Mailbag: Questions from a Thesis Writer in Argentina

Though I spend most of my Harry Potter dedicated time here at HogwartsProfessor, the largest audience I speak to is the crowd of podCast listeners who tune in to MuggleNet Academia, the show on which I speak to a Potter Pundit and student guest about the artistry and meaning of Harry’s adventures. Produced by Keith Hawk for fandom’s favorite web site (and certainly one of the biggest), the new shows receive as many as 20,000 downloads and has been listened to in more than 100 countries.

I get mail, consequently, from serious readers around the world who have listened to those podCasts and then read one or more of my books. Sometimes they ask questions. Last week Keith forwarded this list of questions from a listener in Argentina who is writing a paper for a university course. Nothing new here, I’m afraid, but I post it as an example of my Walter Mitty existence as a Maven to Muggles. Please share your answers to the questions in the combox for our new friend in Argentina.

1. Do you believe in magic? Why / why not?

Magic as it appears in Harry Potter? No, I don’t believe in spell magic. I believe in the magic that is all the beauty, truth, and goodness that do not have rational, materialist explanations, which is wonder enough.

2. Do you think Harry Potter’s magical universe has been based on real facts about magic? If not, has it just been a figment of her imagination?

Harry Potter’s magical universe, as you put it, is what Ms Rowling calls a product of the compost heap of all the boks she’s ever read. It’s the fruit of the English imaginative literary tradition, then, not one woman’s individual imagination, as great a writer as she is.

3. What do you think that moved her to write about a wizard placed in a world full of mythological creatures?

She grew up reading books by E. Nesbit, Elizabeth Goudge, T. H. White, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien, all of whose books feature Fantastic Beasts. It’s part of the compost heap in her mind that I mentioned above.

4. Do you think her characters reflect the personality of mythological heroes? If so, could you provide some examples?

Her principal characters, at Hogwarts at least, reflect the standard role players of the English schoolboy novel. Harry is Tom Brown, Ron, the athletic friend, Hermione the smart mate, Albus the kindly headmaster, Snape the sadistic science teacher, Trelawney the loopy French master, et alia.

5. What aspects of world mythologies (i.e. Greek, Indian, Egyptian, Celtic and Scandinavian) did you find interesting when reading the whole series?

There are token references to Greek mythology in names of teachers, of wizards and witches on Frog cards, and in the beasts (the three headed dog bought “from a Greek chappie” comes immediately to mind). But I wasn’t thinking “mythology” as I read the books.

6. How and where would you say your books best capture the preaching function of myths?

I would say they don’t! I argue the Eliade thesis, namely, that books, especially imaginative fiction, serves a mythic or religious function in helping non-believers as well as believers transcend their narrow ego-identities. There is no preaching or moral drawing involved, because this function requires an elision of subject and object, reader and protagonist that is essentially sub or super-conscious. There is very little explicit teaching, consequently, though, again, as Rowling says, “morals are definitely drawn” implicitly. All of my books discuss the Eliade thesis in one way or another because it is the foundation answer to the question, “Why do we love Harry Potter?”

7. Could you define Harry Potter and Dumbledore as prototypes of the universal hero? What about other characters (e.g. Neville, Snape, Hermione, Ron)?

The Headmaster plays the sage that tutors the hero rather than the hero himself. As Ms Rowling said on the last film DVD, DDore is meant “as John the Baptist to Harry’s Christ.” I would also balk at calling Harry the Universal Hero on a Journey, a la Joseph Campbell’s formula. I’d suggest instead, in keeping with the literary tradition from which he springs (and the core symbolism that pervades Harry’s adventures) that he is a Christian Everyman on a pilgrimage to his loving sacrifice of ego-self and victory over death in Love Himself, or Christ.

8. What virtues do you consider to be really important when confronting obstacles like Harry Potter did?

We’d best stick with the author here! She has said many times that the virtue she admires most is courage — and that surely comes in handy when fighting Death Eaters.

9. What do you think about Lord Voldemort? Could he be defined as the classical villain? Why / why not?

I have no idea what you mean by the “classical villain”! A bad guy out of Sophocles’ dramas? The Dark Lord is an antagonist straight out of the Gothic nightmare tradition — the degeneration of man who has lost his conscience, the light within him, in obedience to personal ambition, striving for power, or pursuit of godless knowledge in science. See my Harry Potter’s Bookshelf and the chapter on the gothic for more on this. Harry is a “classic” Gothic heroine” believe it or not!

10. Do you think that Rowling’s works are quite influential nowadays? Why / why not?

Read this. Harry Potter is Here to Stay

11. Searching on the internet, we find a lot of fan-fiction about Harry Potter. According to your viewpoint, why is that true?

The author succeeds in creating an immersive experience for readers, an imaginative life that invites further creative effort — like writing stories!

12. Why did you choose to create a webpage exclusively about Rowling and her books? started as a place for me to promote my first books and it turned into an inter-active weblog over time. There was a demand for this kind of discussion at the time because of the controversy about Christianity and magic in fiction.

13. Would you say Rowling has inspired you? How so?

I enjoy her stories, certainly!

14. How and where would you say Rowling best captures the magic?

I’m guessing you know what you mean by “capturing the magic” but you don’t give me a single clue! The scene in Philosopher’s Stone where Harry confronts Quirreldemort before the Mirror of Erised is very well done. The chapter in which Ron destroys the eye-horcrux is also brilliantly done; there’s alchemy, Arthurian legend, and quite a bit of Christian symbolism, too — Ron the Baptist!

15. Do you think fantasy stories as the Harry Potter series will be old-fashioned at some point in the future?

Not in my life-time.

16. Is there anything else you want to say?

Thank you for listening to MuggleNet Academia and for reading my books! And please write again if you have more questions — see you at!


  1. Responding to question #6. IMO, preaching is not a function of myth. Preaching is when someone tells you something that is heard and interpreted intellectually. Myth is a story that allows us to experience a set of circumstances in a way that we can internalize the lessons learned in much the same way that the characters do. One of the things I loved best about her writing was the lack of preaching moral lessons to us, the readers. DD, of course, has monologues that can be seen as lecturing, but he is a professor and Harry’s mentor. It is entirely appropriate for him to lecture or sermonize. That is exactly the way a wise headmaster would talk to his pupil. The thing I appreciate is that Harry never expresses out loud any “aha” moments of understanding or personal growth of the sort one might encounter in an after-school TV special. Teenage boys do not verbalize the lessons they’ve learned. In fact it’s unlikely that there is ever a conscious awareness of lessons learned or morals drawn. Harry has experiences that are internalized and build his character over time. We see this development through his actions and choices. There is no need to tell us anything, thankfully, as we can draw our own conclusions. There is no doubt that Harry is a very moral person, but we see that it springs from his great capacity to love rather than an intellectual choice. That’s what makes it so powerful.

  2. Thanks so much for your contributions! They guide me where I was kinda lost 🙂

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