Monday, 31 July 2017

Cursed Child: One Year On.

One year ago, the whole dynamic of Harry Potter - the place where I find so much literary and emotional comfort - changed drastically for me. For a lot of people, this hasn't been the case; but when I cracked open my copy of the rehearsal edition of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, I was drowning in a sea of excitment and a tidal wave of fear for what would happen next. While I disagree with this being the "eighth story" as was so poorly marketed, Cursed Child was to me the next step in the story. I was fully satisfied with the original series, and had resigned myself to fanfiction, yet at the same time I always wanted more from this world from J.K. Rowling's head. Cursed Child, being said next step left me in a state of immense uncertainty as I waited for publication. Then, when I finally got my copy at a midnight release party on 31st July, I delved in and haven't looked back since. 

So many people I know, both casually and through work loathe Cursed Child, and I can understand why that would be the case: It bends previous canon in countless ways, there's obliteration of characters that we should have seen e.g., Hugo Granger-Weasley, Teddy Lupin, even Neville, and there's a part of the plot that whether or not you have an alternative theory that's more plausible to back it up, is ridiculously stupid. But to me, someone who in a lot of respects needed to hear what was in Cursed Child, I couldn't have been more elated at the final product. Like anyone, I have my qualms (specifically the Hugo issue), but I will always defend this scriptbook/play with every fibre of my being.

There were two occasions in which I was spoiled on Cursed Child's plot, but predominantly on the major plot twist that turns everything pear-shaped, via a comment on Pottermore's Instagram account. I didn't want to believe what I read was true, because what was said was unreasonable beyond measure, but a part of me did, and I had great concerns that it would ruin my read. Cursed Child was the first time I had ever had the opportunity to have the same experience as every other Harry Potter fan from the 2000s when new books were released, and it was tainted 3 days into the play being in previews. Nevertheless, I am so thankful in hindsight that that wasn't a hindrance to my enjoyment, and although I disagree with the plot point that is established there, everything else that unfolded in the play made up for that rather large hiccup.

It's very strange to think that a year ago (at the time of writing this), I was still shielding myself from everything Potter-related on the Internet, desperate to not be hit by anymore spoilers than I already had by the time of mid-July. Now I have all the answers, most of which were just what I needed, and though I'll always always want more Potter, as it currently stands I'm fairly content. In the years between all the books and films being within easy reach, I was still constantly wanting more - especially about the 19 years in between Flaw in the Plan and Nineteen Years Later. Naturally, the route here was into fan fiction, which I inhaled and then wrote myself too. Fan fiction continues to provide wholly valid possibilties for what happened in those years even if they are fan-written. Whilst I continue to return to fan fiction on a daily basis, I don't feel as much of a need now for it to fill the void that was there for so many years, because for me at least, Cursed Child did that. Of course there are still major, major gaps in the story and I wonder if we'll ever know what happened in those first few years after the Battle of Hogwarts down to the bone, but for now, I'm fairly content with what we have been provided with.

Not everybody likes Cursed Child, and I understand why one wouldn't. The play relies massively on the events of Goblet of Fire rather than carving a wholly new tale. Goblet of Fire is to me the second worst book in the series, but Cursed Child made me appreciate it more. Appreciation seemed to be a running theme that came out of the eighth story for me, and whilst people do loathe Cursed Child, I took so much away from it. There are characters now that I appreciate more than ever. Take Draco Malfoy, for example: I hated him with an intense rage before reading Cursed Child, but now, knowing his bleak future and other sides to his character, I feel so much pain for him, to the point where I've now written several Drastoria fanfics that I could never have done before. 

Furthermore, Cursed Child made me finally understand and respect the relationship between Harry and Ginny. A keen Romione shipper, and having grown up on the films then the books, Harry and Ginny's relationship felt fitting, but never sat right in my eyes. The chemistry that Ron and Hermione have, or Arthur and Molly, or Remus and Tonks or Sirius (Wolfstar all the way) had wasn't apparent... until now. The way Jack Thorne wrote the relationship between Harry and Ginny, presumably under the direction of J.K. Rowling herself made me realise why they are so perfect for each other in a way that I'd never noticed before. It was like the invisibility cloak had been torn away and suddenly all made sense. Now I'd say that I'm a proud shipper; it will never be to the extent of my dear Romione, but I value the bond that they have and am content to read fanficton about it. (If you hadn't gathered already, I read a lot of fanfiction: for the best Hinny, check out My Dear Professor McGonagall.)

But lastly, Cursed Child provided me with a character I could relate to in a way that I'd not even found with Hermione Granger - my fictional doppleganger. Scorpius Malfoy: nerdy, awkward, clumsy, and anxious. When I read Scorpius' character, I see everything that I was as a young student entering high school. It's painful to read at times, but the connection I have with him is comforting. Malfoy felt like the first bold, pure depiction of someone with severe anxiety - which I have dealt with for years, and to have that in words, in the Potter universe, and watch that character not conquere it, but learn to manage it, was so important to me, and continues to be so. I'd like to say that I'm a Hermione Granger: exceptionally high-strung, bushy hair, studious, and rigorous in academic practice. But I also see so much of myself in Scorpius, who in a way is so similar to Hermione. I know others who have felt the same, but Scorpius was everything I never expected and yet needed him to be, and I couldn't be more grateful for that. 

You may not like it. You may loathe it. And that's okay. But for some of us Cursed Child means more than words can purely explain, and I'm so pleased to have had a year of these characters reunited with us once again, for is it ever truly over?

Sunday, 23 July 2017

10 Harry Potter Spells I Wish I Could Perform

We're now almost a year on from the publication of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: Parts One and Two, and for me at least, it was quite the game-changer. Of course, my love for Harry Potter is still clearly going strong, but if anything, Cursed Child made it even more intense than it was before. Potter-wise, a lot has evolved and changed for me in the past year. One year ago, I was frantically theorising what could possibly happen in the play/scriptbook, and now I work for MuggleNet, and theorising is a large part of my job as a creative editorialist. Recently I've been seeing a lot of these kind of listicles going around the blogosphere, and of course, one fellow member of staff did this one recently, and it got me thinking about what spells I personally would want to be able to cast more than any other. Obviously, I'd want to be able to do everything possible, but for the sake of time, here are my top ten favourites...

1. Accio - I can't remember a time when I've known where my keys are for more than a week. I am forever loosing them. This would be perfect for those occasions. And also just for the simple things - being able to summon my textbooks and laptop when I'm heading to a lesson, or just for gathering belongings when I'm in a hurry.

2. Undetectable Extension Charm - I have a massive storage problem. This would have also come in incredibly handy on countless occasions such as packing for holidays or sleepovers with my friends.


Related image

4. Stupefy - I think we all know a few people who we've wanted to cast a stupefying curse on...

5. Apparition charm - The amount of money I could save if I had the power to apparate... Obviously, the thought of getting splinched is horrifying, but so long as there's always some Dittany in my bag, I'll be fine. 

6. Reparo - Clumsiness comes naturally to me, in particular tripping over things and causing breakages. This is a spell that if I could bring magic into this mundane muggle world, would be right up my arsenal.

Image result for harry potter spells gif

7. Muffliato - for private conversations that one doesn't wish to be overheard, or simply for those moments when I want to listen to music and my favourite podcasts without fear of disturbing my neighbours.

8. Bedazzling Hex - According to the original books, this gives the illusion of a chameleon-like effect on objects and people, which personally I'd find interesting for times when I don't have the freedom to clean up clutter, or when I want to be a fly-on-the-wall without owning an Invisibility Cloak. Also, I imagine this would give an impression similar to that of the Demiguise - my favourite creature from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

9. Bluebell Flames Charm - Hermione uses these occasionally throughout the series, first in Philosopher's Stone and then repeatedly whilst the trio are camping in order to have waterproof flames that they can carry around. I highly doubt that I'd ever really need this unless, say, walking in the rain at night, but the notion of it and being able to create these flames is something that if I was a witch I'd want to conduct. 

10. Crinus Muto - Only ever used in the Harry Potter Lego Video Games, anything that was used in those was approved by J.K. Rowling and ergo is canon. This spell gives one the ability to change the colour and style of their hair with a wave of the wand, something that I, a person whom has wanted to be ginger for years would desperately love to give a try. 

Image result for harry potter magic gif
I think it's safe to say that we all have a spell or two that, if our Hogwarts letters arrived right now, we'd all love to perform. What would yours be?

Sunday, 16 July 2017

"Green e-yd Monster": Othello at Shakespeare's Globe

Thursday 20th April 2017 Matinee Performance.
Sam Wanamaker Theatre.

"Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! 'Tis the green e-yd monster which doth mock. The meat it feeds upon." - Act 3 Scene 3

We'd heard from a fellow classmate that the production took some "modern risks, such as Katy Perry," beforehand. At the time, I wasn't too sure about how to respond to that, as my goal in going to see Othello at Shakespeare's Globe was to gain knowledge of my Shakespeare A Level text ahead of final exams in the manner it would have originally been performed. Nevertheless, this is a production that if it ever returned to the Globe, I'd be in the queue rushing to buy multiple tickets - that's how good it was.

I don't have the greatest track record with live theatre. Having attended a lot as a young child, as I entered high school that drifted into nothing, and before Othello, the last theatre production I'd seen was the tour of the West End production of The Lion King back in 2013. 

Like any theatrical production, Shakespeare is meant to be performed, not read. And Othello is a play where the clues are in the staging. There is staging interally and externally of the play, and seeing it live was to me essential to understanding Iago's influence. Also, whilst Shakespeare was a master of the written and spoken word, there's a serious lack of stage directions within his plays. How a line is interpreted can differ from one reader to another, which again is why it needs to be seen not read. My opinions may change when I see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child next month, but in my eighteen years, I don't think I've ever witnessed something as hauntingly beautiful as the opening scene of Othello. From the second that candles lowered from the ceiling and were gradually extinguished to a lulling choral rendition of Video Games by Lara Del Ray, I knew that I would love this production. Such an opening - starting at the end of the play to the bodies of Othello and Desdemona lying on a bloody bed - initially threw me off entirely,  and I was stunned by how McDougal chose to cut straight to the chase and start at the end in a cyclical structure. Nevertheless, it was a powerful decision. One of the beauties of Othello is that due to the audience's consistent alliance alongisde Iago, dramatic irony means we always know of the destruction that will inevitable come under Iago's tyranny. Here, claustrophobia stiffled into suffocation, and as an audience we were smothered with the painful awareness of what a brutal conclusion would transpire.

Admittedly the most fitting phrase to describe this production hails to the Guardian's review, calling this saga a "candlelit tragedy," and nothing could be more perfect. Several scenes, particularly following the pivotal turning point of  Act 3 Scene 3, were enacted with the characters moving across the stage with Elizabethan-style candlesticks, allowing the flames to dance and burn along with their own ignited rage. Once again, spending these 2.5 hours in the darkness only lit by chandeliers and small flames added to the claustrophobic atmosphere, but also strikingly symbolised Othello's final motives in killing Desdemona; a woman who is sees as simultaneously villainous and pure in his dubious line of "put out the light, then put out the light."

McDougal's interpretation of the play certainly blurred the lines of acceptability in Elizabethan times and modern losses of stigma in a questionable manner, effectively diluting some of the important motifs and themes of Othello. The two key cases of casting which impacted on these ideas was in how Emilia was portrayed by a black woman as well as Michael Cassio was now Michelle Cassio, and the relationship between Cassio and courtesean Bianca was LGBTQ+. These depictions kept the play current, and appropriately fitted our modern day, increasingly liberal society in a beautiful orchestration. However, they also detracted from the essential point of Othello. For example; how does it seem like a plausible motive for Iago to cause so much destruction on the grounds of Othello's race when he is married to a black woman? And how has a woman made it into such high realms of power in Venetian society, when as Brabantio remarks, women are seen as "maiden[s] never bold"? One can argue that Ellen McDougal's direction of Othello was far more feminist and diverse than the original play that Shakespeare wrote, but that simultaneously raises issues of detracting from some of the key themes of the play. These most notably include gender politics, double standards in men and women (particularly in the grounds of Cassio and Bianca). 

Overall, the company and cast behind this production brought Othello back to life like a reignited match to a candle - slow-burning and exceptionally dark (both literally and figuratively). Each and every performance perfectly aligned with the characters Shakespeare had so carefully crafted, but through modern elements added a harrowing glimpse at how the events which transpire in Elizabethan Venice and Cyprus do have the means of still occuring in a present day world where racism, sexism and homophobia still run deep in some veins of society. As I said before, I couldn't be more glad for academic as well as theatrical purposes, that I got to experience this play, not only through being in the room, but through being in a seat where occasionally characters were so close and even spoke to those in our row. If McDougal's production ever returns to the Globe or the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, I'm sure I won't be the only avid Shakespeare lover who rushes to purchase tickets.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Oh, the Places:: Oxford

19th November 2016: Merely the word "Oxford" triggers images of history, dusty old books that smell of intellect, and Harry Potter, to me. It had always been a place that I'd visit someday but not quite yet. I know quite a few people who had always discussed "Oxbridge" applications: my childhood best friend's life goal when we were 10 was to get into Oxford, and since then I've met a lot of people who have applied. But it was never for me. To me, the nature of those universities appears as toxic, with people living in bubbles that come with a slight culture shock upon graduating. It was an atmsophere that I'd never wanted to be a part of, and still didn't when I discovered Oxford Brookes University. 

The degree I intend to commence in September isn't done in every University, and I'm very picky when it also comes to course content and location. On the page, this University had the course, it had the location, but in reality coming away from an open day, it was possibly the most poorly co-ordinated event I had ever seen, and my mum and I came away feeling massively disheartened. It was my fifth choice on UCAS, but as soon as the offer came in I declined it. 

Where we'd intended to spend 5 hours at the open day, we got in 90 minutes. Suddenly left with hours ahead of us before our train (that's what you get for booking advanced tickets), we decided to head into the city centre, and it was every charmingly pastiche cliche you could possibly imagine it to be.

Oxford University Press' bookshop. 

The cutest, tiniest alumni merchandise shop, which was also bursting with Harry Potter merchandise too. The owner and I accidentally ended up having a 15 minute conversation about Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which I had seen a few days earlier at the London premiere.

What must be one of my favourite photos ever: Bodleian Library and the surrounding colleges of Oxford University.

Oh, the Places is a series of posts in which I recap through photographs my travels, both expected and surprising across countries, cities, and seas. Consider these field notes from a wonderlust-filled student desperate to see more of the world than her English city. 

Thursday, 6 July 2017

REVIEW: This Careless Life by Rachel McIntyre

This Careless LifeLiv, Hetty, Jez and Duffy are auditioning for a new reality TV show. Producer Cassandra has warned them the process might be tough, but they are excited and keen to get on with things, confident that they can handle anything. But when Cass produces a photo of a body, everyone realises that they may have something to hide after all…

Editing Note: Thanks to Egmont for sending me This Careless Life for review. 

I have decided, in the planning of this review, that the easiest way of getting through this is through Alan Rickman (RIP) GIFs, because frankly they just seem to summarise my opinions on this book.

I first read Rachel McIntyre's debut, Me and Mr J, two years ago prior to publication. It wasn't exactly my cup of tea, but it was a fascinating read and I praised it generously in my review for pushing the boundaries in YA. I had high hopes, however, these did not transcend into her second novel, The #1 Rule for Girls, which felt like conformation to the same poorly written YA that seems to be consistently published nowadays. With one hit and one miss, I had partially given up on McIntyre, but then This Careless Life arrived through the letterbox... I was in the midst of exams and didn't care to read something that I knew I wouldn't like, but then a friend informed me that this was a retelling of J.B. Priestley's An Inspector Calls, and suddenly I had to read this. Two weeks into the summer holidays, and this was the third book of my break I picked up.

Sadly, I was right about it being a disappointment. 

Image result for alan rickman sigh gif

Maybe this would be a perfectly average, or okay book if it wasn't for the fact that it is intended as a retelling of An Inspector Calls, but all my main issues with this book stem from the poor parallels to the wonderful play. If you look over statistics, An Inspector Calls is one of the most well-loved texts studied for GCSE English Literature - a subject in which texts studied are usually loathed by students. Of course I am biased and will take the antithesis opinion to this as an enthused English Literature student, but the point here is that where so many students who don't like reading despise this subject, they love Priestley's play. That is why to me, it shouldn't be touched unless you're going to do it well, and that is where This Careless Life failed.

An Inspector Calls is a masterpiece of shocks, twists, and psychological thrill, if you're going to retell it, this is exactly how it shouldn't be done. This Careless Life feels like an attempt to "dumb down" a classic so that young audiences "get it," when the reality is that this does not need simplification. An attempt to dilute the reality of the play into something that conforms to what is assumed to be the stereotypical teenage ideology and mentality within this book is highly problematic, and is far from a credit to the play that presumably the premise and idea for this novel branched from. In this case, the apple fell far, far from the tree of literature.

One hugely disappointing element is the potential that this could have had to be great. Every ingredient needed to make an excellent story lay on the blurb, but the contents didn't reflect that summary in the slightest. All the magic that could've been brought into this was completely gone. Cass simulatenously was and wasn't the Inspector. The secrets the four characters actually had were nothing to fuss over and a waste of time, where actually, if you're going to contribute to one person's suicide they would have been far more significant than driving past them and breaking down (this is an example of just one of the four catalysts presumably leading up to the mystery within the novel). And on top of this, the Inspector of sorts actively went and told the characters of the girl using different names, and planted stories into their mouths - the beauty of the Inspector in Priestley's play is that each character works out their connection to the woman in the photo by themselves, and never reveals to them that it's the same woman. They just work it out on their own. Everything that could've made this genuinely compelling was stripped and instead we got a poorly written rebelling that didn't really need to exist.

Image result for alan rickman sigh gif

I hate to be sharp, shrew, and bitter, but as someone who adores the printed word and literature to the point where I am about to start a degree in it, I cannot emphasise how - for lack of a better phrase - distasteful This Careless Life is in relation to the play it is hideously attempting to immitate. If you want a story that has you gripped and enthralled from start to finish, and reeling for days after, then do yourself a favour, and buy a copy of An Inspector Calls, not this.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

REVIEW: The Black Key (Lone City #3)

The Black Key (The Lone City, #3)Violet and the Society of the Black Key are preparing to launch an attack on the royalty, and Violet has a crucial role to play. She must lead the surrogates as they infiltrate the Auction and break down the walls of the Lone City. But with her sister, Hazel, imprisoned in the palace of the Lake, Violet is torn. In order to save her sister, she must abandon her cause and her friends and return to the Jewel.

For a conclusion I've been waiting over a year for, and two years if we're counting the whole trilogy, I feel kind of deflated by this ending. True, I got everything I wanted in the ending, but it just didn't feel as strong as The Jewel or The White Rose

That being said, this conclusion peaks where so many ends to other YA dystopia/fantasy trilogies fail. Violet doesn't have a 'Chosen One' complex: Until the very end, she's adamant that this isn't just about her, no matter how much she has to go it alone, she's aware that it isn't all down to her, and for once - unlike so many YA protagonists - accepts the help, and accepts that they're ALL 'chosen ones.' The romance didn't dominate over the plot, and instead flowed subtly throughout the story, meaning that the relationship between Violet and Ash never felt forced, and came off as natural. As well as this, there was SO much death, and each one had it's brutal impact. I like that Ewing chose to kill off so many characters throughout the course of the book and not just in a one-chapter-battle; it helped to build tension, but also strengthened the cause that the Black Key was fighting for. 

Once again, Ewing is excellent at character development. Each character, no matter their prominence or lack thereof has a rich backstory which as it unfolds makes me as a reader feel both hatred and adoration for each and every character. It's something impressive that fails to often come across in YA, and is certainly something that I'll miss now that this trilogy is over.

But on the whole, this felt a little rushed. I could have done with a little less unneeded description and a little more plot development. Whilst this is the final book in the trilogy, The Black Key doesn't even hit 300 pages, and the ending, in particular the final overthrowing of the royalty felt hasty. It was crammed into less than 80 pages, and where there was a lot of 'connecting to the elements,' and exposition those descriptions were wasted words where we needed more description of what was actually happening.

Furthermore, most of the events that occured in The Black Key were highly predictable. I guessed most of the plot twists that were coming the second I closed The White Rose, and so nothing that was intentionally there to enthrall the reader came as a shock to me. No matter how much I appreciate this book concluding the trilogy, it didn't have nearly as much of the twisted flare that I so adored in The Jewel and The White Rose, but rather, as previously mentioned, felt like a hasty publication to conform to a "one-a-year" trilogy.

I'm glad I read this trilogy - I loved it, and have loved the wait of anticipating every new novel and novella. It's a refreshing spin on the typical tropes of royalty, bureaucracy, and political corruption in a YA categorised series. Each book is wonderful in it's own right, but this final one just fell a little weaker in comparison to The Jewel and The White Rose. Nevertheless, I'll miss it, and am curious to see where Amy Ewing's writing takes her next.