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!

The Adeel Amini-J. K. Rowling Interview: Ten Years Later, Available Once Again

There have been few very-good-to-excellent interviews with J. K. Rowling in her twenty years of meetings with reporters, even fewer that have resulted in meaningful profiles of the author, given us answers to questions we didn’t even know we had, or provided insights to her work and her craft of writing. Off the top of my head, the very best have been Lev Grossman’s 2005 article for TIMEVal McDermid’s 2014 talk with ‘Robert Galbraith,’ Ian Parker’s New Yorker piece,Mugglemarch,’ in October, 2012, Ann Pratchett’s Q&A with her live at the Lincoln Center that same month, and Adeel Amini’s article from March, 2008.

These all share two qualities: the interviewers were respectful but not toady, willing to say to Rowling, “No, that’s not right” — and the interviews are for various reasons very difficult to access. Grossman’s article did not reveal a lot of what made his talk with Rowling a landmark event (he discusses why on his weblog and in our MuggleNet conversation). McDermid’s talk has never been transcribed to my knowledge and the Lincoln Center event is only available in four and five minute snatches on YouTube.

And then there’s the Amini interview.

Ten years ago Adeel Amini was a student in Edinburgh who was in his words a “clueless BAME journalist” (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic). He saw Rowling at a Starbucks and asked her for an interview. She agreed and they made a date to meet and talk four months later.

Incredibly, Amini had not read the Harry Potter novels.

More incredible? In speaking with Amini and a friend who had the books memorized, Rowling revealed things about herself — her faith, her psychological history, her writing projects, her thoughts about “fundamentalists,” her relationship with Fleet Street, her books, even what she meant when she said, “I’ve always thought of Dumbledore as gay” — that you would have thought required at least a quart of Veritaserum and gin to extract from her.

Amini was a wizard. And a prodigy.

The interview that Amini wrote up as an article for the Edinburgh Student was a bombshell and instant classic. Amini posted a pdf on his website — and then it disappeared. Only longish quotations from it were available online (this LeakyCauldron piece was the best reference). As the “Dean of Harry Potter Scholars,” I was asked via emailon a regular basis for almost ten years if I had a copy secreted away.

I didn’t have a copy. No one I knew had one, either. I know because we asked each other. It became something of a proverb, the thing you know you read somewhere Rowling had said that brilliantly made your point — and cannot find on Accio-Quote or through prolonged Google searches. That was “an Amini quotation.”

And then one day early last month Adeel Amini’s profile jumped up on my LinkedIn page. I was asked by the social media genie if I wanted to send an invitation to him to connect. “Damn right I do,” I remember thinking. He responded promptly, positively, and we began a conversation about his sharing the interview again — and his talking about it. He’s scheduled now to do a Tenth Anniversary ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast on MuggleNet with me, Beatrice Groves, and host Kathryn McDaniel.

What had happened? Why was the article MIA for the better part of a decade? Read about it in the preface Adeel wrote for the Medium piece. In a nutshell, it was because he felt that Rowling was not well served by the global media’s focus on her having told him that she had once been suicidal and in desperate need of CBT therapy. Though the article was his potential Golden Key to open every media door in the UK, proof that he could deliver a spectacular interview with the world’s top celebrity, Amini pulled it from public view.

This week is the tenth anniversary of the article’s appearance.  Adeel has put it back up, he says, because:

For me, sharing the full original text of this interview is giving something back to Harry Potter fans who have been so kind over the years. It is also a reminder that my admiration for Jo Rowling has never once waned. There may have been stances I disagreed with it, routes I may not have taken, but there’s no doubt she remains one of the most inspiring and principled women I’ve ever met….

I still can’t convince myself to read [the article] again (mainly due to passages I’d be mortified by today) but in finally republishing this piece after 10 years I hope that I can repay some of that grace while reminding people – especially Potter fans – who they fell in love with to begin with.

As I said, incredible. Read the article and let me know what you think — and what you want me to ask Adeel when Katy, Beatrice, and I sit down to chat with him later this month.

Fantastic Beasts Ring Composition: Reading, Writing, Rowling Podcast

“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 7: “The Beast Within: Chiasmus and Ring Composition in ‘Fantastic Beasts’”

Host Katy McDaniel directs the discussion of structure in Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts screenplay, a discussion featuring Brett Kendall, the Potter Pundit who broke the chiastic code of the Harry Potter series in 2003, and myself, in the Ring Composition corner (if those actually circular rings had corners). The patterns of Rowling’s work when coupled to the baseline mythological story she is re-telling are our best bets for guessing where we’re headed.

Join Katy, Brett, and me on a fun trip into the world of speculative possibilities and most likely story finishes in ‘Reading, Writing Rowling’s Episode 7,The Beast Within: Chiasmus and Ring Composition in FantasticBeasts“!

New Reading, Writing, Rowling Podcast: Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves ‘Literary Allusion in Harry Potter’

The latest podcast on MuggleNet’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ series is out — and it’s a ‘wow’!

From the description on the page with the downloadable program:

In this episode, hosts Katy McDaniel (Marietta College) and John Granger talk with Oxford University Research Fellow Beatrice Groves about her new book, Literary Allusion in Harry Potter.

Rowling’s works are filled with references, some obvious, some oblique, to other literary works. Groves’ book explores the allusions throughout the Harry Potter novels, to everything from Petrarch to Shakespeare, Austen, Tennyson, and even Monty Python. As a specialist in Renaissance English literature, Groves guides us through these references so that we can understand how Rowling wants us to read and how she converses with other texts of the Western literary canon.

Join John, Katy, and Professor Groves as they discuss Rowling’s practice of “Cratylic naming” (“Dumbledore,” “Argus Filch,” the “House of Gaunt,” and more!), her links to Chaucer and Shakespeare, and her allusion to Austen’s gothic stylings in Northanger Abbey (connected by that tricky vanishing cabinet), among many other references. Groves shows us that for Rowling books are, like the ones in Hogwarts’ library’s restricted  section, literally whispering to us, and we should be listening.

It was great fun speaking with Dr Groves and the conversation was both challenging and informative. Check it out and let me know what you think! And buy the book — you won’t regret it.

‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ Podcast — Hogwarts Professors in Roanoke!

Kathryn McDaniel’s new podcast at MuggleNet.com ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling: Imagination and Fiction in the Age of Harry Potter’ is available today! Her first show features the four HogwartsProfessors — John Granger, Louise Freeman, Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, and Emily Strand — and Lana Whited, the Minister of Magical Education at the Roanoke Potter Festival, published Potter Pundit of renown, and professor at Ferrum College. We got together the night before the Roanoke Festival to talk about our ‘Top Twenty Moments’ from the series in celebration of the 20th Anniversary of Philosopher’s Stone‘s publication.

Professor Strand made a delightful short video of the recording session, a Potter Postcard,  you can watch here — or just jump right in to the podcast fun! Be sure to subscribe to ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’; Katy has already recorded two more shows with me as sidekick that have delightful guests and first class conversation about Harry Potter. Leave a comment below and thanks in advance for sharing the link on your preferred social media portal!

A big thank you to Amy at MuggleNet, to Travis Prinzi and Emily Strand for the music, and to Emma Nicholson for editing the show and writing the beautiful theme song lyrics! Woot!