Monday 25 July 2011

a kind of magic....

We were idly planning a trip to the pictures this evening. As the headache that’s been brewing all day has finally arrived, I can’t say that I really feel like watching the cinematic dénouement of the Harry Potter saga. I’m not sure I have all that much energy for it full stop, to be honest. It was the same with the books: I approached “The Deathly Hallows” with more a sense of relief that it was finally going to be over than with any real enthusiasm (although I still bought the damn thing the week it was released). I started reading the books in about 2000, around about the time that “The Prisoner of Azkaban” was published. Like everyone else, I was initially charmed by their freshness and invention, but as the books bloated and Harry and co. grew up, I began to wade through each successive volume with an increasing sense of duty…. I knew we were approaching a defined end point, and was reluctant to stop reading entirely… but when I finished the last book and read that little flash forward, I got to the end with an overriding sense of relief that it was over rather than delight at the conclusion to the story I’d been following for so long.

It’s not that they’re bad books, and I wholeheartedly endorse almost anything that gets so many people reading, it’s just that for me the series peaked with “…Azkaban” and that thereafter the books became needlessly big… a little editing would have gone a long way without damaging the overall narrative thrust of the story and I reckon you could have taken 100 pages off “The Goblet of Fire” just by judiciously trimming some of the fat. As the books went on, plotting was also seemed to become increasingly hard going and, as our heroes became teenagers, we seemed to get lots of clunky dialogue dealing with emotions painted in primary colours and with little texture and nuance (am I asking too much of a children’s book? I don’t think that I am. Philip Pullman’s “Dark Materials” books are aimed at slightly older children, I think, but are far less black and white).

The films have been okay, I suppose, although I haven’t been to the cinema to see all of them and only caught the first part of “The Deathly Hallows” on the plane to New York… not exactly the optimal place to enjoy the big screen experience (although I still don’t feel the need to watch “Avatar” in any other format, thanks very much). It’s been interesting watching the cast grow up, I suppose, but – ironically given that I think the books are overly long – the films are too short, even at two hours plus, to do justice to the plots. The story in the books is often given shape by the passing of the terms at Hogwarts, and in so many of the films we seemed to jump from winter to spring to summer in the course of about ten minutes: one minute they’re walking across a snowy quadrangle at Christmas, and the next minute they’re revising for their exams… dramatic peaks are only allowed to happen in the summer term, you understand, and Voldemort plans his ill-deeds strictly according to the academic calendar…. One per year.

Still, I’m griping. JK Rowling, I learned last week, apparently earns another £1m every three days. Good luck to her, I say: she’s earned it. Lest we forget, she was a single mother living on benefits barely ten years ago. Rowling seems like a genuinely nice person who is still taken aback by how much her little stories have been taken into people’s hearts (and I should also mention that she’s a generous supporter of MS charities, which definitely makes her okay in my view…), and those books (and films) have brought people an awful lot of joy. After all, no one forced me to read all the books, and no one is forcing me to complete the set by watching the last film either.

Apart from anything else, given recent news, it might be quite nice to watch good triumph over evil for once.

Just not tonight, eh?

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