Literary Alchemy and the Mythic Context ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ Episode 25

 

From the MuggleNet podcast page:

In this episode, Katy and John do a deep dive into the symbolism and transformative power of J.K. Rowling’s work. First, John describes the concept of literary alchemy and how literature can effect an alchemical transformation on readers. Then, special guest Evan Willis (University of Dallas) explains how Renaissance alchemical symbolism intertwines with classical myth in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike. From the Orestes myth to Castor and Pollux and Leda and the swan, we learn about the well of myths Rowling draws from in her literary creations. Willis particularly directs us to the importance of a Hermes/Mercury figure to serve as the invisible force behind the uniting of opposites. Who is this mysterious figure in Harry Potter and in the Strike books? Listen to find out the surprising answers!

Does literary alchemy work on us the same way when we’re watching films? We tackle this issue in light of the classical references in the Fantastic Beastsmovies. We also try to predict the next developments in Strike and Fantastic Beasts based on our understanding of the deep mythic context in both series. We’ll help you sort out the stories of Leta and Theseus, Dumbledore and Grindelwald, Cormoran and Robin, and Shanker and Rokeby and anticipate where they might be headed.

Mailbag: Redheads, Rubeus, & Rubedo

A note in my email inbox from this April:

Dear HP Team,

Rubedo: Is it possible that the Weasley family is part of the Rubedo stage along with Hagrid?

I was listening to an old podcast where the guest speaker was lamenting that not much of Hagrid was in the 7th book, and he should have been since he represents “Rubedo”.

However, all of the Weasley family has shockingly RED hair. I would think this intentional. JK Rowling makes a big deal of their red hair throughout the series. If, in fact, they are part of the Rubedo stage, then we do have a significant representation in the final book as they all play a dramatic part, including Percy.

I am curious what your thoughts are on this idea?

Sincerely,

Joy

Three Rubedo notes, Joy!

(1) Rowling said she had to promise her sister not to kill Hagrid in the finale; little sister had threatened never to speak to her again if everyone’s favorite Half-Giant died. As the character with the most obvious ‘red’ name, though, he seemed the most likely character not to survive. The model of Sirius Black dying at the end of the alchemical black book, the nigredo of Order of the Phoenix, and Albus Dumbledore also taking a dive at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the series albedo, made things look real grim for Rubeus in the run-up to Deathly Hallows. We didn’t know about The Presence’s promise to her sister.

(2) But Rubeus wasn’t the only character named ‘red.’ There was Rufus Scrimgeour, right? In Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? (Zossima Press, 2006), I collected the essays and predictions of six Potter Pundits about what had really happened in Half-Blood Prince and what we would learn in Deathly Hallows. Three of us made ‘Live or Die’ predictions for major players in the finale — and all three of us predicted five characters would die: Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix La strange, Rufus Scrimgeour, and, well, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy. All three of us, though, thought that Rubeus would live. We thought Rufus was going to be the Big Red sacrifice and that Hagrid was a red herring. Good for us.

(3) Not to brag, but I was the only one of the three who said Nymphadora Tonks and Severus Snape would die. I also predicted Fred Weasley’s death as well. This might sound like great prescience and insight, but it isn’t. Like Joy, I was thinking alchemically so I thought every red head in the book was possibly marked for a rubedo death; I marked off every one of the Weasleys, to include Fleur, as doomed. I was also the only Pundit who thought Peter Pettigrew would survive. I had some impressive direct hits — and a lot of misses.

Sorry to go off on that nostalgia tangent, Joy, but what a lot of fun the two years between Prince and Hallows were in fandom!

To answer your question at last: YES, the Weasleys as a family of redheads play an alchemical role through the whole series but especially in the two last book. Harry winds up with Ginny after dating Black-haired Cho and White-haired Luna, fRED Weasley dies, Percy rises from a sort-of worse-than-death, separation from his family, and Molly dispatches the witch who killed Sirius in the rubedo climax of the Battle of Hogwarts. They do everything an alchemist expects in a rubedo and, with fRED’s death, satisfying the color scheme formula of the stages in the last three novels.

Thanks for writing! 

Nabokov’s Pale Fire: Summary, Analysis, and Harry Potter Borrowings

Many previous posts have traced some of the influence of Vladimir Nabokov on the works of J.K. Rowling. In an attempt to supplement those posts, I will provide a summary of Nabokov’s Pale Fire, along with a brief interpretation. By tracing the plot elements of the book, I hope to demonstrate some of the common techniques of writing common to Nabokov and Rowling. I will conclude with a brief list of elements, whether of direct plot, symbol, or structure, that I see as borrowed by J.K. Rowling from Pale Fire.

[Read more…]

Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 3 Its Meaning in Rowling’s Written Work

This is third in a series of three posts about J. K. Rowling’s use of the tarot card ‘The Hanged Man.’ Part one was ‘Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 1 Rowling’s Most Loaded Tarot Reference‘ in which I discussed the many times Rowling included images of characters hanging, playing hangman, or hanging upside down, as well as her one reference to ‘The Hanged Man’ per se. In Part two, ‘Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 2 The Historical and Occult Interpretations,‘ I laid out the several meanings assigned to this specific tarot card, to include the A. E. Waite interpretation Rowling was probably most familiar with.

In this concluding piece I will offer for your consideration three ideas of why Rowling used ‘The Hanged Man’ and has so many images of and references to upside down people, gallows victims, and hangman games in her work.

(1) It’s A Number and Ring Thing: The hanged man references begin in Philosopher’s Stone but really take-off in Goblet of Fire with Frank Bryce being ostracized by the gossips at ‘The Hanged Man’ pub who try and convict him from their bar stools for the murder of the Riddle family. Harry sees the Muggles tortured at the Wizard World Cup by being hung upside down and is turned upside down himself twice in the third TriWizard task. What is it about Goblet that would make it a match with ‘The Hanged Man’ tarot card?

The Hanged Man’s legs as more than one tarot guide points out take the shape of an inverted number four. Goblet is the fourth Harry Potter novel. More to the point, The Hanged Man is card number 12 in a 21 or 22 card Major Arcanum sub-deck and this card’s figure resembles both The Fool, the ‘zero’ card of that series not usually counted, and The World, the last card of the sub-deck. The card means in this regard that we have come to number four, the middle of the series, and its involution reflects our making a story turn to a glorious end, hence The Hanged Man’s nimbus and serene look.

It’s an inside joke, in other words, for Rowling’s target audience of “obsessives” who work to solve all her structural and symbol puzzles.

(2) It’s an Alchemical Reference, Kind Of: All the occult and historical interpretations I found except for The Traitor origins for the image include references to transformation and revelation, especially those of a spiritual kind. The characters who are hung upside-down, most notably Harry, Snape, Neville, and Ron, are the ones destined for a great trial, whose real qualities, powers, and loyalties lie hidden, and whose end is heroic, sacrificial, even glorious. Think of Waite’s conclusion in Pictorial Guide to the Tarot, Rowling’s most likely first reference for the card:

He who can understand that the story of his higher nature is imbedded in this symbolism will receive intimations concerning a great awakening that is possible, and will know that after the sacred Mystery of Death there is a glorious Mystery of Resurrection.

(3) It’s about Social Justice: And Frank Bryce? Mrs Norris? The Muggles suspended mid air by the Death Eaters at the World Cup fairgrounds? Not to mention the gallows and its victims in the fourth book of the Cormoran Strike series, Lethal White? These hangings in Rowling’s work are a fairly straight forward condemnation of capital punishment as a great injustice, the continued crime against humanity of the powerful punishing the weak because they can and feel they should.

That Rowling puts this reference to The Hanged Man at the center of both the Hogwarts Saga and I assume the Cormoran Strike series I think points to the two meanings for the card in a reading according to the instant Waite guide, for the card right side up and reversed:

12: THE HANGED MAN — Wisdom, trials circumspection, discernment, sacrifice, divination, prophecy. ReversedSelfishness, the crowd, body politic.

The card right side up, the character then being upside down, is about transformation and sacrifice and, reversed, it is a hanged man, a victim of mob justice however sophisticated and ornate the governmental trappings given the affair.

Or so I think! I offer these possibilities as jumping off points for your consideration and correction. Let me know what you think by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by this post’s headline and typing in your interpretations of The Hanged Man, the hangman games, and all the upside down and right side up hanged characters in Rowling’s work.

Harry Potter and The Hanged Man: Part 2 The Historical and Occult Interpretations

Last month I started a series of posts about the significance of The Hanged Man tarot card for serious readers of J. K. Rowling with a listing of the characters, from Neville Longbottom and Mrs. Norris to Harry Potter and Severus Snape, who are hung, right side up or upside down, in the Hogwarts Saga. It’s quite a remarkable list, frankly, and it highlights Rowling’s naming the pub in Little Hangleton ‘The Hanged Man.’

Why do we care? As noted in that first post, Rowling’s friends at the Wyedean Comprehensive have said that Rowling used to read tarot cards and their palms to entertain them. Beatice Groves, in a post at The Leaky Cauldron, shared a 1999 interview with Jo Rowling sans make-up, not to mention cosmetic surgery, in which The Woman Not Yet The Presence admits that:

I know a lot about foretelling the future, without, unfortunately, I have to tell you, believing in it, which sometimes disappoints people…. I find it fascinating and I find it fun and I could read your cards for you now and I would hope we’d both find it amusing but I wouldn’t want either of us to walk away believing in it.

Her skill with the cards, then, was not just a childhood game she played in the cafeteria but something she maintained she was still capable of exercising at the time she was writing the Potter novels. It is more than reasonable to think that the hanged men, women, in cats may be a reference to the meaning of the tarot card, ‘The Hanged Man.’

Today let’s look at three interpretations of that card, from the historical to the occult and the standard understanding that young Rowling was most likely to have learned in the West Country as a young woman. After the jump! [Read more…]