Maeve Visser Knoth: 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

J. K. Rowling- good and evil is defined by hair length?

When the seventh and final Harry Potter book, HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, came out I had to wait until my son had finished to get my hands on the book. To tell the truth, I was curious about how she would handle the ending but not terribly worried for Harry.

I have many more years experience with reading than many of the kids reading the Harry Potter books so I came to the seventh with some very adult expectations. I doubted that she would let evil win in the end- children's books may include strong forces of evil but rarely does the book end without a strong sense of hope for the future. As soon as I read Rowling's opening quote from Aeschylus I knew that Harry survived and the children would "triumph". The second quote, from William Penn, led me to believe that the children would pay a high price for their win. Yes, some beloved characters would die so good could be restored.

I read quickly through the book and enjoyed much of the novel. I particularly enjoy Rowling's wordplay. She gives characters names that recall ancient mythologies. She makes intriguing references throughout and she can make me laugh out loud.

I do have criticisms that I do not hear from young readers. Rowling spends much too much time explaining details of plot and emotion. When Harry is embarrassed or ashamed, she tells her reader exactly what he is feeling instead of letting the reader deduce from Harry's words or actions. Rowling does not trust the reader to figure out much on her own.

The biggest failure, from my perspective, is Harry's conversation with Dumbledore in the waiting room outside the afterlife. In real life we never get to hear from our heroes once they are dead. They don't get a chance to explain their warts and bad decisions. Of course Rowling is not writing realistic fiction but I don't think she needs to spell out every last moral complexity for her reader. It weakens the book. I would love to know what F.D.R. was thinking when he signed the order to imprison Japanese-American citizens during WWII but since I can't I have to use what I know about humans to come to my own conclusions. I have to accept my own relatives' mistakes. They are no longer here to explain their actions. I can not forgive myself until I can forgive others their mistakes and in the world I inhabit, I have to forgive without full knowledge. I wish Harry were required to do the same.

So what's this about hair length? When I was reading the final book I noticed that Rowling is obsessed with hair. She often describes the color, texture, length and cleanliness of a character's hair when introducing him or her. Good characters, those we grow to love because Rowling loves them, have clean, well trimmed hair. Evil characters show signs of neglect and those signs often translate into stringy, overly-long, dirty hair. Snape starts his Hogwarts career with dirty hair. James Potter starts school with a tidy cut. Sure Harry's hair is unruly but he keeps it cut and clean.

When I pointed out Rowling's connection between cleanliness and godliness to my son, he mused..."are you telling me something? Do I need another haircut?" If this blog were a research paper I would have to go back and quote the many examples throughout which prove my thesis. Luckily I don't have to. I just leave you to go back and find out if my impressions are right. Is J.K. Rowling really an advocate for attractive, clean hair?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007


Last week on our family vacation in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, our 12-year-old was immersed in the newest and last Harry Potter adventure. While he read it three times, he left the rest of us to find other things on the shelf to amuse us. Graciously, the Curtis Public Library allowed our family to have a visitor library card for the week we were in the area. We checked out books on Monday, read until the library re-opened on Thursday, checked out a couple more and returned the lot in the book drop on Saturday as we drove out of town towards the Marquette airport.

What did the rest of us read? I searched the shelves in the Curtis Library for things that I can't find easily at our local library. I have found that when I am using a small town library, I can find some gems that are no longer in print. Maybe with the lower circulation books last longer, but some of the titles I was looking for have long ago fallen apart from the San Carlos Library.

While in Curtis my 9-year-old and I read KATIE JOHN by Mary Calhoun (something I remembered from my childhood that still holds up). We borrowed several books by Swedish author Astrid Lindgren. We reread EMIL'S PRANKS and EMIL AND THE SOUP TUREEN. These read particularly well out loud since each chapter is a discreet episode and 4, 5 and 6 year olds so delight in reading about mischievous children who do the outrageous things they wish they could do. Our nine-year old read Anna Sewell's BLACK BEAUTY for the first time and loved the romantic, tense story. e both also read BLUE RIBBONS FOR MEG by Adele de Leeuw, a novel from 1950 about a little girl moving from Boston to a frontier fort to live with cousins. I was disappointed with the stereotypes in this one but the main themes- about becoming comfortable in a new community and getting a horse of one's own- were thrilling to my daughter. Now that we are home she is snatching up every book with a horse on the cover, tearing through it and begging that we move to a farm.

We managed to read a few new books as well as the older things. I read THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. I had read a lot about this book that is a novel, a picture book, a graphic novel all wrapped up in 550 beautifully designed pages. I am a sucker for book design so I loved holding this book on my lap (yes, it is large enough that I wanted to rest it on my knees rather than hold it up). The paper is lovely, the book designed with details that help set the novel in the Paris of the 1930's. Once my son was finished with Harry Potter he read HUGO CABRET twice himself. I would be curious to know what others think of this illustrated novel. Did you turn the pages quickly for a cinematic experience or did you pore over them in case there were clues hidden in the art?

Lest you think our children are readers above the ordinary, I must admit that they pored over old MAD MAGAZINE comic collections during the week as well. The Curtis Library has a phenomenal collection of MAD comics from the 1970's. Wow was the material dated!