Thursday, September 12, 2013

Blast from the Past: Part 2

Continuing my reprints of my "original editorials" for Harry Potter fan site MuggleNet... I wrote this first one, I think, mainly for the comic effect of the list of phrases at the end.
Learn Spanish By Reading Harry Potter! (3/31/2004)

This past week, I read Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, which happens to be the Spanish version of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. Big deal! Millions of Spanish-speaking people can say the same, thanks to the translation by Alicia Dellepiane Rawson, published by Ediciones Salamandra in 2001.

The catch is, I don't speak Spanish. I kid you not. I live in a highly Hispanic community so close to Mexico, people in my town have been known to cross the border for lunch. There are more Spanish-speaking people within a 50 mile radius of where I live than English-speaking. Yet I do not know Spanish. Not to speak it, anyway. About 15 years ago I took one semester of elementary Spanish in high school. Besides that, and studying several other languages since then, and being smart and good with words, the only help I had was knowing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone practically by heart. Okay, yes, and for about two chapters right in the middle of the book, I tried looking up the words I didn't know on an on-line Spanish-English dictionary, but that slowed me down so much that I stopped doing it.

For the rest of the book, I just guessed. Or skipped the parts I didn't know. Or, and this is the really cool part, I figured out what a lot of Spanish words and expressions meant just from the context, which I knew so well. I pencilled a lot of notes into the margins. And by the end of the book, I was cruising along pretty smoothly.

Maybe I'm too smart for my own good. Maybe I'm just a fanatic and I can't help myself. But I think what I have experienced is an exciting new way to start learning a language. While millions of American kids plod, like stunned yaks, through Spanish-class sloughs of despond, wondering what is the use of a language in which they only know how to talk in the present tense after three whole semesters, the Answer may have arrived. Give them Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal.

It took me a lot longer to read in Spanish than in English, and there was a lot of effort involved. But it was also fun, and I think that's the key. The story made it interesting, and the fact that I was dealing with all the full-blown complexities of Spanish grammar (including past and future tenses, and so on) meant I didn't have to wait patiently to take the next baby-step. It was more like being thrown into the ocean and told to swim or drown. But the swimming was great.

In fact, I noticed things I hadn't noticed the last few times I read the book in English. In some ways, it was like discovering Harry Potter for the first time, all over again. And along with that discovery, I was learning something that may become useful. At least, it will when I start reading Harry Potter y la cámara secreta.

I propose that foreign-language teachers consider handing their brighter students a translation of a thrilling, and to many children already familiar, book like Harry Potter. I think it would move things along a lot faster. It wasn't hard to motivate me to do my "Spanish homework." The fun of reading the story kept bringing me back-- and it made learning the language fun on its own account. Even without a dictionary, and not (at first) picking up many of the words, the story was still there for me-- by underlining the words I didn't understand, or writing the meanings I had just discovered in the margin, I did what many other language students could do.

Teachers, think about it. Let the kids come back to you with questions, or discussion, about what they have read, and whether they understand this or that word or sentence. It would make the study of any language, including Spanish, a so-much-richer experience.

Fans of Harry, think about it. Am I really the only one who has started watching the movies with the language set on Spanish, just to vary the experience a little? A translation really does reveal facets you may not have noticed before. Among the things I noticed, let me point out for your enjoyment and edification:

1. IMPROVEMENTS IN TRANSLATION. As a special bonus to her readers, señora Rowson touched up some of the "book mistakes" in her translation. For instance, I noticed that in the chapter "Quidditch," she changed Marcus Flint from a sixth-year student to a fifth-year, making one of the series' most glaring continuity errors magically disappear.

2. MISTAKES IN TRANSLATION. On the other hand, señora Rowson also provided the inevitable slips that will give Spanish-speaking fans plenty to argue about, world without end. For instance, when Hagrid ticks off the teachers who helped protect the Stone, he refers to el profesor Sprout (which, por supuesta, ought to read la profesora Sprout). Oops! But in English it just says "Professor," either way. So who would know unless they had already read the second book? And not quite on the level of a translation mistake, there's the matter of the "Curse of the Bogeys," which in English could mean two different things. Ms. Rowson went one way (Maledición de los Demonios) but I would have gone in the other (if only I knew the Spanish word for booger).

3. APPRECIATION OF SCHOLASTIC'S BINDING. The pages started coming loose the first time I read through Salamandra's paperback edition. I can't help reflecting that, after being read umpty-ump times, the Scholastic paperback that I bought in September of 2002 is still in one piece. Sigh.

4. HELPFUL PHRASES FOR EVERY-DAY USE. Even if you don't read la piedra filosofal for yourself, perhaps these phrases can come in handy, should any bilingual situation arise. My apologies to the American edition, which I follow loosely below, and to those of you expecting something more profound like "There is no good and evil..." or "To the well organized mind...." These are simply common expressions for your every-day use. I hope you will try some of them, the next time you talk to a Spanish-speaking person...
  • "Te estoy avisando ahora, chico: cualquier cosa rara, lo que sea, y te quedarás en la alacena hasta la Navidad"-I'm warning you now, boy: any funny stuff, any at all, and you'll stay in the cupboard until Christmas.
  • "Bah, cierra la boca, grandísimo majadero"-Oh, shut up, you great prune.
  • "Voy a romperles la cabeza"-I'm going to bust your heads.
  • "No me hagas preguntas ahora, creo que voy a marearme"-Don't ask me questions now, I think I'm going to be sick.
  • "Tienes algo en la nariz"-You have something on your nose.
  • "No llores, vamos a enviarte muchas lechuzas...y un inodoro de Hogwarts"-Don't cry, we're going to send you lots of owls...and a toilet from Hogwarts.
  • "Ha perdido el juicio"-He's lost his marbles.
  • "Tú también estás mal de la cabeza"-You are also out of your mind.
  • "¡Mamá nunca te olvidará!"-Mummy will never forget you!
  • "Bien, bien, bien. Tenemos problemas."-Well, well, well. We are in trouble.
  • "Tendrían que haber pensado en los hombres lobo antes de meterse in líos"-You should have thought about werewolves before you got in trouble.
  • "Nunca traten de obtener una respuesta directa de un centauro"-Never try to get a straight answer from a centaur.
  • "¿Te pareció que era ruido de cascos?"-Did that sound like hooves to you?
  • "Yo me lanzaré contra el que está al acecho en este bosque, con humanos sobre mi lomo si tengo que hacerlo"-I set myself against what is lurking in this forest, with humans on my back if I have to.
  • "A propósito, ¿qué era esa cosa de la que me salvaste?"-By the way, what was that thing you saved me from?
  • "Casi le arroncó la pierna una vez, no va a intentarlo nuevo"-It almost ripped his leg off once, he isn't going to try it again.
  • "Nunca me pasaré al lado tenebroso"-I will never go over to the dark side.
  • "¡Voy a pelear con ustedes!"-I'm going to fight you!
  • "Oh, vamos a darle una patada, sólo una vez"-Oh, let's go and give her a kick, just once.
  • "¿Quién anda por ahí?"-Who goes there?
  • "¿Aparecidos, fantasmas o estudiantillos detestables?"-Are you ghoulie or ghostie or wee student beastie?
  • "Ah, bueno, me alegro de que me preguntes eso"-Oh, good, I'm glad you asked me that.
  • "¡Deberían echarme y obligarme a vivir como un muggle!"-They should have sacked me and forced me to live like a muggle!
  • "Tienen que venir y pasar el verano conmigo, los dos. Les enviaré una lechuza."-You have to come and stay with me this summer, both of you. I'll send you an owl.

This next, brief editorial came out in the heat of the moment when the directorship of the fifth Harry Potter movie was up for grabs. Again, it proves that I'm no sibyl!
Terry Gilliam HAS to Direct OotP (4/2/2004)

Have you ever seen his movie, The Adventures of Baron Munchhausen? It's not perfect, by any means. But it is a GREAT movie. It is full of quirky charm, bizarre imagery, and the magic of storytelling. Gilliam is also the director responsible for such AMAZING films as 12 Monkeys, Brazil, The Fisher King, Time Bandits, and Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He can handle children as well as very adult material, outrageous comedy as well as nightmare visions of a world gone mad. He has created fairy-tale magic and gritty surrealism. He can handle mind-twisting fantasy and plots more convoluted than a Basilisk skin.

I know exactly why Terry Gilliam is the director J.K. Rowling wanted for Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone. I am astonished at the power of his filmmaking vision, and I think that given a Harry Potter-sized special effects budget and all the talent involved in the series so far, he would make an AWESOME movie out of Order of the Phoenix.

I can picture it in my mind. It would be perfect with Gilliam at the helm. So much of the imagery in the book is dark, scary, and very very weird. I can imagine how certain scenes would look already. Harry's hearing before the Wizengamot, with the shadowy faces glaring down on him from lofty benches while Harry stands small and alone at their feet. The bustling Ministry of Magic, painted on a complex canvas with wry humor and bizarre details. 12 Grimmauld Place, grimy and imposing, with claustrophobic staircases and threatening accoutrements. The agonizing detentions with Dolores, the hysteria of Trelawney, the duel between Hagrid and the aurors, Grawp and the centaurs and the duel in the Department of Mysteries, all these things would look so exciting, so unusual, so mysteriously and menacingly and humorously REAL that it would make us all look differently at the world of Harry Potter.

Warner Bros., listen up! It's long past time to listen to the author who has provided so much lucrative grist for your mill! She had something truly fascinating in mind when she put forth Terry Gilliam's name. Give him Potter 5, stand back, and watch something RARE happen!

By the time I wrote this editorial, I was already firmly ensconced as the book review guy at MuggleNet. In spite of several attempts to put one together, this column is as close as I ever got to furnishing the Book Trolley with a multi-media shelf. Original emphasis and italicized titles omitted, because reproducing them would be more time-consuming than it's worth.
Classics to Read Harry By (5/1/2004)

I'm not knocking John Williams, but the hour or so of film soundtrack for your favorite Harry Potter movie just doesn't stretch long enough for you to use as a musical background to reading the Harry Potter books. Even the shortest of them would require you to repeat the disc so many times it would start to drive you crazy. So if you're like me, and you like to have an "orchestral score" to everything you read, what should you do?

You could take a bit of advice from a passionate student and lover of Classic Music. There is plenty of magical music out there, waiting for you to find it, and lots of it would be "just right" for the background of your trip to Potterland... or even just to enjoy by itself!

Here are my top 25 picks for "do it yourself scoring" of the Harry Potter books (in no particular order)...

1. Felix Mendelssohn is one of the all-time masters at writing fairy-tale music. Try his incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream and you'll get the picture. If you like, you might also try his cantata "The First Walpurgis Night," his Italian and Scottish symphonies, and his luscious Violin Concerto.

2. Next to Mendelssohn, the most magical composer has to be Franz Schubert, who was mostly an Austrian songwriter. And whether you know German or not, I would recommend his lovely songs! Some of them are VERY magical, including the haunting "Erl King." However, you don't need to know German to appreciate the "smurfy" magic of his Unfinished Symphony, as well as his very fairy-tale-ish Fifth Symphony. Schubert's pen dripped melodies, as you would also know from his Trout Quintet, his String Quintet, his Octet, and the spine-tingling String Quartet Movement in C minor.

3. Everyone has heard at least bits and pieces of The Nutcracker ballet suite by Peter Tchaikovsky, who wrote equally airy-fairy music for the ballets Swan Lake and The Sleeping Beauty. You may not be aware of his other magical music, which include the four Orchestral Suites, the First Piano Concerto, and the gorgeous String Serenade. For those depressing passages in Order of the Phoenix, those of you with a stronger emotional make-up could also try his Pathètique Symphony, which is virtually a musical suicide note.

4. Some say that the secret to a successful artistic career is to know what is good and how to steal it. Apparently a lot of film composers think a lot of Gustav Holst's orchestral suite The Planets, because unless my ears deceive me, a lot of film composers, including John Williams, steal... er, that is, borrow from The Planets all the time. It's hard to find anything else by Holst on disc, but if you do, I think you'll enjoy it-- for example, Egdon Heath, St. Paul's Suite, The Somerset Rhapsody, and The Cloud Messenger.

5. Those of you who saw Disney's Fantasia 2000 will have heard at least one piece by composer Ottorino Respighi: The Pines of Rome. From this master of sparkly orchestral color and a sense of mystery and antiquity, you may also enjoy the Ancient Airs and Dances, Roman Festivals, Church Windows, and The Fountains of Rome.

6. Another composer who is mostly known for his use of orchestral colors (like the way a technically proficient artist uses colors of paint), is the Russian master Nicolai Andreyevich Rimsky-Korsakov. That's a mouthful! Though perhaps not the greatest music, his works make a good background for colorful happenings and tales of magic. Try Scheherazade (related to the tales of the Arabian Nights), and if you like, there is lots more of his stuff to look into.

7. If you've ever heard of Sergei Prokofiev, it's probably because of his narrated piece Peter and the Wolf. You won't care for that, though, because the narrator can be very annoying when you're trying to read something else. However, this Soviet composer, who died on the same day as Stalin, has lots more to offer, including the Lieutenant Kijé Suite, the Romeo and Juliet ballet suite, the celebrated Classical Symphony and his even better Fifth Symphony. But personally, I think his Piano Concerto No. 3 and his Violin Concerto No. 2 have his best tunes!

8. Czech composers Bedric Smétana and Antonín Dvorák are hard to pronounce, but easy to love. Smétana wrote a set of "symphonic poems" called Má Vlast, which means "My Country," which are simply to die for! A better-known and well, probably better in general, composer is Dvorák, who is mostly known today for writing the New World Symphony. His other symphonies are just as good, and he also wrote good concertos for Violin and Cello, plus "symphonic poems" (one-movement orchestral pieces that tell a story) such as The Noon Witch. Plus, you have to hear his String Serenade and Wind Serenade!

9. One of Britain's most celebrated composers was Sir Edward Elgar, whose Pomp and Circumstance marches are still famous (they were also featured in Fantasia 2000). In my opinion, though, you haven't heard anything until you've heard the Enigma Variations. An enigma is a mystery, like the puzzles Harry and his friends always have to solve. In this case, the enigma is the theme the variations are based on. To this day, no one has been able to find out what the theme of the variations is!

10. Another British giant, and in fact my favorite English composer, is Ralph Vaughan Williams (pronounced Rafe). I don't know what it is about Fifth Symphonies, but his is also particularly magical. Most of his music is the kind you really have to listen to with undivided attention, but other piece by Vaughan Williams that would do well in the background include The Lark Ascending and the Concerto Accademico.

11. I hesitate to mention Finnish composer Jan Sibelius here, because half of you have heard Finlandia and have drawn the unfair conclusion that Sibelius was a hack, and the other half know from his other masterpieces that it simply isn't safe to play Sibelius in the background; he demands your full attention. However, some of his music has a vein of very powerful magic in it-- the mythical river of death in The Swan of Tuonela, a dance with Death Himself in Valse Triste (Sad Waltz), the spirits of the forest in Tapiola, and other images of nordic mythology in En Saga. He also wrote several symphonies (natch, my favorite is his Fifth, but you'll also like his Second and Third without a doubt) and a Violin Concerto, before mysteriously deciding not to compose another note for the last 30 years of his life.

12. Another composer whose work was enshrined in Disney's Fantasia 2000 is Soviet artist Dmitri Shostakovich (emphasis on the second "O"). His music veers between heartbreaking tragedy, sickening terror, brutal irony, and not-quite-innocent good humor. The steadfast tin soldier marched to one of his Piano Concertos. His set of 24 preludes and fugues for solo piano are touched by the sort of magical wistfulness that only a Russian composer can achieve. I also personally guarantee his Fifth Symphony (of course!), though he wrote 15 of them in all. (The Sixth and Ninth are also pretty accessible. Lovers of military history will enjoy his musical depiction of the heartbreak of World War II in the Seventh and Eighth.) Shostakovich made "modern music" seem classical again. If that's not magic, I don't know what is!

13. G. F. Handel originally wrote his Water Music and Royal Fireworks Music to be background music anyway, and it really does a good job keeping your ears busy while your eyes are reading a good book. If you like Handel but don't want to listen to lyrics (as in The Messiah), he also wrote a ton of concertos for various instruments, as well as Concerti Grossi (which aren't quite what the name sounds like).

14. If you like the glowing sound of a piano in your background, you might also enjoy the delicate miniature Sonatas by Domenico Scarlatti.

15. Another piano composer you must acquaint yourself with, is the Polish-born Frederic Chopin (show-PAN), whose multitudes of brief, stylish, and often melancholy piano pieces are still the bread and butter of pianists today. The Mazurkas have a folksy flair, while the Waltzes are polished and metropolitan; the Ballades, Polonaises, and Scherzos are vast and dramatic, while the Etudes will leave you wondering how the heck the pianist did that. And there are many other wonderful pieces yet, ranging from delicately sad to tremendously powerful. I recommend the recordings by pianist Maurizio Pollini, who is an absolute wizard.

16. Franz Liszt's sparkly pieces for piano also sit nicely in the background. Most of it doesn't stand up too well at center stage, in my opinion, but again you haven't heard finger-magic until you've heard Maurizio Pollini playing Liszt's B-minor Sonata. And fans of the Smurfs will also get a thrill from the same composer's Piano Concerto No. 1. Liszt also wrote a lot of one-movement "symphonic poems" and the famous Hungarian Rhapsodies, plus lots of magical piano music such as La Campanella.

17. The French master of the colors of the orchestra is Hector Berlioz, whose life story is as bizarre as any fairy tale or fantasy story. Appropriately, his autobiographical Symphonie Phantastique includes such fantasy elements as a witch's sabbath and a march to the gallows, all portrayed by pure music. Personally I think Berlioz was taking something (not prescription, either) when he wrote this. Among his other pieces of dazzling beauty are Harold en Italie, a short opera on Romeo and Juliet, and a religious work called The Infancy of Christ. French is an easy language to listen to in the background, it doesn't intrude on your concentration as English or German do. (Now I'm in trouble.)

18. Anything instrumental by Joseph Haydn or W. A. Mozart will stimulate the gray cells and enhance the mood, while staying gracefully in the background. Frankly I think it's ALL magical music, especially Mozart's Piano Concertos and Wind Serenade, and the numerous symphonies by both composers (Haydn is actually my favorite composer of all time). If you're into musical sci-fi and fantasy, look no further. Mozart has an opera called The Magic Flute and Haydn's Il Mondo della Luna (the World of the Moon) may be the first science-fiction opera ever written!

19. It really seems obscene to include Ludwig van Beethoven in this list at all. No one makes a louder noise and demands more immediate attention. However, even Beethoven had his calm, fantasy-like moments, as the Pastoral Symphony shows. His Eighth Symphony is also pretty light and easy to keep in the background. Then there are his scintillating Piano Sonatas, his introspective String Quartets, and some overtures and concertos that fit right in with adventurous stories.

20. Robert Schumann is another composer who does magic and childhood very nicely. His piano pieces include an Album for the Young, and his songs have quite an impact. But you will probably enjoy his symphonies and Piano Concerto best, background or no. Symphony No. 2, for some reason, is my favorite.

21. Sergei Rakhmaninov (also spelled Rachmaninoff) was a great Russian-American creator of gushy, sentimental music, some of which has already been used as background music in films. Try his Piano Preludes, Paganini Variations, Symphonic Dances, and Vocalise for Orchestra. For some of you, the sound of a choir caroling away like the angels in the sky is all that you need to put you in Seventh Heaven. If you can block out the text (which is easier if you don't understand the words), you will probably enjoy such a capella (or nearly a capella) glories as Sergei Rakhmaninov's Vespers. Other choir music I ought to mention here includes Heinrich Schütz's Four and Five Part Motets, Psalms of David, and Swan Song, and Anton Bruckner's motets and Mass in E Minor. (Bruckner also wrote symphonies that some people would prefer to ignore, but I think they deserve your full attention.)

22. If you dig the organ and/or harpsichord, Johann Sebastian Bach wrote a TON of keyboard music, including Preludes and Fugues, Variations, Toccatas, Chorale Preludes, Fantasias, French and English Suites, and Partitas. Lovers of the orchestra will also enjoy his six Brandenburg Concertos and other concerti. They're fun to listen to and even more fun to play, let me tell you, but they can also make a good stimulating musical backdrop for any book you want to concentrate on. Bach also wrote Partitas for solo Violin and solo Cello, unaccompanied, which are somewhat hypnotic in their effect, as is The Art of Fugue.

23. If you're trying to find The Sorcerer's Apprentice but can't remember the composer's name, it's Paul Dukas. I don't know of anything else he wrote. It probably wouldn't be so famous if it weren't for Mickey Mouse.

24. If you're trying to find that scary piece for orchestra and choir that you always hear in trailers for scary movies, it's called Carmina Burana, it was written by Carl Orff, and it's actually not scary at all. It's perfect for college students, with lots of feasting, drinking, loving, and similar college sports. Some people seem to think it makes good background music, but I think your best bet is to read the translation in the liner-notes and pay attention to every note.

25. Finally, I urge you to take a look at some of the works of the underrated Paul Hindemith, whose Mathis der Maler and Symphonic Metamorphoses are his best known works. He wrote some very good symphonies and chamber music that deserve to be heard in detail, though they also shine in the background with a kind of light that you can practically read by.

I know that I have probably not mentioned your favorite composer or piece in this list. At least, if you have one. I haven't mentioned some of my favorites-- such as Brahms and Mahler-- nor some that are loved by others, such as Wagner and Richard Strauss, simply because I think their music is too demanding to shunt into the background. But perhaps you will give some of these 25 (actually, 29) suggestions a try and find out that you don't have to be a total geek to enjoy Classic Music, any more than you have to be an egghead to read a 700-page book!

This piece seems to have been an appeal for cooler heads at a time when speculation about and eisegesis of the Harry Potter novels was reaching insane levels. I was probably just spitting into the wind.
Do You Think Or Do You Know? (8/28/2004)

Just for an example, try this Christmas quiz that my father, a Lutheran pastor, wrote. It has stumped everyone from his 8th grade catechism class to the women's auxiliary for over 20 years. It's a multiple choice quiz about the facts we know about the first Christmas, when Jesus was born. Choose the most accurate answer.
  1. How did the Mary and Joseph travel to Bethlehem? A. on a donkey; B. on a camel; C. on foot; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  2. What did the innkeeper say to Mary and Joseph? A. "Come right in! I have a nice room for you." B. "Bring a torch, Jeanette, Isabella!" C. "There is no room in the inn." D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  3. What kind of building was Jesus born in? A. a stable or barn; B. an inn; C. a cave or grotto; D. We don't know, the Bible doesn't say
  4. Which of these animals was present when Jesus was born? A. Cows, sheep, and goats; B. Cows, donkey, and sheep; C. Gorillas, lions, tigers, and elephants; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  5. What time of day was Jesus born? A. Afternoon; B. Evening; C. Late at night; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  6. How many wise men visited Jesus? A. 2; B. 3; C. 4; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  7. When did the wise men visit Jesus? A. Christmas night; B. Within a week of Christmas; C. Within a year of Christmas; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  8. The wise men were: A. named Melchior, Balthasar, and Caspar; B. kings from Ethiopia, Persia, and Armenia; C. members of the Psychic Friends' Hotline; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  9. The manger Jesus lay in was: A. full of hay; B. empty; C. full of dog chow; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
  10. At what time of year was Jesus born? A. In the bleak midwinter: December 25; B. Tax time: April 15; C. Valentine's Day: February 14; D. The Bible doesn't tell us
Now some of you will have picked up, just because you have suspicious minds, that the answer to all 10 questions is "D." Others will be outraged by this statement, because you're sure that the stuff sung by carolers and painted on greeting cards is what really happened, and denying it is tantamount to denying that Jesus was born. But go and look some time. Try and find where the Bible says how Mary and Joseph traveled to Bethlehem, etc. You may be looking for a long time, because the Bible never directly says. The trickiest question is #3, because the Bible does say Mary laid the baby in a manger, and it seems obvious that the manger would be in a barn or stable. Some of the sharper readers will have learned that the stable was probably a cave. But the Bible doesn't SAY it was in a stable or a cave. It probably was, but that's not the point!

What is the point, then? Why have I just dragged you all through a 10 point quiz on the Bible? What does this have to do in Harry Potter? To borrow a phrase from St. Paul, "much in every way." When we speculate about things like who the Half-Blood Prince is, are we really separating what we really know from what we only suspect or assume?

For instance, do we really know that the Half-Blood Prince is actually going to be a character who appears in the narrative? We assume it will be the case. So naturally we concentrate our energies on debating whether the HBP will be a known character or someone new, whether the HBP will be a half-wizard, half-Muggle (like Seamus) or a half-wizard, half something else (like Hagrid), whether the HBP will be a member of a real royal family, whether he will be a good guy or a bad guy, etc. But we're all assuming that we know something that actually, we only think. We're assuming that the HBP is even going to appear as a live, speaking character at all.

Why wouldn't he? Well, there could be various reasons. There have been precedents in the earlier HP books, too. For instance, in PS/SS, a terribly important person is Nicolas Flamel...but he never actually crosses the stage or speaks a single line. He is talked about, read about, and something belonging to him turns out to be the thing Voldemort is after, but he remains in the background. Again, in CoS, the four Founders of Hogwarts come into the story-especially Salazar Slytherin-but only as historical figures whose followers continue their agendas in the time of the story. In GoF, the character of Bertha Jorkins only appears, thanks to the pensieve, as a talking-aloud memory of Dumbledore's, and is otherwise only mentioned by other characters after her death. In all three cases, a "character" exerts a strong influence on the story without actually entering the narrative as such. Until the end of GoF, Harry's parents put out the same kind of gravitational pull without actually orbiting into the daylight side.

There are other cases of course, such as Olive Hornby, that are not as significant but who make a vivid impression on your imagination without ever turning up in the direct narrative. But for someone like the Half-Blood Prince to be NO ONE who appears in the story, yet still be the title character, implies that he's going to be a lot more important than Olive Hornby. But he may not be absolutely central. Remember that the Goblet of Fire actually makes only a brief appearance in the book named after it, and apart from the question of how Harry's name came out of it, it isn't really central to the story. And while I'm on that line, the Philosopher's/Sorcerer's Stone doesn't come into the first book until quite late-by name, anyway. So not only could the HBP be a person who doesn't actually cross the stage, he could also be someone who makes a dramatic impression but is only briefly involved in the story. It might not be "all about the HBP" after all.

Of course, it probably will be. But when I say that, I am speaking from assumptions. Be aware of your assumptions so that you aren't so shaken up when it turns out that you were tricked. We can almost safely assume that the HBP will be a major character whose appearance in the sixth book influences a major stretch of the story-line...but don't forget that "J. K. Rowling doesn't tell us" this.

Here is a character study from the Harry Potter novels.
Hand-Me-Downs (11/2/2004)

Such is life in a large, not-very-well-off family. Ron Weasley is the sixth of seven children, and everything he owns is worn-out, second-hand stuff. Hand-me-downs. Second-hand stuff. Or at best, hand-knitted by Mum.

The most infamous hand-me-down in Ron's life is Scabbers the rat, or rather, Peter "Wormtail" Pettigrew, an Animagus who hid and waited and listened in the Weasley home for twelve long years. Most of that time, evidently, he was Percy's rat - until Percy earned an owl of his own by becoming prefect in his fifth year. So for three years, Scabbers was on's beloved, but mostly useless rat.

One wonders what Scabbers/Wormtail got up to during the nine years he belonged to Percy. I wonder, at least. I wonder if the effort of being a rat diminished as the years went by, along with the memory of being a human being. I wonder if Wormtail ever stole a few moments in human form, perhaps to rifle through the papers in Arthur Weasley's briefcase. Did Percy's ambitious nature suit Wormtail, who was willing to sell out his nearest and dearest for a little power? Or did he prefer the companionable inertia of Ron, who apart from a little rankling discontent and jealousy, is basically a slovenly sluggard? Did he perhaps influence his two boys?

I also wonder how Percy really got Scabbers. Did the rat worm his way into a cut-rate pet shop? Did the family buy it for one of the older boys to compensate for not having his own owl, and did he come down to Percy the same way he later came down to Ron?

So Scabbers came to Ron from Percy. From Charlie, we learn in Chamber of Secrets, Ron got his first wand. Evidently Charlie moved up to better things, perhaps getting a new wand as his own gift for becoming a prefect. (We know he was one, since all the Weasleys except the twins have been, according to Mrs. Weasley - which reminds me, will Ginny be a prefect next year?) Now, what did Charlie do to that wand to wear it out so much? Is that typical? Or did it come down to Charlie the same way, from an elder cousin or uncle or aunt, or perhaps one of his parents? We did hear Mr. Ollivander mention, once, how Harry's mother had come to him for her "first wand." Are first wands like baby teeth, soon to be discarded and replaced? Do changes, discoveries, in a witch or wizard's style of doing magic, cause their needs to shift from one type of wand to another? How likely is it that Harry's first wand - the brother of Voldemort's - be his destined wand for life? Could a particular wand really choose more than one wizard, one after another? Or are they like used cars: the more miles lie behind them, the fewer lie ahead?

I was really inspired to write this article because of something that Ron inherited from Bill. He mentions it in CoS. It's the story of the chamber itself, a secret chamber at Hogwarts. Why is it significant that Ron thinks he heard it from Bill? Could it be because Bill is a charm breaker for Gringotts? Could it be that Bill's specialty is penetrating secret chambers and disenchanting them? Is this just a fleeting bit of character detail, or is Ms. Rowling foreshadowing something here? Perhaps Bill's inbred curiosity about locked rooms and dangerous tombs is going to lead him into peril. Or perhaps it is another thing Bill passed down to Ron, a fascination with the forbidden that keeps drawing the boy (in spite of his own reluctance) into forbidden forests, secret chambers, and mysterious laboratories?

I don't know of much that the twins have handed down to Ron, except for a lot of piss-taking and, since they made the big time, new dress robes and tons of chocolate frogs. They didn't even give Ron their map of the school, which rankled the younger Weasley when Harry told him about it. And it is sad to see how desperately Ron chases the glories his brothers earned before him, trying to prove himself by their standard. He doesn't believe he can be happy without being a prefect, head boy, Quidditch captain, and all the rest. It makes you wonder whether he truly deserves the one thing that truly distinguishes him, the one thing no one had before him: being Harry's best friend.

A lot of the things that were handed down to Ron (and probably, to his older brothers before him) ended up having a sinister significance before Ron finished with them. The rat, obviously. The wand too, once Ron's irresponsible use of the flying car (not so much a hand-me-down as a reach-up-and-grab) damaged it beyond repair. It was jointly responsible for erasing Gilderoy Lockhart's memory, after all, though the old blowhard brought it mostly on himself. And who knows whether the streak of curiosity that Ron shares with Bill will yet prove fatal to one or both of them. Perhaps Ron will learn to value most what he makes for himself, and to put his friendship with Harry (which is his and his alone) ahead of fame, power, success, or academic distinction. Perhaps he really is on the way there already, thanks to the great crisis in their friendship in Goblet of Fire.

But there are some things Ron shouldn't accept as givens, as if they were hand-me-downs. One, I think, is his blithe assumption that his kid sister and his best mate will end up together. Another, perhaps, is his possession of Hermione, who seems to possess herself quite nicely, thank you. Not that Ron is dumb. It takes insight and strategic cleverness to be the chess champion Ron is. But he is blind to a lot of things, such as the evil of elf slavery and the complexity of Snape's moral position. Not to mention the feelings behind the behavior of girls. He needs to use more of that insight and cleverness, and less of the slovenly, sluggardly, frankly ratty mental laziness that yawns at intellectual challenges and refuses to make an effort to understand things.

Ron could be a good friend, and a good supporting hero. But he has to come out from the shadow of the things his family hands down to him-or rather, the crummy things they become when he uses them with bitterness and discontent. Otherwise, like the rat and the wand, his end will be sinister. Books 6 and 7, I hope, will show Ron learning to become his own person, and to take his own place in the world.

And here's a bit of predictive analysis in which I actually stumbled close to the truth. It apparently came to me after J. K. R. dropped a hint (before the release of Book 6) about what question she's afraid fans will ask her, but they never do.
I KNOW! I KNOW! Why Voldemort Didn't Die (11/8/2004)

It came to me as I was reading Eric Holleman's excellent editorial on Mythology, Voldemort, Love, and the Final 2 Books, which continued spinning out one of the main threads in fan speculation about how Harry does Voldemort in. As the theory generally runs, something about the force behind the locked door in the Department of Mysteries (presumably Love) proves to be Harry's final trump card, which he deals against Lord Voldemort either by one possessing the other, or by Harry learning to love Tom Riddle and teaching Tom to break free of the Voldemort persona.

It's a nice theory. But frankly, folks, I've had it spotted as a red herring for a looooong time. At best, it's only scraping the edge of what could be the real answer. Only, I didn't come up with anything better until Holleman made an innocent remark about the Holy Grail. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. And I kid you not, I actually screamed, "I KNOW! I KNOW!" - just like Harry did when he recognized the door to the Department of Mysteries that he had been dreaming about.

It's been right under my nose, people. One of the first books I reviewed for the Book Trolley is Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think the key to Voldemort's hope for immortality - and his undoing - lies in this book, which has much in common with many a classic legend, fairy tale, and myth. This could be the key to why Voldemort didn't die when he first tried to kill Harry, and if so, there's only one way Harry can destroy him.

In Howl's Moving Castle, the wizard Howl makes a pact with a fire demon (also known as a fallen star). The dying star gets a lease on life, and in return, the wizard gets an all but limitless source of power. But there is a cost for both of them. The star is enslaved until the wizard knows true love; and this is made nigh unto impossible, because the wizard's heart is removed from his body and becomes the ever-burning coal in which the star resides.

This kind of idea occurs several times in the writings of Diana Wynne Jones, as well as the works of E. Nesbit (see "The Magician's Heart" in The Magic World), and others. By some dark magic, a wizard (or witch or other magical being, such as a djinn or a demon) can remove the heart from his body and still live. His heart may be transfigured into some other object and hidden in a clever or secure place. Then, as long as no one finds his heart, the wizard (or whatever) is invulnerable, even immortal. But if another person gets hold of the heart, that person holds said wizard (or witch, etc.) completely under his power.

So here's my big theory, everybody....

Way back when young Tom Riddle was going through his various vile transformations on his way to becoming Lord Voldemort, he discovered an ancient magic for removing his heart & transforming it into something nearly indestructible. Something that could be hidden away for a long, long time - perhaps forever. Something that wouldn't attract the attention of a thief, that wouldn't be spotted as something desirable or powerful, but that nevertheless would not be casually destroyed or recycled. Something like, say, a big shooting-marble that looks like a scarlet eyeball, or an ironwood carving of a coiled snake, or a plain polished stone set in a brass ring, etc.

Then this object would be put in a place where no one would think to look for it, as far from Voldemort as possible, where no one seeking his undoing will think to find it... such as a bucketful of marbles buried under a cobblestone in Diagon Alley, or a the top of a carved wooden bedstead in the Slytherin boys' dormitory, or the finger of the statue of Lachlan the Lanky, etc.

As long as no one destroys this object, Voldemort will live and nothing you do to him can destroy him - not even a killing curse, though it may compromise his physical existence a little bit. But if this object is destroyed - crushed, shattered, melted in fire, or whatever - then Voldemort, wherever he is and whatever he is doing, is dead meat.

The key to Voldemort's immortality, then, is to turn his heart into such a thing that no one will guess what it is, that no one will even associate with Voldemort, and that is not likely to be destroyed. Perhaps a side-effect of this dark magic is that Voldemort is unable to love or even understand love.

Therefore, the key to Voldemort's undoing is as simple as figuring out where he has hidden his heart, and gaining control of it. Whoever gets hold of that object, Voldemort can do nothing against him, but becomes in effect that person's slave. That person could use Voldemort as a source of vast, evil magic power, like the djinn in Castle in the Air or the demon in Dark Lord of Derkholm - becoming potentially an even worse villain than Voldemort himself. Or that person could simply destroy the heart-object and Voldemort would be 'S.O.L.' Or that person could command Voldemort, on pain of death, to put his heart back in his chest and become like the rest of us: mortal, able to love, and no more powerful than any other exceptionally adept wizard. Of course this would be quite risky...would you take a Dark Lord at his word... ? But of the three options, I think this is the one that Harry might do.

And in a way, this theory goes right back to Erin's (and many others') theory: Harry gives Tom Riddle his heart back, and thereby vanquishes Lord Voldemort.

Gulp. I don't know about you, but I'm so excited by this theory that I'm afraid it might be true. Part of me hopes that I'm a mile off. Whatever you do, JKR, don't blink. I really, really, really don't want to know yet! But if you think about it... this could be the obvious answer to the obvious question that none of us noticed or asked!

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