Monday, September 10, 2007

Alison Lurie on Harry Potter

Alison Lurie reviews the Harry Potter series in Pottery at The New York Review of Books. (Thanks to Educating Alice for the link.)

It's an interesting and thoughtful read; even if I didn't always agree with her. For example, I found this description of the four houses funny, but not entirely on target: "The student population of Hogwarts, like that of most high schools, is divided into jocks, brains, nice guys, and dangerous Goths." On the surface, amusing; but the Slytherins as Goths? Nope, doesn't work. But it did make me laugh.

Overall, I liked the essay because it approaches the series as the whole, also addresses the film, and avoids the now-tiresome "poor quality writing/ it's all about the marketing" arguments.

One final thing; Lurie, likes others, bemoans how the cast is getting "too old" for the roles they play.

Yes, it's true that sometimes actors play people their own age; but not always. It's not the only mark of a good, believable performance.

Yes, Ione Sky was playing her age in Say Anything; but John Cusack was already in his early 20s. Lindsay Lohan and Amanda Seyfriend played their ages in Mean Girls; but Rachel McAdams, playing Lohan's peer, is ten years older than Lohan. Tom Cruise was already 21 when he played teenagers in Risky Business and All the Right Moves. Three of the five Breakfast Club members were in their 20s. This game can, of course, go on and on and on.

The idea that the chronological age of the actor must be the same as the role they played, otherwise one must "suspend disbelief" is, to me, ridiculous. Case in point: Snape, as a classmate of James and Lily Potter, is 21 years older than Harry, so is in his 30s. I adore Alan Rickman. I firmly believe no one else could have played Snape half so well, and I cannot wait to see what he does with the role for the last two movies. Yet Rickman is 40 years older than the actor playing Harry Potter. I cannot recall any fuss being made about his being too old. Same for Gary Oldman, who is 30 years older than the kids rather than 21; David Thewlis is close to being the "right age" for a classmate of James Potter, but even he is 26 years older than Daniel Radcliffe, not 21.

In terms of the teenage cast aging and not being replaced: I find it remarkable that even the small roles haven't been recast. And the more interesting argument to me is not the "oh, the actor is too old!" but rather, how, now, does the actor's physical look match the person described in the book? Is that look still right? Because isn't that what Rickman, Oldman, and Thewlis were judged on -- not their ages, but did it "fit"? Was the performance believable? And, for the teens, the extra worry of, if a character is always described as short, yet the actor has become tall, what then?


THE AXED said...

Harry Potter - Friend or Foe of Christians?

The Illumined heart Orthodox Radio Program ( ) interviews, John Granger, a noted Harry Potter expert - Mr. Granger has traveled about the country speaking about these books, his predictions since they were being written, and their place in the canon of English Literature.

Click bellow to listen

Imani said...

Yes, I could never take the speculation on whether the actors were getting too old for their roles seriously. I'm tempted to think that it's the norm for actors to be much older than their roles in movies. Hardly something to be concerned about.

Anonymous said...

Like Imani said, most teenage characters in movies and TV shows are played by actors who are older. Not only do the older actors have more life experience they can bring to the role, the people who make the show tend to prefer actors over 18 because they're not bound by child labor laws. So older actors playing younger than their actual age is neither a new or radical thing. In fact, having teen characters played by actual teenagers is more radical.

As for the reason why very few of the actors have been replaced, it's because the Harry Potter fandom is rabidly and fanatically loyal to the books and the people who play the characters. They're still whining over the fact that Hermione's dress to the Yule Ball is pink instead of the blue described in the book and that's a very minor point. I would hate to see the reaction if one of the actors were replaced. I personally suspect that some of the actors would have been, and a few should have been, replaced if not for the loyalty of the fans.

Camille said...

Well said. Brilliant!
I cannot imagine anyone else but Radcliffe and Rickman and the rest in these roles. They are actors and they ACT! It took me quite a while to adjust to Gambon as the new Dumbledore.

Michele said...

If the actor has to be the same chronological age as the character they're playing, The Doctor is never going to appear on screen again, is he, given he's over 900 years old !

Nuts to such nonsense !!

Andromeda Jazmon said...

Interesting discussion! In my school library we are debating whether to shelve book VII in the middle school (6th grade - 8th) section or upstairs in the main library where lower school classes are held. (We keep the YA titles where the older kids can find them easily.) I think Book VII is really more appropriate for the older students but it is the youngest (K-1) kids that still clamor to check it out. The older kids have already read it over the summer. The little kids just like the size and weight of the tome. Our other librarian doesn't want to break up the series on the shelves. She says it's not really a YA title. What do you and your readers think?

Anonymous said...

cloudscome, why can't you put some copies in both sections?