Thursday, October 27, 2011

Terry Jones: “Furious Resonance”

 Riding trains can be boring. It can be fun, too and sometimes quite surprising. Earlier this year I was on a train bound for Birmingham, UK. As usual I was writing, minding my own business, when suddenly I heard a voice say, ”Are you writing a novel?” The owner of the voice was Terry Jones. Not THAT Terry Jones from Monty Python, but the editor, writer and former lecturer at Carlisle College Terry Jones

Terry Jones writes poetry and we made a pact then and there on the train. I was to buy his collection of poems ”Furious Resonance” that was just about to be published in the Poetry Salzburg Pamphlet series, whereas he was to buy the ones of my books that have been published in English. So far I don’t know if he has kept his promise, but I sure have kept mine and what a pleasure it was to read ”Furious Resonance”.

It says on the back of the book that the collection ”explores how the spaces of the past and the present, the personal and the political, the conscious and the unconscious, and the living and the dead re-sound across cultures and languages in sympathy or protest with each other.” Big words, but true as “Furious Resonance” is a remarkable collection of poetry. The twenty-four poems make you think, laugh and listen, because Terry Jones has a way with words. His way of using the English (and German and Xhosa!) language is unique, because this is an intelligent poet with something on his heart and mind and an own voice to express it.

Jones’ poetry flows easily. Notice for instance the almost hypnotical cadence of the long poem “Sun” which prevails despite the huge differences in voice and verse in the four parts of the poem. Or what about the imagery of the poem “Sleep-Talking”? An everyday observation made into art. My own favourite is, however, “Preservations”, an unsettling poem about the burning of dictionaries.

“Furious Resonance” is one of the best collections of poems I have read within recent years and to think; if I hadn’t been on that train going to Birmingham that day in May, I would probably never have read it! So the next time someone asks my why I don’t have a driver’s license, my answer is going to be: because I like good poetry!

Terry Jones: “Furious Resonance”, Poetry Salzburg Pamphlet Series (PSPS) 5, 2011
ISBN 978-3-901993-35-0
Four out of five stars: ****

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Harry Potter Festival 2011

 The 9th Harry Potter Festival took place here in Odense, Denmark on October 20-22, 2011. During the first seven years of the festival kids were able to attend Hogwarts, where they took classes in Transfiguration, Defence Against the Dark Arts, Charms, Potions, History of Magic, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures, the subjects being taught by McGonagall, Snape, Hagrid and the rest of the staff. Last year Hogwarts was closed because J. K. Rowling came to town and she needed the building for reading to children and having lunch with the notabilities of Odense. As Hogwarts is the core of the festival, we naturally expected Hogwarts to open again this year, but we were sorely disappointed. It seems that Odense City and Odense Library that finance the festival have decided to close Hogwarts for good and try other things instead. Bad decision, if you ask me!
 Thursday the festival took off with a ride on the Hogwarts Express. Kids aged 8 to 12 turned up in their school uniforms on platform 9 ¾ on Odense Station at 5.17 p.m. Here they boarded the old steam engine and at 5.43 p.m. they were off. My daughter was on the train and she wasn’t impressed. The kids were seated in three coaches, McGonagall, Mad-Eye Moody and Hagrid looking after them. After a thirty minutes ride, they got off at a small station and on a nearby parking lot they watched a short fire show, young people juggling and performing tricks with fire. Then it was back to the Hogwarts Expres for the return trip. The kids were handed apples and Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans and at some point the lights disappeared and the train came to a stand-still. The kids were told that they were under attack by Dementors, but shortly after the lights came back and the train started moving again. According to my daughter the trip wasn’t worth the money (£7.50 for a 75 minutes ride).
 On day two of the Harry Potter Festival, Odense City opened what they called Diagon Alley in the city centre. This was a new feature. In town we have an old alley called “Vintapper Straede” (Tapster Alley) so obviously it had to be made into Diagon Alley. The problem was, however, that Odense City clearly hadn’t read the books! The only thing Diagon Alley-related in the alley was Gringotts Wizarding Bank whereas the rest of the alley consisted of workshops where you could make your own owl, halloween pumpkin, wicker baskets etc. You could play chess, draw pictures or learn magic tricks at a Weasley Workshop and there was a fortune teller and someone doing face paint, too, but nothing that had to do with Diagon Alley. Madam Puddifoot’s Tea Salon was there as well as Scrivenshaft’s Quill Shop (in fact they shared the same building), but as far as I know they are not situated in Diagon Alley, but in Hogsmeade! Furthermore Madame Puddifoot’s Tea Salon was far from romantic; in fact it was just an empty shop with a few plastic tables and chairs. Very disappointing. Oh well, at least Gringotts was amazing. The goblins were really scary this year!
In the evening Odense City and the library had organised a Harry Potter Concert. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to go, but friends of mine who went were duly impressed. Like last year during Rowling’s visit, Odense Symphony Orchestra played Harry Potter music while characters from the books entertained the audience. This year the music consisted of John Williams’ “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone Suite”, Nicholas Hooper’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince Suite” and Patrick Doyle and John Williams’ “Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire Suite”. The suites were arranged by Jerry Brubaker and directed by Per-Otto Johansson and consisted of 23 pieces of music all in all. My own personal favourite, Nicholas Hooper’s “Fireworks”, was not among them, which I found quite odd as apart from “Hedwig’s Theme” it is the most popular and most recognisable of the Harry Potter music. The concert lasted from 5.01 p.m. to 6.31 p.m.
 Saturday was the big finale, the Harry Potter Market, where the city centre turned into a cross between Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade for four hours, starting at 11.01 a.m. As usual Professor Snape gave potion lessons in his dungeons in the old town monastery and Professor Sprout taught kids how to pot young mandrakes in Herbology class, the kids wearing earmuffs as the plants were screaming awfully! Of course Professor Sprout had to give lessons in Diagon Alley as Hogwarts was closed. In the nearby park you were able to play Quidditch, and in the town square you could visit different shops such as Gringotts Wizarding Bank, Ollivander’s, The Daily Prophet, Eeylops Owl Emporium, Madam Malkin's Robes for All Occasions, Quality Quidditch Supplies and Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. As usual only George was there. We have never had a Fred. The Leaky Cauldron was open as well, but this year I think they had joined forces with Honeydukes, as they were selling candy, too!
 Like last year Hagrid’s hut behind Hogwarts was occupied by a fortune teller while Hagrid was away, doing guided tours on the Hogwarts Express. And like last year The Weird Sisters gave a string of concerts while St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies took care of the ones who had done “The Hippogriff” a little too enthusiastically. You could also visit the Mirror of Erised, duel Death Eaters or join a lookalike contest. As something new you were able to participate in a Harry Potter clue hunt using GPS, but not many did that as you had to hand in your mobile phone as security!
 Usually our Mayor plays the part of Dumbledore and the international footballer Thomas Helveg is Madam Hooch while the rest of the Harry Potter characters are played by professional actors, magicians, opera singers and of course loads of volunteers. This year most of “the usual suspects” were gone, though, only Snape, Hagrid and Voldemort being the same as usual, whereas new people played the rest of the characters. Some had just switched characters, for instance the guy who used to be Krum was now Mad-Eye Moody. Of new characters this year were Dobby and Bellatrix Lestrange, Bellatrix being extremely good. Her psychotic laughter could be heard all over the city centre, sending chills down people’s spines!
 The Harry Potter Market is always a huge success as it is fun, action packed and cheap. For £2 (that’s about $3.75) you get 500 galleons in Gringotts and that is all that you need in order to try out everything, eat at The Leaky Cauldron and buy wands, brooms etc. More than 4,000 people visit the market each year and this success is now threatening the squash the festival. The Harry Potter shops are simply too small and the volunteers too few, so visitors spend most of their time standing in line, waiting to be served, which is very frustrating, especially to the kids. I hope Odense City and the library are going to have the courage to think big before the 10 year anniversary next year as I’m sure the festival is going to draw even more people then. It would be fairly easy to use even more of the city centre area and to involve more volunteers and please, please re-open Hogwarts! Let’s make this festival the best of its kind next year!

Monday, October 10, 2011


Pottermore is a Sony sponsored website by J. K. Rowling that is supposed to let people experience the world of Harry Potter. As I’m one of the lucky few (1 million!!) with early admission to Pottermore, I’ve been on for about six weeks now and I’ve come to know the website pretty well. I know it’s only the Beta version so far, so a lot of things are probably going to change and hopefully they will, as there is way too little to see and do on the site as it is right now.

The Pottermore website is interactive, which basically means that you can move through the seventeen chapters of “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone”. It is called “a virtual reading experience”, but you don’t have to read the books to be on Pottermore. You won’t understand much of what is going on, though, if you haven’t read the books in advance and sometimes you can’t even move on without knowing certain details from the books.

On the website each chapter is divided into two or more interactive “moments” where you are able to get background information on characters, places and objects, in fact it says that the site is going to provide “over 18,000 words of additional content including background details and settings”. I guess most people don’t realise that 18,000 words are less than ten pages, so it isn’t very much, but I must admit that what I’ve read so far has been funny and enlightening.

On Pottermore you are also able to locate and collect different objects, books and galleons that will be added to your trunk or bank account. You’ll get your own bank account at Gringotts as well as a wand at Olivander’s and you’ll get sorted when you reach Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. I’m a Ravenclaw, of course. Always have been, always will be, no matter how or where I’m sorted. At Hogwarts you are supposed to be able to brew potions and participate in duels, too, but the duel page is down and more often than not the potion page freezes. Tough luck.

The visual side of Pottermore is really nice although the choice of keeping everything dark and shadowy is a bit strange and alienating. You don’t really see any of the characters, so you feel pretty much alone in this artificial universe. The website is 3 dimensional, making it possible to get deep into the layers of the “moments” but there is not enough to do as each “moment” only has two or three things to read and/or collect and that is way too little. I managed to get through the entire first book within an hour! The shopping at Diagon Alley and the sorting at Hogwarts were far the best “moments” because you could spent more time there than in any other “moments”. Still, I don’t feel that Pottermore really caters to the many HP fans and the lack of sound, be it music or background noises, is a big mistake. It just feels…empty.

While on Pottermore you compete with the other houses for the House Cup by gaining points. You gain points from brewing potions, winning duels and finding hidden objects, but as the duels page is down and the potion page freezes, I’m only able get points by finding objects. There are about 41 hidden in the first book and each one gets you 1 point, so how some of my fellow Ravenclaw students have got 8,000 points already, I don’t know. I still haven’t reached 40!

Pottermore is supposed to be a place where Harry Potter fans meet, play, chat and hang out. You can add friends to your account – if you know their Pottermore usernames, that is. You don’t choose your username yourself, so you have to live with whatever the website chooses for you. I have one that makes me sound like a very old, wicked reptile, but at least it isn’t as ridiculous as some of the other names, I’ve encountered. Anyway, it’s difficult to add friends as you’re not supposed to tell your username to anyone, so in the end you add friends randomly. At least the 14 friends I have on Pottermore are total strangers who have probably added me for the same reason that I have added them: to have someone to duel with whenever the duel page is back! I’ve never chatted with any of them for sure.

Well, all in all Pottermore could become an interesting website once we are out of the Beta period. I hope to see a lot of improvement to the site by the end of October 2011 when registration will open to everyone. Hopefully the next book “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets” will then be accessible, too, as frankly, six weeks of “Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone” is getting on my nerves! By the time that registration opens to everyone I’m sure that Pottermore is going to launch the part of the website that reveals its true purpose: to sell e-book and audiobook versions of the seven Harry Potter novels. We haven’t seen that in the Beta version, but don’t be fooled. Selling books is what Pottermore is all about. Happy buying!


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