Discovering characters

03 Mar

Remember me? I used to be a blogger. Progress on both Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire and The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe has stalled somewhat.

(“Is this becoming a habit?” you may well ask. Indeed, I fear I’m turning into my mother – at least in terms of the number of partly-read books I have on my bedside table.)

I’ve been reading Further Chronicles of Avonlea (from the Anne of Green Gables books) to Rose Red. The short stories are ideal winding-down-at-the-end-of-a-busy-day reads, both in terms of length (can be read in about half an hour) and subject matter (fairly light-hearted snippets). Plus, life has been… complicated… of late, and we’ve both needed a break.

One of the interesting things I’m finding – both in re-reading series, and in comparing them to their film versions – is the different perspective you get on a story. You start seeing how the whole fits together (“oh, I get what that bit’s about now”), and you come to appreciate what the essential details are.

(I’ve commented before about differences between “the book” and “the film”. I’m coming to realise that Douglas Adams, more than anyone else, seemed to completely accept that “the story” is an ephemeral thing that manifests in myriad ways while still maintaining the essence of itself.)

One noticeable difference with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe is just how nasty Edmund comes across in the book. In the film, he comes across as petty, foolish, and selfish, but still somehow likeable; in the book he’s a mean-spirited little turd. I do hope he improves later, because I don’t want my goodwill towards him completely erased.

Conversely, what I’ve noticed in The Goblet of Fire is the deft way characters are revealed by their reactions to things. We don’t need to be told that Harry is unprejudiced (with the notable exception of Slytherin), we see it in his automatic treatment of those he interacts with. It also shows a lack of artifice on his part (which is not always helpful to him, but it does mean that the reader can pretty-much take Harry at face value – there’s no unreliable narrator here*).

Hermione, in the books, comes across as a lot less level-headed than in the films, particularly over issues like house-elf rights (probably because that sub-plot was cut from the film). She shows a tendency to react quickly and emotionally to things, without really thinking them through. For example, upon discovering that house-elves prepare the food at Hogwarts, she refuses to eat any. Now, a hunger-strike to raise awareness/convince others can be an effective method, but as she doesn’t (or hasn’t yet, I can’t remember if she does later) make it clear what she is doing to someone who can effect the change she wants, all she’s achieving is a grumbling belly and a sense of self-righteousness. From memory, she has similar “success” with her other efforts, but not once does she try to find out the actual attitude of Hogwarts’ elves, or the staff in charge of them.

It’s nice to see such nuances of character, but I’ve also been disavowed of a previous belief I had about the books. I’d felt, at the first reading, that while Goblet of Fire was significantly longer than the first three books, it was because it had a more complicated plot (and more sub-plots), not – as I felt with Order of the Phoenix on first reading – that it could use some judicious editing to trim some extraneous content. It’s one thing to disguise a clue by including it in the midst of other details, but those other details need to be important, otherwise it’s just “blarg hide the clue!” word-dumps. I’m probably being a little too harsh, but the pacing does seem a bit slow. It doesn’t need to be as fast-moving as a film, but it’s awkward that I was about 150 pages into the story before getting a real sense of what the main plot of the book actually is (viz. the Triwizard Tournament).

Still, I’m hardly a model of clarity in getting-to-the-point. But then, I’m not earning billions for writing this blog. It’s a nice thought, but who’d pay for this waffle? 🙂

* Not that Harry is the narrator of the series, but the vast majority of it is told from his perspective (save for a couple of chapters at the start of some of the books). We get insights into his thoughts and feelings that we don’t get for any of the other characters. The trustworthy narration is probably a product of the intended age of the reader, but this footnote is getting too long.

1 Comment

Posted by on March 3, 2012 in Harry Potter, Narnia, Other


One response to “Discovering characters

  1. Alison Jenkin

    March 3, 2012 at 2:46 pm

    It doesn’t matter that you have several books on the go as long as you are reading. What you are reading should alter according what is happening in your life and there is no shame in reading “light” books when real life is “heavy”


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