Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Rebuttal: How the Harry Potter Movies Succeed Where the Books Failed

An article written by Dave Thier at The Atlantic suggested that the Harry Potter movie franchise succeeds while the books leave something to be desired. As intended I’m sure, the article attracted fierce attention and riled fans to the point of wanting to criticize Thier as the columnist. I’ll admit that when I first read this article I was incensed enough to post on my Facebook page about his credulity as a serious freelance writer for an online newspaper. However, that being said, I want to take this column point-by-point and explain the reaction of an avid Potter lover and why I believe Their is irrefutably wrong in his assumptions.

The first problem with this article is that Thier states, “[The final theatrical installment of Harry Potter] has been able to take the Harry Potter story and turn it into the epic Rowling couldn’t manage.”  Pardon my spluttering response: excuse me, have you read the entire series from Philosopher’s Stone through Deathly Hallows?  Epic does not cover the entirety of Rowling’s world, plot and characters. She managed to take a story, or as the columnist says “an old one, and a good one,” and turn it into one of the top selling book series of all time.  From the moment that we meet the Dursleys in Philosopher’s Stone until the moment we learned that “All was well” the readers of the Harry Potter series have tirelessly slaved over every particular detail in Rowling’s successful works.

Perhaps the columnist hasn’t scoured the internet at three in the morning to discover an entire universe desperately devoted to Harry Potter and his creator.  From forums to role-play, to its own segment of Wikipedia, multitude of websites, and fan fiction, the internet is a vast source of experience for any fan who loves the Potterverse. Every fan who finds themselves in the thick of this online Potterverse will assumedly testify that Rowling weaved her tale so extravagantly, so meticulously, that four years later we are still debating every move of Harry’s life.  To slander this series based on its lack of grandeur is ridiculous. I know Christians who are less devoted to the Bible.

Harry’s legend is epic.  His story may be a timeless cliché of good versus evil, but it’s the powerful narrative that has captured the loyalty and hearts of people across the globe.

Thier mentions “The most memorable moments were never plot developments, but rather things like the introduction of Hogsmeade, the Quidditch World Cup, or the first reveal of Diagon Alley.”  Once again, the columnist has shot himself in the foot with a lack of understanding the Harry Potter series. These places and events were crucial to the development of the plot.

Without Hogsmeade, Sirius Black wouldn’t have had the opportunity to stalk Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban nor would Harry have had separation from Ron and Hermione in Prisoner of Azkaban in order to discover the Marauder’s Map from Fred and George Weasley.  Mr. Thier, might I say that without the Marauder’s Map, a great deal of plot development in the book would not have happened. 

As for the Quidditch World Cup, if this event had not been in place the reader would not have had the opportunity to learn about the Dark Mark and learn to feel a twist in the pit of their stomach while they obsessed for a chapter over who could possibly have died.  Additionally, the QWC is where we first meet Bulgarian Bon-Bon Viktor Krum who has a large part in shaping the plot in a matter of the relationship between Ron and Hermione, and also the realization that Xenophilius Lovegood wears the symbol of Grindelwald, the last known carrier of the Elder Wand, aka one-third of the Deathly Hallows.

And Diagon Alley – I’m sorry, dear columnist, but without this magical main street, how would the reader understand what it meant that Ollivander had gone missing later in the series if we were never introduced to his modest wandshop that is set in Diagon Alley?

Quite the contrary to Thier’s belief, the books did become darker as the series progressed. The columnist argues that “silliness butts up against severity throughout the latter books.” He asserts that “the tone could never quite catch up to the circumstances.”  These statements are true to both the books and the movies. The audience finds humor in characters such as Fred, George and Ron Weasley just as easily as they find fright in Voldemort and angst in Harry.

Ron delivers comedy interspersed with his dramatic element in Deathly Hallows Part 1 as he destroys the horcrux-locket and almost immediately gains the audience’s laughter as he barters for Hermione’s forgiveness by means of agreeing to visit Mr. Lovegood.  As a matter of fact, in the books it is Hermione who engages the reader’s sense of humor when she begins to bash Ron with a book and alleviates the tension with worry. The subtle difference to the readers of the book is that it’s not Ron that diffuses the situation and pulls the reader from the adrenaline rush received from the horcrux encounter, but a much more plausible escape via Hermione’s true character.

One of the more irritating things in the article is Thier’s poke at different characters and items that appear useless and jarring to him as a reader.  He cites Daedalus Diggle and implies that the circumstance of the visit from him to the Dursley’s home is contrary to the tone of the novel. Might I cite Daedalus Diggle in Philosopher’s Stone when he made his first appearance?  He is a small man, an extravagant man, who was known to set off fireworks at the first vanquishing of Voldemort. He excitedly shakes Harry Potter’s hand.  In the final book, Rowling stayed true to his initial character, as she does so expertly through her series, and allowed the reader to feel a sense of familiarity in times when things were changing drastically within Harry’s world.  This is not a weakness in Rowling, but a strength; it shows that while circumstances change and the world becomes more difficult to navigate, not everyone succumbs to pessimism and doubt.

Moreover, the columnist adds the use of puking pastilles to his list of silliness that besmirches the dark tone of the book.  However, what the columnist fails to indicate is that the puking pastilles are not used to destroy Voldemort or his Death Eaters.  They are used as a distraction by teenagers who are trying to undermine a figure of authority.  While the scenes involving the creation of the Skiving Snackboxes are comical, it is clear that these items are created by children to avert an abusive instructor.  Clearly, they couldn’t take their wands and curse her, and so they utilized their creativity and did what they could as school aged wizards. This doesn’t suppress the darker tone of the books, it merely shines an adolescent light, making them more realistic in their fantastic genre.

Now onto the gravity of the article.  The villain who has given this article its flimsy weight as it attacks the tone and narrative of the novel: Lord Voldemort.  Thier maintains that Voldemort is no more than a bully who “could never summon the sort of pure evil” as other characters within the genre such as Sauron or Emperor Palpatine.  Let me rebut this claim by stating that his pure evil mind is similar to that of many villains; he is manipulative, cunning and has no conscience. More than those generic malicious qualities, however, Voldemort has proved novel after novel that his intelligence, strategy, magical ability and search for immortality are additional toppings on the sundae of evil lords.  Furthermore, contrary to Sauron or Palpatine, no history is given on these villainous characters whereas Voldemort has a full history – depth that supplies the reader with a true and unfailing hate for who he was, is and becomes.  No, Voldemort is nothing like these other villains – he is much more developed and tangible.  Keep in mind, Mr. Thier, that it was not the movies that breathed life into Voldemort. It was Rowling and her powerful narrative and attention to the details that explained the story in full so that the readers were able to appreciate why these stories are being told. 

“Ultimately, he’s defeated by a trick of ownership over the elder wand – hardly a fitting end for a “dark lord.”” The columnist places an immense amount of his arguments on whims of superficial details without glancing at the complexity of the storyline. Voldemort wasn’t merely defeated by a trick.  He was defeated by himself and his inability to feel remorse for his actions. Our hero, the “whiny, adolescent” Harry Potter, so maturely gave Tom Riddle a chance to change, to realize that his actions were going to be the death of him.  And unlike any other villain I’m aware of, Voldemort chose his pride, his fear of death and, ultimately, his demise.  Obviously, the end of the Dark Lord is much more intricate than a trick devised by a clever wizard that could negate a good percentage of the series. 

It wasn’t enough for the columnist to insult Voldemort’s character. He goes on to say “[Harry] defeats Voldemort, but he never matures into the hero his story demanded he be.”  Every person who reads the books knows that Harry is an emotional and whiny teenager. And yet, we follow his story so obsessively because Rowling truly made us care for his life. Her narrative made us loyal to Harry, hopeful for his world and, at the bitter end, we cried for all that he had to endure as a child and what he would come to live with for the rest of his life.

At seventeen years old, how many people are mature despite any hardships in their lives?  This boy has had to come to terms with being an orphan, abuse, life-threatening situations, being a target for homicide, being labeled a hero, and being a leader all before the age of eighteen.  I think we can let slip the fact that he’s whiny and really appreciate that the world is on his shoulders – and he’s handling it the best he can while he saves an entire world.  Every character has to have flaws, and Harry Potter’s character flaw is that he is emotional and not very happy about his place in life. I wouldn’t be either, especially after being told that everything is happening around me because of a prophecy made about my place in defeating a dark wizard who, upon hearing said prophecy, wanted to murder me.

Again, the point is that Rowling made us relate to her characters and sympathize with their stories in a way that the movies simply cannot.  Without the setting, without the obsessive details, without the deviation from Hallows to erumpent horns, the book series would not have made the impact that it has on the world.  It’s the little things in Jo’s universe that millions of fans appreciate and the minuscule hints and red herrings that we dissect at every turn of the page, that keep her fans so passionately tied to the book series. 

In a couple of months, a website called Pottermore is opening to the public with even more excerpts and history lessons from Rowling.  If Dave Thier is right, and Rowling spent far too much time determining her details within the universe and left much to be desired in the way of darkness and epic proportions of the series, then I suppose the website won’t have much traffic and people clambering to figure out how to be one of a million to enter the site well before it opens to the public…

Friday, July 1, 2011

Know Thy Enemy

This scene was cut from the book for two reasons. A) It sounded far too preachy and B) it did nothing to move the plot along. In any case, I enjoyed it and thought that I'd share.

A smooth, quiet voice jarred Daniel from his spiraling thoughts about the coldness of a human soul compared to the scorch of his own body.

“Please tell me that you weren’t feeling sympathy for that drug addict.”

“Michael,” Daniel lifted his chin so that he was staring directly at his taller brother. “It’s good to know that you care. Tell me, what flaws have you found in me this time?”

“Nothing I haven’t pointed out to you before.” He winced at the smirk on Michael’s face. Perhaps he shouldn't have asked. “I have to say that you're getting better at managing the pain.”

“Taking in the pain is hardly an easy task. I suppose you wouldn’t know much of it, though. Araboth doesn't need two of me.”

Daniel nearly chuckled. His brother’s sand-colored eyes widened only a fraction of a millimeter, but it was enough to give him a smug, minuscule upturn of his lips.

“Iblis is growing restless,” Michael said, changing the subject. “He longs for the human girl that he helped heal with Gabriel. There’s been rumors that he’s been sneaking off to see Abaddon and Delilah.”

Daniel walked closer to his brother and gazed up at the galaxy of stars. As dark and tumultuous as the heavens were, he always felt more relaxed when he was lost in their glittering majesty. He let the silence float between them for several more moments before he spoke to Michael. “I saw them together. They were with a human called Eileen.”

“He’s in love with her.” Michael’s hands were locked behind his back and his face gave away none of his thoughts, but Daniel still caught the tiniest flex of his muscles. "Much like Samael is in love with Iridessa." The disdain clung to the beat in between his words and Daniel's response.

“Lust is much different than what Iridessa feels for Sam,” Daniel told him blandly, while raising a sculpted, pale eyebrow.

“You don’t think that we're lustful beings?” Michael turned half of his toned body toward his brother and allowed a rueful smile to twist his lips.

“Of course we are. What else would they Fall for?” Daniel asked, now irritated.

“You think that Iblis will fall, don’t you?”

“The signs are everywhere. He will Fall for that human girl and she’ll have his kin. She’ll die like they always do and he’ll be filled with so much hate that he won’t remember the beauty of our race.” Daniel never understood how his kind could ignore the law of Araboth. When Angels Fell, they joined the Fallen in Avarice. Daniel knew his brother well enough to know that he would not, could not, give up on this new human infatuation.

“Your lack of faith is troubling,” Michael whispered, turning back to the stars. “Is it because you spend so much time mingling with the humans?”

Daniel smiled and shook his head, allowing his body to relax. “No. It's because I'm not blind.”

Michael’s wings fluttered. A few feathers fell to Daniel’s feet. “I don't understand you. Do you believe we are all doomed to the fate of Abaddon and Apollyon and the others that Fell before them?”

A purple meteorite blazed through the sky, close enough to one of the dense stars to completely massacre it. The explosion caused both Angels’ attention to be drawn to the downpour of brightly colored sparks and balls of fire falling endlessly through the galaxy. Daniel took this momentary distraction to place a serene expression upon his face. Once the shards of light began to dim, he nodded his head, knowing that Michael would catch it out of the corner of his eye.

“If we can’t keep ourselves under a certain amount of control, then we are going to understand our Fallen brethren a lot better.” He kept his voice passive, as smooth as possible. The idea nagged at his instincts. All of them would Fall one day, he thought.

“Iridessa and Samael?” Michael prompted curiously, causing Daniel to lose his stoic stance for a moment. He glanced at Michael and instantly regretted it, thanks to the quirk of triumph displayed on Michael's lips. “Samael is your closest brother. How can you say those things about him?”

“Sam faces the Fall because of his love for Iridessa.”

“You seem very sure of yourself,” Michael said, in interest of his brother’s observations.

Daniel inclined his chin only an inch. “Unlike many of my kin, I keep a close eye on the shifts in our lives. Iblis will not take kindly to being separated from something he’s found so intriguing. It will cause a war in his heart.”

Both brothers were now facing each other full on. “Why?”

“Because when your heart yearns, your soul becomes attached to the object of yearning. Tell me that you would do nothing if the Celestia asked you to do something you knew was immoral?”

Michael's jaw was slack and his copper eyes were furious. “They would never.”

“And so we feel about those we love,” Daniel pointed out with a small smile on his lips and shrug of his broad shoulders. “Love clouds our vision, tempts us in a way that is blind to imperfection."

Michael contemplated Daniel’s words silently. Daniel watched his eyes narrow and widen as his mind worked around the truth of his words. After several more moments, Michael's wings were drawn tightly to his back, his eyes remained wide, his mouth was moving and emitting a very quiet string of words. “Of course, if you’re correct, it means that we are all susceptible to being damned.”

Daniel spread his wings. “Tell Dinah to be careful the next time she introduces a new pollen to their world, Michael. She's helping sustain the addicts.”

Having said his piece, Daniel flew away while feeling the familiar plea of a desperate soul needing his protection.

The man that Daniel was beckoned to was a smoker, a drug abuser and an alcoholic. His peace had been made over the years, but never as strong as the day that he was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver. At the age of forty three, the man had damaged his body, had ruined his stunning voice, and his soul nearly beyond repair. Like most humans faced with death, he prayed for forgiveness. Perhaps for the first time in his pitiful existence, Victor had done the right thing.

Kneeling by the hospital bed, Daniel stroked the hair of the man who was prematurely gray. Daniel's clear, blue eyes were strictly focused on a space just shy of Victor's face. His lips were pressed together, forming an unbendable line. No feeling for the man. No sympathy for his sickness or his death. Apathy came with his duty, just as easily as compassion.

"Please," the old man begged, his breathing coming out ragged and sharp. "I'm sorry. God, forgive me."

Daniel's fingers ruffled Victor’s thin hair, his mind focused on the pain that the older man was feeling, concentrating on his pleas. There was a moment of hesitation before taking Victor's life, but his reluctance was not to cause the man further suffering. It was the sharp, hot-wire pain near his liver that had shocked him. Daniel hunched over and grabbed at his side, closing his eyes in an attempt to remain silent. In the moment that Victor's pain engulfed him, the silence echoed around the hospital room.

Overcome with pain, Daniel used his hand to seize Victor's soul. It wasn't a complete soul, but it was not damned. Not evil. Still, after years of abuse to himself and the temple of his body, Victor was freed and cured of the demons that tormented him through life, thanks to Daniel. He tried to focus on the good that he was doing for this man, but a wave of absolute need washed over him. Daniel's hand slipped momentarily, his control on the soul wavered. He tightened his fist and pushed away from the hospital cot, his face not reflecting the explosion of pain that he felt.

The journey between Araboth and Earth was not significant to an Angel, but to the human soul, the space between existed as a form of Limbo. Souls were purified during the journey through the shifted dimensions. Sometimes the souls screamed, some cried, and some remained silent. The extent of their pain was determined by the way they chose to live their human lives. It had been a thousand years since the last time Daniel had known a peaceful transition.

After the pain ebbed out of Daniel's system and his mind was one hundred percent clear, he allowed his indifferent blue eyes to open so he could witness Victor's transformation. The shadowed patches in the fluid exploited the sin that he hadn’t repented. The bright clouds showed Daniel of the times he attempted to rectify the wrongs he had committed. Even stranger, Daniel noted, was that the lack of color in Victor's soul was not clear, but cloudy. Murky. As Victor's soul came into contact with the purity of Limbo, it hissed; the soul jerked and twisted, but Daniel kept his grasp. He kept his eyes on the soul, a steady stare.

The man’s voice was clearer and even now, not marred by the breathlessness of his humanly disease. His shout was like the cry of a raven, loud and piercing. “Help me! Make the burning stop!”

Daniel’s mouth was trained into a straight line, but his eyes betrayed him. He narrowed them and glared at the fluid soul that was held firmly in place in his hand. It was extremely rare that Daniel felt compelled to allow a soul to slip to purgatory. This man had lived a disgusting life of drugs and deprecation. He didn’t deserve the beauty of Araboth and The Eden. And yet, while Daniel thought it, he knew that the man would be cleansed, his past would not be a matter of the present.

Victor would be saved by the Celestia.

It was the first step to paradise. Daniel knew that the soul would stop struggling, it would become still and then he could leave it. Leave and never look back to this man. A man who had gotten lucky.

The man hissed, his soul whirring. Daniel tightened his hold and closed his eyes to gather strength. Yes, he felt the burning. It was everywhere; his head, his wings, his stomach, his feet. It was no wonder the soul in his hands was jerking around, trying to slither away.

Daniel remained silent as always while he examined the coolness of the soul against his warm, sunburst skin. He felt the torment physically. A war inside of his body, as though it was being ripped into millions of tiny pieces. This was his duty: to help these souls save themselves. He had to remember that. Daniel shook his head with his eyes squeezed tight to attempt to block out the pain.

And then, finally, Victor went limp. Daniel heaved a breath, a motion of tiredness to humans, one of relief for himself. His fist was unclenched as he listened to the quiet humming of Victor’s soul. The pain he felt only moments ago, so intense and debilitating, was slowly rescinding. Unafraid of causing himself more harm, Daniel opened his hand completely and allowed the soul to drift into the bright, open area. He watched it begin to blend in with the surroundings and spread his wings.
It was time to go home to and await the next soul in need of saving.