Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Potions to Pass the Day

Notes from the Potion’s Dungeon:

Pepperup is a success! I love this recipe..too easy to fail, and amazingly perky. Take a long whiff and then sip slowly when you’re feeling down, under the weather, or in need of something peppery. To make, place 2 heaping teaspoons of whole black peppercorns in a pint of vodka. Allow them to steep under the light of the setting sun for about an hour then strain out the peppercorns, bottle, cork, and deliver to Professor Snape for full marks. Or, just take a shot. It’s Potions 101.

And now we’re starting a slow-brewing elixir for lowered inhibitions and reduced internal chatter. It won’t build love, per se, you’ll need a waxing moon for that, but it will make romantic evenings more fun..as well as making board games with friends, dance parties, and political discussions ridiculously amusing! For now, we’ve put together Siberian ginseng, dried apricots, candied ginger, cinnamon bark, whole nutmeg, ….. To steep. For Romance, expose it to moonlight for at least an hour each night; for full-hearted political discussions, set it out - properly covered - in a rainstorm. It needs to steep a week for full potency. So we’ll leave it on the shelf for now. Snape disapproves of love-potions, so make sure it’s a hidden shelf!

This week’s Reading:

The Dueling Club is one of my favorite scenes in the series. Partially because it’s one of the rare moments of inter-house recreation. We get to see the houses - out of class and -at least superficially - out of their school-imposed clicks. It’s also an interesting scene because it shows Snape and Lockhart in sharp contrast: dark and light are obvious..and somewhat misguiding it seems; but of primary interest to me is the contrast between the Showman - with his well-dressed hair, dramatic gestures, and cultivated pursuit of the spotlight; and the Shadow - who cultivates an image to deter interest rather than attract it, excels in subtlety and derision, and who is obviously in his element here, aiding Lockhart in his enthusiastic self-humiliation. Rowling’s talent for caricature is happy here. There are so many distinct temperaments to play with. Harry’s ability to speak to snakes is well-revealed here, with a wider potential for reaction than the classroom or common-room could offer. There has been some discussion around the ‘net about the occult implications in Harry’s ability to talk to snakes (my personal favorite for overall enjoyment is Godhatesgoths.com - who knew that God had such a loathing for pale kids in black skinny-jeans!). I think that, looking at the treatment of snakes overall in the series, and especially in this second book, we see a trend toward a very balanced treatment of the serpent. Like serpents throughout the Bible, we see snakes here as mutable, tools in the hand of those with the authority to use them. But also as creatures with a dark mystique. The wizards of Rowling’s world seem every bit as cautious of snakes as the rest of us. It’s an interesting line for Harry to walk - and I’m looking forward to seeing it’s effect on his future.

Fawkes is…interesting. I prefer the image of the phoenix born anew in beauty from the ashes than Rowling’s ugly little hatchling. It seems to diminish much of the imagery. As does the name itself, which Jenna discusses a bit with my poor neglected husband here. I can’t see any other link between Guy Fawkes and phoenix, apart from the burnings, which makes the phoenix’s name sort of an uncomfortable, partial-mockery of a dead man, and very much a throw-a-way of a potentially meaningful opportunity by an author who does seem to try very hard with her names. 

So brew up some Pepperup to sip alongside your afternoon tea, and share your thoughts  - I'll edit in some photos when - and if - Blogger lets me load them. And check back with Jenna for more to discuss on these chapters. She gives her response to the perennial Christian question: Do we give these books to children, or are they too dark, too witchy, too entirely lacking in artistic merit? The third would have been the stickler for me, until I found myself reading Corduroy the Bear for the umpteenth time. I do have standards with kid's books (even at this age) but I'm not convinced Harry falls outside those standards. And I'm not such a control freak that only the best and brightest of children's literature is permitted to fall under Yarrow's impressionable gaze. But I can see reasons for pause in the series, as there are in most books, depending on the individual child's needs, temptations, and maturity. Would I be more likely to tuck away Potter and prominently display The Hobbit..yes, I would, but it would be because I love The Hobbit, it's a better book, and one of my favorites, and parents are always going to encourage their favorites. It's just a fact of nature. But while I can see aspects of the books that are very problematic in the formation of youthful morality, I don't see enough to deny a child the books. Yet. 

Your thoughts?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Potions, Lies, and Mysteries: The Harry Potter Project - CoS 8-9

Like Harry, we are moving more quickly than expected into autumn. The early mornings are cold, and I feel for him up on his broom as I feed the pigs and watch the sun rise through my own steaming breath. 

I've put off my own 'pepperup potion' for too long, and so photos will have to wait til next week, when the bottled brew is ready to be seen and sipped (slowly, please, or you might end up looking like Ginny for the next quarter-hour). But the season is right for it, and I'm looking forward to having some on hand!

Rowling does come up with some excellent potions. Adorable names and amusing extras alongside - I can appreciate why Snape would lean towards the subtlety and the never-ending options for improvement that come with recipe-magic.  I think about him often now, as Autumn is the season for infusions, potions, essences, and tinctures. I'm especially interested in Madam Z. Nettles' Scintillation Solution - some suggest it's a brain tonic, making poor Madam Nettles a witty conversationalist, but I like to think it makes her 'bright' in another sense - a spell for brilliant, glittering skin perhaps. And I want it for my own. 

 When Harry finds the Kwikspell Course (I hope it's advertised as The Kwikspell Kourse and sold for five payments of $19.99 - with a 'kwik' response getting you an additional 'spell-boosting wand extender' and three extra-potent toadstools) on Filch's desk, we see more of the habitual lying the students of Hogwarts are noteworthy for (in my reading anyway). Harry lies to Filch, Hermione to Myrtle at the dullest party imaginable, Harry lies to Sir Patrick Delaney-Podmore's ghost at Nearly Headless Nick's request, and of course Nick himself is awash in socially-acceptable party lies. After Mrs. Norris is found, Harry, Ron, and Hermione attempt to lie their way out of any connection with the petrifying, and all of this is very casual, expected behavior. It's a small thing, I know, but one that grates on me while reading. Perhaps because I'm learning just how much I do value honesty; or perhaps because most of the lies are so careless.

The Death-day party itself is not terribly interesting. Rowling's ghosts are better left in the background, I think. But rumors that some Catholic critics of the series have linked the Death-day party to a Black Mass are still unsubstantiated. If anyone finds such a link, please pass it on. I can't find any real connection in the books or online....yet. 

Christie's recent post delves into the use of blood-slurs in the wizarding world - fascinating and thought-provoking - as well as touching on the mention (in last week's discussion) of those who disapprove of the Mandrake image in this book. I looked it up and discovered (to my surprise) that there are not a few who link the Mandrakes ugly-baby look in earlier chapters and eventual use in a Restorative potion (Lockhart calls it a Mandrake Restorative Draught, but we can't really trust him to know the proper name of anything but quality hair care and Odgen's Old Firewhisky) to a subtle pro-abortion agenda by the author. This is, I think, more than unfair to Rowling, who has her faults, but can generally be counted on to avoid the overly-subtle agenda. Mandrakes are in fact known for their human appearance, and for their cry, which kills. And Rowling's shown us  many times that her main skill as an author is in creating the cartoon - sometimes with a way-too-pushy agenda, but never with a so-light-you-can't-quite-taste-it message. So lets not pretend we believe she's delighting in cutting up 'living human babies' or encouraging the reader towards abortion in anyway through her use of Mandrakes, which are - after all, primarily used in fertility and life-promoting ways throughout magical tradition. 

But the mysteries in the book are deepening..and the Chamber of Secrets is such a grand, gothic sort of name for the hidden place of evil within a castle of magic. Unashamedly gothic. I love it.