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From footnote 17 to Lovecraft's The Horror at Red Hook (Penguin Classics), excerpted from Lovecraft's correspondence. He's describing one of his neighbors, from when he lived here.
[O]nce a Syrian had the room next to mine and played eldritch and whining monotones on a strange bagpipe which made me dream ghoulish and incredible things of crypts under Baghdad and limitless corridors of Eblis beneath the moon-cursed ruins of Iskatar.

Blatant racism? Plum-purple prose? Random imaginary place names? Lovecraft himself provided us the perfect template for mocking him. God bless you, H.P., wherever you are...
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We saw this film the other night. What a mess. Here is a movie that addresses neither the generalities nor the particulars of its source material: Cho Chang (!!) betrays the D.A., Dumbledore yells at the students, Umbridge lays the smack down on McGonagall (instead of the other way around), Harry listlessly hands over the prophecy to Lucius Malfoy, etc. etc. etc. A hardcore fan's nightmare.

But it's only these gross infidelities that prevent you from concluding that the screenwriter must have randomly selected pages from the novel for his adaptation. The pacing is bizarre, disjointed. Major plot points are left out. Superfluous details survive. Moviegoers who attend OotP without having read the book will have a rough time working out why any of the stuff happening on the screen matters.

This was all disappointing, since, after a re-read, I've decided I like the novel a lot. I like that there's no "Aha! X was actually Y!" moment: there are prevarications, yes, and deceptions, but no "twists." I like that the primary evil of the novel—Umbridge—is an ordinary, bureaucratic evil. It makes Harry's struggle seem more familiar. He's dealing with an evil that we've experienced (maybe we've fought against it, maybe we've been complicit in it).

Another thing I didn't notice on the first read: Rowling's portrayal of Harry's psychology is surprisingly sophisticated. I think most people write off his sullen grumpiness as "being a teenager" or whatever, but I think that's just one factor among many. Harry's dealing with trauma on one hand (bearing witness to the events at the cemetery at the end of Goblet) and powerlessness on the other. The powerlessness stems from multiple factors: his adolescence, yes, but also his celebrity (he's powerless to change the way people think about him), and the decisions of the adults around him. The fact that Voldemort is continually on the verge of completely taking over his mind recapitulates and completes this powerlessness. He's not safe anywhere, not even in his own head. No wonder he's grumpy.

Harry's problems in OotP are primarily psychological problems, and in general (I think) we expect our heroes to cope with such problems wordlessly—or preferably, not acknowledge them at all. The fact that Rowling sticks to this complex characterization even in a YA fantasy novel is, I think, admirable and kind of progressive.

Daniel Radcliffe does manage to communicate some of this complexity, and his performance (along with Imelda Staunton's Umbridge) is one part of the movie that doesn't completely suck. The other thing that doesn't suck is the idea of Dudley Dursley done up hip-hop style—a perfect image that hadn't occurred to me before.

March 2016

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