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Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Of Sirius Black And That Firebolt

I'm rereading Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban. It is my favourite of the entire series, but I do have to wonder about some things.

Right now, I'm wondering about Harry's mysterious Christmas gift; that's what I'm up to. Hermione has just said something that will end in a quarrel between her and the boys. She believes - correctly, as it turns out - that it was sent by Sirius Black. Of course, we all know by now that Sirius had no evil intentions when he sent it. 

The question nobody in the novel asks is - how? And not just the Firebolt, but the Christmas gifts in general. The students left at school wake up to a pile of gifts. Probably they arrive by owl mail - there don't seem to be any wizard  posties - and maybe the house elves deliver them to the rooms. We haven't yet been told about house elves, though, yet neither of the Muggle-bred members of the trio asks about it. I assume Ron takes it for granted. 

And then there are the pitiful "gifts" from the Dursleys - how do they get to Hogwarts? Does Hedwig turn up and hoot loudly until she's given something? I can just see Uncle Vernon chasing off "that bloody bird!" But if it was Hedwig, assuming she wore Vernon down, she would have delivered the mail personally. 

But let's continue on to Sirius and the Firebolt. Of course he can't go to London, walk through the Leaky Cauldron and Diagon Alley in his filthy - and recognisable - robes, so he sends Crookshanks to the Owl Office with his order. I assume he has stolen a copy of the Daily Prophet from somewhere to look at the ads and maybe stole some money for postage at the same time. But think about it. He sends an order for the broom, right? Presumably with his name on it because, while I suspect the goblins wouldn't care much whether the vault owner was on the run from Azkaban - Gringott's, I bet, is a bit like a Swiss bank - they would care if someone just turned up and said, "Hi, I'm from Quality Quidditch Supplies, can you let me into vault 711, the owner didn't give us his name." He would have to have given his name and signed it.

So, why didn't QQS report that they had received an order from somewhere near Hogsmeade, apparently from that crazy escaped convict Sirius Black?

Another thing. If McGonagall thought that the broom had arrived from Sirius, there would be more to worry about than whether it was hexed. Like - how did Sirius get into the castle and put it in Harry's dorm when last time he couldn't get past the portrait hole? And if he did, she should be asking, why is Harry still alive? But all she does is get the broom checked out for spells.  To do a spell on the broom, he would have had to get the broom directed to him, not to Hogwarts. If I'd been Minerva, I would at least have questioned whoever delivers Christmas gifts to students, whether it's the house elves or - shudder! - Argus Filch. Where did the broom come from - was it from QQS? In which case there might not be as much reason to worry that Black had got into the castle, though she should be contacting the shop for details. Did a couple of owls just drop a parcel with Harry's name on it to be delivered? Fine, time to check for spells.

As I've said, it's my favourite of the whole series. It's dark, but it's the last book in the series in which nobody dies. It's the most atmospheric of them all.

But I do have some nit picks with it! Which isn't going to stop me from rereading it.

Do you have some favourite glitches in this series?

Friday, October 20, 2017

Technology In The World Of Harry Potter

Okay, I mentioned this in a post before, here. But I think it's time to revisit and expand.

In Harry Potter And The Chamber Of Secrets, Mr Weasley comments how impressed he is with all the ways Muggles have of getting around not having magic. In some ways I'd say it's impressive how wizards get around a lack of major technology. In the same book he begins to ask Harry about "escapators". Well, Dumbledore has one leading to his office while everyone else has to use the stairs at Hogwarts - stairs that are unreliable. Mind you, there are lifts in the Ministry of Magic, where paper planes are used as inter-office memos. But those, and cars, are Muggle technology which wizards can and do use, unlike many other forms of Muggle tech, which I will get to shortly.

They do have their own technology. For example, brooms built for Quidditch are experimented with and designed for the best aerodynamic results, which suggests scientific understanding. You can't just wave your wand and bing! Flying broom! Well, you probably can, but it wouldn't be a lot of use in the air. I don't think they get their cauldrons built in Muggle factories. Wand technology is amazing too, and wand makers really know their stuff, but it's a handcraft thing done by a small number of craftsmen. Mind you, there are only a few thousand wizards in England and probably not too many elsewhere. 

They study astronomy at school, but not, I'm betting, physics. However, they would need telescopes - do they buy Muggle ones or build their own? 

But in many ways, wizards who don't mix with Muggles miss out.

 There is no Wizarding Internet. Imagine how much easier Hermione's research would have been with a Wizarding version of Google. Mind you, the earlier books were written in the 1990s, when the WWW was in its childhood.  But world building is world building and it has been established: no computers in Harry's world, let alone worldwide communication. That must make Madam Pince's life harder than it need be too. I remember card catalogues in libraries and the relief with which I replaced them with automated catalogues. If she was in the Muggle world, Madam Pince would at least have heard of them. They did exist in the 1990s, though they have improved vastly since then.

Wizarding transport sucks, in my opinion. If you need transport for a lot of people, yes, you can use that Muggle form of transport the train, but if there is one apart from the Hogwarts train - a steam train! - it isn't mentioned in the books. I have often wondered what happens to that train in between school trips a few times a year - is it kept in a shed somewhere? And what about the driver - what does he/she do for a living in between? I won't go into the plump witch with the sweets trolley - we find out more about her in Harry Potter And The Cursed Child - but the driver?

There's the Knight Bus if you don't mind being whirled around like a roller coaster ride, and I admit that it would be nice to be able to stick out your arm(and wand)and have a bus appear. I can't get a normal bus to stop for me if the driver is running late! But that is really for long distance trips; you wouldn't catch the Knight Bus to work every day.

Other than that, you can use a broom, assuming you don't have a problem with heights, but it seems a chilly way to travel, though I suppose you could magic up some warm air. Judging from Harry's Quidditch matches, wizards tend not to do that, for whatever reason - maybe you'd have to focus? - or why do they just accept being wet, while the spectators have umbrellas, but nothing more. And you couldn't take babies with you, except perhaps in a backpack, leaving behind your pram. It would be uncomfortable to travel that way while pregnant, I imagine. For some reason, magic carpets are currently banned in England, though a character mentions a grandfather who had an Axminster carpet big enough for ten people. Interesting implication that you can just magic a carpet. Maybe the law about magicking Muggle artefacts comes into it. 

You can do Apparition, but for good reason you have to be seventeen to get a licence. It's dangerous. Taking children with you is acceptable, but even more dangerous when you think about it. "Splinching" sounds funny, but really isn't. You can be split in half. What if you make a mistake and do it to your child? Ugh! Worse than the Star Trek transporter! 

Portkeys are an unpleasant way to travel and they are limited. You'd have to make sure that no Muggle wanders past the pile of junk on that hill, mutters about pollution and does the responsible thing, wouldn't you? And they are timetabled. You have to take them from a set place at a set time. Too much bother to use for anything except big events like the World Cup ... Or luring your enemy into a trap...

Floo powder is used a lot and families can use it, but again, it's limited. You MUST have a fireplace to use it - look what happens when the Weasleys try to get into the Dursleys' living room through the fake fireplace! And it has to be part of the Floo network. In Deathly Hallows, Harry, Ron and Hermione don't dare to use it, because it would reveal them to the Deatheaters. 

No, thanks, give me good old Muggle transport any time. 

And speaking of Floo powder, imagine being a wizarding world teen and how do you chat with your friends elsewhere? You stick your head in the fireplace and use Floo powder! I mean, really? I suppose you could just step in and visit and talk all you want and you wouldn't even have to get into arguments about who is going to drive you there and pick you up. But if you can't leave home, you kneel down on the stone edge of the fireplace and stick your head into the green flames. What sort of communication is that? 

No TV. One radio station, which seems to be overwhelmed with music by Celestina Warbeck, the famous lounge singer, though that may just be Molly Weasley. Maybe you can fiddle with the content to get the Wyrd Sisters band? We weren't told in the books. That you can start your own underground radio station is shown in Deathly Hallows, when the rebels broadcast. 

If there are any wizard film makers we never hear about them. The wizard Quentin Tarantino or Martin Scorsese may exist, but from the books I have concluded that there is no wizard cinema. 

And the subjects at Hogwarts don't include anything technical, not even elementary wand making/broom making(woodwork) for future wizard technicians. So where do they come from? Family firms, perhaps, but surely you'd need training? Apprenticeships? 

Fascinating as the wizarding world is, I'm glad I don't live in it. 

Friday, October 13, 2017

A Belated Friday 13 Post

I have written about Friday 13 before, so won't go into the background. Go check out my earlier post here. Yesterday I cheerfully mentioned it in class. One student said, "Would you stop talking about that!" Later I discovered it was her birthday. No wonder she was upset!

So let's just waffle about books with appropriate themes.

I've just started rereading Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. My ebook edition has an intro about all those old, battered copies they were brought to sign, indicating they had been well loved, and, for some reason, a copy that the owner had put on black velvet in an elaborate box made especially for it. They didn't ask.

A wonderful book I've read over and over - a send-up, of course, of The Omen, in which the Anti-Christ baby goes to the wrong family. But it has fun with plenty of other deadly serious horror fiction.  And, o joy, I've just read that not only is it finally being made into a movie(or TV series), but the role of the cool demon Crowley has been perfectly cast with David Tennant! I've seen a picture of him and Azirophale and he is just right for the role! Wonder if he'll do it with his own Scottish accent? There was a touch of Scottish in his Benedick, but on the whole, he seems to have to go English for most roles.

Rosemary's Baby by Ira Levin(mortal woman bears the Devil'd child)is not as scary as I had thought it might be, but it does bring horror to the home front, instead of somewhere in Transylvania, as had always been the way of things before it. Maybe that, and not the Satan stuff, is what's scary. The author wrote some much scarier novels, as far as I'm concerned. The Boys From Brazil, in which someone is creating clones of Hitler - brr! And The Stepford Wives, in which women's husbands, in a small town, are killing them and replacing them with androids who stick to housework.

But speaking of Transylvania(I was), I found Dracula much easier reading than I'd thought it might be. It was written in letters and diary entries, so short, and the novel itself was not all that long. And it was scary! You'd mutter, "No, you idiot, leave the garlic in place! Don't open the window!" And she does, of course, and that's the end of her. 

Terry Pratchett has great fun sending up the vampire genre in Carpe Jugulum, in which a family of vampires takes over the tiny mountain kingdom of Lancre, due to an invitation to the royal infant's christening. That counts as inviting a vampire in. And these vampires believe in being all modern, like in those vampire novels where the camp wears his hair in a ponytail and suffers angst. They make the mistake of challenging top witch Granny Weatherwax and find themselves craving tea...

There are other vampires in the series, such as Black Ribboner Otto Chriek, who has given up blood drinking and who loves light. But he is an iconographer for the Ankh Morpork Times and falls to dust every time he takes a picture. Eventually, he gets into the habit of wearing a small bottle of blood when he works, which breaks and lets him come back without relying on anyone else's kindness. 

And there's Lady Margolotta from the Discworld Transylvania, Uberwald(means the same thing) who has replaced her addiction for blood with one for cigarettes. 

Dan Simmons' vampires, in Carrion Comfort, are vampires of the mind, who can control and manipulate others. They are truly evil, and one of them is a Nazi. It was very very good, and I went on to read some of his other books, but it put me off horror fiction, as characters I cared about were killed off. (Are you listening, Mr Martin? And by the way, I like Fevre Dream, your vampire novel, much better than the Game of Thrones series)

This author also wrote Children Of The Night, in which the historical Dracula is still around. He has gone off blood drinking and thrown himself into starting a business empire. He thinks the Stoker novel is dumb. And he's fed up with his family and planning to blow them all up, perhaps the only way to get rid of them. See, these vampires are not undead. They have an extra organ that processes blood and re-builds their cells. 

I confess to not giving read a lot of Stephen King, mostly his short fiction, and I do enjoy his non fiction, but his novel Misery was truly terrifying, especially for a writer. It has no fantastical elements as far as I recall, but it's as scary as any horror novel. In it, a historical novelist has been writing a series about a character called Misery. He has had enough and has written one last novel in which he has killed off his heroine. After an accident, he is rescued by a qualified nurse who is a huge fan of the series...and not at all pleased to find out the series is over...

Look, I could go on and on, but I won't. Instead, I'll invite anyone who reads this to suggest some other Friday 13 titles. Hope you had a great day! 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

International Day Of The Girl

So, I woke up this morning to find out it was the International Day Of The Girl. I haven't heard of this before, but it's a nice excuse to write a post about girls' books, off the top of my head, before I get to work.

Has anyone noticed that most YA and children's books these days seem to be either for girls or about them? Or both? Girls save the world in YA novels, while making up their minds which of two gorgeous boys they will settle down with once the world is saved. Fortunately for their decision making, one of them either dies or lets them down - badly. 

I'll just mention a few books or series I've read as they come back to me, in hopes I can get the post done before I reach Sunshine Station in Melbourne. 

Let's start with a classic. I've missed a lot of them, but I have read Little Women, the story of four teenage sisters during the American Civil War, living with their mother and housekeeper while waiting for their father to get back from the war. They don't have a lot of money, so the two eldest, Meg and Jo, have to work, Meg as a governess and Jo as paid companion to their grumpy old aunt. Beth, who is not a healthy girl, stays home and does housework,  presumably with Hannah the housekeeper, and only Amy goes to school. Not a lot happens as a novel - it's all dreams and hopes and individual stories. I hear it was semi-autobiographical, though Jo, the would-be writer(and didn't we all want to be Jo!)is somewhat younger than Louisa May Alcott, whom she represents. Louisa was already old enough to be working as a nurse during the Civil War. But still, it's nice to know. You should totally read Geraldine Brooks's novel March, which mixes the real Alcott family with the fictional March family. The real "Mr March" was quite a character. Look him up.

Noel Streatfeild wrote children's books in the 1930s. In Ballet Shoes, she writes about three girls who aren't actually sisters, though they've been brought up as such. They've been given the surname Fossil because the man who adopted them is a crazy old Professor who collects fossiłs. When he disappears and his niece Sylvia is left with three children to look after and not much money, she takes in boarders and the girls go to work in the theatre, something children could do in those days, and discover what they can do. The oldest girl, Pauline, is very good at acting and eventually finds she can do it for a living. A few years ago, there was a TV mini-series in which the role was played by Emma Watson, of Harry Potter fame. The middle sister, Petrova, isn't all that good at it, and longs to be a motor mechanic. The youngest, Posy, is a gifted ballet dancer.  The book had some sequels, but I haven't got around to reading them. I rather liked the idea of a 1930s novel with a girl motor mechanic. 

Anyone remember the YA romance novels of the 1980s? What was that American series called? Oh, yes! Sweet Dreams. The girls loved them but they were junior Mills and Boon. In them, the girl was a sort of Cinderella figure, in love with the captain of the football team. How could she even compete for him with the bitchy head cheerleader? Of course, we know who always got the boy in the end, don't we? I guess girls can dream of being that shy little thing who defeated the Mean Girl. That's still happening to some extent,except now the young woman who defeats the Mean Girl is not doing it over a boy, but over the matter of bullying. 

There were Australian equivalents, Dolly Fiction, which I think we're better than the American ones, and no wonder. The authors, who wrote under pen names, were all either top Aussie YA novelists or would become that. I have written a post about it before. 

A few years ago, Allen and Unwin published something called Girlfriend Fiction, which was even better. Some of the books were written by male authors, and oddly, they weren't all romances. But I've sold those quite easily in my library. And the authors didn't use pen names this time - you knew who you were getting.

And then there are all those novels in which girls fall in love with fallen angels, who are brooding and tragic, not to mention the half/quarter angel thing(I always thought of angels as asexual, but there you go. All that business of "the sons of God and the daughters of man" comes from a mis-translation.). Well, there was Aussie writer Rebecca Lim's Mercy series, in which the fallen angel was female. She had done something truly stupid back during the war in heaven and managed to avoid being thrown down to Hell with the other fallen angels, but the un-fallen angels looked after her. She has been on Earth for centuries, doing a sort of Quantum Leap thing, temporarily taking over bodies and fixing their problems before moving on. But by Book 2, Exile, she has started thinking of herself rather than fixing problems for others. She fell in love with a mortal boy in the first book and is trying to keep up the relationship, whichever body she is in. The series is very entertaining.

Present-day novels have girls in all sorts of situations, including obesity and anorexia, but the fantasies go on. I probably don't have to tell you about The Hunger Games, which is very good in my opinion, better than some of the other girl-saves-the-world fiction that came out at the same time. Before the current crop of fiction on "teen girl saves the world" John Marsden created Ellie, the heroine of Tomorrow When The War Began and its sequels. Ellie and her friends go bush-walking and camping one weekend and when they return to their small country town, Australia has been invaded and their friends and relatives have all been herded into the local showgrounds, which have become a prison camp. The group does guerilla warfare, under Ellie's leadership. I've found that both boys and girls loved these books, though they haven't been read much in recent years - perhaps fresh covers
would help.

There is far more out there than I can cover in a single post.

Got any suggestions?

And happy International Day Of The Girl!

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Finally Got Around To Reading...Every Breath by Eliie Marney

You know how it is when you have a book lying around for ages and then you finally get around to reading it and it takes about a day?

I had this on my cyber-shelves almost since it came out. I knew about it, read a few pages and then ... read other stuff.

But yesterday I read the bit left on the cutting room floor, which was published as a short story in the LoveOzYa# anthology, which was about the first meeting of James Mycroft and Rachel Watts and suddenly I knew it was more than time to read the novel Every Breath. 

And now I've downloaded the second book, Every Word. 

On the remote chance you haven't heard of this trilogy, it's set in Melbourne, told from the viewpoint of Rachel Watts, a country girl whose family had to leave their farm near Ouyen and make a new life in the big city. They are living in Coburg, one of Melbourne's more multicultural suburbs and Mycroft and Watts attend North Coburg Secondary College, along with their friends Vietnamese girl Mai Ng and her Sudanese boyfriend Gus Deng. Mycroft lives with his aunt Angela, since he lost both parents in a horrific car crash back in England. Aunt Angela is so rarely at home that for a time Watts wonders if she even exists. Mycroft is an intellectual genius, who does a forensics elective at school, but admits to being a social moron - not entirely true, since he seems to know a lot of people around Melbourne, from the tram drivers along their route to the Greek cafe owner who gives them coffee and baklava on the house.

And then there is Homeless Dave, who camps in Royal Park, outside the zoo, and whom Mycroft and Watts take a meal every week until one night when he turns up very dead...

It's such an entertaining novel that hopefully I will be able to "sell" it at school before the year is over. I know just the young lady for it - in fact, she's the one who requested the LoveOzYa# anthology for the library. It's a bit like the writing of Lili Wilkinson, except that I admit to liking it better than A Pocketful Of Eyes. It's not as funny - these kids have both been through bad times and the murder victim was their friend, whom they don't believe will get justice, because he was just another street person.  A Pocketful Of Eyes was an over-the-top whodunnit with likeable characters, but this one is - well, not over-the-top. Anyway, I will recommend it for girls who like Lili Wilkinson.

It's not exactly Sherlock Holmes, though there are a lot of references to it. Watts(they call each other by their surnames)points out that his name is that of Sherlock's smarter brother, and he even has an online identity called Diogenes, as in Mycroft Holmes's Diogenes Club - he does that on purpose, though. And she is not a Watson or for that matter a Hastings, mainly there to have things explained to him/her. She picks up a few things Mycroft doesn't, asking the right questions at the right time. 

Their friends Mai and Gus aren't just sidekicks. They make good suggestions and at one point Mai uses her Legal Studies knowledge to argue Mycroft out of the slammer. 

There is a lot of adventure in this one and before it's quite over, Mycroft finds himself heading for the role of "consulting detective" online, due to his Diogenes articles and website. 

I've just started reading the sequel - I believe that one takes place in London, should be fun! 

It is available both in and outside of Australia, so if you've missed out on it, why not give it a go? 

Monday, October 02, 2017

Translation And Info: Who'd Have Thought?

Re-posted from my Dreamwidth blog...

I need a passport for ID. Getting a passport is harder than it used to be, much harder. You need a passport for proof of ID, right? But some of the items you need for your passport, you almost might as well use for your ID anyway, unless you want to go overseas. My birth certificate is in Hebrew. The last time I used it was when I went to do my compulsory jury duty. I showed it to the lady on the desk and she just laughed and let me through. Well, it wasn't me who had demanded to do jury duty, was it? I figured if they objected to being unable to read the certificate, that was their problem, not mine.
Anyway, you have to get your overseas birth certificate translated for passport ID, and it has to be done by one of their approved translators. So, I found a lady, one of two in Victoria, who fortunately lives within easy tram distance of my place and I am on term break. I contacted her and she said that I could scan and send, or I was welcome to come to her place today. I decided on that. I don't have a scanner any more and although I could take a photo, I wasn't sure it would turn out readable. It's a very old, crumpled document - well, as old as me, anyway. ;-) 
Off I trundled on the tram to a small street off Hawthorn Rd, South Caulfield, and found it easily. The lady was quite a character, as it turned out. She was very thorough, but also had a lot of fun Googling things to make sure they were right. For example, the hospital where I was born was called the Municipal Maternity Hospital at the time. It is currently known as the Rabin Centre - we agreed it might be best to simply use the term on the actual certificate, but she had a lot of fun satisfying her curiosity. Likewise with the Hebrew DOB. According to Google, the year I was born the Hebrew date was August 29! And here I was finding it amusing that the certificate says September 3, when it's September 4. "August 29!" she exclaimed. "Forget about that!" But we agreed there had been a stuff-up. 
And then there was the doctor who delivered me. It was a Dr Kattab? Katib? Qatab? Katab? (That was how it was spelled in Hebrew, which I don't think does double letters). Anyway, he/she was an Arab, a Muslim. Which makes sense, because it was a Friday night, when the Jewish staff were going home or to synagogue for the Sabbath, while Muslim staff had finished theirs and were able to do a shift. But it hadn't occurred to me. So, now I know, and it will be fun to tell any Muslim kids at school who might ask that I was delivered by a co-religionist of theirs. I think they'll be tickled. 
But Taly(translator) and I did a bit of Googling to check spelling and while there were many possibilities, we decided on Khattab, the name of an Aussie Muslim doctor we found on line. It was closest to the original. 
I told Taly that my sister, who was about five at the time, had to be left behind when Mum hitched a ride to hospital on a bakery van. She said, "Oh, that happened all the time back then. It happened to me. Nowadays they'd call it child abuse." She grinned. But there were neighbours and Dad came along soon enough and also had to hitchhike, because it was Friday night, no public transport. 
Anyway, I felt Taly was well and truly worth the small fee I was paying, and more if she had asked for it. She had a series of templates to use - " Here's one I prepared earlier..." But all the research and careful thought about her translations was quite a bit of work. And afterwards she printed out - we proofread and I found one inconsistent spelling - and then printed out again, two copies, plus a photocopy of my original, which she suggested I take to the PO and get certified. And she emailed me a PDF for my files which, however, had her stamp and signature on it. So it will be safe, even if I mislay the original. 
And then, all done, she enthusiastically showed me a website called,"On The House" which gives away free tickets to shows, as long as you don't mind what they are. She had grabbed a free double pass to two shows while my translation was printing out. 
Who would have thought such a humdrum, necessary activity would turn out to be so entertaining?