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…]

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…]