heroic friendship – Buffy and Harry


“Buffy and Harry, unique in their powers and ordinary in their insecurities, have one major strength in common: their friends.” (p.75)

Comparing Harry Potter and Buffy, Rhonda Wilcox points out the importance of friendship in both these tales. She makes a valid point!

Firstly, her comparison: “A young person who has suffered parental loss moves to a new location and enters a new school, at the same time plunging into a world of magic and danger. This young person is forced to accept a role as a uniquely powerful challenger of dark forces, but is aided by an older advisor and both a male and a female friend. Humiliated by the everyday world, the young hero nonetheless grows stronger year by year fighting the dark forces in the hidden world of magic.” (p.66) Yup.

She argues: “Harry and Buffy are both heroes for whom friendship is crucial: Buffy survives in part because of her “Scooby Gang” of friends, and Harry depends on schoolmates Ron and Hermione. Perhaps this is the most important commonality for a hero of our technologically connected but socially strained time.” (p.67)

Furthermore, “the dissension within the Order of the Phoenix, like the seventh-season dissension among the Slayers and Potential Slayers, shows that such cooperation is not simple; it requires labor and self-knowledge, only gradually gained as these long stories progress.
Both of these long stories work with and move beyond traditional forms. Propp’s structures include a category for helpers, but as he defines them, they are often animals or objects. The goal in the structures he describes is marriage. But in the Harry and Buffy stories, friendship is not merely a means to an end (as the helper categorization would suggest); it is an end in itself. Every Harry Potter book thus far has ended with the rejoining of the friends and their subsequent separation for the summer holidays, with Harry’s longing to return to school and friendship. And while Buffy and Angel (and later Buffy and Spike) provide plenty of romantic steam, the series does not end with her matched to either. An examination of the structure of the episodes would show that those with happy endings [-p.76] are most often those which conclude with a group of friends.” (pp.75-76)

“Buffy, despite the voiceover which intones that she is the only one, actually repudiates patriarchal succession and the role of the lonely hero in favor of communal effort. The same can be said of Harry Potter. Put simply, these new heroes value and count on friendship as part of their heroism.” (p.76)

Ref: (emphases in blue mine) Rhonda Wilcox (2005) Why Buffy Matters: the art of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. London IB Tauris.

The various uses and functions of feline characters


I’m interested in fictional animals for various reasons. Maria Nikolajeva wrote an article some time ago in which she considers “the various uses and functions of feline characters by a discussion of some famous and less-known literary cats.” (p.248) She writes “These characters are employed for various purposes and play more or less prominent roles in the narratives, from peripheral figures used as decorative details to protagonists and plot engines. Their portrayal depends on the view of cats at different historical periods, from divine in ancient Egypt to evil during the Middle Ages in Europe, from enigmatic and exotic to sweet and friendly. Their nature reflects feline as well as human traits, and the most challenging images combine the two.” (p.248)

“During the Middle Ages in Europe, cats became connected with evil powers, which was based partly on the popular beliefs about cats’ lewdness, partly on their Christian association with Satan.” (p.250)  “Such attitudes led to cats’ connection with witches; indeed, black cats, together with ravens, frequently appear in folktales as witches’ familiars (such as Grimalkin, a cat from Celtic lore, also featured in Macbeth), and witches also turn into cats, a fact reflected in the Harry Potter books when Professor McGonnegal occasionally takes the shape of a cat. An evil cat monster appears in King Arthur stories. Bayun-Cat in Slavic folklore is a giant hostile black cat who imposes irresistible sleepiness on people, often by telling tales or singing songs. However, this image is ambivalent, since it portrays the cat as creative and wise….” (p.250)

“By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the cat’s repute was exculpated and cats became popular pets in upper- and middle-class families, which is, among other things, manifest in numerous nursery rhymes—for instance, “Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been.” This very simple rhyme tells us something essential about one of our favorite pets—not about their true nature, but rather about how we perceive cats. The versed animal can talk and recall his adventures; he can walk about as he wishes, including to Her Majesty’s chambers; but he has no respect for the high and mighty, seeing the world from his own perspective.” (p.251)

“Cats are also widely featured in fables… Eventually they enter numerous cartoons, children’s stories, and picturebooks. Cats became benign and often sweet characters, adapted to children’s and family reading. Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Tom Kitten (1907), Wanda Gág’s Millions of Cats (1928), and Kathleen Hale’s Orlando the Marmalade Cat (1938) are good examples. Most modern cat stories are picturebooks portraying anthropomorphic cats, representing humans. The shape is arbitrary and interchangeable: the figures could just as well be bears, rabbits, mice, or blotches of color. It is hardly worth mentioning the abundant felines rubbing against their owners’ feet or purring on their laps merely to create an atmosphere. In hundreds of books a child gets a kitten for pet. Occasionally, a black cat may prompt the idea, often erroneously, that its owner is a witch. In the Harry Potter books, a sneaky she-cat belongs to the likewise devious janitor at Hogwarts, while Hermione’s familiar is quite appropriately an orange tomcat.” (p.251)

Because of their trickster nature, cats can be easily employed as carnival figures, turning order into chaos and interrogating higher authorities. The most famous American cat is the figure created by Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957), who incorporates both the trickster and the magical helper aspect of the folklore cat. In this brilliant, hilarious, marvelously dynamic story, chaos invades the everyday order, all rules are abolished, and the whole house is literally turned upside down. This is carnival in its purest form: wild, uncontrolled, and nonsensical.” (p.254)

Quite a different use of cat images is metaphoric, symbolic, allegorical— that is, various forms of nonmimetic representation. Eugene Trivizas’s The Last Black Cat (2001), one of the relatively rare cat stories employing first-person perspective, is an allegory of the Holocaust.” (p.256)

In modern fairy tales and fantasy, cats are widely featured as magical helpers and bearers of magical powers, especially assisting the hero in transportation between the everyday and the magical realm. Among authors who are especially fond of feline characters, Lloyd Alexander and Diana Wynne Jones can be named.” (p.260)

NB Nikolajeva discusses a number of texts that make use of cats, including: Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000), Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, CoralineThe Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, etc. The analyses she offers are thought-provoking.

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine; italics in original) Maria Nikolajeva ‘Devils, Demons, Familiars, Friends: Toward a Semiotics of Literary Cats.’ Marvels & Tales: Journal of Fairy-Tale Studies, Vol. 23, No. 2 (2009), pp. 248–267

Aggression, well-being and social success in Harry Potter


Discussing the benefits of aggression to social adaptation, Bukowski and Abecassis use Harry Potter as an example (“a highly popular character who is not free of aggressive acts” (p.204)). They write:

“…one does not need to turn to the ideas of social scientists to find ways of understanding how aggression and adaptation are interrelated. Instead, sometimes one can turn to the list of “best-sellers” to find stories that enlighten. Of all the stories ever told about a young person, few have captured a world-wide audience as thoroughly as the story of Harry Potter…. Millions and millions of readers, many of them young and all young at heart, have followed the adventures of the bespectacled English early-adolescent as he has made his way through life in his school. …Over time… most… have come to see the story about Harry as a parable about friendship, goodness, and the process of growing up in the company of one’s peers. By nearly any definition, Harry is competent, if not extra-competent. He is well-liked, helpful, appropriately competitive, clever, smart, engaging, funny, loyal, sociable, and, yes, at times, a bit aggressive (at least by some definitions). He revels in the warmth of the active, chaotic, and dynamic energy of the Weasley home, his adoptive family. At school, Harry is willing to fight for the good when circumstances call for it. His aggression is regulated and serves functions that most people would regard as acceptable. … Harry is not excessive, self-centered, or indiscriminately harmful. Harry uses aggression as a means of self assertion to achieve goodness when all else has failed. These moments of aggression are not antithetical to the many traditionally positive features we all see in Harry. Instead, they complement them. No one objects when he stands up, even aggressively, to the dreaded and nasty … members of Slytherin, or to Voldemort. … Harry’s readers are with him as they wait, anxiously, for the anticipated moment of his fateful face-to-face encounter with Snape, and, of course, with the extra-evil and horrid Voldemort. Will Harry be aggressive, or even destructive, when these moments arrive? We don’t know yet, but many of us, in our least-pretentious moments, probably hope so and we wouldn’t blame him if he were.” (pp.204-205)

(What did Voldemort do that we felt violence justified?)

“…to some degree, self-assertion and competitiveness are necessary for adaptation, as they promote one’s ability to achieve personal goals. Perhaps by definition, however, acts of aggression contradict one’s capacity to function with others.Insofar as aggression has been often defined as intent to harm, being aggressive means that one is acting against others. …We propose that individuals who do not assert themselves are at risk for being taken advantage of by others and they fail to garner critical resources. Persons who engage in self-assertion to the point of hurting others, however, not only disrupt group functioning but, in doing so, they deny themselves opportunities for basic forms of human relationship. …Although aggression should be discouraged in many cases, at some times it may be an adaptive or even necessary response.” (p.205)

Ref: William M Bukowski and Maurissa Abecassis (2007) self, other, and aggression: the never-ending search for the roots of adaptation. Pp.185-205 in Aggression and Adaptation. The bright side to bad behaviour. Harley, P, Little T, Rodkin P. LEA Publishers London

Horst Kornberger on Harry Potter and Narnia


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

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


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

Hermione in the Bathroom (the construction of female gender through the Gothic elements of Harry Potter) – June Cummins


June Cummins writes:

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2Anyone teaching, as well as many people reading, the Harry Potter series is aware that J.K. Rowling borrows from, or blends in, a number of literary genres while writing her books. A learned, sophisticated reader could rattle off the names of particular genres, such as school stories, the Bildungsroman, high fantasy, epic, medieval legend, and so on; while even a relatively untutored or inexperienced reader can sense the connections between Harry Potter and well-known stories such as Star Wars or famous fairytales like Cinderella Yet, despite the classic ‘trappings’ of a Gothic novel, including ‘castles, ghosts, corrupt clergy, and so on,’ as described by Donna Heiland in Gothic and Gender (2004: 4), not much mention of the Gothic has been made in the critical discourse of the Harry Potter novels. For example, as of June 2006, a search on the terms ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘gothic’ through the MLA bibliography database yielded zero hits On the first page of her article ‘Generic Fusion and the Mosaic of Harry Potter,’ Anne Hiebert Alton lists ‘gothic’ as one of the genres within the series, along with ‘pulp fiction, mystery…horror stories, detective fiction, the school story and the closely related sports story, and series books’ (2003: 141), but does not go on to explore the Gothic elements of the books. This lack of attention is understandable for the very reason addressed in Alton’s article title: ‘Generic Fusion.’ The Gothic elements merge so smoothly into so many other genres within the Harry Potter series and are so natural to [-p.178] its setting that they are almost invisible or at least so normalized that it appears as if they do not merit attention.” (pp.177-178)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's StoneCummins continues: “Yet Rowling’s use of Gothic elements or conventions goes beyond the architecture of Hogwarts or the inclusion of classic haunted characters such as ghosts and werewolves throughout the series. Significantly, Gothic elements of the novel rise to the surface of the stories when the topic under consideration or at least narrative exposition is that of female development. At crucial junctures, the Gothic is blended with elements of Horror or the Grotesque in a swirl of allusions that evoke age-old narrative traditions surrounding female development. Specifically, Hermione, a most decidedly un-Gothic heroine for the vast majority of the Harry Potter series, slips into a Gothic mode at a moment of important psychical and perhaps physical transformation. Another character, however, Moaning Myrtle, very much a Gothic, as well as comic, character shows up in and remains in a Gothic mode throughout the series. …J.K. Rowling pushes hard on these elements when she needs to tell the story of female development.” (p.178)

Cummins analyses closely the scene in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (1997) (i.e., Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone) when Hermione locks herself in the bathroom, crying, and Ron and Harry send a troll in there (and then proceed to defeat it). Cummins reads this scene as pivotal to Hermione’s character – and to her relationship with Ron and Harry. She begins by demonstrating its connection (through the setting of the bathroom) with menarche and female growth, then discusses its role in changing Hermione into someone who is not just bossy, argumentative, intelligent, competitive, etc., but also willing to lie for her friends, worry about what others think of her, and rely on her (male) friends to get by. Among others, one “intertextual device linking the scene to the Gothic is that of the damsel in distress,” Cummins explains, “a character stereotype totally opposite to Hermione’s character in all other dangerous scenes that include her in the series. During this scene, Hermione becomes a traditional ingénue character.” (p.184)

Cummins poses the question: “Is Hermione an ‘agential’ adult who opens the way for social transformation and a postmodern heroine who subverts patriarchy and other forms of oppression?” (p.187) Her answer is interesting, in that it involves a parallel reading of Moaning Myrtle…:

“Moaning Myrtle, with her tears, sighs, pimples, and suicidal tendencies, is, among other things, a parody of a teenage girl. Part of that parody is her residence in the girls’ bathroom, and her intimate familiarity with sinks, pipes, and toilets. With Myrtle, Rowling simultaneously makes fun of and points out the important status of the girls’ bathroom in the lives of (pre)teenage girls.” (p.179)

Hermione’s story slips into a Gothic mode when she reaches puberty/becomes a woman, but she then exits that mode to go on to become a much more dynamic and genre-busting character. Moaning Myrtle, however is stuck in the bathroom, which is the very site of female development [Cummins explains the connection between bathrooms and menarch in YA lit earlier in her essay], and is stuck in a Gothic mode as a permanent ghost. We can argue that Myrtle is sacrificed to the Gothic plot. While there are parodic and comedic elements to her, and we laugh at her character, her tears are actually quite symbolic of the sadness behind the way girls still get arrested – stuck- in certain patterns of behavior and expectations, even today, in our supposedly post-feminist world. Myrtle, then, is a kind of heroine in her own right, as she serves as a reminder of a path many girls take, while Hermione represents the potential alternative.” (p.190)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) June Cummins ‘Hermione in the Bathroom: The Gothic, Menarche, and Female Development in the Harry Potter Series’ pp.177-193 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to: Anne Hiebert Alton (2003) Generic fusion and the mosaic of Harry Potter. In E Heilman (Ed.) Harry Potter’s World: Multidisciplinary Critical Perspectives (pp.141-162). New York: RoutledgeFalmer

Donna Heiland (2004) Gothic and Gender: An Introduction. Malden, MA; Osford, UK; Carlton, Victoria, Australia: Blackwell Publishing.

Do Rozario – The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books


“The words shone momentarily on the page and they too sank without a trace. Then, at last, something happened. Oozing back out of the page, in his very own ink, came words harry had never written. (J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, cited p.209 Do Rozario)

“Back to his own world, created from paper, printer’s ink and an old man’s words.” (Cornelia Funke, Inkspell, cited p.209 Do Rozario)

Following on from the above quotes, Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario presents a rather interesting argument about Gothic children’s literature. She writes:

InkspellThere is a Gothic architecture of books, both as objects of and within children’s literature: books filled with secrets and potentially dangerous passages, the narratives as labyrinthine as any castle interior or ruins, the dust jackets as intimidating as any fortress walls. Entering such a book is, potentially, as perilous to the reader as to the characters within the story. These are children’s books of a Gothic persuasion; they include ever-more peculiar books that are magic or that have magical potential, that are devious and complex. The books comprise a fascinating Gothic library marketed to children, through which their fictional counterparts conspire and scheme to counter the intertext of Gothic ruins and enigmas which hem them in and threaten them with intertextuality itself. Deidre Lynch notes the Gothic tradition’s literary impulse, arguing that early Gothic authors ‘are remarkable […] for the density of their intertextual allusions’ (2001: 31). In making these allusions, authors create characters who are, as Lunch indicates, ‘surrounded by books, ink and paper’ (29). In regard to children’s books, material [-p.210] rather allusive intertextuality – the book, ink, and paper – becomes the Gothic manifestation.
This shift, essentially from allusion to materialisation, is a response to the more commonplace intertextuality of children’s literature itself. John Stephens argues that children’s literature is ‘radically intertextual because it has no special discourse of its own,’ occupying, as it were, ‘the intersection of a number of other discourses’ (1992: 86). Responding to the ‘ordinariness’ of intertextuality in the genre, these particular children’s books reinvest it with significance by actualising it as Gothic peril. They subsequently realise absence in the dearth of a founding discourse, alongside the profusion of discourses that are fragmented, alternated and hidden so as to re-emerge mysterious. The discourses become the stuff of the bibliophilia of children’s literature, its compilation and rewriting of myth, fairy, folk, and other tales. As Lynch suggests, bibliophilia infuses Gothic novels, but in children’s books, it also destabilises the fundamental ontological distinctions between text and lived experience. Bibliophilia, manifested in its intertextual excesses, becomes the architecture of the Gothic novel through which the secrets of children’s literature can be endlessly whispered and through which the distinctions between reader and text can be repeatedly dispelled.” (pp.209-210)

Harry Potter and the Chamber of SecretsHmmm! I really like Do Rozario’s argument here.She draws on JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart trilogy and Jonathon Stroud’s Bartimaeus Trilogy in particular, with reference to Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World, Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, and Marcus Sedgwick’s The Book of Dead Days and The Dark Flight Down. Her interest is in the presence of books within these books – and textual fragments that hint at other tales – alongside characters that become aware of their literary nature, eliding the distinction between reader and text. The possibility of entering and exiting texts (and one’s textuality), of being menaced by books (think JK Rowling), etc. is seen as a Gothicisation of text itself in children’s literature…. The supernatural and the literary become one and the same.

More than that, Do Rozario also highlights the gothicisation of traditional literature and of literariness in these texts. In a digital age of information networks, bound paper books are being represented as (or have come to represent) the Gothic and the supernatural; the books in these texts have heavy bindings, intricate lettering, elaborate engravings, etc. and their very ‘bookishness’ serves to reveal their Gothic and supernatural nature. I like the argument!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 2For example, Do Rozario observes: “The act of writing itself may release dangerous secrets. J.K. Rowlking’s Harry Potter series creates a Gothic parallel to our own ‘Muggle’ world, one in which books can scream, snap, become invisible, put spells upon the reader, or simply yield perfectly horrendous curses. The magic of Rowling’s wizarding world infuses its books, creating, across the series, an imagined library of fantastical books to serve the supernatural. The series, however, likewise raises the more personal, ordinary, spontaneous, and contemporaneous kinds of books to Gothic status. The diary, [-p.215] for example, becomes a central text in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (1998). The diary is an everyday repository of deeply personal secrets, but when the ink of those secrets becomes absorbed into the paper of T.M. Riddle’s diary, the secrets themselves feed a fragment of soul hidden between the covers. The diary is quite ordinary, purchased rather prosaically from a news agency on Vauxhall Road. Riddle, whom Harry, Ron and Hermione discover is the real name of Lord Voldemort, concealing his origins in an act of anagram, had left an imprint of his schoolboy soul within the diary, one that could only be manifested through the ink invested by a new diarist, in this case Ginny Weasley ‘I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets’ (Rowling 1998: 228).
The ultimate secret of the diary, therefore, can only be manifest by other secrets, hence it is a very secret diary, as Chapter 13’s title indicates. Yet that deepest secret is itself obsessed by that other Gothic occupation: history. Riddle seeks to discover Harry Potter’s history, the diary fragment of Riddle having been bound in its own textual temporality and so unaware of Harry’s incomplete defeat of his mature self. Even such a textual phantasm is bound to the historical continuum, to a longing and loathing for pastness as it reveals the mystery of his present.” (pp.214-215)

InkheartOf Inkheart, though it could also be said of each of the books she is pointing to, Do Rozario notes that “In the absence of an actual castle, books themselves create the architecture, libraries, shelves, boxes, and piles of books configuring paper and ink secret chambers and passages, dungeons and wild woods.” (p.216)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Rebecca-Anne C. Do Rozario ‘Fantastic Books: The Gothic Architecture of Children’s Books’ pp.209-225 Eds. Anna Jackson, Karen Coats and Roderick McGillis (c2008) The Gothic in Children’s Literature: Haunting the Borders. Routledge: New York

Reference is to:Lynch, D. (2001) Gothic libraries and national subjects. Studies in Romanticism, 40(1), 29-48

Stephens, J (1992) Language and ideology in Children’s Fiction. London; New york: Longman