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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: #1,068,307 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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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I first heard of this book listening to an episode of the HP Progs podcast where Travis gave a synopsis of his book and a bit of commentating on it. Not a week before that, I had a long (and tiring) debate with a friend who is of the opinion that the Harry Potter series (and the fantasy genre, in general) were one-dimensional and irrelevant. "Harry Potter & Imagination" was godsend. After all, there's so many ways you can tell someone that Harry Potter is not just about wands and magic tricks. Travis makes a point of showing it's all part of something bigger, and yes, deeper. (Who would have thought, right?)

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!
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It's hard to add anything to the great reviews already given. Mr. Prinzi's work is packed full of insightful commentary not just on Harry Potter but on the nature, purpose, and history of fairy tales. He connects JK Rowling to the writers of the past, like Tolkien, Lewis, and MacDonald and shows how Rowling's work stands alongside them in using the fairy story to help us imagine better. He also examines the themes in Rowling's work and compares her treatment of them to how they have been treated by other authors.

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.
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Travis Prinzi's analysis of the Harry Potter series is an excellent addition to the growing body of literature after the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. As someone who has heard and read Travis' thoughts on the series before the release of this book, this isn't much of a surprise, but the depth of the book still amazed me. The book craftfully creates an argument that J.K. Rowling in writing within the tradition of literature and the fantasy genre as other great authors such as J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and Madeleine L'Engle. The fairy tale aspects of the series are highlighted in the first section about stories that Tolkein entitled Faerie including aspects of Arthurian legend, gothic horror stories and a comparison between Aslan and Harry. The middle part of the book relates to the four most important characters in the stories (Harry, Dumbledore, Voldemort, and Snape) and how their character archetypes fit into this epic. The last section deals with Rowling as a writer in the postmodern tradition and how she deals with the themes of our day including tolerance, racism, feminism, and the war on terror. While I admit I did not agree completely with every conclusion reached in the book, it argues in a well-researched manner that strongly supports its thesis. As the Harry Potter franchise loses the stigma attached to it as popular culture, educators and academics will use Harry Potter and Imagination as an important reference text for all future analysis of the series and will hopefully result in all of us imagining better.
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