TLG 19.1 Introduction

Frame of Reference


Introduction - Questions and Challenges

David Beagley


It would seem that the Harry juggernaut just keeps rolling on. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has just been released in book form, to the now-expected hype of bookshop queues, news reports and breathless fans, while the play version has sell-out houses in London. The movie of Newt Scamander's Fantastic Beasts and where to find them is due for release later this year, taking the Harry world across the Atlantic to 1920s New York and the political divisions of Wizards and No-Majs/Muggles. The first of a trilogy (aren't they all!), this spin-off suggests a rather Star Wars ever-expanding universe in the face of JK Rowling's protestations that Cursed Child is her last Harry tale.

But this movie is not Harry-world's first foray into the North American continent. The Pottermore website posted several pieces by Rowling earlier this year as part of Rowling's work to provide back-story to the cosmography of the Wizarding World that has so captured the imagination of readers, as well as pave the way for this movie series. History of Magic in North America is a set of four short pieces that claims to describe the place and process of American Magic from the 14th century to the present day. As it encompasses a time frame that precedes European invasion and settlement, it necessarily includes references to First Nation and Native American cultures and practices, and this has created a major post-colonial issue.

In her Jabberwocky article, "Colonialism in Wizarding America: J. K. Rowling's History of Magic in North America through an Indigenous Lens", Allison Mills examines how elements in several of the pieces could be seen as colonial appropriation of Indigenous cultures and considers the controversy in post-colonial terms, especially in relation to Rowling's lack of response to the concerns that have been raised.

Still, the Harry juggernaut continues. Louise Freeman reviews three more critical studies of the Harry Potter stories in Curiouser and Curiouser - Pazdzioria & Snell's Ravenclaw Reader: Seeking the Artistry and Meaning of J.K. Rowling's Hogwarts Saga, McDaniel & Prinzi's Harry Potter for Nerds II: Essays for Fans, Academics and Lit Geeks and Patrick McCauley's Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter. A quick catalogue search of my university's library using the terms "harry potter" and "criticism" brought up 614 entries; it is a growth market!

Also reviewed in Curiouser and Curiouser is Andrew O'Malley's Children's Literature, Popular Culture, and "Robinson Crusoe". Jason Gulya notes how this classic has been re-versioned, re-interpreted and just out-and-out exploited for centuries but still manages to present us with important questions about literature, education, childhood, and commodification.

Alice's Academy presents Sarah Hardstaff's challenging study of a literary theme that is, unfortunately, also too relevant to everyday life: hunger, and its connections to child empowerment and disempowerment in society. "From the gingerbread house to the cornucopia: gastronomic utopia as social critique in Homecoming and The Hunger Games" poses to us the question of what it takes to become a real agent of change in this situation that is not just a fiction.

The challenge in Emma Hayes' "The Secret Garden and the Gaze" in Emerging Voices is direct - indeed, it IS the gaze, the challenge of eye-to-eye contact. The act of looking is key, not only to Mary Lennox's discoveries, but also to her demands of her cousin Colin, and the gender role consequences of those demands. In a story that is so much about hiding, the gaze is integral.

Kevin Thomas and April Burke draw on Scholastic's Kids and Family Reading Report to ask us "Building a World of Frequent Readers: How Can Teachers Encourage All Students to Read?" in The Tortoise's Tale. When there is so much agreement about the importance of children reading and the value to society from supporting and encouraging it, you have to wonder why do we have to keep asking that?

Rounding out Jabberwocky and this whole issue, is Mark West's exploration of Theodor Geisel's mid-century stories in "Dr. Seuss's Responses to Nazism: Historical Allegories or Political Parables?". The role that his 1936 trip to Germany played in turning Geisel from a creator of light advertising copy into Dr Seuss, one of the great children's literary figures, is a fascinating question. Doing children the courtesy of recognizing their capacity for moral and social judgement has long been recognised as one of his hallmarks.

Please, also, take a moment to read and think about my plea in the other section of Frame of Reference. The Looking Glass is about to turn 20, taking it out of its childhood and Young Adult years. Like the children and Young Adults who read the literature we investigate and probe, it can only continue to grow with the help and guidance of we older children who have already "Been there, done that!"

 

 

David Beagley
General Editor - The Looking Glass


Volume 19, Issue 1, The Looking Glass, August 2016

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"Frame of Reference - Introduction" © David Beagley, 2016
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The Looking Glass: new perspectives on children's literature

ISBN 1551-5680