Mailbag: Hogwarts Gryffindor = Griffin Door?

Today’s mailbag question is about the meaning of the Rowling neologism, ‘Gryffindor.’ Here is the letter as I received it — except for the book title that I changed to the current edition!


I am familiar with and own three of your books…and as I was re-reading a portion in How Harry Cast His Spell I thought it odd that you did not mention (allude to whilst citing the Griffin and its meaning) a household item that we have had since my childhood.  It is a picture of Christ standing beside a door with his hand raised poised to knock.  The biblical reference is Revelation 3:20.

This is an ubiquitious painting at least here in the midwest – I am guessing you are familiar with it?

I believe the stronger meaning is Griffin-‘door’ (English rather than French). Especially since Rowling has a brass door knocker in the shape of the Griffin.

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”


Dear Richard,

Thank you for this note!

To answer your question, no, I had not seen this picture, though my oldest son reminds me it is in the Children’s Bible they grew up reading. I confess to wondering if it was the common place you suggest, but, sure enough, a quick look at Google Images’ for ‘Christ Knocking’ brought up pages of pictures.

It’s certainly a possibility but, just to be contentious, I’ll give you three reasons why I think Griffin  d’or or ‘Golden Griffin’ in French is a better translation of Rowling’s Gryffindor than ‘Griffin Door.’

(1) Ms. Rowling did not grow up in a religious home and her faith from all indications is not pietistic, devotional, or evangelical. Forgive me for doubting very much that the house she knew as a child has religious artwork of the sort you describe and decorating this post.

(2) ‘Golden Griffin’ is a pointer to literary alchemy both in the sense of gold being the end product of metallurgical alchemy and its being ‘solid light,’ a symbol of illumination and communion with the Light of the World. The Griffin, as you know is a symbol of Christ, the eagle as King of Heaven, the lion King of Earth, combined to represent the King of Heaven and Earth. The two together are a strong pointer to Gryffindor and Harry as the hero of the type being cued to spiritual illumination and perfection. The Griffin Door doesn’t do that.

(3) Snape’s death scene, as explained at length in The Deathly Hallows Lectures, chapter 6, is lifted in large part from the last canto of Dante’s Purgatorio, in which the Florentine Bard meets the Golden Griffin, sees it truly in what is known as his “sacramental vision” through the green eyes of his beloved — and enters Paradise. I think you’ll agree that the end of the Snape sub-plot and the Green Eyes payoff was a pretty big deal. Golden Griffin takes us there.

Griffin Door? Not so much. I do like the connection with the Griffin door knocker but even there the brass makes it a pointer to the ‘enlightened’ quality of the golden griffin.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be one or the other. It can be both, right? My question for the Griffin Door advocate, though, is “What would that mean?” as in “How does that help us understand the story better?”

I’m skeptical, as I’ve said, about the possibility that Ms. Rowling was trying to bring to the reader’s mind an image of Christ knocking at the door, a la the Book of Revelation. Could it be a joke about the Gryffindors living in a tower, which, because Griffins can fly, might require a Griffin Door to let them in way up there? Maybe it’s an answer to the question about which doors it is to which Hagrid is the Keeper of the Keys?

I’m open to possibilities here and delighted by the catch, Richard. Perhaps it was a stained glass image in Ms. Rowling’s Anglican parish church where she grew up. I look forward to feedback, comments and corrections from the HogPro All-Pros. Thanks again for the question.




  1. Richard Maxson says

    Why would the door knocker not be gold if d’or is the intended meaning. What has brass to do with gold?

    The door of Dumbledore’s office, opens Harry to wrestle with himself (through the good ‘office’ one could say ‘communion’ with Dumbledore himself), to know himself and to conquer his doppleganger old adam self Voldemort.

    There can be no doubt both Harry and Dumbledore are Christ figures as well. Both are Griffin-doors i.e. entries into a deeper humanity, that of sacrifice, which points again to Christ’s example.

    Dumbledore sacrifies himself in part to save Draco, similarly we see Harry’s growth enables him to spare Pettigrew. The dying to self is the most important stage in the crucible of the Christian faith, most of us only

  2. What has brass to do with gold?

    They look the same?

    Seriously, Richard, I’m delighted you make this point so ardently. Are you suggesting that the ‘Door’ reading is preferable to the D’Or interpretation or that it is the exclusively correct one?

    I’m happy to respectfully agree to disagree on both those options while allowing that both readings tell us something. As Harry and Dumbledore are only two of thousands of ‘Gryffindors,’ many of whom are not Christ figures (calling Peter Pettigrew!), I think you’re pushing pretty hard on the door to make it open for your view.

    Perhaps Dumbeldore is the Door your picture suggests, especially as it is his door to which the brass Griffin knocker is attached?

    Thank you again for your passionate defense of your reading!

  3. Richard Maxson says

    The name Dore derives from the same Old English root as door, signifying a ‘gateway’ or pass between two kingdoms.[2] Wikipedia search.

    Now we can rendoer Dumble-dore as Dumbledoor which is another support for this position.

    I don’t posit this as an exclusive reading of the text, d’or works to a degree…but the more I am looking the more favorable I become towards the English reading.

  4. Now we can rendoer (sic) Dumble-dore as Dumbledoor which is another support for this position.

    Really? Dumbledore’s name, which means ‘bumblebee,’ having a syllable that can be spelled differently is “another support” for the Christ-at-the-Door understanding of how to read Gryffindor?

    I confess. I wonder if you aren’t just pulling my leg at this point.

    If not, thank you again for the show of zeal for your cause!

  5. Richard Maxson says

    You have made my case for me…

    “Perhaps Dumbledore is the Door your picture suggests, especially as it is his door to which the brass Griffin is attached?”

    …quoted from your comments above. To simply limit Dumbledore to bumblebee only, is not in keeping with your other penetrating insights of many levels and layers of meaning in the series.

  6. Richard Maxson says

    In Celtic mythology the oak is a gateway between worlds…Dumbledore’s door was made of oak…which Rowling made effort to mention. Another support for the door reading.

  7. I think both explanations work well together. In passing through Dumbledore’s door, Harry passes a griffin not d’or but of brass (a poor substitute for gold). The griffin door we need to pass through for enlightenment isn’t the brass griffin door (it’s not Dumbledore who is the key) but the door leading to Christ, the griffin d’or, is the key.

    Also, one of my favorite kid Christian songs is “Behold, behold, I stand at the door and knock, knock, knock. If anyone hears my voice, and will open, open, open, I will come in.” Could Rowling be familiar with that song if not the verse it comes from? I hear echoes of Dumbledore’s offer of help to any at Hogwarts who ask for it too.

  8. Marmee March says

    I would think it far more likely that if J.K. Rowling had any picture of Christ knocking at the door in her mind, whether she were consciously aware of it or not, it would be William Hunt’s The Light of the World. Hunt was a founder of the Pre-Raphaelites, and that particular painting received quite widespread exposure, of course through England, but also around the world.

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