By Chris Suellentrop, originally published by Slate, 6 October 2006
Warning: This article contains a few spoilers about the Harry Potter books and movies. Like most heroes, Harry Potter possesses the requisite Boy Scout virtues: trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. But so do lots of boys and girls, and they don’t get books and movies named after them. Why isn’t the movie that comes out next week titled Ron Weasley and the Chamber of Secrets? Why isn’t its sequel dubbed Hermione Granger and the Prisoner of Azkaban? Why Harry? What makes him so special?
Simple: He’s a glory hog who unfairly receives credit for the accomplishments of others and who skates through school by taking advantage of his inherited wealth and his establishment connections. Harry Potter is no braver than his best friend, Ron Weasley, just richer and better-connected. Harry’s other good friend, Hermione Granger, is smarter and a better student. The one thing Harry excels at is the sport of Quidditch, and his pampered-jock status allows him to slide in his studies, as long as he brings the school glory on the playing field. But as Charles Barkley long ago noted, being a good athlete doesn’t make you a role model.
Continue reading “Harry Potter: Pampered jock, patsy, fraud.”
Like many long-time readers of “Pride and Prejudice,” I’ve returned, again and again, to the problem of Charlotte Lucas. Pretty much everyone in “Pride and Prejudice” gets the spouse they deserve, except for Charlotte. Elizabeth’s best friend is a sensible, intelligent person, but because she isn’t young, pretty, or rich, she ends up married to the maddening and empty-headed Mr. Collins. (Lizzy calls him, in a letter to her sister, a “conceited, pompous, narrow-minded, silly man.”) “Pride and Prejudice” is a joyous novel, but Charlotte’s marriage is like the tomb in that Poussin painting “Et in Arcadia ego.” Even at Pemberley, I am here, it seems to say.
I first read “Pride and Prejudice” in high school, and back then I didn’t devote a lot of thought to Charlotte’s marriage. As time has gone on, though, it’s seemed more and more important to me. Growing older involves making compromises, and I suppose that has something to do with it. But I’ve also become more familiar with the importance, in life, of choice. In a lot of ways, that’s what “Pride and Prejudice” is about: how we make choices. And no story in the novel says more about choices, about their difficulty and meaning, than Charlotte’s. Continue reading “On Charlotte Lucas’s Choice”
By Errin Whack, published by NPR, 16 July 2015
I don’t remember how old I was when I read To Kill A Mockingbird for the first time. But I do know that I loved it — which is why I was thrilled in February at the news that another manuscript penned by Harper Lee, previously unknown to the larger public, existed and would be published this summer.
For lovers of the original story, the next few months could not pass quickly enough. But that anticipation turned to anxiety last week as reports trickled out that Go Set a Watchman reunites them with an Atticus Finch who is not the idealistic Southern gentleman of their youth, but rather a segregationist once involved with the Ku Klux Klan.
For many, this revelation has been nothing short of a betrayal (as seen in these recent tweets):
Continue reading “‘Go Set A Watchman’ Is A Revelation On Race, Not A Disappointment”
Precise observations of this humble creature provide a droll allegorical critique of style.
By Carol Rumens, published in The Guardian, 10 July 2017
To a Snail
If “compression is the first grace of style,”
you have it. Contractility is a virtue
as modesty is a virtue.
It is not the acquisition of any one thing
that is able to adorn,
or the incidental quality that occurs
as a concomitant of something well said,
that we value in style,
but the principle that is hid:
in the absence of feet, “a method of conclusions”;
“a knowledge of principles,”
in the curious phenomenon of your occipital horn.
Marianne Moore was a tireless and unforgiving editor of her own work. In the new edition of the collected poetry, Heather Cass White revises the author’s revisions, omissions, and re-orderings, to retrieve the texts as they were first printed, and in order of composition.
There are two poles in editorial thought on poets’ revisions. One holds that authors’ final revisions are sacrosanct, the other favours restoration. Dispute seems redundant: let’s have both! Originals are crucial, integral to understanding a writer’s place in history and her emergence. But revisions provide another valuable, evolutionary, narrative. First words, last words, interim words: if the poet is good enough, let’s have the variorum edition in all its glory. Continue reading “Poem of the week: To a Snail by Marianne Moore”
The novelist and editor Anna North discusses the Odyssey’s timeless lesson about leaving the comforts of home. Published in The Atlantic, 19 May 2015
My grandfather first recommended the Odyssey to me. When he died a few years ago, I went looking for my original copy because I wanted to read from it at the funeral. I found it in my parents’ house, with the original receipt still inside. So I could date exactly when I first got the book: I was eleven years old.
I have strong memories of reading it for the first time. The Odyssey’s a great book for kids. A lot happens. There’s strangeness, magic, excitement. Of course, the names are very weird to a modern person, and I remember getting tripped up over that. But still, I loved it.
It’s an obsession that’s stayed with me into adult life. I’ve always been interested in Greek and Latin literature. I’m excited by the ways those traditions show how old our concerns are. If you read Livy, for instance, you find that almost everything that’s said in American politics had probably said by the Romans, too: everything from concerns about men not being manly enough anymore to debates about the kinds of things the founding fathers cared about. With the Odyssey, it’s possible to see how many of the stories we still tell exist in ancient texts—they’re archetypal. There are things that human beings like to talk about, and always have, and a quest is one of them. Continue reading “Writing Is the Process of Abandoning the Familiar”
David Hopkins, April 2016, The Observer (http://observer.com/2016/04/how-a-tv-sitcom-triggered-the-downfall-of-western-civilization/)
I want to discuss a popular TV show my wife and I have been binge-watching on Netflix. It’s the story of a family man, a man of science, a genius who fell in with the wrong crowd. He slowly descends into madness and desperation, lead by his own egotism. With one mishap after another, he becomes a monster. I’m talking, of course, about Friends and its tragic hero, Ross Geller.
You may see it as a comedy, but I cannot laugh with you. To me, Friends signals a harsh embrace of anti-intellectualism in America, where a gifted and intelligent man is persecuted by his idiot compatriots. And even if you see it from my point of view, it doesn’t matter. The constant barrage of laughter from the live studio audience will remind us that our own reactions are unnecessary, redundant.
The theme song itself is filled with foreboding, telling us that life is inherently deceptive, career pursuits are laughable, poverty is right around the corner, and oh yeah, your love life’s D.O.A. But you will always have the company of idiots. They will be there for you.
Don’t I feel better? Continue reading “How a TV Sitcom Triggered the Downfall of Western Civilization”