‘The Ickabog’ Structure: Three Notes

If you are like me, the better part of your day during the work week is stopping by TheIckabog.com to read the daily chapter of J. K. Rowling’s “political fairy tale.” Rowling’s twitter feed suggests a large proportion of the children in the world today are reading the story, too, and drawing Cornucopia maps and pictures of the various characters in their excitement about Bert and Daisy’s adventures (and hopes of winning a prize).

Katy McDaniel, host of MuggleNet’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast invited me to join her this Tuesday morning along with special guests John Patrick Pazdziora and Lana Whited, experts not only on the Hogwarts Saga but also fairy tales and children’s literature, to talk ‘Ickabog.’ I have been scratching my head about what I will have to say in this company that isn’t obvious — “‘Beamish’! Oh, my! The boy who kills the Jabberwock! ‘My beamish boy’!” — or dull — “Note, please, the reference to Death of a Salesman in the chapter title ‘Death of a Seamstress’ and doesn’t ‘A Flaw in the Plan’ sound familiar somehow?”

I’ve decided to go all in on structure. For one thing, it’s unlikely the charting work has been done by somebody else already because story scaffolding and sequencing, not to say ‘chiasmus,’ isn’t something taught in most schools. And the slow drip of chapters method in which this story is being told doesn’t encourage an ‘overview’ perspective that pattern discovery requires. And it’s a story very much in progress, right? It’s hard to do more than guess the structure of a work when you don’t have the beginning and end latch to play with.

I’m going to begin with two reasonable guesses, namely, that Rowling will not tell this story in a way that is radically different than the way she has told all her other stories and that this means the story structure will have been carefully planned and will have features of what Mary Douglas called ‘ring composition.’ I’m not going to disregard, in other words, everything we’ve learned about how a Rowling story works structurally from the Hogwarts septology, the Casual Vacancy seven part novel, and the four Cormoran Strike novels in what seems to be despite Galbraith’s denials a seven book series.

Here, then, are my three introductory notes from the top of my head — and from too many hours charting the fifty chapters online at this writing. Let’s talk after the jump about the seven week structure, what it tells us about the story turn and likely ending, and the color coding of the chapters. [Read more…]

Rowling Writes Trans Views Tell All Post; Fandom Divides ‘Team Jo,’ ‘Team Trans’

On 6 June, J. K. Rowling tweeted nine separate times on the issue of transgender people and their rights. I think the most important thread is this one:

Though only a reiteration of her #IStandWithMaya Tweet Heard Round the World from last December, one with special emphasis in each part of the thread that the accusation that she hates transgender people is untrue and unfair, the world that believes with former Vice President Joe Biden that transgender rights “are the civil rights issue of our time” have doxxed her thoroughly. Celebrities as closely tied with her as Emma Watson, Daniel Radcliffe, Eddie Redmayne, and Evanna Lynch have all gone public to affirm that “transgender women are women.” [To my knowledge, Tom Burke and Holliday Grainger have not yet checked in on this issue.]

On 10 June Rowling responded with an essay which was posted on her website, ‘J.K. Rowling Writes about Her Reasons for Speaking out on Sex and Gender Issues,’ and she has pinned a link to this post to the top of her twitter page (she has been silent on twitter since 6 June). In this essay she reviews the history of her involvement with the transgender issue, the story of her several fat-finger mistakes at the keyboard that led to her being identified as “transphobic” by trans activists online, and of her decision to return to twitter in December after a long hiatus to support Maya Foraster. She details, too, the fallout thereafter, not only the verbal abuse and threats she endured and expected, but also the unanticipated “avalanche of emails and letters” “the overwhelming majority of which were positive, grateful and supportive.” These notes, she writes, [Read more…]

Rowling Blows Up Twitter Once Again; She Doubles Down on Sex and Gender

Read all about it here: J.K. Rowling slammed for defending concept of biological sex: ‘It isn’t hate to speak the truth.’

The short version: Rowling in a series of tweets has repeated and doubled-down on her #IStandWithMaya position from last December that it is not bigotry or hate-speech to insist that transgender women are not biological women.

The twitter-verse predictably has exploded with calls for her beheading mixed in with celebrations of her courage in speaking the truth.

I have three thoughts about what this means that I offer here in haste for your comment and correction:

(1) Another Rowling Vacation from Twitter? After the explosion in December about her insufficient woke-ness, Rowling disappeared for several months. She re-surfaced during the Covid-19 lockdown, it seems in retrospect in order to do what she could in the cause of “saving the NHS.” Her posts took the turn of hyper-political scolding with the Dominic Cummings controversy so perhaps it should be no surprise that the issue of transgender rights has resurfaced as well. Maybe this second doxxing and deep-dipping in the mercurial baths of social media will remind her why she left Twitter in the first place and why she should resume her silence.

(2) The End of the Goodwill Campaign? Rowling re-entered the social media world with a bang; she gave a million pounds sterling to two Covid-19 charities and created a website that is posting in daily chapters her political fairy tale, The Ickabog, all for free. Children everywhere have been reading it and creating drawings to accompany the eventual printed text. Rowling’s tweets the last two weeks have almost exclusively been in admiration of drawings sent to her by proud parents and excited children. If she leaves Twitter, of course, it will mean the end of that wonderful experience for author and illustrators alike.

(3) Goodbye, Fantastic Beasts? It’s hard to imagine Rowling being kept on in any front line capacity with her Newt Scamander film series. The Super Politically Correct actors involved, the ones playing Credence Barebones (Ezra Miller) and Jacob Kowalski (Dan Fogler) most obviously, however much they have revered Rowling in the past, will have a very hard time reconciling their public personae with Rowling’s statements about transgender women. Warner Brothers, frankly, might be just as pleased to have Rowling give them a novel to adapt rather than have her continue as screenwriter and executive producer.

If this situation leads to Rowling reverting to novelist and giving up the screen-writing, there will be no complaints from this corner.

What are your thoughts about what the latest twitter storm will mean for Rowling’s future as a writer? A gentle warning, in advance; I’m not interested in and will not approve any comments that discuss the transgender issue per se. Please share those opinions on the thousands of fan sites and twitter feeds devoted to that subject. 

 

 

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes: Top Ten Pointers to the Trilogy

Amazon.com: The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes (A Hunger Games ...

It’s been an exciting past week or so here for serious readers, from J.K. Rowling’s new slow-release of The Ickabog to the release of the new Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. We’ve already taken a few looks here at the new prequel, which will doubtless continue to yield further treasures upon repeated readings. If you have not yet checked out The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, I hope you will, and that you will join our conversation on its many layers. One of the most interesting features is the way in which the novel uses foreshadowing for events that we, savvy readers of the original trilogy, already know well. Although set 64 years before Katniss Everdeen’s name comes out of the Reaping bowl in the well-manicured hand of Effie Trinket, this novel should only be read by those who have already completed the trilogy. Like the Star Wars prequels, with moments like Obi-Wan Kenobi chiding his friend Anakin Skywalker, “You’re going to be the death of me,” BSS  is an experience that only works if the readers know what is coming. This is a useful technique in literature and film. After all, we cannot gasp with horror when Oedipus declares that the murderer of Laius will be exiled and live in misery, unless we are familiar with the myth, so we know he himself is the man he seeks and that he will indeed be ruined and miserable.  We cannot mentally headslap people in Titanic when they declare the ship’s invincibility if we do not know that the ship is going down, along with many of its passengers and their hubris.

So here are our first “top ten” moments and themes of The Ballad of Songbirds Snakes that point to and set up the trilogy we already know, some of us quite well. This is just the start to a much longer list, one that I am sure will grow with each reading. [Read more…]

Of Barred Owls, Poetry Projects, Postal Birds and Ickabogs: Pandemic Writing.

It’s been an eventful couple of months, to put it mildly. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted by semester, my summer travel plans (including my work with the Global Autism Project, now postponed to 2021) and may yet lead to other major changes in my life. But, as with every crisis, there are always silver linings. One, of course, is the online publication of J.K.Rowling’s fairy tale, The Ickabog. But, she’s not the only one using writing to make the pandemic a bit easier to bear. 

My university hosts an annual Doenges Scholar, who, this year, was Poet Laureate Emeritus Juan Felipe Herrera. Sadly, the pandemic cost the students the opportunity to work with Sr. Herrera in person, but, with the help of a Spanish and an English professor, the university held an online seminar during our three-week May Term. The major creative product of the class was a community poetry project, centered around what the class called CoVIDA, or “the life that emerges out of this COVID-19 moment.” The students did not limit the project to their own writing, but solicited poetry from the wider community, asking for writing about the themes of community, celebration, conocimiento (ancestral knowledge), resilience, and healing.  

I certainly encourage you to check out the full project at the link above.  However, since my contribution had a Harry Potter connection, I thought I would share it here. 

Who Cooks for You?
That wintry morning, the call we were expecting came. A barred owl stopped at my brother’s window, to ask Who cooks for you—and remind him of our father’s laughter, long silenced, now freed, to a place we couldn’t hear. So the owl passed the message along.   My father’s stories were of Reddy Fox and William Green Hill Jenny Wren and Polynesia, the birds of wisdom. The owls’ names were their calls: Too-too and Hooty. He never knew Hedwig, but he’d have liked her, Even though Mr. Lofting wrote of postal birds first. If he sent his son an owl, his daughter would understand, Oh, Sweet Bird.   Who cooks for you—a gift, as if someone is watching. Laughter and intellect, memory and magic linger in the woods, And continue in the stories.

More about the poem, and story connections, after the jump.

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