When I was 7, a substitute teacher read the class the first two chapters of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I thought it was a bit rubbish and told my mother so when I got home. “I think I’ve heard about it on the radio,” she said. “It’s meant to be quite good.” Oh. I gave it another try, this time borrowing it from the library. I read it so compulsively that I finished it on a family visit to a friend’s for dinner, surfacing at the end to ask if there was a sequel. I was hooked.
That was in 1997. Over the next few years the world caught up in the same kind of madness, and I slowly caught up to Harry in age. By the time Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the seventh and final volume) was published I was a teenager on a gap year — I still have a photo of myself in a bookshop in France on the day it was released. Like a lot of people, Harry Potter was my first experience of fandom, sharing my fiction affliction with millions of others around the world. There are a thousand stories like mine.
My relationship with the books is a lot more complicated now than it was in the beginning, but they shaped so much of my growing up that I still love them anyway. From making Harry Potter paper dolls with my best friend to writing a fan letter to J. K. Rowling (and getting a reply!), buying my first merch (Hedwig sweatshirt) in Germany in 1998, getting spoiled for who died in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix because for once I didn’t read fast enough, dressing up for a launch event at the local bookshop in 2005…
Somehow, as of today, it has been 20 years since Harry Potter was first published. Time for a re-read and a chocolate frog, I think.
“Happee Birthdae Harry” as Rubeus Hagrid so aptly said twenty years ago.
Yes, its hard to believe, but this year, ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ celebrates the twentieth anniversary of its first publication, and my generation of twenty-somethings can now, finally, feel old.
Together we and Harry Potter went through school (admittedly with less owls and enchanted halls on our end), and gradually ‘grew up’ through both good and bad experiences (though again, less trolls and horcruxes’ were involved), losses, and gains. Harry Potter really was the story of our generation. I remember my father bringing home the first Harry Potter book with a casual ‘the woman in the shop said this was quite good’ (yes – they hadn’t quite taken off at that stage).
From then on, as each book in the series was released, there would be a flurried, exciting day where me and my two sisters would charge down to our nearest bookstore and buy a copy each (the only way to avoid an ugly scene). We would then spend the next day (and night) with our noses buried in its pages, never emerging until the very last sentence had been read. One year we were so immersed in the latest installment we let our log fire go out three times, and forgot to eat any food until dinner time (a very monumental thing for us).
Twenty years on from our first introduction to Rowling’s incredible world, I not only feel old, I also feel oddly proud that ‘Harry Potter and Philosophers Stone’ is every bit as good to me as when I first read it all those years ago. Reason enough, I think, to break out the butterbeer and cauldron cakes.
Not only that but Rowling was also incredibly funny. There are passages which still make me gwarff out loud like Lee Jordan’s ‘impartial’ quidditch commentary:
“So-after that obvious and disgusting bit of cheating-“
“Jordan!” growled Professor McGonagall.
“I mean, after that open and revolting foul-“
“Jordan, I’m warning you-“
“All right, all right. Flint nearly kills the Gryffindor Seeker, which could happen to anyone I’m sure…” .
And Ron’s pragmatic reply to Harry’s question:
“what if I wave my wand and nothing happens?”
Ron: “Throw it away and punch him on the nose.’
Some comic relief and cosy moments at the Burrow actually manage to transform these books into go-to comfort reading for me (except for the last book I guess- and the end of the fourth and the sixth and, well, a few other moments…).
And of course the stories are damn good. Who doesn’t love a story which features the underdog (in this case an unloved orphan) transforming into a honourable hero with the skills and courage to save the (wizarding) world. In addition, as the story grew both in intricacy and character development, so did Rowling’s first generation of readers. The stories’ growth really couldn’t have been better timed. There were always strong themes of sacrifice and loss running through Harry Potters story but, somehow, Rowling managed to introduce more intricate, often darker ideas like Horcruxes, the death of Dumbledore, Snapes’ heartbreaking love for Lily, and the supremely evil professor Umbridge’s ‘takeover’ of Hogwarts, just as her audiences were growing in reading level and maturity.
Rowling always celebrated important character traits too such as loyalty and knowledge, themes which will make her stories timeless. Ron and Hermione sacrifice a happy, normal life to follow Harry on his quest; Snape sacrifices his own name and safety to avenge Lily and keep the mission going and, in the end, Harry makes the ultimate sacrifice, his own life, to rid the world of Voldemort.
Knowledge is celebrated through Hermione, the cleverest witch of her time and Dumbledore the epitome of wisdom. It is doubtful if Harry’s quest would have progressed as successfully had it not been for Hermione swotting up on virtually every wizarding book under the sun including material on horcruxes, and had it not been for Dumbledore’s private lessons with Harry in which they discussed Voldemort’s past.
And who couldn’t love the world Rowling managed to create? An amazing world of Quidditch, pet owls, wizarding schools, and so so much more. Somehow, Rowling still managed to also ‘keep it real’ by having very real themes of love (in many forms), and painful loss. Perhaps this is part of Harry Potters huge appeal – that perfect mix of magic and reality.
Rowling also includes some great hat tips to ancient mythology. Like St Patrick or Herakles, Harry Potter has power over serpents (though admittedly Harry takes a somewhat more passive approach to Herakles and has a reasoned chat to his snakes rather than killing them in either hand from his infancy). Cerberus, the 3 headed dog like guard of the underworld, even makes an appearance as Hagrid’s beloved pet ‘Fluffy’, and there are frequent references to Rowling’s own personal favourite of mythical creatures – the phoenix, the ultimate symbol of renewal celebrated in Greek, Roman and many other mythologies. Also, like all mythological heroes, Harry is on a ‘quest’ which only he can achieve. Wise as Dumbledore is, and loyal as Hermione and Ron remain to the bitter end, Harry still must go on his own and leave his companions to confront the essential menace and conquer the root of all the evil.
I also love Rowling’s clever use of latin within spells and potions (For a start, ‘accio’ sounds so much more impressive than ‘fetch’ and ‘felix felicitis’ far more meaningful than ‘lucky day’), and one has to admire the hidden meanings dedicated Potter fans manage to unearth behind seemingly innocent phrases. Take Snape’s first question to Harry:
“Potter! What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?”
Some dedicated Potter fans insist that what this really means is ‘I bitterly regret Lily’s death’, because, according to Victorian Flower Language, asphodel is a type of lily while wormwood means ‘absence’ and symbolizes bitter sorrow. Just as rabbis take a passage in the Torah and discuss its complexities and multiple meanings for many days, so it seems, do Potter fans for a snarky question from Severus Snape. There exists a sort of Harry Potter midrash. Who knew?
With a gripping, intricate story, quite literally magical setting, strong characters, and great humour, there is so much to love and celebrate about this incredible series. Rowling has helped to inspire a whole generation of bookworms and after twenty years, more beautiful reprints, and more spin off movies, it looks as though she will continue to work her magic for new generations to come.
Hi there, some great looking titles in the box this week.
Katey Sagal (Sons of Anarchy, Futurama, Married with Children) has written an autobiography! Grace Notes tells the story of Sagal’s amazing and challenging life (not the least having a baby, told as a series of essays. Christina Applegate hails the memoir as “a beautiful poem…you will be transported…and healed.” Follow Katey Sagal on Twitter @KateySagal
Wildlife enthusiasts will love this biography The Durrells of Corfu. Those who loved reading Gerald Durrell’s stories of the exotic island and equally exotic pets will enjoy this. The author, Michael Haag, was family friend of Lawrence Durrell, Gerald’s father. The book includes photographs, excerpts from stories and an epilogue on Lawrence Durrell’s writing.
Clive Cussler’s new book Nighthawk is the 14th installment of the Numa Files (National Underwater and Marine Agency Foundation). A highly advanced spaceship disappears over the South Pacific. Kurt Austin and NUMA scramble to find it, and its unstable cargo before other nations can discover it. Great reviews. Keep track of his series with Fantastic Fiction.
The Other Hoffmann Sister by Ben Fergusson, is an Historic novel about a German family, set in Southwest Africa. When her sister Marguerite later goes missing after their return to Berlin, the mystery haunts Ingrid, but her search is interrupted by the onset of World
War I. His second novel, the story is described at atmospheric, accurate, elegant and engrossing.
A Dog’s Way Home is another novel from W. Bruce Cameron, author of A Dog’s Purpose (recently on film). There are many wonderful tales of great animal journeys. In this story, Lucas has to give the dog he found as a puppy, as pitbulls are banned in Denver. Yet the bond between Bella and Lucas is so strong that Bella attempts a journey of 400 miles across Colorado wilderness.
Familiar Things is a bit of a gem. South-Korean writer Hwang Sok-Yong, is being hailed as ‘the most powerful voice in Asia’ (Kenzaburo Oe), this book as a ‘great political book’ (Critiques Libres). Flower Island is a landfill, home to the poor who have been driven out of the city. Yet against the stark backdrop of reality, Ancient Spirits are about to reveal themselves…
Miss Manners would probably be spinning in her grave*, but seriously, I don’t know when I’ve laughed so hard as when I read Old MacDonald Heard a Fart! I took it home the other night, to read it to the Beecrafty family, but it seems not everyone enjoys a fart book as much as I do! Maybe I shouldn’t have read it at the dinner table, because of course it prompted a raucous fart-noise competition between myself and the Young Lad, and Mr K left the room in disgust. But if you’ve got kids who appreciate a bit of scatological humour, this picture book is a must!
There’s just so much to love about this book. As you probably already guessed from the title, it’s an irreverent, noisy version of the farmyard classic. It has lovely, vibrant, and expressive illustrations, with lots of little details and things to spy. I had to giggle at the Elvis rooster and the Jurassic Pork poster on the stable wall. The Ziggy Stardust unicorn in a Dalí landscape is really something, too.
But best of all has to be the instructions on how to create (verbally, I promise!) each fart sound. The Young Lad and I had great fun contorting our lips into the correct formations to make all the gross noises. Although he was quick to demonstrate his own favourite technique – I didn’t know what an accomplished fart noise creator he was. The next night, he was most indignant when I said I couldn’t read it again as I had taken the book back to work!
The story of this story is also quite something. Debut author Olaf Falafel tweeted that he needed a publisher for his new book, and before two weeks were up, he had a book deal! Isn’t that twitterising a whole lot better than covfefe?
Part I: Paul Dalziel
Budget 2017 in its economic context; key elements of Budget 2017; putting Budget in layperson’s terms
Part II: Helen Leahy
Budget 2017 and its implications for whānau; family vulnerability and resilience
Part III: Discussion
Government-civil society partnerships and the importance of holistic approaches to family wellbeing; pros and cons of statistics-based funding models; prioritising economic growth against other types of growth
Shakespeare with tentacles, teenage sex, dead bodies galore, and nerf guns. Yup, you heard right. Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is on now at The Court Theatre until June 24, and it is nothing like the Shakespeare you learnt at school.
Kathleen Burns is one of the cast, and we had a chance to ask her some questions about Hamlet, gaming, and this show.
Shakespeare! Guns! Gaming! Kicking ass! Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) at The Court Theatre sounds awesome! Thanks for chatting to us about it – it sounds like a really interesting mix of everything.
Before we start, let’s play ‘Two truths, one lie’ to get to know you. What are two interesting facts about yourself? And what about one thing that’s not true? We’ll see if we can guess which one’s the lie.*
1: I am really good at saying the alphabet backwards super fast.
2: When I was a girl, I had webbed fingers and had to get them surgically un-webbed.
3: I can’t click my fingers.
That first one’s an impressive skill – I hope you’ve found some way to get that into one of your shows! Now that’s out the way, on to the important stuff. Old Will Shakespeare. We had to study one of his plays each year at high school. I think I just about died of boredom watching every girl in my class act out Romeo’s death in a Yr 11 English assessment – do you know just how long a 16-year-old can drag out a death scene?! It was painful!
What about you? Did you have to suffer through the plays in English class or did you actually enjoy learning about the Bard?
At first it was totally daunting… like… what are all these people on about…? But, I had good English teachers who broke it down. It’s actually super easy… this person wants to kill that person, this person wants to sleep with that person… Also I often got asked to read it out loud, and you know… any chance to be centre of attention haha!
What about now? Have your thoughts on him changed, or do you still feel the same way?
The older I get, the more I either love or hate it. Like… “Yay! Titus Andronicus is so cool! Let’s put people in pies!” or “OH EM GEE Hamlet is so annoying, I wish he would just make up his mind…”
So … Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show). That’s quite a mouthful! I looked it up on The Court’s website, and the description for the show was:
“Rebooting the story of Hamlet as a video game, this show blends Shakespeare with modern gaming culture to create a uniquely entertaining live experience. You’ve never seen the Bard this bad-ass!”
What does that actually mean? Most people would say video games and 17th century plays don’t really go together. What exactly are we going to see when we go see Hamlet: The Video Game?
Are you kidding me? Shakespeare and video games are pretty much the same thing. Bloodthirsty violence, revenge, high body count, teenage sex… all of the fun stuff. In this show you can expect to see an epic nerf gun battle, an abundance of gaming jokes, and hearts torn out of chests both literally and figuratively.
So it’s not going to be an old guy standing alone on a dark stage talking to a skull in Ye Olde English that we’re not going to understand? Phew!
Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) got shown for the first time back in 2015. It obviously did well to come back for a second go, so who is the show *actually* for? Usually people who go and see plays are not the people who’ll spend time playing computer games, so where did the decision to merge classical theatre and gaming come from? And who’s the target audience?
The idea came about from Simon Peacock, who started as a court jester here in Christchurch but now works in the video game industry in Canada. He directed the voices on one of my favourite games: Assassins Creed! This show is totally for gamers. I mean yeah, Shakespeare lovers are loving it too… but it so so packed full of jokes for gamers.
In video games, the gamer is in charge of choosing what their avatar is going to do next, or where they’re going to go, and that happens in this show too, right? So it’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure version of Hamlet! That’s pretty cool.
Hahahaha no. It’s not a pick-a-path. Any experienced gamer will tell you that video games only offer the illusion of choice. At its heart, it’s the story of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But with video game tropes over top, like, at the start, the audience get to customize their Hamlet character. So far the mohawk has been really popular. But can you please come along and choose the beret for once??? It looks kick ass and the audience hasn’t chosen that one yet!
Got it. Always choose the beret.
Back in the day, girls and women weren’t allowed to act in old Will’s plays – apparently boys and men did a better job of playing the female characters than actual females did. That’s pretty dumb, I reckon, but I guess that was just the way society was back then. There’s a real live female actor in this show though, right? Playing a real live female character? Does she get to do really cool stuff, or is she stuck at home doing embroidery and cooking and looking after the kids? Of course, if a female wants to stay in and do sewing, she totally can – you be you, girl, and do what makes you happy! Anyways – what are the girls up to in Hamlet?
Well actually it’s funny you mention that because…. I am totally a girl. Yip. Boobs and everything. And I’m a gamer too. (Pause for shocked silence) The most domestic thing any of the female characters get up to in this is when Gertrude in her bed chamber brushing her tentacles. Yip, that’s right, her mighty tentacles that come out of her head. When she’s not doing that, she’s kicking ass.
Shakespeare and the tentacles. Not a sentence I thought I’d be writing, but there it goes.
Lots of schools use Hamlet as one of their English texts. How close is this play to the actual Hamlet play? If I go see it will I be able to write about it in my NCEA exams?
It would actually totally help you to understand the basic story of Hamlet… I wish I had something like this when I was in high school!
All right, so you must have thought about this – if Hamlet actually got released as a video game, who would you choose to voice the characters? And why?
I will voice them all. With a million different hilarious voices. And maybe some voice changing technology to make my voice sound deep and evil for Claudius.
Right … you did say you wanted to be centre of attention at school. I guess some things don’t change.
How many of the folks involved in this show are actually gamers? And what’s the fave game at the moment? Although I bet they’re all pretty busy at the moment making sure this is finished and ready for the audience.
All of us are either current gamers, or have been at some point in our lives. Personally, I’m looking forward to playing Andromeda because I’m a huge Mass Effect fan!
So… Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is at The Court Theatre until June 24. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing show to watch and should have something for everyone.
We’ve opened already! Only a week and a half left, so get in quick!
Thanks for chatting with us, Kathleen – have you got any last words for people out there trying to decide if this show’s for them?
It’s for you. If you come to the show, and then are like “maybe that wasn’t for me”, I will personally come into the foyer and admit to your face that I was wrong. (THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED)
So there you have it, folks – Hamlet: The Video Game (The Stage Show) is for everyone. If you love Shakespeare but don’t game, or play video games but aren’t a fan of the Bard, or love Shakespeare AND gaming, go see it – it’s only $26, and it’s Shakespeare and tentacles. What’s not to love?!
* Oh, and in case you were wondering: the lie was … number 2.
I love unpacking the new books from their boxes. These are my picks from the new book box:
Dead Writers in Rehab is the second novel by British author Paul Basset Davies; also a writer for stage, radio, television and film. Protagonist Foster James wakes up in what he thinks is rehab. After a therapy session with several writers who are dead (Hunter S. Thompson, for example), he’s not so sure…
Inheriting Edith by Zoe Fishman, is the story of Maggie, a maid in New York, who is left a house by one of her clients. She also inherits Edith, her former employer’s eighty-two year old mother. Erin Duffy recommends this as a book “you’ll want to devour in one sitting.”
John Grisham’s new offering Camino Island features the daring theft of five manuscripts belonging to F.Scott Fitzgerald’s novels. If you were a struggling writer, could you resist the offer to work with a historic manuscript, even if its origins are murky?
Spaceman of Bohemia is the first novel by Jaroslav Kalfar. Highly recommended by Darin Strauss and Lisa McInerney, this is the story of Bohemian astronaut Jakub Prochazka’s ascent and personal journey through Space. With only an Arachnoid for company Jakub comes to terms with his relationships while he tries to find a way back home to his loved ones.
Tengoku, by Rae D. Magdon, is the story of a Japanese girl, Aozora Kaede, who runs away from her noble family, with only her wolf, Rin, for company. She is hired as a Yojimbo (bodyguard) for a young female Samurai, Homura Imari. The two share an adventure to replace Imari’s missing hand, confront Aozura’s past, and save the Empire of Akatsuki Teikoku from evil.
A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms is a prequel to Game of Thrones by George R.R. Martin. It’s set a century-ish before Game of Thrones, when the Targaryens are still in power… Featuring Ser Duncan the Tall, and his young Squire, Egg – who is really Aegon Targaryen. With illustrations!
The Walworth Beauty is a new release from Man Booker Prize shortlisted Michele Roberts. The Independent newspaper is hailing her as “one of Britain’s best novelists.” The Times goes further to describe her as descended from Monet, Debussy and Woolf. The novel follows two characters linked by the search for human connection, but separated by time.
I love the title of this one. (The Last Person to Call Me) Sweet Pea (Ended Up Dead) is a first adult novel by C.J Skuse, known for her writing for children and young adults. Rhiannon appears to be normal, living a normal life. She lives with her boyfriend and her dog, normal. She hates her job, normal. She is making a kill list, normal. Wait what?! The driver who cuts her off every morning. The guy who bruises her apples at the supermarket. Is this underestimated girl going to get away with murder?
Flash in the Pan is a popular night that brings together flash fiction writers. Challenge your ideas of fiction with flash readings and award presentations. This experimental form of brevity that links traditional narrative while pushing on boundaries of poetry and dialogue.
And in keeping with the season of Matariki, this is the first year that Flash in the Pan will feature te reo — Tania Roxborogh and Teoti Jardine will read stories in Te Reo Māori.
The Other Einstein by Marie Benedict is this month’s Big Library Read. You can get this eBook on OverDrive right now – no holds, no queues, unlimited copies. Meet Mileva Marić, The Other Einstein. Learn all about this remarkable woman by participating in the world’s largest global eBook reading club through libraries, Big Library Read.
In the tradition of The Paris Wife and Mrs. Poe, The Other Einstein offers us a window into a brilliant, fascinating woman whose light was lost in Einstein’s enormous shadow. This is the story of Einstein’s wife, a brilliant physicist in her own right, whose contribution to the special theory of relativity is hotly debated and may have been inspired by her own profound and very personal insight.