#harrypottersummer–Goblet of Fire Pt. 2

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So, no jewelry this week, seeing as I’m late on this post anyway. The piece is made, but it’s not one that should be too hard to make a tutorial for, so I’d like to do that. For now, more thoughts, though.

*****

On probably the lightest note this post, I really wish I had the talent to draw my mental image of Hermione glowering at people and shaking the SPEW tin under their noses. It’s hilarious in my head, but my lines are way too static to pull off what I want out of it.

*****

I never actually got Harry and Hermione as a relationship until this reread, but this time around I can sort of see it. They do work remarkably well together, with the single qualifier of “when they have a goal.” When they don’t, they seem to get bored of each other a little bit, and it’s this as much as personal taste that makes me think they really do need Ron there as a buffer.

*****

Dumbledore casually insulting Aberforth by suggesting that he’s an idiot actually made me cringe this time around. Without the backstory it’s just an offhand joke, done in an attempt to make Hagrid feel better, but knowing the Dumbledore family’s history colors it completely differently. Knowing what happened then, it’s hard not to see that single comment as something of a remnant of the attitude that ended up with Dumbledore’s sister dead and his brother hating him. The man may have made a lot of strides toward trying to be kinder, but the parts of him that caused the problem in the first place certainly aren’t completely gone. And it’s not only in the manipulation that you can see them.

*****

I lied above. The actual lightest note in this post: apparently Hogwarts’ sewage system comes out in the Great Lake. Which the students then swim in. Gross.

*****

I need to say again just how much I love the chapters in the cemetery, when Voldermort comes back. They’re what really sold me on the series, and what launched me from enjoying the books into being obsessed with them.

It’s not only the surprise of them, or the major change that’s made to the series, either. Looking back, Rowling’s writing is really, really good here; I’m not sure any chapters stand out this much to me until “The Forest Again” in the last book. First there’s the off kilter, confusing creepiness of “Flesh, Blood, and Bone,” where we have no more idea what’s going on than Harry and the magic suddenly looks less like the practical, almost scientific things we’ve seen before and more like a Satanic ritual. Then the hints to the future in “The Death Eaters.” Then in “Priori Incantatum” there’s a nicely exciting fight scene, which is probably better than anything we’ve gotten up to this point, culminating in the completely heartbreaking titular spell.

Rowling had written some powerful things before, but none of them had ever quite gotten to me like these scenes did. Again, this is where I really started to love the series.

*****
And speaking of creepy things, is Nagini’s venom necessary for Voldemort’s recovery potion because she’s a Horcrux? I had assumed it was just something along the lines of “blah, snakes, evil” for a long time, but that actually makes much more sense, if he’s basically pumping bits of his own soul back into himself.

*****

This may be stirring the pot a little, but seriously, I always trusted Snape and viewed him as a hero. Is he a petty, childish jerk most of the time? Sure, but those two things aren’t mutually exclusive, seeing as how he does plenty of heroic things. Albeit, often, jerkily.

There are a couple of moments in this book that are good examples of him rushing to help while, or sometimes by, being a crabby douche. Obviously there’s his agreeing to spy again at the end, but you can also see it in little things, like insistence at Karkaroff: “I, however, am remaining at Hogwarts.”

The bit that stuck out to me this time was when Fudge refuses to admit that Voldemort might be back and he immediately offers his Dark Mark as proof, with no concern for what people might think of him. Instead of trying to hide it, he places the worst thing he’s ever done flat on the table because it’s necessary to, because it might convince the Minister to help them stop another reign of terror. That’s surprisingly noble; if Fudge had believed him he’d have basically been sacrificing anything he’d built after he war, and Fudge believing him was the goal.

I do understand where people see the bad outweighing the good with this character, but so many seem to want to deny that the good is there in the first place. That above? That takes courage and self-sacrifice. I won’t deny that they’re things he’s missing a lot of the time, but they do exist in him, about as much as they’re missing.

Given, I like my asshole characters, so I may be willing to go a little easy on them…

*****

This one was honestly great to reread: there’s plenty of atmosphere, they mystery’s good, and for as dark as it can get, it’s also really fun. The next book in the series has always been my least favorite, and I can’t help but think some of that is due to its placement right after something I loved so much.

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On Rereading

So, the Harry Potter thing has got me thinking….

You know, I very rarely reread anything.

Or rewatch, even. I can probably count the series or books I’ve revisited in any way on one hand, and even then those have a tendency to be as a refresher after years or as part of some group discussion. Rereading just for pleasure, on my own, has never been a thing I really do, and I don’t really know why. Most of my friends have certain series they rewatch or reread every year.

I do understand the urge to do that, too. Like them, I do get attached to stories like they’re old friends. Rereading something beloved, on the few times that I do it, always feels like coming home after a long time and seeing it with fresh eyes.

And I am a person who likes to really get into a piece and learn every detail about it; I really probably should reread things more, because usually that’s where that ability comes from. I have a tendency to go to essays and discussions for that instead, though. At the most I’ll go back to the couple of paragraphs that have pertinent information on what I’m thinking about.

Which is silly. Context is incredibly important in a story; pretty much every literature class ever will tell you to read a piece that you want to discuss through at least twice before you even open your mouth on it, and discussion and essays are really no substitute. It’s always going to be the little details that you pick up on your own that really drive your interpretation and make it unique. The people teaching those classes are right: rereading is necessary.

It’s always been so hard for me to do, though. I never have that same driving need to get through the novel that I do the first time around, and usually I’ll get distracted and wander away. This is probably why I fare better with series I’ve forgotten most of or situations where I’m letting other people down if I don’t get through it, but strangely it makes no sense in the context of how I generally function. Spoilers have never bothered me, for one. I’ll happily read something where I already know most of the plot and not have the same problem.

I will say this, though. The ride of actually reading or watching something is always drastically different than hearing a summary of the plot. Maybe it’s the lack of newness in that ride that I’m reacting to when I get bored with a reread and drift off. But considering how unwilling I am to let go of things I love, how anxious new things often make me, you’d think that would be comforting rather than boring. That rereading would give me some sort of bedrock to stand on and ease my mind.

Maybe that’s just the problem, though. As I said above, when you reread something, it changes slightly. You focus on different things, like parts that you hated better, don’t react as much to parts that you loved. The piece adapts to your current mindset, whatever that is and whatever that does to the work. It’s hard to go back to the books that got you through hard times, that kept you happy and sane, or even that just entertained you greatly, knowing that you might love them less. That may be the reason I’m so hesitant to reread things.

Of course, it might also be that I have a stack of probably a hundred books that I have yet to read sitting on my shelves. I have to admit, that might also be a factor.

I’m interested in other people’s opinions on this. Do you reread your favorite series often? Or do you have a specific series that you make sure to get back to regularly? Or are you like me, and avoid rereading until you’re forced into it? And why do you think that is, for any of the above? I’ve put out some thoughts here, but I can’t say I’m absolutely sure these are the reasons I don’t reread that often. It would be good to see another take on it.

#harrypottersummer–Goblet of Fire Pt. 1

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Goblet of Fire was always the turning point in the series for me. Obviously it’s the point where things start to get darker and the schoolyard shenanigans begin to give way to the actual war, but it was also the point where I went from enjoying the series to flat out loving it. Even though you can tell this one is going to be different right from the opening scene those last couple of chapters completely blew my mind the first time I read them. I really never quite expected JK to go there.

We’ll get to that when we get to it, though. For now I’m not even at the first task of the tournament yet.

*****

As seemingly fluffy as the Quidditch World Cup scenes are at the beginning, I still really love them. Mostly I like this fourth book because it ups the stakes, but these happy, silly scenes really capture that feeling of being at a huge event in a giant crowd for me. There’s a palpable sense of excitement and the sort of build that you only get in a large group, and that has to hard to capture in writing. Reading this I feel the same sort of light happiness that I get when I’m at a concert or a fair or even a baseball game.

*****

Looking back, it’s kind of astounding that I didn’t see the ending coming. There’s the opening, of course, but the scenes once the World Cup goes wrong are really astoundingly dark. Like, you literally have adults torturing helpless children. Add onto that the general morally suspect nature of “Moody’s” behavior and the fact that he spells out his whole plan at the beginning, and well….

That said, it’s actually really clever how it’s done. Anytime he does something creepy it’s either paranoid and in character, done with a decent excuse, or done to characters we’re supposed to dislike. Regardless, we’re willing to accept it. And for the rest, we have Harry himself downplaying everything. Again, it’s really good misdirection, and I think a lot of that is down to the fact that JK knows how stories work and how to use that against the audience.

*****

Going back to the scenes after the World Cup, we see Stan Shunpike in the forest bewitched by a Veela. If I recall correctly he gets Imperiused later, right? Is the man just susceptible to mental manipulation?

*****

Ok, last one, and this requires some quoting:

It was common knowledge that Snape really wanted the Dark Arts job, and he had now failed to get it for the fourth year running. Snape had disliked all of the previous Dark Arts teachers, and shown it….”

Harry, honey, you make this sound like such a moral failing, but let’s be fair here. Quirrell was trying to kill you and steal a priceless artifact, everyone, including you, hated Lockhart because he was an idiot, and Lupin was a personal grudge. I don’t think it’s just that they beat him out for the job. Snape’s petty as hell a lot of the time, but that’s not really the problem in this instance.

*****

I’m beginning to remember why this was always one of my favorites: the mystery’s good, the clues are all there, and the build on the tension is both present and subtle. And like I said, those ending chapters quite possibly made the series for me. I’m looking forward to finishing it up.

Proxy by Alex London

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Proxy Series Book 1, Philomel Books, 2013, 379 pgs.

Syd only has two more years left to pay off his debt; two more years in which all he needs to do is keep his head down, keep his health good, and keep himself from racking up more in the red. Unfortunately, Syd is a proxy, meaning that whenever his patron gets in trouble, Syd does too. And Syd’s patron gets in trouble a lot. But now his mysterious patron has done something really wrong, something that won’t only earn Syd some shocks with an EMD stick, but will mess up everything he’s ever worked for in his short life. So instead of staying and accepting his punishment, Syd runs. He goes to find his patron, breaking every law and social rule his society has. Maybe then his can force the other boy to fix this.

I’ve always liked dystopian stories; 1984 and Brave New World were some of the first classics I fell in love with when I was younger, and the taste for futuristic despair has stuck with me ever since. As such, the current wave attempting to capitalize on the popularity of The Hunger Games has been good to me, even being as mixed a bag as it is. I can usually find at least something I enjoy, even in the most middling of the Young Adult dystopias.

I wouldn’t quite say Proxy is middling, though much like its genre it is a mixed bag.

This is a novel with flaws, to put it shortly. Some of them are small, simple things that are easily ignored, like the social commentary being a little on the nose or the action scenes needing a little more tension. Others are larger issues that carry through and affect the entire novel: the prose is clunky, as is the symbolism, and, in a fairly amateur move, the author has a tendency to jump between perspectives randomly to give reactions instead of allowing descriptions of body language or facial expression to do so.

The worst parts, though, honestly come from what appear to be the author’s attempts to bow to genre. Where London clearly has his own, more interesting ideas but sticks something in because that’s what you do in a YA dystopia. There’s a love story that feels generally unnecessary, and a chosen one aspect that has the same problem.

The setting, too, has some issues with this. The two main things that make this society dystopian are the presence of widespread poverty that leaves most of the population in horrible debt, and the proxy system that sprang up out of it, wherein a rich person pays off a debt in exchange for the debtor taking all legal punishments should their “patron” get in trouble. In my mind the simplest ways to get to that state involve either a general financial collapse or better technology leading to rampant unemployment, with no need for an apocalypse at all. But that’s there, as is the shining city in the center of the country, in some pretty direct nods to The Hunger Games.

And these are really only a problem because, like I said, the author does have his own, more interesting ideas to work from. In a book that was more standard I would have just accepted it, but here those nods took me out of the story and kept me wishing that he had pushed his vision a little further, really made it stand out.

Because as much as the story does have some technical flaws I did really like this book. Like I said, even with the genre conventions, London does have plenty of his own ideas and is able to create a take on a dystopia that I haven’t seen yet. This is largely because instead of focusing on a romance, or even on a strict revolution, it seems to care more about healing the rift between the haves and the have-nots and attempting to make things decent for everybody.

It’s a take that you really don’t see that often. Seemingly impossible fights against the bad guys are far more exciting for most audiences that mundane, day to day systemic reworking, so most novels focus on the former. As much as there are plenty of exciting fights and breakneck chase scenes, though, the heart of this story is in the latter.

This is a book about coming to see the humanity in everyone around you and then attempting to balance the scales as much as you can because of it.

Well done characterization and good interactions between the leads are absolutely necessary to make the sort of plot described above work at all, and London does it here beautifully, in a thousand little ways that make our three leads not only round but relevant. From moral crusader Marie, who means well but lacks the life experience to actually be effective in making a difference, to seemingly callous, thrill-seeking Knox, to wary, bitter proxy, Syd, who just wants to keep his head down long enough to get out of the system, they’re all huge, distinctive personalities. Their differences make for some amazing play between them, and there are so many details here that work so well.

The fact that Syd is black and queer is a bit of political statement that I think a lot of other authors would have shied away from, as is his continuous disdain toward, mistrust of, and lack of forgiveness for the two rich kids accompanying him, even after they’ve helped him quite a lot. I also like the fact that it takes Marie almost to the end of the book to stop thinking of him as an ideal and start thinking of him as a person. This seems so true to life to me; there are so many people who care deeply about making the world better, but aren’t willing to admit they don’t have all the answers.

And even Knox, whose background and issues I’ve definitely seen before, has his day in the sun. I pretty much always appreciate an author who is willing to make one of the leads both incredibly awful in some ways and incredibly kind in others. His journey is probably the most interesting in the book, as he goes from seeing Syd as a completely disposable tool to being the one who seems to care most about his humanity.

And as much as good characterization will pretty much make any novel for me, there’s plenty else to recommend Proxy as well. As clunky as the prose and symbolism can be, the themes of loss and debt, of what we owe to each other and to society, that grow out of them make for a powerful novel.

Learning to deal with the sort of wrongs that can’t be fully righted by a single person, both those we are born into and those we create ourselves, is a process that everyone needs to go through at some point.

Proxy is a wonderful representation of that process. This may not be the most technically proficient novel ever, but it is engaging, and it is timely. And, all in all, I really do thikg we could use more stories about learning to see the humanity in others and attempting to draw it out. You know, just in general.

#harrypottersummer-Prisoner of Azkaban Pt. 2

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As it turns out, I appear to have a lot of thoughts on Prisoner of Azkaban. Book three was far more fruitful than book two on the thinking front, and it makes me wonder why I’ve written this one off for so long. Maybe my thoughts on this series are changing; maybe this time around I’ll even like book five!

I’ve actually found myself pondering why my feelings here are so changed. I would say it’s knowing the backstory between all of the previous generation’s characters, but I’ve known that on rereads before. That is where the interest is, though, and I wonder if my new reaction has anything to do with the fact that I’m older now. The kids’ parts are strangely more boring than the background drama with the adults, and even in college I know I was focusing more on the Trio than anything else. A whole other world opens up when you focus on the teachers instead.

*****

So, going back to Harry finding out Sirius betrayed his parents, I love how in the book he goes more sarcastic and bitter than screamy. It seems to fit the way his life has been better for me. Out-screaming Uncle Vernon is probably not a thing that’s going to happen, but outwitting him or just venting are possibilities for Harry.

*****

“Your head is not allowed in Hogsmeade.”

Sometimes you just need to quote the really great lines.

*****

One of the things I’ve always liked about Hermione is that, while she’s very caring and empathetic, she’s not always the greatest about knowing how to deal with people. She expects everyone to be as logical and sensible as she is, and it leads to things like trying to calm her best friend down by telling him there’s no real proof after her cat most likely ate his pet. It’s technically true, but it’s not something that’s going to help the situation.

I’ve known a lot of people who are very like that. On some level I probably am one. It’s a nice little detail that seems very true to life for me.

I also love that Ron is the one who decides to be mature and end the fight. It’s a side to his character that you don’t see that often.

*****

On a last random note, Harry’s made-up prediction about Buckbeak flying away does come true. Ron’s not the only one who has sarcastic divination powers.

*****

IMG_20160801_195755875This week’s nerdy jewelry is a Maurader’s Map bracelet. No tutorial, because while it turned out alright, it ended up being more of a prototype than anything. Suffice to say that, given time to go out to a real craft store, I think I can come up with a version that doesn’t require three hours of cutting, sanding, and drilling plexiglass.

Still, I think it’s pretty.