An Inside Look at Fanfiction: A Presentation by Ericka Ritenour Monday, Feb 14 2011 

Despite my distaste for and ignorance of fan fiction, I found the talk given by Ericka Ritenour quite insightful. I knew that the fan fiction community was rather large, but I never truly understood its attractiveness to the people who participated in it and, to some extent, I still do not. I always viewed the fan fiction community as a group of people whom had way too much time on their hands, an annoying inability to simply enjoy the text as it was written, and an insatiable desire to sabotage the literary works of other authors. Again, I must emphasize my ignorance of this particular community. After listening to Erick’s talk however, I have a better understanding of the motivation and attractiveness of such a community.

Erick’s emphasis on the role of the fan fiction community rather than on the writing itself helped clarify the preconceived notions I had about the point of writing fan fiction. First and foremost, I never considered the fact that it is much easier for a writer to tell a story when they do not have to first spell out all of the background information to the story, such as setting, character relationships, and, sometimes, the overarching plot of the original writing from which the new story is based. In the case of fan fiction, writers are often using background information from popular novels in order to either advance the current story or to further explore an aspect in the original story that little attention was previously given. Secondly, writing fan fiction, or even just online fiction, is beneficial to the advancement of an individual’s writing quality and to the writing process. By partaking in a community of writers such as this, a writer is able to get unbiased and unfiltered criticism from other writers about the quality of their own work, so that they may improve upon it. Not only can a writer improve their writing skills, but by acting as a beta for other authors, they can also improve their proofreading and editing skills.

Though Ericka was pretty thorough in her talk, I was left wondering about the social criticism she experiences, if any, when people (who are not themselves involved with fan fiction) discover that she is a fan fiction writer. Are there a lot of negative people in the world? To “outsiders,” there my be a sort of social stigmatism that goes along with people who are into fan fiction (among many other literary forms). And if, after hearing the many negative comments from others, has she ever considered leaving the fan fiction community. How does a writer, such as Erika or others in the community, justify their writings when many people appear to be against them? What is her motivation?

An Evaluation of Harry Potter Adaptations… Wednesday, Feb 9 2011 

When creating a movie adaptation of a book, I find that the three most important things that I look for when comparing the movie and the book include: how well the key points of the plot were followed, the flow of the story line from one scene to another, and whether or not the characters look and behave in a manner similar to how they were written.  In my mind, the only reason a book should be adapted into a movie is to bring a story to life and enhance it further by adding some incite to the world/ environment that is being portrayed.  If, through the process of creating a movie, the storyline, flow, or characters takes a hit, then I believe that a person is better off simply reading the book.  A great example of an adaptation that missed the mark in plot, flow, and character development is the movie “Eragon,” adapted from the book “Eragon” of the Inheritance Series.  The Inheritance Series is a rather complex series of books that greatly depend on the proper portrayal and inclusion of all of the events and characters encountered within the series.  Its intricate weaving of characters and events makes every detail exceeding crucial to the flow of future events.  When making the movie, the director and producers cut so much of the plot and spent so little time on character development that the movie quickly became a confusing, tangled mess of events.  The lack of attention paid to details pertaining to character interactions, events, and logical flow made it so that another movie could not possibly be made from the second installment of the series and ultimately caused the movie to flop in the box office.  Adaptations of this manner are not successful, because they fail to meet the expectations of any fans, both readers and non-readers.

In contrast, the Harry Potter movies, by my standards, were exceptional adaptations of the books that they were adapted from (though some movies were substantially better than others).  Though only the first three movies stayed close to the plot of the books, enough of the major key plot points were pulled out of each of the other books for use in the movies that the absence of some points didn’t really affect the overall flow of the scenes.  For example, in the Goblet of Fire, each of the competitors had to face the sphinx with a riddle during their third task in the maze.  In the movie, the sphinx was completely removed as an obstacle in their course, but the plot was still able to easily move forward without that scene.  In other instances, throughout the series, some key scenes were completely removed, but incorporated into the movie, slightly altered, at another time.  For example, in book version of “The Sorcerer’s  Stone,” Harry and Hermione help Hagrid get rid of his dragon Norbert, before he could get into trouble, by sneaking it up to the top of the astronomy tower where a few friends of Charley Weasley’s whisked it away to Romania.  In the movie version, Dumbledore sends Hagrid’s dragon off to Romania after Draco Malfoy discovers Norbert in Hagrid’s hut.  Though this change in plot layout may have frustrated fans who have read the series, the new scene was easily able to convey the same key element, but in a more time efficient manner.   Additionally, although many of the secondary characters do not exactly look the way that they were described in the books, such as Dudley having brown hair instead of blond, their roles and mannerisms still hold true to that of the book when portrayed in the movie.  The reason this is acceptable is because although they look different, the similarities between the rest of the movie elements is so affective, that a person can easily forgive the difference as long as other important aspects remain the same.  It is also helpful that the critical main characters look and act nearly identical to their portrayal in the books.

In regard to my specifications for what makes a good adaptation, I believe that, while all of the movies were able to successfully bring the world of Harry Potter to life, the first three movies were much better than all of the rest in sticking to the books.  Other than a few minor scene alterations and a couple of clipped scenes, the plot, flow, characters, and even setting were reasonably similar.  However, as the books began getting longer, the quality of the movies in relation to its portrayal of the plot, flow and setting gradually decreased.  This can mainly be attributed to cost of production and time constraints.

The Harry Potter Phenomenon: An Intellectual Threat Sunday, Feb 6 2011 

In the world of literary writing, there exists a hierarchy defining the worth of writings within a genre.  For decades, this hierarchy has been controlled by the intellectual elite, the literary scholars, by whom the standards of literary quality and acceptability are set.  At the top of this list resides the works of academics, virtuosos of the vernacular, and literary geniuses.  And at the bottom? Children’s literature.  So, what is it that makes children’s books less significant than other works of fiction/nonfiction, and why shouldn’t they be canonized?  To answer such questions, one must look at children’s literature from a literary scholar’s perspective.

Scholars perceive works of children’s literature as often being simplistic, poorly constructed, and one dimensional.  These works are also riddled with clichés and follow basic typologies, making them seem unoriginal.  Works of children’s literature therefore appear as though they can be written by anyone, because they lack the linguistic finesse and intellectual merit characteristic of scholarly literature.  Despite its faults, scholars have become deeply distressed by the overwhelming and increasing popularity of works within the children’s literature genre, because its popularity spans all age groups.  This increased interest in children’s literature, combined with the increasingly apparent disinterest in traditional literature and classic novels, poses what scholars now consider an intellectual threat.  If it wasn’t bad enough that children and young adults were captivated by children’s literary prose, there are now adults setting aside classic novels by Hemingway, Hawthorne, Crosby, Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, and Shakespeare (the great thinkers) to read the simplistic rubbish of Rowling, Riordan, Colfer, Lewis, Scott, and Meyer.  In a sense, scholars fear that a universal “dumbing-down” of society is taking place, initiated by popular children’s literature.

Contradictory to the beliefs of literary scholars, I believe that children’s literature should not be discounted as invaluable, simplistic rubbish containing no depth of plot, characters, or construction.  Growing up, I was never a huge fan of reading, rather preferring to spend my time in the outdoors or working on artistic projects.  It wasn’t until I was introduced to books such as the Harry Potter Series or the Inheritance Series that I actually took an interest in reading.  It was those novels that lead me into more advanced readings and eventually the creation of my own personal library.  It is also difficult to compare children’s literature to scholarly literature, because they are each geared toward entirely separate audiences.  Scholarly writings often contain complex mental, physical, and/or emotional issues that younger audiences are not as easily able to cope with or understand.  Even as adults, these depicted issues can become taxing on the mind, especially if the reader doesn’t take some time to detach themselves from the text.  Children’s literature acts as the perfect reprieve.  While the issues posed in children’s literature is not near as complex as in adult literature, many of the children’s books series present rather complex issues for the targeted audience.  For adults, these works are fun to read and reflect upon, while, although the books are fun to read for children also, the issues posed to children act a great learning experience on how to cope with new situations.  The presentation of these issues is done through twisting plots and adventures, both 2-Dimensional and 3-Dimensional characters, and an elaborately woven story.

The Gryffindor House 2… Wednesday, Feb 2 2011 

One of the four wizarding houses at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is the noble House of Godric Gryffindor.  To belong to the House of Gryffindor, a witch or wizard must possess the traits described in the lyrics of the following song sung by the sorting hat during the Sorting Ceremony held for the first years at Hogwarts:

You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart

–The Sorting Hat

According to this song, those students whom are sorted into the Gryffindor House should possess courage, bravery, and chivalry as their dominant traits, as Godric Gryffindor did himself, and would then be considered worthy of the Gryffindor name.

Though the Sorting Hat’s description of what makes a student a good candidate for the Gryffindor house seems fairly straight forward, the description is not entirely accurate.  At the start of the series, Neville Longbottom appears far from possessing the necessary personality traits, indicated by the Sorting Hat, to be in the Gryffindor House; rather, Neville is portrayed as a shy and clumsy pushover who is constantly being harassed by students and teachers about his inability to do even simple magic.   Neville appears to have no self confidence and would never be considered a brave individual.  It isn’t until later in the series that Neville develops into a stereotypical Gryffindor who stands up to both his enemies and friends when the occasion calls for action.   Therefore, to be considered a true Gryffindor, you do not actually have to be brave or have daring, nerve and chivalry from the start; instead, you become a Gryffindor if you have the potential to build these qualities.  If this is the case, nearly anyone could actually fall into the Gryffindor House.

Additionally, the actions of Gryffindors’ are frequently misunderstood.  Members of the Gryffindor House are often viewed as reckless, but usually are acting on the need to protect those people closest to them.  They believe it to be their responsibility.  For example, in Order of the Phoenix, Harry unknowingly led his friends into battle at the Department of Mysteries while attempting to save his god father, Sirius Black.  Harry believed that Sirius was in “serious” trouble and that running to his aid would be the fasted way to get to him.  While Harry acted recklessly by running straight to the ministry, he was only doing so to protect his god father, the last member of his family.  While members of the other houses also possess loyalty toward their friends and family, Gryffindors will go above and beyond to protect others, making them appear reckless.  Other misunderstood traits possessed by the Gryffindors include: determination and passion.  Again, Gryffindors are often criticized for acting “over the top,” but many of these actions are driven by their determination and passion.  For example, in Goblet of Fire, Hermione Granger worked vigorously to obtain better working conditions and rights for the House Elves at Hogwarts: Forming a club, distributing information, and eventually making clothing.  While many students, including some in her own house, thought Hermione was going a little too far in her attempts to liberate the house elves, it was Hermione’s passion for and determination to obtain justice for the injustices faced by the house elves that empowered her to act out when others would not.  It is for these reasons that the Gryffindor house is probably one of the most complex and misunderstood houses, aside from Slytherin, at Hogwarts.