• Gregory Loselle

But first a few guiding principles...

I hope I don't strain the patience of anyone reading this to insist that first I ought to pause, not yet three entries in, to discuss form and structure. I'm a pedagogue, after all, and this is a project long-premeditated. So, I have a few guidelines that I've already set for myself. rules that define the work to follow and which I'm using to shape what I write. You might want to know them.


First, everything here is recursive. At this writing--April of 2020--I am just approaching the end of Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire, the fourth book of the seven in the series, and ideas that presented themselves as subjects from the first three books are already circling in on themselves as I progress. One example is close at hand. The issue of race or class--call it simply social standing--that first arose in my reading months ago in the third book is further worked out and treated more extensively in Rowling's unfolding story.


For instance, in the third book, Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban, we're already familiar with the dichotomy of the muggle/wizard world--and with the implication that muggles are self-absorbed and pedestrian snow-nothings, while wizards are vibrant, tolerant and engaging--their magic powers are a symbol, in this instance, of their exceptionalism. That in itself is an unfair characterization (there are hidebound wizards, we find, as well as more enlightened muggles), but we are also introduced soon enough to squibs (a term Rowling borrowed from the name of a firecracker or flare that fails to explode or light, with unflattering connotations on full display), or those poor creatures born of wizard parents but who possess limited or no magical abilities of their own--cruelly and unflatteringly represented by Filch, a study in frustration and petty authority-mongering who works at Hogwarts as (I have trouble even saying it) a janitor!--which point up a hierarchy within the magic world, where Dumbledore's kindness toward his employee takes on shades of condescension. (And let me say it: Rowling owes every well-meaning and responsible school custodian an apology for this character.) But this is before the racially-tinged idea, consequent on her wizards-are-better-than-muggles trope, that the presence of magical abilities determine, for at least some of her characters, the value of one's parentage.


So Hermione, a witch born of muggle parents, is described as a mud-blood--a term also used by White Supremacists, who talk of 'mud-races' inferior to their own--and while this sort of talk is met in the text with opprobrium (finally--however, Filch had been painted as a character comic in his thwarted ambitions, laughable for subscribing, from his office at Hogwarts, to a mail-order course of magic instruction he hoped, it is implied, would make up for his native inability), it is seen, eventually, as pervading the thinking of the Ministry of Magic, which unabashedly supports a meritocracy based at least in part on family origin. Even the Weasleys, the most closely observed wizarding family in the books, are shown in situations which raise questions about sexism and class; Draco Malfoy all but calls then white trash--and the characterization is generally accurate, as far as the stereotype goes.


Even our designated iconoclast, Sirius Black, is presented as the brunt of class disapproval from the speaking portrait of his mother, and his banishment to, and escape from, Azkaban can be read as the sort of stagy reconstruction of a fallen sinner. So racism and classism are deeply embedded, sometimes with implicit authorial approval, in the books, and Rowling hasn't--so far in my reading--completely disentangled herself from this troubling issue. I will necessarily need to come back to it, as I will to some other subjects, and some entries, and readjust my thoughts on screen to reflect a continuing experience.


So, what I set out to do may well have changed by the time I'm done doing it. I also fully expect to encounter information, or to hold conversations with others, which might have a bearing on my thoughts as I continue. I am writing a blog, not a book: flexibility is inherent in the medium, and no final draft is ever immanent.


There will also be--necessarily in this fallen world--simple factual mistakes to correct.


At the moment--and also subject to change--I can see two types of entry. One will be a diaristic account of reading the books, with an emphasis on immediate reaction and revealed experience over time. That's a fairly straightforward proposition. Another sort of entry, however, can be considered: since the Potter books themselves are episodic, , themes are recursive. (Though it seems that Rowling originally planned seven discrete stories, all starring her hero and a fixed cast of characters, each dealing with a new event or complication and seeing it to its conclusion, then only later--at about the midpoint of the third book, to my best guess, realized that the growth of her characters and their story demanded a grander form of narrative: so the Potter books owe less to The Hardy Boys, than to The Lord of the Rings, structurally.) So I'll need to make a comment on a particular subject now and again, then loop back with more evidence and further refinements as I continue my reading.


I expect to discuss background for the Potter books, and to mention sources as they occur to me. However, I don't claim to be a complete auditor of the stories and, given the nature of so widespread a fan club as Harry's acquired, I don't expect to know, or to learn, everything that can be pointed out: this is my own reading, as a teacher and cultural critic. The point of a blog, after all, is personal perspective. As that perspective changes, I may well amend earlier entries--and I'll find a way to indicate this, for the sake of clarity.


And on that note, this is not a fan blog. While I'm enjoying the project so far, I could--and I will--name a few things for which I can fault the author's work, and the fandom that's arisen around it. (Note my comments about Filch above.) My point in criticizing will, I hope, serve to expand understanding of the works. (Or, as I have often pointed out in my classes, one doesn't need to like a book or work of art in order to understand and value it.) The purpose of criticism is to discuss meaning, not to praise or damn. A lot of people love the Harry Potter books--but I'm not necessarily one of them, nor do I always agree with what I hear from those who do.


Finally, it's my hope that I'll be able--as I plan before these first, as-yet-unpublished entries see the light of the Internet--to link my comments to news stories, commercial products, events and personalities as they arise in the discussion. Nothing here, however, ought to be taken as an endorsement, and no attempt will be made to seek out complete references.


And that should do for the moment. No doubt I'll come back to this list and make a few more comments; the real work lies ahead.

©2019 by Gregory Loselle

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