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Meditations On the Ideal of England In the Potterverse - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
Meditations On the Ideal of England In the Potterverse

This Sunday is the last of Trinity. The Sundays Before Advent begin, and then, with Advent, the new year of the Church.
It is a time for reflection.

I have been remiss in not thanking backinblack for these kind words: one of the most under-recced authors in any fandom ever, and so on, although I must disclaim any contention that I’m superior to anyone else in this fandom. No, I do mean that: archivist or recommendation source, writer, artist, proof-reader, or simply reader, everyone in this fandom, equally, contributes his note and voice to the great, grand music of the whole. But backinblack was speaking of Potterfic that reads as ‘quintessentially British’ and of the extent to which any of us quite bring that off, and it caused me to reflect, upon audiences and the nature of writing in this fandom. (This goes back, as well, to discussions avus and I have had, and to the fact that I am working to annotate Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn for ease of reading.)

It’s no secret that, when I set out to write Gate, I began at, and my first loyalties will ever be with, FA. Later on, I opened a Yahoo! Group for the series and its readers, and then came to LJ only late in the process. Even at FA, however – and how much more here at LJ – it has been evident that by far the greater part of fandom in the Potterverse are overseas readers. The reach is incredible, really, from Singapore and KL to California and the Argentine and Eastern Europe. bufo_viridis is, for example, a Mitteleuropean, commodorified a Canadian, that indefatigable archivist painless_j a Russian….

It’s equally no secret that, when I set out to write Gate, it was in no small part one long Brit-pick. That’s not to say that I set out to write in order to show anyone else up, or to say, Oi, you sods, you’re barking, it’s like this. Rather, I wanted to convey something that I had not seen conveyed adequately or often enough, something that mattered and matters to me and that, I suspected, would seize others also. All over the world, in untold numbers of languages, readers have embraced a very British canonical series; it seemed to me that part at least of what moved them was precisely what I wished to convey: a particular idea of Englishness. De Gaulle, famously, lived all his life in pursuit of a Certain Idea of France that he had; I have, and wished to share, a certain vision of England. A conservative vision, perhaps, but only so long as you realise that it is a conservatism that embraces that old, rural radical Cobbett and that Distributist Little-Englander GKC, and has no room for the silk-shot fantasies of jingo Empire that rapt poor Kipling. It is an England that ‘never truly was, but is always’, the England of Pym and Miss Read, of Eliot’s ‘Little Gidding’ and of Houseman and of Betjeman; a vision of a green and pleasant land, of rural rides and the permanent things.

I’ve had the Great World, and you may have it back. It’s nothing worth. I know my share of the Great and the Good, and all too often, they are neither. But these things, these people, are not England. Farmers and the downs and the white horses in the chalk, country churches and village shopkeepers and the village XI playing cricket on the green: these abide, when the ephemeral pomp and port of a day shall fade.

The General Synod of the C of E will soon be embarrassing itself and all Anglicanism by faffing about with an intellectually embarrassing report – prepared by an increasingly contemptible bench of bishops for an increasingly contemptible church – excusing terror and sneering at the Yanks (and, of course, Israel. Anti-Semitism in the UK may be less extensive than in EUrabia across the Channel, but the cancer grows daily). Yet Remembrance Sunday on the 13th prox. will be Remembrance Sunday for all that, with poppies red against the greying skies. No clerical Cliveden Set can change the true heart of England.

I’ve had the Great World, and you may have it back. It’s nothing worth. More and more I find myself drawn to the permanent things – to the small and quiet elements, the matters and events and interests that are the Permanent Things quite as much as are the Permanent Things known to philosophy and theology.

What are these permanent things? The rhythms of rural life and its interconnectedness. The natural order and the great chain of being. The ultimate ground in which all glory, however lasting or however trumpery, must rest and be erected.

These things:

A retired blacksmith in Trowbridge has gone back to his forge, and emerged with award-winning repousée pieces.

Joanna Doel, of Bowerhill Farm, Melksham and Paul Few, of Long Ivor Farm, Longbridge Deverill, took top prizes at the Royal Agricultural College in Cirencester.

On Sunday, the second annual Wylye Valley Ploughing Match will pit ploughmen from Wilts – including two horse-teams amidst the vintage and classic tractors – against rivals from Dorset and Somerset, in good, sandy soil at Farmer Walker’s, over at Sutton Veny.

You mayn’t have noticed, but the Salisbury Diocesan Clergy Cricket XI won the Church Times Cup back in September, beating the Diocese of Chester by nine wickets.

With the Harvest Festivals behind us and the interminable Sundays After Trinity ending, imminent Advent means, of course, Handel and Mendelssohn. Elijah one night, Messiah the next, from now until Christmas, from chapel of ease to parish to the Cathedral.

So long as these things are so, England endures, and the steady heart of England beats indomitably on.

Of course, not all is Eden. The Devizes WI Market is closing, sadly, after a long innings that began in 1919. Westminster strikes again: the change in charities law ten years ago forced the WI to cut its actual ties to what were still called ‘WI Markets’, although the term ‘Country Market’ has been more properly used of late. Regardless of nomenclature, the Whitehall-Westminster nomenklatura has managed yet again to bugger up English rural life – not that a man jack of them gives a damn.

Similarly, of course, there is no hunting now. This iniquitous hunting ban, forced through by squishy urban LibDem types, Guardianistas, products of redbrick SCRs, and flat-’at Labour sods, has (all together now on the chorus) managed yet again to bugger up English rural life – not that a man jack of them gives a damn.

I’ve had, as I may have said, the Great World, and you may have it back. It’s nothing worth. Bad things happen in the country as in the urban blots and the Great Wen, but, as with these instances, the fault quite often lies with our wretched masters in the Smoke. They’re not England, and what do they know of England?

And yet, despite it all, Autumn comes, and Winter after, and the Spring and the Summer in their turn. There mayn’t be a WI Market in Devizes, and the Hunt may be outlawed, yet the last swifts have departed and the blackberrying is done for the year, conkers and hawthorn berries have ripened in accordance with their ancient law, the ivy has flowered and the oaks are tinting: the seasons remain sure and the natural order is stable. In the countryside, at least, despite the worst that Brussels and bureaucrats and Brown and Blair may do, the slow, steady heartbeat of England never falters.

The buggers in charge may have made a hash of re-enacting Trafalgar (we mustn’t be beastly to the Frogs and the Dons), but Trafalgar House still broods over Downton, and the Immortal Memory of Nelson shall not fade, here and in England.

The Fonthill Bishop post office won this year’s Customer Service Award for rural post offices in the Midlands and Southwest Regions, and goes on to the national finals.

The Autumn bull sale at the Salisbury Livestock Market was weak, but there were very strong entries and good prices for finished cattle, pigs, sheep, lambs, and weaned calves.

The PCs of Wootton Bassett have new bikes, and its town crier took third place in the national competition.

Westbury may be on the verge of having a weekly market again, after a decade’s lapse.

Fireman Stuart Hillier, of Pewsey, was one of the rescuers who saved seven people from a collapsed building in Pakistan, after the earthquake.

So long as these things are so, England endures, and the steady heart of England beats indomitably on.

These are the things I write of, because these are the things that move me to write. These are the things that move me to write, because these are the things that matter.

The question, on occasion, is, How to best to do so. I know now, as I re-edit and annotate Gate, that it reads very differently in one long immersion to the way it read as a serial. More complex is the balance that wants to be set between the ‘quintessentially British’ feel that I seek to convey, and the international and overwhelmingly overseas composition of the readership in this fandom. backinblack spoke of ‘authors [who] try so hard to incorporate British landmarks and culture into their stories [that] it’s overpowered and fake’ – although she kindly said that, ‘The only author I see pull it off without many hitches is Wemyss’, which, although the statement is more polite than it is accurate, I am gratified to hear. The fact is, it’s a damned difficult thing for anyone to bring off, making the sheer Englishness of it all accessible to overseas readers, and it’s a marvel any of us manage even once in a way to do: even when, for example, I wax, as avus has gently put it, a bit too Baedeker in striving to create a sense of place.

That is why I believe that everyone in this fandom, in whatever station they occupy, right down to the schoolgirls with appalling grammar and no grasp of spelling, deserve some praise: for they all, as Britons trying to convey something very special to the world or as bloody vurriners so gripped by Rowling’s world as to want, even haltingly, to make some imaginative connexion to her beloved Britain, are engaged in a great and worthy task of communication and international empathy. It is the interconnectedness of rural English life writ large and slightly distorted as in a mirror, this imaginative involvement in something at once universal, and very particularly English – indeed, something smacking of a particularistic ideal of England – something transcending borders and accidents of place.

It makes of fandom something akin, not to the ideal of One Big Happy Weasley Family, but, rather, to the real centre of the Potterverse, that connects all the threads: One Big Reconciled House of Black. But that, of course, is matter for my next essay.

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