Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Journeying through Platform 9 3/4 with Travis Prinzi

Can fairy tales be relevant in an increasingly materialistic world? Are fairy tales just kiddie fare or are they subversive literature designed to inspire social change? Travis Prinzi answers these questions and more in the context of Harry Potter in his masterful book, Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds.

The driving force behind Travis' book of course is J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech where she quotes Plutarch, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." This can be seen in the book's three parts: Faerie, The Creative Hero, and A Political Fairy Tale. From looking at how Harry Potter satisfies "primordial human desires" (Faerie) and correspond to mythological archetypes (The Creative Hero), we can see how Harry Potter inspires a concern for social justice (A Political Fairy Tale). "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality" indeed.

Throughout the book, Travis skillfully interacts with other Harry Potter literary critics and draws on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle in his discussions on fairy tales, showing that he has become a Harry Potter scholar in his own right. Travis does all this while explaining difficult concepts in a clear manner for the average reader. Everyone has different preferences and while I loved the entire book immensely, I enjoyed and got the most from his discussions on social justice, particularly the chapters on Postmodernism, Fabian Society, Feminism (Ginny Weasley as Susan Pevensie, Vindicated was just brilliant) and the War on Terror. Those chapters are worth the price of the book alone. Travis unashamedly writes from a Christian perspective because JKR is a Christian, and as Travis writes, removing her from that tradition is impossible. Travis' Christian perspective shows most effectively in his conclusions on Harry Potter and social justice. We are truly between two worlds, this imperfect one filled with evil, and the future when heaven and earth will join together, and the world will be set to rights. Travis words are poignant here for the here and now:

Those who have complained that Rowling hasn’t provided us an ideal world – indeed, that she’s written an unjust one with seemingly tacit acceptance of oppressive norms – miss the point that this might have been Rowling’s plan all along: lay those things out in her world, so that we can recognize them both there and in our own. (272)

How can one be angered by Hermione Granger being called a Mudblood and not care about racism in our world? How about oppression, poverty, political power plays, terrorism, and war? Fairy tales are important, not because they allow the reader to escape, but to see the world in a new light and work to change it.

No amount of words can do justice to this book. The reader will not help but be persuaded by the arguments Travis gives in Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds and what are they? That fairy tales matter and that recognizing evil and oppression in Harry Potter can allow us to recognize the same in our world, and act accordingly. Imagining better and producing inward change can have great repercussions for what we achieve outwardly in this world. Travis' book has shown us just that.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Phoenix by George Darley

I found another beautiful poem on this mythical bird by Irish Romantic poet, George Darley. Enjoy!

The Phoenix


O blest unfabled Incense Tree,
That burns in glorious Araby,
With red scent chalicing the air,
Till earth-life grow Elysian there!

Half-buried to her flaming breast
In this bright tree, she makes her nest,
Hundred-sunned Phoenix! when she must
Crumble at length to hoary dust!

Her gorgeous deathbed! her rich pyre
Burnt up with aromatic fire!
Her urn, sight high from spoiler men!
Her birthplace when self-born again!

The mountainless green wilds among,
Here ends she her unechoing song!
With amber tears and odorous sighs
Mourned by the desert where she dies!


Laid like the young fawn mossily
In sun-green vales of Araby,
I woke hard by the Phoenix tree
That with shadeless boughs flamed over me;
And upward called by a dumb cry
With moonbread orbs of wonder, I
Beheld the immortal Bird on high
Glassing the great Sun in her eye.
Stedfast she gazed upon his fire,
Still her destroyer and her sire!
As if to his her soul of flame
Had flown already, whence it came;
Like those that sit and glare so still,
Intense with their death struggle, till
We touch, and curdle at their chill!---
But breathing yet while she doth burn,
The deathless Daughter of the Sun!
Slowly to crimson embers turn
The beauties of the brightsome one.
O'er the broad nest her silver wings
Shook down their wasteful glitterings;
Her brinded neck high arch'd in air
Like a small rainbow faded there;
But brighter glowed her plumy crown
Mouldering to golden ashes down;
With fume of sweet woods, to the skies,
Pure as a Saint's adoring sighs,
Warm as a prayer in Paradise,
Her life-breath rose in sacrifice!
The while with shrill triumphant tone
Sounding aloud, aloft, alone
Ceaseless her joyful deathwail she
Sang to departing Araby!
Deep melancholy wonder drew
Tears from my heartspring at that view;
Like cresset shedding its last flare
Upon some wistful mariner,
The Bird, fast blending with the sky,
Turned on me her dead-gazing eye
Once --- and as surge to shallow spray
Sank down to vapoury dust away!


O, fast her amber blood doth flow
From the heart-wounded Incense Tree,
Fast as earth's dep-embosomed woe
In silent rivulets to the sea!

Beauty may weep her fair first-born,
Perchance in as resplendent tears,
Such golden dewdrops bow the corn
When the stern sickleman appears.

But oh! such perfume to a bower
Never allured sweet-seeking bee,
As to sip fast that nectarous shower
A thirstier minstrel drew in me!

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Mythopoeic Award Challenge

Having never taken part in a reading challenge before, I was interested when I saw the Mythopoeic Award Challenge via Sword of Gryffindor. The challenge hosted by Lenneth is to read seven winners of the Mythopoeic Award or nominees (fantasy or scholarly) by year's end. This challenge is ideal because it will introduce me to works I never read, and motivate me to continue reading works recognized by the Mythopoeic Society even when this challenge ends. Without further adieu, here is my list:

1. Jack: C.S. Lewis and His Times by George Sayer.
2. Tolkien and the Great War: The Threshold of Middle-earth by John Garth.
3. The Owl, the Raven & the Dove: The Religious Meaning of the Grimms' Magic Fairy Tales by G. Ronald Murphy.
4. Fairytale in the Ancient World by Graham Anderson.
5. Strange and Secret Peoples: Fairies and Victorian Consciousness by Carole G. Silver.
6. Readers in Wonderland: The Liberating Worlds of Fantasy Fiction from Dorothy to Harry Potter by Deborah O'Keefe.
7. Tolkien the Medievalist, edited by Jane Chance.

It was difficult picking seven books out of the many intriguing choices from the scholarly lists (winners or nominees). Some did not make sense to include in my list such as C.S. Lewis: A Companion & Guide by Walter Hooper, The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales edited by Jack Zipes, and Companion to Narnia by Paul F. Ford because they are encyclopedic guides and are better used as a reference rather than reading cover to cover. I divided the list equally between Inkling and General Myth/Fantasy studies. As for the rest of my reasons, personal taste and cursiosity in the subject matter that the books potentially present were the driving force.