The Wand (or Other Magical Tool) Chooses the Wizard

Most of us are used to being able to pick up many everyday tools and use them, regardless of their provenance. If I need a knife to cut up a potato, I just get one out of the drawer. If I need a pen, I grab the pen at hand. It doesn’t really matter if the knife or pen is one I’ve had ashort while, one I inherited, or even one that belongs to someone else, as long as I can cut up the potato or write down the item on the grocery list. However, like most people, I find that it really does matter. I have a favorite paring knife; I have pens I like or don’t like. Sometimes, it is because of the intrinsic quality of the item. Maybe that particular knife just holds the edge well or does a particularly nice job on potatoes. Maybe that pen writes well. Sometimes, though, it’s more about personal preference. The size of that knife or pen might just be a great fit for my hand, which is smaller than that of most adults. Or, I might prefer a particular color of ink for the task at hand (I have never graded in red, always green, purple, or, occasionally, blue).  Even more subtly, though, that tool choice may be linked to something deeper. Perhaps I use that knife because my granny always used one like that to cut potatoes, or perhaps I choose a pen, even for a menial task, because it reminds me of someone special. Humans are used to choosing our tools for reasons that are both practical and sentimental. Yet, there is also the sense, especially in literature, that tools choose us, and that is a theme we can see not only in the Wizarding World, but also in a wide variety of other texts and popular media.

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The Sword Hidden in a Frozen Pond ‘Dissolution’ and ‘Deathly Hallows:’ Literary Allusion and Reinvention?

I gave a talk to students at the University of Louisville last week in which, almost as an aside, I asserted that the pivotal chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, ‘The Silver Doe,’ was the best and most important chapter in the Hogwarts Saga. The Arthurian, alchemical, and Estecean Christian symbolism make it a one-stop introduction to everything brilliant in the series; that it is the story-turn in the series finale’s meaning-laden ring structure is just an ‘extra.’

My favorite part of the chapter is Ron Weasley’s description of how Dumbledore’s Deluminator enabled him to find Harry and Hermione on the run. The combination of light, heart, Christmas, and name tokens here and their deployment as set-up to Ron’s victory over the two-eyed Locket Horcrux (and his own transformed vision, cf. Matthew 6:21-23) reveals Rowling as a traditional allegorist in the tradition of Spenser, Shakespeare, Bunyan, Coleridge, and the Inklings.

I suspect, though, that others think of Harry’s descent into the pool to get the Sword of Gryffindor, the Locket’s attempt to strangle him, and Ron the Baptist appearing ex machina to raise the Boy Who Lived from a near-certain death by drowning as ‘The Silver Doe’s defining moment. (Did I mention the albedo-photismos qualities of this chapter?) I get that choice. High drama, plenty of action, a real Big Screen life-saving sequence. The Lady in the Lake sword-deliverer story in a snow-scape. This chapter has it all.

That being said, I want to share a passage from a 2003 novel that was a very big hit in the UK, one I think it more than credible that Rowling read at the time of its publication. If you don’t see the parallels with ‘The Silver Doe’ chapter’s sword in the frozen pond scene, I think you’ll need to read it again. It’s nothing like plagiarism or theft but a brilliant re-invention and re-purposing of another writer’s work, even perhaps a hat-tip to a like-minded author. The book is C. J. Sansom’s Dissolution, the connection with Rowling is through P. D. James, and the parallel scene and compare-and-contrast discussion with Deathly Hallows’ pivotal chapter are all to be found after the jump! [Read more…]

Mailbag: Redheads, Rubeus, & Rubedo

A note in my email inbox from this April:

Dear HP Team,

Rubedo: Is it possible that the Weasley family is part of the Rubedo stage along with Hagrid?

I was listening to an old podcast where the guest speaker was lamenting that not much of Hagrid was in the 7th book, and he should have been since he represents “Rubedo”.

However, all of the Weasley family has shockingly RED hair. I would think this intentional. JK Rowling makes a big deal of their red hair throughout the series. If, in fact, they are part of the Rubedo stage, then we do have a significant representation in the final book as they all play a dramatic part, including Percy.

I am curious what your thoughts are on this idea?

Sincerely,

Joy

Three Rubedo notes, Joy!

(1) Rowling said she had to promise her sister not to kill Hagrid in the finale; little sister had threatened never to speak to her again if everyone’s favorite Half-Giant died. As the character with the most obvious ‘red’ name, though, he seemed the most likely character not to survive. The model of Sirius Black dying at the end of the alchemical black book, the nigredo of Order of the Phoenix, and Albus Dumbledore also taking a dive at the end of Half-Blood Prince, the series albedo, made things look real grim for Rubeus in the run-up to Deathly Hallows. We didn’t know about The Presence’s promise to her sister.

(2) But Rubeus wasn’t the only character named ‘red.’ There was Rufus Scrimgeour, right? In Who Killed Albus Dumbledore? (Zossima Press, 2006), I collected the essays and predictions of six Potter Pundits about what had really happened in Half-Blood Prince and what we would learn in Deathly Hallows. Three of us made ‘Live or Die’ predictions for major players in the finale — and all three of us predicted five characters would die: Lord Voldemort, Bellatrix La strange, Rufus Scrimgeour, and, well, Draco and Narcissa Malfoy. All three of us, though, thought that Rubeus would live. We thought Rufus was going to be the Big Red sacrifice and that Hagrid was a red herring. Good for us.

(3) Not to brag, but I was the only one of the three who said Nymphadora Tonks and Severus Snape would die. I also predicted Fred Weasley’s death as well. This might sound like great prescience and insight, but it isn’t. Like Joy, I was thinking alchemically so I thought every red head in the book was possibly marked for a rubedo death; I marked off every one of the Weasleys, to include Fleur, as doomed. I was also the only Pundit who thought Peter Pettigrew would survive. I had some impressive direct hits — and a lot of misses.

Sorry to go off on that nostalgia tangent, Joy, but what a lot of fun the two years between Prince and Hallows were in fandom!

To answer your question at last: YES, the Weasleys as a family of redheads play an alchemical role through the whole series but especially in the two last book. Harry winds up with Ginny after dating Black-haired Cho and White-haired Luna, fRED Weasley dies, Percy rises from a sort-of worse-than-death, separation from his family, and Molly dispatches the witch who killed Sirius in the rubedo climax of the Battle of Hogwarts. They do everything an alchemist expects in a rubedo and, with fRED’s death, satisfying the color scheme formula of the stages in the last three novels.

Thanks for writing! 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

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The Passion of Harry Potter, according to Saint John the Evangelist

Much has been said about the Christian themes, symbolism and allusions in Harry Potter, and indeed much remains to be said. In a previous essay, I explained what Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows has to do with Holy Week: the time when Christians commemorate the passion (suffering), death and resurrection of Christ. Here I’d like to add a small but (I think) significant observation to my articulation of the striking parallels between Harry’s self-offering and Christ’s.

In John’s Gospel and in none of the others, Jesus takes a moment, almost immediately before surrendering his spirit to God the Father, to “give” his mother Mary to the disciple whom he loved:

When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. (John 19: 26-27)

The text implies that with this act, Jesus completes his mission on earth: “After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished…” (19:28a) Indeed, after acknowledging his thirst to fulfill what had been written in Psalm 69, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (19:30b)  [Read more…]