P.35: Deathly Hallows Part 1, a Retrospective

Spoilers, of course.

It’s weird. Right from when I heard that Warner Bros. was rereleasing the Harry Potter movies — all on IMAX — the movie I was most excited about seeing again was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1.  I may be in the minority, but it’s by far my favorite in the film series.

For starters, the movie is fantastic. The acting, the direction, the cinematography, the score — everything delivers.

A lot of people at the time scoffed at the idea of separating the last book of a popular franchise into two different movies (me included!) — and it certainly set a bad industry standard — but unlike so many of the others that have followed, the two Deathly Hallows films are really well thought out.

Each part is almost the diametric opposite of the other, and yet they fit together so well. It makes the two films resonant — if Part 2 has all the action, Part 1 has all the feeling. And feeling wins for me.

But, of course, Part 2 doesn’t really have all the action. Part 1 has action in spades, maybe even more action sequences than any other Harry Potter film other than the Deathly Hallows Part 2. We get everything from a broomstick getaway to a diner shootout. There are two major heists, a blown-up house, a wedding raid, a battle with a Big-Bad-Wolf-esque snake in human clothing. There’s a magic-dueling chase, a prison break and a homicidal necklace drowning scene.

And all of them effect our heroes, and often the world around them, in very personal ways — for good or bad. A character doesn’t just die, but is cried over and buried. A wand isn’t just broken, but is used as a symbol of the need to not dwell on the bad in times of crisis. Our heroes don’t just save random strangers, but get to know them just well enough to make viewers care that they were saved at all.

Almost nothing is glossed over — even outright victory has consequences, as when Hermione had to compromise her morals and erase the memories of Voldemort’s snatchers, to keep the trio safe. Winning the fight, for Hermione, was the easy part. The results aren’t always predictable, and the film usually takes the time to let the impacts sink in.

Further, this film oozes character and relationship growth, hitting so many different emotional notes. By taking viewers out of Hogwarts completely, it gives us the chance to see Hermione, Harry and Ron stand on their own — and Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe and Rupert Grint deliver.

Another point in its favor? This is a Big Blockbuster that’s not afraid of taking chances. For example, it has all these beautiful settings and lingers on them, chewing on the scenery and moment, not afraid to stop and breathe. It creates this beautiful message — that even in the worst of times, the world is a beautiful place and there can be moments of peace.

It also puts the geeky Wizarding World lore at the focus. To beat the bad guy, the characters have to — for the first time — understand the world. They need to know how wands really work, something even Voldemort didn’t quite get. And for a franchise that never really tried to establish a detailed or rigid magic system before, wand lore adds surprising depth — depth the film wasn’t afraid to dig into.

Further, while the Harry Potter movies have always given us a great world, the Deathly Hallows gives us great stories. And those stories are important to the film itself. The Tale of the Three Brothers hits so many notes for me, from the film’s ridiculously gorgeous animated sequence (which was a huge risk!) to the way the story itself serves as a perfect pastiche of all the old European folktales.

But the really important thing is what the Three Brothers represents. If the Harry Potter universe were a mystery cult, it’s basically the outer and inner mysteries of the entire Wizarding World. In Harry’s world, there’s those who (like him, in Philosopher’s Stone) know nothing and are completely new to or unaware of the Wizarding World. They’ve never even heard of the Three Brothers, much less read it. Then there are those initiated into the outer ring — those who are well versed in wizarding culture, who understands the world in the same way most anyone would understands the one we live in. These are the people who’ve read the Three Brothers, or at least know the story.

But then there’s the people fully initiated — who not only understand the world, but how it came to be. They know what’s really going on. For Harry, Ron and Hermione, they’re just entering the “real” Wizarding World here, as they’ve come to know about (and believe in) the Deathly Hallows. It brings a greater depth to the story, and sets our characters in an almost Arthurian quest narrative, where they (like many others before them) have quested to find the elusive Grail Elder Wand, and its Deathly Hallow companions.

Of course, the book did many of these things, too, and it did them all first. We shouldn’t forget that, or how much JK Rowling rocks. But think of how easy it would have been for these scenes to have been written out or truncated in the translation to film. Or how easily Warner Bros could have forced David Yates to manufacture a bunch of different, plot-centric scenes to dumb this thing down and strip away all the character beats.

Did anyone read the first half of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and expect all those scenes of Hermione, Harry and Ron wandering the English countryside to somehow all make it in the final movies? I sure didn’t, and yet they all made this movie so good.

So, wow, was seeing this film again a real treat. It’s one of the rare times I’ve gone to see something on the big big screen and thought, “I wouldn’t want to see that any other way.” In fact, I often don’t like IMAX for the simple reason that it can be too much. But not this one. That’s for sure. It really made this great, unique and emotive movie a perfect movie-going experience — sort of the fine wine of the Harry Potter movie franchise — and I didn’t even have any popcorn.

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P.11: Check Out Tade Thompson’s “Child, Funderal, Thief, Death,” Arie Coleman’s “20/20,” and Other Things I’ve Read

  • Child, Funeral, Thief, Death by Tade Thompson. Apex Magazine. I feel like I visited just visited Nigeria and bore witness to this story. The writing is gorgeous, the story builds quite nicely and I loved that Thompson was able to build an entire mythos here, and wasn’t afraid to go where he went with the ending. Loved it.
  • 20/20 by Arie Coleman. Strange Horizons. I really enjoyed the slipstream elements of the story — it’s so hard to pull off well, and Coleman succeeds here. Plus, as someone who’s known my share of nurses, I deeply appreciated just how real the writer made life working at a hospital out to be. Also, as a bonus, the wonderful Anaea Lay does a reading of it for the Strange Horizons podcast.
  • The Circle of Life by Aline Carriere. Daily Science Fiction. I love speculative fiction that tackles overpopulation, and this one succeeds in a very short word count. Some vague-so-as-to-avoid-spoilers food for thought: I can’t decide if I think the narrator is creepy as in a sociopath creepy, or creepy, but in her own empathetic and caring way. That said, I’m leaning toward the former. I don’t think the narrator’s decision is really about the person who she thinks it is. That’s just my 2 cents.

P.10: My Current Submissions and Why I Sent Them, 9/6/2015

For my tenth post, I thought I’d do something different and list all my current submissions, along with why I sent them to the particular magazine in the first place. Hopefully this should give a little insight into the thought process behind where people should send their stories (and why) – and where readers can find stories they’re not reading, but should.

  • I have a 1200 word dark, speculative fantasy piece at Beneath Ceaseless Skies. They only publish second world fantasy settings, which is a particular favorite of mine as a writer. I sent a previous story here that was rejected, but I got praise for the world building I did and was asked to send more. I sent another piece where I thought I did a really good job with the world building, with a story that I think is stronger and tighter than the first.
  • I have a 2700 word piece with my take on a new kind of supernatural creature at Urban Fantasy Magazine. Their guidelines say they liked stories with creatures like vampires or werewolves, but that since they get a lot of them, the competition for those stories were fierce. That’s advice for writers to consider different creatures or themes. The story I sent I think does a great job at creating my own urban supernatural creature, that I think does a really good job at being unique, with its own mythos, and yet feels ‘real.’ It also has a real-world setting that the magazine requires, and I spent a lot of time trying to make my characters feel like they come from Small Town, USA.
  • I have another (different) 2700 word uber-dark fantasy piece at Fantasy and Science Fiction. Their guidelines don’t offer much suggestion for stories they’re looking for, just that they liked character-based stories and I know from the magazine that rich, other-worlds are a good place for it. Those are the two things I think this story does best.
  • I have a difficult-to-classify dark fantasy poem at Interfictions, that’s bordering on a prose poem. Interfictions is a magazine that’s looking for difficult-to-classify or genre-bending poems and stories, so I thought this was a good fit. I don’t write much poetry (just the occasional dabbler), but I really liked this piece, so I figured “what the hell.” One piece of advice I’ve taken from a number of other writers, including here, was to not be afraid of sending things out. I put a lot of work in it, especially for its ~200 words, so I wanted to give it a shot.
  • I have another difficult-to-classify 5000 word piece at Interfictions. Is it an urban fantasy? Dark fiction? Horror? Coming of age tale, with deep autobiographical inspirations? I couldn’t exactly pin it, and Interfictions is all about blurring the lines, so I thought it would be a good fit. I also did something almost no short stories do and gave it two different character perspectives, a serious no-no from one of the writing blogs I linked to yesterday. I’m hoping that Interfictions is one of the few places where the editors may look past that, and given that I’ve spent a lot of time on it trying to get it right (because it’s so personal to me), I was glad I got it in their window.
  • I have a 3400 word sci fi piece at Crossed Genres, for their pronouns and gender themed issue (they have a different theme every month). I love the concept of themed issues, and the opportunity that gives authors to compete against just that one theme, instead of all the themes in the cosmos and fantasy realms. I really liked this theme in particular, and had an idea I had been kicking around for a while that this theme gave me an opportunity to explore — so it was worth the effort of crafting something particularly for this issue.
  • I have a 600 word dark fantasy at Daily Science Fiction. I sent DSF one of my strongest stories that I’ve written before, but unfortunately while it fit within their maximum word count range, it was longer than what they typically publish by a hefty amount. I didn’t want to make that mistake again, and so I sent something much shorter. This was the story I wrote while listening to Hozier, when the idea popped in my head.

Hopefully, this will give a sense to other aspiring writers the level of commitment it takes to just have a shot at getting published in short story markets. You need to write a huge swath of the absolute best stories you can, and then you need to find places where they could fit, and keep sending them because no matter how good you are, your stories are going to get rejected a lot before you find success. More good stories gives you more good shots.

The submission process is a huge time sink, but unfortunately you can’t get published without it — at least not professionally. So hopefully a peak into where I’ve sent things, and why I sent them there, will be helpful to some.

P.8: Guardians of Galactic Diversity

As someone who’s fully on board Team Diversity, it baffles my mind that there’s anyone out there who wants less of that. Yet, about when I decided I wanted to take my writing seriously and bring it to the next level, we had a number of people in the sci fi and fantasy community who started organizing around making fantasy and sci fi a place where diversity wasn’t welcomed or celebrated at all.

Being the half-glass full kind of guy, I think that has a lot to do with the fact that most people don’t have a ton of exposure to all the differences that exist in the world, including the different experiences many people face in life because of something like their gender or the color of their skin. Exposure can change that, and give people an a-ha.

Weirdly, many of those a-ha movements have come from the ultimate popcorn movie: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that’s as whiz-bang and as fun as it gets. Then again, maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. More than any movie like it, Guardians gave us a galaxy filled with diverse characters, who not only look different, but behave or think differently, as well.

I felt really inspired when I read about a kid on the autism spectrum, who found his fictional hero in Drax because Drax was just like him — he didn’t get metaphors. It was something so simple, but so powerful to a kid who grew up in a world where there were no super hero characters he could relate to. It allowed the kid to feel cool and powerful, just like Drax.

Another kid, with dyspraxia, a disorder which can effect speech and fine motor skills, was inspired by Groot. Like Groot, he was limited in what he could say. Groot changed his whole behavior and the way he interacted with the world — even the way he spoke, letting him open up.

“He would start mimicking Groot by changing the way he would say ‘bah.’ Groot became his voice — he was able to change ‘bah’ to ‘Groot.’ His behavior changed, and his communication with others did as well.”

Increasing diversity in fiction (or elsewhere) isn’t about repressing those who have enjoyed the comforts of being in the majority, of being “normal.” It’s about making sure those who didn’t grow up that way, or aren’t growing up that way, can have characters they can relate to and feel inspired by. It’s about letting them feel empowered, seeing opportunities they maybe couldn’t before.

Making sure fantasy and science fiction is at least as diverse as our own world can only have positive impacts. I hope some of the skeptics, the people who’ve grown up with fantasy and science fiction that mostly looked like them, read about the hope and inspiration these kids with neurological disorders have derived from characters like Groot and Drax. I hope they try to imagine all the other kids out there, looking for their characters, trying to find their own hope and power through fiction. I think they’d be glad Groot and Drax existed — and that they’d want more of them.