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Archive for July 2007

As if it Matters how a Man Falls Down – Thoughts on “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

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(Ed note: if you’re looking for the “As if it matters” quote, see here.)

As Harry Potter comes of age at 17, the magical protection under which he has lived at the oppressive Dursley household since arriving on their doorstep at the age of one threatens to lift.  Therefore, the Order of the Phoenix attempts to remove Harry to a safe location.  Just as they lift off, a throng of angry Death Eaters circle above, ready to pounce.  Thus begins the tumultuous final volume in the epic of The Boy Who Lived.

The conclusion of the Half-Blood Prince left Harry with the quest to seek and eliminate the remaining portions of Voldemort’s soul—those last anchors that keep the Dark Lord tethered to life.  Of the six believed created, we know two have been destroyed.   Therefore, Harry sets out to vanquish his foe forever, culminating in a final battle that threatens to leave Harry’s world in ruin.

As J.K. Rowling has touched upon various themes throughout the fifteen years she has spent writing about Harry, death and immortality, sacrifice and love have become the touchstones of his journey.  In this volume, the theme brings the narrative to its final act, resulting in a full, complete, and satisfying saga, even if we are left with some minor plot threads hanging, noticeable to only to those most ardent and committed readers.

Her narrative, while brilliant in concept, still falters somewhat in the quality of her prose.  The read suffers from an excess of adverbs, and the frequent use of an out of place colon.  But this is Jo Rowling.  She can misplace an umlaut for all I care.  The beauty of this novel lies in its content, and here at the end, her characters, always delightfully rounded, face life and death with surprising results.

The subject of how we face death has weaved its way into creative works since Eden.  One of my favorite examples (supposedly) comes from a scene in The Lion in Winter in which two men face execution.  One says to the other, “You fool!  As if it matters how a man falls down.”  To which his companion replies: “When the fall’s all that’s left, it matters a great deal.”

Watching a person (or persons) battle against the insurmountable remains one of the more stirring facets of great storytelling.  The charge of the Rorhirrim in The Return of the King, for instance, would never have read as dynamic if Théoden and his men were not outnumbered thirty-to-one, knowingly marching straight into death.

In his trials, Harry has learned how to fall well.  While many heroes prefer to battle by skill and wit, his courage and strength grow from his love for his friends, and his willingness to lay down his life for them.  Some of the greatest moments in this story come not in when characters meet their ends, but in how.

As Rowling writes it, Harry possesses power the Dark Lord knows not.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends, said Jesus Christ.  Rowling even found a way to insert more of His words into her story, as well as St. Paul’s.  (If you don’t already know, read the epitaphs on the grave stones at Godric’s Hollow)  John Granger posits that Rowling’s tales of the boy wizard resonates so well with so many because it evokes the Great Story.  Rowling used to skirt around questions about her faith, telling those who asked to let her finish the story, that we’d have our answer then.  As you turn the final page, the message rings loud and clear.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, because Jo was right.  If you knew just what she believed, you really could guess the ending.

The narrow and caustic perspective of those in the church intent on branding this series as a tool for Wiccan practice and recruitment have missed an extraordinary opportunity to share in the joys of epic storytelling; have missed the chance to share the Great Story with young readers.  The story of a heavenly creature that sought power over all, and the One who took the curse of death in our place, so that we might not have to endure it ourselves.

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Written by taj

July 31, 2007 at 10:26 am

Smash Cut – The Simpsons Movie

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I was eight when The Simpsons first appeared on Fox.  My mother would not let me watch it, but that didn’t stop me from sneaking a viewing here and there.  (Hi, Mom)  As I got older I started appreciating the humor—a more satire laden comedy than anything meant to undermine parents—and when word of the movie came out, a friend of mine asked me if I’d go with him to an opening night showing.  Of course, I said yes. 

This movie is as irreverent as any thoughtful parent might fear.  It’s PG-13 for a reason, you know, but that did not stop a gaggle of parents I saw from dragging their nine-year-olds into the theater. 

Everything we’ve come to expect from The Simpsons makes its way onto the film.  The movie is quick to criticize anything, even the audience.  Yes, there is a certain level of fanaticism involved in paying eight bucks to sit and watch something at the theater that I would ordinarily be able to watch at home for free.  If that makes me a sucker, then a sucker I shall be.

If you take this kind of thing too seriously, it would be easy to walk out of the film feeling like someone just spent an hour insulting your mother.  The government is portrayed as evil and inept; religion is still the bane of Homer Simpson’s existence.  In the midst of crisis, he frantically flips through the pages of scripture declaring, “This book doesn’t have any answers!” 

This would no doubt strike a nerve with any Christian in the audience if Homer was portrayed as the hero.  Homer, however, displays anything but heroics.  The one counterpoint, of course, is Ned Flanders, the okely-dokely, humbly religious next door neighbor.  And although believers might see Flanders as a prime example of over-simplistic Christianity, a closer look at the character reveals two important details: Flanders is always Homer’s foil, and he always wins.  The film continues this paradigm.  Even when opportunities for scorn and self-righteousness present itself, Flanders never folds; his steady faith and character consistently move him to do the right thing. 

Homer is, in every measure, the anti-father, and the hyper-dysfunctions of his family serve to highlight our own.  That’s why I laugh, at least.  I can understand the concerns parents have about this kind of comedy, and if so many parents weren’t taking their children to see this kind of movie, I might be more willing to jump off that cliff.  As it is, I am more content to just sit back and enjoy it. 

Written by taj

July 30, 2007 at 12:04 pm

Moxy Thricken

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In the lane after dark
You can make a merry spark
When you take your lover’s hand and kiss her cheek

But beware you are not stricken
By the beast called Moxy Thricken
For he’ll steal your charm and cause your breath to reek.  

Written by taj

July 30, 2007 at 9:27 am

Posted in Poems

Express yourself, little man

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My wife and I spent some time at a place in town that sells teacher supplies this morning.  Among some of the more varied items she picked up was a little rubber hand with a pointing finger attached to the end of a stick.  I told her I thought it looked like something you use to pick a person’s nose.  You know, like those things you buy at the dollar store that are supposed to scratch your back. 

Anyway, as we wandered the aisles, our little man became fussy.  He was previously fed and changed, and likely just wanted to be held.  And that’s OK.  I took him and walked him around the store as he squalled, and drew lots of polite little smiles from the other women in the store. 

If you want a sure way to strip yourself of your insecurities, walk around a crowded store with a crying baby over your shoulder.  It forces you to confront all kinds of internal self-talk—what are these people thinking?—and the like.  Pretty soon, you just stop caring.  This is my baby and he’s having a fit.  He needs to let the world know how he feels.  He will find more constructive ways of expressing himself when he gets older, but for now, this is all he knows.  Get over it. 

It’s tremendously freeing. 

We’re at my wife’s classroom, getting it ready for the coming school year just four weeks away.  Little man is letting me know he is tired of lying on the blanket and would like someone to come and pick him up.  If I find out what that little finger pointer actually is, I’ll let you know.  For now, I am content to believe it is something teachers use to poke little second graders in the nose when they misbehave.

Written by taj

July 30, 2007 at 7:50 am

Posted in Baby News

Looks like you’re going to get more than you bargained for…

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Okay.  I know I’ve ragged on this movie, at least once on the blog, and many times elsewhere. 

But, man, after reading this…I am starting to have hope.  Not a lot, mind you.  But some.  Because Spielberg, Lucas, et al have finally done something right with Indiana Jones.  They have brought back his first, and best, damn partner…

Marion Ravenwood.  (I still say Karen Allen would have made a better Lois Lane)

Read more here. 

Written by taj

July 26, 2007 at 10:28 pm

Posted in Movies

Smash Cut – Harry Potter and the Order of Reader’s Digest…er, the Phoenix

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I am little behind the curve, but c’est la vie.  Watching this movie felt like watching the book in fast forward with every single subplot removed.  What is left, therefore, is a hodgepodge of a movie that disobeys one of the rules of a sequel that, when ignored, often spells peril.  Sequels ought not to be dependent on their predecessor(s). 

Granted, this little principle is difficult to maintain, especially when you’re trying to adapt book five of seven.  In this case, an 870 page book five, whittled down to about 138 minutes. 

Let’s take those numbers into account for just a moment.  My one-volume copy of The Lord of the Rings runs 1,008 pages, and that doesn’t include the appendices (if it did, we’re talking, 1,112).  The extended editions of Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of the trilogy clocks in at just a hair under 11 hours.  Do the math, and we’re looking at roughly 92 pages squeezed into every hour of film.  That is a monstrous challenge in adaptation, but Jackson makes it work, and he has three Oscars to show for it.  Now, run the same math on Order of the Phoenix—that’s 387 pages, give or take, for every hour.  That’s not just begging for trouble, that’s inviting trouble in for tea and biscuits.

The previous four films, while there is plenty over which to quibble, at least catch the broad strokes of their literary counterparts.  This film is a fuzzy snap shot.  It nails, perhaps two things—Harry’s anger and internal rage, and the villainous Professor Umbridge.  Everything else is, as Janet Batchler put it, a mere trailer for what is the epic scope of the Order of the Phoenix

While I am pleased to know that the three leads have signed contracts ensuring their presence in the final two films, I am beginning to wonder if the degradation of quality everyone expected much earlier has finally eaten its way into the franchise.  Let’s face the simple economics of the matter: a 138 minute movie can play in a theater many more times than a film running for, say, 200 minutes (The Return of the King, theatrical release), and can therefore expect a greater box office return.  But stop a moment and consider this—The Return of the King won 11 Oscars, and is currently the ninth highest grossing film of all time.   

You do the math. 

Written by taj

July 26, 2007 at 10:00 pm

Finished

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I actually finished reading around noon on Tuesday.  I have been thinking, and thinking hard, trying to write down my thoughts, and I am just not there yet.  There’s just so much. 

But I will say this: The book is excellent, a fitting and satisfying close to the epic. 

Will try and post something more soon.  The wheels have been turning like mad these last couple days…

Written by taj

July 26, 2007 at 8:05 pm

Posted in Harry Potter