Adult Nostalgia and Children’s Classics

I first discovered fanfiction at a Harry Potter Con a few years ago in San Francisco—appropriately enough. It reminded me at the time that I tend to live my life under a large literary rock. The Internet is full of fanfiction sites. If you are unaware of fanfic, then tread carefully, especially if you are checking out fanfic sites of your favourite series. I only ever read fanfic occasionally, but as someone who encourages reading, writing, and writing about reading, I can hardly criticize such endeavours. Popular culture reproduces and responds to books and films in many ways, but the cultural response to and definition of what have come to be called children’s classics emerges, in part, from nostalgic adults who are attached to their reading experiences of such books.
But when is fanfic no longer fanfic? If you are a published author, then it’s called a sequel—apparently. Earlier this year a colleague recommended to me William Horwood’s Tales of the Willows series. These books were published in the 90s. But don’t give me too hard a time for not knowing about them earlier. Remember, I live under a rock.
The Willows in Winter, Toad Triumphant, The Willows and Beyond, and The Willows at Christmas are four short books by William Horwood, who, as you might guess, picks up the story of Mole, Rat, Badger, Toad, and Otter from Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows.
The Wind in the Willows found its way onto my literary landscape early in my reading life. I remember my mother reading it out loud to me, and I read it later again and again. I’ve even taught the book a couple of times. Teaching the book to a children’s literature class, however, can get problematic. For one, the book has no sympathetic female characters, and the River Bank itself is populated only by males. As my children’s literature classes are mostly female students, you can guess the response. Fortunately for me, my classes are filled with bright students, who are both critical and forgiving readers, so we talk about it, and no one trashes the book. Teaching Tolkien’s The Hobbit presents me with the same problem—no female characters. I got used to identifying the fact right away, so no one is stewing over it while I gush about the book.
Back to Horwood. When an author picks up a story and creates his or her own, I never quite know what to do with it. But that’s just me. If you are looking for further adventures with Mole, Rat, and the rest, then you won’t be disappointed. Horwood works hard to remain true to Grahame’s style, and the various adventures of toad are as whacky and thoughtless as in the original book.
I read The Willows and Beyond first, which may have been a mistake. This book introduces the next generation—as it were—and it sees the return of such characters as the Sea Rat. But the paradise of the River Bank has become infected, which leads to (spoiler alert here) the dissolution of this particular utopia. Goodbye golden age.
I loved the adventures of Toad, but I think even more I loved the insular nature of the River Bank. It was a place set apart—safe and yet full of manageable danger and adventure. It was a place that spoke to me of home, of friendship, and days without end.
My sense of the River Bank as a place set apart comes right from the first chapter of the book. Mole asks about what he sees in the blue distance, something that might be the smoke of towns, and he gets a careful admonishment from Rat:
“Beyond the Wild Wood comes the Wide World,” said the Rat. “And that’s something that doesn’t matter, either to you or me. I’ve never been there, and I’m never going, nor you either, if you’ve got any sense at all. Don’t ever refer to it again, please. Now then! Here’s our backwater at last, where we’re going to lunch.”
Rat and Mole in fact visit the Wide World during their adventures with toad, but that never took away from my sense of the River Bank as a world set apart. Perhaps this is my own nostalgia in operation, but I don’t care.
If you don’t want anyone, not even an author, messing with your books and the worlds you hold dear, then I would avoid fanfic and writers such as Horwood. But if you want more of the world of the willows and the River Bank, then check out these books. They aren’t long, so get them all, find a quiet place, and feast on these new adventures with familiar characters.

Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles, Fanfic or Christian Politics?

I first discovered fanfiction at a Harry Potter con in San Francisco. It was the first session of the conference, and I was curious. As I sat through the ninety-minute session, I realized I was experiencing a world of fandom I had no idea existed.
In some ways, I shouldn’t have been surprised. This was a Harry Potter con. People were dressed in costume everywhere. I took a side door out of the hotel to get away from the craziness for a few minutes, and I met there two generic witches and a Severus Snape.
I’ve never identified myself with fandom of any kind, but I appreciate, I think, those who do. At least I understand the desire to engage imaginatively and creatively with a favourite book or author. It took me longer to understand fanfic. I read some posts, and thought, fine. People want to engage the world of Harry Potter in different ways. And again, it’s not something I’ve done, but I understand the desire to use writing as a means of personal expression.
Enter, Hogwarts School of Prayer and Miracles by Proudhousewife. This one has been popping up variously on the Internet the past couple of weeks, so I finally had a read. If you’re interested, I would encourage you to have a look as well.
Here’s a brief sample from Chapter 7, “Wheat and Chaff,” the sorting chapter: “The Great Hall burst into applause as a red and yellow baseball cap with a lion embroidered on the front appeared on Harry’s head. He hopped deftly off the table and landed on his little feet. He could feel the love of the Lord surging through him; and he knew he had made the right decision.”
In this fanfic, Harry Potter is a good little Christian who makes all of the right decisions. But what’s with the baseball cap? Proudhousewife’s fanfic isn’t just a Christian revision of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; it’s American. If you keep reading, you’ll find a reference to the first amendment in chapter 8. I’m not sure which bothered me more—the Christianity or the baseball caps.
At heart, fanfic strikes me as a means for fans to engage the books they love in a different way. I’ve read Harry Potter fanfics that show same-sex relationships between different characters from the books. Such an engagement is certainly political, as it places such relationships from the books into the context of choices around gender and gender identification.
Political is fine, but Proudhousewife crosses a line. For one, she isn’t a fan. This isn’t just her version of the Harry Potter story that she wrote to safeguard her “little ones.” She has a political agenda riding on the Harry Potter name. And I wouldn’t even call this fanfic. It’s self-serving, reductionist, and preachy. One cap, one Christianity, one lens through which to see the world.
Here’s another example: chapter 6: Sorting Hats! (The exclamation point is there I’m sure so you understand the importance of the sorting—and the fact these are hats, not a hat).
In this chapter, our brave little Christian soldier is meeting other little members of Hogwarts and discovering shocking things about the hats—again, hats, not houses.
Harry is sitting at a table with Ronald, presently unsorted, with countless other redheads wearing green and black baseball caps bearing snakes. Harry discovers to his horror that the Slytherins—yes, they are Slytherins—believe in God but also worship Mary: “the mommy of our Lord.” Harry then turns to a peace-loving, vegetarian Hufflepuff hat (a version of Luna), who says: “We don’t believe in the stuff against fornication and drinking and socialism; but we really like Matthew 7:1 (Matthew 7:1 – Judge not, that ye not be judged); and that’s about it.” And she’s not even eating real bacon: “it tasted like vegetables blended together and died red. Yuck! Harry would take real bacon over that any day of the week.”
These two brief encounters offer some pointed comments. Together, they condemn Catholics, middle-of-the-road Christians, vegetarians, drinkers, and socialists—not to mention fornicators. Harry is the blessed little Christian protagonist of the story, so I’m not sure how to read this any other way. I’m not touching Harry’s comments on the role of women, which he offers later in the chapter to Draco, who wears a Ravenclaw hat. You’ll have to read those for yourself.
When I was twenty, I met a Catholic priest who said to me: “We believe the Catholic religion is the right religion and the only religion.” I was young, not too bright, and lacked the wherewithal to offer an appropriate response. The message I’m getting from Proudhousewife is the same, except this time it’s in the guise of a Gryffindor baseball cap. She can write whatever she wants in order to safeguard her children, but I think I’ll stick to reading J. K. Rowling.