Nothing But Memory
Posts Tagged harry potter

All Is Quiet, on New Year’s Day

The beginning of a new year always makes me feel like doing random things in the name of having a fresh start; for example, this morning I flipped all the cushions on my couch, which I would probably never think of doing on any other day, but hey — it’s a new year! I also refilled my salt shaker, opened up a new toothbrush, and started rereading the Harry Potter books again.

Now a brief look back on 2011. I did some good things: went to England, managed the HPreread. Got to know my toddler niece as she developed her personality. I rewatched The X-Files. This may not seem like a big deal to anyone else, but I’ve tried to do that three or four times before and have never made it past the first half of season six. In 2011, I did all nine seasons plus both movies. It felt like an accomplishment! I also did a good job of getting myself back in the habit of reading every day, and as consequence I read 65 books. To be fair, many of those were short and some were things I’d read before, but I’d count about 30 of them as solid new books. I think I managed my personal life fairly well. I had surgery to fix up a health problem I’d been dealing with for a while and took advantage of the fact that I have dental coverage through my job to get some much needed work done on my teeth. I paid all my bills and knocked a fairly big chunk off my student debt. I did well at my job. I tried to make smart decisions about how I spend money and on what. All in all, it was a good year.

I also took in some good culture. Here are a few best and worst of 2011 picks:

Music

I liked Florence + the Machine‘s debut album enough that I was really looking forward to the followup, Ceremonials, which turned out to be one of my favourite albums of the year. My picks for the best tracks: “What the Water Gave Me,” “Heartlines,” “Leave My Body,” “Only if for a Night,” “Never Let Me Go,” and “Shake It Out.”  But my most listened album of 2011 is undoubtedly Born This Way by Lady Gaga. It’s not perfect, but there are some truly great songs on there. The best, in my opinion, are “Heavy Metal Lover,” “Bloody Mary,” “Born This Way,” and “Hair.” “Hair” was easily my favourite song of the year. It’s so stupid, but so much fun.

My biggest musical disappointment of the year was Radiohead‘s King of Limbs. I never thought we’d reach the day when Radiohead made a bad album, but unfortunately it seems we have. It’s still possible King of Limbs will grow on me in the future. I hope so.

Movies

I was underwhelmed by the cinema of 2011 until July when I saw The Tree of Life, and I still think it was probably my favourite movie of the year. As I wrote at the time, I totally get why so many people hated it, but it really, really worked for me. I thought it was beautiful and brilliant, and it stayed with me for a long time after I saw it. Another movie that has stuck with me is the haunting Martha Marcy May Marlene, starring Elizabeth Olsen as a young woman who joins and then leaves a cult, but finds that she may never truly be able to escape. I’m not sure why this movie isn’t getting more awards buzz. Speaking of which, The Artist is just as good as people say. I found it very charming. In terms of more mainstream fare, I thoroughly enjoyed Captain America — everyone seems to have a preference between Cap and Thor and, while I enjoyed Thor, I think I was more drawn in by Captain America‘s period setting. I thought the filmmakers pulled that off very well. Plus, Chris Evans was wonderful, and Hugo Weaving made a terrific Red Skull.

Movies I didn’t like: The Descendants, which I am officially naming the most overrated movie of 2011, was just as boring and pretentious as I expected it to be given my hatred of Sideways and my general dislike of George Clooney in serious movies. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 annoyed me so much the first time I saw it that it almost put me off ever watching any of the HP movies again. Then I saw it a second time and liked it more, but I still have to say that the series was overall pretty disappointing — apart from the absolutely excellent casting.

Books

I think the only 2011 releases I read were The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern and A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin, both of which were great but fell just short of being truly outstanding. I read Martin’s entire Song of Ice and Fire series for the first time in 2011, and the third volume, A Storm of Swords, was most likely my favourite “new” (to me) book of the year. A low point in 2011 for me and probably for the world: I read all four Twilight books. Breaking Dawn created a whole new level of bad.

Television

The good: Fringe, The Good Wife, and The Vampire Diaries are the best things on television right now. I was overjoyed — overjoyed, I tell you! — by Smallville‘s series finale, which made me feel that the 10 years I spent watching that show were actually worthwhile. The second season of Boardwalk Empire also wrapped up in spectacular fashion.

The bad: I was disappointed when I heard One Tree Hill and Weeds, two shows that have really gone downhill, were being renewed. I finally stopped watching House.

The sad: No Mad Men.

Mis-shapes, Mistakes, Misfits

A friend linked me to a blog post called Harry Potter: The Anti-Geek the other day. The author of the post argues that Harry Potter and his friends do not fit in with the “band of misfits” trope that commonly shows up in the fantasy genre; specifically, she cites the Scooby Gang from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example of the type of group of social outcasts which Harry and friends are not. Seeing as Buffy and Harry Potter are two of my favourite things and I love comparing them, I have some thoughts on this subject.

I can’t disagree with the main point the author makes about Harry himself: I wouldn’t call him a nerd or a geek. It’s true that Harry is a jock, and that his fame and wealth give him some social status in the wizarding world. Some of the author’s other arguments, however, are more debatable. For example:

Harry and Ron, on the other hand, are more stereotypical privileged young men who only put forward a C effort in school because they know they can coast into adulthood on their families’ reputation.

This, I think, is blatantly wrong. First of all, the suggestion that Ron can coast through life on the Weasley family reputation seems dubious at best. The Weasleys are pure-bloods, but they are also poor, and we learn that Bill, Charlie, and Percy all work for a living after they graduate from Hogwarts. Arthur Weasley, meanwhile, is viewed by the wizarding community as an oddball (perhaps even … a misfit) because of his interest in Muggles. There is some suggestion that his obsession has even held him back at work.

I also think it’s unfair to condemn Harry and Ron as slackers. Sure, they might sleep through History of Magic — to be fair, everyone except Hermione also sleeps through that class — and BS their way through Divination — a subject even Hermione thinks is a load of crap —  but they work hard in the classes they enjoy, and there are many instances in the books where we see the two of them working frantically at their schoolwork. Are they more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Yes. Is almost everyone else at Hogwarts also more likely to skip doing homework than Hermione is? Well, yes. She’s Hermione. I will agree that Harry and Ron may not be the most academically-inclined people in the world, but then neither are their Scooby Gang counterparts, Buffy and Xander.

And what of Hermione? I would think someone who loves schoolwork and reading as much as she does must have some nerd cred, but according to the author Hermione “still doesn’t rise to the level of a true geek character” because she’s beautiful and she dates Viktor Krum. This is a stretch. Hermione might grow up to be attractive, but she is explicitly described as being quite mousy in the first few books. The reaction from other Hogwarts students when she shows up at the Yule Ball looking pretty borders on cruel: Parvati gapes at her in “unflattering disbelief” that that’s Hermione Granger. As for Viktor Krum, while he’s certainly dashing on a broomstick, Harry notes that he’s much less impressive with his feet on the ground. It is possible that Krum himself is a bit of a misfit who just happens to be a world famous Quidditch player, too. At any rate: if the Scooby Gang is the standard by which all bands of misfits are to be judged, then I must admit that I’m struggling to see much of a difference in this respect between Hermione and her Scooby equivalent, Willow, who dates (ye gads!) a musician.

Regarding Harry himself: as several commenters on the original post pointed out, it’s worth noting that he spends significant parts of the series being shunned because many of his classmates suspect him of being evil (Chamber of Secrets), wildly egotistical (Goblet of Fire), or deranged (Order of the Phoenix). Clearly, the special status Harry gains from being “the boy who lived” is not always a positive thing: just like Buffy, whose gifts make her a social outcast, Harry often feels like a freak. Think about how many times he faints or has a Voldemort-related seizure in public over the course of the series. That’s got to be more than a little embarrassing for a teenager. Before he came to the wizarding world, too, Harry was most definitely a misfit: he was forced to wear Dudley’s hand-me-downs and was constantly bullied by Dudley and his friends, who made sure that Harry had no friends of his own. It’s this aspect of Harry’s background that I think defines how he perceives himself, much more than his new status in the wizarding world as a star athlete and celebrity.

Aside from all that, what really made me react to this blog post is that I have always considered the wider social circles within which the Scooby trio and the Potter trio move to be extremely similar precisely because the two heroes share an ability to look past a misfit-like exterior and see an individual’s true value. Neville is probably the nerdiest kid in Gryffindor and Luna is, let’s face it, a total weirdo, but they both become valued and well-liked friends to the trio. Anya may be a strangely literal ex-demon with little understanding of human customs, but she’s on Buffy’s team. Faith and Andrew are both former villains who find a place in the group.

This ability to be accepting of difference extends to looking past the conventional wisdom on the supposedly innate characteristics of various magical or supernatural creatures. For Buffy, this means taking Angel, a vampire, as an ally. The rest of the Scooby Gang is (mostly) comfortable with having Angel on the team, but Kendra can’t understand this at all: to her, all vampires are just plain evil and should always be killed. In season four, a similar situation arises when Riley finds out that Oz is a werewolf. His Initiative training makes him question why Buffy would associate with such a creature, but Buffy and the others know Oz as a person and ultimately Riley comes around. There is an obvious Potter parallel to this in Prisoner of Azkaban when Professor Lupin is revealed to be a werewolf: Ron, raised with the belief that werewolves are evil, is initially repulsed when he learns the truth, but in the end Lupin remains a trusted friend to the group. Harry, Ron, and Hermione also understand that although Hagrid is half giant, he is a kind and goodhearted person; that Dobby is not merely a slave, but an ally and friend who deserves the respect of a proper burial. Griphook, used to being treated as a lower life form, is obviously struck by Harry’s behaviour, commenting that his actions in Dobby’s case mark him as a very “unusual” wizard. Spike, meanwhile, who is despised and rejected by almost everyone, tells Buffy: “I know that I’m a monster, but you treat me like a man.”

To my mind, the fact that Harry and Buffy’s evil-fighting social circles are inclusive, taking in the social outcasts and misfits others might perceive as having no value, is one of the things that makes them so similar as characters.

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Until the Very End

With the final Harry Potter movie being released this week, there’s been lots of looking back on the series and trying to express what it has meant: to the publishing and film industries (cash money), to the actors (so tiny when we first met them!), and to the fans.

I’m over 30, so I can’t say I grew up with Harry Potter like some people who read the first book as children can, but it suddenly came over me today just how significant a role the series has played in my life. I became a fan in 2000, when I signed up for an undergraduate course at Carleton on Harry Potter in the context of other children’s fantasy novels. We read the first four Potter books (the only ones that existed at the time) as well as The Hobbit, the Chronicles of Narnia, the Earthsea books, and The Dark Is Rising series. I enjoyed that class immensely. In particular, I loved the Harry Potter books. When the professor selected three students to present their papers at the Children’s Literature Association Conference that year, my friend Helen and I were two of them. It was the first academic conference I ever went to: a pretty major experience. Plus, free trip to Buffalo! (Yay?)

Somehow, Helen and I became very slightly famous for all this. I think it was the combination of undergraduate students presenting at a conference and the novelty of a university course about Harry Potter. Our picture was in the Ottawa Citizen. We even got interviewed by CBC Radio! We had gone to Montreal to see U2 on the Elevation Tour, and we were staying with our friend (and fellow Potter fan) Caitlin. The CBC called us at Caitlin’s place to do the interview. We were both on the phone in Caitlin’s room, and she sat eating a snack, listening while we talked to the radio guy. Maybe you had to be there, but it seemed hilarious at the time. Also: the U2 concerts (I went to both shows) were great.

That summer, I graduated from Carleton. For my graduation gift, my grandparents gave me a lamp shaped like a Golden Snitch. My current apartment is decorated with a few choice pieces of Potter memorabilia: the lamp, a Quidditch mobile, a small statue of Dumbledore, and a framed poster advertising the first film, which shows an owl delivering a letter to Mr. H. Potter, The Cupboard Under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey.

The next year, I went back to Carleton to start my Master’s. Barbara Garner, the professor who taught the Harry Potter course, became my advisor. When the Citizen called Prof. Garner soliciting a few articles about the series, I submitted a short piece which was published. That remains the only time anyone has ever paid for anything I’ve written. What did I write my final paper on? Harry Potter — obviously! I compared the books to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, noting all the similarities between Buffy and Harry as heroes. I loved spending all that time thinking about two of my very favourite things, and I think my paper has held up pretty well: nothing that happened in the books that were published later contradicted any of my ideas, at least.

Since then, I haven’t done any academic work on Harry Potter, but I’ve kept reading and loving the books. I ordered Order of the Phoenix from Amazon and sat outside all release day waiting for the mailman. When he finally drove up, he saw me sitting there, smiled, and said “Are you waiting for me?” I remember he told me it was the same all over the neighbourhood; he seemed not-at-all annoyed at having been asked to work on Saturday that week. For books six and seven, my sister and I went to midnight release parties at Mrs. Tiggy Winkle’s. We collected our pre-ordered books and ran back to the car, rushing to get home and start reading.

I wanted to reread the first six books before the seventh came out, but I’d intended to do a reread before book six, too, and completely failed. So, I decided to count the number of chapters in the books, and start my reread that exact number of days before book seven’s release. I figured if I assigned myself a chapter each day, I would probably make it. I did! And then I read book seven the day it came out, and then I read it again starting the next day, one chapter per day. That was the summer of 2007, the year I moved to Vancouver, and I had my copy of Deathly Hallows with me as I drove across Canada.

From that rereading success came the idea for Harry Potter and the Ultimate Reread, which has been a wonderful experience. We’re just finishing up now with The Tales of Beedle the Bard. The tales and the commentary by “Dumbledore” have only increased my admiration for J.K. Rowling. She is, quite simply, a genius, and her storytelling ability is astounding. Her work has given me not only countless hours of pleasure, but also some truly great memories.

So, on Friday, I will wear my Gryffindor House Quidditch Team shirt in tribute to the Boy Who Lived and his creator, and I will think about all these things and remember.

Thanks for everything, J.K.R.

Harry Potter and the Ultimate Reread: Update

It seems quite a few people are planning to join in the Harry Potter reread I proposed on this blog a couple of weeks ago. I had 226 new emails informing me of new followers on the @HPreread Twitter account today. (And since I’ve been typing this post, I’ve received five more. Wow!) I’m not completely sure how word is getting around, but I think it’s mostly through Tumblr. One rereader and Tumblr-er, Alijandra, even created a fantastic poster featuring the reread schedule.

This amount of participation is awesome! I hope everyone will have fun doing the reread, and I hope we’ll generate lots of discussion and Potter-related activity. I’ve had a couple of people ask me if I intend to set up any kind of HP reread forum or chat. The answer to that is: no, not really! I view this entire project as something readers can participate in however they choose. My role will be mostly to share information, which means tweeting the chapter title for each day and also providing links to any other content that shows up — that would include message board threads, open chats, blog and Tumblr posts, tweets … anything you want to do and share with others. I also encourage anyone with something to share to post to Twitter with the hashtag #hpreread so we can all follow along with the whole group.

I hope that all sounds good! Less than a week to go before we start reading. Personally, I can’t wait to get back to Hogwarts. 🙂

Harry Potter and the Ultimate Reread

I started this blog up months ago and never posted anything. Maybe I’ve been busy; maybe I’ve had nothing to say. Maybe it’s a combination of those two things. Whatever the reason, it’s about to change.

A week and a half or so ago I went with my sister to see Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1. I thought the movie was very well-done, and it reminded me of an important fact: I love Harry Potter. J.K. Rowling and her incredible series of books have given me more hours of enjoyment than I can count as I’ve read and reread the books, watched the movies, and discussed the series with friends, family members, and colleagues. The books have inspired me with lots of ideas over the years. I presented a paper on the series at a conference once, and when I did my Master’s degree in English my final research paper was a comparison of Harry Potter and my other favourite series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Before the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (book version) in 2007, I felt I needed to reread the entire series to prepare myself for what was certain to be an epic final chapter (and luckily it did turn out to be that). In order to keep myself on track, I decided to read one chapter per day. I counted the number of chapters in each book and figured out what date I would need to start reading in order to finish Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the day before Deathly Hallows’ release. This worked really well for me: I stuck to the schedule and finished on time.

When Deathly Hallows the book came out, it was the end of the Harry Potter series — but it wasn’t technically the end; after all, there were still a few movies to go at that point and those would keep us Potter-fiends Potter-satisfied to a certain extent for a while (although obviously nothing tops a completely new book). Well, when part 2 of Deathly Hallows the movie comes out on July 15, 2011 … that’s it. No more new Harry Potter.

In honour of The Actual End, I’ve decided to redo my reread, one chapter per day again. All seven books, plus The Tales of Beedle the Bard. This time, I’ll also try to re-watch all the movies, probably viewing each one as I finish the related book. I mentioned this to some friends a little while ago, and enough people expressed interest in reading along with me that it seemed like a good idea to share my reading schedule with everyone and try to make a sort of Virtual Harry Potter Book Club. Interested in participating? Here are the start and end dates for each book:

December 24, 2010 – January 9, 2011: Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone
January 10 – January 27, 2011: Chamber of Secrets
January 28 – February 18, 2011: Prisoner of Azkaban
February 19 – March 27, 2011: Goblet of Fire
March 28 – May 4, 2011: Order of the Phoenix
May 5 – June 3, 2011: Half-Blood Prince
June 4 – July 9, 2011: Deathly Hallows (not including the epilogue — we’re saving that for last!)
July 10 – July 14, 2011: Beedle the Bard
July 15, 2011: Deathly Hallows, Part 2 in theatres. Reread the Deathly Hallows epilogue today.

I intend to blog about the reread occasionally as I think of things to say, and I hope others will do the same if they feel like it. You can follow my posts here, if you’re interested. I’ve also started a Twitter account (HPreread) where I’ll tweet the title of each day’s chapter. I hope we’ll be able to use hashtags to share our reading experience, similarly to the way One Book, One Twitter participants did as they read Neil Gaiman’s American Gods (another excellent book by an author I highly recommend).

I’m really looking forward to sharing the Harry Potter reading experience with this virtual community of friends and readers. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy too, I hope you’ll join in. The more the merrier!