Guest Post: HogPro in Bellingham, WA!

Last week I traveled to Forks, Washington, for Literature Inspired Fan Events’ (LIFE) Summer School in Forks: A Twilight Symposium. (For more about that wow event see Forks High School People magazine, or MTV news.) On my way home, I visited Stephen Schumacher in Port Townsend, the friend who insisted I write up Hidden Key to Harry Potter in 2002, and Mark Shea in Seattle, a Harry Potter supporter in the Catholic blogosphere. Library Lily, a HogPro All-Pro, created a bookstore speaking event in Bellingham, her hometown, which allowed me to visit Don Holmes, a dear friend who encouraged me like a father when I needed that desperately. I begged Library Lily to write up the event so you could hear about from someone other than the croaking toad himself and she submitted this report (also available on her weBlog, A Light Inside):

The Hogwarts Professor in Bellingham

The Hogwarts Professor (John Granger) spoke at Village Books Monday night, much to my excitement. As a regular commenter at the HogPro website, I had once mentioned living in Bellingham, and John said he had a friend in town that he wished to visit and asked if I would be willing to set up an author event at a local bookstore.

Would I be willing to enable myself to hear a real academic speech by the leading expert on the books’ symbolic value? Naturally, I said yes. It was well worth the mild time investment required on my part. It was worth the headaches too: Village Books had advertised the lecture as a “Kids event” (missing apostrophe and everything), which made me worry that either no one or the wrong crowd would turn out. I need not have worried. People were dragging chairs into the back and peering around corners to hear John Granger speak, and almost all of them were older than I am (a statement which carries some portent, considering that I’m over thirty myself).

Without notes, John gave us an hour and a half, mostly on the I/eye vision symbolism in Deathly Hallows. I have read The Deathly Hallows Lectures, so much of it was at least partially familiar to me, but it did a lot for my comprehension to go over it a second time. I had also just read the end of Dante’s Purgatorio. When John spoke of Dante’s trip through the River Lethe (which causes the forgetting of all wrongs done) and his look into the “emerald” eyes of Beatrice, who has just descended in a chariot drawn by a golden griffin, he compared it to Snape’s memory dump and dying while looking into the green eyes of the “Griffin d’or” girl, Lily. I thought of how Beatrice had wept for Dante, pleaded for his soul, of how he loved her, and of her leading him into Paradise–and I thought of Lily and Snape, and it almost gave me chills.

Lily’s eyes were not the only ones worthy of discussion. John spoke of the Dumbledore eye in the mirror shard, of the Sign of the Deathly Hallows, of how Harry becomes vision itself as he wears the Invisibility Cloak–the unseen that sees. He also spoke of the word “I”, the word that every human being can use to mean a different person without confusion. He spoke of Samuel Taylor Coleridge as the man most important to understanding English Christian symbolic literature–a man in whose tradition Lewis and Tolkien both wrote, as have others including Rowling.

Coleridge, says John, spoke of what he called Conscience: the internal I, or eye, that recognizes truth. There is something in every human that knows itself, that looks in a mirror and sees itself, that knows “who I am”–and is, therefore, in a sense continuous with that aspect of every other sentient creature and with the Creator, who is “I Am.” That aspect is the reason for knowledge, as “I” recognize truth; it is also called ‘the Logos’ (Greek for ‘word’, used in John chapter 1 as “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”) John says that some people consider that inner “I” proof of the existence of God.

John got questions from the audience to include the two that he says he gets every time. “Well, obviously you’ve got your Christian beliefs that you’re promoting here, but how can you be sure you’re not just reading that in?” and “Did JKR tell you any of this?” To the first he answered that saying English literature–at least up to the second World War–is Christian is no more controversial than saying Tibetan literature is Buddhist. The religion permeates the culture and therefore the literature.

To the second, the answer was no, but she shouldn’t have to and she has clearly chosen not to say much about the deeper meanings of her stories. Her reticence is in the tradition of George McDonald, who is known for saying that if people do not understand the meaning of his stories, he is not going to explain them; if he has drawn a picture of a horse and it is not recognizable, why write THIS IS A HORSE beneath it? He says also that “a man may well himself discover truth in what he wrote” (both quotes coming from his essay “The Fantastic Imagination“).

After the lecture, John signed books and several people stayed to talk. I bought a pre-publication manuscript of “Harry Potter’s Bookshelf” and got it signed, and enjoyed getting to meet John and speak with him briefly. Now I have another book to read, and though I’ve told myself I shouldn’t get into it until I finish Travis Prinzi’s “Harry Potter and Imagination” (also excellent thus far), I haven’t been able to stop myself entirely. Harry Potter’s Bookshelf is a discussion of various books which are bound to Rowling’s by tradition, if not direct influence, and some of those books are among my all-time favorites. I’m looking forward to this read.

Thank you, Library Lily, for the reason to come to Bellingham and for this great write-up!


  1. revgeorge says

    Thanks for the write up, Library Lily. I just started reading Harry Potter’s Bookshelf this week too. Very engaging stuff.

  2. revgeorge says

    Read the second report, too. Glad you got such a good reception, John. Regarding Christian themes & the nature of the Christian story or literature, I really think people are getting too caught up on the word ‘Christian.’ It makes people uneasy & so they want to distance the books from any connection to Christian themes. Which really isn’t possible.

  3. Another report of a Granger speaking date is now online, this one earlier last month in NJ.

  4. Lily Luna says

    Great write up, Library Lily, and sounds like a great talk, John. I was very interested to read the expanded discussion of the Dante-Snape comparison including the trip through the river Lethe, the golden griffin, and how Beatrice pleaded for Dante’s soul. What a moving way to contemplate what Lily may have done for Severus.

  5. Thanks Library Lily. I missed going to Forks, but did get to visit with John when I picked him up at the air port. I wish I’d had a tape recorder so I could remember all the topics of conversation over lunch and on the ride to Seattle.

    It almost seems funny, after all this time, that people are still asking the Christianity questions. One would think that by the time they finisheds Deathly Hallows they wouldn’t have any doubt about the content. I think for some it stems more from the fact that they don’t want there to be any Christian, or any religious, content so they refuse to acknowledge it.

    I’m nearly finished with Bookshelf – only about 20 pages left. So, when I get off the computer, that’s where I’m heading after I make a nice cup of tea. It’s been a stressful couple of weeks for our family, and it’s been so wonderful to immerse myself in John’s newest book. It’s a fascinating read, flows well, and he re-explains some of the things we’ve all been discussing since Half-Blood Prince. But there’s never a boring minute. And as usual, I’ve added some more books to my list of things to read, as well as those I now need to re-read.


  6. Pat doesn’t mention that she saved me a huge cab fare and a broken back (I was toting a suitcase and carry-on full of books) by picking me up at SeaTac and ferrying me downtown. And we got to trade notes and catch-up on my first trip back to the Northwest since 2006. It was a beautiful weekend, even in rainy Forks…

    How many HogPro All-Pros are there? Washington may be the gathering place for our first gathering if sheer numbers mean anything. Pat is south of Seattle, LLily is in Bellingham, and Arabella holds down the Inland Empire. So why am I in the Lehigh Valley? Is it fear of earthquakes?

    Whatever, thank you, EEyore, for the life-saving lunch and lift, not to mention your kind words about Bookshelf — in a bookstore near you on July 7th!

  7. Arabella Figg says

    Thanks, Library Lily for a great report and summation of ideas I’ve had difficulty wrapping my mind around.

    I’m about halfway through Harry Potter’s Bookshelf and it’s a MUST not only for Potter fans, but for anyone who reads. The genres and tropes John writes about–some of them can be found in even the beachiest of reads. I think he’s at his most engaging in this book and it should be required reading in high school so that young people grow up with a better understanding of what they’re reading, and why and how it works.

    John, please pop over to the Sectumsempra chapter at The Hog’s Head! I’m drowning in the boy’s bathroom and desperately desire your insights.

  8. Here is my comment on Sectumsempra, Arabella.

  9. Arabella Figg says

    John, wow! I just read the MTV article and YOU were the only lecturer mentioned, with a great review; more people to check out your books. Hooray!

  10. Arabella Figg says

    Thanks so much, Professor! Everyone should read what he has to say. You’ll never see the boys’ room scene the same way again.

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