Mythcon 47: Mythopoeia, Tolkien, and Propp

Our faculty have a busy summer: Prof JBH will be attending Mythcon 47 this summer to read a new paper on mythopoeia through the lens of Tolkien and Propp. The conference title and theme is “Faces of Mythology: Ancient, Medieval, and Modern.” As part of his Muggle disguise, Prof JBH has managed to infiltrate the Mythopoeic Society, the organizer for the Mythcon conference.


Here’s the title and a short blurb for his upcoming presentation:

Mythical Grammar according to J. R. R. Tolkien and Vladimir Propp: A Gesture Toward Conciliation Between Mythopoeia and Formalism

This paper sketches a framework for understanding how the radically different literary perspectives of Tolkien and the Russian folklorist Vladimir Propp can be constructively compared, and the value of doing so. I will briefly explain Propp’s approach in the Morphology of the Folktale and how it can be used to explain the aesthetic satisfaction many readers experience and report when a tale conforms to a particular structure. Propp consciously disregarded questions of literary meaning, thus guilty by Tolkien’s lights of “using the stories not as they were meant to be used, but as a quarry from which to dig evidence” (1947, 47). Tolkien has no truck with empirical and reductive methods like Propp’s. Propp is an analyst of form and syntax, Tolkien of content and meaning. Propp is an anatomist, Tolkien a psychologist (or poet). And yet their analyses of fairy tales converge on two noteworthy points. The first is the effect of a well-written tale on the reader. In previous research published on Propp, I have investigated his elliptical claim that his 31-function schema “is a measuring unit for individual tales” (1968, 64). It has been observed that the well-formed tale according to Propp’s scheme constitutes a cultural script marked by keen aesthetic satisfaction. The second point of convergence is on the question of origins, with both Tolkien and Propp, in their respective vocabularies, indicating the necessity of an Ur-story, a Protean form from which stories of an infinite variety of “amazing multi-formity, picturesqueness, and color” (1968, 21) have emerged under the sub-creative auspices of the “elvish craft.” Propp’s explanation is by design naturalized while Tolkien’s is metaphysical. Yet both reveal something essential to “incantation in Faërie,” a mythical grammar by which the storyteller may, if successful, wield an enchanter’s power.

Prof Hunter is drawing from the Manuscript B version of “On Fairy-Stories” published in Essays Presented to Charles Williams (1947/1966, out of print). He is particularly enthusiastic about this paper because it will be his first attempt to build on his already-published Proppian analysis of the Harry Potter saga, which appears in The Ravenclaw Reader. It is also the fruit borne from a discussion with the Hogwarts Professor at a pub in St Andrews, Scotland four years ago. Pubs in Scotland are, parenthetically, where most good ideas originate. st-andrews-university-hotbed-of-mythopoeia

When the conference program is finalized, we’ll provide a link.

Students may use their holiday Hogsmeade pass to attend. If you don’t have a pass signed by your parent or guardian, please register online at the Mythcon 47 website. If you’ve already used your pass to attend the Leviosa! conference, then alternative routes out of school grounds are known to exist, but you can be assured that Mr Filch and Mrs Norris will be guarding them vigilantly.

Quidditch News

Muggle news attempts to grapple with the sport we have exported to the Muggle world.

The infographic is quite nice, and I see that Warbeck’s crew in the Muggle Liaison Office continue their good work: “fictional Harry Potter sport.” Well played.


Ask the Professor (2)

An inquirer asks, “I have not read The Hobbit, LOTR, or Harry Potter. What am I missing?”

Once we lifted our lower jaw from the floor, we answered thusly:

A shared experience with fellow humans of your cultural time and place.
A vocabulary, an imaginative conceptual framework within which to see yourself and the world around you anew.

Ask the Professor (1)


It’s been too quiet on the grounds lately what with all the de-gnoming and boggart removal done (for now). But complaining is for the weak-minded, so let us draw ourselves up to our full height and get on with Hogwarts Prep business.

As you know, we have a, er, sensitive position to manage betwixt magical and Muggle communities. To that end, some of the materials I publish for the benefit of our wink-and-a-nod agency, the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes, will be incorporated into our Muggle Studies curriculum. I will publish these under the “Ask the Professor” category so you may learn some of our techniques in straddling the two realms.

An inquirer asked whether or not Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry exists. Now it does no one any good to pursue this as a philosophical matter of metaphysics or epistemology. When Muggles ask these sorts of questions, they have been pricked by the numinousness of our existence (we can’t help it), and really just want to share their joy and wonder at it all. They aren’t looking for a treatise on Dasein, Descartes’ dream argument, or Aristotelian ontology. So, under my Muggle identity, I answered the questioner as follows:

For two reasons it is very unlikely that the world will ever know.
(1) There are international laws against that sort of thing. See: International Confederation of Warlocks’ Statute of Secrecy. And even if a careless or malevolent wizard or witch does something that can be or is noticed by Muggles, the Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes can swing into action, obliviating, reversing, or otherwise covering their tracks. So even if by some accident you see Hogwarts, no one else will ever hear about it, and quick as you like, you’ll not remember it either (though you might notice some funnily-dressed people scurrying away from you).
(2) We do not have the eyes with which to see magical places, beings, and objects. This is, to a large extent, self-imposed. We all have a bit of Vernon Dursley in us. To quote Arthur Weasley, best friend of Muggles: “Of course, it’s very hard to convict anyone because no Muggle would admit their key keeps shrinking – they’ll insist they just keep losing it. Bless them, they’ll go to any lengths to ignore magic, even if it’s staring them in the face….” [Chamber of Secrets, 38 (Amer ed.)]

Your assignment is to critique this answer. Six inches of parchment should be adequate. As always, logic and evidence is your friend. Canon, people!