Wednesday, May 29, 2013

House Thoughts to follow up the Real Book Club Conversation

Regarding houses..My husband brought up an interesting point - and one I can’t really get out of my head regarding the House system in Harry Potter.

  • Slytherin’s animal is the snake; Griffyndor’s is the lion; Ravenclaw has the eagle..

If Rowling had given Hufflepuff a goat, the houses could have formed a proper creature - a whole being. She didn’t. Is there a reason? It frustrates me..the Houses feel incomplete - almost a whole but not. Thoughts from anyone on this?

  • I’m all in agreement with Laura’s comment about not binding children to their 11-year-old decisions as well. I think I’d prefer the idea of switching them up for the first three years or so, in varying groups but only loosely associated with a House, so they could meet each other and develop themselves in a non-competitive way.

  • I’m also in agreement with poor Harry..Why don’t they do the sorting privately!! I would be such an embarrassed 11 year old at that point..I think I might just hide out in the bathroom and then come up after the feast saying .. Oops. I got lost, can you sort me privately. Thanks.

Incantational and Invocational.. The magic of problematic distinctions: A side note in the Harry Potter Book Club

There are many points of view toward the problem of Christians embracing the magical world of Harry Potter. In her introductory post, Jenna mentions the debate and cites an argument in the books’ defense: John Granger’s distinction between incantational and invocational magic. It’s a popular argument for Christian fans of the seriesl; in it, he defines invocational magic as sorcery, the “calling in [of] demonic principalities and powers for personal power”; and incantational magic as essentially the chanting of spells. Again and again in his Looking for God in Harry Potter, Granger emphasizes that invocational magic is forbidden by Scripture, but just as often, directly implies that incantational magic is not. I’m disturbed by the distinction. I think we’ll be having a few conversations throughout the reading on various interesting elements of J.K. Rowling’s concept of magic - and I don’t want in any way to close off the continuation of this discussion at later points, but I’d like to bring it up for first thoughts here, just over the threshold of Hogwarts, as Harry beings his education in incantational magic.

It’s true that Rowling’s magic calls down no demons, implores no gods, and request no aid from “principalities and powers”- good or evil. In that sense her wizards are entirely what C.S. Lewis calls ‘materialist magicians’ - concentrating powers entirely apart from a spiritual relationship. But magic doesn’t require an invocation to be forbidden - the majority of divination is devoid of invocations, as are some of the more frightening spells, and even well-meaning forms of magic are forbidden to us - and not only because of the spiritual dangers inherent to invocational magic. Magic is dangerous to the soul of man because it sets him up as a god, it teaches him to take control, to put his trust in his own power and not in Christ, and magic - whether it calls down ‘demonic principalities and powers’ or relies totally on the will of the practitioner - as Rowling’s magic does - gives the magician an inappropriate and dangerous level of influence over his fellow men and his world. John Granger’s distinction, though, implies that a teenager picking up a book of spells at The Gnu’s Room (I’m sure they have a magic section, everyone does!) is well within the dictates of her Catholic faith in choosing ‘to sing along with’ these spells, because, like the majority of spell-books on the market, they don’t ‘invoke’ anything so much as they attempt to channel power -just as Harry and his friends do.
Granger then goes on to liken Rowling’s magic to that of Lewis and Tolkien. There are similarities, for certain, but he chooses a strange example in Caspian’s invocation of aid (it’s a musical invocation, which is Granger’s link to his approved incantational magic - but it’s hard to avoid the obvious call to help from beyond), he does not mention King Tirian’s more straightforward invocation of the children in The Last Battle, nor the abundance of invocations of Elbereth in Tolkien’s books. Magic is not something easily divided - incantations often invoke, invocations often implore, and God-magic can include both - as the Liturgy does, as Tirian’s call or Frodo’s “A Elbereth Gilthoniel” do; as forbidden magic does (and all magic apart from God is forbidden, be it chanting spells or calling up ghosts).

The impression I get is that Granger is searching for a loophole because he likes the books, and because they raise him up as they do Jenna - toward God-magic and mystery - so he uses these distinctions to clear his mind of uncertainty and defend the books against those who are uncomfortable with the magic used. But that’s not how magic works. It doesn’t fall neatly into categories: forbidden invocations and approved incantations. There is only the holy magic of the Church and magic proper - which is forbidden in all forms, at all times, and in all aspects.

Does that mean the Harry Potter books are completely off-limits to Christians? I’m reading them now, so obviously I don’t think so, and this post is less about the aspects of Rowling’s magic that should disturb her readers (we’re avoiding spoilers!) than it is about distinctions within the discussion of magic itself. What do you think of the distinction between invocational and Incantational magic in the defense of the series?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Gnu's Room and the Value of Place - A guest post and request

  My sister, Laura, contributed this post..Please read it and consider helping if you're able!

I have a bookstore in my mind. Maybe you have one, too.        

My ideal bookstore is deceptively small, with nooks and corners that lead to wider rooms and eventually unsuspected upper floors that are better lit. There are more books that can fit on the shelves, ordered and categorized, but imperfectly, as if interrupted halfway and begun again later by someone with a new system. There's no espresso machine – not enough room – but there's honor-system coffee in one of those thermos cylinders, with plenty of powdered creamer and the little straws for stirring, and tables and chairs by the windows.

Yours might have a resident cat, or a children's section with hooked rugs and a perfect-condition copy of The Snowy Day on top of a box of puppets. It probably has better coffee. But I'm guessing you have one. A lot of us do. It's a common side effect of reading books or having read books or planning to read books in the future, when there's more time. It grows alongside the Mr. Darcy tribute pages and the arguments with Aloysha Karamazov and the speculative disagreements, over coffee or laptop, about the ethics of vampirism. You get to feel loyal to it, even when it isn't real, and when you find someplace like it in the real world, there's a sense of recognition and return.

Maybe that's how it is for you. I don't know. I'm really just guessing.

There's a bookstore called The Gnu's Room in Auburn, Alabama. It's a real place, with a pink and green piano and a huge, eclectic selection of used books on shelves and in boxes. There's dusty sunlight in the front and couches in the back. It's where I've found some of my new favorite authors – books I would never have thought to go looking for, if not for the particular form of serendipity a used bookstore creates. It's also the vital core of the literary and arts community in East Alabama.

That community is small, but it has a good heart. It's talented and energetic and earnest, and the Gnu's Room is its home.

This is where the poetry readings and the book events are. This is where local artists sell their work and young filmmakers get their first screenings, where the open mics are held, independent musicians get their start and where they come back to after their first tour of the South. The Auburn University Philosophy Club holds meetings and events here. The owners have worked tirelessly to make it a welcoming place for everyone who visits and a haven for people who love books and music. For anyone with a bookstore in their mind, it feels like coming home.

This summer, the Gnu's Room will close permanently unless it can raise the money to refurbish
and move into a new low-rent space down the road. They've started a Kickstarter to help make that happen:

The new location will give them the opportunity to expand their services as a community space, develop their new publishing arm, and work on new ways to earn revenue and keep the Gnu's Room sustainable and thriving.

Unfortunately, there's not much time. The offer of new low-cost space came after the owners announced that the Gnu's Room was closing. They weren't sure at first if they could make it work. It took longer to set up a fundraising campaign. By the time the Kickstarter launched, it was already summer – the hardest time for fundraising in a college town. For all their efforts, the Gnu's Room could still go under.

I'm asking you to help because I hope you will, if you have a bookstore in your mind, if in some way you recognize this small good place you've never been to. I'm making a reckless but not totally unfounded assumption that because you read Masha's blog, you and I have something in common: an appreciation, maybe even a love, of things that are bookish and small and good.
It's not something you're obligated to do, of course. It's not really your bookstore.

 I guess what I'm hoping you'll say is, Yes, it is.

I have a bookstore in my mind. I've had it for years. It changes and grows, but I know it when I see it.

When I first learned that the Gnu's Room was in danger of closing, one of the owners said to me, “People will pay $5 for a coffee, but they won't pay $2 for a book.”

I knew it was true – I'd just bought my own $3.50 coffee. I also know it doesn't have to be.

The Gnu's Room has been around for years, and with a little help it can stay around for many more. They have until June 14 to raise just $3000. That's 1500 cups of coffee -- 600 if you get the double soy mocha with whipped cream and a dash of nutmeg. There are more of us than that who know a good thing when we see it – enough of us who are loyal customers of the bookstores of the mind.

Do you recognize this place?

If you do – if you know and love a bookstore like the Gnu's Room – or if you wish you did – help us out! Pledge the price of a cup of coffee  – or pledge just $5 and get a book in the mail! Tell your friends there's a bookstore in Alabama that needs them. Post the link on Facebook or Twitter if that's your stomping ground.
Help us keep a small, good thing alive.

FOR THE COMMENTARIAT: Do you have a perfect bookstore in your mind? Does it have a cat, or cookies, or what? Is it more of a towering, potentially treacherous book-labyrinth or more of a lounge? (Or is it Google Scholar? That's ok, too). Is there a real place you love in your own town?

Thanks for listening!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Believing in Hidden Things

The three who wander among our Birches aren’t ghosts, the never haunt; and my daughter greets them laughingly on bright spring afternoons “Hi Patrick, hi friend!” So I never worry. But I do believe in proper ghosts.

Not ghosts with unfinished business who wander looking for some lost path to heaven, nor ghosts who don’t realize they’ve died and so ‘refuse to move on’. Both ideas seem contrary to God’s way of letting men live. My ghosts are always permitted, sometimes invited by God to visit their loved ones - either from heaven or from purgatory, to bring some good about - like saints who appear to aid us, like my three relics guarding our little home; like the holy souls in purgatory - who never sleep, and so welcome the chance to wake us early in the morning. There are other ‘ghosts’ as well, mere impressions that hover when the soul has long gone to it’s eternal home, remembrances of a life that was so strong the world is marked forever by it - so strong the place itself does not forget. But they’re not true ghosts, just images and reflections. And of course I believe the devil does as he will with the souls he’s collected, sending them out as he is permitted, to haunt and make miserable and misdirect if at all possible.

As a Catholic, belief is free within bounds, and anything that doesn’t contradict revealed Truth is open to absorb. I absorb a good deal - and ghosts are both my favorite and least favorite of these mysterious beings. What do you think of them?

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Thoughts on Wands and Class from the Harry Potter Book Club

It’s raining. Yarrow’s napping with Luba on the big bed, her head creeping closer and closer to the edge. The girl loves edges - she has no fear. Jenna and Christie have both brought up wands..we talk a bit about various woods and lengths in Jenna’s commentary..and about the purpose of wands in Christie’s commentary. I’ve always been a bit annoyed at the length of Rowling’s’s a minor point, I know, but an 8” wand would be so very awkwardly short! My husband - who is especially frustrated by the lengths, is taking over a bit of this post to show us why!

We’re in Diagon Alley with Harry Potter, and onward - to his first taste of Hogwarts. I like the class humor in these early chapters. In later books, I notice a harder edge in Rowling’s attitude toward the middle-class suburbanite Dursleys, but for now it’s still amusing and endearing. They are a complete caricature of suburban striving - nosy, unimaginative, and banal..but not so completely dismissed as to make the caricature unkind or universal. In Diagon Alley we meet the caricature of the rich, blue-blooded Draco Malfoy whose ease at being fitted for new robes indicates he’s spent plenty of time at the tailor’s. Draco’s preoccupation with family history, surnames, and getting in with the right set at school makes me certain his family has the wizarding equivalent of yachts and tennis courts chilling around their manor house. Harry’s confusion in his first meeting with the wizarding upper-classes is endearing..he’s uncomfortable, but content enough in his own interpretation of the experience so far to avoid being drawn into Malfoy’s attitude. Harry is somewhat outside class - as lost in suburbia as he would be along side Draco, watching with longing the pleasantly proletariat Weasleys knock about at the train station. It’s an opportunity to set him up to do ‘great things’ formed either by a connection to and welcoming of the good that can grow in all of the classes he can see - but never belong to; or else a rejection of these pockets of belonging and all the people who fit easily in one or the other. I don’t know that Rowling managed either in the end..but right now, Harry is still in formation - full of potential and the loneliness it brings.

And now, here’s Seth:

   The subject of wand-length came up in discussion recently; being somewhat visual I decided photos were needed to aid the “are they too short, too long, or just right?” debate. Everything was measured carefully (brushes included bristles) and came within a quarter-inch accuracy (mostly dead-on). They are listed in order of appearance in chapter five, starting with Lily Potter (note the nice, feminine hand position).

“ ‘Ah yes,’ said the man… ‘ It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work’.” 

                                (not actually made of willow. Made of chainsaw sharpening file)

Next is James Potter: “ ‘Your father, on the other hand, favored a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration…’ ”

                                (certain tiny wand shoppers have no respect for personal space)

And of course, Voldy.
       "Mr. Ollivander touched the lightning scar on Harry's forehead with a long white finger. 
        'I'm sorry to say I sold the wand that did it' he said softly. Thirteen-and-a-half inches. Yew. Powerful wand...' "

                      (Aggressive. Green. Gritty. No, really. Actually gritty. The wand is fake, not the dirt)

Then a couple of Harry's rejects: "Right then, Mr Potter. Try this one. Beechwood and dragon heartstring. Nine inches...' " and "... 'Maple and Phoenix feather. Seven inches. Quite whippy... ' "

                                              (Chopstick. Carpenter's pencil. Not terribly impressive)

Skipping his last reject (which, at eight and a half is between those two) we finally have Harry's wand itself.

" 'Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry... yes, why not - unusual combination - holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple.' "

  (Um, that yellow is just phoenix tail poking through. It is definitely NOT oil paint I forgot to clean)

So I suppose whether these representations look right, wrong, or a mix, is dependent on your pre-formed mental image of "appropriate magic wand". Mine tends toward something a bit longer and a bit less "something I found lying around the house"-ish.

                                                                          -The Neglected (and can you tell it's been rainy here and I've had a lot of time on my hands?) Husband

Monday, May 20, 2013

Monday Reflections

This Friday is the due date of Spinning Straw into Gold's Fourth Friday Fairy-Tale prompt. If you're in any way interested, check it out and share some of your work. I've got a page of half-thoughts scribbled down somewhere on my desk: buried under seeds or tucked between grapefruit, but it's in an unsightly stage. I'm trying to clean it up enough to share. My writing has given way to gardening, pig-tending, and eating grapefruits by the dozen..I feel like there is a fuzz in my mind that only goes away when my hands are buried in dirt or my mouth is full of citrus. I would like to wake up properly at some point, but the actual dreams that come from a fuzzy mind are amazingly rich. I feel a bit like the men in those Lovecraft stories, the ones whose dreams bring them to lands so absorbing as to call them further and further from daily life..I am not so absorbed, but the dreams are strong, and my writing is suffering from it.

The apple trees are all in bloom! They remind me of a friend of mine. I want apple trees of my own now, and cherries, and peaches, and plums, and pears..Every good thing.

God is either preparing me for a great disappointment, or else training me to see beyond what I'm accustomed to. He's showing me lonely crows all over the place. One by one by one..I've never gone so long without seeing flocks of two, or three, or five, or more. I don't feel disturbed by them, but I wonder if I ought to. The number of them worries me. What do they mean?

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Pretty, happy, funny, real

Picnicking with Shakespeare and friends..  


cafe dinners at home


discovering lipstick

Seth's guitar

Moses and Me

“Gregory [of Nyssa] said of Moses that ‘he entered the darkness and then saw God in it.” (Kathleen Norris). I’m thinking of Moses a lot these days. Moses who asks “only to see the beauty of God ‘not in mirrors and reflections, but face to face.’” I think about him as I watch the spring take shape around me; as my days are broken into easy rhythms that tempt me toward contentment. I reflect on the wanderer - the unfulfilled Moses for whom each “glimpse of the divine is always exactly enough, and never enough.”
May is a busy month. A month to spend outdoors in sunlight and awakening gardens. I have a hard time dividing my time - not because I don’t have enough of I, but because I have too much uncertainty - would this hour be best spent planting, cleaning, playing, writing..? I might being writing, end up playing, and then half way through notice something else entirely that requires attention. Before I know it, not only the hour, but the whole day is done.
I have five or six books going right now, two journals, and a lovely dream about flying over the Mediterranean Sea that I long to get back to..but instead I pick up yet another book, pour myself a huge glass of water and settle in to rest under the clouds. Perhaps tonight - in the Ascension Liturgy - I’ll find the balance I’m looking for.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Book Club: 'the name issue.'

Jenna’s given us a lovely bit of direction in her post on the early chapters (2-4) of book one. A few options, and a recipe for Knickerbocker Glory for those of you with a craving for sugar! In the comments there, we’re breaking open thoughts on snake symbolism, on ice cream, and on fear. But here I want to talk a bit more about the use of names.

As Jenna mentioned in her post on Harry’s first meeting with the magical world - there is early introduction to the name taboo when Harry first meets Hagrid. It’s an interesting, if overdone recognition of the power of names themselves. Names are fascinating and the superstitions around them vary, but all respect the power of the name itself. Rowling walks an interesting line between the fear-filled superstition rampant in the wizarding world regarding the Voldemort’s name, and the careless power displayed by Harry and Dumbledore later in the book as Harry continually forgets to fear and Dumbledore (it seems) never considered the possibility. I’m disappointed that she makes Hagrid so affected in his refusal to speak the name. It’s embarrassing,  at odds with his character, and awkward. I can see the attempt to make him sort of a ‘salt-of-the-earth, peasant-type’ but the trembly uncertainty in him when he speaks of ‘he who must not be named’ makes me wish Rowling had spent more time with actual people who kept name taboos instead of misdirecting her imagination. 

The refusal to say a name, out of holy or out of superstitious fear, is generally less of a ‘terror’ and more of a matter-of-fact. A man who refers to the devil as ‘himself’, ‘the old man’, or ‘old scratch’ is not speaking so much out of terror and in self-defense. He does it without a second thought and definitely without a little tremor of fear. He does it the way a mother puts knives in the upper drawer - absentmindedly, because it is the way to keep safe. Rowling makes a production out of it here, too much so, and it frustrates the whole moment of explanation.

A holy fear of naming - such as God requires - is respectful, a refusal to claim the authority naming gives. Something, I think we’ll see in a negative sense among Voldemort’s followers (who also have a tendency to avoid naming him). A superstitious fear worries it might accidentally call up a being it can’t control. Which is why we avoid calling for dead relatives in graveyards, why fairies have so many careful nicknames, why we gossip about what “she did with that man” instead of naming names. It’s a realistic fear, especially in Harry’s world; but Rowling does a lovely thing with Harry in allowing him to forget that fear. Because while it’s true that “fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself” it’s also true that speaking the name of another gives, in a vague and magical sense, a hint of power over him. We do not speak the name of God, but when we cast out demons, we do so by name. I like the subtle reminder here, that Harry is unafraid of Voldemort’s name because he has no need to fear. He rests in the power he has only begun to discover. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

The Harry Potter Book Club

 Grab button for Cyganeria

I can never say no to a book club..
My blogging friends, Jenna and Christie are joining me in a long, reflective read-through of the series, with plenty of time for discussion, for food and drink, for music making, and happy arguments because we are all reading from different starting points. Jenna is our fan - Harry and she are long friends and he’s blessed her life in real and tangible ways. Christie is the newbie, and I’m excited to see how her fully trained and insightful sense of magic and mystery receive J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world.
 I am not a fan. I’ve read them (some of them more than once or twice) but there’s something that irks me in the series (a few things, actually) and I’ll be sharing a lot of those critical thoughts here, along with the parts I think Rowling gets right, because there are plenty of those as well…and I’m not going to pretend it’s not fun to be reading with friends, playing with recipes, and having some fantastic conversations, because it is.
As Jenna mentioned in her amazing introductory post (Read it Now!) We won’t be discussing - except in passing maybe, or unless someone else wants to take up that position - the argument that Harry Potter is bad reading because it contains magic and dragons.. None of us have the wish or temperament to argue against either; but that doesn’t mean I won’t be bringing up the problematic aspects of Harry’s magic (there are plenty), and I think a good long discussion of this whole ‘incantational vs. Invocational’ argument has to happen at some point as well, which will be fascinating! Well be talking about the character of the characters, about Rowling's worldview, about the role of men as fathers in the books, and about whatever else you encourage us to talk about! Because this is interactive, which means that if you have an opinion, we're going to hear it, and discuss it with you!  I'm really excited about this club! I’m looking forward especially to learning a lot about how the books have shaped how people see the world, do they inspire readers to see the world in rich possibilities or do they tie reader’s down to a secular-relativistic worldview in which evil is decidedly banal and suburban and good is it’s very near twin??
The first book is laying in wait for me somewhere on thrift-store shelves..I’ll be hunting it down today with Petka in tow - who loves the illustrations, thought the words bore her with their lack of “moon” and “dog” references..Maybe book three will prove delightful in that - it was always my favorite of the series, if only for the brief-but-long-awaited ‘strong male characters’.

My reading recommendations (inspired by and adding to Christie’s excellent list!)
Wine - to lower resistance (to either Rowling’s writing or your own critical thoughts..whichever you tend to reject when sober)
A friend/spouse/sister/brother..someone to read aloud to when bits need discussion, when something delights you or bothers you. And remember, even if all the books bother you, it’s ok to be delighted by sections, just as it’s ok to be appalled by some things, even if you love the series overall. No author gets it all right!
Tapestries and incense..because everything reads better with Tapestries and incense!

Let’s begin …