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.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Future Auction of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard"

This is week-old news, but J.K. Rowling has handwritten seven copies of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard"; six will be given as "'thank you' presents for the people who have been most closely involved with Harry Potter over the years" while the seventh will be auctioned on December 13, 2007. The starting bid is £30,000 (or $62,000).

As every reader of Deathly Hallows knows, "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" are a bound collection of folktales, which Dumbledore bequeathed to Hermione in his will. One of the stories, "The Tale of the Three Brothers" had special relevance to the last novel as Harry Potter was tempted to find the Deathly Hallows. The four other stories are:

  • "The Fountain of Fair Fortune"
  • "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot"
  • "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump"
  • "The Warlock’s Hairy Heart"

The first three were mentioned in the last novel while the last is a new story (presumably with the collection in Dumbledore's copy, but never mentioned in the novel itself). Unfortunately this collection will not be published although I am hoping she will include these stories in her Harry Potter Encyclopedia. Whoever those six "real insiders" are, they are lucky. Even more important is that proceeds from the auctioned copy will go to a good cause:

I have therefore decided to auction the seventh book for The Children's Voice (previously the Children's High Level Group), the charity I co-founded to campaign for the rights of institutionalised children.

Each of the seven copies of "The Tales of Beedle the Bard" has a different dedication; all are leather-bound and embellished with silver and different semi-precious stones. The seventh book (the Moonstone edition) will be auctioned at Sotheby's in London on December 13th 2007. The book will be on display to the public for a short period before the sale, and catalogues will be sold, all profits going to the Children's Voice.

There is a special commemorative catalogue of the item being auctioned; this 48-page catalogue includes photos of the soon-to-be-auctioned manuscript and a message from JKR herself and is only $16.00. Finally while we are on the subject of "Tales of Beedle the Bard", I want to reference two past articles at Sword of Gryffindor. The first is my own "The Pardoner's Tale in Deathly Hallows", which draws a parallel between the "Tale of the Three Brothers" and Chaucer's "The Pardoner's Tale" (a parallel that JKR herself suggested). The second is written by Dave, "The Tale of the Three Brothers", which examines JKR's usage of literary metanarrrative in this tale and its interpretation by several characters in the last novel, before concluding that perhaps JKR is topying with her readers and that:

It’s both the literal and figurative fulcrum of Deathly Hallows over which Harry teeters, dragging us along with him.

Forgive my shameless plugging of these two articles by the Blogengamot. Wink, wink.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Latest SOG Post on Halloween

Yesterday I posted my latest entry at Sword of Gryffindor, "Laughter and Mockery in Halloween", which references an article, "Concerning Halloween" which looks at the Christian origins of the holiday. The author is James B. Jordan, who is the director of Biblical Horizons. In his article, Jordan looks at the traditions of Halloween where laughter and mockery are used to overcome fear and usher in the joy of the Kingdom. J.K. Rowling seems to recognize this through the Riddikulus charm introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban. Read the rest of my short entry and let me know what you think.

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Farewell, Madeleine L'Engle

I was told that Madeleine L'Engle passed away this Thursday and it really sunk in after reading her obituary in the New York Times today. Madeleine L'Engle is of course well known for her John Newberry award winning masterpiece, A Wrinkle in Time, as well as her other Time Quartet books.

I bought A Wrinkle in Time many years ago, but never read it until last year after my friend Erica kept urging me to do so. The first sentence of the book, "It was a dark and stormy night", drew me into the adventures of Meg Murry, Christopher Wallace Murry, and Calvin O'Keefe. I was moved by the Christian elements within the book, especially L'Engle's quotation of Isaiah 42.10-12; Romans 8.28,30; and 1 Corinthians 1.25-28. Consequently Wrinkle has drawn the ire of many Christians because of the character Mrs. Which (sounds like "witch") and the appearance of a crystal ball. This and other concerns over L'Engle's liberal Christianity earned Wrinkle a spot on the ALA's list of The 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 1990–2000. L'Engle spoke on the controversy by saying:

It seems people are willing to damn the book without reading it. Nonsense about witchcraft and fantasy. First I felt horror, then anger, and finally I said, ‘Ah, the hell with it.’ It’s great publicity, really.

I am reminded of the past controversies surrounding the Harry Potter series and the author, J.K. Rowling. In a May 2003 interview with Newsweek, L'Engle was asked if she read the Harry Potter books:

I read one of them. It’s a nice story but there’s nothing underneath it. I don’t want to be bothered with stuff where there’s nothing underneath. Some people say, “Why do you read the Bible?’’ I say, "Because there’s a lot of stuff underneath."

I'm assuming that she read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone since that is the first novel. I wonder if she would have changed her thoughts on Harry Potter if she continued to read the entire series until its conclusion in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Rowling also quotes from scripture in the final book (Matthew 6.21 & 1 Corinthians 15.26) and expounds on the Christian principles of sacrifice and love's power over evil. Contrary to L'Engle's first impressions of a "nice story", there is a lot underneath. I'm not sure if she decided to read the entire series before her death, but I'm hoping she did.

In the same interview Melinda Henneberger asks L'Engle, "I ask about the Potter books because, like “Wrinkle,” they have Christian themes yet have been criticized by some Christians, for similar reasons" (emphasis mine) to which L'Engle responded:

Well, the Fundalets [fundamentalist Christians] want a closed system, and I want an open system.

L'Engle was known for her unique perspective on scripture and myth, but there was no question that she was a Christian, devoted to her faith and her craft. She poured her heart into her various works and her readers are better for it. She wrote in Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life:

All art, good, bad, indifferent, reflects its culture. Great art transcends its culture and touches on that which is eternal. . .True art has a mythic quality in that it speaks of that which was true, is true, and will be true.

L'Engle spoke profoundly on what true art is because she was a literary artist. Reflecting on her work makes me want to find out more about this extraordinary woman, who stands up there with other Christian mythmakers such as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And though she will be missed by all her readers, including myself, she is with her Saviour now.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Relevant Magazine and Latest S.O.G. Post

A friend of mine that I mentioned earlier in this blog told me recently that Relevant Magazine, a magazine geared towards young twentysomething Christians, gave a positive review of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in their latest September issue. The article is Harry's Last Stand by Dustin-Lee Casey, who is the webmaster of Christian Writers Forums, and is a short but worthwhile read. Here is a quote:
There were also similarities in the story to what some Christians think the "end times" might be like if the anti-christ came to power and began to fight and exterminate believers. Harry, his band of followers and their adventures reminded me that no matter what, we as Christians should never lose faith and continue to fight for what we believe in.
This is interesting because Voldemort does have some parallels with the "antichrist" figure in the New Testament. Voldemort brands his followers with a mark, takes over the wizarding government, and comes back, so to speak, in the middle of the seven novels. One could make the argument that Harry Potter has more in common with the Left Behind novels than Wicca. That said, I prefer reading Harry Potter.

Relevant Magazine's review is just another article to add to the overwhelming positive reception to the Christian themes and symbols in the last novel. Of smaller note, I posted my latest entry at Sword of Gryffindor, No God in Deathly Hallows? giving some brief words about Michael O'Brien and Lev Grossman's view that the series is devoid of God. If we consider the presence of biblical scripture and a church in Godric's Hollow, then we can say ontologically that God exists in the series. Let me know what you think.