Sara Brown: Tolkien’s Literary Alchemy

ChrisC sent me a Christmas present this morning: a lecture by Signum University’s Dr. Sara Brown on the Literary Alchemy imbedded in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I share this delightful gift with you in the hope you find it as challenging and compelling an argument as I did. The lecture proper begins at 4:00 at the link and is only 20 minutes long — well worth your time, believe me!

Not being any more than a Tolkien fan, I long ago gave up on an alchemical reading of this epic (largely because a book on the subject, Shelton’s Alchemy in Middle-Earth, struck me as border-line absurd in its overreach [e.g., that Tolkien was familiar with medieval Arabic alchemical texts]). I am excited about Dr. Brown’s cogent presentation of the alchemical markers in LOTR because it opens up the possibility, much more credible because of Rowling’s documented close study of that work, that it is an important inspiration for her own use of hermetic symbolism in the Hogwarts Saga.

Please share your thoughts below! Happy holidays to those of you celebrating Western Christmas today!

Beatrice Groves: ‘Nagini Maledictus’ Literary Allusion in Fantastic Beasts

A Guest Post from Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford University, and author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter — Enjoy!

John has recently posted on the current fan theory that Claudia Kim’s character in Crimes of Grindelwald – ‘a Maledictus, the carrier of a blood curse that destines her ultimately to transform into a beast’ – will turn into Nagini. 

John notes that ‘the Nagini theory has legs,’ which is a rather satisfying pun. It is pun I particularly like because the serpent in Eden is ‘cursed’ (maledictus) to go without legs:

‘So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.’ (Genesis 3.14)

Or, in the Vulgate (Latin):

‘Et ait Dominus Deus ad serpentem : Quia fecisti hoc, maledictus es inter omnia animantia, et bestias terræ : super pectus tuum gradieris, et terram comedes cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ.’ 

If the Maledictus becomes Nagini it will continue the link between Voldemort and the Satanic snake of Genesis which Rowling began in Harry Potter [John says: see chapter 4 in Prof Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter]. In Christian visual heritage the Satan-inhabited-snake in Eden is – rather surprisingly – often depicted as half-woman. This rich medieval visual tradition flourished despite the fact that Satan is described by a male pronoun in the biblical text. It culminates in the famous image of Michelanglo’s Satan-as-snake-woman on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. 

Within Harry Potter there are many hints of Nagini as a snake-woman rather than simply a snake. Not only does she take the form of a woman in Deathly Hallows, she also has a disturbingly humanoid relationship with Voldemort from the moment we meet her in Goblet. She tells Voldemort that Frank is listening at the door of the Riddle House and while his not-to-be-named form resembles a baby – ‘the thing… looked like a baby’ (Goblet, Chap. 32) – Nagini keeps him alive with her ‘milk’ fed to him from a ‘bottle’ (Goblet, Chap. 1). Nagini takes the place of the mother to this parody of a child.

Then there is her name. Nagini is a name for Ma Manasa Devi, the Hindu snake goddess: [Read more…]

Guest Post: Christmas Gift Guide Five ‘The Fiction of Roger Lancelyn Green’

The Forgotten Fiction of Roger Lancelyn Green: The 5th HogwartsProfessor Christmas Gift Guide by Chris Calderon

Roger Lancelyn Green is not a well recognized name.  He’s neither a household word, nor can he be found on any ‘Best Of’ lists.  It’s a sad fate for the man who might be responsible for giving C.S. Lewis the necessary encouragement to publish The Chronicles of Narnia.  Green has become one of history’s victims, the kind Lewis meant when he observed: “At every tick of the clock, in every inhabited part of the world, an unimaginable richness and variety of “history” falls off the world into total oblivion”.  This prompted the learned scholar to ask a very pertinent follow-up question: “Is there a discovered law by which important manuscripts survive and the unimportant perish?  Do you ever turn out an old drawer…without wondering at the survival of trivial documents and the disappearance of those which everyone would have thought worth preservation?”

This entry of the HogPro Christmas Gift Guide is at least one attempt to try and rescue a bit of valuable history from oblivion.  Here will be found the scattered writings Green made for children, as well as anyone who is willing to encounter a well told tale, no matter what age.  In setting out to write this piece, it should be noted that I in no way meant to step on the toes of John Fitzgerald, whose work on Roger Green’s anthology of world myths can be found here at Bruce Charlton’s Albion Awakening, a blog more than worth a look.  I will use some of the info gleamed from those volumes, however, the books dealt with here are different from those works.

With that in mind, let’s take the plunge, shall we? [Read more…]

Guest Post: PotterPundit at Cursed Child

Dolores Gordon-Smith, acclaimed author of the Jack Haldean mysteries and profound Potter Pundit, went to see the West End production of ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.’ I begged her to write up her thoughts, she complied graciously and gave me her permission to post these notes here. To read J. K. Rowling’s long interview on the subject last week go here and to buy tickets for the 2018 opening of ‘Cursed Child’ in NYC with most of the original cast, try this.

Well, I’ve seen it! And what did I think?

The stage craft is just superb, with audible gasps from the audience on occasion. Honestly, the set designs are just stunning and the acting – for the most part – is terrific. Snape, young and old Harry, excellent Draco, Scorpius was amazing, Albus was good and Ron was outstanding – all excellent.

However, I didn’t like the way Hermione was written. She never looked at/mentioned a book and seemed to shout an awful lot. She improved in the second act but she still wasn’t Hermione. I haven’t got any problem with casting a black actress (although Hermione in the books isn’t black) but she lost her academic edge totally.

Ginny – she shouted an awful lot, too, and there was none of the devilry or charm that Ginny has in the books.

There’s a great story in there, but marred in the telling. If you’ve read the script, you know what the problems are.

Why has Harry made such a dog’s dinner of bringing up Albus when James and Lily are fine? It’s all to get Albus and Scorpius to the point where they try and change the Tri-Wizard tournament and prevent Cedric from dying, but it’s so clumsy.

You know; you’ve read it. But all the angst seems so unnecessary.

And why is Dumbledore so lachrymose? He and Harry sorted everything out and tied up the ends of their story at Kings Cross, so why is he now breaking his heart over the way he ‘brought up’ Harry?

The last scene is brilliant, with the murder of Lily and James but it took a lot of getting to.

And no; I can well believe that Beatrix Lestrange would want Voldemort’s child, but why does Voldermort want offspring? He’s immortal – he doesn’t want to share that with anyone.

Delphine could easily have wanted to be Voldemort’s daughter – you’d have the same effect without anyone who gets Voldermort thinking, “Yeah, right”.

So brilliant staging, some excellent acting but the script needed some drastic editing to make the story stand up.

It got a standing ovation though.

Guest Post: Epilogue Day Thoughts

A Few Thoughts About Epilogue Day from David Martin

This Friday, September first, 2017, is Epilogue Day.  It is the day when the final chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows takes place.  In the book that chapter is called “Epilogue   Nineteen Years Later” and no year is specified, just the date of September first.  However, we know that the battle of Hogwarts and the death of Voldemort – as described in chapter 36 (“The Flaw in the Plan”) – took place in June, 1998, so it’s easy enough to add nineteen years to that.

 The epilogue shows us Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny as they put their children on the Hogwarts Express.  We catch a glimpse of Draco Malfoy and his family, we hear Percy’s voice, and we’re told a bit about Victoire and Teddy Lupin.  This chapter reminds me of the end of Dickens’ Bleak House where we readers are given a seven-years-later update on the status of the various characters in that novel.

 But this epilogue does something more than that.  It brings the story full circle, with the sending off of the next generation.  The “building” of the bildungsroman is complete – for Harry and his generation.  Harry came of age with his seventeenth birthday back in chapter seven of Deathly Hallows, but now our characters are fully adult and married with children of their own.  In a way, chapter 36 ended the main story of Deathly Hallows, with the defeat of Voldemort.  This epilogue ends the whole seven-book series.  In terms of Rowling’s circle patterns, this chapter pairs well with the first chapter of the series way back in Philosopher’s Stone: The Boy Who Lived.  That boy, who was a baby in that first chapter, is still living, and he is now a man.  We have gone from the Dursley’s “perfectly normal, thank you very much” to Harry’s “All was well.” 

 The reasons for that “All was well” interest me.  Ask people to imagine what the world will be like in the future.  They often come up with visions of amazing progress: intelligent machines, instant language learning by swallowing a pill, flying cars (without the aid of magic), etc.  Rowling’s vision in this epilogue seems to be quite different.  “All was well” not because there has been great progress, but because there has been a great restoration of the way things should be.

 This restoration began in chapter 36.  Voldemort, the great disrupter of the way things should be, was defeated.  After his death “the news (was) now creeping in from every quarter as the morning drew on; that the Imperiused up and down the country had come back to themselves, that Death Eaters were fleeing or else being captured, that the innocent of Azkaban were being released at that very moment, and that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named temporary Minister of Magic. . . .” (Deathly Hallows, 744-745)  Later two of the three hallows are dealt with so that they will not bring any more disruption.  Harry’s holly and phoenix wand is restored to him.

 At King’s Cross in the epilogue, the Hogwarts Express looks just the same.  Certain realities of life stay the same from one generation to the next.  But platform nine and three-fourths is covered in mist and steam.  That’s the way the future always looks.  We know that our children will grow up.  We know that they will leave home (on their own versions of the Hogwarts Express.)  But neither we nor they (nor Professor Trelawney) can see the details.  We can only re-assure them that they will get to make choices and that (at least some of the time) the Sorting Hat will take their choices into account.