I could start with and make my argument rely on what is the most terrifying scene in the series: Bathilda the snake. That would be easy to do. I had to read that scene twice to fully digest it, and I just remember sitting, in awe, at 4 in the morning (and Jenna noted) and thinking to myself, She went there. She really went there.
But that’s not the scariest thing about Deathly Hallows. The scariest thing about book 7, and what makes it the most terrifying book, is that everything safe is gone. I’m reading Philosopher’s Stone to my daughter, Sophia, for the first time. (It’s really fun to do the voices!) Very early in the first book we learn clearly: the safest places in the world are Gringott’s and Hogwarts. We learn later in the series, as Rowling flips the world around on us, that the safest place for Harry is actually the Dursleys. All of that unravels entirely for Harry in book 7. Continue reading
With the penultimate novel in the saga—Half-Blood Prince—we know that things must become much worse before they can become better and reach resolution in the seventh and last novel. We should thus expect that it will be chilling in unmatched fashion, and I shall argue that it’s the scariest of them all! Let’s take an eerie walk through the dark corners of Half-Blood Prince, to places seemingly devoid of light or hope . . . .
“And the one-eyed undertaker, he blows a futile horn.
Come in, she said, I’ll give ya shelter from the storm.”
~ Bob Dylan, “Shelter from the Storm”
“It by no means follows that because a man is a sexton, and constantly surrounded by the emblems of mortality, therefore he should be a morose and melancholy man; your undertakers are the merriest fellows in the world.”
~ Charles Dickens, “The Story of the Goblins Who Stole a Sexton”
Ghosts and Christmas go together suprisingly well. There’s the common imagery: the icy, white and desolate setting of Christmas, with a few lights shining but not wholly dispelling the darkness parallels the cool, white, spectral images of souls clinging to the world but not able to overcome the death it dealt them. Dickens seems to be primarily responsible for ghost stories making their way into the Christmas tradition, and certainly we all know his most famous one. In addition to ghosts, he has a lesser-known but equally-potent story about goblins at Christmas: The Story of the Goblins who Stole a Sexton. It’s short, and if you have time over the next few days of Christmas celebration to read it, I commend it to your careful attention. It puts into our mind the many beautiful paradoxes of Christmas and what this day says about our world.
Christmas is neither the unadulterated, raucous party that TV’s commercials show us, nor is it something to be “Bah Humbug-ed” away, like Scrooge. It’s a bittersweet mix of gloom and joy, darkness and light, death and life, indifference and that most mysterious of all magics, love. Continue reading
Halloween marks the occasion of the death of Nearly Headless Nick (a.k.a. Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington), which was caused by having been “hit forty-five times in the neck with a blunt axe” (CoS p. 123).
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We find out in Chapter 12 of Chamber of Secrets that October 31, 1992 is Nick’s five hundredth deathday. Hoping that Harry will attest to Nick’s being impressively frightening so that he might be allowed to join the Headless Hunt, Nick invites Harry and his friends to his Deathday Party. Ron skeptically asks a good question: “Why would anyone want to celebrate the day they died?” And Hermione characteristically looks forward to what she can learn from the experience: “A deathday party? . . . I bet there aren’t many living people who can say they’ve been to one of those—it’ll be fascinating!” (CoS p. 130).
With Hermione’s inquisitive spirit, let’s have a go at wrestling with Ron’s question. Is there something more going on here than a chillingly gothic setting for the horrors to be unleashed by the re-opening of the Chamber of Secrets?
A Hog’s Head Halloween Book of Spooks
Edom’s streams shall be changed into pitch,
its soil into sulfur,
and its land shall become burning pitch;
Night and day it shall not be quenched,
its smoke shall rise forever.
From generation to generation it shall lie waste,
never again shall anyone pass through it.
But the desert owl and hoot owl shall possess it,
the screech owl and raven shall dwell in it….
Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts,
satyrs shall call to one another;
There shall the lilith repose,
and find for herself a place to rest.
–Isaiah 34, NAB
From her vague origins as she-demon and development through Hebrew midrashim and other ancient texts, the Lilith of legend became the first wife of Adam, rebellious long before Eve listened to a snake. Through another turn of history, she’s identified with Lamia, a child-killing Greek monster and vampiress. In MacDonald’s Lilith: A Romance, which is far more horrific than romantic, she is both.
The book doesn’t begin with Lilith herself. It begins with a young Englishman, a mutilated book, and a ghostly librarian. The latter morphs into a raven and leads the Englishman, Vane, through a mirror into a strange fairyland, where Vane is immediately invited to die.
The month of October has arrived, and the spooks are creeping out of closets and from under beds, up from dark wells and out of spidery corners under juniper bushes. The pumpkins have come to harvest, Aberforth is doing even less cleaning out of cobwebs than usual, and it’s time to talk ghoulish things at the Pub!
This year, rather than picking themes for each week, we’re opening up the entire month to all things spooky and scary. Alongside regular posts, then, which should include Travis’ upcoming review for Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy, the Blogengamot has been whispering rumors of ghost stories and dark fairy tales, sci-fi monsters and witch hunts, and talk of other things that might be caught going bump in the night. If you have suggestions, we’d love it if you leave them in the comments or send an E-Owl.
Grab your pointy black hat and your drink of choice–it’s a good season for pumpkin spirits–and let’s celebrate our Hog’s Head Halloween!
A Toast to Sherlock Holmes
Ladies and Gentlemen, here he is, the Prince of Detectives, the Napoleon of Crime Fighters, the Finest Mind of the Victorian Age, a glimpse (if you’ll believe it) of the next stage of our evolution—ladies and gentlemen, I give you: Sherlock Holmes.
There he is, the lean figure in the deerstalker hat, impeccably dressed, smoking a fine pipe. He’s learned in sciences and in the arts, especially chemistry and music, in which fields he’s written authoritative little monographs. He lives frugally, but cultivates as fine a palate as he is able. He’s at his ease with the worth of men, and has met the Queen herself. His conversation is engaging but not demonstrative. His brother is a respected civil servant. Holmes is an artist, an academic, an effective worker; he keeps his wits and his poise about him at all times, and always carries himself with dignity. In a word: Sherlock Holmes is a gentleman.