Substack HogwartsProfessor First Post: First Principles and First Menu

The last weblog post, #2900, announced our move after twenty years here to Substack, the long-form writing subscription platform. Beginning today and for the immediate future, the opening paragraphs of Substack HogwartsProfessor posts will be available here a few days after they are sent to subscribers so readers who may have missed Monday’s announcement learn about the change. To read the whole post, subscribe — it’s free! — or just click here.

Welcome to HogwartsProfessor at its new home on Substack! Thank you for subscribing, and, in advance, for letting me know what you think. All suggestions about how best to utilize this platform are welcome, believe me, as I begin to climb the upside-down learning curve of a new dashboard and posting system.

Today, I want to offer a frank statement, one I will try to keep brief, of my first principles and perspective as a reader who writes about the artistry and meaning of beloved prose, poetry, and plays and a short prospectus of the subjects I will be writing about in our first months on this new platform. I rush to add that these are my guiding ideas and post menu, not necessarily those of the other writers who contribute pieces here.

In a nutshell, I believe that human beings are a story-telling species more than ‘rational animals’ and that the best stories and art create a portal to an imaginative or noetic experience of archetypal reality. The keys to grasping the depths of the work created by writers who intentionally embrace the goal of crafting this kind of fiction are the symbols, allegory, and structure beneath the narrative surface that deliver this iconological means of ego-transcendence. The bumper-sticker version of that is: “the stories that matter are the ones that best reflect the soul’s journey to spiritual perfection and encourage us on our journeys.”

This set of first principles reflects the Perennialist understanding of sacred art, which includes “non-liturgical” or “not-obviously religious” stories. The Perennialist understanding of myth and epic, of Shakespeare, Coleridge and Blake, as well as contemporary writers informs everything I write that qualifies as literary criticism. It’s traditional, which is to say “theocentric” view is in direct opposition to postmodern understanding, which reads literature and understands all art in profane terms, most notably using aesthetic, political, and intertextual measures. 

I promised to be brief on this count, so I will not go into a prolonged explanation or apologia for these first principles. I am obliged to note, though, that my use of them is the reason that I have consistently been able to see and explain the depths and power of writers, most notably J. K. Rowling, when the host of Critique authorities and academic specialists have missed it. Literary alchemy, traditional symbolism, the debts of Rowling (Collins, Meyer, others) to the Greats, maternal love as cipher for Christ, and chiastic or ring writing and the utility of the above in anagogical depictions of the soul’s faculties in trial, so-called ‘psychomachia,’ were all blind spots in contemporary criticism, frankly, before my Perennialist reading of Rowling.

[If Perennialist ideas of non-liturgical sacred art and their relevance to understanding fiction are terra incognita to you, I explain them at much greater length in this post about Rowling’s The Christmas Pig.]

As I start out here on Substack, I have a few ideas about what I will be exploring and explaining. This is my first menu of post topics about which I hope you will share your preferences as subscribers and the subjects or questions you want me to address. [Read more…]

Weblog HogwartsProfessor is Dead; Long Live Substack HogwartsProfessor

This is post number 2900 at and it is a milestone akin to 29’s association with the planet Saturn, whose revolution around the son takes that many years and the return of which to the position in one’s natal horoscope signals a Big Change or transformation. A Saturnine end or death — and a new beginning.

I started HogwartsProfessor twenty years ago as a bulletin board website on which I posted outlandishly long posts even for the time. With the help and guidance of Travis Prinzi, who created this WordPress site and the first headers for it, as well as paying server costs for years of its existence, it became a Go-To site for Harry Potter fandom’s serious readers. Elizabeth Baird Hardy was the first to join the faculty fellowship as a contributor and has served as Deputy Headmistress for fifteen years. Louise Freeman Davis joined ten years ago, Evan Willis not long after, and Nick Jeffery last year.

The site has morphed intentionally in the last three years from a long-post page on which new pieces appeared only as frequently as the faculty were moved to write them (or Guest Post contributors shared their writing with us) into almost a ‘Daily Newspaper’ or at least that paper’s editorial page. Our longest streak of consecutive daily posts stretched for more than nine months, which was quite the drain on our time and talents in addition to the costs to my treasury in maintaining the site.

And, sadly, this commitment to posting daily meant more YouTube videos and twitter exegesis and far fewer long posts and deep dives into the artistry and meaning of Rowling’s writing, not to mention of contemporary writing and films not-by-Rowling. Maintaining an audience by frequent new articles — and by ‘frequent’ I mean ‘Every Doggone Day’ — in addition to eating up the time necessary to re-read, think seriously about, and then compose the in-depth pieces also left less mental energy to take on new projects.

Fortunately, a new venue has appeared, an alternative to WordPress weblogs, which allows a writer to create and maintain an audience via email rather than frequent posting. That ‘other way’ is Substack, a subscription platform for long-form writing. With this post, HogwartsProfessor begins what will be at least a month long transition from a WordPress weblog to a subscription only Substack site, at which the once-a-week posts I write will appear in your inbox for free on Thursdays and once-a-month posts by Evan, Elizabeth, Nick, and a Guest every Monday.

As far as my posts go, I am very excited about returning to what I do best, namely, deep dives into the artistry and meaning of Rowling’s work (as well as that of other contemporary and traditional writers) with a special focus on the allegorical, anagogical, and alchemical content, the symbolism, structure, and story scaffolding of poems, plays, and longer prose. I have used these ideas in the past to speculate about what Rowling’s next books would include, a fun way to illustrate the tools in this writer’s kit, but an exercise that sadly (pathetically?) has become an end in itself. Freed from the self-imposed burden of daily posting, I look forward to exploring and explaining in depth the books we have in hand.

As a former colleague recently wrote to me, “You have done more for Rowling studies than anyone alive” (her emphasis). I’m confident she was referring to my work with traditional symbolism, literary alchemy, ring composition, psychomachia, intertextuality or literary allusion, and the peculiar parallel series in progress between the Strike and Potter novels, all of that being ground-breaking, original work on which other critical readers have built more and less successfully. I’m certain, though, she was not referencing my notes about The Presence’s tweets or the guesswork I have done or can do about what will happen in Running Grave by searching Deathly Hallows and Cuckoo’s Calling for clues lost in the crevices.

So — beginning Thursday, a new HogwartsProfessor! Thank you for twenty years of reading the posts at this WordPress weblog, and, in advance, for joining me and the fellowship of writers dedicated to bringing you the best and most original insights at our new Substack platform about the more profound craft and meaning of imaginative fiction and the literary arts.


Beasts2 — and Phantom of the Opera?

A thought from Randall:

Just re-watched the 2004 Warner Brothers film version of “The Phantom of the Opera” and was struck by (anti-)parallels to the 2018 Warner Brothers film, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald.”

In “Phantom,” Erik is a deformed boy imprisoned in a freak show in Paris. A young girl (the future Madame Giry) feels pity for him, so when he strangles his handler/jailer, she helps him escape into a crowd. Erik becomes the Phantom, living underground in the dark, and continues to kill.

In “Crimes,” Nagini is a blood-cursed girl imprisoned in the Circus Arcanus, in Paris. A young man (Aurelius Dumbledore) feels pity for her, so when she attacks her handler/jailer (Skender), he helps her escape into a crowd. Nagini eventually becomes permanently trapped in snake form, serving Lord Voldemort, living concealed in mostly dark places, and continues to kill.

Maybe we will see more (anti-)parallels, if and when J.K. Rowling publishes more of the “Fantastic Beasts” story. Maybe others have noticed these (anti-)parallels; I did a search but did not find any mentions of them.

This reminds me of the reader who wrote that the Gloria Conti “termination” of mobster Luca Ricci’s child was a simple re-telling of the Godfather, Part II, plot in which Katherine “Kay” Corleone (née Adams) aborts the child of her husband, Michael Corleone. Rowling-Galbraith’s character enjoys a much happier fate than Kay. I cannot find the email or post comment in which the reader shared this; apologies all around on that point.

I wonder if Potter Pundits and Serious Strikers, in our common denominator text-source focus are not overlooking the influence of much more popular culture, blockbuster movies, on Rowling’s imagination. I know it’s something I never choose to explore, largely because I know very little about movies (I have not seen either Phantom of the Opera or any of the Godfather films) and I am not a fan of the medium.

The thing is, Rowling drops repeated references to the Godfather movies and their influence on Gloria Conti in Troubled Blood, to include that character’s resistance to seeing Part II. If these had been book teases, I would have definitely been reading them because of the strong indicators that these references were bread crumbs dropped by the author as helpful clues.

A movie? It never occurred to me to watch the Godfather films or even read about them on Wikipedia.

Thank you, Randall, for throwing light in my most glaring media blind-spot!

Rowling-Galbraith Commits to Ten Book Series, NOT Seven, for Cormoran Strike

Yesterday in the announcement of The Running Grave’s publication date at, readers were given two statements in hard print that the series will be not seven books long, not an indefinite number, but ten in length. First:

THE RUNNING GRAVE will be the seventh title in a planned series of ten, the first six of which have all been Sunday Times and international bestsellers. The Strike series has been praised as ‘the work of a master storyteller’ [Daily Telegraph], ‘unputdownable’ [Daily Express] and ‘a blistering piece of crime writing’ [Sunday Times]; with Strike and Robin dubbed ‘one of crime’s most engaging duos’ [Guardian].

Then, much later in the piece:

‘It’s been brilliant to see the enormous success of the Robert Galbraith books over the past ten years and an honour to publish them. With over 11 million copies sold in the English language to date, the story of Strike and Robin has captured readers’ imaginations and, like so many others, I can’t wait to see what happens to them over the course of the final four books in the series.’ David Shelley, Group Chief Executive, Hachette UK.

After that announcement went global, Rowling sounded much more tentative about the ten book endpoint in a tweet to a reader who asked if Strike’s series would end as Harry’s did at the seven book mark:

Three Quick Notes: [Read more…]

The Running Grave to be Published in September

According to Amazon and numerous other booksellers, the official release date in September 26th.  Page count is 832, which may feel like a novella compared to the last two.

Five months to go!  (or, depending on when you are reading this, less.  Click link below to be exact.)

Countdown to The Running Grave