We refer to things like movies and other modern entertainments as pop culture. To understand pop culture, we use language as a tool. Pop culture connects us to a cultural world with very deep roots. We are going to look at pop culture and seek its roots in history, culture, and language.

The roots of the modern

When Harry Potter comes out from under the stairs and enters the magical world at Hogwarts, he follows a familiar pattern in British art and culture. He moves from the ordinary and everyday — with concern for the local community — to the mysterious world of magic and fantasy.

very bored

Of course, going to Hogwarts was new for Harry, but his new school had a very long history and so did the world of magic he was learning to explore. British culture is often a repetition of this age-old experience: going beyond the ordinary and everyday to visit a world full of spirits and magical creatures.

Our futures often take place in old places with history

In the earliest historical records, we sense the drive to transcend the ordinary and everyday via magic and ceremony, to commune with the spirits and enter the spirit world. This was a primary concern of the ancients when they were building the earliest structures remaining in the British Isles. Very often, these are huge structures. In many cases, we have no idea how they could have been built. Very often, there is astonishing evidence of advanced ability to carry out mathematical calculations and create art.

Newgrange in Ireland, 3200 BC

Consider the hugely successful West End play, Jerusalem. The main character, Rooster Byron, is an eccentric character who lives in a mobile home in the forest. He loves to enjoy himself, but the local government and people of the local community think he is a nuisance and want to get rid of him. Finally, forced to leave his home and driven beyond his limits, he develops the ability to communicate with creatures from the spirit world. The play ends with him beating a drum to call giants of the ancient world to his aid.

Rooster becomes a shaman

Indeed, it is not difficult to find very familiar examples that follow a similar pattern. Think of the King Arthur legends that have remained popular for centuries. It is never clear whether the stories are taking place in the real or in a fairy world. One character from the Arthur legends, the Lady of Shallott, is cursed to never look directly at the world; she can only look at the world in her mirror.

The moment that the Lady of Shallott turns from her mirror and starts to look directly at the world. Then she must leave her castle and will soon die.

She is also cursed to keep weaving images of the things she sees in the mirror. Eventually, she cannot stand it any longer. She turns and looks at the world. However, now she must leave her tower and soon dies on her journey to the magical kingdom of Camelot.

The Lady of Shalott 1888 by John William Waterhouse 1849-1917
The fairy Lady of Shalott who is cursed to never look directly at the world

Think of Alice and her world where, the harder you try to be logical and actually see the world the way it really is, the stranger and more magical the world becomes.

How can we get to actually see things the way they really are?

In Peter Pan, the hero helps Wendy and her brothers to escape to Neverland. The children in the Narnia stories are able to travel to their wonderland through an old wardrobe. We will be examining not just these stories but their historical background and the ways in which they participated in a developing, vibrant English language culture.

There are lots of similar examples