(a review of “Review: Final ‘Harry Potter’ goes out with a bang”, By Tom Charity, CNN, July 15, 2011 11:36 a.m. EDT)

Dear Mr. Charity:

While I agree that the character acting in the Harry Potter series has been terrific, we part ways when you describe what those characters are.

Minerva McGonagall is not “dotty.”  To be dotty is to be mentally unbalanced, and she is razor-sharp at all times.

Sirius Black may be “stalwart”, in some ways, but it’s hardly his dominant trait, and not the way to characterize him.  He is impetuous, emotional, sarcastic, dashing, loyal, and many other things, but “stalwart”?  No.  “Stalwart” means “physically strong”, and Sirius was not that at all.  To be stalwart of character usually means that you are unimaginatively loyal, and unswervingly devoted to the cause.  Hagrid is the textbook example of “stalwart” in both senses.  But Sirius Black is a reckless, troubled man of action, living on borrowed time.  The impermance of his bright flame is not compatible with the steadfast, rock-like “stalwart.”

Describing Bellatrix Lestrange as “banshee-like” is also inappropriate.  A mournful keening is very different from a shrieking attack.  Were you thinking of a maenad instead of a banshee?  Maenads were violently insane women, groupie-like followers of Dionysus, who went into ecstatic frenzies of destruction.  Laughing while ripping animals to death seems more like Bellatrix Lestrange than wailing in grief at someone’s death, as banshees do.

We disagree in other areas as well.  You said “Yates doesn’t bombard us with a blitz of fast cuts, his style is classical and considered.”  And yet the battle scenes, among others, are shot so close in that we have no idea who is doing what to whom.  Some of Neville’s finer moments were dampened, since we never saw him facing down the enemy – only the camera.  Since Neville’s key transformation was developing courage, it’s a material failure not to show him face to face with his foes, mano a mano.

Likewise, the CGI integration was not always done with “fluency and finesse”; some of it was extremely choppy. Anything that noticeable on the big screen will be more obvious at home; perhaps you’ll notice it then.  You also said the movie’s “tempo is exactly right,” and again, I disagree.  After they left Shell Cottage, the sequences were so compressed that no tension developed, and the dialogue was so rushed that no emotional investment was cultivated.  Later, during the battle scenes, unnecessary comic relief was added to break the tension that had never been developed.  What a waste that was, along the lines of The Fellowship of the Ring’s Hobbiton exposition.  Given that important scenes were deleted or materially compressed to make room for unnecessary claptrap, my last hope is for an extended Director’s Cut to restore the missing substance.

There are other differences in our perceptions of this movie, but I’ll spare you those.  Where I won’t spare you is your writing.  CNN may no longer employ copy editors, but did you never have an English teacher?  Overuse of adjectives and adverbs muddied your review.  If modifiers don’t alter the sense of what they support, in a meaningful or substantial way, eliminate them.  If your phrasing doesn’t sound right without them, replace the modified word with something stronger.  It’s better to read one strong word than two weak ones.

Here is an incomplete list of the idioms and redundancies you employed in this piece.  Quoting your review:


concluding episode, phenomenally successful, blockbuster filmmaking, grand spectacle, typically British, thoroughly exceeded, documentary record, great strength, vivid rendering, vast gallery, personal favorites, dutifully shepherded, striking composure, exactly right, eternal fight, raging conflagration, palpable sense, freely expressive, richly deserves


Mr. Charity, redundant adjectives weaken your work, as do uncolorful idioms.  Please look up the words “pleonasm” and “tautology”, and linger over William Strunk Jr.’s comments in The Elements of Style:

Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.