Another thing I’m learning in the process of research: if you look long enough, you can find someone to agree with you on just about anything.
I’m working on my Children’s Lit paper, and I’m looking at the portrayal of Hermione in Harry Potter. Now, at first glance, the HP books are sexist (as I mentioned here), and that’s one of the beefs Jack Zipes has with them. So I was reading some more material on that, notably one book called Females and Harry Potter: Not All That Empowering, by Ruthann Mayes-Elma. It’s a piece of hand-wringing about how the females in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Hermione not excepted, have no agency, and how the Harry Potter stories reinforce patriarchal thinking. Now, it annoyed me, reading that, because I don’t want to think of the Harry Potter novels as bad, anti-feminist, and child-corrupting (even though I had already formulated my preliminary thesis along those lines). My own gut reaction to the novels is that they are empowering, not suppressive.
So I continued digging, and hit the jackpot. Not only are there two great essays on the topic, I found a book called Hermione Granger Saves the World: Essays on the Feminist Heroine of Hogwarts, edited by Christopher E. Bell (it’s got a charming picture of a squashed-face ginger cat on the cover, just like Hermione’s Crookshanks). A whole book about just how feminist the Harry Potter stories really are! I’m looking forward to digging more into that. Oh, I also found out some interesting bits: Hermione is not only modelled on J. K. Rowling herself (she said so repeatedly), but is named after several historic or literary characters, from Greek mythology through Shakespeare to D.H. Lawrence. And apparently they were all strong women.
Incidentally, the same thing happened with a book on C. S. Lewis which I found annoying, David Holbrook’s The Skeleton in the Wardrobe. It’s a Freudian interpretation of Lewis’ fantasy stories, which Holbrook apparently can’t stand. It didn’t take me long to find scholars who refute Holbrook quite emphatically, including one who says that “in this case the use of evidence is driven all too often by the axe-grinding urge” (Colin Manlove, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Patterning of a Fantastic World. New York: Twayne, 1993, p.20). My sentiments exactly.
So, conclusion: in research, you just have to dig deeply enough, and you’ll turn up something you can quote with impunity. If you don’t like the answers, look again, you’ll probably find better ones. And chances are, whichever scholar you’ve found agreeing with you has already thought things through a lot better than you have – well, at least that’s the case for me.