Saturday, July 28, 2007

Deathly Hallows

Amazingly, I managed to secure a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows from the Arlington Public Library. I was 69th in the queue when I put my name on the waiting list in February but they ordered enough copies so that I got mine on the first day it was available. I love the public library! I read the book in a rush last weekend and have been going through it more slowly a second time.

Adding to the pile of commentary available on the internet, my random thoughts on the book are after the link below. Beware, SPOILERS ahead!

  • Overall, I thought the Deathly Hallows was an exciting and satisfying finish to the story and an excellent conclusion to the themes and ideas introduced in the first six books. Was it the best of the 7? Eh. I still lean towards Book 3, the first of the grown-up storylines, and Book 5, which I loved the second time after mildly disliking it at first. However, most of my complaints are pretty minor.
  • The middle chapters where Harry, Hermione and Ron are on the run from the Death Eaters were hard to read, but very effective. Rowling really makes you feel their fear and hopelessness. They have no idea what they're doing, Harry won't accept help from Lupin or anyone else, his faith in Dumbledore is severely tested, they bicker amongst themselves because they're stressed out of their minds, and then Ron walks out and they're ambushed by Voldemort. Holy crap, this just might be too scary for younger readers (like me). And then when they bottom out Rowling uncorks that beautiful scene with the silver doe, and Ron returns and you're like, ahhhh, I think it's going to be OK. Nicely done.
  • Snape's death. I loved that sinister Severus Snape turned out to be a heroic spy for the Order motivated by an unrequited love for Harry's mom - indeed, I would have been annoyed if he hadn't. As one character put it: the world isn't divided into nice people and Death Eaters. But, I was a little miffed that he didn't have a larger role in 7 and was offed so perfunctorily by Voldemort. I was hoping his backstory would have been integrated into the plot a little better (like, saving Harry and dying tragically or something), rather than being told in flashback.
  • The entire ending of the book felt a little rushed, like Rowling realized she had dozens of loose ends to tie together and only 200 pages left to do it. At times there was a little too much tell, not enough show. Like when Harry and Dumbledore have their question-and-answer session after Harry gets avada kedavra'd. I mean, it was nice to have Dumbledore's presence back for one last reassuring conversation and the scene works certainly works dramatically, but it still seemed a little ad hoc.
  • I wasn't a fan of the whole complicated Elder Wand genealogy that gave Harry his big advantage over Voldemort; in fact the three Deathly Hallows themselves seemed almost like red herrings for all they mattered in the end. But I did enjoy the exciting mano-a-mano showdown. Talk about closure.
  • Two things that kicked ass: house elves and Mrs. Weasley. It seems like they could have made better use of the house elves throughout.
  • The epilogue was a little lame, I thought. I mean, I was happy to see Harry and Ginny's and Ron and Hermione's families, but it was a little clunky and all the interesting questions were left unanswered (although Rowling does give a little more information in this interview and she is reportedly writing an encyclopedia of Hogwarts, or something, for those of us wanting more details).

So. Did anyone else like it?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Indulging my Inner Geek (Fantasy Edition)

Speaking of beloved fantasy novels made into movies, I am unduly excited by the upcoming version of The Golden Compass, the first in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Here's the trailer:

From this clip, it looks promising indeed. The filmmakers seem to have grasped the proper tone for the film adaptation (sinister, yet wondrous). The kid playing Lyra looks the part, and Nicole Kidman is just about perfect for Mrs. Coulter. Daniel Craig is pretty good too, although in my mind, Lord Asriel ought to have a long, black cloak at all times. One worry: the trailer seems pretty thin on the characters having daemons (in the book, all humans have talking animal companions who are manifestations of their soul), although IMDB assures me that Lyra will not be separated from her Pantalaimon. Best not to mess with the daemons.

In contrast, this trailer completely misses the tone of the book in question (Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising):

I guess you never can tell if a trailer will be an accurate representation of the movie, but this looks quite a bit like sacrilege. I want to know what marketing moron decided it would be a good idea transplant the story from England to, um, America and to give Will Stanton some sitcom-level girl problems. Seriously? It's a great book, so why would they want to make it just like a thousand other "teen" movie clones. I'm still holding out hope that this will be decent, but sheesh.

To cleanse the palatte, the movie version of Neil Gaiman's Stardust looks pretty good too:

Friday, July 20, 2007

15 Minutes of Someone Else's Infamy

In case you were wondering... yep, I saw it, but thanks to everyone who alerted me to the stories. Apparently I'm about to be charged by the FBI with betting on basketball games that I officiated and for consorting with organized crime.
Law enforcement officials are investigating allegations that the veteran referee Tim Donaghy influenced the outcome of N.B.A. games on which he or others wagered, two people familiar with the inquiry said on Friday.
I'm not a huge enough basketball fan to know his rep as a ref, but I've vaguely followed his career over the years if only because there aren't very many people with my exact name, and he's the only one who is remotely famous. Somewhere I have a newspaper clipping of him confronting a visibly angered Dennis Rodman, who is being held back by Jordan and Pippen. It's a funny picture because from behind he looks enough like me to make you blink.

Of course it's not funny that he's gotten himself into trouble for allegedly betting on games that he officiated. From what I read it sounds like the guy's got a gambling problem and perhaps some anger management issues. For his sake, I hope it isn't true.

But, still, I have to say it's kind of a trip to enter my name into Google News and see stories with titles like Open Season on Tim Donaghy or This Isn't Tim Donaghy's First Unfortunate Brush With Fame. There's even a wikipedia page.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Harry Potter & the Grumpy Old Men

In honor of the release of the final Harry Potter book this Friday, and because everyone loves making fun of snobs, I couldn't resist linking to Harold Bloom's infamous crusade against J.K. Rowling's gazillion-selling series (here in 2000, here again in 2003 where he also takes a shot at Stephen King, and yet again in 2005).

I suppose it's actually fairly hard to find to find a true, blue-blooded snob these days outside of certain east-coast boarding schools and elite country clubs (hipster snobs are another story). Still, every once in a while they crawl blinking into the sunlight, smoking-jacketed and sherry-glassed, to tell us that we're all cretins and low-lifes. Bloom, of course, hates the Potter books, thinks they're dreadfully written and, worse, represent the inevitable dumbing-down of western culture. (I can only assume from this that Prof. Bloom has never watched My Super Sweet 16).

I don't have much to say about Bloom's articles -- the wrongness of it all should be readily apparent to the billions of kids and grown-ups who have read and loved the Potter books. My favorite bit, by far, is in the second article where he goes out of his way to mention how he bought his copy of the Sorcerer's Stone at the Yale bookstore (as if we thought he might have picked it up at Wal-Mart?) and mentions how he kept a running tally of cliches as he read (presumably cross-referenced against Bloom's Big Book of Cliches?). Good times. Anyway, read 'em and laugh. Or weep. Or scream. Or shake your head bemusedly.

On the other end of the spectrum, Roger Ebert doesn't much like the latest Potter movie, but for the opposite reasons. Where Bloom bemoans the un-seriousness of the stories, Ebert laments the loss of innocence, "magic" and whimsy as the movies have progressed into adolescence and addressed the weighty themes of death and puberty. As much as I love the Potter movies, I don't think I could have sat through a fifth movie with nothing except Quidditch and school-boy pranks to sustain me. Even by the second installment the stench of diminishing returns on the original formula was pretty prevalent. Rowling's decision to launch the series into the more complicated adult world is the main reason why I love the books so much -- they grow up as the characters do.

Ebert also just doesn't seem to get major parts of the movie, including the early scene where Harry is almost expelled from Hogwarts for using magic to defend himself and his Muggle cousin against Dementors. He asks if Harry is just supposed to "fall over passively and get Demented?" Well, no, Roger, the patent unfairness of Harry's expulsion isn't a mark against the story, it's actually the major theme of the movie.

Oh well. Critics will criticize -- these two are just wrong. The rest of us know what we'll be doing this weekend.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


This guy is cool. At age 14 William Kamkwamba built a wind turbine to supply power to his home and village. He built it out of wood, scrap plastic, a bicycle and other random stuff after having read about the design in a book. Click the link -- he has a blog, which he updates by phone, apparently. Now he's working on a solar-powered irrigation pump. Someone needs to give this man a grant.

Of course, if this story is too uplifting, you can always read about the man-eating badgers.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

night light

Last night as I was falling asleep I was visited by a (menacing, ominous) flashy green flying thing hovering at the end of my bed. In my half-awake state and in the dark room my mind automatically interpreted the little light as -- naturally -- someone standing at the end of my bed waving a green laser pointer at me. I'll admit it sounds a little crazy in the light of day, but at the time I swear my brain filled in the shadowy outline of a laser-pointered intruder. Creepy.

Naturally I freaked (a little).

My waking brain did the whole fight-or-flight thing before finally deciding that the sinister laser-pointer was actually just a firefly that had wriggled its way through the screen in the open window and couldn't get back out. And I have to say, sharing a closed, dark space with a firefly is actually kind of cool -- they're very bright. I opened the screen a bit and eventually its light went out, so I assume it returned to its firefly home.

7/7/07 (strange things)

I'm not really sure how these things relate, or what they mean on a, you know, deeper level...

... but here are Boredoms live with 77 drummers under the Brooklyn Bridge on 7/7/07.

It's a pretty fascinating video -- makes me wish I was there to experience it in person. Here's another one, which I'm linking because it's so totally different than the first and strangely beautiful to watch.

To complement the drummer overload, we now add Spinal Tap (a band with drummer problems of their own) playing Live Earth on the very same day in England with every bassist in the known universe.

Speaking of Live Earth, I managed to arrive late to the cramped and hastily organized DC concert outside the National Museum of the American Indian, where I just missed seeing Al Gore talk and Garth Brooks sing. Instead I stood around and melted in the 145 degree heat and listened to a decent native American blues band that I could just barely see if I craned my neck. Not quite as cool as seeing the Police reunited but Oh well.