Rowling Revisited: Return Trips to Harry, Fantastic Beasts, Quidditch, & Beedle the Bard
In his classic An Experiment in Criticism, C.S. Lewis posited that one of the criteria by which a book might be judged "good" was its ability to hold up and produce new insights under multiple readings. For example, the mystery novel that is never touched again once one knows "whodunnit" is not good literature, while the "old friend" one reads again and again (as Lewis did Jane Austen's novels, apparently annually) are worthy of attention, regardless of their status as "literature" by other tests. Pepperdine University professor James Thomas has proven again that J.K. Rowling's beloved Harry Potter novels, along with their three ancillary texts, count as "good literature" by this standard, with Rowling Revisited: Return Trips to Harry, Fantastic Beasts, Quidditch, and Beedle the Bard (Zossima, 2010). If you haven't taken a ramble with this delightful volume, you should, and if you have already, then perhaps a repeat trip to this book is in order!
Dr. Thomas, with his characteristic combination of quick wit and vast knowledge of literature, takes the reader on a rollicking ride through the seven Hogwarts adventures, Harry's much graffitied textbooks, and the mysterious book of fairy tales that includes the origin of the Deathly Hallows. In his return to the seven-volume story of Harry Potter, Dr. Thomas is re-returning, as he has previously analyzed the delightful discoveries to be made in coming back to the 4100-page story in seven sections. His Repotting Harry Potter is a delight, but his more recent insights here demonstrate that, for the astute reader, there is always more treasure to be found in a good book, no matter how many visits one makes to it. He points out many of the wonders he has noticed on more recent examination, including examples of Rowling's artistry and even her occasional discrepancies (though, gracefully, pointing out how these demonstrate that the novels were a work in progress, and that Rowling was still shifting and sifting her ideas as she wrote the books and their companion texts). But Dr. Thomas does not merely point out the nifty spots in the scenery as we travel along; he makes wonderful connections with history, literature, and the other books, demonstrating how interconnected the texts are to each other and to the larger literary canon. Though some readers may have already noticed a few of Dr. Thomas's discoveries, his connections with other great works of literature will astound and delight even the most careful reader, and everyone will see at least one new insight. I must confess that even after reading the Hogwarts Saga through completely at least ten times, I had never caught the knee-slapper of Uncle Vernon, who works at a drill company, picking out his most "boring" tie. I thought it was just a reminder of the Dursleys' thoroughly Muggle mindset rather than a hint of Rowling's linguistic playfulness to come.
Then, we get to revisit the much-annotated copies of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. With news of a forthcoming film featuring the fearless Newt Scamander (sorry, Dr. Thomas takes great delight in Rowling's alliteration, so I think it is beginning to rub off on me), this is a great time to return to this wonderful, if slim, volume. Dr. Thomas walks readers through each entry, noting the literary depth found in each of Rowling's fun creatures. He notes how the fact that the volume appeared as the Hogwarts Saga was still in progress in evident in Rowling's on-going work with some creatures, whose importance or characteristics she was obviously still finalizing that that point. Dr. Thomas's work with this wonderful ancillary text will be much appreciated when Newt hits the big screen.
Quidditch through the Ages also gets a great return treatment, with plenty of thoughtful peeks into the popular Wizarding sport and its historical, athletic, and linguistic nods. Readers who delight in Quidditch, including those who play the Muggle version (I would sign up if there was actual flying, myself). There is enough alliteration in this section (and in the teams themselves) to spawn spontaneous spurts of sarcastic snorts (sorry), and some wonderful reminders that even in this "light" volume, Rowling outdid herself.
Some of the most fantastic insights into Rowling's artistry can be found in the section analyzing her last Hogwarts volume, the sometimes cryptic, often delightful Tales of Beedle the Bard. Even without Emma Watson's peculiarly lovely pronunciation of "figure" in "The Tale of the Three Brothers," the stories are wonderful, and, as Dr. Thomas notes, they draw on a rich literary and cultural history, in addition to creating wonderful links to the seven-volume story of Harry himself. Most haunting, of course, is the chance to "hear" Dumbledore's voice again, and that desire for connection to those we lose, in life or in literature, is part of what drives many of the stories, and perhaps, what makes us want to come back to books over and over again.
Even if one is not as astute a reader as the intrepid Dr. Thomas, re-reading is a chance for us to revisit the stories and characters we love, so that we never really leave them behind. This well-written, thoughtful, and always fun volume will delight, illuminate, and send readers back to enjoy all ten of the books that take us to the Wizarding world, again, and again.