accepting my slytherinness

I didn’t join Pottermore for the longest time. My relationship with Harry Potter was intense, but troubled. It oscillated between shameless joy and celebration to cheek-biting scrutiny and critique.

slytherin

In one past life, I’d enthusiastically dressed up in costume and painted signs, windows, and children’s faces for the midnight releases at the bookstore. In another, I’d spent two semesters engrossed in academic study as I wrote a dissertation critiquing Rowling’s implicit versus explicit ideologies. (Seems pointless now. Ten years later and Tumblr has my thesis covered.)

Anyway, I finally joined Pottermore and had myself sorted. This seemed a needless formality. I was Ravenclaw. I knew it. I had always known it. I was a Ravenclaw, just like I was a Donatello and a Miranda and a George Harrison. There was no reason to doubt it.

In fact, since childhood, a very significant portion of my self-identification stemmed from this very assumption.

But no.

Lo, I am a Slytherin.

I stared at the screen in shock for several moments and then I told Husband, dismayed.

He replied: “J.K. Rowling wrote that, right? That means it’s canon. That’s, like, the definition of canon.”

I texted Dr. Roommate. If anyone had insight, it was a medical doctor / my former roommate. Her text back read: “That makes sense.”

What. What, what, WHAT.

How the hell did that make sense?

But the longer I thought about it, layers and layers of self-perception began to peel away. I began to look at not what I did, but why I did.

What had made me think I was Ravenclaw to begin with? Well, I was a bit of a swot and I loved to learn. But did I care about knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself?

I was forced to admit not really.

Rather, I realized that I am aware just how much knowledge there was in the world and I want it all. I want to know everything. I don’t learn something and think “Cute. Add that to the collection,” I think, “How can I use that?”

Even when I was a kid, more than learning things, I wanted to be seen as the “Smart Kid.” It was the one thing that came really easy to me and so that is what I focused on.

I had never thought it possible to be Slytherin because I never saw myself as ambitious. I had always viewed ambition on a macro scale. It was the determination to succeed and the willingness to go to any lengths to achieve that success.

That wasn’t me at all. I stuck with a job I settled with. I give up on things way too easily. When something is hard, I back away. Something in my mind simply shuts to it. I avoid, avoid, avoid.

But once I realized that ambition can also work on a micro scale, then it all snapped into place. Anyone who has ever worked with me in any capacity will realized just how over-the-top organized and perfection-driven I am with something I care about. I’m shrewd. And resourceful. And cunning? At times.

Suddenly, it made sense. It totally fucking did. I was never a Ravenclaw. I was a Slytherin and always had been.

There is a reason I quickly give up on things. It’s not laziness, it’s pragmatism. As soon as I think I can’t do it perfectly, I don’t want to do it at all.

When school got hard to manage, I closed down. I skipped class, I curled up until it went away. When film-making got too frustrating, I stopped doing it. There was something so deeply unsettling about watching dailies and realizing there were imperfections I was never going to be able to correct. I couldn’t handle that.

Perhaps that was why I retreated into writing. That, I could control completely.

And perhaps that is why I sit on so many drafts. If I don’t know how to make it perfect, I can’t let it go. And I can’t let it be anything less than perfect. I’m determined.

I’m a Slytherin.

Christ, I really am.

The Cultural Exchange

My husband knows he married a Harry Potter enthusiast. And he, himself, long ago admitted that he once-upon-a-time had been something of a Star Trek fan. “When I was a kid,” he said with emphasis, as if awaiting judgment. But what judgment was I to pass? I was well into my twenties when I spent an entire semester solely on Harry Potter and class ideology. If the internet age has given anything to the western world, it’s the ability to admit to being a fan of Star Trek without fear of wedgies, swirlies or a state of general social outcast-ery.

Then it happened, by complete accident, that Husband had just begun reading the Harry Potter series when I noticed Star Trek: The Next Generation appeared on Netflix. Whether it was a new acquisition or whether it had been there all along, only to magically reveal itself when I truly needed it, I will never know. But alas: I started watching.

As we innocently and individually began our new pop culture treks journeys, we realized what was going on. Seven books = Seven seasons. We didn’t intend on this fortuitous exchange; it just happened. Surely something magical must be afoot? Because otherwise the only lesson to take from this is: if you’re not careful with your marriage, your individual subconsciousnesses grow together into one marital hive mind.

This all began a few weeks ago. Husband has since finished The Philosopher’s Stone, which means if we are going to keep pace, I should be done Season One. But, as he warned me, Season One is a bit of a slog. “Just wait for Riker’s beard to show up,” I was told. Yet, for someone who claimed Season One sucked, he sure can quote a lot of it. Not only that, he knows the name of every episode, all the characters’ names and histories, and fun trivia facts. He even admitted to have all the action figures as a child. The truth comes out.

But here’s the catch: I’m actually really liking it. Yes, even the routinely-mocked Season One. We bonded over laughing at Troi’s melodramatic outbursts. “This gets better?” I said with a grin on my face. I don’t mind camp and ridiculousness in my science fiction, as it turns out.

As we’ve pursued our new fictions, frequent questions have oft been asked of the other, more expert spouse. Our knowledge of the other’s fandom prior to the exchange has been patchy at best. By this, I mean we’ve both only seen the films. And those are NOT. THE. SAME. Husband’s seen the Harry Potter movies, and I’ve seen some of the Star Trek ones. Including the new ones. Ugh. Now I can understand Husband’s chagrin as he whined: “But they’re not Star Trek…”

I am also discovering that so much of ST: TNG is oddly familiar. Repressed memories are welling to the surface. My dad used to watch it occasionally, and I’m pretty sure now that I saw it a lot too. I have vague flashbacks of proclaiming Geordi LaForge my favourite character and sliding my plastic headband over my eyes. I’m sure my younger sister was unsuccessfully beamed up several times.

Our questions and predictions foisted upon the other have ranged from the bizarre and philosophical to the inanely naive. For instance, I pointed out that early in Season One, I totally got the vibe that we were leading up to a big Picard-is-Wesley’s-father reveal, for which I was sufficiently scoffed at. We’ve also discovered just how geeky the other spouse can be about their chosen fandom. We’ve been able to answer pretty much any question the other has thrown out, no matter how detailed. Fun Fact: Troi’s mother was played by Gene Roddenberry’s wife. (Go on, pretend you knew that. I’m sure you did. Honestly. No sarcasm here. I’m just new around these parts.)

Star Trek is something I’ve always suspected I would like, even as the adamant Star Wars fan I was a mere ten years ago. Bah, how foolish I seem now. Star Wars is over for me. I feel like I’ve aged out of Star Wars and into Star Trek. It’s a substance-over-style thing for me. These day, I actively look forward to roundtable discussions of geopolitics rather than shit blowing up. And the Prime Directive speaks strongly to the anthropology student in me. So why have I avoided Star Trek all these years? I can’t say with any certainty, but I feel a significant part of it is this feeling I have relating to genre. It’s not cognitive dissonance, but that’s the closest analogy I can think of.

I have always thought of myself a literary writer and reader. And I am. But there’s something I find so simply fascinating about science fiction. I read all genres really, but if I have to pick one: SF all the way. And more and more of the stories I want to tell are speculative fiction based: from space operas to dystopias to any number of magic realist spaces in between. Yet why does it feel like SF, or any genre really, is at odds with “proper literature”? It feels like I’ve spend so many years harbouring delusions of literary leanings, while consuming SF as a guilty pleasure, an indulgence, even. Like I’m on the Booker Prize diet and SF is my cheat day.

They’ve always felt at odds with each other, like there is a dreaded One Day looming when I will have to pick a side. I go to readings and art-related events and everyone talks about poetry and I feel like a fraud. Sure, I know of which they speak, and I can hold my own in literary discussions, but I can’t banish this dread in the back of my mind that Oh god, they’re going to discover I like genre fiction, and then I’ll be cast out on my ass!

It’s part of why I have two completed novels, one literary fiction, one science fiction, and I’ve been gripped by panic as to which one to try to publish first. Because whichever one it is: that will determine my career… forever.

I think now, at long last, that I know. Now, I could get into long explanations about the pretentiousness of much of the literary crowd, people believing their own hype, yada yada yada, but I think, at the end of it all, I can just stop taking myself so seriously. It’s science fiction for me all the way. Yes, I wrote a novel about pirates in space, and, you know what? It’s fucking awesome. I’ve even actually got an agent on the hook for it. (Truth.)

Thank you, Star Trek (and Husband). I might only be in the middle of your shitty first season, but I love you already.

my review of harry potter and the deathly hallows part two

(Originally published at Press Plus 1)

(SPOILER-FREE, BUT YOU WILL PROBABLY HATE ME ANYWAY)

I’ve lamented before, often at great length, about the inherent difficulties that lie in attempting to review something so beloved as Harry Potter. That difficulty is only compounded when taking into account the fact that this is indeed the last film in the series. There seems to be such an outpouring of grief and/or relief over what many are calling the end of an era. As a fan, I can understand the emotions at hand here, even though the term “mourning period” seems rather ridiculous when one takes things in perspective.

Helena Bonham Carter playing Hermione playing Bellatrix = Amazing.

Is this just a sign of the times? Is this “and the heavens wept” type of reaction just another result of an arts and entertainment world that revolves around fandoms and franchises? Whatever happened, I wonder, to the one-off wonder? I remember reading many books in my childhood that I loved to death and read repeatedly, never begging for a sequel, never begging for a film version. If anything, the sequels that did exist seemed underwhelming and best left ignored. (I think most of Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. Oh, how that disappointed me.) Alas, I am starting to rant now.

Inevitably, truth be told, it is a little sad. The story has come to an end… albeit rather anti-climatically for those who have already devoured the books and know how this all shakes down. How much time must pass now before we can take the entire film series as a whole? Should it been seen that way?

This is a question beyond me, but I bring it up because Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part Two simply cannot be taken alone. In splitting the films based on the seventh book into two, it seems logical that the two films rely entirely on each other to make sense. Where I think Part One stood well on its own (and might even take the prize as my personal favourite in the series), Part Two requires its mate for satisfactory viewing pleasure.

This is the part where they make out... Wait, what? That's NOT in the books?!

I understand. I really do. All this film encompasses is the climax. I know that. I do. Where Part One was a road movie, glistening with a slow-burning tension likened to hanging on the edge of a precipice, Part Two is straight-forward action. It is a page taken directly from Die Hard: action, blood, gore, witty one-liner; wash, rinse, repeat.  

Again: I understand. I really do. We do not need to waste time building character or tension or establishing location or any of that “boring” stuff. All the great internal struggles of the characters are already resolved, so let’s just go in for the big bad! But, quite frankly, this makes it boring. As much as we care about external black-and-white struggles, it is the internal ones that connect us emotionally to any story. Perhaps this is why I found Part One more emotionally fulfilling. By Part Two, all character motivations equate themselves to “Don’t Die.” But characters do die. Many, many characters die. Many beloved characters die.

Yet the deaths are handled in such a fast-paced way that we don’t really get a chance to wallow in the emotion of it all. It’s quite shocking, actually. Just as you realize, “oh, hey, what the hell happened?” we cut away to another chunk of action. I can imagine for someone who has not read the books, it is quite a lot of take in all at once. For someone who has read the books, it is emotionally unfulfilling. Even the rewards, such as the much-anticipated kiss (you all know which one I mean), and Mrs. Weasley’s much-heralded Best Line Ever pass by without fanfare.

This was almost enough of a reward, though, TBH.

A perfect example of how well these all-important plot points could be handled is the grand reveal of Snape’s true nature. Without giving any spoilers, all I will say is perhaps this just showcases what a fantastic actor Alan Rickman is. In even a simple quiver of his lip, the man conveys everything Snape is feeling. The emotions spring forth from a tiny wrinkle in his brow like gold cups multiplying over and over again in Gringott’s bank. It was fantastic. I cried.

I must also note the unconvincing attempt to remind us the good old days: how things were before Voldemort crashed the party, when all Harry cared about was Quidditch, when Seamus kept blowing himself up. Wow, those were good times. We get subtle jokes and nods towards these light-hearted moments of earlier films, but it does not have the full-circle effect I expected they intended. Rather, it seems a step backward when really we should be reminded just how far the series has come. Perhaps in their last chance to enter the world of Harry Potter, things were played a bit too safe. The film could stand to take a few risks.

How dare you take the last cookie?!

Now, this review makes it seem like I did not enjoy the film at all. That is a lie. I did. I loved it. Watching it on its own, however, it kind of like watching the last disc on the extended edition Return of the King DVD. You get a resolution, but it feels a little hollow out of context.

But I guess that’s to be expected. Also, don’t see it in 3-D; that only makes it more difficult to take seriously.

Please hand me my tissues now.

my review of harry potter and the deathly hallows part one

WARNING: THERE BE SPOILERS

It’s difficult to offer a review of a Harry Potter movie without first providing a preface stating one’s biases. Are you a Harry Potter fan? If you aren’t, why are you going to bother seeing (the first part of) the last instalment now? Why are you even bothering to read a review? Perhaps you plan on making a game of it by bringing your binoculars and your “Who’s-Who-of-British-Film-and-Television” spotters guide.

 If you are a fan, you will see this film regardless of what I have to say about it. With that said, you will love it. Being a fan myself, I find it difficult to imagine what it could be like watching these films without the plethora of knowledge about the wizarding world firmly ingrained in several wrinkles of my grey matter.

 A quick google search reveals many Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part One (or DH1 for the sake of brevity in this otherwise long-winded post) reviews, almost all of which are penned by non-fans. Within them run similar veins of criticism, which I can’t be bothered to summarize here. Rather than try to judge this flick as a film in and of itself, I feel compelled to look at how it fares as an adaptation.

 In adaptations, what can possibly be gained by a faithful retread of the book? Is it simply to view the literal workings of the novel, verbatim? That ultimately cannot succeed, as it fails in matching the varied subjective imaginations of each individual reader, while simultaneously boring the non-readers.  It’s like seeing the man behind the curtain. When you go back and watch the early Harry Potter films, you can see that this is what seems so bland and flat about them.

With the third film, The Prisoner of Azkaban, we see Alfonso Cuaron succeed remarkably in creating a master film and master adaption. Why? The Holy Triumvirate of any compelling adaptation: Tone. Theme. Character. It’s not about plot points, it’s about the feel, the ideas and the characterizations.

David Yates succeeds in bringing these forth, which I can only imagine is why he’s managed to stick around as director after joining the franchise for instalment number five. In The Order of the Phoenix, it was the delightfully disturbing non-canonical presence of Voldemort at the train station, and later within Harry’s own body, that really hammers home the Triumvirate. Adaptation Win.

 In DH1, details regarding backstory and random MacGuffins are unapologetically left unexplained, because if you don’t know everything about them by now, there is far too much bogging things down already. For instance, do we really need it spelt out how Beauxbatons champion from the fourth flick, Fleur Delacour, ended up marrying a Weasley? Not… really. For those uninitiated, just go with it. The wedding is beautiful. Everyone is happy and together, until all becomes ruin in a fiery torment of the inevitable.

Fear not, the necessary talking points are there. All important plot points, all important character tics, all delightfully important story notes. But they are met with style and grace. For instance, The Tale of the Three Brothers, as read by Hermione, is intensely integral, but boringly expositional. Solution? A beautiful and haunting  animated illustration, with gorgeous, wispy shadow puppets.

Any glossed-over divergences in adaptation are irrelevant when considering the important moments and feelings. The dark tone is of so much more than impending evil: desperation, frustration,  confusion, anger, and all the other twelve steps of grief. This tone has married itself so well with the three main characters, who are far more fully realized here than they’ve ever been.

 It is definitely with characterization, tone and theme in mind that Yates and writer Steve Kloves have created an instalment of the franchise that both takes us away from everything familiar in the wizarding world while managing to let every familiar place and face show up One. Last. Time. It feels like a “Harry Potter: This is Your Life,” but in a good way. All warm and fuzzy-like, while also blood-curdlingly terrifying. Early deaths in the films (as in the book) are shocking and barely feel real. We seem as in denial as the characters. This can’t be the end. And no one is safe when the owl bites it.

 Like the book, what makes DH1 so appealing is one remarkable difference: they are not children anymore. Gone is the familiar structure of Harry’s school year at Hogwarts. Gone is Hogwarts all together. And gone, we are so sadly reminded, is Albus Dumbledore. We feel, just as Harry feels, that the security blanket is gone.

This is a road movie. We get to visit one gorgeous set piece after another. We get to witness one episodic adventure after another. It’s a coming-of-age genre, and this, more than any of the previous films, is a coming-of-age story.  Lacking the structure of school and parent-figures, Harry, Ron and Hermione must come into their own, find their own way. The journey is frustrating and desperate at times, just as it can be.

 They are finally adults. As scary as that is on its own (and as scary as it is to imagine that the cute little moppets these kids once were are now haggard grown-ups with stubble and “issues”) Yates keeps this theme firmly at the centre of the film. It’s subtle, but present.  A good example is an added scene (only referred to in the books) where Hermione, in order to protect her Muggle parents from Voldemort, erases all memories they have of her, their only daughter.

 This poignant beginning marks the primary importance Yates and Kloves have given to the characters. It’s the relationships between the three, Harry, Ron and Hermione, that forms the core of the entire Potter world, books and film.  

Finally, Harry is more than The Boy Who Lived. His personality is at last defined by more than his position as the other side of Voldemort’s coin. As true of the archetype, it is only now, when his wise mentor (Dumbledore) is gone, that the classic hero (Harry) can finally come into his own. But he’s not a perfect hero. Like any seventeen-year-old, Harry is flawed and confused. Yates subtly showcases the complexities of Harry at this point in his life, from his apprehensive kiss with Ginny, to his nobility-masking-insecurity as he attempts to run away from the Weasley’s house. Despite all feints otherwise, we see how scared Harry really is, and how desperately he just wants to be somewhere safe and simple.

Ron, as ever, is still playing second fiddle to The Boy Who Lived. This, as always, manifests itself in his jealousy of Harry. This film, however, takes it deeper. Ron’s feelings are far more pained and multi-faceted, combining his feelings towards Hermione, his love of his family, his fear of death, his uncertainty in growing up. As shocking as it might be, it’s quite appropritate that what he imagines Harry and Hermione to be up to when the horcrux torments his souls is certainly quite adult.

In the films, Hermione as a character has always been more complex and nuanced than the boys (or perhaps she’s just the best actor), and here we see the deeper facets of her confusion and frustration. We firmly believe at all times that she’s dealing with her feelings for Ron, as well as her fears about Voldemort, as well as her assuredly rampaging emotions at having effectively rendered herself an orphan. An added scene of Harry persuading Hermione to dance to Nick Cave after Ron has left them reflects well their precarious positions on the edge of adulthood, including all their conflicts, uncertainties and desires in a simultaneously sweet and sad moment.

It is a perfectly fitting beginning to the end.

*tear*

the seven harry potters

7 harry potters

Finally, the still I’ve been waiting to see. The Deathly Hallows ad campaign is one of those things where you really wonder why they should even try. At this point, it’s probably the safest cinematic investment any studio could ask for. Two movies? So people are paying double? Done.

I must admit though, as one of the endless legion of Harry Potter fans, I am glad that the book is being split into two films. I’m just a little pissed that I will have to wait six months between them both.