Hogwarts Professor Christmas Pig Posts

It’s  time to begin assembling a Pillar Post about J. K. Rowling’s latest work, The Christmas Pig, with all the work we have done here pre- and post publication to draw out its artistry and meaning.

There are three sections: the work we did from the announcement of the story last April (to include Nick Jeffery’s prediction the book existed) until its publication, the work we have done since its availability in October (special shout-outs to Evan Willis’ brilliant ‘First Notes,’ Elizabeth Baird-Hardy’s work with Spenser, and Bea Groves’ essay in The Rowling Library about Dickens and The Velveteen Rabbit), and my series in progress about reading this Christmas story as a spiritual allegory.

The listing of what I’ve found is after the jump, and, if I say so myself, it’s quite an impressive collection. Let me know what I’ve missed! [Read more…]

Christmas Pig 5: The Blue Bunny

Merry Christmas to all the Orthodox Christians celebrating the Nativity of the Incarnate Word of God, Jesus Christ!

I learned in time for this fifth post in my series on Christmas Pig that Oxford University Research Fellow Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter and a whole body of work on Rowling’s literary touchstones collected here, has written up her first thoughts on the Christmas Pig. It is a delightful and enlightening piece published at The Rowling Library in their December issue with the title, ‘Christmas Miracles in The Christmas Pig and Christmas Carol.’ As with her best writing, it goes well beyond the usual academic game of intertextual ‘Spot the Source’ to touch on the meaning and Christian content of Rowling’s latest book.

I was especially delighted by – and it is the reason I bring up the piece here – Professor Groves’ revelation, to me at least, of several bunny stories in the backdrop of Christmas Pig. I am embarrassed to admit, though I read aloud to my children every night for the better part of two decades, I have never opened Velveteen Rabbit. You’ll want to read Groves’ latest if you’re a fan or if you want to know one of the imaginative and literary points of reference for the Blue Bunny in Christmas Pig.

Today’s post in my series of Perennialist readings of Christmas Pig focuses almost exclusively on said Blue Bunny. I opined in the first post of this series as a kind of apologia or excuse for the in-depth reading I am attempting that Rowling’s latest is a kind of condensation and crystallization of everything she has written before, a paradigmatic work, if you will, that, if properly understood, opens up all her other stories. I think that, of all the symbolism and artistry woven into Christmas Pig, the story of the Blue Bunny is perhaps the richest and most revelatory of ‘what Rowling is about.’ What seems something of a throw-away character, one who can be, who in the story actually is, thrown out the window and forgotten, is perhaps, with Poem, Pretense, and Compass, the most important figure to ‘get right.’

The exegesis of this lapine symbolism comes in five parts: a review of the Blue Bunny passages in Christmas Pig, a discussion of Rowling’s comments about her daughter Mackenzie having found a blue bunny toy in the garden, a survey of rabbit imagery in previous Rowling stories, especially Troubled Blood, the parallel finding of Crusher, the nob-nailed boot, and finally a discussion of the artistry and Paschal meaning of the Blue Bunny in this Christmas tale. All that after the jump! [Read more…]

Rowling on Love, Hope, Happiness 2018

Rowling has stated more than once that she has been working on The Christmas Pig story since 2012, but, other than her word on this, there isn’t much evidence to support such a prolonged gestation. I think, though, I have found one marker that the story has been on her mind at least since 2018 in an interview done in that year to promote the release of Crimes of Grindelwald.

As both Elizabeth Baird-Hardy in ‘The Faerie Queen and Christmas Pig‘ and I in Christmas Pig 3: The Quadrigal Reading‘ have argued, the vote held in the Palace of the City of the Missed is best read as a Spenserian allegory. The balloting is taken to decide the fate of Pajama Boy and Christmas Pig and all those taking part represent one of the conflicting voices in Everyman’s head about what to do with the fact and witness of unconditional, maternal, divine love in the Heart. Those voices in support of the Heart win the vote but worldly concern and egotism, exteriorized as Power and Ambition, annul the polling and order the Loss Adjusters to seize the pair. Hope and Happiness intercede to save Love — which intervention and rescue eventually brings Jack to DP and his fateful decisions on the Isle of the Beloved. Love, Hope, and Happiness are the keys here.

When Rowling was asked once again in 2018 to revisit her Cinderella story of writing Harry Potter as a single mother on the dole, she responded (the video above is cued to this response):

I think, y’know, that poverty is tough. It’s just tough. And I don’t like to hear poverty romanticized ever. It grinds you down; it’s really, really tough. And I can remember, y’know, just some very hard times so I feel tremendous empathy for anyone in that situation. But, y’know, it’s .. I still had a lot of love in my life so I look back and I still see a lot of hope and happiness there.

Love is the critical point, the touchstone of the Real that buoyed her through the waves of poverty and depression. As if on cue, the interviewer segued immediately to the subject of Rowling’s mother and her death with a question of how often Rowling still thinks of her. She responded:

Constantly. I mean, in a positive way, I think the last time I got quite teary about my mother’s passing was I was given an honor at Buckingham Palace and, oh, my God, if my mother had known (laughter). It’s a moment like that you think ‘What would she have said?’ and I was quite teary about that.

“When would your mother have been the proudest?” The actress who plays Tina Goldstein shares a look with Rowling and whispers, both nodding, “Buckingham Palace.” Rowling confirms this:

To be honest, my mother was a traditionalist, if I had taken her to Buckingham Palace that would have been, yeah, the ultimate. But she was a huge reader, yeah, so it wasn’t just that I was successful at something of which she was going to be incredibly proud of whatever I’d done but it’s sad to me that she never got to read the books. But life is weird because the books wouldn’t be what they are if she hadn’t passed on so it’s a bittersweet situation…

I argue in Parts three and five of the Perennialist reading series of posts about Christmas Pig that maternal love — sacrificial, unconditional, and selfless — has been Rowling’s primary symbolism of the Heart or the logos light and love that “cometh into the world in every man” (John 1:9). Harry is suffused with and protected by Lily’s love of which he becomes the exteriorization or symbol of himself. Strike is who he is because of the mysterious death of his mother Leda and his being haunted by her to become an avenger or  agent of justice. Jack Jones and his bean-bag plush pig toys that are his “transitional” or transference and projection objects of maternal love is cut from this same cloth, hence his being a Christ figure in the end, a representation himself of this absolute love who conquers death.

In this brief exchange in 2018 with, forgive me, a news reporter who knows little about Rowling beyond her celebrity and rags-to-riches story, The Presence touches on the love that is the bedrock of her stories, the personal crisis inspiring the stuff from her Lake that she fashioned into a universal allegory in the Shed. In addition to Love, she also talks about a Palace, Hope, and Happiness.

That may, of course, only be a coincidence, but Strike readers I think have been trained to think seriously about coincidences. Yes, Rowling has talked about her time on the dole and her mother’s death before; it is something every reporter feels obliged to ask along with “Who are your favorite writers?” I think, though, her bringing up the palace, “traditionalism,” love, hope, and happiness are pointers to the fact that the critical, decisive moment in Christmas Pig — as it is in every person’s life, the decision either to protect and heed the voice of the love in our hearts or to conform with the demands of the world and fear — was very much on her mind in 2018. 

I covet your comments and corrections; please share them below.

Does Anyone “Really” Die in Stories?

As one year dies and another begins, and, at least in my part of the world, most outdoor growing things are dead or wisely biding their time to emerge in a few months, it is a fitting time to think about how stories, like those we analyze and discuss here, address the idea of death. Perhaps this is a rather glum subject, but it does not have to be. I sometimes joke with my literature and mythology students that no one ever “really” dies in mythology, that characters morph from one myth into another, that the stories themselves sustain the characters. In literature, characters can continue to live, as we revisit them, even if they “die” within the structure of the narrative. Rowling, like all the good storytellers and myth-makers who create the tales that teach and entertain us, works with the idea that those who die don’t really leave, whether they are family members or cuddly pigs; but perhaps it is a bit of stretch to assume no one “really” dies in these stories. Let’s ponder that further and see.

[Read more…]

Christmas Pig 4: The Magic in Things

I asked Brian Basore — who has forgotten more about Lewis Carroll and his Alice books than I have ever known or will ever know — if I was nuts in thinking there are a lot of Wonderland and Looking-Glass pointers in J. K. Rowling’s The Christmas Pig. He bought a copy, read it overnight, and wrote me to say, I’m overwhelmed by the hat-tips to and echoes of Alice in Christmas Pig.” Which made my day, of course (every reassurance I’m not losing my mind is received as a boon). I’m working with him on a post about this ‘intertextuality’ or ‘literary allusion’ that I hope to have up soon, but today, as a kind of rest-stop from the heavy lifting of the first three Christmas Pig posts I’ve written, I want to focus on one thing Brian told me as an aside: It shocked me to read that things, not animals, can speak on Christmas Eve. It makes her story work, but I’d never heard that before.”

This made me think of three ideas, all of which I’ll share after the jump: (1) the foundation story of the ‘Night of Miracles and Lost Causes,’ (2) the difference between how a sacred artist makes things and how God creates, and (3) what Rowling, Carroll, and perhaps several or all the other story-tellers who have thing-characters that aren’t human  speak aloud mean by this prima facie absurdity in their stories. I have given this side-trip on the journey to grasp Christmas Pig’s artistry and meaning the provocative title ‘The Magic in Things’ to play off the ‘The Magic of Things’ essay by Rowling published on Christmas Eve in The New York Times. Join me after the jump to see if there is any other connection between this post and that essay! [Read more…]