From the Hogwarts Professor ‘Lost Posts’ Vault: “C. S. Lewis as a Goth with Cleavage? C’mon… The Half-Blood Prince JKR Interviews” (2005)

I am buried in final preparations for my mini-tour of the Midwest this week and writing Harry Meets Hamlet and Scrooge, a book I say I am writing in this old post, so I won’t be writing any giant pieces on Epigraphs or Elizabeth Goudge until I get back. I found this post in my WordPress dashboard, however, that you might find amusing. It is the post I wrote on the original Hogwarts Professor web site (not a web log) after the Grossman and Spartz-Anelli interviews had been published in the summer we first read Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It doesn’t have imbedded links but if you want to look back and have a good laugh at predictions made with confidence that didn’t turn out, this should make your day. Have fun!

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CS Lewis as a Goth with Cleavage? C’mon

The Remarkable Joanne Rowling Interviews after Half Blood Prince‘s release

The fanfare surrounding the release of the penultimate Harry Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HP6), on 16 July may have drowned out the explosive news released in the days following Midnight Madness Parties around the globe. The five interviews given by Joanne Rowling, however, one each to Time magazine and the NBC television morning show, The Today Show, and three others to children fans of the books, have much of fandom reeling and Harry Haters crowing. This isn’t the Joanne Rowling anyone thought they knew except perhaps for those who always knew she wasn’t a “goodie-goodie.”

[Links to the interviews and articles in this post can be found at the end of this piece.]

The first and most widely read of the interviews was with Lev Grossman, the book critic at Time magazine and author in his own right. Time magazine clearly wanted the “man bites dog” story and Grossman delivered. From the title of his article “J.K. Rowling: Hogwarts and All” – to his dismissal of fantasy as a literary genre, from his exploration of her insecurities and Electra complex to his celebration of Rowling’s history of smoking and wine-bibbing (and her all-in-black “Goth” look, complete with “shiny black leather boots with steel spike heels that are, at the very least, three inches long”), Grossman seems determined to show the chasm separating Rowling from the masters of the genre he assumes she is writing in, by which I mean C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien.

About Lewis and Tolkien, Grossman says they aren’t Rowling’s role models:

Rowling has never finished The Lord of the Rings. She hasn’t even read all of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels, which her books get compared to a lot. There’s something about Lewis’ sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves. “There comes a point where Susan, who was the older girl, is lost to Narnia because she becomes interested in lipstick. She’s become irreligious basically because she found sex,” Rowling says. “I have a big problem with that.”

We learn in a later CBBC interview that the Narnia novel Rowling supposedly has not read is the seventh book of that series by C. S. Lewis. What is jarring about this, of course, is that the event she offers to Grossman as her “big problem” with Lewis is from that seventh book, The Last Battle. Grossman goes on:

It’s precisely Rowling’s lack of sentimentality, her earthy, salty realness, her refusal to buy into the basic cliches of fantasy, that make her such a great fantasy writer. The genre tends to be deeply conservative–politically, culturally, psychologically. It looks backward to an idealized, romanticized, pseudofeudal world, where knights and ladies morris-dance to Greensleeves. Rowling’s books aren’t like that. They take place in the 1990s–not in some never-never Narnia but in modern-day Mugglish England, with cars, telephones and PlayStations. Rowling adapts an inherently conservative genre for her own progressive purposes. Her Hogwarts is secular and sexual and multicultural and multiracial and even sort of multimedia, with all those talking ghosts. If Lewis showed up there, let’s face it, he’d probably wind up a Death Eater.

As Sandra Miesel, a Medievalist, author, and expert in the fields of fantasy and science fiction has written, “The interviewer seems unacquainted with fantasy, since plenty of classics take place in modern environments or at least non-medieval ones.” Robert Trexler, editor of CSL: The Bulletin of the New York C. S. Lewis Society, wrote that Grossman is also clearly not a Lewis fan or reader:

The insertion of this comment by the writer of the article indicates his strong irrational bias against Lewis: ‘If Lewis showed up there, let’s face it, he’d probably wind up a Death Eater.’ How ridiculous!

So, what do we really learn here about comparing Lewis and Rowling? Lewis has more theology (duh). Rowling has more sex (duh). The last paragraph has this quote: “I don’t think they’re that secular,” but the part of the interview in paragraph one where the interviewer says that “There’s something about Lewis’ sentimentality about children that gets on her nerves” may be partly the interviewer’s attempt to use JKR to discredit Lewis or those making Lewis/Rowling comparisons.

I don’t doubt that she doesn’t believe her own portrayal of children should be modeled on that of an Oxford don writing 50 years ago. But maybe the interviewer only chose to select her comments about differences with Narnia. What if he had asked her the question “what do you appreciate about the writings of C.S. Lewis?” Then there might have been some balance. I’m suspicious of the interviewer’s spin as he jumps from his own summaries and conclusions to actual quotes from JKR.

Miesel and Trexler think Rowling was interviewed by an author/critic with an axe to grind and a bully pulpit to teach from. He doesn’t like books, it seems, that are “drenched in theology” (which he says Lewis’ books are), and as he seems to like Rowling’s books, that means they must be “secular and sexual and multicultural and multiracial” (i.e., politically correct, not “deeply conservative” as Grossman imagines the fantasy genre is, a genre he quotes Rowling as saying she has been trying “to subvert”). She is no moralist, he insists, though he quotes Rowling as saying “undeniably, morals are drawn (in them). “The Hogwarts adventures are god-free, Grossman says, but Rowling is “cagey” on this point, saying, “Um. I don’t think they’re that secular. But, obviously, Dumbledore isn’t Jesus.”

This last point is telling. Rowling “obviously” is referring to the difference between her writing and Lewis, an author she has called “a genius” in interviews. There is no Aslan or Christ stand-in in her books and in thinking the transparent symbolism of Narnia a failing, she joins company with such Narnia bashers as Lewis’ friend “Tollers,” that is, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Grossman is a novelist living in New York who makes a living by writing for the American Muggle equivalent of The Daily Prophet. Charmed by Rowling and her “earthy, salty realness,” ignorant of the fantasy genre (and, alas, of Rowling’s place in this genre and other genres simultaneously), and remarkably unaware of the “earthly, salty realness” of Inkling authors he thinks of as Nazis or Red State Death Eaters, Grossman has written a piece that is meant to rip the cover off our childish misconceptions of who Rowling really is.

As someone who has written about Rowling as writing within the English literary tradition and who thinks her debts to Lewis and others are important in understanding Pottermania, I soon learned that Grossman had succeeded in convincing many people that I had misrepresented Rowling. One wag wrote me to say that he had “almost bought” my line that Rowling was a “throwback to the Inklings,” but the scales had fallen from his eyes after reading the Time magazine article. “C. S. Lewis as a Goth with cleavage — C’mon, John! Wake up!”

The Katie Couric interview and interviews with children who had won the chance to ask Rowling questions in contests or lotteries are interesting reads, especially for fans, but not as jarring or as unsettling as the Time “expose.” The next big surprise was Rowling’s rambling interview with Emerson Spartz of, age 18, and Melissa Anelli, age 25, of the Leaky Cauldron.

The interview is for groupies only, and, frankly, is almost painful to read. Ms. Anelli, at least, has some training as a journalist, and should have known better. Here is a selection of their frenetic conversation with Mrs. Rowling:

MA: How much fun did you have with the romance in this book?

JKR: Oh, loads. Doesn’t it show?

MA: Yes.

JKR: There’s a theory – this applies to detective novels, and then Harry, which is not really a detective novel, but it feels like one sometimes — that you should not have romantic intrigue in a detective book. Dorothy L. Sayers, who is queen of the genre said — and then broke her own rule, but said — that there is no place for romance in a detective story except that it can be useful to camouflage other people’s motives. That’s true; it is a very useful trick. I’ve used that on Percy and I’ve used that to a degree on Tonks in this book, as a red herring. But having said that, I disagree inasmuch as mine are very character-driven books, and it’s so important, therefore, that we see these characters fall in love, which is a necessary part of life. How did you feel about the romance?

[Melissa puts her thumbs up and grins widely]

ES: We were hi-fiving the whole time.

JKR: [laughs] Yes! Good. I’m so glad.

MA: We were running back and forth between rooms yelling at each other.

ES: We thought it was clearer than ever that Harry and Ginny are an item and Ron and Hermione — although we think you made it painfully obvious in the first five books

JKR: [points to herself and whispers] So do I!

ES: What was that?

JKR: [More loudly] Well so do I! So do I!

[All laugh; Melissa doubles over, hysterical, and may have died.]

ES: Harry/Hermione shippers – delusional!

JKR: Well no, I’m not going to – Emerson, I am not going to say they’re delusional! They are still valued members of my readership! I am not going to use the word delusional. I am however, going to say — now I am trusting both of you to do the spoiler thing when you write this up —

[More laughter.]

JKR: I will say, that yes, I personally feel – well it’s going to be clear once people have read book six. I mean, that’s it. It’s done, isn’t it? We know. Yes, we do now know that it’s Ron and Hermione. I do feel that I have dropped heavy –

[All crack up]

JKR: – hints. ANVIL-sized, actually, hints, prior to this point. I certainly think even if subtle clues hadn’t been picked up by the end of Azkaban, that by the time we hit Krum in Goblet…

But Ron — I had a lot of fun with that in this book. I really enjoyed writing the Ron/Lavender business, and the reason that was enjoyable was Ron up to this point has been quite immature compared to the other two and he kind of needed to make himself worthy of Hermione. Now, that didn’t mean necessarily physical experience but he had to grow up emotionally and now he’s taken a big step up. Because he’s had the meaningless physical experience – let’s face it, his emotions were never deeply engaged with Lavender –

[Much laughter in which Melissa emits a “Won-Won”]

JKR: – and he’s realized that that is ultimately not what he wants, which takes him a huge emotional step forward.

ES: So he’s got a little bit more than a teaspoon, now there’s a tablespoon?

JKR: Yeah, I think. [Laughter]

MA: Watching all this, were you surprised when you first logged on and found this intense devotion to this thing that you knew was not going to happen?

JKR: Yes. Well, you see, I’m a relative newcomer to the world of shipping, because for a long time, I didn’t go on the net and look up Harry Potter. A long time. Occasionally I had to, because there were weird news stories or something that I would have to go and check, because I was supposed to have said something I hadn’t said. I had never gone and looked at fan sites, and then one day I did and oh – my – god. Five hours later or something, I get up from the computer shaking slightly [all laugh]. ‘What is going on?’ And it was during that first mammoth session that I met the shippers, and it was a most extraordinary thing. I had no idea there was this huge underworld seething beneath me.

ES: She’s putting it into a positive light!

JKR: Well I am, I am, but you know. I want to make it clear that delusional is your word and not mine! [Much laughter.]

MA: You’re making our lives a lot easier by laying it on the table –

JKR: Well I think anyone who is still shipping Harry/Hermione after this book –

ES: [whispered] Delusional!

JKR: Uh – no! But they need to go back and reread, I think.

ES: Thank you.

JKR: Yeah.

MA: That is going to –

JKR: Will it make your lives slightly easier?

[All three]: Yeah, yeah.

JKR: I think so.

MA: I have to tell you, I’m looking forward to [this coming out], because, you know, a lot of this is predicated upon a necessary hate for another character. Ron has suffered horribly at the hands of Harry/Hermione shippers.

JKR: That bit makes me very uncomfortable, actually. Yeah, that bit does make me uncomfortable.

ES: Honestly, I think the Harry/Hermione shippers are a very small percentage of the population anyway.

MA: Yeah, if you do a general poll –

ES: They seem more prominant online, but that’s just because the online fandom is very –

MA: Militant was the best word I heard –

JKR: Militant is a beautifully chosen word. Energetic. Feisty.


MA: What does it do to you to see a character that you love, for people to express sheer hate –

ES: Or vice versa.

For those of you who do not live in Harry Potter fandom, to understand what is happening here may be difficult. I learned the story only at the “Nimbus — 2003” conference at Walt Disney World where 67 papers and panel discussions were given about Harry Potter. Imagine my surprise in discovering there that the subject on many if not most of the several hundred people’s minds who flew from all over the world to attend was really just, “Who does Hermione favor romantically, Harry or Ron?”

This “shipping war” (“ship” as in “relationship”) was where almost every conversation began or arrived in short order. I learned that my interpretation of Harry’s two friends as the “quarrelling couple” of alchemy (sulphur and quicksilver) meant I was a “Ron/Hermione relationship man” or, more often, just an “R/Hr shipper.”

What struck me about this “shipping war” was that (1) both sides of this battle within fandom found it hard to remain open to ideas from a shipper in the opposite camp and (2) everybody whose opinion I valued seemed to be on the other side of the battleline from the team I had been adopted by (i.e., the smart money was with – or as least the more polite combatants I met were — the H/Hr shippers). I remained in contact with two of these “shippers” who have been a great help to me for more than two years in understanding fandom and Harry Potter.

In HP6, the shipping wars seemed to have ended with an unconditional and total victory for the Ron/Hermione and Harry/Ginny true believers. Though I had ‘no dog in the fight’ and was assumed to be on the ‘winning side’ because of my alchemical pairing, I confess to being incredulous at the mean spirited comments by Mr. Spartz and Ms. Anelli about the “delusional” opposition, comments that were if not echoed than at least encouraged by Mrs. Rowling’s responses. My two friends were gracious “losers” in their concession that they had been mistaken but I had to wonder at the insensitivity and self-importance shown by interviewers and author in this exchange.

I have been obliged to read much of the nonsense written about both Mrs. Rowling and Harry Potter in the last five years, especially what has poured forth from those called the Harry Haters. This group includes fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics you may have read about in the newspaper or seen on television who are determined to fight the culture war via battles about the appropriateness of reading Harry Potter. Other Harry Haters are writers and academics who insist Rowling is a bad writer unworthy of serious adult attention. We can count William Safire of the New York Times, Yale’s Harold Bloom, and novelist A. S. Byatt in this camp. Canadian novelist and traditional Catholic Michael O’Brien, self-proclaimed “combat soldier in the culture war,” does duty in both camps of the Harry Haters.

I have read enough of their writing and their mean spirited misinterpretation of Rowling’s books that part of me shuddered as I read Half Blood Prince in anticipation of the reviews it would receive from those holding Harry-faith/intellect litmus strips. Adults drink alcohol in this book, for example, more often than they do in the others — and, oh, no! — 16 year old boys and girls spend a lot of time thinking about the opposite sex and “snogging,” a Britishism, it seems, for “making out” and “PDA.” This, the Time magazine article, and the interview with Rowling by the internet fan site web-masters, I knew had to be cause for celebration in those Survivalist caves and Ivory Towers where Harry is reviled (and where “literature” means “Tolkien and Lewis” or “A. S. Byatt and Michael O’Brien”).

The book itself requires no defense from this crowd’s attacks. The drinking and snogging are all done in such a way that those who over-do are portrayed as laughable idiots or immature buffoons acting out their insecurities and feelings of inadequacy. No one, child or adult, reading this book wants to make out in public, study Divinations, or drink to excess. Only the losers in the book do these things. Those wanting more Narnia adventures I urge to reflect on Maritain’s quip about the world’s greater need for another St. Thomas, not more neo-Thomists. Rowling is giving civil behavior training to a youth culture the Inklings could not have imagined.

The recent interviews and Time magazine article, though, deserve a serious second look to answer the questions about Rowling that are raised in them, questions raised by Harry Haters or bona fide fans. Is she the secular goddess and despiser of Christian fantasy that she appears in Grossman’s Time magazine piece? Why is she so harsh in her comments about fans who speculated about her characters and turned out to be wrong? I think there are three reasons to suspect that things are not as they appear on the surface in Time magazine and in the other interviews.

First, there is Mrs. Rowling’s bizarre situation. She is 39 years old, a mommy to three young children, and, though she denies being a billionaire, is clearly one of the world’s richest women and almost certainly the world’s wealthiest artist or writer. Her success has been her ability to write six wonderful books and sustain fascination with her “back story” through each year’s adventures and from book to book. The publication of the sixth book in her seven book series presents something of a crisis in this situation.

She has remarried and had two children since the series began to be published — and, to her credit, she has made her family her priority despite her celebrity. In two interviews since HP6 was published she has said there will be at least another two year gap between HP6 and HP7 so she can have a year with her youngest daughter, MacKenzie. In answer to the question “how do you keep your kids grounded and normal and rooted in the real world?” (MN/TLC 3), she said:

JKR: It is my top priority in life, I think, and I hope that we lead a pretty normal life, believe it or not.

Her second priority — and one at least as difficult to achieve as the first, is protecting the ending of her story from escaping before Book 7 is published. If you have read the several interview links, you will find this one common thread in each; Mrs. Rowling is studied in her care not to reveal anything that will act as a “Spoiler” to the story not yet told. She admits to having told no one the ending of the books, to include her husband, and in answer to a question about what she would divulge if she were given veritaserum, she said:

JKR: Probably, truthfully, I would tell everyone the plot of Book seven, because there is always this huge conflict in my life in that half of me, at least half of me, would love to sit here and talk. It is fun. It would be great to sit here and talk about book seven and enjoy it with you people who really know the other books. That would be so interesting, but obviously the other half of me is well aware I do not think you really want me to do that. You are going to contradict me, but I think you would rather read it, wouldn’t you?

Lydia Hall: Yeah.

JKR: That is a relief. , pp 9-10

The best questions, consequently, in every one of the four interviews from which we have transcripts or partial transcripts, were given answers of “I’m not able to answer that,” and “I can’t say,” and “Good question! But answering that would be telling too much.”

She even explains in the MN/TLC interview that she has rules for herself in answering questions from reporters and readers.

JKR: I’ve never, to my knowledge, lied when posed a question about the books. To my knowledge. You can imagine, I’ve now been asked hundreds of questions; it’s perfectly possible at some time I misspoke or gave a misleading answer unintentionally, or I may have answered truthfully at the time and then changed my mind in a subsequent book. That makes me cagey about answering questions in too much detail because I have to have some leeway to get there and to do it my way, but never on a major plot point.

Rowling’s situation, then, in capsule form, is that of a mother whose first priority is the normalcy of her family’s life and of a writer protecting her story from “spoilers” she gives away and from speculators reviewing her every answer to question for clues to where she is headed in book seven.

This last, of course, has reached a new level of difficulty because there is only one book remaining in the series. One of the golden rules of detective fiction specifically and narrative fiction in general is that the author is obliged to lay out the necessary clues for the penetrating reader to discover before the last chapter or explanation of how and why the crime was done, from Holmes to Watson. The sudden revelation of a clue that the reader didn’t see in the course of the story or the presentation of a new character with inside information too close to the end (or of a familiar character acting “out of character”) is poor form or just cheating.

Ms. Rowling is certainly guilty of this with the Harry/Ginny relationship. Despite her protests that her “plan was, which I really hope I fulfilled, is that the reader, like Harry, would gradually discover Ginny as pretty much the ideal girl for Harry (MN/TLC 3 — p 8), this “gradual discovery” happens all in Book 6. The careful reader of canon up to this point may see important things about Harry linking him to Ginny (especially after Rowling revealed her first name was not Virginia but Ginevra linking her with Harry the Arthur figure) but Harry shows little to no interest in her as a companion or friend until Half Blood Prince.

That Rowling says her plan was to reveal this gradually, however, reveals her mindfulness of the rules of the story she is writing. The need to reveal all the information necessary along the way to see where the story is going or how the deed was done makes her situation now very difficult. Her story is all told except for one book, her fans are penetrating readers, and all the clues should be in the books available. How can she protect her story’s conclusion from being revealed by clever readers?

Beyond not answering questions whose answers would give away the ending and disguising important clues in the previous six books with “red herrings” and “McGuffins,” Rowling I think has two ways of protecting her story. She can discourage reader speculation and she can point away from the direction her story is headed.

Reading the interviews Mrs. Rowling gave in the wake of the HP6 tsunami in light of her situation as a writer whose most obvious concern is the protection of her story, the possibility that her uncharacteristic appearance and comments may be intentional has to be taken seriously. I think this is evident in her almost hurtful remarks about those speculating about romantic relationships in her books and about Snape and from a review of her comments about C. S. Lewis and her faith.

I have printed at length her remarks about “ANVIL sized hints” that Harry/Hermione shippers were too stupid to pick up. In case you thought these remarks were just funny and not hurtful, please see for fans trying to pick up the pieces of their lives after she spoke about them this way. At least as curious for a woman so respectful of her fans were her comments about those who think Snape is a vampire:

ES: Was Dumbledore planning to die?

JKR: [Pause.] Do you think that’s going to be the big theory?

MA & ES: Yes. It’ll be a big theory.

JKR: [Pause.] Well, I don’t want to shoot that one down. [A little laughter.] I have to give people hope.

MA: It goes back to the question of whether Snape is a double-double-double-triple-

JKR: [Laughs] Double-double-quadruple-to-the-power-of – yeah.

MA: — whether this had been planned, and since Dumbledore had this knowledge of Draco the whole year, had they had a discussion that said, “Should this happen, you have to act as if it is entirely your intention to just walk forward and kill me, because if you don’t, Draco will die, the Unbreakable Vow, you’ll die,” and so on —

JKR: No, I see that, and yeah, I follow your line there. I can’t — I mean, obviously, there are lines of speculation I don’t want to shut down. Generally speaking, I shut down those lines of speculation that are plain unprofitable. Even with the shippers. God bless them, but they had a lot of fun with it. It’s when people get really off the wall — it’s when people devote hours of their time to proving that Snape is a vampire that I feel it’s time to step in, because there’s really nothing in the canon that supports that.

ES: It’s when you look for those things —

JKR: Yeah, it’s after the 15th rereading when you have spots in front of your eyes that you start seeing clues about Snape being the Lord of Darkness. So, there are things I shut down just because I think, well, don’t waste your time, there’s better stuff to be debating, and even if it’s wrong, it will probably lead you somewhere interesting. That’s my rough theory anyway. (MN/TLC 2,18)

As one reader who thinks thee are more than a few clues — in each book, to include the most recent one — that Snape is a half-vampire (not least his title as a young man of ‘half-Blood Prince’!), this poke-in-the-eye was rather startling. ‘Shippers who studied her books and came to a conclusion different than the one presented in HP6 are angry, deluded, and militant — and “Snape is a Vampire” theorists are folks making things up about her stories and seriously “in need of a life”? As one fan wrote me:

JKR has shut down the Snape as vampire theory, but in her interviews it seems as if she doesn’t understand where anyone came up with the idea. And yet, she in one more instance referred to Snape as being “bat-like” in HBP. And the idea of Snape assigning a were-wolf essay in PoA, then Lupin turning around and assigning a vampire essay. So, if Snape isn’t a vampire, that’s fine, but she really shouldn’t be so surprised when her fans take small offhand details and start extrapolating fanciful theories. We’ve learned from her that the smallest details are the ones to look out for!

There are two reasonable alternatives here. Rowling is either insensitive to the feelings of her readership and was carried away in the excitement of the evening interview with two young people (who were enthusiastic R/Hr shippers and nay-sayers to Snape as vampire) — or there is a “method to her meanness.” I think both are possibilities and the second worth exploring.

The bashing of the “Snape as Vampire” theory is interesting both because of where it appears and what it doesn’t say. It appears after perhaps the most important question the two interviewers asked in their interview, “Was Dumbledore planning to die?” If Dumbledore planned to die, Snape’s killing the Headmaster makes the former potions master a probable hero and turns the surface story — how Harry and the wizard world understand events – on its head.

Rowling responds after a pause, “Well, I don’t want to shoot that one down. [A little laughter.] I have to give people hope.” She then proceeds to mock a prevalent theory in fandom, one based on a multitude of clues left through the books, as being a fruitless theory that comes from a tired and over heated brain. The net effect of this, besides deflecting serious consideration of the Snape-as-hero story line possibility, is to mute any enthusiasm for speculating about the books’ final chapter. Who wants to wind up a Loser like the “H/Hr shippers” and the “Snape is Vampire” theorists?

What Rowling says about Snape and his being a vampire is curious, too. She denies that he is a vampire, which given her picture of a vampire in HP6, the hilarious Count Sanguini, makes real sense. Severus Snape is much more frightening and human than this throwaway comic caricature of a real ‘Blood Prince.’ But Rowling does not deny specifically that Snape is a half vampire which would be in keeping with the many half-blood and doppelganger characters that populate Hogwarts School (not to mention such a condition suggesting a relationship with Lily Evans, potions genius, in their N.E.W.T. potions class developing a vampire symptom cure akin to the Wolfsbane potion).

Rowling’s chilling comments about shippers, vampires, and speculators in general, then, have the effect of throwing a blanket on readers trying to penetrate her story line. That she takes this tack for the first time just as the two year period between penultimate and final chapter begins suggests that she is acting deliberately to protect her story, as deliberately as she is in not answering questions that would point to how her story ends.

Rowling’s unique situation as a serial writer near story’s end provides the motivation for this approach but I think it is only believable if she has taken other steps to point away from where the story is headed. I believe we can see this in her abrupt turn from C. S. Lewis in these interviews.

In previous interviews Rowling has almost always listed Lewis as one of the authors she admires, has called him a “genius,” and has mentioned the Chronicles of Narnia books as some of her favorites (google Lewis’ name at the Harry Potter Lexicon site’s collection of her interviews for the several examples of these references ). Not any more. We learned this July that she hasn’t read all of the Narnia books, if the “serious problem” she has with the series comes from a revelation in the book she says she has not read (curiously, the seventh book in that seven book series). Lev Grossman makes this revelation the feature point of his article on Rowling, in which he paints a portrait of a secular writer who has transcended the stuffy and traditional restrictions of Christian fantasy writers like Lewis.

We can read this, as does Lewis authority Robert Trexler, as indicative of Grossman’s tastes and reading of Lewis (or lack of same). Could it also be Rowling’s intention to point away from a Narnia-Hogwarts link? There are several reasons to give this idea a closer look.

Rowling has said in the past that she does not discuss her faith for a reason. In a year 2000 interview with The Vancouver Sun (Canada) she said she is a Christian who believes in God but refrains from discussing the details of her faith because, if she did, her readers, “age six to sixty,” would know how the stories ended. This did not make much of a stir at the time because few people besides myself and other literature wonks and Classicists were pointing to the evident Christian load these books carry. The controversy of that time was whether children and adults should read the books because they were invitations to occult practice and anything but edifying reading for Christians.

That controversy has largely subsided. Despite the Neanderthal insistence of some fundamentalists like Michael O’Brien and Richard O’Brien (both professional Harry Haters) who have even dropped to the depths of making the Pope into a hand puppet for their misinterpretation of the books (see for this story), most Christian readers have come to realize the obvious. Rowling, a Christian writer writing within an almost uniformly Christian literary tradition, is writing a story steeped in Christian symbolism, themes and meaning. (For an article on this sea change in public opinion, see “Harry earns his wings: Christians who shunned the Potter books now praise them as parables of the Gospel” at

A marker of this change is that I cannot remember a single question in the five interviews she gave at HP6’s release that touched on the witchcraft controversy. It’s a dead issue. Whereas before this controversy faded Rowling could embrace Lewis publicly without fear of giving away a link and possible ending of the books, now she does so at her peril if there is a connection. It is no longer unbelievable to most readers.

The two possibilities that occur to me of Narnia-like story lines that Rowling might be protecting are the redemption of Draco Malfoy and Harry’s sacrificial death at story’s end. Rowling has had sacrificial love as a centerpiece of her books (Harry’s survival as a baby and continued safety depend on it) and there are more than a few clues in the books that Harry is headed to a Sidney Carton like ending (beheading to save his friends) a la Aslan on the stone table of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

About Draco, I wrote in the 2002 collection of my lectures on Harry Potter that Draco’s conversion from wicked to good was almost a necessity for the book’s storyline. His name (meaning “dragon”) points to this because of a character in the Narnia books.

Draco’s change will echo the conversion of Eustace Scrubb, a character Ms. Rowling once said “I really like a lot,” from human dragon to real dragon to Aslan-baptized Christian in Lewis’ Voyage of the Dawn Treader, which, back when she thought Lewis was a genius, she claimed was her favorite Narnia novel. Harry’s attempts to befriend this painful figure and honor him will be among the most heroic things he has ever done (just as Edmund Pevensie’s conversation with Eustace on the beach is a pinnacle of the Narnia books). [Hidden Key to Harry Potter, Zossima Press, 2002, p.316, updated with links 10/2008]

We learn in Half Blood Prince that Draco has been trying to kill Dumbledore all year on Lord Voldemort’s orders — and that the Headmaster has been aware of it the whole time. The scene on the Astronomy tower where Dumbledore offers Draco sanctuary and mercy — and than asks Snape to kill him lest Draco be forced to do the deed and be forever lost — speaks to the importance of Draco’s possible redemption to the story line. Dumbledore dies when he does, as he does, in large part to save the soul of Draco Malfoy.

I think Rowling might be distancing herself from Lewis to deflect speculation along Christian lines about the books’ ending and about Draco in particular because of the special care she takes in these interviews to talk about how bad Draco is — and how silly it is that some girls like him and that they think he can change his stripes.

JKR: It amuses me. It honestly amuses me. People have been waxing lyrical [in letters] about Draco Malfoy, and I think that’s the only time when it stopped amusing me and started almost worrying me. I’m trying to clearly distinguish between Tom Felton, who is a good looking young boy, and Draco, who, whatever he looks like, is not a nice man. It’s a romantic, but unhealthy, and unfortunately all too common delusion of — delusion, there you go — of girls, and you [nods to Melissa] will know this, that they are going to change someone. And that persists through many women’s lives, till their death bed, and it is uncomfortable and unhealthy and it actually worried me a little bit, to see young girls swearing undying devotion to this really imperfect character, because there must be an element in there, that “I’d be the one who [changes him].” I mean, I understand the psychology of it, but it is pretty unhealthy. So, a couple of times I have written back, possibly quite sharply, saying [Laughter], “You want to rethink your priorities here.”

ES: Delusional!


JKR: Again, your word!

And later:

MA: I wanted to go back to Draco.

JKR: OK, yeah, let’s talk about Draco.

MA: He was utterly fascinating in this book.

JKR: Well, I’m glad you think so, because I enjoyed this one. Draco did a lot of growing up in this book as well. I had an interesting discussion, I thought, with my editor Emma, about Draco. She said to me, “So, Malfoy can do Occlumency,” which obviously Harry never mastered and has now pretty much given up on doing, or attempting. And she was querying this and wondering whether he should be as good as it, but I think Draco would be very gifted in Occlumency, unlike Harry. Harry’s problem with it was always that his emotions were too near the surface and that he is in some ways too damaged. But he’s also very in touch with his feelings about what’s happened to him. He’s not repressed, he’s quite honest about facing them, and he couldn’t suppress them, he couldn’t suppress these memories. But I thought of Draco as someone who is very capable of compartmentalizing his life and his emotions, and always has done. So he’s shut down his pity, enabling him to bully effectively. He’s shut down compassion — how else would you become a Death Eater? So he suppresses virtually all of the good side of himself. But then he’s playing with the big boys, as the phrase has it, and suddenly, having talked the talk he’s asked to walk it for the first time and it is absolutely terrifying. And I think that that is an accurate depiction of how some people fall into that kind of way of life and they realize what they’re in for. I felt sorry for Draco. Well, I’ve always known this was coming for Draco, obviously, however nasty he was. (MN/TLC 2, pp16-17)

Draco is clearly a new character after his traumatic year at Hogwarts, a year he spends expecting the Dark Lord to kill his family for his failure to deliver the Headmaster’s head (and weeping in the bathrooms about his fate). But Rowling is careful to discourage sympathetic speculation about him changing for the better by describing such thinking as the “unhealthy psychology” of pubescent girls in love with a movie star or neighborhood tough guy.

Rowling does not want us thinking about Draco Malfoy as a Eustace Scrubb redeemable figure. Her comments about Lewis as well as those of Grossman in his Time magazine article I think can be appreciated in the light of her need to protect her story.

I am suggesting, in brief, that Rowling is consciously using the media and reporters to dampen the ardor of speculation about the final chapter and to steer what speculation remains away from her ending, an ending she has to have in some sense “given away” in the books already published. What makes me think this a serious possibility? The figure Rowling says she most resembles in the book is Hermione Granger — and Hermione has just such a savvy, manipulative relationship with the media.

It is Hermione who first realizes that intrusive, unthinking reporters can be mastered and “bottled” in Goblet of Fire. She recognizes that Rita Skeeter is an illegal blood-sucking animagus (Skeeter = mosquito) and captures her in a bottle until she extracts a pledge to write only stories that don’t bash her and her friends. Hermione takes media manipulation to the heights in Phoenix by planting the Harry “exclusive interview” in the “alternative newspaper” rag called The Quibbler.

I have said more than a few times that the book Rowling’s novel most resembles is not The Lord of the Rings or the Narnia Chronicles (however much her seven book series reflects the thinking and seven book series of Lewis and Tolkien) but Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. In the guise of children’s book and fantasy adventure, Rowling like Swift is delivering biting satire of modern institutions from government and schools to courts and prisons. The most acidic of her caricatures, I think, is of the Fleet Street media in her Daily Prophet articles and reporter as well as The Quibbler.

Rowling clearly holds the press in disdain and at careful arms length. This is reflected outside her stories as well in her not speaking to the press except at unavoidable moments like book and movie releases (and then only to one or two professional reporters). She developed a web site in order to by pass the media and speak to her fans directly.

Is it not credible, then, that she may have manipulated Lev Grossman to portray her as a Lewis-despising, secular “Goth with cleavage”? I confess to thinking it not only credible but hilariously likely.

I think it a real possibility, too, because of the times in these interviews that Rowling says her special talent as a writer is in the deliberate way she writes — and to a specific underlying theme of her books.

Rowling believes that the difference between good and bad writers is largely a matter of planning. Good writers plan extensively, bad writers count on inspiration and the story developing as they write:

Alexandra Le Couteur Williamson for the South Australian Advertiser – When you start, do you do a complete plan before you start writing, or do you just have an idea from the start and then just keep writing.

JK Rowling: I do a plan. I plan, I really plan quite meticulously. I know it is sometimes quite boring because when people say to me, “I write stories at school and what advice would you give me to make my stories better?” And I always say — and people’s face often fall when I say — “You have to plan,” and they say “Oh, I prefer just writing and seeing where it takes me”. Sometimes writing and seeing where it takes you will lead you to some really good ideas but I would say nearly always it won’t be as good as if you sat down first and thought: Where do I want to go, what end am I working towards, what would be good, a good start? Sorry, very dull. (CBBC, p 7)

She says she intends to spend months planning Book 7 next year before writing it and is known to have spent seven years planning the novels and writing back story before completing Philosopher’s Stone. A question I am often asked is if I really think Rowling has deliberately inserted the symbolism she has and intentionally chosen the alchemical and hero journey’s formulae she uses. For such a deliberate writer and careful planner, I think the question reflects on the surprise and ignorance of the reader and even some latent misogyny. Can a blonde bombshell in “at the very least three inch steel spike heels” writing children’s books be that smart? Yes, indeed.

And, mirabile dictu, in the MN/TLC interview she points in an aside to her traditional bearings and foundation in these books. In answer to yet another risible question from the fan site reporters (“There aren’t a lot of Death Eater children in the other houses, are there?”), Rowling says:

JKR: You will have people connected with Death Eaters in the other houses, yeah, absolutely.

ES: Just in lesser numbers.

JKR: Probably. I hear you. It is the tradition to have four houses, but in this case, I wanted them to correspond roughly to the four elements. So Gryffindor is fire, Ravenclaw is air, Hufflepuff is earth, and Slytherin is water, hence the fact that their common room is under the lake. So again, it was this idea of harmony and balance, that you had four necessary components and by integrating them you would make a very strong place. But they remain fragmented, as we know. (MN/TLC 3, p 10)

The interviewers are so taken by this answer that they then ask her, “Was James the only one who had romantic feelings for Lily?” Pardon my sarcasm and disappointment. Rowling begins a discussion on four element theory and the process of integrating them into a strong harmony and balance, i.e., literary alchemy, and the reporters take us back immediately to a peripheral shipping issue that Rowling is not going to answer.

Oh, well. What she said was sufficient to reveal her alchemical compass in planning the books and, in this, her kinship with Inkling authors steeped in Medieval cosmology. Lewis’ Narnia books have an astrological skeleton and his Ransom Trilogy is steeped in alchemical references and traditional cosmology. As I have shown in Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004), Rowling’s alchemical formula and story telling is straight from the tradition of Christian English letters from Chaucer and Shakespeare to Joyce and Yeats — and to Lewis and Tolkien.

Is she also “training us in the stock responses” and “instructing while delighting us”? Grossman says she denies writing with a heavy-handed moral message that guides her writing if he allows that she insists “undeniably, morals are drawn.” She is not naive enough to believe her stories will convert the hopelessly “bent” but she has hopes:

Sam Dordoy for Ottakars – Your books have a theme of racism with the wizards oppressing other races and half-bloods. Do you think this has changed how people think when they read them?

JK Rowling: do not think I am pessimistic but I think I am realistic about how much you can change deeply entrenched prejudice, so my feeling would be that if someone were a committed racist, possibly Harry Potter is not going to be to have effect.

I would hope that it has made people think, I mean I do not write the books thinking what is my message for today, what is my moral, that is not how I set out to write a book at all. I am not trying to criticise or make speeches to you in any way, but at the same time, it would be great if the people thought about bullying behaviour or racism.

The house elves is really for slavery, isn’t it, the house elves are slaves, so that is an issue that I think we probably all feel strongly about enough in this room already. (CBBC, pp 11-12)

But moral courage is a major theme running through all the books, as she admits:

Stephanie Chapman for Woolworths – If you were placed in a House, which would it be and why?

JK Rowling: Well, I would want to be in Gryffindor and the reason I would want to be in Gryffindor is because I do prize courage in all its various ramifications. I value it more highly than any other virtue and by that I mean not just physical courage and flashy courage, but moral courage.

And I wanted to make that point in a very first book with Neville, because Neville doesn’t have that that showy macho type of courage that Harry shows playing quidditch. But at the end, what Neville does at the end of Philosopher’s Stone to stand up to his friends and risk their dislike and approval is hugely courageous so I would want to be in Gryffindor. That is not to say I would be there. I think there is a good bit of Hufflepuff in me. (CBBC, p. 8 )

Rowling here is careful here not to “tickle the sleeping dragons” within us all. No one wants to read a cardboard cut-out story that is an ideological morality play with a concrete-shoe message. She denies she has this intention and as quickly tells us her stories are about virtues and especially moral courage. This is, of course, one of the foundations of Inkling fiction, namely, that the story have edifying moral content without a visible or even discernible Churchy presence.

If I am right, then, in suggesting that Rowling’s situation on the cusp of writing her last book in her series of seven books (a cusp on which she hopes to keep the world waiting for two years so she can fulfill her responsibilities as a mother to a new born) and that she is deliberately muting and misdirecting speculation about her last Harry Potter book, where does that leave us? Well, we have to proceed down the trails she points away from if we want to know where she is really going.

These trails are, most notably, a love relationship between Harry and Hermione, Snape being some kind of vampire (if not a Count Sanguini!), Harry being Heir of Gryffindor, and Draco Malfoy being redeemed. Are these possibilities in any way credible?

Snape’s being a half-vampire makes a certain amount of sense and opens possibilities of a debt or love he owes to Harry’s mother Lily. Harry being Heir of Gryffindor Rowling does not deny explicitly in her interview and this creates a space for Harry’s being in some macabre fashion a Voldemort Horcrux (who will have to sacrifice himself to defeat the Dark Lord a la Carton/Aslan). The importance of Draco Malfoy’s redemption makes Dumbledore’s sacrifice and Snape’s actions on the Astronomy Tower understandable and inspiring.

But a love relationship between Harry and Hermione? Hasn’t HP6 and the Ron/Hermione, Harry/Ginny pairing put that to rest forever?

Yes and no.

As important as the Ron/Hermione pairing is to the alchemical drama in each book and the series as a whole, there are several reasons to believe that this is not the end of the story, beyond the suggestion that Rowling is pushing so hard for us to accept this conclusion in story and interviews.

The ending of HP6, for example, is different than all other book endings in this series. At the cauda pavonis of the phoenix rising from Dumbledore’s tomb, we have a curtain closing that marks the end of the white stage of the alchemical drama. As I have explained at length in my book and at postings on my site, Phoenix was the nigredo or black stage of the alchemical work and Prince the white stage or albudo. All that is left is the red stage to complete the alchemical process. We don’t return to King’s Cross Station with Harry at the end of HP6 because the next book will be significantly different than this one.

We are cued to this by the multiple pairings and seeming resolution of contraries and conflicts at the end of Prince. Not only do we seem to know at last that Snape is the bad guy Harry has thought him to be since he first laid eyes on him, but Harry is resolute and focused on his mission to destroy the Horcruxes and Voldemort. We also have a relationship ending that points to multiple Shakespeare plays and Austen novels in the coming together of the painfully separated and obviously always meant for each other pairs, namely, Lupin-Tonks, Harry-Ginny, and Ron-Hermione. All is set as the Dynamic Trio head out for the Final Battle with Voldemort (tune in, same bat time, same bat channel, 2007!).

Or is it set? Harry, for example, at story’s end leaves Ginny and says they cannot be a pair. Ron and Hermione swear fealty to Harry in the battle to come, this friendship transcending whatever relationship the two may have or hope to have. I suspect that Ron/Hermione is not a ‘ship that will ever see a wedding.

Why not?

First, there is the alchemy. The “quarrelling couple” die in the red stage of alchemy and in the final resolution of these contraries the Philosopher’s Stone is perfected. Ron and Ginny as the red headed part of this group might be expected to die in the red stage novel as Sirius Black died in Phoenix and Albus ‘the white’ Dumbledore died in Prince (Rubeus Hagrid is a better bet for this role because his first name means ‘red’ and suggests the “Res Bis” of alchemical perfection but we have seen quite a few hints that Ron and other Weasleys will not survive the books).

Next, there is the meaning of the trinity involved. Harry-Ron-Hermione is a page out of Dostoevsky’s Brothers Karamazov and several other important books and movies (see Looking for God in Harry Potter, p 88) in being a spirit-mind-body tryptich. In good order, Spirit directs mind and body — and both body and mind/will serve spirit sacrificially. Our choice in endings here comes down to a pairing off of body and will a la Princess Leia and Hans Solo (Brother Luke being left out, sort of) or the Mt. Doom ending of The Lord of the Rings where passionate Gollum is sacrificed and willing Sam and spiritualized Frodo live on.

Last, there is the over arching meaning of these stories, namely, Love’s victory over death. What love we see in Prince is romantic love or eros. It is an important aspect of love, certainly, but it is as surely not the power behind the door in Department of Mysteries or the power that Voldemort “knows not.” This sacrificial and transcendent love that Harry has in abundance and which is his only hope in defeating Voldemort is agape or a selfless love much greater than romantic love.

As implausible as it must seem now, I think that this is the love that Hermione has for Harry (and that Ron feels for his best friend, too), which, if Ron and Ginny die — and Harry doesn’t!), could also lead to the final pairing of the books.


Let me wrap up this speculative discourse by asking and answering three questions I imagine an intelligent reader has to be asking at this point.

1. Is Rowling as clever as the Canadian Catholics that created almost
ex nihilo the widespread belief that Pope Benedict XVI actively opposes Harry Potter? Is she capable of deliberately misleading the media and fandom?

Yes, I think she is capable of this. That she has consciously distanced herself and her family from the media and that a character in her books she says she resembles consciously manipulates the media each make the scenario I’m suggesting a possibility worthy of some consideration.

2. In doing this, is she trying to protect the ending of her story?

This is the only reasonable motive she might have. Her situation as a serial novelist nearing the end of a fifteen year project, her determination in interviews and courtrooms to prevent Spoilers, and the changes in direction she displays in recent interviews both in berating fans who speculate about the books ending and with respect to C. S. Lewis make sense if she is trying to mute and misdirect speculation.

3. So what?

The best and most pressing question!

I hope I have not spent the time to write all this out because I am overly invested in Harry/Hermione shipping, Snape-as-half-vampire predictions, or any of the other theories that Rowling seems to have shut down in her July 2005 interviews. I acknowledge this over-investment reaction must be considered a real possibility, as embarrassing as this must be. If I don’t blush in suggesting that some part of Byatt’s and O’Brien’s inability to comprehend Rowling’s genius comes from professional envy, I’ll have to admit my speculating about Rowling here might be more than half disappointment about what she has said in recent interviews.

What I prefer to think I’m pointing out is something very important about Rowling’s accomplishment as a writer. I’ve alluded above to a writer’s obligation to train readers in the stock responses and to “instruct while delighting.” As I’ve written elsewhere, her treatment of the themes of choice, prejudice, death, and change in these books places her among the greats. Her use of traditional Christian imagery in story form also marks her as a writer in the English traditions of writing faith edifying literature, what is often called “baptizing the imagination” or “smuggling the gospel.” My first book is largely about Rowling along these lines.

The book I am writing now, Harry Meets Hamlet and Scrooge: A Serious Reader’s Guide to Joanne Rowling’s Harry Potter Novels, looks at Rowling’s books in light of the ten different literary genres she has ‘rowled’ into one astonishing and seamless series. What fascinates me about these varied genres — from alchemical drama to Gothic romance, from Arthurian legend to Christian fantasy, from detective fiction to epic hero’s journey — is that all foster in the attentive reader the virtue of penetration, or looking beneath the surface of characters and stories for clues and meaning.

Lewis wrote in his essays on criticism that one way we can gauge the value of a book is by reflecting on how readers read and care about them. Rowling’s books by this measure are evidently very valuable indeed because her readers re-read her books again and again. They do so both for the cathartic experience this repeated visiting of the story gives them and to look more closely at the weave and woof of her stories, to find in the details where she is going.

Her readers, consequently, are not only learning to read for entertainment and distraction but they are also becoming more penetrating and thoughtful readers and, one has to hope, people in the process. I offer my speculations about Mrs. Rowling’s most recent interviews with a laugh and a shrug — and in gratitude for the invitation she has extended to all her readers to look beneath the surface of her stories and our lives for their meaning and truths.

I look forward to reading your thoughts! Please let me know what you think!

The names of Dahl and C S Lewis are frequently mentioned alongside Ms Rowling’s, a comparison at which she has balks. “C S Lewis is quite simply a genius and I’m not a genius,” she said. “And while I think Dahl is a master at what he did, I do think my books are more moral than his. He also wrote very overblown comic characters, whereas I think mine are more three-dimensional.”

I found myself thinking about the wardrobe route to Narnia [in the CS Lewis series including The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe] when Harry is told he has to hurl himself at a barrier in Kings Cross Station – it dissolves and he’s on platform Nine and Three-Quarters, and there’s the train for Hogwarts.

Narnia is literally a different world, whereas in the Harry books you go into a world within a world that you can see if you happen to belong. A lot of the humour comes from collisions between the magic and the everyday worlds. Generally there isn’t much humour in the Narnia books, although I adored them when I was a child. I got so caught up I didn’t think CS Lewis was especially preachy. Reading them now I find that his subliminal message isn’t very subliminal at all.

Really, CSLewis had very different objectives to mine.

When I write, I don’t intend to make a point or teach philosophy of life. A problem you run into with a series is how the characters grow up … whether they’re allowed to grow up. The characters in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books act in a prepubescent way right through the series. In the Narnia books the children are never allowed to grow up, even though they are growing older.

What books and authors did you read as a kid? Which are your biggest influences?

I most admire E. Nesbit, Paul Gallico and C.S. Lewis.

My favourite book as a child was The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge.

What were the most memorable books you read as a child?

My favorite book when I was younger was “The Little White Horse” by Elizabeth Goudge. My mother gave me a copy when I was 8; it had been one of her childhood favorites. I also loved “Manxmouse” by Paul Gallico and, of course, C.S. Lewis’ Narnia books.


Tolkien, C. S. Lewis?

JKR: I’ve read both of them. Both of them were geniuses. I’m immensely flattered to be compared to them, but I think I’m doing something slightly different again.

Links to articles used in this piece:

1. JKR interview with Lev Grossman, Time magazine:,9171,1083935,00.html

More about Lev Grossman:

2. JKR interview with Katie Couric, The Today Show:

More about Katie Couric:

3. JKR interview with and the Leaky Cauldron (HP fan sites):

4. JKR interview with children “reporters” the day after HP6 was published:

5. JKR interview with Owen Jones, 14 year old fan:

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