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.


oo just saw the new posts, I'll post something more substantive later, about to go play squash

July 2012

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