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.

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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…]

‘The Astrological Key to Harry Potter’ Will Sprague’s ‘Planet Potter’ Analysis

Will Sprague in his first guest post at HogwartsProfessor in 2011 argued that the first three books of the Hogwarts saga are a reverse alchemical process. This deft combination of literary alchemy and ring composition as literary analysis was a neat piece of work (it had been done by the Rev Joe Packer, we learned later, in 2007 but no one in the Potter Punditry community was aware of that work). I begged Will to let me publish his notes on the astrological symbolism and structure of the series, which he believes is not alchemical but very much akin to C. S. Lewis’ artistry in The Chronicles of Narnia. He titles these notes ‘Planet Potter’ in acknowledgment of Michael Ward’s work as CSL exegete in his Planet Narnia.

The correspondences he mentions in Erin Sweeney’s Harry Potter for Nerds essay, ‘Cracking the Planetary Code: Harry Potter, Alchemy and the Seven Book Series as a Whole,’ are based on the books being in alchemical sequence as laid out by Titus Burckhardt in his magisterial Alchemy. Erin assigns Saturn to Philosopher’s Stone, Jupiter to Chamber of Secrets, Moon to Prisoner of Azkaban, Venus to Half-Blood Prince, Mars to Deathly Hallows, and the Sun to Order of the Phoenix. Will disagrees on five of the seven correspondences. (My apologies for the several formatting glitches; WordPress will not accept MS Word formatting of great complication….)

I will be writing later this week, after I finish my Tarot posts, on why I now think this discussion is worth having whereas before I found even the possibility of Rowling writing astrological novels a stretch too far for me. Until then, enjoy these notes from Will Sprague and check out Erin Sweeney’s chapter in Harry Potter for Nerds for her astrological arguments!

Planet Potter by Will Sprague

Alongside Ring Composition and Literary Alchemy, it seems hard to believe that a full third layer of literary structure would present itself, but I think that the evidence is strong enough that I can confidently argue that each book of the Harry Potter saga aligns with one of the seven planets of medieval cosmology.

I am making the argument more from the preponderance of the evidence than from the ability for these planetary alignments to fit into a preconceived alchemical structure. This is an alternative to the Harry Potter for Nerds chapter entitled “Cracking the Planetary Code: Harry Potter, Alchemy and the Seven Book Series as a Whole.” I think that the use of the planets is more akin to Lewis’ use as laid out in Planet Narnia rather than an alchemical use as argued for in that piece. Forgive the rambling and disorganized nature of the below notes for each book.

Philosopher’s Stone -> Mars/Ares

  1. Quirinus Quirrell’s first name is a title of the god Mars (Mars Quirinus)
  2. Quirrell acts like a coward (the opposite of martial valor or courage, the primary attribute of Mars)
  3. Mars is the “red” planet, and this is a “Red” book
  4. “Mars is bright tonight” is repeated three times by the centaurs to Hagrid
  5. Harry asks for Mars candy bar from the trolley lady, but they have none
  6. Gryffindor wins the house cup because of the Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville’s courage. In fact, Ron even rides a horse and is willing to die for his friends to move on. The decisive victory points, go to a special sort of courage, to stand up to one’s friends and not just one’s enemies.
  7. Hugely important plot-elements occur in the Forbidden Forest (Mars is the god of the forests)

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Rowling: Elements, Houses, Card Suits

The defining qualities of the Hogwarts Houses are a big deal to Rowling. Not only does the Sorting Hat spell them out in every year’s Opening Feast song, even Dumbledore’s famous “Nitwit, Blubber, Oddment, Tweak” speech that he offers in Harry’s first year as his “few words” seems to be his commentary on the prejudices of each house (and his discreet criticism of the Sorting ceremony). In September, 2018, The Presence reaffirmed the importance of House characters and how much thought went into each when she answered a twitter question about the relationship of card suits and the Hogwarts Houses:

In July of 2005 at the publication of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, she told two fandom interviewers the intentional element correspondences she had made with the Four Houses:

It is the tradition to have four houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know.

If you combine these equations, House to Suit to Element, you get a chart that looks like this:

Gryffindor = Hearts = Fire

Ravenclaw = Spades = Air

Hufflepuff = Clubs = Earth

Slytherin = Diamonds = Water

There’s no arguing with her about the Houses correspondence; not only is it her world to create on her terms, but the associations make an almost visible sense. Gryffindor as fire evokes the idea of a consuming courage, a burning soul if you will, Ravenclaw as air suggests heights of intellectual abstraction from earthly concern, humble Hufflepuff being earth is a natural because humility is  derived from the Latin word for ‘ground,’ and slippery Slytherin with its underground drives and ambitions is a match with water.

I think you can see a similar connerction between the characters of Rowling’s Houses and the card suits she has matched them up with. Gryffindor as hearts makes sense because the courageous are known as the Lion hearted. Slytherin as diamonds is a match, too, becauseof the value this House’s natives place on purity (think crystalline structure), appearance, and money and power. Ravenclaw as spades is a bit of a stretch because a spade is an instrument for digging in the ground, pretty much the opposite of ‘air,’ but if you think of serious thinkers as those ‘digging’ for answers, it lines up. That the humble Hufflepuffs are left with clubs, instruments from trees grown in the earth? It’ll do.

But there’s a problem, one I suspect Rowling knows but chose to disregard — which problem I discuss after the jump.

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