Tin Man, Harry Potter, and One Argument in favor of Publishing the Whole Back Story

There are few times I wish I owned a teevee set. In fact, I cannot think of a single time I have regretted putting up the teevee expelling charms around my house soon after I was married. I do own a VHS and DVD player that won’t pick-up signals on which I enjoy watching videos with my family (Count of Monte Cristo last night, an amazing adaptation/abridgment) but the the thought of a teevee “on” in my house, addict-in-recovery that I am, makes me shudder.

This morning, though, Amazon.com sent me an email telling me I needed to check out a teevee show called Tin Man on the SciFi cable channel. I checked it out via the hyperlink they provided. I didn’t rush out to buy a working television, but I did say to myself, “I really hope they release this on DVD.” I’d certainly go to see this if it were in the movie theatres. I’ve read more Wizard of Oz books to my children than I want to admit and this Tin Man program looks like the kind of thoughtful adaptation for postmoderns I’d enjoy. [I was the one in the alley behind the theatre who lost his popcorn and lunch after seeing The Wiz.] The Cain figure alone played by Neal McDonough would be worth the price of admission.

And why do I bring this up on a Harry Potter weBlog? I’m glad you asked.

The discussion here at HogPro has come down pretty heavily against learning more back-story from Ms. Rowling than she decided to include between the covers of her seven stage epic. I didn’t and don’t think, for example, learning what Ms. Rowling “always thought of Dumbledore” did anything more than distract from and diminish the power and meaning of her books in many readers’ minds by dissipating the focus onto unnecessary detail. I have argued from the works of George MacDonald and other writers who think that what the author thinks of their work and how they wish to have their work interpreted is, post-publication, no more and often less helpful than the opinion and argument of other intelligent readers.

Having made that argument, I think a case can be made for Ms. Rowling emptying her boxes of back-story into a Potter-Silmarillion for reasons beyond making a ton of money for charity and closing down the slash and fan-fiction online flood tide (which ain’t happening, alas, ever). In brief, now that we have the story-as-told, we could learn a lot about the story and the artistry of Ms. Rowling’s choosing to tell it as she did by reading what she intentionally left out. And a new group of readers may join in this appreciation.

I think this is the position of reyhan who wrote here or at Sword of Gryffindor that s/he enjoyed the “Dumbledore is gay” information because it threw light on something that was there but which even the discerning reader could have made out in the shadows of the text. I disagreed at the time (and still do, in large part) but found myself arguing along these lines here and in talks when I suggest that readers neglect reading the text closely and seeing what is in it when distracted by author revelations. When I say to readers and audiences, though, that they should be able to see Dumbledore’s faith in the light reflecting from the Godric’s Hollow tombstones, for most I am just pointing into shadow. As reyhan said, it can be a positive thing for the writer to throw some light on what is otherwise necessarily unclear or ambiguous.

I think the only reason I retreat even slightly from my “Leave the Back Story in the Box of Notebooks” position has been realizing why much of Ms. Rowling’s back story had to stay in the box. Narrative Misdirection, that is, telling the story from just above Harry’s head and restricting what can be known to what falls in the spotlight of this perspective means that much, even most of what is going on in the story takes place outside the reader’s view.

Which is a good thing! Choosing to tell the story this way gives the Harry Power novels not only all their “‘wow” surprise endings and the mystery that moves the narrative drive but also quite a bit of Ms. Rowling’s postmodern message (“don’t believe everything you think”). If we had known what Voldy, Dumby, and Doe-boy were thinking and doing through Harry’s seven year alchemical odyssey, the ending would have been anything but engaging, cathartic, and edifying.

But now that we’ve experienced that ending, would our reading and experience of the books be ruined or even diminished by having a light thrown on all or much of the things we couldn’t see because the story was told from a third person limited omniscient perspective? In an important way, yes, it definitely would. Much of what is mythic and symbolic would lose its multi-valency and power. The story on re-reading would be an experience in looking into corners to see the outlines of figures we had learned were there from the Potter-Silmarillion. It would be much more difficult to be re-engaged by the mystery and appreciate the artistry of the story-as-told.

But… for all that, I think I can still welcome the advent of a Potter-Silmarillion, for the same reason I welcome Tin Man and the Harry Potter movies. I don’t know how to read a movie so much of their artistry escapes me. I’m a big fan of the films, however, though I realize they cannot do to a viewer what the books due to a reader, because they bring more readers to the books. Tin Man I am certain will cause a renaissance in Baum appreciation. Ms. Rowling’s Potter-Silmarillion will cause her millions of fans to re-read the seven books and note new things and nuances, and, if this reading will be different and necessarily less focused because of the broader view we will have of the action, it will still be a new experience and appreciation in a different light of the story.

This is opening Pandora’s box, of course. If Ms. Rowling decides only to tell us every characters’s sexual preferences and history, their favorite foods, and how they would have voted for or against the Malvinas intervention, I reserve the right to retreat to my previous line-in-the-sand. I’m guessing I won’t have to do that.

I covet your comments and corrections — and your review of Tin Man if you get the SciFi channel in your cable package!


  1. Arabella Figg says

    John, I was intrigued by Tin Man, too (review in EW), but don’t get that channel either. So no help here.

    While I don’t want a major minor data dump such as you described in your Pandora’s Box paragraph above, I have appreciated much of JKR’s unloading. If she does *her* Silmarillion in King James English, however, I’ll be ticked.

    I think of Joyce O’Dell’s essay in WKAD? In it, she cleverly timelined the events between the end of HBP and DH. It was quite intriguing and I’d never even thought about this. It made DH more interesting.

    For me, while I enjoy the crumbs Jo drops from the table, except maybe DD’s outing because of the attention given it, taking away from the Christian revelations, they don’t grease-spot the pages for me. When I sit down with a HP book, I may start out with a fine-tooth comb, but before I know it, I’m so enthralled I haven’t even noticed that Thudders has dragged the comb away and is fighting Fullatricks over it.

    To me, this is the magic and power of her storytelling; she just hooks you again and again into WizWorld.

    Oops, there goes my brush, too…

  2. I do get the SciFi channel … and I’m intrigued by Tin Man, too. (After all, I do live in Kansas). But as for watching it or taping it … I don’t know. I have so little time for teevee these days. We still haven’t watched the Battlestar Galactica “Razor” movie that we taped over a week ago.

    I’d like to catch Tine Man … I’m just not sure I’ll be able to.

    But then just about everything ends up on DVD these days. Patience, John.

    (Yeti, my odd-eyed white kitty, sends greetings to Fullatricks and Thudders. He’s here on my desk, watching the typing …)

  3. JohnABaptist says

    Well, like many other works, it got panned in Boston.

    Let’s see what we think.

  4. Wow, that was a brutally snarky review! Just the antidote I needed to my incipient fall to teeveekinosis… I think I’ll skip Tin Man, even on DVD. In six hours of viewing time I could read Ozma of OZ and Rinkitink in OZ to my children. Better the real Baum before the Tannenbaum than a clownin’Baum, right?

  5. I’m not sure it matters much how we feel about a Potter Silmarillion. It wil happen, or it will not. I tend to think that it won’t happen for a long time because JKR is a young writer, and has a lot of books left in her, and won’t have much time to go back over the old stuff.

    I would personally prefer that she not do it, my response to her revelation about Dumbledore notwithstanding, unless it’s something that will add that same kind of zing to the story. Something which she would have liked to have included, but didn’t for extra-textual reasons.

    Let me explain.

    There is obviously an incredibly potent death-and-resurrection theme to the story. But JKR never comes out and speaks of God, or where the train goes after King’s Cross. I believe this is because being religious is not considered quite the thing in the UK. Tony Blair, who is very religious and is either Catholic or about to convert to it, spoke about this recently, explaining how religious people are seen as “nutters”. If JKR had written more directly on the theme, her books might not have been accepted as main-stream, but seen rather as eccentric or off-the-wall.

    I think that she refrained from outing Dumbledore in the books for a similar reason, but probably because of her US audience. In the UK Dumbledore’s gayness brought about a collective shrug. Not so in the US.

    To my mind, both themes are important, although the books work quite well without either being explicated. I would have liked to read the books she would have written if she could have written freely on both.

    So if there is anything else like that left in Pandora’s box, I’d like to see it. If not, then it’s just a bunch of odds and ends and won’t add or subtract from the main story.

  6. Arabella Figg says

    I’d like to see her do the famous “Hogwarts: A History” incorporating backstory information. That would be fascinating.

    There goes Thudders after the ficus again, poor tree…

  7. I like the Hogwarts history idea. Some day I’ll actually read the Silmarillion and be a ‘real’ Tolkien fan, but I found the first pages so dry! And this is from someone who’d read LotR a couple times (with plans for more) *and* survived the last books of the Aeneid (can we say miserable epic-type-ishness?) The problem is how to decide what information is important. She took nigh on 800 pages to tell the last part of the story. And since 4100 pages is pretty much the basic plot necessary, there are potentially tens of thousands of more pages that would give all the backstory. The wannabe playwright within me just wants to say let the text be the text.

    I’m rather bummed to hear about Tin Man- I thought it looked cool. I’m at work tonight so I can’t watch it, either. Boston entertainment reviews tend to be rather in that tone, or atleast along the lines of it. The review in the rival paper (the Boston Herald) was no more favorable: Yellow Brick Roadkill.


  8. JohnABaptist says

    Well the first episode has aired.

    My initial reaction is that Matthew Gilbert may well be related to Harold Bloom. That is to say, he appears to have pre-decided the case, intuited that the whole thing should have been done another way and was not looking at what was happening before his eyes.

    I’m certainly not ready to award the drama any Oscars or Emmies at this point, however I found it more entertaining and in several places deeper than Mr. Gilbert did. While this may simply mean I am a shallower person than the critic, I believe I will see it through to the end, if only to see where the character Raw (War spelled backwards) ends up going. He is the Post-Bert Lahr Lion who isn’t a lion. He has also had some very good moments so far.

    The Tin Man–Wyatt Cain–who seems to be channeling John Wayne recast into Eastwood’s “The Unforgiven” which oddly enough works better than it sounds. I’m still working on his name, I can see Wyatt (think Earp) but Cain? I haven’t quite hooked that up yet, so I think there may be some surprises down the road.

    Glitch (Scarecrow) is still heading toward his moment when the opening segment ends (or at least I hope he is) as he seems to be the weakest of the characters at this time.

    DG is definitely post-modern although the switch from “Flo”-like waitress to ultra-wide-eyed wonder child seemed silly at first, then got old fast…and then strangely began to grow on me when I stopped trying to make the picture what I wanted it to be (Mr. Gilbert is not alone in his sins) and simply went with what was there.

    This is a classic, re-told for a different generation, with different “shared experiences”; therefore the references and innuendo’s throughout are different, yet they are as closely related to this generation as haystacks, scarecrows and farmhands were to the original childern of Oz.

    But despite all the changes, I seem to detect that the spine and ribcage of the old Oz remain very much present. Dorothy (excuse me, DG) didn’t “feel at home in this world anymore” and Central City is still “a shining city on a hill”, although in need of a bit of polishing at the moment.

    I’m hooked enough to keep watching. Wish I could zap all the stupid commercials though…for the first time, I long to have Tivo and that, in itself, may indicate there is more to “Tin Man” than our Boston critic was willing to find.

  9. This is your inveterate Tolkien-fan speaking again… I’m not sure what everyone means by a “Potter-Silmarillion”, but I get the impression it’s mostly being used here to refer to background information to the series. However, most of the background information pertaining to the LotR story is found in the Appendices to LotR.

    Tolkien’s Silmarillion is something else entirely. What little additional information it provides to the LotR is vastly eclipsed by other narrative material that has no direct bearing on Tolkien’s later work. A comparable text in the Potterverse would contain a series of stories about the Founders, some information regarding the period around the Statute of Secrecy, plus a brief summary of the seven Potter books, all written in a markedly different – and according to many more difficult – style.

  10. Perelandra says

    My older daughter gives presentations on the SIL at Tolkien conventions. The main thing is to persevere and use a family-tree card as your bookmark so you can tell the f-ing Elves apart. It will make more sense on a second reading. Really. Then you can go on to THE HISTORY OF MIDDLE EARTH. There are treasures in UNFINISHED TALES and the two BOOK OF LOST TALES volumes. Our understanding of Tolkien’s universe has been expanded greatly by his postumous publications.

  11. Arabella Figg says

    Nzie, The Silmarillion is worth reading; I got and read it when it was first published. I really liked the part on Numenor and the Second Age, and use it as a reference tool when reading LOTR.

    In LOTR terms of readability, see it this way. When you read The Hobbit, it’s a nice story. You read LOTR and The Hobbit reads like a children’s book. You read the Silmarillion and LOTR reads like YA fiction.

    Tolkeinites, please don’t smite me with a sword, but I feel Tolkein made a mistake in writing The Silmarillion in such weighted King James Englishese. The stories are thrilling and moving but it reads, as Nzie indicates, like dry prop-up-those-eyelids, pass-the-4-shot-espresso, gotta-wade-through-it text. It feels like homework. Nevertheless, it’s great backfill for understanding LOTR.

    I don’t see JKR writing her backfill in such a way. And it needen’t be a bazillion pages, either, since she doesn’t have to weave it into story. I await the day to learn more about the histories of: the Goblin Rebellion,house elves, the Four Houses, the Hogwarts ghosts, the treaty when WizWorld chose to hide itself, Wizard settlements within Muggle communities, Wiz/Muggle gov’t agreements, etc.

    Kitties don’t agree on much except their own superiority…

  12. I have to agree with Arabella: backstory + “Hogwarts; A History” could be a delightful read.
    I wonder if at some point we might submit our personal priority lists for backstory development? I’ve often wondered about Hermione’s family and her parents’ acceptance of her witching-abilities and how they balance the interaction between muggledom and the wizarding world!
    Lately I’ve been driving my husband crazy matching up characters and storylines and *correcting* scenes in the HP movies which are different from the events in the books. He just smiles….
    We have the Sci-Fi channel, but I have to say “Tin Man” doesn’t interest me much. I used to like watching “The Wizard of Oz,” but not any more…maybe in a few years?

  13. I have a bad feeling about the projected Potter Sillymarillion because I don’t trust Rowling to respect the story as we already have it now.

    What I quite confidently expect is that she is going to try to rewrite fairly major chunks of the story and claim that this new version is what happened — in complete defiance of what we can clearly read in out own copies of the actual books. She’s pulled this before. To an insulting degree in DHs, but at various points even earlier in the series.

    This is unprofessional. If she wants to rewrite the books. She should rewrite the books. Even if the revenue probably wouldn’t be enough to keep her publishers in champaigne and caviar in perpetuity.

  14. Arabella Figg says

    PJ, I agree with your Muggle/WizWorld curiosity. I’ve wondered why Muggle parents such as Lily’s and Hermione’s were so thrilled and proud upon receiving the Hogwarts letter. They knew nothing about it. Wouldn’t a parent be suspicious? Cautious? Possibly rejecting? What about those who refuse their children’s admittance? What happens to magical children forced to grow up in the Muggle world? Interesting to ponder.

    Uh-oh, Hairy Plotter is pondering pouncing on Flako…

  15. I decided to skip the Tin Man when I saw that it was 3 nights long, two of which I couldn’t watch anyway. And then I saw about 30 seconds of it last night, and it wasn’t anything recognizable as coming from Baum. I love the stories, but this rendition looks way too modernized for me.

    Again, my age is showing, as it apparently does most of the time lately. (Sorry for being so snarky, but I’m tired of hearing that everything has to be modernized for the post-moderns, even at church. The upcoming changes are leaving me in a very “give me the traditions, please” state of mind.)

    I loved LOTR but couldn’t make it passed the first 30 pages of Simarillion. It just put me to sleep and I gave up. I’m glad to know that it doesn’t pertain much to the actual story of LOTR. I did finally make it through all the appendices after I read the series the third time–that was quite helpful in understanding the story, and I kept wondering why he had left out so much of it.

    At this point I really hope that Rowling just leaves the books alone. No re-write, no more back story on all the details of all the characters’ personal lives. “Hogwarts: A History” would be interesting, but I doubt that she could stick to just that. In starting to re-read the books from the beginning, I’m rediscovering what I liked about them the first time I read them, and I’m seeing how she included so much foreshadowing without it screaming that it was. Brilliant. Sometimes less is truly more.


  16. JohnABaptist says

    I just finished watching the last of Tin Man.

    John, I will give you only one quote and zero spoilers:

    The Hummel says to DG, “Everything you think you know?–You don’t.”

    It is not a retelling of WWoO. It follows as yet one more sequel in the long chain that started with Baum, himself, and has passed through many hands since. It may not the best of the lot–but it is a long, long ways from the worst. On balance, I thought it was pretty darn good and well worth my time.

    I think I’ll forget the Boston reviews and go with
    a review from the other side (of the country.) You must register to read the article, but the form is short and you can choose the don’t bother me with e-mail option and they won’t at least in my experience.)

  17. Seamus Clay says

    I intended to skip Tin Man, but after watching Tin Man’s final half-hour tonight, I decided to tivo Sunday’s six-hour marathon. Yeah, I know, it’s like reading the last chapter first, but SciFi Channel productions are hit-and-miss. It’s “the O.Z.”, not Oz or Aus as we know it, but it intrigued me enough to make it my daily Geek Opera (30 minutes at a time during lunch for a couple of weeks, par for Star Wars, LOTR, HP, Clancy, Indiana Jones, Grisham, Dune, etc.). Scheduling two uninterrupted hours a weekend is difficult enough, without making it six.

    A proper Potter Silmarillion, Lost Tales, Unfinished Tales, Adventures of Tom Bombodil, etc., would ultimately be better for the body of literature than a database of off-the-cuff remarks, no offence to Accio Quote. Assuming these addenda go through an editorial process before JKR is canonized by a liturgical order instead of a literary one, the measured output of a rigorous publication cycle should temper the impulsive tendencies common in extemporaneous oral commentary (such as the vow not to write more than 7 Potter books… except a few short booklets… and a lexicon (ahem) Harrypedia… maybe a Potterillion (Hogwarts: A History)… ad infinitum).

    However, as others have noted and editor Christopher Tolkien warns, JRRT may have intended to publish Silmarillion, etc., but not for general audiences, and not in the condition he left them. These were his papers in which he tried his hand at a few epics and filling in the gaps in British mythology, written more for himself, other authors, or serious lit students than for casual readers.

    Tolkien wrote that he intended to eventually publish his backstories to encourage other authors to spin their own yarns in a common universe familiar to readers. His early fandom was so receptive to the idea that they not only revived the lost art of fantasy storytelling as a social event (D&D, RPGs, Adventure, MUDs, MUSEs, MOOs), but built a few industries on it (TSR, MMORPGs). Prolific Potter fanfic writers no longer need such encouragement from the author, but a more detailed Potter history could provide some consistency for writers who care, and possibly pave the way for a Hogwarts novel sub-canon, like the many Star Wars, Star Trek, or Clancy spin-off novels. All indications are that Rowling is averse to such dilutions, but realistically, Sherlock Holmes spin-offs prove it will eventually happen with or without the author’s consent. If Rowling really cares about controlling derivative literature, published or unpublished (as if it matters anymore), the only way for her to guide it in a direction she likes is to set some reasonable ground rules through an edited, published Potterillion, or something more accessible like Hogwarts, a History.

    But will it influence the mainline canon of the septology? If the Silmarillion is to be a guide, only among two groups: pointy-headed academics (ahem) Ravenclaws, and truly fanatical fans. We call ourselves geeks.

    Some Trek fans speak Kingon, some Rings fans speak various Elvish tongues, and no doubt some Potter fans will learn Parseltongue. Good for them, whatever keeps them off the streets.

    As for the Ravenclaw types, they can’t justify their existence unless they study everything the author writes on a topic and disagree with each other about it, so they’ll probably argue canon v. apocrypha until the camp whose leaders have the most influential jobs eventually win, because the others can’t pass peer-review anymore. 🙂 Pardon the commentary.

    For the rest of us, the “social phenomena”, what a fiction author writes or says (in any forum) is gospel in her universe, but the Quibblers among us are free to imagine alternate universes, so long as we identify as such (HH shippers, Staight Dumbledore, and so on). In Tolkien fandom, those who reject the Silmarillion as “apocryphal” are occasionally called “Protestants” by their opponents. In Pern fandom, canon-pushers (“harpers”) call canon-deniers “holders”. In Potter fandom, I believe the term is “Lunas”. But, don’t worry, Lunas are very common in Potter fandom, so we fit right in.

    A few of us enjoy studying Tolkien’s apocrypha, so a paragraph of advice. I confess to relying heavily upon Robert Foster’s The Complete Guide to Middle Earth: From the Hobbit to the Silmarillion (1971, Del Rey) as a lexicon-concordence. Also, I’d probably begin with Turgon’s The Tolkien Fan’s Medieval Reader (2004, Gold Spring Press) before tackling the Silmarillion and others; the Reader is a convenient selection of short-form literature Tolkien taught, studied, and emulated (Beowulf, Chaucer, Norse sagas, Welsh Mabinogion, Irish Moytura II, Finnish Kalevala, etc.). Their themes influenced LOTR, but their style is particularly evident in Sil, UT, LT, etc. Comparisons to King James style are quite apt; for mechanics, not (necessarily?) inspiration.

    Potter fans who love the series for its accessibility might cringe at the idea that some tedious study and frequent re-reading might be required just to keep pace with the language, action, timelines, and characters. Others, like many HogPro readers and the aforementioned Ravenclaw-types, are more willing to delve deeper– to trade off a little instant gratification for a choice nugget of hard-earned insight. Just as the Silmarillion has found a niche audience among Tolkienologists, Potterologists may also learn to love the availability of a canonical backstory, while others may choose to ignore it without loving the main story any less.

    The LOTR backstory is not an enjoyable read for everyone, and not really essential to the vast majority of Tolkien fandom, but its presence guarantees there is always more depth to explore, if you dare. A Potterillion may also be relegated to a far smaller audience than the mainline canon; however, I suspect Hogwarts: A History will enjoy more success than Tolkien’s Silmarillion, because Rowling seems to love writing readable text as much as Tolkien loved writing archaic text, and one form is more widely read than the other.

  18. I finished Tin Man last night, and did not like it. In fact, I felt like a wasted a lot of time. I am glad I had TIVO and could same time by fast forwarding the commercials. It seemed to have so much promise but fell flat. I did like the first episode but the rest was a disappointment. As a whole I thought the acting was rather weak as well.

  19. Arabella Figg says

    A friend saw Tin Man and demanded her six hours back.

    Tom Piddle just wants two minutes of my attention…

  20. Katherine Kurtz has been receptive, even encouraging, to fanfic writers in her Deryni universe; she’s even published one anthology of fan stories. Mercedes Lackey has done the same with the Valdemar universe, although all her contributors are professionals. The late Marion Zimmer Bradley had her ‘Friends of Darkover’ series, although that kind of blew up in her face.

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