Saturday, December 29, 2007

Posted at Sword of Gryffindor:

The question remains whether Jo Rowling answering all the questions and solving so many of the mysteries through Q&A rather than through storytelling has in affect stilled the wind from Harry Potter’s sails. If she is going to “explain” things - even when they appear to be outside the canon and merely in her head or in a file box somewhere, does that actually end up diminishing the books?

We see this happening all ready with the announcement that Sugar Quill is downsizing and Mugglenet’s podcast is ending in April.

I think that since so many appear to be accepting at face value all that she says about the books (after all - she is the author!) that there has been a serious lack of pushback from those who read the books not just from a fan-point of view but from a literary point of view.

We’re hearing a lot of a sort of “gossipy” stuff about the characters, but not the deeper view of the books that might even be outside the author’s control. Is she in fact helping her books by commenting on things so freely or in fact, as I said earlier, taking the wind out of the sails of her creation.

I have found it interesting to see the pull-back around the HP commentary world and have felt it myself. Why discuss the mysteries and musings of the series when we can just ring up Jo and have her explain things to us?

As I’ve written over at John Granger’s site, Bob Dylan has just refused for years and years and years to discuss the meaning of his songs. He’ll talk about his influences, but he won’t explain the songs to us. Even in his autobiography he spent far more time illustrating how he writes and virtually no time explaining the meaning of songs. But when he is asked what he believes in (as in his personal faith) he says it’s in the songs. But he won’t explain it - so guess what. If you care about it, you pour over the songs to try to understand. People write doctoral theses on Dylan’s work. But you are going to come up wanting if you think you are going to get him to explain the meaning of “Like a Rolling Stone.”

The fun remains then in trying to figure it out (and the songs have many layers and our responses to them have many layers) and Dylan fans get together (especially at his concerts) discussing these topics, using the “canon” of his works to back them up on what ever thesis they are working at. Books are even written and more conversation goes on - and still Dylan says very little. What he does say is still often open to interpretation. It is masterful.

I think that is the better way for authors and writers to go. Either the work stands on its own or it does not. If you have more to tell, than go write it but don’t tell us what you might write or not write. It isn’t true until it’s in prose. Until then the author might have his or her own opinions, but it might not means they are right.

All that being said, I do think the author has a role after the work is done - and that is to continue producing more work, not providing commentary to the work all ready completed. That is the work of the readers. The art of storytelling is that the reader also participates in the “truth” of what is happening. It’s not just “fiction” - if it’s good, it’s true.

Don’t get me wrong here - I am as interested in the things she’s been saying as anyone else. But now looking back has it really helped me want to dig deeper into the books? I have to say, no, it has not - and in fact, has done quite the opposite.

When I was working on my BFA in Creative Writing we used to have discussions about the role of the writer. We used to have teams of writers come and read their works. We were fascinated in the crafting of the work (as I was fascinated in reading Dylan’s insights on how he created some of his works), which is more of a mentoring role for writers. I can remember combing through F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, and examining it to see how he did it. It would have been highly inappropriate for Fitzgerald to suddenly, even magically appear in the classroom and start explaining what happened behind the scenes (yes, we know Gatsby’s a gangster, but perhaps not every reader would know that it would not have helped the book if Fitzgerald pointed that out to us) or whatever happened to Nick (”he bought a condo in Malibu and raised chickens”). What makes that book great is that it stands on its own - whatever we need is in the text and if it’s not there, then it doesn’t exist. There might have been more in Fitzgerald’s head, but it never came out on to the page and so it doesn’t exist. The genius of it was that we had to find the answers ourselves, not wait for the author to explain.

In fact, we were taught that it was a no-no to explain. In workshops the writer’s whose work was being reviewed had to maintain silence. It was an extraordinary experience, to listen as others around you reviewe your work within guidelines (you had to discuss it from the text, from what was or wasn’t there). But you could not explain anything. You to sit there and listen. Then you went home and did your rewrites. But the work finally had to stand on its own.

I can remember when my thesis (a novel) was being reviewed before I was awarded my degree. Two professors started arguing over the meaning of some of the characters or something and I sat there - of course, in silence - as they argued. It was exhilarating to hear the debate about the meaning (especially since one was a skeptic agnostic and the other a Buddhist).

From here.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

And at #14, Lucius Malfoy:

The Forbes Fictional 15
#14 Malfoy, Lucius

Net Worth: $1.6 billion
Source: Inheritance
Age: 51
Marital Status: Married
Hometown: Wiltshire, England
Education: Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Patriarch of ancient wizarding family still standing after the defeat of Dark Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Malfoy, himself a convicted criminal and Azkaban prison escapee, miraculously managed to avoid being sent back to jail thanks to well-timed "donations" to charities supported by influential Ministry of Magic employees. Now reunited with family and unfettered by criminal charges, Malfoy is aggressively pursuing new business enterprises. In June, attempted to corner the global cauldron market. In August, sold short more than $1 billion worth of Galleons, forcing Gringotts Bank to devalue and withdraw the currency from the Wizardly Exchange Rate Mechanism. Member since 2005.

More on Lucius Malfloy here.

NOTE: Here's #1.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

A few years ago I was in a discussion group and and the book we were discussing was Lord of the Rings. We were working our way through the entire book and we’d have these fascinating discussions about the philosophy of the stories. One of the members of the discussion group, however, was a big Tolkien fan and he’d bring in letters or other ways in which we’d learn Tolkien’s view on his own book to dispute whatever point we would be making. I found it immensely annoying - it just totally shut down the discussion. Now we have the Author Himself Telling Us All What He Really Meant. What then was the point of discussing it - the Oracle Has Spoken. What was the point of even reading the story - why shouldn’t he just tell us what he really meant and be done with it?

This is why I think J.K. Rowling made a terrible mistake during her American tour. While I think it would be helpful to hear about her views of the process of writing, or writing as an art form, or to discuss - at length even - what books have influenced her and why, she just gave us too much definitive information on this tour and effectively has nearly shut the discussion down.

As I wrote about in my essay “Iceberg Ahoy” in the book “The Plot Thickens,” the skill of a writer is to tell us just enough information (i.e., Hemmingway’s iceberg analogy) to keep the story going, but not to much - allude to more that is under the surface. This was Rowling’s brilliance in her writing - she gave us enough to sweep us into the story and carrying on discussion that should have lasted into the next century - but not too much to squash the reader’s own journey into the imagination. Her tour of America nearly undid all her skill. It was as though she’s had a “minder” who finally was given the “heave-ho” after the books were completed.

As some may know, I’ve become a Bob Dylan fan and have been spending the last few years trying to play catchup on his lifetime vocation of music. It’s take me three years to get to where I am now, which may mean I might understand the new arthouse film that is about to come out, “I’m Not Here.” But one of the frustrating (wonderful?) things about Dylan is that he very rarely talks about what his songs mean. Early on he might and sometimes something will slip out (but is he telling the truth or fooling around, one never knows). But he really doesn’t tell us what his songs mean. He wrote an entire “first volume” autobiography and still didn’t really tell us what his songs mean - he spent virtually the entire book explaining how he wrote them, not what they mean.

This of course is frustrating - but also an important key to his success and the explosion of his myth. He follows the iceberg theory as well - gives us just enough information but not enough to explain it all to us. We have to work on his songs, we can’t be passive. We can have “aha” moments but until one can sit down with another Dylan fan and argue over the points, one is never going to be sure if one is up the tree or out on a limb or swinging carefree on the mark. But the point always is to make the case from the song themselves and Dylan provides very little to explain it and if he does he isn’t always to be believed.

There are times when I re-read the Dumbledore interview and if Jo Rowling were Bob Dylan you could make the case she was pulling everyone’s leg bigtime, except no one has a sense of humor about such things they are so politicized (with reason) right now. But there is a sense that you could almost imagine the Weasley Twin side of her chuckling.

But if not and she’s serious about all the “revelations” and “opinions” she’s given (and there’s no reason really to seriously doubt her) then she’s spoiled the fun, she’s told us the answer (yes, even after we begged her to) when the better way is to turn the question back to the audience and ask, “What do you think?” and turn the questions back to the audience and have a conversation about it, rather than embarking in that almost celebrity mindedness that everything she says is holy writ. If that is true, then the story is truly “her” story and she owns it like a piece of property to control as she wishes and her audience either gets it or we don’t. But she knows all. Well, that’s a lot of things, but it doesn’t further her story to live beyond herself, to live larger than herself. It might be wise for her to go back to the way it was, when she said little, and if there is something she must say to put it in a book and be done with it. Make the case and tell the story and we’ll judge if she pulls it off. It’s like cheating to tell us all about Luna and her adventures (what was all that stuff about her and Dean and nothing coming from it - what a fascinating and unlikely match that might have been, you could almost see that Dean was entertained by Luna and he offered her stability and sense, but no Jo says she went off to the woods and met someone we’ve never heard of, poor Dean - all that time and it was all for nothing).

And Neville and Hannah - where’s the support for that? Was there any hint in the text about them at all? No, so it becomes almost like gossip, not storytelling. J.K. Rowling toured America gossiping about her characters. I bet a few of them, not the least being Dumbledore, would have liked for her to put a sock in it.

Now we see she is narrow-minded toward something she calls “American fundamentalists.” But she does not define her terms - is she talking about Calvinist Baptists or Evangelical Armenian or what? Isn’t it a stereotype of religious Americans and somehow the British are so much more enlightened? If I were to walk into a Baptist meeting I’d be anything but a fundie - I’m sure they’d find me a progressively liberal. But if I were to attend one my own home denomination, Episcopalian, meeting I’m sure they’d be quick to call me a fundie because I’m not unitarian and I call Jesus by His first name. Jo Rowlings sweeping generalities tells us she doesn’t know America very well and her bias toward her own nation shows. She’s the enlightened one and we’re a bunch of right wing nuts. Maybe she’s trying to be funny.

It was way more fun to discuss her books before she started to explain them to us. I know the temptation must have been great - who knows, perhaps the temptation is great for Dylan sometimes. But his music is strengthened by his silence and perhaps this would be a good time for Jo to get thoughtful and reflect that maybe Harry doesn’t belong to her anymore, that he let her into his life for a spell and now he’s moved on and she’s now like the rest of us, trying to figure out what it all means.

ZR (my HP post name)


Thanks for the comments, friends - I appreciate it more than I can say that I could post that reflection and get such great comments! And I admit I’d love to read Tolkien’s letters - but again, I might maintain that a work must be able to stand on its own and the author also stands in the shadows and in no longer the oracle - but that may be the fruits over my own rebellion regarding the creative writing workshops that go gaga over authors. A book is a book except when it’s a ego-driven self indulgence. Authors are terrible about figuring out when that happens until it’s almost too late or - like Dylan - they crash.

But I seriously doubt that happened to Tolkien, it was indeed how the letters were used to interpret the text and I still find that troubling. If an author has more to say, write more story. A story takes on a life of its own and can suddenly surprise the author. Jo Rowling is into her “plan” and no one can say it doesn’t work. But at some point, if her work is great (and I think it is) she has to step aside and give it away. Perhaps what we saw was a public process of her doing that.

You all have given me more stuff to think about! Thank you! I do quarrel however on calling Rossetti’s masterpiece and “infernal parody.” I saw the original at the Tate in London (I didn’t realize it’s in Chicago now - are you sure that’s the original?) and it was extraordinary. Here it is:

Rossetti was a troubled man, one of the great PreRaphaelites. Again, there is much in the Potter series that lends itself to PreRaphaelite paintings. But the one of “Beatrice” based on the likeness of Rossetti’s late wife (who died I believe from an opium - a toxic potion if there ever was one - overdose) is very Lily-like. And notice the two figures in the background - one is Dante and one is Rossetti himself. We know of another Rossetti/Dante-like character who also lurked in the background and probably knew much of the turmoil those men knew in their art.

From the PreRaphelites to the Beats we see similar themes of the suffering hero who meets a tragic end, a gothic view of sin - certainly not themes of sweetness and light but the peril of the mortal soul. I must read John’s post on Dante before the weekend.


From here.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

TUESDAY, NOV 4 UPDATE: Read interesting commentary here and here and trademarks and copyrights. This just gets more and more interesting!

More on the Warner Brothers lawsuit against the HP Lexicon here. I am really wondering if the issue isn't so much "copyright" as it is the "trademark" issue and that concerns me very very much on issues of free speech. Isn't the phrase "Harry Potter™" trademarked?

Do you see why we should be concerned?

And I'm sorry, but the "charity" stuff is marketing, it promotes the trademark. If J.K. Rowling was really interested in "charity" she'd follow Rick Warren's example live off 10% and give the rest of the money to charity. The rest is just marketing and it frankly makes me ill. To use "charity" to protect Warner Brothers control over the "trademark" and justify suing the HP Lexicon creator is just unbelievable. I know I'm supposed to be a Republican, but centralized power (be it government or corporations or 815) really ticks me off.

It didn't make sense to initiate lawsuits, except to either frighten fans or establish a precedent this isn't about making the world safe for Jo Rowling's acts of charity - this about controlling the use of a trademark and that is a freedom of speech issue.

Since we know Hermione Granger™ is a lawyer now, perhaps she would like to take on the case of defending the real people against the All Powerful Ministry of Warner Brothers (and the apparently polyjuiced™ author)? Oops, wonder if the word "Hermione Granger™" is trademarked too? Certainly "polyjuice™" must be. Or will be.

Remember back (was it 2002?) when Warner Brothers™ was zapping anyone that used "Harry Potter™" online (okay, I'm old enough to remember), especially the images (but it wasn't just the images, but the way) but also the words invented by J. K. Rowling? It was a public relationships disaster and there was a shift in marketing strategy to use the HP (is that going to be tradmarked as well?) fan websites to market the books and films.

Something has changed.

Remember how Rowling has used the word "invention" when she talks about the HP universe? She's an inventor (not a writer?) and that is a legal term,. She "invented" Harry Potter™. She invented all those other characters and the entire HP universe. Pity the fool to take on the Ministry of Warner Brothers.

Got to thinking this morning if the world of Harry Potter as we know it today is not so much a view of British bureaucracy but rather a quiet scream from Jo Rowling that The Corporation has taken over her life. It might be worth a re-read of the books to see if in fact, the books themselves are a satire and critical review of the very corporation that seeks to impose its will on the last person you'd expect to be AK'd off the planet - the reader.

We are declaring today Steve Vander Ark Day, November 1 - All Saints Day.


LATER (Nov. 5) - Statement from Steve Vander Ark from here.

Dear Friends,

I would like to thank each and every one of you for your support in recent days. Everyone here at the Lexicon, all volunteers, regrets the unpleasantness. We have always been interested in working with the publishers of the novels to satisfy their concerns, interests and needs and we certainly do not plan nor have we ever planned to publish anything which competes with Ms. Rowling’s fine literary capabilities. Our work has nothing to do with fiction writing and is only concerned with legitimate critical analysis and academic considerations. It has been widely approved and employed by Ms. Rowling herself.

My book was started in response to many, many people who talked to me and asked if there could be a print version of the Lexicon, not in some sort of attempt to profit off of fans. Because the material for the book was not only accepted but praised and used frequently by every entity concerned with creating the Harry Potter books, games, and films, I would never have thought that a print version could be judged differently.

I sincerely hope that this matter can be resolved amicably and ask for you patience and understanding during that process.


Steve Vander Ark
The Harry Potter Lexicon

EVEN LATER - Tuesday, Nov. 5

Interesting post over at Leaky, actually a post of a post of a post from the Wall Street Journal blog:


“Ah, the deja vu! Looking over Rowling’s complain to the court, I had a delightful flashback to days not so long ago when, defending myself in Seattle federal court, I took on what must be the second wealthiest literary property in the English-speaking world, that of J. R. R. Tolkien. Now there’s a remarkably similar case coming from what must be the wealthiest literary property on the planet.

There are the same nasty attacks, alleging illicit motivations on the part of defendants that the Rowling’s lawyers have no way of knowing. Consider them lies, because that’s what they were in my case. You should also consider flipping the allegations of greed around. Never, when lawyers are involved, neglect their enormous desire to bill as many hours as possible to a deep-pocketed client. There’s undoubtedly more greed per square inch in the Times Square offices of O’Melveny & Myers than there is at all of Michigan-based RDR Books (a company whose list of titles demonstrates a love of good literature)–much less the original source of the book at the fan website of

You can also see hints of that billable-hours greed in the rather pitiful attempt one of the Rowling’s lawyer makes to describe her books. A lover of great literature he is not: “Over the course of these seven books, Harry learns many new things, makes new friends, travels, and has many adventures.” That’s how a fifth-grader writes a book report. In this case that fifth-grader, now grown old and cranky, was billing Rowling perhaps $500/hour. That sort of pay will make almost anyone think they’re a literary genius.

Fortunately, in law, money doesn’t always win. The Tolkien estate must have spent close to a quarter of a million dollars trying to stop my book-length Lord of the Rings chronology, Untangling Tolkien. I spent some $4,000 to utterly vanquish them. Just before a judge would have responded to concurrent motions for summary judgment, they bailed out, offering in a letter to settle for a “few changes.” Three months later the judge changed their “little hope” to “no hope” by dismissing their lawsuit “with prejudice.” You can find my book on Amazon and traces of my fair use arguments to the court in the last chapter.

Lawyers can be strange. In the Rowlings complaint, there’s an attempt to put the billionaire Rowlings into the role of a struggling writer for whom every penny counts. Only a lawyer with a large, six-figure income would try to portray her as a victim, particularly since her stated rationale is nothing more than a monopolistic desire prevent any competition to an encyclopedia she wants to write. A good defense lawyer could make mincemeat of her claims there. Numerous copyright disputes have made it clear that no author, fictional or non-fictional, can silence critics. The public interest in that is so great, that in the Beannie Babies case a few years back, it cast aside a visual copyright to any commercial use of pictures of the collectable doll.

The biggest weakness in the RDR Book lawsuit may be that their book is too nice with her corpus. It should take a critical look at where her plot is weak and her characters unconvincing. My Tolkien chronology did that. His time line was remarkably accurate, but I do point out the few places he got it wrong. In the eyes of a court, an author (or in my case, Tolkien’s son Christopher), can’t be trusted to do that. And what matters with something as trite as collectable dolls, certainly matters for one of the bestselling books on the planet.

RDR Books also has one marvelous advantage that I didn’t have, the fact that much of their book has apparently been posted for years on a fan website with Rowlings and her lawyers doing nothing about it. Given the modest profit margins of most small publishers and the little or nothing that the contributors to this book will be getting, the “commercial” portion of copyright fair use will carry little weight before a fair court. By not enforcing her claims with websites, she’s virtually conceded them for a book. The downside of that is when lawyers see that, they’ll get nasty with fan websites. But then intellectual property lawyers are always getting into nasty little snits, all the more so when their cases are weak.

And that brings up Rowling’s primary advantage. The case has been filed in SDNY-the Southern District of New York, because there the court, operating cheek-and-jowl with powerful NYC publishers, is notoriously tilted in favor of rich copyright holders. It’s the intellectual property equivalent of lawsuits filed against giant corporations in obscure Marshall, Texas.

You see that bias in how Manhattan IP lawyers often act before judges. My opponent was so used to differential-to-plaintiffs SDNY judges, he blundered badly before the Ninth Circuit judge in my case. I still smile when I recall his attempt to tell the judge how she ought to rule in one of our disputes. He was on the phone from Manhattan. I was a few feet away from the judge and could sense her growing impatience. Needless to say, I won.

In my case, virtually all the decisions my opponents were citing came from a few 1998 rulings in the SDNY, decisions that have been soundly criticized in law journals and that, fortunately for me, do not bind a Ninth Circuit court. In the almost a decade since those decisions, no other circuit has bought the Second Circuit’s rather extreme claims about the reach of a fictional copyright (i.e. banning unauthorized reader’s guides). One Midwest court even dismissed the Second Court’s argument as “frivolous,” which indeed it was.

The one good thing about this dispute is that it may force the Second Circuit to recant its 1998 blunder. I had the counsel for a university press tell me that, since those rulings, his press has avoid publishing anything about popular, contemporary fiction. That’s precisely the “chilling effect” the fair use provisions of copyright law are intended to prevent.

–Michael W. Perry, author of Untangling Tolkien

P.S. I assert no copyright to these remarks, so Harry Potter websites are free to post what I’ve written here online. And if Steve Vander Ark would contact me through my website,, I’d be happy to offer him advice as someone who’s been through what he’s been through.”

Comment by Michael W. Perry – November 3, 2007 at 3:10 pm

Hmmm ... what do you think?

Saturday, October 20, 2007

AP reports from New York: Harry Potter fans, the rumors are true: Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. J.K. Rowling, author of the mega-selling fantasy series that ended last summer, outed the beloved character Friday night while appearing before a full house at at Carnegie Hall.

Fascinating revelation, though I'm not so sure this is good news to the activist gay community. Before there is celebration in the streets, they may want to actually read the final book in the Harry Potter series. We learn in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore is not the kind and wise old man he has appeared to be throughout the series but is in fact a manipulator and schemer - and a very conflicted one at that. Is this an accurate representation of an archetypal gay person? Or is it a stereotype? As we've written here earlier, it turns out that Dumbledore was - as Jo Rowling has also stated - Machiavellian in his plans for Harry Potter. Even Snape is shocked by the revelation of Dumbledore's motives.

Deathly Hallows does allude that Dumbledore and Grindelwald engage in a deep friendship that is enmeshed and unhealthly. Everyone else is excluded. Their "breakup" leads to the tragic death of Dumbeldore's little sister. Grindelwald becomes one of the most evil characters ever - on par with Voldemort (who later kills him) and again, I wonder how the gay community will feel about that. It is not an idealized relationship by any means, not like the idealized relationships I would hear about during hearing testimonies at General Convention, for example, where everything is blessed and certainly not obsessive and idolatrous.

The article says this:
She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."
Before Christians jump at this news and take to the streets for different reasons, we should read the book as well. The "love" depicted in this relationship between Grindelwald and Dumbledore is destructive - it costs a girl her life and more. The 1940s wizard battle with Grindelwald parallels World War II and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. The name "Grindelwald" alludes to Grendel, Beowulf's dragon representing evil ("wald" or "vald" is German for ruler - i.e. a ruler of evil). The context of the story in Deathly Hallows is that this relationship was destructive. The character of Grindelwald is unsavory from the very beginning, as though a tempter of evil - and Dumbledore is indeed tempted - a temptation that he lives with for the rest of his life. Is this the sort of literary portrayal the gay community would like to see attached to their image? I'm not so sure. Is it compelling storytelling? Yes, it is.

Dumbledore went on to lead a chaste life, totally devoted to his role as headmaster (another typical caricature, by the way?) and to seeking the ultimate defeat of Voldermort. That was his whole life. In fact, Dumbledore reminds me very much of this guy. Just put a beard on him and you've got our guy. It isn't what we are that matters, it's what we do with who we are that makes the difference. That's what Dumbledore also said - it is our choices that matter and show us who we truly are.

That being said, I am very surprised that Jo Rowling would add the homosexual dynamic to the youthful relationship between the two titanic characters of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, for it reveals the inherent destructive nature of obsession and idolatry, which - if you read Leanne Payne would tell us is at the center of homosexual behavior. It is quite a revelation indeed. Both of these characteristics - obsession and idolatry - were terrible character flaws in Albus Dumbledore (character flaws he readily acknowledged, I might add). Harry Potter's heart was pure and his love for Ginny (who later becomes his wife) was exemplary - it encourages him and made him whole, quite a contrast to what Dumbledore knew in his relationship with Grindelwald. I am just surprised Jo Rowling would want to open up that can of worms.

Here are some more "revelations" that came from Jo Rowling's event at Carnegie Hall last night:
Jo also revealed that Neville Longbottom married Hufflepuff Hannah Abbott and she was to become the landlady at the iconic Leaky Cauldron Pub. She thought that people would find the fact of Neville's living over a pub particularly cool.

Equally large revelations were made concerning Petunia Dursley when Jo answered the question of what Petunia could not bring herself to say when Harry and the Dursleys parted ways before his seventeenth birthday. She would have wished him luck, saying: "I know what you're up against and I hope it turns out okay."

Information on the original Order members was also revealed during tonight's event. Jo related the fact that Remus Lupin, prior to the third book, was unemployable because he was a werewolf and upon his graduation from Hogwarts along with James and Lily, was supported by James using their own money. In addition to this she shed more light on the early days of the Order, saying James, Sirius, Remus and Lily were full time Order members. "Full Time Fighters," as Jo put it.

Jo also went into further detail about the many portraits in the wizarding world and their occupants. An occupant can only move freely to other portraits in their dwelling or to another portrait in which they are depicted. She also revealed that Harry himself made sure that the portrait of Snape made it into the Headmasters Office
Here's more from the transcript:

Q: How did you decide that Molly Weasley would be the one to finish off Bellatrix?

I always knew Molly was going to finish her off. I think there was some speculation that Neville would do it, because Neville obviously has a particular reason to hate Bellatrix. ..So there were lots of options for Blelatrix, but I never deviated. I wanted it to be Molly, and I wanted it to be Molly for two reasons.

The first reason was I always saw Molly as a very good witch but someone whose light is necessarily hidden under a bushel, because she is in the kitchen a lot and she has had to raise, among others, and George which is like, enough... I wanted Molly to have her moment and to show that because a woman had dedicated herself to her family does not mean that she doesn't have a lot of other talents.

(BB NOTE: Again, this flies in the face of modern cultural teaching when the "traditional homemaker" is the one that destroys the most evil character (second only to Voldemort) in Harry Potter's life.)

Second reason: It was the meeting of two kinds of - if you call what Bellatrix feels for Voldemort love, I guess we'll call it love, she has a kind of obsession with him, it's a very sick obsession ... and I wanted to match that kind of obsession with maternal love... the power that you give someone by loving them. So Molly was really an amazing exemplar of maternal love. ... There was something very satisfying about putting those two women together.

How different would the last two books be if Arthur had been killed in the middle of book five?

I think they would have been very different and it's part of the reason why I changed my mind. ... By turning Ron into half of Harry, in other words by turning Ron into someone who had suffered the loss of a parent, I was going to remove the Weasleys as a refuge for Harry and I was going to necessarily remove a lot of Ron's humor. That's part of the reason why I didn't kill Arthur. I wanted to keep Ron in tact ... a lot of Ron's humor comes from his insensitivity and his immaturity, to be honest about Ron. And Ron finally, I think, you see, grows up in this book. He's the last of the three to reach what I consider adulthood, and he does it then [ when he destroys the horcrux] and faces those things. So that's part of the reason. The only other reason I didn't kill Arthur was that I wanted to come full circle. We started with an orphan, someone who lost their parents because of the war. And so I wanted to show it again. ... Even though you don't see Teddy, I wanted to express in the epilogue, that he gets an even better godfather than Harry had, because Sirius had his faults, I think we must admit. He was a risky guy to have a s a godfather. Because Teddy gets someone who really has been there, and Harry becomes a really great father figure for Teddy as well as his own children. I hasten to add that I didn't kill Lupin or Tonks lightly. I loved them as that hurt, killing them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Yes! J.K. Rowling tells MTV (of all places!) that the scriptures Harry Potter reads in Godric's Hollow "almost epitomize the whole series"

And what are those scriptures?

"The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death."
-I Cor. 15:26

"Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

-Matthew 6:19

BB NOTE: When I read those verses for the first time in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows I was sitting outside on the deck of a friend's house. I sat back in my chair - the verses in the book do not refer to the scripture - but I recognized them right away, including the verse from Matthew as being the words of Jesus. I remember trying to hold back the joy. Others were around me still reading and hadn't yet come to the chapter. I had to hold back the delight - what a surprise, what a delight, what a gift. J.K. Rowling is now speaking openly about how her Christian faith influenced the writing of the Harry Potter series. To her "the parallels have always been obvious." But it took a while before Christian believers began to read the stories for themselves, scared off as many were in the beginning by the so-called witchcraft. But once Christians began to read the stories for themselves, well, it sure did look obvious. What a surprise! Her imagery is Christian, blatantly so and it may have escaped so many because so many don't know that imagery - Harry Potter fell upon an unchurched world. Here in this article, Jo Rowling shares that Harry's journey matches her own - which is probably why the books are so real. Read on:

'Harry Potter' Author J.K. Rowling Opens Up About Books' Christian Imagery

'They almost epitomize the whole series,' she says of the scripture Harry reads in Godric's Hollow.

HOLLYWOOD — It deals extensively with souls — about keeping them whole and the evil required to split them in two. After one hero falls beyond the veil of life, his whispers are still heard. It starts with the premise that love can save you from death and ends with a proclamation that a sacrifice in the name of love can bring you back from it.

Harry Potter is followed by house-elves and goblins — not disciples — but for the sharp-eyed reader, the biblical parallels are striking. Author J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter" books have always, in fact, dealt explicitly with religious themes and questions, but until "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows," they had never quoted any specific religion.

(SPOILER ALERT! The rest of this story discusses the conclusion of "Deathly Hallows.")

That was the plan from the start, Rowling told reporters during a press conference at the beginning of her Open Book Tour on Monday. It wasn't because she was afraid of inserting religion into a children's story. Rather, she was afraid that introducing religion (specifically Christianity) would give too much away to fans who might then see the parallels.

"To me [the religious parallels have] always been obvious," she said. "But I never wanted to talk too openly about it because I thought it might show people who just wanted the story where we were going."

Indeed, at its most simplistic, Harry's final tale can in some respects be boiled down to a resurrection story, with Harry venturing to a heavenly way station of sorts after getting hit with a killing curse in Chapter 35, only to shortly return. (Read how Rowling revealed the characters' fates to the "Harry Potter" movies' stars here.)

But if she was worried about tipping her hand narratively in the earlier books, she clearly wasn't by the time Harry visits his parents' graves in Chapter 16 of "Deathly Hallows," titled "Godric's Hollow." On his parents' tombstone he reads the quote "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death," while on another tombstone (that of Dumbledore's mother and sister) he reads, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."

While Rowling said that "Hogwarts is a multifaith school," these quotes, of course, are distinctly Christian. The second is a direct quote of Jesus from Matthew 6:19, the first from 1 Corinthians 15:26. As Hermione tells Harry shortly after he sees the graves, his parents' message means "living beyond death. Living after death." It is one of the central foundations of resurrection theology.

Which makes it a perfect fit for Harry, said Rowling, who was talking about those quotes for the very first time.

"They're very British books, so on a very practical note Harry was going to find biblical quotations on tombstones," Rowling explained. "[But] I think those two particular quotations he finds on the tombstones at Godric's Hollow, they sum up — they almost epitomize the whole series."

As the one to bring together all three magical Deathly Hallows, Harry, in fact, becomes the "Master of Death" by novel's end, able to bring back the spirits of his parents, his godfather, Sirius Black and his old teacher Remus Lupin. It's a conclusion that ends Harry's three-book-long struggle over questions about the afterlife, which begins when Sirius falls through a veil connecting this world and the next at the end of "Order of the Phoenix."

"Deathly Hallows" itself begins with two religiously themed epigraphs, one from "The Libation Bearers" by Aeschylus, which calls on the gods to "bless the children"; and one from William Penn's "More Fruits of Solitude," which speaks of death as but "crossing the world, as friends do the seas." No other book in the series begins with epigraphs — a curious fact, perhaps, but one that Rowling insists served as a guiding light.

"I really enjoyed choosing those two quotations because one is pagan, of course, and one is from a Christian tradition," Rowling said of their inclusion. "I'd known it was going to be those two passages since 'Chamber' was published. I always knew [that] if I could use them at the beginning of book seven then I'd cued up the ending perfectly. If they were relevant, then I went where I needed to go.

"They just say it all to me, they really do," she added.

But while the book begins with a quote on the immortal soul — and though Harry finds peace with his own death at the end of his journey — it is the struggle itself which mirrors Rowling's own, the author said.

"The truth is that, like Graham Greene, my faith is sometimes that my faith will return. It's something I struggle with a lot," she revealed. "On any given moment if you asked me [if] I believe in life after death, I think if you polled me regularly through the week, I think I would come down on the side of yes — that I do believe in life after death. [But] it's something that I wrestle with a lot. It preoccupies me a lot, and I think that's very obvious within the books."

Read the whole thing here.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Okay, I'll try again, because I really do want to know why she would take on such Christian theological doctrines - like the atonement, which has just completely lost its meaning in the post-Christian West. How do you explain to children what the atonement is? She does a tremendous job explaining the affects of the atonement on believers, I could certainly make the case for it. Perhaps these questions will be asked when when we are sitting in a pub swashing the butterbeer, but here it is - for the record. ;-)

Perhaps it would be wise to quote Dorothy Sayers:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

Question: Do you agree with what Dorothy Sayers is saying here, that that the Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination? How were you inspired by that drama in the writing of the Harry Potter series?

Saturday, October 6, 2007

A Question

So many of the questions I have need introductions. They are not just simple questions - which would do better in an interview context, with cups of coffee at Starbucks. But perhaps something could be gleaned from this:

Background: The Christian doctrine of the atonement seems to be infused through out your entire series - that is, that sacrifice is more than just dying for love but that there is real power in the sacrifice in that it protects others from the same fate (including judgment and annihilation). In the Christian doctrine of the atonement, Christ took the place of the guilty and suffered the punishment in our place, He sacrifice Himself for us. In his death and resurrection, through his “blood” Christians find redemption and life. They are “covered by the blood.” From gospel hymns to the Eucharist we see this powerful doctrine and what a surprise to see it reflected in Harry Potter.

Are we wrong to see this over and over again in the Harry Potter series? Do we not see it from the very beginning? Lily sacrifices herself to save her son and her “blood” protects him, he is “covered” by her blood - to the closing pages when Harry sacrifices himself and his sacrifice “covers” all those in Hogwarts when Voldemort’s curses no longer have lasting power on Harry’s friends.

Is this true? And if so …

Question: How did you come to write on Christian doctrines in your books - especially after the initial outcry from the very folks who would later come to love your books? Can you tell us more about your own Christian faith journey?


Sunday, September 16, 2007

Who will answer?


I've been reticent about posting a review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, knowing that many here in the cafe have not yet read the book and did not want to spoil it for them.

If you have not read the book - and plan to - please close your eyes and scroll down. I want to raise an issue or two with those of you who have read the book.

I have been a fan of the series by J.K. Rowling from the moment I read my first book, which was actually the third one in the series, the Prisoner of Azkaban. I had put off reading the books for quite a long time, even know different members of many family gave me copies and told me over and over again how much I would love the books. I finally saw the first two movies and then picked up the third book and that was that.

I am the author of the opening essay of a book called The Plot Thickens, which is still available through Borders, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. It is a series of essays on the Harry Potter series through the fifth book. My essay is called "Iceberg Ahoy: Why the New York Times Should Restore Harry Potter to the Best Seller List." In fact, the Harry Potter series had dominated the New York Times Best Seller List for so long that other authors and publishers were complaining (everyone wants to have #1 New York Times Best Seller on their dust jacket) and so the New York Times created a "Children's List" and stuck Harry Potter over there. But many of us who are adults and had read the series realized that this was far more than children's books. They are accessible to children in some ways, but now that we have come to the end of the series it is clear that there is an entirely new world underneath the one known to children. Like an iceberg, Jo Rowling reveals the top portion to her readers, but it what is underneath the water that really matters.

Over the years I have joined reading groups and study groups and even taken courses online on the series. I've met many other fans of the books who have enjoyed unlocking the mysteries in the series. But, until very recently, I was often alone in discussions when delving into what looked more and more like Christian mysteries in the book - by the time we had all finished the sixth book, The Half Blood Prince, it seemed to me that we had another modern-day Inkling on our hands. That view was rarely shared and if it was discussed, it was often in hushed tones. The "religion" factor of the series was either neglected or overlooked.

There are some major exceptions to this and chief among them is the author John Granger, who wrote among other books on the series, "Finding God in Harry Potter." He is the moderator of and he is chiefly responsible for unearthing all the Christian-style alchemical symbols throughout the book. There are others who follow in similar ways and many of them can be found at HogwartsProfessor.

In the past few months I've read lots of commentary on the books, listened to many podcasts on the books, and have listened to others talk about the books. Well, sort of. What is striking me now is how quiet things have gotten - and how quiet they got soon after the books came out.

Jo Rowling had warned us that many may not like how the book concludes (and I'm not talking about the Epilogue, but the final battle at Hogwarts). Christian imagery is all over those closing chapters, especially in terms of such weighty topics as substitution, sacrifice, redemption, repentance, and judgment. Strong orthodox understanding of classical Christianity have their marks not only all over the series, but all over the closing chapters of the final book.

I have listened and read many commentaries that are filled with the struggles readers are having over understanding what happens to Harry during the Battle of Hogwarts. There is a certain discomfort that in order to really discuss those closing pages, one is going to have to discuss classical Christian theology. The book is immensely theological and now millions and millions of people have read the book.

One of the big questions - and one of those questions that many seem hesitant to ask is - what is the theological significance to being "cover by the blood?" Christians sing about it, they participate in Eucharists, and they certainly read about the power of the blood, being covered by the blood. But what does it mean and what affect does it have on us?

What I am finding now, as the weeks go by, is silence. When the sixth book came out the response was deafening. We could point to the fact that we were left with some significant mysteries and those mysteries demanded to be solved. The series has now concluded and all is wrapped up - or is it?

There are some significant mysteries in the final book, but to begin to explore those mysteries will mean diving into significant Christian theology - not liberal progressive theology, but the orthodox kind, the traditional kind, the kind that includes sin, rebellion, sacrifice, and redemption. They aren't just nebulous themes, but are key to understanding the series. We see in these books that Jo Rowling did more than just skim through the books of CS Lewis. In fact, it seems she has read more than just The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. It appears she may have also at least read The Problem of Pain, The Screwtape Letters, Mere Christianity, and A Grief Observed. If she hasn't, I'd still recommend readers of the series know those books. And Jane Austin as well, another Christian believer, who used satire to comment on - often humorously - on society. Jo Rowling does the same thing.

One person I know has just finished reading the book. She had read all the others and we had many fun conversations about the books and the characters. But she is not a believer, in fact, she is rather hostile to Christianity and she will not talk about this book. To secular eyes, how shocking is the book? Should secularists be worried? The greatest irony of the books is that for a long time the wrong people were upset.

There does seem to be a strange silence over the series - that may be challenged soon as Jo Rowling arrives in America for a book tour. She was asked once - and by a child, not the secular media, about her faith. By the time she gets here, though, more people will have actually read the book, had time to think about it, talk with others about it, and question the mysteries in it that are quite profound in ways that all the other mysteries of plot and character pale in comparison. Perhaps that is why Jo Rowling has made no secret of her admiration for Dorothy Sayers, another honorary Inkling, who saw mystery writing as a particularly "Christian" genre. Jo Rowling seems to have followed - more significantly and more profoundly - in her footsteps. In this mystery genre (which is far more what the series is then a simple series of children's stories) we learn about great Christian theological concepts such as generational sin, blood sacrifice, redemption, suffering, death, atonement, the human soul, immortality, heaven, hell, and the particular power of agape love. There are many many more. Having read the final book, what does it mean then to sing this Gospel song:

Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Would you over evil a victory win?
There's wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

Would you be free from your passion and pride?
There's power in the blood, power in the blood;
Come for a cleansing to Calvary's tide;
There's wonderful power in the blood.

There is power, power, wonder working power
In the blood of the Lamb;
There is power, power, wonder working power
In the precious blood of the Lamb.

The final sentence of the book is "All was well." It caused me, as I've written all ready over at Shell Cottage about this particular hymn. I write there:

What's come to my mind has been the hymn, It is Well, since it is about all being well in the midst of great suffering. Written by a man who lost his children at sea, he returns to the place where they were lost and writes:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

-Horatio Spafford 1873

Since so much of Deathly Hallows, and the Harry Potter series is about the state of Harry's soul. When we finally get to the closing, we learn that - through the immense amount of suffering and pain that Harry Potter has endured - now all was well. His soul was restored to wholeness - he was healed.

These are topics, issues, subjects, themes of great spiritual and theological depth. It seems to me that a great opportunity is before all of us who have read the Harry Potter series - now is a season to ask questions. Millions have read the books and have questions - who will answer them?

NOTE: I continue to post over at Shell Cottage. Please feel free to drop by for a cup of tea. In my opinion, Harry's visit to Shell Cottage is the turning point of his entire life. We'll write on that topic soon, perhaps while we're waiting for word from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church.
Chapter Seven: The Will of Albus Dumbledore

4. In one of the few moments in the entire book, there is some focus on Harry and Ginny’s relationship in this chapter. After interrupting a kiss between the two, Ron berates Harry for “messing her around”. Was Ron justified in this argument, knowing what Harry had to do to defeat Voldemort, or was this a just a case of an overprotective older brother? Do you think Ginny’s other brothers would have had the same reactions?

It is interesting to compare Ron's reaction to Harry kissing Ginny to his earlier reaction to Ginny kissing Dean. I think Ron, while he may be clueless about women, gets it. In the earlier incident, Ron explodes at Ginny because I think he knew exactly what she was doing. Ron is right in that scene about what Ginny is doing (but oversteps his role as her older brother). He targets Ginny not Dean. He knows who has the real power in that relationship, and it's Ginny. He may also know that Ginny does not love Dean and he's basically recognizing the same behavior in his sister that he will later display himself with Lavender. How much Ron is aware that Harry is taking interesting in his sister is not really known, but it is possible that he is picking up on it. The irony is that Ron goes off and does the same thing Ginny is doing in his own attempt to make Hermione jealous.

In this scene, Ron switches sides. He doesn't go after Ginny as he did before, blaming her for leading Harry on. He assumes that Harry has the power in the scene, though we know that it was Ginny who took the initiative. Why did Ron switch sides and blame Harry for messing with Ginny? Again, it could be that we are able to get a deeper insight into what is going on with Ron. Ron is in love with Hermione, but has not been able to express his love to her. Now he finds Harry, who has made it quite clear he is not going to be pursuing Ginny, doing that very thing. Of course he's going to explode at Harry - some of it may be an expression at his own frustration in not being able to follow through with his own desires for Hermione. The other thing is that Ron may believe in his heart that Harry is not going to survive and that this is a cruel thing to do to Ginny to get her hopes up that they will have a future, when Ron (and not without merit) may believe it is unlikely Harry will survive their ordeal. We get a twist on that later when Ron and Hermione finally do follow through with the desire of their own hearts and Ron makes the humorous comment of basically it's now or never.

5. When Lupin and Tonx arrive at Harry’s birthday party, Harry notices that Tonx looks “radiant” while Lupin looked “unhappy”. Later, as the Minister of Magic arrives, the pair leave quickly, saying “We shouldn’t be here”. Given that Tonx is a Ministry employee, it seems odd that she shouldn’t be around the Minister. What did you think of their behavior and Lupin’s statement?

I had suspected that Tonx might be pregnant because of the way she looked at Remus when she arrived back at the Burrow following Harry's escape from Privet Drive. We have learned through her Aunt Bellatrix that her marriage to Lupin is considered to be disgusting in Wizarding Society (a view not just held by Slytherins). That view is similar to the view held, even to this day by some, of interracial marriages. Such marriages were shunned by society, black and white. For a long time those marriages were even illegal. Often those who would defend the bigoted view would use as their defense "what about the children" and how such children would suffer in society. We learn that even Tonk's parents are not happy about the marriage and of course later on we see that Tonx is targeted by her aunt personally because of what she's done.

What we see here, then, is that the couple have risked everything to marry and while Tonx doesn't seem to care, Remus - who has lived with his condition nearly his whole life - knows exactly what this means and he does love her. He does know what suffering comes not only to his wife, but to their child. Tonk's happiness and Remus' unhappiness are both born from their love for each other, showing itself in different ways.

If the Ministry finds out that Tonx is pregnant it is not clear what the Ministry might do about it - but we can imagine what might happen and so they flee. I had not thought, until I read the other comments here, that Tonx may have been sacked from her job as an Auror. Certainly the Minister of Magic is her former boss since he was the head of the Auror Department. We are seeing evidence of a subplot between Scrimgeour and Tonx - who might be made an example of what happens when one breaks the rules, written and unwritten. If we draw the parallel between Tonx and Remus' marriage and interracial marriages in the past (and in some places still today) we may see why the bigotry goes so deep.

We can also imagine that in the past Scrimgeour and Tonx have had to deal with Greyback in their roles as Aurors and Remus Lupin is an exception as to what the Wizarding World sees as what happens to people when they become a werewolf. Werewolves are a threat to society - and to children in particular - and one could make the case that from Scrimgeour's point of view, Tonx has betrayed the trust placed in her when she became an auror.

Finally, they are both known to be in the Order of the Phoenix and their allegiance lies elsewhere and not with Scrimgeour. He may see this as a threat to his own authority. This is supposed to be happy day for Harry and the last thing Remus and Tonx would want to do is spoil the party. And so they flee.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Posted at Hogwarts Professor:

I believe J.K. Rowling was married in the Scottish Episcopal Church by the Rev Canon Prof J S Richardson. But if she attends the Church of Scotland, well, that’s quite interesting - the Church of Scotland has no bishops, unlike the Scottish Episcopal Church which does. The Church of Scotland is Presbyterian - John Knox and all that.

She went to a Church of England school when she was young, but I’m not sure it was the happiest of her experiences. The former Archbishop of the Scottish Episcopal Church was pretty radical - much more in line theologically with the American Episcopal Church. In fact, the Scottish Episcopal Church is very much like the American Episcopal Church in theology and politics. It is very progressive. The same cannot be said for the Church of Scotland.

There are also some cultural differences between to the two churches, especially in relation to the Scots (and their relationships with the English, even to this day). These cultural differences are in addition to the theological and political differences between the two denominations.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has been very involved in progressive Scottish national politics - in fact, I think it was one of the sponsoring institutions to bring about the creation of the Scottish Parliament. The Scottish Episcopal Church, from the witness of my friends in Scotland, is fairly burned out and no match for the descendants of John Knox. In fact, one of my friends attempted to go to the local Scottish Episcopal Church but she was a little late and the vicar had locked the front door, even though it was Sunday. His view was if you weren’t there on time, you should go somewhere else.

My guess is still the play is on the first name - Pius (said satirically) - and his “false piety” made him blind to the evil around him, even weakened him to be used by those he should be opposing. That certainly is a problem in the Church today.


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Questions raised about Rowlings critical view of the RC Church

Questions are being raised of Rowling's possible criticism of the Roman Catholic Church, and in particular the Pope during the period of the rise of the Nazis in Germany. One of John Granger's posters at HogwartsProfessor raises this question:

During Vold War II the Minister of Magic is Pius Thicknesse. Pius is a rather unusual name. Try this - Pius XII ” Hitler’s Pope.” Kind of fits - His Thickness(e) Pius XII. Anything linking to the number 12? Pius XII rather “thick” in not fully recognizing Hitler’s evil. I’ve followed the thread here on Deathly Hallows regarding Nazi Echoes but have not yet seen anything on this point.

Is Pius Thicknesse a takeoff on Pius XII? I thought not, though I do think that she may be indeed engaging in some serious satire of institutionalism, even in the Church. But I had a different church in mind when I read Deathly Hallows. Here's my response at

The “Deathly Hallows” themselves are reminiscent of bishops vestments and their so-called vestibules of power . The “Invisibility Cloak” is much like the Bishop’s Cope. The Resurrection Stone (and it’s original location in a ring) is like the Bishop’s Ring. And the wand is akin to the crozier, or the staff carried by a bishop.

But a true Christian leader does not find power in those things, and yet so often for the institutional church those “trappings of power” become far more important than what is in the heart. Leaders will seek cover under those “deathly hallows” rather than in the place God looks - the human heart.

Being an Episcopalian/Anglican whose denomination is in a global crisis that appears to be heading for schism - I read between the lines of Rowling's possible criticisms of the institutional church - but I thought of my own, not the Roman Catholic Church as I read. Episcopalians, like Roman Catholics, have many of the same trappings of power where the preservation of the institution trumps the heart of the believer. We have bishops. They may begin with the best of intentions but are often sucked into the vortex of institutional power, especially when their own moral foundations are compromised or lost to the spirit of the age and self-preservation.

But criticism and satire do not necessarily mean hostility to the institution, especially when the criticism comes in the form of satire. In fact, some of the greatest satirists were reformers who sought recovery for the institution, not its demolition.

Institutionalists though, when faced with criticism, often feel threatened by the criticism as though the institution is the same as “the Church.” They seek to protect the institution, finding their identity in it, rather than in Christ. I might venture to say that Rowling may have some criticisms of the institutionalism of the Church (or government), but not in the effort to destroy it (the Ministry of Magic recovers as we learn, it is not destroyed). I found it satirical, but I also found it strangely encouraging. I agreed with her. I just couldn’t believe what I was reading!

I will admit, though, that my thoughts were directed more toward my own “institutional” church and not toward the Roman Catholic Church. Jo Rowling is a Scottish Episcopalian, she too is in the Anglican Communion. I do not know how much she is aware of the crisis in the Communion, but her criticisms of institutionalism (whether it is progressive or traditional) were extraordinary in their timing.

In fact, I am going to the meeting of the Episcopal House of Bishops in New Orleans later this month and I’m taking my copy of Deathly Hallows with me. I expect that I will spend a lot of time out in the hall waiting to hear what the bishops decide to do for the future of the Episcopal Church in the Anglican Communion (and I will be reporting on their deliberations at my blog) but while I wait for word, I intend to spend that time reading Deathly Hallows.

I never expected to find such spot-on criticism/satire that institutionalism does not make one a believer. And in fact, Harry is the Believer - the Seeker - for he recognizes that his power is not found in the institutional trappings of power (The Deathly Hallows), but in pursuing the healing and restoration of the soul.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

From the SugarQuill Boards *

17) What was your reaction when you found out that remorse could help put the soul back together? Did you think that it would come up later in the book? Or that maybe Voldemort was capable of showing guilt?

ME: I was frankly - even though I have been advocating that Jo Rowling was writing from a Christian perspective - shocked. Remorse - or as Christians call it, Repentance - is a key ingredient to "salvation." It's not enough that God might want to save people and then take a hike and watch from His Undisclosed Location. No, Christians believe that people play a part in that salvation (well, a problem with that did lead to the Protestant Reformation, but never mind). Repentance and Confession are key ingredients to being saved. That Rowling would extend this tenet (or I might maintain - truth) to Voldemort was simply astonishing. This wasn't just a "vanquish the enemy and triumph" moment. It was an opportunity for transformation for even the worst, which is at the heart of the Gospel (see Paul, who was no friend of Christians and took part in the stoning of Stephen in Acts). We will Harry see extend Grace. Such things do restore the soul, even in real life.

So we have presented to us in Deathly Hallows that the soul is restored through repentance and acts of grace. That just blows my mind.

Friday, September 7, 2007


Wombat 3 was an O.

Outstanding? We still can't quite figure out how we managed that. Here's the story here. More about the WOMBAT 3 is here. Our previous WOMBAT (2) was an E. Weren't sure how we managed that one either, but the last one did us in. We didn't take the first WOMBAT - we believe that came out in March 2006. We don't actually remember March 2006, but trust that it did happen.

The Night Deathly Hallows was released to the world.

We were live-blogging from the Fairfax (VA) Borders. Read all about it here.

Tip of the TeaCup to Sword of Gryffindor

We are long-time fans of Sword of Gryffindor - hint, we also go by the name of ZoeRose. In addition to being one of the authors of the book, The Plots Thickens, we also were part of John Granger's original HP6 class at B&U (we still think there's something funny about Draco and werewolves, but nevermind!). We then joined the original boards at HogwartsProfessor (now a traditional blog) as John Granger wrote his latest books, and we continued writing under the name ZoeRose.

SoG has picked up Shell Cottage. One of the best piece of news about this is to discover yet another Bob Dylan fan - Travis Prinzi!! Hooray - a full round of butterbeer for everyone - on the house. Thanks for dropping by! We created Shell Cottage because our mainblog, has so many HP fans who hadn't finished the book (some are missionaries overseas and have to wait for the book to be hand delivered) we didn't know how to run stories without being a big time spoil sport. So, rather than run the risk of spoilers, we created Shell Cottage (and made sure to warn folks before they clicked the link). We've been parking essays we like, essays we've written, and other creative things that catch our eye.

So welcome to Shell Cottage! Get yourself a cup of tea and thanks for dropping by!

PS - Friends, do check out the SoG podcast. We never miss it!

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Chapter Six: The Ghoul in Pajamas

1)When you first read this chapter, did you really think that the Trio wouldn’t return for their last year at Hogwarts? Until this point, the book has been following a rather familiar pattern of Harry leaving the Dursley’s to spend the remainder of the summer at the Burrow.

I had thought that they would return when I started the book, but it was clear once I saw the Ghoul and the amount of work that had gone in to getting Ron ready to go, that they really were going to go on a Road Trip.

2)When discussing Voldemort and the Ministry, how are Ron and Harry treated by Bill and Mr. Weasley in this chapter compared to how they were treated in Order of the Phoenix? Do you think Bill and Mr. Weasley really feel that they are ready to discuss matters like adults or do they still want to protect them, like Mrs. Weasley?

I think it's clear the Bill and Mr. Weasley understand that Ron and Harry are of age. Mrs. Weasley is a mother hen who protects her children (as we seem demonstrated big time at the book's finale) and she shows her love for them by trying to convince them not to go. I think they understand that too.

3)Mrs. Weasley has seen Harry and her children encounter many dangers throughout their lives—did she really think that her ploy to keep them separated would work?

No, I don't. I think it's her "love language" - it's how she demonstrated her love to her children (and Harry in her mind and heart is now one of her kids). The kids seem to get that too and while they put up resistance it's clear that there is no bitterness or resentment (just frustration). And in fact, we see demonstrated that Mrs. Weasley does let her children go - if they get past her, then obviously they are ready for the world. I mean, we had Bill in Egypt and Charlie in Romania - and the twins never finished school but opened up their store. There are no "Mama's boys" (or girls even) in this family.

4)Ginny is surprised that Harry really is going to leave school and hunt down Voldemort; Harry lets it slip when the two of them are setting the table for dinner (pg. 89, American version). The idea that Ginny might come along is never discussed and Harry is determined to keep her in the dark regarding his plans. Considering how comfortable Harry and Ginny are together, what does this say about Harry’s relationship with Ginny compared to Harry’s relationship with Ron and Hermione?

First of all, Ginny is not of age, she is not an "adult" in the eyes of the Wizarding World, and so she doesn't have the authority (and Harry doesn't have the right to ask her either - then he'd feel the Wrath of Mrs. Weasley). Harry's relationship with Ginny is much more like a husband will be to his wife - he will want to protect her and that would over shadow anything else he'd do. He's in love with her and and he's still very young and inexperienced on how to handle romantic love. They haven't had a full year either in their relationship and so it hasn't gone through all the seasons to develop either, something Harry has had with Ron and Hermione. The have all literally grown up together.

5) Compare and contrast Ron’s plan with Hermione’s plan. Which one seems better thought out? Which one seems riskier? Why didn’t Hermione use a Fidelius Charm, like Harry’s parents used rather than risk not being able to reverse the Memory Charm? What would you have done if you were Ron or Hermione?

I think both plans seem thought-out in their own way, each with major risks. Ron has to figure out how to protect his family and the best way to do that is for Ron to appear to still be at home with a horrible disease. It's an excellent plan, as long as he is never identified anywhere else. Hermione is convinced that her parents will just blend in with everyone else in Australia and it's far enough away that no one will actually go looking for them. If something happens to her, her parents can still live a happy life. It's an extraordinary plan too - and took a great deal of humility on her part that she would be willing to have her parents not even know she exists. But that is also tragic in that they don't even know to think about her - and so outside the Weasleys and Harry, no one really else cares about Hermione. No wonder she took it so hard when Ron left. Both plans were creative and thoughtful. I think I would have asked for advice from Tonx.

6) This is the second time we’ve seen Hermione meddle with a person’s mind—the first being Cormac McLaggin, the second being her parents. Is what Hermione is doing unethical? Do you think she finds any part of Memory Modifying ethically sticky—or can she justify it? In what other instances have we seen a rather ruthless Hermione and were her actions justifiable or not? What do you feel about Memory Modification? Is it ever really a positive thing?

I think she thinks its extraordinarily humane - she really is thinking not of herself (except that she doesn't want her parents killed) but what would be best for her parents. I am sure her parents would think very differently - she did the thinking for them. An who wouldn't want to live in Australia for a while?

7) Just for fun—do you think Mr. Weasley ever got Sirius’s bike up and running? Do you think he ever took Mrs. Weasley for a moonlit ride on it?

Yes, yes! Of course he did! I am sure he did. My guess is that instead of taking Mrs. Weasley out, he may have loaned it to George for a while. That's what I would have done. And I can bet that George would have "improved" it before turning it over to Harry.

8) Several times in the past, Harry has tried to talk his friends out of coming with him on his adventures. Why is Harry so unable to accept help from people?

For his entire life he has had to be self-sufficient to survive. There is core to him that still believes all the things the Dursley's said to him when he was a child. He does not want to trouble others, he doesn't not want to be a bother, he feels that it's his responsibility to handle it. And he does have survivors guilt. His mother paid the ultimate price to save his life - that's a lot to live down. And I think it also - which of course, Voldemort figured out - gave him a sense of accomplishment when he could save others as he was saved. It was like making his mother's sacrifice worth it.

9)When you heard about the method used to destroy a Horcrux, what was your first thought? Did you think at some point the Trio would venture back to the Chamber of Secrets to see if there were any leftover basilisk fangs hanging around? What did you think were some of the other magical methods of destroying Horcruxes?

I did not think of the Chamber of Secrets because I assumed the snake was long gone and nothing was left. I could not figure out how they would destroy the horcruxes. That was one of the surprises of the book for me.

10) Many Death Eaters torture and kill just for fun and murder is part of the process of creating a Horcrux; are you surprised that none of them have at least one spare Horcrux around? Many of them come from old pureblood families that could potentially have access to this type of magic—are you surprised that Bellatrix or Lucius does not have a Horcrux “life insurance” policy? What does this tell you about Voldemort compared to his followers?

He did not value his soul as a whole. He was totally abandoned and unloved - he never knew love. Even the Death Eaters had known some love, even Bella. What bit of love they knew must have kept them from even considering such a vile act. But of course, this is also why the Death Eaters were so fascinated by Voldemort. He really was evil. He didn't just do evil things, there was something more corrupt about him, that evil possessed him. Even the Death Eaters seemed to have choices, though they most often made the wrong ones - sometimes, like Lucius and Narcissa and Draco Malfoy - their capacity to still love caused them to choose differently, even in spite of themselves.

11) Admit it—you gave a little (word that Cap'n Kathy hates) of joy when you saw Hermione pull out Hogwarts, A History! Did you think it would help play a role in the plot at all?

No, I didn't. But how could she leave home without it?

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The following was posted over at the Cafe:

Some of you who are regulars here at the Cafe have told me that you have finished Deathly Hallows. Especially you, ElfGirl - who had to have her copy hand delivered to her Undisclosed Location!

Still, we know there are a few out there who haven't finished and we so we continue to post over at Shell Cottage and keep the Cafe as spoiler-free as possible. I've joined an online study of the book and will be publishing some of my answers to the weekly questions asked at the study over at Shell Cottage. I've posted some other things of interest I've found - the artists in particular have been busy expressing their own commentary through art. In fact, there are lots of ways people share their thoughts and ideas about the Harry Potter series. I prefer the creative essays, but some write fiction and some make videos and some draw some of the most amazing art. My favorite places to read commentary are at SugarQuill where they are going through the book chapter by chapter, Leaky Cauldron's "Leaky Lounge" where they are also discussing the book, and New Clues, where you must stick to the canon (which is the books written by J.K. Rowling), Sword of Gryffindor, HP Progs, and of course John Granger's great blog at Hogwarts Professor.

The Leaky Cauldron, MuggleNet, Sword of Gryffindor, and HP Progs and I recommend them. They are all available at also have great podcastsiTunes. One of the best things about the Leaky Caludron's "Pottercast" (beside the trio-hosts there) is guest Steve Vander Ark, the Master of the HP Lexicon who joins the podcast for the weekly feature "Canon Conundrums." Those of us who have been fans of Star Trek will recognize Steve's name, but Steve also hosts one of the most extraordinary places anywhere to go to learn about the Harry Potter universe, the Lexicon. Even J.K. Rowling goes there when she has to remember something. But please remember, it's also "spoiler-central" so be careful before you go.
Here's another posting I did over at Leaky. This is on the Epilogue:

I've been thinking about that last line in the Epilogue, "All is well," which seems - on first glance - to be so simplistic, a nice, neat, wrap-up. Nothing flourishing, no Great Gatsby-ish ending. Just three words: All is well.

Now some have written about Julian of Norwich and her attributed writings on All is well. But what's come to my mind has been the hymn, It is Well, since it is about all being well in the midst of great suffering. Written by a man who lost his children at sea, he returns to the place where they were lost and writes:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ has regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight,
The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,
Even so, it is well with my soul.

It is well, with my soul,
It is well, with my soul,
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

-Horatio Spafford 1873

Since so much of Deathly Hallows, and the Harry Potter series is about the state of Harry's soul, Horcuxed infested though it once was, it is now well, it is now whole. He has had his battles of the soul, the dark nights of the soul, and now all is well. The faith written in these lines were written where there had been much suffering, and certainly Harry has known that suffering as well. But the hope he had going through his suffering, covered by the blood as he was as well, has brought him to this place of joy. All is well.