The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Monday, January 25, 2010

HP Monday – Movie notes and other ponderings about goblets, glasses, and cauldrons

I’m a little sad no one disagreed with me on the happy, fun roller-coaster ride of book 4. I’m willing to fight for my point, which I do think is accurate, but I see the other side too. I mean this book begins and ends with death – one muggle at the beginning and one wizard at the end. That’s dark no matter how you look at it. And there are bad things and weird omens throughout. Ah, well. Maybe you all agree with me whole-heartedly and there is no need to argue the point.

Movie Notes
I sat through movie 4 twice in a matter of days and I still don’t know how I feel. I have to say, watching it after reading book 4 – also twice, once in October and then again in December - I think I don’t like the movie. But I still get caught up in it each time. I like the music, the imagery, most of the scenes they do show, and the Yule ball especially, but I can’t get over all the stuff that’s missing. Does that even make sense?

I get why the Dursley’s aren’t there, although I do miss them because I think they act as bookends of a sort to each school year. I get why the house elves and S.P.E.W. aren’t in it, and I may even understand why we don’t see Rita as an animagus; but that doesn’t mean I understand why all of the context and plot-braiding that these scenes contain just seems to go puff and makes the movie fall flat.

What do you think? Did you still enjoy it? Hogwarts doesn’t have the same feel as in book 3, but I’m glad this director kept that beautiful clock and the long bridge – I’m a sucker for bridges, they are liminal too. From a Weasley standpoint, I’m still sad Bill and Charlie aren’t in this one. I do like the darker shadings in this film – because things ARE becoming more menacing. Moody and Barty Crouch Jr. are both great – I do heart David Tennant, so I might be slightly biased, but the facial tick thing is brilliant – and both actors mastered when and how to look like each other. There’s no Ludo Bagman, no sub-plot with Fred and George, and Ron just isn’t as annoying as he is in the book – again lending some flatness I just don’t like. The tasks are all enjoyable and fun to watch – the dragon sequence may be a little long, but that’s what they poured their money into, so I can excuse it. I like Hermione a good deal in the movie. Emma Watson uses what they’ve given her to work with and makes the most of it. I’m sad the missing Rita Skeeter scenes are gone, because this is the scary, gray area, line walking Hermione, who makes you wonder what side she will ultimately end up on. Although, the movie Hermione is a kinder, stricter version and they’ve kept movie Hermione true to form by removing those scenes. Boo.

The movie just didn’t find the humor in book 4 – and the humor is what makes book 4 the fun roller-coaster ride it is. I am not amused when viewing movie 4. Luckily I remember being highly amused in movies 5 and 6 – so I’m keeping my hopes up for those two.

The thing I’m most surprised at – because it took me two viewings to realize it – is my perception of Durmstrang and Beauxbatons. The movie has completely skewed my original view of these two wizarding schools. I know full well that boys and girls attend both schools, there are a few references to this in the book, and I know full well the all boys and all girls version in the movie exists; what I didn’t realize until the second viewing of the movie is that even when I read the book, I think of Beauxbatons as an all girl school and Durmstrang as an all boys school. And even worse, I think of Ravenclaw full of mostly girls and Slytherin full of mostly boys now. REALLY! I mean I really have to think about it to get these stereotypes out of my head while reading book 5 now. I think that is a greatest disservice to both JK Rowling and her books, I blame this movie for creating it.

Book Wrap Up
Before moving onto book 5 next week, I have a few last minute musings over book 4; because gosh, a lot happened in this book. I could write about it for another month at least. However, I will stick to a few main themes we’ve already discussed, which popped up on my second read.

Always an important sub-plot in Harry Potter, mother-love made some interesting appearances in book 4. The first task with the dragons comes to mind. All of the dragons were nesting mothers protecting their eggs. This makes the task of retrieving the eggs more difficult but also poses some morality questions about the care and consideration of magical creatures. One of the mother dragons inadvertently smashes some of her eggs during this task – which is truly horrible when you think about it. Basically I’m saying this one scene hits on mother-love, morality issues, and death. At some point I’ll be able to construct a scene like this…right? Wow, again Rowling.

Many of the other mother-love scenes include Molly Weasley. She’s playing many sides of the mother role in this book – upset when her children do stupid things – Fred & George come to mind; disappointment – Bill her oldest is a success, he was head-boy and has a good job, if only he would cut his hair, put on a suit and get rid of that earring; nurturing – from cooking, to buying books and dress robes, to attending Harry’s last task when his own self-sacrificing mother can not; and even some remorse/foreboding when she feels she’s gone to far – when the entire gang gets back from the Quidditch World Cup and ensuing Dark Mark terrors, Molly only has eyes for Fred and George whom she last had mean words with.

Did anyone else get chills when Molly said, “I shouted at you before you left! It’s all I’ve been thinking about! What if You-Know-Who had got you, and the last thing I ever said to you was that you didn’t get enough O.W.L.s? Oh Fred…George…”?

In book 4 we see Lily – or a shade of Lily – helping Harry in his fight with Voldermort. We also know mother-love is a thing Volermort is trying to get around; by using Harry’s blood he feels he’s conquered the strong magic Lily imbued in Harry when she sacrificed herself. (Oh, and for those of you who have spent too many days in an English classroom and need to find the JC figure in every story because some English or Language Arts teacher told you there had to be one for certain forms of literary criticism…it’s Lily Potter. There. Now you can stop looking and just let the story unfold.) Finally, Barty Crouch Jr. had a mother who gave her life to help Barty escape from Azkaban. And Winky acts more like Barty’s mother than his house-elf.

As a side note, I think it is interesting that father-love appears all over these books too, but AGAIN just like in Buffy the Vampire Slayer father-love – or lack there of – seems to be corrupting and harmful. Father-love brings chips on the shoulder and very large, soul-torturing grudges. Why is that?

Friendship and Love
Ron, Hermione and Harry are put through their paces in book 4. There’s squabbling, flirtation, envy, jealousy, loyalty and true friendship involved with just these three. Add in Krum, Cedric, Seamus, Cho, Ginny, Neville, Fleur, Fred, George, and Bill and you’ve got a book at least half-devoted to the pursuit of friendship and the beginnings of romantic love. Task two finds Neville stealing from Snape to help Harry – friendly gesture but also – I think – dragging Neville FINALLY back into the game. He is a loyal friend who belongs in Gryffindor house with the rest of them. Uncovering his past and placing him in the classroom with Harry when the unforgivable curses are revealed and displayed, draws the parallel between these two characters just a little bit closer.

The Yule Ball – or The Unexpected Task as Rowling’s chapter title suggests – is a Petri dish of culturing love. Cedric and Cho, Harry and Cho, Hermione and Krum, Ron and Hermione, Ginny and Neville, Ginny and Harry, Hagrid and Madame Maxime, it’s a growing love-fest where almost everyone is miserable (accept maybe Neville and his happy feet) by the end of the evening because love makes you do the whacky. (Yeah, that’s from Buffy too – I promise to stop the parallels soon…really!) And Hermione is walking in the gray again – she lets Madam Pomfrey reduce her buck-teeth to a normal size (not in the movie, because again it doesn’t fit Hermione’s straight-laced movie persona). It gives her a beautiful moment at the ball, and although Krum’s not a looker, he could have gotten any girl – and maybe some boys – to go to the ball with him. But he genuinely likes Hermione, so there was no need for the buck-teeth reduction. Hermione does it because she is vain and she can.

Moving on – or back – to task 2, I find it interesting that everyone trapped under the water with the mer-people are friends and loved-ones of Harry except Gabrielle, the girl he ends up saving along with Ron. I mean, Krum is only going to care about Hermione, Fleur is only going to care about Gabrielle, and although it may give Cedric a couple more seconds of pause, he’s really only going to care about Cho. But Harry?! Harry’s two best friends and his first love interest are down there – the cards are stacked against him. Would he care if it was Ron and three people he’d never seen before? I honestly don’t know – and that alone makes the friendship/love theme important in book 4.

Finally, forging friendships may actually be the main theme of this book. Between schools, between muggles and wizards, between magical creatures and wizards, between old enemies; friends are the things Voldermort does not have and therefore must eventually lead to his undoing.

Moody vs. Crouch
Raise your hand if you think learning from a dark wizard was actually beneficial to the fourth years? I do. I mean everything underhanded Barty Jr. does in this book is fun to read. And a lot of it was really quite helpful to the students taking his Defense Against the Dark Arts class. On the re-read, many of the things are a little iffy. Turning Malfoy into a ferret may not be something a teacher should actually do, but aren’t you glad he did?! It’s almost as good as Hermione going off and hitting Malfoy. And the unforgivable curses, too. Not just showing what they can do, but trying to get students to block them. Pure dead brilliant. What would the class have been like if the real Moody was teaching? Was Crouch trying to be so much like Moody in disguise, that there really wasn’t a big difference? Does Defense Against the Dark Arts need to be taught by a dark wizard to truly be effective? Morality comes into question again. Mainly when asking the question: Is there really that big a difference between these two characters? What makes one good and the other bad?

And I’m stopping there before I bore you all to death. We will start book 5 next week and I will try to keep it to a month – I’m not sure that’s possible with the longest book in the series, but we will see what happens.

In the meantime, post your final thoughts on book 4 and movie 4. What a ride!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

HP Monday – In which I combine my geeky passions into one blog post and loose all readership potential

As I’ve mentioned before, I hang out at my local Barnes & Noble a lot. I know. Friends and readers who are small publishing and book store owners or employees; I know it is the Death Star. And yet, I use it like my own personal library – grabbing books for reference or lunch time reading and carrying my mini Eee PC (best Christmas present EVER) with me to type and type and type. They have free wi fi, I’m sorry!

Right now I’m in the café, typing away with my grande English Breakfast hot tea – it comes in a coffee cup with a lid so I have issues calling this a cuppa – it’s like the coffee house, Americanized version. There are two things that amuse me about the B&N café: One – no matter what day or time I’m here, there are always a group of real housewives of Edina playing a game of gin while discussing their rough lives in these tough economical times; and two – there is one outlet in the café which in the past has always been a hot spot for people with lap tops and plugs. Then one day they moved a giant trash bin in front of it – which is on wheels and therefore fairly easy to shove to one side and still get at the outlet. A few weeks after the bin shoving began I walked into the café, sat down at the empty table near the outlet, pulled out my plug and computer and realized the entire outlet had been covered in duct tape. Apparently the B&N people would like their cozy, office-type-work-all-day-and-don’t-buy-anything feel to go away. Well, I’ve one up-ed you Death Star: With my trusty Eee PC I have 9 hours of battery life without a plug! Yeah, if you can’t keep up with technology you might as well get out of the fight.

I thought my B&N story had a point, but I’m not sure what it was anymore. Let’s just go with…Wherever you choose to write – make sure there’s some distracting atmosphere to kick start those creative juices but not too much distraction.

Onto Harry Potter and his goblet of fire we go. I’m looking at a paperback Scholastic copy I took off the YA shelf at B&N before I sat down in the café (See what I mean by library – why would I lug my copy around if there’s plenty of copies waiting for me here?). I really like book 4. In fact if not for book 3, book 4 may be my favorite. This realization makes me think of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which is one of – if not my actual – favorite TV series. It’s probably hard to pinpoint my favorite episode of the series – there’s seven seasons to choose from – but I can definitely tell you season 3 is my favorite season (Are we seeing the parallels yet everyone); although, many of my favorite episodes are in season 4…hmmm. It’s a really good season with a lot of change and growing – first year of college change and growing – not everything is as perfect (a little irony here since the high school actually blew up, the principal was eaten by the commencement speech giver who’d turned into an apocalyptic snake, and Buffy’s first love walked away from her at the end of season 3) as it was in high school. But things aren’t full-on horrible either. In hindsight year 4 (in both Buffy and Harry’s chronicles –um, can we take a moment to check out the double-letter-then-y ending of both our MC’s names. Wow I’m a geek!) might be the best year after all. If anyone out there likes book 4 the best please comment and tell us why. For those of you who don’t – a lot of us still think 3 is our favorite – then think about why not number four?

I’ve thought about that question off and on all week, and I think the answer comes somewhere in the ending. Don’t get me wrong, the ending is great – not so much for the wizarding world, but for the reader – it doesn’t get much better than the bad guy coming back and the adventure really starting to go somewhere (spoiler alert – I like the ending of six the best…which is why I might have some unresolved issues with the movie ending of six. And no, I don’t know why that is either – in a couple of months I hope to figure it out though). There is always a reason to kill off a decent character, and if you are invested in the character or the impact of his death than the reader can be affected more than the characters in the story. Please remind me to go back to this concept when we discuss the last book because I have some questions.

But here in book 4 we reach the end of the tasks, we’ve been hearing that they are life and death tasks, but we don’t (at least I didn’t – at all) really think it would go that far. I mean Cedric is dead at the end. His life has been cut short and thrown away for no good reason (well except the whole furthering the plot thing). If we as the reader at anytime thought these books were all happy-go-lucky, the bad guys been vanquished now everything is just peachy keen and hunky dory, the end of book 4 slaps us in the face. Hard. And who likes to be blind-sided like that?

Here’s my other parallel to Buffy. Yep, I’ve got another one. There’s an episode in season 6 called “Tabula Rasa”. The episode is hysterical. Everyone looses their memory and ends up using circumstantial evidence to try and decipher who they are and how they relate to each other. The episode highlights the best & worst qualities of each character working totally outside the context box. Oh, and there’s an actual loan shark (like literally) and kittens are used as currency (stupid currency, but still).

I firmly believe there is a Buffy episode for everyone. And this episode was made for my friend Beth; so I made her sit down and watch it. At the time she was earning her psychology doctorate – a degree she now has – I knew she’d get a kick out of each character’s inner mind workings. While we were watching the episode – because really the most fun part of picking episodes for people is watching them watch said episode – she turned to me with this huge smile on her face and said, “This is great and funny. I’ll have to watch this every time I need a pick me up.”

And I said, “Well maybe you want to wait until the end. There’s a great big DOWN to every UP on this show.”

If you’ve seen the episode you know exactly what I mean. Hello, roller coaster of emotions. It’s not so nice to see you again. Yeah everything really sucks at the end of this episode. All of the relationships are broken – some beyond repair. And because you’ve been happily tooling along, watching some really great, light-hearted fun stuff, the downward drop is fantastically, shockingly heinous.

And that is why I think book 4 can never be my favorite. You’ve tricked me into a false sense of security JK Rowling and then the Dark Lord rises again, the death eaters return to full strength and a young wizard dies because he’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. And even though our hero did the right thing in the maze – these things still happen. In fact doing the right thing caused these things to happen. And that too is fantastically, shockingly heinous.

I’m holding off the movie discussion until next week. Then we will wrap up book 4 and move onto book 5 - Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Because I just wouldn’t be me if I didn’t mention it, Phoenix is SO fire imagery!

Comment. Discuss. Write already! Also, remind me to talk about Mad Eye Moody next week too…both of him.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Good Fortune?

The last time I ate Chinese, my fortune freaked me right the hell out.

It read: Someone is watching you from afar.
What happened to all the sunny, shiny-time happy fortunes? I’d like to know who writes these things and how they thought that was worth enclosing in a cardboard tasting hollow cookie...and I'd also like to thank them, because that fortune will now be included in the second draft of Exposing Smug.

Monday, January 4, 2010

HP Monday – International Relations, The LEGO effect, & A New Year Resolution

The one resolution I will keep this year is to write on my blog more than once a month. Preferably every Monday for this book club blog – but I promise to write more than once a month. That being said, I say we take a little longer on book 4 here, because 1) I haven’t watched the movie again yet and 2) I haven’t started reading book 5 yet and 3) because there’s just so much more to say about book 4.

Apparently, book clubs work out for everyone who isn’t me. When do people find time in their busy schedules to get together and discuss a book on a regular basis anyway? As you can all tell, I’m having problems writing a post once a week – and that’s just me sitting down with myself talking about things I want to talk about and then letting you all take your time and comment (or not) at will.

So as we look at book 4 this week (Did that sound like I’m a book club leader at all? I was trying…except I’d probably hate anyone who took it upon themselves to be the “book club leader”, and then I’d stop going to the book club again – or get all angry at the book like it’s the book’s fault that I have to sit and listen to the neighborhood gossip get on her high horse and become preachy “book club leader” while she passes around homemade appetizers which she insists on calling hors d’oeuvres…Yeah OK, I’m done with that now).

So as we look at book 4 this week, you have to admire Rowling’s tenacity to tackle some tough issues in her children’s books without becoming awkward or preachy. Book 4 begins with the relations between Muggles and wizards and moves on to international relations of wizards with some sidetracks into magical creature relations, family relations and servant/employee relations. Each of these relationship topics braids into each other, magnifying, echoing and – whether she meant to or not – parodying (in the case of SPEW) the other relationships. Sorry, that was a bit of a tongue-twister (says evil “book club leader” lady. Hey, I’ve just made some puff pastry wheels and punch).

Yes, I’m a little scatterbrained today, but I’m going to keep typing until I get a post out there. This means, I’m essentially going to leave a list of things I’d like to talk about in book #4; if anything strikes your fancy feel free to comment on it below. If, while leaving my list, anything strikes my fancy I to will comment on it below – or further in the blog post itself.

• Family dynamics (not just the Weasleys, although they are the Waltons of the wizarding world).
• Walking a gray line (Hermione is my best example of this from previous books, but there are quite a few wizards and witches who tend to tread lightly/dabble in the dark arts/just blur the lines between good and bad. Where are the consequences?)
• Dark Lord rising. (Yep, he does that here. And that makes this book important.)
• Burying your head in the sand (we all do it and so do wizards apparently. Open your eyes people!)
• Teen/young love (Um, have I mentioned the Christmas Ball yet? It’s awesome. I want to go next year. As an adult though – dances scared the crap out of me when I was a teen myself. All those emotions and hormones set to music – yikes).
• Continuing friendships and how they change (i.e. – believing your friend, falling in love with your friend, choosing your friends (and by not choosing them, choosing your enemies.) Also finding new friends and keeping the old – one is silver and the other gold – yes, I did type that but then I threw up a little in my mouth. Psst – this means it was meant to be sarcastic. I know it’s hard to read that, so I thought I’d spell it out for you.)
• Chapter One – keeping and holding an audience.
• Page 600 and beyond – keeping and holding an audience.
• Why do fantasy and sci-fi books get to be so much longer than other YA and literary fiction books?
• Should all wizards be eco-friendly? Rah, rah save our dying planet and the dragons.
• Should all wizards be egotistical or solipsistic (Sorry Mara, like Jack or Jill rabbit, I just can’t let this one die!!!)
• Which dragon really is the scariest and why?
• Reoccurring maternal and fire imagery (Seriously people, I don’t think you realize how much fire imagery is placed next to mother imagery. What does this mean?!?!)
• Are these books changing readership (or genres – mid-grade to YA to adult) as they progress and how is that accomplished? Are there conscious target audience shifts by the author; and if so is this a gamble for Rowling or not?

See why I’m all over the place. There is just too much. Please comment. If you don’t comment, I’m moving on to the movie next week and we will wrap up book 4 the week after that. If you do comment, and you want to discuss all of these things more in depth, then we will stay with this book longer.