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Review:

Beacham's Sourcebooks:
Exploring Harry Potter

by Elizabeth D. Schafer
published: 2000

review by Steve Vander Ark

I am currently reviewing this book for HP4GU. I will say that there is a lot of interesting material there and a lot of good stuff. However, there are a lot of problems with the book, a lot. They fall into four categories:

  1. straight factual errors, of which there are hundreds (e.g. Hogwarts is "(o)ften obscured by fog." p. 74),

  2. assumptions on the author's part, stated as fact, but which are without actual basis,

  3. bizarre meanings implied from corruptions of characters' names ("Hermione" suggests the word "hormone" which alludes to the fact that she acts motherly to her friends, p. 53) and from ridiculous plays on words (Cornelius Fudge's name prompts the phrase "Here comes the judge" p. 65),

  4. and ridiculous connections with everything from mythology to Biblical stories which imply that the HP books have all some deep connection to history and western culture, most of which is simply poppycock.

I recognize that last as the kind of thing I did with poetry in my college lit classes, finding all the deep meanings in Keats and Milton and Shakespeare. Hey, that kind of thing is just plain misplaced with Harry Potter. Rowling is NOT making all those connections and if SHE isn't, it isn't there, plain and simple. She didn't put Harry in a blanket on the Dursleys' front porch to make him a symbol of the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes in the manger or Moses in a basket in the bullrushes or any such nonsense. She DID take a fairly standard image in our society of a baby abandoned on a doorstep, sure, but if that stereotypical image has its roots in Jesus or Moses (which I doubt), that doesn't meant that HARRY POTTER does. The Beacham book makes those kinds of direct connections, which is utterly indefensible. There are also even more silly connections made, such as the one that Pettigrew's missing finger indicates that he has "trouble making a point." How could she even write that? All of that sort of thing is lit criticism at its most pretentious, embarrassing, and foolish. Some of it is so atrociously awful that I had to read it a couple of times to convince myself that she'd actually dared to write it.

But like I said, there is plenty of good stuff too. And the trick is to separate the good stuff from the bad. I can do it, sure, but then I'm steeping in this Harry Potter stuff and I majored in literature in college, so I can spot the errors and assumptions and recognize silly allusions for what they are. What about kids? Teachers? Fans hungry for more about their favorite books? I just shake my head in dismay that this kind of schlock is published. If you choose to use this book as a resource, make sure you understand it for what it is and be careful; it's a minefield.

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