Harry Potter Article in December ‘Touchstone’

December’s edition of Touchstone magazine features ‘Book Binders,’ by John Granger, a prolonged discussion of Harry Potter as Generation Hex’ Shared Text, a subject familiar to regular readers of HogwartsProfessor. If you enjoyed the article online, please drop the editors a note, or, better, subscribe. Touchstone is the only magazine I read cover to cover every month and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

For those of you visiting HogwartsProfessor.com for the first time after reading this article at Touchstone online or from the hard-copy magazine, welcome! Please join the conversation on any thread below that strikes your interest, raises your ire, or leaves you scratching your head.

For starters, try the longish notes on the Deathly Hallows epigraphs, Penn and Aeschylus, listen to some audio files and podcasts, or just scroll down the page to discover how Rowling speaks through Dumbledore in Beedle the Bard to make a case for Gay Marriage and patristic psychology (really) and why some serious readers don’t care about anything she writes beyond the seven canonical books. I look forward to reading your comments, questions, and corrections, and to our exchanges in the days to come.

Again, welcome! Thank you in advance for signing in and introducing yourself to the regulars and me.


  1. Read your article, John. You, however, did not answer the question everyone wanted to know. What happened with the girl from Guam? 🙂

    So, is it a bad thing that I, too, remember Cesar Romero & Frank Gorshin as being the epitomes of the Joker & the Riddler? How about Burgess Meredith as the Penguin? Nobody has topped him in that role.

    As a youth, & as an adult, I spent my time in LOTR & Narnia but I wouldn’t call them any sort of shared text with my classmates in elementary school or high school. Star wars might be closer to a shared text for many from the late ’70’s on. Star Trek, too. The Simpsons & South Park for the ’90’s & ’00’s.

    Anyway, more on your great article later. I should probably get some sleep before service tomorrow.

  2. Great article, John. I enjoyed reading it and thinking about how true it all is. I look forward to the day when those who have not read Harry are the ones who are embarassed when the topic of the books comes up in conversation, and I don’t feel the need to defend all the time I’ve spent reading them.

    I think, for me, the truth that Harry Potter is a shared text was most evident the first time I stood at day camp, discussing the book with other adults my age, adults who were older and younger, teens and children as young as eight years old. We were from all different parts of town, different religions (or none), with our common interest in a book. Those discussions, and trivia contests we had during day camp, were fun-filled days of sharing our love for Harry Potter. And in that sharing, we learned a bit more about each other – how we saw the world, politics, the education system, families and friendships. And as you point out, all that was because we shared the reading of a book. Those who were left out were the ones who refused to read any part of the books or see the movies.

    I can only hope that over time, some of them will change their minds. They don’t have to love Harry Potter like I do, but their reasons for decrying the books fell away with the publication of the final book, and with at least some of Rowling’s comments post-publication. My hope that they finally read the books isn’t so they can join those of us who love them, but that we can at least have the discussion about the books – and that can’t happen as long as they chose to remain ignorant about what actually is in the Harry Potter books.


  3. The Harry Potter books are still selling very well, Pat, so someone new is reading them for the first time every day. I share your hope that the initially resistant will climb aboard eventually, if only to join the conversation.

    revGeorge, the girl from Guam became my first true love. I dated her for nigh on two years — and she sent me a ‘Dear John’ letter (back before my name was John!) when I was at a Marine Corps PLC summer camp in Quantico, VA. Haven’t heard from her or of her in more than 25 years but, of course, anytime I think of Orientation Week at UChicago she comes to mind. Too much information? Sorry — You asked.

  4. John, not too much information. I just thought it added to the story but thought it might have a happier ending. But that’s love & life, isn’t it? 🙂

    Along the lines of what you said to Pat, I, unfortunately, am still seeing people who are critical of HP without really understanding what’s going on, either because they haven’t fully read the series or they read it & didn’t like it & so criticize it from a personal point of view or because they’ve read the wrong sort of books about HP & it’s prejudiced them against HP. Think of reading RA as opposed to anything by John Granger.

  5. Weren’t Dicken’s works panned during his lifetime? And where are his critics now? Hmmmm.

  6. Red Rocker says

    Good article, John. Synopsizes a lot of your thinking on matters Potter, and eloquently to boot. Reaches out a bit, I thought. Will be interesting to see what kind of attention it attracts, out there.

    I think there would be a lot of debate about whether HP has any true merit as shared text, or if it joins Batman, the TV series, as cultural pap.

    I would suspect that the same reasons you cite for why it’s a good thing that HP is our new shared text are the reasons why the postmodern academia/intelligensia would knock it: it is absolutist, arguing there is a good and evil and presuming to know what that looks like; I have read more than once complaints that the success of HP books did not – would not and could not -translate into a more generalized interest in reading; it’s religious undertones make it suspect – second cousin to the fundamentalists in the eyes of those who do not distinguish; it’s very popularity makes it unfit for serious consideration in some eyes, popularity being considered synonymous with fluff; and those who disdain it for the foregoing reasons will not think about it seriously or long enough to think about the layers of meaning.

    I suppose that’s ok. The respect of academia/intelligensia is not necessary for it to function as a shared text. And while it’s sad that it will not get the respect it deserves, if it does prove to be a lasting work, future generations of academics may come to look at it differently.

  7. Red Rocker says

    Dickens’ critics are silent, but I suspect that Dickens’ popularity has always precluded him from entering the ranks of the books critics take seriously. I could be wrong, but I sense that in academia, Dickens is relegated to a class of writers who can not be ignored, but who are not considered “first tier” even amongst the DWMs. I Googled “Dickens’ place in literature” and came up with an article written in 1912 by one Barrett Wendell, Professor of English at Harvard. Here’s the link:


    Wendell is enthusiastic about Dickens, says he has genius, but in its lesser form:

    Genius in the more solemn sense of the word, to be sure, the most ardent admirer of Dickens could hardly maintain him to possess. He never so mastered human nature, throughout its manifold earthly aspects, as to teach you, unawares, eternal truth concerning the final values of life.

    Of his writing style, Wendell says:

    artistically, the mechanism employed to excite your emotions creaked and wheezed like a neglected organ

    And he condemns his perspective for not sharing in that of either the aristocracy or the laboring class:

    His point of view was always that of an honest, self-respecting shop keeper … Beyond the range of their vision, the while, his own vision does not keenly penentrate.

    And praises his appeal with left-handed praise:

    One reason for this breadth and constancy of his appeal lies in his contagious vigor. More laborious writers, more conscientiously artistic, more deliberately thoughtful, may seem in certain moods more deeply respectable, more commanding of attention to their ethical or artistic messages. The very attention they demand, however, involves fatigue. When you have finished one of their books, you are entirely ready not to begin another. With Dickens, the case is astonishingly different. If you chance to be in a critical mood, he may never excite your unqualified attention; if you chance to be in a thougtful mood, he may never stir your deeper cognitions; but he may be trusted never to bore you.

    Given that our JKR is not half the stylist Dickens is, you can well imagine what some professor of English at Harvard will write of her forty-two years after her death.

  8. Red Rocker says

    Need to apologize for the consistent misspelling of its two comments before. You’d think I’d know better.

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