Guest Essay6: “Severus Snape and The Transparency of Evil”

This essay was sent out to e-subscribers this morning by Sightings, an online journal of The Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago. File it under, “Why Harry Potter is Important.”

Severus Snape and the Transparency of Evil
— Elizabeth Musselman

On July 21, children across the country will stay up all night reading as the narrative of Harry Potter draws to a close. Many adults will also stay up all night reading the final chapters in J. K. Rowling’s imaginative epic of teenage wizards negotiating the forces of good and evil. Perhaps if Martin Luther were alive today, he too would find himself drawn into the textual world of Harry Potter — for Harry’s world bears some striking resemblances to Luther’s theological realm. Appearances are deceptive, and human reason is not to be trusted; spoken words carry the power to defeat danger; and the ongoing struggle between good and evil finds no easy resolution. [Read more…]

PDay Minus Three — Prediction #5: The Rubedo

HPEF invited me early in 2003 to participate as a Featured Speaker at Nimbus 2003. I learned later that it was not a unanimous decision of the HPEF Board to invite me. It seems several Potter-philes, even at the height of ‘The Controversy,’ thought Connie Neal’s invitation was sufficient to cover the “Christian Interpretation” sub-category. The few board members who had read my Hidden Key to Harry Potter explained that mine was a literary rather than theologically driven approach to the books and that my thoughts on Alchemy were sufficient to warrant an invitation as Featured Speaker. I got in through the back door.

In 2003, “literary alchemy” was terra incognita to all but the few in Fandom who were subscribers to Cauda Pavonis, the academic journal devoted to the subject. Google “alchemy” and “Harry Potter” today and prepare for an afternoon of reading (most of it, unfortunately, will be time spent “wading” through papers not having been read by editors or “peer reviewed” by people familiar with the subject).

My talk at Nimbus 2003, “Alchemy, Doppelgangers and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter” (which was published in Touchstone magazine later that year as ‘The Alchemist’s Tale,’ brought Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy to Fandom at a popular level — and the Slash writers, homeschooling soccer moms, and professors of Medieval Literature there were pretty excited about it. They voted that talk the “best presentation” of the 65 talks and panels at Nimbus. [Read more…]

PDay Minus Four — Prediction #4: Through the Veil

I have written at some length about the likelihood of Harry Passing through the Veil in the Department of Mysteries and expanded on the Christian Symbolism of the Veil even more recently.

In brief, Ms. Rowling has repeatedly had Harry go underground in his annual Hero’s Journey, which epic heroes do, as a rule, to visit the dead. That link and its constancy through six books points to a trip underground to see the dead in the finale.

Ms. Rowling’s comments about the seventh book (a) revealing her faith and (b) revealing how near we can get “to the dead” also point to an afterlife experience that has “shades” (ouch) of a Christian cosmology.

Let’s go to the “high spots” from my post on the Aeneid and Harry’s possible trip through the Veil…

Six Reasons for believing Harry will Pass Through the Veil

Here are six reasons taken from the top of my head for thinking Harry may go through the Veil in Deathly Hallows:

(1) In every novel so far, Ms. Rowling has had Harry descend before the climactic battle either underground quite literally or to a place of the dead. We can take this as something of a fetish, a coincidence, or a pointer to the last book when Harry will, at last, “do an Odysseus/Aeneas/Dante” and head into the real land of the dead. All previous descents would then be understood, not as mechanical check-list satisfaction for her hero’s journey formula, but as dramatic perumbration of one of the most memorable events in the story’s closing book.

(2) Ms. Rowling is by training a classicist. If she majored in French at the University of Exeter, [Read more…]

Chiastic Structure of the Novels?

Two very thoughtful men have weighed in on the chiastic structure of the Harry Potter books, a theory I think I first heard at Nimbus 2003. In brief, it is the idea that the novels are something of a circle or loop in which books 1 and 7, 2 and 6, and 3 and 5 are each a paired set and book 4 the “turning point” with elements of the three sets. The Red Hen has been discussing this sort of thing for some time with the rest of Fandom.

Pastor Joe Thacker has given his version a decidedly alchemical look and HogPro All Pro “Merlin” the Seminarian has pulled out all the stops in his exegesis over at Muggle Matters, which began here in 2006 and continues here this summer (scroll down to Thursday, June 14th: “The 3-4-5 Insanity Chiasm in the Harry Potter Series”). Both versions are worth your time, if only to begin (or review?) your thinking about how the books work as a series or one unit.

Contrary theories are welcome and will be posted, time allowing!

The Order of the Phoenix film: A “Trailer for the Book”?

I was scheduled last week to be the moderator of an Enlightening 2007 panel discussing the Order of the Phoenix movie. This, of course, put me into something of a panic; I know nothing about movies beyond what my mother taught me (“Sit quietly in the the theatre during the film, Alan, and try not to drop too much popcorn. It’s very hard for the nice man who works here to sweep up.”)

Fortunately for me and the people listening to this panel discussion, I have a friend who is both a Harry Potter maven and a professional screenwriter. Janet Batchler not only has a batch of great movies she and her husband Lee have written to her credit, she also teaches this celluloid magic craft at USC. I wrote Janet for help with questions for the panel. Being the charitable woman she is, I received these brilliant ideas via email almost immediately.

Thank you, Janet!

Yesterday, she gave me permission to post them here. I urge you to read Janet’s notes about the movie over at Quoth the Maven and then post your thoughts about the movie and answers to the questions below in the comment boxes here. [Read more…]