January 2007 Archives

Approaching the end


The author ever more philosophical; the plot ever more complex. I'm beginning to miss the simplicity of the story in the first book. I've preferred books one, two, and four to books three and five, so far.

Book six is a departure in that, for the first time, we, the readers, know more than Harry knows. Throughout the first five books the narrator has been inside Harry's head; we've seen only what Harry sees, known only what Harry knows, and heard only Harry's thoughts. The single exception was the first scene in book one in which the infant Harry was left on the Dursleys' doorstep. The movies have stayed true to this perspective: the only scenes that don't have Harry in them are Harry's dreams. There have been a couple of brief exceptions, but they're just snapshots, as when we see someone, presumable Barty Crouch Jr., standing outside Hogwart's on a rainy night early in the fourth movie.

Book six, however, starts with two chapters that don't involve Harry, and one of them contains a significant scene: Draco's mother asking Snape to protect Draco, and to kill whomever Draco has been told to kill, should Draco fail. I'm sure we're supposed to assume that Draco has been assigned the task of killing Harry, although since he passed up a chance to do so on the train, I suspect somebody else may be his target. Just have to wait and see.

Finished book five


Warning: this post will be a spoiler if you want to see the fifth Harry Potter movie without knowing what happens in the book.

I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that the movie will be better than the book. Unless you're a true Harry Potter fan, that is, and don't mind reading 870 pages of material most of which doesn't advance the plot. Much of this will be cut out of the movie, of course, and I'm sure they'll focus on the main elements of the story: the existence of the Order of the Phoenix, and Harry's mental connection to Voldemort, which Voldemort is able to exploit because of Harry's nobility and his love of Sirius. Harry's teaching the other students defense against the dark arts will probably be a cute element in the movie--lots of opportunity for humor there, and I know Cho will be in the movie--can't leave out the first kiss--although I bet they'll rewrite all that material. The climactic scene in the Ministry of Magic will probably be outstanding in the movie--duh--they'll go all out with the special effects.

Far from having a redeeming moment, Snape further discredits himself in this book. His hatred of Harry, based on an old grudge, is so intense that he doesn't teach Harry how to block Voldemort's attempts to invade his mind, even after being asked to do so by Dumbledore. Indeed it's suggested that Snape is actually making it easier for Voldemort, not because of any allegiance to Voldemort, but because of his hatred for Harry. I'm interested in seeing what they'll do with that in the movie, if anything; I bet they leave it out entirely.

I know it's ridiculous to second-guess the author, but why she killed off Sirius is beyond me. And to do so in a way that guaranteed Harry would blame himself--it's as though she's deliberately depriving Harry of any comfort, either the comfort of someone who cares for him, or the small comfort he might get from knowing he did everything he could to save that person, as opposed to leading him to his death.

I almost regret having read this book before seeing the movie. Ah well. I might as well read book six too; no point in stopping now.

During the past week my readership has increased to more than 300 per day--I guess folks like the Harry Potter blogging. Still, my lack of success in drawing out my readers is disheartening, and I haven't changed my mind about moving the blog. I will, however, keep blogging here until I finish the last Harry Potter book, which I just started last night. It's "only" 652 pages, so it shouldn't take long; I just don't get as much time to read as I'd like.

Somewhere in the depths of book five


Still here, for now. Moving the blog is going to be more difficult than I thought. I thought I could just change the configuration setting to point the blog to a different URL, but I tested it and it didn't work. After spending a month changing hosts and updating the software this summer, I'm dreading going through another big hassle.I'm beginning to think maybe it isn't worth it.

Might as well press on with the Harry Potter blogging while I try to make up my mind.

I don’t have much more to say about book four. Whoever wrote the movie script did an excellent job of turning the 734-page book into a movie, stretching out the bits that made for exciting scenes, such as Harry’s battle with the dragon—the book version paled by comparison—while leaving out plot elements and characters that really didn’t add all that much to the story. In most ways the graveyard scene was better in the movie, although the description in the book of what took place when the wands connected was cool; better than what we could see happening on the screen.

So, on to book five. This may not have been intended as satire, but whom does this sound like? A politician who’s in denial regarding a disastrous situation, who transforms the trial system to suit his needs, who has the ear of a lapdog press and uses them effectively to smear and disparage anyone who suggests that all is not well, whose main concern is keeping his own powerful position, who hands down edicts regarding education that take control out of the hands of the teachers… I’m writing, of course, of Minister of Magic Cornelius Fudge. Whom did you think?

This is the first Harry Potter book I’ve read without having a movie version playing continuously in the background, in my head. There’s no escaping what’s written on the page now. The relentless unfairness and cruelty to which Harry is subjected in the first half of the book makes it tough to read at times. Harry's inability to control his temper is a major theme during this part of the book, and it makes for frustrating reading. The author seems to abandon this theme after, oh, four or five hundred pages.

Even the prominent role played by the entire Weasley family, as supportive as they are, doesn’t serve to provide Harry with much relief from his misery. I find myself wondering if all the books have been this way, really, but the movie playing in the back of my head constantly rewrote scenes to make them more tolerable: that didn’t happen…that didn’t happen…it didn't happen like that…

Since the book is 870 pages long, I keep trying to guess what will be left out of the movie. I doubt if we’ll see any house elves, except maybe the one at Black’s house. He adds comic relief, and hoo boy do we need comic relief here; bring it on. Professor Binn is good for an endless supply of jokes, and Sirius's mother adds laughs at some of the most tense moments. The tone changes in the second half, or maybe the last third, of the book. When the entire school mutinies—students, staff, and poltergeist—it's a relief.

Just checked the blog stats


To those of you who found my website by Googling Daniel Radcliffe, my sincere apologies. Just so it won't have been a complete waste of your time, here you go:

Still reading book four, in which the author gives up all pretense of writing for children with the line "Crabbe and Goyle chuckled sycophantically."

I tried last night to reproduce the pleasant evening of the night before. I braved a cold, light rain to bring in wood from the woodpile and I built a nice fire. Unfortunately, Saint decided the previous evening hadn't been all that much fun, come to think of it, and he wanted me to go downstairs to the family room, where I could throw the ball at the stairwell repeatedly throughout the evening, as I usually do. I have a barrier between the breakfast room and the living/dining area to keep him out of the living room when he has muddy paws, but I left the gate open last night so he could join me in the living room. He wouldn't. Instead he lay just on the other side of the open gate, with his ball beside him. Every time I looked over at him he was staring at me with a pleading look in his eyes. I couldn't take it for long. I only read about fifty pages.

Yesterday I had a very enjoyable evening. The temperature dropped precipitously this week, and last night was the first really cold night of the winter. My house has two-zone heating, owing to the laziness of whatever contractor built the addition in 1965 if you ask me, and I don’t heat the living room. I didn’t check the thermostat, but it was very cold. I braved much colder air to go outside and bring in some wood from the woodpile. The oak on the far right side of the rack has been drying out there for almost 7 years, so it burns readily and very hot. I built a roaring fire, piling the logs 3-high when it really got going. It warmed my small living room nicely, and I stretched out on the sofa and read.

Harry Potter, of course—book 4, which I’m about a third of the way through. The students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang are just now arriving. Since the book is more than 700 pages long, I knew up front that the movie had to have contained only the basic plot. Sure enough, while both the book and the movie start with Harry’s nightmare, I was disappointed when he woke up at the Dursley’s in the book instead of at the Weasley’s, as in the movie. Even in this fourth book the humor involving the Dursley’s (Dudley’s on a diet now) is cartoonish, and mildly funny at best. The stories don’t really get going until Harry steps out of the muggle world.

Of course in this book the kids attend the Quidditch World Cup before going back to school, and I have to say, that entire episode benefited from being cut short in the movie. Not that it was bad; I’m speaking relatively here. The post-game scene was much more menacing when we saw Harry get separated from his friends and knocked out. Oh great—like he isn’t vulnerable enough when he’s conscious. Replace this with talk, talk, talk, as attempts are made to pin the Dark Mark first on the kids then on a house elf, and the scene in the book just can’t compare.

But they all finally got on the Hogwart's Express and I was suddenly back in the story again. And from that point on I started enjoying this book tremendously—more than I’ve enjoyed any of the books so far. This book has the most and best humor, and I laughed out loud repeatedly. Being fourth years, the kids know the professors well enough to deal accordingly. I laughed when Ron and Harry shoved their star charts aside and did their divination homework by predicting a month of unmitigated disaster—Harry’s culminating in his own death by beheading—for which they both received “full marks”. I laughed again when the students got serious about their study of antidotes—homework for Potions class—after hearing the rumor that Snape was planning to poison one of them.

And I love Mad-Eye Moody. I’m searching for the perfect picture of Mad-Eye to replace Dr. Strangelove as the wallpaper on the computer in my office.

It helps that I can finally see Harry in the story and hear him speaking the lines. Watching just a half hour of the movie before starting the book seems to have worked, and I wish I’d done it with the first three. When I come across references to black hair or green eyes now my brain just says “brown…blue…” and goes happily on.

Blogging Harry Potter

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Three down, three to go. Not that I’m halfway through the reading, mind you. Measured in inches, I’m maybe a third of the way through—the books get considerably thicker from here on.

Book two was much like book one in a couple of ways: it started out a bit slowly—the time Harry spends with the Dursleys is the least interesting stuff—and most of the action was crammed into the last 100 pages or so. Again, the movie contained the major story elements but things unfolded differently. It seemed to me that book two differed from the movie a bit more than book one had. As with the first book, the additional explanatory dialogue helped clarify the story.

In the third movie the visual representation of the dementors’ effect on Harry fell far short of the description in the book—the first time the visuals failed to measure up. The third movie was also the first to deviate in a significant way from the book, leaving out major elements of the story. If you read the books first and bring your knowledge of the books to the movies, you might not realize that the bits left out of the movies change the story, and some of the characters, quite a lot.

Prime example: it may not be possible to realize how different the movie and book versions of Professor Snape are unless you watch all four movies first and get to know the character, as I did, then read the books. The history between Snape and James Potter (and friends) is never alluded to in the movies. If there’s a reference to it at any time, I missed it. Snape has been reinvented for the movies. Yes he’s arrogant, insulting, and snide, but the actor, Alan Rickman, also brings a seriousness—a deadly seriousness—and intelligence to the character, which doesn't come across in the books. Snape is rigid and strict because he knows more about the danger that is out there than Harry and his friends can imagine.

Moreover, his suspicion of Harry and friends is entirely justified: they’re usually up to something, they break rules, and they get themselves into mortal danger. On the other hand, their suspicion of Snape is based solely on their dislike of him: Hermione decides he’s trying to kill Harry when he is, in fact, trying to protect him, and Harry leaps to the conclusion that Snape is trying to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone when he is, in fact, helping to protect it. In the movies Snape and Harry are both good characters, and their mutual suspicion makes for some priceless interaction, even when it’s only an exchange of glares.

The book version of Snape is pure villain. He detests Harry because he holds a grudge against Harry’s father. He’d flunk Harry if Dumbledore would let him. In the movie Snape attempts to protect the children from the werewolf; in the book he’s unconscious throughout the scene. I keep waiting for Snape’s redeeming moment to come...maybe in book four.

Ron Weasley, on the other hand, gets better treatment in the books than in the movies. In the books he participates as much more of an equal in the problem solving, along with Harry and Hermione. As the only one of the three who was raised in the wizarding world, he has everyday knowledge they lack. The only occasion in which he contributes to the problem-solving in the movies occurs in the first movie, in which he plays the game of Wizard’s Chess, potentially risking his own life, to get Harry through to the stone. The rest of the time he’s almost a comic-relief character, someone who makes Harry look brave by contrast. Some of the intelligent lines spoken by Hermione in the movies are spoken by Ron in the books.

Despite the contrasts in book vs. movie characters, I picture the movie characters in my mind as I read the books. Having seen all the movies first, there’s no chance my brain is going to create a Professor Snape who doesn’t look like Alan Rickman. The physical description of Snape in the books matches the movie character well, anyway, and Ron Weasley’s red hair being his most distinguishing characteristic makes him a good fit in spite of other discrepancies. This goes for Hermione, McGonagall, Hagrid, and all the other characters except one, alas: Harry. Every mention of Harry’s black hair or green eyes is a stumbling block that I trip over, mentally. Frustratingly, the character in the book hasn’t gelled for me through three books. I try to picture the movie version of Harry, but the mental image gets erased by references to the hair or eyes, and nothing replaces it. Harry is amorphous, an out-of-focus character walking with clearly-depicted images of Hermione and Ron.

Like Alan Rickman and Professor Snape, Daniel Radcliffe gives Harry a personality not quite that of the character in the books. Although Harry seems to come closer to death more frequently in the books than in the movies (who’s counting?), the movie Harry seems far more vulnerable. Last night I picked up book four but felt so frustrated by my inability to visualize Harry as I read that I put it down and stuck the movie in the DVD player. Having seen the movies, my only hope for visualizing Harry is if I can hold the image of the movie character in my mind. I watched about 30 minutes of the movie, until I could close my eyes and see his face, then picked up the book and started over from page one. Surprisingly, this worked quite well. I was able to hold onto the image of Harry through a couple of chapters, which was as much as I read before going to bed.

Other Stuff

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So Mike says I can't just write about Harry Potter, I have to write about other stuff. I'll try.

On Saturday morning I drove my mother to the airport and she flew home to Arizona after spending two weeks with us. Having her here over the holidays was stressful despite my conscious effort not to feel that way about it. I know she's going through a difficult time right now, following the death of my father in May. Despite having mentally and financially prepared herself for widowhood for years, I tried to tell her back in April that it would come as a shock, how empty the house would feel. She'd never lived alone in her life until May, and after constantly, throughout her life, for eighty-four years having someone around with whom to share her thoughts, I'm sure she feels intensely lonely--more so than she can bring herself to say.

For the first week she was here I was on vacation. She was like velcro; she followed me around the house, got up when I got up and went to bed when I did. She wanted to run every errand with me; I couldn't get away from her. When I needed to go to my office for a few minutes she wanted to come with me, offering to wait in the car. I showed her my office, took her to Starbuck's, took her to the grocery store, thinking she'd get tired and I could drop her off at the house and finish my Christmas shopping, but she didn't want to be left behind. No matter how much running around I did, no matter how tiring, she wanted to come along. She seemed to expect us to spend every waking moment together during the two weeks she was here. I tried to be considerate and sympathetic but I was almost continuously angry.

During the second week I worked Tuesday through Friday. She read quite a bit, but she isn't the kind of reader the rest of the family is; she doesn't lose herself in a book. She seemed unhappy. She didn't want to get in my way in the mornings so she waited with coming out of her room until I'd left for work, then she sat in a chair and read all day, waiting for me to come home. At some point it seemed to dawn on her that I wanted to spend some time with Mike, so she finally started going upstairs at 9pm, leaving us alone to watch TV together.

Before she came last summer I turned what had been a study into a guest bedroom for her to stay in. I bought a daybed and Mike and I painted the room a sunny yellow with green trim. I decorated it in a cheerful, colorful beach theme with "clam bake" and "surf shop" bedding and pillows from Nautica. I hung artwork on the walls. I pulled out all the stops to make her comfortable; to make her feel welcome. She took the comforter off the bed, folded it up and put it on the floor in the corner; she slept under the blanket they'd given her on the airplane. You know those airline blankets? It's such a nice blanket, she said, she'd asked the stewardess if she could keep it.

I tried to make Christmas beautiful for her. I decorated, I bought her a beautiful stocking and hung it by the fireplace with Mike's and my own. I bought her quite a few small gifts, mindful that she'd have to carry them home in her luggage. I bought the kind of coffee maker she uses so she could brew a pot of coffee for herself whenever she felt like it. None of it mattered at all.

The hardest thing about having her in my house is that she doesn't know how to be a house-guest. She doesn't want to be a "guest" in my house--she wants to take over the cooking and the cleaning. What would make her happy would be to feel needed, and that's the one thing I can't feel, partially for practical reasons, partially because I learned not to need her decades ago. My mother's cooking is bland and fattening and I don't want her to prepare roast beef and Yorkshire pudding for Christmas dinner--No Thanks. My mother always cooked without benefit of herbs or spices other than salt and pepper. She wouldn't know what to do with olive oil. Her chili contains neither chilies nor chili powder. Her spaghetti sauce contains neither herbs nor garlic. I grew up believing vegetables always came out of cans.

And I just can't stand the idea of my mother coming to visit me and cleaning my house. I pay someone to clean every two weeks so it's not like the place is filthy. Last time she visited she ironed some clothes for me but she was evidently afraid of burning them so she kept the iron on low and didn't use steam; nothing was ironed well enough for me to wear to work. It's just not worth it. I try to tell her she's on vacation and should just enjoy herself.

When she visited during the summer I was having the back yard regraded and I'd hoped she'd be able to walk the dog while I was at work. She was always quite strong--stronger than I ever was, and she and my father owned dogs up until about 4 years ago. Unfortunately she no longer has good balance; to my horror she fell twice shortly after she arrived, and I realized she wasn't nearly steady enough on her feet to walk Saint. Despite being insanely good-natured and eager to please, he's still a young and energetic lab and he goes nuts on the leash from time to time. He wants to play with every dog he sees. I never walk him without the training collar on, and even then I sometimes have trouble controlling him. So, the one thing I'd hoped she could do for me was out of the question.

That's the practical aspect of it, which isn't as difficult to get around as the psychological. I needed my mother when I was twelve, when my father turned on me and I had recurring nightmares of abandonment. I needed her to stand up to him on my behalf; she never did. She was devoted to my father, a narcissistic and emotionally dysfunctional man, for reasons I can only vaguely grasp. She always believed he married beneath himself. I think she felt the need to prove to him that he hadn't given up a better life by marrying her. She was loyal to a fault; she took his side. I was blamed for not being the kind of daughter he wanted. I became fiercely independent at an early age; I never lived at home after the age of eighteen.

My relationship with both my parents improved after Mike was born. He stayed with them for several days in 1989, while my husband and I came back to Virginia to look for a house. I turned to my mother for the last time in 1999. When my husband killed himself three weeks before Christmas, I asked her, practically begged her, to come and spend Christmas with us: we were shattered. She could have made Christmas for us that year. She could have decorated, shopped, wrapped presents, filled stockings, and cooked Christmas dinner. She wouldn't come. She didn't like traveling over the holidays; too many crowds, too much chance of getting stuck in bad weather. Neither she nor my father came for the funeral or Christmas. My brother came for the funeral and helped me put up a Christmas tree before he left. I did the rest myself, in a mental fog of shock and grief. I bought Mike just a couple of presents, wrapped them poorly, put fruit and candy in his stocking.

When my parents finally came in late in January, my mother took over the kitchen so she could cook whatever my father wanted to eat.

I can't, won't, pretend that I need my mother. It's the only thing she needs from me now, and I don't have it in me.

The Mirror of Erised

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One down, five to go. About two-thirds of the way into "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" it seemed to take on a different tone. I became engrossed, and found myself wondering if the author was still consciously writing for children, or if she'd gotten into the story and was just writing for herself. She must have done a lot of rewriting as she went along--I just assume all authors do--but the contrast with chapter one is let stand.

About two-thirds of the way in is chapter 12: The Mirror of Erised. Winter has set in; fires blaze in the common rooms and the great hall while the corridors are icy cold and students huddle around their cauldrons in potions class, breathing clouds of mist. Up until about this point the movie tracks the book quite closely. The differences are primarily attributable to the difference between a visual presentation and a narrative voice, along with the cutting of scenes and dialog in the interest of time. I'd been thinking that the movie captured every significant element of the book, and added some nice visuals besides.

From about chapter 12 on, though, the book and the movie begin to diverge. While the movie contains all the primary plot elements, everything unfolds in a different way. A lot of action takes place in the last hundred pages of the book, and the movie would have had to have been four hours long to follow it closely.

In addition to the omitted scenes, significant information is left out of the movies. In particular, the question and answer session between Harry and Dumbledore that takes place when Harry wakes up in the hospital wing is inexplicably left out of the movie. I'd been asking myself if I really wanted to read the fifth book before seeing the movie. Enjoying the movies as much as I do, I didn't want to spoil it for myself by reading ahead. Now, though, I feel as though I need to read the book first or risk missing the significance of some scenes in the movie.

For example, we learn that Voldemort tried to kill the infant Harry for a reason that Dumbledore won't reveal until Harry "is ready" to hear it. Ooooo... We learn that Dumbledore gave Harry the cloak and returned it to him when he left it on one of the towers. The narrative voice allows us to read Harry's mind: Dumbledore intentionally let Harry find the mirror and learn its secret before using it to hide the stone.

One unfortunate thing, and this was something I was afraid of: I prefer the Snape in the movies. In the book we're explicitly told that Snape hates Harry because of some history between Snape and Harry's father. It's possible to watch all four movies and not know this. It's left to the viewer to decide whether Snape dislikes Harry more than any of the other students, or simply has the personality of battery acid. I mean, do we ever see him being nice to anyone? In the movies he's unfailingly protective of the students, loyal to the school and to Dumbledore, and is presumably a good professor, making sure the students learn information they need for their own protection, as when he realizes in the third movie that a werewolf has joined the faculty. Sure, he's a strict disciplinarian, but who better to head Slytherin? Don't those kids need the firmest guiding hand?

Oh, and regarding that question and answer session, I love the answer Dumbledore gives when Harry asks him what he sees when he looks into the Mirror of Erised. (No Mike I'm not going to tell you--read the book.) So Mike says I've now joined the ranks of those who over-analyze Harry Potter. What can I say? It's fun.

Day 2--Still Reading


Update: I'm happy to say the cartoonish feel of "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" didn't persist much past the first chapter. I can't say whether this is because the style actually morphed into something I'm more comfortable with or I just got used to it. It feels like the former but may well be the latter. Even in the first chapter, the dialogue had a more natural feel than the accompanying physical descriptions. And indeed, it turns out that much of the dialogue in the movie is right out of the book, word for word.

Literary Whiplash

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Alternate title: Act I Scene III: Strangers With Birthday Cake Will Take You To A Better Place.

I spent most of the day yesterday reading Jack Kerouac's "Dharma Bums"--not to be confused with the blog by that name listed on the right. :-) I don't know how I missed reading Kerouac when I was in my late teens. The friends I hung out with at the community college I attended in Prescott, Arizona were all Zen Lunatic wannabes. We read Hermann Hesse, not Kerouac.

In the evening Mike and I watched Syriana, my first request upon signing up for Netflix last Friday after hemming and hawwing about it for at least a year. The movie came on Saturday--pretty impressive.

So anyway, it wasn't until just before going to bed that I finally picked up "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone". I read only the first few chapters before turning out the light, so it's way too soon for me to make any judgement regarding book vs. movie. I don't want to keep score anyway, because that would just ruin it. Nevertheless, the contradictions were a bit jarring and I couldn't help making comparisons. First, I shouldn't have been surprised to realize that gee, this book was written for kids. The physical descriptions of the Dursleys in the first chapter are cartoonish, as is Hagrid's wailing and sobbing when Harry is left on their doorstep. It'll be interesting to see if the style changes as the characters mature; it'll be particularly interesting to see if the style changes in the fifth book, which was written (or published, anyway) after a couple of the movies had been made.

I keep telling myself that it would be hard for the first book to match up to the movie--they pulled out all the stops when the movie was made. Just look at the cast--the acting is superb. The music--John Williams! The visual effects, everything. Then I remind myself that they pulled out all the stops because the book was so hugely successful, so it's fair to expect the book to be really good.

First point to the book: we learn in the very beginning that Dumbledore is as powerful as Voldemort, if not more so, and that Voldemort is afraid of him. This is never made clear in the movies. In the second movie, I think, Harry claims Dumbledore is the most powerful wizard alive, or something like that, but I wondered at the time if he had any reason for believing it, or if it was just a combination of wishful thinking and bravado. Book 1, Movie 0.

Second point to the movie, and this is personal preference: the scene in which Hagrid comes to take Harry away from the Dursleys. See Alternate Title of this entry: this scene is problematic. A scary-looking stranger knocks down the door, hands Harry a birthday cake, tells him a fantastic story: You're a wizard and I'm here to take you to a school where you'll learn magic, and Harry goes away with him after only the briefest hesitation. I hate, hate, to bring too much real-world realism to fantasy and I don't usually do so--I love fantasy. But it's not conceivable that a child would go away with Hagrid under these circumstances. Even children in abusive homes, given a choice, will stay in their homes rather than be taken away by strangers. The only way a child could be lured into going somewhere with someone who looks like Hagrid is the "Come here little boy I have some candy for you" scenario, and Harry seems too intelligent and wary to fall for that. What makes this scene work for me is what immediately precedes Hagrid's arrival: using his finger, Harry has drawn a birthday cake in the dirt on the floor. Exactly at midnight he says to himself "Make a wish, Harry," pauses, then blows out the candles by blowing away some of the dirt. Immediately, the door crashes to the floor and there stands Hagrid. Hagrid is magical because he has magically appeared in answer to Harry's wish. This wish transforms the scene from any semblance of reality to a world where it's okay to believe that Harry would go with Hagrid, and that it's the right decision.

Moreover, Harry's drawing the cake in the dirt tugs at the heart. With Daniel Radcliffe in the role--a kid with a heartbreaking face--it gets you right here. It's also a good introduction to Harry: he's a kid who has survived a miserable childhood by developing the ability to withdraw emotionally from his circumstances and console himself with his imagination. He's emotionally self-sufficient; it's a good set-up for everything he's able to stand up to later on.

My only problem with the scene in the movie was the lack of any clue as to what Harry wished for; the viewer had to make the connection. I expected this to be resolved in the book. I expected the narrator to let us hear Harry's unspoken wish: I wish a giant would come and take me away. I was surprised and disappointed when he didn't draw a cake on the floor in the book or make a wish, he just counted down the minutes to his birthday as he stared at Dudley's watch.

I realize that the drawing of the cake isn't necessary in the book because the narrator tells us Harry is counting down the minutes to his birthday; without a narrative voice it had to be shown visually in the movie. The scene works in the book because they don't leave right away. Hagrid spends the night and tells Harry the story of his parents and Voldemort. He also tells Harry he's famous, which is too bad. Postponing this revelation in the movie makes for a cuter scene in the Leaky Cauldron, when Harry doesn't understand why everyone in the place knows who he is. So, based on this cuter scene, third and final point to the movie: Book 1, Movie 2.

But that's as far as I've gotten. It's early innings, read on Macduff, miles to go before we sleep, and so on.



A little over a year and a half ago I went to an optometrist for a prescription for new eyeglasses. The optometrist told me I had the beginnings of cataracts in both eyes. She said my left eye was quite a bit worse than the right. The right eye would probably need surgery in 6 or 7 years, she said, but the left eye would require surgery sooner than that. She told me to take vitamins C and E, since this combination was thought to slow down the progress of cataracts. I started adding C and E to my daily multivitamin.

Prior to that appointment I'd begun to suspect that something was going on with my left eye. I frequently had the sensation--not a physical sensation but an optical one--that there was lotion smeared across my eyeball. When I sat in my boss's office the window was behind him, and the smeared bright light from the window distracted me. After getting the diagnosis I studied this phenomenon more, now thinking "hunh, so this is a cataract." If I lit a match or a candle and looked at the flame with only my left eye, the flame had an irregular aura that was broken and diffused.

Right after Christmas I went back to the optometrist again, this time for computer glasses. Although I went to the same office, more than one optometrist works there, and this time I saw a different doctor--the man whose name is on the office door. He did all the same tests and said "everything looks good--no cataracts." I told him I'd been diagnosed with cataracts in both eyes a year and a half earlier. He said there was only a slight yellowing of the lens, normal for my age. (I hate hearing that expression: "normal for your age". I also have hearing loss that is "normal for my age.") He checked my records and confirmed that the doctor I'd seen previously had diagnosed cataracts. He didn't make anything of it, just said she must have referred to the yellowing of the lens as cataracts, but he doesn't, since there is no clouding.

I put it out of my mind until last night, when I burned a stick of incense that wouldn't stay lit. I lit several matches during the evening. At one point, as I held a burning match, I closed my right eye and stared at the flame with the left--something I hadn't done for a long time. The smeared aura was gone. Since then I've been testing this on every bright light I see, having trouble believing it's true. The broken aura around bright lights is no longer there--the cataract in my left eye is gone.

July 2012

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