Category Archives: Misc.

Top 5 Musicals

Now, I am a huge musicals fan and I’m always listening to show tunes or going to the theatre. I thought as I’m such a musicals nerd, I would attempt what I feel is almost impossible. Deciding which 5 musicals are my favourite…

  1. Les Misérables
    As you are probably aware, either if you know me personally, or if you’ve read my other posts – you will know that I love Les Mis and it is my all time favourite musical. It is the only musical that I can actually place as my “favourite” whereas ordering the rest I think is an impossible task!! I love the show so much that I’ve just been to see it for a fifth time.
    Les Misérables follows one man’s emotional struggle from wrongful imprisonment to becoming a respected member of French society. The story revolves around Jean Valjean’s attempt at starting a new life, however one man, Inspector Javert, is determined to seek him out and send him back to prison. The story also sees the students’ revolt against authority, a love triangle and a blackmailing couple out to make the most out of any situation.
    I love the show because it is more of a serious musical, which makes a bit of a change from the typical show, and it is just so powerful and moving. Although I was cynical at first, I’m really looking forward to the movie adapatation coming out this Christmas.
    Favourite song: I can’t pick one so… One Day More and On My Own.
  2. Wicked
    The untold story of the witches of Oz, Wicked is based on Gregory Macguire’s book, Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West. It sees the unlikely friendship between Elphaba and Glinda, two very different girls who meet at Shiz University and tells their story in parallel to the events of The Wizard of Oz.
    As someone who is not a great fan of the 1939 film musical, I wasn’t sure I would enjoy of the musical. It wasn’t until I saw a perfomance from the show on television that I thought the show was worth giving a go. Luckily, a college trip to London included a visit to the show and I absolutely loved it. I have now seen the show twice and I am always listening to the soundtrack.
    Favourite song: Again, it’s really heard to pick one!!! Defying Gravity, Popular and For Good.
  3. The Lion King
    Based on the animation, The Lion King is a stunning stage adaptation of Disney’s classic movie, telling Simba’s story about life after his father is killed and his journey to become the rightful King of the Pride Lands. As a massive Disney fan, I had always wanted to see The Lion King but it wasn’t until about 8 or 9 years after it opened in the West End that I finally managed to see it and it was fantastic. Although I know the film backwards, I enjoyed the stage production as if it was something entirely different and new. The costume, make up, masks and puppetry for the who show is amazing and I would say that it helps the stage show differentiate itself from the Disney animation.
    Favourite song: Oh and two again… Circle of Life and He Lives in You (Reprise).
  4. Hairspray
    I’m lucky enough to be able to say that I first saw Hairsprayon Broadway. I had seen the movie musical adaptation a few months earlier and loved it, so when we managed to get tickets to see the show in New York, I was so pleased!
    The musical tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, an overweight girl who loves to dance. When a chance to become a dancer on her favourite show (The Corny Collins Show) arises, Tracy auditions and becomes a big star overnight. But it’s 1962 Baltimore and the white kids and the black kids of the show are not allowed to dance together on the same show, with the black kids having a dedicated “Negro Day” once a month. Along with her new friends and her family, Tracy goes on a mission to integrate the kids of the show and allow everyone to dance together. Along the way, Tracy falls for star and hunk of The Corny Collins Show, Link Larkin… but can their romance blossom?
    I’ve since seen the show a second time whilst it was touring in Bristol, with Michael Ball playing Tracy’s mother, Edna. (The role of Edna is always played by a male following the original Edna Turnblad being played by transvestite, Divine in the 1988 film with John Travolta portraying Edna in the 2007 movie musical role.)
    Favourite song: Without Love (I’ve gone for the movie version here due to the lack of Broadway/West End performances on YouTube.)

     
  5. Legally Blonde
    This last spot was a struggle to fill, there were too many choices and I finally went for Legally Blonde as I found it a surprise enjoyment.
    Based on the 2001 Reese Witherspoon movie, the musical is about Elle Woods, a blonde sorority queen whose boyfriend breaks up with her before he goes to college. Elle decides that she will do whatever she can do win back Warner, so she follows him to Harvard Law School.
    The show was had just opened on Broadway when I was in New York in 2007 and I thought the idea of the show was ridiculous. I loved the film, in fact it is one of my favourites, but I never thought that she show would be any good as a musical – I couldn’t understand what they would be singing about?! About 18 months later, I heard that the show would be coming to the West End and ended up giving the soundtrack a chance… And found it quite enjoyable! When I heard that Sheridan Smith would be playing the role of Elle in the London production, I became a bit more interested…  I hadn’t heard her sing before and early reviews said she was fantastic. My Mum & I ended up seeing the show a few months after it opened and I thought it was brilliant. I think the best way to sum up the show is in three words. Silly, fun and girly. The songs are catchy, the characters likable and I found it a really surprising adaptation that actually worked quite well as a musical. I’ve seen the show twice now and would happily see it again!!
    Favourite song: So Much Better

Honourable mentions:
Matilda I managed to see Matilda on my 22nd birthday with my parents and we all thought it was brilliant. The kids in production are fantastic and Tim Minchin has done a fantastic job at making the a stage version of the lovable Roald Dahl book.
Billy Elliot the Musical Opening in 2005, Billy Elliot the Musical is based on the British film about a young boy who discovers ballet. I left the theatre unsure whether to laugh or cry… in a good way. Throughout the musical there are many funny, happy moments as well as many sad and touching moments too.
Footloose Another musical I have seen twice because I found it very fun and entertaining. I loved the 1984 movie so when the touring production came to Bristol and I had the chance to go see the show with my school, I was looking forward to how the show would compare to the movie. Featuring many of the same 80s songs, Let’s Here it for the Boy, Holding out for a Hero and of course, Footloose, the show is fun and filled with some really brilliant dance numbers. I even saw Dancing with the Stars pro, Derek Hough play the role of Ren when I first saw the production.

So, there are mt Top 5 musicals and a couple of honourable mentions thrown in there too. It was quite hard to determine what are my favourites and even now I’ve finished the list, I’ve remembered more musicals I wish I could add!!
Let me know what you think of my Top 5 and what would be in your Top 5 list! Any suggestions of what to see next would be more than welcome too!! :D

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My Life in Books

One day I came across the BBC programme, My Life in Bookswhich invites celebrities to discuss their favourite books and why they have been important or particularly enjoyable at different times in their lives.

I thought this was a great idea and I instantly started to think about the books that I have enjoyed throughout my life.

Dogger by Shirley Hughes
As a young child (and admittedly even now as a university graduate!!) I had lots and lots of cuddly toys and I would go to bed squashed up against the wall with the rest of the bed filled with endless teddies (although I’m not quite so squashed up against the wall now…) I was particularly attached to a bear, named Bessie, I was given when I was born and would hate going away without her. Doggerby Shirley Hughes tells the story of a young boy and his toy dog, Dogger and what happens when Dogger goes missing. I remember getting this book out of the library so many times when I was little as it was my favourite and I loved both the story and the illustrations. The book was such a big part of my childhood that my parents even bought me a copy for my 18th birthday.

Dogger by Shirley Hughes

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards
Another of my favourite books as a young child was the My Naughty Little Sisterseries by Dorothy Edwards. The series tells lots of short stories about the mischievious antics of a little girl and all of the naughty things she used to do. I think the reason I enjoyed these books so much was because I was the youngest of two girls, and I liked to compare myself to the “Naughty Little Sister”  and realise that my behaviour was nothing like the antics that the little girl in the stories used to get up to (at least I hoped). I used to love having my Mum put me to bed and reading me one of the mischieious stories.

My Naughty Little Sister by Dorothy Edwards

The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot
As an early teen, I began to read the The Princess Diaries series by Meg Cabot. The series follows Mia Thermopolis as she discovers her true identity as a Princess to the fictional country Genovia. The series is made up of ten books, each detailing Mia’s life as a high schooler – featuring friends, love, heartache and her Mother dating her teacher, as well as showing Mia learn from her Grandmother the ways of Princess life and expectation. Every one of the books is both hilarious and heartfelt and as a reader, you are taken on a fantastic journey with Mia through her teenage years.

“There are four million people in Manhattan, right? That makes about two million of them guys. So out of TWO MILLION guys, she has to go out with Mr Gianini. She can’t go out with some guy I don’t know. She can’t go out with some guy she met at D’Agostino’s or wherever. Oh, no. She has to go out with my Algebra teacher. Thanks, Mom. Thanks a whole lot.”

I think I enjoyed The Princess Diaries series so much because the character of Mia is so relatable. Yes, she may discover that she is a Princess and that definitely hasn’t happened to me, but her characteristics, her thoughts and the way she reacts to certain events is so true to that of a teenage girl’s that, after ten books, you truly feel as though you have grown up with this character.

Harry Potter series by JK Rowling
Whilst possibly a book series on everyone’s ‘read’ list, the Harry Potterstories are one of my all time favourites. For anyone who might not be familiar (if there is anyone out there who has managed to stay away from the franchise?!), the seven books outline the story of Harry Potter – a boy who discovers he is a wizard and becomes a pupil at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, with each book following one school year at Hogwarts. I think the books have been so successful for a great number of reasons; the imagination of JK Rowling, the fact that it’s a story about a wizards and witches AND school children, the long running good vs evil plot and the pure edge of your seat reading that the reader has throughout the entire series. For me, there are so many things I love about the story of Harry Potter. I love every one of the characters; the good ones who I route for and the bad ones, who were just so evil that I loved to hate them, and I loved reading about this fictional world that, at so many times, felt as though it could just be real (I still maintain my Hogwarts letter got lost in the post!).

“A breeze ruffled the neat hedges of Privet Drive, which lay silent and tidy under the inky sky, the very last place you would expect astonishing things to happen. Harry Potter rolled over inside his blankets without waking up. One small hand closed on the letter beside him and he slept on, not knowing he was special, not knowing he was famous, not knowing he would be woken in a few hours’ time by Mrs. Dursley’s scream as she opened the front door to put out the milk bottles, nor that he would spend the next few weeks being prodded and pinched by his cousing Dudley… He couldn’t know what at this very moment, people meeting in secret over the country were holding up their glasses and saying in hushed voices:
” To Harry Potter – the boy who lived!””

The explosion of the Harry Potter series has been extraordinary and, as a huge fan, I still find it shocking when I hear people who haven’t read the books or seen the movies. If you are reading this and you haven’t read the books yet, then I do strongly recommend reading them! The hype is true and deserved; they are fantastic, escapist reading and the storyline and characters are so interesting and so enthralling that I find it impossible to put them down.

Harry Potter Series

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Following the end of the Harry Potter series, I was looking for something the fill the void… and The Hunger Gamesdid just that. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing similar about the two stories, but The Hunger Games has, like Harry Potter, become one of my favourite stories, filled with characters and excitement that just leaves you wanting more and more as you get further through the trilogy. The series tells the story of Katniss Everdeen, a young girl who lives in Disctrict 12 of Panem, what once was North America. The Hunger Games are an annual event in which one boy and one girl (between the ages of 12-18) from each of the twelve districts must compete against one another in an arena and fight to the death. The last person alive at the end of the Games wins. The purpose of the Games is punishment for the twelve districts for the uprising against the Capitol (Panem’s biggest city and the home of Panem’s government). When Katniss’s little sister, Prim, is called to compete in The Hunger Games, Katniss volunteers to go in in place of her…

“”Prim!” The strangled cry comes out of my throat, and my muscles begin to move again. “Prim!” I don’t need to shove through the crowd. The other kids make way immediately, allowing me a straight path to the stage. I reach her just as she is about to mount the steps. With one sweep of my arm, I push her behind me.
“I volunteer!” I gasp. “I volunteer as tribute!””

I’d heard about The Hunger Games a while ago, but it wasn’t until I saw the teaser trailer for the film that I decided I needed to read the books. As I said before, the trilogy was a story that I became completely hooked on and again, I could sit here for ages listing the many things I enjoy about this story but I think my enjoyment mostly lies in how addictive and compelling I found the story. There would be times where I would be sat reading one of the books on the train and we’d be getting near to my stop and I would be so annoyed that I would have to stop reading (although this often happens, I would find it so much more difficult to put THG down!). Whilst billed as a teen book, in a similar way to Harry Potter, I would say The Hunger Games is suitable for people of all ages and would highly recommend it as your next read.

The Hunger Games trilogy

The Help by Kathryn Stockett
Admittedly, I read The Help after I watched the film based upon the Kathryn Stockett novel. I absolutely loved the film so I started the book as soon as possible. The story is about African American maids who work for white families in 1960s America. Written in various viewpoints, from two of the maids and one white woman, the book explores the lives of the maids and the racial issues they face whilst working for white families. Aibileen and Minny, both maids, and white Skeeter form an unlikely alliance  in order to tell a story that needs to be told.

“”But the guest bathroom’s where the help goes,” Miss Hilly say. Nobody says anything for a second. Then Miss Walter nod, like she explaining it all. “She’s upset cause the Nigra uses the inside bathroom and so do we.” Law, not this mess again. They all look over at me straightening the silver drawer in the sideboard and I know it’s time for me to leave. But before I can get the last spoon in there, Miss Leefolt give me the look, say, “Go get some more tea, Aibileen.””

As I had seen the movie prior to reading the book, I knew what happened within the story, but it did not stop the book from being so powerful and moving. I think I most enjoy books that I find difficult to put down and this was certainly one of them. The book switches from viewpoint throughout the novel and often a character’s section would finish on a small cliffhanger, making you want to read on until you returned to that character’s narration to find out what happened next. I completely fell in love with the characters that when I finished the book, I felt so sad to be leaving them behind and I wanted the book to continue so that I could find out more about their lives. The Help is one of my most recommended books now and I urge everyone to read it.

The Help

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Whilst definitely up there as one of my new favourite books, The Perks of Being a Wallflower has been added to this list mainly because it is the last book that I finished. A coming of age story, Charlie is a freshman in high school – shy and unpopular, he is a “wallflower” and writes letters to an unknown recipient telling the stories of his day to day life. (It is difficult to describe what happens within the story without spoiling some major plot points.) Similarly to The Hunger Games, I saw the trailer for the The Perks of Being a Wallflower film and decided I needed to read the book before the film’s release.

“And I thought about how many people have loved those songs. And how many people got through a lot of bad times with those songs. And how many people enjoyed good times with those songs. And how much those songs really mean. I think it would be great to have written one of those songs. I bet if I wrote one of them, I would be very proud. I hope the people who wrote those songs are happy. I hope that they feel it’s enough. I really do because they’ve made me happy. And I’m only one person.”

I read the novel in a matter of days (which even as much as I love a book, doesn’t happen very often as I’m a very slow reader!) and fell completely in love with it. I find it difficult to pinpoint what it is that I loved so much about it, but I think it’s simply the way it is written. I found it so beautiful and so heartwrenching. As a 21 year old reading the novel, I couldn’t help but wish I had read Perks as a teenager but it did not stop my enjoyment of the story. I think one great thing about the book is the anonymity of the person Charlie is writing to, it’s a clever writing tool by Chbosky to make you feel even more a part of Charlie’s life.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Honourable Mentions
This list would NOT be complete without some honourable mentions… I wanted to add them in to my list but this post would have been a lot longer and I found it difficult enough to choose anyway. I will keep it short and sweet as I could write about how much I love them for ages!

Roald Dahl: My favourites being The BFG, Matilda, The Witches and The Twits.
Jacqueline Wilson: A big fan of all of her books, I held on to them for years, but I’ve finally parted ways with them and given them to my young cousins. Again, favourites are: Double Act, The Lottie Project, Bad Girls, Dustin Baby, the Girls series and of course, The Story of Tracy Beaker.

So, that’s my Life in Books. What books would make up your list? Post yours and any suggestions for future reading in the comments.

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Discuss the importance of paganism and death in the Harry Potter series.

The Harry Potter series of novels has become one of the biggest selling series of books of all time. The series follows the title character Harry Potter learning how to become a wizard, and on his adventures and quests to defeat Harry’s nemesis, Lord Voldemort. Throughout the series, several themes are explored such as love, good vs. evil and the importance of friendship. However, one theme that features predominantly is the theme of death. I will explore the importance of this theme; how the deaths of those closest to Harry affect him and how death will ultimately end the long battle between Harry and Voldemort.  The series obviously follows Harry and his friends learning the arts of witchcraft and wizardry at their school, Hogwarts. Whilst the series is clearly fictional, there have been several complaints about J.K. Rowling’s novels, arguing that the books glamorise pagan beliefs and the occult. These views come mainly from Christian groups who feel that the all magic is the work of the devil and that by having Harry and his friends use magic, the young readers of the novels will want to explore the use of magic themselves. I will look at the content that many feel is inappropriate for young audiences and examine the arguments of those who deem Harry Potter inappropriate for their children.

Harry Potter Series

At the beginning of the first novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we become aware that a wizard named Voldemort, whom several other wizards and witches were afraid of, has mysteriously vanished after killing a couple, Lily and James Potter, but leaving their son, Harry alive. Harry is then left to be brought up as a Muggle (a non-wizard) with his Aunt, Uncle and cousin, unaware that he is one of the most famous wizards in the world. The fact that Harry’s parents died before the start of the novel is a hugely important factor to the rest of the series. As Harry has been brought up in the Muggle world as an orphan, he has come to know very little about his past and the world in which he lives. By attending Hogwarts, Harry soon learns more about his past and what happened the night that his parents were killed. In their first battle against one another, Lord Voldemort tells Harry that his parents died “begging for mercy” (Rowling, The Philosopher’s Stone; page 213) and that his mother, especially, died trying to save Harry. The fact that Harry has to deal with the loss of his parents from an early age, and then to later learn that they died in order to protect him, is an important sense of characterisation from Rowling. The early death of his parents has meant that Harry has learned that death is an inevitable part of life and not necessarily something to be afraid of. “To the well organised mind, death is but the next great adventure.” (Rowling, The Philosopher’s Stone; page 215) Here, Dumbledore is emphasising to Harry that whilst people may be afraid of death, it is something that is unavoidable and that must be treated in a realistic manner. By addressing death in such a casual, yet adult manner, Rowling is almost preparing her readers for their future, where dealing with death and loss is such an inevitable part of life.

On the night that Lily and James Potter died, Voldemort was unable to kill Harry, for reasons unknown to the wizarding community and to Voldemort himself. Whilst Harry survived, he was left with a lightning bolt shaped scar on his forehead. This scar is a symbol of Voldemort’s attack on Harry and a constant reminder that, while he defeated one of the darkest wizards in history, it symbolises the night that Harry should have died. The fact that Harry’s scar is a bolt of lightning could perhaps be a literal picture symbolising the flash of green light associated with the ‘Avada Kedavra’ curse that was intended to kill Harry. “There was a flash of blinding green light and rushing sound,” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire: page 191) Similarly, Harry’s scar could be symbolic of the emotional scars that people face when dealing with death and loss. As Harry has to see his scar every day, he is constantly reminded of the night that he should have died, and the night that his parents died trying to protect him.

Harry's scar - a constant reminder of the night he should have died.

One of the main elements to the plot in Harry Potter is the prophecy involving Harry and Voldemort. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, we come to learn about said prophecy, which ultimately changes the course in which Harry is leading his life. The prophecy reads, “Either must die at the hands of the other for neither can live while the other survives” (Order of the Phoenix, Rowling; page 741).  The use of this prophecy as the main story behind the epic battle between Harry and Voldemort emphasises the importance of death in the Harry Potter novels. The prophecy tells us that either Harry or Voldemort must die in order for the other to live, in this sense it tells us that death is inevitable for one, or potentially both of the duo. From then on, Harry’s life changes yet again as he realises that it is he who needs to kill Voldemort in order to stop him from taking over both the Wizard and Muggle worlds.

Throughout the Harry Potter series, several of the important characters around Harry die. The father figure of Sirius Black, Harry’s Godfather and strong link to Harry’s parents, is killed by Bellatrix Lastrange in Order of the Phoenix. After his untimely death, Harry becomes extremely angry and volatile around his friends and mentors. Harry feels that Sirius’s death was his fault and that it could have been prevented had he not fallen for Voldemort’s trick. When talking to Dumbledore after the events at the Ministry for Magic, Harry becomes irrational and aggressive when Dumbledore offers his condolences and advice for Harry. “Harry felt the white-hot anger lick his insides, blazing in the terrible emptiness, filling him with the desire to hurt Dumbledore for his calmness and empty words.” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire; page 726) Here, Rowling uses Harry’s feelings towards Sirius’s death to allow the reader to acknowledge the varying emotions that people go through when they are dealing with the death of a loved one. Rowling is allowing Harry to let his emotions go so that the reader can fully empathise with him and to allow Harry to go through dealing with Sirius’s death in the same way. In terms of writing for her audience and for her fans, it could be suggested that Rowling portrayed Harry at being angry with those around him following Sirius’s death because the readers may have been angry at Rowling to killing off a character that played such a vital role in Harry’s life.

Another of Harry’s closest friends and mentors is killed later on in the series. When Dumbledore is murdered by Professor Snape in The Half-Blood Prince, Harry immediately seeks for revenge against Snape, wanting to punish him for murdering his mentor and friend. Harry even attempts to use the Unforgivable Curses, which deliver torture or even death, on Snape in order to seek revenge. “‘Cruc-’ yelled Harry for the second time, aiming for the figure ahead illuminated in the dancing firelight, but Snape blocked the spell again; Harry could see him sneering. ‘No Unforgivable Curses from you, Potter!’ he shouted over the rushing of flames… ‘You haven’t got the nerve or the ability-’” (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince; page 562) By having Harry react in this uncharacteristic manner, though notably fighting against his long-term rival, Snape, is also another way in which Rowling explores the emotions in Harry faces each time a person close to him dies. This once again echoes the real-life issues that people face when coping with a sudden death. Harry is acting largely out of character at this point, although Harry can often be hot-tempered and angry, he is not one to use the Dark Magic. By making Harry react in this way, Rowling is telling her readers that when events happen unexpectedly, a change in character is a likely occurrence.

Michael Gambon and Daniel Radcliffe as Professor Dumbledore and Harry Potter

One notable death is the death of Harry’s schoolmate Cedric Diggory during Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Whilst taking part in the schools Triwizard Tournament, Harry and Cedric are completing the final task when they reach the Triwizard Cup; signalling the end and the winner of the competition. Deciding that they shall both come out as winners, they reach for the Cup simultaneously, which transports them to a small graveyard.  Upon getting there, Harry’s scar burns with pain and with a flash of green light, Cedric is killed. “Before Harry’s mind had accepted what he was seeing, before he could feel anything but numb disbelief” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire; page 554). Although not one of Harry’s closest friends, the death of Cedric is extremely important and significant to Harry as it is in his hands that Cedric is killed. Not only does Harry feel responsible for Cedric’s death, as it is Voldemort who wanted only Harry to enter the graveyard, so dismissively ordered for Cedric to be killed, but he feels that it is his responsibility to take Cedric’s body back to his parents.  Harry has to then return to Hogwarts with Cedric’s body and tell everyone how and why he died. This death stays with Harry, and it is in Order of the Phoenix that Harry first sees the Thestrals; strange, horse-like creatures with wings and “dragonish” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix; page 178) heads. Harry can only see the Thestrals in Order of the Phoenix following Cedric’s death as “the only people who can see Thestrals are people who have seen death.” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix; page 394)

During the time at the graveyard, Voldemort is brought back to human life, using Harry’s blood as a way to regain a body. It is during this chapter that Harry sees “a thick grey ghost of Cedric Diggory” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire; page 577) appear from the end of Lord Voldemort’s wand.  This leads us to question whether Cedric has really died and whether the characters in the Harry Potter series ever truly die; Hogwarts itself is laden with Hogwarts ghosts that regularly interact with the students. This is not the only incident where Harry encounters those close to him who have previously died. When Cedric appears in the graveyard having just been murdered by Voldemort’s servant Wormtail, Harry’s parents, Lily and James, also appear. Whilst Harry and Voldemort are duelling and their wands connected; Lily, James and Cedric all offer Harry words of encouragement and advice on how to battle Voldemort, “we will give you time… you must get to the Portkey, it will return you to Hogwarts…” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire; page 579). The same happens once again in The Deathly Hallows, however this time Harry’s mother and father, Godfather Sirius Black and friend, Professor Lupin appear, yet again to offer Harry guidance through a battle with Voldemort. Whilst the images of the deceased are merely ghost-like, Harry to an extent believes that they are real and communicates with them as if they are truly there in human form, once again forcing us to question whether the characters in Harry Potter truly die. Despite this, Dumbledore tells us that, “No spell can reawaken the dead,” (Rowling, Goblet of Fire; page 605)

Perhaps the most notable, and most prominent, feature of death is in the final Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The name itself almost warns us that the book will feature a profound tone of death and darkness throughout. The book features a heavy bloodbath; seeing yet more of Harry’s friends and loved ones die at the hands of Lord Voldemort. The deaths encountered at the end of the novel, once again, force Harry to feel guilty for the deaths of those close to him. Harry knows that it is he that needs to kill Voldemort and feels that the more people close to him who die, to the more responsibility he has to succeed in his mission. “Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort knew, that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it. The images of Fred, Lupin and Tonks lying dead in the Great Hall forced their way back into his mind’s eye, and for a moment he could hardly breathe: Death was impatient…” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows; page 555)

During the novel; Harry, Ron and Hermione come across the Wizarding fairy tale, The Tale of the Three Brothers. The tale tells the story of three brothers who, by using their magic, attempt to cheat Death. The story mentions a Cloak of Invisibility, an item which Harry owns. There are several elements to the fairy tale that are important factors to the events of the final novel, but to an extent, the story resembles Harry’s life up until now. With his previous six years at Hogwarts, Harry has managed to escape death on numerous occasions. On five occasions, Harry has managed to defeat, or escape, from Voldemort who has always had the intention to kill him. The fairy tale outlines a simple viewpoint on death, “he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals they departed this life.” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows; page 332) It is as though this is foreshadowing what Harry later faces in the chapter; The Forest Again where Harry goes to Voldemort in order to die. “I must die. It must end.” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows; page 556) Harry is acting like a martyr in order to protect those around him, to face the inevitable and to fulfil the prophecy.

The Tale of the Three Brothers - as seen in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows pt 1

Once Voldemort has regained power, his band of followers, the Death Eaters help him on his quest to kill Harry Potter and take over both the Wizard and Muggle worlds. Once again, the term ‘Death Eater’ simply reinforces the theme of death found throughout the Harry Potter novels. The Death Eaters are perhaps so called as death is the one thing that Voldemort fears the most, the one thing that he will do anything to avoid. Voldemort is obsessed with becoming immortal that he has split his soul in to eight pieces, placing six of the pieces in to magical objects, known as Horcruxes. It is these six Horcruxes that Harry must destroy in order to be able to kill Voldemort, therefore fulfilling the prophecy. Voldemort is so intent with being immortal, even whilst he is a teenager that he will do anything. “‘But how do you do it?’ ‘By an act of evil – the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage…’” (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince; page 465)

Although Harry Potter has become a hugely successful phenomenon all over the world, there have been several groups who feel that the content of Harry Potter is extremely unsuitable for the children it is aimed towards. These attitudes have come mainly from religious groups, particularly those of Christian faith. Michael O’Brien states in Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture that the Harry Potter series has the potential to “lower the natural and spiritual guard in a child’s mind” (O’Brien; page 8) and that this will inevitably lead to the said child joining the occult. He questions that if this is to happen, then “what other kinds of disordered interests and activities will follow as he makes his choices in later life?” (O’Brien; page 8) O’Brien is not the only one to feel this way about the novels. In Why Heather Can Write, Henry Jenkins speaks of the evangelist, Berit Kjos who feels that the merchandise surrounding the series is just as damaging at the content in the novels. “In God’s eyes, such paraphernalia become little more than lures and doorways to deeper involvement with the occult.” (Jenkins; page 194) Many Christian groups feel that all forms of witchcraft are pagan and are associated with the devil, therefore they feel that by writing a novel about a group of children at a school for witches and wizards, J.K. Rowling is “glamorizing witchcraft” (Deavel and Deavel; page 1) and leading children in to wanting to explore the world of magic further.

The Harry Potter novels are not the first series of books to feature a heavy use of magic, but previous series have not been criticised in the same way. O’Brien discusses that many novels feature characters using witchcraft, but that these characters are usually the villains of the series, not the heroes as seen in Harry Potter. He suggests that “for many Christian parents, the problem is not the presence of magic in a book, but how magic is represented.” (O’Brien; page 9) and compares Harry Potter to the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis. He argues that the characters found in Narnia, particularly the White Witch, who use magic are portrayed in “classic terms”, meaning that they are “manipulative” and “deceiving” (O’Brien; page 9). O’Brien continues to say that “Supernatural powers, Lewis repeatedly underlines, belong in God alone, and in human hands they are highly deceptive and can lead to destruction.” (O’Brien; page 9) During this article, O’Brien stresses that the use of magic portrayed in the world of Harry Potter is corrupt and that it “will darken the mind” (O’Brien; page 10) and criticises the fact that Rowling’s characters explore the world but do not suffer any consequences or side effects for their actions. It is interesting that O’Brien draws this comparison as it is clear that Rowling has been heavily influenced by the work of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as well. All three of the authors have created fantasy worlds in which their child (or child-like) characters explore their surroundings and have to battle evil. However, as previously suggested, the evil characters portrayed in these series are the only characters to use magic; whereas in Harry Potter there are forms of both good and bad magic, which is what leads many to feel that the series is inappropriate for the target audience.

Harry Potter series - Glamorizing witchcraft?

One Christian website (Christian Answers for the New Age) features an article outlining the themes and events which feature in the final novel of Harry Potter; The Deathly Hallows. The article discusses the events that occur in Harry Potter from a Christian perspective. They suggest that the series may not be suitable enough for Christian readers, leading on to suggest that although the hero of the books, Harry Potter is not a good role model. They suggest that Harry “has no remorse and few consequences from lying and cheating; he seeks revenge in many cases; he hates; and he can be cruel” (Page 3/3) The article argues that Harry is consistently lying and breaking rules, but suffers no consequences, the ends justify the means and therefore Harry does not show suitable behaviour to the children reading. However, we could argue that while Harry may not be perfect, he has suffered from a poor childhood and that, perhaps, Rowling wanted to portray a more realistic, modern day role model. By creating such a character, Rowling is reaching out to those readers who feel they are different from the others around them- something that Harry feels on numerous occasions, both before and after joining Hogwarts. She is also creating a more realistic character for the audience to get behind and follow on his journey.

Whilst the views portrayed by these religious groups are understandable, we must remember that the Harry Potter novels are a fictional series, simply exploring the world of magic. The books are purely there for children to explore their imagination and, perhaps, to get them more excited about reading in a world that has so quickly become obsessed with computer gaming. Jenkins relays the story of Heather Lawver in his article; a girl who claims that she “read a book that changed her life”. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone gave her the inspiration to set up a website where fans could join together to write “a school newspaper for a school that existed only in their imaginations.” (page 172) The children participating are using the things that they have learned from Rowling’s stories and have combined them with their own imaginations to create something new, something that many teachers and parents are constantly trying to teach children to do.

It is clear that the theme of death is heavily prominent throughout the series and plays a vital role in Harry’s life and journey through his seven years at Hogwarts. By experience death on so many occasions and in so many different ways, the loss he has suffered has shaped him in many ways. Without the theme of death running throughout Harry Potter, the reader may not have grasped the important notion that death will end the battle between Harry and Voldemort. The entire story is based upon the magic arts contained within the fantasy world and it is understandable that protective parents and group leaders may feel that the content is inappropriate for young audiences; but we must argue whether the Harry Potter series remained a children’s book throughout its run. The series is fictional and that must be understood when reading the novels. Whilst some may deem it unsuitable, it cannot be argued that the Harry Potter phenomenon hasn’t encouraged children to read and expand their imaginations when entering such an exciting fantasy world.

The final battle between Harry and Voldemort

Bibliography

Deavel, C.J. and Deavel, D.P., 2002. Character, Choice and Harry Potter. Logos 5:4. Available from:
https://www.stthomas.edu/cathstudies/logos/archives/volumes/5-4/5-4%20Article%20Sample.pdf [Accessed 5 March 2010]

Jenkins, H., 2006. Why Heather Can Write: Media Literacy and the Harry Potter Wars. Convergence Culture: Where Old Media and New Media Collide. P169- 205. London: New York University

Montenegro, M., 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Is Death Still the Next Great Adventure? Christian Answers for the New Age. Available from: http://www.christiananswersforthenewage.org/Articles_HarryPotterDeathlyHallows1.html [Accessed 5 March 2010]

O’Brien, M., 2003. Harry Potter and the Paganization of Children’s Culture. Catholic World Report magazine. Available from: http://www.leannepayne.com/harrypotter/HarryPotter-PaganizationOfChildren.pdf [Accessed 5 March 2010]

Rowling, J.K., 1997. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury.

Rowling, J.K., 2000. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury.

Rowling. J.K., 2003. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury

Rowling. J.K., 2005. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury

Rowling. J.K., 2007. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury

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Les Misérables

As a huge musical fan, Les Misérables is one of my ultimate favourites. I’ve seen it three times and would go and see it again in a second. I love that it’s a more serious musical, giving something a bit different to the theatre.

Les Misérables is the world’s longest running musical and is currently celebrating its 25th anniversary. Les Misérables opened at the Barbican Theatre in London on October 8 1985, moving to the Palace Theatre two months later where it remained until April 2004. Since then, the Queen’s Theatre has been the home of the show.

Based on the novel by Victor Hugo, the musical was written by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg and directed by Trever Nunn and John Caird and has won eight Tony Awards. Starting in Paris in 1980, the show ran for three months but an English version was soon to be created. British producer Cameron Mackintosh heard the recordings of the musical and began producing the new musical, which would be in production for two years before it opened.

Les Misérables follows one man’s emotional struggle from wrongful imprisonment to becoming a respected member of French society. The story revolves around Jean Valjean’s attempt at starting a new life, however one man, Inspector Javert, is determined to seek him out and send him back to prison. The story also sees the students’ revolt against authority, a love triangle and a blackmailing couple out to make the most out of any situation.

The musical was originally panned by critics on its opening night at the Barbican; calling it “glum” and criticising its length (it is 3 hours long!) however audiences loved it and allowed the show to continue its run.

2010 marked the 25th anniversary of Les Misérables and saw the production play at the Queen’s Theatre in London’s West End as well as a touring cast take the show all over the country. The celebrate its anniversary, a huge concert was staged at the O2 arena in London which featured both old and new cast members, including Alfie Boe, Nick Jonas from the Jonas Brothers and Matt Lucas from Little Britain.  During the finale, the concert cast were joined by the London and touring casts as well as the original 1985 cast, including Colm Wilkinson and Michael Ball to perform “One Day More”.

Les Misérables in numbers

42: The number of countries the show has been performed in.
56 million: The number of people who have seen the show.
40: The number of cast recordings.
308: The number of cities the show has been performed in.
45,000: The number of performances seen worldwide.
75: The number of major theatre awards the show has won.
10,000: The number of performances seen in London alone.

The musical has seen a recent increase in popularity due to Susan Boyle’s first audition on Britain’s Got Talent. Her performance of the Les Misérables song “I Dreamed a Dream” became an instant internet hit and was seen all over the world, therefore giving Les Misérables more publicity and bringing in a new audience who may not have been aware of the show beforehand.

At the 25th anniversary concert, the four actors who have played Jean Valjean in the relevant productions all joined together to sing “Bring Him Home”, one of the shows stand out numbers.  The quartet also performed the number at the recent Royal Variety Performance and the song has been released with proceeds going to Tickets for Troops.

Cameron Mackintosh has recently signed the contracts to make a movie version of the musical with Working Title.

Les Misérables is a fantastic, unique musical which never fails to give me goosebumps and I strongly urge you to go and see it, you will not be disappointed.

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Sunshine Radio

For 2 years I have been a volunteer at Sunshine Radio, the hospital radio station for my local hospital, Weston General Hospital.

I’ve always had big dreams about working in the media industry, so I thought volunteering at Hospital Radio would be a “good thing to put on my CV”. However, I was unaware that it would soon become of of my favourite things to do.

Having listened to a variety of different radio shows since I was a little girl and enjoying all genres of music, I thought the idea of taking part in radio shows was really interesting.

Sunshine Radio began in 1978 under the name of Weston Hospital Broadcasting Society, with the aim of making the hospital stay easier for patients. In 1983, the four smaller hospitals in the area were to become one; so the station had to move! The station become Sunshine Radio and raised £20,000 from the Friends of Sunshine Radio organistion to build a new studio. In 1986, Sunshine Radio was ready to broadcast when the new hospital opened.

My first show at Sunshine Radio was on 28th July 2008 and it was completely overwhelming! This was not a normal Monday at Sunshine; Weston-super-Mare’s beloved pier had just burned down. However, the show must go on and I successfully participated in my first show… even if I did just say “goodbye!”

The show I take part in is called Wardround and is a request show for the patients in the hospital. The team; also known as “Wardrounders” visit the patients on the wards and take their requests. After the requests have been taken, the team and I host the show, dedicating the songs we play to the patients who requested them.

The Monday team at Christmas

 

Although the process can often be quite upsetting, I love visiting the patients for their requests. It’s nice to know that some are expecting to see you, and looking forward to making a request. Sometimes you can brighten someone’s day who may not have had a visitor that day. We may only be playing a 4 minute song, but it is so rewarding to know that by doing so, you’ve made someone’s stay in hospital that little bit better.

There is a team of sometimes around 10 people that take part in the Monday show (Wardround is on every weekday night) which I am involed with. This makes the shows extremely fun and exciting to participate in. The team has become a tight-knit friendship group, which I, personally, think may help listeners enjoy the show just a little bit more.

Sunshine Radio relies on donations and charity, so there are often several fundraising evens that members can help with such as; bake sales, bag packing, collecting at the local annual Carnival and quizzes. These events help to promote the station and also helps us raise money to help pay for new equipment.

Sunshine Radio quiz with Alan Dedicoat

While I have gained work experience that may help with my future career, I have also gained a whole range of other experiences… Some that I never thought I would gain through volunteering. Being involed with Sunshine Radio is one of my favourite things to and joining is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It’s something I miss terribly whilst I’m away at university.

If anyone is thinking about doing some volunteer work, I strongly urge you to take part in your local hospital’s radio station. The whole experience is brilliant and really is rewarding.

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FAQ: Body Combat

Body Combat is the empowering, martial arts inspired fitness class that is fast becoming one of the most popular workout classes in the world.

What is Body Combat?
Body Combat is high-powered exercise class. The energetic cardio workout features elements of martial arts and is set to a fantastic soundtrack. Formed under the name Les Mills International; Mills’s son Phillip developed a number of group exercise programmes that were set to music, including Body Combat.

What does it actually involve?
Each session lasts one hour and features 10 songs, which you kick, punch, strike and jump along to, all whilst following a director at the front of the class.

What are the benefits?
Taking part in Body Combat will burn calories, improve your heart and lung functions, will help you tone and shape and improve your  core strength.  It will work your whole body, as the moves involved use all of your muscles.

Will I be fit enough to take part?
Body Combat is for everyone. As long as you have a moderate fitness level you will be fit enough. Just don’t put in too much effort during the warm up; you might not have enough energy for the rest of the class!

Is it the same every week?
Each routine runs for three months, then changes so that you won’t get bored. This allows you to learn the routine, which means that once you have it sussed, you can put in even more effort. It helps that the music the workout is choreographed to is fun and enjoyable; there are songs you know and some songs you might not know, which you’ll be singing for the rest of the day!

Do I need to bring anything?
Each routine is extremely high powered, so you will need a bottle of water. It is best to wear gym clothes and sensible trainers, as there is a lot of moving about and you want to be comfortable and not get too hot. You may want a towel too as you will get very sweaty!

What if I go wrong?
There is no pressure with the class; if you get the moves wrong, miss a step, get your left and right mixed up, it does not matter. Just stop, have a look at the instructor and try to pick it back up. Everyone is concentrating on their own moves to realise if you have gone wrong.

So why should I take a class?
Body Combat is a great way to get fit, burning up to 600 calories per session. It is a lot more fun that a generic work out at the gym, and having people around you and an instructor infront of you makes you put in the little bit more effort.

Where can I take the class?
You can search for a class near you here.

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Photo Story: How to Bake Amazing Cupcakes!

One of my favourite hobbies is baking and cake decorating. I’m always baking treats such as cupcakes, muffins and brownies for my friends and family.
So, here is a photo story of how to bake amazing cupcakes!

Ingredients:
115g/4oz butter, softened
115g/4oz caster sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
115g/4oz self-raising flour
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Topping (Buttercream):
225g/8oz butter, softened
1tbsp cream or milk
350g/12oz icing sugar
Food colouring of your choice

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– Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/Gas Mark 5. Line a 12 hole bun tin with paper or silicon cupcake cases.
– Place the butter and the sugar in a large bowl and beat together until light
   and fluffy, then beat in the vanilla extract.
– Gradually beat in the eggs.
– Sift in the flour and fold into the mixture.
– Spoon the mixture into the cases.
– Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until cakes are golden and
   spring back when touched.
– Transfer to wire rack to cool completely.
– To make the buttercream, place the butter and cream/milk in a bowl and
   beat together.
– Gradually sift in the icing sugar and beat until smooth.
– Then add in a cap of your chosen food colouring or until your desired
   colour has been reached.
– Place the buttercream in a piping bag fitted with a small star nozzle and
   pipe the buttercream on top of each cake.
– Then decorate with sweets or cake decorations of your choice.

I hope you enjoy baking your cupcakes!!

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