Archives for November 2012

The Break Down on Breaking Dawn Part 2: Best of Series

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say up front that this is not a movie review. I am not a film critic (a fact that I am sure is patently obvious to my friends who are film critics and scoff at my preference for Indiana Jones over Citizen Kane and The Princess Pride over Pulp Fiction). I am a literary critic, so what follows is actually a literary critic’s reaction to a film based on a book. In fact, before the film started, a well-meaning former student sitting in front of me asked me the trite “team affiliation ” question, to which I responded stiffly, ” I am Team Literary Unity,” prompting some head scratching from many of the people sitting around me.

In any case, this analysis breaks a number of rules one might see in a film review. Primarily, I will make no attempt whatsoever to keep secrets, so this is a post best suited for the readers who have no intention of seeing the film or for those who have also seen it and would like to join our thoughtful conversation about what works, what doesn’t, and why, on nearly every level, this is the best film of the five, despite some very troubling elements. So drag that rock over here, Emmett, because I am rolling up my sleeve and getting ready to rumble. [Read more…]

MuggleNet Academia 13: Political Science & the Hogwarts Saga!

Georgetown University Professor Daniel Nexon joined the MuggleNet Academia crew last week to talk about reading Harry Potter’s adventures through the lenses of a political scientist. Here’s a synopsis of the program:

‘Political Science in the Harry Potter Series’

Daniel Nexon, Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University and co-editor of Harry Potter and International Relations, believes that ideas are a driving force in political science and specifically in global relationships between nations. This ‘Constructivist’ position invites a discussion of the political ideas implicit and explicit to Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter books and how they simultaneously reflect our political thinking and shape and inform our changing ideas. In MuggleNet Academia episode 13, Keith and John ask Prof Nexon about the Nazi allegory of the books, the take-away message about the War on Terrorism, even about the important differences between the idea of ‘liberal’ in the US and UK and how mistaking the one for the other affects our thinking about Harry and Ms. Rowling. Tune in your Wizard Wireless for a fascinating conversation about ‘Harry Potter and Political Science.’

Check it out by clicking here and listening in! Many thanks to Prof Nexon for the lively and challenging conversation.

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The Hunger Games–Some Folks still just don’t get it

I generally don’t expect too much of the fashion industry. After all, these are the jackals who parade underfed, oddly made-up creatures wearing impractical, ridiculously expensive garments, while trying to convince the rest of us to buy this nonsense. While I sometimes enjoy the theatricality of fashion shows, I always hear in my ear the incomparable superhero costumer “E” from The Incredibles. “Bah! Supermodels! Nothing super about them! Whiny, selfish stick people with poofy lips! I used to design for gods!” So when I saw this monstrosity from the recent Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, I was struck not only by the idiotic design, but also by what it says about the complete lack of comprehension of what the story of The Hunger Games is really all about. Follow me after the jump for more. [Read more…]

Casual Vacancy 15: A Telling Re-Take on ‘The Good Samaritan’

In response to HogwartsProfessor Casual Vacancy post 4 on Literary Narcissism, Kelly first raised the possibility that Ms. Rowling’s  post Hogwarts Saga debut was a postmodern re-telling of the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Lavonne Neff at Christianity Today spoke to this possibility as well, while denying a Christian allegory. I urged a reader who wrote me with thoughts along the Good Samaritan lines to write them up as a Guest Post for your consideration.

The Casual Vacancy and the Good Samaritan by B. Waisanen

There are some obvious parallels between Casual Vacancy and the parable of the Good Samaritan.

As you well know, a lawyer asks Jesus, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus prompts the lawyer, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answers with a quote, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself,” and Jesus says, “You have answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.” But the lawyer, “….willing to justify himself,” asks, “…And who is my neighbor?”

This seems to be a fundamental question of The Casual Vacancy, and it comes with a rather obvious answer. However, is Rowling really that obvious? Something has to be going on under the surface. Connecting the dots between the central parable and the book’s title provides a key to the deeper meaning of the book; that the casual vacancy,  of England’s Christian heritage leads to the inevitable tragedy of the ending.

While I’m sure Good Samaritans abound in the book, Barry Fairbrother is the obvious first choice candidate, dealing out help and healing all round. Not only is he the main tether keeping Krystal on track, Barry supports Gavin, Cubby, Parminder, and the Fields in general.

Later on, as Miles and Samantha arrive for dinner, Rowling slides in another reference, “Here they are, the good Samaritans,” boomed Howard.” Unfortunately, he seems to be making an over the top double entendre towards Samantha.

The real acting out of the parable happens at the end of the story.

A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho….

The journey took Krystal back to her childhood. She had made this trip daily to St. Thomas’s all on her own, on the bus.

It is not a man, but a girl and her brother. I think it is not accidental, that Krystal and Robbie journey up from the Fields to Pagford. She makes a journey, but it is in reverse direction.  The man in the parable journeys from Jerusalem, the city of God, to Jericho. If it Rowling meant this to be a direct parallel, she would have had the journey reversed, from Pagford down to the Fields. [Read more…]

Casual Vacancy 14: Notable Reviews, High and Low

It’s been more than a month since our first look at Casual Vacancy and we’re overdue for a second reading and discussion. Let’s begin with two reviews of the book, one enthusiastic and the other appalled, and an invitation for you to share links to your favorite, challenging, or most despised thoughts on Ms. Rowling’s latest.

First, the enthusiast — public atheist and Rowling fellow author and magical world cum literary novelist Lev Grossman, TIME magazine: “I’m a believer”

It’s rare to see a writer whom you think you know well unfold a new dimension like this, a dimension you didn’t even suspect existed. The Casual Vacancy is, in a funny way, not so much an extension of the Harry Potter books as their negative image: it’s a painfully arbitrary and fallen world, a world that, bereft as it is of the magic that animates and ennobles Hogwarts, sags and cracks under its own weight. After his furtive coupling with Krystal, a melancholy, postcoital Fats “wished he could simply be transported, this instant, to his attic bedroom.” Harry would have apparated there. But Fats, like the rest of us, must take the long way home.

Next, the Tory convert to Catholicism and champion of British culture, Charles Moore, Telegraph (UK): JK Rowling rejects the culture that made her great — “The Harry Potter author made a fortune from the provincial life that she now so clearly despises”:

I dwell on these points because, taken together, they show that JK Rowling, though very po-faced, is not artistically serious. Her plot is not well-grounded. Her morality tale has all the improbability of magic, but none of its allure.

This is sad, because it is in our provincial life that our great culture has flourished. And it is partly because of the decline of our provincial life that it has degenerated. The huge preponderance of London in the 21st century has certainly made our capital city one of the liveliest places in the world, but it has also drained the life and variety out of the rest of the country. In literature, as in politics, London runs everything, and doesn’t care much about anywhere else.

JK Rowling’s success in the Harry Potter stories was, in fact, the product of a provincial life. Her magical imagination grew strong in the confined spaces of her background. She made a huge fortune. It is an unattractive feature of our celebrity culture that she now despises all those people – virtually the entire human race – who are less of a global phenomenon than herself. Left-wing she may be, but what JK Rowling is really saying to the poor old provincial England that made her is, like Harry Enfield’s famous creation, “I am considerably richer than yow!

More links to reviews after the jump. Please share your favorites and finds in the comment boxes below! [Read more…]