Horst Kornberger on Harry Potter and Narnia

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Horst Kornberger offers the following opinion on Harry Potter (I haven’t decided what I think about his comments yet, but it’s one opinion!):

“I am in two minds about Rowling’s creation,” Kornberger writes, “particularly as literature for young children. I think the books and films are often encountered too [-p.143] early. Harry Potter is great fantasy, but a certain foundation of soul needs to be established before a child enters the gothic labyrinth of Hogwarts.
The Potter books are based on the mystery novel and the emotional suspense created by this genre. In most mystery novels we do not know who the murderer is until the very end. In the Harry Potter books, the murder is yet to come. Though we know it is the Dark Lord who is attempting to kill Harry, we do not know under which mask he is hiding. This makes the books even more harrowing for the soul than conventional mysteries.
The dark forces in the Harry Potter series are hidden and unscrupulous, and ever more brilliant as the books progress. The portrayal of evil echoes the racial ethos of the Nazi regime and procedures of black magic. All this may be exciting and highly stimulating reading for the imagination-deprived teenager, but it is not appropriate for younger readers, who need to know who is good and who is bad so they can morally orientate themselves in a story.
In fairytales, evil and cruelty are dealt with imaginatively. The wolf that devours Red Riding Hood spills no blood and the child is soon revived. But the killing in Harry Potter is real and irreversible. The blood that is spilled is ‘real’ blood that will leave a mark on a young child’s soul. The cruelty of a sinister figure like Voldemort is too convincing to be digested before a child is equipped to face him. Too young, they may fall prey to his schemes – and as the book tells you, he is eager to kill then as young as he can.
I recommend you to the advice of the world expert in all matters concerning Harry Potter and the care of the magical and endangered child: Albertus Dumbledore, Director of Hogwarts School of Magic. The wise Professor protected Harry from all contact with the shady and dangerous world of magic until he had reached the age of eleven. I take this as the story’s own explicit advice for its appropriate use: children should reach this age before being admitted to the school of sorcery.
I have said I am in two minds about Harry Potter. While I am concerned about its premature use, it nevertheless provides a good dose of fantasy for teenage consumption. It also speaks directly to contemporary myth – its popularity shows that the stories answer a dire need in our culture:  the story deprivation of contemporary childhood.
Children recognise themselves in Harry. Like the modern child he starts off deprived of imagination and magic, denied his birthright to be an adventurer in any realm other than this world. Like the modern [-p.144] child he is endowed with imaginal gifts and has been brought up by parents who are ‘muggles’ – totally unmagical folk. Most parents are ‘Dursleys,’ not only lacking imagination, they suppress it with any means at their disposal.
The imaginal part in every modern child is as maltreated by parents and education as Harry Potter is by the Dursleys, while the child’s conventional and unmagical part is as spoiled as his stepbrother Dudley – who is the very kind of insensitive and competitive bully our world seems to reward while the Harrys are locked in closets and punished for who they are.
Harry Potter exemplifies the drama of the imaginative child. This is what makes his story a modern myth. He is the hero who escapes the prison of convention, breaking though the brick walls of King’s Cross Station into a new dimension of imaginal adventure. Harry is a symbol for the imaginal child and her adventures in this world and the next – but for a young child there are smoother ways to break the brick walls of convention. A new dimension may be more easily entered through an old wardrobe hung with fur coats.”  (pp.142-144)

Harry vs The Chronicles of Narnia

Interestingly, Kornberger also compares Harry to The Chronicles of Narnia:

“C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are a masterpiece of children’s literature. A nine year old can appreciate the imaginative treasures this series contains, and there is no need to censor their use, for the stories have a purity that will protect them from misuse. The children who are the heroes of many of the Narnia tales are aged between seven and twelve, and that seems a good indication of their age-appropriateness.” (p.144)

“Harry Potter is fantasy with mythological elements. The Chronicles of Narnia are much stronger myth, a product of exact imagination, revealing realities beyond the apparently real. The Narnia stories meet the soul on its own home ground. They speak the imaginative language of the heart and carry the power of transformation that only this language can provide.
It is this transformative capacity that Harry Potter lacks. He is a likeable hero and remains so, even as he becomes more adept in magic. He is protected by the love of his mother, but he is not touched by the love that changes the heart. He remains a somewhat superficial hero, the master of outer accomplishment and victories. He is Superboy equipped with magical powers and all the gadgets of the trade: owls and broomsticks, invisibility cloak and miraculous maps.” (p.145)

Again, I’m not yet sure what I think of these last comments, but I do find them interesting.

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Horst Kornberger (2008) The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness. Floris Books: Edinburgh

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Crossover literature

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On the topic of ‘crossover literature’, Regina Brooks explains:

4“A lot of people in the publishing industry believe that confusion about what constitutes YA it is heightened by the success of some titles known in the industry as “crossovers.” Publishing houses generate additional revenue from some books by marketing them to both adult and YA readers, thus crossing over from one audience to another. Francesca Lia Block’s cult novel, Weetzie Bat, written in 1989, is considered the original crossover, continuing to attract readers from fifteen to thirty-five. Two of the most commercially successful crossovers are Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Yann Martel’s Life of Pi. Both were published in 2002 and have sold over two million copies each. Those books were adult books that crossed over into the YA market, but there are others that start out as YA and then cross over to an adult audience; for example, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and Cecily von Ziegesar’s Gossip Girl series. The first became a feature film and the second a popular television series.
Author of the crossover series Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling has said she had no particular age group in mind when she started writing Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone; however, she did know she was writing for children. The first Harry Potter novel was eventually published in 1998 by Scholastic, the world’s largest publisher and distributor of [-p.xiii] juvenile books. The company targeted Harry Potter to children nine to eleven. What happened, of course, made publishing history, with Rowling’s work garnering millions of fans worldwide, both older and younger, including a substantial segment of teens. Later, two separate editions of Harry Potter were released, identical in text but with the cover artwork on one edition aimed at children and the other at adults.
Rowling’s young wizard also cast magic on the YA world, changing the way the industry viewed the genre. Harry Potter‘s $29.99 selling price reminded publishers that young people were not only willing to shell out big bucks to read but that they also had the means to do so. In 2006 in the United States alone, teens had $94.7 billion a year to spend, a figure that increases about $1 billion a year, according to Jupiter Research.” (pp.xii-xiii)

Ref: Regina Brooks (2009) Writing Great Books for Young Adults. Sourcebooks, Inc.: Naperville, Illinois

The homelike-ness of schools in pop-Gothic texts (and canny vs. uncanny) – Jackson

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In her study of The Time of the Ghost (Diana Wynne Jones, 1981), Charlotte Sometimes (Penelope Farmer, 1967) and The Haunting (Margaret Mahy, 1982), Anna Jackson addresses the question of heimlich vs. unheimlich and canny vs. uncanny (drawing on these differences for her theoretical premise). She begins:

“The first harry Potter film ends, as a proper school story should, with everyone on the platform, bags packed, saying their farewells, ready to go home; except that, as Harry says, “I’m not going home. Not really.” For Harry, the boarding school of Hogwarts, despite being haunted not only by the mostly benign school ghosts but also by Voldemort, the embodiment of evil, is home in a way that suburban life for him can never be home. / For most of the last century, the uncanny has been understood in terms of Freud’s definition of unheimlich as not quite the opposite of heimlich, and so perhaps it might not seem surprising that the Harry Potter books, the twentieth century’s most successful Gothic publishing phenomenon, should be set in a school, that home-away-from-home. Nor perhaps is it surprising that Buffy should slay her vampires on the grounds, or just a little out of bounds, of Sunnydale High. Much has been made not only of the homelike qualities of the fictional schools of pop-Gothic texts like these, but of the familiarity, the homelike-ness, of the school genre itself.” (p.157)

In this essay, Jackson “discuss[es] three children’s novels that are all about hauntings, that all draw on Gothic conventions to evoke a real sense of the uncanny.” (p.157) Having alluded briefly to the interplay between heimlich and unheimlich in The Haunting, Jackson explains:

“However, the school setting can also be understood in relation to the English word “uncanny.” Just as the German word unheimlich seemed to have little to do with the word heimlich until Freud teased out the significance of the etymological link, “uncanny” doesn’t usually operate as the opposite of the word “canny.” Like the German unheimlich, the English uncanny means both unusual and unnatural – spooky, eerie, unsettling. Canny as a recently republished children’s book Cannily Cannily (French 1981) helpfully informs the reader on its back cover, means “knowing, sagacious, shrewd, astute; skilled or expert, frugal or thrifty.” The words are not quite opposites, since the quality of uncanniness seems to belong to a situation or event, as an effect the situation or event produces, whereas canniness is a quality that properly belongs to a person. It might make sense, however, to understand the uncanny as that which cannot be understood cannily; as those events, situations or phenomena that do not allow for a knowing, sagacious, shrewd, and astute reading of them.” (p.158)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Anna Jackson (c2008) Uncanny Hauntings, Canny Children pp.157-176 in Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats, and Roderick McGillis The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York and London

Harry Potter popularity

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On the charge of commodification (which has been laid against the Harry Potter series), Vandana Saxena writes that there is “some justification. The Harry Potter brand is worth about 15 million dollars. Movies, computer games, a Harry Potter theme park – all are part of the phenomenon now termed Pottermania.
“To an extent, sales and statistics are valid since popular could be defined as that which people enjoy, buy and consume. As of 2011, the series had sold more than 450 million copies and has been translated into 70 languages. Also in circulation are unauthorized translations of true Harry Potter books and published pastiches or fanfictions that have attempted to pass themselves off as real books.” (p.8)

“Several critics have found the Potter series worth serious academic scrutiny precisely due to its popularity. Anthologies of critical essays problematize the simplistic equation of the popularity of the series with market strategies (Anatol, Reading Harry Potter; Whited, The Ivory Tower; Hielman, Critical Perspectives). Critics like Alison Lurie have embraced the idea of commercial success as a part of the series, an indispensable element of the Harry Potter phenomenon (‘Pottery’).” (p.9)

Ref: Vandana Saxena (2012) The Subversive Harry Potter: Adolescent Rebellion and Containment in the J.K. Rowling Novels. McFarland & Company: Jefferson, NC and London.

Crossover fiction – a reference

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Just an aside, really… there is a book out by Rachel Falconer considering the phenomenon of ‘crossover’…

Rachel Falconer The Crossover Novel: Contemporary Children’s Fiction and its Adult Readership (2009)

Table of Contents:

Series Editor’s Foreword Acknowledgments Introduction A Decade of Border Crossing Chapter 1 Kiddults at Large Chapter 2 Harry Potter, Lightness and Death Chapter 3 Coming of Age in a Fantasy World: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials Chapter 4 Seeing Things Big: Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Chapter 5 Adolescence and Abjection: Geraldine McCaughrean’s The White Darkness Chapter 6 The Search for Roots: David Almond’s Clay Chapter 7 Re-reading Childhood Books: C.S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair Conclusion Crossing Thresholds of Time Notes Bibliography Index