For most people, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban — the third Harry Potter book — is their favorite. It’s the last of the books in the series to be tightly written (and edited), but the first to really explore its themes in a complex manner. And the climax is marvelous.

I didn’t really care for the first two Harry Potter films (though we had fun attending the second film in costume); I found them loud and garish and, well, annoying.

I’m happy to report that the third film adaptation is a refreshing change. The overall presentation is darker — the visuals and the sets, I mean. There’s more of an emphasis on character and story and less of an emphasis on gee-whiz special effects (though Buckbeak the hippogriff is amazing, the best CGI character I’ve seen yet: on a par with Gollum). There’s far, far less Quidditch, and no mention at all of the House Cup. This is the best film of the three so far, just as the third book is the best in the series.

In fact, from its middle, this film is nearly perfect. And it’s nearly a perfect adaptation. I actually had tears in my eyes as I watched my favorite scenes unfold, scenes I’d imagined in my mind for years, scenes created on screen in pitch perfect accuracy (unlike Peter Jackson’s mutilation of The Lord of the Rings).

My favorite part of the book/film is when Harry learns (and then uses) the Patronus charm. The Patronus is designed to ward the Dementors, the terrifying guards of Azkaban, the wizarding prison. Dementors suck joy, happiness, and hope — and eventually the soul — from their victims. They’ve caused trouble for Harry, and he wants a way to protect himself.

A wizard creates a Patronus by concentrating on the happiest moment of his life. This strong, positive emotion wards him from the despair and hopelessness represented by the Dementors.

How would my Patronus manifest itself? Which moment in my life was happiest?

In many ways, I feel as if Kris and I are trying to recreate happy moments from our childhood with this new home. If we follow our plan, the downstairs living area will feel very much like your grandparents’ house might have thirty years ago.

The furniture and painting Kris received when her grandmother died will be featured prominently around the house. We recently purchased a kitchen stool exactly like the one in my grandparents’ kitchen (only ours is yellow and theirs was pink); we have a heavy black rotary-dial telephone like my grandparents had; we’ll be hanging mirrors on the walls — as the current owners have — and one of the mirrors is one that hung on my parents’ bedroom wall when I was growing up; and so on.

I can’t keep away from the new house. I drive past it whenever I travel to or from Portland (which I’ve done several times this past week). Yesterday, before the movie, we stopped for a visit. The annual neighborhood garage sale was in progress, so we were able to see the stuff John and Mary Jo (and Gerry) don’t plan to keep.

“Hey!” I said, pointing at an old leather-covered chair. “They’re selling my chair.” When we first toured the house, I fell in love with this chair, which had been sitting in the kitchen. It’s old, and a bit rickety, but it’s comfortable (and comforting). I had wanted to write the chair into our offer, but Kris and Mary argued that it would be too frivolous.

“You want that chair?” asked Mary Jo, disbelieving. She laughed. “That’s Gerry’s chair. He loves it, too.” (Gerry is her housemate.)

Gerry appeared, beaming. “The chair is $25, but for you it’s only $20,” he said. I thanked him, paid him, and then carried the chair back to its proper spot in the kitchen.

“Do you want this old end table?” Mary Jo asked when we’d gone back out to the garage sale. “It’s forty years old. It was my mother’s. She loved it. I hate to sell it, but we don’t have a place for it.”

“Sure,” I said. “We can use that.” And so I carried the coffee table back into the living room.

The current owners have a long Davenport in the front room. Though it’s large and its form is fine, it’s rather ugly.

“Do you want this Davenport, too?” Mary Jo asked. We did not.

But, in a way, I did. My grandfather had a long, ugly Davenport, too: a mauve-colored beauty with a flowery pattern etched in the fabric. (The fabric was very firm, so that if you slept on it, the pattern would be etched in your cheeks). Every day, after a lunch of Campbell’s bean with bacon soup, grandpa would sleep on the Davenport for fifteen minutes to half an hour. Then he’d rise suddenly, get to his feet, and say, “Well, time to get back to work.” And then he’d go out to his garden or his cows or his woods.

Things from our childhood are comforting, are they not?

I really like the house’s current owners. They seem like good people.


On 05 June 2004 (11:18 AM),
Ron said:

I had some bean and bacon soup this week because it reminded me of grandpa’s house. I hadn’t had any in years. Its still one of my favorite soups. I have a picture of my mom and dad on that couch holding me as a baby.

On 05 June 2004 (11:39 AM),
J.D. Roth said:

I eat Campbell’s bean-with-bacon soup on a regular basis. It’s one of my comfort foods. And it’s all because of grandpa. (Actually, I’m fixing a can for lunch right now.)

In fairness to my extended family, I should admit we recently had a converation about grandpa’s naps on the top-secret Roth family forum (past excerpts from the forum, and a cast of characters, here). Here are some highlights:

J.D.: So I was reading and article in Prevention Magazine about sleep and sleep disorders, and one of the points that they made was that a short nap every day is very beneficial and that more American businesses should allow time for their employees to nap. (I guess they must mean more than zero.) This got me to thinking of Grandpa and his naps, so I shared my memories with Kris. She wondered if he had always napped, or whether that only happened when he was older. Viriginia? Did Noah nap when you were a kid? And when were his naps? I seem to recall them coming after a hearty lunch of bean with bacon soup, but I could be mistaken. Anyone? Any memories of Grandpa’s naps?

Tammy: Yeh, he’d often sit in the corner of that pink couch right by the old radio and snore loudly.

Virginia: Years ago there was a wood cook stove in the area where your mom’s breakfast nook is. The nook part is now in what used to be the bedroom walk in closet. (Hmmmmm, I wonder if anyone else had a walkin closet in them days) The refrigerator sit in what used to be the pantry, so I guess the nook takes up part of that, too. There was a space between the stove and the wall. Dad would lay down in that space everyday right after lunch for a short nap. One day I decided to crawl back there after he was done with his nap. I had a box on my head (don’t ask me why) and I crawled on the floor behind the stove. When I got ready to come out I stood up. Well, it so happened that mom had a kettle of soup on the stove and the handle was sticking out over the edge and the box hit the handle and the handle spun around and tipped over the soup, and the soup hit the floor, the soup was hot and I bawled and Dad came to my rescue and poured cold water on me and till it was all said and done there was a big mess which I’m sure my Mom enjoyed cleanig up. 🙁 Dad’s naps only lasted about 10 – 15 minutes. Sometimes shorter, The ones in church seem to last longer.

Gwen: Mom, I never heard that cute story! I remember Grandpa saying “well, I had a good nap”. It was totally amazing to me as he had been sitting upright in the car, while Grandma was shopping. I have inherited that ability, and for the most part I am glad, In church it is unhandy, but I find that if I quit fighting and go ahead a doze a bit, I often wake refreshed and can stay awake the rest of the service. If I fight and fight, I have to keep on fighting and it is terrible. Henry envies my ability to lie down on the recliner with the children all around and sleep 20 minutes. But the children laugh at me when I fall asleep in the middle of a spelling test, or doing oral reading class. Did Grandpa have that problem, too. I mean, besides church, did he fall asleep when he sat still? It is especially in the forenoon that I have that problem.

Sue: I remember Steve telling me about his dad’s ability to just drop off for 20 minutes and then wake up suddenly and go back out to work. I am assuming that this took place after his lunch but I’m not sure — you all have better memories of what happened than I do of what Steve said. I have often envied his dad’s ability to nap like that. I very rarely nap, and when I do, sure as shooting I have a cat on me trying to make itself comfortable (I am being vague about the sex here because it could be either Stevie — a female — or Chester or even, if he’s in the house, Silver).

Tammy: I seem to have inherited grandpas short naps. I often lie down in the afternoon and get up in fifteen minutes totally recharged. If I sleep longer I feel headachy and groggy all day!

Virginia: I also remember another story about that old stove. On Saturday night there would be a big wash tub filled with water and that is where we took our Saturday night baths. On this certain evenng the electricity went off after the tub was filled, and before anyone was in it. We were all told to stay in the dinning room while Dad went and checked the electric box. I was scared so I followed him. The rest of the story is all wet. Also it is on this stove that I learned to bake. I would wait tlll Mom went over to clean the church and then I knew I had plenty of time to make cookies. I learned just how much wood to put in to hold the fire at just the right temperature. The only thing I didn’t know… One time I put too many eggs in the cookie dough and at that time I didn’t know about doubling a recipe so I threw the dough out and started over.

Ron: I remember Grandpa’s naps. It seemed to take him about 2 breaths before he was asleep and then he would wake up with a snort and sit up and go to work. I also remember looking across the church at Zion and seeing him sleeping. I tell Eileen I am just following the behavior modeled for me by my ancestors at church.

I love the top-secret Roth family forum. 🙂

On 05 June 2004 (11:42 AM),
Lisa said:

Oooh. That stool is cool. I think that Albert wants it.

On 05 June 2004 (06:21 PM),
tammy said:

I had totally forgotten about that pink metal chair of grandmas. I put some tributes to my heritage aroudn myhosue too. My craft room is bordered in faceless Amish dolls in a nod to my roots. The guest room is filled with things from Gregs side of the family; a trunk that came over to Ellis Island with his family when they immmigrated from Poland, his baby pictures, a huge painting of an iris that his sister made, antique picture frames from his mother and a quilt hanger with old quilts that his aunts and mother quilted through the years.

In Gregs den is a balck and white framed wall hanging of the boat his dad worked served on in the war. I love old things that tell a story. By the way that trunk in the guest room has it’s lock broken. Seems they somehow lost the key on the voyage and so immigration officers forced it open. Gregs mom thought I might want to get it fixed. Why? It’s all part of the story.

On 05 June 2004 (09:01 PM),
Anthony said:

I love the idea of you returning furniture right back into the house whence it came. I also think your plans for the house sound splendid.

Why do we love old things? Why in a culture marked by a compulsive desire for the newest and best do we still find ourselves drawn toward things, outdated relics, that remind us of the past?

On 06 June 2004 (07:17 AM),
gwen said:

Mom fell heir to that ugly couch. I’m sure she had it until she moved to Idaho. Perhaps it could still be traced.;^) Are you going to have a sterio console instead of an entertainment center?
We found a beautiful one at an auction for 40.00 when we got married, but 10 years later we couln’t get a nibble on it a yard sale, and ended up burning it. I always felt kinda bad about that.

On 06 June 2004 (09:44 AM),
dowingba said:

Every time you mention the LOTR films, you get more and more viscious about it. Now they’re a “mutilation”? Come on, how many Academy Awards have the Harry Potter films won? And by the way, they really shouldn’t be compared, since LOTR was written by a true linguistic genius half a century ago (and it took him about 20 years to write), while Harry Potter books are churned out one per week it seems, just riding the perpetual wave of fantasy popularization that was started solely by Tolkien.

Okay, I was disappointed with The Two Towers adaptation (and that was my favourite of the books, too), but ROTK is a pretty damn good adaptation, you’ve got to admit that. I haven’t seen a more perfect page-to-screen rendering of any story, ever. Of course, I haven’t seen or read the latest Harry Potter book/movie. Nor will I.

On 06 June 2004 (10:18 AM),
J.D. said:

Dowingba makes some fair charges against your humble narrator.

Every time you mention the LOTR films, you get more and more viscious about it. Now they’re a “mutilation”?

Fair enough. I deserved to be called out for this. Let me explain my current feelings.

When I first heard about these films, and saw the initial production stills, etc., I was worried about the potential problems.

Then I saw Fellowship. Though I wasn’t blown away by the film, I liked it. I thought the cave troll scene and the insanely long final battle were the only real blemishes. And then when I saw the extended version of Fellowship on DVD, I loved it. I could forgive the twenty-minute final battle because the rest of the film was so good in its extended version.

Then I saw Peter Jackson’s Helms Deep. You all know how I feel about that. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. It’s not fair to say that it’s a bad film — it’s merely average (or, actually, a little below) — but it certainly did not live up to my lofty expectations. And the extended version didn’t help this time.

When I first saw Return of the King, I had mixed emotions. There were some great scenes, yes, but the film was marred by too many scenes of overwrought emotion from Sam and Frodo, but too much glossing, and by a tedious extended denoument. It’s only with time that I’ve really come to realize how much I disliked the third installment. It’s not as bad as Peter Jackson’s Helms Deep, and it’s still an above average film, but again: I was disappointed, and sometimes “failure to live up to expectations” can, in a person’s mind, be a worse sin than actually being “a film of poor quality”.

To compound the problem, the Rings films were the subject of relentless hype for over two years. There’s only so much hype I can stand before I sour on something, even if it’s something that I’m predisposed to like, you know? I’ve read The Lord of the Rings a couple dozen times in my life, and I love it. But that doesn’t mean that I’m willing to endure two years of being told how awesome a trio of mediocre films are.

To summarize: I love the books, and always will. I find the films mediocre (though I do quite like the first, especially in its extended version). They failed to live up to my expectations, though, and that makes me bitter. This bitterness is compounded by the relentless hype around these films that exists even now.

Come on, how many Academy Awards have the Harry Potter
films won?

I have no idea. But you know how I feel about the modern state of the Academy Awards, right? Are you really saying that you can believe they’re a true indicator of quality? Titanic over L.A. Confidential? Shakespeare in Love over Saving Private Ryan? Gladiator over Crouching Tiger? A Beautiful Mind over anything? Please.

And by the way, they really shouldn’t be compared, since LOTR was
written by a true linguistic genius half a century ago (and it took him about
20 years to write), while Harry Potter books are churned out one per week it seems,
just riding the perpetual wave of fantasy popularization that was started solely by

You’re right that comparing the two worlds is like comparing apples and oranges, but it’s perfectly possible to have a good apple and a good orange. And besides, I’m not comparing the books, I’m comparing the films. (It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Rowling’s stylistic ability. She’s no master of the craft. (In fact, the last two books have been pretty poorly written and poorly edited.)) And, to my mind, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is the best of the combined six Harry Potter and Rings films. That’s my opinion. (The second Harry Potter film is the worst of the six, even worse than Peter Jackson’s Helms Deep.)

ROTK is a pretty damn good adaptation, you’ve got to admit
that. I haven’t seen a more perfect page-to-screen rendering of any story, ever.

The Princess Bride was pretty damn faithful to the book, IMHO. Also, To Kill a Mockingbird. Actually, I can think of many better adaptations than ROTK. Just saying.

I know you love the Rings films, and I respect that, but they just didn’t do it for me. And I realize that the rest of the world agrees with you and disagrees with me. That doesn’t mean that you’re all right and I’m wrong. It just means we have different opinions. 🙂

I’ll try to talk less smack about the LOTR films, though. It’s difficult, but I’ll try…

On 07 June 2004 (08:45 AM),
jenefer said:

jd, I was so glad you mentioned to Kill a MockingBird. I was about to mention it. My whole life my mother (Pam) felt it was the best adaptation of book to film she had ever scene. Nothing else surpassed it.

I think you hit the nail on the head with Tolkien. It is not the director’s job you hate, but your own anticipation and too firmly entrnched ideas of how the movie should have been adapted that disturb(s) you, I think. I too have read the books many times, and all the associated support books. I think the films were great given the limitations of the medium and the audience. How will your books ever make it to film if you are so critical now? Prepare yourself.

On 07 June 2004 (09:16 AM),
J.D. said:

Also, Jurassic Park was a better adaptation than ROTK, though I missed the pterodactyls from the book…

Here are other Harry Potter reviews from weblogs I read: Michael Rawdon’s Escape from Chris Columbus, Joel and Aimee’s The Boy Who Lived, and Rob Fahrni‘s brief comments.

On 07 June 2004 (11:23 AM),
Denise said:

J.D. – how can you say Jurassic Park was a better adaption? They completely changed the ending…in the book the old guy dies and is eaten by the little scavanger reptiles, whereas in the movie, he is saved with the rest of the crew.

On 07 June 2004 (11:25 AM),
Denise said:

Sorry folks – should be adaptation up there.

On 07 June 2004 (12:15 PM),
Lynn said:

Understanding that when a book is adapted to film there are going to be changes, I was still disappointed that my favorite line from HP3 was removed. It occurred at the very end of PofA when Harry went home for the summer and he informed the dreaded Dursleys that he had a godfather…and he was an escaped convict! It was a sweet moment. But, other than that, I thought the movie was great fun. I loved the themE of time and the ever-present clocks. I also really liked the added landscape and the color.

On 07 June 2004 (02:00 PM),
J.D. said:

Denise: How can you say Jurassic Park was a better adaptation? They completely changed the ending.

Peter Jackson completely changed the ending, too. He changed lots of stuff. Where’s Saramun in the third film? Where’s the scouring of the Shire? Where are Sam and Frodo falling in with the orcs? Why did he add that stupid scene with Aragorn falling off his horse and into the river? (Wait — that was the second movie, wasn’t it?) Why the emphasis on Arwen?

I think Jurassic Park was a more faithful adaptation than Return of the King

On 07 June 2004 (02:36 PM),
Denise said:

Ok – I get your point, but I still say that the old guy getting eaten at the end is much better than him getting saved. That sort of changes the whole feel of the story.

On 07 June 2004 (02:57 PM),
Joel said:

JD said: “Why the emphasis on Arwen?”

Perhaps the mighty lobbying power of the Collagen Advisory Board? Peter Jackson’s a big Aerosmith fan?

Or maybe P.J. concluded that, for the movie to work, it really needed a romantic subplot.

Similar to Cuaron’s decision to change how Peter Pettigrew was first revealed, making the moment more about Harry.

It seems we’re having a disconnect over the question of the “perfect adaptation”. Did you like the movie because it effectively captured the spirit of the books and communicated that spirit as an effective film? Or did you really like it because the “scenes [were] created on screen in pitch perfect accuracy (unlike Peter Jackson’s mutilation of The Lord of the Rings).”? The Cuaron took more liberties with the story than the previous films and clearly benefited from the resulting freedom. Peter Jackson tried to do a similar job with LotR, but it didn’t work for you. Eh?

On 07 June 2004 (05:04 PM),
Nikchick said:

JD said: “Why the emphasis on Arwen?”

I think that was a wise decision, to appeal to modern audiences who maybe are not entirely consumed with their geekish knowledge (and reverence) of the books. Tolkien was a man, and he wrote about males. The female characters in his books need modern punching up.

On 07 June 2004 (10:05 PM),
dowingba said:

J.D., film and literature are quite different mediums. Being closer to the book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a better adaptation. Can you imagine how bad the LOTR movies would have been if they were line-for-line with the books? I, for one, am damn glad the Scouring of the Shire was ommitted from the film. And I am amazed, and thrilled, at how much dialogue was lifted directly from the books. I think the movies, and ROTK specifically, perfectly captured the spirit of the books, and that’s what counts. Of course, the books or the movies might have had a different impression in your mind.

Also, I loved Jurassic Park, but I never read the book.

Oh, and the Saruman battle is going to be in the extended edition. I hear it’s a huge 10 minute fight of some sort. I kinda liked the non-violent battle-of-words in the books, but some more Jedi-esque wizard martial arts like in the first film would suit me just fine. I hope he winds up imprisoned on the roof of Orthanc. Heh.

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