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What do you get if a bot tries to write Harry Potter?

You get this absolutely amazing literary masterwork.

http://cheezburger.com/4252677/a-bot-just-wrote-a-chapter-of-harry-potter-and-its-an-absolute-masterpiece

Words can’t do this justice, you really have to read it for yourselves. I’m actually crying.

“I’m Harry Potter,” Harry began yelling. “The dark arts better be worried, oh boy!”

Oh boy.

[Loten, you tagged this ‘poetry’? Really? On second thought, sure, I can’t argue it. I can’t stop laughing. Seriously, readers, just go read it. I promise it’s better than Cursed Child.]

Of course I tagged it as poetry. It’s fucking poetic.

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Posted by on December 14, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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New Feature: Monthly Spotlight

Hey folks, time for something new now that the Strike nonsense is a thing of the past.

In addition to the ongoing Harry Potter coverage, I’m going to start doing one post a month showcasing something from my bookshelves, be it an author, a series, or (rarely) a single book. I can’t decide which of them, if any, should replace the aforementioned Strike nonsense as my side series here, but doing this should help me pick, as well as showing me which of my books you’re all familiar with and/or want to know more about.

(No, it’s not a cheap way of giving myself potentially years of blog content! Well… not just that, anyway.)

I’m thinking at the moment they’ll mostly be spoiler-free, for the benefit of people who want to discover them on their own, but for some of them it might not be possible to do it that way. We’ll see when we get there.

Mitchell is allowed to comment on posts about things he’s familiar with, IF he behaves himself! Because I know before I start that he has quite strongly negative opinions about at least some of the things I’m planning to write about. Certainly generally valid opinions, but we already have enough posts ripping things to shreds here, and there will be plenty of time for that if and when I take any of them on as full deconstructions.

I think that most if not all of these will be mainly positive (while still acknowledging that there are problems, because I have yet to find an actually perfect book/series/author and I really don’t think it exists). Most of the things I’m planning to cover are long-established favourites, while some are things I used to like a lot more than I do now, and I’m sure along the way I’ll find new things to feature too. Anything I feel mostly negative about doesn’t deserve a spotlight, after all. I expect the vast majority of features will be at least passingly familiar to most of you, but hopefully I can recommend some new things as well.

So, starting at some point in January, that’s hopefully what I’ll be doing. I think it’ll be fun and a nice change of pace.

As for Harry Potter, I was hoping we’d have the next chapter ready by now… but it’s December and I work in retail, so my time and energy levels are about what you’d expect and falling every day. Mea culpa. Keep commenting on the arbitrary death count so far if you like, and what passes for normal service will hopefully resume soon. Happy end-of-year festival of your choice in the sadly possible event that we don’t update again until after Christmas, and let’s hope that next year is better.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2017 in loten

 

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Harry Potter – Death Count so far

One of the (myriad) reasons for the Harry Potter coverage being delayed was my decision based on your feedback from the last update to start a count of all the times the characters really should have died had various scenarios been written realistically. After some thought and discussion we decided not to include a lot of the more obvious ones simply because the narrative does provide a way for the problem to be dealt with – for instance, fighting the troll would probably have killed three first-years, but the book acknowledged the danger and showed an actual solution so it gets a pass. Likewise, Harry fighting Quirrell should have killed him but there was an explicit in-universe reason why it didn’t. (And Harry being alive at all, of course, but let’s not completely invalidate the entire series. At least not yet.)

[Basically, if the narrative acknowledges the danger and provides an in-story explanation for why the characters survived and/or weren’t badly injured, we’re probably not going to count it. We’re focusing on evidence of authorial neglect (and, in-story, things like supervisory neglect at Hogwarts), the dangers that should be there if the setting adheres to any level of realism but are elided or glossed over by the narrative.]

I finally found a coherent way of explaining this – we’re explicitly counting things that Rowling didn’t realise would have killed her characters, not things she explained away.

So let’s see the body count so far. Lots of head injuries, as you might expect…


Philosopher’s Stone:

  • Harry dies of exposure after being abandoned overnight on a doorstep in Britain in November at the age of one.
  • (Edit: Neville dies the first time from being thrown off a pier in Blackpool as a toddler. This could have been an honourable mention but there’s nothing in seven books to support the idea that his family care enough to fish him out before he drowns.)
  • Neville dies again from a broken neck after being dropped out of a window by his uncle as a child – he may well have bounced but he still explicitly hit the ground head first.
  • Neville dies a third time in the present day after falling twenty feet off an out of control broom during his first flying lesson.
  • Katie Bell and Marcus Flint both take cannonballs to the head during a Quidditch match.
  • Harry, Ron and Hermione fall an unknown distance of at least four stories down the trap door.
  • Ron dies again shortly afterwards when a giant stone statue bashes him in the head.

Honourable mentions: Vernon, Petunia and Dudley probably drowned trying to swim back to the mainland after Hagrid stole their boat, but it is theoretically possible that the old guy who owns the boat realised they hadn’t come back and sent help, or that there was a lifeboat patrolling nearby after the storm. [Or they could have died of thirst or starvation if they were stranded there long enough without rescue. But there’s enough ambiguity around how to count this that we’ve decided to let it slide.]

Harry nearly swallowing the Snitch likewise gets an honourable mention, since although it would have sliced his face up nicely and caused some damage through choking it wouldn’t have killed him per se. Nor would the resulting fall, since he’s probably the only student anyone would bother trying to save instead of the usual Hogwarts method of letting them splatter.

Scabbers gets an honourable mention for being thrown into a window after biting Goyle. We decided not to include animals because the counts would be sky high, nobody feeds their pets or gives them anywhere safe to sleep and all owl owners constantly make them fly way too far in unsafe conditions, but this one stood out. [Loten didn’t want to include this one, but I argued for it and this was our compromise. I think it’s relevant because Scabbers will later turn out to be (or be retconned as) a human character who is important to the plot, and instances in which he should really have died or sustained brain damage are relevant to assessing how stupid his plan is (and/or how sloppy the retcon was).]

Possible honourable mention, this might be moved to the main count later – any of the kids could have tripped over and broken their necks or fallen on broken branches in the Forbidden Forest detention. The narrative insists the monsters are no threat, and Quirrellmort were too incompetent to be a danger to anyone, but wandering around proper ancient woodland in total darkness isn’t safe regardless of external hazards.

Final count: Neville: 3. Ron: 2. Harry: 2. Minor characters: 2 (Katie and Marcus are unlikely to feature here again). Hermione: 1.

[It’s worth keeping Katie in mind though, for when we eventually get to Half-Blood Prince in something like a decade’s time. She barely exists as a character but might still have more than one entry on the death tally. Though the second one might be better counted for a different tally, “would have been a death if not for Snape’s intervention.”]

I think that tally would be a little redundant since by the end of the series it would comprise literally every character still alive…

Interesting that Neville racks up the highest count despite not being a major character and – according to the narrative – not having the angstiest backstory to ever angst. Yet another argument in favour of his being the superior protagonist.


Chamber of Secrets:

  • Harry and Ron die of dehydration and heatstroke in the flying car that the book insists is more of a flying oven, or alternatively die of dehydration and hypothermia in a more realistically written one.
  • Harry and Ron die again almost immediately when the car crashes.
  • Ron then dies a third time from complications caused by his untreated serious head injury. He’s not doing well.

Count so far: Ron: 3. Harry: 2.

Honourable mentions: Hedwig and Scabbers were both in the car, though Hedwig’s already died from malnutrition and again from exhaustion.

Overall total so far: Ron: 5. Harry: 4. Neville: 2. Minor characters: 2. Hermione: 1.

Feel free to jump into the comments if we forgot something, or if you think something should/should not be included – our criteria were pretty arbitrary and I’m happy to tweak this before we return to the main series.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Fantastic Beasts 2 title and other details

I spotted Tor’s coverage of this recently. Mitchell and I talked it over a bit, and then I cobbled together a post about it.

https://www.tor.com/2017/11/16/title-and-cast-of-fantastic-beasts-2-revealed/

Spoilers under the cut, obviously. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 25, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Get Out (2017) initial reactions and review

My apologies to our regular readers for our silence recently; we’ve had a lot going on offline and haven’t had as much time to write as we’d have liked (though we do have a few more posts in the works that should be coming relatively soon). Thanks for your patience. In the meantime, have a thing I dashed off pretty quickly.

One of my coworkers recommended “Get Out” to me recently; I ended up watching it last night, and wrote up my thoughts shortly afterward to aid in the subsequent discussion. I hadn’t really intended to do a blog post, but I realised it would probably be publishable with a bit of minor editing and there might be discussions worth having about this film. The remainder of this post will contain spoilers for the film, and for various genre reasons this is a film which is probably best watched unspoiled, so if you are interested in seeing it you may not wish to proceed. That said, I was not nearly as impressed as I was led to believe I would be, and can give it only a lukewarm recommendation at best, so I am not necessarily saying to stop reading this post if you haven’t seen the film.

Also, as an advance warning, this is a film that deals directly with racial issues and seems to have been written by Blacks primarily for Black audiences; as such, I feel a bit uncomfortable as a white person criticising it and there may well be things I missed due to not having the cultural context. Let’s get that disclaimer out of the way.

Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2017 in mitchell

 

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A Very Harry Potter Miscellany

The delay in the existing Chamber of Secrets coverage is almost 100% due to me procrastinating about getting the new death counter sorted out. Hopefully it won’t be too much longer. In the meantime, here are some random little Harry Potter related asides and conversations – none of them justify posts to themselves.


Point the first: Dumbledore is actually the head of the Klan.

This is the post that triggered this conversation:
https://freethoughtblogs.com/pharyngula/2017/09/21/there-must-be-a-word-for-making-a-fool-of-yourself-to-get-attention/
(Someone on Twitter arguing that yes, the KKK are awful, but their titles are pretty cool-sounding e.g. Grand Wizard.)

[Strictly speaking this isn’t just a random someone, it’s James Damore, better known as the former Google employee who wrote the awful manifesto claiming race and gender imbalances in hiring are justified by the facts because women and nonwhites are just so stupid, and how oppressed he felt for not being allowed to say so. He’s not exactly a neutral party here, and one questions how genuine his ‘yes the KKK are awful but’ is. Nevertheless.]

And from there it proceeded in an entirely logical and sane fashion, as one would naturally expect from your favourite bloggers…

Loten: Also, Grand Wizard = Chief Warlock?
Mitchell: Oh god
Loten: And of course they already have the pointy hats
Mitchell: Didn’t his bio also include ‘Grand Sorceror’
Mitchell: I remember checking to see if it had become Philosopher ;P
Loten: Yes, yes it did
Mitchell: …And his name is literally White
Mitchell: Oh my god
Loten: Also his backstory is that he is a racist.

Compelling evidence, I’m sure you’ll agree.

[More concisely: he is White Bumblebee, the Chief Warlock and Grand Sorceror and Supreme Mugwump (it’s like someone threw Grand Wizard into a thesaurus program!) and his backstory is that his ex-boyfriend was literally Wizard Hitler.]


Point the second: Rowling is probably a fan of Ayn Rand.

A brave soul named Adam Lee has been sporking Ayn Rand’s more notable works on his blog over at Patheos. He’s currently working through The Fountainhead, and a paragraph of this post jumped out at me.

But while Rand could make her protagonists either loved or hated, she couldn’t stand to depict them as unimportant. Whether for good or for ill, she just had to script a world where everyone’s got an opinion about what the heroes are doing.

Doesn’t that sound familiar? Everyone either worships or despises Harry. Nobody sees him as unimportant and he is deeply relevant to everyone’s lives, to the point where he is almost the only celebrity in a world that doesn’t have a celebrity culture.

[In fairness, this is a criticism that could be made of a lot of fictional characters, and might be a good test for identifying when using the term ‘Mary Sue’ is appropriate; it’s not isolated to either of these particular authors by any means. Still, it’s a fantastic way of articulating this problem and you cannot argue that it doesn’t apply. (Also, Adam Lee’s Rand series comes strongly recommended by me, go look it up if you enjoy that sort of thing.)]


Point the third: Rowling may be a bigger Roald Dahl fan than we previously thought.

A little while ago Amazon had a number of Roald Dahl Kindle editions on sale, so I picked up a few. And while I was enjoying revisiting my childhood, I happened to notice the plot synopsis for James and the Giant Peach:

James Henry Trotter lives with two ghastly hags. Aunt Sponge is enormously fat with a face that looks boiled and Aunt Spiker is bony and screeching. He’s very lonely until one day something peculiar happens…

I’m sure everyone can see my point immediately, but allow me to change four words and slightly adjust the protagonist’s name anyway.

Harry James Potter lives with two ghastly people. Uncle Vernon is enormously fat with a face that looks boiled and Aunt Petunia is bony and screeching. He’s very lonely until one day something peculiar happens…

(Yes, I know his name isn’t a perfect match. But Harry’s been a legitimate nickname for Henry for centuries, so nyeh.)

Obviously, it isn’t deliberate. Plagiarism is important and people pay attention to it, and something this blatant would never be overlooked. [We hope.] But it’s a hell of a coincidence, isn’t it? We’ve been drawing parallels with Dahl’s work for a while without realising just how strong the link is. I wonder if Rowling herself knows…

[Honestly, I would suspect that she doesn’t. There’s an extent to which this is just a Stock Children’s Book Plot, so it may not be that surprising that the parallels are there (if you elide enough details in a summary you can make most stories sound vaguely similar; people like Joseph Campbell have based entire careers on doing so). But regardless, we still found it striking.]


Point the fourth: in which we are disappointed by a fandom thing, quelle surprise

[A little while ago, we came across a few discussions of a fan-made Harry Potter Cards Against Humanity set, ‘creatively’ titled Cards Against Muggles. The card combinations shown in that article could be interpreted as critical of the series, so we thought it might have been something that would interest us and make for amusing jokes at the expense of the books, and looked into it enough to acquire and read through the list of cards. We were wrong.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’d forgotten how stupid and unfunny the vast majority of Cards Against Humanity itself is, or if adding Harry Potter content just highlights the worst flaws of the original game, but at best it doesn’t work well and at worst it’s even stupider than the original. Far too many of the cards are just copies of things from the original with a Potterverse word stuck in, or just take the format $HPCharacterName’s $SexOrgan, etc etc. There isn’t even much opportunity to use it to make subversive commentary at the expense of the game’s intent, like there is with the original (I’m not going to defend CAH or encourage anyone to play it, it’s honestly vile garbage, but it’s theoretically possible to make it a decent experience if the people you’re playing with aren’t arseholes. I don’t think that’s true of the HP version).

Needless to say, the best I can say of this effort is that it’s a bit of a damp squib. And at its worst it’s just stupidly offensive and vulgar for the sake of being so, just like the original.

That said, it amused me that they couldn’t even get the parts of speech right between the two types of cards, such that “There’s no need to call me ‘There’s no need to call me sir, Professor’, Professor” is a completely valid play.]

Mitchell wrote this last one because I’d honestly forgotten this even existed, we found it a while ago. Oops.


Yes, this is more or less how our thought processes actually work. It explains a lot, doesn’t it. Hopefully regular content will resume at some point relatively soon. I might also be starting a new thing in the New Year. We’ll see.

 
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Posted by on November 5, 2017 in loten, mitchell

 

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Strike: The Silkworm (BBC adaptation) Part Two

Part two. At some point my commentary is probably going to dry up, because as you all know I never finished the book in detail so I won’t be able to judge how closely the show is following most of the ending. We’ll see how it goes. Also this is later than I had planned to do it because I have no motivation for this – it’s not awful the way the book was, just really, really dull.

As it turns out I was able to keep commenting until the end, since they cut just about everything that happened after I ragequit. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2017 in loten

 

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