Keith Hawk (KH) John Granger (JG) Chris Gavaler (CG) Corentin Faniel (CF)
[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]
[2013 MuggleNet Fandom Calendar promo begins]
Ron: Hey, Harry. Working on that Potions essay for Monday?
Harry: Uhh, it's due Friday, Ron.
Ron: What? No, you're pulling my leg.
Seamus: Hey, Harry. Doing that essay quite early, aren't you?
Ron: See? It's not due until next Monday. Right, Seamus?
Seamus: Erm, I thought it wasn't due until the Monday after next.
Parvati: Well, I already did mine because it's due Thursday.
Ron: What are you talking about, Parvati?
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus argue]
Hermione: What is going on here? I'm trying to do my Charms homework.
Ron: Hermione, when's that Potions essay due?
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus argue]
Hermione: Hold on! Let me check my calendar from MuggleNet. It has all kinds of important dates, such as future conventions, birthdays, and important events in the wizarding world.
Ron: Yeah, but what about homework?
Hermione: Ahh, here we are. Yes, I thought so. That essay is due... tomorrow.
[Harry, Parvati, Ron, and Seamus groan]
Michael: Start 2013 off right with the new MuggleNet Fandom calendar. Each month features photos and drawings from various corners of the Harry Potter fan base, as well as historical dates from all seven Harry Potter novels and Harry Potter birthdays for characters, actors, and your favorite MuggleNet staff members. Visit MuggleNet.com to preview the calendar and get your own copy today.
[2013 MuggleNet Fandom Calendar promo ends]
KH: Welcome back to another lesson of MuggleNet Academia. This is Lesson 17: Is Harry Potter a comic book superhero? Before we get into that, I do want to make an announcement. We wanted to let everyone know about a conference that is coming up on April 6th called PotterWatch 2013. It's the second annual Harry Potter conference held at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. It's being put together by PotterWatch, which is the official Harry Potter club of UNCC, and they invite undergraduate and graduate students, professors, experts, and novices to submit papers written on any aspect of the Harry Potter experience. So, go over to PotterWatchConference.com for information on how to submit abstracts and to contact conference organizers. Now, the reason I brought that up right away, John, is I understand that you are a keynote speaker at this.
JG: Yeah, I'm the guy. I'm going to be leading the crowd there with fascinating conversation, discussion, and papers on what Harry Potter is really about, why we love these books.
KH: Which conversation are you going to be doing? Do you know?
JG: Well, I'm going to be talking about the history of ring composition, where I think Rowling gets the magical formal structure that makes these books work the way they do. You've heard the ring composition, Keith. I'm going to talk about where I think she gets it.
KH: Awesome. I love the ring composition. That's one of my favorites, you know that.
JG: Yeah, I know. [laughs]
KH: I talk about it all the time. [laughs]
JG: But yeah, this promises to be a great time. Early April in Charlotte. Promises to be a beautiful thing. Springtime and...
KH: Yeah, and the week after the PotterWatch is the Quidditch World Cup in Kissimmee, Florida, April 13th and 14th. We're going to have about a hundred teams from all over the world. We just announced one from Australia. Right now there are 35 or 36 teams that have been officially entered into the Quidditch World Cup. They won their opening position by winning conference games, et cetera. But, by the time of April rolling around, we're going to have a hundred teams - about 60 Division 1 teams, about 30 Division 2 teams, and then we're going to have some high school teams I believe as well.
KH: So, this is going to be a really exciting time in April. And then, John, in May...
JG: Yeah! MISTI-Con.
KH: ...MISTI-Con. I am excited. I'll tell you what, for those of you who have not registered yet, MuggleNet is going to be announcing something major on Friday the 25th of January. So, next Friday - or this Friday, whenever you're listening to it - a major announcement coming to you from MuggleNet, and I am excited to be doing it. So, get ready for that.
JG: You can't spill the beans here for us, Keith?
KH: Of course not.
KH: This show is going to be out. I was hoping that the announcement would coincide with the release of this show, but it won't. So, sorry!
KH: Another announcement, you just heard the last time we're going to play the commercial for the Fandom Calendar. It is the last chance to get your 2013 MuggleNet Fandom Calendar. It is a great production piece, but we are going to be stopping production on January 31st. So, if you are inclined to get this, now is the time. There is so much great entertainment and great value in this. We've had a lot of compliments from it and it's just a fantastic item to get somebody that you know is a Harry Potter fan or get one for yourself certainly. I wanted to bring up just a couple of responses that we had to the last couple of shows. We had a nice one on iTunes from EAFletcher. It's called "Harry Potter for Nerds":
"I just listened to Lesson 14 and it was incredible. I just bought Travis Prinzi's book (on my Nook) and it is beyond fascinating and so well written. All of the essays are engaging and thought provoking. The book challenges me to see a series that I know backwards and forwards from very different perspectives. I listen to this podcast while I run and it helps me meet my mile requirements while training for my next marathon, so thank you for that! Keep up the great work, guys!"
I like that, being listened to. I don't care if it's in the car or while you're running and exercising or just sitting at home being a bum.
KH: Listen to MuggleNet Academia, you'll actually learn something. It's better if you can take notes though. [laughs] It is Academia of course. Right, John?
JG: While you're running?
KH: Yeah, you can't do that while you're running. There's another one on iTunes, "At Last, Class Has Begun!":
"Hosted by actual professors, authors, and scholars, this is THE place to be for academic discussion of the wonderous world JK Rowling has created. Perfect for students of literature and adults looking for topics to sink their teeth into. I've been wanting this for years. So glad I found you guys!"
He went on to say that our intros have gotten longer and longer and longer, and they have.
KH: I apologize. We're going to cut that down. I can't make it a one or three minute intro like he asked, but we will cut it down significantly. So, we're just going to rapid fire some of these intros and then we're going to get right into it. Another thing that I wanted to mention is Andrew Slack of the HPA, the Harry Potter Alliance, just had a show that he did for TEDx. TEDx is a worldwide internet where they bring in these high profile consultants to give speeches about topics, and he did one on orphans versus empires. And it was actually perfect for this show because it was kind of the superhero novelty of orphans defeating these large empires, whether it be the empire against Luke Skywalker, or Mordor against the orphan Frodo, or all the Death Eaters against Harry Potter. He made a lot of good references and it was a really interesting talk. So if you get the chance, head on over to YouTube and look up "Orphans vs. Empires: Andrew Slack at TEDxYouth@SanDiego". Just listen. It was a twenty minute speech and it was really intense. It was really good. And the last announcement that we have for you: The Shorty Awards are here. Please vote for MuggleNet on the Shorty Awards. It is for social media. We are under the fansite category. Right now, we are in eleventh place and we really want to get up to number one. We want to beat the Justin Biebers and those places because Harry Potter fans are where it's at, and we need your votes. So, head on over to the Shorty Awards and vote for MuggleNet. You do need a Twitter account to do that. All right. John, we're ready for the show. Please introduce our guests.
JG: Professor Chris Gavaler at Washington and Lee University is probably... I can say this quite easily, he's my favorite exegete of the superhero medium.
JG: And Keith, I'm a superhero guy from way back. You don't know this because you know me as John Granger. But when I was born, I was named Alan Scott Granger, which Chris Gavaler...
JG: ...is going to start laughing because Alan Scott is the name of the Golden Age Green Lantern.
KH: I remember the Green Lantern.
JG: And it has no family connection. I asked my father once why I was named Alan Scott and he said that he was in a barber shop and was reading a comic strip and saw the name and liked the sound of it.
JG: Now he said "comic strip", and so I thought it was one of these yellow kid things. I don't know however long ago my dad did this or whatever. No, he must have picked up... in the early sixties he must have found a Golden Age Green Lantern, and so I was named for a comic book superhero. And Keith had had residence. I grew up reading comic books. It really is the foundation of all the serious reading I've done, where the years I spent reading Giordano, Batman, and Claremont, Byrne, Austin, X-Men, and Kirby, Ditko, Captain America... I lived and breathed comic books for at least fifteen years of my youth, and I've never gone back to it to look at it seriously and open it up and stuff. Well, lo and behold - I don't know how we made this contact with Chris - but I found his website which is called The Patron Saint of Superheroes, in which he takes a literary criticism prism - mostly postmodern approach - to what comic books are about, and fascinating stuff. And then we started to communicate, and he sent me stuff on the origins of Batman, which is really the archetype of American comic books, and where it really comes from, and I was... the question was, I had to ask Chris, is Harry Potter a superhero? And he, very quickly, sent us a post that's about to go up. I hope it's up before this comes out, at Patron Saint of Superheroes, discussing just that question. Is Harry Potter a superhero? And, Keith, you found the ideal student for this, and so we're going to talk about comic books tonight in a way that I'm pretty sure that most people - I should say, very few people - have discussed them, and we're going to look through that prism to understand Harry Potter as a superhero. I don't think that... if you're like me, you won't look at Harry Potter the same way after tonight's discussion, but I guess we'll get to that.
KH: Well welcome to the show, Professor Chris Gavaler from Washington and Lee University. Say hello.
CG: Hello. It's great to be here.
KH: We're glad to have you on board. And also joining this show we have a student that is currently over in Belgium, but he did go to the University of St Andrews in Scotland. Cory, tell us a little bit about yourself.
CF: Hi, I'm Cory. I'm a student at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, and I'm taking a Bachelor Degree in English Literature and Film Studies. And I'm also the chief editor of La Gazette-du-Sorcier.com, which is a major Harry Potter French fan site.
KH: And you are no stranger to podcasting, I understand, correct?
CF: Yeah, we've tried to put on a podcast with a few other French fan sites so we kind of have all our specialties, and we've had one episode so far and the second episode is being recorded a few weeks ago.
KH: Did you listen to Lesson 3, the translation episode?
CF: I did. Of course I did.
KH: That was with my friend Josée and she is Canadian French. So, you should have her on your show.
JG: Here's the weird thing, Keith, is that I have been to Washington and Lee three or four times, and I've never met Chris Gavaler, and yet I was...
CG: I know, I'm sorry! [laughs]
JG: It was my fault. And then, I have been to St Andrews once and I did meet Cory, so we're...
[CG and KH laugh]
KH: It is...
CF: It was a really brief encounter.
JG: Oh well. My loss. But it was at that wonderful conference they had there last May, which was a magnificent event, really. People from all over the world talking about Harry Potter at length and in depth. Wow, what a meeting.
KH: I hope we have another one like that because I would like to go the next time. I think we should do a podcast there.
[Show music begins]
JG: There we go. But, Keith, we promised to keep the introductions short this time.
KH: Yes, we are and we will. So...
JG: All right.
KH: ...we'll get started right now. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
CG: I'm Chris Gavaler, superhero scholar and professor at Washington and Lee University.
CF: And I'm Cory, student at the University of St Andrews.
[Show music continues]
[MuggleNet Podcasts promo begins]
Harry:[yawns] Good morning, you two. What are you up to?
Ron: Hey, Harry. Hermione and I found this wireless sitting here in the common room.
Hermione: We can't decide what to listen to, though.
Harry: Well, have you two heard of Alohomora!? They always come up with interesting new ideas and theories about the wizarding world, and invite their listeners to participate in the discussion, on and off the air. They even talk about things we do here at Hogwarts, like magical creatures, wizarding history, Divination...
Harry: Yes, me... I mean, what? No! No, no, no, they don't talk about me. A lot.
Hermione: Well, I've really been enjoying MuggleNet Academia. The show goes into an in-depth analysis of the wizarding world and what impact it has made on Muggle culture. They invite guest speakers and students on every episode to discuss classic and modern works of Muggle literature, and further examine why the wizarding world, as Muggles know it, has made such an impact on them.
Ron: Well, we have the day off, so I want to listen to Audiofictions. The MerMuggle Readers tell new stories written by Muggles. I love hearing what the Muggles think about us! Not only that, but listeners can request which stories they'd like to hear, and participate in contests to have their own stories read. I've even heard a few stories about the three of us.
Hermione: Well, these all are great suggestions, but which one should we listen to?
Harry: Chosen One gets first dibs!
Ron: Hey, I found the wireless! I get to choose!
Hermione: You two have homework to do! I'm done, so we should listen to my show!
[Harry, Hermione, and Ron bicker]
Neville: Good morning, you three. Err, what are you doing with my wireless?
Ron: Neville? This is your wireless?
Neville: Yes, I've been looking for it everywhere. I don't want to miss MuggleCast. They're always up on the latest wizarding news.
Harry: Oh. Well, we were hoping to listen to Alohomora!
Hermione: MuggleNet Academia!
Neville: Oh, sorry. But you three know you can just download those shows to listen to whenever you want, right? Anyway, thanks for finding my wireless!
Michael: The magic lives on with MuggleNet's new podcast family.
Caleb, Kat, and Noah: Open the Dumbledore with Alohomora!
Carole, Jessie, and Michael: Live beyond the books with Audiofictions.
Eric: Get the latest news and excitement from MuggleCast.
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Ginny: Hey, you three. Mum just sent her old wireless over to me. Isn't it great?
Harry, Hermione, and Ron: Ginny!
[Ginny, Harry, Hermione, and Ron bicker]
[MuggleNet Podcasts promo ends]
KH: Professor Chris Gavaler is an accomplished novelist, short story writer, and playwright, not to mention a teacher of English and Creative Writing at Washington and Lee University in Virginia. He is also one of the world's leading authorities on the magic of comic books, especially of the superhero variety, which brings us to the subject of our show today. Professor Gavaler recently posted a provocative piece on his weblog, The Patron Saint of Superheroes, about the Hogwarts saga. In "Is Harry Potter a Superhero?" he both answers that question "you bet he is" and explains why those who think he isn't don't understand Harry or superheroes. In this MuggleNet Academia discussion, myself along with John and our student guest Cory, we talk to Professor Gavaler about Harry Potter and Clark Kent, about the Ku Klux Klan and Batman's origin (and the Klan as the first real life fandom), what Harry and Captain Marvel have in common, and, yes, Voldemort and the greatest comic book bad guy of the Golden Age, Adolph Hitler himself. Stand by for a look at Harry Potter through the magical, superpowered eyeglasses of Chris Galaver. You may never think of The Boy Who Lived the same way again.
Chris, I'm going to start off the show as we do on every show and ask you, how does a Professor of English and Creative Writing over at Washington and Lee University get involved in Harry Potter? I mean, most professors would scoff at the idea of reading a children's novel when it first comes out.
KH: Was is our friend Suzanne Keen that led you to Harry Potter...
[CG and JG laugh]
KH: ...or did you do this on your own?
CG: I have to blame my children. I was introduced to Harry Potter through them and also through my wife who is also an English professor here at Washington and Lee. I first heard Harry Potter read aloud by my wife to our children. It was a strange introduction because it was very fractured. It would be after dinner and I would be doing the dishes while she was reading, and I would catch a paragraph here and a paragraph there, a chapter here and a chapter there. And eventually, I found myself getting pulled into the story though I had initially wasn't intending even to listen but I would find myself, instead of going off and grading papers, staying in the living room, staying and listening to...
CG: ...her reading aloud to the kids. Eventually, I took over the reading duties or we traded back and forth. And so, I got to know Harry entirely from hearing him read aloud and reading him aloud myself. My daughter was... I guess this was before Book 4 came out that we first started reading them, and really Harry Potter was my daughter's path to literacy. It was after... oh, it was somewhere around second grade suddenly she took off with reading. She just read and reread and reread and reread Harry Potter. So, I owe Harry a huge debt of gratitude for bringing both of my kids into literature.
JG: That's great. I want to just observe... Professor Gavaler is an expert in comic books, so this was almost a step up for him...
JG: ...in terms of his...
CG: That's exactly right.
JG: ...contemporaries' respect for him. It's like, "Well, at least he's not reading comic books anymore."
CG: Exactly. There's nothing more low brow than comic book series. It is definitely a step up.
JG: Oh my goodness. You have been fighting literary taxonomy, and I've always wondered what was lower than Harlequin Romance. It may be superhero comic books.
CG: Absolutely, because you've got pulp literature and then comic books are actually a subgroup of pulp. They are the pulpiest of the pulp.
CG: You really can't get lower. Literally, as far as paper quality...
CG: ...they are the absolute bottom.
JG: All right. Cory, tell us how you first experienced Harry Potter. Did you read a French translation, or did you punch your way through the English one?
CF: Oh, no. I've read the French translation. Actually, it's kind of fun. I've only read the last book in English.
CF: And I still have to tackle them in English.
CF: The first book was waiting on my night table for weeks and I had been through all the books in my library, but I had decided that I would not read this book. My mom had bought it and I didn't want to read it. And then...
JG: Why didn't you want to read it?
CF: I don't know.
CF: It was this kind of weird book about... in French it's called Harry Potter and the School of Witchcraft.
JG: Oh, wow.
CF: And I was just like, "That's a kid's book. I don't want to read that."
CF: And then one day I suddenly decided, "Well, I've read everything in my library. I know everything by heart."
CF: "Let's try that." And I started reading and then I waited for... it was before the fourth book came out, so I waited for the fourth book to come out and then for every other book.
JG: Wow. It's interesting because Professor Gavaler, yourself, and myself, we all came into the books, it sounds like, in early the year 2000, right before the fourth book came out.
JG: Keith, when did you come into the series?
KH: I came into the series in 2005, right as Half-Blood Prince was printed. I got the first edition the next day for my daughter and I started reading it that day, but I started at Book 1.
KH: And I went though ten readings...
KH: ...within six months.
JG: Yeah, because... I don't know if you know this, Professor Gavaler and Cory, but Keith is a trivia expert. He'll give you page references.
JG: His command of canon is frightening. So it's great to hear, Keith, that you were almost a latecomer here. You were sort of late to the show, but then you took over.
KH: Yeah. Once I got into it, I put heart and soul into it. I met the boys at MuggleNet in 2007 and that was right before Deathly Hallows, but I was listening to MuggleCast. It was Andrew and Micah and Eric and Ben Schoen and a couple of other people, and I was following them online. I was following Leaky online. There was a website called Veritaserum that I was following.
KH: And I was really involved in the fandom, but then in 2007, once I met MuggleNet, I knew where I wanted to be, and here I am.
CG: Keith, did you say that you got it for your daughter?
KH: Yes. I got them for my daughter from Book 1 on.
JG: I want to change the subject here, Keith.
KH: Go ahead.
JG: Did you read comic books as a kid?
KH: Not comic books. I read the Funny Pages, which I don't consider comic books.
JG: All right. Cory, did you read comic books over there on the far side?
CF: Well, not comic books as they are in the US. Obviously, not superhero comic books. It's more like cartoons version and French cartoons.
JG: I love it. Well, I'm the big superhero fan here then. I read the Jules Feiffer histories of comic books. I mean, I was mad for comic books for at least fifteen years. How about this one: I first got out of college, my first job - here I was making some money, I decided... and I didn't have any... I was a single guy, so what can I spend my money on? I got like thirty subscriptions to DC and Marvel comic books, all of which arrived at the school where I was teaching in brown paper wrappers. And the postmaster of the school was an older, evangelical woman or whatever, and she was convinced that I was getting pornography daily...
JG: ...delivered to my mailbox. And she finally complained to the headmaster that we had a real problem with the Latin teacher here. This guy was getting... she said, it comes every day...
JG: ...this guy gets a dose of this stuff, and he looks so happy when he pulls them out of his mailbox. I was running back to my room to see the girly magazines coming out of my brown paper wrappers. Instead it was Captain America and The X-Men...
JG: ...and Batman and Superman and The Flash, which... I don't know, maybe that has sort of X-rated quality to it. All these people in spandex. But anyway, back to the subject of the show here. Chris...
JG: Their reasoning was largely that Harry doesn't have any superpowers that every other witch and wizard doesn't have. He's a normal wizard.
CG: Yeah. [laughs]
JG: And this kind of puts him outside the realm of superheroes who all have some great power - the magic ring for the Green Lantern and he's super fast or he's just a driven psychopathic vigilante like Batman or whatever.
JG: But tell us why you disagree with this. Why do you think... what are Harry's distinguishing superlatives as a superhero?
CG: Well, certainly he has superpowers. You can't avoid that. He can fly, he can teleport, he can turn invisible, he can talk to animals. So, that puts him right up there with Superman, Nightcrawler, Invisible Woman, Aquaman...
CG: You can go on and on with all the powers. But as you just said, a lot of folks online when they answer this question, they seem to focus on the issue of whether he's unique, whether he stands apart from all other wizards. And it's not an unreasonable objection. It's sort of going back to the lone wolf motif of superheroes, that they're supposed to be standalone characters. But that hasn't really been the case for a long time. Certainly by the 1960s, the idea of a group of superheroes became standard with the Justice League or the Fantastic Four, the Legion of Superheroes, and certainly Marvel Comics focused particularly on the idea of continuity, that it's not simply single strips or single comic books. All of them are connected and there's actually a community of the superpowered. And also sometimes this idea of unique doesn't really add up. I can't even list the number of characters who can run fast...
JG:[laughs] That's right.
CG: ...or can stretch. Or even take Green Lantern, [laughs] not the Golden Age one that you're named after, but the Silver Age Green Lantern is actually one member of literally an army of Green Lanterns...
JG: That's right.
CG: ...all identically named, all identically costumed, all with exactly the same powers. So, this idea of you have to be unique is one take on the superhero, but it's not consistent, so I really kind of reject that. But I will also say that even if you really feel that that is the most important thing, that it's unique, Harry Potter still fits that because he is the one and the only one who can defeat Voldemort.
JG: That's right.
CG: So, right there he stands apart. It's sort of the King Arthur plot. He is destined... at first he doesn't know who he is. He learns and he's got this fate to fulfill. [laughs] So even there, you've got someone, a character, who is uniquely powered. So, he's definitely a superhero in that category.
JG: Agreed. Agreed. I find the objection kind of... the person who objects to that, as you said, isn't familiar either with what superheroes are doing nowadays or really about Harry's uniqueness. Because you imagine in the book... for example, there's a possiblity, according to the prophecy, that Neville could have been the person who stands in.
JG: But you just look at this and say, "No, Neville hasn't got what he needs to do this." He does play a critical role at the end in Deathly Hallows, but you just can't see Neville, who's always trying to find his toad...
[CG and JG laugh]
JG: ...leading, doing the things that Harry does. Now, that's his uniqueness or whatever. He is The Boy Who Lived. He is the one who's got the scar. He is the person who the Dark Lord, certainly, has chosen as his nemesis or whatever. So, I think you're right that we have that opposition here. Batman, who is really my favorite... they had Bob Kane collections...
JG: ...and if you want to have real painful things, you read hundreds of Bob Kane comic books.
JG: Not only are they poorly drawn, but they're kind of cheesy or whatever camp stuff. He's my favorite. He dresses up in a bat costume to strike fear into the hearts of cowardly evildoers. Superman has his signature "S" right on the chest, right?
JG: Just in case you want to confuse him with The Martian Manhunter or The Spectre or something like that. We know who Superman is from a long way away. Fast as a speeding bullet. Spider-Man, too. He's black and white or he's blue and red. He's easily identified from a great distance. What is Harry Potter's superhero fingerprint? How do we recognize him from afar as super duper? We said that he's distinguishable because he's The Boy Who Lived, but we know that only from reading the story, from the first chapter. How does someone see Harry on the street? How does he know that Harry Potter is a superhero?
CG: Okay, so this issue of the emblem, the icon, the symbol that encapsulates the character. Certainly, as you just named, Batman, Superman, this is standard to comic books. But I would say Harry Potter does fit this because you have the scar on his forehead and that scar represents his character. It is the equivalent. That thunderbolt image is the equivalent of Superman's "S" or actually I would go with Spider-Man's symbol a little bit more because the thunderbolt contains... in the 1960s with Stan Lee, heroes weren't simply showing off their powers. It came with a negative side. It was both a blessing and a curse. And certainly the scar on Harry's forehead has that double element to it. It's both sort of his source of power, it gives him his... you could say it's a superhero name, "The Boy Who Lived." Right there is more than just Harry. It's a special name. The scar symbolizes it and it's both a mark of power and a curse. And that to me is... that's the critical quality of a superhero emblem. Another parallel would be Tony Stark, Iron Man. He's got that circular image on his chest and it shows his power, but at the same time, without it, Tony Stark dies.
JG: That's right, I get it.
CG: He cannot live without the suit to keep his heart working. So, Harry Potter is really in that Stan Lee 1960s tradition of the semi-cursed hero.
JG: This is great stuff because, as a classicist, I read that scar fingerprint or whatever, that scar signature that Harry...
JG: It's a mark that he's "The Chosen One," he's the object of the prophecy. And to me that's like Odysseus' scar, it's like the Euripides hero, the same thing. The scar is a classicist's mark. But to see that through the prism of Peter Parker's struggles... he has this great weight that he carries because Uncle Ben was killed.
CG: Right, right.
JG: It's this burden he has to carry or whatever. Believe me, that's a lot closer to home to me.
[CG and JG laugh]
JG: I studied Latin and Greek in Chicago and stuff like that, but I was much more trained by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee than by Euripides and company.
JG: This is a fascinating idea to me that "The Chosen One" comes out of this archetypal history not so far back but much more of our current mythology of superheroes.
CG: Absolutely. Yeah, and the fact that it's even on his forehead I think it's kind of striking because Joe Shuster and Bob Kane, they moved the symbol to the chest but heroes - I guess you can really call them proto-superheroes from the '30s and '20s and even earlier - they didn't wear them on their chests. The Phantom had his symbol on his belt. And it was actually a Johnston McCulley character - he is best known for creating Zorro - a character named Thunderbolt and he kept his symbol on his forehead. And Harry Potter has that thunderbolt...
CG: ...on his forehead, too. So, it really is a direct parallel there.
JG: I love it.
KH: Well yeah, but there are also qualities of superheroes like you had mentioned, Wonder Woman becoming invisible in her invisible airplane, or Aquaman talking to animals underwater and things of that nature using telepathic powers. Harry doesn't really have that. I mean, he uses an invisibility cloak to turn invisible, but anybody... even Ron and Hermione can become invisible as they've all gone under the Invisibility Cloak, or Neville. You have the ability for him to talk to snakes, yes...
CG: So, you're playing the "he needs to be unique, he needs to stand apart from other wizards." And again, that's a reasonable point. But by the same argument, anyone could put on Tony Stark's iron suit and become Iron Man. So, the Cloak of Invisibility is not a unique power - it's a gadget, it's a machine - you could see it in those terms, and many superheroes fall into that category. One of the reasons the question is so difficult to answer is because there's really... when you say "superhero", you mean... there's at least a dozen different archetypes contained in that word, and certainly some would not fit Harry but some would. So, it's a shifting definition and that's one of the reasons why it's hard to nail down.
JG: I love it. I'm going to shift back because we're talking to somebody at Washington and Lee and in their English Department here. [laughs] We talked to Suzanne Keen, our first guest last year. We talked about Dickens' novels, okay, and I think, just to bring us around, Dickens' novels with only the Pickwick aberration as exception, all the Dickens' novels all feature orphans or children seperated from their parents.
JG: It's a sure winner of readers' sympathies, right? If you can't sympathize with a kid who has no parents there's no help in you, medication or not.
JG: And authors know this, so they suck you into that and they follow the Dickens lead. But it's also a superhero origin cliché too, right?
CG: Oh, absolutely.
JG: Is Harry more the young Kal-El Superman, or Bruce Wayne and Oliver Twist? Is this something that's being pulled out of superhero tradition more than it is the great literary tradition?
CG: Well, the great literary tradition is important because... parents prevent growth, they prevent the main character from becoming a hero. So, you can't be heroic if Mom is still making your lunch.
CG: You just can't! So, there you've got this... I would say that's why orphans are just rampant in literature, they're everywhere. But your question seems something more specific about the superhero kind of orphan, and I would still say very much so. With Harry's parents being murdered by the arch super villain, you really have a superhero narrative going on there. Bruce Wayne's parents were murdered and so it becomes his whole reason to be... Batman is created because of the murder of his parents, and that really fits the... Bruce Wayne/Harry Potter, there's a very strong parallel there. And with Superman, it's almost the same thing, structurally. Superman... it's not just that his parents died - his entire planet died - so he's the ultimate orphan. But think about Harry again. The wizarding world, as far as he knew, did not exist until he was twelve. It's a lot... and that's actually how the Clark Kent story has been written, rewritten, decades later. Clark rose up believing he is a human being, believing he is a Muggle basically, and then he comes of age and suddenly he learns what's going on. Well, that's the same thing that happens to Harry. It's as if Krypton didn't blow up, it was just hidden from him until he turned twelve and then he can suddenly grow into his powers. It's the King Arthur plot again.
KH: I'm sorry, what's your opinion on this, Cory? You're an English Literature major from University of St Andrews. Certainly you've read enough Dickens novels to compare this. What do you think about this?
CF: Well, about the orphan figure I think it's fairly obvious that the orphan really helps. Also, for the reader to identify with the character - I mean, we were mentioning the talk about orphans versus empire, and if anyone listens to this talk he says that we are all orphans.
CF: By getting into that character we can forget everything around us, and if this character had any attached that is not ours we would not be able to identify this way. So, I think orphans is a really important and key point here. But on the Harry Potter as a superhero, I'm not sure I totally agree with it.
CG:[laughs] Fair enough!
KH: Well, go ahead. Give us your viewpoint on it.
CF: Well for me, Harry has kind of a superpower indeed but I feel that he doesn't really master it. He's not really the master of it and he doesn't really consciously use it. He is lucky at some points that this power protects him or this power manifests itself. When he is in front of a snake, suddenly he can speak to snakes.
JG: I hear you, but I just realized something we haven't talked about, is the superpower that he really has is his immunity to the Dark Lord's touch.
CG: Yes, yes, exactly.
JG: His mother's love permeates his skin. No other wizard has that capability. I'd forgotten all about that. That actually is a superpower that's unique to Harry, his protection through the love of his mother.
CG: Yes. And so again, it draws to the moment of him becoming an orphan.
JG: That's right.
CG: Bruce Wayne becomes Batman basically at the moment Mom and Dad are killed, and so Harry follows exactly that structure again. Cory, it was interesting what you just said, that Harry doesn't have mastery of his powers. Did I hear you correctly?
CF: Yeah, exactly.
CG: See, I find that really an interesting point because that is a major motif in superhero stories. The whole idea of... it's particularly true with the X-Men, the idea that you've got these young mutants who sort of discover their mutant powers. And at first they are basically incompetent, and they slowly have to grow. They literally go to a school - Professor Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters - to slowly gain mastery over their... well, it's not magic but it's the structural equivalent.
JG: It might as well be, yeah.
CG: Yeah, exactly.
KH: Well, let me ask you this. How does it fit in, let's say, with Tolkien? You have Frodo who is the hero of that. Is he considered a superhero? He's the only one that can destroy this ring and throw it into Mount Doom.
KH: Now, he's entrusted with it but does he have superhero powers? I don't think so. There's no particular mark about him that makes him a hero, but at the same time I think he's still an orphan.
JG: Well, he's definitely an orphan and he's adopted by another character, but this is... Gandalf constantly talks about the hobbits as having... are being special people of some kind.
JG: And just like Dumbledore is always saying to Harry that his power is love. So, we have the same kind of hint that because Bilbo had pity on Gollum at first that made him somehow immune to the grosser effects of the ring. So, Frodo, by willingly taking on the burden, was also somehow immunized against the power of the ring. The other characters in the story who want the ring but are not equal to the temptation aren't so empowered.
KH: But he wasn't immune to the ring at all. He was weakened by it. He was...
KH: ...possessed by it.
JG: But much less so than any other character would have been. I think that basically is Tolkien's point. I'm going to go back to superheroes and Harry Potter here, okay?
JG: Here's a point I don't get.
JG: The superheroes I grew up reading... and my best friend in high school - we're avid enough that our nicknames were Captain America and Bucky.
JG: You can guess that I was Bucky, okay.
CG: Not Green Lantern, huh?
JG: Oh, no. All of us had secret identities that worked really hard at maintaining sometimes beyond my ability to suspend disbelief.
JG: I mean, when is Lois Lane going to wake up? Anyway, but Harry Potter is who he is, right? He doesn't need to ditch his clothes or become his super self when encountering the bad guys. What's up with that? I mean, don't we have to have a secret identity for Harry to be a superhero?
CG: Well, I would actually say that he does. Keith, you just referenced Lois Lane - when is she going to wake up and notice that Clark is actually Superman? What's happening with the Harry Potter stories is you've got that same trope of the idea that you've got the Muggles - the Lois Lanes of the world - and then you've got the superpowered - you've got the wizard. So, when Harry is living with the Dursleys, all of his neighbors - any Muggle around - sees him simply as just a normal kid, but in fact he is a wizard and so he does have that kind of duality. What strikes me as interesting about the novels is... I would say that Rowling has actually taken the superhero duality - the idea of the secret identity - but rather than applying it simply to one character, she's expanded the trope and the entire wizarding world is a kind of superhero. You've got the same duality but she's moved it from single character to entire community. One of my favorite moments is the phone booth when...
CG: Clark Kent walks into a phone booth and he emerges superpowered. He becomes... he reveals himself as Superman. It's the same trope. You walk into that phone booth and when you step out you're the same, but you're now in the Ministry of Magic. The world has changed. I think it's wonderful that she actually uses a phone booth. I have to believe that she is consciously playing off this superhero trope. And even think about superheroes. They have their regular clothes on and underneath them they wear their special tights - their unitards, what have you.
CG: She's done the same thing with Harry but flipped it. He has his wizarding robes on, and underneath the robes he has his Muggle clothes. So, you've got this reversal. I think she's really very much playing off of the duality of superheroes but she's twisting them, I think, in a particularly inventive way. I admire what she's done.
JG: All right.
KH: Well, let me lead off of that, since you went into the Ministry of Magic. You're dealing with the government and in many superhero comics on TV - or in the comic books, I would imagine - the superheroes are always gone up against government institutions.
KH: Captain America for instance, he would be either super soldier but he also had to go AWOL every once in a while...
KH: ...to be a superhero, right? You have Commissioner Gordon for Batman and the cops in Gotham City always would go after Batman like he was a bad guy. Underdog - same thing! [laughs] Cops are going after, trying to catch this dog.
[CG and JG laugh]
KH: There's always a government issue trying to go against the superheroes. So, is Harry a vigilante in this?
CG: Well, I would say... well, certainly in the last book he becomes one, though we as readers - certainly myself as a reader - you don't initially think of him as a superhero because the government is so explicitly corrupt. So, once Voldemort has assumed authority of the government - of the Ministry of Magic - of course Harry and the Order of the Phoenix are going to fight against the government. And when they do that, they become vigilantes by definition. The government may be corrupt but it is the government, and if they are fighting it they are outside of the law. But even before Voldemort takes over and when the government was not corrupt, simply incompetent, that's probably the strongest superhero motif. I mean, Commissioner Gordon - he's got to be the worse comissioner of police in the history of...
CG: There is nothing he can do.
JG: That's right. [laughs]
CG: Whatever the problem is, he has to... he's got one trick. Light the Bat Signal! That's all he can do. He's terrible!
JG: It works though, come on! It's great.
CG: Right, exactly! That's the point. So, the narratives construct this idea that the government is incompetent and therefore you need this figure who is outside the law - so technically a vigilante - who only that person outside of the law can save the law, if you will. And certainly Harry does that.
KH: I agree, but in Order of the Phoenix you have a group of outlaws. The whole Dumbledore's Army was in fact going against the government. They even call it "The Ministry of Magic are Morons Group" at one point.
[CG and JG laugh]
KH: The twins called it that. So, you had a whole group of people going against the government, but now you can't say that the entire group of Dumbledore's Army is a hero, right? I mean, I think they are.
CG: Right, so you've got a group but the idea of a group of superheroes is certainly not unique. I mean, literally... The Avengers... [laughs] in fact, okay, one of the earliest superhero stories is Zorro, and Zorro, at the end of the original novel, gathers a whole group of other caballeros to join him and they name themselves The Avengers and they are very much like the Order of the Phoenix. They are fighting the corrupt government and they bring it down and order is restored. So, they break the law in order to save the law, which is sort of the vigilante motif.
JG: Okay, this is a great segue here, Professor Gavaler...
JG: ...because the real bad guys of my youth were Adolf Hitler on the one hand - that's my parents. They grew up during the Second World War, so that was just the constant.
JG: That was what real evil was about.
JG: And the Ku Klux Klan because I was growing up during the Civil Rights Movement's war with the Klan and white racism in the sixties. You've written about both in this post you put up.
CG: I have.
JG: You've written about Hitler as the bad guy - the Golden Age bad guy - and the Klan in relation to the Dark Lord - Voldemort - and fandoms. The latter point I confess is one that has me spinning, I love it. But talk a little bit about Adolf Hitler and the Dark Lord and where the Klan comes in here as... talk about a group of vigilantes.
JG: The Klan is like the original superhero group, right?
CG: Yes, it's an extremely disturbing [laughs] claim...
CG: ...but it is the claim I make. I do a lot of historical research and I just simply try to go back through the decades - mostly of the 20th century but somewhat into the 19th as well - and just try to figure out what were the cultural origin points for these superhero characters. And as disturbing as it sounds, I would say that the Ku Klux Klan is a central one. Now, you have the original clan which was created after the Civil War...
JG: Nathan Bedford Forrest and that group.
CG: Exactly, and that was located exclusively in the South obviously and it disbanded after reconstruction. Now, Thomas Dixon wrote The Clansman - I think this was around 1905 - and he was romanticizing this image of the vigilante, particularly the clan vigilante, and in many ways I would say it's one of the first superheroes in literature. The way he created his clansmen characters were very much like superheroes. They had secret identities, they had costumes, they had iconic symbols. They did not have superpowers except in numbers, though sometimes the way he writes about them they are almost supernatural in their abilities to do things the way they're described.
JG: Is it more like Batman? I mean, Batman doesn't really have superpowers, per se.
CG: Exactly, that's a perfect parallel. Yeah, exactly. So, you've got simply fully human characters who put on disguises, come up with aliases, and it's disturbing but the Klan believed they were doing the right thing. They believed that they were fighting the good fight. The Klan actually was recreated in the 19-teens and it was huge in the 1920s. And not just in the South, but across the United States. There's estimates that their enrollment was as high as five million. They were extremely popular and they were actually seen... they were understood to be vigilantes but in the sense that we think of superheroes fitting that category. They were this group that stood outside of the law, but they represented popular understanding of this time as upholding the law and somehow you need someone outside of the law to really make things work. The Klan of the 1920s, they weren't primarily... they certainly were voraciously racist, but they were not primarily fighting African Americans. They were more concerned with Eastern European immigrants.
JG: That's right.
CG: They believed... and this sounds crazy but their supervillain, their Lex Luthor, was the Pope.
JG: That's right.
CG: They were terrified of Catholicism. It's obviously a Protestant organization clan. Now, the Klan lost popularity after the 1920s and this is, I think, particularly interesting. So, when you've got the early superheroes... the pop magazines of the '30s was Doc Savage and The Shadow, which leads right into the comic book characters of Superman and Batman and the whole slew who follow. These characters come to life and they are influenced by the Klan in two ways. They are taking the Klan motifs of their costumes and the icons and the secret identity, but at this point in the '30s, the Klan is seen as a bad thing. They've completely fallen out of popularity. So weirdly, these superheroes are vigilante-fighting vigilantes. Look at Superman No. 1 - in the second page, he breaks up a lynching. Someone is being pulled out of a prison...
JG:[laughs] That's right.
CG: ...and he tells them, no, go home. They're going to lynch someone. So, these early writers were very much aware of the Klan, and we are not because historically that moment has passed and it's only when you go back and sort of look at the context that you can see the Klan actually was hugely influential in all the motifs of the superhero. As disturbing as that is.
JG: Well, I'm going to make this even more disturbing.
JG: We've been talking about Andrew Slack and the Harry Potter Alliance here or whatever. The Klan is born - reborn, I should say - the original Klan with General Forrest dies out.
JG: And then we get this book, The Clansman. And more importantly, I think, we get the Griffith movie, The Birth of a Nation.
JG: So, we have a book which is very popular, and then we have a movie which idealizes this vigilante superhero group, and then we get the rebirth of the Klan and its second genesis or whatever. So, the Klan is actually the first fandom group. It's sort of like early Harry Potter Alliance.
JG: It sounds terrible, but...
CG: It does sound terrible, but... I can remember going to the book release with my daughter, and everyone is dressed up like characters from the book, right? Well, that's what... [laughs] that's exactly what the Klan were doing.
JG: That's right.
CG: They were dressing up... the real Klan that gets created in 1914 were just - quote, unquote - "normal people" dressing up like their favorite novel and movie characters. They were dressing... it's exactly a fandom. [laughs] And people don't realize this. The Klan had ceased to exist and it was because the film was so popular that the new Klan was created.
CG: It's an extraordinary fact.
JG: We've probably already offended everybody...
JG: ...in our audience here, Professor Gavaler.
KH: I was going to say, the way I see the Klu Klux Klan is nothing but racist evil.
CG: Oh, absolutely. Exactly, exactly.
KH: And I just can't understand... I mean, Andrew Slack, my friend from the HPA, who we just talk about all the time as being a hero in the world, and we're comparing the Harry Potter fandom and all that we stand for with the Klu Klux Klan. I'm just going insane here.
CG: I know.
KH: Please help me out.
CG:[laughs] Okay, so this is what I want you to do, is try and step back and understand - oh Lord, please understand - I am in no way looking at the Klan and saying, "Oh look, we should reconsider and see them as a good thing." No, they were absolutely unquestionably horrific. There's no doubt about that. But what I'm doing with my historical research is simply going back and just seeing what was going on in any given decade. Now, when I say superheroes are indebted to the Klan, I do not mean that they carry the same values that they... that racism is carried through. It's sort of something... superheroes died out. And so then in the late '50s, early '60s, they came back with the Silver Age, Stan Lee and Marvel being one of the main writers. The way I look at it, it's sort of like Stan Lee just stepped into an archaeological pit and found this odd object, this superhero. They were basically extinct, so he picks up this odd object. He doesn't know who made it, how it was made, or what its original function was. He's looking at it and he says, "Well, this is kind of neat." It's like going into an archaeological pit and saying, "Oh, look at this. This would make a really nice vase."
CG: And then you put some flowers in it and put it on your table. And then you invite me over, and I sit down at your dining room table and say, "Oh, nice urinal," because I happen to know...
CG: ...the background of it. So, it's like... I don't want to be that guy. I don't want to insult people and say the thing that you cherish is actually grotesque. And I do believe... I like superheroes! [laughs] I like Harry Potter! I'm just sort of aware at the same time that there are these complicated histories to... well, you could really do it to almost any cultural object, and I just happen to be doing it with superheroes.
JG: Let's get to the...
JG: ...Harry Potter... the Dark Lord/Hitler relationship to show...
JG: ...how the genre has these values that Keith... obviously, Harry Potter Alliance is very progressivist, et cetera.
JG: And they have their own demons and bad guys, [laughs] much like the Klan did or whatever. Harry Potter's values are largely a reflection of superhero values and fighting the fascist repressive government or whatever.
CG: Exactly, exactly, which is... the reason Superman was created, the reason he became popular, was he was anti-fascist. Now Voldemort, I'm particularly intrigued by Voldemort, and again this is another way that I see the Harry Potter series as being particularly connected to superhero narratives. Voldemort is not simply a bad guy. He is connected to the bad guy of all bad guys. He really is a variation on Adolf Hitler, specifically because Voldemort is a eugenicist. He believes that... he's a variation on white supremacy, on Aryan supremacy. The whole idea of Slytherin is that you've got purebloods and they need to be preserved. The purity of that bloodline needs to be preserved, and any outsider who enters into that literally muddies the blood. Now, this is the premise of eugenics. Hitler, other eugenicists, believed that the Aryan race was somehow perfect and if simply Aryans would only marry and reproduce with other Aryans, literally they would create the master race - they called it "the supermen" - not a coincidental use of that term, by the way. [laughs] And this is precisely what Voldemort is about - get rid of the Muggles, get rid of the Mudbloods, no mingling, we need to preserve our perfect bloodlines. That is the Adolf Hitler agenda, and whereas the Klan of the 1920s essentially had the same agenda. So, you've got the proto-superheroes originally being aligned with the positions of the fascists. Harry Potter, and certainly any superheroes after the Golden Age and on, are going to have values that are completely the opposite of that fascism, that are completely the opposite of that eugenics program. So what you have is the values have completely flipped, but the structures, the motifs, are the same. The costumes, the icons, the code names, the powers, the orphans. So you've got structurally the same thing happening, but later writers completely altered the values they placed inside the structure.
JG: You just mentioned that Superman was founded to...
JG: ...fight Adolf Hitler. Can you give the Siegel and Shuster story here real quickly for those not familiar with that background?
CG: Oh, absolutely. Two Jewish men, who... young men, they had written Superman for quite a while, were unable to get him published for most of... for several years. It's interesting to me that the moment where they created the character was almost to the month that Adolf Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany.
CG: And it seems to be... [laughs] and of course, the idea of... the term "superman" is a Nietzschean term, but Bernard Shaw actually popularized it. He's the person who translated it as "superman" and he used it in a specifically eugenic sense of, "We need to breed the superman race." And that's the eugenics project, and Siegel and Shuster obviously opposed to this. Basically, what Siegel did is he took the name... he took his enemy's name, took it away from his enemy, and then recreated that superman as his own, and I think it's an absolutely brilliant subversive way of responding to Hitler and eugenics and fascism in general.
JG: Okay. That's great. And that's largely because Harry Potter is rewritten... it's almost like the "Volde-war two" here.
JG: The second war against the Dark Lord is really the Second World War rewritten for postmoderns.
CG: Exactly! Yes. Right, right. Yeah, Harry is fighting the same fight as Superman was fighting back in the thirties and forties.
KH: Now, I know you mentioned that there are some superhero groups out there like The Avengers, and I guess even The Incredibles are superheroes...
KH: ...that are a family. But when you come down to Harry Potter, Harry Potter can't be a superhero by himself. Because he would be... even though he's able to not be touched by Voldemort, he still can't outdo all the henchmen and the Death Eaters surrounding Voldemort...
KH: ...without the brains of Hermione and the courage that Ron has.
CG: Yeah, yeah. Now, this is interesting because what Superman did, rather what Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster did with Superman, was they rewrote the superhero narrative. Up until that point, the main character's superhero like, again, Doc Savage or The Shadow, the two big ones from the early 1930s, they always were the leaders of a group of almost equally powerful members and they stood above their membership, but they needed... they relied on these helpers. Superheroes started with Superman and Batman. Initially it was a movement away from that motif and simply was this lone character, but quickly it came back. John, you were mentioning Captain America and Bucky. The sidekick characters became essential to the superhero narratives very quickly. It was really sort of a brief moment where they were standalone, sort of lone wolf characters. So, the way that Batman relies on Robin, I would say, is very similar to the way Harry relies on his helping characters.
JG: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense, too. Even Superman has brave and bold comics where he's always teamed up with Batman.
JG: I mean, even Batman has his accessory. Go ahead, Keith. I'm sorry.
KH: No, it's okay. I just wanted to ask Cory and get Cory involved. Who is your favorite superhero in what you're familiar with over there in Europe?
CF: I mean, I'm familiar with Superman and Batman and all that because of the films and cartoons I watched on TV, so I would have to go with Batman, definitely. I would like to come back a bit before and when we were talking about the vigilante aspect of Harry Potter...
CF: ...and you talked about government and Order of the Phoenix and so on. But I think even before that, for Philosopher's Stone - or on a smaller scale, in Chamber of Secrets - Harry goes against the rules of Hogwarts to get the Philosopher's Stone.
CG: Ah, yes.
JG: Yeah, that's right. That's right.
CG:[laughs] Right, he goes outside the law.
CF: And to go to the Chamber of Secrets. He's outside of the rules, and when he does that, he actually usually puts his invisibility cloak on. He puts his cloak, as a costume, of vigilante.
CG: Yes, yes!
CF: Even if it makes him invisible.
CF: So, I think you can go even beyond the big scale of the government and look at the small scale of just the school, and he already does that at school.
KH: Absolutely. Even in Prisoner of Azkaban when he gets the Marauder's Map, he uses the invisibility cloak to sneak into Hogsmeade, where he's not supposed to be because he doesn't have the permission slip, and then at the end he uses it to go into the secret passage into the Shrieking Shack, which is, again, out of bounds. So yeah, I can see your point. That's really good.
JG: I love it. We haven't got much time left here, so I want to raise the... all of the Hogwarts Professor listeners or whatever are going to say, "John has to go here," but I've got to ask about Harry Potter as a superhero in this respect. Comic books... what's amazing to me is comic books, even though, as you said, they're the lowest of the low...
JG: ...in terms of the grade of paper they're printed on and how they are esteemed in the academy, but they're the most successful serial literature pieces, as a genre, in history. I mean, there's literally thousands upon thousands [laughs] of these books, especially now that we've escaped sort of the DC/Marvel hegemony or whatever. There's comic books everywhere now, online or wherever, and the seven Harry Potter novels are the best-selling fiction in publishing history, without exception. Both superheroes and Harry Potter have also been the big sure thing at the movies these last ten years. What is it about these fantasy pieces with characters so unlike ourselves and then the experiences that we have in the world that make us love them so much? I mean, there's something got to be bigger than, you know, girls in spandex or whatever.
JG: It's got to be something bigger than wish-fulfillment fantasies, wishing that I was as fast as The Flash or had a magic ring or whatever.
CG: Right, right.
JG: What is it that makes us love Harry Potter and superheroes? Because there must be something they have in common that they're so popular.
CG: Well, there's not a single answer to this. I can see several possibilities, the first is the least interesting but it's still part of it. Part of what's going on in the last ten years is brilliant corporate marketing. Marvel finally figured out how to sell their characters on the big screen. And when something is popular, corporations have a way of perpetuating that very effectively. That's a piece of it, like I said, the least interesting piece to it but it's there. What I find most interesting though, as you pointed out, you're talking about a trend of the last ten years so we're actually talking post 9/11. This is particularly interesting to me and something I'm just beginning to look into. I'm seeing a rise in what was once called "genre literature" - science fiction, pulp fiction, superheroes...
JG: Harlequin romance, too.
CG: Yeah. There's been a significant spike in the last ten years, post 9/11, in the world of - quote, unquote - "literary fiction," so what we're calling highbrow fiction. There's been really a remarkable amount of well established Pulitzer Prize winning novelists writing in what used to be called lowbrow genre fiction. Michael Chabon...
CG: ...being one of the very first, sort of, opening the door with winning the Pulitzer back in 2000 but he's been followed by so many like Cormac McCarthy with The Road, Jennifer Egan has science fiction stories, Michael Cunningham - another person who won the Pulitzer, Lev Grossman...
JG: There he is, yeah! [laughs]
CG: Exactly, exactly! The idea of, wait, this is a literary fantasy novel? That used to be an absolute contradiction. So, there's been this significant rise in genre which I love and I have to believe it's connected in some way to the post 9/11 phenomenon that we have. Now, in films, I think particularly the reason we're seeing superheroes become so popular... the Golden Age comic book superhero - his reason to be was World War II, was fascism, and what he provided - what Superman specifically provided for the reader - was this simplified world of absolute good and absolute evil. That is a comforting world view. So, when your society is under assault in the 1930s and '40s, certainly Americans believed in the very real possibility that democracy could be over, that fascism simply was going to be the new world order.
JG: In the '50s too, with communism. This is really not just a World War II thing.
CG: Absolutely, absolutely. And so now with post 9/11, again I think superheroes... one of the reasons superheroes saw that surge is because it was a nostalgia for World War II simplicity. Simply, you've got the bad guys, you've got the good guys, none of that... not too much, at least, of that complicating gray stuff in the middle which... and I actually want to say the Cold War was a little different. The Cold War, we were more terrified of blowing all of ourselves up, and so there you have a lot more modulated villains starting in the 1950s. But... which you did not have during World War II. And I would say the superhero villains of the 21st century, so far, are a lot more like Hitler than they are to... I'm thinking of a Flannery O'Connor story that has a character named "The Misfit" - not a supervillain exactly, but... he's a nasty piece of work, but he's weirdly sympathetic. The idea of having sympathetic villains really started in the '50s, after World War II was over. And with Osama bin Laden... we don't want to talk about any grays on here.
CG: We just want to think of them in simple, simple terms. Absolute good, absolute evil. And I think that has a lot to do with...
JG: But we don't see many Muslim villains, do we? I'm sort of out of the superhero thing, but I'd be astonished if we saw the kind of Japanese and German and Italian caricatures...
JG: ...that we saw in the '40s and of communists in the '50s. Though these caricatures did represent real evil in the world...
JG: ...I haven't seen anything like that. I'm sure that would be... you'd see it all the time on Slate.com, all these evil racist comic books celebrating these things. But you're saying that the desire among the readers and...
CG: I'm speaking specifically in film. I think the reason superheroes in film have taken off is because they're tapping on this World War II nostalgia. And so you've got, certainly... okay, Spider-Man, The Amazing Spider-Man from last summer. There is nothing nuanced about The Lizard.
CG: He is this great big green lizard who wants to kill us all, or transform us into more lizards apparently. Actually, there's another eugenicist. He wants to create a master race of lizards. But anyway, so there you've got that World War II nostalgia coming back in. The Avengers, you had Loki. He's sort of an interesting villain, but he's certainly not... there's again no gray area about him. Or Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, also from last summer. These are not nuanced characters, there's very simple lines. You're the good guys, over there are the bad guys. And there is something comforting about that formula, and it's a very specifically Golden Age superhero formula.
KH: Well, I can definitely see how you can relate it to the post-9/11. I mean, JK Rowling wrote these books, a majority of them, in post-9/11. And there's a lot that parallels the terrorism of the real world as to what was going on...
KH: ...in the wizarding world with... they used the Millennium Bridge for the film in Half-Blood Prince getting taken down, I guess it was the Brockdale Bridge in the books. But it's very similar with the Muggles being attacked like that, similar to 9/11 terrorism.
JG: And I'm going to take the opposite tack here just to...
JG: ...keep this conversation alive here and say, well yeah, she wrote... all the outlines for the books and the last quarter of Deathly Hallows which drives the entire series is written many years before...
KH: Well, that wasn't the point. The point was...
JG: ...9/11. Hold on, hold on.
JG: And comic books as a genre, of course, are big... even though it goes up and down in terms of its fascination or whatever, there was a revival in the Silver Age, comic books as a genre are popular really from, what, the mid-'30s until the present time. And there's tens of thousands that are being sold every month even at the lowest ebb, at the end of the Golden Age. And Harry Potter, whether we see it as a superhero thing or not, I think has a more archetypal thing.
JG: We can talk about it in terms of its historical reference and, as you said, that's... there's no one answer to this. And I think the historical one is important because it gets us to what we're thinking of as readers. But the writers and such, I think they're after something perhaps a little larger than this.
JG: That they're giving us some sort of transcendent experience. It's just realistic enough - and you and I have talked a little bit about Northrop Frye...
JG: ...in this respect - it's just realistic enough that we can suspend disbelief... we're going to head into Coleridge here.
JG: We're going to suspend disbelief in an act of poetic faith and then, once we're into the story, we're going to experience these characters allegorically, if you will. It really has transparencies to something which is larger than life, gets us out of our sort of individualist ego persona and...
JG: ...we get to experience something... as you said, good and evil laid out pretty simply so that we learn that if we make the right choice, things will turn out well in the end, even if it's a hard right choice.
CG: Mhm. Oh, absolutely.
JG: What you're talking about in terms of the historicist's argument, which has a... again, I should say historical before I go to historicist or whatever, but...
JG: It diminishes in a way that there's something inside each reader that wants... as [unintelligible] says, it wants... when he reads, he or she reads, he wants to experience something mythic, something much larger than himself. Especially in a culture which tries to force every one of us into a sort of materialist...
JG: Here's what your score is on your SAT and that's who you are or whatever. That's a diminishing and demeaning experience. I want something larger than that, and...
JG: ...my heart tells me there must be something larger than that. And if I can't find it in my school or my hospital or my church, I want to find it in my fiction.
CG: Right, right, right.
JG: How do superheroes and Harry Potter do that?
CG: Yeah, your point that... knowing the historical origin point of any given character or genre, it does not tell you why a contemporary leader is attracted to them. So, what you're bringing up I think is a particularly interesting point. The superhero formula, or at least one that I think speaks most directly to what you're describing, is Captain Marvel. There you have little Billy Batson, he's a twelve year old, and all he has to do is say this magic word, and the word is the name of a wizard, a wizard who has selected him of all people, has given him this secret word...
JG: Isn't it the initials of a bunch of gods?
CG: Exactly, exactly. It's a mythic term. So the wizard's name is Shazam, but the letters...
JG: Solomon, Hercules...
CG: Solomon, Hercules...
JG: ...Atlas, Zeus...
CG: Zeus, exactly.
JG: Mercury! We got him! Woo!
CG: Yeah, so he can become all of them at once. So, it's overtly those writers where explicitly bringing in mythology into a contemporary context, which is the goal, I think, of most fantasy, most speculative fiction, is that there's this other place, these other qualities, different from our mundane world - or you can even say secular world - and there's a search to get away from Muggle land and find this extraordinary place. You can do it by walking through the back of a wardrobe or by saying a magic word, but ultimately it's the same search. I want to get away from the here and now, and I want to be somewhere else, some other when, something where it feels that life is larger than this mundane life that we have. We poor Muggles, we poor Lois Lanes, have to deal with. We don't want to be Clark, we want to be Superman.
JG: This is great. I'm going to... before we get into our last question here, because we're running over here a little bit, what about the pictures? Comic books are unique as a genre in that... you have to imagine a lot because it's not like a film, you have to move from box to box around the page or whatever.
JG: However the artist makes your eye move or whatever. What makes comic books special that way? How does that genre really pop up? It's not like the penny dreadfuls of the late 19th century where you had to read it and draw all the pictures in your own mind. How do we get to comic books where we're seeing the pictures? Is that an offshoot of the film industry?
CG: No, though it's interesting. They both developed in parallel. You can certainly trace it back well into the 19th century, and this is an area of research I need to go into a lot more in depth, but it's really... the comic book comes from the comic strip.
JG: Oh, okay.
CG: So, from newspapers. And literally they're called comic books because they're a book or collection of comic strips. That's what the name means. So, the comic strip, this idea of individual panels that are sequentially linked, that I think... at least its immediate forebears from newspapers, from the front pages. So, it goes back much further than that.
JG: So if Harry Potter is a superhero, he can also trace his lineage back to little orphan Annie.
CG: Absolutely. [laughs]
JG:[laughs] I love it. I love it. Okay, Keith, I'm sorry I've gone over again.
KH: No, that's okay. I just want to close up the show by just asking both Cory and Chris, what would your lives be like without Harry Potter? Chris, you have this study on all the superheroes in the comic books, and Cory, you're doing your thing out there, not just with college but you're also running a Harry Potter site and doing some podcasting. What would it be like without Harry Potter right now, for you?
CF: Well, I don't know. It would be really, really weird and really hard to imagine.
CF: Obviously I'm running this website, I've met lots of people through it, I have lots of friends who love Harry Potter, and I probably wouldn't have tried to study English literature in the UK if I hadn't read those books because my main idea was that lots of the books I love were written in English, so I want to know where they come from and I want to study their history. So yeah, that would be a really, really strange life. And really, really different.
KH: Well, we were talking earlier about the post 9/11 era and the popularity of the Harry Potter books. You're one of those. You're one of that generation that grew up pretty much in the world and age of terrorism around the world. So, how did it affect you?
KH: I mean, do you look at Harry Potter and say this is something that relates to the world of today with terrorism and yet it shows hope as a superhero of Harry? Is that how you look at it? Or just the story itself?
CF: I look more at Harry as really, as I said, almost antihero. You know, a normal guy who doesn't really want to be a hero but has to, and deals with his problems that are bigger than mundane problems, and goes through it because he's forced to do it, and I think it's kind of the lesson that JK Rowling wanted to show at the end with him being back in a normal life. It's that we fight every day, we go every day through difficulties and everything like that, but then the hardest thing is to forget about all that. To keep going about your own life even though there is evil out there, even though there was a terrorist attack the other day, even though there were hostages. And so yeah, in that kind of way it can relate to today's world, where you have to keep going, to sometimes fight and sometimes forget and keep living.
KH: The last question I'll ask you then, Cory, before I throw it over to Chris for his input on this: you had said that you don't see Harry as a superhero in the beginning, you said he's the antihero. But now after listening to Chris's arguments and points about this, do you still feel that way or... you even put in about him being a vigilante and going under the invisibility cloak and out of bounds, and that's one of the parameters we talked about, the scar as being the symbol for Harry as being the superhero. What do you think now, after this show?
CF: Well, I think there are a lot of similarities. I was also thinking of the Room of Requirement as kind of his bat cave, you know?
CG: Oh, yes. Yes.
CF: All these tools and...
JG:[laughs] That's great.
CG:[laughs] That's really good.
KH: I think you just convinced yourself.
[CG and KH laugh]
CF: Yeah. No, I think that similarities are not enough to make him a superhero. He shares similarities with a lot of heroes in the entire literary universe and even cinematic universe. We said orphans. Luke Skywalker is not a super... well he's not really an orphan, but he's not really a superhero, although he shares qualities with all those heroes we mentioned. Same for Frodo, same for a lot of characters in popular culture. So yes, he shares similarities but I don't think it makes of him a superhero, and I think the really big difference is that he never really accepts his role of "the one," unless it gives him a chance to leave this role. At the end he just accepts that he is "the one" because he thinks that it means that he is going to die and he's never going to be "the one" again. And I think in that sense he never really accepts being a hero, so he shouldn't be considered as a superhero.
KH: Well, what about the trio as a hero, or Dumbledore as a hero? Do you see it in there?
CF: Well, Dumbledore has the scar. [laughs]
KH: Yeah, the London Underground on his left knee.
CF: Yeah, exactly. It's really difficult. Maybe the trio, all of them together, or even Dumbledore's Army, or even somewhere within Snape...
CF: ...as a kind of hero, too.
KH: Yeah, I agree there. I think I see Dumbledore's Army as being a really big superhero group because even though some of them do die in that final battle, as a group, they accomplish a great many things.
CF: And they all complete each other. You have Hermione, you have Luna, you have Neville, and so on. So, they all have their own abilities that kind of complete each other and make them a strong group.
KH: Yeah, right. Nothing is more evident of that than when Ernie Macmillan and Dean and Luna come - or was it Seamus, now I can't think - when they come in Deathly Hallows at the end and produce the Patronus Charm to save Ron, Harry, and Hermione. Chris, what are your thoughts on all of this? What would Harry be?
CG: Well, this is quite interesting because the point that Cory is bringing up, the idea that Harry is too reluctant to be a superhero because he doesn't want to take on that role - it's an interesting point, but again, that's one of the core qualities of Silver Age superheroes. When Stan Lee started writing superheroes, none of his heroes wanted to be heroic. Spider-Man wanted to be a celebrity, The Hulk, The Thing from Fantastic Four - these are all extremely reluctant characters whose primary struggle was accepting their roles as heroes, which is very much what Harry does. And I would say, Harry's character is influenced by these 1960s superhero characters. Though I do agree that... it's quite reasonable to say, "Yes, there are a lot of similarities but ultimately, no, I wouldn't call him a superhero," I have no problem with that at all. I think in some ways, the defining element is the context. And bottom line, Harry is not typically called a superhero, so in a way that sort of is the bottom point. But I can point out how he fits the formula.
KH: So where would you be without Potter today, Chris?
CG: My primary relationship to Harry is through my family. It's been very much a family experience. Without Harry, I wouldn't have had the delight of seeing my daughter throw herself into those books and really learn to read. I wouldn't have had the opportunity to read them aloud, all of them twice, to my children. There are few pleasure... better pleasures than doing the voice of Professor Lockhart. It was just a delightful family experience. So, I'm... I appreciate them especially because - and this isn't against... this is actually a huge thing to me - they're written for children, and this is a huge contrast to comic books since the mid '80s. The comic book industry radically changed. During the Golden Age, during the '60s, during the '70s, and up until the early '80s, the average comic book reader was age 12. But since the '90s and then in the last decade, 20-somethings read comic books. And they're written for 20-somethings. And they're good. They're strong works of art and literature, but I certainly wouldn't hand one to my son - my twelve-year-old son. There's not a chance. So, the fact that Harry Potter is... these books are written for children, but adults can obviously enjoy them equally if not more. That is the hybrid formula that I think is truly wonderful about them.
JG: Wow. This has been all we hoped it would be, Keith, I think. We've...
JG: Seriously, I think about Harry Potter differently now having used Professor Gavaler's lens here of thinking of Harry as a superhero. Thank you very much, Professor Gavaler.
CG: Thank you!
JG: And Cory, all the way from Belgium. It must be dawn there. The sun must be rising.
CF: Oh no, not yet. Sadly not yet.
JG: Oh my goodness. Keith, your final words here? What's your conclusion tonight?
KH: I do see Harry as a superhero, contrary to what Cory was saying.
KH: I do see him... because the markings are there, the heroism is there, the abilities, and the way he fights the government. Yeah, it's all symbolizing what I would envision as a superhero comic. So...
JG: We've got a convert! I love it! [laughs]
KH: Yeah, I do.
CG: We did! [laughs]
KH: It was kind of... it was really an interesting show to assimilate the comparisons of the comic book heroes that we grew up on and the ones that I watched on TV, not read in series, to what I see as Harry. It was a very interesting show. I hope a lot of the fans out there got a good taste of what it was like and maybe go out and buy a comic book or two and see what happens.
JG: I love it.
KH: Again, thank you very much Chris and Cory for being a part of the show. It was really an enjoyable podcast and I hope everybody liked it out there. If you want to be a student - such as Cory - on the show, please head on over to the MuggleNet Academia website and send in your information that I need. It's on the site, tells you exactly what kind of information I need. In fact, I just received one from Dolores Gordon-Smith's daughter to be on the show. So, maybe she will be on the show. But anyway, there's other students out there. We do have a bunch in the queue, waiting to get on and find the right show, so I will find one for you. And you can download the MuggleNet Academia app and listen to some of the bonus features that we have. Just head on over to iTunes, download what's called Podcast Box - that's free - and then search for MuggleNet Academia and download the mobile app there and listen to some of the shows.
[Show music begins]
KH: If you are an Android user, you head on over to Amazon and download the app directly. Again, thank you for listening to MuggleNet Academia. Talk to you next time. From MuggleNet.com, my name is Keith Hawk.
JG: I'm John Granger, the Hogwarts Professor and author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures.
CG: I'm Chris Gavaler, superhero scholar and professor at Washington and Lee University.
CF: And I'm Cory, student of the University of St Andrews and chief editor at La Gazette-du-Sorcier.com.