Review: Haroun and the Sea of Stories, Salman Rushdie

Salman Rushdie’s novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories is the story of Haroun Khalifa, the son of storyteller Rashid. Rashid has lost his “gift of gab” after his wife, Haroun’s mother, leaves him for the boring, clerkish Mr. Sengupta, their neighbor. The Khalifas live in the country of Alifbay in a sad city that has forgotten its name. When Rashid attempts and fails to tell a story at a political rally (he makes something of a career telling stories at such rallies), he is quite literally run out of town and must go to the Valley of K and redeem himself at a rally for Mr. Snooty Buttoo. Or else. Mr. Snooty Buttoo takes Rashid and Haroun out on the Dull Lake in a ship, and Haroun wakes in the night to find a Water Genie disconnecting his father’s invisible tap, from which all his stories spring. Haroun is whisked away by the genie to speak to the Walrus, leader of the Eggheads who control the Processes to Complicated to Explain on the moon of Kahani, or Story, where the societies of Gup and Chup are about to go to war over the pollution of the Sea of Stories and the kidnapping of Guppee princess Batcheat.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories is ostensibly a children’s or young adult book, but the philosophical underpinnings and questions it raises are definitely meant for people of all ages to ponder. It was the first book Rushdie wrote after the fatwa dictated by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini put Rushdie’s life in danger in an attempt to silence Rushdie’s own stories. It’s a fantastic novel that explores the complexities of where stories come from and what happens when they are “polluted” by those who would attempt to use them for their own ends or to silence them altogether. Motifs such as freedom of speech, the truth or reality of stories, creating meaning from stories in a modern world, and the purpose of stories and storytelling are at the center of what looks, at first blush, like a fantasy children’s tale. It’s a thoughtful meditation on the importance of stories. Rushdie apparently began telling the story orally to his son at bathtime, and it later evolved into this book.

I will start teaching it tomorrow to students in my ninth grade World Literature course. I should have finished the novel a long time ago, but it’s not been an easy year for me in a lot of ways, and perhaps it’s for the best that I waited to read it so that it is quite fresh for me. It means I wasn’t able to help as much as I wanted to with the initial planning of the novel, but I am blessed to have wonderful colleagues who stepped in when I wasn’t ready, and I feel I can contribute now. I’m so glad we picked this book, not just because it has a hero’s journey motif, which is one focus for the year, and not just because we were able to introduce an Indian author where previously we had a white British author, but also because it’s an excellent book that speaks to our schoolwide essential question: How do we honor and harness the power of our stories?

Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher, narrated by David Tennant

I’m not going to lie. I downloaded this audio book because David Tennant is the narrator. I had been looking for a quick audio book, and started searching some of my favorite actors and actresses to see which ones they might have read, and that is how I found this book. Once I read a few reviews, I decided to give it a shot. So very glad I did.

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece is the story of Jamie Matthews. Jamie lives in London with his shattered family because, as the title says, his sister Rose’s ashes are in an urn on the mantelpiece. Well, most of them. After her death in a terrorist attack similar to the 7/7 bombings, Rose’s parents couldn’t agree about what to do with her remains. Five years later when Jamie is ten, Jamie’s mother leaves his father for a man in her grief support group. Jamie’s father moves Jamie and Rose’s twin sister Jas up to the Lake Country for a fresh start. As he starts drinking heavily and neglecting the children, Jamie begins to make friends with Sunya, a girl at school. The only problem is that she’s Muslim, and as Jamie’s father always says, Muslims killed his sister.

This book is absolutely charming, even though Jamie has such a hard time of it, mainly because of the humor with which Annabel Pitcher imbues Jamie. As maddening as almost all of the adults are, and as sad as Jamie’s experiences are, in Pitcher’s hands, the story is never maudlin or pathetic because Jamie isn’t. He copes with his absentee parents and struggles with his feelings about his father’s prejudice against Muslims with a sense of humor that sparkles. For example:

“I stared up at the sky and raised my middle finger, just in case God was watching. I don’t like being spied on.”

The characters, especially the children (but sadly, also the horrible adults) leap off the page with a delightful realism that might remind some of J. K. Rowling. I think the novel is a middle grade novel, as Jamie is ten, but truthfully, anyone of any age might enjoy it. Touching on grief, family strife, bullying, friendship, and racism, in less skilled hands it would be too much, or at the very least, it wouldn’t work. But Pitcher handles it beautifully. Moreover, the message about racism and prejudice is particularly important in the current political climate. I wish I knew more kids I could recommend the book to, but recommending it to you will have to do. Annabel Pitcher will make Jamie Matthews your new hero.

It probably goes without saying that David Tennant was an excellent narrator. I can always tell I am enjoying an audio book when I actually volunteer to do the dishes more than my fair share because I want to listen. His reading only underscores the book’s charm and humor.

It’s one of the best ones of the year for me.

Rating: ★★★★★
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Jamie and his family move from London to Ambleside in Cumbria in the Lake District, so I’ll count it as a book set in Cumbria.

Related posts:

Review: The Last Battle, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Patrick Stewart

The Last Battle is the final book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. It begins with an evil ape named Shift, who bosses around a donkey named Puzzle under the pretense of being the donkey’s friend. The two find a lion skin, and Shift gets the bright idea of having Puzzle wear it so they can fool everyone into thinking Puzzle is Aslan. A bunch of people believe it. There is a bit with some dwarfs. There is a centaur and a unicorn. The Pevensies, minus Susan, and Eustace, Jill, Digory, and Polly, are all pulled back to Narnia after a mysterious bit with a train. A bunch of people worship the evil god Tash and want him to come but aren’t very happy when he shows up.

I don’t know what heck I read.

Listen, I have no problem with Christian allegory. Despite what J. R. R. Tolkien thinks, a good case can be made for The Lord of the Rings as Christian allegory, especially if you put it with The Silmarillion. I also happen to be a Christian. However, in this novel, Lewis sacrificed the plot in favor of ham-handed allegory. And it’s not even good.

I was already prepared for the “problem of Susan,” as I had run into commentary on the subject prior to reading the book, but it bears mentioning that leaving Susan completely bereft of family because she’s a normal teenager is truly heinous. What, girls should not grow up and become women? That’s not pure enough?

But what really bothers me is that it’s supposed to be Christian allegory, and everyone’s killing people right and left. What the heck? I mean, I gather it’s more Revelations than Book of John, but still…

My advice to anyone who, like me, didn’t read these as a child and decides to read them as an adult is to read The Magician’s Nephew, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Prince Caspian, and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and leave it at that. Maybe The Horse and His Boy if you want to learn more about those characters, who only get a few mentions in the last couple of books and otherwise don’t figure much into the grand narrative. Stay far, far away from the final two books.

Racist, sexist, sloppily written, muddled, pile of crap. I don’t understand why a writer would desecrate his own writing like that. Patrick Stewart couldn’t save it, though his narration was brilliant. WORST. ENDING. EVER.

I so hate C. S. Lewis.

Book Rating: ½☆☆☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: The Silver Chair, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Jeremy Northam

The Silver Chair (The Chronicles of Narnia)The penultimate book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia is The Silver Chair. This book features the Pevensie siblings’ cousin Eustace Scrubb, who first appeared in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, and Jill Pole, a classmate of Eustace’s at a boarding school called Experiment House. Eustace and Jill are being chased by bullies when they are magically whisked to Narnia and become embroiled in a quest to find the missing Prince Rilian, the son of King Caspian X, who is now an old man.

*Sigh*. Where to start with this hot mess. I didn’t like it from the start because it’s quite clear that Lewis is attempting to skewer progressive education in his characterization of Experiment House, but rather than create a good satire, he winds up sounding like an old fart who doesn’t know what he’s talking about (“Back in my day, we took switches to kids and prayed in school!”). Eustace and Jill are not nearly as likable as the Pevensies. Puddleglum is fun, but then I think I liked him mainly because of Jeremy Northam’s voice characterization—he had the best West Country accent. The male superiority is maddening. Jill actually says, “Where I come from, they don’t think much of men who are bossed about by their wives.” Um… What? I can’t imagine Lucy Pevensie saying such a thing. Yes, I know all about Susan being interested in lipstick and stockings in the next book. Which I will read to say I’ve read the whole series.

It’s clear Lewis was thinking of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight by having the Lady of the Green Kirtle kidnap and enchant Prince Rilian, but the stories diverge quite a bit aside from a passing similarity, which is a bit of a pity, because the rest of the plot is unremarkable. For a children’s book, the pace bogs down rather unforgivably once the characters go underground, and the plot is predictable from the start to the finish. Jeremy Northam’s narration, however, is superb. I just wish he had better material to work with. One thing I figured out after reading this book—I would love to visit Hogwarts and Middle Earth, but I have zero desire to go to Narnia.

Book Rating: ★★☆☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Derek Jacobi

C. S. Lewis’s fifth novel in The Chronicles of Narnia is The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Lucy and Edmund Pevensie are visiting their terrible cousin Eustace Scrubb (who “almost” deserves the name) and are drawn back into Narnia through a picture of a ship hanging in a guest bedroom at their aunt and uncle’s house. They find themselves on King Caspian X’s ship the Dawn Treader, which is headed on a course to the Lone Islands to find the seven lords Caspian’s usurping uncle Miraz banished. Accompanying the king on his voyage are the ship’s captain, Lord Drinian, and the irrepressible mouse knight Reepicheep.

One of the things I liked about this book is that each of the characters, excepting Edmund, is tempted and tested. There aren’t any real enemies at the focus, as in first four books of the series. Of course, they encounter bad people, such as the slave traders, who must be vanquished before they can move on, but there is not one great enemy they must defeat, aside from themselves. Reepicheep is probably one of Lewis’s best characters. He’s fearless and adorable at the same time. He deserves his own series. I suppose he might be why we have Brian Jacques’s [amazon_link id=”0142302376″ target=”_blank” ]Redwall[/amazon_link] and Kate DiCamillo’s [amazon_link id=”0763625299″ target=”_blank” ]The Tale of Despereaux[/amazon_link].

I was reminded several times of the Camelot knights’ quest for the Holy Grail as I read. For instance, the scene in which the children encounter the three hairy sleeping men at the banquet table and the resulting quest to go to the uttermost East and leave one of their company behind there reminds me of [amazon_link id=”0140445218″ target=”_blank” ]Sir Percival’s story in the Grail quest[/amazon_link]. If you haven’t read it, Percival goes to the Grail castle and encounters the Fisher King, but ultimately fails in his quest to retrieve the Grail, while Galahad succeeds. Galahad is taken up into heaven. Reepicheep, then, is Sir Galahad. I also thought of The Odyssey many times, especially when the ship encountered the Dark Island, where dreams come true—the description of the unseen terror that lay in wait put me to mind of Scylla and Charybdis. Actually, a bit later on, the book itself referenced the part of The Odyssey when Odysseus covers his ears with beeswax and has himself lashed to the mast so he can listen to the sirens.

I’ve already said my peace about Aslan, so I won’t rehash it here, but suffice it to say I don’t feel any differently after this book. The device of the painting drawing the children into Narnia doesn’t make as much sense to me as the wardrobe or Susan’s horn.

Derek Jacobi, as you might expect, is an outstanding narrator. His characterization of Reepicheep is particularly praiseworthy, but really, I could listen to him all day on potentially any subject (except the Earl of Oxford, but I digress). He has done a substantial number of audio books besides this one. I would highly recommend listening to his narration of this book.

When I first tried to read this series many years ago, my memory was that I stalled out somewhere in the middle of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I have no memory at all of the stories after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from that time, so it’s possible I started this book, but I’m rather wondering if I didn’t stall out in the middle of Prince Caspian now. Not sure, and I probably never will be, but this one was highly enjoyable. I have to say, the entire series has been exceptionally narrated, with the lamentable exception of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I’m looking forward to Jeremy Northam’s reading [amazon_link id=”0062314610″ target=”_blank” ]The Silver Chair[/amazon_link] and Patrick Stewart’s reading [amazon_link id=”0062326988″ target=”_blank” ]The Last Battle[/amazon_link]. After I finish this series, I think I’ll return to Diana Gabaldon’s series on audio.

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: Prince Caspian, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Lynn Redgrave

Prince CaspianI finished listening to C. S. Lewis’s Prince Caspian over the weekend, and I haven’t had a chance to do my review yet.

Prince Caspian takes place one Earth year after the Pevensie siblings—Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy—have returned from Narnia through the wardrobe. They are at the train station preparing to go off to school, when they are suddenly whisked back to Narnia. It takes them some time to realize where they are because everything has changed. While they have been gone, hundreds of years have passed in Narnia, and they discover they have been summoned because Narnia once again has great need of their services. Prince Caspian, rightful king of Narnia, has had his power usurped by his evil Uncle Miraz, and he can’t defeat his uncle alone.

Each of the novels in this audio book series is narrated by a different great British actor. I found Kenneth Branagh’s reading of The Magician’s Nephew utterly charming, while Michael York’s reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe a bit spottier. Alex Jennings’s read of The Horse and His Boy was also good. Lynn Redgrave’s reading of Prince Caspian is excellent. She did a masterful job capturing the characters’ voices and using different types of accents. She managed to inject the patronizing tone of older siblings into Peter and Susan, and her characterization of the dwarfs Trumpkin and Nikabrik made me glad whenever they took the “stage.” I also particularly enjoyed her characterization of Doctor Cornelius, Reepicheep, and Trufflehunter. It looks like she has narrated a few other audio books, so I have to recommend her highly. What a shame she is no longer with us.

Of the four Chronicles of Narnia books I’ve read or re-read this year, I would say Prince Caspian comes in a strong second after The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The Pevensies strike me as similar to King Arthur: they will come when Narnia has great need of them, and the device of Susan’s horn to call them was clever (and somewhat evocative of other myths). I really loved some of the minor characters in this one. Caspian is likeable, but Trumpkin, Reepicheep, Trufflehunter, and Doctor Cornelius are loveable. I like the idea that Narnian time passes at a different rate. I wonder if I can say this, though, without making someone angry: I just don’t like Aslan. He’s not bad, he’s just so heavy-handed a symbol. I realize it would wreck Lewis’s Jesus allegory if he removed Aslan from the stories, but I would find them more interesting if they had to figure out how to defeat the enemies without him as a deus ex machina. I also don’t find his personality particularly compelling. I understand his role in the stories, but he just doesn’t interest me as much as the children do. I suppose that if he is supposed to represent Jesus, then I’m not really sure I like this particular characterization of Jesus. Jesus struck me as less judgey and more gentle. I know he overturned the moneychangers’ tables at the Temple, but I mean on the whole. Aslan is forgiving, too; I’m doing a sloppy job putting my finger on their differences. Suffice it to say that I don’t find him as much fun as the other characters.

In all, this was a very enjoyable reading. I know I’m liking an audio book when I find excuses to wash the dishes so I can listen to a book while I do it. I mean, that’s just crazy, right?

Book Rating: ★★★★½
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

Related posts:

Review: The Horse and His Boy, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Alex Jennings

The Horse and His Boy CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I know I read the third book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, The Horse and His Boy, about 20 years ago when I stalled out somewhere in the middle of [amazon_link id=”0064405028″ target=”_blank” ]The Voyage of the Dawn Treader[/amazon_link], but I had no memory of its plot at all. I think I know why. It’s utterly forgettable.

If you are not familiar with the plot, it is the story of a foundling boy named Shasta, who is raised by a fisherman named Arsheesh in Calormen, which seems to be C. S. Lewis’s stand-in for the Arab world. Shasta runs away upon learning that he is to be sold, and he meets talking horse from Narnia named Bree; a feisty fellow runaway named Aravis, who is escaping a marriage she does not want; and Aravis’s horse, Hwin. In their escape, they go to the city of Tashbaan, where Shasta is mistaken for a prince of Archenland named Corin. You see where this is going, right? I figured out most of the rest of the plot at that moment. At any rate, Shasta does meet Queen Susan, Queen Lucy, and King Edmund in his travels, as well as Aslan, who guides him in the night when he is running to tell the king of Archenland of an impending invasion by forces from Calormen.

I thought the plot was predictable. My reaction on finishing the book is really just a resounding “meh.” The characters were fine. I liked them. I just felt the plot was fairly well trodden. I really wonder why the book needed to be included in the series. It feels like filler material. However, Alex Jennings does an excellent narration, and I think I would like to read other books read by him.

Book Rating: ★★½☆☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★½

Related posts:

Review: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Michael York

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)I recently decided to finish reading The Chronicles of Narnia, as I never read them as a child, and the time I did start them, I never finished the series.

The second book in the series, chronologically speaking (the first book published), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is arguably the most famous. In fact, one of my students made a reference to going inside the wardrobe as a metaphor for exploring the unknown just today. I often wonder how many children spent several frustrating minutes inside closets and wardrobes over the years in a desperate attempt to get to Narnia.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the story (not sure how that can happen), The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the story of the four Pevensie siblings: Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy. They are sent to live in the country house of Professor Digory Kirke during the London air raids, and while playing hide and seek, Lucy, the youngest, discovers a magical wardrobe that transports her to a snowy land inhabited by a faun, Mr. Tumnus. She befriends the faun, and he reveals that he is in league with the White Witch and has promised to give the Witch word should any “Sons of Adam” or “Daughters of Eve” show up in Narnia. He meant to turn Lucy in, but he couldn’t do it. She returns through the wardrobe back to Professor Kirke’s house to discover she’s been gone no time at all, and the others don’t believe her. Later, the others all discover she is telling the truth, but not before the White Witch manages to sink her claws into Edmund via some fiendishly addictive Turkish Delight and convince him to rat out his siblings. The Pevensies find themselves caught up in ancient Narnian prophecy and wind up having to rid Narnia of the White Witch.

So, we have to talk about Aslan. Is it me, or is he the least interesting character? I mean, I understand he is supposed to be a Christ figure, and I have nothing against Christ figures in literature, but Aslan’s depiction in that role is just so heavy-handed. Perhaps it isn’t so heavy-handed to the intended audience of children. I actually really liked Edmund this time around. He was a pain in the rear, but he redeemed himself, and he was a little more interesting than the other characters. Jadis makes for a nice villain. I had forgotten the ending was so violent. I also have a soft spot for Lucy, but I confess I found Peter and Susan to be too goody-goody and boring to be terribly interesting. However, the storyline is deeply engaging, and it’s not hard to see why it has endured as a children’s favorite.

Also, as a side note, the missing Oxford comma in the title really bothers me, given C. S. Lewis was an Oxford man. Anyone know why it was left out?

It had been quite a long time since I read this book, and I have to say the Disney movie did a superb job capturing all of the book’s elements (and in casting). I couldn’t help but think about the movie as I was reading and remembering how the various parts of the book were depicted. I have to say Michael York’s reading was uneven. He did an excellent job characterizing most of the Narnian characters and Edmund and Lucy as well, but I didn’t care much for his Aslan, and he had a sort of odd cadence that sounded slightly patronizing. I think it was an attempt to sound avuncular, but it didn’t always hit that mark. All things being equal, I liked The Magician’s Nephew better in terms of the narration.

Because this book features Jadis, as the White Witch, I will count it for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge.

Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★☆☆

2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Related posts:

Review: The Magician’s Nephew, C. S. Lewis, narrated by Kenneth Branagh

The Magician’s Nephew CD (The Chronicles of Narnia)Many years ago, I started reading the Chronicles of Narnia, but I think I stalled out somewhere in the middle of [amazon_link id=”0064405028″ target=”_blank” ]The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’[/amazon_link]. I never did finish the series, and I have almost no memory of what happens in the books (with the large exception of [amazon_link id=”0064404994″ target=”_blank” ]The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe[/amazon_link]). I did remember that Jadis spoke the Deplorable Word and destroyed Charn in The Magician’s Nephew, but that is truthfully just about all I remembered. So when I discovered that the audio book versions of the Chronicles of Narnia were all read by great British actors like Kenneth Branagh, Michael York, Derek Jacobi, and Patrick Stewart, I decided to use my Audible credits to get the whole series and re-read it once I had accumulated the entire collection. I have decided to follow the apparently controversial chronology established by Harper Collins rather than the publication order. I know plenty of people seem to feel quite strongly that following chronological order instead of publication order is doing it wrong, but I am going to do it anyway. I hate reading rules, anyway.

If you are unfamiliar with the plot of The Magician’s Nephew, it concerns the story of Digory Kirke, the nephew in question, who later grows up to be the professor who takes in the Pevensies when they are fleeing London during World War II. His evil uncle Andrew is a magician who believes he possibly had the last real fairy godmother in Britain. He creates some magic rings that will take the bearer to another world, but as he’s too chicken to try them out himself, he forces Digory to try them by sending his new friend Polly to this other world without a ring that will bring her back. When Digory goes to rescue Polly, he discovers the rings actually take to bearer to a place between worlds. Digory and Polly decide to explore one of the other worlds before going back to mean Uncle Andrew, and they wind up in the destroyed world of Charn. Digory wakes up the evil former queen of Charn, Jadis, when he is too tempted to ring a bell to resist, and she manages to go back to London with the children, where Andrew is both charmed and frightened by her. In an attempt to take Jadis away from London, the children, Andrew, and a hapless cabbie and his horse all wind up in the land between worlds and from there end up in Narnia, which is just in the process of being created by Aslan (the Jesus allegory lion). Unfortunately, Jadis is there, too, and Aslan is disappointed that people have already brought evil into the world he just created (cue really heavy-handed Genesis allegory here). He asks that Digory right the wrong by retrieving an apple from a far distant tree. When he arrives, Jadis tempts him to eat the apple himself, but he manages to resist and bring it back to Aslan, who uses it to plant a tree that will protect Narnia from Jadis, now the White Witch, at least for as long as the tree stands. He gives Digory one of the apples to take back with him to London so that he can give it to his ailing mother and cure her, which he does. Later he plants the core, which grows into a great apple tree from which a certain wardrobe is later made.

One thing I thought as I listened to this book, aside from the thought that Kenneth Branagh should just read all the books to me, is that J. K. Rowling and Neil Gaiman owe a fairly obvious debt of gratitude to C. S. Lewis. I know both have acknowledged him as an influence, but the writing style and humor really reminded me of the kinds of things I have heard in Rowling (particularly the first few books of the Harry Potter series) and Gaiman’s [amazon_link id=”0060530944″ target=”_blank” ]The Graveyard Book[/amazon_link]. Polly in particular reminded me of Scarlett Perkins in The Graveyard Book. She was utterly charming, and I liked her very much. I didn’t remember Uncle Andrew very much from my first reading of his novel, but Kenneth Branagh gave him this fabulous unctuous manner of speaking that made me happy every time he was given a line. In fact, Branagh was fabulous the entire way through. I really could listen to him read all the books.

Because this book features Jadis, who later becomes the White Witch, I will count it for the Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge. From this time forward, audio books will receive two ratings: one rating for the story and one for the audio interpretation.

Story Rating: ★★★★☆
Audio Rating: ★★★★★

2014 Witches & Witchcraft Reading Challenge

Related posts:

The Pensieve

Re-Reading Harry Potter: The Pensieve

The PensieveOne of my favorite magical devices in the series makes its first appearance in this reading selection, chapters 26-30 of [amazon_link id=”0439139600″ target=”_blank” ]Harry Potter And The Goblet Of Fire[/amazon_link].

Chapter 26 sees Harry preparing in earnest for the second task after he’s worked out the egg clue. The trio are talking about what Moody said about Snape being on a second chance, and Harry remarks, “I just want to know what Snape did with his first chance, if he’s on his second one.” The arc of Snape’s development is interesting to watch. He is a complex character precisely because he’s not a nice guy, but he is ultimately on the side of good, and the reason he is good is that he has loved someone deeply. I think perhaps one of the strongest motifs of this series is that there is true goodness in love. Voldemort’s evil stems in part from the fact that he has never known love and therefore cannot understand it as a motivation for behavior. It is this blind spot that is his downfall over and over again, from trying to kill Harry to trusting Snape to believing he can be stronger and even defeat Harry if he steals Harry’s blood to his final defeat at the Battle of Hogwarts when he cannot fathom the characters’ strong bonds of love for one another that give them, as Harry puts it in the fifth movie, “something worth fighting for.” And part of loving others is giving them second chances and forgiving them, which is yet another thing—forgiveness—that Voldemort cannot comprehend. Dumbledore trusts Snape not just because of what he knows about Lily, but because he understands the power of his forgiveness over Snape. Snape will get no such treatment from Voldemort, no matter how useful he might be.

Dobby finds Harry in the library and gives him gillyweed, which enables him to grow gills and swim easily underwater. The route by which Harry gets the gillyweed is a little circuitous. I actually liked that the movie had Harry find out about it from Neville. That had been Moody/Crouch’s plan all along, but in the book, Harry never asks Neville for help and so Moody/Crouch lets slip that gillyweed would work where Dobby could overhear. A bit contrived. I imagine the movie used Neville instead because of the extra expense of CGI Dobby. That whole film cuts the storyline waaaay down, anyway, but I do like Harry getting gillyweed from Neville better. Sigh.

A moment’s pause to reflect on what a ridiculously dangerous task the champions are set. I mean anyone could have drowned, hostages or champions. I suppose the fact that so many trained wizards are on hand would probably have prevented such a tragedy, but still. I have to wonder again about why anyone sends their child to Hogwarts.

In chapter 27, I noticed a nice little bit of foreshadowing I don’t think I have picked up on before. When Hermione is speculating about how Rita Skeeter could have known that Viktor asked Hermione to visit him in Bulgaria over the summer, she is “holding her pestle suspended over a bowl of scarab beetles.” Of course, Rita turns out to be an animagus who turns into a beetle. If you re-read the book after knowing about Rita, you notice that Rowling carefully connects those dots and plants clues about Rita’s secret.

It does crack me up every time when Snape sidles over to their table and says, “Fascinating though your social life undoubtedly is, Miss Granger, I must ask you not to discuss it in my class. Ten points from Gryffindor.” But then he reads that horrible article out loud. That’s just nasty. I have known teachers who will do that sort of thing—read notes out loud. Of course, students today rarely pass notes in class. They text.

Much has been made of Sirius’s statement in this chapter that “If you want to know what a man’s like, take a good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.” On the one hand, Sirius seems to be advocating kindness towards creatures like house elves, but on the other, his statement makes it very clear he considers them lesser beings, and he himself is not kind to Kreacher. He has his reasons. Kreacher is pretty horrible to him. It’s interesting that Harry later determines that kindness is the key to reaching Kreacher and actually befriends the elf, but Sirius, despite this platitude, never figures that out.

We also learn that Sirius never had a trial before he was sent to Azkaban. Had he been given a trial, there is a chance he might have gone free, though the evidence against him did look overwhelming. Crouch’s tactics as Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement are reprehensible. He allowed Aurors to use Unforgivable Curses and sent others besides Sirius to Azkaban without a trial. He did it for what he might have viewed as the greater good, but as we learn in the rest of the series, many atrocities are committed by people who think they are acting “for the greater good.” My hunch is that we’ll find out more about Crouch’s background on Pottermore when this book is released, and one thing I expect to find out is that he was in Slytherin House in school. And then, his son is caught alongside the Lestranges, torturing the Longbottoms. I am interested to learn more about Barty, Jr. He swears he is innocent, but all of his actions in this book point to his being a full-fledged Death Eater. I’d be interested to know how he wound up in the company of Death Eaters.

Sirius also wonders why Dumbledore would hire Snape to teach given Snape’s fascination with the Dark Arts. As we later learn, he invented quite a few hexes, including the very nasty Sectumsempra. Sirius says, “Snape knew more curses when he arrived at school than half the kids in seventh year and he was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters.” He has a keen mind, and that he would choose to dwell so much in such activity is interesting. I have to say as much as we learn about Snape and his history, I still would like to learn more. But Sirius cannot get past one fact: Dumbledore trusts Snape. And though Dumbledore “trusts where a lot of other people wouldn’t,” it doesn’t make sense to Sirius that Dumbledore would let Snape teach at Hogwarts if he had ever been a Death Eater, which just illustrates further Dumbledore’s capacity to forgive and ability to understand others, and, indeed, to understand regret and what it means to have a second chance—something, as we find out, Dumbledore himself was never given. As the trio leaves Sirius in the cave near Hogsmeade, they talk about Percy and Crouch. Ron has the measure of Percy: “But maybe he doesn’t care … it’d probably just make him admire Crouch even more. Yeah, Percy loves rules. He’d just say Crouch was refusing to break them for his own son,” to which Hermione replies, “Percy would never throw any of his family to the Dementors.” Ron says, “I don’t know … If he thought we were standing in the way of his career … Percy’s really ambitious, you know.” Foreshadowing. You know, I just don’t ever forgive Percy for being such an ass later. I just don’t. I guess every family has to have a jerk like Percy in it somewhere.

In chapter 28, Harry says something to Hermione about Rita Skeeter using “bugging,” and Hermione gets an idea. She dashes off to the library to check, and sure enough, Rita Skeeter is not a registered animagus. Later in the chapter, he and Krum go have a chat in the forest after learning about the final task, and Crouch shows up, raving mad. He is clearly fightly off the Imperius Curse with some difficulty.

In chapter 29, Harry speculates that Moody was using the Marauder’s Map to reach them in the forest so quickly, which is precisely what he was doing. The trio later runs into Fred and George in the Owlery, discussing blackmail, when Ron warns them they could get in trouble for that, George says, “Carry on like this and you’ll be made a Prefect.” Ron replies hotly, “No I won’t!” Interesting because, of course, he is made a Prefect, and he is not disappointed about it when it happens.

Harry later has a dream in Divination that appears to be real—he is seeing what Voldemort is doing at that moment. He goes straight to Dumbledore, who is with the minister and leaves Harry in his office, alone with the Pensieve, which he did not put away properly. Naturally, Harry peeks. The first scene Harry sees is Karkaroff’s trial, in which he names the names of other Death Eaters in order to walk free. Harry learns that Snape himself was, indeed, a Death Eater. The scene changes, and Harry is seeing a new trial. This time, Ludo Bagman is testifying on his own behalf, addressing charges that he passed information to Voldemort through Augustus Rookwood. The wizards and witches in the courtroom are so blinded by Bagman’s celebrity that they can’t focus on the trial, and Bagman walks. The scene changes again, and this time, four people are brought in—the Lestranges and Barty Crouch, Jr. Harry learns that Neville’s parents were tortured into insanity.

I have always found it interesting that Barty, Jr. pleads his innocence. I don’t know how guilty he actually is. Did he become true to Voldemort only after his father cast him away, or is his desperation in the court a ruse to appeal to his father’s paternal instincts in order to avoid prison? It’s hard to say. I think he was probably young and stupid. He was with the Lestranges when they were caught, but knowing them, I have a hunch they did the torturing while Crouch more or less watched and did nothing about it. However, his behavior later suggests that he has strong loyalty to Voldemort, even after all these years have passed. He seems to view Voldemort as a father figure—a substitute for the father who cast him aside and then imprisoned him for years. It’s a complicated situation, and I’d like to learn more about him, for sure.

At that point, Dumbledore returns to his office, and far from chiding Harry for nosing into the Pensieve, he is patient and understanding of Harry’s curiosity. He shows Harry how the Pensieve works and even answers his questions about what he saw in it. It would be a great device to have if you want to make connections and see how everything fits together.

Harry and Dumbledore discuss Harry’s scar hurting, and Dumbledore says that Voldemort and Harry “are connected by the curse that failed.” Whether he has completely figured out that Harry is a Horcrux or not at this stage is not clear, but I believe he has. I think he realizes that the diary is a Horcrux in Harry’s second year, and he deduces that Harry must be one as well before the events in this book.

Harry probes Dumbledore about why he trusts Snape, but Dumbledore says, “That, Harry, is a matter between Professor Snape and myself.” The relationship between Snape and Dumbledore is one of the closest and most touching in the books. When we finally explore it from Snape’s memories in the final book, Snape and Dumbledore are both illuminated. I know my perspective of them both changed as I saw their relationship through that lens.

Related posts: