10 August 2007

Harry Potter and the Canon

Is Harry Potter becoming a new mythos? Complete author's works are often referred to as their 'Canon of Works.' This has become the case for Harry Potter as created by Jo Rowling. Not only are the books considered canon, but any direct quotes from Rowling herself are considered as well. Basically, anything Rowling says or writes about Harry is 'the truth,' making her, well, the god of her alternate magical world which seemingly coexists alongside ours. It is so easy at times to want to suspend disbelief and imagine that there really is an unseen magical society just down that alley or behind that mountain. It is a story that seems to offer some form of hope that things aren't always as they appear.

This thought originally struck me as possibly similar to the way in which scriptures, and therefore religions, come about. Let's consider the Gospels of the New Testament. In a nutshell, what supposedly happened is that a guy was born of a virgin, stirred up a lot of trouble with his own religion, Judaism, became a problem for the government of the time, the Romans, and performed some miracles and generated followers along the way. This is all clear from reading the New Testament as a whole. What is interesting is how we came to have this Testament. The four gospels as we know them weren't written until about 70 CE, supposedly some 40 years after our hero's death and resurrection. In letters written a bit earlier, Jesus began to become divine with the views of the apostle Paul, who had never even met Jesus. What I like about the gospel stories is how similar they are to other 'Saviour' mythologies. Virgin birth in a cave (stable in later versions,) death for the World's sins, and resurrection. These themes can be seen in the story of Mithras, Krishna, Horus, and various others.

If our hero was an actual person, you can argue that the stories about him were circulating orally for a time until they were written down. But what if the same thing occurred from legends rather than truth? Jo Rowling had the complete story of Harry fully formed in her mind before she ever wrote a word. What if she hadn't written them down? What if there was no such thing as the printing press and mass distribution? Perhaps she would have shared the stories with those closest to her. they would have, in turn, told the stories to others, thereby 'spreading the word.'

A correlation I find fascinating is that of 'fan fiction' and extra-biblical texts. There are numerous such texts hanging around. Some resurface every now and then to stir up some controversy. Currently there is a swirling storm of controversy around any 'Gospels' containing mention of Mary Magdelene. These were all found to be 'heresy' by around 1560 during the Council of Trent, and most of the current New Testament was in place by at least by 382 CE. How did they decide what was 'truth,' or Canon, and what was not? With Harry, fan fiction also abounds. There are stories about Harry's parents and other adult characters when they were at Hogwarts, and stories that fill in gaps that are left in the stories. In Book One, Harry goes from infant to ten years old rather quickly. Included are only a couple of anecdotes from his childhood. Fan Fiction fills in these gaps. Consider also the Infancy Gospel of Jesus Christ with the missing years of the traditional gospels or the books about Adam and Eve's experiences in the Garden of Eden.

In regards to Harry, the seven books are definitely considered canon, but some disagree as to whether additional statements by Ms. Rowling should be as well. It seems to make sense to include her statements, since she is the creatrix. But what about the movies? These present the same story, only slightly different. There is even some major tampering with the plot here and there. This reminds me of four gospels that tell the same story, only with slight differences. Also intriguing about including the movies is that we are now supplied with alternate names for our characters, Harry becomes Daniel, Hermione becomes Emma, and Ron becomes Rupert. Ron is even mistakenly called his alternate name by Professor Slughorn in Book Six, further entwining our two versions of the same story. In other myths and legends around the world, many heroes, heroines, gods, and goddesses are referred to by different names. This sometimes occurs within the confines of the story, for instance when Jacob becomes Israel in the Old Testament. It can also occur when the same story is told, but with different character names as in the case of Gilgamesh and Noah. What if some of these alternate names are indeed those of actual people who played that part in a yearly play or ceremony and did such a remarkable job that their name became synonymous with the character?

I can envision a future several hundred years from now where there is much debate about whether a boy named Harry Potter did exist. Perhaps the meaning of the word 'Novel' will have been lost. Such things do happen. Maybe certain well written fan fiction will be considered 'truth' in regards to the story of Harry. Maybe there will even be an outspoken group of people that influence society and government while waiting fervently for Harry's return so that he may bring tribulation and usher in a new era of peace.

Disclaimer: Please bear in mind that I am not a literary scholar nor a religious one. I study these things on my own time for personal interest, and my opinions and ideas are always evolving.

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