Tagged: J.K. Rowling

Box Office Democracy: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

It’s hard to tell either Warner Bros. or J.K. Rowling that they should refuse to make any more money off the Harry Potter franchise. If they can pack people in to theme parks and sell out a theater in London for over a year in advance, why shouldn’t they put out more movies? They didn’t stop making James Bond or Star Trek movies just because they ran out of books or the original cast members didn’t want to do it anymore. That said, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is a good movie where I can sort of feel its hand in my pocket. This isn’t a labor of love and while I could lie to myself about that being true with other Harry Potter movies, I can’t convince myself quite as much this time.

The story in Fantastic Beasts is more or less Harry Potter with a twist. There’s a magical calamity, in this case Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) loses a bunch of magical creatures in New York City, and while a good-hearted but misguided authority figure, disgraced Auror Tina Goldstein (Katherine Waterston) tries to punish our hero for this misunderstanding they discover a much larger plot involving an immensely powerful evil wizard, this time German pseudo-Nazi Gellert Grindelwald (Johnny Depp). This outline vaguely describes the first five Harry Potter films if you substitute the names and add in a few scenes set in classrooms. I’m not knocking it, it’s an established formula because it works, but it never quite feels like we’re reinventing the wheel. The fun of the movie comes from Jacob Kowalski (Dan Folger) the Muggle (No-Maj in America apparently) baker who happens to switch briefcases with Newt early in the film and is drawn into the whole adventure. His point of view on the events of the film as a true outsider is what feels fresh and exciting and that it brings a bunch of good physical comedy along with it is a fun bonus. Similarly, Tina’s sister Queenie (Alison Sudol) is a sheltered functionary in the magical bureaucracy starting to realize a lot of what she’s been told is lies— a character I don’t remember seeing in the first seven Harry Potter films. Seeing prejudice against non-wizards confronted directly instead of through philosophical discussions is more affecting.

I found myself struggling to care about Newt or Tina. They aren’t particularly likeable or interesting beyond being the lead characters of a movie. Newt felt like a blank slate; unless he was in a scene with Jacob he just reflected the tone of the scene or gave some exposition about some beast or another. It doesn’t help that I find Eddie Redmayne sort of boring as a human being, he’s like the personification of bland England. Tina is a character who deeply cares about one thing (saving the children from the New Salem Society) that is pushed to the periphery of the movie until very late and the rest of the time she’s just the character who wants the main characters to have less fun. She’s like if they replaced Hermoine with Molly Weasley in the main Harry Potter films. By contrast, the supporting characters, Jacob and Queenie, are infinitely more interesting. Jacob has this ambition to escape his mundane life and then he’s offered this glimpse in to an immeasurably more interesting world. Queenie is a telepath who is falling for the first non-wizard she’s ever spent any time with. Their stories are so much more compelling, I would watch a TV show about the two of them running Jacob’s bakery every week.

Fantastic Beasts is supposed to be the first in a five movie series, and that fills me with apprehension. The second movie is supposed to take place in Paris and if the story is that Newt’s case full of magic animals gets broken open unleashing calamity there I’m going to be pretty bored with it. There seems to be less potential with Newt and Tina than there was with Harry, Ron, and Hermoine for continued adventures because instead of a lifelong vendetta and the turmoil of maturity, we have a box with a greedy platypus. I loved that platypus but it isn’t enough. I intend to give Rowling a chance because she hasn’t let me down yet, but I’m nervous about it. Fantastic Beasts is a load of fun but I hope it doesn’t get, please forgive this pun, too long of a leash.

Molly Jackson: The Magic of Nitpicking

Harry Potter and the Cursed

Like most geeks, I picked up my very own copy of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child last weekend. It was definitely cheaper than a ticket abroad to see the play live and waiting for the show to make it stateside would take way too long. I eagerly went home to read it immediately and to once again delve into the world created by J.K. Rowling.

In case you aren’t a Potter fan and are still reading, this latest addition to the Potterverse is a play based off an original short story (that as far as I know hasn’t been released to the public) by Rowling, John Tiffany & Jack Thorne. The play was actually crafted by Jack Thorne. A quick note about what I thought about the play. It was enjoyable to be back in that world, if even for a short time. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that due to the play format we lost some of the usual detail I’ve come to expect in a Potter story.

I also thought that the path of the story was a little boring. It just seemed like an imitation of Rowling’s own work rather than imagined by her, which makes me wonder how much involvement she really had. However, I am glad that I read it and did enjoy that another story made it into the Potterverse. I would love to see it live; to see the special effects described in the story would make it worth it.

My biggest pet peeve of the play isn’t the story or the play itself. It’s that there is no listing of characters with a short description at the start of the play. If you have ever read a playscript, a listing of characters is always at the start, usually with a short description. This just jumped right into the play with no thought to the characters. If you read a play, this is how you are initially introduced to characters, versus watching a play where characters are distinguishable by actor, costume, makeup, or acting style. While I was reading, characters whose names that I did not know just popped up with no introduction or reason for being there and I was forced to go along without understanding. Granted, the main characters I know from years of reading but new characters deserve an introduction.

I went on a long, overdone rant about this oversight to my poor roommate, who happened to be within earshot. She agreed with me, partly to shut me up and partly because she studied theater in college. And I don’t think my concerns are unfounded; I’m positive some high school is already planning their own illegal production of Cursed Child with photocopies of the same edition I own. And these students will not learn about theater in the accepted way. The play format was thrown out by Scholastic, a company that, until now, I considered a standard bearer for youth education.

On the other hand, I have to wonder if I am nitpicking just a little too much. We’ve just watched the four actresses from Ghostbusters (and especially Leslie Jones) get verbally attacked for starring in a female-led version that didn’t conform to fan’s vision. Fans attacked Marvel over the Captain America hails Hydra plot rather than see how it played out. The entertainment culture has changed that if I wanted to, I could repeatedly harass Rowling, Thorne, Tiffany, the editors at Scholastic, the executives at Warner Bros., and so on.

It has become a trend to not just share your opinion on the internet but to shove it in anyone’s face/feed repeatedly until they block you or leave social media.

I see the irony in writing a nitpicky post and then complaining about nitpicky fans. The difference is that beyond this post, I won’t do much. I’ll probably just talk about it with friends, family, and random geeks that I meet and converse with. Do I think I’m right about this oversight in publication? Yes, I really do. Do I think that others will agree with me? Yes, I really do. Am I starting an Internet protest about this? Nope, it just isn’t worth it to me.

Martha Thomases: Fear And Loathing at Hydra


Over the last few weeks we’ve seen a vigorous discussion among people who create and/or love comics about the relationships and responsibilities of creators and fans. This is nothing new — fans have been demanding certain kinds of stories that authors don’t want to create at least since Conan Doyle was forced to bring Sherlock Holmes back from the dead — but the internet brings so many more people into the conversation.

And too many of these people on the internet don’t understand the difference between a discussion among people with different points of view and a unilateral demand for submission.

The specific irritant this time is the big reveal that Steve Rogers, our beloved Captain America, is and always has been an agent of Hydra.

Now, I don’t read Cap. Nothing against him, just not my jam. Still, when I read a commentary from the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz declaring that Cap’s creators, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, wouldn’t have approved because of implied anti-Semitism, I found it interesting.

Interesting. Not canon. Not a papal edict. Interesting.

Apparently that story, while critical of Marvel’s editorial decisions, was an outlier. Many more fans took up keyboards to proclaim their displeasure and demand that things go back the way they used to be. Here and here you can read intelligent analyses of what happened.

I think it’s important here to draw a distinction between someone who says “I don’t like this,” and someone who says, “I don’t like this and you suck and I’m going to find out where you live and kill you.” There is also a difference between someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, and I’m not going to read it” and someone who says, “I don’t like the start of this story, but I’m going to read a few more issues and see if it gets better.”

Some stories, written by people I like, drawn by people I like, just don’t do it for me. Some stories, written and drawn by people I haven’t liked in the past, break through my previous assumptions and I enjoy them. Sometimes, because of specific things that have happened to me, a story will provoke an association in my mind that is different from what the authors intended.

That’s okay.

I can make connections that are interesting to me even if these ideas are different from what anyone else sees. Years ago, when I read Kingdom Come, I remember telling Mark Waid that the story seemed to be an allegory for the Democratic Party at the time, with the ideals of New Deal Democrats coming face-to-face with the new reality of Clinton’s New Democrats, which diluted and militarized FDR’s dreams.

Mark, of course, looked at me as if I was crazy. Maybe. Still, it was an entertaining conversation to have. At least for me.

Do I think Nick Spencer, the writer, and Marvel, the corporate entity, are deliberately trying to offend fans and insult Joe Simon and Jack Kirby? No, of course not. I think they are trying to tell stories that will entertain enough people to make a profit. At the same time, I think fans who buy comics and don’t like the story have every right to say what they don’t like.

Politely, and within the accepted parameters of comic book criticism (which I would define rather broadly). In other words, you can say the story sucks. You can say the writing/art/editing suck. You can say that corporate ownership of intellectual property inevitably decreases the value of that property. You can make an analogy to what has happened to Captain America since the Kirby/Simon days and what’s happened to Harlem since gentrification.

But you can’t make physical threats against people.

At the other end of this conversation, we have people who object when someone who created a beloved body of work continues that body of work. I’m talking about J. K. Rowling and her new Harry Potter stories. Apparently, there are fans who are upset that Rowling authorized and contributed ideas for a play about grown-up Harry and Ginny, their children and friends. To these fans, anything beyond the original books is heresy, and Rowling should do something else.

If Rowling somehow went back and erased all previous editions of her books and the movies based on them, maybe these fans would have a point. That isn’t happening. Those stories are still there. Fans can continue to read and re-read stories about Harry as a student at Hogwarts.

Just as they can continue to read and re-read the Simon/Kirby Cap, and any other issues they liked. In a few years, there will be a new creative team on the series, and I would bet money that this Hydra story will disappear.

At least, I hope so. I’m really hoping that this run of Wonder Woman will be forgotten as soon as possible.

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

John Ostrander: Don’t Look Down

Wile E Coyote

There’s a rule for tightrope walkers: don’t look down. If you look down, you’ll fall. Focus instead on the other end of the wire, where you’re headed. Focus on the goal. I’ve always felt that’s good advice for writers as well.

Don’t look down.

If you doubt that you can write, you can’t. If asked if you are a writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are a good writer, your answer has to be “Yes.” If you’re asked if you are the best writer that you can ever be, your answer should be “Not yet.” You not only have to say it, you have to believe it. If you don’t or can’t, then you are looking down.

Don’t look down.

This isn’t about being humble. It’s not about modesty. If you’re going to be a writer, you have to believe that you are good enough to be read. If you want to be a professional writer, you have to believe that you are good enough for people to want to pay money to read you. You have to believe it and you have to continue to believe it even despite evidence to the contrary, even if people tell you that you can’t. Margaret Mitchell was rejected 38 times before she sold Gone With The Wind. J.K. Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was rejected by 12 publishers before finding a home. Agatha Christie was rejected for five years. Louis L’Amour got 200 rejection letters. They stuck it out.

You can’t just say you believe. You have to choose to believe. Any belief worth having must be chosen.

Can you falter? Yes. I’ve looked down a few times. I doubted. I fell. You wonder, you question, you doubt. In the end, if you’re going to continue to write, you have to look back up and choose to believe that you can write, that you are a writer. Every time I start a story, every day that I sit down at this keyboard, it’s an act of faith.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be critical of your own work. You just have to criticize without ego. You have to take criticism without ego. I know people whose whole sense of self-worth is tied up with their work. Writing is too slender a reed on which to place such an existential weight. It’s not about you; it’s about the work. Your objective should always be to make the work better. You must also accept that some parts will be better than others and some parts worse. Some parts will, in fact, be good. Deal with it. If you have any talent, any skill, some parts of the work should be good. It’s okay to claim that.

Your writing will never be perfect. That’s inherently impossible especially when writing on a deadline. All it can be is as good as you can make it at that moment. It doesn’t have to be perfect; Shakespeare isn’t perfect. If you doubt me, go read the climax of Cymbeline.

Whenever I’m asked what I think is my best story, I invariably answer, “My next one.” That has to be true. If it isn’t, I’m done. Might as well quit. I like writing too much to want that to happen. Well, most days I like it too much. Some days I hate it and that’s normal, too.

The best way to become a better writer is to write. We all start with a certain amount of crap in our systems and you have to write the crap out. There are no shortcuts; just accept that a certain percentage of what you do is crap and keep working. Over time, with diligence, with luck, you’ll write less crap. Don’t worry about the doubts or the fears; we all have them and we all wrestle with them. Some days they win but, as you go on, those days become fewer. So keep at it. And remember. . .

Don’t look down.