As the familiar story goes, not long ago there was an orphan who on his 11th birthday discovered he had a gift that set him apart from his preteen peers. Over the years he endured the usual adolescent challenges -- maturation, relationships, social conflicts, general teenage neuroses. He also faced the less common challenge of battling a murderous, psychopathic wizard set on establishing a eugenic police state. I'm referring to the young wizard Harry Potter, the bespeckled, morally-upright protagonist in author JK Rowling's wildly popular fantasy book series; his nemesis is Lord Voldemort, the story's malevolent antagonist. And, while it might sound far-fetched, new research suggests that Rowling's world of house-elves, half-giants and three-headed dogs has the potential to make us nicer people.
I've been reading Harry Potter with the kids for awhile now. We're almost finished with The Prisoner of Azkaban. One of my favorite parts of reading it with them is when they're confused about a situation or a particular word and we get to have a conversation. While reading Chamber of Secrets, we talked about mudbloods, prejudice, and fascism. We've talked about good and evil and how many of the books' characters actually possess both good and not-so-good qualities. More recently, we talked about bravery and cowardice in the context of being a friend and how even Neville, who seems frightened of everything, is a brave and true friend for trying to stop Hermione, Ron, and Harry from leaving the Gryffindor common room in search of the Sorcerer's Stone. I don't know if they're better people for it, but I value the chance to have those conversations with them about something they're really into.
In a piece for the Pottermore web site, JK Rowling writes an update on how the gang from the Harry Potter books is doing. The piece is an account of the Quidditch World Cup Final written by Rita Skeeter, the gossip columnist from the books. You need a login to read it on Pottermore, but someone uploaded it to Reddit as well.
The Potter family and the rest of Dumbledore's Army have been given accommodation in the VIP section of the campsite, which is protected by heavy charms and patrolled by Security Warlocks. Their presence has ensured large crowds along the cordoned area, all hoping for a glimpse of their heroes. At 3pm today they got their wish when, to the accompaniment of loud screams, Potter took his young sons James and Albus to visit the players' compound, where he introduced them to Bulgarian Seeker Viktor Krum.
About to turn 34, there are a couple of threads of silver in the famous Auror's black hair, but he continues to wear the distinctive round glasses that some might say are better suited to a style-deficient twelve-year-old. The famous lightning scar has company: Potter is sporting a nasty cut over his right cheekbone. Requests for information as to its provenance merely produced the usual response from the Ministry of Magic: 'We do not comment on the top secret work of the Auror department, as we have told you no less than 514 times, Ms. Skeeter.' So what are they hiding? Is the Chosen One embroiled in fresh mysteries that will one day explode upon us all, plunging us into a new age of terror and mayhem?
That last line is one of a few references to possible new stories in the piece...the last paragraph mentions a new biography of Harry and his pals due out at the end of this month:
And for those who want to know exactly how imperfect they are, my new biography: Dumbledore's Army: The Dark Side of the Demob will be available from Flourish and Blotts on July 31st.
Could Rowling be setting the stage for an eighth Potter book or is she just winding us up?
Professor Snape stood at the front of the room, sort of Jewishly. "There will be no foolish wand-waving or silly incantations in this class. As such, I don't expect many of you to appreciate the subtle science and exact art that is potion-making. However, for those select few who possess, the predisposition...I can teach you how to bewitch the mind and ensnare the senses. I can tell you how to bottle fame, brew glory, and even put a stopper in death."
Harry's hand shot up.
"What is it, Potter?" Snape asked, irritated.
"What's the value of these potions on the open market?"
"Why are you teaching children how to make these valuable products for ourselves at a schoolteacher's salary instead of creating products to meet modern demand?"
"You impertinent boy-"
"Conversely, what's to stop me from selling these potions myself after you teach us how to master them?"
"This is really more of a question for the Economics of Potion-Making, I guess. What time are econ lessons here?"
"We have no economics lessons in this school, you ridiculous boy."
Harry Potter stood up bravely. "We do now. Come with me if you want to learn about market forces!"
The students poured into the hallway after him. They had a leader at last.
Pupils at Hogwarts have access to a reasonably wide range of esoteric qualifications, suited to its key demographic. As an independent school, it does not have to follow the National Curriculum closely; however, it is disappointing to note that basic requirements such as English, Mathematics and Religious Education are all lacking or entirely missing from the school's syllabus. This has had adverse effects on all students, many of whom have never even been taught basic KS1 or 2 literacy. A few students have attended state or independent primary schools, and these students typically perform very well in contrast to their peers.
The majority of students appear to be under-performing, with most pupils struggling in all their lessons, most of which appear to be set at too challenging a level. One particular class, which seemed to be based on A-Level chemistry, proved too difficult for even the most proficient students. Only one pupil managed to complete the lesson objectives, mainly thanks to his use of an annotated text book.
Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, 'Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them' is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world. The laws and customs of the hidden magical society will be familiar to anyone who has read the Harry Potter books or seen the films, but Newt's story will start in New York, seventy years before Harry's gets underway.
For all the satisfying closure provided by "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," gloomier readers may still detect a note of melancholy; there is a narrowness of life for former Hogwarts students, whose career opportunities barely extend beyond the wizard civil service, wizard schoolteaching, and professional Quidditch. This magical society has no use for science; there's little commerce; and thousands of years of wizarding seems to have generated no culture beyond a short volume of fables and a tabloid newspaper. (Wizard technology is often a cutely flawed approximation of non-wizard technology -- owls for e-mail -- and one wonders how quickly Harry and his schoolfriends could have won their battles against the evil Lord Voldemort, given two or three cell phones and a gun.) In a time of wizard peace, at least, Harry's separation from the real world -- even as he lives in it -- can seem tragic.
In a time of personal prosperity, Rowling's separation from the real world -- even as she lives in it -- can seem tragic.
So, before she goes away for good, let us sing the praises of Hermione. A generation could not have asked for a better role model. Looking back over the series -- from Hermione Granger and the Philosopher's Stone through to Hermione Granger and the Deathly Hallows -- the startling thing about it is how original it is. It's what inspires your respect for Rowling: She could only have written the Hermione Granger by refusing to take the easy way out.
For starters, she gave us a female lead. As difficult as it is to imagine, Rowling was pressured to revise her initial drafts to make the lead wizard male. "More universal," they said. "Nobody's going to follow a female character for 4,000 pages," they said. "Girls don't buy books," they said, "and boys won't buy books about them." But Rowling proved them wrong. She was even asked to hide her own gender, and to publish her books under a pen name, so that children wouldn't run screaming at the thought of reading something by a lady. But Joanne Rowling never bowed to the forces of crass commercialism. She will forever be "Joanne Rowling," and the Hermione Granger series will always be Hermione's show.
Characters' names are often also common words. A dumbledore is a bumblebee. Snape is a ship-building term that means "to bevel the end of (a timber or plank) so that it will fit accurately upon an inclined surface." Hagrid is the past participle of hagride, which means "to harass or torment by dread or nightmares." Skeeter is a term for an annoying pest, and not just Rita Skeeter, blood-sucking journalist. Mundungus is "waste animal product" or "poor-quality tobacco with a foul, rancid, or putrid smell," a good name for a sneaky thief.
i was watching sense & sensibility in the back of my neighbour's minivan while on a stakeout the other night and realized that professors snape, trelawney, and umbridge had each somehow apparated into the cast. my neighbour (who is a former hogwarts alumna) pointed out that cornelius fudge and madam pomfrey were also in it. was this a record for the most harry potter wizards in a non-harry potter film?
Close but nine Potter wizards is the record...can you guess which movie before clicking through?
As near as I can tell, if you grow up in the magical world (as opposed to be Muggle-born, for example), you do not go to school at all until the age of eleven. In fact, it's entirely unclear to me how the children of the wizarding world learn to read and write. There is a reason Hermione seems much more intelligent than Ron Weasley. It's because Ron is very likely completely uneducated.
My take is that wizards are jocks, not nerds; Hogwarts is not so much a secondary school as a sports academy. What's odd about that is that quidditch is an extracurricular...
Once upon a time, Luke | Kirk | Neo | Harry was living a miserable life. Feeling disconnected from his friends and family, he dreams about how his life could be different. One day, he is greeted by Obi Wan | Captain Pike | Trinity | Hagrid and told that his life is not what it seems, and that due to some circumstances surrounding his birth | birth | birth | infancy he was meant for something greater.
The NY Times has released their list of the 100 Notable Books of 2007. Because of the amount of online reading I do and Ollie, my book-reading rate has declined dramatically...I only read two of the books on this list and one of those was Harry Potter 7.
It is The Daily Prophet which emerges in this film as a secondary character, performing interstitial cameos made all the more exhilarating because the camera sweeps in and out, ricocheting off the page, magnifying and dramatizing a typographic vocabulary that combines a slightly mottled, letterpress-like display face with great portions of illegible calligraphy.
During the most recent visit from Ofsted, the inspector witnessed a maths lesson where the children were motivated to learn about subtraction by pretending that it is a magic formula created by Harry Potter. Pupils were not allowed to answer questions without first saying a spell -- "numerus subtracticus", which they devised themselves.
Snape breaks into Hogwarts and rescues Lucius Malfoy from Azkaban Prison. Harry believes that he can defeat Snape and Voldemort only by strenuously practicing charms. Professor Slughorn, inspired by a book from the East provided by Cho Chang called "Thirty-Six Strategies," devises a plan enabling Harry to seize Snape in the Ministry of Magic. But Gryffindor's sword, which hung in the headmaster's office, assassinates Professor McGonagall.
When Harry confronts Voldemort at Azkaban, the Dark Lord tries to win Harry over as a fellow descendant of Slytherin. Harry refuses, and together with Ron and Hermione, kills Voldemort instead. Now what will Harry do about his two girlfriends?
In another of the books, Harry is assisted by Gandalf. No appearances by Han and Chewy, AFAIK.
Back in April, I pre-ordered Harry Potter 7 from Amazon. They guaranteed delivery on its release date, Saturday July 21 before 7pm or they would refund the cost of the book...the details of that offer are here. All day Saturday until shortly after 7pm, the UPS tracking information indicated that the package containing my copy of the book was "IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION", which is UPS-speak for "the UPS guy/gal who will deliver your book does not yet have it in his/her possession"...the magic phrase for that action is "OUT FOR DELIVERY".
At some point after 7pm, the UPS status page updated to say that a notice was left at 3:36 pm, implying that a delivery attempt was made and no one was home to receive it. (Amazon's tracking page says that UPS told them "Delivery attempted - recipient not home".) No such notice was left. My door buzzer did not ring at 3:36 pm (I was home all day on Saturday) and the doorman of the building next door who takes the deliveries for our building when people aren't home reported no notice or delivery attempt. Here's the complete tracking info from UPS:
Location // Date // Local Time // Description
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/21/2007 // 3:36 P.M. // NOTICE LEFT
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/20/2007 // 12:00 P.M. // IN TRANSIT TO FINAL DESTINATION
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:51 P.M. // DESTINATION SCAN
NEW YORK, NY, US // 07/19/2007 // 4:50 P.M. // ORIGIN SCAN
US // 07/19/2007 // 1:34 P.M. // BILLING INFORMATION RECEIVED
Maybe I'm lying about being home or maybe the person trying to deliver the package made an honest mistake, but it's curious that a delivery attempt could have been made when the package was not even "OUT FOR DELIVERY". Here's what I think happened. I think UPS's network was overwhelmed by Amazon's Potter-volume in some parts of the country and they had no way to deliver all those packages. (The forums for the book at Amazon and Google Blog Search are full of similar complaints from others...warning, spoilers! UPS even offloaded some of the volume to the USPS for "last-mile" delivery.) So, UPS just marked all of those packages they had no intention of delivering as "oops, we missed you, you must have been out".
Let's go back to Amazon's guarantee, which states that the refund "does not apply if delivery is attempted, but no one is available to accept the package". Amazon would be pretty angry with UPS if they cost them a bunch of money due to refunds and, more importantly, the loss of a bunch of customer goodwill...maybe Amazon would switch a larger portion of their formidable package output to another carrier, for instance. So UPS intentionally misclassifying those deliveries covers their ass with Amazon and covers Amazon's ass with regard to the refund.
My copy of the book from Amazon will be here sometime today (UPS doesn't deliver on Sunday), by which time I'll already have mostly finished the copy I bought at Barnes & Noble about 7:30 pm Saturday evening. The extra $20 isn't a big deal to me and neither is having to wait all day to start in on the book. But this book was a *huge* deal for Amazon (2+ million pre-orders out of a first printing of 12 million) and for their customers who desired their instant Potter gratification. Amazon should be hopping mad at UPS over this; UPS shifted the blame from themselves to Amazon's customers...who are in turn going to blame Amazon, doubly so because Amazon probably won't might not issue refunds for those "missed" deliveries because they don't need to. A customer service-oriented company like Amazon shouldn't take this kind of crap from their shipping vendor...incidents like these will erode customer goodwill and eventually their customer base, the retention of which is one of Amazon's stated primary goals.
Update: I've asked Amazon for a refund and am waiting on their reply. From the emails I've gotten from readers so far, it sounds like Amazon is being liberal in the refund policy, as one would expect.
Update: No word from Amazon yet, but the USPS (not UPS) delivered my book Monday morning. It had a UPS sticker on it with instructions to the Post Office to deliver it to me. No update on the UPS tracking page that its been delivered. I'm tempted to leave it unopened in its custom Amazon box as a collector's item. Maybe I can get JK Rowling and Jeff Bezos to sign it.
The cashier at Barnes and Noble, she sure saw me coming. "You trying to catch up before Book 7 comes out?"
"Yes'm," I said, staring at my shoes. My vacation reading plan had gotten me hooked on the Potter series and I was now devouring the series at a work-shirking rate. Oh sugary literature, I can't resist you! The first three books were bit boring (I'd already seen the movies) and had I not been on vacation, I might have given up on the whole thing. I decided to press on, and, like my friend Adriana assured me, it started to get more interesting about halfway through Goblet of Fire when Rowling starts pulling back the curtain on an entire world of wizardry and backstory. I raced through Order of the Phoenix and Half-Blood Prince. Since I somehow hadn't heard any spoilers about the series, the end of HBP left me reeling, my mind racing, my body jonesing for another hit. _______ killed ____________!!!1!1ONE!
That was all a few weeks ago. The other day, I did a very bad thing. While in the bookstore on non-Potter-related business, I stopped by the kids section to see if they carried a book that my friend David had alerted me to, Mugglenet.Com's What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7 (warning: spoilers). When David told me about it, I was adamant about not wanting to know anything about Deathly Hallows before it comes out. But now that I was confronted with the thing in person, I was unable to resist taking a peek at the table of contents. Snape. RAB! Horcrux!! Are my pet theories true? I flipped through a couple of chapters, little kids flowing around me in the aisle, feeling exhilarated (and a little disappointed) that the authors' theories agreed with mine and ashamed at what I'd become, a 33-yo man with deeply held theories about future plot developments in a children's book series.
My willpower finally returned and I returned the book to its shelf, but I think I might go back for it. I just need to think of a good hiding place so that Meg doesn't catch me with it. I fear for the future of my marriage and, more importantly, the fates of Harry, Hermione, and Ron! Hurry July 21, you cannot come soon enough.
How to learn a foreign language: read Harry Potter in translation. "The plots and scenarios are familiar enough that I can pick up the gist of what is going on even if the grammar and vocabulary escape me; but after a few times reading about the impatient lechuza in Harry's room, I can't help but gather that it is not lettuce but an owl."
We're leaving tomorrow for a trip of the relaxing sort, so I went to the bookstore this morning to collect some reading material. I had decided not to read anything that felt too much like work or that I had to think about. What I needed was fiction like television: passive but engaging. Having procured a paperback copy of The Da Vinci Code in the B section, I wandered over to the Rs. Robbins. Roth. Rowlandson. Salinger. Hmm. No luck in the Teen section either. Finally I hit paydirt in the Kids section: the 1085 pages of the first three years of Harry Potter's adventures at Hogwarts.
Scientists are having a bit of fun wondering about the genetics of wizardry in Harry Potter. "This suggests that wizarding ability is inherited in a mendelian fashion, with the wizard allele (W) being recessive to the muggle allele (M). According to this hypothesis, all wizards and witches therefore have two copies of the wizard allele (WW)."