BonFire Night: Thoughts on Guy Fawkes and Harry Potter

The 5th of November is celebrated in Commonwealth Countries as ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ or ‘Bonfire Night,’ in commemoration of the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot in 1605, which discovery prevented Catholic jihadists of that era from blowing King James I and English Parliament heaven ward. Guy Fawkes was the first conspirator arrested and has come to represent the entire affair. Read all about it here.

Why should you as serious readers of Harry Potter and other imaginative fiction care? If you live in the UK, you care because it explains the Fireworks displays tonight, the parades with figures of the Pope, Guy Fawkes, even Margaret Thatcher burning in effigy, and a general rowdy mood in the streets. If you live in the US, well, there are three reasons to care about Guy Fawkes.

(1) There is Fawkes the Phoenix, for one thing. Prof Philip Nel at Kansas State believes — and I think he is right — that Dumbledore’s familiar and the source of the feathers in the doppelganger wand cores is named not for Guy Fawkes but after the Phoenix in E. Nesbit’s ‘Five Children’ stories, especially The Phoenix and the Carpet, whose Phoenix, if memory serves, comes to them on Guy Fawkes Day. And there is the mention in Philosopher’s Stone‘s first chapter; teevee weatherman Jim McGuffin discusses the “downpour of shooting stars” viewers had reported to him. His sage thought on All Saint’s Day? “Perhaps people have been celebrating Bonfire Night a week early — it’s not until next week, folks!” Bonfire Night is another name for Guy Fawkes Day. Perhaps there are other explicit or just beneath the surface references to the Gunpowder Plot in the Saga; please share them in the comment boxes below.

(2) I think there is an implicit reference to the consequences of the Gunpowder Plot that is at least as important as these asides on the story surface. It might be said that the International Statute of Wizarding Secrecy and the life of magical folk out-of-sight of Muggles is a pointer to the place of Catholics and all religious non-conformists in Scotland, England, and Ireland from Queen Elizabeth I to King George III, really until the Catholic Emancipation in 1829. Non-Anglicans, principally Papists but also the many Radical Reformation sects like the Muggletonians, Seekers, and Society of Friends, were officially recusant non-entities, a status that was almost certainly exacerbated and prolonged for a century or more because of the attempt to kill James I.

How much the wizarding world reflects this period of history, I discuss at great length in Harry Potter Smart Talk, but you can read some of that online here: Ms. Rowling’s ‘Real World’ Wizards and Witches: 17th Century Christian-Hermetic Magi ‘Seekers.’ The Gunpowder Plot’s attempted regicide made life a graver trial for non-conformists at the Restoration than it would have been otherwise, hence the Statute of 1689 or ’92 and the disappearance of the hermetic saints and Seekers.

(3) I thought of this magical-Muggle divide (canyon?) today when Alison the Librarian sent me an Umbridge-esque item from a UK blogger, in whose post an imaginary School Superintendent writes up the acceptable practices and numerous failings of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry in the unmistakeable and pathetic jargon of professional educators everywhere.

I have been reading John Taylor Gatto’s invaluable Underground History of American Education this past week so the comi-tragedy of this piece was especially vivid. Can anyone doubt that Hogwarts’ challenging, hands-on, and practical curriculum must be despised by the teaching bureaucrats Ms Rowling satirizes in Dolores Umbridge? If you do, I hope very much that you’ll read all the essays in the upcoming book from the 2012 St Andrews Harry Potter Conference. I’m guesing your jaws will drop as mine did when one well known children’s literature expert decried without irony that Hogwarts cancelled exams as a form of celebration…

I like to think of Guy Fawkes as a magical figure, then, even a wizard if you will, who, though burned in effigy every year for his attack on the Muggle King, rather enjoys the treatment a la Wendelin the Weird and her Flame Freezing Charm. Would that all magical folk, those with wands and the many more whose lives are focused on pursuit of communion with what is most real, could be protected from persecution by all those caught up in the errors of our age, the witch hunters and teachers all around us.

Happy Bonfire Night!



  1. OOooo!! So the book from St. Andrews is going to be available soon?? That’s awesome news!!! That conference was life-changing!

  2. I remember, I remember, and this ties in oh so nicely with my recent mental wanderings on Hallows Eve. Great post, but I had never seen the one on 17th c. Christian hermetic magi seekers. Wow. I loved all that history and how it further connects the dots for my theories. Trying to put it all together.

Speak Your Mind