Friday, February 13, 2009
This week for the Versus installment of the Gargoyle, Arthur and I are going to tackle fictional or mythical settings. We’ve been saving this one up, and I’m excited to see what Arthur comes up with. (Of course, our favorite actual setting is the Gothic Bookshop. Especially that nook under the Religion Sale Books table, which is where I like to nap…)
Before I launch into a nice meaty chunk of why I picked the locale I did let me first address my criteria for a great book location. In my case, my location is fictional so the number one criterion for me is: is the place believable. Secondly, would be can I close my eyes and see the details the author describes to me. Thirdly, does the location fit within the greater scope of the book? Lastly, Is the location relevant to what is transpiring in the book?
My favorite setting for a book is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry from J.K Rowling’s’ Harry Potter novels.
Is Hogwarts believable? I think so; after all it’s really just a castle on the outside. The English countryside is dotted with castles. Hogwarts is located in Scotland in the novels so a castle would hardly be a stretch for Scotland. Inside of Hogwarts there are all sort of magical things, paintings that talk, ghosts that walk, and moving staircases. These things would all be typical to find in a castle, especially a magical one.
Secondly, can I close my eyes and imagine the place? Absolutely, I daresay nearly everyone who read the Potter novels has a pretty clear image of Hogwarts. They may differ slightly but I believe they would overall be very similar. Deep down inside I believe a good book to be fuel for the imagination. Rowling does a wonderful job of painting Hogwarts almost as a living breathing entity. The best part is that Harry has never had a home that he felt comfortable and welcomed in. Then he arrives at Hogwarts and realizes that it is his home, and for the first time he feels wanted somewhere. Rowling uses the castle to cement the protagonist. It actual adds something to a character.
Thirdly, does Hogwarts fit in the grander scope of the Potter novels? Well we have schools for lawyers, doctors, and engineers, so why not a school for up and coming wizards and witches? If one is prepared to accept the premise of the novels, that witches and wizards exist. Then certainly one can understand the need for a place to teach them the craft. As the books go on we see Hogwarts importance grow, culminating in the final battles of the books taking place at the castle. In fact I would argue that well over 50% of the Potter books take place inside the castle.
Finally, is Hogwarts relevant to what is transpiring in the books? Well not to sound cliché’ (thanks Obama) but Hogwarts is a beacon of hope in the wizarding community. It is a school for the future of wizardkind. We know that other schools for magic exist but none are revered as highly as Hogwarts. Hogwarts becomes extraordinarily relevant when it becomes the host/home for the Boy who Survived, Harry Potter. Potter’s presence at Hogwarts, and subsequent growing love for the building, cement the place as a relevant, vital part of the books. We see this particularly in the book The Order of the Phoenix with the addition of the Room of Requirement. The room is an area of Hogwarts that becomes available whenever there is a great need for a place. The room becomes available to Harry as a place for him and his fellow students to practice their Defense against the Dark Arts. They are unable to do so normally because of a haggish teacher named Professor Umbridge. Harry states in the book that it is almost as though Hogwarts were helping them fight back by providing them with the room as a place to train.
In closing, there are so many more things I could touch on, which in and of itself is a testimony to how viable a pick I feel this location is.
Arthur, I’m totally with you on your pick. No fictional setting has absorbed me as much as Hogwarts, not since I was a kid and reading about Sherwood Forest or Middle Earth or the House of Usher. I think I may go a little more abstract, though.
You guys are going to think I’m taking the easy way out, but I’m gonna have to go with The Garden of Eden for my Best-Setting Versus pick today. Think about it. Whether you’re a biblical literalist or a reader who’s inclined to treat Adam & Eve’s backyard as something closer to a mythical ideal, you’re affected by the notion of Paradise. (And I hope I'm not offending anyone by calling Paradise a mythical setting; for the sake of this installment of Versus, I'm treating the Bible purely as a literary text)
When Arthur and I decided on settings for our Versus topic this week, a cascade of ideas ran through my head: Yoknapatawpha, Narnia, Macondo, the futuristic dystopia of Orwell’s 1984, Superman’s Metropolis. It kind of made me dizzy until I realized that each of these settings are defined by the degree to which they resemble or diverge from the notion of utopia.
So where do we get the notion that there is any state of perfection towards which we can strive? What begets the dissatisfaction that we humans feel when all is not right? I’m going to say that we can lay the responsibility, if not the blame, on the book of Genesis and its notion that there was once an environmental manifestation of perfection.
We don’t have a whole lot to go on for a physical description of Paradise, but for generations we’ve been undeniably affected, addled, and inspired by the idea of it.
So that’s my pick, and we’ll see you next week, Gothic Shoppers.