July 24, 2007

Pottermania

HP AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS: ENDING WELL.

After six books and practically allowing Harry Potter to grow up before readers' eyes, it almost became anti-climactic that the books would end; of course, everyone knew, from the start, that there would only be 7 books but knowing it and realizing that you were holding the last book in your hands were two different things altogether.

JK Rowling has grown immensely as a writer; the first three books were superior children's books but the fifth book (Phoenix) and sixth book (half-blood prince) were superior exercises in whetting people's appetites for the climax. And, the seventh book (Hallows) has not disappointed.

Off the bat, there is no quidditch--hooray for that! Off the bat also, as the blurbs have already announced, there is death all around--this won't be a spoiler for those who haven't read the book yet but I must say that Rowling handles the deaths (yes, several) very, very well indeed.

Rowling demonstrates a deft touch at tying up all the loose ends she purposedly put out in the fourth (goblet of fire), fifth and sixth books even as she dredges up our memories of the first three (sorcerer's stone, chamber of secrets, prisoner of azkaban) with characters and images from all the six books. At times, the connections are seamless, in others, however, there is a stretch;however, she may be forgiven that as there is a large backlog of memories to account for.

What Rowling does not do, and this she must be commended for, is to write the last book as if she were writing it for the inevitable screen adaptation. Unlike other franchise writers who, after having their books adapted for film, write with the lead actors in mind,. Rowling sticks to what she knows--writing about this boy's life;and bollocks to the film. It would have been easy in the final book to write cinematically, especially during the obligatory final fight scene (imagine Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort and Daniel Radcliffe as HP duelling in a large hall with hundreds of onlookers, with all the lush visuals that cgi can conjure up and you can appreciate the restraint that Rowling has put into the seventh book.); instead, what we have is a book written as a feast of the printed word.

The narrative is fueled and moved by the words, not by fancy images. And the pace is quick; while the chapters are moderately long, it is not fanciful to say that as you end one, you lose the struggle to resist continuing another. I am a fast reader and I consumed the seventh book in one hour and a half, the first time, and a more sedately 3 hours the second time; all in a span of one day and a half.

Finally, Rowling goes all out--all the characters are fully developed and they are all there (even Viktor Krum, in a pivotal non-quidditch role)--Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, all the Weasleys, the Order of the Phoenix and of course, the Malfoys and even the house elves. There are kissing scenes (!), and now fully-developed love angles. It is the last book after all and it is fitting that the saga of The Boy who lived is given a good ending. And, it is a good ending.

Harry is in every chapter, except one; I liked all the chapters, except one--even the obligatory wrapping up chapter (reading the book, I forget that it is supposed to be for children, so storylines need to be wrapped up and explained.) There are many surprises, very few disappointments and a lot of satisfaction at the way Rowling brings down the curtains on this boy's life.

All in all, a very good read and certainly worth the wait. The movie should be fascinating. But, until the movie, bravo, bravo!

NB. And just in case, Rowling leaves room for more. . . in the future. Read the book and you'll understand why.


HP AND THE ORDER OF THE PHOENIX: DARK HARRY, NOT FOR THOSE WHO LIKE HIM LIGHT AND FLUFFY

Those who know me well will know me well enough to know that I would love Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix for one reason: it is dark. And yes, I did love HP and the Order of the Phoenix for that reason.

No longer is the franchise a kids' franchise, it has now taken on an identity all its own by simply taking on the dark hues that match Harry's descent into Voldemort's clutches.

Those who are looking for the bright and cheery hues of all the previous Harrys (before Azkaban, which I loved also because of its dark and grim tone) will be disappointed. There are no cutesy scenes, there are no magic scenes for the sake of showing them and, best of all, there is NO QUIDDITCH! For this last reason alone, the movie soars!

From the start, you know it is NOT the book that was adapted for the screen but simply the plot and some situations and that is why the movie works. JK Rowling has given us a rich vein to tap into but she writes like a children's book writer. This movie is not a children's movie and so, no JK Rowling scenes, please.

And the movie does not disappoint. Harry is grouchy and moody the entire time and Radcliffe captures the growing despair Harry feels at being left out, being kept in the dark and being uncertain; the fight scenes are great and are given just the right amount of exposure; the scenes showing the DA in training are great too. Dolores Umbridge is perfect--the quintessential schoolmarm who insists on the book and will not hesitate to throw it at you, literally.

My only complaint is that there is very little development given to the reason for the Order of the Phoenix and very little development given to the plot line involving Snape's history with James Potter,who turns out to be a creep and a bully along the same lines as Draco Malfoy. A minor complaint is that there is very little time given to a now very beautiful Emma Watson as Hermione and very little development of the chemistry between Hermione and Ron (except for one scene involving the giant which is sublty and very deftly handled).

The movie ends without a pat and happy ending, but just the right amount of suspense to keep us whetted for HP and the Half-Blood Prince.

It is a dark Harry Potter we get and I love it. Definitely notfor those who like him light and fluffy.

July 07, 2007

Einstein and the Environment

Let's take it from Einstein and do our bit to stop climate change. From Greenpeace:

July 02, 2007

Luke 10:25-37 (ESV): "You go, and do likewise."



One of the many things associated with being a trial lawyer is questions. Lawyers are trained to question, to think in questions, to ask questions; in one of the classes I teach, I stress this over and over again -- that the essence of a good trial lawyer is being able to ask good questions.

In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus is confronted by a lawyer with two questions: first, "what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" and second, ". . . who is my neighbor?" These two questions are significant because they are telling as to the nature of lawyers as well as of the character of Jesus.

The passages in Luke are more commonly known as referring to "The Parable of the Good Samaritan" and frequently, the narrative is taken up starting from verse 30; for me, however, the context of what Jesus says to the lawyer is best captured and the parable is best understood if it is read starting from verse 25.

The Parable of the Good Samaritan

25 And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” 27 And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

29 But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii [1] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ 36 Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” 37 He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

In his first question, the lawyer asks about the rule--"what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (v. 25)--and Jesus gives the answer to him in what law students know as the Socratic method, i.e., by another question--"“What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” (v. 26). Indeed, how best do you answer a lawyer's question but to ask him to interpret the law? And so, the lawyer, in his element now, answers as best he can--"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." (v. 27) Jesus says, "You have answered correctly" but also gives him an instruction--"do this, and you will live." (v. 28)

In answering this way, Jesus does not answer the lawyer's question because he wanted to know about living forever--"eternal life"--whereas Jesus tells him that he "will live" referring to the here and now. In John 10:10 (ESV), Jesus describes his mission in the here and now--"I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." That they may have life now, not later, and life that is abundant.

This point is not lost on the lawyer because Jesus has managed to point out to him that while he understood the law perfectly, he failed to truly understand that the law meant for us to live abundantly here and now, not later.

And so, embarrassed and "desiring to justify himself" (v. 29), he asks the second question--perhaps in a desire not so much to get out of the hole he dug for himself but also to catch Jesus in a contradiction--"And who is my neighbor?" (v. 29) [The "and" at the start of the question is significant because it demonstrates the context of the question as related to the first question and the answer he himself gave. By engaging in a Socratic dialogue of sorts, Jesus actually allowed the lawyer to have a measure of self-examination as it were.)

This is where Jesus comes in with the narrative of the "Good Samaritan."

30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. 32 So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. 34 He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 And the next day he took out two denarii [1] and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’"

The parable is intended only to demonstrate just how it is to truly live according to God's ways, to follow the commandments. The choice of a priest and a Levite as the first two who pass by the hapless victim on the road is deliberate and significant because these are two types of people in Jesus's time who know the rules and in fact pride themselves on living according to the rules; yet, it is a Samaritan, who knows not the rules and lives not according to them, who "had compassion." (v.33) And so the parable goes that the Samaritan "went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him." More than these, he then insisted that should the money he left not be enough, he would repay the innkeeper when he came back. (vv. 34-35)

After setting forth the parable in this way, Jesus then goes back to the lawyer with yet another question to answer the lawyer's second question--"Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?" (v. 36)
And the lawyer again answered correctly, "The one who showed him mercy." (v.37) To this, Jesus then said to the lawyer--"You go, and do likewise."

Jesus's question leaves no room for doubt. The great commandment of loving God with all our being and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves is to be done by lives lived not and not simply by words spoken. Jesus asked, "which of these three . . . PROVED to be a neighbor. . .?" The Samaritan, who by no means, could be counted on as a neighbor to the jew, PROVED by his actions to be a neighbor to the jew by his compassion. And thus, Jesus sums it all up to the lawyer: "You go, and do likewise." Be like the Samaritan, who threw away the rules and simply did as his heart dictated--be compassionate, be merciful, be loving not only in words but in living.

At the heart of the Parable and the lawyer's two questions to Jesus is the nature of God's heart: it is a heart of compassion that acts with mercy. God feels for His people; many times over, Scripture tells us of God relating to His people with compassion and then acting with mercy. In Genesis 18:16-33, Abraham intercedes with God to spare the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrhah and God, feeling compassion for those righteous, acts with mercy in agreeing to spare them.

And so, Jesus's two instructions to the lawyer are equally instructions to us--"do this, and you will live" (v. 28) and "you go, and do likewise" (v. 37) Jesus tells us that in living out Godly lives, we must be neighbors to those who need us--the ones who suffer, the ones who are hurt, the ones who are in pain, the ones who are facing adversity and challenges--as well as those we feel we do not need--those we cannot understand, those we cannot relate to, those we dislike, those who "rub us the wrong way", those we conveniently label "unloveable."

Jesus tells us ". . . go and do likewise": to be like the Samaritan who threw out the conventions and the rules and did the only thing that was appropriate at the time, be a neighbor to one who needed him to be one. He did as Jesus's heart would do: show compassion and act with mercy.

May we, who wish to follow Jesus, truly follow Him as he commands us, ". . . go and do likewise" and may we, despite ourselves, do as His heart would do: show compassion and act with mercy.