Guest Post: Rowling’s Mercurial Hermetic Artistry from Snape to Strike

Late last month, a reader wrote a note on an old thread about the role of Severus Snape in the alchemical artistry of Harry Potter. “Hi, I don’t know if this question has been asked before, but in HP, which alchemical (or else) role embodies Severus Snape ?” More than ten years ago, I wrote a longish post on this subject, a post that aimed to refute the idea that Snape was the ‘Green Lion’ of the Great Work.

I have been corresponding with Evan Willis, though, since 2015 on this very subject and his work is the best by far I have read on the subject of Snape and alchemy. He has recently expanded his critique to include Cormoran Strike and what we might expect in Lethal White along the mythological, Orestian, and alchemical lines Rowling/Galbraith seems to be writing. His command of the classical and achemical strands is mind boggling, which integration makes his writing important, dense, and a lot of fun; speculative, insightful, and rich with meaning, I’m confident that you will find as I have that this piece rewards a close reading (and a second and third reading, too). Enjoy!

Dark Gods Beneath the Earth: Hermetic Plot Elements in the Cormoran Strike Series

Evan Willis

I have divided this analysis into four sections.

  • In the first, I will attempt to build up an account of the character of Hermes and its place in the interpretation of texts, particularly ones like those of J.K. Rowling. Much in this section has already been covered in other blog posts on this blog, but here I condense it and present much of it outside of a strictly Alchemical context. Some elements are also derived from the account of Mercury to be found in Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia, particularly the chapter on The Horse and His Boy.
  • The second part traces, through analysis of the Deathly Hallows epigraph from The Libation Bearers of Aeschylus, the meaning of the Orestes myth and Hermes’s place in it (c.f. this blog’s previous interpretation: http://www.hogwartsprofessor.com/the-aeschylus-epigraph-in-deathly-hallows/).
  • The third part includes my application of the previous parts to the Cormoran Strike novels as I was able prior to the release of Career of Evil.
  • The fourth part includes my conclusions from what was revealed in Career of Evil, looking ahead to Lethal White and beyond.

[Read more…]

Danger, Herman Melville! Much-Needed Literary Notes in the Lost in Space Re-boot

I’m always a little leery of re-boots of classics, particularly classic science fiction shows. I loved the cheesy old Image result for lost in space 2018Battlestar Galactica and was let down by the darker, modern interpretation, just for one example. However, I decided to give Netflix’s new take on Lost in Space a try, mainly because it looked good, and because I never cared much for the original, so I knew that it wouldn’t damage my youthful expectations. And, to be totally honest, I was just delighted by the fact that if the show becomes popular, most of my students may not look at me in bewilderment when I try to warn them off Wikipedia or Cliffnotes as sources for their essays by waving my arms and yelling, “Danger, Will Robinson!” So, I gave it a whirl. After just one episode, I am already intrigued, not just because the effects are awesome and the kids are charismatic (though really, kids, if your name is Will, and you are on a Netflix show, there is a really good chance that you will get lost someplace scary and that large chunks of the script will consist of family members yelling your name…). What excites me are the fantastic literary hints that tie this new series into some of the old texts that we love and discuss here. So fasten your safety belt, and join me after the jump to get lost in some literature! [Read more…]

Sara Brown: Tolkien’s Literary Alchemy

ChrisC sent me a Christmas present this morning: a lecture by Signum University’s Dr. Sara Brown on the Literary Alchemy imbedded in J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I share this delightful gift with you in the hope you find it as challenging and compelling an argument as I did. The lecture proper begins at 4:00 at the link and is only 20 minutes long — well worth your time, believe me!

Not being any more than a Tolkien fan, I long ago gave up on an alchemical reading of this epic (largely because a book on the subject, Shelton’s Alchemy in Middle-Earth, struck me as border-line absurd in its overreach [e.g., that Tolkien was familiar with medieval Arabic alchemical texts]). I am excited about Dr. Brown’s cogent presentation of the alchemical markers in LOTR because it opens up the possibility, much more credible because of Rowling’s documented close study of that work, that it is an important inspiration for her own use of hermetic symbolism in the Hogwarts Saga.

Please share your thoughts below! Happy holidays to those of you celebrating Western Christmas today!

Registration is Now Open for Potter Pundits Summer School: Sign Up Today! First Class? Harry and Literary Alchemy

Register for ‘Potter Pundit Summer School’ Now! Totally Free. One week only, four free talks and a live webinar with limited seating — don’t delay, right?

Please sign up and share the news with your friends by email and social media. Thanks in advance for spreading the news.

PDFs of the transcript for my Literary Alchemy lecture and of a complete bibliography with 47 alchemical guides are posted at the first talk’s web page. Once you register, you’ll be taken there automatically. See you at Potter Pundits Summer School!

Harry Potter and Lolita: J. K. Rowling’s ‘Relationship’ with Vladimir Nabokov (Names, Politics, Alchemy, and Parody)

f38696614It’s been fifteen years since I started thinking seriously and speaking publicly about the literary merits of Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter books. I am still surprised at how much work there is to be done, how many mysteries and markers that have been neglected.

Take, as an obvious example, the matter of the author’s favorite books and writers. She says the three she enjoys reading most are Jane Austen, Colette, and Vladimir Nabokov. Go ahead and do a web search for ‘Rowling and Colette’ or ‘Rowling and Nabokov.’ You’ll find links to the various lists of Rowling’s ‘10 Most Loved Novels‘ and the like in which the same comments are re-rehearsed with different covers as click bait. But no discussion of Colette, Nabokov (or Roddy Doyle or Auberon Waugh, and, well, you get the idea) and their place in understanding what Rowling, the serious reader become writer, was after in the Hogwarts Saga.

BookshelfI wrote a book, Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, on ‘the Great Books Inside the Adventures of the Boy Who Lived’ and it’s a grand tour of Western Canon through the lens of Rowling’s septology. It wasn’t, however, despite frequent quotations from The Presence to justify my choices of texts to discuss, J. K. Rowling’s Library, a book by Karin Westman, chair of the Kansas State English Department. Prof Westman announced the imminent publication of this guide at Nimbus 2003 in Orlando, Florida, and her CV says it is “forthcoming, 2017” today (the University of Mississippi Press, her publisher, alas, does not list it among their titles soon to be in print).

This is a shame, if understandable given Prof Westman’s responsibilities, because, judging from what she has shared through the years about Jane Austen, Katherine Mansfield, and other Rowling favorites at conferences, no one is more qualified than she to write on this subject. While we wait for J. K. Rowling’s Library, though, let’s take a look at that “favorites” list again and see what we can figure out in anticipation of Prof Westman’s guidance.

Lolita 20The writer I’ve been reading, both his novels as well as books about his fascinating life, is Vladimir Vladimirovich Nabokov and I have a small confession to make. The experience of reading his Pale Fire and Lolita, considered among the best if not just the best American novels of the 20th Century (Lolita even makes the #15 slot on this Greatest Books Ever list) has turned my thinking about Rowling as novelist on its head, maybe even inside-out. If nothing else, I have a new “hidden key” to share.

First, though, let’s establish the Rowling-Nabokov link through her comments about the Man from St. Petersburg and the clear correspondences and probable hat-tips to his best known works in Harry Potter. [Read more…]