Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Harry Potter Diary

Page 1 – Welcome to my running diary of the final book in the Harry Potter ‘septology’ – the ominously titled ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. I thought of marking my progress by the clock, but have decided, in the interests of preventing people from knowing how slowly I read, to use the page count instead.

So here we are, and the question that every reader is asking is: which major characters are headed to the great Quidditch field in the sky? I’m going to assume that Harry, Ron and Hermione are all untouchable; Hagrid looks to be a possibility (five books too late for Robbie Coltrane’s liking); McGonagall seems unlikely given Dumbledore’s recent ‘death’; Neville is a possibility; Snape and Malfoy are definite possibilities, particularly if JK goes the Anakin Skywalker route; all the other Weasleys, except maybe Ginny, seem to be fair game; Lupin, Moody and Tonks are probably too minor for their deaths to cause much of a stir; ditto for Luna Lovegood. All things considered, I’m going to go for Snape and Mr.Weasley. And Lord Voldemort…? I think he’s toast.

(Another point I should add: it took me forty-five minutes to queue up and receive a copy. I was put into this huge, snake-like line that wound its way through every nook and cranny of the second floor of Borders. And I discovered something: there are a lot of boring books in the world. There really are.)

Page 7 – JK opens with some ominous quotations about death as ‘the grinding scream’ but also as ‘but crossing the world, as friends do the seas’. I’d say the first quotation is meant to describe Voldemort, the second our dearly departed Dumbledore. Nice touch.

Page 11 – Is Snape throwing the Dark Lord off Harry’s trail with his talk about Confundus charms? I wonder who Voldermort’s prisoner is? Hope it’s not poor Neville.

Page 17 – Nope, not Neville; it’s a teacher from Hogwarts. Voldemort seems to be testing Snape’s loyalty here.

Page 24 – Harry’s just read an article filling in the details of Dumbledore’s life. At the end of the last book I didn’t really believe that Dumbledore was dead, but I’ve since been assured that it’s so. However, I reckon he’s still going to have a major presence in this volume, a la Obi-Wan Kenobi. ‘Use the Fawkes, Harry… the Fawkes…,’

Page 47 – The first example of a standard JK device that’s served her well over the course of the series: give the chapter an intriguing title – i.e. ‘The Seven Potters’ - and then use an interesting magic trick to push the story forward, in this case, turning Harry’s friends into doppelgangers of himself to put the Death Eaters off the track. Throw in a few jokes, and the kiddies are hooked.

Page 52 – No! The Death Eaters killed Hedwig! JK, you filthy murderer! I wonder how the kiddies who got the free owls from Borders are feeling now…

Page 69 – And now Mad-Eye Moody’s gone (along with George Weasley’s ear). JK, you blood-hungry slaughterer! Jeez, seventy pages in and already we’re three characters down. (At this rate, the bodycount will be up to two dozen by the book’s end.) Is there an R-rating sticker hidden under the barcode here?

Page 83 – Good to see that, even sans Hogwarts, the Potter/Weasley/Granger detective team will still be in full swing.

Page 99 – ‘then she was kissing him as she had never kissed him before, and Harry was kissing her back, and it was blissful oblivion, better than Firewhisky; she was the only real thing in the world…’ Harry and Ginny have never seemed quite right to me; a bit too schmoopie and cutesy-pie perhaps. In fact, no girl has ever really seemed right for Harry; to me, he’s more of a lone wolf, the boy who carries a burden nobody else can share. Maybe Harry and Ginny have been hooked up to emphasise this point.

Page 101 – What’s up with Lupin?

Page 119 – Note to whoever makes the film of this book: make Hermione’s dress for the wedding lilac-coloured, or I’ll be hearing about it from my lovely fiancĂ© for the next five years. You may not think it’s important, but believe me, it is. Please, just do me this favour.

Page 122 – It’s all a bit too happy at the moment with Bill and Fleur’s wedding. If this keeps up, I may have to turn on the Collingwood versus Essendon match to remind myself of what true evil is.

Page 133 – ‘The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead.’ JK, you callous wordsmith! (I realize that’s not much of an insult, but I can’t really muster up that much indignation about Scrimgeour.)

Page 158 – Mundungus Fletcher stole a Horcrux, hey? Curiouser and curiouser… While the fantastical elements of Harry have often been cited as the series’ main appeal, I think equal credit should be given to JK’s ability to sustain a mystery. She’s very good at concocting twists and turns and at letting out just the right amount of information at just the right time. There’s been more wand-waving action from ‘Order of the Phoenix’ onwards, but mysteries and puzzles still remain key components of Harry’s success.

Page 176 – Ah, so that’s it… Lupin and Tonks are having a kid, and Lupin’s doing a Rabbit Bergstrom on them. I wonder if it will be an ‘inside’ or an ‘outside’ baby?

Page 180 – Rita Skeeter is sullying Dumbledore’s name again, claiming that his family imprisoned his sister for being a ‘Squib’. Er, I don’t think so. But there’s obviously a few skeletons left in the good Professor’s closet.

Ooh, here’s Mundungus…

Page 182 – Mundungus just dropped the F-word. I swear that 18-plus sticker must have fallen off somewhere. And bad news, the toad-woman is back, and she’s got a Horcrux.

Page 186 – SNAPE CONFIRMED AS HOGWARTS HEADMASTER. Haha, suffer Snape, you missed out on Defence Against the Dark Arts again.

Page 195 – I can’t be certain, but I think our heroes are addicted to Polyjuice Potion. Blood, swearing, and drug references - Harry really is corrupting the world’s youth.

Page 206 – Eewww. The toad-woman has the late Moody’s mad-eye stuck on her office door. The Ministry of Magic is taking a distinctly more Orwellian turn with every page.

Page 227 – Harry’s got the Horcrux and has hung it around his neck. If he starts stroking it and calling it ‘my precious’ I think we’re in trouble.

Page 236 – Now they’re taking turns to wear the Horcrux as they journey along. Clever move. Frodo Baggins could’ve learnt a lot from these kids.

Page 254 – Well, something’s up with Ron. He’s dropped the F-bomb, implied that Harry is a egotist (young Ron’s always had a bit of an inferiority complex), reduced Hermione to tears, and stormed back home. I’d forgotten that Harry, Ron and Hermione are always good for a spat. Now it’s just Harry and Hermione in the tent. Time for some more of that ‘blissful oblivion’, ‘ey ‘arry?

Page 263 – Whoa-! Don’t look now, but Harry and Hermione are on the Polyjuice Potion again.

Page 268 – There’s one mystery solved, namely when Harry’s adventures take place. The gravestones of Harry’s parents say they died in 1981, which would mean that the series takes place during the mid to late 1990s. I bet you all knew that already, didn’t you?

(The news is showing all the Potter fans lining up to grab a copy of the book as soon as possible. Some people even camped outside bookstores overnight. What were they thinking? And why did I line up for almost an hour this morning? I could’ve gone in at 11 o’clock and walked right up to the counter. It’s lucky that no-one reads books anymore.)

Page 285 – Harry’s wand has been split in two. JK, you heartless destroyer!

Page 295 – Is Dumbledore the paragon of virtue that Harry thought he was? Hard to believe Rita’s claims that Dumbledore wanted to rule Muggles ‘for the greater good’. It’s also hard to believe that Dumbledore would leave this much to chance. I suspect that, as always, the fun will be in the explanation.

Page 303 – Ron’s back! Huzzah! (Er, why did he ever leave?)

Page 308 – Ben Cousins is back! Boooo!

It looks as if Ron may have finally conquered his fears about being a ‘second banana’. An aside: where does Ron rank in the ‘second banana’ hall of fame? I’d put him above Sam Gamgee (not as subservient), Doctor Watson (not as outclassed) and Robin (not as useless), but below Sancho Panza (not as wise), Agent 99 (not as pretty) and Waylon Smithers (not as amusing). A good comparison would be former Chicago Bull Scottie Pippen – always in the superstar’s shadow, but that superstar wouldn’t have been as great without him.

Page 328 – Merlin’s pants! So that’s what that triangular symbol is… the Deathly Hallows!

Page 348 – Three objects in the Hallows – an unbeatable wand, a resurrection stone, and an invisibility cloak - three heroes who are each looking to wield one of those objects. It would have been tempting to make this final chapter all about Harry versus Voldemort, but JK has really focused upon the Harry/Ron/Hermione triumvirate instead. Not that we should be too surprised I guess, after all, they’ve solved every other case as a team. However, I’m still thinking that, in the end, it will be up to Harry to win the day.

By the way, with all this finding of Horcruxes and collecting of Hallows, I feel like I’m in a role playing game.

Page 356 – Tonks’ father is dead. Did JK create such a large cast of characters just so she could decimate them later?

Page 360 – Oh, Harry, what have you done? You’ve said You-Know-Who’s name…

Page 373 – Harry and friends are in the hands of the enemy, who all seem spooked senseless about the Dark Lord themselves. Say what you want about Voldemort, but you can’t say he doesn’t know how to keep his troops in line.

Page 381 – In a rather gruesome scene, Wormtail has just strangled himself. JK, you brutal executioner!

Page 384 – Dobby the house-elf is back. I have a feeling that in her current mood JK will do away with him too.

Page 385 – Yep, she did. JK, you pitiless assassin! You know, in this case, it seems like JK brought Dobby back just so she could put a knife through his chest. Sure, he helped Harry escape the Malfoys, but another plot device could have easily done the trick. What happened to the author who turned time around to save Buckbeak?

Page 405 – Dumbledore had the unbeatable wand, and Voldemort has raided his tomb to get it. Sounds bad, but I reckon that if a corpse could smile, that of the former Head of Hogwarts would be doing so at the moment.

Page 416 – Lupin and Tonks now have a kid. They’d better be careful: everything small and lovable must go! (Where’s Crookshanks?)

Page 429 – It’s looking rather simple to break into Gringotts, the goblin bank. All you need is to be jacked up on Polyjuice and a few choice spells.

Page 435 – Finally we get to the scene depicted on the cover: Harry, Ron and Hermione being set upon by a rising tide of treasure. Another aside: which is the best Harry cover? (I’m only counting the covers to the kids’ versions here.) The cover to book three, with Harry riding the Hippogriff, is the one that comes most readily to mind, although like most of the covers, it’s still a little too cartoon-like for my tastes. (Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a children’s book.) By that measure, the covers to books four and seven come out on top, with seven being my pick because it’s in trendy black and it has a bit more action in it. Hey, I just noticed the goblin hiding behind Harry’s shoulder. Extra points for that as well.

Page 445 – The final Horcrux is at Hogwarts. It’s all set for a Luke Skywalker/Darth Vader/Emperor Palpatine-type showdown. If Snape does turn out to be evil, I’m as big a fool as Obi-Wan Kedumbledore.

Page 451 – Our heroes’ mysterious benefactor has been revealed: it’s Aberforth Dumbledore. I’ll take this as the final sign that Albus is not returning.

Page 459 – Neville’s back! How did we get through three-quarters of the book without him? Lucky for him he’s shot up lately so he no longer falls into the ‘small and lovable’ category. Not that this will stop JK, I suspect…

Page 475 – And here’s McGonagall – the gang’s all here…

Page 482 – Snape’s just learned to never mess with McGonagall. But he’ll be back.

Page 489 – Welcome to ‘The Battle of Hogwarts’. On this side we have Harry, Ron, Hermione, the Weasleys, Hagrid, McGonagall, Lupin, Kingsley, and assorted Hogwarts teachers and students. On the other side, we have Lord Voldemort and uh… whoever he hasn’t killed yet. That angel of death, JK Rowling, is hovering overhead. Expect blood, mayhem, courage, valour and Harry to go all Frodo Baggins on us as Voldemort tries to infiltrate his mind. We’ve been waiting two and a half thousand pages for this. Bring it on…

(I’m sitting on the train headed to the football as I’m writing this, with Wolfmother blaring on my headphones, because a) it seems appropriate; and b) it prevents some smart-alec from telling me the ending. If they do, well, a 600-page hardcover to the nose won’t be pleasant, will it?)

Page 507 – Gee, Malfoy was always a wuss, but he’s become ever more fearful as the series has gone on. Crabbe is definitely the leader of the Slytherin trio now.

Page 510 – Crabbe has been killed. JK, you… er, screw it, it’s Crabbe.

Page 512 – Fred is dead! Not Fred! JK, you malicious slayer! And since another person has died, it must be the end of a chapter. You know, at the rate people are being knocked off, I’m starting to feel quite worried for Harry…

Page 520 – Hagrid has disappeared, but I’m going to refrain from calling JK any more names because I’m not certain that Hagrid is gone for good. Although being carried off by giant spiders while carrying a pink umbrella would be a funny way for Hagrid to go.

Page 522 – We’ve been getting a medley of Hogwarts landmarks in these past few chapters – the Room of Requirement, the Chamber of Secrets, the Shrieking Shack, the Whomping Willow… ah, the memories…

Page 525 – Fast running out of victims, JK has resurrected Harry’s parents just so she can kill them off again. OK, that one didn’t really happen.

Page 528 – Snape has just had his Anakin Skywalker moment, with Voldemort killing him off so that he can use the Elder Wand. Some may think this is Snape’s just deserts, but I think we’re about to find out otherwise.

Page 531 – Lupin and Tonks are dead. Yep, it’s a clean sweep of the friends of Harry’s dad. A pity, because I always thought Lupin and Sirius were two of the better Harry characters. JK is foaming at the mouth right about now.

Page 534 – We’re near the end, so it looks like it’s time for a classic Harry Potter ‘final explanation’. It’s hard to pick a favourite one of these; Quirrell in Philosopher’s Stone, Riddle in Chamber of Secrets, Lupin and Sirius in Azkaban… they’ve all been good.
In this case we’re looking back at the life and times of Severus Snape.

Page 548 – Hey hey, as I expected, Dumbledore’s death was part of a plan between him and Snape. Of course, I also thought Dumbledore wasn’t really dead, so I can’t pat myself on the back too hard.

Page 551 – What?! Harry has to – die?!

JK, you miserable, wretched, horrible, despicable, vile, shameful, dire, contemptible, appalling, loathsome, terrible, ghastly…

If this happens I’ll never read another Harry book again!

Page 556 – Colin Creevey is no more. ‘He was tiny in death’. Poor little guy never had a chance.

Page 561 – Here come the ghosts of victims past to help our hero along. I must confess that I thought the most moving moment in all of Harry Potter folklore was when Harry saw his parents in the Mirror of Erised. I thought it summed up both the advantages and the limits of Harry’s world quite nicely.

Page 564 – Hagrid’s alive, but who cares because now it’s Harry versus Voldermort!

Uh… Harry…

Page 566 – Whew! Harry’s not dead. And here comes his teacher to do his Obi Wan Kedumbledore routine.

Page 576 – The answers are simple: Dumbledore stuffed up. You know, now that I think about it, his plans really did suck, but that long white beard always fooled you into thinking he knew what he was doing. I think this is meant to be a part of Harry’s development though.

Page 584 – Harry, pretending to be dead, is carried back by Voldemort to the waiting throngs at Hogwarts. Anyone who skipped straight to the ending would be having a heart attack as they read this. Serves them right.

Page 589 – ‘NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!’ shouts Mrs Weasley. Come on, you have to laugh at that. I hope they put it in the movie.

Page 592 – Now here we are – the final duel between Harry and Voldemort.

Page 594 – I think Harry has you outsmarted here, Voldemort.

Page 595 – ‘I am the true master of the Elder Wand,’ says Harry. Not long now…

Page 596 – Bang! Voldemort’s dead! The crowd erupts!

I’m sorry I ever doubted you, JK. But why should I be surprised? This is ‘The Boy Who Lived’.

Page 600 – Harry wins the day, scores one billion points for Gryffindor. He decides to relinquish the Elder Wand. ‘That wand’s more trouble than it’s worth,’ says Harry, ‘I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.’ Amen to that.

Page 607 – And we finish off with a scene set nineteen years later in which Harry and Ginny see their kids off to Hogwarts. It’s OK, but I would’ve found the ending on page 600 just as nice. I guess I’m not that sentimental.

And that’s it folks. I’ll finish off with some final reflections on the series. I guess I really think of it as two series – one pre-Goblet and one post-Goblet. The pre-Goblet stories were fairly simple, self-contained tales, each of them centered on the English school life and its eccentricities, with a bit of fantasy thrown into the mix. A mixture of C.S. Lewis and Roald Dahl would be a reasonable description for the early Harry books – just when you thought you had Harry’s world sussed out then the students would break out into the ludicrous Hogwarts theme song or something of the sort. The post-Goblet Harry books still had that sense of humour, but they were meant to be taken a bit more seriously as Harry matured and the threat of Voldemort grew. These later books, clocking in at twice the page count of the first three volumes, were more expansive, more impressive in their scope, but also more meandering, losing some of the tightness of the early plots. By the final two books, we’ve clearly veered into the territory of epic young adult fantasy. JK Rowling’s efforts to break out of the constraints of the 300-page children’s novel and grow with her audience are admirable, but in hindsight I think the series really did peak with ‘Chamber of Secrets’ and ‘Prisoner of Azkaban’.

One thing that is undeniable is that the Harry Potter series has made a lot of people very happy. Even today as I was reading my book outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground with my headphones on full blast people wanted to talk me about how the book was going. The success of Harry may be, as Nassim Nicholas Taleb called it, ‘a black swan’ (i.e. a rare, high-impact event that no-one would have predicted), but that success could never have been sustained without the books being enjoyable to both kids and adults alike. If I ever have kids, I’ll make sure that Mum has a set of Harry Potter books for them to read. And I won’t let them watch the movies until they do.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

The Finger Points Outwards - No.2

Is this the greatest game ever? (Well, it might get old after the first ten minutes or so, but I'd take it over Deal or No Deal any day.)

Japanese Tetris

While I'm sure everyone will love the first site, this one may be a bit more of an acquired taste. It apparently started out as a tongue-in-cheek website, but then some people started using it seriously. I would be disqualified from joining due to my webbed toes and nose hair.

Darwin Dating