Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Harry Potter & the Prisoner of Azkaban (Audio by Fry)

(I love the art work for the Harry Potter books by Mary GrandPre, especially this one of Harry Potter and the Prison of Azkaban.)

After listening to Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, I breezed right through Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. I have always counted this as one of my favorites of the Harry Potter books, whether I'm reading it or listening to it. I particularly like the new characters and the unfolding of Harry's backstory. By the time I first read this book, which I was able to read immediately after the first two, Harry's story is familiar. Having Rowling go through it again seemed a bit unnecessary, to be honest. Yes, he has no parents because they were killed by Voldemort; he was raised by his unloving uncle and aunt and tormented by his cousin. And Voldemort, for some inexplicable reason, had tried to kill Harry when he killed his parents, Lily and James.

The thing that Rowling does each year, though, is to find a new and different way for Harry to leave the Dursleys and Privet Drive. We, by now, assume that he will return to Hogwarts where he is learning to be a wizard and has friends, something he didn't have before his eleventh birthday. As with many things, it's the little details that make the story interesting and fresh, when so many things will be the same. Rowling seemed to have a lot of fun with Harry's departure on this one. Blowing up one's aunt sounds serious, but there is an amount of humor in the way Harry's Aunt Marge is described as she floats up to the ceiling, looking like a Thanksgiving Day parade balloon. The reason he blows her up and the situation he finds himself in as a result of his uncontrolled anger is anything but funny. In fact, it's Harry's reaction to Aunt Marge saying cruel things about the parents he never knew that send him over the edge.

After realizing just how alone he is when he leaves the Dursleys, certain that he will be a fugitive from the wizarding world as well as the muggle one, Harry sees something mysterious lurking in the shadows just before he is rescued by the Knight Bus. After a wild ride, which lightens the mood just a bit, Harry finds himself safely deposited at the Leaky Cauldron and welcomed by Cornelius Fudge, the Minister for Magic. And here was Harry thinking that he'd not only be expelled but was likely to be arrested.

After spending the next two weeks in Diagon Alley and the Leaky Cauldron, Harry meets up with Ron and Hermione and they head back to Hogwarts. The train ride brings a new clue to Harry's past in the form of his reaction to the Dementors that board the train looking for the escaped convict, Sirius Black - the one that Harry has learned is out to kill him, like he killed Harry's parents. Rowling manages to write this in a way that conveys just how sinister and scary these creatures are, even before we get the explanation for what they are and what they do, taking away every happy thought and having the ability to suck out a person's soul. Just seeing how all of them are affected lets the reader know that the story has gone to a darker level than the first two books. I think it was at this point that I really started to wonder just how many young children could read this book without having nightmares. I know I couldn't have done.

All the usual characters are there - the other students and the professors. Hagrid, the game keeper and Harry's friend, has now been promoted to teaching Care of Magical Creatures. And there is a new professor, Remus Lupin. The only thing we know about Lupin at this point is that he was able to make the Dementor on the train leave, he recognizes the cheering and healing properties of chocolate (maybe that's why I immediately liked him, and probably reached for some chocolate of my own). Professor Lupin, tired-looking and not well-dressed, is the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and Severus Snape doesn't seem to like him very much. No surprise there - Snape doesn't like many people, especially anyone who has the job that he really wants.

I think that I've posted about Prisoner of Azkaban before, so the only thing I really want to add is why I particularly like this book. Harry is introduced to Sirius Black in a way that tests his ability to think for himself. Everything he knows up to that point tells him that this is someone he should fear, someone who is feared by everyone else. At this same moment, Harry learns more about his parents than he ever knew before. It turns out that Sirius was their good friend. And Professor Lupin, whom Harry has trusted, was also a friend of Harry's parents, as was Peter Pettigrew. In this moment of seeming danger, Harry listens to Lupin's story and decides to trust his instincts that Lupin and Black are telling the truth. I'm not sure how many people would do that. Upon hearing the details of the night of his parents' deaths and his own survival, he chooses to spare the life of the betrayer, knowing that James wouldn't want Remus and Sirius to become murderers. This quality of trusting his own instincts is one that serves Harry well most of the time. That it worked out in this instance is probably the reason we are so willing to trust Harry to make the right choices in later books - it's only later that we learn that Harry's instincts are not always right.

Prisoner of Azkaban is the book where Harry learns who really betrayed his parents and led Voldemort to them the night they were killed. There is a little of how fragile his safety was in his first two and a half years at Hogwarts when Ron realizes that his pet rat, Scabbers, is really the traitor, Peter Pettigrew. But Harry doesn't seem to dwell on the danger he was in having Scabbers watching his every move when they were at school. Instead, he now has the anger to deal with, knowing that a friend betrayed his parents.

Just when Harry finds his parents' friend, Sirius Black, who is also his godfather, he almost loses him forever to the Dementors. The way out of that is the Time Turner that Hermione has been using all year to get to extra classes. I have to say that time travel always makes my head hurt. I just have to read it or listen to it, and nod and smile and move on. If I try to figure out how that would actually work, I feel like Hermione when Harry tells her "I knew I could do it [produce the Patronus] this time," said Harry, "because I'd already done it . . . . Does that make sense?" [POA, p. 412]

Hermione's response? "I don't know." Yep, that's my reaction as well. And like Hermione, I just decide to trust Harry on this one. There are more important problems, like rescuing Sirius and Buckbeak, than figuring out how this bit of fiction could work in real life.

By the end of this book, it's clear that Harry has a better understanding of the evil with which he is confronted each year. It's worse than he knew, but he now has two more adults in his life who care for him and who are loyal to him and to the memory of his parents. Harry has learned something else valuable, to not take things or people at face value. He's learned to look carefully at each situation before taking action. And he now has something else that's as useful as his Invisibility Cloak - the Maurader's Map, courtesy of Fred and George, and returned to him by Remus Lupin, one of the four map makers.

Here, I won't go into my usual rant that the critical information about the Maurader's Map and its creators (Lupin, Black, James Potter and Pettigrew) was completely marginalized in the movie and that Harry never asks Lupin how he knows that the bit of parchment IS a map. However, . . . 'nough said.

There is something that always bothered me about the book, however. It was corrected in the movie (my favorite scene in the POA movie, actually) when Lupin and Harry talk on the bridge. In the book, they have a conversation over tea in Lupin's office. It's not important where they are, but what was missing in the book, in my opinion. Lupin has the perfect opportunity to tell Harry that he knew James. I understand that it would have spoiled the twist that Rowling had coming when Lupin joins up with Sirius Black in the Shrieking Shack. But it just would have made more sense for him to say to Harry, in that moment when they were alone - "I knew your dad and mum at school." He needn't have said they were best friends or any more than that. But it seemed odd that he never mentioned it at all. I think any adult who sees the child of a deceased friend would say something.

The other thing that has always seemed off to me is that Harry doesn't ask about his parents. I know he wouldn't ask the Dursleys, but once he is at school and has the chance to talk to people who might have known James and Lily, why didn't he ever say to Dumbledore, Hagrid, or any of the professors "Did you know my mum and dad? Did you have them in class? What were they like? Were they good students? Who were their friends?" It is normal for children to want to know about their parents when they were younger, and it's out of character for Harry, as an adopted child (or a foster child or whatever the arrangement was), to not ask those questions. Especially, since thre was nothing hapy about his situation.

I speak as an adopted child on this issue. I had a happy childhood with loving parents and a good home. But I remember wondering who my birth parents were, what they were like, what happened to them. As I got older, I no longer felt the need to find answers to those questions, but it was because I was happy. I came to understand that my "real parents" were the mom and dad who raised me, the ones who were there for me when I was sick, who shared in my joys and sorrows. Not every adopted child gets to that point. But if I'd had a family like the Dursleys, I definitely would have wanted all the information I could find about my [birth] parents. We find out later, in Goblet of Fire, that Tom Riddle searched for his birth parents because he hoped that would answer questions about who he was. I think Rowling missed in handling how Harry would act after learning that he'd had loving parents. He would have been more curious than she allowed him to be. In everything else, Harry isn't content to accept what he's told, so why are we to expect that he would be so incurious about his parents until he finally meets Sirius and Remus?

As I said when I started this post, I went right through books two and three by listening to Stephen Fry. The books are best, I think, when read aloud. There is a richness that comes off the page when the story is told rather than just read. Reading a book aloud means that the reader an the listener have the time to reflect on the story, enjoy the funny bits, agonize over moments of sorrow or apprehension, in a way that just can't be properly done as one rushes through when reading silently.

Now that I've caught up, I'm off to listen to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

. . . if I just had a Time Turner, I could get some more sleep. Someday I'll learn to not start writing things so late at night. But, I probably couldn't figure out how to work it anyway.


Monday, September 28, 2009

Chamber of Secrets

(Cover art by Mary GrandPre)

We were ready to travel to Tennessee, and I updated the music and the audio books on my two mp3 players - two because one isn't enough when I want to take more than one Harry Potter book with me. So I had the end of Half-Blood Prince and all of Chamber of Secrets, which I haven't listened to for quite some time.

For one thing, I love listening to Stephen Fry reading it. One of the most interesting things about the first four Harry Potter books is that he recorded them before the first movie came out, and before any of the characters were cast. Fry's Hagrid sounds just like Robbie Coltrane; Dumbledore sounds different than Richard Harris but somehow has the same lightness to his voice that came through in Harris's performances. Book Dobby and movie Dobby are very similar. Fry's McGonagall, of course, doesn't sound like Maggie Smith's voice, except in tone and the crispness of diction, if that makes sense.

Stephen Fry doesn't try to sound like a woman, except his voice is a little higher, but not too exagerated. It's very hard for a man to sound like a twelve year old girl, but he portrays Hermione in a very believable voice, getting the impatience and prissiness. Well, Hermione's not prissy, but it's that know-it-all tone of voice. (It was actually hearing Jim Dale read Hermione and Molly in Goblet of Fire that decided me against wanting to hear any more from him - too high pitched to the point that it was grating and so over-done.)

Stephen Fry nails the haughtiness of Lucius Malfoy and of Draco. And the oiliness of Borgin. But the one that amazes me is his reading of Gilderoy Lockhart. It sounds just like Kenneth Brannagh. I sometimes have to remind myself that it isn't. The accent, the inflection, the pacing. It's perfect. So I was thinking that all of that is due to the writing. Rowling apparently wrote all of those characters (including all the Weasleys, parents as well as the children) in such a way that whoever is reading will have such a vivid image of the characters that the voice will just be natural. Oh, and I didn't mention Tom Riddle, but that's perfect as well. Especially the high pitched laugh that Rowling describes - which I've always had trouble hearing, until I heard Stephen Fry do it.

The only one that isn't the same is Severus Snape. Fry does read him with a thin, waspish sounding voice, which is what is described. But it sounds nothing like Alan Rickman. By the time he read Order of the Phoenix, Fry had changed the voice of Snape so it is very like Rickman's. And so much the better. Snape is much more sinister and threatening and terrifying when he sounds like Rickman. (I'll add that is one of the few changes from book to movie that I really thought worked well. While Rickman doesn't look the way I saw or heard Snape when I read the first four books, his version works better on screen. Rather than Snape screaming at Harry, Snape speaking in a lower more deliberate manner better conveys that he is barely controlling his anger and hatred for Harry.)

And so now that I'm almost to the end, I think I'll continue on through and listen to Prisoner of Azkaban next. Thankfully now, I have all of my music and four audio books on one mp3 player. Terry gave me a new one with 6 times as much memory. Nice.


Thursday, August 6, 2009

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince - the movie

Since the time I saw the movie at midnight with Sarah till now, I've had the chance to see it two more times. I haven't posted anything here about it because, quite honestly, I just forgot to do it. I've discussed it in other places and I've read other people's thoughts about it. What I have been doing is paging back through the book and making notes of the changes in the movie. But I'm not quite finished and probably won't post the whole thing. It's just been an interesting exercise for me.


For the most part, I really liked this movie - the first time and more each time I saw it. More than in any of the other movies, I found myself silently cheering when I recognized passages that were nearly the same as the book. Some were in the same part of the book, others were in different scenes, but they were there nonetheless.

The things that make me curious are how they are going to include all those important elements of Deathly Hallows in the next two movies, when they have left out so many things in all the first six movies. The house elves, for instance. We saw a lot of Dobby in Chamber of Secrets, and only a little of Kreacher in Order of the Phoenix. In the books we saw Dobby enough to either find him annoying or sometimes cute, but we still saw him. He was familiar and recognizable when we saw him in Deathly Hallows. We didn't need any explanation about who he was, how he was connected to Harry or why Harry would care about him so much, or why we would care so much about him at Shell Cottage. The big surprise with Kreacher in Deathly Hallows is that we DO care about him, when all we had seen before was a disgusting and irritating character who was definitely on the side of evil. Yes, he was in the Order of the Phoenix movie, but only barely, and not at all in Half-Blood Prince. Will people who haven't read the books, or haven't read them recently, remember why Kreacher is important?

But I'm jumping ahead. The opening scene in the movie took me by surprise until I realized they were showing the aftermath of the battle in the Ministry when Fudge finally has to acknowledge the return of Voldemort. Nicely done, even though that wasn't by the book. It worked well. So did the scene with the people in a meeting watching something they don't understand and then the bridge attack and collapse. In the book we are told that a bridge collapsed but it was off-screen, so this worked well in the movie. It also works to show that the Death Eaters have crossed that rule for wizards remaining out of sight of muggles. It's apparent that they aren't playing by the rules any longer, now that everyone in the wizard world knows Voldemort is back.

I really liked the scene at Spinner's End. Yes, it's in the daytime, but that doesn't really matter. Snape, brilliantly played by Alan Rickman, is perfect in every aspect of this scene. He conveys so much of what is in the book but not in the movie by a mere glance, hand gesture or tone of voice. I would like to have seen the listing by Snape of how he has remained faithful to Voldemort while seeming to be remorseful and loyal to Dumbledore. That was a nice set-up in the book that could have made the ending of the movie have more of an impact. The Unbreakable Vow was very well done, but I really wish that the questions had been asked by Narcissa rather than Bellatrix. (Mostly Helena Bonham Carter irritates me in this role, so less of her is better, IMO.) But the reason I found the scene so powerful in the book was that it was the distraught, anxious, loving mother who was pleading for help for her son. In the movie, it's clearly Bella who is trying to trap Snape by asking the questions. It still works, especially the way Snape so clearly hesitates and gives the slightest blanch at the last question. Again, that's Rickman at his best.

Another brilliant performance comes from Jim Broadbent as Horace Slughorn. He isn't at all like the Slughorn I pictured physically. In my mind, Sluggy looked like the little man on the Monopoly game. But Broadbent is marvelous in the role and adds, with just the right facial expressions, that sense that Slughorn isn't evil, just not strong enough to resist Voldemort, even though he clearly wants to. When we first meet him, it's very much like the book and I laughed when Dumbledore came back from the loo with his knitting pattern book.

Harry's arrival at the Burrow is a bit different, but it works well. Instead of finding out later at Hogwarts that some parents didn't want their children to return, it's discussed by the trio at the Burrow. And at some point we see the Death Eaters swoop into Diagon Alley and kidnap Ollivander, though his shop is trashed in the movie rather than neatly cleaned out, which, in the book, leaves people wondering about Ollivander's loyalties. But all that works in the movie. It shows the terror and the boldness of the Death Eaters without a lot of dialogue, making the sense of fear and urgency very obvious.

I loved all the scenes with Luna, but missed Neville. He wasn't in the book that much either, so I guess that's OK. The scenes with the Weasleys were great throughout the movie - just not always enough.

There were little details about the Potions book and the Half-Blood Prince that were in the movie, but not really enough of the mystery was explored as to who the Half-Blood Prince was. I was intrigued to see something about alchemy on one of the pages when Harry is reading the notes written in by the HBP. But I think they cut the ending way too short. Parts of it were OK. The Potions class scenes were a treat, but I really missed the scene in DADA with Snape. That would have been such a nice bookend to the first movie in his Potions class. I hope that is one of the deleted scenes that will be on the DVD.

The Cave scene was good, as far as it went, but the third time through the movie I counted the number of shells (not crystal goblets) that Dumbledore drank and came up with 5 to 7. It was hard to tell, as the last time that Harry dips in shows liquid left and then it is empty the next time we see it when he sees the locket. But it definitely wasn't twelve. And Dumbledore's distress is good, but doesn't include the line about it's his fault that they were hurt. Overall, Michael Gambon was much better in this movie than in the previous ones. His scenes with the young Tom Riddle were outstanding and the ones with Harry were better. I would have liked his hand to look more withered than it did, though.

Harry's not under the invisibility cloak when he and Dumbledore get back to the Tower after the Cave, and Dumbledore doesn't freeze him, but tells him to remain hidden and still. That works well with Harry's earlier promise,thankfully included in the movie, before they leave for the Cave. And as I thought about it later, it is a way to show that Harry, at that point, completely trusts Dumbledore and has faith in him. The silent caution from Snape is well done and I do like it. Most of what happens on the Tower, except that some of the DEs are different, is like the book. But it stops short of Dumbledore telling Draco that he can hide him from Voldemort. And the light when Dumbledore is hit by Avada Kedavra should have been defintely green rather than sort of green - same with the skull in the clouds.

Now, there is that moment when Harry arrives at the still body of Dumbledore with Ginny near him. Very well done. While I missed the funeral, and the mournful phoenix song and Harry pointing out how disloyal Snape was, I did like the wands raised in tribute to Dumbledore. What made it work for me was that when the light is directed upwards, the skull in the cloud dissapates. Light overcomes darkness. Good overcomes evil. Love overcomes hate. That theme is played out in a very visual way without someone having to explain it.

And what I really liked about the ending was that they were on the same Tower discussing Harry's plans and his need to have Ron and Hermione go with him. And then there was Fawkes, flying against the almost golden sky. Definitely not like the book, but it really worked well, as far as I was concerned.

The teen romance scenes were great. I thought it was all cast and played extremely well. Parts were funny and parts were poignant, just as all of us remember those years being. My favorite moments were the ones with Ron and Lavender. Jessie Cave doesn't look like the way I imagined Lavender, but she played the part so well. And the scene in Slughorn's office after Ron eats the love potion-laced candy was great. Just goes to show that Rupert Grint has a great sense of comedica talent and timing.

I loved all the regulars, especially Maggie Smith. She is like Rickman; she does so much with so little screen time. I loved her in the scene where she sends Harry and Ron off to their first potions class when she sees them loitering in the corridor. And the scene with the opal necklace is great with McGonagall and Snape and their reaction to Harry's wild thoughts about Draco. Back to Lupin and Tonks and the Weasley parents - I love all those characters in the book and love the way the actors portray them. It's too bad we don't see more of them, and I hope that with Deathly Hallows split into two movies, we will.

Then there is Tom Felton as Draco who had a much bigger role in the book and in the movie. They show it quite differently than the book. It was nice that they showed what was on his arm, so those of us who were convinced he'd become a werewolf had that mystery solved once and for all. And instead of Harry doing all the speculating about where Malfoy was going and what he was doing, we got to see it. If we'd had to just listen to Harry going on about Malfoy as he did in the book, I think it would have been irritating in the movie.

Just about the only scene I really didn't like was the burning of the Burrow. I loved the Christmas scene with Harry and Ginny and Ron. I loved Lupin and Tonks obviously being together and talking to Harry about Snape. I was even OK with the Death Eater attack and all of them being outside to fight them off. But what was the point of burning down the Burrow, a place that they're going to need in the next book. And then it was never mentioned again in the movie, so it really seemed like something added just for more action. What a waste when they could have made any of the other important scenes more complete.

I'm not sure I liked the kiss between Ginny and Harry. It was sweet, but I liked the suddeness of it in the book, and that it was a very public show that they were now a couple. And I suppose they can have Ginny show or tell Harry where she hid the Potions book, but the whole point of the scene in the book was to show the diadem, which we didn't see or hear of in the movie.

That is one thing the movie didn't do. It reminded us of the book and the ring and the locket as Horcruxes, and did a really good job of the memory with Slughorn, but we didn't get any hints about what the other Horcruxes might be. Something they did however, is to give a very visual hint that Harry is a Horcrux. That tic that he did throughout Order of the Phoenix and in Half-Blood Prince should prove useful in Deathly Hallows. Especially since he did it in this one and then Dumbledore makes some comment about magic leaving traces - or however he said it.

The scene at the end with Snape and Harry was good as far as it went. It just didn't go far enough. We saw Snape react to Bellatrix calling him a coward by saying he would make the Unbreakable Vow, but we don't see him react much to Harry when Harry calls him a coward. I really wanted to see Snape unhinged or at least the very controlled kind of reaction that Rickman gave in OP, but we didn't get it. We also didn't get his (Snape's) outrage over James's use of Snape's spells against Snape before Snape tells Harry that he is the Half-Blood Prince. Maybe they will include something about that in the next movie? I hope so.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, one of my favorite movie moments was the added scene on the bridge when Lupin is talking to Harry. And I have a favorite not-in-the-book moment in this movie as well. It's when Slughorn is telling Harry about the gift of a fish that he received from Lily and how it disappeared when she was killed. It made that whole scene of Harry telling Slughorn to be brave even better. I wonder if it is something that Kloves came up with or if it is something that Rowling had written and not included.

And just one more thing. I love the soundtrack for this movie. I listened to it when it was on-line the week before the movie opened and bought it the day it was released. I've listened a number of times and like all of it. I am sorry that Nicholas Hooper will not be back to score the final two movies, and unlike many, I hope that John Williams is not back to finish up. I like some of what he has done, but his soundtracks all sound so much alike that I'm often not sure which movie it is. I had to look the other day to see that it was E.T. on the radio and not one of the other movies he has done. Maybe with Yates the editing will be better if Williams returns. I like it much better when the music is a subtle part of a scene and doesn't overpower the action or the dialogue, which Williams's scores tend to do.

So, I look forward to seeing Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince at least one more time in the theater and then to buying it when it's released on DVD in the fall. And that will put us even closer to the first part of Deathly Hallows, which I hope will be the best of the Harry Potter movies yet.


Saturday, June 20, 2009

Taking time out for the Harry Potter movies

I'm having a hard time staying focused on posting about the book, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, because I'm so caught up in just reading it. And now it's less than a month before the movie comes out. So over at The Leaky Cauldron they have posted some interesting links to interviews and video clips and this one - a list of the twelve things that were in the books that should have been in the movies.

I agree with some of the things on the list, but not all. Personally, I had enough quidditch with the first films, and seeing it in all the others would have taken valuable time and would have gotten boring, imo.

But I completely agree that the Marauder's Map, Dobby, Kreacher, Percy and Marietta should have been in the movies with their more complete story lines. I thought it was a mistake to leave out Bagman, but it turns out he really wasn't that important later, so I guess that decision makes sense.

I missed Peeves, especially when the twins were leaving, and again in Deathly Hallows, but I guess it was OK to not have him. And I missed Harry talking to Nick about Sirius's death.

What I would add to the list is a better depiction of Barty Jr in the courtroom scene and a better death scene for Barty Sr. And then there is the missing Winky who plays a big role in that part of the story. The other thing that was left out was that Fluer is part veela. I guess it's not terribly important but it explains why the boys, Ron in particular, get all goofy whenever she's near them. The Pensieve scene with Snape and James and Sirius should have been longer, and should have included Lily. That's another bit they will have trouble explaining later.

The other thing the movies have all missed is the end of the books. They get part of it right and then stop before the full denouement from Dumbledore. So people who only watch the movies and haven't read the books really never fully get the meaning of what has happened in that particular story.

The problem with leaving things out concerning the minor characters is that then we don't really care what happens to them or we don't understand why it's important to Harry. Paring all that down is something that movies have to do to fit in a certain time frame, but by doing so, they really lose the richness that has made us all love the books.

Enough ranting, though. I'll stop for today. I'm sure I'll have more to say on this particular subject after July 15 when I see "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince".

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Time to Revisit Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Whenever a new Harry Potter movie is about to come out, many of us like to prepare by re-reading the book. I'm not sure that's a particularly good idea, but I always do it anyway, which brings me to the point of this post.

Over at The Hog's Head, Travis Prinzi is leading a discussion of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, three chapters a week. That's a nice pace, easy to keep up with, but slow enough to pay attention to the details. I've been reading and following the discussion-starting posts, but haven't had the time to join in the discussion. Instead, I've decided to just post here as I read the book again. And I'll finally make use of all those margin notes I made. I've never been one for writing in books; even highlighting in a text book always felt wrong, but after reading Half-Blood Prince where Harry poured over the notes made in his potions book so many years before, I decided that the best place to write my own notes was in the book itself. After that, as I re-read each of the Harry Potter books, I made notes in the margins, at the end of chapters, and even at the end of each book. No more trying to keep track of all the journals I started and didn't finish.

Before writing this time, I thought it best to look back to see what I had already written. No need to repeat the same thing. So I found that I had posted about HBP in 2007 after my second reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

So, here goes.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
Chapter One: The Other Minister

"While this chapter is a nice tie in with the book, and covers things such as a change in the Minister for Magic, the Ministry of Magic's realization that Voldemort is back and that Sirius was innocent, it doesn't do much more. Rowling apparently intended this chapter for several previous books and finally felt that it belonged here.

I'm still not sure why she seems to feel it was such an important chapter, unless it is a huge foreshadowing of the eventual merging of the two worlds."

Those were my notes on the first page. I'm still not certain why the chapter meant so much to her that she tried it in several different books before using it here. It does end up being a unique way to catch the reader up on what has been happening and to remind the reader of past events. We usually get all that from Harry's point of view, and Harry is not in this chapter at all. So perhaps the important point is that we are about to start getting some information beyond Harry's limited perspective.

The two worlds - the Wizarding world and the Muggle world - never really merge, but the lines separating them are blurred. We learn that the Muggle Prime Minister is always introduced to the current Minister for Magic upon entering office, and this one picks up with Fudge being sent to pave the way for Rufus Scrimgeour, the new Minister for Magic.

One of the brilliant things that Rowling has done throughout the books is to use humor even when the story is dealing with serious or scary things. The image of the Muggle PM learning about wizards, hearing a portait talk to him, seeing people stepping out of his fire and then telling him about dragons, dementors, and all sorts of magical happenings paints a funny picture. After all, when the PM asked why his predecessor hadn't warned him, Fudge asked [HBP, p. 6, Scholastic]:

"My dear Prime Minister, are you ever going to tell anybody?"

By the time Scrimgeour arrives, the PM is up to date on the severity of Voldemort's return. Fudge points out to him that they all have the same concerns: the collapse of the Brockdale Bridge, the murders of Emmeline Vance and Amelia Bones, and Herbert Chorley, a Junior Minister gone wacky, now residing at St. Mungo's are events that are part of both worlds.

It's somewhat of a relief to hear that Fudge was finally sacked. It took them long enough. Our first meeting with Scrimgeour is his first meeting with the Prime Minister. He seems stronger and more capable than Fudge, and at least more business-like. "There was an immediate impression of shrewdness and toughness; the Prime Minister thought he understood why the Wizarding community preferred Scrimgeour to Fudge as a leader in these dangerous times." [HBP, p. 16, Scholastic]

Amidst all that disturbing news, we learn that Kingsley Shacklebolt is now ensconced in the PM's office as his most able new assistant, put there without his knowledge to protect him.

The PM still doesn't quite get the importance of all this information, especially that his Junior Minister won't be around for awhile:

"He's only quacking!" said the Prime Minister weakly. "Surely a bit of rest. . . Maybe go easy on the drink. . ." [HBP, p. 18, Scholastic]

Hmmm, it seems an apt description of what we see with some public officials, who are seemingly slightly mad.

But his real frustration is that they are wizards and should be able to do something about it because they can do magic. That is the problem after all, which Scrimgeour and Fudge both understand [HBP, p. 18, Scholastic]:

"The trouble is, the other side can do magic too, Prime Minister."

This sixth book ends up being quite different in style than the first five Harry Potter books. So perhaps having this first chapter be quite different was a good choice after all. It's Rowling's way of letting us know that we are in for many changes.

With that, I'll call it a night and save the second chapter for a separate post, as it's one of my favorite chapters.


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, audio by Stephen Fry

I recently finished listening to Stephen Fry read Deathly Hallows. It was a book, that even on re-reading, I couldn't get through many chapters without a lot of tears. Listening to it, I found my self once again in tears over Dobby's death, the death of Fred, and all the others. The chapter when Kreacher tells his story was even more poignant when read aloud. As was Harry's meeting with his parents and Sirius and Remus in the forest and his final meeting with Dumbledore at King's Cross.

And then there was "The Prince's Tale", the chapter about Snape, the one that answered so many questions about the enigmatic potions master who finally achieved his heart's desire of being the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Thinking back to the beginning of that year, when he started the class, he knew what was coming and yet went ahead with the plan that Dumbledore had laid out for them all, just as Harry chose to follow Dumbledore in the end.

It's a powerful book, and my favorite of the series. It's even more powerful when spoken. My only disappointment is that it is the one that I won't be able to listen to when I travel - it's a bit too hard to explain why you are suddenly crying when everything seems normal around you.

So, my thanks to Stephen Fry for reading all the seven Harry Potter books so well, and my thanks to my husband for buying them all for me.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Moment of Panic

I was looking at my blog and trying to figure out if I wanted to make any changes. I added the Harry Potter quotes at the bottom but didn't change anything else. And then I looked at my blog and all my posts were gone. I've no idea what that was all about. It seems to be back, but I think I'll definitely start copying all my posts and putting them somewhere in a file. Not that there's anything earth shattering that would be a tragedy if it disappeared. . . well, for me, it would be.

So, even though I'd like to make some changes, I like I'll just leave it alone. That was too scary.

I'm about two thirds of the way through Harry Potter and Imagination by Travis Prinzi. It's the kind of book that I will need to read more than once, and next time I'll be taking notes. He has made some observations that have clarified things for me, and he's brought up things I hadn't given much thought. I plan to sit down in the next few days and comment on some of the ones that I have found to be the most thought provoking.

For now, I'm going back to a calming cup of tea, a snack with some chocolate in it, and more of Travis's book.


Saturday, January 24, 2009

Slightly obsessed? Well, I guess I am. . .

Travis over at The Hog's Head posted a list of books that he owns that are Harry Potter related and asked us to share our own. I'm glad that I copied mine before I posted, because it doesn't seem to have made it past the spam catcher.

I admit that I am a collector of things, not just Harry Potter things. But for what it's worth, here is my list, or as complete a list as I am likely to compile.

It's a little disturbing when I stop to take inventory on my Harry Potter bookshelf, which has spilled onto a place on my desk because they won't all fit on just one shelf.

I have the 7 HP books, hardback and paperback (well, not DH yet as it hasn't been released in the US - I'll get it when it comes out). I have an extra copy of COS because Laura lost the dust cover and I wanted that one. I have an extra copy of POA, GOF and OP because my first ones fell apart. And I have the UK version of PS, brought to me by my sister-in-law who saw it in a book shop in Germany. (I'm glad she realized I'd want the UK one and not a translated German version, which I couldn't have read.)

And I now have all seven of the audio books, read by Stephen Fry.

And here's the rest of the list:
Sorcerer's Stone (10th Anniversary edition)
Order of the Phoenix, deluxe edition (from ebay)
Half-Blood Prince, deluxe edition (from ebay)
Deathly Hallows, deluxe edition (bought when I bought the regular one at midnight)

Fantastic Beasts
Quidditch Through the Ages
Tales of Beedle the Bard (bought three and gave one to each daughter)

by John Granger:
Looking for God in Harry Potter, 2004
Looking for God in Harry Potter, 2006? (found it in paperback at Amazon or somewhere - John was surprised I'd found a copy)
Hidden Keys
How Harry Cast His Spell
The Deathly Hallows Lectures (two copies, one was apparently mistakenly released early, and they are different)
Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys. . .

Harry Potter and Imagination, by Travis, which I'm quite enjoying and wish I'd been jotting down notes.

The Gospel According to Harry Potter, Connie Neal
The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, David Colbert
Harry Potter and Philosophy, ed. Baggett and Klein (never finished it)
The Wisdom of Harry Potter, Edmund Kern
A Charmed Life, Francis Bridger
What Will Harry Do?, Janet Batchler
Harry, a History, Melissa Anelli

Traditional Symbols, J. C. Cooper (not HP, and written in the 1970s, but I bought it specifically because of HP and because I wanted something that wasn't influenced by HP)
. . . as well as some basic books on mythology, since my knowledge was definitely lacking

And then there is the shelf that has "stuff" that I have collected or been given by family members who shake their heads at my HP obsession. Included there are:
-the tiny water globes that came out with the first film
-Christmas ornaments
-the goofy HP glasses
-a wand, hand carved and painted by my talented son-in-law and daughter - when we went to Lumos 2006
-the collector's stones (I finally bought the golden snitch one since I couldn't get it by buying them at the store)
- the stones are in a cauldron-like goblet that my daughter etched with "Harry Potter"
-stamps my hubby ordered from the UK
-a small Hedwig
-a wand from Allivans given to me by my Day Camp co-site director when we had a Harry Potter themed week
-framed picture with the first 4 movie posters and cells from the films (not huge, and it was a gift from daughter, son-in-law and their friend - we had all gone to all of the midnight movies)
- a throw with a scene from HP and SS movie - crossing the water to Hogwarts (not on the shelf)

Oh, and a LOT of HP book marks, some of which say Bloomsbury on them instead of Scholastic - I'm not sure how those found their way to my B&N in Washington state, but there they are.

I also have HP mugs, one for each of the houses and one (gift) of Hagrid with Norbert.

I have a couple of movie posters from the first movie that were free at Sears and a poster from B&N for the HBP release.

Then there is the potions poster that was given to Laura that she stuck on her bedroom door (now my computer room) with what must have been a permanent sticking charm, as it's still there after 8 years. I particularly like Snape scowling over Harry's shoulder as Harry works on a potion.

And one of my favorites - a small badger sent to me by my friend from the Netherlands, Antoinette, since we are both Hufflepuffs. I knitted a small Hufflepuff scarf for it.

And last, but not least, the HP watch that Laura gave me that I still sometimes wear - with potions bottles on the face (just looks pretty and most people don't know it's HP), but not with the blue band. I switched that to a silver one a long time ago so it isn't so obviously a kid's watch.

There's more (little stuff), but that's definitely enough to list.

Like I said, I find myself "a bit scary" sometimes, as Ron told Hermione. I try not to scare everyone else quite so much by keeping it all (most of it anyway) contained in my computer room where they don't have to see it every day.

Now, everyone who is a packrat should feel better knowing that they are not alone. Actually, a packrat is never alone - or at least not alone in an empty or uninteresting room.