Rowling Says She Had Corona Virus?

Read the whole thread here.

This is perhaps the single most important tweet The Presence has made since returning to Twitter because it seems to have disarmed the Horrible Herd of Social Media Puritans, who, up to this time and since Rowling’s transgender rights tweet last December, had been standing by to shout “TERF!” and “Transphobe!” in response to anything she posted. The news that she had had something like Covid-19 symptoms (good disciple of UK taboos, she chose to stay home rather than receive a confirmed diagnosis — thereby “saving the NHS”) simultaneously empowered the faithful to express their love and concern with best wishes posted from around the world on the thread.

And she came back and is posting on Twitter almost daily — a mixed blessing, I think, but a notable event. Your thoughts?

Guest Post — Of Time, Terra, and Narnia: The Forgotten Ideas Behind C.S. Lewis and Vladimir Nabokov (Chris Calderon)

Of Time, Terra, and Narnia: The Forgotten Ideas Behind C.S. Lewis and Vladimir Nabokov

By Chris Calderon

Popular culture is often unkind. Once you reach its level, you soon discover all that counts is how well a complex subject can fit into this or that pigeonhole. In that sense a good working definition of pop culture is a place to put things so that you can forget them because its better that way, safer. Even beloved literary icons aren’t immune to this problem. C.S. Lewis’s reputation has become like that. He’s a name on the tip of the tongue who wrote a few kiddie books a while back and was something of a fundamentalist; that is all. The same thing happened to Vladimir Nabokov. All anyone can remember him for was writing a perverted book, and for some reason Stan Kubrick thought it would make a good film. Then there’s Jo Rowling, just another welfare queen who got lucky with another set of kiddie lit; “Life is very long”. That’s about as far a popular understanding can go, and it never deals with any of these subjects at all.

It can’t help readers understand that, thanks to the efforts of critics like Michael Ward, we now know that Lewis was a closet Berkeleyan Idealist, and that the good Bishop was perhaps his second “Other Master” after George Macdonald. Nor that few except a handful of close readers where able to say the same about the author Lolita. The thought and writings of George Berkeley form one of the most interesting thematic links between two writers who are never considered in the same aesthetic space together. There’s a story to be told about that link, and it has to do with a solitary dreamer. His name was John William “J.W.” Dunne, and he’s almost like a figure in a story, even if he was real.

Dunne was an aeronautics engineer. He was the very model of a modern day respectable. It would almost be true to say he represented the ideal picture of the norm for modernist Britain. Then somehow the table was upended. Dunne may have lost the respect of his neighbors and cohorts, though it remains for you to decide just what he gained in the end. Respectability came to an end for Dunne with a series of peculiar dreams. The first involved a stopped watch that didn’t malfunction until at least a day after Dunne dreamed that it did. The second was more dire. In his sleep, Dunne saw himself standing on an unstable strip of ground that was beginning to crack. Light was emerging from those tears in the earth, and he knew to go near any of it meant incineration. He could make nothing of this dream until the eruption of Mt. Pelee became the Pompei of the 20th century.

The same experience kept repeating itself. Dunne would see an event in his sleep, and later that event would sometimes repeat itself in real life. JWD was not a mystic. By training he had a degree in physics, and liked to keep track of the work of scientists like Einstein and Arthur Eddington. In addition, while he was practical, it was this same critical thinking streak that, paradoxically, made him an intellectually convinced Anglican. What he had on his hands amounted to little else except a repeating phenomenon with no other word to describe it except miraculous. Dunne was the sort of methodical thinker who couldn’t leave it at that, however. Like Lewis, he devoted a meticulous study to the subject as it occurred, and brought all his scientific acumen to bear on it. The result was An Experiment with Time, a text with an influence on both VVN and CSL. [Read more…]

Mary Shelley’s ‘The Last Man’ — A Plague Novel for Pandemic Readers

There are quite a few reading lists for those at home during Pandem-Mania 2020, especially for those readers on furlough from work-at-the-office as well as those confined to home and unemployed who want their imagination to feed on apocalyptic stories of plague, pestilence, even influenza. For a sampling of these lists, see here, here, here, here, and here.

I am neither staying at home nor unemployed; my Muggle job that pays my bills whilst I write my thesis is in a grocery store which the state of Oklahoma has deemed an “essential business” akin to marijuana dispensaries and abortion clinics and unlike casinos and churches. It has been, consequently, a relatively unstressful time for me as my daily routine has only been changed in how I must dress at work (face mask required) and the atmosphere of fear the grocery store customers bring to their shopping. I wish that these small troubles were the rule for HogwartsProfessor readers during this unprecedented lockdown and pray that it ends soon, ends well, and that the country is back to work and free of this contagion.

I did order a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s The Last Man and read it. Forgive me if this confession is disappointing to you but I had never heard of the novel before seeing it one of the lists above and I consider myself a great fan of Frankenstein. I have written three posts at this website on the alchemy and chiastic structure of that novel and have spent more time than I should perhaps in private meditation on its relationship with Coleridge’s ‘Ancient Mariner,’ a poem the young Mary Wollstonecraft overheard at its first reading by the poet to her parents.

In brief, The Last Man is the first person narration of Lionel Verney of his experiences in the United Kingdom from the years 2073 to 2100. It has only just survived in print rather than flourished as has Frankenstein largely because it is assumed to be Shelley’s portrayal in fiction of her life with Percy Shelly and Lord Byron, and, more recently, because it seems to be the first post-apocalyptic novel to reach print and a major audience (cue cat-calls and counter-claims). I confess to being largely indifferent to both these critical concerns; my hope in purchasing the Dover facsimile reprint of the 1826 first edition was that Mary Shelley’s reflection on life in the time of plague would be as challenging and insightful as her critique of biological and medical science in Frankenstein.

I was disappointed in this hope, alas. The plague does not appear on the scene until Chapter 2 of Volume 2, page 130 of a 341 page book and only in Volume 3 does the action of the story turn entirely on the effect of the disease on the country and the principal characters. The writing is wonderfully or interminably florid depending on your taste for such things, the far-distant future is envisioned as being almost exactly as life in the Edwardian period except for the Wollstonecraft wish-fulfillment fantasy of the monarchy being disestablished (and the rightful king eventually becoming the country’s savior by election…), and the relationships and fates of the heroic Adrian, Lord Raymond, Lionel and their wives and loves are, again, melodramatic in a way that only Romantic era writers would attempt and that only those with a taste for what approaches camp will enjoy.

I recommend it, nonetheless, beyond my enjoyment of this kind of writing which idiosyncrasy you may share.

For one thing, the conceit of how Shelley finds the manuscript of a first person account from the future without aid of a Time Machine is absolutely first rate. It’s all shared in the introduction, which you can read online here in only a minute or three, so I won’t ruin it for you. 

For another, any three volume publication of this period, not to mention one written by an artist of the proven alchemical and chiastic structure and style concerns of Mary Shelley, is an exercise book for careful reading by serious readers.

And religious and medical professionals — not to mention politicians — do not come off well in this book, at least during the plague time of the novel’s last two volumes. Shelley rips into the idols of democratic government and progress with no mercy given. The Romantic disdain for scientism and exoteric religious ritual is a pre-modern assault on modernity’s empty positivism and serves as a corrective, even a disinfectant to the excesses and corrosive ennui of postmodernity. Those critical of institutional responses to Covid-19 by church, science, and state will find that Shelley is something of a prophet in The Last Man

Last, Constantinople is won from the Turks by crusading Greeks. It doesn’t end well for the Great City or the invaders, but, still, for an Orthodox Christian reader and closet Byzantine, this temporary victory was almost worth the effort to get there — it is the story pivot, believe it or not — and the disaster of the unfolding plague that follows.

I hope in the comment boxes below that you will share your thoughts on The Last Man  if you have read it. Failing that, please let me know what you are reading of English literature’s vast stream of plague novels.

And, failing that, go ahead and share your experiences of the lockdown. I only ask that, if you choose to ‘go there,’ that you try not to share your feelings about those who are entirely on board with the shutdown of the economy if you are not and vice versa. I’d much rather read about what you’re reading and thinking than your acceptable window of righteousness defined by social distancing compliance and hypochondriac over-kill. De gustibus.

Reading, Writing, Rowling 37: Troubled Blood? Spencer, Manson, and More!


From the MuggleNet write-up by Laurie Beckoff:

In this bonus episode John and Katy predict what will happen in the next novel in the Rowling/Galbraith Cormoran Strike series with the help of Elizabeth Baird Hardy (Milton, Spencer, and the Chronicles of Narnia) and Beatrice Groves (Literary Allusion in Harry Potter). Given the Strike 5 title Troubled Blood, John explains Rowling’s reliance on the blood motif in Harry Potter and ponders its recurrence in Cormoran Strike. We speculate about the possibility of Marilyn Manson epigraphs through the book, how Manson lyrics could connect with key characters, and whether this blows apart the potential for repeating the chiastic structure of the Harry Potter series. Other clues point to the phrase “troubled blood” in Edmund Spenser’s Faerie Queene. Like Rowling, Spenser mixes genres, with literary allusions abounding. Britomart, Florimell, and the Redcrosse Knight provide hints for the plot and characters of Strike 5: women in danger, Robin in disguise, depression and suicide, doppelgängers. From tattoos to Twitter headers, we leave no clue unexamined! Are we on the right track? What do you think?

Salazar’s Pit Viper: Another species named after our shared text.

The trend of naming new species after Harry Potter characters continues.  The latest addition to the Slug Club (which, to my knowledge, has no actual slugs in it yet….  hey, slug researchers, why don’t you find a horned one and name it “Horace?”) is Trimeresurus salazar, a new, bright green pit viper recently discovered in India. Zeeshan Mirza led a team of five self-described Potter fans on an expedition that discovered the magical creature in the Pakke Tiger Reserve in July 2019.  According to the report in The Indian Express:

They almost named the species ‘Nagini’, after Lord Voldemort’s snake but then later decided to “save it for when, and if, they discover a new cobra species since Nagini was a cobra.”

“Childhood experiences largely stay with you,” said Mirza, “When I was growing up, JK Rowling was a big part of my childhood, and perhaps everyone else who has read the book. Now what better way to honour and thank her than naming the species after one of her characters?”

Eriovixia gryffindori

Interestingly, the discoverer’s hat tip to Mr. Slytherin extends to the fantastic beast’s common name, which they hope will be Salazar’s pit viper, not to be confused with the Basilisk, Salazar’s pet viper. This also brings some balance to the Hogwarts’ founders, since Godric Gryffindor had a Sorting Hat-shaped spider named for him in 2016.  I’m waiting for Helga Hufflepuff and Rowena Ravenclaw to get their turn.

The snake joins a dinosaur, an extinct lizard, two wasps, two stink bugs, four spiders–the three others are named after Aragog–and an elusive crab in species with Wizarding World-inspired names.  You can read about five of these in my earlier posts: here and here.  If you want to know about the six others I’ve added to my list since 2017, follow the jump.  

[Read more…]