Category Archives: Hog’s Head Conversations

When Book Trailers Attack

That is to say, what happens when a publisher teams up with an “up and coming” filmmaker to make a book trailer for a new fantasy novel? Well, we’ll find out in a minute. But first, what about book trailers? They’re basically what they sound like, a trailer for a book like the trailers for movies. Except usually more sedate, or boring as I saw referenced somewhere.

Anyway, here are a few links to book trailers for books you might be familiar with. After these links, I’ll put up the one I reference in starting this post.

Harry Potter and Imagination by one Travis Prinzi.

Hogshead Conversations by Travis Prinzi.

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Red Rocker, This One’s For You!

Wow, it is so great to be back at the Hogshead—I always love your reading comments about my posts; they’re not only insightful but they get me thinking about what to write next.

Which is exactly what happened last week when Red Rocker wrote:

“Enough listening to us, Professor D. We’re eager to listen to you share some topic and themes – and hopefully reactions.

“What are the highlights of your course? What is the stuff that makes the kids look up from their cellphones or iPads or (worst case scenario) Gameboys, and actually listen and think? When they put pen to paper (fingers to keyboard), what insights stream from their brains? What surprises them? What delights them? What makes them go ‘Whoa, I never thought of that!'”

So, Red Rocker, today’s post is for you!  First off, let me say that I have been blessed with students who overall do not tune me out to their computers or iphones….though I did catch one student texting in the first row and a few others surfing the web.  Three thoughts go through my head when this happens:

1. Come on folks, this class is so fun!  You can tell the facebook friend you haven’t seen in ten years that you like their new Farmville truck later, and breaking news about Charlie Sheen will have even more ludicrousness to it by the time we’re done, so really, really, what could be more important than our class?

2. Oh wait…they think I don’t notice.  They actually think I don’t notice.  Even though I can see the cell phones in their hands under the desk and their fingers typing, even though I see their eyes sneakily moving left to right across a laptop screen, they really believe I’m paying attention to something other than, well, them.

3. Should I tell them their secret is out, read that metaphorical note-passed-between-friends to the class?  Or should I pull them aside quietly during the break?  Or just let it go (my default to date)?

Always a struggle.  I’ve thought of banning laptops for this reason, telling students I will record the course if notes are that important to them.  Like I said, this is a very small number of students, but nonetheless, Red Rocker, this post is for you, so, in the spirit of honesty (and venting), I just had to share.

But continuing on to the question of what surprises and delights students most: I would say that students are most surprised by is the fact that there is not just one cookie cutter for Christian thought.  They’re surprised by the variety of thinkers and priorities among Christian theologians and how that plays out in the series.

Let me give an example: Last week in class, we talked about salvation in the Harry Potter series, and I asked them whether anything like Christian salvation exists in the books.  Of course, the first piece of information they need to answer that question is a definition of salvation.  Anticipating this, I assigned an article that outlined several different understandings of Christian salvation.  One of them, called the Christus Victor model, states that Jesus saved humans from evil by dying on the cross, engaging in a cosmic battle with the devil in hell post-death, and then rising in triumph after defeating the devil.  This salvation model makes sense because it’s rooted in the idea that the problem for Christians is the existence of evil.  From a different perspective, they also read about Anselm’s theory of atonement, which says the problem is that because humans sinned against God, they owe God a debt so large that only someone who is God is capable of paying it.  Unfortunately, God can’t pay a debt to Godself, so a human has to do it.  Hence, it’s convenient that Jesus is both God and man.  When he dies on the cross, Jesus can offer the human side up as payment because he is also fully God and therefore capable of paying the debt.  In this construction, the problem is the debt to God brought about by human disobedience and sin and the answer is a way to pay the debt.

Different problems, you see, need different answers.

When we apply this to the series, we see that salvation also takes many forms.  Harry, for instance, might be seen as procuring salvation by paying a debt through death that only he is uniquely capable of because he alone is a Horcrux.  In contrast, Dumbledore or Neville might be seen as characters who participate in salvation by fighting against evil.  I think that in this way, we see that salvation can take many forms because many different ailments plague us.  This both reflects our diversity and our reality.  But unlike in Christian thought, in Harry’s world, many people participate in that salvation (not just one), which makes the whole community responsible for it.  How empowering is that?  It seems to say that if we all work together under the power of love, then we too can accomplish something transformative on our world.

Wow, I’ve written a lot here, so I think it’s probably a good place to stop.  But don’t worry, Red Rocker, as Arnold says, “I’ll be back!”

Teaching God, Theology, and Harry Potter at Yale!

Hello Hogshead readers!  It’s been awhile since I’ve had the honor of getting to share in your conversations, so it’s great to be back with you!

Since I last posted on the Hogshead, there have been many changes in my life: I got married in September and ordained as a priest in The Episcopal Church in January.  Both of those are tremendous joys.

But perhaps most exciting for fans of Harry and his friends is that my first book, God and Harry Potter at Yale: Teaching Faith and Fantasy Fiction in an Ivy League Classroom, was released in December and hearing from passionate fans has been one of the most rewarding parts of seeing the book in print.  I’m especially grateful to Travis for doing some really astute editing and for letting me discuss some of the ideas that appear in the book on The Hogshead a couple of years ago.

What I thought I’d do today is tell you all a bit of the story of God and Harry Potter at Yale and pave the way for some future conversations about Christianity and the Harry Potter series.  So what do you say—are you up for a discussion that would keep even Ron from falling asleep and have Hermione’s hand flying up with enthusiasm?

The tale of God and Harry Potter at Yale began three years ago when I was a poor graduate student living in the attic apartment of two Yale professors.  In exchange for cooking several meals a week, I received free rent, which allowed me to stay in school and finish my master’s degree.  In the summer of 2008, I decided to apply to teach in the College Seminar Program at Yale, which allows non-Yale professors to teach a course at the university, provided that you are either an expert in your field or in your final year of graduate study.  I qualified as the latter.  Since I majored in English, was working on a master’s in theology, and loved the Harry Potter novels, teaching a course on Christian themes in the series seemed like a natural fit.  After all, there had been so much debate in about whether or not the books were heretical that I felt it was important to weigh in…but from a different perspective.

See, most of the discussion about whether or not the series was heretical revolved around witchcraft.  Here’s how most of it went:

A. Many of the characters use witchcraft.

B. The Bible condemns witchcraft.

C. Therefore, the books are heretical.

As a theologian, I had some problems with this logic.  Here were my thoughts:

A’. The characters are witches and wizards, but that’s not the only thing they are.  They have many other personality traits, some of which seem much more definitive of their personality.  For instance, Hermione was definitely smart first and a witch second.

B’. The Bible condemns withcraft not because witchcraft in and of itself is bad but because people use it in an idolatrous way.  In other words, they use it to create powers for themselves because they want to become gods.  Now, this is like saying that a blood transfusion is morally wrong.  A blood transfusion is a technology without moral value, just like your refrigerator doesn’t have moral value.  It’s how we use it that defines it as good or bad—if you save a life with a blood transfusion, that’s good.  If you purposefully use blood tainted with AIDS to make the recipient sick, well, that’s bad.

C’. In light of these two critiques, it seemed to me that the books weren’t necessarily heretical.

But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t more work to be done!  And that’s where the course came in.  I wanted to create a class where students could ask, in detail, whether or not the books supported a Christian worldview.  That meant considering all sorts of topics in Christianity, everything from sin to salvation.  So each week revolved around a theme from Christian thought—say evil.  Students would read historic and contemporary Christian perspectives on evil alongside the Harry Potter series.  Then we’d come to class and discuss them.

Initially there was some skepticism about the class.  I was asked repeatedly whether there would be enough substance to the course (I replied that with 2000 years of Christian tradition and 7 Harry Potter novels, the real question was whether there was too much).  One student even went so far as to tell the Yale Daily News that a course on theology and Harry Potter was a joke.

In the end, however, the course was offered and when 72 undergraduates showed up on the first day to vie for the 18 slots, I knew that the student body was giving the course a thumbs up for academic integrity.  And as for the students who got to take the course?  Well, I’m thrilled to say that many of them said it was the best class they’d taken at Yale, and one of them, three years later, told me she still talks about material from the course.

In the next few weeks, I’m excited to get to share some of the themes we covered in the course with you all.  But in the meantime: let me know if there are particular topics you’d like to see covered.  After all, there’s nothing better than an interactive classroom!

Check out my new “Religious Arts and Photography” book!

By the time you click on this, it may be either corrected or out of the list’s rankings: but at present, I’m proud to announce that Hog’s Head Conversations: Essays on Harry Potter is #85 in the category “Books > Arts & Photography > Religious. (Scroll down to Product Details to see.)

Amazon might need some work on their categories! Apart from Michael’s artwork and Red Hen’s cover design, there’s no artwork or photography in the book. (But there are 10 great essays on Harry Potter!)

In other interesting news, and to make this post as random as possible, the initial plan for the two Deathly Hallows movies is to split the films at the point of the trio’s being capture by the Snatchers, and open the second film at Malfoy Manor. Thoughts?