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Local Couple Picks at Harry Potter #5

Steve and I read The Order of the Phoenix to each other over the last couple weeks – my vocal cords need a rest – and generally thought it was fun. There were also some things we thought could be better. I'll mention them both. This post is going to be long and full of reckless spoilers, so I'll LJ-cut it.



Good stuff

I thought Harry's newfound Gothiness (though no one actually called it that) was entertaining and somewhat endearing. So age-15.

I am really beginning to love Snape. How could Harry possibly hate Snape the same amount he hated Umbridge? Umbridge was utterly detestable and without any style at all. Snape at least gets mega style points.

Harry's difficult relationship with Cho was hilarious. Some of the dialogue, especially Ron and Hermione quizzing him about his first kiss, had me giggling so much that it was interfering with my reading-aloud abilities.

In general I liked JKR's dialogue. It was the strongest point, and carried the story much more effectively than the narrative did – though she did have an occasional metaphor or observation that made me chuckle.


Not-so-good stuff

I thought for sure that after Sirius's death, Harry would end up crying on Cho's shoulder, the way she kept doing to him over Cedric. It would have been nicely symmetrical. But it didn't happen, which kind of disappointed me. Ah, well.

Nitpicky detail: it is mentioned that as winter approaches, the school gets so cold that students are wearing gloves and scarves in the corridors. Um...they can make the ceiling of the Great Hall reflect the weather outside, including an illusion of falling snow; they can Vanish substances, heal broken bones, and seal doors shut with ease; but they haven't figured out a magical way to do central heating yet? Hard to believe. Maybe the cold is supposed to build character or something.

And then there's the wordiness. This will sound mean-spirited, perhaps, but I kept thinking of that line in Wonder Boys while reading OotP: "This kid needs an editor." Of course, JKR has an editor; she probably has several, in fact. So why didn't they cut down the text a little more? Writing is rewriting, they tell us, and my rewriter's eye kept snagging on a word here, a phrase there, which I would have deleted if it had been up to me. I seriously think I could have cut 4,000 words from this book without anyone, even JKR, noticing. Let's take an example passage:

'How am I getting there?' he asked Mrs. Weasley, trying to sound unconcerned.
'Arthur's taking you to work with him,' said Mrs. Weasley gently.
Mr. Weasley smiled encouragingly at Harry across the table. 'You can wait in my office until it's time for the hearing,' he said.


OK, it works, it's not badly written. But it could be shorter. See: a) it doesn't really matter who Harry addresses the question to; it's Mrs. Weasley who answers and that's good enough; b) don't need the "gently"; Mrs. W. is hardly going to be rude to Harry on such an occasion; c) definitely don't need the "encouragingly." Mr. W. is always encouraging. So, with that editing, we now have:

'How am I getting there?' he asked, trying to sound unconcerned.
'Arthur's taking you to work with him,' said Mrs. Weasley.
Mr. Weasley smiled at Harry across the table. 'You can wait in my office until it's time for the hearing,' he said.


Hardly reads any differently, right? And we've taken 47 words down to 43, leaving us with 91.5% of the text.

Look at another example, and notice how every character's line here is marked with an adverb:

'No marks again, then, Potter,' said Snape maliciously, emptying Harry's cauldron with a wave of his wand. 'You will write me an essay on the correct composition of this potion, indicating how and why you went wrong, to be handed in next lesson, do you understand?'
'Yes,' said Harry furiously. Snape had already given them home-work and he had Quidditch practice this evening; this would mean another couple of sleepless nights. It did not seem possible that he had awoken that morning feeling very happy. All he felt now was a fervent desire for this day to end.
'Maybe I'll skive off Divination,' he said glumly, as they stood in the courtyard after lunch, the wind whipping at the hems of robes and brims of hats. 'I'll pretend to be ill and do Snape's essay instead, then I won't have to stay up half the night.'
'You can't skive off Divination,' said Hermione severely.
'Hark who's talking, you walked out of Divination, you hate Trelawney!' said Ron indignantly.
'I don't hate her,' said Hermione loftily.


I would cut the "maliciously" – it's completely self-evident that Snape is being malicious. Could also replace "said Harry furiously" with "snarled Harry." Verbs are stronger than adverbs, and less wordy. I can let "glumly" stand, and maybe even "severely," though that one could be deleted and an exclamation point added to Hermione's line instead. I'd definitely cut "indignantly"; once again it's obvious that Ron is feeling indignant from what he says. "Loftily" – well, it could stay or go, but let's let it stay. So that's 3 words cut, from 175 to 172. We've kept a whole 98.2% of this passage.

Thus, on a rough average, I could edit the book down to 94.8% of its original size. This could reduce 870 pages down to 825. Still a big book, sure, but how many copies were sold again? Five million on the first day, in the U.S. alone? That's 225 million pages that wouldn't have been printed. Think of the trees we'd have saved, all at the expense of a few useless adverbs!

Anyway, that's a moot point now. Overall, it was fun once it got moving, and I'll still definitely read books 6 and 7, which is more than I could say about the Robert Jordan series after a point. (He's STILL going, too, isn't he? Argh. Stop, dude, stop.)

Comments

( 29 comments — Leave a comment )
trilliah
Jul. 28th, 2003 12:56 pm (UTC)
Mayhap those extra adverbs were deliberate. Rowling seems to think she's got to keep up the trend of making each book a couple hundred pages longer than the last.

LoL About Jordan. My brother's reading those; I daren't start, for fear I'd die before the series concludes.
mollyringle
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:12 pm (UTC)
I liked Jordan (sort of) for the first five or so books. Then it started going downhill, and I don't remember anymore what the last one was that I read. Number Eight? Nine? The cast of five hundred, the descriptions of every last thread people are wearing, and the inane politics of the various cities in his fantasy world, got absolutely intolerable. There are better fantasy books out there. Read those instead.
raethe
Jul. 28th, 2003 01:00 pm (UTC)
Harry wouldn't have cried on Cho since that would have been oh so girlie.

As for the heating, that rather ties in with how Salzaar Slytherin foresaw the advent of indoor plumping some 800 years ahead of the rest of the UK just so he could hide his secret chamber behind a sink.
jenk
Jul. 28th, 2003 03:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think that Harry would want to tell Cho. As far as most wizards are concerned, Sirius was a murderer and the betrayer of Harry's parents.

Actually, that will probably increase next year's angst. "Why are you so mopey all the time, Harry?"
trilliah
Jul. 28th, 2003 05:16 pm (UTC)
Yeah, but wouldn't the wizard students in the DA know about the Order of the Pheonix, and therefore know that Sirius was innocent?
mollyringle
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:16 pm (UTC)
I guess crying on her would have been somewhat out of character, after his whole "No one understands me; I'm not talking to anyone" thing. But then, he's British, so it wouldn't have been as unusual as all that... ;)

Heh, yeah: as far as plumbing goes, wizards managed technology 800 years ahead of its time; meanwhile, in the realm of central heating, they're still a century behind. Go figure.
raethe
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:35 pm (UTC)
Good point, he IS british. So, he wouldn't go crying on Cho, anyways - he'd go crying on Ron, you know how those english school boys are. Ahem.
mollyringle
Jul. 29th, 2003 09:10 am (UTC)
I would like it on record, Your Honor, that it was the straight conservative boy who first brought up slash in this discussion, and not me.
;)

Those little girls you overheard talking about Snape's inappropriate suggestions, however, did have a point. Steve and I kept noticing (inadvertent I'm sure) double entendres here and there. "Private lessons," eh? "Shut the door and take out your wand"? "Practice this every night before bed"? Granted, I wouldn't have thought of that, at age 8...
mira_fastfire
Jul. 28th, 2003 01:27 pm (UTC)
I have yet to read it (though with the feedback I've been reading, I'm not sure I really want to...)... but I HAVE to agree with the it-should-have-been-edited point. I think they stopped editing her at Book 4 (which is exactly why I strongly dislike the book) ...and, I'm sorry, a writer, no matter how good, is crap without an editor.
mollyringle
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:17 pm (UTC)
Well, it's an easy enough read; the wordiness can be skimmed. But I'm glad someone else noticed it too!
poopsmoothie
Jul. 28th, 2003 01:56 pm (UTC)
The annoying thing i noticed most about this book was her overuse of ellipses. I HATE that. It seemed every time Harry was thinking to himself, he turned into Ellipsis Man.
mollyringle
Jul. 28th, 2003 09:18 pm (UTC)
Hehe - good point. His dream sequences did the same thing. Dreams...apparently...are full of...ellipses.
topazina
Aug. 2nd, 2003 11:42 pm (UTC)
AND THERE WAS A LOT OF YELLING IN ALL CAPS.

But I guess it was necessarily, since apparently most teenagers believe yelling gets the point across faster than simply speaking. :P

Haha, sorry, you don't know me, I'll leave now ^^;;
mollyringle
Aug. 3rd, 2003 04:55 pm (UTC)
Heh, you're right about the all-caps. Kind of juvenile-chat-room-ish, wasn't it?

Haha, sorry, you don't know me, I'll leave now ^^;;

That's okay. I'm always happy to facilitate a literature discussion. :)
ilanalynn
Jul. 28th, 2003 02:14 pm (UTC)
At least the dialog JKR writes sounds like normal human conversation. Terry Goodkind, on the other hand, needs an editor who is familiar with something like that to fix his dialog. He also needs someone who knows languages, because his idea of inventing a language seems to be just to translate English word for word, syntax, structure, and all. To my (admittedly limited) knowledge, the syntax and structure of English is pretty unique. You'd probably know better.

Yes, Robert Jordan is at ten books and still going. And I'm still reading...
mollyringle
Jul. 29th, 2003 08:53 am (UTC)
*nod* I do like JKR's dialogue generally. It's cheeky and fun.

Yeah, heh; translating English word for word into your imaginary language is not very inventive. It isn't entirely impossible that another language would have the same syntax, but it seems kind of lazy. After my linguistics training I would feel obliged to look up the major patterns one finds in languages and try some different ones and generally be nerdly about it. I'm sure that's how Tolkien handled it!

mildred
Jul. 28th, 2003 02:22 pm (UTC)
One of the first things I noticed was all the bloody adverbs! No-one could speak like a normal person, they spoke gently, or firmly, or furiously, or determinedly (is that a word?) etc. etc. etc. It got a bit tiresome after a while, as I was noticing every single one! I definately agree - many were not necessary and should have been edited out.
mollyringle
Jul. 29th, 2003 08:55 am (UTC)
Thank goodness, it wasn't just me. Really, when someone's having an argument, we don't need to be *told* that they said something "bitterly," "sarcastically," or "angrily." That's all clear from context - even to a 10-year-old, I would think.
topazina
Aug. 2nd, 2003 11:49 pm (UTC)
I wonder if most 10 year olds would even know that much vocabulary :P *SKIM*
kateelvellon
Jul. 28th, 2003 03:42 pm (UTC)
All of your good points were also my good points, just by the bye. Er... however the hell that's spelled. Anyhow.

Angst omg! Harry needs a hug!
And another horribly awkward kiss from Cho! Dear god I hate chicks ;) That was hilarious.
mollyringle
Jul. 29th, 2003 09:01 am (UTC)
She really was acting like the quintessential jealous chick, wasn't she? So teenage. *sigh*

Well, maybe he'll just end up with Ron after all. (hee hee...kidding, kidding...)
kateelvellon
Jul. 30th, 2003 05:20 pm (UTC)
Hahaha! Either that or the ... ok I can't talk about that without spoiling the book. But you just know the slashers love the dead... person ;) They'll find a way for that... person to come back!
Ugh... surprised I haven't seen that one yet, actually. Gross.
mollyringle
Jul. 31st, 2003 11:13 am (UTC)
Oh, that's okay, I already included the death spoiler in the original post. Eek, that would be an almost incestuous pairing...but incidentally, wouldn't Johnny Depp make a lovely Sirius? We can dream, anyway.
gentlymad
Aug. 6th, 2003 08:32 pm (UTC)
Be still, my heart! I don't suppose anyone has heard of Stradford actor (Ontario, not England) Tom McCamus, have they? I think he'd make a pretty cool Lupin, or Sirius as a second choice to Depp.
Also, about the adverbs, adding to the problem is that she always writes "said." This would be fine with me if it were not applied to questions. Apparently no one asks things at Hogwarts.
poo_head
Jul. 30th, 2003 09:26 am (UTC)
Actually, I read a review of OotP by Steven King, and he said exactly the same thing about all the adverbs. I didn't notice myself, I'm not an analytical reader at the best of times, and I think you probably need to write yourself to notice.

I also didn't notice the central heating thing, but the pipes dis annoy me. Especially in the movie, when there's this fairly modernish bathroom, and the shiny silver tap with it's snake emblem on the side, I kept thinking '.. this is 1000 years old, hm?'.
mollyringle
Jul. 31st, 2003 11:05 am (UTC)
Hah! Well, if Stephen King noticed, it must be bad. He's pretty wordy himself. :)
(Anonymous)
Aug. 3rd, 2003 06:55 pm (UTC)
the trees are saved
That's 225 million pages that wouldn't have been printed. Think of the trees we'd have saved, all at the expense of a few useless adverbs!

Actually the books were printed on recycled paper. It says so on the last page of the book.
elycia
Aug. 10th, 2003 12:51 am (UTC)
I'm pleased to see another wordsmith share my opinion that this book was poorly edited. In addition to the wordiness you described, the book features any number of grammatical errors (for example, "comprised of" appears several times, though "comprised" is used correctly at least once). Punctuation problems are rampant; nearly every other sentence is a comma splice. Then there's the just-plain-sloppiness, such as adjectives being used repeatedly in adjacent paragraphs.

Aside from the editing misses described, which IMO are pretty well inexcusable in a book of this popular significance, I believe both books 4 and 5 ramble around entirely more than necessary. One reason Books 2 & 3 were so enjoyable to me was that they were *tight*, with clean, nice-paced story lines.

As long as they're taking to produce these books, one would think they would be doing a more thorough job.

And to those who wonder, "Could YOU do any better?" As a writer, I make no promises, but as an editor--you betcha. :-)

I love your posts, lemonlye. Please keep it up!
mollyringle
Aug. 10th, 2003 05:42 pm (UTC)
Thank you!

I'm sure you could have done a great job editing it. Anyone who knows what a comma splice is would be up to the job. :) Incidentally, I've noticed a lot of comma splices among British writers, both in published and unpublished sources (like LJ). I'm wondering if they teach punctuation differently over there. Or maybe the semicolon is just dying in general. I shall fight for it! It's too useful to give up that easily!
( 29 comments — Leave a comment )