Category Archives: Harry Potter

A small travelling miscellany

I lied a little. I told Daughter I’d only visited Cambridge twice, but once we got there I remembered a third time. Still, it’s not a lot, is it?

She had cause to go there for a couple of days, and I asked to be allowed to come along, to see a little more of the world and to discover if there was anything new since 2006. (Open Day, with Son, trailing round as many colleges as possible…) I’d say there was.

The weather was gloriously cold and sunny. And isn’t it marvellous how flat it is? Realised on the train home that I’d not travelled north of Cambridge before, so I really enjoyed seeing the flat landscape as I left. It might have been there on Monday as well, but it was dark so I can’t be sure.

I saw Newton’s apple tree. I’d been a little confused, thinking I was being promised to see his apple, but Daughter pointed out this was unlikely. I suppose someone ate it. I saw a Hogwarts shop. Or two. Had a nice cream tea, including the largest milk jug I’ve ever come across in a tearoom. Admired the Christmas lights in the darkening streets.

We met up with Anne Rooney, who kindly sacrificed some of her morning on us, and introduced us to a non-chain coffee shop. (If this makes it sound like we did nothing but drink tea and coffee, it’s because we – almost – didn’t.)

I didn’t actually have time to read any of the three books I’d brought until I was on the second train home, and I only finished one of them.

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A bit of ethnic cleansing?

Eleven years on, I had not returned to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, except for watching the films when they came. Daughter, on the other hand, has the audiobook on loop to fall asleep to, so between actually falling asleep occasionally, she does get a lot of reminders of all that happened in all of the Harry Potter books. Besides, she’s young and not forgetful in the way I am.

During my recent foray into Stephen Fry at bedtime territory, I also fell asleep with the help of Harry. We had book seven on this past week, and mostly the beginning of it. And I realised I’d forgotten about the ethnic cleansing aspect of the plot.

I also realised that what was going on in a world where you had to have pure magic, and how muggles couldn’t ever be the real deal, was precisely what’s filled the media in recent weeks. J K Rowling must have written Deathly Hallows 12 or 13 years ago, which just goes to show how everything comes back, and comes back far too soon, when it’s something bad.

There is obviously no question about Hermione’s status as a witch. But that doesn’t stop people from questioning her magic. What does this remind you of today? Well, I suppose it depends where you live. I’m afraid that my sleepy mind suddenly could see very little difference between our ‘beloved leader’ and Dolores Umbridge.

On Wikipedia I found the following, which is worryingly apt today:

J K Rowling on Wikipedia

Now, what does that make you think of?

Spend with Harry

Back in autumn 2001 we were quite pleased with our Hermione doll for Daughter for Christmas. We were in London, and had a little look in Harrods, and found Hermione and bought her. I’d say she was a successful gift, but that maybe Daughter was just that little bit too old to really play with the doll. And maybe Hermione wasn’t intended to be played with. What do I know?

Anyway, I seem to recall the doll cost a little over £20, which as a parental purchase was OK.

On the other hand, I do agree with journalist Alice O’Keeffe, who wrote in the Guardian about her seven-year-old son who thought long and hard about spending nine weeks’ pocket money on a small chocolate frog (£4.50). But I agree less with Alice’s thoughts on the general commercialisation of Harry Potter merchandise.

If you go to a gift shop after a Harry Potter tour of some kind, you have to expect it to be too expensive, especially at the level of a child’s pocket money. And if you do go into the shop, especially with a fairly young child, you need to have done the adult thing first, which is to either bite the bullet and let the child have something overpriced that you pay for, or to talk to them about this and how you really can’t afford, or tolerate, this price level, and you’re not going to stop, or buy.

You are the adult. It’s your job as a parent to teach your small human what is all right, and what isn’t. In the end it’s up to you to decide whether to go somewhere like this at all.

I don’t feel it’s fair to blame J K Rowling for the £4.50 frog.

And to some extent I reckon the merchandise has been produced for somewhat older fans. In my own friends and family circle the immediate customers for these kinds of items that I can think of are on the ‘wrong’ side of 30. And they can afford wands and broomsticks, school uniforms and yes, the chocolate frog.

With this in mind, I was intrigued to learn that my old neighbourhood has a Harry Potter shop. Stockport now boasts a shop called Hoot, and what’s more, it’s a charity shop. No, I can’t quite get my head round that, either.

But it seems that anyone can open a shop and source the same products you would go to Harrods for. So if you require a wand, downtown Stockport might well be the place for you. It’s just a bit annoying that this happened after I moved away, and it wasn’t there when The New Librarian and Pizzabella were regular visitors at Bookwitch Towers.

And if shopping at Hoot is too expensive, you can always make your own wand, or buy a [used] striped school tie in a normal charity shop. It’s what we did, and I am a witch, after all.

Threats and promises

Surely the least you should be able to expect is that someone will die?

If the blurb on the cover of a book says that people will die, then that’s what will happen. If ‘not everyone will be alive,’ I expect this to cover the good guys in the book. If it was only the case that a bad character snuffs it, then we are hard-hearted enough not to mind too much.

I mean, it’s obviously great if none of your beloved regular characters die in the course of the book, because you prefer them alive and kicking. And a little threat on the cover is not necessarily a bad thing; it makes you definitely* want to read the book, and you will be a little afraid, and then you will heave a sigh of relief when it turned out that they twisted the truth.

But should they lie?

You can write things in such an ambiguous way that the reader can’t be certain. They will think it’ll be all right, and they will hope. But they won’t know. When I write reviews I try and hint that you can’t be totally sure all will be well. But I work on staying truthful, and on there being no spoilers.

The thing is, if it’s a book not intended purely for adults, then most likely the characters you care about will live. There are unspoken rules.**

*I remember when the Retired Children’s Librarian told me she stopped watching NCIS halfway through season three. In fact, she switched off partway through an episode, because when the knives came out, she simply grew too frightened. To be helpful, I pointed out that they were unlikely to kill a main character just like that. The knives were a threat intended to worry you a little, and make you wonder how they were going to get out of this situation. Not if.

** I know. What about Lupin and Dumbledore, Fred Weasley, Dobby, or even Snape?

What (not) to buy in 2018?

It was the Resident IT Consultant who mentioned it first. He noted that that David Walliams seemed to be everywhere in the top 100 books sold in 2017. I wasn’t surprised, but wish I had been. I’ve not counted the DW books on the list. Daughter did, but reckoned I probably didn’t want to hear how many.

I am pleased that a children’s book came second on that list. (Also pleased that it was – considerably – outsold by Jamie Oliver.) But I really would have wanted it to be a different book. I know; it’s good that children read. Or at least that someone is buying the books, whether or not they get read.

If it was any other book, I’d also be happy for the author who was financially rewarded, along with his or her publisher.

To return to my previously mentioned lesson learned from Random House, we should be grateful these books make money, because they help publish other books that simply don’t sell in great numbers. Well, all I can say is that on the strength of the DW sales, HarperCollins should be able to support an awful lot of ‘smaller’ books. Children’s books at that.

I don’t know this, but how much of such revenue goes to happy shareholders? Instead of being re-invested in more book products. I’m aware that DW has a past of doing charitable things, even if that was a stunt requiring other people to cough up the cash. Does he support any worthy causes with the income from his books?

In the same Guardian there was an article about a businessman who has received rather a large bonus, an amount of money that it was suggested could do a lot of good if used to solve the sad state of the homeless. My guess is he won’t do this. (Although, think of how he’d be remembered for all time – in a positive way – if he did!)

So, DW and publisher: Is there any likelihood of you doing this kind of good deed? We only require so much money for our own needs.

But back to the list. I’ve not read much on it. This is usually the case, as most of the big sellers are generally adult novels I don’t have time for, or recipe books and biographies of or by people I’ve barely heard of.

This year Philip Pullman is in tenth place and I’ve read his book. Of older books there’s obviously Harry Potter, and I have at some point looked at a Where’s Wally and the Wimpy Kids books.

The usual suspects such as Lee Child, Jodi Picoult, John Grisham, Dan Brown, are there; but interspersed with countless DW titles. Jacqueline Wilson and Julia Donaldson, often the biggest contributors to children’s books on the list of bestsellers, are at the bottom end. There is Wonder, which presumably has reappeared because of the recent film.

While horrified in general, I am hoping that this willingness to buy lots of children’s books will continue. And I’m hoping for more diverse purchases, which will be made possible only when publishers don’t only push celebrity titles. I’d like for there to be more excellent children’s titles, but the truth is that there are countless terrific books already in existence. They ‘merely’ need to be sold to the buyers of books. Use some of that money on telling the world about your other writers.

I’d like to mention a few recent HarperCollins books here as examples, but I’ve not been told about many. The new Oliver Jeffers book was ‘sold’ to me. I asked about the Skulduggery Pleasant book myself when I discovered its existence. I was offered an adult crime novel on the suggestion by the author. And someone emailed me to say she was leaving the company. This is not to say there weren’t heaps and heaps of great books. Just that there was no publicity coming my way, and possibly not going to others either.

Happy New Reading in 2018!!!

The film of the book

Why do newspapers insist on illustrating an article about a book with a still from the film?

Is it because no one thinks about basics like book covers, or is it that much sexier to have a photo of one or several actors? Are readers (of the newspaper, not the book) deemed to be so shallow that they can only be interested in something straight out of Hollywood?

The second half of 2017 offered quite a few written pieces on the much awaited Book of Dust, and invariably I found myself staring at the film still of Lyra* on Yorek’s back. OK, a small girl riding an armoured bear is striking, but so are many of the book covers of the His Dark Materials books.

With Harry Potter you even have two covers for each original Potter book, adult and child version. And with seven books, that’s a good many choices. But you are offered countless film stills when you google Harry Potter, and if you try Hermione Granger it’s pure Emma Watson.

Even the seasonal The Railway Children offers film pictures before you finally come to a few book covers.

So I suppose it makes sense that someone needing an illustration for an article does a search for whatever it is and finds an attractive photo of real people, rather than a painted or drawn book cover.

And then of course, they put the film still on the book as a new fresh cover, and the movie aspect of the book just grows and grows.

J K Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone

(Book cover by Thomas Taylor)

* I take this back. The Retired Children’s Librarian sent me a cutting from Expressen (Swedish tabloid). It was a review of La Belle Sauvage. This was illustrated by high-rise buildings under attack from massive waves, straight out of the film The Day After Tomorrow…

Doune done

It’s not a bookshop, but alongside all the tea sets and silver and old furniture, they do sell books, as I mentioned yesterday. Last week they had Harry Potter 4 and Harry Potter 5. Both first editions, and reasonably priced. £20 for HP4 and £10 for HP5.

Well, we all have those first editions, but at least no one is trying to demand a fortune.

Before leaving the Antique’s paradise, I just had to go and check on one of the most fascinating items they sell. I’ve seen it there for the last year, at least, and they still haven’t sold it.

I’m not sure they even know what it is, apart from a sort of bookcase. It’s the bespoke bookcase for the Encyclopaedia Britannica, in one of its early editions.

We know this, because we have one just like it, except we also happen to have the actual encyclopaedia on the shelves in ours. And we have tried, and failed, to sell it for £100.

Encyclopaedia Britannica

Here they are asking £145 for the bookcase alone. It’s down from £165, and still not selling…