Great White Snark: "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?"

I just finished this book and wanted to record my thoughts.

(Yes, the guy's name really is John Granger. No, I don't think it's intentional.)

So Harry Potter's Bookshelf was of interest to me for many reasons, the primary of them being it's about the books that influenced the Harry Potter series. I'm always curious about literary criticism of books I enjoy, and this is probably the first time that I've read lit-crit on a book that crosses both literature and pop culture lines. So I was naturally interested to see where Granger finds meaning and cross-references with pre-existing lit.

Some of the points made are extremely valid. For example, the gothic elements in Harry Potter (even though they're there, they're hardly horrific like classic gothicism. They're more humorous, eg: the ghosts in the castle, the castle and great lake and Forbidden Forest, and underground passages). Naturally, he cites books like Jane Eyre (orphan morality tale, anyone?), Dracula (forehead scars and shared blood connections), Wuthering Heights (Snape = Heathcliff), and Frankenstein (Voldemort's prejudices are just the projection of wizarding society's obsession with purebloodedness, DUH). This part was by and large the most interesting, as was the lengthy dissertation on the boarding school tradition in English storytelling.

The rest of it gets a little ridiculous, as is the wont of lit-crit.

Granger digs deeply into the HP series. I mean, REALLY deeply, to the point of analyzing circle imagery throughout and digging deep within alchemical literature. Some of this is a little far-fetched for me, and confusing if you have no prior experience with metaphysical or alchemical literature. His points are good and he definitely supports his arguments, but I still don't necessarily buy all of it. Do I really believe Mad-Eye Moody was based on the murdered guy in Poe's "The Telltale Heart"?

No, not even for a second. Just because there are two guys in literature who have pale-blue vulture eyes doesn't mean they're the same guy. The same goes for the five steps to acheiving alchemy in a book:
1. Having a black trial period (Order of the Phoenix, wherein he cites Sirius Black's name)
2. A white period of grace (The Half-Blood Prince, citing Albus as a name symbol for albedo, meaning white)
3. A red conflict and resolution period (Deathly Hallows, and whole slew of name symbolism including Rufus Scrimgeour, Fred Weasley, and Hagrid)
4. A quarreling couple (Ron and Hermione, complete with their periodic table counterparts, being sulfur and mercury--you go figure that one)
5. And an alchemical marriage/resolution (the epilogue).

Some of this is INCREDIBLY far-fetched. Interesting to read nonetheless, but hardly plausible.

All that being said, do I recommend this book? Well, yes and no. If you've read Harry Potter and want to dig deeper, go for it. I think it would be very difficult to follow if you're not familiar with the other works Granger references (even though he does a splendid job giving VERY BRIEF synopses of each) and if you're unfamiliar with literary criticism as a whole. Postmodernism, gothicism, literary alchemy, and the hero's journey are thrown around so glibly that if you have no idea what each entails, I fear you'd be pretty lost. Some of the points Granger makes are exceedingly interesting, and will definitely catch my interest on future re-reads of the HP series. However, unless you read lit-crit for fun (aka: you're a major geek like yours truly), I'd say pass this one up.

He's written another book called Unlocking Harry Potter, which I also have, and I have a feeling that's a more general "here's what you missed between the lines" book. Bookshelf is definitely focused on HP as a work of literature and where it fits in the wide schema of the literary world.

My two distinct reactions:

When a really excellent point was made:
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When Granger gets carried away with symbolism and literary high horsiness:
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Anyway, overall pretty good. Probably like a 6-7 out of 10. And you have to give the guy props for almost singlehandedly bringing Harry Potter into the realm of scholarly discussion. :)

Pics to come from my trip (again!) to the Harry Potter thing with Bethany!

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