Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Dolores Gordon-Smith (DG) Sarah Granger (SG)
[Show music begins]
Eric: Hey! Josée! Wait up!
Josée: Oh hi, Eric! I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now. I'm running late.
Eric: Late? Late for what?
Josée: Oh, it's because I have to go meet Keith and John Granger. I'm actually going to listen to a Harry Potter literature lesson at MuggleNet Academia.
Eric: Oh cool, that sounds awesome. Can I come with?
Josée: Yes, of course you can. Just come with me.
Eric: Okay. Let's go!
[Show music continues]
KH: Welcome to Episode 5, MuggleNet Academia show. My name is Keith Hawk with MuggleNet.com and my co-host John Granger. John, how are you today?
JG: Very good! Staying cool, Keith. How are you on the East Coast?
KH: We had a heat wave this week. And there was another heat wave that happened right through Oklahoma, wasn't there? The old Miami Heat.
JG: Oh, you had to say the Heat...
JG: Had to make the Heat joke about Oklahoma City, Keith.
KH:[laughs] Well, there was no thunder, that's for sure. [laughs]
JG: Oh my goodness. Oh my goodness.
KH: So, anyway...
JG: We'll be back! We'll be back, Keith!
KH: Yeah, you will be. You had a good team. You had a good show. Anyway, welcome to Lesson 5. Lesson 4 was an interesting one, John. I really enjoyed that one, with the law in Harry Potter. And I've got to tell you, we had a couple of good reviews on it.
JG: What did they say? What did they say?
KH: Let me read you this one. This one came on the website, on MuggleNet.com, from DLS and it said:
"This episode was amazing! I loved your insight into the capital punishment debate. I thought this might interest some fans: attempted suicide was abolished as a offense in the 1970s. However, assisted suicide is still a crime. The English legal system is set up to incorporate EU law..."
"...the most influential being that of the Human Rights Act 1998. Article 2 of this act states that everyone has a right to life yet there is no corresponding right to death, thus many people in situations which they believe life isn't worth living head to Switzerland to undergo assistance. However, currently two people are fighting this law in the High Court. So to relate this to 'Harry Potter', when Severus assisted Dumbledore in his death, under English law he would have been arrested and sentenced. However, arguably Severus would not be able to raise an argument of self-defense, as under the Criminal Law Act 1967 the force used must be reasonable within the circumstances of the crime. Dumbledore has already lost his wand, and so unless he can use wandless magic, he is in fact defenseless. Thus, one can argue that the force Severus used was not proportionate and reasonable to the actions of Dumbledore."
That was interesting. We did have a really good discussion on that.
JG: What's most interesting to me is the initials DLS. Is this Dorothy Sayers already checking in with us? I mean, this is amazing. We'll talk about DLS today.
KH:[laughs] Oh, yeah!
JG: But I don't think DLS would be as excited about... the original DLS, Dorothy Sayers, would be as happy about the logic there, but we'll come back to that. That was a great letter!
KH: Yeah, it was good. Well, let me take off from Dorothy Sayers, and just go right into what we're talking about on this show. We have on the line with us Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of great English mystery novels, from back in the old English styling of great mystery genre. Dolores, welcome to the show!
DG: Oh, well hello! It's lovely to be with you. Thank you very much for inviting me on the program.
KH: Well, thank you for being with us.
JG: Can I break in here, Keith?
JG: I met Dolores when I was in Scotland. It was a thrill of a life for me. I mean, she's... I've read two of her Jack Haldean mysteries, and as Keith said, these are throwback to Golden Age Christie pieces. Sort of drawing room mysteries, which is a genre which is much neglected today because it's so difficult and it's so familiar to so many. The bar is very high. But Mrs. Gordon-Smith pulls this thing off magnificently. Sarah is now reading her books, too. We'll get to Sarah in a second. But anyway, this is a great thrill for me to have Dolores on the show, to talk about UK mysteries and its prevalence, it's pervasiveness, inside the Harry Potter novels that we love. And I'll testify to the fact...
DG: Thank you very much, John.
JG: I want to break in, one, to ask you: How did you get the name Dolores? Harry Potter fans aren't used to liking someone named Dolores.
DG: Well, I was thinking about that. I mean, it could have been worse. I could have been called Bellatrix, I suppose.
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: I haven't met any of those. [laughs] You totally wiped me out with that one.
JG: But that... and I should testify that this woman knows her Harry Potter, as we're all going to see here on the show. And we have another guest too, right Keith?
KH: Yes, why don't you introduce your daughter?
JG: Hey! My daughter! This is Sarah Granger. I invited her on the show, not only because she's lovely and brilliant and my daughter, but because one of the things she did before - when she was homeschooling - was she read every Agatha Christie novel that she could find, which was... Dolores will correct me, I think there are over sixty...
DG: No, I think there's about seventy-two.
DG: Congratulations, Sarah!
JG: I don't think she read them all but she had a whole big pile of these wonderful Dell paperbacks. Now, that... so Sarah, welcome to MuggleNet Academia! She's a senior at the University of Chicago, she's majoring in classical languages, and she rows on the crew team. Anything else I'm missing here, Sarah?
SG: No. I'm going into my fourth year as a classics major. After reading all of Charles Dickens and all of Agatha Christie, [laughs] I decided I'd read [unintelligible] so yes.
JG: Yay! Yay, there's a step up. [laughs]
DG: Well done.
KH: Well, let me get into what we're going to be doing on this show, if you don't mind.
KH: Basically, the premise of this show is going to be the mysteries that are seen in the Harry Potter novels written by JK Rowling, and how they may or may not relate to past mystery novelists such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and even some Jane Austen, correct?
JG: Yeah, yeah.
KH: So, that's what the premise of this show is going to be. Now, John, after this show our next show is actually going to be taking place in Ascendio 2012, the HPEF conference down in Orlando, Florida.
JG: Woot, woot!
KH: Yeah, I can't wait for that show. It's going to be held at the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel. The Ascendio conference with Heidi Tandy and the HPEF team is July 12th to 15th, and MuggleNet Academia - John and myself - will be discussing a couple of topics. We have a show Friday and Saturday, live in the Common Room at 11 o'clock in the morning. John, are you excited to go down there?
JG: Oh, yeah! I've been down there two or three times already for other conferences, but the HPEF team - Heidi Tandy, Gwendolyn Grace, that whole crowd - I've been... this is my sixth appearance at one of their conferences. I asked if that was a record for featured speakers and they said maybe.
JG: That's... so I'll be meeting the other people that are giving a lot of talks down there. And they're going to have films, and rock operas, and wrock, and of course their formal programming is just out of this world, delightful, and challenging, and edifying, et cetera. If you can make it to this conference... it's going to be the last one that HPEF does. They're pretty much seeding the field to other conference holders here. But you'll never see a conference done as well, and all the registration and things like that handled so efficiently, and it's a magnificent production. Anyway... and it's just a great time! I'm looking forward to seeing Keith and all the gang there face to face, people that we deal with digitally or whatever all the time. This is a great chance to meet and greet, and talk, and have some fish and chips.
KH: And if you're still on the fence about going to Ascendio, do yourself a favor, book the conference now. There still is room at the conference and you can also get day passes. They are having "Night of A Thousand Wizards" taking place in the park where it will be closed off to everyone except Ascendio guests. Actually, we'll be allowed to go in the park at 2 PM in the afternoon on Thursday, but starting at 8 and going until probably 1 or 2 in the morning, it will be just us. And you can be dressed in costume in the park, which normally you cannot do so this is one of our exclusives that we get. I can't wait to do that.
JG: Oh, yeah. And apparently I'm giving a talk in the Three Broomsticks, I'm told. This is going to be a party not to be believed.
KH: Oh, it's going to be a lot of fun. So anyway, if you're down there, say hi. We'll be in the Common Room at 11 o'clock Friday and Saturday mornings. And we'll also be selling some MuggleNet T-shirts. John is going to have some of his books available for sale. What books are you going to be bringing down there, John?
JG: Well, the Ring Composition book, the Smart Talk book, I'll have copies of Harry Potter for Nerds... I'll bring the whole package.
[Show music begins]
KH: All right, let's get the show on the road! From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
DG: I'm Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of the Jack Haldean detective novels.
SG: I'm Sarah Granger, third-year classics major at the University of Chicago.
[Show music continues]
KH: John, we are privileged to have on the show with us Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of the Jack Haldean mystery series. Dolores is over in the UK and I got to tell you, I'm excited for this one. This is going to be diving into something that I've always thought the Harry Potter series novels had an unbelievable amount of mystery in them, and the way JK Rowling would write the books was... it was just one big mystery in each story and one big mystery throughout the whole series. So, I'm really looking forward to this discussion. How about you?
JG: Oh yeah, and you've put your finger right on it, Keith, that the drive of each one of the stories... what keeps us turning the pages is there's a central question that we're trying to find an answer to. And it doesn't always come to the forefront. It's not like a dead body at the beginning of a mystery story. But there's a question in each one of these books that The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew here in the form of Harry, Ron, and Hermione are always trying to uncover. And yet, like you, I've never... I mean, I've written a whole chapter about it in Harry Potter's Bookshelf, one of my books, but I've never got a chance to talk to an actual honest-to-god mystery writer from the United Kingdom - like Dolores - to explore this, to see what she sees in this because obviously she's more sensitive to that kind of structure than you or I will ever be, Keith. So, should we just jump right in here? Can I start asking her some questions?
KH: Yeah, absolutely. And you mentioned The Hardy Boys books. Boy, that throws me back to when I grew up.
JG: Did you read the blue books or the brown books? The brown books...
KH: Oh, I had the whole series of blue books. When I was collecting as a kid, I think they had it up to seventy-four, seventy-five. Now I don't know. I had all of them. I don't know what they're up to now or if they're even still being made, but I collected them for years.
JG: Well, I'm older than you are, Keith, and so I had the brown ones. I had the original ones written in the '30s and '40s that a friend gave my dad when I was a kid. And they were... believe it or not, Keith, they were three chapters longer than the blue books that came out in the '70s and '80s. Oh yeah, I read every single one of them. So yeah, you and I are both... we grew up turning the same pages of the same books. Anyway, back to Dolores. Okay, Dolores, here's your first question.
DG: All right.
JG: You're a citizen of the United Kingdom and you're this noted mystery writer. Your six Jack Haldean novels set in England in the years after World War I are, as Keith said, a throwback to the Golden Age of British Detection fiction. But tell us something about the stories - the detective stories - that you grew up reading. Who's your favorite writer?
DG: Well, my favorite writer of all is Agatha Christie, if we're talking about mysteries. You mentioned The Hardy Boys there. Now, we do have them in the UK but they've only come in fairly recently, believe it or not. The mystery writer, the children's writer that every child of my age read - I'm fifty-blank years old...
DG: ...was Enid Blyton. I don't know if you have Enid Blyton in America, if she's popular or not, but she wrote...
DG: ...hundreds and hundreds of books. And the thing is, she wrote them very, very quickly and they're actually quite good. I always feel they shouldn't be. I always feel that you should plan for months before you write anything.
DG: But they're actually really good. I don't know if they bear rereading particularly, but yeah, they're great fun.
JG: Enid Blyton, as Dolores is saying, she was famous for writing in a semi-trance as she described it.
DG: Yeah, I wish I could it.
JG: Where she would literally just almost go into a séance type mode, like Trelawney giving a prophecy, and write like mad. And as Dolores said, she wrote hundreds of books and may be the best-selling author, certainly in the English-speaking world, with the one possible exception of the person that Dolores mentioned as her favorite writer. Agatha Christie and her seventy-some detective novels has sold over four billion books and has been translated... I mean, people marvel that Rowling's books have been translated into seventy languages. Agatha Christie's books have been translated into more than a hundred languages. They must have some obscure South American indigenous tribe that's reading And Then There Were None or something. I mean, this is an amazing... no author other than God, Chairman Mao, and who else has outsold Agatha Christie. Maybe Enid Blyton because of her hundreds of books but Agatha Christie is the big kahuna.
JG: What do you like about Agatha Christie, Dolores? Why should we care about this mystery writer?
DG: Well, on the one hand it does seem to be very odd, doesn't it? That mysteries which are set in such a very, very specific time - England from the 1920s to around about the beginning of the '60s - should have this fantastic universal appeal. But I think it's because the stories are tricky, but they're actually very simple to read which means, of course, you haven't got any barriers to getting into them. And of course everybody, whether they're from Mexico or Brazil or wherever, the Arctic Circle, can sympathize with the plight of somebody who trips over a dead body and what you do then because although the situations are sometimes a little bit theatrical, the emotions that the characters feel are actually very real. The reader is invited in to share the experience with them. It works extremely well. Obviously.
JG: Yeah, yeah, that's right.
DG: Otherwise... you don't sell four billion books if you're doing something wrong.
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: Imagine the size of the building that has four billion books. I mean, it's incomprehensible. Now, you mentioned though that there's a formula to these books. Now, I've read a couple of your books, A Fete Worse Than Death, Trouble Brewing, I'm in the middle of Mad About the Boy? and I'm looking forward to A Hundred Thousand Dragons just because of the title.
DG: Oh, yeah.
JG: They're marvelously engaging and I recommend them to readers who love well-drawn characters in a great mystery whodunnit. Keith and I begged you to come on the show though, not only because we're fans but because you're a serious Potter Pundit. You had mentioned... if we're talking about Agatha Christie here as your favorite writer, Joanne Rowling has never mentioned her as an influence. She's talked about her... I'm talking about how she's talked about her, but she's never said that she read her books and loved her books or whatever. Do you think she's read any of the Christie Poirot or Miss Marple novels?
DG: I'm absolutely certain she has. On the back cover of the adult UK edition... because the books were published with two covers.
JG: That's right.
DG: One with the children's covers and one with the adult covers. On the back cover of that, there's a wonderful bookcase shot and, obviously, because I love looking at people's bookcases, I looked at this in fairly close detail and I was delighted to see there were three Agatha Christie paperbacks. And I recognized them immediately because I've got the same books. And after some work with a magnifying glass, I got the titles. They were Three Act Tragedy which is a horror book, Dead Man's Folly which is another horror book, and that's actually set in Agatha Christie's old home of Greenway in Devon...
JG: Oh, okay.
DG: ...and Appointment With Death. And Appointment With Death is particularly interesting because that's set in Petra, in Jordan. But it actually features a horrible woman, one of the nastiest creations Christie ever came up with, called Mrs. Boynton, and...
JG: She has to die. She has to die.
DG: Yes, but just let me see if you recognize this description: she's sadistic, oppressive, she's described as toad-like, she's described as like a buddha, which... okay. But she's squat, and she has a redhead, very nervous daughter called Ginevra who she calls "Ginny".
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: Now, I think that's wonderful.
JG: What does she call her? Does she call Ginevra "Ginny"?
DG: She does call her "Ginny", yes.
JG: Oh, I love it. I love it. So, Dolores Umbridge is actually the mother of Ginevra Weasley. Too funny.
JG: Okay, so that's...
DG: And the other thing... sorry, John.
JG: No, go ahead.
DG: But think about these three books. The plots of all three of them turn on having someone pretend to be somebody else, which is exactly like Polyjuice Potion but with no magic. [laughs]
JG: Hmm. Okay, so that's great. And they are right there on her shelf so that we can see them.
DG: Absolutely, yeah.
JG: I mean, we could play devil's advocate and say well, maybe that's not her shelf in the picture.
DG: Oh, I think it very much is so.
KH: Oh, it most certainly is her shelf.
KH: I mean, there's a lot of Jane Austen on her shelf there, there's a Freud book that I know she's read... yeah, it's definitely her shelf.
JG: Okay, all right. So much for playing devil's advocate here. You guys are really... you're for sure that picture is of her bookshelf. Now, frankly it'd be hard to believe that a woman as well-read as Joanne Rowling hasn't read a flock of Christie's... I mean, didn't it... we're used to staying up all night for the publication party, the midnight madness parties at the local bookstore. That was an annual event, wasn't it? For quite a few years, where Agatha Christie... the annual Christie would come out, and people would flood to the bookstore to get that year's beach read or whatever. Is that true, Dolores?
DG: Yeah, it used to be called "A Christie for Christmas". Now, I think you could tweak this and call it "A Holding for the Holidays".
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: But yeah, "A Christie for Christmas". That was the routine.
JG: How are these books... Keith and I, because we grew up on The Hardy Boys and you because you grew up with your "Christie for Christmas", you're used to thinking of these books as a mystery thing. That may escape some of our readers because there's not - or our listeners - because there's not a dead body at the beginning of the story, there's not a Columbo figure in a jacket or a Sherlock Holmes and a Watson walking through the hallways here at Hogwarts. Rowling has only mentioned Christie by name in a 2006 Richard & Judy interview in which she admired that Christie murdered her biggest detective herself in the book Curtain. But she never mentions her in a list of favorite authors. Oddly enough, she's called on this by [laughs] Stephen King, of all people. In his review of Goblet of Fire, he said that:
"Rowling admitted to reading Tolkien rather late in the game, but it's hard to believe she hasn't read her Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Although they bear the trappings of fantasy, and the mingling of the real world and the world of wizards and flying broomsticks is delightful, the 'Harry Potter' books are, at heart, satisfyingly shrewd mystery tales."
Now, I'm not a big fan of Stephen King, okay? [laughs] Or his evaluation of writers. But it seems you agree with him here, right? I mean, what is a "satisfyingly shrewd mystery tale," and why is Agatha Christie the writer from whom King thinks Rowling learned the ropes?
DG: I'm not quite sure why he thinks that Christie is the one from whom he thinks she learned the ropes, although as the most popular detective story novelist, you can, I'm sure, see the echoes there. A classic mystery story starts, as you would expect, with a mystery. It doesn't have to be a murder, but it does have to be an intrigue. And if you think back to right at the beginning of Philosopher's Stone, one of the very first things that... I think it's McGonagall says, that nobody knows why baby Harry has survived. Now, that's the big mystery. And that goes on right the way through the series, why did Harry survive?
JG: That's right.
DG: And then of course, as the book goes on, we get other mysteries fed into it, like what is the Philosopher's Stone, who would want it, and why was the unicorn killed? And Harry, Ron, and Hermione are really the three detectives here. And we've got some marvelous, classic mystery ploys in Philosopher's Stone. So, just think about the first book for a minute. Snape, for example, is the most obvious suspect.
DG: We think that Snape is just horrible, and because of it...
JG: No, we don't think he's horrible. He is horrible. That's right.
DG: Well, he is horrible, yes. And he looks as if he's the one... there's a villain doing something. I mean, somebody put the troll in the girls' bathroom and we think it's most probably Snape. And what seems to clinch it is at the Quidditch match. When Harry's broomstick is misbehaving, Snape has got him fixed with a glittering eye. Hermione nips out to set his robes on fire, and accidentally brushes across Quirrell. Now, we don't notice that when it happens, and it's a brilliant piece of misdirection, and it's also classic mystery stuff. And, of course, when we do find that Quirrell is the big bad villain, we think, "Oh," slap-your-forehead moment, "Why didn't I spot it?"
JG: We were given the clue, right?
JG: She was fair enough to give us the clue. It wasn't as if she revealed at the end...
JG: ..."Oh, and when I did that I also bumped Quirrell." We got it right in real time.
DG: We actually saw it happening, yeah. But I think there's other... to take the series as a whole, and compare it to Christie, one of the things I think that you can really see the influence coming over is how the characters are depicted. Agatha Christie's characters are... this is not a criticism, they're like a cartoon. They're done in very broad, quick strokes. It's very, very easy to see immediately what the people look like. If you can draw, then they're easy to draw. Now, that is so JK Rowling. Everybody knows what Hermione looks like: she's got the bushy hair and the teeth. Harry has got the sticking-up hair, the green eyes, the specs. Ron is sort of this long thin thing, poor lad, that keeps on outgrowing his clothes. Red hair again. Very, very, very visually... visual characters. And the other thing is that the characters fulfill the purpose exactly. They're completely memorable, they're very coherent. We never feel, in either Christie or Rowling, that anybody is out of character. We never say, "Oh, they wouldn't do that." They just do. They just completely work. The language...
JG: No small... yeah, no small achievement over 4,100 pages that never do we see Hermione not act like Hermione. Or if she does act a little bit odd, we know that there's a very big change going on. When she Confunduses the... Keith, help me out. What's the name of the...
DG: McLaggen, McLaggen. Cormac McLaggen.
JG: Oh my goodness, you got in there before Keith did. I'm amazed!
JG: Yeah, when she does the Confundus Charm on McLaggen, that is so unusual for her to be breaking rules, to bend... using magic for her own advantage or whatever. That's a big change for her, and a big sign about her feelings for Ron. But that only sticks out because of what you're saying, Dolores, that these characters are so consistent, so believable, and yet she never... she doesn't seem to spend any time really drawing these things in detail.
DG: No, it's just there. It's so quick that you almost miss it. You almost miss the description of the characters.
JG: Tell us more about the cartoon aspect of the Christie characters because we... I can see how Harry, Ron, and Hermione - they're sort of the body, mind, and spirit triptych here or whatever. She's the cartoon brainiac, and Ron is the guy who is always worried about his next meal. And Harry of course is the loving character, he has the big heart or whatever. Is that the same kind of mythic or sort of transparency to a larger meaning? Or is she sort of drawing punch cartoons here? That these are figures that every English person will recognize as... this is Colonel Mustard or whatever. He's sort of a cartoon of the British military.
DG: When I said cartoon figures, I mean that... I don't mean it in a pejorative sense at all. I think it's a good thing to be able to do quick brushstrokes, quick verbal brushstrokes, and actually depict a character, boomph they're there, you know? You don't have to have an awful lot of "carry on," as it were, filling in who these people are. You don't have to have endless pages of description about what they... oh, I don't know, how they were treated by their mother or what have you, or if we're going to be onto Freud, or you don't have to have endless descriptions of how they treat the dog or anything like that. You just know what they're like. They're not stereotypes at all. They are real people, and I would recognize Harry if I met him, and I'm sure everybody else would, too.
DG: I mean, Hercule Poirot, to be fair, is a bit of a joke cartoon figure.
DG: And Christie knows this because she is continually reassuring us when he's about to pounce and reveal the murderer. She often puts in a sentence like, "He no longer seemed like a funny little man."
DG: And when people meet him for the first time, they often think he's a hairdresser or something, which of course is very funny.
DG: Christie is very funny, because then... of course because he's extremely vain, he draws himself up to his full height, which isn't very much, and has wounded pride and ruffled feathers about being mistaken for a hairdresser. But when he's about to do something serious like accuse someone of murder, she always tells us that he suddenly transforms into a sort of leopard-like cat thing that's about to pounce. But it's actually all still in character. You can imagine him doing that. As I said, the characters are very quickly described. And when I was learning to write... it's quite difficult. I know you can go to creative writing classes and so on. I never did, actually. I thought, as somebody who just read consistently from about the age of two, I should be able to write something. But I actually analyze properly how various writers depict characters, and I was very, very impressed by Christie in particular.
KH: Let me ask you a question, Dolores.
DG: And I recognize the same thing in Rowling. Hello. Yes, Keith?
KH: Yeah, I wanted to ask you a question. We're talking about Christie, and I know that she's the queen of the mystery genre, but we also need to talk a little bit about Dorothy Sayers. JK Rowling mentions Dorothy specifically - we had an interview, the lead person who started MuggleNet back in 1999 is Emerson Spartz, and Emerson and Melissa Anelli, who is the Leaky Cauldron's webmistress, they went and interviewed JK Rowling at her house. They had an invitation the day after Half-Blood Prince was released. So, they got flown over to England, they got the books at midnight just like everybody else, and then they went to their hotel rooms and read through these books rapid-fire, and then they got to go to JK Rowling's house and do this interview. And the interview is on our website, by the way. But in this interview, JK Rowling specifically mentions... and I want to read it from her so I don't misquote it. It says:
"There's a theory - this applies to detective novels, and then Harry, which is not really a detective novel, but it feels like one sometimes - that you should not have romantic intrigue in a detective book. Dorothy L Sayers, who is queen of the genre said - and then broke her own rule - but said that there is no place for romance in a detective story except that it can be useful to camouflage other people's motives. That's true; it is a very useful trick. I've used that on Percy and I've used that to a degree on Tonks in this book, as a red herring. But having said that, I disagree inasmuch as mine are very character-driven books, and it's so important, therefore, that we see these characters fall in love, which is a necessary part of life."
Now, first of all, I need to know a little bit more about Dorothy Sayers. But secondly, my question for both Sarah and you is: Are there rules involved in writing detective books? I mean, she says something to the effect that a rule was broken with the romance figure and all that. Is there some kind of... like a ten commandments of writing a good murder mystery that need to be followed?
DG:[laughs] Ten commandments, yeah. As a matter of fact, there are ten commandments. They were written by one of Dorothy L Sayers' friends, Monsignor Ronald Knox. He didn't start out as a Catholic. He converted to Catholicism. He actually went to Eton. And Knox was thought to be the most clever boy that had ever gone through Eton. And he was an absolutely delightful man. He's written some wonderful books himself. And in an introduction to a detective story anthology in about 1928, I think, he wrote ten very tongue-in-cheek rules. Do you want me to read them? I've actually got a list of them here. Just pulled them up.
KH: Yeah, that'd be great.
DG: "The criminal must be someone who's mentioned in the early part of the story but must not be anybody whose thoughts the reader has been allowed to follow." Now, that bit about the criminal must be somebody who's mentioned in the early part of the story gets rid of all those dreadful stories where you're reading this wretched thing and then you find out that the murderer was somebody who you haven't actually known before.
KH: That does follow the rules of every one of JK Rowling's books.
KH: I mean, you look and Harry meets Quirrell in the Leaky Cauldron, in the very beginning, there he goes on. Ginny gets the diary in Flourish and Blotts and that ends up being the culprit. Sirius Black is mentioned on the TV news and he ends up being what the book is all about...
KH: ...in Prisoner of Azkaban. Goblet of Fire, we get a call through the fireplace at the Weasleys, that Alastor Moody needs helps so Arthur goes over to help and there ends up being...
KH: ...the fake Mad-Eye Moody. In Order of the Phoenix, we've got Dementors and we have in the judge's chamber the Wizengamot... is that how you pronounce it, John? Wizengamot?
JG: You got it.
DG: It sounds good to me.
KH: Is sitting the toad behind the bench, also named Dolores. Sorry, Dolores. [laughs]
DG: Yeah, I know.
KH: And then, let's see. What do we have for Half-Blood Prince? We get Slughorn, I guess.
JG: Well, there's the book.
KH: Well, no, Slughorn is really the whole key, and that's in the beginning when we find out that we need Slughorn to be a teacher and he's holding the sluggish memories which hold the keys to the entire series.
DG: I think there's another mystery there, right at the beginning: What's Draco up to? He's actually up to something peculiar and Harry believes he's got the Dark Mark from it.
KH: Yeah, actually you're right. He follows him through Diagon Alley into Knockturn Alley and looks in the thing, and Draco is trying to get something mended and yeah, it ends up being the Vanishing Cabinet. You're right.
SG: I think that, though, there's so many mysteries in each book. It's not just one. It's hard to think or remember which mystery started it all, really.
DG: Well, the overarching mystery of the entire series is how did Harry survive the Killing Curse, and what's the connection between his mind and Voldemort's mind? That's right at the beginning and you've got to wait - what is it, John? - 4,100 pages before you get the verdict.
JG:[laughs] Yeah, yeah. I mean, as Keith read in that interview, she said that the seventh...
DG: Anyway, if you... the rules. Rule number two is a bit of a blow if you're JK Rowling because rule number two of Ronald Knox's rules are: "All supernatural or preternatural agencies are ruled out as a matter of course." [laughs] But...
JG: It's weird. He's a Catholic priest, as you say...
JG: ...and he said, okay, they'll be no divine intervention in these books.
DG: Yeah. "Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable."
KH: Well, we have seven at Hogwarts, so...
JG: That's right. [laughs]
KH: But we only do use... well, one is the main one to Hogsmeade and Honeydukes' cellar, and then the other one ends up being one that Neville creates kind of from the Room of Requirement. So, we really only see two real passages. Well, I guess... no, we see three. We see the one from the Whomping Willow to the Shrieking Shack, too.
JG: She's breaking rules here.
DG: I love secret passages.
JG: She's breaking rules.
DG: I'm always using them.
KH: Oh, I do too. Whenever I play Clue, man, to me... did anybody ever play the Harry Potter Clue?
KH: Oh, wow!
JG: There's a Harry Potter Clue?
DG: I didn't know there was one.
KH: Well, we are talking about a Harry Potter show and we're talking about mysteries, and why not bring up the game of Clue? But in Harry Potter Clue, there is a dial for each of the houses in the corners and it opens up new doors to new secret passages.
KH: So, you can go from the Potion's room to the Library, or the next round you turn it again and it opens up a different passage to a different corridor. So there's, like, a hundred secret passages in that game, but it's actually a fun game to play versus the old Clue.
DG: That sounds wonderful!
JG: I'm going to shift gears here, Dolores, and go right to the bottom of your list here because the bottom of those ten rules that Reverend Knox came up with, he says: "Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them." And I know you and I have gone back and forth about this privately. Probably, to me, the only mystery that I thought was kind of a "Oh, come on" was at the very end of Goblet of Fire where, [laughs] as Steve Vander Ark says, "Moody pulls off the plastic mask and oh, it's not really Moody. It's Barty Crouch." That, to me... because we were set up... we knew what Polyjuice Potion was, but we were told it was this incredibly complicated brewing that took months and months to do, and you only got to use it for an hour or whatever. Well, all of a sudden, we find out at the end of this book that we've been deceived, it's not really that guy, he's somebody else. I thought that was kind of a... I mean, she said in an interview that she planned her books for months and the only book that she didn't do that for was Goblet and she had to rewrite more than half the book. I assume that one of the reasons that Goblet was so funky was she had to rewrite the whole book. But you think that was masterful.
DG: I do, yeah, yeah.
JG: I agree, it's a head slapping moment. You do the "Oh! How couldn't I have known?" But part of me was like, "Well, how could I have known?" I felt like I was...
SG: But he has his flask the whole time! Of course you know. He's always drinking out of it. [laughs]
JG: Now it's two against one. Keith, what do you think? Do you think Goblet of Fire masterful or kind of a failed mystery?
KH: Well, Goblet of Fire happens to be my favorite book.
JG: Oh, I've been reamed here. Okay, I...
KH: Well, let me clarify that. Order of the Phoenix is actually my favorite book. Goblet of Fire was the first book that... when I started the series, the first three movies were out, so I didn't know anything about Goblet of Fire. So, when I first read Goblet of Fire, I was completely blown away by the mystery of Barty Crouch Jr. being Alastor Moody. Totally blown away. I say it was masterful.
JG: Okay. I'm outvoted then. I'll have to... in every lecture I give from now on, to start - tomorrow, I give a talk tomorrow - ten things you didn't know about Goblet of Fire, I'm going to say a panel of experts has told me this is masterful detective fiction. I'm won over entirely.
DG: Well, going right back to the beginning of Goblet when we learn that there has been a disturbance with Alastor Moody's dustbins, it's sort of explained and it's explained in terms of character, that Alastor Moody is somebody who overreacts to situations, who always thinks there's somebody out to get him. And later on, we find of course that was when the substitution was made. That's when the whole mystery of Alastor Moody kicked off. That's when he was kidnapped, the poor man. And in regards to Alastor Moody throughout the series, in Goblet when he's really Barty Crouch, it is a mystery. Why somebody should be so partial to Harry? Why does he keep on helping Harry? Now, we think that, "Ooh, he's helping Harry. This means he's a really good bloke," and we sort of stick it up for Alastor Moody like nobody's business. And when he finds him on the stairs, isn't that great? Because Harry is seeing the name "Bartemius Crouch" in Snape's Potion room, goes to investigate, and of course he's seen the name "Crouch" in the Potions room. And the man himself, Moody, comes out, realizes what's going on, and under the cover of helping Harry and getting him out of Filch's and Snape's clutches, takes the Marauder's Map off him. He says, "Can I borrow this, Harry?" And Harry, who is so grateful, says, "Oh, of course you can." It's just wonderful.
KH: Well, not only do we have that, we also have Harry... our dreams coming true when Moody turns Draco into a bouncing ferret and bounces him in front...
DG: Oh, isn't that wonderful? Yeah.
KH: So, we have... he's like our hero now as we go through the... we learn these Unforgivable Curses, he's teaching Harry to defend himself from the Imperius Curse, he's helping Neville out, we see Neville starting to grow in confidence and everything. So, a lot of positive things are happening with this impostor who, at that time, we had no idea was an impostor. So yeah, everybody is being built up in the story and then ultimately... wow, I was blown away.
JG: Yeah, and Dolores mentioned the misdirection. I will yield that in Goblet, the misdirection is masterful. As you said, we're totally set up to believe that this... not Crouch, but Moody is the best of all teachers. And we have Sirius Black telling us, in his private cave, that the Durmstrang teacher is the worst, that Karkaroff is a Death Eater, and so we're leaning hard towards Karkaroff, right? He's the bad guy or whatever, and he's talking to Snape, and we've totally bought in to the Durmstrang, evil, German character. And bang, it turns out to be the hidden Crouch figure.
JG: The misdirection was...
DG: And we're actually, through Harry looking at the trial in the Pensieve, allowed to see the trial of Barty Crouch. Sirius has actually told Harry something about it and Harry has the reaction that you would expect, "What, Mr. Crouch convicted his own son?" But when we actually see the trial, we believe that Barty Crouch is innocent. And when you actually look at that scene, why do we believe Barty Crouch is innocent? Simply because he is young, he is good looking, it's his father who's convicted him, and we feel sorry for him. None of this is evidence.
JG: Absolutely. And we've seen Barty Crouch being mean to Winky. We're with Hermione that... and Sirius has said, see how a man is with his inferiors not with his peers if you want to judge him...
JG: ...or whatever, which is kind of a sad comment on poor Sirius Black, as of course he's horrible to Kreacher. But...
DG: That's the thing that Jacob Wellington said, isn't it? "If you want to know what a man is like, look how he treats his varmint". [laughs]
JG: That's right. That's right. It's a direct echo. Now, that scene again... I want to segue from here, away from Goblet for a minute, though I know we're all big fans of Goblet.
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: Where does Rowling get this misdirection? She doesn't talk that much about Austen or Sayers. She talks about Sayers being the queen of the genre, et cetera. And how she breaks her own rules, which I think... you've read Bookshelf, Dolores.
JG: You know I think that she misinterprets Sayers on that count. [laughs] But the writer that she talks about as a mystery writer, oddly enough, is Jane Austen, which is where she gets this whole misdirection thing, where she learns the voice with which she speaks, this third person limited omniscient thing, basically the house-elf telling the story over Harry's head. But she says that, "Emma is the most skillfully managed mystery I've ever read." She says that, "I have never set up a surprise ending in a Harry Potter book without knowing I can never, and will never, do it anywhere near as well as Austen did in Emma". I've read Emma a couple of times. I'm never really that surprised about Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax. But Rowling is blown away by this. Emma is the biggest thing. And she also said that she loves a good whodunnit. "I love a good whodunnit and my passion is plot construction. The best twist ever in literature is in Jane Austen's Emma. To me, she is the target of perfection at which we shoot in vain." Hey, tell us about plot construction here, Dolores.
DG: Jane Austen - yes, I think she is absolutely wonderful. I think you'd have to be very odd indeed if you didn't like Jane Austen.
DG: I do.
JG: I'm laughing because my daughter, Sarah, is a big Austen fan, and she is sitting here nodding her head. She's being very quiet but she's nodding her head.
[DG and SG laugh]
SG: Yes. Here's me nodding.
DG: The thing about Emma - which is an absolutely super book, and if nobody has read it, if people haven't read it, go out and read it immediately. It's brilliant. The plot twist in there - now, I'm terribly sorry, I'm about to do a spoiler here - is that we are convinced that Emma is going to marry Frank Churchill. And when she doesn't, when it turns out that Frank Churchill, who - if you are talking about it as a detective story - he is the most obvious suspect. Instead she marries Mr. Knightley, and we feel that is so right. And it's the same sort of satisfaction we get when Agatha Christie or somebody has led us up the garden path because we suspect everybody, and then when we find the right one, it just explains everything. We just know that Emma's life is going to be wonderful from then on. She really has made the right choice. Actually, one of Jane Austen's books I like best, though, is Northanger Abbey.
DG: And I can't recommend that highly enough to everybody because that is very like Rowling in that it's very funny, very funny indeed. But it's actually genuinely scary in parts, which of course is a trick that Rowling can pull off all the time. It'll be genuinely scary, and the next page you're laughing because something very, very funny has happened.
JG: Yeah, I agree. Northanger Abbey is one of my favorites because it's a real run up of Gothic romance. And while she's laughing up her sleeve at it, about all these little tropes - like the secret message book or whatever. It turns out to be a laundry list or whatever.
JG: And you're terrified of what you're going to find out. [laughs] But then, it turns around and she actually uses the Gothic tropes to scare you to death.
JG: You're like, "Wow, how did she do that?"
JG: At one page I'm laughing at the thing, and then... sort of like the Deathday Party, where you're kind of laughing at all these ghosts, and they're running themselves through the horrible meal that they're eating there or whatever. You're just kind of laughing that she's playing games with the genre. And then, you've got this giant snake running around, and a villain who looks sort of like Snidely Whiplash or whatever, some sort of cartoon. But you've bought into it. It's terrifying. Again, I think you're right. That's an absolute parallel. But the Emma thing - she says that she's read Emma twenty times in a row, serially.
JG: She just read it again and again and again to get the voice down...
JG: ...and to come up with these plot twists. And yeah, every single one of her books ends with - as you called it - the head-slapping moment, where we do the, "Aww, I should have known it was Quirrell!"
JG: Or "Oh, of course the rat was actually a human being." There was never a moment where I thought, "Oh, come on. The rat is a human being." Now, sometimes... how about this one? Keith, you've got to back me up on this one. In the run-up to Deathly Hallows we were all going through the books, combing them for that detail that we might have missed, and to figure out what was going to be in the last book. And, in the last book, she rolls out these Hallows, these Deathly Hallows. Was that really fair? I mean, we couldn't possibly have guessed the Deathly Hallows from the previous books.
KH: No, you couldn't have guessed anything coming from there. In fact, when we found out the title was Deathly Hallows... and there were several titles going on. It was like, The Peverell Quest and The Elder Wand, Harry Potter and the Elder Wand, were optional titles that she had. But when we found out that the title was Deathly Hallows, we kept talking about what the heck these things are. And I honestly was saying "hollow". I was thinking Godric's Hollow. So, I was confused as to what these Hallows were. I think everybody did believe that the Invisibility Cloak was one of the Hallows. That was one that we pretty much got. But the other two, no. No clue that there was a Resurrection Stone or an Elder Wand.
JG: Right, right. So, Dolores, was that a failure or was that... were those Hallows just something that we learn about early on in that book and so it was still a fair detective mystery thing?
DG: Oh yeah, I think it's perfectly fair because as the story moves on and if you take the seven books as one story, one continuous story, then the protagonist, the hero or the detective, whathaveyou, has got to learn more information to solve the mystery. That's fine. Sometimes when people think of classic detective stories, I think they're actually confusing it with a game of what we call Cluedo, what Americans call Clue. You just have to find Colonel Mustard in the library with a walking stick or candlestick or whathaveyou.
DG: But if you think that the detective story... yes, it's got its own conventions, but it is actually a novel. It's a book first and foremost before it's a collection of... it's not just a literary crossword puzzle. And yes, you find out more as you go on, otherwise there wouldn't be any point in investigating. There wouldn't be any point in looking for more information if you don't find more information. They've got to put the information together themselves. Hermione has got to spot that very little Grindewald's mark in The Tales of Beedle The Bard. I mean, obviously Dumbledore knew that his possessions were going to be deeply scrutinized and he couldn't leave anything too obvious, and he was relying on Hermione to pick up that clue. And she did. And then of course because, as it works as a story, it's a lot of fun that we're seeing Xenophilius Lovegood at the wedding wearing Grindewald's mark and Krum kicks off about it. But yes, it's perfectly legitimate, I think.
KH: I think she introduces enough clues in the very beginning. The only thing that we don't know anything about throughout the series about the Hallows is the Resurrection Stone. But we get clues right from Philosopher's Stone/Sorcerer's Stone, whichever one you want to go by. When the Elder Wand is there because Dumbledore defeated Grindewald in 1945, so we have that clue that Dumbledore is a very powerful wizard. We have a clue that Lord Voldemort is only afraid of Dumbledore, there's got to be a reason behind that. We didn't know it was really the Elder Wand, but we're given these clues. And then we're also given the clues of the Invisibility Cloak and just how powerful this thing is throughout the series, never fails.
DG: Yeah, right from the minute it's introduced, isn't it? It's as soft as silk and it compresses into virtually nothing, and yet other wizards use Disillusionment Charms, Invisibility Charms, nothing ever matches up to this wonderful cloak that they've got. And so when Xenophilius Lovegood in Deathly Hallows is explaining to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, this cloak is so wonderful, this Hallows cloak, have you ever seen a cloak like that? And they're all kind of biting their tongues, saying we've actually got one.
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: And it makes Hermione's response, "Oh, you're not buying this, are you?" and Harry is kind of like, "Well, I've got one in my hand with this Resurrection Stone," but he thinks... I think he assumes it's inside that Snitch. [laughs] And I've got the one we've been using now since Christmas of Philosopher's Stone. How do I not believe in these Deathly Hallows? But Hermione goes all skeptical on him like, "Oh, I can't believe this." Yeah, that was a great opening of...
DG: It's interesting, isn't it? Because Xenophilius Lovegood is so fantastically new age. He's a wonderful creation. And he's so barking...
DG: ...and I love that comment, of... is it Aunt Muriel? The one with the goblin-made tiara and she says, "Good heavens, what is Xenophilius Lovegood wearing? He looks like an omelette."
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: It's so funny! And it just depicts exactly what's his life. And of course, we met Luna who's delightful but odd, definitely odd. And Hermione is just being so rational. She wants to get to the end of this quest and she doesn't want to muck about with nonsense. And of course, it is the nonsense that actually leads to them finding the answer to it, that they do have to find the Hallows.
JG: And here's what I find fascinating, I think Keith put his finger on this - no, it's you, Dolores - it's that clue inside Beedle the Bard that Dumbledore assumes that Hermione will pick up on these triangles, these bisected circles inside a triangle, along the margins of one story, that she's going to pick up what that is and investigate that symbol. And what's funny is I think that's what Rowling is saying we need to do, that basically we need to read a children's story, we need to open up the symbols to these books, and we'll get the meaning of the larger story. [laughs] We'll find out really what's going on, if we can just figure out the symbolism of these books. She's really inviting us to read these books at a more profound layer. Of course, that's what I do for a living.
JG:[laughs] And I love the fact that Hermione's last name is what, Keith?
KH: Oh, it's something similar. I've heard it before.
DG: Starts with a G.
KH: I've heard the name before.
JG: Right on the tip of your tongue. Oh well.
KH: I think you and Sarah just adopted that name.
KH: That's what I think.
[DG and SG laugh]
KH: I think you read the books, and then you went right down to the office and said, "Hey, I'm going to change my name from John Smith to John Granger." [laughs]
JG: It was actually John Hawk, but I changed it.
KH: Oh, no way!
JG: I said, "Oh, no one is going to believe the Hawk thing. I'm going right for the smart guy."
JG: I was toying with Longbottom, but Longbottom is not going to work for me.
DG: Oh look, if anyone is going to change their name around here, don't you think I'd be first in queue? [laughs]
JG: Oh, really. Dolores. And you spell it the right way too, Dolores.
DG: Oh yes, yes.
JG: That's the scary thing. I mean, Dolores. Right there front.
DG: But it's a wonderfully chosen name. I love JK Rowling's names, and even though I grimaced a bit when I found out what Dolores Umbridge was called...
DG: It's from the Latin - it actually means pain, grief, and suffering.
JG: That's right.
DG: It's a very popular name in Ireland and very popular in Spain. It's very unusual in England, and I've always got to spell it for people and I've always got to explain it. I tend to say, "Oh, it's Irish," and because the Irish are so cool, everybody says, "Oh, that's so wonderful."
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: Is it a reference to, what, the Virgin Mary suffering at the foot of the Cross? Or is it...
DG: John, did you ever meet my mother? You sound as if you were on first name terms with her. Yeah, that's exactly what it is. [laughs]
JG: Oh, okay. I was afraid it was painful childbirth or something, Dolores.
JG: And your mother just said, "Oh, this child was a grief to me," or whatever.
DG:[laughs][unintelligible] ...poor mum.
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: No, no, it was just a Catholic name and my mother was Irish, so that's where it came from.
JG: Oh. I think it's actually a beautiful name. I kind of winced when I saw the name and thought, "Oh, no one will ever name their child Dolores again."
DG: Oh, I know. [laughs]
JG: Seriously, now if you named your child Dolores, it's a little bit like naming him something like Tom Riddle Jones or something, or Bellatrix Smith. It's a little heavy in a world consumed by Harry Potter to do this.
DG: Well, I know when all the kids... I've got five girls, all of them are grown up now. But when they were all going for their Confirmations, which occurs at about thirteen... and the fun part of the Confirmation is you are allowed to choose another name, and every single one of them wanted to be called Hermione.
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: That's great.
DG: And I argued and argued with them. I said, "You're meant to be thinking of higher things, not Harry Potter."
DG: "Just for a moment, let's put Harry Potter back on the bookshelf and just think of some other name because everybody will know what you're doing and thirty years from now this might be an embarrassment." [laughs]
JG: That's right. It's almost like a tattoo, right? Sarah, tell me the mysteries inside these books. Daughter Sarah here, you're a mystery whodunnit type lady who grew up not only on Harry Potter but on Agatha Christie. When you look at Harry Potter and... throw out what you think are the big seven mysteries, and Keith, Dolores, and I will give this a... how about we give it a score, Keith? One to ten on the quality of the mystery and how it played out in terms of satisfaction at the end.
DG: Yeah, let's do that.
JG: Can we do that?
KH: That sounds good.
SG: All right.
JG: Go ahead.
SG: All right, here we go. So in Philosopher's Stone we have the first mystery is, "What is that package that Hagrid picks up in Gringotts?" And then they find that Nicolas Flamel has something do with it. So, that's the mystery that they look into the entire book. Chamber of Secrets...
JG: Hold on. Hold on.
KH: Let's talk about that one.
KH: So, we have the actual package of the Philosopher's Stone in the book The Philosopher's Stone. I think everybody and their mother knew what was in that package.
KH: I mean, it's a little obvious. Just by reading the title of the book, you kind of know what's in that package. So, the mystery is not really there as far as what it is, but the mystery continues with who's actually after it. So, as far as The Philosopher's Stone, I'm going to say very poor mystery. But who's after it? Let's say a seven.
JG: A seven?
DG: Because somebody is after it, aren't they? Because Gringotts has a break-in very shortly after Hagrid has picked up the parcel.
JG: I think you're both right. The mystery is not so much "Is it a stone or not?" though we don't really find out until Harry remembers the card and that Dumbledore is an alchemist and Flamel or whatever, that that's what it is. But there's something weird going on that they had that break-in. I'd give that a higher one because the moment where we turn to that next to last chapter and it's Quirrell in front of the mirror, that was a "wow" for me. I was really surprised that it was Quirinus Quirrell. I really thought it was going to be Snape. I'd give that one an eight rather than just a seven.
DG: Yeah, I think it scores really high, actually.
JG: Okay, Sarah Berra, next one.
SG: All right. Chamber of Secrets, Harry is accused... well, not really accused, but he's suspected of being the heir of Slytherin because he's the only one who can understand the hissing in the walls. And he's hearing voices. So, they go off on a journey to find out who is the heir of Slytherin and where the Chamber of Secrets is.
JG: Okay, I think you've got it, that the mystery inside Chamber of Secrets is, "Who is the heir of Slytherin?" And weirdly enough, the hero is the suspect.
JG: Now, is that a formula, Dolores? To have the hero be the...
DG: Oh, yeah. That's pretty classic stuff actually, yeah, to have the hero in danger.
JG: So, the reader knows because we sympathize with the hero, that he's not really the heir of Slytherin. But even Harry - the part I like about - Chamber is my favorite book. I've said that a couple of times on this show. I think it's the neatest construction, sort of a standalone. What I like about this is that even the hero begins to suspect that he is the heir of Slytherin because of the Sorting Hat whispering in his ear.
DG: Oh, yes.
JG: Here's the hero thinking, "They might be right. I might be the bad guy." Now, that to me was a wonderful inversion. I love Chamber, so I'm going to give it a nine. I'm going to give it a nine.
DG:Chamber, of all of them, is the absolutely classic mystery. I mean, it's the one where Percy Weasley says as well, when he's talking to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, "Now, no more detection work, you three, or else I'll write to Mom." [laughs]
JG: Oh, that's right! That's right! I'd forgotten that. That's right, he basically says, "Stop playing the Hardy Boys, here."
JG: So, what score do you give it, Dolores?
DG: Oh, I'd give it a ten out of ten.
JG: Oh my goodness! Okay, Keith, are you going to be the...
KH: Yeah, I'm not going to go there. Sorry.
KH: The mystery part of it is all well and good. The biggest secret for me was obviously in the diary and how it possessed Ginny. I give that probably about a seven or an eight. So yeah, I mean, it's a good... it's not my favorite book, by any stretch of the imagination. I know it's yours, John.
KH: I love the mystery part of it, but no, I'm going to go seven or eight.
JG:[sighs] Okay. What's next, Sarah?
DG: Can I just say something else about Chamber? When you reread it, there's all sorts of little details that you only understand after you know the whole thing, such as somebody's killing Hagrid's roosters.
JG: Oh, yeah.
DG: Now, we know afterwards... and Ginny, of course, is seen near Hagrid's hut. And a rooster call can kill a basilisk. But you only get that if you know what it's all about. It's a very satisfying book, I think.
JG: All right, Keith. You've been voted down, brother.
KH: That's okay.
JG:[laughs] Go ahead, Sarah. Prisoner of Azkaban.
SG:Prisoner of Azkaban is tough but I think really it's, "Who is Sirius Black?" We know that he is a criminal who has escaped from Azkaban, but in the end we find out that's wrong. So, the whole story... who gives Harry the Firebolt? All of those little mysteries all add up in the end to, "Who is Sirius Black?"
JG: I found that mystery to be the least engaging of the whole thing. I enjoyed the Shrieking Shack moment and the big reveal, but it just seemed inevitable that he wasn't who he seemed to be. I just didn't buy into him being this horribly evil character that Harry had thought of. And I don't know why that book... I loved the big twist at the end with the Time-Turner, and it's a fascinating book in terms of its construction, especially compared to Order of the Phoenix which is kind of its mate. But I don't... the mystery of it fell flat for me. I'd give it a six. Dolores?
DG: Can I disagree?
DG:[laughs] In construction, it's actually more of a thriller than a mystery because it's an ongoing situation right from the beginning. We're not asked to go into the past, particularly. It's current action that we're interested in. But the scene where the Fat Lady's portrait is slashed, and then Ron wakes up and finds Sirius standing over him with a knife, I bought into that. I was convinced that Sirius really was this mass murderer, and I was... it's so long since I read it for the first time. It's hard to cast yourself back. But yeah, when I first read it, I completely bought that Sirius was the villain that everybody said he was. So, yeah.
JG: As a thriller, I get it, but as a mystery, I think I was just... there was no counter evidence. He was just so obviously the guy. Keith, you get the deciding vote here.
KH: No, I agree with Dolores. I was enthralled with Sirius Black. I thought he was the bad guy. To me... at the beginning of the book, he's not in prison for nothing. I mean, who has ever been thrown in prison for nothing, you know? You never hear of that!
KH: But no, I didn't realize he was a good guy. I thought he was a bad guy. I thought he was after Harry for some reason, to kill him. And the whole story that unravelled inside the Three Broomsticks when Harry overheard Rosmerta, Fudge, McGonagall, Hagrid, and Flitwick in there. That conversation really took me for a loop! I was like, okay, this is really a bad dude, man, but it's also his godfather. I don't get this. Where's this going? And then the reveal in the Shrieking Shack was just amazing to me. I mean, right from Hermione calling out Lupin and... that one I didn't see coming. So yeah, the whole mystery was good. I'll give that one a nine.
JG: Okay. I think I'm won over with what you just said there, that that set-up in the Three Broomsticks was masterful, where Harry gets... this thing is picked up there, and then the Shrieking Shack. I'm persuaded. You guys have won me over on this one.
DG: The other real mystery format, actually, that comes into Prisoner of Azkaban is when Scabbers fakes his own death by leaving bloody cat hair on Ron's sheets.
KH: Oh, yeah. Great example.
DG: And I just believed he died! Now, it's so classic to have somebody fake their own death and then come back. But it never occurred to me that Scabbers the rat had faked his own death.
[DG and JG laugh]
KH: Well, another mystery for me in that book is...
DG: We had the culprit, hadn't we? With Crookshanks. And it was so obvious. And then it's misdirection in a wonderful way because immediately it turns into the reason why Ron and Hermione are at odds with each other. We're asked to move on from why Scabbers suddenly died, because he didn't do anything to the story particularly, apart from make Ron and Hermione fall out with each other.
JG: That's right.
DG: It's really... that's clever.
JG: And the set-up was brilliant in that it would have been unfair if we hadn't heard of an Animagus before the Shrieking Shack. But we've seen an Animagus in the first chapter of the first book, we see it in the first Transfiguration lesson. We know that there are Animagi, and so that... I thought that was fair. At least it's fair, as The Goblet of Fire revealed at the end. Which brings us to Goblet of Fire. Is there really a mystery...
KH: Well, hang on, hang on, I'm still not done with Prisoner. The mystery even gets bigger when you're looking at the Marauder's Map with Harry and he sees Peter Pettigrew on the map. He goes to investigate and there's nothing there. You're like, what is going on with this Peter Pettigrew dude? How is he alive and walking around the castle? Is he a ghost, or what's going on with this? And then the other mystery in that book that I thought was incredibly well done is Hermione's Time-Turner in itself.
DG: Oh, yes.
KH: How was she getting to these different classes?
KH: I mean, from one class to the other. How was she taking twelve classes in a semester?
KH: It's not physically possible to be doing this, and we have no idea until she reveals it at the end.
JG: And really the funny thing there is we see how dull Ron and Harry are, is that they just keep taking her "let's not talk about that" excuses acceptable. Can you imagine? Only boys... only young boys could be that stupid, right? You're like, "Wait a minute, how are you doing this?"
DG: Well, to be fair, John...
KH: Or she's walking right behind them...
JG: That's right! Yeah.
KH: ...and going into the Charms classroom, and then she disappears right before the Charms classroom. Well, where did you go?
KH: And she's like, "Oh, I fell asleep in the dorm."
DG: Well, to be fair, John and Keith, when I was reading it - again, for the first time which was a long time ago - as the reader, I didn't put the book down and think, "How is Hermione doing it?" I thought, "Oh, she's doing an awful lot. Gosh, she's going to be so tired," and just read on. I didn't stop to ponder about it. And when we got the Time-Turner explanation, when Albus Dumbledore says, "We need more time," it's wonderful...
JG: That's right.
DG: ...when suddenly we get the explanation. And also, as well as we do that with... that is a detective story thing, where you go back over the same scene, but feed in more information, so they actually look at themselves performing all these things, all these actions. Yeah, I'd rate it... I don't know. I'm going to give all these books a high mark, I think.
DG: But Prisoner of Azkaban as a mystery - about a seven, I think, for that one.
JG: All right. Have we beaten Goblet to death? Can we go on to Order of the Phoenix? Can we... do you want to... what is the mystery in Goblet? Who put Harry's name in the cup? What do you think, Sarah?
SG: Oh yes, absolutely. I mean, Harry... as much as Harry wants to be in the Triwizard Tournament, he quickly finds that someone must be out to get him.
SG: And it's not as great as he thought it would be. But...
JG: Is that... Keith, do you agree that's the driving mystery, who put the name in the cup?
KH: Yeah, absolutely. That's the whole point of the Triwizard Tournament. And also, where are these... where is this information coming from? How is Rita Skeeter getting these stories on all the stuff of the giant, of Hagrid being a half-giant, the dreams that Harry is having in a Divination classroom? How is she getting these stories? That was a great mystery in itself.
JG: Okay, but I would say that Goblet fails as a mystery because it's... neither of those questions - "How is Rita getting the information?" or "Who puts the name in the cup?" - really drives the story. There's no real investigation. Hermione figures out the bugging, if you will, and we get the big reveal at the end about... when the plastic mask comes off, when the Polyjuice Potion wears off, we get that big reveal. But they don't spend any time really exploring that. The drive to this story is, "Will Harry survive these tasks?" We're turning the pages because we want to know if he's going to be alive at the end. It's a very different book, and I'm talking about this... again, I said I'm giving a talk on Goblet of Fire tomorrow. It's not a mystery story the way the other ones are. You're not really engaged...
KH: No, I agree with you.
JG: ...in the sense of detection.
DG: And yet, John, it starts with the most perfect Agatha Christie beginning: the murder at the Riddle house.
JG: Oh, that's right! It starts with a murder!
JG: That's right!
DG: And if anybody had really doubted that JK Rowling had not only read but loved Agatha Christie, just read the murder at the Riddle house. And the nice thing is that we, the reader, are in on the solution already because we know about the Killing Curse, so we're able to interpret these events as they happen. But it's just so beautifully done, and I for one deeply appreciated it.
JG: That's a wonderful thing you point out, Dolores, because that... Goblet, Philosopher's Stone, and Deathly Hallows all start out with a murder by the Dark Lord.
JG:Stone, the whole appearance on Privet Drive of McGonagall and Dumbledore. They're there because of the murder in Godric's Hollow. We get to see the Dark Lord kill somebody at the beginning of Goblet and then again at the beginning of Deathly Hallows. It really is the axis of the whole ring composition of the series. But that... you're right, and that's a classic mystery story format. We get... here's the bad guy. Now, usually we don't see the murder being committed though, right? We're supposed to find the dead body and then figure out who did it. But you're right, we start off with a murder.
JG: Maybe I'll... I was going to give it a four for a murder mystery. Maybe I'll give it a five now. Keith, what do you think?
KH: As far as the... yeah, I'll stick with a seven on that one.
DG: Yeah, a six for me, actually, because you're perfectly right, John. This is in Goblet, that's where the mystery format does actually get pushed slightly to one side. I think it's actually where she finds her inner Dickens, as it were, because I find Goblet much more Dickensian than the others because there's things there that are just there for fun. There's the Blast-Ended Skrewts, there's lots of fun stuff...
DG: ...that doesn't really add to, "Wow, who's done what to who?" But it's just there simply because it's enjoyable. It's fun to read.
JG: Yeah, the draft-horses drinking single malt whiskey. I mean, that was classic.
JG: That's... [laughs] okay, Sarah, what's the mystery in Order of the Phoenix? What have we got here?
SG: Well, I guess there's sort of two, but we have the Dementor attack. Harry doesn't know why he was attacked...
JG: Oh, yeah.
SG: ...on Privet Drive, of all places, by Dementors. Magic is not allowed. And in front of Dudley, of all people. So, you have that and then you have his dreams that we do not understand, and that he always wants to find out what they really mean. And that's very important at the end, of course, because...
DG: Yeah, and the other mystery.
JG: Now, Dolores, tell...
DG: What is the weapon? What is this weapon? Why are the Order guarding it?
JG: Oh, that's right.
JG: That's right.
DG: I mean, Phoenix is a little bit different, I think, from the other books. Because in the other books, Harry, Ron and Hermione are where the action is. In Order of the Phoenix, the action is actually all happening in the adult world, in the adult wizarding world. And that, I think, is why we have Dolores Umbridge at Hogwarts because it's Harry's own little personal war against Voldemort's return and the forces that are taking over the Ministry. Because the other stuff, like what's in the corridor et cetera, et cetera, Arthur Weasley knows, that's why he's there and so do all the other wizards. Our three don't and obviously neither do we. So, the action is a bit off-stage in Phoenix and I think that's probably why Harry gets tormented with so many dreams because it's the only way, really, in which he can buy into the big mystery, "What is Voldemort doing?" Because he's not doing very much. The start of... in Phoenix, you've got that first scene where Harry is desperate for news because he can't credit that Voldemort has come back and nothing has happened. It's very, very like the Phoney War that happened at the beginning of World War II in Britain.
JG: Oh yeah, yeah.
DG: Where war was declared and everybody was hunkered down and waiting for it, and nothing happened. And it's quite a scary period. My dad was a pilot in World War II - and he's still with us, bless him - and he remembers that Phoney War period vividly. They just wanted to get on with it. And of course, the enemy, if they don't let you get on with it...
DG: ...it's very disconcerting.
JG: Well, I find this one... I think, Keith, this is one of your favorite books, right? Order of the Phoenix?
KH: Yeah, this is definitely my favorite book.
JG: People despise Order of the Phoenix and say, "Oh, what a depressing... it's overly drawn, she needed an editor." Or they say, "By far the best book. It's the longest one, it's this, that." Again, I'm going to argue that as a mystery, just like Dolores said, almost all the action is off-stage. They can't investigate the questions. I mean, Harry is told not to investigate this thing going on inside his head, these dreams, right? He's told, "You've got to take these Occlumency lessons in order to block these things from happening." Everything is happening off-stage and we don't get that sense of engagement. Instead what we get is this interior war that Dolores is describing. This is a psychological novel, there are mysteries going on but there is very little detection. I like it too, Keith, because of the psychological thing. I love the fact that, like most of our lives, [laughs] most of the action in our lives is going on off-stage. We've all got employers or publishers or whatever. [laughs] A lot of the decision-making in our lives, we don't really have input to. But that... it's the first really, really adult novel, I thought, especially after the kind of Olympic Games experience of Goblet. This was a slap in the face. It was after the three year summer, we waited so long for this book. But as a detective thing, again I'd say the mysteries... we don't investigate the mysteries, not that big a surprise at the end. Again, I'd give it a six, maybe. A six or seven. Keith?
JG: Tell me how wrong I am. [laughs]
KH: No, you're not wrong at all. For the mystery part of it, I totally agree with you. The dream was the biggest driving mystery force here. How did Harry end up in that snake that attacked Arthur Weasley in the Ministry? How is that possible that he got transported from his dormitory to the Ministry and back after attacking Arthur? How does that happen? How does he taste the blood that was in there? But the whole book for me... I mean, it's just a refreshing book because I love Luna Lovegood in the book.
KH: She brings this air of just normality to the whole series, and she's one of my favorite characters.
JG: Hey Keith, you're scaring me. If Luna Lovegood is normal to you, that's scary.
KH: Oh, absolutely! She...
DG: Oh, I think we've all met a Luna Lovegood, haven't we?
KH: I think we should all have a Luna Lovegood in our lives that just keeps us grounded as to what's real and what's not real out there from people.
JG: Someone delivering great value. She's...
KH: But also the mystery of the Thestrals. Why is Harry seeing these Thestrals throughout the books? How come he can now see these horseless-drawn carriages no longer horseless? What's flying out there in the Forbidden Forest that he's seeing? How come these Thestrals are able to be seen here? And I like that whole story and how they played into the end of being great with direction and then transporting them to the Ministry and ready for that battle. So yeah, I really like that whole thing.
JG: So, you love the book, but as a detective, you're saying...
KH: As a mystery, it's a four or five because there's not much of a mystery in there except for little pieces here and there. It's more of just a thriller driving...
DG: I agree, Keith. As a book, I think it's super. I've only just reread it. I think it's a marvelous book. But as a mystery, no. I think it's a three, four, on the scale. I think it's more a war story than a mystery.
DG: That's the genre.
JG: Let's go on to where the war breaks out. Sarah, what's the mystery, if there is one, in Half-Blood Prince?
SG: Well, it's really in the title. You have another magic book and there's a Half-Blood Prince who's writing it. You have to figure out who it is.
JG: And Hermione is working hard to find out who the Half-Blood Prince is. I mean, she's determined throughout the book. And she hates that book, right? It's making Harry better in Potions than she is. [laughs] But she actually is working hard like she is in the first book to find out who Nicolas Flamel is. She's determined to find out who the Half-Blood Prince is. Any other mysteries inside that book? I mean, that book I think may be the great detection thing because we're getting all the clues about the Dark Lord.
KH: Well, we talked about it before. Where's Draco going? That's a mystery.
JG: That's right. That's right.
KH: The Vanishing Cabinet that was seen in the beginning of Knockturn Alley that we didn't know was a Vanishing Cabinet, what does that have a role to play? Why is Draco trying to kill Dumbledore? Is Draco a Death Eater? I mean, these are all little mysteries that are built inside the book. But yes, as a mystery story, no. The only big mystery to me that was revealed in that book... because I really didn't care who the Half-Blood Prince was. I still don't really understand what significance Snape being the Half-Blood Prince really is. I mean, so he was good at Potions.
KH: I mean, in the end of the story, who really cares? But what I do care about was Slughorn's memories and getting the story from Slughorn. I mean, that to me was, how do I go about getting that sluggish memory from him? That was the mystery to me. So, as a mystery book, to me it's like a three.
JG: Oh, really? You had me convinced. Here's Harry trying to be Hercule Poirot. I mean, he's determined to find out what Draco is doing. His friends are laughing at him, saying, "Give it up. You're late for a Quidditch match because you're following Draco Malfoy? Are you out of your mind?" And then, as you say, he's determined to find out... to get that memory for Dumbledore. This may be the only assigned mystery inside the actual books. As a mystery... and we've got Hermione trying to solve this stuff and they're all using all sorts of different tricks from the invisibility cloak to the Felix Felicis potion. I don't know, Keith. I think this is... for a mystery, a detective fiction piece, this may be one of the biggest ones, maybe one of the best. Dolores, what do you think?
DG: Oh, I think it's definitely a mystery because it's set up as such at Spinner's End. I mean, why is Snape taking the Unbreakable Vow? What is he going to do? We've always... one of the big questions of the whole series is, "Is Snape a good character or a bad character?" And here he is. He's allying himself with Bellatrix Lestrange... with Narcissa, rather. Sorry, beg your pardon. Bellatrix is the bond-keeper. But he's got to do something and it's going to be something that's not nice for our side, and yet, what do we think about Snape? Bellatrix doesn't trust him. So, that whole thing about Snape...
JG: Okay, I'm going to give it an eight or a nine. I want to give it a ten, but I'm going to... Keith, what amazes me is your argument about the mystery convinced me how good a mystery it was, and you gave it a low score. But I'm going to compensate for your low score by giving it a nine here.
KH: But the whole thing that you said is the book... the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince, and I don't...
JG: Oh, okay.
KH: ...really care about the mystery of the Half-Blood Prince. So, I mean, there's little mysteries inside the book that are really compelling, but overall on who the Half-Blood Prince is, I could really care less.
KH: That's why I gave it the three or four.
DG: Well, as regards the Half-Blood Prince, I don't think it's... I think that's actually a bit of a Squib, really. That's a firework that doesn't go off. Because when Harry is talking to Lupin about it at Christmas at the Weasleys, I think, Lupin said, "How old is the book?" And Harry finds out it's fifty years old. Now, that means that you are meant to think, "Ooh, it could have been Voldemort's book. It could have been Tom Riddle's book."
JG: Oh, that's right.
DG: But nothing very much is made of it. And then when Snape does reveal, "Don't use my own spells against me, boy. I am the Half-Blood Prince," you think, "Well, so what?"
DG: "Dumbledore's just died. Do we really care?"
KH: Well exactly. That's exactly how I feel.
JG: Okay. Okay. Sarah, we've got one more book here. What's the mystery in The Deathly Hallows?
SG: Okay. Well, Albus Dumbledore. Who was he? Does he really care about Harry? [laughs]
JG: Oh, yeah.
SG: And of course, the Hallows symbol - what it is or what it represents. I think we already talked about this, but...
KH: Well, let me start off with this one. I mean, it's also the search of Hallows or Horcruxes for Harry. Does he go after this one or that one? What are the Hallows? Where are the Horcruxes? I mean, this whole thing is being driven towards that ultimate clash at the end. And Dumbledore set this mystery in tone with all these little clues. Throughout the series, we're given all these little pieces. Here, Dumbledore puts the last of the clues in place for us to find. And I love it as a book. As far as a mystery, it's driven. I'd give it a seven on the mystery scale.
JG: Yeah, I'm with you. This... I talk about Chamber being my favorite standalone book, but Deathly Hallows, as really the culmination of the whole series - I've written a whole book on it. [laughs] I mean, this is I think her greatest achievement. A guy named Cawelti said that the three elements you're going to see in any mystery are reader mystification, then the detection of cause, and restoration of order. And all three of those things are magnificent inside Hallows. I mean, when we find out that... we read all this stuff about Albus Dumbledore at the beginning of Deathly Hallows and then we read, in that dead center of the book, the actual Life and Lies chapter about him. I mean, we are blown away because for six books, Albus Dumbledore has been pretty much the Lord. I mean, he's the overweening good presence inside the books. And then the detection of cause, through the nightmare process of their hunting down these Horcruxes and obedience to Dumbledore's direction, it's a great... it's a thriller, it's fascinating. As Keith says, we're seeing this split destination inside Harry's head, "What am I really looking for here?" But finally, the restoration of order - is there any book that has as satisfying an ending as Deathly Hallows? I know some people don't like the epilogue, but I thought that was a spectacular conclusion to the win. All is well, and that Harry is... at the actual end of the story where Harry says, "It's time for me to have a good rest here," or whatever - again, I thought that was her greatest achievement.
DG: Yeah, I love the ending to Deathly Hallows because all the way through what Harry has wanted more than anything in the world is to have a family. And there he is. At the end of The Deathly Hallows, he's got a family. And it's just so satisfying. As a mystery, no.
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: Sort of a bit half-hearted about it as a mystery. There are mysterious elements in it. Of course there are. I mean, the whole thing about, "What are the Deathly Hallows and how will they affect everything?" That drives a lot of the story. But it's not the main thing that we're after. What we're really after is to try and defeat Voldemort in some way, and of course, that succeeds. So, I think it's more a thriller than a classic mystery.
KH: Oh, it's definitely a thriller, not only how are we supposed to escape Voldemort, but how are we supposed to survive out in this world on our own? I mean, the first time you read Deathly Hallows - I mean, the first time I read Deathly Hallows - obviously I went to the midnight thing, got the book...
JG: Oh, right.
KH: ...and I read as much as I could right through. And the beginning is extremely fast, with the Seven Potters, the wedding, and the escape from the wedding to Grimmauld Place. And they end from the theft at Gringotts bank... the break-in at Gringotts to the end is all taken place in twenty-four hours. So, the last half of the book is all one day and you're, like, blowing through this. It's that middle camping section that everybody scoffs at.
KH: It's the calm before the storm. However, when you reread the books again the second or third time, and you read them in order, and then you read that camping section, that camping section for me actually flew by the second and third time I read it. I mean, I've read it ten times, but...
KH: In the middle section there, it has gone flying by for me, where it's not that boring campground. There's a lot of stuff that is actually happening in there. It's just that first read that it was really slow.
JG: I think it was slow for all of us, Keith, because it was about three in the morning when we got to it, right?
[DG and JG laugh]
JG: We were pretty wonked out. But Keith's right.
DG: The tent sequences don't actually take up all that much time, but it's very, very, very well written. You do get the impression of them doing nothing for ages, and you can understand why Ron finally goes pop and walks out on them.
JG: Yeah, and it has...
DG: You can really feel for Ron just simply having had enough of it. Now, I love the bits of characterization as well. Ron, throughout the entire series, he's been the one who's second best to Harry. He's not as rich as Harry, he's not as famous as Harry, he doesn't play Quidditch as well as Harry. And yet, all of a sudden, they get to this miserable existence in the tent and he's the one that's used to the mother's care, the three meals a day.
DG: Somebody has always looked after him.
JG: That's right.
DG: And he just can't hack it, and that's why he walks out. And, as I say, it doesn't actually occupy much space, written space, but it feels like an awful long time they're in the tent and... yeah.
JG: And that restoration scene in "The Silver Doe", that's the one that Rowling... if she reads one chapter from the close-to-two-hundred chapters in the series, she usually choses "The Silver Doe" and it probably is the single best literary marker in the book, and it's got biblical elements, King Arthur elements, alchemical elements. It's a masterful piece of writing, and it's all set-up by the previous camping scenes, as Dolores said, where we get to see Ron... I mean, Ron's reappearance is so stunning, and basically he's had an illumined heart, quite literally, in his time away. But as a mystery - it does have the elements of a mystery and I love the book, but I think you both convinced me that it's a thriller much more than it is as a detection thing.
KH: But now we do have one more. We have one more to discuss. And no, I'm not going to say Tales of Beedle the Bard or anything like that.
KH: What I am going to say is the entire series as one unit.
DG: Ooh, I think the entire series as one unit is...
JG: What Dolores is...
KH: I mean, it is one unit.
KH: It is one story. It's just broken into seven basic chapters.
KH: But as a story, the whole series, on the scale of a mystery versus thriller versus young adult novel, whatever category you want to put it in, I think it's an incredible mystery from start to finish because we have, right in the beginning, Harry's parents being killed by this Dark wizard. How did Harry survive? We don't find out until the end. And that, to me... all the steps in-between that we go through is one great mystery writing.
DG: I agree, totally.
JG: Well... because I'm the disagreeable guy, I want to disagree here. We find out at the end of Philosopher's Stone that Harry survives because his mother tried to save him. The Dark Lord confirms that later and says that's powerfully old magic or whatever. But we don't really find out anything else about that! We don't find out why that act saved him. I found that... on one level, I thought, "I'm glad she didn't answer the question," but if we're going to grade this as a mystery novel, that was a profoundly a failing in terms of a mystery novel to leave the big question not really answered.
KH: But that's not the question. The question is, "Why did Voldemort even go after Harry?"
JG: Oh, okay.
KH: I mean, let's face it, that's... I mean, what is the purpose of Voldemort targeting a one year boy? He didn't target the parents. He targeted Harry. And he had to kill the parents in order to get to Harry. So, why is it that he attacks Harry, the curse rebounds, hits him, he's out of the picture for three books... for a while. And Harry goes on to be this hero. Why is it that Harry is the only person that can defeat Voldemort in the end? And that is the mystery.
JG: Okay, I get that. And that's the question that Harry asks Dumbledore at the end of the first book. So that is, I think, the overarching mystery, and on that question I think we do get a satisfying answer through the prophecy and things like that, as they're revealed, and Harry rises to that occasion as to why he's going to fight the Dark Lord. Dolores, what do you...
DG: Well, I think it's a chilling moment when Harry realizes that he's the final Horcrux. That actually took my breath away, that there was no other solution for him but to go and actually be killed.
KH: Yeah, we...
DG: And Snape's got a marvellous line, hasn't he? About, "You've raised him as a pig for slaughter." And of course, we've been taught to doubt Dumbledore. We've doubted Dumbledore throughout Hallows, and this seems to be like the complete confirmation. It seems to be so manipulative, and it's such a relief when we meet Dumbledore in King's Cross and he tells us the real story inside it. And that, of course, is what Hercule Poirot does... the Hercule Poirots and the Sherlock Holmes do at the end of a good story, they tell you, "Hey, you've experienced this. Now let me explain it to you." And that's what Dumbledore is doing with Harry in King's Cross. Of course - Harry knows it all, and Dumbledore sort of brings it to his conscious mind. And he also tells him what he has do next.
JG: Keith probably remembers this as clearly as I do. The year that we waited - two years we waited for Deathly Hallows - I think pretty much all of American fandom, at least, was convinced that Harry was a Horcrux.
KH: Yeah, we had written it in our book, MuggleNet.com's What Will Happen in Harry Potter 7? We had him as a Horcrux in there.
JG: I mean, I... on Hogwarts Professor, we had two people that disagreed, but the great majority of the professors were saying Harry is a Horcrux that's been set up. He put a piece of you in you, this and that. So, when that appeared in the story, we had so beaten that to death that was like, "Well, oh come on. He's finally figured this out?" But you're right. If you read the books straight through and you don't have two years of fine-combing the books and really beating it to death, it's a spectacular reveal and you do the, "Oh, my goodness!" Basically, he's a time-bomb. He's the bad guy in the end. Again, I think that maybe a function... Keith, are you with me on this? That we were kind of doing the, "Well, of course you're a Horcrux. We've been talking about this now for eighteen months."
KH: Yeah, but the question is: How are you going to survive, being a Horcrux?
JG:[laughs] Yeah, that was unresolved, for sure.
KH: So, I had him as a dead man, you know? But I didn't know - I figured there had to be another battle on battle, both Voldemort and Harry die together at the same time, it's over, it's done. That's kind of where I thought the book was going to go, so the whole King's Cross thing kind of blew me away.
JG: Well, Keith, I'd already written a book about how there's a resurrection at the end of every one of these books. We had called that he was going to die but rise from the dead, that he's not...
KH: But there was no more reason for him to rise when the Voldemort was dead. That was the whole thing.
JG: Except for, of course, the gleam of triumph in Goblet of Fire where Dumbledore reveals that the blood was going to be what saved him. Anyway, that's... Dolores, I think you're absolutely right. You've put your finger on it, that that moment that Keith and I were kind of doing the yawning and ho-humming, "Oh yeah, you're a Horcrux. We knew that." That, as the wow-reveal to the story that's been set up over the previous six books, that did give it that Hercule Poirot moment of, "Oh my goodness, now what do we do? What's really happened here?" We get the detective... the divine mind, if you will, of Albus Dumbledore to tell us what happened. It's almost like that cottage house mystery or whatever, that...
DG: I think the reason why it works so well for me was that not that Harry got up from the Pensieve and sort of smacked his forehead and think, "Oh, I should have worked that out ages ago!"
DG: It's because he immediately knows what he's got to do: he's got to die. And that walk into the forest is so well written, and it's so sad as well. And I love the fact that he just discards the Resurrection Stone at the end and he doesn't know where it's fallen. He's discarding all these things. I couldn't see how he'd get out of it, really. I mean, I hoped he would, because - to use a Jane Austen phrase - "The compression of the pages, dear reader, will tell you that the tale is drawing to its end."
DG: But I thought, "Oh my goodness me, I hope there's a bit more of Harry!"
[DG and JG laugh]
DG: And I was, like, dying the death until he woke up again in King's Cross, and I thought, "Oh. Well, thank God for that!" [laughs]
JG: We've gone over an hour and a half here. I'm going to close this off here with a question for you, Dolores. We've got a lot of Harry Potter readers that may never have explored... maybe they didn't grow up on The Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew or even the Fabulous Five. Besides your Jack Haldean mysteries which I recommend all of our listeners find a copy of to enjoy this summer, what authors and books do you think are essential to get this whole whodunnit plot construction and character of the good mysteries that Rowling writes? Can you recommend five authors and titles that we should look up today?
DG: Ooh, the whole genre got kicked off to a spectacular start with Wilkie Collins. He was a friend of Dickens, but he's a lot less long-winded than Dickens can be and the book is called The Moonstone.
JG: Oh, yeah.
DG: It's a wonderful book. Please read it, you will do yourself a favor.
JG: I think Dorothy Sayers says that's the best one ever written or whatever, right?
DG: Yeah, yeah. Dorothy L Sayers is a super, super writer. She has very rich characters, wonderful descriptions and a very, very lively way of writing. My favorite book of all of hers is one called A Natural Death. I'd recommend it to anybody. It's just a perfectly constructed mystery that really does deliver and pay off. So, it's Dorothy L Sayers, Wilkie Collins, and of course, Agatha Christie. Just peek into any of Agatha Christie's, and if you don't like it...
JG: Which one?! Which one?!
DG: Any title that's got a nursery rhyme in it, you could try that, such as One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.
DG: Those were a very good sequence of books that she did.
JG: Well, I'll tell you, the best-selling novel she ever wrote was And Then There Were None.
DG: Oh yeah, yeah.
JG: It's one of the top four or five books. It's sold over a hundred-million copies. Oh well. Anyway, And Then There Were None. If you want to choose one, that's the one I'd recommend.
DG: Yeah. The Mrs. Boynton one I referred to...
JG: That's right.
DG: ...where Dolores Umbridge first rides out, that's Appointment With Death. That's a very good book. So, that's Agatha Christie. Now, he doesn't write mysteries, but I absolutely love him: PG Wodehouse.
DG: His Jeeves and Bertie stories are total inverted detective stories. PG Wodehouse adored Sherlock Holmes. He was a very, very keen mystery reader. And if you read a Jeeves and Bertie short story, which you should do because they're brilliant, you will find this wonderful little detective story but inverted. Jeeves, of course, is the Sherlock Holmes. Jeeves is Poirot. Jeeves is the mighty mastermind. And poor old Bertie just gets caught up in the machinery.
DG: Because Jeeves always gets what he wants. [laughs] Finally, once you've tried all those, you'd have a pretty good idea. There's lots of wonderful, wonderful books out there. I'd just suggest exploring. Go to the library, just take a pont on a couple of the books and see what you think. Yeah.
KH: Well, thank you very much, Dolores. It's been great having you on the show. It certainly was an honor having a great mystery writer like yourself with us, and I really want to thank you for all the discussion. And your knowledge of Potter is outstanding!
DG: Well, I don't have five Harry Potter-mad daughters for nothing!
DG: On those midnight book launches, we used to go down to the store and I actually had to buy five books...
JG: Oh my goodness.
DG: ...because all five of them wanted to read them all at once. And then I was impatiently pounding the kitchen floor, saying, "Haven't you finished it yet?!"
KH: Well, again, thank you so much.
DG: Thank you.
KH: Sarah, it's been great having you on the show as well. Thank you for joining us.
SG: Thank you for including me.
KH: And John and I, again, our next show will be live at Ascendio, Friday morning at 11 o'clock in the common room. We hope you all come in. John, I'm thinking about... I just had a Dumbledore costume made, custom-made for me by a friend, Melody Sciarratta - she runs Magic Needle Creations. And she made me this Dumbledore outfit. Should I wear it for the show, or should I just...
JG: Oh, yeah! Oh, yeah!
KH: Or should I wait for the fashion show? Because I think... I'm in the fashion show.
JG: We're definitely going to put... we're going to do pictures.
DG: Keith, I think that sounds like a wizard idea.
KH: Oh, we'll see. I'll debate about that. But anyway... so anyway, if you're listening and you're attending Ascendio we'd love to see you in the Common Room at 11 o'clock Friday and Saturday. We'll do a meet and greet as well. We're going to have some MuggleNet T-shirts available, we'll have some of John's books available for purchase, and we look forward to seeing you all there. If you want to be on the show, go over to MuggleNet.com, look up the Academia site in the nav bar, and there are instructions to...
[Show music begins]
KH: ...be a student on the show, what we need to have submitted to us, what your specialty is, and we will set up some shows. And hopefully, if you're qualified enough and we can get you on, we will be happy to have you on as a student guest, or even as a professional speaker if you are that pronounced. So, from MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
DG: And I'm Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of the Jack Haldean detective stories.
SG: And I'm Sarah Granger, classics major, University of Chicago student.