Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Travis Prinzi (TP) Natalie Cooper (NC)
[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 to MuggleNet Academia. This is Lesson 14: Harry Potter for Nerds. John and I are joined by Travis Prinzi and student guest Natalie Cooper. John, how are you this evening?
JG: I'm feeling good, Keith. It's the night before Thanksgiving and not a creature was stirring, or is that the wrong holiday? Anyway, this is going to be a great show. We've got two wonderful guests, Natalie in Toronto, and Travis, a very old friend of mine who lives relatively close to Toronto, just across the border there. And Travis has been a wizard among Potter Pundits for at least ten years now, and I look forward to this conversation, catching up with him about what he's thinking about Harry Potter, where he sees Potter punditry going, his latest collection of essays. It's going to be a great show, Keith.
KH: Yeah, I'm looking forward to hearing what he has to say about the future of Potter studies and where things are going in the classroom, where they're going in literature lessons. Obviously, this is growing throughout academia. More and more colleges seem to be adding on classes, and not just for recruiting purposes, although I do believe some are for recruiting purposes.
KH: But there are some actual real good quality lectures and studies going on in Harry Potter, so it is kind of exciting to see it grow. So, I've got something to tell you guys right now. John...
JG: Here's the news. Here's the newsflash here.
KH: Here's the newsflash, okay? It is now Thursday, it's Thanksgiving Day, we are releasing something on MuggleNet. Besides MuggleNet Academia, we had a special secret project that MuggleNet staff had been working on. Kat Miller, the staff's head photographer and really a senior staff member for many years, has been working extra hard on this project. We are releasing today the MuggleNet 2013 Fandom Calendar. This calendar is going to be... it's just beautiful. It's an 11'' x 17'' high-quality print on high-quality paper. Every month has something different about the fandom, whether it be Quidditch, wizard rock, Harry Potter crafts, costumes, fan art, fan fiction - you name it, we have it in there, as far as podcasts recordings, conventions, et cetera. But here's the special thing about the calendar. Included in each one of the months, in the grid of the days, is every actor and actress's birthday that was a star in the film, all of the character's birthdays that we know about, every single event that happened through the book series when they happened.
KH: So, John, do you know when Educational Degree Number 22 was released?
JG: That was in October 15th.
KH: No, it wasn't.
KH: You should buy the calendar so that you can find out exactly when that was released!
JG:[laughs] All right, Keith. All I want to know is, are you Mr. August? Are you a centerfold in this thing? Are you going to be...
KH: No, no, no, no, no.
JG: Is there a MuggleNet Academia month where we have you...
KH: I'm not trying to pay the fans to buy it, okay?
KH: I'm trying to get the fans to buy it. They don't want pictures of me.
KH: The MuggleNet staff is on the calendar cover. That is just a nice display, but we do have a link on MuggleNet that has a link to the UK office and one to the US office. The US is for the US and international sales. The price of the calendar is $19.95. I'll tell you, it's filled with everything Potter. So, if you want to look for when is a fan trip coming up, it's in there. If you're looking for when the conventions are being taken place next year, it's in there. The Quidditch World Cup, it's in there.
JG: So, MISTI-Con is in there?
JG: Wizards at Sea is in there?
JG: The Leaky Cauldron gatherings...
KH: LeakyCon Portland and London.
JG: The two of them are in there?
KH: Yup. HP Magical Tours trips, HP Fan Trips dates. Like I said, you name it, it's in there. It's a full-on fandom calendar to let you know what's going on in the wizarding world and what has taken place in the wizarding world.
KH: So, like I said, from everything that happened in the books, we have the dates in there. So, if you want to know...
JG: Luna Lovegood's birthday. When is Luna Lovegood's birthday?
KH: Off the top of my head, I have no clue but it's in there.
JG: It's in there somewhere. Okay.
KH: Same with Evanna Lynch.
JG: I like that. I like that. All right.
KH: Did you know that Adrian Rawlins who played James Potter in the films has the same exact birthday as James Potter? How about that?
JG: That's pretty neat.
KH: That was the only one that actually matches up the character with the actor. So, it's actually kind of neat to see how all this comes out, but we are excited as heck for this calendar to just take off, so if you are listening to this show - it was just released on Thursday - go out and order it right now. You're going to want this calendar.
KH: In other news, let's get on to the MuggleNet Academia show. I have a feedback report from somebody named Angelique who wrote on the website:
"Hi guys, love the show! I just wanted to suggest as a possible episode subject, perhaps you guys could look into the influence of ancient Greco-Roman mythology on the 'HP' universe. This could extend from the Latin roots of many spells, to the borrowing of names and what this may say about Rowling's characters, to the parallels between the ancient epics and the 'HP' story and how Rowling may have drawn inspiration from the iconic tales of Homer, Sophacles, Virgil, Aeschylus. There are really so many connections this could really be broken up into numerous episodes. Just a thought. Anyway, keep it up guys! You continue to provide enjoyment for me on my otherwise grueling commute."
Angelique, I'm glad to see that we are passing your time on your long drive...
KH: ...and this show will do the same exact thing with Travis. John, why don't you introduce our guest today?
JG: All right! Well, Travis Prinzi has been a friend of mine for a long time - maybe I'll talk about how we met and all that good stuff - and he's always been... even when we disagree, which is fairly often, he's always been a real challenging and edifying voice in the fandom. We're going to talk tonight about how he came into the fandom, what he's pulled out of it, but the contributions that he's made have been many and they've been significant. I mean, he really opened up the discussion, in my opinion, on the social and political side of things and the post-modern meaning of what these books are about. He's taken literary alchemy things in different directions. His exploration of the gothic, which is funny because... maybe we'll tell the story about how we both came to the same conclusion from absolutely different directions, about Harry Potter as a gothic hero. This guy has also been a web leader in that... my blog is largely just a John Granger forum. HogwartsProfessor.com is where myself and a few other geeks write longer than average posts or whatever, and the feedback... the conversation isn't that big, but the Hog's Head really is like a tavern, a place where people come to really talk about almost everything in popular culture using Harry Potter as a fulcrum. He's invented a collection of writers called the Blogengamot that focus... anything in the news that has to do with popular culture is examined and discussed at some length and some depth. Anyway, Travis, unlike some other Potter Pundits that we could name - well, he has written one book with significant essays - has also become the master of collecting essays from various parts of the Harry Potter fandom, and I want to talk about that tonight, about how wide-ranging the field is that these essays come from. He edited two collections of essays, the first one was called Hog's Head Conversations and the second one, most recently, Harry Potter for Nerds, which is... even though I contributed to both, I think I can say with some objectivity that they are really the high bar standard in Harry Potter literature, for, again, not only breadth but depth of topics and explorations of what these books mean to individual readers and to the fandom as a whole. Anyway, it's a thrill to have Travis on the show.
TP: I'm glad to be on the show, and I'm glad to be talking to fellow nerds, and I'm glad that we can talk about nerds tonight, so I'm very excited. Thanks for having me.
KH: Great and we're glad to have you on the show, Travis. It's absolutely a pleasure. Also joining us today is our student guest from the University of Toronto and living in Toronto, Natalie Cooper. Natalie, how are you? Tell us a little bit about yourself.
NC: I'm well. I'm a recent graduate of the University of Toronto, as you said. I just graduated in English, Drama, Writing and Rhetoric. And I'm just taking some time off before grad school right now, so I'm working at a production company.
JG: I'm looking forward to hearing about how you, as a Harry Potter fan, weathered the serious study at the University of Toronto. Did you have to hide your Harry Potter love, or was that something you could actually talk about openly there?
NC: It's actually pretty bizarre because one of my friends commented. He's like, "I can't believe..." I was reading Harry Potter on the subway and he was near me, and he said to me, "I can't believe you're reading that on the subway right now. Aren't you embarrassed?"
NC: And I said, "What are you talking about?" He's like, "You're an English major. Why are you reading that?" I'm like, "Go away."
[JG, KH, and TP laugh]
NC: But yeah, no, it is looked down upon at the University of Toronto which considers itself a very, very serious academic institution.
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JG: Well, Natalie, the reason he did that was because it is a very, very serious academic institution and I'm looking forward to talking to you about that. And now that Keith has made the announcement of this... we've been waiting for weeks about this Potter project, now we know it's a calendar. This is great. I'll try to find the link tomorrow or whenever this thing actually goes up, and we're ready to talk!
KH: All right, let's get this show on the road. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor, the author of Deathly Hallows Lectures.
TP: I'm Travis Prinzi, author of Harry Potter and Imagination.
NC: I'm Natalie Cooper, plebeian.
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KH: Lesson 14: Harry Potter for Nerds. Travis Prinzi, the author of Harry Potter and Imagination, editor of two collections of essays on the Hogwarts saga - most recently Harry Potter for Nerds - and website host for TheHogsHead.org, sits down to chat with John, Natalie, and I about what's hot on the front line of Potter studies. Looking through his For Nerds collection, Travis shares his thoughts on the literary magic of the seven novels, from their ring composition to the symbolism of the planets, from the Dante, Spencer, and McDonald echoes, to exploration of the meanings of magic and technology. He also talks about the difference between academic and fan contributions to the series and his thoughts about the several future directions of Potter studies. So, pull up a bar stool and order a Butterbeer or Firewhisky, your choice. This conversation is going to be one that you do not want to miss.
KH: Natalie, I want to lead off with you this time instead of just jumping right into Travis because I know a little bit more about Travis than I do you. But as far as you being from the University of Toronto, as we said in the introduction, which is really serious academics and they frown upon Harry Potter, how did you get involved in the Harry Potter series and what makes you feel like you know a little bit more than just the book series that you can take it into other classical studies?
NC: Well, I was six years old when the first Harry Potter book came out, so I'm pretty fortunate in that I grew up with the Harry Potter books. I actually... I was pretty famous in my elementary school as the person who refused to read the Harry Potter books just because everyone else was telling me to. So, I actually didn't read Philosopher's Stone until Goblet of Fire came out, which is when I finally buckled and sort of smuggled it like contraband out of the store. And I just... I fell in love with the series, and that continued on through school, through high school. I believe the last book came out when I was just about to go into grade 12. And I'm lucky in that I love literature. I went into U of T, I studied literature, and that sort of gave me... I almost went into classical studies too, so those sort of gave me the tools to look at Harry Potter from a more academic point of view. So, I'm sort of a hybrid. I like to consider myself a fan, but I'm also an academic. So, maybe I can bridge the two. I'm not a Harry Potter academic. I'm a Harry Potter fan and I'm an academic, I guess that's how I think about it.
JG: I love it. I love it. That's all you need to be a true Potter Pundit. This is a great intro. I want to head back over to Travis here now. Travis, I know probably too much about you.
JG: But I do want you to share with our listeners about your first encounters with Harry Potter. Am I wrong in recalling that you had your doubts at first about a story celebrating witchcraft and the occult? Weren't you working on your masters in theology or something when you started this whole thing?
TP: I was. I was working on my masters in theology, and... [laughs] boy, this is... I've got to go back and talk about things that I used to think that were really dumb. I grew up in a brand of Christianity that was very isolationist - and fundamentalist, is the word that you would use nowadays - and so anything that sounded at all like the witchcraft and the occult was to be avoided. So, when it first came out the response, obviously, from a lot of conservative evangelicalism, the more fundamentalist churches, was, "Oh, we don't want to glorify witchcraft and the occult." It got to kind of a crisis point where I was doing an interim role as the pastor of a small Baptist church and I was doing the... I had the youth group. I really needed two things: I needed to know what these books were about because the kids were talking about them, and I also needed a nice distraction from the pressure of sermon preparation. [laughs]
JG:[laughs] That's great!
TP: Yeah, Harry Potter provided that. So, I started reading the books and one book in, my response very quickly was, "This is what people are upset about? Are you kidding me?"
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: So, it didn't take long to turn that around. And to someone, I said actually that was quite an eye-opening experience for me. I don't belong to that flavor of Christianity anymore. [laughs] So, watching that... especially the emails at the time. I mean, this all seems like half a century ago now, but the emails that were circulating around... I remember a pastor telling me that he had heard that she wrote the books by channeling, by communicating with the dead.
TP: These emails were flying around... I mean, it was just started from The Onion...
JG: That's right.
TP: ...[laughs] and it got out that it was something to avoid because it was written in a demonic way. So yeah, very interesting and eye-opening experience for me to start reading Harry Potter.
JG: But you went from there, and you started... I want to hear... I knew that part of it, but then you started your first online weblog about Harry Potter, which I think was called Sword of Gryffindor. Describe what you had in mind for that site, and how it evolved into TheHogsHead.org and your PubCast podcast.
TP: The problem with Harry Potter is that it takes over your life, and I was...
JG:[laughs] That's great!
KH: Gee, do you think so?
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: I was doing my own blog after Half-Blood Prince... I read... I came to it a little bit later on the [unintelligible]. I started reading it just after Order of the Phoenix came out, so that was my... so I didn't actually have to endure that painful wait for Order that everybody else did.
TP: So after that, and then the wait for Half-Blood Prince, I started writing a little bit here and there on my personal website. And then when Half-Blood Prince came out, I found myself doing nothing but writing about that on my blog, and I thought, "Well, I should probably do this."
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: And I looked around and there were a lot of fan sites, but there really wasn't... there were LiveJournals with Harry Potter fans who talked about it a lot. There was not at the time, as far as I know, a Harry Potter blog, and so I thought, "Let's do it."
JG: Hogwarts Professor was up, but it was just my posts. There wasn't...
TP: Right, and it wasn't even a weblog format. It was more of a website with links to your essays.
JG: That's right.
TP: So, there weren't comment boxes and all that kind of stuff. And we had... the best conversation at the time was your private boards, which we all got to spend a lot of... some of us.
TP: The chosen few got to have really great conversations on. But yeah, what I wanted to do was I wanted to... because I had come from that very rigid reactionary point of view and had changed my mind, I thought, "Well, if we get the conversation going and speak reasonably and with charity and with patience, and open up a space where people can feel safe to have these discussions, then maybe other people can change their minds." So, that was initially the goal, and I think to an extent we accomplished it. One of the things that I've been told multiple times about The Hog's Head... it's TheHogsHead.org now and I'll explain why we did that in just a moment. But one of the things that I've been told multiple times is that... for the most part. It doesn't happen a lot, but for the most part, even when there are disagreements, it's a very, very safe place to have a conversation. People are respectful, we have a list of discussion rules and I'll enforce them if somebody gets out of line. And it's not out of control or rigid, but...
JG: That's my website!
TP:[laughs] Hogwarts Professor, yeah.
JG: My website is the out-of-control "if I don't like it, you're out of there!"
TP: So, what I wanted to do was, once we got to Deathly Hallows - and I knew that to some extent, over the coming years, would see somewhat of a decline in popular attention to Harry Potter - I wanted to create an ongoing website that would keep looking at Harry Potter but, like you said earlier, it's a place where we can talk about almost anything. The Hog's Head is a pub and I wanted to get that atmosphere, and I also wanted to have a place where I've also thought of... for me, Harry Potter was a re-awakening of literature for me. I was going to be an English teacher, that was what I went to school for, and then I got distracted by about... a good distraction but got distracted by six years of theological studies, and then Harry Potter kind of pulled me back around to English. And I think of Harry Potter sort of as Hogwarts. You go into Hogwarts and it's just the one building, but there are secret passageways and windows and paintings and doors to all kinds of other worlds. And the Harry Potter series is very much like that for literature, that you get into Harry Potter but there are so many secret passageways into Dickens and Austen and Lewis and Tolkien and all these other places that we can go. And so, we do keep Harry Potter as the central focus, but we take what we've experienced with Harry Potter and we branch out into other subjects both in pop culture and in classical literature. So, that's what I'm hoping to continue to do with the Hog's Head.
KH: That's exactly what we think of on this show, is that we are Hogwarts.
KH: Academia podcast is the Hogwarts haven...
KH: ...and we're going to branch off into every different type of study that we can possibly get a hold of.
TP: Beautiful, love it.
JG: Natalie, what does that make us? Are we Dolores Umbridge and I'm Filch? What does that leave us?
JG: Anyway, forgive me. Travis, I want to jump from that. You talked about... you basically are trying to bridge worlds here. You've written one book, Harry Potter and Imagination.
JG: I think Keith went through this in the beginning here. You've edited two Potter essay collections, The Hog's Head Conversations and Harry Potter for Nerds, and you've been one of three contributors to the big Potter Pundit portfolio, Harry Potter Smart Talk. [laughs] That's way too much for us to get through tonight...
JG: ...but let's start with the book, Harry Potter and Imagination, and a question about imagination. What are the two worlds in that subtitle, and how do Harry Potter and our imaginations bridge that divide between these two worlds?
TP: The two worlds are... there are so many ways we can approach that question, but I want to start thinking about the primary imagination and the secondary imagination, the experience in our own world and the reality beyond it that we can't see, which sounds kind of funky, let me break that down a little bit. Harry Potter is wainscott fantasy. The world, the magical world, is hiding just beneath, essentially, the primary world. And Harry goes into the magical world, the secondary world, and in a lot of ways there is where he learns more about what the world is, what the world is like, what people are like, what it's like to be a human being, really, than he was experiencing in his mundane Muggle world. Imaginative fiction is meant to evoke the same kind of response in us. It's the same sort of thing that Harry himself experienced, where if Harry had spent his entire life in the Muggle world, in the mundane Muggle world, he may not have ever even given the first thought to the question of whether or not he had a soul, let alone the state of his soul. In the magical world, where he had to travel, there he had to think about not only his soul but the purity of his own soul, and that in contrast with the essentially materialist who believed he had a soul but also believed he could cut it up into lots of pieces and do whatever he wanted with it.
So, imaginative fiction is, for us, a way to travel into another world and see things and learn to see things in our own world that we would not otherwise have seen. The imagination, Clyde Kilby says, is actually a way of knowing. It's a way of attaining knowledge. That isn't a popular notion nowadays. I think that we think of the five senses as being the sure foundation of knowledge and anything beyond that - whether you're talking about religious opinion or spiritual opinion or any of those things - that is all supposed to be held loosely. You're not supposed to really commit. That's not the fundamental knowledge. We can't prove any of that or know any of that. We can only really settle down on the five senses. Well, we're all fans of a book the primary subject of which was the human soul. [laughs] So, I imagine that most people reading Harry Potter coming face to face with the concept of a soul are also coming face to face with a concept that there is a greater reality to the world we live in than just what the five senses can perceive. So, the imagination helps us to see what our physical eyes cannot see.
KH: That's interesting, but that brings onto a subject that I want to cross. There's been a lot of talk recently that the Harry Potter series is basically Harry having a dream about his whole adventures in the seven years.
KH: That he's actually just a regular Muggle, that he's dreaming this whole entire plot sequence...
KH: ...that the books have. What do you think about that? And Natalie, I'd ask for your input on that, too. Have you heard any of this, and do you think that this has any legitimacy at all coming from just an imagination point?
NC: Well, I would say that it's unsubstantiated by the canon of the story because I don't know, I don't recall any part where Harry Potter falls asleep and it starts. But...
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: Like in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. She falls asleep, you can follow that. But...
TP: Wakes up next to Bob Newman at the end.
NC: Yeah, no. It's like a St. Elmo's Fire kind of... what is that show called? What am I thinking of that... St. Elsewhere? No. Anyway, I think it's a fan theory. There are plenty of fan theories. There's a popular fan theory about Pokémon, that the whole thing is Ash's coma dream. I mean, everyone loves to have a theory where everything is a dream, I think, nowadays.
NC: I don't put much stock in it, personally.
JG: I want to ask you a question too, Natalie. What Travis is talking about... a professor at Baylor University in Texas that said about Tolkien that reading imaginative literature is not escaping from reality, it's escaping into reality. And CS Lewis famously said that imagination was the organ of meaning. You get some experience of truth and beauty and goodness and what the world is about through your imagination. Is that something that you've encountered in your studies of literature, or is that really still an outlier kind of a crazy idea of what happens when we read books?
NC: Well, yes and no because I haven't only studied one very stringent type of literature. I took children's literature, so I completely understand that. I studied a lot of fairy tale, I studied a lot of folklore, and I think there is definitely a place for imagination both in reading literature and studying literature. It's just when you kind of come up with crazy theories like that I'm just kind of like, "Show the proof!" But...
NC: I guess... [laughs] maybe I'm cynical. But I guess in general...
JG: You're an empiricist! I love it!
NC: Yeah, I'm an empiricist, I'm a structuralist... people hate me.
NC: Do you know how difficult it is to be a structuralist and yet study literature?
JG: Study it well. Yeah, I'm much more of a Ruskinite than an angry Algerian. But Travis, what do you make of Clyde Kilby versus Lewis and Ralph Wood? Is the "escape from entry into" thing what you're going to here with this bridge?
TP: Absolutely. I mean, Kilby would have said the same thing. That's exactly where I'm going and the best place... the place I'd want to push everybody to go read more about this would be just go straight to Tolkien's essay "On Fairy Stories."
JG: That's right.
TP: That's where he really gets into this and the whole concept of a writer being a sub creator. Also, to go even deeper, look into Tolkien's poem "Mythopoeia" which he wrote in response to CS Lewis when the two of them were having a conversation, and Lewis said to Tolkien, "Well, the myths are all just lies," and Tolkien [laughs] very firmly responded, " They are not lies," and then he wrote this whole poem called "Mythopoeia" about the truth that is found in imagination. It's like the old fairy tale ending that says, "This tale I have told you, the tale is a lie," but it ends with, "But listen, the tale is a lie. What it tells is the truth." And so there's something... earlier today my daughter asked me... I answer this type of question from my daughter a lot, differently than I'm sure many parents do. My daughter was just... there's nobody who can talk better than my daughter. She can start talking at six in the morning and not stop until after we've put her to bed.
TP: But she was going on and on about wishing - Peter Pan - wishing she could fly, fairy dust, and all this kind of stuff. And finally she goes, "Wouldn't it be great if fairy dust was real?" and I said, "Sophie, it is real." And she goes, "It is?" I said, "It's real in your head."
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: And she goes, "How do I get it out of my head?"
[JG and TP laugh]
JG: I want a commodity, Dad!
JG: I'm looking under the Christmas tree here.
TP:[laughs] And my answer was, "Well, that's your imagination," and of course she didn't really know where to go there. She's six years old.
TP: But I don't... when she asks whether fairies are real or whether witches are real and all these things, I tend to say, "Yeah, they're real in your head." And so I don't agree at all with the dream theory of Harry Potter. But let's say it turned out to be true. Let's say twenty years from now, Rowling says, "Ha ha, I didn't mean it. It's a dream."
TP: Well, okay. What about what Dumbledore said? Why does that make it any less real?
JG: Is it real or in your dream?
TP: Yeah. [laughs]
JG: That's great. I like that because the two worlds that basically are the surface nominal reality that we experience through our sense and perception, but then there's the world of meaning and depth and truth and goodness and beauty that we long for and we know is there and what gives the surface its value to us. And if I understand you correctly, you're saying that our imaginative experiences are what allow us to see through the transparency of the world, to that other world that bridge those things.
TP: Yeah. The example I like to bring up is you've never met a house-elf. Nobody I assume in this conversation... if you have, I want to talk to you because...
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: ...I think they're cool. I'd like to meet one, too. You've never met a house-elf, but after reading Harry Potter you care about their plight, to the extent that, as we all know - and as John, I think you said many, many times - if you didn't cry at Dobby's death you need to see a psychiatrist.
TP: We care about house-elves. They're not even - quote, unquote - real. I think that the emotion that we experience... and this kind of gets us to the social, allegorical level of thinking. The emotion that we experience in considering the plight of the house-elves is something that we don't often feel in our own primary world, about other human beings who are treated the same way. And Harry Potter then becomes... Rowling didn't write that to teach us all a morality tale, to be good helpers of the poor and the oppressed, but those of us who did not have - or never have had - a profound experience of feeling sorrow and wanting to do something about the treatment of human beings in that way in our own world, experienced it in the books of Harry Potter. And now we return to our own world, and maybe now we can see that more clearly, maybe now we can experience it more clearly, and want to... hopefully not quite as misguided as Hermione, but want to be a part of the solution rather than not feeling it at all or turning a blind eye or whatever.
JG: That's great. This is something like what Lewis said about reading George MacDonald, that basically his imagination had been baptized, that he felt like a different person when he came out of this. This is great. I'm going to... but I want to pump your book here, Travis.
JG: You're speaking to us for free. You know I'm a big fan of Harry Potter for Nerds - I contributed an essay, after all - [laughs] but it really is... as I said in the introduction, it's the wildest and widest ranging set of respected insights on the Hogwarts saga between two covers. It's really... Harry Potter for Nerds is a must for Harry Potter fans. Tell us about this project: what it is, what you were looking to do, how you chose topics and writers, whatever, and what you found especially interesting in this volume. Specifically I want to know, what do you think our listeners... MuggleNet Academia listeners, as Keith will tell you, we're a rather serious set of Potter readers.
JG: What in this book would they like?
TP: Yeah. So, this book... this was kind of meant to be a bit of a freewheeling, all over the place kind of book. I really did not have an organizational point to this book. [laughs]
JG: Mission accomplished.
TP: Yes. [laughs] Which was different than Hog's Head Conversations which was... it's a decent collection but it's... go get this one first and then go get Hog's Head Conversations. This is the one you want. This one is a lot less boring. This is... there are so many essays that are presented at these conferences, there is so much good work. It's amazing to me to hear about literary programs that aren't addressing this series because it's happening everywhere. The amount that's been published and spoken about in the past ten years and more has been just phenomenal. So, there's no way I'm going to... I could have a general essay about certain subjects, I could organize it by topic. A couple of years ago, I was contacted about possibly writing it... this is how much Harry Potter work is going on out there. I was contacted by somebody to write a chapter, which was basically a literature review of everything that had been out there so far on literary criticism of Harry Potter, and another one on everything that had been out there about Harry Potter and education.
TP: And these were going to be two of about ten or twelve different subjects. Just a book doing a literary review of Harry Potter, and this was just after Deathly Hallows came out. So, there's a lot that's been done. So, what I was looking to do in this... to some extent, my collection of these essays are by chance, and some is by a very active pursuit, and I kind of let that all come together. I don't put out a call for papers for my essay books because I honestly don't want to sort through 300 or more submissions. [laughs] It's just as simple as that. I go looking.
TP: So, when I'm at the conferences and there's a paper I loved, I go ask that person. If somebody I trust says, "Hey, there's an essay that you need to take a look at," I take a look at it. And once I have enough to do another one, I do another one. [laughs] And I'm almost to the point of having enough really solid essays to do a For Nerds 2, by the way, which I really want to subtitle "Revenge of the Nerds."
TP: So, there's going to be more of these, and they're going to kind of come unsystematically. And really, these are essays by nerds and for nerds, or this is a book by nerds and for nerds. I did not require, for example... [laughs] this is not the kind of essay you're going to find in a lot of serious literature programs, essay book, because I love my own way of citing sources. And I know that other nerds are just as tied to their ways of citing sources. I mean, I don't know if we started talking about it here if we'd have a fight over Chicago versus MLA, but... Chicago.
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: APA! There you go! So yeah, we'd have a fight. I let everybody cite their sources in their own way in this essay. So, some people liked footnotes, some people liked endnotes. Some people liked MLA, some people liked Chicago.
TP: Yeah! [laughs] I wanted to let each essay be its own thing. I tried to sort of group them by subject... okay, so if I can run down the essays real quickly, there is some rhyme or reason to this. Sort of. Obviously the two ring composition essays go together, so I put them back-to-back. Two essays are on technology from different points of view - that's James Thomas and Joel Hunter. Two are really meant to simply be fun essays. Katie Langr, I was very impressed by her. She was one of Joel Hunter's students in the Honors Society at ASU, the Barrett Honors College, and she presented at... what was the last one I went to? John, what was the first one down in Florida? I haven't been to a Harry Potter conference in a long time. The one where they had the big dragon and the first one was at the...
TP: I can't remember the names of them anymore.
JG: Yeah, and you're asking me. Isn't that scary, Travis?
TP: Yeah, and you've been to a million of them.
TP: She did a fantastic job with this essay on swearing in the wizarding world. I thought that was hilarious.
JG: Merlin's beard!
TP: Merlin's beard! Merlin's pants, yeah. And then right next to that is Priscilla Hobbs who I have been in communication with for years, and who has done a lot of studies on myth and did an essay on the wizarding world. What is it like to be in the wizarding world? Is it embodied myth, does it succeed, does it fail, does it feel like you're really there, all that kind of stuff. Two other essays came to me as a joint. [laughs] They said, "These two essays go together, you need to take them both," basically. One was on the planetary code of Harry Potter and another was Dante. Planetary imagery and Dante in Harry Potter.
JG: And those two essays... as a guidance, both of those essays where people that have read my books and communicated with me, and took things that I have talked about in an entirely different direction. Really mind blowing to me. Erin Sweeney's essay on the planetary symbolism, Keith, starts from literary alchemy and a book by a traditionalist named Titus Burckhardt, and she read that book and realized that planets work with alchemical metals, and then laid out how each one of the books represents one planet. [laughs] And it's pretty doggone good. You definitely have to... that work, I haven't heard anybody write about it since, but no one is going to be able to write about the Christian symbolism or the traditional symbolism of the books anymore without reading Erin Sweeney's essay. It's just amazing.
KH: That sounds like the subject matter that we were talking about in the introduction from Angelique, asking about the planets and stuff of that nature.
JG: Well, it's not ancient myth, it's more medieval transformative science. Again, it's a wild essay. It's much more like Michael Ward's book on The Chronicles of Narnia than anything else I've read.
JG: And it's a relatively short essay compared to Michael Ward's book, but it invites a treatment like Michael Ward's book of Harry Potter, alchemy, and astrology. Boy, Travis, that's... anyway, but that's what I'm saying. That's the kind of essay that's in this book. Seemingly out of nowhere, you're reading a book about swearing in Harry Potter and every Harry Potter fan will be saying, "Oh yeah, I love that." And yet, she draws out why this character swears this way and why that way...
JG: ...and you'll be saying, "Oh, yeah!" It's almost as if you knew it before you read it. And then you come across this planetary essay, and you feel like Harry in the maze when he gets turned upside down...
JG: ...and doesn't know whether to take a step forwards or backwards. It's riveting but you're like, "Wow, did I even read the same book this lady read?"
JG: And then you realize that she's probably right, that it's in there but you just totally missed it.
JG: I mean seriously, that's the kind of experience this book... you get the fun read that takes what you already know and you follow along and you're like, "Oh yeah, that's great. I love it." And then the next one has you feeling like you're playing that game where they spin you around and spin you around and spin you around, [laughs] and then you're done and the whole world is still turning. Anyway, Harry Potter for Nerds is a great thing.
TP: I had fun putting this together and the other one I think a lot of fans will like is... the first Harry Potter conference I ever went to - I remember the name of that one - it was Prophecy 2007. Toronto!
TP: Toronto! And I went up to the registration table and they asked me what house I wanted to be in, and my response at the time was, "I'll be Gryffindor like everybody else, probably." And they said, "Oh no, big majority is Slytherin. Most people want to be Slytherins."
TP: And I'm like... [laughs] my jaw dropped. The year after, at Portus, I remember Voldemort and his Death Eaters were walking around, literally interrupting round table discussions, butting in... [laughs] it's amazing, the Slytherin following. So, the lead essay in this... I've got an introduction, which I think is really meant to just be a call to all nerds to realize that nerd is the new cool, and then the lead essay is Sandra Miesel's "Is There Hope for Slytherin House?" which I think is going to be a really, really fascinating read for the Slytherin fans.
KH: Well, when we go up to MISTI-Con in New Hampshire, that crowd... it's five hundred to six hundred fans attending this one convention. It's a closed-off resort, a hotel that's fully converted to a Hogwarts... just an amazing place.
KH: And about, I'm going to say, ninety percent of the people attending that convention are Slytherins.
KH: They do have the full... there's two full Voldemorts that have cosplayed for years, amazing Voldemort replicas, plus they have their Death Eater henchmen. They even have Death Eater recruiting at this convention, so it's really getting serious.
JG: You're going to scare people away!
[NC and TP laugh]
KH: No, no, no! It's so much fun! It's really just a blast. But I want to get back to... I want to ask you a question that you had brought up, Travis. You had said something about the ring composition, and the ring composition is something that John and I have talked about on MuggleNet before. There's a bonus feature on Academia discussing the ring composition. But on top of that, you had said that you had two ring compositions. Now, from what I understand, I think you have one that's on the Christian scripture, is that correct? Can you tell me what the difference is in the composition from your view, what this tells us about Harry Potter and the ring composition?
TP: Well, these two essays, one is essentially just a... Steve Lee's essay is essentially... it's the homework on ring composition, so it lays out the broad seven-book ring. So, "1" parallels "7", "2" parallels "6"... you guys have gone through it all. And then John's essay is on Goblet as the center, so it focuses primarily on Goblet. So, the two essays in the book actually... they work together that way. Ring composition in the broader... if you're thinking in the broader Christian tradition, classical tradition, that kind of thing. Talking about ring composition to you guys, especially John being here, is like a twelfth-grade physics student trying to talk to Stephen Hawking...
TP: ...but I'll do the best that I can. [laughs] If you look... Mary Douglas is the person to read, I'm sure John has recommended Mary Douglas before. Mary Douglas does a great thing with rings in sacred scripture. And what's interesting about that is... one of the things that if I could go back to that fundamentalist group of Christians I used to belong to, I'd want to put them all in a literature class, [laughs] so they could understand genres of literature rather than... the whole debate over whether to take scripture literally or not goes away when you think about reading literature as literature, right? The Book of Numbers, for example, is thought of as one of the most boring books in the Bible. If you're trying to read through the Old Testament, you're usually going to die off somewhere around Leviticus or Numbers.
TP: Numbers is a ring composition. I mean, the entire book essentially goes story, law, story, law, story - story at the center - law, story, law, story, law, story. And they echo each other all the way around. The whole book is ring composition. Why? I mean, the center or the circle is the symbol of God, the god who cannot be defined without what he has created, the center cannot be defined without its outside, you can go on and on. The resolution of... ring composition is central, really, to... it's sort of foundational to all the alchemy stuff because the alchemy stuff is about the resolution of contraries. Well, in a circle there is no left and right, up and down. It's a circle. Contraries are resolved, there are no contraries. There is no square or box, or east and west. It's all one continuous, ongoing circle. So, there are a lot of reasons that the circle fits religious and Christian symbolism, and says things about who the God is that Christians believe in. I don't know if that gets at what you were asking, but...
JG: Well, I think it does. It also highlights the irony, and maybe Joanne Rowling's frustration with Christian groups, and that she seems to be using this very traditional - and in the west, at least - explicitly Christian literary tool. I mean, she's OCD and how every one of her chapters has an echo in the book. I mean, if people want to read more about this, they can Google "Harry Potter and ring composition," and read the Lulu PDF that I have written on this. It has all the charts and graphs, and lays out how every book, as well as the series as a whole, is this traditional ring composition structure that Mary Douglas describes in Thinking in Circles. But again, the irony is, as Travis says, here's something which is... a large part of the literary artistry and the theology of Christian scripture is the same thing which Joanne Rowling uses in Harry Potter, and the imaginative effect that she achieves is some sort of imaginative experience akin to what a traditional person in an oral culture would experience hearing these kinds of tales. Am I overstating that, Travis?
TP: No, I don't think so. I think she's pretty committed to this way of writing too, to be quite frank about it. We haven't had a chance to have our Casual Vacancy discussion, and I have not been able to read that book more than once, but it felt like a ring to me.
KH: Yeah, it did to me too.
TP: Very, very much like a ring. The way the beginning echoed the end...
TP: ...the center... yeah, I'm sure that if I sat down and went chapter by chapter... because there were so many echoes that were clear to me in it. So, she keeps doing it and...
KH: Yeah, the one thing about her is she even said this in New York when we were up there for the speech at the David H. Koch Theater...
TP: It killed me to hear about all you people there and I didn't even know it was happening.
KH: Oh, it was awesome.
TP: I was dying.
KH: Oh, it was awesome.
TP: I'm sitting there, I'm watching my Facebook go by on this night, and everyone I know from the Harry Potter fandom is posting pictures of them talking to Jo Rowling.
KH: Yes, it was a great evening.
TP: And I'm going, "How did I not know about this?"
[JG and KH laugh]
TP: "I'm just seven hours away."
KH: But she had said that structure is the key to The Casual Vacancy. It's her preparation and how she structures her books is the key. And you can see that obviously in Harry Potter, how it was all structured out, but she did the same exact thing with Casual Vacancy. She is a structured author.
JG: Yeah, it is a little different, but as you said, there are seven parts to the book and the first part has seven parts in it. It's not as if she's being especially subtle in this.
JG: And when you track... you can actually just count the pages, and you'll find that the central scene in the book is absolutely pivotal. You can go to Hogwarts Professor and read all the stuff that I have written already about the ring composition structure of this book. But I'm going to move on! I'm going to move on!
JG: Forgive me! [laughs]Harry Potter for Nerds has got an astonishing variety of subjects and writings, but one thing that really strikes me is the coexistence of essays by tenured professors, fan geeks, and then the super independent scholars like Sandra Miesel and company. Some with college, some without, some with graduate school certification or whatever. I get that this was intentional, that basically while you're describing it as random or anarchist or whatever, you were looking for the full spectrum of... you didn't say to yourself, "Well, that was a neat essay, but she's just getting out of college." What, though, do you think of the relationship of formal academia, people that read The Chronicle of Higher Education, and the relationship of those people with the average serious reader and thinker about Harry Potter? Are the eggheads controlling the direction of conversation about this, or is this different than the usual stuff? Like when you read an essay in the newspaper, they always have in the byline that you've got to find out where this guy studied or what think tank he's in. Is that the way it is in the Harry Potter fandom, or can somebody come out of the blue and offer something significant to this conversation?
TP: Yeah, that's a great subject because you're right, I was very deliberate in wanting to have... I wanted to show that there are extremely brilliant ideas coming out of very unexpected places on Harry Potter. Harry Potter has been really... it's the Web 2.0 phenomenon, right? This is the thing that showed the way that this community can gather together online to start writing all kinds of things about the series, discovering all things about the series, create this entire culture around the series, then create conferences and onto publications. It's been an amazing phenomenon, and so I definitely did not want to dish this out only to the literary elite who were [laughs] essentially being snobs about the series anyway. There's sort of two things happening here I'm trying to get at. One is, I'm almost trying to stick a little bit to the snobs [laughs] and say, "Look, there's good stuff happening here. You can learn from them." But I'm also trying to take the kind of casual conversation about Harry Potter and let it happen alongside of the people who are very, very well studied in literature. And so, John, you've had this example lots of... you've had this happen to you many, many times where you get to a place, you've got a bunch of just rabid Harry Potter fans. They can probably cite more things directly from canon than you can.
JG: Absolutely. Always. [laughs]
TP: They can remember things that you forgot ten years ago. But then you talk about ring composition, and here's a bunch of people who have been fans of Harry Potter forever. Have written, have been on the blogs, have been on the chat sites, have been on all... whatever. They've been to all the conferences. And they get to the end of you talking for... well, let's be honest, probably about two hours.
[JG and TP laugh]
KH: That was the short show!
TP: And they come up to you afterwards and they say, "I will never read this series the same again." That kind of thing happens. And so, I kind of want all sides in this big, messy conversation. I still believe there are people who are well trained in literature are going to find things that others are not. And so, I think it's important for this kind of spontaneous group of people who are gathering in web forums and rambling about all kinds of things about the series to be in conversation with people who are well studied. And I also think that the literary elite need to realize, hey, guess what? [laughs] You've lost some of the control here because of your chronological snobbery about this series, and you're missing out on something really important, and you're making a mistake that has been made over and over and over and over again in the history of literature where because a book is new it can't possibly be great, or because a book is well loved it can't possibly be great.
JG: Chronological snobbery is "The present is great!"
TP:[laughs] Right, exactly.
JG: The academics look at it and say, "It's new, it's garbage!"
TP: That's exactly it, yeah.
JG: Natalie, I want to get to Natalie right away on this because this is where you live, right? I mean, you are both those things. You are the enlightened serious reader of Harry Potter and you're a serious deconstructionist, you've got the certificate in hand saying I'm a serious lit geek. What's your perspective on this conversation?
NC: Well, my first immediate thought would be, "How dare you," and then after that...
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: ...after someone brings me a glass of water I would probably calm down and say everyone likes what they like, and I think literature and the study thereof is very broad. I mean, I emerged with a degree in literature but I specialized in twentieth-century literature and Shakespeare. My friend has the exact same degree as me and she knows her Russian literature and she knows Spencer. I mean...
NC: ...literature degrees and the people who get them are such varied people that I think there's a lot of space for them... there to be people like me who love Harry Potter, love fantasy series, love... let's even call them children's series and consider them serious works of literature. And then there will be people who say nothing that isn't written by a dead white guy is literature.
JG: I get it. I would put an asterisk by that, saying that the people who read for literature degrees are varied because I know they are - I know good parts of that spectrum - but the actual teaching towards the degree is actually... you don't read a lot of John Ruskin anymore, you don't read a lot of traditional four levels of reading literary criticism. There's very much a school of thought about how to read, which is largely restricted to - forgive me - scientistic reading at the surface and the moral levels of meaning that neglects this second level of meaning that Travis was talking about in the beginning of the show.
TP: You might have to read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" in your courses, but you'll have no idea what it actually means when you're done.
JG: That's the scary thing, is that I have people come up to me at these talks, and Keith said to a bunch of them [laughs] at the last Leaky conference or whatever, and they say, "I've got my Masters in Literature and I've never heard anybody talk about literary alchemy," and they're kind of... part of them is angry because they realize that this is a legit thing that I'm talking about, and the other half is they're excited. But again, it's a variety of people but it's... Lev Grossman talks about this and we hope to have Lev on the show soon. He's got his degrees from Harvard and Yale, and yet he jokes with me that he doesn't know John Ruskin, he doesn't know that kind of thing because that wasn't what... that wasn't how they read books for to get your literary degrees or whatever. And it didn't answer the questions that he was asking, that's why he didn't go on to get his PhD and teach in schools. It's why he's writing his novels, is that... I'm speaking for Lev here, I shouldn't. But I think his books show that he is struggling with much larger questions about what books really mean than he was able to ask in schools. Go ahead, Natalie. Rip my face off.
NC: I wouldn't dream of it. You know, it's funny...
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: ...I took a class in my second year on literary criticism, and the first thing the professor wrote on the board was "What is literature?" and he had us write down on our whatever writing implement we had what we thought literature was. And some people read theirs out loud and there were some people who were completely bombastic and ridiculous like, "Literature is the death of the reader and the death of the writer and blah blah blah."
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: And I think... my naive mind, I wrote something like, "Literature is anything that will stand the test of time," which I completely don't agree with anymore.
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: I think I was just trying to sound smart, which is how I...
JG: You succeeded. That's great.
NC: ...got by completely through most of my education.
NC: But you know what? I think it really... it does come down to what a person considers literature. I consider literature to be... you know what? I don't even know what I consider to be literature.
[JG and TP laugh]
NC: It's such a difficult question.
JG: That's right.
NC: It's such an intangible thing to define for me, especially after studying it for four years. How can I possibly even place a definition on literature? But I think the point that I'm trying to circle around here is that there will always be people who consider Harry Potter not literature and there will always be people who consider Harry Potter literature. And I think it's unfortunate, but that divide really dictates whether it's studied or not.
TP: That term "literature" is such a funny one because literature is supposed to be sort of synonymous in that type of conversation with a great book. And if it's not literature, if it's not a great book, then it's a penny dreadful or whatever.
TP: It's something like that. Look, if it's a story on a page, in some way or another it's literature. [laughs] The question that I am much more interested in is not "What is literature?" but "Why is literature?" Or "Why is literature popular?"
TP: "Why do we need it?" That's the much more important question to me, and that's where I start reading people like... I know, John, you don't want to talk about [unintelligible]. I want to talk about Russell Kirk who said that the end of great books, or the goal... he's speaking in kind of an old-fashioned way there. The goal of great books is ethical. It teaches us what it means to be human. And when I read that in Russell Kirk's essay "The Moral Imagination," all sorts of lightbulbs went off and that's when I realized that Harry Potter was a discussion of the human soul. There isn't a better example. I mean, there are other fantastic examples and there are great books, but in modern times, what is a better example of a series of books of literature that has the ultimate goal of saying, "This is what it means to be human, self-sacrificial love. This is what a pure soul looks like, this is what a destroyed soul looks like"? So, I'm much more interested in the question, "Why do we love literature so much? Why is it so important? Why do we need it?"
JG: Yeah, which is the larger version of the question that I think, Travis, you and I have both been trying to answer for the years we've been doing this, is why do people love Harry Potter? And that's my frustration - forgive me, Natalie; and maybe you share this, maybe you don't - with academic treatments, is they'll skirt that question. It's like, that's not important why people love these books. I want to know why this series has sold five-hundred million copies, that basically God and Chairman Mao have outsold this series.
JG: What has this writer done that other writers don't do? What has she done so extraordinarily well that has caused this response in the books?
TP: You have to understand, John, that the reason is that all those people are so dumb, and...
JG: Oh, I forgot. I forgot.
TP:[laughs] And the books are really dumb, so dumb people like dumb things.
JG: That's it. AS Byatt in a nutshell. Thank you, Travis.
[JG and TP laugh]
JG: That, again... Travis is joking, but in a way he's not because he knows that that's very seriously what's offered as an explanation by people that don't want to look at this, because they don't want to believe that there is that other world, that the two worlds that Travis talks about this book bridging. If you want to deny truth, goodness, and beauty as really the heart of things... I was reading a short essay by Alan Jenkins - it was actually a blog post - about Tolkien criticism this last week, and Tolkien has been attacked since the 50s as being a mannequin, as being very morally simple, and Jenkins blasted that opinion out of the water like other people have done to say look, it's not true. Tolkien is talking about people that discern right and wrong, and then struggle to do the right thing. They get what's right and wrong, but they have a hard time doing the right thing. That's Tolkien's main conflict in the human heart. But the reason that modern writers or post-modern writers don't like that is they don't believe that you can actually discern right and wrong. Their whole struggle is about discerning right and wrong, and then they can't get at that. I think that we all understand right and wrong in our own way, some more clearly than others, and that Tolkien is right. Our real struggle as human beings is to do the hard, right thing, and does that sound familiar to you all? [laughs]
TP: Pettigrew? [laughs]
JG: Well, Pettigrew and Dumbledore explicitly in his comments at the end of Goblet of Fire.
JG: You're going to have to do the hard, right thing. And that's the conclusion to the central book, which could give you your idea. That's what this series is about, is that the soul will hinge on your ability to decide to do the hard, right thing. But that doesn't make any sense if you're still saying, "I can't figure out what right and wrong are." And to embrace sacrificial love as the end which everybody experiences in all those resurrections at the end of every single Harry Potter book. If you experience that and want to do it again and again and again, you're saying, "I get that that's the right thing to do and I want to increase my will, the strength of my will, in order to choose that right thing." My argument with the academic literature thing... and boy, we've taken this conversation in a wildly different direction than I expected.
TP:[laughs] I can pull it back. I can pull it back.
JG: Thank you, Travis. [laughs] I'm on a long rope here, but pull me in.
NC: I feel somewhat at fault.
JG:[laughs] No, no, no. This is... Keith will tell you this is the best part of these shows.
TP: When it goes off topic, it's always John's fault. Let's be clear about that. [laughs]
JG: Oh, man.
TP: But it's always such a brilliant tangent, and so it doesn't matter.
JG: All right. Well anyway, my argument with academia here is that they're not asking the right question. The stuff that they're talking about can be interesting, can be boring, whatever, but the question that you've got to ask about any book - Hunger Games, Divergent, Lev Grossman's books - is why are these books so popular? Why are they selling well? What is this guy after, or gal after, in these books, and how do they tell the story that gets us excited about it? It sucks us in so that we're experiencing something.
KH: Well, let me ask you a question because obviously we're in a modern age and technology travels, the word of stuff travels all across the world very quickly. I mean, this show has been heard in 143 countries. Georgia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe... we've been heard in those countries and downloaded from those countries. So, obviously the word gets out really quick. Let me go back and say, you were mentioning Tolkien. Now, if Tolkien's books had come out in today's modern society, would they be as popular as Harry Potter? Then go back to Dickens and say, okay, how about Great Expectations? If that was available as a new book in today's world, would it have travelled as far and as wide as Harry Potter? That's, I think, the measure of great literature, is how far it can travel not just by word of mouth or anything else, but by how popular it becomes. But you also have to look back at the old days and adjust for inflation, so to speak.
TP: Well, Dickens was his own phenomenon. I mean, there would sort of be book release parties down by the docks, waiting for the ship to bring the new books over. [laughs]
TP: So, he was a very popular phenomenon at the time. Lord of the Rings, I think maybe if... I think that with the kind of fan community that you have nowadays, I wonder if maybe Tolkien would have had to use some simpler language [laughs] at this point in time.
JG: Dickens and Tolkien, the magisterial language thing would be a struggle.
JG: But both of them, in writing serial literature... if there was an internet, can you imagine... I mean, Dickens wrote three chapters at a time. Can you imagine the madness waiting for the next three chapters?
JG: And Keith, you'd love this: Dickens oftentimes like in Martin Chuzzlewit, he changes the course of the novel depending on feedback from his readers.
[JG and TP laugh]
JG: So, imagine that!
KH: Talk about adjusting for inflation.
JG: There you go. And Tolkien, I don't think he would change his plot or anything...
JG: ...[laughs] in terms of reader feedback or whatever. But imagine if those books were coming out and we were waiting on... we read The Fellowship of the Ring and we're waiting on The Two Towers?
JG: And what if he released The Two Towers - and I'm sure he would have - as two separate books? You'd have been half mad! Halfway through thinking, "Well, what happened to the whole Fellowship? Where are they?"
JG: I mean, that... I think those books would do even better today...
JG: ...than they were then because it would grow up so much faster. The language would be a struggle, but they'd be different people that grew up in these ages. They wouldn't be Dickens and Tolkien.
TP: Right, exactly. Exactly.
JG: Oh well. That would be a great loss, obviously.
KH: Well, let me roll this show back just a little bit because I want to go back to something that you had mentioned earlier, Travis. You had essays performed by Professor Joel Hunter and I think you also mentioned John Mark Reynolds.
TP: John Mark Reynolds... James Thomas is in the book, John Mark Reynolds is not, although I probably should ask him to do something.
KH: Oh, John Thomas. Okay.
TP: James Thomas. Yeah.
KH: My apologies. We had Joel Hunter on here not that long ago doing a fairy tale structure earlier this year. Apparently, in his essay he did something you said about technology. Can you explain what that was about?
TP: Yeah, Joel is great on this, and [laughs] you should have him back to talk about this because he's a lot smarter than I am about it. But I'll tell a story about Joel that will get to the heart of what he's doing in his essay. As far as becoming as smart as Joel on this subject, I have a stack of Jacques Ellul essays that I still need to read. [laughs] That's who you want to read on technology. Joel Hunter and I were sitting with a bunch of his students, and discussing many of the same subjects we've been discussing here today. And we got going about technology a bit, and he made a comment... I can't even remember the subject the student had brought up, but I remember Joel stopping the conversation and saying, "The most important thing we need to think about right now is what we're doing with technology." We got talking about technology and magic, and he said, "The problem with a lot of technology nowadays, a lot of scientific advancement..." we were talking about the god-of-the-gaps theory. We were talking about the idea that religion just fills up the stuff science hasn't figured out yet with, well, God is the explanation, and eventually science will figure everything out and we won't need God anymore. That was what we were talking about in this conversation. And not to get that debate started, but...
TP: ...Joel stopped it there and gave this caution: "We have to realize when it comes to science and technology," he said, "that a lot of people believe that because you can do it, you should. That all technological and scientific advancement is a good thing by default." And that, he says, is a big problem because just like the rest of the conversation we've been having, it removes the actual moral component and makes technological advancement in and of itself the end goal, the great moral "good", which all our science fiction literature warns us against. I mean, science fiction is, essentially, futuristic fantasy. It's the "you better be careful because one day the robots are going to rebel and they're going to take over."
JG: That's right.
TP: It's the Frankenstein story, really, and that's what we ended up shifting to in our discussion there with those students, is that just because he could revive dead tissue, he should. It's the right thing to do because we can do it. And you see what kind of a mess that made! And so then, once again, it removes the whole discussion of what is a human, what is it to be a good human, and how does one live as a human ethically with other human beings? And as long as technology itself is the end goal then we're going to have problems, and this is exactly who Voldemort is. Voldemort, for all the magical power he has, is essentially a materialist because he doesn't actually believe... the human soul for him is a commodity, it's something that he can split up because he's got the right technology to do it, and he can split it up and preserve his own life. Pretty much any really great science fiction work is going to come down to this idea of preserving one's physical life through some means of science or robotics or something. That theme you're going to find over and over and over again, even from recent popular movies like Prometheus. That was at the heart of the movie for Prometheus. And so, Joel looks at the magic in Harry Potter and says, "Well, there are those who treat it correctly, and there are those who treat it as though it were technology." And the real magic - as Dumbledore says and Dumbledore's ultimate lesson - is that the real magic is love, and it's a magic that can be performed by Muggles and witches and wizards, and that's really the big contrast. That's what Joel is getting at, it's phenomenal stuff. James Thomas gets to the same place from a different angle. Really great pair of essays. Get the book and read them, they're wonderful.
JG: That's what I was going to say, was, "You won't believe it until you read it."
JG: But it will help you, I think, approach the question that Natalie was talking about, what is literature? Well, is that the right question, or what is it about literature that makes us interested in the question? [laughs] Especially in a world that's predominated by technology, where our world view is covered by Facebook, Twitter, MuggleNet Academia, [laughs] all these things that are virtual versus real. Do they somehow touch on the real and is that what makes them important? It's a great essay. All right, Travis. We're already over an hour, but I want to get a couple of more questions in here.
JG: You've been a major player in, as well as a critical exuber, of Harry Potter fandom since Half-Blood Prince. There are few fandom conventions and venues in which you weren't a featured speaker, and you know a lot of the one-named fandom stars by their one names.
JG: What do you think is the future of Potter studies now that the films have been out for more than a year? They haven't even announced opera or the TV show yet, [laughs] Ms. Rowling has moved onto other writing efforts, and we've got new manias - like Hunger Games, Twilight, Chaos Walking, Divergent - and they've captured the popular imagination. Where are we headed?
TP: There are still Star Trek conventions, aren't there? How many years later...
JG:[laughs] Yeah. Oh, yeah.
TP: ...from the first two or three seasons. You know, I think that I would have said, maybe a year ago, "Well we're going to keep fading, we're going to keep fading, and it's all going to shift to... there will be the die-hard fans who still have conventions, but it's primarily going to shift to, as time passes by, and we get over our reverse chronological snobbery, it will pass onto academic study and that will be primarily where it is." That's the way I answered it even in 2008, at Portus. And then, out comes a show like MuggleNet Academia, and it gets downloaded in 143 different countries, and I have to revisit my answer and say, "There is still a lot of enthusiasm in talking about Harry Potter." There are new manias, they are going to come and go. The first one in our time was Harry Potter, it set the tone. Everything else is trying to be Harry Potter. Hunger Games is amazing, in some ways it's doing better than Harry Potter just because of the publisher being smarter about ebooks, but that kind of thing... all of it is trying to copy what Harry Potter did, and no one has completely succeeded yet.
JG: Well, it's also faster, isn't it? Harry Potter had to go through... what was the website? Harry Potter for Geeks or something like that, that really launched the Harry Potter conversation on their boards. It was like a LiveJournal thing. And then we had the movies come out, they started coming out after the fourth book was out already.
JG: Now it's stampeded. Everything goes much faster.
JG: I mean, the Divergent books aren't even in their third book yet and they're already casting the movies. And we saw that with Twilight, we saw that with Hunger Games. None of these books of course are seven books long, so they haven't got the kind of longer effect, but we see much faster, there's instant websites. There's going to be a Twilight Lexicon, there's going to be a... pretty soon... you know, Keith, there's going to be a Hunger Games Academia coming up here pretty soon.
JG: That... it seems, though... like you just said, Travis, we seem to have a model inside Harry Potter fandom that is like a template. We have a phenomenon and then all of a sudden, bang, fandom. There's all of these things and then movie studios dive on it, and you're waiting for the theme park to go up and the last book isn't out yet.
TP: We're going to... this momentum is going to continue. I don't know how much it will build and grow, but it's clear that where we're at right now is going to be pretty stable for a bit when it comes to the interest that continues in fandom. And look, the way Hollywood reboots series now, in ten years we're going to be talking about a reboot of the Harry Potter movies. It's not going to be long before they decide to redo them.
TP: There's been, what, seven hundred Spiderman movies in the past six years.
TP: So, there's going to be... and the theme parks will expand, they keep talking about that happening.
TP: So, I think that there's still going to be a pretty solid fan base, and there's going to be... I think it's going to grow in academia, so I think that we've got a lot of Harry Potter talks still to do. What will be interesting is how much of it is actually really good quality stuff. I mean, are we going to go... is there anywhere else to go when it comes to actually analyzing what the series is? Does it get any deeper than ring composition? I don't think it does. I don't think we're going to find another level. [laughs] Maybe we will, but...
JG: Yeah, we were talking about that before we stumbled into ring composition.
TP: Exactly. That's true.
JG: What have we got besides literary alchemy? And then we find out we missed the central scaffolding of the series.
JG: Natalie, what do you think? Where do you think this is heading?
NC: Well, I personally hope that places like U of T, very serious academic institutions, will become more open and accepting of stuff like this and integrate it into their studies. Unfortunately, I'm a little bit cynical about that.
JG: I can tell you, I went to the University of Chicago, which is sort of like the American side of U of T type thing, right? U of T, U of C type thing. And my daughter is there now and she said... she told me when she was a freshman they offered a course on the Lord of the Rings and it was the first one offered.
JG: That was 2009. And she said it was overwhelming. People fought to get into the class. Tooth and nail as much as geeks fight like that. Pretty pathetic when geeks fight, pulling hair and stuff like that. [laughs] Do you think that U of T... there are classes... I've taught in classes at Princeton Theological and at Yale, and these kinds of things. Do you think that a place like U of T is going to offer for credit in its literature sequence - not a kid lit class like Philip Nel tells in Kansas - a real class? Are they going to teach a class like that in the next four, five years? Or is that going to take longer than that to sink into canon?
NC: I cannot see it, honestly, in the next four to five years. I could see it being integrated, again, into a children's lit class, which I know you just said...
NC: ...but I cannot even imagine it happening. I know that they have made strides in certain departments. The music department teaches a class on the Beatles that I'm given to understand is very popular, is seen as a fun class. But I think they just... they are very pretentious, in a way.
NC: I think they feel like they almost have to protect their legacy, I guess I would say. And a part of that would be: don't besmirch the name of U of T by bringing in anything. And that's not to say that they're not integrating newer literature into the department. They are all the time. I took a Canadian literature class that taught a lot of stuff that was written after 2000, which was very refreshing. [laughs] But I just don't think it will ever be considered serious enough and I don't think, to a degree, that any children's fantasy series - as they see it, not as I see it - would ever be considered worthy of its own class.
JG: Is there a class already on Robertson Davies? But there won't be one on Harry Potter, is that what you're saying?
NC: Yeah. Well, also they don't usually... unless it's a fourth-year course, they don't usually specify one specific thing unless it's like an epic poem that can be studied for...
JG: Right. [laughs]
NC: ...that long.
JG: Semester, yeah.
KH: Well, here's the thing. It doesn't have to just be in literature that Harry Potter gets studied. I mean, we've had a psychology professor in here, we've had law professors on here, a judge on here, we've had a professional linguist on here and she'll tell you... there was just a study out. There is an infographic that is coming out in the next month that shows that Harry Potter films are the best media in films to learn English language in foreign countries. We also know from talking to Josée...
KH: Yeah. Well, Josée had also said that a lot of people out there who are...
TP: We had Josée on the show?
KH: Oh, absolutely.
TP: Oh, I've got to catch up on the shows. I love Josée. Sorry, go ahead. Bad interruption.
KH: I do, too.
[KH and TP laugh]
KH: But she had said that the book series is also a great way to learn an English language when you're a foreign student. Let's say that you are from Brazil, like our guest student was, Amanda, and she speaks this Brazilian Portuguese language. Well, the Portuguese language of Harry Potter didn't come out for months and maybe even a year after the release of the book. So, in order to learn what happened in Harry Potter, she forced herself to learn English, and actually studied English through Harry Potter to get the gist of what the books were. So, it's obviously a much slower read, but it's another way of bringing into courses how Harry Potter can relate to a college degree in some way. No matter what the method, there are other classes out there other than just literature series.
JG: Travis, one of the shows that you want to catch up on is John Mark Reynolds. One of the things he said, which took me aback, he disagrees with you. He thinks that Harry Potter is yesterday's phenomenon. The college students that he knows in California and Texas, Harry Potter is their older brothers and sisters' thing. They're much more into the latest stuff, Divergent, certainly with... The Hunger Games is the latest thing, and the fact that schools are beginning to teach these subjects is a sign of how out of date it is because schools are always five to ten years behind...
JG: ...the reality on the street. James Thomas was a good friend of Travis because he's the third of the trio for Potter Pundits. When he offers a Harry Potter class, it's filled within minutes.
JG: His provost is very happy that he keeps offering that class. I think that's all he could teach there, he could fill a class again and again and again. I'm curious. Obviously, this is one of those things we just have to find out.
TP: I mean, John Mark Reynolds is also wrong about whether or not Harry Potter should be considered great literature. I like the guy, but...
TP: ...he's a little bit wrong on Harry Potter sometimes. And that's okay. I think that in a couple of years, I want to see how many major Hunger Games conferences there are, or how many major classes are being taught on Hunger Games, and compare that to Harry Potter, and then we'll decide which one is lasting and which one is not.
JG: I hear you. Natalie, you had a thought and I steamrolled you. What was your thought?
NC: No, I just wanted to backtrack on something. I may have presented my alma mater in a bad light.
TP:[laughs] Just in case someone is listening...
NC: Yeah, just in case the dean is listening, or any of my former professors who I need reference letters from.
NC: U of T does offer courses on graphic novels, on science fiction, on stuff like that. So, it's not like we're the most backwards place that will only teach you Shakespeare, but I would see Harry Potter being taught more likely in the film department than I would in the literature department.
TP: That's unfortunate.
NC: The film department at U of T is not hands-on film, it's film studies, and I think the Harry Potter films could be very relevant to a film studies student.
JG: As the most successful film series of all time? Yeah, that would...
NC: Yeah, I could definitely see that happening. But I did want to backtrack a little on...
JG: Okay, you've walked it back.
NC: ...just completely shutting down...
JG: I hear you. I could also see some wing nut at the University of Chicago trying to do that, too. I just don't know if you would run out the faculty or not. All right. She or he will never make full professor there if he does that, though. I guarantee that.
NC: No tenure.
JG: That's right, no tenure there. We are going to do a ring composition thing here, Travis. [laughs] We started the show with a question about how you came to read Harry Potter. I'm going to try to close the ring here by asking, what is it about Harry Potter that has changed your thinking or ideas about yourself, the world, whatever, the most? Can you imagine a world without the Hogwarts saga? How would you and the world be different if Joanne Rowling hadn't had that imaginative experience on the train?
TP: Oh my goodness. Well, I would probably still be sitting in some fundamentalist church scared of witches. The book completely shook up... the series of books shook up everything I was doing with my life at the time. It reignited a passion for literature. It reintroduced me and then introduced me to people like Ruskin. It reintroduced me to people like Lewis, had introduced me to people like Ruskin, in my pursuit of why it was that I couldn't put these books down. And in doing so completely changed the way I look at the world. This is, for me, a very personal example of literature doing what it does, literature being something that changes the way imaginatively... through the engagement of the imagination changes the way you actually look at the world. This is what Harry Potter did. It sounds like big, gigantic, lofty language but it's true. I think that had JK Rowling not written this series of books, I would actually be quite a different person at this point. It really shook things up significantly, and I returned to school one more time for yet another master's degree [laughs] and got one in teaching English. I'm still not teaching English because getting all these degrees, there are a lot of loans involved...
[JG and TP laugh]
TP: ...and then you have to pay them. So, one of these days [laughs] my whole life is going to be teaching literature in [unintelligible].
JG: Well, I want to jump in and disagree with some vehemence that you're not teaching English.
TP: Well, okay.
JG: I mean, you're not sitting in a classroom. And I want to say that the transformation that you have gone through and you have described, you have not only shared the depth of that in your books - Harry Potter and Imagination, that's your book and a collection of essays that you have put together - but you have shared that experience so that people have entered into that same kind of experience. I know that my work with Harry Potter has... [laughs] I started off as a guy typing in a room in Washington State, kind of a freak job who thought the books were actually pretty good. But it was the collaborative effort of talking with people like yourself, [laughs] especially yourself I should say. Really, Travis, you have been... one of the greatest gifts of Harry Potter in my life has been meeting you and learning all the things that I have learned from you and your books. All right, so there is the mutual admiration thing.
JG: Natalie, same question to you. How do you imagine the world and yourself without Harry Potter? Can you? Because you started at six years old. Is there a world without Harry Potter?
NC: Well, I started at ten but it is almost inconceivable for me. First, I was a nerd with bushy brown hair when I grew up, so it was really nice...
NC: ...to feel represented.
[NC and TP laugh]
NC: But apart from that...
JG: How are your teeth?
NC: My teeth are terrible. No, just kidding. It's Canada. It's not England.
[JG and TP laugh]
KH: Well, there goes those fans in England. [laughs]
NC: Sorry, British people. But no...
TP: 142 countries now listen to this show.
NC: My apologies. No, I mean, I read before I read the Harry Potter books but after I read the Harry Potter books, I devoured books. It was like I would read a book a day. It was not normal. I mean, these were kids books that you could get through in a day obviously. But, I mean, I cannot even imagine being a student of literature without having read Harry Potter. It opened... and I know this sounds really overdramatic, but it's true that it was magical. I mean, it really just opened so much within my imagination and within my love of the written word and my... within my love of just the idea of someone writing something like that. It made me want to be a writer, you know? And I can't even imagine a world where... I mean, I have a wand sitting right next to me. I can't even imagine what my bedroom would look like if Harry Potter had never come out.
JG: I love the way you're saying that you couldn't imagine because what you're saying is that the world would not have any depth. The world would only be its surface because your imagination wouldn't be what it is except for... and imagination in the way Travis and we have been talking about, this organ of meaning, this ability to see what is greater than ourselves. And this series of books - its artistry, its meaning, the plot, our engagement, all those things - has somehow opened up our lives. CS Lewis said the same thing about the great debt that serious readers owe to other writers, is the breadth of experience, the number of different ideas and things that have come to them that they never could have had in one lifetime, except through this kind of imaginative entry into story. Wow, and Keith and I can't tell our stories about how much they mean to us or no one will ever tune in again. We'll have to save that for our next show. We've got some great guests coming up too, Keith, right?
KH: Absolutely. I can't wait for... Professor Biondi should be coming up very soon, and then we have another very special guest.
TP: Professor Biondi is on the Blogengamot. She's wonderful, I had a great conference with her last year, and will be contributing to The Revenge of the Nerds.
TP: Love her, love her.
KH: Well, she was supposed to be on this...
KH: ...particular show, this lesson, but because of Hurricane Sandy she got hit pretty hard.
JG: Yeah. She's downtown.
KH: So, we moved her back in December and we got you in her place.
TP: Very good. I can't wait to hear her show.
KH: Well, I hope you listen back to all of them.
TP: Oh, I am going to!
JG: Yeah, yeah.
TP: I have to apologize. I am in the middle of fantasy football season right now, and I only have so much data for streaming podcasts...
JG: I don't want to hear this.
TP: ...so it leaves little room for podcasts. But I am losing in both leagues, I am doing terrible, so...
JG: Good. Give up on it, Travis.
TP: ...I might as well spend my time with Harry Potter instead.
JG: There you go.
KH: Anyway, it's been a great show, Travis. Thank you so much for coming on. Natalie, you were a wonderful guest, very funny, and...
KH: ...I love Canadian humor all of a sudden.
NC: Thank you.
NC: You didn't know we had it.
JG: Oh, no.
KH: I didn't know you guys had it, no.
JG: Oh, yeah. We knew you had it.
NC: You just need to put us next to radiators for forty-five minutes or so, and then we get warm.
KH: As long as you are warmed up, right?
JG: Now you've got to come visit me in Oklahoma City here, girlfriend. We've got the heat for you. You'll be warmed up all the time. All the time. Canadian jollies. I want to close by saying get that MuggleNet calendar, and the other thing you want under your Christmas tree is Harry Potter for Nerds.
TP: Yes. Or on your Kindle. That's...
JG: That's it. You can get it on Kindle.
TP: And Nook, I think, too.
KH: So, you want the Kindle under your Christmas tree, or a Nook.
TP: You want the Kindle or the Nook under your Christmas tree with Harry Potter for Nerds already loaded on it. Yes.
JG: I'm confident that in the hundred, and four hundred, and six hundred, whatever, number of people or countries listening to us, they've all got their Kindles already. They're looking to download something else. Keith, thank you for all you do to make this show work. Natalie, Travis...
TP: Thank you for having me. This has been a blast.
NC: Yeah, I had a great time.
KH: Well, thank you very much again, and I just want to remind all the listeners out there to start signing up for next year's conventions. We have MISTI-Con coming in May, the Quidditch World Cup in April down in Kissimmee, we now have the Northeast Regional Championship winner, Boston University. Congratulations to Boston. They have won the Northeast. We have LeakyCon Portland and London...
JG: Wizards at Sea in July, the big sailing cruise there from Seattle to Alaska. That's going to be fun.
KH: And then we have Camp 9 3/4 in Texas in October, so it is a very busy year. You are going to want to have that MuggleNet calendar to keep track of everything because it's all on there. In order to listen to the show, you can download it directly on MuggleNet Academia or you can get the iOS and Amazon mobile apps, available on your iOS devices - iPod, iPhone, iPad - and download what's called Podcast Box for free, search for MuggleNet Academia, and for $1.99 you get the app. There are some bonus features on there. As I mentioned in the show, we do have the ring composition that John and I and Micah and Eric recorded before Academia was ever posted.
[Show music begins]
KH: We used to have that placed on the MuggleNet site, and then I moved it to the Academia bonus feature. There's also four other bonus features with some professors that we have had discussions with. So, I think that's going to wrap up the show, John. Are you all set?
JG: I'm set.
KH: All right. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
TP: I'm Travis Prinzi, proprietor of TheHogsHead.org and editor of Harry Potter for Nerds.
NC: And I'm Natalie Cooper, princess of the frost giants.