Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: A Review

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Over the last week, the internet has been flooded with people posing with the new Harry Potter book and posting reviews on it. Well, a seasoned HP fan myself, I couldn’t resist. Like a  lot of people, I had pre-ordered my copy of the cursed child back in May with Amazon. However, I had to spend four agonizing days waiting for the book to be delivered after it was released! I finally got the book yesterday, and now that I am done with a book, I just have to say one thing- thank you J K Rowling! thank you for keeping the universe alive! Thank you for giving us more Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny! Thank you for giving us another visit to Hogwarts!….. Just thank you !!!! Ok now that the fan girl has been put aside, fair warning, Spoilers ahead! so if you don’t want to know what happens, then stop right here.

While there were parts I loved about the story, there were parts which I wish had been done differently. First off, I knew that this book was to be in a play script format, so I didn’t go in blind. However, while I usually like a good play, I just wish this was written in the traditional novel form as were the other HP books. The reason for that is that this book introduced and centred around new characters. While the dynamic trio were back, they were not the focus of the story. I don’t know Albus or Severus, and found it very difficult to associate with their thought processes and had to make some significant leaps in understanding for it.

Also, as a play, it was at times disjointed, and jumping across timelines and spaces, which I accept, was the whole plot in itself. But unless you were paying a lot of attention, it was easy to get lost. Another thing I felt, and I may be mistaken, is that at times, the characters which we are familiar with, such as Snape, Dumbledore, Harry and Ginny read differently. They did stuff I wouldn’t usually expect for them. Whether that be Snape’s advice to Scorpius, or Dumbledore’s portrait crying or Harry and Ginny’s conversation. At times it felt that a lot of things happened or were said not because that’s what the character would do, but that was what was required for progressing the plot.

Another quip I had, Rowling seems to have spend some time getting acquainted with the fan theories and fan fictions out there, Bellatrix and Voldemort’s child, really!!! I find that hard to swallow for a couple of reasons,

a. Voldemort does not seem like the character who would want the burdens of an heir- he wanted immortality, that somehow negates the whole need for a heir;

b. I had assumed that all the dark magic and being resurrected would have severely affected his ability to impregnate anyone. Though I can believe that he may have purely used Bellatrix for “release”. Though again, in keeping with his view on ‘weaknesses’ would he really have given in to such cravings?;

c. If Voldemort had chosen to have a child, I would have thought he would use magic to create one- perfect mastery over death (through immortality) and life (by creating life) itself.

d. in the deathly hallows, we see Bellatrix very close to the end, when Harry, Ron and Hermione are taken to the Malfoy Manor and are led to believe she was out and about (when Hermione impersonated her to take break into Gringotts), so when was this baby born and where in the world and how was she hidden!

Though yes, it makes sense that if he did choose to have a child and went about the conventional way to do it, then Bellatrix was a good choice, a pure blood devoted and powerful witch.

Unfortunately I wasn’t sold on the whole Augurey idea either, simply because it was just not given enough time for me to imbibe it. I had to Google it eventually to understand why that would be important. Another thing I was not sold on, the interaction between Delphii and Harry/Voldemort, the dialogue was just not Voldemort, he is the dark lord for crying out loud.

Also, some things never got explained, such as:

a. why did Harry start transforming back on his own?;

b. why did Albus not have flying skills considering both his parents were amazing flyers?;

c. How was Harry’s scar and related to Delphii, was it enough for her to be Voldemort’s blood to trigger it?

d. What about all that movement Hermione is referring to? the Dark side gaining strength?

e. out of curiosity, do Dementors still exist?

f. where was the blanket for so long!

g. Why did Rose react the way she did?, I find it difficult to believe that Hermione and Ron raised her that prejudiced, and that too against her first cousin or even a Malfoy for that matter.

h. Why didn’t Ginny allow her kids sweets?

Lastly, I missed some of the old characters, Neville, the other weasleys, Hagrid, the other kids, but that’s just the fan in me.

I also think this book was purely for the existing Potter lovers, for those familiar with the universe, its rules and history. I am sure the ones who just wanted to read this book without the background would be very confused.

However, not to sound as a hater, let me clarify, I did love it overall. My favourite parts were definitely the interactions between Hermione and Ron. That’s exactly how I would picture a couple who know each other so well to behave. I especially loved Hermione threatening to Skewer Ron with a quill if he asked for a break. There was no doubt, no hesitation, not even for a second did she entertain the idea that that could be a risk, or at least a risk she couldn’t threaten away. I overall loved the third and fourth act, they definitely made up for the initial  two average acts.

To sum it up, yes its not perfect, no where near that – a 7 on 10. But it is still Harry Potter, and that itself is worth more than a lot of the books out there. Its probably the last book with the fandom’s favourite trio. So if you like Harry Potter, do read it! If you have never read Harry Potter (which rock were you under?) read the rest first and then read this. Also, for those who can go, do watch the play live, I am sure if  performed well ( which I am assuming it will be) it will be amazing and heart melting.

 

Grey by E. L. James

In June 2015, E. L. James released ‘Grey’, providing the much awaited Fifty Shades of Grey rendition from the PoV of Christian Grey. I personally had access to the book for a couple of months but only got around to reading it last week, and that to just out of curiosity of how the story was narrated.

When I had read the original Trilogy, I was far from impressed, and found it an average story not worth the hype. Apparently the hype followed this latest book as well. However, if I am being completely honest, I have to say, I fortunately/ unfortunately prefer this PoV to Anna’s!

Don’t get me wrong, the story obviously hasn’t changed, its just the understanding that this book has allowed into Grey’s character is much appreciated. I read some of the reviews of the book, and most of them were pretty scathing. If I remember correctly the book was criticized as being a narration of a sexual offender and James was criticized for giving Grey is a single minded focus, all he apparently can think of is sex.

I agree with these assessments, but what I am failing to understand is why this came as a shock to people. From the original trilogy its obvious that that is what Grey is !!!! someone who was abused sexually in his younger years and someone who has been conditioned to thing in a single minded manner. He doesn’t understand emotion and hasn’t been given an opportunity to develop the maturity of an adult to handle them! In this regard he is a child and the only way he knows how to engage in a relationship (barring his family) is in a sexual manner- ” This is the only way I know how”. All of this was already established in the original books, so why is it a problem now.

Grey’s introduction to adolescences and puberty was in the hands of Elena, and I agree with Anna’s assessment, she was a pedophile. Through her conditioning, Grey learned to harness his energy, focus, take out his frustrations in a particular manner. She didn’t teach him how to deal with emotions, she taught him how to control them, how to harness them, and when he couldn’t, how to let them out in a controlled manner, punish those who didn’t do as he wanted and sexually reward those who did, and in a situation where no-one could go running to the cops. She conditioned him to associate sexual satisfaction with the BDSM lifestyle and the BDSM lifestyle only. She conditioned him to associate relationship’s with sex, and not ‘more’.  If you look at it from one way, Grey remained her submissive, living the life she wanted him to, on numerous occasions having relationships with women she chose, until Ana. I also understand his need for control- its the only way  he knows how to ensure that the neither he or his loved ones get hurt and given his past, I will give him that. That’s how he shows affection. Those he doesn’t care about, he doesn’t bother with.

In keeping with this, I think James did a fantastic job of narrating the story from Grey’s perspective. She stayed true to the character she build. In the first book, that was his only mind-set! he worked, he flew, soared and fucked. His relation with women was only that- of a submissive, that’s all he cared about.

So  yes, I don’t agree with the assessment that James failed to write an accurate perception or a complex character. I will reserve that judgement for the next book, where the evolution of Grey actually happens. I think the problem lies more in the readership today, where we are stuck in the fanciful notions of a dark knight changing his ways for the princess (though it is arguable that that’s what happens in these books). Our romanticism for a seemingly dark character who is actually a gem of a person underneath it all. Girls falling for the bad guy, whether that be Edward Cullen of Christian Grey. I agree with the perception that if Grey wasn’t filthy rich this story wouldn’t be that romantic. That is true, because I don’t see it as a romance at all. No matter how you see it, fact remains, that Grey takes pleasure in the pain of others, he hits women who look like his mother, he is a controlling, stalking and intrusive man who doesn’t understand personal boundaries, he is someone who has not yet matured emotionally, doesn’t know how to handle his emotions without a whip in his hand. and this book remains faithful to that character.

So overall I will say this, the book is a good narration of the character, the story still remains weak, but that can’t be helped now and the problem lies not with the writer but in the present day perception of romance and the bad guys being actually good.

Chronicles of Narnia: An uncomfortable reminder

I know my next blog was supposed to be on my trip to Bangladesh but once again there is something that I just couldn’t get of my mind. My blog on Bangladesh, though there isn’t much, will be up by sometime late next week, as I will be travelling this week to Bhopal.

Last week, I finished reading the seven books that make the Chronicles of Narnia. Yes, I am a 25-year-old, who read a book that I probably too young for my 10-year-old niece. I read it because a very dear friend of mine (who is an english major by the way) recommended it. She felt that since I had loved Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, I would love Narnia as well. Since she is my oldest friend, I am willing to forgive her. I regretfully say that I seriously did not like the books. This was not just because the books were written for kids but also because I felt they were extremely high-handed in some of their lessons and some lessons were downright wrong.

These books, were published in the years 1950-1956 and were written by Lewis for his god-daughter, who also happens to be named Lucy. I will not give a summary of these books, since I am sure all book readers or movie watchers are aware of this book.

I like the fact that Lewis wrote these books to impart certain valuable lessons to his god-daughter in a fun and exciting way. For that he gets my appreciation. However, there are a lot of things I didn’t like about these books. The biggest problems I had with these books was the creation of the bad guys, the Telmarines.

The Telmarines, were first introduced in the book Prince Caspian, and were obviously fashioned around Arabs. All throughout this book and the subsequent books, the association with the Arabs is obvious in the architecture, and dressing sense described. Yes the Telmarines are the bad guys, yes this is a kids books so subtlety really wasn’t an option and yes these books were written in a time when racial discrimination was rampant but come on!!!!!!!!! I had a serious problem with the manner in which the Telmarines were painted, and only half of it was because I too am part of a race/skin color that was called “Darky” by the Caucasians.

Lewis’s prejudice towards the darker skin colors was very obvious and disappointing, as I don’t know why but I have expected writers to be more open-minded. As the books progress the manner in which the Telmarines are painted as bad becomes more and more high-handed and eventually took a religious turn. Even the Telmarines who are the ‘good guys’ such as Caspian, are good only because they believe in Aslan and not the Telmarine God Tash. Aslan, who is the representation of the Biblical God, is the only true God, and those who don’t believe in him were destined for hell, as happens in the last book, the Final Battle.

I shudder to think, how many children have read these books, and how many have come to associate or have their thought process re-inforced that dark skin people are bad, or even those who don’t believe in your religion or belief are bad. As a dark toned person and a Hindu by religion I would take offence, had these books not been written so long ago. However, yes I will probably not read these books to my children, and if I do, I will do some serious editing, and will not read the last one for sure.

Oh well, I am now reading Anna Karenina, and have liked it so far so hopefully if I do have something to say on that it will be positive. Until next time.

The New Delhi World Book Fair: One of my favourite places to be

As I had stated in my previous post, this is one post that had been long pending. I say long pending because I had decided I was gonna do a post on this year’s New Delhi World Book Fair months before it actually happened in February. I think I decided the same time I checked the dates of this year’s fair, which would be sometime in October.

The New Delhi World Book fair, is India’s oldest book fair, and is one of the biggest book fairs in the afro-asian countries. It is organized by the National Book Trust and is honest to god one of my favourite places of Delhi. I have been going to the fair regularly every year for the last 6-7 years I think. I started going there when I was in my bachelors with my other friends, our liking of books making us put up with the kind of throngs only Delhi can produce.

This book fair attracts all sorts of people, the uber rich who are looking for that one really rare collectible, the teachers/book sellers who are looking to stock up their library and collections ( I actually saw one guy walk in with a suitcase this time… no joke), the students attending as part of their school, people who had nothing better to do and decided to check it out, people who like books and will definitely pick up 2-3 books every time they come to this fair (most of my friends come in this category) and of course the mad ones like myself who consider it an insult to the fair if the number of books you buy isn’t in the double digits at least.

This book fair has something for everyone, it has the collectibles and rare books, it has educational and thematic collections that are unparalleled in India, the publications of the major publishing houses from across the world, some with discounts some without and then my favourites, what I call the clearance stalls. The clearance stalls are basically stalls with dirt cheap books. Most of them sell the books at INR 100 or INR 200 for coffee table books while there are some that sell the books for INR 20 or INR 30. Those stalls are my Disney land.

These are primarily the stalls where book keepers are clearing their stocks, making space for new books and getting at least something out of the investment they made on these copies. Here you can find some of the world’s best seller, Daniel Steele, Jeffrey Archer, Nora Roberts, Sydney Sheldon, Jane Austen, Shakespeare and others frequenting these stalls.

Every year, my mother and I decide how much I can spend in these fairs and I try to spend as much as I can in these stalls. I regularly pick up 15-20 books at less than INR 2000 and that keeps my book appetite satisfied for most of the year. This year I picked up 19 for INR 1600, it felt amazing.

I guess, unlike my usual posts, this one doesn’t have a message or purpose behind it. This is one is simply an acknowledgement of one of my favourite places to go to, one place where I feel strength in numbers as a book lover. I guess this is for those who are in the city around mid february any year and would like to experience the city’s culture in a very different fashion and for the bibliophiles out there who would like to be part of one of the largest gathering of like-minded people. If you can, do take out the time next year and visit the New Delhi World Book Fair.

 

Fifty Shades of not quite what I expected

I know it has been sometime since I posted here, but unfortunately work has been excruciatingly hectic and I just wasn’t in the head space required to write. I don’t know why the companies in this country remember in the last quarter of the financial year that they have to show some investment and hand out contracts at unreal deadlines. But anyways enough cribbing about work problems. I have a post on Nepal version 2, my visit to the International Delhi Book Fair and the photos my dear friend wanted to see; still remaining, but this post is something that is still fresh in my head, and I think its obvious what it is about.

Yes, I read the Fifty Shades Trilogy. Just to clear something up, I did not read them because a movie was made on them, I had planned to read these for some time now, and only now managed to get copies of these books dirt cheap. Unfortunately, these were not books I was willing to buy at full price.

As the title of the post suggests, the books were not what I expected, and that is the sad part. I had sadly been optimistic that books this popular would be well written with a plot over and above the BDSM scene. However, While not exactly badly written, they definitely failed to impress. I am not a literary person, I am not someone who can quote authors and books at the blink of an eye or anything, but I am avid book reader. I like books that have a good plot, ‘a what happens next’ feel to them, I like books that have a story to them; a plot and a concrete end point, I like books with a good character development, which make you associate with the characters. It is in these aspects that I think E. L. James fails to deliver.

Don’t get me wrong, there were things about the books I really appreciated, especially that the books were not only about the BDSM scene. For that I am thankful because if I wanted to read only a BDSM story I would have picked up an erotica. Also, the books were well written in terms of their language. The best part however was the email banter between Anastasia and Christian, which made me smile, it was cute I gotta say.

However, that’s where the goods ended sadly. The books lacked a concrete pace and on many occasions the story line seemed to be drifting without a clear purpose. Furthermore, while the stories weren’t only about the BDSM scene, the rest of the narrative did not seem to have the same authority in story telling. Without any disrespect to the author, it almost felt like I was reading fan fiction instead of a published book, a well written fan fiction no doubt, but still not in the league of the big boys. The biggest problem I had with the story arc was that it did not surprise me at any point. The hints of where the story was going were obvious and started appearing well in advance to the effect that I was predicting what would happen next.

Another issue I had with the books were the manner in which they treated the concept of BDSM. Don’t get me wrong, I know its something that is not approved of by society. But from what little I understand of it, it is also about implicit trust in your partner, in rendering control to someone else and being assured that they would not abuse it. However, sadly the books painted it in a very negative light, with the character’s preference coming from the abuse and hardship he suffered as a child. While yes, everything I spoke of was there, and also towards the end, both Christian and Ana indulge in it for pleasure, I am afraid these aspects may have gotten lost in the narration for many.

So overall, while the Fifty Shades trilogy wasn’t bad, it wasn’t mind-blowing either. Not that it matters, but I would give it 2 points out of five. Having said that, I think these books will definitely remain in the memory of book readers for some time, only because it discussed in mainstream literature; a lifestyle and practices that were only mentioned in hushed murmurs before. Kudos to the author for taking that leap of faith and I hope the next books by her (if any) are better written in terms of story arcs.

 

The Secret Garden: Revealing the Magic

Its been a while since I posted, but I honestly couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I finished reading the Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, an all time classic and part of any top 100 book recommendation. Though not my favourite book in any category, it touched a chord somewhere, and I decided to post my next blog on exactly that.

I am a self-confessed book-worm and am always in the process of reading a book. I prefer reading a book to anything else and have at least 4-5 unread books on me at any given point of time. Like any other regular book reader I also have my favourite authors and genres, the Secret Garden sadly falls in neither of them. If I was to make another confession; it is that the only reason I even read this book was that it was available for free on kindle and I am trying to read more classics.

Agreed, this is not the raving praise a classic deserves, but don’t get me wrong, I liked it, I really did. The book is simple, its clean in a manner of speaking, it is a book with an honest, clear and heartfelt message, and most importantly; it is a book that one day I would love to read to my kids (whenever I have them).

The book is about a little girl named Mary, who is unloved by her parents and is a spoilt child with a disagreeable appearance and personality, a girl who has grown up with everything she could ask for; everything but love. After losing both her parents, she is shipped off to her distant uncle, in Yorkshire, who happens to be a hunchback. The uncle’s story is not a happy one either, with him being a ‘cripple’ and having lost his wife ten years ago. It’s at the mansion that Mary learns what it is like to be a girl, to be human and more importantly to be happy. It is at the mansion that Mary makes friends for the first time, first with Martha her maid, the Robin living in the Garden, Ben Weatherstaff; the Gardener, Dickon and his animal friends and finally Colin her cousin. It’s at the mansion that Mary discovers the secret garden, a ‘magical realm’ situated in reality; whose magic stems in part; as stated by Colin, from being a secret. This book is all about how Mary and Colin discover human relationships and discover the magic in the garden and in themselves.

While there are a number of aspects that would get discussed in a book review, through this post I would like to concentrate on what I felt was the most important part of the book; the magic. In many ways, that is what this book is about, magic, but not the Harry Potter types. It’s about the magic that is the power of nature, that is the power of human relationships, that is the power of positive thinking and self belief and most importantly of being happy.

The magic of nature; is the one that is talked of the most and in the most direct manner in the narration. This magic is demonstrated in the manner in which a dreadfully unhealthy girl and boy ‘transform’ when they come in contact with nature, quite like the ugly ducklings turning into beautiful swans. It’s the magic of nature that bestows upon Mary and Colin; strength for their bodies, appetites for their tummies and laughter and happiness for their hearts. This book demonstrates the preserving, healing and nurturing ways of nature. The author rightly places the timeline of the children’s growth; their ‘spring’; to the spring in nature, with the children blossoming and blooming with the garden. This book shows how even a dead looking tree or person; who appears to have no hope can be saved and can truly blossom if only shown a little love and care. The book shows how much damage we humans have done to ourselves by cutting ourselves off from nature, both in terms of our physical and mental well-being. It quite plainly points out the power of fresh air; clean nutritious food and physical exercise.

However, it should be noted that in no ways is this magic potent enough; its powerful no doubt, but unable to pull off miracles. No; the magic of nature in many ways is incomplete, without the other magics existing in the world. One such magic, is that of human relationships, of love. This book showcases two children, starved of human love and contact, whose only relationships have been with their servants; who are used to giving whatever their Master or Mistress desire, so as to avoid a tantrum. This book also showcases, a boy born into a poor family with a number of siblings, as being happier and healthier than the two children with all the material comforts money can buy. Within this magic, the most powerful form is described to be that of the relationship between a parent and a child. Thankfully for once, the author did not bias this towards the mother, as Colin equally craved the love, attention and approval of his father, as Mary had done of her mother; the “MemSahib”. This strong relationship is also showcased in the instant attraction and affection the children feel towards Dickon and Martha’s mother.

This part of the book made me think of as to what is in the love of a parent and a child that is so powerful. Perhaps, it’s the knowledge that if a child has this love, this protection, then they would not be forgotten about in a house infested with Cholera like Mary was, or would not be an ‘cripple’ and so upset for a long part of their life as Colin was. I have been blessed in the fact that I have a very strong relationship with my mother, and I know I am stronger for having had that. But I am also not delusional, I know there are bad parents out there; the Memsahib in this story is one of them. So what makes these relationships so powerful? from my own personal experience I would say its the sheer knowledge of being loved and the knowledge that even though your mother drops you from a cliff; it is only to teach you how to fly and that she will catch you before you hit the ground.

For the parents in turn this magic is in the form of the children being a manifestation of themselves, of literally being a part of them. This is seen in the book in the manner in which Colin’s father is afraid of looking at his son while he is awake. One of the reasons for this can be that Colin has his mother’s eyes and it pains his father to have to look at them. However, for me the bigger reason is that his father was afraid of looking at the failure of his parenthood; he was afraid of facing the possibility that he had let down his son; had passed on his ‘disease’; his ‘weakness’ to his son, which would eventually kill his son before he grew up. In many ways, I believe while parents have the power to afford strength to their children, children in turn provide parents with an opportunity at healing, at redemption and in many ways at forgiveness. Children provide their parents with an opportunity to in many ways relive their lives, to correct their mistakes, to live their dreams. While I know, this places an unbelievable pressure on the kids themselves, and is perhaps unfair to an extent, it does afford a healing touch to the parents themselves. Though the book doesn’t showcase it, I hope that seeing Colin healthy and happy, his father gets some peace, happiness and even forgiveness himself.

Finally, the third and probably the most potent magic for me, is that of positive thinking, of self belief and happiness. This is most clearly seen in the difference between Dickon and Mary and Colin. While Mary and Colin are both unhappy kids, who don’t play, run, laugh or even smile, Dickon is probably someone who has never had a bad or negative thought in his life. Mary has grown up with the belief that she doesn’t like other people, and is essentially starved of human contact, Colin is a child who has grown up constantly hearing that he is an invalid, a tragedy and will not live to be a grown up boy, and will probably be a cripple. While surrounded by these negative thoughts, both the kids are unhealthy and unhappy and overall disagreeable in every sense of the word. However, the moment they have something to  engage their minds positively, they begin to grow healthier and more agreeable in their personality. For me, personally, this is the magic that hits closest to home. I am well aware of the power of both positive and negative thinking, having gone through a pretty low phase little more than a year ago.

The book, is not complex in its writing style, its direct in its message and doesn’t rely on hidden clues to get its point across, it is story telling in its simplest form. The comparison is simple between Mary and Colin, who have had neither of the three magics, and Dickon who has all three. While Mary and Colin have definitely had the more comfortable life in terms of material comforts, there is no doubt on whose life I would choose, and it would not be theirs. This book also does not tell us anything we don’t already know, but probably have taken for granted in a manner that makes us forget sometimes. Like it is said, sometimes the best kept secrets are the ones kept in plain sight. So go on, spend some time outdoors, do a little gardening, build and nurture relationships, love a little, think positive and most importantly be happy. Build your own secret garden, your own safe haven, where you nourish and cultivate your personality, to blossom and grow and become stronger and happier than you have ever been. Weave some of your own magic, remember what Colin said, ‘the magic is in me’.