Shared Text: Voldemort’s Farm Subsidies

I have an American friend residing in Sri Lanka, a man writing a Young Adult series of novels with whom I correspond about ring composition and other writing devices. I look forward to sharing more here about Michael and his nomadic adventures when his books are published.

In our frequent email exchanges, he often sends links to articles available online about subjects of interest to him; it’s a relatively random set of news pieces and commentary, though Michael has set in granite political convictions and beliefs about the world, few of which I share. I suspect he sends them less to say ‘Hurrah for our side!’ or ‘Can you believe this?’ than to note that I need to change my ideas to better ones, say, his own.

I confess to clicking through in each email he sends, despite or because of my complementary aversion and addiction to news stories (cue link to ‘Avoid News’ by Rolf Dolbelli). Today’s piece was from The New York Times, in my youth a bastion of journalism, for at least a quarter century an advocacy newspaper: The Money Farmers: How Oligarchs and Populists Milk the E.U. for Millions. If you want an education in why millions of UK voters voted to leave the EU and why the elite have fought that mandate in order to remain at the trough in Brussels, this article is an excellent short course.

Why do I share it here? Even in an article about corrupt politicians in Central Europe and how they continue the feudal traditions of the Catholic Middle Ages and of the Marxist serfdom in the Communist era by redirecting subsidies to farmers from the EU to their own coffers, we get a reference to Harry Potter.

In one example, a powerful Fidesz lawmaker, Roland Mengyi, inserted himself into the leasing process in Borsod-Abauj Zemplen County, where one of his associates won leases for more than 1,200 acres. Mr. Mengyi is an outsized character, who referred to himself as “Lord Voldemort.” He was later convicted and sentenced to prison in a separate case for corruption related to European subsidies.

Clicking through on the link provided, I didn’t find the reference to Lord Voldemort made by Mengyi; it seems to be rather hearsay that the newspaper writer wanted to include to cast the villain in the properly dark light. The Times repeats it because the reference works. Everyone reading the article knows who the Dark Lord is, that he is a very, very bad man, and will conclude that any man referring to himself as “Lord Voldemort” is as indifferent to others and to right and wrong as can be.

That’s the power and constancy of allusions to Harry Potter, our era’s shared text. Let me know what you think in the comment boxes below (click on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post headline).

Mailbag: Dickens as Literary Alchemist?

Susan wrote:

As a Harry Potter fanatic, I have really enjoyed your books and learning about Literary Alchemy. I understand that A Tale of Two Cities is a classic example of a book with this structure. Could you refer or recommend where I could learn about the Alchemical components of this story?

Also I’ve seen several references to A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery as a good reference, however it is rather expensive. Do you have any ideas of where to find a reasonable used copy, or another less expensive resource?

Dear Susan,

Forgive me for jumping without courtesies and in haste right to your questions!

(1) To my knowledge, I’m the only person talking about literary alchemy in Tale of Two Cities, which, frankly, is daunting. (See Harry Potter’s Bookshelf or just search this site.) Fortunately for my mental well being (who wants to be called “deluded” or a “critic with an alchemy fixation/hobby horse”?), other friends who are familiar with hermetic formula a la Shakespeare have confirmed I’m not just making this up. Of course, this could mean we have a group-think delusion in hand, no?

If you have your doubts about Dickens as alchemist, though, read his The Haunted Man, a Christmas novella in three parts like Tale of Two Cities, featuring a chemist, a loving, poor family with six boys and a caboose girl, a ‘Voldemort-baby-at-King’s-Cross’ doppelganger, and a treatise about memory not so carefully put in with the melodrama. Watch the colors as you run through the three parts…

(2) The best prices for Abraham’s Dictionary I found at were from the US — and, at more than $30 after including the S&H costs, the price still seems very steep. It’s too bad, because the book really is invaluable to the serious reader. The entry on ‘The Philosophical Tree’ I stumbled on recently has me reconsidering how I’ve understood C. S. Lewis’s Magician’s Nephew, for instance.

This probably seems gross but I urge you in addition to that book to find a copy of Lyndy Abraham’s Marvell and Alchemy (Scolar Press [not a typo], 1990).

The first chapter is her explanation of the historical context of alchemy, both metallurgical and literary in 16th and 17th Century Great Britain, and the references in it to Everard and Culpeper alone have me more than half-convinced that it is one of the books on alchemy Rowling read in her first years of plotting and planning the Hogwarts Saga. 

Marvell and Alchemy lists at $130, alas, but copies can be had for $50; in the US and for £24.00 in the UK. I got mine through Interlibrary Loan. Well worth the wait and hassle that this can be, believe me!

I hope that helps — please let me know how your adventures in hermetic literature turn out.

Fraternally black, white, and red,



‘Writing Home’ by J. K. Rowling

J. K. Rowling has written a contribution to a collection of Remainer essays called ‘Dear Europe.’ Her brief and charming essay — 17 paragraphs with a ‘Freund Hanna’ latch and a story turn in paragraph 9 about her mother’s death –can be read at The Guardian website; see Writing Home.

I confess (after the jump!) to being delighted by the piece for three reasons: [Read more…]

Halloween! About the Hogwarts Ghosts

A Halloween Guest Post from David Martin! Joyous Walpurgis Nacht, Everyone!

As we approach Halloween, the time when we are concerned with

Ghoulies and Ghosties,
And long-leggity Beasties,
And Things that go bump in the Night…

let us pause a moment to consider the Hogwarts ghosts and how different they are from other literary ghosts. Let’s compare the Hogwarts ghosts with what are perhaps the two best-known literary ghosts, Marley from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Hamlet’s father.

The first difference to observe is the “age” of the ghosts – or whatever we should call it when considering how long a ghost has been dead. Marley, we are told very clearly, has been dead for seven years at the start of A Christmas Carol. With Hamlet’s father, we aren’t given an exact date but it seems clear that his death is recent, perhaps less than a year before the play begins. By contrast, the “youngest” of the Hogwarts ghosts that we meet is Moaning Myrtle who has been dead about 50 years. Professor Binns has been dead for several centuries. Nearly headless Nick has been dead 500 years. The Fat Friar dates from the middle ages – so perhaps 800 years ago. And the Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron died within a generation of the founding of Hogwarts – so, 900 to 1,000 years ago. That’s a major difference.

The second difference to observe is what the ghosts tell us. Both Marley and Hamlet’s father carry grim warnings of judgment and perhaps suffering after death. They bring us information about the next world. The Hogwarts ghosts, on the other hand, tell us things about this world. Nick tells us that the Sorting Hat has issued warnings before. Professor Binns tells us when the International Statute of Secrecy was signed. The discussion between Harry and Nick after the death of Sirius makes it clear that Nick, at least, knows nothing of the next world.

I believe what we have here is another instance of one of Rowling’s favorite techniques, namely giving a specific form or representation to a non-physical reality. She tipped us off about this technique years ago when she told us that Dementors are representations of depression. Looking around the novels, it’s easy enough to find other instances of this technique.

Boggarts can be seen as representations of phobias. I see the Mirror of Erised as a representation of daydreaming. I also think – though it may be a stretch – that Ginny’s enslavement by Tom Riddle’s diary can be seen as a representation of an addiction, perhaps alcoholism because of the memory lapses. And using the Pensieve to sort out your thoughts when there are too many of them – that’s Rowling’s representation of the confusion at the start of the writing process. (My personal Pensieve is a big, flat table and several dozen Post-It notes.)

So what do the Hogwarts ghosts represent? I believe that they can be seen as representations or memories of the past, and often as representing the influence of the past on the present.

First of all, let’s note that speaking of memories as ghosts is common enough. The folk singer Judy Collins has a song called “Secret Gardens” about visiting the remains of her great-grandfather’s farm. She sings “Inside the old kitchen I still see the ghosts of the people I knew long ago.” In a TV program made about her life, J. K. Rowling visited her former flat in Leith where she lived while writing the first Harry Potter book. While looking around it she said “Coming back here is just full of ghosts.”

Such “ghosts” may also represent what might be called collective or cultural memories. My wife had some ancestors who came west to Colorado in a wagon train 150 years ago. Once in Nebraska we stopped at a roadside park where the ruts of the very wagon trail they must have followed are still visible. My wife “felt the ghosts.” I live near Philadelphia. Once I took an out-of-town friend to tour Independence Hall and she, too, “felt the ghosts” there as I suppose most Americans would.

If we accept this interpretation of the Hogwarts ghosts, then a number of details fall into place. Of course, history is taught by a ghost. History is about the past. Of course each house has a ghost to represent its traditions and values, rather than, say, a mascot. And of course the key information from the past that is needed to solve the mystery at hand is sometimes given by a ghost. Moaning Myrtle tells Harry and Ron where she was murdered. The Grey Lady tells Harry what happened to the Diadem of Ravenclaw.

This interpretation of the Hogwarts ghosts is consistent with a fundamental viewpoint that is observable in the Harry Potter novels. The Harry Potter novels seem to have the viewpoint that the present is best understood as the result of the past, or as an expression of the past. For instance, when Rowling wants us to know more about a character, she does not give us their horoscope or their classification on some magical equivalent of the Myers-Briggs personality test. Instead, she tells us their personal history. (But that’s another essay.)

In the 1960s there was a cheery saying that “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” That saying looks to the future and suggests that your future can be liberated from your past. The viewpoint in the Harry Potter novels is different. It’s more like “Today is the latest installment in the ongoing, continuing story of your life.” We are all firmly connected to the past. Our ghosts – both personal and collective – remind us of that.

— David Martin of Hufflepuff

A New Symbol for Harry Potter? Cover Ideogram on New Cursed Child Book

Arthur Levine next week will be publishing a fan-servicing book about the stage production of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. It was assembled by Jody Revenson, an author whose best-selling titles include the complete range of Wizarding World knock-off books released with each new Warner Brothers film or at Christmas time (see her Amazon page for all those “perfect gifts for the insatiable Harry Potter fan!”). The full title of Revenson’s latest is Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: The Journey: Behind the Scenes of the Award-Winning Stage Production — yes, a title with two colons.

This would normally not merit a mention at HogwartsProfessor because I’m not a big fan of Cursed Child and the ancillary books about the Wizarding World I actually read are critical works about the J. K. Rowling novels or, with respect to the Fantastic Beasts franchise, those that might have clues about the shooting script we do not and most likely never will have. The video above was filmed when the new book’s publication was first announced in July 2019; what spurs me to write about it now?

I received my copy of TheRowlingLibrary online magazine yesterday and it included three pictures of the new book, all of which included a new — well, I cannot remember seeing it before — symbol or ideogram, as well as the much ballyhooed return to the lightning heavy faux Gothic font in the Harry Potter title. The super-stylized and symmetrically circular image all turns on the capital letter ‘H,’ the letter being bisected top to bottom in addition to its cross bar and encircled by the repeated phases of the moon.

Have a look at the three images in this post. The ideogram is on the spine of the book’s flyleaf cover where the symbol can be found at the very top. On the book without the wrapping cover, the symbol is everywhere. It is presented, too, as something like a Morris wallpaper design or an Escher drawing in the front endpaper, the pages just inside the front cover.

Forgive me if this not new, but, again, it is new to me. Does the ‘H’ stand for Hogwarts? That would seem odd; the school already has a crest or shield. Does it stand for ‘Harry Potter’? That would be even more peculiar because most initial set monograms include three letters and highlight the first letter of the surname rather than the first or middle names. It’s more likely, according to this convention, to be Rubeus Hagrid’s symbol.

Who cares? Anyone who studies the formal aspects of Rowling’s writing and it’s heavy measure of parallelism should be interested. This ideogram could be a symbol for ring composition, even better I think than the Deathly Hallows symbol. Long-time readers of this weblog will recall that the central chapter of the Hogwarts Saga’s central, “crucial” book is chapter 19 of Goblet of Fire, ‘The Hungarian Horntail,’ a chapter that Rowling highlight’s as the series pivot in various ways, not least of which is the alliterative title featuring the letter ‘H,’ a letter in which two vertical lines or parts are joined by a horizontal connecting bar.

Is this ‘H’ in the Cursed Child book a pointer to the two parts of the production? I hope that those of you who seen the play will chime in here if the letter-symbol is an important part of the show. Again, I ask your forgiveness in advance if this is common knowledge; Cursed Child is just not my thing.