Literary Alchemy: The Pillar Post Project

I was invited out of the blue last week, as something of an afterthought it seems, by the editor of a book soon to be published on the subject of the literary alchemy in Harry Potter to make a contribution of some kind. It turns out the well-meaning editor had not read anything I’d written on the subject other than the chapters in Unlocking Harry Potter, written and published before Deathly Hallows was in hand.

This struck me as bizarre, frankly. I’ve written several books with chapters on literary alchemy since 2007, most notably Deathly Hallows Lectures, How Harry Cast His SpellHarry Potter’s Bookshelfand Spotlight: The Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (don’t sniff at that last, please, especially if you’re serious about hermetic writing in popular culture). Not to mention all I have written here on the subject in addition to the important alchemical Guest Posts we’ve published. 

This seemingly inexplicable ignorance on the part of a very smart person reminded me that I had been advised two years ago to create what are known as ‘Pillar Posts’ for the sidebar of HogwartsProfessor. The purpose of these posts on a weblog is to create easy access in one spot to the material on a specific topic of special interest that is otherwise just spread throughout the archives of a long-lived site in no particular order. If I am obliged to note, Gilderoy mask in place, that the editor of the upcoming book on alchemy and the Hogwarts Saga is at fault in not doing such work herself, I must take some part of the blame because I have too long neglected the duties of HogwartsProfessor weblog archivist.

I hope eventually to write a proper ‘Pillar Post’ for literary alchemy or at least an annotated version of the sorted link list that follows. I will try in the coming weeks, though, to put together similar Round-Ups for Ring Composition, Cormoran Strike, the Fantastic Beasts screenplays, Hunger Games, and other books we have discussed here at some length. Please let me know if there is a subject for which you would appreciate a one-click access to a cataloge of HogwartsProfessor posts made about it through the years and I will do my best to oblige you.

Below, then, a beginning on this Pillar Post project with a listing of Literary Alchemy posts on Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts, corrections and questions by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post header. [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: The BYU Interview

Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter (a great holiday present to self or other Potter Pundits you know), recently gave an interview on the merits of Harry Potter as literature on an American radio station in Utah.

You can listen — via this link to BYU Radio’s online archives — to Lisa Valentine Clark‘s talk with the resident Hogwarts maven and Serious Striker at Trinity College, Oxford University. Enjoy!

Lethal White and NHS: Rowling Speaks

The fourth Cormoran Strike novel, Lethal White, included as an almost continuous backdrop references to the NHS in character names, the Olympics opening ceremony, hospital visits, long lines, and private medical care. I discussed this in Lethal White: Ghosts of Aneurin Bevan? Lorelei Bevan, Dodgy Doc, and the NHS’ and concluded that Rowling was presenting the glorious NHS as a socialist project in a state of near collapse.

Today Rowling released the following statement to The Daily Mail in support of their holiday program that signs up citizen volunteers to work in NHS hospitals, ‘Harry Potter Author J. K. Rowling Supports Daily Mail Christmas NHS Volunteer Campaign’:

 ‘The NHS is one of our country’s most cherished institutions, one that we can truly be proud of.

‘Despite the constant pressures and constraints, it never ceases to amaze me just how much work and time all those involved dedicate to continuing to make this organisation function, let alone excel.

‘And now, a new army of volunteers have stepped forward. The thousands who are giving up their time to help the NHS through the Helpforce campaign should be applauded.’

I suspect some readers will think this statement of support for the NHS proves I was wrong about what Galbraith’s portrayal of the NHS in Lethal White reflects about the “cherished institution.” I think she couldn’t have said anything that more clearly underlines my suggestion that the author, while admiring the dream of NHS founders and workers, acknowledges that it is a failed dream in many respects. Read the whole article for the reasons the volunteers are needed and for the problems the NHS cannot address with ‘civilian’ help. Not enough medical staff and not enough beds…

Let me know if and why you agree or disagree by clicking on the ‘Leave a Comment’ link up by the post headline. I look forward to reading your thoughts.

Fantastic Beasts: ‘Absurd Fan Theories’

The only reason to watch the two videos below? So you can say you did, a marker of your thorough research into all things Fantastic Beasts.

The first one with Miller and Fogler also serves the purpose of reaffirming your conviction that actors must be the last people you ask about anything of importance (see The Apology of Socrates for more — and, yes, I know Socrates didn’t even talk to actors in his search for wisdom or why he was the wisest man in Greece). This performance is an ugly throwback to Cheech and Chong videos in which the audience is supposed to be amused by two stoners who think they are funny.

But the Q&A does have Miller almost answer the question about whether Ariana Dumbledore was an Obscurial. Maybe he did answer it and then realized he’d be in big trouble if he reported what Rowling had told him. Anyway, it’s a non-answer. How does Ariana as Obscurial qualify as an “absurd fan theory”?

This conversation is much more enjoyable, if only because the actresses are relatively modest and take the silly situation in which they find themselves (and for which they are being paid) seriously enough to try and answer the questions posed. Back to the screenplay and real conversation about the story and future possibilities tomorrow!

Crimes of Grindelwald: Queenie’s Quest

Jan Voetberg wrote this originally as a response to my post on ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: Interior Texts‘ but I thought it important enough to give it its own place as a Guest Post. As you’ll see, Queenie’s situation is its own interior text — and one with so many mysteries that we surely have not been told what her mission to Paris is all about. [For more on the absurdity of the Queenie surface story see ‘Crimes of Grindelwald: The Deleted Scenes‘ and the discussion there on ‘Is Queenie Out of Her Mind or Crazy like a Fox?’ and ‘After Scene 51.’]

Crimes of Grindelwald: Queenie’s Quest by Jan Voetberg

Crimes of Grindelwald: Interior Texts’ was a delightful read, as always, John. My thought on reading it, besides being impressed by the number of stories Rowling has embedded in the series, was that you missed one, namely, the Queenie story, what we’re told versus what is actually happening.

I think the embedded text and the mysteries circling around Queenie springs from the torn postcard. There’s something strange about it from the start.

Queenie says to Newt in his London flat that “Tina and I aren’t talking.” Which doesn’t correspond with Tina’s loving words on the postcard, ending with “X,” a kiss. The loving words don’t correspond with the postcard having been torn up, and it being torn up doesn’t correspond with keeping it in her case. The suggestion is for the careful reader that she has artfully dumped it on Newt’s floor for him to discover, reassemble, and decide he needs to head to Paris immediately — just as Dumbledore wants him to do.

I do not remember any sign of Tina opposing a Magic-No Maj relationship between Queenie and Jacob in the first Fantastic Beasts film. Queenie’s reaction when Newt tells her that not he but Theseus is engaged, is not: “Oh, but that’s wonderful! I will inform Tina as soon as possible!” but “Oh! Oh dear….” She tells the disappointed Magizoologist that Tina is now dating an auror by the high-powered name of Achilles Tolliver (scene 36, p 66). That name is a macho push because in the Iliad there is a heavy fight between the river Scamander and Achilles, greatest of the Greek warriors in the Trojan war, and ‘Tolliver’ is the anglicization of the Italian Taliaferro, ‘iron cutter,’ “a nickname for a metal worker or a fierce fighter.”

What is Queenie up to here? She must know that Newt had written harsh words about aurors being thugs in a letter to Tina that had upset Queenie’s sister as much as the mistaken Spellbound announcement about Newt’s engagement to Leta Lestrange. It seems to me that Queenie wants to bring her sister and Newt together — per Dumbledore’s direction? — so she gives him the ‘Achilles Tolliver’ challenge and the card clue, a clue he is that much more ready to believe because he has “discovered” it himself (see Raphael’s alibi trick in Lethal White). Here I think is the reader of an embedded text like the ones you described in your post, a reader-mirror inside the story making a mistake we are being warned not to make ourselves as we read or watch the larger story.

Queenie was counting on Newt’s doing the right thing per Jacob, because, as Dumbledore tells him, that is what Newt does as an unbreakable reflex. She has only brought Jacob to London to be sure these two come to Paris to help her and Tina in their missions to defeat Grindelwald. Newt’s “discovering” that she has bewitched Jacob quite literally and freeing him from that charm gives her the excuse she needs to dump him at Newt’s home and go by herself on her secret mission to Paris.

I think she has a mission because of the events in Paris involving Queenie that are at least as bizarre as her time with Newt and Jacob in London. [Read more…]