Symbolic Forest

A homage to loading screens.

Blog : Posts tagged with ‘J K Rowling’


In which we muse on J K Rowling’s favourite books

The Mother, for Christmas, received the final Harry Potter book. Being a sensible, serious grown-up person, she received the sensible, serious grown-up edition of the book. Its back cover consists entirely of the author’s portrait, standing in front of her bookshelves.

What intrigued me, though, was J K Rowling’s choice of books. Particularly, the choice of books she was photographed in front of. I’ve been poring over the portrait. So far, I’ve managed to identify:

  • Adrian Mole: The Cappucino Years
  • Several Agatha Christie novels
  • Nabokov’s Pale Fire
  • The Way We Live Now by Trollope
  • Something called The Ladies Of Llangollen – I’ve not heard of it and I can’t make out the author.
  • Joyce’s Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man
  • The Well Of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

And lots of other things whose spines I can’t read, whose spines are very worn, or aren’t quite in focus in the picture. It’s a mysterious selection. Presumably, it’s a collection of books she’s built up over years; some of them look very well-read. I’m a bit puzzled by her filing system, though. Is there a reason why Agatha Christie is next to Freud, or why Nabokov is next-door-but-one to Radclyffe Hall? I’m sure each book must mean something to her; what are the connections between them?

Update, August 30th 2020: The Ladies of Llangollen were Eleanor Butler (d. 1829) and Sarah Ponsonby (d. 1831), two Irish women who lived together at Plas Newydd, Llangollen. The book in question is potentially by Elizabeth Mavor.

Harry Potter And The Are We Nearly There Yet?

In which the end of a series is within sight

No, not the book. As I reviewed film number four for this blog, back in 2005, I thought I may as well review the fifth one too. I still haven’t seen any of the earlier films.

It fits in well with something I said about J K Rowling’s books recently: I parenthetically accused them of being big, baggy and badly-paced.* The film of Harry Potter And The Order Of The Phoenix isn’t, though. It zips a lot. It’s as good a faithful film treatment as anyone could have done: it cuts out an awful lot of unnecessary excess baggage without losing much at all of the main story. The book of the film of the book (should it exist) could well be a far better read than the original.

JK could learn from some parts herself. Without spoiling too much: the school is taken over, in a way, by direct “state” control. The Ministry’s representative issues constant diktats aimed at blocking resistance from the children and staff. In the book, it’s handled like this: the notice is pinned to the wall, and then the children discuss the awful effect it is going to have on the plot their lives, for a few pages. In the film: the notice is pinned to the wall, with children around looking gloomy. Close up on the notice, so we can read it. That’s it. We know the effects it is going to have; we don’t need to have it all spelled out for us.

A lot is taken on assumption in the film, though. There is no world-building, at all. You have to know where you are, and what is going on, because nothing is explained. Why does the Ministry have a room full of dusty glass orbs? Where do they come from, and what are they for? You’re only going to find that out if you read the book. The Ministry itself was a far cry from the endless edifice of the book: it seemed to be limited to two or three sets,** no doubt for sensible budgetary reasons.

So: better than the last film, and surprisingly good. I’m still wondering how you order a phoenix, though, especially as there’s only one of it.*** If I ever get into any trouble like Harry, I’m going to rely on a little-known but powerful secret society of vigilante lexicographers: The Alphabetical Order. And one thing that had me puzzled for a while: the voice of the Ministry’s lift. I was sure I recognised it: probably from something on the radio, as it was a radio comedy kind of voice. It turned out to be someone called Daisy Haggard, who has been in an awful lot of good things I’ve seen on the telly over the past couple of years.

Right, now I’m off to print out sheets of sticky labels saying “Harry dies at the end!” to stick up around town in the morning. I’m not really bothered what happens at the end of the series myself, and I have no idea if he dies or not; but if I do that tomorrow morning, it’s bound to look plausible.****

* The Plain People Of The Internet, in chorus: Like this post, you mean?

** Although, to be honest, I can’t remember if as much of the book’s action takes place in the Ministry’s main foyer as the film’s seems to, and I’m not going to look it up. I did enjoy the foyer’s architecture, though, because it reminded me of original Underground Group architecture.

*** I can’t seem to find any reference to there only ever being one phoenix at a time – myself, I remember reading it in The Box Of Delights, which isn’t exactly authoritative.

**** I’m not really going to do it. But it’s a very tempting idea.

Bouncing Off

In which we wonder if an editor might help

Mike Troubled Diva recently posted a set of lecture notes on: going from blog to book. It’s an interesting read, and touches on one element that I, struggling to come up with something to put down on screen, have been thinking about a lot lately. If you’re a blogger, you don’t have anyone to restrain you, or point you in the right direction.

Watch any TV show, more or less, and you’ll see “Script editor” in the credits. Comic books and graphic novels, too, will often have a script editor credited somewhere. Books don’t usually mention it – books don’t have credits – but pretty much anything published in the traditional way will have been mangled by an editor at some point, and usually much improved in the process. It’s an old adage that the reason famous writers’ books get worse with time is that they gain enough earning power to tell the editor to stop. Look at how JK Rowling’s books have got slower, baggier and less well-paced over time.*

This blog is (on the whole) completely unpaced, unstructured, rambling and undirected, with frayed edges where there are parts missing, things I should have written but didn’t, stories I left hanging in midair. Most of the individual posts are that way, too. Because I don’t have anyone to bounce ideas off, to poke me, to say: “why don’t you write about X” or “why don’t you post that today, that next week?” There’s no one to say “that post was rubbish!”** Maybe, if this blog did have a script editor, it would be a rather better-quality one. I’m not sure what would happen to its frayed edges, though. I rather like a frayed edge now and again.

* Especially the big jump in length and pacing between books 1-3 and 4-7.

** The Plain People Of The Internet, all together in chorus: “One … Two … Three … THIS POST IS RUBBISH!”

Film review

In which we detect a foul-smelling villain

Last night: to the local cinema for the first time in ages, with my friend Mystery Filmgoer, to see Harry Potter and the Empire That Struck Back Goblet of Fire whilst it was still on. As I’ve not seen any of the three preceding films I wasn’t too hot on the idea of going at first; but I have recently read the book; so I thought the film would be an interesting comparison.

I didn’t like the plot structure of the book, because I thought the final rabbit-out-of-the-hat plot twist was far too unshadowed and unexpected. The film completely solves that, by actually mentioning the main Evil Villain* more than once before the end, and adding in lots of extra clues along the way. Plus, he is definitely one of the sexiest evil villains I’ve seen for a long time.** An awful lot of subplots were stripped out of the book, but it still feels like a very crammed film, with far too many points left unexplained. If I hadn’t read the book, I don’t think I’d have had a clue what was happening at some points.

In other ways, it’s very unbalanced. The middle act is mostly light-hearted teenage embarrasment comedy; then the ending swings completely round to gloom, darkness, and foreboding. There’s nothing happy about the ending at all; just death, destruction, and the appearance of the real Evil Villain Who Is More Evil Than Anyone Else.***

The effects are all very, well, magical, and the design does seem very solid and well-thought. It does seem that if you’re a British wizard you’re expected to be a big fan of Victorian Gothic and the Arts and Crafts movement; and the design of Hogwarts’ bathing piers made me think more than anything of the Brighton and Rottingdean Seashore Electric Railway. Like all British films, too, you have the fun of spotting all the usual British actors: That Bloke From The Fast Show, That Bloke From Drop The Dead Donkey, That Bloke Who You’re Sure Was Dead By Now, and Ooh, Isn’t He The Sexy One Who’s Going To Be The Next Doctor?****

I had a good time watching it, but it’s definitely not a stand-alone film, what with the lack of explanation and the dark, anti-climatic ending. The point of which, I suppose, is that in a year’s time I will probably want to see the next one.

* I don’t mean Voldemort, I mean the chap who is his Evil Sidekick and actually does all the dirty work

** although Mystery Filmgoer disagreed loudly on this

*** “My evil overlord’s got no nose!” “How does he smell?” “Awful!!!”

**** I think Mystery Filmgoer was probably going to slap me if I called him sexy again

Books I *have* managed to read

In which I finish something for once

This week’s Book I Haven’t Managed To Read was going to be about a Neal Stephenson novel, The System Of The World. However, that’s been postponed, just because I wanted to brag about finishing another Book I Haven’t Managed To Read.

The book was one many, many people have read with no trouble at all. Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire. However, the first time I read it, in a hurry, I’d just tried to read two other Harry Potter books very quickly too. I got as far as Chapter Three of Goblet Of Fire, stopped, and didn’t pick any J K Rowling books up for a few years.

Anyway, last week, Colleague M said: “what? You’ve only read three Harry Potter books?” So, I picked up Goblet of Fire again, and read it. I didn’t get stuck. I didn’t forget where I was. I read it and I finished it. Hurrah!