What’s so funny ‘bout Peace, Love, and the Order of the Phoenix? Point of view and reader reaction

According to the great philosopher Obi-Wan Kenobi, a great many of the truths to which we cling depend upon our own point of view. This nugget of wisdom has been clearly illustrated to me lately as I’ve been reading aloud Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix to my nine-year- old. I really hadn’t expected so much laughing from him as I read this one. Granted, there are some great Fred and George moments, and he is a big Fred and George fan, but I don’t really think of OP as being funny. It is, as we’ve discussed here at great length, the “black” book, the nigredo of Harry’s transformation as he begins to be stripped of his father substitutes with Sirius’s death. The Wizarding Wheezes humor, particularly appealing to pre-teen boys (setting off fireworks indoors, stuffing people in toilets, and puking seem much funnier to that age demographic) do serve to lighten the mood, and I guess they can be really laugh-out-loud funny if one is at the age to be deeply impressed by people who can burp the alphabet.

    That difference of reaction I understand, and I’m glad that his amusement has brought more of the humor to the forefront through this darker phase of our journey together with the boy wizard; what caught me up short was when we were reading “Snape’s Worst Memory,” a chapter I had actually been dreading (with “Career Advice,” my favorite chapter waiting just after to encourage me). I just did not look forward to reading that painful Pensieve scene, which I found unpleasant even before Deathly Hallows and its reassurance that Snape truly does deserve pity rather than contempt. Much to my horror, as I read, with some discomfort, of the Mauraders’ taunting of Snape, my sensitive, kind-hearted son actually laughed. I was appalled, and even snarled, “It’s not funny,” as defensive of Snape as Lily Evans is.

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Shared Text: Harry Potter and the Vanishing Jihad

William Kilpatrick argues in Harry Potter and the Vanishing Jihad that Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix is a roman a clef (‘novel with a key’) about the regime’s denial of radical Islam and the war the West is in, like it or not, with jihadists. As someone who has written books on the ‘keys’ to Harry Potter, none of which include Muslim bomb throwers, I rather enjoyed his take, if not for the reasons you might expect.

I find the argument delightful even if I think Ms. Rowling in Phoenix was (a) using Neville Chamberlain’s historical appeasement of the German National Socialists as her model rather than Labour Party denial of the Muslim menace to British liberties and (b) that she was writing the alchemical nigredo of the series. Mistaken as Kilpatrick or I may be, though, about Ms. Rowling having written Phoenix as a topical tract, his use of Harry Potter in ‘Vanishing Jihad’ as a shared text to make his points about Islamophilia and the de facto collaboration of our media and governments with our terrorist enemies demonstrates the Hogwarts Saga can be used to reach a near universal audience in the Public Square.

Two questions: [Read more…]

Shared Text: College Scavenger Hunt

Last Saturday, I rose with the sun to travel to Philadelphia for the Dad Vail Crew Regatta. My daughter Sarah, a freshman at the University of Chicago, was rowing in their Novice Four boat that had qualified against all odds the day before for the Regatta semi-finals. It was a delight to see her compete, even if her boat finished fourth in the semis and didn’t qualify for the finals.

I didn’t realize until much later that, as much as she lives for Crew, Sarah’s coming to the Regatta represented a huge sacrifice for her because it meant missing all but the final hours of the University of Chicago Scavenger Hunt. Her College House, Charles Hitchcock Hall, had won three years in a row, and. Sarah, as a freshman, was missing out on the four days of madness and fun and often disgusting challenges that make ‘Scav’ a highlight of the Hyde Park year. What no one missed, I’m sure, was the Harry Potter reference in the 2010 Scavenger Hunt list of items. [Read more…]

Shared Text Note: ‘The Voldemort View’

Readers here know that I like to note instances of allusions to Harry Potter in current media pieces as a marker of the degree to which Ms. Rowling’s novels have become and act as our “shared text” in the 21st Century. Today’s reference (H/T to Charles, who knows my thoughts on Education courses and degrees!) is from the National Review Online’s ‘Corner’ page in an entry written by John Derbyshire, the author of We Are Doomed. That blogpost, ‘Gapology,’ discusses the three explanations of the so-called “achievement gap’ in education, the last of which — the common sense one never-to-be-named in politically correct academic circles — is tagged “the Voldemort View.” Mr. Derbyshire after this allusion then adds another Potter reference, this time to the climactic confrontation in Philosopher’s Stone, that no one not very familiar with that book will ‘get.’ [Read more…]