Reading, Writing, Rowling: It’s Tolkien!

From Laurie Beckoff’s write-up at MuggleNet:

What does the Wizarding World owe to Middle-Earth?

This month, Katy and John talk about the fantasy worlds of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling with guests Dr. Sara Brown (Rydal Penrhos School and Signum University) and Dr. Amy Sturgis (Lenoir-Rhyne University). Though Rowling has minimized the influence of Tolkien’s saga on her own world-building, readers can spot several connections at the superficial level, from names (Wormtongue/Wormtail, Butterbur/butterbeer, Longbottom) to frightening magical beings (Ringwraiths/Dementors, Shelob/Aragog) and important magical objects (Mirror of Galadriel/Mirror of Erised/Pensieve). The influence carries over to the themes (coping with mortality, loyalty, and friendship) as well as their critiques of modern society. Both series classify as “fairy stories” according to Tolkien’s definitive essay on the subject. Dr Sturgis calls Rowling’s work “a modern-day Tolkienian project.”

Such influence does not mean that Rowling’s wizarding world is derivative. John explains how the source of the two critiques of the modern operate in different ways (conservative or subversive). Sara agrees that both are responding to modernity, though they approach the modern from distinctive points of view – one longingly looking to the past and the other hopefully looking toward the future – which relate to the distinctive times in the 20th century during which they wrote their fiction. Their approaches to transformation are revealed in their uses of literary alchemy, and Sara provides an alchemical metanarrative for the Middle-earth saga. John suggests that Rowling did not learn literary alchemy from Tolkien, but that both authors derive their understanding from deep reading in the western literary tradition.

We delve into the authors’ world-building, their narrative patterns, their evocation of mythology, and even their creation of new collective myths. Comparing these two authors’ worlds allows readers to deepen their understanding of how narratives work to depict as well as create profound transformation.

And that is only Part 1!

The Duchess of Malfi (1972)

The Duchess of Malfi, a play by John Webster, makes up much of the backdrop to Robert Galbraith’s The Silkworm and its literary antecedents, namely, Agatha Christie’s Sleeping Murder and P. D. James’ The Skull Beneath the Skin (see my discussion of this influence here). You had a wonderful education indeed if you read this play or saw it performed as a young person in the United States, where, in my experience at least, ‘Early Modern Drama’ means ten generous helpings of Shakespeare at least to any condiment-sized presentations or discussion of Jonson, Kyd, or Webster.

I was delighted to find, consequently, a British production pf Duchess of Malfi in period costume available free online. I reproduce its first four parts below and provide a link to the rest of the show at the end for your easy access. Free online texts if you choose to read before viewing or while watching can be found at Gutenberg.com as plain text, at LarryAvisBrown.com with notes, and at FullBooks.com as poetry per the Arden edition.

For the remaining nine parts of this production, see the full collection on YouTube. Enjoy — and let me know what you think in the comment boxes below!

‘Alchemical Gardens & Fantastic Beasts’

Brady Pendelton has posted a hermetic interpretation of J. K. Rowling’s first two Fantastic Beasts screenplays,Alchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts.He spends most of the essay discussing traditional English literature’s alchemical stream with special attention on the meaning of Garden imagery and symbolism. Almost all of that was new to me and it proved a delightful challenge.

When he gets to the discussion of Fantastic Beasts, the text becomes challenging in a different way and I found it difficult to follow his argument or to see the connections he does between alchemy and the transformations taking place in the first two films. Even in my hurried reading, though, I couldn’t fail to be impressed by some of Mr Pendelton’s points, especially those about Jacob Kowalski, whose last name, it turns out, means ‘Smith.’ You don’t get much more metallurgical than that and even in the first movie the changes he goes through are remarkable.

Are there problems with the essay? Sure. I found one distracting mistake, for instance, the assertion that Newt “asks Jacob” to be obliviated at the end of Beasts. There may be more missteps I missed. I enjoyed his discussion of Marvell and the aside about ‘The Hanged Man.’ Your mileage may vary; it’s pretty esoteric stuff and the argument is not conventionally discursive. I wish, too, there had been a lot more on the screenplays and its alchemical content, especially Crimes of Grindelwald. He doesn’t mention the couples as representatives of the four elements, Dumbledore and Grindelwald as the Quarreling Couple of Mercury and Sulphur, or Nicolas Flamel.

Those problems aside, though, it’s a serious bit of writing about literary alchemy and Rowling’s latest Wizarding World writing adventure. GiveAlchemical Gardens and Fantastic Beasts the time it and the subject merits — and then let me know what you think of it in the comment boxes below!

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!