Book Seven

A thought occurs to me: if Harry Potter dies in the seventh book, will the series have been a romance in ironic mode or an ironic tragedy in romantic mode?  If he doesn’t die, will that make the series a romance in comedic mode, or a comedy in romantic and ironic modes.  I’m stuck on the ironic thing, though I could be wrong about it completely (I don’t think so, the characters are too pettily human to be fully romantic).  I’m certain about the romance, too, as we have many of its characteristics (mysterious origin, the quest narrative, tales of innocence).

Yes, I’m still reading Anatomy, though it’s taking a while.  So far, I have found the third essay to be the most engrossing and the beginning of the fourth to be the least interesting.  The above thought occurred to me randomly while I was reading it in a school office one day.

I already know that I will need to read this book again after I am better read, ie. after I’ve read more of the classics.

Darn you, Northrop Frye! Why couldn’t you just let me live with my popular fantasy!


~ by truth9 on May 11, 2007.

5 Responses to “Book Seven”

  1. Ah…but you’re forgetting the other heroic modes.

    Is Potter high-mimetic since he’s getting educated and polished as one of the elite? The models of revisiting the past for moral education are present in Paradise Lost during Raphael’s lessons to Adam about the recent war in heaven which gave them some warning of what was to come. Dumbledore follows suit in the latest book.

    Is Potter low-mimetic since he had to rise from the lower-classes: the cupboard under the staircase? The Weasley/Malfoy antagonisms continue this mode throughout the series.

    It also depends on whether you either take the entire series or a particular book into question. For instance, the Philosopher’s Stone could be a comedy in the romantic mode, what with Potter being welcomed back “home” and the discovery of magical powers, and The Half-Blood Prince could easily be considered a tragedy in the same mode for an obvious reason.

    Your fixation on the ironic is certainly understandable since the writing style is itself quite ironic. They’re certainly less powerful than their Arthurian counterparts which they reflect and criticize at once. Yet much more human. I’d say the only thing skewered with satire (besides the middle-class Dursleys) is the romantic mode itself.

    I’m glad I couldn’t answer your question at all. I suspect it’s because I haven’t read Anatomy, or Frye in some time…and so…

    I also didn’t expect to write as long as the original post, but there ya go. I suspect you may have expected as much.

  2. To be honest, I had hoped your post would be as long as the original. And I disagree, to a point, about the first book (taken alone) being a comedy in the romantic mode because the ending finds Potter back, not with the society that welcomes him, but back with the Dursleys who fear and despise him more than ever. Granted, he’s no longer under the stairs, but he’s still back to a lowly position of servitude. While there is hope for his future after that book, it still ends ironically, as opposed to comedically.

    I do agree with you about book six though.

    I suspect that I will do a much longer post on the subject after I read book seven, but since I’ll be reading the first six again prior to that, I may revisit the topic as things arise.

    I would deny the high & low mimetic modes as the main mode of the series as a whole (though, obviously, they exist to some extent). I do this based largely on the assertion that neither allow for much in the way of the fantastical (low less than high, obviously), and the fantastical is what we are dealing with. I deny myth for much the same reason, as the fantastical is limited to the merely human, with not even Dumbledore beyond that limit.

    One could argue that Voldemort moves into the ‘beyond human’ realm, but then we still find ourselves in romance, as the devil is still being fought by humans.

    That’s my reading, at any rate.

  3. You’re completely correct about The Philosopher’s Stone not being a comedy due to his moving back with the Dursleys. I’ll agree that neither the high or low mimetic modes are the main mode of the series, but they are present in the books despite the fantastical.

    The fantastical is present in my example of high mimetic with the angel Raphael telling Adam about the war in heaven. At least fantastical by today’s standards. I’d get a strange look if I told anyone that Raphael told me about the war in heaven. Not to mention that there are also high mimetic tendencies of courtly love and chivalry in Le Morte D’Arthur, a romance with fantastical elements.

    Also, the fantastical nature of some of the Romantics and their revolutionary low-mimetic heroes such as Faust or Los does not fit with your statement about the low mimetic mode.

    In other words, although I agree with you, I’m going to need a better explanation as to why high and low mimetic are not the main mode of this particular series.

  4. Actually, I stand by my statement that the fantastical nature of the series is a key factor in determining that its main mode is neither high nor low mimetic, though low is more easily discarded by this than high.

    As Frye notes of the low mimetic “…the images are the ordinary images of experience…” and “The low mimetic treatment of human society reflects, of course, Wordsworth’s doctrine that the essential human situations, for the poet, are the common and typical ones.” Thus, I would argue, that the low mimetic as a primary mode (I do not deny its presence, merely its predominance) is unlikely to operate on as fantastical of a basis as the Potter series.

    While there may be low mimetic characters, I would suggest that neither Faust nor Los fall into works that are primarily low mimetic. Though, not having read the texts in question I cannot make that a definitive statement.

    I could, however, make the other argument that the series is not low mimetic based on that mode being the mode of the “analogy of experience” and, while the entire series is building towards giving Harry experience, it is closer to romance’s “analogy of innocence.”

    The high mimetic allows for a little more in the way of the fantastical, but still limits it to something outside the realm of the ordinary, while the Potter series almost leads to a sense of the commonplace about the fantastical, ie, though full of wonder, the fantastical is expected and continuous, as opposed to occasional for the sole intent of driving the plot. Further, rather than the elite figures of the text being associated with fantastical counterparts (as Frye notes “Divinity hedges the king amd the courtly love mistress is a goddess…”), the characters are already a part of this fantastical world.

    I agree, however, that that is not enough to deny the series as being of the high mimetic mode. One may note, however, that although Harry is becoming a part of the elite, seperate from the “Muggle” masses, one may note that he is still not being inducted into the elite of this new society. Neither of his parents were of the magical elite and thus his own status, such as it is, reflects more of the romantic “birth of the hero” archetypal imagery than high mimetic upper echelon association.

    A simpler explanation as to why the series is not high mimetic can be found in Frye’s gloassary definition of the term: “A mode of literature in which… the central characters are above our own level of power and authority, though within the order of nature and subject to social criticism.” While the Potter characters are subject to social criticism, they are emphatically not operating within the order of nature.

    Again, I would argue that neither Paradise Lost nor Le Morte D’Arthur are High mimetic works. While the latter comes from a high mimetic period (as both Faust and Blake’s Los come from a low mimetic period), it is not a primarily high mimetic text, instead standing more as an encyclopeadic mythological epic. Le Morte D’Arthur is primarily a romance, as I’m sure you’d agree.

    It is, of course, silly to deny that elements of the other modes do not exist in the Potter series, but I would argue that we are dealing primarily with a text in either romantic or ironic mode, and I would lean heavily towards a romance written in an ironic period.

    I do think that it is too early to attempt to determine our mythos of choice, however, as we need to wait to learn of Harry’s fate before we make judgements in that area (though I lean towards the likelihood of tragedy or romance as the primary mythos).

    And hey, this is all just my reading based on single readings of both Potter and Frye, which is also only the first actual text on the subject of lit-crit that I’ve read cover-to-cover. So, take that for what it’s worth.

  5. Well. This is dusty. My reading/memory of Frye that is.

    First off, although its mostly the same explanation, I find it more agreeable, I think, due in part to your point about the fantastical nature of…well, nature in Romance. That’s a clincher. But here I go “arguing” anyway…

    Frye states that Goethe and Blake are low-mimetic writers, in Anatomy p. 59-60, and that Blake’s prophecies (which feature Los as the central revolutionary) and Faust, especially the second book, are low-mimetic. But I believe Frye was speaking of the thematic historical rather than the fictional historical mode. Poet as hero, ideas as characters, dianoia, etc. Still.

    The Potter books have a way of mixing the fantastical and the ordinary. Like using a wand to butter your toast from across the room or something. I see no reason to make one subservient to the other. Or do you think Muggles should be subservient? Huh? That’s what I thought. Rise up Muggles! Ecraser l’infame! or some such nonsense.

    Also, Frye uses much the same argument I’ve outlined (plagiarized?) here about Raphael in The Return to Eden, his book on Paradise Lost. He doesn’t come outright and say that Paradise Lost is high-mimetic, but he does say that Raphael is training Adam in a courtly manner and poo-poos Adam for his lack of decorum for questioning God’s foreknowledge of events that are to come to pass. Frye calls it a “manual of royal discipline.” I’d also argue that it’s high-mimetic due to the ideal forms of epic it pains itself in keeping. An encyclopedic form in part, true, but mostly only in Michael’s speech summarizing the Bible and church history to Adam, the last two books of the poem. A history lesson in other words. The narrative is certainly myth. The historical mode? I still say high-mimetic. Stanley Fish’s Surprised by Sin, a reader-response edged criticism, follows an education of the 17th century reader as well (thematic mode again). It’s good, but not as good as Frye. Too much footnotes. They take whole pages if memory serves.


    Analogies and orders of nature (of any kind) are tricky (but won’t stop me from equating/mixing them up) and since Blake manages to contain the orders and analogies of innocence and experience in much of his poetry, I see no reason why Rowling couldn’t do it with the world of Muggles and the world of Magicians. At first the death of Harry’s parents was common and normal in the world of Muggles, but in the world of Magicians death takes on the sinister aspects of experience. Not to mention that the only world which appears to experience death directly (with full knowledge of what occurs) is that of the magicians, and that death by magic, no matter how ridiculous, is seen as much more terrible. Or shall I say, less accidental and more providential? Murders mostly magical. (Note: I skimmed the first essay of Anatomy and couldn’t find the analogies you spoke of. I suspect they may have something to do with narrative/mythos. I probably grossly misinterpreted them in some thematic way too. Oh well.)

    A subclass of the novel, the bildungsroman, or novel of education, is something I’ve always considered to be apart of the high-mimetic mode, at least in some fashion. I’ve considered Harry Potter’s experience at Hogwarts a development of character often involving spiritual crisis. Sometimes I think of Egwene, Elayne, and Nynaeve’s time in the White Tower this way. Another series which I consider a romance.

    Yes. Emphatically. Morte D’Arthur is certainly a book written in the romantic mode. But chivalry or the art of courtly love equals high-mimetic. What’s Camelot without that? Dangeresque…..3?…

    I like how you disperse my high-mimetic arguments with a low-mimetic one. But I suppose, as we’ll no doubt see (especially with your latest Rowling quote), it can be a messianic argument too.

    I think what makes it so difficult for me to say (although I have) that the Potter series is written in the romantic mode is because its most likely to be a romantic narrative or mythos. It’s like painting an entire apartment the same color. Something only a landlord would do.

    And if it turns out to be a tragedy, does that mean it’s got more high-mimetic tendencies (Shakespeare’s tragedies is what I’m thinking here) than I’ve been able to grasp futilely for? Is there some hubris in Potter? Doubtful. I think that got weened away when he saw his father in the past. I imagine the end of the series will still have some tragic elements to it though.

    But I must say, this has been refreshing, rejuvenating and fun for me, and it pleases me immensely that this post (and our dialogue) is frustrating visitors who want to find out “who dies!?”

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