Mixing memory and desire: recollecting the self in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in English at Massey University, Auckland, New Zealand
Just as memory pervades our everyday lives, it pervades the lives of the characters and readers of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series and Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. Acts of recall or recollection occur in almost every chapter as the characters in these novels devote much of the present to keeping in touch with some aspect of the past. Memory is integral to Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, highlighting the following problematic questions: Who are we and how do we relate to the past? How is what we wish for the future grounded in the past and the present? Memory is at the core of constructivism, the active construction of reality by the individual through the use of mental activity. In this thesis I maintain that the central protagonists in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials, Harry Potter and Lyra Belacqua, actively construct their "selves" from memories and narratives – their own and those of others – just as the novels' readers negotiate their own identities in the world outside of the novels. The constant recalling of the past to confirm and amply one's present creates a complex web of remembering and forgetting, assimilating and discarding, which we attempt to explicate through the use of culturally appropriate metaphors.
The thesis comprises three chapters that correlate memory with genre, narrative, and technology respectively. I commence the thesis by exploring the idea of genre as collective memory. I position Harry Potter and His Dark Materials within the genre of heroic fantasy and examine how the monomyth provides readers with the memory triggers they require to decode the structure of these texts. The novels conform to and yet manipulate the preconceived patterns present in the heroic or "high" fantasy genre, where narrative, memory and identity are all linked by the desires of the stories' participants. Chapter Two applies Freud's concept of Nachtraglichkeit, which supposes the process of memory is one of incessant reconsideration or "retranslation", the reworking of memory traces in the light of later knowledge and experience. This conceptualisation of memory is compared to the common, but less productive, tendency to describe memory through objectifying metaphors, such as the idea that memory works analogously to a photograph. Chapter Three addresses how knowledge and experience in Harry Potter and His Dark Materials are furnished by prosthetic memory devices, such as photographs, the Pensieve, the alethiometer and the Amber Spyglass, “that permit us to transcend "raw" biological limits – for example, the limits on memory
capacity or limits on our auditory range” (Bruner, Acts of Meaning 34). The novel's protagonists are then armed with these devices in trying to make sense of the landscapes they inhabit. Ultimately, we are all story-tellers (for better or for worse), weaving our self-narratives from material gleaned from the collective memories and prosthetic memory devices of the society we belong to, our own experiences, and the tales of others, trying to achieve the uniformity of consciousness and an awareness of the connection between the actions and events of the past, and the experience of the present, which are fundamental to a sense of individual identity.