Archives for March 2015

Insurgent Movie Strays from Book, but Strangely Satisfies.

Insurgent posterI went into the Insurgent film without a lot of high hopes.  I came out quite surprised at how much I liked it, and even more surprised by the reason.  Because it was the same reason that usually has me hating movie adaptations of favorite books.  Because the filmmakers deviated so much from the source material.  At the end of the day, this was an action movie loosely based on Roth’s Insurgent, not Insurgent:the Movie.  If you are expecting as faithful a book adaptation as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games franchises, or even the first Divergent movie, you will be disappointed.  The percentage of book-congruent material is closer to that of the Little House TV series. But remarkably, the film mostly worked for me.

To be fair up front, every worry I expressed in my comments on the trailers came true.  Except the one about the train.  Turns out Four did have a good reason for leaping in front of the train. But I digress.  Spoilers ahead, after the jump.


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Mail Bag: Questions from an A-Levels Student in the UK

Stone aI had the following exchange with a student in the UK about ‘Christian Religion in Harry Potter.’ I have the student’s permission to re-print it here but s/he prefers to remain anonymous.

Dear Sir,

I am a student studying in England and am currently taking my A-levels. As part of this corse I am taking an Extended Project, which is worth half an A-level, and have decided to base it on Christian Religion in Harry Potter.

During my research for my project I have come across your name many times and, consequently, have bought and am reading your book ‘Looking for God in Harry Potter.’ It is an incredible piece of work and I am particularly interested in how you argue for Harry Potter as a good representation of Christianity.

f38696422I was wondering if you would be able to answer or give your opinion on a few questions of mine and whether you would know of anyone else who could also give their view? I am partially interested in the film series as I want to investigate the effect of people watching the film series without realising that they are subconsciously being exposed to Christian views.

I understand that you are very busy and even if you decline to answer my questions I would like to thank you for your consideration and your books!

[Name Withheld]

1. It is undeniable that throughout the Harry Potter films Christian religion is a major theme which the viewers are being exposed to unknowingly. What is your view on this? Is it justifiable for someone who is opposed to Christian religion to be subconsciously exposed to it?

f39174246What a hoot! Is it justifiable that non-believers tell their stories with their godless and materialist beliefs that someone with traditional views may be subconsciously exposed to?


Really, the question betrays overt hostility to Christians, the thought that they live to take over people’s lives and minds surreptitiously. Please note that the English literary tradition until the end of the Great War was exclusively books by Christians for Christians for their greater life in Christ. Are we to understand that writers now are obliged to forsake the great riches of those poems, plays, and novels and all the depths of redemption, resurrection, and revelry because a few atheists don’t want to be exposed to this pathogenic, religious virus?


Too funny.


2. What is your opinion on the view that Dumbledore, Harry and Fawkes the Phoenix represent the Holy Trinity?

f38696358In the climax “miles beneath Hogwarts” in Chamber of Secrets, that certainly seems credible. But that chapter is a specific Morality Tale or Everyman Drama in which these characters are those allegorical types. I wouldn’t extrapolate from that one scene to say the correspondents work across the whole series.


3. Would you consider Voldemort to be a representation of Lucifer considering part of his soul is in the serpent Nagini and the imagery the film produces of him seems to enhance his snake-like qualitys?

I suppose. But the Dark Lord is not an allegorical stick-man. He and Harry are anti-podes about what human beings can become based on the quality of their choices. Harry pursues an immortality based on sacrificial love, Voldemort on ego and self-importance. The tit for tat Lucifer correspondence doesn’t bring that out very well.


f369124864. Do you think Harry represents the fall of humanity, as depicted in St Augustines theodicy, by containing a part of Voldamort’s soul, which is then destroyed and Harrys soul is returned to perfection and any corruption or evil temptation is removed?

The idea works, I suppose, but I struggle to think of the Hogwarts Saga as an Augustinian text. Have you read the Rev Dr Danielle Tumminio’s book, God and Harry at Yale? It discusses just this subject at some length.


5. Would you consider Harry to be an unattainably and unrealistically perfect character as he never gives in to temptation or seems to stray from the path of good?

BookshelfHuh? I’m asked regularly by Harry Haters how I can in good conscience recommend Harry’s adventures to young people because of his proclivity for breaking rules, telling lies, and being disrespectful to his teachers (and any other adult he does not like). He’s a “perfect character” only in the sense that he conforms to all the rules of both the Schoolboy Novel genre and, oddly enough, of Gothic heroines. See Harry Potter’s Bookshelf for all that.

S/he sent me a wonderfully kind thank you note for these responses (and the five Potter Pundits I urged her to contact for a more thoughtful set of answers), which were, to my surprise, what s/he wanted:

Thank you very much for your answer to my questions, they were very helpful and perfect for my project. Once again thank you so much for your time and thank you for you brilliant lectures and books that have helped me immensely.

What answers do you have to these questions? Fire away!

Call For Proposals– Critical Insights: The Hunger Games

f39063270Listen up, Serious Readers of The Hunger Games! Lana Whited, editor of two of the most important collections of critical work on the Hogwarts Saga is now soliciting contributions to a work about Katniss Everdeen’s dystopian adventures. You want to send her a proposal — and you only have until 15 March to get it done. Don’t delay! This is an excellent opportunity to work with a first class editor, be published in what promises to be a scholastic standard for some time, and you get paid for your contribution. 

Critical Insights: The Hunger Games
Edited by Lana A. Whited
Grey House/Salem Press, 2016


Critical Insights: The Hunger Games is a volume in a Grey House literature reference series.  The target audience is undergraduate and advanced high school students seeking deeper insight into the primary work(s) and literary study in general.  The essays will be divided into two sections:  Critical Contexts, consisting of essays relevant to the cultural and historical context of the primary work(s), and Critical Readings, consisting of essays offering various interpretations of the work(s).

f38706086Proposals of up to 250 words on all aspects of The Hunger Games phenomenon should be sent by email as a Microsoft Word attachment by March 15, 2015, accompanied by a résumé.  If the proposal is selected, the contributor will be asked to send a preliminary draft by May 15, 2015.  Revisions will be due about August 1.  The manuscript deadline is November 15, 2015, with publication expected in late spring 2016.  Each contributor receives a stipend of $250 and contracts directly with Grey House.

  • Lana A. Whited is editor of The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter: Perspectives on a Literary Phenomenon (Missouri, 2002) and co-editor, with M. Katherine Grimes, of Critical Insights: Harry Potter (Salem Press, 2015).  She is professor of English and director of the Boone Honors Program at Ferrum College in Virginia (USA). Write to her for more information and with your proposals!<>

Shared Text: Jon Stewart Tags Putin as Dark Lord

vladimort 1Can Russian kleptocrat Vladimir Putin fairly be likened to a certain murderous Heisman Trophy winner in the death of Boris Nemtsov? Or is he really like a certain twisted wizard? (At 4:00 in video.)

The murder of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, right outside the Kremlin in the heart of Moscow, has prompted a lot of speculation about what role, if any, Vladimir Putin played in the killing. Jon Stewart didn’t directly point the finger at Putin on Thursday night’s Daily Show, but he did laugh at the Russian president’s insistence that he will personally lead the investigation into Nemtsov’s murder.

Vladimort 3“Oh good, he’s vowing to find the real killer,” Stewart laughed, showing a photo of OJ Simpson. “That’s a promise that always inspires confidence. The only thing that could be more OJ is if Putin started stealing sports memorabilia….” which, of course, he allegedly has. Not that Stewart was done with the comparisons: Putin started out as a fairly normal guy, like Draco Malfoy in the first Harry Potter novel, he said, but after spending too many nights “in the dungeon-y parts of Hogwarts” with the bad kids, Putin has become Lord Vladimort.” Hopefully there isn’t a sequel. Peter Weber
You’ll note if you watch the video in the Daily Show clip, no one in the audience struggles to get the play on Tom Riddle’s preferred name if the reference to Robert Kraft’s stolen Super Bowl ring was a reach for many.
Vladimort 2Fans of the world’s richest leader can say this as a step up, of course. In the past, President Putin has had to deal with assertions that he was the model for Warner Bros’ depiction of Dobby the house-elf. You can’t make this stuff up. The nightmare figure of postmodern global geo-politics is haunted by Harry Potter associations. (Hat-tip to James!)

Two New Books from J. K. Rowling and Two BBC Blockbusters!

BibliographyHow about that! Two new books from J. K. Rowling and great forward progress on the teevee productions of her two Post-Potter efforts! Big news, right? Fandom marking dates for midnight release parties?

Well, not really. I’m afraid few stores will even carry the books in question, not to mention celebrate their publication, and both tomes will almost certainly mark historic low-sales marks for the Goddess of Blockbuster Book Launches.

Here’s the deal. The first book to be released is not really by Ms Rowling as much as it is a list of everything she has written and the ‘inside story’ of the writing, editing, and publication of this body of work. Read The Guardian‘s article here (hat-tip, David!).

2015 aAuthor and Sotheby’s director for children’s books Philip Errington has spent five years compiling the 544-page JK Rowling: A Bibliography 1997-2013, a work described as “slavishly thorough and somewhat mind-boggling” by Rowling which has just been published by Bloomsbury Academic. As well as providing complete bibliographic details of each edition of all Rowling’s books to date, in order to “record fact and dispel rumour” – and enable fans to work out if they might have a rare edition – Errington has also dug through Bloomsbury’s archives and interviewed its staff to include detailed information on the publishing history of Rowling’s books….

“There is a lot of incorrect information out there and this is a chance to set the record straight with detailed research,” said Errington. “I’m very fortunate that Bloomsbury let me into their archives, and that I was able to interview key people. This could act as a map for the future … you can see how the Harry Potter series just took off.”

Book stores almost certainly won’t be carrying it or participate in the launch because it is priced well out of most customers’ range. The hardback edition on Amazon is listed at $121 and the Kindle price is $57.99.

JKR3The Kindle price was $80 (and is still $100 at the publisher’s book page online) but the blowback in reader comments at Amazon was fast and red-hot. The book’s online caretakers have done all they can to quell this public outcry, in addition to dropping the eBook price by 25%, by squishing negative comments with votes that one star reviews are not helpful and, more telling, clicking on “comment does not add to discussion” (see TWS’ to-the-point sticker-shock review and all-but-erased reader response for a sample of this handiwork).

But perhaps readers are over reacting. This bibliography is not from the Bloomsbury division that published the seven Harry Potter novels in the UK and most Commonwealth nations. It is from Bloomsbury Academic. Academic imprints, like most University presses, market their books to higher education libraries and to teachers who will use them as textbooks in colleges and graduate schools. As such, prices over $100 are as much a norm as they are exceptional.

A quick survey of Bloomsbury Academics’ homepage and online catalog confirms this. Sort of.

The two most recent publications, Visible Self and Apparel Quality, are priced at $115 and $120, respectively. It isn’t until we drop well down the list to a history textbook released last year, S0uth Africa, sold for only $29.95, that we find a book less than three digits.

In the Bibliography‘s category, however, Children’s Literature, we find the Rowling Bibliography eBook priced at $100 (almost double the deftly discounted Amazon Kindle cost).

Other titles there, equally academic, are only $30, $40, and $28.

f39080870If you own a book published by Bloomsbury Academic, I’d bet it is a paperback copy of an Arden Shakespeare edition of Hamlet, Macbeth, or King Lear. Checking out the tab for those best sellers, we find that individual Bard of Stratford plays sell for between $13 and $19 in the latest series. More telling is that their latest textbook, Shakespeare on Global Stage, goes for $112 in hardback, $30 in paper covers, and $28 as an eBook.

So the question remains: is this a profit taking on Bloomsbury’s part? It strains credulity that they think this book will be primarily of interest to professors teaching classes on the subject. It is more like Melissa Anelli’s Harry, A History than an academic treatment of the Hogwarts Saga.

f38696678Fans of the books, however, myself included, would love to read the story of which books received heavy editorial work and which a relatively light touch (the Guardian article excerpts suggest, for example, that the Presence was exasperated by the many revisions requested for Prisoner of Azkaban, which title many readers consider her “break-out” book). Few of us are likely to purchase the book on release or at anytime until used copies become available, which won’t happen for several years.

By then, perhaps, we’ll have a book with the inside story on why this inside story was priced to restrict sales to libraries and affluent collectors. My uninformed speculation until we have that scoop will be along the lines that this reflects obliquely or directly the bad blood between the author and her former publishers. What percentage of the take she was offered or flat price she was paid for permission to quote her correspondence with Bloomsbury editors (or her condition for allowing publication in any form?) may be the root of the curious imprint placement and exorbitant charge for this book.

Very Good LivesThe second book being published with Ms Rowling’s name on it is Very Good Lives: The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination. From the Amazon book page:

J.K. Rowling, one of the world’s most inspiring writers, shares her wisdom and advice.

In 2008, J.K. Rowling delivered a deeply affecting commencement speech at Harvard University. Now published for the first time in book form, VERY GOOD LIVES presents J.K. Rowling’s words of wisdom for anyone at a turning point in life. How can we embrace failure? And how can we use our imagination to better both ourselves and others?Drawing from stories of her own post-graduate years, the world famous author addresses some of life’s most important questions with acuity and emotional force.

Sales of VERY GOOD LIVES will benefit both Lumos, a charity organization founded by J.K. Rowling, which works to transform the lives of disadvantaged children, and university-wide financial aid at Harvard University.

The book is 80 pages and sells for $12.34 in hardback and $9.99 on Kindle. That’s more than $.15 per page. A bargain, I guess, when compared to the Bibliography whose per page price is just under $.23, but then again, that tome has information we do not have already.

The Harvard Commencement address by Ms Rowling is available to be watched (and transcribed) on YouTube and the transcript is available online. As admirable as this may be as a fund raiser for Lumos, the Harvard University endowment hovers between $30 and $35 billion. That Harvard charges any of its students tuition is borderline scandalous:

In 2007, if Harvard had spent 5% of its $34.6 billion endowment [approximately half of what it will make in interest], all Harvard undergraduate and graduate students could have attended for free and the university would still have had $1.3 billion left over.

harvardAnd yet money is going from this book’s sales to fund Harvard’s “university wide financial aid”? When the speech can be seen and read online for free? I’ll make my contribution to Lumos directly, thanks. Harvard doesn’t need my money.

If Ms Rowling is sharing her “wisdom and advice,” I’m guessing again, that it has something to do with her new representation to publishers and other media. Very Good Lives is published by Little, Brown, the company that Neil Blair, her new agent, recruited for Casual Vacancy and the Cormoran Strike mysteries. If she is obliged to them for a given number of books, Very Good Lives is a stroke of genius, i.e., getting paid for work already done and which everyone interested has already read.

But Mr. Blair is making money for and with Ms Rowkling in other ways. His independent production company, Bronte Films, has been signed to make the BBC teevee serials of both Casual Vacancy and Cuckoo’s Calling. Ms Rowling will be collaborating on the scripts. Read about that here and here — and here and here (hat-tip, ChrisC!). And the three movie deal Blair negotiated with Warner Brothers for Fantastic Beasts?

Very Good Lives, indeed. Or at least ‘Very Well Compensated Lives.’

Cuckoo 1Given the percentage of Ms Rowling’s money that goes to charity (and, alas, to the Labor Party), I don’t begrudge her making as much as she can in order to give it away as she sees fit. My concern here, odd as it may seem to many, is that we are seeing literally here ‘the Death of the Author.’ Bibliographies are not usually produced for authors whose written work, beyond a few editorials and trading card backs, is limited to ten novels and a few charity toss-offs. And the deluxe edition of work already in the public domain also has the scent of a post mortem publication.

As excited as I am by both Casual Vacancy and the two of > seven Cormoran Strike novels we have, this air of profit taking from the past is slightly worrisome. Ms Rowling is entering her prime as a writer, her recent work demonstrates, and I more than half-expect the third Strike mystery to set off a mania not unlike that which Prisoner of Azkaban did for Harry Potter.

So why is she looking back or encouraging others to by these over-priced and unnecessary books?

Your comments and corrections are coveted, as always.