Archives for March 2016

MuggleNet Academia: Divergent and Harry Potter — at the Movies

HogPro Profs Louise and John talk With MuggleNet’s Keith Hawk about Veronica Roth’s Divergent and the new film adaptation of Allegiant, the third book in that series. And all the connections with the Hogwarts Saga — Enjoy!

Harry Potter and the Three Days: What does Harry Potter have to do with Holy Week?

Harry Potter and the Three Days

by Emily Strand

This time of year, Christians of many denominations gather to share a particular story: a story about a young man, raised to die, who willingly meets death face-to-face, turning his dreadful duty into a loving choice for the sake of his friends. It is a grim story at first, but everything changes in a surprise ending (“eucatastrophe” as Tolkien would have it): after all, his grave is empty. His loving self-sacrifice saves not just this man’s friends, but all the world – even himself – from death itself. Sound familiar? To Harry Potter fans, it must. Both Harry Potter and Jesus Christ lived stories of service, self-sacrifice and the kind of love which even death cannot overcome.

f38699558Many Christians call the week that begins today “Holy Week,” because they consider it the most sacred time of the year. It is a week of many “holy” days: Palm Sunday, Holy or Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, etc. For Roman Catholics, three particular days within this holy week are essential: Holy Thursday, Good Friday and Holy Saturday (the Vigil of Easter Sunday). Each year during these three days, known as the Great Paschal Triduum (Latin: “three days”), many Catholics fast, pray and attend a lot of extra services. I heard Stephen Colbert describe it as a “Catholic bender”, which is pretty accurate. The point? For the faithful, it is to make Jesus’ story their own through their ritual participation in the rich sacramental action of the Church at its solemn peak. Christians who are also Harry Potter readers can, without much difficulty, make important connections between the theological underpinnings of the Triduum liturgies and some of the most compelling themes of Rowling’s books, especially Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Recognizing such connections can help Christians understand, recover and appropriate the fundamental mysteries they celebrate in these great Three Days.

Radical service, radical love

Something bothered me about chapter 24 of Deathly Hallows. In it, Harry buries his friend Dobby, the Dobbyhouse-elf whom Harry had freed from perpetual servitude several books back. Harry’s burying Dobby was fitting enough; after all, Dobby had been killed rescuing Harry and friends from imprisonment and torture at the hands of the Death Eaters. But Harry’s manner of burying Dobby confused me, because our hero refused to use magic.

“I want to do it properly… Not by magic. Have you got a spade?”

And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave … He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of his sweat and every blister felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives. (Deathly Hallows, 478)

Harry’s unprecedented refusal to engage with his magical powers in this singular instance was a stumbling block to me. Why not use magic now, why not for this?

My imagination found the point of reference it needed to break open the passage months later, as I sat singing Francis Patrick O’Brien’s hymn “This is My Example” on Holy Thursday at my parish, and watched as members of the assembly came forward to have their feet ritually washed by the priest-presider.

In a time to come

you will know what I have done;

Let me wash you, let me serve.

This is my example,

love as I love you. (O’Brien, “This is My Example”, GIA Pub., 2001)

Christ’s radical act of service in washing his disciples’ feet is found only in the Gospel of John; it is featured in place of the synoptic Gospels’ accounts of the Last Supper. Catholics ritualize this moment in the Mandatum of Holy Thursday, because Jesus’ actions in washing the feet of his disciples both make the connection between the Eucharist and radical service, but also foreshadow Christ’s looming death on Good Friday, when he will lay down not merely his dignity and position for his friends, but also his life.

Like Christ washing the feet of his disciples, Harry’s act of service toward his servant Dobby foretells the still more radical service he will soon perform, another baldly “non-magical” act: laying down his own life for the sake of his friends. Unlike Christ, Harry does not yet fully understand his mission’s implication, yet as he toils and weeps for his friend, Harry steels himself for his ultimate task: destroying Voldemort’s horcruxes. When he is finished, he humbly marks Dobby’s resting place and walks away, “his mind full of those things that had come to him in the grave, ideas that had taken shape in the darkness, ideas both fascinating and terrible.” (Deathly Hallows, 481) These visions prepare him for his ultimate task, which will require his own death.

Glory in the cross

In the final chapters of Deathly Hallows, our hero is shown the full truth of the matter by Snape: Harry himself contains the last piece of Voldemort’s soul; he bears a horcrux, and must be destroyed. “Would it hurt to die?” (Hallows, 692) he immediately wonders, never considering a way to escape. The beating of his heart becomes a funeral drum as he walks through the castle and into the forest to meet death at his enemy’s hand. In his agony he pauses only once to pass the burden of a task unfinished to his friend and disciple Neville. Then he walks on. As the narrator details Harry’s thoughts during his solemn procession toward death, one emotion dominates: acceptance. A glimpse of his girlfriend Ginny gives him pause, but not for long. “At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, he knew that he must. The long game was ended…” (Hallows, 698)

Remarkably Christ-like, Harry’s self-offering is done freely in love. Christ is both victim and priest at the altar, and Harry is both victim and victor in the forest, as he stands face-to-face with death, wand purposefully pocketed to prevent self-defense, trusting his defeat will bring the community’s victory. “And that,” he is told moments later in death by his beloved headmaster, “will, I think, have made all the difference.” (Hallows, 708) Like Christ at Golgotha, Harry destroys death by accepting it: this is his glory. This is why the liturgy of Good Friday finds Roman Catholics rejoicing in the Cross, even venerating this horrific instrument of death. For it is this Cross, once wretched, which now sets us free. The liturgy of Good Friday is solemn, yes, but also surprisingly triumphant. Our colloquial name for the feast bespeaks our perspective on it: it is “Good” Friday. It is certainly not meant to be a liturgy marked by mourning, but rather by gratitude, for Christians rejoice in Christ’s acceptance of the task.

The feast of victory

Indeed, Harry’s acceptance makes all the difference. The same magic that protected him through life, his mother’s loving self-sacrifice, combines with his own offering to allow his return from death, free from the burden of evil. But all is not yet won; the man himself remains: Voldemort, now a HP Xmas 2mere mortal. It comes down to a duel by the light of dawn, which Harry wins not by committing murder, but by disarming Voldemort just as his enemy casts the killing spell. Voldemort’s wand turns on its owner, and the Dark Lord is destroyed forever.

Like Christ, Harry destroys death, personified in Voldemort, by disarming it. In his final duel with Voldemort, Harry notices his enemy’s spells “seemed unable to hold” (Hallows, 731) against the cheers of Harry’s supporters, who are filled with a new hope at his rising. As Catholics hear at the Easter Vigil in St. Paul’s epistle to the Romans, “death no longer has power over him.” (Rom. 6:9)

When the Dark Lord is finished for good, cries of thankful joy erupt as survivors flock to the Boy Who Lived. The sorrow of loss mingles with the elation of victory, just as Slytherins mingle with Gryffindors, house-elves with centaurs, teachers with pupils, the living with the spirits of the dead, for though Professor McGonagall replaces the four Hogwarts House tables so the warriors can break their fast, “nobody was sitting according to House anymore…” (Hallows, 745) For Christians, this striking scene images the Paschal banquet we celebrate at Holy Saturday’s Vigil of the Lord’s Resurrection, when all come to the feast of victory, knowing no division. For “this is the joyful feast of the people of God. They will come from east and west and from north and south, and sit at table in the kingdom of God.” (Book of Common Worship, Westminster/John Knox Press, 1993)

Emily Strand is a Catholic catechetical writer and author of the book Mass 101: Liturgy and Life (Liguori, 2013). She teaches Comparative Religions at Mt. Carmel College of Nursing and is the newest member of the HogPro teaching staff. You can find her on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand).

Pottermore’s Sorting Hat: The Dark Triad Dirty Dozen (& MuggleNet’s March Madness ‘Best Potter Chapter’ Contest!)

Ever wondered about the science behind personality tests, to include the Pottermore Sorting Hat? Tune in to this installment of Academia to hear Professor Laura Crysel reveal all (to include whether the tests really uncover your House colors and secret temperament…).Bracket-RoundOne

And Keith Hawk at MuggleNet wrote me today to invite you to participate in their ‘March Madness’ competition, with a bracket and everything:

MuggleNet is running a fantastic competition in tandem with the American NCAA Basketball March Madness tournament.

We have pitted 64 Harry Potter book chapters against each other, in four divisions named after the Hogwarts houses. Users can vote as many times as they like, and are encouraged to do so! It’s a single elimination tournament, run exactly like the Muggle sports version.

Read all about that here!

Mailbag: Washington Post OpEd argues ‘It’s Time for J.K. Rowling to let Other People write Harry Potter Books’

Newt s.A dear friend of HogwartsProfessor sent me a link to an op-ed piece that appeared in today’s Washington Post. Under the headline ‘It’s time for J.K. Rowling to let other people write Harry Potter books,’ it tries to make the case that Rowling needs to open the Fan Fiction Gates a la the Star Wars and Marvel Universe Franchises so that starving fans can get what they want, namely, more Wizarding World stories and films.

We’ve talked about this here before, if only in brief. I confess to being unimpressed by the pitch made in this opinion piece and startled that it appeared in such a well-read venue. It appears to have been written by someone intentionally ignoring the obvious and I thought WaPo editorial page standards were higher.

First, comparisons with George Lucas and Stan Lee are inept and inapt.

SW3The Star Wars dis-enfranchisement from Lucas, for example, took decades and then only after the original auteur had a “second bite at the apple.” Making a Lucas-Rowling parallel and then urging her to get on with it seems more than a little hasty, testy even. And I’m no Treebeard. The comic book universe roll out onto film also is not something that happened suddenly or within the first ten years of Spiderman #1 or the advent of The Uncanny X-Men or The Fantastic Four as American myths. And both LucasFilm and Marvel have been allowing others to write EU stories that did not and could not undermine their core money maker, films and comic books for a very long time.

Second, Harry Potter readers are starved for more stories about Harry and Company? Really?

No doubt, the world would quake if The Presence were to announce that she had penned a novel, prequel or sequel to the Hogwarts Saga, akin to Cursed Child. Failing that, however, it’s not as if Rowling has become a second Harper Lee or J. D. Salinger in closing down access to beloved characters and stories. You may have heard that she has launched a second Wizarding World film franchise in Fantastic Beasts and, yes, there is Cursed Child, if it is not a Rowling product per se. That play (and the script we will be able to read), one that she did not write but from which she will profit, seems to be evidence of her having taken a strong step in the direction this op-ed piece urges her to begin.

We’re in a relative glut of Rowling writing about the Wizarding World today. Why is this the time to call on the author to let go the reins of creative control and story writing?

2015 aThird and last, I’d note, too, that Rowling has been remarkably shy about bringing copyright suits to court since the Warner Brothers/Vander Ark debacle (the rumor is she was told that she can only lose her rights if she insists on them too zealously — and that the judge thought she was approaching that line). Considering that novels have been published for sale that feature the Potterverse already with no objections from WB/Bloomsbury and fans are kickstarting film projects that do the same, I’m left to wonder ‘Whence the push for Rowling to loosen up?’

Best to leave this sleeping dog alone, lest it awake from its nap with distemper or just a bad temper.

Thanks to James for sending the link — and thanks in advance for those of you who share your thoughts on this subject below! Is it time for Rowling to dis-enfranchise? Why or why not?


J.K. Rowling and the Phantoms in the Brain

BrainsAs best I can recall, brains only came up once in the Harry Potter series. There was a “Brain Room” in the Department of Mysteries in Order of the Phoenix, that contained a tank with green liquid and a number of “pearly white” brains floating in it. When a mentally-addled Ron foolishly Accio-ed one out, it flew through the air, attacked him with tentacles that “looked like ribbons of moving images” and left scars on Ron’s arms that even Madame Pomfrey was hard-pressed to remove. But the message is clear: in the wizarding world the study of the brain, and, by extension, the mind, is relegated to the Unspeakables, and considered an area of scholarship too dangerous to be shared with the general public, putting it in the same realm as other mysterious forces of the universe such as love, space, death and time. Thoughts, according to Madam Pomfrey, “leave deeper scarring that almost anything else.”

career_of_evilIn the Cormoran Strike series, Rowling moves the study of the human mind into the scientific realm, by making its female protagonist, Robin Ellacott, an ex-psychology student, intent on a career in forensic psychology before a sexual assault interrupted her university studies. As a professor of psychology and neuroscience, I have already documented through Harry Potter that Rowling seems familiar with the diagnostic criteria of multiple Muggle psychiatric conditions.  She also seems to have provided a realistic account of Robin’s mental breakdown after her assault and the way she overcame it.

VSRamachandran_zps47ada994As we know, Rowling does not write anything without doing a “ridiculous amount” of research, so it is hardly likely that she would write an entire series of novels about an amputee without educating herself about the medical facts regarding such an injury. After reading the first three books of the series, I am now convinced she consulted one of my favorite neuroscience writers, Dr. V.S. Ramachandran, author of Phantoms in the Brain (1998), A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness (2004) and The Tell-Tale Brain (2011). Ramachandran’s books present fascinating case studies about people with seemingly bizarre neurological conditions. So far, three of the conditions he describes have turned up in the Comoran Strike series. [Read more…]