Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, July 18, 2005

Om Sommeren

Between the release of 'Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince', the Vancouver Folk Festival and the belated (albeit just in time for folkfest) arrival of summer here in Vancouver, there hasn't been much time for blogging the last few days.

As for folk fest, it was as good as always; my favourite act was the Danish duo of Haugaard & Høirup, whose album 'Om Sommeren' (In Summer) gives this post its title. Haugaard plays violin and Høirup plays guitar and they take their instruments pretty seriously. According to the liner notes, Haugaard's violin was made in Mittenwald in (roughly) 1760 while Høirup 'plays two Canadian guitars made by Jean Lariveé, Victoria B.C. and William (Grith) Laskin in Toronto'.

Something in my memory tugged at me with this last line and, sure enough, both Lariveé and Laskin were mentioned in a recent Globe article, 'Crafting Sound', the third in a series of ten articles celebrating Canada's most distinctive achievements. Says the Globe,
"Mr. Laskin is a Toronto luthier known internationally for his fine instruments and unique pictorial inlays. ... "Mr. Laskin's inlay art, which a California publisher celebrated in the lavish book A Guitarmaker's Canvas: the Inlay Art of William Laskin, is a visible symbol of Canada's distinctive place in the world of acoustic guitar-making. Several makers of Mr. Laskin's generation -- he's now 51 -- are creating instruments known around the world for their warm, balanced sound and impeccable craftsmanship.

"All patriotism aside, Canadian guitar builders are comparable to any I've ever seen," said David Wren, co-owner of The Twelfth Fret, a Toronto guitar boutique. "There's no doubt they're up there with the best."

Before devoting his energies full-time to his shop, Mr. Wren built guitars for the likes of Joan Baez, Jackson Browne and Roger Whittaker.

Mr. Laskin's clients have included Stan Rogers, Ottmar Liebert, Jesse Cook and kd lang."

and further down after mentioning a couple of other 'luthiers' (guitar-makers),
"All three luthiers studied with Jean-Claude Larriveé, a former Montreal auto mechanic who helped launch a distinctly Canadian approach to the craft in the late sixties.

At a time when most American makers felt obliged to follow the lead of C. F. Martin & Company, the dominant manufacturer of flat-top steel-string instruments, Mr. Larriveé decided to go his own way, and to share ideas with anyone who felt similarly inclined.

Mr. Larriveé was mainly interested in classical guitar, but could see that the market was headed in a different direction.

So, he adapted a classical model of construction to the needs of folk and pop guitarists, hoping to achieve a more integrated sound than was typical of the square-shouldered "dreadnought" guitars many players were using."

When I first read the column, I kind of skimmed it, said 'huh' and moved on, but obviously it stuck with me, and it seems like maybe the Globe had a point. Anyway, if you like Danish folk music, or really if you just like the combination of violin and guitar, I recommend Haugaard & Høirup.

It may not be fashionable to admit it, what with the series having become incomparably popular (as books go), but I've been a pretty big Harry Potter fan for many years now. I just finished reading the recently released (in case you hadn't heard) 'Half-Blood Prince'. Haven't had much time to digest it yet, but while I'd say it's unlikely to knock off 'Chamber of Secrets' or 'Prisoner of Azkaban' as my favourites in the series, it's still a very engrossing read.

One of the things I've always liked about the Harry Potter series is that it combines two of my favourite childhood genres, the fantasy series and the boarding school series. It's an interesting combination since fantasy series typically tend to have an almost travelogue-esque component, with a map inside the front cover and battles replacing museum tours as the hero(es) proceed to visit pretty much every place marked on that map. Whether it be Prydain, Middle Earth, Narnia, Fionavar, the worlds of the Belgariad or the Wheel of Time, or what have you, the basic pattern remains the same.

Meanwhile, the boarding school novel relies on the establishment of a single beloved place such as say Mallory Towers or MacDonald Hall. The first book introduces the main elements and rituals of the place and subsequent books in the series are like subsequent verses in a song, different words set to the same music and meter.

So bringing the two genres together must have posed a bit of a challenge for J.K. Rowling - getting a little tougher with each book, when each of the rituals of the school become a little more familiar and the need to graft the adventure of fantasy onto the static setting gets a little more urgent.

Warning: vague spoilers for various Harry Potter books ahead...

Rowling has dealt with this dilemma pretty well so far. The primary thing she did was to change the mechanism for driving the plot from moving from place to place (as in classical fantasy) to moving from clue to clue in the solving of a mystery. Of all the books, book two (The Chamber of Secrets) is probably the purest mystery, with hardly a single word spared for anything which doesn't drive the mystery plot forward. Book three, 'The Prisoner of Azkaban' is another mystery but also combines elements of a coming of age story with Harry learning more about his history and also being forced to deal much more with his emotions than in previous books.

After book three, the mysteries remain, but they are relegated to playing more of a secondary role in moving the plot forward, with Rowling moving to more traditional boarding school novel techniques. In book 4, 'The Goblet of Fire', a new event, the Triwizard Tournament, is introduced which basically defines all the major plot points for the entire book. This reminded me somewhat of Korman's 'Go Jump in the Pool' or 'Beware the Fish' - books where a new concept is introduced (raising money for a pool, and raising the profile of the school in these cases) and then the rest of the plot centres around a series of isolated incidents which are connected to that new concept / plot device.

Book 5, 'The Order of the Phoenix' is a real classic boarding school novel story. The beloved institution is threatened by some new person / change in management and gradually all the things which we love about the institution get taken away before our eyes. Demerit point systems get abused, classes get improperly taught, traditional sports are cancelled, favourite people get expelled/fired, and so on. While the background subject matter couldn't be more different, the structural parallels with, say, 'The War with Mr. Wizzle' are striking, right down to the band of loyal students who get pushed too far and rise up to defend the institution.

It hasn't really been long enough since I finished reading 'The Half Blood Prince for me to try and categorize the plot. In fact, on first reflection it's hard to even say what the main plotline of the book was. Perhaps this is in part because the Half-Blood Prince was in some ways only half a book, with a number of elements seemingly serving to set up the seventh book, rather than being resolved by the end of book 6.

So what's my point? Nothing really, I just felt like rambling on a bit about Harry Potter and how I've been spending some of my time, in summer.

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  • I'm only on page 113. However Donna finished it yesterday and she believes it to be the weakest to date. Her claim is that the plot is thinner than usual and it seems to serve as more of a bridge from Order of the Phoenix to the final book.

    By Blogger Spearin, at 1:01 PM  

  • It may not be fashionable to admit it, what with the series having become incomparably popular

    are you all afraid colby cosh is going to come to this url and make fun of you for reading j.k. rowling... i dont know, i just saw some rowling-bashinglike headline of his on the cover of the national post while i was going to work (and trying to avoid being given copies metro, 24, or dose)

    By Blogger ainge lotusland, at 3:06 PM  

  • spearin - I definitely think it was better than Goblet of Fire. Not sure about vs. Order ofthe Phoenix although at the moment I'm leaning towards it being better than that as well.

    ainge - nah, I'm not really worried, I was just making reference to the whole Rebel Sell concept whereby, once something becomes too popular, people start to talk loudly about how they've 'never understood all the hype about...'.

    I think Cosh chose to be upset about the court order telling people who accidentally got copies ahead of time that they couldn't disclose the plot to anyone else.

    I was kind of hoping the free news people would have gone away by now after the initial blitz, but they seem to be going strong.

    It boggles my mind to imagine that the profit margin on the increased sales of the products advertised in the pages of the free newspapers is sufficient to justify the cost of producing these papers and paying people to stand around on corners and hand them out to people.

    By Blogger Declan, at 3:39 PM  

  • It boggles my mind to imagine that the profit margin on the increased sales of the products advertised in the pages of the free newspapers is sufficient to justify the cost of producing these papers and paying people to stand around on corners and hand them out to people.

    instinctively, it makes NO SENSE. they must be political prisoners, in the witness protection program, or some kind of weird paper-wasting cult.

    By Blogger ainge lotusland, at 6:17 PM  

  • I just finished Harry Potter VI, I haven't had lots of time to digest it. I think it suffers by comparison to the earlier books in lacking quite the sense of whimsy. In the earlier books JKR seemed interested in exploring new "wizard world" items - from the candy to auto-record binoculars and spell-checking, auto-writing quills; in this one there is only one really new piece of information or wizardry (not to spoil it, though) - it seemed like she was rushing through to set up HP VII.

    I think that's the second big problem; the book ends without resolving anything. The convention in a boarding school series is that each year the immediate problems are resolved, but the possibilty of future problems is left open. There is a reason for this; it is more satisfying for the reader. With Half-Blood Prince nothing was resolved - it reads like the script for a long movie - the part that ends when the lights come up and the "Intermission" sign comes on.

    It is worth a read, if only to keep up with the series as it seems that book 7 might be okay. Unfortunately, if someone hasn't read it, but wants to keep with the series, I think it is possible to write a full summary in about three paragraphs to save them the time and have them fully ready for the final book - that's not true of any of the prior ones.



    By Blogger deaner, at 11:26 PM  

  • ainge - I'm going with the cult.

    dean - your points are well taken, the lack of new wizard phenomenon or a true resolution are probably two of book VI's biggest weaknesses.

    Still, I thought that there were compensations in other areas such as richer characterizations for some characters (Draco, Snape, Dumbledore, Tom).

    I actually think it would be harder to sum book 6 up quickly than it would be to do the same for book 4 or book 5, but to each his own.

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:43 PM  

  • Well, I suppose you could follow Cosh's example, and sum up all the books as:
    > Harry arrives at Hogwarts;
    > Harry survives challenges while Voldemort menaces in the background;
    > Temorary defeat for Voldemort, but his strength continues to grow;
    > Harry returns to Dursley's, anxious for summer to end and get back to Hogwarts!

    I was going to say that for such a big book I found HP6 to be quite insubstantial. My son was re-reading HP5 - there are a lot of references in HP6 to what happended in HP5, and he wanted to check them out. I had thought that they were about the same length, but HP5 is 766 pages, while HP6 is only 607. On looking at them, it struck me (as it had when I first started HP6) that it was printed in quite a large font - I counted words on two random pages; 386 for HP5, 308 for HP6. Taking the two factors together, there is about half-again the content in HP5 as in HP6. Obviously, that's a pretty rough estimate (and there are those who wouldn't trust me to count to three-digit values), but it strikes me as about right.

    I certainly didn't dislike the book, but compared to the other books in the series, it iwas just not as captivating. This one was very centred on HP - I can scarcely remember anything done by Ron or Hermione aside for (not very well drawn) adolescent yearnings, let alone Ginny, and it hurts to lose Fred and George - a pair like that are a staple of the boarding-school genre. You are right, there was a good bit of characterization for Tom, Draco and Snape - I think it would have been interesting to get a better view of the relationship between Snape and Dumbledore, and I was hoping for it in the middle-third of the book, but of course it never came. Voldemort's family background was interesting as well. I think HP7 could be a very interesting book, and I can overlook some of the flaws in HP6 since (in my mind) it was so obviously written as a set-up to the last installment.



    By Blogger deaner, at 4:24 PM  

  • I thought the adolescent yearning were pretty well done, but it's true that Ron and Hermione didn't have much to do all book.

    I thought Ron especially sufferred in book 6, he almost seems to be changing to emulate his movie incarnation as a comic relief coward rather than the strong character he once seemed destined to become.

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:02 PM  

  • Yes - until you mentioned it, I hadn't put my finger on what bothered me about the movie version of Ron; I suppose I imbued the "movie Ron" with the character of the "book Ron" - but he is being more and more painted as 'the silly sidekick' and it was tending this way in HP6. It would be nice if he was really good (ie, better than Harry) at something. Hermione is smarter (in almost everything), but Ron is less brave, less athletic (based on Quidditch prowess), not as smart (in every subject), not as much of a celebrity, and so on. Couldn't he, for instance, be the one that keeps on with Care of Magical Creatures and does well at it - it might serve as a decent plot device (and could even tie it in with Bill working with Dragons in Romania), and wouldn't necessarily take away from HP as the centre of attention. As it is, Ron is quickly becoming Neville Longbottom, albeit from a big family.

    Speaking of which - it would have been nice, after the revelations about Neville's family, the potential applicability of the Prophecy to Neville, and so on - if he could have had a bit of 'screen time,' other than as a hopeless buffoon. I guess if could do such a bettr job, I should just go write my own multi-million copy best-selling series, right?


    By Blogger deaner, at 2:56 PM  

  • "I guess if could do such a bettr job, I should just go write my own multi-million copy best-selling series, right?"

    It's funny you say that. I was unemployed for a while a year or two ago and passed some of the time writing the beginning of a potential HP book 6 (then I got a job and that was the end of that).

    I wouldn't say that it made me realize just how tough it would be to write a HP book, since I had a pretty good grasp on that from the get-go, but it did make me appreciate what I might call the Robert Jordan syndrome: As a series goes on and expands it gets really hard to write books that involve all of the characters who have been introduced so far (without making it thousands of pages).

    I'm guessing that Neville was a victim of this although I really thought he may have grown more after the battle of the ministry in OotP.

    But Ron is such a central character, I really think she should have made time to, like you say, at least make him good at something (besides chess).

    Oh well, like you say, we're free to write our own books...

    By Blogger Declan, at 6:09 PM  

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