The big buzz among serious readers of Harry Potter at the end of 2010 is the revelation of Ms. Rowling’s use of traditional Ring artistry in putting together each of her books and the seven book series as well. The only thing in print on the subject so far are my Ring Composition lecture notes and, as hurried a production as that was, it succeeds in establishing the fact of Ms. Rowling’s circular wizardry — all the more apt given the assonance of her name with the word ‘rolling.’ After the fact, though, at least one reader was left wondering how such an arcane architecture for the world’s best selling books explains their popularity.
I downloaded and read your lecture notes about the ring structure of the seven books. They are convincing. This is clearly an intentional and foundational structure for the books.
My question is, “How does this particular structure increase the impact of the books for readers? How can it affect their experience of the books, especially since it is so subliminal for most people?”
What I mean is…
We connect characteristics and emotions with symbols. And we can identify with alchemical imagery through our own experiences of struggle and transformation.
But how does something as subtle as a ring structure influence a reader’s experience of a book?
Love to hear what you think.
Great question; the latest variant on the big question I try to answer in everything I write, namely, “what is it about this story that makes me, the serious reader, love it?” Ring Composition, according to no less an authority than anthropologist Mary Douglas, is the nigh on universal macro-structure and story scaffolding for aural/oral cultures through several millenia, and, as you note, it is definitely the “intentional and foundational structure” Ms. Rowling has chosen for her books. We are obliged to assume, consequently, because of the longevity and pervasiveness of the form and the unprecedented sales numbers of the Hogwarts Saga books, that we are somehow hard-wired for this kind of circular story with its internal ask-and-answer resolutions across an axis of the tale’s beginning-middle-and-end.
This is a difficult idea to grasp or to accept, I think, because we have an essentially materialist or dualist conception of the human person as such and with our relation to reality. If we revert from the conventional and empiricist conception of ourselves as organic chemistry body-bags with various ‘systems’ or from our “ghost in the machine” embodied-soul ideas we learned in Sunday School classes (if we were lucky) to a traditional picture of ourselves primarily as ‘heart’ or nous, we have a much better chance of getting how Ring Composition works.
The traditional idea of ‘heart’ is that, as C. S. Lewis explained in his essay ‘The Seeing Eye,’ there is within us a faculty and mystery that is “continuous with” the fabric of reality. Christians call this the logos, the “light that cometh into the world in every man” (John 1:9) and understand it as the atrophied or fallen extension within the human person of “the Light of the World,” the Logos, without Which creative principle “(is) not anything made that (is) made” (John 1:3).
Jesus of Nazareth referred to this faculty as the “heart” and philosophers and theologians before and since have called it different names; the Greek Fathers called it nous and the noetic and neptic (“watchful”) faculty, to Aquinas it was intellectus, not be confused with the modern word ‘intellect’ which refers to the rational, cerebral mind in opposition to the cardiac intelligence, Coleridge tagged it the Primary Imagination, and Lewis, echoing Coleridge I believe through his friend Barfield, used the simple “conscience.” All are speaking about a human means of directly perceiving the essence of things visible and invisible, a supra-personal knowing faculty with this capability because it is an aspect in itself of the ontological foundation of everything existent.
This is “logos epistemology” and it is a large part of Coleridge’s response as a natural theologian to the empiricism of the dawning Industrial era in Georgian England. As such, it is close to the heart, if you will, of imaginative fiction as we have this English literary tradition, the aim of which is both to communicate in story the existence of this faculty in contrast to mundane and materialist ideas of our discursive, rational minds and at the same time to stir the reader’s heart, even foster its transformation by alchemical experience.
We know anything, according to this view, because the single eye of our heart (cf., Matthew 6:22; “The light of the body is the eye: if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light”) recognizes its logos reflection in the inner essence of other people and things. We are simultaneously, as Coleridge would put it, alter et idem, “other and the same,” with everything and everyone existent in the elision of knowing subject and known object within the conscious Word or Logos. Lewis’ ‘Great War’ with Owen Barfield was about the relation of subject and object, and Lewis accepted at last that Barfield was right in his understanding that the whole universe was, “in the last resort, mental; that our logic was participation in a cosmic Logos.”
read on link
other examples of ring structure:
- How George Lucas used an ancient technique called “ring composition” to reach a level of storytelling sophistication in his six-part saga that is unprecedented in cinema history RING THEORY: The Hidden Artistry of the Star Wars Prequels.