The Hogwarts Professor has found himself a pint of Doom Bar

the-doom-bar-professor

You may all breathe a sigh of relief.

With love, from Wales,

John

The Doom Bar Professor

A Potter Postcard from the Quidditch Tournament of the Stars 2016

quidditch6803Dear Readers: please enjoy this digital postcard from this past Saturday, which I spent enjoying Muggle Collegiate Quidditch at the Tournament of the Stars, hosted by The Ohio State University Quidditch league. The play was physical, tiring-looking, and lasted all day. We were exhausted just from watching it! If you think Muggle Quidditch isn’t serious business, check out the official US Quidditch website. And if you’ve never been exposed to this sport before, the postcard will be a good introduction the quirky world of Muggle Quidditch.

Please share your own observations and experiences regarding Muggle Quidditch in the comments.

Initial Impressions of “Harry Potter and the Sacred Text”

by Emily Strand

sacred-text-1I once had a professor who hated those little bracelets everyone was wearing at the time: the ones that said “WWJD.” In case that moment in history passed you by (no great loss), “WWJD” stood for “what would Jesus do?” The bracelets were meant to remind Christians every day, in every moment, to conform their actions to those of Christ.

My prof hated the bracelets because he was a virtue ethicist. In his approach to Christian ethics, moral character is more important to living a good life than mere adherence to rules or the fear of negative consequences. He also claimed inspiration from something called narrative ethics, a branch of virtue ethics. Narrative ethics points to certain guiding or “master” stories as roadmaps, as it were, for living a moral life. For Christians, the most important “master story” is the Gospel.

The “WWJD” bracelets annoyed my professor, and eventually me, because, according to the virtue/narrative ethics traditions, the phrase they bore signifies a wrong-headed approach to moral decision-making. They put the individual actions of Jesus Christ at the center of our understanding of how to live as Christians: “What would Jesus do?”

Now everyone knows actions are important. What one does matters. But narrative ethics teaches that we need to take the whole story of Jesus Christ into consideration, not just his individual actions, as we attempt to conform our lives to his, and to make his story our own. In our devotion to Christ, we don’t rush around with a basin, washing people’s feet, because that’s what Jesus did. Rather we attempt to see particular actions of Jesus in the context of his overarching mission to bring about the Rule or Kingdom of God: a kingdom of caritas, or the kind of radical, self-sacrificing friendship which transcends the bonds of sin and death. This way we’re not brought up short when we can’t find a corresponding action of Jesus to guide the particular decision before us. We can look to the overarching story for meaning, instead of scouring it for analogies to our modern life, which it may or may not contain.

The folks producing a new Harry Potter podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, seem, at first, to be taking a narrative ethics approach to the subject. The podcast’s tag line is “Reading something we love as if it was [sic] sacred.” This means, explain the creators, they will read through Harry Potter not simply for entertainment, but looking to the books “as instructive and inspirational texts that will teach us about our own lives,” that is, as identity-shaping narrative.

sacred-text-2My first reaction to the podcast’s stated intent is: if that’s all they plan to do, they are a bit late to the party. You see, there’s this thing now. It’s called Harry Potter Studies. College campuses around the country offer an array of Potter-focused academic courses. And many podcasts, like our friends at Mugglenet Academia, already consider the books as far more than entertainment, bringing top-notch minds together to analyze the books for their meaning and artistry. So in terms of approach, the Sacred Text podcast is not the first to aim at Taking Harry Seriously.

But the folks at Sacred Text are doing something significant with the books we love, and in a more intentional way than I’ve seen. They’re taking them as scripture.

I don’t suppose this means that the creators of the podcast illumine their copies of Harry Potter with intricate marginal designs in gold leaf, or carry the books in procession, accompanied by lights and incense, the way we do with scripture in the Catholic tradition. Rather, the website clarifies on its methodology page that “The text in and of itself is not sacred, but is made so through our rigorous engagement,” and later, that “Scholars of religion explain that what makes a text sacred is not the text itself, but the community of readers that proclaim it as such.”

If you, like me, are a religious person with any degree of devotion to your own scriptures, you may feel the need to pick your chin up off the floor about now. But why should this shock us? Shame on us religious dupes for being surprised at Sacred Text’s substitution of Potter for scripture. Mircea Eliade told us this would happen – was happening – in the late 1950s. Eliade assured his readers that non-religious human being (who, some studies show, could make up 15% of the global population), new though he is in the history of humanity, is an inheritor nonetheless. He descends from a religious species, whether he likes to or not. Indeed, “he continues to be haunted by the realities that he has refused and denied.” (The Sacred and the Profane, 1959) Eliade said a whole volume could be penned on the different ways in which non-religious humans express their deep-set, inherited religious instincts: “the mythologies camouflaged in the plays that he enjoys, in the books that he reads…” So the idea that, when folks encounter books steeped in mythology, and it triggers in them a mythological response, such as a desire to treat the text as sacred when it’s really a kid’s story made-up by a lady in Scotland, should not surprise us.

What is striking to me about Sacred Text’s approach is their claim that certain texts – particularly, the ones which they choose to engage with rigor, in community – are sacred. Their thoroughgoing, logic-defying relativism in claiming the potential for some kind of universal significance in a particular text, simply because readers choose to engage with it rigorously, is what I find baffling. Because, according to their methodology, if I wanted to engage Fifty Shades of Grey or Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs with enough rigor and in community with others, those texts, too, would become sacred scripture. For me and my little community. It sort of evacuates the words “sacred” and “scripture” of their traditional meanings. But maybe that’s the point.

So my old professor’s complaint about those “WWJD” bracelets is something of an analogy forbracelet-wwjd my initial impression of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. The bracelets encouraged wearers to look to the individual actions of the person of Jesus Christ as authoritative, instead of the Master Story from which all those actions flow with integrity: the Gospel. And this new podcast looks at Harry Potter – which, at its core, is an expression of and reflection on the story of Jesus Christ – without regard for its most influential source material: the Gospel. But the podcast goes beyond disregarding this source material (which plenty of others have done as well), attempting to replace the scripture story on which it’s based, with Potter itself becoming the “sacred text”.

So WWHD? In my next post, I’ll look at the first couple episodes of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text to discover whether the podcast, with its hyper-individualized notion of what counts as sacred, reveals anything new or surprising about our favorite books. Or whether it simply reveals stuff about us.

Stay tuned, and feel free to add your impressions of Sacred Text in the comments below.

Happy Hogwarts Express Day! Beware the mad Trolley Lady!

HogwartsExpressDear readers: Happy Hogwarts Express Day! Every year on September 1, the Hogwarts Express departs, in a cloud of steam and anticipation, from King’s Cross Platform 9¾, whisking a new set of eager witches and wizards off to another year of magical education and adventure. Best of luck, Hogwarts students! May all first-years get sorted into the houses their hearts desire!

Potter fans celebrate days like today, not because we’re crazy (well, a bit) or because we have trouble discerning fact from fiction. We celebrate days like September 1st because we are shaped by a series that claims reality – that which truly signifies – is not marked only by what we can observe with our senses, or what history tells us is fact, but also by those realities inside our heads. These are the realities C.S. Lewis said make up the “real theme” of the story: not what happens so much, but rather what it all means. Realities like love, friendship, imagination and compassion.

Remembering September 1st is a way of acknowledging that, at some point, everyone has to start on a journey. Maybe the journey is one of living up to a long family tradition, like Ron’s or Neville’s. Maybe it’s a journey of proving you belong through hard work and talent, like Hermione’s. Maybe it’s one of discovering who you are, where you came from, and where your real powers lie, like Harry’s. Regardless, on this day of departures, we at Hogwarts Professor wish you speed, luck, magic, and zero Dementors on your journey.

But do look out for the Trolley Lady. She is not just there to sell pumpkin pasties. She’s there to throw them at you like grenades if you try to get off this train before it reaches its destination.

Trolley Lady 5If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you haven’t yet read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: the rehearsal script for the hit West-End play that premiered this summer.

While reviews of the stage play have been enthusiastic, reviews of the production’s rehearsal script, inspired in part by Jo herself, but penned by Jack Thorne, have been… mixed. The script, published in late July, currently averages 3.9 stars on Good Reads, from almost 150,000 ratings. This seems generous, compared to reviews from those in the know. Mugglenet’s early reaction to the script asked if we could all “pretend this didn’t happen”. James Thomas, on this blog, firmly asserted the play is not the “eighth Potter story” it was touted to be. Potter expert Amy H. Sturgis, in her Good Reads review, says, “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child reminds me in certain ways of the Star Wars Holiday Special (1978), in that one wonders how the creator lost control of the reins (or his/her mind) so thoroughly, given the ruthlessness with which this work undermines the seriousness of the themes and ideas of the text that inspired it.” Listen folks, anytime a work is being compared to the Star Wars Holiday Special, that’s not a good thing.

Cover 2And yet, reports have surfaced that Warner Brothers may be seeking the rights to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, in order to turn it into a trilogy of films starring Dan Radcliffe.

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When confronted with this news, I had a strong reaction of wanting to get off this train. Now. Before it’s too late: before Potterverse gets swallowed up by the capitalist instinct to just keep the machine going if it’s generating a profit, whether the product is any good or not. And yet I can’t get off the train; I’m hemmed in by my own fond loyalty to ‘verse. It’s like being trapped by the Trolley Lady herself (Cursed Child version, that is). She’s this woman I thought I knew, who brought me comfort and nourishment, once upon a time. But now she’s coming after me, all of a sudden, with exploding baked goods and spikey hands. All because I want to get off.

Fortunately, according to Cursed Child, the Trolley Lady was bluffing. If you want off, all you have to do is jump.