A physicist loose among the liberal arts

Category: scholarship (Page 1 of 4)

Mythmoot Lúthien Seminar

Since Beren and Lúthien was just published, we paid a lot of attention to it at Mythmoot IV. In this paper session, it got crowded in the dell under Weathertop. Along with Aragorn and the hobbits, Kate Neville, Tom Hillman, Trevor Brierly and about 20 others were eavesdropping. This took the form of three talks about Beren, Lúthien, and the song of Tinúviel. All three talks referenced the Mythgard Academy class on Return of the Shadow, appropriately enough.

Kate Neville: How much does a linden-leaf weigh, anyway?

Kate handed out four different versions of the song Aragorn sings, written over 30 years. What is a ballad, anyway? We don’t know what JRRT’s definition was, but the etymology is “something to dance to”. Repetitions of words match repeated steps in a dance. The ballad is separate from the “Tale of Tinúviel”. The ballad has seasons in it; where the story takes place over a few days. Kate thinks putting the dancing Luthien into a song is the origin of her power as a singer.  “Whenever I see the leaf in ‘Leaf by Niggle’, I think of a linden.”

Hemlock umbels, high enough to dance under

Umbelliferous Hemlock

Since we’re discussing Lúthien’s weight, let’s discuss her height, too. My farm got a lot of rain this month. Most of the hemlock-umbels are four feet off the ground, as usual. A few, though, are almost seven feet high. A daughter of Thingol could easily have danced under the tallest ones. We know Tinúviel had extraordinary grace, because the tall hemlocks are all on a riverbank where the land is on a one-to-one slope. Only an elf could dance there without falling in the water.

Tom Hillman: “She died.”

Tom started with a contentious assertion: that Aragorn’s coda to the song was the biggest disappointment in Peter Jackson’s movie. That’s a tough competition, but he made a good case. Aragorn’s step away from his historical role means that he has to reduce Arwen’s eventual choice to a purely personal level. This is one of the moments where the depth of Middle-Earth comes out, in the book. The movies were completely de-mythologized, so that had to be deleted. There’s no hope in the movie version. No Silmarils, no victory over Morgoth. How could there be? In the movies, the indicator of enormous evil power is that you’re really big and can hit a lot of people with one swing of a mace.

One metaphor I loved: In the Mythgard class, Corey Olsen made a big deal out of identifying exactly where JRRT brought the two worlds of the Silmarillion and The Hobbit into conjunction. Tom points out that this is a necessary consequence once the world was made round. Parallel lines never intersect in a flat geometry, like the world before Ar-Pharazôn’s little folly. But parallel lines always eventually cross on a globe. In the Third Age, the Hobbit and The Silmarillion couldn’t be kept apart.

Trevor Brierly: how Lúthien became a “maiden, elven-wise”

Lúthien doesn’t do anything in the earliest poem, but the “Tale of Tinúviel” makes her into an agent. The part where Beren is stalking her stops being creepy, because she knows he’s watching and encourages it (without telling him, of course). In The Fellowship of the Ring version, she actively embraces Beren. As Kate interjected, “Beren keeps trying to get away, and she keeps showing up wherever he is.”

We had a great discussion afterwards, which only happens when everybody is keyed onto the same topic. That doesn’t always happen when three distantly-related papers get put into a session.

One item that came up, relevant to my chairmanship of the Committee for the Defense of Celeborn: The reason Celeborn always just says “yes, dear” is buried deep in the First Age. “At times Melian and Galadriel would speak together” and Galadriel learned a lot. Celeborn was watching, too. He saw how Thingol never listened to his wife, and what happened to him. Celeborn let his wife do the talking, and he lasted through two more Ages of the world. Smart guy.

Verlyn Flieger – Wonder is a three-body effect

In which your humble Idiosopher follows the Straight Road, or as some might say, goes off on a tangent

Edited to add:  A video recording of the lecture is now online.

Verlyn Flieger gave the Saturday plenary lecture at Mythmoot IV. She took the theme of the conference “Invoking Wonder” literally, with spectacular results. This has taken me a long time to get written, so there are some good reviews out there already. Kelly has a comprehensive recap, which is a good place to start. Sørina has a précis. Lee zooms in on one feature of the lecture — how to teach wonder. I’m going to zoom in on another.

As Prof. Flieger describes it, “wonder” is a three-body situation. Otherness is one essential component; a thing that’s outside the viewer’s experience is where it starts. An observer, someone looking at it, is the party of the second part. “Hey, look!” is their reaction. (Or “Ele!” if you’re an elf seeing the stars for the first time.). Which brings us to the third part – the observer needs someone to say that to. You can’t keep wonder to yourself. The term Prof. Flieger uses is “rebound”, like a combination shot in billiards. Back in Cuivienen, JRRT writes the awakening of the elves so the elves see the stars, and the wonder of the stars bounces off the elves and comes to us. Then she quoted Owen Barfield, who once said that there is no such thing as an unseen rainbow. The metaphor is so exact that I’m sure Prof. Flieger intended us to think of the way a rainbow is generated, as light from the sun bounces inside raindrops and back to our eye. She then followed with a list of examples where JRRT does the same thing. The Arkenstone, the Window on the West, the Glittering Caves…. Curious — more than half of the examples involved refraction. I’m sure it’s purely a coincidence that her first book was entitled Splintered Light.

Prof. Flieger polled the audience to see how many of us were fans of E.R. Eddison. (Five.) She used him as a not-so-good example of invoking wonder through extravagance, not recovery. Her passage from Eddison overwhelmed the reader with almost Rableaisian lists that include both familiar and exotic delicacies. I’m one of the fans, so I felt like leaping to his defense. Eddison could use the rebound effect himself when it was important.

Let me interject a personal confession here: I don’t grok heroes. High romance needs heroes to make things come out at the end, but it’s hard to make a character unique and flawless at the same time in a way to which I react well. One reason I love Tolkien is that he managed to write Aragorn exactly the right way to do that. (Peter Jackson couldn’t.) The only comparable achievement I know of is what John Steinbeck did with Lancelot, whom I’d never cared for until then.

E.R. Eddison uses the rebound technique in The Worm Ouroboros to get around the fact that Lord Juss is such a good guy that, to me, he’s a blank spot on the page.
Here’s Lord Brandoch Daha:

His gait was delicate, as of some lithe beast of prey newly wakened out of slumber, and he greeted with lazy grace the many friends who hailed his entrance. Very tall was that lord, and slender of build, like a girl. … His buskins were laced with gold, and from his belt hung a sword, narrow of blade and keen, the hilt rough with beryls and black diamonds. Strangely light and delicate was his frame and seeming, yet with a sense of slumbering power beneath, as the delicate peak of a snow mountain seen afar in the low red rays of morning. His face was beautiful to look upon, and softly coloured like a girl’s face, and his expression one of gentle melancholy, mixed with some disdain; but fiery glints awoke at intervals in his eyes, and the lines of swift determination hovered round the mouth below his curled moustachios.

We know him. The too-pretty, too-well-dressed façade that conceals a deadly fighter is a perennial figure of romance, like Aramis in The Three Musketeers or Simon Templar or Sir Didymus. I can root for this guy. Lessingham assumes he must be Lord Juss, but no. There’s another remarkable figure there, for whom the earthling makes the same mistake,

… apparelled in black silk that shimmers with gold as he moveth, and crowned with black eagle’s feathers among his horns and yellow hair. His face is wild and keen like a sea-eagle’s, and from his bristling brows the eyes dart glances sharp as a glancing spear. A faint flame, pallid like the fire of a Will-o’-the-Wisp, breathes ever and anon from his distended nostrils. This is Lord Spitfire, impetuous in war.

We know him, too. Heroes who are like birds of prey form a long line: Hawkeye, Hawkmoon, Hawkwind, Hauksberg… and that’s just the “H”s.  Then we meet Lord Goldry Bluszco:

[Y]on lord that bulks mighty as Hercules yet steppeth lightly as a heifer. The thews and sinews of his great limbs ripple as he moves beneath a skin whiter than ivory …. Slung from his shoulders clanks a two-handed sword, the pommel a huge star-ruby carven in the image of a heart, for the heart is his sign and symbol. This is that sword forged by the elves, wherewith he slew the sea-monster, as thou mayest see in the painting on the wall. Noble is he of countenance, most like to his brother Juss, but darker brown of hair and ruddier of hue and bigger of cheekbone. Look well on him, for never shall thine eyes behold a greater champion than the Lord Goldry Bluszco, captain of the hosts of Demonland.

Of course the big kid whom none of the other kids can tackle might be the oldest trope in epic literature. He’s such a compelling figure in stories that he can serve equally well as the villain if (e.g.) we only have the Hebrew version of a tale.

Here’s where Eddison sets up the five-way combination shot: Spitfire is first to say Lord Juss is the best general. Goldry Bluszco wouldn’t want to fight Juss hand to hand. And when Brandoch Daha and Juss are traipsing up mountains in search of hippogriff eggs, there’s no question who the tougher soldier is. So even though Eddison doesn’t have Tolkien’s chops as a writer, Lord Juss is wonderful because all these familiar heroes are vouching for him.

That was a long digression, but it shows the power of this formal construction of wonder. As always, Prof. Flieger set up an excellent punchline to her lecture, with Gimli’s description of the Glittering Caves to Legolas. We’d never seen Gimli show a lyrical side before, but here he goes to extremes and even uses a sea metaphor to impress the Elf. This isn’t just us seeing a wonderful site through his eyes: the complete ricochet is Gimli->Legolas->caves->reader->Gimli. JRRT wants us to see Gimli, not the caves, when we read this passage.  Altogether, a wonderful lecture and a way to perceive the issue I would never have thought of myself.

The Hippogriff:  Lord Juss’s Emblem

Sørina Higgins: Real Modernisms

Edited to add: A video of this lecture is now online.

Sørina Higgins gave the Sunday plenary talk at Mythmoot IV.  She thinks we need a new story for imagining literary communities and literary modernism. She uses the Great Dance at the end of Perelandra as her starting point.

He thought he saw the Great Dance. It seemed to be woven out of the intertwining undulation of many cords or bands of light, leaping over and under one another and embraced in arabesques and flower-like subtleties. Each as he looked at it became the master-figure or focus of whole spectacle, by means of which his eye disentangled all else and brought it into unity — only to be itself entangled when he looked to what he had taken for mere marginal decorations and found that there also the same hegemony was claimed, and the claim made good, yet the former pattern was not thereby dispossessed but finding in its new subordination a significance greater than that which it had abdicated.

C. S. Lewis, Perelandra, p. 218
Cover of Perelandra, 1979 MacMillan edition

I’m writing this on the porch, on a sunny day in June. The book cover matches the lawn beautifully.

Professor Higgins’s revision to the story of the Inklings is radical: there was no group called “the Inklings”, in the sense that there was a group called “The Beatles”. The name is better thought of as a constantly-changing configuration of influences among people who flowed in and out of each others’ notice, and whose significance in each others’ works ebbed and flowed over time.

If you try to use rigid identifications to describe something as chaotic as twentieth-century communities, you’re bound to miss things.  In the case of the Inklings, what you miss is their engagement with Modernism. If you think of four Dead White European Males turning their backs on the industrial world you don’t see: women, Americans, pulp magazines, romance novels (in the XXth Century meaning), or their keen perception of advances in science.  Others have noticed this before, of course. Critics have designated a raft of /[a-z]*-modernist/ schools. That regular expression could be low, high, pulp, pop, inter, outer, or whatever else. Any time you have an explosion of hyphenations in scholarship, it’s a sign that we’re ready for some kind of theoretical unification. (They give Nobel prizes for that in physics. It’s what quarks do.)

Prof. Higgins proposes that we should use network theory to create “meta-fictional narratives”, and basically told the audience to get to work. (This was the second action item from a plenary talk last weekend.)  OK, let’s.

It’s easy to see how the network nodes are defined; there’s almost certainly going to be one for each person. The value of the writer’s nodes will be time-dependent, describing their works in progress. We’ll need some specific non-null value for anyone who’s not writing something, but interacts with writers in other ways. (I’m thinking of Joy Davidman, and that may be the most discreet sentence I’ve ever written.)

The links in the network will be the hard part. Interactions between writers don’t fit onto a numerical scale. (And that may be the worst understatement I’ve ever written.) I have no idea what kind of quantitative analysis is possible when a link value is chosen from a set like {influenced, discussed with, expanded upon, refuted, deliberately ignored, stole from, converted, ran off with the wife of, …}.

Link values will also be time-dependent, so the whole network will be time-dependent. I foresee lots of cool animated graphics at future conferences, if Professor Higgins has the kind of influence on Modernist Studies that I suspect she will.

Michael Drout: The Decline and Hoped Rebirth of Germanic Philology

Michael Drout gave a fascinating keynote address at Mythmoot IV. Honestly, the last thing I expected to hear was a call to action.

Edited to add:  A video recording of the talk is now online.

We 120 were a big audience, by Germanic-philology standards, but it was not always so. In 1848, Jakob Grimm was Guest of Honor at the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung where they wrote the Constitution. “Who is a German?” was the defining question for 150 years of European history. Philology was a tool in this nationalistic task, and Jakob Grimm was the master philologist.

Grimm’s work wasn’t confined to an ivory tower.  His methods made it possible to read long-dead languages, and thereby investigate cultural history in words. Success in application makes something important. Because it had real-world effects, philology dominated scholarship before WWII the way physics did afterwards. But philology was basically wiped out, between 1945 and 1951, an effort that was enthusiastically supported by literary scholars who wanted to erase their Nazi-sympathizing pasts. It doesn’t exist any more as a requirement for an English degree.

Apart from institutional antipathy, another problem that bedevils philology is the absence of good textbooks. You can’t learn it without a good teacher. It’s taught by the apprentice method, which is unsurpassable for quality of education, but, being highly susceptible to Baumol’s disease, isn’t a good way to rebuild an entire field of study. Professor Drout stated ex cathedra that current philologists are fewer and less capable than their predecessors. He bolstered the assertion with examples of archaeological discoveries that were more-or-less predicted by philological analyses of ancient texts, and said that such skill has vanished, now. (I’ll take his word for it; but some day I’d like to see all the predictions that didn’t come true.) “How do we know that?” asked Timdalf, which was a very good question. Drout’s answer is that he sees signs of it all through the old literature — many parts of reviews and commentary aren’t explained because everybody knew them. There are traces all through the journals of vanished networks of communication and understanding. We have no referents for them.

Professor Drout next developed his story with a diatribe against Literary Theory. He’s not so well educated as his predecessors because he had to learn Theory to get a job. Even from my brief incursion into the field, I know what he’s talking about.  “The theorists tried to destroy philology, which cursed them as it died.”

The general decay of literary studies is a consequence of losing the academic rigor that philology brought. Literary Theory doesn’t have much of it. Here is Professor Drout’s call to arms: let us, Signum University faculty, students, and scholars in its orbit, restore philology to its proper place.  The old philologists didn’t completely understand this a hundred years ago, but now we know philology is grounded in neuroscience. Philology is a way for literary studies to catch up with the rest of the academy in rigor. Without a philological foundation, no theoretical treatment should be taken too seriously. In conclusion, he suggested that we, the Tolkien fans who have become philology fans, are like gardeners who are watering the seeds, against the day when philology sprouts again.

The conclusion was inspiring. The last thing we expected from a plenary talk was to be charged with a mission. (It wouldn’t be the last of the weekend!). Not all the eyes in the audience were dry when Professor Drout finished.

I was left with two questions to ponder.

  1. Professor Drout is one of the best at speaking Anglo-Saxon that I’ve ever heard. He’s so good at it that he can sell recordings. Seth Lerer is the other; both are philologists, not just literary critics. It seems likely that studying philology is necessary to pronounce an ancient language well. Is it sufficient? Or are other skills needed, too?
  2. The knowledge that philologists used to have isn’t well-represented by a chain of facts. It’s a network. This seems like the sort of thing Google Scholar was invented for. Might it be possible to program a neural net with the corpus of the technical literature, which can then serve as an assistant to someone who wants to reproduce and extend the old discipline?


Bullet Lists from Mythmoot

Mythmoot IV is over and done, and it was a blast. I heard a lot of good scholarship, met a lot of interesting people, bought some books, and was stalked by Tevildo, Prince of Cats. (Starsha tried to get photographic proof, but taking a picture of a black cat in the middle of the night is among the most difficult tasks in the visual arts.)

Things I have never done before:
  • Pronounced “oidhche” (even if I didn’t do it right)
  • Drawn up a tax code for Gondor
  • Danced the Virginia Reel with a priest
  • Sørina Higgins is so good at asking questions of panelists that I frequently find myself noting her questions rather than the answers.
  • Verlyn Flieger is not only extraordinary at delivering the punch line to a lecture; she can even improvise them.
  • Michael Drout can read an audience as well as the best stand-up comics.

I’ll have more detailed notes on some highlights coming up, though not a full “proceedings” like I did last year.

Publishing On Line

I’ve put the final version of the Ardagraphy paper on a couple of social networks.  The first is the Humanities Commons, which is brand new and looks encouraging.

The second is Academia, which gets a high page rank on Google. I’m not exactly sure of what that site is doing, though.  For example, it put the PDF I uploaded into Scribd.

My Notes from MidMoot III

I took a lot of notes at MidMoot 3, held on September 24-25, 2016. Strung end to end, they’re too long for a blog post, so I broke them up into panels.




Janet Brennan Croft: The Name of the Ring: MidMoot 3

This paper is on line.  Janet wrote some really hairy stuff in an easily accessible style, so I won’t re-cap  much of it here.  She starts with Northrop Frye’s organization of literary forms. Myth -> High mimetic -> low mimetic -> ironic.  There are four phases of language to look for.

  • Metaphoric: subject and object linked by some power. Spells, boasts, oaths, magic.
  • Metonymic: “this” is put for “that”. Language describes something beyond itself. Bilbo uses metonymic language with Smaug, calling himself barrel-rider, ring-winner, luck-wearer.
  • Demotic: Subject and object are clearly separated. Words describe an objective natural order. Astrology is replaced with astronomy. The thing evokes the word, and the word has no power to affect anything.
  • Recurso: the cycle restarts. Matter is a form of energy, which finds science leading us back to the mythical. (!) Terms like romantic and extravagant, which were insults in the Middle Ages, are used approvingly now.

The metaphoric/metonymic distinction separates the two reasons not to speak the name of an evil power.  Songs are metaphoric. They bring you through the recurso.

Q: What did Frodo think he was doing, when he put on the Ring? Boromir, Gollum & Sam all had plans for what they’d do. Not him. Tom: the two scenes with Frodo dominating Gollum imply that Frodo did actually know how to use it. JBC: but Frodo has a pattern of rejecting authority and responsibility. Arthur: Frodo doesn’t have a “ring-induced monologue” like everyone else — does he only desire to dominate Gollum? Tim: Self-preservation is Frodo’s goal.

Q: Larry Niven’s story “Grammar Lesson” revolves around the confusion between english-speakers and an alien race when they don’t get the difference in “my” between “my heart”, “my wife”, and “my car”.  Is that what’s going on here?  A: Yes, he’s making the metaphoric-metonymic-demotic distinction clear.  Note added later: C.S. Lewis did this in The Screwtape Letters, too!

Tolkien Studies: Midmoot 3.06

My notes from the last panel on Sunday at MidMoot 3.

Josh Ramsey: Death through a Catholic Lens

Death is a gift, not a tragedy. Catholics think it’s punishment for Original Sin. Is this heresy? The elves who perpetrated the Kinslaying didn’t die, so death is not a punishment. The Men who aided the Valar died, so immortality is not a reward for virtue.

Venerable Bede says Genesis 2:17 doesn’t refer to mortality, it says just “death”, which means spiritual death. Finrod vs. Andreth speak of death as two different things. The spirits of Elves are perfectly at home in the world, unlike the souls of men.  Finrod says it must have been in Men’s power to take their bodies with them when they died — that’s early Christian. Arda-remade lines up with Revelations. (!) Discontent with the world is an echo of our original purpose, to save the world from Morgoth.

The discussion afterwards showed an impressive range of scholarship.

AH: Luthien died and left the world, in a poem called the “release from bondage”. A: wow – haven’t thought of that. Tim: the eastern orthodox say it’s a release from bondage to the passions of the body.

Graham: are you saying the Assumption is the perfect form of Resurrection? A: it’s the 2nd fruit of the resurrection, in the eastern tradition. Marie: brings up the Assumption of Mary, but that’s a special case. She’s the first resurrected. (?) the distinction between heaven and earth is erased after the resurrection.

We decided at this point that resolving the schism between the Greek and Latin churches was beyond our charter. The Protestants in the room hadn’t even weighed in yet!

Grace Costello: Philosophical theories of Musical Expression

Her text was from the “Lay of Leithian”. Oriel feels longing as a result of the minstrel Tinfang Gelion playing underneath his window.  There are several theories of how music affects its listeners that might apply to this situation.

Formalism: music is just notes and rhythms. It doesn’t express emotions, and looks for other ways an emotion can be evoked. It could remind you of another event. It could induce physiological symptoms of the emotion.  Like mimicking a beating heart changing its rate.  Maybe a magical method? We could suppose that music could magically arouse emotions – this doesn’t have any textual support, though.  (I don’t think anybody thinks formalism is 100% of the correct answer — if it were, non-Americans could tell sad bluegrass songs from happy ones without listening to the lyrics.)

Theory of Expression: the music is full of longing. Whose? The composer’s. (Prof. Olsen: never occurred to wonder what Tinfang Warble was longing for.)

Arousalist theory – the music has it, if it arouses the same reaction in any listener. Sounds like the sea-longing Galadriel warned Legolas about.

Blogger’s Privilege again:  At this point I wondered about the note at the beginning of The Adventures of Tom Bombadil. “[Errantry is] a rhyme or story which returns to its own beginning and so may be recited until the hearers revolt.”  Does revolution count as an emotional response?

Q: how does a functionalist explain the idea of a lament? A: a slow tempo drags you down by their connectin with the physiological reaction of grief.

Comment from behind me so I don’t know who said it:  Scientists have actually studied why some people are moved to tears by music. It’s partly synesthesia, partly empathy.  (Cool!)

Tom Hillman: These are not the Elves you’re looking for

The complete paper is available on line.

This is the first part of a contribution to a festschrift for Prof. Flieger. He’s starting a project on Elves. You can see Victorian diminished fairies in The Hobbit, and in Gildor, and “Errantry”. In the Lay of Leithian, Tinuviel can hide under hemlock umbels.

Tolkien was trying to turn English tradition back towards the true tradition (like Spenser, or Sir Orfeo). This isn’t an easy job, because it’s so complex. Beowulf traces elves back to Cain, like all the other monsters. Spenser’s fairy knight Redcrosse is a christian elf, with a bloody cross on his chest. Morgan Le Fay takes Arthur to Avalon, even though it’s not going to work. Indeterminacy is a key to Faërie.

The random cruelty of fairies, which I think is their defining characteristic in pre-JRRT literature, is totally missing from Middle-Earth.

This is going to be a fascinating project. I’m eager to see how it comes out.

Speculative Fiction: Fantasy : MidMoot 3.05

My notes from the second panel at MidMoot 3

Joe Hoffman: Fragments of a Geographical Approach to Fantasy Criticism

This paper is on line in its entirety,  by some strange chance.  Some of the symposium attendees looked disappointed when I mentioned I’d taken out the mathematical underpinning of the Tolkien section.  You guys are great!

A couple of interesting questions came up.

Q: Did I look for an alignment of Bree-hobbit names with Englishmen living overseas?  A: I don’t have an easy source for those, but it would be really cool if they were South Africans or Australians.

Q: Did you look along the coast of Cornwall, where Tolkien spent holidays as a child?  A: (Later) I found Chubbs there, but nobody else.

Prof. Flieger suggested the name “Trotter” might be interesting.


Distribution of Trotter in the UK, computed by Oliver O’Brien

That was Tolkien’s original name for “Strider”.  She suggested that it might be from the Scottish borderlands.

A: There is certainly a hotspot there, but the highest concentration is in Lincoln. Running through my associations with that city, I recall that Robin Hood’s band of Merry Men (aka rangers) dressed in Lincoln green. That is exactly the kind of thing I no longer dismiss as coincidence when I’m thinking about Tolkien’s writing.

David Gras: Harry Potter, C.S. Lewis & the Bridge between them

David describes himself as a Christian apologist. (I didn’t know that was still a job title.)

C.S. Lewis didn’t embrace paganism the way JRRT or J.K. Rowling did.  We shouldn’t resist the mythological resonances.  Lots of phoenix imagery in Harry Potter, for example.  Harry Potter and Aslan are bridges between the human world and the Forest. Making the self-sacrifice to save their worlds.

Q: Pre-christian myths have different status from a myth derived from Christianity. A: Lewis wrote a letter on that; you don’t have to abandon the things you learn from ancient myths when you convert to Christianity. We don’t have to avoid them, we should learn from them. The Phoenix was adopted as a symbol of Christ by medieval missionaries. Jesus was portrayed as a white stag; Harry’s patronus is a white stag.

Q: how do you deal with Christians who say that witchcraft is evil so christians must avoid it in books? A: It’s just brought in as a connection to mythology. The things in the book don’t have anything to do with actual Wicca. It’s there to communicate a moral about light, not inform about darkness.

Q: Nobody thinks they’re evil. Witches think they’re a force for good. A force within yourself (hereditary) isn’t what they think. A: When JKR was asked about that, she said that real Wiccans laugh at her books. The Navajo are kind of objecting to her latest work, by the way.

Michelle Markey Butler: Good People Doing Bad Things

A shared theme doesn’t require direct influence. It’s not a cage match, pitting authors against each other to see who did this better. Shared themes are handled very differently by Tolkien and Rowling.  Her examples are Boromir & Sam vs. Lupin, Dumbledore, & Harry.

Boromir accepts that Aragorn is the leader, which is a self-sacrifice. The fact that he’s a good guy is obvious to adults, but children don’t get it. Chesterton: children are innocent and love justice; adults are wicked and prefer mercy. One of the most psychologically-realized characters.  Sam is the hero, but he pushes Gollum past any chance of redemption. The most cynical observation in the book — that people frequently do real damage from just trying to help others.  Note:  It’s widely said that George R.R. Martin is a cynical reboot of Tolkien. This isn’t really true. JRRT has such a deep streak of cynicism that no such thing is needed.

Lupin taught most of the magic. But then he abandons his pregnant wife.  Dumbledore is kindness, patience, and wisdom. Until we learn about his past problems, like plotting to take over the world & rule through wizardry. How could the Dumbledore we thought we knew make those choices?  Harry makes choices that lead to the death of his godfather. He trusts his dreams too much, even when his friends urge him to wait. Harry can’t be a solitary hero. Without his friends, bad things happen.

Page 1 of 4

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén