Thursday, May 01, 2014

I said I'd do it, and now I have...

I recently finished reading my way through J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels.

I had already seen the movies, so I pretty much knew how things would turn out. And so the did; the movies, as it turns out, were in the main faithful to the books. I know that there were arguments among diehard fans of the books about what was left in, what was left out, and what was changed. As I read the books, I was aware of some of the changes and omissions, but they mostly didn't bother me as I read. My philosophy about books into movies, whether I saw the films first or read the books, is that what is on the page and what is on the screen are two different worlds. It's how I'm able to enjoy the television series "Bones" and also enjoy the books written by Kathy Reichs that provided the inspiration for the series, which share pretty much nothing but the name of the title character.

This, of course, is not the case with the Harry Potter books and films. The thing that surprises me, really, is that the films are so like the books. It was a difficult thing to achieve, I think, in the face of the fact that in adapting such a long and complex (yes, despite being written for a young adult audience, the books as Rowling wrote them comprise a pretty complex whole) series of books for the screen meant that it would be necessary to pick and choose the details to be retained and those to be omitted. I've only seen a couple of other films based on books that I've read, that have been able to retain the illusion that it was the book up there on the screen. It is an illusion, of course, in all cases, and the ability to create that illusion is a rare and wonderful thing.

However, as faithful as the films were able to be to the books, enough had to be left out that there were things in the story told by the movies that I just didn't understand, even after repeated viewings. Which is why I've finally read the books. Friends who had both read the books and seen the films had told me that things would be much clearer after I read the books.

They were absolutely right.

Now, I have to say that some of the explanations came in bursts of info-dump that Rowling might have been able to find other ways to accomplish. On the other hand, I'm glad those scenes were there. I don't know how many times, while I was reading, I found myself saying to myself (sometimes out loud), "So, that's what that was about." Or, "Now I understand why that happened that way." Now, however, I need to go back and watch the films from the perspective of having read the books.

The quibble about the info-dumps, I hasten to add, is just that: a minor quibble. I think that J. K. Rowling accomplished something quite amazing in her books. While writing for a younger audience, she was able to weave a story that has also kept millions of adult readers entranced over a period of many years. She has been quoted as saying that she came up with the idea for the story of the Boy Who Lived while on a train in 1990. The first volume was published in the UK in 1997 and in the US in 1998. The final book was published in 2007. She managed, as far as I could see in my reading, to retain the consistency of the story she was telling through all that time and work, and especially through all the hype as the books found and audience and became so immensely popular.

I'm glad I read the books. I'll probably read the series again. But, to be honest, I'm also glad I waited to read them until well after all the books had been published. I would have hated waiting between books to see what happened next. I'm going through that right now with another series of books I've been reading, and it's driving me a bit crazy that the third book won't be out until mid-July. It's driving me so crazy that I've recently re-read the first book and am working my way through the second book again now. If I had known when I picked up the first volume, "A Discovery of Witches", by Deborah Harkness, I would have just left it alone until all the books had been published, as I did with the Potter series.

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