(119b) Production Notes

For me personally, one of the most interesting aspects of HPMoR is that the people who dislike it the most are the ones that would probably appreciate it the most, and yet they’ll never know that.

Allow me to explain.

Among the people you’ve tried to share HPMoR with, but who disliked it, what is the most common complaint? If your experience is anything like mine (and most of the people I know), it’s that Harry is an arrogant little brat. His first sin is treating adults like equals and expecting to be treated like an equal in kind, which for many people is ludicrous. After that is his manipulation of others, and his many proclamations that the way something is currently done is either stupid or insane and should be fixed/optimized. Like the Snitch.

Of course this is what I LOVE about Harry! I love characters who are smart, and who fight against stupidity. I’m OK with some arrogance. To be honest, I like to see some spine and hutzpah in my heroes, rather than mewling about trying to please everyone. Blah, that’s lame and boring, grow some balls and take the world by the horns!

Anyway, I chalk this up to differences in taste and move on, as do most people, but every now and then someone gets really offended by Harry and just goes off about this arrogance for tens of thousands of words.

There are early cracks in Harry’s Awesomeness though. He loses his first army battle specifically due to his feelings of superiority. He is undaunted, as befits his character, but the further we get into HPMoR, the more often this happens, and the more dramatic the consequences. I think generally this isn’t noticed by the reader, because it is gradual, and because as the reader we identify with Harry and we want him to excel and win, and so we keep making excuses for him. And he still has enough wins to make us think “See! He is right!”

Until we finally get this giant wake-up call that just slaps us all in the face and says “Hey! Dumbass! You’ve been doing this wrong the WHOLE TIME! Look, let me show you!

I’m speaking, of course, of Chapter 116, the Quidditch Chapter.

Because the Ur example of Harry being logical and smart and the rest of the world being stupid and insane is the freakin’ Snitch!! Everyone knows this! Even the most hardcore Potter fans acknowledge it.  The Snitch is ridiculous. And having Harry call it out in one of his first interactions with the wizarding world, and keep harping on it, makes me want to jump up and shout in glee. It’s also one of the things that detractors feel makes him an arrogant brat.

And in 116, it is revealed to the reader that Harry is not a special snowflake that was right all along. That there are legitimate reasons the Snitch was widely adopted, and that there’s a long history behind what makes the sport what it is. Any wizard who actually cares about Quidditch is already aware of the Snitch Situation (or “Snitch Sitch”) and is deeply concerned about what to do about it. The real problem is that Coordination Is Hard, and Harry hasn’t done anything to address that. And now, looking back on it, wow, there were so many other points in the book where this sort of thing was also the case, but Harry was oblivious to it, and I didn’t notice either.

Of course Harry isn’t privy to this big reveal. He has to wait a few more chapters before he catches up with the reader. But we’re already primed with the knowledge of his flaw, so it’s a natural progression when we see him fall right back into that same trap and nearly destroy the entire freakin world, by assuming that he just knows better than everyone else who’s ever lived. He even tries to route around Merlin’s safeguards, because of course he does, he’s Harry Potter, safeguards weren’t meant for him. It’s a good thing Merlin was careful, and that Voldemort was around to save the world from Harry’s simple assumption of superiority.

Which makes “Don’t get cocky, kid” the longest lesson taught in HPMoR, spanning the entire work. And one of the few that doesn’t have a chapter named after it. And, most importantly, it is a payload that is masterfully aimed and delivered. Most message-fic has limited utility because the majority of its readers already agree with it. HPMoR manages to snare the audience that most needs to learn this lesson by giving us the hero we most love, and then lands that lesson into our face with a 660,000 word rocket-punch we never saw coming. Question yourself. Don’t assume you’re right just because you’re smart. Don’t be so cocky/arrogant. It could cost you the world.

The people who most agree with this at the start of the story are the ones who dislike the story most, and will never find out that the story is secretly on their side the whole time. But that’s ok, because the story isn’t for them. They don’t need to learn that lesson. Those who most need it are the ones most likely to love it. Us. Because Eliezer is a genius.

(119a) Production Notes

It’s unfortunate (and frustrating) when brilliant artistic decisions don’t translate into other media, so today’s production notes are basically an apology to Eliezer for my failings as an audio producer.

Dumbledore’s office has a musical theme. It is the janglings and auditory punctuations of all his flibberty-widgets, and in the original text this is represented thusly: “Whirr, bzzzt, tick; ding, puff, splat“. When this is used in Chapter 39 it appears first at the top of the chapter as the introduction to Dumbledore’s office. Every time thereafter it is used during a surprised pause in Harry and Dumbledore’s conversation, starting off the action after a scene-break. The scene-break itself is a device to punctuate the last action and start us off on a new mental track, since the scene didn’t actually change.

On the page, this works very well. In audio format, it sounded a bit weird, at least to me. If I had more experience at the time perhaps I could have made it work. But many chapters back, in Harry’s first visit to Dumbledore’s office, I used Mystic Mysidia as background music to Dumbledore’s office. So I thought “Ah ha! I’ll use it again, and it will take the place of the narration of “Whirr, bzzzt, etc”! This works extra well, because all those audio cues are right after scene-breaks, which are natural points to reintroduce background music.” And it did seem to work well enough. Until we got to Chapter 119.

Having already established in our minds the link between a line of sound effect noises and a pause in the action, Eliezer uses it to full effect here. When a bomb is dropped in the conversation and everyone needs a minute to stop and absorb it, Eliezer doesn’t need to point that out specifically. He simply puts in “Beep. Tick. Whirr. Ding. Poot.” This tells us that a silence has descended over the human participants, so sudden and complete that the background sounds of the office are suddenly thrust into everyone’s awareness by contrast. And as those sounds are so firmly linked to Dumbledore himself, it also serves to remind us of the Headmaster’s absence in his former sanctum. And after that touch of sound effects Eliezer can launch right back into the dialog without missing a beat. It’s a masterful move, and I loved reading it.

But, having excised those lines of text in my audio version, there is no connection in the minds of my listeners between those sounds and shocked silences in the middle of conversations. There isn’t even a connection between those sound effect words and Dumbledore’s office. I had inadvertently destroyed what made those lines so fantastic. ARGH!!!! I couldn’t just have the Mystic Mysidia music come back in as a substitute, because background music does not call attention to itself like a line of “Beep. Tick. Whirr. Ding. Poot.” does, and therefore doesn’t associate itself to the specific action happening at that exact point in the text. If I just used the music it would sound like background music coming in again for no particular reason, rather than “Everyone fell silent in shock.” If I narrated the words “Beep. Tick. Whirr. Ding. Poot.” it wouldn’t mean anything to the listener, because I hadn’t done so when the device was first used and so no association was made. It would just be random words without meaning or emotional context. There was no way for me to recreate what Eliezer had written.

Instead I simply said out loud what those words were meant to signify. But dammit, that doesn’t even remotely compare to the artistry of the original text. So, to everyone listening, and Eliezer especially, I apologize for failing in my adaptation here. I wish it was better.

(117 & 118) Production Notes

Readers of the original text may be surprised to find that Oliver has had a gender-swap to Olivia. I know I’ve taken a few liberties with the text, but depending on how one rates these things, this may be the most drastic departure so far. Which, all things considered, isn’t really that drastic, right?

I had Oliver’s text in the “Available Roles” file, and the first person to contact me about it was April. There were a number of new male roles that had come up, but only one female, and that one had been snagged very quickly. April wanted a part, and suggested gender swapping Oliver. I dunno if I would have jumped at the idea to gender-swap Oliver if it had just been presented to me flatly. But she took the additional step of recording every Oliver line as Olivia and sending that in at the same time. Firstly, I’m a big fan of anyone displaying that sort of initiative. And secondly, it saves me a bunch of work, because all the lines are already done and there in my email inbox! She even went and did a second take with all of them, so I have two to choose from. Oliver is a single-appearance role, and his/her gender doesn’t really make any difference overall, as far as I can tell. To allow a fan to partake in a role she is excited about, and saving me additional work at the same time, well, it’s kinda a no-brainer. :)

(115b & 116) Production Notes

Last week the podcast website went down for a few days. For the few people who noticed, it was a blip. For me, it was a personal crisis. I spent the entire first evening flailing at it ineffectively. The next day at work I was horribly depressed. I assume it’s like what having a sick kid feels like. I thought “Shit, I recognize this emotion. This is what my life was back in the bad old days. This is what it feels like for life to have no purpose, for existence to be meaningless. No wonder I drank so much. This is awful.”

Yes, I know it’s a silly over-reaction. My emotions are stupid! I spent the following evening and the morning of the next day continuing to make repairs. Ultimately I had to deleted WordPress entirely and reinstall it clean (something got corrupted, I still don’t know what) and revert to backups, then recreate the last few weeks (which hadn’t been backed up yet). I was hesitant to do all this, because I didn’t know how badly it would screw things up, but it turns out there was very little screwing at all, as far as I can tell. Everything is OK again. Plus my life has meaning. Yaaaaay! Crisis averted. :)

Life Lesson y’all – back yo shit up.

(One might think the life lesson is not to let your sense of personal worth be entirely dependent upon a flimsy piece of tech which can be destroyed with an errant power surge, or which you can be cut off from permanently by someone snipping a few wires. Maybe to find purpose in something more stable and physically present, such as the love of the people around you. Those people have a very different way of thinking than I do. Plus I would remind them that accidents and disease are a thing. I’ll stick with my mp3 files, thank you very much. At least they can’t move away to pursue careers elsewhere.)

As for this week’s episode – I tried to lighten the mood when I switched to Anna’s POV, I hope it came through in my voice and my choice of music. I had to go with a song from the Jet Grind Radio soundtrack, as JGR (or JSR for your purists) is the closest I came to athletics in my youth. :) And boy did I spend a lot of hours on it! So when I think sports, these are the songs that come to mind.

You may notice I snuck in another new voice, as Flitwick. That was a last-minute change. When I was listening to the final episode I was hit by just how out of place my Flitwick sounded. I’ve gotten really used to hearing other people doing the other voices, and me doing Flitwick was jarring. Thanks to Francis for volunteering at the eleventh hour! I’ll back-edit all the previous Flitwick lines the same weekend I find the time to fix the Patils lines. So, you know… Thanksgiving?

And damn – we’ve made it to the denouement arc.

(114 & 115a) Production Notes

Well, here it is. Sticking the landing is always the hardest part, and after a certain point you lose all objectivity. I hope this works.

EDIT 9/17/15 – As some of you noticed, the website had a major crash a couple days ago. OMG that was stressful. I had to completely wipe and reinstall WordPress, and revert to backups from a month ago. Basic functionality looks to be back, and I’ve rebuilt the last few posts. Still some more work to do, but now it’s mainly cosmetic. Whew! Unfortunately that means the comments from the last few posts are lost. I just wanted to say thank you to everyone who commented to let me know that the episode turned out OK. :) I’m glad it worked!

(113) Production Notes

The thing about greatly reducing the pitch of a voice to anonymize the speaker is that if you do it to a whole bunch of people, they all sound very similar and it’s hard to tell them apart. For purposes of anonymity, I suppose this is a feature. But for the purpose of a podcast, it’s a bug. You want the voices to be distorted, but still discernible as different people. So I used a number of different distortion methods to alter the Death Eater voices, but still leave them distinct. I’m going to claim that Voldemort’s observation of Mr. Honor’s quickly transfigured armor and jury-rigged Voice Distortion Charm applied to the majority of the Death Eaters, so they all had their own unique distortion charm rather than a uniform one.

I’m going back to every-other-week for the remainder of the podcast. If my calculations are correct, and there are no major complications, the final episode will air the last week of December. Which is a hell of way to set myself up for a Planning Fallacy fail. But you gotta have goals!

WorldCon was AWESOME, I’m gonna go again next year.