Literary Alchemy and the Mythic Context ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ Episode 25


From the MuggleNet podcast page:

In this episode, Katy and John do a deep dive into the symbolism and transformative power of J.K. Rowling’s work. First, John describes the concept of literary alchemy and how literature can effect an alchemical transformation on readers. Then, special guest Evan Willis (University of Dallas) explains how Renaissance alchemical symbolism intertwines with classical myth in Harry Potter and Cormoran Strike. From the Orestes myth to Castor and Pollux and Leda and the swan, we learn about the well of myths Rowling draws from in her literary creations. Willis particularly directs us to the importance of a Hermes/Mercury figure to serve as the invisible force behind the uniting of opposites. Who is this mysterious figure in Harry Potter and in the Strike books? Listen to find out the surprising answers!

Does literary alchemy work on us the same way when we’re watching films? We tackle this issue in light of the classical references in the Fantastic Beastsmovies. We also try to predict the next developments in Strike and Fantastic Beasts based on our understanding of the deep mythic context in both series. We’ll help you sort out the stories of Leta and Theseus, Dumbledore and Grindelwald, Cormoran and Robin, and Shanker and Rokeby and anticipate where they might be headed.


  1. Brian Basore says

    Mundungus Fletcher, that pile of rags, is a type of mercurial character that pops up in the Hogwarts books. Shankar is a mercurial thief with uses and loyalties, too, in the Strike books. I’m not saying Snape isn’t a mercurial figure working in the shadows at Hogwarts but it is fair to point out that Albus Dumbledore also sometimes uses Mundungus as a mercurial thief working in the shadows. Aberforth Dumbledore wouldn’t have the other scrying mirror from the set Harry keeps and consults if Mundungus hadn’t sold it to Aberforth as stolen Black Family goods.

    Hagrid gets used by Albus as a shady person familiar with the disreputable part of Diagon Alley, but that’s a misdirection. Hagrid is not a thief. He has, to quote the Scots edition of PS, “a heart of corn”.

  2. Really fascinating episode! I feel like I could benefit from a second listening. I also enjoyed John’s impassioned speech on the importance of reading literature.

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