Ginny Weasley and the Loving Hero Paradox

Image I’ve been thinking a lot about Ginny Weasley. You could put this down to reading The Half Blood Prince again, where she leaps out of the background of the mill of Hogwarts students and assumes the vaunted title of ‘love interest’ for our hero. You could also pin this down to certain ruminations brought on by events unfolding around me, but that’s quite beside the point.

What’s the deal with Ginny Weasley? She’s smart and pretty and a wonderful Quidditch player, so obviously she’s got all the elements needed to be a popular girl. In the course of two books, she dates three boys, not a staggeringly high number, but certainly more than any other girl in the series (besides, significantly, Cho Chang). She’s capable of attracting a snooty Slytherin, Blaise Zabini, and of impressing the selective Slughorn. Evidently, she’s quite something in the Potterverse.

And yet, for all her awesomeness, Ginny is never made privy to the secret of the Horcruxes, never becomes part of Harry’s inner circle in his mission to destroy Voldemort. Sure, she has a vague idea that he, Ron and Hermione are up to something of crucial importance to the war effort, but she doesn’t know exactly what. Nor does she seem to push too hard to find out what it is. Harry’s reasoning for leaving her out of things is clear: he doesn’t want to endanger her. And Ginny, being perfect, accepts this without question, even going so far as to say ‘I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were hunting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much.’

Hey, I just realized Ginny uses his name too.

Ginny, for all her awesomeness, is something Harry has to protect, and in order for him to do that, he has to deny himself both her company and any obvious display of attachment (in this case, dating her). But, at the same time, if we are to believe Dumbledore, his ability to be attached to Ginny, to ‘love’, is the power that holds him in his stead against Voldemort. This is underscored when, in the Forest, it is Ginny’s face that bursts into his mind when the Dark Lord levels the Avada Kedavra at him.Image

Ginny is the centre of what I have rather creatively dubbed the Loving Hero Paradox (TM)*. This paradox plays out every time the hero of a fantasy or superhero saga resists love/shuts beloved away because he is afraid that she will fall prey to the evils of the foe, but then, ironically, relies (un)consciously on his feelings for her to distinguish himself ideologically from the villain he fights. This happens time and again in novels/movies where there’s a good versus evil fights; consider Rand in Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time or even Peter Parker in the Sam Raimi directed Spiderman.

In Harry’s case, the turn away from Ginny is a rather half-hearted move, considering the wizarding world is so small that their association with him makes the Weasleys a well-known and obvious target anyway, even without the addition of romance. Besides, just because he wants her to stay out of it doesn’t mean Ginny actually sits around tamely waiting to be rescued. She’s one of the leaders of the internal resistance in Hogwarts, going so far as to attempt to break into Snape’s office in a misguided attempt to steal the sword of Gryffindor.

Of course, this move begs the question of what on earth the kids hoped to achieve by doing that. How were they planning to get it to Harry? Did they really  know that Harry needed it? I don’t recall Harry ever telling Ginny that Dumbledore had left him the relic. This is one of those random moves that Rowling pulled in Deathly Hallows that requires a deal of explication.

What really bugs me about the Loving Hero Paradox is the fact that it’s so very…male. the only female character I’ve seen pull this ‘oh I can’t be in a relationship because I have better things to do’ line is Katniss Everdeen (and hey, it’s completely justified in her case because honestly, I don’t think she really knows what she feels for either Peeta or Gale until far into the books) and Egwene in Wheel of Time. And even Egwene wasn’t averse to a little romance—she just didn’t have time to deal with Gawyn’s drama until she had cemented herself as leader at a crucial juncture in the war against the Shadow.

Perhaps this has to do with the fact that not all that many fantasy/superhero novels or movies are centred on a female protagonist, and so we don’t meet all that many heroines who have to choose between being publicly in love and saving the world. When there are more such gems floating around in the market, we might be able to take a more informed call.

So no, I don’t support Harry’s rather lousy move of breaking up with Ginny at the end of Half Blood Prince. Not only did he choose to do it in a public location, in full glare of the media, at a funeral (man, what an ass. He’s worse than Peter Parker in some respects), but he also was stupid enough to believe that Ginny would sit tight and stay safe on his say-so. He really didn’t know her very well, did he?

I am so glad she proved him wrong.

Coming up: Ginny Weasley, Cho Chang and the Problem of the Weeping Woman

*This new literary term can get in line behind my other gem, Poor Little Rich Boy.

Kicking off the lead up to Women’s Day, fantasy style

So in a grand comeback gesture, I’ve decided to post every day (a bit ambitious, I know, and there are going to be hurdles, like travel and friends in the way) about a different female fantasy character who I see as being a ‘worthy’ model for a modern woman. There I go, stepping into dangerous territory, by dragging in categories worth debating like ‘modern’, ‘woman’and ‘worthy’. There’s no way to de-politicize this however, and I’ve sort of made my peace with that (I think). Besides, why SHOULD I de-politicize and de-radicalize my stance in a world where EVERY THIRD woman is raped and/or sexually abused, and most are subjected, no matter what their race, caste, colour or class background, to verbal and physical sexual harrassment nearly every day of their lives. Yes, living in a city like Delhi in India has served to make this disgusting reality much more immediate than it has been for the past 20 years of my life, and yes, the recent incidents have served to underline the horror and sheer banality of these happenings, but here, in my blog, I want to remind myself of WHAT reading fantasy literature has taught me, how its women have shone as beacons in what often seems a lightless world, and given me the courage to not despair and just give up on humanity.

Though sometimes it seems so, so tempting.

Anyway to turn from darker thoughts. Let me start with my oldest fantasy love, the Ur-text of my musings and writerly daydreams, The Lord of the Rings. Here, I shall shamelessly plagiarize from one of my own old essays, and wax poetic on the Lady of Light herself, Galadriel of Lothlorien.

Fitting, really, given that she is the oldest on my list by, oh, millenia.

 ‘The Lady of Lothlorien’, Galadriel is presented to the reader as ‘no less tall than [her husband]…grave and beautiful.’ She is ‘clad wholly in white…[with] hair of deep gold.’ She bears ‘no sign of age’ (being, in fact, immortal) but for the ‘depths of [her] eyes, for these were as keen as lances in the starlight, and yet profound, the wells of deep memory.’

 

In the creation of this character, Tolkien drew upon sources both literary and religious in nature. Galadriel embodies the ‘missing mother figure’ that is a common icon in many fairy tales. She provides guidance and hospitality to the Fellowship: feeding, clothing and lading them with gifts before sending them on their way. She is, in this way, reminiscent of the Biblical figure said to be her source: the Virgin Mary.

 

 The parallels between the two are obvious when TLOTR is compared to a late nineteenth-early twentieth century ballad by Chesterton: ‘The Ballad of the White Horse’. The hero in this poem is called Alfred, a dispossessed king on a quest to win back his rightful kingdom from the usurping Danes. Chesterton’s poem begins with Alfred’s vision of the Virgin, who counsels him to fight on against the Danes, but refuses to ‘read the future’ for him:

 

 

But if he fail or if he win

To no good man is told…

 

I tell you naught for your comfort

Yea, naught for your desire

Save that the sky grows darker yet

And the sea rises higher.

 Galadriel’s Mirror, which Frodo looks into during his stay in Lothlorien, shows the viewer many images, but there is no knowing whether they are set in the past, the present, or the future. When Frodo asks whether she advises him to look into it, Galadriel responds:

 ‘I do not counsel you one way or the other. I am not a counselor. You may learn something, and whether what you see be fair or evil, that may be profitable, and yet it may not. Seeing is both good and perilous. Yet I think, Frodo, that you have courage and wisdom enough for the venture, or I would not have brought you here. Do as you will!’

 Galadriel urges the Fellowship to continue on their Quest, but refuses to ‘read the future’ for them. Like the conventional mother figure, she offers a refuge for the weary travelers, and is a provider of miraculous gifts and articles that will help them overcome obstacles and achieve their aim. Even the Ring she wears- Nenya- is the Ring of preservation with the power to save and nurture- gifts traditionally ascribed to the mother.

 The Elven Queen also bears traces of another Biblical figure by the name of Mary, but this one is a far cry from the Virgin Mother. Mary Magdalene, the fallen woman who is redeemed by Christ, is also a source for Galadriel. Like Magdalene, she too once sinned. She rebels against the Valar (the great spirits who created the world) and leaves their kingdom (Valinor) to come to Middle Earth and ‘be free’. Once there, she rises to great power, becoming one of the holders of the Three Elven Rings, and Queen of her own realm, but barred from entering Valinor. Her great test comes in the form of the One Ring. When Frodo offers it to her she is momentarily tempted (or so it seems) by the desire for more power. The Hobbit sees her standing before him:

 ”…tall beyond measurement, and beautiful beyond enduring, terrible and worshipful. Then she let her hand fall , and suddenly she laughed again and lo! She was shrunken: a slender elf woman, clad in simple  white, whose gentle voice was soft and sad.

“I pass the test,” she said, “I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel.” ‘

By giving up her chance instead of swooping upon and seizing the One Ring when it is offered to her ‘freely’, Galadriel redeems herself and the ban on her is lifted. She is allowed to sail away to Valinor at the end of the book.

 How well does Galadriel conform to any fairy tale type? As far as being a good powerful woman goes, Galadriel defeats the general run of the group members by being quite capable of exciting admiration among men. Yet, like other good powerful fairy tale figures, she is detached from the action in a sense, appearing only to aid the Fellowship, then slipping back into the green shadows of her land. Frodo sees her as ‘present and yet remote; a living vision of that which has already been left far behind by the flowing streams of Time.’ Samwise Gamgee attempts to capture the Lady of Lorien with words:

“Beautiful she is…! Lovely! Sometimes like a great tree in flower, sometimes like a white daffadowndilly, small and slender like. Hard as di’monds, soft as moonlight. Warm as sunlight, cold as frost in the stars. Proud and far off as a snow mountain, and as merry as any lass I ever saw with daisies in her hair in springtime. But that’s a lot o’ nonsense, and all wide of my mark.”

 Galadriel seems to defeat all definition, instead remaining a curious blend of conflicting qualities- both nurturer and redeemed, immediate and remote, gentle and imperious. Rigidly delineated categories seem to stutter and fall before her- all rendered a ‘lot o’ nonsense’ and ‘wide’ (perhaps in this case too narrow!) ‘of the mark’.

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Make, Create, Do

Three things I should be doing right now, but am failing at miserably. It is so easy to sit in front of an empty computer screen (empty but for the baleful glare of the white Word document), and let your mind drift. I see the riches that will pour into my hands when I become a best-selling novelist, the smart quips I will deliver at literary festivals, the change I can effect in children’s lives through my persuasive morals and admirable characters. I proudly declared on my college application form that I wanted to ‘be the next J K Rowling’. That I would create the next Harry Potter.

Doesn’t seem to have happened.

Because it’s easy to dream, it’s harder to buckle down to it and work. My friend has just gotten a novel published. We’ve both talked about the day when we would be celebrated writers, but unlike me, the daydreaming and glory-spying Slytherin, she went ahead and actually wrote her book. Hufflepuffian work ethic does count for something. It might not sound as fancy as the Slytherin ambitousness, but it gets you places.

When I am uninspired (which is fairly often), I listen to or read Neil Gaiman’s famous commencement address, ‘Make Good Art’. I think the man is a genius, and fervently hope to be like him when I grow up (a state whose attainment I postpone every year), so of course I take everything he says to his devoted fanbase very seriously. I put down random quotes from the speech on the sticky notes on my desktop, I quote him in my favourite quotes list on Facebook, I gush about him to all and sundry. But I have failed to put his advice into practice, haven’t I? Aye, there’s the rub.

It’s easier to say that I want to make, create, do something that causes people to admire me, read me, look me up on the internet, than to actually log off my phone, get off whatsapp, ignore the insistent Facebook notifications (which, really, are not that insistent. I like to pretend that they are). It’s easier to dream about what my panel at a litfest will be called rather than write the piece or say the words that would get me there. It’s easier to say that I am a Slytherin than to actually put the house’s principles into practice.

Not the principles that Voldemort and his cronies declared in their manifesto, of course. The other bit- about being ambitous and clever and wending your way to the top. Ends are not always bad for Slytherins, nor are the means. The books, to a great extent, stooped to simplifying and thereby vilifying the house. But an angst post about the literary and ethical demerits of this will appear at a later time.

The point of this post, really, is to say that I must Make, Create, Do. A public declaration has often had the effect of me feeling (sometimes nonexistent) judging eyes, deriding me if I fail to later keep up with the spirit of my words. I am hoping that this will have that effect, and that my lazy Muse will dust himself off or come back from his vacation in the wilds of wherever she/he has disappeared to.

Accio inspiration!

Raised by ghosts

Nobody Owens is an unlikely name for a protagonist, especially the protagonist of a fantasy story. Doesn’t the last name sound a little mundane, not trip-off-the-tongue friendly like Potter, or gives-you-his-quality Fowl. No, it is stolid, simple ‘Owens’. And to add insult to injury, this child’s first name is ‘Nobody’, or as his friends call him, ‘Bod’.

But if you were to judge this book by the protagonist’s name (like Petunia Dursley judging her nephew by his ‘nasty, common’ one), you would miss out on an amazing read.

I hadn’t read a Neil Gaiman in a while (the last was a very-delayed reading of ‘Neverwhere’, nearly two years ago now), and I know ‘The Graveyard Book’ is not exactly  fly-off-the-shelf new, but it is one his more recent offerings. I hadn’t bought  it earlier, but not because I hadn’t been tempted. Periodically, I would look up the price on Flipkart, always shaking my head when I saw that it hadn’t dropped below 300. One of the first books I located on the Kindle Store was ‘The Graveyard Book’, but here again, the price made me shake my head and remember guiltily that my own device ran on the power of an NRI uncle’s credit card. So it was great pleasure and vindication that I put in some of my hard-won salary and ordered the book, feeling, finally, that I had rightfully earned it.

Gaiman rarely disappoints, so I knew I was in safe hands. My trust turned out to be well-placed. Unlike ‘Neverwhere’, ‘The Graveyard Book’ doesn’t have any ‘eh?’ inducing moments. The story is tightly plotted, the characters well woven, the chills placed in just the right creepy corners. To summarize the book briefly: Nobody Owens is a (live) boy who is being brought up by the (dead) residents of a graveyard. The ghosts look after him, teach him, play with him- provide him with the social structure that any boy needs. He has a rather mysterious guardian, Silas, who strides the borderlands between life and death, disappearing now and again on missions that we can only assume have some dark and deep significance. Bod lacks for nothing, really, except for the fact that his ‘real’ family, the one that bore him, is dead. They were killed at the hands of a man called Jack, who still roves the outside world looking for the boy who got away.

What I loved about this book was the sheer joy of reading it. Gaiman distracted me from the jostles of a crowded metro ride, with all its elbowings and accidental toe stamps. He made me forget the cold wind that cut through the open air platform of the Noida station, almost made me miss my staff bus to my workplace (that last is a true compliment- I am usually very alert and just waiting to get on that bus and off the metro station premises). He actually made my morning commute- something I dread with good reason- enjoyable. And he did this for an entire week, because I made sure to reserve him for those hours.

Seriously, the only thing wrong with this book is how short it is.

There’s something beautiful about ‘The Graveyard Book’. I don’t know if its the simplicity of it, of the lessons that it leaves with you. I don’t know if its the childlike wonder it gives to its readers, the measure of joy it holds even in the boring, adultish hours of a mundane metro jostle. I don’t know if its the opportunity he gives you, of being a kid again, beside Bod as he makes new friends, explores his home, falls into trouble and out of it. I don’t know if it’s the bittersweet end, where he seems to take you by the hand and then lead you, gently, out of his world so that you are standing at its gates, forlorn and wondering when he’s going to invite you in again.

‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ cannot come fast enough.   gbook

Bringing up some Bodies, a little late

 I wrote this review of Mantel’s ‘Bring up the Bodies’ some months ago. 

Two months ago, I finished a much delayed reading of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize Winner, ‘Wolf Hall’. Two hours ago, I closed the covers of its celebrated and much anticipated sequel, ‘Bring up the Bodies’. I can honestly say that my reaction to both was the same: why do some books have to end?

 In ‘Wolf Hall’, Mantel began a project she claims to have conceived nearly forty years ago: to chronicle the life and times of one of England’s most famously reviled figures, Thomas Cromwell. The first book ends with Anne Boleyn crowned Queen, and Cromwell basking in what seems to be reflected glory. The second book begins with quite the opposite: Anne’s star is falling, but it is clear that Cromwell in no manner intends to be tarnished by this. His own position in court and at the king’s side only gets more strongly cemented while the Queen and her cronies (incidentally the same men who had insulted the memory of Cromwell’s former employer, Cardinal Wolsey) bleed their ‘flat little presence(s)’ out upon freshly erected scaffolds.

 ‘Bring up the Bodies’ charts what an enthusiastic blurb writer has called ‘the bloody theatre of Anne’s final days’, drawing in its full complexity the role assumed by Cromwell in the execution and disposal of the king’s one time sweetheart. Mantel’s greatest achievement is the humanization of this political genius, a figure who has all too often been viewed as nothing more (and nothing less) than the epitome of the Renaissance Machiavel. Cromwell, in Mantel’s hands, loves and incites love; loses and grieves for those lost; feels anger, betrayal, fear, but also pride, loyalty, pity. With a sure, delicate hand, Mantel weaves the portrait of a man who fashioned his daughter a pair of peacock feather wings, but never ceases to remind us that it is the same man who witnessed, indeed, orchestrated, the perhaps undeserved and innocent death of a Queen of England.

 Though she is the pivotal point about which events in the book turn, Anne Boleyn herself has very little screen time. She is reported on, spied on, eavesdropped upon and repeated in third person, her words filtered through a number of (not entirely impartial) speakers before they are fed into Cromwell’s and the readers’ ears. In contrast to this stands Jane Seymour, who speaks considerably more, but is spoken of less. Jane, for all her quiet sharpness, remains an enigma, as mysterious and difficult to pin down as her unfortunate predecessor. Does she play a willing game with Henry, or is she a mere pawn in a political ploy much larger than herself? Much like the truth of Anne Boleyn’s crimes, the answer is what the reader chooses to make of it.

 It’s not every day that a writer can take an event that is so celebrated and investigated and hold it up to flash an entirely new light. Mantel takes over the history, takes over the once-living characters and gives them a verve and vitality that is all her own. It takes magic to make a reader sit on the edge of their seat in suspense when he or she knows (or is a mere Wikipedia page away from knowing) how the ‘story’ will end. For all the background reading I had done, all the pages of Anne Boleyn related text I had read, I was still waiting, breathless, for the sword to swing, hoping against hope, like Anne herself, that I would be mistaken: that history would rewrite itself in Mantel’s flowing language and that she would be saved.

 Alas, that did not happen. But it is a mark of Mantel’s genius that for a few moments, I forgot the bloody tracks of history.

 ‘Bring up the Bodies’ resounds with creative energy, its language compressing deeper allusions and metaphors that spangle out of the readers’ grasp just when focus is brought to bear upon them. The best way, I believe, to describe Mantel’s style is to quote Mantel herself. Here, Cromwell reflects on the work of Thomas Wyatt:

 When Wyatt writes, his lines fledge feathers, and unfolding this plumage they dive below their meaning and skim above it. They tell us that the rules of power and the rules of war are the same, the art is to deceive; and you will deceive, and be deceived in your turn, whether you are an ambassador or a suitor. Now, if a man’s subject is deception, you are deceived if you think you grasp his meaning. You close your hand as it flies away. A statute it written to entrap meaning, a poem to escape it. A quill, sharpened, can stir and rustle like the pinions of angels. Angels are messengers. They are creatures with a mind and a will.

 The inability to grasp and pin down meaning is exactly what the reader encounters in Mantel’s language. The narrative seems to skim the surface of a wealth of emotion and intrigue, dipping daintily into this swelter in order to paint a quaint picture of a bygone time. Beneath the words and the half-glimpsed gestures lies the morass of desire and danger that laces this court, a morass that Cromwell, like his creator, negotiates with grace and ease, giving hardly a hint of the scum his finely tailored robes have brushed through.

 Mantel seems to strive to be impartial, privileging neither Jane Seymour nor Anne in her novel, not making it clear whether she herself believes Anne to be guilty as fearfully charged. This is no easy feat- scores of novels and films have been built around this fantastic episode, each weighted either with blind admiration or withering disgust for the executed queen. Anne is passionate, but given to childish outbursts, admirably courageous but stupid and (at the close) self defeating. Jane is plain, quiet, but strangely acerbic. Her intelligence, cloaked for the most part behind placid boredom, is revealed in razor sharp repartee with Cromwell and her brothers. Witness this exchange:

 ‘My belief is,’ Edward says, ‘this modesty could pall. Look up at me, Jane. I want to see your expression.’

 ‘But what makes you think,’ Jane murmurs, ‘that I want to see yours?’

 I am a woman who wholeheartedly loves reading about and celebrating Anne Boleyn, and would throw my support behind the contemporary move to absolve her of all allegations (for more details, read Alison Weir’s excellent chronicle of Anne’s final days, ‘The Lady in the Tower’). And yet, even I could not hate Jane in this novel. I found myself admiring her, rather grudgingly, true, but admiring her nonetheless.

 One closes ‘Bring up the Bodies’ with a sense of having run a lengthy, tiring race. Your brain has been spinning alongside Cromwell’s for four hundred pages, watching its ceaseless convolutions as it churns out a plan to depose one queen and raise another. Your emotions have ravelled and unravelled through complicated skeins as you watch Henry and Anne pull together and then pull away from each other, a six year long courtship soured in what seems an instant of marriage. It is an exercise well worth undertaking, and one that I cannot wait to repeat when the third and (alas) final instalment of the Cromwell trilogy arrives.

 Until then, it’s back to the History books for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a boat with an adult Bengal Tiger

Three nights ago, I watched the Life of Pi movie.

In preparation for it, I read a bunch of reviews, whatever I could find online. One of them (Vulture) called it ‘transcendent’, another said it was ‘not long enough’ and yet another applauded the stunning visuals and noted that Ang Lee, celebrated director of Oscar winning films, had outdone himself. None made too much mention of the actors or the effectiveness with which Martel’s story had been translated on screen. I’ll make that my business then.

And just to get it out of the way- yes, the film is beautiful. It is spectacular, in the true sense of the word. There were so many moments at which I thought Ang Lee couldn’t possibly do better, only to be proved wrong within the next 15 minutes. It is visually probably the most lovely film you will ever see.

(The actual sinking of the ship and one shot within a swimming pool impressed me in particular.)

Though he is by no means the focus of the film (no actor is, really), Suraj Sharma does a wonderful job. It was so heartening to see that a first time teenage actor can be GOOD, that not all of them are cut of the cloth that made Kristin Stewart or Alia Bhatt. He was innocent and troubled when he needed to be, angst ridden and drained at other times, and overall, gave no indication that half the time, he was all alone in the filming sequence. He LOOKED like there was a tiger with him at all times, giving greater reality to the CG animal.

But again, like I said, the movie was certainly not actor-reliant. What propelled it was the overall cinematography. They could have cast any newcomer in the role, and if he had done a half-decent job, it would have worked. Kudos to Suraj for doing a more than half decent job.

The story- like I said earlier, when I read the book, I didn’t really ‘get’ it. The impact of that statement ‘When you look into an animal’s eyes, you see only the reflection of what you feel’, didn’t hit  me at all. In the movie however, there is a particular sequence that brings it out beautifully and vividly. I’m not going to spoiler it for you and tell you which one- but sufficeth to say that that was my favourite, favourite sequence of them all.

Richard Parker was amazingly lifelike. The friend I watched the movie with turned around at one point and asked ‘How did they train a tiger to DO all that?’. He didn’t even realize it was a CG device! While some may laugh at his naivete, I choose to look at it as a comment on the incredible richness and perfection of the CG animals in this movie. There was never a moment at which Richard Parker wasn’t moving or making a sound that a real Bengal Tiger wouldn’t have made. From little purrs to hacking roars to deep-throated growls, Richard Parker, or his supervising team, delivered.

The movie left me feeling curiously adrift and thoughtful, much like Pi was for most of its 125 minute length. It neither confirms nor denies the assertion that Pi’s father makes somewhere near the beginning, that animals do not have souls. Richard Parker is there for Pi at the most trying moment of his life, and without him, or whatever he represents, Pi would certainly not have survived. At the same time, you are never led to think of him as anything OTHER than a Bengal Tiger, a dangerous animal that you cannot turn your back on without great risk. He is not a pet, not a dog who will feel something like gratitude and look after you in turn. No, Richard Parker is a beast of the jungle, and he will never let you forget that.

‘Life of Pi’ is definitely a movie worth watching, and worth watching well, on the big-screen in 3D. Whether it’s the childish pleasure derived from watching flying fish nearly hit you, to appreciating the pure beauty of a whale breaking the ocean surface (and causing Pi to lose most of his provisions in the process), every image demands star treatment. It caters to everyone- those who want to be jolted into thinking about the deeper questions of the meaning of life, and those who just want to watch a good seafaring/adventure tale. Go see it, if you haven’t already.

Expectation and Trepidation

So tonight I watch the much-anticipated ‘Life of Pi’ movie.

I read the book when I was in my 12th grade, and I have to admit that there were swathes of it that bored me, that I just didn’t get. I blame that on the fact that I was reading a very cerebral, philosophy-and-the-meaning-of-life kind of novel at an age when my brain was more wired towards processing signs of crush reciprocation and the occasional well plotted fantasy (ha! Sorry, there was nothing ‘occasional’ about my need for well-plotted fantasy and there never has been). Also, I read the book, I now realize, for what I rather snottily consider shallow reasons- I wanted to tell people that I’d read it.

You have to admit that that’s a powerful persuader when it comes to choosing the books you read.

 My reaction to ‘Life of Pi’, then, was mixed. There were parts of the book that made me say, in my teenage angst, ‘Wow, that is so awesome he just gets me I ❤ Pi XOXOXO’. There were also parts where I wondered why on Earth I had caved in to the Booker judges’ decisions and picked up a book about a man rambling on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The end, when it came, took me completely by surprise (but afforded me more than a spasm of guilty relief). I couldn’t believe that that was it- that was the payoff for following this man’s thoughts on his lonely journey across the world.

I never imagined that it would be the kind of movie that would attract a heavyweight director and a rich studio. But now that it has, I can’t wait to see what Ang Lee has made of it. It’s such a, well, unusual book that it requires a really, really visionary director to breathe any amount of sustained life into it. It’s so easy to mess it up and make it completely, to use the layman’s phrase, boring.

One thing I think he’s done right is to cast a complete newcomer in the main role. That way people don’t have massive expectations from the character of Pi himself, and focus their ire (if there is any) on the other, more experienced members of the cast and crew. Poor Suraj Sharma won’t have to take any flak, really, he’s just an innocent boy who got roped in for a big budget movie. You can’t blame him if the movie fails to excite you- all he did was act for the first time. 

 That said, I really hope Suraj makes the role his own. I’m being annoyingly parochial here and citing Stephanian solidarity- I hope he rocks that screen and goes on to do much more in the film industry, if that’s where he wants to be.

Trepidation, therefore, on his behalf, on the studio’s behalf, on MY own behalf since I’m spending hard earned money to go watch it (in 3 D no less). Even if the story doesn’t make me believe in God now, five years after reading it, let’s hope it entrances me enough that I don’t regret those 700 bucks later.

To an adventure on the high seas and the illusion of tigers leaping for your throat!

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The Journey nears

‘We’ll ride the Gathering Storm.’

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I love the Wheel of Time reference, unconscious though it might have been. And well, yes, I’ll admit, it’s a line that’s present in probably every epic fantasy adventure.

I just heard the newly-released credits song ‘The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey’ (forthcoming from New Line). Neil Finn, who I’ve never heard before, but certainly intend to listen to from now on, delivers a strangely dwarvish piece. There are anvils clanging in the background as he intones the word, and you can almost feel the ground falling away beneath you as you stare at the Lonely Mountain. There are what I presume to be dwarves’ chants in the background, a sound which took (for me) some getting used to, but once my feet started tapping to their ‘ya ya ya ya’ I knew I was hooked.

 I am sitting at my desk listening to it on loop. There is no going back.

 It’s admittedly very different from the theme songs of the Lord of the Rings movies. Where ‘May It Be’ and ‘Into the West’ are ‘Elvish’ (or what I consider ‘Elvish’), soaring and transcendent, speaking of moving beyond the boorish world and the Shadow, this is martial and ‘dwarvish’. Not only do anvils clang and anchor it to the rhythms of their metal-working world, but the very words are the utterance of the dwarves’ mission- the returning of ‘what was stolen- the Arkenstone’ and ‘their song’. I can see them plodding on, undaunted by Smaug or interfering Elves and Orcs. They’ll ride that Gathering Storm all the way to the end.

 I never appreciated Tolkien’s dwarves, entranced as I was (predictably) by his Elves and Faramir (still my favourite character, despite what the movies did to him). But I have a feeling that Peter Jackson always has, and just needed this movie to let that shine through.

 Move over comic relief Gimli, we have some lean mean fighting machines on the way!

Take me to those Misty Mountains cold.

 

 

The James Potter Complex

Author Note: I’m flexing my literary muscles after what seems forever. 

 

Let’s face it. We all want to be fictional characters at some point in our lives (those of us who are not Arjo at least) and the more literary (or neurotic) among us strive to emulate, sometimes unconsciously, our favourites. Fictional people are so, well, organized. They have their lives mapped out for them by someone else, they sometimes look like they got their perfection/beauty/intelligence/Achiever Status without really working for it and, best of all, even the dullest, the stupidest, the most horrifyingly banal of them can boast of having people interested in his thoughts. I know many people, me included, would love to have that particular honour.

 

 Since we cannot actually be them (or maybe we all are, really, and the Universe is one big novel-setting and history a novel in which case everything I’m writing becomes metafictional and therefore profound and too deep to be taken seriously) we strive to live like them. If I’m as cursed and earnest as Harry Potter, surely people will give a damn about what I’m up to? If I’m as flitty-flighty as Holly Golightly, surely I’ll leave a string of yearning men behind me? And if I’m as steadfast and innocent as Anastasia Steele, I’ll definitely win the heart of a man as broken, handsome and rich as Christian Gray.

 

 Yes, I went there and made the reference.

 

 Of course, there are characters none of us want to be: Josef K, Julien Sorel, Kurtz- but that’s a concern for another day.

 

( It is strange that most of the characters that spring to mind as undesirable Objects of Emulation are found within the covers of D.U. prescribed books.)

 

 Who we want to be also changes with time, of course, and not just because of the changing nature of the books we read. For instance, nine years ago I wanted to be Lanfear from the Wheel of Time books. I wanted to be beautiful and powerful and I was a budding megalomaniac. Now I want to be Egwene from the same universe- beautiful and powerful and at the top of my professional ladder at the tender age of 20. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem much chance of that happening.

 

 The people around me have ‘literarily’ grown up as well. The girls aren’t queuing up to be Belle from Disney’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’ or Ariel from ‘The Little Mermaid’. No, now we all, boys and girls alike, want to be one particular character, and we want to be him with a psychotic intensity that is profoundly disturbing.

 

 We all want to be James Potter.

 

 What’s that, you say? James Potter? Harry Potter’s DAD? Oh please, surely there are more popular choices in the series. Look at Hermione, Ron, Harry- even someone as random as Bill Weasley gets more screen time than James Potter.

 

 But I doubt anyone has had the effect that James has had on my budding psychoanalytical skills. Together, me and a friend diagnosed what we call the James Potter Complex, a serious condition that affects one out of every five Arts students in their postgrad.

 

 What are the characteristics of the James Potter Complex? Just think of James in his Hogwarts years, and you’ll start to get an idea of what I’m going to talk about. In case you are not familiar with the Potterverse, I will elaborate for you.

 

 James Potter is, to put it succinctly, bloody brilliant. He is top of his class, he is an ace Quidditch player, he has a band of loyal friends and an equally fabulous best friend[i], he is popular and, of course, he wins in the romance department as well. There is no category in which he loses out, unless you count his messy hair and nearsightedness, which I don’t.

 

 The best thing about him is his all-rounder status. He appears to be socially celebrated as well as academically brilliant- and he puts no apparent effort into the attainment of either status. When Sirius says he will be ‘surprised’ if he doesn’t get ‘an Outstanding at least’ in his DADA OWL exam, James drawls ‘me too’. Coming from him, we can believe it. He starts playing with a Snitch and bullying Snape right after the paper, while Remus tries to study for (what is presumably) an upcoming Transfiguration exam. James clearly has better things to do than cram for his board exams, but he will still do better than Remus probably ever will.

 

 The problem is, not everyone can be James Potter. Most of us know this, and are not ashamed to admit to Lupinesque hard work. And why should we be ashamed, anyway? There’s nothing wrong with being a geek, as Hermione has so admirably demonstrated. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with reading your books ahead of schedule, with staying up late nights to get that cramming done, to working yourself crazy in order to keep up with multiple classes.

 

 But it’s just not cool. Not in an age where Facebook rules our lives. We’re on display all the time, we’re finally starring in our own movies (complete with soundtracks in the form of status messages), we are fictional characters who check in and take pictures and like things. We can be as perfect and amazing and enviable as we want. We can be James Potter.

 

 And so begins the ‘I-don’t –study-see-I-just-went-for-a-movie’ or the ‘I-was-too-busy-making-out-with-my-new-partner-to-do-that-reading’ or ‘I-am-like-so-brilliant-I-scored-amazingly-in-my-exam-even-though-I-am-too-busy-snorkeling-in-Malaysia-to-read-my-course-books’. It’s absolute anathema to those in the grip of the JPC to be seen opening a book that is not far, far from the concerns of the academic moment. It is unthinkable that they admit to having read the assigned material the night before the tutorial- no, it must be read only half an hour before the scheduled meeting time, because otherwise, people would think they actually studied. Gasp. That is not to be borne. How would they continue to look cool? Where would the Jamesian spirit be in that?

 

  I could go into a long spiel about the decreasing value of hard work in a society that privileges snapshot success and quick thinking go-getters. I could spend a page boring you with faux sociological theses on the decline of Hufflepuffian ethics and the coolification of Gryffindor daring and Slytherin slickness. These things do tie into the proliferation of the JPC, but a thorough dissection will require a pseudo thesis[ii], not something I think anyone wants to read on a social networking site.

 

I don’t intend to condemn those who suffer the JPC, since I can sympathize with them. To be like James is to have it all, without trying very hard. For a long time, fantasy was held to be the domain of lonely little nerds, who needed tales of underdogs and unlikely foundlings becoming leaders of their people and succeeding where no one else had succeeded before. While the perception of the demographic has changed considerably, we’re still looking for the same things. We want someone who will convince us that no matter how small we are, how lost and confused, we can make a difference.

 

 So while we want to be James Potter, brilliant and popular, we will never admire him the way we admire Harry. For all my self proclaimed brilliance, I can never be James Potter. I’m just not good enough.

 

 But somewhere deep down is the hope that maybe, just maybe, I can be his much less impressive, but so much more heroic son.

 

 

 

 

 

 

[i] The reason I objected to calling the psychological condition the Sirius Black Complex is twofold. First, Sirius is not nearly so lucky as James- he has had a traumatic childhood, been disowned by his family, and rather than a clean death, he was thrown into a soul-sucking prison for twelve years. I think that balances out his gifts. Second, I don’t think any mere mortal compares to him, but you are free to disagree.

 

[ii] I will, hopefully, do just that. Some day.