Friday, May 24, 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Readalong 2: Evil incarnate is not an accessory

In this week’s installment of The Deathly Hallows, the Magnificent Trio ignores just the whole message of Lord of the Rings and WEARS THE EVIL JEWELRY; Umbridge uses Moody’s magical eye to spy on her employees (someone fetch me a centaur); Ron throws a tantrum, right on schedule; Dumbledore frustrates Harry with his secrecy, from the GRAVE (masterfully done, sir); I go a little crazy not knowing what Neville/Luna/Ginny are up to back at Hogwarts; and Ron delights me with his continued use of “effing” as an adjective (I can't stay mad at you, you pseudo-bad-boy, you).

Who else—besides Ron and Hermione—was super uncomfortable during that Lupin/Harry confrontation?
“Harry, I’m sure James would have wanted me to stick with you.” 
“Well,” said Harry slowly, “I’m not. I’m pretty sure my father would have wanted to know why you aren’t sticking with your own kid, actually.”

So this is what everyone was talking about when they said they love Lupin in Prisoner of Azkaban but not so much later. I was certain that I would love ALL the Lupins. And I’ve been trying to justify his behavior—as I’m so adept at doing for Snape (he kills because he LOVES, you guys)—but there’s just not . . . nope, I can’t do it. He has been AWFUL to Tonks in public. Who knows how he treats her in private, but statistics tell us . . . probably not so good. So what, dude? You accidentally put a werewolf fetus in the woman you love. If you feel so bad about it, maybe don’t then ABANDON YOUR WIFE AND CHILD. That is not an empirically proven solution to accidental pregnancy. Now get out of here. I can’t look at you right now. (Don't worry, I'll forgive you in like 5 minutes.)

Do you know who I DO want to look at? One Gellert Grindelwald. Oh, surprise, I have a crush on another fictional character. Everyone pick your jaws up off the floor. He has golden hair. He is handsome. He is a tricksy thiever with a sense of humor. He crows with laughter (I DO love a good crow laugh). He was best friends with Dumbledore. He may or may not be (he totally is) evil.

And I’m SO glad that I’m going into this book already knowing about the “Grindelwald and Dumbledore: Starcross’d Lovers” angle. Because lines like this are 10 times more enjoyable:
“I don’t know who he loved, Hermione, but it was never me. This isn’t love, the mess he’s left me in. He shared a damn sight more of what he was really thinking with Gellert Grindelwald than he ever shared with me.”
YEAH, he did.

Question: When Voldemort saw Grindelwald steal the wand in Gregorovitch’s memory, wouldn’t he have recognized him right away? It seems like Grindelwald was pretty damn notorious in his day, and in general. So wouldn't his picture have been . . . places? And if he was in line to be the most powerful dark wizard of all time until Voldemort showed up, you would THINK Voldemort would have a passing familiarity with his handsome, laughing face. No? Am I way off? Be gentle.

Other question: I don’t remember for SURE (and am too lazy to look, apparently), but I don’t think the Polyjuice Potion changed Ron’s and Harry’s voices into Crab’s and Goyle’s back when they first used it in . . . I don’t even remember which book that was THEY ALL RUN TOGETHER (Chamber of Secrets. It was Chamber of Secrets). Yet here we are using Polyjuice Potion again in the Ministry of Magic, and Harry is speaking in Runcorn’s “deep and gravelly” voice. So what gives, yo?

And now . . . *drumroll* . . . for Week 2 . . .

1. Gregorovitch
2. Bathilda Bagshot
3. Harry’s wand (may it rest in pieces)
4. Dumbledore’s reputation
5. A piece of Voldemort’s soul that particularly dislikes gingers

I’ll let you know if I forgot anyone after I read Laura’s post.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Harry Potter and the Deathly Readalong 1: Merlin had a saggy left . . . earlobe

I know this is the last book, and I haven’t been saying this for any of these posts . . . but it’s my duty to warn you that I am about to spoil the ever-fondled Horklumps out of this book. And that means spoiling the whooooole series. So watch yourself, you person who still hasn’t read the books and/or seen the movies. (I see you there, you last unicorn, you.)

So that William Penn quote at the beginning? “Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still”?

Just be straight with us, Rowling.

But I’m not ready to talk about that yet. NOT ready.

I just casually mentioned to my husband the other night that Rowling was getting out of control with her wand euphemisms, and he was AGHAST that I could be so horrible as to see phallic imagery in this most beloved of children’s series. And *I* was aghast that he didn’t already realize this series is chock FULL of phallic imagery. And then we argued. And then I went to Twitter, where I was sure to find support for my case. And Kayleigh came to my immediate aid with a “wands are wangs” comment. And now my husband just thinks we’re ALL dirty. (He's not wrong, ya'll.)

But I promised you penis jokes:
“He drew out his own wand and compared the lengths.” (I’ve HEARD that guys do this.)
Ron talking about a book that teaches boys how to get girls: “You’d be surprised, it’s not all about wandwork, either.” (I mean, come ON. It’s right there.)

On a more serious note, when I was reading that obituary Elphias Doge wrote for Dumbledore, I was thinking that could EASILY have been Ron writing about Harry. They met at the age of 11 on the first day at Hogwarts. Dumbledore was already notorious at the school because of something his dad did.
“Our mutual attraction was undoubtedly due to the fact that we both felt ourselves to be outsiders. . . .
Being continually outshone was an occupational hazard of being his friend.” 
SCHOOL FRIENDS. And also Dumbledore being dead still. And also Elphias Doge's dandelion hair topped with a fez. *sniffle*

And with that, I can’t avoid it anymore. Two-hundred pages in, and there have been DEATHS.

2. George’s ear (*weeps prematurely for twin things to come*)
3. Mad-Eye Moody (Meh)

**EDITED TO ADD that Laura's post reminded me Charity Burbage and Rufus Scrimgeour also died in this section. Sorry, Charity and Rufus, but I didn't care about you overly much.**

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and how we should all be wary of small children

This made a perfect intermission between the Feelings Ravager that was Half-Blood Prince and the I-don't-even-know-what-but-I'm-terrified-to-find-out of Deathly Hallows. I had, of course, never read this. And I didn't have a good idea what it was; so when I went to pick it up from the library, I was a little surprised to find a book for small people on my holds shelf.

Here's the thing though: It's a children's book that doesn't feel too childish. Which I appreciated as a grown-up lady and also would have appreciated when I was a small person. Because I was one of those kids who read A Clockwork Orange at the age of 8 and immediately declared it my favorite bookuntil I read American Psycho. (Just kidding.) Little Megs wore howling wolves T-shirts (unironically) and simply had no time for sweet little tales of "hoppitty pots." The truth is, being a child is terrifying. The things that go on in our brains? You don't even want to know, adults. You don't EVEN want to know.

It's a horror show in there.

Probably the most gruesome story in the bunch, and therefore my favorite, is "The Warlock's Hairy Heart." In a nutshell, a fabulously wealthy and attractive warlock, to spare himself from becoming a silly boy in love, uses Dark Magic to remove his heart. He ages and continues to smugly mock his silly friends and their silly families, thinking himself quite enviable. But then he overhears his servants talking about him as though he is to be pitied, a poor aging warlock with no one to love him. So he resolves to get married and make them jealous once and for all.

He sets about trying to trick a lovely rich witch into thinking he can feel things. But she somehow knows he's not quite right in the feeler and casually says, "If only you had a heart." And then he says, "Aha! But that's where you're wrong." And he takes her into his dungeon to show her that he does indeed have a heart, and here it is in the crystal casket right where he left it. It just needs a little brushing because it grew hair from lack of attention. And the maiden begs him to put it back in his chest where it belongs, so he DOES. And she hugs him with her soft white arms. And he is overwhelmed with the feelings that he hasn't been feeling for so many years (and probably also puberty), and his heart is like a tiny misguided animal that urges him to rip out the maidens heart and . . . lick and stroke it, for some reason? And I guess he was planning to replace his hairy, shriveled heart with this nice shiny new one. But he died instead.

Isn't it romantic?
Other things I learned from Beedle (rather, from Dumbledore's commentary):
  • There was a much worse Care of Magical Creatures teacher before Hagrid. Sixty-two probationary periods. Missing most of his limbs. So you can just shut right up, Parvati Patil.
  • "There is not a witch or wizard in existence whose blood has not mingled with that of Muggles." So all that pure-blood business is malarkey? Excellent.
  • It's all fun and games until someone is caught fondling some Horklumps.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Heart-Shaped Box: When I'm tired, I turn into a stuffy Englishman

It occurs to me, as I sit down to write this, that I am quite alone in my domicile with most of the lights off. Surely, I fear no power in this life or the next.

This was a poor decision.

And now that I’ve turned on every light in the house and woken the dogs so they can bear witness to my continued well-being, let us proceed forthwith.

Jude Coyne is a 50-something rock star (of the black metal variety, I believe?) who has semi-retired to a farm in New York because 50% of his original band is kaput (as in tragically dead, because rock stars). And Jude just lazes around his farmhouse, playing music when he feels like it and collecting artifacts of the macabre—for example, “the skull of a peasant who had been trepanned in the sixteenth century, to let the demons out.” (I mean, BIG deal, right? I have a collection of Princess Aurora figurines, which has been known to scare away the most manly of men. So.) But one day, Jude’s assistant, knowing Jude is into this sort of thing, informs him that someone is selling a ghost on an auction site. Jude jumps on THAT deal, throwing down $1,000 for someone’s dead stepfather—more precisely, for someone’s dead stepfather’s favorite suit. As promised, the suit arrives in a heart-shaped box (GET IT?) . . . followed in due course by its dead owner, who proceeds to make very clear that his mission in death is to drag Jude down into the fiery pits of hell.

I don't like this game anymore.

Considering Joe Hill’s lineage, I went into this book expecting something Stephen King–adjacent. And that’s . . . yeah, that’s pretty much what it was. As far as paranormal thrillers go, it’s not remarkably original; it is equal parts creeptastic and eye-roll inducing. Dogs figure pretty heavily into the story, which stressed me out more than a Westboro Baptist parishioner at a funeral. (Take the humans. SPARE THE DOGS!) But if I take off my Book Snob chapeau—won’t be a moment . . . just let me detach all these bobby pins—I can tell you that I lost sleep over this book and read it almost straight through instead of doing other things I should have been doing, like going to work. It hooked me, curse its eyes.

One notable aspect of this book, and one that maybe elevates it above the common paranormal thriller fare for me, is that Jude is introduced as this womanizing ex-rocker who cycles through one 20-something goth groupie after another, stripping them of their identities so thoroughly that he calls them by the name of their home state rather than their given name. This naturally sets up Jude’s live-in, ex-stripper goth-groupie-of-the-moment, Georgia, as nothing more than her bullet points imply. And then Mr. Hill flips that framework on its head, and the women (all the women) are so much more than they appear to be at first glance. Some of them are much better; some of them are much, much worse. But all of them are MORE. And so is Jude if you give him half a chance.

What I assume was supposed to be the twist ending was not so very twisty . . . but then this OTHER thing happened, and I was like, “I DO say, old bean. I had anticipated a completely different occurrence at this juncture.”

Friday, May 3, 2013

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Readalong 2: All aboard the SS Potterfoy (warning: not a party boat)

After several years of avoiding the Harry Potter series for this VERY reason, I’ve finally read through to the end of The Half-Blood Prince. I only survived with the help of alcohol and my good friends Simon and Garfunkel, but survive I did . . . unlike some *choke* people *SOB*.

A quick recap before we get into the finer points of Rowling’s sadomasochistic tendencies. This week, Ron said Hermione’s name in his sleep, casually dropped the L word, and comfortingly stroked her hair (mere CRUMBS for your starving readers, Rowling?); McLaggen is a bit overeager to replace Ron as Keeper the very same night Ron nearly dies from being mysteriously poisoned (McLaggen isn't invited to join my Crime Team . . . if I should ever assemble one *looks around shiftily*); Peeves gets his giggles in increasingly more pervy ways (Hey, remember when Peeves forced Neville to burn his own pants off? Good times.); Slughorn earns our pity, if not our admiration (But how DARE he twinkle? He is NOT allowed to twinkle.); there is a giant, bloody axe hidden in the Room of Requirement, which is concerning to no one; and we meet Disappointed Dumbles, the very WORST variety of Dumbles (“I would have hoped that you returned to the task I set you.”).

This cone of shame belongs to all of us.

Our dear friend (and author of that book we all love to an unhealthy degree) Sunshine McSprinklecan (NOT her actual name, unfortunately) exhorted us to pay heed to the tell-tale signs of a possible romantic connection between Draco and Harry. And because we have not yet fully satisfied the unwritten rule of every readalong (i.e., MAKE EVERYONE GAYTM), I have been taking this suggestion very seriously.

Evidentiary support from just THIS week’s section:
“I met Malfoy,” Harry told her quietly, as he pulled his scarlet robes over his head.
“So I wanted to know how come he’s up at the castle with a couple of girlfriends while everyone else is down here. . . .”
“Yeah, we don’t need to hear about you being in love with Malfoy,” Harry told Kreacher.
Harry tried every variation of “I need to see what Draco Malfoy is doing inside you” that he could think of for a whole hour.  
Where, Harry wondered, was Malfoy now, and what was Voldemort making him do under threat of killing him and his parents?

OK subtext...I see you now.

So here’s Malfoy, with this profound yearning to do something that matters, to earn the approval of his male authority figure (in this case, Voldemort), and maybe even to make up for the failings of his dad, who as we know has been somewhat of a dud Death Eater. But he’s wasting away under the burden of this horrible responsibility. He is so desperate to unburden himself that he turns to Myrtle. And when Myrtle is the only one you can talk to, your circumstances are dire INDEED.

So when Harry finally catches Malfoy in a moment of weakness, doubled over the sink in the boy’s lavatory, weeping and lamenting his fate, and when Malfoy looks up and their eyes meet in the hazy glass of the bathroom mirror . . . I briefly hoped that they would recognize in each other their twin hurts. That maybe they would call a truce.

But then the wands come out.

And it’s so curious to me that in the same chapter where Harry and Draco have this epic face-off (which is, in many ways, the culmination of every snide remark and resentful glare they’ve exchanged since their first meeting almost 7 years ago), Harry and Ginny share their first kiss completely out of the blue. That juxtaposition just doesn’t feel like a coincidence to me. It feels like blowing off steam.

And now sad things that are sad.

In this book, we really see the father/son relationship deepen between Harry and Dumbledore. Harry is finally confiding in Dumbledore the way he should have been all along. The conversations they have during their private lessons are some of the most poignant exchanges in the whole series. Dumbledore expertly dismisses the idea of manifest destiny and fate that the prophecy inevitably brings up for Harry. And with that, he sets Harry free.
It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high. Some people, perhaps, would say that there was little to choose between the two ways, but Dumbledore knew—and so do I, thought Harry, with a rush of fierce pride, and so did my parents—that there was all the difference in the world.
And in the cave, we see this heartbreaking role reversal. When Dumbledore drinks the potion to gain access to the Horcrux, he becomes childlike and weak, which FORCES Harry into the leadership role he has been reluctant to accept since Book 1. In so many ways, this is the moment when Dumbledore passes the mantel to Harry. This is where he declares to Harry louder than any words could ever do that Harry is strong enough to face the path ahead . . . without Dumbledore.
“I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.”
I need someone to ruffle my hair comfortingly.