Hog’s Head PubCast #60: John Granger Interview, The Deathly Hallows Lectures

Interview with John Granger about his new book, The Deathly Hallows Lectures

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50 thoughts on “Hog’s Head PubCast #60: John Granger Interview, The Deathly Hallows Lectures

  1. Great podcast! Thanks for the interview, John. Very helpful. I’ll have to listen to it again to continue to mine the riches of what you all discussed. Thanks also for the shout out of me as a regular commenter.

    One could chalk up my frequent commentary to a) having too much time on my hands or b) being totally dedicated to a serious scholarly discussion of literature, particularly Harry Potter.

    I’ll let you guess as to which one my wife thinks it is. 😉

  2. I look forward to reading your thoughts about The Deathly Hallows Lectures, RevGeorge, because I’m sure you will recognize at least the beginnings of most of my better work in that book in the conversations we all have had here and at HogwartsProfessor. I hope that this book, along with Mr. Prinzi’s and Prof. Thomas,’ will help jumpstart the serious consideration of Ms. Rowling’s books as more than a puzzle to solve or a cultural phenomenon and artifact to deconstruct. The iconological tradition of criticism rather than an aesthetic, historicist, or postmodern approach I think is the best means to that end. Please let me know what you think.

    And I think my wife and your wife could have a good time telling “I can top that one!” stories…

  3. John,

    As soon as I get the right copy of DH Lectures, I plan on reading it. Apparently I got a copy that wasn’t supposed to be released or was supposed to be released in a different format. I’ll still read that book but I should probably read the one that was supposed to be released first. Right now I’m working my way through How Harry Cast His Spell. First time I’ve read the revised version. Up to the examination of HBP. Again a very helpful book in many respects. I always try to refer people who have Christian questions or concerns about Harry Potter to this book.

    If I understand rightly what you are meaning by iconological method of criticism as opposed to the others mentioned, then, yes, I think that method one of the most helpful. I’m looking forward to all the material that is coming out on these subjects. I think Melissa Anelli’s book will also be helpful too in a way to help us understand how the fandom has been reacting to the books & thus to how they are most commonly interpreted by the fandom. As Travis says, it’s only getting better for the serious students & lovers of the books.

  4. Having Mozart in that place in the heart where most others have a more spiritual influence, my own approach to literary criticism would certainly come under aesthetic. Which is not to say that I didn’t enjoy listening to John’s iconological approach. Really got off on the idea of Harry (wearing the Invisibility Cloak) as the all-seeing eye. Would be happy to believe that JKR placed symbols in her work purposively, like gems on a pendant, rather than in a haphazard fashion, like raisins in a loaf.

  5. A brilliant podcast, gentlemen! I love the idea of iconological criticism, as you described it, and I’ve been totally re-inspired. :]

    (In fact, I broke out the DVD of my honors presentation from the spring. *cringe* If I hadn’t have said “um” about 20,000 times, I’d say it wasn’t half bad…although pretty darn amateurish compared to you all here…)

    By the way, I’ll be ordering the Lectures as soon as I get my stipend at the end of the month. :]

  6. Very interesting interview. I’ve not read any of John’s books, but I do feel curious about reading more of his perspective now. I love the “food for thought” that this provided, especially talking about the four levels of reading a work. You guys did a good job explaining things because you were using big, technical-sounding words, and I was pleased to find that I was tracking with most of it! 🙂

  7. Red Rocker: Thank you for your kind words — and for all your contributions here at HogsHead and over at HogPro did to make ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’ a better book! I’d suggest that many of Ms. Rowling’s symbols, say, those transparencies of Christ that appear here there and everywhere and always at Harry’s resurrection moments are like “raisins in a loaf” and the eyes of ‘Deathly Hallows’ are jewels in a pendant. A ‘both/and’ rather than ‘either/or.’

    Lena Black: Great Gravatar Eye! I look forward to reading your thoughts about ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’ (my email is in the book).

    Leanne: Thank you for your kind words! When Travis and I finished recording this interview, which, outside of my dominating the conversation, was pretty much just like the discussions we had in Toronto with a few of the book references explained, we had to laugh. We had had a great time — but could anyone other than Travis understand what I was going on about? ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’ is written for adult readers, certainly, but if you “tracked” this conversation you won’t have any problems with the book’s arguments. Please write and tell me what you think after reading it yourself!

  8. John, thank you for the thank you. It’s always fun, throwing ideas aroud, but hard to do unless someone throws the ball back, so thank you (and everyone else here and at HogPro) who likes to play.

    BTW, your new gravatar is seriously disturbing, especially considering the symbolism involved. It also reminds me strongly of Hannibal Lecter.

  9. Travis, John, excellent podcast on John’s newly released book!
    I’m looking forward to both of your new books actually and what a help they will be to all of us to understand the deeper “magic” if you will, into the meaning within Deathly Hallows.

    John you stressed an importance on “eye” contact within the symbolic meaning, not only related to the death of certain characters, but within the symbol of the Hallows itself. I see a Biblical connection that came to me as I listened.
    John, Travis, I wonder if Jo had Matthew 6:22-23 on her mind as she penned those pages which states, “The EYE is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. 23But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!
    The words “lamp” and “light” are Biblical guideposts to that which reveals or a better word, revelation!! Think of how this all ties together within the chapters of DH. One I can think of right away, Snape’s last moments with Harry at the point of death.
    What is also interesting is that the verse just before Matthew 6:22 is this one,
    “21For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”, which is placed
    upon the grave of Kendra and Ariana in DH Godric’s Hollow.

    I think this certainly shows the “light” and reveals the “treasure” of where
    J K Rowling has taken us as readers in the Harry Potter series.

  10. Yes, David, I am using this passage from the Sermon on the Mount (SOTM), believe it or not, tomorrow in my talk at Biola.

    The eye mentioned here is to the “eye of the heart;” the only eye mentioned in the SOTM up to that point was in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” The end of the passage you cite is (6:33) “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” Harry as the symbol of the noetic faculty or “eye of the heart,” after his purification by sacrificial love, ‘goes’ to the non-temporal place he describes repeatedly as a “palace” and finally as “King’s Cross.” He has gone to the Kingdom of Heaven within us, the logos reality of mind and the inner principle of each created thing, which is the “inside greater than the outside” of Rowling’s books and the Narniad (cf. Lucy’s comments in The Last Battle “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world” and Digory in Magician’s Nephew about the “Wood Between the Worlds”).

    I hasten to add that Rowling is not being evangelical here but subversive to the mechanistic worldview that maintains surfaces are the greater reality. She is trying to foster a penetrating vision and sensitive conscience, the logos mind that Lewis (after Barfield and Coleridge) says is “continuous with” the unity of existence, i.e. the divine Logos. This is “key of knowledge” Christianity (Luke 11:52) rather than devotional or denominational faith in the person of Jesus of Nazareth but it is the “key” to the books, as Rowling points out. Harry’s question to Dumbledore as he leaves King’s Cross is the modern dilemma of crypto Nestorian believers who do not understand the logos within the mind and the logos within each thing as inner principle as Logos. As Dumbledore points out, it is a false dilemma; the mind (Harry’s head) as logos is more real and “greater” than space-time “reality it creates.

    Excellent post, David, as always. I look forward to reading what you think of ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures.’

  11. Great pubcast. Thanks to both of you.

    I haven’t been able to read any Harry stories since I read Deathly Hallows. I just couldn’t open the books. I even bought Order of the Pheonix DVD and gave it away before I watched it. It’s not that I didn’t like DH- I was just repulsed somehow.
    But this interview has given me a fresh desire to go back and reread again. Great food for my brain!

  12. Hey, Korg! Welcome back.

    I’m on the Order of the Phoenix DVD in one of the DVD extras, so, of course, I get that giving it away represented your Potter nigredo/nadir… I hope you’ll read ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’ and let me know what you think.

  13. Wow, talk about Confessions of a Blogengamot Member!. If our site were actually one of the biggies, headlines today would read:

    Moderator of The Hog’s Head “Repulsed” by Potter Books: Hasn’t Picked One Up Since Deathly Hallows

    I can’t think of a higher compliment for your work, John, than for Matthew to say what he just said.

    James Thomas mentioned to me that one of his favorite reviews of Deathly Hallows after its release was the one written for CT, which just happens to be by my friend, Dave Bruno (author of a forthcoming book on his 100 Thing Challenge). It’s called, Harry Potter 7 is Matthew 6, and the eyes didn’t go unnoticed.

  14. It was John’s work that initially convinced me of the Christian content of Harry Potter, so thanks for your hard work John. Especially in the face of a lot of early criticism until sweet vindication.

    And as an aside it’s good to see that Korg has opened the Tassie chapter of Guardian Angels (Curtis Sliwa got nothin on you!).

  15. Thanks John, Travis and Black Angus.

    I didn’t find the books repulsive, they just bounced me away in the same way that they used to pull me into their orbit prior to DH. I used to look for excuses to read them. Maybe it has something to do with the speed in which I blasted through DH so I could keep abreast of the discussion that has made me grit my teeth.

    Anyway, I’m forging ahead from the beginning again. I’m looking forward to Philosopher’s Stone week. What’s the deal with all the wandless magic?

  16. I’ve got to comment again: this interview and the ideas explored has opened up a series of conversations my husband and I had throughout the day yesterday. (Although I have to say, our home, with three active children, is not the most conducive place to have serious adult conversation – one of the reasons I like participating in discussions HERE!) Our pastor preached a sermon about Elijah and we debated throughout the day – do you REALLY read everything with “four layers?” In this case, is the narrative about Elijah’s experience a lesson for Christians today to stand up against culture? I love analyzing and dissecting things, but is something of the quality of the STORY lost when you scrutinize it for all these meanings on all these layers?

  17. Leanne, your question reminds me of how we pulled apart the poem Dust of Snow by Robert Frost in grade 9: what’s the significance of the snow falling on the poet? why a crow and not another kind of bird? what does the crow represent? is it death? how does the poet feel when the snow falls on him: refreshed? shocked? happy? angry? what was his mood before? what happened that he rued the day? I remember my own mood of irritation because people were asking those questions. Let the poem be, let the words do their magic, I thought.

    After analyzing the imagery and debating all those questions, did the poem still retain the power to evoke and enchant? Certainly. The central image held, the questions faded through time. But the reason the poem survived for me is the strength of that image – as well as its pairing with the human condition.

    My point? Great writing will survive, even the most extensive scrutiny. Think of what millions of school children have done to Shakespeare and Dickens. Is JKR’s writing strong enough to survive what we do to it? Well, she’s not a great poet, and she doesn’t write great prose – style is not her strong point. She does tell strong stories though. And she has a gift for words and names. And of course there’s Chapters 34 and 35 of DH. The lines she waited 17 years to write will hold, I think.

  18. The TARDIS was the first thing I thought of when being bigger on the inside than the outside was mentioned. Time And Relative Dimensions In Space. So… is the invisibilty cloak Harry’s Chameleon circuit?

  19. John and Travis, thanks for the great interview. I ordered “How Harry Cast His Spell” in early August, and right after that I had an email from Amazon that I might also like “The Deathly Hallows Lectures”, and ordered and received it about a month ago. I’ve just recently finished reading it and found it to be full of reminders of why I liked the early books so much, when I started finding deeper meanings in all the stories, and why I paticularly loved everything about “Deathly Hallows”.

    Leanne brings up the interesting point, and a discussion I’ve had with people who only read the HP books (or any books) once and just for fun–when we analyze and keep discussing in digging deeper into the books, do we spoil the initial effect? Well, I suppose that it does for some. I don’t know that I fully read on four levels, though I have tried. But what I have found is in trying to find more meaning than a surface reading gives, I appreciate the story and the artistry of the author even more.

    Something that initially drew me into HP was Rowling’s use of language–it is something I have always enjoyed while reading any book. Why an author uses one word or phrase instead of another, or how an author describes the scene, or a charater’s thoughts or actions, has always been something that I notice while I’m reading a book. I find that fascinating; so looking for even deeper meaning seems a natural thing to do. For me, books that are only written on a surface, obvious level are the ones that I read once, and am never tempted to open again.

    So again–thank you both for a wonderful interview.

    Oh, and btw, John, just as you intrigued me enough with all the ties to Austen, Dickens, and the rest, I have now picked up Dante and am slowing reading through it, as it’s another book that I had somehow managed to not read when I was in school. Actually, I think I’m glad that I drifted through my lit classes, as I think I’m enjoying all the books much more now than I did, or would have, when I was 17.


  20. A bit off topic: can anyone give more details about which is the ‘right’ copy of the DH Lectures book, and what the differences are between the two? I got my copy from Amazon a couple of weeks ago (actually, the wife got it or me as a surprise) and I think I got the early copy. What am I missing?

    Thanks 🙂

  21. Hi Eric,

    Don’t think of it as what you’re missing so much as what you have that is not in the new edition. The earlier book had chapters titled:
    1) I Always thought of Dunbledore as Gay
    2) Harry Potter as Shared Text
    3) Unclocking the Epilogue

    The new version replaced those chapters with:
    1) The Seeing Eye (Deathly Hallows Eye and Mirror Symbolism)
    2) Taking Harry Seriously (Learning to Read with Triangular Vision)

    The new edition also has a new introduction, index and some editing of the other chapters. If you email me directly I will send you the two new chapters.

    Thanks for buying the book – sorry for the confusion.

    Bob Trexler (Zossima Press) robert(at)zossima(dot)com

  22. That’s what I’m wondering, too, Eric. Like I said, I got mine in August from Amazon and the release date said July 15, 2008, which is what it still says when you click on the link. I’m confused.


  23. I was lucky enough to have a good amount of one-on-one time with John while he was out here in California this week, and among other things, we talked briefly about the mention of eyes in the three central character death scenes of Deathly Hallows.

    I disagreed with John’s take on this one, as while it’s true that looking at eyes is a much clearer way to discern death than examining nostrils, it seemed clear that the words JKR chose to use put a *focus* on the eyes, and beyond merely mentioning them. (And, there was indeed a clear eye reference at Fred’s death.)

    finally – I’ll just say that if you enjoy the HogPro’s writing, you will enjoy him in person even more. When he gets going, he’s like a runaway train.

  24. LOL, yes, when listening to John, one does have to pay attention to keep up. But I agree, he’s very enjoyable to hear in person.

    I guess I was so upset when I read about Fred that I didn’t pay attention to the details:

    “And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.” (Deathly Hallows, US, p. 637)

    So yes, it is there, but the powerful part of the image for me was of the laughing Fred, which was always more important than anything to do with his eyes, and the reference to the “ghost of his last laugh”, showing that all that remained was a memory of him.


  25. I agree, Pat, that is a very powerful image. That’s where JKR’s “adult” voice kicks in, and I think: “She imagined that very clearly. Maybe she even saw it.”

  26. Coleridge on the Imagination:

    The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary, or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM. The secondary Imagination I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still at all events it struggles to idealise and unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.

    Biographia Literaria 1.304

  27. I know I’m late, but great podcast Travis. Thanks for the interview John. I just ordered the updated Deathly Hallows Lectures and can’t wait read more about what you discussed in this podcast. 🙂

  28. Great pubcast! John, a multi-part question: it was the early Church Fathers who read the Scriptures on these four levels (right?) and preached them that way, too, I’d assume. Was it one of the Fathers specifically who emphasized this, and if so, who? And if these four layers of meaning were around before them or before the forming of the Church, where did they come from? Would CSL say, “it’s all in Plato,” and what would he mean by that?

  29. It’s from standard Synogogue interpretations of Old Testament: see http://zworld.wordpress.com/2006/04/03/pardes-the-four-levels-of-interpretation/. Other google searches should reveal the correspondences with levels of reality (the three beneath and suggested by appearances). Plato and all traditional thinkers writing on ‘how to see and understand things’ jibe with these correspondences (if their forms differ necessarily in describing them) because the reality they are describing is the same.

  30. John, the four fold way of reading a text is certainly helpful at times. But it would also be helpful to point out the criticisms of it & the dangers of using it in an unrestrained manner. The main criticism I remember from my hermeneutics classes was that the Fathers sometimes let the four fold way of reading the text become the primary driving force in their interpreting of the text, thus actually forcing meanings onto the text which a clear reading of the text couldn’t support. In essence, the method of reading the text actually would trump what the text itself said. This is especially prevalent in regard to the fourth way of reading, the hidden one.

    Some reacted against this four fold method by promoting what’s sometimes called unus sensus literalis, that is, there is one clear or intended meaning of the text. Which is generally a good way of reading the text but it also has it’s problems in that it’s an overreaction to the four fold way of reading & thus can place its own preconceived restrictions on the text.

    This, of course, is a very simplified account of the problems in reading texts, so hie thee to a good hermeneutics textbook! 🙂

  31. Thanks for an interesting podcast as always – but I have to remark, John, that diadem is pronounced DIE uh dem.

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