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!

JKR Talks at the Elephant House, 1998

Literary Allusion in ‘The Silkworm’ Oxford’s Beatrice Groves on Strike 2

Last week our friends in the UK were able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation for BBC1 of Robert Galbraith’s Career of Evil. We Galbraith fans on this side of the Atlantic Ocean were not able to watch.

What we did receive were two posts by Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow and Lecturer at Trinity College, Oxford University, on the subject of literary allusions in the second Cormoran Strike novel, The Silkworm.

This is a boon and grace on several levels.

First, The Silkworm is, to this reader at least, the most important single novel Rowling has written, either as ‘Robert Galbraith’ or ‘J. K. Rowling,’ Jo Rowling Murray’s two pseudonyms. More obviously and pointedly than any of her previous novels, Silkworm is a novel about novels, novel writing, and the reading of novels. It is dense in self-referencing, the book inside the book having the same name as the book the reader is holding, and in notes about Jacobean Revenge Drama via dialogue and chapter epigraphs while the story being told is just this kind of play. It deserves a book long gloss about the allusions in it alone. 

Second, it being a work largely about intertextuality or texts within a text referrring to other texts, anything written about it should be done by someone familiar with the art of literary allusion. He or she should also be more than familiar with the work of J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter to Lethal White. And, given what we know of The Silkworm and its heavy pointers to Jacobean Revenge Drama, our expert should be an expert in Early Modern Drama, Shakespeare and Marlowe of course but the lesser lights as well.

Enter Beatrice Groves,

  • author of the paradigm shifting Literary Allusion in Harry Potter,
  • fluent in the details and trends and keys to everything J. K. Rowling, from the novels to the decades of interviews to the daily Twitter feed, and
  • published authority on Early Modern Drama, her primary research interest and class subject at Oxford.

I have a healthy imagination. I cannot imagine a better match of exegete and subject than Bea Groves and The Silkworm. And, as you’d expect, I am taking no risk in saying this because we have the proof of the prediction (before I have posted it!) in the two MuggleNet posts on The Silkworm which Prof Groves has written.

It’s a downer for many in the States not to be able to watch the Bronte Studios adaptation of Career of Evil for television (I guess). We have been more than compensated, I think, by the happy providence of the nearly simultaneous arrival of glosses on Rowling’s best almost-stand-alone novel to date, one focused on the play, work, and business of publishing, writing, and reading, her Silkworm.

Don’t miss this opportunity to read the observations and insights of the only Potter Pundit skilled in all things Rowling, literary allusion, and Early Modern Drama. If Bea Groves did not exist, she would have to have been invented for this work, available via these links below. Enjoy!

“Didst Thou Not Mark the Jest of the Silkworm?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm”

“Does the Silkworm Expend Her Yellow Labours/ For Thee?”: Literary Clues in “The Silkworm” – Part 2

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.

J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life (Runcie)

I neglected to mention in my list of ‘Best Rowling Interviews Ever’ James Runcie‘s 2007 BBC documentary, “J. K. Rowling: A Year in the Life.” As with the other profiles, it wasn’t easy to access outside a Special Features DVD of Half-Blood Prince for several years. It’s available now on YouTube and rewards careful attention (the haircuts!) and a critical review (the things glossed over or not discussed). We’ll almost certainly never see JKR, Inc., participate again in anything this revealing, however controlled and always flattering to her that the production is. Enjoy!