The Novel Ninja occasionally does things like this, and it looks fun and up my alley. So, off we go.
Book five of the series is quite rightly maligned for its poor editing. I still think it’s a good book overall, but it’s arguably the most flawed of the series (I actually think “Deathly Hallows” is, if not worse, a worse missed opportunity, but that’s a discussion for another time).
The main problem is that book five is simply too long and unwieldy. Previous books had fit a school year into 300 pages. As things get more complex it’s fine to get longer, but the same length of time in 800 pages seems a little extreme?
The movie, for once, actually improved the book in some ways because it had to shrink things down to their bare essentials. It also added a line at the end…well, I’ll get to that.
First, I’d just cut out several things:
- The entire sequence at St. Mungos: This is an unfortunate case of “Kill your darlings”, as this was quite fun. Itfeatured an excellent scene with Neville’s parents that added a lot of depth to his character, and a darkly humorous scene with Gilderoy Lockhart. But it was ultimately superfluous to the plot, and ran far too long to justify its existence.
- Grawp: Hagrid’s giant half-brother Grawp is a fun plot thread, but there’s simply no reason for him to be there. If you take him out the story would hardly be affected at all. The rescue in the forest could have been just as dramatic without him. Just have Luna and company (who, if you remember, escaped from the Slytherin thugs on their own) come flying in on thestrals. How cool would that have been?The movie also improved the centaur scene in the forest enormously when Harry delivered his “I must not tell lies” line to Umbridge. Ahhhhhhh, that was so freaking cool, and satisfying. I wish Rowling included that.*
- The Quidditch subplot: Another case of kill your darlings, as I love the Quidditch scenes. But after Harry, Fred, and George are kicked off of the team, there’s no reason for us to follow it anymore. Just kick off Ron as well. Or, for that matter, do what Umbridge threatened and shut down the whole team. Subplot neatly eliminated.I liked seeing Ron win and all, but the story is simply long enough.
- The final scene in Dumbledore’s office: Another case where the movie improved on the book. Rowling already hinted at her own solution to the prophecy problem when Harry very nearly hears the prophecy in the Department of Mysteries. Just let him hear it there, then do as the movie did if you want to get in your contractually mandated Dumbledore exposition scene and have him meet with Harry briefly at the end.
- Dobby: In this case, I thought the movie’s solution was a little too silly (Neville blunders to it by accident?), but a solution to the problem of finding the Room of Requirement is hinted at in the book already: Dumbledore mentions it in passing. Just have him mention the floor it was on, have Harry wander past it a few times trying to find it, and make it in. There you go. Dobby is unnecessary. Which is too bad, I like Dobby, but once again the book needs to be trimmed.
- The Weapon subplot: This made Harry far too melodramatic and whiny. It’s in everyone’s best interest to cut it out.
Otherwise, there’s nothing whole I would cut out wholesale (the movie cut out Harry’s interview with Luna but I like that little arc enough to think that the book would probably suffer without it), but there are things I would shorten:
- Occlumency: Once again the movie makes a small improvement on the book when Harry’s shield charm reveals the memory of his father’s bullying of Snape. The pensieve is completely unnecessary, and the Occlumency lessons could have ended several sections earlier.
- The number of dreams Harry had: They mention his dreams of the Department of Mysteries QUITE A BIT. A few less would be nice?
- The opening in Grimmauld Place: Harry spends a very long time in Grimmauld Place, and takes awhile to get there to boot. The solution is quite simple: Have the dementor attack take place later in the summer, go to Grimmauld Place, spend a day there, go to the trial the next day, then spend the final week at the house. Plenty of time to get readers familiar with it, especially since we’ll be visiting it again around Christmas.
These are quite a lot of cuts, I know. But the book is bloated; trimming a bit of fat can only help it. You just need to be careful not to take any of the meat off with it.
*Off the top of my head the only time I can recall a visual adapatation of a book or story vastly raising the quality of a scene with a single line is the Jeremy Brett adaptation of “The Adventure of the Dancing Men”. The story is one of Conan Doyle’s most famous, and involves Holmes cracking a code. It was never one of my favorites, simply because the solution seemed too basic. But the TV version hits on a theme that, it seemed to me, Conan Doyle probably missed:
Early on in the story Holmes embarks on a long train of thought, at the end of which Watson exclaims “How absurdly simple!” Well – SPOILERS! – at the end of the story he catches the crook simply by sending a coded message saying “Come here at once”. Conan Doyle ended the story there, but the Brett version has Holmes look at Watson and say “How absurdly simple”. The effect is so natural and so clever I actually find myself disappointed when I read the original story over again and DON’T see that line.