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Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds Paperback – December 10, 2008
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From the Publisher
"Harry Potter & Imagination offers a challenging and rewarding tour of the inspirations for and meanings behind J.K. Rowling's lauded series. Travis Prinzi ably explores how the Harry Potter books satisfy fundamental human yearnings, utilize mythological archetypes, and embody their author's social vision. From Arthurian romance and Lovecraftian horror to postmodernism and political theory, Prinzi provides new insights into the Harry Potter phenomenon. Harry Potter & Imagination will not only fascinate and entertain readers, but will also convince them that fairy tales matter."
John Granger, author of The Deathly Hallows Lectures and other books
"There is no more insightful commenter on the Harry Potter novels than Travis Prinzi - and Harry Potter & Imagination is an ideal showcase for his original thinking and lucid writing. This trail-blazing guidebook into the world of Harry Potter - showing the imaginative way between two worlds - is a must read."
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Harry Potter, the Phoenix: The Hero's Fiery Trial
"For the past several generations we've forgotten what the psychologists call our archaic understanding, a willingness to know things in their deepest, most mythic sense. We're all born with archaic understanding, and I'd guess that the loss of it goes directly along with the loss of ourselves as creators."
~ Madeleine L'Engle, Walking on Water, pg. 98
L'Engle does not think it enough to read the works of creators; in some way or another, we're all made to be creators (or "subcreators," as Tolkien would say). "Creativity is a way of living life, no matter what our vocation or how we earn our living" (98). It is for this reason that it's not helpful to move straight from themes in the Wizarding World to themes in our own Muggle world. If a story is going to have any effect at all, it must start between the page and the reader, the text and the individual.1 Joseph Campbell is the one who translated Jung's universal consciousness or, in L'Engle's terms, archaic understanding, into the realm of story, and a fundamental contribution of his work was mythological archetypes. In short, we learn about ourselves through archetypal character patterns - hero, shadow, mentor, anima/animus, great mother, shapeshifter, all of which will be explored in the next several chapters.
The most important archetypes in the Harry Potter series - hero, shadow, mentor, and shapeshifter - are given their own chapters in what follows. Other archetypes are explored within these four chapters. It's not easy to simply divide up archetypes and recite them for several reasons. In the first place, archetypes are all relational to the hero. Campbell wrote,
"The only way one can become a human being is in relationships to other human beings." (Pathways 80)
So while Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Snape drive the story's plot more than anyone else, they do so in constant interaction with the other archetypes of the series: the herald, trickster, and anima/animus. (Reflections on the mother archetype will be delayed until chapter 14, because they are so important to the discussion on gender).
Another reason archetypes are not easy to pin down is because of the nature of Rowling's story itself. As with the fantasy/fairy tale genre, so with archetypes: to an extent, she's subverting them, or at least playing with them a lot. The trickster archetype is the mischief-causing, pride-cutting, comic relief of the story, who also turns out to create needed turning points in the plot. Sometimes, the shapeshifter (an enigma whose loyalties are a mystery) and the trickster are the same character (Shapeshifter-Trickster). Not only does Rowling write trickster characters (Fred and George - see below), but her whole series is comprised of what Alice Mills calls "trickster texts; they are far from simplistic in their treatment of (generally) formulaic material" (8). Not only are the characters more complex than their archetypes, but archetypes are frequently shifting. Dumbledore is both hero and mentor. Grindelwald, Voldemort, Umbridge, and Fudge all serve as shadows for Dumbledore, while Voldemort also serves as Harry's shadow, along with Draco. Not all the Great Mothers are women.
Why does Rowling do this? There are the obvious reasons that were mentioned in chapter 2: she's not writing strictly fantasy fiction; she's trying to "subvert the genre;" she's writing the story she wants to write. The more important reason, perhaps, is that despite all the brilliant plot complexities and twists and turns, Rowling's stories really come alive because of her characters. In fact, the only places where the story seems a bit forced is when an intriguing, multi-layered character has to be crammed into a plot line, Snape being the primary example of this. Snape drove the story for six books - more so from the end of Book 4 to the end of Book 6. When Rowling needed Snape to be the important but not-quite-as-prominent character in Book 7, everything about Snape that was intriguing was set aside until a jet tour through his memory in a chapter near the end of the book. Perhaps Harry's comment to Dumbledore about the Elder Wand plot works here as well: "That bit didn't work out." But, of course, despite it not working out, just like Dumbledore's plans for the Elder Wand, her overarching story still came through with brilliance and power.2
It's evident that Rowling is thinking according to archetypal patterns which are, to some extent, to be followed. Observe the following from the Anelli/Spartz interview in 2005:
JKR: Yeah, well, I think if you take a step back, in the genre of writing that I'm working in, almost always the hero must go on alone. That's the way it is, we all know that, so the question is when and how, isn't it, if you know anything about the construction of that kind of plot.
ES: The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.
JKR: Well, that's basically what I'm saying, yes. (emphasis added)
She's clearly referring to mythological, archetype-driven literature here, as she makes reference to a particular genre in which she's writing. The hero must be taught by the mentor (the "wise old wizard"), but he must embrace the final battle alone, even surpassing his mentor. This Harry Potter does, as we will see in this chapter's conclusion.
The great themes of Harry Potter are not communicated through textbook, theoretical, propositional statements, but are embodied in the beliefs and actions of its characters. We have already looked at the virtues extolled by J.K. Rowling, as well as the vices condemned; now we turn to an examination of her incarnations of good and evil. Along the way, readers are being called to be creative heroes in their own worlds. It is through our being shaped as creative heroes that we learn creative solutions to the problems of evil that exist in our own spheres of influence.
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Top Customer Reviews
It's a clear and thoughtful exploration of Rowling's views on evil, death, love, forgiveness, gender and race (among many other things) that make the books such a powerful contribution to our culture.
I recommend this book if you want to think more about deeply about the ideas that gripped you and why they resonated with you. Prinzi's book is a tribute to Rowling's genius in that he has used her work to provide much to think about on many different issues in literature and culture.
I learned a lot from reading it and recommend it highly.
I'm non-native English reader/speaker. Don't let the language barrier intimidate you! Prinzi does an excellent job introducing themes, deconstructing them and presenting his arguments. His analysis is well backed-up, full of references and quotes available within the text itself. It may require a bit of your extra disposition and brainpower, but he succeeds in making the reading accessible, if you have the interest and disposition.
"Harry Potter & Imagination" resonated with me, not only as Harry Potter fan, but as a human being. That was motivation enough for me. Open your mind and take a chance at imagining better!
The 2nd part of his book examines the characters of Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, and Snape. Suffice it to say that these four chapters are well worth the price of the book.
Part 3 of the book shows how Rowling uses the fairy story to her own purposes in addressing very real world problems but in a setting that allows the reader to view these issues from a different perspective than they normally might. By doing so, she is in a sense slipping past the guards and filters of the reader to enable them to, as she said in her Harvard commencement speech, imagine better and through better imagination to be inwardly transformed so that we might work for outer transformation of the world.
Prinzi does an excellent and very thorough job of illuminating for us what Rowling has done in this genre of fairy story while yet adding her own new twists and insights to it. His work is well researched, coherent, and very readable. He packs an immense amount of material into just a few hundred pages. There's an extensive bibliography and an index, which are both very useful. Footnotes are given at the end of each chapter.
This book is an excellent addition to the bookshelf of not just Harry Potter fans but of fans of literature in general.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This thoughtful book by Travis Prinzi is an essential volume for the libraries of all serious students and scholars who study and appreciate the literature of the Harry Potter... Read morePublished on March 12, 2012 by Ken Moe
This is an excellent book; I can't recommend it highly enough. If you are a Harry Potter fan and you want to know more about what is happening between the lines in the books, more... Read morePublished on April 20, 2011 by Silver Elm
I've hesitated to review "Harry Potter and Imagination..." because it's such a great read, (and re-read), I don't think I can do it justice. Read morePublished on January 24, 2010 by HereIgo
I'm an adult who came late to the HP phenomenon: I read all 7 books in the summer of 2007 after Deathly Hallows was published. Read morePublished on September 2, 2009 by M. R. Bischoff
I've read and re-read the Harry Potter series several times, and have also collected lots of guide books and other works analyzing J.K. Rowlin's magnificent opus. Read morePublished on May 27, 2009 by Purple Wizard
I have had the privilege of hearing Travis speak on a few occasions, and this interesting book truly reflects his wit, enthusiasm and insightful analysis of the Harry Potter... Read morePublished on March 17, 2009 by Logospilgrim
First I would like to make it plain that I am not a Potterphile. I enjoyed the books immensely, but when the end of the series came I put them away on the shelf. Read morePublished on March 8, 2009 by Mark B. Nikirk
As an avid Harry Potter fan, I was interested to know what more I could learn on the series that I felt I didn't already know. HA! Read morePublished on March 4, 2009 by C. Ferguson