Re-reading Harry Potter
by Suman Gupta
I did enjoy parts of this book very much. I'm afraid, though, that it was often for the wrong reasons. At times I suspected that it was an elaborate and extended send-up of academic squabbling over literature. I'm still not quite sure, but I think it is serious.
The first chapter 'Book Covers' ("I begin as most readers must, with book covers") contains the delightful story of Wolfgang Iser and Stanley Fish. Mr Iser proposes an "implied reader" who has a dialectical relationship with the text and who, we are warned, "is not to be identified with any real reader." This concept gives rise to "a series of disagreements." Mr Fish thinks that Mr Iser is "missing the point" and introduces the concept of "interpretive strategies" which make it "questionable whether a particular text can be said to have any discrete and determinative existence at all." Gupta, in a tongue twisting turn of phrase, comments that, "A waspish exchange followed between Iser and Fish." Some unkind people may consider that both Iser and Fish, and possibly also Gupta, have missed the point.
The chapter entitled 'Religious Perspectives' comes to the remarkable conclusion that Christian belief (as he understands it from a study of Richard Abanes book) is just as fanciful as anything in Harry Potter's world, and that both are equally far removed from the real world of the social and political. This gives us an insight into Mr Gupta's world view but, sadly, none into his subject. Perhaps this is because he fails to refer directly to the text under discussion at all in this chapter, but devotes it to a complaint that he feels excluded from the religious debate because he is not religious.
The one chapter that stands head and shoulders above the rest is the one entitled 'Repetition and Progression'. This chapter is based around the insight that the books in the Harry Potter series achieve a rare balance of repeating themes and increasing complexity. It notes how the initial themes are introduced, then elaborated, developed and deepened at each repetition. This is an intriguing chapter and does not seem to fit comfortably with the rest of the book. It is also very brief - only four pages. I would have found it interesting to see this explored in more depth.