Of Harry Potter and Horses

When I was a freshman in college, I went to Canada for the first (and only) time to see a performance of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus. I remember little about this, except the performance was well-staged, all of my friends wanted to give the actress in the nude scene a cheeseburger, and it was kind of annoying the way Brian Bedford kept waving cigarettes around, but never even pretended to smoke them. Be that as it may, Equus is a fascinating play, first staged in 1973 in London, that centers around Alan Strang, an adolescent boy, who, in an act of seemingly senseless violence, uses a metal spike to blind six horses in the stable where he works as a groom. Springing outward from this central act, the play deftly deals with issues ranging from the morality of psychiatry to sexuality to worship. Wrestling with these issues is middle-aged psychiatrist Martin Dysart (played by Richard Burton in the 1977 film version) who agrees to treat Alan and acts somewhat like a detective, striving to find a reason why someone would commit the act that Alan committed. As he struggles, he wonders to what extent he, in the psychiatric profession, is helping or harming his patients. In the quest to make someone “normal” is he responsible for making them lose what makes them them? The play doesn’t answer this question (nor does it answer any of the others it raises), which probably goes a long way toward explaining its enduring effectiveness and popularity.

And what does all of this have to do with Harry Potter? Well, Daniel Radcliffe, the young actor who has played Lord Voldemort’s nemesis in the film versions of the books, will be playing the role of Alan Strang in a London theater production of Equus next year. Playing the mentally-troubled youth will be quite a departure from the G-rated world of Hogwarts that has brought him fame, especially since he’ll have to appear nude in one scene. (Insert requisite joke about magic wand here.)

In at least marginally-related news, Stephen King and John Irving are apparently big Harry Potter fans, urging author J.K. Rowling (who is at work on the seventh book in the series) not to kill off the eponymous wizard in the series finale. Apparently, this is a very important issue. No, really. Rowling has said that she understands why authors kill characters, since this can stop other writers from churning out sequels after the original author has died, and this statement has caused all sorts of freakout among Potter fans. I’m not one, so I don’t care one way or another, but I think it’s gotta be hard to say goodbye to your gravy train. Because mmmmm, gravy.

And now I think I’m Pottered out. Ba-dum-cha!

6 Responses

  1. head dickeringI always
    head dickering

    I always wondered what Equus was about. The concept reminds me a little of the Anthony Burgess novel A Clockwork Orange, published in 1962, made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick in 1971. Well, it’s not exactly the same, but sort of. Wikipdeia, the lazy poster’s friend, says,

    “Burgess wrote that the title was a reference to an alleged old Cockney expression ‘as queer as a clockwork orange’. Due to his time serving in the British Colonial Office in Malaya, Burgess thought that the phrase could be used punningly to refer to a mechanically responsive (clockwork) human (orang, Malay for ‘person’). . . In his essay Clockwork Oranges, Burgess asserts that ‘This title alludes to the protagonist’s negatively conditioned responses to feelings of evil which prevent the exercise of his free will.”

  2. EquusEquus was maybe the

    Equus was maybe the first great play I saw (New York ’77 – Thomas Hulce and Anthony Perkins). I liken the symbolism of the boy’s violent act to killing God to become more fully human. That’s extrapolation – the horses aren’t killed, but consider the functionality of a blind horse (or a blind God).

    As blooming little Catholic girls and boys are taught that sex is the greatest of sins (akin to eating the forbidden fruit) imagine how disgusting it seems when long before we start plucking apples, we come to realize that Mommy and Daddy have done that.

    It throws our whole value system into tumult. Not only to question everything we’ve been taught by nuns and priests (or not taught) but to think that old wise rule-makers like our parents, could fall prey to the throes of passion; and that God was watching them do it, and going to be watching us too. (He’s always watching – and that’s kind of a pervie thing to do.)

    Equus is a powerful play, and I’m glad to see its rebirth. As for Harry Potter, I doubt that he would stay dead – Dracula and Jason Vorhees never do. But how interesting to see what effect his death might have on millions of young fans – to lose their hero, and thus have no one to fill that role, no one to believe in.

  3. We all know about how Doyle
    We all know about how Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes, only to bring him back when his readers had a collective cow.

    DC comics Superman had The Death of Superman, but didn’t more Supermen rise out of it, somehow? I didn’t really keep up with that one.

    Harry Potter? He won’t make it! He stinks of death!

    I didn’t really mean that – I was just quoting some William S. Burroughs.

  4. EquusIt happens I saw “Equus”

    It happens I saw “Equus” too, at my college (Albany State) where it was, needless to say, the hottest ticket on campus due to the much-whispered about male-female nude scenes. The actors looked nervous the whole time, and I didn’t think the script was that great after all. It was sort of heavy-handed Freudianism … the only two things I liked were the title (it just sounds intriguing) and the set/graphic design with those weird square wood horse-masks.

    There is another better (but lesser-known) Peter Shaffer play called “Black Comedy” which I saw as a kid and enjoyed more than “Equus”. That’s not to say the Harry Potter kid shouldn’t have a great time with the role.

  5. MaybeAlan’s pay was not too

    Alan’s pay was not too good!

    I saw the film on tv long time ago and I vaguely remember that I liked it. And I saw the first Harry Potter film but I didn’t remember well the boy you’re talking about.

  6. Don’t Kill PotterI am a HP
    Don’t Kill Potter

    I am a HP fan. I don’t want Rowling to kill Harry Potter, though I understand why she would. The reason I don’t want her to do so is because I like to think of further sequels; she may want to give up now but later on, when she’s older, she might want to regurgitate him and I’d hate to see her have to resurrect him from death like Spock. That kind of thing sucks.

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