The Wizarding World in The Order of the Phoenix

In my last post about a Harry Potter book, I wrote that:
[o]ne of the most enjoyable aspects of The Goblet of Fire... is the discovery of the wider wizarding world, to which Harry has been (despite his importance as the Boy Who Lived) a peripheral figure, and which has a life and energy of its own apart from Harry and Hogwarts.
The unfolding of the broader wizarding world, especially the Ministry for Magic, is likewise a source of enjoyment of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Whereas in my post on The Goblet of Fire changed focus to look at Barty Crouch, Sr., as a tragic or semi-tragic figure, in this post my focus will be on the use of virtue in the wizarding world. As we shall see, virtue is not in every case good, or agreed-upon. Much of the conflict between Dumbledore and his Order and Fudge and the Ministry has to do with what virtues are most important, what constitutes virtuous behaviour, and to whom one owes the duty of being virtuous.

First, I need to set the stage briefly by looking back at the events of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.


Imagining Middle-earth

I referred to this book in my post on World Made by Hand, but I feel that it deserves its own marginal commentary.

The book of which I write is Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon, written by English literary critic Brian Rosebury. The book is the second edition (published by Palgrave MacMillan in 2003), much revised, of a version which Rosebury published in 1992. The title of this post refers to that of the first chapter of Tolkien.

My focus will be on the first two chapters of the work, which themselves focus on The Lord of the Rings. As Rosebury (rightly, in my view) says, 'I will say straight away that [Tolkien's] reputation must... very largely rest on The Lord of the Rings [p. 8]'. As I wrote in my post on World Made by Hand about Rosebury's discussion of Tolkien:
One major thrust of Rosebury's work was to argue that, in many respects, Middle-earth is itself a 'character' in The Lord of the Rings, and that one strength of Tolkien's writing is his deft use of the landscape to elucidate the 'character' of the land and to bring to life, as it were, the vision of life which he communicates in the work.
So my plan here is to comment in greater depth on Rosebury's accomplishment, for I believe that, in many respects, Tolkien: A Cultural Phenomenon achieves the kind of breakthrough with The Lord of the Rings with respect to literary criticism, that Planet Narnia (by Michael Ward) does with C. S. Lewis's Narniad. (Although, with regard to Planet Narnia, see here.)

A final note: the formatting of this post seems to have been messed up ever since there was a problem that caused blogger to have been inaccessible for a couple of days, so pardon the look.


June Selections

Here are the three books I have selected at random to read and comment upon in June. Congratulations to those of you whose recommendations were selected!

The books chosen are:

Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde.

A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder by James De Mille.

The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright.

A big thank those of you who made recommendations for June: Chris, Graham, Jen, Lauren, & Nanci!

Keep your fingers crossed that, this time, I will in fact be able to read and comment upon these books in the month for which they were selected.


Ender's Game

First, my thanks to Paul for this recommendation!

On with the book. I found that I have been enjoying it more than I thought I would. It rather reminds me, at least tangentially, of two other science fiction books about a young man's initiation into the military (Ender being exceedingly young, of course, but so also those with whom he is in training), Starship Troopers (Robert A. Heinlein) and The Forever War (Joe Haldeman), although it differs quite a bit from both and they from each other. Both of those I read for a science fiction literature course I took years ago in my undergraduate degree at the University of Ottawa.

In brief, Ender's Game is about a six year-old boy by the name of Andrew Wiggins, who always goes by the nickname 'Ender' bestowed upon him by his older sister Valentine. Ender is a supremely gifted boy who is being cultivated by the military to be the commanding officer they need to save them from a potentially destructive enemy, a race of insect-like beings referred to throughout the book as 'buggers'. Ender 'saves' humanity in the process of enduring what he believes to be simulated tests, but which are in fact him, and his cohorts, actually commanding or controlling Earth's fleets as they attack and defeat the enemy fleets and destroy the 'bugger' homeworld. Ender then goes off with his sister to colonise a 'bugger' world, and it transpires that the 'buggers' were attempting to communicate with him. Ender eventually becomes what he calls a 'Speaker for the Dead', which inspires a new religion.

I would have to re-read the two books I just mentioned, but, I found that I enjoyed this book more than I remember enjoying them. I might go so far as to say that Ender's Game is a better book than they, but since it has been so long since I read them, it would be best just to say that I enjoyed it.


Book Written by Hand?

A big thank-you to Emily, who recommended this book for me to read!

World Made by Hand, by James Howard Kunstler, is the tale of the citizens of a small town in New York state some indeterminate time in the future after oil has become unavailable, and calamity, in the form of terrorism, political upheaval, and lethal epidemics, has overtaken the United States.

Since I found writing what amounted to a synopsis of Bringing Down the House tiresome - and dare I wonder whether a similar feeling overtook those who read that post - I will focus my attention on one aspect of World Made by Hand, which is the aesthetic quality of the landscape. This is one aspect of the book which I believe provides much of its charm. I would have liked to have discussed Kunstler's use of the religious (and supernatural), but it, along with Kunstler's overarching theme - the contrast between our present and that of the characters - provide innumerable examples and do them justice would require more time and effort than I am willing to put in. It may be said that looking at Kunstler's use of the landscape involves reference to his 'new dispensation', and to the extent that it does, I will thus be treating with that larger theme.

Citations are taken from the 2008 publication by Atlantic Monthly Press. The book is written from the perspective of its protagonist, Robert Earle, a carpenter in a small town in New York State by the name of Union Grove; in the direct citations, then, any reference to the first person ('I,' 'me,' and so on) refers to him.


Reader Recommendations: June

It's that time of month, for you out there to recommend books for me to read and comment upon for next month. I've enjoyed the recommended books for January, which, thanks to CPE and other delays, waited until May for completion. In my last update, I stated that I thought I would select only two books, but having finished all of the posts for books previously recommended to me, I will be choosing three after all.

Before making a recommendation, I suggest you read the guidelines on the page, 'How to Recommend Books'. Just select the hyperlink here, or you can click on the link of the same name on the right-hand side under the heading 'Pages'.

Don't forget to make your recommendations in the comments section of this post!

For June, it can be any sort of books you have in mind. The three books will be randomly chosen (I shall draw them from out of a hat) from the list of recommendations. I will be selecting the books on Sunday, May 15.

I'm looking forward to seeing your recommendations!


Bringing Down the House

One of the blurbs on the back of the copy of Bringing Down the House which I am reading calls it a 'truth-is-stranger-than-fiction tale', and, indeed, the summary of what author Ben Mezrich is recounting in the dust jacket seems implausible. A brief snippet should show what I mean:
In the midst of the go-go eighties and nineties, a group of overachieving, anarchistic MIT students joined a decades-old underground blackjack club dedicated to counting cards and beating the system at major casinos around the world. While their classmates were working long hours in labs and libraries, the blackjack team traveled weekly to Las Vegas and other glamourous gambling locales, with hundreds of thousands of dollars duct-taped to their bodies. Underwritten by shady investors they would never meet, these kids bet fifty thousand dollars a hand, enjoyed VIP suites and other upscale treats, and partied with showgirls and celebrities.
Handpicked by an eccentric mastermind - a former MIT professor and an obsessive player who had developed a unique system of verbal cues, body signals, and role-playing - this one ring of card savants earned more than three million dollars from corporate Vegas, making them the object of the casino's wrath and eventually targets of revenge. Here is their inside story, revealing their secrets for the first time.
If I didn't know that this was what actually happened, I wouldn't believe it to be true. It looks more like the script for a Hollywood movie than something that could occur in reality; but, then again, to paraphrase the blurb on the back cover, truth can often be stranger than fiction.

The edition from which I will be quoting was published by the Free Press; no publication date was given, but the notice of copyright to the author is for 2002. I should note that Mezrich includes the occasional profanity, which I do not always take the trouble to excise when I quote from the book, so I have labelled this post accordingly. Let it also be noted that we're talking about Vegas here, so I might need to refer to unseemly activity from time to time.


May Update

A couple of announcements:

1) I will be asking for reader recommendations in mid-May. I will probably be only asking for two this time, as I will still be working on a book recommended from January (yes, January); namely, Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, which has only just become available at the library.

2) On that note, I am nearly finished my marginal commentaries on the other two books I selected for January: World Made by Hand, by James Howard Kunstler, and Bringing Down the House, by Ben Mezrich. Look for them to come out in the next week or so.