Monday, July 16, 2007
The Subversive Harry Potter
Last week, the American publishers of the Harry Potter series parked a souped-up "Knight Bus" in front of the Main Branch of the San Francisco Public Library as part of a promotional tour for the latest and last installment of J.K. Rowling's seven-book series, though there seems no conceivable reason to spend a dime on promotion.
I was an early Potterphile, reading the first two books a couple of weeks before the publication of the third and possibly best volume, "The Prisoner of Azkhaban," and the books restored my faith in the novel as a serious agent of change in the world.
The author, J.K. Rowling, once related how after thinking about various narratives, the entire Harry Potter tale came rushing to her in a vision, I believe while she was on a train. This doesn't strike me as at all farfetched, particularly since the books have proven so politically and culturally prescient. What are the Bush and Blair administrations, after all, but the Return of the Deatheaters with their sense of privilege and entitlement riddled with evil?
Besides their ingenious plotting, compelling characters, brilliant names, and satisfyingly imagined alternate world, the books are filled with complex morals for children and young adults. "Appearances are not necessarily what they seem," "Learn to think for yourself," and "Question authority" are probably the most important and submersive messages that are illustrated repeatedly in fascinating ways.
For instance, the latest film and the book it's based on, "The Order of the Phoenix," is in part a savage parody of Rupert Murdoch with his tabloid papers and Fox TV, not to mention the official papers of record such as The New York Times, The London Times, and the Washington Post who have all become official lie-mongerers in their eagerness to invade Iraq and consolidate the coming Corporate State.
The latest movie, in fact, may be the best film translation so far in the series, as it takes the most bloated book and condenses it skillfully. My only real criticism is that the last three movies have gone for a darker, edgier look which is fine, but does sunlight really have to be obliterated altogether from the palette? In the fourth film we didn't see the sun until the last fifteen minutes, and this latest installment opens up on a sunny English field which soon turns Dark with Dementors, and then don't see another sunny scene for the entire film. Dark works better with a little light, moviemakers, and is probably more faithful to the spirit of the books.