Harry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s ‘Relationship’ with Vladimir Nabokov (Names, Politics, Alchemy, and Parody)

f38696614It’s been fifteen years since I started thinking seriously and speaking publicly about the literary merits of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I am still surprised at how much work there is to be done, how many mysteries and markers that have been neglected.

Take, as an obvious example, the matter of the author’s favorite books and writers. She says the three she enjoys reading most are Jane Austen, Colette, and Vladimir Nabokov. Go ahead and do a web search for ‘Rowling and Colette’ or ‘Rowling and Nabokov.’ You’ll find links to the various lists of Rowling’s ‘10 Most Loved Novels‘ and the like in which the same comments are re-rehearsed with different covers as click bait. But no discussion of Colette, Nabokov (or Roddy Doyle or Auberon Waugh, and, well, you get the idea) and their place in understanding what Rowling, the serious reader become writer, was after in the Hogwarts Saga.

BookshelfI wrote a book, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, on ‘the Great Books Inside the Adventures of the Boy Who Lived’ and it’s a grand tour of Western Canon through the lens of Rowling’s septology. It wasn’t, however, despite frequent quotations from The Presence to justify my choices of texts to discuss, J. K. Rowling’s Library, a book by Karin Westman, chair of the Kansas State English Department. Prof Westman announced the imminent publication of this guide at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, Florida, and her CV says it is “forthcoming, 2017″ today (the University of Mississippi Press, her publisher, alas, does not list it among their titles soon to be in print).

This is a shame, if understandable given Prof Westman’s responsibilities, because, judging from what she has shared through the years about Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield, and other Rowling favorites at conferences, no one is more qualified than she to write on this subject. While we wait for J. K. Rowling’s Library, though, let’s take a look at that “favorites” list again and see what we can figure out in anticipation of Prof Westman’s guidance.

Lolita 20The writer I’ve been reading, both his novels as well as books about his fascinating life, is Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and I have a small confession to make. The experience of reading his Pale Fire and Lolita, considered among the best if not just the best American novels of the 20th Century (Lolita even makes the #15 slot on this Greatest Books Ever list) has turned my thinking about Rowling as novelist on its head, maybe even inside-out. If nothing else, I have a new “hidden key” to share.

First, though, let’s establish the Rowling-Nabokov link through her comments about the Man from St. Petersburg and the clear correspondences and probable hat-tips to his best known works in Harry Potter. [Read more…]

Juniper, The Girl Who Lived — and the Millions of Little Girls Who Don’t

Is Juniper’s miraculous survival one of the feel good stories of all time? I think so. Here is the story of the premature birth of our heroine and the follow-up on RadioLab.

And the child’s parents are Pulitzer Prize winning journalists so Juniper’s survival became a beautifully and powerfully written book as well.

And Harry Potter plays a big part in Juniper’s survival, believe it or not. Read the article at UpWorthy, ‘J. K. Rowling Found Out Her Books Helped Save This Baby’s Life’ for that.

JuniperOn the worst night, when our 1-pound daughter was fading in the darkness of her incubator, my husband opened a book and began to read aloud.

“Chapter One: The Boy Who Lived.”

He needed to say those words. I thought it was strange that he’d chosen the first book in a seven-volume series, a series that totals more than 4,000 pages, for a little girl who might not survive the night.

“How about ‘Goodnight Moon’?” I offered. “That’s a good book.”

Tom saw it all more clearly than I did. He wanted Juniper, born barely viable at 23 weeks gestation, to hear a story about children who could fly. He wanted to read to her about a baby who survived the most powerful evil in the world because his mother stood by his crib and protected him with her life.

In our family, the Harry Potter books are dog-eared and worn.

Tears? Oh, yeah.

[Read more…]

Accio Festival! A Roundup of Academic Potter Events on the Horizon

Mark your calendar! For serious Harry Potter readers, uber-fans and academics, it’s time to get together. Save up those Galleons, sickles and knuts, grab a broomstick or gas up your old Ford Anglia. Here are five upcoming events of interest to the Potter conversation:

home_osuOhio State University’s Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2017: The World of Harry Potter. According to the Ohio State University’s website, the guiding principles of the annual “Popular Culture and the Deep Past” conference, hosted by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, is “to celebrate the ongoing presence of historical cultures and traditions in present-day life; and second, to bring diverse communities together in and around Ohio State, including scholars, performers, artists, artisans, teachers, students, and families.” Sounds fun! Whereas in previous years the conference has focused on Tolkien’s works and even Game of Thrones, this year’s conference tackles Potter in celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of Philosopher’s Stone. The conference seeks to combine a full-fledged academic conference with a carnival celebration of culture, including food, games, activities and cosplay.

  • Where and when: Columbus, Ohio, campus of the Ohio State University, February 24-25, 2017
  • Website: https://cmrs.osu.edu/events/pcdp/2017-harry-potter
  • Submissions: “The submission deadline for abstracts and panel proposals is November 15, 2016. Submissions after that date will be happily received, but cannot be guaranteed full consideration. Abstracts may be submitted via email to cmrs_gaa@osu.edu.” (from the website)
  • Registration: There is no fee to attend but registration is requested; follow the link on the website above; deadline for registration: February 20, 2017.
  • Of special note: As OSU’s campus is no more than a long walk from my front door, I’ll be there with bells on! I am slated to present a paper on the Christian sacramental worldview present in the Potter series. If you go, please stop and introduce yourself.

Signum University/Mythgard Institute’s Mythmoot IV: Invoking Wonder. The Mythgard Mythmoot-theme-mythgardInstitute, housed at Signum U., has established itself in recent years as a hub for the study of imaginative fiction. It has created a space online where the best teachers in the field (think Tom Shippey, Corey Olsen, Amy H. Sturgis and Dimitra Fimi) are accessible to students of any ilk: those pursuing graduate degrees or simply deeper conversations about their favorite books, films and games. Plus, Mythgardians never fail to have a really good time while wrestling with the big questions. Their annual gathering, which organizers describe as combining “academic conference, literary creative meet-up, and fan convention” is extended this year, and there’s still time to both register to attend and to submit your idea for an academic paper, panel, workshop or creative presentation.

  • Where and when: Leesburg, VA; the National Conference Center; June 1-4, 2017
  • Website: http://mythgard.org/events/mythmoot-iv/
  • Submissions: Proposals are accepted through 28 February 2017.  Send proposals to
  • events@mythgard.org with a subject line of “Paper Proposal,” “Panel Proposal,” “Workshop Proposal,” or “Creative Presentation Proposal.” Include a brief bio and A/V requirements.
  • Registration: Pricing is per day, or for the whole conference. See the website for details, as well as a link to registration.
  • Of special note: Mythmoot IV “will feature special guests Dr. Verlyn Flieger (University of Maryland) and Dr. Michael Drout (Wheaton College). It will also include the traditional banquet on Saturday evening, with much food and merriment for all!” (from the website)

DePaul HP confDePaul University, Harry Potter and the Pop Culture Conference. This one day conference, hosted by the Media and Cinema Studies program at DePaul, boasts that it is for both Muggles and Wizards, which I certainly hope implies that Witches are welcome too (ahem). The event will take place on DePaul’s Loop Campus and features keynotes, panels, fan discussions and more.

  • Where and when: DePaul U., Loop Campus, Chicago, IL; May 6, 2017
  • Website: http://www.mcsdepaul.com/depaul-pop-culture-conference.html
  • Submissions: Rather than formal paper presentations, the conference will feature roundtable discussions with scholars and fans alike, themed around certain topics. Interested parties should send a 200-300 word abstract proposing a topic and a CV/resume to Paul Booth (pbooth@depaul.edu) by February 1st. Proposals should be aimed at a general audience.
  • Of special note: The keynote speaker of the event will be Alana Bennett of Buzzfeed, best known for her writings about race-bending Hermione Granger.

And save-the-date for… Plans are also shaping up for two more Potter fests, the dates for which you’ll want to save. One is new and one has become an old favorite.

  • Roanoke, VA Harry Potter Fest. Lana Whited of Ferrum College recently contact several of us about a new (with hopes to become annual) Harry Potter festival in Roanoke, VA on May 13, with a festive feast the night before. The goal is to have educational events mixed in with the festival events, for a full day of Potter learning and fun. I’ve marked my calendar for this one for sure; if you go, you’re likely to meet more than one Hogwarts Professor there.
  • Chestnut Hill College Harry Potter Conference and Festival. It’s never too early to mark your Chestnut-Hill-College3calendar for the annual HP Conference and Festival in Chestnut Hill, PA. This year’s conference is slated for Friday, October 21 at Chestnut Hill College, with the festival in the small, nearby town of Chestnut Hill the next day. Let’s hope both these events are as fabulously fun as they’ve been in years past. We might also hope it’s not 80 degrees Fahrenheit in October this year (which made for a sweltering time in CHC’s non-air-conditioned St. Joseph Hall), and that the town of Chestnut Hill has more than one port-o-potty, and other ways of accommodating a crowd which last year swelled to an estimated 45,000, wildly surpassing the town’s ostensible preparations. If you’ve been looking for evidence that Harry and his pals are more popular than ever, look no further.

Have you heard of an academic Harry Potter event and/or fan celebration you’d like HogPro readers to know about? Please mention it in the comments below. And don’t forget to get cracking on those submissions! Hope to see you soon…

You can follow Emily Strand on Facebook and Twitter (@ekcstrand).

Requiescat in Pace: Toni Gras

linkedinI am just home from Nativity celebrations on the East Coast and opened my email after four days away from the Internet. There was some good news; a dear friend and his wife in western Illinois have recovered from serious illness with her cancer officially in remission. And there was some hard news. A woman in the UK I met while at St Andrews who has been caring for her father for years wrote me to ask for prayers for his peaceful repose. He died that night.

orlandoThat was a shock but the real blow, because I had never met my English friend’s father, was reading a note from David Gras that said his wife, Toni, was on her deathbed and asking for my prayers. Toni’s condition was well known in the Potter Pundit community because she and her family are so dear to all of us who have met them. Her death on Orthodox Nativity was still a great surprise to me. We had exchanged notes in November about Emily’s aside in her post about the Chestnut Hill Conference that Toni had been missed and sending all our best wishes and prayers for Toni’s complete recovery from cancer.

It was the latest in more than 300 email conversations I have had with Toni and David since we met more than ten years ago. I have been to their home, eaten meals with them and daughter Courtney at conferences from San Francisco to Toronto to Orlando, they even put me up one night at their hotel in Boston when I found myself at the first Leaky Con without a place to lay my head. These conferences will never be the same for me. [Read more…]

End of Term Advice from the Hogwarts Faculty: Seven Magical Tips about Effective Teaching

As the fall semester comes to a close for college students and faculty across the country, this is a nice time to reflect on academic matters. Some of us here are not just Hogwarts Professors, but actual real-life professors at schools that are not reached via train from Platform 9 3/4 (though the name of my school is an acronym for a three-county area, not a specific place name, so it is sort of magical!). So we’ve been grading like mad people and trying to wrap up the ends of our terms. It is a good time, then, for us to reflect on the pedagogical strategies and teaching lessons we can all take from Harry’s professors. Even though they teach subjects that are largely fabricated, the faculty members of the fictional Hogwarts do provide some pearls of wisdom for those of us in the non-fictional teaching profession. [Read more…]