridge upset him rather than helping him, counseling him on why his suffering is necessary and how he can better endure it.

Professor Dumbledore's behaviour is inexplicably abhorrent. He literally abandons Harry in his hour of need and leaves Harry to suffer the horrors of Umbridge without any support whatsoever. Okay, Dumbledore worries that Voldemort will use the connection between his mind and Harry's to try to spy on Dumbledore so the Headmaster doesn't want to interact with Harry face to face... but why not send him a series of letters, explaining the concerns, outlining what's happening and guiding him as to how to proceed?

You would think that, through all this, Ron and Hermione at least would behave appropriately. But Ron spends the book caught up in his own Quidditch-inspired malaise while Hermione... well, Hermione is awe-inspiring in her insipidness.

Every time the young people get a chance to speak to an Order member and obtain much needed reassurance and guidance, Hermione loses focus completely and goes off on Elf-rights tangents. She knows Harry is desperate for counsel from Sirius and yet, when Harry's godfather appears one evening in the common room fire, Hermione makes the whole, time-limited interaction about how Sirius shouldn't be taking risks and how Sirius should be treating Kreacher better.

It doesn't seem to occur to her that Harry really really really needs to talk to his godfather.

Sirius' own petulant pouting during that conversation is also way over the top.

Hermione is at her worst in Umbridge's Defence Against the Dark Arts classes. While Harry must be faulted for his own inability to control his temper in the face of the obnoxious Ministry hag, Hermione is the one who set matches to gasoline by challenging Umbridge in not one but two consecutive classes.

What is she thinking? What can she possibly be thinking? Hermione is smart enough to understand that the only way she, Harry and the rest of the students can possibly survive Umbridge and the Minister's interference is to keep their heads down and stay quiet. Yet, she goes out of her way to create conflict and confrontation and then has the unmitigated gall to admonish Harry for getting caught up in the fire she herself has created.

There are times I wonder if J.K. Rowling went too far in this book, if she let the narratorial imperative of isolating and abusing Harry in the first half of the novel cause her to undermine the consistency of her carefully established central characters.

The fact of the matter is, Dumbledore is not the insensitive clod that he is portrayed as in The Order of the Phoenix; Hermione is smarter and more sensible than the character who appears in this book.

It is possible that, in her understandable campaign to put Harry into a terrible, lonely, vulnerable and suffering situation in his fifth year at Hogwarts, Rowling lost track of who her characters really are?

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Why does no one blame Harry for Cedric's death?

I hereby apologise to J.K. Rowling for all of the nitpicking in which I indulge in this blog. She has created a remarkably complex, fascinating and consistent world in the seven Harry Potter novels and, considering the intricacy of the many plots and subplots, she leaves surprisingly few holes for detail-oriented people with all the time in the world (like me) to exploit.

That being said, let me ask this:
1) if the official stand of the Ministry of Magic is that Harry Potter and Cedric Diggory were not transported to the graveyard, that Cedric Diggory was not murdered by Peter Pettigrew in that graveyard and that Voldemort did not return to full power at the end of The Goblet of Fire; and
2) if the Ministry wishes to discredit Harry Potter for claiming that Voldemort has, in fact, returned; and
3) if Cedric Diggory died at the end of Tri-Wizard Tournament when the only person, according to the Ministry's version of events, who was near or with him was Harry Potter;


Fleur Delacour had already been removed from the maze. Victor Krum had been stunned and was out of action. It would seem an easy thing for the Ministry to lay the blame for Cedric's death at the feet of Harry, the only other person then inside the maze.

Even if they didn't want to charge him with murder (and face the possibility of being forced to admit they could not prove the charge), at least they could use the power of the press and the power of public opinion to suggest that he was in some way to blame. And to suggest that Harry's insistence that Voldemort has returned is simply an attempt to throw the blame for Cedric's death elsewhere.

I don't recall a single moment in the fifth, sixth or seventh books when anyone (friend, foe or Death Eater) even implies that Harry might be responsible for the death of Cedric Diggory. I wonder why.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

The imperfect choice for Prefect

Help me figure something out. I'm re-reading The Order of the Phoenix and I've just come to the part where Ron and Hermione receive their Prefect badges from Hogwarts.

A big deal is made about the fact that Harry was not chosen instead of Ron -- everyone thought he would be -- and, if I recall correctly, Dumbledore will eventually explain to Harry, at the end of the book, that he didn't want to put any more pressure on our hero than he was already facing.

Good enough.

But tell me why Dumbledore would name Draco Malfoy a prefect for Slytherin. The headmaster is well aware that Draco's dad is a confirmed Death Eater. He knows that Draco is Harry's nemesis and that, with the powers of a Prefect, Draco would have a great deal more power to bother, upset and harass Harry throughout the year.

So why, if Dumbledore is worried about putting too much additional pressure on Harry, does he name Draco a Prefect? Why not someone else? Even Crabbe or Goyle would be a better choice, since they are too stupid to be really harmful to Harry. Even if Draco is telling them what to do, their thickness would provide something of a buffer and the fact that Dumbledore refused to recognize Draco as a Prefect should make Harry feel a little bit better about being passed over.

The only think I can think of is that the Ministry intervened in these choices as well. Maybe Lucius paid Fudge to force Dumbledore to name Draco as Prefect. We see Draco's dad and the Minister of Magic together at the start of the book -- perhaps that's when the demand was made and granted.

I simply cannot believe Dumbledore would make this choice on his own.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Umbridge a Death Eater?

This will show you how really attentive a reader I am -- I just realized, as I re-read the first chapter of The Order of the Phoenix for the 20-somethingth time, that Dolores Umbridge sent the Dementors to Little Whinging to kill Harry Potter on that hot summer night.

She wasn't playing around. She took it upon herself, without any consultation with Cornelius Fudge or anyone else, to send the most heinous of magical creatures into Surrey to kill an innocent 15-year-old boy who had committed no crime but witness the rebirth of the Dark Lord and return to tell about it.


I mean, these Dementors meant business. They arrived, attacked and were ready to perform the Kiss on Dudley, an even more innocent bystander in all this, without wasting any time at all.

We only learn at the end of the novel that it was Umbridge who, on her own initiative, sent them to attack Harry but, in retrospect, this action says a great deal about this delightful lady.

She could not have known that Harry was so capable with the old Patronus Charm. We can't give her the benefit of the doubt by arguing that she sent the Dementors to force Harry to perform magic so that the Ministry would then have some grounds to snap his wand and expel him from Hogwarts.

She was trying to kill him.

Why? For upsetting Fudge? For making him look bad?

Is it possible that Umbridge is actually a Death Eater who is simply never identified as such? That she is acting on the Dark Lord's orders, trying to kill the Boy Who Lived after Voldemort failed to do so in the graveyard?

If she isn't a Death Eater, Doesn't her decision to try to have the Dementors kill Harry seem like a bit of an over-reaction under the circumstances? To kill Harry just because he represents the only real evidence available that Voldemort has returned?

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Casting aspersions -- Race and the Cursed Child

Some people on social media don't seem to like the idea of a black Hermione.

As you are no doubt aware, when J.K. Rowling's new post-Voldemort play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, debuts in London's west end this summer, it will feature respected actress Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione Granger.

The uproar is because of the colour of Ms. Dumezweni's skin. They have taken to social media to express their outrage that a black actress has been cast in the role. Hermione, the complainers state, is white -- she is described as white in the books, she's portrayed as white in the films, that means she's white.

As "proof", they point out that, in one scene in the books at least, Hermione's face is described as having "turned white" in response to a shock, which they feel is definitive proof that the character is written as being white.

Rowling rebuts the assertion that the Hermione of her canonical novels is described as white by pointing out that physical descriptions of the character in the books lend themselves to any number of racial makeups, not just white. Further, she points out that she never once states categorically that Hermione, or any other character for that matter, is Caucasian.

If I recall correctly, some segments of social media were also outraged when actress Willow Smith, an African-American, was cast as the character Rue, an angelic and highly sympathetic young girl, in the first Hunger Games movie.

The whole argument makes me very sad, both that people out there have to get up in arms about these casting decisions and that Rowling herself feels the need to wade in to take them on.

I wish I could believe that the people who protest having Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione or Willow Smith in the role of Rue were expressing their outrage because they are genuinely concerned with the sanctity of canon, genuinely interested in ensuring that the new versions stayed true to the original books.

After all, I myself get hung up sometimes in how the stories I love are changed, and not often for the better, when they are adapted to the movie media. It's never on the issue of the race of the actors cast, mind you, but still, I do resent when film adaptations make changes to the original simply for the sake of change.

But it's not loyalty that I see here. After all, I didn't see the same uproar when the filmmakers made hundreds, nay thousands of changes to the original Harry Potter books in making their eight movies. We didn't see protests about how Neville was changed, or what happened with Luna, or Snape or Dumbledore or... Well, you get the picture.

What seems to me to be going on here is, as Rowling recently said, racism pure and simple.

The issue does not seem to be that a character who was, whether legitimately or not, thought to be white in the original book is portrayed by a black actor/actress. The issue seems to me to be that a beloved, noble, admirable, sympathetic, leading character  who was, whether legitimately or not, thought to be white in the original book is portrayed by a black actor/actress.

Further, I wonder if the mere fact that the character in question was a beloved, noble, admirable, sympathetic, leading character didn't actually influence these readers into believing, despite significant evidence to the contrary (in the case of Rue) or no real evidence either way (in the case of Hermione), that the character was written originally as white.

In other words, if we love the character, she must be white. If we find her noble, admirable or sympathetic, she can't be black.

Others have presented this question even more starkly, suggesting that the people complaining about the casting of Rue as an African-American were thinking: "I cried when this character died -- I would never cry at the death of a black character, therefore she cannot be black."

It gets scary, doesn't it?

The racism seems to be so deeply ingrained that at least some of the people complaining about the black Hermione might not even recognize the racist roots of their feelings.

I don't really have any hope of seeing Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, with Noma Dumezweni in the role of the adult Hermione, but I really wish I could. I expect the play to have a fantastic run in London's west end and I hope to see it mounted, with diverse actors, in Canada soon.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Spare parts and Diggory's death

Death is a part of Harry Potter. We all know that. The entire series of novels is set into motion by the brutal murder of Lily and James Potter and an almost unspeakably ruthless act -- the attempt to murder an infant, just over a year old.

I would argue, however, that it is the matter-of-fact, entirely needless murder of Cedric Diggory at the end of book four that provides the series its most brutal moment.

Diggory does not need to die. Rowling could have spared him simply by having him touch the Tri-Wizard Cup a split second later than Harry and get left behind in the maze while Harry is hurtled hundreds of miles to the graveyard to face the Dark Lord. Voldemort could have spared Diggory simply by ordering Wormtail to stun him and forget about him, rather than kill him. Wormtail could have refused to kill him, could have chosen to stun Diggory simply because his murder is such a brutal, needless, cruel act.

Diggory's death is not necessary to the rest of the plot of The Goblet of Fire. After Harry brings his body back to Hogwarts, we see one immediate scene as the shock of Diggory's murder spreads through the crowd and sends his father into grieving hysterics, but no plot point, no future development hinges on Diggory being dead.

Diggory's death is important, however, and perhaps my comment above that "Diggory does not need to die" is not entirely accurate. Cedric dies because Rowling needs to send a clear, ruthless message -- to the characters who are on the side of good in the books and to us as readers -- that Voldemort is back and as brutal as he ever was. With this scene in the graveyard, everything changes.

We are no longer reading simple young-adult fiction where, if death occurs, it occurs off stage, it is crucial to the plot and it occurs for a reason. No, we're reading stories about the most evil sorcerer the world has ever seen, under whose rule death is a common-place, everyday thing, death occurs as often and as casually as the arrival of the owl post, the teaching of classes, the eating of meals.

When Voldemort, still in his almost powerless, infant form, hisses to Wormtail, "Kill the spare," the universe changes. We, as readers, learn that Rowling will pull no punches from here on out. Evil will be evil in every sense of the word. And we learn that Voldemort's cruelty knows no bounds. He will kill with impunity, almost without thought, certainly without remorse. And finally, we learn that Voldemort's followers will carry out his most cruel, most senseless orders without question, without consideration of morality.

And the word "spare" is important. It hits us like a hammer. In the Dark Lord's mind, Cedric Diggory is not a young man, filled with hope of a bright future, kind, funny, handsome, beloved by his family and his friends... he is a spare part to the story, an accidental element that must be swept aside for Voldemort to achieve his goals.

In the French translation, Voldemort hisses "Tue l'autre". This translates, as far as I understand, as "Kill the other". It makes sense, sure, but I'm not sure it has the impact of "Kill the spare." I'm not sure it sends the same ruthless message.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Decisions, descisions: what if Harry had failed at the second task?

J.K. Rowling writes suspense scenes very very well. Even after more than 20 readings, there are still sections of her books that I simply cannot force myself to read slowly. I get so caught up in the suspense, I just fly through the section.

One such passage is the part in The Goblet of Fire where Harry, Hermione and Ron rush to figure out a way for Harry to gain the ability to breathe under water for at least an hour for the second task of the TriWizard Tournament. As you will recall, the three work desperately together in the library for about a month, then, the day before the task, Hermione and Ron are called away and Harry continues to research, even as the final hours before the task fly past.

Finally, Dobby saves the day, first by waking Harry in the library ten minutes before the task is to begin and second by providing Harry with the magic plant gillyweed, that gives him gills.

After dashing through the section, however, and forcing myself to start to get ready for work, it occurred to me: what if J.K. had decided to let Harry fail on this task? Would it have made any difference at all to the outcome of the book?

As a writer of middling success, I am fascinated by the writing process of talented and successful authors. I am amazed at the number of decisions writers have to make with almost every paragraph of their books, decisions that will have a significant impact on the rest of the novel.

So we have Ms. Rowling, planning out her fourth Harry Potter novel, and deciding: Harry has to be successful in all three tasks; he has to be the fastest to get the egg from the dragon; he has to show his moral fiber in completing the second task; and he has to agree to a tie with Cedric Diggory at the end of the third task.

The book is fantastic so I have no quibble with these decisions but... how would the book have changed if J.K. had decided to have Harry fail in task one or two or both?

The structure of the third task is such that even a failure in one of the two earlier tasks does not eliminate a champion from the competition. Fleur does not complete the second task but the result is only that she is penalized in having to wait to enter into the maze for the third task until some time after the competition leaders, Harry and Cedric, have already gone in.

Fleur still has a chance to win.

Dobby comes through and saves the day for Harry in the second task. But what if he had not done so? What if Harry had been forced to go to the lake, stick his head under the water and yell at the MerPeople to release Ron, as Ron had suggested earlier?

Clearly, we would lose Harry`s demonstration of moral fiber in deciding to sacrifice time at the bottom of the lake in order to save all of the captured kids. But we would also lose the questionable decision of the judges to award him extra points for his moral fiber, since the rules of the Tournament never mentioned anything about the possibility of such extra points being earned. Who knows, if Cedric or Viktor or Fleur had known that such points were available, they might have approached the task differently.

I have never been comfortable with this arbitrary awarding of points in the second task so, from my point of view, it would have been nice if it could have been avoided.

Had Harry failed in the second task, he would have been the last to enter the maze for the third task. He would have followed Cedric, Viktor and Fleur into the bushes. But is that so big a deal? He would still have been able to make up the time, especially since Viktor falls victim to a spell and Fleur falls victim to Viktor. All Harry would have had to do was catch up to Cedric. No problem in a maze of this kind.

I would think further that, had Harry failed at the second task, the pressure would have been on Barty Crouch Junior to be even more aggressive in intervening in the third task to make sure Harry got to the Goblet-Port Key first. That might have made the third task even more exciting.

My best guess is that Rowling treated each task as a separate little plot that required its own conflict, its own rising action and suspense, its own crisis point and its own climax. Further, she must have felt that, given the extremely unhappy resolution to the entire novel (Cedric is dead and Voldemort has returned to full power), she wanted to have the first two mini-plots resolve in positive ways (Harry is successful in each of the first two tasks) so as to make the final scenes in the graveyard and Harry`s ultimate failure (to save Cedric and to stop Voldemort) that much more surprising and effective.

It`s a brilliant strategy -- as the novel develops, Rowling puts a series of significant obstacles in Harry`s way and permits him to overcome them successfully, creating a false sense of security and positive energy entering the final task and the triumph of evil over good in the graveyard scene.

Still, I wonder if Rowling ever considered letting Harry fail at one of the early tasks, of ramping up the pressure on him (Fleur would feel vindicated in her belief that he was too young, Cedric supporters would be even more aggressive, Slytherin people even more nasty, Rita Skeeter would have had even more about which to write, Harry`s supporters would have been even more under pressure to buoy his spirits and Barty Crouch Junior even more desperate to get Harry to the finish line).

That`s the wonderful, challenging thing about the creative art of writing -- every decision the writer makes impacts the novel in significant, often unexpected ways.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Viktor goes for an icy swim

I am a huge Harry Potter fan (why else would I have this blog?).

I have read each of the seven Harry Potter novels at least 20 times and likely more often. I have listened to the novels on CD several times and am now in the process of reading them again in their French translations. I have watched the eight movies numerous times too.

You would think that, after all that, it would not be possible for me to learn something new about the stories in a subsequent re-reading.

Well, you would be wrong to think that.

I am currently reading The Goblet of Fire in French. It's great. It's fun and face-paced and the first really complicated, more adult of the novels.

I am at the point in the novel where Rita Skeeter has revealed to the wizarding world Hagrid's scandalous secret -- that he is a half-giant. Hagrid is in hiding. Harry decides he wants to go to Hogsmeade on the Saturday in hopes of finding his massive friend and telling him to stop being silly and to come back to work.

As Harry, Hermione and Ron walk across the frigid grounds of Hogwarts towards the gates, they see Viktor Krum emerge onto the deck of the Durmstrang ship, strip down to his bathing suit and dive into the icy waters of the school's lake. In response to Harry's expression of shock at Krum's decision to brave the cold, Hermione explains that Durmstrang is located in a much colder climate and that Krum probably finds the water to be quite temperate.

And off they go to Hogsmeade, Krum's odd behavior drifting from their minds -- and from mine as well.

Did you know that, after all my readings of the novel, this is the first time I made the connection that Krum's decision to go for a swim must be connected to the clue in the golden egg for the second task? That he might just be out for a swim to explore the lake and perhaps scout out the path to the Merpeople's village?

I permitted Hermione (and Rowling) to convince me it was just quirky behavior on the part of the Durmstrang champion and to think nothing further of it.

How clever are they? How stupid am I to be so easily led astray? And what of Harry?

Cedric Diggory has already given him the cryptic clue about taking the egg into the bath, a clue neither Harry nor we as readers are ready to accept as being legitimate and honest.

And here is a second champion making a very strange decision, one that is also directly related to immersing oneself in water.

I can't believe I missed this. I can't believe Harry missed it. If Harry had shared Cedric's hint with Hermione, I am sure she would have connected the dots and pointed out to Harry that Krum's mid-winter swim must be related to the egg and the second task.

So, while I find myself amazed that I have failed to make this connection until now, I am somewhat comforted by the fact that Harry didn't make the connection either.

Once Krum worked out the clue, his ability to swim in the cold winter water of the Hogwart's lake must have given him a distinct advantage over the other champions in that he had months to explore the lake and plan his strategy.

It seems so obvious now...

Friday, May 6, 2016

18 years later, still a waiting list

I was standing in the local public library today on my lunch hour, checking out the books on offer at their standing book sale, when I heard the following conversation:

Staff Member: "No, The Philosopher's Stone is the first one."

Man with small child: "Oh, then which is the second one?"

Staff Member: "The second one? That's The Chamber of Secrets."

Man with small child: "Then that's the one I want."

Staff Member, checking her computer: "Sorry, sir, all copies of The Chamber of Secrets are currently out with clients. Would you like to go on a waiting list?"

My jaw dropped for two reasons: 1) that there could be a single person in the English-speaking world who doesn't already know the titles of the Harry Potter books in their proper order (smile); and 2) that 18 years after it was published, The Chamber of Secrets is still in such demand at my local public library that there is a waiting list to borrow it.

I think it is great that the Harry Potter novels continue to be popular, both in book stores and in libraries. I would think that most successful books are released, enjoy a period of popularity in book stores, a longer period of popularity in libraries, then fade away again, only to re-emerge if and when they are made into movies.

But J.K. Rowling's novels seem to be maintaining a high level of popularity even 18 years after they were published!

I also think it's neat that the man who was inquiring about the Harry Potter books seemed to be about 30 years old and his son maybe 4 or 5. That means that a guy who perhaps read HP when he was 12 is getting ready to read them again, perhaps with his own child, two decades later.

I had to stop myself from rushing over and offering the man a sermon on the wonders of Harry Potter, telling myself to be satisfied with the knowledge that Harry Potter lives on.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

From love interests to mother figures to school marms

I have to tread carefully here. I don't want to stir up a hornet's nest. As all of the other 300 or so posts on this blog will prove, I have a great deal of admiration and respect for J.K. Rowling and I don't want anything I say here to suggest otherwise.

But... I can't help but feeling that her portrayal of female characters in The Goblet of Fire is somewhat problematic.

There, I said it. Sorry.

Hear me out on this. I think we can all agree that the Harry Potter series is overwhelming male in its main characters. Two out of three of the central child characters are male. The main mentor characters for Harry are all male (Albus Dumbledore, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Rubeus Hagrid among them). The central villains are all male: from Dudley and Draco, to Quirrell and Lucius, to Voldemort, Snape and Peter Pettigrew.

Yes, there is Hermione... but, in Goblet, Harry admits that having Hermione as a friend is fine but is nothing compared to having Ron at his side. Read the passage that follows immediately upon Harry's successful completion of the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Though Hermione has stood staunchly by him through the trying past several months (while Ron has abandoned him in a fit of jealousy), Harry only has eyes for Ron when their relationship is suddenly repaired. In fact, Rowling herself completely writes Hermione out of the next several scenes.

Yes, there is McGonagall. But her role is almost always secondary to Dumbledore's role. In many cases, she is reduced to playing the stern school marm.

Yes, there is Mrs. Weasley. But her role is almost always secondary to that of Mr. Weasley and her boys. In almost all cases, she is reduced to playing the doting mother.

Yes, there is Bellatrix Lestrange. But she is never anything more than a lieutenant in Voldemort's army, overshadowed at first by Lucius Malfoy.

Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley are love interests and little more.

When you think about it, the three women who stand out most strongly as individuals in the entire series are Petunia Dursley, Luna Lovegood and Dolores Umbridge. And each of them plays a limited role overall.

If that's the background, let's look more closely at the depiction of women in The Goblet. Hermione plays a major role in preparing Harry for the first task but is then basically cast aside when Ron returns to the table. Hermione is left pursuing the house-elf rights subplot while Ron, Harry, Cedric, Mad-Eye, Crouch, Dumbledore, et al continue with the Tournament.

Even though she proves key to taming Rita Skeeter, the focus of the book with regard to Hermione is much more on her appearance (isn't she pretty now that she's shrunk her front teeth and put on a dress!), her romantic life and whether or not she is loyal to the boys. Even Mrs. Weasley turns on her in reaction to Rita Skeeter's fabricated article suggesting that Hermione has thrown over Harry in favour of Viktor. What ever happened to the strong relationship Hermione had developed with the Weasley family and the many instances in which she has proven herself to be a smart, capable and loyal friend to all?

The one female champion, Fleur, is a real disappointment in this book. She is portrayed as haughty and stuck up, known more for her looks than for her skills. Her performance in the first task is given short shrift while she fails to complete either the second or third tasks. Instead of coming across as a real threat to win the tournament, she is presented instead as a vain girl of limited talents who frets over her sister more than her own performance.

The fact that Hermione delights in Fleur's failures, going so far as to make fun of her for failing to get past the Grindylows, makes this portrayal all the more problematic.

Rita Skeeter is portrayed as a scheming, lying, deceitful abomination who will do anything to attract readers.

And don't even get me started on depiction of the idol-worshipping way the girls at Hogwarts react first toward Viktor Krum, then toward Cedric and finally to Harry when he proves himself in the first task.

The fact of the matter is that the female characters in this book gain their identities almost entirely as a result of their relationships with the male characters (they are loyal friends, love interests, mother figures, school marms) rather than as independent beings. This is not true of all of the Harry Potter novels but comes through very strongly, and disappointingly, in The Goblet.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Lost in Translation: on horses, hares and hairs

Hey, remember that scene in The Goblet of Fire where Madame Maxime, having just arrived at Hogwarts with her students, tells Dumbledore she wants to make sure her horses are okay and Dumbledore assures her that her hair is coiffed to perfection?  Remember how funny that was?


You don't remember that scene at all?

Well, maybe that's because it never happened. Not in the original novel. Not in the film made of that novel.

Unless you read Harry Potter in the French translation.

Then it happens.

The French words for "horses" and "hair" are very similar: "chevaux" and "cheveux", I believe. And, in an attempt to capture the fact that Madame Maxime speaks English with a heavy accent in the original novel, the French translator, Jean-Francois Menard, has her speak French with a thick accent in the French translation of the novel.

That accent involves the addition of a number of Es and Us to many of her words, which means, when she wants to refer to the massive horses that pulled the Beauxbatons carriage to Hogwarts, she uses the word "cheveux" rather than "chevaux".

Hence, Dumbledore's confusion.

It's only the second time, as I read the Potter novels in Menard's wonderful translations, that a section has jumped out at me as being quite clearly new, not in the original. And that's because the cheveux/chevaux pun could only exist in the French translation: "horse" and "hair" don't sound similar in English (though it raises the interesting prospect of the Beauxbatons carriage being drawn by massive hares, which may have led Rowling to introduce Dumbledore's confusion in the original English novel but would, ironically, not have permitted Menard to use it in the French).

Two things pop out at me, however, as a result of Madame Maxime's thick accent in French in general and the cheveux/chevaux pun in particular:
  1. Since I am reading these books, which I know so well in English, in the French translation to help me improve my French comprehension, the introduction of Madame Maxime's accent is NOT HELPING! I am already having to look up numerous terms in the French dictionary as it is, and I am already struggling to recognise when a word is a made up magic word and won't actually appear in any dictionary, so it doesn't help me one bit when the only significant character in the book who ACTUALLY SPEAKS FRENCH speaks it poorly. Arghhhhh!!!!
  2. I wonder how often Mr Menard indulges himself in this way, adding his own little jokes and comments into the French translation. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that Menard had added some dialogue among the Beauxbatons students in the darkened wood at the Quidditch World Cup -- now he's adding little jokes of his own later in the same book. Hmmm.... If I am a French-speaking Harry Potter fan, who reads the books solely (or primarily) in French, would these little additions of Menard's be considered canonical? Also, does this mean I have to read the books in all the other languages into which it has been translated, just to make sure I have read all of Potter? What does J.K. Rowling think of these kinds of translationary indulgences?
On a final note, I have to admit, this situation I find myself in where English speaking characters speak French in the French translation of the novel and French speaking characters speak French in the French translation of the book and yet they don't understand each other and then some French speaking characters speak French with a strong accent such that they are difficult to understand....

Wait a minute. Characters who speak English in the original speak French in the translation. Characters who speak French in the original speak French in the translation. Yet the first set of characters cannot understand the second set of characters and vice versa. At times, however, the second set of characters actually speak accented English in the original, which, in the translation, becomes accented French such that the first set of characters understand them better than when they are speaking normal French but not perfectly.

I am beginning to think that French readers of Harry Potter must be a heck of a lot smarter than I am in order to figure all this out.

All of that being said, Menard does a wonderful job on this translation. I found the "Unforgivable Curses" ("des Sortileges Impardonnables") scene with Moody and the fourth year class even more gripping in translation than I did in the original... and that's saying something.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Best school trip ever

I am impressed with the generosity of Madame Maxime and Beauxbatons.

In the scene I discuss (in a very confusing fashion, I am sure) in my last post, the Beauxbatons students are looking for Madame Maxime, their headmaster, as the Death Eaters terrorize the campgrounds at the Quidditch World Cup.

That would suggest that the students went to the World Cup, in England, as part of a class trip. They don't look for their parents -- they look for their headmaster.

That's a pretty awesome school trip. We learned early in The Goblet of Fire that tickets to the World Cup final are both highly sought-after and expensive. Kudos to Beauxbatons and the parents of these kids for making a class trip out of it!

Certainly Dumbledore doesn't seem to have considered taking a bunch of Hogwarts students to the game.

Of course, from a dramatic standpoint, it is helpful for J.K. to introduce the idea of other schools of witchcraft and wizardry around the world early in the novel, in a realistic way, so that when the Tri-Wizard Tournament is launched and the contingents from the rival schools arrive at Hogwarts, the big moment is not bogged down by a lot of explanation and exposition.

But, still, that's a pretty awesome class trip.

Monday, February 29, 2016

If it's French in the original English, how does it translate?

I am reading and enjoying the French translations of the Harry Potter novels, published by Folio Junior. Through this experience, I am seeing the Potter stories in a new light, improving on my French comprehension and learning a thing or two about the practice of translating literature from one language into another.

Translator Jean-Francois Ménard seems, to my untrained eye, to have done a wonderful job translating Rowling's prose, remaining true to her intent but exercising enough creative/translator's license to ensure that the writing is as lively, accurate and interesting in French as it is in the original English.

After all, sometimes a literal translation just doesn't work. Especially with language as idiomatic as that used by J.K. in these books.

As I started the fourth novel, Harry Potter et la Coupe de Feu, I was quite interested to see how Ménard would deal in his translation with the fact that the English-speaking main characters encounter and interact with French-speaking people from Beauxbatons.

The first encounter between English and French speakers in Rowling's fourth book takes place in the wooded area that offers refuge for Quidditch World Cup fans who want to get away from the frightening march of the masked Death Eaters through the camp ground.

Harry, Hermione and Ron have encountered Draco Malfoy and are just starting to search for the rest of the Weasley kids when they hear a group of young people speaking loudly to each other.

This group is, of course, made up of Beauxbatons students, who are frightened and looking for Madame Maxime,their head master.

In the original English novel, Harry and his pals speak English, the Beauxbatons students speak French, and no one understands each other so they just move on.

But in the French translation, everybody speaks French. Yet, the two groups still don't seem to understand each other and so they just move on. When a French reader reads an English book in translation that involves French characters, does she keep in mind the fact that two different languages are at play, even though everyone is speaking French?

I have to admit, this has gotten me all turned around inside my head.

When I read a French novel in translation (into English), what language do English speaking characters speak in the English translation?

It's a strange moment. One of the French students says something to Ron, he says "Pardon" and the French student says, "Il ne comprend rien, celui la." ("He doesn't understand anything, that one there") As the French students move off, the English students hear clearly a mention of "Potdelard", which of course is a mispronunciation of the French version of the name of the English school of witchcraft and wizardry -- Poudlard.

In some ways, the translation is wonderfully written with fun plays on the language. For example, Ron says "Pardon", which means the same thing in French and in English, only the pronunciation is different.

As a native English speaker, I heard in my head Ron say "Pardon" in English, to remind me that there is a language barrier here. But would a native French speaker read this, hear Ron pronounce "Pardon" in the French manner, and get confused as to why Ron and the Beauxbaton student cannot communicate?

Would a native French speaker think that the Beauxbaton student is implying that Ron is not smart enough to understand her, or has a development disability of some kind, since both characters were speaking the same language prior to this exchange?

And I wonder if I read "Potdelard" differently than would a native French speaker. I read it immediately as pot (rhyming with "hot") -de-lard. Would a French speaker read it is Poh (rhyming with the French word "mot") -de-lard?

I am very interested to read how Ménard approaches these questions as the story goes along. How will he deal with the heavily accented English that characters like Madame Maxime and Fleur Delacour employ in J.K.'s prose? Will they speak an accented version of French?

Another interesting note on the translation of this scene: in the original English, Rowling merely mentions that Harry and the gang notice a group of young people talking in loud voices nearby.

Ménard, the translator, actually inserts some extra dialogue to capture what the Beauxbatons students were saying. "Enfin, c'est incroyable!" the one French student says. "Qu'est-ce que c'est que cette organization?" (I'm no translators but I read that as, "Finally, it is incredible. What is this organization?")

These quoted lines, in which the Beauxbaton student appears to be critical of the security at the World Cup, do not appear in the original Rowling novel. Ménard has invented them for the purposes of his translation.

I will have to watch for more such creative indulgences in this book!

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Finally, Book 8 joins the Harry Potter canon

Word that J.K. Rowling's play, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, will soon be released in book form has created something of a buzz around my office.

Personally, I am delighted with this development since there really was almost no chance that I would be able to see the play performed live, until and unless it were brought to Canada and, even then, I probably wouldn't be able to obtain/afford a ticket.

And I think it's interesting how many Harry Potter fans all over the world had somewhat under-reacted to the release of this, the eighth canonical tale in the Harry Potter collection when it first arrived on the London stage. Remember, since The Deathly Hallows was released in 2007, we've been left to make do with rather poor film adaptations of the books and an ongoing trickle of special releases from Rowling herself to satiate our hunger for new Harry Potter material.

When The Cursed Child first arrived, I would have thought that Potter fans the world over would have gone into a massive series of celebrations.

But the limitations of the medium -- a play, staged in one city, with a limited number of tickets selling at a fairly high price -- seemed to have dampened that enthusiasm.

I'm not saying Rowling was wrong to try her hand at play writing. In fact, I'm excited to see her remarkable writing skills tested in this new medium. But the limitations inherent in a stage play, from the stand point of universal access, have certainly impacted how the fandom reacted to the release of the play.

It will be very interesting to see if the script's release (scheduled for midnight on Harry's birthday [July 31, if you didn't know]) will prompt the same kind of excitement that the release of the original novels did around the world.

I think it will. I think The Cursed Child has sort of developed into a well-kept secret about which everyone knew. I plan to keep myself as much in the dark as possible about the plot and characterizations in this new story until I hold the new book in my hot little hands.

I plan to buy the script, then spend every second of reading it in pure, ecstatic enjoyment.

Then I will read it again, I think.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Rowling's twitter battle has unfortunate consequences

I had an interesting "interaction" with J.K. Rowling the other day on Twitter.

I was sitting on a bus, waiting for it to get underway for my trip home from work, and I decided to access my Twitter account on my cell.

To my surprise, the usually calm author was in the middle of a heated Twitter battle with some British politician who had, apparently, accused Jo of being (or of supporting) a misogynist. Apparently, the politician found a tweet in which Rowling had thanked someone of questionable opinions for his contribution to her charity. The politician had extrapolated from that one tweet Rowling's alleged support for the person's views.

Now, anyone who knows even the slightest bit about the beloved author will know that she is one of the last people in the world who could ever be accused of misogyny or similar offensive beliefs. Rowling may not come across as a "rabid feminist" but she is unfailingly supportive of equity and diversity in her books and her public appearances.

I have to admit, I was surprised that she was as heated in her response to the accusations and wondered if she worried anyone might actually believe them.

I acknowledge that public figures often feel they must defend their reputations when such accusations are made and, when they choose to do so, I don't tend to hold it against them.

But what surprised me about the situation was that Rowling's defense of herself was so heated and so public.

As the Twitter battle continued, "watched" by millions, both parties started incorporating links to highly offensive posts made by the man in question.

That really surprised me.

As a result, I "replied' to the latest Tweet and to the two combatants, reminding them that, by sharing the person's offensive posts as part of their argument, they were providing the person and his horrible statements a much wider audience than they deserved.

I was pleased to see that Rowling's next Tweet was the suggestion that they take their argument "off-line". Now, I have no evidence whatsoever that Rowling was actually responding to my own Tweet in making that suggestion but I was pleased with her decision.

It's too bad that the argument re-emerged on Twitter a short while later and eventually made it into the newspapers.

It can't be easy to be a public figure like J.K. Rowling is, and to become a target for those seeking to build themselves up by attempting to bring down such a widely admired public figure like her, and it can't be easy to know that every thing you say, whether in a public appearance or online, will be scrutinized and judged by people all over the world, but I do wish that this particular battle had not been carried on in such a public manner.

I was appalled at the sentiments that were expressed in the "links" that were included as part of the battle and saddened that, unwittingly I'm sure, one of my favourite authors had played a small part in giving them a wider audience as she strove to defend herself from vicious and baseless allegations made against her.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What Rowling knew at the end of The Prisoner

Anyone who has read the entries in this blog to date will know that one of my many obsessions in relation to Harry Potter is to work out, from evidence in the books themselves, how advanced J.K. Rowling's planning was as she wrote each of the early books.

We all know that Jo has said she had created a very strong outline of the seven-novel series even before (or at least while) she wrote The Philosopher's Stone and we have no reason to doubt that. But the question that intrigues me is: just how detailed was that plan?

Having just completed a reading of The Prisoner of Azkaban (in French, mind you), I am very comfortable in saying that, by the end of the third book at least, Rowling must have progressed to a pretty impressive level of detail in her planning for the rest of the series. I say this even though I also feel quite strongly that her outline was not very detailed before that point in the writing.

Here's what I think happened:
  • Rowling wrote The Philosopher's Stone with a general outline in her mind of what might play out for her characters in the future but without a great deal of detail in that outline. Sure, she might have already developed a pretty fair history for each of her main characters but I don't think she had yet developed the overarching plot of the seven-novel series yet. For example, I think it's indisputable that Jo knew Harry and Voldemort would one day face each other in a battle to the death (she introduces their enmity right at the beginning but does not resolve it at the end of the first book so she must have been planning more and she made it clear that students attended Hogwarts for seven years) but I doubt she had worked out the relationships between James, Lily, Sirius, Remus, Peter and Severus at that point and I simply cannot believe that she had planned the whole Deathly Hallows subplot;
  • Rowling wrote The Chamber of Secrets grateful for the success of the first and more confident that she would be permitted to write the entire series;
  • By the time she was writing The Prisoner, she knew that the world-wide success of the first two books would give her license to do what she wanted with the series and, as she wrote that third book, she began to plant much stronger, more clear seeds of what was to come in the future books.
As you no doubt are aware, Alan Rickman, the actor who portrayed Snape so memorably in the Harry Potter films, recently passed away and, after this death, it came out that he only accepted the role because, apparently, there were only three books completed at that time (so he didn't know he was enrolling himself in an eight-film commitment) and because Rowling herself told him that there would be more to the character of Snape than was being displayed in those first three novels. In fact, I believe that Rowling herself confirmed that she told Rickman, at that time, what Snape would mean when he told Dumbledore that his patronus would "always" be a doe like Lily's.

Again, I think sometimes Rowling grants herself some license to rewrite history in her recent interviews on Harry Potter but I think, from this particular situation, we can assume that she had worked out, after completing the third novel, much of the Snape-Lily relationship and the sacrifice that went with it.

Further, the end of The Prisoner contains some of the most important seeds that would later grow into key factors in the future of the series.

First, we meet Sirius Black, a character who would play a foundational role in later books. Even more than that, his family is central (in fact, ubiquitous) in the entire Voldemort/Potter story. We learn that, though he is universally believed to be evil, he is in fact good (hmm, sounds familiar, doesn't it Snape lovers?). We also see him forced to flee and put himself into hiding.

Second, we meet Buckbeak, the Hypogriff. Once again, a character who is assumed to be evil but we know to be innocent. Buckbeak too is on the run and he too will play an important role in a later book.

Third, we meet Peter Pettigrew and see Harry spare his life. In a moment of almost (and I mean almost) over-the-top foreshadowing, Dumbledore tells Harry that 1) Voldemort would not like to find out that one of his main servants owes a debt to our young hero and 2) that Pettigrew's debt to Harry will one day be a very important factor in how things play out.

Fourth, we hear the second real prophecy ever delivered by Professor Trelawney, who tells Harry that Pettigrew will escape, join the Dark Lord and help him return to power.

So I think it's pretty clear that, by the time she completed The Prisoner of Azkaban, Rowling had a clear roadmap in her mind for the later books. It still begs the question: at what point prior to the third novel's completion did she start to fill in the details?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Keeping Harry safe from Sirius Black

Let's see now. You are aware that Sirius Black is bent on murdering Harry Potter. You know exactly where Harry Potter is every moment of every day. And you know, after several close calls, that Sirius Black has somehow found a way to get passed Hogwarts' increased security and into the Gryffindor Common Room.

If you are Albus Dumbledore, wouldn't you increase the level of security around Harry himself?

From what I can see in re-reading The Prisoner of Azkaban, there is at no time a focus by school officials on keeping Harry, personally, safe. Sure, they batten down the hatches at the school and bring in the Dementors but they never say to themselves: maybe Harry should be moved to a more secure location when he sleeps, say in Dumbledore's office or somewhere like that.

It's odd. I know, it certainly wouldn't help the suspense much if Harry were completely secure and out of danger. But it would make better sense.