The Interlibrum and Fandom after July 21st

A very good friend, Sandra Miesel, wrote me last night to let me know that there was a new entry in the Harry Potter speculative genre by an English scientist and science fiction writer:The End of Harry Potter by David Langford. Sandra is the only person I know who is expert in all things Medieval and in what goes on in the world of science fiction and fantasy literature. Reading the reviews of David Langford’s book, it seems to be more than Mugglenet’s entry in this field, or Galadriel Walter’s or W. Frederick Zimmerman’s. I have a hard time seeing how any of these can be better than or even as good as Janet Scott Batchler’s What Will Harry Do? The Unofficial Guide to Payoffs and Possibilities in Book 7 but I love everything Janet writes (if we rarely agree on things in the books).

I edited a collection in this field, of course, Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? (Zossima Press, 2007) and I hope you’ll buy that book if you only buy one book of this set. Fortunately for Zossima Press, the reviews for WKAD? on the page suggest it may indeed be the best of the lot, written by a variety of serious readers using very different speculative approaches for an audience of serious readers.

All these books have one thing in common, though besides looking beneath the surface of Half-Blood Prince to try to figure out what will happen in Deathly Hallows. What they all share is a future that is a dead-end. They will all be collector’s items and curiousities on July 22nd.

Who but PhD candidates in English, obsessive fans and collectors, or readers who like to laugh at the mistakes of Know-It-Alls will buy these books when Deathly Hallows is published? Not me. I expect to see them sold on eBay at a steep discount and with few takers come August.

In fact, other than the fun I had putting together the collection of essays that make up Who Killed Albus Dumbledore?, the speculative heart of Fandom during the Interlibrum, the time between Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows, leaves me cold. Call me a goofy egg-head or self-important git if you like. I just don’t care for the speculative battle-field.

But you know I’m on that field at this site as often as not. If you’re scratching your head and saying, “John, I just read your Scar-o-Scope theory and this doesn’t read like an essay by a guy who isn’t invested in figuring out how the books are gonna end,” I understand. It certainly seems a contradiction to say Harry Potter speculation is a turn-off when my books and posts are heavy with it (not to say “full of it”).

I want to think, though, that my speculation is qualitatively different than any of the books I mention above, than the mass of Live Journal sites devoted to Harry, and even from the speculation in the book I edited. What speculation I’m publishing I have written with a different intention.

That should be evident from reviewing the responses to my post on the Scar-o-Scope theory below or from reviewing the introductions to my books or even the “about” page of this site. I’m trying to answer a different question than “how do the books end?” I know we’ll have that answer soon enough, if the Lord doesn’t come before July 21st. (I heard one pastor say the only good thing he could think of about Harry Potter was that it almost certainly delayed the Parousia; could the Lord return above Jerusalem and disappoint so many children waiting to learn Harry’s fate?)

The question that struck me from first fathoming the depth of Potter Mania and which has stuck with me since is, “Why do we love these books as we do?” My first answer to that question, the traditional and transcendent elements of story and symbol in each book, was the thesis of Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004). My most recent answer are the Five Keys for Serious Readers in Unlocking Harry Potter (Zossima, February 2007, available for pre-publication purchase here).

Both these books have at least one chapter in which I speculate wildly about Harry’s future or lack of a future. The point of this speculation, though, has always been to illustrate what Ms. Rowling has done and is doing by extrapolating patterns from previous books into the next year of Harry’s education. In the Interlibrum, the focus of Fandom is figuring out what is to come, and, in so doing, to demonstrate the more profound understanding of the books than all the other readers out there. I would be nuts not to acknowledge that and participate, at least to the extent that I can engage readers with a question and answers that will live on into August, 2007.

Look at the responses to my Scar-o-Scope theory below. There are five or six very thoughtful responses that point out more than a few reasons that the Scar-o-Scope theory is a disaster, improbable, and just plain silly. Only one, though, addresses my point. I offered the theory to illustrate dramatically the concept of narrative misdirection by pointing out the possibility that “the good guys” could be practicing misdirection as Voldemort and others have done in previous books. Travis Prinzi understood this – but critiqued the theory in light of the other four keys in the Five Key set and said it needed more work.

I think Mr. Prinzi is right. Scar-o-Scope is a vivid dramatization of narrative misdirection and it passes the Repeated Patterns test and the litmus strips of Literary Alchemy and Postmodern Themes. As Travis and a reader posting on the Dumbledore as Christ thread point out, though, it seems to fly in the face of Traditional Symbolism and Christian content of the books.

I will argue this later at some length because I think it goes to the heart of the difference between Ms. Rowling’s “message” and that of the Inklings. Here I just want to say that this conversation is the one we should be having. It is about what the Harry Potter books are about, what makes them tick, and how they have engaged us as they have. They are also, incidentally, about plot points and Deathly Hallows speculation.

Only the conversation about the workings of the books will be of value come Labor Day.

Forgive me, then, if I have not responded to the several lengthy and thoughtful explanations about how Scar-o-Scope fails as a speculative theory. Like Steve Vander Ark and other friends with whom I spoke about “The Parameters of Speculation” at Lumos this past summer, I don’t think there is any way we can know where the stories are going, at least not in any detail. Knocking heads about it, consequently, however much it encourages us to re-read text and scour interviews for hints, will seem like so much wasted time in August.

I came to this view after seeing the hurt suffered by those in Fandom who were committed to the idea of a Harry/Hermione relationship. Ms. Rowling’s unfortunate (and unpleasant) comments to kid interviewers at Prince’s publication turned more than a few of my friends “off” to the stories. I worry, frankly, about the disappointment many readers will feel after reading Deathly Hallows. They have, in many cases, invested time and passion into positions or theories rather than the mystery and joy of this adventure.

Forgive me for striking the academic “above-the-fray” posture. You should know I am like a little boy in anticipation of the last book’s release; my children tell friends and relatives that I am at least as excited as they are about July 21. And most of that anticipation is the anticipation of learning what I missed and how the story ends.

A lot of my eagerness for Deathly Hallows, too, is my hope that I will have a better understanding of why these books were so good, both in the sense of the artistry of their composition and of their engaging, edifying message. The exploration and adventure of this question I think will be what pre-occupies Fandom after the summer of 2007 when the speculative boogie has expired.

Frankly, I can hardly wait.


  1. Arabella Figg says

    You write: “I worry, frankly, about the disappointment many readers will feel after reading Deathly Hallows. They have, in many cases, invested time and passion into positions or theories rather than the mystery and joy of this adventure.” and “And most of that anticipation is the anticipation of learning what I missed and how the story ends.”

    I couldn’t agree more. Although some speculation is natural and fun, I find the intensity of some of it almost disturbing, and avoid it. I can’t help but feel that a lot of people are going to crash after the last book is out.

    It’s almost as if the books themselves have become a footnote in this living organism of “speculamania.” In some essays in WKAD, Harry himself is practically dismissed, merely a minor cog in the machine. This is too bad if we lose sight of Harry, who he is, the heart he has, the relational aspects of the series.
    True, much of the action takes place offstage, but we ‚Äúlive inside‚Äù Harry, his emotions and perceptions. To cull the humanity from his story and reduce it to merely plot points is just wrong. It‚Äôs fascinating to step outside him and put stuff together (and you’ve done such an admirable job in bringing out structure and meaning), but the series IS titled Harry Potter.

    Like you, I love the joy and mystery of the books. And that’s what these books have held for me—pure pleasure and enjoyable anticipation over what magician J.K Rowling will bring. I already feel some grief that the grand journey will soon be over, but look forward to rereading these delightful books for years to come.

    And, after all, that great Mystery—love—will never be finished.

    Got to feed the kitties,

  2. Arabella Figg says

    Regarding my previous comment about some essayists in Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? dismissing Harry as a cog—well, if you look at the big picture of the whole story arc, Harry IS a cog in the machinery of an intricate story. Many characters are assisting/resisting the unknowing Harry and quite a few are far more interesting. One can only go outside Harry to do the kind of detective work found in WKAD?.

    My concern is merely that the humanity of the books and Harry not be lost.

    Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? is a fantastic book and I recommend everyone getting it immediately. The deduction and speculation was so absorbing, amusing, stunning and brain-tweaking, I read it in practically one sitting. What an incredible collection of brilliant writers using considerable detective skills so persuasively and eloquently! Several times I ruefully asked myself, “Did I even READ these books?” Finding oneself convinced by two very plausible essays that a character is both EVIL and GOOD is like doing “six impossible things before breakfast.”

    The kitties are yowling,

  3. John,

    I do hear what you’re saying…I’ve been reading “knowing God” by Packer, and in it he says that “pardon is the heart of the gospel.” After I read your “looking for God in Harry Potter” book, I really got an idea for what draws me to this and perhaps other fantasy books. It’s seeing people set free time and time again. It’s such a recurring theme in the Potter books…Dobby set free, Sirius set free, Harry set free, all of the second chances and pardons are very attractive, it’s a constant reminder of the benefits of Christ’s sacrifice.

    I like to speculate, and that red hen essay was really cool, but mercy and pardon on prisoners is one thing that keeps me coming back.

    Who else was pardoned and/or set free?…Ginny, Buckbeak, perhaps Draco, there’s seriously alot. Those are just a few I can think of, not including emotional or psychological prisons and being set free from those.


  4. It may not be so easy to kill the speculative boogie. I imagine that a lot of fandom discussions post DH will either involve disappointed rants about what ‘should have’ happened, or – if any interpretive wiggle room is left – what it ‘really’ means.

    If the possibilities are very firmly closed down, once we know the final outcome, it is likely that a lot of people won’t like it one bit. They will then either turn into bitter ex-fans or look for ways to force fit the ending to their own beliefs.

    What makes this potentially very interesting is that we are dealing with an author who, while enjoying racking up the suspense and dangling the red herrings, is not inclined to pull her punches when it comes down to it, and who has hinted that her point will be quite clear by the final page.

    I don’t think she’s painstakingly planned this story and led us through it over so many years only to leave us with an ambiguous ending. I suspect that she has something definite to say.

    That speculative boogie is likely to be harder to kill than a mountain troll, but I hope and trust our intrepid author will finally knock it on the head!


Speak Your Mind