My Personal Harry Potter Countdown

Thursday, July 12, 2007
Only 9 days to go til Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows is released. I've pre-ordered my copy on Amazon, and expect to have it that day - when I will immediately begin reading it.

Now I acknowledge I am a sucker for a)books in general, b)fairy tales (and this definitely qualifies) and c)serial stories of mystery-solving, gifted kids who are better than they should be (I loved Nancy Drew, too). So I don't wonder why I like the books. But what it is about Harry Potter that has made him literally a world-wide phenomenon?

My theory is that we humans are hard-wired to love stories, particularly what we have come to call fairy, or folk tales.

We like the idea of the underdog winning. We sympathize with little Cinderella, for example, living in the cinders of the hearth, being punished and put upon by the nasty step-sisters (Harry Potter living in the closet under the stairs in the home of his nasty Aunt and Uncle who punish and put upon him). We're glad when the Fairy Godmother shows up and, using magic cast upon ordinary things, prepares Cinderella for the ball. (We cheer when Hagrid finds Harry, and using magic, delivers him from the clutches of his nasty Aunt and Uncle, and gives him the happy news that he's a wizard.)

Along the same lines, we seem to like the idea - particularly when we are children - of children who will play a special and powerful role in the fate of the world. As with the four children who venture into Narnia to save that world, or Jack who climbs the beanstalk to defeat the giant, or the Hardy Boys, who have the freedom, courage, intelligence, and power to take on criminals and solve mysteries, it pleases us when (extra)ordinary children solve extraordinary challenges.

We are deeply touched when someone sacrifices him or herself for others. We cry when the Little Mermaid gives up her voice - and in the original story, her life - for the Prince, whom she loves. In the original story, the Little Mermaid gains an immortal soul for her pains, however, and we can be happy for her in the end, knowing she has attained eternal life. (We worry for Harry, as again and again, he sacrifices himself and his own interests to protect or promote others, whether he's on a suicide dive for the snitch on the Quidditch field, or pulling Cedric away from the murderous shrubbery in the maze.)

There is something about the face-off between Good and Evil that satisfies a deep need in us for a simple truth, a once-and-for-all outcome. While the Harry Potter books are anything but morally simplistic (one of their greatest selling points is that they are not black and white - consider Harry's discovery of Voldemort's sad family history, and his dawning realization that Snape, too, was an abused child, and his pricklings of sympathy for both characters), there is, nevertheless, a battle royale between Good and Evil that must be fought, and that must be won.

We love Quest stories. These are as old as story-telling, dating to narratives as old as Gilgamesh, The Illiad and the Odyssey, fairy tales like East of the Sun and West of the Moon, and more recent stories, like The Lord of the Rings. And while Harry Potter's isn't a traditional travel quest, the episodic nature of the story, and the continuing series of challenges Harry must overcome to move forward, all qualify as typical elements in the Quest tale.

Finally, as with Dickens' stories, we want to find out what happens to our friends. Like Dickens, Rowling has populated a world full of characters we would know just by hearing their names (can there be any question that Severus Snape is severe and nasty? Or that Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore isn't a good, powerful, friendly, and complex man? Or that the Weasley family will be amusing and down-to-earth? Or that Voldemort will not be both evil, and obsessed with living forever?). And like Dickens' characters, we will keep turning pages, because we want to find out what is going to happen to our friends, and to our enemies.

Friday, July 13, 2007
8 day to go

Wouldn't this have been a great day to release Harry Potter (Friday the 13th)? Well, on second thought, maybe not.

According to the many fan websites, the things we know about the final volume of Harry Potter:
* The book will be released on Saturday, 21st, July, 2007 at 00:01 BST in the UK and at 00:01 in the USA.
* Harry is alive at the beginning of this book.
* Harry will come of age at the beginning of this book.
* Draco Malfoy will NOT team up with Harry to defeat Voldemort. Rowling has spoken against this idea, contrary to popular belief.
* Albus Dumbledore IS dead, but will still have an impact in Book 7.
* There is still more to Snape; he isn't totally evil.
* JKR has said that two people will die that she didn't plan on having die originally, and one person who was going to die is now on the survivor's list.
* Harry wants to visit Godric's Hollow.
* The reason Albus Dumbledore had James' invisibility cloak is a crucial plot point.
* The end of the book will tell us what happens to the survivors of the great battle.
* Harry will need to find and destroy 5 more Horcruxes. They are believed to be [THESE ARE RUMORED]:
o Slytherin's Locket
o Hufflepuff's Cup
o Something of Ravenclaw's or Gryffindor's (but NOT the Sorting Hat).
o Possibily Nagini, Voldemort's snake
o The part left in Voldemort himself

July 15, 2007
7 days to to

J. K. Rowling really does have a lot in common with Charles Dickens, and not just in the fact that people literally wait at the bookshops for the next installment of her books.

Her use of names, as I mentioned before, is both clever, and informed. While some of the names, like Severus Snape, merely sound the way they should (severe, and snap, snipe), many also have rich references in them to other pieces of literature, or words that draw further meanings and paint a richer portrait of the character is question.

Draco (dragon, also a constellation - we find that many of the Malfoy clan, particularly on the mother's side, are named for constellations) Malfoy (bad faith in French)
Lucius Malfoy (Lucifer, bad faith)
Bellatrix LeStrange (Bella: beautiful; trix: female, tricky; bellicose: warlike; LeStrange: strange)
Sirius (dog star - Padfoot) Black (Black dog)
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore (Albus: white (Albion was also what the Romans called Britain); Percival (Arthur's Knight who had a vision of the Holy Grail); Wulfric (wolf-lord); Brian (the first king of the Irish); Dumbledore (an old name for a bumblebee, also, a hat)
Privet Drive (private, a privet hedge created a privacy fence between a home and the street)
Luna Lovegood (Luna: moon; Lovegood speaks for itself)
Xenophilias Lovegood (Xeno - alien; philias - love. Xenophilias loves the strange and the alien.)
Neville Longbottom (this one speaks for itself!)
Dolores Umbridge (Dolores: sadness; Umbridge: umbra means cloud; to "take umbrage" means to be displeased or offended by the actions of others)
Crabbe and Goyle (crabby; gargoyle - mean and ugly!)
Professor Trelawny (Trelawny of the Wells is an actress in a Victorian comedy who turns her back on theater for love)

Even if you only use the sound of the name as a guide, the alliteration in a name like Luna Lovegood conjures up a spacey character, and Professor Flitwick can only be small and quick. But take a little time to find out that a Slughorn is a kind of a trumpet (often blown in battle), and suddenly Horace Slughorn's blowing of his own horn has added humor.

July 17, 2007
5 days to go till Harry Potter: The Deathly Hallows

J.K. Rowling is more than just a good story-teller f0r kids of all ages. She is a writer who is steeped in Western myth and legend, and has a facile command of the themes and characters. The Harry Potter series is rich with references to our collected literary history.

There are, in fact, so many references it would take a book of its own to catalog them all, let alone discuss the way that she has made them, the subtleties and inferences. Still, here are just a few:

Rowling draws on the many tales of children who come from the extremes of life (princes and paupers) who are often seen as threats to powers that be. Moses, for example, who is set adrift in a basket to avoid death at the hands of a threatened Pharoah. Or Oedipus, who is banished from his father's kingdom, which act makes Oedipus ignorant of the very knowledge (that he is the son of the King) that might have prevented him performing the heinous acts he is destined to perform. Like these, and many other special children, Harry's true history has been hidden from him, and he has been hidden away for his own protection, until the moment is right, when he can come into his full inheritance, and fulfill his destiny.

Like many a literary hero, Harry breaks the rules when necessary - like rescuing Fleur's sister in the lake (Goblet of Fire), or using the Marauder's Map or Invisibility Cloak to haunt the castle after hours - to accomplish a higher purpose. This tendency in Western heroes is epitomized by Captain James Tiberius Kirk of the Starship Enterprise, in the Kobayashi Moru scenario, in which Kirk, unable to beat the computer-generated challenge set him at Starship Academy, simply reprograms the computer.

Rowling pays special homage to the Arthurian legend, and by extension all those stories - such as Lord of the Rings - which borrowed heavily from that tale.

Harry, like Arthur, is an orphan, who, despite his "noble" birth, is raised as a commoner. This occurs because a wise wizard (Merlin in Arthur's case, Dumbledore in Harry's) spirits him away as an infant for his own protection. Like Merlin, Dumbledore sees to the (magical) education of his ward, educating him not just in day to day matters, but in the important matters of the heart and soul, that enoble him, and build his character.

Like Arthur, Harry has both a woman, and a man close to him forming a trinity of people whose actions impact the world around them. (And while in both cases, it appears these two friends form a romantic bond of their own, in Harry's case, he is not betrayed by Hermione, but instead has his own "Guinevere" in the form of Ginny Weasley.)

And, like Arthur, Harry has a mortal enemy to whom he is related with a bond deeper than their emnity - Arthur's enemy is his sister's (and presumably his) child, Mordred; Harry's enemy is Voldemort (both names playing on the French - mort - for death).

Would it be pushing the similarity too far to suggest that in the next to last book of the series, Harry emulates the Arthurian Quest for the Holy Grail (the finding of which will save Britain from the evil that has befallen it) with his quest for the horcruxes (the finding and destroying of which will destroy Voldemort once and for all)?

July 18, 2007
4 days to go

The Harry Hack is all the rage today. Here's how that story goes: A self-styled hacker named "Gabriel" posted a notice on Full Disclosure, a mailing list for "exploits and hackers." The notice claimed that Gabriel had hacked into the publisher's data using "the usual milw0rm downloaded exploit delivered by email/click-on-the-link/open-browser/click-on-this-animated-icon/back-connect to some employee of Bloomsbury Publishing…"

While there are all sorts of technical reasons why this isn't very likely, the most damning evidence that it's a spoof is the posting itself: a badly written "expose" of the supposed denouement of the story. After all, if you had hacked the Harry Potter final episode, wouldn't you have at least a few choice quotes? Or, wouldn't you have held up the publisher for ransom?

The hacker seemed to suggest his was a righteous cause, attacking the Harry Potter empire for some sort of religious reasons, but that reasoning seemed as trumped up as the rest of the story.

Right now, nobody seems to be concerned that the proverbial cat is out of the bag.

July 20, 2007
Mere hours to go!

I guess I may have to eat my words in the previous post. I (oh, woe is me) peeked at a leak of The Deathly Hallows, assuming it would be nonsense and clearly not genuine. What I read (this was posted on a forum) was a description of the leaked material (apparently, poorly made but readable photocopies of the book's pages), followed by a spoilers section. Since the official line from J.K. Rowling appears to be: don't ruin the book for others, there is more than a little chance the leaks are genuine. Of course, while I may have been foolish enough to learn some outcomes in advance, getting there is more than half the fun in a good book... and I'm doing my best to forget what I read!

While I wait for my book to be delivered, I checked out some Harry Potter mashups.

What's a mashup? Wikipedia says: "Bastard pop is a musical genre which, in its purest form, consists of the combination (usually by digital means) of the music from one song with the acapella from another. Typically, the music and vocals belong to completely different genres. At their best, bastard pop songs strive for musical epiphanies that add up to considerably more than the sum of their parts."

But with the advent and adoption of video sharing sites such as YouTube, mashups have come to also refer to videos created by users out of movie clips, tv clips, music, and original audio and video created for the mashup by the "director."

Popular movies and tv shows are fair game for mashups, so needless to say, Harry Potter is a prime target.

For example, "Harry Potter and the Brokeback Goblet" is extremely funny, and very well done (if not a serious homage to either movie). Or try Harry Potter Rap. It's kind of amazing people spend that much time and creative energy on a project for YouTube. There are of course Harry Potter/South Park mashups, Harry Potter/Lego things, or the more serious Harry Potter/"Sweetest Thing" mashup. Something to kill the time while waiting for the books to go on sale (at midnight, July 20th.)

July 21, 2007

Naturally, in spite of my promises to myself, I didn't get to start reading the book until several hours after it had arrived. I ordered my copy from Amazon, in advance, and while it was in Syracuse by the 19th, it could not be delivered until July 21st. (I tracked it, of course!)

But once I did start, it was very difficult to put it down for more than a few moments at a time. Like most children across America, I had my proverbial "face buried in the book" for the remainder of the weekend, coming up for air only to have a couple of meals and get in a little sleep.

Rowling does not disappoint. Though darker by far than the previous novels, which have been becoming progressively more adult and more serious in nature, the story moves forward at its usual breakneck speed - even in the chapters in which our hero and his friends are traipsing hither and yon, one step ahead of Volde... you-know-who.

I was reading a bulletin board about whether, now that Harry Potter is completed, children would stop reading - and whether Harry Potter would stand the test of time to become a classic. My guess would be: yes, Harry Potter will become a classic. And children once bitten with the reading bug are not likely to stop.

If a classic is measured by a timeless quality, a purpose beyond just "the read," characters that are iconic, and the possibility of a new generation discovering the joy of reading the stories, then the Harry Potter series will qualify.

The only issue is that Harry Potter literally grew up along with the first generation of children to discover him. I'm not sure I'd want my ten-year-old rushing through all seven books in one year - I am not sure a child of ten would be ready for books six and seven, as well as one and two. Each book seems to speak to children of roughly the age at which the characters find themselves. As the characters age, so do their interests, their challenges, their understanding of things, and the complexity of the issues. If a child could be convinced to hold off, and read just one book a year, it would probably be most effective.

The book aims to work out the various plot lines that have threaded through books one through six: Harry's family history; his relationships with his friends, with Ginny, with his enemies, and with Dumbledore; the search for the hidden Horcruxes; the Armageddon between the Death Eaters and the Order of the Phoenix; and Harry's ultimate outcome.

While some of the endings may not be sweet, they are satisfying, and real. There will be both gladness and tears as you complete the book, but most of all, a real sense that the story has been knitted up, and things are as they should be.

As with any good book, or series,
the more we learn about all our friends, the more genuine, deep, and beloved they become. We want to know what happens to them, but we are reluctant to send them on, out of our own life. As Stephen King said,"NO ending can be right, because it shouldn't be over at all. The magic is not supposed to go away. On the other hand, no story can be great without closure. There MUST be closure, because it's the human condition . . . that's how it is."

Fortunately for all of us, there are two more movies to come to drag out our relationship just a little bit longer.

And there are always new children, and grandchildren to come, to introduce to Harry.


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