Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #17: Phallic Thriller?

Steven Greydanus, the Catholic film critic, once wrote me to say that he thought my ideas about the battle in Chamber of Secrets were risible; that story, he said, could as easily be understood as a Freudian adventure in phallic and yonic imagery (giant serpents, swords and broken wands, chutes and floods in the girls bathroom, etc) as a Morality Play. He saw these interpretations as exclusive rather than complementary so neither could be true rather than both. We return to the meaning of swords, wands, wand cores, and wand mastery in Deathly Hallows with a vengeance, and, necessarily, to how Ms. Rowling is using these phallic images. Men and women pursue more powerful wands, have their wands broken or taken, replaced or not, and the decisive battle turns on who is the Master of the Elder Wand. Harry ends the drama by a semi-miraculous “healing” of his broken holly and phoenix feather original. Is Ms. Rowling using wands as tokens of power, identity, ego, sexuality, or what?


  1. david3565 says

    Mr. Greydanus needs to stick to reviewing films. Not only are Freudian theories far outmoded by modern psychology, but the practice of assigning the vague status of “Freudian symbol” to anything that resembles a phallus or might be considered masculine is highly subjective and makes too many assumptions to be taken seriously. It is very similar to the fairly recent practice in pop archeology of trying to align ancient structures and sights to star formations and then extrapolating religious beliefs. Most archaeologists point out that any ancient can lined up against any number of the countless stars visible in the night sky and amounts to playing a game of connect the dots.

    Further, it doesn’t seem to occur to that wands and swords are ubiquitous items in fantasy lit or that the author has never once given any indication that the books contain Freudian archetypes, or even explained why she would write a children’s book containing those.

    And how do explain items that clearly don’t fit into a phallic category, like spiders, giants, centaurs, hippogriffs, rings, and cloaks? I suppose you could connect those to some type of sexual analogy, but if the average person if left scratching their head as to how they arrive at that, then you have to explain how the resonant themes have resulted in the book’s popularity. I would suggest that your only left with it being an entertaining story, which means that most readers didn’t the Freudian symbols that the author so carefully laid. This then leads to the difficultly of explaining why people so deeply analyze the book or find so much literary depth in its pages. It leads to the implication that people are simply reading into the text what they want, which means that any literary analysis becomes pointless.

    The classic/mythological/alchemical interpretation has a far more established scholarly, historical, literary, and circumstantial track record (especially from Jo’s own words). I would suggest that the burden is on Mr. Greydanus to more strongly establish his theories before he decides to tell anyone what is “risible.”

  2. sibelius says

    Sometimes a wand is just a wand.

  3. The folksinger Melanie Safka wrote a song spoofing Freudian theory:

    Freud’s mystic world of meaning needn’t have us mystified.
    It’s really very simple what the psyche tries to hide.
    A thing is a phallic symbol if it’s longer than it’s wide.

    Covers just about everything, doesn’t it? I think it’s Mr. Greydanus’s idea that is risible.

  4. The Deathly Hallows were the stone, the wand, and the cloak. Those are very powerful symbols of both Royalty and the liturgical Christian Church. Since in England, the crowing of a monarch is done in a religious service – the symbols are found in the context of the Church, whether they are for the Monarch or for the Bishop.

    At the Coronation of the Monarch in England, the new Monarch’s symbols of power include a Ring, a Sceptres, and the Imperial Robe (the stone, the wand, and the cloak). When a Bishop or Archbishop is entroned, his symbols of power are similar – a Ring, a Crozier, and a Cope.

    So these are the symbols of power and authority. But let’s just take a look at the wand – the Sceptre and the Crozier for now:

    During the Coronation when the Queen receives the sceptre, this is what is said:

    Then shall the Dean of Westminster bring the Sceptre with the Cross and the Rod with the Dove to the Archbishop.

    The Glove having been presented to the Queen, the Archbishop shall deliver the Sceptre with the Cross into the Queen’s right hand, saying:
    Receive the Royal Sceptre, the ensign of kingly power and justice.

    And then he shall deliver the Rod with the Dove into the Queen’s left hand, and say:
    Receive the Rod of equity and mercy.
    Be so merciful
    that you be not too remiss,
    so execute justice
    that you forget not mercy.
    Punish the wicked,
    protect and cherish the just,
    and lead your people
    in the way wherein they should go.

    So the scepter – the wand – represents kingly power and justice, which of course – a wand can convey, as well as mercy.

    The crozier denotes the authority of the bishop as the shepherd for the Church. It is a sign of his authority and hints not only to the Shepherd’s staff, but also to the cross itself.

    So Jo Rowling is drawing a parallel between the scepter and the crozier and the wizards wands. We can see why the Ministry of Magic, after the takeover by Voldemort, cracked down on who could and could not have wands. And it was Lucius that Voldemort deemed no longer needed his wand. When he did that he announced that Lucius had lost his authority in the Death Eaters.

    The theology of the Elder Wand (or of all wands as Olivander said) is that the wand gets its power from the wizard. This is essential in Christian leadership and easily forgotten. We come to believe that seeing a Queen or a Bishop carrying the symbol of power is what makes them powerful. But in Deathly Hallows we learn that it is the heart of the wizard that gives him true power, including with the Elder Wand. The Elder Wand goes to the the victor, because the wizard has demonstrated his power – not the other way around.


  5. Aye! The wands are about all those things at the same time on one level just as magic is about technology (concrete to radio waves et alia). If one wants only the Freudian, one can have that, though it is limited modality with limited range.

  6. As brilliant as JKR is, I cannot help but think she full well knows the Freudian implications of wands and tunnels and the like. (I envy Hermione’s purse!) Of course, a wand is a wand, and a tunnel is a tunnel, or perhaps a passageway underground for an alchemical resolution… Anyway, I imagine her amusement at the Freudian interpretations of wand size, wand power, wand broken, wand lost, wand restored. I think a wand is a wand, but I also think a wand is a joke. I think the obvious Freudian images are a case of Interpretive Misdirection.

    And since this is the Freudian thread, I’ll say this, and the Freudians can analyze me. I was really afraid that JKR would increase the snogging level to premarital sex between the kids. She didn’t. Good. Call me Puritan if you like, but I think JKR is probably more of a postmodern than a Puritan, and I didn’t want my kids (and everyone else’s kids) to see those kids invovled with each other in that manner. ‘Ear! ‘Ear!

  7. Jayne1955 says

    I think Jo knows thre Freudian implications of wands, and played with them, no pun intended.

    Hary’s frustration when his wand was broken, and his begging Hermione to fix it was a hoot to those of us who deal with people who believe in those theories on a regular basis.

  8. RenaBlack says

    A quick laugh: The book Ron gives Harry for his birthday says charming girls isn’t all about “wandwork.”


  9. I have heard that in poetry or such, that when a woman is forced to walk over a man’s sword it means rape. Well, I don’t think that applies here. I agree, sometimes a wand is just a wand. I had never thought of the later before now.

  10. sibelius Says:

    July 23rd, 2007 at 9:16 am
    Sometimes a wand is just a wand.

    I’m laughing so hard I cannot respond! In the words of George Weasley, ‘Ear, ‘ear, sibelius!

  11. I refuse to believe that JKR would write a literary series for children with intentional phallic symbolism. Riddikulus!

  12. Peter Pettigrew? Reverse phallic imagery, perhaps, but still phallic however petti-grew.

  13. John, uh, no offense but–

  14. The “it’s not all about wandwork” was clearly a double-entendre IMO. As with the security trolls in an earlier book (Azkaban, I think) who patroll the corridor outside the Gryffindor common room grunting and comparing the size of their clubs. Freudian wink-and-nod from JKR to herself – and her grownup and perhaps older teenage audience. But to carry that further and see phallic symbolism built into everything she writes about wands, swords or clubs – that’s crazy talk.

  15. HallowsFan says

    Not a big FreudFan myself. Never studied psychology (other than Learning Theories, but you generally don’t end up discussing Maslow and Freud in the same class)… although, Pavlov does kind of work into my theory which is this: we have been conditioned to look for, seek out, and invent double entendre in everything we encounter.

    I really believe this is a conditioned response rather than a reflection of reality.

    IMHO, Freud made his own theories obsolete when he made the “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar” quip.

    Someone noted above: “The book Ron gives Harry for his birthday says charming girls isn’t all about “wandwork.” ”

    The post was using that as a quick laugh and not as proof of phallic symbolism… so I feel a little silly and stuffy trying to deconstruct it, but it was the first example that popped into mind, so… here goes:

    If we make the “isn’t all about wandwork” phrase into a double entendre, it screws up the logic of the line. Without getting unneccessarily graphic, let’s say that the “Freudian” (F!) implication of “wandwork” deals with how well one uses one’s… er “wand”. Is that a safe assumption?

    Is not the whole point of the “How to Charm…” book about wooing? (ie… prior to… ahem “wandwork”(F!)?)

    By trying to inject a sexual meaning into “isn’t all about wandwork”, you end up putting the horse before the cart.

    You don’t woo someone with “wandwork”(F!)… you woo someone and then eventually down the road (“ideally after marriage”, says my inner Southern Baptist) “wandwork”(F!) is a result (and reward) for said wooing.

    Well… I feel especially absurd now, Having spent a bit of effort arguing that indeed, a wand is just a wand. (And props to Sibelius for being the first to use that pun).

  16. When Ron produced that book I was reminded of how in OOTP he suggests that Hermione write a book about the daft things that girls think and do so that guys can understand them. Am I the only one who thought of that? (And I wish that there were such a book in real life.)

  17. Well said, HallowsFan.

  18. RenaBlack says

    Absolutely, HallowsFan. I think it’s just a tongue-in-cheek reference that Ron, as a teenage boy, still has things a little backwards in his brain when it comes to young women. 🙂

  19. I must admit that Ron’s book gift to Harry did not conjure up Freudian allusions. I think Ron’s statement that it’s “not all about wandwork” was meant literally to refer to a wand as wand. This, I think, is born out later when Ron drops compliments Hermione on her decorating skills and Harry muses that there is probably a chapter on compliments in the book. Harry then thanks Mrs. Weasley effusively for his “snitch” birthday cake. But then, most Freudian allusions tend to wash over me anyway. Good discussion.

  20. I think RenaBlack makes relevant the point, as does Rowling less directly. Most teenage boys – and too many men – have things backward in their brains when it comes to women. The fact that Ron had things backward doesn’t negate – in fact it lends credence to – the fact that “it isn’t all wandwork” is a little chuckle from Rowling on that point.

  21. HallowsFan says

    I guess, as with all Great Literature, you get out of it what you bring in. Even if the author intends things to come across one way, after the wrtten words have passed through each individual’s crucible of imagination and experience, there’s no guaruntee what subtle or hidden meanings can be created.

    To that end, I say “To each their own”. I apologize for trying to argue that there aren’t Freudian allusions.

    I suppose what I should have argued was that there are not Freudian allusions To Me. Everyone else os free to read them in if they like. 😉

    I simply make the choice to read the books in a non-Freudian context… and that works for me!

  22. Judging by that statement, I wonder if it’s safe to say that Steven Greydanus has a case of high IQ and low common sense, and too much time on his hands.

    I agree with david3565. It doesn’t take much intelligence to realize that you could find multiple supposed phallic symbols and Freudian allusions in any story ever written, if you wanted to! It would be one thing if the author had alluded to the use of such symbols or used them previously, but Jo hasn’t. Like david says, the classic/mythological/alchemical interpretation has a decent amount of evidence backing it up–some from Jo’s own words–but this wand/phallus/Freudian business has none at all.

  23. I’m just wondering why Ron is giving Harry a book like that when at the same time he’s saying, in essence, “Keep your hands off my sister!”

  24. “I guess, as with all Great Literature, you get out of it what you bring in. ”

    I hope Great Literature does more than that. From even mediocre literature I usually get out more than I brought in. Much more so with great literature. That’s one reason I love reading.

    Also, can’t the “you get out what you bring in” statement, if it’s really true, be applied to the Christianity John Granger (and most of the rest of us) claim to see in Rowling’s books? Isn’t that what many of John’s critics say he’s doing – importing into Rowling’s works the Christianity he wants to find there – that he “brings in?” I think that on this point I disagree with John’s critics and with the above statement. If it’s there, it’s there. Not, “it’s there for me, but not for you.” Some may see it and others may miss it. Some may see bits of it but miss other bits. Others still may “read in” bits (of Christianity or sexuality or whatever) that aren’t really there in the text or the author’s intent at all, but which they brought in with them. Like any great work Rowling’s is multilayered and multifaceted so there is no one single simplistic meaning to be “gotten” or “missed.” But if a particular element (whether it be Christian symbolism or a wink, wink grown-up joke) is in there, it’s there regardless of whether I personally perceive it or not. And if it isn’t there, then if I claim to see it there I am really just reading something in that was never there in the first place. No?

  25. Trish, maybe Ron, good friend that he is, just wants Harry to be lucky in love with some other girl who isn’t his sister.

  26. Karl wrote:

    Like any great work Rowling’s is multilayered and multifaceted so there is no one single simplistic meaning to be “gotten” or “missed.” But if a particular element (whether it be Christian symbolism or a wink, wink grown-up joke) is in there, it’s there regardless of whether I personally perceive it or not. And if it isn’t there, then if I claim to see it there I am really just reading something in that was never there in the first place.

    I’m with Karl, contra Connie Neal, who thinks that books are just reader-mirrors, and contra the exclusivists that think that a Christian and Freudian reading cannot be simultaneously valid (in a fantasy coming-of-age novel?). Novels can have sexual and religious undertones; the question is predominance and priority which is a matter of interpreting the author’s intentions.

    I think the sexual elements of the books are lightly shaded relative to the religious elements, especially in the final novel. That Voldemort has his big snake “soul member” decapitated publicly by a young man who finally is using his own sword rather than his father’s wand is a psycho-sexual symbol of no little power. That it is also a shade of the last being first and David versus Goliath I think is also undeniable. If simultaneous symbolism, which is predominant? The whole last chapter turns on the last battle of wand-powers and virtue with very heavy Christus Victor symbolism after King’s Cross. The sexual shading highlights and buttresses the religious under-tow and tones.

    It’s masterful artistry — and the relativists and exclusivists both miss it.

    Great post, Karl.

  27. John wrote:
    The sexual shading highlights and buttresses the religious under-tow and tones.
    I cannot help but think that this is as it should be… if, as I believe, we were made by a God who designed even our sexuality to be an illustration of His truth in some way.

    That’s an argument I wouldn’t want to pursue very far or, er, deeply since we’re living in the middle of a culture that is all too prone to worship the creature more than the Creator, but still, I think there’s something in it.

  28. HallowsFan says

    Clearly, what is there is there. The classical/ mythological allusions are there. The Christian symbolism is unmistakable.

    I suppose my point was that the Freudian/ sexual overtones are a little bit more open to interpretation (as to whether it is there intentionally or whether a reader chooses to bring those particular overtones into the story with them).

    As I stated earlier, I honestly believe that finding Sexual meanings in literature is a conditioned response rather than a true reflection of what is there.

    I have found that reading books with a “pre-Freudian” mindset is quite liberating.

    But, in essence, I think the “sexual” meanings thing is a case of style rather than substance. The books work without it. In my opinion they work a little bit less with it… but others may disagree. That’s cool. 😉 No biggie as far as I’m concerned.

    (For the record, I do hope my use of the phrase “no biggie” has not disqualified me from the enlightening and intelligient discussion here).

  29. HallowsFan wrote:

    (For the record, I do hope my use of the phrase “no biggie” has not disqualified me from the enlightening and intelligient discussion here).

    In the context of this discussion, using the phrase “no biggie” would only be a disqualifier on the HogPro boards if used as an accusation or flip epithet, something, again, akin to calling anyone “Peter Pettigrew.”

    John, Big Brother of the Boards (No Biggie)

  30. HallowsFan: I actually tend to agree with you insofar as we are discussing overarching Freudian themes such as whether Neville’s slicing the head off Nagini had Freudian overtones. Though I could be wrong, I seriously doubt JKR thought of or intended anything to do w/ Freudian symbolism there – whereas I do think much of her use of Christian symbolism and themes is intentional. If one comes to the stories w/ a Freudian mindset and looking for Freudian imagery however, then one might read into the story (or find) Freudian stuff that JKR didn’t intend as such.

    However when it comes to things like the security trolls “comparing the size of their clubs” or “it isn’t all wandwork” I don’t think you have to be a Freudian conspiracy theorist to come to the conclusion that JKR was slipping in a little joke for the adults in her audience (or for her own giggles), but one which was equally open to an innocent, non-sexual interpretation for the children in the audience. Not a case of “it’s there if you read it in, and not there if you don’t” but rather a matter of “WHOOSH – that went right over my head.” JKR has certainly proven that she’s no prude, and as both a European and a non-evangelical I think she’s got a lot fewer hangups about sex than many of her American Christian fans. She handled the kids’ growing sense of sexuality with tact, but didn’t shy away from things like two kids emerging from bushes in the dark at a school party, descriptions of kissing in which “they looked like they were eating each other’s face” etc.

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