Harry Potter and the Resonant Ending

By the end of Harry Potter, I think the series forgets why it’s special and becomes a collection of big dumb action setpieces.  That said, if I was redesigning the ending and HAD to keep Horcruxes, here’s how I’d set up the climax.

Hogwarts is a Horcrux.

It’s motivated. Voldemort has all the power and influence of Wizard Hitler, yet he’s still fixated on his high school.

It’s tactical. If it’s ever discovered, the demolition crew will have to contend with the nostalgia of literally every wizard in Great Britain.

It’s thematic. This is the only home Harry has ever loved, so forcing him to choose between defending it and destroying Voldemort would result in some fascinating and powerful drama.

It’s heartbreaking. Harry’s been our surrogate into the wizarding world, and we’ve spent seven years enjoying Hogwarts through his eyes. How poignant then to force him to destroy it, and with it, our (imaginary) chance of every enjoying it for ourselves?

Published in: on May 21, 2017 at 12:07 am  Leave a Comment  

1. Stand Bob Hoskins and Dustin Hoffman side by side.

2.  Choose which of them will play Captain Hook.

3.  Seriously, choose carefully.

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 1:02 pm  Leave a Comment  

Narratively, Jesus’ resurrection and ascension undermine the poignance of his crucifixion.

By that point in the story, we’ve seen miracles and heard sermons…we get it.  He’s Magical and Important.  Quit beating that (un)dead horse.

If I were writing the New Testament, I’d have Jesus die on the cross…and then go to Hell. “And he’s still there, suffering, for us. Now behave.”

Or I’d reveal that Jesus is immortal…the paragraph before he’s crucified. “He’s still nailed up there, to this day, suffering for us. Now behave.”

Published in: on March 17, 2014 at 1:00 pm  Leave a Comment  

1. “Oooh, a book of poetry!”

2.  Find one of its shortest poems.

3.  Judge.

Published in: on January 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

Forensic Stories

Forget Seinfeld–theme parks are unique in telling a type of story where nothing happens.

They feature neither dialogue nor action. There are no visible protagonists, objectives, or antagonists. The events began, escalated, and resolved long before we arrived.

These stories are forensic. They leave archeological clues that imply what happened, which lets us assemble the pieces together into a narrative.


Published in: on November 20, 2013 at 10:29 am  Leave a Comment  
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Dormant Protagonists

Every story, Frank Daniel theorizes, is about someone who wants something badly, but has trouble getting it.

That “someone” is called a protagonist, and what he wants is called an objective. The story ends when the protagonist either succeeds or fails to achieve the objective, and we’re satisfied with the result.

David Howard and Edward Mabley add that “protagonist and objective are so closely identified in our minds that it is impossible to consider one without the other.”

Their relationship is symbiotic because of us. We know Dorothy Gale because, in the Wizard of Oz, she wants to return to Kansas.

Can you blame her?

Who could blame her?

From her perspective, sure, returning to Kansas is important, but it’s only one of a billion goals she’ll have in her lifetime. Maybe she aspires to overturn Roe v. Wade. It’s not impossible–she’s from a red state. But if it’s true, we wouldn’t know it, because it doesn’t affect her objective, so we don’t even think to ask.

That’s how important the bond between the protagonist and the objective is. We like watching someone rise to a challenge so much that we’re willing to ignore everything else. The more ardently a protagonist pursues her objective, the more invested we are in the story.

In the Wizard of Oz, the protagonist and her objective are inextricable. If Dorothy isn’t in the story, we can’t root for her to get back to Kansas, and if Dorothy doesn’t care about getting back to Kansas, then we don’t care either, and there’s no reason to watch the movie.

But the link between a protagonist and his objective doesn’t have to be so straightforward. While a protagonist cannot exist without an objective, an objective can exist without its protagonist.

Not for too long, of course. If the protagonist is missing for most of the story, then he doesn’t really care about achieving his objective, and we’re likely to get bored. But if a protagonist goes dormant, another character can pursue the objective in his place.

There are three effective ways of transferring the objective between a dormant protagonist and his surrogate. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 5:11 pm  Leave a Comment  
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How I Became a Critic

In September of 1990, I was five, and my nurturing, lovely grandma was babysitting me.

To pass the time, we decided to see a movie. The Witches was playing, and according to the newspaper, it was a children’s movie starring Anjelica Huston. There was something for both of us!  Everyone would go home happy!


In the first scene of the film, a witch kidnaps a little girl and traps her in a painting in her own living room. The little girl spends the rest of her life in the painting, unable to move or speak, and then she dies.

So I walked out. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 4:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Purpose of Art

We are weird.

You can’t blame us. We grew up in the Universe—a physical place with nearly nothing physical in it, and no physical boundaries to contain what little there is. It’s a sanctuary for life and love, whose doors are also open to death and suffering. It is interwoven with equal amounts of meaning and futility.

In short, the Universe is no place for small children. Unfortunately, it’s our home, and although we’ve tried our best, it was only a matter of time before we started acting out.

In a Short History of Nearly Everything, Bill Bryson observes some of the mixed messages we’ve learned from our upbringing.

“We don’t know which arrived first, a world that contained [Sir Isaac Newton’s] Principia or one that had no dodos, but we do know that they happened at more or less the same time. You would be hard pressed, I would submit, to find a better pairing of occurrences to illustrate the divine and felonious nature of the human being—a species of organism that is capable of unpicking the deepest secrets of the heavens while at the same time pounding into extinction, for no purpose at all, a creature that never did any of us any harm and wasn’t even remotely capable of understanding what we were doing to it as we did it.”

Like I said, we’re weird.

But we do have one thing common to our nature:  self-interest.  We see ourselves in inanimate objects. We model our supernatural characters, like aliens and monsters and gods, after us.  We’re so offended to have apes in our family tree that we’re actually debating whether to willfully miseducate our children.

We’re obsessed with ourselves.  And that is why we have art. (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 3:57 pm  Leave a Comment  


Squidface, v., To cast a brilliant actor in a role that’s not only insulting, but also doesn’t require a brilliant actor.

Ex., “John Hurt was squidfaced in the Black CauldronHellboy, V for Vendetta, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and the Harry Potter series.”

The word is derived from the Pirates of the Caribbean sequels, which strengthened Bill Nighy’s nuanced, charismatic, honest performance by hiding his face behind a fucking squid.

Stanislavski would be proud.

Stanislavski would be proud.

Published in: on March 19, 2013 at 3:24 pm  Leave a Comment