Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

By J.K. Rowling

The web is full of reviews of this book; indeed the world seems to be filled to its edges with copies of this hefty tome. No doubt if you were to stack them, they would reach to the moon and back. Not that I suppose it can be done, but still. And the astonishing thing is that the book’s popularity is not the result of careful marketing, product-placement, audience-targeting, hype-spinning or media-doctoring. The Harry Potter phenomenon is a grass-roots phenomenon, to use the old-fashioned term. People read part one, and told their friends to do likewise. And then they hungered for part two, thirsted for part three and were nearly famished and dehydrated waiting for part four. And now we’re five.

J.K. Rowling doesn’t seem to have lost her touch. Yes, The Order of the Phoenix is a lot less cosy than the previous parts, and that makes reading more challenging. It’s a book full of anger: for the first time, Harry Potter begins to approach Voldemort in the anger he feels. But Voldemort should be adult; Harry’s anger is the anger of a boy in puberty. Rowling has depicted the mindset of a sixteen-year-old perfectly.

People have complained that Harry doesn’t have sex, and have ascribed that to Rowling bowing before censure. I don’t buy that: it’s perfectly normal that 16-year-old boys don’t have sex. Lots of them don’t, especially glasses-wearing, sensitive boys with a difficult past and a worse present.

The story of the book is something I will leave for you to discover (but if you don’t want to read the 776 pages, a quick google will help you out), but it is perhaps a bit flabby. I didn’t feel that there was a strong structure, more a ‘this happened, and then this happened, and then this, and meanwhile there was this, too’ kind of structure. There is a whole lot that has to happen, of course, which is inevitable in something that’s sequel number five.

One does get tired of seeing Dumbledore fired to make place for an evil replacement; equally one does get tired of Quidditch again (the matches can be quite safely skipped: indeed, Harry and Hermione skip a match themselves…). But there is interesting character development all-round, from Harry to Dumbledore, from Hermione to Ginny. And Luna Lovegood is a trouvaille, even though here it’s clear that Rowling is very limited, stylistically.

We are informed, through the incessant use of the adverb ‘vaguely’, that Luna is vague. Very well. So she is. But if Rowling had perused the works of the Master on the goings-on at Blandings Castle, then she would have had a wider repertoire of techniques to put down a really vague character.

And that leads me to another thought that entered my mind while reading. Which was: ‘does this Rowling read herself?’ — except for Blyton and so on. There is so much more fun, invention and interest in Diana Wynne Jones’ Witch Week alone than in the whole of the Potter Canon. Why is the crypto-fascist (even though Harry and Dumbledore hotly deny it, they are exponents of a world where there are Superior Beings and Inferior Beings, and the Inferior Beings have to Fend for Themselves because it is Good for Them — which is pretty patronizing and fascist in my book, and I’m not even talking about house-elves who should not be given freedom because their lot is their fate and they don’t want anything else. Heard that before, about slavery in the Americas), imperialist (where only Great Britain can lay claims to civilisation) claptrap (it’s full to the brim of those easy, handy emotive stock-words and phrases my literature professor warned us about) so incredibly popular? It cannot be the excellence of the style…

I think it’s a combination of the thoroughness of the world-building, the easy writing, the homely evocation of the boarding-school books that have always been popular, and yes, the appeal to our fascist, imperialist inner nature. Nobody imagines themselves a muggle or a squib while reading Order of the Phoenix, and nobody imagines themselves to live anywhere but in age-old, civilized Britain.

Night Watch

By Terry Pratchett

Truth! Justice! Freedom! Reasonably Priced Love! A Hard-boiled Egg! What with one thing and another, I’m feeling a bit down, and possible out, too. So I went back to an old mainstay of mine. Something I can read when even Wodehouse is too demanding.

I’ve got all of Terry Pratchett’s novels (and the cat book, but I draw the line at the merchandising, like Science of Discworld. I’m not a fan). When you see our shelves, you can even determine when I first got a job; that’s when is started buying the books in hardback. And you can determine when I got fed-up with the series. That’s when the next book (Amazing Maurice) is a paperback again.

But I fell, I’m not ashamed to say, for the cover of Night Watch. A brilliant satire on Rembrandt’s Night Watch. I bought the book in November 2002, just before I started keeping track of what I read in Fading Memories. I really enjoyed the book, considered it one of the better Discworld novels of the recent crop. I rather liked The Truth, too, but I didn’t care at all for Thief of Time. And I’ve gone completely off the much-praised Jingo and especially Small Gods. And now I’ve re-read it for the first time. I still rather like it, but there were parts where I absolutely have to skim, because the moralizing gets too much. Terry Pratchett has a vaguely pessimistic, humanistic world view that I don’t share. and he will sometimes take more than a page to expound his views.

Anyway, the story of Night Watch is simple enough. Sam Vimes, the Duke of Ankh, is shunted into the past by one of those convenient thunderstorms that were so helpful in Lest Darkness Fall by L. Sprague de Camp, and can go back to sergeanting in the middle of a rather ill-organized devolution of power in Ankh Morpork.

Death makes a few short appearances, there’s a new villain with humorous speech habits, a psychopath, and a lot of ordinary people who get told what they should do by Vimes, who seems to act rather Carrotty, and therefore succeeds. The Time Monks are rather necessary for this kind of plot, too. And Sybil gives birth to a son.

A nice read, gave me a few hearty chuckles, and quite a lot better than the awful Discworld novel about that vampire family — I never can remember the title of that one. Things happen, go on happening and are exciting, But when I look back at what I’ve just read, I discover that there’s not really a whole lot to the book. Apart from the moralizing, the theme seems to be that teaching your younger self is pretty hard, and that government by an intelligent despot is better than government by a stupid despot. Well, well, well.


Currently reading:
Multatuli, Max Havelaar,
John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting,
Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth,
E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison,
P.C Hooft, Warenar,
E.R. Eddison, Mistress of Mistresses,
Hope Mirrlees, Lud in the Mist,
Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog),
Ignace Peckstadt, De sterkte van Gods aanwezigheid,
Athanasius van Alexandrië, Het leven van de heilige Antonius.

1632

By Eric Flint

Down with flu, I tend to grab something easy, something accessible. Nobody will argue that 1632 is a masterwork. Its prose is ordinary, but racy. The premises are questionable. The mathematics suck. But it’s a rousing, fast-paced read for all that.

In a capsule: for plot reasons an Appallachian town is transported from the Appallachians to Thuringen, Germany. And from the present to the thirty year’s war.

Of course, these brave, blue-collar heroes, the finest that America has produced, proceed to kick ass and show the stupid kowtowing Europeons what freedom is all about. Kunsjt — if you bring enough hundreds of guns, a machine gun and enough gas and ammo to conquer Iraq with. That’s what I meant with ‘maths’ — I simply don’t believe that even an American hill town has enough weapons and ammunition to equip a few thousand men and women and carry out three battles.

But perhaps I’m naive.

Anyway, this book was recommended to me because it sketches, according the person recommending, a few very believable women. That’s quite true; and the men feel believable, too. If it weren’t for the snobbery about the Great American Values, the Great American Bravery, the Great American Character, the Great American Ingenuity.

That said, 1632 belongs to a particular subgenre I’m fond of; not just military sf, but the kind of books where someone has to start out with basically nothing, and builds almost a complete empire. I like reading books about people succeeding beyond their wildest dreams.

But only when I’m feeling very miserable, like today. And don’t mind the frequent interruptions when the author appears to be grinning, and gives out a bit of sententiousness.

You can buy this book or download it from Baen’s Free Library in various formats. I read the HTML version. The sequel is not freely available, except for the first twelve chapters.


Just added: Ellen Kushner, The Fall of the Kings (This was a birthday present for Irina, and she’s finished it —  now’s my turn.)

Just discarded: Nothing yet.

To Say Nothing of the Dog

By Connie Willis

To Say Nothing of the Dog has been described to me as Connie Willis’ homage to my favourite authors: P.G. Wodehouse, Dorothy L. Sayers, and also, of course, to Jerome K. Jerome, of whom I haven’t read anything yet. See reading list, though..

My first encounter with Connie Willis was Bellwether, which I liked immensely. Irina became an avid reader of her output; there are quite a few other Willis books on our shelves that I haven’t read yet. Whenever I tried to read those books, I foundered. Even To Say Nothing of the Dog didn’t grab me on my first, second and even third try.

My initial problem is that I really hated the picture of the future Connie Willis sketches. A future without Church or cats. A future where churches, even cathedrals, are sold for shopping centers. That’s a bit too close to my uncomfortable present (I live in a country where a twelfth century church was sold for peanuts to become an inline-skate paradise annex bike parking.) I felt that this future she’s sketching was in some respects a wish-fulfillment fantasy of hers. After all, there are lots of SF authors (and fans) who really have it in for the church.

When I had finished the book, I knew better. At the end of the book, the ‘continuum’ seems to have developed a mind and a personality, at least to the protagonists, and you can slice it wherever you like, something that’s outside time and space that works towards a goal becomes equivalent to God once people start ascribing it volition and personality. Especially since it kludges problems by ensuring a new cathedral is built. And used. It doesn’t matter whether you call it the Continuum, the Unchanging First Principle, Bhrama, Jahweh or God; that is merely language. It’s God.

So, at the end of the book, God is back among the people. And cats, too. And, what’s more, the protagonists, Ned and Verity, will get married and will produce children who will be christened. And they have a cat. I like books that end so well.

I rather liked To Say Nothing of the Dog: but not all the way through, and not in every place. This time, I made notes while reading…

One of the basic assumptions, namely that time travel will be seen as worthless by the great companies who first subsidized the research into the discipline, just because it’s impossible to bring objects back from the past into the present, seems ludicrous to me. Pick a sufficiently nice bit of the past, and set it up as a holiday spot for rich vacationers. Especially since time-travel seems to have it’s own built-in safety net (you can never arrive at a place and time when there’s any danger or any chance of changing history).

Throughout the book, as with Bellwether, Connie Willis inserts little historical facts that show that she’s done her homework. This time, the facts are put in the mouth of an Oxford don, but they read exactly the same as the facts in Bellwether. They detract from the atmosphere, and atmosphere Connie Willis seems to be trying to build rather carefully.

It’s a pity the right atmosphere is never reached, not even when professor Peddick isn’t present. Connie Willis has obviously read Dorothy L. Sayers with the same voraciousness as I have, ditto Wodehouse, but somehow she hasn’t absorbed them as thoroughly. Some of the details are factually wrong. Moving tables with steel wire in your sleeves demands a light table, as per Strong Poison.

And where the criminals in Wodehouse are always described as rather funny, lovable rogues, Count Vechio and Madam Iritotsky are plain nasty. Not funny at all — not even when they make a live appearance. The seance scene is tense, instead of humorous. It’s just a matter of tone, but the tone is subtly wrong.

In the end, To Say Nothing of the Dog is flawed, flawed enough to have made me growl on more than one occasion while reading, but not flawed enough to toss aside. It’s still an interesting story, with interesting characters I can easily care about, and a convoluted plot that is tied off at the end without any dangling threads. But it’s not the brilliant celebration of Wodehouse, Sayers and Jerome that I had been promised. That must still be written.


Currently reading: Multatuli, Max Havelaar, John M. Ford, The Dragon Waiting, Dimitri Obolensky, The Byzantine Commonwealth, John Dickson Carr, The Emperor’s Snuff Box, E.R. Eddison, A Fish Dinner in Memison, Freeman Wills Crofts Golden Ashes, P.C Hooft, Warenar, E.R. Eddison, Mistress of Mistresses, Homerus, Kikvorsenmuizenstrijd, Hope Mirrlees, Lud in the Mist .

Just added: Jerome K. Jerome, Three Men in a Boat (to say nothing of the dog).

Just discarded: Still not really discarded The Emperor’s Snuff Box, nor Golden Ashes, but I’m close to stacking them on the shelves again. Made good progess with Warenar and Kikvorsenmuizenstrijd.

Bellwether

By Connie Willis

We visited Denmark two years ago, and Lars Mathiesen, a friend from the  CONLANG mailing list welcomed us at his Kopenhagen home. There, he lent us his copy of Bellwether for the train journey home. And a very enjoyable journey was had by us all.

Bellwether was the first book by Connie Willis that I read; and despite her being the most frequent Nebula Award winner (does she get frequent winner points? or just airmiles), I’ve never tried anything else by her that I was able to finish.

But Bellwether is good. Really astonishly good. Not only is it very fast paced, your original late-night-turn-the-pager, but it’s also a book that improves upon rereading after you’ve let it settle down after the first reading.

It is, briefly, about a young scientist who works on fad research at a Dilbertesque corporation. She meets, through the officious interference of a moronic office assistant, a chaos researcher who works at the same corp, in another lab. And together they discover where fads come from; and that they love each other. And they win a very prestigious grant, together.

The book is peppered (maybe even over-peppered) with trivia facts about fad and trends. As far as I know, everything is correct; Connie Willis appears to have done her homework. However, everything is relevant, too, and the way the various strands grip together is wonderfully done.

The protagonists have been boldly rendered, but are not caricatures and as a reader, I did care a lot about Sandra and Bennet. The other people in the book approach caricature rather more closely, but still smack of real people, people we all know, and, not really hate, but wouldn’t mind see moving to another country.

Over the course of the story — which I won’t summarize — much fun is poked at the more laughable trends and fads and crazes of the nineties. Or at least, I think so, since I’m not really knowledgable. But even for me, it’s very recognizable. I mean, if you’re reading this book on the train, you’ll suddenly notice that two women have jumpers with finger-less gloves attached to the sleeves and a broad, silverish ring around their thumb. (And you say, damn, because you thought you had such an original cultural detail for your fantasy world.)

In short, the story moves at an admirable pace, the boy and the girl get each other, and they deserve each other, and in the end every strand is tied together. What more can a reader wish for?


Survival Problem

By Colin Kapp

Years and years ago Irina and I chanced upon a large collection of fifties and sixties sf magazines. Asimov’s, Astounding, New Worlds Science Fiction — the works. And sometimes I pick one of them from the shelves to re-calibrate, as it were.

A quick google shows that Colin Kapp is still alive, has written quite a few things since this story — his second short for New Worlds, according to to the authors profile. He was apparently born in 1929 and not able to type. And smoked a pipe:

But could he write? Well, usually when I try one of these ancient shorts I don’t read past the first page. They tend to be utterly devoid of characterisation, filled to the brim with gratuitous sexism and the speculation tends to be cheap.

Perhaps because Kapp was a lab assistant, his science is quite believable, if you close one eye and switch the brain off. The idea of a designated philopsopher is curious too. For the rest it’s a fairly standard he-man story in which an unbelievably competent person is the master of his environment.

A bit of hinting of concentration camps brings some tension, and yonks before Charlie Stross even was aware of Kashmir, Kapp lets a nuclear war break out in that locale.

On the balance, some nice ideas, especially for the time, but too many words, too many hints, too much beating about the bush, for too unsurprising a pay-off.

Nice extra: this story doesn’t appear in any of the online bibliographies I’ve found.

De Zevensprong

By Tonke Dragt

Tonke Dragt is one of more well-known Dutch authors of children’s books. Her work often veers in the direction of the fantastic, although she sometimes shies away before committing herself. De Zevensprong is a case in point.

I didn’t read this book myself; rather it has been read to me. You see, we have the family custom that Irina and I take turns reading a book to each other and the children before bedtime. When it was Irina’s turn, she proposed ‘De Zevensprong’, one of her favourites.

I have never been fond of Tonke Dragt. I dislike her style of sketching: the cover you see here is one she painted herself. I also disliked her style of writing, and disliked her stories when I was a child. I never knew why, but I think I can now touch the matter with the point of a needle.

I think that, in ‘De Zevensprong’ at least, she is being unfair to her protagonist. I am fairly sure that whenever he wanted to be smart, the author pulled him back, telling him that, for story reasons and because the plot couldn’t stand the strain, she couldn’t let him do that.

There is also a marked tendency, present in other Dutch children’s books, too, to picture all grown men as either evil, or funny. I call that the ‘daddy king’ syndrome — whenever you encounter a king in a pre-teen book or verse, he’s really daddy, and we all know that daddy is a silly fool, don’t we? Wise, smart, mummy^Wqueen not only has to clean up after her kids, but also after her husband. Tonke Dragt suffers dreadfully from this reflex.

In ‘De Zevensprong’, the Queen is juffrouw Rosmarijn, the king de heer Thomtidom. Frans van der Steg is the child, and the rest is supporting cast. I’m afraid I have to relegate Geert-Jan Grisenstijn to the role of McGuffin. With this introduction of the dramatis personae, it’s time to give a thumbnail sketch of the plot:

Somewhere in the Dutch countryside, near the village Langelaan and a town that’s simply called ‘Stad’ and a village called ‘Dorp’, there’s place where six, or seven, roads cross. The ‘Zevensprong’. Young Frans van der Steg has just been appointed as a teacher to the Fifth Form of the village school. He’s a pretty good teacher, his pupils are well-behaved and he can spend the last few minutes of the day regaling his pupils with imaginative stories.

Then he gets invited by the squire of the manor ‘Het Trappenhuis’ to become the governor of his nephew, Geert-Jan Grisenstijn. After some to-and-fro-ing, Frans discovers that Geert-Jan is being swindled out of his inheritance by the squire, graaf Grisenstijn. A conspiracy headed by Geert-Jan’s former guardian, mejuffrouw Rosmarijn exists to oust the grim count, and Frans gets roped in.

He accepts the job, makes the acquintance of Geert-Jan, who improves considerably when you get to know him better, and finally manages to defeat the count, mainly through some brave bungling.

The fantastic element in the book is provided by the split-personality Roberto/Rob/Brozem (which means yobbo, I guess), the magic or magical tricks of Thomtidom, the wholesome herbs of mejuffrouw Rosmarijn and an ancient prophecy. And a lot of mysterious hinting that never gets anywhere.

I think, as you will have gathered by now, that I think the book is flawed. Not so flawed, though, that it isn’t an enjoyable experience. Some of that enjoyment must be put down on the account of Irina’s reading, but some of it is due to the author. She does manage to make me care about her people, even about the clumsy protagonist — I literally fumed when he was time and again forced to Not Get It.

Tonke Dragt is still alive, and semi-productive. Her work has been translated into other languages, even English, but you will have to track the books down through second-hand bookshops.

The Two Towers

By John Ronald Reuel Tolkien

Right. We went to see the movie adaption of The Two Towers yesterday, and now I’m going to post my second combined  book/movie notice here. I am not angry, just disappointed. And not completely disappointed in the movie, just disappointed with certain parts of the movie. Parts of it were, in all honesty, excellent.

  • Author: John Ronald Reuel Tolkien
  • Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
  • Published: 1986 (1954)
  • Pages: 442

I have at least three English editions of Lord of the Rings on my shelves, but I didn’t choose to give the particulars of this one without premeditation. It was my first copy. Previously, I had borrowed both Dutch and the English versions from the local library. I didn’t like the book at the time. Possibly because The Two Towers, together with the (remaindered at the time) appendices, was the only volume available. Yes, that’s right. Dutch public libraries have a penchant for buying Part Two of Three of anything — or Part 3, 5, 6 and 7 of eight, for that matter. But, retournons a nos moutons, I entered the 1986 paperback edition of Two Towers in the little unsorted list above. That was my first copy, as I said. I bought all three volumes in one audacious move, even though I couldn’t afford it, and had to borrow money from my mum. In 1986 I was about sixteen years old, I guess. For two weeks I was off the map. I severely harmed, if you can believe it, my English marks, because my teacher didn’t want to believe that ‘dale’ was a word. Anyway, I’ve read Lord of the Rings about six times since then, which is not as often as some, but more than most people on this swiftly moving clod of earth, and every time I reread it, I discover new nuances, new joys, and gain a deeper appreciation of Tolkien’s work. I don’t consider myself a fan — after all, my Sindarin is a joke. But I know the book. I’ve got a handsome three-volumes-in-one bound copy printed in a nice, large letter on unfortunate paper, and my wife has the great three-volume hardback on cream paper.

I went to the first movie with some trepidation, but I was pleasantly surprised. So many details were just right, from Hobbiton, which I, being a soppy old fart and a sucker for children, particularly liked. I hated the transformation of Galadriel, and I nearly fell from my chair laughing at the Star Wars antics between Gandalf and Saruman. Really — how close can you get to the Compleat Jedi Knight?

Having heard something about the second movie beforehand, I went to the movieplex with more than trepidation. I felt as if my shoes were weighted down with lead slabs. I feared the rape of Faramir with a bitter, cold fear.

And I was right. While there are many places in the movie adaptation of ‘The Two Towers’ that are bad, ill-conceived or ludicrious, I feel
that Faramir would stand a pretty good chance if he tried to mulct
Jackson for substantial damages because of defamation of character.
Faramir — the perfect British Officer. The gentle, intelligent, underrated little brother of Boromir. Whose name alone promises that the bearer will play cricket. He never tried to take the bloody ring to Denethor. Never. And he didn’t wear that ugly little pencil-stripe moustache either. Nor did he look like a particularly mousy weasel. The Osgiliath episode is a filthy lie, and when I buy the DVD, I won’t watch it.

Enough! Other failings of the movie: Gimli is far more of a hero than a comic foil, and while the dwarf jokes didn’t all grate on me, not even the ‘tossing joke’, I really hated it when he wasn’t able to look over the rampart. And dwarves, Tolkien notes especially, are made for endurance. To pervert that to sprinting, is silly. And ignorant. The way the plot was tortured around the escape of Pippin and Merry, the banishment of Eomer, that was bad too. Sam’s voice-over near the end was very close to badness. That Theoden didn’t stay old when he came out of under the influence was bad, too — had he stayed a graybeard, his charge here, and his future charge in the Pelennor fields, would have been far more impressive. The silly staff-pointing at Theoden and the chat between Gandalf and Saruman at the time was actually damaging. How can Gandalf now rob Saruman of his colours at Orthanc? Tell me that! And I have a very, very persistent fear that Arwen will indeed have gone, and that Aragorn is stuck with Eowyn. After all, Eowyn is far too good for Faramir, in the movie.

Good points, points where the movie is better than the book: especially the depiction of the women and children of Rohan. I admit that I freely cried when the small boys were armed and helmeted, and that I cried again during the shot of the women and babies when the orcs cracked open the doors of Helm’s Deep. (Sedom, the main protagonist in the fantasy novel I should be writing instead of this review, was indignantly shouting at me that the silly Rohirrim had a thousand fine, young, strong, trained women at their disposal, and should use them. I think he was right.) There were more good points. Grima Wormtongue was very well done, I felt, and the scene where he was advising Theoden was positively Shakespearean, and I mean
that as a compliment. Much to my surprise I liked Gollum very much.
His facial expressions were so strong, so surprisingly strong. His
externalized inner battle between Smeagol and Gollum was better on
screen than in the book. The breaking of Orthanc was uncannilly
exactly like my own imagination.

As for the book; I’m rereading it right now. Again. The English is stilted in places, and old-fashioned. And very, very beautiful. I sometimes feel that there’s too much of a King James version influence. But the heroes, always excepting Aragorn, are so much more heroic, and, at the same time, so much more consistent in the book, that the book still wins. Which is fortunate, since it’s so much more convenient to read a book than to watch a movie.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

By J.K. Rowling

Last Sunday, I went to see the second Harry Potter movie. One is a father of three, or one isn’t — I am, and I had to go. So, having come back from the experience with a first-of-a-lifetime experience, I grabbed the book, and decided to do a double notice. I hadn’t been able to read a real book this weekend anyway, being afflicted by a nasty bacterial infection.

  • Author: J.K. Rowling
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury
  • Published: 1998
  • Pages: 251

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (laughably inaccurately translated into Dutch as ‘Harry Potter en de Geheime Kamer’ — literally ‘the Secret Chamber’) is the weakest book of the series. The movie is the first movie I’ve seen in years (which doesn’t say much, since I think I’ve seen maybe twelve movies in the past four years) that was really, atrociously,  inexcusably bad.

The plot, such as it is, is merely a rehash of the first book, with different gadgets, gewgaws and gizmos’s, but very samey all the same. Of course, there are a couple of nice new characters. Dobby is interesting, Ron’s father is delightful and Gilderoy Lockhart is an invention.

These characters come over very well in the movie, too. All the other dads chuckled appreciatively when Mrs Weasley put her husband down over his enthousiasm for the boys’ exploit with the car. Dobby is very well animated, moves with a beatiful fluidity. (Fawkes, on the other hand moves like a Kentucky fried chicken on strings.) And Lockhart has been perfectly cast.

So far, so good. However, where the book presents at least a basic continuity, the movie possesses none. Scene after scene appears to have approximately twenty seconds cut from the beginning, ensuring that you never quite now what the people on the screen are expostulating about.

And expostulate they do. There’s very, very little dialogue that doesn’t sound stilted, with as an absolute pit-deep depth the bit where Mrs Weasley tells everybody that they can only go to Diagon Alley. Yuk. And Yech.

The confusion about the story line starts there, or rather when Harry arrives in Misbegotten Alley, where, in the movie, he doesn’t overhear Lucius Malfoy. Why go there, then? Just to show that they can do a dark-side Dickensian London, too, not just the bright Anton Pieck London? Probably.

The movie consists of a lot of unconnected scenes that do not manage to tell a story; I had the impression I was looking at someone’s holiday snapshot album. You know the experience — “Here’s a picture of me doing the Quidditch match. Why? You know, it’s just something I do, dontcherknow. And here’s the picture of Hermione as a cat. Isn’t she a real hoot? We nearly died laffing. And this is old Albus’s room. And that a pretty bird. Only it died. Look!”

A snapshot album — perhaps a wizardly one, with moving snaps — but certainly not a movie, not a story. And the book is, emphatically, a story. Not a terribly good story, but told with a smoothness unequalled outside pulp trash.

The Blood of a Dragon

By Lawrence Watt-Evans

  • Author: Lawrence Watt-Evans
  • Publisher: Del-Rey (Ballantine)
  • Published: 1991
  • Place: New York
  • Pages: 231

I remember I’ve tried reading this book before; when I noticed Lawrence Watt-Evans posting on the rec.arts.sf.composition newsgroup that I frequent, too. And what he has to say about writing is quite often very interesting (for Usenet values of interesting, of course).

And when I saw that he’s been working on an imaginary world (Etshar) since he was sixteen years old, I was doubly interested. I have one of those worlds (Andal), too. And I’m writing novels in that setting, too. And I’ve used my world a game setting, too. The main difference is that I had been working on the world for years before I even knew role-playing games existed.

It’s a pity therefore that the book couldn’t grip me. It’s a nice world, thoroughly worked out, but so very D&D-ish, or perhaps more Runequestish. I’ve got nothing against an iso-standard pseudo-medieval-europe world, with the regulation kinds of magic and the regulation guilds.

But if you throw in a boy who makes good through ambition despite a negative ability to work magic, I start to skim. After all, little chance of finding anything, is there? The setting is already known, the characters look very familiar, too, and the familiar dance can begin. Dragons, too. And dragons’ blood as a magical ingredient. In the end, even the twists are familiar — perhaps a function of this book being over a decade old. Fantasy (and science fiction) doesn’t age well. More beaujolais primeur than vintage port.

I skipped to the end, I’m ashamed to say, and then put the book back on the shelves. One of these days I will come back to it, to investigate whether there are surprises in the middle part of the book, but now I’m going to finish Death in Springtime, another Magdalen Nabb which I found in a second-hand bookshop yesterday.