Archives for December 2013

Mailbag: Questions from a Thesis Writer in Argentina

Though I spend most of my Harry Potter dedicated time here at HogwartsProfessor, the largest audience I speak to is the crowd of podCast listeners who tune in to MuggleNet Academia, the show on which I speak to a Potter Pundit and student guest about the artistry and meaning of Harry’s adventures. Produced by Keith Hawk for fandom’s favorite web site (and certainly one of the biggest), the new shows receive as many as 20,000 downloads and has been listened to in more than 100 countries.

I get mail, consequently, from serious readers around the world who have listened to those podCasts and then read one or more of my books. Sometimes they ask questions. Last week Keith forwarded this list of questions from a listener in Argentina who is writing a paper for a university course. Nothing new here, I’m afraid, but I post it as an example of my Walter Mitty existence as a Maven to Muggles. Please share your answers to the questions in the combox for our new friend in Argentina.

1. Do you believe in magic? Why / why not?

Magic as it appears in Harry Potter? No, I don’t believe in spell magic. I believe in the magic that is all the beauty, truth, and goodness that do not have rational, materialist explanations, which is wonder enough.

2. Do you think Harry Potter’s magical universe has been based on real facts about magic? If not, has it just been a figment of her imagination? [Read more…]

Guest Post: The Potter and the Pilgrim — Alchemical Parallelism in Geoffrey Chaucer and Joanne Rowling (Carol Eshleman)

Carol Eshleman sent me these notes before her paper on ‘Literary Alchemy in the Canterbury Tales‘ that I posted last week. This short essay, though it includes some of the same material, speaks to the Potter-Chaucer parallels more explicitly Enjoy!

The Potter and the Pilgrim: Alchemical Parallelism by Chaucer and Rowling

Since becoming a resident of the Potterverse and engrossing myself in John’s books on the series, I’ve become a ridiculous fan of literary alchemy. Therefore, when my Medieval Literature professor told us we could do our term paper on any aspect of Middle English writings, I immediately yelled, “Alchemy!” in a fashion that would’ve made either of my favorite Grangers proud. In an equally unsurprising manner, the research that I was doing on Chaucer seemed to resonate with my own thoughts on Harry Potter. When uncovering the alchemical parallels that are used in the Canterbury Tales, I discovered literary devices strikingly similar to the ones that Rowling uses in the Hogwarts Saga.

In analyzing Geoffrey Chaucer’s famous work, it is important to keep in mind that although the pilgrims are telling separate tales, these stories are not told in isolation. Chaucer’s characters tell stories that comment on, extend, and often mock other tales that have been told previously in the larger narrative. The Miller’s Tale is extremely funny to read on its own, but it becomes more meaningful when seen as a mockery of the Reeve and of the Knyght’s Tale. A lifetime could be spent deciphering parallels between the various tales. The complexity of this endeavor is heightened by the state of the work as a whole. Chaucer never finished writing the Canterbury Tales, and the tales that are completed exist in fragments containing only several stories apiece. Luckily, this can be used to our advantage. Tales within the same fragment tend to have the greatest amount of connections. [Read more…]

Alchemy, Ring Writing, Doppelgangers, and Arabian Nights: The Artistry and Meaning of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’

I’ve just finished a hurried reading of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: A Modern Prometheus, a book I haven’t read in too many years. In the hopes of encouraging others to pick it up again, I risk making observations about its structures and predominant symbolism which the two centuries of critical literature almost certainly have raised and, as likely as not, dismissed for valid reasons. I’m certain that serious readers of popular fiction will recognize several of the ideas below as the heart of Harry Potter, Hunger Games, and Divergent (not to mention Twilight!). I ask your forgiveness in advance for whatever degree I have seen or ‘found’ only what I wanted to find, even allowing that perhaps having eyes to see such things is the only means of perceiving them.

[Read more…]

Shared Text: The Ohio State Marching Band Plays Quidditch

For the whole show, go here. The Snitch Catching begins at 4:20. Read about it here. Love it!

Diane Rehm Show (NPR): Discussion of JKR’s Casual Vacancy

Diane Rehm features a book each month on her popular NPR talk-radio program called ‘Reader’s Review.’ This month the novel selected was Joanne Rowling’s Casual Vacancy. You can listen to the discussion which aired Wednesday here.

The producer and I spoke  for the better part of an hour about the symbolism, structure, implicit parallels, and postmodern meaning beyond the surface narrative and obvious political messaging. That conversation was all about the discussions found here, Hogwarts Professor Casual Vacancy Thread Round-Up, a link she put on the NPR Diane Rehm page for that show.

I finally listened to it myself last week and confess to scratching my head. Outside of one bizarro caller who wanted to talk about Ms. Rowling’s “metaphysics,” and whom was immediately given a brief, polite answer in dismissal, the show didn’t talk about the depth, the structure, the allegory, not to mention the alchemy and its like. Nada. The expert guests, all literary sophisticates with guild certification, agreed even when they disagreed on surface points they liked and disliked — and that was all the conversation dwelt on, in the end — that the book was only one more reading experience among many.

When the British maven felt obliged to express her disgust with Congress’ decision not to extend unemployment benefits, seemingly as a throw away comment but really entirely in keeping with the quality of her critique of Rowling’s work, I almost tuned out. Why continue listening to these evaluations of the work in question that could only see the surface and moral/political ‘realism’ of a story that is almost fairy tale like in its allegorical qualities?

I hope you will give the show a listen if you have any free time between Western Christmas and the Gregorian calendar New Year. Is this the usual level of conversation about popular literature? Or did Diane Rehm just have a bad day or poor panel? [Read more…]