From Lolita to Winnie-the-Pooh: Juno Dawson on the best banned books

From the ‘unrestrained pornography’ of Nabokov’s classic to Harry Potter’s witchcraft … the This Book Is Gay author looks at literary works that have fallen foul of censors

We are all familiar with the gut-wrenching, disturbing images of the German Student Union burning books under the Nazi regime. It’s less well known, perhaps, that the photograph we often associate with this time shows the burning of the libraries of Dr Magnus Hirschfeld, the first man – that we know of – to use the term transsexual and perform gender confirmation surgery on Lili Elbe (as seen in the film The Danish Girl).

Rarely would we see book burnings today, but routinely books are challenged or banned on grounds of impropriety. Let’s start with a personal example. My guide to gender, sexual identity and LGBTQ sex education, This Book Is Gay (2014), was challenged in Wasilla, Alaska, when a parent ...

Wizards, Moomins and pirates: the magic and mystery of literary maps

From Moominland to the Marauder’s Map, writers Robert Macfarlane, Frances Hardinge and Harry Potter cartographer Miraphora Mina unfold their favourite maps

In the beginning was the map. Robert Louis Stevenson drew it in the summer of 1881 to entertain his 12-year-old stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, while on a rainy family holiday in Scotland. It depicts a rough-coasted island of woods, peaks, swamps and coves. A few place names are marked, which speak of adventure and disaster: Spyeglass Hill, Graves, Skeleton Island. The penmanship is deft, confident – at the island’s southern end is an intricate compass rose, and the sketch of a galleon at full sail. Figures signal the depth in fathoms of the surrounding sea, and there are warnings to mariners: “Strong tide here”, “Foul ground”. In the heart of the island is a blood-red cross, by which is scrawled the legend “Bulk of treasure here”.

Continue reading...

Wizards, Moomins and pirates: the magic and mystery of literary maps

From Moominland to the Marauder’s Map, writers Robert Macfarlane, Frances Hardinge and Harry Potter cartographer Miraphora Mina unfold their favourite maps

In the beginning was the map. Robert Louis Stevenson drew it in the summer of 1881 to entertain his 12-year-old stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, while on a rainy family holiday in Scotland. It depicts a rough-coasted island of woods, peaks, swamps and coves. A few place names are marked, which speak of adventure and disaster: Spyeglass Hill, Graves, Skeleton Island. The penmanship is deft, confident – at the island’s southern end is an intricate compass rose, and the sketch of a galleon at full sail. Figures signal the depth in fathoms of the surrounding sea, and there are warnings to mariners: “Strong tide here”, “Foul ground”. In the heart of the island is a blood-red cross, by which is scrawled the legend “Bulk of treasure here”.

Continue reading...

Atwood? Shakespeare? Harry Potter? Top 10 false identities in fiction

Characters in disguise are almost as frequent in books as in real life. From the boy wizard to the bard, here are some of the best

We all wear masks. In the various parts of our lives, we present different faces to the world. Often it is a form of self-preservation. We want to be liked, valued, respected, feared. Sometimes it is because we desire something we are afraid that our real self would be unable to get: a new contract with a client, for example; a date with John/Joan from next door. Occasionally, it is because we have something we wish to hide. Something dark, perhaps. Something deadly.

In my new thriller, The Liar’s Room, identity is at the heart of the mystery. Or mysteries, I should say, because although almost all of the action takes place in a single room, involving just two main characters, nobody ...

Evil in a Teacup: Fighting the Institutional Authority of Dolores Umbridge

Who is the villain?

Is the villain the leader who starts the movement? The demagogue who decides to rally the tiny cruelties that live within the hearts of people who think of themselves as good? Is it the person who blows on the embers of hatred until they finally catch and erupt into an all-consuming flame?

Or is it the person who finds themself in a position of power, and chooses not to put the fire out? Is the villain the person who chooses to sit before that fire, warming their hands?

Dolores Umbridge has surely never thought of herself as evil. Evil people never do. They think of themselves as working for the betterment of the world they live in. Dolores Umbridge lives in a world that is populated by all sorts of people—werewolves and merpeople and muggles and wizards.

And she knows in her heart that it would ...

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The Real Reason The Sorting Hat Placed Albus Potter in Slytherin House

In the epilogue to the Potter series, Harry sees his middle child Albus onto the Hogwarts Express for his first year at the wizarding school. Albus, it turns out, is beset by fears that he will be Sorted into Slytherin House, though Harry can’t understand why. He tells Albus that it is perfectly fine to be a Slytherin, but that the Sorting Hat will take his decision into account if it matters that much to him.

Albus Potter goes to Hogwarts. He is Sorted into Slytherin House. And no one can seem to figure out the reason, Albus included.

But I think that answer is actually pretty simple.

[This piece contains spoilers for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child]

Albus’s time at Hogwarts is fraught to be sure, though this is less down to his being a Slytherin and more due to his lack of interest in and aptitude ...

This Harry Potter Crossover Fic Will Destroy You (In A Good Way)

Author Burgandi Rakoska snared our hearts today when we discovered this Tumblr post about post-school Harry Potter figuring out adult life after being a Chosen One. The unlikely friendship that he forms with a familiar older woman will undoubtedly bring a tear (or two) to the eye.

Prepare to have feelings:

Harry Potter/Narnia xover fic Burgandi Rakoska

Harry Potter/Narnia xover fic Burgandi Rakoska

Obviously fantasy enthusiasts and authors have long circled back on the raw deal bestowed upon Susan Pevensie at the end of the Narnia series, but there’s something particularly moving about Susan and a young Harry getting to bond over how they’re treated in their respective realms. The level of scrutiny that both of them faced as children is deeply painful to witness as readers. The thought that they could offer each other some measure of comfort in that connection is a little like balm on a wound.

Check out the rest of Rakoska’s Tumblr and take a peek at ...

“In Search of Doors”: Read V.E. Schwab’s 2018 J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature

Earlier this year, author V.E. Schwab delivered the sixth annual J.R.R. Tolkien Lecture on Fantasy Literature at Pembroke College, Oxford. With her permission, we are proud to present the text of that lecture; you can also find a complete video of the lecture and the excellent Q&A session that followed here, and also embedded below.

I have a confession to make:

I haven’t read The Lord of the Rings, or The Hobbit. I do not consider myself a well-versed fan of Tolkien, let alone an expert. I have nothing against the titular author of this lecture series, of course—in fact, when I was awarded the immense opportunity of delivering this talk, I considered dropping everything to read those books. Not because I wanted to, but because how could I step up to this podium otherwise? Fluency, if not fandom, felt expected of me.

Which is exactly why, in the end, ...

Five Reasons Harry Potter Should Have Been a Slytherin

This year, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the U.S. publication and even now, two decades later, there are certain debates that continue to rage like fiendfyre throughout the fandom: Who is worse, Umbridge or Voldemort? Is Snape really good or evil? Which Deathly Hallows would you choose? The fact that we still continue to feel so passionately about these topics speaks to the breadth and complexity of the wonderful world that J.K. Rowling created. For me, there is one particular question that I can’t stop asking, and it is, admittedly, a rather controversial one: did the Sorting Hat put Harry in the wrong house?

Like any fan, I have a certain personal stake in this question. From the first moment I opened a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in 2001, I knew I was a Slytherin. It was ...

The Book That Taught Me Magic is Real, But Not Without Consequences

You know the story: boy discovers there’s a world of witches and wizards, where friends come in the forms of a courageous girls and aging professors, where sinister forces stir in ancient tombs and only he, riddled with self-doubt from behind his glasses, can stop them.

You do realize I’m not talking about Harry Potter.

It’s Lewis Barnavelt, obviously. You know, by John Bellairs? Wait, YOU DON’T KNOW JOHN BELLAIRS?

My inner eleven-year-old gets a little defensive about Bellairs, because he’s my J.K. Rowling.

Bellairs’ The House with a Clock in Its Walls is my Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone. The book where I, as an awkward, inhaler-puffing, glasses-wearing kid, found a hero who sounded a whole lot like me, struggling to find his place in a ever-frightening world.

I am not suggesting that Rowling at all ripped off any ideas from my boy John. ...

How well do you know your fictional bookshops? – quiz

To mark the end of Independent bookshop week, a celebration of booksellers across the UK and Ireland, test your knowledge of fictional literary havens

What is Arthur Geiger’s bookshop on Hollywood Boulevard a front for in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep?

Pornography

Drugs

Human trafficking

Alcohol

“Before him lay a long, narrow room, the back of which was lost in the half-light. The walls were lined with shelves filled with books of all shapes and sizes. Large folios were piled high on the floor, and on several tables lay heaps of smaller, leather-bound books, whose spines glittered with gold.” What is the name of the owner of the bookshop in Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story?

Bastian Balthazar Bux

Carl Conrad Coreander

Dirk Dastardly Diggly

Edmund Earl Erasmus

What is the name of the bookshop in Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s ode to reading, The Shadow of the Wind?

The Cemetery ...

Harry Potter and Tom Kerridge fuel Bloomsbury’s record revenue

Publisher hits £161.5m takings, driven by Potter sales and Lose Weight for Good

The evergreen Harry Potter franchise and the popularity of TV chef Tom Kerridge’s Lose Weight for Good has driven book publisher Bloomsbury’s revenue to the highest level in its 32-year history.

Bloomsbury Publishing reported a 13% surge in revenues to £161.5m in the year to the end of February, its best performance since it was founded in 1986.

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Why Would Any Parent Send Their Kids to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry?

Much of children’s literature creates fantastical scenarios in which the young protagonists can endure all sorts of danger that reality would never permit. It is the nature of fiction to allow us to do whatever we cannot, and when you’re a child—a point when your suspension of disbelief is at an all-time high—taking advantage of this will never be easier.

But if we stop to consider carefully, reality will eventually clock in. And it’s then when you realize that you would never make it through your education at Hogwarts. Lasting a term would be a miracle. Why do parents send their children here? It’s madness.

I understand that we’re not meant to take certain elements of the series seriously (particularly in the earlier adventures), and that some aspects of the books are engineered to ensure plot development and excitement throughout. But if I’m going to suspend my disbelief for this ...

Cosplay Spotlight from JordanCon X

The Wheel of Conventions turns, and Cosplays come and pass, leaving memories that become legend. Legend fades to myth, and even myth is long forgotten when the Convention that gave it birth comes again. In one Age, called 2018 by some, an Age yet to come, an Age long past, a wind rose outside of Atlanta, Georgia. The wind was not the beginning. There are neither beginnings nor endings to the turning of the Wheel of Conventions. But it was a beginning.

The wind spoke, to those with ears trained to listen. It spoke of Aes Sedai prowling the halls in search of False Dragons, and ta’veren tossing the dice. It spoke of wizards far from their homes in Chicago. It spoke of bridgemen and havahs and those who used metals to power their magic. It spoke of blademasters, daring those who might challenge them. It spoke of monsters and ...

Harry Potter Series Will Get New Covers For 20th Anniversary Edition

Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick

This year marks Harry Potter’s 20th anniversary, and Scholastic is celebrating by giving them a new cover treatment from Caldecott Medal-winning illustrator Brian Selznick.

The whole series of covers form one long mural when placed side by side, allowing readers to follow the characters through the entire series. Selznick had this to say about the project:

I’m a huge Harry Potter fan (a proud Hufflepuff!) and to be asked to illustrate the 20th anniversary edition covers was an absolute honor. I knew this project came with so much responsibility to the stories, as well as to the readers. I revisited the books and was especially moved by the relationships between the characters in J.K. Rowling’s magical world, so I wanted these covers to reflect that. One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of the process was drawing seven independent covers that would stand on their own, while making ...

Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick
Harry Potter series, 20th anniversary, cover art, Brian Selznick

From Circe to Clinton: why powerful women are cast as witches

A misogynist insult in Washington and Westminster, a force for good in Hollywood … for centuries, witches have personified fear of assertive women. But why does the stereotype persist?

During the 2016 US presidential election, American social media was flooded with images of Hillary Clinton wearing a black hat and riding a broom, or else cackling with green skin. Her opponents named her The Wicked Witch of the Left, claimed they had sources testifying that she smelled of sulphur, and took particular delight in depictions of her being melted. Given that the last witch trial in the US was more than 100 hundred years ago, what are we to make of this?

In the late 19th century, the suffragette Matilda Joslyn Gage asserted something revolutionary. The persecution of witches, she said, had nothing to do with fighting evil or resisting the devil. It was simply entrenched social misogyny, the goal ...

Stop the Hogwarts House Hate: Hufflepuffs and Slytherins are Great, Too

When J.K. Rowling first revealed that Harry and Ginny’s son, James Sirius Potter, had been sorted into Gryffindor, she also noted that Teddy Lupin—son of Remus and Tonks, and the Head Boy of Hufflepuff House—was disappointed by the hat’s decision. Teddy’s disappointment was shared by some members of fandom. And while it’s hard to be surprised that a kid named for James Potter and Sirius Black would be a Gryffindor through and through, that frustration plays into a long fought battle among diehard Potter fans about how the Hogwarts Houses should be viewed, and who might be getting the short end of the stick.

While Slytherin and Hufflepuff both have their share of intensely dedicated fans, it’s no secret that among the general Potter-reading population, most would prefer to be a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw. Why? Do people prefer lions and ravens? Red and blue? Or is it something to ...

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Harry Potter, Albus Severus, Deathly Hallows epilogue

Harry Potter and the Battle For Gun Control

Emma Gonzalez, March for Our Lives

Voldemort shouts the Killing Curse over and over, and every time he expects that he will win.

And every time, Harry moves to disarm.

The March For Our Lives was this weekend. I didn’t bring a sign, just a body that could be counted in a tally. This isn’t for me, I thought to myself. It’s for the children around me. Children who are standing with parents and friends and doing their best to still smile and laugh and make the day triumphant. That’s what we expect of children. That they must continue to be children in spite of everything. They must maintain some semblance of innocence, no matter how callous the world has become.

These children were raised on dystopia, we are told. They are growing up with Resistance fighters in Star Wars and superheroes who avenge. With Katniss Everdeen’s love for her little sister. With Maze Runner ...

Lessons in Fantasy Languages from Harry Potter and The Hobbit

Recently, I was honored to give a paper at the annual conference of the Philological Association of the Carolinas. I give a lot of lectures in a lot of venues on a lot of subjects—only one week before I was giving a keynote to a medical society on the battle head-wounds of David II of Scotland and Henry V of England—but this particular talk was one that I thought might interest y’all hereabouts: it was about using Harry Potter and The Hobbit to teach philology.

If you don’t know, philology is, broadly speaking, the study of language within (mostly) textual contexts. Philologists look at how languages form, how they relate to one another, how they impart meaning … and how we can know any of that at all. By its nature it brings together a diverse swath of academic interests from textual criticism, linguistics, and history and unites them into ...

Help! I Can’t Let Firefly Go! And Other Advice for Nerd Problems

Mal Firefly Serenity Valley

Mallory Ortberg isn’t just the cofounder of The Toast and the exceptional advice columnist behind Slate’s “Dear Prudence.” They (Ortberg recently announced their transition to Daniel) are also an author. Their new book The Merry Spinster is a collection of disconcerting updates on classic children’s stories—stories updated, fractured, re-spun, turned inside out. (We have never felt quite so bad for The Wind in the Willows’ Toad.)

Given the fairy-tale bent of Ortberg’s new book, and their knack for advice that we want to read even when we’ve got nothing in common with the asker, we thought it was time to combine the two. So we collected a few questions from characters you may or may not recognize (all querents retain full anonymity, obviously) and asked Ortberg for their fantastical—and just plain fantastic—advice.

STILL WONDERING

Why hasn’t my Hogwarts letter arrived yet?

—Owlways Waiting

Access to education is ...