Tuesday, July 24, 2007

It's Here: Good, But...

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows is here... finally! It didn't suprise me that there was a bunch of "hoopla controversy" a few days before the release. There always is... It's "almost" like it was orchestrated! First, someone releases a bit of the story, ostensibly who shouldn't. Then, the publishers and JKR come out with both barrels blazing, making threats and guilt-tripping with "how could you hurt the kids" stuff; all the time basically "nothing" was really given away, and definitely didn't harm the sales in any way.

The richest woman in the world, isn't inexperienced in controversy. It's happened with nearly every book. From witchcraft to atheism to having anti-American sentiment - people do have their opinions. Her first few books, I've actually found interesting and fairly "uplifting" in "moral's" and story line. They definitely were not in themselves promotional of "witchcraft." They were a bit of a stretch for a second or third grader; but, man what a temptation to read developed for the slightly older child. We all saw photographs of 9 - 12 year olds sitting and listening to a "reading" by the author. What a "photo op."

The books have, as no one will contest, gotten "darker" and more negative as Harry has gotten older, and his adventures more complex. However, there has always been the "mentoring" with Dumbledore - such as it is; and the obligatory heart-to-heart in which the old Headmaster explains moral principles - often love.

Much of the "Potter-mania" has been due to the fact that the book's setting is largely modern day and very understandable. Children can, and do, identify strongly with the main characters, because their activities and thoughts are almost like their own - except for magic, of course. This is in distinction to books like "lord of the rings" which are very dark and do "ring true" in the human dillemma part; but, don't contain characters that a child wants, or is able, to identify with as strongly as Harry. So, when Deathly Hallows goes on and on for chapters without ever "letting up," the little Harry's and Hermione's on your lap could very well get short of breath, be unable to sleep and be emotionally affected. The darkness and negativity of the seventh book is so strong that I have no choice but to say: it is NOT the best choice for children under 12.

I'm actually sorry, because I've been a staunch defender for close to 10 years. But, without doubt, the characters, the action, the story line - were NOT written for the same age-level of child that the first books were! That being said, although, for me, it wasn't a "fun" read, it was, however, compelling and thought provoking. No, it still didn't do anything to promote witchcraft or evil, in my eyes. Quite the contrary. And, Dumbledore wasn't there for his continued assistance. BUT, it did follow the "Joseph Campbell-ian" format, in that: the "mentor" had to leave in order to see if the "hero" truly had learned the "lessons." In essence we learned that Harry had brought the "mentor" inside himself. Truly, through Harry, Dumbledore spoke so loudly on the pages that he might have well been there.

I'm disappointed that JKR changed audiences like that. And, when I watched the camera's scanning the faces of eight to ten year olds in the audience at her "book release reading," to use the words of her Albus Dumbledore to Fenrir Greyback: "I cannot pretend it does not disgust me a little. And, yes, I am a little shocked..." She read the first chapter, where Voldemort (the evil antagonist) had magically suspended a hogwarts school teacher from the ceiling of his meeting room while he and his Death Eaters plotted the death of Harry. Then before his followers left, he cold-bloodedly terrorized her, killed her and told Nagini, his pet snake, that she was its "dinner." Do you really think that is appropriate for an 8 - 10 year old?!

Come on, Jo! I certainly would have never chosen THAT to read to 8 - 10 year olds! And, am sure most parents wouldn't either. Frankly, I'm suprised that you did. Perhaps the audience was really filled with adolescents and adults that weren't shown much; but, the publisher just wanted the "photo op" of little children; and, for us to believe they were the intended audience age. If so, SHAME ON THEM! But, honestly, I'm not sure which chapter in the book, you COULD have read to them. Perhaps, "The Ghoul In Pajamas" might have been nice, where Ron 'convinced' the ghoul who had lived in their attic for years to come down, put on his pajama's and sleep in his bedroom in order to convince everyone that he was sick with 'Spattergroit,' thereby giving him an excuse not to attend school this year. That was a funny chapter and well written.

Does this mean that the books haven't, or won't, be good for children to read? Getting them to willingly read over 4,100 pages! Of course not. The first couple of books, as I have said, are very entertaining, compelling and interesting for young readers, especially if read aloud with a parent or other adult. But, that's just it. They probably should be read just as JKR wrote them; namely, one every year or so, as the child grows and matures. Beginning at age 9 or 10. That way, by the time he gets to Deathly Hallows he/she will: FIRST - be of the appropriate maturity to recieve it; and, SECOND - be experienced and intelligent enough to understand it. I have to say that, in addition to being "exhausting" to read due to it's unrelenting action, this book has one of the most convoluted, complicated, and obtuse plots of any book that I've ever read! But, like the Dementor's kiss, it literally 'sucked' the will to STOP reading right out of me -- until the book was completed. Like I said, the action never stopped, involving characters I could care about and using the most novel of motif's over the most recognizable of themes.

I liked it... but, thank the maker it's over!

Sunday, July 8, 2007

The Potter Countdown Underway!

It's here again! A phenomenon of nearly bi-yearly cycle: the release of another "Harry Potter and the ..." book. This time is the last, however. The author J. K. Rowling has said that she would write seven books about the "coming of age wizard with the world on his shoulders" who just seemed to "stroll into her mind fully formed" on a train ride. One book, she said, for each year he was at Hogwarts school of witchcraft and wizardry. This year he turns 17, is of wizarding age, and graduates from Hogwarts (where he has attended in the north of England) - that is, IF he lives that long! (See book summaries here: SCARPnotes).

His nemesis, an orphan Tom Riddle (masquerading as self-styled "Lord Voldemort") has tried to do him in, ever since Harry was only a year old. Seven times so far, if you count the first time when his parents were killed. If this book (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) holds true to form, the eighth attempt will tell the tale; because, as it is "prophecied," "neither can live while the other survives." So this is it. Harry's mentor, Albus Dumbledore, was killed in the last book by an abusive "professor," Severus Snape, who has brow-beaten Harry for six years every chance he got. Fortunately, I think, for Harry, the wizarding world has several scenarios where "departed" individuals can exist to interact with the living. One such, are the portraits of all the previous headmasters which hang in the current headmasters office. It seems they can move, talk, comment and advise; and they are bound to serve the current headmaster. They can visit other portraits, of both other wizards and themselves, so can "inform" on happenings at locations wherever there is a portrait of themselves. Dumbledore has said that he didn't care what the ministry did to him "as long as they didn't take his picture off the 'chocolate frog' cards" (like bubble gum trading cards).

So, you ask, how does a pediatrician become so involved in Harry Potter? Well, it is children's literature after all. Actually, after the first book, if you recall, there was some amount of either "hype" or "discord" about whether or not Rowling's effort's were either "witchcraft inspired" or, at very least, not appropriate for children. Parent's of patients of mine began asking my opinion to the point that I felt that I needed to actually obtain one. I read the second book, which had been released by then, then needed to go back and read the first. I've read them all to date and somewhere, in the intervening years, my hobby of computer programming led to patient newsletters, then to a medical web site (Dr. Bob's Pediatric Housecalls) and finally a little site which gave my "reviews" of the Harry Potter books. Suprisingly, the web "hits" grew in number, others wanted to help, suggestions were given, even the Potter "franchise" grew; and the rest, as they say, is history.

The web site has grown such that this past week I've spent splitting the "literary" material away from the pure "potter-dom" stuff which has accumulated. So now when parents, or students, want to understand a Harry Potter book (its theme's, motif's, symbolism, quotations and context) they need only to go to one locaton: Dr. Robert R. Scarpin's SCARPnotes. All of my reviews are there, as well as complete summaries of the books, characters and literary background. Students can use it to do book reports, parents can use it to "catch-up" and talk intelligently with their children and teachers can use it in grading or testing on book reports.

Overall the books are good; but, some are for older children; and one shouldn't, I don't think, be read by a younger child alone, without at least some "debriefing," explanation or discussion with a parent. You'll need to go to the site for full information; and, the full epoc's theme hasn't been fully explained yet. Overall, however, the series is a "coming of age" story about a boy who has suffered some abuse but still still grown to have a "quality" type personality and who has been influenced to a great extent (we'll learn just how much this month) by his mothers love. All of which seems to be a refreshing change from the barrage of "crap" being flung at our children these days under the guise of "interesting" movies, television and books. I'm actually looking forward to the release of the last book; and, at the same time, that it is the last book.