Harry Potter and Lolita: Rowling’s Rings and Vladimir Nabokov’s Story Mirrors (The Alchemy of Narrative Structure)

VVN1I promised in the postHarry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s Relationship with Vladimir Nabokovto discuss the structure of Lolita in relationship to Harry Potter’s story scaffolding. I deferred it from that first JKR/VVN post because it was already over-crowded with discussion of names, alchemy, politics, and, most important, parody. As I hope you’ll agree after reading this piece below, the ‘parallelism parallel’ between the two authors is significant, fascinating, and even a revelation of sorts of the alchemical aim of their artistry.

Rowling may have drawn her ring writing artistry from a variety of sources: her training in Classics, reading in Scripture, familiarity with Inkling literature, even a close study of Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne’s popular adventures. Today I will argue that, though these sources are possibilities, the most likely single source of Rowling’s structural wizardy is the work of Vladimir Nabokov.

Nabokov wrote eighteen novels. The only one Rowling has mentioned specifically in interviews is Lolita so today I will confine my discussion to Nabokov’s most famous work. This will involve, of course, discussion of what happens in that story, which is as close as I’m coming to a ‘spoiler alert’ for a book published sixty years ago and considered Western canon for half a century.

CirclesWe’ll test whether Nabokov was a ring writer in five steps derived from the qualities Mary Douglas tells us to look for in a ‘ring composition': first, the latch of beginning and end, second, a story-turn, third, parallels side to side, fourth, rings inside the rings and other self-referencing, and last, a comparison with Rowling’s story and series structures. That ‘last’ will include my conclusions about why Nabokov worked-in the mirroring he has into Lolita and if Rowling’s meaning is similarly buttressed by her own ring work.

The Latch: Lolita’s Prologue and Part 2, Chapter 36

A look at Lolita’s table of contents reveals that it is made up of a foreword written by psychologist John Ray, Jr., a Part 1 of thirty-three chapters, and a Part 2 of thirty-six chapters, both of which are first person narratives that were written by Humbert Humbert in fifty-six days while awaiting his trial for murder. There is no epilogue or afterword, if every edition published since the early sixties does include Nabokov’s short essay ‘On a Book Called Lolita’ after the novel’s close.

The first tell-tale sign of a traditionally crafted story is how well the beginning and end match up. Lolita’s foreword and chapter 36 have six points of correspondence that latch the story’s circle tightly together at the close. [Read more…]

MuggleNet Academia, 2011-2017: R. I. P

2113542To all our friends who have written to ask why the more than fifty MuggleNet Academia podcasts are no longer available at MuggleNet.com (so all the links on our posts are dead), the three answers to the questions you’ve asked are:

What Happened? Keith Hawk left his position at MuggleNet, and, as Keith owns the shows, having personally paid for their production and hosting through the years, he took the show with him at the divorce.

Where are the shows? The shows are posted here: http://mugglenetacademia.libsyn.com/

Are there any plans for future shows? No, this is the end of MuggleNet Academia. Keith cannot use the name and MuggleNet doesn’t want to continue this podcast in the current format. John is in contact with Keith about a future project (not podcasts) and with MuggleNet about a different program there.

Stay tuned!

Guest Post: Why Nabokov Would Have Liked Harry Potter (Michael Maar)

MaarIn yesterday’s post on the intertextual relationship of Vladimir Nabokov’s work and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, I all but said that no one has written on this subject. That is not the case. A Nabokov scholar of the first rank, Michael Maar, has written two books on the Hogwarts Saga, one of which is titled Why Nabokov Would Have Liked Harry Potter. Prof. Maar, in fact, offered the first course on Rowling’s work at a major university in 2002 when he was a visiting professor at Stanford.

WarumSo why have you never heard of this Potter Pundit and the Nabokov connection? Michael Maar has two books on Nabokov you can buy at Amazon, Speak, Nabokov and The Two Lolitas, but most of his work, to include his Potter scholarship, is only available auf  Deutsch.  I found an excerpt from Warum Nabokov Harry Potter Gemocht Hatte online, ran it through Google Translate, massaged it using German I discovered in the boxes put away in my mental basement thirty plus years ago from forgotten high school and college classes, and sent it to Maar for his review and permission to post here. He kindly agreed and only pointed out one of the gaffes I’d made.

For your reading pleasure, a flashback to 2003, the middle of the ‘Three Year Summer’ inter librum separating Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, for the thoughts of an expert on Vladimir Nabokov about J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  Enjoy!

Maar1Why Nabokov would have liked Harry Potter

Michael Maar, 2002, an article excerpted from Warum Nabokov Harry Potter Gemocht Hatte, chapter 4

Nabokov the great author was also a great reader and his judgments were harsh. The list of his victims includes legends: Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, TS Eliot, and Stendhal – all of them were regarded as third-rate writers by Vladimir Vladimirovich. He appreciated Franz Kafka, but this did not prevent the insect expert lepidopterist from explaining that the transformed beetle Gregor chose to transform into could easily have flown out of the window. Not to leave the room, one expects, but to flee from the critic in desperation. Many other authors would have considered self-defenestration, too, if Nabokov’s judgment on their efforts had come to their ears.  [Read more…]

Harry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s ‘Relationship’ with Vladimir Nabokov (Names, Politics, Alchemy, and Parody)

f38696614It’s been fifteen years since I started thinking seriously and speaking publicly about the literary merits of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I am still surprised at how much work there is to be done, how many mysteries and markers that have been neglected.

Take, as an obvious example, the matter of the author’s favorite books and writers. She says the three she enjoys reading most are Jane Austen, Colette, and Vladimir Nabokov. Go ahead and do a web search for ‘Rowling and Colette’ or ‘Rowling and Nabokov.’ You’ll find links to the various lists of Rowling’s ‘10 Most Loved Novels‘ and the like in which the same comments are re-rehearsed with different covers as click bait. But no discussion of Colette, Nabokov (or Roddy Doyle or Auberon Waugh, and, well, you get the idea) and their place in understanding what Rowling, the serious reader become writer, was after in the Hogwarts Saga.

BookshelfI wrote a book, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, on ‘the Great Books Inside the Adventures of the Boy Who Lived’ and it’s a grand tour of Western Canon through the lens of Rowling’s septology. It wasn’t, however, despite frequent quotations from The Presence to justify my choices of texts to discuss, J. K. Rowling’s Library, a book by Karin Westman, chair of the Kansas State English Department. Prof Westman announced the imminent publication of this guide at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, Florida, and her CV says it is “forthcoming, 2017″ today (the University of Mississippi Press, her publisher, alas, does not list it among their titles soon to be in print).

This is a shame, if understandable given Prof Westman’s responsibilities, because, judging from what she has shared through the years about Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield, and other Rowling favorites at conferences, no one is more qualified than she to write on this subject. While we wait for J. K. Rowling’s Library, though, let’s take a look at that “favorites” list again and see what we can figure out in anticipation of Prof Westman’s guidance.

Lolita 20The writer I’ve been reading, both his novels as well as books about his fascinating life, is Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and I have a small confession to make. The experience of reading his Pale Fire and Lolita, considered among the best if not just the best American novels of the 20th Century (Lolita even makes the #15 slot on this Greatest Books Ever list) has turned my thinking about Rowling as novelist on its head, maybe even inside-out. If nothing else, I have a new “hidden key” to share.

First, though, let’s establish the Rowling-Nabokov link through her comments about the Man from St. Petersburg and the clear correspondences and probable hat-tips to his best known works in Harry Potter. [Read more…]

Signum U. Symposium: Beasts and Rogue One

Last month, I was pleased to take part in a Signum U./Mythgard Institute-sponsored symposium to discuss the two hottest fantasy films of the holiday season, and their various and sundry implications: Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Also taking part were friends of this site Katherine Sas and Kelly Orazi (whom you’ll remember from their brilliant essays in Harry Potter For Nerds 2), Curtis Weyant (who is one of my own, personal go-to Star Wars nerds), Brenton Dickieson, Mythgard faculty member and author of the brilliant blog A Pilgrim in Narnia, and of course our moderator, Sørina Higgins. It proved a lively, lengthy and interesting discussion, especially after our host ended the “official” program, and the remaining panelists, having too much fun to hang up, chatted on unreservedly. Please enjoy, and feel free to add your own thoughts on these two films, and our nerdy discussion of same, in the comments.

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