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Future Canon and Plausibility - Wemyss's Appalling Hobby:
From the Party Guilty of Committing 'Gate of Ivory, Gate of Horn'
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Future Canon and Plausibility

Future Canon and Plausibility

 

Earlier this morning, whilst the church-bells rang their changes, someone unidentified – judging by the diction, quite possibly an American – took exception to ‘Beyond the annual seablite’s range’ as ‘a darling fantasy’ having nothing to do with canon.  (The commenter also seems unable to distinguish future-fic from an AU, which is rather sad.)

 

I found this curious.  I am accustomed, no doubt justly, to being unread; so far as I am accustomed, however, to this sort of dissent, it has always been directed towards my defiantly un-PoMo æsthetics or my unacceptably non-‘progressive’ politics.  I have been struggling ever since to determine – for the commenter failed and yet fails to specify – in what the criticism inheres, and I think it may be of some interest to others.

 

By way of background, the conceit is this, That in 2037, the WWN broadcast – well, spellcast – a programme, ‘Cardinal Points’, in which the mature Neville Longbottom and Dean Thomas simply maunder on about poetry and painting and the War years, whilst at the Wizarding National Archives Ormskirk.  It is of course a gentle send-up, in its way, of the famous Beeb programme that consisted simply of Betjeman and Larkin complimenting one another’s poetry all ’round Hull and district, not excepting such inevitable settings as the churchyard, shoddy shops, and a ruined and redundant church.  It also presumes some things: that, after the War, Neville, canonically a don and a Herbologist, took to writing some poetry, and that Dean kept on (canonically) painting as well as doing a civil service job; that Wizarding society and governance were reformed after the War; that the Aurory became an army and that policing devolved upon the DMLE, analogously to Peel’s creating the police and abandoning reliance on the Riot Act and the militia; and that a more integrated Wizarding society shan’t be free of the tangles of the Honours System.

 

There is also a refashioning of the Betjeman-MacNeice feud, which I at least found amusing.

 

Now, it seems to me that, given what we have of post-War canon (and even with the Epilogue, that’s not much), these are eminently plausible, at least in British terms.  I don’t know the ground of the commenter’s complaint, but I have tried to tease it out as follows.

 

If the objection in grounds of want of canonicity is the reference to H/D (well in the post-War and after Ginny and Asteria are both dead and gone), or to Dean/Seamus, there’s nothing to say.  The arguments as to the canonical possibilities (and plausibility) of slash are far too familiar to us all to require rehearsal.

 

I suspect however that the objection may be rooted in the modern idea that poets and painters are simply that, without other callings, jobs, trades, or duties.  That wants refutation.

 

Chaucer was a civil servant, a diplomat, almost certainly what we should now call an intelligence officer (if not a spy) – in which connection he dealt with Petrarch and Froissart, and there’s an interesting idea for a thriller – the father of a Speaker of the House of Commons, the grandfather of a duchess, and the great-great-grandfather of an earl who was Richard 3d’s heir presumptive.

 

Langland was probably an unbeneficed clerk and perhaps a scrivener; Addison was an MP; Matthew Arnold was an inspector of schools.

 

Keats was an apothecary; Byron, a peer (and just as well, as he was certainly unemployable) and an adventurer (in all senses); Auden, a schoolmaster (he’d never pass vetting nowadays); and Eliot, a schoolmaster, then a banker, and lastly a publisher.  Chesterton was a jobbing journalist and Belloc had been briefly an MP; Samuel Butler was a complete Sir Humphrey; Blunden and Housman were dons; and Wilfrid Scawen Blunt was a most undiplomatic diplomat, husband to Byron’s granddaughter, and founder-owner of the supremely important Crabbet Arabian Stud.  Rupert Brooke and Sir Philip Sidney were soldiers; Shakespeare was a harried, jobbing actor-manager; Beaumont was an Inner Temple Lawyer; and John Taylor was a Thames waterman.

 

Gower was a lawyer and a courtier; Dunbar, a courtier, Franciscan, and priest – which makes it all the more piquant that he was the first published writer to print the terms ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, doesn’t it; Donne, a clergyman of the Church of England; Herbert, also a clergyman, no courtier-dean like Donne but rather a country parson.

 

Burns was a farm labourer and exciseman; Hugh MacDiarmid, an agitator, journalist, and one of Lenin’s Useful Idiots; and Laurie Lee, really, through all his incarnations, essentially a tramp.  Sir Walter was an advocate and a publisher (which was an absolute frost); Betjeman an editor and critic, and writer of guidebooks; and Larkin, of course, a librarian.

 

Poets, in short, are made of all sorts of unlikely material.  Only since the Victorian era has it been again possible to conceive them as having a separate and specific vocation like that of the bards of old.

 

As for the deep relationship between gardens and literature, one could spend hours on Vita Sackville-West alone, or, to be more demotic, Alan Titchmarsh, but in fact the association would require a book, and Peter Ackroyd’s already on that.

 

The pursuit of letters generally has not until fairly recently been a primary profession in Britain, even when it’s not poetry one pursues: wanting a gentleman’s income or not daring to sacrifice it for what the pen alone may bring in, writers have carried on in their mundane callings by day, be it Walton the ironmonger and Royalist agent, spending his income on fishing and writing, or MR James crafting ghost stories at King’s or Eton after a long day’s lecturing, or Adrian Bell writing up a day’s farming and setting the crossword for The Times.  Or of course Winston – but you knew that.

 

Painting, it is true, has been a rather more secure proposition for rather longer if one is any good at it, although it has involved much wearisome dancing attendance at Court; and of course, if one is any good at it, one seems almost inevitably to end up in the Honours List.

 

Of course, the intrusion of the Muggle Honours System may be the ground of objection.  My thinking is simply this, That there must have been a series of reformations of the Wizarding world after the War, as one cannot plausibly and canonically imagine for a moment that Hermione or indeed Harry would wear the persistence of the system that spawned Riddle and his followers.  Canonically, we know that the Muggle PM is made aware of the Minister for Magic and the Ministry, and the existence of the Wizarding world; I for one find it implausible not to deduce from that the rest of the Privy Council – of which all living former PMs are after all members – are unaware of it, or that the Sovereign as head of state is kept in ignorance of what her head of government and her Privy Counsellors know.  (Need I yet again remind anyone that the series is set, canonically, in the United Kingdom?)  Given a rapprochement between the two worlds after the War, I think it plausible to deduce – and implausible not to deduce – that sooner or later, certainly within four and five decades, celebrated painters, poets, dons, and Aurors (whether one conceives them as senior policemen or as senior officers of HM Forces) should not be drawn into the world of Ks, life peerages, and even hereditary peerages (PMs used traditionally get an earldom, after all).  I can imagine that this would raise American hackles (no Black Watch jokes, please), and perhaps even annoy devout Labour types (like La Rowling, although I’d be surprised were she to turn down a DBE were it offered, mind, so long as it weren’t from a Tory government), but there’s nothing inherently implausible – or contrary to canon – in conceding that, five-and-twenty years from now, say, should Harry persist in acting the Marlborough or the Wellington, he’s unlikely to evade a similar fate.

 

A final alternate explanation is that the objection is that Nev, and Dean, to an extent, plays up his persona and regional roots on the WWN telly.  To that I can only say, the objector hasn’t watched Auntie too often, or listened to radio panels.  Poets and dons and so on have a long tradition of what is almost self-parody when – not to put too fine a point on it – performing, and if they can claim a regional background, they sodding well do claim it, clamantly.

 

Latterly, comments from the same source, apparently, seem to object that the characters in 2037 are not the characters as they were in 1990 or 2009.  To this I have nothing to say, the more so as that is in fact one of the themes of the bloody piece.

 

You know, I’m at quite enough risk of being taken for Boris as it stands, but it does seem to me that there is something else going on here.  We’re hearing a great deal just now about the wickedness of appropriation.  Well, I deplore it: it’s bad art, bad manners, and intellectually dishonest.  I can deplore it, for I am not one of those who believes the Author to be dead: only the living can be held responsible, after all, and one must premise an objection to a story upon the author’s intent: if intent is irrelevant, if the story is what the reader makes of it and not what the author intended by it, if there are as many readings as readers and all of the valid, then one cannot complain to and of the author about what one reads or reads into the tale.  (As with ISIHAC, if the author has no role in the reading and one reads something into the words one sees, the act merely condemns one’s own dirty-mindedness.)  Yet logical consistency – which is, alas, in short supply in fandom – is prerequisite to intellectual honesty (which is, alas, in short supply in fandom).  What is the imposition of American readings and American mores or even American ignorance upon a British-canon source, but a form of cultural imperialism (which nine-and-ninety in every hundred fen will declare eo ipso wicked)?  How is it that slash may be written by any save gay and bisexual male writers without that’s being appropriation – an appropriation aggravated by the not infrequent response that, when women write about gay men they’re really not writing about gay men and gay men should sod right off because this is Women’s Space ta ever so?  Imagine for a moment were Gentiles or white persons writing, respectively, of Jews or of persons of colour, and a Jew or a person of colour objected to the authenticity and was told that the writers were really writing about and for themselves in their own Gentile or white space and the objectors should go away: there’d be an uproar, and quite right, too.  If I remember aright, there was a good deal of billing and cooing and glutinous praise a few years ago for a fiction in which Harry, having come out as gay and been sexually active as a gay man, was struggling with Aids: I have never heard a well-reasoned, convincing argument as to how that is any less appropriative and exploitative than the Infamous Supernatural Haitian Earthquake Fic or the occasional disastrous attempts to exploit the Holocaust in the service of fan-fiction.

 

See here, I don’t wish to wave too vigorously the ‘Keep Potter British’ banner, but it does seem to me that, if one wishes one’s criticisms to have any particular weight, one should be well-advised to be specific; perhaps to give one’s name; and certainly to approach the task of declaring what is and isn’t canonical or plausibly derived from canon, in a British-sourced canon, from some reasonable familiarity with British life and society.

 

Then again, perhaps the commenter simply had an inchoate dislike of the piece and no real grounds to advance for it.  In that case, de gustibus and Bob’s your uncle, and no more be said.

 

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Comments
blamebrampton From: blamebrampton Date: June 20th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
You won't be surprise to hear my applause, save that I accidentally read demotic in the following par:
As for the deep relationship between gardens and literature, one could spend hours on Vita Sackville-West alone, or, to be more demotic, Alan Titchmarsh, but in fact the association would require a book, and Peter Ackroyd’s already on that.
as demonic, and had to pause for giggles.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 07:22 pm (UTC) (Link)

'Demonic' works.

Dear God, I miss John Cushnie.
tree_and_leaf From: tree_and_leaf Date: June 20th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: 'Demonic' works.

Yes, me too.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:43 pm (UTC) (Link)

Naturally.

You are a paragon of taste, after all.
vaysh From: vaysh Date: June 20th, 2010 07:02 pm (UTC) (Link)
I suspect however that the objection may be rooted in the modern idea that poets and painters are simply that, without other callings, jobs, trades, or duties. That wants refutation.
It surely does. And you do the refuting beautifully.

Of course, this is not a British phenomenon, per se. It goes for most other countries with an Occidental cultural background and a younger generation who does not know their history. Goethe read the law and was preparing to be a lawyer before he discovered his literary genius. Schiller was a military doctor. Hölderin earned his living as a tutor. And so on. :)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 07:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Oh, quite.

Were everyone able to make a living by writing, LJ shd be Twitter.
noeon From: noeon Date: June 20th, 2010 08:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Poetic Justice

Is it wrong of me to enjoy this post for the listing of trades and associations alone? The occasion of it makes me burn with ire, but it was actually really fun to think about the range and the questions of pre- and post-Victorian occupations for creative sorts.

And gardens. My love for VSW knows few bounds and I've sadly watched more than my fair share of Groundforce. *le sigh*
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 08:48 pm (UTC) (Link)

All occasions are useful as grist to the mill.

Mind, I am obliged to you for your kind loyalty.

It is interesting, isn't it, how rare it is or has been to make a living by one's brush or pen.
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your list of poets and their occupations has made me quite happy indeed.

From a Yank-writing-Britain POV, I have to say that, while at times it can be hard to grasp the subtle nuances of a culture that you don't live in, at the same time it's not that difficult to learn it--and in fact can be quite pleasurable to do so.

It's one of the joys for me of writing in a British fandom. Perhaps I'm too much of an Anglophile (if that can be possible) and perhaps my at times awkward attempts to portray a culture that I wasn't born into might drive mad those who were. But it's done with deep love and respect and if you don't wish to wave the Keep Potter British banner too vigorously, I shall, because it's what I love about this fandom and these stories.

(And perhaps I'm a bit emotional over the thought of leaving England soon.)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 08:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

The past is another country, also.

As is the future. And there is no joy like that of a traveller in strange and new seas.

And England will await your return, I do assure you - largely unchanged in the fundamentals, and ready to embrace you once more. Remember Fishwick in Bodley!
femmequixotic From: femmequixotic Date: June 20th, 2010 09:17 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: The past is another country, also.

I shall never forget Fishwick in Bodley--the very thought makes me smile in delight.

Some day, hopefully not in the terribly distant future, I'd like to return and not leave. A goal to work towards, perhaps.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 20th, 2010 09:25 pm (UTC) (Link)

You'll be most welcome, I shd think.

And well-suited.
From: (Anonymous) Date: June 21st, 2010 03:36 am (UTC) (Link)
Touché.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: June 21st, 2010 07:03 am (UTC) (Link)
Dunbar, a courtier, Franciscan, and priest – which makes it all the more piquant that he was the first published writer to print the terms ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, doesn’t it;

I'll comment at length later, but... OMG please may I metaquotes this?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 09:15 am (UTC) (Link)

I never require that anyone ask...

... to quote anything I put out here.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: June 21st, 2010 11:42 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: I never require that anyone ask...

Nevertheless, the forms of politeness must be obeyed; yes?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 11:54 am (UTC) (Link)

Oh, quite.

Otherwise one is attacked by monkeys.
noeon From: noeon Date: June 21st, 2010 10:56 pm (UTC) (Link)

*unseemly snigger*

V funny to read while not quite sleeping. Yes. Otherwise the deluge.
trillianastra From: trillianastra Date: June 21st, 2010 12:52 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here via metaquotes.

...I love this.
cmdr_zoom From: cmdr_zoom Date: June 21st, 2010 04:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
As do I. Wonderful post (in the true, literal sense), and well-argued.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you, very much indeed.

Always glad to meet another fan of Oor Nev.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 05:20 pm (UTC) (Link)

Hullo, and welcome to Bedlam.

Mind the gap.

And thank you.
el_staplador From: el_staplador Date: June 21st, 2010 07:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Probably you do not write what J. K. Rowling would (or will, when she gets bored enough?) - but then nor do I, for all that we share two initials and an alumni newsletter. (Let us assume for the duration of this comment that I do, in fact, write Potterfic.) Nor does any other fanficcer, for the simple fact that (I do hope that this doesn't come as news) none of us is J. K. Rowling. I would not have come up with your Wizardized Honours system, but I can see where it's coming from, and I think it works.

I really fail to see how Hogwarts differs from your common or garden public school in any way other than the obvious, when Harry's name has been down from birth. (Query: are we to assume that the surprise letter only happens to Muggle-born magical kiddiewinks? That known wizard offspring are In Unless Proven Squib?) Do we ever hear about fees? They would explain the parlous state of the Weasley finances. In any case, the Wizarding World is riddled with snobbery, class-based as much as blood-based.

In any case, if your style and/or characterisation is supposedly at so much variance from Rowling's hallowed work, I hardly see that it can be condemned as plagiarism.
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 21st, 2010 07:58 pm (UTC) (Link)

Yes, well. Quite.

The occasion didn't strike me as other than captious, either, but it did have the merit of sparking another discussion abt plausibility and just how it is that La Rowling holds up a fun-fair mirror to British reality, at least.

And of course Hogwarts is a public school as such, and the answer to both yr queries is, as you rightly indicate, yes. I yet maintain that Dumbledore is in many ways Cormel Price, and that one useful way of reading the canon is through the lens of Stalky & Co.
pathology_doc From: pathology_doc Date: June 22nd, 2010 03:09 am (UTC) (Link)
In detail:

that the Aurory became an army and that policing devolved upon the DMLE

Not sure it would have, but I like your historical parallel. The DMLE always struck me more as the bureaucrats and the Aurors as the legworkers, or possibly those called in when the DMLE's polite bureaucrats had been rebuffed on the end of some curse or other.

The arguments as to the canonical possibilities (and plausibility) of slash are far too familiar to us all to require rehearsal.

Indeed. Messrs Blaize and Maddox, Verney and Desmond would like to inform Messrs Diggory and Potter (and possibly the late Mr Creevy) that it's all been done before. Nor are they the only ones who come to mind. Kipling's isn't the only lens through which to view Hogwarts.

What is the imposition of American readings and American mores or even American ignorance upon a British-canon source, but a form of cultural imperialism (which nine-and-ninety in every hundred fen will declare eo ipso wicked)?

If only fandom were that perceptive.

there’s nothing inherently implausible – or contrary to canon – in conceding that, five-and-twenty years from now, say, should Harry persist in acting the Marlborough or the Wellington, he’s unlikely to evade a similar fate.

Indeed not, although Sir Harry probably won't be appearing in Muggle public to receive his award. One expects that he might find himself on one knee, with King William's sword resting upon his shoulder, in one of those ceremonies in which members of HM forces engaged in their most deeply covert operations have secret VCs pinned to their battle-scarred chests.

Your post-war scenario of a Betjemanesque idyll is interesting. Sadly, like the world Betjeman loved, I suspect two major wars and the social upheavals they created would have done for it. (Which of course is just what Betjeman used to complain about, but such was the tragedy of the man.)
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 26th, 2010 03:59 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well, there's the recent post-Wars....

... or there's the Augustan peace, the Pax Britannica. Otherwise, I am fully in agreement w all yr points.
l_aqrchard From: l_aqrchard Date: June 25th, 2010 07:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'd also add to your list Andrew Marvell: poet, tutor, and civil servant. Incidentally - I think the idea of a thriller involving Froissart, Chaucer, and Petrarch is fantastic...
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 26th, 2010 04:02 pm (UTC) (Link)

Damn you!

I'm already beavering away at it thanks to you lot. I think The Visconti Cypher makes a nice title, don't you? (And although Boccacio is also now involved, I find I am hearing most of all from the Visconti and from Sir John Hawkwood, who is beginning to take over the bloody story.)
l_aqrchard From: l_aqrchard Date: June 26th, 2010 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Damn you!

And if Boccacio is now involved, will Dante be far behind?
wemyss From: wemyss Date: June 26th, 2010 07:10 pm (UTC) (Link)

'E's deaded.

As Sir John 'Awkwood would say. He certainly wasn't about at the 1368 marriage, in Milan, of Lionel duke of Clarence to the Visconti heiress, which is when Dan Geoffrey, Froissart, Boccace, and Petrarch were meeting.
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