Mailbag: First Steps in Ring Writing, Medieval Modes & Methods of Reading, and the Knight of the Potter Panic

f192990246There are three letters this week in the HogwartsProfessor mailbag, all re-printed here with permission.

The first is about how to write a ring composition rather than just recognize it another person’s work:

Hello John.

Question for you. I have been working on a series of my own for the past five years on and off, and I’ve been putting a lot of work into the structure of it. Or rather, I’m working on developing the architecture and thousand other things it feels like. I have read Hero With A Thousand Faces, and enjoyed it. I know many authors who have prospered from the pages of that book including J.K. Rowling I’m sure.

RingI was hoping you could help me in some way. I’ve bought most of your books on Harry Potter and find them to be very interesting. I’m just finishing your notes on Ring Composition Theory.

Reading all this material has been a great help to me, but I must admit I’m not sure how to begin yet on how to apply Ring Composition to my series. I like building the framework for my work, but I could use your advice on how to begin.

This particular series I’m working on is very important to me. I’ve been studying different story structures for years, but I must admit some are simply superior to others. I look forwar d to your response.

Dear Rob, if I may,

You write:

Reading all this material has been a great help to me, but I must admit I’m not sure how tobegin yet on how to apply Ring Composition to my series. I like building the framework for my work, but I could use your advice on how to begin.

Three quick notes:

(1) Thank you for your kind note — and you have my best wishes for your story. Starting with structure is the way to go or, at least, it’s the path all the Greats have traveled!

f42033062(2) I don’t know your story, of course, but to get started with the ring, try to put three things in place: the inciting incident (Katniss substitutes for Prim, Harry discovers he’s a wizard, Bella meets mystery man Edward…), the story turn or pivot (the point at which we begin the inescapable trip to the climax), and the big finish.

(3) Once you have the three parts of the story axis in place, set up the trip to the pivot so it has its echoes in the run to the finish line. Voila! Ring composition!

It sounds much simpler than it is to get done, but those are the essential 3 Act Drama steps (Put hero/ine in tree, set tree on fire, get hero/ine out of tree) that give an author the axis across which s/he writes the echoing parallels.

Hope that helps!



The next note is from a reader wanting resources about how to read using “the methods and means of ‘medieval,’ i.e. Christian cum Platonic, exegesis.” A little over my head, alas.


f36752102 Congratulations and compliments on all your fine, insightful and illuminating work.Having read John’s work, The Deathly Hallows Lectures, I was wondering if the author might have a recommendation (or recommendations) for concise published works he’s found most helpful in elucidating the methods and modes of ‘medieval,’ i.e. Christian cum Platonic, exegesis.

 James Cutsinger’s The Form of Transformed Vision seems to loom large in John’s work, though it appears somewhat more tangential to the matter than D. W. Robertson’s A Preface to Chaucer, but I can’t tell by way of simple internet searches whether the latter is itself concerned in any directed way with the issue.

 I’ve found what appears to be a multi-volume work of Henri de Lubac, Medieval Exegesis, which I can only assume treats the issue, though I suspect it treats in a slightly more heady manner than I’d be looking for. Thanks and Blessings,


Dear Michael, if I may,

Thank you for your very kind note. You write:

 I was wondering if the author might have a recommendation (or recommendations) for concise published works he’s found most helpful in elucidating the methods and modes of ‘medieval,’ i.e. Christian cum Platonic, exegesis.

f42029286In brief, no, I don’t. If you find one, please share it with me! The best I have on my shelves in this regard are C. S. Lewis’ Discarded Image and Allegory of Love, Nicholl’s Chemical Theatre, Lings’ Secret of Shakespeare, and Fowler’s Triumphal Forms. None of these, however, are what you describe per se.

I urge you to write James Cutsinger with this question. If he shares a helpful title, again, please let me know!

Thank you for writing; my apologies for being such poor help with your question.



Michael responded:


No apologies necessary, ‘Professor.’ It’s pleasure and honor enough just to receive a response from ‘the Professor.’ Thank you for the connection; I’ll be sure to forward Mr. Cutsinger’s recommendations, should he supply them.

Having spent better than half a decade at the state university buffet, I couldn’t locate much but bare scraps for nourishment. Your work has proven far more nourishing and deserving of the name ‘Professor’ than most of what I could find. It is certainly more inspiring, in the most literal sense.

The Potter series as explicated by John Granger is more of an education than one could wish for. I — and I’m sure many others — can’t thank you — and of course Ms. Rowling and the deep springs from which she draws — enough.  Water in a wasteland.

Cheers once more,


In answer to my request to share our correspondence here, Michael wrote:

Dear John,

By all means, use whatever you’d like. Feel free to use my name as you will.

Should you recall our initial exchange, I did receive a gracious response from Mr. Custinger. He referred me to James Kugel’s How to Read the Bible (his The Bible as It Was, which I’ve previously encountered, is an illuminating read) and Northrop Frye’s work — with which I’ve seen you’re familiar.

I’ve also — ironically by way of the Potter milieu — come across an excellent work by a professor at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Shira Wolosky. Her The Riddles of Harry Potter led me to Language Mysticism, a work that should belong in to the ‘Hogwarts Library,’ so to speak, the collective enumeration of which would be an interesting project (I’m new to the ‘club’ perhaps there is such a thing?).

BookshelfIncidentally, since the original exchange, I picked up your Harry Potter’s Bookshelf. Lo and behold — someone was being modest! I can’t say it is exactly what I’m looking for, but I can say that it comes about as near to it as anything I’ve thus far come across. How foolish I felt to discover that the work is specifically structured around the four levels. I am once again indebted to its author. You — and Ms. Rowling — are a great grace.



Thank you for the very kind words about Bookshelf. I wish it were modesty that kept me from mentioning it in response to your first request. ‘Senescence’ is closer to the truth.

About Shira Wolosky and her book, no, I haven’t read it. I am very grateful for it, however! A good friend of Prof Wolosky wrote a glowing review of her book in 2010 for The Chronicles of Higher Education (‘Harry Potter and the Deeply Appreciative Professor‘) which article said that Wolosky had broken new ground in Potter studies by discovering there were traditional Christian elements in the Hogwarts Saga. I was non-plussed, to say the least; this and a book by a Baylor professor around that time were “discovering” points I had been discussing for years (discussion including two days of lectures at Baylor about the time said theology professor was inspired to write up his insights).

WoloskyMy inner Gilderoy was in high dudgeon when a writer from Washington and Lee commented at The Chronicles online thread that Prof Wolosky’s discoveries, as described in the article, “had been said and said better by John Granger years ago.” That writer turned out to be Suzanne Keen, Harvard PhD and then head of the W&L English department; she had heard me speak in 2007 on her campus.

If not for Shira Wolosky, then, I doubt very much I would have met Prof Keen, who has been a great help to me in coming to understand ring composition among other topics. And Riddles of Harry Potter is so expensive, no one reads it anyway. I came out of the deal way, way ahead.

On to the third letter!

A good friend and Potter Pundit, David Martin, wrote me about the Potter Panic after our talking about it briefly on MuggleNet Academia. I urged him to research and write about this much referred to but poorly understood period within the larger Potter Mania. I suggested he focus on Richard Abanes, whose work on the Hogwarts Saga, if it did not start the Panic, sustained the flames for many years after they might otherwise have burned themselves out. He responded:


OK, I’ll take a look at what’s available to me for tracking down how the Potter Panic evolved.

As for what happened to Richard Abanes, that’s fairly easy to figure out.  He has moved on to other targets.  Here’s a list of his books in chronological order:


1994-02-01          Prophets of the Apocalypse: David Koresh and Other American Messiahs

1994-10-01          Embraced by the Light and the Bible

1995-07-01          The Less Traveled Road and the Bible

1996-03-01          Journey into the Light: Exploring Near-Death Experiences

1996-08-01          American Militias: Rebellion, Racism & Religion

1998-01-01          Cults, New Religious Movements, and Your Family: A Guide to Ten Non-Christian Groups Out to Convert Your Loved Ones

1998-01-01          Defending the Faith: A Beginner’s Guide to Cults and New Religions

1998-05-01          End-Time Visions: The Road to Armageddon

Abanes2001-01-01          Harry Potter and the Bible : The Menace Behind the Magick

2002-09-01          Fantasy and Your Family: Exploring The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Modern Magick

2003-07-29          One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church

2004-04-21          The Truth Behind the Da Vinci Code: A Challenging Response to the Bestselling Novel

2004-08-01          Becoming Gods: A Closer Look at 21st-Century Mormonism

2005-07-01          Harry Potter, Narnia, and The Lord of the Rings: What You Need to Know About Fantasy Books and Movies

2005-07-01          Rick Warren and the Purpose That Drives Him: An Insider Looks at the Phenomenal Bestseller

2006-08-01          What Every Parent Needs to Know About Video Games: A Gamer Explores the Good, Bad, and Ugly of the Virtual World

2007-07-01          Homeland Insecurity: A Novel

2008-02-05          He Is Risen: Reflections on Easter and the Forty Days of Lent

2008-07-01          A New Earth, An Old Deception: Awakening to the Dangers of Eckhart Tolle’s #1 Bestseller

2009-07-01          Religions of the Stars: What Hollywood Believes and How It Affects You


A brief look in will show that most of these books have the same general theme: There is a terrible spiritual and/or religious danger, and the only way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to buy my book. 

The danger Abanes describes, of course, is always in something that’s big and popular – such as The Road Less Traveled or Harry Potter.  He’s not the only writer working this particular racket.  I once heard such writers described as “religious fear mongers.”  The similarities to Rita Skeeter are striking.


— David

Dear David,

Your prayers.

Thank you for the chronology!

f39084262I met Richard Abanes once. We had a debate at California Baptist University in 2004, believe it or not. He was beating me with rhetorical sleight of hand and, I’m sad to say, a little dishonesty in front of a crowd very sympathetic to his view when that audience learned I had seven children and he and his wife had none. Oddly enough, that distinction in the scales made a great difference to those judging between our views and I walked out the winner.

FYI, he is an accomplished singer and dancer. As in ‘Broadway’ talented and accomplished. At the dinner CBU held in our honor, he was asked to say a few words — and broke into song! And he was quite good. Sad, really, that he turned to book writing.

And, about the publication chronology, two things:

(1) I’m guessing Richard was doing quite well because of the success of Harry Potter and the Bible, until, that is, he decided to take on the Latter-day Saints. That’s a group whose self-anointed defenders do not take prisoners, at least not in internet dialogue. The Mormon Mafia of Apologists ate him alive online and in print; his second book on the subject reflects the battering he took. Potter-philes didn’t like Richard — he was referred to on the Leaky Cauldron as ‘He Who Must Not Be Named’ (lest he find out through easy internet searches that they were talking about him — and join the conversation with an “Aha!”) — but they didn’t come after him with anything like the heavy weaponry and sustained fire the Gentile Disciplinary Gestapo did.

It didn’t end there. By 2008, Richard’s core audience, super-zealous Protestant believers of the Sola Scriptura school, were after him to repent and sin no more. What he had done to Harry Potter was visited upon him in a waterfall downpour. And he disappeared.

(2) As you can see, the chronology hits a dead end 6 years ago. I was told his wife had a chronic illness of some kind and that he had settled into a kind of music ministry at Saddleback (hence the Rick Warren hagiography) but beyond that nothing and even that I’m not sure of. Here’s hoping the Abanes family is well, wherever they are.

f36931046If you’re going to write a book about the Potter Panic, though, Richard is the key figure, if he is certainly not the point of origin. Except for Harry Potter and the Bible: The Menace Behind the Magick, I doubt the media could have kept the Harry Hating story alive as long as they did; Richard was that dependable and that good a quotable interview. I know without this book as inspiration I wouldn’t have become involved or written my first book, which was largely a response and rejection of Richard’s sophistry.

Just sayin’! Thanks again for the chronology!



Keep those email questions, answers, comments, and corrections coming!

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