Archives for January 2014

Mailbag: On Harry Potter as a Tool for Evangelical Witness

Dear Mr. Granger,

I heard you speak at Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute back in September 2008; I’m sorry it took me so long to write as you requested. I read How Harry Cast his Spell twice and the Harry Potter series once in the meantime. Having heard your lecture on “The Eyes of Harry Potter” and read the book, book 7 made much more sense to me. Thank you for putting in the work to help us understand the story better.

I like what you say in the introduction about how the books are not meant to be used merely as Christian propaganda. As people who dwell in a universe that God made beautiful, we don’t have to force everything to be utilitarian, because beauty itself is good for our souls. I have one question: Would it be a misuse of the text to discuss its Christian content with the purpose of evangelizing?

You said that the reason the evil characters of Harry Potter can use invocational magic is basically that all of us can choose to serve Satan with our talents. But if this power is harmony with God’s good Word, I don’t understand how it can be twisted to evil. The only way I can harmonize it is that magic is seen within the story as merely a technology, not a subcreative act.

In regards to the body-mind-spirit trinity of Ron, Hermione, and Harry, are there any times when Harry is wrong and one or both of them should legitimately take precedence?

Your arguments on Harry as both Christ symbol and Christian Everyman are cogent and convincing. They helped me define what I felt about the books.

Thank you again for your book. I plan to review it many more times and to make use of the themes you helped me discover in my own writing.


(Name withheld) [Read more…]

‘Erased by Time and Blockbusters: Ron Weasley’

Emily Asher-Perrin writes in her ‘Erased by Time and Blockbusters: The Cautionary Tale of Ron Weasley‘ that the Harry Potter films have turned fandom against Harry’s best mate — and this in direct correspondence and causal line with the films departing from, distorting, and dreadfully inverting the role Ron plays in the books. She makes a more than cogent case.

I’ll make three observations along with this note to urge you to read the whole piece.

(1) Movie making from a story that was originally a short novel or screen play is necessarily a destructive act. Creative, too, after a fashion, but only in so much as blowing up a house and then re-building it with occasional reference to photographs or blueprints of the original is also ‘creative.’

(2) Serious Readers who have seen the films more than once, as a rule to which there are very few exceptions, have had their experience of the stories altered. Much in the sense that the emasculation or neutering of a dog is called ‘being altered.’

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Jack the Giant Slayer: Someone’s Been Reading My Spenser!

We love fairy tales around here, as I suppose everyone knows. I have an author friend who evaluates people’s personalities based on their favorite fairy tales (hers is Andersen’s “The Snow Queen”; mine is “Cherry the Frog Bride,” in case you are wondering). I have to confess, “Jack and the Beanstalk” has never really been one of my favorites, even in its Appalachian incarnations of “Jack and the Bean Tree” or “Jack and the Giants”; perhaps goofy Jack just always seemed like too much a klutz for my taste. Maybe I just never approved of his kleptomania. But I’ve gained a different perspective, after finally seeing Jack the Giant Slayer (2013). Join me after the jump for more on how Hollywood got some things really right with this one, and how someone did some good reading, particularly from the works of some of my favorite tellers of tales: the immortal Edmund Spenser and his protégé, C.S. Lewis.
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Re-Packaging Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games Book Sets: For Readers, for Collectors, or for Christmas Gift Givers?

Serious Readers are dedicated re-readers by definition. Their favorite books and series collections have a much-loved, well-worn feel and appearance.

Serious Publishers, facing bottom line demands, are by definition shameless re-treaders. It’s nothing new, Dickens’ work appeared in three chapter pamphlets, then books, then library and collector’s editions. It’s a painless way of making a valuable commodity pay again and again into one’s account.

Witness these several new variations and versions of Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games:

  • Special Edition Harry Potter Box Set. All seven books in paperback — “The box itself is beautifully designed with new artwork by Kazu Kibuishi, and the books create a gorgeous, magical vista when the spines are lined up together.” $57.27
  • The Twilight Saga White Collection. “This gorgeous gift set–available for a limited time only–includes paperback editions of Twilight, New Moon, Eclipse, Breaking Dawn, and The Short Second Life of Bree Tanner with exclusive white covers, making it the perfect gift for fans of the bestselling series.” $48.93
  • The Hunger Games Trilogy Box Set — Paperbacks. “All three books in the Hunger Games trilogy are now available for the first time in a paperback box set! This special edition showcases the iconic logos in a striking new design.” $26.48

I would bet good money (chocolate doubloons!) — if there were any way of verifying the data that would have to be gathered — that almost all of these sets are bought by or bought for readers who already have all the books in question. Scroll down the Amazon pages linked above and you’ll note that the most popular reviews are written by Twi-hards and their equivalent in Harry Potter and Hunger Games fandoms, fans who rate these sets on the desirability-for-obsessed-fan scale.

Curiously, though, if you scroll farther down, you’ll find reviews from readers who think these are new books about which they want to give a thumbs up or down with respect to their content for potential buyers. See especially the new hardcover School Books set. No joke.

Which makes me wonder. I’d say these re-treaded re-packaging bundles are sold largely at Christmas gift time to aunts and brothers not knowing what to get niece, nephew, sister or little brother — but because each knows the other will love anything to do with their favorite series of books, this is a no-fail present. Sure beats a movie-stills calendar or Snape action figure, right?

But maybe there’s more to it. Maybe the super editions actually draw in new readers? Let me know what you think — and please share your gift stories if you have given or received any of these sets.

Trivia time: What were the best selling Dickens novels of his lifetime? A HogPron No Prize to anyone that guesses two out of three before checking this literary historian’s best estimates. Maybe someday Ms Rowling’s Cormoran Strike mysteries will be better remembered than her Harry Potter novels?

Cuckoos’s Calling: Success Not from Quality but JKR Fame?

Joanne Rowling published Cuckoo’s Calling under a pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, and also beneath a contrived identity; Galbraith was supposedly a veteran now working in security services. The book was turned down by more than one publisher but was picked up eventually by the same house, different imprint, that published Casual Vacancy. Did they know that Galbraith was Rowling? They deny it.

Ms. Rowling is open about her decption and what motivated her; she wanted to write, be published, and be accepted or rejected outside the Harry Potter critical bubble. I can imagine, if I doubt anyone can really appreciate (as no one living has gone through the crucible of Potter Mania as the author), how liberating and exciting this kind of gamesmanship must have been for her.

There are two or three questions about this approach that are worth exploring, most obviously the ethics of posing as a combat veteran. Today I want to discuss briefly — in hopes of opening the question and hearing what you think — the idea that Cuckoo’s Calling was published under a pseudonym because the author wondered if she would ever really know whether her new books were good or if publishers fell all over themselves to publish her because her fiction has a guaranteed global audience in the millions. Calling, if the Little, Brown imprint did not know Galbraith was Rowling under wraps, seems to have satisfied the first part of that question and the largely favorable reviews the second.

Or does it? Rochelle Deans sent me an article by Duncan J. Watts, J. K. Rowling and the Chamber of Literary Fame, that argues, no, the fact that Rowling’s effort at disguise was published and received kind notices proves nothing. What matters is that the book sold less than 500 copies to actual readers before her cover was blown. Their argument is based on the tests they have put to the theory they call the ‘Cumulative Advantage Hypothesis.’ The experiment went like this:

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