13 August 2009

TGHPR-R 2009: The Goblet of Fire

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4) This is the first Harry Potter book I actually had to wait for. My college roommate got me Sorcerer's Stone and Chamber of Secrets for Christmas one year, and Prisoner of Azkaban was published not long after, so I was able to read books 1-3 right in a row, whereas I had to wait a year for Goblet of Fire. I remember that, on the day it was officially released, my family was on its way to Lancaster for a day trip, and I begged my father to stop at the bookstore on our way out of town so I could buy my copy.

(He was awesome and complied. This was before the midnight release parties began and which I attended for the last two books. That's a story for book 6, however.)

Okay, so I'll be honest: while I do love Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, I also think it's the most bloated of the Harry Potter books -- books 1-3 are more streamlined (read: shorter) and books 5-7 are, for the most part, necessarily long -- and while Goblet of Fire has numerous important storylines, there is a lot of filler that would make it a quicker, more intense read.

It's Harry's fourth year at Hogwarts, and instead of holding the annual Quidditch/House cup, the school will be hosting the Triwizard Tournament, in which three champions from three different wizarding schools compete for a thousand galleons and the glory of his or her school. This means we finally learn about two other wizarding schools in Goblet of Fire -- Beauxbatons and Durmstrang -- and meet their respective headmasters: Madame Maxine and Igor Karkaroff, both of whom contrast really delightfully with Dumbledore.

Harry isn't planning on entering the tournament -- in fact, he's looking forward to cheering on the Hogwarts champion, hanging out with Ron and Hermione, and crushing on Cho Chang from afar -- but when the Goblet of Fire spits out his name, Harry has no choice but to participate, despite the fact that he is slowly beginning to believe that someone entered him into the tournament in the hopes that it would kill him.

We meet or revisit a number of other characters in Goblet of Fire, some of whom are very significant to later books: Victor Krum, the Bulgarian Quidditch player and Durmstrang champion; Fleur DeLacour, part-veela, Beauxbatons champion, and later Bill Weasley love interest; Rita Skeeter, the queen of yellow journalism; Mad-Eye Moody, the famous Auror and newest DADA teacher; and of course, Cedric Diggory, the (true) Hogwarts champion and all-around decent guy, who suffers one of the most upsetting fates in the Harry Potter series.

(Seriously, if you can read the section where his ghost asks Harry to return his body to his parents, where Mrs. Diggory talks about how at least Cedric "died happy" while Mr. Diggory sobs in the background, where Dumbledore gives his "Remember Cedric Diggory" speech, without tearing up, you're made of stone, I tell you! I'm tearing up at I write this!

Now I feel kind of lame, but I think it's a testament to how well-drawn Cedric Diggory is. He's a fairly minor character in the grand scheme of things, but Rowling makes you feel his death profoundly. He's a genuinely good guy who dies because he refuses to claim victory in the tournament alone -- he believes Harry deserves it more and only touches the cup when Harry suggests they share it. I mean, seriously, how honorable is that? *TEAR*)

Anyway, I love the character and backstory development here as well. I was most interested in the history of the Death Eaters and the continued slow reveal of Snape's involvement with them and with Voldemort (this is, of course, especially important when you consider where Snape's storyline is going as we head into the later books). Again, it shows remarkable planning on J. K. Rowling's part -- we're slowly learning about the prophecy, about why Dumbledore trusts Snape, and so on -- which I appreciate as a re-reader.

The overarching "villainous plot" is a little convoluted (I'm not quite sure why Voldemort's faithful servant/spy couldn't have cooked up a Portkey before the third task in June), but it does offer a lot of payoff for events and characters throughout the book. Voldemort's resurrection is pretty terrifying, and the conflict that arises between the "good guys" at the end (the Ministry of Magic's refusal to believe that Voldemort has returned) is realistic and sets up book 5 well.

Ultimately, Goblet of Fire is way too long, though, and could do with a good trim (or chop, depending on how much you feel is unnecessary). I think Hermione's fight for house elf rights, while totally in character, is too drawn-out and doesn't really pay off enough in later books to warrant so much space in this one. The three tasks are also spread out so much that I feel the entire competition loses its intensity (part of me wonders, "Really? They cancelled the annual Quidditch cup for 3 tasks over 3 days out of the whole school year?").

I also think that the World Quidditch Cup scenes at the beginning of the book go on a little long, and the character of Ludo Bagman could probably be excised without too much being lost. Too, Rowling tends to offer a lot of previouslies here instead of trusting that her reader is familiar enough with the first three books and doesn't need an explanation of Hagrid's love of dangerous creatures, for example, or the entire plots of books 1-3...

Oh, and don't get me started on Voldemort's chapter-long, post-resurrection monologue (I kept imagining Syndrome from The Incredibles: "Oh, ho ho! You sly dog! You got me monologuing! I can't believe it!").

We see Harry start to grow up here, along with Hermione and (to an extent) Ron. Voldemort rises again. A major character dies. The wizarding world is at odds, as the book ends. Overall, Goblet of Fire is a solid transition between the innocence (of sorts) of books 1-3 and the darkness to come in books 5-7.

As Hagrid very wisely notes, "What's comin' will come, an' we'll meet it when it does."

10 August 2009

Those Who Can...

I wrote a whole long post about my (continued) pathos about teaching, but rather than subject you to it -- it's very prosaic -- I'll just link the article that resonated so strongly with me:

"Why I Left Teaching Behind" by Sarah Fine (The Washington Post, 9 August 2009)

I feel much the same about teaching as Fine does, for many of the same reasons, especially as she discusses the current perception of teachers -- "the fact that," as she writes, "a portion of the American public sees teaching as a second-rate profession."

One of my least favorite quotes of all time is "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach." Because, please. The Simpsons says it best:

Dance Instructor: Marge, there's an old saying about those who can't

Marge: Teach?

Dance Instructor: No, they go home. How can you teach if you can't

And... word.

06 August 2009

Ros Needs to Relax: The Car Dance Remix

I am so needlessly stressed out by my summer job. It's not what I'm doing (because, to be perfectly honest, a monkey could probably do this job, so long as he followed the building's strict dress code) but rather the people I'm working with.

They are driving me crazy. Let me give you an example:

As I've mentioned before, a lot of my job involves alphabetizing evaluations and sending them to the file room by the box. I've probably sent about 8 or 9 boxes to the file room over the last four weeks.

So yesterday afternoon, the AA who supervises me calls me. "We're looking for [insert name here]'s evaluation," she says. "Have we received it?"

I look at my (carefully kept) records. "Yes, we received it a few weeks ago," I say. "It should be in the file room."

Twenty minutes later, AA comes to my desk. "Can you go down to the file room?" she asks. "They can't find the evaluation."

Would you like to know why they can't find it? They can't find it because they haven't filed a single box that I've sent down since I started working here. When I got down to the file room, I found the evaluation in five minutes. In a box. That I sent over a month ago.

Seriously, what do these people do all day? They work in the file room. Shouldn't they be, I don't know, filing?

... Anyway. It's frustrating, and it makes the endless traffic that I sit in on my way home from work even worse.

So when I got home yesterday afternoon, knowing that I'd be turning around and driving back out to Jess's, I decided to make a CD of songs that would inspire more car dancing and less swearing:
  1. I Got a Feeling -- Black Eyed Peas
  2. Inside Out -- Eve 6
  3. Monkeywrench -- Foo Fighters
  4. That's Not My Name -- The Ting-Tings
  5. Mercy Me -- Alkaline Trio
  6. Right Round -- Flo Rida
  7. Love and Memories -- OAR
  8. Sexbomb (Peppermint Disco Remix) -- Tom Jones
  9. Original Prankster -- Offspring
  10. Untouched -- The Veronicas
  11. How Far We've Come -- Matchbox 20
  12. Rock Star -- Prima J
  13. Who Do You Love -- Ted Leo and the Pharmacists
  14. Timebomb -- Beck
  15. So Sad to Say -- Mighty Mighty Bosstones
  16. Shut Up and Let Me Go -- The Ting Tings
  17. We Used to Be Frieds -- Dandy Warhols
  18. Don't Trust Me -- 3Oh!3
  19. Blue Skies -- Blue October
  20. American Idiot -- Green Day
In the end, car dancing was the ultimate destresser. I just turned up the music superloud and sang along (superloud) and danced as I drove (superflail!).

(This was especially helpful when, driving home from Jess's, I got caught up in unexpected roadwork, and the normally 35-minute drive was... an hour and a half. Closing three out of four lanes of traffic on a major highway? Not cool, road guys. Not cool.)

04 August 2009

TGHPR-R 2009: The Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter, #3) Taren at The Chick Manifesto posted a question about spoilers last week that made me pause a bit before writing this post. I find it difficult to write about books without giving away too much, but I really do think that, for Harry Potter at least, the no-spoiler rule expired a while ago. So if you haven't read Harry Potter yet, (1) get on that (2) before reading the rest of this post.

So Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is definitely my favorite of the early Harry Potter books. (In my head, I split the series in half -- books 1-4 are rerise-of-Voldemort and books 5-7 are how-do-we-redestroy-Voldemort.)It's also the last of the streamlined books in the series -- I started re-reading The Goblet of Fire last night, and holy macaroni, I can barely hold it -- but despite this, Prisoner of Azkaban packs a lot of story, backstory, and character development into what is, comparatively, a short read.

The story begins, as always, at the end of Harry's miserable summer with the Dursleys, but Harry's stay with them ends this time on his own terms, as he packs up and storms out after a galling (and funny) incident with Aunt Marge. Harry catches the Knight Bus quite by accident, but not before he learns about the escaped criminal Sirius Black and sees the big black dog that seems to follow him throughout the rest of the story.

Once Harry returns to Hogwarts for his third year, we begin to learn more about Harry's father, James, and his time at school, as well as about the circumstances surrounding Harry's parents' deaths, which are more complicated than we (and Harry) originally thought. We meet Remus Lupin, the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and one of my favorite characters in the series, who has a number of secrets that affect Harry greatly. Lupin is such a tragic figure -- I would argue more so even than Sirius Black -- but he bears his burdens with dignity, recognizes his errors, and tries to rectify them.

(Obviously I think Snape is the most tragic figure in this series, for reasons that are not revealed in Prisoner of Azkaban but that we see inklings of in his interactions with Sirius during the climax. Poor Snape. Knowing his history and what is to come, I feel a lot more sympathy for him in rereading the series.)

We also meet the Dementors, the Azkaban guards who have come, ostensibly, to protect Hogwarts from the threat of Sirius Black but whose true motives are suspect. (I mean, even Dumbledore hates them, and I tend to trust Dumbledore's judgement.) The Dementors are seriously frightening, and the fact that whenever Harry is around them, he hears his mother about to be killed by Voldemort, well, that doesn't make them any more cuddly.

But the Dementors lead Harry to work with Lupin more closely and to learn the Patronus spell -- which of course plays a significant role in the rest of the series but also leads to one of its most powerful scenes as well, when Harry sends his fully formed Patronus -- a stag -- against the Dementors in order to save himself, Hermione, and Sirius from the Dementor's Kiss. (I'll be honest here: the moment that the Patronus stag returns to Harry and he realizes its significance always makes me cry. No less so on this reread.)

When I first read Prisoner of Azkaban, I remember that the climax in the Shrieking Shack, when Harry discovers the truth about Sirius Black, took me by surprise, but in the reread, I see how perfectly Rowling sets it up (even from the beginning of The Sorcerer's Stone, when Hagrid mentions seeing Sirius Black at the ruins of the Potter house). I especially like how a number of plot points from the two previous books return here: the origin of the Whomping Willow and the longevity of Scabbers, among others.

I also love Buckbeak, of course, and how Hagrid's efforts to save him intersect with Hermione's Time-Turner and Sirius's eventual escape. Every plot point, in fact, seems to dovetail at the end, which, for me, makes this the most satisfying book of the Harry Potter series.

Ultimately, so much is introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban that it could feel more like exposition than plot. But the story -- of the hunt for Sirius Black, of Harry's struggle with the Dementors and what he experiences when he's around them, of the continually developing friendship between Harry, Ron, and Hermione (which is tested and reaffirmed yet again) -- is both gripping and affecting.

It is, in essence, the perfect lead-up to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, which begins the descent into the darker half of the Harry Potter series. Oh, yes, now the death count truly begins, and I have to keep tissues nearby for cry-worthy moments, of which there are many.