November 1999: When Harry Met Sally

Yesterday an old friend sent me a copy of the Peanuts comic strip from 8 November 1999 (above). I confess to having been astonished and skeptical. “No way,” I thought, “was Charles Schulz still drawing dailies in late 1999.”

Turns out, of course, that he was. This must have been one of his last comic strips; he suffered a series of strokes in early December of that year and retired.

I remember as a high school student not only being surprised but being thrilled when I learned that Mohandas K. Gandhi had corresponded with Leo Tolstoy. I was interested in both writers, especially Gandhi, and had mentally filed each in a water-tight compartment that shared no space with the other, that is, ’19th Century writer’ and ’20th Century writer.’ Discovering that their lives over-lapped and that they had actually exchanged ideas was a delightfully defamiliarizing and exciting moment, something akin to studying Coleridge and Blake and then finding out that the two actually met one afternoon and had a long conversation over tea (alas, no record of that exchange survives, but Malcolm Guite does a wonderful job at recreating what might have been said).

Charles ‘Sparky’ Schulz was a great favorite of mine growing up; I spent a great deal of time as a young boy reading comic strip anthologies, huge books that collected daily and Sunday strips, and Peanuts with Dick Tracy and Buck Rogers was an especial favorite. Charlie Brown, of course, had the virtue of also being still published on a daily basis. There is no record of his having corresponded with Rowling before he died in 2000, but it cheers me no end to know that it is possible that he had read a Harry Potter book and felt inspired to share his approval of them in having Sally, Charlie’s younger sister, write him a note.

Please share your unlikely meeting discoveries in the comment boxes, especially if they involve celebrity encounters with J. K. Rowling before she became The Presence. I know that Ian Rankin and the Cursed Child playwright met Jo back in the day; any others?

The Tweet Heard Round the World, Part 2

As you may recall, Rowling’s cancellation for her supposed “transphobia” by the elite of Harry Potter fandom came as a consequence to her full throated support of Maya Forstater in a tweet on 19 December 2019. My longest publicly shared view of this controversy is, in brief, that it was a deliberate act of self-destruction and recreation, her intentional solve et coagula reinvention of her public persona. That remains very much a minority position, which, of course, you’d expect if I am right. Rowling is the master of media manipulation and even features it in her novels. Can you say “narrative misdirection”? We’re not supposed to see it.

Yesterday Rowling returned to the scene of her self-demolition with a re-tweet (see above) of Maya Forstater’s twitter note claiming victory in her appeal of the 2019 Tribunal’s finding that she was not the victim of unlawful dismissal. The Summary of ‘Maya Forstater vs CGD Europe and Others‘ from the court (posted after the jump) makes me wonder if the celebrations are in order for such a Pyrrhic Victory, but I think Rowling is correct in noting in her re-tweet to a social media platform exponentially larger than Forstater’s – with something of a thumbing of the nose at her detractors? — that free speech has not yet been entirely cancelled in the UK.

Again, though, as ardently as The Presence holds her convictions about feminism and transgender issues, I think the major take-away from the controversy is less about those beliefs than about Rowling’s changed status because of the uproar. She is no longer the media go-to diva for progressive causes or the sock-puppet quoted by adolescent fans of all ages in support of their political Fascination Du Jour. She is under no obligation to share her thoughts on every news item via Twitter. I think it more than credible, arguing backwards from effect to cause, that this transformation suits her fine, so well that it may have been her aim in the first place.

If you doubt that Rowling may be delighted to be free of the mad-house PC/CRT factions of Harry Potter fandom — can you say ‘Fandom Forward,’ the former ‘Harry Potter Alliance’ that jettisoned their name less they be tainted by association with Rowling? — please re-read Gloria Conti’s recall at the end of Troubled Blood of her youthful dream-world fantasy life within her obsession about The Godfather. If that isn’t Rowling-Galbraith’s portrait of the Potter Crazies whose lives turn in large part on their Walter Mitty imagined existence and how she hopes they will come to understand themselves in years to come, i.e., growing up and being ashamed of their selfish nuttery, I’m totally misreading it.

Not enough? Read the conversations at the Valentine’s Day Party from Hell with special attention to the arguments of Kyle and Courtney vis a vis ‘changing the world by reclaiming language’ and by exhibitionist demonstrations (‘Slut Walk’). Rowling-Galbraith gives us a word picture of her fandom detractors, young and old, in that back-and-forth. That she inserts a very sympathetic character named ‘Maya,’ one of the Bayliss sisters, in Strike5 is a pointer to her not being above inserting caricatures of and name-checks to real people or a type of person.

I doubt that the Forstater Saga is over but I’m pretty sure Rowling’s reinvention and rubedo, a public metamorphosis achieved through it, are complete. Your thoughts?

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HBO Max: ‘The Harry Potter Quiz Show’

I was contacted last week by a Casting Associate for a business that finds candidates for reality television programming. The show in question is HBO Max’ ‘Harry Potter Quiz Show’ and I received a message via the Contact page here at HogwartsProfessor because of my unofficial status as ‘Dean of Harry Potter Scholars.’ In a nutshell, they wanted me to name names of the Best and Brightest in Hogwarts Saga fandom who would be great on a five episode trivia contest game show.

Which was fun! After I’d given him my Top Ten choices, I asked for permission to post here about the Quiz Show and the website at which anyone and everyone can apply. Permission was granted — which shouldn’t have surprised me because, as is not unusual in this sort of thing, the programing and application site have been public knowledge for several weeks.

WizardingWorld.com, for example, announced the project and encouraged everyone to explain why they are the world’s greatest Harry Potter fan in an article titled, Celebrating 20th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film: A quiz show and retrospective TV special to launch later this year.

We know you love a Harry Potter quiz – so get ready for something really special. Later this year, an epic quiz competition series will be launching in the US from Warner Bros, challenging wizarding world fans to prove their knowledge. You’ll be able to tune in and join in with the upcoming quiz competition series across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS, with international viewing plans to be announced at a later date.

The as-of-yet untitled quiz will feature four one-hour quiz challenges across four consecutive days and will finish with a retrospective special, all celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone’s film this year. So, get ready for a host of magic and challenges, and a celebration of that first film that introduced us to the wizarding world for the first time.

The quiz series itself will be celebrate the incredible fandom and their love of the Harry Potter films and stories – and will be open to contestants who are 14 years old and over, with fans of all ages able to join in from home. So, many generations of wizarding world fan can get involved!

The link embedded in that last paragraph takes the Willie Wonka Wanna-Be, the Charlie/Charlotte Bucket Brigade, to ‘HarryPotterQuizShow.CastingCrane.com,’ a site at which he or she makes their elevator pitch to the casting mavens about “why I would be a great contestant on this show.” Questions include:

  • What is your favorite Harry Potter film and why?
  • Who is your favorite Harry Potter character and why?
  • Why are YOU Harry Potter‘s biggest fan?
  • Do you have any Harry Potter hobbies, traditions, memorabilia, or collections?
  • Which Hogwarts house do you belong to? 

They also ask for pictures and a video clip, and, my favorite, a space for applicants to “List all past TV shows in which you have appeared (Name, Network, Year, Role, # of Episodes).”

Hollywood Reporter jumped all over this with an article that opens with the prediction, “The era of the Harry Potter TV series is officially beginning.”

The untitled competition quiz show, which is now casting via WizardingWorld.com, will feature super fans competing to answer trivia questions with special guests set to also be featured in the four-episode series. The show will lead into a retrospective special. An online play-along component will also be part of the game show.

The game show and retrospective are the first official TV offshoots of J.K. Rowling’s beloved Harry Potter franchise and come after WarnerMedia tapped Warner Bros. Global Kids, Young Adults and Classics president Tom Ascheim to oversee the Harry Potter franchise for the studio. Both the series and special are exec produced by Warner Bros. Unscripted TV and Warner Horizon. Robin Ashbrook and Yasmin Shackleton will exec produce the hourlong quiz show, while Casey Patterson (A West Wing Special, VAX Live) will oversee the retrospective. Sources say that while Rowling is not directly involved in either production, Warners collaborated with her team on the content….

The decision to expand the franchise for television comes as NBCUniversal in 2016 inked a rich seven-year rights deal with Warner Bros. Domestic TV Distribution that included U.S. broadcast, cable and streaming rights to the Wizarding World franchise. That deal, which ends in April 2025, included digital initiatives as well as theme park content and events. The pact also meant Warners execs had to make a side deal that allowed all of the Harry Potter features to briefly stream on HBO Max when the service launched last year. The films left HBO Max after three months and recently returned to NBCUniversal streamer Peacock.

The decision to launch the quiz show and retrospective across HBO Max, Cartoon Network and TBS arrives as WarnerMedia continues to look for synergy across its portfolio in a bid to expose programming to a larger audience.

The Quiz-Show-Not-Yet-But-Soon-To-Be-Named, in brief, is the “first official off-shoot” into the television medium, an opening shot in the long term battle plan to create more excitement in younger fans about the Potter franchise and to revive enthusiasm in the Old Guard. This last challenge is especially significant in light of the Tweet Heard Round the World and Rowling’s subsequent cancellation by the Twitterati.

The good news? This is all in the hands of Rowling, Inc., so it will be done professionally and without sly sarcastic digs at The Presence and her feminism.

The better news? While no great fan of the medium and the sub-genre of programing here, a show of this kind will generate fresh interest in Rowling’s first series of novels, and (he writes hopefully), via trickle-down effect, more interest in her more recent writing, the Cormoran Strike novels.

The most exciting possibility? That one of my recommendations for Quiz Show Contestant or, best of all, a HogwartsProfessor.com Serious Reader is chosen and wins! Please take the fifteen minutes the application takes to fill out, young and old, to win a chance at stepping up to the Big Stage!

Roger Scruton: On Harry Potter

A friend in Dallas sent me a url to this video in 2017 inviting my response. I had only just learned of the remarkable Roger Scruton through conversation with a brilliant University of Oklahoma Honors College student and was intrigued to learn that the English philosopher had condescended to discuss the Hogwarts Saga. My comments below to the friend in Dallas at the time (and my decision not to post it here then?) reflected my disappointment about Scruton’s conclusion that Rowling is an advocate of a “soft socialism.”

I hadn’t seen this video. Thank you for sending! My first thoughts while listening to it was his theory, that reading the Hogwarts Saga induces “Potterism” or childish and magical thinking (“soft socialism”) alongside his contrasting “magic” with “prayer” and the will-to-power of alchemy with the love of knowledge of scientists, untainted by ambition or any fallen human motivation, reflects a profound ignorance of children’s literature, the history of science, and Harry Potter.

I did think his BBC English and soft reading of his piece were very effective rhetorically, even if I winced each time he mispronounced Rowling’s name.

The real shame is that he is more right than wrong about Rowling’s politics and her Twitter pronouncements, which are, alas, of the same value as our President’s [Trump] in the end. Scruton was right at the start in wanting to separate Rowling’s literary accomplishment from her liberal ideology; he failed in the end by arguing incredibly that her stories induce irresponsibility and a penchant for the sentimental socialism of the author.

An English friend last month sent me the link to this same video and asked what I thought. How things have changed since 2017, no? Certainly my thoughts on this video have.

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The Christmas Pig: New Rowling Story

A change to the Rowling Twitter header, followed by a joking retweet that was erased (and then reposted), ended this morning with the announcement of the 12 October publication of a new children’s story by J. K. Rowling, The Christmas Pig. From the Rowling.com website page:

The Christmas Pig is a heartwarming, page-turning adventure about one child’s love for his most treasured toy, and how far he will go to find it.  It’s a standalone story, unrelated to any of J.K. Rowling’s previous work, and is suitable for children 8+: a tale for the whole family to fall in love with.

Jack loves his childhood toy, Dur Pig.  DP has always been there for him, through good and bad.  Until one Christmas Eve something terrible happens – DP is lost.  But Christmas Eve is a night for miracles and lost causes, a night when all things can come to life – even toys…  And Jack’s newest toy – the Christmas Pig (DP’s annoying replacement) – has a daring plan:  Together they’ll embark on a magical journey to seek something lost, and to save the best friend Jack has ever known…

The Presence returned to Twitter after five months of silence with a change to her header and a retweet, that according to friends in the UK and Argentina was posted then taken down only to appear again. Here are the new header and that tweet:

Three Quick Notes:

(1) Perhaps the most encouraging news is that the first fifty comments made by twitter followers to Rowling’s return to posting included only two references to the transgender kerfuffle vis a vis Maya Forstater’s appeal this month and both were supportive of Rowling’s position. The ‘Welcome Back!’ and ‘We Missed You!’ memes were the rule without exception. I expect that will change as word spreads about The Christmas Pig but this opening salvo sans nastiness is a very positive change for the better.

(2) I don’t think this means Rowling has returned to regular tweeting, in fact, I would be astonished and very disappointed if it did mean this. That her response to Mhairi W went out, came down, and was reposted suggests some real hesitance to re-enter the social media game. I’m hopeful that this tweet to her more than 14 million followers was the exception made to serve the obvious marketing expectation from her publishers rather than a joyful reentry into the nether world of the Twitterati and the Ideological Twits. I think all of her fans prefer new stories, screenplays, and novels, the fruit of her focus on her vocation as author, to her endless and unedifying engagement with social media trolls and tweeters.

(3) I have been sitting on a post about the confusing comments Rowling has made about the genesis of The Ickabog through the years, from its being her next project in 2007 and all but done a few years later to an item in the attic she dusted off for the Covid lockdown pande-mania. I hope that Nick Jeffery will explain in a Guest Post or in the comment thread below how the announcement of this new story creates a reasonable alternative to my pet theory, based on Rowling’s contradictory statements about a children’s story for close to fifteen years, that The Ickabog publication was only rowled out (sic) last summer as a fire break to all the negative transgender controversy publicity, a necessary sop to public opinion to smooth the way for Troubled Blood’s publication in September.

A new story by year’s end! Hurrah!