Guest Post: PotterPundit at Cursed Child

Dolores Gordon-Smith, acclaimed author of the Jack Haldean mysteries and profound Potter Pundit, went to see the West End production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ I begged her to write up her thoughts, she complied graciously and gave me her permission to post these notes here. To read J. K. Rowling’s long interview on the subject last week go here and to buy tickets for the 2018 opening of ‘Cursed Child’ in NYC with most of the original cast, try this.

Well, I’ve seen it! And what did I think?

The stage craft is just superb, with audible gasps from the audience on occasion. Honestly, the set designs are just stunning and the acting – for the most part – is terrific. Snape, young and old Harry, excellent Draco, Scorpius was amazing, Albus was good and Ron was outstanding – all excellent.

However, I didn’t like the way Hermione was written. She never looked at/mentioned a book and seemed to shout an awful lot. She improved in the second act but she still wasn’t Hermione. I haven’t got any problem with casting a black actress (although Hermione in the books isn’t black) but she lost her academic edge totally.

Ginny – she shouted an awful lot, too, and there was none of the devilry or charm that Ginny has in the books.

There’s a great story in there, but marred in the telling. If you’ve read the script, you know what the problems are.

Why has Harry made such a dog’s dinner of bringing up Albus when James and Lily are fine? It’s all to get Albus and Scorpius to the point where they try and change the Tri-Wizard tournament and prevent Cedric from dying, but it’s so clumsy.

You know; you’ve read it. But all the angst seems so unnecessary.

And why is Dumbledore so lachrymose? He and Harry sorted everything out and tied up the ends of their story at Kings Cross, so why is he now breaking his heart over the way he ‘brought up’ Harry?

The last scene is brilliant, with the murder of Lily and James but it took a lot of getting to.

And no; I can well believe that Beatrix Lestrange would want Voldemort’s child, but why does Voldermort want offspring? He’s immortal – he doesn’t want to share that with anyone.

Delphine could easily have wanted to be Voldemort’s daughter – you’d have the same effect without anyone who gets Voldermort thinking, “Yeah, right”.

So brilliant staging, some excellent acting but the script needed some drastic editing to make the story stand up.

It got a standing ovation though.

Guest Post: Epilogue Day Thoughts

A Few Thoughts About Epilogue Day from David Martin

This Friday, September first, 2017, is Epilogue Day.  It is the day when the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows takes place.  In the book that chapter is called “Epilogue   Nineteen Years Later” and no year is specified, just the date of September first.  However, we know that the battle of Hogwarts and the death of Voldemort – as described in chapter 36 (“The Flaw in the Plan”) – took place in June, 1998, so it’s easy enough to add nineteen years to that.

 The epilogue shows us Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny as they put their children on the Hogwarts Express.  We catch a glimpse of Draco Malfoy and his family, we hear Percy’s voice, and we’re told a bit about Victoire and Teddy Lupin.  This chapter reminds me of the end of Dickens’ Bleak House where we readers are given a seven-years-later update on the status of the various characters in that novel.

 But this epilogue does something more than that.  It brings the story full circle, with the sending off of the next generation.  The “building” of the bildungsroman is complete – for Harry and his generation.  Harry came of age with his seventeenth birthday back in chapter seven of Deathly Hallows, but now our characters are fully adult and married with children of their own.  In a way, chapter 36 ended the main story of Deathly Hallows, with the defeat of Voldemort.  This epilogue ends the whole seven-book series.  In terms of Rowling’s circle patterns, this chapter pairs well with the first chapter of the series way back in Philosopher’s Stone: The Boy Who Lived.  That boy, who was a baby in that first chapter, is still living, and he is now a man.  We have gone from the Dursley’s “perfectly normal, thank you very much” to Harry’s “All was well.” 

 The reasons for that “All was well” interest me.  Ask people to imagine what the world will be like in the future.  They often come up with visions of amazing progress: intelligent machines, instant language learning by swallowing a pill, flying cars (without the aid of magic), etc.  Rowling’s vision in this epilogue seems to be quite different.  “All was well” not because there has been great progress, but because there has been a great restoration of the way things should be.

 This restoration began in chapter 36.  Voldemort, the great disrupter of the way things should be, was defeated.  After his death “the news (was) now creeping in from every quarter as the morning drew on; that the Imperiused up and down the country had come back to themselves, that Death Eaters were fleeing or else being captured, that the innocent of Azkaban were being released at that very moment, and that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named temporary Minister of Magic. . . .” (Deathly Hallows, 744-745)  Later two of the three hallows are dealt with so that they will not bring any more disruption.  Harry’s holly and phoenix wand is restored to him.

 At King’s Cross in the epilogue, the Hogwarts Express looks just the same.  Certain realities of life stay the same from one generation to the next.  But platform nine and three-fourths is covered in mist and steam.  That’s the way the future always looks.  We know that our children will grow up.  We know that they will leave home (on their own versions of the Hogwarts Express.)  But neither we nor they (nor Professor Trelawney) can see the details.  We can only re-assure them that they will get to make choices and that (at least some of the time) the Sorting Hat will take their choices into account.

Guest Post #3 – The ‘Harrying of Hell’ The Harrowing in Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows (Beatrice Groves)

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of the just published Literary Allusion in Harry Potter finishes off her discussion of the thematic axis of the Hogwarts Saga, Stone-Goblet-Hallows, with a brilliant revelation of the shared Christian symbolism in each of the beginning, central, and final Harry Potter novels. It is Part 3 of 3 Guest Posts Professor Groves will share with us to celebrate the publication of her wonderful book. 

The ‘Harrying of Hell:’ The Harrowing in Philosopher’s Stone and Deathly Hallows — Part 3 of 3 Literary Allusion Guest Posts

As noted in my previous blog-post, a deepening of the Christian symbolism in Harry Potter is visible along the Stone-Goblet-Hallows story axis, as early events gain in significance as they are repeated through the series. This is likewise the case in the topic explored in this concluding post: the echoes of the Harrowing of Hell within Harry Potter. There is a comic harrowing in Philosopher’s Stone, a brief echo of this scene in Goblet of Fire and then a final fulfilment of this harrowing imagery in Deathly Hallows.

The Harrowing of Hell is mentioned in the Apostles’ Creed. It was a particularly popular part of the Christian narrative in the medieval period and describes how – between his death and resurrection – Jesus enters hell, frees its captive souls and defeats the powers of darkness. It is depicted in the medieval dramatisations of salvation history (known as the mystery cycles) as well as stained glass, manuscript illuminations and poems such as Langland’s Piers Plowman. And it is part of the medieval aesthetic of Harry Potter’s world that its imagery of the triumph of good over evil draws on the harrowing.

It might be natural to assume that ‘harrowing’ refers to Christ ‘ploughing up’ hell – a verb which the Oxford English Dictionary vividly describes as ‘to break up, crush, or pulverize with a harrow.’ The OED claims, however, that the ‘harrowing’ of hell comes instead from the verb ‘harry’ – which means ‘to lay waste, sack, pillage, spoil.’ This is obviously pleasing for the current discussion as it means we could talk of the ‘Harrying’ (rather than the ‘Harrowing’) of hell.

But it also means that the name does not point to the destruction of hell but its despoliation: the crucial narrative event is the freeing of captives. The climactic harrowing of Deathly Hallows – discussed at the end of this post – is anticipated by earlier, comic examples which focus precisely on this aspect; moments in which Harry is freed by his wizarding friends from the hell that is his life with the Dursleys. [Read more…]

Guest Post: ‘Stone, Goblet, Hallows:’ The Series Axis in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows (Beatrice Groves, Part II)

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of the just published Literary Allusion in Harry Potter sent us this 4th of July present yesterday as an Independence Day gift (no hard feelings in the UK). It is Part 2 of 3 Guest Posts Professor Groves will share with us to celebrate the publication of her wonderful book. 

‘Stone, Goblet, Hallows:’ the Series Axis in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows — Part 2 of 3 Literary Allusion Guest Posts

This post – following on from my previous exploration of mirrors and riddles – argues that repeated themes across Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows show an increase of significance as the series progresses. This blog entry is a response to John Granger’s contention that the first, central and final novels of Harry Potter form the ‘story axis’ – the three novels whose interrelation is most telling – and it will explore a number of pieces of evidence for this theory. Among these are Christian echoes in Rowling’s story and this post will bring together some evidence for the plausibility of finding Christian ideas within the series. A final post (to follow next week) will conclude this exploration of the ‘story axis’ by arguing for a new link to the Christian story that occurs comically in both Stone and Goblet but whose latent symbolism is only finally realised in Hallows.

Of the many Stone-Goblet-Hallows links (and all those discussed below – and many more! – have been helpfully tabulated in John Granger’s Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle [2010]) there are a number in which something that was a fairly simple part of the plot in the opening novel, becomes more reflective in the central novel, and freighted with new significance in the final novel (seven is the most magical number, after all). Live dragons, for example, appear only in these novels and Granger notes that they pass through a life-cycle as they do so: baby Norbert in Stone, the nesting mother dragons of the Triwizard tournament and finally, the escape on the ‘ancient of days’ Gringotts dragon.[1]

[Read more…]

Guest Post – ‘Mirrors, Paper, Stone:’ Literary Links and Riddles in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows (Beatrice Groves)

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of the just published Literary Allusion in Harry Potter sent us this 20th Anniversary Celebration present yesterday. It is Part 1 of what we hope she’ll share with us in the coming days (Thank you, Prof Groves!). Enjoy!

‘Mirrors, paper, stone:’ literary links and riddles in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows

The anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone seems an auspicious moment to look at some of the connections between the first, middle and last Harry Potter novels. As Rowling has noted, echoes between the opening and closing novels are particularly clear, and she has said of a number of plot points: ‘that was closing a circle.’ At the publication of Goblet of Fire she likewise noted the central novel’s pivotal position: ‘it’s literally a central book, it’s almost the heart of the series, and it’s pivotal’. As has been convincingly demonstrated by John Granger and J. Steve Lee the series forms a ‘ring’ or ‘chiastic’ structure in which the first novel is paired with the last, the second with the sixth and the third with the fifth, leaving the fourth novel as the ‘pivot’ around which the pattern turns. John Granger, in particular, has argued for ‘the central place of the Stone-Goblet-Hallows axis’[1] to the series and this blog-post will look at two examples – mirrors and riddles – in which Goblet acts as fulcrum for crucial moments in the opening and concluding novels.

The mirror-writing around the Mirror of Erised – Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi (Philosopher’s Stone, Chap 12) – is a message about reading carefully. If you read the riddle attentively it will enable you to discover what Harry is really seeing. The literary tradition of magic mirrors (noted by David Colbert in 2001[2]) which lie behind the Mirror of Erised are also surrounded with messages about careful reading. Britomart, the female knight-hero of Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene (1590/96), sees her heart’s desire, likewise, when she looks into Merlin’s mirror in Book 3 of Spenser’s epic poem. The narrator notes how such magical mirrors are common ‘in bookes hath written beene of old’ (3.2.18). Spenser was a great admirer of Chaucer and he refers, in particular, of the magical mirror in Chaucer’s ‘Squire’s Tale’ (an unfinished story which Spenser will write a continuation for later in the Faerie Queene). In Chaucer, too, the magical mirror is connected with book-learning as its properties are ‘knowen’ by those ‘that han hir bookes herd’ (l.235) (Chaucer’s original readership, like Rowling’s original readership, were used to ‘hearing’ rather than reading their books). [Read more…]