17 thoughts on “Hog’s Head PubCast #67: Harry Potter as Legit Lit

  1. Dave, if you’d only quit your job, jeopardized your marriage, & headed out to Californy for Azkatraz, you could’ve been on the pubcast too! 🙂

  2. Good question, revgeorge, and good answer, Travis, although I’m still not clear on the link between the Fall and escape to reality through fiction. Do you use the term “Fall” as a metaphor for man’s imperfection, in addition to the literal Judeo-Christian meaning of a fall from a state of innocence? Is the implication that fiction/fantasy brings us closer to our ideal selves? Please explain and expound.

    Snape is rather Poesque, with his rusty black clothes, his grim demeanour and his attachment to a beautiful but dead woman. And the resemblance between his “always” and Poe’s “nevermore” is striking. Lily as Lenore: who’d have thunk it? Kudos to Thomas.

    But if I had to pick a piece of music that was obviously deathless from the first time one heard it, I don’t think I’d pick Yesterday. Just about anything by Bach, Beethoven or Mozart, to start off with would be incomparably better. If you want something vocal, grab a CD of The Magic Flute or The Marriage of Figaro and start with any of dozens of arias. And I say this as someone who loves Yesterday

    And going from the sublime to the other end of the spectrum: what’s with poor Danielle Steele? After agreeing solemnly that it’s not acceptable to judge an author’s works without having thoroughly sampled them, the panel – most of whose members have not read her works – doesn’t even question the verdict that there are “things which give popularity a bad name”.

  3. Red, I’ll try to remember to get back here to talk about the Fall when it’s not so late at night. Like when I tried to answer that question.

    Re: Steele – based on the discussion we had, there’s almost an “out” for everyone on that. Greg never assented to James’s PRUBON, and you’ll notice I didn’t respond to the Steele question. I honestly don’t know how many of her books James has read, and he didn’t say.

  4. I think, by the way, James’s choice of “Yesterday” was to illustrate a tune that was once considered to fit all three “Deathly Hallows for academics.” Not sure Bach was ever considered “too juvenile.” The Beatles certainly were considered such.

  5. I thought that Yesterday fit in under the category “too new”, which is what made me think of those composers, especially Mozart and Beethoven, whose works were recognized as great from the moment they burst into the public’s awareness.

    Don’t mean to be too critical of Thomas, who is a very persuasive speaker, and a delight to listen to. And you weren’t too shabby either, speaking from the heart on the matter of escape to reality.

    And of course I’m not a fan of Steele, and I too assume that just because she’s extremely popular, she can’t be very good. Maybe she is. I’m too much of an elitist snob to ever find out.

  6. It was great to get to listen to this podcast here on the Hog’s Head, so thanks for posting it, Travis. There were several presentations that I missed during Azkatraz because of conflicting interests. The worst one, of course, was having to choose between Travis and John Granger. I don’t know who makes out the schedule, but believe me, the organizers of Infinitus will be getting a few heated e-mails from me begging or demanding(whichever mood I am in at the time) that This-NOT- Happen-Again! It was very nice to meet you, Travis, and my main regret is that I did not get to attend all of your presentations or panels.

  7. Really, beyond the standard “multiple layers that reward multiple re-readings,” I’ve never really bought any argument concerning what separates “literature” from whatever else is out there. And what the a reader finds rewarding upon re-readings is not reducible to some definitive aesthetic checklist that can be applied to any text any reader encounters at any time. If that were the case, I think people would read Beowulf as rabidly as they read HP, and Jack Kerouac would have a firmer place in the canon of 20th century prose.

    Many of my colleagues bristle at accusations that literary study is “too subjective.” While I have yet to go so far as to say that “any reading goes” or that “any writing is artful,” I do accept that the foundation of my education is more subjective than I was trained to admit. Amidst all the analysis, research, and study, my most fruitful conversations have always revolved around more personal reactions.

    What makes you giddy with excitement?

    What makes you cry with grief?

    What makes you rage with anger?

    What makes you laugh hysterically?

    What makes you cringe in terror, or perhaps sorrow?

    Aren’t such questions at the root of any book you enjoy? Admittedly, I tend toward books that do this and force me to re-evaluate myself as a person, a neighbor, a husband — or that make me rethink who I believe I am at my core. Yet, that might be HP, Hamlet, Persepolis, Tristram Shandy, Watchmen, White Noise, or even a Tom Clancy novel.

    Of all those texts, that last is sometimes the most telling to me. The Hunt for Red October or Executive Decisions are certainly not as richly layered as those others, but they give me excitement, pause, and, occasionally, a few tears. At least, reading Clancy makes me wonder why I react the ways I do, and that is worth the read in itself.

    What stands out to me from both my academic training and my experiences with people who read for totally different reasons is this: No book works magic in and of itself. Readers react for different reasons to different things.

    A book needs readers to truly, fully live.

    And while it’s debatable how much meaning a reader creates versus finds in a book, I do believe that the reader’s experience is far more than can be reduced to analytical understanding. Such a thing is shaped by factors far beyond the work, and probably can’t be recaptured past that moment. And that matters.

    I wonder if literary students like myself turn to theoretical analysis because we are frustrated by that fact… Our theories and devices want to trap an element of the human experience that was never meant to be fettered. Our language, powerful as it is, finds its limits, and turns back to us in an attempted double-blind. Imagine the Wizard of Oz standing in front of a shear curtain, trying desperately to hide both what it veils and the curtain itself. “Oh noooo… No curtain here. Move along now, nothing to see…”

    I’ve read “high brow,” “low brow,” and much that’s stuffed in between. Many have made me think, and neither end of the spectrum has predicted what makes me feel.

    As a kid, I used to stand in our curtains while the windows were opened on breezy days. I liked the way the curtains and wind felt, especially when I could smell and feel an oncoming rainstorm. In college, I wrote rather disaffective poetry to get to that memory. It’s now mostly in my MA thesis, which has set in my garage for the better part of four years. Oddly enough, my studies on video games and media are leading me back to that memory, and making me re-imagine what books do there.

  8. I’m on entirely unfamiliar ground here, but if I could venture an opinion, a reader’s experience of a book is an entirely different kind of phenomenon than the book itself. And the study of the experience is a different area of study than the study of the book.

    How a book makes me feel, what it makes me think, the images it conjures up in my mind – these are entirely subjective matters, determined by many things coming together, and differently at one particular moment, like you said Dave.

    The structure of a book and its elements – plot, characters, theme, images, and so on – are fairly objective, or so I believe (this is not my area of expertise), and can be accurately analyzed.

    On the other hand, books do tend to have similar effects on different people. Some books, or maybe some passages in books, some characters, some lines, do tend to evoke similar emotional reactions. We feel Macbeth’s despair in:

    Out, out, brief candle!
    Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
    That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
    And then is heard no more. It is a tale
    Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury

    We weep with Sidney Carton’s last words:

    It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to, than I have ever known.

    We see the rain with St. Vincent Millay in Wraith:

    Thin as thread, with exquisite fingers,—
    Have you seen her, any of you?—
    Grey shawl, and leaning on the wind,
    And the garden showing through?

    So what’s going on there? If it’s all subjective, why do these words move me – and you and you and you?

    I realize, Dave – or at least I think I do – that you’re not saying it’s all subjective; only that it can’t be accurately measured. Well, maybe not. But I tend to believe that the power of these words lies mostly in the words themselves, in the images and feelings they overwhelmingly evoke, and is not due mainly to factors beyond the work. Some words, some combinations of words, are like music: they touch our hearts directly. I can’t even begin to offer an explanation, but what makes those words resonate or sing to me is not in me, but in my recognition of something in them.

    Late night meanderings, I know. But there’s a thought somewhere in there, which I hope to one day to express more clearly.

  9. Yeah well, I couldn’t take the pressure of speaking from behind the face of the Headmaster anymore. The subjective social norms were too great. So I opted for something a bit less exacting. Recognizing at the same time that it’s time to let go of what was and move on to what is to come.

  10. Red, if anyone here can speak with the authority of Hogwarts’ greatest headmaster, it’s you!

    I’m thinking of my response to post 12, by the way. I’ll try to write something coherent this evening. I think we actually agree more than we disagree. But, I have to really think this through.

  11. Back to talk briefly about “Escape” and “The Fall.” Actually, not quite. I think I made the comment in answer to George’s question that when we escape, we “come back recovered.” “Escape” was one of Tolkien’s four gifts of the fairy-story. Another is “Recovery,” and my use of the word “recovered” there was in reference to that. Amy explains in well in her essay in Hog’s Head Conversations“:

    Recovery refers to the gift of childlike – though not childish, in the perjorative sense – perspective, the “regaining of a clear view” (77). By venturing into the unfamiliar, the reader can return to see the common, the trite, with fresh eyes and new attention. Such reenergized focus leads to renewed health, both in spirit and mind, according to Tolkien.

    If the Fall (or human imperfection and distortion) causes a blurred view, or even spiritual blindness, it’s the “recovery” aspect of the true fairy-story that renews our vision, helps us to see aright again. It’s the “transformed vision.” It’s looking at spark plugs and airplanes and eckeltricity through Mr. Weasley’s eyes instead of our own.

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