“No God-stuff in Harry Potter:” Correspondence from Ohio

Over at the Barnes and Noble book club, a writer named “The Apologist” made some thoughtful points about Christians with reservations about these books, all of which points brought the attentive reader to the conclusion that we shouldn’t rush to judge people who act out of sober prudence to guard their children from dissipating influences. Like “The Apologist,” I have no arguments with parents that refuse to let their children read Harry Potter in obedience to instruction from the people they accept as spiritual authorities in their lives. Obedience and humility are the foundation of spiritual accomplishment in every revealed tradition; how could I say "trust my opinion of these books more than the authorities to which you are in obedience"?

What galls me is (1) the authorities who have not read the books but use them as litmus strips of orthodoxy or "right belief" (and to keep their congregations in line with simnple markers), (2) those in obedience who become zealots and evangelists (using the litmus strips as billy clubs in parishs and the public square; obedience sans humility), and (3) the secularist clan that belittle believers as idiots for having sober reservations about a book that does present an exciting, engaging version of witchcraft.

Alas, I get far more letters from these last people than from Christians and true believers that hate Harry. This one was in yesterday’s mailbag: [Read more…]

“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Four Words for “Other”

A friend over at the Barnes and Noble Book Club I’m moderating this month wrote a longish post about the Four Houses, their Four Elements equivalents, and their probable spiritual qualities. I do enjoy thinking about Ravenclaw (Air), Hufflepuff (Earth), Gryffindor (Fire), and Slytherin (Water) along these lines, if I would have never come up with what Oriflamme did. More recently I have been tracking the choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic humors/temperaments in the various characters. Fun stuff.

Most interesting to me is how Ms. Rowling has used these traditionalist conceptions of character and physics to make postmodern points — and has done so from the first book of the series.

I am thinking about Dumbledore’s four word speech to the Four Houses after the sorting in Philosopher’s Stone. He says, “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” and sits down. This talk made enough of an impression on Harry (and Ms. Rowling thought it important enough) that he recalls these words during the eulogy at the Headmaster’s funeral in Prince.

The context of his talk is the Sorting of the ickle firsties into their respective houses. However off-the-wall, Albus seems to be making an important point about the divisions that have just been made and the identities these students are about to take on. In short, each of the four words is a “put-down” that one house would use to describe the “other” (anyone not part of their new house).

“Nitwit:” Ravenclaw is the house of witches and wizards of greater intelligence. As a rule, Rowena’s children will think of those not selected for membership in their select group as “nitwits” or dummies.

“Blubber:” Blubber, in contrast, is a word used on playgrounds in the English speaking world for “fat.” It is disparaging because children use it to be unkind to their peers who are heavier than the average kid and probably less athletic. Gryffindor, the jock or frat house, sees the “other” as less physically bold or courageous, for which condition, an eleven year-old would probably find “blubber” a handy signifier.

“Oddment:” This is a word from the world of sewing and fabrics. An oddment, if memory serves, is the remainder from the bolt of cloth, a remainder not large enough to be usable in making anything significant. Slytherins are lovers of “pure-blood” and, in this, “wholeness” or “integrity.” The “other” to a Slytherin is any witch or wizard born with insufficient purity, an insufficiency that makes them an oddment of less, even no value.

“Tweek:” Hufflepuff is the Hogwarts House for magical folk who were not smart, bold, or pure enough for the three Houses described above. From Malfoy’s comments in Madame Malkin’s in *Stone,” they seem to be the dustbin house, where the nobodies wind up. Cedric’s success in *Goblet* also suggests that glory is something of a stranger to Hufflepuff champions.

I have to doubt this is the Hufflepuff self-understanding. They look at the “other” and see “excess” or “imbalance” not “excellence” and “virtue” they lack. Hufflepuff witches and wizards are down-to-earth, humble (humilis), and real people. The “other” needs to be “tweeked” or adjusted to refine their excess and bring it to the mean, which as Aristotle teaches, is where virtue really lies.

The Headmaster doesn’t make a long speech about what a shame it is that they have been divided and will soon see themselves as better than their friends who have had the misfortune to be sorted into the “other” houses. As a good postmodern linguistics professor, he notes that the Sorting Hat is the vehicle of the metanarrative or Grand Myth that is the *real* evil of their world and throws out his comic marker for those capable of hearing what was not very well hidden in his short speech.

As Harry must act as Quintessence to the Four Houses and Four Magical Brethren and was destined to this role as “The Chosen One,” it is no accident that these words stayed with him. Here’s hoping he can make sense of this lesson in his Deathly Hallows efforts to unite the Magical World against Lord Voldemort.

Story-Telling: The Sixth Key?

As I’ve said before here, I look forward to July 21 and the release of Deathly Hallows as much as every other Fandom reader, if perhaps for different reasons. Yes, I just want to find out how the story ends and will devour the book mindlessly cover to cover in the early hours of the day it is released. Won’t we all? What a relief that will be!

I am looking forward to P-Day (for “publication”), though, almost as much because it will end the Interlibrum and the super-speculative fascination of Fandom waiting on the saga’s last volume. There will be plenty of questions left over at book’s end, I’m sure, that only Ms. Rowling’s version of a Silmarillion will resolve but at least a new period of writing and thinking about the books can begin. This period, to last until the Lord comes I guess, will focus on the interpretation of the meaning and discussion of the artistry of the series. “What’s gonna/gotta happen?” will be supplanted by “What makes these books so popular to so many different people?” as the chief question thoughtful people are trying to answer.

Which is good news and bad news for me. I have been trying to answer the latter question since 2003 and finally having the complete series will mean I have to re-write Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and cut out the speculative parts and expand the explanations in light of what we will soon know about Harry, Severus, and company. The good news is that finally Ms. Rowling will answer questions about the alchemy in the books, her themes, and her grand-scheme for the stories. The questions, in other words, that I have been trying to answer without her help.

That, frankly, is as exciting to me as finding out what happens to Harry in Deathly Hallows. I won’t miss the speculative side of things because (a) I’ve only engaged in it to illustrate larger points (and have some fun) and (b) I’m not very good at it because I don’t think like a story teller. [Read more…]

Baby-Harry Corpse-Horcrux: An Elegant Twist

A month ago I posted here (and here and here) some thoughts on how Harry became a Horcrux that were so speculative — and said so little about the Five Keys — that I left them out of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. The theories generated a fair bit of discussion here, there, and around the internet and I learned something about blogging in the comboxes. The notes left in these boxes, especially after the original posts disappear under the screen’s virtual horizon, are lost to view except for the bizarre HogPro reader who constantly looks in the archives to see if anyone has dropped any diamonds on the back pages.

A reader calling him/herself “TNM16” wrote a wonderfully elegant and just-quirky-enough-to-be-possible twist on the “how” of Harry’s becoming a Horcrux that would be lost to readers not checking the “Recent Comment” sidebar over to your right. I post it here for your comments and correction: [Read more…]

Sonorus 2007: HogPro John and Lexicon Steve Do LA 6/9/07

Sonorus 2007

If you’ve been cruising MuggleNet the last few days or The Leaky Cauldron, you may have seen the announcements about a Harry Potter One-Night conference this June called Sonorus 2007. If you live near LA — and I mean Los Angeles not Lower Alabama — I hope you can come. Because I’ll be there with Steve Vander Ark to talk about Deathly Hallows, literary alchemy, and why Steve insists on wearing Gryffindor pj’s to bed at least until July.

This promises to be a lot of fun and I’m already looking forward to seeing Janet and Carrie and Greg and Linda and other LA/CA friends while I’m out there. Register today! June 9th, Lancaster, CA, See you there!