The Olympics have been on everyone’s mind and television these last couple of weeks, and apparently a giant Voldemort waged war against Mary Popp
inses (yes, plural) during the opening ceremonies. Between J.K. Rowling reading Peter Pan and Rupert Grint carrying the torch, our Harry didn’t have to show up himself to get good representation in his home country. It sounds like children’s literature in general got fair play in Danny Boyle’s opening ceremonies.
I wouldn’t know, because I don’t have a TV and can’t be bothered to look it all up on the Internet. What I can be bothered to do is come up with a bunch of Potter- and other fiction-related links for an Around the Common Room post (credit where credit’s due: the Blogengamot helped!) Here it is.
First–and this one is so important that multiple people sent it to me–NPR has finally announced its voter-chosen “100 Best-Ever Teen Novels.” Guess who’s number one? Number two is not much less surprising, nor is number three. Twilight hit the list at number 27, and I’m pleased because Shannon Hale’s The Goose Girl made the cut (at #80; superb fairy tale retelling, and I voted for it myself).
Upon the list’s release, the Internet took note: female authors may struggle in every other genre, but they write a fair percentage of the favorites in YA. Middle-grade author Nathan Bransford asks, in a positive way, why.
Meanwhile, in fantasy and science fiction:
If you haven’t yet read Dave Jones’s essay on Batman in issue 8 of Journey to the Sea, I commend it to your careful attention right away. In that essay, Dave explores the rising importance of the flawed humanity of Batman to that mythos:
In the past twenty-five years, the Batman character has grown into a morally complex amalgam of mythic qualities wherein the evolution of his humanity has become more important than any drive toward transcendence.
Beowulf is a “trascendent” hero. Batman is not. Questions:
- In what ways does the transcendent hero satisfy?
- What is lacking in the transcendent hero that creates the need for the flawed, even morally ambiguous hero?
- What hesitations, if any, do you have about the morally ambiguous hero?
- Where does Harry fall into this spectrum? Is Harry effective as a hero?
Issue 8 of Journey to the Sea is out! It contains three articles, one of which is written by our own Dave Jones. He’s written before on Batman here at the Hog’s Head, and you’ll find more of his thoughts here, along with an essay on Shiva, Lord of the Dance, and one on Northern Mythological Traditions in The Weirdstone of Brisingamen.
Since Deathly Hallows release last year, I’ve been perpetually puzzled by Voldemort’s characterization in the last two novels. Half Blood Prince humanizes Voldemort in a way that lends HBP a sophistication most of the earlier novels lack — Voldemort’s backstory both enlightens and befuddles the reader, at once shedding light on his origins and potential reasons for Voldemort’s tenor, yet never oversimplifying and reducing Voldemort to simply a pathology. The book sometimes drifts toward the possibility that Voldemort is unaware of and incapable of changing his decisions. Yet, HBP pulls back from that precipice and instead offers only Voldemort’s refusal to care about such a possibility.
Deathly Hallows, on the other hand, turns Voldemort into a cartoon character — more malevolent due to the incompetence of the supposed authorities (the Ministry of Magic) than any great skill of Voldemort’s or his minions. Within two books, Rowling constructs him as a marriage of complex humanity and psychology, only to immediately open the door to reveal nothing more than a tormented psyche shacking up with a massive egotism.
This all begs a question to me: Is Voldemort a flawed character? I’m not asking if he is a flawed character in the sense that Rowling simply made him a bit inconsistent. Deathly Hallows reconcentrates the reader’s attention on the conflict between Harry and Voldemort, whereas previous books had built Snape as the more compelling of Harry’s antagonists. Yet, in DH Voldemort and Snape essentially switch narrative positions. Snape’s everpresent station in Harry’s life is removed. He fades into the shadowy murk occupied by Voldemort for six books, while Voldemort emerges into the consciousness of both the reader and the characters. Essentially, Rowling had built Voldemort’s great power upon a scaffold of shadows and deception. Once she brings him fully into the light, we’re struck with his arrogance and stupidity — the Death Eaters begin to look more like the Keystone Cops. Continue reading
Harry is a hero. That Harry Potter draws from long established literary heroic traditions is well documented. Nearly every book length treatment or anthology concerning the series addresses this subject and examines the link between Harry’s more traditional literary roots in alchemical and mythic-heroic traditions and his postmodern deconstruction of the hero by figuring him through a Christ-like narrative wherein he never becomes an alleghorical avatar for Jesus. In some ways, the emphasis on Harry’s human-yet-transcendent character development has been the subtle spark driving the discussion among Christians about Harry’s place as a role model and/or tempter.
Yet, in postmodern popular culture, Harry also finds a conceptual home among superheroes of our day. One might look at him as a parallel to Superman — tragic orphan who learns who he is when he learns the truth of his parents and evolves into the savior of humankind; or Batman — orphan haunted by the horrendous murder of his parents and springboards into a larger, seemingly undending, often doubt-ridden crusade against a larger malevolent force. Continue reading