Harry Potter Medievalsploitation

I suppose I could file this instead under ‘They’ll Publish Anything in the Denver Post,” but since the article is currently sitting in Google’s top five results for a medieval news search, it’s worth at least a light mocking:

From “Harry Potter” appeal is medieval by James Pinkerton*

So while one must give credit to the skill of author J.K. Rowling and the filmmakers, one also might note they have tapped into a deeper pattern: to the continuing allure of the Middle Ages, to the mystic-memory chords of Americans, most of whom trace ethnic and/or religious ancestry back to Europe. […]

So while “Potter” is set in the present day, the appeal is strictly medieval. The characters live in a world of stained-glass castles and flickering candles, but even more powerfully, they inhabit a land of enchantment – just as our ancestors did, before the gather-by-the-hearth collective reverie of olden times was punctured, at least for many, by the cold steel of science and rationality.

Ah, I, too, long for the Middle Ages, when faith reigned supreme and those uppity scientists knew their place. Wait–actually, I don’t. And why would you think that the middle ages was a time of “gather-by-the-hearth collective reverie” in the first place?

I, for one, don’t even know what gather-by the hearth collective reverie is, but I imagine it’s something like the end of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, with everyone singing “Nanoo Nanoo” with linked arms. This is a conception of the Middle Ages that I’ve never come across in my studies, but perhaps that’s because I’m study mostly matters of illegitimacy and succession and the civil wars that inevitably followed and all that non-gather-by-the-hearth collective non-reverie that accompanies them. But surely, since the Middle Ages wasn’t homogeneous, I suppose that at some point someone did grab some other someones and go stand around the fire in reverie holding hands with them.***

So maybe a better question is why someone would associate “stained glass castles” with the Middle Ages. Stained glass is a horrible material for building a castle out of, what with how often castles end up on the receiving end of the occasional light, glass-shattering tap. Oh, yes, and the catapults, too.

Ok, so the real question is why he thinks that Harry Potter is particularly medieval. There are wizards and witches in it, and wands and crystal balls, and, of course, British people, but are these things really exclusively medieval? I thought Harry Potter was mostly a British school boy’s novel with magic tacked on top and the institutional sodomy hidden around back somewhere, in a broom closet perhaps. Frankly, I don’t know why we associate magic with Middle Ages. Their magic was more along the lines of commuion wafers that cause people to get stuck together in hilarious chains, or beds that shoot fire and daggers at knights bold enough to lie down in them, or little clergens who keep singing even though they’ve had their throats slit. Waving a wand and shouting out in fake Latin is strictly Dungeons & Dragons. But then, if you wrote an article talking about the ancient memory-chords that connect us to our past as 13-year olds in basements rolling absurdly shaped dice, you wouldn’t get published in the Denver Post.****

*This may be the James P. Pinkerton who’s a (somewhat) notorious** Conservative-with-a-big-C columnist, or it might be James no-P. Pinkerton, who’s a regional reporter in the West and Mid-West. But what do I know? It could be the James Pinkerton who’s a harpist in Austin, TX, or even the Rev. James Pinkerton who appears to have died in the 1800’s. This is why, students, we don’t use Google for real research.
**And by “notorious,” I mean that his name pops up at Newsday.com and the New America Foundation.
***Whether this was ever preceded by an attempted Christmas heist, I can’t say. I think Christmas’s being in constant danger of being stolen/skipped/ruined/etc. is one of those conditions of post-modernity that you hear so much about these days, like alienation and ironic detatchment.
****Unless maybe you’re Wil Wheaton, and even then, your best bet is going to be a blog.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dr. Virago

    I *heart* you Carl. If only you’d post more often, but actually, for your sake, I’m glad you don’t. The “stained glass castles” bit especially made me laugh. Actually, it *all* made me laugh. You rock.

  • LLCoolCarlIII

    For my sake? That’s either a thinly veiled threat or a reference to the thesis that I need to write.

    But don’t you worry, I’ll continue updating in the slipshod fashion to which you have become accustomed.

  • wil

    Fake Latin is not just for D&D! The 15th-century Wolfsthurn manuscript has a couple of examples of Latin (and Greek) mumbo-jumbo:

    Rex, pax, nax, in Cristo filio suo.

    Amara Tonta Tyra post hos firabis ficaliri Elypolis starras poly polyque lique linarras buccabor uel barton vel Titram celi massis Metumbor o priczoni Jordan Ciriacus Valentinus.


  • LLCoolCarlIII

    Behind every oversimplistic generalization there’s something interesting to be found. (Probably not this generalization about generalizations, but you take my meaning.)

    But the fake Latin thing–yeah, I remember vaguely an English mystery play where the characters mock the communion ceremony with fake Latin incantations involving ‘wine-ibus’ and ‘breadibus’. My Classicist friends insist that all Latin in the Middle Ages was fake Latin.

    I’m not going to pretend that my Latin is good enough to spot fake Latin from real Latin, except when it’s clearly labeled as being written by J.K.Rowling.

    Incidentally, my favorite fake Latin is from Terry Pratchett. The motto of the Wizard’s University: Nunc id vides, nunc ne vides.

  • Amy

    (delurking) And don’t forget “Fabricate diem, pvnc.” That made me laugh too.

  • Frank

    Is it odd that the news that your area of study is illegitimacy and succession makes me very excited? Yes? Thought so.

  • Another Damned Medievalist

    Terry Pratchett Latin rocks. Horcruces. Buffy Latin also pains me …

  • Fritz

    Just found your blog (even though it has been listed on Cinerati for a long time). I never got around to reading it but now I’m glad I did. Please, keep up the good work.

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