Tolkien and Rowling: A Case for “Text Only”

I was talking to a good friend last month about how seriously we should take Ms. Rowling’s comments about her work. He chuckled. As a University professor of several decades and a Faulkner scholar, he found it amusing that Potter Fandom hangs on Ms. Rowling’s every word as “canon.” Faulkner, it turns out, had plenty to say about his novels, especially in answer to questions and as he got older. The sad thing was it seems the 1949 Nobel Prize winner for Literature often had no idea of what he was talking about, confused his novels, stories, and screen plays, and made little sense when describing his themes. Transcripts made from the recordings of his talks, consequently, are consulted by serious interpreters of Faulkner’s work but not given anything like the weight given Ms. Rowling’s every comment.

Joanne Rowling is hardly the senescent Nobel laureate type, of course. I’d suggest, though, that, when tracking influences and discussing meaning, serious readers of her work are best set if they work almost exclusively from text. Almost. If you’ve listened to the podcast I did with Profs. Paul Spears and John Mark Reynolds at Biola/Torrey last month, you know I sympathize with Dr. Reynolds’ “text only” definition of canon. Today I want to look at a case in point — what we can learn about Tolkien’s influence on Harry’s adventures from the still invaluable if much diminished Accio Quote catalogue of interviews — to see if attention to Ms. Rowling’s extra-textual information clarifies this influence or muddies the waters. [Read more…]

Scriptorium Daily Podcast: On Potter Canon

Biola University’s John Mark Reynolds asked me to record a podcast with his Middlebrow crew when I was out there speaking last month. It was posted tonight at Scriptorium Daily and I recommend it to you, especially for Prof. Reynolds’ defense of his position on what constitutes canon, “text only.” He makes a compelling argument that “text and nothing but the text” is the best bet of the serious reader thinking about the free play of his or her imagination.

And, yes, I’d love to read what you think. Jump Right In.

Get Thee to Zossima.com!

For those of you who have been holding off on purchasing The Deathly Hallows Lectures in the hope that Santa and Rudolph will bring you a copy or that the urge to understand the literary alchemy, Christian content, and eye and mirror symbolism of the series finale might pass, please go to the new and beautiful Zossima Press website and read the introduction to Lectures. And then buy your autographed copy right there!

If that wasn’t enough, Travis Prinzi and the house-elves that work for him have posted two audio files from the Wake Forest C. S. Lewis Conference, which talks are included in Views from Wake Forest, the Zossima Press collection of the best talks given there. I was at both Walter Hooper’s talk and James Como’s lecture in Wake Forest; I’m confident that after listening to them, you’ll want to read them and the other conference topics in Views.

Great things over at Zossima.com! Get thee hither, AllPro.

MacDonald’s Lilith and The Mirror of Erised

For those of you celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, here is something I “discovered” the other day that, if you are like me you will find interesting. I put the scare-quotes around “discovered” both because I wasn’t looking for it and because I suspect this is old news to many of you. If, like me, you are just waking up to the myriad and important symbolic uses of “glass” or “mirror” in scripture, hermetic epistemology, and imaginative literature, finding a tall mirror that is a passage to another world within our own in an attic is eerily reminiscent of The Mirror of Erised, which Harry finds on his first trek under the Invisibility Cloak on Christmas his first year.

Check out this very short chapter from George MacDonald’s Lilith (1895): [Read more…]

No Romance in Mystery? What Sayers Wrote

I am writing the Dorothy Sayers & Charles Dickens chapter of Harry Meets Hamlet and Scrooge: The Literary Companion to Harry Potter (Penguin, 2009) and I thought I could share here something I found that some of you may find interesting. As you know, Ms. Rowling mentioned Dorothy Sayers in the Spartz/Annelli interview in 2005:

There’s a theory — this applies to detective novels, and then Harry, which is not really a detective novel, but it feels like one sometimes — that you should not have romantic intrigue in a detective book. Dorothy L. Sayers, who is queen of the genre, said — and then broke her own rule, but said — that there is no place for romance in a detective story except that it can be useful to camouflage other people’s motives. That’s true; it is a very useful trick. I’ve used that on Percy and I’ve used that to a degree on Tonks in this book, as a red herring. But having said that, I disagree inasmuch as mine are very character-driven books, and it’s so important, therefore, that we see these characters fall in love, which is a necessary part of life.

All well and good. I think I found the essay today in which Dorothy Sayers wrote this (or something very much like this) and share the relevant passage for your reflection and comment: [Read more…]