From the archives: Harry Potter

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Suggested reading, spine-tingling edition

Monday, 19 April 2010 — 12:38pm | Assorted links, Film, Harry Potter, Journalism, Literature, Mathematics, Science

Last week here in the United Kingdom was Chiropractic Awareness Week, so let’s all be aware of the good news: the British Chiropractic Association has finally dropped the battering ram of its libel action against science writer Simon Singh, who had the nerve to call some of their purported treatments bogus. (I guess you could say the BCA backed out.) The lawsuit specifically targeted Mr Singh (as opposed to The Guardian, which published the contested article) in order to drain his resources with the abetment of Britain’s libel laws, and the case has become a cause célèbre exposing this country’s need for libel reform. Be sure to read Singh’s reaction to the news and Ben Goldacre’s column on the wider problem.


  • J.K. Rowling, writing in the capacity of a former single mother living on welfare, isn’t buying what David Cameron is selling. In a somewhat frivolous response, Toby Young leaps on the Tory nostalgia of the Harry Potter books, pointing to Hogwarts’ Etonian idyll while somehow neglecting to mention the conspicuously nuclear families; but anyone who paid attention to Rowling’s finer points (which doesn’t include Mr Young, I’m afraid) knows full well her politics aren’t what he thinks they are.

  • Film editor Todd Miro savages Hollywood colour grading for taking us into a nightmare world of orange and teal.

  • Roger Ebert articulates his controversial belief that video games can never be art—not for the first time, though it’s nice to finally see him elaborate on it in one place. I’m of the opinion that the entire semantic quagmire is easily evaded if we adopt an instrumental definition of art. Regardless of whether video games are even theoretically comparable to the great works of other media, our only way of getting at qualitative findings about creativity and beauty in game design is to borrow from the language of art, so we may as well consider them as such.

  • While on the subject of aesthetics: over at Gödel’s Lost Letter, R.J. Lipton’s fantastic computing science blog, are some germinal sketches of how one might study great mathematical proofs as great art.

  • The International Spy Museum briefs us on Josephine Baker, the actress-heroine of the French Resistance.

  • Paul Wells visits the Canadian forces in Kandahar and reports on the shift in the tone and strategy of their counterinsurgency efforts. This is one of the best pieces of journalism I’ve read on the present state of the war in Afghanistan and I can’t recommend it enough.

  • Strange Maps documents two wonderful specimens of literary cartography: back covers of mystery paperbacks, and a poster for a Shakespeare conference in France depicting a town that looks like the Bard.

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Suggested reading, recollected edition

Monday, 8 March 2010 — 12:01pm | Assorted links, Classical, Computing, Harry Potter, Hockey, Literature, Music, Pianism, Science, Video games

Fall away from the Internet for a week or two and the Internet falls on you. Here’s some of what I saw when I succumbed to its gelatinous reach:

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Wednesday Book Club: The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Wednesday, 10 December 2008 — 10:51pm | Book Club, Harry Potter, Literature

This week’s selection: The Tales of Beedle the Bard (2008) by J.K. Rowling.

In brief: This companion book to the Harry Potter series condenses Rowling’s thematic material into five playful fables, each delivered with the impeccable polish and Pythonic cleverness we have come to expect. The annotations written in the voice of Albus Dumbledore provide the Potterverse with a suggested literary history that parodies our own, though they unwisely attempt to interpret the fairy tales on the reader’s behalf.

(The Wednesday Book Club is an ongoing initiative of mine to write a book review every week. I invite you to peruse the index. For more on The Tales of Beedle the Bard, keep reading below.)

Continued »

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Out of the closet and into the fire

Tuesday, 23 October 2007 — 7:44pm | Harry Potter, Literature

By far the most amusing story on the outing of a certain Harry Potter character (and I know it’s by now ubiquitously known, but I have unconverted readers and will maintain a strict policy of not spoiling anything for them, as I swear to you they will read the books eventually) is this succinct article from CBBC Newsround, the children’s edition of the BBC:

Fans at New York’s Carnegie Hall were initially stunned into silence by the announcement, but soon started clapping and cheering.

JK said: “I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy.”

The news should help to clear up lots of rumours about [the character’s] mysterious past once and for all.

Yes, I’m quite sure it will.

Rowling has made some additional statements, defending the supposed lack of textual evidence or relevance by arguing that the character “did have, as I say, this rather tragic infatuation, but that was a key part of the ending of the story so there it is. Why would I put the key part of my ending of my story in Book 1?” And she’s quite right. Spoilers follow.

Continued »

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Dumb and Dumbledore

Saturday, 20 October 2007 — 7:35pm | Harry Potter, Literature

In the Land of Stuff Nick Cares About (More or Less), the top story of the hour is J.K. Rowling’s Q&A session at Carnegie Hall, where she declared that one of her central characters is gay. I’m not going to say who until further down, because I think this is the sort of thing that is best discovered after you’ve already read the books; and if you haven’t read the books, you need to reorganize your life’s priorities. I’m somewhat ashamed of myself for not even remotely picking up on this before, even after several years of unwittingly conditioning myself to detect patterns of repressed homosexuality through the novels of Michael Chabon (whom you should also read, and immediately).

There’s a provisional transcription of the Q&A, and I say “provisional”, because at the time of this writing the transcription is riddled with typos up to and including misplaced negations. It’s a valuable document nonetheless, as Rowling discusses some things we all wondered about, like Aberforth Dumbledore and his goats.

As one might expect, the global juggernaut of the Harry Potter fan base has reacted almost schismatically (to the matter of sexual orientation, not the goats), and their responses fall into several camps. Here’s why all of them are wrong.

Continued »

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A Link to the Past (older posts) »