MuggleNet Academia: Cormoran Strike and the Invisibility Cloak – Happy Birthday, Harry Potter and Jo Rowling!

Cuckoo 1JKR hits the big Five-Oh today, Harry turns 35, and MuggleNet Academia rolls out its first show devoted to the elephant in the common room, Cormoran Strike, the Doom Bar Detective. What do these mysteries tell us about Harry Potter? About Jo Rowling as a writer? Are they a key, as the books suggest, to what the author thinks her previous books meant? Who are the bad guys of these books — and are they bad enough that Rowling chose to write under another name to avoid their wrath?

CareerOfEvil-UK-US-800x611Dolores Gordon-Smith, accomplished mystery maven and author of the Jack Haldean ‘Golden Age’ detective thrillers, and Karen Kebarle, English professor at Algonquin College and Potter Pundit, join Keith Hawk and me in a discussion of my paper ‘Five Reasons Jon Rowling Didn’t Want You to Know She Writes the Cormoran Strike Mysteries’ (you can download that provocative essay here).

It’s a rollicking, free-wheeling back and forth between serious readers about the new books by the best selling author of our times, of all time. Give it a listen, read the free pdf, and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!

The Five Reasons Jo Rowling Didn’t Want You to Know She Writes the Cormoran Strike Mysteries

2013Happy Birthday, Jo and Harry!

To celebrate JKR’s 50th and Harry’s 35th, Keith Hawk and I invited Karen Kebarle of Algonquin College in Ottawa and Dolores Gordon-Smith, author of the Jack Haldean mysteries, to do something different on MuggleNet Academia, namely, discuss the Cormoran Strike detective novels. At last — and at length and in depth!

GalbraithTo focus our discussion I wrote up a 17 page argument detailing the five reasons why our birthday girl decided to write her mysteries under a pseudonym. You can download that paper here. I’ll post a link to MuggleNet Academia for our animated back-and-forth about where I’m right (and where our guests think I’m off the road and in the ditch upside-down!) as soon as Keith has finished his edits and added the theme songs.

Again, Happy Birthday, Jo, Harry, and fandom!

MuggleNet Academia: Medieval Motifs

Lakehead University Professor Rhonda Dubec joins, Keith Hawk, myself and two MuggleNet staffers to discuss the Medieval Motifs in Harry Potter, a class that she teaches live in Thunder Bay, Ontario, and online via her university’s distance education program. We all agreed during this animated conversation that we wish very much that the course were available to those South of the Border — as I think you will, too! Tune in and let me know what you think.

Christian Today: End of Potter Panic?

Simonepetra AthosMartin Saunders, a Contributing Editor at Christian Today, a popular blog originating in the UK, has written a piece titled, ‘Harry Potter and the Christian concern: seven things we no longer seem worried about.’ Two friends have sent me the link with notes celebrating it as good news; they read it as Saunders’ implicit acknowledgment that the Potter Panic was a waste of time and effort on the part of those Christians who used the Hogwarts Saga as a litmus strip for orthodox faith over the better part of a decade.

Please read it. If you’re like me, you’ll come away with the thought that it really isn’t about Harry Potter. It seems instead to be a carefully framed warning to Christians around the world about how best to respond to a recent Supreme Court decision in the United States.

Here are my three thoughts:

(1) Christian Today, as noted, is not Christianity Today a magazine founded by Billy Graham. If you, like me, confused the two, you were likely shaking your head about Saunders’ editorial observations. Christianity Today is not the journal that has reason to be apologizing for fanning the flames of Harry Hatred in the pews. If anything, Christianity Today was the lone sober voice among widely read Christian periodicals — and CT has the largest circulation and most important reach in that market — and suffered significant back-lash because of their refusing to take a harsh and strict anti-Potter line. They published an excerpt from an early edition of How Harry Cast His Spell, for goodness sake.

But Christian Today? Like their assonant fellow Christian publication, it seems, as Graham said about CT at its founding during the segregation controversies of the 1950’s, “theologically conservative and liberal on social issues.” I appreciate Martin Saunders’ noting that he was in error years ago Christian Today but wonder at his timing.

So what is this published reflection about? Why now with this apology?

(2) Harry Potter is the lede item in Saunders’ list of seven things that “conservative” Christians seem to have come to accept because of the weight of popular culture’s embracing them (and Christendom’s not wanting to be left out or seem a “peculiar people,” as St Peter says we must be). As Saunders says, Harry Potter is just “the clearest” of many “bogeymen” that turned out to be things we could live with. All of these items, I think, are pointers to Saunders’ concluding paragraph, which is hard to read except in the context of the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling in ‘Obergefell v. Hodges.’

So what does all this mean? Are we becoming more moderate because that’s what it means to be ‘wise as serpents, innocent as doves’ (Matthew 10:16), or are we just slowly compromising ourselves into a state of total lukewarmness? (If so, worry about Revelation 3:16.) Perhaps it’s a mix of both, and if so, the best approach might be two-edged. On the one hand, we should probably be a little less eager to decry or campaign against those elements of our culture which seem to conflict with our faith before we’ve properly understood them. On the other, it’s a good idea to continually assess whether we’re really living lives that honour God and reflect his holiness, or turning the radical Christian faith into living what Katie Dowds calls “the PG version of what the world is living.”

“Don’t cry wolf on silly subjects like modest dress and D&D lest you have lost your authority on important matters like the meaning of marriage,” or even “Y’know, in a few years we may have embraced the unthinkable the way we have on these seven subjects.” Saunders is playing with Evangelical explosives on both counts here, he knows it, and is writing obliquely for ‘those with ears to hear’ lest he start a fire storm. But his message is certainly “we should probably be a little less eager to decry or campaign against those elements of our culture which seem to conflict with our faith.”

It’s no accident that Martin Saunders has also recently written at Christian Today that it’s time for Christians “to lose the fish car sticker” because:

We’re already seen as something of a cultural irrelevance, and putting odd-shaped stickers on our cars does little to help. Instead of appearing like the sort of people you could be friends with and welcomed among, the trappings of a sub-culture make us seem separate and strange.

Get it? He repents in humility from his Harry Hating of yore to show an example of how Christians should and should not be responding to the current events of the last month. Lest Christians become even more “culturally irrelevant.” Ouch.

(3) Saunders apologizes flat out for suggesting years ago that “Harry Potter is a large doorway to the occult, and if we lead children to it, there is a possibility that they may nudge it open.” He goes so far in his repentance as to say, “I can only apologise, but the shame will never fully leave me.” He acknowledges that “with it’s redemptive and ultimately Christ-imitating finale now revealed, many Christian parents are happy for their children to read all seven of JK Rowling’s world-conquering novels” and that he was wrong as “an earnest young journalist” to have been among the “chief scaremongers.”

Again, let’s be clear. Saunders was never a Richard Abanes or Michael O’Brien so this apology may be a little over-wrought (not to mention more than a day late), but he is good to share his acquired sobriety on the subject, even if it’s only as cover to deliver a message on another topic.

And then he slips and falls with “fifteen years on from the first book’s release, I’m still yet to hear the story of an actual witch or wizard who took their first steps into magic through Harry Potter’s ‘occult doorway’.”

Wow. He needs to get out more or just do an internet search. Berit Kjos, for one, is out there to let him know, forever and ever, amen, how wrong he is on this count (if anything she says is suspect, sadly). Because the recruiters for occult groups are supposed to have used the Hogwarts Saga aggressively as a recruiting tool, trolling online chatrooms for possible converts, I think it safe to say that it is probable that Harry’s adventures, inadvertently and contrary to their spirit, served as a gateway for some to occult beliefs. It is possible to use any text, to include the Bible of course, for perverse ends but suggesting it doesn’t happen instead of simply noting that it didn’t happen in the tsunami culture-changing fashion predicted is to invite the few cases of misuse and abuse to be offered once again as evidence of Harry’s evil.

Someday I should publish the many notes I have received through the years from readers of my books who have written that reading Harry Potter and my explanations fostered their faith or founded their conversion.

Thank you to the friends who sent me links to this article. It’s almost certainly only about Harry Potter because the writer wanted the most ‘hits’ from the article title, but it is a pointer to how much things have changed.

Thanks, too, to Luke for pointing out a gaffe that required my pulling this post’s first draft.

Your comments and correction are coveted as always.

Guest Post: City of Dreaming Books

City of Dreaming Books“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dinosaur”: Writing and Imagination in Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books

By ChrisC

Metafiction is hard to do. It’s also something that most readers aren’t familiar with. Metafiction is a sub-genre of literature that is perhaps best defined as “Fiction that is about the nature, art and craft of fiction, and its various elements (i.e. style, characterization etc.)”. Because of this, metafiction is actually more of a subject that can be fitted into the plot of any genre, whether it be fantastic or realistic.

Because metafiction is concerned with “the writing of fiction”, one of it’s greatest risks is that it can bore the audience. The simple fact is that while it’s possible to tell a story about the art of writing, very few seem able to pull it off in an effective way. That and the truth about creative writing is that for most authors, it consists of just sitting in front of a computer screen all day while either waiting or trying to have a good idea. That’s about it (almost) as far as the scribbling side of things goes (and it gets even worse if your story requires a bit of research, as most of them often do; lame perhaps, but true).

[Read more…]