New Amazon Reviews of ‘Unlocking Harry Potter’

I’m buried in school and family obligations and still recovering from the feast of feasts; please forgive my tardiness in posting on the various ways of understanding the alchemy in Harry Potter and what The Little White Horse has to tell us about the end of the series. After proctoring some standardized tests this weekend, I hope to get to these projects.

Just to keep my hand in the blog-o-sphere until then, here are the latest reviews of Unlocking Harry Potter on All have been five star reviews. If you’ve read the book, I welcome your comments and hope to read your review at the world’s biggest online bookstore. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll buy it today and let me know what you think!

Fantastic, Engaging Work on the Meaning of Potter, April 11, 2007
Reviewer: Johnny Chavez – See all my reviews

John Granger is not known to provide superficial readings of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series ?† la Harold Bloom or A.S. Byatt. Instead he gazes deeper into the rich tapestry of JKR’s creation, seeing what most Harry Potter readers (or even non readers) miss, namely the spiritual overtones of the series. His previous works, The Hidden Key to Harry Potter and Looking for God in Harry Potter, explores why JKR’s work resonates with so many of her readers, namely because they hearken to that Great Story. Granger takes this a step further in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader.

Granger’s task in Unlocking Harry Potter is to show how JKR uses patterns in every novel and by recognizing these patterns or “keys”, the reader will have a greater appreciation for the series in general. These five keys are Narrative Misdirection, Literary Alchemy, The Hero’s Journey, Postmodern Themes, and Traditional Symbolism. Each key unlocks a part of the Harry Potter series until the whole trunk is opened and the reader sees JKR’s meticulously planned work for what they really are, multi layered, complex works of literature (not ‘literary slop’ as Bloom posits) that is edifying and satisfying. Finally Granger believes that these keys can even “unlock” or give us clues as to the structure of the final Harry Potter novel.

Granger first discusses Narrative Misdirection by pointing out that JKR uses a “third person, limited omniscient” narratological view when writing her storyline much like Jane Austen, JKR’s favorite writer. We only know what Harry knows while other major characters sit in the background. For instance we never know where Albus Dumbledore or Severus Snape are doing when Harry does not encounter them. Because we see what Harry sees, the reader follows Harry’s prejudices and feelings until the end of the novel when he is proven wrong and the reader is surprised. Who can forget the ending of the first novel? Even when Harry is right in Half-Blood Prince, Granger warns us that this could be the biggest example of narrative misdirection in the series.

Literary Alchemy is always discussed in Granger’s books and for good reason. JKR told Anne Simpson of The Herald that, “To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic” (“Face to Face with J K Rowling: Casting a spell over young minds,” 7 December 1998). This surprising interview surfaced on Quick Quotes Quill around a month ago and confirmed Granger’s suspicions all along, that literary alchemy undergirds the series and that JKR is writing in the tradition of others who used literary alchemical imagery in English Literature from Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis, and many classic writers in between. Granger’s extensive knowledge (and enthusiasm) of the subject and thoughts on alchemy is worth the price of the book alone.

Now the Harry Potter books are all different, in storyline and detail; however they follow a general formula, namely that Harry Potter starts off at Privet Drive, travels to Hogwarts, finds a mystery to solve, deals with Professor Snape, works with Ron and Hermione, faces a crunch-time decision, races off to an underground battle, dies a figurative death and is reborn, listens to Dumbledore’s reflections on the events of the climax, and returns to King’s Cross Station. JKR uses this formula although she does depart from it occasionally, which explains the mystery of Half-Blood Prince being chock full of misdirection in preparation for the revelation we will encounter in the final novel. Granger’s insights are fascinating in this chapter and forced me to think about certain things I never considered before.

Granger emphasizes that that the reason why Harry Potter resonates with so many readers is because JKR is a writer for our time. And since she is writing in the here and now of our 21st century, we should expect her to at least have some features of this Postmodernist era. For example Jean-Fran?ßois Lyotard writes that postmodernism is an “incredulity towards metanarratives”. A metanarrative is a story about a story; a grand narrative about our historical record and experience. A postmodern questions this schema, particularly the notion of progress and technology. In Harry Potter this translates to a British wizarding society (within the entire wizarding world) that views itself as progressive but whose flaws are many including governmental abuses (think Umbridge), prejudice towards magical humans that are not like the others (werewolves like Remus Lupin), subjugation of magical creatures (i.e. house elves and goblins), and not to mention a very dangerous Dark Lord on the loose threatening the whole society. Granger sees this metanarrative being traced back to the story of the Four Founders of Hogwarts. JKR’s criticism of government, education, and the press as well as the emphasis on the idea that “nothing is as it seems” reflect postmodern deconstruction. Granger delves more into this and you certainly have to buy the book to find out more.

Now if Granger’s book has taught us anything, it’s that JKR is not a conformist. She may be a Postmodern writer but she is also transcends Postmodernism by invoking traditional symbols that are explicitly Christian that point to a supernatural world. This definitely shows JKR to be as the Scripture says “in the world but not of the world”. One thought that I found interesting about this chapter was that JKR never criticizes the church in her novels. Other institutions are fair game: government, public education, and the press. Granger makes an excellent point here. Both members of the press and educators love JKR even though she satirizes them in her novels. However the church is never mentioned or criticized. This makes the Harry Potter series vastly different from the anti-church, anti-Christian His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman. Granger’s thoughts on the last two keys (Postmodernism and Traditional Symbolism) are, like the chapter on Alchemy, worth the price of the book alone.

Granger in the last chapter delves into some guesswork and tries to take a glance into Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows through these five keys. Some of the material in this chapter are teasers from the book he edited Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? but nevertheless you will find much good speculation here. I suspect that much of Harry Potter fandom will be wrong when the novel comes out July 21 but that will not stop all of us from having some fun coming up with theories about the details. Besides JKR has said, “I love the theories more then I can possibly say. I take it as the highest compliment that people analyse the books so much and think about what might happen next so much. There are people who have got very close to the end of the final series. I don’t think I’ve ever heard or read anyone who has actually got there, but bits of the final book have been guessed” (Jones, Owen. One-on-one interview with J.K. Rowling, ITV Network July 17, 2005).

I cannot say enough good things about Unlocking Harry Potter.. This book leaves much food for thought and Granger writes engagingly without being too technical even when the subject matter becomes intense. Granger has plenty to say here about the “Harry Haters” who reject the books on literary or religious grounds and refuse to see the books for what they really are. This book really is for the serious reader so if you want to find a book that “unlocks” the Harry Potter series, this is the one. Expect nothing less from Hogwart’s Professor. You won’t be disappointed.

Fun and informative, April 6, 2007
Reviewer: P. Henderson (Federal Way, Washington United States) – See all my reviews

On nearly the eve of all of us having HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS, by J.K. Rowling, in our eager hands, don’t miss the chance to read John Granger’s latest book, Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. In this latest book by John Granger, he explores Rowling’s writing from a literary point of view–what has influenced her, where do her books fit in with other books that seem similar, etc.

Mr. Granger takes the reader through Alchemy and postmodernism and more, with explanations that are at once entertaining and very informative. This is a book that will make you think about Harry Potter in depth, as you learn more about Ms. Rowling’s masterful use of narrative misdirection, literary alchemy, the hero’s journey, postmodernism, and how all that relates to traditional symbolism.

John Granger’s style of writing is at once intelligent and engaging–it’s like having a long conversation with a friend over a cup of coffee. Read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader while you wait for the last Harry Potter book.

Thorough, Intelligent, and Accessible Unlocking, March 17, 2007
Reviewer: Clio – See all my reviews

Maybe you are a life-long learner sort, or a college professor interested in acquiring an insightful, but thoroughly accessible book about Rowling’s series. Maybe you’re a thoughtful Christian, who suspects the anti-Potter denunciations are not quite on the mark, but you can’t quite articulate why. Maybe you just have a deep affection for the Harry Potter series and would like to discover more about the key techniques and overarching concerns embedded in these brilliant stories. Whatever the case, as long as you’ve actually read the Harry Potter books, and as long as you have the sort of mind that likes to go beneath and beyond the surface, I believe that you will appreciate Granger’s Unlocking Harry Potter. Thoroughly accessible and intelligent, Granger uses a writing style that is a mix of the professor who knows how to communicate credible arguments, and the fan who loves to talk to other fans about Harry, Hagrid, and house-elves (the high destiny of house-elves in number seven? Hmm…).

Because there are a number of books about Harry Potter on the market, let me give you a brief explanation of Granger’s goals, and a brief introduction to the chapters. His first and foremost goal is to argue that Rowling’s Harry Potter series makes for serious, reflective reading, despite its obvious popular appeal. This he does most compellingly, by demonstrating Rowling’s depth of intellect, literacy, and organizational powers. Granger also analyzes several fundamental aspects of both Rowling’s storytelling formula and her underlying worldview (he calls them “keys”). Because of Rowling’s fidelity to her formula and her worldview, predictions can be made about the upcoming Deathly Hallows, which, of course, Granger goes ahead and makes.

Chapter One discusses Rowling’s first key – narrative misdirection. This involves the “voice” of the story. So what, you may ask? Let me tell you, Granger’s explanation of narrative misdirection, how Rowling uses it, and what it means in the big picture, is great stuff – really great stuff. I’m not giving anything away here – you’ll just have to plunk the money down and read it yourself. I think you’ll be glad you spent the cash and the time.

Chapter Two discusses Rowling’s second key – alchemy. Although I first thought this would be the most dreary and esoteric of topics, for me, this was the most eye-opening of the “keys.” This is the key I now refer to the most when speaking to people who dismiss Harry either because of intellectual snobbery or bible-based opposition. In both this book, and his previous book, Looking for God in Harry Potter, Granger gives a great corrective about the meaning of alchemy both in history and in the Potter books. From the insights into Ron’s red hair and Hermione’s chemically-significant initials, to the more systematic explanation of how all the Potter books reflect a deeply spiritual process of personal transformation, Unlocking Harry Potter. serves the thoughtful reader very well.

Chapter Three unpacks Rowling’s storytelling formula, the third key, while also showing that her stories are not at all flatly formulaic. The beginning, middle, and end of Harry’s yearly journeys all echo each other, for very significant reasons. It is also here that Granger predicts how, even though Half-Blood Prince seems to depart from the formula, in fact we will discover in the resolution of the seventh novel that the supposed departure is just another example of narrative misdirection (back to key one!)

Chapter Fours and Five speak to Rowling’s position of being “in” the postmodern world (the fourth key) while not being completely “of” the postmodern world (the fifth key). That is, both the things Rowling addresses, and the way she addresses them, speak our language, and thus we resonate with her narratives. On the other hand, as Granger demonstrates, she critiques some of the most destructive and deconstructive and tendencies of postmodernism. Granger points out Rowling’s criticisms of institutions (schools, the government, the press), that supposedly embody what we say are our most important ideals. Perhaps even more significantly, Granger systematically demonstrates that Rowling remains faithful to a fundamentally theistic worldview complete with real evil and real good.

Chapter Six is the chapter of predictions. What will happen in Deathly Hallows? These predictions are nothing like random guesses – if Granger is right about Rowling, then certain things should happen in book number seven. Now, Granger has made predictions before in other books and articles – some of the specific predictions were wrong. However (and this is a big however), details in successive Potter books have shown Granger to be substantially right about the Rowling “forest,” even if he has mistaken some “trees.” So, I’m looking forward even MORE to reading Deathly Hallows, not only to enjoy another Potter novel, but also to see how much of the forest, as well as how many of the trees, the author ultimately did get right.

I highly recommend this book.

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