Our wont here is to discuss Ms. Rowling’s postmodern themes and her use of Christian symbolism and alchemical imagery and story structure to advance these themes and criticism. Over on the “New for Medievalists” weblog, they take a different view. Among the subjects in their ‘Call for Papers for the 2009 International Congress on International Studies’ is “J. K. Rowling’s Medievalism.” I confess I was as intrigued by a few of the other subjects (Beowulf as Children’s Literature; The Serbian Middle Ages: Between Byzantium and the West; Beyond Beer and Celibacy: Exploring Monastic Productions) but a few thoughts come to mind about Medieval Harry.
(1) The Arthurian Romance elements of the Potter saga are numerous; when combined with the idea of a Grail-Horcrux Quest in Deathly Hallows and the Hero’s Journey structure of every year Harry has at Hogwarts, I think there is indeed plenty of material for a medievalist to feast on.
(2) I wonder, though, if the topic isn’t confusing the Gothic Novel genre elements in the books and the “medieval imagination” qualities a la C. S. Lewis with real Medievalism per se. Literary alchemy, Christian story-points and touchstones, and a spooky castle with witches and cauldrons don’t make an author a dinosaur nostalgic for life in caste and in church.
(3) Is anyone else curious if, even suspicious that this exploration of Ms. Rowling’s work from the Medieval niche of Academia will be spreading out from “literature” and “culture studies,” where most of the writing has been done thus far, to every corner of the Ivory Tower? I don’t think this is a bad thing; certainly Daniel Nexon’s views as a political scientist were fascinating and enlightening to this reader. But could it also become comic as everyone jumps on board to share what their field has to offer? Oceanographers, Depth Psychologists, and Nerve Cell Biologists, for example, could all contribute an idea or two…
The Medievalists, though, to risk repeating myself, do have something valuable to tell serious readers if they only detail the Arthurian backdrop to the stories. Ms. Rowling, as much as she uses explicitly medieval elements (think ‘Black family tapestry’ and ‘house-elves as serfs’) is critiquing as much as embodying the perspective of that era.
As always, I await your comments and corrections. I especially look forward to hearing from a medievalist, if there are any in today’s audience; please forward to your favorite Sir Cadogan for his or her thoughts.