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.