Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Small HP-related Update

I spent Saturday doing what a great many other people worldwide did, reading Deathly Hallows. I was a satisfied reader; Uncle Pookie seemed a little bit less satisfied than I, but part of that is his ongoing frustration with the Ministry of Magic's failure to come up with better preventive measures--e.g., spells or devices for detecting Imperiused employees. Anyway, I don't want to give any spoilers away for those who haven't yet read it, so I'll just say I liked it and that I was mostly right in the things I guessed would happen. One important thing, on which I'd disagreed with UP, I was wrong about, but to be totally fair I had said that if that thing had happened, it was surely an accident, not deliberate, because doing it deliberately would have been a really bad idea. And I was right about that part of it. (Cryptic enough?)

But I did want to point people to Thomas Hibbs' review, "Harry Potter & the Art of Dying Well" on NRO. Hibbs is a good reviewer, and this review is no exception. I also recommend the Alan Jacobs review that Hibbs links to. I'd read it a couple of years ago on the First Things website, but I read it again and, although it was published when there were only three books in the series, it is well worth reading; there is some really interesting stuff about magic and technology that would be interesting even to people who haven't read or who don't like the Harry Potter series.

And speaking of people who don't like HP, I do not recommend the Ron Charles article Hibbs links as an example of "it's for the masses, therefore it must be bad" type of thinking. (Unless of course you need to see such an example, and in that case I guess it is a pretty good example. I'm only linking it myself because the link in Hibbs' article is broken.) I do not say this because Mr. Charles does not like HP. I do not care whether other people like HP or not, except insofar as I might have more chance of a fun conversation about the books with someone who does. Someone once said that, "in literature, as in love, other people's choices astound us"--in other words, tastes vary; I've seen any number of couples whose reason for being together is completely inexplicable to me, and I'm far too old to think that my tastes in books, anymore than my taste in romantic/marital partner, is or ever will be universal. So the dislike doesn't matter.

But a couple of the reasons for the dislike do. I do not care for the "for the masses=bad" notion, popular though it is among some. I myself often fell prey to that type of pointless sneering when I was young, but I have recognized it as groundless elitism, resting on, insofar as it rests on anything, the faulty idea that something popular can't be good and worthwhile. Of course popular things can be bad, but it is going a long way from that fairly obvious truth to say they're popular because they are bad or that if Billy Bob and Sally Mae like it, it must be crap. And I don't care whether we're talking books, movies, Wal-mart, crafts, or what have you, I do not care for this attitude.

Far more important is one of the other reasons Mr. Charles dislikes HP and it is the reason I bothered to say I do not recommend the piece: Charles refers to "Rowling's little world of good vs. evil". That's a telling phrase if I ever heard one. Hear the contempt? The dismissiveness? People who believe in good and evil, even just to the point of being willing to entertain the idea of a fantasy world in which such things exist, are so-o-o-o medieval! Who knows what sort of backward, incorrect thinking such might get up to? I do believe in the existence of good and evil, and I believe that they are in conflict not only in fictional worlds, both well and poorly written, but in this world, within and without ourselves. And I consider the idea that good and evil do not exist to be a pernicious belief which we entertain to our own destruction. I am completely serious here. Act as if good and evil do not exist or as if they are beneath consideration by intelligent, educated people and you will begin to damage your own self and the wider society. The phrase "rot from within" comes to mind. Much better to dislike the HP books because you think they are badly written or juvenile or boring or even for the reason that they're popular, than because they depict good and evil. That is a hopeless, dead-end sort of thinking that affects far more than your opinion on one series of children's books.

Anyway, I recommend as thought-provoking both the Hibbs review and the Jacobs article. Uncle Pookie also found them interesting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Last Minute Bookscarves

So-called because they crochet up incredibly fast and there's still time to make yourself (and a friend!) one for marking your place in Deathly Hallows. They could also make a last-minute addition to any book you might be giving someone as a present, or something personal to go with a bookstore giftcard.

Please note, these bookscarves do not look like the house scarves shown in the HP movies, but they use house colors and they do look like scarves. They work up much faster than movie-accurate ones would and there's no tedious weaving in of ends. Bear in mind scarves are not described in the books, so you can imagine Hogwarts students wearing scarves that look any way you like and no one short of Ms. Rowling herself can tell you you're wrong. I think these lengthwise scarves are darn cute, whether they look like the movie scarves or not; that's why I'm posting the pattern, in spite of the fact it is so simple a project I should be embarrassed to presume to give directions.


steel crochet hook, US size 6 (or thereabouts)

small amount of size 10 crochet thread in two colors--I used red and gold for Gryffindor; substitute blue and bronze (or silver) for Ravenclaw, black and yellow for Hufflepuff, green and silver for Slytherin, or whatever colors you want for non-Hogwarts scarves

(optional) tapestry needle

Incredibly Simple Pattern:

Using red (or whatever your MC is), ch until you have approximately 7" of foundation chain (about 60 st).

Dc in fourth ch from hook, and dc across.

Join gold (or other CC) thread, ch 3, and turn.

Dc in fourth ch from hook and dc across.

Join red (or your MC) thread, ch 3, and turn.

Dc in fourth ch from hook and dc across.

At this point, you may want to iron your scarf, spraying lightly with spray starch on each side.

Now those dangly bits of thread where you joined yarn will become part of your fringe. Find a piece of pasteboard or something else that is about one and a half inches in diameter and loosely wind thread around it--about sixteen to twenty wraps of each color will be enough for one bookscarf. Cut one end of the wrap. Now you just add the fringe to the ends of your scarf. You can do it by poking a crochet hook through the scarf and pulling a doubled strand through and looping it around itself the way we often see yarn looped through a punched hole on commercial bookmarks. Or, because this is such tiny stuff, it may be preferable to thread a piece of fringe in a tapestry needle, pull it through the scarf, and tie it on by hand. When all your fringe is on, trim so it's more or less neat-looking, and you're done. Happy bookmarking.

Alternate version, in case you don't have steel hooks or don't like using them: Use the smallest aluminum hook you have--I used a D hook--and ch about 7" same as above, but sc two rows of each color instead of dc-ing one row. Looks just fine and it is still a fast little project.

Note on length: The length of these bookscarves works with the Harry Potter hardcovers, but if you want a bookscarf to go with trade paperback size books, you're gonna want something a bit shorter.

Note on fringe: While typing this, I had an idea to make the fringe-making go faster: take a long piece of thread in tapestry needle and thread through the end of the scarf repeatedly, leaving loose loops of thread below each part where you put it through--clear as mud?--then cut across the end of the loops. When I've actually tried this, I'll update this with whether it worked or not. [Update: Yes, it works, and it does save some time, although not as much as I'd thought it would.]

What I Wore to OotP...

No doubt a lot of fans wore their Hogwarts scarves to see The Order of the Phoenix this past week, but as a fat woman who lives in a #&*%#!*% swamp, I'm not letting a wide, double-layered strip of knitted yarn touch my body in July. But I like dressing up, so I wore a house colors headband.

I knit it a week and a half ago, out of some crochet thread that I had just finished using in another HP-related project. It's basic size 10 crochet thread I found at thrift stores; I don't remember why in the world I bought the red, but when I saw the yellow-gold I snatched it up, because aside from its being a great color in its own right, I knew it would work with the red as Gryffindor. I see crochet thread in thrift stores fairly often, and it is a good bargain because it holds up well (IME thus far, old crochet thread in thrift stores always looks better than the old yarn) and because it lasts for a long time. From my ball of red and gold--29 cents and 25 cents respectively--I've gotten one relatively densely knitted project, one headband, and a passel of crocheted bookmarks. There's still a fair amount of thread on the gold ball (which said 175 yards on the band) and a lot of thread on the larger, red ball.

Anyway, if anyone wants the very simple pattern, here it is.

House Colors Headband

size 10 crochet cotton in house colors (red & gold Gryffindor; blue and bronze or silver Ravenclaw; yellow and black Hufflepuff; green and silver Slytherin)
US size 3 ( 3.125-3.25mm) knitting needles
small crochet hook
tapestry needle for weaving in ends

N. B.: Headband is worked holding two strands of thread together.

Start of headband:

Using crochet hook, ch 50 in MC, then switch to knitting needle.
CO 1 (now 2 st on needle) and K across.
CO 1 (3 st on needle) and K across.
K 1. Kf&b. K across.
Repeat last row until 18 st are on the needle, or until piece is desired width.
K three more rows.

(K 3, P until last 3 st, K 3; then on next row
K across) Repeat this until you have 14 rows of st st.

Join in CC, work 2 rows of st st, continuing to have the 3 knit stitches on each edge throughout.
Join in MC, work 4 rows of st st.
Join in CC, work 2 rows of st st.
Join in MC.
Repeat this pattern until you have 4 repeats of the trapped bar design.
Work 14 more rows st st in MC.

End of headband:
K1, K2tog, K across.
Repeat until there's only one st left on needle.
Switch to crochet hook and ch 50. Tie off.

Weave in ends. Iron or press headband to block, if desired; you may also spray lightly with spray starch.

Notes for alteration: Size 10 crochet thread, when doubled, is approximately equivalent to size 3 crochet thread (just a bit smaller); consequently, if you can find appropriate colors in size 3 thread, it will substitute almost exactly. This headband is pretty wide, about two and a half inches, so some people might prefer a more narrow scarf. If making this for children, you'd probably only want three repetitions of the trapped bar design; it would be easy enough to make the crochet chain ties a little longer if three repetions is almost long enough.

Random Thoughts


I'd have lots more interesting stories to tell about my youth if I were just a bit stupider.


Doc Martens were probably never popular in Japan.


Isn't it funny that people who would never condemn the moral choices of any individual (who is, after all, just "doing his own thing", "doing the best he can", etc.) within a nation, thinks nothing whatsoever of condemning an entire nation or civilization.


It's odd that Civil War reenactment is so much more popular than American Revolution reenactment. Our gloriously successful, against-the-odds founding vs a very sad time and the latter is more popular for commemorating.


The Merchant of Venice is not a play for those uncomfortable with complexity/ambiguity, who can't understand that a victim may also be an aggressor, a pitiable man may also be a bad man.


Considering relativism says no philosophy or set of practices is better or more true than another, it's a wonder anyone has ever quite dared to teach it. Or bothered.


There's two kinds of people in the world, people who let flies crawl on their children's eyes and people who don't. I figure this is at least as true as any other "two kinds of people" statement.


One of my favorite new words: Incumbistan. As in "plump, complacent resident of Incumbistan."


Is it just a coincidence that, as young women are less and less likely to have children, the number of young women with pampered dogs is going up?


You know how you can wait for the opportunity to make a certain joke, like waiting for someone to mention thunderdomes so you can say, "Oh, can't we just get beyond the thunderdome?" (Yes, I have been watching MST3K.) Well, I'm now waiting for a chilly time around a campfire so I can say to the firebuilder, "Oy, stop being so niggardly with those faggots, there's a nip in the air."