A Bit about Harry Potter {part 2}

So I mentioned the other day that I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books again.  Usually I blast through this series like a dog scarfing a hamburger, but this time around I’ve been reading them as a part of my round-robin reading style (usually library book, personal book, library book, series, library book, mystery series, and then around again), which means I’ve had a bit of contemplation time between each title, and that’s been kind of fun.  All I have left is the final book in the series, so my most recent reads were my least favorite of the series (Order of the Phoenix) and my favorite (The Half-Blood Prince).

As I mentioned before, I really enjoy these books.  They have loads of plot holes and plenty of discrepancies, but so do most epic series, so I just go with it.  However, as I also mentioned before, what I don’t really enjoy about these books (besides Rowling herself, who really, really gets on my nerves) is the fandom.  I’m an avid tumblrer, and I find myself rolling my eyes frequently at oh-so-clever Harry Potter books that really aren’t clever at all.  So, for today’s personal opinions about Harry Potter:  Why Harry Potter Isn’t Stupid and a Bit About Teenage Angst.

So one of my pet peeves is posts that go on about Harry is really quite dumb.  The one that irritates me the most (probably because it’s always pronounced with such a smug, self-satisfied attitude) is that Harry is so stupid that he couldn’t recognize Snape’s handwriting in his potions book in The Half-Blood Prince because, DUH, Harry has been watching Snape write on the chalkboard for years!  What a dummy!  Really?  That’s the best you can come up with?  First off, any time there is any mention of Snape putting something on the board it’s with a “wave of his wand” or something along those lines:  Snape doesn’t stand there and writing out the potions recipe – he puts it up there by magic.  It could be anyone’s (or no one’s) writing, not necessarily his own.  Secondly, does your writing on a chalkboard really look exactly like the writing you use to scribble notes?  And thirdly, does your 16-year-old handwriting look the same as your 40-year-old handwriting?  Egads.

The point is, Harry isn’t stupid.  However, he is a kid.  So yes, he makes mistakes.  Yes, he sometimes misses the obvious.  Yes, he has lots of regrets.  But they aren’t because he’s dumb; they’re because he’s young.  Not only does Harry illustrate his intelligence by getting top grades and, you know, defeating multiple dark wizards in his spare time, he also proves it by acknowledging that he can’t complete his mission on his own.  He has friends who complement him and bolster him where he is weak.

I think that Rowling does an excellent job writing to the age of the characters – the points where they are unreasonable or ridiculous are times that they are most acting like one would expect someone their age to do so.  Is Harry super obnoxious in Order of the Phoenix?  Yes, yes he is.  Why?  Because he’s 15 and thinks he knows everything, like the majority of 15-year-olds.  There is a great quote from Phineas, a portrait of one of the old headmasters at Hogwarts –

“You know …  this is precisely why I loathed being a teacher!  Young people are so infernally convinced that they are absolutely right about everything.  Has it not occurred to you, my poor puffed-up popinjay, that there might be an excellent reason why the headmaster of Hogwarts is not confiding every tiny detail to you?  Have you never paused, while feeling hard-done-by, to note that following Dumbledore’s orders has never yet led you into harm?  No.  No, like all young people, you are quite sure that you alone feel and think, you alone recognize danger, you alone are the only one clever enough to realize what the Dark Lord may be planning.”

To me, that quote perfectly summarizes youth.  Youth always thinks that it is the only one to have suffered in this way; Youth assumes that Age does not understand and can never understand the agonies of Youth.  And I think that part of the reason I enjoy this series is because Harry learns that his youth is not always a strength.

Like I’ve said, there are plenty of weaknesses in the series.  But Harry’s intelligence is not one of them.

Final thoughts will probably include a lot about Snape, so be ready!  :-D

Dear Mr. Knightley

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by Katherine Reay

Published 2013

So I actually really enjoy books that are letters when they are done well.  Someone told me that this was a remake of the 1912 delight Daddy Long-Legsso I thought I would give it a whirl.

In Dear Mr. Knightley, Samantha (of course known as Sam…  is there any Samantha who goes by Samantha?) has grown up in various foster care homes, and spent the last several years of her legal childhood living in a sort of group home run presumably by Catholics, since the fellow in charge is Father John, called Grace House.  Sam is offered a scholarship of sorts of a prestigious journalist school in Chicago.  In exchange for having her tuition paid, Sam must write monthly letters to her unknown benefactor (“Mr. Knightley”) telling of her progress.

So this book was a solid 3/5 for me.  It literally stirred zero strong feelings in me, to the point where I wasn’t even going to bother reviewing it.  A fine read, not a waste of my time, but not something I want to recommend or anti-recommend to anyone, either.  But I enjoyed it enough to want to give Reay another chance, so I got on GoodReads to see if she had written anything else.  While there, I made the mistake of getting sucked into other people’s reviews of this book.  To my surprise, it apparently stirs very strong feelings in everyone else, because everyone either gave this book a 1 or a 5, which I found intriguing.  As I read through the reviews, I began to get annoyed, because people disliked this book for the wrong reasons, and so, here I am, writing a review for a book that I apparently liked more than I thought because the negative reviews made me feel rather defensive.

Here’s the deal: this concept doesn’t really work as a modern adaptation.  I don’t know how else to say it.  Where Daddy Long-Legs felt natural and real, Dear Mr. Knightley felt stilted and forced.  The whole book would have worked a thousand times better if Sam had just been writing in her journal, to the point where I just pretended she was writing in her journal so I could enjoy the book more.

But most of the complaints in the negative reviews centered around the fact that Sam didn’t sleep with her boyfriend, and that really began to tick me off.  Sam ends up living in an apartment over a garage.  The family who owned said apartment are super nice and rather conservative and they have younger children, and Sam decides that she really doesn’t want her (new) boyfriend staying the night because she doesn’t want to set a bad example for the kids.  As the story progresses, Sam just simply isn’t read to get in bed with this guy.  She really likes him, but she has a lot of trust issues (see: Sam’s tragic back story growing up in foster homes) and just isn’t ready.  All the reviews saying that this was “completely unrealistic” and that Sam just needed to “loosen up” and no 23-year-old girl could be so naive as to not know what her boyfriend wanted (which, by the way, misses the whole point – Sam did know what he wanted, and she just didn’t want to give it to him), really, really, really annoyed me.  Just because you are dating someone does not mean you are obligated to sleep with him/her.  I’m quite tired of the message being the opposite, that dating = sex and that if you aren’t having sex, then you aren’t dating right.  My gosh.  Sam’s reasons behind her decision to not sleep with her boyfriend were sound and logical, and even if they weren’t, it’s her choice and she can do what she wants.  I think it’s funny that the liberals are quite insistent that everyone do whatever they want to do, unless, of course, they don’t want to do whatever it is the liberals are doing.  Sheesh.

Anyway.  The other big rant about this book, read in multiple reviews, also illustrated that people missed the entire point of the story.  Sam has been abused and neglected her entire life.  She discovered Pride and Prejudice at a younger age, and books became her escape.  She loves the classics and has an excellent memory.  When she gets nervous or doesn’t know what to say, she quotes.  It’s her way of putting up a barrier, making sure people don’t get too close, keeping her life hidden.  Is it annoying?  Yes, that’s the point.  Sam isn’t real when she’s quoting; she’s hiding.  She spends the entire book learning to grow out of that shell, learning to face her past and let it make her stronger, instead of hiding it and letting it cripple her.

While I didn’t love this book, I appreciated Sam’s growth as a person, and her yearning for normalcy.

Actually, my biggest – by far and away – beef with this book?  It’s an obvious retelling of Daddy Long-Legs, yet that book is not mentioned a single time.  I literally read through everything – dedication, acknowledgements, endnotes, you name it, looking for some acknowledgement of Jean Webster’s classic story, and it wasn’t there.  That really burned me, actually, to the point of thinking about writing Reay a letter.  I mean seriously?

This is a fine fluff book, not a total waste of time, and I wouldn’t mind reading something by Reay in the future (if she can avoid plagiarism next time), but overall I would say time would be better spent reading Jean Webster’s Daddy Long-Legs and, even better, its sequel (and my favorite), Dear Enemy.

Cruel Beauty

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by Rosamund Hodge

published 2014

In this retelling of Beauty and the Beast, Nyx has known her entire life that she would eventually be wed to the demon who has entrapped her land.  Her father and her aunt have raised her with the knowledge she needs to defeat this demon and free their world.  I love a good B&B retelling, and I liked the darker edge this story had.  The whole idea of Beauty being an assassin sounded pretty cool to me.   However, in the end, I found no one likable in this entire story, and thus was completely detached from what would happen to them.

Nyx tells the story, thankfully in past tense.  The problem is, Nyx goes out of her way to make us dislike her, emphasizing her negative qualities, dwelling on the bitterness she feels about her mother’s death, her father’s promise to wed her to the demon, her destiny to kill said demon, and a host of other things.  Nyx is a pretty bitter person, and it just doesn’t make for interesting reading, especially combined with her whining about how she knows she’s bitter but she just can’t help it!

Then Nyx heads off to the Beast’s castle, and we meet the demon, Ignifex, who is more a charming rake (actually reminded me of some Georgette Heyer characters lol) than a horrific demon.  Nyx feels an immediate attraction to Ignifex, which she calls “love” but is obviously mere lust because all she knows about him are the horrible things she’s been told.  At the same time, she also falls in love/lust with Ignifex’s servant-shadow, Shade, who can only take on a solid form in the darkness (although that seems a loose rule later in the book).   The whole story devolves into a rather dreadful love triangle comprised of bitter/conflicted/annoying Nyx, dashing/devil-may-care/roguish Ignifex, and mysterious/martyr-attitude/pitiful-yet-mysterious-attractive Shade.

Woven into the story are numerous references to Greek/Roman gods/myths, that added more confusion rather than clarification to the current tale, especially since I couldn’t tell if Ignifex was supposed to be another god, or if he was just mixed in for fun.

But it was the love triangle that irritated me the most.  First, Nyx is attracted to Ignifex.  Then, disgusted with the idea that she can feel any draw towards her enemy, she falls for Shade, the poor shadow-slave.  She smooches him a few times (at their first meeting, of course), and decides she must be in love with him.  Then she starts hanging out more with Ignifex and really likes him a lot.  A series of events and Shade does something that makes Nyx not trust  him, so Ignifex suddenly just locks him up, then he and Nyx start shagging and everything is all love and rainbows…????

I don’t know.  The whole story was choppy and confusing with flat characters.  I just couldn’t get behind Nyx as a person, and I didn’t like either of the guys either (or Nyx’s father, or aunt, or sister…), so while I continued to plow through the story until its end, it was a very meh read for me, 2/5.  I guess what irritated me the most is what irritates me the most about books that irritate me – I hate it when the characters are stagnant.  At the end, I didn’t feel as though anyone had grown has a person or learned anything from their trials and adventures, which is, to me, the entire point of writing a story.

As an aside, several months ago I read another retelling of Beauty & the Beast that was much better – beautiful writing, engaging characters, a fresh plot – if you’re looking for a good retelling, I would definitely recommend Of Beast & Beauty instead, as it actually  has a point and character development.