Guest Post: ‘Go Set a Watchman’ and the Loss of Literary Belief (Calderon)

Mockingbird bookGo Set a Watchman and the Loss of Literary Belief

Chris Calderon

“You think she’s racist?” That’s the question I might have asked if Go Set a Watchman had been released instead of its critically acclaimed rewrite, To Kill a Mockingbird. If Watchman had been released in 1960 and I’d been around at the time, I might have said I was in the hands of a very immature novice, one who may or may not share in some of the prejudices of her characters; it’s kind of hard to tell (I would have hypothetically said).

For the record, I don’t actually think that Nellie Harper Lee is in any way a segregationist. Her best and only work displays a mind that is too mature for such nonsense. This is what makes the shortcomings of a book like Go Set a Watchman all the more glaring in light of what it would become. In reading Watchman, it’s possible to tell what makes it a mediocre work in comparison with the powerhouse that is Mockingbird.

WatchmanI also notice a trend in the lengths some reviewers were willing to go in order to defend what’s really just an over-glorified first draft. I think an examination of both the draft and the response of certain readers, as well as a look at the peculiar circumstances surrounding Watchman‘s publication can shed light not just on the quality of Watchman as a novel, but also what it says about how modern audiences and even publishers look at the very concept of fiction.

An Overview

In terms of story, Go Set a Watchman is fairly straightforward. It tells the story of twenty-something Jean-Louise Finch, a displaced Southerner living in New York and perhaps a failed Bohemian (there really is nothing approaching the little rabble rouser nicknamed Scout, and what little there is proves to meager to save the proceedings) during a visit back to her old home town of Maycomb, Alabama. [Read more…]

Guest Post: City of Dreaming Books

City of Dreaming Books“Portrait of the Artist as a Young Dinosaur”: Writing and Imagination in Walter Moers’ The City of Dreaming Books

By ChrisC

Metafiction is hard to do. It’s also something that most readers aren’t familiar with. Metafiction is a sub-genre of literature that is perhaps best defined as “Fiction that is about the nature, art and craft of fiction, and its various elements (i.e. style, characterization etc.)”. Because of this, metafiction is actually more of a subject that can be fitted into the plot of any genre, whether it be fantastic or realistic.

Because metafiction is concerned with “the writing of fiction”, one of it’s greatest risks is that it can bore the audience. The simple fact is that while it’s possible to tell a story about the art of writing, very few seem able to pull it off in an effective way. That and the truth about creative writing is that for most authors, it consists of just sitting in front of a computer screen all day while either waiting or trying to have a good idea. That’s about it (almost) as far as the scribbling side of things goes (and it gets even worse if your story requires a bit of research, as most of them often do; lame perhaps, but true).

[Read more…]

Guest Post: David Martin reveals the Role of Books in the Hogwarts Saga

Tomorrow night MuggleNet Academia’s Keith Hawk and I interview David Martin, Potter Pundit extraordinaire, about a talk he gave at MISTI Con on the role of books inside the Harry Potter novels. David graciously agreed to letting me post his notes from that brilliant talk here so listeners could have a follow-up reference to the podcast. He only asks that I mention upfront that this is a work in progress, not a polished piece or finished production.

If you’re like me, you’ll be wow’ed by this remarkable survey and eager to hear David talk on the subject in this week’s MuggleNet Academia show. Here’s David!

[An updated version of David’s Notes was posted here at his direction on Thursday, 2 July 2015. Enjoy!]


Note: This talk was presented at Misti-Con in 2013 and again in 2015.


The Harry Potter novels take place in a fully developed book culture – that is, they take place in a world where people (some people) use and interact with books.  There are many more books used in the Harry Potter novels than there are other series with which they are sometimes compared.  When I present this topic as a talk, I begin by asking the audience for the names of books that are mentioned in the HP novels.  The audience will easily come up with a dozen titles very quickly. [Read more…]

Guest Post: MISTI Con 2015! TGTSNBN

Misti-Con 2015 was an awesomely magical event that took place May 21 – 25, 2015 at the Margate Resort in the beautiful lakes region of Laconia, NH.  The Margate was sold out within weeks of the announcement of Misti-Con 2015 in August 2014, which gives tremendous credibility of this fantastical bi-annual Harry Potter conference.  Misti-Con was organized by The Group That Shall Not Be Named (HP-NYC),

I have been to Potter conferences all over the U.S. by various organizations over the last 10 years and Misti-Con was impressive by the dedication of its loyal staff who saw to every minute detail of the 5-day event from the programming, events, talks, concerts, hotel menu items, and down to the immense amount of decorations that permeated the hallways, lobbies and conference rooms at the two locations at the Margate (main hotel and secondary building).  To welcome us as we entered was a large statue with characters from the Potter movies intertwined together as one entity.

Opening ceremonies offered skilled Japanese drumming and a magician with a few tricks up his sleeve as well as introductions of the Misti-Con staff and brief in-seat introductions of guest speakers; the ceremonies closed with a bang when fireworks filled the lake skies of the Margate.

Guest speakers during the course of the conference included the visual engineers of Universal’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, actor Chris Rankin (Percy Weasley), and the esteemed Dean of Harry Potter Scholars, John Granger.

Several discussion groups, as well as lectures were offered – Harry Potter Fan Zone’s fellow reporter, David Gras, presented two round-table discussions and other talks offered attendees deeper journeys into the world of Harry Potter including Dr. Patrick McCauley from Chestnut Hill College, PA who is releasing a book entitled Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter

Some classes offered Harry Potter dance lessons and art classes.  The Bewitching Bazaar showcased vendors offering various magical items such as Potter tea, Potter-style witches hats, jewelry, as well as fan fic books.  The Wizarding World’s Fair offered various feats of magical-ness – alas the hot air balloons rides were cancelled due to high winds. Wizard Wrock and ghost stories down on the beach entertained the night-time crowd.

Kudos to the organizers of this well-planned and articulated event with special thanks to Clay Dockery, Treasurer and Co-Head Organizer.  This reporter, as one of hundreds, look forward to the next MistiCon!

— Toni Gras, Reporter for Harry Potter Fan Zone

Guest Post: An ‘On Fairy Stories’ for Ghost Stories and Horror? Conservative Russell Kirk and the Mythopoeia of Horror Fiction

“All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural…can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.”

Russell Kirk is justly renowned for his revival of Burkean conservatism in politics. What is not as well known is his love of great literature and his accomplishments as a writer of ghost stories and horror himself. Chris Calderon has written this brief introduction to the man and his work to encourage HogwartsProfessor readers to read Kirk’s ‘Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale,’ what some believe is the horror-able equivalent to Tolkien’s ‘On Fairy Stories.’ I highly recommend it.

The only reason I have for giving a brief intro to the thought of someone else is very simple: the great majority of both readers and non-readers don’t know who Russell Kirk is, and the great majority will go to the grave never even knowing the self-styled “Sage of Mecosta” once walked about the place (and for all any of us know, probably still does).

Briefly, Kirk was, to a very small coterie of critics, writers, pundits and politicians something of a hero, I guess.  At least he was regarded as what’s known as a genuine Man of Letters.  He was a critic and writer on the interrelated subjects of political history, theology, and literary criticism. His The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot and A Conservative Reader are staples of the modern conservative movement (Kirk helped found the political journal, National Review, of which, with William Buckley, he is a patron saint). In other words, he was what nowadays probably be called a social pundit, though it’s the designation of critic that probably sums him up best (though in today’s narrowly compacted public square he’d most likely be labeled a Catholic apologist).

Along with writers like T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Kirk approached the writing and study of literature from a Christian perspective (in his case, American Catholicism).  This conviction shaped everything he did, from a study of the thought of Edmund Burke, to what I still regard as the best biography of the Four Quartets author, Eliot and his Age.  Kirk’s belief about fiction, as he put it, was “All important literature has some ethical end; and the tale of the preternatural…can be an instrument for the recovery of moral order.” This brings us to one other thing Kirk shared in common with the Inklings.  Like them, he was a writer of fantastic fiction.  The difference was that his chosen field of work was the Horror genre. See Ancestral Shadows: An Anthology of Ghostly Tales for a collection of his ghost stories and Old House of Fear for his best known gothic novel.

Ghost stories and the like are not a topic generating much discussion at HogwartsProfessor!  Which just makes Kirk’s beliefs about it all the more novel.  His basic claim for the genre was that it fulfills the same Mythopoeic functions as either Fantasy or Science Fiction.  Does this mean that Kirk would be willing to say certain types of Supernatural tales offer their own bone-chilling form of Escape, Recovery, and Consolation?  While I’ve never seen an essay where he used those words exactly, he was more than familiar with the writings of both Tolkien and Lewis, and his criticism speaks to all these ideas.

In A Cautionary Note on the Ghostly Tale Kirk made a deliberate effort to reveal the mythopeic heart beating in the works of Poe and Hawthorne.  Whether or not he will leave others convinced is something others will have to make up their own minds about.  And with that, I turn the floor over to the esteemed Mr Kirk via this link to his Cautionary Note essay online about this very subjectAnd for those who want more, be sure to check out Jeffrey Dennis Pearce’s webpage devoted to Kirk’s thoughts on the genre, Ghostly Kirk.

A sample from Cautionary note:

Since most modern men have ceased to recognize their own souls, the spectral tale has been out of fashion, especially in America. As Cardinal Manning said, all differences of opinion are theological at bottom; and this fact has its bearing upon literary tastes. Because—even though they may be churchgoers—the majority of Americans do not much hunger after personal immortality, they cannot shiver at someone else’s fictitious spirit.

Perhaps the primary error of the Enlightenment was the notion that dissolving old faiths, creeds, and loyalties would lead to a universal sweet rationalism. But deprive man of St. Salvator, and he will seek, at best, St. Science—even though he understands Darwin, say, no better than he understood Augustine. Similarly, our longing for the invisible springs eternal, merely changing its direction from age to age. So if one takes away from man a belief in spirits, it does not follow that thereafter he will concern himself wholly with Bright Reality; more probably, his fancy will seek some new realm—and perhaps a worse credulity.

Thus stories of the supernatural have been supplanted by “science fiction.” Though the talent of H. G. Wells did in that genrenearly everything worth undertaking, a flood of “scientific” and “futuristic” fantasies continues to deluge America. With few exceptions, these writings are banal and meaningless. My present point, however, is simply that many people today have a faith in “life on other planets” as burning and genuine as belief in a literal Heaven and a literal Hell was among twelfth-century folk, say—but upon authority far inferior. . . . Having demolished, to their own satisfaction, the whole edifice of religious learning, abruptly and unconsciously they experience the need for belief in something not mundane; and so, defying their own inductive and mechanistic premises, they take up the cause of Martians and Jovians. As for angels and devils, let alone bogies—why, Hell, such notions are superstitious!

But if the stubborn fact remains that, although not one well-reputed person claims to have seen the men in the flying saucers, a great many well-reputed persons, over centuries, have claimed to have seen ghosts; or, more strictly speaking, to have perceived certain “psychic phenomena.” From Pliny onward, the literature of our civilization is full of such narrations. Scholars have analyzed soberly such appearances, from Father Noel Taillepied’s Treatise on Ghosts (1588) to Father Herbert Thurston’sGhosts and Poltergeists (1955). The Journal of the Society for Psychical Research has examined painstakingly, for decades, the data of psychic manifestations. Eminent people so different in character as the Wesleys and Lord Castlereagh have been confronted by terrifying apparitions….

Do read the whole thing!