Thursday, April 18, 2013


First Paragraph(s): Don’t tell your mother you’ve been gambling,” Mr. Weasley implored Fred and George as they all made their way slowly down the purple-carpeted stairs. 
“Don’t worry, Dad,” said Fred gleefully, “we’ve got big plans for this money. We don’t want it confiscated.” 
Mr. Weasley looked for a moment as though he was going to ask what these big plans were, but seemed to decide, upon reflection, that he didn’t want to know.

Hi there, Esteemed Reader. Have you seen the new Man of Steel trailer? It's pretty much my favorite thing in the world right now and I can't stop watching it. I'm putting it at the bottom of this post just in case you haven't seen it and also so I have a handy place to re-watch it. What's it have to do with Harry Potter? Nothing. I don't care how big this blog gets, I'm still going to be me, and that's a class-three dork:)

I've often read The Dark Mark is the chapter Rowling spent the most time revising. As I, alas, am not J.K. Rowling's critique partner, I couldn't tell you for sure.  I'd love to read her earlier drafts to see what didn't make the cut (and to assure me there were rough drafts and Rowling didn't simply take divine dictation). 

Something's amiss here in Chapter 9. See how Rowling builds suspense without actually revealing what's happening for another page or so:

Harry never knew whether or not he had actually dropped off to sleep — his fantasies of flying like Krum might well have slipped into actual dreams — all he knew was that, quite suddenly, Mr. Weasley was shouting. 
“Get up! Ron — Harry — come on now, get up, this is urgent!” 
Harry sat up quickly and the top of his head hit canvas. 
“’S’ matter?” he said. 
Dimly, he could tell that something was wrong. The noises in the campsite had changed. The singing had stopped. He could hear screams, and the sound of people running. He slipped down from the bunk and reached for his clothes, but Mr. Weasley, who had pulled on his jeans over his own pajamas, said, “No time, Harry — just grab a jacket and get outside — quickly!”

Rowling could've simply started the chapter with Harry running outside and beholding the wicked wizards up to terrible mischief. But where's the fun in that? If a girl wants to kiss a boy, she can grab his neck and plant one on him and that will accomplish the goal. But if she wants him to be more likely to kiss back, she should take him to dinner and talk with him and build rapport, count the smiles in their conversation, then lean in slow for the kiss. 

Rowling could've opened with the Death Eaters marching through the campground and causing a ruckus. A lesser writer would've, but Rowling knows how to build suspense. Death Eaters operating in the middle of the night makes sense as there's more than a little Klansmen about them. Also, having Harry wake up in the middle of the night, the ruckus having already started, puts him in a vulnerable position the reader has likely been in at one point or another--or maybe you've never awoken to something big going on around you. 

As Harry hears the sounds outside--and also, in the case of the singing, doesn't hear the sounds outside--he begins to worry and so does the reader. Harry worries because of the reactions of the other characters and so does the reader. By the time Harry goes outside he's nervous about what he's going to see and so is the reader. Rowling has got us ready to be kissed before she kisses us:)

Worth noting in the passage above is Harry sits up, paragraph break, he asks "S'matter?", paragraph break, and then he hears the noises outside. All three of these actions could've happened in the same paragraph, but Rowling breaks them up and I believe she does it to create more white space. 

I've written at length about this elsewhere, but I love white space and nothing punches up the page like shorter sentences that can be read faster, thusly turning pages faster. Also, having a just-woke-up Harry say "S'matter?" as opposed to the more correct, but less true-to-the-character "What is the matter?" further convinces the reader Harry really did just awaken.

As for the racists in masks, Rowling makes their threat clear by endangering one of the reader's favorite characters:

Ron told Malfoy to do something that Harry knew he would never have dared say in front of Mrs. Weasley.
“Language, Weasley,” said Malfoy, his pale eyes glittering. “Hadn’t you better be hurrying along, now? You wouldn’t like her spotted, would you?” 
He nodded at Hermione, and at the same moment, a blast like a bomb sounded from the campsite, and a flash of green light momentarily lit the trees around them. 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” said Hermione defiantly. 
“Granger, they’re after Muggles,” said Malfoy. “D’you want to be showing off your knickers in midair? Because if you do, hang around . . . they’re moving this way, and it would give us all a laugh.” 
“Hermione’s a witch,” Harry snarled. 
“Have it your own way, Potter,” said Malfoy, grinning maliciously. “If you think they can’t spot a Mudblood, stay where you are.” 
“You watch your mouth!” shouted Ron. Everybody present knew that “Mudblood” was a very offensive term for a witch or wizard of Muggle parentage.

I love that Rowling has Ron and Harry swear and have lustful thoughts for girls, both appropriate things for boys their age, while keeping this book mostly MG friendly. It would be nice if kids disciplined themselves to read one Harry Potter book a year so that they would be old enough by the time they got to Book 7 for Rowling to unleash the full YA on them. But kid readers, like adult readers, will surely be unable to stop after just one Potter. 

In fact, one of the things I most admire about the Harry Potter series is that as soon as Rowling realized she had the attention of readers, she didn't squander it. She never quite halts the story completely to discuss larger real-world issues like slavery and racism, which, unfortunately, people still need reminding are bad (dude, seriously?). At no point do slavery and racism become the focus of the story, but Rowling makes sure she has her say on both these issues:

“You know, house-elves get a very raw deal!” said Hermione indignantly. “It’s slavery, that’s what it is! That Mr. Crouch made her go up to the top of the stadium, and she was terrified, and he’s got her bewitched so she can’t even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn’t anyone do something about it?” 
“Well, the elves are happy, aren’t they?” Ron said. “You heard old Winky back at the match . . . ‘House-elves is not supposed to have fun’ . . . that’s what she likes, being bossed around. . . .” 
“It’s people like you, Ron,” Hermione began hotly, “who prop up rotten and unjust systems, just because they’re too lazy to —”

I've always suspected Rowling likes Hermione best. I'm certain Hermione Granger is very different than the actual younger J.K. Rowling, but they likely share the same DNA. But even if that weren't true, Hermione does come in handy when Rowling wants the reader to know something, be that thematic, as in the passage above, or more practical:

“Beauxbatons,” muttered Hermione. 
“Sorry?” said Harry. 
“They must go to Beauxbatons,” said Hermione. “You know . . . Beauxbatons Academy of Magic . . . I read about it in An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe.” 
“Oh . . . yeah . . . right,” said Harry.

And that's going to do it, Esteemed Reader. I should maybe spend some time discussing Winky the house-elf being caught with Harry's wand after it's been used to conjure the dark mark in the sky--the batsignal for evil:) But the truth is I've always found that section belabored. 

Yes, it's important to implicate Barty Crouch in the reader's mind for what's coming later, but Mr. Crouch isn't interesting or likable  Also, although having Winky the house-elf involved seems a stretch as there's no practical need for her by the true culprit behind the dark mark. The only reason Winky's present is so Hermione can rail against the mistreatment of house-elves, and it feels forced. 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is still a better book than any I'll ever write, which is why we'll back next week to discuss Chapter 10. Don't forget to check out that sweet Man of Steel trailer on your way out, Esteemed Reader:)

Last Paragraph: He thought of the letter he had written to Sirius before leaving Privet Drive. Would Sirius have gotten it yet? When would he reply? Harry lay looking up at the canvas, but no flying fantasies came to him now to ease him to sleep, and it was a long time after Charlie’s snores filled the tent that Harry finally dozed off.

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