Coleridge, Crookshanks, and ‘Mariner’

Readers who have read The Deathly Hallows Lectures know that I think a very helpful lens through which to look at Rowling’s work and especially the Hogwarts Saga finale is the logos epistemology of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. That is not a subject I want to revisit in depth here, but for the passersby who won’t read the relevant chapters in Lectures that make the connection between Coleridge’s understanding of God, man, and the world and Rowling’s artistry in Deathly Hallows, the short course is all the parallels between Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Harry Potter: a seven-part chiastic work, the eye symbolism and redemption via a transformed vision, the embedded story, the Christian content, and the genre melange and inversion.

I’ve been reading about Coleridge, consequently, for my PhD thesis research and am enjoying very much Malcom Guite’s Mariner: A Voyage with Samuel Taylor Coleridgea book I recommend to serious readers without reservation; it’s a joy to read and an edifying challenge. In it yesterday I stumbled on a reference to one of Coleridge’s better friends, John Cruickshank, whom Wordsworth claimed had a dream about “a skeleton ship with figures in it” which image STC lifted for Rime’s chilling scene of the dice game between Death and LIFE-IN-DEATH.

I suggested in Harry Potter’s Bookshelf that Hermione’s cat was named as a hat tip to Dickens’ illustrator and noted satiric cartoonist George Cruikshank. As fun as that connection was, I much prefer the Coleridge possibility if only because there are so few hints of a Coleridge-Rowling connection explicitly made in the books. Oxford’s Beatrice Groves in Literary Allusion in Harry Potter found one in ‘Porlocks,’ a harmless magical creature referenced in Phoenix and Fantastic Beasts the textbook, which is pointer to the “person from Porlock” who interrupted STC’s frenetic composition of Kubla Khan (p xiv).

What does Rowling say about the inspiration for Crookshanks? From ‘The Harry Potter Lexicon’ Crookshanks page:

When I was working in London in the late 1980s I used to eat my lunch in a nearby square on sunny days and a large, fluffy ginger cat that looked as though it had run face-first into a wall used to prowl around the sunbathers there; I assume it lived in a nearby house. I didn’t ever get close enough to give myself an asthma attack, but I became distantly fond of this cat, which prowled among the humans around it looking disdainful and refusing to be stroked. When I decided to give Hermione an unusually intelligent cat I gave him the appearance of this haughty animal, with the slightly unfair addition of bandy legs.

Hence the ‘crook shanks’ joke. I’m guessing hopefully that it was also a pointer to one of Coleridge’s friends and inspirations for Rime. Hermione’s pet has remarkable vision, for one thing, an eye for the evil in deceptive appearances, and while this works for the satirical cartoonist, it also matches up with the meaning and moral of Mariner. Let me know what you think. 



  1. Jim Smalley says

    John, I very much enjoyed your chapter on the logos epistemology in The Deathly Hallows Lectures, which rekindled my interest in and understanding of STC (long dormant since university literature courses). I have recently rediscovered Hans Urs von Balthasar, a Swiss Cardinal who vies for the designation of the greatest Catholic theologian of the twentieth century. His parallels in epistemology, metaphysics and aesthetics – theologically speaking – are tonal companions to not only STC and English noetic-poets, but also to Eastern Christian theology, anthropology, and focus on the transcendentals. If you haven’t encountered him, I’d recommend Aidan Nichols short introduction, “A Key to Balthasar: Hans Urs von Balthasar on Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.” With appreciation!

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Nice – thank you! Why not both? – packing in multiple references is fun! (Do we have other Rowlingian examples?)

    Coleridge is someone I (idiotically) keep not yet catching up on – in himself (a Unitarian who became a Trinitarian, among other striking things!), or (for example) in relation to the Inklings – not least the Inkling whom I (idiotically) keep not yet catching up on, Owen Barfield, who has probably written most about him, among them.

    Another related query, do we know what if anything JKR has read of, or said about, the delightful Thomas Love Peacock – who, among other things, has a satirical version of Coleridge in the person of Ferdinando Flosky, in Nightmare Abbey (1818)?

  3. The Coleridge influence on the Inklings is hard to overstate. Tolkien through Newman, a Coleridgerite, at Birmingham Oratory, Barfield and Williams by direct study (mediated by their Anthroposophical and Golden Dawn occult experiences), and Lewis also by reading but through all of his merry band as well, especially his ‘Great War’ with Barfield which leaves CSL with STC convictions and disdain for Steiner.

    In addition to the Guite book I recommended, I urge you to find a copy of Cutsinger’s Form of the Transformed Vision.

    About Peacock, I know not a single thing. Alas!

  4. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Many thanks! I enjoyed the edition of the ‘Great War’ materials, but that is about half the Barfield I’ve read so far, and I certainly have not mastered it…

    I’ve also enjoyed all the Guite I’ve heard or read, and have heard this book well spoken of, but have not caught up with it, yet. Cutsinger is new to me: especial thanks!

    I wish you joy of Peacock, whom, however, I have not reread since reading HP, so I may be missing any links which someone with both fresh in mind would spot in an instant…

    I think The Misfortunes of Elphin and Melincourt are my favorites…

    Douglas Adams, of course, makes various interesting play with Coleridge (and was tutored by George Watson, who was variously student and colleague of Lewis) – do we know of JKR and Douglas Adams ‘connections’?

  5. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Perhaps you will indulge linking a speculative Tolkien & Coleridge post?:

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Just read a favorable review of Kee Paling’s A Rumour of Adventure: An Inklings Story (2018), in which a discussion-rich Inklings walking tour in the Quantocks in 1938 is imaginatively constructed, where it is noted that Coleridge is one subject of conversation!

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