Magnum Opus Complete

Aaaaand here she is, all posted in the uni library’s digital collection. Ta-DAH!!! (In case you’re wondering, a thesis is a “she”. At least in German that’s so, die These or die Masterarbeit. And German is obviously right.) So if you want to actually read through the 46 pages of “Once Upon a Movie Screen”, go to Athabasca University‘s Digital Thesis and Project Room, here: http://dtpr.lib.athabascau.ca/. In the search box on the left type in “Offenwanger”, and there she’ll be, all ready for you to download, peruse and be edified by. (You’ll probably have to click “agree” on some button somewhere that makes sure you’ve understood that this is academic research, and that you shouldn’t plagiarize it or any of the many other excellent pieces of research posted on that site. But you wouldn’t have done that anyway, right?)

And that, folks, concludes our broadcast here on quill and qwerty for the time being. If you would like to keep reading more ramblings, much randomness, and even the odd bit of research, come on over to www.amovitam.ca, where my stuffed bear Steve and I share our thoughts with the cyberworld. We’d love to see you there!

Ella Enchanted

SPOILER WARNING: This post gives away the plot of the book and movie Ella Enchanted.

I won’t have room in my paper to discuss Ella Enchanted, but it’s such a fantastic adaptation of the Cinderella story, I want to talk about it somewhere. Well, the book is fantastic, the movie, on the other hand… But I’m getting ahead of myself.

One of the interesting things about Ella Enchanted is that the movie (released in 2004, starring Anne Hathaway) makes for a good study of an adaptation of an adaptation. The underlying story is, of course, “Cinderella”, the Perrault version. But then Gail Carson Levine adapted the story into Ella Enchanted, a young adult novel which won the 1998 Newbery Honor award. Levine’s adaptation is, above all, innovative. When I first read it, it took me almost halfway through the book to figure out that this was a Cinderella story. Okay, maybe I’m dense, but the story of Ella of Frell and her curse of obedience is so detailed and nuanced, it reads as a teen fantasy novel, not a fairy tale. The names are well disguised – the Prince is named Charmont, with everyone calling him Char; Ella, of course, is just Ella, and there is such an extensive cast of other characters that you get quite caught up in this world.

The basic premise of the story is that Ella is under a spell, cast by a well-meaning but extremely stupid fairy, which forces the girl to always be obedient. If anyone gives her a direct command, she must obey it; her body forces her to. Of course, this explains why Ella/Cinderella is so easily put upon by her stepmother and stepsisters – in this case, she literally has no other choice. She cannot rebel, she is physically unable to. Cinderella, the girl without agency, becomes Ella, a girl cursed into powerlessness. However, Levine’s Ella is a protagonist who in spite of the curse, the crippling handicap she is under, takes agency. Ella obeys direct commands, as she must, but even as a young girl discovers ways to exercise choice within the command. When her godmother, the family cook, commands her to hold the cake bowl for her, Ella holds the bowl – but she walks away with it, so Mandy has to follow her around the kitchen in order to beat the cake batter. When the singing teacher tells her to sing louder, she becomes so shrill the teacher can’t bear it, when he subsequently tells her to sing more quietly, she becomes inaudible. Ella is cursed, but she is also gifted, among other things with a knack for languages. She uses her abilities to her advantage and that of her friends, and works around her restrictions at every turn. Ella’s connection with the Prince, a sensible, kind young man, begins as a genuine friendship when he comforts her after her mother’s funeral, and she becomes as much of a support to him as his friendship is for her. Ella makes a strong effort to be rid of her curse; she tries as hard as she can, including travelling long distances through dangerous territory in order to find the fairy who cast the spell, to try to get her to undo it. None of this, however, is effective. But what finally breaks the curse, or rather, what finally gives Ella the strength to resist the curse to its breaking point, is the Prince’s marriage proposal. She realises that if she accepts the Prince and marries him, it would be he who would be at the mercy of anyone who would command her; that through her, they would be able to control the Prince, and the whole kingdom – she would become the weapon of his destruction. And so, because of her love for the Prince, despite a direct command to accept his proposal, she refuses, even though it nearly costs her her sanity. This refusal, the act of disobedience which takes all her strength, is what breaks the curse and sets her free. No longer cursed, she can marry the Prince and achieve final happiness.

Ella’s power is what permeates the whole story. Despite her crippling curse, she is a girl who takes charge of her life, she is a strong person.

The film takes this storyline, flattens it out, inserts it into a rather silly medieval-Beverly-Hills setting, adds a bad-guy royal uncle with a talking snake (who seem to have recently escaped from Disney’s Robin Hood), turns Prince Char into a teen idol, and makes the final motivation for Ella’s breaking the curse the command by Bad Guy to melodramatically stab the Prince on the stroke of midnight at the ball. Anne Hathaway’s Ella, though a quite lovely girl, is too dense to figure out that something like this might happen if she accepts the Prince, which is enough motivation for her book counterpart to find the strength in herself to resist. The girl in the movie has no agency, she is completely controlled by the curse. On the other hand, the Prince is a dimwit, and in standard rom-com style only takes notice of Ella because she is the only female who does not fall into fan-girl hysterics whenever he enters the room (or the mall opening ceremony, as it were). Like the Prince in Ever After, he needs to be lectured by CinderElla on how to be a ruler and start thinking for himself. (Another parallel between those two movies is that the more wicked one of the two stepsisters is almost the same character in both films, so much so that until I saw otherwise on IMDB, I was convinced it was the same actress playing the role.) The beautifully intricate fantasy world of Levine’s book, peopled with a myriad of races, each with their own carefully drawn culture and language, is dumbed down into a goofy kind of Disneyland where elves are oppressed by having to always sing and dance, which terrible injustice Ella makes the Prince revoke in a token nod to a serious theme (racism, in this case). Once the wicked bad-guy uncle brings about his own downfall after Ella’s rebellious breaking of her curse foils his plan to kill his nephew, the Prince (now King) and Ella can marry, and the wedding is celebrated with great pomp and ceremony – well, actually, with a big pop dance number (“Don’t Go Breaking My Heart”) which includes every last member of the cast; and the credits roll happily ever after.

See what I mean about the difference between the book and the movie? Ella Enchanted, the film, is a piece of fluff without substance. The novel it abuses – uh, pardon me, adapts – is a brilliant re-imagining of the Cinderella story which answers the question of just why Cinderella is so easily put upon and pushed around, and thinks about how a girl can have agency in spite of the cruel restrictions placed on her. Gail Carson Levine’s Ella is a young heroine full of strength, and her overcoming of the obstacles she faces is a story of empowerment in the best fairy tale traditions. The Newbery Honor was fully deserved.

 

 

Single-sentence Fairy Tales

Once again this morning, in reading my daily dose of social media, news and blogs, I ran across the term “Wizard of Oz”, used as a pre-determined phrase, a metaphor, if you will. And it made me think of just how ubiquitous that story is in American society. We can use that term and everyone knows what we mean by it, because the Oz story is a meme in American culture – its meaning, or message, has become just about independent of Baum’s little novel from the year 1900. You just have to say “Wizard of Oz” or “Wicked Witch of the West” and people know what you mean, the whole story pops into their heads. There is a word for that – it’s a literary device, and I can’t think of what it’s called right now. Oh – here we go (thank you, Google): it’s synecdoche, which, as I just found out, is not pronounced SIN-eck-doak, but sin-ECK-do-kee. You learn something new every day.

And then I kept thinking about the fairy tales I’m studying, and how much this “the-part-represents-the-whole” thing is the case for them, too. Probably even more so than for Oz. We ALL know about Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Beauty & the Beast, and the Frog Prince, right? Right. But what do we know about them? There is one core meme, one key part to each story that sticks with us. You can sum up each story in one sentence. Here, let me give it a try.

Cinderella: Girl is made to work as slave by her stepmother, but magically gets to go to the ball where she meets the prince.

Sleeping Beauty: Girl falls asleep for a hundred years in a rose-covered castle, and is kissed awake by the prince.

Beauty and the Beast: Girl hooks up with really ugly guy, who turns out to be a prince.

The Frog Prince: Girl kisses frog, who turns into a prince.

Okay, that’s just one key meme for each story. There are other, secondary ones – for Cinderella, in particular, there’s the lost & found slipper, of course, and the pumpkin coach, which are also used memetically; but for the most part, when we speak of someone “having a Cinderella experience”, we mean the rags-to-riches, ashes-to-ballroom transformation.

And then there’s the fact that not every version of every story contains exactly those elements I mentioned. Take the Grimm’s version of “The Frog Prince”, for example: no kissing whatsoever takes place in that on, froggy gets chucked against the wall (splat!), which very effectively unfroggifies him. I’m sure most enchanted princes are grateful that the meme which took hold of our imagination is the kissing one, not the Grimm’s version – can’t you just see all those princesses going around hurling innocent amphibians against the walls of their bedrooms? Uh, no, let’s stick with kissing. Much tidier, and less work for the chamber maids. (I haven’t found out yet where or at what point in the development of the story the kissing came in; I’m not getting to “The Frog Prince” for a while yet. But it’s definitely one of the things I’ll have to look into.)

So, one thing I’m wondering: what is it about those memes that made them memes? Why do they stick so hard in our minds? Lots of thinking to do yet.

 

Take a Deep Breath…

…squint shut your eyes, and hit “send”. And there goes the essay, out into cyberspace:

“MGM, Disney and Warner – Oh My!”:

The Fairy Tale Film Adaptations of The Wizard of Oz, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

Very well, one more paper in the bag. Breathe for a couple of days, then on to the next thing: Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. “Bippety-boppety-bop”, “I waltzed with you once upon a dream”, and so on. My local library has 169 items in their catalogue under the keyword “Cinderella”. One-hundred-and-sixty-freakin’-NINE!!

I think it’s bedtime.

One More Amazing Book

At the last minute, I got one more amazing piece of research material from the library: Harry Potter: Page to Screen, the Complete Filmmaking Journey by Bob McCabe. I’m almost done my paper, but at least it can still make it into the Bibliography.

This is a beautiful, enormous coffee table book (which would need a sizable coffee table to hold it up – it’s hardcover, 9×13″, 531 pages, probably 3 or 4 lbs in weight) chock-full of pictures of all eight of the movie productions. Photos, sketches, stills, concept art, and loads and loads of text with more information than you could possibly need or desire. I want a copy of that book… But even at a discounted $50, it’s a bit much. It might be just as well I only got a hold of it now, else I would have been tempted to read most of it and include it in my paper. Which really doesn’t need more stuff stuffed in it.

But I just wanted to tell you about it – such a lovely book, it is. (No, oh no, I’m not a Hermione at all. What, me, a nerdy bookworm? You gotta be kidding.)

And now I’ve got to put the last few edits on the paper, and get it out the door.

Terry Pratchett on Stories

“People think that stories are shaped by people. In fact, it’s the other way around.
Stories exist independently of their players. If you know that, the knowledge is power.
Stories, great flapping ribbons of shaped space-time, have been blowing and uncoiling around the universe since the beginning of time. And they have evolved. The weakest have died and the strongest have survived and they have grown fat on the retelling . . . stories, twisting and blowing through the darkness.
And their very existence overlays a faint but insistent pattern on the chaos that is history. Stories etch grooves deep enough for people to follow in the same way that water follows certain paths down a mountainside. And every time fresh actors tread the path of the story, the groove runs deeper.
This is called the theory of narrative causality and it means that a story, once started, takes a shape. It picks up all the vibrations of all the other workings of that story that have ever been.
This is why history keeps on repeating all the time.”

Terry Pratchett, Witches Abroad, p. 8 (London: Corgi Books, 1992)

Max Lüthi

I can’t believe I didn’t find this guy before now. I thought I was pretty much done with my theory readings, but then I ran across this, one of the granddaddies of Folklore Theory: Max Lüthi, The European Folktale: Form and Nature (Philadelphia: Institute for the Study of Human Issues, 1982). Or, as it were, Das europäische Volksmärchen: Form und Wesen (Bern: A. Francke Verlag, 1960). As far as I’m concerned, this is one of the definitive works on fairy tales, as important as Propp, Zipes and Warner, and a good deal more so than Bettelheim. And it’s nearly as old as Propp; the German version was first published in 1947 – not translated into English until 1982, but even that is pretty much contemporary with Zipes’ first work and Bettelheim. As I said, I’m really surprised I didn’t stumble across his theory before.

What’s so amazing about Lüthi’s work is that he looks at the form of the fairy tale – okay, the folktale, I guess – and precisely describes its elements, just what makes a fairy tale a fairy tale, and it really makes sense. (I’m going to use the word fairy tale for his original Märchen, because I think it’s a better fit, even though the English translator, John D. Niles, uses folktale.) Lüthi names five different elements or element groupings. I’ll give the English names Niles uses, because he’s the definitive translator, but I’ll tell you in a moment what I think of a couple of them. Here they are:

1.) One-dimensionality. By that, Lüthi means the fairy tales’ relationship to the supernatural. Otherworldly matters just exist, they are a matter of course. The fairy tale hero doesn’t blink when animals start talking to him, in fact, he’d much rather a wolf started talking than not, because then it isn’t a scary man-eating animal but “just” something supernatural. The fairy tale doesn’t move from “reality” to “the magic realm”, it only exists in Wonderland – in one dimension.

2.) Depthlessness. Representation of things, bodies, qualities, the internal world, relationships – none of them have any depth. Fairy tale people are the original flat characters. And that’s in fact the German word Lüthi uses (here’s one instance where I don’t entirely agree with Niles’ translation): Flächenhaftigkeit, the quality of a plain or of a flat wide surface. “Depthlessness” is a negative word, implying the lack of something; “Flächenhaftigkeit” is positive, the quality of flatness and expanse. Yes, the lack of depth or shape is part of it, but more important is this surface-ness, plain-ness. It’s the difference between a painted picture and a sculpture. Like abstract painting, which deals with the surface as a surface without trying to simulate depth through shading etc, the fairy tale is a flat, plain surface. Which leads us to:

3.) Abstract Style. The fairy tale paints the picture on its flat surface in sharply delineated contours and bright colours – literally, Lüthi points out, the fairy tale likes gold, silver, black, white, red (Snow White!) and the occasional blue, and not much else, no blended or muted colours. When he talks about this, I get an image of a fauve painting, a Matisse, for example. Bright, sharp, flat. Everything in the fairy tale is like that, formulaic, extreme, plain. The plot is simple, the characters are sharply outlined.

4.) Isolation and Universal Interconnection. This, according to Lüthi, is the “decisive identifying trait of the folktale. Isolation of characters, of plot, of episodes,” and following out of this, the “[c]apacity for universal interconnection” (that’s from the chapter’s subtitle in the table of contents). The characters are isolated beings, they have no strong connection to their families or home, which allows them to go out and connect or bond with the characters they meet in their adventure. The episodes in the plot are isolated from each other – often the hero learns nothing from one episode to the next, each scene takes place individually without following logically from the previous one. Things just happen, they generally are given no explanation.

5.) Sublimation and All-Inclusiveness. With this second word there is another translation that misses the mark just a bit. Lüthi’s word is Welthaltigkeit – “world containment”. “All-inclusiveness” is a pale term compared to this. The fairy tale contains the whole world in its little frame, and for this, it acquires and makes use of any motif it sees fit – the “magical, the mythic, the numinous” (I had to look up that word. It means “to do with the spiritual”.), “rites, erotic and worldly materials” – and it sublimates all those motifs, meaning it empties them of their predetermined purpose and makes them fit whatever it needs. The fairy tale “represent[s] … the contents of the world” (to quote from the Table of Contents again).

And out of this form of the folktale, that form of one-dimensionality, depthlessness, abstract style, isolation, universal connectedness and world containment, Lüthi says, we can see the function and meaning of the Märchen. The folk fairy tale (maybe that’s the best term to translate Märchen) is far more than mere entertainment. Unlike other forms of folk tales whose function can be wish fulfilment or normative, the folk fairy tale is Seinsdichtung, the literature or poetics of being. The folk fairy tale does not tell us how we wish the world was, nor how it ought to be, but how it is:

The folktale … is bound neither to reality nor to a dogma. Nor does it cling to individual events or experiences, for these are no more than its raw material. Not only does the folktale not need the support of the Church [unlike Saint’s Legends, with which Lüthi contrasts the folk fairy tale]; it continues to exist even in the face of clerical opposition. And yet, in its own way, it does give an answer to the burning questions of human existence, and this answer provides deep satisfaction. (The European Folktale, 84)

That’s sort of a nutshell summary of how I understand Lüthi’s theory. It’s a key piece in folklore research.

If you want to read an essay of a fairly extensive application of Lüthi to a particular piece of fantasy literature, which also includes a summary and explanation of the theory (a better explanation than mine, I think), check out folklore scholar Marie Brennan’s “That Fairy-Tale Feel: A Folkloric Approach to Meredith Ann Pierce’s The Darkangel. In fact, I’m very grateful to Brennan, as her essay served to steer me very definitely towards picking up a copy of Lüthi’s book.

I have another book of Lüthi’s sitting here, Once Upon a Time: On the Nature of Fairy Tales, but I don’t think I’ll get to reading it before I write my paper. I’m still waiting for the German copy; I hope it gets here before I’m starting my next round of research. For now, Lüthi’s theory in The European Folktale is going to be a core part of my paper.

On the Origin of Stories

I ran across a fascinating book the other day, a book that speaks directly to a question that has been driving me for a long time now: What is the purpose of Story? Why is Story so important in human life? And I am more and more convinced that it is important, extremely important. Story is a human universal; I have a theory that there is no human being who does not like Story in one form or another. But why? What is it about Story that makes it so crucial for humans?

And here, in this book, is the answer. Or one answer, or part of an answer, anyway, but a really good one. The book is called On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction, by Brian Boyd (Cambridge: Harvard University, 2009). The title very consciously refers to Darwin’s Origin of Species; the whole book is on the evolution of storytelling in humans.

Let me see if I can summarise Boyd’s point (as I understand it) in a paragraph or less. Art, Boyd says, must have a purpose in human life, or else natural selection would have weeded out artistic genes a long time ago. If there was no other point to art – visual art, dance, music, and, yes, storytelling – than to give us pretty much useless pleasure, it would not confer any evolutionary advantage on humans to be able to make art, and the people who are good at it would eventually have died out. But they haven’t – very far from it. So what is the point of art? Boyd then talks about the importance of play: play is there to have us learn. Of course that’s obvious in small children, who need to learn the skills for living; the same goes for any young animal. But in humans, the ability and desire to play continues throughout life (which, incidentally, is the subject of another really great book, Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, by Stuart Brown – he shows that people who stop playing age far more quickly than players). And what’s the point of play in adult humans? It’s still, and always, to learn. Playing at running, jumping or balancing (e.g. any kind of sports) teaches the body skills which might be life-saving in an emergency, such as meeting a saber tooth tiger or a thug in a back alley. And because play confers such a great advantage on humans, we are hard-wired to take pleasure in it, to insure we keep doing it over and over. (There you go – the Olympics are really just an elaborate display of saber-tooth-tiger-escape routines.) Now, art, Boyd says, is play for the mind. Art has us playing with patterns – visual, aural, physical – with recognising patterns or deviations from patterns, which, again, could be crucial for survival or even just well-being. And here is where stories come in: they have us playing with social patterns. Social connections are utterly fundamental to human survival – we are herd animals, we need other humans. In saber tooth tiger days, straying from the group might just have got you eaten; today, we still cannot live without others. So we are strongly invested in making life in a social group work, in continuously learning about and honing our skills in social patterns – and stories allow us to do that in a safe environment (guaranteed free of saber tooth tigers). We are so strongly hard-wired to take pleasure in stories because stories teach us how to live, and how to continue living.

Okay, so that’s a rather long paragraph, and it’s drastically oversimplifying Boyd’s argument and leaving out many other important points, of course. But that’s about the gist of what I got from his book. It makes heaps of sense to me. I only got it out in an ebook copy from my university library, but I think I’ll have to get me a hardcopy for keeps – among other things, I haven’t actually finished reading it all. What I’ve tried to summarise here is the first half of the book; in the second half, Boyd applies this theory to two specific stories, The Odyssey and Horton Hears a Who. I mean, a literary theory analysing Dr. Seuss by way of example, how awesome is that?

Oh, and what does any of this have to do with my studies? Only everything. The question I’m going to be asking, that I have been asking all along but will be that much more pointed now, is just what the stories I’m studying are teaching us. What do we learn from Oz, Narnia, Harry Potter, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty & Co? And what do we learn from their altered version in the films? Why did the movies make the changes they did? I don’t know that I’ll actually ever be able to answer the latter, but I can make a stab at it, an educated guess. And my guess is now that much more educated. Thank you, Dr Boyd.

The Lewis Chessmen

I was just looking up “chess pieces” for reasons completely unrelated to my research, and stumbled across an interesting bit of Harry Potter trivia: the chessmen which Harry and Ron use in the The Philosopher’s Stone movie, at Christmas when they’re playing in the great hall, are replicas of a famous chess set, the Lewis Chessmen, a group of twelfth-century chess pieces that was found in 1831 on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. They are mostly made of walrus ivory (I didn’t even know such a thing existed), and there are seventy-eight of them, so not just one set but a number of them (the fact that there are eight kings and queens each would already point to that idea). Nobody really knows where the chessmen are from or whom they belonged to, but there is strong reason to believe that they might have come from Trondheim, in Norway; so they possibly were part of a trader’s stock and meant to be sold off somewhere in Scotland or England.

Not that any of it matters, really; I just thought it was interesting that Ron’s Wizard’s Chess Set in the movie is “real”. However, I very much doubt that the Lewis Chess Queens are prone to smashing defeated bishops into shards with their chairs when they’re taking them. If I ever make it to the British Museum to see them for real, I’ll be sure to check them closely for signs of violence.

I’ve Been Sorted

So I finally signed myself up to Pottermore.com. That, dear people, is what’s known as Participant Observation, where the researcher actively joins the culture he or she is investigating. Actually, what I’m after in joining the website is not so much the opportunity to take a close look at the species of Harry Potteris Fanaticus (curious creatures though they be), but the extra background information that J. K. Rowling feeds out in small, difficult-to-find bits and pieces all over the website.

But in order to get at those bits and bobs, you have to walk through that website. And let me tell you, that’s not an easy thing. Although immediately on signing up, i.e. giving them my email, a name, a birth date, a country of residence and the information that I have, indeed, read all the HP books and watched all the HP movies, they warmly congratulated me on the fact that I’m magical (you gotta wonder what visitors do who, after signing up, get the message “Sorry, you’re a Muggle. Get lost.”), my magic obviously isn’t quite strong enough to figure out how to navigate this site, or to be allowed to choose my own username. I’m Something-Pixie followed by a five-digit number – and they adjured me to choose a username from the six options they offered that would be “easy to remember”. Uh-huh. I can’t even recall what it is from the moment of reading it off the screen to the time it takes me to turn my head and look at another portion of the page. As for the password, they insisted it be one of those with “at least six letters and a number”. Woe betide any second-grader whose reading, typing and memorisation skills aren’t up to snuff. We couldn’t let children choose their own username and password, could we now? It wouldn’t be safe. And it would allow them to come back to the site another day, when they actually remember their username and password, and we really can’t have that.

Anyway, so I got signed in to the site. They informed me that in order to get into Hogwarts, I had to get some stuff first. I had 500G (Galleons, the wizard money) in the wizard’s bank Gringotts. So I managed to buy a pet (a black cat – heck, I like black cats, I’ve got two of them in real life) and a wand, but I’ve already mislaid both of them. I haven’t even had the chance to name the cat yet (I think when I find him again, he’ll be Shenopticus Caractacus. Just because). And I’ve forgotten what my wand was – I only vaguely remember it was pine, and unyielding, but no idea of the core or length. For some reason, my height (Tall For My Age – hey, how tall are 46yo’s usually?) and eye colour (Blue-Green) had something to do with the wand selection. I can see the height – you don’t want to give somebody short a really long wand, they’d overbalance – but the eye colour? Maybe the colour of the wood is meant to bring out the highlights in my iris when I hurl a Ridikkulus! at my first boggart. Ah well, whatever; as I can’t figure out where my wand got to, it really doesn’t matter. Another point of puzzlement: I started out with 500G; the cat cost 9G, and the wand 7G, but my purse said I only had 483G left. Was there a Galleon’s worth of shipping & handling included in that deal? Or did they dock me for postage for my Hogwarts letter?

So then I got to Hogwarts, and of course, first you’ve got to be sorted, which they do by asking you a bunch of questions. Well, let’s see. On one of the questions, you get to choose which you would least like people to call you. Among the options are “coward”, “ignorant”, “selfish” and “ordinary”. So, given the fact that Gryffindors are brave, Ravenclaws intelligent, Hufflepuffs kind & loyal, and Slytherins ambitious, what do you think that question was aiming at? Hmm, let me think… They also asked me if I preferred the stars or the moon (the moon, FYI) and left or right (left, in this case, although in a previous question, I chose to go right to a castle instead of left to the ocean. Maybe that says something about me being flexible?); I really have no idea what those questions tended to. So, after all this, the hat, or rather the website, sorted me into Ravenclaw. Good, I specifically picked my answers to that end. They might as well ask people what house they would like to be in – I mean, really!

Okay, so I’m a Ravenclaw with a missing unflexible pine wand and an AWOL black cat. But I’ve had about enough of the Hogwarts scene, so instead I set out to explore the Harry Potter story – because that’s where all the good bits are, inside information from J. K. Rowling that she didn’t put into the books. But oh, first you have to find those bits! So you click on a thumbnail that takes you to the book you want to investigate (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, in my case). There are thumbnails of scenes, which you click on. They say you can click on the scene to go inside, but – maybe it’s because of my missing wand – I can’t seem to make that work. It just zooms in a bit, and then out again. Ah well. But occasionally, there is an item on the page that gets a shiny outline if you mouse over it, and if you click on THAT, it unlocks the magical Rowling ramblings. I don’t know if they’ll ban me from the site for telling you this, but on the first scene, “Number Four, Privet Drive”, the item in question is the “Privet Drive” road sign (it’s pretty big, so hard to miss on the mouse-over).

Ah, finally! So now you can find out fascinating stuff, such as that Rowling always, she doesn’t know why, disliked the number 4, and that the town of Little Whinging is named for the Brits word for “whining”. On another scene’s insider track, she says that the Dursleys’ house is a model of one she lived in as a child, and even though she doesn’t really describe it in the books, the house they built for the set of the first movie is identical to her childhood home, including the position of the cupboard under the stairs and the placement of the bedrooms. That’s kind of cool. It’s neat to know that the movie in many ways exactly embodies Rowling’s vision, puts on screen what she had in mind when she wrote the story.

I guess I’ll go back and mouse around Pottermore a little more, see what else I can dig up. Maybe I’ll even find Shenopticus Caractacus again. I hope so, he seemed like a nice cat.