Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) John Mark Reynolds (JR) Alicia Costelloi (AC)
[Show music begins]
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!
[Show music continues]
KH: All right, welcome back to MuggleNet Academia. This is Lesson 10. Today we are joined with John Mark Reynolds and Alicia Costelloi. John, how's it going?
JG: It's going very well. I gave a talk at St. Aloysius College in Cresson, Pennsylvania and next week I'm going to Gainesville, Florida to speak at the University of Florida about literary alchemy.
KH: Yes, I know that and I want you to say hi to Lizette when you're down there.
JG: Hi... oh, when I'm down there.
KH: When you're down there.
KH: Lizette left a message in the MuggleNet Academia section. She goes:
"I'm taking a 'Harry Potter' class at University of Florida, and looking at my syllabus today I noticed that John Granger is scheduled as a guest speaker! So excited to meet him and listen to him in person."
So, there you go.
JG: All right, all right. I will greet Lizette when I'm down there. Talking to the gators. I love it.
KH: Yeah, what are you going to be talking about down there?
JG: Well, they have an alchemy exhibit that travels around the country and has landed at the University of Florida, and they want me to come in and talk about literary alchemy and how it's really the living form of what's remnant from the Middle Ages. So, I'll be talking about Harry Potter mostly but yes, we will talk Hunger Games and Twilight and other things as well, and how... and Shakespeare, for that matter. Dickens and such. And I love giving that talk. That's... it's not so much literary alchemy, the historical thing, as much as it is the alchemy of literature and how we're changed by the books that we read. So, it's a very exciting talk and I look forward to going to Florida. I mean, it's going to be fun.
KH: Absolutely, and I know that we are anxious to have an alchemy lesson here on the Academia show. That will eventually be happening. But I'm going to go over a couple of other things. I've also gotten a message from Natalie on the website. She said:
"I have listened to all of the current lessons available (up to Lesson 8) and every single one is so interesting. I feel like I have learnt so much already and every lesson just keeps getting better. My favorites so far are Lesson 3 (Translating) and Lesson 7 (Folktale Structure), but all of them are truly fabulous. I look forward to future [episodes]."
I like hearing comments like that. It's pretty cool to see that everybody is enjoying the show, they're learning a little bit, they're taking it to classes or whatever they're doing.
JG: I'm not sure people believe that we don't write those ourselves, Keith. I like reading that stuff, too. That's pretty neat.
KH: Well, I got one that I was called an articulate fool or something - inarticulate fool - and I was like, "All right, whatever."
JG: I got detesticled mouse once. I mean, I'm still... that's my high bar.
KH: I like that one. That's pretty good.
KH: I think it's the way you laugh. [laughs]
JG: Oh, boy. How many detesticled mice do you know, Keith?
KH: I have two in my house, you know.
JG: Oh my goodness.
KH: I trapped them and...
JG: No, too much information. On we go.
KH:[laughs] And the last one I got, from Goddess_Clio. I thought you'd be interested in hearing this one.
"I just listened to your latest episode discussing folktale structure and the 'Harry Potter' series, and while I felt at times that Professor Hunter's explanations where very befuddling, I got the gist of what he was talking about and I really enjoyed the episode. I especially liked hearing about his research into the structure of the novels. It reminded me a lot of David Leeming's 'The Voyage of the Hero', a similar set of criteria that most popular novels follow.
I also really liked the brief tangent into the analysis of 'The Hunger Games' which affirmed that I'm not crazy. Katniss never felt like the hero/heroine of that book to me. She was too strong a character and I thought that the books would have been stronger if Peeta had been the main character or if Peeta and Katniss's roles had been reversed."
I agreed with that, John. I think you did too. When we were discussing that show with Joel Hunter, it seemed like he also thought that Peeta was definitely the hero of that book, not Katniss necessarily.
JG: Well, I guess this is a de gustibus thing here. Peeta is definitely the Christ figure of the books, and as the spiritual character he's the person we're supposed to bond with. But Katniss as the soul and the soul body combination with Gale - I thought that worked wonderfully. I found Katniss wonderfully engaging and someone I... not that I'm a teenage girl that runs around in the forest with a bow and arrow, but I found I could identify with her and had the same kind of responses she did to the crazy people in the Capitol and the madness of the games. I disagree, I think Peeta would have been... he was so loving and so... I mean, he was too good of a Christ figure to be somebody that I could relate to normally. I mean, here's a guy that jumps into bed with Jennifer Lawrence or whatever and just wants her to be more comfortable, as a teenage boy. That for me was kind of a hard... that was a stretch. We jumped right into allegory or whatever, but I thought the book was wonderfully structured. Anyway, forgive me. Too much information.
KH: No, that's fine. She also went on to say that she wanted a different lesson from us. Something that we haven't discussed yet. She thinks it's going to be in the works but we're not sure. It's an episode on psychology of the characters she would like to have, discussing Voldemort's sociopathy, Bellatrix's psychopath, Harry's pathos regarding always needing to save people.
JG: Hey, I know some psychologist professors who like Harry Potter. We can get that one going. We'll do that for her.
KH: Yeah, I thought we had some things lined up on that line. I know we have a bunch of shows in the works. Travis Prinzi amongst others, Sims... a couple of others. So, we have some great shows lined up. In fact, the next show I think we are going to be doing a special episode. I would like to dive into The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling with you. I think... the book is coming out September 27th, I figured maybe in the week after we would be able to dive into this and see what our initial reactions are, and maybe get a guest or two to talk about it. What do you think about that, John?
JG: Well, let's see, I haven't got any... my schedule is not clear for that week, but we'll see what we can do. It sounds like a great idea.
KH: We'll figure something out. We'll get it together and get a... kind of like a review show or a "What do you think of this book in comparing it to the Harry Potter series? How did she differentiate between the two books?" I think it will be pretty interesting. I think it's going to be a great read, though.
JG: Oh yeah, I'm sure she's going to sell a lot of books, Keith. [laughs]
KH: Well, the critics are really going to be after her on this, too.
JG: Who knows, they may either pull back their swords because it's not Harry Potter or they may just pull out the long knives.
KH: They're going after her. They want to know if she can actually write something other than Harry Potter, so they have their barrels both loaded, ready to go. Isn't that a nice segue into today's show? Both barrels ready to go?
JG: Hey, that's right. There we go. Bit of a round on the chambers here.
KH: What are we discussing today, John?
JG: Today we are talking about canon, but it's only got two N's in it, C-A-N-O-N. We're going to talk about what constitutes what's really Harry Potter and what's not Harry Potter, and why people believe different things about Harry Potter canon.
KH: Why don't you lead us in and introduce our guests?
JG: Well okay, I'll introduce John Mark Reynolds who, all cards on the table here, is a dear friend of mine. More of a mentor really than a friend, I think. I met him when he was the director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University in California. Now he's the provost at Houston Baptist University, obviously in Houston. He's the editor of several collections of books, he's the author of several books, he's co-authored books, he's most recently taken his own step into the world of fantasy fiction. We're going to talk about whether he wrote this book or edited this book. It's called Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra. It's a fascinating read. I've read it twice, believe it or not. And he's probably the great books wonk among the Harry Potter professors, among Potter Pundits. This is a man who lives and breathes the Western canon, the accepted great books of Western literature, from Plato to Dante to JRR Tolkien and the modern mythmakers. It's really a wonderful pleasure to have him here because this is a man who has some very strong opinions about what constitutes Harry Potter canon, [laughs] virtually none of which I agree with which is wonderful, and then he'll be able to back it up in terms of his understanding of what constitues traditional canon in any series, from Plato to Star Trek. He's a fascinating character, I know you're going to love to talk with him, Keith.
KH: John Mark Reynolds, say hello.
JR: I am here and I am excited, and if somebody wants to know my thoughts about the structure of fiction, they should pick up Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra because I try to build in what I think about canon and structure into the book.
KH: And John, where are you located at?
JR: I am in Sugar Land, Texas near Houston.
KH: And you're teaching where?
JR: At Houston Baptist University. Actually, I'm the chief academic officer which means right now I'm not teaching anything. I'm just moving papers around, which delivered a whole generation of students from my cruelty.
JG: Acutally I believe, John Mark, you're probably teaching the teachers right now.
JG: I have a hard time seeing you not teaching somebody.
JR: Well that's the theory, is yes, I teach teachers. But mostly I try to stay out of the awesome professors' way here.
KH: And then I would also like to introduce our student guest for the show, Alicia Costelloi. Say hello, Alicia. Tell us a little bit about yourself.
AC: Hello, I'm Alicia Costelloi. I'm from Dickinson, Texas which is about thirty minutes from Sugar Land, so...
AC: ...lots of Houston going on. I recently got my masters degree in English, with my masters degree primarily focused on English literature from about the thirteenth century to the seventeenth century. So, lots of Milton and Chaucer and Edward Spencer and all that fun stuff.
JG: Oh, good. That's great.
AC: And then I'm going for my second masters degree in practical theology with a Jewish studies background.
KH: Shanah Tovah.
[AC and JG laugh]
JG: This is going to be great. You know more about canon than all of us combined, which is wonderful.
JR: Yeah, that's right. She actually allegedly knows about this.
[AC and JG laugh]
JG: We're just going to talk about it.
JR:[laughs] Yeah, that's why I like talking about Harry Potter because I don't allegedly know anything about it, so I can say anything I want, right?
[JG and KH laugh]
AC: That's true.
JG: Has anybody gotten an advanced degree in Harry Potter yet? Is there actually a Harry Potter studies department somewhere?
JR: Yeah. Like a terminal degree in Harry Potter?
JG: Oh, that's scary. That's like Platform 9 3/4 as the only terminal degree, right?
AC: The problem is that literature degrees are all different. So, my best friend got her masters degree in American modernist literature, so if there are enough Harry Potter classes, you could say that.
JG: That's right, we need a Harry Potter department.
JG: We've got classes out in the kazoo here. We need a department here that has everything in it.
KH: Well, I'll tell you, there's plenty of professors, assistant professors, and specialists out there that are teaching classes at universities. In fact, you can download the app on MuggleNet Academia and you will find some bonus features where I interview several professors on there. Right now, we have two professors that have been interviewed, and I already interviewed Dr. Melissa Aaron whose bonus feature number three will come out real soon. I spoke with Danielle Elizabeth Tumminio from Yale University. She teaches a course called "Christian Theology and Harry Potter." I also spoke with Kelly Collinsworth, who is an attorney and assistant professor at Morehead State University. She has a course called "Harry Potter and the Law." And then, John, of course you know Dr. Melissa Aaron very well, and she is out at Cali Poly State University teaching a course called "Harry Potter as Literature and Cultural Studies." And what I find fascinating about talking to them is... we discussed more or less the classroom environment: the students who get into the class, the ones that are left out, how you go about choosing those particular students, and then what the courses involve.
So, it is a good listen if you want to download these things. They are on the apps. Just simply go to the MuggleNet Academia website, there is a Podcast Box feature section, and what you do is if you own an iOS device such as an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, you simply go to the Apple iTunes store and download Podcast Box. That is a free app.
[Show music begins]
KH: When you're in Podcast Box, you search for MuggleNet Academia, and download MuggleNet Academia which is a $1.99 one-time charge. And if you're on the Android devices, you go to Amazon and look up MuggleNet Academia. It's a much simpler process and it's still $1.99. But those are where you can hear our bonus features as well as all the shows. So, are you ready to kick this thing off, John?
JG: I'm ready!
KH: Let's do it then! From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
JR: And I'm John Mark Reynolds, I'm the author of Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra.
AC: And I'm Alicia Costelloi, currently getting masters degree number two at The King's University.
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KH: John, I am excited as heck to get into this show with John Mark Reynolds. I am somebody who absolutely loves discussing canon. I do it all the time with the trivia, of course, as you know. And I have my own thoughts on what canon is, but I am really interested in hearing what the take is of John Mark and you because you guys have different viewpoints on this. What is canon for you, John? How are you going to bring this show on?
JG: Well, I'm just going to open up with the broad quesion here because if I start off with my own rock in the pond here we'll just be fighting about how silly John is. This is an important question that every serious Harry Potter fan eventually runs into, is what books and ideas constitute the canon or what's really Harry Potter? Is it just the seven big books, Philosopher's to Deathly Hallows? Is it those books plus the school texts and Tales of Beedle the Bard? Is it all those and everything that Joanne Rowling wrote, approved, or says and talks in interviews, and will say until she dies? Or is Harry Potter canon kind of a moving target, ever-changing, as Rowling updates this Pottermore, the movies, and fandom understands it? Where are the boundaries on this monster of what's Harry Potter?
John Mark Reynolds, we've invited him on here. He's the founder of the great books program, he's now the provost at Houston Baptist, and he's the author of Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra. He's the champion of a specific position, and that's the text only position, that the books as written and published between 1997 and 2007 are the authoritative and final version of what the Hogwarts saga is, and from which interpretations are to be made. He's going to argue from his background in Western civ and his reading of the greats. He's argued, as an example of this position, that Dumbledore is not gay. In fact, he's not heterosexual, he's not metrosexual, he's not anything like that no matter what Ms. Rowling says because she didn't make the headmaster's sexuality an issue in the books that she wrote. All right?
Now, this is going to be a wild program because all of us, I think... it's sort of like how you eat. When you become a Harry Potter fan, you get an idea of what you accept as Harry Potter canon, and it may be an unexamined idea, but you have a pretty visceral idea of what you think is really Harry Potter. For example, most of us, Keith, don't know that she put out trading cards at one point that had a lot of information about Quidditch teams in them that weren't in the books.
KH: Not only that, but she also wrote the Daily Prophets.
JG: That's right.
KH: Back in '98 and '99.
JG: That's right. So, there's all of this stuff that could be considered Rowling Harry Potter canon that's not mentioned in the books and is not really relevant to the experience of the books because 99.9 repeating percent of Harry Potter readers have never heard of these things. So anyway, I want to jump right into this because John Mark Reynolds - again, here's a giant in the great books community, and really a Plato scholar of all things, especially the psychology of Plato. How do you become a Harry Potter fan, of all things? I mean, are people snickering behind your back here, when you're talking about the Theaetetus and the Timaeus...
JG: ...and also you say, "This reminds me of a passage in Prisoner of Azkaban"? How do you get there? How does one get from the great books cycle to Harry Potter?
JR: Well, it's natural to get from Plato to Harry Potter because Plato, as far as I can tell, was the first person to write myth that was intentionally myth. He sat down, even used the word 'muthos', and wrote stories that he knew weren't true, factually. Atlantis is the best example. But he wrote as if they were true, to make certain philosophical points and to avoid getting killed, like his master Socrates had.
JR: So, Harry Potter is just one of the latest in a long series of literary works that build on that tradition.
JG: Okay, but did you start reading Harry Potter because you were a daddy?
JR: No. Yeah, that's a good question. I started reading Harry Potter because I love fantasy literature, and I've read fantasy literature all my life. I like good fantasy literature, bad fantasy literature, and whenever you run into one of those wonderful series where you read the first book and you know, "Ahh, this is the real deal. I am so glad there are going to be seven of these."
JR: I actually read them as they came out, so I had what will now be a rare experience of reading Book 1, waiting for Book 2, waiting for Book 3, all the way through Book 7.
JR: And in fact, we were so eager to read Book 7 in our house that we ended up buying four copies of it because of different reading speeds in the room.
JG: We had four copies here at the Granger household, too. Maybe we're going too fast here. Before we jump into what's Harry Potter canon and what's great mythmaking... forgive me, when I hear the word 'canon', I think of a piece of Switzerland or a gun so big it needs balls instead of bullets or whatever. What is... and Alicia, I expect you to jump in here. What is the history of canon disputes? C-A-N-O-N.
JR: Well, I came to canon disputes both as a religious person... 'canon' means the rule or the measure, what's going to count as authoritative inside, for example, a church. But I actually came to canon disputes through Star Trek, as a Star Trek fan.
JR: And allegedly the Internet was invented so that Star Trek fans could carry on conversations.
JR: Really rapidly we had to determine, in the Star Trek universe we were thinking of, what counted. And the biggest controversy occurred early over the animated series. There was actually an animated series of Star Trek in which you learned things that were otherwise not available. And most fans came to the conclusion that it was so inferior to the original series that the animated series wouldn't count. Then the question became: if something like James Tiberius Kirk's middle name, that's never mentioned in the original series, isn't said in the movies, does it count as canon? Most fans thought of James Tiberius Kirk as being Captain Kirk's entire name, but it's difficult. How much do things count? There was, within Star Trek fandom, a long discussion about whether Captain Kirk is bald and wears a hairpiece, or whether it's only the fact that William Shatner was balding and so wore a hairpiece. What counts as canon? How far do you have to go? What's the relationship between Leonard Nimoy and Spock? And especially now that different actors are playing some of those roles, you can have real canon discussions inside of Star Trek. So, that's where I started with this whole discussion inside of fandom.
JG: Alicia, you're studying Hebrew texts, you're studying collections of Spencer and stuff like that. When you hear the word 'canon', what are you thinking?
AC: Well, I originally came through canon as sort of a question of political correctness because as an undergrad studying literature you really wonder: how much do I study of... you know how it's very popular to study minority texts right now, but how much of the old, dead, white guys do I need to study before I can safely say, "I have a degree in literature"? You can't really read literature, you can't really... your degree is looked down upon if you haven't read Dickens and Plato and things like that. So, it's how much of that stuff do you read. And then I taught high school for two years and that was a huge question on my mind, is what do I stuff in them while I have their attention?
JG: Well, I can remember reading... meeting a civilisations historian at the University of Chicago named Karl Weintraub - he looked kind of depressed one day, he came into a Western civ class - and I just completely asked him what was on his mind, and he says, "I have met a graduate student in civilisations who has never read Edward Gibbon." [laughs] And he looks shattered, you know? That this guy hadn't read Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Anyway, I get it. You have to know enough of these old, dead, white guys to do this. How does the word 'canon'... what does it mean to you when we're talking about a book series like Harry Potter? When we talk about Harry Potter, what sort of boundaries are there? There's not going to be a Harry Potter 2 that Orson Scott Card is going to pick up the ball and launch a new television series. What are we talking about when we're talking about Harry Potter and canon?
JR: Yeah, that's really a good question because you can look at the Oz books, for example, and there is a case where, after Frank Baum stopped being able to write Oz books through a thing called death...
JR: ...other authors did pick up them. They were approved authors, and so you can end up with two canons. Most people who read Oz books or who collect Oz books have a preference for the Baum books. They're sort of deeply Oz. You can't contradict what goes on there - those books contradict themselves at times - and everything else. Ruth - I think it's Plumly Thompson - her books form a kind of apocrypha. You might use them, you might not, even though some of them are better written in my opinion in terms of literature than the Baum books. So, canon questions constrain a universe. What I would argue is, you actually have two different canons with Harry Potter. You have the Harry Potter film canon, which we have to accept as Harry Potter fans. Most people come to Harry Potter now as a film series - as a series of seven, eight films - and that exists as its own canon. Those are done now and they are what they are. And you can discuss the world of Harry Potter within the films. But originally, the Harry Potter universe was going to be, in JK Rowing's mind, a series of seven books. Once those books were done, I think they form a complete whole that the author is free then to make announcements about what she was thinking while she was writing them. And that's all very interesting, and PhDs will be written on it.
JR: But if she didn't include the information in her books, that was a choice way back when she was writing them, and I'm pretty indifferent to what she says about the books after she got done writing them. Now, it could be that she left a clue about something - usually this begins by talking about characters' sexualities or who ends up in what relationships - and it would be okay for her to say, well look at this clue, you've missed this. But if she really left a character kind of sexless - there was no relationship-ing, no shipping, going on in the book at all, not even implicitly, where friendships could be friendships, they could be love relationships - then it's kind of too late to introduce it later on in time. So the books, as the books, form their own universe and we get to treat them that way. We don't have to take anything else she says as determinative.
KH: I'll agree with you, John Mark. I'll agree with you on most of what you're saying, but I will also say that she spent seventeen years creating this world from start to finish. In 1990 when she was on that train, she has the vision and she starts creating this world and starts taking notes. For the next seven years, she made the backstory of the world as to what it is. Anything that she might have written down in those notes that we don't know about yet but that stuff is coming out on Pottermore and she's releasing stuff - and eventually there will be an encyclopedia - any of that material I feel is canon because it comes from her. Whether or not she introduces it in an interview or in some other form, it's still coming from her, it's her world, she's the only one who can dictate what it is and what it isn't.
JR: Yeah, I think...
KH: When it comes to the films though, I have to disagree with you. I understand there's film canon, but the only part of film that I will even consider remotely that's canon is if I know JK Rowling either had a very explicit part of the scene in which she rewrote, wrote, however you want to say it, had a part in the production of that piece. And there's only a couple of pieces in the films that she actually had her hands in directly.
JR: Yeah, let me say... I want to be clear on this, I do not think the films reflect back on the books. I think they exist as an autonomous Harry Potter universe, Harry Potter film universe. I don't... they are finished works of art with multiple authors. I actually don't take the author that seriously after he or she is done with their work. In other words, she chose not to put some parts of the backstory in the Harry Potter novels. That was her choice when she still had control. After that point, like birthing a child, the books are on their own. They are no longer her private property. They are partly my property, the property of any reader, to walk within this universe.
This isn't a new problem. JRR Tolkien spent even more years working on the backstory to all of his novels, and kept working on the backstory to all of his novels until he died: writing, rewriting, creating inconsistencies. And now a lot of that work, if not all of it, has been published by his son as a kind of literary executor. I feel... you can't make a consistency out of all of it because Tolkien got more religious about his own writings as he got older. So, I really feel like... in the case of Tolkien, we have a case where somebody wrote a book, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, they were finished with their project. Now, as a personal... almost like a fan of their own writings, they kept working on the backstory, working on languages. But at that point, Tolkien or Rowling's work are no more important to the universe that they finished with than any other fan fic. I view anything that the author of Harry Potter states, from the moment she finished the seventh book forward, as fan fic. Even stuff that she didn't publish before the book was written.
JG: Let me jump in here, Keith. The fandom experts at Harry Potter Lexicon have taken the position, just like Keith, that anything and everything ever said or written by Ms. Rowling, with facts or thoughts shared most recently being the most authoritative, constitute Harry Potter canon. Keith is speaking for the great hoard of fandom here, saying it's all about JKR. This is pretty much, in my experience of the last decade, the consensus belief of most true believers, is that Rowling is the fant of all things Harry Potter. If the fant continues to spew out more Harry Potter data as it wills, then that's Harry Potter canon. Now, you're saying - if I understand you - that this "everything from Rowling" position is wrong because once we have the finished work, it has its own integrity and embellishments on it - are just that, they're embellishments. They're not part of the original creative work that we experienced as readers, and that this extra stuff is no more interesting than the slash fiction or the "everybody with their clothes on" type fan fiction that other people are creating in new creative ventures. They're not the experience that we had in the book. Am I summarizing your position correctly?
JR: Yeah, but I don't want people to think I'm denigrating fan fiction. I mean, Star Trek fans - we all survived by writing fan fiction...
JR: ...for decades, really. There's nothing wrong with that, but there was a recognition that it wasn't canon. And that was true - Gene Roddenberry, who was the creator of Star Trek, would pop off with all kinds of views. As he got older, he decided that his big cause was secular humanism and he began to find all sorts of secular humanist lessons inside of Star Trek. And that was his business to do that. So, over the course of her life, people who adopt the view that most fans have adopted are going to have the problem as she gets older. At some point, do you decide that she's lost it, that she's lost her marbles, if she suddenly announces that her entire universe is secretly about scientology? Would the fans follow her down that road?
JR: I mean, authors really do sometimes go mad. You have early Wittgenstein, later Wittgenstein. That's not a state of madness, but people recognize two different philosophies.
JG: This is most famous: William Faulkner, obviously if not the greatest American author, some people think of the greatest author of fiction, Nobel Prize winner, et cetera. James Thomas, another Potter Pundit, just laughs. He tells me that he did these interviews at the University of Virginia later in his life when had had a little too much scotch or whatever, and began to launch into what his books meant and it was clear that he had lost track even of what his books said in themselves. But Faulkner scholars still pore through everything that he said, thinking that all of this was coherent and cogent and important. Here's another pushback, John Mark, from fandom here.
JG: Why restrict the meaning of a book to just the books if the author offers important information? For example, Rowling in her interviews - she hasn't gone around the twist yet. She's... for example, in Pottermore, I just looked up this thing in Pottermore a friend from Germany sent me, on wand cores. Wand cores and types of wood. It's thirty pages long... or no, seventeen pages long, it's got more than thirty wand cores, wand woods, described in incredible length. It's a lot of fun because you know which characters have which wood wands, et cetera, so it's fun to hear what Ollivander is saying about these things. Why won't that be considered canon if the author is clearly writing in the spirit of these things?
JR: Yeah. Well, the author could keep writing in the spirit of these things forever, or we could discover that she, like Tolkien, had thousands of notebooks, hundreds of notebooks full of material.
JR: And again, fandom needs to understand it's not that I don't think these are fun. I would love to read all those things. Those are excellent things to read. But they're materials that she intentionally did not include in the books because, let's face it, you have to be a pretty hardcore fan of Tolkien to read your way through all the Lost Lays, Lost Tales and lost everything. There's a reason they didn't get included in The Lord of the Rings because they're almost unbearably detailed, and the myth itself, the story would have disappeared. Imagine a thirty-page disquisition on wands appearing in the middle of, let's say, Book 4 of Harry Potter.
JR: They weren't put there on purpose. The books themselves function now as an independent whole. It's of great intellectual interest to discover that there was a coherent and consistent view of wandology in the author's mind at the time she wrote. But I'll tell you this: sometimes authors pretend they had more in mind and had a better backstory than they did. They start correcting their own little errors and mistakes. I don't want to be overly critical of books I love, but the Harry Potter books contain some plot holes and some incongruities, and my suspicion is that JKR is going to fix those [laughs] over the course of time. And knowing exactly when she dated things, and when she had these backstory thoughts, is going to get harder and harder and harder. How much editing goes on on Pottermore? If fandom recognizes that editing goes on in movies, that lots of people are involved, do we all really believe that every word that appears on Pottermore preceded directly from her mouth? What counts?
JG: I get it. Here's a sort of different spin on this, and this is to introduce my disagreement with what you're saying. I should confess to all of Harry Potter fandom that's scandalized by John Mark's position that I am almost fully in agreement with what he says.
AC: So am I.
JG: But one exception I'll make... [laughs] and maybe one of the exceptions, or just questions I want to throw at you, is the times when Rowling... because Rowling is actually very good about not discussing the meaning of her books. If she ever does become a full-time scientologist, she marries Tom Cruise or whatever - I mean, if she does do that, I think we can be pretty sure she's not going to go back and tell us what the books mean. She seems to have adopted, very early on, the George MacDonald position, which is if my dog doesn't bark I won't bark for him. She's not going to tell us the meaning of the books. She's been very good about skating around questions, what does Harry Potter's name mean, et cetera. But at certain points - for example, in four different interviews after Deathly Hallows came out, she talked about four parts of the book as being critically important. She talked about the epigraph summing up everything in the book, she talked about the two scriptural citations on the gravestones as being the epitome of the book, she talked about the conversation at King's Cross - especially the parting lines there - as being lines she waited seventeen years to write. And then she talked about the walk into the forest as the most important part of any of the books. Now, those comments don't tell us what any of those things mean. She doesn't tell us really what the epigraphs are about, she doesn't tell us the scriptural citations, she doesn't tell us why that, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" I mean, that... she tells us the lines of sight. She wants us to look along these lines or study these passages more closely, okay? Could that kind of information from the author - without pulling back the covers or anything like that - say, "Here it is! Here's what I really was after all this time!" I find that to be wonderfully helpful.
JR: Yeah, I find that wonderfully irrelevant.
JR: JKR is, herself, an interesting thing to study. Somebody should write - and I'm sure many people are already working on PhDs - about her psychology, what she was thinking when she wrote Harry Potter. But at this point she finished her books, and authors - if you've ever talked to a filmmaker and asked them why they picked certain colors, it's often disappointing to discover that they're at the end of a long Western tradition and they didn't realize why they picked all the colors.
JR: It isn't that picking purple doesn't mean royalty, it is that the filmmaker didn't know all the backstory of the colors he picked. In the same way, JKR can have meant to make X, Y, and Z the most prominent parts of the book, but we're free to think, "Well, you kind of failed at that, so if we're studying what you wanted us to read that's an interesting way of reading the books. But then there is what's there, and what's there did this, as opposed to what you meant to do." So, I'm curious as to what she meant to do, that's all very cool, but it's a totally different thing than what she did.
JG: I get it. Alicia, you said that you agree with John Mark, but are there any... tell us how you agree and disagree with the "text only" position. That Harry Potter canon is the book.
AC: Sure. Well, I'm used to the author not really interfering with what I think about the books. But it's really a question of: who does the book belong to once it's written? Does it belong to the people who read it, or does it belong to the author still? And since I'm not used to the author sort of intruding on my experience with the book, I'm kind of entitled to just say, "Well, what I think is what I think." And just like John Mark said, if you want to add in to what I've read in the books that's fine, but I'm not really going to consider it part of... I must believe it because you said it. Now, if you wanted to put it in there - and I'm thinking sort of into: what is going to be read 200 years from now? Is an email she sent to her publisher going to be read?
AC: Is that considered canon? Probably not. It's probably just going to be those books.
JG: It will be in the Norton Critical Edition back stuff. John Mark, here's a question for you.
JG: They are doing some excavation in England and they find, unbelievably, Shakespeare's diaries during the stage directions for Hamlet. Guess what? Hamlet is gay! Do you care?
JR: No, I don't care because it wasn't put in the text. The text, of course, for Hamlet is a big mess.
[JG and JR laugh]
JR: We end up getting every single conceivable line of Hamlet, so what is the original text of Hamlet? Who knows. It would be interesting if we had it, it would be interesting to know what Shakespeare thought about it, but there's sort of Hamlet as we have it, which is a mishmash probably of a bunch of different actors, a bunch of different writers around Shakespeare, and then the man himself. So, do I believe Shakespeare wrote Hamlet? Sure. I believe he wrote most of Hamlet. Do I believe he wrote all of what we have? Almost surely not. So, there's the text that we have and then there's what Shakespeare originally did. And the text that we have is what interests me. Someone else could go be interested in the Shakespeare that we knew. I think this is most relevant to people if they understand that there are two different endings to Great Expectations.
JG: Right, right. [laughs]
JR: So, which ending to Great Expectations do you have to take seriously? The one Dickens wanted to write, or the one that the public demanded that he write? And I think that's an interesting question since Dickens wrote both of them, you would have this huge canon anomaly. In the same way, is Lord of the Rings a deeply Catholic novel, or is it religiously neutral? I can find you quotations where Tolkien said both things. So, you just... after a while you have to say to poor Tolkien, "Dude, if you meant us to get all the Catholicism out of it...
JR: ...that you now wished us to see, you should have put it in more clearly. I'm just not getting Galadriel as the blessed Virgin Mary. It's not happening for me. You didn't give us enough clues."
JR: In the same way with the sexuality of some of the characters in what after all was a kids' book set in a school. It's hard to know the sexuality of any of the characters. So, if she was thinking all kinds of things about who marries who at the end, and she didn't intrude it into the book, I'm free to imagine any kind of relationship-ing, shipping, that I want. Don't constrain my vision, JKR.
KH: Well, I understand what you're saying, John Mark. I really do. I appreciate that you have the seven books and that's it. But, do you also agree that while she was writing these seven books, she did write the two schoolbooks and Beedle the Bard... well, Beedle the Bard came shortly after. But those are books that are found in the series, they have references there, whether it be Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and they explain the Crups and the Kappas that are found in the book, the Nifflers, the different types of dragon breeds - they are all in this reference book that she wrote to further along what the series and what the world is really like. So, in my opinion, I believe that, okay she wrote those two books, she wrote Tales of Beedle the Bard, she wrote the Chocolate Frog cards and the Famous Wizards Cards for the EA games, she wrote the Daily Prophets. These are all published by her for the fans as extra pieces to the Harry Potter world. So, since I believe that those things were written by her for the fans, why can't I consider that canon? And since I do consider that canon, where does it stop? I also believe that, even though what you're saying about Pottermore and all the editing involved and everything, still I think a lot of those notes that are in Pottermore came from her notebooks on the backstory of the world.
JR: You're taking all that by faith, of course, which is great. We can now have a Harry Potter church split.
JR: People need to understand if they want to have a more inclusive canon and draw different lines, that's fine. But they are going to have to recognize that for most people in most places at most times, there are going to be two primary Harry Potter universes. The primary Harry Potter universe is going to be the universe of the films, as the eight films as a canon, and if it got filmed that's the Harry Potter universe. Then there's the "inconsistent with the film" universe, Harry Potter universe, of the seven books as published. All the rest of the stuff is just... it's cool and it's fun. You can create a third universe if you want called "John Mark Reynolds and all the things he thinks about Harry Potter while he reads it, all the fan fic he writes, plus anything he decides to include." And Keith, all you've done is draw lines differently. You've drawn the JKR universe of Harry Potter, which itself will end up being deeply inconsistent, you'll never be quite sure where to draw the lines. So, at least I have bounded universes of discussion where I can say to someone, "Today we are going to talk about literary Harry Potter, by which I mean this. Tomorrow we are going to talk about gaming Harry Potter, by which I mean all of those rotten games that I got shoved through the Wii."
JR: And so, I have different constrained universes.
AC: Right, and maybe that's a way to reconcile what is sort of the literary Harry Potter versus the Harry Potter canon versus all this extra stuff. And maybe we should look at that for Lord of the Rings, too. Do we have a Middle Earth canon and a Lord of the Rings canon? Maybe we can apply that to Harry Potter. But what's really, for literature people, very important, would be the literary seven books. But what's important for the fantasy sort of universe would be everything that she's written.
JR: The problem with that is that fandom will start getting rid of JKR's worst stuff. The parallel to this is Star Trek, where the animated series was so embarrassingly awful at times...
JR: ...that fandom didn't want to be responsible for things, or eventually the timeline doesn't work anymore because we didn't have genetic wars in the 90s. And so they start getting rid of things like episodes like "Spock's Brain". Now, I'm a big fan of JKR, but let's face it, the literary quality of some of these ancillary products varies between pretty bad to pretty awful. Think of game dialogue.
JR: All of that was approved by JKR, or arguably approved by JKR. Did Harry Potter actually say all the cheesy things that he allegedly says in games? Does he do all the things that I make him do in a game, it was approved by JKR? I don't think so. So, at least we can draw a clear line: here are the seven books, this is what we've got. I will say this: the two authorized books that were published simultaneously, and that are mentioned inside the canon themselves, I think are the only interesting question. I feel kind of open minded about both of those.
JR: But the reason why I reject them is because the original project was for seven books, and she was kind of seduced either by money or by her love of the fans to give us a little more information than I think she should have.
JG: Charitable impulses, I'd say, because almost all the money she made from those things went to charity. But that...
JR: Yeah, that's right.
JG: I'm with Keith. The fuzzy border is the textbooks and Beedle the Bard, where you say, "Oh my gosh, there it is. It is right there inside the books. We actually have 'The Tale of the Three Brothers' in one canon and and also appearing in Beedle the Bard." So, it seems to be like an umbilical cord sustaining these extracurricular, if you will, curriculum.
JR: Yeah. I would view them the way religious people overwhelmingly view the apocryphal books of scripture. I actually think those are books that I would take very, very seriously because they were published for all the reasons you just gave, but I still don't think are determinative. I think she had an initial literary vision from Book 1 to Book 7. She completed it. She chose what to put in. She could have, after all, have bound both of those books for charity in the end of Book 7 the way Tolkien canonized some of his appendixes by putting them in the end of Return of the King.
JR: But she chose not to because she didn't, I think rightly, want to mess up her beautiful work of art in the Book 1 through 7 - just think of the number seven, after all - canon. There would be a big difference if there were nine books to rule them all, nine books to bind them...
JR: ...from a numerological point of view, nine being the number of judgment. Seven being the number of completion in a standard view. So, I think there is a good reason to exclude them.
KH: Well, you had also mentioned that the film series is one part of the universe that you have as a canon, like a separate canon.
KH: And you had also mentioned that Star Trek - one of the big downfalls of it was the animated film series that they put on.
KH: So, let me combine those two into one question for you. Originally, when Warner Bros. was looking to make these films, they had brought on Steven Spielberg as a possible director. And he said, "This is the way we're going to film Harry Potter. We're going to make it an animated movie." So now, let's say, for all intents and purposes, WB and JK Rowling agree on that. We don't have any Dan Radcliffe's, Emma Watson's, Evanna Lynch's of the world anymore. We have this animated series. Is that still considered a canon piece to you now?
JR: It wouldn't be considered a canon piece of literary Harry Potter, the Harry Potter that I take most seriously. It would be its own world, animated Harry Potter. And I think fans need to realize that when JKR slips this mortal coil... because the Harry Potter films made so much money, they're going to have to see Harry Potter played by a different actor. It is inevitable that this series will be rebooted and that this entire film series will be remade with better special effects, "better acting," and people are going to watch their childhoods remade, a little bit like Star Wars fans suddenly had to have intruded on the original canon of three films, three more films with George Lucas's imprint made on them.
KH: Oh, I think it's going to be Peter Jackson that's going to be making the next set in forty years.
[AC and JG laugh]
JG: Well, it's going to be after the opera and the television series. I want to talk about one thing academic and then talk to John Mark about his own book, Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra. First, there's a division inside academia, and this is MuggleNet Academia after all. There are classes that just talk about Harry Potter as a literary text. I mean, James Thomas of Pepperdine, he talks about the books as the books, closed canon. I think most of the teachers in Harry Potter fandom - to include Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, who was here just last week - take more of a cultural studies approach to Harry Potter, which is to include everything Harry Potter. Harry Potter the franchise, the cultural event. To include the backlash from the Harry-haters to the films to fan fiction to wrock music to stage productions, rock opera. And that Harry Potter is an event which includes every possible thing Harry Potter. You're suggesting... you obviously represent the great books wing of the university. Are you saying that basically the cultural studies thing is amorphous and is going to lose its heart in trying to find something to say that's important about Harry Potter?
JR: Well, I think that it's actually a fine thing to study. Harry Potter as cultural phenomena is an entirely different thing than to study the books. And in fact, at a certain point, there can be so much Harry Potter "dumb" that you don't have to read , the original seven books, or watch the films anymore.
JR: You could just sit and get a PhD in fan fiction, where you just immerse yourself in fan fiction. But Harry Potter fans need to be careful here. After all, what if a prominent, let's say, Christian writer spends a long time and writes a very high quality spinoff after these books are in the public domain - and they will eventually be - in which, I don't know, Harry Potter becomes a fundamentalist Baptist, repudiates witchcraft, and we have the whole story...
JR: ...told from the point of view of the Dursleys. It turns out... the Dursleys are treated horribly in the books, almost cruelly, and so there would be a way of writing the books where the cruel Harry Potter and JKR, who sucks up to them, really pawns this kind of demonic scheme off on us, blah, blah, blah. Now, these are not my views of the books. I would find that all reprehensible and silly, even from a religious point of view. But somebody eventually could do something like that, and it would be kind of fun if they did it. Does that count as well? I think it counts as part of the Harry Potter cultural phenomena, and it would be interesting to study why someone would want to do that. But I think a hundred years from now, people will be reading and studying the seven books, and all the rest of this stuff will just be stuff. A study in Dickensania. You can study all the paraphernalia that went around Charles Dickens, or you can study the books he wrote, and mostly, we study the books he wrote.
JG: You're right. I want to skip to something that I really want to get to because you're not only a scholar, John Mark, but you're an author, and you've got a new book out called Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra, which I hope you'll describe for people here who haven't read it yet, and I hope they will read it. You wrote that, or edited it - you'll describe the difference, I hope... [laughs]
JG: ...after you had come through your experience of Harry Potter, both as a reader, a teacher. Now, you're looking at it as a writer. Can you, first of all, tell us what influence, if any, this had on you and whether you think that that's going to be something that's increasingly important, is to look to writers to see what influence Harry Potter had on them because she is the elephant in the room I guess for all publishers and writers.
JR: Yeah, that's true. I can say this with Chasing Shadows. There exists a blue notebook that factually is from the time I was in seventh grade, on which Chasing Shadows is based. Then there is a manuscript that I received - a kind of account of people - right about the time Barack Obama was inaugurated as president about four years ago. And then there's the final product, which is my sitting down trying to fuse these two things. So, there are literary elements to Chasing Shadows that predate any... JK Rowling and I are about the same age... so predate any exposure I could have had to Harry Potter, and then, of course, there's the final product which is a fictionalization of both of these things. Both of these bits of data, which obviously came after I read Harry Potter. And so, there's no way she can not have influenced me. My guess is she influenced me by helping me write stronger female characters.
JG:[laughs] Go ahead and explain that.
JR: I think when I was in seventh grade, and as a guy, however I decided to start writing about Barterra, most of the interesting characters were male because I was a guy in seventh grade, writing male characters. And to tell you the truth, most of the female characters existed, not in a prurient way, but existed to help advance the story or to fulfill certain romantic needs of the hero. By the time I was done with Back to Barterra I had grown up, been actually in love with real women...
JR: ...have great deep personal friendships with real women, but I've also read first-rate fantasy literature by a real woman, JKR, and so my female characters are much more Hermione-like, both in the Shakespearean and in the JKR sense, than they would have been when I wrote in seventh grade.
JG: What about the stucture and the symbolism of Harry Potter? She's, in many respects, a postmodern writing for a postmodern audience with postmodern values, et cetera. She's also a very traditional writer. She writes on a chiasmus or a ring composition format. She uses literary alchemy as a scaffolding. Did any of that influence your work?
JR: Yeah. In fact, I would guess that by the time I got to the final editing process of this - and you have to read the book to understand what I'm saying here. In a sense, I didn't write this book. I just edited a lot of different source documents together. In another way, she helped me because... and I'll commit heresy here. I think she's a better structural writer than Tolkien and certainly better than Lewis.
JR: I think that she sets up...
AC: I'm okay.
JR: ...her mythology in the seven books in a very disciplined way, and that Book 7 is inevitable when you began at Book 1. And maybe with the exception of a couple of Quidditch scenes...
JR: ...there's nothing equivalent to Tom Bombadil.
JR: I mean, what in the world? Tom Bombadil - I just feel like, "Hey, I have this idea. Let me throw Tom Bombadil in there," and it's just... it was cut out of the movies and...
JG: A hundred pages later...
JR: Yeah, we all missed it because we all love every inch of Tolkien and it was a fun story, but I don't think the muthos would suffer without Tom Bombadil.
JR: He's just an anomaly. And I think JKR rarely, if ever, makes that kind of mistake.
JG: Well, the inquisition of St. JRR is already on the war path here. I can tell.
[AC and JR laugh]
JG: You're going to be a lot worse than a detesticated mouse here. I can tell that. But this... I agree with you that the... I mean, I've argued obviously in my work on ring composition in Harry Potter that every single chapter has a correspondence in a question and answer relationship across the axis of each one of the books. And the whole book series as a whole has an intricate involvement with all the books relating to one another. I think that she's a much better structural and symbolic writer than she is in... certainly in terms of her language.
JR: She reminds me of Dickens in this sense. I mean, Dickens writes characters that are almost unreadable. If you just...
AC: Oh, yes.
JR: ...had to read little Nell characters a bajillion times... but does anybody plot better than Dickens? I mean, the first hundred pages of a Dickens' novel I always think, "What in the world?"
JR: And then the last hundred pages I'm always thinking, "I should only read Dickens. Any time I'm not reading Dickens, I'm wasting my life."
JR: I think JKR's strength is - and one reason we wouldn't want to add all these back thoughts she has - is Book 1 flows into Book 7 with the inevitability of Sherman marching through Georgia. This is just brilliant. By the time you get to the end of Book 7 you say, "Well, of course." And so you're overwilling to look things like the magical bag of Hermione...
JR: ...which I think is one of the goofier plot devices ever...
AC: Oh, yes.
JR: ...in the history of the world, kind of magical in the bad sense of the word 'magical' - because it works. So, in the same way we forgive CS Lewis - his anomalies in Narnia because the place is so beautiful and we love it so much, the beauty of it. JKR is such a craftswoman that we'll forgive her any wooden characterization or any magical machines that solve problems for her or inconsistencies in her use of magic.
JG: Agreed, agreed. Tell me some more about Chasing Shadows, the plot. I mean, you've got... it's I guess a portal fantasy by definition because they go back to Barterra which is another world from our Earth. But it's not a portal fantasy like Harry Potter where he suddenly goes to a train station and there's the portal he's in.
JR: No. Back to Barterra can be thought of as, "Where do all the fictional characters come from, and where do they go?" So, I'd like to say something like this: when I read bad Arthur Conan Doyle...
JR: This is the Sherlock Holmes canon, the stories he wrote after he was just doing it for five hundred pounds and to advance his spiritualism research. You can say, "Sherlock Holmes wouldn't act like this. This is wrong. You created a character Sherlock Holmes that has outgrown you."
JR: "You're not good enough to write Sherlock Holmes stories anymore, Arthur Conan Doyle. You should leave Holmes alone. You're wrecking your own character. This is bad Holmes." Fictional characters, I think, are born from somewhere and then they take on a life of their own. Where are they and where do they go? Barterra is where they come from and Barterra is where they go, and so the characters in Back to Barterra go to where the fictional characters live and are born.
JG: Wow. I've read the book twice. I don't want to give away a lot and spoil this for readers, but it involves political, spiritual elements on Earth. And then one man's crisis - almost a faith, really, and his recalling, his memory, of this so called imaginative world but imaginative understood in the [unintelligible] sense. It's a fantastic ride and I'm hopeful there are going to be more in this series. But back to JK Rowling, she talks imagination - in her talk at Harvard, she talked about "We can imagine better." She talks about imagination in a more powerful sense than just fantasy.
JG: You're talking about this in the same sense, that there's a source for our imagination. Is that something that you think you and Rowling share, a same source? Or you get this from her? Where does this come from?
JR: Yeah, I think we do share a same source. I think fantasy literature can be true or it can be false if it taps into kind of these universal archetypes that I truly... this is, I guess, straight Plato.
JR: I truly believe exists. I believe that there is a shadow world that we live in, and then there is a deeper world, a truer world. In this sense, I'd say to Harry Potter fandom: one reason they like Harry Potter more than the newspaper or an online news source is that generally Harry Potter is truer to reality than most of what we read in so called news. Okay, there isn't literally a Hogwarts that you can go to school in, so far as we know, in this shadow world. But Hogwarts is a lot more like the world of education is, or at least should be, than most of what we experienced in school.
JG: I get it. It's basically just like Ralph Wood said at Baylor, that reading fantasy is not escaping from reality, it's entering into reality. You're going to get closer to what's true and good and beautiful in the substance of things, the reality of stuff, than you are just looking at stuff on the surface of things.
JR: That's right, and so that's why I think fans - and I guess I would count as this - those of us who never will craft as well as JKR still feel compelled to write our own fantasy literature, our own fantasy series, and reflect on the dreams of our childhood. Back to Barterra is based on a series of dreams that I've actually had my entire life, one about the Russian Revolution and one about this shadowy world, Barterra. Even if we're not the craftspeople that Tolkien or Lewis or JKR turned out to be, we still need to tell these stories because there's a truth to them, a universal truth. Not just true to us, but a truth that other people can recognize when they read our... even our fan fiction.
JG: So, you talked... we need to draw this as a ring here to close this up. You talked earlier about Plato being an intentional mythmaker as opposed to something like [unintelligible] or maybe even Homer, that Plato was writing a myth that he knew was instructive, edifying, engaging, or whatever. He writes the cave allegory, take that as a myth or whatever.
JG: He's actually... though he's writing a story, he means it to be instructive as well as engaging and challenging. Is Harry Potter the same way? Is Rowling writing in the same tradition as Plato here?
JR: Yeah, I think she is and I think it's why the Dan Brown books, the Da Vinci Code books, work as well as they do. I mean, he's not as good an author, in my opinion, or mythmaker as JKR. But they work better than just normal adventure books because they attempt to tap into some deeper worries, some deeper truths, about the universe. Plato starts this really in his Atlantis story, a story that if you look at contextually, he's simply obviously making up. He may have been using some historical events that he's heard of, but the details are plainly fictive. But then he tells us in the story that they are true. They're as true as anything can be. So, that's a lot of fun, right? He's playing with the tension between truth and fiction. Can fiction be false? Yes, we've all read a book where we think, "People don't talk that way."
JR: Well, people don't talk the way they talk throughout the book, but it just doesn't work. TV is like this, too. Somebody can write TV dialogue. Nobody talks exactly the way most characters speak on television, but we can all tell the difference between well-written dialogue and badly-written dialogue. And so, JKR - we should appreciate her because she's a living "Columbus of the mind," of the fantasy world. And I honor her for that, and I honor her enough not to take all the rest of what she does very seriously.
KH: Well, let me ask you this question because I've asked this to a couple of our guests and since you're pretty authoritative on the canon part: I see this literature lasting as a classic for centuries.
AC: Oh, yes.
KH: Do you see also see that or do you think that this is something that, okay it's in the here and now, and maybe in fifty years it will be pretty much washed up and taken away?
JR: No, JKR will endure in the same way that Alice in Wonderland has endured. I mean, the sad truth is that very few children now read Alice in Wonderland and I think the day will come, inevitably, when very few young adults will read JKR because it will become dated in similar ways, both the language and what's supposedly cool in it. I don't know, maybe we'll have a great Victorian reversion...
[AC and JG laugh]
JR: ...in social mores so that snogging openly in a book will be considered improper. I think that's as likely, by the way, as the reverse.
JR: But scholars, they are so well written and they have such a big cultural influence that those people who take literature seriously, who love great writing, will be reading them a hundred years from now in the same way we read Alice in Wonderland even though children don't anymore.
KH: So, even though there's a bunch of classes that are being taught right now in the colleges and universities around the world, even though there's jobs and occupations that are basing their studies on some parts of Harry Potter, this is going to continue to grow. There's going to be more and more authorized, full credit Harry Potter courses being given away in colleges and universities. Is that what you see?
JR: Yeah, I do see that. I actually don't think it will grow. It will shrink in the sense that right now if you offer a class on Harry Potter, you're hitting the sweet spot for people that are college student age. But I'm already teaching students that are post-Potter, if that makes sense.
JR:Potter is what their older brothers and sisters read, and they're Hunger Games people. They didn't read Potter at all. And sadly, the Potter books are too difficult for lots and lots of people.
AC: Oh, Lord.
JR: And the movies have managed to date them as well, if that makes sense. By producing movies and having people look at movies that are so early 21st century, they have also dated the books. So, I actually think we'll have a boom in Harry Potter studies as a "cool kid class." College professors always think they're hip when they're not.
JR: And then that will fade away, and we'll get down to serious Harry Potter work. Almost every college that has a serious children's literature department will offer Harry Potter as part of a course in children's literature for the next hundred years. That's what I'm saying.
KH: That sounds great.
AC: Absolutely. And I think we're going to get something like what's happening with Tolkien at Rice, where it's just this very small group of people that study him very, very seriously. So, maybe in thirty years, we'll have "if you want to go study Harry Potter, you go to that school where all the really good professors are."
JR: Yeah, it'll be HBU.
JR: HBU is going to set up a Harry Potter study center...
JR: ...and we are going to be the place to go.
JG: My daughter is at the University of Chicago, God bless her, and they offered a Tolkien course two years ago and it was overwhelmed with people trying to get into the class. Okay? John Mark, your position would be: that's not because Tolkien has survived the fifty-year thing so much as it is that the movies made Tolkien suddenly cool again. Is that...
JR: Yeah, I will say this: Lord of the Rings is still read. Kids of a certain sort, nerdy kids of a certain sort - and I would be that certain sort, my kids - still read Lord of the Rings. It isn't obvious that Harry Potter has made that transition yet. Will Harry Potter make it onto the "nerdy kid who reads fantasy book must read list" the way Lord of the Rings has made it? I think so, but I'm not sure so because we haven't had time yet, and I see an awful lot of nerdy young adults who have read Lord of the Rings and not Harry Potter. They've read Lord of the Rings and Hunger Games and they skip Potter. So, it is possible that the movies coming so close to the literary phenomena have dated Harry Potter in ways that Lord of the Rings, which after all went decades without any serious movies being made. The Rankin and Bass cartoons don't count because they are so reprehensible.
JR: It may be that the movies have actually harmed Potter's literary transition into the nerd canon.
AC: I completely agree.
JR: Because I sure meet a lot of students who don't read them. They are like what old kids read.
AC: Mhm. That's what we did before we had them.
JG: That's right, and I'm all for that. When we were in the great interlibrum, the stages between the books as we anticipated the next book, the online speculations and conversations were at a very elevated level.
JG: As we got post Deathly Hallows and the other movies came out, the conversation descended and descended and descended. Where now you go to Harry Potter fan cons and the conversation is almost entirely about films stars, about fan involvement and reengagement with re-distillation, really, of the text to their own creative juices or whatever. That changed what I think John Mark was describing here. We are seeing something different than an approach to the literary text.
JR: And I will give you a sad thing, and this is where being 49 years old gives you a perspective. There's nothing worse then watching fandom age.
[AC and JG laugh]
JR: And as a Star Trek fan, I can tell you that it gets really sad and pathetic to... original series fans are now in their fifties and sixties, and the original cast is dying and old.
JG:[laughs] Forgive me for laughing.
JR: And there comes... it's kind of pathetic, right? A fandom that's built around a pop cultural phenomenon really does start to fade. And so you can reboot Star Trek, they have picked young cool actors, but it's still "beam me up, Scotty" to the extent that that show has any penetration. It's as kind of sixties kitsch and something you used to think was cool, is now only tolerated as kind of hokey. And that will happen because of the films, to Harry Potter because those actors are going to age, some of them badly, and the dialogue in those films and the acting styles and the special effects are going to age, and that's kind of a sad thing to watch. And that doesn't happen so much with Lord of the Rings because I would argue that Lord of the Rings, even though the films were very successful, is still fundamentally a literary phenomenon because of the decades that went on before the films came out.
AC: And Lewis is the same way. I mean, he wrote his books in the '50s and really good movies didn't come out until the last few years.
JG: Actually, really good movies have still not come out.
[AC and JG laugh]
AC: The first one was good.
JR: Well, yes we could argue about that. But because the books were out for so long before the films come out - because there was such a long tradition of reading them out loud - you can really see that Lewis fans are pretty much already forgetting the movies.
AC: It's true.
JR: You don't go on Lewis sites and it's all... sometimes it's about the hot actor who played Prince Caspian, but mostly not. And on Tolkien sites, you're as likely to run into somebody who is arguing about Quenya as a form of Elvish...
JR: ...than you are, you know, "Is Sam gay?" And that's... again, it's not to focus on my distaste about particular sexual preferences or something like that. It's nothing to do with it. It's just one is not very interesting to me because it is not in the work. There are books about sexuality and then those are interesting discussions, and then there is just our purine interest in actors and that's of less interest to me, maybe because I am a nerd.
KH: While you are saying all this, the thing is that in today's world, today's age, things are moving so fast. Technology continues to grow and advance so quickly that as soon as a book is published, people are buying these rights up immediately and getting ready for a film. It happened with the Hunger Games, the Twilight series, the Harry Potter films, Perks of Being a Wallflower - things are all being made right away into a movie as soon as the book comes out, and I think that's just the era that we live in. It's not... I don't think that's going to take away necessarily from a literary phenomenon because as you said it's a separate universe, it's a separate world.
JG: I disagree, Keith. The Harry Potter experience where we went book to movie while the books were still coming out - that created the Twilight conveyor belt that became the Hunger Games conveyor belt that's now the Divergent conveyor belt...
AC: It's true.
JG: ...so that the books are largely disappearing en route to movie, and that people are already talking... for example, the Divergent book came out, and right away people were talking about who was going to play which parts, and the discussion online was about movie CGI and such. That's really, again, to undermine the literary experience and the discussion of where the books are going to go while the books are still being written.
JR: The other thing I would say is with some exceptions like a Jimmy Stewart movie like It's A Wonderful Life - that still most young adults don't watch because it's black and white - movies get way more dated than books do. I have never met anyone much who likes fantasy literature of the Lord of the Rings type that won't read Lord of the Rings because it's dated. There must be a few people. I mean, there are not as many good female characters in it, maybe because of when it was written, who knows. But people... books don't get dated in the same way that films do. And if your first exposure to Twilight was the first movie, that's really an awful pity because the first film, in my opinion, is pretty bad as a film. And it's going to be so dated, the soundtrack and things, that I don't know that anybody would ever pick up the book. Why in the world would you read the book?
JG: It was actually filmed as a parody, I think. And the makers were astonished at the fan response, which was, "Give us more! Give us more parody as depiction."
JR: So I think, in some ways, we're not giving the books time to [unintelligible] and create their own communities before we overwhelm people's imagination. I think one of the great actors of all time is Sir Ian McKellan. There's a wonderful parody where he describes acting - Sir Ian, On Acting - as Gandalf. I have to say, I love Sir Ian so much that I'm very glad that I thought about Gandalf for years before he appeared as Gandalf in the films. Because I can watch the films and Gandalf is sort of Sir Ian-ized when I watch the movies, but I'm not overwhelmed by it. I'm not overwhelmed by it because I spent decades liking Lord of the Rings as a book.
JG: Yeah, when Joanne Rowling says that she does not see Harry Potter as Daniel Radcliffe, I think that puts her once more in the category of things that are only true of JK Rowling and not true of any other person living on planet Earth.
JR: Yeah, that's right.
AC: Oh, yeah.
JG: There's almost no way, if you've read the Harry Potter books - as we all had to - while the Harry Potter movies were coming out, that our ideas of Harry - who had jet-black hair and green eyes and a certain-shaped face which were not Daniel Radcliffe's characteristics - became Daniel Radcliffe. By the time Deathly Hallows happened, and he wakes up in what he calls King's Cross Station in Deathly Hallows, I see Daniel Radcliffe in the buff there, doing his Equus moment. It's not a... the films change the way we understand the books if they're coming out while we are experiencing the books.
KH: I agree with you on that, but I also think that the true fans - the ones who come up to you and they know I... "Okay, I work for MuggleNet.com," and they go, "Oh, I'm a big Harry Potter fan. I love all the movies!" "All right, have you read the books?" "No, I haven't read the books." "Okay, then go away. You're not really a fan."
KH: Those type of people just are not what I would consider the true Harry Potter fans. Yes, they're fans of the movies, that's all well and good. They understand the movies, they watch them over and over again. But the literature world that JK Rowling created is what is the masterpiece here. That's what binds the fans together. That's why we have these conventions, and go to HPEF conferences, go to LeakyCon conferences, have all these sit-down discussions on the literature world that she created. It's all about the books.
JR: Yeah, maybe, but let's face it, JKR did not have to make the movies. There is, after all, the Calvin and Hobbes artistic purity where the guy who created the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes said, "Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip. It's not going to appear on a mug. I'm not going to sell bumper stickers of Calvin."
JR: Any time you've seen any of that, those are all pirated materials. He said, "This is a comic, it's not a film, I'm not going to 'Charlie Brown' it."
JR: And he left a lot of money sitting on the table for his artistic purity. JKR could have decided that she had created a literary world and given it time to [unintelligible] but - and I don't blame her for this - she decided to make movies. And so, was that a good decision? We'll see. Or, will she have overwhelmed her own fandom with a kind of early 21st century coolness? So that when that starts to date, the books themselves will suffer as "Oh, that's what a certain kind of kid that also likes Buffy the Vampire Slayer." If you grew up and thought Buffy was cool, you have to admit that nobody that's not your age hardly thinks Buffy is cool because TV dates and it ends. And Joss Whedon himself hasn't managed to resurrect it in any kind of viable way. So, I'm afraid - this is my fear - that the films will harm the books.
JG: And this is a great way to get into discussion because what you're saying I think, John Mark, is that canon, if we keep it text only, will actually be for the health of the Harry Potter fandom and for the serious discussion of this series as written. Rather than expanding canon indefinitely...
JG: ...to the canon of the movies, the canon of everything she wrote, the canon of the park. Even in the theme park, you are literally walking around inside what is supposedly an imaginative world. Would you say that's not a healthy experience in terms of people actually creating an internal world from the texts themselves?
JR: Yeah. I think first of all, I can't wait to get to do it, so...
[AC and JG laugh]
JR: There is what's good for the long-term survival of Harry Potter and then there is what's fun. And I think the problem is that if kitsch overwhelms something - think Star Trek - or if there is no undergirding long-term, cool thing, then we're in trouble.
AC: That's so true.
JG: All right. Keith, it's been a great show. Are we...
KH: This was a lot of fun. And for the trivia people out there, yes, I do believe that the canon - in my opinion - is all of JK Rowling. I do understand and I do appreciate what John Mark Reynolds is saying, that it sticks to the literary text. It has opened my eyes a great deal more to accepting that fact. But for my purposes and the trivia and when I do stuff on MuggleNet, I do believe in the entire - what I consider the Lexicon canon - as being canon.
JR: Keith, you're the episcopalian. You're the episcopalian of Harry Potter-dom.
KH: I am the representative of the fans of JK Rowling.
JG: There you go!
KH: I guess that's the way I should put it.
AC: Oh, snap.
JG: Everything written! And again, Keith, if this was just a democracy - I think the three of us outnumber you here, Keith, in some form. But really the millions are at your back here, Keith. Don't be afraid, you're just the point of the spear.
KH: That's okay. I'm sure I'll hear one way or the other, which way I'm right or wrong on the comments.
[AC and JG laugh]
JR: No, no, Keith. I'm the one who will catch flack, so let me end by saying two things. The first thing I want to say is I think it's awesome that people have more inclusive views of canon, or want to write their own fan-fic. Those are different kinds of universes, they're not bad, they're not evil. Nothing I am saying here is because I think any of those universes - or any of the facts that JKR has given us - are bad or evil. I'm not trying to constrain people's imagination. And the second thing is - I've run into this phenomenon myself - there are things I think about Chasing Shadows, where I've talked to the still few people who have read the books, who have said, "Boy, I really like this about this universe," and I've almost said, "Well no, it's this way." And I realized I didn't include that detail...
JR: ...I haven't included that detail yet, and so I have no right to constrain their imaginations. So, I've actually been on both sides of this, as an author and as a commentator.
JG: Yeah, I want to encourage people out there, that are fascinated by this conversation, to pick up Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra...
JG: ...because in it, you'll see how John Mark as a writer has actually come to struggle with most of the issues we're talking about here; about mythmaking and where these fictional characters come from, where they go. Really, this conversation has been wonderful and it can continue if you pick up John Mark Reynold's book, Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra. Keith, are... what's our...
KH: We're all set. This has been a lively show and John Mark Reynolds, it has been terrific having you on the show. I truly do appreciate your input into the Harry Potter canon.
JR: Well, thanks for having me.
KH: And also Alicia Costelloi, good luck in going after your second masters degree. I hope you enjoyed the experience here.
AC: Thank you! Absolutely, I'd love to be back - hint, hint, wink, wink!
KH: Yeah, yeah, I got you.
KH: Well, if you want to be like Alicia and be on this show as our student guest, then head on over to MuggleNet Academia on MuggleNet.com, follow the instructions, and send me an email.
[Show music begins]
KH: We are looking for current or graduate students that specialize in a field that can be related to the Harry Potter series in one way or another. Once we have your request, we can attempt to match you up with one of our special guests in that particular field of study. John, I think that's it! Are we ready to wrap it up?
JG: Yes, sir!
KH: From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
JR: And I'm John Mark Reynolds, I'm the author of Chasing Shadows: Back to Barterra.
AC: And I'm Alicia Costelloi, currently getting masters degree number two at The King's University.