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Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds Paperback – December 10, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

Dr. Amy H. Sturgis, editor of Past Watchful Dragons
"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.

(from Chapter Seven)

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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Product Details

  • Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Zossima Press (December 10, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0982238517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0982238516
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #695,856 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Travis Prinzi, CEPS, is the Electrophysiology Tech Specialist at the University of Rochester Medical Center Cardiac Electrophysiology Labs. With 10 years of experience in Cardiac EP, including training of staff and fellows, Travis brings significant practical, in-lab experience to the field and is able to communicate to those interested in electrophysiology at all levels. This experience led him and Dr. David Huang, Chief Electrophysiologist for the University of Rochester Medical Center, to collaborate on an EP book for Springer's popular "In Clinical Practice" series.

Travis also has graduate degrees in theological studies and English education, which has led him to multidisciplinary approach to literature. He's the author of "Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds" (Zossima Press, 2008) and editor of "Hog's Head Conversations: Essays on Harry Potter" (Zossima 2009) and "Harry Potter for Nerds" (Unlocking Press, 2010). He has essays published in "Harry Potter Smart Talk" (Unlocking Press), "Light Shining in a Dark Place" (Wipf and Stock), "New Fairy Tales" (Unlocking Press) and other collections. His blog enjoys an international readership as it continues to explore the Harry Potter books and related literature. Prinzi holds an M.S degree in Teaching and Curriculum from the University of Rochester and an M.A degree in Theological Studies from Northeastern Seminary. He has given presentations and Keynote talks at six different Potter conferences in the U.S. and Canada.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Michael Boyd on December 18, 2008
Format: Paperback
I got to the end of the Harry Potter series and knew that this wasn't just a story about a boy wizard and his adventures. Something more was happening in these wonderfully written books. Travis Prinzi's book 'Harry Potter and Imagination' helped me to understand some of the great themes Rowling addresses.
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.
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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful By M. R. Bischoff on September 2, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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. After finishing them I looked for serious books that discussed the themes and meaning of the series, which led me to John Granger's works. The recent release of the 6th movie made me wonder if anything new had been published. I discovered Prinzi's book on Amazon and wondered how it would compare to Grangers'. I was delighted to find that Prinzi's ideas complement Granger's and have added to my understanding and appreciation of Rowling's writing. Prinzi's book with its emphasis on "faerie" helps explain why the Harry Potter story resonates with me and draws me back to reread it. Prinzi stands with Granger as an "unpacker" of the many levels of meaning in this wonderful series.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By David L. Jones on December 17, 2008
Format: Paperback
First, full disclosure: I write for Travis at his blog, The Hog's Head. My first venture into discussion with Travis and his readers included a vehement disagreement over the nature of postmodernism as a literary and philosophical movement. Thus, though I write for The Hog's Head, that does not mean its proprietor and I always agree on ways of understanding Harry Potter.

Yet, I've always held Travs Prinzi and his opinions in very high regards. John Granger has said time and time again that Prinzi's insight and intelligence into Rowling's literary machinations rival his own -- no small praise from the most famous of Potter-philes/scholars. And any regular patron of The Hog's Head will know that Prinzi's knowledge and mastery of the HP universe is nearly encyclopedic -- don't read his posts to know this; read his responses to readers' comments. Thus, Harry Potter & Imagination makes at least two cases: one is that understanding the books as an expression of the kind of faerie story analyzed by J.R.R. Tolkien is a productive means of interpreting Rowling's work; the second is that Travis Prinzi's name should be synonymous with HP scholarship from this point forward.

Though Rowling has sought to distance herself from her fantasy antecedents (at least to a degree), that she is indebted to their literary frameworks is apparent to any of readers. Prinzi mines some literary parallels to draw together an understanding of fantasy and faerie articulated in both Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. Prinzi makes no effort to hide, from the Introduction onward, that he reads Rowling's books through a Christian lens.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Johnny on December 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Can fairy tales be relevant in an increasingly materialistic world? Are fairy tales just kiddie fare or are they subversive literature designed to inspire social change? Travis Prinzi answers these questions and more in the context of Harry Potter in his masterful book, Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds.

The driving force behind Travis' book of course is J.K. Rowling's 2008 Harvard commencement speech where she quotes Plutarch, "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality." This can be seen in the book's three parts: Faerie, The Creative Hero, and A Political Fairy Tale. From looking at how Harry Potter satisfies "primordial human desires" (Faerie) and correspond to mythological archetypes (The Creative Hero), we can see how Harry Potter inspires a concern for social justice (A Political Fairy Tale). "What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality" indeed.

Throughout the book, Travis skillfully interacts with other Harry Potter literary critics and draws on the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L'Engle in his discussions on fairy tales, showing that he has become a Harry Potter scholar in his own right. Travis does all this while explaining difficult concepts in a clear manner for the average reader. Everyone has different preferences and while I loved the entire book immensely, I enjoyed and got the most from his discussions on social justice, particularly the chapters on Postmodernism, Fabian Society, Feminism (Ginny Weasley as Susan Pevensie, Vindicated was just brilliant) and the War on Terror. Those chapters are worth the price of the book alone. Travis unashamedly writes from a Christian perspective because JKR is a Christian, and as Travis writes, removing her from that tradition is impossible.
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