Zossima Press News

My friend at Zossima Press just called me to say that Hidden Key to Harry Potter is now back in print and personalized, autographed copies of this almost facsimile edition and Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?are shipping daily. Unlocking Harry Potter is going to the publishing juggurnaut, who will be sending us copies for autographs and shipping by February 21, five months to the day before Deathly Hallows appears.

You can order them all here.

Is it a Puzzle or a Mystery?

Malcolm Gladwell at The New Yorker wrote an illuminating piece about the Enron Scandal called ‘Open Secret: Enron, Intelligence, and the Perils of Too Much Information.’ The article is well worth reading in its own right; it makes several of the points Ms. Rowling is trying to drive home about the absurdity of our shared confidence in the news media and what is “public knowledge.” I bring it up here in the context of Harry Potter speculation, though, because of a distinction Mr. Gladwell makes between what is a puzzle and what is a mystery. The question I want to ask you all is: Is the Harry Potter conundrum a puzzle or a mystery?

Here is the relevant section of the longer New Yorker article:

The national-security expert Gregory Treverton has famously made a distinction between puzzles and mysteries. Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts are a puzzle. We can’t find him because we don’t have enough information. The key to the puzzle will probably come from someone close to bin Laden, and until we can find that source bin Laden will remain at large.

The problem of what would happen in Iraq after the toppling of Saddam Hussein was, by contrast, a mystery. It wasn‚Äôt a question that had a simple, factual answer. Mysteries require judgments and the assessment of uncertainty, and the hard part is not that we have too little information but that we have too much. The C.I.A. had a position on what a post-invasion Iraq would look like, and so did the Pentagon and the State Department and Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and any number of political scientists and journalists and think-tank fellows. For that matter, so did every cabdriver in Baghdad. [Read more…]

“But Obviously Dumbledore is not Jesus:” The Hogwarts Headmaster as Christ Symbol in Half-Blood Prince

I taught Harry Potter classes at Barnes & Noble University and co-moderated Discussion Rooms there before they changed to their new ‘Book Clubs’ format (and I will be joining them there in March for more “moderated discussion”). These electronic classrooms are a fascinating symposium and slice of Harry Potter fandom that includes not only a diversity of nationalities but the spectra of age, beliefs, and vocations not to be rivaled at any bricks-and-mortar school (six continents and four archipelagoes is the best we’ve done but the 400-800 students that post messages always represent an international community of readers). The best discussion room included a Zarusthustran, a Hollywood screenwriter and blogger, and a teacher in the Kanto Plain outside Tokyo.

When we were trying to make sense of the latest Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when it first came out, the questions, themes, and theories we explored were respectably far ranging from the battle raging everywhere then in fandom, is Snape misunderstood or the murderer he seems to scenes-as-subtext questions, “What do the fox that Bellatrix kills, the telescope that punches Hermione, and the gnomes at the burrow mean?” and real puzzlers. I mean, when you’re asked if Horace Slughorn is Lord Voldemort’s agent inside Hogwarts, the man who brewed Malfoy’s Polyjuice Potion and the emerald phosphorescent frosty that tumbled Dumbledore, you’d better be prepared to argue at length about who this guy is and why (or why not) he is good (or EVIL).

There were a few questions that kept coming up in different forms, most having to do with the dearly-departed Dumbledore. Much of fandom was in serious denial and the other parts were trying to reconcile themselves to a Hogwarts without the affable Headmaster. Every Harry Potter reader, including the Harry Haters, were trying to make sense of his last hours and death (a Catholic seminarian from Louisiana sent me an owl a day for a week to convince me that Ms. Rowling was sending disturbing mixed signals to the children of the world about euthanasia and mercy killing with Dumbledore’s death).

The question I heard then from serious readers and now on this weBlog, especially from those who have read my book, Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004), is about the Christ symbol in this book. Every Harry Potter adventure features a scene in the climactic battle with evil where Harry dies a figurative death and rises from this death in the presence of a traditional symbol of Christ because of love. The question for Half-Blood Prince has been “Is the sixth year’s salvific symbol Albus Dumbledore?” [Read more…]

Do you want Autographed Copies of Zossima Press books?

If you do, just click here. The link will take you to the Zossima Press web site shopping cart. I’ll autograph anything you order there that I’ve written. You betcha.

Shamelessly mercenary John

Harry Potter characters using Narrative Misdirection? (Scar-O-Scope 102)

Narrative misdirection is Joanne Rowling’s signature device as a writer. Using the narrative line to turn the reader from what is happening requires remarkable planning and care. This “trick” is so much a part of her way of thinking and writing that I suggested last week that the “big twist” in store for us in Deathly Hallows is learning how Dumbledore and Snape contrived to make Half-Blood Prince a case study in narrative misdirection. If you missed that post, take a minute to read it here and be sure to read the responses. Most are profoundly skeptical that the characters in Ms. Rowling’s novels are using her tricks to put one over on their opponents in VoldeWar II the way she does to us.

If she is doing this, it would not be the first time.

In Chapter 13 of Chamber, “The Very Secret Diary,” Ron and Harry find a diary in the girls’ bathroom where Moaning Myrtle “lives.” Ron tells Harry not to pick it up or read it because books can be dangerous. Harry laughs that warning off, picks up the diary, and is not satisfied until he learns how to “read” it. I wrote in Looking for God in Harry Potter that Chamber is largely a book about how to read books and how to discern what makes a book good and what makes a book dangerous. In Chapter 13 of Chamber we learn that books really can be dangerous, if not exactly for the reasons Ron gives. Trusting the narrative line, Harry shows us, can make us believe things we shouldn’t believe. [Read more…]