July 18, 2007

A Caribbean Harry Potter?

Harry PotterNow that book lovers all over the world are getting ready for the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows scheduled to be released this weekend (my family has already pre-ordered our copy), I can’t help but wonder if we will ever have a series from the Caribbean that could be similar to Harry Potter. For ever since my brief foray into writing a children’s book, Grandpa Sydney’s Anancy Stories, I’ve been asked if I was going to expand the book into a series. But if I were to attempt to write something similar to Harry Potter, it would have to be in the realm of speculative fiction, an area where I’ve had some success with stories such as Uncle Obadiah and the Alien, “Sister Faye and the Dreadlocked Vampire,” and ‘The Day Jesus Christ Came to Mount Airy.”

But a Caribbean Harry Potter? And I don’t mean a parody or anything like that. I mean an authentic hero in a children’s book whose foundation is the myth and folklore of the Caribbean and whose protagonist practices the magic and rituals of the Caribbean.

In other words, while not discounting the vision and stamina of J.K. Rowling in creating Harry Potter and the subsequent support of her publishers and readers to see the project to its end, what other factors would be needed to create a Caribbean Harry Potter? For the challenge that any Caribbean writer would face in creating a series such as Harry Potter in the Caribbean would be what Coleridge has called the “willing suspension of disbelief” which is essential in creating any fiction. Let me explain.

Besides being firmly entrenched in the world of English boarding schools (a world that I know only too well), the foibles of British life (read any novel by Sam Selvon or the other exiled Caribbean writers from the fifties), and the British civil service (Monty Python or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy), Harry Potter is firmly grounded in the milieu of Grendel, Narnia, Lord of the Rings and the folklore that predates the imposition of Christianity on the Celtic and Germanic tribes in what is now known as the United Kingdom. Much of British literature and indigenous nature religions such as Wicca share this common mythological background that is viewed by many, sometimes on purely nationalistic terms, as an alternative to Christianity. The existence of Wicca legitimizes a character such as Harry Potter because an a priori assumption of the Harry Potter series is the existence of “good” wizards. This would be the main challenge for a Caribbean author in writing a children’s series in the manner of Harry Potter. For although the nature religions of Great Britain and West Africa share many archetypal similarities, if an author were to draw on the myths of the Caribbean that derive from the religion of the Yoruba people of West Africa (Lukumi, or Voudoun ), she would have no problem creating a credible “evil” houngan or wizard. She would, however, have an extremely difficult challenge in dispelling in her reader’s mind that there could exist a “good” Voudoun wizard to which parents from the Caribbean (or anywhere else for that matter) would want to expose their children -- never mind that Harry wears the mark of the warrior Xango.

This is not to say that J. K. Rowling books have not been mired in religious controversy and that the Harry Potter series has not been accused of being the gateway to practicing witchcraft and devil worship. But Harry Potter’s magic is perceived as a benign practice. And even Lord Valdemort as bad as he is would be no match for Baron Samedi. In other words, Wicca may be have a little “good,” but Voudoun is thoroughly evil. And this has always been the puzzling factor for a writer, like me, who is interested in archetypal/mythological themes in literature. For while it is possible to write a children’s book using the nature religions of Great Britain, it is unthinkable to write a children’s book using the nature religions of the Caribbean. Or you could write it, but who would buy it?

But enough of this idle speculation. On July 21, my children, who have all grown up on the Harry Potter series long before it became popular and was only sold in independent book stores like Books and Books, will join in the Harry Potter celebrations. My eldest will wear her Gryffindor regalia; the younger will wear her T-shirt that says, “Hagrid is my Bitch,” and my son, who is waaay too cool for all of this hoopla will probably hold out until he realizes how much fun we’re having. And as the pattern has gone for the last six releases, my eldest will begin reading the book as soon as we get home and finish it by about eight or nine o’clock. She will then hand the book over to her sister or brother, and no matter how much we probe and beg, she will never reveal the ending. And with this release, I’m sure she will never tell even if we threaten her with a spell of cellulite in unwanted places. And for what it’s worth, given J.K. Rowling’s incredible gift to this generation and many more to come, Harry will live.



neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Hi Geoffrey, interesting thought here. It did cross my mind, how do we produce a 'Caribbean Harry Potter'. It was just a fleeting thought though because, for some reason, it just didn't feel 'right' to copy what someone else has done elsewhere.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Guyana,
It wouldn't be a copy or anything like that. I was just speculating on how one kind of magic can be totally evil and another can have both good and evil, when if you look at them through archetypal lens, they share similar mythological constructs.


Stephen A. Bess said...

I'm like your son. I'm probably not as cool as your son, but I've never seen or read anything Harry Potter. :)

Christina said...

This is a really great blog post, and I really appreciate the insights you've given.

I've only been in the Caribbean for a month, so forgive me if my thoughts are totally off-target, but it appears to me that much of Caribbean society (especially the upper half) seems to hold on to a colonial mentality. I mean that they, consciously or subconsciously, seem to believe that foreigners are more competent and are more trustworthy somehow than the natives. In the same sense, everyone seems to believe that the native religions are bad, while the religion brought in by the colonialists are "good". It appears to be a self-esteem issue on a multinational scale, and I sincerely hope it changes soon.


Geoffrey Philp said...

Dear Christina,

For only a month you've picked up a lot.

Yes,self-esteem is a big issue.


neena maiya (guyana gyal) said...

Yes, I did read that that bit about the good and evil in one magic, and the total evil in another...I was actually thinking how some of our younger writers here might ignore this and try to 'copy' Harry Potter. I didn't express myself well, did I?

Mad Bull said...

Interesting thoughts here, Geoffrey. I haven't got my copy of the new book yet. Even though I blogged about it, I totally forgot about the release and by the time I remembered, the books were all sold out. Maybe I will go and order my copy on Monday.

Geoffrey Philp said...

Mad Bull, give thanks for the comment. My daughter still won't tell us how it ends and my son, who is reading is now, says, "rocks fall and everyone dies."


FSJL said...

Geoffrey, I think you'll find that Wicca is a quite modern religion (being developed by Gerald Gardner in the mid-twentieth century).