Have you thought about your Hogwarts house recently?

Maybe it’s time you revisited that topic.  If you’re even moderately involved in online or in-person Harry Potter fan discussions, today’s post isn’t going to tell you anything you don’t already know, but I hope my personal examples will make reading it worth your while.

You’ve probably heard it said that your Hogwarts house (whichever house you identify with most–whether selected by you or by Pottermore) is more indicative of what you value than of the person you currently are.  That statement now seems incredibly obvious to me in light of not only the books (e.g., Harry’s choice not to be placed in Slytherin) but also my own house and those of my friends and family, but I had never heard the idea articulated until recently.

Let me illustrate it with my own story.  If you’ve been reading this blog long enough–or if you go back through the archives to around 2012-13–you may know that I used to consider myself a Ravenclaw (and still have a Ravenclaw blog title and tagline, which probably won’t change) and had a bit of an identity crisis when Pottermore placed me in Hufflepuff.  But over the years since then, I have become a very proud Hufflepuff.  There’s a bit of a chicken and egg question here–did I realize that I was really a Hufflepuff all along, or did I accept the Pottermore pronouncement as fate and write myself a personal narrative to fit?  Or–a third option–did my house identity lead me to aspire and strive to become a person who belongs in Hufflepuff?  I think this last theory best explains what happened.  Before being sorted, I already valued loyalty, hard work, and kindness (a quality not specifically mentioned by the Sorting Hat but popularly associated with Hufflepuff) to some degree–otherwise I wouldn’t have answered the sorting questions the way I did–but being sorted into Hufflepuff pushed me to articulate these values more clearly than I ever had before and to begin consciously striving to emulate them.

Now, here’s the key–I don’t always exemplify these traits, but I strongly admire them when I see them in others, more than I admire traits associated with other houses.  I think that’s a big reason why I loved Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them more than a lot of people did–because, as I argued in this post, it’s a movie about one actual Hufflepuff and (as I see them) his very Hufflepuff-like friends.  People don’t necessarily think of Hufflepuff when they think of me, but when someone does place me in the correct house (this happened a couple of weeks ago), I’m very happy, and I take this as a sign that I am becoming the kind of person I want to be.  We see this with Harry Potter.  He probably could have fit into any of the houses, but his choice placed him in Gryffindor.  And throughout the series (especially in Chamber of Secrets, but later too) we see him worrying about whether he’s really brave enough to be in Gryffindor or whether, instead, he’s simply foolhardy.  I think we see it with Neville too–he doesn’t immediately appear to be a brave person, but being brave is important to him (because of his parents, we later learn), and he eventually becomes brave.  We could think of it this way: If you’re constantly thinking, “I don’t deserve to be in this house,” you’re probably in the right house.

This theory explains why I know some very sweet people who strongly identify with Slytherin–maybe they’re tired of being pigeonholed as sweet people.  It probably explains a lot of other things that I haven’t thought about yet.  How about you?  Do you think you belong in the house where Pottermore placed you, and why or why not?  I know this topic gets discussed a lot, but I never get tired of it, because I think it can be a fascinating and useful tool for understanding who we are and who we aspire to become.

For your listening and reading pleasure

Today, I offer you some podcasts and blogs you should check out.

  1. This one is shameless self-promotion: I was recently a guest on my colleague Clifford Stumme’s pop music podcast.  In this episode, we discuss the story arc of Mumford & Sons’s first album, Sigh No More.  In other episodes, Cliff discusses the meanings of songs by a dizzying array of artists, not all of whose music you might have thought worth taking seriously.  He shows you that pop music (a term he defines broadly) is a lot more than just a great beat you can dance to.
  2. I mentioned the podcast Does Anyone Really Need to Hear This? on my blog years ago, and I think it’s time to give it another shout-out.  Mark Stockslager (who, if you couldn’t guess by the name, is my brother) gives his often strong opinions on movies, books, TV, music, sports, and more.  His most recent episode, is a good one to start with, because in it he introduces some regular segments on some of the above-mentioned topics.  In another recent episode, he and his guests analyze–a more appropriate word would be “dismember”–the season 6 finale of The
    Walking Dead
    .
  3. Another colleague recently sent me two articles from the religion, arts, and culture blog Mockingbird, based out of Christ Episcopal Church in Charlottesville, VA.  The two articles he sent me (this really long but worthwhile one and this shorter one) are both about Harry Potter (people are always sending me Harry Potter stuff, which is fine by me!), but I’m looking forward to reading what these thoughtful bloggers have to say on other topics as well.
  4. If you work at a desk on a computer all day and aren’t using Spotify Free to provide a soundtrack to your day, why aren’t you?  I mostly listen to post rock (Spotify has a good playlist for this genre) and movie scores because they don’t have lyrics to distract me, but they also aren’t boring.  As I write this, I’m listening to John Powell’s exciting scores to the How to Train Your Dragon movies.

Now you have your assignments; go read and listen!

my continuing Dickens obsession

I have an ongoing love for Charles Dickens, but my devotion sometimes hits these especially high peaks, and I’ve been on one of them for the past couple of weeks.  I finished reading A Tale of Two Cities last weekend (see my last post for an earlier observation), and I read A Christmas Carol yesterday and today.  (Of course, this wasn’t my first time through either book.)  I can’t wait to lead a discussion of Carol at the Liberty University Bookstore on December 2.  In the meantime, I’ve engaged in two particularly nerdy expressions of my love for Charles.  Please enjoy.

1. The story of Jerricho Cotchery.  I’ll try to make the frame narrative short: I’m eating out with two of my work colleagues, and there’s a Thursday night football game on TV.  One of us mentions McSweeney’s delightful piece called “NFL Players Whose Names Sound Vaguely Dickensian.”  Later I look up at the game and notice Jerricho Cotchery, who catches my eye because he’s a former Steeler (current Panther).  I realize that if Jerricho Cotchery were in a Dickens novel, he would definitely be a Methodist minister.  He would have a lean and starved appearance, and his ears would stick out from his head at exaggerated angles.  When he preached, his voice would take on a ranting cadence.  Then my co-worker/friend Kristen and I rapidly concoct a plot in which Dickens attempts, unusually for him, to sympathize with a Methodist minister.  I wish I’d written down some notes from this impromptu creative session, but I do remember that Jerricho Cotchery is in love with a happy, useful, and modest young parishioner named Evangeline, and that in the past he did some undefined injustice to Oliver Twist, for which he now feels horribly remorseful.  I hope to return to this story at some point, so if you have any good ideas for Jerricho, let me know in the comments.

2. The Sydney Carton playlist.  I’m really obsessed with A Tale of Two Cities right now.  I went so far as to make a Spotify playlist for Sydney Carton, and it’s a far, far better playlist than I have ever made.  (Actually, it’s my first Spotify playlist.)  You should be able to find it by searching “Sydney Carton.”  If you find a 10-song playlist by Tess Stockslager, you’ve got it.  Here’s your guide to the songs: The first four are anthems for a wasted/purposeless life, with a particular emphasis on songs about drinking, because–let’s face it, friends–Sydney is an alcoholic.  The next three songs are about unrequited love and/or heartbreak; I think it’s pretty clear why those are on there.  (As Lucie says at one point, “He has a heart he very, very seldom reveals, and . . . there are deep wounds in it. . . . I have seen it bleeding.”)  The next two are about people deciding they don’t want to waste their lives anymore; this corresponds to that point in ATOTC when Sydney starts hanging out with the Darnays in the evening instead of with his stupid boss/”friend”/enabler Stryver.  And the last song is about what Sydney wants to do, and finally succeeds in doing, for Lucie and her family.

So, put on the playlist, and get ready to dance, then cry, then dance again, then cry again.  Or, put on the playlist and read A Tale of Two Cities.  And while you’re at it, don’t forget about Jerricho Cotchery.

Scholars with wand collections

I’ve discovered recently that there’s a word for people like me–the people I describe in the title of this post, those of us who see no incongruity between loving a text and studying a text.  The word is aca-fan, and it’s been attributed to media scholar Henry Jenkins, whose blog is called Confessions of an Aca-Fan (henryjenkins.org).  Skim over Confessions and you’ll see basically what I want my blog to be.  Jenkins’s book, Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture (1992), is perhaps the foremost and certainly one of the earliest texts that showed the world that fans aren’t glassy-eyed drooling idiots, and yet somehow I missed out on it while doing my preliminary dissertation research.  (I put in an inter-library loan request for it tonight, and I plan to read passages from it to my Walking Dead fan community next Sunday night.  Just kidding–or am I?)

I also learned tonight that there’s a term for what wizard rock is, except it’s a broader category and existed long before wizard rock (or indeed, Harry Potter) was a thing.  The term is filk, and apparently it comes from a misspelling of folk on a conference program.  (I learned that from Henry Jenkins.)  Essentialy, it refers to nerdy music about fictional characters.  Am I the only person who didn’t know about this?

For the Philippines

I read a headline tonight that said Typhoon Haiyan, which struck the Philippines over the weekend, is probably the strongest storm in recorded history and has killed around 10,000 people.  I don’t have anything insightful to say about that, but I do want to make two comments.

1. If you can, please donate to one of the reputable organizations that are already working to help survivors.  I have received email appeals from two that I know are effective and responsible: Doctors Without Borders and World Vision (the latter is a Christian organization).

2. I wrote a post last December after the Newtown, CT, school shooting that I think applies to this new devastation.  Obviously, the situations are very different; my post was originally written in response to an evil human act, which is not the case with the typhoon.  But I think the first paragraph and the last two paragraphs are especially applicable.

Goat cheese biscuits

This post doesn’t have a clever title, partly because I couldn’t think of one, and partly because I figured the phrase “goat cheese biscuits” would sell itself.  This is a follow-up to my review of Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life around the Table by Shauna Niequist.  Last Saturday morning, a small contingent of our book club (only four of us could make it) gathered at the lovely home of one of our members, the same one who got us the free copies of the book, to share brunch and our thoughts on the book.  Maybe because what we were doing (eating) was for once related to the book topic, and maybe because we’d all read the book, we actually managed to carry on a sustained discussion about the book for, like, at least ten minutes.  (What normally happens in our book club is that somebody introduces a discussion, it peters out quickly, and we talk about other things until somebody awkwardly revives the topic of the book.  All this is fine with me; it’s a club, not a literature class.)

Each of us chose a recipe from the book and brought the result to share.  Although we didn’t know ahead of time what the others were bringing (well, I did; I got to cheat because I was the person who sent out all the emails about this particular meeting), the four dishes turned out to constitute a perfect, (mostly) healthy yet comforting meal for a quiet, overcast Saturday morning in the summer.  We ate Bacon-Wrapped Dates, Robin’s Super-Healthy Lentil Soup (I forget who Robin is, but she’s probably one of Shauna Niequist’s many friends), Goat Cheese Biscuits, and Gaia Cookies (named for a cafe, though you are perfectly free to imagine yourself as an earth goddess when you eat them).  The consensus was that all of these recipes were delicious, relatively simple to make, and versatile–for example, the dates would perform equally well as an appetizer at a fancy dinner, and the cookies could function as either a dessert or a breakfast.  You can see pictures of the food in this post by another book club member, whose blog is a lot more fun than mine.

I made the biscuits.  I think it would be ungracious of me to post the recipe here after receiving the book for free from the publisher, but you may be able to recreate it, or something like it, on your own, especially when I tell you that you’re basically taking biscuits and putting goat cheese in them.  I mean, it’s a little more complicated than that, but those are the essentials.  I thoroughly enjoyed preparing, eating, and sharing these biscuits.  My whole apartment smelled like butter while I was baking them (that’s another hint), which usually means something good is underway.  I do want to give you one modification and one piece of advice in order to enhance your goat cheese biscuit experience.

The modification: Niequist says that if you make golf-ball sized balls of dough, you’ll get about 12 biscuits.  I’m thinking Niequist isn’t a golfer (which surprises me; see my review), because I got 17.  Maybe she meant to say “baseballs.”  My point here is that you don’t need to skimp; make your biscuits a size that you would actually want to eat, and you won’t run out of dough.

The advice: Please reheat your biscuits before enjoying them.  They are okay at room temperature, but they are best when the cheeses (hint!) are melting.

Another schizophrenic post

Hi, this is Tess. I just want to say, in the interest of full disclosure, that I’ve just been sorted into a house on Pottermore, and the Sorting Hat has placed me in Hufflepuff. Needless to say, I feel a bit conflicted about this decision. I have no problem with Hufflepuff. I like Cedric Diggory. I like Professor Sprout. I like black and yellow (for a variety of reasons). And I don’t believe all the slander about Hufflepuff being a house for duffers. Nevertheless, as you can imagine, the sorting has thrown me into a quandary about a lot of things–major things. Like my Ravenclaw scarf. And my identity.

But I should clarify that while Tess Stockslager may be a Hufflepuff, Penelope Clearwater is still a lifelong Ravenclaw. And therefore, nothing essential will change about this blog. So you can ease your minds about that, dear readers.