Beatrice Groves: Rowling and Scotland

All Aboard! It is the day that all readers of Harry Potter imagine ourselves at King’s Cross and on Platform 9 and 3/4 where we await a journey to another magical year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. This year, Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter has shared four guest posts as going-away presents to Hogwarts Professor readers waiting to board the train — and as celebrations of Rowling’s artistry and meaning. Enjoy!

It is the 1st September and students are boarding the Hogwarts Express and taking the long journey north to Scotland.

Rowling lives and works in Scotland and describes it as ‘a country that has given me more than I can easily express.’ When she had a chance to do the first ever take-over of the Radio 4 programme ‘Woman’s Hour’ in 2014 – acting as editor for the programme – it was noticeable that half the features were focussed on Scotland. Rowling has declared ‘I love this country’  – and she also loves it as a location for her fictions.

Note for example her unusually in-depth response (Twitter, 20 Sept 2018) to a resident wondering why she’d chosen Barrow-in-Furness as a setting for Career of Evil:

It’s such an unusual, distinctive place. I looked into the history of it (I’d never been there), then visited to see whether it was all I hoped, and it was. I can’t really explain why without spoiling the book, but it developed certain themes and perfectly suited the plot.

What is the evidence that Hogwarts, like quite a bit of Career of Evil, is in Scotland?

Rowling has gone out of her way to make it clear that Hogwarts, too, is located in Scotland. In an earlier confirmation, she jokily amended the original Fantastic Beasts (2001) textbook entry – ‘Rumours that a colony of Acromantula has been established in Scotland are unconfirmed’ – with ‘unconfirmed’ crossed out and replaced with ‘confirmed by Harry Potter and Ron Weasley.’

The fact that Hogwarts’s Scottish location is an original part of Rowling’s conception, not an afterthought, is also shown by the fact that both of her sketches of Hogwarts mark the landscape as distinctively and explicitly Scottish by naming the Great Lake as a ‘Loch.’

One of these sketches was made in 1999 and the other may have been made as early at 1995.1 While the word ‘loch’ itself did not make it into text of Harry Potter, the way Rowling’s imagination of this deep lake has been influenced by lochs remains clear, for it is inhabited by a Giant Squid. Giant Squid, like the infamous Loch Ness Monster, are legendarily vast and difficult to see creatures and, indeed, some have wondered if some giant cephalopod hanging out in Loch Ness might be the origins of that myth…

It also simply makes sense that if you take a very long-distance train north from King’s Cross, and end up in a castle surrounded by mountains, where quite a bit of tartan is worn, you’re probably in Scotland.

‘By residence, marriage, and out of gratitude for what this country has given me, my allegiance is wholly to Scotland.’ J. K. Rowling

This is all circumstantial evidence – and we’ll get to the definitive textual evidence of Hogwarts’s Scottish location in a moment – but the reason I’ve been thinking about Hogwarts’s (and Rowling’s) Scottishness is due to a heraldic badge that she has put up on her homepage. 

It shows the traditional heraldic figure of a mermaid (carrying a mirror and a brooch) encircled within a cartouche/garter. And many thanks – and a big hat-tip! – to Pratibha Rai, Oxford graduate student and Harry Potter fan, who was the first at Hogpro to correctly identify this as a traditional badge of the Murray Clan.

Rowling’s display of this badge on her homepage marks her pride in the family which she has joined through marriage, and the fact that she is now a ‘Murray.’ Born Joanne Rowling, she first took the pen-name of J.K. Rowling and has more recently added two new names – both Scottish – to this list. Firstly when she decided to take her husband’s name upon marrying him in 2001. Secondly when she chose an entirely Scottish name for herself in her most recent nom-de-plume: Robert Galbraith.

Joanne Murray/Robert Galbraith

I suspect, notwithstanding the fact that I’ve lived in Scotland for twenty-one years and plan to remain here for the rest of my life, that [certain nationalists] might judge me ‘insufficiently Scottish’ to have a valid view. It is true that I was born in the West Country and grew up on the Welsh border and while I have Scottish blood on my mother’s side, I also have English, French and Flemish ancestry. However, when people try to make this debate about the purity of your lineage, things start getting a little Death Eaterish for my taste.

Rowling, satisfyingly perhaps for someone who – since the Independence Referendum at least – has not always felt welcomed in Scotland, has a married name that embeds her in the Scottish landscape. ‘Murray’ is a clan name derived from the province of Moray (most famous for the Moray Firth).

But the name she has chosen for herself is more equivocal – and a pitch-perfect recognition of her Scottish identity as something about which some Scots have been equivocal. Her nom de plume Robert Galbraith could not be more Scottish, and yet it is a Scottish name for a foreigner. Galbraith means ‘British foreigner’ or ‘stranger-Briton’ – ‘a name given to Britons settled among Gaels.’ (And as a little nudge about how important the meaning of names are to her, she has placed Reaney and Wilson’s Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames on her virtual home-page desk – a reminder to go looking for these kinds of clues.)

Rowling has spoken of her long-time love affair with the name ‘Galbraith:’ ‘when I was a child, I really wanted to be called “Ella Galbraith,” and I’ve no idea why.’ One reason might be that Scotland was part of the story of why how her parents’ met, and therefore imbued with some of that childish glamour so famously attributed by her to King’s Cross Station. Rowling has spoken of the station as part of her ‘childhood folklore’ in that it was on a train from King’s Cross that her parents met when they were both ‘travelling up to Arbroath in Scotland.’2 It is a train from King’s Cross to Scotland, therefore – not just any old train from King’s Cross – that carries the romance of this childhood story for her.

And it is interesting, by the by, that Rowling should twice mention the specific destination when she tells this story. For ‘Arbroath’ is a satisfying destination for those who – like John – think that this tale, trotted out whenever anyone asks why she chose King’s Cross as Hogwarts’s departure station, is a bit of a red-herring. John believes that this story about Rowling’s parents, charming though it may be, is intended to distract us from the symbolic importance of the name ‘King’s Cross’ – which is of much deeper significance to the series than the simple ‘my parents met there’ coincidence makes it sound.

And the fact that Rowling notes that the train her parent’s met on was going to Arbroath could be a little wink in support of John’s view. For, as non-Brits may not be aware, the famous Arbroath Smokies – haddock smoked until deeply golden – are pretty much the nearest thing to traditional red herring still knocking around.

Hogwarts in Scotland

Rowling loves Scottish names. She has not only chosen two for herself, but for many of the characters in Harry Potter. McGonagall, MacMillan, MacNair and Maclaggen are the most obvious. Then there is the weatherman Jim McGuffin (this is a fascinating name – more on that another time!). But there are also a number of names which, though less obviously Scottish to the uninitiated, are in many ways the most deeply Scots, being clan names – names such as Bell, Pringle, Wood, Scrymgeour and Lockhart. (And there is a likewise an important clan name lurking in Fantastic Beasts – Rowling has tweaked ‘Abernethy’ to create ‘Abernathy’).

Murray is likewise a clan name and while (wisely private) Rowling does not mention Neil Murray a great deal in interviews, it is noticeable that when she does, it is usually in connection with his Scottishness. She has noted, for example, that ‘my husband is also raised Protestant, but he comes from a very strict Scottish group. One where they couldn’t sing and talk.’  Likewise when she was scouting for far-from-London locations in Career of Evil she noted that it was her husband who came up with the perfect place: ‘I wanted them to come from one of the pretty border towns, and my husband suggested Melrose and it was absolutely perfect.’ 

And it is, in fact, another of these ‘pretty border towns’ which provides the definitive textual evidence that Hogwarts is – as Rowling has always said – in Scotland. For, as Harry and Ron fly above the Hogwarts Express, they are spotted by ‘Mr Angus Fleet, of Peebles’ (Chamber, Chap 5). Peebles – just like Melrose – is a pretty border town.

Scotland in Hogwarts

Scotland has punched above its weight in just about every field of endeavour you care to mention, pouring out world-class scientists, statesmen [and] writers… in quantities you would expect from a far larger country. 

Earlier this year John and I took part in a BBC radio show entitled ‘Harry Potter’s Edinburgh’ which looked at fan pilgrimage to the city. While Hogwarts now shapes the city of its birth – in terms of visitor numbers, trails, shops, Harry Potter societies and a Quidditch team – it is also clear that it was also shaped by it in a number of ways.

Edinburgh is towered over by an extinct volcano – part of which is known as Arthur’s Seat, and on another part of which Edinburgh Castle was built in the twelfth century (making it a little younger than Hogwarts, but not much). Edinburgh also has an unusually dominant train station – built proudly in the centre of the city in a deep enthusiasm for the opportunities it enabled. The landscape of Edinburgh’s unites medieval fortification, Arthurian myth and an excitement about steam-travel which resonates fairly clearly with Harry’s experience of arriving at Hogwarts via the Hogwarts’s Express.

Edinburgh’s train station has been known as ‘Waverley’ since the mid-nineteenth century and it is a name which stands as a striking testament to the pride Edinburgh takes in its literary heritage. (I cannot think of another British station named after novels.) Walter Scott – the author of the ‘Waverley’ novels – is the most visible literary presence in Edinburgh. (I love the tribute paid to Scott by another Edinburgh author – Arthur Conan Doyle – ‘I have been reading him again lately, and his work compares to [mine] as the front of the British Museum to the front of a stuccoed picture palace.’3) The Scott Monument dominates Edinburgh’s famous Prince’s Street (the street in which Rowling first went into a bookshop to find Philosopher’s Stone on the shelf).

And Scott himself, just like Rowling, was inspired by Edinburgh’s landscape, which he writes of wandering in as an ‘oasis’ of scenery and story:

The chief enjoyment of my holidays was to escape with a chosen friend, who had the same taste with myself, and alternately to recite to each other such wild adventures as we were able to devise. We told, each in turn, interminable tales of knight-errantry and battles and enchantments, which were continued from one day to another as opportunity offered, without our ever thinking of bringing them to a conclusion. As we observed a strict secrecy on the subject of this intercourse, it acquired all the character of a concealed pleasure, and we used to select for the scenes of our indulgence long walks through the solitary and romantic environs of Arthur’s Seat, Salisbury Crags, Braid Hills, and similar places in the vicinity of Edinburgh.4

Scott’s reminiscences also point up the way in which Edinburgh’s landscape is experienced in the active imagination of the writers who live there – and it seems likely that Arthur’s Seat may likewise have inspired Rowling with her own modern-day versions of Scott’s ‘wild adventures… tales of knight-errantry and battles and enchantments.’

Edinburgh is a city with a proud literary heritage – home, for example, to the printing of Scotland’s fabulously gothic-sounding first book: John Lydate’s The Complaint of the Black Knight (1508). It was crowned the world’s very first UNESCO City of Literature in 2004, and Rowling, supporting that bid, spoke of how ‘it’s impossible to live in Edinburgh without sensing its literary heritage everywhere.’

The Edinburgh literary forbear who has left the most obviously imprint on Harry Potter is William McGonagall – whom, as Rowling notes is a ‘very, very, very bad Scottish poet’ – and whose gravestone stands in Greyfriars Kirkyard opposite the Elephant Café.

But McGonagall is merely the worst of many famous writers who link Harry Potter and Edinburgh.

Edinburgh’s authors and Harry Potter

It is interesting how many of Edinburgh’s writers are famous for two genres above all – children’s literature and detective fiction. It can claim the authors of some of the world’s most enduring children’s writing (Peter Pan, Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island) and detective writers both classic (Conan Doyle) and more recent (Ian Rankin, Alexander McCall Smith and Kate Atkinson). Rowling not only inhabits both the genres of children’s literature and detective fiction separately as a writer but much of the success of the Harry Potter’s generic mosaic is owed, above all, to its fusion of these two genres. And it is a synthesis that perfectly echoes the literary heritage of her home.

J.M. Barrie attended Edinburgh university while Kenneth Grahame was born in the city (and Rowling has mentioned both Peter Pan and the Wind in the Willows in interviews). Robert Louis Stevenson is an even more emphatic son of the city, being both born and educated there, and Rowling has given his most famous work – Treasure Island – a few nods in Harry Potter. There is a Trelawney in both works as well as a ‘Captain’ Flint (in Treasure Island Flint, of course, is the captain of a pirate ship rather than a Quidditch team).

Arthur Conan Doyle was also born in Edinburgh (were his parent’s influenced by Arthur’s Seat when naming him?), lived there in early childhood and then returned to study medicine. At the university he studied practical botany at Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, and his first mystery story (‘The Mystery of Sarassa Valley’) and his first medical work (on plant poisons) were published neck-and-neck in 1879. It seems likely that Sherlock Holmes’s interest in the action of plant-based poisons – ‘well up in belladonna, opium, and poisons generally’ (as Dr Watson records in Study in Scarlet) – derives from Conan Doyle’s time at Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens. Edinburgh’s glasshouses are spectacular, and I have long suspected that it was wandering among them that lead Rowling to imagine all Herbology lessons as occurring in greenhouses rather than – as might be expected – out in the gardens.

But whether or not Rowling, like Conan Doyle, has been influenced by the Edinburgh Botanic Gardens, Conan Doyle has certainly left his own legacy in Hogwarts. For Hermione’s sceptical unpacking of the Grim legend in Azkaban – ‘they see the Grim and die of fright. The Grim’s not an omen, it’s the cause of death!’ (Chap. 6) – is precisely the plot of Conan Doyle’s story about a giant spectral hound – which is also derived from the folk-tales of the Grim.

Arthur Conan Doyle also has an unusual middle name – Ignatius – which, of course, he shares with Percy Weasley.

Tomorrow I want to look at how Edinburgh’s darker side – its graveyards and specifically the infamous histories of Deacon Brodie and Burke & Hare – have influenced Rowling and might even hold the key to Voldemort’s name….

Read ‘Edinburgh’s Dark Side’ Here!


  1. In the sketch it is only labelled as a loch on the key. The creation date is unknown – the audiobook ‘Harry Potter: A History of Magic’ suggests that it was drawn in 1995 while this article suggests that that it was made as guidance for the map included in 2014 editions of the books This makes sense, but the descriptors on the map – but the naming of Hagrid’s hut as ‘Gamekeepers Cabin’ and the Herbology greenhouses as ‘Greenhouses for magical plants’ – sound much more like they were written before the Hogwarts saga had been written, rather than after it had been completed. (The 1999 sketch, for example, refers to them as ‘Hagrid’s Cabin’ and ‘Greenhouses.)
  2. Rowling again mentions the destination of this train from King’s Cross on her old website: ‘they met on a train travelling from King’s Cross station to Arbroath in Scotland when they were both eighteen’ And many thanks to the Rowling Library to their brilliant recreation of this site.

  4. Sir Walter Scott, Waverley; or, ‘Tis Sixty Years Since (New York: Hurst & Co., n.d.), p. 4.


Beatrice Groves: The Goblin Problem

As an Orthodox Christian traditionalist and something of a perennialist, ‘Marxism’ is a trigger word for me. Be it the economic Marxism that in the form of Soviet and Chinese communism murdered at least one hundred million people in the 20th Century or the cultural Marxism that has been slowly “marching through the institutions” of universities, media, and government since the advent of the Frankfurt School in the 40’s and 50’s, I have no time for or tolerance of those who believe in ‘Socialism,’ the secular religion of millenialist faith in government and ‘progressive politics’ to cure human ills, or who look at the world exclusively as the stage of conflict between haves and have nots, oppressor and oppressed, the privileged and the disempowered.

I have significant and profound problems with the political right and even Classical liberalism as well, the other side of the materialist/individualist/rationalist nightmare ‘coin’ of our times, but with Marxists, the so-called ‘Hard Left’? I have to struggle to speak of them or with them as rational actors. The crimes of Marxists and the blood of their millions of victims cry out so loudly that the claims and cries of the Woke that they are speaking for “social justice” are nigh on impossible for me to hear.

Why do I make this confession of my traditionalist beliefs about Marxism? Because I have been struggling about how to present two thoughtful essays that Oxford Research Fellow Beatrice Groves has posted on MuggleNet about ‘The Goblin Problem.’ See Part 1: Rowling’s Goblin Problem and Part 2: The Sword Until Recently Known as Gryffindor’s for her as always insightful discussion of the issue.

‘The Goblin Problem,’ in brief, is that Rowling’s goblins seem to many to be transparencies for Jews. Their description and behaviors parallel in ways anti-Semitic caricatures familiar from Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Dickens’ Fagin in Oliver Twist, and German National Socialist propaganda. This is bizarre, to say the least, because Rowling is a public defender of Jews in the UK and their struggle against the contemporary wave of anti-Semitism there and around the world. Could she have embedded such a glaringly ugly and demeaning depiction of Jews in her Hogwarts Saga?

Dr Groves argues cogently that this is a complete misunderstanding of the goblins and I think she has succeeded in simultaneously clearing Rowling, explaining the much more challenging and important meaning of the goblins, and presenting this problem, the reflex misinterpretation of her work, as a sign of how difficult this meaning is for readers to grasp in a time when corporate capitalists have all but eliminated craftsmen as a class or social fact. I am an uber fan of Dr Groves’ work and this pair of essays is some of her best work yet.

My problem? Dr Groves presents her case in the language of Karl Marx. [Read more…]

Lethal White: Missing Page Mystery (2)

Way back in October, 2018, soon after the release of Lethal White, I noticed an oddity in the structure of the fourth Cormoran Strike novel (see Lethal White: The Missing Page Mystery‘). There is a page marking the beginning of the second part of the book when the investigation of the dead government minister begins. It reads, ‘Part Two.’ The mysterious bit is that there is no page at the start of the book that reads ‘Part One.’ My thought was and remains that this ‘Part Two’ — and the beginning of ‘Part Two’ being a near exact parallel with the meeting of Cormoran Strike with John Bristow in Cuckoo’s Calling — is a marker of the second half of the series, a seven book series having its natural turn half-way through book four (as Goblet of Fire does in ‘The Hungarian Horntail’ chapter).

Beatrice Groves commented at the time:

I like it John! I think we’ll have to see if the paperback comes out with the Part 1 page (I’m sure that either this is a mistake or you’re right: no-one deliberately leaves off ‘part 1’ pages) before speculating further (do you know when that paperback is due?).

The paperback Lethal White came out in the UK on 18 April 2019, a good month before its publication in the US, and I asked friends in the UK to check to see if ‘Part One’ was included in the new edition. Beatrice Groves reports:

So I went to check for you and 

*drum roll*

there is still no part 1 page!

I didn’t do an extensive search, but did note that it still misattributes the 1900 Ibsen translation (by Robert Farquharson Sharp) to Robert Farquharson – so it doesn’t look like there has been much proof reading between hard and paper back.

So what? Well, I think we can assume that the Part One page was intentionally left out, that ‘Part Two’ refers simultaneously to the second part of the book and of the series, which suggests as we have suspected for some time but especially after all the echoes of Goblet of Fire and of Cuckoo’s Calling in Lethal White that we are looking at a second seven book series from Rowling (and one that parallels the first).

Thank you, Professor Groves, for the help here. It’s a small thing compared to the inter- and intratextual evidence we’ve done but this marker is an important piece of evidence in itself, a confirmation of sorts for the greater findings.

Intertextuality (Literary Allusion)

Pillar Post Place Holder for Sidebar Listing

Is Newt Scamander a Dumbledore?

Last night I was re-reading a post that a reader had told me in the comment boxes had two undecipherable sentences. I found a link in that Fantastic Beasts 1 deleted scenes discussion to Rowling’s having said in an interview that the Demiguise was her favorite fantastic beast: “They have the ability to become invisible at will, which is a power that has always appealed to me, so I love the Demiguise.”

I wondered, “Could the Demiguise be Newt’s Patronus?” That would be a nice surprise and appropriate somehow, given Newt’s private nature and that he baby-sits all his magical creatures the way Dougall does the baby Occamy in the first Beasts film. I googled “Newt Scamander patronus” to see if anyone else had thought of this before I shared it here.

No, no one had written it up online at least. But I learned through that search that Rowling had been asked the question on her Twitter feed and she had responded that telling us Newt’s Patronus would be a “Big Spoiler.” I sent this information to my private cadre of Potter Pundits along with my Top Ten list of probable Patroni (Patronuses?) for Newt and the request that they share any beasts I left out that would be “Big Spoilers.”

Beatrice Groves, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, immediately responded with, “I feel like a phoenix would make the biggest spoiler…!” When pressed for her reasoning, i.e., was she suggesting that Newt was a Dumbledore,  she shared,

I wasn’t meaning anything too wild – just that Newt was also a Dumbledore! (given that Dumbledore’s patronus is a Phoenix – so in this case it can be about who you are, not just who you are in love with). Given the phoenix imagery in Crimes of Grindelwald – and the idea that this bird proves you are a Dumbledore, I’d have thought it was one of the beasts with the most symbolic potential in the series hence the one with biggest spoiler potential *and* we don’t know anything about Newt’s parentage?

I wasn’t working from the ‘who might Newt be?’ end of things, just from the ‘what animal might be the biggest spoiler?’ end of things!

Huh. Newt Scamander a Dumbledore? … That would be a big reveal if Rowling’s telling us Newt’s Patronus suggested that. Join me after the jump for discussion of this “Big Spoiler” theory, ‘Newt Scamander-Dumbledore.’

[Read more…]