UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Dear Mr. Dumbledore : handwritten and printed intraliterary texts in Lewis Carroll's Alice series and J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series Stubbs, Rachel


In J.K Rowling’s expansive Harry Potter universe, intraliterary texts such as textbooks, letters, notes, and diaries function independently from their authors. These texts often pose as a didactic, instructive, and demanding presence in the series. In this thesis, I argue that this phenomenon is inextricably linked to a Victorian trend of textual obsession, as evidenced in Lewis Carroll’s Alice books. Alice’s inability to ignore the “EAT ME” “DRINK ME” labels on various food and drinks demonstrates but one example of prescriptive texts. Just as Alice cannot deny the authority of texts that she reads, many characters in Harry Potter show a need to respond to the texts that they consume. Not only do these texts conduct reader behaviour and inscribe meaning, they also convey status. In the Harry Potter series, letters grant or deny membership to the Wizarding World. Harry himself is safeguarded as a baby via one letter and invited into the Wizarding community through another. Letters, like Hagrid’s, that are poorly written, relegate him to the outskirts of the Wizarding World society. I show that Rowling’s series echoes the relationship of readership and literacy to middle-class membership in Alice. Carroll himself was a prolific letter-writer and once stated that “the proper definition of ‘Man’ is an animal who writes letters” (Cohen 2:663). Carroll’s obsession with letters and letter-writing led to the publishing of his own letter-writing manual. Carroll and Rowling both engage in a metafictional conversation that evokes nostalgia and propriety in writing and reading. Furthermore, this thesis engages in reader-response theory in order to examine not only the fictional readers in the text, but also the extradiegetic readers of the Alice and Harry Potter books. I identify the many possible readers surrounding Alice and show that Carroll’s fixation on reading and writing transcends the implied readership of these texts. Although Rowling does not directly address her extradiegetic readers with the same blatancy, she does utilize Carroll’s approach to intraliterary texts. Ultimately, Rowling and Carroll are metafictionally speaking to the same spatiotemporal understanding of children’s literature.

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