Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter - Finally Finished

Ah, of course. It's perfect.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - After the Pensieve

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 695. Read further AYOR.) I still refuse to believe Harry's going to die. I see now that that was D's plan, and I see Harry accepting it. But death will be cheated in the end. Hermione will figure out how...

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - In Snape's Memories

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 685. Read further AYOR.) When V was sitting in the Shrieking Shack fretting about his wand, it occurred to me that Snape pulled a switcheroo when D was buried, and that wasn't the real Elder Wand buried with him. Now it just hit me - is that what's in the Snitch?

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - At Hogsmeade

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 557.) Oh, of course! I had wondered what had happened to his brother, but then forgot about it again. Of course his brother will be able to explain a lot. And of course he'd have the same color eyes. I have a feeling I'll be thinking "of course" more than once this evening...

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - Home Stretch?

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 553. If you haven't, read on AYOR.) I'm told that from this point on, I won't be able to put the book down. I'll plan to be up late tonight.

So what's in the snitch? Obviously it will be something important. I had been thinking it's the ring, but I'm not so sure. On the one hand, if the Resurrection Stone is still functional (even though the horcrux aspect of it was destroyed), that would be a handy plot device to bring Dumbledore back, as he's got some 'splaining to do. But my gut feeling is that the Stone was destroyed. I don't think the Deathly Hallows were meant to be united. So the Snitch's contents will be some other surprise.

A colleague asked me a question I hadn't thought about before: do I think that Voldemort gets killed in the end? Now that I think about it, no, I don't. Rowling's magical world has always had too much realism in it for that: good people die, people are morally ambiguous at times, and life isn't always fair. So my hunch is that Voldemort is largely vanquished for now, but not completely killed. Perhaps the current Voldemort incarnation is killed, but the Nagini horcrux escapes, leaving open a future return. Evil is never completely overcome, and I think Rowling would have it that way in her world.

So, on to the home stretch...

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - After Gringotts (and Sleep)

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 553.) This book is not conducive to a good night's sleep. Even when I knock off at a not-completely-outrageous hour, I lie awake worrying and thinking about it.

A curious thing: Grindelwald's reaction to V. If Grindelwald was this great dark wizard, would he not have welcomed V? Wouldn't V spring him loose? And wouldn't G be bitter at Dumbledore, rather than trying to prevent V from taking the wand?

Along Ollivander's comments about how wands are fussy about whether they take to new masters, I wonder whether the Elder Wand feels it has been properly taken by V?

Does the last horcrux lie in the Chamber of Secrets? ("Secrets" is plural, after all.) Perhaps V thinks that Harry doesn't know how to open it? (After all, it was the diary-Tom-Riddle who opened it last time, right?)

A possible small flaw in the story: when Kreacher came to Bellatrix with info (in the last book), shouldn't V have been surprised to discover that Kreacher was still alive? And he ought to have been very curious about it (as in, how did you escape my lake?), though it would be like him to not pay attention to the abilities of "inferior" creatures. On the other hand, given what was at the lake, he should have been supremely alarmed that anyone alive knew his secret.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - After Gringotts

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up thru page 553.) How will he get the sword back? I'm thinking the same way he got it the first time - he'll pull it out of the Sorting Hat. (Though I reckon that he gives it back to Griphook in the end, to keep his word, and as a gesture of respect to the goblins.)

It figures that the climax will come at Hogwarts. But what will the unknown horcrux turn out to be? I'm guessing it will be a good surprise, but not something totally new. It will harken back to some tidbit clue dropped years/books ago, and I'll think "Of course, that's brilliant."

But now there's only 200-ish pages left to not only find and destroy the horcruxes and finish off V, but to get lots of questions answered and find out what happens to everyone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - The Darkest Hour

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 445. They've just heard the radio broadcast.) In the back of my mind, through this whole book so far, I keep thinking of "the darkest hour", when Britain stood alone against the Nazis in World War II, when London was being bombed, families were separated, and though the outlook was bleak, pockets of resistance kept hope alive. Rowling's not old enough to have lived through that, but those of us children of the "greatest generation" were raised on the stories, and I'm sure the Brits are especially steeped in it.

Unfortunately, our heroes have just suffered a setback. I fear the Battle of Britain is not yet at hand.

Things rattling around in the back of my mind: so what is the real story with Dumbledore's past? I expect it will be neither Rita Skeeter's spin, nor the "official" story. Did Grindelwald kill Dumbledore's sister? And what of that stone? Is it really the stone in the ring? Perhaps Dumbledore destroyed it? If D could have destroyed the ring-horcrux using the sword, how did he get his hand all blasted?

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - After Lovegoods

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 424. Just escaped being caught at Xeno Lovegood's.) Well, several of my theories shot down. The sword wasn't in the snitch (so what is then?). The wand-thief was an unforeseeable curve ball. And Harry's got a new wand (although it's dicey). (Speaking of wands, what does V intend to do about making new ones, now he's gone and killed all the good wand makers?) Dumbledore's wand was elder wood, wasn't it? Did Dumbledore take The Wand from Grindelwald? Though if Grindelwald had The Wand, then how did he lose the duel to D? Where is Dumbledore's wand now? Is it in his grave? Will it reveal itself to Harry?

It seems the Deathly Hallows might exist. So where is the stone? Had Dumbledore found all three?

Still huge amounts to be done, but things are looking more hopeful. It feels like we've come up past the low point. So whose Patronus is a doe?

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - After Godric's Hollow

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 350.) Oh God. Things are looking grim. Ron's gone off and now Harry's wand's broken. And there's only 400 or so pages left to find and destroy all those horcruxes, defeat V and his Death-Eaters, and right the world, not to mention tie up all the loose ends. The broken wand is frightening, but intriguing. Does he somehow get a replacement wand? (I suppose Dumbledore's may be available, if he can get it.) Though it may well be that Harry doesn't actually destroy V in a magic duel. It may be that V destroys himself, similar to how he nearly did so 16 years ago. I think Harry's got some new super-Protego charm on him given by D when he died.

And what's up at Hogwarts? The magical school refused to recognize Umbridge as headmistress, locking her out of the head office, but Snape seems to be able to get in there. And what was up with Snape "punishing" the kids who tried to steal the sword by sending them into the forest with Hagrid? That's very curious. Maybe Ginny and crew (abetted by Snape!) are finding and destroying a horcrux of their own?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - By The Stream

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 310. Ron has just left.) Kids, will you stop fighting! Get along! Discord is what V wants!

I reckon the sword is inside the snitch. They should be on top of Extension Charms by now. But how to open the snitch? "Opens at the close"? Is "the close" a place? I think there's a play on words here. Isn't a close a place, esp. in British English? Something to do with a cathedral or an abbey?

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - In the Tent

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 286.) So who is the thief that Harry saw thru V, stealing something (a special wand?) from Gregorovich years ago, whom Harry recognizes but can't place. My hunch: it's the same guy that Harry saw in the photo of a teenage Dumbledore inside Rita Skeeter's book that he found in Umbridge's office. Harry didn't get a chance to read the caption, so we don't know who it was. Aberforth? Doge? Or a further stretch - Luna Lovegood's father? (Maybe what was stolen wasn't a wand, but the symbol that X was wearing around his neck at the wedding, the one that set off Viktor Krum.)

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - Still At The Ministry

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up to page 247.) Just thinking some more about that Trace. So how did the Death-Eaters track our heroes to Tottenham Court Road, but then not track them after that? It must have been something on the clothes they were wearing. (Recall that Harry had polyjuiced into a pseudo-Weasley, and I think he was wearing borrowed robes.) They changed into muggle street clothes, and may have lost the Trace then.

I'm also wondering whether something muggle-ish will factor into Voldemort's undoing. One of his weak spots is underestimating (or ignoring altogether) things he considers inferior (e.g., house elf magic). Given his utter disdain of muggles, it would be quite ironic if his demise was caused, at least in part, by muggle technology.

It was V's blind-spot thinking to go for Mad-Eye first when looking for the "real" Harry among the decoys. Hagrid was low on his list. Of course, we who know Harry's history knew that Hagrid was top of Dumbledore's list. That's who he entrusted to carry the baby Harry to his aunt's house 16 years ago. Did V not know that, or just not think about it? That would be like him.

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - At the Ministry

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm up to page 247.) Not much to add here in the way of speculation at this point. Glad to see that Harry has come to good terms with Kreacher. As I've said, I think this book will be a lot about redemption. Not sure what to make of the spat with Lupin.

Some thoughts on a broader note. With anything as big a cultural juggernaut as Harry Potter, people can't help but get into what larger messages may be in there (especially with a children's book). Much has been made of whether the books are anti-Christian. I'm decidedly in the camp of those who see good positive Christian values -- like love and sacrifice -- in these books. But I've recently become aware of a different current of thought -- perhaps it's just the sort of blogs I read -- about what lessons about politics and government can be drawn from these books. My generally libertarian friends are quite disturbed about the size of the government in the magical world. Indeed, it can seem like there are few good job opportunities for witches and wizards other than the Ministry. On the other hand, the Ministry from the top has never been portrayed in the best of lights. At best, it's been vaguely benevolent though uninspiring. Lately, we've had leaders in firm denial of reality, and more concerned about fixing appearances rather than real problems. For public relations purposes, they've even co-opted the press to create false enemies, diverting the public attention from the real enemy. And some high-level government employees have been willing to employ Unforgiveable Curses, such as torture, to achieve their ends. I'm not sure I see the big government propaganda in this that some seem to fear. I'd say Rowling has moments of channeling Orwell. In the latest development, the entire Ministry was taken over by the forces of evil. And some magical folks haven't even noticed.

[A note on comments. Comments are welcome on these Potter posts, but out of fear of spoilers, I will not be reading any of the comments until I've finished the book. So comment away...]

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - In Tottenham Court Road

(Semi-spoiler alert. I'm on page 175.) I had been curious about what exactly happened when Mrs. Weasley called Harry down to the laundry, and had him pick up a certain sock under the pretense that she was sorting socks. I thought maybe that was some kind of trace so the worried mom could keep track of her kids. But I should have been more "Mad-Eye" about it. Could the Death-Eaters be tapping into Mrs. Weasley's trace? Or worse yet, is Mrs. Weasley under the Imperius curse? Is that the leak, Snape's mysterious source? That would be perfect -- her inquisitiveness about the kids' plans seemed like motherly concern, but that would be a perfect cover. Ouch. That's wicked!

It was interesting to see Viktor Krum again, and get some history on him. Good to know that even at Durmstrang, which was portrayed as a generally dark school, there is a strong culture against the forces of darkness. Will we see more of Viktor? I expect so. It will take everyone coming together to win this.

But why was Luna's father wearing that dark sign? The Lovegoods and their (only seemingly?) crazy theories certainly have a role to play too, I suspect.

This book is far more terrifying than any of the others. The "kids" are adults now, and there's no cocoon of Hogwarts around them this year, no protection of Dumbledore, nor even a safe place to sleep or rest. It's a quantum notch more frightening.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Harry Potter Partway Thoughts - At the Burrow

(Semi-spoiler alert. I've read up through page 85 / chapter 5.) Wow, things have been moving awfully fast already! So, what did happen when Harry's wand attacked Voldemort seemingly on its own? Here's my guess: In intentionally sacrificing himself for Harry, Dumbledore has placed a magical protection on Harry, similar to Harry's mother. The magic is somehow connected / channeled through Harry's wand, which has one of Fawkes' tail feathers at its core. There's phoenix magic at work here.

So how did Snape discover the plan for moving Harry? Who was his carefully unnamed source? Did he do it though legilimency? Even though I still think he's not truly on the dark side, I don't think any of the other Order members would have trusted him completely. I don't think it was just Hagrid's loose lips after some drink, as was suggested. There's a surprise lurking there.

I thought Ted Tonks was supposed to be a muggle. Though we didn't actually see him do magic, he says that he healed Harry's wounds, apparently magically. Hmmm.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Flickr as Stock Photo Resource

Since I discovered the unique photo-sharing site Flickr last fall, I have found more and more things to like about it. Recently, I have discovered its value for finding "stock" photos for projects. I had been working on a photo-biography for a good friend's 40th birthday, and while I mostly used my friend's personal photos, there were a few spots where I wanted a few other photos for particular scenes (e.g., his college campus, places where he worked, etc). Using a combination of Flickr's tag/keyword searching and its geographic searching, I was able to find some very cool photos for my purpose. I could easily drop a line to the photographer to ask their permission, and everyone was very cool about letting me use their photos for this personal purpose.

Now I find that even professionals are seeing the same utility. A few weeks ago, I got an email from a travel site letting me know they'd like to use one of our vacation photos in their Edinburgh Guide. I gave them permission, and now our vacation photo is being used to show the B&B that we stayed in on the Schmap Edinburgh Guide. Very cool!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Harry Potter Divination

Let's get this down on record before Saturday...
In eager anticipation of the final Harry Potter book, I have re-read books 5 and 6 (Order of the Phoenix, the Half-Blood Prince). I've also reviewed the thoughts I blogged as I read Half-Blood Prince the first time two years ago, and I still stand by the predictions I made then. While many readers can't imagine forgiving Snape for having murdered Dumbledore, I believe that Snape will turn out to be a good guy in the end. Despite his being a totally warped character, we know that Dumbledore has always trusted Snape. Other members of the Order believe that Dumbledore has an "ironclad reason" (McGonagall's words) for trusting Snape, even though none of them knows what it is. At one point, when Dumbledore reiterates to Harry that he trusts Snape completely, Phineas Nigellus comments from his portrait "I should think so." So obviously Snape has done something to prove himself. I think we'll find out what that is in the final book. Perhaps we'll hear it from Dumbledore himself, speaking from his portrait in the headmistress's office. It should be noted that Dumbledore tells Harry that he nearly lost his life in destroying the ring horcrux, but for his own skill and Snape's help. Had Snape wanted to kill Dumbledore, he clearly could have done it then. It should also be noted in the end of HBP, when Harry is chasing the Death-Eaters out of Hogwarts and he confronts Snape, Snape could have easily harmed Harry, but he does not. In fact, he prevents others from harming him. What really makes Snape's blood boil is when Harry calls him a coward. I think he's really angry that nobody else appreciates just how uncowardly he has been.

So if Snape is good after all, how do I explain his killing Dumbledore? I think that Dumbledore wanted Snape to kill him. Dumbledore knew that it was going to happen (he knew that Snape had sworn the Unbreakable Vow), and that may have even been what Snape and Dumbledore were arguing about when Hagrid overheard them (Snape saying he wasn't sure he wanted to go through with it anymore, and Dumbledore telling him he must). I also wonder if Dumbledore wasn't going to die anyway, from that awful potion he drank retrieving the locket in the lake. Recall that Harry noticed that Dumbledore was slowly slipping when he was confronted by Draco, but trying not to show it. It may be that there was no antidote, and Dumbledore may have known as much, so Snape may even been putting him out of his misery. Recall that the note from R.A.B. found in the locket said "Dear Dark Lord, I know I will be dead long before you read this…" Perhaps RAB also knew that there was no antidote to the potion.

Speaking of RAB, I agree with the consensus that it must be Regulus Black, Sirius' dead brother. And I also concur with an excellent speculation that I read on mugglenet, that Kreacher helped Regulus steal the locket. (The enchantments protecting the locket meant that no one wizard could get it acting alone, but the boat would only carry one wizard. So having the house-elf as his accomplice is an excellent solution.) It seems a good bet that Kreacher will have more to tell us in the final book. (A confirming rumor: supposedly in editing the latest film, it was suggested that Kreacher be cut, but Rowling insisted that he must not be cut out.) Voldemort would think his locket perfectly protected by a poison potion, as he does not understand that some people on the good side will sacrifice their lives for the greater good.

I also stand by my prediction that Draco and Narcissa Malfoy will be redeemed in the end, and that will be part of the Dark Lord's undoing. In the last book, we saw that Draco was frightened and crying, acting out of fear for himself and his family. And we saw that Narcissa loves her son more than she cares about the Dark Lord, or even herself. Rather an anti-Dark emotion, that love stuff. And Voldemort's blind spot.

I expect we'll learn something more about Aunt Petunia. Has she perhaps got a little bit of magic in her? As to what we learn about Lily Potter and Harry's eyes, I have no idea.

And then there's the big question: Will Harry be killed off? Rumors are flying, and many seem to think so, but I don't. Besides the fact that I just can't imagine she would do that, there are also a few hints from Rowling that point against it. She's said that the last chapter spells out what happens to the surviving characters. She has also long said that the last word of the last book will be "scar", although she recently amended that to say that "scar" ended up not being the last word but near it. So unless somebody else ends up with a notable scar, I figure she's talking about Harry's, as in, his scar disappears, or at least never bothers him again.

So who does die? At least one dear character will die, possibly more. I just don't think she would kill off any of the children (well I guess they're not children anymore, but still). I think she will, however, sacrifice someone very dear. My guess is Hagrid.

So what happens to Harry in the end? Having killed Voldemort, he breaks Voldemort's curse by becoming the first Defense Against the Dark Arts instructor at Hogwarts to last more than a year. The school temporarily closes their last year, as it won't make sense for the kids to be hanging around classes much in the last book, but ultimately reopens, with McGonagall as headmistress and Harry and Hermione on staff. Ron, of course, becomes a professional quidditch player.

Monday, July 02, 2007

BOOKS: A Long Way Gone

Good writing is the craft of choosing just the right words, arranging them thoughtfully to form sentences and paragraphs, such that an idea or an image is planted in the mind of the reader, with the intended shades of feeling and nuances of meaning that the author intended. Great writing starts from there and goes further. In the form of a memoir, it can create a life experience nearly as vivid as if the reader had lived it himself, giving the reader insight into a life very different from his own, perhaps one he could scarcely have imagined. And great writing does this with a poetry such that every experience, no matter how mundane or how horrific, has a beauty about its description. I recently encountered such a memoir in the remarkable A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah. It is the story of an innocent young boy whose life was changed precipitously when his West African village was destroyed by rebels, and he was forced to become a wanderer in the jungle and eventually a child soldier in a brutal civil war. He describes the unimagineable horrors of his life in a way that makes them completely comprehensible and frighteningly real. His voice is so genuine, his innocence at the start so true, that you experience his fright, confusion, and disbelief of the surreal -- and yet all too real -- ordeal through his 13-year-old eyes and heart. And by the end, you actually understand the incomprehensible: how a good-hearted boy could be mutated into a heartless warrior, and ultimately redeemed (and why the redemption is harder than the mutation). This amazing story is told with such skill and such poetry that I kept coming back to the same thought: this young writer is another Hemingway. Beah describes the taste of food, his first time ever seeing snow, and watching a friend be shot to death beside him, all with beauty, equanimity, and a scalpel-sharp clarity, just as Hemingway would have done. I heartily recommend this book, and I look forward to other great things that will surely come from this remarkable young writer.