Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Z is for Zonko's Joke Shop

Zonko's most important role in the Harry Potter series is providing inspiration to Fred and George Weasley for their own joke shop, Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.
They walked down the main street past Zonko's Joke Shop, where they were unsurprised to see Fred, George, and Lee Jordon... (The Order of the Phoenix, 335)
Fred and George began making joke products as a mail order service.  After Harry gave them his Tri-Wizard earnings though, they had much more resources to develop their products and began testing them out at Hogwarts.  Notably, they create the Ton-Tongue Toffee and skiving snackboxes, full of sweets that made a student ill enough to skip class.

When they opened their shop in Diagon Alley, it was wildly successful, despite the dark times:
Set against the dull, poster-muffled shop fronts around them, Fred and George's windows hit the eye like a firework display.  Casual passersby were looking back over their shoulders at the windows, and a few rather stunned-looking people had actually come to a halt, transfixed.  The left-hand window was dazzlingly full of an assortment of goods that revolved, popped, flashed, bounced, and shrieked; Harry's eyes began to water just looking at it. (The Half-Blood Prince, 116)

Zonko's was never forgotten though.  When it closed down, Fred explained that he and George "were thinking of buying Zonko's" to expand their business to Hogsmeade (The Half-Blood Prince, 399).

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Y is for Yule Ball

One of my favorite chapters in The Goblet of Fire is appropriately titled "The Unexpected Task" in which Harry and Ron learn that they will need to find dates for the Yule Ball:
A week ago, Harry would have said finding a partner for a dance would be a cinch compared to taking on a Hungarian Horntail.  But now that he had done the latter, and was facing the prospect of asking a girl to the ball, he thought he'd rather have another round with the dragon. (388)

Harry and Ron have so much difficultly figuring out how to act around girls in regards to the dance.  Of course, they are only 14 years old, so it is to be expected, but it produces some pretty comical results.
"Why do they have to move in packs?" Harry asked Ron as a dozen or so girls walked past them, sniggering and staring at Harry.  "How're you supposed to get one on their own to ask them?"
"Lasso one?" Ron suggested. (388)
Fred Weasley has no problem securing his Yule Ball date though, leaving Harry and Ron mystified at the ease with which the older Weasley handles this great and terrible challenge:
"Who're you going with, then?" said Ron.
"Angelina," said Fred promptly, without a trace of embarrassment.
 "What?" said Ron, taken aback. "you've already asked her?"
"Good point," said Fred.  He turned his head and called across the common room, "Oi! Angelina!"
Angelina, who had been chatting with Alicia Spinnet near the fire, looked over at him .
"What?" she called back.
"Want to go to the ball with me?"
Angelina gave Fred an appraising sort of look.
"All right, then," she said, and she turned back to Alicia and carried on chatting with a bit of a grin on her face. (394) 

The young teenage boys are met with disappointment then, as they are turned down by Cho, Fleur, Hermione, Ginny, and Lavender.  It's interesting that Harry's future wife Ginny, and Ron's future girlfriend Lavender and his future wife Hermione all turn them down for the only school dance they have during their time at Hogwarts.

This does lead to conflict for Ron and Hermione at least, though neither of them is quite ready to express interest in the other:

"Well, if you don't like, you know what the solution is, don't you?" yelled Hermione; her hair was coming down out of its elegant bun now, and her face was screwed up in anger.
"Oh yeah?" Ron yelled back. "What's that?"
"Next time there's a ball, ask me before someone else does, and not as a last resort!" (432) 
Compared to the first task where Harry successfully evaded a dragon, it does seem that he and Ron had much more difficulty with this "Unexpected Task."
Tomorrow is the final day of the A to Z Challenge! Join me for Z is for Zonko's Joke Shop.

Monday, April 28, 2014

X is for Xenophilius Lovegood

Here is a man who, despite everyone thinking he's completely mad, never gives up on what he believes in and never stops trying to discover new things.  For that, I respect Xenophilus Lovegood, father of one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter series, Luna Lovegood.

As the editor of the Quibbler, Xeno publishes his wild stories, which most people discount immediately as a rule because they are coming from the unreliable paper.  Of course, the Quibbler does report some true stories, as I've mentioned in my Quibbler post, including the articles about Voldemort's return.  He also was right in believing that the Deathly Hallows existed, which most people thought was ridiculous, including Hermione:
"Mr. Lovegood, how can you possibly believe -?"
"Luna has told me all about you, young lady," said Xenophilius.  "You are, I gather, not unintelligent, but painfully limited. Narrow.  Close-minded" (The Deathly Hallows, 410).

It's not only the magazine that has the reputation of being a little off, it's also the man behind the writing.  Harry described him as "a most eccentric looking wizard. Slightly cross-eyed, with shoulder-length white hair the texture of candyfloss, he wore a cap whose tassel dangled in front of his nose and robes of an eye-watering shade of egg-yolk yellow" (The Deathly Hallows, 139).

Xeno may be eccentric and a little too anxious to believe any myth, but his daughter Luna is his priority, and that perhaps makes him more sane than we give him credit for.  Their bond is undeniable as she defends Quibbler and spreads his theories.  Luna was so proud of her father's paper because he didn't pay to have articles written and he didn't care about the money.  All he wanted was to share the things he thought the world needed to know.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Review: "Caught in the Middle" by Regina Jennings

"If he's foolish enough to cross us, then our election strategy will have to be reevaluated.  What's the point of electing him if he's uncooperative?" (189)
Caught in the Middle by Regina Jennings is a historical Christian fiction story about Nick Lovelace, a railroad and government man, and his unlikely encounter with an old acquaintance, Anne Tillerton.  The story begins with both Nick and Anne standing up to some train robbers, after which their paths continue to cross and a dynamic relationship forms between them.

At the beginning of the story, Anne is very much a type-character: she rebels against societal norms for women and that seems to be the only character trait she has.  She dresses like a man, hunts buffalo, and refuses to accept any attention from a man.

Through a series of unfortunate events, Anne becomes the caretaker for a young boy, Sammy.  Again, the focus is mostly on the fact that single parents do not fit in to society, regardless of the circumstances.  Stereotypically fitting with her refusal to don a dress as is considered proper for a lady, she is also unsure of how to care for a child, seeming to completely lack maternal instinct.

At the story progresses, the character becomes more fully developed and begins to make realistic decisions instead of just going with whatever the obvious rebellious action would be.

Part of being accepted into the 1883 Garber Texas society includes going to church.  Anne is not a woman of faith at the beginning of the novel and her Christian development through the book seems a little strained.  When she decides to become the official mother to Sammy, she decides that "she would start small, ease into this new role.  Instead of ridiculing the sermons on Sunday, she would give he pastor a chance.  Praying would be a good start, and she could learn the language of faith that everyone around her spoke so fluently.  If it paid off, then maybe she'd trust God with a little more" (153).  Her thought process in connecting becoming a mother to becoming a Christian was not clear.

However, Nick, the pious and God-fearing man, had more realistic faith dilemmas.  No Christian character can know or understand everything, just as no Christian can, which is why Nick's faith experiences were more relateable.  Nick struggled with God's role in his life: "Success always involved risk, and God had faithfully smiled on his endeavors.  And would continue to do so.  He had to, right?  As long as Nicholas followed the rules and obeyed the Bible, his fortunes would continue to rise, his domain would continue to expand.  Wasn't that the bargain?" (194).

The plot is captivating, although it was a bit slow to start even with a train robbery in the second chapter.  Through the rest of the book Anne and Nick overcome many different types of challenges: fitting into society, raising a child, dealing with corrupt political schemes...Anne also has to overcome a troubling past, as we learn more and more captivating details.

My mother who enjoys Christian historical fiction often enjoyed this book, though she too, found some of the Christian conversations to be forced or unrealistic.  I would still recommend Caught in the Middle as a heart-wrenching struggle between doing what is right and doing what you want.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Bethany House for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

To Review: "Just 18 Summers" by Rene Gutteridge & Michelle Cox and "One Realm Beyond" by Donita K. Paul

Last week, Just 18 Summers by Rene Gutteridge & Michelle Cox arrived, courtesy of Tyndale.  Here's a sneak peek from page one: "But that was before global warming, or as Butch Browning liked to describe it, before season became irrelevant.  Now there were tornadoes in winter and heat waves in May."  Look for my review coming up early in May!

One Realm Beyond by Donita K. Paul arrived this week! I thought I'd share the first paragraph, for anyone who might be interested:
Cantor straddled the thick tree limb suspended less than three feet over his favorite fishing hole.  He'd fished from this spot for more than eighteen years, from teh time he could barely straddle the fat limb 'til now, when the tips of his sandals almost brushed the surface of the clear, cold water.  He watched the small fish circling below him, waiting for the big one just as he had been taught.  His fishing mentor, Odem, probably took him fishing here before he was out of diapers.  Cantor wouldn't want to share the limb now.  Though the tree had grown with him over the years, he didnt' think the branch woul dhold the weight of two grown men.  He wasn't eager for a bath in the frigid water from the mountain's runoff. (5)
I'll be reviewing this novel from Zondervan soon, too!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

W is for Will of Albus Dumbledore

One might expect that the reading of a will would be a somber occasion, but in The Deathly Hallows, the
situation is better described as comical.

Rufus Scrimgeour, Minister of Magic, is full of questions - trying to figure out what sort of secrets Dumbledore was passing to the only three students he remembered in his will.

1.  Ron receives the Deluminator:
"To what use did he think you would put his Deluminator, Mr. Weasley?" 
"Put out lights, I s'pose," mumbled Ron.  "What else could I do with it?" 
Evidently Scrimgeour had no suggestions. (125)

2.  Hermione receives The Tales of Beedle the Bard:
"Did you ever discuss codes, or any means of passing secret messages, with Dumbledore?"
"No, I didn't," said Hermione, still wiping her eyes on her sleeve.  "And if the Ministry hasn't found any hidden codes in this book in thirty-one days, I doubt that I will." (126) 
3.  Harry receives the Snitch:
"You think this is a mere symbolic keepsake, then?"
"I suppose so," said Harry.  "What else could it be?"
"I'm asking the questions," said Scrimgeour, shifting his chair a little closer to the sofa.  Dusk was really falling outside now; the marquee beyond the windows towered ghostly white over the hedge.
"I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch," Scrimgeour said to Harry.  "Why is that?"
Hermione laughed derisively.
"Oh, it can't be a reference to the fact Harry's a great Seeker, that's way too obvious," she said.  "There must be a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the icing!" (127).
4. Harry receives the sword of Godric Gryffindor:
Scrimgeour scratched his badly shaven cheek, scrutinizing Harry. "Why do you think - ?"
"- Dumbledore wanted to give me the sword?" said Harry, struggling to keep his temper.  "Maybe he thought it would look nice on my wall."
"This is not a joke, Potter!" growled Scrimgeour. (129) 

Harry, Ron, and Hermione wouldn't have described the event as comical, since they are very frustrated at the Ministry's prying.  However, as an outside reader, I can't help but laugh at Scrimgeour's ridiculous questions.

And after all, we learn later that Dumbledore's death was no surprise to him - he had been cursed by the Gaunt ring.  I imagine that Dumbledore with all of his eccentricities would've wanted the reading of his will to be a humorous occasion, were it not for the importance of his bequeaths.  Remember the very first words Dumbledore said in the Harry Potter series:
"Welcome!" he said. "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts! Before we begin our banquet, I would like to say a few words.  And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!" (The Sorcerer's Stone, 123)
In the movie version of the reading of Dumbledore's Will, Scrimgeour's prying is almost completely absent, except for the visible disappointment when Harry takes the Snitch and nothing happens:

Friday, April 25, 2014

V is for Veritaserum

How reliable is veritaserum as a truth-telling draught?
"It is Veritaserum - a Truth Potion so powerful that three drops would have you spilling your innermost secrets for this entire class to hear," said Snape viciously.  "Now, the use of this potion is controlled by very strict Ministry guidelines.  But unless you watch your step, you might just find that my hand slips" - he shook the crystal bottle slightly - "right over your evening pumpkin juice." (The Goblet of Fire, 517)

Like Tris from Divergent can resist simulations, some witches and wizards can resist Veritaserum.  In the movie, Snape's threat is much simpler: "Three drops of this and even You-Know-Who would spill out his darkest secrets."  However, since Voldemort knows Occlumency, it's unlikely that it would actually work on him at all, which Snape would know, as he is also trained in Occlumency.

It's also only as accurate as the person's mind who has drank the potion.  Therefore, if a person really believes something, they will be able to easily say it, even if it isn't true.  Veritaserum is used in The Goblet of Fire on Barty Crouch Jr., who is not exactly in a clear state of mind:
"As Minerva and Severus have doubtless told you," said Dumbledore, "we heard Barty Crouch confess.  Under the influence of Veritaserum, he told us how he was smuggled out of Azkaban, and how Voldemort - learning of his continued existence from Bertha Jorkins - went to free him from his father and used him to capture Harry.  The plan worked, I tell you.  Crouch has helped Voldemort to return."
"See here, Dumbledore," said Fudge, and Harry was astonished to see a slight smile dawning on his face, "you - you can't seriously believe that.  You-Know-Who - back? Come now, come now...certainly, Crouch may have believed himself to be acting upon You-Know-Who's orders - but to take the word of a lunatic like that Dumbledore..." (704) 

Of course, Fudge would've looked for any loophole possible in denying Voldemort's return (he also says Harry is lying).  For the Dark Lord to return while he was Minister of Magic would be horrible for his career, so he refuses to believe Harry, despite Dumbledore's support and explanation of Barty Crouch Jr's confession.

In the end, the Veritaserum helped uncover the truth, but still no one would believe it for quite some time.

Join me tomorrow for W is for the Will of Dumbledore!

Thursday, April 24, 2014

U is for Unbreakable Vow

"An Unbreakable Vow?" said Ron, looking stunned.  "Nah, he can't have....Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm sure," said Harry.  "Why, what does it mean?"
"Well, you can't break an Unbreakable Vow...."
"I'd worked that much out for myself, funnily enough.  What happens if you break it, then?"
 "You die," said Ron simply. (The Half-Blood Prince, 325-326)

The Unbreakable Vow is a mysterious spell that we only encounter once in the Harry Potter series.  Ron mentions that Fred and George tried to get him to make one when he was five, but luckily their dad was able to intervene before anything happened.

However, the Unbreakable Vow between Snape and Draco's mother actually happened, in another valiant effort by Snape to secure his trustworthiness with Voldemort's supporters.

Narcissa is very worried about the mission that Voldemort has given to her son: to kill Dumbledore.  She asks Snape to look after him, but Bellatrix keeps insinuating that Snape is not loyal enough to actually do anything.  Therefore, when Narcissa suggests the Unbreakable Vow, Snape agrees, to Bellatrix's shock.
"Will you, Severus, watch over my son, Draco, as he attempts to fulfill the Dark Lord's wishes?"
"I will," said Snape.
A thin tongue of brilliant flame issued from the wand and wound its way around their hands like a red-hot wire.
"And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?"
"I will," said Snape.

A second tongue of flame shot from the wand and interlinked with the first, making a fine, glowing chain.

"And, should it prove necessary...if it seems Draco will fail..." whispered Narcissa (Snape's hand twitched within hers, but he did not draw away), "will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?"
There was a moment's silence.  Bellatrix watched, her wand upon their clasped hands, her eyes wide.
"I will," said Snape.
Bellatrix's astounded face glowed red in the blaze of a third tongue of flame, which shot from the wand, twisted with the others, and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake. (36-37) 

I find this spell so interesting and, horrible though this may sound, I wish we had seen someone break an Unbreakable Vow in the book.  I don't understand exactly how this magic is supposed to work.... How exactly does the spell determine what the best of Snape's ability to protect Draco might be?  And how does one die from breaking the Vow? Do they suddenly drop dead once a condition is broken?

Tomorrow will be my 21st Harry Potter themed A to Z posts! It's V for Veritaserum!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

T is for Time Turner

At the end of The Prisoner of Azkaban, we finally learn how Hermione has been able to take so many extra classes during their third year of school:

"Where did you get that hourglass thing?"
"It's called a Time-Turner," Hermione whispered, "and I got it from Professor McGonagall on our first day back.  I've been using it all year to get to all my lessons. Professor McGonagall made me swear I wouldn't tell anyone.  She had to write all sorts of letters to the Ministry of Magic so I could have one.  She had to tell them that I was a model student, and that I'd never, ever use it for anything except my studies...I've been turning it back so I could do hours over again, that's how I've been doing several lessons at once, see?" (395-396)
It seems strange to me that the Ministry would accept that application at all.  After all, is it really worth "breaking one of the most important wizarding laws" just to get in a few more classes (398)?  Certainly it's not actually illegal, since she is approved to use it for that purpose, but still when she says, "Nobody's supposed to change time, nobody!" it proves how very odd it is that she would be allowed to dabble in time traveling just for academics (398).

Further, to give a thirteen year old such a dangerous device isn't responsible, no matter how mature that thirteen year old might appear.  Hermione says, "Professor McGonagall told me what awful things have happened when wizards have meddled with time...Loads of them ended up killing their past or future selves by mistake!" (399).  To me, it just doesn't seem worth it at all to risk your life to attend a few more classes.  I think an "Independent Study" route would have made much more sense.

In The Order of the Phoenix, a misaimed spell ends up destroying all of the remaining Time Turners at the Ministry.  Since they had a whole section dedicated to them, it made me wonder what else qualifies a wizard to receive one, if it is possible for a thirteen year old to get one to attend more classes.

What do you think would be a plausible reason for someone to warrant a Time Turner?

I think that aurors, dark wizard hunters, probably would have been allowed to have them due to their dangerous professions.  Other than that, I can't see what else would actually warrant messing with time.  I especially don't think using one to attend more classes is practical.

The A to Z Challenge continues tomorrow with U is for Unbreakable Vow!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

S is for the Sphinx's Riddle

The Sphinx's Riddle was one of my favorite parts of the third task in the Triwizard Tournament. Harry describes the sphinx as an extraordinary creature that he had only seen in books, which is ironic since the sphinx is omitted from the movie version of The Goblet of Fire, making our only exposure to the beautiful creature in the book as well.
It had the body of an over-large lion: great clawed paws and a long yellowish tail ending in a brown tuft.  Its head, however, was that of a woman.  She turned her long, almond-shaped eyes upon Harry as he approached.  He raised his wand, hesitating.  She was not crouching as if to spring, but pacing from side to side of the path, blocking his progress. (628)
Then, the sphinx presents her riddle.  It's the third and final riddle of the Harry Potter series: the first being the potion riddle that Hermione solves at the end of The Sorcerer's Stone, and the second being the riddle of the merpeople, the first task of the Triwizard Tournament. The riddle is elegantly phrased and easily solvable:

"First think of the person who lives in disguise,
Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.
Next, tell me what's always the last thing to mend,
The middle of middle and end of end?
And finally give me the sound often heard
During the search for a hard-to-find word.
Now string them together, and answer me this,
Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?" (629)

I'll give you a second to ponder the puzzle if you haven't read the books, or don't recall the answer.

I say it's easily solvable because looking at it afterwords, I assume I could've gotten as far as "spy" "d", though "er" isn't really used in the U.S. for a hard-to-find word...I think of that as more of an "uh" or "um".  Unfortunately, my first read through I was too quick to keep reading and didn't take the time to see if I could figure it out.

The answer is: A spider!

"The sphinx smiled broadly. She got up, stretched her front legs, and then moved aside for him to pass" (630).

Join me tomorrow in my A to Z Challenge: T is for Time Turner

Monday, April 21, 2014

R is for Room of Requirement

The Room of Requirement is a room in Hogwarts that changes to suit the needs of the person entering.
"It is known by us as the Come and Go Room, sir, or else the Room of Requirement!"
"Why?" said Harry curiously.
"Because it is a room that a person can only enter," said Dobby seriously, "when they have real need of it.  Sometimes it is there, and sometimes it is not, but when it appears, it is always equipped for the seeker's needs." (The Order of the Phoenix, 386-387) 

In the novels, these experiences are recorded:

  • Dumbledore finds a bathroom when he really needed it one night, but not finding it again when he looked for it again (The Goblet of Fire)
  • Dobby discovers that when Winky had too much butterbeer, the room contained butterbeer antidotes and an elf sized bed (mentioned in The Order of the Phoenix)
  • Filch locates extra cleaning supplies in the room when he ran out (mentioned in The Order of the Phoenix)
  • Fred and George find it to be a conveniently placed broom closet when they were hiding from Filch (mentioned in The Order of the Phoenix)
  • Harry uses it to train Dumbledore's Army, without being noticed by Filch or Umbridge (The Order of the Phoenix)
  • Neville develops it as a safe-house for Harry's supporters during The Deathly Hallows
  • Room of Hidden Things:
    • Voldemort hides the lost diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw in it (mentioned in The Deathly Hallows)
    • Harry hides his potions book in it (The Half-Blood Prince)
    • Draco hides the wardrobe he uses to smuggle the Death Eaters into the castle (The Deathly Hallows)
In A Very Potter Musical, a humorous play about the series, Dumbledore says, "Did you know that here at Hogwarts we have a hidden swimming pool?" In theory, the Room of Requirement could even become a swimming pool if that's what you needed! It's at about 8:30 in the video below:

What would you use the Room of Requirement for, if you were at Hogwarts? What type of objects would you find inside?

My Room of Requirement would be stocked floor to ceiling with books! It would also have a fridge full of Vanilla Coke, bowls of every type of chocolate imaginable, and a pen full of playful puppies. If I was ever feeling overwhelmed or stressed, I would go to the Room of Requirement and everything else wouldn't matter anymore.

Up next, S is for the Sphinx's riddle!

Review: "Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle" by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

Nick and Tesla's Secret Agent Gadget Battle by "Science Bob" Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith is a wonderful imaginative, inventive, and interactive children's story.

Nick and Tesla are the 11 year old children of two secret agents who are off on a mission, leaving them with their uncle, an inventor.  After the children received a message from their parents warning them about a dangerous spy, they begin investigating the stream of eccentric characters who come into their uncle's house.

As part of the investigation, Nick and Tesla invent gadgets to help them catch the spy.  These gadgets are always introduced at the end of the chapter, by one of the characters alluding to their invention:
"Someone came into our room and stole it."
"Stole your pendant? But why?"
"I'd rather know who."
 "Let's go find out, then," Nick said.  He stood and put clenched fists on his hips.  "The scientific way." (52)
On the next page, there are a set of simple, easy to understand instructions for a way to find and compare fingerprints.  Using only common household items, the experiment/invention could easily be carried out by an older child reading the book, or younger ones with adult help.

Later inventions include some less common items, which might make them difficult to create, such as a 1.5-3 volt motor and aquarium tubing.  Even if you didn't do the experiments though, I think including the instructions and illustrations would help children to get excited about science and figuring out how things work.

I really appreciated the way science was portrayed in the books.  It was honest about the trial and error process and how the inventions didn't always work out they way the children intended.  For example, the authors describe how "A long, frustrating hour passed before Tesla's idea became a reality" and "on the twentieth try" it finally worked (93).

Though it was written for pre-teens (guessing by the age of the characters), I enjoyed the mystery thoroughly, and it kept me guessing with creative twists.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

 I am excited to read this and do the experiments with my niece when she gets older!  I have two more Nick and Tesla books to review, so look for those soon!

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Q is for Quibbler

From unreliable, rubbish articles to the only news source reporting the truth about Voldemort's return, The Quibbler underwent many changes during the Harry Potter series.

Harry first encounters the magazine in The Order of the Phoenix, when he picks it up after noticing there's an article on Sirius Black: "SIRIUS - Black as He's Painted? Notorious Mass Murderer OR Innocent Singing Sensation?"  Since he had never heard of the magazine before, he "had to read this sentence several times before he was convinced that he had not misunderstood it" (191).

Other articles included one talking about the Minister of Magic cooking goblins in pies, flying to the moon on a broomstick and retrieving "moon frogs", and ancient runes that make your enemy's ears turn into kumquats (193).
"Anything good in there?" asked Ron as Harry closed the magazine.
"Of course not," said Hermione scathingly, before Harry could answer, "The Quibbler's rubbish, everyone knows that."
"Excuse me," said Luna; her voice suddenly lost it's dreamy quality.  "My father's the editor."
When the Daily Prophet, the previously respected wizard newspaper, refused to tell the truth about Voldemort's return, The Quibbler took over the important role of reporting another side of the news.

Hermione coerces Rita Skeeter into reporting the true events, but Rita Skeeter says, "The Prophet wouldn't print it.  In case you haven't noticed, nobody believes his cock-and-bull story.  Everyone thinks he's delusional" (567).  Luna jumps in though and talks about how her father's paper "publishes important stories that he thinks the public needs to know" (568).  However, Rita Skeeter is not impressed by The Quibbler:
"'Important stories he thinks the public needs to know'?" she said witheringly.  "I could manure my garden with the contents of that rag."
"The Quibbler!" she said, cackling.  "You think people will take him seriously if he's published in The Quibbler?"
"Some people won't," said Hermione in a level voice.  "But the Daily Prophet's version of the Azkaban breakout had some gaping holes in it.  I think a lot of people will be wondering whether there isn't a better explanation of what happened, and if there's an alternative story available, even if it is published in a" - she glanced sideways at Luna, "in a - well, an unusual magazine - I think they might be rather keen to read it." (568) 
As usual, Hermione ends up being right and the article is a huge success, selling out and requiring Xenophilius to print more issues!  His magazine is regarded as reputable by a much wider audience for the first time:
"The Prophet?" scoffed Ted.  "You deserve to be lied to if you're still reading that muck, Dirk.  You want the facts, try the Quibbler."
There was a sudden explosion of choking and retching, plus a good deal of thumping; by the sound of it, Dirk had swallowed a fish bone.  At last he spluttered, "The Quibbler? That lunatic rag of Xeno Lovegood's?"
"It's not so lunatic these days," said Ted.  "you want to give it a look.  Xeno is printing all the stuff the Prophet's ignoring, not a single mention of Crumple-Horned Snorkacks in the last issue." (The Deathly Hallows, 299)
Xenophilius's daughter Luna is taken by Death Eaters (Voldemort's supporters) as a punsihment for all of the pro-Harry Potter articles he was publishing.  The truth filled articles stop and are replaced by more lies about Harry.

Despite Xenophilius's betrayal of Luna's friends, the articles he published prior to that switch were incredibly brave and probably helped a lot of good people get information they needed.

Join me tomorrow for R is for Room of Requirement in my Harry Potter themed April A to Z Challenge.

Friday, April 18, 2014

P is for Pensieve

Wouldn't it be nice to take a video of your memories so you could remember events clearly? Or perhaps set aside something that requires more thinking, but you don't want to ponder just yet?  Ever wanted to easily share your thoughts and memories?

That's pretty much what Albus Dumbledore's pensieve does for him.  Except, to go even a step further, it lets you be in the scene as an observer, rather than just watching it from the outside.
"I sometimes find, and I am sure you know the feeling, that I simply have too many thoughts and memories crammed into my mind."
"Er," said Harry, who couldn't truthfully say that he had ever felt anything of the sort.
"At these times," said Dumbledore indicating the stone basin, "I use the Pensieve.  One simply siphons the excess thoughts from one's mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one's leisure.  It becomes easier to spot patterns and links, you understand, when they are in this form." (The Goblet of Fire, 597) 
Dumbledore uses his Pensieve to teach Harry everything he knows about Voldemort's past.  When he attempts to show Harry something from Slughorn's memory about Voldemort, it becomes obvious that the memory has been changed.  In the midst of a normal replaying of a memory, "the whole room suddenly filled with a thick white fog, so that Harry could see nothing but the face of Dumbledore, who was standing beside him.  Then Slughorn's voice rang out through the mist, unnaturally loud, 'You'll go wrong, boy, mark my words'" (The Half-Blood Prince, 370).

Dumbledore explains the phenomena: "'As you might have noticed,' said Dumbledore, reseating himself behind his desk, 'that memory has been tampered with'" (371).  From this experience, we learn that we can trust the memories shown in the Pensieve.

With all the mystery surrounding Snape and what his true loyalties were, it is important that he give Harry his memories, rather than his words, to prove his goodness.

The Pensieve showing Harry the dying thoughts of Snape is so powerful of a message that Harry ends up with a high respect for the man.  He even names one of his children after him, and tells Albus Severus that he was named after "the bravest man I ever knew" (The Deathly Hallows, 758).

Tomorrow in my Harry Potter themed A - Z post, I will be featuring Quibbler - a questionable wizarding news source.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

O is for Ollivanders

The last shop was narrow and shabby.  Peeling gold letters over the door read Ollivanders: Makers of Fine Wands since 382 B.C. A single wand lay on a faded purple cushion in the dusty window. (The Sorcerer's Stone, 82)
I was in third grade the first time I encountered the Harry Potter series.  I remember thinking even then that it was surprising there was only one place you could buy a wand, a crucial magical item for every witch and wizard!

Of course, we later learn there are other wand makers as well, such as when Victor Krum brags about his wand: "I vos one of the last to purchase a Gregorovich vand.  They are the best - although I know, of course, that you Britons set much store by Ollivander" (The Deathly Hallows, 150).

Ollivanders is the only one in Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade that is mentioned in the books and is where most of Hogwarts students get their wands.

What a monopoly!

Considering the fact that presumably each young witch or wizard only buys one wand in their lifetime though, Hank Green brings up another great point about the pricing of wands:
Well you don't seem to have much industry
I don't understand how any business gets done
when a wand only costs seven galleons.
That doesn't seem like much to me.
Mr. Ollivander not only makes and sells wands, but he also has a keen memory of them, as he tells Harry, "I remember every wand I've ever sold, Mr. Potter. Every single wand" (The Sorcerer's Stone, 85).

Making a wand is an awful lot of work, including dangerous foraging for magical cores for the wands:
"Ah, now, this is one of mine, isn't it?" said Mr. Ollivander, with much more enthusiasm, as Cedric handed over his wand.  "Yes, I remember it well.  Containing a single hair from the tail of a particularly fine male unicorn...must have been seventeen hands; nearly gored me with his horn after I plucked his tail." (The Goblet of Fire, 309)

I found a conversion counter that says 7 galleons is equivalent to $70.49.  For gathering and buying resources, making wands, and keeping a store open, that is not very much money at all.

Tomorrow, a mysterious magical item will be featured on the blog: P is for Pensieve.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

N is for Nine and Three-Quarters

"Well, there you are, boy.  Platform nine - platform ten.  Your platform should be somewhere in the middle, but they don't seem to have built it yet, do they?" (The Sorcerer's Stone, 90)

I can only imagine what it would feel like to live your whole life knowing nothing of your family and your history.  Then to be told one day that you're a wizard and there's a special school for you, where you won't have to deal with your awful aunt, uncle, and cousin anymore...

Harry was "trying hard not to panic" when he couldn't find platform nine and three-quarters to lead him to the Hogwarts express (91).  I'm  certain I wouldn't be able to keep from panicking in that situation!

Finally, after talking to a guard who thought he was completely mad, Harry overhears the Weasley family mention "muggles" and notices they've got owls just like him.
"The thing is -the thing is, I don't know how to -"
"How to get onto the platform?" she said kindly, and Harry nodded.
"Not to worry," she said.  "All you have to do is walk straight at the barrier between platforms nine and ten.  Don't stop and don't be scared you'll crash into it, that's very important.  Best do it at a bit of a run if you're nervous." (93) 
Even after Mrs. Weasley's kind encouragement, Harry was understandably nervous.
He closed his eyes ready for the crash -
It didn't' come...he kept on running...he opened his eyes.
A scarlet stream engine was waiting next to a platform packed with people.  A sign overhead said Hogwarts Express, eleven o'clock.  Harry looked behind him and saw a wrought-iron archway where the barrier had been, with the words Platform Nine and Three-Quarters on it.  He had done it. (93-94) 
When Harry returns for his second year at Hogwarts, he approaches the barrier feeling "perfectly confident" (The Chamber of Secrets, 68).  Behind schedule for getting to Kings Cross Station, Harry and Ron run at the barrier and crash.  When they get up, they watch the clock switch to eleven o'clock, they know they've missed the train.  Later, Harry learns that Dobby the house elf sealed off the barrier early in an attempt to prevent Harry from getting to Hogwarts.

The train and the juxtaposition of the muggle train station and the train to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is an important part of the book series.  It's where Harry first meets Ron and Hermione and it's where the epilogue takes place, too.  Out of all of the places, J.K. Rowling shows us our heroes and heroines for the last time, sending off their kids to Hogwarts.

The Hogwarts Express and Platform Nine and Three Quarters mark a beautiful figurative and literal transitional point in the Harry Potter series.

Join me tomorrow for my next post in my Harry Potter themed A to Z post: O is for Ollivanders!  Ever wondered why wands were so cheap? Me too...

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

M is for Marauder's Map

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The Marauder's Map has been my favorite magical item ever since it was first introduced in The Prisoner of Azkaban.  It's so special that it has the high honor of being on my iPhone case, because of all of things I love about the map.

First, it was handed over to Harry by my favorite mischief makers, Fred and George Weasley.
"And you know how to work it?"
"Oh yes," said Fred, smirking.  "This little beauty's taught us more than all the teachers in this school."
"You're winding me up," said Harry, looking at the ragged old bit of parchment. (192)
I was really impressed that Fred and George figured out that the "old bit of parchment" was something much more important, and that they figured out how to use it!
It was a map showing every detail of the Hogwarts castle and grounds.  But the truly remarkable thing were the tiny ink dots moving around it, each labeled with a name in minuscule writing. (193)
As an incredibly useful magical item, especially sneaking around unnoticed, I was also inspired by the fact that the map was created by four former Hogwarts students: Moony, Wormtial, Padfoot, and Prongs.  Of course, later we learn that these masterminds behind the map are none other than Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black, and James Potter.

Beyond the actual capabilities of the map, it is activated and deactivated by my two favorite lines in the Harry Potter series: "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good" and

"Mischief managed!"

Tomorrow's Harry Potter themed A-Z Post is N is for Nine and Three-Quarters!

Monday, April 14, 2014

L is for Lost Diadem

The Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw was an object so shrouded in mystery that it became myth-like.
"the diadem of Ravenclaw?" squeaked Flitwick.  "A little extra wisdom never goes amiss Potter, but I hardly think it would be much use in this situation!"
"I only meant - do you know where it is?  Have you ever seen it?"
 "Seen it?  Nobody has seen it in living memory! Long since lost, boy!" (The Deathly Hallows, 601)
In the book, it is Harry who puzzles it out for himself and realizes he must talk to a ghost to find the lost diadem. Harry goes in search of the ghost of Ravenclaw house, the Grey Lady, who is Helena Ravenclaw, daughter of Rowena Ravenclaw, founder of Ravenclaw house.
"Sorry, but what is a diadem?" asked Ron.
"It's a kind of crown," said Terry Boot.  "Ravenclaw's was supposed to have magical properties, enhance the wisdom of the wearer." (The Deathly Hallows, 584)
After stealing her mother's diadem, Helena ran away and hid in a forest.  When her mother grew ill, she sent the Baron, who loved Helena, to find her so her mother could say her farewells.  However, Helena refused to return with him and the Baron, being a "hot-tempered man" stabbed her and then killed himself when he realized what he'd done (The Deathly Hallows, 616).  Her untimely death is what caused the stolen diadem to become the Lost Diadem.

The diadem remained hidden in the forest, until the ghost of Helena Ravenclaw told Tom Riddle (Voldemort) about it: "I idea...He was...flattering. He seemed sympathize..." (The Deathly Hallows, 617).

Helena felt betrayed when Riddle stole it - she trusted him, like so many others trusted him before he became Voldemort.  He had turned her prized possession into a horcrux.  Therefore, when Harry told her he needed to it to defeat Voldemort, she was much more willing to help him.

Harry finds the diadem in the Room of Requirement...which can change to suit the needs of the person seeking it - in this case a place to hide things.
It was still hot, blackened with soot, but as he looked at it closely he was just able to make out the tiny words etched upon it: Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure.  A bloodlike substance, dark and tarry, seemed to be leaking from the diadem.  Suddenly Harry felt the thing vibrate violently, then beak apart in his hands, and as it did so, he thought he heard the faintest, most distant scream of pain, echoing not from the grounds or the castle, but from the thing that had just fragmented in his fingers. (The Deathly Hallows, 635)
I personally am a huge fan of all of the myths J.K. Rowling sets up in Harry Potter that end up being true, such as this story of the lost diadem, the Tale of the Three Brothers (Deathly Hollows), and the Chamber of Secrets.

Up next in this Harry Potter themed A to Z challenge is one of my favorite magical objects, the Marauder's Map!

Review: "The Last Policeman" by Ben H. Winters

Though my usual "end of the world" loyalties lie in post-apocalypse zombie-style entertainment, such as The Walking Dead comics and tv show, The Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters made my first pre-apocalypse read exciting and suspenseful.

The Last Policeman is narrated by Detective Hank Palace, one of the few police officers still dedicated to doing his job after the announcement of the imminent impact of an asteroid.  Palace has to juggle the case he is working on and helping his sister deal with her good-for-nothing husband, in addition to maintaining some semblance of order in a broken world.  Through his dedication to his case, interactions with family and witnesses, and small sections of back story, we get to know Palace and begin to understand why the case is so important to him: the victim reminds him of himself.

When the Earth has an official death day looming, obviously everything happening in the world is going to undergo massive changes.  People quit their jobs, turn to drugs, travel... One of my favorite elements in the book is the world (re)building, as the rules of the world we know are uprooted and replaced by new unfamiliar rules, where anything could happen.  The police force, along with everyone else, has to turn from once essential tools: cell phones, computers, and internet, back to making house calls, using pay phones, and having all documents in hard copies only.

My only reservation about this series so far is that Palace isn't a very reliable narrator.  Palace is investigating a death that everyone else is sure is a suicide, but he can't shake the feeling that there's something strange about it.  In the fourth chapter, Palace is summing up the facts of the case, reminding himself that the victim "had staggered around for eleven weeks in a haze of dread and then, two nights ago, had hung himself with a belt."  He then asks himself, "So why am I driving around Concord, trying to figure out who killed him?" (76-77).  Yet the investigation continues.  As a reader, I agreed with Palace, there were suspicious circumstances.  I just would expect that we'd see more certainty out of a detective (even a newly appointed one).

Towards the end of the novel, as the mystery is solved, the answers are kept from the reader in a faux-suspense raising ruse.  I understand Winters' choice to keep the mystery a little longer, but the story is told in first person, which makes me feel entitled to all of his thoughts as in the rest of the novel.  Instead, we see summaries of dialogue we should have heard:
I raise Detective Culverson on the CB and I tell him that I've solved the case.
"You mean, your hanger?"
I run over the whole thing for him, and then there's a long pause, radio crackling in the silence, and he says that's quite a bit of police work I've been doing. (271)
Of course, it wouldn't have been dramatic or interesting to just have Palace explain the case over the CB, but there's no reason that the conversation should've shown up in the novel at all if we weren't going to have access to the information being discussed.  After this exchange, his thoughts include things like "And that person - that person is the killer" and "I have to apprehend the suspect" (281, 282).

Minor annoyances aside, I'm eager to read the next in the series, "Countdown City", as the asteroid comes nearer and nearer to Earth.  The final book of the trilogy is set to release this summer.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from Quirk Books for this review.  The opinion in this review is unbiased and reflects my honest judgment of the product.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

K is for Knockturn Alley

A play on "nocturnally," Knockturn Alley the shopping area near Diagon Alley where one can buy anything from questionable to dark and dangerous magical items; a "side street devoted to the Dark Arts" (The Half-Blood Prince, 124).
A glass case nearby held a withered hand on a cushion, a blood-stained pack of cards, and a staring glass eye.  Evil-looking masks stared down from the walls, an assortment of human bones lay upon the counter, and rusty, spiked instruments hung from the ceiling.  Even worse, the dark, narrow street Harry could see through the dusty shop window was definitely not Diagon Alley. (The Sorcerer's Stone, 49)
It is during that first accidental trip to Knockturn Alley that Harry sees Draco Malfoy and his father come into the shop, Borgin and Burkes.  Harry notices Malfoy reading the note on an opal necklace about how it is cursed and has killed 19 muggles, which we know later he attempts to send to Dumbledore, accidentally cursing Katie Bell instead.

The place has a bad reputation, as is evidenced by the Weasley's refusing to let their children visit it, and by Hagird chiding Harry, "Skulkin' around Knockturn Alley, I dunno - dodgy place, Harry - don' want no one ter see yeh down there -" (The Sorcerer's Stone, 54).

Harry's next visit to the alley though is purposeful.  He, Ron, and Hermione see Malfoy looking suspicious and follow him, "For Malfoy had glanced around, then slid into Knocturn Alley and out of sight" (The Half-Blood Prince, 123).

It surprises me that Borgin the shop owner is so easily flustered by Malfoy's threats, "Harry saw Borgin lick his lips nervously" (The Half-Blood Prince, 125).  I would think working in a shop like that would draw all sorts of unsavory clients.  It probably wasn't the first threat he'd heard, and probably not the last either.

Borgin knows full well where his is located, what he sells, and what kind of customers those products attract.

As for me, I don't think I could visit Knockturn Alley, because though the Weasley boys expressed disappointment in not getting to experience it, I would be afraid and uncomfortable.

On Monday, the fabled lost diadem of Rowena Ravenclaw will be the focus of my Harry Potter themed A-Z post.

Friday, April 11, 2014

J is for J.K. Rowling

When I was in elementary school, I was sick one day and staying home for school.  Unfortunately, my mom had to take her car into the shop to get repaired, so we ended up in a small cafe called Fifth Corner on the main street of my home town, looking out and the window and feeling pretty miserable.  I remember actually thinking though about J.K. Rowling and how she began writing the Harry Potter series on napkins in a cafe.  The simplicity of it all inspired me and later that year, I began my own writing project.

After my third grade teacher finished reading The Prisoner of Azkaban to our class, I was devastated.  I didn't know how long I'd have to wait for the fourth book to come out.  Instead of waiting, I decided that I was going to write my own Harry Potter book four.  I don't know if a copy still exists or not, but I assure you it wasn't any good.  I was inspired by the characters and the stories in a way I hadn't really experienced books before.  I ended up sending the Harry Potter book four I wrote to J.K. Rowling.  In return, I got a picture of her and a nice generic fan letter.  I was so excited that I took it in to school and showed it in front of the whole class.

J.K. Rowling will never know the full extent of her influence over me and my family.  Not only did her books secure in me a love for reading, but I was also able to recommend them to my parents and my aunts.  Recently, my aunt expressed shock about that recommendation so many years ago: "I can't believe I ended up enjoying a book so much that was recommended by an eight year old!"  

I have a degree in creative writing, began a book blog, and will work at publishing company someday.  Though I can't say for certain, I am pretty sure I wouldn't be where I am today without J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series, which is why I dedicated this A to Z challenge to Harry Potter. 

Tomorrow will be K is for Knocturn Alley!