Harry Potter’s Bookshelf by John Granger

I wanted this book anyway because I’m also a moderate fan of the Harry Potter series, but chapter 2, entitled “Pride and Prejudice with Wands: How Jane Austen Haunts the Heart and Soul of Rowling’s Artistry,” sealed the deal. Rowling has apparently said that her “big three” favorite writers are “Nabokov, Collette, and Austen,” and Granger’s goal here is to explore “the various streams of the English literary tradition in which [Granger] lives and writes.”  To do so, Granger employs what he calls the “iconological” reading of the Potter books, which “assumes that writers are writing for the readers’ edifying transformation rather than for pure, mindless entertainment.” Given Austen’s social satire, I think most of her regular readers would agree that she’d like us to learn something about how to behave and how better to judge other people’s behavior, while we are deliciously entertained.

Prior to reading Granger’s book, I had not realized how many Austen references and allusions there are in the HP books. Most of us picked up on the direct dis of Fanny Price’s Aunt Norris through Rowling’s naming an annoying cat after her, but how many of you, educated readers, made the parallel between Ms. Rowling’s “stunning end-of-story surprises” and the end of Emma as resulting from the third person limited omniscient narration, which makes the reader think we’re seeing everything because the protagonist isn’t the narrator? Rowling apparently believes that the surprise ending of Emma is “the best twist ever in literature,” but she uses Pride and Prejudice, too. In the Harry Potter books, “the obstacles to the successful resolution” of all the problems “are essentially prejudice.” Harry, like Emma, and like Elizabeth and Darcy, must overcome his own faulty assumptions in order to make things right.

Austen appears throughout this text even if only one chapter is officially named for her, and reading it was like a fun ride through literary history. Granger reviews complicated terms (doppelganger, anyone?), purposes of various forms of literature (satire’s is “to invite the reader to laugh at a particular human vice or folly, in order to invite us to consider an important moral alternative”), and a whole lot of books whose influence extends to the Harry Potter series. When Granger explains allusions, they suddenly seem so obvious we feel silly not having noticed them—or not now remembering that we had noticed them—while reading.  Granger analyzes J.K. Rowling’s interviews and statements with reverence for her achievement rather than for the person herself, and most importantly, he has helped me devise some homework for myself:

Reread Plato. Try to stay awake this time.

Consider Dostoyevsky, even if he was an anti-Semite.

Assess for myself whether Enid Blyton appeals to Americans or just to the British.

Find C.S. Lewis’ Preface to Paradise Lost.

Read David Hume to contemplate how vast the gulf is between him and Austen.

Published in: on November 22, 2009 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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