Archive for August, 2010

You Are What You Speak

August 31, 2010

Note: Its been brought to my attention (Hi Laura) that not everybody enjoys reading about Harry Potter. all. the. time.  So here’s something else that’s been on my mind recently.

I stumbled on this fascinating analysis of the way language affects perception in the New York Times this weekend. I find the study of languages fascinating and have often wished to be ploylingual.  In fact, I’ve never become completely fluent in another language but, through many years of education, I have studied Spanish, Latin, Italian and Dutch.  I’ve often thought that languages are affected by culture (for example the punctuality oriented Dutch ask about temporality not by asking “What time is it?” but by asking how late it is: “Hoe laat is het?”) but this article suggests that perhaps the reverse is also true.  Our perceptions, both personal and cultural, are affected by our language.

Although the author, Guy Deutscher, discounts Benjamin Lee Whorf’s theory (first published in 1940) that mother tongue languages can restrict the way people think, he does point out many ways in which our perceptions are shaped by our native languages.  For example:

German bridge is feminine (die Brücke), for instance, but el puente is masculine in Spanish; […] When speakers were asked to grade various objects on a range of characteristics, Spanish speakers deemed bridges, clocks and violins to have more “manly properties” like strength, but Germans tended to think of them as more slender or elegant. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Oh-So-Unstable Triumvirate

August 30, 2010

Three is an awkward number for a friendship in any situation and Harry Ron and Hermione demonstrate that in nearly every chapter of the Harry Potter books.  Its two against one for large swathes of each of the seven.

Oh No!  Not the hospital wing again!

In the earliest books its often due to extenuating circumstances:

  • as when Ron can’t come send Norbert on his way because he’s recovering from a dragon bite and then likewise missed out on the resultant detention in the Forbidden forest;
  • or when Hermione is petrified during Chamber of Secrets (having just solved the mystery) and Ron and Harry have to figure out what she knew and go into the chamber after Ginny without her;
  • or when Ron’s leg is broken in Prisoner of Azkaban and so Hermione leaves him in the hospital wing and takes Harry back with her time turner to save Buckbeak and Sirius.

The three of them (as well as a lot of other students) seem spend an alarming amount of time Read the rest of this entry »

“Mars is bright tonight.”

August 26, 2010

How amusing that my first non-Potter post in a while still gets a canon title.

I’ve been noticing the planet rising in the east shortly after dark for a while now (I knew it was a planet because it passes my very simple test: I can see it with my glasses off) and wondering which one it was.  Last night it was particularly beautiful when arrayed next to the still-nearly-full moon.  And then this morning, while making small talk with a client, I heard that the planet was Mars and knew I had to post.

I would have laid in wait tonight to get a really nice photo but … I can’t … because my camera is broken.  (pbhbt!)  Note: this is part of the reason that I haven’t felt inclined to post on things not Potter; I can’t take any photos to illustrate them.

Still, I figured someone else would have noticed this phenomenon too and taken a picture I could borrow.  So I hit the internet … and found absolutely nothing recently under Mars, Full Moon because … its not actually Mars.  Earthsky.org shows in the image above how Picies, Jupiter and the Moon will all be clustered shortly after nightfall this evening.  Our client must have heard this rumor flying around and gotten confused.  But it is, in fact, Jupiter.  And its still quite beautiful.  And very bright.    Check it out tonight.

“As celebrity does:” Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

August 25, 2010

I love this book.  Its very funny and packed with ridiculous situations and characters – midnight escapes in flying cars (both from Dursley muggle-dom and from hoards of spiders), singing valentines, Lockhart in general, dueling clubs, Myrtle.  Its delightful … but its also quite serious.

I think this is the book where Harry really establishes himself as the true Gryffindor hero type.  In Sorcerer’s Stone, he and the trio in general are mostly just nosing around into things not their business.  They’re curious about the mysterious Gringotts break in, they hate their Potions teacher and imagine all sorts of things about him, they wander the castle at night and find magical mirrors and then Harry basically trips over the Dark Lord while wandering the Forbidden Forest at night.  Although the book ends with Harry bravely striding off alone to a confrontation with Voldemort it is largely through happenstance (or fate) and not much by his own intention.  His actions in Chamber of Secrets seem somewhat different.

Celebrity is as Celebrity Does

This time around the stakes are much, much higher.  Instead of beginning with an apparently insignificant Read the rest of this entry »

Where to draw the line with obsessive fan behavior?

August 24, 2010

My sister has been mocking me pretty constantly for my Harry Potter kick of late.  I could point out that she has her own intense little fads (watching Sunshine four times in a week) but that would be petty.  Still I have been obsessing and there’s no point denying it.  I don’t want to.  I enjoy my obsessive behavior and I see no reason to stop.  Its so much fun.

For example, I was indulging my excitement last week by tweaking out over Empire Online’s delightful breakdown of the trailer and getting myself all hyped for the upcoming movie.   They show 22 stills with scene by scene commentary and guesses as to which part (I or II) it will fall into. That’s pretty much established now that the break has been released by Entertainment Weekly (which I noted on Mugglenet last week).  I actually was much more excited after reading these than I was at the end of the rather fast paced, mysteriously quick cut trailer… in fact, I found it totally thrilling … and the text by Helen O’Hara is very funny.  Go check it out. Here’s a taste below:

Read the rest of this entry »

The Very Secret (and rather evil) Diary

August 20, 2010

Watch out for that thing, Harry.

I was struck while re-reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by how much the Diary Horcrux reminds me of J.R.R. Tolkien’s ring.  [The similarity is, of course, much stronger with both of the later horcruxes Harry comes in contact with – the Gaunt ring and the locket – but I’ll get to them later.] The Chamber of Secrets passage that describes how Harry keeps the diary with him even after they’ve tried and failed to get any information out of it is particularly eerie:

“… even though he knew the diary was blank, he kept absentmindedly picking it up and turning the pages, as though it were a story he wanted to finish.”

I’m strongly reminded of Bilbo describing his feelings about the ring to Gandalf in “A Long-Expected Party” as “growing on” his mind:

“I am always wanting to put it on and disappear, don’t you know; or wondering if it is safe and pulling it out to make sure.”

Its nice foreshadowing.  Even though Harry thinks of the diary as a “half-forgotten” friendly figure the third person description is enough to make us, the audience, feel creepy about it.

She was really holding out on us.

I stumbled across an old interview which Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (2009)

August 18, 2010

I like this movie a lot.  The last half hour is (necessarily) super depressing and it ends on a bad note but that will be fixed when they finish the series (assuming that they don’t mess it up a la Return of the King).  For the moment I though I can say without reservation that it was breathtakingly beautiful … and very funny.  The teen romances that start to build up in the story make for a lot of humor.  One of the things that makes it work the most for me is how comfortable all the actors seem with each other – they have actually all been friends for as long as their characters have and it makes for nice screen chemistry (see above).  The movie does a lot of things oddly but on the whole I can forgive it anything … for the following reasons:

The Score is Fantastic: I can’t possibly rave enough about how much I love the musical score by Nicholas Hooper which is odd because I don’t love his score for Order of the Phoenix nearly as well.   The subtle waltz rhythm to Harry and Ginny’s love theme knocks me sideways.  The drama over some of the action sequences is note perfect and the menace of, for example, Snape and the Unbreakable Vow is truly unsettling.  Slughorn’s Confession, which is really Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007)

August 17, 2010

This is an up and down movie in my opinion.  Some aspects are delightful and done so well … others are unpleasant and creepy (but supposed to be) … and some are tragic mistakes.  They had a lot of ground to cover, plot wise, so some things did have to be cut.  But still I mourn the loss of Kreature, of all the emotional development and insight into the adult characters that takes place at Grimauld Place and,  for that matter, all of the personality in Tonks full stop, etc etc etc. There’s a lot packed into it but still it somehow manages to retail a good sense of pacing.  There are the usual high adrenaline action sequences but there are moments of down time and character development which I really appreciate.

The good and bad of the book: I love Sirius (with all his flaws) and I’m glad we get at least a little time between him and Harry at the train station and again at Christmas.  Its not much but I love every bit of it.  Gary Oldman just nails the role.  In a few short scenes he gives all of Sirius’ pathos and bravery and yet Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2005)

August 16, 2010

This is far from my favorite book and I guess its no surprise that I consequently don’t really enjoy the movie which feels like a race more than a story with the characters even walking quickly as they move from place to place.  I’m not sure if Mike Newell, the director, is really to blame here.  Steve Kloves, the screenwriter, wrote each of the scripts with he exception of Order of the Phoenix so its hard to say.  There’s just too much to cover and, unlike some of the other book plots, very little can be left out of this one – imagine cutting one of the three tasks.  Nevertheless I don’t enjoy being hurried from one scene to the next.  The elements they do cut entirely (like Ludo Bagman) destabilize the plot and contribute even more to it feeling like a slide show but in a way I wish they’d cut a little more dramatically and left time for a few emotional breaths.  If I hadn’t read the books the film would have made no sense at all.

Here’s what makes me crazy:

The things they change: Why did they make Beaubatons and Durmstrang single gender schools?  Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)

August 13, 2010

I love this book.  I love this movie.  I’m not too proud too admit that I when I saw a pink hoodie like the one Hermione wears through the climax sequence of the movie I bought it on the spot.  And when I wear it I still feel extra bad ass.  I think Alfonso Cuaron took the franchise to a whole new level with this film and we all owe him SO much.  Its dark.  Its dramatic.  Its complicated.  Its not afraid to condense here and there to tell the story it needs to.  And the whole movie is just beautiful.

The way they changed the set: In the book Rowling implies that you walk down the main steps from the front door (which is the one Harry always seems to use even when sneaking out of the castle in the middle of the night … seriously, the castle doesn’t have a single side door?) and out to the lake.  Hagrid’s hut seems to be somewhere off around to the side (past the greenhouses).  In the first two films, the kids bop down the steps and walk across a wide open green and straight up the steps to Hagrid’s.  It is, when you think about it, a little abrupt, and Read the rest of this entry »

I guess I owe Chris Columbus an apology.

August 12, 2010

image from blithesea.net

Not a big one – I still think Chamber of Secrets is a travesty but … I have to rescind one point of criticism today.  Listening to the Chamber of Secrets last night as I drove home from work I came to “The Dueling Club” and realized that they were just following the text with that scene.  Here’s what I said:

The things they add: First there’s the insistence on souping up the spells; Expelliarmus is supposed to knock the wand out of someone’s hand, not blast them backwards bodily across a room.  If they wanted it to cause a person’s arm to jerk dramatically as the wand flies away (theoretically toward the spell caster) fine but wire work effects are just so totally over the top.  There is no need to try to make magic more magical.

But actually I had just imagined it less dramatically.  I’m still pretty sure there are times when expelliarmus does just knock the wand from a hand (and sometimes bring it sailing back to the original spell caster) in her first description it does literally Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002)

August 12, 2010

Somewhat unfairly, this one bears the brunt of my ire over everything they did wrong in both the first two films.  Sorcerer’s Stone somehow has a get out of jail free card but in this one … I have no patience.  I actually didn’t see this one in theaters and didn’t watch it all the way through until last year and, frankly, I have no need to see it ever again, even if I were to watch all the others again in order.  Its not ALL bad … but it is all Chris Columbus all the time and I’m never planning to watch Home Alone again either!

The things they did improve: (From the first movie I mean, NOT as compared to the book.)  A few things are added or improved in this one that I do appreciate.

The kids are much better actors by this point, which means there’s a lot less reading of lines and a lot more delivering of dialogue.  That’s nice.

The special effects are much improved.  I laughed out loud when I read the Last Muggle’s assessment of the “special effects provided by your Windows screensaver” and supposed that she could have done as well “with a green blanket and a MacBook Pro”.  The effects in Chamber of Secrets are better.

And not that the sets were bad before but I can not stress enough how much I adore Read the rest of this entry »

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (2001)

August 11, 2010

As much as I hate Chris Columbus movies (and I REALLY do) I don’t have a lot of complaints to make about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  It does what it has to do and doesn’t get in anybody’s way. In brief:

Good enough: They pretty faithfully follows the plot of the book through all its twists and turns: Harry lives under the stairs, Hagrid knocks the door off its hinges, Hermione tells Ron he’s got dirt on his nose, they fight a troll at Halloween, Harry gets an invisibility cloak for christmas and sees his family in the mirror of Erised, they jump through the trap door and defeat the stated enchantments to get to (gasp) Quirell and then Dumbledore and Harry have a chat in the hospital wing over Every Flavor Beans.

Pretty good: All things considered they did a pretty inspired job with casting. The adult cast is wonderful:  Maggie Smith has long been my hero and she perfectly fits into my previous mental image of Professor McGonagall.  Alan Rickman is really too old to play Snape and doesn’t (in my opinion) look a thing like him but no one else could so perfectly capture his menacing drawl.  I have to approve.  And then there’s the kids.  I don’t know how the managed it but they found Harry Potter when they cast Daniel Radcliffe (especially in those early years).  Rupert Grint is a great little Ron; he’s got the goofiness, the sweetness and the constant chagrin down pat.  Hermione … well when I first saw Emma Watson in the movie nine years ago I thought they’d cast much too cute but Read the rest of this entry »

Oh … you’ve forgotten something: Neville Longbottom

August 10, 2010

Here’s one more thing from Sorcerer’s Stone that I didn’t mention Friday.  I really had forgotten that Neville Longbottom was such a major character from the very beginning of the series.  Which is all the more shocking to me because he’s a favorite character from the books overall.  I love his whole journey from “There’s no need to tell me I’m not brave enough to be in Gryffindor” in the first book to pulling the sword of Gryffindor out of the sorting hat and killing Nagini with it in the seventh.   Neville really has to overcome some internal demons and, to a certain extent, totally reinvent himself as the hero of his own story.

The Boy Who Nobody Cared About

Neville is one of the first people Harry meets on the train; he rides with Harry and Hermione in a boat to the castle, discovers Fluffy with the trio while wandering the halls at night, tries to warn Harry about Draco and gets detention with him.  He inadvertently gives Harry the secret of Nicholas Flamel by handing him back the Dumbledore chocolate frog card.  He’s everywhere in the story and yet … always peripheral.

I started to wonder this time through if there was ever a draft of the book that had him coming down beyond the trapdoor – he would have known how to handle the devil’s snare … in fact, now that I think of it, that task seems to have been put there just for him.  Harry catches the key, Ron defeats the chess set and Read the rest of this entry »

From Best to Worst: the Mixed Bag Movies of Harry Potter

August 9, 2010

My buddy James over at Up Your Architecture has also been immersing himself in the Harry Potter movies of late and suggested that we each do a post on which were our favorite movies and why.  I’ve had a seriously love/hate relationship with the Harry Potter movies.  They’ve had some magical moments … and there’s no doubt that the casting choices that Chris Columbus and David Heyman made have really affected the way I visualize the stories.  But I’ve worked hard to keep my distance from the movies in the interest of preserving the magical parts of the books from the depredations of Hollywood storytelling.  Some things I still like to imagine MY way.  Nevertheless I do like the movies … and like some much more than others.  Here’s my list from least to best.  Oh, and here’s James’.

I’m making this ranking based on my opinion of the movies’ quality and the quality of the adaptation from the book.  I have my own opinions about the relative merits of the 7 books but (for the most part) these don’t affect my feelings about their film counterparts.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince   A

Its really a toss up between this and Prisoner of Azkaban … but this one wins because of the musical score; Read the rest of this entry »

“Harry, yer a wizard:” Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

August 6, 2010

I jumped on the Harry Potter bandwagon back in 1998 when my uncle sent a copy to the house and, after several weeks of my sister and I ignoring it, my mom proposed what has been known since as “the Harry Potter test,” namely, that she would read us the first chapter out loud and if we didn’t want to continue after that we wouldn’t.  Unsurprisingly, we clamored for more, made short work of the first two books and were left waiting with baited breath for the third.  I’m not at all sure of the number of times I’ve read the early books since then.  I certainly read the series through from the beginning before starting each of the last five books.  But this is the first time I’ve read it since finishing Deathly Hallows and I’ve noticed a few things with fresh eyes:

Foreshadowing 101

Each time I read this book I’m blown away by the foreshadowing and, still more, by the way Rowling seeded the whole book with important people, places and concepts that won’t be brought back for many books.  I remember setting down Prisoner of Azkaban to ask ‘wait, Sirius Black? We’ve heard that name before.  Wasn’t he they guy who lent Hagrid his motorcycle in the first chapter of the first book?  Wow.’  But after reading to the end of the series its hard to turn a page without being amazed at the way key concepts come up in throw away lines and Read the rest of this entry »

“When in doubt, go to the library”: Books at Hogwarts

August 5, 2010

Say what you like about education at Hogwarts (and I could say plenty: There’s seriously not a single year’s class on literature or even basic math?  That’s putting a lot of faith in early home schooling, folks!), wizarding students know how to hit the books.  Hermione is the one everyone thinks of first in conjunction with research and reading at Hogwarts, but one of the things I love most about Harry Potter is that really ALL the students read nearly constantly.

“Honestly, don’t you two read?”

When Harry Ron and Hermione wanted to know who Nicholas Flamel was in Sorcerer’s Stone, they couldn’t Google it.  There is no wizard Wikipedia.  Instead they spent every spare minute in the library, stopping off there between classes and during evening hours.  When Harry gets an invisibility cloak for Christmas and decides to take it out for a spin, the cool, illicit place he decides to sneak into is the Restricted Section of the school library.  Even Hagrid turns up Read the rest of this entry »

Poor Little Rich Boy: Draco Malfoy

August 4, 2010

I came across this really delightful blog about all things Potter and paging through some recent entries, I stumbled on this post about Draco Malfoy and was so drawn into thinking about his character that I started to add a comment, something I rarely do.  But my comment went on and on and I ultimately decided it would be better adapted to a post of my own.  The result is below.

I’m inclined to be open minded about Draco Malfoy.  [I should note here that I also spent the two years between Half Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows repeating over and over to myself and everyone else that Snape MUST have had a hidden motive for killing Dumbledore.  Its not that I like bad guys; its just that I believe that J.K. Rowling writes more nuanced characters than that!] He is certainly a snob, a bully and an outspoken muggle-hater but I also think that a lot of this anti-social behavior is at least partly a cover for his own insecurity.

Raised by Wolves … or at least Death Eaters

Look at his background: he was raised by two people who have thoroughly entrenched themselves in a world of privilege and bigotry and its unclear where he would ever have gotten any other perspectives.  Sure, we can all see his parent’s behavior as despicable but he is their beloved child.  The combination of his mother’s doting and his father’s disdainful borderline abusive Read the rest of this entry »

Where Dwell the Brave at Heart: Houses at Hogwarts

August 3, 2010

“The four Houses are called Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw and Slytherin.  Each House has its own noble history and each has produced outstanding witches and wizards.  While you are Hogwarts, your triumphs will earn your House points, while any rule-breaking will loose House points.”

I’ve been thinking about Hogwarts Houses lately.  I understand the rationale for breaking a large school up into smaller chunks; it’s helpful from an administrative perspective as well as giving the students a slightly less cavernous feeling to the new place when they come.  It builds identity and friendships within each House and, to a certain extent, competition between Houses motivates each to perform at its best.  But in the end I wonder if it doesn’t do a lot more harm than good.  At several points the houses are described as being equal, or at least each good in its own way, but there are actually some fairly clear value judgments made based on house selection and I don’t think they appear merely because we the readers spend all of our time following Gryffindor house.

Why introduce this separation into a group which might otherwise be disposed to be cohesive?  Rowling clearly describes the students, nervous about their entry into the school, gathering together for comfort and safety.  “The crowded in, standing rather closer together than they would usually have done …” and clearly the sense is Read the rest of this entry »

Incorrigible Fangirl

August 2, 2010

Anyone who knows me at all is already aware that I am an incorrigible fangirl.  I mention this now not because it really needs re-stating but as a warning that I think there’s about to be a flood of Harry Potter analysis and discussion and general fandom on this blog soon. I’m in the mood for it.

I’m in the mood for Harry Potter specifically, rather, because I’m pretty much always in the mood to geek out about some favorite fiction or other and will happily debate the most minor character or plot details from sun up to sun down with anyone so unwise as to get me started.  I read and re-read favorite series and find myself thinking of the people in them, both major and minor, as friends and relations.  When I really need to buckle down and work hard on something in my life for a few months I usually touch base with Alanna and Kel first to get inspired by the value of hard work.  When I need a mental vacation, I take it in middle earth.  If I feel like I need some momentum to push through and beat the odds, I turn to Star Wars.

I think what kicked off this Harry Potter furor is that I somewhat randomly picked up the soundtrack to the latest movie from the library and fell instantaneously and completely in love with it.  The Half Blood Prince score, by Nicholas Hooper is by far the best to date (I’m heart broken that he’s not slated to score the final two).  Listen here and then buy it!  I like John Williams as much as the next die hard Star Wars fan, but  this musical score completely outclasses the first three movies!  Its delicate and filled with a sense of yearning that complements rather than overplays the darker tone of the book.  Interestingly, the CD is also organized into a series of musical themes for characters or moments rather than simply tracking the plot of the movie minus sound effects and dialogue.  I’ve been listening too it pretty much non stop since I adding it to iTunes a few weeks ago.  The soundtrack made me curious to watch the movie again, which led to more movies over a weekend and then fired me up with a desire to re-read the books.  The result is that I’ve been steeping myself in the world of Hogwarts and wizards to the saturation point and now I need to share.

So (assuming this counts as an apology) you’re only going to get one apology.  Strap in.