Captain Yips' Secret Journal

Tuesday, July 08, 2003
Here's the TypePad link
Set up was certainly easy. Here's the link, and this is the url:

Give it a try, please.

Lucky Me

I get to be a beta tester for the Moveable Type people's new TypePad blogging service. What that means for this site I do not know. MT wants us to treat the test site as we would our normal blog, so when I get set up I will post a link.

Saturday, July 05, 2003
Bulky Hulk

Writer see Hulk. Hulk long. Hulk brainless. Hulk bad. Writer wonder what movie critics saw. Writer think Ang Lee overrated. Ang Lee like to make very long movies. Writer think that if Ang Lee make movie of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, people die of starvation. Ang Lee like close up of Jennifer Connelly. Writer understand this, but close ups o f Jennifer Connelly not enough to make movie good. Writer think $9 apiece to see Hulk WAY TOO MUCH OMIGOSH THIS IS INFURIATING WHAT’S HAPPENING TO ME Oops. Writer break theater. Writer sorry for mess.

Wednesday, July 02, 2003
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

These are not children’s books.

Oh, they’re accessible to children, but they are not “children’s books” in any limiting sense.

When I read Potter I, I thought, “Oh, isn’t that clever. She’s taken the English Boys School Story, tossed in some magic and eccentric characters, and voila!” But as book has followed book, I’ve realized that Joanne Rowling has been doing something much more complicated and ambitious. She’s writing a very long narrative about people confronting a desperate struggle, and about the maturing of young people under immense stress, and setting the whole in an elaborately imagined and realized world that coexists with our own.


The emotional arc in The Order of the Phoenix takes Harry on an agonizing ride thorugh the miseries of adolescence, grave physical and moral danger, the bipolar disorder of first love, and brings him out, more or less ready to confront the mortal struggles ahead of him.

Rowling begins by crawling into the skin of a 15 year old boy, and an unpleasant place it is, too. Impatient, always angry, sullen, and rude, the Harry Potter of the first chapter is not sympathetic. Over the next 2/3 or so of the book, Rowling knocks the props out from under Harry. Dumbledore is distant; he can’t play Quidditch; Hagrid is on a mission; he’s even slightly alienated for a while from Hermione and Ron. Hogwarts is not the refuge he’s used to, because of the presence of a powerful and sadistic witch. He cannot even bask in his bittersweet victory in the Tri Wizard Tournament; and for obscure reasons, the wizarding press is against him. He must even take extra classes from Snape. Harry is cast on his own resources, and makes mistakes.

Two scenes, one minor, one large, struck me. Early in the book, the old warrior Mad Eye Moody shows Harry a picture of the original Order of the Phoenix, formed to oppose Voldemort years ago and now revived. The witches and wizards in the picture are happy, smiling, and confident, but Harry knows that death, insanity, and exile are ahead of them. He wonders why Moody showed him the picture, but gets no answer, not in this book. Moody is showing him being a member of the Order means. “Being a member of this Order means to risk death, every day. This is war. Are you ready for that, boy?”

Much later, Harry shares Snape’s memory of Harry’s father. He lives through James Potter’s seemingly needless torment of the young Snape, sees his idealized father acting like a bully. At the end, Harry remembers what it is like to be surrounded by bullies and mockery. Harry’s capacity for compassion is reborn, and from this point on Harry recovers more and more of himself. He still cannot deal with Snape, but his nadir has been reached and he is moving upwards again. At the end, Harry realizes that the members of the Order are his allies, his companions in arms against Voldemort, and feels proud to stand with them.

Rowling allows other characters to develop as well. No one gets Harry's attention, of course, but no one stands still, either. Rowling handles Harry's crush on Cho Chang very well, and does an exceptional job of showing Cho's conflicts. She has no idea what she wants, and puts Harry through various hells thereby.

I could go on, and on. The book, after all, is 900+ pages. But I shall be brief.

Rowling's realization of the wizarding world is complex, rich, and detailed. I loved the paper airplane memos.

The last 200 pages or so is a tour de force climax, with events and information slamming into each other, ending with a ferocious, deadly magical battle during which Dumbledore shows why he is regarded as the greatest wizard of his age. And, again, Dumbledore is the greatest wizard because he has the greatest understanding of the human heart: Harry is experiencing advanced study in this area.

Is the book too long? No. Rowling has a lot to cover. I found little fat. In fact, the book shows evidence of a good deal of well-invested authorial effort.

Rowling's style: some complain. Well, she doesn't clank much, and mostly her prose gets itself out of the way. She's more transparent than, say, Tolkien or Neil Gaiman. I think this transparency may be one of the reasons for her popularity with younger readers. She doesn't get in their way.

Bravo. Encore.

Flowers from the Garden

A nice blue scabious, a very architectural flower.

and a close up of a rose.

and what would a semi-literary blog be without Sweet Juliet?

Monday, June 30, 2003
Lileks is back, hooray, with a bit of a rant about unserviceable ISPs and an excursion through 1950s science fiction movies. He names the astonishingly beautiful Dana Wynter, by her birth name, Dagmar.

Wynter was one of the great movie beauties of the 1950s. Born in Germany, brought up in England and Southern Rhodesia where she studied medicine before turning to the stage and movies. For an actress who never quite cracked into the very first rank, she worked pretty continuously. My favorite Dana Wynter movie is The List of Adrian Messenger, a crazy John Huston movie full of celebrities in an adaptation of Philip MacDonald’s intriguing novel. It’s a very amusing movie, especially if you can swallow George C. Scott as a Brit Brigadier. Scott doesn’t try to fake the accent, just clipping his speech a little. As an adaptation of an interesting mystery, it is not nearly as bad as the ghastly PBS rendition of Josephine Tey’s Brat Farrar a few years ago. The book Brat Farrar is full of Tey’s frequent theme of uncertain identity, and has a well rendered sense of place. The PBS version ripped the guts out and spread ‘em around, and gave us no sense of confusion or place at all. Shudder.

Lileks didn’t see a couple of my favorites: Invaders from Mars, whose trick ending and Martian controlled parents terrified me as a kid, X: The Unknown, with Dean Jagger as a vague sort of nuclear scientist in Scotland, combating a radioactive mobile sludge. There’s a scene in it where a randy doctor and nurse sneak into an empty hospital room AND GET EXACTLY WHAT THEY DESERVE. You can almost see John Knox behind the camera. And lastly, Kronos, no, not the very weird Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter, an earlier movie about intergalactic energy thieves and their mind control waves. Kronos contains the earliest example of which I am aware of the “reverse the polarity” solution to unsolvable sci-fi problems.

The common wisdom about these movies, especially Invasion of the Body Snatchers and Invaders from Mars, is that they reflect Cold War era anxieties. I suspect that interpretation maps a later critical preoccupation onto the work, always hazardous. Even if they do reflect to a degree the geopolitical contentions of the time, they also contain humanist anxieties about the result of the expansion of science on human character: compare them with Ross Rocklynne’s novela Quietus, in which in the distant future humanity has become technologically advanced but wizened physically, and cruel to the point of brewing it’s own destruction. In Invaders from Mars, the Martian Mastermind is all brain. X: The Unknown could be seen as a cautionary fable about pollution. The famous Forbidden Planet also touches on the theme of science destroying the soul, releasing the violence that humane civilization tames. Maybe. Maybe I'm mapping . . .

Sunday, June 29, 2003
Free Speech for Whom?

Erin O’Connor has begun following the interesting case of Prof. John Bonnell. Prof. Bonnell teaches English at Macomb Community College, in Michigan-that is, when the college administration lets him. Seems that they don’t like him much.

He’s been in trouble for a long time. Some of the documents can be found at this site.

Prof. Bonnell, it seems, is a somewhat potty mouthed prof. who sometimes rubs more delicate students the wrong way. At some point, one of the more delicate blooms ran home to mommy, and mommy wrote to the Board of Trustees, and the Board said, wash your mouth out with soap, Bonnell. Bonnell dug in his heels and provided testimonials from bunches of students to his effectiveness as an instructor. Complicating the matter is that the union representing the faculty at Macomb seems to have allowed a contract that attempts to impose some speech standards. What were they thinking. The federal courts got involved; Bonnell won a preliminary injunction against one of his suspensions, but the Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the lower court. I haven’t had time to look for a decision on the merits of the case rather than the matter of an injunction. If the contract genuinely imposes speech standards, the case would seem to move out of First Amendment territory and into contract law. Someone call in the lawyers. And, as usual when tempers rise, this disagreement has become personalized.

While I have done enough teaching both of younger students and of adults to doubt the pedagogical effectiveness of crude speech, I’m still a free speech absolutist. There’s nothing in the record that I have discovered to indicate that Prof. Bonnell is other than a conscientious and probably effective teacher of literature. The hallmark of our commitment to free speech is when we defend the speech we dislike.

When I have a chance later this week, I’ll look for a court decision on the substantive issue. Now, it’s off to the zoo.

Later this week: my Order of the Phoenix review, and the Death of Carter Harrison.

Thursday, June 26, 2003
*Big Sigh*

Yet another way that Academe in the 1970s differs from today is on the matter of free speech. The more speech, the freer the speech, the more outrageous the speech, the better: shows that not everything back then was horrid. Now, this safe place movement is tearing at the very heart of the free and open discussion that is the heart of the university. Read Prof. O'Connor's post and wonder what we are doing.

Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Lileks' Army

Looks like someone is trying to give our main man grief. Foolish person. There are thousands who will gladly help him give grief back. Not that he needs help.

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