Books of Blood: Book-to-Movie Adaptation

As an avid Clive Barker fan, I was delighted to learn that there was another adaptation of one of his classic short stories, The Book of Blood. From his work on the Hellraiser franchise, to the Candyman franchise inspired by his short story The Forbidden, to the first adaptation of his anthology series Books of Blood in the 2009 film of the same name, Clive Barker’s work is no stranger to the film genre. As such, I had high hopes going in that this film would capture the magic and macabre that follows Clive Barker’s work.

It’s worth noting that this film is not a direct retelling of Clive Barker’s short stories, but rather a loose adaptation of two stories from his anthology collection. The film itself is an anthology and tells three separate stories that follow the adventures of three individuals: Jenna, Miles, and Bennett. To my understanding, Jenna’s story is completely unique and not inspired by Books of Blood—however, Miles’ and Bennett’s stories are directly tied to the work in the collection. The Book of Blood, Miles’ story, tells the tale of a cheating psychic who is exposed in a truly bloody way, and On Jerusalem Street, Bennett’s story, is tied to The Book of Blood sequel where a man finds the titular volume and is subsequently tortured by it. In order to keep this review focused on the adaptation portion, I will be focusing on these two stories.

As always, a quick spoiler warning is in place. While I will strive to avoid major spoilers, I will be comparing the book and the movie so there will be spoilers for both. If you wish to see them for yourself you can find the first volume of Books of Blood here and the movie on Hulu.

The Good

One stunning aspect of the movie was the book of blood imagery. The book of blood, a man who is covered with the stories of the dead engraved into his skin, is used as the connecting point between the three stories in the anthology, and it looks just as disturbing and haunting as the short story described it. Each scene that features the book of blood really taps into the fear that Clive Barker’s anthology strives for, and makes for some of the best scenes in the movie.

Likewise, the disturbing ideas featured in this movie, both the ones taken from the anthology and the original ideas, are incredible. There are several scenes in this movie that stuck with me for days afterword—from the blinded girl being placed beneath the floorboards to the mother swinging with her dead son. When the film chooses to embrace the gut-wrenching reality of the story it finally feels like a Clive Barker inspired film. If the movie had focused more on these elements, then it would’ve been an excellent adaptation.

The Bad

Unfortunately, the movie doesn’t focus on the unsettling ideas that make Clive Barker’s work so great. Rather, the movie focuses on the characters and their interactions, which is where the movie fails spectacularly. They are very one note and, rather than talking like normal people, often serve as blank mouthpieces for the themes the movie is pushing. Rather than showing the character’s motivations through clever dialogue and filmography, the movie has them recite their personal philosophy at any given moment. They aren’t given any other characteristics that would make them interesting, so they are just left to constantly spout off about their opinions without any prompting, even in moments where it doesn’t fit. This creates a tell-not-show environment where the viewer is subjected to one long lecture on life and death with occasional blood and gore.

This may seem like an odd criticism for a book blogger to make, but the main reason why the characters feel like hollow husks is that the movie is written too much like a book. Within a book it’s okay to have dramatic discussions of the duality of good and evil and philosophical discourse over what it means to be alive because it can be framed as the character’s thoughts rather than dialogue. However, in the audio-visual setting movies create, these discussions feel hollow because the viewer is force-fed the information. In a book, there can be intense discussion of themes because the only medium at play is the written word, but movies cannot get away with dumping all the information regarding the movie’s message into the dialogue, especially if they aren’t willing to do the work to make the dialogue fit the situation or to make the themes unique and interesting. The movie’s choice to lazily cram all the themes into one aspect of the film results in a very boring viewing experience.

Final Thoughts

In the end, I felt that this movie failed to capture the horror of The Books of Blood anthology. While there were promising moments of dread and unsettling imagery that spoke to the beginnings of a great horror anthology, it was bogged down by the movie’s incessant need to drone on and on. Horror films as of late have gained a rotten reputation for being dull with only a few scares, and while I don’t fully agree with this belief, I don’t think Books of Blood is going to convince anyone otherwise. If you are genuinely curious and already have a Hulu subscription, the occasional scares are enjoyable enough to watch the movie while working at home, but it definitely isn’t worth getting a Hulu subscription or dedicating all your attention to watching it.

Literary Event: Write Here, Write Now | Kelli Trapnell: “Using Genre Techniques in Literary Fiction”

Quickly now—grab your pens and all the paper you can find because Changing Hands Bookstore is hosting a virtual writing workshop!

The event is on Monday, October 25 from 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30–11:00 p.m. ET) and attendance is only $5. The workshop will be taught by Kelli Trapnell, who has a MFA in fiction writing from Columbia University and received both the Sandra Brown Excellence in Literary Fiction Award and the 2018 New York Foundation of the Arts fellowship in fiction.

The 90–minute session will include a 30–minute lesson on the difference between fiction and “literary fiction,” and specific time for personal literary exploration! The first half of the class will be an exploration and explanation of the literary genre using discussion of prominent authors and works. The second half of the class will take theory to application as you move through a variety of exercises to teach literary fiction techniques leading up to your own miniature story.

Do you have your pen ready? Great—let’s go! Register for the First Draft Book Club here.


Location: Online

Date: Monday, October 25, 2021

Time: 6:30–8:00 p.m. (9:30 – 11:00 p.m. ET)

Price of Ticket: $5.00 (+$1.24 fee)

Literary Event: Writers Connection at the Tempe Public Library

Tempe Public Library

The Tempe Public Library is host to numerous events for all kinds of readers and writers alike. One ongoing event is the Writers Connection group, which is a place for writers to meet informally and write or share work in a supportive group environment.

The Writers Connection group meets every other Friday at the Tempe public library in the afternoon. The group is free! They are currently meeting virtually, and you may register for the virtual group here.

If you’re looking for a kind group to share your writing with, this is the one! And while you’re at it, check out the other writing and book events at the public library.


Location: Online

Date: every other Friday

Time: 2:00–4:00 p.m.

Price of Ticket: Free!

Book Review

All Systems Red: The Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells

Publisher: Tordotcom
Genre: Science Fiction
Pages: 160
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

What if you were a killer cyborg—built to be the perfect murdering machine—but all you wanted to do was watch soap operas?

Murderbot is a SecUnit owned by a company that provides resources for planetary exploration. It has secretly hacked its governor module (the part of its brain that forces it to obey its corporate masters). It uses this newfound freedom to watch the 35,000 hours of television it has downloaded to its personal hard drives—or it would, if its human masters weren’t constantly getting into danger. If anyone finds out it is free, it will be hunted down and killed (because everyone just assumes rogue SecUnits are rampaging Terminators bent on eradicating all human life). And so it goes on doing its job, hoping to keep its humans alive long enough for it to finish the next season of Rise and Fall of Sanctuary Moon.

Thoughts

At their core, The Murderbot Diaries are sweet, funny, and intensely personal stories about building a life in the aftermath of trauma and despite a society that wants you dead.

I instantly fell in love with the character of Murderbot. Books, TV, and movies are saturated with misanthropic, hyper-competent characters: your Tony Starks, Sherlock Holmes, and Mavericks. I normally hate these characters—I don’t want to read about übermenschen who can treat everyone around them like objects because they’re the Heroes (with a Campbellian capital ‘H’). But Murderbot takes this trope and flips it on its head.

Yes, Murderbot is misanthropic and hyper-competent, but it is also deeply moral. Despite having every reason to seek vengeance for the terrible violations society has inflicted on it, Murderbot spends All Systems Red carefully preserving the lives of the humans under its care. Murderbot refers to itself with a name that represents how society perceives it, but in actuality spends all its time making sure people don’t get murdered despite their best efforts to the contrary.

All Systems Red is not Martha Well’s first book by a longshot, but it is her first book to receive widespread critical acclaim. It swept the holy trinity of science fiction awards, winning the 2018 Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards for Best Novella. And Murderbot hasn’t stopped winning awards since. Network Effect—the fifth entry in the series—is poised to pull off the same feat; it’s won both the Nebula and Locus and is currently nominated for the Hugo. This is even more impressive considering that Network Effect is significantly longer than All Systems Red, forcing it to compete in the “novel” category which is (comparatively) more competitive than the shorter “novella.”

Never before have I wanted so badly for a character to make some friends and have a happy life. After all its been through, Murderbot deserves to be safe and cozy for a century or two. Fingers crossed that by the next book the humans will finally get their crap together and let Murderbot have some peace and quiet.

Burn Baby Burn…Celebrating Banned Books!

Photo courtesy of bannedbooksweek.org

Every year thousands of readers across the nation celebrate the rebels of literature during Banned Books Week. September 26th–October 2nd marks the week for 2021, and the current list of books can be found here. These writers join the distinguished group of storytellers who have dared to tell the tales that invoke deep thought, invite change, and incite social justice.

Every year the list grows longer and longer as newer writers add their message to the mix. Here at The Spellbinding Shelf, we appreciate these writers’ ability to freely express themselves while challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries. Check out some of our staff’s favorite picks.


Staff Writer Paul Stanton

My favorite banned book is Alison Bechdel’s Fun HomeA non-fiction graphic novel about Bechdel’s childhood relationship with her father, Fun Home is one of my favorite memoirs, but it has often been challenged and banned because it deals with the queerness of both Alison Bechdel and her closeted father.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has an excellent legal history of the challenges against the book here. Bechdel is famous for her comic strip Dykes to Watch out For and for coining the “Bechdel-Wallace Test”—a feminist media criticism tool.


Editor-in-Chief Sharon Enck

While some of my favorite banned books are classics such as The Handmaid’s Tale and Fahrenheit 451, I have recently added a new favorite. John Green’s Looking for Alaska is a heartbreaking tale of grief, and the search to find one’s self. It has been banned for being too sexually explicit (a scene describing oral sex) as well as offensive language and drug/alcohol use.

Green, whose talent lies in tackling the complexity of young adult lives, responded to his challengers, “If you have a world view that can be undone with a novel, let me submit that the problem is not with the novel.”


Staff Writer Lauren Kuhman

I think there can be a perception that banned books are a thing of the past but books, articles, and the written word are constantly being censored. One of my favorite books is Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give. Published in 2017, the young adult novel follows a 16-year-old Starr Carter as she witnesses the murder of her best friend Kahlil in a police shooting. The novel addresses police brutality and racism and was banned by school officials in Katy, Texas for “pervasive vulgarity and racially-insensitive language…not its substantive content or the viewpoint expressed” (as cited in Gomez, 2018). However, the book was eventually reinstated (with the caveat of needing parental permission to check it out) when a local student petitioned for the book’s return.


Managing Editor Jade Stanton

While there are many great classics that have found their way to the banned books list, my personal favorite is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. This well-known novel follows Holden Caulfield on his two day trip home after being expelled from prep school. Throughout his journey, Holden rails against the phoniness of the adult world and the inevitable corruption that comes from being a part of adult society.

This book is often banned and challenged for its adult themes—namely cursing, alcohol abuse, and sex. It strikes me as especially ironic that a book about preserving innocence while becoming aware of the harsh realities of the world is often challenged and considered inappropriate for high schoolers. Despite its adult themes and controversies, The Catcher in the Rye is lauded for its relatability among high school audiences.


Rebellious writers and readers of the world unite on this last day of Banned Books Week!

Book Review

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Fiction
Pages: 320
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Still Alice is a story about Alice. And her family. And her diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

Alice, a happily married college professor with a family, is only fifty years old when she develops the neurological disease. She begins to forget things, to lose her memory, and to experience cloudy thinking.

Alice’s story is about her struggles and triumphs in dealing with the disease and how it feels to navigate the heartbreak.

Thoughts

Every portrait is really a mirror for others to see themselves in. Still Alice is not a story about Alzheimer’s; it’s a story about Alice, her family, her career, her life, and also her struggles with Alzheimer’s dementia.  Research on dementia often tells a story that is essentialized to a medicalization, forgetting the person, the biography, the daily life. Says the book’s author Lisa Genova, “Five million people have Alzheimer’s, and each has family and friends who know them and care about them.” Alice’s story is a portrait for others with dementia or with loved ones with dementia—to see themselves in.

Still Alice serves as evidence for promoting a person-centered approach to researching dementia and caring for those with it—a holistic approach seeing the whole person and not just their illness. The story is unique in that it is told from the inside looking out, from the point of view of Alice, the person with dementia instead of being told by a caregiver or family member. It’s her story. 

Lisa Genova has a Ph.D. in neuroscience from Harvard, and after she graduated, her grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Still Alice is the result of a rigorous research process. She emailed daily and met with people with early-onset dementia. “They let me in and shared with me their most vulnerable selves.” She shadowed neurologists and social workers, she watched neurological testing with patients, she role-played with doctors, and she volunteered with the Dementia Advocacy and Support Network. 

Her research endeavors culminated into a novel, the best way she thought to reach people with the truths about dementia she had uncovered. Publishers initially rejected Lisa Genova’s manuscript, arguing both that it would only appeal to people with dementia and given her academia background, she should stick to writing non-fiction only. But fiction may be a powerful tool in creating empathy, especially for people with illnesses.

This novel offers a portrait of a person with a real illness and is a catalyst for developing empathy for people with those illnesses. Reading Alice’s story “can show us what it is like to be another person.” Fiction creates empathy for others through identification with a character, seeing yourself in their portrait. Because Still Alice is a story about Alice, what do you see in the mirror of Alice’s portrait? 

7 Books To Look Forward To This October

Every day exciting new stories are released to eagerly awaiting, book-loving masses. This October is no exception, and while it is impossible to know just how good these books will be, there are several that have caught my eye. Watch your bookstore shelves this October, because these 7 books sound like they will be worth a read.


A Spindle Splintered—Alix E. Harrow. In the first book of her new series, Alix Harrow tells the story of Zinna Gray, a girl infected with an illness that kills all who have it before they turn twenty two. On her twenty-first birthday, her friend Charm decides to throw her a Sleeping Beauty themed party for her last birthday, complete with a spinning wheel to prick her finger on. However, once she pricks her finger, Zinna is sent to another world and meets another sleeping beauty who’s just as eager to escape her fate.

This story sounds like it will be a fascinating addition to the growing collection of fable retellings we’ve seen recently, and the author has said there will be some wlw themes included. Sleeping Beauty is a fairytale that has been largely forgotten within the retelling trend, so I’m looking forward to seeing this classic re-imagined.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Black Birds in the Sky—Brandy Colbert. Black Birds In The Sky is a nonfiction book that covers the Tulsa Race Massacre when, in 1921, a mob of white people burned down a thriving black neighborhood. It strives to answer the many burning questions surrounding this wildly whitewashed blight on American history, and ensure that the injustices that occurred are remembered.

As someone who has only recently begun to learn about the horrors that permeate American history, this book immediately caught my eye. We have experienced a major racial reckoning this year, and it is incredibly important that we learn from our past as we move forward. This book will undoubtedly shed light on this shameful corner of American history, and will be an enlightening read for all.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Crossbones—Kimberly Vale. The recent death of the pirate king marks the beginning of an ancient contest where three competitors will risk everything they have to win the coveted bone crown and island throne. Csilla Abado, a young captain who must face those who doubt her and her sister’s desire for her position; Kane Blackwater, a young man who wishes to escape the dirty trades he’s made to keep himself captain of his father’s ship; and Lorelei Penny, a young stowaway who wishes to avenge her mother. All fighting to win, but something is brewing. If they’re not careful, they’ll be nothing left of them to bury.

This book reminded me of Six Of Crows as it also has a multiple perspective story told by morally grey characters. This, along with the delightful grim pirate anesthetic, sounds like a delightful fantasy read this October.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Kingdom of the Cursed—Kerri Maniscalco. The sequel to Kingdom Of The Wicked, Kingdom Of The Cursed follows Emma, having just sold her soul to become the queen of the wicked, as she enters the seven circles of Hell with the Prince of Wrath in the hopes of avenging her sister’s murder. She soon finds, however, that navigating the sinful world of Hell is dangerous. Between sinful princes, stunning palaces, and a mystery to be solved, Emma has her work cut out for her as she begins to unravel her past and the truth behind her sister’s death.

This is the second book in a series, but the plot sounded far too intriguing to pass up for this list. With its Cruel Prince vibes and hints of romance, this series sounds like it will be the perfect book binge this October.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


Say Their Names: How Black Lives Came to Matter in America—Curtis Bunn, Michael Cottman, Patrice Gaines, Nick Charles, and Keith Harriston. The summer of 2020 shook the nation—from the horrifying video of George Floyd’s murder to the ensuing protests, conversations regarding race and the disadvantages and prejudices that come with being black in America were widespread, and the message ‘Black Lives Matter’ was broadcast across the country. Now, five journalists detail what it took to get to this moment in history. From mass incarceration to over-policing to the protests in Ferguson, they detail the systemic problems in our society, how they came to the forefront of public consciousnesses, and, crucially, what to do now.

This movement is often misunderstood and misinterpreted by society. This due in large part to the general public’s lack of knowledge of the issues being discussed, as they aren’t commonly taught in school. This book is a must-read for people still struggling to understand the BLM movement and what must be done to move forward.

Release Date: October 5, 2021


The Haunting Season: Eight Ghostly Tales for Long Winter Nights—Various Authors. Eight authors worked to create this collection of spooky tales all set in the dark cold of winter. From a girl frozen in death, to a bustling Christmas market, to an estate with a deadly secret, these tales will give you chills for two entirely different reasons.

With Halloween right around the corner and the Arizona heat in full force, these stories are perfect for creating a chilly, spooky atmosphere this holiday season.

Release Date: October 12, 2021


Where They Wait—Scott Carson. Nick Bishop, a down on his luck journalist, takes a job reviewing a new mindfulness app, Clarity. This app contains “sleep songs” that are designed to help the user sleep. The songs are haunting ballads sung by an unknown women and they seem to work perfectly—that is, except for the nightmares. Every night, Nick dreams of a haunting woman who calls his name and whispers to him. As his dreams start to seep into his waking life, Nick realize that the people behind Clarity are interested in more than just his writing.

Another perfect tale for Halloween, Where They Wait is perfect for anyone looking to get into the spooky spirit this October.

Release Date: October 26, 2021

Book Review

Laziness Does Not Exist by Dr. Devon Price

Publisher: Atria Books
Genre: Non-fiction
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
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My Rating: 5/5 stars

Summary

Have you ever procrastinated until the last minute and felt guilty? Or beat yourself up for missing a deadline? Maybe you lamented how “lazy” you’d been.

Dr. Price argues in their recently published book that the “lie” we’ve been told about laziness is wrong. What we call “laziness” might more compassionately and more accurately be described as burnout, rest, being overworked, not having access to resources, facing inaccessibility or discrimination, or not having your needs met.

With roots in Puritanism and capitalism, the “laziness lie” as Dr. Price calls it, makes us push ourselves past our abilities and into distress or even illness when our bodies beg us to rest.

Thoughts

Dr. Price drove themself to illness and burnout after overworking for years and years, constantly chiding themself for not working hard enough, not achieving enough, needing any rest or breaks. They share their story and also the stories of dozens of others finding themselves tired and guilty for it. You can see yourself in these stories because we all share in the “laziness lie.”

“We expect ourselves to achieve at a superhuman level, and when we fail to do so, we chastise ourselves for being lazy.”

But this book is permission to rest: it’s a comfort for burnout, it’s a treaty against so-called “laziness.” These sentiments are more valuable now than ever as we face unprecedented climate disasters, environmental collapse, political unrest, and a seemingly endless global pandemic. Things are hard. And yet we are expected to keep working, keep pushing, keep hustling like nothing has changed. We need this book.

Even as a reader already critical of capitalism and productivity, I learned from this book and saw so many insidious ways the “laziness lie” finds its ways into our lives. As radical as this book may be, my only criticism is that it’s not radical enough. Dr. Price urges we take sabbaticals, say no to side hustles, and drop extra responsibilities, but that’s not possible for everyone. Personally, living between paychecks, I cannot say no to work responsibilities no matter how burned out I may be. The arguments from Laziness Does Not Exist must be paired with activism and social action to change the structures that allow the “laziness lie” to exist and thrive.

“If your life has value no matter how productive you are, so does every other human life.”

Part memoir, part interview series, part activism, part self-help, Laziness Does Not Exist is permission to opt-out of the lie. Maybe you’re not lazy for missing that deadline—maybe you were burnt out after working through a year of a global pandemic. Maybe you’re not lazy because you waited until the last minute on a project—maybe you didn’t have access to the resources you needed. As Dr. Price encourages, it’s okay to rest. It’s okay to take a break. Maybe you’re not lazy after all.

A Knight of No Honor: Adapting Gawain in David Lowery’s The Green Knight

“Gawain as good was acknowledged and as gold refinéd,
 devoid of every vice and with virtues adorned.”

– The Pearl Poet, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (lines 33–34, J.R.R. Tolkien’s translation)

Spoiler Warning: Mild spoilers for both the 14th century poem and the 21st century movie adaption of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

(700) Years of Chivalry

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a 14th-century Arthurian Romance in verse written by an anonymous author known as the Pearl Poet. It tells the story of Sir Gawain, the youngest knight of the Round Table and the strange game he begins one Christmas Day.

A mysterious knight, green of both skin and attire, enters King Arthur’s court and challenges any who dares to strike him one blow with his great axe if, in return, they will allow him to strike them in the same manner at his Green Chapel one year hence. Gawain takes up the challenge and in a single blow severs the Green Knight’s head from his shoulders.

Unfazed, the Green Knight picks up his head and turns to leave. “At my Chapel, one year hence!” the severed head calls out as it’s body carries it out the door. So begins a tale of honor and doom.

On July 30, 2021, David Lowery released The Green Knight, his adaption of the classic poem, starring Dev Patel as Gawain. As a massive fan of the poem and Arthurian literature in general, I was extremely excited for this adaption. Now, having seen it, I was struck both by how faithful and how remarkable different Lowery’s adaption is.

The Armor Makes the Knight

In the poem, before Sir Gawain departs on his quest to the Green Chapel, both he and his horse Gringolet are arrayed in finery. Among Gawain’s accoutrements are a damask doublet from Tharsia and golden spurs. Gringolet wears a crimson horse-breastplate (called a poitrel) studded with gold and a saddle fringed in golden tassels.

The Pearl Poet makes explicit that this finery is not merely fashion, but represents the inner fineness of Gawain’s soul. Gold in particular is a metaphor for moral purity.

This scene from the poem is lovingly rendered in Lowery’s Green Knight. Particularly beautiful is the prop design of Gawain’s shield. As in the poem, the shield has as its device a pentangle (five pointed star knot) representing the five knightly virtues, and on its interior a painting of the Virgin Mary that Gawain may look at for courage when he is sorely tested.

But there is one key difference in both this scene and the rest of Lowery’s adaption. While the Pearl Poet tells us from an omniscient perspective that the clothes represent Gawain’s true inner virtue, in the movie Queen Guinevere merely prays that the armor represent the truth of Gawain’s character, a prayer that will go unanswered. A scant handful of scenes later, the beautiful shield is sundered, splitting down the center of the Madonna’s face.

Gawain the Impetuous Fail-Son

Lowery’s Green Knight replaces the chivalric hero at the center of the poem with a rather self-centered character who Lowery describes as a “cad.” According to Lowery in an interview with SlashFilm, he cast Dev Patel to play his hero in part because Patel was so charismatic an actor that he could make the audience like his pathetic protagonist.

The Gawain of Lowery’s adaption is not even a knight at the film’s beginning, and spends most of the movie wandering aimlessly through a quest meant for a nobler, less human hero. Patel does a truly marvelous job of playing a living embodiment of imposter syndrome: an overgrown boy who should have been a knight but cannot even manage to be a man.

I couldn’t help wondering if this was how I would perform, if thrust suddenly onto a hero’s journey. Very few real people would walk a path towards certain death with the self-assured honor of the Pearl Poet’s Sir Gawain. To be a person, I think, is to be somewhat dishonorable, at least when compared with the hero of an Arthurian Romance.

Final Thoughts & Critiques

Lowery’s Green Knight is a more complicated and fraught retelling of an ancient Romance. I thoroughly enjoyed and was routinely surprised both by its detailed faithfulness to the original text and its stark deviations at key moments.

Perhaps my only criticism of the film was its choice not to explore the gay subtext of the poem. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is a famous for its queer undertones: Gawain exchanges no less than six kisses of increasing intensity with one Lord Bertilak de Hautdesert as part of a strange game. In the film, this section of the story is much reduced in scope. And while this choice makes perfect sense in the context of Lowery’s overall shift in narrative focus, I hope to one day see another adaption which explores this fascinating element of the original work more fully.

The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience

Photo by Tuyen Vo on Unsplash

Almost a year ago I was sitting in a staff meeting for The Spellbinding Shelf and mentioned that I had never read Harry Potter. *gasp* It gets worse—not only had I never read any of the books, but I had never seen any of the movies, paid no attention to any of the references, or experienced any of the fan culture. *double gasp* I’m not joking: the only thing I knew about the series was that it was about wizards. My fellow writers were astonished—a book lover and blogger who has never read one of the most iconic literary series of all time?!

It wasn’t necessarily my fault—my younger self enjoyed dystopian-themed novels and by the time Harry Potter was “a thing” I felt the time had passed for me to jump on that train. However, this staff meeting was the catalyst that pushed me to finally commit to reading the series. I jumped in headfirst and took one of the most risky literary gambles any reader will understand: buying the box set. Of a previously unread series. When I later described this new journey, my fellow bloggers were excited as well as interested: I was basically a case study of how readers still respond to the books without the pressure of pop culture and a now multi-billion dollar industry. 

After seven months of reading I am here to give my reflection and opinion on the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter.” It is worth noting that while the series is surrounded in controversy due to J.K. Rowlings’ problematic comments in recent years, this reflection does not condone her actions in any way. Rather, I endeavor to share my experience as a reader with the story, for which I can say it is amazing.

Words cannot express my deep attachment, love, and appreciation for this series. I loved everything from the character development to the intricate spells. The experience was so immersive that from the first page I wished I lived in the world presented by the series and was thankful for the chance to imagine I was in such a world. There is too much to behold to accurately capture the seven book series that is Harry Potter, so I’ve decided to describe some of my favorite moments, thoughts, and reactions—including some choice texts I sent to my friend that I feel best captures my emotions during and after each book. So without further ado: The Brief Account of a Harry Potter Virgin’s Literary Experience. (Warning: spoilers ahead!)


Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. A fantastic beginning to fuel the long and turbulent journey of Harry Potter. I felt all the emotions a reader and fan of the series should feel: absolute contempt for the Dursleys, the excitement and nervousness of Harry on his first day, and the promise of a journey filled with mischief and wonder. The Sorcerer’s Stone really helped introduce Harry’s thoughts and emotions which aids in the reader’s emotional attachment to the characters and their development. It is also worth noting that I shipped Ron and Hermione from the very beginning.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. I liked The Chamber of Secrets because it had all the promise of what being a second year student feels like in any situation. Harry was more confident in his abilities and his joy in being a wizard emanated from the pages as he, as well as the reader, began to connect and discover more of his past. Additionally, what I love about the series as a whole is that while the books are individually read with a typical literary arc, the series does as well. This fluidity aids in the literary experience and creates a unique and immersive atmosphere any reader will love.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Now, this book was insane in all the best ways. I could not believe it when Cedric died, and one thing I determined (and had reaffirmed throughout the rest of the series) was that authors are cruel, sadistic people who want their readers to suffer. After reading this book I texted my friend, “…it’s just playing with my emotions on a whole new level.” This comment adequately describes how much this book (and series) roped me in and how ignorant I was to the pain that would come.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. On almost every page where Umbridge made an appearance, I wrote some form of grievance because I could not stand her character—it got to the point that I was going to throw the book at the wall. I really liked the Order of the Phoenix because of the leadership Harry, Ron, and Hermione assumed as well as the number of questions it began to ask and answer. Whereas The Goblet of Fire was one of the last books where Harry experienced a  “childhood,” The Order of the Phoenix began introducing the intricacies of the magical war in which Harry would take part. I was also so incredibly proud of Fred and George (two of my favorite Weasleys) for their amazing mischief and success—I love them so much. However, amidst this triumph, The Order of the Phoenix was the first book in the series that made me cry because of Sirius’ death. When that happened I had two chapters left and messaged my friend the following:

“THEY KILLED SIRIUS/NO/NO/NO/NO/THAT’S NOT FAIR/AGHAGGAHGGAA ITS NOT FAIR/UGHHHH WHY DO THEY TRY TO MAKE ME SUFFER”

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Honestly, this book wasn’t my favorite out of the series but I can’t deny that it was incredibly needed. That might have been partly because “The Big Bang Theory” spoiled Dumbledore’s death or because I personally trusted Snape while Harry was still very much suspicious of his character. However, in the end I found myself doubting my own beliefs of Dumbledore’s trust in Snape and I became ever more worried about the fate of the wizarding world and Harry when the locket was found to be a fake Horcrux. I could once again feel Harry’s grief—as well as that of the others—and I knew in my heart that Harry, Ron, and Hermione would not be the same. On another note, I was extremely heartbroken when Harry broke up with Ginny but very happy when Ron and Hermione finally showed some flirtatious interaction. It became increasingly difficult to stay away from Harry Potter fan content so I went on a hiatus from most social media and television to avoid spoilers. Afterwards I noted:

“I’m a little worried about Harry too. He seems like he lost something inside him like happiness or I guess that childlike enjoyment and curiosity and it makes me hurt for him although considering he has to kill Voldemort I get why he’s anxious…”

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Nothing impacted me more in this series than the final chapters: when Harry walked solemnly into the forest during battle, I bawled. In those last chapters I had trouble reading the page (partly due to tears); the amount of emotion within the scene and the impact of being on Harry’s journey to get to this point hit me in full force. In the end, I was right to have faith in Snape, Ron and Hermione did end up together (yay!), and I was very pleased to see Harry and Ginny together. So in the end, at 10:48 pm on August 12, I texted my friend:

“AGH/AGHHHHHHH/I FINISHED/WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS ANYTHING/MY WHOLE HEART HURTS”

And those emotions continue today. I am so incredibly grateful for this journey and even more grateful that I could experience it (mostly) without spoilers and properly digest every theme and moment. While I didn’t get to grow up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione I will undoubtedly continue to experience their journey as I reread their stories and feel the impact that Hogwarts has left on my heart. Sometimes, ironically, words cannot express the feeling a book gives you—any reader will understand this impact and I am so lucky to have experienced this feeling. I know (as I have felt the last month) that I will continue to fangirl, obsess, and mourn the finishing of Harry Potter for a long time to come.