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!

Three Spoiler-Free Reasons to See The Last Jedi

Fresh from my first viewing of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi, here are my relatively spoiler-free impressions of the film. (Read on if you’re okay knowing some generalities about the film, with the promise of no specific details.)

I must state categorically that I loved it, and I can’t wait to see it again. I had heard that the film would “shock” me – that it takes the Skywalker saga in an unexpected direction. I am not as shocked as I was prepared to be (perhaps sheer expectation prevented that), and the film did not satisfy every question I had hoped it would (perhaps the filmmaker’s strategy to keep me coming back, and if so, as young Anakin once said, “It’s working!”). But on the whole The Last Jedi is excellent, thrilling, moving and satisfying Star Wars. Read on for three reasons why you should see it: [Read more…]

Beatrice Groves: ‘Nagini Maledictus’ Literary Allusion in Fantastic Beasts

A Guest Post from Beatrice Groves, Research Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford University, and author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter — Enjoy!

John has recently posted on the current fan theory that Claudia Kim’s character in Crimes of Grindelwald – ‘a Maledictus, the carrier of a blood curse that destines her ultimately to transform into a beast’ – will turn into Nagini. 

John notes that ‘the Nagini theory has legs,’ which is a rather satisfying pun. It is pun I particularly like because the serpent in Eden is ‘cursed’ (maledictus) to go without legs:

‘So the LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life.’ (Genesis 3.14)

Or, in the Vulgate (Latin):

‘Et ait Dominus Deus ad serpentem : Quia fecisti hoc, maledictus es inter omnia animantia, et bestias terræ : super pectus tuum gradieris, et terram comedes cunctis diebus vitæ tuæ.’ 

If the Maledictus becomes Nagini it will continue the link between Voldemort and the Satanic snake of Genesis which Rowling began in Harry Potter [John says: see chapter 4 in Prof Groves’ Literary Allusion in Harry Potter]. In Christian visual heritage the Satan-inhabited-snake in Eden is – rather surprisingly – often depicted as half-woman. This rich medieval visual tradition flourished despite the fact that Satan is described by a male pronoun in the biblical text. It culminates in the famous image of Michelanglo’s Satan-as-snake-woman on the roof of the Sistine Chapel. 

Within Harry Potter there are many hints of Nagini as a snake-woman rather than simply a snake. Not only does she take the form of a woman in Deathly Hallows, she also has a disturbingly humanoid relationship with Voldemort from the moment we meet her in Goblet. She tells Voldemort that Frank is listening at the door of the Riddle House and while his not-to-be-named form resembles a baby – ‘the thing… looked like a baby’ (Goblet, Chap. 32) – Nagini keeps him alive with her ‘milk’ fed to him from a ‘bottle’ (Goblet, Chap. 1). Nagini takes the place of the mother to this parody of a child.

Then there is her name. Nagini is a name for Ma Manasa Devi, the Hindu snake goddess: [Read more…]

Harry Potter and the Commemorative Ornaments

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas here at my house, given that we typically put our tree and other decorations up right after Thanksgiving. And yes, the Boy Who Lived has a place in my holiday decor.

Several years ago, after it was clear that Harry and friends would be a long term part of my personal and professional life, my mom began giving me Hallmark Harry Potter ornaments. Hallmark has been releasing these annually since 2000, and Mom has thus far managed to track down most on Ebay.  Harry-themed ornaments were not something I would ever have thought of getting for myself, but now that I have them, I love putting them up every Christmas.  When it became clear that they would all get lost in the eclectic jumble that is my family’s normal Christmas tree, I got them their own wrought-iron table-top version.  I thought I would devote this post to sharing a few favorites.

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Is ‘Nagini’ the Name of the Maledictus in ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’? ‘Nagini Gaunt’?

Wayne asked me on the ‘Crimes of Grindelwald’ Ensemble Cast Photo post thread:

So, John, you’re suggesting that this Maledictus in this film becomes full-time snake and then animal familiar/horcrux for Voldemort about 70 years later. Did I get that right?

Great question, Wayne!

The ‘Nagini’ theory about the Beasts2 Maledictus is a fandom theory you can track down via this link that was also in the post. We were told months ago that the Claudia Kim character was a performer in the Circus Arcanus troupe.

It also sounds as if a wizarding circus will play a significant part in the plot: South Korean actress Claudia Kim has been cast as a young woman who stars in the circus as one of the attractions, while Ólafur Darri Ólafsson plays Skender, the circus boss.

The only character we know about in the Circus (from a poster) that are an obvious match with Kim is “the Enchanting Snake Girl.” Someone in global fandom, I do not know who, when it was announced last Thursday that Kim’s role was playing “a Maledictus, the carrier of a blood curse that destines her ultimately to transform into a beast,” posted a theory that the Maledictus is Nagini.

There are three steps from the information we have and that conclusion. What we know is:

  • Kim’s character is a performer in the circus;
  • There is an act in the circus according to the poster called ‘the Enchanting Snake Girl;’
  • Kim’s character is a Maledictus who is cursed to become a beast.

To get from that information to ‘Kim’s character is Nagini,’ you have to connect these dots:

  • The act Kim’s character plays is the Enchanting Snake Girl;
  • The beast this Maledictus is cursed to become is a magical snake; and
  • This magical snake is the snake who becomes Lord Voldemort’s familiar.

Which is quite a collection of jumps. I think the Nagini theory has legs for these reasons:

[Read more…]