Harry Potter and the Executive Short Shrift

The consensus about Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is that it was a pretty good movie, but would have made a better TV series. I’ve been saying the same thing since The Goblet of Fire, and really about most novels that are made in to movies. and this isn’t even fannish griping about my favorite little moment being left out for plot expediency. Most novels are twenty gallon stories wearing a ten gallon hat. HBP was more relaxed and had some of the character moments that were lacking in the last two films, but still suffered from an excess of plot. But that is part of the problem with cramming a 650 page novel into two and half hours of movie. You have to break your neck swinging form one emotional arc to the next, just to fit everything into the allotted time.

Now, as a series, you have between 13 and 20 episodes to dwell on the character moments that make the story come alive, while still handling the various plots and subplots in a way that allows for subtly, drama and levity. You can spend a whole episode dealing with the Ron-Lavender-Hermione love triangle, as a break from emo Malfoy and the cabinet of doom, the whole business with Harry and the spell book, and the larger political fight going on as the buildup to the war escalates. Alternate this with prolonged episodes of Harry and Dumbledore in the Pensieve, hunting for horacrux and playing quidditch and you’ve got a pretty full season of television, right there. Squeezing all that into a movie leaves you wandering what’s happening, unless you’ve already read the books. Which just makes the movies little more than a visual plot summary rather than a living, breathing story on film.

The Continuing Adventures of Neville Longbottom

Sorry for the lack of posts, but we’ve been reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

It’s been our tradition, at least since Book Five, to read aloud to one another, Elvira and I alternating chapters. This time, we got the book a week late and even after a four day marathon read, we’re still coming in a little late to the discussion. Everyone’s already said almost everything there is to say , but what use is the Internet if not to say what everyone else has already? Rawling’s usual expository dialog and adverb infestation made things a little clunky at times but overall, I was pleased with the pace of the Deathly Hallows. The characters were, as usual, fun, well developed and there were just enough twists to make it really exciting. It would have been easy to do a by the numbers wrap up but instead, we got a complex tale of hard choices balanced equally by joy, resignation, defeat and triumph. all in all, a very satisfying ending to the series.

And I liked the Epilogue. Some people thought it excessive or a little too slight but come on folks, it’s Harry’s story, not Luna’s or Neville’s. As much as I’d like to know what Lee Jordan was doing nineteen years after the battle of Hogwarts, it can wait for the forthcoming compendium of all the other bits and pieces that didn’t fit into the books.

a few people have wondered if the epilogue might not be a set up for another series and all I can say is I hope so, but why just one?

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Harry vs. Jesus

Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon makes some keen observations as to why Fundies get so irate over Harry Potter. She touches on a few points I’ve brought up before: that the themes of the Harry Potter books contradict the top-down authority of a Biblical hierarchy, and do so chiefly by demonstrating that rebelling against authority and thinking for yourself is inherently good. But they also fear Harry Potter because they can’t stomach competition. As Amanda puts it:

But mostly, I think that the woman above [in the video clip, which you should watch because it’s a hoot]’s uneasiness with the portrayal of magic and Lev Grossman’s uneasiness with magic that doesn’t explicitly come from god is what, in the end, upsets the religious nuts the most about Harry Potter. For one thing, they admit that outright. But mostly, it’s because fantasy fiction is a threat to religious faith, particularly those faiths that insist on the literal truth of the Bible. Harry Potter doesn’t lay claim to be the truth, yet in many ways, the narrative is much more coherent, cohesive and therefore believable than the Bible’s stories of magic and mystery. Which makes it undeniably obvious that it’s completely possible that someone just made the entire Bible up just as surely as J.K. Rowling made up Hogwarts.

also, for the Biblical literalism crowd, Harry Potter isn’t fantasy. They believe magic is real. In some ways this is a failure on their part to grasp the difference between reality and fiction, but it’s more a side effect of believing that a book of fairy tales is a true depiction of actual events. If you’ve already internalized the necessary logical contradictions needed to believe that a talking snake doomed mankind by offering your great great great to the nth grandma some magical fruit, then you’ve already accepted the idea as a given that magic is real. Sure, Herod called up some ghosts, Giants used to live in the Earth and angels flap their wings overhead. But, more importantly, demons are underfoot, everywhere, and they are really good at convincing you to do things you’ll be sorry about later, like talking back to your father or masturbating or thinking for yourself. And we all know that sort of freewheeling behavior leads to crack smoking, baby sacrifices and midnight graveyard orgies with the Devil. QED, Amen.*

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Reading Harry Potter in America

Ron Charles, Literary Critic for the Washington Post, has a problem with Harry Potter:

But all around me, I see adults reading J.K. Rowling’s books to themselves: perfectly intelligent, mature people, poring over “Harry Potter” with nary a child in sight. Waterstone’s, a British book chain, predicts that the seventh and (supposedly) final volume, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” may be read by more adults than children. Rowling’s U.K. publisher has even been releasing “adult editions.” That has an alarmingly illicit sound to it, but don’t worry. They’re the same books dressed up with more sophisticated dust jackets — Cap’n Crunch in a Gucci bag.

Many of those adults who are reading Harry Potter may not have time to read Serious Literature, because they’re too busy trying to figure out how they’re going to pay their overly bloated mortgage, keep their kids in a school that isn’t hamstrung by NCLB, or pay for health care. Perhaps if our American Culture wasn’t so money obsessed and corporatized, adults would have some extra leisure time to read other novels as well. But they don’t and so most of them won’t. But some will. Surprising as it may sound– shocking, even to lit snobs like Charles, some of us Harry Potter fans also read other Serious Literature (though I will be setting aside Against the Day for Deathly Hollows. That’s just how it’s going to play out).

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Harry Potter and the Order of Procrastination

Where did the week go? Seriously, I had grand plans. I was going to rant about the government, pontificate about the Pope and generally chew the scenery. Then Wednesday night we went and saw Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. I’ve been on a nice little buzz ever since and have let the other stuff fall by the wayside (except for my real writing.* News about my novel will be forth coming).

Harry Potter was great! I had some trepidation going in– after all, translating a 900 page novel into a 2 1/2 hour movie means some pretty big ideas are bound to be omitted but all in all, a satisfying movie. Thing’s moved rather fast, Harry wasn’t as whiny as he was, for as long as he was in the book and all the high points of the story were hit and in an effective manner. Any film maker out there wondering how to turn that giant door stop of a novel into a cohesive movie that still maintains the spirit of the author’s intent should use Order of the Phoenix as their model. Sure, I would have liked to have seen a few more character moments but what is there is great. the actors have all grown into these roles and I think that is the key to the success of the picture. Doing so much with so little is not easy and these actors, al of them children, manage to do something other actors twice their age have problems with. Bravo to them!

Now it’s off to play Super Mario Bros. 2 on the Wii get some writing done!