The Magic of Harry Potter–4/11

For Tuesday’s class, we started off with a presentation about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The presenters talked about the first book and its movie adaptation, as well as the rest of the books, movies, and other spinoffs associated with “the boy who lived”. Since the seven original books have been published, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened in Orlando, Florida, and is set to open a second location in California very soon. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, a play written by JK Rowling about Harry’s children after the end of the seventh book, has been adapted for stage in London and is planning on touring around the world. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which was first written as a one of the three books in Harry’s collection of Hogwarts library books, has been adapted as a movie which serves as a sort of prequel for what the wizarding world was like before the rise of Voldemort; there are several planned sequels for it in the future. Everyone in class has at least heard of or knows about Harry Potter, and millions of people around the world at least know about Harry Potter, even if they haven’t read the books or seen the movies. It’s incredible to see what a huge impact one book series has made on pop culture. I believe this is largely due to the themes that are represented throughout the series and the positive messages that they convey.

Some of the most important themes from the book we discussed were friendship, acceptance, and bravery. Several people in class chose the word “friendship” as the main theme, which I also agree with. I think the main reason why Harry is able to accomplish anything in the first book, as well as the rest of the series, is because he has Ron and Hermione to help him out. Their friendship helps drive the plot and actions of the characters; without Ron and Hermione, I don’t know if Harry would be able to accomplish as much or make it as far as he did later on in the series. I also think friendship goes hand in hand with the theme of “love”. Without James and Lily’s love for Harry, he would not have survived Voldemort’s attack; without Snape’s love for Lily, he may not have helped or protected Harry to the extent that he actually does; and without the love from Sirius, the Weasleys, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and the countless other adults in Harry’s life, his quest to stop Voldemort would have been a lot harder.

We also talked about the differences between the original British title, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, and the American title, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and the different connotations between “philosopher” and “sorcerer”. I’d never really thought in much detail as to why the publishers decided to change the title for American readers. I thought it was possibly because Americans are more used to hearing “sorcerer” and associating it with magic and witchcraft, and wouldn’t really understand what a philosopher has to do with a book about young children using magic on a daily basis. However, we talked about the different meanings that these two words carry. A “philosopher” is someone who wants to know the answer to a questions and therefore goes out in the world to find that answer, whereas a sorcerer would make their own answer rather than finding one. I think both of these titles would be appropriate for the book, as we can see that during the book, Harry, Ron, and Hermione all use magic to escape the antagonists, but they are all clever enough to figure out what they have to do themselves; before they can use the magic, they much first figure out the best plan of action.

We also had a short conversations about how appropriate Harry Potter is for children. There were a few people in class, even one of the presenters, who had not been allowed to read or watch the Harry Potter series as children, due to parental concern about the prominent role of witchcraft. I personally see nothing wrong with the Harry Potter books or movies. As we discussed in class, the main themes of the story include friendship, love, bravery, acceptance, and that goodness should always triumph over evil, among others. I think these themes are critical for young children, and should be taught at a young age so that children can grow to be king and accepting of everyone they come across. I do understand why some parents wouldn’t want their children to read the books, however. Yes, they do participate in witchcraft and do use magic on a daily basis. This may make some children think that they too should be involved in such things, which can lead to them trying to use witchcraft in a negative way to bring suffering or pain to others. However, the only characters abusing their magical abilities are the “bad” characters, antagonists such as Voldemort and Quirrel, and the three main characters, as well as their friends, classmates, and the adults in their lives, constantly talk about how terrible “he who must not be named” and his followers are, and that they should be destroyed. The use of magic in this series is not evil or demonic, like many people think; the use of magic is aimed at defeating the “bad guys” and bringing peace and love to the world. I think this series doesn’t pose any serious threat to young children.

Adaptations of “Cinderella” throughout time (1/24)

Class on Tuesday started out with a presentation on the classic Disney movie, “Cinderella”, in which the presenters compared the animated film to one of the versions of the story we read for class, “Donkeyskin”. The two versions share a few similarities—the death of the mother, the presence of a fairy godmother, misfortunes, and a “happily ever after”. However, it has more differences than similarities, especially when it comes to the parental figures. In the movie, both of Cinderella’s parents have died, and she is in the care of her wicked stepmother, and lives with her stepsisters; the story of “Donkeyskin” features Cinderella’s father as her guardian, who has an inappropriate infatuation with his own daughter. It’s interesting seeing how Disney was able to create a children’s movie out of a story that, traditionally, features so many misfortunes and erotic undertones into one of the most well-known and liked movies of all time.

 

We also talked about the idea of parody and pastiche in children’s literature, and how this relates to the story of the Three Little Pigs we read for Thursday’s class. We looked at how the classic bedtime story “Goodnight Moon” was transformed into “Goodnight Bush”, in which the authors adapted the original story with President George W. Bush. Obviously, this book is not meant for children. A lot of the jokes or innuendos the book makes are not appropriate for children, but rather for adults who have read “Goodnight Moon” themselves or to their children. From the brief part of the book we looked at, it is obviously a parody of Bush’s presidency, but also political satire. It’s interesting to see how some authors can take a children’s book and turn it into something so different from the original, about a very adult theme.

 

This version has an element of fun and does something comical to the original that a new audience can understand; Linda Hutchean is a proponent of this definition. However, Frederic Jameson thinks that parody can be further split up with pastiche, which is like parody but without the fun, comical aspect to what is being adapted. Whereas parody makes use of comedy, pastiche simply adapts something to bring certain issues to light. For example, we saw parody in Roald Dahl’s version of the Three Little Pigs, which has a drastically different ending to it than the traditional version. Traditionally, the wolf in the story destroys the first two houses, and depending on the version, will destroy the third house, or will instead learn a lesson about not destroying homes. That is the case in Dahl’s version, until we get to the third house; the pig in the stone house calls on Little Red Riding Hood to help save him and his home. She does just that, by whipping out a gun and shooting the wolf—but also shoots the pig in the process, to bring forth the idea that girls can defend themselves and be just as manitpulative as anyone else.

 

We started out our conversation about the different Cinderella tales from Tatar’s “The Classic Fairy Tales” talking about our opinions of the story. Many people said the more recent versions of the story, like the movie and later versions of the written stories, are mundane and too unrealistic; many people, like me, prefer the darker versions of Cinderella, like the Brothers Grimm version, and their versions of other fairy tales. We looked at how the story of Cinderella has evolved over time, from a story about a stepmother killing her stepdaughter’s fish out of spite, to Cinderella’s father wanting to marry his own young daughter, to the version we’re more familiar with—a girl uses the help of a magical source to go to a ball, despite her stepmother’s wishes, fall in love with a prince, have the prince chase after her after losing an accessory, the prince finding her after many futile attempts, and finally living “happily ever after”.

 

We really only got to talk about the first two Cinderella stories, “Yeh-hsien” and “Donkeyskin”, both very different variations of one story. With “Donkeyskin”, we talked about how the narrator constantly refers to the Cinderella character as a child, emphasizing the unethical relationship the father wants to have with his own daughter. This brought up the question of whether fairy tales like this were appropriate for children to read, and whether or not they should still be read and taught today. I personally think that they should still be taught and read nowadays, but ultimately, it is the parent of the child who has the final say in what their child reads. I think they can be used as a great teaching tool to show older children or young adults to explain the differences between our culture here and the different cultures around the world and from different time periods.