And if you enjoy the video, come next year! It's a fantastic weekend.
And if you enjoy the video, come next year! It's a fantastic weekend.
I picked up a battered mass-market paperback copy of Fifth Business off the street in May, on the simple principle that I had heard good things about it and it was free, and then I stuck it in my bag as lightweight (sizewise) reading for a trip to Arizona in June. These were both excellent spur-of-the-moment decisions -- the very kind of tiny choices that Davies writes about here as influencing our whole lives.There was one passage in particular in World of Wonders that stood out to me, and I wanted to write it out here both for the sharp beauty of its prose and the wisdom of its thought:
If Boy Staunton hadn't thrown the stone...
If Dunstan Ramsey hadn't ducked...
If Mrs. Dempster hadn't been hit, and given birth prematurely to her son Paul...
Thus do these four people's fates entwine. But while the trilogy does focus on the inner characters that impel our choices -- like Boy's native cruelty and Dunstan's natural passivity -- it also pays great honor to the unknowable in those characters and in the world around them: the mysteries of our psychology, and of what some of these characters would call fate and others God. Everyone was fully drawn and alive on the page, and Davies's prose crackles like the Swiss mountain air in which much of The Manticore and World of Wonders are set. My favorite remains Fifth Business, which combined the focused narrator of the second book with the wide-ranging story of the third, and at less length than either; but all three were wonderfully mind-opening & refreshing to read.
A friend on Twitter told me Robertson Davies is "the Gabriel Garcia Marquez of Canada," and that seems right.
[Oswald Spengler, an early 20th-century historian] talks a great deal about what he calls the Magian World View, which he says we have lost, but which was part of the Weltanschauung--you know, the world outlook--of the Middle Ages. It was a sense of the unfathomable wonder of the invisible world that existed side by side with a hard recognition of the roughness and cruelty and day-to-day demands of the tangible world. It was a readiness to see demons where nowadays we see neuroses, and to see the hand of a guardian angel in what we are apt to shrug off ungratefully as a stroke of luck. It was religion, but a religion with a thousand gods, none of them all-powerful and most of them ambiguous in their attitude toward man. It was poetry and wonder which might reveal themselves in the dunghill, and it was an understanding of the dunghill that lurks in poetry and wonder. It was a sense of living in what Spengler called a quivering cavern-light which is always in danger of being swallowed up in the surrounding, impenetrable darkness.The trilogy was written in the 1970s, and I would venture that now, as a culture, the "civilized" Western world is farther from the Magian World View than we have ever been. . . . The omnipresence of communications, and particularly of those services that encourage us to share our every thought and feeling almost before we've actually had it -- and then reward us for doing so with more attention, more stimulation -- stamp out wonder by leaving very little time to experience it for itself. At the same time, those communications make us aware of how large the world is, and often how scary, how many threats there are to our small and vulnerable selves -- and this too discourages wonder, by activating our fight and flight instincts above our imaginations and ability to stand still.
This was what [Character X in the novel] seemed to have, and what made him ready to spend his time on work that would have maddened a man of modern education and modern sensibility. We have paid a terrible price for our education, such as it is. The Magian World View, in so far as it exists, has taken flight into science, and only the great scientists have it or understand where it leads; the lesser ones are merely clockmakers of a larger growth, just as so many of our humanist scholars are just cud-chewers or system-grinders. We have educated ourselves into a world from which wonder, and the fear and dread and splendour and freedom of wonder have been banished. Of course wonder is costly. You couldn't incorporate it into a modern state, because it is the antithesis of the anxiously worshipped security which is what a modern state is asked to give. Wonder is marvellous but it is also cruel, cruel, cruel. It is undemocratic, discriminatory, and pitiless.
I'm 52. Been gay all my life. The thing is that being ME is way more complex than being gay…. Being gay is part of me, but certainly not all of me. You will find in this world, despite what you may be hearing here, that most gay and lesbian folks are just folks and just like anyone's sexuality, gayness is a larger part of some aspects of one's life than others. The Potter books are written through Harry's eyes. Through Harry's eyes, there was no reason to know about his Headmaster's sex life… just like you would have no reason for any high school kid to know about his or her principal's sex life. The reason so many of us think it is cool is because she told the story of a GREAT man who happened to be gay, not a GAY man who happened to be great. If you think about it there is a world of difference in the two and that is why she didn't need to put anything in the books, but when someone asked about his great loves she was honest and told people how she envisioned Dumbledore. And since she created him, the way she envisioned him is the way he IS. Some people may not like hearing it but then some people don't like hearing the answer when they ask me something that demands an honest answer. Long ago I gave up believing it was okay to be dishonest because some people are uncomfortable. And even before that I gave up believing that being gay made me less of a valued person—either in the eyes of the supreme being or in the eyes of anyone who is really worth caring about.
I’ve spent a good deal of the last two days reading comments on various websites about Deathly Hallows and talking to friends about their opinions. And while I really, really, really don’t want to debate here or apologize (in the rhetorical sense) for every plot point readers dislike, I’d like to write a little about two things that keep coming up in the reactions, and that deserve further thought before everyone hates on them completely. For the record, I have no special insight into these subjects beyond that of a reader who’s had the privilege of thinking about them for seven months rather than twenty-four hours; and this is also of course only my interpretation: I am definitely not speaking for J. K. Rowling or Scholastic or anyone else.
The Deathly Hallows: “What is their point?” some readers gripe. “What role do they serve in this book?” "She had the Horcruxes, she had to add another magical device?" This series, like any fantasy novel in which the characters wield magic, and like much of children’s literature in general, is at its thematic heart very much about power: who has it, how far it goes, the wise use of it, if it should be used at all. Voldemort is obsessed with it, like most evil overlords are, and he sees it as unequivocally good: the more, the better. And this approach parallels his obsession with death, which he sees as unequivocally bad: a weakness (the opposite of power), a failure.
The Hallows combine these two obsessions in three objects and use them to test Harry’s character: Will he chase down the Hallows? Will he take the ultimate power over death? That is certainly what Voldemort would do, if he knew all three existed; it was what Dumbledore wanted to do, when he was the age Harry is in this book; and it would provide Harry with the conventional means of destroying Voldemort—accumulating greater firepower (emphasis on the “power” there) with the Elder Wand, rather than undermining him from within by chipping away at the Horcruxes.
And Harry rejects them. He keeps his Cloak, but drops the stone somewhere in the Forest (there’s a fanfic waiting to be written); and most significantly, he decides not to keep the Elder Wand: He rejects fame, power, and immortality in favor of normalcy and a sandwich. I am not well-versed enough in epic fantasy conventions to know how unusual this is in the genre, the decision that the best use of power is abstention from it; but it is the perfect ending for Harry’s story, when he’s constantly been the victim of power, from page one with his parents’ deaths. His decision proves him truly the opposite of Voldemort, because his understanding of love, power, and death is so much richer and deeper than Tom Riddle’s; and he would not have been able to make that choice (that key J. K. Rowling word," choice") if he were not confronted with it in the form of the Hallows.
And this leads me to the epilogue. It is not receiving much love, I see—some people hate it because it doesn’t answer all their questions, some people hate it because it gives answers they don’t want, and some people just find it cheesy. I think it paid off five essential themes of the series (not just the book):
Finally, some things I love about the book (not all, but some):
ETA: For more thoughts on the epilogue and a theory on Teddy Lupin, click here.
Exactly 24 hours from the minute I'm writing this sentence, people will rush toward boxes, grab bound stacks of paper from them, and read as though nothing else on earth mattered. And while Muggles (and Roger) may scoff at the term, it truly is a magic moment: a reunion with old friends; the beginning of a great adventure; an experience shared with millions of other people around the world, when our world so rarely unites in love of anything, much less a book. I remember my pure joy when I first laid hands on Goblet of Fire at a midnight release party in Leawood, Kansas -- the longed-for story, mine at last -- and I wish you all that joy, and all the reading pleasure that follows.
The colophon at the back of the American edition of Deathly Hallows mentions a number of people involved in its production, but many others deserve recognition and remembrance for their roles in bringing this book to readers:
Finally, if you are home at 11:35 p.m. EST tonight (Friday) -- awaiting delivery of your copy on Saturday, surely -- you can tune in to "Nightline" on ABC for an interview-cum-profile of me and my work on the HP books. A camerawoman actually came to Queens with me this past evening for the Harry and the Potters concert (which was fantastic), so besides shots of my unnaturally neat office and unprecedentedly made-up face, you can see me and several of my friends rocking out to "Save Ginny Weasley" and "Stick It to Dolores." Good times! (There will be one more item in this Parade of Incredible Famousness, coming next week, and then midnight strikes, the mice run home, and I revert to being a happily behind-the-scenes mild-mannered children's book editor. But in the meantime, it's fun.)
The happiest of Harry days to you all!