Harry Potter and Joyce’s Ulysses? Reading Harry Potter as Literature

“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 9: “’Harry Potter’ and the Prisoner of the Academy: Reading ‘Harry Potter’ as Serious Literature”

Katy McDaniel, host of the ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast at MuggleNet (on which program I am a featured guest), writes about the latest show:

Perhaps you’ve had the experience of people considering the Harry Potter books “just” children’s literature, or bestsellers with little literary merit. This week’s episode confronts the issue of academia’s view of great novels vs. popular novels and how different approaches to literary criticism might help us to see the Harry Potter novels as both.

Professor Konchar Farr explains the characteristics that make novels popular as well as the standards literary critics use to assess whether a novel qualifies as a classic. We consider why novels by women and children’s literature tend to be overlooked by academia and how that may be changing.

Dr. Konchar Farr’s book The Ulysses Delusion examines why James Joyce’s Ulysses always appears at the top of book critic lists when few people have read it and it does not make the lists of readers’ favorite books. She argues that we must pay attention to readers’ assessments of literature; Harry Potter fans demonstrate that readers can love books and critique them at the same time.

Readers’ creative responses to the wizarding world (through fan fiction, performative critiques, and social activist groups like the Harry Potter Alliance) illustrate the power that comes from deep reader engagement with novels. Professor Konchar Farr’s forthcoming edited volume examines the Harry Potterseries from a variety of literary critical perspectives that take the novels seriously as good literature.

The next generation of scholars who grew up reading (and loving) the Harry Potterbooks yet also see them as important literature are adding their voices to academia. How are they bringing academic attention to popular novels like Harry Potter and what theories are they finding useful?

Listen to that conversation here. Please also join the conversation via email (ReadingWritingRowling@gmail.com) or Twitter (ReadWriteRowl)! We’d love to hear from you!

Guest Post: The Meaning of ‘Scamander’

From long-time friend of this blog, Lancelot Schaubert, a big find! Newt’s last name is taken from classical Greek mythology and may point to the number of his coming confrontations with Grindelwald and how the magizoologist may eventually help Dumbledore defeat him. Enjoy!

Newt Scamander, Xanthos, and Achilles

My bride and I started a new book club with our neighbors in Brooklyn called Western Canonball (iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher) where we read through classic literature that’s either new to us or that we read so long ago we’ve forgotten most of it. This brought me across Hesiod’s Theogony for the first time and a new encounter with The Illiad where the name Scamander – as in Newt Scamander – emerged.

Scamander in Greek mythology went by the name Xanthos: a river God. The gods called him Xanthos and men called him Scamander and in the triadic system, that seems to indicate that Xanthos is the consciousness, the god, behind the river and that Scamander is the manifestation, both the man in the Trojan war and the river that flows from Mount Ida straight over the plain that lies before Troy and then it merges as a tributary of the Hellespont. We’ll come back to the river in a minute, but let’s focus on Scamander the man:

The latter part of Scamander’s name comes from the greek word andros like St. Andrew which means “of a man” or “manly” or the thing that comes from manfulness, “courage.” But the first part “scam” doesn’t come from some word for a con man, but rather from either skadzo which means “to limp or stumble” or from the Greek skaios meaning “left-handed” or “awkward.” A limping man or an awkward man is precisely what Newt Scamander is. [Read more…]

Crimes of Grindelwald Trailer Released

Let me know what you think. Why can’t Dumbledore stand against Gellert Grindelwald?

Reading, Writing, Rowling: Episode 8 Dirt and the Dark Arts – Tackling Taboos in ‘Harry Potter’ (Beth Sutton-Ramspeck)

From the MuggleNet.com write-up of this month’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast:

At its core, a story of good winning out over evil, Harry Potter is full of the dark arts and the unforgivable.

In this ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ episode, Katy and John talk with Associate Professor of Literature Dr. Beth Sutton-Ramspeck (The Ohio State University in Lima) about Rowling’s “literary housekeeping” in the Harry Potter series. Bringing her knowledge of Victorian literature to her analysis of Harry Potter, Sutton-Ramspeck explores the complex array of attitudes toward filth, innovation, artistry, and the unforgivable in the wizarding world. Challenges to taboos, creativity and innovation, and images of dirt and cleanliness in the Harry Potter books help further Rowling’s vision of social reform and urge readers to consider their own roles in playing out their destinies.

How does the term “mudblood” automatically convey its profanity? What’s the significance of the Burrow’s clutter and the Dursleys’ sparkling clean house? Does J.K. Rowling celebrate rule-breakers or show the dangers of violating social norms? Why do the most creative uses of magic tend to come from Death Eaters and Voldemort?

Consider with us how characters’ eyes provide evidence of mind-control, whether the Imperius Curse is really more unforgivable than the use of Amortentia or Obliviate, and how rule-breaking can become a seductive lure to the exercise of power over individuals. We debate the implications of these questions for the key theme of free choice versus destiny in the Harry Potter books.

Please join the conversation via email (ReadingWritingRowling@gmail.com) or on Twitter (@ReadWriteRowl)! We’d love to hear from you!

JKR Talks at the Elephant House, 1998