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The Harry Potter question: Can too much of a franchise be bad?

Hey there fellow Britishfolk (or is it Britons?) Did you know it’s 20 years since the first Harry Potter book was published?

If you didn’t, I don’t know how you’ve managed to avoid every bookshop in the country showing massive signs with another brand new version of Philosopher’s Stone and the signs saying something like “20 years of Harry Potter!”

Now, on the surface this isn’t too bad. It’s a famous franchise which is celebrating a milestone. Here in Hampshire there’s a lot of promotion about it 200 years since Jane Austen died in Winchester. Star Wars recently celebrated 40 years this May and Doctor Who and James Bond had their half century celebrations in 2013 and 2012. So, why I am singling out Harry Potter, which keep in mind I do like a lot?

Why? Because we literally went through this “Pottermania” last year. Thanks to The Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, 2016 saw a massive Potter resurgence (well, bigger than usual. Pottermania never really dies in Britain). So, we’re doing it again this year? I know it’s 20 years and that’s worth celebrating, but wouldn’t this year be a better year to release the script/play/book/whatever Cursed Child is and also release the first in what Warner Brothers are saying will be the first of five (FIVE!?) movies only tangentially linked with Harry Potter? Ah, but then we wouldn’t get two years worth of merchandising. How much merchandising is there? Well, not only can you buy the original Fantastic Beasts book (which isn’t actually a story), you can also buy the movie, the screenplay of the movie and the reprinted version of the original book.

Voldemort has just learnt his three year old edition of Philosopher’s Stone is now outdated and he has to buy another one.

It would be hypocritical of me to complain about new editions of Harry Potter without acknowledging that yes, there have been new editions of Skulduggery Pleasant released this year due to the release of Resurrection (which was awesome). My editions are mostly second edition. However, compare the amount of editions Skulduggery Pleasant has to the amount of editions Harry Potter has. Obviously Harry Potter is a much bigger franchise and is older, but there isn’t a picture book version of the first two Skulduggery books is there? Or a play made for money which was published as a book for further money which was released nine years after the story ended? Resurrection was released three years after The Dying of the Light with Derek Landy stating he had clear plans for Phase Two, which makes sense if you’ve read the books. I don’t think JK Rowling had plans for a Harry Potter Phase Two, hence why the “untold eighth story” came nine years after Deathly Hallows was published in the same year a spin off movie was released. Do you know why I don’t think she had plans for a Phase Two? Because Harry Potter is about a boy wizard who goes to school and stays there for seven years whilst stopping the rise of Voldemort. Seven years, seven books. You make another book not about Harry Potter at school or stopping Voldemort, I’m sorry, it’s not Harry Potter.

Incidentally, I’d like to know if there’s any Skulduggerymania in Ireland the same way there’s Pottermania here. You know, giant banners and a section of a bookshop dedicated to nothing but it?

I understand a multi billion pound franchise needs merchandise. Trust me, I think the same thing about some of the Star Wars merchandise as I do Harry Potter merchandise. But even then, George Lucas always had a nine movie plan, hence the new trilogy. Trust me, I will start saying what I’m saying here about Star Wars if there’s movies made after Episode 9. Are Rogue One and the upcoming Anthology movies ways to make more money of a recognisable franchise? Yes, they are. However, Rogue One bridged the gap between Episode III and IV, adding to both movies and was clearly linked to Star Wars by having the plot be about how the Rebel Alliance got the plans to the Death Star. In short, it’s made to make the other films better.

Fantastic Beasts is set a hundred years before the events of Harry Potter and has characters not even mentioned in the movies with a plot that has nothing to do with the movies. It’s like if Disney made a movie about Qui-Gon Jinn’s aunt and her adventures fighting a wampa, who hasn’t got anything to do with Star Wars. Guess what? Neither does Newt Scamander to Harry Potter. I know the movies will link with the Harry Potter movies eventually, but do we need FIVE movies to do it? Again, if Disney make five movies about Qui-Gon’s aunt, I’ll start saying the same things I’m saying here.

Whaddya mean there’s FOUR more on the way!?

I honestly feel like the franchise is being milked. It’s been six years since the last movie and ten since the last book. Suddenly there’s a mass resurgence of merchandise and new material after it’s stopped being relevant. Again, Star Wars was planned as nine movies and designed as an anthology series, and Skulduggery Pleasant only ended three years ago, meaning the new book this year just felt like a delayed sequel. Other great franchises such as Doctor Who, James Bond and comic book universes can constantly get renewed and changed. Harry Potter is one franchise with one story. I don’t care about what happens before or after- Harry Potter is about Harry Potter.

I just feel like enough is enough. I love the books, I love the movies. I didn’t grow up with them since 1997 for obvious reasons that I wasn’t born but they’ve been a constant part of my childhood since around 2006 and I have fond memories of them. I’m just getting annoyed at the constant new material and attempts to make more out of seven books and eight movies. I mean, JK Rowling’s richer than the Queen, I don’t think she needs more money and I feel like she’s stuck on what made her famous. If this doesn’t stop, Harry Potter will just become another franchise people will grow tired of. I’m getting tired of it, and I’m British, so if I say I’m tired of Harry Potter I’ll be exiled. Indeed, it’s the law to have at least one copy of a Harry Potter book in every house in Britain, next to the tea set and the complete Monty Python, as decreed by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Only joking about all that, our laws aren’t that dumb.

It has to be at least two copies.

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The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part 3

It’s finally time to finish off the guide to my all time favourite book series before the Resurrection on the first of June. The final three books of the series are the longest and most complex in the series, but they never forget to be fun, witty and all kinds of awesome. Let’s start off with my favourite book in the series-

  • Kingdom of the Wicked

This is it. I’ve teased about my favourite Skulduggery Pleasant for a while but now I can finally discuss this epic story in as much detail as I can without spoiling much. First of all- that title. Secondly- that cover (actually all the covers are epic). This is the longest book in the series but it’s also the most fast paced and plot heavy. The mere premise of the book just grips you, and the opening prologue (it’s so epic it deserves a prologue) will raise so many questions that you will want answered immediately. I’m not going to reveal the plot as going into too much detail will ruin it, but the characters are fantastic, with an amazing “villain”(he doesn’t really count as one in my eyes), brilliant action sequences (remember how I said Death Bringer’s ending was nuts? This ending is even more nuts), and a captivating plot with twist after twist after twist. Try reading that final chapter and not want to read the next book straight away. I really wish one day to truly delve into this awesome book spoilers and all, but for now, I’ll just say it’s the definitive Skulduggery book in my eyes.

  • Last Stand of Dead Men

I’m using the hardback cover image for this one as it’s the one I have, but both the original covers and reprinted covers I’ve been using for the rest of them are brilliant. War has come to the world of Skulduggery Pleasant, and things get really big really quickly. Whilst this book is the one that strays the most from the detective premise of the series (it’s essentially Sherlock Series 4 in that regard) it is still an incredible read, with a realistic depiction of war (I won’t spoil the details but the seeds are sown from Dark Days), powerful character moments and, as expected by this point, a massive, massive revelation which changes everything, and I do mean everything. This is probably the most serious book, and it does get very dark at points, but it’s never too dark. The ending of the book is a direct lead in to the next. Which brings me to…

  • The Dying of the Light

The ninth, and until June 1st the final book in the series, this book takes aspects and elements of every single book and combines them into one glorious whole. It’s hard to reveal much without spoilers, but this book is truly epic, capturing everything great about the series. It’s the first book since Death Bringer to be laugh out loud hilarious and the action scenes are as usual fantastic. After nine books, the characters had grown and changed and reading what seemed like the permanent end to the series was just mesmerising. Everything the series is great at is here: characters, action, humour and a great Doctor Who reference near the end. All in all, a fantastic end.

Except it’s not. As we all learnt, Skulduggery Pleasant: Resurrection is coming out on the 1st of June this year, hence these posts. I don’t think I need to explain how excited I am for this book, and along with Doctor Who Series 10, The Last Jedi and Thor: Ragnarok it is one of my most anticipated nerd events happening this year. I did also really like Derek Landy’s other series, Demon Road, and his awesome Tenth Doctor short story, and I hope he writes a full Doctor Who story some day, whether it’s on TV or a book.

Now for the big question: do I want a film? If done right, of course. It all depends on getting the right people (David Tennant as Skulduggery and Guillermo del Toro directing for me) and making sure Derek Landy has as much creative involvement as possible. Honestly, I feel like if an adaptation has to be done, then go for the Sherlock approach- three 90 minute movies for three weeks on TV, with each trilogy forming a season. It would be less bloated than a full blown film franchise and honestly the best way I’d want to experience Skulduggery Pleasant outside of the books. But until the inevitable adaptation comes, we’ve always got the books.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part 2

It’s that time of month again (well, not really but my Thirteenth Doctor post and my Berlin school trip has somewhat delayed this post) where I dive into the brilliant world of Skulduggery Pleasant in anticipation of Resurrection (otherwise known as SPX). We now have a cover, which is awesome

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Best desktop wallpaper ever!

But first, a look back at the original books. The original trilogy focused on introducing the characters and the world, with the story arc being the Faceless Ones, ancient gods who seek to return to the real world. With the tone of the books set, this next set of books focused on the Necromancers, sorcerers who used another kind of magic different from the type used by Skulduggery. It’s also worth saying (as it’s not really a spoiler if you’ve read the first book and I forgot to mention it last time) that Stephanie has changed her name to Valkyrie due to plot specific reasons. With that aside, let’s go straight into it-

  • Dark Days

dark-days

The title foreshadows the darker tone that the books will take after this book. There’ll still be comedy, but the stories get more complex and emotional. This one is essentially a James Bond thriller, as a bunch of villains from the previous books team up to try and take down the Sanctuary (the magic government) whilst Skulduggery, Valkyrie and the rest of the gang try to stop them. There is so much happening here but it’s never convoluted or boring. It’s hard to discuss where this book goes without delving into spoilers, but it resolves major plot points whilst setting the stage for the rest of the books.

My personal favourite of this trilogy, Dark Days is an action packed (seriously, it’s got so much action) and more mature book than the first three. The highlights include the villain (my personal favourite from the series) major revelations for the characters, a true shaking of the status quo and an epic car chase in the middle. It truly is one of the finest chapters in the saga, with many many hilarious moments-

“That is an awful plan. On a scale of one to ten – the Trojan War being a ten and General Custer verus all those Indians being a one – your plan is a zero. I don’t think it is a plan at all. I think it’s just a series of happenings that are, to be honest, unlikely to follow on from each other in the way in which everyone’s probably hoping.”

  • Mortal Coil

mortal-coil

“You’re under arrest for multiple counts of murder. You have the right to not much at all, really. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”

The Goblet of Fire of Skulduggery Pleasant in that it’s where they start getting long. Actually, aside from that there’s not much similarity. Once again discussing without spoilers is difficult, but the book focuses on the ramifications of the events in Dark Days whilst also setting up events in the future books. This is also the point where it’s abundantly clear where the series is headed-like any good series, it transcends its premise (skeleton detective with magic) and becomes something more, whilst still sticking to what readers want. The plot is essentially Valkyrie dealing with a major twist in Dark Days and an army of spectres being unleashed on the world, which is about all I can say without spoiling.

The Necromancers come into the forefront here, and what makes Derek Landy’s take on the Necromancers great is that he doesn’t go with the cliched “all necromancers are evil”. Rather, the necromancers are all different: some are good, others not so much, whilst others are in the middle. There’s also a brilliant subplot that mocks Twilight. By this point, the characters have all evolved and changed, and it’s only going to get more epic.

  • Death Bringer

death-bringer

Remember how I said in Part One that the Skulduggery/Vengous exchange wasn’t the funniest exchange in the series? Well, that’s because this book contains the funniest exchange. I won’t post the full exchange but it does involve the line “The sparrow flies south for winter”. Trust me, it makes sense in context. A major honourable mention for funniest moment goes to the “Detective Inspector Me” sequence-

“I’m Detective Inspector Me. Unusual name, I know. My family were incredibly
narcissistic. I’m lucky I escaped with any degree of humility at all, to be honest, but then I’ve always managed to exceed expectations. You are Kenny Dunne, are you not?”
“I am.”
“Just a few questions for you, Mr Dunne. Or Kenny. Can I call you Kenny? I feel we’ve become friends these past few seconds. Can I call you Kenny?”
“Sure,” Kenny said, slightly baffled.
“Thank you. Thank you very much. It’s important you feel comfortable around me, Kenny. It’s important we build up a level of trust. That way I’ll catch you completely unprepared when I suddenly accuse you of murder.”

If you thought The Faceless Ones was epic, then brace yourselves as this is even more bonkers than usual. War has sprung between the Necromancers and the Sanctuary and caught in the middle is Skulduggery and Valkyrie. A word of advice- do NOT look up what happens in this book beyond the bare basics. There is a twist here that is so unexpected and out of nowhere which shakes up the very foundations of the series. Despite this being, in my eyes, the most character driven and dark novel, it’s still hilarious, action packed (I seriously want to see how a certain fight is done if the series ever makes the leap to the big screen) and the third act of the book is probably the best two hundred pages that I’ve ever read. However, it’s STILL not my favourite book of the series.

Overall, I feel like these three books are the high point of the saga. The first three books are awesome but quite simple and straightforward mystery/action fantasy stories, and the next three I’ll discuss next month, but these three just sum up why I love this series- they’re funny, heartfelt, entertaining and complex.

The Skulduggery Pleasant Guide: Part One

On July 29th 2016, I was in Iceland, tired from a plane flight that was only five hours but felt a lot longer. My tiredness subsided the instant I read the news- a tenth Skulduggery Pleasant book was coming in 2017. My favourite book series was back with a bang.

skulduggery-shrine

My “Skulduggery Shrine” on my shelf. I don’t actually have the first one as I read that at junior school and fell in love with the series.

So, with a new book on the horizon, naturally the nine previous books are going to be republished with new covers which look awesome. Unfortunately/fortunately, I have the equally awesome older editions with one hardback. The first three books, otherwise known as the Faceless Ones trilogy, were re-released a few days ago, so I felt like it was time to discuss them this month, with the next two months covering the other two trilogies, At the end of my third post, I’ll sum up why I love this series and my hopes for a movie adaptation. These posts are designed to persuade anyone who hasn’t read these books yet to try them, as this year is a pretty good year to start.

  • Book One: Skulduggery Pleasant

skull dude

Much like Harry Potter, the books start off simple. This is an incredibly fun read that pulls the reader into a gripping mystery from the first page. Here’s the first paragraph:

“Gordon Edgley’s death came as a shock to everyone -not least himself. One moment he was in his study, seven words into the twenty-fifth sentence of the final chapter of his new book, And the Darkness Rained Upon Them, and the next he was dead. A tragic loss, his mind echoed numbly as he slipped away.”

What a hilarious, dark and clever way to start. Gordon Edgley’s death fuels the mystery of the first book. Through this simple hook the rest of the characters are introduced. The main character of the series is Stephanie Edgley, Gordon’s niece who inherits his house and who gets embroiled into the mysterious world of magic. There are major revelations regarding her character that I will not spoil. The other main character is of course the Skeleton Detective himself, Skulduggery Pleasant. He’s a fedora wearing, gun toting, trench coat donning, snarky, magic using detective who just happens to be dead and a walking skeleton. He is one of my all time favourite characters in the whole of fiction. Everything I love about a character gets thrown into Skulduggery Pleasant; the cool clothes, the snarky nature and the antihero aspect.

There are other characters, but I won’t go too in depth into them as it’s best to discover for yourselves the great characters. The plot is fast paced and exciting, with twists and turns. I mentioned in a previous post how Derek Landy’s writing appeals to me, as it’s very cinematic and reading it really feels like a movie is playing in your head. Which kind of makes a movie adaptation pointless, but it won’t stop Hollywood trying. I don’t to reveal everything about the book, but I can assure you it is a thrill from start to finish.

  • Book Two: Playing with Fire

playing-with-fire

This is the book where all the elements of the series really start coming together. We get more characters, such as the awesome Billy Ray Sanguine, and many aspects of this book are continued through to the ninth (it makes me so happy not saying “last book”). This time around, the stakes are not just doubled, but tripled, as the heroes have to battle three villains. Somehow, it’s even more bonkers, fun and carefully plotted than the last. It’s my favourite of the original trilogy, and probably my second favourite of the lot (I shall reveal my favourite in due course).

It’s also side-splittingly funny. One of the best aspects of the series is the constant witty banter and funny lines. Even as the books get longer and darker, Derek Landy never forgets to add humour, but knows how to restrain it for character and emotion when necessary. Playing With Fire is one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, with this legendary exchange between Skulduggery and the villain, Vengous, being only one of the hilarious moments in the book. And it’s still not the funniest scene in the series:

‘”Are you going to shoot me?” Vengeous sneered. “I wouldn’t be surprised. What would a thing like you know about honor? Only a heathen would bring a gun to a sword fight.”

“And only a moron would bring a sword to a gunfight.”

This book remains one of the highpoints of the series for me. The characters, humour, action, plot and thrills all combined together to make this book the one that convinced me to keep reading the rest.

  • Book Three: The Faceless Ones

the-faceless-ones

Not to be confused with the Doctor Who story of the same name (Derek Landy is a Whovian and I’m hoping that one day he will write an episode. Or two. Or three.) The third book brings the plot elements of the previous two together to create another great story. This time, a massive conspiracy causes Skulduggery to come into blows with a criminal gang determined to destroy the world. This, along with Death Bringer and The Dying of the Light, are the trilogy closers and they are all great, but we’ll get to those later.

The trilogies are organised very well. The first book introduces the new elements of the world and the story arc, the second one ups the stakes while the third closes it with a big explosive finale. The Faceless Ones is one of the more serious books, with it being the finale to the initial arc, but there are still fantastic moments of humour like this-

“Then I reckon we got ourselves a good old-fashioned standoff.”
Nobody moved, or said anything, for the next few moments.
“Old-fashioned standoffs are mighty borin”

This book changed the series. No longer were the stories standalone action/detective plots but they were now part of a much larger narrative. Once you finish this book you will immediately want to move onto the next, where the Necromancers rise…

But that’s for next month, where the next batch of new covers will be released. I hope these posts will help people to discover these awesome, awesome books. I feel like they’re the perfect blend of young adult (a genre I usually avoid completely) and younger children, although like Harry Potter they do get darker and more mature as they go on.

The Harry Potter read-athon

At the beginning of this year, I compared two of my favourite movie franchises- Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings. I then said I hadn’t read either book series in full. Well, as of last week that has changed completely. While my reaction to the Lord of the Rings books was… interesting, I looked forward to reading the Harry Potter books. Having tackled a massive thousand page book with about half its pages dedicated to landscape, I could easily handle seven Harry Potter books. So, I slowly and patiently made my way through every book in the series (excluding Cursed Child, because from what I’ve heard… eek) and finally finished Deathly Hallows last week. My Harry Potter experience is now complete. I don’t need any stage plays or prequel films to satisfy me, although I want to watch Fantastic Beasts purely because the reviews have said Eddie Redmayne would make a good Doctor, so I want to see if I agree.

Anyway, onto the books. While I adore the movies and always will, having actually read the books in full now, I can totally see where people are coming from when they say they prefer the books. Starting from Goblet of Fire, the books cram so much detail and information in to the point where the movies have to cut out whole chapters and subplots.

I’m now going to go through each book and their respective movie, offering my thoughts on both-

  • Philosopher’s Stone

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The first movie is a childhood favourite and one of the few books I originally read in full. Reading it as a fifteen year old made the kid friendly writing stand out, but at the same time the writing is quite sophisticated. No wonder everyone fell in love with the Harry Potter world. Nothing is really left out except for a Potions challenge near the end of the book which Hermione solves while finding the Philosopher’s Stone. Not much to say about the first story really: it’s a simple plot that is enhanced by the later ones.

sorcerers-stone-lol-no

  • Chamber of Secrets

chamber-of-secrets

My favourite Harry Potter film for numerous reasons: it was my first one, there’s a giant spider, there’s a giant snake and I love the whole mystery and heightened sense of peril that it has. People say it’s the least important part of the whole saga, but I disagree. It establishes wizard racism, introduces Dobby, sets up the Horcruxes and Griffinndor’s sword and the fact that Harry is a Parselmouth. This is more so in the book, where Dobby is in every book after aside from Prisoner of Azkaban. The book is practically identical to the movie, with the only major event cut being a Deathday Party for Nearly Headless Nick. This is still my favourite film, but my favourite book is coming soon…

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  •  Prisoner of Azkaban

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Ah yes, the one with the completely terrifying Dementors. My second favourite film in the franchise, and the point where the films got darker, both literally and metaphorically. The book however, is much more in tone with the first two. As a result, I feel like I slightly prefer the darker tone the film took. There’s the introduction of two of the best characters in the series, Sirius and Lupin, and my favourite monsters from Harry Potter, the Dementors. Everything about these creatures is fantastic and the way the book describes them is just eerie. There’s once again not much difference between the two versions, except for a subplot revolving around Harry’s Firebolt which was left out.

prisoner-of-azkaban

  • Goblet of Fire

 

goblet-of-fire

This is my favourite book in the series, and the point where the movies and books really started to shift. Some awesome stuff left out of the film include: a subplot with Hermione’s attempts to campaign for house elf rights, a giant sphinx in the third task, Blast Ended Skrewts, a subplot with Rita Skeeter and a whole new character called Ludo Bagman who was a judge at the Triwizard Tournament and really really should have been played by Steven Fry if the character was in the movie.

The whole plot revolving Voldemort’s return was also covered in more detail, with a massive conspiracy revolving around Barty Crouch. The reveal that Barty Crouch Jr was in fact alive and orchestrating the whole thing was a huge twist in the book, with a whole chapter dedicated to his plan. Keeping this in would have meant more David Tennant, and that’s never a bad thing. While I still enjoy the movie, I can see why many people feel that this is where the movies began to fall apart.

  • Order of the Phoenix

order-of-teh-phoeniz

 

Funnily enough this book was actually the one it took me the quickest to read, as I read it while helping a local theatre backstage as well as a train trip to London. It’s because of this that I didn’t actually feel like the book was too slow as I originally thought. However, I still feel a lot of the book could have been trimmed down, and the movie did a very good job of condensing it down. Umbridge is easily the most punchable and hateable character in the whole of fiction. Voldemort, Davros, Darth Vader, Sauron and the Joker combined are still less evil. There’s a lot of great themes in the story, with the Ministry of Magic determined to not accept Voldemort’s return and Harry’s struggle to spread the truth.

The movie used to be my least favourite, however I’ve come to the conclusion that there is a lot of good in it. All the padding from the book (endless house cleaning, teen angst, lots of exposition and more angst) is trimmed down considerably, with all the cool stuff left in. If there’s one major gripe I still have it’s that I wished the final battle between Dunbledore’s Army and the Death Eaters was as awesome as it was in the book.

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  • Half-Blood Prince

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Easily the biggest shift between the book and the movie to me. The movie is very dark both literally and metaphorically and acts more like a prequel to the Deathly Hallows movies. The book however, feels more self contained because of the details the movie left out. The major cuts all involved Voldemort’s past and the revelations about the Horcruxes, which were explained in more detail. There was also a massive battle at the end of the book, but that was cut because of the similarity with the climax of Deathly Hallows.

Everything the movie kept in was still great though. The final third in particular is great, with the shocking event that you probably know. Despite this, the title itself is left ambiguous. In the book it was revealed that Snape’s mother had the surname Prince, which explains the name he gave himself. This still wasn’t the best reveal though, as the Half Blood Prince plot seemed sidelined in favour of the Slughorn, Voldemort and Draco storylines. Harry Potter and the Room of Requirements would have been more appropriate.

half-blood-pringce

  • Deathly Hallows 1 & 2

deathly-hallows

One book, two movies. The final Harry Potter story is spellbinding (tee hee) and ties up all the loose ends. The book and first movie is very slow, but as soon as the first Horcrux is destroyed, things get bonkers and awesome. The final chapters of the book are fantastic, with the Battle of Hogwarts, Snape’s story and the final battle being some of the best moments of the franchise. There is so much detail in the book that the movies had to leave out.

However, despite all this, the movies were still very good in my opinion. They’re action packed, emotional and ties the story up well. Most of the best aspects of the book were kept in and the escalation was magnificant. A fitting end to one of my favourite movie franchises.

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So that was my Harry Potter experience. Having now read all the books I can see why some people would prefer them, and I did really enjoy them. Unlike Lord of the Rings where I prefer one version over the other, I enjoy both versions of Harry Potter equally. I just wish JK Rowling would stop doing extra additions to the universe (FIVE Fantastic Beasts films?) and leave the story where it is, as it is amazing.

What kind of a reader am I?

Recently I finished the Lord of the Rings books after being inspired to finally give them a go after enjoying the movies so much. Honestly, having now read it, I’ve got to admit- I don’t get it.

lotr

Now this post won’t be about me going on a rant about the books and how I prefer the movies, even though I do. Rather, it’s going to be about why certain books appeal to me and others don’t. It’s not the genre I can’t get into, it’s the way it’s written. I did a post on books three years ago but to be honest, that post didn’t really go in depth enough about what kind of a reader I am, and having now read more books and experienced different genres, I think I can say what books appeal to me.

To me, a book needs to entertain. As a very visual person who loves films and television, books, without visual images, need to be able to make me feel like I’m seeing the characters do what’s happening in the story. That’s one problem I had with the Lord of the Rings books- everything was too vague. The parts I really liked such as Sam versus Shelob and Eowyn versus the Witch King worked because I could picture what was happening in my mind due to the descriptions. Helm’s Deep on the other hand was literally an afterthought in the book and I couldn’t picture anything happening except people whacking orcs with swords, as opposed to the awesome battle in the movie.

Part of the reason I like Derek Landy’s writing is the fact he writes his books like a movie script. Actions are described vividly and in detail, and characters are described well but still vague enough for me to imagine people while reading them (I know Skulduggery is supposed to be Irish and have a smooth, velvety voice, but David Tennant is too perfect to not be cast). This is the same effect I had while re-reading the first Harry Potter book recently. J.K. Rowling really goes in depth with the world and characters but still keeps things flowing and even though I’ve seen the movies countless times, the way the book described things meant I could have another picture in my mind.

I’m not saying books need to describe EVERYTHING- that’s partly why I gave up on the Harry Potter books later and just listened to the audio books and watched the films. That said though, now I’ve done Lord of the Rings, Order of the Phoenix will be a walk in the park, and I do want to read them again. Books are a style of writing where anything can happen, and what the author describes can be interpreted in different ways by different people. Books that just waffle on and on without having anything happen physically in the story really annoy me because then how am I supposed to imagine it in my head? Do I just imagine Harry standing there thinking? My favourite books always have something happening in the story on every page- just like a movie.

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Another book I read after loving the movie was Jurassic Park. I ended up enjoying that book too even though I adore the movie. Part of the reason was I had the characters in my head based on the movie, which I found really helpful. To me, if I can’t picture a character in my head, then the author has failed in making me care. I remember reading so many books in junior school where the characters were literally amorphous blobs in both what they looked like and personality. It’s why if I haven’t seen a movie beforehand of a book, then I need descriptions of the characters in the book to allow me to imagine people there. Obviously, if the books are based on something like the Doctor Who books or if I’ve seen something beforehand such as Jurassic Park, it’s easy, but in an original book, failure to set up visual images of characters in my head means I’m probably going to give up.

So what about genre? I obviously like sci-fi and fantasy, but just because those are the genres I read doesn’t mean I won’t try anything else. At school thankfully the books we read are getting better. I really liked To Kill a Mockingbird in Year 9, and in Year 10 we’re doing Jekyll and Hyde, and again I really like it, convincing me that 19th century gothic literature is awesome. Despite these books being really old, the writing is still vivid enough for me to have the same enjoyment while I read them as I do reading modern books.

So ultimately what it boils down to is the fact that a book needs to paint a picture in my mind. I am definitely a visual reader and need things to connect to while reading. That’s why some books appeal to me, while others don’t, even if I love the movies they’re based on.

Three things I love about Chandler’s Ford

It’s 26 days till Christmas! So, to compensate for my lack of writing, I’m going to say what I love about my home town. (Or I’m just doing it for my pocket money). So, here we go…

1. The library

Easily the best thing about Chandler’s Ford is the library. I love going there and read, whether it’s the film section or a fictional science fiction novel (99% of the time it’s Doctor Who). There are also a wide range of audio books, and I spent many hours when I was younger listening to Stephen Fry reading Harry Potter (not personally of course, though I don’t think my mum would complain). If there was one thing that needs to be improved, it’s a wider array of film and television books. Cooking has more shelves than film, and for me, the selection of film isn’t enough. But apart from that it’s a great place to visit.

Chandler's Ford library is good.

Chandler’s Ford library is good.

Chandler's Ford library in Chandler's Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire.

Chandler’s Ford library in Chandler’s Ford, Eastleigh, Hampshire.

2. The woods

I’ve already discussed this in a previous post, but Chandler’s Ford is full of woodland places. There are a couple of local woods such as Ramalley Copse and Flexford Wood, as well as the Hiltingbury lakes. These woods are great for walking and relaxing, and they are varied. Some are more spacious and remote, while others are full of twisty pathways. Whichever one, they’re always great to explore. My favourite is Hocombe Mead, which is a wood located in Hiltingbury full of sculptures. There are guided tours there and it leads out into some local shops, like newsagents Andersons and a coffee shop called Bay Leaves Larder.

Sculptures on the trunk of a fallen oak tree in Hocombe Mead in Chandler's Ford.

Sculptures on the trunk of a fallen oak tree in Hocombe Mead in Chandler’s Ford.

Enjoying a guided walk in Hocombe Mead.

Enjoying a guided walk in Hocombe Mead.

3. Local shops

I often walk to the local area to buy sweets, newspapers or restock on cheese. What’s great about this is that there are a variety of shops, even if I only go to the newsagents. Further up Chandler’s Ford is a small array of shops with a relatively new sweet shop, and a pizza place, with the Central Precinct only a traffic light away, which has fish and chips, coffee shop and more. There is a huge variety and it means it is sometimes worth just staying in Chandler’s Ford rather than go out.

Our local Fish & Chips shop at the Central Precinct in Chandler's Ford.

Our local Fish & Chips shop at the Central Precinct in Chandler’s Ford.

Kandy Kingdom - sweet shop near where I live in Chandler's Ford.

Kandy Kingdom – sweet shop near where I live in Chandler’s Ford.

 

So those are three things I love about Chandler’s Ford. What do you like doing in it?

Guardians of the Galaxy review

I just got back from a camping holiday on the Isle of Wight with my friend and his family.

During that time we saw the newest superhero movie from Marvel Studios, Guardians of the Galaxy. So here’s my spoiler- free review –

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Plot of the movie

The whole film revolves around a bunch of oddball characters which include the thief Star-Lord, the genetically engineered assassin Gamora, a talking raccoon named Rocket and his tree buddy Groot (whose only vocabulary is “I am Groot”) and Drax the Destroyer, who is seeking vengeance after his family was killed. All five of these characters end up breaking out of jail and try to figure out the significance of a mysterious orb which the villain, Ronan the Accuser, is after. Many space battles, plot twists, comic book references and hilarious comedy ensues.

Characters

The best thing about this movie are the central characters. Each one of them are unique and interesting with their own quirks. If there’s one thing I love more than team-ups, it’s team-ups where the team are so different from each other and each have their own personal gains. The Avengers had characters which were different from each other, but they all wanted to save the world and stop Loki. In this movie, the characters don’t care about what happens to the orb. Rocket and Groot want to make a quick bounty, Star-Lord has been sent to steal the orb by his boss, Gamora is after the orb as she has been hired by the Collector (briefly seen in Thor 2) to get it and Drax just wants revenge. It’s great seeing these characters work together to get out of the situations and work together to fight Ronan.

These character interactions not only make for great dramatic scenes, but brilliant character driven comedy. I won’t give away the jokes but the funniest characters are Rocket, Star-Lord and Drax, even though Drax is the most serious character with the darkest backstory. You’ll see how he’s funny if you watch the movie.

guardians of the galaxy

The movie does a brilliant job of establishing a tone. It’s not deadly serious like the X-Men movies nor is it a comedy like Monty Python. In fact the opening of the film is very different from the rest of the movie and has a very serious tone, but the rest of the movie doesn’t forget that one of their characters is a raccoon with a machine gun and provides many silly yet exciting moments while having genuinely great dramatic moments (despite only saying three words, Groot adds a lot of emotion into the film).

Conclusion

The galaxy in this movie is brilliantly realised. Every planet and location is unique and the monsters and aliens are very diverse. It didn’t feel like a comic book superhero movie, as these characters don’t start off as heroes, but it feels like a fun and original sci-fi movie, which are some of my favourite kinds of movie.

Overall this movie is superb. Even if you haven’t read a single Marvel comic or seen any Marvel movies, it is still stand alone with its own story. The only parts of the movie with references to the wider Marvel universe are the scene with Thanos, who is going to be the big bad of the whole Marvel Cinematic Universe and whose inclusion into this movie was his second appearance after a small cameo in the credits of the Avengers. The other scene is a scene where the Collector explains to the heroes the significance of the orb and that the orb, the Cosmic Cube from the Avengers and the Ether from Thor 2 are three of the six Infinity Gems needed to take control of the universe (the six items which Thanos sent Loki and Ronan to collect for him). Even so, the movie still functions as a standalone action movie with fantastically diverse characters and an intriguing story. It makes me confident that Marvel can now do anything and makes me more excited for Avengers: Age of Ultron next year.

Why does science fiction work so well?

Of all the genres in entertainment, science fiction is the one genre which I love the most. It just seems the most interesting and cool genre. I do like comedy and action, but science fiction appeals to me in many ways. So I want to know, why does it work so well? And why do I love it so much?

So, first of all, what is science fiction? Well, science fiction is a genre which uses science-based theories which are not confirmed by real science, such as aliens, time travel, spacecrafts and robots, to tell stories. These can be set in the real world or on alien planets or in pretty much anything.

So that’s a basic summary of what science fiction is. What famous examples are there? Well, for books, you have War of the Worlds and the Time Machine (both of which I know I need to read), and for films, well: Star Wars, ET, Star Trek and Jurassic Park just to name a few. And for television you have Doctor Who and Star Trek (again). All of these deal with science at their core,but are varied in their topics. There are two kinds of science fiction: hard sci-fi, which tries to be as accurate to science as possible, and soft sci-fi, which uses whatever they want to create a story. These will have aliens, spacecrafts, time travel and pretty much what ever they want, like most science fiction.

This leaves me to wonder – what makes so many people interested in science fiction? Maybe it’s the appeal of alien life and other worlds. If aliens are nice, great! But if they’re not… someone call the Doctor. But while there is no proof of aliens, the reason why they are often used for science fiction is because they COULD exist.

That’s why science fiction is so great. It uses things which could exist and makes them real. But hard science fiction also works. These stories use real science to try and explain things. There is no explanation as to how spaceships in Star Wars works, but if Yoda says…

yoda

Ah, you see, spaceships are powered by the power of FUEL! Typically from Shell and BP! Fuel is used to power spacecrafts they are!

… then the universe is more realistic. If  science is used to explain something, even if it’s impossible, then the story turns into hard science fiction. In Doctor Who, an explanation is given about how the TARDIS works, but it’s still a time traveling police box. In a film like Jurassic Park, real science which actually exists is used to explain the plot, making it seem more realistic. Cloning is real, even if it’s proved unsuccessful.

But perhaps the real craft of why sci-fi works is that it poses questions and themes which can’t work in other genres. What if robots could think? Does that make them human? Is cloning dinosaurs a good thing? Is it messing with nature? Is changing the past worth it, just so people don’t need to die? Is it possible to change your future? Is it dangerous and is it messing with fate? These deep questions appear in science fiction and can’t work in other genres. Dramas may have deep emotions and complex characters, but they can’t talk about the pros and cons of time travel. This is the real greatness behind science fiction. It isn’t just spaceships and aliens blowing things up, but it’s about addressing ideas which could one day be real.

But… sometimes it IS just about spaceships and aliens blowing things up.

People I want to meet

Isn’t meeting someone you’ve always wanted to meet just so cool? Not just celebrities, but people from the past or fictional characters like Batman? Imagine how cool it would be to meet Batman!

But today, I’m going to be talking about people who I’ve always wanted to meet. And luckily, I’ve met a few! OK, only two. Technically three. I’ve met Steve Backshall, who is the presenter of the CBBC show Deadly 60 (which I used to be obsessed with. Think my Doctor Who obsession, but even bigger).

I met Steve Backshall from Deadly 60

I met him in a big Deadly 60 convention in a Southampton park when I was in Year 4, where hundreds of fans were watching him have a talk and hold a snapping turtle. Since I was at the back, I only saw glimpses of him, but it still counts.

Steve Backshall with Aligator Snapping Turtle: Image by David Farquhar via Flickr.

Steve Backshall holding an alligator snapping turtle: Image by David Farquhar via Flickr.

I met Percy Jackson’s creator Rick Riordan

The second person was Rick Riordan, author of the Percy Jackson novels, which are some of my favourite books. I met him in Winchester, in his only talk in Britain in 2010 and I got my favourite book from the series, the Titan’s Curse, signed. I actually talked to him as he signed the book.

I met writer Rick Riordan in Winchester in 2010.
I met writer Rick Riordan in Winchester in 2010.

I met founding father of Singapore, Lee Kwan Yew

However my third meeting wasn’t planned at all… In 2009, I was in Singapore with my mum eating in an outdoor restaurant when she poked me and told me look at an old man jogging with two other men. It turned out he was Lee Kuan Yew, the former Prime Minister of Singapore. He had bodyguards with him in case he got attacked. He is sometimes referred to as the founding father of Singapore. Even though bumping into Mr Lee was not planned, I still count it as a meeting.

Lee Kwan Yew, Father of Singapore.

Lee Kwan Yew, Wikipedia image

So what about people I want to meet? Well, I’d like to meet any living Doctor (including John Hurt, though that would be tough, because he is busy making lots of films). I have a framed photo with all the Doctors’ signatures from my grandparents as my 13th birthday present, but to actually meet them, especially Matt Smith, would be amazing.

I have signatures of all original 11 Doctors for my 13th birthday from my grandparents!

I have signatures of all original 11 Doctors for my 13th birthday from my grandparents!

I would also like to see, maybe not talk to, a member of the Royal Family. How many people can say that they’ve had a proper conversation with the Queen? OK, quite a lot of people, but it would still be awesome! As for historical figures, my picks would be Richard III (to finally clarify the prince mystery), Charles Darwin (to have a nice argument about nature with) and William Shakespeare (to find out if he actually wrote his plays). As for fictional characters, the Doctor, Batman, Yoda and Jack Skellington would all be awesome to meet.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III - image via Wikipedia.

The earliest surviving portrait of Richard III – image via Wikipedia.

So what about you? What people have you met and want to meet? If you could meet someone from the past or from a fictional world, who would it be?

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