Saturday, May 29th, 2004

Do You Believe In Magic?

I’d never really had any interest in the Harry Potter phenomenon, not least of all because it seemed to me to be a not-too-subtle ripoff of Neil Gaiman’s Books Of Magic, which predated the Potter books by nearly a decade. For those unfamiliar with The Books Of Magic, it was a miniseries published in 1990 by DC Comics that introduced the character of Tim Hunter – a bespectacled English boy with an owl companion who was destined to become Earth’s greatest wizard. Sound familiar? Granted, that was about where the similarities ended – Hunter wasn’t orphaned, he still had a father (for a while at least) and instead of being enrolled in a school for magic, he was given a crash course in magic by almost all the occult characters in the DC universe and was nearly murdered on several occasions by evil-doers. So yeah, it was considerably darker than the Harry Potter books, and while it was sufficiently different from Potter in tone and content, the superficial similarities were enough to put me off of Harry Potter-mania.

After the initial mini-series, Hunter returned in an ongoing Vertigo (DC’s ‘mature readers’ imprint) series of the same name which started out strongly but tailed off towards the end of its fairly long run. After a cancellation, Tim Hunter got a fresh start in The Names Of Magic miniseries which set up a new ongoing series, Hunter: The Age Of Magic. The new title never quite found its feet and was again given the axe after a couple years. Still, the powers-that-be weren’t ready to give up on Hunter and after bringing Gaiman back as a co-plotter, a third ongoing series – The Books Of Magick: Life During Wartime – will kick off in July and apparently be even darker in tone than its predecessors.

So what’s this got to do with Harry Potter? Not a helluva lot. As I mentioned before, I hadn’t read any of the Potter books nor seen any of the movies and all I knew about it was what I read in newspapers or magazines reporting on the books or films. So after seeing trailers for the third film and being stymied yesterday afternoon in my attempts to rent Run Lola Run and Seven, I decided to give Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone a whirl. Verdict? An overwhelming ‘meh’. I realize that the movie is not the book but I’ve also heard that the film was quite faithful and thorough as adaptations go, so I think I can reasonably assume that perceived shortcomings on the part of the film would also apply to the book. My main complaint was that it was boring. It was charming, visually impressive and obviously a lot of work went into getting the look and feel of Hogwarts right but looking past the window dressing, the story itself was awfully simplistic, cliched and unoriginal. The story functions fine as a morality play, but not much beyond that.

The young actors are nothing to write home about, seemingly cast more for their ability to look the parts than act them – Daniel Radcliffe is mighty wooden in the title role and only Emma Watson shows she might have better things ahead for her. Of course, that might not be their fault – they’re not given terribly complex characters to begin with. Yeah, yeah, I know – they’re children’s books and I probably shouldn’t expect enormous depth, but from the number of adults I know who are devoted fans I’d hoped to be pleasantly surprised. I gather that there’s an overarching story to all the books (Potter vs Voldemort) that might be more interesting and I know that things get darker as the series goes on, so they might get more compelling as the films progress. I will likely eventually see them all but won’t be harrassing the video store clerk to any extent for a copy of the next one. And I really doubt I’ll be bothering with the books. Those things are huge.

Stolen Wine Social tonight at the IV Lounge, on Dundas in front of the AGO. Scruffy cardigans and taped-up glasses optional.

It’s absurd how much stuff is available on Sharing The Groove. Right now, I’m downloading Wilco’s second show at Otto’s from May 20 as well as a Tanya Donelly show from 2002, and that’s just barely the tip of the iceberg. I need to buy a new CD-R spindle.

Usually I accomplish, um, nothing before I get a post up in the morning. Not today! Gary persuaded me to go for a good long bike ride early (for me) this morning, ostensibly to train for the Ride For Heart next weekend (sponsor me! If you’re not against heart disease, you’re for heart diesease!). It took about two hours to cover 30 km (just over 18.5 miles) through downtown Toronto – first along Davenport to just past Lansdowne, into High Park, down onto the lakefront trail, west a ways past the Humber, then back into the core through Ontario Place and the Exhibition Grounds, finally back up through Queen W and the university. I’m feeling surprisingly good, which bodes well for not dying during next weekend’s 50km ride. Sure could use a shower, though.

np – Spiritualized / Amazing Grace

By : Frank Yang at 11:50 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. sam says:

    harry potter, the movies: they were faithful to the books in storyline only. all the physical actions were there but the first two films (both bumblingly "directed" by chris columbus) lacked what makes the books so much fun — charm and wit. the films plodded through the books’ storylines but stopped there. there was no director at the helm, the film had no personality. the actors, especially radcliffe, were wooden and boring (except for ron). i hated the first two films with a vengeance. but i’m really hyped up about the third one. why? alfonso cuaron. from what i’ve seen, the series is gonna pick up speed with this one (especially considering it’s also the darkest of the books right now).

    please read one of the books before judging. i saw the first film before picking any of them up, but i proudly declare that they’ve made me wanna read books like never before. i’m dead serious. they’re page-turners and i can’t say why. they just are.

    hopefully the third film will do that for the film series.

  2. christina says:

    have you read philip pullman’s his dark materials series? _really_ good. some ppl call it the "adult" harry potter.

    as for ride for heart–you’re not doing the 75 km?! tsk tsk. ;)

  3. Eva says:

    No, this sounds cliche, but the books are better than the movies. I read the first book before it was a hype. Someone had read it and thought I might too, so I tried it.

    My favorite book is the third book, so I’m not yet sure whether I want to see that butchered into a movie.

    Basically, Rowling borrows a lot from existing stories and mythology/philosophy, but I personally like to recognize things I already know in a new story.

    My very favorite part in book 1 was actually left out of the movie, so it wasn’t THAT accurate. (At the end, where they have to catch a flying key and play chess, there was also a logic puzzle with potions that Hermione solved. You can’t puzzle along with her in the book because you need to SEE the bottles, but I guess the puzzle was too difficult for the movie makers to reconstruct, because it wasn’t there)

  4. Anonymous says:

    Hey Frank, I’ll be heading down to Stolen Wine Social… I suppose I’ll see you there.

  5. Patrick says:

    When I was taking a Comm class in college a couple of years back the whole Harry Potter phenomenon was really taking off. A girl in that class decided to give a persuasive speech on the topic that every person should read the Harry Potter books. During her speech she made this statement: "Plus these books are so much easier to read than most books I have read lately." Now maybe I am just a sarcastic ass who was sick of having Potter shoved down my throat but during the question period I brought up her comment and asked "Did it ever occur to you that these books might be easier to read because they are WRITTEN FOR CHILDREN?" The girl got all flustered and yelled at me for about fifteen seconds and then ran out of the room. I got lectured about being mean by the TA but she just generally thought it was funny.

    I haven’t read the books nor have I seen the movies. I just got really tired of people commanding me to do both. I just wanted to take this time to confessing to being a Potter hater at one time.

  6. derek says:

    Neil Gaiman himself has talked about ressemblances between Hunter & Harry several times in the past: <a href="http://…/ </a>, and <a href="http://…/ </a>.

    He doesn’t really think that anything was stolen from his "Books of Magic".

    <b>Pertinent Excerpt:</b>

    Linda Richards: There’s been a lot of muttering in the UK press about J.K. Rowling "borrowing" ideas for her Harry Potter books from you. Would you care to comment on that?

    Neil Gaiman: Last year, initially The Scotsman newspaper — being Scottish and J.K. Rowling being Scottish — and because of the English tendency to try and tear down their idols, they kept trying to build stories which said J.K. Rowling ripped off Neil Gaiman. They kept getting in touch with me and I kept declining to play because I thought it was silly. And then The Daily Mirror in England ran an article about that mad woman who was trying to sue J.K. Rowling over having stolen muggles from her. And they finished off with a line saying [something like]: And Neil Gaiman has accused her of stealing.

    Luckily I found this online and I found it the night it came out by pure coincidence and the reporter’s e-mail address was at the bottom of the thing so I fired off an e-mail saying: This is not true, I never said this. You are making this up. I got an apologetic e-mail back, but by the time I’d gotten the apologetic e-mail back it was already in The Daily Mail the following morning and it was very obvious that The Daily Mail’s research [had] consisted of reading The Daily Mirror. And you’re going: journalists are so lazy.

    LR: What was it of yours they were accusing her of stealing from you?

    NG: My character Tim Hunter from Books of Magic who came out in 1990 was a small dark-haired boy with big round spectacles — a 12-year-old English boy — who has the potential to be the most powerful wizard in the world and has a little barn owl.

    LR: So there were commonalties, for sure.

    NG: Well, yes and as I finally, pissed off, pointed out to an English reviewer who tried to start this again, I said: Look, all of the things that they actually have in common are such incredibly obvious, surface things that, had she actually been stealing, they were the things that would be first to be changed. Change hair color from brown to fair, you lose the glasses, you know: that kind of thing.

    LR: Change the owl to a gecko.

    NG: Yes. Or to a peregrine falcon. And I said to her that I thought we were both just stealing from T.H. White: very straightforward. But then I saw an online interview with the mad muggles lady where they were asking her about me and they said: what about Neil Gaiman? And she said: Well, he’s been gotten to. [Laughs]

    LR: By the Harry Potter conspiracy? [Laughs]

    NG: I guess, yes.

  7. Ryan Waddell says:

    I have to agree with Sam. Read the first book before passing judgment on the series. The movies are fun to go see, in a "Hey, it’s cool to see this brought to the big screen" kinda way, but they really don’t do the books justice. You don’t really have any feel for the characters at all in the movies, while the books suck you into feeling like these kids are your own childhood friends. Give the first book a try, it’s a REALLY short read (I think I read it in two days) and then make your decisions. I was totally skeptical going in, and the book completely won me over.