Saturday, 28 February 2009

Harry Potter and I

… or How To Grow From Reader To Fan …

In 2001, I listened to the first Harry Potter book on tape (in Swedish translation) and in 2002 the three following ones (that is, all that had been published so far). I read them because I was curious; I had heard and read discussions about them, and I wanted to form my own opinion.

(I should perhaps add that I was more than grown-up myself when I first read them, and did not have any children to read them to or with...)

I remember that one of my very first impressions of the first book was that I did find the style of writing kind of exaggerated. Not really the magic stuff - because how does one judge that? - but how Harry was treated by the Dursleys, for example. But I certainly couldn't understand all the fuss and worry expressed by some people about the "magic" in the books. I could only guess that most critics probably hadn't bothered to really read them. To me, Harry Potter seemed to be firmly rooted in the same tradition as lots of earlier children's books within British literature: From the stories of Merlin and King Arthur, to Lewis Carroll (Alice in Wonderland), Roald Dahl (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Matilda), Edith Nesbit (e.g. The Enchanted Castle), P.L. Travers (Mary Poppins), Mary Norton (The Borrowers, The Magic Bedknob), C.S. Lewis (Narnia) and many others. Funny, imaginative, playing on the borderline between reality and fantasy. And to me, the magic in the Harry Potter series translated just as easily as for example in Lewis or Tolkien, to spiritual power that can be used either for good or for worse.

By the time I got to the 4th book in the series, The Goblet of Fire, it also became clear to me (as to a lot of other readers) that this was not just a series of separate stories starring the same heroes and villains, but that it was all ONE ongoing story, heading towards an end, but also with each book revealing more and more of the past. So that with each new book, if you went back and reread the previous ones again, they seemed to have more to say than the last time you read them… That makes "magic" reading, and that made the Harry Potter books stand out compared to many others.

When the 5th book was published (The Order of the Phoenix, 2003), I did not wait for translations or pocket editions or library queues, but bought it the day it was released… I also bought the previous four in English, and had to admit that I was "hooked"… (or under the spell, if you wish…) This book is still my favourite, because it fit so perfectly into my own mood the first time I read it. I know it is not the author's own favourite, but it is mine!

Shortly after the publication of the 6th book (The Half-Blood Prince, 2005) I found my way to the internet discussion forum Leaky Lounge , which turned my private reading experience into a literary hobby shared with thousands of other people all over the world, while waiting for the 7th and last book in the series (The Deathly Hallows, 2007). This was an awesome and unique experience in itself; which new readers of the series will never be able to share in the same way. "Everyone else" around them will already know how it ended; and they themselves will be able to just read on and find out.

Waiting for The End together with all these other readers was not all about wild speculations either. For many of us it also lead to a lot of "extracurricular" reading, mostly classical, as we tried to figure out what J.K. Rowling had in mind, what her literary influences were and so on. I also explored a lot of websites that I would never have visited otherwise. It was quite simply a lot of fun - but also educational.

In a previous post, I have listed books that I read and reread because of Harry Potter and the discussions at the Leaky Lounge – mainly in the subforum Obscurous Books - between 2005 and 2007. The list includes several works of classical fiction, as well as collections of Celtic and Norse and other mythology. Looking at it now, I think the list in itself probably more or less explains (if anyone still wonders) "how to make a literary hobby out of Harry Potter"…

I have to add, though, that without the discussions, I probably would not have thought of even a third of the connections that came up in interaction with others. (If any other old LL members, especially Obscurous Books enthusiasts and Scribbulus authors, ever happen to find your way to this post – a great big thanks to all of you!)

What I'd like to do here is to try and collect some of my own Harry Potter-related "research" and speculations, and also links I have found useful.

I suspect this will be a slow process, in some respects more like cooking a polyjuice potion than using a time turner. I'm doing this mostly for my own enjoyment, but hoping that a few other people might perhaps get some amusement from it, too.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Other books I read because of Harry Potter

This is a list of books I read and/or bought because of Harry Potter.

  • Beowulf (the oldest surviving epic in British literature, 8th -11th century)
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
  • Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll (1871)
  • Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie (1930)
  • Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie (1934)
  • The Hollow by Agatha Christie (1946)
  • Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens (1838)
  • Hard Times by Charles Dickens (1854)
  • The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1927)
  • The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights by John Steinbeck (1976)
  • The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart (1979) (3rd in her series about Merlin)

Bought & Read

  • Uncle Tom's Cabin by Harriet Beecher-Stowe (1852) (borrowed)
  • The Story of King Arthur and His Knights by Howard Pyle (1903)
  • Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897)
  • War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy (1865-1869)
  • The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (1764)
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  • Fornnordisk mytologi (Old Norse Mythology) by Lars Magnar Enoksen (2004)
  • The Hermetic Cabinet: Alchemy and Mysticism by Alexander Roob (2005)
  • The Book of Werewolves by Sabine Baring-Gould (1865)
  • Witches, Werewolves and Fairies - Shapeshifters and Astral Doubles in the Middle Ages by Claude Lecouteux (2003)

Bought but not all read (yet)

  • The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe (1794)
  • The Princes of Ireland by Edward Rutherford (2004)
  • A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain (1889)
  • The Once and Future King by T.H. White (1938-1958)
  • The Complete Romances of Chrétien de Troyes (12th century) (translated by David Staines, 1993)
  • Curious Myths of the Middle Ages by Sabine Baring-Gould (1894)
  • Celtic Myths and Legends by Peter Berresford Ellis (1999)
  • Celtic Myth and Legend by Charles Squire (1905/2001)
  • The Mabinogion, unabridged, translated by Lady Charlotte E. Guest (1906/1997)
  • The Mabinogi and other Medeival Welsh Tales by Patrick K. Ford (1977)
  • Dictionary of Phrase and Fable (2001)
  • Mythologies of the World (2001)
  • Mytologi – gudar, hjältar, myter (Mythology – gods, heroes, myths) (2005)
  • Tro i den keltiska världen (Christianity and the Celts) by Ted Olsen (2003)
  • Draken, fabeldjurens konung (The Dragon, King of Fabulous Beasts) by Åke Dahlström (2002)

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Through My Spectrespecs

In another world within the vast Cyberspace - the Harry Potter discussion forum Leaky Lounge - I go by the name of Spectrespecs.

It occurred to me that it would perhaps be a good idea to set up a separate blog, with a name including that signature, as a place to look closer at the Harry Potter books. However, it might just as well turn out to be a really bad idea, since I would probably need a Time-Turner to be able to go through with the project...

I found my way to Leaky in 2005, shortly after the publication of the sixth Harry Potter book, The Half-Blood Prince; and I had a lot of fun taking part in discussions there while waiting for the final book in the series, The Deathly Hallows, published in 2007.

Two years of guessing the end of the story, together with thousands of other readers all over the world, was a "fantastic" experience, in more than one sense of the word.* In the end, I was more or less right about some things (I think); completely wrong about others; and am still just guessing about some.

If I do find that Time-Turner, I'd like to collect some of my scattered ideas from between the 6th and 7th books here, in my own quiet corner, and take a new look at them from the perspective of now knowing the ending that Jo Rowling chose (and probably had in mind all along, even if people debate that, too).

In the meantime, occasional potterisms can also be found in my blog The Island of the Voices.

*fantastic a. extravagantly fanciful, capricious, eccentric; grotesque or quaint; excellent, extraordinary (The Concise Oxford Dictionary, sixth edition 1976)

PS. The Leaky Lounge forum also includes a Non-HP-Related section, for discussion of other books and topics.


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