(Pottered is an ongoing series.)
This is going to be a long one. What can I say? The books are getting longer. Stephen Fry just read over 1300 pages to me. Now I have to write about all of it. It’s like homework.
So, for the sake of organization and brevity (at least some), I have provided these notes on books five and six in a somewhat chronological order:
1) The Order Of The Phoenix is 800 pages of unrelenting disappointment and despair. It also might be the most mean-spirited book I’ve ever read. Not a single character gets a break. In fact, everyone is so busy getting the shit kicked out of them I’m surprised they have time to eat.
I mean really- besides Harry, who is suffering quite enough, just about every secondary character is traumatized, injured or humiliated in some way. Ron is publicly ostracized for sucking at Quidditch. Hagrid is getting beaten all the time and behaves like an abused spouse. In a flashback we see Snape getting bullied and pantsed. McGonagall is hit with four stunning spells out of fucking nowhere, which is the equivalent of taking four karate kicks to the chest. Even Dumbledore is crying at the end, and by then I’m contemplating dissolving Prozac in my tea.
2) Here’s the problem: Phoenix suffers because it loses its perspective. The “fairly normal boy” that made the narrative so strong is gone and it seems like everything familiar to us is destabilized or steeped in unpleasantness. We’re now given a main character consumed by anger and often shouting at people and taking pleasure in making everyone around him squirm. And we have to endure that for 800 pages. Now, this could be explained as a partial possession by Voldemort, but man it was annoying. There were many times where I wanted to walk into the story and say, “Harry, I would appreciate it if you would stop being such an asshat.”
Even worse, there were times where I didn’t like anyone in the book. I was really grasping at straws to keep interested.
3) Phoenix‘s Dolores Umbridge is one of those characters you hope will die face down in a puddle. She’s a complete fascist. Forced self-mutilation in detention? That’s a new one. Making students write with their own blood? That’s original. Attempting to use the Cruciatus Curse as a way to “extract information” from Harry? Makes perfect sense. And you thought your high school years were hard.
4) James Potter (Harry’s father) was a complete dick in high school. So was Sirius. What a let-down.
5) Speaking of which, I have serious issues with Sirius’s demise. Sure, Sirius isn’t an innocent like Cedric Diggory, yet he’s someone whose life has been nothing but suffering for the past fourteen years: loss of loved ones, being framed for murder, years in prison, living in a cave, eating rats, being locked up in a house he hates, etc. His death was a face-palming moment, because I’ve now realized that Rowling is going to kill someone at the end of each successive book. Someone who really, really doesn’t deserve it (why not Umbridge, for example?).
For a brief, shining moment I was happy because there was the possibility of Sirius and Tonks being involved before his death. I thought, “Well, at least he may have gotten laid before he died.” WRONG. Rowling didn’t even give him that. My face-palming upgraded to a face-table.
6) Snape Kills Dumbledore The Half Blood Prince is a relief after getting through Phoenix. While I’d liken the latter to having your head held underwater, Prince is kind of like the long, drawn breath you take before getting plunged back in. It is mainly the characters gearing up for the worst and experiencing a sliver of it. Also, the background information on Lord Voldemort is valuable, giving a broader picture of what Harry is up against. And did I mention that Harry isn’t emo anymore? Bonus.
7) I had a pretty clear idea of who the Half Blood Prince was about halfway through the book. The revelation was hardly a sucker punch. But here’s what I couldn’t figure out: Draco spending a lot of time in the Room Of Requirement for, like, for-ev-er. I was dying to know what he was using it for. I was convinced it would be a place where he could act out his fantasy of being a ‘50s housewife. Either that or a Bed, Bath & Beyond. I was sorely disappointed, but oh well.
8 ) Just a thought: what’s with Greyback, a werewolf with an appetite for children? Another blow to werewolf-children relations, I guess. I thought, “This is sick. But hey, at least it isn’t imprinting.”
9) The final battle in Prince, although short, reminded me of a terrorist attack and a school shooting rolled into one. I wonder if this has already been written about, particularly since the book was published post-9/11 and post-Columbine. I was also surprised that the characters had time immediately after the battle to explain themselves, corroborate things and make pivotal decisions. I’d be exhausted. Maybe in a psych ward for a while. Best case scenario: taking a shower and crying.
10) Both endings in the books take a page from Star Wars. It’s a trap, Harry. It’s always a trap.
Now for a few notes on the film adaptations:
1) Serius’s enthusiastic last words: “Nice work, James!” Saddest, most delusional last words ever.
2) The eleven-year-old Voldemort from the first flashback in Prince reminds me of Samara Morgan more than anything else.
3) In Prince there is a scene featuring Alan Rickman, Helena Bonham Carter and Timothy Spall. All I could think was, “Sweeney Todd reunion! Now when are they going to start singing about pies?”
4) The fight scene between Dumbledore and Voldemort in Phoenix was fucking awesome. Also awesome: the face-off with Gollums Inferi at the end of Prince, after Harry and Dumbledore steal The Precious one of the Horcruxes. It was a Johnny Cash song come to life.
5) Why do I still like Snape, even after he murders people and stuff? Oh wait. Alan Rickman plays him. Goddamn you, Alan Rickman.
More Rickman awesomeness: Mr. Rickman is rumored to have the ability to shatter women’s undergarments. I can add another weapon to his arsenal. He can stand completely still, not raise his voice, hardly move his lips when speaking and yet still scare the shit out of you. (slow clap) Bravo, sir. Bravo.
6) I appreciate that both films are equally about good vs. evil as well as the pain of adolescence. There is less focus on the wizardry and more on the kids simply being human. It really works. In particular Ron and Hermione’s relationship is easier to understand and enjoy onscreen rather than the page. Instead of sparring and yelling at each other (which they often do), there is a relaxed chemistry between them. Even when they insult one another there is a humor and affection in it.
7) In conclusion: Thank God for director David Yates. The film adaptations of Phoenix and Prince are excellent, which is kind of strange to write. Until now I’ve always found the films lacking.
Both adaptations cut out the right subplots and exposition, merging the essentials seamlessly. In Phoenix the hard edges are softened and there is some actual comic relief. The same could be said of Prince, although more liberties were taken with the story (I bet hard-core fans were soooo mad). Yet, overall, I have to applaud Yates for taking complexity and turning it into simplicity that says just as much. That isn’t an easy feat.
8 ) On that note, I have to add that the Harry Potter series are the only films I can watch David Thewlis in. I thought that was impossible.
Well, I’ll now be moving onto The Deathly Hallows. Or, as I’m calling it these days, Battle Royale: Hogwarts Edition…