Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Edmund Kern (EK) Kait Zelenenki (KZ)
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Eric: Hey! Josée! Wait up!
Josée: Oh hi, Eric! I'm sorry, I really can't talk right now. I'm running late.
Eric: Late? Late for what?
Josée: Oh, it's because I have to go meet Keith and John Granger. I'm actually going to listen to a Harry Potter literature lesson at MuggleNet Academia.
Eric: Oh cool, that sounds awesome. Can I come with?
Josée: Yes, of course you can. Just come with me.
Eric: Okay. Let's go!
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KH: Welcome to Lesson 2! On Lesson 1 we had a great discussion on the series with John Granger and Suzanne Keen and Rosie, and we actually want to thank you all for listening to the show. We actually had a lot more downloads, and we made the "New and Noteworthy" section of the iTunes Podcasts, so I was really happy about that. So congratulations, John. We did it!
JG: Hey, it's all on you, Keith. You're doing all the heavy lifting here.
KH:[laughs] Yeah, I wish it was just me. It's you guys. So, Lesson 2 - this is going to be an interesting conversation, to say the least, and I think we're going to get a lot of feedback on this. So, fans out there, please write in, write a review, tell us what you think of the show. Go on the iTunes and give us a good rating, and we want to keep on bringing the show to you. This lesson, though, is going to be "Harry Potter and the Sexual Innuendos." So, we are going to have discussion on the sexual symbols that are found in the Harry Potter series. And John, what do you think about this? Just your initial reaction to this type of subject.
JG: Well, Keith, you and I go back long enough that we remember when shipping was everything in the Harry Potter fandom.
KH: Oh, yeah.
JG: When relationships and the sexual [laughs] back and forth between characters, and the imagined ones in the slash world of fandom was a very large part of it. And yet, it all came from the stories, and Rowling has a layer of these sexual qualities and suggestions inside the books that you wouldn't expect in a children's book. And so, I'm really looking forward to... especially because we have Professor Ed Kern here and Kait from Chestnut Hill who's skilled with this kind of multivalency of symbols. We're going to have a wonderful discussion, I think, about what really is the sexual nature of these books.
KH: That's absolutely right. And speaking of which, I'd like to welcome our guests to the show. Today, we do have Professor Ed Kern from Lawrence University, and that is in Appleton, Wisconsin. Say hello, Ed.
EK: Hello there. Good to be on the show.
KH: Great to have you here. And also joining us for our student guest this week is Kait Zelenenki, and she is coming from Chestnut Hill College near Philadelphia. Hello, Kait.
KH: So, Kait, what year of college are you in? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
KZ: I just finished out my junior year at Chestnut Hill, I'm starting my senior year in the fall, and I am an English Lit major with a double minor in Religious Studies and Secondary Education.
KH: That's awesome. And when I got your email, and you wanted to discuss the sexual undertones found in the novels, I was like, "Ooh, what a good subject..."
KH: "...this is going to be." And then John goes out and gets this Professor Kern who specializes in this, and I can't wait to hear this show. So, let's kick it off right away.
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KH: From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor.
EK: I'm Ed Kern from Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.
KZ: And I'm Kait Zelenenki from Chestnut Hill College.
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KH: John, tell us about "Harry Potter and the Sexual Innuendos." Why don't you take it away?
JG: Well, I guess the question on most people's mind - people who have read the Hogwarts saga from "The Boy Who Lived" through the epilogue - is "Sex? What sex? In Harry Potter? Yeah, I thought this was a kids' book. Where do you see any sex in this book about magical children at a witch and wizard's school?" Ed, is this... are we just making this up?
EK: No, I don't think so. I'm a little bit skeptical of some of the more elaborate interpretations...
EK: ...about the presence of sexual symbolism in the books, but it's there. Any time you're talking about people running around with magic wands, the objects there to be interpreted - the symbols there...
EK: ...to be interpreted - [laughs] you may not want to conclude that it's what the stories are really about, but I think that you could certainly take it in that direction. Just this morning I was thinking about Harry's initial arrival at Hogwarts. You have the train arriving as a phallic symbol. You have the new students being placed in boats, being disseminated if you will into the lake of...
EK: ...vaginal fluid, and then their final arrival in the cave or a kind of cervical image. And...
JG: Coming through the gates, right?
EK: They come through the gates, and then they move from the anti-room into the Great Hall, and they're all born anew as Hogwarts students. Now, obviously, I'm telling you that story with a little...
EK: With tongue planted firmly in cheek, but it doesn't take too much effort to read some sexual symbolism into many of the episodes that we find in the Harry Potter series.
KZ: I think also besides the symbolism, it's also important to note the setting that's going on. You do have it in what's typically a one-sex school, whereas Hogwarts is co-ed. So you also have some homosexual-heterosexual play going on throughout the story. Apart from just the symbolism that's going on in the setting, it's also the setting itself.
KH: But now, can't we say that about any novel out there?
JG: No, this has a really important point that Kait makes there because Rowling is adapting, really, making a... that's the single most obvious and important innovation that Rowling makes in the schoolboy and schoolgirl story, is that she's got a schoolboy/girl story and that she combines these things, and that the usually effeminate character in the schoolboy story is... there's always a trio of the hero, the jock, and the geek. The geek is also relatively effeminate, Rowling just turns her into a girl. So, the usual relationship issues between the jock and the geek aren't overtly sexual as they turn into with Hermione and Ron, but in this story they are. And as Kait points out, that gives us a whole new play on a very traditional, sort of Victorian vehicle for empire morality, instead becomes something which is charged with sexual energies backwards and forwards.
EK: Yeah, I agree with that. I do think that there's a great deal of overt attention paid to relationships in the books. Obviously we don't see sexuality depicted in graphic form as is the case in some relatively recent young adult novels, and yet there are... there's ample attention paid to the kind of sexual tensions or sexual awakenings that take place in characters set within a school story.
JG: Do you see a break in this, Kait and Ed? The first few stories, there's symbolism: the coming to Hogwarts, their new birth as Ed just described, the remarkable Chamber of Secrets finale... these stories seem to have yonic and phallic symbolism and such, but it's very much in the backdrop, and you certainly don't feel much tension between the players. There's no overt snogging, at least. Until we get to Chamber of Secrets, because Chamber of Secrets really... or is it the dead center of the story at the Christmas ball when they all begin to have to ask out somebody to the great ball with the other schools present... is that the pivot of the story sexually, from symbolism to snogging? [laughs]
EK: I would answer that initially by saying yes, although I'm sure I would entertain reservations or entertain objectives to that. But one of the things about the books is that the narrative voice, so to speak, matures right along with Harry. And so as Harry is sexually maturing, I think so too do the stories.
JG: That's a great point because Rowling prides herself when she said this more than a few times in interviews that... when confronted about the snogging and the relationships that go on inside the stories. She said that these books are not like books that she grew up reading and I assume she was talking about E Nesbit's stories and CS Lewis's Narnia, that children never seem to grow up. They never seem to have a sexual awakening, or some awareness of themselves as boys and girls. She really wanted to show that, but as you point out, Ed - the narrative voice here, we're seeing this right over Harry's shoulder.
JG: So, whatever Harry is experiencing... the books get bigger as Harry's awareness grows. [laughs]
JG: When he's eleven years old, we don't get that much. By the time of Order of the Phoenix when he's going through some kind of a psychic collapse, the book goes on and on and on and on, and that's when he meets his own feelings, really, about Cho Chang and the book sort of explodes that way. We get a lot more of this kind of thing.
KZ: Earlier you had mentioned the very end of the Chamber of Secrets. I think that's Rowling's way of introducing sexuality and puberty in a safe children's book style through symbols that adults can understand but children won't. If you have open snogging at twelve years old, parents are going to frown on that and children...
KZ: ...are going to be really confused. But...
JG:[laughs] Yeah, that's great. You've opened up the Chamber of Secrets for us here, you've said the magic words, Kait. [laughs] Describe some of the... it's kind of funny. They go into the bathroom, for one thing. We're already in the taboo zone. To get to the Chamber of Secrets, we've got to go into the bathroom. And it's a co-ed bathroom because Hermione is with us or whatever. How about... forgive me this, I was reviewing the Chamber of Secrets scene. They change over... I think it's Chamber of Secrets when they take the Polyjuice Potion and Hermione, forgive me, turns into a giant pussy. She turns into a big cat.
KH:[laughs] Oh my God.
JG: And by that, she's disqualified! She's so ashamed, she won't come out of the stall. She doesn't want to reveal herself this way or whatever, but the boys go out and they go down into the chamber together or whatever and they come back out. And it's all men inside the Slytherin... the serpent's chamber. There's no giant pussy again. So, then we get into the chambers, Kait, and we're in a bathroom, and again Hermione is not present. And we go down into the chamber. Now, I've already revealed myself as a closet Freudian here. Ed, what do you see from the bathroom scene? What kind of yonic and phallic imagery are we getting there in the chamber?
EK: Yeah, no, I agree in general terms with your interpretation. On the other hand, I think that there are perhaps other things going on in that scene as well. I'm reminded of an observation that the Canadian novelist Robertson Davies made about literature in Mircea Eliade's Encyclopedia of Religion, and he said it doesn't take much effort to find a kind of subterranean life for religion in even the most secular of tales. And I think that the Chamber of Secrets and its use of phallic and yonic symbolism is a good example of that principle applied to sexuality as well. You do have the boys moving down and in. The payoff of the whole episode is that Harry rescues Ginny, and he does so by making use of the Sword of Gryffindor. It's hard to deny that there are phallic references in that tale. On the other hand, there's much else that's going on as well. You could sort of interpret Harry moving down the birth canal, so to speak. It's one of his many, so to speak, deaths and rebirths, which occur again and again throughout the series. It just so happens that this one deploys some symbolism which has a particularly sexual resonance.
KZ: Another symbol that wasn't quite mentioned, I think, was Tom Riddle's diary and the Basilisk fang. The Basilisk itself is a phallic image, and you're taking the fang which is another phallic image and stabbing it into Tom Riddle's diary, almost a sexual connotation to the whole death of one of the Horcruxes.
KH: That's a good one.
EK: Mhm. That's true.
JG: Wow, that's great, Kait. And going back to what Ed is saying, this just occurs to Harry. This is a natural thing to him. No one says to him, "Hey, this Basilisk venom is the exact thing you need to destroy this Horcrux." [laughs] Harry just grabs the fang and plunges it into the diary, which spews blood, as I recall. And then this adolescent image of this power figure, this young man who's really willing to desecrate everything holy. Even though we didn't learn Ginny's name was Ginevra until after this, she still stands for the innocent virgin, the pure woman inside this inner chamber or whatever. And Harry has to make a choice of what kind of guy he's going to be. He's either going to be the young punk with the big snake - [laughs] this murderous big snake thing - he's going to take his phallus and be a danger to the world, or he's going to trust in Dumbledore who's the stand-in here as I think where Ed was leading. Dumbledore here standing as God, the Father, has sent him this sword, not as an agency of personal power and rape, as it were, sexuality which is about power, but sexuality which is about some sort of incarnation. And with that power he slays the evil phallic imagery with his own phallus here, this Sword of Gryffindor which... the golden griffin is a symbol of Christ. But now we're talking about a bizarre overlay for most people. I've interpreted the Chamber of Secrets as really a morality tale rather than a Freudian adventure, that it's really something you'd see... and this is Ed's specialty, medieval history or whatever, that this is largely something you'd see on a makeshift stage in a medieval village of... the Holy Spirit comes in the form of this phoenix, the resurrection bird, and it comes after Harry makes a pronouncement of faith in Dumbledore versus this demonic figure. And he's able to slay the dragon. All of this in almost Biblical terms in terms of the sword of faith, et cetera. That interpretation would seem to not be at all fitting with the very sexual imagery that we're talking about in terms of the sword standing for the penis and the Basilisk as the giant, angry penis; the blind, angry penis, you know? [laughs] That kind of... can this Basilisk simultaneously be a serpent from the Garden in the first book of the Scripture, Genesis, or is that exclusive? Can these symbols have more than one meaning simultaneously?
EK: Yeah, I tend to put a lot of trust in the multivalency of symbols. Once we believe that we've captured the real meaning of something, if we return to it again we find, "Well, wait a second, it might be pointing in a different direction as well." I find the two interpretations to be largely consistent with one another. And there's plenty of literary scholarship that turn to the medieval tales that you mentioned before, of slaying the dragon, and have interpreted those in light of sexual symbolism. So, the two work together, I think, quite well. And what I'm not sure of is which symbolism was conscious on the part of JK Rowling and which was inadvertent. It's a little bit hard to suss that out sometimes, but she loves to play with symbols which are ambivalent or ambiguous. And so while the sword, as you just pointed out a moment ago, can be interpreted as a phallic symbol, a symbol of power, we must also pull back from that and consider Harry's motivation in using it and precisely why it comes to him. In other words, even if we do find sexual symbolism and Christian symbolism in the text, we still need to sort of return to that conscious level of why Harry is acting the way he does in those particular episodes. And so in that instance we have at least three different things happening: there's the level of Harry's consciousness, there's the level of two different types of symbolism at work in the passage.
JG: What's his victory? I love the chamber scene. Chamber of Secrets is my favorite book, and I'm a pretty rare [laughs] member of fandom or whatever. Apparently that's not a common position. But that scene to me is so powerful. Not until I think the Forest of Dean in Deathly Hallows do we get a scene which is that resonant on so many levels. Kait, what do you think is the victory in Chamber of Secrets? I mean, we're talking about the sexuality of the scene. What is Harry's sexual victory there? I mean, he gets the girl, [laughs] he has to rise back up the tunnel with Fawkes. But what was his victory internally? What was the question that he's answering there?
KZ: I think Harry, throughout the second book, seems to be wondering exactly what he's capable of. He's had two years at Hogwarts now, he's familiar with the magic but he's just hitting puberty at this point. He's becoming more familiar with himself and his body, so these phallic images, I think, also represent how he's becoming more aware of himself sexually at this point. Even though most people don't want to associate a twelve-year-old with sexuality, the reality is that is what's going on with him.
KH: Yeah, that's the part that I have an issue with. I mean, I hear everything that you're saying, I understand these symbolisms could mean this, could mean that. But my interpretation of the books has always been these are adventure models until we actually hit Order of the Phoenix where the sexuality of Harry starts to come out, with Cho Chang's feelings. That's when I start seeing the transformation into a sexual representation of the books. Not at this point. But I'm learning a lot here, this is great.
JG:[laughs] Well, that's a great point but I think, Keith, you'll see that... if you just think about wands inside Chamber of Secrets, what is Ron struggling with that entire book? He's got a broken wand. He's finding out that his wand won't work the way he wants it to work and it's a very problematic issue to him. All throughout that story we've got a guy who's got his older brother's wand, [laughs] it's not even his own wand or whatever...
JG: ...and he doesn't know what to do with this thing. And he can't talk to his mom about it. He's afraid to talk to his parents about this wand which is giving him headaches, giving him real issues. You can see that I think, Keith, as a transparency for a boy at twelve who is, forgive me, suddenly having erections and is like, "What is going on with this thing?" This was something I used to just use in the bathroom in the morning and now it's got a life of its own! It's this wild serpent.
KH: Yeah, I can definitely see that.
JG: That's what we're talking about here, is that Rowling just seems to be layering this on there to prepare us for exactly what you're talking about when Ron, by the end of the books, is giving Harry a manual about how to handle witches. And it's not all wand work. [laughs] It's not just all about how you deal with your wand here when you're dealing with witches. The wand symbolism brings us this thing, and Harry, when he's in that chamber and he has this meeting, his victory I think is that he... Ed, let me ask you that question first. What do you think happens in the chamber to Harry? His confusion throughout that book as Kait pointed out is "What am I?"
JG: "Am I a Slytherin?" which I think is... if you were looking at this as a Freudian, you're saying, "Am I really just an animal figure? Am I just a power guy? Am I just about my personal advantage?" He comes out of the chamber, I think, with an answer to that question.
EK: Yeah, no, I agree with you, and I also agree with Kait as well. I do interpret the passage as being related to Harry's later sexual awakening, precisely because of the questions of identity that we find throughout the book that you just alluded to. It really is, at that point, that Harry goes from being... if we can turn to the alchemical symbolism present in the series, he goes from being base material, wondering just what he is, to sort of taking that first stage of refinement. He's moved beyond being just base material to a being who's capable of thinking about himself. Harry becomes more self-conscious at the end of the Chamber of Secrets and then I believe that that sort of anguish over that self-consciousness begins to play itself out even further in the next book, the Prisoner of Azkaban. And so, in a sense, that's his reward. He has remained true to what he believes to be his principles, and in the process he's managed the first stage of refinement.
JG: That's wonderful. Again, that's why I really love that scene at the end of Chamber of Secrets because we get a Christian layer of symbolism that's fairly overt with the...
JG: ...sword of faith and the resurrection bird and such. We have the sexual symbolism in terms of the chutes and ladders [laughs] that are going on here...
JG: ...and the wand play and the snake and such. But we also have, as you said, this alchemical thing, where we have... they're in the inner chamber, as it were, and he's being transformed, as you say, from prime matter in chrysalis, in rubedo. He's seeing, in a way, his mirror reflection. He and Riddle talk about themselves as being like one another, just as we saw in the first book. In the inner chamber we also saw a mirror reflection. And Harry, when he finally recognizes who he is in that moment of faith, where he is going to be a Dumbledore man, we see really his first testimony, that he's a Dumbledore man through and through. In an alchemical language, this is his albedo purification, hence all the water imagery inside that book. But as you said, that's another layer of symbolism here, that the sexuality... I think it doesn't give you an answer. [laughs] It doesn't say, "Oh, this is what Rowling is after and this is what the books really mean." As much as it does, it opens up for us both another dimension of the Christian meaning. The Christian meaning isn't all about stained glass windows and scripture readings as it is about human transformation.
JG: And it's some kind of relationship with the absolute. And the alchemy, [laughs] as you pointed out, brings us to another layer of that kind of transformation in terms of a principle. In that scene, if it didn't have that extra sexual layer it wouldn't, I don't think, be nearly as powerful to us as human readers.
EK: Yeah, I agree with you.
KZ: Yeah, I agree completely.
JG:[laughs] We can't agree completely! Someone's got to disagree here. This is supposed to be a...
EK: That's true. We've got to start the debate somehow here.
KH: Well, let me debate this, then. Do you think most of the way that these books are looked at, in the sexual manners that you're talking about, came about after Rowling clarified that she always thought of Dumbledore as being gay, or were these symbols being read like this throughout the whole thing?
JG: There you go, Keith. You rolled the grenade right into the room, you had to talk about Dumbledore being gay. That's good, that's what we need here.
KH: That's my job.
JG:[laughs] Ed, you brought up the ambiguous characters here, earlier on. Dumbledore's sexuality, when Rowling outed him at her open book tour, and then immediately walked that back to say that he was a celibate professor, et cetera. What are we to make of these ambiguous characters?
JG: You mentioned Rubeus Hagrid...
JG: Dumbledore is another one who seems to be someone you can read as gay, in terms of his clothing...
JG: ...[laughs] his preference for colors and textures and such that one can read as homosexual. What are we to make of that? Is...
JG: Please, go ahead, Ed.
EK: The question itself just raises so many additional questions in my own mind. She has come under some criticism for not making or identifying Professor Dumbledore as overtly gay in the series, and I can understand why some critics might feel that way. It would have been more of a... what's the word that I'm looking for? A more transgressive move on her part to include an overtly gay character.
EK: On the other hand, Rowling always, it seems to me, sort of provides enough information for readers to ask the important questions, but then she pulls away from becoming too overt in providing answers. And looking back at how Dumbledore was constructed, right from the beginning of the series, I really do believe that there's enough information that you can read him as a gay character if you wish. On the other hand, there's nothing in the text that requires you to read him that way. In other words, it was only Rowling's later extra-textual comments, so to speak, that really got the ball rolling. On the other hand... no pun intended. On the other hand...
EK: ...readers before she made that announcement had already begun to talk back to the texts and their apparent lack of overt sexuality. And I think that's what a lot of the shipping debates were about, and that's certainly what a lot of the slash fiction is about. It's readers talking back to these texts, taking what they see as sexual resonances which are present in the texts but left undeveloped, and then developing them further. And I think that JK Rowling does that a lot. She raises social problems, but doesn't provide answers. She suggests how problematic bigotry is, but doesn't provide direct answers to it. And then, I think, she does that with the sexuality of her characters as well. One of my former students used to make the point that Dumbledore was obviously gay, and she would point to those high-heeled boots and those fabulous hats that he used to wear. And so, she saw it before the announcement, but nothing requires a reader to see that.
KH: Kait, how long have you been reading these books? How old were you when you first started?
KZ: I started reading these when I was eight years old and I'm twenty now, so I've been reading them for twelve years.
KH: Okay. Before JK Rowling came out and opened up Dumbledore as being a gay character, did you see him as an eccentric character, or did you actually see him as the gay character that he is?
KZ: I had never pictured Dumbledore to be a gay character until Rowling had mentioned it, because I always thought he was just the eccentric, almost comic relief at certain points. I had never really looked at that anything beyond just being an eccentric character. So, when she came out admitting that...
KH: Right, and that's how I felt, too.
KZ: So, when she came out admitting that Dumbledore was a homosexual, it was surprising, but at the same time, it was also... I looked back and I was like, "Oh, I could realize that now. I see that. It makes sense now. He's beyond just an eccentric accessory."
JG: But remember what Ed said about the author's intentional ambiguity and blurring the edges. When she says that Dumbledore is gay, she doesn't say, "Hey, Dumbledore is gay," she says, "You know, I always thought of Dumbledore as gay." Even in her own mind, she's left the question for your interpretation. And then her immediate walking it back with an interview in Scotland to say, "Well, he's not actively homosexual." She didn't want to turn him into the gay wizard that marched in the gay parades every year. This was a... she's leaving that for the reader's interpretation. And this is fascinating to me, Ed, because Rowling, like everybody from Dylan Thomas to Bob Dylan, doesn't talk about what their poems and stories mean.
JG: It's the old George MacDonald thing about if my dog doesn't bark, I won't bark for him type thing. But you're suggesting that that's more than just her not wanting to define the books to close down the discussion. You're saying that's an intentional part of her ambiguity, that she really wants the engagement with this text to continue well beyond what the author defines as the story.
EK: Yeah, I definitely believe that that's the case. She doesn't come out and identify Dumbledore as a gay character in the text because there's no such thing as a single gay character. In other words, what she does is she takes certain attributes which are "stereotypically" gay - the purple suit, the fabulous hats...
EK: ...and so on down the line - and she deploys those. But first and foremost, she's interested in developing Dumbledore as this incredibly rich character, extremely intelligent, very cultured, who might just happen to be gay, which to me is different from crafting a character who's meant to represent the gay experience. It seems to me that JK Rowling really isn't interested in creating characters who represent the gay, or the straight experience for that matter.
JG: Well, yeah, and...
EK: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
JG: Oh, I interrupted. Forgive me, Ed.
EK: Yeah, I was just going to say that she seems, to me, more interested in developing characters who are interesting, and their sexual interests are just one of the things that make them interesting.
JG: What I wanted to interrupt there was that Dumbledore... the first thing we read about him on that card on the train is that he's an alchemist, and the alchemy of it is he has to transcend gender, as it were. He has to, in effect, be a resolution of... in effect, be a hermaphrodite in a way to be the man who produces the Philosopher's Stone. And when I first heard that Rowling had outed him, I thought, "Well, he's an alchemist! What better way to represent that type of character in a story than as a same-sex attraction." This is someone who is sexually indifferent, in a way, if he's celibate. That he has moved beyond the usual male/female polarity. But again, she doesn't define it. As you said, he doesn't become a vehicle for a social, political, sexual agenda, as it were. He doesn't become a cartoon figure carrying a sign. He becomes a three-dimensional figure of which his sexuality remains ambiguous. Not super charged, but still there's some hint of it.
JG: There's still hint of it.
EK: Yeah, I agree with that. There's been much criticism made of the books that they're too heteronormative. In other words, all of the sexuality is constructed as heterosexual in nature. There's also been criticism that the books are sort of too chauvinistic, if you will, showing traditional forms of the family or traditional masculine and feminine gender roles. And I can understand where those critiques are coming from, but they don't go far enough, because we see alternative forms of masculinity, we see alternative forms of femininity. Yes, Lavender Brown is giggly and stereotypically adolescent female, but the boys in Harry's class are also stereotypically masculine. JK Rowling doesn't leave that there, she lets us laugh along with them but also laugh at them, so to speak. In other words, their stereotypically feminine or masculine behavior becomes an opportunity for us to take a look at how masculinity and femininity are formed. We find female characters displaying certain traits, but we find other female characters displaying a very different set of traits. The same is true of the male characters as well, and I especially like, as we alluded to earlier, the example of Hagrid who on the one hand is hyper-masculine, he's hirsute, he's strong, he's powerful, he's a dominating presence, and yet he's got that...
JG: He's got that crossbow. [laughs]
EK: ....crossbow and the big dog. But at the same time, he's perhaps one of the most maternal characters in the book as well. Not only vis-à-vis Norbert who's his little baby for a while there and he's his mummy, but also vis-à-vis the trio. His cabin becomes a site where other characters can come and sort of sort through their feelings, and I think that's a great example, once again, of how JK Rowling is just interested in creating interesting characters who happen to have these different attributes that we can identify as masculine or as heterosexual or homosexual or what have you, rather than creating stock characters who stand in for just a single set of meanings.
KH: Yeah, I would have said in the beginning of this whole thing... if you would have told me there was one gay character in the books, Dumbledore would not have been it for me. It would have been Rubeus Hagrid because of his... the mummy with Norbert, the way he wears flowered aprons, he's always cooking snacks and cakes...
KH: ...and rock cakes and everything else. And I guess... didn't he do something with knitting? He was knitting at one point?
JG: That's right! He loves to knit.
JG: And he's despised by the Slytherins. He's despised by the hyper-masculine, the power figures. I'd also point out that his name... usually, people like me thought that he might be a character that died in the last book, the rebeto, because his name means "the red one." And we have a black character die in the black book, and a white character die in the white book.
JG: So, we're looking for these red characters that die that turned out to be Fred. But that... his name is more of a point or two. In Latin, the rebus is the name of the hermaphrodite alchemist at the end. He's this resolution of extremes. He's a half-giant. In a way, he's almost like a god man and so he shows both this... he's the character who's always crying.
JG: He's the character who's the most feminine, but he's also the character that has the thick skin of a giant that can take on hoards of wizards at a time or whatever and... this is a remarkable figure in terms of the resolution of contraries. And so, yeah, if you had to pick out... again, like Dumbledore, if you had to pick out the supposedly feminine, effeminate masculine character, you would have said Rubeus Hagrid or Albus Dumbledore because they both have this super gender, or this indifference in a way to what other people think of them, because they're so comfortable in their own skins.
EK: Yes, I'd agree with that.
KH: Is it possible that the whole alchemy part is all pretty much a feminist character? You have... Albus is the white character, Rubeus is the red. Could Sirius also be a gay character? Just to close up the trio.
KZ: Well, as far as Sirius Black, I know that as far as fan fiction and slash fiction, Sirius and Remus have been very, very popular, mostly just because Rowling doesn't mention anything about the Marauders apart from a few bits of Snape's memories, so leaving that possibly open.
KH: Right, and that's kind of what I was going with, is... yeah, you never see Sirius with a girl or anything. He has Muggle females in his bedroom on posters, but outside of that there's never any female attraction to him. And he's the good looking one.
JG: Yeah, his closest relationship from this first... the earliest thing we see, chronologically, is his relationship with James, and his obsession with James is largely the defining relationship that Sirius has which he then projects onto James's son because he looks so much like him. So, he's naturally been the staple of slash fiction because, as Kait points out, there's no female... there's no clear female attraction in him, that he likes women or whatever.
EK: Yeah, I would agree with that. I think that, to a large degree, she leaves aside the question of sexual orientation with these characters. They can remain ambivalent. They work at a number of different levels. Just returning to Hagrid for a moment, he brings Harry into the wizarding world, and so he's sort of the midwife, if you will, of that transformation that takes place in Harry. He carries Harry out of the forest to Harry's final confrontation with Voldemort, so there too he's acting as a kind of midwife or mother figure of sorts, bringing Harry into a new set of circumstances, allowing him to be reborn, so to speak, to make the next transformation.
JG: Yeah, that... when he comes out of the forest...
JG: ...that's frequently been compared to the Pietà, that he's in charge of carrying the broken body of Christ or whatever. And his only... his big sexual attraction is with Madame Maxime who seems to be a like character in being a half-giant. But he breaks with her when they go to visit the giants so that Hagrid can, in effect, adopt his younger brother...
JG: ...and be the mother that Grawp never had. And that incredibly maternal relationship, that blood is this way and family is what matters. He takes a remarkable set of punishment, both professionally [laughs] and personally, physically, from Grawp, but he refuses to back away from it and that's not a paternal or fraternal response.
EK: Yes, I agree.
JG: That's his maternal response. Back to gender, Ed and Kait, I want to hear what you think about Bellatrix Lestrange going toe-to-toe with Molly Weasley in the Great Hall. What is the gender dynamic there? As Ed suggested, is that just a cartoon of hey, here's a bad girl that sleeps with the bad guy even though she's married to somebody else and so we don't want to be like that, and here's the mother figure and she's the good woman and she's more powerful - is it a cartoon of heteronormative relationships, or is it something more?
EK: Kait, do you want to take that first?
KZ: Sure. I always read that as maybe Rowling warning post-feminists of taking power a little bit too far, maybe. Molly Weasley is almost the stereotypically 1950s housewife in America, the way she cooks and cleans and takes care of her husband and her kids and doesn't have an outside job, whereas Bellatrix is essentially cheating on her husband to be with Voldemort to get more power to have a higher rank and a bigger position amongst the Death Eaters. So, when I read that originally, I had thought of it as maybe Rowling's response to post-feminine women who wanted to obtain a higher power than men. I could be completely wrong with that but that was my interpretation originally.
JG: Well, that's consistent with the interpretation out of Emory, which is that house-elves are Rowling's representation of housewives, that you can't bring women out of a Leave It to Beaver type scenario [laughs] where the housewife has everything in place and she has a function - a critical function in the family or whatever - and then force them into a different world without breaking them like Winky is broken. Ed, what do you think?
EK: Yeah. Well, you raise another interesting question, and that's the depiction of the house-elves and how all that works. But in the case of Molly Weasley, I think Rowling's characters, again, can contribute to a diverse understanding of what constitutes femininity. In other words, there isn't some set group of values which marks someone as feminine. Rather, what is feminine is sort of the overall variety of things that female characters do. And so in Molly Weasley, yes, in many respects we find the traditional housewife, but I at least early on also recognized a very powerful character, someone who knew how to express her opinion, someone who knew how to do what she wanted to do. And frankly, I see her final confrontation with Bellatrix in that light. It's not as if she had been a passive wallflower and suddenly displayed her power. Instead, she had displayed her power as a stay-at-home mom throughout the entire series and this was just sort of a natural extension of that. At least, that's the way that I read that final confrontation.
KH: When she takes all the candies or the sweets out of Fred and George before the Quidditch World Cup, you really start to see how powerful of a woman she is, how strict of a mother that she is in that scene.
JG: She's the only person that any of the Weasleys fear.
EK: Right, that's true.
JG: I mean, Fred and George have nothing but distain for any person in authority. That's sort of their calling card, is that if you're in charge we're laughing up our sleeve at you. Except for mom. Okay, this one... when Hermione says, "I'll tell your mother," when she becomes a prefect, she just plays the card that she knows. "Oh no, no, no, no, you're not going to do that, Hermione." That was the one thing that she could do because they recognized in her, really, a force that was much greater than the... again, as you said, the 1950s stereotypical stay-at-home mom type thing.
EK: Mhm. Yeah.
JG: This is a supernatural force almost, and so I think really when we see her in the Great Hall she seems to be a force of nature unleashed. And I think Rowling was trying to say that that's true of a mother's love. We see that mother's love in the first book is what saves Harry and we get to see this mother's love, not in a passive mode, a protective mode, but in an active force there against the dark.
EK: Yeah. I mean, Kait makes an interesting point by reading the episode in light of post-femininst theory. But this is something that feminist theorists themselves haven't quite worked out. They really want women to be able to make any choice they want to make, and yet choices always take place within a particular social context. And so, some people are uncomfortable with a woman who decides to "stay at home" with the family, whereas other feminists see that as a perfectly legitimate choice to make given the social situation in which they find themselves. So, for some readers, a traditional stay-at-home mother is always going to be a kind of anti-feminist character. For other readers, a mother staying at home with her children and being sort of strong and vocal in the process is perfectly consistent with feminist principles. Again, feminism isn't a single thing. It's something that emerges out of a debate or a discourse about what it means.
JG: So, you're suggesting that a young woman reader... and Kait, you're here to tell me how far off I am in this. A young woman reader reads that book and doesn't say, "Wow, I really don't want to stay at home and be just a mom, I want to go out into the world." She sees Molly Weasley as a "Hey, I can be at home, have a dynamic and challenging relationship with my spouse and my children, and be a full person as well as a woman."
KZ: Absolutely. I think maybe because Molly Weasley is such a strong character, maybe that's Rowling saying that it's safe for women to stay in the home. We're past the 1970s where women were burning bras. We're able to stay in the home but still have that "I am woman, hear me roar" kind of feeling.
JG: Let me give you a different Molly Weasley scene which I think is at least as important and maybe a set-up to the later one. When right over Bill's body... they're in the hospital wing, he's been mauled by a werewolf, and she goes toe-to-toe with Fleur Delacour about their relationship. She suggests, not very subtly, that the relationship is over because her boy isn't very pretty anymore and so Fleur - she suggests being a superficial little girl - is going to walk away from this. Fleur becomes Molly Weasley. Fleur talks back to Molly and Molly's response is very telling. Ed, what do you make of Molly's response to Fleur in that scene?
EK: I think it's actually a pretty good example of the strength we've been attributing to her. She likes the challenge that Fleur offers. Her scepticism of Fleur is that Fleur is weak, she's passive, she's superficial as you just said, and Fleur's response is the one that Molly wanted to hear. It's like, okay, fine, you stand up for your principles, you stand up for the love that you're showing my son. That in a sense, I believe, is what Molly wanted to hear.
JG: I think that's exactly it, and that she becomes her opposite. Fleur has been cold and wet. [laughs]
JG: And Molly has been [unintelligible], she's been hot and dry. And when Fleur becomes her opposite, becomes Molly Weasley, Molly becomes passive and offers her a gift.
JG: And takes the passive motives as the parent who's going to be the supporter of the marriage. And that's really, I think, the alchemical wedding that's the lead-on to the last book. We move out of the white book into the red book there. But we see Fleur make this change. Fleur becomes multidimensional having been changed by Molly. But only... could any other character have brought Fleur to that position?
EK: Probably not. She is viewed with such awe by all of the male characters and so many of the female characters view her with either jealousy, or resentment, or humour in the case of Ginny, that Molly is really the only character who can sort of give her stamp of approval, so to speak.
KH: Wasn't that interesting in that scene in the hospital though, when Fleur does strike back at Molly? Ginny was looking from one to the other, like, "Oh my goodness, what is going on here?"
KH: "Somebody just stood up to Mom! Are you kidding me?"
JG: Yeah, we're... I think everybody looks for blood in that scene.
JG: And Molly, as Ed said, says, "That's what I was waiting for, dear. You couldn't be my daughter-in-law or equal to my son until I knew you had some spine." [laughs] And basically she wanted to see her wand.
JG:[unintelligible] And she got the wand. Hey, back to the wands, if the wand is this great phallic imagery, what do we make of the weighing of the wands scene which is almost dead center in the central book? We're seeing something important about the wands here. We get to hear how long and stiff Viktor Krum's wand is or whatever. And does anybody... Kait, do you remember what comes out of these wands when Ollivander tests these things?
KZ: From what I remember, most of the time it's just sparks, but I could be wrong. I don't remember that part of the book very well.
KH: Fleur's had flowers come out.
KH: Out of Krum's was a bang and smoke.
JG: It was a gun, yeah. It was a gunshot.
KH: Yeah. Out of Cedric's was sparks, and out of Harry's was a fountain of wine.
JG: Yeah. The fountain of wine thing... Ed, what did you... again, we have the sexual imagery here. He gets fluid coming out of his wand.
JG: But it's magically, right? And Harry has been rubbing it pretty hard...
JG: ...to make sure it shines before he gives it to him.
JG: I think that was meant to be...
EK: I think so.
JG: ...humorous. But the fountain of wine that comes out, what is that about?
EK: I really don't know. I've always interpreted the scene by simply savoring the double entendre that you just referred to. I'm not sure whether I would link it to any of the other significant symbolism that we see in the series, although I'd be interested to hear your reaction and maybe I'll have a response to that.
KH: Well, I always thought of it as the blood would be flowing from Harry the most.
JG: Yeah, that's where I'd go in The Goblet of Fire. But before we go there, the flowers that come out of Fleur's wand... and it could just be her name, but was that, again, one of these gender normative things, that we're going to give... the pretty girl gets a bouquet of flowers from Ollivander? Is that just his sexism? I mean, Viktor Krum gets a gun! [laughs] This is a big deal. And she gets a big thing of flowers. Are they these cartoons of male and female, Durmstrang and the French school, Beauxbatons? Basically, Beauxbatons is named for pretty weapons.
JG: Pretty sticks or whatever, and she gets flowers. Do you think Beauxbatons... was that sort of a gender thing? Durmstrang comes in and they're marching - they did that very well in the movie. They'd come in marching almost like Storm Troopers come, they're very Germanic. And then the French come in and they're all girls. They all look like girls or very effeminate young men. Was that a play of contraries there?
EK: I think that it probably was, yeah. I mean, in terms of the specific circumstances of that scene, is Ollivander deciding what to bring out of the wand on the basis of his assessment of the particular character, or is there something in the nature of the wand itself, which has chosen the particular witch or wizard, which is determining what comes out of the wand? That's left a little bit ambivalent. In other words, to go back to your example of the flowers, is that Ollivander simply trying to be chivalric and present the lady with flowers, or is it actually an expression of Fleur's character, independent of Ollivander's wishes? And it's not clear to me exactly which of those two things is operating in that scene.
JG: Keith, you're the trivia master here. We know that Fleur's wand core is a Veela hair, which kind of freaks Ollivander out. He doesn't think that's really a powerful wand core. Do you remember what the wand core is in Viktor Krum's wand, which is not an Ollivander piece, right?
KH: Yeah, it's dragon heartstring.
JG: It's dragon heartstring, okay. That's an alchemical reference to... basically because dragon's blood is another reference to the Eucharist. Back to Ed's point, I think we get birds and wine from the Hogwarts characters because of their Christian symbolism, that the flock of birds is almost like a Saint Francis of Assisi moment. Basically, it's a Holy Spirit reference.
JG: And the first, the fourth, and the seventh books turn on blood. We get the blood in the forest with the unicorn's blood, and then we have the Goblet of Fire, which I think is a eucharistic cup thing, and the whole bond of blood thing was revealed in the climax of that book, and then how that plays out in the last book. So, I think the wine point there is that Harry is this Christ figure where the wine is sacramental. It's meant to be a pointer to the importance of Harry's blood and the love which saved him, the sacraficial love that saved him. But then it comes out of his wand after he's been rubbing it [laughs] and this and that. Again, I think it goes back to this multivalency of symbols, that there's something about Harry feeling that he's a small character there, he's younger than all the other champions, he's insecure, and his activities with his wand reflects that.
EK: Right, I would agree with you, yeah. I mean, there's also... I don't want to push the metaphor too far, but there's a way also to see Cedric as a kind of John the Baptist character as well, sort of paving the way for Harry throughout the course of the Triwizard Tournament, and then, of course, being sacrificed, so to speak, early on before the sort of true messenger, if you will, of Harry as "The Boy Who Lived."
JG: Wow, that's great. And their whole relationship inside the maze, then, is different because... where Cedric insists that Harry go first.
JG: It defers to Harry.
EK: Exactly, there's a recognition that Harry is a kind of champion, no less than Cedric himself had been. [laughs]
JG:[laughs] I'm not sure how that has to do with gender here.
EK: No, yeah.
JG: I'm having to digest that one or whatever. That's great. Ed, you took me totally for a loop. I'm hoping that Keith is going to be able to cut out...
EK: Get us back into line. [laughs]
JG: ...my Confundus Charms here by that wonderful thing. Back to serpents, we have a leading critic of the Harry Potter stories, probably the most respectable of the Harry haters, is a man named Michael O'Brien. He's a Catholic novelist and iconographer who says that the biggest problem with the Harry Potter stories is that the serpent symbolism is ambivalent, that there's a... he criticizes, Ed, what you would consider to be a hallmark of what Rowling does with her serpent symbol. But I've struggled for years to figure out what Michael O'Brien means by "ambivalent serpents." Can you think of any serpents inside the books that don't represent power or evil? I mean, when Draco and Harry go toe-to-toe, and Severus gives him a [laughs] special spell, what comes out of his wand but this giant, crazy snake.
EK: Yeah. Well, I do think that early on in the series, Slytherin at first is presented as sort of all bad. But then Harry believes that he might be a Slytherin himself, which suggests that he might have some of that inside of him. And so there are some ambivalences, I think, that are explored. And power is not necessarily positive or negative as it's portrayed in the Harry Potter books.
EK: It really depends upon how that power is deployed.
JG: What do you make of the conversation in the epilogue then, where Harry... do you think Harry... he's giving his blessing then, for his son to become a Slytherin?
EK: In a sense, yeah. I think that you could read it that way because he's familiar with Horace Slughorn who has proven himself to be true, albeit a problematic character.
EK: And then he's also witnessed the unbelievable courage of Severus Snape as well. Hagrid misspeaks earlier in the book when he says that every dark wizard has come out of Slytherin. That's, in fact, not the case, because Peter Pettigrew was a Gryffindor. And so there seems to be this stereotypical understanding of Slytherin, and I think that Rowling seems to be making the point that these people are ambitious but not necessarily evil. And then also... the snake, I think, symbolizes power, it symbolizes the prime material upon which the alchemical work is begun.
JG: Oh, that's why the serpent in the very beginning of Philosopher's Stone then...
JG: That's... okay.
EK: Yeah, Harry can talk to snakes and there's nothing wrong with that boa in the zoo other than the fact that he's kind of lonely and bored.
JG: Kait, what do you make of this scene where Harry and Draco face off with their wands - we're seeing a dueling thing, and we get the comic foreplay of the most effeminate and goofy character, Gilderoy Lockhart, going toe-to-toe with Severus Snape whose symbolic name suggests this serpent figure himself. Then Harry and Draco come up - again, Draco's name meaning serpent or dragon - and then a dragon appears here. What do you make of the scene where Harry, almost like Chamber of Secrets, winds up conquering the snake, and yet it's totally misunderstood by everyone present?
KZ: Yeah, I sort of saw that as maybe since this is right around the time where Harry realizes what's going on with Slytherin and that maybe Slytherin isn't completely evil like was presented to him in the first book. Maybe this is his way of maybe physically representing how he's starting to understand how there are different sides to the Slytherin house and the people in Slytherin. By conquering the snake, it almost shows that he's overcoming the stereotypes that were presented to him and having this power over the influences that are going on around him at this time.
JG: But Ron immediately brings him back into line, right?
JG: "Hey, talking to snakes is not good. [laughs] People aren't going to like this at all." And so here's Harry again coming to terms with his inner snake, his [unintelligible] or whatever. He's... again, Ron has got his broken wand, Harry has his Slytherin snake issues [laughs] that he's wrestling with. I think eventually it becomes the Sword of Gryffindor when he really wants to purify all of these impulses. So, you think that scene is Harry's initial "Hey, this snake isn't that dangerous. I'm going to talk to him and we're going to work this thing out." Ed, what did you make of that scene?
EK: In Philosopher's Stone or in Chamber of Secrets?
JG:Chamber of Secrets, the dueling scene with Draco.
EK: Right. Yeah, again, it's Harry sort of acting out of impulse, just sort of doing what seems right to him. And I think it's telling that it is so misunderstood by the audience itself. It's a peculiar episode because what is happening in Harry's head, his version of what is going on, is so wholly at odds with how everybody else describes it to him later. And so he really seems to be shocked that his actions in a particular way produce the exact opposite effect among his audience than what was intended.
JG: Can we take this as a... putting on the Freudian googles here, can we take this as a boy who's really comfortable with his sexuality at, what, twelve years old, thirteen years old? When everyone around him is not happy about his talking to his snake?
JG: His friend is convinced that Harry set the snake upon him, had basically attacked him with the snake, when Harry had in fact saved him from the snake.
EK: Mhm. I think that that's a possible reading. I wouldn't want to take it too far. But if we think about twelve-year-olds in our own culture, basically they are experiencing a kind of sexual awakening and yet they're in a sense told by society not to. We tell them not to have a sexuality and yet they most obviously do. If only in their own inner life, as it were.
JG: I mean, that's great because that sounds like Ron, right?
JG: Because Ron has got this broken wand, he's got his own issues. He sure isn't going to let Harry have a healthy relationship with his wand or whatever.
JG: He's going to bring in all the taboos that are tying him in knots. Kait, does that make sense? How do you see this in terms of the multivalency of the symbols? What is Severus's role in this, where Severus tells Draco how to make his wand pop a snake? [laughs] Is that sort of like a subliminal slash moment inside the books?
KZ: I think it could definitely be read as a subliminal slash moment. I mean, they're up on stage, it's just Harry and Draco, and this snake is presented to them. So, there's definitely a homosexual moment, almost... in the schoolboy story there's this almost accepted level of homosexual experimentation and this might be Rowling's representation of that homosexual experimentation between Harry and Draco going on at this age through this snake that's presented right in the middle of them.
EK: Mhm. I think that that works really well. I agree entirely with Kait because as boys enter into their adolescence and their sexual awakening, there's a lot of homoeroticism associated with that transition. The viewing of the fully mature masculine body sort of as... viewing it as an object because of one's awareness that one is transitioning towards that. Again, I don't want to make too much about it, but I do think that Kait is right. This can perhaps be JK Rowling's way of signalling that period of transition in Ron and Harry's life.
JG: Yeah. Again, this is my favorite book. I think Rowling wrote it a little alarmed that Christians didn't like the book. She was already getting Christian blowback by the time that this book came out because of the magic controversy. And so this book... people usually talk about the big difference between Chamber of Secrets and Prisoner of Azkaban, that there seem to be an entirely different level of writing. People suggested at the time that she was... this had been ghost written, that Prisoner of Azkaban couldn't be by the same author as the first two books. But I think if you read Chamber of Secrets closely, you'll see the depth that we see again in all the other stories, of symbolism and subtlety and layering that are Rowling's hallmarks, that this rewards re-reading, it rewards... it invites, as Ed suggests, an over-reading. [laughs] It suggests going deeper and deeper and deeper. You wind up kind of embarrassed where you wind up.
EK: I do...
JG: But that...
EK: Go ahead, I'm sorry.
JG: No, no, go on.
EK: Yeah, I mean, I do think that the book works that way when viewed in relationship to the Prisoner of Azkaban. Azkaban is a much more overtly psychological text because Harry is aware of what's going on, he's thinking consciously about what's going on, whereas in Chamber of Secrets he's still living life largely self-unconsciously, hence all the subterranean symbolism that suggests the kind of turmoil, coming of age, sexual awakening which is taking place in his twelve-year-old body.
JG: Yeah, that's very well put. The Prisoner of Azkaban jump is... you've got synchronicity, you've got overt alchemy, you've got... basically you have a [unintelligible] text...
JG: ...in children's literature or whatever, and I think it's in a way just an opening up in consciousness of what we are already experiencing with this yonic and phallic imagery with, again, a heavy Christian and alchemical layering inside Chamber of Secrets, that this was not the big jump it was supposed to have been in Rowling's maturity as it was in Harry's transformation as you pointed out.
EK: Yeah, that's how I would interpret it.
JG: Well, that's great. I love it. [laughs] Again, another moment, Keith, where I just go totally blank because I'm admiring Ed's great thoughts, you know?
KH: All right, and just in closing up the show, I want to ask one final question and hear from each of you: JK Rowling obviously has a lot of the sexual innuendos written into these books, but do you think that she missed her calling as a romance writer or do you think that the next book The Casual Vacancy that she has coming out in September is going to actually be more of a romance novel versus the action of Harry Potter?
JG: Well, I'll go first if nobody else wants to jump in here. a) No, Rowling did not miss her vocation as a romance writer. Easily the most awkward and unfortunate scenes are the snogging scenes or whatever, it's kind of embarrassing. And maybe they're intentionally embarrassing where she didn't want to encourage kids to be flopping over themselves like snakes or whatever, though what's funny is that she described them as flopping over each other as snakes. But I always thought to myself this is not so much inappropriate as is not very well down. I think we can expect Casual Vacancy because it's been promoted openly and overtly as an adult novel that Rowling would not only would be cursing in the way we always expected Ron and Fred and George to actually be cursing. But we're going to see the sexuality thing played out much more openly. I think we're going to see things that are other than heteronormative, that we may actually see some explicit bedroom scenes.
EK: I think that's quite possible. I mean, I don't know. I've sort of been consciously trying not to follow what is being said about this book because she's just taking such a huge risk. She has written the most popular work of fiction in history and now she's trying to do something else. And I just think that her critics are poised to take her apart, and her fans are poised to adore her but they might be disappointed because it will be so different from what Harry has to offer. Regardless, I will read it with great interest.
JG: You're saying this is a "Michael Jordan plays baseball" moment?
EK: Well, I'm hoping it's not.
EK: Because Michael Jordan didn't play baseball very well. Yeah, I'm hoping it's successful for JK Rowling. But it's an enormous risk that she's taking.
JG: Oh, absolutely. Can you imagine if she had announced that she was writing a seven-book series and this is going to be the first book in the seven-book series and it's going to be a children's book? I mean, the drum beats would be... you wouldn't be able to hear anything else going on in the world of books right now, that she's decided to write an adult political fairytale of some kind. We're all kind of holding our breath. Can she do this? Can she make the transition from E Nesbit to George Orwell?
JG:[laughs] I mean, this is going to be quite the leap.
KZ: Well, I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens.
KZ: I think she's perfectly capable of it. I know that she, like myself, is a big Jane Austen fan and that influenced her writing a little bit. So, I'm excited to see what she does. Like Ed, I haven't followed any of the news or anything. I just want to wait for the book to come out and read it myself, and then look at the critiques and other people's opinions. But I think that as far as her writing, she's completely capable of going above and beyond just what we'd expect in Harry Potter. Even if you just look at her books, she consecutively gets better. She's a continuously improving writer. So I think that she'll be able to really pull out something I think that's going to be phenomenal. I'm really excited to read it regardless of the genre or what people are expecting.
JG: Kait, that's a magnificent point you make about the Jane Austen, is that all the Harry Potter books, even though they're schoolboy novels and about gothic romance, et cetera, there are "manners and morals" fiction all the time, like Jane Austen, and we have that really wicked and wonderful sense of humor that runs through all of the books. It really is the Austen voice that Rowling has taken on. So if there was really a great hope, I think you put your finger on it, is that Rowling will... instead of being maybe a George Orwell, that she'll be a Jane Austen for the twenty-first century. And what a gift that would be.
EK: It would be. I was always a little bit skeptical of the critiques of her which suggested she was a bad writer. I mean, yes, there are some passages that are flat or awkward, but given the length of the series, I think that the writing is really quite good. She allows economical descriptions of action and dialogue to drive her plot. And I don't know if she intends to do that in her new book, but if she does, she's likely to do it well because I think that's the real strength of the Harry Potter books, is that crisp action and dialogue. That's what drives the story forward and she does that very well.
JG: That's a... yeah, a great point, Ed, that elevated language is not Rowling's hallmark but elevated language is not a genre character [unintelligible] schoolboy novel. It would have been totally out of place for her to do...
JG: ...an AS Byatt epiphany type moment...
JG: ...where the angels sing or whatever. But maybe in this new book, we will see more elevated language but maybe more of an Austen level than an AS Byatt.
JG: As you said, the dialogue and the setting descriptions will be the artistry of the book. I think all of us, Keith, are looking forward to this new book regardless of its sexual content or whatever, that this is an extraordinary talented writer and we're all excited to see what she's going to do now.
KH: Well, here's the thing. If she had any reservations about her capabilities as a writer and what her next project would be, I think she would have come out with a pen name for the book...
KH: ...to see how that played, without having her name behind it. So, as a result, I think that she is a very careful planner. I don't think she... she definitely doesn't need to write anymore, she has all the money she needs, that she'll ever need. So, it's a matter of what's in her as a passion. So, I think whatever she writes is going to be something that's bound from that passion.
KH: Does that makes sense?
JG: And just to close the ring off here of our conversation, I think we can expect to see the, as you said, the planning, the layered symbolism, the sophistication, the subtlety that invites multiple interpretations, rereadings. That stuff isn't going to disappear because she's not writing a schoolboy novel with other types of books, alchemical drama or whatever layered into it.
KH: Right. That's right. Yup. And I got to say, thank you very much, Professor Kern, Kait. Both of you have been incredibly knowledgable in this area. And I was a little nervous going into the show, just because of the controversy it's bound to bring, and I'm actually looking forward to hearing what the people have to say out there on iTunes. So, if you are listening to the show, please give us your feedback, give us a review on the show and let us know what you thought of it. Also, if you're looking for some more information from Professor Ed Kern, go check out his book The Wisdom of Harry Potter: What Our Favorite Hero Teaches Us About Moral Choices. It's available at your bookstores and it's from Prometheus Books, and Ed, we certainly look forward to hearing from that. Also, you want to check out the Alohomora! podcast that's also on MuggleNet. They are doing a reread of the series and they have just released Episode 2. They're in Philosopher's Stone Chapters 4 through 6, and they're going to have a couple of more episodes coming out real soon. We will have our next show probably in about three weeks or so, and it will be on translations of the Harry Potter books.
[Show music begins]
KH: So, we look forward to having that one out with Josée Leblanc. And I want to say thank you to Theater Nation for putting our music together on the show. If you haven't listened to our show before, please do so and download the first episode, the "Getting Serious About Series" as well as this show, the "Harry Potter and the Sexual Innuendos." So, from MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor.
EK: I'm Ed Kern from Lawrence University.
KZ: And I'm Kait Zelenenki from Chestnut Hill College.