Thursday, July 21, 2011

Harry Potter: The Post

Well, here we are.  I've stayed away up until now. Why, i am not sure. Possibly because there's just too much to say, and it seemed a daunting task. (I do, however, have a post in my drafts from ages ago with the title "Harry Potter: why the movies are poop") But I have been inspired to write a blog post.  The time feels right.  Yes.  Let's do it.

Harry Potter.

Though the last movie has come, as I said, there will never truly be enough to say about Harry Potter.  He will join the ranks of other great works of literature as a timeless classic through the ages. Generation upon generation will enjoy and re-enjoy (and re-re-re-enjoy, as we do now) these tomes of magnificence brought to us by the genius concoctions of the brains of J. K. Rowling.  Like-minded people are naturally drawn to each other, so as a sort of support group but in a positive way, I'd like to share where I was when I first met Harry, my general feelings, and the ensuing feelings as the years have passed.  This may just be a blog post of epic proportions.  I don't know. We'll see. It's likely to be a doozy.  It could also be rather hodgepodgey, in the classic Jen style, so that's nothing new.  Also, it may be riddled with spoilers but I really can't apologize. You've had 12+ years to read the books. I may warn you if i talk about the final movie though.

If I could, I'd introduce you to my pensieve and I'd ask you to accompany me to the year 1999, in my parents' home. I was a sophomore in college. I can see it well-- I was in the kitchen and was standing in the corner by the sink and the spice cupboard. The window was to my right.  My mom handed me a book and said, "here, read this. A friend gave it to me. It's supposed to be really good. read it and tell me how good it is."  I looked at the title. Harry Potter? What could this be? Who could this be? I had no idea my life would change forever, and I began to read. Slowly my heart morphed and increased in size the way it does when it begins a brand new lifelong love for something, or someone, never to return, to never be the same again.

I read and I read.  I finished the book. When i went back to school to start the new semester I immediately purchased the next two books and read them in my bedroom in my apartment.  I didn't have a room-roommate at the time and I relished my alone time with Harry. I would skip classes. I would run home from campus and lock myself in my room and read into the night.  I was the weird reclusive roommate and I didn't care.  It was awesome.  I remember it well.  Don't you love when you're in the middle of a book that you're excited about? It's kind of like being in love. You go through the day, go about your business and responsibilities, but you're always distracted. Your mind keeps going back to the new love/book and you count the minutes until you're reunited. Nothing beats it. 

I remember having a read-a-thon sleepover with a friend. We were both reading the 2nd book and each had our own.  I came over to her apartment (her roommate was gone for the weekend) and instead of talking, laughing, conversing in any way, we quietly and simultaneously entered the realm of HP-land. I'll never forget the moment I read about the letters t-o-m  m-a-r-v-o-l-o  r-i-d-d-l-e rearranging themselves to reveal the true identity: i-a-m l-o-r-d v-o-l-d-e-m-o-r-t.   I can't remember if it was I or Brooke who read it first but someone gasped and exclaimed, "AAAHHH!"  and had to just let the other catch up. The air was tense, and marvelous, thick with magic.  I love that.  I just can't read fast enough.  My eyes go into warp drive and fly across the pages with my brain struggling to keep up. 

I remember having to wait a bit for the 4th book, which was released in 2000. I remember how we (the human race) mispronounced Hermione's name and J.K. kindly and quietly corrected a universal mistake.   Book 5 was released in June, 2003, which is when I met Sean.   I can't recall my summer reading. I know I read the book immediately but the details are fuzzy. I guess that will happen when you're actually falling in love with a human. (But only then.)  Naturally in our getting-to-know-you conversations, Harry Potter came up and something I learned about Sean was that he didn't read fiction.  He preferred other genres.  I know: WHAT? How can someone not read fiction?  Do they have zero imagination? Are they dead inside? They're out there, friends, and we'll just have to accept it.  It doesn't mean that he doesn't enjoy it. He just doesn't read it. I don't know why. Don't ask me. I'll never know.  And, not that he refused, but i knew he just wouldn't put his hands on it and actually read it himself. But I knew I had to rectify this.  So i began to read the series to Sean, the only way he'd read it. It was fun.  I enjoy reading aloud. It was a fun thing to do together.  One wonders if we were laying the foundation for our relationship and when i think about it, what better way? A mutual love of HP.  Not a bad way at all. One thing for sure is we created a tradition. 

Sean loved it. He sailed to New York and I stayed put for 6 weeks. So before he left, and maybe while he was there, i recorded myself reading so he would still have HP to listen to.  I sent him with my walkman and cassette tapes.  I missed him, and i knew he missed me, but it just isn't right leaving Harry unfinished.  That reunion was most urgent. 

So we were married by the time the 6th book was released.  We reserved a copy to be delivered to us in the wee hours of the morning by a Barnes & Noble employee. I remember that morning, in our tiny apartment with the pumpkin orange walls. The doorbell rang at 6am and it felt like Christmas. The Christmas doorbell.  I love that J.K. would release the books on a Saturday morning so it wouldn't conflict with school/work.  What other book in history has been so wildly and desperately anticipated by children and adults alike?  Never in my 31 years do i recall a book before this that people camped out waiting for.  It's a wonderful phenomenon, and a tribute to magical storytelling and those who tell the brilliant tales. 

It was torturous a bit difficult having to reading book 6 & 7 to Sean. Being one who likes to speed through as fast as i can, i had to go slower to read out loud. I had to be sure to not let my eyes dart to the other page and exclaim "OHMY" and make Sean wait. I had to be sure not to cheat when he wasn't around.  It was difficult, but worth it, and a fond memory for us (and a true testament to my love and devotion).  And when I read the final pages of book 7, all the crying and the sobbing interfered with my ability to read and my voice would crack and give out, and i had to take breaks.  The whole thing was an emotional journey, as i'm sure it is for everyone else.   And as it was then, so it is now-- every time I re-read the series, I mourn the end when I am done.  I recently re-re-re-read the entire series (i usually start at book 3 or 4, sometimes 5). I think it took me a year or something.  To re-read the series is an experience all on its own. To have it be a part of your life for that long and for it to be over? It's like a death.  And I always grieve in the days after. 

Now for some specifics.  

Why I love the books:

I love the books because they create a magical world that every child who ever breathed daydreams of living in--and more than that-- it creates a cooler, more magical world than we could ever dream up because, alas, we are not J.K.  I mean sure, we all have talents and if we work hard enough we can achieve our dreams, blah blah blah.  But i think that she is someone special, and though many may write fantastic, highly praised and even cherished stories, she will stand above and alone, in a way. Nothing will ever quite compare. I feel sure of that. Maybe I'll be wrong. But it is what i think.   

The first two books were vastly different than the 3rd, in my opinion. We didn't understand the gravity of things yet. We were still getting to know characters and reveling in the magic and spells and all the trillion specks of details J.K. includes that truly make a story come alive.  It is absurdly creative. We  follow the kids through their school year, we form our opinions.  We wish we could go to Hogwarts and have a snowy owl pet to deliver our mail. We imagine using spells on our friends or enemies. We incorporate them into our everyday language:  "Accio remote control! ...some day it will happen."    We wish we had a cloak of invisibility, that we were an animagus, wonder what house we'd be sorted into, what our patronus would be, and what a bogart would reveal to us.  

In short, J.K. makes you live there.  I always love when I'm in the middle of reading Harry Potter. I feel like I'm in Harry Potterland, and i just take breaks to go use the bathroom or feed my kid or participate in other activities or sleep. But truly I live in Harry Potterland.  There's an urgent sense of, "I've gotta get back to Hogwarts!"    Oh books.  

Anyway, that's basically why I love the books.  If you want to know my favorites, I would probably rank them this way:

1. book 7
2. book 3
3. book 6
4. book 5?
5. book 4
6. book 1
7. book 2

I love the time traveling in #3, and Sirius, and all of that. Fantastic. Right up my Diagon Alley.  Man, you know you're a HP fan when you can't believe blogger or google or gmail don't identify Harry Potter words as real words.  "What do you MEAN Azkaban isn't a word?? Stupid thing's broken." 

I could probably rank book 1 higher because it's special in that it's when we're first introduced to Harry but the others are just so good, and i do like it when the story becomes more intricate and complicated, when I'm more invested. 

The ending is so different from the rest of the books and I remember feeling a twinge of concern when I realized we weren't going to be going back to Hogwarts. But it turned out to be awesome, of course. And having it all come together.  And that's another important thing. J.K. introduces extremely significant (yet seemingly INsignificant) details that don't reveal themselves as such, waaay way early in the series.  Re-re-reading is marvelous because you notice those things.  I can't BELIEVE she had the creativity and foresight to plant those details where she does, where they quietly sit until the great reveal at the end, where everything comes together, everything means more, has a greater impact, because we never knew, could never have predicted that's how it would turn out. And, it gives such a greater depth to each of the characters.  In book 2 or maybe even in the 1st one, Snape stares at Harry so intensely and Harry has this weird feeling that Snape can read his mind. WHAT.  Legilimency isn't introduced until book 5!!  I marvel, I tell you. I marvel. And revere. It's humbling, really.    I love that in book 6, Harry throws his potions book into the big wardrobe in the Room of Requirement and to help him remember where it is, he puts a rusty tiara on a bust form--the tiara that turns out the be a horcrux he desperately searches for. Dangit, J.K. I love you.  Ahh, I could go on and on.  

Now: for the movies. 

I was 21 when the first movie was released.  It was highly anticipated and inconceivable as to what each of all of our imaginations would look like in a single solitary film for the world to see.  This, I'm sad to say, is one of many of the films' downfalls.   I'm not a big lover of the movies.  I don't feel a need to really go into it too much (usually) because it's kind of a downer and unless we are all the directors, actors, crew, set designers, casting directors, etc, for our own particular movie, we will never be satisfied.  I understand that.  I'm forgiving. I know that the books are 99% of the time vastly better than the movies.  This is obvious.   But I just don't love the movies.  A [hopefully, but probably not] short list as to why:

1. The kids really bugged me in the beginning.  I should be more forgiving but they just do. I can't accept Hermione at all until maybe the 5th movie. Maybe. If that.  Maybe 6th. Maybe never. Ok, she was ok in 7.  But i found myself asking, why are they friends with her?? She just annoys me. She uses her eyebrows way too much. She's shrill and naggy 100% of the time. I just have a hard time believing that they're friends. Is that too much to ask?? I'm not trying to be overly critical.  Just make me believe it, people!  Why this was not achieved, I have a theory, which I will reveal at the end of this post. 

2. They completely change key characters' personalities.  Dumbledore?!?  Why did he suddenly turn vicious and psycho?  They replaced the late Richard Harris, who I liked a lot, with Sir Michael Gambon who took on the the butcher's apron and made me scared of Dumbledore and want to cry when he was around. Obviously Dumbledore was kooky and had a lot of mystery but he was kind and loved Harry and didn't just escape from St. Mungo's psychiatric ward!!! Ohhh that one was tragic. It hurt. 

3. They rush everything.  I don't know if i can blame them but i'm just going to anyway.  Rush rush rush. Everything is rushed.  I don't care about anything because everything is RUSHED.  Obviously this will happen to some extent when adapting a movie but I was just talking with a friend and, after saying all this and giving some allowance, I remarked, "But the 3rd movie was GREAT. And they cut that one to around 2 hours. So what happened there??"  Maybe it's because it had less content, but I don't know.  I don't know.  But i know i hate it. They scrambled to get through it that there was hardly any room for character development.  There are so many scenes, particularly in the final 2 movies that demanded more time, and were deprived, and so were we.

4. They change integral parts of the plot.  They take everything genius J.K. did and dumb it down, make it ordinary. It's as if they say, "instead of this, let's see if i can think of an alternative just for fun" and they rip her off but in a stupid worse way.  That's all i can really say.  Maybe they have to for the adaptation, BLAH BLAH.  I hate it though.  And it's not like I hate when movies don't adhere strictly to the book. I'm willing to make allowances if it makes more sense but none of them made sense!! Remember when they burned the Burrow just because? WHY? Why. Unnecessary.  I can't talk about it anymore.

I'll pause here to rank my movies, if you please:

1. movie 3
2. movie 5
3. movie 7 part 1
4. movie 7 part 2, i think
5. movie 1
6. movie 2
7. movie 6
7. movie 4

5. In general, as I said before, I don't care about any of the movie characters. They don't make me care about anything! I'm desperate for anything, anything. But when movie 6, the Half-Blood Prince makes Snape's performance out to be a cameo (like many other integral characters), I just cannot even deal.  Thus movie 6's low ranking. Snape.. it's Snape for crying out loud!  wfjslikfjkdoiqpaik!!! i have to move on. 

Maybe i'm too harsh, maybe i'm not harsh enough. Maybe I just care too much.  On the flip side, I have this to say:

I think the casting, for appearance's sake, was really well done for the most part.  Hagrid was Hagrid for me. In fact, i'd say he was perfection the entire thing through. McGonagall--awesome.  Sirius, obviously.   Loved Professor Trelawney.  So they did a good job. I just needed to be patient with the little ones and wait for them to learn how to act.  Most of them did....eventually.  

And of course it's fun to see other forms of Harry Potter.  We'll all take what we can get.  So the movies provide that.  And, at the end of the day, when I remember that the movies and books are 2 completely separate things to me, I am happier and more forgiving.  The movies being what they are, are movies, and B+ movies at best.  And that's ok.  Good job.  Again, it feels like a feeble rip-off but whatever.   

Wait, time out: Voldemort. HATE.   Ok, maybe that's too strong. Hate?   I do not like how they did him. When he is physically reborn in movie 4, he prances around like a monk with ADD.  I hate the prancing.  And i hate how blatant his appearance is. There is no mystery. There are no scary red eyes. He should have been hooded--he should have been cloaked!!  He should have frightened us more. This is Voldemort we're talking about-- he-who-used-to-not-be-named!!   The name whose utterance instilled fear in every man woman and child!  Stop shoving him in my face! Aaagh, i hated that. 

*deep breath*

And let's bring this post to an at long last close.   The final movie, HP 7 part 2 (not really any spoilers). 

It was nice. It was fine.  I liked it.  I had long since given up having any kind of expectations whatsoever, (ever since 4, which was an atrocity of a film. I am convinced they filmed, then cut out 2/3 of the film they took, then continued to cut up the remaining film they had, rearranged it on the floor, reattached it, slapped it on a reel and sent it out. Horrific.) so that when I went to the movies I didn't leave feeling heartbroken and disgusted.  I tried to quiet down my despise and try to forgive a little more, to see the good and positive things, and be a little more accepting.  And i am.  I accept them. So the movie was fine and even good in parts. The dragon was cool.  I enjoyed the Bellatrix scene.  I enjoyed the battle scene at the end.  And that's about it.  Afterward, I turned to Sean and said, "well, I did cry at some parts....   but only because I was envisioning the book version simultaneously."   We all have our coping mechanisms.  I also remarked that the end, where they show the kids 20 years into the future was "the one thing they included in the movie that J.K. shouldn't have put in the book."   But oh well.  We had a nice chuckle.   Oh, and remember Voldemort's awkward hug? Why. Why. 

In conclusion, here is my theory as to why the movies will never be as good as the books, and hang on, it's actually kind of nice and very forgiving of all the moviemakers. I mentioned this a little already. It's not their fault.  There's nothing they could ever do.  Why?   Because I am certain that they as a whole--cast, crew, designers, directors--for a whole they would need to be-- never fully experienced HP as we lovers of the books have.  It took time, it took anticipation.  We had to put the books down and think about it and get back to it. We did it again in all of our re-re-re-reads.   We contemplated and pondered and felt like we really KNEW the characters. We suffered with them, we learned with them, side-by-side. Their feelings were our feelings.  I hear so many actors say they don't read the books on which their movie is based. They go strictly by the script and their own interpretation of it. They don't know them. WE know them. So when you think about that, how could it ever come close. It would be an impossible think to ask.   So while at times I felt they were a perversion of things i hold dear, I have to step back and realize they just don't know any better. And that's ok.  Thanks for the effort. 

I love Harry Potter.  I love the themes, the stories, the characters. I love him, an ordinary kid who rises to greatness. Who can't identify with that?  J.K., I will forever be grateful.  If I were to meet you today, I'd simply say thank you.  x a million. 


p.s. i'd really love to hear your thoughts on this.

I got this shirt to wear to the movie and took this picture to capture 
a smug "in your face, be jealous" expression intended for my friends.
It's not really how I feel about HP. 


Brooke said...

Oh my word, Jen, I'd totally forgotten about our read-a-thon. Such good times! The gasp and all. :)

Scoresbys said...

Status of a facebook friend, "Oh my gosh, I just saw Harry Potter and it was SOOOO good. I'm totally going to go read the books now!"

And my soul gagged.

I, too, have an abiding love for the written Harry Potter. And I don't really trust people who don't get that. I am grateful to be part of the generation that read at least the first few books before seeing a movie. The world of magic was created in my mind before being handed to me for the the price of a movie ticket. And that, my friend, is priceless!

Ashley said...

A good post. I echo the "x a million" sentiment. When people have been seeing the last movie and then lamenting that it's "the end," I want to yell, "We still have the books, yo! Go read them again!"They are truly magical and will stay that way.

)en said...

Oh man, i just realized my "beatrix" error. I knew it was wrong, i just didn't give enough pause to figure out why. Why didn't anyone tell me?? Fail, friends. Well, it's fixed now.

Yeah, I totally write people off who don't like the books. I'm sorry, but I do. Or people who start reading HP (for the first time) but in the middle of the series. What the @#$%?!?

Pedersen Posse said...

I really enjoyed this post. My HP timeline is pretty similar to yours. Tyler and I read the first few books on our drive from Logan to Highland the first year of our marriage. I think I got them for my birthday in 2000. The first four books I have in paperback. The last 3 are hardcovers that I actually had to wait for JK to release.

With each book/movie I would reread the whole series. Fun, fun. Tyler and I made our oldest daughter, Sydney, read each book before she got to see the movies. We finished book 7 at the beginning of July and she got to go with us and the new baby to see the last movie in the theater. It was so fun to see her reaction to Snape's character reveal. When we were reading that scene, she started out saying something like "Yes, Snape is dead!" A few pages later, and she was in tears. Priceless! During the movie, I loved to hear her exclaim things like "That wasn't in the book!"

Check out this BYU Divine Comedy's youtube Harry Potter music video called "Firebolt":
Make sure you turn on the subtitles (push cc on the bottom of the video) to fully appreciate/understand the lyrics.

Alanna said...

Loved this post. And I, too, love Harry Potter almost more than life. I may have to do a similar post on my own blog, so be flattered rather than annoyed when I totally copy you. I also love your analogy about a good book like being in love. My cousin once said the same thing but in reverse-- she said that getting to know a guy you like is like reading a really great book and when you're apart and can't spend more time with him, it's like being forced to put the book down during a really exciting part. So true, whichever way you look at it!

I think I would rank the movies differently. I agree that one of their biggest problems is the rushing thing. That drives me nuts. But I felt like the pace of the 6th movie was pretty good. The third one, I felt like they took their time, but left out too much of the actual plot and that drove me crazy.

I still haven't seen the latest movie (THIS FRIDAY!!! IN IMAX!!!), so I skipped your last bit. I'll read it after I've seen the movie!

Stephanie said...

For the most part I can say, "Amen" to everything you wrote. I differ a bit in the ranking of favorite books and movies but you've pretty much detailed my own HP experience.

Funny but my emotional moments in 7.2 were also because I was recalling the book and how I also "emotionalled" while reading.

I know people who are huge Twilight fans but diss the HP and for some reason I just can't seem to find the desire to deepen our friendship. Too huge of a chasm to cross I guess.

But HP will live on forever in my heart and I'll be re-re-re-re-reading the books along with you.

Joel said...

I always love to read series that leave you feeling like you want to live in that universe. It's one sign of a good author. And while I used to feel that the character development was a little bit lacking (don't hate me!), I finally realized that it doesn't matter. They're fun to read, and you end up feeling uplifted, which is what all the best literature does.

)en said...

I don't hate you. I feel like J.K. made perhaps not very interesting characters into people you end up really caring about, which I give two hearty thumbs up for. Maybe that's what happens when there's 7 books in a series, but oh well.

Yeah, i ranked my lists quickly. I have very strong feelings about only a few and the rest could go wherever else.

lindsey v said...

I love that you read the books to your husband. I am currently re-reading the series to my oldest kids- 10 and 8 yrs (re-reading for myself but my kids are hearing it for the first time). We're on book 4 - and it is 117 times more fun sharing it with someone else.

)en said...

one of my main reasons for having a kid! so fun.