Young adult fiction

young adult

“How did you spend your weekend?” Apollonia asked. “Gambling? Moping?”

“Mostly moping,” I said. “Also reading young-adult fiction.”

She roared with laughter. She, of all people, knows what I mean. Apollonia is the world’s most tragically obsessed Twihard, and would happily pluck a leftover egg-salad sandwich out of the garbage and eat it, if there were any chance it had been gnawed on by Robert Pattinson. It goes without saying that she knows the Stephenie Meyer books by heart, the way Islamic clerics know the Koran.

Naturally all of us read the Harry Potter books, though they were “too young for us.” Why? Because they were well-told stories, and entertaining, and full of conflict on every level. They ask questions like: why is my family (and Professor Snape, for that matter) so mean to me? Why won’t Hermione and Ron realize they love one another? Why is Lord Voldemort trying to kill me? Also, the novels funny and colorful and full of incident. (There are some dull patches – the middle third of “Deathly Hallows,” in which Ron and Harry and Hermione wander around in the wilderness and snipe at each other, was pretty deathly itself – but overall these books move pretty briskly. And who doesn’t like a six-hundred page book that moves along briskly?)

Also, some years ago, I discovered Diane Duane’s “So You Want to Be A Wizard” series, which is serious fun. Who doesn’t want to be a teenage wizard? You get to save the planet, and sometimes the entire galaxy, over and over again. You get to meet interesting people like the Archangel Michael and Satan. And Diane Duane can really write; she’s light-years ahead of Meyer, and I think she writes more fluently than Rowling. Naturally you really ought to read the books in order, but I didn’t, and I don’t think I missed out too much. I especially like “A Wizard Abroad,” in which a New York girl (and secret wizard) is sent off to Ireland to visit relatives, and ends up discovering an entire world of Celtic folklore, helps to reenact the Battle of Moytura, and (incidentally) saves the world one more time. (Diane Duane also maintains a great Tumblr in which she interacts with readers and fans – I don’t know how she finds the time – and is very obviously a funny and generous person. This makes me like her writing even more.)

And if you still find yourself with time on your hands, try Rick Riordan’s Greek-mythology series – the five novels of “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” and the three novels of “Heroes of Olympus” he’s published for far. (The fourth, “The House of Hades,” is due out around the time that this blog is to be published; the series is set to conclude a year from now.) These are reimaginings of Greek and Roman myths, set in modern America; they’re goofier than the “Wizard” books, and the humor can be juvenile, but the stories are gripping (let’s face it, Greek mythology is good source material), and there are some nice touches. (If you saw the first movie based on the series, “The Lightning Thief,” rest assured that the books are much better.)

I could go on. Do Tove Jansson’s Moomin books count as Young Adult? Parts of them skew a little young (even for me!), but I love them anyway.

J. R. R. Tolkien said it best, in his essay “On Fairy-Stories”:

In describing a fairy-story which they think adults might possibly read for their own entertainment, reviewers frequently indulge in such waggeries as: “this book is for children from the ages of six to sixty.” But I have never yet seen the puff of a new motor-model that began thus: “this toy will amuse infants from seventeen to seventy”; though that to my mind would be much more appropriate. Is there any essential connexion between children and fairy-stories? Is there any call for comment, if an adult reads them for himself? . . .


Fan fiction


I think one of the great by-creations of the Internet has been the proliferation of fan fiction. It allows fans to pay homage to their favorite movies and books and TV shows by creating new versions of them. Porn versions of “Mary Tyler Moore.” Pirate versions of “Twilight.” Gay versions of “Harry Potter.”



My goofy friend Apollonia, the #1 Twilight fan in the world, subsists on fan fiction. After all, once you’ve read all four Twilight novels, and while you’re waiting for the godlike Robert Pattinson to complete the movie cycle, what do you do? If you’re Apollonia, you read fan fiction. “There’s one,” she told me breathlessly, “where Edward has Bella trapped, and he just drains her a little bit at a time, and he’s in love with her, but she’s – “



I will not complete that sentence. Dis – gus – ting.



But I do understand.



I saw an entry on recently about Harry Potter. I’m not the biggest Potterite in the world, but I respect J. K. immensely; I own all 300 pounds of her work, mostly in hard cover.  She recently released a tease that seemed to indicate she was writing more wizard-related material, and then it turned out it was just some bits and pieces to be released on the Net.  



And the world pants for more.



Anyway: so we know that Hogwarts was founded by four wizards, right? A long time ago, right? And there was conflict between the four of them, right?



This would be an awesome movie, right?



The Tumblr people even cast it! Rachel Weisz as Helga Hufflepuff, and Michael Fassbender (the handsome somber young Magneto in the most recent X-Men movie) as Salazar Slytherin . . .



To quote Gene Wilder in “Young Frankenstein”:



“It! Could! Work!”



Are you listening, J. K.?



Harry Potter and the slam-bang finale


Finally, after all these years, it’s over.



And this final movie, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two,” is the best of the lot.



All of the young actors know exactly what they’re doing now. (It’s been ten years, so they’d better.) It’s wonderful to see Emma Watson as a calm and very confident young woman; Rupert Grint isn’t goofy anymore, but stalwart and funny and sort of cute if you squint at him the right way; and dear Matthew Lewis as Neville Longbottom, the Wimpy Kid of Gryffindor, has matured beyond all recognition, and is now handsome and brave and pretty much the tallest kid in his class.



Daniel Radcliffe. Okay. He’s excellent. But he’s a place-holder. He’s you, you see? He’s your foothold in the story. You’re supposed to identify with Harry, so they couldn’t really cast anyone really dramatically distinctive in the role – not a funny redhead like Grint, not a zombie albino like the mutant who plays Draco Malfoy. Radcliffe is perfect in this regard, sort of like Elijah Wood over in “The Lord of the Rings”: he’s got an interesting face and a pleasing personality, but he mostly reacts to stuff. Picture him in your mind. You’re seeing him looking at something and reacting to it, aren’t you? And that’s perfect. I foresee a long and successful career for Mister Radcliffe, and more power to him.



The older actors – you know, the entire British acting community over the age of thirty – really only need to show up in costume. But it’s wonderful to see Maggie Smith’s deadly serious face when she’s wand-to-wand with her adversary, and later to see her irrepressible giggle when she casts a spell that she’s always wanted to cast. Nice to see Emma Thompson with her thick spectacles on; nice to see Julie Walters growling like a mother tiger, fighting with the terrifyingly insane-looking and insane-acting Helena Bonham Carter.



Hope I didn’t spoil the movie for you with those glimpses.



But I didn’t, did I?



And, see, that’s the thing. There are no spoilers here. You’ve either read the book, in which case you know what’s gonna happen, or you haven’t, which means that – well, you pretty much know how it has to end, right? (Hint: don’t get that Death Eater tattoo just yet.)



The cinematography is beautiful. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie with night scenes in which I could actually make out what was going on. (We saw it in 3D, and there are a few worthwhile effects – some of the spells, some of the pyrotechnics. But, kids, save your three dollars. You really won’t miss a thing if you don’t see it in 3D.)



The movie actually improves upon the book in a few places; it omits some of the tedious flashback stuff, and straightens out a few of the more roundabout plotlines. And maybe things don’t happen quite like the book in a few places – but wouldn’t it be a bore if they did?



And I am so effing grateful to see the bloody quidditch stadium burn down. Because – you know what? – I think quidditch is stupid.



But this movie is not stupid. It is really grave and beautiful and solemn.



And a lot of fun to watch.



So. Imperio! See this movie!




Harry Potter and the box-office juggernaut

Partner and I (and most of the rest of the Northern Hemisphere) saw the new Harry Potter movie yesterday. Now, I’m one of those people who read the ending of a book first, because I hate suspense. But I could not make head or tail of the ending of this book! (No spoilers here – but is there anyone who doesn’t know how this story ends?) But still. I mean, if Harry’s linked to Voldemort, that means he – but, wait a minute, Voldemort drank some of Harry’s blood, so he – and there’s the whole Horcrux thing, so they both – but they have the same wand, so they –


Anyway. This movie only gets us halfway through the book. We don’t have to worry about the face-off between Harry and Voldemort until next July. In three-D. It will be spectacular.


Partner and I liked this movie. It’s dark without being obscure. It breezes right along (mostly). It’s a whole Who’s Who of British cinema, too. (Colin Farrell, on Graham Norton this week, made a funny/sad observation that he hadn’t been asked to be in it, and that he was probably the only actor in the British Isles who wasn’t asked. It’s a shame. He would have been adorable.) There are a few jump-out-of-your seat scenes, which are pleasantly startling without being heart-stopping. The magic is beautifully depicted; it’s become so natural over the course of the past six movies, they don’t need to feature it anymore. When a newspaper photo turns and looks at you, or someone lights a lamp with a wand, it’s not even surprising, even for us Muggles. It just seems normal. (Also, now that Daniel Radcliffe is all grown up, he takes his clothes off a lot. It makes for a pleasant diversion.)


But there’s a long dry spell in the middle of the movie: Ron and Harry and Hermione wander in the woods and bicker with one another. Time passes. The scenery is very stark and lovely. Aren’t we on the clock here? Isn’t Voldemort doing bad stuff off in the distance? Why are you guys just kicking around through the dead leaves and pouting at each other? It’s exactly the same dry patch that the novel had, and I remember being very irritated with it. A couple of the novels gave me the sense that Rowling was just filling pages with words, to bulk up the novel – kids like their novels bulky! – and this was one of them.


The movie has a sad / ominous ending. Voldemort (what’s with that nose? Do evil wizards get their noses revoked?) is winning. Helena Bonham Carter is a cackling maniac. And somebody nice dies.


But don’t worry, kids. Stay tuned. All is not lost. There’s more to come.




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