Archives for March 2007

“One Last Memory:” A Godric’s Hollow Mind-blower

Everything I am sent about literary alchemy I read. Can you blame me? I am, of course, especially interested in thoughts on how alchemical images are used in Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Later this week I will review one of the better things I’ve read on this subject, from a Jungian analyst’s perspective quite different than my own. Today, though, I want to share something I found while looking for alchemical thoughts to share here.

I can thank Professor Mum (thank you, Wendy!) for mentioning S. P. Sipal’s notes about the new covers, all of which were references to alchemy and processes in the Great Work. Following the urls Professor Mum sent, I learned that S.P. Sipal had written an essay on the alchemy in the series for a Galadriel Waters book called The Plot Thickens and, more recently, had posted an editorial on mugglenet.com called One Last Memory.

The alchemical points in this mugglenet essay are disappointing. S.P. Sipal does not understand what a Quintessence is, for instance, and what images and explanations s/he brought into play from Egyptian mythology and magic (a bunch!) I thought distracted from rather than supported her remarkable ideas about what really happened in Godric’s Hollow. These ideas are so good, though, that I look forward to reading the other alchemical things S.P. Sipal has written; the conclusions s/he comes to are so compelling it seems clear s/he just had a bad day with respect to the alchemy in One Last Memory.

I suspect that more than one English Literature Ph.D. has already been drafted on the subject of memory in Harry Potter. The subject begs serious treatment, especially with respect to Hermetic memory systems and Renaissance beliefs about memory in Florence and Northern Italy when magic was largely about memory (see Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory for more on this). S.P. Sipal does not begin this work or review even superficially the role of memory in the books — but, wow, what s/he comes up with in Sherlock Holmes fashion by revisiting the seemingly unnecessary trip the trio make to the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s in Phoenix. [Read more…]

John Gets a Thank You Letter from Scholastic

I send a copy of the Harry Potter related books I write or edit to Ms. Rowling through her publishers as a courtesy. I have never expected a response and I have never been disappointed. It’s just something that seems right to do.

This practice explains why I sent Ms. Rowling one of the reviewer’s copies of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader that I got from Zossima Press before we kicked the first big kinks out of it. Her website instructs those wanting to contact her by post to send letters to Bloomsbury if you live in the UK and to Scholastic if you live in the US. I wrote a grateful note on the title page of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, consequently, and shipped it off to Scholastic, as instructed.

I forgot about it. After my daily run late one night last week, though, I found a letter in our mailbox from Scholastic. It had first class postage (meaning it wasn’t junk mail).

Uh-oh. [Read more…]

Deathly Hallows Cover Comments: Fire Away!

I think I hear Joyce Odell, the Red Hen, saying, ‚ÄúThe covers of the first six books have never told us anything we could understand until we had read those books; why should this time be any different?‚Äù The explosion of comment about the covers across Fandom, not unlike what happened at the release of the seventh book’s title is more a gauge of how high the interest is in the reading world about the final Harry Potter installment than a revelation of any events or meaning. This is snipe hunting, right?

But, yes, just like everyone else, I was looking hard at the covers today to see if anything could be found. The four things that struck me were:

(a) the house-elf piggy-backing Harry with sword (UK – are the trio in dress robes? making a stop at Gringotts on their way to the alchemical wedding?);
(b) the Hogwarts(?) ice-castle (UK back);
(c) the absence of wands (US and UK); and
(d) the skewed chopping block under broken platform (US).

Professor Mum and her friend SP Spial have found two neat alchemical links. Mum wrote me these notes this afternoon that I have italicized here:

On the back of the UK Kid’s cover, there is a globe, seemingly with 3 snakes or a 3 headed snake or a tri colored snake. SP Spial points out that it looks suspiciously like this alchemical picture...with the same 3 colors present.

I don’t know the source for this description of the picture but she included it, in red:

The above links to an alchemical plate in the work of Salomon Trismosin (Splendor Solis, 1535) the reputed mentor of Paracelsus. It depicts three birds in an alembic (alchemist glass still): one red, one black, and one white. The birds represent the three essential elements of alchemy: sulfur, salt, and mercury. Black, white, and red also represent the three stages of the alchemical process in creating the Philospher’s Stone.

As interesting was the Circle and Triangle image on the spine of the UK books. Professor Mum explains:

Look again at the UK’s cover. The spine has a triangle with a circle inside of it. In the past, the British kid’s cover has always had some sort of symbol on it: DD, Hedwig, the Peverill ring.

This particular LAST series symbol is reminiscient of the Eye of Horus that SP Sipal discussed in her Mugglenet essay, but it also has a place in John’s alchemy lore… and, wouldn’t you know, a link with Mr. FLAMEL….which explains the sulphur (red) and gold (orange) colorings to the covers.

Whew.

About the alchemical symbolism, while I have admired the detective work Wendy and SP Sipal have done, I know that we won’t know what the triangle and circle or Snakey Globe mean until July 21. Establishing an alchemical parallel is exciting (believe me, as the supposed alchemical guy, I’m all over it) but what can we do with the connection(s) they have found? New Yorkers will remind you that the three dimensional sphere and triangle were the symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair….

More obvious is the color of the lettering chosen for the title and Ms. Rowling’s name on the US cover. If we had any doubt, we are certainly in the rubedo now.

One of my favorite Potter Pals and frequent poster on this site, Rumor, has written that Harry on the US cover is in a Christ-on-the-Cross posture. Her art studies trump anything I can say on this subject, certainly. Unable to resist the chance to say this, though, before I read it somewhere else, the US cover, I think, is Harry and LV, wandless, looking at Severus in the final confrontation when he reveals his true colors.

No? Isn‚Äôt that what we‚Äôre all waiting for? My off the wall fun guess is that Harry was about to be decapitated (hence the chopping block), sacrificially, when Severus (or LV?) intervenes. The artist hasn’t chosen scenes of climax from previous books, but I imagine, if this is the BIG SCENE in Deathly Hallows, she couldn’t resist.

Certainly she hasn’t given away much!

I look forward to reading your thoughts about the three covers released today.

Alchemy and the Tarot: Hanged Man on the Struck Tower

Some wild and crazy thinking over at the “Waiting for Harry” Book Club this month! My favorite is a Tarot and Alchemy connection being forged by a reader calling himself/herself “BNMC2007.” S/he starts with the “hanged man motif” we’re seeing of late:

1) When J.K. Rowling announced the Title of Deathly Hallows, visitors of her website could play a game of Hanged Man to get the name.

2) We see a magical game of Hanged Man in the Weasley twins Magic shop.

3) The Hand of Glory that Draco uses – is a Hanged Man’s hand.

4) We see images of the Hanged Man anytime someone uses the Levicorpus Spell- in particular Snape in his Worst Memory. He simulates the Tarot’s card for a Hanged Man (Hung upside down by his ankles.)

From there, s/he explores a possible link between Deathly Hallows and “gallows,” The Fool, the Tower, and Temperance, the so-called “Alchemy Card” in the Tarot deck most people are familiar with.

If this link to the thread doesn’t work, please go to wwwBN.com, click on the Book Clubs tab (upper right corner of home page), sign in, and go to the Waiting for Harry discussion group (and say, “Hi, John!”). Here are my first thoughts on bnmc2007’s efforts: [Read more…]

“No God-stuff in Harry Potter:” Correspondence from Ohio

Over at the Barnes and Noble book club, a writer named “The Apologist” made some thoughtful points about Christians with reservations about these books, all of which points brought the attentive reader to the conclusion that we shouldn’t rush to judge people who act out of sober prudence to guard their children from dissipating influences. Like “The Apologist,” I have no arguments with parents that refuse to let their children read Harry Potter in obedience to instruction from the people they accept as spiritual authorities in their lives. Obedience and humility are the foundation of spiritual accomplishment in every revealed tradition; how could I say "trust my opinion of these books more than the authorities to which you are in obedience"?

What galls me is (1) the authorities who have not read the books but use them as litmus strips of orthodoxy or "right belief" (and to keep their congregations in line with simnple markers), (2) those in obedience who become zealots and evangelists (using the litmus strips as billy clubs in parishs and the public square; obedience sans humility), and (3) the secularist clan that belittle believers as idiots for having sober reservations about a book that does present an exciting, engaging version of witchcraft.

Alas, I get far more letters from these last people than from Christians and true believers that hate Harry. This one was in yesterday’s mailbag: [Read more…]