Harry Potter and the Dramatic Present

Does anyone else listen to ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4?


It’s a programme about historical figures who have had an effect on our own times, and although I find Melvyn Bragg as irritating as the next person, sometimes the topics are interesting so I keep the radio on after ‘Today’ has finished.  And yet all too often I end up turning it off in sheer irritation.  Why?  One reason only – and that is, because his guests will insist on using the dramatic present.

And what is the dramatic present? I hear you cry.  Well, it’s the use of the present tense to make a story seem more immediate and compelling – as though it’s happening now, rather than in the past.  A good writer – or storyteller – can use this to great effect.  Shakespeare does it in a number of places, such as here where Ophelia is describing Hamlet’s madness, shifting between past and present as she sinks into the story and pulls herself out again:

“He took me by the wrist and held me hard;
Then goes he to the length of all his arm;
And, with his other hand thus o’er his brow,
He falls to such perusal of my face
As he would draw it. Long stay’d he so;
At last, a little shaking of mine arm
And thrice his head thus waving up and down,
He raised a sigh so piteous and profound
As it did seem to shatter all his bulk
And end his being: that done, he lets me go . . ..”
(Ophelia in Act One, scene 1 of Hamlet by William Shakespeare)

That is what I call a good use of the dramatic present.  Not that it is necessary to use it in order to involve the reader in a story: I may be wrong, but in the entire HP series I don’t think J K Rowling once uses the dramatic present – and yet nothing could be more thrilling, more tense and more involving than these novels.  (Although I suppose you could say Harry does get some dramatic presents: the sword of Griffyndor, the cursed locket, the snitch with writing on it, the invisibility cloak…)  But whether it’s Harry Potter in the past or Ophelia in the present, these are worth a million academics going on about how Paracelsus is born in such and such, grows up in such a place and does this, that and the other.  All that does is to dull the mind; it’s like jargon, a knee-jerk use of language as a kind of shorthand for actually bothering to describe something effectively.  I wish they’d stop it.

A lot of historical programmes are annoying, now I come to think of it.  I find Simon Schama very irritating, and as for that woman who does the stuff about the Tudors, Lucy Worsley, I find her simpering, smirking flirtation with the camera utterly unbearable to watch – which is a pity because I suspect that without it, the programmes might be quite interesting…


Kirk out

Draught and Thought

There was a good second session of Drink and Think at the Ale Wagon last night on the topic of Free Will vs Determinism.  The group seemed to veer towards the determinism end of the scale, whether through a belief in genetic determinism, or in what I might sum up as ‘a combination of Sod’s Law and circumstances’.  However, at our end of the table we tended towards a belief that we have a spiritual dimension, and that free will predominates – though not exclusively – that we have a more than just a little ‘wiggle room’ within that combination of genes and circumstances and whatever else constrains us.  The subject has huge implications for any legal system, and we discussed some of these as, clearly there is no point and no justice in punishing people if they have no free will.

But hey, we can’t help it.


We also touched on the area of talent and levels of competence; and what happens in the mind when we are unconsciously competent and can seem to ‘go beyond’ ordinary consciousness into a state which I would define as meditation.

And that brings me to an area which we didn’t discuss, which is karma.  Many people identify karma with fate, ie something that happens to you and which you cannot alter.  My view – and the general yoga view – is almost the direct opposite of this: that karma is what you are given (or, if you believe in reincarnation, what your previous lives have given you) precisely in order that you may do something with it.  And that ‘doing something with it’ is in essence what you are here for.  In other words, your karma exists precisely in order for you to change it – or at the very least, to work on it.
One thing we did discuss – and in connection with which we might have quoted Hamlet:
‘there’s nothing either good nor bad,
but thinking makes it so’
– was the importance of perception; in other words, that a situation can be transformed by your perception of it.  Facts remain facts, but their meaning is changed according to who is looking.  So that, for example, the Gaza strip is an entirely different place to an Israeli and a Palestinian.  There wasn’t time to develop this idea very far but I’m a great believer in the power of visualisation to bring about change.  Even if it’s only a change in how I feel about a situation, that in itself is a huge advantage – as I was saying the other day about the person who moans continually about not having a car and then gets one, thereby finding a whole new stratum of things to moan about.
It’s the attitude that counts.  I firmly believe that.
Here endeth the lesson.
Today I shall be mostly… sharpening up some poems and getting a couple of other pieces ready to send off.
Kirk out

List, list, o list!

Woke up with this going round in my head.  It is, as you know, a line from Hamlet, where his father’s ghost is trying to get Hamlet to shut up and listen:

I’m trying to find a link.  But even when I do, it doesn’t work.  Maybe it’s not me – maybe it’s the browser.

Here’s a limerick I made up when trying to think of words that rhyme with “browser”:

A young man who worked as a dowser

Kept all of his rods in his trouser

He failed to divine

either water or wine

– but then he struck oil and cried: “Yowser!”

Ok try this one and see how you get on:


Also this couplet came this morning:

Still struggling to find

blind following blind.

Joined Facebook yesterday.  Just look me up under Liz Gray.  I’m going to put a link to this blog – just as soon as I can find out how to do it.

Here’s part of a short story I wrote.  It’s called Idiota, a take on Dostoevsky’s Idiot.


Oh, hell, I can’t find it now.  It’s on a key drive.  Or is it a pen drive.  What’s the difference?

An expert writes:

A pen drive is a mystery tour for writers.  A key drive is a mystery tour for crime writers.

Thanks, expert.

Kirk out.

PS  Know the definition of an expert?  Ex as in has-been, spurt as in a drip under pressure.

So now you know!

An expert writes:

I’m very hurt.


Words, words, words…

I used to be a huge fan of Neil Young.  I haven’t stopped being a fan, it’s just that all his stuff is on vinyl and I don’t have a good way of listening to it- not without removing all the stuff on top of the record player and dusting it and checking the needle and and and  *

You get the picture.  I was thinking today, the reason I like writing is that every copy of a work is the original.  Whereas with a painting, there’s nothing like the original work and prints etc can only give a feel for what it’s like, with writing, so long as the text is faithfully reproduced, every copy has exactly the same power as the original.  There’s nothing to be gained – except by the scholar – by looking at the original manuscript.  There’s something very democratic about that – and also something easy, in practical terms.  Especially nowadays in this age of computers.

So.  Neil Young.  One of my favourite tracks was “Words (between the lines of age)”.  I used to listen to it over and over.  It was when he was in his electric phase.

Which brings us to the Dane.  Last night the origin of the suffix “by” came up – in the Midlands there are a number of place names that have this, and it comes from Danish – and that gave another outing to the joke “terby or not terby” (see previous post https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2008/09/12/ladimir-and-oestrogen-2/).

Last night was great – an outing to a country pub, an underused reservoir, unseen Perseids, a pound lost and found, a necklace also lost and found, and some good conversation.  Thanks Claire!

–  What is the matter that you read, my lord?

–  Words, words, words

(loosely remembered from Hamlet).

Kirk out

PS Beer festival and curry today.  Mark is going to Nottingham.

PPS Jan, who is a mathematician and therefore To Be Trusted, shares my dislike of “numbers” instead of “figures”.  (see previous post here https://lizardyoga.wordpress.com/2009/05/12/and-another-thing-2/)

she says it’s to do with dumbing down.

*  Missed the chance here to make a joke about “the needle and the damage done”.