Guest Post: Why No ‘Cormoran Mania’?

COEFans, Noir, and the Question of Violence: Speculations about the Popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Detective Fiction — A Guest Post by ChrisC!

With the impending release of Lethal White, the next volume in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Mysteries, an old question occurred to me.  Has there been any uptick in enthusiasm from her fanbase?  Maybe I don’t pay enough attention, however I still don’t know whether the series has yet to pick up steam.

I hope the series does pick up notice.  It’d be a mistake for her fans to neglect what so far has proven to be a more or less fine-tuned storytelling machine.  At the same time, it is possible to take a few educated guesses at just why the series might be held back from total popularity.  It can even be argued what elements of the books themselves might keep it from a wider appeal.  I bring the topic of the books’ reception up because I think that if the response to Cormoran Strike should ever turn out to be more guarded than that given to the Potter series, then it helps to understand the reasons why longtime fans might turn out to have a surprising amount of ambivalence with regard to the latest fictional exploits of their favorite author.

With that in mind, after the jump, you’ll find a list of aspects about the series, Jo Rowling’s fans, and what a potential clash between the two could mean for the series’ prospects. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Bloodsport in Harry Potter & The Hunger Games (P. Wayne Stauffer)

f39083302A Guest Post from P. Wayne Stauffer! Enjoy!

Spanning centuries, sport competitions likely arose initially as preparation to repel invasion or assault by lawless groups/individuals or as a survival strategy; the idea being to stay in a continual state of physical and mental readiness to repel those who would attack to destroy life and property. They also likely involved elements of competition for prizes when not a part of military defense or conquest, the spoils of conquest being another form of prize.

It is significant to distinguish between physical competitions as good-natured challenges for the sake of competition and those that function as rehearsal for the purposes of injuring, disabling, maiming, or killing the opponents in preparation for military combat or aggression against others. Curbing or sublimating aggressive tendencies would be the goal of the former, while unleashing them would be the goal of the latter.

f38696422In addition to the more obvious physical and mental conditioning these “games” provide, the gradual shift in thinking in society as a whole towards acceptance of increasingly aggressive and brutal action is also important to consider. Some wonder if fiction like the Harry Potter series and the Hunger Games trilogy take us further into accepting violence or aggressive behavior.  

The common meaning of “bloodsport” involves shedding blood and/or killing an animal or person. The objective of the encounter is to make the opponent bleed or die. Many sporting activities may have a side effect of spilled blood or physical injury as a part of the game (being hit in the face by a basketball and getting a bloody nose), wherein bloodsport competitions include an intent to shed the opponent’s blood as part of the strategy (punching a boxing opponent in the face and spilling blood can obscure his vision and impair his ability). However, competitions for the purpose of killing an opponent remain illegal in most modern, civilized societies.

Such “games” have been played for millennia, so a look at some can give us perspective. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Why Nabokov Would Have Liked Harry Potter (Michael Maar)

MaarIn yesterday’s post on the intertextual relationship of Vladimir Nabokov’s work and J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels, I all but said that no one has written on this subject. That is not the case. A Nabokov scholar of the first rank, Michael Maar, has written two books on the Hogwarts Saga, one of which is titled Why Nabokov Would Have Liked Harry Potter. Prof. Maar, in fact, offered the first course on Rowling’s work at a major university in 2002 when he was a visiting professor at Stanford.

WarumSo why have you never heard of this Potter Pundit and the Nabokov connection? Michael Maar has two books on Nabokov you can buy at Amazon, Speak, Nabokov and The Two Lolitas, but most of his work, to include his Potter scholarship, is only available auf  Deutsch.  I found an excerpt from Warum Nabokov Harry Potter Gemocht Hatte online, ran it through Google Translate, massaged it using German I discovered in the boxes put away in my mental basement thirty plus years ago from forgotten high school and college classes, and sent it to Maar for his review and permission to post here. He kindly agreed and only pointed out one of the gaffes I’d made.

For your reading pleasure, a flashback to 2003, the middle of the ‘Three Year Summer’ inter librum separating Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, for the thoughts of an expert on Vladimir Nabokov about J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.  Enjoy!

Maar1Why Nabokov would have liked Harry Potter

Michael Maar, 2002, an article excerpted from Warum Nabokov Harry Potter Gemocht Hatte, chapter 4

Nabokov the great author was also a great reader and his judgments were harsh. The list of his victims includes legends: Thomas Mann, Dostoyevsky, Sartre, TS Eliot, and Stendhal – all of them were regarded as third-rate writers by Vladimir Vladimirovich. He appreciated Franz Kafka, but this did not prevent the insect expert lepidopterist from explaining that the transformed beetle Gregor chose to transform into could easily have flown out of the window. Not to leave the room, one expects, but to flee from the critic in desperation. Many other authors would have considered self-defenestration, too, if Nabokov’s judgment on their efforts had come to their ears.  [Read more…]

Guest Post: Tax Calculation by Computer Science in Diagon Alley (David Martin)

From Professor and profound Potter Pundit David Martin:

As a Harry Potter fan who teaches Computer Science, I envy my fellow academics in other disciplines – such as philosophy and psychology – who can easily find so many ways to incorporate the Harry Potter novels into their courses.  However, I have found one small area I can use in my Computer Science One course.  Here it is:

========= The Assignment =================================

In the Harry Potter novels, the money used in the magical world comes in three denominations: bronze Knuts, silver Sickles, and golden Galleons.  29 Knuts equal one Sickle, and 17 Sickles equal one Galleon.

(I suppose that Rowling is here acknowledging – or satirizing? – the older British system of currency that was used until the “decimalization” reform of the 1970s.  Under that older system there were 12 pence to the shilling and 20 shillings to the pound.  British school children had a whole additional topic to study in math class just learning how to handle calculations in that non-decimal system.)

Let us imagine that the Ministry of Magic finances itself, in part, with a 4.5% sales tax on all goods sold in Diagon Alley, the main shopping area in the magical world.

Here is the assignment: Write a program to calculate this tax and add it to the cost of the sale.

Your program should begin by asking for the amount of the sale (in Galleons, Sickles, and Knuts) and then print out the amount the sale, the amount of the sales tax, and the total to be paid.

Here are two sample executions:

[Read more…]

Guest Post: Wizarding World Names! Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them 

fb3A Guest Post from Wayne Stauffer — ‘The Names We Need to Understand in Fantastic Beasts.’

In the Harry Potter series a major theme Rowling explored was the tension between alienation and inclusion–characters who are excluded from a group and who work to be included or start their own group for including others.

In working my way through A Year with CS Lewis, the December 14 excerpt is from Lewis’s “The Inner Ring,” delivered at King’s College, University of London, on December 14, 1944. He makes this point, “… in all men’s lives at certain periods,… one of the most dominant elements is the desire to be inside the local Ring and the terror of being left outside….Victorian literature is full of characters who are hagridden by the desire to get inside that particular Ring which is, or was, called Society….” (italics mine). And he continues to develop this idea of yearning for one’s place amid one group or another. 

rh1It was the word “hagridden” that caught my eye because of the similarity to our Harry Potter friend, Rubeus Hagrid. (Many of you are already with me on where this is going.) Lewis’s context clues about its meaning give a broad understanding, so I went to the dictionary to find its adjective form. “Worried” and “tormented” are meanings for this word that dates to the late 1600s. Well now, Hagrid most certainly has that yearning for acceptance into the wizarding community, that Ring of his choosing, and suffers his share of torment for his halfblood status as wizard/giant and the semi-ostracism that accompanies it. As with her other choices of words, Rowling isn’t simply tossing it out there simply for the sound or exotic attraction.

fb8Now, in the Fantastic Beasts series, this theme of alienation and acceptance/inclusion continues. And names continue to play a part. During questioning by Percival Graves, viewers find out that Newt Scamander was expelled from Hogwarts for endangering wizarding lives with some allegedly dangerous beast or another. Outside the film, however, we are told that Dumbledore intervened to have the expulsion dropped.

Let’s look at the names in Fantastic Beasts to begin our exegesis of their literal meanings and how that fits into the named character’s role in the story. [Read more…]