The Ravenclaw reader: sadly not “wit beyond measure”

Minerva_McgonagallHow things change. Boswell famously records this soundbite of Samuel Johnson.

I told him I had been that morning at a meeting of the people called Quakers, where I had heard a woman preach. Johnson: “Sir, a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

It would not be fair to apply that saying to the Ravenclaw Reader. Nonetheless my appreciation of the book is more for its existence than its content. I have enjoyed reading this kind of discussion of Harry Potter, and I don’t think I ever expected to see the fruits of an academic conference in print, far less one that took so seriously the underlying Christian themes of the series. That says as much about the many early battles some of us fought against the book-burning brigade as it does about this collection of conference papers.

There are some interesting themes dealt with in the (as always in a book of this type) very varied chapters. I have found all of them provoking me to think more deeply about my own appreciation of Rowling’s artistry. And for that I thank all the authors and the editors who have imposed a kind of logic on a very disparate collection.

I have been most astonished by the bibliography. I had not realised there were so many serious contributions to the field of Potter studies.

Yet, in the end, I have failed to be fully persuaded by a single essay in this collection, though some provoked me to new thinking of my own quite constructively. Some of that is, no doubt, down to my disagreement with some aspects of cultural and literary studies. Yet I constantly found myself thinking that despite the very sharp intellects revealed here, the authors were missing large swathes of the narrative wood in pursuit of their analysis of particular trees. Some papers were simply too clever for their own good.

Overall, I think my reaction to this book moved from excitement that it was published to disappointment that it was not as engaging as I hoped. I hope I have fairly indicated why I disagree with them, for disagree I do. Likewise I hope that I have offered in response enough my own reading of Potter grounded in the text to show a positive alternative. The individual posts in the series are listed below.

  1. Harry Potter and the Groves of Academe.
  2. The non-reality of a Hogwarts education
  3. Death of death and Voldemort’s destruction
  4. A humanist (mis)reading of Harry Potter?
  5. Harry Potter and the remarkably natural forest
  6. No props to Propp on the popularity of Potter
  7. Magic is might: et in Dystopia ego
  8. Neville Longbottom and the perils of allegory
  9. Severus Snape and the dangers of sorting too soon
  10. The Dursley Difficulty (doing Muggles a mischief)
  11. Harry Potter and the game of symbols

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