Posts Tagged magic
Today we’re continuing with a review of a book better known by its movie counterpart–but it’s a book first and forever. If you’ve seen the movie, “The Princess Bride” you’ll still want to read this book. For those of you who haven’t seen it or read it (do these people even exist?), here’s a little teaser:
Buttercup, who has risen to the title of most beautiful woman in the history of the world, waits for her true love, Westley, only to hear he has been lost at sea. She vows to never love again, and keeps her vow, but agrees to marry the evil Prince Humperdinck (evil, but ridiculously smart and wants her for low-handed political reasons). But when the Prince’s plans go slightly awry, and the Dread Pirate Roberts comes on the scene, it’s only the beginning of scores of adventures and interesting characters. The prologue says it best:
[Young William Goldman] “Has it got any sports in it?”
[Father] “Fencing. Fighting. Torture. Poison. True love. Hate. Revenge. Giants. Hunters. Bad men. Good men. Beautifulest ladies. Snakes. Spiders. Beasts of all natures and descriptions. Pain. Death. Brave men. Coward men. Strongest men. Chases. Escapes. Lies. Truths. Passion. Miracles.”
[Young William Goldman] “Sounds okay,” I said, and I kind of closed my eyes. “I’ll do my best to stay awake…but I’m awful sleepy, Daddy…”
Do you ever find an author that makes you want to keep reading, and you’re fifteen or twenty pages in before you realize the author has said nothing of significance? And you don’t care? The Princess Bride does that for me. And it happens while I’m reading the preface, for pity’s sake. (Side note: I’ve done this with other books too–once I read a whole 432-page kid’s thriller novel like the outcome of World Peace, and possibly the World Cup, depended on my finishing it in under half an hour. (And it took me longer than that–now we know why the world is the way it is. Sorry, folks.) Anyway, I read the last page, shut the book, gasping like a marathon runner, and thought to myself, “That was dumb.” Ah, the power of thriller novels. I was powerless to do anything until it was read cover to cover, and then I realized I didn’t even like the book. And then I read the second one! (It was very persuasive.) And this wasn’t even a full blown ax-murderer story! It was about some genetically altered kids with wings. I don’t know if I should link to it, since this wasn’t an entirely positive description, but if you’re interested, you can find it here. Just cancel your life beforehand.) Warning warning warning we are now returning to our previous altitude in the above-parentheses stratosphere. Thank you.
They say that readers have to like the narrator to like the story–and the narrator of The Princess Bride is both charming and snarky. I know it’s hard to imagine both of those together, so I’ve mined some examples for you skeptics:
The land of Florin was set between where Sweden and Germany would eventually settle. (This was before Europe). In theory, it was ruled by King Lotharon and his second wife, the Queen. But in fact, the King was barely hanging on, could only rarely tell day from night, and basically spent his time in muttering. He was very old, every organ in his body had long since betrayed him, and most of his important decisions regarding Florin had a certain arbitrary quality that bothered many of the leading citizens. (Chp. 1)
In what must be an attempt to ground the story in history, the narrator tells us whether things have been invented or not. After mentioning stew, he says,
This was after stew, but so is everything. When the first man first clambered from the slime and made his first home on land, what he had for supper that first night was stew.
and then has a small fight between the parents:
“What exactly is it dumpling?” Buttercup’s mother wanted to know.
“You look; you know how” was all he replied. (This was their thirty-third spat of the day–this was long after spats–and he was behind, thirteen to twenty, but he had made up a lot of distance since lunch, when it was seventeen to two against him.)
Tell us what you think! Have you ever read this book? Why, after all this time, has nobody been able to locate the original, unabridged S. Morgenstern version?
Next week’s book: Alice in Wonderland…
The third Harry Potter movie has just ended, and a birthday party of sugar-stoked eleven-year-old boys begins laying waste to the movie theater lobby. One boy separates from the group with a bright idea. He runs, full tilt (I am not making this up), straight at the movie theater’s brick wall. The result is a staggering, completely unforeseen display of the laws of physics, in which the brick emerges victorious. (Who knew?) After regaining consciousness, the boy’s mother asks him why, if he wanted to deprive himself of his senses, he didn’t just leap into oncoming traffic. He wails, “But Harry Potter can do it!…” The rest of the birthday party watches eagerly while sucking down cans of Red Bull. Other moviegoers begin backing away before the other boys start impersonating the hamsters from a preview.
The above is a true story with an important moral: Never, never combine sugar and eleven-year-old boys. Or at least let them wear helmets. But the second moral, only slightly less important, is that stories move us. (Literally, in this case.) Stories shape our motives and enlarge the world we live in, for kids even more so. (Just ask the hundred or so children who flushed their own goldfish down the toilet after “Finding Nemo,” only to find out Guppy was taking the Long Swim to the water treatment plant.)
It was an intense discussion for a while there, whether Harry Potter was the devil or just his apprentice. It went something like this:
Person 1: Harry Potter will turn your child into a Satanist!
Person 2: No, Harry Potter will help kids to read!
Person 1: About evil!
Person 2: No, about being a kid! It isn’t real anyway.
Person 1: YOU’RE a Satanist!…
and so on, until both are so worked up they’ve got to sit down and sort out which one of them was 1 and which was 2 all over again. Here’s the deal, folks: If, one morning after reading Harry Potter, you wake up and think that, by waving a stick, you can turn your mother into a lampshade, you have other problems. Get help now! Operators are standing by! What Birthday Boy above needed was a good dose of reality (and let me tell you, he sure got it).
On the other hand, J. K. Rowling’s “magic” is a cousin to some very dangerous stuff that doesn’t belong in quotes or children’s books, and readers better be discerning enough to know the difference. The question becomes, what are you willing to be desensitized to? I’m personally not concerned about Harry’s brand of magic unless it leads to other things.
Stories may not turn us to the Dark Side, but they influence us. So what’s more dangerous than Harry’s magic? Well, real life.
We learn about human relationships from books too, and, though I hate to say it, Rowling’s characterization is lacking. Rowling’s characters, while they feel complete and believable, don’t develop like real people. (Come to think of it, that is like some people.) Harry, Ron and Hermione barely change throughout the series. They don’t learn from their mistakes, and they interact in excessively predictible ways–Hermione nags, Ron sulks, Harry turns narcissistic. It gets a bit irritating. I find that, after I read this series I’m crabby and irritable and selfish with the people around me. I swear it’s the characters in the books rubbing off on me. This never works for an excuse (“Harry made me do it!”)–but it reminds me how much I learn from the books I read. Harry’s relationships are just as significant as his magical fantasy world, and they will be to readers too.
At this point, you’re probably thinking, if she can get this way over a kid’s series, keep her away from the serial-killer novels…
Yeah, I know, it sounds paranoid; I’d just rather read books with my eyes wide open. (As opposed to the other way, where it gets real dark and it’s hard to find your spot…)
I love these books and will end by applauding J. K. Rowling, who excels at (at least) two things: creating a world and spinning a plot. The wizarding world is incredibly well-imagined, from a bureaucratic Ministry to a highly original sport (where in the world of sports do we have a Snitch?) down to the candy names like Fizzing Whizbees and Toothflossing Stringmints. Rowling picks the kinds of details that not only sound true, but make me wish it were.
Rowling also spun a vast story that kept readers guessing, weeping, and up all night. (Um, not that I would know…) The seventh book is brilliant, really brilliant, in the way events pull together. I was thoroughly engrossed–a live hippogriff in my room could not have made me look up. Great books. But not because of character development. I can still enjoy Rowling’s fantastical plot in spite of her rather flat characters. I just wish that Harry had grown up as much as he thinks he has.
Books are meant to be shared–what was your experience of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and the series as a whole? Did you find the books irritating and inspiring? And have you ever tried to reach Platform 9 ¾ ? (Would you admit it if you had?)