Wednesday, July 3, 2013


First Paragraph: When Harry woke up on Sunday morning, it took him a moment to remember why he felt so miserable and worried. Then the memory of the previous night rolled over him. He sat up and ripped back the curtains of his own four-poster, intending to talk to Ron, to force Ron to believe him — only to find that Ron’s bed was empty; he had obviously gone down to breakfast.

Hello there, Esteemed Reader. I hope you've got big plans to celebrate our Independence Day tomorrow or this weekend. The 4th of July has always rivaled Christmas as my favorite holiday. It was the event of the year in the small Indiana town where the Ninja grew up. We had a parade, a carnival (nothing beats a poorly-constructed  miniature coaster, its structure squealing and shaking, its operator drunk, for big-time thrills), Grandma's homemade ice cream, and of course, fireworks.

Grandma's gone now, and these days I spend my Independence Day with Mrs. Ninja's family. I've been blowing stuff up with my nephew since he was eleven. He graduated high school this year and afterward he sent us a card that would've brought a tear to my eye were I not a Ninja. He asked if I would still be around to light fireworks with him this year. Esteemed Reader, I wouldn't miss it for the world's best publishing contract. But you know I'd think long and hard about it:)

I hope you have a good holiday, Esteemed Reader, but before the fireworks, we have some business to attend to back at the old Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. As you'll recall, the cliffhanger of Chapter 17 was an explosion of emotion between Harry and his best friend Ron. I don't know about you, Esteemed Reader, but I haven't slept a night since, so worried have I been that those two might not find a way to kiss and make up. Harry - Ron = Sadness:(

Why are Ron and Harry fighting? Well, Harry's not quite sure at first. Rather than have Harry sit and think his way through it, which I spent last week complaining about, Rowling has Hermione explain the situation:

“Have you seen Ron?” Harry interrupted. 
Hermione hesitated. “Erm . . . yes . . . he was at breakfast,” she said. 
“Does he still think I entered myself?” 
“Well . . . no, I don’t think so . . . not really,” said Hermione awkwardly (this adverb is awkward--MGN)
“What’s that supposed to mean, ‘not really’?” 
“Oh Harry, isn’t it obvious?” Hermione said despairingly (this adverb makes me despair--MGN). “He’s jealous!” 
“Jealous?” Harry said incredulously (it's perfectly clear from the context this line is said incredulously without need of the-explain-my-story-to-the-hapless-reader adverb--MGN). “Jealous of what? He wants to make a prat of himself in front of the whole school, does he?” 
“Look,” said Hermione patiently (what is is about the verb "said" that invites these adverbs--MGN), “it’s always you who gets all the attention, you know it is. I know it’s not your fault,” she added quickly, seeing Harry open his mouth furiously. “I know you don’t ask for it . . . but — well — you know, Ron’s got all those brothers to compete against at home, and you’re his best friend, and you’re really famous — he’s always shunted to one side whenever people see you, and he puts up with it, and he never mentions it, but I suppose this is just one time too many. . . .” 
“Great,” said Harry bitterly (this adverb adds nothing--MGN). “Really great. Tell him from me I’ll swap any time he wants. Tell him from me he’s welcome to it. . . . People gawping at my forehead everywhere I go. . . .” 
“I’m not telling him anything,” Hermione said shortly (this adverb adds even less--MGN). “Tell him yourself. It’s the only way to sort this out.” 
“I’m not running around after him trying to make him grow up!” Harry said, so loudly that several owls in a nearby tree took flight in alarm (a lovely concrete image that enhance the dialogue without need of a pesky adverb such as "owl-fluttering-ly"--MGN). “Maybe he’ll believe I’m not enjoying myself once I’ve got my neck broken or —” 
“That’s not funny,” said Hermione quietly (the least obnoxious adverb of the bunch, but still unnecessary,  though her sales tell me that Rowling can pretty well decide for herself what's necessary--MGN). “That’s not funny at all.” She looked extremely anxious. “Harry, I’ve been thinking — you know what we’ve got to do, don’t you? Straight away, the moment we get back to the castle?” 
“Yeah, give Ron a good kick up the —” 
“Write to Sirius."

Hideous adverbs aside, I love this scene because of how it characterizes Hermione even as the focus is Harry and Ron. Hermione, it would seem, is not only the repository of all necessary exposition, she's also the Dr. Phil of the group. Hermione is obviously taking this rift as seriously as the boys, and as we'll learn, she'll later seem more invested in their friendship than the two of them. She recognizes the boys need each other even if they don't, which makes us love Hermione more.

Why though, is it necessary for Ron and Harry to fight at all? One could make the argument that this fight lays the groundwork for book seven, when the fellas have their second, more critical lover's quarrel.  But I would ask again why either fight is necessary. From a plot perspective, there's plenty of conflict in both books without these fights. True, if Harry weren't fighting with Ron, he'd just be dealing with the Triwizard Tournament, the mystery of who's out to get him, his first crush, a dragon, some angry mermaids, deadly plants, and the return of Lord Voldemort, and the story might lag:)

Firstly, there's rarely such a thing as "too much conflict," and certainly the stakes can never be "too high." There is such a thing as overly-convoluted, but Ron and Harry's spat pairs nicely with the main plot of the book. We'll be talking more about this in the weeks to come, but notice how the chaps' fight is directly tied to the major story event of Harry being selected by the Goblet of Fire. When their dispute is later resolved, it will be because Harry saves Ron while competing in the Triwizard Tournament, during another major story event. Ron and Harry's subplot dovetails with the main plot. It isn't it's own separate occurrence.

Secondly, the boy's feud stems directly from character. Rowling spent previous chapters and books showing us that Ron is jealous of Harry--and can you blame him? Even if this book were Harry Potter and the Perfectly Normal School Year During Which No One Died and Nothing Unusual Happened (Mrs. Rowling, if you're reading this, you're welcome to this title without so much as a finder's fee), Harry and Ron would still eventually fight. The events of the story force them into the crucible, but Ron's jealousy is an aspect of his character that would've manifested itself in any circumstance.

A conflict this juicy--what could be more emotionally engaging than a war between best friends--demands to be milked. Rowling drags this out over several chapters, always reminding us at odd moments about the boys' issue:

So Fleur was part veela, thought Harry, making a mental note to tell Ron . . . then he remembered that Ron wasn’t speaking to him. 

How it pangs the heart! But I see we're running long and we have other matters to discuss. Firstly, there's the matter of Sirius Black, who is a character I don't think Rowling ever quite knew what to do with after the third book. As the dangerous prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius was interesting and a story asset. But as Harry's godfather who has to stay in hiding, requiring pages of extra explanation every time he and Harry interact, he had to be a pain for Rowling--I think that's why she kills him off next book.

Add to that Sirius's subplot in this book doesn't really go anywhere, and I think we can establish a motive for murder. Harry writes to Sirius, Sirius writes back, they have a forbidden fireside chat, and that's about it. Next book, there's more of the same. Yes, I know Sirius cares about Harry and gives him an awesome broom and later, a house, and he does tie the current story to the events of the past involving Harry's parents and Snape. But Sirius never directly impacts the plot of this novel and he strikes me more as an ancillary matter Rowling had to address rather than a character she would've otherwise chosen to include in this story.

More interesting to this and every Harry Potter story is Severus Snape.  We've seen him torture Harry before and we'll see him do it again. His injustices are a constant source of conflict throughout the series, keeping things interesting whenever there's a lull. This time around, Rowling fuels the reader's hatred for him by having him attack poor Hermione after a school fight involving magic (naturally) in a way that makes everyone want to punch Snape in the face:

“Malfoy got Hermione!” Ron said. “Look!” 
He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth — she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape’s back. 
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, “I see no difference.” 
Hermione let out a whimper; her eyes filled with tears, she turned on her heel and ran, ran all the way up the corridor and out of sight.

Snape's a bad man. But that's what makes him a great character. He's the guy we love to hate. And Harry's hatred of him, which mirrors our own, allows Rowling to show us Harry's not so good-natured as to be unrelatable:

Harry sat there staring at Snape as the lesson began, picturing horrific things happening to him. . . . If only he knew how to do the Cruciatus Curse . . . he’d have Snape flat on his back like that spider, jerking and twitching. . .

Who among us made it through school without ever fantasizing about torturing a teacher or two? There's a bit more going on in this chapter than we have time to discuss this week, Esteemed Reader, as I have to be going. But I'd be remiss if I didn't at least mention the official introduction of Rita Skeeter, one of my favorite characters in the series. So I'll leave you with one of the best character descriptions I've ever read. For me, it's the details that sell it:

“Maybe not that small, Ludo,” said Rita Skeeter, her eyes on Harry. Her hair was set in elaborate and curiously rigid curls that contrasted oddly with her heavy-jawed face. She wore jeweled spectacles. The thick fingers clutching her crocodile-skin handbag ended in two-inch nails, painted crimson.     

Enjoy your 4th, Esteemed Reader, and meet me here next week when I find the 19th thing I apparently have to say about this one book:)

Last Paragraph: Harry — I can’t say everything I would like to in a letter, it’s too risky in case the owl is intercepted — we need to talk face-to-face. Can you ensure that you are alone by the fire in Gryffindor Tower at one o’clock in the morning on the 22nd of November? I know better than anyone that you can look after yourself, and while you’re around Dumbledore and Moody I don’t think anyone will be able to hurt you. However, someone seems to be having a good try. Entering you in that tournament would have been very risky, especially right under Dumbledore’s nose. Be on the watch, Harry. I still want to hear about anything unusual. Let me know about the 22nd of November as quickly as you can.

1 comment:

  1. I always envisioned that Ron and Harry fighting was well what friends do. If they never did squabble and make up, perhaps it would lessen what good friends they are. Plus it draws Hermione into the story and setups her "Dr. Phil" skills. Happy fourth to you too.


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