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…]

The Hymn of the Resurrection: Orthodox Hymnography and Ring Composition?

Resurrection Service, Jerusalem

Resurrection Service, Jerusalem

Christos Anesti! I am just home from a weekend of Paschal services and celebrations at the St Matthew the Evangelist Orthodox Mission in Jonesboro, Arkansas, a trip my family has made the last three years, and I pray the recovery from the joy and glad tidings experienced there takes, well, forever. I hope that your holiday weekend was equally edifying and enriching.

I was offline for the duration and had eight hours of driving to think each way. One of the things I thought to post here is an update to something I wrote in 2012 about a part of Orthodox Christian celebration of Pascha (‘Easter’ in the West) and ring composition or chiasmus. I thought of it, not only because of my current research but because of a conversation I had with a monk after Agape Vespers yesterday about how stories ‘work’ and how story-tellers remember epic poetry.

The work I’m doing on my PhD thesis is in large part about ‘Ring Composition’ which is the fictional shadow of Biblical and Patristic chiasmus. Mary Douglas, the noted anthropologist, wrote a book on this, Thinking in Circles, which, with Fr John Breck’s The Shape of Biblical Language: Chiasmus in the Scriptures and BeyondLund’s book on chiasmus in the New Testament and Welch’s books on chiasmus in antiquity, has been my introduction and guide on the subject. As we’ve been exploring here for some time, it seems the science fiction fantasy novels of C. S. Lewis and Charles Williams may be ‘rings’ of parallel analogies as are the most recent blockbusters Harry Potter, Twilight, and Hunger Games.

Once a reader puts on these glasses and learns to recognize chiasmus, of course, it’s hard not to imagine it everywhere. The seven days after Pascha are known as Bright Week and traditional Christians celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection by chanting the Paschal Hours through that time. One of the prayers sung again and again is ‘The Hymn of the Resurrection’ that is first chanted during the services for Pascha and then throughout Paschaltide. I believe it to be a Ring or chiasmus composition, and, below, I chart it for your review with some notes on the ring nature of Christian soteriology and some brief thoughts, guesses really, about why this is so.

I think it has a great deal to do with why this story scaffolding has the power it does, why, as Douglas argues, it is the universal story form. It is, of course, an explicitly Christian argument and not directly related to discussion of popular fiction, so I urge those not interested in that sort of discussion to not enter into it. We’ll return to our regular programming tomorrow with some thoughts on the Cursed Child Olivier Awards sweep in London and the question of the evident ability of Potter Mania to leap cross-media, page to screen to stage!  [Read more…]

That Easter Moment: Eucatastrophe in the new Beauty and the Beast

beauty-and-the-beast-2017Disney’s new live-action adaptation of the classic animated musical Beauty and the Beast has a lot of people talking. Actually, it has me singing. As a young teen in 1991, I had the musical memorized. As I sat in the cinema this past March at age 40, I had to keep one hand over my mouth to keep from belting out lines like, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating!” It’s now been weeks since I saw the new movie, yet Beauty and the Beast earworms remain. (She writes, muttering, “…don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!”)

So it has us talking and singing. And why not? There’s lots to talk (and sing) about. The new film makes some significant adjustments to 1991’s script and story: new songs, updated lyrics, additional backstory. The changes do more than simply re-heat and re-serve an animated classic. Beauty and the Beast 2017 spins the “tale as old as time” for a modern audience. Three changes interest me the most, the third in a timely way. [Read more…]

Harry Potter and Lolita: Rowling’s Rings and Vladimir Nabokov’s Story Mirrors (The Alchemy of Narrative Structure)

VVN1I promised in the postHarry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s Relationship with Vladimir Nabokovto discuss the structure of Lolita in relationship to Harry Potter’s story scaffolding. I deferred it from that first JKR/VVN post because it was already over-crowded with discussion of names, alchemy, politics, and, most important, parody. As I hope you’ll agree after reading this piece below, the ‘parallelism parallel’ between the two authors is significant, fascinating, and even a revelation of sorts of the alchemical aim of their artistry.

Rowling may have drawn her ring writing artistry from a variety of sources: her training in Classics, reading in Scripture, familiarity with Inkling literature, even a close study of Robert Louis Stevenson or Jules Verne’s popular adventures. Today I will argue that, though these sources are possibilities, the most likely single source of Rowling’s structural wizardy is the work of Vladimir Nabokov.

Nabokov wrote eighteen novels. The only one Rowling has mentioned specifically in interviews is Lolita so today I will confine my discussion to Nabokov’s most famous work. This will involve, of course, discussion of what happens in that story, which is as close as I’m coming to a ‘spoiler alert’ for a book published sixty years ago and considered Western canon for half a century.

CirclesWe’ll test whether Nabokov was a ring writer in five steps derived from the qualities Mary Douglas tells us to look for in a ‘ring composition’: first, the latch of beginning and end, second, a story-turn, third, parallels side to side, fourth, rings inside the rings and other self-referencing, and last, a comparison with Rowling’s story and series structures. That ‘last’ will include my conclusions about why Nabokov worked-in the mirroring he has into Lolita and if Rowling’s meaning is similarly buttressed by her own ring work.

The Latch: Lolita’s Prologue and Part 2, Chapter 36

A look at Lolita’s table of contents reveals that it is made up of a foreword written by psychologist John Ray, Jr., a Part 1 of thirty-three chapters, and a Part 2 of thirty-six chapters, both of which are first person narratives that were written by Humbert Humbert in fifty-six days while awaiting his trial for murder. There is no epilogue or afterword, if every edition published since the early sixties does include Nabokov’s short essay ‘On a Book Called Lolita’ after the novel’s close.

The first tell-tale sign of a traditionally crafted story is how well the beginning and end match up. Lolita’s foreword and chapter 36 have six points of correspondence that latch the story’s circle tightly together at the close. [Read more…]

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…]