Rowling Confesses Desire to be an Alchemist

This just in — albeit from 1998! The web mavens at Hans Andrea’s Harry Potter for Seekers recently highlighted this money quotation from an interview with Ms. Rowling in the UK that was published soon after Chamber of Secrets was released. The full article can be read at accio-quotes.com right here.

The quotation:

“I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.”

To all those skeptical readers who have asked me with denial in their voices, “Has Ms. Rowling ever said there is alchemy in these books?” I now say, “Yes, she has.”

Not that the books themselves didn’t scream “Alchemy, anyone?” from the cover of the first book on, but what a delight to have this unexpected and undeniable confirmation! Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, of course, features an in-depth discussion of Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy throughout the series and how it points to certain plot points in Deathly Hallows.

Orders for Unlocking Harry Potter made today at www.zossima.com will be mailed on Monday of next week, with autograph and all that. If you are new to the idea of literary alchemy and what Ms. Rowling, alchemist wannabe, is about in her use of alchemical images and themes, read ‘The Alchemist’s Tale’ in Touchstone magazine (taken from my “Best In Show” talk at the Nimbus HPEF gathering in 2003). I’ve also written here about the alchemical meaning of the title, Deathly Hallows.

Let me know what you think and what questions you have in the comments boxes below. An alchemical weather report for Deathly Hallows is already up!

Dragon’s Blood, Wand-Cores, and 3 of the 5 Keys

Reflections on the Death of Saddam and the Dark Lord’s Blindspot

Saddam Hussein was hanged at year’s end, 2006, and, though this gives me no satisfaction or reason by itself to cheer in the New Year, I have not lost any sleep over the execution, either. Those who want to see historical analogies hidden in the Harry Potter stories – and they are legion, I’m afraid – most often make the equation of Lord Voldemort and Adolph Hitler (with Cornelius Fudge and bowler hat playing Neville Chamberlain, Dumbledore and the Order standing in for Churchill and the gang, etc.). I have also heard mention that, though it wasn’t possible at story’s inception, the Dark Lord seems to be picking up characteristics of America’s favorite, mysterious bad guys; I have heard both Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein mentioned in this regard.

An article at Arthur Silber’s Sacred Moment weBlog that attempts to explain the origin of Saddam’s “malignant narcissism” mentions bin Laden and Hitler, too, struck me as relevant to our discussions here because of the following passages: [Read more…]

Euro Muslims: Alienated “Other” and Pained “Hermaphrodites”?


European Minorities Torn Between Worlds

I post the story above in case you sometimes wonder if the discussion in the previous posts about the “Constitutive ‘Other'” in postmodern thinking is just a head game or if the idea of a Gryffindor/Slytherin Hermaphrodite who can bridge the chasm created by cultural metanarratives is silly beyond words. The agony of “home grown” Muslims in Europe unable to assimilate because of their beliefs and the beliefs of their host countries puts a “real life” face on this discussion and highlights both the relevance and the urgency of a “metanarrative of love.”

I would say, too, that this theme of painful duality needing resolution strikes home in our hearts both because we are all the victims of faction or “misfit toys” to some degree and because, as psychosomatic life, just by being human, we are a joining of contrary physical and spiritual tendencies. Our outsides and our insides, the external social environment and our interior life, then, resonate with the alchemical action of this story.

This isn’t kid stuff, however edifying the experience of this story is for the open-hearted, young or old

Dragon’s Blood and Elixir from the Philosopher’s Stone

A note from Lyndy Abraham’s A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, from the end of the entry on ‘blood:’

At the final stage of the work, known as the rubedo, the image of blood symbolizes the precious red elixir or purple tincture [coming from the Stone]. The attainment of the red elixir (gold), after the white (silver), is sometimes compared to the dyeing or staining of of white sheets with red blood (see rubedo). Paracelsus’s Aurora called the purple tincture ‘the blessed blood of Rosie colour’ and Basil Valentine wrote that ‘this Tincture is the Rose of our Masters, of purple hue, called also red blood’ (HM, 1:330). Laurentius Ventura wrote of the fixation of the Stone: ‘For the Stone must be kept in the fire, till it cannot any more be changed from one nature to another, from one color to another, but become like the Reddest blood running like wax in the fire, and yet diminishing nothing at all’ (in ZC, 81). The divine tincture is thought to be capable of tingeing all metals to gold and of restoring man to perfect health and consciousness of God.

The colour of the red tincture or Stone is sometimes compared to dragon’s blood. A recipe for the tincture in Lancelot Colson’s Philosophia maturata instructs the alchemist to ‘increase the fire, till it [the matter for the Stone] be perfect yellow, and then again increase the fire, until it be red as Dragon’s blood’. (Abraham, pgs. 38-39)

* The heating of the Stone in the fire reminds me of Norbert’s egg in Hagrid’s fireplace but I cannot make anything of that beyond Hagrid’s relationship with Dumbledore, master Alchemist, and the Gamekeeper’s strong desire for a pet dragon. The end and the beginning are joined in the best stories; should we expect a return of Norbert to visit his “mummy” in the series’ finale?

* Dumbledore’s chocolate frog card, to which he seems attached over and above his other honors, says he is “particularly famous for his defeat of the dark wizard Grindlewald in 1945, for the discovery of the twelve uses of dragon’s blood, and his work on alchemy with his partner, Nicholas Flamel” (Stone, Chapter 6).

*My memory for canon detail is notoriously poor but I can only recall one other mention of dragon’s blood in the books. It’s in Prince, Chapter 4, after Dumbledore has revealed the comfy chair to be Slughorn. [Read more…]