Vita Nostra Q2: Magic school

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Vita Nostra is about a child who goes to boarding school to learn magic and exceeds all expectation. The Harry Potter books are about a child who goes to boarding school to learn magic and exceeds all expectation. The Wizard of Earthsea is about a child who goes to boarding school to learn magic and exceeds all expectation.

I think these three books are rather different. 

Are there any similarities to draw between these magical school stories? Is that a sensible thing to do? Why are magical schools a common theme? Are they just a nerd-troped school?

Comments

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    I don't think Vita Nostra is about a child who goes to boarding school to learn magic. I think it's about a pupa that goes to boarding school to become a butterfly. That's a very different premise than Harry Potter. Harry Potter grew up while he was at school to learn Magic. Sasha learned (powers) while she was at school to become an Aleph.

    This is why I was at first turned off by this book. People kept comparing it to HP, but to me it was much more like a Herman Hesse novel than a Rowling novel.

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    I'm not sure Sasha realised at the outset that she was going to learn anything really esoteric, whereas both Sparrowhawk and Harry Potter a) knew that was what they were going to learn, b) lived with a world view that was absolutely sure magic was real and c) had some prior notions of what magic could do.

    So the premise is rather different: also the modes of learning are very different, since Sasha's school assumes that the only way to learn is by exposure to the impossible, whereas Potter's school is very ordinary, and Sparrowhawk's more like apprenticeship into a guild.
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    I saw more connections with Harry Potter than @Apocryphal and @RichardAbbott mostly because I think that a lot of the excitement that drives the first novel is about his discovery that he wasn't a loser due to birth (orphan) but a winner (wizard). Take that Dudley!

    While HP isn't as anguished as Sasha, it's all about talent and not work - work's for sidekicks. In this book it's a little more subtle because of the 1st person narration - Sahsa thinks she works very hard, but really its nature not nuture. It's not teaching, and the reason education is not necessary - we want to find out what they are, not make them better. Sasha is interesting because she learns anyway, which is optimistic I suppose.

    I think a more interesting comparison is with children the Narnia stories, e.g. Dawntreader, and also perhaps with LOTR, where Frodo is given a doom from his father Bilbo, of which he really knows nothing, but unlike lost king stories (even Tarzan) he and the other hobbits have only ordinariness to draw on, not special dads like the rest of the fellowship.

    And there is Golden Compass etc., also I suppose, where dad is important, but prehaps gets sidelined as things progress? Disappointment.

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    I do like the comparison with the Narnia children as they were as baffled as Sasha by some aspects of Narnia and its basic assumptions (though as the books were broadly aimed at a younger audience this was not so developed). But Narnia was (as I read Lewis) open to all, not based on nurture, even if the books focus on a few specific individuals. People can potentially exclude themselves (as perhaps Susan did, unless Lewis intended some form of redemption there) but are not a priori excluded in the way that some double-predestination Christian groups might suggest.

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    With respect to the children in Narnia, I always had the impression they had to be invited to go to Narnia by a higher force. A stranger couldn’t just walk in. Gods purpose is in everything.

    I’m wondering about the children in A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which the kids are clearly special by virtue of their parents, but their parents are dead. Their specialness causes them problems which they must solve on their own. Is this a case of more of the same, or something different?
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    @Apocryphal said:
    With respect to the children in Narnia, I always had the impression they had to be invited to go to Narnia by a higher force. A stranger couldn’t just walk in. Gods purpose is in everything.

    Agreed, but that invitation could go to anyone regardless of parentage. Eustace wasn't exactly promising Narnia material at first, and certainly not by parentage.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I’m wondering about the children in A Series of Unfortunate Events, in which the kids are clearly special by virtue of their parents, but their parents are dead. Their specialness causes them problems which they must solve on their own. Is this a case of more of the same, or something different?

    I feel that (like the Golden Compass) that is different, even though there is something about absent parents in a lot of these stories. I'd say the same about Frodo who discovers his doom given by his parent. Old Testament.

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    Oddly enough, this made me think of the Swallows and Amazons series, which again has the theme of absent parents - the Swallows' father is in the Royal Navy and often posted abroad, and their mother basically lets them do whatever they please. The Amazons' mother is widowed and their uncle encourages their independent lifestyle. But I extrapolated from this to suggest that pretty much all coming of age books (at least in the European tradition) must necessarily involve the absence of parents, so as to let the young people have an autonomy which in "real life" they almost certainly would not have. I'm not sure that has anything to do with religious presuppositions - more that if they couldn't act autonomously (perhaps with some adventures to escape from the interfering eye of parental figures) then the story could never happen.

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    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    ... I'd say the same about Frodo who discovers his doom given by his parent. Old Testament.

    Not wishing to quibble, but surely if Frodo represents anyone biblical, it's the New Testament Jesus, who really does have an absent father and discovers a doom laid upon him that leads to death and estrangement from the world?

    When YHWH acts in The Old Testament he does so directly in person. Moreover, there's much more feminine imagery used of YHWH in the OT (eg in creation, at the crossing of the Sea of Reeds, and so on) than one ever encounters of God in the NT. I totally agree that the human social assumptions in the OT, other than a few passages in the earliest parts, are patriarchal, but frequently the imagery linked to YHWH tends to subvert this rather than always reinforce it.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Oddly enough, this made me think of the Swallows and Amazons series, which again has the theme of absent parents - the Swallows' father is in the Royal Navy and often posted abroad, and their mother basically lets them do whatever they please. The Amazons' mother is widowed and their uncle encourages their independent lifestyle.

    Not having read Swallows and Amazons, this could be perception, where the children think the parents are more absent than they are. The parents delineate a space within which the children can be independent, but they're still monitored.

    But I agree that a big part of "coming of age" is independence and self-reliance, and growing beyond parents (and similar authority figures).

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @BarnerCobblewood said:
    ... I'd say the same about Frodo who discovers his doom given by his parent. Old Testament.

    Not wishing to quibble, but surely if Frodo represents anyone biblical, it's the New Testament Jesus, who really does have an absent father and discovers a doom laid upon him that leads to death and estrangement from the world?

    Sorry didn't mean to suggest Frodo was a Christ-character, just that the sins of the father are to be visited on the son. That is not a universal cultural position.

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