Why the Harry Potter Books are Better


“Professor Strand, which is your favorite Harry Potter movie?” a student asked recently as class began.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “did you ask, ‘which is my favorite Harry Potter BOOK?’”

“Oh, yeah, right. Which book,” she said, unfazed. A few students murmured their understanding of her error, but most simply waited to see how much class time the question would chew up (a favorite pastime of my students: baiting instructor into digressive pop culture conversation).

I wasn’t altogether surprised by her phrasing, as I had encountered the same movies-as-primary attitude in a college-aged Potter fan just a few weeks before, as I attended a collegiate Muggle Quidditch tournament. Seeking an understanding of the viability of Quidditch on its own terms, I had asked one of the players if everyone on her Quidditch team was a Harry Potter fan, or if some players simply played for love of the sport. She informed me most were indeed big Potter fans, but there were one or two players who, she said, despairing of their poor taste, “haven’t seen any of the movies!” (Their attention to the books: not mentioned.) [Read more…]

Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2017: The World of Harry Potter (A conference report)

PCDP-HP flyer jpegOn February 24-25, I was privileged to participate in The Ohio State University’s Popular Culture and the Deep Past 2017 conference, hosted by the Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. This year’s focus was “The World of Harry Potter,” and though it was a local conference for me, it brought together a far-flung set of Potter scholars, as well as thoughtful fans (some in period attire!) with engaging questions and contributions to the conference.

The conference’s call for papers asked for submissions that would IMG_1631“explore historical and cultural strands that tie the Potter world to its medieval and early-modern antecedents,” while “exploring the interface between the past and the present.” This resulted in a conference which investigated fruitfully what is “medieval” about Harry Potter (short answer: a lot) and how our favorite books appropriate and reinterpret medieval elements, themes, motifs and history to spin their epic tale. After the jump, I’ll provide a brief sampling of the most delectable dishes from this Potter thought-feast. (A list of all the talks with links to longer descriptions of each can be found here.) [Read more…]

That Easter Moment: Eucatastrophe in the new Beauty and the Beast

beauty-and-the-beast-2017Disney’s new live-action adaptation of the classic animated musical Beauty and the Beast has a lot of people talking. Actually, it has me singing. As a young teen in 1991, I had the musical memorized. As I sat in the cinema this past March at age 40, I had to keep one hand over my mouth to keep from belting out lines like, “I want adventure in the great wide somewhere…” and “I use antlers in all of my decorating!” It’s now been weeks since I saw the new movie, yet Beauty and the Beast earworms remain. (She writes, muttering, “…don’t believe me? Ask the dishes!”)

So it has us talking and singing. And why not? There’s lots to talk (and sing) about. The new film makes some significant adjustments to 1991’s script and story: new songs, updated lyrics, additional backstory. The changes do more than simply re-heat and re-serve an animated classic. Beauty and the Beast 2017 spins the “tale as old as time” for a modern audience. Three changes interest me the most, the third in a timely way. [Read more…]

Fantastic, Forceful Films: Common elements in Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

rogue-one-jyn-ersa-geared-up(Some Rogue One spoilers below – clearly marked in ALL CAPS. Fantastic Beasts spoilers too, but seriously, people, you’ve had weeks …)

Ever since I learned to speak Star Wars at the Mythgard Institute a year ago, I’ve been eyeing the places where the Harry Potter and Star Wars franchises seem to intersect, and these places are many. So the fact that Warner Brothers and Disney Studios have, within a month, released film tie-ins to their beloved epics is no great shock. Neither is the fact that the films employ common elements and themes in seeking to delight long-time fans while enticing new ones. Let’s talk about four elements Fantastic Beasts and Rogue One share.

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Theophany Sermon: Stags As Serpent Killers

Who doesn’t love the White Stag? Majestic, noble, and pure, it is the traditional, powerful symbol of Christ, the Peace and Power of the Father. We meet it (him?) not only in Western tapestry and iconographic tradition — alongside, notably, St. Godric — but in popular fantasy as well. Readers of this site are familiar enough with the appearance of the White Stag at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe as well as in the Harry Potter stories, especially in the climax of Prisoner of Azkaban and, his mate, the cervus fugitivus, in the pivotal Forest of Dean scene of Deathly Hallows, that I don’t need to explain his importance in great story telling.

What I learned recently, though, is that the stag is known in the Orthodox Church at least as the great enemy of serpents. The stag likes to lunch on the low-crawlers. This was revealed to me in that most unexpected of places, a sermon, at the Feast of Theophany. With the Deacon’s permission, I share that exploration of the meaning of Theophany (represented, I think, in the Ron the Baptist scene alluded to above) in which the stag symbolism is explained. Enjoy!

Saturday Vespers, January 7, 2012 – Isaiah 35:1-10 – St. George the Chozebite

Fr. Deacon Theophan Warren, All Saints Orthodox Church, Chicago, Illinois

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

As we continue our celebration of the glorious feast of Christ’s baptism in the Jordan, and the revelation of the worship of the Holy Trinity this evening, my brothers and sisters in Christ, I thought it fitting to preach on this passage from the thirty-fifth chapter of the Prophet Isaiah.  I would contend that in this one single chapter of Holy Scripture, the whole of salvation history is contained, along with the prophetic vision of the eschatological end of this world, and the beginning of the next.  Of course, I do not mean to say that every detail of the history of salvation is contained herein, but let us briefly examine this passage tonight under three headings:

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