Welcome, Movie Week Visitors, to ‘HogwartsProfessor’!

There have been a flurry of interviews and articles in print and online that have linked to this weblog in the past week because of the HP7B movie roll-out (about which, join the conversation below)– so it’s appropriate that we meet-and-greet our new guests (and provide links to the source stories for the old guard).

Welcome, then, all you Washington Post, Christianity Today, Wall Street Journal, City Life, Scripps-Howard papers, NPR, Leaky Con, Newser.com, WORD FM radio, and GetReligion first time visitors to HogwartsProfessor.com! My name is John Granger, sometimes called “the Hogwarts Professor” though here I am only one of five Potter Pundits, and, as your host today, I invite you to make yourself at home and, time allowing, surf the archives of our Harry Potter conversations and maybe even check out our threads on Twilight and The Hunger Games.

And, if you’d like, make the jump below to read the Washington Post piece as I first wrote it, which is to say, before it was transformed in the layers of editing necessary to appear in ‘Outlook,’ WaPo’s Sunday editorial section. It’s a bit different…

FYI, Zossima Press tells me that a glitch in Amazon.com’s “algorithm formulas” for titles shipped from Ingrams has caused their Potter titles — including Deathly Hallows Lectures — to list as shipping in “two to three weeks” when they are actually “in stock” and ship immediately. Don’t hesitate to purchase because of the glitch if you want to learn more about the artistry and meaning of Harry Potter!

John’s Original Washington Post article, ‘The World without Harry Potter?’

As the last wave of hype and Potter merchandising from the eighth movie derived from a seven book series recedes with the tide — the last wave until the one at the end of this month when Rowling rowls out her Willy Wonka invitations to the Pottermore web site — we can look back at the most successful publishing adventure since Mao’s Little Red Book and the only serial, decade-long film experience of note and ask one another, “So What?”

Would a world without Harry Potter, a time-and-space and fiction-reality that had never known the boy wizard or that forgets him tomorrow, be that much different?

Yes, it would. Love him or despise him — there seems little ‘take it or leave it’ ground for indifference with the Hogwarts Saga repeating tsunami — Harry has reshaped our present, future, and even our past.

Note first that Harry’s seven adventures acts as the world’s first “shared text” as Allan Bloom  understood that phrase, the first not written by God at least. Sales of close to 500 million copies in 67 languages and an epic, CGI laden celluloid translation that has reached every corner of the world capable of firing up a DVD player has meant more than a new vocabulary something like Esperanto among the world’s readers.

Along with terms like “Muggle,” phrases such as “He Who Must Not Be Named,” and a host of Dickenesque characters from Hermione Granger and Severus Snape to the Boy Who Lived and the Dark Lord himself that are now commonplaces of public speech, Rowling’s achievement has altered, much for the better frankly, the world of letters.

As Lev Grossman noted in a brave and bold Wall Street Journal op-ed piece, for one thing, Harry’s dominance of the Best Seller lists, a near-ownership that caused the Grey Lady to create a separate list to displace him from the fiction tallying, made the death of the ‘literary novel,’ the only genre not considered genre fiction disdainfully by critics who like or who are A. S. Byatt, official. Plot is no longer a crime and sales do not mean ‘selling out’ as much as they do ‘successfully engaging readers.’ Authors are again more than engines for delivering elevated language and ennui.

More important than shaking up the categories of critical taxonomy, though, is how Jo Rowling has re-awakened in readers their awareness of what they want in a written story, an awareness that is now an expectation writers and publishers are rushing to meet. Eliade noted in his Sacred and the Profane that in a secular culture reading serves a mythic or religious function, an imaginative experience that, as Coleridge and the Romantics fighting via fantasy a rear guard action against the Empiricists would have it, initiates or baptizes the heart having suspended disbelief in poetic faith.

In a word, that means “meaning.”

Though dismissed by Harold Bloom, A. S. Byatt, and William Safire as books “unworthy of adult attention,” Harry Potter has magically restored, revived and renovated the worlds beneath the surface and moral (or amoral) levels of story. The world of letters once again is a world of symbols and story ciphers acting as transparencies and translucencies for reader entrance and transformation. Hogwarts has given us allegory and anagogical meaning again.

No doubt that seems a horrible stretch in a world dismissing the Potter novels as kid lit, but Rowling’s artistry, most notably her use of traditional alchemical scaffolding, a soul triptychHeart Hero in her character leads, and the remarkably detailed and involved Ring Composition of the series and each novel, not to mention the menagerie of Christian symbols the author admitted in 2007 she always “thought was obvious,” is what created and still drives Potter Mania.

The books sell better than all others not because of the internet, marketing, or movie links, as helpful as each of those may have been; they are blockbusters because they do better than all others what books are supposed to do — deliver meaning in depth, “instructing while delighting” as C. S. Lewis noted after Sydney about the Greats.

And other writers, most notably Stephenie Meyer in Twilight and Suzanne Collins in Hunger Games, using their variants on Rowling’s literary artistry — the alchemy, Rings, and triptychs — as well as their own female gothic heroines that Harry plays so well in drag, are following in Rowling’s wake. It’s no accident that the best sellers of the 21st century are all serial adventures with paranormal elements featuring sacrificial love and resurrection experiences. It’s the Potter brand, which is to say, more importantly, the mark of English literature.

Ezra Pound once called writers to “Innovate! Innovate! Innovate!” Andrew Lazo noted it was the signature of Inklings writers to “Renovate! Renovate! Renovate!” literary forms, a convention Ms. Rowling has taken to new heights in her mix of Schoolboy novel, alchemical drama, gothic romance, whodunnit, and Regency manners and morals piece. Meyer’s stunning Stoker spin on the Harlequin romance, Collins’ dystopian morality play, Lev Grossman‘s challenging blend of literary and fantasy genres in The Magicians and The Magician King, and Patrick Ness’ sci-fi mind-benders in Chaos Walking are each in deep debt to Rowling both for the models they employ and for the audience these books enjoy.

Our present world of letters is Harry’s world, in brief, and the future, even if PotterMore.com yields no new Potter adventures, belongs to him as well. The bean counters at struggling publishing houses and at resurgent film studios will see to that. More curiously, though, I think a World Without Harry Potter would not only be a world without stories with plots, without book sales sufficient to merit media attention, and without the throwback to allegorical depth we have today, a present sans Harry Potter would mean we would have a different past.

F. R. Leavis noted this about Jane Austen, namely, that it is impossible to read the books written before hers except in the context of, the advent towards her arrival. Generation Hex because of its baptism in the waters of the Giant Squid’s pond on the Hogwarts grounds now experiences the prophecies in Aeschylus and Shakespeare, the death and immortality of Dickens’ Sydney Carton, Stevenson’s conscience-deprived Jekyll and Hyde, and the eye of Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner through the filter of their experiences in Rowling’s work.

She has succeeded in remaking this past, and, more exciting, in forging a remarkable portal and invitation to the breadth and depth of English letters prior to the academic and critical slavish devotion to the literary novel.

A World Without Harry Potter would be a world with more John Irvings, Norman Mailers, and J. D. Salingers (if we were really lucky) and fewer and fewer readers. Instead we have a globe newly engaged with the imaginative experience of story and the promise of escape from existential woes, perhaps, but also, as Baylor’s Ralph Wood said about Tolkien’s epic, of an escape into the world, Coleridge and Lewis’ “inside bigger than the outside.”

I’m glad I only have to imagine the world without Harry — and that my imagination is up to the task because of its time alongside him, Ron, and Hermione vanquishing Death Eaters.

Bit different than the published version, no?

Anyway, did I mention the Rev. Danielle Tumminio’s piece in the Huffington Post? Please enjoy that, too, and, if you have a moment, go ahead and share your comments and corrections below about any of the above, not to mention any links you might have to other movie week posts on the artistry and meaning of Harry Potter. (Here’s a wild one — ‘Harry Potter, Jesus, and Me’.) All the Hogwarts Professors welcome you to this site and hope you will join us again tomorrow!


  1. Wow, it’s amazing how much freedom they have to rewrite your piece! Great retrospective of the Potter influence, though.

  2. Elizabeth says

    I’d just like to add my welcome as well! If this is your first time to HogPro, we trust it won’t be the last. We look forward to lively conversation with both our alums and the ickle firsties! Thanks for stopping by, and do make sure you cruise the archives. You won’t be sorry when you see what treasures are there, and you won’t need a goblin to get in or out.

  3. Wow! I love the Christianity Today link – what a great story!

    I didn’t get a chance to read the post as it appeared in The WP, but the original is fabulous!

  4. Professor, Here are some reviews you gave or in which you are quoted and my thoughts about them.

    – what a re-write! I find it somewhat astonishing that the literate article you gave them was “dumbed down” to the standard sixth grade reading level, but it was. I think your main points made it through, however, and that is to the good. (Sad that such is necessary in Washington, DC, though.)

    CT – I think this is an excellent retention of your ideas with apparently little editing. (And compared to the above rather puts the lie to “ignorant” Christians labeling.)

    City Life – This captures the essence of your critiques and communicates them very well, despite the standard journalistic motifs employed by the surrounding material.

    The Republic – Accurate, intelligent. Really a good intro piece to the whole debate and HP, thanks to the author’s work and your quotations.

    GetReligion – ditto The Republic

    Wall Street Journal – good background and excellent comments.

    Newser – good appreciation of your comments on JKR and her effect on literature in our day.

    The Seattle Times – Contextualization for the newer readers who hadn’t the experience of Abanes et alia ad nauseum.

    Congratulations on getting the message out clearly more-often-than-not. In the “journalism cycle” that is quite the accomplishment!

  5. Mary Ellen says

    Thank you John! It might have been mangled, but the Washington Post article was good enough to send me to this splendid blog. What a great discovery! I am delighting in the back articles and links. I always knew there was so much more to the HP saga than ‘just a good story’ — I’m thrilled to have finally found such erudite guides. Looking forward to enjoying many more post and to being guided towards other great books.

  6. Welcome aboard, Mary Ellen! I look forward to reading your contributions to the conversation here —


  7. John, loved both of your talks at LeakyCon. I was a little skeptical going in (“surely he’s just reaching and overcomplicating) but my mind was absolutely blown. And always nice to hear an intelligent, respectful Christian viewpoint on the series, especially as my pastor and I tend to butt heads on Potter. Thanks for your insights!

Speak Your Mind