Harry Potter Book Club: Prisoner of Azkaban, Chapter 1

Salutations, friends! Before we move on to the vivid and oft-aerial story that is Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we need to briefly revisit the Chamber with its dead and de-fanged basilisk and its punctured diary. Both my co-hostesses have posted, and our contra voice, Masha, actually gave me something to argue with. ;)

She first quotes a magazine article by Philip Ball, titled "Why We Need Magic":
Magic in fiction needs to be more than hocus pocus spells: it must be difficult, rare, and perilous. It's why - forgive me - I personally don't buy the magic of Harry Potter, which is attained too easily and lacks consequences.
and then adds her own thoughts:
I can't help but see his point. The magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense, and teaches us nothing about how to approach this "embodiment of  the sublime virtue of hope", with all it's dangers, pitfalls, and beautiful potentialities. More often than not, the magic of Harry Potter is mere 'hocus-pocus spells' - not fairy at all. But then, there are at times that real sense of 'ritualized optimism' that makes the magic real. What do you think, my fellow readers - easy and mundane, or delightful possibilities??
Phoenix/Jean Grey
Art by Jill Johansen
Ball's problem strikes me as semantic: I think it's not far removed from the difficulty that causes certain pockets of conservative Christianity to believe you get Satan as a free extra when you purchase a Harry Potter book. Rowling took these risks when she used the terms witch and wizard and magic. For all the charms and potions and spending nights atop the Astronomy tower, however, the power possessed by her witches and wizards is more analogous to superpowers like those of the X-Men or even Clark Kent. Magic is written in the genetic code; it's not something a Muggle can steal or study or learn. It's not a secret art; the Statute of Secrecy is a matter of convenience and protection from the unequally endowed rather than an attempt to conceal occultic practices from the uninitiated.

So, Masha and I are agreed that "the magic in Harry Potter is not magic in the true sense." I'll also agree that if magic in literature is presented as an attained art, if it’s presented as belonging to faerie and wildwood and not the proper right of humans, then yes, it should be “difficult, rare, and perilous.” I think very highly of Masha's respect for the magical in literature. I'm not prepared to ask a superhero story to submit to the laws of the fairy tale, however; that sounds like an exercise in frustration. The virtues of Harry Potter, its moments of "embodiment of the sublime virtue of hope" are in things like phoenix song and the silver doe and the locked room in the Department of Mysteries and the whispers behind the veil.

In other words: give me till books five and seven to play the full rhapsody. ;)

[redacted: excursus challenging complaints about Edward Cullen not being a "real vampire"]

Christie summed up the last few chapters of the story beautifully, and she, too, gave me a little something to debate:
This is one of the instances I wrote on previously, in which Harry asserts himself—as a character, as a personality, as the subject of his novels, rather than just an object to be acted upon and blown about by every wind.  In which he lays down the title earned for him by his mother, the Boy Who Lived, and fits out a reputation of his own making.  He gets angry.  And it is that very human anger and its source in love for his near and dear that brings me closest to him thus far.  It's when I really believe him and feel I know him as a person.  I just love it when he gets angry!
I love her differentiation between the reputation Lily gave Harry and the one he makes for himself. And I won't challenge her delight in Harry's anger, nor her appreciation for characters asserting themselves and making their own choices. Most people do appreciate that... but that point nudges a long-standing frustration I have with the world in general and with the books-and-writing blogosphere in particular.

[redacted: ten-thousand-word essay in passionate defense of protagonist passivity, mostly centered around Isabella Swan]

Art by Pevansy
Short form: I'm a big fan of characters being allowed to get knocked about by the story a little, because that's what life feels like to me. (So much angst. I know.) Readers and writers with more active energies overlook, sometimes, the fact that the passive protagonist is replicating the experience of people whose personalities and understanding are formed interiorly, more through contemplation than through assertion.

A handful of outspoken folk (never Christie, who is far too generous) have boldly stated in my hearing that quiet, reserved, diffident, or otherwise unassertive people are "anti-social" or "have no personality" or "aren't interesting or likable". The reasons I sometimes get annoyed at said outspoken folk and the aforementioned blogosphere may perhaps be obvious.

Anyhow, back to Harry! Riddle's and Lockhart's memories have both been destroyed—I failed to notice that last week. Rowling loves her doppelgängers. Meanwhile, my overtired brain feels like it's firing as feebly as the erstwhile D.A.D.A. professor's, but we're going to blaze ahead.

* * *

Read: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, chapter 1

Introduction to Prisoner of Azkaban

Whereas Chamber of Secrets was dark and watery, Prisoner of Azkaban takes us out of the dungeons and into the sky. The air element is everywhere—floating Aunt Marge, flying hippogriffs, Quidditch and broomsticks, dementors, souls. This is also a book of light and shadow. I've always sensed that contrast more sharply in this Potter story than in any of the others.

Hippogriff art by Gustav Dore

Longtime blog-friend Mr. Pond claimed, leading up to this Halloween, that PoA is the scariest Harry Potter book (SPOILERS at the link). I suspect he has a somewhat different base fear set than I do (I argued for Chamber of Secrets), but he makes an excellent point about the book being about fear:
Prisoner of Azkaban is a book about fear, and learning to deal with it.... Rowling crams the book full of people trying to deal with fear.... Harry fears fear itself. It’s the deep, primordial fear—the ancient, quivering fear of a weak, wily species fighting for survival—not the fear of the dark, but the fear that the dark needs to be feared...
That's mostly yet to come, however. Rowling spends the first chapter re-introducing us to the Wizarding World, primarily through humor. Harry, being unusual, is happily doing his homework by flashlight in the dead of night, under his bedclothes. His homework is inarguably more interesting than the average, since it includes Wendelin the Weird getting herself burned at the stake forty-seven times and the Monster Book of Monsters scuttling around under the desk.

Wendelin the Weird
Art by Kiraya00

There's not a total dearth of discussion points in the first chapter. Rowling is surely well-read enough not to assume that the entire medieval period involved hatred and fear of witches and magic, and she was kind enough not to hard-link the comments about Wendelin the Weird to Christianity, but modern popular culture is neither so educated nor so generous. Here I recommend the fantastic Kelly Orazi's "Evolution of Witchcraft in Art and Literature: Part One, Late Medieval" and its sequel, "Part Two: Early Renaissance." I also recommend traveling to the thirteenth-century duomo in Siena during the few weeks per year when the floors are uncovered, for the purpose of seeing Hermes Trismegistus and the Sibyls carved thereon alongside Biblical scenes and the Rota Fortunae. But that takes a little more doing.

Beyond medieval studies and the first chapter of this book, another trip to Hogwarts awaits. For this one, hang onto your souls and pack lots of chocolate.


  1. Mwahahahahahaha! I'm a little bit dissappointed at the redactions, but I suppose those are discussions for another day.

    I'm still feeling out my relationship with Harry, so much so that even I don't really know what and how and why I feel about him the way I do. I just strangely aware that, for me, I notice Harry more, as an individual, independent person, when he gets angry. Otherwise, I find myself getting lost in him; inserted into his body Tom Riddle-style. Living out the plot through him. It's weird, and I haven't the faintest idea what to call this, or if it's been named already.

    Writers, any thoughts?

    1. Haha! You might be the only person disappointed over me redacting comments about Twilight. ;)

      Which part are you trying to name--the part about getting lost in Harry? I would've called that "identification with the character", but I may never feel the same way about it again if I start thinking of it as a Riddle-style thing. :P Noticing Harry as a character in his own right... I'm not sure I've heard of a specific label for that.

      It's possible that some people take more enjoyment in getting lost in the character and others take more enjoyment in watching the character do things of his own accord, including things the reader might not do, without reference (necessarily) to personality. That could make an interesting discussion. It also might help explain why I'm so desperately uncomfortable being in the head of a character who is making choices that I can't think well of. (Nicholas Rostov, I'm mad at you right now! Humble cowardice I understand; short-tempered arrogance, not so much...)

    2. I have to back-track on calling it "Tom Riddle-style" because unlike Tom Riddle, I can't control Harry with my choices, whims, and personality. I'm just along for the ride! I only know that when I'm "inside him," I'm paying more attention to what's going on around him. Sort of like how you feel playing a classical RPG video game. You've got the gear, and the backstory, and the character, but more often than not, you're more aware of the secondary characters and plot. It's like, you don't realize that the character you're playing is mad (or sad, happy, whatever), until one of the other character's dialogue box pops up asking you "Hey, why are you acting so mad/sad/happy?"

      Astraea is NOT like this. Not a bit. She is clearly herself and distinguishes herself from the outset. I am able to see things from her point of view and through her experiences while being very clearly aware of Astraea. If that's useful information for you. c; (Gr, and I keep wanting to drop the last "a" when because it's not pronounced and I hear it like that in my head!)

    3. I like the RPG analogy.

      And... thank you. I was thinking about asking you that question, although by email, not on the blog. I love my girl, so it's very, very good to know she's working for you. <3

      How are you pronouncing her name? I've always said "ah-STRAY-ə", though that's in shameless disregard of the original Greek, which I have never quite managed to sort out to my satisfaction. Anyhow, when I publish this book, I'll put up a YouTube video of myself pronouncing all the names for the sake of people like me who NEED TO KNOW HOW TO DO IT RIGHT, and anyone who doesn't can pronounce things however the heck they want.

      And that is WAY more than I've ever dared to say online before, so I'll stop now. ;)

    4. When you publish this book, I am SO reading it!!!!

    5. Christie, "although by email, not on the blog" meaning, I would never have dared ask that question in public. :)

      Masha, YAY!!

  2. I'm SO SAD about the redacted Twilight comments!!!!!! I've got a [paper] napkin full of notes on WHY Edward fails as a vampire next to me now...and a few on why I think Christie only sees Harry as "Harry Potter" and not "Relate-able Protagonist Voice in First Person" as he does tend to be, and as poor Bella Swan is never not...
    Skip this paragraph if you wish I had the discipline to redact my own comments about Edward
    Treading lightly, I'll skip Edward completely (EXCEPT to say that Edward only works as 'vampire' if vampire abandons all it's symbolic and traditional aspects save the most exciting and least necessary - the drinking of blood..which is actually not essential to the vampire myth at all, as some vampires feed on energy, sex, or the soul itself..but..yeah..was that treading lightly??? Probably not, but Jenna, you know I don't judge you for Edward, so long as you don't judge me for my own ability to overlook the flaws in certain other vampires ;) Eh..I couldn't resist.

    Ok..back to Things Relate-able to Harry Potter:

    My impression of Christie's response to Harry is that - especially in YA fiction - there's a tendency to paint the protagonist with lighter strokes, in a sense, to give the reader a chance to do more than just identify with the character - to replace the character with himself. I don't know how much is intentional and how much of it comes from a sort of..ummm..self-indulgent writing process, in which the author is doing so much of that herself that she doesn't notice her characters are primarily a means to an end. Rowling, I think is sort of a fascinating blend, because Harry does become a character in his own right often - and more so (in a disappointingly ALL CAPS way in later books) but he's almost always only able to do so with anger...I FEEL like she sort of held him back to keep the alchemical theme, which is sad, because he characters are generally fun..it also might be that she's very good at creating fun characters, but fails at getting to know them on a deeper level, and so can't really write from within the head of one without making him a non-entity half the time.

    Nikolai!!! OMGoodness..he makes me so mad..What is he doing right now??? He is always making me mad..but I love him..

    A handful of outspoken folk (never Christie, who is far too generous) have boldly stated in my hearing that quiet, reserved, diffident, or otherwise unassertive people are "anti-social" or "have no personality" or "aren't interesting or likable".

    Ewww, people, really?!??? It seems that the loud and assertive characters are just as likely to be uninteresting or not identifiable as individuals..it's just that they do it in different ways: Bella (Just as an example) seems to fill the role of "object to be acted upon" rather than the more outgoing "mouthpiece for authors opinions on __" that a more assertive non-person would fill (cough strong female scientist type in a Dan Brown book cough). Most people are more forgiving of the latter, especially when the character in question is a woman, because they perceive it as less diminishing to women in general...anyway, Harry has a tendency to fill a similar, if less obvious role, to Bella, he's a vehicle to get us into the story more than a character to relate to on his own merits, I think, at least at this point..and it is sort of creepy, Riddle-ish at times...I'd love to look at - in the future, when certain SPOILERS come into play - the way Rowling uses various possesions and infusions of the mind to give plot information in a way similar to her use of Harry's mind as a blank and trustworthy place to absorb the world..if that's clear, and if you don't already hate me for calling Harry and Bella non-entities ;)

    So, magic..

    1. I think, Jenna, that you're right about the magic in Harry Potter being all super-hero and genetic, and therefore not really magic...which is part of the reason I feel umm..less connected to the story than I would to one where magic is magic..I adored the use of magic in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell (and I bless you forever for introducing me to that book!) particularly because magic was so very magical..and all the elements I have noted down on my napkin as elements of magic are present. Harry Potter, on the other hand is completely secular in it's approach and that kind of throws me off, because I can see such obvious elements of a sacramental imagination in Rowling's writing, but the book lack any hint of the spiritual, and I feel unbalanced in her world..if that makes sense..which is why I liked Ball's comments - they put some of my discomfort into words.

      It is unfair to read a book though, that gives reasonably clear parameters for it's sense of 'magic' and then complain that the 'magic' it uses fails as magic because it's doesn't fit the definition I prefer..so long as the definition itself is reasonably acceptable and well presented, which I think Rowling's generally is. But then she goes and ups me expectation by drawing in that sense of the rare and perilous, the haunting half-visions of faerie and it's hard to go back to 'wingardium leviosa' after an infusion of faerie. :)

    2. Hahahahaha! I should've known better than to push the Twilight button this week... theoretically, I am too busy for this! :P And yes, you can have Lestat (it's Lestat you love, right? Or am I forgetting?) if I can have... Carlisle and Alice and Rosalie; I really don't love Edward himself all THAT much.

      So... what ARE the symbolic and traditional aspects of the vampire myth that I'm missing? I did read Dracula, but I felt like Meyer did a fine job of clearly setting aside the basic Dracula characteristics that didn't apply to Edward. It's unfortunate that she used the word "sparkled", as it provided mass opportunity for people to mock her as if her Cullens were covered in craft glitter, which I think Rob Pattinson might have actually been for the first movie, but I thought her image of the "perfect predator" was well enough done for commercial fiction.

      And that's the other thing--I think Twilight is low-grade commercial fiction that occasionally brilliantly supersedes itself, rather than being classic lit that falls down all over the place, and it ought to be judged by the former standard. But back to Edward, the point of him is that he's a monster with a conscience, faced with his greatest temptation and his greatest love all wrapped up in the same person; the basic vampire image works well for that because of the blood reference and its direct ties to sexuality. I never heard, though, that blood-drinking wasn't the core point of vampire mythology. Feel free to educate me!! ;)

      especially in YA fiction - there's a tendency to paint the protagonist with lighter strokes, in a sense, to give the reader a chance to do more than just identify with the character - to replace the character with himself

      Okay, now I'm wondering if my whole way of reading is wrong. If the ideal is to keep one step's removal between reader and protagonist, sure, Harry rarely makes that standard and Bella almost never does. I have more or less assumed that the point of tight third person (Harry) and first person (Bella) narrative voices was to grant the reader that more direct and total identification with the protagonist. Third person omniscient (Nikolai Rostov ;)) inevitably sets the reader at a little distance, which I struggle with if it's not done with enough of feeling to transcend the barrier, probably because I've got crazy levels of desire to know and be fully known... as evinced by how much blog content I produce. :P

      But I still would say that Bella and Harry have distinctive personalities; they're just laid-back personalities, and because of their own age and genre, they're only semi-formed. I totally agree that they're painted with lighter strokes, as you say, and I wouldn't hold either of them up as equals to Tolstoy's characters. I just resent it when fellow Potterheads say, "Oh, Bella is such a shell for young girls to put themselves into," as if Harry is so self-evidently superior, and when people treat Meyer and/or Rowling as if they're not on par with other commercial storytellers (I frankly think they're both much better than the vast majority of what's out there.)

      Magic responses coming in a minute!

    3. You feeling less connected to the story, I totally understand. ;)

      For myself, if Rowling's magic had been like the magic in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, I... wasn't at a place where I could've received it in any way. I was an evangelical Protestant on the very cusp of agnosticism, but I'd always been so heavily sensitized into rejecting all forms of spirituality that were outside the close-and-careful limits of the evangelical Protestant interpretation of the Bible that I would've just said fine, everybody was right and Harry is demonic. And then, who knows if I'd have stayed Christian/regained my concept of good and evil/been open to marrying a conservative Catholic/whatever. Maybe. Old ties are strong. But Harry was definitely one of the catalysts for keeping me religious, and he couldn't have been if his magic had not been obviously secular and his underlying symbolism had not been obviously Christian.

      So... just a different experience, but all that to say that perhaps Rowling's work exemplifies a soundly post-Enlightenment Western worldview that reveres Science as victor over unworthy Magic... but she's religious enough, and British enough, and human enough, to still have a sense of and longing for the numinous. So maybe her work isn't a full corrective of the errors of our age, a truly balanced vision, but it's a partial pilgrimage in that direction...

    4. Jenna, I can appreciate Harry Potter for the "obviously secular" and "obviously Christian underlying symbolism." Know that's not much of an input, but I get what you're saying, and where and how the value of Harry Potter comes, even though I lean toward the more, um, "magical magic"?

    5. Christie, sweet! I definitely don't think appreciation for one precludes appreciation for the other... though I can see how it might, in either direction.

      Masha, I do. not. trust. my brain this week!! So if my replies are nonsensical and not properly engaged with your comments at any point, forgive me...

    6. I think I'm decidedly uncomfortable with secular magic because it seems like the most dangerous and least effective..and because it just doesn't fit in my mind, where everything sort of has it's own god or saint or spiritual aspect..a secular anything is just sort of repellent to me..like those microscope photos of cells or worse - like a microscope photo of a cut in skin (ewewewwwww!) I KNOW in my mind that some people an not completely unable to look at it, but I can't for the life of me understand HOW! It's also sort of like French..I know what the words are..and when my mother-in-law says "Tourtière" I know she's talking about that meat pie they make..but I can only ever say Tooty-air.. if that makes sense at all...

      BUT I do get how poor, young Jenna might have run screaming to the nearest Protestant-version of Holy Water at the first intro to a Jonathan Strange-esque Harry Potter..and I wouldn't have blamed her, really.. Your replies make total sense...I wonder though, because this:

      "So... just a different experience, but all that to say that perhaps Rowling's work exemplifies a soundly post-Enlightenment Western worldview that reveres Science as victor over unworthy Magic... but she's religious enough, and British enough, and human enough, to still have a sense of and longing for the numinous. So maybe her work isn't a full corrective of the errors of our age, a truly balanced vision, but it's a partial pilgrimage in that direction..."

      fascinates me..I would argue that I don't see her as religious at all..but then there's the hint of..not religiosity but....something that touches it and wants to be religious..but I don't know so I'm speculation only based on her writing..and I do love seeing her writing as a pilgrimage but.. sometimes I think I just want to make over the whole world in my own image ;) Then every book would be perfect, right :p

    7. I find this conversation interesting, but M., do you really hate looking at pictures of cells? I get being a little creeped out by how many microorganisms are just chilling in/on the human body, because eyelash mites and whatnot aren't "us," but cells are ok! We're made of them! I could not type this if not for a whole bunch of cells doing their job and being awesome!

      Like I'm curious at what level of magnification the squick starts for you. Is a close-up naked-eye view of an eye ok, but not a shot of all the rods and cones?

      I also think it's funny that French is permanently opaque to you, but Polish is a-ok :)

    8. Masha, HAHAHAHAHA. I think French is beautiful, but all my awesome English spelling abilities do NOT translate. All those extra vowels and dropped consonants!

      poor, young Jenna might have run screaming to the nearest Protestant-version of Holy Water

      You are so Catholic! ;) Protestants don't have a version of Holy Water! They have the Bible. Been reading something that creeped you out? Go read the Bible. Uncomfortable with the state of your mind? Go read the Bible. Feel an oppressive presence? Quote the Bible, preferably aloud. I was going to say, "For everyday difficulties, it works like a charm, pun intended," but I think that might actually get on my Protestant friends' nerves... but it is a form of incantation and invocation, specifically of God, and I rather think, myself, that it's a very Catholic thing to do. Protestants just don't let you also have holy water. :P

      I would argue that I don't see her as religious at all

      Did you know she's a member of the Church of Scotland, and claims both to believe Christianity and to struggle with agnosticism? She has said outright that she doesn't see the Harry Potter story as secular. Unfortunately, she made her clearest statements about the Potter books having Christian themes just days before she outed Dumbledore, and the latter comment eclipsed the former at once. I can't remember whether we've discussed this before...

      Laura, for myself I'm totally cool with cells, but eyelash mites!! Ugh! If we stuck to calling them microorganisms, I might be all right. "Mites" suggests little insecty legs and jowls and ewwwwwwwwww.

    9. Good thing Lutherans aren't Protestants, otherwise I might be offended. :)

    10. ;) Thanks for being so good-natured, George!

    11. Did you know she's a member of the Church of Scotland, and claims both to believe Christianity and to struggle with agnosticism? She has said outright that she doesn't see the Harry Potter story as secular. Unfortunately, she made her clearest statements about the Potter books having Christian themes just days before she outed Dumbledore, and the latter comment eclipsed the former at once. I can't remember whether we've discussed this before...

      I'm sure we have..I guess what I mean is...church membership and stated beliefs aside..her writing feels secular. Her views on whether Harry Potter is secular or not are interesting, but not really much more relevant than Guillermo del Toro's insistence that Pan's Labyrinth is anti-Catholic, or Nancy Pelosi's claim that she's an obedient Catholic. I feel like the work itself say's more about the author's worldview than the author's claims do on their own..Which is not to say that I think Rowling is a secular witch pouring Satan into unresisting young minds! obviously, but just that her feelings about her own books have less influence on the worldview I read in them than your own reaction to the books does..???? :) :) :) Right? Wrong?

      * * * *
      Did you ever do the thing where you ask a question, open the Bible at random, and accept the first sentence you read as the answer??? That's Bible-based, and I've done it!!! See..Catholic's do Bible stuff too ;) I feel so bad for young, Holy-water-free Jenna, there is NOTHING so comforting as squirting a creepy, lurking, graveyard cat with some and NEVER seeing him again!!!

      I hate cells, but mainly the whole cluster of things look they give..actually I hate clusters in general, unless they're made up of grapes. And I don't really like the word cluster when I'm thinking about cells, or likely to start thinking about cells..or around people who might mention cells..ugh. I HATED my biology text book so much!

    12. now that I read that, I sound like one of those "well, she says she's saved, but I don't think she really knows Jesus" people..which isn't what I mean. I'm sure she's got a lovely relationship to Jesus, I'm only talking about Rowling-as-author creating a world that is either secular or not, not Rowling's own personal faith, which, may just not translate to fiction well..or at least, not to fiction as read by nit-picky, overly intense, Catholic obsessives.. :) Don't read it the "she's not really saved" way!!

    13. Ugh, Blogger just timed out on my comment and I FORGOT TO COPY BEFORE HITTING PUBLISH. *sigh*

      Let me try again.

      First, I don't think you're saying she's not really saved. :) And I do agree that worldview and truth can come through art regardless of what the author was thinking during creation... though, as a would-be author myself, I might give a little more credence to author intent. :P

      Second... Harry Potter has always read as spiritual to me, even before I knew Rowling was a Christian--and I've read YA lit that came off very secular and left me very cold. Which leaves me trying to guess why my experience has been so different from yours, because as a rule I would say you're far more sensitive to such things than I am. My theory is that it's a difference in spiritual formation and/or disposition (like East/West sensibilities or pre/post-Enlightenment worldview), and that Rowling's more closely parallels mine. She was the spiritually curious one in a family of nominal Christians and atheists; I grew up in very reason-focused, post-Enlightenment evangelicalism and turned out to be the sacramentally curious one, if you will. She wound up an Episcopalian Christian with strong agnostic tendencies; I wound up a Catholic Christian with strong agnostic tendencies. Both of us have experienced depression, which tends to have spiritual ramifications.

      So, when I read some of the mostly-SPOILERIFIC symbolic events in HP, it's like looking in a mirror. I feel at times like she's searching for truth in her art, and sometimes I feel like she finds it. Which might just be my own perception, but I think that's what's behind my experience.

      On the lighter subjects--LOL! It sounds like biology is not the subject for you. And as for this:

      there is NOTHING so comforting as squirting a creepy, lurking, graveyard cat with some and NEVER seeing him again!!!

      HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! I bet that IS effective. XD

    14. Oh good. I hate sounding like that girl from youth groups around the world.."..but I mean, look how new her Bible is..if she loved Jesus it'd be worn like mine."..

      And I HATE when Blogger dumps my comments..or when the internet dies just as I hit publish :(

      I think part of my dismissal of author intent has to do with assuming at least of bit of self-deception being a natural part of most people's interior lives (shameless projecting on my part); part has to do with being more on the poetry end of things, where I feel the writer has to abandon control to a greater extent; and part to a sort of arrogant assumption that I know better than anyone what is meant by the words I read ;p

      But, on the other side..I do think that you're more sensitive to the spiritual aspects in fiction than you realize, and you do bring out a decidedly spiritual aspect to me as we're reading through...I think your concept of pilgrimage of the author through the series is a good one, and I think there's a lot to the whole concept of East/West; Pre/Post Enlightenment is pretty on here...I mean, how does a Slavic Catholic with pagan tendencies relate to an Episcopalian with agnostic leanings..despite the shared sacramental imagination .. because she does have than, even I can see it. ;)

      Each book brings the discussion up again for me in a different way, and I'm thrilled we get to keep coming back to the question of the spiritual here..and..yeah, I think a few spoilers have to come out before it can go farther...but I TOTALLY love that this can be a conversation..

      So..sum it up. this book club rocks and I am going to interrupt it at some point with a SPOILERIFIC essay on The Religiosity of J.K. Rowling as Represented in the Harry Potter Series..available in serial format on Cyganeria..and you can guest post for part of it??? Right??? Right???? #Christieyoutoo!!!!!!!!!!!!!! <3 Oooh, #Laura???!!!

    15. I'M TOTALLY IN. And book club totally rocks!!! As does this conversation, and I'm looking forward to more of it. #nicehashtagsbtw ;)

      "but I mean, look how new her Bible is..if she loved Jesus it'd be worn like mine."

      Okay, youth group girls seriously say that? I never could have. My Bible was nice and worn, all right... the dog chewed part of the cover off... fellow youth groupers might as easily have said, "If she loved Jesus, she wouldn't have left her leather-covered Bible in the car with a bored Samoyed puppy." :P

      I am now going to be thinking about self-deception while I write. That ought to be interesting.

    16. Not in Catholic youth group..in Catholic youth group they say things like "omg, you could totally be the reincarnation of Mary or something, 'cause like your really sweet to people and you wear, like those things on your head [bandanas. know by high-school administrators as 'gang-related-headgear]." and "omg, can we like, skip the papal audience and get wasted, I mean, it's like, Italy so it's legal!" ..I heard the Bible comment at a Baptist youth group some friends went to and it made me sad..especially since it was paired comments about me not being Christian because my hair was green...My friend were NOT LIKE THAT though, and they are actually a huge part of the reason I started practicing my faith more..Wonderful girls!!!

      Also Laura..I forgot to respond, eyes don't bother me until they get all clustery up-close...skin is the worst!!!!! :( but mites and things that live on the body are a delight..I like to imagine them with long skinny legs and tiny bodies, creeping around and being just as horrified by the texture of skin up close as I am..the long legs are for reaching over the deep crevasses in the skin..and being so pleasant and joyful in their smallness..I fret about their little lives, just a bit.

      Start prepping Jenna! We're doing this little interlude at..Christmas..or better..LENT!!!!!!!! Want to break the book part of the the club for Lent and focus specifically on the spirituality therein?????????????????? Christie????????????? Laura????????????? Who else wants to JOIN this small-group discussion in LENT? .....if you think lent would work for you....no pressure or anything ;)

    17. So skin mites and other micro-organisms are a joy and a delight, but the clustery goodness that makes up your actual self is gross? That's pretty idiosyncratic, I have to say :D I used to be slightly grossed out by the micro-organism thing, but now I'm cool with the little guys hanging out wherever. Not that I could do much about it if I wasn't. . .

      I am down for discussing Harry Potter from most perspectives at any point in the liturgical or secular calendars :)

      LOL at the idea of past lives leaving their signature in present headgear, though.


    Count me in as missing the redacted comments! I . . . do not love Twilight, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that I have a love-hate relationship with Twilight in which the "love" may actually be just another form of hate. . . but i DO think there's a place for "passive" or "knocked-around" protagonists that gets overlooked or downplayed or just outright dismissed by authors / fans / whomever. i don't think taking charge or being assertive or not being acted upon is necessary to make a character interesting or sympathetic or even admirable and exciting.

    And actually, one of the most interesting aspects of Twilight for me is how vampire-y (in the old-fashioned "selfish aristocratic undead parasite" sense) the Cullens manage to be despite what looks at first like a tremendous effort on the part of the author to make them Actually Nice and Pretty and Non-Photosensitive and Look, They Don't Eat People, Aren't You Impressed? I think it's an interesting exercise in how much vampire lore you can throw out the window while still having characters who are recognizably and, I would argue, meaningfully vampires in what we now consider The Vampire Tradition. They might have fooled Stephenie Meyer, but they can't fool me :-/

    1. Oh, Nikolai! He hasn't been gambling yet, but he was just rude to Prince Andrew for no reason at all. And I don't even LIKE Prince Andrew. I miss the innocent, gentle-hearted Nikolai of, like, two chapters before he got into all the soldiery bluff and bluster. Tolstoy! You didn't give me a REASON for that sudden change. WHY??

      I will have to think about the Cullens as "selfish aristocratic undead parasites." That took me by surprise; I have always seen them--well, Carlisle and Alice; we won't talk about Jasper and Rosalie, who are, to put it nicely, "in process"--as decent vampires who admittedly have a lot of money but do some good in the world (Carlisle does, anyway) while managing to mostly keep to themselves for understandable reasons.

    2. Oh, Nikolai! Growing up does NOT mean you have to be ruder all of a sudden! >:[ Be nice!

      Also, haha, I just wrote nine million words about Twilight and the comment box wouldn't let me post it because it was 8.9 million words too long. OOPS. I guess the upshot is that while I appreciate the Cullens' efforts not to eat people, I feel like they're all "in process" and the process is not going as well as Carlisle would like. I mean, they spend most of the year in school, presumably because Carlisle wants them to learn compassion for the humans, but they're clearly only following the letter, not the spirit. They could just hole up in the Compound and guarantee everyone's safety, but they'd rather prove how awesome their willpower is. They could be friendly-but-distant instead of forbidding -- Alice and Edward could easily use their powers to unobtrusively befriend some lonely classmates and brighten a few days -- but they don't bother, even though it's hard to imagine the risk would be any greater than it is from them suspiciously throwing out their lunch every day. And it's really hard for me to relate sympathetically to characters who have a car for every occasion, but not a favorite nonprofit or scholarship fund or big plans for who gets this year's Christmas windfall. Maybe they do, but it doesn't get the kind of play the cars and the clothes and the jet-setting do. And when they do reach out to a human, it's also this self-interested good-of-the-clan situation -- Edward's obsessed with Bella, and Alice befriends Bella because she foresees that Bella is going to be one of them. It's part of what makes them creepy and also I think part of their appeal -- their closed-off-ness and secrecy, and the fact that Bella has to leave everything behind -- or chooses to -- in order to be let in. Well, it's also a very ambigiously-written book in a lot of ways; I fully expect mileages to vary on character interpretations. And I think I'd better leave it at that for now :)

    3. A lot of what you just pointed out about the Cullens in the last part of that reminds me of Mormonism. I'm sure others have pointed this out as well, but . . . it just struck me really powerfully right now while reading your post, Laura.

    4. Hah, Laura, I have had the same experience commenting on Blogger blogs about Twilight. ;)

      Your thoughts about the Cullens are fascinating. I'm not sure whether I tend to judge based on what I see without reference to what I don't see, or whether my internal Jane Bennet just tends to presume the absolute best motives and (out of sight) behavior from everybody. Either way, I risk being awfully shortsighted at times.

      On the other hand, I do tend to think of charity as a private affair, and while I can't really imagine being able to afford a bunch of showy cars myself, I can imagine finding a lot of ways of giving away money without wanting to talk much about it or champion particular causes. That Biblical mandate about giving to the poor without letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing--that was pretty deeply ingrained in me as a kid.

      Which--Christie, I was trying not to have that thought about Mormonism, which means admitting that I did. But growing up evangelical Protestant, and having a kind of funky selection of Scriptural mandates like the above hammered very hard into me, left me with an awful lot of natural empathy for Mormons. (Years of fangirling over Card and Hale and Meyer helped, too. :P) I tend to easily trust people who live that way, even when I disagree strongly with things they believe, because while the exterior of at least the Protestant culture I was raised in could be very harsh in its words toward outsiders, it usually showed exceptional love toward its own and, when the need was present, was often very compassionate to the same outsiders. Paradoxes like that are pretty common in humanity, I think.

      And now I'm rambling away from the topic, which means I'm procrastinating on writing. Ergh.



  4. Also, M., do you think that HP Scary Magic rituals "lack any hint of the spiritual," or is is just Good Guy Magic? Voldy's whole [SPOILER] project, with its dependence on [SPOILERS], reads pretty "spiritual" to me, while Good Guy Magic is more or less all the "unreproducible technology" kind, with maybe one or two arguable exceptions.



    :( :( :(

    1. I Just saw this..ummm..I remember seeing lots of ritual, but not lots of spiritual..the closest thing I can remember would be Voldy's SPOILER with SPOILERS..and the SPOILERS..yeah, I can see those counting, but then..in a bland sort of way, 'cause Rowling's afterlife in general lacks luster and appeal, I mean, I can see me wanting to either make a SPOILER or become a ghost just to avoid the eternal boredom that seems to be waiting for her dead..but that's just me maybe..(and NO, I wouldn't really make a SPOILER!!! Ewwww..ghosting is the way to go.) ;)

    2. We are going to have DISCUSSIONS when it comes time to talk about Rowling's vision of the afterlife. I hope you're preparing your paper napkin. :D

    3. Hahaha! I'm gonna need a whole BOX of them ;)

    4. You guys, I was going to inquire further about your take on Rowling's afterlife, but realized that I would have to replace all the nouns and verbs with SPOILER. Heh.

      Except the ghosts! We know there are ghosts, but. . . only sometimes??


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