Guest Post: ‘Stone, Goblet, Hallows:’ The Series Axis in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows (Beatrice Groves, Part II)

Beatrice Groves, Research Lecturer and tutor at Trinity College, Oxford, and author of the just published Literary Allusion in Harry Potter sent us this 4th of July present yesterday as an Independence Day gift (no hard feelings in the UK). It is Part 2 of 3 Guest Posts Professor Groves will share with us to celebrate the publication of her wonderful book. 

‘Stone, Goblet, Hallows:’ the Series Axis in Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows — Part 2 of 3 Literary Allusion Guest Posts

This post – following on from my previous exploration of mirrors and riddles – argues that repeated themes across Philosopher’s Stone, Goblet of Fire and Deathly Hallows show an increase of significance as the series progresses. This blog entry is a response to John Granger’s contention that the first, central and final novels of Harry Potter form the ‘story axis’ – the three novels whose interrelation is most telling – and it will explore a number of pieces of evidence for this theory. Among these are Christian echoes in Rowling’s story and this post will bring together some evidence for the plausibility of finding Christian ideas within the series. A final post (to follow next week) will conclude this exploration of the ‘story axis’ by arguing for a new link to the Christian story that occurs comically in both Stone and Goblet but whose latent symbolism is only finally realised in Hallows.

Of the many Stone-Goblet-Hallows links (and all those discussed below – and many more! – have been helpfully tabulated in John Granger’s Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle [2010]) there are a number in which something that was a fairly simple part of the plot in the opening novel, becomes more reflective in the central novel, and freighted with new significance in the final novel (seven is the most magical number, after all). Live dragons, for example, appear only in these novels and Granger notes that they pass through a life-cycle as they do so: baby Norbert in Stone, the nesting mother dragons of the Triwizard tournament and finally, the escape on the ‘ancient of days’ Gringotts dragon.[1]

Another example is the character of Ollivander who, likewise, appears only in these three novels. In Stone he has a small cameo as he sells Harry his wand (where the discovery of the twin cores hints at ways in which the relationship between Harry and Voldemort may later deepen). In Goblet the reader is reminded of him as he comes to Hogwarts to perform the weighing of the wands, a prelude to the importance of the twin cores being revealed at the end of the novel. His final appearance in Hallows marks the expansion in the importance of wand-lore in this novel. Ollivander takes on an unexpected prominence (given his fairly minor role in the series up to this point) when Harry talks to him after coming to a new understanding of his mission. These pivotal scenes at Shell Cottage hint at how important the Elder Wand will become (Ring, p. 108).

In another example, Ron’s ears turn briefly pink when he can’t buy sweets on the Hogwarts Express in Stone, but in Goblet his mortification at his poverty becomes much clearer – as does his deeper blush when his second-hand dress robes are mocked. While in Stone Ron expresses discomfort at the difference between his and Harry’s finances (as he slightly bitingly inquires if Harry is hungry after seeing him purchase a mountain of sweets) his insecurity, both financial and otherwise, is much more fully explored in Goblet (from Harry’s much more flattering dress robes to Harry’s failure to notice the disappearance of the Leprechaun gold).

The financial inequality between Ron and Harry combine with other insecurities in Goblet: Ron’s jealousy over Harry’s fame and over Hermione’s affections. Goblet paves the way for the transformation of Ron’s childish desire for sweets in the opening train journey to his much more fundamental fear of missing out in the final book; a fear of a real, not a merely financial, poverty. Ron’s jealousy in the final novel (which leads to his desertion of Harry and Hermione) has been set up earlier in the series in Ron’s psychological conditioning to expect that Harry will get the things that he wants. (And his early failure to realise, self-conscious as he is over what he lacks, how much more – as a loved child – he has than his orphaned, neglected friend, fits with his final failure to realise who it is that Hermione loves).

A final example of this deepening of meaning across the Stone-Goblet-Hallows axis occurs when the comic, literal transformation of various parts of Dudley’s body in the opening chapters of Stone (pigtail) and Goblet (tongue) become a real transformation when Dudley holds out his hand to Harry in Hallows.[2] Dudley’s ‘large, pink hand’ (DH, Chap 3) recalls both his pink pig’s tail in Stone and his out-sized tongue in Goblet but in Hallows they are converted, most unexpectedly, into a hand of friendship.

The redemptive nature of Dudley’s transformation hints at the way that there may be a Christian undertow to some of the growth in significance that occurs over the series. Granger has noted the links in Christian symbolism between these three novels.[3] The echoes get more distinct across the novels: from the merest hint in Harry’s ‘three-day’ concussion after confronting Voldemort in Stone through the darkly parodic ‘resurrection’ of Voldemort in Goblet to the much more direct Christian tropes of Harry’s final self-sacrificial death that saves the wizarding world (see: John Granger’s Deathly Hallows Lectures and How Harry Cast his Spell; Travis Prinzi’s Harry Potter & Imagination: The Way Between Two Worlds).

An explicitly Christian interpretation of Harry Potter might seem surprising given the famously negative reaction the series has provoked in some Christian circles but, as critics such as Connie Neal, John Granger and Greg Garrett have ably shown, the Christian framework is more germane to Harry Potter than we might initially expect.[4] Rowling, a practising Christian, has expressed her own frustration at the way this aspect of the series has been ignored – noting that ‘extremist religious folk have missed the point so spectacularly’ and that ‘there was a Christian commentator who said that Harry Potter had been the Christian church’s biggest missed opportunity. And I thought, there’s someone who actually has their eyes open.’

Nonetheless a belief that Rowling is not someone whose writing is informed by her faith, persists. An under-the-line commentator on this site states ‘Rowling has made it clear… numerous times in the past that she is a secular-minded author.’ Well, no. When asked directly about the ‘secular’ aspect of her series Rowling replied: ‘Um. I don’t think they’re that secular.’ Tellingly, perhaps, Rowling chose to be baptised aged eleven – the age she would later choose for full entry into the wizarding world.

One light-hearted way in which the series is linked with Christianity is the way in which saints, churches and churchyards feature so heavily among Harry Potter’s names. Famously, Edinburgh’s most well-known churchyard – Greyfriars Kirkyard (situated next to the Elephant House café where Rowling often wrote) – contains the tombstone of a certain Thomas Riddell. Serious readers may also have noted that the historical Thomas Riddell, like Rowling’s Tom Riddle (Snr), has a son who is named after him. Greyfriars Kirkyard is likewise the final resting place of William McGonagall – a ‘very, very, very bad Scottish poet’ after whom, as Rowling has noted, Minerva McGonagall is named.

There is another Harry Potter connection with churches in Edinburgh, however, that is rather less well-known. Rowling has linked Gilderoy Lockhart’s surname with a memorial – ‘I was looking for quite a glamorous, dashing sort of surname, and Lockhart caught my eye on this war memorial, and that was it’ – it is striking, however, that there is a church in Edinburgh which is called the Lockhart Memorial church (is Rowling’s ‘war memorial’ inside? If anyone has the chance to check, let me know!). Even more tantalising is that this church was formally known as St Mungo’s – and St Mungo’s, of course, is where Lockhart ends up.

Rowling has regularly noted that she took Hedwig’s name from a book of medieval saints; and – rather suitably – the Sisters of St Hedwig were a religious order that was established to educate orphan children. Other significant saints’ names include Percy Weasley’s middle name (Ignatius) which suggests that, like Ignatius Loyola – who underwent a famous conversion – he might switch sides. Dumbledore’s middle name ‘Wulfric,’ likewise, comes from Wulfric of Haselbury, famous for his healing powers over body and mind and Wendelin the Weird, a 14th century witch in Harry’s textbook, takes her name from St Wendelin.

Rowling has noted she has taken names from ‘saints’ and ‘baby-naming books.’ I wonder if she may have come across a little baby-naming book of saints names – Unusual Baptismal Names (1956) – whose author rejoices in having the name Father Walter Gumbley. This book includes a number of rare saint’s names which resonate for the Harry Potter reader, such as ‘Mafalda’ and ‘Nympha’ (Nymphodora was a fourth-century virgin martyr).

In terms of the growth of Christian symbolism within the novels, in the final novel of the series what Rowling has called Harry’s ‘messiah traits’ finally become explicit. Harry’s walk into the forest and his ‘death-and-return-to-life’ contain – as noted by the critics cited above – a number of specific echoes of the via dolorosa and Crucifixion. After Harry’s defeat of the Dark Lord, he is finally acknowledged in quasi-messianic terms as ‘their leader and symbol, their saviour and their guide’ (DH, Chap 36).

[1] John Granger, Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle  (Constantia, NY: Unlocking Press, 2010), pp. 107-108.

[2] John Granger, Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle (Constantia, NY: Unlocking Press, 201o), p.106.

[3] John Granger, Harry Potter as Ring Composition and Ring Cycle (Constantia, NY: Unlocking Press, 201o), pp. 65-66.

[4] Connie Neal, The Gospel According to Harry Potter: Spirituality in the Stories of the World’s Most Famous Seeker (Westminster John Knox Press, 2002); John Granger, Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains Harry’s Final Adventure (Allentown: Zossima Press. 2008); John Granger, How Harry Cast His Spell (Saltriver 2008); Greg Garrett, One Fine Potion: The Literary Magic of Harry Potter (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2010).



  1. About young Ron, we should remember that Tim Richardson, confectionery sweets historian, observes that the first currency that children deal in is candy. Anything that smacks of adult concern is , of course, boring. Ron is “rich” as a kid muggle or magical in his knowledge and experience he imparts to Harry’s first lessons on the values of various sweets – Chocolate frog vs. a bogie flavored bean, trade anyone? Lest we, as adults, have forgotten about this then I have one word for you: “Coffee.”

    Another name/church link is that of Euphemia Potter and the martyr Saint Euphemia and companions. 3 historical notes are 1) That within St. Euphemia’s memorial church the Council of Chalcedon was held, 2) that Euphemia was the name of one of Scotland’s queens, and 3rd is that of our own history with Scholastic books, Inc. and it’s namesake Saint Scholastica, Saint Benedict’s twin sister.

    Overcoming the temptations for self is crucial. though ‘messiah traits aren’t just reserved for nor limited to Harry: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” … John 15:13. Lupin and Tonks certainly did as much for their son Teddy as well as did all the others when they stayed for the battle. I’ll posit that they didn’t necessarily die for Harry, they put themselves on the line so that Harry’s positioning could achieve what their positioning could not, though one does have to concede to Neville’s St. George moment with Nagini in DH. IMO it is Neville’s moment that demonstrates Harry’s Human limit that the real Messiah did not necessarily need.

    That positioning harkens back to and originates on “that” PS night-it hit me like a ton of bricks when JKR said it in an interview and it’s impact is no less today: That a full grown adult was attacking a child. Harry’s positioning began here because Harry wasn’t just any child nor even because he was of magical lineage, indeed Harry was just an infant, the reason Lilly’s love protected was because Harry’s life was an innocent one. In this light, I am immediately taken to the stone table in C.S. Lewis’ LWW. Had Harry been older, I suspect something like the lion attack at the edge of the desert in “A Horse and His Boy” would have become necessary (or is that GOF?)

    Finally, (I don’t believe I’m doing this.) but I am also reminded of the church scene in CC. The manipulative and bullying Augery with all her powers and bluster is easily restrained (perhaps because no one has yet dared try?)in her bid to change history. Harry is neither forced nor needs any convincing, Harry chooses to not interfere. Much like the forest in DH; here In this church scene Harry again overcomes self and accepts his role because he knows and I suspect JKR is reminding us that you can’t go back. Again to Lewis’s Lucy & Aslan, “I’m sorry, Aslan,” she said. “I’m ready now.”
        “Now you are a lioness,” said Aslan. “And now all Narnia will be renewed. But come. We have no time to lose.”

    C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia The Chronicles of Narnia (1951, this edition Harper Collins, 1994) 142-143.

    3 Q’s:
    1) Why are none of the Scripture passages cited within the 7 book series?

    2) How does JKR square so . . . maybe I’ll save that one for the next post.

    3) did “John Masefield’s “The Midnight Folk” (1927) get into the list? (A young broom flyer trying to beat a coven of witches led by the wizard Abner Brown to find his grandfather, Aston Tirrold (a village name in Oxfordshire.) Harker’s treasure, that turns out to be hidden in an underground chamber replete with skeleton, accessed from the main fireplace above. Sissa! More Familiar, is “The Box of Delights” and it’s story of the struggle of Good v evil in Kaye Harker’s fight against the wolves in sheep’s clothing.)

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks for this.

    I agree with the point about sweets-as-money; and you’re right that Ron has knowledge about them that Harry doesn’t have – but as the pile of sweets on the Hogwarts Express belong to Harry, they could be seen as particularly pointed evidence to Ron that Harry is rich while he is not.

    As for scriptural quotation, I think it is part of the way that Christian imagery within the series only becomes explicit in Deathly Hallows that it is only here that we find biblical quotation (from the 1611 King James translation): ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Chap 16; Luke 12.34, Matthew 6.21); ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’ (Chap 16; 1 Corinthians 15:26). Rowling has placed great emphasis on these two quotations saying that ‘they almost epitomise the whole series.’

    Hermione gives a traditional interpretation for the passage on Lily and James’s tombstone – ‘The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death’ – explaining that it refers to life after death. The reader is left, however, to interpret the biblical reference on the Dumbledore family tombstone without assistance: ‘Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.’ It is a quotation drawn from Jesus’ instructions to his followers to ‘sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also’ (Luke 12.33-34; see also: Matthew 6.21).

    The underlying meaning of these words is that true ‘treasure’ is seeking the good of others rather seeking gain for oneself. Dumbledore’s choice of this quotation symbolises his regret at seeking the wrong kind of ‘treasure:’ he has neglected his sister in his obsession with the Hallows [It is not certain that Albus, rather than Aberforth, chose this quotation, but it is what Harry assumes and it seems probable, particular since Rowling has said – at her talk at Exeter College, Oxford, in 2014 – that Dumbledore believes in God]. The quotation on the Dumbledore family tomb gives a specifically Christian colouring to the choice between different types of ‘treasure’ – Hallows or Horcruxes – that lies at the heart of Deathly Hallows. Harry’s final decision to seek the good of all by destroying Horcruxes, rather than the Hallows that will make him powerful, follows the choice that Jesus advocates: ‘a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.’

  3. Cool. Thank you Professor Groves.

    The impetus for raising the question regarding citation was an occasion where a prominent member of fandom had until 2015, had attributed the quote on the Potter’s tomb to JKR, for which they were diplomatically corrected.

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