Consistency in Two Traditions of Fantasy, Part 2: The Deathly Hallows

A Second Possible Consistency

In Part One of this discussion, I introduced the problem of appreciating different kinds of consistency in fantasy literature and then I elaborated the planetary correspondences of The Chronicles of Narnia as an example of a fantasy series which uses a different kind of consistency than a logical one. Now, I am not going to argue that L. F. Baum also had planetary correspondences in his work, or that the Harry Potter franchise has some hidden theological depths. What I want to suggest, though, is that each might have something more like a thematic or atmospheric consistency in place of a logical one.

A painting of a thestral

Carol Smith, “Harry Potter-47”

I think it is worth making a distinction between two ways in which that might be true. First, it might have achieved such a consistency which is easy to overlook if you aren’t primed for it; Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, according to Ward, Are an example of this. Second, it might attempt such a consistency but not have achieved it. What I mean by this is that various markers in the text suggest a sort of consistency which it aims at but a careful examination of the text will nonetheless reveal it was not successful. In that case logical consistency of the sort at which G. R. R. Martin excels would not necessarily be the best standard by which to judge the text; however, the best standard by which to judge the text is some other kind of consistency at which it also fails.1 In such a way it might be analogous to Tolkien’s Middle Earth, which really doesn’t work in the sense of logical consistency: the population distributions and the modes of agriculture, resource extraction, and economics are all impossible or at least seriously implausible. However, Tolkien does a sufficiently good job of making all of the cultural aspects look coherent that this is easy to overlook. So it might be more accurate to say that these other texts might be better judged by different standards of consistency than it is to say they are consistent in different ways, because they may have failed to meet those different standards of consistency.

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Consistency in Two Traditions of Fantasy, Part 1: Narnian Astrology

A Problem with Harry Potter

Due to the news that in the latest Harry Potter film the snake Nagini is revealed to be a human woman transformed, there has been a recent popular re-evaluation of the seven novels which originated the franchise. Many of the observations that I’ve seen on Twitter have focused on Rowling’s troubling use of racist stereotypes and her very Anglocentric errors. I have little to add as far as that goes because anything I’d have to say has been said already by others; the most relevant Twitter threads are Alexandra Erin’s and Shivam Batt’s. There is an assumption in some of these threads, however, that the world of Harry Potter could be or ought to be logically consistent in much the same way that our own is, which I consider to be mistaken. Take, for instance, questions of scale: of course it is logical nonsense that a school the size of Hogwarts is the only wizarding school in Britain given what the population of wizards in Britain seems to be in the books. And by the standards of something like Lois McMaster Bujold’s Five Gods series or G. R. R. Martin’s The Song of Ice and Fire, which have admirably plausible, intricate, and well-developed worlds, that’s a problem. The assumption that fantasy worlds must be built on some sort of logical or plausible structure is very characteristic of how mainstream fantasy1 does often operate, but I think it is worth observing that there have always been other kinds of fantasy which do not share this assumption: Barrie’s Peter Pan books, Carrol’s Alice books, and Baum’s Oz books come most readily to mind. These books’ lack of logical consistency does not mean that they lack any internal consistency; rather, they may have consistency of a wholly different kind. I think the best way to begin exploring this other kind of consistency is by examining Michael Ward’s interpretation of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, which I will spend the rest of this post doing. In a subsequent post I will speculate about possible consistencies in Harry Potter and other fantasy.

A reproduction of one of the original illustrations of THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE, depicting a faun with an umbrella and a girl walking through forest.

THE CHRONICLES OF NARNIA are in the public domain in Canada, and my understanding of Canadian copyright law is that the original illustrations therefore would be as well. Please feel free to correct me if I am wrong in this.

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An Early Question about Churchpunk

I would like to add a periodic feature to this blog: whenever I have a question for which I would like to know the answer, I will not just ask it in a single post, lost to time; I will also add it to a master list linked in the upper header of the blog. If I ever get an answer to a question, I’ll share the answer in a new post and link from the master list to the new post.

I bring this up because I have a question about what I’m calling churchpunk.

flic_dot_kr_slash_p_slash_sfaEf

Source: Robby D at flic.kr/p/sfaEf

(I am not sure about the name churchpunk, since “church” is a Christian and Christian-derived word. Other contenders might be faithpunk, ritepunk, religionpunk, relspunk, or cultpunk, but these also have problems for me. “Faith” is not an important or meaningful concept in all religions; ritual is only one component of religion; religionpunk sounds awful; not enough people will know that “rels” is shorthand for “religious studies”; the English “cult” has not just connotations but also denotations that the Latin “cultus” does not. Until I settle on another name, I’m going to stick with churchpunk.)

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On William Blake and Your Own Face

At the same time that I was studying social media (for librarians) and therefore learning about face theory and discussing the ways identity is performative, on my own time I was also researching William Blake’s mythology. That coincidence provided one of those connections which I found helpful as a metaphor, and it has held up: I think William Blake’s idea of emanation is a good analogy for self-expression. Thinking of self-expression like the creation of a second, separate entity has been helpful to me, and maybe it will also be helpful to you.

Source: Adam Purcell at flic.kr/p/tLtDHU.

Source: Adam Purcell at flic.kr/p/tLtDHU.

Let’s begin with face theory: in sociology, face refers to the particular way a person expresses themselves in a specific context. Face refers to the actions you choose, the things you say, and the postures and facial expressions you adopt; it can be thought of as a mask that changes according to audience and to the type of social interaction underway. People work to maintain their face and they feel emotional investment in their face, so that they become distressed when they lose it.

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A Mad Anthropologist’s Book Collection

1. A Far From Serious Thought Experiment

Shaft into Cold War bunker; photo by Tom Blackwell at flic.kr/p/71UJKc.

Shaft into Cold War bunker; photo by Tom Blackwell at flic.kr/p/71UJKc.

Imagine that humans have learned to colonize other planets, but once people have arrived at their colony it is unlikely that they, or their descendants for quite a few generations, will get to leave. Or imagine that the earth has been stripped of resources and humans are beginning to launch space stations on which they can survive. Or imagine that, in anticipation of nuclear war, people are building and moving into underground vaults. The specifics don’t matter—what does matter is that some people live in small, isolated, pre-planned communities. More importantly, imagine that the people who planned these communities decided it was a good opportunity to do some unethical experimental social science, as in a certain computer game.

The social scientists constructed libraries for each colony (or station, or vault); about 2 000 volumes represent the entire cultural legacy for each community. The vast majority of these volumes are identical across communities, but they have made careful adjustments to a randomly-selected sample of libraries. For instance, while most libraries contain J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and derivative works, a few stations (or vaults, or colonies) have L. F. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz and derivative works in their place. A few vaults (or etc.) have been carefully combed over to remove any work by or reference to William Shakespeare. In others, it is William Wordsworth who has been so excised. Perhaps a few libraries have more radical changes—one has no works authored exclusively by men, or by white people, and another has only works written by people who went, or are rumoured to have gone, blind. These more radical changes are really just an indulgence, I guess; it is not the best experiment design, to change so much. Continue reading