“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 44: “‘The Ickabog’: Thoughts in Progress”

Far from an offhand or casually constructed story, The Ickabog intentionally continues many of the themes and structures of the Harry Potter books in a fairy tale genre.



In this month’s episode, Katy and John talk with Harry Potter scholars John Pazdziora (University of Tokyo-Komaba) and Lana Whited (Ferrum College) about our first analyses of The Ickabog, which was released in installments from May to July 2020. The slow release has allowed fans of Harry Potter once again the delights of speculating about what will happen next, and we have captured that spirit in our conversation recorded after Chapter 51 was posted.

Lana Whited points out the connections with “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” while John Pazdziora shows how they fit within the French conte tradition that combined fairy tales with social criticism. Following both those traditions, The Ickabog lures the reader into a politically sharp and often violent tale. We discuss what the fairy tale theories of Bruno Bettelheim tell us about how children process gruesome stories. The third-person omniscient, even parental, voice of the narrator serves a purpose in talking readers through the difficult experiences of the Cornucopians.

Other literary allusions abound. The name “Beamish” references “The Jabberwocky”; the Ickabog reminds of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” The Ickabog’s cave recalls Odysseus’s encounter with the Cyclops but also Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, where the stories that compose reality are revealed to be false. We consider whether The Reluctant Dragon and The BFG might contain clues for us about the Ickabog’s true nature. We also use Freudian psychoanalysis to interpret the story in surprising ways. The Ickabog’s name allows several possible literary and linguistic interpretations. The Ickabog is a story about stories: why we tell them, how they influence us, and how our interpretations may change with our experience of the world.

There are similarities between this story and both the Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike series. From common thematic elements to alchemical symbolism and once again a chiastic, turtleback structure for the tale, we consider how parallels to these other works reveal the meaning of The Ickabog. We then use that knowledge to make predictions for its end. How well did we predict it? Listen in and see what you think!

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.