Strong adventure story

Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone

review by Branko Collin

“Mr and Mrs Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.” This must be one of the clunkiest opening sentences I have ever read, and yet it is the opening sentence of one of the most popular books of recent times, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. You feel sorry for all the publishers who said no to the manuscript based on reading the first page and thus to the barely imaginable wealth they passed up on.

Apart from the opening sentences, though, the book is well worth reading. Rowling does what other mega-storytellers such as Spielberg and Hergé do (respectively did) so well: she tells big stories about big subjects, adventures that capture your attention from beginning to end, where true heroes battle it out against enormous odds. Harry Potter the character nicely matches the hero pattern, thank you very much. He comes perilously close to dying several times in the book already. No wishy-washy treatment of the subject here.

A minor niggle I have is that Rowling sometimes dangerously flirts with my suspended disbelief, and it is a testament to the author’s storytelling qualities that I shrugged off my qualms and dived right back into the book.

An example of this: Hermiony Granger is depicted as a rather horrible little girl for most of the book, but then when Harry and his friend Ron save her from a troll, the experience forges a bond between them that makes them instant friends. Rowling is not interested in the process; she shrugs it off in one sentence, and if your eyes happened to skip it you’ll be wondering the rest of the book what the hell just went on: “There are some things you can’t share without ending up liking each other, and knocking out a twelve foot mountain troll is one of them.”

Don’t say this eye-skipping doesn’t happen; I only noticed the one-sentence sex scene in Thea Beckman’s children’s book Hasse Simonsdochter during my third reading. In that case however, that did not make much of a difference; here it’s more instrumental.

The movie of the book doesn’t have this problem; it is well clear there from the start that Hermione wants to be friends with Ron and Harry. I must further compliment the makers of the film because it follows the book so closely, yet manages to be a good film in its own right.

My rating: 3.5 stars
***1/2

Green in Broek in Waterland

After a hiatus of a couple of weeks I went hiking again with my brother and his girlfriend. We took a short 10 mile walk south of a small picture postcard town just North of A’dam called Broek in Waterland, which is Dutch for “more water than even we consider healthy” (“broek” is pronounced “brook,” you figure out the rest).

Lots of birds and plants you can also find in the city, and some that you won’t such as buzzards and swallows.

Apparently Peter the Great stayed here once in a wooden house just like this (or perhaps exactly like this; we didn’t look very far).

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In the next photo I enhanced the contrast a little. OK, a lot.

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The bright colours on the next one are pretty much as they came off the camera. Most of the rest of the photos I took had a pretty strong blue colour cast, which I had to correct by hand, but this one was just fine and only required some local sharpening after the scaling down had blurred it.

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I am not sure I managed to fix the blue colour cast on the next one, but I like the oily look.

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Some more flowers.

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World maps

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“Territory size shows the proportion of all contributions to international food aid programmes that come from governments there.”

Eamelje.net, where I found the link to the Worldmapper service, displays almost exactly the same map, but there the legend says: “Territory size shows the proportion of all McDonalds restaurants that were open in 2004, that were found there.” (Go spot the differences.)

Got books

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Today’s harvest: 5 kg of books (5 copies for PG, to the left, and 15 for myself). I spent about 4 or 5 euros. Weight: 5 kg. About five were free.

Later some friends came by and we went out dumpster diving. I think I got 5 or 6 more books, although I am afraid to touch them for now.

See here for last year.

Warmest April day ever

The news said that today was the warmest April day ever recorded in the Netherlands. The measuring of temperatures at the same location (De Bilt) goes back a hundred years or so here, if I recall correctly. 28 degrees celsius.

I have been sick for a couple of weeks. Last week I tried a small hike by myself, but got tired pretty quickly. Yesterday my brother called if I wanted to come along, and I said yes. He and his girlfriend and a friend of hers wanted to go towards the beach. The way I understood it we would first take a long walk, and then the girls wanted to stay at the beach for a while, but as it turned out it was just going to the beach, with a long walk to the spot where we would stay.

Beach means: beige or blue, and sometimes beige and blue. We left early (seven in the morning) with the idea to avoid the queues and have the bonus of coming home early and still have some day left. We went to Wijk aan Zee, which is just North of IJmuiden, the town of the steel industry. Large chimney stacks dominate the view at the beach for miles in all directions.

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I only noticed the bug when I was sorting out the photos back home.

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The four elements: earth, water, wind and nekkid white folk. Or: the flag of a country, blue, blue, beige.

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I think I may have told you about how no beautiful thing has ever left my hands, and how I am trying to develop an own aesthetic regardless. The other day I realized that as part of that, I am developing my own vocabulary. I am learning what this camera can do, and what I can do, and how I can use these things in pronouncing this aesthetic I am after. There’s a lot of frustation in there, because I am learning to say things that I don’t necessarily want to say; or perhaps I am learning words that I don’t know yet how to use.

But whatever I do, I continuously assume that the pictures I make with the express purpose of making pretty pictures will turn out better than the accidental ones. And I get foiled at every turn. The next picture is my favourite in the batch because of the wild dunes in the background and the solitude of the sign — or perhaps because the sign makes it seem about something –, but the only reason I took it was because I wanted to know what it said on the sign, and was too lazy to walk over there. (You cannot see at this zoom level, but the sign warns against treacherous currents.)

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Blossom

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Videoblogging, no thanks

Brian Flemming, film maker, neatly summarizes the problems with video blogging when compared to regular text blogging:

  • what it takes you ten minutes to er and you-know, it takes me two to read
  • some video bloggers bore us with the process of making an entry
  • you can scan a text blog for interesting bits much faster than a video blog

So is vlogging a complete waste of everybody’s time? I doubt it has to be; but when you do vlog, make sure you’re not just copying text blogging, because text blogging is going to whup your little ass every time, and it’s going to do so with one arm tied behind its back. Use the medium. Use sound effects, music, animation — and use time warps, splices, speed ups (or downs); these are all things I cannot do in a text blog. And when you do use these things, don’t use them for the sake of using them, but use them to achieve an effect. Make them a part of your narrative. Don’t just read your diary to me, because I could do that myself, and probably ten times as fast.

Word list editors strike a blow for tolerance

The editors of the 1865 word list of the Dutch language strike a blow for linguistic tolerance. (The rest in Dutch.) De redactie van het “Groene Boekje” uit 1865, de “Woordenlijst voor de spelling der Nederlandsche Taal” van De Vries en Te Winkel, konden het niet nalaten om bij de bespreking van leenwoorden even uit te halen naar sommige al te intolerante landgenoten:

Ook in het opnemen der meest gebruikelijke bastaardwoorden moesten wij met eenige ruimte te werk gaan, om de toepassing der beginselen, die wij in dit deel der spelling hebben aangenomen, in de bijzonderheden te doen kennen. Men zal daaruit bespeuren, dat wij de rechten der gastvrijheid milder en onbekrompener opvatten dan sommige sprekers op het Rotterdamsche Congres hebben gedaan; dat wij de vreemdelingen, die geen misbruik maken van ons vertrouwen, volgaarne in ons midden toelaten; hen geheel als burgers erkennen, zoodra zij getoond hebben dit te begeeren; maar hen ook, in het tegenovergestelde geval, vrijlaten zich te vertoonen in hunne nationale kleederdracht, die hun zoo goed staat, in plaats van hun, ongastvrij en onwellevend, een Nederlandsch gewaad op te dringen, dat niet voor hunne leden geschapen is.

(Deze woordenlijst kan over enige tijd op Project Gutenberg verwacht worden. Mogelijk heeft de DBNL er al eentje.)

Remarkable news from the Netherlands

A friend and I started a blog that will report trivia from the Netherlands in English. It’s called 24 Oranges. We believe enough interesting things happen in this country that those who don’t speak Dutch might like to know about.

Six Mountains hike

Last Sunday we walked the Zesbergenroute (Six Mountains Hike), although you’d have to take those mountains with a pinch of salt. A pinch of salt is actually quite a good description of the size of these “mountains”. In the land of the blind…

My brother couldn’t come; officially he was in Lapland training for a trip to Greenland next year, and just as officially he had returned early with blisters and frostbite. So his girlfriend and a friend of hers and I went without him.

We had run out of offical routes to walk, and turned to the internet for help, which was quickly provided by the Zesbergenroute of Paula Versnick and Gerard Verwierst. The popularity of their “open source” approach was quickly proved when we met other ramblers who were fumbling the same set of print-outs.

The hike is about 10 miles (16 km), starts and ends in Huizen, and leads through a varied landscape. The area around Huizen is wedged between ancient deposits of the last ice age’s glaciers and a lake that used to be part of a much large open (to the sea) lake we used to call the South Sea. Mostly sand and heath, but also forests, fields and shores.

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The forests both had deciduous and evergreen trees, and sometimes one type would line one side and the other type would line the other side of the path.

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The last stage took us quickly through Huizen’s brown-lands in order to show us the old village behind them, but the former can often be just as interesting.

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