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Wizards for Dummies

by John Rodat on July 20, 2011

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II
Directed by David Yates

I have been about as removed from the Harry Potter phenomenon as a moderately pop-culture savvy resident of the Western world can be. I haven’t read any of the books, nor, prior to this past weekend, had I seen any of the movies. Of course, I’ve overheard the conversations, and seen the evidence of extreme attachment. (Until recently, though, I thought those “Mischief Managed” tattoos were just mild expressions of girlish rebellion—no boys have that tattoo, do they? And the “9 3/4” tattoo I mistook as a criteria and pursued no further.)

But the din surrounding Deathly Hallows: Part II, the final installment of the Potter movie franchise, made me think I should take the opportunity to see at least one on the big-screen. So, I buttonholed a more-knowledgeable friend, and took in the 3D version. It’s a good-looking and fun movie, with surprisingly not-annoying 3D.

But I have questions.

Questions I was too well-mannered—and too timid—to ask in a crowd of fans, who told at least one other murmuring attendee to “Shut up!” But I’ve remembered them, and I’ll ask my friend and editor, Shawn, now:

There sure are a lot of alliterative names in this thing, aren’t there? Severus Snape, Luna Lovegood, Rowena Ravensclaw, etc. If you could add one alliteratively named character into this mix, who would it be? I think I’m going with New York Dolls guitarist Sylvain Sylvain. I think he’d be, like, a half-troll running a magical-garment boutique in the town nearest to Hogwarts. The hipper wizards go there to get cheetah linings added to their capes, and to listen to little-known spells from the Mississippi Delta on wax cylinder.

Hermione Granger needed a wisecracking best friend, someone to point out (for example) what a stupid, dog-faced git that Weasely kid was. Call her Cassandra Cuttingbone. She would be fashionably dressed, unimpressed by wizardly jargon, and witheringly blunt. When the elf died at the end of the last movie—an ocassion causing a woman perched a row ahead of me to uncontrollably sob—Cassie would’ve said to Potter, “Oh for God’s sake. . . . He was an elf.”

Voldermort’s horcruxes contain valuable or essential aspects of himself, right? So, they’re kind of the wizardly equivalent of Internet passwords? You’d think he’d keep better track of them. Isn’t there an app for that?

The Potter universe is totally analog, and Hogwarts is a traditional English public school where the whole point is torturing kids by restricting short-cuts, thus precluding the use of “apps” anyway. Students must learn hundreds of Latin spells, for example. As an American, this offends me.

Do you think there’s a wand-control lobby? What do their bumper stickers say? “Wands don’t kill people; people with wands kill people—but the wand’s really got to be feelin’ it.”

Now you’re talking. What a great late role that would have been for Charlton Heston: “You can have my wand when you can utter the right spell, throw a handful of dead fairy dust in my eyes, and pry it from my cold, dead, gnarled fingers.”

In the Rock, Paper, Scissors game of wizarding, what beats what? Wizards can walk through walls, it seems, but they’re afraid of fire? And they can turn statues into whole armies but a giant with a rake is scary?

“Rules?” The only rule is, “Harry Potter wins and none of the lead characters die.” They shoulda killed that Weasley kid.

Where’d those giants with the rakes come from?

Clash of the Titans. They wearied of Liam Neeson screaming “release the Kraken.”

Did Voldemort and his army walk to Hogwarts? Is that why everybody hates him? Is he one of those “a little fresh air never killed anybody” villains?

It’s simple bigotry. They hate him for his deformed nose. It’s also typecasting: Ralph Fiennes always plays misunderstood characters, like the Nazi in Schindler’s List and Jennifer Lopez’ Republican boyfriend in Maid in Manhattan.

Oh, and on the subject of killing: Practical Villainy 101: How to Tell If He’s Really, Really Dead. Materials required: The Princess Bride. Just sayin’.

If you sorta die, but not really, and you’ve got your choice of theatrical afterlife, would you choose: King’s Cross Station, a subway stop (a la Matrix Revolutions), a ball park in an Iowa cornfield, or “other.” I think I’m leaning toward Bruce Jay Friedman’s Steambath, heavy on the Valerie Perrine.

Though it was some time ago, I remember the real King’s Cross Station as a terrible place. So I’ll pass. Also: Movie afterlifes suck. Look at how Harry Potter expects his dead friends to comfort him. They express sympathy, but probably want to say, “figure it out yourself, genius boy.”

What’s the name of that one English actor, you know, the one who wasn’t in this?

Sir Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Do you think this is really the end of the story?

J.K. Rowling won’t live forever. Sooner or later, a literary heir will divine her true intentions for another series of Potter books. So, fuck no.