‘Grangerising’ a Text: Ballooning a Book

In the Land of Rowling Readers, there seem to be a disproportionate number of ‘Grangers.’

There is Hermione Jean Granger, of course, who thinks her Muggle-Dentist parents are her real folks (I suspect they adopted the boat-rape child conceived at the end of P. D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin; her biological mum, then? Super-sleuth and near-namesake Cordelia Gray).

And there is Holliday Grainger, afflicted with the rare combined affliction of excess consonanation and exorbitant vowelizing in her name, who plays the Bronte Studios adaptation role of Robin Venetia Ellacott.

Her only failing in that part is that she is much more beautiful than the actress who plays Charlotte Campbell, which makes Shorty Strike’s supposed struggle to realize he loves the one rather than the other that much less credible. (Am I the last person to know Ms Grainger had twins in May, 2021?)

There is John Granger, too, which would be the author of this piece. He knows the meaning of the name is derived from the Norman French word, not for ‘farmer’ as is often supposed, but for ‘barn keeper,’ a super-serf or yeoman’s role in the hierarchy of feudalism. There is a parable about a Granger in the Gospel according to St Luke (12: 16-31), the only person not a Pharisee or lawyer whom Christ calls a “fool,” alas.

This is all coincidence, of course, though Rowling did change Hermione’s middle name to ‘Jean’ from the ‘Jane’ it had been in time for Girl Wonder to blow the interpretation of the Deathly Hallows symbol in a children’s story. I want to think the change was made via Dumbledore’s will to make Hermione one of the ‘John’ Good Guys in keeping with her Peter-John Rule rather than to suggest that ‘John Granger’ couldn’t explain the allegorical meaning of an embedded symbol in a text if the map came with a key.

I thought of these three Grangers, but especially I admit of my own efforts here to discuss Rowling’s novels and their artistry, meaning and popularity, when I learned last week that the word ‘Grangerize,’ ‘Grangerise’ in the UK, means almost exactly the opposite of what I thought it did and almost exactly what several critics through the years say it is that I do. The explanation and definitions come after the jump.

I learned long ago — and have never discussed it here for obvious reasons — that the word ‘Grangerize’ meant “to mutilate a book by cutting pictures out of it” or “to remove material, especially illustrations, from a publication.” I love books to the point that I have concerns about idolatry, concerns that have made me sell my collection of books three times in my life and in 1984 to give away my thousands of comic books (to include, for example, the complete Claremont-Byrne-Austen Uncanny X-Men run). I found this definition more than a little embarrassing. Mutilate books? I’m more likely to covet them or commit a crime to possess them, sad to say.

It turns out, though, that this definition is very misleading, only half the story, if you will. The reason Grangerizers cut the illustrations out of publications is in order “to illustrate a book by adding pictures cut from other books.” The mutilation isn’t, in other words, a crass kind of participatory Bowdlerization as I imagined, or an arts-and-craft splurge to create the necessary pictures for a collage, but “to illustrate (a book) with material such as images taken from other published sources, such as by clipping them out for one’s own use.”

How did the Norman French word for ‘barnkeeper’ become a verb meaning literal cutting and pasting in a published book? Simple. It derives from “James Granger, an 18th century English biographer. Granger’s Biographical History of England (1769) included areas for readers to illustrate the pages.”

James Granger, if his Wikipedia page biography is to be believed, was quite the character. Though his book had blank pages for readers to fill in with pictures they secured by mutilating other books, he was an avid collector of “upwards of 14,000 engraved portraits.” He wasn’t a ‘Grangerizer,’ evidently. He also “went to prison for preaching twice against cruelty to animals,” the crime being the “prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit.” You can’t make this stuff up. He died from an epileptic seizure he suffered while “administering the sacrament” (he was an Anglican priest).

Adam Smyth explains the craze of Grangerizing that consumed bibliophiles in the UK and US in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in a Substack post, ‘Grangerising: Exploding and Ballooning Books.’ Hat tip to Beatrice Groves.

Grangerising is a balance of destruction and creativity: a book is cut open, pulled apart, separated out, blown up, we might say, and turned into something else. In the process, a printed book, of which there might be thousands of identical copies, becomes a single, unique item: a document of a particular reader’s taste. Grangerising also jettisons the idea that a book is or ever can be finished. There are always more prints to find, always more extras to paste in. Why stop?

Do check out the whole article for pictures of a Grangerized book and examples of the more incredible lengths readers went to in their efforts at what are now known as “extra-illustration.” You think “incredible” is hyperbolic? Consider —

a spectacular set of extra-illustrated books produced by wealthy merchant Alexander Sutherland and his wife Charlotte, between about 1795 and 1839. The two of them – and then Charlotte alone, after her husband’s death – collected prints to extra-illustrate Clarendon’s The History of the Rebellion and Civil Wars in England (1702-4) and Burne’s History of My Own Time (1724). In some ways it seems an odd thing for a husband and wife to devote their time to, the insertion of thousands of prints into disbound volumes of history books. ‘Darling do you think we should stop – it’s nearly 1am?’ But Grangerising gripped them, as it did the lives of many bibliophiles in the 18th and 19th centuries: the Sutherlands produced 216 volumes, containing 18,742 prints and drawings, and 14,849 portraits. 713 of the portraits were of Charles I, and  518 of Charles II: there is a strong Royalism to the Sutherland’s Grangerised books, which speaks both to their particular politics, but also more fundamentally to the Grangerised book as a mechanism of memory – a way of gathering and holding, and also of reorganising history into a narrative more favourable to their cherished King Charles I. One could weight the past in new directions through the accumulations of a Grangerised book. For the Sutherlands, a book was an object to be altered and remade over and over, expanded and refined, a process of variation that took the book further and further away from its original form, but that in doing so produced a new object loyal to the original. 

Which brings me around at last to what has been said of my interpretations of Rowling, especially during the great Inter Librum of the Potter series, 1998-2007, during which speculation about the meaning of the Hogwarts Saga was everywhere and off-the-wall as were the various opinions of why the books were so popular. I championed then as I continue to do today the position that Rowling is as popular as she is — as she was at the height of Potter Mania — because she delivers best what readers most want from their reading adventure, i.e., an imaginative experience transcending their ego existence, preferably one in contact with the referents of the story’s mythic and spiritual symbols. Search this site for ‘Eliade Thesis’ and ‘Extra Liturgical Sacred Art’ for more on that.

That seems a reach today; it was considered outlandish and irresponsible back when clueless believers were burning the books as “gateways to the occult” and accusing the author of being a witch. Even the serious fans of Harry Potter, say, those who go to fan cons at resort sites and attend Wizard Rock concerts, who at that time and still today can safely be categorized for the most part as “unchurched,” told me they thought I was talking more about a book I wanted to be reading, cherry-picking and highlighting the supposed “Christian content,” than the story they loved.

I was, from their view, “extra-illustrating” or adding images to Rowling’s work from cut-outs I had taken from scripture and English ‘Greats’ to make the story my own. 

The good news for me is that they were wrong.

The bad news, I learned in Smyth’s article, is that ‘Grangerise’ means, not what I thought, but what critics said my own exegesis was a picture-perfect extra-illustration of. James Granger supposedly never mutilated a book to illustrate another but, because his book fostered the original cut-and-paste craze, his name became synonymous with the practice. 

Can you blame me for worrying that, though I have been right more often than not in my identification of Rowling’s Christian content, literary alchemy, ring writing, and Johannine theological leanings, I will be remembered as a critical Grangerizer because of the coincidence of my last name and this practice?

Please consider that shameless fishing for words of consolation and praise as bait you can safely disregard.

For the complete history of Grangerising as a bibliographic craze, see Lucy Peltz’s Facing the Text: Extra-Illustration, Print Culture, and Society in Britain 1769-1840, a tome that weighs in at well over five pounds even without the pasted portions. I am spending today at the Friends of the Oklahoma City Library Book Sale, one of the very best reasons to live here, succumbing to my bibliolatry. If I see Hermione or Holliday and her twins there, I’ll let you know. 



  1. Brian Basore says

    How many pounds do book and articles about a subject weigh (over how long a time), depending on the subject? No, all you do is a blog, and write some books. A blog weighs nothing, and, in your case, provides a forum, an academy, at which interested people gather for discussions.

    What you do is a worthy service, not just to the general public, but also to The Presence. It takes a special sort of person to do that. (I’m using “special” positively here; if anybody is going to be sarcastic when using “special” about you, that’s on them.) I hope she leaves a note in her literary archives thanking you for that.

  2. Wayne Stauffer says

    If that were the case, academia is overflowing with Graingerizers. I’ve always called it “literary analysis” to more fully understand a text or more closely examine the literary art of a text. Each of us brings different perceptions and makes unique connections within the text, among texts, and between the text and life outside the text. Nothing at all wrong with that! Our many thanks to you for providing the forum to which we can turn to discover more from our favorites!

  3. Viktor Richardson says

    Still a commercial success with three skews on offer at my local Walmart. At 4.37 pounds for “Goblet” and with the author’s blessing on the back cover, who could resist?

    “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 4) (Illustrated edition)
    4.9 out of 5 stars(22,435) Reviews
    Book 4 of 4: Harry Potter: Jim Kay Illustrated Edition
    Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: The Illustrated Edition (Harry Potter, Book 4) (Illustrated edition)”

    All three of Harry’s school books have likewise gone from ounces to pounds in lavishly extra-illustrated format.

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