MuggleCast 258 Transcript
[“Hedwig’s Theme” plays]
Andrew: Because for the first time in years we have a brand new J.K. Rowling book to discuss, this is MuggleCast Episode 258 for September 30th, 2012.
[Show music begins]
Andrew: Welcome to MuggleCast Episode 258. This is very exciting because for the first time – we are here on a Harry Potter podcast, but not talking primarily about Harry Potter because our queen, J.K. Rowling, has written a new book, The Casual Vacancy, and it’s now available. But first I want to say: Micah, Eric, and Selina, thank you for helping the show, Episode 257.
Selina: [laughs] You’re welcome.
Eric: We just had all that news to get through, Andrew. I’m sure you were so upset listening to it that you weren’t on to talk about all of that ridiculous news.
Andrew: I have to say, I enjoyed listening. It was fun to listen.
Eric: Well, I enjoyed hearing you pop in.
Andrew: Oh, thank you. [laughs]
Eric: [laughs] To do the book recommendation, actually.
Micah: Speaking of, today’s episode is brought to you by Audible.com.
[Andrew and Eric laugh]
Andrew: The Casual Vacancy.
Eric: Oh, is that what you’re going to suggest now?
Andrew: No, actually there is no Audible ad.
Eric: Oh, come on.
Andrew: [laughs] So, there won’t be. I wonder if – is it already – it doesn’t look like it’s available on audiobook form yet. I’m doing a search – oh, yes it is. Never mind.
Eric: Who is – sorry, did we already say who is actually narrating it?
Andrew: Tom Hollander.
Eric: Yes, of course.
Andrew: Let’s listen to the sample. Why not? Here it comes. Spoiler alert.
[Audio (Tom Hollander)]: Part One. 6.11 A casual vacancy is deemed to have occurred: a) when a local councillor fails to make his declaration…
Eric: This is riveting.
[Audio (Tom Hollander)]: …of acceptance of office within the proper time…
[Audio (Tom Hollander)]: …or b) when his notice…
Micah: It’s like watching PBS.
Andrew: PBS? Yeah.
Eric: I feel like I’m learning to speak French right now.
Andrew: This is NPR.
Selina: I used this for my media law course last year. I’m learning so much about stuff. [laughs]
Andrew: [laughs] So – okay. Well said. So, we are going to talk about The Casual Vacancy today, and one of the best parts about J.K. Rowling releasing this new book is that she’s done a bunch of interviews about the book, and about Harry Potter, and even some other strange topics. And later on in the show, we also have an interview with John Noe and Bre Bishop. They have a new documentary about to be released called Finding Hogwarts. You guys have heard about this, right?
Andrew: So, I spoke to them, recorded an interview, and that will be later on in the show. It was a fun talk with them about…
Micah: It’s in Orlando. It couldn’t be very hard to find.
Andrew: [laughs] Well, they actually shot this before the park opened up so they had to look elsewhere for it.
Micah: Oh. That’s unfortunate.
[Andrew and Eric laugh]
Micah: That could have saved them a lot of money.
Andrew: [laughs] Yes, yes. So, are we going to start with Casual Vacancy talk then? I guess so.
Micah: Why not?
Andrew: Because it’s the big topic.
The Casual Vacancy Discussion: Initial Thoughts
Andrew: We do have to throw in a little bit of a disclaimer. As we know, this is an adult book and there were some adult topics in the story, and now – so we will address some of those and there may be some more adult language on the show than we normally use. However, we will say we aren’t going to spoil you because honestly, shocking revelation, none of us have actually finished the book.
Andrew: And the reason for that may come along in this show. [laughs]
Eric: Well, we’re recording this ñ we’ll probably release it later, won’t we? Today.
Eric: Like part of doing it direct to video ñ on Sunday and the book only came out on Thursday, in the middle of the day. I, for one ñ I’ve worked every single day since it came out, so I have not been able to finish the book.
Andrew: And we purposely delayed recording this until Sunday because we wanted to have time to finish reading it, and I guess this is where our initial thoughts come in to start off this conversation. It is a book that most Harry Potter fans will have zero interest in.
Eric: Zero interest?
Andrew: Yeah. Because the topic ñ the reason we all read it is because it was written by J.K. Rowling. That’s the only reason. I never would have picked up a book about a small town named Pagford in England and they’re replacing somebody on the town council. It just would not interest me. So, I have been trying to get through it and it just has not captured my attention yet. I have heard that people ñ that it does pick up later on in the story, but I’ve yet to reach that point. Now, Selina has gone furthest into the book thus far, and as somebody who is ñ you’re what, less than a hundred pages from finishing? How are you feeling about it?
Selina: Well yeah, I’ve done my ñ [laughs] I’ve tried so hard to finish before we started this recording because I felt like someone should, but it ñ I feel like ñ and these are, of course, only our initial thoughts on it, but I feel like – this is not a bad book. It’s not badly written, it’s not ñ for me, it’s just not a story that needed to be told. Because you talk about some authors writing about real events and writing as though this is reality and I sort of – there comes a point when you think, “Well okay, if I wanted reality to this extent, I would just go outside.” I feel like…
Selina: It’s true, though, isn’t it? No, okay, not right here. [laughs] Not this kind of reality. But I feel like you just ñ I don’t want to be negative because I don’t think that it’s a bad book. It’s just that I’m reading it and I’m thinking, “Sometimes there are stories that don’t need to be told,” and I’m not sure I’m enjoying the experience of reading. But that doesn’t mean that other people can’t be.
Eric: Yeah. I found the story to be a little slow-going for me, too. And not that it’s slowly-paced or anything, but I’m finding it a lot harder to mull through, to mull over, to get through, than any of the Harry Potter books. And that’s a given, and part of that could be due to the subject. To your point, Selina, I think there is some sort of ñ it’s an art, though, to capture what’s actually in the outside world and put it in a book. So, these characters that are quite a bit older than Jo’s previous set of characters, that are running around the real world conniving and scheming and calling each other into question – to actually put that in a book is where the art and the craftsmanship that Jo is conducting here. That’s where that comes in. So, even though it is a book about real life, I think the fact that we can read it on the page and go ñ because at several points so far, in the book, I’ve gone, “Wait a minute, Jo is in my head. How could she possibly know what my high school experience was like?” But there are points in the school, in this book, where I’m thinking, “Oh my God, that easily could have been taken out of a page of my life story, back from in my classroom.”
Selina: That’s not what I’m saying, though. All I’m saying is that – that’s what I said. What she’s writing, what she’s written in this book, is really well done. I really think she’s done an amazing job writing this book. I’m just thinking that the story as a whole ñ you know what I mean? There is no story there. There is no story. And I know to some extent it’s about the small actions of a small-town group of ultimately completely insignificant people. But it’s just ñ I don’t know. It’s just that I’m reading this, thinking, “What am I gaining? What am I getting out of reading it? What am I learning about myself and about life?” Maybe – that is going to be different for a lot of people. I don’t just like Harry Potter, I like a lot of different kinds of books. And I guess it just isn’t for me, but that’s not Jo’s problem, that’s my problem. Does that make sense?
Andrew: Yeah. Micah, I’d like to think you are the most mature among us. What do you think of the book thus far?
Micah: You say that, but I think I was the one who commented to you after I started reading the book and I said, “J.K. Rowling is more perverted than I am.”
Micah: So, when you called me the more mature of the group, I don’t know if that is necessarily accurate. But I think it’s really hard because we’ve read a series, not just one book but an entire series, that’s based in fantasy. It’s a completely different type of genre for her to go from wizards and witches and Horcruxes to real life. And I think that is exactly what this book is about. It’s about class warfare, it’s about poverty, it’s about people who are really falling on hard times, and I wonder how much of that is tied to her growing up and experiences that she had. Her work at Amnesty International comes to mind because I remember her talking about that during one of her appearances, it was either at Carnegie Hall or Radio City. So, I think you are getting more of a flavor of – and I saw a quote from her saying that this was just a book that she had to write, and I wonder how much of that comes from her own experiences and things she’s had to deal with in her own life.
Eric: I think…
Selina: I’m sure that’s what is going on.
Eric: Go ahead, Selina.
Selina: No, that was it.
Eric: Oh. What did you say?
Selina: I said I’m sure that’s what she was drawing on for some of it. I mean, it sort of calls out – it’s very…
Selina: Yeah, it’s very dark but it’s very typical of what you would see in real-life Britain. I mean, this could be happening anywhere right now.
Eric: I wanted to ask – I guess it helps that you are most of the way through the book too, because I wanted to ask. As a Nordic person…
Eric: …do you find – you are a lot closer to Britain. Do you find that this book might be relevant to, or perhaps more relevant to, British children or Europeans than it is to Americans, perhaps?
Selina: I have spent five years in Britain, so [laughs] I would say as someone who knows a lot about how the system works over there, I think that this is the kind of story that, for me, is not a story, it’s just reality. And it’s very bleak and it’s very depressing and there’s no shadow of a happy ending or a resolution to anything, which I think is real life. That’s why I was making the comment about it being real life and super depressing…
Selina: …because it’s literally you could walk out of your house and see. But actually, my mother said something interesting. She said that she thought it might be more interesting to Americans than British people because for you guys it’s an insight into what British life is like. Whereas for us, it is no different than anything you might see.
Andrew: Yeah, so it’s kind of like fantasy in that regard, almost. [laughs]
Eric: Like, for us.
Micah: A different kind of fantasy though, I think, because remember with Hogwarts you got to go to this world that we could only hope existed in some capacity, it was a great escape. Whereas this other world that J.K. Rowling is writing about now is in fact, as Selina pointed out, reality. And nobody wants to necessarily deal in reality, they want to deal in what could potentially be. And so I think that is why, for us, even though we grew up with it, the Potter series is more captivating than a book like this.
Eric: Well, I feel that fantasy novels on the whole or in general are actually just allegories for what actually goes on in the real world, which is why we look at Cornelius Fudge and we say the corrupt politician or the incompetent politician and that echoes, obviously, with experiences in our real world. But fantasy is more fun than, in many cases, just a straight play or straight drama about politics, which is why I think the Harry Potter series is going to continue to succeed far beyond a straight book like this.
Andrew: I don’t have all bad things to say about The Casual Vacancy, though. I have been enjoying it to a point. I think J.K. Rowling’s writing, as somebody mentioned earlier, is still phenomenal. She is so vivid in her writing and her descriptions of characters. And the beginning part of the book, where everybody is discovering Barry Fairbrother’s death – which I don’t consider a spoiler because we all knew who dies at the beginning.
Andrew: That part, to me, took a while to get through. And I think what put me off on a bad foot with this book is there are a lot of character introductions, and it’s a lot to handle.
Andrew: It’s a lot to take in. But that said, I’m starting to get acclimated with the characters and there are particular ones I’m – whose story lines I’m enjoying. And I haven’t given – so far, I can’t say that this is a bad book because I have been enjoying it to a point. It’s just that my reservations right now is it is slow to start, there are too many characters, I think, and the setting, it was just – this is a big, big, big jump for J.K. Rowling. I was actually saying to my friends the other day, and I’m interested in your guys’ takes on this, she should have worked her way up to this book. It shouldn’t have been seven books of Harry Potter fantasy and then going to this. It should have been – the next book, I think, should have been another – an older, young adult novel, something that would have captured – that feeds the audience of the grown-up Harry Potter audience, as in people our age and older than that because obviously Harry Potter spanned all ages. But adults and young adults, they grew up with this and still love J.K. Rowling’s writing for what it was. Would you guys agree she should have maybe used the subject matter that could have appealed to more people? Not kids, but people our age, let’s say?
Selina: I don’t necessarily agree because I think that with this book, I think – clear message that she’s saying, “I’m not done with Harry Potter but I’m moving away from Harry Potter, and if any of you thought that I was going to write another Harry Potter book, then I’m going to slap you in the face with this.” [laughs]
Selina: It’s a heavy book, you could hit someone real…
[Eric and Selina laugh]
Selina: But my point is that I think that what happened with this book was it was marketed completely wrong, because everybody knows that the people that are going to go out and pick up the new J.K. Rowling book are going to be Harry Potter fans. And the only people that this book is not going to appeal to probably is ninety percent of Harry Potter fans. So, I feel like…
Eric: So, mis-marketed or – was it marketed at all?
Andrew: See, that’s the thing. Yeah.
Eric: Because I feel like – short of the fact that there are a hundred copies of the book at every bookstore in every city in the world, this book really wasn’t marketed. It sold itself, is the problem, and I think what I’m feeling that might be similar to what you’re feeling, Selina, is that we needed to – when the biography was released – or sorry, the summary – was released that said this is J.K. Rowling’s first book for adults, it was over quick. That was not emphasized enough, I think, that this book really wasn’t for, as you said, the majority of the people who are going to be picking it up because of their love for J.K. Rowling through Harry Potter.
Micah: And here’s the thing though: I think that if you’re not going to market the book, if you’re going to ride on the success of Harry Potter and expect that people are going to go out and they’re going to purchase this book because they were such huge fans of the Harry Potter series, then you also have to expect that you’re going to have this book held to the same standards and the success of Harry Potter. There’s no way to kind of get around that. I’m not saying that it’s necessarily fair to go ahead and do that, and say, “Well, look at what the Potter series was able to achieve,” and put that up against The Casual Vacancy. But I think at the same time, if you’re going to ride the heels of Potter and assume that because that did so well that you don’t have to market The Casual Vacancy or do more than what was done, you’re sort of setting yourself up for, I think, a lot of critical reviews.
Andrew: Yeah, I mean…
Eric: Or backlash, you know?
Andrew: I think, in terms of publicity, they did really downplay it. And there were articles about it, and booksellers were getting frustrated, like, “Oh, why isn’t there more promotional material for us to use?” Like, if you walked by a Barnes & Noble, all you saw was that single poster in the window, saying, “J.K. Rowling’s first book since Harry Potter.” And I think that is a thing that people should really market, because it is a big deal. But that’s my point with this whole transition thing. Harry Potter fans were so looking forward to the next book. I mean, Pottermore kind of let some people down. Other people enjoyed it, okay, but people have been yearning for a new J.K. Rowling book for five years. And so, when her first one out of the door is this one about ñ one as obscure a topic as this is, then it does turn off a lot of people.
Selina: I have…
Eric: Well, let’s talk about the beginning of this book. Sorry, Selina. Go ahead.
Selina: I just wanted to ask something really quickly before we talk about the actual book, which was: do you guys think that this book ñ that Jo should or could have released this under a pen name? Because, in my opinion, when I first started reading I was so put off by all the references and all this – I was like, “J.K. Rowling wrote this? This is horrible!” But then ñ and also, we’ll get into that later about the references ñ but then I put it away and I came back to it, and I sort of forgot that Jo wrote it and I enjoyed it a lot more for that…
Selina: …because I didn’t associate it with Harry Potter at all.
Andrew: Yeah, I definitely wish ñ well no, I don’t think she should have put it under a pen name. Because, look, she wants to make a lot of money off of this, there’s no question about that. Everybody is – and her publisher wanted to make a lot of money off of it. So, to do that, they had to say “J.K. Rowling.” Otherwise, how many copies of this book would have sold? [laughs] I mean…
Eric: Well, I don’t really think she was in it for the money with this book. But at the same time, I don’t think she should have kept it to herself and not sold it. You know, it’s tough. I think what it is, is she’s just really being herself and it’s everybody else in the world that has to change their mindset about what the name J.K. Rowling means. And I think that unfortunately or fortunately for everybody involved, that’s what happened here, is that she published the book under J.K. Rowling and a lot of us were expecting a completely different book as a result of that.
Micah: Yeah, but would you ever associate J.K. Rowling with anything other than Harry Potter? I mean, regardless of what she writes in the future, it’s always going to be Potter.
Eric: Well, I associate J.K. Rowling with good storytelling and an engrossing mystery. Now, I will say that in this book there is a lot less mystery. The plot – the end of the book is still hidden. I don’t know how it’s going to end up, but it’s not the kind of story that Harry Potter is in many, many ways. But it is still, as we all I think would agree, well-told or well-written.
Andrew: Maybe one of the biggest mistakes that we’re making as readers is kind of forcing ourselves to read it. Maybe it’s a book that’s best left consuming in small bits over a couple of weeks.
Micah: Yeah, but we’re not forcing ourselves. We’re barely a hundred pages into the book…
Micah: …some of us. We’re taking our time, aren’t we?
Andrew: Well, I was trying to get done by Sunday, but then I started reading on Thursday, it wasn’t doing it for me, and Friday I tried more and it wasn’t doing it for me. I mean, maybe we [laughs] would like it better if we just weren’t feeling forced to finish it.
Micah: Yeah. Well, I like what you said earlier, too. The initial part of it is hard to get through because there are a lot of characters that are presented to you. There’s a lot of character development. And I understand you kind of need to do that in order to progress with the story, but I felt like ñ and again, I don’t mean to compare it to Potter, but her previous books ñ the character development felt much more fluid. In this book, it felt like she had to tell you all about a character in those initial chapters and get as much information as possible in front of you instead of just kind of interweaving it into the story. And so, from what I’ve read so far I feel like that part of it has fallen a little bit short.
Eric: In addition, all the characters that she’s introducing in the book – none of them are particularly redeeming or lovable.
Eric: To be honest, there are a lot of just shady people and shadier people and worse people. And even the children – you can’t like any of the kids because they’re little bastards.
Andrew: I like Andrew.
Eric: You like Andrew?
Eric: [laughs] Yeah. I…
Eric: But they all have such deep flaws and none of them are immediately likable.
Selina: You know what this is? This is like – you guys are going to like this one – it’s like the Game of Thrones series if it had been done in this time. There are no swords and there are no maestros, which is what makes it interesting, but all of the characters are great and flawed and really intricate, and I feel like if we had got to spend more time with them then it would have really developed into some huge political canvas that felt really important. I think that it’s not the characters and the storytelling that fails, it’s – for me, I am not saying it fails – but it’s just that there’s so little importance to what they do, and I think that’s probably part of her point. But it just makes it feel so redundant. You know what I mean? So, it’s like clashing.
Eric: Well, look at the classics here for a minute. Think about Catcher in the Rye. It’s a perfect example for me to use because I hate that book, but it’s a book that was required reading in high school and I found Holden Caulfield to be an insufferable jackass. But not a whole lot happens to him throughout the history of that book. It starts off, I think, he leaves college, he goes and spends a night in a dilapidated building, and I forget what happens in the rest, but nothing of great significance is being championed in that book. That book is about the character himself, and how he was viewed at the time and how – that’s one of the books that said that this kid who is young can still be very deep with his emotional analysis and how he sees the world. So, these books that are shown to us, even in school, aren’t necessarily about anything. They’re just – they get to be the status that they’re in because of how the story is told and different things about it. So even though nothing particularly happens, like you were saying, Selina, I feel like a lot of these characters are still strong enough that this book could be received pretty well. Not only by us, but in the future.
Selina: Just really quickly, I don’t mean that nothing happens. I mean that there’s nothing for us to care about. There’s no event that we can get invested in. You know what I mean?
Eric: Well, what about the election? Because where I’m sitting now – I’m a quarter of the way through the book – where I’m sitting now, I am interested in finding out who the candidates are going to be and that’s what I’m invested in right now.
Selina: I just – from my point of view, it won’t – I feel so negative, it’s bad, but it won’t matter who wins. Do you know what I mean? I don’t know. Maybe I’m just… [laughs]
Micah: I was just going to say though, Selina, the point you brought up about Game of Thrones, I was actually thinking about that as I was reading through, because it was almost as if she could have broken it up by character, like George R.R. Martin does in his books. So it would almost be – the first chapter would be Barry and then it would go on to be about the different characters in this particular book. But a lot of people complained about the first book in that series too, saying that it felt like it took so long to kind of get the wheels going, and I feel like it’s the same thing with this book. I don’t know if you agree or disagree.
Eric: I think, too…
Selina: I see that.
Eric: Yeah, she didn’t have seven books to tell this story. She chose to do it in one, which is why, I think, you are getting a lot of this introduction. And she has to lay the dimensions all before she can continue to tell the story, because it’s absolutely important that we meet all of the players in the story during the same story that’s going to finish it. You know what I’m saying? Whereas the books, every year at Hogwarts there was a new teacher and some of them have ties to Harry’s past, some of them don’t, but it was all laid across this grand canvas where everything here is crammed into one book. It’s interesting to see that she didn’t jump right into another series.
Selina: Unless it is a series.
Eric: [laughs] Do you think…
Andrew: She said it’s not.
Andrew: She said it’s not going to be a series.
Eric: Oh okay.
Andrew: Go ahead.
Eric: Yeah, go on.
Andrew: No, no, go ahead.
Eric: Oh, I wanted to talk about the first chapter, or the intro, but we don’t have to.
Andrew: I’m just mid-chew right now, go ahead.
Eric: You’re mid-chew? [laughs] I wanted to talk about the opening because to me – well, obviously the opening is really important about any book because you are supposed to be engrossed and it’s got to catch you. But I found in the beginning – and it’s Barry’s sort of last moments of his life – I found it to be at times very brutal, the narration. Essentially he’s finishing up some paperwork and he has to take his wife out for their anniversary. He kisses his kids goodbye for the last time and eventually collapses on the ground. When he’s collapsed from this brain aneurysm, there’s this line – let me go back to it. Okay, it says that he experienced pain that he never felt – he’s having a brain aneurysm – he’s experiencing this throbbing pain that was nothing like he ever felt. He didn’t want to endure it but “endure it he must, for oblivion was still a minute away.” So, this is like – the narrator is being very – it’s torture. This guy is being tortured and we’re forced to witness it. He’s forced to witness it for another sixty seconds. And when he’s in the ambulance, the woman who is in the ambulance with him compares the oxygen mask to a muzzle. And it’s also said that he was lying unconscious and unresponsive on the ground in a pool of his own vomit, and I’m thinking, “This is really intense! This guy is dying and he’s just completely helpless and we’re forced to witness this terrible death in the beginning of the book.” It really set an interesting tone, I thought.
Eric: How about you guys?
Andrew: You’re just talking about basically those first two pages there, right?
Eric: Yeah, that’s the first two pages where…
Eric: The narrator felt…
Andrew: I did like how – hmm?
Andrew: The narrator felt…
Eric: The narrator felt like they were – it was just pathetic, like there was some kind of – like he was being insulted or something, you know? He spends the last few minutes of his life thinking about, why do I even have a golf club membership, I suck at golf…
Eric: …and then he dies and he is forced to be tortured with a brain aneurysm. It brought the world – it was real. It was very real, like this really happens to people kind of thing.
Andrew: Mhm. Well, I guess we can move forward in the discussion here. I have to say, when I was going to pick up the book at Barnes & Nobles, I was very excited. It felt almost like a Harry Potter book release, going in, seeing it there right at the front, holding it in your hand for the first time…
Micah: Did you smell it?
Andrew: Uhhh, maybe.
[Eric and Micah laugh]
Eric: Did you smell it, Micah?
Micah: Well, the Potter books – we’ve talked about this, they had a very distinctive smell to them.
Andrew: All books have smells to them.
Eric: I think that comes from being printed on recycled paper, Micah.
Micah: Oh okay.
Eric: You know, if it used to be part of a McDouble wrapper…
Micah: Yeah, exactly.
Eric: …it smells like a McDouble.
Micah: I wanted to go back to something you said before, talking about those first two pages, but do you think it would have been different – maybe people find it a little bit more enjoyable, not as slow, more to look forward to – if Barry Fairbrother had been murdered as opposed to just dropping dead? Somebody is after his seat on the council?
Andrew: Like a whodunnit.
Micah: Because that’s honestly what I was expecting, having read the summary of the book beforehand.
Andrew: I never thought that.
Micah: I thought we were looking for more of a murder mystery/political thriller type of book.
Andrew: That would have been cool. That definitely would have been cool. Because there was rumors, I think, that her book – before we even knew it was called The Casual Vacancy or anything like that, I think there was a rumor – one author said, “Oh yeah, she’s going to be writing a mystery,” and we were like, “Oh okay.”
Eric: Yeah, that’s right.
Andrew: I think definitely it would have been more interesting. How do you classify this book? What genre is this?
Eric: Hmm. Political sleeper? What do you call those?
Eric: And that’s not offensive, but the fact that it is – it’s a character drama, that’s all it is. It’s a character drama set in a small town which obviously is a very accurate depiction of said small towns, I think.
Eric: But again, going back to the comparison between real life and stuff, I find that the adults in this book – and there are a fair number of them – really aren’t – I’m identifying all aspects of their personality, with having known adults who are like that. I’m kind of closer to the parenting age than I used to be, like when I first picked up Potter, so a lot of this time spent – these chapters about the parents are interesting me because I have this perspective where I’m like, “I wonder if my parents ever felt that way,” or something like that. We’re dealing with more adults and now we’re closer to being adults, so I find in a very interesting way that these characters kind of still appeal to me than, say, if J.K. Rowling had written a book set in a high school or set with younger characters again like she did with Potter, I don’t know that I would have enjoyed it as much.
Eric: What do you guys think?
Andrew: I mean, I don’t know if I could – I’m enjoying this right now because of her writing, because of her character writing, and when you get to the scenes with the dialogue I do find it intriguing. I think she does write some great character scenes. But I can’t imagine a situation – if there wasn’t that, if it was more of the very beginning, like the first couple of chapters, I would be incredibly – I probably would have given up. I think it is improving a little bit, and like I said at the top of the show, it does – I heard somebody say that – I’ve heard a couple of people say, “It gets better.” [laughs]
Micah: Well, Selina, does it?
Selina: That’s just the thing, though. It doesn’t get better! [laughs]
Eric: [laughs] Oh God. Wait, better than what? Better from what?
Andrew: More fast – I heard, “Yes, it starts slow in the beginning but it picks up the pace.”
Selina: I – it doesn’t get better than – I don’t know. Maybe it’s just because it’s so depressing, but I just feel like it’s just more and more of the same. [laughs] It’s not that I’m not enjoying it, but it’s…
Micah: So there’s no pay off yet?
Selina: You will literally not be able to tell the 350th page from the 20th page. Nothing has changed. And yes, you do learn more about the characters and some of the stories – Krystal’s, I’m sure we’re all going to be big fans of her part of the story because it is riveting and it is engaging and it is tragic and it is heartbreaking, and other people’s stories. Some of them are interesting, some of them are not. But in terms of the story, in terms of the actual plot – I mean, I still have 80 pages to go, but it’s – I’m not expecting anything to…
Micah: Shock you?
Selina: Yeah. And I wouldn’t. I would feel, in a way, that – [laughs] to use a phrase from the book, that would be inauthentic to [laughs] the characters if something – blah – if something huge suddenly happened to “fix everything” or make some kind of happy ending, because that’s not the story she’s writing. But I’m just left with a, “Life sucks. Where’s Hogwarts?” [laughs]
MuggleCast 258 Transcript (continued)
The Casual Vacancy Discussion: Harry Potter References
Andrew: So, we had noticed a couple of Harry Potter – what we think are Harry Potter references in the book. The first one: the one on page 44, you guys were saying?
Eric: Oh wait, I have one before that. It’s page one. [laughs]
Eric: Barry… [laughs]
Andrew: You know…
Eric: Although it’s funny what she said in the interview about that – no, no, no, his head hurts so I thought it was Harry’s scar hurting.
Andrew: Oh. [laughs] Yeah, there’s that. And like you said, in the one interview somebody asked her, “Oh, you named Barry and Harry very similarly,” and she was like, “You know what? I didn’t even notice that until it was too late.” Like, are you kidding me?
Micah: They changed the last name. Why couldn’t she change the first name?
Andrew: Yeah, really! Change it to Larry.
Eric: It’s a simple replace command, Jo. Control-H.
Andrew: Yeah. Find, replace.
Eric: Find, replace.
Andrew: But I just couldn’t believe that it only dawned on her before it was too late that Barry and Harry – [laughs] so you guys had page 44. What was the reference there?
Eric: Yeah, who else found it? Was it…
Selina: Me. Yup.
Andrew: What is it?
Selina: Oh, you can say it, Eric.
Eric: Oh okay, I’m going to – well, I’m going to look up the exact quote. Give me just one second here.
Andrew: The other one that we had found was later on when there’s a reference to various crimes, I think – or no, bad parenting.
Eric: Yeah, Tessa is going – Tessa is the – wait, no.
Andrew: Kay. You’re thinking of Kay.
Eric: Kay is the social worker.
Eric: She’s undergoing – she’s kind of reminiscing on tales of bad parenting because she’s at – [censored], I always call her Keira but it’s…
Eric: Krystal, Krystal’s house, and talking about her younger brother. But I found one on page 44 and it’s also – actually, this one is from Tessa and it’s also about Krystal and it says, okay:
“Tessa knew that Krystal’s familiarity with sudden death was greater than her own. People in Krystal’s mother’s circle died prematurely with such frequency that they might have been involved in some secret war of which the rest of the world know nothing.”
Selina: They’re wizards!
Eric: They’re wizards! But actually, she means obviously – Krystal’s mother in the story, not to spoil anything, is a big heroin addict and so a lot of the people that are also addicts are dying prematurely.
Eric: So, it’s much less exciting than if they were in a secret war. But the fact that that imagery exists, that Jo drew that comparison, seems like a veld or overt reference to the secret world of Harry Potter.
Micah: And the one that, Andrew, you brought up is on page 81, and it says:
“But she had seen far worse: welts and sores, gashes and burns, tar-black bruises; scabies and nits; babies lying on carpets covered in dog [censored]; kids crawling on broken bones; and once (she dreamed of it, still), a child who had been locked in a cupboard for five days by his psychotic stepfather.”
Andrew: That one made the national news, it says right after that.
Andrew: I missed that part, originally. She dreamed of it, still?
Andrew: That totally seems to me like a Harry Potter reference. But I bet if you ask her about that, she’d say, “Oh. Oh no. No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no.”
Selina: No, people [unintelligible] in cupboards all the time. [laughs]
Andrew: Yeah. [laughs]
Eric: So, Selina, do you think there could be any more? Have you noticed any others that are kind of similar?
Selina: The only one I did notice – and this is not a reference, it’s just funny – is that Jo in this story – I mean, she’s dating herself so much by all her references to Facebook and blah, blah, blah.
Andrew: How is that dating herself?
Selina: Because it’s little things about the world right now that in ten years people might be like, “Uhh, whatever.” But one thing that I did notice was the return of the PlayStation, which I liked.
Eric: Oh, I saw Nintendo DS.
Andrew: Yeah, I saw that.
Eric: Barry’s children have DS’s, but I didn’t see a PlayStation.
Selina: And I thought that was funny, because nobody actually says PlayStation anymore. [laughs] Sorry.
Andrew: See, I don’t know if that’s dating yourself, though. A book is written in a certain time period and that’s just…
Eric: And set in a certain time period as well.
Andrew: Yeah, yeah.
Selina: I always notice stuff like that whatever book I’m reading. I’m always thinking – they mention MySpace and I’m like, “Ahhh, that’s so 2002.”
Micah: There is a goat reference on page 58.
Eric: Oh God, how could I have missed that?
Andrew: Good for you.
Eric: 58? What is it?
Andrew: So, does this change your guys’ perspective of Jo as a writer? Do you find yourself not looking forward to what she’s doing next? She has said in multiple interviews over the past week that she – it seems that she has two children’s books lined up, and one of those two will be her next book-release. But it’s only for, like, seven to eight-year-olds, that’s the target age, so I’m thinking like Dr. Seuss style: very short, very illustrated, that kind of thing. And then, she did reference one other adult novel. Not a Casual Vacancy sequel.
Eric: Well, let’s talk about the sex.
Andrew: In the book?
Eric: In this book. Yeah, in this book. Because you’re asking if it changes our perspective on Jo, or if it changes our opinion of her writing. And there is just a lot of sex, I think, even so far where I am in this book. And it’s shocking at first, because I think as a Harry Potter fan, having grown up with Harry Potter, it feels like your mom is cursing or something. It’s just very – there’s an early chapter where we meet Andrew, he’s riding the school bus, and this girl he has a crush on doesn’t show up. And I guess – I think the line is like, “There was an ache in his heart and in his balls.”
Eric: And I’m thinking, oh my God, she’s talking about Andrew’s – this kid’s balls. She never talked about Harry’s balls. Like, there was never a moment where it’s like, “Harry’s balls itched as he contemplated what he must do next.”
Eric: Never. Ever, ever, ever.
Andrew: Wasn’t there a reference to his erection, too?
Eric: Yeah, there’s tons of erections.
Andrew: Like, bumping up and down on the school bus?
Eric: There’s tons of erections – oh, covering it up, yeah. He said the vibration of the bus…
Eric: I was just like, “Okay, this is – Jo is…”
Micah: But that’s normal things that happen to you…
Eric: Extremely normal.
Micah: Yeah, it is, though. And those are things that happen, you know, in high school.
Andrew: I think Micah is admitting something right now.
Eric: No, no, look, I’ll admit the same thing if Micah admits it. This is…
Eric: …real life.
[Andrew and Micah laugh]
Eric: But it felt like she was in my head – oh, Selina is laughing her [censored] off now.
Eric: I’m saying that she seems to have created a portal inside a young boy’s mind, and she does this with Andrew, she does this with the character of Fats. And it’s a little interesting to see the Queen or mother inside my young child head, or any young boy’s head, talking about these school experiences. How did she know this stuff? Almost. The book is dedicated to her husband, Neil. I wonder if he shared something.
Eric: Or maybe it’s a technique of a good writer to be able to talk about this kind of thing that is a lot more, I guess, personal to me as like – hell, I was a young boy once, right? Some of these things that Andrew and Fats are feeling I felt, and so I’m really…
Micah: Yeah, exactly.
Eric: …engrossed by how sexual but also by how raw a lot of this emotion is and it’s been beneath these characters. And it’s not uplifting, it’s actually a little unsettling, but I don’t know what to make of it.
Micah: Well, what makes it unsettling? Because I think, as we’ve just mentioned, a lot of those elements are natural and they are things that happen. Maybe it’s that we internalize all of them and we don’t necessarily speak about them all the time. But I do think there’s certainly things that happen and to your point, how does she know how to get inside the mind of a young teenage boy who is looking at a girl for the first time and is really interested in her? It’s an interesting dynamic.
Andrew: Actually, my problem with a lot of the sex happening in this book was some of it felt very forced.
Andrew: And I don’t mean literal sex but I mean just some references – like page 8, for example. It’s right after Barry dies, and Miles and Samantha who got Barry to that hospital, it’s the next morning, and Miles kind of gets lost in his wife’s breasts. It says:
“Samantha’s dressing gown gaped open as she sat at the kitchen table, revealing the contours of her big breasts as they rested on her forearms. Upwards pressure made them appear fuller and smoother than they were when they hung unsupported. The leathery skin of her upper cleavage radiated little cracks that no longer vanished when decompressed. She had been a great user of sun beds when younger.”
I’m just thinking, like…
Micah: Professor McGonagall?
Andrew: No! I’m just thinking your friend just died, it’s the next morning, and you get lost in your wife’s breasts?
Eric: I didn’t think that…
Andrew: First of all, do married men even – are they even interested in their wife’s breasts any longer?
Eric: They should be.
Andrew: I mean, let alone to describe them in this detail?
Eric: The thing is, I was confused at the beginning because I wasn’t sure entirely that it was being told from his perspective. So, when she’s writing about Samantha’s breasts, I didn’t think it was necessary that Miles was noticing that, but I thought instead it was building the character of Samantha who is very much like – what was the reference to Harry Potter I compared? I’ve lost it. But anyway, she’s a character who used sun beds, she’s very vain, and so that’s all I took it to mean, was that she was very concerned with her appearance because she had grown older and she slumps fake goo on her to give her a fake tan.
Eric: So, I don’t know.
Selina: I agree with you, I think that for me – I think having read most of the book, the sexual references probably are one of the ways to express these characters’ complete depravity. [laughs]
Selina: And the way that they’re so messed up and wrapped up in their own heads, and I think – as someone else said earlier, it’s sort of a way of really being raw. I mean, she’s laying these people out for the world to see. There’s nothing hidden about them or anyone. And it’s all – the novel, I guess, is all about secrets and sharing your thoughts and sharing your personal self with nobody or everybody. But at the same time, especially in the beginning, I was like, I don’t need Jo to prove that this is not Harry Potter by throwing in all of this stuff a bit arbitrarily. Like that scene on the bus where he was sort of – the erection bump – [laughs] for obvious reasons. I feel like sometimes you don’t really need it, but then as you get further into the book I do think that it just becomes the way that her characters work.
Eric: It could be – yeah, go ahead.
Listener Tweets: The Casual Vacancy
Andrew: Let’s start to move along here. We got some Twitter responses about the book, for people who follow us on Twitter, Twitter.com/MuggleCast. Janet says:
“Only 100 pages in, but feeling there are a lot of characters being introduced, yet no main person to follow except dead Barry.”
Which yeah, I agree, but in a way he is the lead character because it is his death that causes everything that happens in the remainder of the book, as far as I know, getting his seat replaced. Kayla says:
“LOVE IT!! J.K. Rowling has done it again!! This book is AH-MAZING!!!”
“Surprisingly realistic and honest while discussing issues we’ve also seen in HP. A very courageous reflection of real life.”
“It has become like her to kill people in the first chapter. Loved the grotesque way she did it. It’s not HP, but it’s still JKR.”
Samuel Cox said:
“Only 130 pages in so far but I love it. Kind of odd when you think that Krystal was created by the same writer as say Luna or Dobby.”
Andrew: What does he or she mean by that?
Eric: Well, the first time we meet Krystal it’s through Andrew’s eyes, and he’s telling the story of how when she was very, very, very young she pulled her pants down in the middle of a classroom. I just feel like that alone treats Krystal with much more depth and sympathy than – it’s deeper because you feel bad for her from the start, you’re at a disadvantage, whereas none of the characters seem that holy. They’re missing that element of secret things that they did when they were young or expressions of their youthful personality that should never be held against them. I almost feel like Harry Potter as a series was – because it lacked any element of the sexual and when Jo tried to write about it, it was really awkward. Like with Harry and Ginny, the monster in his chest, as opposed to actual sex scenes and stuff. I feel like in a way the Harry Potter series is inauthentic, except for the fact that it tried to address teenage relationships. The fact that her next book is showing sex from ages two to sixty-something is very different, and I think it is odd for what Samuel said. Because it’s a different way of viewing life. Both characters are equally real – Luna and Krystal – but Krystal has this added depth where you feel like you’re actually talking about a real person, because you know certain secrets about her that she would prefer not to have known.
Micah: But I agree. I think that those characters that were brought up – let’s go with Luna, not so much Dobby. I don’t think we need to be discussing the sex habits of house-elves on this show.
Micah: But there is that missing component to – and so I wonder if all this time she was writing Harry Potter, she really wanted to say things that she couldn’t say, and so she kind of put them on the side and she tabled them for when she was going to be writing a more adult book. And I think…
Eric: Do you think it was out of respect for the fact that she was writing what was seen as being a children’s book? Because she could have included sex in Harry Potter, she just chose not to. She chose that she was writing more of a children’s story.
Micah: Yeah, but I think that it did change though, as the books progressed and you moved really into Order of the Phoenix and beyond. I think that you did get more of those adult themes, but again, the whole sexual side of it was completely ignored with the exception of a little bit of teenage romance here and there. And this book, though, is adult in every sense of the word. Like when she said she’s writing an adult novel, she might have well said she’s writing an X-rated novel because that’s what this is. I mean, there’s…
Micah: No, it’s close because there are no boundaries as – you pick up a book by John Grisham or some other political thriller or legal thriller, there’s not this level of graphic…
Eric: Yeah, you’re not talking about how many…
Eric: Yeah. It’s not a teenager boasting about how many fingers he’s put in a girl. It’s not that at all.
Micah: Right, and that’s the other thing, at least as far as I’ve got in the book, with Krystal talking about her in the back of the room during one of their examinations and people going up and getting a chance to feel her breasts, and how – was it Andrew? – missed out on it.
Andrew: I always do, yeah. Oh, in the book? Yeah.
[Eric and Micah laugh]
Micah: Yeah, in the book.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s right.
Micah: You never hear something like that about going on in the back of Snape’s Potions classrooms with Luna.
Micah: Everybody went to go into the back and get a feel. Or cop a feel.
Andrew: Oh God.
Micah: That just – yeah…
Micah: …they’re drastically different, there’s no question.
Andrew: So, was there – so, this was like a creative release for Jo? I mean, I feel like she almost needed to insert these kind of things in here, like the grabbing of the breasts and the watching of porn…
Micah: Selina, you’ve been very quiet.
Selina: No, I’ve tried to speak but the sound is cutting me off.
Andrew: Oh. But the watching of the porn and all that – I feel like if she didn’t have these things in there, it’d be even more boring.
[Andrew and Eric laugh]
Andrew: What did you want to say, Selina?
Selina: No, I only wanted to say I could imagine how great it would be if at one point we got something that was kind of the best of both of these, because with Harry Potter you have the fantastic story. You have the fantastic – I’m not talking about the magic, I’m talking about the intricate layers of what happens between these characters, and the way they grow up and the way they fight this battle. And you have the humor, you have the heart, you have the way that we have all attached ourselves to these characters, despite them not being as fleshed out as we might have hoped they would be. And if we could match all of that with this intense social awareness, and awareness that Jo has for the way that people’s minds work, and the really – this amazing level of building up these detailed characters that are so different from each other, and have such distinct personalities, and that really are so real. If we could mix all that up and create some kind of super novel [laughs] it would be the best thing ever.
Micah: Yeah. I’m really interested to see, at Lincoln Center, how she’s going to talk about this book…
Micah: …and the kinds of questions she’s going to get from fans, who are primarily going to be Harry Potter fans. I mean, to this point a lot of the interviews that she’s done have been with reporters. She hasn’t had to really interact one-on-one with the fans. And so it’s going to be an interesting conversation with the much more grown-up Potter crowd.
Andrew: She did interact with them at Queen Elizabeth Hall, but that was the day the book came out, and I think they did a survey of the audience and one person had actually finished the book.
Andrew: But yeah, you’re right. So, by the time she gets to New York City, obviously I would think anybody who’s attending will have finished the book and maybe can grill her a little bit. But let’s continue here. On the point we just brought up, actually, Diana said:
“I can’t believe Jo actually wrote a book with dirty words and without wizards! This book is truly awesome, I’m glad she did it!”
“Just what I expected and so much more! No skirting around real issues and the same writing we’ve all come to love.”
“Trying really hard to stay interested. Maybe I haven’t gotten to the good part yet, only 80ish pages through. Supporting JKR!”
“The plotting was skillfully done. Liked the issues being raised (poverty, OCD) but most of the characters were not compelling.”
Eric: I haven’t got to the OCD yet.
Andrew: Me neither. Caitlin says:
“I’m only 50 pages in, but it’s so slow! Do we really need so much character description? C’mon Jo, where’s the good stuff?!”
And finally Sean says:
“Hate it. Unlikable characters and mediocre writing, plus the entire experience feels like spending a weekend with the Dursleys.”
Andrew: This book does feel Dursley-ish, in terms of the characters – some of them.
Eric: Particularly Howard and his wife are…
Selina: Right. I’ve been trying not to say it, because I feel like there’s no point comparing this to Harry Potter in any way, [laughs] because it’s not. But really, a lot of the – not just the – what are they, the Mollisons? – I feel like they’re the most Dursley-ish. But I feel like almost every single character I imagine as Vernon, Petunia, or Marge Dursley walking around, you know?
News: J.K. Rowling Interviews
Andrew: There was an interesting interview – moving on to some of the news related to Casual Vacancy, there was an interesting interview with Jo, when she’s speaking to ABC’s Cynthia McFadden, and Rowling asked McFadden, “Did you cry?” and McFadden said, “Yes,” and J.K. Rowling said, “Well, you see, I don’t want to say ‘good.’ But I would have nothing to say to the person who didn’t cry at the end of this book. Nothing. The end is bad. Sorry.”
Andrew: Which I thought was pretty – I was like, whoa. So, for this quote alone, I’m very interested to see why Jo feels so compelled to say everybody who reads this should be crying by the end because it’s so sad.
Selina: Because she sets up these characters to fail. She’s like, “Come here, come care about these fifteen-odd characters and I will destroy them.” [laughs] I don’t know.
Micah: Well, Selina, can we throw out a spoiler-like question to you? Has anybody else died throughout the book, other than Barry – up to your reading?
Selina: Not up to my reading, although several of them have diabetes.
[Eric and Micah laugh]
Selina: Yes. [laughs]
Andrew: Oh, that’s a spoiler.
Eric: I know that’s not a laughing matter, but wow.
Andrew: You know, she did address Harry Potter and going back to it, and that made headlines more than anything else this week, in terms of all the interviews that she did. She said that Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s story is definitely over, but, quote, “Maybe I’ll go back and do a director’s cut.” And this was said to the BBC. She – because she admitted that two of the books – she was talking in regards to two of the books in the Harry Potter series that she would go back and change. Now, in the article on Hypable, Richard speculated it’s Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince, but I seem to remember her saying that Goblet of Fire was the one she…
Andrew: …was most disappointed in. So I think that would definitely be one of them.
Eric: That’s one of the two. But I’m not sure…
Andrew: What do you think the other one is, then? If you could – or if you don’t know the answer to that, if you could ask her to re-write one of them – and not do like a major re-write, but go through it and be like, “Oh, let’s change this. Let’s speed this up. Let’s slow this down. Let’s add this.” Which book do you think…
Micah: Well, wasn’t it that there were parts of Chamber of Secrets and Half-Blood Prince she had toyed with switching at one point?
Andrew: Yeah, yeah.
Micah: But I…
Andrew: Related to the Horcrux, right?
Andrew: It had to be.
Micah: But I would almost say Order of the Phoenix.
Micah: There’s probably parts of that that she could have done more with.
Andrew: Well, I mean, I could see that being one of the books, because that was in the prime “deadline, deadline, deadline.” She was working under a tight deadline to get Goblet of Fire out, back in 2000, I remember, and that really…
Eric: Right, she said never again, and she took three years to write Order.
Andrew: Oh right.
Eric: But I think though – honestly, I think “5” is the one that a lot of us would say needs the most editing, perhaps to shorten it. Because there are quite a lot of things, like even the St. Mungo’s chapter, that don’t have a whole lot of relevance in the later books at all. Maybe she would change the other books to include some relevance to the other things that are in Order of the Phoenix. Or maybe not. Maybe she would just make “5” shorter.
Micah: I want to know what was easier to write. Was Potter just by nature easier for her to put a pen to paper or type in on a computer, versus The Casual Vacancy?
Andrew: You should ask her in New York City.
Micah: Did she struggle writing this book?
Andrew: Mhm. So, in regards to writing stuff outside of Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s story, she said, “Now, if I had a fabulous idea that came out of that world – because I loved writing it – I would do it. But I’ve got to have a great idea. I don’t want to go mechanically back into that world and pick up a load of odds and ends, and glue them together and say, ‘Here we go, we can sell this.'” So, she just wants to be really motivated by an idea, and then she’ll run with it.
Micah: Maybe by the reviews of The Casual Vacancy.
Andrew: [laughs forcibly] Yeah, I mean…
Micah: Just joking.
Andrew: Well no, you could be on to something there. If she writes another adult book and it kind of bombs – I’m not saying The Casual Vacancy bombs, but if it doesn’t do that well – because she won’t be able to say, “Oh hey, everybody. Look, it’s my first book since Harry Potter. Buy, buy, buy!” I think this…
Eric: [singing] “Bye, bye, bye.”
Andrew: She may get humbled and more appreciative of the Harry Potter world again, and be like, “Okay, it’s time to go back into it.”
Selina: I would hope so, or at least be appreciative of who her fan base is. And I’m not saying that she can’t write stuff like this, but I’m saying if this gets bad reviews, it’s not because it’s a bad book, it’s because the wrong people are reading it, and that’s because we haven’t been – I mean, you have to – she’s J.K. Rowling. You have to expect, even though she could hope that we’d all be like, “La la la, it’s not Harry Potter, let’s all read it and enjoy it,” that’s not necessarily going to happen, you know?
Eric: Yeah. I think part of it has to do with her being such a private person. She has a Twitter that she never uses. She has this access to all of us. She really could have warned us a little bit clearer, I think, that this book…
Eric: …was not – and not only that it wasn’t Harry Potter but that it would be – again, I find this book very artful, but I think that a lot of the people, as you said, are reading it – aren’t looking for its merits, so looking for it to be a Harry Potter book, and it’s – it couldn’t be further from a Harry Potter book, and I think a lot of people – I think they’re being wronged because it wasn’t – they weren’t warned enough, and I think – I’m surprised that Jo was able to turn out a book of this length. None of us knew she was even writing it until several months ago. And look, it’s not our business to know everything she does, but I feel like perhaps being – considering how looked up to she is by everyone who has read her books…
Micah: Yeah, but she’s also had five years to put out another book. I mean, it’s not like she put out one last year. Deathly Hallows is over five years ago at this point. So, we would expect that whatever was going to be released by her next was going to be substantial and going to hold our interest. Now, look, everybody who read Potter is not going to jump onto this book and say it’s the greatest thing that’s ever been written, or that they really like it. But I do think that there is a certain level of expectation coming in because of what we’ve read previously.
Selina: Yeah, exactly, and that’s not something that anyone can help, no matter if some people might say, oh, well, it’s your own fault for – we’re not expecting Potter, you know? We weren’t expecting another Potter but we were expecting something that wasn’t this. And it just keeps coming back to the fact that someone should have anticipated that this is the response, because I feel like it’s gotten such a poor response from critics and from fans so far. Some people like it. Most people don’t, and I feel – and people feel so let down, and that was always going to happen, but I feel like someone could have done something to avoid that, because I feel bad for Jo…
Eric: Lev Grossman really liked it. The only review I’ve read is Lev Grossman’s review and he really found it to be very riveting.
Andrew: On Goodreads, which is a…
Micah: But he’s a Potter fan.
Andrew: [laughs] On Goodreads…
Eric: Yeah. Well, he is.
MuggleCast 258 Transcript (continued)
News: The Casual Vacancy Sets Goodreads Record
Andrew: On Goodreads, which is a book reading social networking site – I really like it a lot, actually. Goodreads.com. You can add a book to your shelf, “I’m about to read this book,” and then once you’re done you can say you’ve completed it and here’s my review. Right now, 38 percent of the reviews are five stars, 23 percent are four stars, 16 percent are three stars. It has an average rating of 3.65 stars out of five, and that is based on 438 reviews, obviously many more to go. It also set…
Eric: That’s like a C-minus.
Andrew: It set a record on Goodreads. It was the most marked “started reading” for one day. So, the day The Casual Vacancy came out, more people on one day marked The Casual Vacancy as starting it today than any other book in the site’s history. So, that just shows you that there’s a huge amount of anticipation, if you didn’t gather that enough by merely the fact that there was a million pre-orders for this book, and I believe there are two million books in print. Little, Brown hasn’t actually released sales numbers yet. Maybe they’ll do that this upcoming Monday to see how it did through its first weekend. I would personally be very interested to see how well it has been selling. But yeah, so that, on Amazon – Goodreads has that 3.65, and then Amazon, the reviews aren’t that good, right? [laughs] Two-and-a-half stars on Amazon right now. But, to be fair, some people – there’s just weird reviews on Amazon. Some people did review it after reading. I mean, I see a two-star here published two hours ago: “So expensive, so eagerly awaited, so disappointing.”
Micah: Well, I feel like you’re going to see a lot of that, though, and it does go back to the marketing side of it and the fact that this book wasn’t marketed at all. It was going to ride the success of Potter. And look, it’s fine. If J.K. Rowling is – nobody can fault her in any way. If she’s saying, “Look, I’m going to write this book, it’s going to be what it’s going to be. If you like it, great. If you don’t, that’s fine, too.”
Micah: And people are just going to have to live with that. I mean, we’re doing the show just to kind of go through and give our thoughts on it, but people don’t have to agree with what we’re saying. I’m sure we’re going to get plenty of feedback about all the stuff that we talked about. But I said this to Andrew before the show, that if this wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, I would never pick this book up. There’s nothing about it that intrigues me in the least. And aside from obviously having read Potter and Game of Thrones, I read more political or legal-type thrillers, you know? Nelson DeMille, Grisham, those types of writers. This holds really little interest for me if it didn’t have the name Rowling attached to it.
Selina: I’m exactly the same. I’ll finish it but it’s not – and I appreciate her writing style but this is not my kind of novel at all.
Andrew: So, I think that’s all we have to say right now on The Casual Vacancy. There will be more to be – there, of course, will – we’ll have more to say [laughs] once we’ve all finished reading it. I mean, I’m going to finish because I feel like, as people who are a voice in the Harry Potter community, we do have to read it and give a fair assessment on it, and I’m all for doing that. And I’m also – you know, I just want to be able to say, yes, I read it and here’s what I accurately thought of it. But to wrap up my views on it, as I have been reading this, I think of many of my friends who I met through Harry Potter, I picture them reading this and I just cannot picture them enjoying it, so – it’s just not for the Harry Potter audience. [laughs] That’s – I think that’s what we’re all trying to get across.
Micah: Well, it certainly could create a lot of discussion. I don’t think there’s any question about that. The themes that are in here and the characters – there’s a lot to talk about, but I just don’t – like, we’re not going to sit down, I don’t think, maybe with the exception of one or two more shows, and really kind of go through this chapter by chapter or…
Andrew: I was just going to say. We should do Chapter-by-Chapter.
Micah: We should.
[Eric and Micah laugh]
Micah: But that’s at least how I feel. It’s just different.
Review: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Andrew: Yeah. Well, moving on now. We have the Finding Hogwarts interview coming up, but first we wanted to also talk about The Perks of Being a Wallflower, the movie based on the book by Stephen Chbosky. Who has seen it now? I have, Eric has?
Eric: I have.
Andrew: Not Selina and Micah though?
Micah: No, I have not seen it.
Andrew: Okay, well…
Eric: It stars Emma Watson.
Andrew: Yeah, that’s why we wanted to talk about it.
Andrew: And I know – it was a classic back in the 90’s. It came out, what, ’99 I believe it was? And I…
Eric: This was – yeah, it was required reading, I think, for me in ninth grade.
Eric: If not required, definitely recommended. My teacher made sure that I read that book.
Andrew: It’s a coming of age story and we do want to talk about it because Emma Watson is in it. And I actually – I only got about halfway through the book which is written as a diary, which is very interesting and even more interesting when you consider how it could be translated to the big screen. But Stephen Chbosky who wrote it – like I said, he also directed it and wrote the screenplay and he did a tremendous job. And it opens everywhere this Friday in the United States. I know, Selina, you just said it’s not open over there yet, but I’ve got to imagine it’s coming over there.
Selina: It’s not coming out here at all yet as far as we can tell. There’s a lot of – it’s been treated like such an indie film as opposed to a big release. It’s probably not going to come out in a lot of countries, including mine.
Andrew: But even if…
Eric: That’s a shame.
Andrew: Yeah. Even if you check out reviews for the film, it’s been doing very well critically, so you don’t even have to be just an Emma Watson fan to enjoy it. It is a great story, it’s a great cast.
Selina: It’s a good…
Andrew: Emma Watson plays Sam, and then Logan Lerman plays Charlie, and Ezra Miller plays – Eric?
Andrew: Patrick. What were you going to say, Selina?
Selina: I was just going to say I love the book. [laughs]
Andrew: Oh okay. [laughs]
Eric: Yeah, the book is – it’s kind of like The Casual Vacancy in the parts of it that are set in high school. There’s drug use, there’s sexuality, and I find it to be very relevant and I found it when I was reading it in ninth grade to at least be relevant because that kind of stuff could be happening to my peers at the time. It’s just like stuff that happens in high school and the goings-on in high school to different kids. Charlie being a wallflower and he doesn’t have any friends until he meets these people who influence him and their taste in music and their taste – their view of the world influences him. And so, for that I thought the movie was very, very entertaining. I thought it was a great adaptation. I had no worries about it not being faithful to the book. I wanted to reread the book, but then a different book came out the same week, three guesses which. But I figured since the writer directed it, we wouldn’t have to worry about it not being faithful. I found the movie to be very entertaining and the soundtrack was great, so I would definitely recommend everybody check it out and Emma Watson does a passable American accent.
Andrew: It’s up and down at times.
Andrew: I think she sort of just gave up halfway through filming. [laughs]
Eric: I wouldn’t say it’s horrible. My problem is – of course, I’m watching the movie and still seeing Hermione, but I think I’d say about halfway through I was able to stop and see her for who she is. But Sam is such an interesting character in the book and is such a driven character to be her own person, flaws and everything. So, it was a very interesting role for Emma to take, but again, I would recommend the film because I think it says something to a lot of people that’s very relevant.
Interview: John Noe & Bre Bishop
Andrew: So we are joined now by John Noe and Bre Bishop, the creators of Finding Hogwarts, the documentary. Hey guys!
Bre Bishop: Hey!
John Noe: Hey!
Andrew: Now, I don’t know how to feel about this because John, of course, does the rival podcast, PotterCast.
Andrew: So I feel very uncomfortable.
John: We don’t like each other very much.
Andrew: No. I hate you.
[Andrew and John laugh]
Andrew: No, but we’re actually great friends in real life and we obviously wanted to have you on to talk about Finding Hogwarts because you guys have been working on this for a while and you’re about to – well, it’s on sale now, correct?
John: Correct, yes.
John: We’ve been working on it for the past 19 years. No, it just feels like it, actually.
Bre: It does.
John: But yeah, it is available for sale on Blu-ray and DVD at FindingHogwarts.com.
Andrew: So, for anyone who hasn’t heard about it yet, tell us about the documentary. First, how did you get the idea for this?
Bre: It was pretty much just we were sitting around at Prophecy 2007 and I don’t know how we got on the conversation of just how awesome it would be to go to Scotland and try to find Hogwarts, and then it just sort of snowballed from there.
John: Well, it was kind of like a really big combination of feelings and thoughts because 2007 had us all thinking, “What is the world going to look like without a new Harry Potter book to look forward to?” And I’m sure many of those listening here can remember if you were a fan at the time. We all didn’t know what was going to happen to the fandom and how often we would see all these friends that we had just made for all of the convention-going fandom.
John: And then feeling like, “Oh, what do we do now? What’s left after all of this?” and kind of figured, “Well, I guess we can always go to Hogwarts.” And this whole trip came together and it snowballed, like Bre said, into this idea of filming seven of us flying over to England and to Scotland and to walk around the Highlands. And it really kind of became so much more than we ever thought it would, and it turned out to be just the culmination of going on four years of work…
John: …and storytelling and interviews all about what it’s meant to be in the Harry Potter fandom and how it’s changed all of our lives.
Andrew: And, Bre, I know this was your first time going over to the U.K., so what was that like, having read the books and now finally you’re kind of living within them by being in the Highlands, like John mentioned?
Bre: That was insane because I always thought whenever I’d go to the U.K. it would kind of be just a vacation trip, and instead it was this Harry Potter – I don’t even know – homage trip that was just insane. Just getting to do all the stuff that they do in the books and getting to ride the steam train and go to some of the filming locations.
Andrew: You told me, I think, that you actually rode over that bridge that you see in Chamber of Secrets, right? When Harry and Ron are flying with the Ford Anglia?
John: That is true.
Andrew: That is so cool.
John: That is true. It’s hard to pronounce. I think it’s called the Glenfinnan…
John: Viaduct. And it is pretty darn cool-looking in person, and we tried to get some good footage of it too.
Bre: We were lucky enough to actually get to be in the compartment that they filmed in – or that they filmed some of the stuff in, right?
John: Yeah, when the trio does their shots in the compartment on the Hogwarts Express – I don’t know what proportion of it actually happened in the actual train and how much of it was just inspired from the train and recreated in the studio. But all I know is that you’re normally aren’t allowed in that compartment, and we had talked the conductor into letting us in it because we were big enough fans and we had some similar friends, and it was really cool.
Andrew: Now, why…
John: It came together perfectly.
Andrew: Why do they keep that compartment closed, normally?
John: I think because – I don’t think they make much of a secret of the fact that it is the steam train that inspired the Hogwarts Express, but I don’t know if they exactly have the ability to promote it as such. And so, I think just because interest would be crazy and they don’t want to have to deal with having a Harry Potter attraction on their train…
John: …they just kind of keep it private, normally.
Andrew: So, in a way this is kind of a really great way to see the Harry Potter sets, if you will, without actually going over there. Because obviously, our listener base – we have a big United States audience, we have a big U.K. audience as well, and big Australia, but the United States is, of course, biggest. So, this seems like a cool way for me or anybody else to get this behind-the-scenes look when you’re seeing these things, not in the movie, but you’re seeing true Harry Potter fans experience all these locales, if you will, for the first time.
John: Yeah, that was definitely how it was for us because I had been to England a couple of times, just real briefly to cover some of the premieres, and this was a trip that let us try and walk in the footsteps of the characters. And we had moments where we actually tried to track down, “Where would the exact phone booth be, to get to the Ministry of Magic? And where would The Leaky Cauldron be if we can go off of the clues in the books and determine where on Charing Cross Road you would find it?” and all of that. And we even ended up in some similar spots where they did film some scenes like the Quidditch matches in the earlier films…
Andrew: Oh cool.
John: …and places like that.
Bre: That was really insane because we had to take a hike. It was like a two-hour hike to get to this waterfall that they used for the Quidditch pitch and stuff.
Bre: And it’s crazy to picture all these people with cameras and [censored] – oops.
Andrew: It’s fine. It’s fine.
Bre: Just hiking all the way out there just to get that shot, or I guess maybe they took a helicopter or something, I don’t know.
John: They probably didn’t make Dan and everybody…
Bre: Well, no.
John: …track around through the woods like we did.
Andrew: Yeah. [laughs]
John: [laughs] But yeah, it was a pretty epic moment.
Andrew: Now, how about the other people who were – who went on this actual trip? I know it was you two, and then who else?
John: Great question. The whole idea was to try and pick some diverse people, and it kind of at this point now, all these years later, looks like we just grabbed a bunch of our friends. But really, we have Paul DeGeorge, who is one half of Harry and the Potters, Andrew Slack, who started and runs the Harry Potter Alliance, Bre and I’s good friend – your friend too, of course – Miss Rita Gill, who actually helped to come up with some of the original ideas for the film, and Melissa Anelli, who runs The Leaky Cauldron and wrote Harry, A History, and Frankie Franco – who is also on PotterCast with me – who is a brilliant illustrator and fan artist at the time and does a lot of cool stuff now too with DreamWorks.
Bre: For me it was kind of like a big fangirl thing because I had…
Bre: I had been a – no, but seriously, I had been a fan of Harry and the Potters since I was 14…
Bre: …and was in the PotterCast and all of that stuff, so it was kind of crazy to find myself one day being 14 and listening to Harry and the Potters and then suddenly being in the Highlands with Paul DeGeorge.
Andrew: Yeah. Did you discover anything about him that you wish you hadn’t?
Bre: He burps a lot.
John: The dude likes to burp.
Andrew: Actually, I have a question about this. Okay, so you guys were together for – it was like a two week period? All together?
John: Almost. Yeah, like ten or eleven days.
Andrew: Okay. Was there any crazy breakdowns? Did our friend Rita, who is known for breakdowns – did she – was there any big breakdowns like, “We’re not finding Hogwarts! What’s going on?”
Bre: Oh yes. [laughs]
John: So much of that.
Bre: There was so much of that.
John: And the funny thing is we had this – it was very difficult to shoot this movie anyhow because we did it on as small of a budget as we could get away with. More than half the budget was just the travel to get out there. So, we didn’t have any crew members with us, nobody was doing camera for us. We all had to pass around the cameras, we all had to make sure our own microphones were turned on and recording at all times. It was very stressful. It would get to some points in the day when we were like, “Screw this, we just want to go and have a beer.”
John: And Rita would run off with some randoms that she met in Scotland…
[Andrew and Bre laugh]
John: …and we didn’t know if she would be coming back, and…
Bre: At some point, me and Rita and Andrew Slack – we were so stressed out and tired that we decided to go to a club one night in Edinburgh.
Bre: This is not in the film, of course. But there was lots of craziness going on.
John: Yeah, it all kind of just culminates actually in the film, a point of frustration, where we’re like, “What are we actually doing here?” And it turned out to be kind of a breaking point in the whole process, and really forced us to really kind of regroup and take a look at what we were doing. And it turned out, I think, for the best because the film was better for having that moment.
Andrew: Cool. Oh, that’s good. That’s good. So, Bre, we also wanted to talk about the fact that you used to be a MuggleCast listener.
Bre: Yes, I’m so excited that I’m finally on MuggleCast!
Andrew: This is your first time, really?
Bre: Well, you played the…
Andrew: Your – yeah.
Bre: The video, yeah. The “I Eat MuggleCast Fangirls for Breakfast” video. Back in the day.
Andrew: That was a classic. That was, what, back in 2006?
Bre: I think so. It was right after Lumos.
Andrew: And what is this video?
Bre: Oh God, I was basically just making fun of MuggleCast fan girls.
John: But you did it as Fred on YouTube before there was Fred on YouTube.
Bre: Yeah, I was being obnoxious.
John: With your voice all sped up.
Andrew: You were the original Fred. Okay.
Andrew: Fifty-two thousand views, I see. Posted six years ago. I’m not going to play…
Andrew: Is that low or high?
Bre: I don’t – I guess it’s high. I haven’t looked at it in a while because I can’t even stand listening to myself do that, it’s so embarrassing.
Andrew: [laughs] So yeah, we played that on the show. I think that was one of the first true fan experiences I encountered. [laughs]
Bre: And it’s so funny because I’m sitting there making fun of fan girls, but then everyone was like, “You were on MuggleCast!” and I got super excited about that.
[Andrew and John laugh]
Andrew: Right, yeah. Your follow-up video is you listening to us playing it on the show.
[Andrew and Bre laugh]
Andrew: “Smile! You’re On MuggleCast 58”, I guess that’s the one?
Bre: Yeah, yeah.
Andrew: Awesome. So, what’s the overall message that you want people taking away from this documentary? It seems clear that this is for all Harry Potter fans to get really – it’s a reflection of the fandom. But what would you say, in a nutshell, would be what you want viewers to take away?
John: Well, it’s an interesting thing because at the time that we made it, we thought that it would be one thing. And now that it’s 2012, it’s turned out to be that but something else entirely, because so many Harry Potter fans in the fandom now – we have been hearing stories from them about how they only really came to the fandom post-Deathly Hallows, 2007, 2008, and later.
John: And for us, the big reason we did the trip and did the film was we wanted to reflect on everything that we thought the fandom was prior to that point and to document all of the stories about what that was.
Bre: At the time there was so much crazy stuff going on. I’d go home and tell my family, “I just got back from this Harry Potter convention,” and they’d be like, “What? I don’t understand.”
Bre: There’s wizard rock bands, there’s podcasts, and I just wanted to be able to explain this phenomenon to everybody.
John: Yeah, what it was and what made all of us and so many other people so crazy about it. And for these newer Harry Potter fans that came into the fandom a little later and they weren’t around to experience things like the midnight releases of the books. Watching everything now – we have footage from so many old events, so many old rock shows with Harry and the Potters, and library events, and all of these things. Looking at it now, it’s just capturing some of what I would consider the best years of the Harry Potter fandom in this little moment in time. And the film is just a really nice way, I think, to capture those feelings and to be able to remember them as vividly as you can.
Andrew: Yeah. No, sounds good. I’m looking forward to seeing it. I know you guys are finished with it, so – I hope you guys are having a little viewing party. I meant to ask you guys about that.
John: Yeah, we were actually just talking about doing that, probably here this week.
Andrew: Oh cool. I hope there’s Butterbeer of the alcoholic kind. I’m sure you guys could use it.
Bre: Oh, of course.
[Andrew and John laugh]
John: We’re all old enough now!
Andrew: [laughs] Cool. So again, it’s FindingHogwarts.com, you can go there. You can see the new trailer, which I really like. I really like that new trailer.
John: Thank you.
Andrew: You premiered that at LeakyCon, right? A couple of months ago.
John: We did. We did indeed. And actually we have a little surprise for you and all of you listening out there, because you’re so nice to have us. If you’re interested in the film and you watch the trailer and you would like to order the film, you can put in a little coupon code. What’s that coupon code all the MuggleCast listeners know so well?
Bre: Isn’t it “Ron” or something? Or it was “Ron” for some point.
Andrew: It’s been “Ron,” it’s been “Muggle” – let’s do “Muggle” if you…
John: Well, we’ll do “Muggle.” If you type in code “Muggle” we will give you five percent off your order.
Andrew: All right. I’m going to get…
John: And you’ll be able to use that now until the end of time.
Andrew: All right, cool.
Bre: Can you have Mason say this?
Andrew: I was just going to say.
Andrew: I’m going to get Go Daddy guy, Mason, to record. He’ll be thrilled.
Andrew: He finally has a new ad.
[Andrew and John laugh]
John: That’s awesome.
Andrew: Cool. Sounds good, guys. Thanks for coming on.
John: Oh, thank you very much for having us. And I hope everybody enjoys The Casual Vacancy, too.
Andrew: Oh yeah, have you guys started reading it?
Bre: No, not yet.
John: Oh, we can’t sound like we’re that big of…
John: Not “big of fans.”
Bre: I mean I have it, but it just…
John: We’ve been so busy trying to wrap up all of the stuff for the film that we haven’t been able to sit down and start it. It’s kind of like trying to wrap up one chapter before moving on to the next one.
Andrew: Just like Jo.
John: And at least J.K. Rowling style, so yeah…
John: Exactly. I’m trying to figure out which song to play when it’s over, just like – what was that song she played when Deathly Hallows was done?
Bre: “Smile” by Lily Allen.
John: Yeah, I think we should just play that.
Andrew: Oh, was that it?
Bre: We should!
Andrew: Well, she also raided her mini-bar, we just learned the other day, and downed a bottle of champagne. So, you should do that as well.
John: Sounds about right.
Bre: Jo did it, we can do it.
Andrew: Exactly. All right, thanks guys!
John: Thanks Andrew!
Andrew: Okay, and that wraps up the show for today. We want to remind everybody to please visit the MuggleCast website. We want your feedback about The Casual Vacancy. We’ll continue to talk about our responses and your responses to the book. We took tweets this time, but we would like some longer form analysis – not too long because we have to read it on the show, so try to keep it to a paragraph what you think of the book, why you don’t think it was more popular with Harry Potter readers, why it’s getting the reviews that it is on Goodreads and Amazon. Just go to MuggleCast.com, click on “Contact” at the top, and there you’ll see a contact form to reach us. Then on the right side, as always, are the links to our iTunes where you can subscribe and review us, our Twitter which is Twitter.com/MuggleCast, Facebook which is Facebook.com/MuggleCast, and the fan Tumblr at MuggleCast.Tumblr.com. Anything else to plug? Gentlemen and lady?
Andrew: No. Speechless. Speechless in the words after a long podcast.
Micah: Pretty much.
Andrew: Are you all just winded? What’s going on? [laughs]
Eric: [laughs] I am contemplating picking up the book and continuing my read of it.
Micah: It’s literally sitting right in front of me on the table. You know, I was surprised when I went into the stores. I was worried, I didn’t know if I was going to get a copy or what the deal was going to be. But there were plenty there.
Eric: Micah, did you see my tweet? Did any of you happen to see my tweet? I walked into Barnes & Noble and the first thing I saw was the Nook table and it was actually so tall – about five feet tall, it had the e-book readers called the Nook – in front of it and there was a woman standing by the front who worked there and I asked her, “Do you have any copies left of the new J.K. Rowling book?” And she pointed and sure enough directly, like straight-on from the entrance but behind the five-foot-tall Nook easel was an easel of a hundred Casual Vacancy books. But it was blocked by the e-reader display, so you have to walk around it to get to the books. And for a second…
Eric: …I worried that they had sold out in Schaumburg, and I was shocked.
Andrew: Yeah, I don’t think they ran – I mean, I can’t imagine them running out. I think there were ample copies everywhere, you know what I mean?
Andrew: So, I don’t think they had too much to worry about.
Micah: Well, three of the four of us are on another podcast called Game of Owns, so we might as well take the opportunity to plug that. Hopefully we’ll be doing another show in the not-too-distant future.
Micah: Right, Eric? Selina?
Micah: Did we lose Selina? Oh okay.
Andrew: Selina is finishing the book.
[Andrew and Eric laugh]
Andrew: Go ahead, Selina. I keep hearing you.
Micah: She’s like, “Forget talking about us – talking to us. I’m going to go finish that book that I just crapped on for the last ninety minutes.”
Eric: Selina, you have to tweet about if you cry or not because Jo is totally expecting you to cry.
[Show music begins]
Selina: I’m sure I will cry, it’s very sad. I mean, I care [laughs] about these people. I feel very betrayed. No, I’m sorry if I don’t speak a lot. It’s the stupid Skype. I don’t want everyone to think that I hate the book, because I really do not. It’s just not obviously what any of us were expecting, I think.
Andrew: All right. Well, we will see everybody next time for Episode 259. Goodbye!
[Show music continues]