Saturday, July 14, 2007

Potter and the Phoenix

Laura and I went to the earliest screening we could possibly get on Thursday, and aside from the fact that fewer and fewer people seem to keep their traps shut in the cinema (the woman sat next to us was narrating for her dad until Laura *politely* asked her to shut her gob) we both loved it.

Rowling and Potter get a lot of bad press from literary snobs (both those who really are, and those who wish they are), and re-reading the Order of the Phoenix t'other day I can see why many balk at the thought of having to read her prose. Case in point:

The man was pressing so tightly on Harry's windpipe that he could not breathe. Through watering eyes he saw Sirius duelling with a Death Eater some ten feet away; Kingsley was fighting two at once; Tonks, still halfway up the tiered seats, was firing spells down at Bellatrix - nobody seemed to realise that Harry was dying. He turned his wand backwards towards the man's side, but had no breath to utter an incantation, and the man's free hand was groping towards the hand in which Harry was grasping the prophecy - 'Aaargh!'
- no that wasn't me going Aaargh... I'd describe it as Richard screamed his indignation at the writing, at the way it had become a list of actions. But then, that's the point of Rowling's work. It's aimed at children, at teenagers, not adults. It's not trying to be something it isn't and it's not trying to win a beautiful prose award.

In my view Rowling has developed a story with a wondrous plot, brilliant characters and a knack for drawing light relief from moments of darkness - the film version of the Order of the Phoenix really took my by surprise in exactly how dark it was compared to the previous 4 (Laura had to remind me that the book was similarly dark - as is book 6 - The Half-Blood Prince, but I just hadn't expected what we got... more on this in a bit).

Rowling is in desperate need of an editor - I hope to God her next one doesn't come in much over 500 pages - the last chapter between Dumbledore and Harry, in which Dumbledore recaps Harry's 4 previous adventures in a drawn out scene almost as boring (on second reading) as Tolkein's Elrond's Council, is, at best, unnecessary. The film boils it down to Harry's angst and heartache instead, which is lost by Rowling in her attempt to over egg that very feeling. She lays guilt upon anguish upon blame upon hatred upon anxiety upon regret upon... The cleverness of the script writers for the movie in what they've chosen to take from the text is really eye-opening, and something all writers should pay attention to.

Yes, they've had to cut back a tremendous amount from the original text, yes all these wonderful characters are reduced to bit parts - I'd personally have loved to have seen more of Tonks, Moody and Lupin. Sirius's want to fulfill a role is dulled also - but you still get a flavour of who they are, what they can do and what they wish for.

Ginny Weasley - schwing - is held back in many respects as a character in the film (so that others may carry out the greater story arcs) but we, the audience, still see her brief glances at Harry, the way she looks back as Harry goes to comfort Cho. Why is this important? Because Ginny has fancied Harry throughout the previous stories and will eventually be his girlfriend. The script writers (working with Rowling) have laid the foundations of this relationship with subtle hints, rather than Rowling's original info-dump... but that highlights the difference between the formats. In a novel, with over 100,000 words thrown at the reader, themes, points and subtleties need better expression. In moving pictures, one glance is all we need, and then we move on.

And it is because of Rowling's immense text that we can get so much out of watching the films. There is so much there to draw on and make reference to. Rowling's internalised research pays dividends. Though, I'm still certain that she could restrain herself a bit more and give our eyes a rest.

Anyhoo, what was I saying? Ah yes, the film is great. If you love Potter you'll love the film. If you don't you probably won't... but who cares about you! <- rhetoric, don't answer that one. But it really does put to shame the style that Rowling employs. Her text cannot live up to the imagery we are showered with from the screen, but then, it's the story we're after isn't it. Despite whatever shortcomings I believe she may possess she is a seamstress of story. We, the readers, care deeply about the characters she has created, and regardless of how she might fall short (a la the passage above - which draws the narrative back to a list of character locations and actions instead of real prose) she has still manipulated the minds of millions of readers into caring, into illiciting emotion.

Regardless then of what I say of her writing, or what the literary snobs of the world say, Rowling is a winner. As Agent Cox repeatedly iterates: "If you can illicit emotion from your reader; if your writing can draw upon emotion at every step, then you can't fail." And that is what Rowling does best.

And I can't wait to conclude the series next weekend.

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