Tag Archives: Harry Potter

Unsplit Personalities

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Good morning!  It’s Noel Fielding’s birthday today, did you know?  On the very small off-chance that he reads this: Happy Birthday, Noel!

Over the past few days I’ve been thinking about personalities, and how very complicated they are.  We have a tendency to separate out different sections of our personalities, because we think that certain bits are anomalous to who we are, and some parts are just plain embarrassing.  It is too difficult and confusing to admit that our bad habits and secret sins are linked to our genes, our upbringings or our life styles.  Much easier to have a persona that can be summed up in three words by the people who know us best, and leave it at that.

We are encouraged to keep up this pretence of simplicity by constantly summarising and censoring ourselves: job applications, CVs, online dating profiles, Twitter biographies and more ask us to reduce ourselves into a few short sentences, and we willingly oblige.  We know that we’re complicated, but we don’t everyone else to know that.

The thing is that every aspect of your personality is linked to something else about you, and that is a really good thing.  Take the anomalies, for instance: I like watching football, which seems a bit random in terms of my other interests, but actually it does make sense.  I like watching events with a large group of people (like when I go to the theatre), I like lots of noise (because I grew up in a big family) and I like having a pint with my friends (that’s just a given).  So even though I’m not a stereotypical football fan, it makes sense for me to like football once you break it down.

When we think of certain personality aspects as anomalous we don’t embrace them for what they are: an important part of what makes us a complete person.  This comes up a lot with mental health issues.  People call depression “the black dog”, which I think is really stupid for two reasons: firstly, making the illness a separate, animalistic entity encourages people to be afraid of it and distance themselves from the issue, and secondly it kind of ruins the third Harry Potter book if you have that association in mind.

I’m not suggesting that mental health problems are a good thing (obviously), but if you have to live with them you shouldn’t have to be afraid of them, as well.  They are part of who you are, but they don’t define you.  There’s plenty of awesomeness in your personality, too, and they’re not necessarily separate qualities.  For example, living with something like depression can give you strength you never knew you had.

Everyone has aspects of their personalities that they wish they could change or get rid of, but you are who you are.  If we refuse to accept the bad things about our psyches as well as the good, we are rejecting a massive proportion of what makes us a real human being.  Think about it: if we didn’t all have bad and good things about us, we would be completely angelic and therefore entirely incapable of empathy.  We’d also be kind of boring.  And you, my friend, are definitely not boring.

Have a stupendous Wednesday.

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What is it About Adaptations?

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Hello, reader!  Got any exciting plans for your weekend?

Last night I went to see Headlong’s production of 1984 at the Almeida Theatre in Islington.  The performances were excellent, the design was incredibly inventive and the concept was inspired.  I won’t say anymore in case you’re planning to see it for yourself, and I really think that you should go if you get the chance.

It’s difficult to make an excellent adaptation of a novel like 1984 for two reasons: firstly, the concept of the novel itself is pretty complex, and pinning down the issues of mind control, sanity, truth and fiction are hard to do off the page.  Secondly, the novel is a well-loved and respected work that many people feel strongly about.  If Headlong had got it wrong, they would have been unpersoned by the critics.

An adaptation of any beloved work of fiction runs the same risk.  The Harry Potter films came under massive fire (just from my social circle) for being completely unfaithful to the books, and reducing cleverly constructed plot lines to unsteady, baffling narrative turns.  There were also many debates about the casting: Emma Watson was too posh (and WAY too fond of acting with her eyebrows), Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t likeable enough, and Dobby was an atrocity.

People are already up in arms about the potential casting of Harry Styles in a movie adaptation of Wicked, but I wonder how many of them know that the musical stage production is already an adaptation of a novel.  The novel is completely different in tone to the musical, and when I read it for the first time I wondered who on earth would read this dark, disturbing story and think “Well, that’s got singing and dancing written all over it.”  Don’t get me wrong: I saw the musical a few years ago and loved it, but in my head it isn’t an adaptation of the novel in the traditional sense.  It’s just too different.

And this is the interesting thing: what is it about adaptations that provokes such strong reactions in us?  When we read a book we get a unique picture in our minds of the characters, the settings and the story, which have been guided by the author but not prescribed.  When we see an adaptation of a novel on screen or stage,the directors have had to try and compile every reader’s mental picture into a universal picture that cannot possibly match up to everyone’s expectations.

Is it better to take a well-known story and try to match it exactly to its original medium, like William Goldman managed with his adaptation of the The Princess Bride?  (Although he had a significant advantage, given that he was adapting his own novel.)  Or is it best to recognise that one medium cannot possibly imitate another – which is why they all exist, in fact – and that an adaptation has to be a kind of translation of a piece in order to make it work?  Wicked in its original essence would not make a good musical; it’s too depressing (but brilliant, by the way).  It needed to be translated into the kind of story that works in the West End with big sets and even bigger smiles, and it is a good show.  It’s just not a faithful adaptation.

I think that part of the issue is the cashmere-wearing, cigar-smoking, bling-adorned elephant in the room: we can all see that making successful novels and plays into films is about making money, not about making the piece accessible to more people.  It’s the reason that The Hobbit is being strangled to death by a painfully laboured and ridiculously patch-worked adaptation into three epically long films.  Shame on you, Peter Jackson.  Shame on you.

In general, I do approve of adaptations.  I like seeing other people’s ideas of a well-known story shown in new ways, and I enjoy the possibilities of a translation from medium to medium.  I just wish that the motive was always the exploration of worlds, not the expansion of wallets.

Have the most awesome of Fridays.

Lessons from Literary Ladies

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a chick lit novel must be in want of a life.

That is absolute nonsense, of course, but it does raise an interesting point about why people (not just women) read romantic novels.  It would be easy to dismiss romantic stories as wish fulfilment for lonely readers, and to a certain extent it is.  HOWEVER (and as you can see from the capitals, this is a massive ‘however’), the wish being fulfilled is NOT necessarily what people think it is, i.e., “Oh, I wish I had a Mr. Darcy!”.   More often it’s “I wish I could be as witty as Lizzie Bennett.”

Good romantic novels (as opposed to whiny claptrap) are the ones that show heroes and heroines behaving the way we would like to behave, not just how we want our prospective partners to behave.  People who get swept up in the story of Pride and Prejudice are just as invested in Lizzie Bennett’s decisions as they are in Fitzwilliam Darcy’s smouldering glances.  (I know.  Fitzwilliam.  Try to make your peace with it; it happened.)

Don’t believe me?  Let’s take a closer look at some literary ladies:

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1) Hermione Granger
I have a huge soft spot for this particular heroine, because like me she has uncontrollable hair and she sometimes loses her temper when men are being a bit thick.   J K Rowling has recently said that she regrets pairing Ron and Hermione as a romantic couple in the last Harry Potter book, which to be honest I think is neither here nor there.  (Also, Rowling, move on.  Seriously.  You’ve made your millions and the story is over.  Stop trying to edit it when it’s been published for years.)  Women like Hermione who are clever, sensitive, loyal and a bit prone to climbing on high horses DO fall in love with funny, grumpy, bloke-ish guys like Ron Weasley.  The best thing about reading the Harry Potter books with Hermione in mind is that you realise that it’s not up to you who you fall in love with.  If the cleverest witch in a generation (who for some reason has been able to conjure up portable fire since the age of eleven) can fall for a fairly clueless chap who takes SEVEN YEARS to do something about his feelings, then it doesn’t make you an idiot if it happens to you.

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2) Bella Swan
A lot of people hate the Twilight series, or at least hate that they love them so much.  Why?  Because you cannot get onside with the heroine.  She is SO ANNOYING.  Yeah ok, her two love interests are a freakishly strong teen werewolf and a bloodthirsty statue with a Byron complex, but nothing she says or does in the novels makes you feel like you can relate to her or feel sympathy for her.  The Twilight series is a bad set of books, not because the romance is so drippy, but because the girl at the centre of this incredibly disturbing love triangle is so fundamentally unlovable.

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3) Margaret Hale
Putting aside my absolute fury that North and South is basically a crap version of Pride and Prejudice,  the heroine is the most irritating creature ever to walk the earth (or page, I suppose).  It’s not entirely her fault, though: Gaskell is one of those writers who doesn’t trust her readers to understand anything about her characters purely by describing what they say and do, so she CONSTANTLY reminds the readers in her descriptions how beautiful and wonderful Miss Hale is.  Every other paragraph, Gaskell essentially says “In case you hadn’t noticed, my heroine is really pretty and popular, so you HAVE TO LOVE HER.”  No, Gaskell, I bloody do not.  If your writing were better, you would be able to SHOW your readers what Margaret Hale is like, rather than ramming it down our throats.  Being told a million times how wonderful somebody is without ever seeing any proof just makes you like them less.

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4) Rose Highly-Robinson
The name doesn’t sound too promising, but this girl is one of my favourite literary heroines.  The protagonist of Michelle Magorian’s beautiful A Little Love Song, Rose is a seventeen year-old evacuee who wants to write, but is being pushed into a scientific education by her over-protective mother and her dead father’s wishes.  Michelle Magorian is the woman who wrote Goodnight Mister Tom, and this story is just as heart-warming (and breaking).  If you haven’t read it, I strongly recommend it to you.  Rose is the kind of girl that makes mistakes, but they are exactly the mistakes that you would have made in her position, and you love her for them.  She gets a happy ending, but she gets it by being a real person who puts up a bit of a fight, not by being swept up by a knight in shining armour (although there is a man involved somewhere.  I’ll stop with the spoilers now).

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5) Katniss Everdeen
Jury’s out on this one: I like the concept of Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, but her heroine is a bit off, in my opinion.  I understand how she could appeal to people: a physically strong, independent young woman who provides for her family and protects her little sister at all costs.  These are all good things.  But for me personally, the way she behaves with the two men who love her (WHAT is with the spate of love triangles in young adult fiction, by the way?) is pretty off-putting.  I like the books a lot, but I need to pick and choose which bits of Katniss’ character I aspire to.  I would love to be able to shoot a bow and arrow the way she can, but I’d rather not lead a guy on (on TELEVISION, no less) when I know he has feelings for me.  Also, her name is Katniss.  I just…why?  That’s not a name!

There are a lot of other literary heroines who deserved a mention in this blog, but I picked these five because I think they get my point across most clearly.  I could have written the whole thing based on Austen novels, but I think that there is a much wider tendency in all sorts of novels for readers to want to be the hero/heroine rather than ensnare the love interest.  And I think that that’s a good thing.  I might quite like a Dan Stevens-esque Edward Ferrers to rock up at my door, but I’ve just not got the patience of Elinor Dashwood.

Have a cracking Saturday everyone.