From the archives: June 2004

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Accio the usual suspects

Wednesday, 30 June 2004 — 11:19am | Harry Potter, Literature

So many questions, so few answers. How long will the Liberal minority government remain in power? Who killed Mr. Boddy? What have I got in my pocket?

But on a matter of greater urgency, who is the Half Blood Prince – and is there, or is there not a hyphen?

(I say this a lot, but if you have not read the books, stop making excuses and go play catch-up; spoilers follow.)

We can eliminate the following right off the bat: Harry and Voldemort, by J.K. Rowling’s own admission; the entirety of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black (specifically, Draco Malfoy), Neville Longbottom, and the Weasley children on the basis of their being explicitly from the pure-blood wizarding families, not to mention how The Order of the Phoenix reveals that “Weasley Is Our King”, not a prince; and all of the lovely magical ladies, on the grounds that they are not eligible to be princely.

That leaves a heck of a roster still out in the open.

On literary grounds we can deduce that the Half Blood Prince is a character who has already been a presence to some extent in the five existing books, though one should not rule out a brand new introduction along the lines of what is done with the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher every year. From the references to Sirius Black and Mrs. Figg in The Philosopher’s Stone and Mundungus Fletcher in both Chamber and Goblet, it initially seems that this need not be an ‘onstage’ character, let alone a major one. Now, before anyone wets their pants shouting “I knew it – Mark Evans!” (as many have already done in the pertinent thread at The Leaky Cauldron) – keep in mind one other thing we know: the significance of the Prince is somehow related to The Chamber of Secrets to the extent that The Half Blood Prince was its original title. What is at this point indeterminate is the extent to which the role of the Prince was excised from Chamber in preparation for future development. It is, in fact, quite possible that the context of the title had it been used in the second book would clearly refer to Tom Riddle, but is now in reference to someone completely different.

That said, summon the following before the Wizengamot.

Salazar Slytherin – I was half-joking when I mentioned him in the post preceding this one. As clever a parallel as it would be to make him, like his eventual heir, a hypocritical racialist with a loathing for his own lineage, this is logically unsound for a number of reasons, the first among them being that building the Chamber of Secrets as a mechanism by which to purge the impure would be nothing short of ritual suicide. Nevertheless, to quote the Sorting Hat song in Phoenix: “For instance, Slytherin / Took only pure-blood wizards / Of great cunning, just like him.” Rule him right out.

Godric Gryffindor – As the proponent of the magical education of those who were not necessarily of magical birth, he seems like a natural choice; also, there we are with another Potter-Gryffindor parallel. There are a number of flaws with this theory, though. One is that the clear implication in Chamber‘s history of the founding of Hogwarts is that at the time, the status quo was that all wizards were pure-blood, hence the perceived need for change. Gryffindor fighting for the right of those who were not of purely magical lineage to be magically educated would imply that he was himself uneducated. It would also negate his equal-access advocacy as an act of charity.

Rubeus Hagrid – The star candidate, as it were: a wizard for a father, and perceptibly a Prince on his mother’s side – we still know little about Fridwulfa’s significance in the world of the giants. He plays a role in The Chamber of Secrets, and this would make Tom’s astonishment that anybody could plausibly believe Hagrid to be the Heir of Slytherin even greater – though it does make the framing incident too implausible. Regardless, there is something about Hagrid that begs revelation – namely, why he is so firmly on the receiving end of Dumbledore’s trust and protection. This theory is hurt primarily by its being on the obvious side, and that symbolically, his story’s promotion of the theme of injustice by genetic prejudice is already comprehensive enough.

Dean Thomas – Of the Gryffindor boys, he is the one about whom we know the least directly from the books, aside from his fondness for West Ham football. He has a comprehensive backstory that as Rowling said, was written for Chamber but excised upon being determined as tangential. It involves him never knowing that he had a wizard for a biological father, growing up thinking he was a Muggle-born. Not in his favour, though, is that this story arc was entirely scrapped from any development over the course of five books, and that Rowling has revealed as much as she has without worrying about spoiling the plot, something she is so often cautious to avoid. To quote the author: “Now I don’t think his history will ever make it into the books.”

James Potter – This is an excellent theory, but one shot down by a technicality. All the grand storytelling implications of making Harry the son of a Prince should come naturally: we have yet another dimension to Voldemort’s motivations for the murders at Godric’s Hollow, in addition to Trelawney’s prophecy; we have a source of the arrogance James displays in “Snape’s Worst Memory”. However, all signs point to the elder Potter being of a wizarding family. Harry Potter is a half-blood, as established by what Voldemort does to him – “mark him as his equal.” Half, in most languages, is not the same as one quarter, three quarters, or even nine and three quarters. James and Lily are both wizards, yet Harry is not considered of pure magical birth; as Lily is a Muggle-born, it follows that James must comprise that half alone.

Severus Snape – We know too little about him at this stage, particularly what binds him to Dumbledore. This would also continue what we already saw developing in Phoenix: parallels of characterization and circumstances between Snape and Harry. He is a Slytherin, but so was Riddle, no? In any case, there is far, far more to him than what we know so far; making him the titular character of the sixth almost fails to do him justice. Finding out more about him is likely a separate voyage of discovery, and one that will not fully develop until the seventh and final volume. His portrayal as the Draco Malfoy of the older generation is no small minus, as is his calling Lily a Mudblood.

Mark Evans – No. I realize I may wind up eating my words with a side of satay sauce if Mark turns out to be a character at all, but even considering Rowling’s penchant for reintroducing minor name-drops as major players, a disconnected passing mention as late as Phoenix hardly qualifies. Remember that while it was well-known prior to Phoenix that Lily’s maiden name was Evans, in the canon of the five books themselves this is actually not revealed until well after we hear about this Mark kid in the first chapter.

Tom Riddle – That anybody would at this stage still consider him a separate character from a certain other one that Rowling has already eliminated as a possibility is baffling. Riddle is not in contention, barring the circumstance that he actually is different from birth than his alter-ego; perhaps he purged himself of the undesired side of his heritage, which relates to the murder of the Riddles in the first chapter of The Goblet of Fire. Given his experiments with death and resurrection like what he does at the end of that same book, this would not be beyond his abilities. Further information about his fall to evil would have been a natural fit in Chamber that just as naturally may have been saved for a later volume. Still, by his own admission (not to mention some awe-inspiring anagram skills), his transformation into Lord Voldemort was a gradual process involving dual identities at one point or another, with no clear dividing line; Dumbledore still calls him Tom in Phoenix. It follows that regarding the two identities as anything but one and the same is on the wrong track.

The jury, it appears, is still out on this one. The only certainty is that Book Six will retroactively and retrospectively make this whole post look pretty silly.

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Eugenically-inclined dark wizards – no, not Harper

Tuesday, 29 June 2004 — 12:25pm | Harry Potter, Literature

Screw the election – time for some real news. Book Six: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

And J.K. Rowling says it’s not Voldemort.

There’s more: “I was delighted to see that a hard core of super-bright fans knew that the real title was once, in the long distant past, a possibility for Chamber of Secrets, and from that deduced that it was genuine. Certain crucial pieces of information in book six were originally planned for Chamber of Secrets, but very early on (first draft of Chamber) I realised that this information’s proper home was book six. I have said before now that Chamber holds some very important clues to the ultimate end of the series. Not as many as six, obviously, but there is a link.”

Oh come now, it’s obviously Salazar Slytherin.

Or is it?

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The die is cast

Monday, 28 June 2004 — 9:21am

That is to say, the vote is cast. By the night’s end, barring anomalous electoral oddities, the results will be die-cast.

Tonight is the night we sit down and watch who emerges from the ashes of the selection process for the next season of my favourite reality show, Parliament, over a hot, steaming bowl of fresh popcorn.

It’s time to Demand Butter.

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All I want for Christmas (or: All I Ask Of You)

Sunday, 27 June 2004 — 9:23pm | Adaptations, Film, Music

Regular readers can expect my reviews, or more precisely, recommendations of Fahrenheit 9/11 and The Terminal later this week – but first, to some urgent business.

It may be the month of June, but with Christmas less than half a year away, the wishlist compilation has already begun. This year, the item on the top of the list is, one might say, a rather modest request. I will admit, whenever I emphasize the magnitude of importance embodied by this very simple favour, I sound like a mother asking a little boy to clean up his room – but it’s necessary.

Joel Schumacher: please, for the love of all that is good and holy, don’t screw up The Phantom of the Opera.

In the fifties you had your fun, vibrant musicals with the Freddies and Gingers that defined a genre, colourful displays of movie magic with extended surrealist sequences like Gene Kelly’s all-dancing finales to An American in Paris and Singin’ in the Rain. That is not The Phantom of the Opera. The epic stage adaptations of the sixties that knocked one Best Picture after another out of the park – rival gangs on the mean streets of New York in West Side Story, the loverly Covent Garden by firelit night in My Fair Lady, the whole gamut from Andrews to Anschluss in The Sound of Music, the Artful Dodger’s whirlwind pickpocketing tour of London in the “Consider Yourself” number in Oliver! – that’s what I want from The Phantom of the Opera: grand, romanticist portraiture with a sense of humanity, a new association between memorable songs and memorable scenes, not to mention top-notch symphonic orchestration like John Williams’ Oscar-winning work on Fiddler on the Roof.

We already know about one somewhat major plot change and the addition of a new song. Fine – that’s excusable, and every movie musical pulls off that kind of thing; “Something Good” in The Sound of Music comes immediately to mind. However, here is a sample of things that are not quite so acceptable, many of which are unresolved ambiguities, some of which are hopefully going in the commonsensical direction. Of the latter is “trying to be Chicago and confining musical elements to the stage rather than using the songs as the primary storytelling device.” I liked Chicago, but this is The Phantom of the Opera. Of the former: if the orchestration is not consistent with the music of the period depicted, it is nothing to me. I adore Moulin Rouge! like family, but this is The Phantom of the Opera.

The first public footage was released this weekend in the form of a teaser trailer that shows a fleeting montage of images in rapid succession. Initial impressions are as such: the sets, the costumes, the piece’s appropriateness to the period – that looks fine. The trailer linked above is fairly low-quality, but already it is possible to discern some key shots that pertain to memorable scenes – Meg Giry at the mirror in “Angel of Music”, the chandelier, the cemetary in “Wishing You Were Somehow Here Again”, the Phantom punting his way down the sewers, “Masquerade” – and they look fairly good. The snow in the cemetary is an especially nice touch.

When adapting a stage production to the screen, especially a musical and more to the point, one of this calibre, one of the foremost criteria for judgment is whether or not it does something with the screen that cannot be done on stage. Primarily this deals with setting and atmosphere. In this respect, things are looking up.

The photography looks dynamic and the colours are gorgeous, but the darkness could be darker – or maybe it’s the fault of the low-quality video in the current trailer. As far as dynamism in cinematography goes, having the odd shot with a twenty-degree rotation is perhaps too modern a styling, but time will tell if this works in context of the finished work.

I sincerely hope the rapid cutting in the trailer is due to the post-production audio work being incomplete and an inability to show off any of the singing in sync with the pictures at this stage, and is no reflection of how the movie will actually be edited. Quick cuts from shot to shot that masked the flourish of the dancing worked for Baz Luhrmann (however debatably), but for the umpteenth time, this is The Phantom of the Opera. I want sustained imagery. The stage production already had sustained imagery, and between media, that’s what films are supposed to be best at creating.

Red flags: none. Uncertainties: many.

Let me make this as clear as possible – and the fact that I am writing in the first person should clue one in as to the degree of seriousness and gravity with which I speak: with The Lord of the Rings out of the way, there is no adaptation in the motion picture industry I care about more than this one. That includes you, Goblet of Fire.

So don’t mess with it. As was the case with The Lord of the Rings, anything less than a serious run for Best Picture is abject disrespect to the source material.

Seriously, Joel: do me this one favour for Christmas, and all is forgiven for Batman and Robin; and let me assure you, I take my Batman seriously.

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Nicholas Tam: Last Mohican

Friday, 25 June 2004 — 3:12pm | Scrabble

Vote Out Anders! – which, incidentally, anagrams to “devout treason” – had the courtesy of putting me on their links page, under the heading “Canadian Politics Blogs”. While this may not give me an upper hand insofar as my position in the global game of Six Degrees of Paul Wells, it is rather amusing to think of the potential visitors who come here looking for analytical treatises singing the praises of Star Wars and instead, find… well, analytical treatises singing the praises of Star Wars.

I received an invitation to their All-Party Block Party last night, but was tragically unable to attend. With just over a month to go until the National Championships and over a month since I had last played, Scrabble took precedence, and will continue to take precedence in the weeks ahead. In the North American lexicon, there are 96 playable two-letter words; those I’ve had down cold for years. The 972 three-letter words were in the bag about a year ago, but more than a little rust has accumulated. Somehow, within the next five weeks I need to establish a study regimen that will address these issues and cover the 3903 four-letter words au minimum, not to mention high-probability bingo stems, front and back hooks, vowel dumps, and power-tile fives.

Yeah, right.

Speaking of the great pastime, the documentary Word Wars has yet to screen in Alberta, despite being a hit on the festival circuit since its Sundance debut last year. Now, one would at least hope that it will screen in New Orleans, but it’s not listed. By all appearances, it features pretty much the same gang of kooky top-rated players as all the other publicity about the competitive circuit; in fact, in his NSC 2004 registration, former world champion Joel Sherman quite accurately lists his occupation as “Featured character in books and films on Scrabble.”

More fun with anagrams, for the Students’ Union hacks in the room: in addition to the one Steve Smith mentions in his post dated 25 June, I’m particularly impressed with the discovery that “SU BOG rep Roman Kotovych” has a tendency to “hack up tomboy governors.”

Which, of course, brings me back to Star Wars. These are not mine – they come from the endlessly amusing alt.anagrams newsgroup – but observe: “Ronald Wilson Reagan, the late President of America” not only “dares generate a plan for the Cold War’s elimination,” but “the man fails to recall weapons ordered in Irangate.” And in much sadder news, “England’s team knocked out with defeat by jubilant Portugal” – “Gaunt idiot won jokes; fatal penalty blunder gutted Beckham.” Man, those guys are good.

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