First Lines: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

After seven books and eight movies, for me, the Harry Potter saga was over and done with. The additional books — Quidditch through the Ages, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Tales of Beedle the Bard — aren’t essential in the grand scheme of things, and all those little updates J.K. Rowling released on Pottermore? I’d rather she didn’t. I don’t know what she’s trying to do with those after-the-fact updates, but it feels completely off to me. I mean, if Dumbledore being gay was such a big deal, why wasn’t that explicitly mentioned in the books?

Just leave it alone already.

Which brings us to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a new play by Jack Thorne based on an new original story by Rowling, Thorne and John Tiffany. The script used during the rehearsals of the play has been published as a “Special Rehearsal Edition”.

Going in, I was under the impression that the play would mostly be about Harry’s son going to Hogwarts, and having to deal with having a famous father. What I got was Harry, Ron and Hermione saving the day after Harry Jr. and Draco Jr. get their hands on a timeturner and use it to Make Things Right. And, of course, there are BIG FEELS and all ends well.

What I would have loved, was the story of young Albus Potter, of how he deals with his famous father’s legacy hanging over his head, and of his friendship with Scorpius Malfoy. That his father drops him off at the train, and that that would be the last we see of Old Harry, until he picks him up at the station when the play is done. But it was not to be. Of course not. You cannot call a thing Harry Potter and the Adjective of Something or Other and not stick Harry Potter in it. The fans would riot, even though it probably would have been better. But what do I know?

So, basically, the parts about young Potter and young Malfoy bromancing it up (get a room already!) were pretty good, the parts with the old gang less so (as they seemed out of character most of the time), and timeturners as a plot device still suck. Perhaps they will have fixed some issues in rehearsals, but we’ll have to wait until 2017, when the “Definitive Collectors Edition” of the script will be published, to find out.

All in all, to me Harry Potter and the Cursed Child felt like a mere aside in the Harry Potter cycle when I’m feeling generous, and like a money grab in the Harry Potter franchise when I’m not.

On a final note: now, if done right, I could totally get behind the upcoming five-part Harry Potter-prequel Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie-franchise, as it (supposedly) expands the Harry Potter-universe, while leaving The Boy Who Lived the hell alone. As Rowling has said that this is it for Harry, I’m feeling hopeful. The trailer looks mighty nice.

Book read
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Special Rehearsal Edition). Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany. A new Play by Jack Thorne.
First line
A busy and crowded station. Full of people trying to go somewhere. Amongst the hustle and bustle, two large cages rattle on top of two laden trolleys. They’re being pushed by two boys, JAMES POTTER and ALBUS POTTER, their mother, GINNY, follows after. A thirty-seven-year-old man, HARRY, has his daughter, LILY, on his shoulders.

ALBUS: Dad. He keeps saying it.

First Lines: Drie verschrikkelijke dagen

Drie verschrikkelijke dagen is a 1976 novel by Dutch author Guus Kuijer, who is mostly known for his books for younger readers. Nowadays, we would perhaps lump this book on the Young Adult pile: there’s this fifteen year old boy, who tries to impress this seventeen year old girl. So he steals his father’s car, which is the beginning of three terrible days, in which he learns a lot about growing up, his parents, relationships, and all that.

I first read this book years ago, when I was in secondary school, but that was over twenty years ago. Since then, I read some of Kuijers’ non-fiction (taking down Luther a notch or two, and about how the little gods of religious extremists have killed capital-G god), and his excellent Het boek van alle dingen, a children’s book that’s delightfully irreverent of religion.

This book is nothing like that. It’s clearly written for at teenagers, with A Big Message, and I daresay that it has aged quite well. Thematically, at least. Probably because Kuijers’ style remains a joy to read.

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Guus Kuijer — Drie verschrikkelijke dagen
First line
Ze huilde.

First Lines: The Fireman

If you want to talk about Joe Hill’s The Fireman, you’ll eventually have to acknowledge the elephant in the room: talking about The Fireman while not discussing his father’s work seems nearly impossible. As Hill said in an interview with Wired:

Two-thirds into writing the book, it suddenly hit me how much The Fireman parallels The Stand. There were some strong threads connecting the two. So, do you run from that? I think it’s more fun to embrace your influences than to try to bury them.

So the deaf/mute boy gets called Nick, the pregnant leading lady’s second name is Francis (“May I call you Frannie?”), the off-brand cola is called Nozz-A-La, hell, he event admits in the dedications: “for my father, from whom I stole all the rest.” (the title was Ray Bradbury’s working title for Fahrenheit 451). He even mimics his end-of-chapter “… but if only they knew what would happen next …” cliffhangers.

“But,” you ask, “Does it matter?”

“No,” I say. “No, it does not matter a bit.”

Well, apart from that cliffhanger thing, because that just drives nuts. But that’s about the only thing I can hold against it, as The Fireman is delightful: the world is going to hell in a flaming hand basket on behalf of some spore that causes people to spontaneously self-combust (Draco Incendia Trichophyton, but just Dragonscale to it’s friends), and Nurse Harper (late twenties, pregnant, slight Mary Poppins fixation) is having none of the gloom. After getting rid of her jackass husband, she joins a group of infectees hiding away at disused summer camp, where she falls in love with the titular fireman (British accent, bit of a potty-mouth, not really a fireman). And of course there are bad guys hunting everybody with the ‘Scale.

Besides that, The Fireman is also a fine exploration of what happens when you put a lot of people in a tight corner. And that is where I think the story really shines. The Stephen King stories I like best are those were it isn’t about the gore, but about the people. And this book has a bunch of pretty good people, evolving characters with their own quirks. And then there’s all those pop culture references (even J.K. Rowling gets thrown in front of the bus), those little sentences that make you want to quote the book to smithereens, and the occasional moment that makes you want to put the book on fire.

So getting back to the elephant: I didn’t mind it. The Fireman is not The Stand, it’s its own thing, with a bit of common ground. And, it doesn’t get in the way of the story. If you’re not a Constant Reader, you might not pick up on all those little links. And if you do, it’s like, “Hey, we’re in this together,” an inside joke. Also, as with NOS4R2, it’s just Hill having fun, not an attempt to merge fictional universes. But I guess I wouldn’t mind if it eventually come to that.

Bottom line: I liked this book. A lot. And if you’d ask me, I’d say you should totally read it. Highly recommended.

Book read
Joe Hill — The Fireman
First line
Harper Grayson had seen lots of people burn on TV, everyone had, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground behind the school.

First Lines: End of Watch

End of Watch is the final volume in Stephen King’s Bill Hodges-trilogy. Unlike Finders Keepers it directly links back to the events set out in Mr. Mercedes. In fact, the opening of this book gives us another angle on the Mercedes Killer’s rampage. Fast forward six years, where our favorite Ret. Det. Hodges, now diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, gets pulled into an investigation into a series of suicides. Along with Holly Gibney, his partner in their private eye agency Finders Keepers, they unveil the link: Brady Hartsfield, Mr. Mercedes himself. Despite being socked in the head with a sockful of ball-bearings, he still manages to manage mischief. Of course, in typical Stephen King fashion, in the end it sort of mostly ends well.

Where the first two parts of the trilogy were pretty straight-forward detective novels read like King was having fun with a genre piece. End of Watch throws in some supernatural twists and feels more like King doing what he does best. All in all, this was highly enjoyable.

Book read
Stephen King — End of Watch
First line
It’s always darkest before the dawn.

First Lines: Dolfje Weerwolfje / Volle maan

Ever since his 7th birthday, whenever there’s a full moon, little Dolfje turns into a werewolf. Dolfje Weerwolfje is the first in an ongoing series of children’s novels by Paul van Loon, which in Dolfje finds out that he is a werewolf, and gets to worry about a lot of things? What would happen his Father and Mother find out? What would happen if his neighbor, whose chickens he snatches when he gets very, very hungry, catches him? And how did he get to be a werewolf in the first place?

Dolfje

In the second book, Volle maan, Dolfje has an overnight trip with his class. What he didn’t realize — gasp! — is that it’s a full moon. While trying to prevent the truth from being discovered, Dolfje also has to deal with a hunter and a mysterious boy living in the woods. Luckily, Father and the rest of his family come to save the day.

The Dolfje Weerwolfje books are a lot of fun. With their short, staccato sentences, they’re clearly aimed at children, but who cares? They’re a hoot-and-a-half, and for my nighttime reading, I require little else. Once the next few installments return from their loan, I’ll put them on the top of the reading pile.

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Paul van Loon — Dolfje Weerwolfje
First line
Midden in de nacht schoot Dolfje overeind in bed.
Book read
Paul van Loon — Volle maan
First line
„Blijf staan jij!”