From here on out its actual criticism (some social, some literary), actually read in order as promised.
Mapping the World of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice – Edited by Mercedes Lackey, published in 2005
This is the first, and oldest of my actual books of Harry Potter criticism, both in the its the one with the earliest publication date, and in that its the one I’ve had the longest.
As you might have noticed if you’re obsessive enough to remember Harry Potter‘s original publication dates, this was published after the release of Half-Blood Prince and before Deathly Hallows, so its a commentary on what was, at the time, an incomplete series. I have a few books like this, and coming back to them now is really interesting, in part because the essays themselves still, for the most part, hold up very well, but also because they’ve become a sort of crystallized record of what was going on during that break.
Incidentally, how did any of us survive the publication gap? I set out with a lofty goal of reading all my pre-Hallows criticism books before I reread Hallows itself, and I lasted about five days before I couldn’t take the suspense any more and had to go finish the series.
Mapping the World of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice is one of the Smartpop lineup of criticism books, which are in general really quite good, and this one doesn’t disappoint, even twelve years after the fact (oh God I am so old!). It contains fifteen essays, which are split between literary analysis of the series; there’s a good feminist analysis by Sarah Zettel, and an explanation of the Hero’s Journey that I still use as references, and commentary on the social context surrounding Harry Potter, both on the social commentary in the books, and the huge, complex response surrounding them. It even fits in a couple of essays speculating about what might happen in books seven, although, quite frankly these were by far the weakest part of the book back when I bought it and they haven’t aged well.
I have a bit of a nostalgia glow feeling about this book, it was one of my first introductions to criticism as a genre and its about a series I love, but even looking at it with my most critical eye each individual essay, except for the last one which I never liked very much, is still an interesting read.
Its very obvious that these were all written independently of each other and that’s exacerbated by the fact that the essays are presented in no particular order, so you have to totally reset yourself between essays. This is very typical of the Smartpop books, which aim to present overviews and its not necessarily a bad thing. The first time I read it I loved it, because of the sheer number of different ideas crammed into a relatively slender book. Nowdays I tend to prefer more of a smaller number of ideas, but I still found it delightful, because getting, essentially, a tasting menu of ideas that leaves you going “can you expand on that maybe?” is a great thing to read when its sitting on top of a two foot high stack of “more of that”, which in my case it was. That said, in this regard, your mileage may vary.