Snape as Vitriol: The Green Lion alchemical catalyst?

I promised more than a week ago to post something about the place of Severus Snape in the alchemical drama of the Harry Potter novels. I’m still very much of two minds about this; I had hoped to post something definite but I cannot do that now. I don’t think that I’ll be sure enough of what Snape does and does not represent to say “I’m sure” until I can talk to Ms. Rowling about it.

As I don’t think I’m on her A-list for tea invitations, I will jump the gun of academic prudence instead and share with you (1) the Fandom research which has brought this to my attention, (2) my enthusiasm for this work (that is very different from what I have done or have seen elsewhere), and (3) my equally strong misgivings about it.

Let’s start with Severus Snape and my frustration in trying to see him in light of the Great Work taking place in the seven book alembic.

I have been asked several times at conventions, book stores, and on campuses when talking about the alchemy of the series what part the oily Potions Master plays. It’s a natural question, especially after I’ve detailed Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s roles and the meaning of Sirius’, Albus’, and Rubeus’ names in the black-white-red spectrum of the laboratory.

I’ve never given an answer that really satisfied me, if my interlocutors usually have been polite enough not to insist I come up with something better. Talking about Severus as both Dumbledore’s apprentice and his mirror image as an alchemist, the Gryffindor/Slytherin androgyn that is “slytherin-side-out,” is fascinating, even important (if true!), but it lacks the connect-the-dots transparency of Hermione as alchemical mercury or Sirius as the embodiment of the nigredo. I am eager to read anything that suggests something more easily understood about the character of Snape in the light of alchemy. [Read more…]

The Potter-saurus: 1,500 Words HP Readers Need to Know

Eric Randall, an editor and journalist whose work has appeared in Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, USA Today, and the like, has written a fun book that I know my family will be using on car trips for a long time. It’s called The Pottersaurus: 1,500 Words Harry Potter Readers Need to Know and what it is is a delightful collection of the “big words” in Joanne Rowling’s oversized books. Arranged alphabetically, each word has a definition and at least one citation from a Harry Potter novel. Here’s one example, chosen randomly:

Pirouette — A spin in place. Crabbe did a pirouette in midair at the Shrieking Shack after Harry, hidden by his Invisibility Cloak, threw a stick at his back. (PA, Ch. 14) Hermione did a graceful pirouette while practicing to apparate. (HBP, Ch. 22)

My children love this stuff. They’ve been immunized sufficiently that they flee from school work dressed up as a game but they love explaining words that their parents don’t think they’ll be able to define. Best is catching dad with a britishism, though… Who knew a “pouf” was a “footstool or couch with no back”? I thought they were throw cushions.

Even better, Mr. Randall has a Pottersaurus website where you can play Word Quidditch. Forgive me for confessing that I played it between classes one day, just to hear the cheering sound effect for a few minutes (I’m not getting much of that from my cadets at the end of the year).

Highly recommended for families and for parents needing a good cheer!

Professor Mom’s Unified Theory of Everything

I am totally swamped in end-of-school dealings and fear I will be until June. The good news is that the older man my wife has been cooking for has succeeded in lowering his Prostate Specific Antigen numbers from 86 to 11 in a month and down to .42 in another month. Now that he is feeling better, I hope when school is out to be able to post at HogPro almost daily. As it is, I’ll be here on the weekends, work and family allowing.

Until the weekend, though, when I will share my thoughts on the theory that Severus Snape is the Green Lion or Alchemical Vitriol (the catalyst of the Great Work?), I do have something to keep you thinking along challenging lines. Professor Mum (sometimes ‘Mom’), whose essay on the House of Black in Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? is the talk of Fandom and driving the sales of that book, is attempting a grand synthesis of Red Hen, Swythyv, Alchemy, and her own cogent musings, to create her own Unified Theory of Everything. Chapter One is up and it’s a WOW.

See you this weekend!

John, loving the idea of a Slytherin/Gryffindor androgyn being the “Green Lion”

Alchemy: Jung, Burckhart, or McLean?

I was invited by a reader here to post on her alchemy thread over at the Leaky Cauldron’s Leaky Lounge. Actually, I was so intrigued when she told me about it that I asked to be invited, but I guess it comes to the same thing. After reading through pages of posts and fascinating links on my first trip there, I made the following post. If anyone asks, I’ll go into greater detail about the difference between the psychological and authentically spiritual interpretations of alchemy and what makes me think Rowling has read Burckhardt and Lings. Until then, here are my notes to the alchemical mavens and wanna-be alchemists at the Leaky Lounge:

Hi! My name is John Granger. I am very grateful for being allowed to participate in this discussion, if I’m a little embarrassed about being introduced as an expert on the subject. No doubt readers here will be disappointed if they have high expectations about my contributions.

Because many of the people posting on these threads are new to alchemy as a subject unto itself and to thinking about how Ms. Rowling is using alchemic symbols and formula in the Harry Potter novels, I would note two things as a starter.

First, there are three schools of thought about alchemy itself and what it means: Jung’s psychological interpretations, Burckhardt’s traditionalist ideas, and Adam McLean’s encyclopedic and, if he is to be believed, empirical knowledge of the subject. I suspect Ms. Rowling is familiar with all three and the books reflect what she has picked up from the “ridiculous amount” she read on the subject before writing.

*For Jung himself, there are collections of his thoughts on the subject (“Jung on Alchemy,” etc.) and there is his Mysterium Conjunctionis. To take a Jungian trip through the Harry Potter novels, Dr. Gail Grynbaum’s 2003 essay is an excellent introduction. [Read more…]

New Amazon Reviews of ‘Unlocking Harry Potter’

I’m buried in school and family obligations and still recovering from the feast of feasts; please forgive my tardiness in posting on the various ways of understanding the alchemy in Harry Potter and what The Little White Horse has to tell us about the end of the series. After proctoring some standardized tests this weekend, I hope to get to these projects.

Just to keep my hand in the blog-o-sphere until then, here are the latest reviews of Unlocking Harry Potter on Amazon.com. All have been five star reviews. If you’ve read the book, I welcome your comments and hope to read your review at the world’s biggest online bookstore. If you haven’t read it, I hope you’ll buy it today and let me know what you think!

Fantastic, Engaging Work on the Meaning of Potter, April 11, 2007
Reviewer: Johnny Chavez – See all my reviews

John Granger is not known to provide superficial readings of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series ?† la Harold Bloom or A.S. Byatt. Instead he gazes deeper into the rich tapestry of JKR’s creation, seeing what most Harry Potter readers (or even non readers) miss, namely the spiritual overtones of the series. [Read more…]