Harry Potter and the Semiotic Analysis: A Few Observations of the Harry Potter Series (Part 4)

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HPSemiotic

Those who know me personally are already aware that I, like many, have been sucked well and truly into Harry Potter fandom (I have my sister to blame/thank for this). Although many people have disregarded it as “just a kid’s story”, like I once did, I’ve found that the more I read these books, the more intricate details I have noticed about them. From a critical perspective, it’s interesting to note how Rowling relies upon duality and opposition, and upon parallels and foreshadowing, to construct the narrative of her series. In this series of posts, I will briefly discuss a few of these, referring to relevant volumes from Rowling’s text where necessary. I’m not going to get all technical; I just thought this would be fun. I’ll dabble in semiotics and structural analysis, undertake a few explorations of certain themes, and unite a few fan theories along the way if I can.

So, in case it wasn’t already obvious, this post is full of ***spoilers*** (although I doubt there’s many people left in the world who don’t have a basic working knowledge of the plot by now!)

Part 4: Foreshadowing, Prophecy, and a Few Heart-Breaking Red Herrings

J.K. Rowling, like many great authors before her, appreciates the importance of foreshadowing in fiction – the art of dropping hints for the reader about events to come. All of the books in the series contain some form of foreshadowing, although some examples are more significant than others.

Take, for example, Ron’s jest in Book 2 that Tom Riddle might have been given an award for ‘Special Services to the School’ because he killed Moaning Myrtle. At first glance, it appears to be a throwaway comment, but those re-reading the books will be all too aware that Tom Riddle, the young Voldemort, was indeed responsible for Moaning Myrtle’s death (as the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets was unleashed by him, and the award conceals the truth that he actually framed Hagrid by claiming Aragog was the monster).

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The presence of the locket in Sirius’ old house (12 Grimmauld Place) that no one could open in Book 5 is another example of the use of foreshadowing. This object is understood to be evil but nothing else is really said about it initially. It is, of course, a Horcrux, but the reader does not realise this until Book 7, once the hunt for R.A.B. (who turns out to be none other than Regulus Articulus Black, Sirius’ little brother) has begun. Rowling demonstrates an uncanny ability to hide clues like this in plain sight.

Another one of these ‘clues in plain sight’ has to be the Vanishing Cabinet. Harry encounters this as early as Book 2, in Borgin & Burkes, and in Book 5, it is confirmed that the cabinet allows passage to somewhere beyond the castle when Montague (a member of the Slytherin Quidditch team) is trapped in the broken Hogwarts cabinet. All the hints are there that it could be used to enter the castle from outside – a feat which Hermione stresses repeatedly is difficult to achieve. Now, when Harry walks past the Vanishing Cabinet in Book 6 to hide his Potions book, I actually can’t help but groan, because it seems so damn obvious.

However, the most effective and direct examples of Rowling foreshadowing significant plot points come in the form of Trelawney’s prophecies and predictions. In an earlier post, I have already mentioned that her first prophecy – that “neither can live while the other survives” – does hint that they both have to die, and that Harry must die to extinguish the ‘Other’ part of Voldemort that lives in within him, but all this is cleverly disguised in ambiguous wording.

Her comments regarding the “servant” who will return to his “master” in Book 3 also predict Pettigrew’s return to Voldemort, and Voldemort’s resurrection, before the reader is aware that Pettigrew is still alive and that Sirius did not kill him after all. These comments also, to some extent, help foreshadow the events at the end of Book 4 – the prophecy states that Pettigrew will help Voldemort return to power, and Harry’s dreams repeatedly stress that the two are together and plotting.

However, Trelawney’s ability to predict the future does not end there, despite her character being portrayed as an old fraud. I’m not talking about Neville dropping his teacup or Hermione leaving the class at Easter – the first is little more than a self-fulfilling prophecy, and the latter a coincidental alignment (Trelawney most likely meant “leaving” as “dying”, and was referring to Harry not Hermione).

She makes another prediction in Book 3, as she prepares to join the table for the Christmas feast, and hesitates and states that “when thirteen people dine together, the first to rise is the first to die”.  This is an accurate prediction. Of course, Trelawney is not aware when speaking that there are already thirteen people dining at the table, as Pettigrew is in Ron’s pocket. Dumbledore is therefore the first to rise from the table, to greet her as she arrives. Dumbledore is also the first of the thirteen gathered there to die, in Book 6.

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However, not all the comments made by characters and their behaviour actually hint at what is to come. Some of them are red herrings which make what actually happens all the more heart-breaking. Harry making Dobby promise never to try and save his life again, and then Dobby doing just that, leading to the little elf’s death (still not quite over that). Fred talking about how it’ll be when he gets married at Bill and Fleur’s wedding, then dying at the Battle of Hogwarts, young and single, never to grow old (definitely not over that). And Snape… perhaps the most heart-breaking red herring of all. He’s portrayed as the villain until his very last moments, and now I know he’s really one of the good guys, I can’t read his final words (“look at me”) without tears in my eyes.

All in all, I think it’s fair to say that Rowling is pretty damn skilled at her craft. I can’t remember the last time a twist in the plot surprised me more than Moody turning out to be Barty Crouch Jnr., and although it seems so obvious now, I don’t know a single Potterhead who expected Rowling to ‘kill’ Harry in the final book of the series.

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More to come in further posts in this series!

(Images: Warner Bros. Studios)

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Harry Potter and the Semiotic Analysis: A Few Observations of the Harry Potter Series (Part 3)

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HPSemiotic

Those who know me personally are already aware that I, like many, have been sucked well and truly into Harry Potter fandom (I have my sister to blame/thank for this). Although many people have disregarded it as “just a kid’s story”, like I once did, I’ve found that the more I read these books, the more intricate details I have noticed about them. From a critical perspective, it’s interesting to note how Rowling relies upon duality and opposition, and upon parallels and foreshadowing, to construct the narrative of her series. In this series of posts, I will briefly discuss a few of these, referring to relevant volumes from Rowling’s text where necessary. I’m not going to get all technical; I just thought this would be fun. I’ll dabble in semiotics and structural analysis, undertake a few explorations of certain themes, and unite a few fan theories along the way if I can.

So, in case it wasn’t already obvious, this post is full of ***spoilers*** (although I doubt there’s many people left in the world who don’t have a basic working knowledge of the plot by now!)

Part 3: The Hidden Magic of Rowling’s Etymology

Right then. Let’s get one thing clear right from the outset – J.K. Rowling is a full-on language nerd. Every element of the wizarding world she has constructed in her books is deliberately and cleverly named. Although the dualities she creates in her invented words are mostly rooted in her etymological knowledge of French and Latin, others are simply wordplays or nods to certain concepts, places and/or ideas. The more you look, the more you find!

In this post, I aim to point out just a few of the marvellous word games that Rowling has been playing with her readers. The consideration will be split into the following categories: place names, species names, character names, spells, and magical objects.

Place Names

Many of the place names in Harry Potter are invocative of the atmosphere, character and/or inhabitants of the location they describe. It’s no mistake that 24 Privet Drive, home of the Dursleys, takes its name from a particularly rigid form of hedge, or that Sirius’ house, 12 Grimmauld Place, is, indeed, a very grim and very old place. For me, The Burrow invokes a mental image of rabbits (although a ‘burrow’ can refer to the underground home of many different creatures), which fits well with the description of the Weasleys, who have “more children can they can afford”, and whose home has been repeatedly enlarged and extended to create more space for the growing family.

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Another interesting couple of street names are those of Diagon Alley and Knockturn Alley. Knockturn Alley, a place you would not want to be seen and where ‘dark’ magical artefacts are sold, becomes ‘nocturnally’ when you say it quickly (i.e. ‘by night’). Diagon Alley becomes ‘diagonally’, or possibly ‘diagonal ley’ (perhaps a reference to ley lines, which some believe connect ancient sites of Britain and have magical powers). Diagon Alley is, of course, a magical street, hidden from the Muggle population, but running straight through a highly urbanised and well-populated area of London.

Other references are more subtle. For instance, the wizard prison Azkaban, which is meant to be inescapable but is subject to a number of breakouts, shares similarities with Alcatraz (a high security prison from which a number of inmates broke out in June 1962 – later the subject of a book by J. Campbell Bruce and a film directed by Don Siegel and starring Clint Eastwood).

 

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Species Names

Obviously, many of the creatures which Rowling refers to already exist in mythology (trolls, centaurs, merpeople, and so on). However, in the cases where Rowling is responsible for naming a species or subspecies for herself, she often uses clever little etymological references designed to make geeks like me smile!

Take, for instance, the term ‘Squib’. In the Harry Potter series, this refers to a child with no magical powers born to magical parents. This term originates from the colloquial phrase ‘damp squib’, which denotes a firework or explosive that has failed to go off due to a fault.

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The term ‘Muggle’ is also based on a colloquialism – ‘mug’, an English slang term for fool or idiot – as confirmed by the writer herself in an interview last year.

Another interesting term that Rowling uses is ‘Animagus’ – referring, of course, to a wizard who is able to transform at will into an animal. ‘Magus’ is another word for wizard, and so by combining this with the prefix ‘ani-‘ (with ‘anima’ being a clear reference to the change to animal form), she manages to give this process a name which aptly and succinctly describes it in its entirety.

Character Names

OK, in terms of character names, I could do this all day, as there are so many which are significant. I’ve just chosen a few of my favourites here though. The first and foremost name to be considered has to be Lord Voldemort’s. It’s important to note that, just like English, there are a number of homonyms in French (words that sound identical when pronounced but have different meanings depending on the context of use). ‘Vol’ is one of them. It can mean either ‘flight’ or ‘theft’, and so ‘vol de mort’ can be translated as either ‘flight from death’ or ‘theft of death’ – both of which are rather appropriate to describe his character’s main goal and motivation.

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Sirius Black also has a rather significant name. Sirius is a star linked with the star system Canus (canine, of course, being another way to describe the species of dogs like the one he transforms into). When he transforms into Padfoot, he is black, just like his name. The name Sirius can be translated from the Ancient Greek as “scorching” or “glowing”, referring to the fact that it is the brightest star in the sky. Sirius’ character is known for being popular, charismatic and talented (before the turn of events which lead to his incarceration).

Another interesting name is that assigned to Ludo Bagman, the head of the Ministry’s Department of Magical Games and Sports who cheats the Weasley twins out of their winnings for betting on the Quidditch World Cup. ‘Ludo’ is Latin, and can be used to describe ‘play’ and ‘sport’, but also refers to deluding or deceiving someone when used in certain contexts. This impression of deceptiveness is emphasised by the surname ‘Bagman’, as ‘bagman’ was the term used to describe early US mobsters who collected money from illegal gambling and for protection rackets. Interestingly, his name may be an abbreviated form of another Latin phrase – ‘victor ludorum’ – which means ‘winner of the games’ (as he was a highly successful Quidditch player).

I rather like Olympe Maxime’s name, too. ‘Olympe’ is invocative of both ‘Olympians’ (i.e. those who surpass all others in scope) and of Mt. Olympus (the largest mountain in Greece). This first part of her name could refer to both her physical size and her magical abilities (which Hagrid notes are impressive).  ‘Maxime’ is French for ‘principle’, and Madame Maxime is the ‘principal’ of Beauxbatons School. Combined, she is the ‘giant principal’ – which is a pretty apt description!

The examples go on and on. Arabella Figg, who is mentioned in passing as a harmless, cat-loving, “batty” old lady in the first four novels but reveals herself in Book 5 to be a Squib who has been surreptitiously keeping a watchful eye on Harry for years on Dumbledore’s behalf, also has a rather appropriate name. ‘Figg’ symbolises the fig leaf (that which keeps certain things secret and covered up – for instance, in the Bible, it is used to hide Adam and Eve’s nakedness).

Broderick Bode – member of the Ministry’s Department of Mysteries – does, too. A ‘bode’ is a warning or omen. His mental impairments do, indeed, serve as a warning of what Voldemort is trying to do in Department of Mysteries in Book 5.

Fawkes – Dumbledore’s loyal pet phoenix – could be named for Guy Fawkes, the English conspirator whose failed attempt to blow up Parliament on November 5th 1605 is still celebrated every year on Bonfire Night… bonfires and fireworks seem like a fitting celebration for a phoenix, don’t you think?

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Seriously, I could do this all day. I mean, have you noticed, for instance, that if you switch the first letters of Crabbe and Goyle, you get ‘Grabbe’ and ‘Coyle’ (‘grab’ and ‘coil’), which is exactly what a snake does to its prey. Both boys are in Slytherin House (represented by a serpent), and are in the grips of Lord Voldemort’s dark magic.

 

Objects

A number of objects in the Harry Potter series also have etymologically significant names. For example, the name ‘Horcrux’ is formulated from two French words: ‘hors’ (meaning ‘outside’) and ‘crux’ (meaning ‘cross’). As the cross could be understood to be a cultural symbol of death (e.g. Jesus’ crucifixion, and the multiple instances where decorative crosses adorn grave sites), the phrase ‘Horcrux’ could suggest being outside of, and beyond the reach of, death. As Jesus’ crucifixion is inevitably related to his resurrection, the cross can also be a symbol of life or rebirth, and so ‘Horcrux’ also could suggest life or regeneration outside of the physical body.  This, of course, is its purpose – to make it impossible for Voldemort to be killed, and to allow him to resurrect his physical body.

Another object with an intriguing name is the ‘Pensieve’. The word ‘pensive’ refers to a deep, serious, and often brooding, thought process, and is derived from the French word (same spelling), which signifies thought itself. This is significant, given that the purpose of this object is to allow the user to siphon off, and sort through, their own thoughts and memories. This process of sifting through thoughts is further reinforced in the etymology by the suffix ‘-sieve’, as a sieve is a device used for exactly this (albeit in cooking or such like, rather than magic).

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The potion ‘Veritaserum’ gets its name from the Latin ‘veritas’ (meaning ‘truth’), with ‘serum’ being another word for ‘potion’. Again, there are a multitude of examples, and I’m just covering a few here.

 

Spells

I could dedicate an entire post exclusively to looking the names of spells in Harry Potter, but again, I’ve highlighted just a few of my favourites here. Pretty much all of the spells in Rowling’s series have solid reasoning behind them, and so if you look closely, you’ll start to notice more and more just how apt the spell names are.

I think the most important one to discuss first off is ‘Avada Kedavra’. This is the spell to perform the killing curse – one of the three Unforgiveable Curses. There are arguably two translations which could be offered for this. The first, ‘abra kadabra’ (yes, that magical phrase all magicians say before making something disappear) is Arabic, and translates as ‘let the things be destroyed’. Another interesting similarity noted is to an Aramaic phrase, ‘abhadda kedhabhra’, which means ‘disappear like this word’. Both phrases essentially refer to destruction of some kind, and Rowling’s spell appears to be a combination of the two.

‘Patronus’ means ‘protector’ in Latin, so the spell ‘expecto patronum’ (to summon a Patronus, which is a protective being that can drive away Dementors) can be translated as ‘expect a protector’. Apparation – the magical ability to disappear and reappear at any location – is also taken from the Latin ‘appareo’ (meaning ‘to become visible’).

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‘Nox’ – the spell to extinguish light from the tip of the user’s wand – is Latin for ‘darkness’ for ‘night’. ‘Accio’ – the summoning charm – is also Latin, meaning ‘to call to or summon’. Expelliarmus – the disarming charm – is a combination of the Latin ‘expel’ (to force or drive out; eject forcefully) and ‘arma’ (weapons). Impedimenta – used for obstructing pursuers – is based on ‘impedio’ in Latin (meaning ‘to hinder’).

I’m probably missing hundreds of great ones – why not suggest  a few in the comments below?

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More to come in further posts in this series!

(Images: Warner Bros. Studios)

Harry Potter and the Semiotic Analysis: A Few Observations on the Harry Potter Series (Part One)

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HPSemiotic

Those who know me personally are already aware that I, like many, have been sucked well and truly into Harry Potter fandom (I have my sister to blame/thank for this). Although many people have disregarded it as “just a kid’s story”, like I once did, I’ve found that the more I read these books, the more intricate details I have noticed about them. From a critical perspective, it’s interesting to note how Rowling relies upon duality and opposition, and upon parallels and foreshadowing, to construct the narrative of her series. In this series of posts, I will briefly discuss a few of these, referring to relevant volumes from Rowling’s text where necessary. I’m not going to get all technical; I just thought this would be fun. I’ll dabble in semiotics and structural analysis, undertake a few explorations of certain themes, and unite a few fan theories along the way if I can.

So, in case it wasn’t already obvious, this post is full of ***spoilers*** (although I doubt there’s many people left in the world who don’t have a basic working knowledge of the plot by now!)


Part 1: The Three Gryffindors

The three main characters of Rowling’s story – Harry, Ron, and Hermione – all belong to Gryffindor House. However, throughout the course of the story, the narrative repeatedly draws attention to the fact that each of these characters actually possess all the characteristics of another Hogwarts House – that, in fact, they would have been sorted into Slytherin, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw respectively, had they not specifically asked the Sorting Hat to place them in Gryffindor House.

From the perspective of a semiotic analysis, this unity is significant, for it emulates the message conveyed throughout the series by the Sorting Hat all along – that evil can only be banished from Hogwarts school, and the wizarding world, if all four houses stand together as one.

Indeed, Harry would never have been able to overcome the numerous challenges he is presented with, and continue to remain alive long enough to defeat Voldemort, were it not for the assistance of Ron and Hermione, and for his own Slytherin-related abilities. Thus, the three characters’ interactions and reliance upon one another signify the relationship between the four Houses.

The union or separation of Ron and Hermione from Harry is sometimes mirrored by Harry’s relationship with secondary characters from the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw Houses – for instance, in the fourth book, members of Hufflepuff House treat Harry coldly and with disbelief during the same period that Ron is behaving this way – to reinforce this. So, too, are the characteristics which divide and diversify them reiterated throughout the series.

Harry

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Given that Harry is the protagonist and the majority of the text is narrated from his point of view, it is unsurprising that his connection to Slytherin House is the best documented.

Some of these are obvious – his ability to speak Parseltongue, for instance, is a clear signifier of his ‘Other’ identity – but as the Sorting Hat and Dumbledore both note, Harry’s personality also complements the traits prized by Slytherin House: he has resourcefulness, cleverness, determination, and a certain disregard for the rules.

Additionally, Slytherins care greatly about their reputation, and are more interventionist and more risk-oriented than Hufflepuffs or Ravenclaws. Despite their reputation for self-preservation, Slytherins are not necessarily the type to fall back and be cautious – they dislike showing weakness, and are prepared to fight to defend themselves, or attack an enemy, if necessary. Harry’s interactions with Draco throughout his early school years, and with the Death Eaters, Umbridge, Snape and Voldemort later on, all serve to demonstrate these qualities in Harry. He is not without darkness, either, particularly in the fifth book, although this is perhaps caused as much by adolescence as his Slytherin connection.

Hermione

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Hermione’s status as a would-be Ravenclaw is also outlined repeatedly. The Sorting Hat seriously considered putting her in Ravenclaw, and so it is implied that, like Harry, she asked to be in Gryffindor House (after asserting clearly on the train beforehand that Gryffindor House was the best House to be in).

Ravenclaws are defined by curiosity and the love of learning, and will want to seek as much knowledge as possible, whenever possible, by whatever means they can – even if that may involve some risk. This fits Hermione to a T.

She is repeatedly challenged by other students as to why she is not in Ravenclaw House, given that she is the most intelligent student in Harry’s year – Terry Boot’s observation that her Protean charm in the fifth year was of N.E.W.T. standard is one of many. The library is her favourite haunt and her first go-to place whenever information is needed, and she repeatedly seeks out additional reading in order to increase her knowledge. Her first individual action after agreeing to hunt Horcruxes with Harry was to see if she could summon any books from Dumbledore’s office. Books are very much her weapon in the fight against Voldemort.

She also shows an adeptness for solving logic puzzles – a trait which is underlined to be complementary to inclusion in Ravenclaw House by the questions asked by the brass knocker which admits students to Ravenclaw Tower – and is usually first one to figure things out (with the exception of when Harry’s insight into Voldemort’s mind gives him access to information Hermione doesn’t have). In the Triwizard maze under pressure from a sphinx, Harry asserts that logic is Hermione’s area of expertise.

Ron

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The argument that Ron emulates the qualities of Hufflepuff House is probably the least evidenced, although he does possess some of the qualities that define Hufflepuffs.

Hufflepuffs are defined by their love of family and comfort, and intensely dislike feeling unloved. Hufflepuffs are also the most likely to simply avoid conflict, even if it means a miscarriage of justice. They are humble, loyal to their friends, and decent people, above all.

Ron, of course, shows just how much he cherishes his family whenever they are in peril (which is repeatedly – Ginny, Arthur, Bill, George, and Fred are all in peril at different points in the series), and his love of good food and comfort are particularly exemplified in the seventh book of the series, when both are distinctly lacking.

His interactions with both the Mirror of Erised and the third Horcrux (the locket) demonstrate that his biggest fear is being overlooked and unloved, and although his boasting after his Quidditch performances cannot be deemed humble, his protests that his destruction of the locket Horcrux was not nearly as impressive as it sounds reveal a humbler side. This is seen again after he manages to open the Chamber of Secrets himself after realising the potential of using Basilisk fangs to destroy the remaining Horcruxes.

His loyalty to his friends enables him to use the Deluminator and return to Harry and Hermione in the seventh book. This same loyalty drives him into the Forbidden Forest to confront Aragog, despite his arachnophobia, in the third book. However, he often encourages Hermione not to pester Harry in order to avoid conflict, even if he thinks she is right – another Hufflepuff trait.

 

So, what is the significance of the fact that all three characters end up in Gryffindor House? Firstly, it is important to note that the clear opposition created between Gryffindor and Slytherin House, emulated by Harry’s conflict with Voldemort (more on that in Part 2), is shared by his fellow Gryffindors. Harry’s battle to destroy Horcruxes is shared by Ron and Hermione, and Neville is responsible for slaying Nagini. Dumbledore, too, was a Gryffindor, as was Sirius, Lupin, and many of the members of the DA and the Order of the Phoenix. All have made the brave and bold choice to be a Gryffindor, and all similarly have chosen to defy and resist Voldemort.

With this in mind, in terms of symbolism, the relevance of Godric Gryffindor’s sword – the magical artefact symbolising Gryffindor House, and the only House-related relic Voldemort never succeeded in obtaining and transforming – cannot therefore be understated. Whilst relics associated to the Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff and Slytherin Houses – the diadem, the cup, and the locket – all succumb to darkness by becoming Horcruxes, Godric Gryffindor’s sword continues to assist in the resistance to and destruction of Voldemort’s power.

In the Chamber of Secrets, the sword helps Harry to slay the Basilisk, and when in the Forest of Dean, Ron uses it to destroy the locket. Neville similarly uses it to kill Nagini, the final Horcrux. Given that the sword only imbibes that which makes it stronger – it takes in Basilisk venom, thus using the powers of Slytherin’s heir’s monster in order to defeat Slytherin’s heir – but is not tainted by it (much like Harry – again, more on that in Part 2), signifiers of Gryffindor House are synonymous with resistance, with the force of goodness, and with strength. The pureness of heart and imperviousness to evil needed to distinguish ‘a true Gryffindor’ is symbolised by its best-known artefact – a sword able to slay evil monsters, resist dirt and darkness, and jump to the aid of any brave soul in need of help.

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Ok, more to come on this in further posts – as ever, please feel free to share your thoughts below!

(Oh, and to finish, here’s a headcanon of me and my sister at Hogwarts… I warned you I was a Potter nerd 😛 )

  tumblr_nognizKiFX1u7kou3o1_500(An Original Commissioned Artwork by Rachel)

(Other Images: Warner Bros. Studios)

And the Award Goes To… (Ceremonies We Need To See!)

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Quillies

Sorry for the lack of posts – my health has been on the wrong side of average far more often than I would like lately…

I was just having a nose around online, and came across a jokey little post about why there should be a big, hyped-up awards ceremony for books, like there are for films and music (The Oscars, the Academy Awards, etc.). I mean, of course, there are prestigious awards such as the Booker, Orange shortlist, etc., but none which actually focus on the characters and storylines instead of the authors. Don’t get me wrong – there can never be enough credit for the authors! – but I found the idea of an awards ceremony for our favourite books, characters, etc. really quite charming.

So, I’ve posted each category they came up with, along with a couple of others I came up with myself. I’d be really interested to hear your own ideas – feel free to post on your own blog, or propose ideas in the comments section below. No restrictions – feel free to include graphic novels, foreign literature, whatever you like!


Best Male Character

Winston Smith, from 1984 – George Orwell

Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Albus Dumbledore, from the Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling

Harry Paget Flashman, from Flashman – George Macdonald Fraser

Achmed the Mad, from the Discworld series – Terry Prachett

Sherlock Holmes, from various novels – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Phillip Marlowe, from various novels – Raymond Chandler

 

Best Female Character

Major Motoko Kusanagi, from the Ghost in the Shell – by Masamune Shirow

Katniss Everdeen, from The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Arya Stark, from the Game of Thrones series – George R.R. Martin

Lyra Belacqua, from the His Dark Materials trilogy – Phillip Pullman

Lisbeth Salander, from the Millennium trilogy – Stieg Larsson

 

Best Antagonist and/or Villain

Patrick Bateman, from American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis

Randall Flagg, from various novels – Stephen King

The Cheshire Cat, from Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

Tom Ripley, from The Talented Mr Ripley – Patricia Highsmith

Hannibal Lecter, from various books – Thomas Harris

 

Most Impressive New/Future/Past World

Oryx and Crake – Margaret Atwood

EON – Greg Bear

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

1984 – George Orwell

 

Wittiest Dialogue

Catch-22 – Joseph Heller

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Vox – Nicholson Baker

‘They’re Made out of Meat’ – Terry Bisson

 


What other awards do you think should be included? What about:

Best Plot Twist?

Best Sequel?

Book Thrown Across the Room the Hardest?

Book Most Likely to be Locked in the Freezer for Being Too Scary?


 

Banned Books Week: Recommended Reads #8, #9 & #10 (Young Readers’ Edition)

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BANNED

As some of you might already be aware, this week (21st – 27th September 2014) is Banned Books Week. Held annually (usually in the last week of September), this event celebrates our freedom to read and to express ideas, even those books which are considered by some to be unorthodox, offensive and/or unpopular.

To mark this occasion, I thought it would be appropriate to spend some time this week taking a look at a few of the most important, influential, beautiful, and controversial books that, at some point in history, have been banned. My intent here is not necessarily to endorse these books (although, there are some on this list that I believe everyone should read at some point in their lives), but to simply celebrate the fact that we now live in a world where books no longer need to be burned. After all, as Mary Jo Godwin once said, “a truly great library contains something in it to offend everyone”.

All of the banned books I have considered so far have really been aimed at an adult-only audience, so I thought I would dedicate this post to looking at content for all the younger readers out there. I know what you’re thinking – who would ban a kid’s book?! The sad truth is that numerous children’s titles feature on the Banned Books list, though the justification for this in many cases is poor.

This is actually something I feel quite strongly about. As a child, I was an avid reader, and was always looking outside my comfort zone for new material – aged 11, I fought (with the assistance of my mother) for the right to own an adult library card, and thus to read whatever I liked, instead of being limited by what the school thought was ‘age appropriate’. I found the idea that books were ‘unsuitable’ for my young, malleable mind illogical and, frankly, quite insulting!

I think adolescence is the perfect time for exploration and new discoveries, as it offers youngsters the opportunity to see the world from different perspectives… that doesn’t mean that they’re going to freak out if they read something challenging, or difficult, or sad. I believe that by limiting the reading material, you are effectively limiting the child.

OK, OK, rant over… I’ll pop my soapbox away! Let’s move on to my eighth, ninth and tenth considerations of the week so far…


Book #8: The Lorax, by Dr Seuss

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The Lorax
is a whimsical little story about a woodland creature, named the Lorax, who lives among the trees. The Once-ler, another little creature in the forest, cuts down trees and uses them for multiple uses. The Lorax quickly realises that the Once-ler is killing the forest, and so persuades him to stop cutting down trees. The End. Sounds like a cutesy, sweet little story with a happy ending, right? So, why oh why would anyone want to ban it?

Well, California didn’t agree. As home of the one of the largest logging industries in the world, certain Californians did not take kindly to The Lorax portraying the foresting industry in an arguably negative way. They felt that this book could potentially persuade children that the logging industry was a bad thing. In the face of increasing worries regarding climate change and the future of our great planet, I would argue that perhaps the children should see logging as a bad thing. After all, until you see a problem, you’re not likely to start thinking about a solution, are you? The sooner we realise that the rate that we are cutting down trees is not sustainable – I know that more trees are planted to compensate for those cut down, but these take too long to grow to full size for the damage done to truly be offset – the sooner we are likely to think of another way of doing things; a better way. If the children are our future, then shouldn’t we let the harsh reality that Earth’s days are numbered start to sink in now?

If you’re not familiar with Dr Seuss, they’re wonderful for younger children. I still keep a book of tales on my shelf, and look back on them with love.


Book #9
(although, technically, this is a series encompassing 7 books…
but let’s not get fussy!):
The Harry Potter Series, by J.K. Rowling

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Yes, I’m serious – Harry Potter, the highest selling children’s books series of all time, was banned throughout America. Why? Well, amongst other reasons, a number of religious groups claimed that the fantasy series about young wizards promoted occultism and paganism, thereby undermining Christian values.

For me, this makes no sense at all. Yes, it’s a fantasy book, and so it contains wizards, dragons, and magic. It also contains one of the strongest examples in recent times of a story where love conquers evil, friendship endures through tragedy, and the good guy wins in the end. We haven’t had a story of such archetypal strength, arguably, since Star Wars! There is a very good reason why adults love these books just as much as the children do.

In literary circles, Rowling is scorned – something which, I’m now ashamed to admit, kept me from reading these books initially (thinking that they were “just for kids”) – and looked down on for her frequent mentioning of candles, stone walls, and stairs, as if somehow this is not ‘creative’ enough. Well – Hogwarts is a castle, what did you expect? Is the language of magic not intriguing (the spells and incantations, the ingredients, the curses, the fairy tales)? Are you not fascinated by the world that she has created; one that could exist beneath the very noses of Muggles like us? I challenge anyone to read these books and not have their inner child cry out to visit Diagon Alley, eat a Chocolate Frog, or ride on a Nimbus 2000.

I actually think (now that I’ve put my intellectual snobbery aside) that the books are actually rather well-written – the storyline is ripe with twists and turns that constantly keep you guessing, you fall in love with the characters right from the start, and there’s not a single loose end left over when you reach the final page. Not many authors can claim such workmanship. The idea that anyone would want to ban these books makes me sad.

If you’ve never read it – whether you’re 4, 14, or 40 – I would thoroughly recommend that you give it a chance. That’s all I ask. You won’t regret it (although, you might need a box of tissues handy, just in case).


Book #10: Winnie the Pooh, by A.A. Milne

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Winnie the Pooh is another childhood favourite: I look back on Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, Owl, Kanga and Roo as old playmates. I can’t quite imagine my childhood without them. However, this classic has been banned in a variety of countries at different points throughout history, including Russia, China, Turkey, and even England and the United States.

So, why would anyone want to ban such a seemingly harmless and charming story about a group of talking animals? Well, in some cases, the very fact that they were talking animals was grounds for an issue – creating such a thing was considered an ‘insult to God’. Piglet came under fire from certain Muslim groups, who claimed that the character was offensive to them (as Piglet is, of course, a pig – an animal considered unclean by the Muslim faith). In the case of the banning in Russia, it occurred because the book had ‘alleged Nazi ties’ (in truth, the ban was based on a single person who was found to own a picture of a swastika-adorned Pooh… apparently, this one case was evidence enough for Russia that Winnie the Pooh was pro-Nazi, and therefore anti-Russia).

In short, all of the bans are pretty absurd. This book teaches the importance of kindness to others, tolerance of those who are different to you, and sticking together through tough times. In my eyes, that’s exactly what children should be being taught. If you’re unfamiliar with Pooh and the gang, I would suggest getting acquainted, especially if you have little ones around – they’ll love both the drawings and the stories!

(Images: Amazon)


Want more information on Banned Books Week 2014?
Visit: http://www.ala.org/bbooks/banned