Christmas Thoughts About ‘Zone of Interest,’ a Timely and Timeless Film

Ten days ago, Zone of Interest, a Holocaust film, was released in the United States. It’s one of those movies that gets serious ‘Best Picture’ talk at Academy Awards time. From the picture’s Wikipedia entry:

The Zone of Interest is a 2023 historical drama film written and directed by Jonathan Glazer, loosely based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Martin Amis. A co-production between the United States, the United Kingdom, and Poland, the film centers on Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss and his wife as they strive to build a dream life next to the concentration camp. It stars Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller in the lead roles.

 The Zone of Interest premiered at the 76th Cannes Film Festival on 19 May 2023 to critical acclaim, winning the Grand Prix and the FIPRESCI Prize. It was released in the United States on 15 December 2023, and will be released in the United Kingdom on 2 February 2024, by A24, and in Poland on 9 February 2024 by Gutek Film. It was named one of the top 5 international films of 2023 by the National Board of Review and was selected as the British entry for the Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards, and was one of the 15 finalist films in the December shortlist.

If you’ve read the Amis book on which Zone is “loosely based,” I think you’ll shake your head in wonder: the plots of the two story versions share a scene and major characters — the Auschwitz Concentration Camp Commandant’s home just outside its walls and him and his family — but little of the action. The novel turns on a love triangle of sorts and involves a collaborating prisoner forced to choose between killing the woman in the dispute between two Nazis and the survival of his own wife; the movie doesn’t have a plot more engaging than the true-to-history assignment of the Commandant to Berlin and back to Auschwitz. “Loosely based,” though, may be exactly right because the two stories share the remarkably sharp message of the human capacity to be consumed with their individual lives in feigned ignorance of and real indifference to the madness taking place all around them.

The movie is making such a big splash because of the way it delivers its version of the message, a method impossible in a book. The writer and director filmed the movie with its bland plot-line — there are no scenes filmed within the operating Concentration Camp or characters trying to kill or save each other — but, post production, he added a sound track of all the noises coming from the machinery of mass murder just out of sight but not of hearing. The viewing audience, however, gets the full audio and is, as you must imagine, stunned beginning to end by the deliberate obliviousness of the story’s players in their relations with one another to the historical crimes against humanity, the scientific and systemic slaughter of more than a million people, taking place within easy earshot.

The trailer for the film can be watched via this link and the story of Glazer’s unique film-making choices can be read at How ‘The Zone of Interest’ Uses Our Ears Like No Other Film. It’s not currently showing in Oklahoma City but I hope to see the movie when it arrives, before or after next year’s Academy Awards. Zone of Interest  seems that rare film that communicates a simultaneously timely and timeless meaning, one that this medium is uniquely capable of delivering so powerfully.

After the jump, I share my thoughts in direct violation of the dictum not to talk about politics or religion over the holidays. Please stop here if you couldn’t be less interested in my ‘take’ on this film and why it is causing such a stir at Christmas time this year. No apologies will be offered to anyone scandalized by the contrarian opinions and traditional perspective which follows.

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Is Rowling’s Best Work Behind Her Now?

The Twenty-Five Year Rule of Great Authors

Is Rowling past her prime? With the completion of The Running Grave, in several ways the ‘end’ of the Cormoran Strike series, and at just over twenty-five years since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, is her best work already on our shelves? Of course only time will tell, but the pattern of history is that the Greats of English literature have a twenty-five year publication window, which, if the pattern holds for Rowling has significant meaning for those interpreting her work.

For more please visit The Hogwarts Professor Substack. You do not need to subscribe to read, but if you choose to, subscription is free. Look out for the Part Nine conclusion tomorrow!

New Cover, New Substack Posts, and a Journey to Wales

Since our last posting here at the HogwartsProfessor weblog, Rowling, Inc., has released the cover for The Running Grave with the attendant story tease and summary, the HogwartsProfessor Substack site has been active with posts on a variety of exciting topics, and I have confirmed my reservations (and packed) this week for a trip to Swansea University in Wales, a journey I begin in just a few hours. Here are a few notes for those of you who stop by our old haunts before I leave for the airport.

The Strike 7 Cover and Story Blurb

I read about the cover and tease release via and had these three thoughts about the images chosen:

(1) The yellow or gold touches suggest the end of literary alchemy and the dawn at the end of Deathly Hallows

(2) The Cromier pier location in Norfolk we have seen before in Rowling twitter headers and is a fit with the locale described in the teaser paragraphs.

(3) The picture itself is reminiscent of an oriental pagoda, Torii, or paifang, a point of spiritual passage, entry way, or gate. I’m hopeful that this hint is a pointer to the psycho-spiritual content of the seventh book with its I Ching epigraphs.

I’d also note that a a fan had tweeted a mock-up of this scene as a cover for the upcoming novel months ago.

This is either a remarkable coincidence or suggestive that the marketing team responsible for promoting Rowling-Galbraith mysteries is especially attentive to the series’ social media mavens. Perhaps a little of both?

About the teaser paragraphs, I was only reminded that discussing them at any length here or elsewhere is to become an unpaid adjunct member of said marketing team. I have played that role for as long as I can remember writing about Rowling’s incipient releases — and think I’ll pass on speculating about what it may mean this time.

In brief, the Agency is headed to Norfolk, Robin is going undercover into a religious cult, and Strike has plenty to reflect on with respect to his childhood experiences nearby; who needs to prime the pump of pre-publication sales any more than that exciting story-line? I very much look forward to reading Strike7 in September and writing then about its Deathly Hallows echoes, ring structure, alchemical notes, prophetic epigraphs, and mythological backdrops — if any of those elements appear.

HogwartsProfessor Substack Posts

Since my last update here at the beginning of last month, the HogwartsProfessor staff have been very busy over at the Substack site writing about The Running Grave and related topics.

Elizabeth Baird-Hardy, our resident movie and Hunger Games expert, shared her insights about the Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes trailer. I am not a fan of movie adaptations as a rule and those made of Suzanne Collins’ novels were especially ironic and bad; Prof Hardy’s notes were very encouraging, however, and I suspect on the strength of her arguments I should go the theater on the day of release.

Nick Jeffrey wrote two posts, one on The Black Dog in English literature with special attention to Rowling’s use of the image, and another this morning on literary mimics, parodists, and satirists, ‘The King’s Canary,’ that discusses both a Dylan Thomas work that may have been the model for Owen Quine’s Bombyx Mori and a contemporary writer that seems determined to say unkind things about The Presence, albeit covertly in story. Each Jeffrey post rewards the time invested in reading them several fold with pleasure and valuable information available nowhere else.

I wrote about the choice of the I Ching as the source of epigraphs in Strike 7. I happened in a series of synchronous discoveries, the most notable in a grocery store storage room, to stumble on a Jungian commentary on and translation of the Oracle by Rudolf Ritsema and Stephen Karcher, which book pointed to a very promising possibility of why Rowling-Galbraith chose to ‘go there’ for her Running Grave chapter headers.

I began what will be a series of posts about the soul’s journey to perfection in spirit depicted in allegory in Rowling’s work, with a review of the several attempts that have been made to read the Hogwarts Saga as a retelling of Prudentius’ poem, Psychomachia. This introductory post will be followed soon by one exploring the choice of the name ‘Prudence’ for Strike’s half-sister, a Jungian analyst with whom he seems certain to be meeting in the early going of Running Grave, an encounter that may parallel the opening chapter of Deathly Hallows and the death of Charity. Will Prudence in ‘Running Grave’ Suffer a Fate Similar to Charity’s in ‘Deathly Hallows’? A Look Back at a Neglected Aspect of Psychomachian Allegory in Harry Potter

That series was put aside by the advent of Evan Willis’ theory about why the Cormoran Strike novels will be a ten book series. In anticipation of this effort, I laid out why I thought the Parallel Series Idea suggested strongly that Rowling’s detective fiction, if indeed it is a ten book set, is best thought of as seven in number with three add-ons not especially important to the integrity of the ring cycle. I included in that post my best guess about who will die in Running Grave the way Dobby did in Deathly Hallows and who will pay the part of Kreacher. If Running Grave is ‘Deathly Hallows 2,’ What Strike Series Characters will Play the Parts of Dobby and Kreacher?

Evan Willis’ post, Why the Cormoran Strike Novels Are a Ten Book Series, exploded my PSI-generated idea of seven + three with a brilliant numerological exposition and exploration of Rowling’s artistry and meaning. In brief, he argues that the two mythological backdrops to the Strike series, ‘Castor and Pollux’ and ‘Eros and Psyche,’ both involve the parting of the principal players before their eventual reunion and that this will be what happens in the Strike novels post Running Grave with their return to one another only in Strike 10. He explains that Rowling’s parallel series work will continue in Strike 8, 90, and 10, albeit with Casual Vacancy, The Ickabog, and The Christmas Pig as her standards or foils. The geometric figure he invokes as Rowling’s guiding structure for the first and second set of ten books written in parallel is the tetractys.

Willis’ synthesis of sacred geometry, alchemy, mythology, hermetic symbolism, tarot, I Ching, and Rowling’s parallel writing is, frankly, the most exciting and boundary-stretching bit of Rowling analysis in many years. I wrote a post in response (and in admiration) to explain the tradition of numerological symbolism in the English Greats, to note that Running Grave will reveal whether Willis has hit a grand slam or struck out in his swing for the fences (his structure-based predictions are that specific), and to share an alternative ten point symbol that may be used in Strike 7 as an echo of the “triangular eye,” the symbol of the Deathly Hallows. Is Tetractys Theory the Best Explanation of Why the Cormoran Strike Series is Ten Books in Length?

Please join us over at the HogwartsProfessor Substack site for extraordinary posts like these!

Trip to Swansea University in Wales

In two hours, I depart from Oklahoma City for Dallas and then London. God willing, I will wind up Wednesday in Wales for the graduation ceremonies at Swansea University. I have been given a pair of Guest Tickets, one of which will be used by my host, Nick Jeffrey, and the other is available for you to claim. Drop me a note in the comment boxes below if you’re interested and will be in the area!

I am being interviewed by the University’s alumni office for a write-up in their magazine; I hope the story angle will be about my scholarship rather than than my age, which is of course well above the average new PhD’s, my Walter Mitty existence as a Potter Pundit, or (egad) Rowling’s controversial, not to say “radioactive,” status. I promise to provide a link to the story should it ever be published online.

I remain hopeful that my thesis will be published one day as well. Until then, I’ll share tomorrow over at the Substack site a keynote talk I gave at St Andrews University on my first trip to the UK more than ten years ago now. Be sure to subscribe — it’s free — so that will come directly to your inbox! The World Turned Inside-Out and Right-Side Up: Harry Potter has More to Teach Us about Literary Criticism than Literary Criticism does about Harry Potter.


Weblog HogwartsProfessor is Dead; Long Live Substack HogwartsProfessor

This is post number 2900 at and it is a milestone akin to 29’s association with the planet Saturn, whose revolution around the sun takes that many years and the return of which to the position in one’s natal horoscope signals a Big Change or transformation. A Saturnine end or death — and a new beginning.

I started HogwartsProfessor twenty years ago as a bulletin board website on which I posted outlandishly long posts even for the time. With the help and guidance of Travis Prinzi, who created this WordPress site and the first headers for it, as well as paying server costs for years of its existence, it became a Go-To site for Harry Potter fandom’s serious readers. Elizabeth Baird Hardy was the first to join the faculty fellowship as a contributor and has served as Deputy Headmistress for fifteen years. Louise Freeman Davis joined ten years ago, Evan Willis not long after, and Nick Jeffery last year.

The site has morphed intentionally in the last three years from a long-post page on which new pieces appeared only as frequently as the faculty were moved to write them (or Guest Post contributors shared their writing with us) into almost a ‘Daily Newspaper’ or at least that paper’s editorial page. Our longest streak of consecutive daily posts stretched for more than nine months, which was quite the drain on our time and talents in addition to the costs to my treasury in maintaining the site.

And, sadly, this commitment to posting daily meant more YouTube videos and twitter exegesis and far fewer long posts and deep dives into the artistry and meaning of Rowling’s writing, not to mention of contemporary writing and films not-by-Rowling. Maintaining an audience by frequent new articles — and by ‘frequent’ I mean ‘Every Doggone Day’ — in addition to eating up the time necessary to re-read, think seriously about, and then compose the in-depth pieces also left less mental energy to take on new projects.

Fortunately, a new venue has appeared, an alternative to WordPress weblogs, which allows a writer to create and maintain an audience via email rather than frequent posting. That ‘other way’ is Substack, a subscription platform for long-form writing. With this post, HogwartsProfessor begins what will be at least a month long transition from a WordPress weblog to a subscription only Substack site, at which the once-a-week posts I write will appear in your inbox for free on Thursdays and once-a-month posts by Evan, Elizabeth, Nick, and a Guest every Monday.

As far as my posts go, I am very excited about returning to what I do best, namely, deep dives into the artistry and meaning of Rowling’s work (as well as that of other contemporary and traditional writers) with a special focus on the allegorical, anagogical, and alchemical content, the symbolism, structure, and story scaffolding of poems, plays, and longer prose. I have used these ideas in the past to speculate about what Rowling’s next books would include, a fun way to illustrate the tools in this writer’s kit, but an exercise that sadly (pathetically?) has become an end in itself. Freed from the self-imposed burden of daily posting, I look forward to exploring and explaining in depth the books we have in hand.

As a former colleague recently wrote to me, “You have done more for Rowling studies than anyone alive” (her emphasis). I’m confident she was referring to my work with traditional symbolism, literary alchemy, ring composition, psychomachia, intertextuality or literary allusion, and the peculiar parallel series in progress between the Strike and Potter novels, all of that being ground-breaking, original work on which other critical readers have built more and less successfully. I’m certain, though, she was not referencing my notes about The Presence’s tweets or the guesswork I have done or can do about what will happen in Running Grave by searching Deathly Hallows and Cuckoo’s Calling for clues lost in the crevices.

So — beginning Thursday, a new HogwartsProfessor! Thank you for twenty years of reading the posts at this WordPress weblog, and, in advance, for joining me and the fellowship of writers dedicated to bringing you the best and most original insights at our new Substack platform about the more profound craft and meaning of imaginative fiction and the literary arts.


Telegraph: ‘Why Harry Potter is a Literary Masterpiece that Belongs in the Canon’

Charlotte Runcie wrote an article last Saturday in The Telegraph (UK) titled, ‘Why Harry Potter is a Literary Masterpiece‘ with the subtitle, “JK Rowling is more than a lightning rod for controversy. She’s an author whose books belong in the canon of English literature.”

Her argument contra the Trans-manian Devils among the literati (and their cousins, the twitterati) who continue to slander Rowling as a “transphobe” and “murderer” (!) was short and to the point:

Beyond the legitimate literary criticism, Rowling has weathered several waves of unjustified attack, first from the harrumphing reviewers who somehow managed to read her books without reading them at all, and then a further wave of rage from those who disagree with her beyond the books, taking issue with her politics (she is pro-Labour but anti-Corbyn, and is a critic of Nicola Sturgeon) or her stance on women’s rights and the much-alleged transphobia. 

But if you go looking for anything transphobic that Rowling has said, you’re going to return empty-handed. In November last year, the journalist E J Rosetta was asked by an editor to write an article called “20 Transphobic JK Rowling Quotes We’re Done With”. After 12 weeks of research, she gave up, saying: “I’ve not found a single truly transphobic message.”
As refreshing as it is to read this plain truth stated in a mainline newspaper without equivocation or side-stepping, it’s not the best part of Runcie’s article. To answer the question posed in her title, she leans heavily on Beatrice Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter. Those of you familiar with that book will recognize almost every point that The Telegraph writer makes about the literary merits of the Hogwarts Saga as an insight taken straight from the source text named. Good for her for choosing such an excellent reference and citing it at least in passing; the article is worth reading just for the reminder of how good Literary Allusion really is.

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