Mailbag: Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, Etc.

Two very kind letters about Harry Potter’s Bookshelf arrived in my inbox this morning. Read on if this sort of thing is any interest to you!

First, from what I assume is a High School reader:

Mr. Granger,

I just bought Harry Potter’s Bookshelf and am only 46 pages in. I felt the need to email you and tell you what a fantastic job you’ve done.

I’ve always been a fan of looking for different literary influence in Rowling’s books. My 9th and 10th grade English teacher is to blame for having me be constantly on the look out for allusions and hidden meanings. It’s great to know I’m not the only one who annotates Jane Eyre and thinks, “hey Harry Potter!”

I will not only continue this book just for the pure entertainment, but for the help in my English class. Harry Potter’s Bookshelf is teaching me to analyze different books and really break things down. I must get back to finishing your book so I will leave you with this:

You are an amazingly talented writer and I am grateful you share your skills with all of us!

[name withheld]

Just wanted
to let you know that I picked up Harry Potter’s Bookshelf last week through Amazon. It arrived right before one of my classes, so I took the box into class with me. My friends wanted to know what was in the box, so I opened it up and they were so blown away that somebody had taken the time to research Harry Potter and classical literature (all of us being English majors in a brit lit course), so naturally the book had to get passed all around. By that time our professor (an avowed Potterite) had come in and heard the discussion. She was so excited by the book that (at the end of class) she told us all she was going back to her office to buy it immediately.

I found out later she wants to teach a course on Harry Potter. Whether or not your book eventually becomes a textbook or not, she’s going to be reading it. I thought that was really good. I really enjoyed the book itself too (so much so that today I just bought Deathly Hallows Lectures and Harry Potter and Imagination), and was really excited by some of the classical allusions you saw in the Potter books. I could have used closer readings of some of the texts, but obviously there’s only so much time in the world and if you did a close reading of everything that’s connected to Potter the book would be five volumes long!

John Again:

And then I got a note from a Phillips Exeter classmate — an email that was sent to me by mistake — who has just moved to Hyde Park to take a teaching position in the Classics Department at the University of Chicago. Too weird. My daughter there may have as a teacher someone I know from way back when…

Anyway, a great day to have email access. Sorry to have wasted your time if you were looking for Potter insights this morning!


  1. John, it wasn’t a waste of time. Thanks for sharing the insights and enthusiasm that others share with all of us.

    At some point, I need to sit down and re-read Harry Potter’s Bookshelf. There is so much in there. I’m sure I missed or have forgotten some things.


  2. Professor, is the classmate from P.E. more likely to be a boggart if he spills the beans on a former classmate or an embarrassment if he uses a student’s father’s books for texts in a Harry Potter class as INTRO TO LITERATURE she might take?

    Tough one to choose, I bet. But, I’d go for the embarrassment angle myself!

    And, by the by, both letter writers were correct. That’s why we ancient ones from the first blog incarnation keep returning………….

  3. Arabella Figg says

    Is that what we are? Ancient ones? Well, I’ll wrap my decreptitude about me and keep on keeping on….

    Thanks for sharing these endouraging letters. A writer works in solitude, wondering if s/he is communicating as they wish. The project goes out and they think of other things they wish they had included. The writer waits anxiously tio see how their “baby” will be recieved, and if readers will be as edifed by it as the writer was by writing it. This book should have a long life in classrooms and beyond for a long, long time.

    My husband is now reading the book and loving it.

    Here’s my review at Barnes & Noble, for any newcomers who are interested in this must-read book:

    Why Everyone, Not Just Harry Potter Fans, Should Read This Book

    Posted July 7, 2009, 4:09 PM EST: You needn’t be a Harry Potter fan to enjoy, appreciate, and benefit from John Granger’s newest offering. For both literary geeks and those who read merely for pleasure, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf is a magic carpet ride to understanding books. Even beach reads can contain within them story elements and genres revealed in this book. As always, Granger offers his literary x-ray goggles to see below-the-surface story structure, symbolism and meaning, to reveal the depth and detail that make a book not only work, but “do a work” within the reader. Harry Potter’s Bookshelf opens up Harry Potter and English literature as keys to one another in a personable, entertaining way. Granger’s sparkling prose, witty style, and often laugh-out-loud summaries of Great Books (Harry as Gothic heroine!) and Harry Potter passages, make this book a page-turner. Invoking icons from Homer to Star Trek, Granger explains complex insights in a manner accessible to teens and adults. Using the four layers of meaning (surface, moral, allegorical and anagogical, i.e. mythic/edifying), Granger enjoyably expounds on literary genres and authors that influenced Rowling, and how she remarkably “rowled” them all together in creating her epic. These genres include Austen’s narrative misdirection a la pride & prejudice/twists, gothic romance, detective mystery, the boarding school story, postmodernism, satire, the Hero’s Journey, and the Everyman allegory. He concisely and clearly explains the eye imagery, circle meaning, eye imagery, and literary alchemy scaffolding of the Potter books. I believe this book should be required high-school reading, because it prepares students to understand classics assigned in their courses up through college, and books they’ll read throughout their lives. Adult readers will have new appreciation for the books already on their shelves, and may find themselves rereading that “boring” Great Book–and Harry Potter–in a new and revealing way. For understanding Harry Potter, John Granger’s your man–and there’s so much more to discover. Check out his other insightful books-How Harry Cast His Spell, Unlocking Harry Potter, and The Deathly Hallows Lectures. Put on your x-ray goggles and jump on his magic carpet for more rides through storytelling magic.

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