Over in Scotland, with our own Mr. Pond in the organizer’s chair, a group of over sixty Potter scholars is currently discussing Rowling’s work at the University of St. Andrews. Titled A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, the gathering purports to be “the UK’s first academic conference on the subject and the first in the world to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text.” (From St. Andrews’ news. Note that the conference is not, as the Telegraph claims, “the first event in the world to look at the series as a literary text”–only the first to do so exclusively.)
The media has featured various reports on the conference, including this piece from the BBC. Since the first notice from the press, however, a handful of reporters have turned to the con angle, one every serious Potter student is familiar with: academic dismissal. Both the Telegraph and The Guardian have run stories in which they’ve found some reasonably credentialed speaker to claim that:
A few things of note:
First, Pottermore has pushed back its opening date to the end of October. The delay can be expected to frustrate millions of fans worldwide; however, speaking as one of the beta testers, in my opinion they had no choice. Whatever they planned the servers to be able to handle, beta testing spent all of last week oversetting it in a major way. I can report, however, that last time I logged on, the site ran decidedly more smoothly than I had ever seen it. There is hope.
Perhaps harder for hopeful ebook readers to take, the Shop does not plan to open till the first half of 2012. The only consolation these readers have is that after years of hard-copy only, at least the ebooks have been promised.
In other points of interest:
For the most part, I think we’d all say that Harry Hating has had its day and life has moved on. Of course, most of us probably still occasionally deal with people who think Harry Potter is corrupting children. That belief isn’t much of a headline anymore, but it does still exist.
And because it still exists, it still pops up in public places from time to time. After a couple of such take-notices, Sean P. Dailey over at the American Chesterton Society wrote a delightful little rant on the subject. A delightful little rant in and of itself might not be noteworthy enough to make a whole post about, but when the rant includes some solid geekery on Tolkien’s works and a fascinating point about Dumbledore’s rig with Snape–arguably the one thing in the series a socially conservative Christian does have good reason to object to–it seems worth linking for the interest and enjoyment of the pub.
Every last member of the thinning anti-Potter crowd would take umbrage at a few lines of this article, of course, but rants are for the people who agree with them. And since we’re all sitting around drinking magical drinks in Dumbledore’s brother’s bar, I’ll not hesitate to raise my butterbeer and cheer Mr. Dailey’s words.
A handful of unrelated items for your perusal:
First, the Secrets of Harry Potter podcast has an episode up on the first Deathly Hallows movie. I’ve yet to listen to it, myself—busy few weeks—but next to The Hog’s Head Pubcast, SHP is my favorite podcast on Potter. It’s the only other one I’ve come across that really gets into deeper meanings of the books.
Here’s something to get your blood pressure up this morning. Toby Young, a freelance writer, gives a series of bare assertions about how sad it is that literature as “second-rate” as Harry Potter has been so successful:
But on the other hand, there’s something depressingly second-rate about the Harry Potter franchise. The books are a bland amalgam of more interesting work by more imaginative authors. The plots are feeble and episodic. And what little interest the characters and stories contain has long ago been eradicated by endless repetition.
Of all Britain’s celebrated children’s authors, JK Rowling is among the least deserving of this honour. Off the top of my head, I can think of half a dozen better candidates — Beatrix Potter, AA Milne, Kenneth Grahame, CS Lewis, Richmal Crompton and Roald Dahl. A hundred years from now, children will still be reading those authors and Harry Potter will be a distant memory.
This is the kind of article that tells us more about its author than the author about whome he is writing. How embarrassing would it be for him and the other condescending commenters there to learn that Potter is being studied as serious literature at over 40 college and university campuses, including many of the Ivy League schools? This man doesn’t know the first thing about these books or about what constitutes great literature.
Yahoo! states that the Vatican and its official newspaper continue one line of praise of Harry Potter with a positive endorsement of the Half-Blood Prince movie:
The Vatican lauded the latest Harry Potter film on Monday, saying “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” made the age-old debate over good vs. evil crystal clear.The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano even gave two thumbs up to the film’s treatment of adolescent love, saying it achieved the “correct balance” and made the stars more credible to the general audience.
The newspaper said the film, which opens Wednesday, was the best adaptation yet of the J.K. Rowling series about the adventures of the bespectacled child wizard Harry Potter and his Hogwarts chums as they battle Harry’s nemesis, the evil sorcerer Voldemort.
They do qualify their endorsement, arguing that the books show no “explicit ‘reference to the transcendent’.” (Can’t wait to see how patrons respond to that…) More than a year ago, L’Osservatore Romano also ran a stringent critique of HP by Edoardo Rialti:
The author recalls Tolkien’s essays about fables, in which he says that “fables can depart from the physical world and the universe created, but not from the moral order: we can imagine a universe illuminated by a green sun, but we cannot bulk to the temptation of presenting as positive a reality in which the moral and spiritual structure are inverted or confused, a world in which evil is good.”
“And this is exactly what happens in Harry Potter,” L’Osservatore says. “Despite several positive values that can be found in the story, at the foundations of this tale is the proposal that of witchcraft as positive, the violent manipulation of things and people thanks to the knowledge of the occult, an advantage of a select few: the ends justify the means because the knowledgeable, the chosen ones, the intellectuals know how to control the dark powers and turn them into good.”
One thing all this makes crystal clear: If the Vatican feels compelled to offer comment, Harry Potter will continue to draw interest far past its media heyday.
Ted Hamilton, in “Harry Potter and the End of Literacy,” becomes another apocalyptic voice, citing Harry Potter (and Twilight) as markers of the end of the true art of literature:
It’s not even that books have been abandoned altogether. In fact, there have been some astonishing literary phenomena in recent years that probably represent the largest shared experiences of reading in history. The obvious example is the Harry Potter series, which has sold over 400 million copies in 67 languages. More recently, the Twilight books have gotten a boost from the related movie and are now seen in every teenage girl’s hands. And the seemingly unending hubbub over faux-memoirs and the accountability of authors would seem to suggest that people still care deeply about literature.
But the literature under consideration is of a deeply impoverished sort. Harry Potter and Twilight are good for a quick thrill and an occasional, broad-stroked lesson, but there’s no comparison to true art. At the risk of sounding too high-brow (and my hesitation indicates the extent to which cultural elitism has been discredited), the majority of what people read today is schlock. There’s something to be said for the pleasure of reading Tom Clancy or Dan Brown, I suppose, but their prevalence pushes aside the great authors.
I think Mr. Hamilton is in need of a few reading assignments, perhaps most importantly James W. Thomas’s introduction to Repottting Harry Potter, or his essay by the same name in my forthcoming volume, Hog’s Head Conversations. For a book-length and equally important read, I’d assign him John Granger’s forthcoming book, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf.
The only thing that will contribute to Harry Potter‘s being “the end of literacy” is if all the critics like Mr. Hamilton fail to see that rather than detracting from the classics, Ms. Rowling’s novels embrace them, point to them, and make their ideas accessible to postmodern readers.
We’ve all heard of and discussed the “Harry Haters” out of the fundamentalist Christian camps who think the boy wizard is indoctrinating impressionable young minds into witchcraft. Another type of Harry Hater is out there, and is just the opposite, claiming that Harry is indoctrinating kids into Christianity. From Iranian TV:
Iranian state television has come to the conclusion that Harry Potter is a Zionist plot. The documentary, which you can watch here, features several “experts” discussing the wildly popular series of books and movies.
One of the experts quoted in the documentary says that Harry Potter is part of a “cultural crusade” and through the movies “they [Zionists] are indirectly saying: ‘join us.'”
The documentary, which shows many of the darker scenes from the series, concludes that elements of the Kabbalah are presented in the movies. One expert says that Harry Potter is portrayed as the Messiah and the film touches on Armadeggon, which he says fits into popular Christian Zionist beliefs.
In 2007, Iran’s ultra-conservative daily “Kayhan” called Harry Potter “a billion-dollar Zionist project” and a “destructive bomb” for children’s minds. It alleged that the author J.K. Rowling had links to Zionists and that was how she became so well known.
I’d heard about this before, but this is the first time I’ve ever read a genuine report about it. Fascinating. Either Harry’s anti-Christian, or he is the culprit behind a Christian takeover.