Tag Archives: literary criticism

Meanwhile, in Diagon Alley…

In case you every wondered what writers do all day–well…we write, mostly. Even when there’s boggarts in the closet and nargles in the pub, we still scramble around and find ways to write and edit and do other writerly, blog-type things. To put it another way, the Blogengamot has all found ways of keeping busy while the Pubs been undergoing its exorcisms (if that’s the word I want).

Let me introduce you, if I may, to one of those other projects, a joint venture between Mr Pond (speaking!) and Jenna, as well as remarkable people like Katherine Langrish, friend of the Pub. Revgeorge has also been known to wander in from time to time. It’s a blog and literary journal called Unsettling Wonderdevoted to folklore and fairy tale of all types, but especially the slightly stranger, lesser-known, more unexpected types.

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The Hunger Games & the Olympic Champion

Here is a bonus essay to the two-part series on Classical influences in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. Enjoy. [Previously, “The Hunger Games: Gifts of the Gods” was published on August 6, 2012.]y,

As I was recently reading an historical murder mystery set at the Olympic Games in ancient Greece, I recognized another echo between Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy and the Classical world: the veneration of Hunger Games’ tributes and the superstar status earned by Olympic champions.
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The Hunger Games: Gifts of the Gods

[This is the second essay in a two-part series on classical influences in Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy. The first –“The Hunger Games: How Glorious Fall the Valiant (‘Careers’ as Spartan Warriors)” — was published on May 28, 2012.]

Hunger Games author Suzanne Collins has acknowledged that her series was significantly influenced by classical mythology and history, especially the Greek myth of “Theseus and the Minotaur” and the gladiator games of ancient Rome (Collins, “A Conversation”). But there are other classical stories that bear a striking resemblance to the events in the Hunger Games arena. In the timely descent of those little silver parachutes – each one delivering life-saving food, medicine, or tools – readers can see an echo in the gifts and aid the Olympian gods sent to their chosen heroes in Greek mythology. Likewise, the manipulation of the arena’s environment by the all-powerful Game Makers is reminiscent of the way the gods used weather and other natural elements to help or hinder mortal champions. Two famous classical tales particularly illustrate these ideas.
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The Hunger Games: How Glorious Fall the Valiant (‘Careers’ as Spartan Warriors)

Suzanne Collins drew inspiration for The Hunger Games trilogy from the ancient Athenian myth of Theseus and the Roman gladiatorial games (Collins, “A Conversation”). She may also have been inspired by other classical cultures. One that comes to mind when reading about the Career Tributes from the wealthy districts of Panem is the mighty Spartan army.

Sparta was one of ancient Greece’s most famous city-states. Renowned for its fierce warriors and brave women, Sparta had a reputation for brutal training methods and unstoppable armies. Seen the movie 300? Those were Spartans defending Greece from the invading Persian army, and a closer look reveals some striking similarities with the Career Tributes, or “Careers”, in The Hunger Games. Both Sparta and the Career Districts (Districts 1, 2 & 4) placed their youths in brutal training camps from a young age, producing ruthless and cunning fighters. And both cultures instilled the ideal in their citizens that the highest honor was to fight and die for their homeland. Let’s take a closer look at history’s Spartans, and see how the Careers compare. Continue reading

Serious Matters: The Literary Elite vs. The Literary Potterphile

Over in Scotland, with our own Mr. Pond in the organizer’s chair, a group of over sixty Potter scholars is currently discussing Rowling’s work at the University of St. Andrews. Titled A Brand of Fictional Magic: Reading Harry Potter as Literature, the gathering purports to be “the UK’s first academic conference on the subject and the first in the world to discuss Harry Potter strictly as a literary text.” (From St. Andrews’ news. Note that the conference is not, as the Telegraph claims, “the first event in the world to look at the series as a literary text”–only the first to do so exclusively.)

The media has featured various reports on the conference, including this piece from the BBC. Since the first notice from the press, however, a handful of reporters have turned to the con angle, one every serious Potter student is familiar with: academic dismissal. Both the Telegraph and The Guardian have run stories in which they’ve found some reasonably credentialed speaker to claim that:

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Thinking Through The Hunger Games

Over at Forever Young Adult, the ladies have collected a few amateur essays on the Hunger Games series. These range in subject from reality television and media literacy to feminism to post-traumatic stress disorder.

While they’re introduced very conversationally (with a few swear words, for anyone who needs to know), and admittedly unedited, I thought there were some intriguing ideas contained therein–for instance, the concept of feminism not defined by Katniss’ outdoorsy ways, but by her deeply flawed reality. Also of interest to me was the exploration of the symptoms of PTSD as experienced by Katniss and Peeta.


Speculative Fiction and the Literary Elite, Again

The Hog’s Head has spent several illustrious years defending the rights of Harry Potter and other imaginative works to be considered literature. On account of which, I thought many of us might be interested in the Guardian’s piece discussing speculative fiction–an umbrella term covering science fiction, fantasy, horror, alternate history, and the like–and the Man Booker Prize.

According to Adam Roberts’ analysis, the Booker is being treated as a (contemporary, with literary classification) genre award, and according to the Guardian and the linked article about China Miéville’s debate with John Mullan, that’s a pretty sketchy treatment. As the Booker website itself claims that the prize “promotes the finest in fiction by rewarding the very best book of the year”, genre limitation does seem a bit disingenuous.

Quote from the Guardian:

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Is Harry Potter Worth the Effort?

Perhaps one of the most frequent complaints I’ve gotten concerns the amount of time one must invest in Harry Potter, not only to read the books in the first place, but also to discover its meaning. The questions come in the following forms:

~ If it’s so hard to discover the Christian meaning that you allege exists, is it really going to beneficial for the average reader, who does not understand all the symbolism, to read the series?
~ Why read Harry Potter when there’s better literature out there? We can find the same themes in Narnia, Lord of the Rings, etc. Why not read those, which we know are blatantly Christian?
~ Wouldn’t it be better to spend all that time reading the Bible instead of Harry Potter?

I’ll try to answer this line of questioning here. The third question is easy for my intended purposes. If I have to debate with you whether or not the pursuit of literature and the arts is acceptable and advantageous for the Christian, then you hold a form of fundamentalist cultural escapism that is neither biblical nor profitable for the Christian message.

As for the other questions, my answer is a resounding, “Yes. Harry Potter is worth the effort.” Here’s why:

Lack of understanding and appreciation of literature is a bad thing in our society. It hurts the depths of our ability to think, imagine, and rejoice. As creative as television can occasionally be, it is not and never will be literature, and it does not promote the kind of creative thinking of which human beings are capable.

The result is that often we are not getting the quality literature we may have seen in years past. After all, literature is still an industry, and it must sell. Terry Brooks tells us in his book, Sometimes the Magic Works, that he does not write in the same way as he did in the 70s. Quick-paced action is in; lengthy description is out. TV’s fast pace is to blame, in my opinion.

Yet the Harry Potter novels are wildly popular. They are, indeed, fun and fast-paced. But they also stand in a great tradition of English literature, employing rich symbolism and an alchemical framework. To miss this would be to miss much of the greatness of the books. Furthermore, for those of us who recognize it, it would be a shame to pass up the opportunity to seek out the great literary aspects of Harry Potter and use them to point modern readers back to the classics. Rowling cites as influences Dickens, Austen, Shakespeare, Lewis, and a host of other great authors. What a tremendous opportunity for lovers of literature to look at Harry Potter and point its audience back to these giants! So from a literary standpoint, yes, Harry Potter is worth the effort. I’ve already tried to connect my readers to the Athurian Legends, C.S. Lewis, and (non-British) Dostoevsky, and I will continue to make this a goal of the site. Harry has been a doorway to tremendous literature for me, and I hope it will be for you as well.

But what about the Christian meaning? If it’s so hard to find the meaning, is it really edifying to read? Why not read C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, whose Christian themes are quite evident? I mean, how can you mistake a dying and rising lion? It’s obviously a Christ symbol!

Ah, but Lewis’ books were not recognized as Christian by his contemporaries, either. I’ve written recently about the positive inclusion of pagan deities in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. John Granger reminded us that

Lewis was not hailed as a “Christian” writer prior to his apologetic lectures on the British Broadcasting Corporation becoming the renowned “Mere Christianity.”

And this was much to Lewis’ surprise, just as it is much to the surprise of Rowling that anyone thinks she’s promoting or encouraging Wicca for children.

So as far as the Christian meaning goes, yes, Harry Potter is worth the effort. If indeed Harry Potter contains explicit and implicit Christian themes, is it not our duty to engage the culture with the gospel? And isn’t Harry Potter a widespread cultural phenomenon? Then by all means, let us expoud on the meaning of the phoenix, the sacrifice of Harry’s mother, Harry’s figurative dying-and-rising in each book, and the many other great themes of the novels.