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Monday, July 30, 2007

Rowling regret: Never told mom about ‘Potter’
Exclusive: Author on how her mother’s death inspired her writing
By Mike Celizic contributor

Spoiler alert: This story reveals some key plot points in the final Harry Potter book.

It’s hard to imagine that J.K. Rowling would have any regrets about Harry Potter, not after her epic fictional hero delivered her from public assistance, introduced millions of children to the joys of reading and made Rowling one of the most celebrated authors of this or any other generation.

But, she told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira in an exclusive broadcast interview, she carries one great regret with her always, one that Dumbledore himself would not be able to cure.

She never told her mom about the books.

“She never knew,” Rowling said. “She would have loved this just in the sense any mother wants to know their child is successful. She would have been at every event I did. She would have had so much vicarious pleasure in seeing who I met and what I did. Not telling her, that’s a massive regret.”

Rowling had conceived the entire plot of Harry Potter while on a train trip in 1990. She began writing immediately, but didn’t tell her mother, who died that December at the age of 45 after a 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis.

After her mother’s death, the classically educated Rowling moved to Portugal, where she got a job teaching English as a second language. She married there in 1992 and had a daughter, Jessica. After the brief marriage ended, she returned to Scotland, where she lived on public assistance and wrote “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in local cafes, her daughter sleeping in a pram at her side.

The first book was published in 1997 with an initial press run of 1,000 copies. Rowling’s publisher, Bloomsbury Publishing, told her to get a day job, as children’s books seldom made a great deal of money.

But the rights for the American edition fetched an advance of $105,000 from Scholastic Books, a sum that astonished Rowling.

If her mother never knew the quest her daughter had set out on, a quest that would consume 17 years of her life and make her wealthy and famous beyond her dreams, she still had an enormous affect on the books.

“Mum dying had a profound influence on the books because I had been writing the Harry Potter series, and in the first draft his parents were disposed of really in quite the cavalier fashion,” Rowling told Vieira. “Six months in, my mother died. I really think from that one moment on, death became a central, if not the central, theme of the seven books. How we react to death, how much we fear it. In many ways, all of my characters are defined by their attitude to death.”

Who lives and who dies
And much of the excitement about the final chapter of the epic tale, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” has also been defined by speculation about which characters die.

Rowling has been besieged by questions about who lives and who dies. She told Vieira of talking to a young reader who begged her not to kill certain characters, and her heartbreak at knowing that they had already been killed off by her pen. Even her sister looked at her once and said, “If you kill Hagrid, I won’t forgive you.”

“You’re lucky you didn’t kill Hagrid,” Vieira said, and Rowling laughed, replying, “I never planned to kill Hagrid.”

But she kept her secrets well. Even Daniel Radcliffe, the actor who plays Harry Potter, had to ask about his character’s fate.

“I took him out to dinner, and at one point during dinner, he leant in and he said, ‘Look, I’ve just gotta ask you. Do I die?’” Rowling said.

“I whispered, so no one else could hear, ‘You get a death scene,’” she said.

“But Dan is very smart. And I’m pretty sure he would have walked away from dinner thinking, ‘Yeah, I get a death scene, but what does that mean? She didn't say, ‘Yes, you die,’ so I hope he's happy.”

Rowling praised the five movies filmed so far, saying that they perfectly capture her vision, and said she wanted to be first in line when Universal Studios, whose parent company is NBC Universal, opens its Harry Potter theme park.

The interview took place in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, a Hogwarts-like fortress.

At one point, Vieira confessed that one of her favorite scenes in the first book is when the 11-year-old Harry finds the Mirror of Erised, which shows the person looking into it his or her deepest desire.

“There’s something about that, when he looks in the mirror and sees his family, that’s so moving to me. If I had the mirror here and you looked in, what do you think you would see?” Vieira asked.

“I would definitely see what Harry sees. I would have seen my mother,” Rowling said. “I would be able to have a conversation with my mother.”

Finished ‘Potter’? Rowling tells what happens next
Exclusive: Author gives details on events after the book’s final epilogue
By Jen Brown contributor

Spoiler alert: This story reveals some key plot points in the final Harry Potter book. So if you've haven't finished the book, J.K. Rowling asks that you not read this story.

If you found the epilogue of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” rather vague, then J.K. Rowling achieved her goal.

The author was shooting for “nebulous,” something “poetic.” She wanted the readers to feel as if they were looking at Platform 9¾ through the mist, unable to make out exactly who was there and who was not.

“I do, of course, have that information for you, should you require it,” she told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira rather coyly in her first interview since fans got their hands on the final book.
Ummm … yes, please!

Rowling said her original epilogue was “a lot more detailed,” including the name of every child born to the Weasley clan in the past 19 years. (Victoire, who was snogging Teddy — Lupin and Tonks’ son — is Bill and Fleur’s eldest.)

“But it didn’t work very well as a piece of writing,” Rowling said. “It felt very much that I had crowbarred in every bit of information I could … In a novel you have to resist the urge to tell everything.”

But now that the seventh and final novel is in the hands of her adoring public, Rowling no longer has to hold back any information about Harry Potter from her fans. And when 14 fans crowded around her in Edinburgh Castle in Scotland earlier this week as part of TODAY’s interview, Rowling was more than willing to share her thoughts about what Harry and his friends are up to now.

Harry, Ron and Hermione
We know that Harry marries Ginny and has three kids, essentially, as Rowling explains, creating the family and the peace and calm he never had as a child.

As for his occupation, Harry, along with Ron, is working at the Auror Department at the Ministry of Magic. After all these years, Harry is now the department head.

“Harry and Ron utterly revolutionized the Auror Department,” Rowling said. “They are now the experts. It doesn’t matter how old they are or what else they’ve done.”

Meanwhile, Hermione, Ron’s wife, is “pretty high up” in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, despite laughing at the idea of becoming a lawyer in “Deathly Hallows.”

“I would imagine that her brainpower and her knowledge of how the Dark Arts operate would really give her a sound grounding,” Rowling said.

Harry, Ron and Hermione don’t join the same Ministry of Magic they had been at odds with for years; they revolutionize it and the ministry evolves into a “really good place to be.”

“They made a new world,” Rowling said.

The wizarding naturalist
Luna Lovegood, the eccentric Ravenclaw who was fascinated with Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and Umgubular Slashkilters, continues to march to the beat of her own drum.

“I think that Luna is now traveling the world looking for various mad creatures,” Rowling said. “She’s a naturalist, whatever the wizarding equivalent of that is.”

Luna comes to see the truth about her father, eventually acknowledging there are some creatures that don’t exist.

“But I do think that she’s so open-minded and just an incredible person that she probably would be uncovering things that no one’s ever seen before,” Rowling said.

Luna and Neville Longbottom?
It’s possible Luna has also found love with another member of the D.A.

When she was first asked about the possibility of Luna hooking up with Neville Longbottom several years ago, Rowling’s response was “Definitely not.” But as time passed and she watched her characters mature, Rowling started to “feel a bit of a pull” between the unlikely pair.

Ultimately, Rowling left the question of their relationship open at the end of the book because doing otherwise “felt too neat.”

Mr. and Mrs. Longbottom: “The damage is done.”

There is no chance, however, that Neville’s parents, who were tortured into madness by Bellatrix Lestrange, ever left St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies.

“I know people really wanted some hope for that, and I can quite see why because, in a way, what happens to Neville’s parents is even worse than what happened to Harry’s parents,” Rowling said. “The damage that is done, in some cases with very dark magic, is done permanently.”

Rowling said Neville finds happiness in his grandmother’s acceptance of him as a gifted wizard and as the new herbology professor at Hogwarts.

The fate of Hogwarts
Nineteen years after the Battle of Hogwarts, the school for witchcraft and wizardry is led by an entirely new headmaster (“McGonagall was really getting on a bit”) as well as a new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. That position is now as safe as the other teaching posts at Hogwarts, since Voldemort’s death broke the jinx that kept a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor from remaining for more than a year.

While Rowling didn’t clarify whether Harry, Ron and Hermione ever return to school to finish their seventh year, she did say she could see Harry popping up every now and again to give the “odd talk” on Defense Against the Dark Arts.

More details to come?
Rowling said she may eventually reveal more details in a Harry Potter encyclopedia, but even then, it will never be enough to satisfy the most ardent of her fans.

“I’m dealing with a level of obsession in some of my fans that will not rest until they know the middle names of Harry’s great-great-grandparents,” she said. Not that she’s discouraging the Potter devotion!

“I love it,” she said. “I’m all for that.”

by Jen Brown

Spoiler alert: If you haven't finished "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," you may not want to read any further.

It was widely reported that the last word of the final Harry Potter book was "scar" and for years Rowling said that was true.

In the epilogue, which is set19 years after the defeat of Voldemort, Rowling paints a picture of Harry standing on platform 9 3/4, his nearest and dearest surrounding him. In her original draft, the last line was “Only those who he loved could see the lightning scar,’” ….or “something like” that, she told Meredith Vieira in an exclusive interview.

Ultimately, Rowling felt that line was too ambiguous, begging the question about whether the scar was still there or not. She said wanted a more concrete statement that Harry had won; Voldemort had been defeated. The scar was still there, but now it was only a scar.

“I wanted to say it’s over. It’s done.”

Rowling changed the last line to: “All was well.”

“That felt right,” she said.

Rowling: I wanted to kill parents
Exclusive: 'Potter' author on the importance of death in her books
By Jen Brown contributor

Spoiler alert: This story reveals some key plot points in the final Harry Potter book.

J.K. Rowling sketched out the deaths in the Harry Potter series years ago, and from that point forward no amount of pleading from fans, friends or even family could convince her to change her mind. The death sentences were set in stone, even though writing her characters into oblivion was often personally painful.

“Otherwise what would you do? You would just write very fluffy, cozy books,” she said. “You know, suddenly I (would be) halfway through 'Goblet of Fire' and suddenly everyone would just have a really great life and … the plot would go AWOL.”

But there was one exception. When she reached Book 5, "Order of the Phoenix", Rowling decided to give a character a reprieve from death and to kill off two others in his place.
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“If there's one character I couldn't bear to part with, it's Arthur Weasley,” Rowling admitted for the first time publicly in an interview with TODAY’s Meredith Vieira. Hence, in "Phoenix", Mr. Weasley survives a snakebite … just barely.

“I think part of the reason for that is there were very few good fathers in the book," said Rowling. "In fact, you could make a very good case for Arthur Weasley being the only good father in the whole series.”

The author admits that just as Dumbledore became attached to Harry, she become too attached to Arthur Weasley. But there is another reason she selected the two additional characters, who had survived in her original vision of the story, to die at the end of Deathly Hallows in Mr. Weasley’s place.

“I wanted to kill parents,” she said, quickly adding that sounded “terrible” to say. “I wanted there to be an echo of what happened to Harry just to show the absolute evil of what Voldemort's doing.”

The theme resonates throughout the books with the deaths of Sirius Black and Albus Dumbledore, Harry’s flawed father figures. And that’s why in the Battle of Hogwarts, Remus Lupin, Harry’s only remaining father figure, and Nymphadora Tonks die, in the process creating another orphan in their son Teddy.

“I think one of the most devastating things about war is the children left behind,” Rowling said. “As happened in the first war when Harry's left behind, I wanted us to see another child left behind. And it made it very poignant that it was their newborn son.”

Why Fred and not George?
Lupin and Tonks may have taken the fall for Arthur Weasley, but the entire Weasley clan could not be saved. Fred Weasley, one half of the fun-loving twins, was another casualty in the Battle of Hogwarts.

But why Fred and not his brother George?

“I always knew it was going to be Fred, and I couldn't honestly tell you why,” Rowling said.

Rowling guessed most people would have expected George to die before Fred because Fred was the ringleader, George the “gentler” twin.

“Fred is normally the funnier but also the crueler of the two. So they might have thought that George would be the more vulnerable one and, therefore, the one to die.”

She didn’t make her decision because it was easier to kill one twin over the other, however.

“Either one of them would have been terrible to kill,” she said. “It was awful killing Fred. I hated that.”

She hated it, but doesn’t regret it.

“The deaths were all very, very considered,” said Rowling. “I don't kill even fictional characters lightly”

Staying the course
Rowling is aware her fans also despise the deaths of key characters.

There is one fan she met just before the release of "Order of the Phoenix" who sticks out in her mind. He was a little boy with trouble in his past, and he pleaded with Rowling to never let Hagrid, Dumbledore or Sirius die.

“He was definitely saying, ‘Don't kill any of these people who have been fathers to Harry,’ and I knew I'd already done it,” Rowling said. “I'd already killed Sirius and I can't pretend that looking at him I didn't feel quite awful.”

But she has had to put those feelings aside when writing.

“I am often asked, ‘Well, don't you feel guilty killing people, characters that kids love?" And it sounds horrible and heartless to say ‘no.’ But the truth is that when you're writing, you have to think only of what you're writing and make a writer's decision about that ... You must not sit there and think, ‘Well, I was going to kill Hagrid but, you know, people love him.’"

Hagrid’s destiny
Many fans feared for Hagrid’s safety in the run up to The Deathly Hallows.

Hagrid, actually, had been safe in Rowling’s mind from the very beginning. Before her first book, "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone," was even published, Rowling planned for Hagrid to carry Harry out of the forest at the end of "Deathly Hallows," believing that Harry was dead.

“It was very significant,” Rowling said. “Hagrid brings Harry from the Dursleys. He takes him into the wizarding world … He was sort of his guardian and his guide ... And now I wanted Hagrid to be the one to lead Harry out of the forest.”

Hagrid was the one character Rowling’s sister, Di, couldn’t stand to see die. The last thing Di said to Rowling before opening "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" was “If Hagrid dies, I will never forgive you.”

“But it wasn't because of her I kept him alive,” Rowling said. “I should pretend it was. I might get a better Christmas present.”

Friday, July 27, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

from: Dan Kois
to: Will Leitch, Brad Meltzer, and Polly Shulman

So Long, Hogwarts!

Caution: This entire Book Club contains spoilers.

Illustration by Charlie Powell.

Dear Gryffindors, Ravenclaws, Slytherins, and Hufflepuffs,

Before I begin, a few words. Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!

Will, you worry that those who judge the book as children's literature give short shrift to Rowling's work. I disagree with you a bit; I'm judging Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows as children's literature, but in doing so, I'm putting it up against some of the greatest stories I've ever read, stories that inspired, educated, and exhilarated me as a boy and as an adult. (Our daughter isn't named Lyra for nothing, after all; as the rest of America will discover when the film of The Golden Compass comes out this winter, Lyra is the intrepid heroine of Philip Pullman's spectacular children's fantasy series.) I hold children's literature up to high standards, higher in many ways than literature exclusively for grown-ups.

Rowling herself seems to wink at those who consign her novels to the margins with the introduction in Deathly Hallows of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a kind of Brothers Grimm of the wizarding world. In his will, Dumbledore leaves Hermione a copy of the book, which Ron can't believe Harry and Hermione have never heard of. But because they grew up in Muggle families, instead of such popular wizarding children's stories as "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" or "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump," Harry and Hermione read "Cinderella." ("What's that, an illness?" asks Ron.)

And when, naturally, Beedle's tales end up helping our threesome through their quest, the disregard some have for stories for children does not go unnoticed. Dumbledore, speaking to a not-dead, not-alive Harry in King's Cross, points out one of the Dark Lord's great weaknesses (emphasis mine): "That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend," Dumbledore says, as the stunted, scalded soul of Voldemort squalls on the floor behind them. "Of house-elves and children's tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. ... That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped."

Whatever my quibbles with Rowling's decisions in this or any of the Harry Potter books, I cannot deny that reading them has been one of the most pleasurable, imaginative experiences I've ever had. I'm eager to read them to Lyra, and to Lyra's sister, due just two weeks from now, and to see both of them swept away, as I was by so many books as a child—and am by so few as an adult. We have no idea what we're going to name Lyra's sister yet, by the way. Maybe we'll name her Hermione. Maybe we'll name her Eilonwy. Maybe we'll name her Turtle. Hell, maybe we'll name her Jo.

Thanks, all, for joining in the discussion.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

Stop your sobbing! More Potter to come
J.K. Rowling tells TODAY she will write an ‘encyclopedia’ on characters

By Jen Brown contributor

TODAY exclusive
In her only television interview after the highly anticipated release of the seventh and final installment in the Harry Potter series, author J.K. Rowling will sit down with NBC's Meredith Vieira in Edinburgh, Scotland, to discuss the conclusion of her series for the first time.

Spoiler alert: This story reveals some key plot points in the final Harry Potter book. So if you've haven't finished the book, J.K. Rowling asks that you not read this story.

For the millions in the midst of the seven stages of mourning for the end of the Harry Potter era, take heart.

In her first tell-all interview since the release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” J.K. Rowling told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira she “probably will” publish a Potter encyclopedia, promising many more details about her beloved characters and the fate of the wizarding world beyond the few clues provided in the seventh book’s epilogue.

“I suppose I have [started] because the raw material is all in my notes,” Rowling said.

The encyclopedia would include back stories of characters she has already written but had to cut for the sake of narrative arc (“I've said before that Dean Thomas had a much more interesting history than ever appeared in the books”), as well as details about the characters who survive “Deathly Hallows,” characters who continue to live on in Rowling’s mind in a clearly defined magical world.

Hogwarts, for example, has a new headmaster (“McGonagall was really getting on a bit”), and Rowling said she can see Harry going back to give the “odd talk” on Defense Against the Dark Arts. That class, by the way, is now led by a permanent professor, since Voldemort’s death broke the jinx that didn’t allow a teacher to remain in the position for more than a year.

Rowling freely offered up these details to Vieira and the 14 fans who asked her questions at Edinburgh Castle in Scotland on Tuesday. In fact, now that she is now longer burdened with guarding the secrets of Book 7, Rowling seemed to delight in discussing her plot choices and clearing up the mysteries that have previously surrounded the books.

The character Rowling couldn’t bear to kill
One of the big stories that has been floating among fans for more than a year is that one character gets a reprieve from death, while two others Rowling didn’t intend to kill end up dying in “Deathly Hallows.”

“Mr. Weasley, he was the person who got a reprieve,” Rowling said. “When I sketched out the books, Mr. Weasley was due to die in Book 5.”

Instead, another father dies in the end of Book 7.

Though Rowling couldn’t bear to kill off Arthur Weasley, that didn't mean the other deaths in the book were easy to take. Given the bloodbath that is “Deathly Hallows,” the writing of it was bound to be an emotional roller coaster.

But nothing in the entire process of the series was more difficult than writing the scene when Harry, accompanied by his lost loved ones — including his parents, James and Lily, and his godfather, Sirius — walks into the forest with the intent of sacrificing his life in the name of defeating Voldemort, Rowling said, adding it is her favorite passage in all seven books.

“I didn't cry as I was writing [that chapter], but when I finished writing, I had an enormous explosion of emotion and I cried and cried and cried,” Rowling said.

“That was partly because of the content — and partly because it had been planned for so long and been roughed out for so long. And to write the definitive version felt like a — a huge climax.”

“The Deathly Hallows” is the climax to the last 17 years of Rowling’s life, a time when she has gone from a single, divorced mother living on public assistance to a happily married mother of three and one of the richest women in the world.

It’s now time to sit back for a bit and enjoy the life that Harry has given her, Rowling said. And, when she’s ready, there’s always that encyclopedia waiting in the wings.

“I’m not going to do it tomorrow because I’d really like a break,” Rowling said, laughing. “So you may be waiting.”

Potter spell broken for fans with missing pages
Publisher says a few hundred copies of ‘Deathly Hallows’ skipped 33 pages
The Associated Press

Anonymous / AP
Scholastic Inc., the publisher of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," says a few hundred of the 12 million copies of the book are reported to have pages missing.

ATLANTA - Harry Potter charmed millions of readers this weekend, but the spell was broken at least briefly for some fans when they found pages missing from their precious copies of "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows."

The book's publisher, Scholastic Inc., says a few hundred of the 12 million copies of the book are reported to have pages missing. The gaps have left hardcore Potterphiles rushing to stores to exchange them — or filing them away as mementos of the book's epic release.

Leanne Greer, 36, had gone on "lock down" — no television, radio or Internet — after buying her copy of "Deathly Hallows" at about 7 a.m. on Saturday. She said she finished reading page 306, then discovered the next 33 pages of the book were missing.

"I just kind of freaked out," said Greer, a Purdue University graduate with degrees in elementary education and English. "My husband said, 'Why are you screaming?' He said 'I thought one of the kids was hurt.'"

Luckily for Greer, she had a backup for her store-bought copy; she had ordered another copy online.

"I'm just that psychotic about it," she said.

She tore open the package that arrived in the mail and kept reading.

Officials at Scholastic said that with such a massive printing — 8.3 million copies of the final installment of J.K. Rowling's fantasy series sold in the first 24 hours — a handful of problems was probably unavoidable.

"Printing and distributing 12 million copies of a book is a Herculean task, and it is not surprising that some books would have printing errors," Scholastic spokeswoman Sara Sinek said in a statement.

She said that as of Tuesday, the company had only heard of "a few hundred" instances of books with missing pages.

Sinek said Scholastic is happy to replace any book with a defect and advised customers to take defective books back to the place where they were purchased.

Not going to happen, said Mary Hunt, a mother of two from upstate New York who was vacationing in Philadelphia when she found the book she bought at midnight Friday was missing pages 19-50.

"Oh, no way!" she said. "I have it and I've got it safely in its dust jacket inside one of those cloth book covers.

"It's too cool — it's fun to have something people are talking about."

At least some would-be Potter entrepreneurs agree.

By Tuesday morning, several copies of the misprinted books were being offered for sale on the online auction site eBay, with opening bids as high as $30. The book has a list price of $34.99, but many retailers offered discounts of 40 percent or more.

Keeping the book was a luxury for Hunt. She'd gotten three copies and was able to swap with her fast-reading daughter early Saturday morning.

"If I had been sitting there alone with only one copy, I would have gone back to the store and screamed," she said.

Greer is keeping hers as well.

"I don't know who would buy it, but maybe when some of these crazy kids grow up, they'll want to have something like that," she said.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fans get their hands on last ‘Harry Potter’
‘It smells like magic,’ one reader says as book goes on sale around world
The Associated Press

NEW YORK - JULY 20: Fans wait inside the Barnes & Noble Booksellers Union Square for author J.K. Rowling's novel "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" to go on sale July 20, 2007 in New York City. Worldwide anticipation and hype surround the publication of 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,' the seventh and final book in author J.K. Rowling's fantasy series. (Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

NEW YORK - The books are out; the word is spreading.

“The last Potter is amazing. It has definitely gone way beyond what I expected,” Deb Kiehlmeier, 16, of the Philadelphia suburb of Cherry Hill, N.J., says of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” which was released Saturday to worldwide ecstasy.

“Harry Potter fans are always trying to predict what will happen next, and J.K. Rowling always gives them something different,” Kiehlmeier told The Associated Press.

On Day 1 of the A.H. (After Harry) Era, reviewers and readers mourned the end of a historic series that proved young people can still crave the written word like the crispiest French fry. It was a day for the sleepless and the sleepy to enjoy and to recall one last, fresh taste of Potter.

The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune were among those bowing before Rowling’s achievement. She was compared to the greats of children’s and fantasy authors — J.R.R. Tolkien, L. Frank Baum, Roald Dahl — and held in awe for living up to the most intimidating standards.

“To create such an extraordinary world, fill it with complicated characters and convergent back stories is beyond the reach of most writers,” wrote the Los Angeles Times’ Mary McNamara.

“To sustain that world and grow those characters over seven books filled with plot twists, folklore and even a magical curriculum and then bring it all to an articulate, emotionally wrenching conclusion — that is a truly epic quest.”

The AP’s Deepti Hajela called the seventh and final Potter a “classic,” writing that Rowling “completes her entertaining, compulsively readable series with a book that is both heartbreaking and hopeful, one that left this reader sad to say goodbye to Harry but thoroughly satisfied at how it all went.”

Some readers, ironically, were tougher than the critics, especially about the 759-page book’s brief epilogue. One reader on the Potter fan site even suggested skipping the last chapter, or at least reading it later so the rest of the book could be thoroughly enjoyed first.

For those who can’t wait to find out whether Harry lives, Potter fan Julie Neal advises patience. In a customer review on, she writes, “Regardless of the temptation, don’t skip to the end. It doesn’t work.

The answers to all those key questions everyone wants to know unfold throughout the story.”

For some, a magical feeling
At the Barnes & Noble in Manhattan’s Union Square, Anna Todd and Kelsey Barry, both 20, jumped up and down, screaming and hugging as they touched their Harry Potter books and smelled them as if handling a newborn baby.

“It smells like fresh parchment,” said Barry. “It smells like magic.”

Barry waited hours; others waited days. One man even risked his life for Potter. In Canberra, Australia, a 21-year-old man jumped into the frigid waters of Lake Burley Griffin on Friday afternoon to retrieve a pre-order voucher he had dropped. Paramedics found the man shivering and distressed — and without the voucher, Emergency Services spokesman Darren Cutrupi said. He was given another voucher by the bookstore.

Literary phenomenon
Potter is a pastime and a business. Before the release date, booksellers competed worldwide to sell the $34.99 book, with some cutting the price by two-thirds. Now, the re-sales are starting. On, some individuals were hawking used copies, and some new ones, for as little as $16, $1.99 less than Amazon’s price. On eBay, where just a few days ago a pre-release copy was worth $250, “Deathly Hallows” was offered Saturday for immediate purchase for $10.99.

The first six Potter books have sold more than 325 million copies, and in some places demand for “Deathly Hallows” is already exceeding supply. Taylor Books, an independent book store in Charleston, W.Va., quickly sold out of the 100 copies of the book it had put on sale.

Employee Dane Klingaman said Saturday that customers had been asking for the book all morning, but that only 12 copies that had been specially ordered remained.
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“I’ve had to turn people away,” he said. “I hate to do that if we’ve got books here.”

$10 copies
The British retailer Asda Group Ltd., which slashed the price for “Deathly Hallows” to $10, said Saturday it had sold 450,000 copies of the book between midnight and 4 p.m. and was selling it twice as fast as the previous Potter. Waterstone’s, a British bookstore chain, said that at the height of the overnight sales frenzy, staff members were serving 20 customers a second.

Even people in war zones are reading Harry Potter. About 50 foreigners working in Afghanistan got their hands on a copy of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on its release date, beating many of their friends back home.

“I sent several text messages to friends and none of them had it yet, and they all said ’I can’t believe you’re in Kabul and you got the book before us,”’ said U.N. worker Jayne Cravens, 41, of Henderson, Ky.

John Connolly, an executive with Paxton International, a logistics and moving company, bought 50 copies of the book in Dubai at 3:01 a.m. Saturday, the exact time of the book’s release in London. He boarded a plane to Kabul a couple hours later with the books on board.

“Harry Potter is released worldwide at the same time. As a logistics company based in Afghanistan for five years, we saw every reason to include Afghanistan,” said Connolly, who asked customers to donate a book to the American University in Kabul in exchange for the free shipping on the book. “It was not on the publisher’s list, that’s for sure.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Distributor mails final Potter book early
Copy of ‘Deathly Hallows’ for sale on eBay; purported copies also on Web
By MSNBC staff and news service reports

Leaks in the secrecy surrounding the new Harry Potter novel continued Wednesday, as the book’s U.S. publisher kept trying to stick a finger in the dam.

Scholastic, the U.S. publisher, issued a press release announcing that one of its distributors had mailed copies of the book to advance purchasers early, stating that some Potter fans received them on Tuesday.

The publisher said it was taking legal action against the distributor, Levy Home Entertainment, and, a Levy partner. The number of copies sent represents "one hundredth of one percent of the total U.S. copies," Scholastic said.

In papers filed Wednesday at Chicago’s Circuit Court of Cook County, Rowling’s U.S. publisher accused the defendants, based in Illinois, of a “complete and flagrant violation of the agreements that they knew were part of the carefully constructed release of this eagerly awaited book.” Scholastic is seeking damages “to be determined.”

Donna Coyne, Levy’s director of product management, declined comment when contacted by The Associated Press.

Scholastic appealed to early recipients that they keep the highly anticipated final book in J.K. Rowling's seven-part series under wraps until Friday at midnight, when the first copies are to go on sale.

"We are also making a direct appeal to the Harry Potter fans who bought their books from and may receive copies early requesting that they keep the packages hidden until midnight on July 21," it said.

Rowling also issued a plea for restraint on Wednesday.

“As launch night looms, let’s all, please, ignore the misinformation popping up on the web and in the press on the plot of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,”’ Rowling wrote in a message posted Wednesday on her Web site.

“I’d like to ask everyone who calls themselves a Potter fan to help preserve the secrecy of the plot for all those who are looking forward to reading the book at the same time on publication day. In a very short time you will know EVERYTHING!”

The New York Times has ignored Rowling’s appeal. The paper broke the publisher’s embargo by publishing a review of the book by Michiko Kakutani on the newspaper’s Web site on Wednesday.

At least one purchaser may have also ignored the author’s pleas. An eBay user claiming to have an authentic version of the book was selling it online for $175 on Wednesday, instructing potential bidders to "Buy It Now," rather than go through the usual time-consuming auction process.

Also on eBay, a user was offering to sell purported digital images of the book’s nearly 800 pages for $100. Those images, viewed on Tuesday by, are available on many Internet file-swapping Web sites.

The set of nearly 400 photographs was said by those who posted them to replicate the Potter book in its entirety. The images purport to be photographs of the new book, painstakingly taken two pages at a time from a copy lying open on the floor.

Kyle Good, a Scholastic spokeswoman, would neither confirm nor deny the authenticity of the files.

Authenticity neither confirmed nor denied
"There are multiple conflicting versions of what is alleged to be the book," she said. "I am not going to say what's real and what's not real. Nobody is going to be able to tell until they read the real book."

Good said several sites had removed content related to the book when contacted by the publisher. "They have cooperated fully not wanting to be spoilers," she said.

Scholastic also is pursuing legal avenues to catch potential pirates.

On Monday, it sent a subpoena to California-based Gaia Interactive, which operates a social networking Web site, requesting the site's assistance in removal of copyright-protected material.

The Chicago Tribune reported that the subpoena stated that "the URLs below contain scanned copies of original works of authorship owned by Rowling and Scholastic, namely a forthcoming Harry Potter book," referring to the Internet addresses containing the material.

Gaia spokesman Bill Danon said the firm complied with the subpoena, removed the material, and suspended for 14 days the user who posted it, as is the firm's policy. The subpoena involved files that were hosted on image-storage site, which is owned by News Corp.

The Bloomberg News Service reported that the material in question was a copy of the latest Potter book, and that Gaia turned over identity information to Scholastic. Danon refused to comment on either point.

The dueling Web versions differ on key points in the book, indicating that at least some are fakes known as "fanfic" — entirely different books written by imitators. And their purported endings are as much at odds as the teenage wizard Harry and Voldemort, the villain in the Potter books.

Dueling endings
Last month, a hacker who identified himself as “Gabriel” claimed to have broken into the computer system of British publisher Bloomsbury PLC and posted what he claimed were key plot points, including the deaths of two central characters in the series.

Another version that surfaced this week said that no fewer than five characters die in a violent climax.

The version that surfaced Tuesday had a very different outcome, with three characters dying.

Rowling, author of the sensationally popular series, has said two major characters will die but has begged the public not to give away the ending to her seventh and final Potter book.

Fan sites such as and have vowed to keep spoilers away.

“A lot of our tips about spoilers are coming from fans,” said Good, spokeswoman for Scholastic. “There’s a groundswell from fans who find these links and send them to us, saying, ‘I’m not going to look at this, but somebody told me about it.”’

The London Telegraph reported last month that British publisher Bloomsbury had spent 10 million pounds (about $24.6 million U.S.) mounting a security operation that included an army of guards, satellite tracking systems and draconian legal contracts aimed at preventing the book from being leaked.

The publisher had reason to be nervous.

A printing plant worker in Britain was sentenced to 180 hours' community service after attempting to sell three chapters of Potter book five to a tabloid in 2003.

Two years later, a handful of copies of book six were sold early in Canada, prompting the distributor there to apply for a court injunction barring buyers from disclosing the plot.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Is Potter's foe, Severus Snape, good or evil?
There's a third possibility: Maybe he's just in it for himself
By Craig Berman
MSNBC contributor

Alan Rickman has made Snape convincingly nasty in the Harry Potter movies, but does the teacher really have a secret good side?

The big question Harry Potter fans have been asking is whether the title character lives or dies in the final book. That answer may be determined by the answer to a question asked no less often: Is Severus Snape good or evil?

The subject of Snape’s loyalty has been hotly debated by both characters and readers. Other characters are more beloved, but none are more controversial.

In Snape, J.K. Rowling has created one of the great characters of modern children's literature. Not only is he the most complex figure in the series, but Rowling has given him abilities that allow him to take on any story arc without contradicting himself. Add to this the fact that he’s played in the movies by the legendary Alan Rickman, willing and able to turn the smallest word or gesture into something sinister, and it’s no wonder that his role has been so fascinating.
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The battle lines between Potter’s Order of the Phoenix and Voldemort’s Death Eaters have been clearly drawn. Most of the wizarding world rests securely on one side or the other. Snape, however, is outwardly loyal to both, but trusted entirely by neither. He could be a double agent, a triple agent, or simply an opportunist. But who he really is, and what motivates him, will determine much of how the last chapter of the Harry Potter saga plays out.

Which side is he on?
When the last book left off, Snape had fled Hogwarts with the rest of the Death Eaters, having apparently just killed the heroic Aldus Dumbledore with an unforgivable curse. The fact that there’s still an argument about Snape's place in the moral universe after that is a testament to his complex character.

Alone among the major characters, Snape's motivations are entirely unclear even now. He has powerful friends and suspicious enemies, with Harry Potter entering the seventh book firmly in the latter camp. It’s entirely possible that Snape killed Dumbledore in the name of good, and also possible that he’s been helping Potter and the Order of the Phoenix in the name of evil.

Snape is considered as an expert on Occlumency, the art of protecting one’s mind from being invaded by outside influence. He’s also skilled at Legilimency, the ability to determine the thoughts of another. In layman’s terms, he can both read minds and keep his own from being invaded. By using these skills to disguise his true loyalties, he’s been able to trick Dumbledore, Voldemort, and perhaps both.

The fact that he’s earned the trust and patronage of these two great wizards has allowed him to survive in a setting where so many mistrust him. Any questioning of his motivations throughout the series have been met with the same general argument: Dumbledore/Voldemort trusts him, so shouldn’t you? One of them, at least, has been critically wrong in granting that trust.

Holding a grudge
And whether or not he is ultimately on Harry’s side or not, it’s clear that Snape has a personal dislike for the child of one of his former tormentors. Snape sees the sins of Harry’s father, James, whenever he looks at the younger Potter. Because those sins tended to involve Snape being embarrassed and ridiculed, he’s withering in his criticisms and quick to pass out demerits at the slightest provocation. Since readers view most of the books through Harry’s viewpoint, it’s no wonder that he’s not a very sympathetic person.

From Snape’s perspective, he may be treating Harry with an extreme form of tough love to prepare him to survive what awaits him outside of Hogwarts. Plenty of real-world parents have brutal relationships with their children while still having the offspring’s best interests at heart.

But that's a very charitable interpretation of the facts. Snape and Harry plain don’t like each other, as evidenced by the fiasco that was their private lessons in “Order of the Phoenix.” If Snape is in fact helping Harry, he’s doing so out of duty, not pleasure.

That’s no surprise, since Snape is not one to put on a happy face when dealing with someone he dislikes or can’t respect. He’s not willing or able to forget personal grudges. Part of the mistrust Harry feels about Snape has been engendered by the fact that the two years Sirius Black spent out of Azkaban before being (apparently) killed were spent with Sirius and Snape renewing their old Hogwarts rivalry.

Snape has never been shy about his loathing for Harry’s father, or the crew of friends James Potter hung out with at Hogwarts. That has little to do with their current loyalties; he treats Peter Pettigrew, who joined the Death Eaters and ultimately betrayed the Potters to Voldemort, with similar disdain.

Playing both sides?
Countless essays have been written to justify both positions, but the essentials can be boiled down to a couple of sentences.

Snape is good: He’s had every chance to kill Harry during his six years in Hogwarts and hasn’t done so, and instead he’s helped Harry stay alive through his lessons and his active participation in fighting dark forces. Dumbledore trusted him and they must have had a prearranged agreement that Snape was to slay the Hogwarts Headmaster if provoked.

Snape is evil: He’s a Death Eater, he has a longstanding grudge against Harry’s father, he’s been nothing but nasty to the boy since his arrival, and he’s generally an unpleasant fellow to be around. Oh, and by the way, he killed Dumbledore!

Each side has its fervent admirers, but there’s a third possibility as well: that Snape is on neither side, but has been serving his own interests throughout.

Every time Snape has a chance to fully commit to one side or the other, he pulls back just enough to leave things in doubt. He claims to take orders from Dumbledore and Voldemort, but sits outside the traditional hierarchy in both groups and doesn’t seem to respect anyone else enough to be anything more than civil in their presence.

Moreover, Snape has a knack for doing just enough to win trust and engender suspicion at the same time. Without his warning to the Order of the Phoenix about Harry's predicament at the Ministry of Magic in the series’ fifth book, the Hogwarts friends might have been overwhelmed and killed. But Snape’s delay in sending help likely contributed to the death of Sirius Black.

On the other hand, Snape swears an unbreakable oath to Narcissa Malfoy in the sixth book, after answering invasive questions from a skeptical Bellatrix Lastrange questioning his loyalty, and then follows that up by killing Dumbledore. But his answers to Bellatrix are generally a fancy way of saying “Voldemort trusts me, so you should too.” And he fails to kill Harry when he has the chance at the end of “Half-Blood Prince.” The fact remains that Snape has been Harry’s teacher for six years, with greater access to his person than anyone else with the Dark Mark, and has never tried to kill him or deliver him to Voldemort. When Harry has been in grave danger in Hogwarts, it’s been at the hands of other characters.

Love for Lily?
One object of speculation over the Internet has been the relationship between Snape and Harry’s parents. There was no love lost between Snape and James Potter’s group of friends, and it’s doubtful he shed a tear when Sirius was killed.

But what about Harry's mother, Lily? Could a failed relationship or an unrequited love, and lingering guilt that he may have contributed to her death, be a source of conflict to Snape now?

For six books, Snape has been whatever the reader wants him to be. There’s evidence of his goodness, and evidence that he’s evil. Finally, with the release of the final book in the series, Rowling has final say.

Rowling sobbed while writing end to ‘Potter’
Author reveals during interview that 'scar' no longer last word in final book
Reuters Limited

Lefteris Pitarakis / AP
Author JK Rowling said that the character Harry Potter was ”totally imaginary” and not based on anyone during an interview with the BBC.

LONDON - Best-selling author J.K. Rowling revealed how she broke down in tears during the completion of her final book in the Harry Potter series.

She also tells interviewer Jonathan Ross how she changed the last word in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” at the 11th hour.

“When I finished one chapter near the end I absolutely howled,” she told the BBC television presenter.

She finished the book alone in a hotel room.

“I was sobbing my heart out — I downed half a bottle of champagne from the mini bar in one and went home with mascara all over my face. That was really tough.”

The Deathly Hallows is the seventh and final book about the schoolboy wizard Harry Potter and his Hogwarts friends.

The plots have taken a darker turn and Rowling has in the past revealed that she would kill off at least two of the main characters.

When asked by the chat show host whether the word “scar” was still the last word in the book, as had been reported, she said: “Scar? It was for ages, and now it’s not.

“Scar is quite near the end, but it’s not the last word.”

Harry Potter has a lightning bolt scar on his forehead as a result of a failed curse by the wicked wizard Lord Voldemort.

Rowling also revealed that the character Harry Potter was ”totally imaginary” and not based on anyone.

His red-haired pal Ron Weasley was a lot like her oldest friend Sean though, she confessed.

More than 325 million copies of the first six books have been sold worldwide, helping to turn Rowling into the first dollar-billionaire author.

An all-British cast seemed to be a point of pride for her as she admitted it had been a “hell of an achievement.”

Stars who have appeared in the five films, including the latest “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” include Maggie Smith, Robbie Coltrane, Julie Walters, Richard Harris, Imelda Staunton, Alan Rickman and Ralph Fiennes.

The film had its premiere in London this week.

The Deathly Hallows appears on the bookshelves on July 21, but 1.6 million copies have been pre-ordered online.

Will Harry Potter survive ‘Deathly Hallows’?
Yes, bespectacled hero could die — but maybe death isn't permanent
By Ree Hines
MSNBC contributor

Robin Seiler-Garman, 12, reads a Harry Potter book as she waits in line with her brother Peter, 7, before entering the Harry Potter Knight bus in front of the San Francisco public library main branch. Will Potter's young fans be devastated if their hero is killed off?
Jeff Chiu / AP

The end is nigh, as J.K. Rowling’s seventh and final installment in the “Harry Potter” series hits stores July 21. With the epic’s closure, fans of the Wizarding world can expect loose ends to be tied up and long-held mysteries to finally find resolution. But some answers can’t come soon enough.

There’s one mystery so anticipated and hotly debated that it eclipses all others. It’s not about the whether good will conquer evil in the end. That’s safe enough to assume. The big question is, at what cost? The release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” could mark more than just the end of the story. It might just mean the end of the much-loved bespectacled protagonist himself.

But would the author of the top selling magical franchise really kill off Harry Potter? Reader opinion be damned, Rowling’s never shied away from an unpopular fatality. Just ask fans who still get a bit weepy at the mention of Dumbledore’s name. Or Sirius Black’s, for that matter. That’s not to say Harry’s untimely passing is a given, but it’s one of the possibilities.
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In the direction of demise
A noble trait can also be a deadly one; such is Harry’s tendency toward self-sacrifice and rushing in to dangerous situations sans fear. Time and time again, flying in the face of advice from friends and mentors, he’s charged on impulse, blindly driven to right wrongs.

But in the past protections were in place to save him while he went on with the business of saving the day. Now Dumbledore’s safeguard of the house on Privet Drive is set to expire, and the love of Harry’s mother can no longer prevent the ultimate evil from touching him. How will he fare without those shields in place the next time he faces Voldemort?

It’s that final battle with the Dark Lord that poses the greatest risk to the young wizard. There’s no doubt that Voldemort’s days are numbered, but can the Big Bad fall while Harry lives?

The two share a bond that neither fully understands, from their rare ability to speak in parseltongue, the language of snakes, to their twinned wands, each containing a feather from the same phoenix. And then, connecting them more than ever before, Voldemort used Harry’s blood to restore his physical form. Perhaps the only way to finish He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is for Harry to die as well.

Playing into that theory is the quest that began near the end of book six: the search for the horcruxes. In order to gain immortality, Voldemort split his soul between several magical artifacts, using acts of murder to imbue them. Each of these horcruxes must be found and destroyed before he can be killed. Not all have been identified at this point, but one important clue is that a horcrux can be a living thing. Maybe Harry himself, the lone survivor in the attack on his family, contains a piece of Voldemort’s essence. If true, his death could be vital.

Hopeful horizons
Before fans flood Rowling with scarlet howlers in anticipation of Harry’s end, consider the arguments for his survival. As dark as it looks for “The Boy Who Lived,” he earned that moniker for a reason. His legacy has been to exist beyond all odds. He can’t simply become “The Boy Who Lived Until He Didn’t.”

What sort of story would that make? "There once was an orphaned boy who had a horrible life. It got a little better, but it was still a struggle filled with constant risks. Lots of people he cared about died. Then the boy died. The end."

There has to be a bright spot for Harry to finally make all his suffering worthwhile. Not to mention that a story bookended with the deaths of good guys is hardly a reader-pleasing recipe.

Even without all that working in Harry’s favor, there’s the prophecy. In “The Order of the Phoenix,” one of the rare instances of actual divination from Professor Trelawney relates the terms of the final face-off. “Either must die at the hand of the other, for neither can live while the other survives.” This hints that only one party need die to satisfy the prophecy. And since the story isn’t called “Voldemort and the Deathly Hallows,” it’s looking good for Harry.

Not all deaths are fatal
In a world of magic, almost anything is possible. Even if Harry checks out, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s over. In fact, it would be a fitting step in this hero’s journey if just such a thing happened. The hero dies, but comes back changed from the experience.

A more symbolic passing is another option for Harry. Death can mean many things, all dealing with loss and profound change. If he turns to the dark side, rids himself of the scar Voldemort branded him with, or loses his powers all together, it would mean the death of the chosen one, even if the boy behind the myth still lived.

Then again, maybe Rowling has devised a way for Harry to give up the ghost, and yet somehow not leave the masses sobbing at the loss. Long before writing book seven, she announced that the epilogue was already complete. It’s the end after the end, which promises to reveal what happens in the lives of those that survive the drama of the final battle. This could be where Harry dies, not at the hands of his old nemesis, but in the distant future, after a life well lived.

Harry's pals must face ‘Deathly Hallows’ too
Some characters may lose their lives, others could become heroes
By Ree Hines
MSNBC contributor

Ron and Hermione have stood by Harry Potter all along. But will all three make it out alive?

While most of the buzz leading up to the July 21 release of “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” is all about the fate of the story’s namesake, he’s hardly the only one facing grave danger. Author J.K. Rowling has warned that this, her seventh Potter tome, will be a deadly volume.

At the close of the last installment, “The Half-Blood Prince,” the battle lines were drawn in the ongoing Second Wizarding War. The Death Eaters, Voldemort’s obsessively evil followers, were regrouping to wreak havoc after their attack on Hogwarts and the death of Dumbledore. And Harry, in wake of his mentor’s demise, renewed his quest to bring down the Dark Lord.

But beyond Harry and his inevitable showdown with his archenemy, what’s to become of the others who face the fray? Some are destined to fall. Some have their own missions to complete. And others have yet to show their true loyalties lie.
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Hermione Granger
Last seen: After Harry announced his plans to go solo in his final quest, Hermione assured him that she and Ron would fight at his side no matter what.

Likely fate: It’s doubtful that Hermione will actually duel with You-Know-Who, but she’s bound to play an important part in planning the attack — a role she’s assumed before each big battle. And while she may be spared face-time with the ultimate evil, she’ll still find herself in the path of mortal danger with so many Death Eaters on the loose. Against the odds, count on her survival.

Ron Weasley
Last seen: Along with Hermione, Ron offered to leave Hogwarts behind, and pledged to aid Harry in the destruction of the horcruxes, the magical receptacles that hold Voldemort’s soul, and face the big fight together.

Likely fate: Since they first became friends, Ron’s lived in Harry’s shadow. Now it’s time for him to be a hero, too. No doubt plenty of opportunities will arise as the violence escalates. And if it’s Hermione’s life that’s in jeopardy, he’ll be the first to risk all to save her. In the end, Ron’s another one destined to live. It would be unfair to kill of either Ron or Hermione before the almost-romance that’s been brewing between them ever sees the light of day.

Draco Malfoy
Last seen: On the orders of He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the bad boy of Slytherin allowed the Death Eaters to enter Hogwarts via the vanishing cabinet and made attempts on Dumbledore’s life. When faced with one final chance to kill his headmaster, he couldn’t do it.

Likely fate: Serious consequences are in store for Malfoy due to his failure to complete Voldemort’s task. But that failure also signals the potential for redemption in the otherwise horrid character. He could possibly find himself on the side of the good guys before it’s over. Lives or dies? It’s a coin toss.

Rubeus Hagrid
Last seen: The gentle half-giant was crying his eyes out by the end of book six, in mourning for the man he most admired.

Likely fate: Although Hagrid failed in an earlier attempt to secure an alliance with the giants, he may now, with the help of his half-brother Grawp, be able to convince them to break ties with the baddies. Of course his last encounter with the giants left him worse for the wear. Will Hagrid survive another attempt? Hagrid’s death would devastate Harry and reduce fans to puddles of tears, so it might just happen.

Severus Snape
Last seen: When Malfoy dropped his wand, unable to kill Dumbledore, Snape stepped in to finish the job.

Likely fate: The real reason for Snape’s apparent betrayal will be revealed. And don’t think for one moment that he’s really working for the dark side. Dumbledore’s plea to Snape just before his death was surely an effort to push the professor to follow through with the act. It was necessary to satisfy Snape’s Unbreakable Vow, which should allow him to act as a double agent in Voldemort’s midst. Or not. One thing’s for sure, he’s not going to live much longer. Good guy or not, if you kill Dumbledore, you die.

Neville Longbottom
Last seen: As a dedicated member of D.A. (Dumbledore’s Army), Neville fought off the advancing Death Eaters as they entered Hogwarts.

Likely fate: Gryffindor’s bumbling Herbology expert will finally get his day. Neville’s parents were tortured and left insane by a band of Death Eaters led by Voldemort’s most faithful follower, Bellatrix Lestrange. Expect Neville to avenge his parents by bringing Lestrange down, even if it costs him his own life.

Ginny Weasley
Last seen: Following Dumbledore’s funeral, Harry broke up with Ginny for fear that You-Know-Who would hurt her to get to him.

Likely fate: Despite Harry’s best intentions, Ginny will still be a target for Voldemort. He already came close to killing her in “The Chamber of Secrets,” and now that she means so much to Harry, her life is sure to be in danger again. Harry might not be able to save her this time.

Peter Pettigrew
Last seen: Hiding out in Snape’s home, Pettigrew skulked for clues to deliver to his master.

Likely fate: Though loyal to Voldemort, Pettigrew has the unique situation of also owing Harry a life-debt. And as Dumbledore told Harry, “the time may come when you will be very glad you saved Pettigrew's life.” What better time to cash in that debt than the final confrontation? It could be the key to Harry’s success. But no matter how valuable old Wormtail proves to be, he won’t live. He’s nearly as bad as the big-V himself — he ratted out the Potters’ safe house, killed loads of muggles and left Sirius to do the time for it, plus he murdered Cedric Diggory. Dead man walking.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Death of Harry Potter Makes Mythological Sense
The Associated Press

NEW YORK -- Brace yourselves, Harry Potter fans. No matter how desperate you are for Harry to live, some experts in classic literature and mythology say that finishing off the young wizard would make sense — in a literary kind of way.

J.K. Rowling has never shied from darkness in her phenomenally successful series — it started with the murder of Harry's parents, continued through his discovery that an evil wizard was trying to destroy him, and has included pain and torture and the deaths of major characters.

She's already promised two deaths in the seventh and final book, "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," coming out July 21, and has refused to commit to Harry surviving. But she couldn't kill Harry off, could she? She wouldn't do that, would she?

"If you look at the tradition of the epic hero ... there is this sort of pattern that the hero delivers people to the promised land but does not see it himself," said Lana Whited, professor of English at Ferrum College in Ferrum , Va., pointing out examples from King Arthur to Moses to Frodo.

Greek mythology has plenty of examples, like Hercules, who was killed at the height of his strength, said Mary Lefkowitz, a retired classics professor who taught at Wellesley College in Massachusetts.

"There's no long promise of happiness," she said. "You may have brief moments of glory and then the darkness comes."

And don't be fooled into thinking a happy ending is automatic just because the main characters are young, said Anne Collins Smith, assistant professor of philosophy and classical studies at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas.

"Just because it's children's literature doesn't mean it can't have very dark events in it," she said.

Others aren't convinced, saying that Rowling's story about Harry and his adventures is less influenced by classical mythology than it is by other storytelling traditions.

Philip Ray, an associate professor of English at Connecticut College, said Rowling was part of a tradition of British writers like Edith Nesbit, writing stories where children are the focus and have grand adventures.

Since Harry is about to finish his years at Hogwarts, Ray said, "I think it would be very unusual for a book like this to kill off the main character at a time when he's about to graduate from school."

The books are about Harry's development into a young man, Ray said.

"For Rowling to have put Harry Potter through all seven volumes just to kill him off, the point of all development would be wasted," Ray said.

"Death strikes me as being the strangest ending of all."

And even though the series has a dark aspect to it, Rowling hasn't set it up in such a way that Harry paying the ultimate price would make sense, said Tim Morris, who teaches English at the University of Texas at Arlington.

"I don't get the sense that J.K. Rowling has set us up for that kind of sacrifice," he said. "The first six books haven't given a sense of that tragedy to me. It's generally hopeful."

Whited acknowledges that reader outrage would be high if Harry died, and that it might seem cruel to younger readers, who aren't familiar with classic literary story arcs.

"I'm sure J.K. Rowling would get some howlers if Harry Potter did not survive," she said.

But even if he lives, don't be surprised if it's a hard-fought victory, she said. Another aspect of the classic hero myth is that even if he wins, it's not without some loss.

"There are always sacrifices, compromises along the way," she said. "If Harry doesn't die, one of his friends will."

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Long, Incoherent, and Kind of FunThe accidental charm of Michael Bay's Transformers.
By Dana Stevens

Optimus Prime tries to save the Earth in Transformers

My viewing companion and I both agreed that Transformers (DreamWorks) was way too long and incoherently scripted, with action sequences that were notable mainly for their deafening noise level. So why were we both in such manically good spirits afterward, eager to revisit the goofy highs and clunky lows of the past two-plus hours?

Even attempting to recap the story is fun: You see, before time began, there was the Cube. That's the movie's first line (spoken in voice-over by veteran voice actor Peter Cullen, as the robot hero Optimus Prime) and the foundation of its nut-cake cosmology. (To what extent this universe differs from the mythos of the original TV series or the animated 1986 movie, I leave it to greater minds to discuss.) The Cube is sort of like the black monolith in 2001. It floats through deep space, covered in runic writing, and plays some enigmatic yet indispensable role in the creation and maintenance of life on the planet Cybertron.

That planet was once home to two alien races: the upstanding Autobots and the sneaky Decepticons. (Does anyone but me hear the echo of "Democrats" and "Republicans" in these names?) After centuries of warfare destroy their planet, these shape-changing robots wander the galaxy, seeking the Cube to re-establish their world. Through a laboriously established yet thoroughly incomprehensible series of events, the map to the Cube's whereabouts exists only on the lens of a pair of antique glasses. These potentially earth-saving specs now belong to a high-school kid named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who's attempting to sell them on eBay to earn some money toward his first car.

Sam never sells those glasses, but he does get the car, a rusty yellow Camaro with a black racing stripe. It's not quite machine enough to impress Mikaela (Megan Fox), a gearhead hottie who gets a ride home from Sam one afternoon. But when the car unfolds into a friendly metal behemoth that does battle to protect Sam and Mikaela from an evil police-cruiser-turned-Decepticon, it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship between a boy and his wheels.

You know the way a grade-schooler, attempting to recap the plot of a recently seen movie, will backtrack, repeat himself, get lost in trivia, then skip forward to the final fight scene, all the while sputtering adorably about how cool the monster was? The story line of Transformers proceeds something like that. Besides the two teens in the Camaro, it's got an Army unit in Qatar being attacked by a robotic helicopter, a sexy Australian computer hacker (Rachael Taylor) who becomes the unlikely adviser to a baffled secretary of defense (Jon Voight), and an officious secret agent (John Turturro) who's after those glasses for reasons of his own. The screenwriters, Alex Kurtzmann and Robert Orci, don't bother to explain as they go along; they just pile up the bang-crash action sequences and, when things get too confusing, screech to a halt for some plodding explanatory dialogue.

Michael Bay seems to have taken to heart the criticism that his movies (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island) tend to be bloated and self-serious. He leavens this one with attempts at humor that don't always work: A scene in which the Autobots hide from Sam's parents in his suburban backyard and get peed on by his Chihuahua is a cringeful low point. But even if some of the deliberately comic scenes fall flat, the whole movie has a lightness of tone, an affection for its own cheesiness. I loved a late scene in which the Autobots gather to wrap up any remaining plot threads in a long conversation, leaning casually against a tower of the Hoover Dam. (The best part is that, even after this expository kaffeeklatsch, viewers still have no clue what's happening.)

If you know your Transformers mythology—or just like to watch really big robots whale on one another—you won't mind that the individual 'bots are scarcely distinguished from one another. But their interchangeability meant that this viewer misread the outcome of the climactic battle scene (for details, listen to the Slate spoiler special on Transformers). Michael Bay's action sequences are crudely effective—that is, you duck when he throws a car at your head—but they're far from elegantly choreographed. Especially if you've just seen an action ballet like Live Free or Die Hard, in which physicists seem to have calculated the precise trajectory of every airborne vehicle, the stunts in Transformers suffer from a problem of diminishing returns.

Transformers, which was executive-produced by Steven Spielberg, harks back to suburban-boy-saves-world dramas like E.T. But finally, it's more like a technically souped-up reworking of those Disney kids' comedies of the early '70s, The Love Bug or The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, with LaBeouf in the Kurt Russell role. The final scene is pure teen wish fulfillment: Imagine making out with your girlfriend on the hood of your sentient Camaro, as your own personal robot bodyguard looks on fondly (all right, that part's a little creepy). Meanwhile, the vanquished minion of your enemy, a robot-cum-fighter plane named Starscream, vanishes into the night sky, leaving the promise of a sequel in his wake.

When Orson Welles Was a Transformer
Why the original Transformers movie is better than the new one.

By John Swansburg

Transformers: The Movie, from 1986

Surely this is not how Orson Welles imagined it would end. According to the chronology appended to Peter Bogdanovich's This Is Orson Welles, on Oct. 5, 1985, Welles spent the day on the set of Transformers: The Movie, giving voice to Unicron, a villainous, planet-eating planet. On Oct. 10, he was dead. The man's first feature film had been Citizen Kane; his last was an animated movie based on a line of toy robots.

Of course, by 1985 Welles was a long way from Rosebud. His most visible role at that point was as a pitchman for Paul Masson wine, a responsibility he does not seem to have always discharged ably. He'd also recently cut the voiceover for the Revenge of the Nerds trailer. But it would be a mistake to lump Transformers in with Welles' other regrettable late-career moves. Though a modest film compared with Michael Bay's blockbuster out today, the original Transformers is the better film. And for a certain subset of Americans—boys who were 9 in 1986—it was every bit as shocking as War of the Worlds had been for Grandma and Grandpa.

Bay's Transformers bears no resemblance to the original in terms of plot, but both movies are grounded in the same fundamental mythology. Back in the early '80s, the wily folks at Hasbro realized that the only thing better than a toy truck was a toy truck that was also a toy robot. Transformers were born, and, as was standard practice at the time, Hasbro promptly commissioned a half-hour afternoon cartoon to fill in the back story and market the toys to unsuspecting kids like me.

The Transformers, from a planet called Cybertron, were divided into two factions—the goodly Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, and the evil Decepticons, led by Megatron, who transformed from a robot into a handgun. After a long civil war, the two sides somehow end up on Earth, where their battles continue and where the cartoon picks up their story. Most episodes involved the Decepticons devising a dastardly plot to take over the universe—only to be thwarted by the Autobots.

Late-afternoon television was full of programming like this in the mid-'80s, whether it was He-Man or G.I. Joe. Transformers, though, was the first such show to jump to the silver screen. Those of us who raced to theaters as third-graders thus assumed that what we were about to see would be like the TV show, just longer and awesomer. Only in our wildest dreams did we think that the show might celebrate its liberation from network television by letting loose with a curse word. And only in our scariest nightmares would we have imagined that a mere 20 minutes into the movie, Optimus Prime, the most beloved of Autobots, would be killed by Megatron.

To use a phrase I learned the day I saw Transformers, "Oh, shit!" No one ever died in these shows. Even in G.I. Joe, a cartoon about a special U.S. Army strike force, no Rattler was ever shot down without the pilot first safely ejecting. But in the Transformers movie, the death toll was jaw-dropping. More than a dozen marquee characters are dispatched in the film, among them one of my personal favorites, Starscream, the Decepticon malcontent always scheming to relieve Megatron of his command.

Of course, all of this bloodshed had a specific purpose—to move toys. In the commentary track on the 20th-anniversary edition of the movie, Flint Dille, one of the writers, explains he was instructed to eliminate much of the existing product line to make room for the new characters Hasbro was planning to sell me. I already owned Optimus Prime, after all.

As a 9-year-old, it hardly occurred to me that this robot bloodbath was a marketing ploy. It just blew me away. Witnessing death on that scale was shocking to a sensibility that had been nurtured on white-knuckled but always successful repair operations by the trusty Autobot mechanic-medic, Ratchet.

It's funny to listen to the filmmakers on the DVD talk sheepishly about killing off all of those characters, Prime in particular. They genuinely regret it. But in watching the movie again as a grown-up, you realize that Hasbro's profit motive had the unintended consequence of forcing the movie to tell a much more sophisticated story than might otherwise have been possible. With Prime off to the great scrapheap in the sky by the end of the first act, the movie becomes one about finding a leader who can take on Prime's mantle and defeat not just Megatron, but also Orson Welles' Unicron, eating his way through the galaxy. And in a nice mythic twist, Prime's successor turns out to be an Autobot no one—not even Prime—thought it would be.

Bay's new Transformers is fun in its own goofy way, and there are enough sops to the fanboys that most will go home happy. Peter Cullen reprises his role as the voice of Optimus Prime, and the screenwriters manage not one but two invocations of the immortal phrase "more than meets the eye." But there's nothing even approaching the original's narrative depth. The good guys beat the bad guys, and no one we care about is harmed in the process—the movie hasn't succeeded in making us care about anyone. Prime comes across as a stand-up guy, but we have no real sense of Megatron's motivations or of Starscream's ambition. Bumblebee, the robot we spend the most time with in the movie, doesn't get a speaking part until the penultimate scene. The high-octane violence and PG-13 attentions lavished on Megan Fox's torso may attract some new young fans, but in the end Bay's Transformers feels timid compared with the 1985 version.

Now, before you scuttle your plans to go see the new Transformers and queue up a copy of the old one instead, let me say this. A Brad Bird production it is not. I admit that my appreciation for the animated movie is colored by nostalgia—for the toys but also for the decade that produced them. Blur, a fast-talking Autobot, is voiced by John Moschitta Jr., better known as the Micro Machines guy. The soundtrack features a song by Weird Al Yankovic and an inspirational anthem worthy of the Karate Kid's Joe "The Bean" Esposito. Robert Stack, Casey Kasem, and Judd Nelson round out what can safely be called one of the stranger casts in cinematic history.

As for the strangest member of that cast, Orson Welles does not seem to have been very proud of his work. Film historian Joseph McBride quotes Welles saying of his participation: "I play a planet. I menace somebody called Something-or-other. Then I'm destroyed." He needn't have been quite so dismissive. Welles' voice was apparently so weak by the time he made his recording that technicians needed to run it through a synthesizer to salvage it. But listen closely as the ruthless Unicron explains his plan to bring the universe to its knees. I swear you can almost hear a younger Welles, plotting his conquest of a different world as the imperious Charles Foster Kane.