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…]

Kalo Pascha! Christos Anesti! Coming Attractions!

I have taken Holy Week off from the blogosphere (with the exception of this note), if, I must admit, I have probably been thinking about our favorite boy wizard and schoolwork more than I like or is reasonable. I hope to write three pieces for HogPro next week. One on Ms. Rowling’s choices in the sources and meaning she gave the alchemy in her stories — literary/traditionalist, Jungian, or Theosophical/New Age — and why I think the first makes the most sense, another on The Little White Horse and why the ending of the author’s favorite children’s book is both alchemical and a strong pointer away from Harry’s death in Deathly Hallows, and a last one of various notes and thoughts that have come my way the the last three weeks (with a special offer from Zossima Press!).

Stay tuned… and, if you have read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, please do take a moment to write a rave on Amazon.com. What more thoughtful Pascha gift could you give your friend, the Hogwarts Professor? I can’t think of anything I’d like better, except for a polka-dotted bow tie from BeauxTies and my children have that covered.

In anticipation, Christos Anesti!

“One Last Memory:” A Godric’s Hollow Mind-blower

Everything I am sent about literary alchemy I read. Can you blame me? I am, of course, especially interested in thoughts on how alchemical images are used in Ms. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels. Later this week I will review one of the better things I’ve read on this subject, from a Jungian analyst’s perspective quite different than my own. Today, though, I want to share something I found while looking for alchemical thoughts to share here.

I can thank Professor Mum (thank you, Wendy!) for mentioning S. P. Sipal’s notes about the new covers, all of which were references to alchemy and processes in the Great Work. Following the urls Professor Mum sent, I learned that S.P. Sipal had written an essay on the alchemy in the series for a Galadriel Waters book called The Plot Thickens and, more recently, had posted an editorial on mugglenet.com called One Last Memory.

The alchemical points in this mugglenet essay are disappointing. S.P. Sipal does not understand what a Quintessence is, for instance, and what images and explanations s/he brought into play from Egyptian mythology and magic (a bunch!) I thought distracted from rather than supported her remarkable ideas about what really happened in Godric’s Hollow. These ideas are so good, though, that I look forward to reading the other alchemical things S.P. Sipal has written; the conclusions s/he comes to are so compelling it seems clear s/he just had a bad day with respect to the alchemy in One Last Memory.

I suspect that more than one English Literature Ph.D. has already been drafted on the subject of memory in Harry Potter. The subject begs serious treatment, especially with respect to Hermetic memory systems and Renaissance beliefs about memory in Florence and Northern Italy when magic was largely about memory (see Frances Yates’ The Art of Memory for more on this). S.P. Sipal does not begin this work or review even superficially the role of memory in the books — but, wow, what s/he comes up with in Sherlock Holmes fashion by revisiting the seemingly unnecessary trip the trio make to the fourth floor of St. Mungo’s in Phoenix. [Read more…]

John Gets a Thank You Letter from Scholastic

I send a copy of the Harry Potter related books I write or edit to Ms. Rowling through her publishers as a courtesy. I have never expected a response and I have never been disappointed. It’s just something that seems right to do.

This practice explains why I sent Ms. Rowling one of the reviewer’s copies of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader that I got from Zossima Press before we kicked the first big kinks out of it. Her website instructs those wanting to contact her by post to send letters to Bloomsbury if you live in the UK and to Scholastic if you live in the US. I wrote a grateful note on the title page of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, consequently, and shipped it off to Scholastic, as instructed.

I forgot about it. After my daily run late one night last week, though, I found a letter in our mailbox from Scholastic. It had first class postage (meaning it wasn’t junk mail).

Uh-oh. [Read more…]