Paint and Memory, or Should That Be Pixels? Chatting with the Dead Via Magic and Technology.

One of the more fascinating, and mysterious, constructs in the Harry Potter series is the moving, talking painting, and what that means for the possibility of communicating with loved ones after death.

On the one hand, Cursed Child reminds us that the portraits are “paint and memory” …  somethind far different and far less than actually speaking with the portrait subject. This view seems consistent with one that Rowling herself opined in 2004. 

Q: All the paintings we have seen at Hogwarts are of dead people. They seem to be living through their portraits. How is this so? If there was a painting of Harry’s parents, would he be able to obtain advice from them?

JKR: That is a very good question. They are all of dead people; they are not as fully realised as ghosts, as you have probably noticed. The place where you see them really talk is in Dumbledore’s office, primarily; the idea is that the previous headmasters and headmistresses leave behind a faint imprint of themselves. They leave their aura, almost, in the office and they can give some counsel to the present occupant, but it is not like being a ghost. They repeat catchphrases, almost. The portrait of Sirius’ mother is not a very 3D personality; she is not very fully realised. She repeats catchphrases that she had when she was alive. If Harry had a portrait of his parents it would not help him a great deal. If he could meet them as ghosts, that would be a much more meaningful interaction, but as Nick explained at the end of Phoenix—I am straying into dangerous territory, but I think you probably know what he explained—there are some people who would not come back as ghosts because they are unafraid, or less afraid, of death.

source from Accio quote, Edinburgh Book Festival, 2004

On the other hand, there are certainly times when the portraits seem to do far more than repeat catchphrases. Dumbledore’s painting, for instance, was able to generate original ideas for Order members in the fight against Voldemort. For instance, he seems to have come up with the idea of the Seven Potters, which, according to Mad-Eye, was a response to the Ministry outlawing apparition from Privet Drive. He suggested to Snape that he implant the idea of the plan by confounding Mundungus Fletcher. Later, he advises Snape to give Harry the Sword of Gryffindor, reminding him that the sword must be recovered under conditions of bravery.  This seems to be more original thinking than a “faint imprint” could impart.

I was reminded of this curiosity after reading this story about a grief-stricken man who created an AI version of his deceased girlfriend, with whom he could converse by text chat. It is a fascinating read, and delves into both the potential for healing, and the dangers, of clinging to a created “imprint” as a way of coping with loss.  Reading the article made me think of Dumbledore’s advice to Harry regarding the Mirror of Erised:

“However, this mirror will give us neither knowledge or truth. Men have wasted away before it, entranced by what they have seen, or been driven mad, not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible…It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live, remember that. “

I hope our Hogpro readers will look into the AI story, and comment here on the similarities to magical paintings. 

Giving Tuesday: Sponsor a Hogwarts Professor for the Global Autism Project.

Dear Readers:

I recently had the privilege of being accepted as a Skill Corps Volunteer with the Global Autism Project for July 2020. I will be part of a team traveling to Ecuador, to work in a center for autistic children and provide training for teachers and parents.  My university’s Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement is providing a seed grant for the project, but I need to raise 80% of the funds to make this trip a reality.

I am hoping Hogwartsprofessor.com readers who have enjoyed my Harry Potter, Hunger Games, Divergent and Cormoran Strike postings over the years will consider a donation to this cause on this Giving Tuesday. Skill Corps teams travel to places where schools and services for special needs children are scarce, with the long-term goal of establishing self-sufficient local centers.

No gift is too small.  The funding site is here for those who would like to donate.

Many thanks as we enter the holiday season.

A New Symbol for Harry Potter? Cover Ideogram on New Cursed Child Book

Arthur Levine next week will be publishing a fan-servicing book about the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was assembled by Jody Revenson, an author whose best-selling titles include the complete range of Wizarding World knock-off books released with each new Warner Brothers film or at Christmas time (see her Amazon page for all those “perfect gifts for the insatiable Harry Potter fan!”). The full title of Revenson’s latest is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey: Behind the Scenes of the Award-Winning Stage Production — yes, a title with two colons.

This would normally not merit a mention at HogwartsProfessor because I’m not a big fan of Cursed Child and the ancillary books about the Wizarding World I actually read are critical works about the J. K. Rowling novels or, with respect to the Fantastic Beasts franchise, those that might have clues about the shooting script we do not and most likely never will have. The video above was filmed when the new book’s publication was first announced in July 2019; what spurs me to write about it now?

I received my copy of TheRowlingLibrary online magazine yesterday and it included three pictures of the new book, all of which included a new — well, I cannot remember seeing it before — symbol or ideogram, as well as the much ballyhooed return to the lightning heavy faux Gothic font in the Harry Potter title. The super-stylized and symmetrically circular image all turns on the capital letter ‘H,’ the letter being bisected top to bottom in addition to its cross bar and encircled by the repeated phases of the moon.

Have a look at the three images in this post. The ideogram is on the spine of the book’s flyleaf cover where the symbol can be found at the very top. On the book without the wrapping cover, the symbol is everywhere. It is presented, too, as something like a Morris wallpaper design or an Escher drawing in the front endpaper, the pages just inside the front cover.

Forgive me if this not new, but, again, it is new to me. Does the ‘H’ stand for Hogwarts? That would seem odd; the school already has a crest or shield. Does it stand for ‘Harry Potter’? That would be even more peculiar because most initial set monograms include three letters and highlight the first letter of the surname rather than the first or middle names. It’s more likely, according to this convention, to be Rubeus Hagrid’s symbol.

Who cares? Anyone who studies the formal aspects of Rowling’s writing and it’s heavy measure of parallelism should be interested. This ideogram could be a symbol for ring composition, even better I think than the Deathly Hallows symbol. Long-time readers of this weblog will recall that the central chapter of the Hogwarts Saga’s central, “crucial” book is chapter 19 of Goblet of Fire, ‘The Hungarian Horntail,’ a chapter that Rowling highlight’s as the series pivot in various ways, not least of which is the alliterative title featuring the letter ‘H,’ a letter in which two vertical lines or parts are joined by a horizontal connecting bar.

Is this ‘H’ in the Cursed Child book a pointer to the two parts of the production? I hope that those of you who seen the play will chime in here if the letter-symbol is an important part of the show. Again, I ask your forgiveness in advance if this is common knowledge; Cursed Child is just not my thing.

 

Dark Arts Themed Cursed Child Trailer

That’s right — a trailer for a live theater experience. If you wondered what, if anything, the opening of a Harry Potter and the Cursed Child production in california might mean, you have the beginning of your answer.

Two New (Sort of!) JKRowling.com Posts

Yesterday Rowling broke her Twitter platform silence of eight months with a post and a retweet of a PotterMore posting about the new logo and tagline for ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ (‘J. K. Rowling Returns to Twitter‘).

She also reposted a January 2017 post, ‘Cursed Child Film Rumours,’ at her JKRowling.com website about rumors of a Daniel-Emma-Rupert film production of ‘Cursed Child.’ She says this rumor is “rubbish:”

I have no idea how these stories emerge, but to set the record straight once and for all: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is a stage play, it was conceived and written as a stage play, it was always intended to be a stage play and nothing else, and there are absolutely no plans for it to become a movie, a novel, a puppet show, a cartoon, a comic book series or Cursed Child on Ice.

And she posted another link, much like her Twitter re-tweeting, to the PotterMore story about the Times Square logo-and-tag-line unveiling: ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Takes over Times Square.’ That posting included this video.

Three short notes:

(1) The excitement about these events which even we are obliged to note are of no importance whatsoever, the change in logo-tagline of a Broadway play and an author’s return to a social media platform (!), testifies to the currency and vitality of Harry Potter’s status as the global shared text.

(2) If any conclusions are to be drawn from the JKRowling.com twin postings on top of the return to Twitter, my first guesses would be (a) it’s a business decision to use the tweeting platform with more than 14 million followers to highlight marketing events representing no little investment (how much do you think it cost to pull off that Times Square event about essentially nothing beyond reviving interest in a smash hit that may be showing signs of jumping the shark? To make the logo square with books and film logo?) and, (b) Rowling herself may be not totally on board with this. That reposting on her website of the 2017 denial of a movie production in the offing (2026?) sounds a bit like a ‘note to self’ (and to the world) that she is not really a prisoner of Rowling, Inc.’s mercenary concerns.

(3) Does anyone out there doubt that eventually, perhaps as with Tolkien “well after the author’s demise,” this play will be adapted into a movie and that there will be a Harry Potter movie re-booting, as well as a television series, opera, and Ice-Capades? If Christopher Tolkien couldn’t stop it, Rowling won’t be able to, and, given her charity concerns and commitments, I have to wonder at how long she will hold out against pressure externally from Warner Brothers and internally from Lumos and Volant.