What do protests about Harry Potter books teach us?


File 20170623 7817 1mo0y8j
What justifies keeping some books out of the hands of young readers?
Sodanie Chea, CC BY

Trisha Tucker, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

On Monday, June 26, 2017, Harry James Potter – the world’s most famous wizard – will celebrate his 20th birthday. His many fans will likely mark the occasion by rereading a favorite Harry Potter novel or rewatching one of the blockbuster films. Some may even raise a butterbeer toast in Harry’s honor at one of three Harry Potter-themed amusement parks.

But not everyone will be celebrating Harry’s big day. In fact, a vocal group of Christians – usually identified as “Bible-believing” or fundamentalist Christians – has been resistant to Harry’s charms from the start. Members of this community, who believe the Bible to be literal truth, campaigned vigorously to keep J.K. Rowling’s best-selling novels out of classrooms and libraries. They even staged public book burnings across the country, at which children and parents were invited to cast Rowling’s books into the flames. These fiery spectacles garnered widespread media coverage, sparking reactions ranging from bemusement to outrage.

Harry Potter turns 20 on June 26.
Lesley Choa, CC BY-NC-ND

What could justify the use of such drastic measures to keep these books out of the hands of young readers?

The different views on Harry Potter

Book burnings may be relatively rare in modern America, but efforts to protect young readers from “dangerous” texts are not. Such texts, and the efforts to limit their readership, are the subject of a class I teach at the University of Southern California.

In this class, students survey a collection of books that have been challenged on moral, political and religious grounds. These include classics such as “1984” and “To Kill a Mockingbird,” as well as newer texts like “Persepolis” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” The point is not to determine which challenges are “good” and which are “bad.” Instead, we seek to understand how differing beliefs about reading and subjectivity make certain texts seem dangerous and others seem safe to particular populations of readers.

Harry Potter is one of the first books we discuss.

Most readers of Rowling’s novel – including many Christian readers – interpret the characters’ tutelage in spells and potions as harmless fantasy, or as metaphors for the development of wisdom and knowledge. Similarly, they read incidents in which Harry and his friends disobey adults or make questionable choices as opportunities for characters and readers alike to learn important lessons and begin to develop their own moral and ethical codes.

What makes some literary texts appear ‘dangerous?’
kayepants, CC BY-NC-SA

For some fundamentalist Christians, however, Harry’s magical exploits pose an active danger. According to them, Hogwarts teaches the kinds of witchcraft explicitly condemned as punishable by death and damnation in the biblical books of Deuteronomy and Exodus. They believe the books must be banned – even burned – because their positive portrayal of magic is likely to attract unsuspecting children to real-world witchcraft.

Similarly, they think that when Harry disobeys his cruel Muggle guardians or flouts Dumbledore’s rules to save his friends, he actively encourages child readers to engage in lying and disobedience, which are explicitly forbidden by the Bible. As Evangelical writer Richard Abanes puts it,

“The morals and ethics in Rowling’s fantasy tales are at best unclear, and at worst, patently unbiblical.”

Making assumptions

Why don’t Bible-believing Christians trust young readers to discern the difference between fantasy and reality? And why don’t they think children can learn positive lessons from Harry’s adventures – like the importance of standing up to injustice?

According to scholar Christine Jenkins, people who try to censor texts often hold a set of false assumptions about how reading works.

One of those assumptions is that particular literary content (like positive portrayals of witchcraft) will invariably produce particular effects (more witches in real life). Another is that reactions to a particular text are likely to be consistent across readers. In other words, if one reader finds a passage scary, funny or offensive, the assumption is that other readers invariably will do so as well.

As Jenkins points out, however, research has shown that readers’ responses are highly variable and contextual. In fact, psychologists Amie Senland and Elizabeth Vozzola have demonstrated this about readers of Harry Potter.

Readers’ responses can vary widely.
Seamus McCauley, CC BY

In their study comparing the perceptions of fundamentalist and liberal Christian readers of Harry Potter, Senland and Vozzola reveal that different reading responses are possible in even relatively homogeneous groups. On the one hand, despite adults’ fears to the contrary, few children in either group believed that the magic practiced in Harry Potter could be replicated in real life. On the other, the children disagreed about a number of things, including whether or not Dumbledore’s bending of the rules for Harry made Dumbledore harder to respect.

Senland and Vozzola’s study joins a body of scholarship that indicates that children perform complex negotiations as they read. Children’s reading experiences are informed by both their unique personal histories and their cultural contexts.

In other words, there’s no “normal” way to read Harry Potter – or any other book, for that matter.

Distrusting child readers

Fundamentalist Christians aren’t the only group who have trouble trusting the capabilities of child readers.

Take the case of “To Kill a Mockingbird.”

For decades, parents have argued that Harper Lee’s novel poses a danger to young readers, and have sought to remove it from classrooms for this reason. Some parents worry that the novel’s vulgar language and sexual content will corrupt children’s morals, while others fear that the novel’s marginalization of black characters will damage the self-image of black readers.

Despite their different ideological orientations, I believe that both of these groups of protesters – like the fundamentalists who attempt to censor Harry Potter – are driven by surprisingly similar misapprehensions about reading.

In all of these cases, the protesters presume that being exposed to a phenomenon in literature (whether witchcraft, foul language or racism) naturally leads to a reproduction of that phenomenon in life. They also believe that their individual experience of a text is correct and applicable to disparate readers.

The ConversationThese cases of attempted censorship show a profound distrust of child readers and their imaginations. And they ignore evidence that child readers are far more sophisticated than adults tend to credit them for.

Trisha Tucker, Assistant Professor of Writing, University of Southern California – Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Advertisements

Cultural appropriation and the whiteness of book publishing



File 20170608 32339 143n2pi

(Flickr/Tommy Ellis), CC BY-NC

Clayton Childress, University of Toronto

Last month, cultural appropriation became a big issue in the Canadian publishing and media world after the trade association magazine, Write published a special issue featuring work by Indigenous authors. The editor of the magazine, Hal Niedzviecki, wrote a glib editorial in defence of cultural appropriation.

Niedzviecki resigned after Canadian media executives irreverently pledged donations toward a “Cultural Appropriation Prize” on late-night Twitter in support of his editorial. The main thrust of the offending Twitter conversation seemed to be that white media elites and writers felt they were under threat of being censored.

White media elites felt they were under threat of being censored

The argument was framed in the high-minded rhetoric of freedom and creative license, but underneath that thin veneer, it relied on a belief in white victimization that you’d expect from fringe white nationalists rather than the top one per cent of Canadian mainstream media.

As a scholar of the book publishing industry, I can say with empirical authority that the notion of white people being under threat in publishing crumbles in the face of evidence. As I show in my new book, Under the Cover: The Creation, Production and Reception of a Novel, book publishing is the same as it ever was: it is white-dominated and it’s easier for white people to gain entry to it. Although my research on book publishing is based in the United States, as the sociologist Sarah M. Corse has shown, the U.S. and Canadian book publishing industries are deeply intertwined, and more often than not are actually the same industry.

If you want to throw an all-white party, invite book publishers

To understand the real barriers to book publishing, the most important places to look are the points of entry themselves. In publishing, those access points are guarded by literary agents and acquisition editors. They are the gatekeepers, and across the U.S., the gatekeepers of publishing are 95 per cent white. If those gatekeepers had their own state, it would be the whitest state in the U.S. If they had their own country, it would be the whitest country in the world. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you wanted to throw a party with only white people in attendance, you’d invite veterinarians, farmers, mining machine operators and book publishers.

While it is hypothetically possible that those white gatekeepers could privilege racialized authors over white ones, the reverse is actually true. Regardless of their race, about 38 per cent of the 1,200 literary agents in the United States I’ve studied show an equal interest in representing “general” fiction. But when that fiction covers topics of ethnic and multicultural diversity, white agents run for the hills, with only 15 per cent willing to even take a look.

Racialized authors work harder and submit more widely

Simply put, racialized authors — who are overwhelmingly the ones writing ethnic or multicultural fiction – are the authors who face longer odds of getting published. And like people of colour across different occupations, research shows these authors respond by working harder and submitting more widely, putting more effort and sweat equity into their searches than their white counterparts. This is done in an effort to balance out the discrimination they know they will face.

Yet even in my interviews with racialized authors who could secure publishing contracts, they described a process in which their novels were ping-ponged back and forth between being “too racialized” at first, and then not racialized enough.

Racialized authors are often asked to dumb down their stories

As a Black, southern literary writer explained to me, he had to “dumb down” his manuscript populated by Black southern characters because his editor didn’t believe “people talk that way” – the cultural specificity and accuracy of his novel was whitewashed out.

In the marketing and promotion stage, however, even after having their novels culturally denuded, racialized authors found themselves ghettoized and pigeon-holed again. One African-American novelist told me the painful story of her fears that her work of literary fiction would be pushed back into the “African American interests” section of bookstores rather than being shelved with the rest of the literary fiction.

A widely celebrated Chinese American literary novelist sardonically told a racially diverse room of her fans about a conversation with her publisher: “I told them: ‘Just promise me you won’t put any lanterns or fireworks on the cover because these are stories about people. Yes, they happen to be Chinese, but they’re stories about people.’ So as you’d expect, it has goldfish on it. The only thing I left them.”

Don’t forget these are the success stories. These are the racialized authors who make it.

The ConversationRegardless of the statistically and experientially indefensible claims made by Cultural Appropriation Prize supporters, the real “race problem” in book publishing is the same as it is all over the world: white people are blessed with large and small advantages that they may not even understand. Racialized people are penalized with large and small disadvantages that they have no choice but to understand. If you don’t know where to stand on the cultural appropriation debate, just look at the numbers.

Clayton Childress, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Toronto

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Women writers’ work is getting lost in translation



File 20170619 12412 1hddlaf

Shutterstock

Dr Olga Castro, Aston University

Britain now has a record number of female MPs, more women are on company boards, and work is being done to encourage more women to take up science.

Yet women still aren’t equal to men. And if we think in terms of intersectional feminism – the connections between different multi-layered facets of oppression such as gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ethnicity, ability or age – the invisibility of some groups of women is even more striking.

Some may well say that this inequality is to be more expected in traditional male domains, and that in areas like arts and culture, women are actually far more visible than men. For example, they might argue that a glance at what is available in libraries or bookshops shows that more women writers are being published today, both in the UK and worldwide.

Indeed, in 2015, the BBC surveyed international critics to find the greatest British novels. Their results showed women authors accounted for half of the top 20 titles chosen. However, the same piece also emphasised how these results “stand in stark contrast to most such polls over the past decade”.

Look further into the number of reviews of women writers’ work published in literary magazines, and into the amount of writing prizes awarded to women, however, and a dramatic gender imbalance emerges.

Different gender-specific initiatives attempt to address this problem, such as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and organisations like VIDA, working to highlight the gender imbalance in publishing. But there’s still a great wealth of literature out there that is still consistently being overlooked: that of non-English women writers.

Missing translations

So what’s the problem? To begin with, very few books are being translated into English from other languages. In Britain, translated literature makes up only 3.5% of the market, but 7% of book sales.

To challenge this, ongoing work carried about by English PEN – more specifically PEN Translate, a network promoting translations into English of outstanding works in foreign languages – and other organisations such as Literary across Frontiers – a platform for literary exchange, translation and policy debate based in Wales, aimed at developing intercultural dialogue through translation – is undoubtedly crucial. However, still more must be done.

Readers are missing out on a valuable source of literature.
Y Photo Media/Shutterstock

The thing is, within that small number of translated works, women writer’s books are consistently undervalued. But women read and women write. Even if it has been traditionally difficult for women writers to have their works published – with many resorting to male pen names to combat sexism – and even if the current publishing market still shows a clear gender bias, globally more fiction than ever before is being authored by women.

Yet, even those women authors who make the cut and become renowned writers in their home countries are not being translated for an English-speaking audience. There is a clear tendency to translate fewer women authors than men authors. Generalist publishers have been found to have obvious gender-biased attitudes when selecting titles for translation, and the work of women writers is far less often chosen for inclusion in translation anthologies, as shown in recent examples from Galician literature.

The tendency is even worse if we think about outstanding women authors from postcolonial, peripheral and non-hegemonic contexts. There are so many examples of Polish, Italian, Latin American, Czech, Arab, Balkan and Japanese women writers that aren’t translated into English.

Portuguese is one of the most widely spoken languages worldwide and yet there are barely any translations of women authored-literature into English. And that accounts for not only those coming from Portugal or Brazil, but also Angola, Cape Verde, Mozambique, Guinea Bissau or East Timor.

The fact that these women are being silenced in translation is not something trivial: in the age of transnational feminism, in which we want to promote truly cross-cultural understandings, we should be facilitating dialogues among women across the globe. And translation can certainly help us do that.

In an ideal world, women’s presence in literature and translation should not have to be ensured by gender-specific prizes, anthologies and supplements. Instead, their work should be placed in generalist and genderless ways alongside men’s. But in our still patriarchal world – in which, for example, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been awarded twice out of 21 times to women writers – corrective and positive action measures are indeed very much a necessity.

Supporting the translation of female writers, literary network The English Pen has recently announced a record number of women authors and translators won its annual translation awards. More than half of the 18 award winners were women, with books translated from 14 languages and 16 countries among those honoured. This is indeed a move in the right direction. As was this year’s Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, launched on International Women’s Day to promote foreign writers in English translation.

The ConversationThe future of feminism is in the transnational, and transnational links can only be made through translation. Women writers the world over should be given a voice, no matter what language they speak and what cultural background they come from. Surely, we all can benefit from this: to carry on denying British readers access to great literature simply because it is authored by women is beyond belief.

Dr Olga Castro, Lecturer in Translation Studies, Aston University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Twenty years on from the first book, Harry Potter continues to cast a spell on readers



File 20170623 12617 1gw4m3z
The boy who lived lives on.
shutterstock

Eleanor Spencer-Regan, Durham University

A couple of weeks ago while at Durham’s Pride Parade, my attention was caught by a teenager carrying a placard which read:

If Harry Potter taught us anything it’s that no one deserves to live in a closet.

A quick Google search revealed that this powerful adage – originally a poster created by The Youth Project, an LGBT charity in Nova Scotia, Canada, and later retweeted by JK Rowling – has been doing the rounds online for a number of years.

And it’s not the only Harry Potter-related slogan to make an appearance at recent marches or protest events. At the worldwide Women’s Marches, which took place in January, there were numerous “Dumbledore’s Army” and “Hermione wouldn’t stand for this!” placards on show.

What these placards remind us of is that two decades on from the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, JK Rowling’s novels are about so much more than just witchcraft and wizardry. For many young people, Harry Potter is a familiar, even comforting, frame of reference that can help them to process and understand their experiences. And this is particularly the case in the current context of increasing division and inequality in both the US and Britain.

Revisiting first impressions

Though Hogwarts is clearly a fantastic and fictional setting, the characters experience real life trials and traumas – bereavement, loneliness, persecution, jealousy, unrequited love, guilt, and bullying, to name but a few.

There are also the “stock” characters common to everyone’s school days – the class bully and his goons, the “insufferable know-it-all”, the school jokers, and the sadistic teacher.

Part of the appeal and achievement of the series, though, is the way these characters develop in complexity as Rowling’s readers grow and mature. So that assumptions made about characters upon first reading are challenged and tested by the events and revelations of the later books.

All aboard!
Shutterstock

In the first novel, for example, Dumbledore and Snape form the pairing of “good teacher vs bad teacher”. Both are essentially unknowable to the characters and to the reader, who cannot yet see beyond Dumbledore as the all-knowing, twinkly-eyed, grandfatherly character and Snape as the black-eyed, evil-tempered “malevolent bat”.

But as the series progresses, these two characters move through mirror image character arcs. The “good” or even “perfect” Dumbledore is humanised and made relatable as we discover he is racked with guilt and self-blame about his early association with the fearsome dark wizard, Grindelwald and his part in the death of his sister, Ariana.

“Bad” Snape, on the other hand, is rehabilitated and made sympathetic through the back story of his unrequited love for Lily Potter – Harry’s mother – his anguish at her death, and his lifelong mission to atone for the sins of his youth. They are no longer stock heroes or villains but believable characters with complex motivations.

In this way, there is something powerful about literature that compels us to examine and revise our first impressions, assumptions, and opinions. It teaches us to be willing and able to do this in real life, too.

Life lessons from Hogwarts

Before the likes of Harry Potter, 18th and 19th-century children’s literature was intended as instruction: the “good” were rewarded and the “bad” were punished – with “bad” behaviour linked to “bad” character and vice versa.

In contrast, a series like Harry Potter helps today’s young readers to appreciate that the world, and the people in it, are not easy to understand or “sort” in the Hogwartian sense. Gryffindors may be cowardly – think Peter Pettigrew – and Slytherins may be motivated by love rather than by ambition, for example when Narcissa Malfoy chooses to lie to Lord Voldemort about Harry being dead in the seventh novel.

True magic never dies.
Shutterstock

A recent study from the University of Cambridge supports the idea that reading and literature can help children to learn about the world and the people around them. It found that:

Reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind. That is, [an] understanding of how other people feel and think.

Or as Hermione would put it, reading fiction helps you not to have “the emotional range of a teaspoon”. And it is this emotional range and empathy, found in books such as Harry Potter, which can help children to navigate the complex and magical world we all share.

An inexhaustible source of magic

But of course, though the world of Hogwarts and Diagon Alley may offer us an escape from our “muggle” existence, theirs is a world as marred by inequality, oppression, and danger as our own.

And in this way, the books create a space where both children and adults can explore and process pressing questions of morality, responsibility, conflict, and trauma at a safe distance.

The ConversationJK Rowling has said that while she doesn’t believe in the “magic of waving a wand and making things happen”, she does believe in “the magic of imagination and the magic of love”. Let’s add to that another kind of magic that we can all believe in and which continues to be very much part of our lives – and that is the inexhaustible magic of the world of Harry Potter.

Eleanor Spencer-Regan, Vice-Principal and Senior Tutor of St Chad’s College, Durham University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

As Harry Potter turns 20, let’s focus on reading pleasure rather than literary merit


File 20170619 22075 zx0ld5
Platform 9 and ¾, the portal to Harry Potter’s magical world, at Kings Cross in London.
Harry Potter image from http://www.shutterstock.com

Di Dickenson, Western Sydney University

It’s 20 years on June 26 since the publication of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the first in the seven-book series. The Philosopher’s Stone has sold more than 450 million copies and been translated into 79 languages; the series has inspired a movie franchise, a dedicated fan website, and spinoff stories.


Goodreads

I recall the long periods of frustration and excited anticipation as my son and I waited for each new instalment of the series. This experience of waiting is one we share with other fans who read it progressively across the ten years between the publication of the first and last Potter novel. It is not an experience contemporary readers can recreate.

The Harry Potter series has been celebrated for encouraging children to read, condemned as a commercial rather than a literary success and had its status as literature challenged. Rowling’s writing was described as “basic”, “awkward”, “clumsy” and “flat”. A Guardian article in 2007, just prior to the release of the final book in the series, was particularly scathing, calling her style “toxic”.

My own focus is on the pleasure of reading. I’m more interested in the enjoyment children experience reading Harry Potter, including the appeal of the stories. What was it about the story that engaged so many?

Before the books were a commercial success and highly marketed, children learnt about them from their peers. A community of Harry Potter readers and fans developed and grew as it became a commercial success. Like other fans, children gained cultural capital from the depth of their knowledge of the series.

My own son, on the autism spectrum, adored Harry Potter. He had me read each book in the series in order again (and again) while we waited for the next book to be released. And once we finished the new book, we would start the series again from the beginning. I knew those early books really well.

‘Toxic’ writing?

Assessing the series’ literary merit is not straightforward. In the context of concern about falling literacy rates, the Harry Potter series was initially widely celebrated for encouraging children – especially boys – to read. The books, particularly the early ones, won numerous awards and honours, including the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize three years in a row, and were shortlisted for the prestigious Carnegie Medal in 1998.

The seven books of the Harry Potter series, released from 1997 to 2007.
Alan Edwardes/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

Criticism of the literary merit of the books, both scholarly and popular, appeared to coincide with the growing commercial and popular success of the series. Rowling was criticised for overuse of capital letters and exclamation marks, her use of speech or dialogue tags (which identify who is speaking) and her use of adverbs to provide specific information (for example, “said the boy miserably”).

The criticism was particularly prolific around the UK’s first conference on Harry Potter held at the prestigious University of St Andrews, Scotland in 2012. The focus of commentary seemed to be on the conference’s positioning of Harry Potter as a work of “literature” worthy of scholarly attention. As one article said of J.K. Rowling, she “may be a great storyteller, but she’s no Shakespeare”.

Even the most scathing of reviews of Rowling’s writing generally compliment her storytelling ability. This is often used to account for the popularity of the series, particularly with children. However, this has then been presented as further proof of Rowling’s failings as an author. It is as though the capacity to tell a compelling story can be completely divorced from the way a story is told.

Daniel Radcliffe in his first outing as Harry Potter in the Philosopher’s Stone, 2001.
Warner Brothers

Writing for kids

The assessment of the literary merits of a text is highly subjective. Children’s literature in particular may fare badly when assessed using adult measures of quality and according to adult tastes. Many children’s books, including picture books, pop-up books, flap books and multimedia texts are not amenable to conventional forms of literary analysis.

Books for younger children may seem simple and conventional when judged against adult standards. The use of speech tags in younger children’s books, for example, is frequently used to clarify who is talking for less experienced readers. The literary value of a children’s book is often closely tied to adults’ perception of a book’s educational value rather than the pleasure children may gain from reading or engaging with the book. For example, Rowling’s writing was criticised for not “stretching children” or teaching children “anything new about words”.

Many of the criticisms of Rowling’s writing are similar to those levelled at another popular children’s author, Enid Blyton. Like Rowling, Blyton’s writing has described by one commentator as “poison” for its “limited vocabulary”, “colourless” and “undemanding language”. Although children are overwhelmingly encouraged to read, it would appear that many adults view with suspicion books that are too popular with children.

There have been many defences of the literary merits of Harry Potter which extend beyond mere analysis of Rowling’s prose. The sheer volume of scholarly work that has been produced on the series and continues to be produced, even ten years after publication of the final book, attests to the richness and depth of the series.

The ConversationA focus on children’s reading pleasure rather than on literary merit shifts the focus of research to a different set of questions. I will not pretend to know why Harry Potter appealed so strongly to my son but I suspect its familiarity, predictability and repetition were factors. These qualities are unlikely to score high by adult standards of literary merit but are a feature of children’s series fiction.

Di Dickenson, Director of Academic Program BA, School of Humanities and Communication Arts, Western Sydney University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Not My Review: Pastoral Preaching – Building a People for God, by Conrad Mbewe


The link below is to a book review of ‘Pastoral Preaching – Building a People for God,’ by Conrad Mbewe.

For more visit:
https://www.9marks.org/review/book-review-pastoral-preaching-by-conrad-mbewe/

When to Dump Books?


The question of when to get rid of a book (or books) is one that often causes a bibliophile many a heart palpitation. It may even seem bad form to even contemplate the question, let alone ask it in a blog (especially when the person doing the asking is a fellow bibliophile.

The link below is to an article that takes a look at this very question, with some worthwhile advice.

For more visit:
http://bookriot.com/2017/06/27/when-to-get-rid-of-books/