alexandra alger

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Archive for the tag “J.K. Rowling”

Ron Weasley and the Sorcerer’s Stone?

My daughter Vanessa, doing research on Edith Wharton, discovered that the writer had written most of The House of Mirth before deciding to change the name of her main character. She would not be Juliet Hurst but Lily Bart.

All right—Juliet doesn’t quite have the elegance or delicacy of Lily, and Wharton makes plain her character’s flower-like beauty and fragility. And yet I’m not sure I would’ve found fault with Juliet, had Wharton stuck with it. I might’ve liked the reminder of Shakespeare’s tragic heroine.

How important is a name in a novel? (Shakespeare comes to mind again–nope, go away.)  One the one hand, you could argue that a character’s name is just one attribute, like shyness or having toothpick arms. Once we love (or loathe) a character we love (or shiver at) the name, and we can’t imagine that character having any other.

Take Harry Potter. It’s simple, unremarkable. For me, it conjures up a weather-beaten Englishman tending his primroses. It’s Harry the character who’s remarkable, who’s memorable. I’d want to read about his wizarding adventures no matter what his name. J.K. Rowling could have named Harry Ron and vice versa, and I’d be just as happy. Ron Weasley and the Sorcerer’s Stone–how’s that? Ron’s as easy to say as Harry; Weasley is quirkier than Potter, funnier There’s something about the word “weasel,” with the long “e” followed by the “sel” that ends up as”zel” when you say it aloud–it tickles my funny bone.

At the same time, all right–Potter might be the better name for Rowling’s hero. Harry, despite his talents, is without pretension and down to earth (I thought of a potter as someone potting plants, who literally has his hands in soil). Weasley might better suit the hero’s wisecracking sidekick. Rowling is awfully good at coming up interesting names that reinforce our understanding of her characters, without being obvious about it. (Usually. Notable exception: Malfoy, which roughly means “bad faith” in French. British readers are more likely to recognize this than we Americans are.)

The right name is important. All I’m saying is, the character is even more so.

Okay, Fine. It’s Worth Reading.

 

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The plot finally kicked in for me, and once it did, I tore through the last two-thirds of Cursed Child. I’m in the mood to talk details here, so if you haven’t read the script but plan to, stop here!

Rowling and co-writers (mainly Rowling?) came through with a satisfying take on the Potter crew one generation later. It doesn’t have the sprawl and heft that a Book 8 would surely have; it’s missing a few vital characters (Hagrid! and, um, Voldemort); nonetheless I found myself admiring, as always, Rowlings’ storytelling genius.

I had trouble focusing at first (you know this, if you’ve read my earlier post). There were disturbing oddities, like Ron’s becoming a goofy, hapless adult. More problematic, I had trouble warming up to the two young heroes. In theory, what could be more interesting: the offspring of Harry and Draco, best friends! And in Slytherin together! Poor Albus is lousy at spells and flying. He’s almost obligated to hate Quidditch, and he does. He sees himself as the disappointing son—the “spare,” as he calls himself, using Voldemort’s word for Cedric Diggory. (Harry’s first born, James, and the youngest, Lily, are “easy” children.) Scorpius struggles not as much because of his own dad— though Draco is chilly and removed—than because everyone at Hogwarts believes a rampant rumor that he’s the secret son of Voldemort. I should’ve been brimming with compassion for these boys, but exasperated was more like it. I wanted to tell them to stop sniveling, to stop worrying about what their dads thought of them and to get a life! Rowling et al. expect us to appreciate the irony of Albus’ predicament—he has the family and love his father yearned for, but he’s miserable being his father’s son. It’s right up Rowling’s alley, this kind of emotional messiness but—there’s no time for depth. It’ll all telling instead of showing.

SCORPIUS: I know the—Voldemort thing isn’t—true—and—you know—but sometimes, I think I can see my dad thinking: How did I produce this?

ALBUS: Still better than my dad. I’m pretty sure he spends most of his time thinking: How can I give him back? (p. 81)

Going back in time to save Cedric Diggory from a brutal death was something, anyway. It’s a decision full of self-pity—awww, the spare wants to save the original spare—but any action is welcome at this point. Albus and Scorpius’ plan begins with a time-honored tradition: Polyjuicing in order to sneak into the Ministry, in this case to steal the Time-Turner from the office of the Minister for Magic, our own Hermione Granger.

They manage it far too easily, if you ask me. They know just where it is, and there’s no doubt they’ll find it, even if they do have to fight off a few enchanted books first. And if they’re caught? They don’t even worry about getting into trouble—that’s how ho-hum that trouble could be. An angry parent? What else is new? For the original trio, sneaking into the Ministry was a life-or-death affair once the Death Eaters took over. Think of the time they stole in to steal back Regulus Black’s locket from the horrible Dolores Umbridge, and Hermione, disguised as a low-level Ministry witch, is dragged into a Muggle-denouncing proceeding to act as Umbridge’s secretary. The three of them barely escape, with Hermione only at the last second able to shake off Death Eater Yaxley.

The clash of good and evil—that’s what’s missing in the first half of the script. There’s a specter of evil. Harry has disturbing dreams and wakes up with his scar hurting and the voice of Voldemort hissing his name. Haaarry Pottttter….I’m sure this was supposed to send shivers down my spine. It seemed hokey, though. I was unmoved until Albus succeeds in his mission, and in an instant disappears from the world, having altered time in the worst possible way. Voldemort doesn’t die—Harry does. Which means Albus himself doesn’t exist.

Page 159, halfway through. This is when I thought: Rowling is baaack.

Who hasn’t wondered what would’ve happened had Voldemort lived? Rowling seized upon the most compelling what-if of all. Here’s where I finally began to respect Scorpius, who’s left alone to figure out how to restore the post-Voldemort present and bring back his best friend. It’s clear once and for all that he’s too decent to be a Death Eater—he’s horrified at the cruel, Muggle-torturing world he’s trapped in. He ably takes on the hero role and proves himself much like Harry did time and time again (oddly, he’s more Harry-like than Albus is).

Of course, he’s got an easier time of it than Harry, because he knows everything about the past he’s entered. He knows to go to Snape for help—Snape, alive and well—as well Hermione and Ron, the last existing members of Dumbledore’s Army. These were my favorite moments: When three characters we know intimately from Book 1 to 7 meet, in an alternate past, a Voldemort-ruling past, a boy they think they know but they don’t, because he’s from an alternate future. It’s so crazy and mind-warping!

The whole Delphi-Augurey development was a delightful surprise—I didn’t for a moment suspect she was anything but what she was. She’s far from being a Voldemort replacement, though. I hoped he’s make an appearance at the end, when Harry and the gang are waiting to intercept Delphi in Godric’s Hollow. Instead of Harry v. Voldemort, Round 2, we get Harry disguised as Voldemort. “Horrendous,” the script notes read. Not for me, knowing that he’s just Harry. I can see reasons for keeping Voldemort out of the action. His and Harry’s history would swamp every other dynamic in the play. The scene as is brings in Albus to fight on the side of his dad, which honestly is hard to imagine against the real Voldy.

I have to grudgingly admit that whatever I might find lacking in the script, I can see it as the basis for a riveting theatrical production. I’d love to see how a set designer would create the Forbidden Forest; the Dementors; the fight against Delphi. With the play a sold-out success in London, it’s sure to come to New York. It could travel the globe eventually.

It’ll probably be turned into a movie. Don’t you think? We may well see it on the screen before we see it on the stage.

I hope Robert Patterson is free to play Cedric.

A few random thoughts and quibbles.

Who’d have thunk it:

Draco—wiser than Harry when he urges Harry to see that Albus needs him and Scorpius. A lonely child, like Tom Riddle and Draco himelf, lives in a dark place

Moms are a big deal in the books, but not here. Fierce, self-confident Ginny has virtually no role. She could be whited out and no one would miss her.

Funny:

When Albus is Polyjuiced into Ron at the Ministry and tries to distract Hermione by suggesting they have another baby—“Or if not another baby, a holiday. I want a baby or a holiday and I’m going to insist on it. Shall we talk about it later, honey?”

Moaning Myrtle, as always. Flirty Myrtle acts as if Harry and Draco visited her bathroom only yesterday. “Hello, Harry. Hello, Draco. Have you been bad boys again?”

Biggest beef:

Where’s Hagrid? We see him in two flashbacks but never in the present. No wonder Albus is such a sad sack–no Hagrid to cheer him up. Could he have retired?

Huh?

Cursed child–Harry, Albus, Scorpius? Every child who has issues with Dad/Dad figure? The unknown kid in the cover image?

What on earth is that cover image? A nest with owl wings?

 

Harry Potter!

Harry Potter’s back! Behold the window display in my local independent bookstore for a midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

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A release party! Just like the good old days, when J.K. Rowling produced her seven Harry books ever year or so, starting in 1998 (stunning, given how long and complex the later books were). My bookstore, Bookcourt, has clearly been missing those years. “Costumes welcome!” the handwritten sign (so Mugglish) reads. “Butterbeer! Get sorted into your Hogwarts house! Make your own wand at Ollivander’s!”

I have to admit I hadn’t been paying too much attention to the news about a Harry Potter play opening in London. I’d gotten the Amazon emails, trumpeting my chance to pre-order the script. “Why would I want to read a play script,” I grumbled to myself. I’m as big a Harry fan as the next person—which is to say big—but this just seemed like a massive, cynical marketing ploy Why would Rowling write a play when she could write a novel? The play couldn’t be any good. Well. it’s rave review in today’s New York Times changed my mind about that. The review tried not to give too much away—in keeping with the level of secrecy that Rowling always insists on prelaunch, quite rightly—and I know just enough to know I’m going to have to buy this damn thing, a “rehearsal edition script,” whatever that is. After all, I won’t be getting over to London anytime soon. (The play is reportedly sold out until next May.) When’s that release party again?

I have fond memories of going to a midnight bookstore party for the seventh and last book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. My husband and I were in Hanover, N.H.,  spending the night before picking our son up from camp the next day. It was the night be before  would be released–and of course, we didn’t know the title then, we didn’t know anything. The Hanover book store was having a release party at midnight. We went with another couple, friends who were  picking up their son at the same camp. The bookstore was packed, of course. I remember being pushed backward by the crowd. I was resigned to waiting many hours before being able to buy a book, when all of a sudden our friends–tall and determined–pushed their way to the front of the line and bought a book for all of us. Heroes!  I remember reading late into to night, and having trouble rousing myself for the trip to camp. When we got there, our son took possession of the book, and for days afterward, I waited impatiently for him to go to sleep at night. There was no other time for me to read, except when he was in bed. My longing to get on with the book drove me to distraction. But we did end up sharing the book,  the three of us, Dan, my son and I. For some reason, it never occurred to us to buy more than one book. No, there was one, and it was precious.

How nice it would to have that feeling again! And maybe I will.

 

 

 

 

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