Thursday, May 28, 2015

All May Be Well On “Game Of Thrones”

The last two weeks I’ve been fairly critical of the way HBO’s Game of Thrones has deviated from George R.R. Martin’s books. But after last week’s episode, “The Gift,” I’m feeling better about how everything might work out in the end. As usual, some *SPOILERS* will follow.

Cersei's story is progressing like GRRM intended.
My two big beefs from the last two weeks were the death of Ser Barristan the Bold and the fact that Sansa Stark was placed in Winterfell in the clutches of the psychotic Ramsay Bolton. At the time, I had speculated that what the writers were trying to do was preserve a number of the key storylines in A Dance With Dragons and A Feast For Crows, but portray them with fewer characters. Hence, Sansa was stuck into the unfortunate role of Jayne Poole, Jaime Lannister is playing the role of Ser Arys Oakheart, etc. After last week’s episode, however, I am more convinced than ever that the show’s writers are doing just that. 

The writers have jettisoned some storylines from the two books, including the Ironborn plotline, the story of Jon Connington and the (possibly fake) Aegon Targaryen, Sam and Gilly’s voyage to Old Town, and the tale of foolish Prince Quentyn and his attempts to win Dany’s heart. With these out of the way, the show is focusing on, arguably, the seven most powerful storylines – and, with one possible exception, I think the writers intend for these to play out the way they do in the books. If true, there may be hope yet for fans of the novels (at least those that are okay with a little deviation). Of course, I have no idea what the writers will do next year without The Winds Of Winter

Could Brienne and Pod save the Winterfell storyline?
There’s only time to discuss two of those storylines today, the first being Winterfell. In the books, this plotline does not involve Sansa. Rather, it’s the tale of Theon’s reemergence from the persona of Reek as he’s compelled to save poor Jayne Poole. Theon’s actions take place during a series of mysterious murders in Winterfell, all against Ramsay’s men (yay!). In the books, the mysterious assassin turns out to be Mance Rayder, though he seems to be dead in the show. But since the show has Brienne and Pod lingering outside Winterfell, I could see her playing Mance’s role and ultimately setting the Winterfell plotline back on track. Sure, things will remain bad for Sansa, but who’s to say she won’t be working with Brienne? And maybe she’ll end up saving Reek too. 

These two could keep things straight in Meereen.
The second plotline concerns the events in Meereen. Earlier, I thought the death of Ser Barristan left a huge hole in that storyline. But after I saw how the writers handled the reunion between Ser Jorah and Daenerys, I truly think Jorah, or some combination of he and Tyrion, might fill poor Barristan’s role just fine. 

With the exception of the Dorne storyline (which is just fun, by the way, with Bronn, the Sand Snakes, and a love-struck Marcella), I think the other four storylines may roughly follow that of the books. By this, I mean that the tales of Cersei, Stannis, Arya, and Jon Snow should play out like they do in A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons. Of course, anyone who has finished those books knows what’s coming – and THAT, I promise not to spoil!

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sansa Stark Shouldn’t Be In Winterfell

Honestly, it’s not my goal to turn this blog into a weekly commentary on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but the show’s divergence from George R.R. Martin’s novels are starting to bother me, even though I still enjoy watching every week. As always, *SPOILERS* will follow for those who haven’t read the books.

This should have never happened.
Let me just say it: Sansa Stark is NOT supposed to be in Winterfell! She’s not supposed to be in the clutches of that maniac Ramsay Bolton. She just isn’t. 

Sansa has already endured one insane little man in Joffrey, and not even George R.R. Martin – who is notoriously ruthless towards his characters – was sadistic enough to throw her into a bedroom with Ramsay, who may be the most purely evil character in A Song of Ice and Fire. In the book, Ramsay’s victim is Jayne Poole, a minor character who is forced to pose as Arya Stark, only to be abused and broken by Ramsay. But Martin never makes us watch. He just shows us the effects: a shattered, terrified girl, covered in bite marks. This was never meant to happen to Sansa. Perhaps Laura Hudson said it best in her recap on Wired
Forcing [Sana] back into the role of victim and sexually humiliating her at the hands of yet another sadistic fiance adds nothing that we haven’t seen before, and indeed, feels regressive. All the forward momentum of her character development is undercut by this assault, transforming her back into the same little girl she was at King’s Landing, weeping as her dress was torn off. Shoehorning additional abuse and rape into her story at this point isn’t just upsetting; it’s boring and counterproductive. Poorly done, show. Poorly done.
Look, I understand the writers had to do something with Sansa since her entire story line from the books was completed last season. But clearly, Martin has a plan for her because she’s a viewpoint character in The Winds Of Winter – and being Ramsay’s victim isn’t it. 

The show’s writers are combining characters to limit the number of story lines they have to portray this season. Sansa has become Jayne Poole. Ser Jorah is playing the role of himself and a bit of Jon Connington’s now that he’s secretly contracted grayscale. Jaime is playing the role of Arys Oakheart in Dorne. But the problem is, Jaime still needs to play his own role, as he does in the books. And so does Jorah, and so does Sansa. With Ser Barristan dead, maybe the show is setting up Tyrion to take his role as the Hand of the Queen in Meereen. But that’s not supposed to happen either. Tyrion undoubtedly has a different role to play, even if we have to wait for The Winds Of Winter to learn what it is. 

I’m not blaming the writers for having to stray from the books (although if they had added in the Ironborn story line and kept Dorne its own subplot (sans Jaime), they might have had enough material to get through season 5 without changing too much). But with Sansa Stark, I can’t help but believe the writers made the wrong choice.

** Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Another Huge Break From The Books On “Game Of Thrones”

Before this season began, I predicted there would be some changes between the show and George R.R. Martin’s books, particularly because the show’s writers are running out of source material given Martin’s delay in producing The Winds Of Winter, the sixth book in his series. But I never imagined a change as big as last week’s episode, and I’m not sure I’m okay with it. (Book *SPOILERS* to follow.)

Ser Barristan dead? I didn't see this coming!
In the episode titled “Sons of the Harpy,” we saw Grey Worm and Ser Barristan Selmy get ambushed by assassins loyal to the now deposed slavers of Meereen. Selmy gets a knife in his gut, but I had assumed he was just injured. Ser Barristan couldn’t have been killed in an alley, right? He’s far too important to the books.

But last week’s episode, titled “Kill The Boy,” seemed to confirm that Ser Barristan is dead (barring some wild twist where, like James Bond in You Only Live Twice, he’s only pretending to be dead). If he is dead, however, this changes everything. And not in a good way. Hear me out.

Ser Barristan is a viewpoint character in A Dance With Dragons, meaning that a portion of the story is told from his perspective. He is also one of the genuine heroes in the books. When Daeneyrs’ life is imperiled in A Dance With Dragons, Selmy is the noble knight determined to uncover the true villain in Meereen and save what’s left of her kingdom. He’s about the only hope the reader has in this part of the story, and he’s so brave and noble that not even George R.R. Martin tries to kill him off. Think about that. Even Martin realizes that at least one of the good guys needs to survive in the cruel world of A Game Of Thrones. But on the show, Ser Barristan is gone.

Ser Barristan has some chapters in this - oh well . . .
I suppose this signals that Daenerys’ storyline is about to diverge wildly from the books, even though I thought it was one of the three plotlines the writers would try to keep intact. Yet I hope I’m wrong. I hope Ser Barristan is secretly alive, waiting to pull a James Bond when the sh*t hits the fan in Meereen. But I have a very bad feeling that’s not going to happen – especially after reading this article on EW. Barristan the Bold is dead, and I fear the story will suffer for it. 

With Ser Barristan’s death, the divergence between the show and the books seems irrevocable. And right now, I don’t think I like it. Not one bit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who Was King Arthur?

Work has left little time to write this week, so I'm re-running a post that relates in a way to my recent posts about Ragnar Lothbrok of History's Vikings.

Leading up to my next installment in my series on Medieval Fiction, I thought I’d pose some questions about one of the late Fifth Century’s most legendary figures: Who was Arthur of Britain? And was he a real person or a purely mythical figure?
Arthur vs. Mordred - One of my favorite Arthurian images!
These are questions that scholars have debated, and writers have explored, for a very long time. What Arthur most certainly was not was a king in shining plate mail who lived in a massive structure that looked something like Bodiam Castle (below) as depicted in movies like Excalibur and the ├╝ber silly First Knight (you know, the one with Richard Gere as Lancelot wearing some of the most ridiculous armor ever donned for the silver screen).
Camelot would not have looked like this!*
Massive stone castles with lots of towers, a huge curtain wall, and a moat weren’t built until the late Eleventh or Twelfth Centuries, and plate armor was not in style until the Thirteenth Century. But Arthur, if he existed, would have lived during the late Fifth or early Sixth Century. Here are just seven possible versions of Arthur from historical and literary sources (and trust me, there are many more than these!):
  • He was a Romano-British leader who fought the invading Saxons and killed 960 men at the Battle of Mount Badon (from the 9th century Historia Brittonum);
  • He was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a historical figure and one of the last Roman lords of Britain (the 2004 film King Arthur went in this direction, making Arthur a Roman cavalry officer named Artorius Castus);
  • He was the fifteen-year-old King of Britain and the son of Uther Pendragon (per Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae c. 1138; Geoffrey’s depiction became the basis for many Arthurian legends);
  • He was a boy named Wart who pulled a sword from a stone to become King Arthur (see T.S. White’s The Once and Future King);
  • He was Arthur Pendragon, the nephew of the Roman war leader Aurelius Ambrosius and the cousin of Merlin, who would become the king to unite all of Britain (see Mary Stewart’s The Merlin Trilogy);
  • He was a Celtic king ruling from Camelot during a time of tension between the old pagan and new Christian faiths (see Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon);
  • He was not a king, but a warlord – the bastard son of Uther, High King of Britain (see Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles).
Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in the 15th Century
I’ll have more on this topic when I return to my series on Medieval Fiction, which will happen as soon as I free up some of my free time, which has been spent lately on some exciting promotional work for my novel Enoch’s Device – more on that soon!

In the meantime, let me know if you have a favorite theory as to who King Arthur really was? Or simply a favorite depiction of Arthur from Arthurian fiction?

* Bodiam Castle - Photo attribution

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Game of Thrones’ Big Break from the Books

Before this season I had predicted that HBO’s Game of Thrones would have to diverge from the books, but I never guessed it would do it so soon and in such a big way. (Book *SPOILERS* ahead)

I didn't see this one coming!
Let’s just say, Sansa and Littlefinger never go near Winterfell in the books. In fact, there’s no connection whatsoever to her and the Ramsay Bolton plotline. The fact that the show has taken this turn – and appears to dragging Brienne and Pod into it too – so fundamentally departs from the books that I cannot see how the two (book and show) will ever be the same again.

George R.R. Martin’s fifth novel in the series, A Dance With Dragons, contains a big story line involving the Bolton’s at Winterfell and Reek (f/k/a Theon Greyjoy). To legitimize his rule over Winterfell, Ramsay marries a woman posing to be Arya Stark, but who’s actually one of Sansa’s old friends, Jayne Poole. Of course, Ramsay is a total psychopath, so he proceeds to sadistically torture poor Jayne no end. I can’t imagine Sansa willingly putting herself in that same situation, especially when the Bolton’s killed her brother and mother at the Red Wedding. And how Littlefinger plans to control psycho Ramsay is frankly beyond me.

I have speculated that the show’s writers might be positioning Sansa to take the place of Lady Stoneheart and claim revenge “Don Corleone-style” against the Boltons and the Freys. She and Littlefinger might be plotting to do that, but if they do it will fundamentally change the end of A Dance With Dragons and presumably what Martin has set up to be a major story line in The Winds Of Winter. I won’t spoil the ending of book 5, but let’s just say I expect to see a lot of Ramsay Bolton in book 6.

But that’s just my take. If you’ve read A Dance With Dragons, how fundamentally do you view this change on Game of Thrones?

P.S., there is a great summary of last Saturday's episode at i09. You can read it here, and check out some of the comments about the Jeyne Poole/Sana swap.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Artistic License & History’s “Vikings”

Tonight marks the finale of Season 3 of Vikings on History. While this season has been as good as the prior two, it’s also highlighted the artistic license the writers have taken with real historical events. Let’s just say the “history” of Vikings is a complete mess. It’s conflated nearly a hundred years of real events into the prime years of a single man, mashing together characters who didn’t even live during the same decades. Here is what I mean.

It's unlikely Rollo and Ragnar even knew each other in real life.
It starts with Ragnar Lothbrok and Lagertha. Both are legendary characters in Nordic lore, but there is no historical evidence that either actually existed. As I’ve noted before, Ragnar is to the Northmen what King Arthur is to the Britons. If Arthur was a real man, no one quite knows when he lived. Others think Arthur may be an amalgamation of several real historical figures, and the same is true about King Ragnar. Lagertha is the same way, though some suspect she’s the embodiment of the Norse goddess Thorgerd. Incidentally, Ragnar’s second wife, Aslaug, is also straight out of Norse mythology instead of the annals history.

Given that Ragnar, Lagertha, and Aslaug may or not have been real, one would expect a degree of artistic license in the telling of their tale. In Vikings, Ragnar is among the first to sail to England, where he leads the famous raid on Lindisfarne Abbey (and enslaves Athelstan in the show). That was a real event that took place in 793 A.D., and many consider it the beginning of the Viking Age. This would mean that both Ragnar and Lagertha were adults at the end of the eight century, and here’s where the problems start.

Aslaug may come from legend, but her children were real.
Despite the legendary nature of Ragnar and his wives, their children were real historical figures. Let’s start with Bjorn Ironside, the son of Ragnar and Lagertha who is just a little boy on the show at the time of the Lindisfarne raid. Historically, Bjorn is known for Viking raids in the South of France and in Italy – all around the year 860, nearly 70 years after Lindisfarne. I highly doubt Bjorn did this at the ripe old age of 90.

Next come Ivar the Boneless and Ubba Lothbrokson, two of Ragnar’s sons with Aslaug. In 865, they led a famous invasion of England and conquered Northumbria. These are the events chronicled in Bernard Cornwell’s The Last Kingdom, by the way. Ivar dies around the year 873, and Ubba is killed in battle around 878 (by Uhtred of Bebbanburg in Cornwell’s fiction account). In any event, both are still small children in Season Three of Vikings, which features the Siege of Paris as its big set piece. Unfortunately, that real and quite famous historical event occurred in the year 885 –after the deaths of these Vikings lads. 

The Siege of Paris in 885 A.D.
One real historical Viking who did fight in the Siege of Paris was Rollo, who is depicted as Ragnar’s brother in Vikings. Of course, in the show, Rollo also took part in the raid on Lindisfarne, which would make him about 120 years old. Indeed, Rollo would go on to found Normandy in France, and even marry Gisela, the French princess who has appeared in the past two episodes (which explains the glowing prophecy Rollo got from the Norse priest; Rollo’s descendants would include William the Conqueror and the future kings of England). Ragnar Lothbrok, presuming he was indeed the father of the historically-deceased Ivar and Ubba, would apparently be one of the undead if he joined in the Siege of Paris. 

King Ecbert in Wessex - decades before the Seige of Paris
Across the pond, while Paris is being besieged, King Ecbert is plotting to take the kingdom of Mercia and sleep with his son Aethelwulf’s bride. The problem here is that Ecbert of Wessex ruled from 802 to 839, decades before the Siege. His son Aethlwulf reigned from 839 to 858. Incidentally, Aethlwulf's son, Alfred (who is actually Athelstan’s son on the show), would become one of the greatest kings in English history. Alfred the Great was king during the defeat of Ubba and Ivar, and is known for saving England from the invading Danes and Norseman. Bernard Cornwell wrote the first six volumes of his Saxon Tales about Alfred’s reign, and I highly recommend them all.

But back to History’s Vikings. Since they are telling a good story, I personally don’t mind the artistic license taken by the show’s writers. But I also know enough history to know where they’ve taken it. I wish the show would air a special akin to a Historical Note in a book to explain why they made the changes. I’d enjoy that, and given that it’s the ‘History” channel, it seems like the right thing to do. Yet regardless of whether Ragnar and Lagertha would be undead if they were still walking the earth during the Siege of Paris, I’m still looking forward to tonight’s finale. The last episode in each season has been among the best and most shocking, so I can only imagine what’s going to happen . . . even though I know how the Siege of Paris is supposed to end. 

Those are just my thoughts, however. How do you feel about the artistic license taken in History’s Vikings?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Friday, April 17, 2015

Story Structure & The World Of Harry Potter

I don’t often blog about the craft of writing, but I do love a good story. Good stories tend to have good plots, which usually means they’re well-structured. This week, I’m blogging a bit about story structure . . . and Harry Potter. Why, you ask? Let’s just say it all began with a wager.

Welcome to Hogwarts!
Last year, I encouraged my daughter to read all seven Harry Potter books to fulfill her advanced reading requirement at school. As incentive, I gave her a challenge – or call it a wager, or a fool’s bet, if you will – by promising that we’d go to Harry Potter World at Universal Orlando for Spring Break if she finished the series. Let’s just say, my daughter loves the books and we’ve recently returned from a wonderful trip to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley! (Plenty of pictures to follow.) Before I left, I brushed up on the books (which I read years ago), and that led me to this post.

I’ve long tried to think of ways to write a post on the Harry Potter series that would fit my blog. Yes, they began as middle grade fiction and evolved into YA (young adult) literature, but in my view they’ve become true classics in the fantasy fiction genre. The books are well-written and tremendously entertaining, and it’s fair to say that J.K. Rolling deserves her seat among the pantheon of great fantasy authors. Fellow pantheon-member, Stephen King, has written glowingly of Rowling and her work, and I agree with everything he’s had to say. 
“The fantasy writer’s job is to conduct the willing reader from mundanity to magic. This is a feat of which only a superior imagination is capable, and Rowling possesses such equipment.”
– Stephen King
After spending a week thinking about the books (so I wouldn’t miss any of the details Universal has sprinkled around the parks), I realized how perfectly the series as a whole fits the structure of a well-crafted story. When it comes to story structure, I’m aware of the more erudite views such as Joseph Campbell’s the “hero’s journey,” based on what Campbell calls the “monomyth.” Yet I’ve always preferred the less erudite but more straightforward structure outlined in Save the Cat, a book on screenwriting by the late Blake Snyder. Snyder takes storytelling’s classic three-act structure and breaks it down into 15 parts (or “beats”) that I’m convinced are common to most well-crafted tales. To prove my point, let’s take a look at “Harry Potter and the Fifteen Beats” (with a brief description of each beat for those unfamiliar with Snyder’s work; obviously, *SPOILERS* ahead):

The Hogwarts Express takes you from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley.

1. The Opening Image

According to Snyder, this is the opening scene that sets the mood and tone for the story. In the series, this is the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, which opens with a scene set at the Dursley residence, Number Four Privet Drive. “You-Know-Who” has been killed and the mysterious Dumbledore appears with Professor McGonagall and Hagrid on his flying motorcycle carrying the Boy Who Lived. The infant Harry survived Voldemort’s attack, leaving only that lightning bolt-shaped scar on his forehead. This event is a catalyst for the entire series, and even though it probably should have been a prologue instead of chapter one (because it takes place nearly eleven years before chapter two), it’s a fitting opening image for the story of Harry Potter.

Hagrid's Hut - An example of the detail in Harry Potter World!

2. Theme Stated

This beat is just like it sounds – an event or dialogue that establishes the story’s theme. J.K. Rowling once said the Harry Potter books were largely about “death.” That’s a bit grim, but clearly death is a big part of the series (think Harry’s parents, Dumbledore, Sirius, and Cedric Diggory). And I suppose the opening chapter sets this up quite well. Yet another theme—and perhaps the biggest one to me—is love and friendship. In book one we meet Ron and Hermione, who become Harry’s new family when he gets to Hogwarts and his beloved friends. This theme runs through the entire series and it’s set up well in book one.

The gateway to Hogsmeade!

3. The Set-Up

This beat is also just like it sounds, and in Harry Potter it’s all done in the first book. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone sets up the wizarding world that Rowling has built. We’re introduced to Quidditch, Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Gryffindor, Slytherin, and a host of memorable characters who will stay with us through seven books. Rowling’s world building is as good as that of any fantasy author out there, and like the world of Star Wars it’s become part of our culture. 

We had plenty of fun in Hogsmeade!

4. The Catalyst 

This is the moment everything changes for the hero and he or she is thrust into the central plot. In the series, this begins when Harry and Hermione learn of the break in at Gringotts, which leads them to learn about the Sorcerer’s Stone and the mystery surrounding who is trying to steal it. This the first of many puzzle-like plots that Rowling gives us in the series, even if it’s perhaps the weakest of the seven. That said, the efforts of Harry, Ron, and Hermione to solve this mystery ultimately lead them to Voldemort (or what’s left of him), plunging them into the plotline that dominates the series, namely Harry verses Voldemort to determine the fate of the wizarding world. 

The Sorting Hat talks to you while you wait in line.

5. The Debate

This is the point where the hero must decide whether to answer the call to adventure or reject it. Series-wise, it takes place when Harry believes that Snape is about to steal the Sorcerer’s Stone. Harry wants to get the stone first, but Hermione and Ron try to talk him out of it.
“I’m going out of here tonight and I’m going to get the Stone first.”
“You’re mad!” said Ron
“You can’t!” said Hermione. “After what McGonagall and Snape have said? You’ll be expelled!”
“SO WHAT?” Harry shouted. “Don’t you understand? If Snape gets hold of the Stone, Voldemort’s coming back!”
Harry wins the debate, and the three of them answer the call!

You could spend a whole day in Diagon Alley.

6. Break into Two

This is the part of the story where Act One ends and Act Two Begins. It’s the point where the hero leaves the old world behind and enters one where everything is different. In the series, this happens at the end of book one when Harry discovers that Professor Quirrell has been possessed by the spirit of Voldemort. From this point on, Voldemort becomes the major antagonist in the novels – You-Know-Who is back and nothing will ever be the same so long as he’s around!

Hogsmeade Station

7. Fun and Games

According to Snyder, this is the “promise of the premise.” In the first four books, that is solving magical mysteries in the world of Hogwarts, and that’s just what the next several books in the series offer. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets presents what is probably the best pure mystery tale of the lot. Students are being petrified at Hogwarts and many suspect the Chamber of Secrets has been opened – an event that hasn’t happened for decades when someone called the Heir of Slytherin was responsible for murders at the school. We also meet Tom Riddle and his diary, and the revelation of who he really is provides one of the series’ best twists. It is also our first experience with one of the Horcruxes, unbeknownst of any of us at the time.

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azakaban gives us another fun mystery, but it also establishes some important backstory. Through the Marauder’s Map, we’re introduced to Padfoot, Wormtail, Mooney, and Prongs. We discover why Snape hates Harry and who really betrayed Harry’s Parents to You-Know-Who. This is also our first real exposure to the Ministry of Magic, which ends up playing a huge role in the later books. And it’s the series’ only foray into time travel, which it handles quite well. The story is fun and games through and through, and it’s the last time for a while that a Harry Potter book has a happy ending. 

It continues in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After all, nothing screams “fun and games” like a Triwizard Tournament! Book four has its own mysteries to be solved. For instance, how did Harry’s name get into the Goblet of Fire? And is there really a death-eater at Hogwarts now that that Durmstrang group has arrived? Each Triwizard task has its own puzzle to be solved too.

The goblins at Gringotts practically seem real!

8. The “B” Story

In Snyder’s structure, this is often a subplot that gives the audience a break from the main plotline, and in many stories it’s the love story. In Harry Potter, the B story blossoms in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when a fourteen-year-old Harry realizes he’s interested in girls (and has to find a date for the Yule Ball, ye gads!). Cho plays the role of Harry’s desired, but unavailable, paramour. Ginny Weasley takes up this role in latter books, though J.K. Rowling recently admitted that Harry should have ended up with Hermione. I could not agree more.

The dragon atop Gringotts breathes fire every few minutes!

9. The Midpoint

This is the middle of the story where something enormously important is supposed to happen. Sometimes it’s a marvelous victory. Other times it’s a crushing defeat. In Harry Potter, it’s the latter and it takes place at the end of Goblet of Fire. The Triwizard Cup turns out to be a portkey that lures Cedric Diggory to his death and Harry to his first battle with Voldemort, mono-y-mono. The Dark Lord is all-the-way back, the Death Eaters have returned, and the whole series is about take a turn toward the dark side. A third theme of good versus evil, which has been lurking in the shadows of the first four books, rises to the surface. Big time. 

Another look at the dragon from Diagon Alley.

10. The Bad Guys Close In

After the midpoint, the bad guys start to put a whole lot more pressure on the heroes, sort of like the opposite of fun and games. The midpoint raised the stakes and things are starting to get real. In the series, this begins with the tale of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Voldemort is back, but the Ministry is refusing to believe it. Even worse, they send Delores Umbridge to keep Hogwarts in check. Umbridge might just be the series’ best villain. I can’t remember hating anyone in the books more than her, which means Rowling had Umbridge playing her role perfectly. Umbridge brings themes of authoritarianism and rebellion front and center in this book. And if ending her tyranny is not enough, Harry must stop Voldemort from retrieving a prophecy that could allow him to triumph this time around. The book ends with a showdown in the Ministry of Magic and the death of Sirius Black. The war against Voldemort is getting real. 

The bad guys continue to close in in Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince. Here, we learn Voldemort’s backstory through Harry’s sessions with Dumbledore and his Pensive. We also learn about the seven Horcruxes, which hold Voldemort’s life force, sort of like Sauron and the One Ring. Meanwhile, Draco is now working for the Dark Lord, and Harry knows it. And when the Death Eaters assault Hogwarts, the series takes its darkest turn yet. 

Inside Hogwarts - and yes, the picture move and talk.

11. All is Lost

Snyder calls this the “whiff of death,” a point in the tale when all hope seems lost. A classic “all is lost moment” is when Darth Vader strikes down Obi Wan in Star Wars. In the world of Harry Potter, this comes at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when Snape kills Dumbledore. Harry’s guardian is dead and it looks like the Dark Lord’s forces have won. 

They make their own brew at Hog's Head Tavern!

12. The Dark Night of the Soul

This is the aftermath of “all is lost” when the hero experiences the full impact of the major defeat in the prior scene. This happens at the end of Half-blood Prince. Harry is devastated by Dumbledore death. He decides not return to Hogwarts next year. Instead, he’s going to find the remaining Horcruxes and kill Voldemort once and for all. 

Inside The Three Broomsticks

13. Break into Three

The hero finds a way to press on and a plan emerges to solve the story’s major problem. It begins in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. With the Death Eaters on the warpath, Harry, Ron, and Hermione receive three mysterious gifts as part of Dumbledore’s last will and testament. By solving the mystery behind these objects, they learn about the location of another Horcrux and set out to destroy it.

The dragon in all of his glory!

14. The Finale

This is the story’s climax! Harry learns that the final Horcrux is in Hogwarts, and when he gets there he discovers Voldemort and his army of Death Eaters are on their way. Everything soon comes to a head. We experience the final confrontation between Draco and Harry, and we learn the reasons behind Snape’s actions and why he killed Dumbledore. We also learn that Harry himself is the seventh Horcrux because a piece of Voldemort’s soul was bound to Harry’s when Voldemort tried to kill him as an infant. So in order for Voldemort to die, Harry must die too. Of course, there’s still a way out, and with a little help from the spirit of Albus Dumbledore, Harry learns what it is. Just when it looks like Voldemort has triumphed, Harry slays him in a final duel. 

A parting shot of Hogwarts.

15. The Final Image

This is the final scene, the denouement if you will, where we understand how the character’s lives have changed as a result of everything that’s happened. In the series, it is the epilogue in Deathly Hallows, which takes place nineteen years after the events of the last book. Harry is married to Ginny, and Ron is wed to Hermione, and all of them are taking their eldest children to the Hogwarts Express for their first year of school. It’s a fitting end to a wonderful series.