‘An Absolutely Remarkable Thing’

A dear friend – and a Harvard PhD whose works on ‘how literature works’ inform my PhD thesis – wrote me yesterday to say I had to read Hank Green’s An Absolutely Remarkable Thing because it is “right up your alley” and “You are the one to interpret it!” I bought the book online and read it off my computer screen last night and this morning. I am writing a short review here — a break from Crimes of Grindelwald and Lethal White! — to recommend you read it, too, and that you think your way past the hard parts to consider its allegorical message about art (hence the title acronym), about the political and technological landscape in which we live, and about the agony of escaping the errors of our age for communion with transcendent reality.

After the jump I will write a brief synopsis of the wonderfully page-turning story (without spoiling it!), my thoughts about its meaning, and why reading it, when more than a few times in my case I persisted only with gritted teeth and eyeballs rolling, taught me something important about the difficulty the Harry Haters experienced in seeing the Christian content of the Hogwarts Saga.

[Read more…]

A Cratylic Cormoran Strike Fan Theory: Is Robin Doomed? The Dobby Link

From the mailbag!

Dear John,

My name is Joseph A and I have been reading and enjoying your books thoroughly since I found The Hidden Key to Harry Potter way back in 2003. Your books have certainly given me a new set of eyes to scan J.K. Rowling’s text.

In light of J.K. Rowling’s apology for killing Dobby yesterday I want to share a concern that I have.

I was researching Robin’s surname Ellacott and came across this:

Ellacott is prominent in Devon, Cornwall, and Wiltshire, is of Anglo-Saxon and Cornish origin.This placename is composed of the Olde English pre 7th Century personal name “Ella”, a short form of various compound names with the first element “aelf”, elf, and the Olde English “cot, cote”, a cottage, shelter for animals. Read more. 

Is it reasonable to interpret Robin’s name as Elf House or House Elf?

In the Galbraith books Cornwall is referenced in connection to Cormoran (The Cornish Giant) and Robin through her surname. Cornwall is only is used once in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; Shell Cottage is located on the outskirts of Tinworth, Cornwall and is the final resting place of Dobby. What could this be pointing to?

In fear for Robin’s safety,
Joseph A

Great letter, Joseph! Three quick thoughts to jump start the conversation here: [Read more…]

Austen and Rowling: On the Virtue of Penetration in Life and Reading

In 2010 I wrote in response to Prof Baird’-Hardy’s third brilliant post on Jane Eyre that:

AustenDickens and Austen frequently discuss (through preferred characters) the virtue of “penetration,” i.e., seeing the ‘inside bigger than the outside’ of others, their virtues or vices which constitute character or the lack of it, rather than focusing on the surface. Georgian and Victorian writers, to include Bronte, understood that they were “instructing while delighting,” and instructive most especially in the virtue of “penetration.” Readers were exercising their powers of inner heart reflection and recognition as they entered into and experienced the lives of what were principally minor gentry and aristocrats. This is “manners and morals” fiction at its best.

Katy asks six years later:

Hi! This is so fascinating. I know I am years too late, but a hail Mary pass just in case: John, do you have a source for Austen and/or Dickens discussing the virtues of “penetration”? Where do they mention seeing “the inside bigger than the outside”? Thanks so much!

Austen EmmaI do not have a source “for Austen and/or Dickens discussing the virtues of ‘penetration,” alas. It is something that I have noticed in almost every book by these authors, however; they use the word and illustrate it as a virtue to cultivate and admire (and as a quality whose absence marks the stupid, dull, or wicked).

Take for example, Austen’s Emma, the book J. K. Rowling claims to have read twenty times in succession before writing Philosopher’s Stone, one assumes to get a grip on the narrative voice she adopts in Stone (third person limited omniscient) to set up the “biggest twist in English literature” at which she said “all authors aim” to best. Emma is loaded with examples of and references to the virtue of penetration.

I’d go so far as to claim, in fact, that the principal virtue in Austen’s Emma is this quality of ‘penetration,’ a mental vision that sees beneath the surface of individuals and their actions to see her character. I found on a recent re-reading seven instances of some form of the word in the book with several other passages in which the quality is described with other terms (cf., especially Emma’s discussion with Mr. Knightley about her feelings for Frank Churchill before Knightley’s proposal in which she chides herself for not seeing through him: “yet it may not be the more excusable in one who sets up as I do for Understanding;” Vol. 3, ch. 13). [Read more…]

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?


Mail Bag: How About a Doppelganger for Dumbledore? Who is Not the Dark Lord?

Do I get exotic even Quixotic questions in the mail? I sure do. I confess this one sat in my inbox for quite a while as I tried to figure out how to respond.


f38722022I was wondering if you ever had come up with a Doppelganger for Dumbledore other than Grindelwald?

I’ve been re-reading Looking For God in Harry Potter (I also have How Harry Cast His Spell near for reference!) and in that second ed. you have no Doppelganger for Dumbledore but you added Grindelwald in 3rd ed. (Spell).

I just read all seven Potters for about the 15th time and I think I have a non-Jekyll and Hyde Doppelganger for Dumbledore; Can you think of who it is?

Steven M

Here is what I came up with (after the jump). If you want to play, take your best guess before reading what follows. If you came up with Steven M’s answer, I definitely want to hear about it in the comments section! [Read more…]