Sunday, February 10, 2008

Robb = Harry Potter... and a cast of characters

Okay, ten years or so after the books started, I was finally dragged kicking and screaming into reading Harry Potter, this christmas, with the complete set and a lot of gentle coercion. For a guy who has always disliked fantasy stories, I have to admit I find them quite entertaining. I could go into this at length, and doubtless lose you about my third sentence, but I will confine myself to saying that JK Rowling has a real grasp of plotting and characterization, despite a naturalistic bent that gives her books a flavor of Heinlein, an author I've always liked (at least, I like his juvenile fiction, for their upbeat, heroic projection of people in a (mostly) rational future).

The heroism of Rowling's characters, and the way they rise above adversity are the main attraction to me. This let's them rise above the fantasy premise of the stories, too (wizards and witches in the real world), and I think this makes the story premise almost entirely metaphorical in a "Twilight Zone" sort of way -- the Twilight Zone was fantastic and often entirely unreal in the story premises, but usually psychology real in the human reaction to those premises. For instance, the story about the beautiful girl in a statist society of disfigured pig-faced people who reviled her as the deformed one ("Eye of the Beholder"). Likewise, the premise of the Potter books has characters who seem real psychologically, despite the silly magical realm they exist in, and this gives their actions a connection to reality and relevance.

Without trying to sound like a Publisher's Weekly review, I can say the Potter stories do possess a universality that doubtless will give them some endurance over time. But even apart from that, they are also hilariously funny in many spots (I was dying with laughter over the character of Gilderoy Lockhart, wizard and self-promoter par excellence, author of dozens of books, including the acclaimed best-seller "Magical Me") and quite good at keeping the stories moving -- I haven't run into many slow spots in the two thousand pages I've read so far.

The books are also interesting for seeing the growth in the seriousness of the storytelling, as the characters age in successive years of school and have to deal with the serious side of adult life -- particularly, the existence of evil in the world, the battle against which (in the arch villain Lord Voldemort and his sycophantic minions) is the theme of all the stories. Rowling also has a good grasp of teenage thinking and it's relationship to growing up in school, and the whole parallel between real school classes and ridiculous subjects like "Defense of the Dark Arts", "Herbology", and "Care of Magical Creatures" can be hilarious. (Harry's teacher in "Divination" predicts several times every year that he will die a horrible death.)

You can see Rowling's writing ability grow rapidly from books one to three, and I could say a lot about that -- it clarified my understanding of one really important aspect of plotting, which has had immediate application to my screenwriting hobby -- but I will leave that for another day.

Today I was goaded by my girlfriend into taking the "Harry Potter Character Compatibility Test". Results below. I tried to answer the 100 questions honestly, so don't think I'm just a braggart. Well, maybe a little. (Though I'm damned how it concluded I rely on my instincts to make decisions... I answered almost exactly the opposite on at least a couple questions -- must be some inference from other questions, like "thinks quickly on his feet" or "doesn't hesitate to act" or some such.) Take it yourself if you've read the books. It was fun.

Harry Potter Character Combatibility Test

You scored as a Harry Potter
You are Harry Potter. You are daring, and have quite a lot of nerve. You rely on your instincts to make decisions. You're a natural leader. You are highly concerned with justice and actively fight for what you feel is right.

Harry Potter 81%
Albus Dumbledore 78%
Sirius Black 75%
Bellatrix Lestrange 72%
Ron Weasley 69%
Percy Weasley 63%
Luna Lovegood 59%
Neville Longbottom 56%
Severus Snape 53%
Oliver Wood 53%
Remus Lupin 50%
Hermione Granger 47%
Lord Voldemort 44%
Draco Malfoy 31%