Sunday, July 22, 2007

Authors as Prophets

On the day when the world was tearing into J.K. Rowling's seventh and final book in the wildly successful series about the boy-wizard Harry Potter and his fight against evil, I must admit that I, at last, picked up her first book, Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone. I am familiar with the characters, the plot, most details of the story, and (being the parent of a 14- and 10-year-old) have seen all the movies multiple times. I discussed the seventh book with my wife and daughter who finished the tome the very same evening they waited in line to get their copies. Now that I know how the story ends, I am reading all the works with an eye to how the author develops her story and seek to tie up the loose ends as I come across them. I am still enjoying the story and expect to learn, first-hand, many more details of the story.

Early in the first book (toward the end of the first chapter), I was struck by a passage in which Professor McGonagall claims, "[Harry Potter will] be famous -- a legend -- I wouldn't be surprised if today was known as Harry Potter day in the future -- there will be books written about Harry -- every child in the world will know his name!" When Rowling was writing this first book, surely she didn't believe that her books would be so wildly successful. She could certainly hope so, but hindsight now proves her prophetic statement to be amazingly correct!

Immediately I thought of Latin authors who had made similar prophetic statements in their own works. Ovid writes, Mantua Vergilio, gaudet Verona Catullo;/ Paelignae dicar gloria gentis ego (Mantua rejoices in Vergil, Verona in Catullus; I shall be called the glory of the Pelignian race)(Amores III.15, ll. 7-8). Of course Ovid is writing after he has accumulated some fame but he has no doubts that he will be famous and deserves (rightly so) to be included in the same club with Vergil and Catullus. Further, Martial writes toto notus in orbe Martialis/ argutis epigrammaton libellis ([I am] Martial, known around the world for his clever little books of epigrams)(Epigrams I.1, ll. 2-3). He, also having already attained fame, has correctly predicted the future. Finally, there is the famous Latin quote which immediately came to mind as soon as I read Rowling's words, Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei/vitabit Libitinam; usque ego postera/crescam laude recens, dum Capitolium/ scandet cum tacita virgine pontifex. (I shall not entirely die and a big part of me will avoid Death; I will continue to grow fresh with following praise as long as the pontifex climbs the Capitoline with the silent virgin.)(Horace, Odes III.30, ll. 6-9). Horace is confident in his permanent place in literary history. He, too, though, writes with the knowledge that he is already a great poet. What did Rowling know of her coming fame and prosperity? Will her works become classics and be read many, many years from now? She (and we) really have no way to tell. Her legacy will assuredly rest in bringing countless people, including school children distracted by so many things outside of formal education, to opening a book and (obsessively) devouring it's words.

As a side note, I pondered Horace's words and realized how true his prediction still is. He said that he will continue to live, and subsequently be read, as long as the Pontifex climbs the Capitol accompanied by the silent Virgin. A different Pontifex (the Pope) still climbs a hill (the Vatican which is the Capitol of the Catholic Church) accompanied by the silent Virgin (Mary, the Mother of Christ).


Anonymous said...

Profound. I also just read the 7th book AND the 1st book, which I read with my youngest son. And I stood last Friday night in a parking lot party at Book People in Austin, marveling on this miracle--in an age of computer games, email, gameboys, and iPods, that a book could create such an incredibly festive and joyous occasion. ginnyL

Morgana Majere said...

I must admit I am such a fun of Harry Potter's books, although I am old enough for other kind of literature. I was translating a poem by Horace, and was looking for some help when I found your blog. I also found many interesting matches between Rowling books and our clasic literature, apart from the obvious spells and so. I enjoyed your text, thanks ;)

P.D.: Sorry if I made any mistake, I am not English, but Spanish... :)