The Potterverse (was; DWJ in Israeli newspaper)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sun Feb 22 17:58:00 EST 2004


Robyn replied to me and Charlie:

Charlie
>> >1) Witches are servants of the devil - the official Christian line for most
>> >of Christianity's history (not so sure about now!)
Minnow
>>Less than half of Christianity's history, I suspect.  Is there any mention
>>before 1000AD of *witchcraft* as opposed to heresy of one sort or another?
>>Robyn?
>
>I don't think the word existed with the particular meaning that it gained
>later.

It seems to mean just an old, ill-favoured female, rather than one with
particularly magical or daemonic powers, I *think*, in Lydgate.

>On the other hand, there are references to unnatural magical doings
>in some pre-1000 literature. Is Grendel's mother a witch? The poem doesn't
>call her one, but maybe you could argue that she fits the profile.

The operative word might be "unnatural".  Monsters like Grendel and his dam
are "unnatural"; whereas witches are human.  Does that fit?  My reasoning
here is that the poet associates Grendel with Cain, which we'd think of as
a human descent; the catagorising after that is clearly not of a human
being at all.  Among other inhuman characteristics, his blood dissolves
metal within minutes.  The poet says he is one of the "misbegotten"
descendents of Cain, the "evil broods", and includes him with the ogres and
elves (not cuddly ones who sing!) and goblins and giants.  Those weren't
believed to have souls, I don't think, were they?  So they couldn't be
witches, who sold their souls to the devil (though when that idea got
started I'm not at all sure), they were just inimical-to-humans Other
Races.  In which case I have to suppose that Grendel's mother couldn't
really be a witch-analogue.  I'd probably call her a troll.

Grendel does have a spell to make him invulnerable to weapons, though.  I
think probably I would read it that the non-human can use spells, but if
they don't have souls they can't be witches.

>>Less theologically and more pragmatically, I would expect some (not many,
>>but a few at least) of the children in even a magical school to have
>>parents who were devout members of one religion or another, and to have to
>>have special "prayers" at different times or on different days because
>>otherwise their parents kicked up a fuss, as in English schools yea even as
>>far back as the 1950s.  This would make a difficulty for the writer.
>
>Ignoring this fits with the ignoring of all non-magical subjects at
>Hogwarts. No one there learns grammar or biology or mathematics in mundane
>classes. It particularly amuses me that they write all those feet of essays
>on parchment, and no one apparently has ever taught them how to write an
>essay, or a paragraph.

Oh, eek, argh.  The more I hear, the less I am impressed.  Do they do gym?
Or has she resisted someone being bad at gym and getting made fun of for
it?  I thought they had organised games, at least, or is the
football-on-broomsticks an extra-curricular activity?

>>After reading Ika's comments, and having noticed these basic things even
>>without reading the books, I feel more and more that I don't have any
>>particular need-to-read.  Life is too short, and the *complete* works of
>>Chaucer in the Riverside edition paperback is the same size as Potter book
>>5 hardback (and weighs twelve ounces more, the Potter is evidently
>>lightweight in more ways than one).
>
>Yes, but so much of the Riverside is notes and glossary. It's not like you
>have to read the whole thing.

Only about two-fifths is notes and glossary, and the rest is quite small
print!  Anyhow, it sounds more and more as if I would prefer to read the
whole of that, apparatus, bibliographies and all, than the whole of Potter.

Minnow


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