Beatrice Groves – Literary Allusion in Secrets of Dumbledore: Fantastic Beasts 3

In the second post to celebrate the countdown to the theatrical release of  Fantastic Beasts: the Secrets of Dumbledore, Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of  Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, has written a Hogwarts Professor Guest Post: Literary Allusion in Secrets of Dumbledore: Fantastic Beasts 3. Beatrice leads us from ancient Chinese bestiaries to the poetry of Alexander Pope, by way of disapparating dodos and totalitarian lingerie. Enjoy!

 

Literary Allusion in Secrets of Dumbledore: Fantastic Beasts 3

Bestiaries form the central literary allusion of the Fantastic Beasts franchise – a topic I looked at briefly yesterday and shall be discussing in three posts at Bathilda’s Notebook later this week. The most important of these bestiaries is the ancient Chinese work: the Shan Hai Jing or, Guideways through mountains and seas.

Rowling has called this ancient bestiary ‘utterly fascinating’ and has promised us another Chinese creature in the new film, to follow on from the Zouwu which appeared in Crimes of Grindelwald. When an image of this bestiary first turned up on Rowling’s homepage, I read through it keeping an eye out for the sort of animal I thought might appeal to her. One of those I particularly liked was the Youyan ‘it is adept at laughing and falls asleep when it sees people.’ Richard E. Strassberg – the translator of the edition of the Shan Hai Jing which Rowling is reading – writes that ‘Guo Pu noted that the Youyan only pretends to sleep when it sees people to protect itself. In his encomium, he ridiculed it as actually quite stupid, for though it appears to be clever, it is easily captured.’

The Youyan reminded me of a creature in another (rather more modern) book whose author, like Newt, has written about endangered animals. The Youyan – who tries to evade capture by, in effect, making itself very easy to catch – feels like a reversal of Douglas Adams’s Ravenous Blugbatter beast of Traal: ‘a mindbogglingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can’t see it, it can’t see you.’ (Rowling, incidentally, is a fan of Adams, and I think Hitchhiker has influenced her.) One of Adams’s books Last Chance to See – which very much shares its emphasis with Newt’s Fantastic Beasts in attempting to save the animals it describes – details the kakapo, a flightless parrot that also appears at the end of the Fantastic Beasts: The Wonder of Nature exhibition. In Adams’s Dirk Gentley’s Holistic Detective Agency the great temptation suffered by the Professor Urban Chronotis, Regius Professor of Chronology at St. Cedd’s College, Cambridge, and owner of a time machine, is that he longs to save the most famous flightless bird – the dodo – from extinction. In Newt’s original Fantastic Beasts textbook, he writes that the Diricawl (one of the few animals that we know will be appearing in Secrets of Dumbledore as we’ve seen disappearing in the trailers) is the bird we call the dodo:

 

While Muggles believed this bird to be extinct, in reality, it existed and had the ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere as a means of escaping danger, similar to apparition, while Muggles remain unaware. The International Confederation of Wizards had not seen fit to reveal that the animal still existed, since it seemed to have raised Muggle awareness of the consequences of slaying their fellow creatures indiscriminately

I love that in Rowling’s universe, she made the Professor’s dream come true.

The extensive literary allusions in Fantastic Beasts are pleasing in a double sense, because Newt is Rowling’s most literary hero to date. And in Secrets of Dumbledore Newt will be joined by another author-cum-auror. This is Eulalie ‘Lally’ Hicks, Charms Professor at Ilvermorny School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (And I was pleased to hear the actor, Jessica Williams – who, incidentally, shares her birthday with Harry Potter – declare in a featurette dedicated to linking Fantastic Beasts with the Harry Potter films, how she grew up ‘reading the books’). Eulalie is part of the crew of light gathered by Dumbledore to oppose Grindelwald’s rise to power and, just like Newt, she is the author of (what is, presumably) a school textbook: Advanced Charm Casting. We see this book in one of the decoy cases opened by Grindelwald’s followers – a case stuffed with books which proceed to fly up and attack the bad guys. Eulalie’s magic has been associated with books and papers in the trailers – she first disappears with Jacob in a swirl of papers (was the book she was reading a Portkey?) and then she sends Jacob a path of papers (possibly as a way out of the magical storm engulfing him?). Hicks is also seen reading a real (and relevant) Muggle book – Sinclair Lewis’ dystopian novel It Can’t Happen Here (1935) about complacency in the face of the rise of a dictator (a text presumably intended to date the film’s action to that year). Given the multiple links of Hicks, and her magic, with books, it makes sense that the decoy case of charmed books belongs to the Charms Professor.

This use of weaponised books, moreover, is a pleasing nod to Hermione’s weaponised bookcase in Cursed Child – itself part of the way in which Rowling’s works have long enjoyed using literally dangerous books (from Riddle’s diary to Sonnets of a Sorcerer and Bombyx Mori) as a metaphor for their power. (And to my delight, Sonnets of a Sorcerer is actually one of the books in Eulalie’s case!)

In Harry Potter the power of books is generally expressed through making them dangerous, because this is one of the most exciting and obvious type of power. When Harry mocks the idea that Riddle’s diary might be hazardous, Ron cautions him “You’d be surprised… Some of the books that Ministry’s confiscated – Dad’s told me – there was one that burned your eyes out. And everyone who read Sonnets of a Sorcerer spoke in limericks for the rest of their lives. And some old witch in Bath had a book you could never stop reading! You just had to wander round with your nose in it, trying to do everything one-handed” (Chamber, Chap 13). Such books, along with Riddle’s diary and the Prince’s Potions textbook, express the power of books through the way they imperil their readers. Eulalie’s exploding case of books is the most recent appearance of this, one of Rowling’s favourite devices (and I think we’ll be getting a dangerous book in Ink Black Heart likewise – watch this space!). But it is also particularly satisfying that Eulalie has turned out to be such a bookish character because when Rowling first named her back in 2018 I thought that her name might have a literary source.

P.G. Wodehouse is one of Rowling’s all-time favourite writers, and perhaps England’s greatest comic prose stylist. Rowling has put Wodehouse’s collected works among the three books she would take to a desert island and has also quoted Wodehouse from memory during interview. And then there is the time he turned up in a delightful Twitter-typo:

haha, she’s not really called Second Dog. Her name’s Emma (after Emma Wodehouse, not any of the ten odd Emmas I know) but mostly we call her Bullet.

Argh, Woodhouse I mean. My fingers automatically did PG.

Twitter, 25 March 2020

 

Despite the fact that Austen is Rowling’s favourite author, Wodehouse can nonetheless sneak in and usurp the spelling of one of her heroines (and a heroine, incidentally, who has definitely left her mark on Harry Potter).

Unsurprisingly, given this presence of Wodehouse in Rowling’s subconscious (he is more Lake than Shed for her) a number of her characters are named after his. There is the Death Eater Travers (named after Bertie Wooster’s uncle and aunt) and another Death Eater (Yaxley) who likewise shares his name with one of Bertie’s uncles – the one who ‘discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.’ I wonder if Millicent Bulstrode might be, likewise, named after two characters in Wodehouse’s Blandings novels: Millicent (Threepwood) and (Percy) Bulstrode. (Although ‘Bulstrode’ admittedly has a more obvious source in Middlemarch). And then there is the villainous Lord Spittelworth in The Ickabog whose name is an echo of Bertie’s friend ‘Boko’ Fittleworth. And to this roster I suspect we can now add Eulalie.

Eulalie is not a common name in the USA or UK. Nameberry notes:

The name Eulalie is a girl’s name of French origin meaning “sweetly speaking”.

Eulalie hasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000 since 1899, but its French roots might make it more appealing to modern ears than its sister Eulalia.

“Eulalie” is a poem by Edgar Allan Poe, and the name also appeared in Gone With the Wind and The Music Man. It has been on the French popularity list for most of the 2000s. Eulalie Spence was a playwright from the British West Indies who contributed to the Harlem Renaissance.

Eulalie Spence, like Eulalie Hicks, is an author – so she is strong contender as a source for this name (and I like the parallel of the monosyllabic surname to set off the polysyllabic ‘Eulalie’). But I suspect Wodehouse is important too, for the name ‘Eulalie’ is central to what is universally agreed to be Wodehouse’s best novel: The Code of the Woosters.

The Code of the Woosters revolves around various shenanigans centred on Bertie Wooster and his friend, the painfully shy ‘newt fancier’ Augustus Fink-Nottle. Bertie and Gussie are terrorised by the would-be dictator Lord Spode. Spode has a fatal secret, however, a secret wrapped up in the name ‘Eulalie.’ Spode ceases to be a menace to traffic when Bertie informs him that he ‘knows all about Eulalie.’ The name ‘Eulalie’ is so central to this, the best novel of one of Rowling’s most beloved authors, that it seems highly likely that it is ‘a’, if not ‘the,’ source for Eulalie Hicks’s name. And the novel itself (with its would-be dictator and crucial secret, not to mention its shy, newt-loving character) seems to play with some of the same themes as Secrets of Dumbledore, although admittedly in rather a different key.

It is possible that Gussie Fink Nottle’s love of newts (given his awkwardness and the difficulty he finds in proposing to the girl he loves) may lie somewhere behind the name by which Newt is usually known. But Newt’s symbolism within the franchise is more fully indicated by his full name: Newton. John Granger has written about the use of Newt in the main poster released for Secrets of Dumbledore – appearing at Dumbledore’s right hand: the light in his psyche, while Grindelwald symbolises the dark. (And there is a nice link with this idea in that Rowling originally spoke, back in 2007, of Grindelwald as Dumbledore’s ‘dark twin.’) Newton Scamander’s first name was chosen, primarily no doubt, because of its handy shortening, but it also has a pleasing link with light. For while Isaac Newton is now known primarily for his theory of gravity and laws of motion, he was likewise a pioneer in optics. Indeed, it may be of particular interest to readers of this site that the word ‘albedo’ was first recorded in 1704 a letter from the astronomer royal complaining that the colour Newton’s Optics calls whiteness is, in fact ‘far from albedo.’

Newton’s work on optics, but more generally his astonishing ability to illuminate the inner workings of the world, was celebrated by the poet Alexander Pope – a Muggle author who, to my delight, is referenced in the notes to Tales of Beedle the Bard. Dumbledore writes in Beedle that ‘Hope springs eternal’ and places the phrase in quotation marks to show he is consciously using a quotation. Rowling’s footnote to this quotation remarks that this shows Dumbledore is not only very well read among wizarding books but is also familiar with the Muggle poet Alexander Pope:

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;

Man never is, but always to be blessed:

The soul, uneasy and confined from home,

Rests and expatiates in a life to come.  

(‘An Essay on Man’)

Without Dumbledore’s quotation marks or Rowling’s footnote no-one would think of this phrase as a literary allusion – it has passed too completely into the language. Rowling – a lover of literary allusion – is drawing explicit attention here to the way in which familiar words often have an author behind them.

Newt will, I hope, prove a true ‘Newton’ in Secrets of Dumbledore in his ability to lead Dumbledore’s First Army and lighten the darkness that surrounds them. In this hope I leave you with Pope’s brilliant encapsulation of Newton’s illuminating gifts (and also, incidentally, my favourite two-line poem):

Nature and Nature’s laws lay hid in night:
God said, Let Newton be! and all was light.

 

Don’t forget to check out Beatrice’s new posts in Bathilda’s Notebook due this week. 

“Secrets of Dumbledore” and “The Book of Beasts”: Fantastic Bestiaries and Where to Find Them – Part 1

An Ancient Chinese Bestiary in “Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore”: Fantastic Bestiaries and Where to Find Them – Part 2

 

Comments

  1. Prof. Groves,

    Fascinating allusive use of both Pope and Newton here. It puts me in mind of a scholar by the name of Marjorie Hope Nicolson. For the record, she is technically one of the first pioneering critics of Science Fiction previously lost to time. Her work was influenced by, and in turn was able to exert a returning influence on the work of the Inklings, in particular Lewis’s Cosmic Cycle, and Roger Lancelyn Green’s non-fiction study, “Into Other Worlds: Space Flight in Fiction from Lucian to Lewis”. Green specifically mentions Nicolson’s “Voyage to the Moon”.

    Green calls it “a work of great learning and intent, which traces the theme of Space-flight through literature to the middle of the eighteenth-century. Her volume stands alone, nor has it been published in England – but my book is not intended in any sense as a rival to it: both the scope and the treatment are utterly different, though I have learnt much from her and take this opportunity of acknowledging my debt (9)”.

    Besides this, her importance for your article resides in the fact that Nicolson was responsible for penning a scholarly work on Pope. It’s called “This Long Disease, My Life:

    https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691649245/this-long-disease-my-life

    In addition, she is also the author of what I have to assume is a ground breaker on the relation of Newton to the poetry of the Romantic Movement. It’s called “Newton Demands the Muse”, and I’m not real sure how many other critics have thought to follow the trail that Nicolson first blazed all those years ago:

    https://press.princeton.edu/books/hardcover/9780691650623/newton-demands-the-muse

    I have no clue whatsoever that Rowling is familiar with Nicolson’s work. Though it is interesting to note the ways that both texts help out the claims of mythopoeic writing in general. Also, the idea of “Mr. Galbraith” being familiar with one of the female pioneers of Myth and Sci-Fi studies is one of those thoughts that just doesn’t seem all that far-fetched, if I’m being honest.

    “Thought you ought to know”.

  2. Thank you Chris – really glad you enjoyed it, and an interesting link with Pope & Newton.

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