Expanded ‘Values of Harry Potter’ Addresses Psychology, Government, and Media

Colorado political writer Ari Armstrong releases the Expanded Edition of his book, Values of Harry Potter: Lessons for Muggles, April 21.

The new edition adds eight new essays to the original 2008 book. Those essays include:

* “The Psychology of Harry Potter,” which compares author J. K. Rowling’s personal experiences with depression to the dementors of the novels.

* “Wizard Law and Segregation,” an essay that reviews the political themes of the novels and evaluates the forced separation of wizards and non-magical Muggles.

* “News Media in Harry Potter,” which reviews the attitudes of Rowling’s heroes and villains toward media and counters criticism of the novels.

“I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return to Rowling’s magical world and review its parallels to our own world, especially in the areas of psychology, government, and media,” Ari said about his work of literary criticism.

The release date marks the anniversary of Harry’s use of a luck potion to obtain a crucial memory about arch-villain Voldemort.

The book is already available in paperback and Kindle.

Review copies (paperback or pdf) may be requested from Ari at ari (atsignhere) freecolorado (dothere) com.

For more information about the book see ValuesOfHarryPotter.com.

Hsieh Explores Atlas Shrugged’s Deeper Themes

Philosopher Diana Hsieh, who recorded a wonderful series of podcasts about Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged, discussed some of the novel’s deeper themes April 6 at Liberty On the Rocks, Denver. As her main example Hsieh focused on the psychological destruction of the scientist Robert Stadler.

(Be sure to read all about my financial links to Hsieh, as the FTC unjustly requires me to post, and which illustrates why the agency should be abolished.)

James Discusses New Mars Novel

Thomas James, coauthor of a new novel about Mars, “In the Shadow of Ares,” discussed the book at a December 20 event hosted by Liberty On the Rocks.

I also added the following comments to Amazon:

I have been fascinated with Mars as the next frontier since reading Robert Zubrin. “In the Shadow of Ares” lets us imagine actually living on the red planet. This novel is driven by its strongly drawn and charming characters. The science of the book is extrapolated from real-world technology — both of the book’s authors are engineers and one works in the space industry — yet the story revolves around the interactions of characters and avoids bogging down in technical detail (as sometimes happens with hard science fiction). It’s refreshing to read a compelling story that does not require a suspension of disbelief.

While the novel is aimed at younger readers — the main character Amber Jacobsen is fourteen — it should appeal to all science fiction fans. Amber is the first true Martian — the first person born on that planet. She is spirited, independent minded, and comfortable with science and technology, as any successful frontier settler must be. When Amber’s family must move from their homestead to a larger settlement, Amber has trouble convincing the locals that she’s competent to pull her weight. She decides to work on solving a mystery — the disappearance of the crew and ship of an earlier mission — and she thereby unwittingly enters the into the conflict between the independent settlers and the control-seeking bureaucrats.

Only in one segment did I feel the level of technical detail (about collating geological data) started to slow the story. And, while I loved Amber and her parents as characters, not all of the villains were drawn out as compellingly (though the portrayal of the bureaucrats is quite vivid and convincing). On the whole I loved this novel.

I should note here that I’ve known one of the authors, Thomas James, for for a couple of years, and I contribute (without compensation) to a political web page he helps to run (PeoplesPressCollective.org).

Reggie Rivers Turns to Social Satire

Reggie Rivers, former football star and now sports commentator and author, summarized his two most recent books, The Colony and My Wife’s Boyfriend, during an interview at the Liberty On the Rocks holiday party. Briefly, The Colony uses a story of warring colonies of ants to criticize war generally and (so I understand) U.S. foreign policy in particular. (I wonder whether Rivers takes into account the history of who actually developed oil as a useful commodity in the Middle East.) My Wife’s Boyfriend involves some of the tensions and absurdities of disputes within Home Owners’ Associations.

Themes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Yesterday the Colorado Springs Gazette published my op-ed about the major themes of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

I briefly discuss the heroes’ fight against tyranny, the redemption stories of Dumbledore and Snape, and the lessons of the Horcruxes and Hallows for dealing with death. The article reveals some important elements of the novel’s plot, as indicated.

So far illness has kept me away from the film, but I look forward to seeing how well the film carries out the themes of the novel.

I’ve published other essays about the Potter series at the web page for my book, Values of Harry Potter. For example, I’ve written more about “Tales of Beedle the Bard,” the children’s book that Hermione reads in the final novel, and the Hallows.

Read the whole Gazette essay!

The Real Bones

I just finished reading Bones to Ashes, a crime novel by forensic anthropologist Kathy Reichs. She is, of course, the real “Bones,” but I had fun getting to know her Temperance Brennan, also the character of the television show.

I love the TV show. The crime-solving is intriguing, and the characters are engaging and fun. I really like the actors, especially Emily Deschanel (Brennan) and David Boreanaz (FBI agent Seeley Booth, and before that Angel from Joss Whedon’s universe). It is because of the TV show that I picked up Reich’s book.

But I like the “real” Tempe better. The television show is glitzy and high-tech; the Brennan from the book works in a modest office with only the occasional assistant. The television Tempe can tell gender, age, and often cause of death from a quick examination of deteriorated bones; the book Tempe must slowly collect the evidence and live with long-standing mysteries.

More important are the character differences. The recurring clash on the TV show is between the nerdy, secular Tempe and the cool, Catholic Booth. There’s none of that in the book. Sure, book-Tempe is smart, but she’s a normal person, not some hyper-geek. There’s none of this rationalism-versus-emotionalism baggage that I must tolerate with the TV show.

Book-Tempe’s background is also totally different from that of TV-Tempe, but such details don’t matter as much to the story (even though book-Tempe was married).

The bottom line is that, while I’ll continue to enjoy the TV show (my wife and I are in the middle of the third season), I now have an entirely different, alternate-universe Tempe to get to know. If the television show had not been created, I can see how a series of films could have approached the source material much differently (and much more closely).

I don’t read a lot of crime novels, so I can’t really compare it to other works in the genre. But I enjoyed it. I liked the leading characters, though from a somewhat distant perspective. The mystery itself develops well enough. The relationships are colorful, though I didn’t much care where they led. I can’t see myself ever reading the same book again (though I’ll probably read other books in the series); it doesn’t develop much of a broader theme. But it is an engaging, plot-driven book (with some cool science) where the good guys (mostly) win, and often that’s enough.

Atlas Shrugged Relevant for Modern Times

The following article originally was published September 14, 2009, in the Longmont Times-Call.

Atlas Shrugged relevant for modern times

by Ari Armstrong

“Who is John Galt?” Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand’s novel first published in 1957, is more relevant than ever. Modern political interventions from the bailouts to health controls mirror events of the book, and the novel reveals innovative moral themes behind the politics.

In response to heightened interest in Rand’s answers to today’s moral and political crises, a local group that promotes Rand’s philosophy, Front Range Objectivism, is sponsoring a twenty-week Atlas Shrugged reading group in Longmont starting October 1.

Sales of the novel have surged, surpassing 300,000 copies in the first half of this year, a 250 percent increase over the same period last year. The novel has been discussed recently by media ranging from the New York Times and National Public Radio to Rush Limbaugh.

John Allison, who turned BB&T bank into a stable and profitable powerhouse, has credited Rand’s ideas for some of his success and called Atlas Shrugged “the best defense of capitalism ever written.”

Meanwhile, respected philosophers such as Tara Smith forge bright new paths in moral theory and other fields based on Rand’s work.

What is it about Atlas Shrugged that draws continued interest?

While the novel features detailed treatment of complex moral and political ideas, including a challenging speech by the story’s hero, it is first a classic work of literature.

Rand draws rich, psychologically complex characters, including great champions of industry and the arts as well as despicable villains.

Which reader can forget the driven railroad executive, Dagny Taggart, or her passionate affair with steel titan Hank Rearden? Or Dagny’s manipulative brother James? Or the struggle of James’s virtuous wife Cheryl to understand her husband’s viciousness? Or the three students and their beloved professor who vow to “stop the motor of the world” until its producers can work on their own terms?

On one level, Atlas Shrugged is about politics. Interventions such as Troubled Asset Relief, General Motors, “cash for clunkers,” numerous offices of czars, and pending legislation on energy and health reflect the political controls of industry chronicled in the novel.

Rand eloquently makes the case that the proper purpose of government is to protect individual rights, including rights to control one’s resources and exchange goods and services with others voluntarily. Government should protect us against force and fraud and otherwise leave us free to pursue our business.

Yet Rand advocates much more than free markets. She explains why we need economic liberty to live successfully. We produce the things we need to advance our lives through reason, by understanding reality and then acting in the world to achieve our values. Houses, computers, foods, medical treatments, automobiles: all are produced by applying one’s knowledge to the task of living well.

Reason requires freedom. One must be free to look independently at reality and pursue knowledge, wherever it may lead. To the degree that some resort to force, they shut down reason and impede productive advancement. To live as beings of reason, we must achieve political and economic freedom and a world in which people interact through persuasion, not force.

Rand pushes ever deeper, exploring the foundations of value. Rand’s heroes are driven by a love of existence — a passion to understand the world around them and live successfully in it. It is ultimately this commitment to living that grounds all values, Rand’s heroes discover.

The villains of the novel, on the other hand, seek to block out and obscure their knowledge, cheat reality, and ultimately abdicate their responsibility to pursue their lives.

Several participants of a summer reading group commented that, though they’d read Atlas Shrugged before, reading and discussing it in greater detail almost turned it into a new novel. It is a long book with a complex plot and set of ideas. The heroes develop over many pages and story-months, so Rand’s meaning is not always obvious.

If you have never read Atlas Shrugged, now is the perfect time. If you have read it before, consider returning to the novel to mine its riches. It is a work capable of changing its reader — and the world.

Ari Armstrong publishes FreeColorado.com. For more information about the Atlas Shrugged reading groups, see FrontRangeObjectivism.com.

Tales of Beedle the Bard

I’ve written a review of J. K. Rowling’s book of fairy tales, Tales of Beedle the Bard Expands Rowling’s Moral Themes.

My least favorite story is “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” because it mixes themes and develops them poorly. My favorite is “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” I find the other three tales to have interesting things to say about psychology, politics, and dealing with death.

Read the entire review.

L. Neil Smith Serializes Ceres

Colorado science-fiction author L. Neil Smith has written a new novel called Ceres, a sequel to Pallas, my favorite novel of his. (Actually he wrote the novel some time ago, but it is just now coming out.)

Big Head Press is serializing the novel online.

The story takes place on a terraformed asteroid. “Chapter Zero” begins to reveal the life of a young woman devoted to ice skating, which on a low-gravity asteroid is a rather different sport. With Smith, we can count on heavy doses of action and intrigue as the story progresses.

Anathem Worth the Digging

About a hundred pages into Neal Stephenson’s new novel Anathem, I didn’t think I’d be able to make my way through it. In addition to being overlong (do I really need such a detailed knowledge of a building’s staircases?), the book requires the reader to memorize — or at least recognize — many terms unique to the fictitious world and an entire alternative history. The book contains a timeline in the front and a glossary in the back.

Now that I’m about a third of the way through the book (past page 300), I’m finding the lengthy prologue to have been worth it. Stephenson has crafted an action mystery grounded in philosophical thought.

Notably, Stephenson, or at least his protagonist, is a Platonist. I knew this even before starting the book, because I happened to note in the back (page 937) an acknowledgment of “a philosophical lineage that can be traced from Thales through Plato, Leibniz, Kant, Godel, and Husserl.” That’s not exactly a line that typically gets me excited, at least in a positive way. I don’t know yet quite where Stephenson is going with all this, but it makes for interesting reading. Themes of Leibniz are especially well integrated into the story.

A word of caution: a few years ago, I heard Stephenson talk about a previous book, and I recall him saying something to the effect that he wrote to get his mind into a particular sort of worldview. So it may not be obvious where Stephenson stops and his characters begin. That said, Stephenson’s interests are largely revealed by what he chooses to write about.

The science-fiction setup is straightforward, but unfortunately I cannot mention what it is without ruining the mystery of the first few hundred pages. I will note merely that this is a book that requires a bit of patience.