Literary Alchemy: The Pillar Post Project

I was invited out of the blue last week, as something of an afterthought it seems, by the editor of a book soon to be published on the subject of the literary alchemy in Harry Potter to make a contribution of some kind. It turns out the well-meaning editor had not read anything I’d written on the subject other than the chapters in Unlocking Harry Potter, written and published before Deathly Hallows was in hand.

This struck me as bizarre, frankly. I’ve written several books with chapters on literary alchemy since 2007, most notably Deathly Hallows Lectures, How Harry Cast His SpellHarry Potter’s Bookshelfand Spotlight: The Artistry and Meaning of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight Saga (don’t sniff at that last, please, especially if you’re serious about hermetic writing in popular culture). Not to mention all I have written here on the subject in addition to the important alchemical Guest Posts we’ve published. 

This seemingly inexplicable ignorance on the part of a very smart person reminded me that I had been advised two years ago to create what are known as ‘Pillar Posts’ for the sidebar of HogwartsProfessor. The purpose of these posts on a weblog is to create easy access in one spot to the material on a specific topic of special interest that is otherwise just spread throughout the archives of a long-lived site in no particular order. If I am obliged to note, Gilderoy mask in place, that the editor of the upcoming book on alchemy and the Hogwarts Saga is at fault in not doing such work herself, I must take some part of the blame because I have too long neglected the duties of HogwartsProfessor weblog archivist.

I hope eventually to write a proper ‘Pillar Post’ for literary alchemy or at least an annotated version of the sorted link list that follows. I will try in the coming weeks, though, to put together similar Round-Ups for Ring Composition, Cormoran Strike, the Fantastic Beasts screenplays, Hunger Games, and other books we have discussed here at some length. Please let me know if there is a subject for which you would appreciate a one-click access to a cataloge of HogwartsProfessor posts made about it through the years and I will do my best to oblige you.

Below, then, a beginning on this Pillar Post project with a listing of Literary Alchemy posts on HogwartsProfessor.com. Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts, corrections and questions by clicking on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the post header. [Read more…]

Crimes of Grindelwald: The Salamander

Here are three notes about the “salamander eyes” conversation in Crimes of Grindelwald and the literary alchemy of it. Believe it or not, I think Tina and Newt’s back-and-forth in the French Ministry’s Records Room amounts to something like a wedding proposal and her acceptance, an alchemical wedding of fire and water, the aquatic newt and the fiery salamander. First, we’ll review the conversation from the Original Screenplay (sic), then the mystery of Tina’s volunteering “Salamander” to finish Newt’s sentence about the quality of her eyes, and finally, the alchemical glyphs and cryptonyms involved! All after the jump —

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Crimes of Grindelwald: Homunculus

Susan Sipal posts fun YouTube videos about the Fantastic Beasts film franchise in which she breathlessly offers up theories about what is really happening in the movies. I recently recommended her as one of three Crimes of Grindelwald critics to read if you’re looking for challenging commentary beyond our analysis at HogwartsProfessor.com.

I wrote then that Sipal was something of a moving target because she changes her positions with each video, and, sure enough, she has dumped the ideas she offered in the discussion I recommended for an alchemical theory of who Credence/Aurelius really is. ‘Aurelius’ or ‘the Golden One,’ she now believes is the product of an alchemical experiment gone wrong or left unfinished at the time of Gellert and Albus’ break-up and Ariana’s death. Credence/Aurelius according to this view is an alchemical homunculus. The video is posted here and a transcript  can be read here.

Sipal offers three citations from the text to support this idea:

(1) “A baby Chupacabra — part lizard, part homunculus, a blood-sucking creature of the Americas — is chained to GRINDELWALD’s chair.” (Scene 2, p 2)

(2) “We see TEENAGE DUMBLEDORE and TEENAGE GRINDELWALD facing each other in a barn. Both score their palms with their wands. Now bleeding they interlace their hands…” (Scene 73, p. 163)

(3) GRINDELWALD “The path has been laid, and he is following it. The trail that will lead him to me, and the strange and glorious truth of who he is….” “Credence is the only entity alive… who can kill him [Albus Dumbledore].” (Scene 46, pp 96-97)

The argument of the theory, drawn out from these text citations, combined with interpretation of an image of a homunculus found via Google images at this web site, and Grindelwald’s referring to Credence more than once in Crimes as “my boy,” is that Credence is the love-child consequent to the Alchemical Wedding of young Gellert and Albus. The reference to a barn as the site of the Blood Pact is important, Sipal suggests, because Paracelsus says the creation of a homunculus involves a horse (see the Wikipedia entry for Homunculus for that reference). From the transcript of Sipal’s video:

The nature of Credence as a human created by these two young gods would open up so many themes and questions to be explored, some already touched on in the series: experimental breeding, or eugenics, manipulation of matter via physics, cloning, and perhaps free will, but also the rights of same sex couples to marry and have children. In fact, as Bestiary points out, it’s possible that the blood pact is in fact a marriage between Albus and Gellert.

I will be writing about the alchemical imagery in Crimes of Grindelwald in the coming weeks, work that Elizabeth Baird-Hardy began with her post on Midsummer Night’s Dream last week. The homunculus is on my list of things to discuss, especially in light of what Lyndsey Abraham writes in The Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery and its use in Goethe’s Faust and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. I’ll weigh the possibility of whether Credence was an alchemical homunculus at greater length then, but, for now, I think Sipal’s theory, Credence Homunculus’ has to be included among the more interesting theories of Credence/Aurelius’ origin, along with the ‘Credence Ariana Theory‘ of Bob Rectenwald and the ‘Credence Gaunt Theory‘ of Leslie Barnhart.

I say this despite it being a departure both from metallurgical alchemy’s symbolic descriptions of the homunculus — which birthing involves the death of the Red King and White Queen — and from Rowling’s previous literary alchemical work, in which there is a ‘Philosophical Orphan’ naturally born that becomes the Philosopher’s Stone. It is, after all, the bicentennial of the publication of Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein which may have been on Rowling’s mind as she planned the five films. Let the conversation begin!

Update: Did I say “moving target”? Here is Sipal’s latest on her Credence Homunculus Theory.’ I’m told she discusses Faust. Cheers!

Beatrice Groves: Shakespeare, Kipling, and Rowling’s Crimes of Grindelwald

Beatrice Groves is a Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, where she teaches classes on early modern literature and drama, Shakespeare in particular. She is also a Potter Pundit of the first rank; her Literary Allusion in Harry Potter is the most exciting, edifying, and enlightening contribution to Potter studies that I’ve read in many, many years. Prof Groves speaks to Harry Potter fandom in addition to this book through a variety of fan sites, large and small; see her discussion of magical plants on TheLeakyCauldron, her Bathilda’s Notebook page on MuggleNet (my favorite there? Literary Allusion in Cormoran Strike), and the three ‘Harrowing of Hell’ Guests Posts here at HogwartsProfessor. She is a frequent guest on Kathryn McDaniel’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcasts and is as charming ‘in person’ on that medium as her remarkably accessible and profound writing suggests she would be.

Prof Groves has just finished another landmark series at her MuggleNet platform, ‘Bathilda’s Notebook,’ this one a three part discussion of Rowling’s debts and embedded allusions in Harry Potter and Crimes of Grindelwald to Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill, Stalky & Co., and ‘The Man Who Would Be King.’ All are chock full of her discoveries — who knew, just for example, that the Headless Hunt, Regulus Black, and the Deathly Hallows symbol are hat-tips to Kipling? If Literary Allusion in Harry Potter has a failing, it is that Dr Groves does not mention literary alchemy in her brilliant chapters on Shakespeare in that book; she more than compensates in these three weblog posts by sharing her thoughts on literary alchemy in Shakespeare, Kipling, and the Crimes of Grindelwald film released this week.

Here are links to these posts I know you will enjoy, either as appetizers for your experience of the new movie or as after dinner treats post viewing!

“It’s Just Like Waking Up, Right?”: “The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Kipling, and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Dreaming

“The Crimes of Grindelwald,” Kipling, and the Origins of the Deathly Hallows Symbol

The Alchemical Symbolism of the Deathly Hallows in “The Crimes of Grindelwald”

 

Guest Post: Portrait of the Alchemist as Young Man – Joyce as Literary Alchemist

Brent Seegmiller and I have been corresponding on literary achemy and related topics since 2014 but he just gave me his permission yesterday to publish his thoughts on the hermetic aspect of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I think it is important work for three reasons: (1) The alchemy in Joyce has been explored for his Ulysses and for Finnegan’s Wake but not for the eary works most students have read, i.e., Dubliners and Portrait, (2) Joyce, especially for those who have never read him, is the consensus pick for “Greatest Novelist Ever;” and (3) therefore, learning that Joyce, a la Shakespeare, Dickens, and the Inklings, used alchemical story scaffolding and symbolism, makes Rowling’s use that much more credible and, one hopes, the subject of further study. We need more Potter Pundits like Brent Seegmiller and Evan Willis, whose exposition on the hermeticism embedded in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike I posted last week. Enjoy!

A Portrait of the Alchemist as a Young Man: Alchemy, Myth, and Metaphor in Joyce’s Work

Brent A. Seegmiller 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has been called James Joyce’s “most personal work”1. This rings true in light of the title, Stephen’s experiences, and Joyce’s vocation as renown Irish aesthete. Both Stephen and Joyce have a complex way with words and even more complex relationship to them.

As one scholar has opined, “A Portrait illustrates a contradictory dynamic by narrating Stephen’s gradual move towards a diasporic vocation that is imagined both as a radical break with the homeland and as its symbolic renewal. Epiphany and leitmotif represent the antagonistic yet closely intertwined extremes of this development. By switching back and forth between them, Joyce creates not only a “polyrhythmic” texture previously unknown to Anglophone fiction, but also moves the time-honored novel of development. The dozens of different motifs that circulate in A Portrait gain in complexity with each and every occurrence. In a word, they develop. Their structuring logic isn’t that of the closed circle, but rather that of William Butler Yeats’s ‘widening gyre’.”2

This relationship is represented well in the epigraph from Ovid, “And he turned his mind to unknown arts”3 as well as in the final words of the novel “Welcome, O life, I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”4. These passages, which echo the sentiment of each other, imply not only invention within the arts but also within what is known as the “Royal Art” of alchemy.

As Stephen Daedalus grows so too does the narration and its complexity. Much has been made of the religious intonations, the cries of Irish Nationalism, and the philosophical underpinnings of Stephen’s aesthetic epiphanies replete throughout the novel but there is a key element of the novel which has gone underwhelming represented in the academic literature; that is the novel’s relationship to the alchemical process. [Read more…]