Archive for the 'Books' Category

Harry Potter and the Final Chapter (Spoilers)

July 22nd, 2007

Don’t read on unless you’ve read the book or don’t care about spoilers.

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Harry Potter and the Penultimate Evening

July 20th, 2007

One more night until Book 7.

The only real purpose of this post is to provide fair warning: as of Sunday morning, I may be posting spoilers to this blog. I won’t put anything on the main page or the feed, but be warned that any Harry Potter post from Sunday may have spoilers for book 7 in it.

Of course, the same is probably true of the Internet as a whole. If you want to stay unspoiled, then either unplug your computer and TV and cancel your newspaper and magazine subscriptions, or buy the book first thing tomorrow and read it immediately.

So, for my last chance to speculate, a few thoughts (based on nothing more than having read the first 6 books, and scrupulously avoiding all possible spoilers so far):

  • I don’t know who’s going to die in the book. My feeling is that it’ll be pretty bloody. If JK were keen on avoiding sequels, then Harry, Hermione and Ron will go. But as she doesn’t sound so opposed (sadly…), then I suspect that only one of the three will die. If one of those three doesn’t die, then it’s a cop out.

  • Snape will turn out to be good.

  • Voldemort will die, but the death eaters won’t be destroyed.

  • Dumbledore will return, probably a la Obi Wan in Star Wars.

  • Time travel may show up again. No reason, just feels like it might.

  • Sirius will return, probably for real. And then die.

  • Harry will not kill Voldemort, but someone else will.

I’ll know in a little under 24 hours. Look for a review (with spoilers) Sunday evening.

Harry Potter and the Structural Plagiarism

July 19th, 2007

The Harry Potter books look like they’re pretty strongly in the Fantasy genre: dragons, magic, centaurs, etc.

But there’s actually an older genre that the Harry Potter series shares a lot more with, the boarding school novel.

Boarding schools are getting pretty rare these days – the idea of sending kids as young as 10-years-old to school doesn’t appeal as much to parents, it seems. The genre has also been dying out. But Harry Potter shares a lot of structure with these books. The normal outline is:

  • The “at home” chapter – always starting at the end of the summer holidays. Usually includes the ‘buying supplies’ scene.

  • Travel to school – usually with one or two other school mates.

  • The opening dinner, with introduction of the teachers.

  • The first semester of classes.

  • The introduction to “games” (normally Rugby in british books).

  • The winter holiday, spent at the boarding school far more often than actually happens.

  • The second semester, with the build up to exams.

  • The farewell and the return home.

There are hundreds of books that fit this broad outline, starting with Tom Brown’s Schooldays back in the mid 19th century.

There are also a lot of other plot devices that show up in Harry Potter as well:

  • The prefect/head boy selection towards the end of their school career.

  • The competition with some other ‘nemesis’ school.

  • The inter-house competition.

  • The stern but avuncular headmaster.

Despite my mischievous heading, none of this is really stealing. It’s a very common structure, and the Harry Potter books use it quite uniquely. But it’s interesting to see just how closely the structure of the books matches this older tradition, just at a time when it’s becoming a lot less relevant to most of the books potential readers…

Harry Potter and the Book to Film Adaptation

July 18th, 2007

Adapting a book to film is not easy. There are not many succesful examples around, and what few there are (Blade Runner, for instance) drift a very long way from their source material.

The five books of the Harry Potter film series so far have been a distinctly mixed bag. Why? In my opinion, because they’re trying to stuff increasingly more book into less and less film. Consider:

  • Book 1: 223 pages, 152 min: 1.5 pages/minute

  • Book 2: 251 pages, 161 min: 1.6 pages/minute

  • Book 3: 317 pages, 142 min: 2.2 pages/minute

  • Book 4: 636 pages, 157 min: 4 pages/minute

  • Book 5: 766 pages, 138 min: 5.5 pages/minute

There’s a rule of thumb that one page of a book corresponds to around one minute of screen time on average. So even the first book required tremendous cuts. By the time of the adaptation of Book 5, realistically only about 20 per cent of the book can make it to screen.

The recent book to film adaptation with the most critical acclaim, the Lord of the Rings series, which runs to around 1000 pages excluding appendices, was given 557 minutes in total (683 in the extended edition), or slightly better than 2 pages of book per filmed minute.

Which is not to say that more is better. The first film was criticised at the time for sticking overly to the book, and not allowing the plot to really come through. The film plods along making sure to check off every scene in the original book.

The most recent film, Order of the Phoenix, by contrast feels like nothing more than a ‘greatest hits’ of the book – a few disconnected scenes that mainly make sense if you’ve read the book. I’d love the opinion of someone who hasn’t actually read the book of the film, if such a person exists…1

By far the strongest film so far was Prisoner of Azkaban, which felt far less compunction than any of the others to stick closely to the design of the book. It probably helped that it was directed by a truly singular artist, Alfonso Cuaron.

But as the books grow ever longer, I’m not sure there’s a good solution to adapting them to film. They would probably be a lot more interesting as a mini-series or even full on TV series. But as it is, there is so much plot in the last few books that it’s difficult to fit anything but that into a couple of hours of screen time. Which means that the real strength of the series, the characters, gets lost.

  1. The film has fantastic visuals, though. I think it’s best thought of as some kind of illustrated adjunct to the book. 

Harry Potter and the Invasion of the Fan-Fic

July 17th, 2007

Another feaure of Harry Potter is the tuly amazing volume of fan fiction (fanfic for short) that have been written.1 It’s getting close to overtaking Star Trek…

One site alone has over 42,000 stories, written by over 20,000 different authors. Some of it is very, very good. But that’s not any fun…

A few highlights (which, with one exception, I’ve not read any of):

  • Masquearade: Ginny Weasley and Draco Malfoy date.

  • Its Good to Have Friends: Dumbledore’s niece Avi joins the school, and promptly becomes best friends with Harry and the others. Funnily enough, written by someone called Avi…

  • The Year When Everything Changed: Harry’s parents are transported from the past into Harry’s final year at Hogwarts

  • Missing: Malfoy and Hermione are forced to tutor younger students together, but slowly they begin to see more.

  • And then there’s My Immortal: Quite possibly the worst piece of fan fiction ever written. Please don’t read it. You’ll scar your brain.

Although, for my money, if you still want brain melting-ly bad fanfic, you can’t go past Star Trek and Stephen Ratliff.

  1. Just to be perfectly clear, I think fanfic is a very valid form of writing. There are a lot of pro writers who write fanfic under pseudonyms. Writing is writing, and borrowing someone else’s settings or characters doesn’t make it less writing. 

Harry Potter and the Surfeit of Blog Posts

July 16th, 2007

The final book in the Harry Potter series will be released world wide this coming weekend.

In the leadup (and afterwards) I’d expect a few thousand million posts on Harry Potter and related issues.

Never let it be said that this blog is afraid of a bandwagon…

I’ll put up a few posts on various elements of Harry this week. To start, a few comments on why the people who think “Harry Potter is for children” are wrong to mock those who read them.

I enjoy reading the Harry Potter novels. They are not, objectively, very well written. Even the plots are threadbare, relying too often on recycling and the ‘idiot plot’1. Where I enjoy the novel is in the characters and the world building. JK Rowling has built a fascinating parallel world of wizards which, if not plausible, at least fires the imagination with potential. What child (or adult…) has not occasionally day dreamed about having mystical powers.

But the real strength is in the characters. While there are plenty of one-note characters in the series, most of the major characters have real depth. Malfoy can have his moments of doubt in between his normal villainy, Snape has depth and complexity that eludes the viewpoint characters, and even Harry is painted as being a far from ideal individual.

So while I’m keen to see how the plot is bought to a conclusion, I’m far more interested in seeing how the characters develop through the final book. That’s the real magic of Harry Potter.

  1. My term for the plot that relies on characters who are not normally idiots ignoring or failing to follow up on some critical development. For instance, Harry in book 5 forgetting that he has a means to contact Sirius before he runs off to try and rescue him.