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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“The Spectral Lives of 9/11” – Banita

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Introducing her essay in Popular Ghosts, Georgina Banita writes: “This essay draws on Jacques Derrida’s concept of the hauntology of terror to point out the spectrality of the images we associate with terrorism and with 9/11 in particular by focusing on such popular culture staples as the portrait of Osama bin Laden, the terrorist as invisible ghost – “the enemy within” – and other spectral conceptions of evil and criminality. In doing this I hope to challenge received notions of haunting in relation to spatiality and futurity in the context of a particular form of hauntology related to a specific locale – here the Twin Towers in Manhattan – which, however, becomes diluted through its infinite mechanical reproduction in the media. My interest is divided among several layers of popular attention to post 9/11 “apparitions.” First, I look at the haunting presence of the WTC victims in the popular imagination, victims whose bodies were never recovered and whose photographs were [-p.96] scattered in a traumatized city that learned to associate presence with image rather than with concrete corporeality. Second, I consider the proliferating metaphors linking terrorism to ghost-like invisibility and tenacious haunting. Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden has often been likened to a specter that resists “capture” – both in the sense of retrieval and visual representation. Third, I investigate several explicitly post 9/11 mainstream films that not only mention the attacks but offer an unsubtle reification of the events. While Cloverfield (Reeves, 2008) points to the attacks as its unstated backdrop, as the reality that always inhabits a portion of the viewer’s mind but does not receive any explicit mention in the film itself, other productions such as Reign over Me and 25th Hour (Lee, 2002) contend with 9/11 trauma as a hidden tumor written into the fabric of the film’s narrative and artistic strategies. I conclude that the imbricated layers of media representation itself have performed a kind of spectral haunting by reiterating images that have become ingrained in the popular perception of an event which still seems to derive its potency from hauntic repetition, involuntary memory, and a subtle process of postmortemization. The attacks, I argue, have not claimed a position in popular memory as an event, but rather as a post-event – less as the happening of one September morning and more as the era it ushered in through its abrupt disruption of everyday life and normality.” (pp.95-96)

Banita continues:

“In a brief comment entitled “Where Are the Ghosts of 9/11?” published shortly before the 2008 presidential elections in the U.S., David Simpson – author of 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration – writes: “Seven years after 9/11 one of the strangest things is that there are no ghosts. There never were.” To some extent this failure of the attacks to haunt and harass those they did not kill can be traced back to the rapid responses of the authorities and of the media toward a patriotic eulogization of heroism and a dismissal of the more troubling consequences of the attacks. “The photographs that appeared day after day in the New York Times,” Simpson continues, seemed [‘]… flagrantly dishonorable in their very effort to commemorate. They left little to be haunted by as they reconstructed the lives of the dead as Disneyfied icons of optimistic upward mobility, dreams achieved, selfless happiness, and civic virtue amidst an energetic and responsive democracy. No one was cruel, unhappy, or disappointed, no one unappeased.[‘] Simpson astutely argues that by preventing the work of mourning implicit in the act of being haunted, post 9/11 political games manufactured a pervasive fear of the exterior “other” while paying too little attention to the otherness within – the confrontation with uncanny remnants and specters of the attacks: “Except for the immediately bereaved who have hardly been allowed to speak but are constantly spoken for, we have continued to be kept (do we keep ourselves?) from our own hauntings, our own Godzillas or jungles of screaming souls.”” (p.96)

Defining terrorism as a form of visual warfare, Mitchell suggests that the war on terror is “a war on a projected specter or phantasm, a war against an elusive, invisible, unlocatable enemy, a war that continually misses its target, striking out blindly with conventional means and waging massive destruction on innocent [-100] people in the process” (185). Resembling shadow-boxing more than an act of selfdefense carried out with moral scrupulousness and precision, the war on terror can be seen as the struggle of a possessed person to ban the spirit that they are possessed by – a struggle that damages the self more than it banishes the parasitic spirit. Perhaps the most symptomatic embodiment of the terrorist as poltergeist is the symbolic head of Al Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, whose frequent video appearances, coupled with the impossibility of tracking him down, have bestowed upon him the aura of a demon, a supremely evil figure who appears and disappears at will.” (pp.99-100)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Georgina Banita Shadow of the Colossus: The Spectral Lives of 9/11, pp.94-105 in Esther Peeren, and María del Pilar Blanco (Eds.). Popular Ghosts : The Haunted Spaces of Everyday Culture. London, GBR: Continuum International Publishing, 2010.

The Myth of Evil

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Just came across a book that looks interesting: The Myth of Evil, by Philip Cole…. Reviewing The Myth of Evil, Niall Scott writes:

The Myth of Evil does not just concern the words in the title, but is a sophisticated treatment of evil in general, focussing strongly upon both the coherence of the concept and the attribution of the description ‘evil’ to phenomena and human behaviour. Cole’s aim throughout the book is to show that evil is a myth, that as a concept it is neither philosophical nor psychological, nor religious, which is quite a challenge. Although he argues that we would be better off without the concept of evil altogether, flying his flag in this way from the outset does not diminish how serious he takes the discourse of evil to be. This is evident in his willingness to recognise how the term and associated adjectives are used. In his introductory chapters, he provides a truly illuminating history of the devil, and challenges what is meant in descriptions of human behaviours as diabolical or demonic.
Although predominantly a politico/philosophical enquiry, the book offers much more than this. It is an argument drawing upon literature, history, and popular visual culture, and as a result it speaks to a range of disciplines. Cole addresses contemporary questions that have arisen around the multi-faceted concept of evil, such as fear and horror. This is also a political work that does not just provide a treatment of evil as a myth. It engages directly and importantly with the now frequently encountered political discourses regarding the holocaust, terrorism, Iraq, and the Bush and Blair administrations’ participation in disseminating discourses of fear and (in)security. These use the terminology of evil, the demonic, and the monstrous in contemporary conflicts, and the frequent occurrence of ‘evil’ functions as an explanatory device in the justification of appalling human behaviour. Cole provides four possible ways of conceptualising theories of evil. They are: (1) a monstrous conception, (2) a pure conception, (3) an impure conception, and (4) a psychological conception.” (Scott, p.97)

Apparently, Cole’s “concluding chapter presents a challenge to the reader where it addresses the contemporary state of world politics in the context of discourses of evil, with a detailed analysis of terror, terrorism, and violence. Cole spends time laying out the Iraqi problem, drawing parallels between the language of terror and fear and the phenomenon of witch trials and the eastern European vampire myths dealt with earlier in the book. Cole’s strategy is again seductive. At times, he tempts the reader into agreeing with the description of, for example, the western regimes and the terrorist as monstrous and demonic. However, it is clear that if one has paid any attention to his preceding argument, such very understandable, but simplistic assessments of terrible and horrific human actions require a more responsible treatment. So he refers to the sheer monstrous arbitrariness of terrorist victims in recent terrorist activities, and rhetorically asks that ‘Surely this arbitrariness fits the model of Monstrous evil?’ (234). But it is this very description that he challenges. We can move beyond evil in our understanding of such events and come to a position that even the arbitrariness is not without significance, and this reminds us that literary monsters have a history of grievance and need not be characterised in terms of a model of monstrous evil.” (p.100)

Ref: Niall Scott (2009) Has Evil Run its Course? Phillip Cole, The Myth of Evil, Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, 2006, 256 pp. [Review] Res Publica (2009) 15:97–101 DOI 10.1007/s11158-008-9062-2

poverty, human fear, and social redistribution

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“The protection of humanity against the blind caprices of nature was an integral part of the modern promise. The modern implementation of that project, however, has not made nature less blind and capricious, while focusing instead on the selective distribution of immunity against its effects. The modern struggle to disempower natural calamities follows the pattern of order-building and economic progress: whether by design or default, it divides humanity into those categories worthy of care and the unwertes Leben – the lives unworthy of living. As a consequence, it also specializes in an uneven distribution of fears – whatever the specific cause of the fear in question might be.
Hurricanes, earthquakes and floods are not special cases. We have managed to render selective even that most unchoosy, truly universal of natural ills: the biological limitation of human life.
As Max Hastings commented, [“]modern wealth offers its possessors every chance of living to a ripe old age. Until the twentieth century, disease was no respecter of purses. The wife of a Victorian financial colossus was almost as vulnerable to the perils of childbirth as a maid in his household. The tombstones of the great reveal how many died long before their natural spans were exhausted.
Today medical science can do extraordinary things for people able to pay. There has never been a wider gulf between the remedies available to the rich and those on offer to most of the poor, even in societies with advanced healthcare systems.[“] Whether it is aimed at disasters of natural or artificial origin, the outcome of the modern war on human fears seems to be their social redistribution rather than any reduction in volume.” (pp.80-81)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Zygmunt Bauman (2006) Liquid Fear. Polity Press: Cambridge, UK

fighting evil, being good? – the Slayer

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“Like evil, the vampire is a force that must be struggled with and overcome, and he thus represents [-p.3] only a single pole in a moral dyad. Whether or not we choose to label the vampire’s antagonist ‘good,’ there is not much of a story if the violence and destruction wrought by the vampire goes unchecked. While it is rare that a vampire tale or a treatment of the vampire legend does not include an episode in which the vampire is destroyed or banished by some agency, little attention has been paid to the history and character of the vampire’s personal nemesis, now popularly known as the vampire slayer.

In the elaborate heroic tales found in epics, the central theme is ordinarily the hero’s transformation in the struggle against evil (in the form, say, of a dragon) or oppression. In most vampire motifs, however, the ostensible forces of good who would identify, oppose, and destroy vampires tend to be nameless and often incidental to the narrative. In fact, it is only fairly recently that the vampire slayer has had anything like a leading role: Abraham van Helsing, in Dracula (1897), is arguably the first significant self-professed vampire slayer in a tradition that culminates in the television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003).” (pp.2-3)

“The heroic nature of the vampire slayer is predicated on his ability to identify the force that saps the energy from the life of the community. Something unnatural, unholy, invades and disturbs the natural order of things, and through this puncture in the tissue of everyday existence, something – is it a certain trust in the impermeability of that which separates us from the dead? – drains out. Yet because this intruder is invisible or, at the very least, unnoticeable – he is one of us, after all – only those with a special understanding of his nature are able to intervene and stop the hemorrhage. Like the vampire, the slayer must be marked – externally, by some sign of birth or accident; internally, by his symbolic connection to the world of the dead.

The nature of this bipolar relationship between the vampire and his adversary, the hunter or slayer, and the ways in which this connection becomes manifest and changes over several hundred years have not been adequately investigated. An examination of early Balkan folklore reveals that the vampire slayer, whose perceptive powers transcend those permitted ordinary Christian villagers, is the vampire’s true mirror image. The slayer is the heroic and opposing reflection that is curiously, but necessarily, generated by the presence of evil, and he is as closely bound to evil as a reflection is to its original. If the vampire is a dangerous and antihuman replica of the human, the seer or slayer is the rejector or suppressor of the replica, who restores order by allowing the community to differentiate the authentic from the false. This critical difficulty in distinguishing the true from the false, the beneficent from the treacherous, is, as we shall see, also the basis of the conflict between early Christianity and paganism and heresy. Historically, it was out of that conflict as it was played out in the Balkans that the folkloric meaning of the vampire arose.

Contemporary culture-based interpretations of the vampire ‘myth’ have great value in explaining our apparent need to continually retell the vampire story, with all its attendant variations.” (p.7)

“The linkage between the literary vampire and the folkloric one is a topic beginning to receive a great deal of attention. However, most scholars in this area take the modern vampire, especially as it has been configured since Dracula and its immediate precursors, as their starting point. They then go back into the folklore only as far as the literature itself allows, glossing over the significance of the enormous lacunae in the knowledge of vampire folklore drawn on by those earliest investigators into the subject.” (p.9)

“While folklore about vampires seems to be dying out in the Balkans as a result of the inexorable processes of westernization and urbanization, it is not clear whether the literary and cinematic vampire theme is likewise cooling down. More precisely, it is not yet clear, as of this writing, whether we are witnessing a return of the hero within the popular vampire narrative. Certainly, the success of Buffy, which makes of the slayer a complicated superhero in a fantastic suburban universe, would seem to indicate that we are becoming more interested in making the heroic primary and the vampiric evil secondary. (In Buffy, for example, almost all of the vampires and demons that are killed are more or less nameless and unsympathetic). But the low U.S. attendance figures for universal’s high-budget Van Helsing (Universal Pictures, 2004) suggest that stories of monolithic, violent vanquishers of one-dimensional monsters cannot sustain interest and in fact miss the central point of the dual nature of the vampire-slayer pair. These days, the evil that walks among us unrecognized is more often played by the sociopathic serial or mass killer, while the hero who is intuitively connected to that disturbed orientation takes the form of a forensic psychologist, or profiler. It may be that solving the problem of real evil with real (human) agents in today’s world has surpassed any need to dally with the purely imaginary.” (p.14)

Ref: (italics in original) Bruce A. McClelland (2006) Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press

evil and death

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“Evil – wherever belief in it is held – tends to be thought of in one of two ways. It is either a force equal to or slightly inferior to an opposing force or, as in Orthodox Christianity, the absence, withdrawal, perversion, or deflection of a universal inclination called ‘good.’ Cosmological narratives usually give it both a body and a name and situate it in a separate dark, turbulent, or alien realm. In the so-called natural world, evil may become manifest through the agency of demons or spirits. Whether such demons take on the imaginal form of beasts or humans (even when their form is not always humanly visible), the consequences of their actions are always encountered in the human sphere; that is, even when evil directs itself against animals or vegetation, it is always with an eye toward disrupting the social order (e.g., husbandry, agriculture) and the dependencies of humankind on these areas of human ecology and economy. At its base, evil is a pernicious threat to human survival above all else, and it is essentially different from death itself. Whereas death is universal, evil is selective.

There are countless representations and personifications of evil across history and religious and cultural systems, just as there are many images of the good and the heroic. These various images are depicted [-p.2] in the narratives of both official and folk religions, mythology and folklore, as well as, even quite recently, in the secular metaphors of political and ideological discourse. In virtually all these narratives, at some point the physical representatives of good and evil become direct, often violent, antagonists. The outcome of their struggle for domination over the moral direction of the community holds a central place in its value system.

Perhaps the most dangerous form that evil takes is the visibly human, since when it is ambulatory and mimetic of the individual, it is difficult to distinguish the evil being from a fellow member of the community. This is especially true if there are no obvious markers, such as a tail and horns, to call attention to its difference. When the average person cannot definitely identify another individual as evil, yet some inexplicable adversity suggests malevolence that has gone beyond mere temper, it is critical that the threatened individual or collective immediately locate evil’s nexus – even if it is found to be the heart of a neighbor and there is no confirming evidence aside from belief. Once evil is found, it must be destroyed or, at the very least, banished far beyond the possibility of return.

In contemporary Western European and North American popular culture, the vampire has become one of the most pervasive and recognizable symbols of insidious evil. Though, according to some notions, the vampire can shift his shape into that of a wolf or bat or other animal and perhaps possesses other supernatural powers, he is different from monstrous beasts or even from Satan in that he possesses a single human body. Furthermore, in both folklore and literature/cinema, in his humanlike, untransformed state, he is not easily recognized as a different order of being. The vampire […] thus has very much in common with the European witch, with one critically important difference: whereas witches are alive at the time they are tortured or ritually executed, vampires are by definition dead or at least undead (whatever that means). But both witches and vampires are held to be evil, for reasons that have much in common.” (pp.1-2)

Ref: Bruce A. McClelland (2006) Slayers and Their Vampires : A Cultural History of Killing the Dead. Ann Arbor, MI, USA: University of Michigan Press