New Reading, Writing, Rowling Podcast: Oxford University’s Beatrice Groves ‘Literary Allusion in Harry Potter’

The latest podcast on MuggleNet’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ series is out — and it’s a ‘wow’!

From the description on the page with the downloadable program:

In this episode, hosts Katy McDaniel (Marietta College) and John Granger talk with Oxford University Research Fellow Beatrice Groves about her new book, Literary Allusion in Harry Potter.

Rowling’s works are filled with references, some obvious, some oblique, to other literary works. Groves’ book explores the allusions throughout the Harry Potter novels, to everything from Petrarch to Shakespeare, Austen, Tennyson, and even Monty Python. As a specialist in Renaissance English literature, Groves guides us through these references so that we can understand how Rowling wants us to read and how she converses with other texts of the Western literary canon.

Join John, Katy, and Professor Groves as they discuss Rowling’s practice of “Cratylic naming” (“Dumbledore,” “Argus Filch,” the “House of Gaunt,” and more!), her links to Chaucer and Shakespeare, and her allusion to Austen’s gothic stylings in Northanger Abbey (connected by that tricky vanishing cabinet), among many other references. Groves shows us that for Rowling books are, like the ones in Hogwarts’ library’s restricted  section, literally whispering to us, and we should be listening.

It was great fun speaking with Dr Groves and the conversation was both challenging and informative. Check it out and let me know what you think! And buy the book — you won’t regret it.


  1. Katerina Dennison says

    This podcast is filling the void for me from losing MuggleNet Academia. Great discussion and I can’t wait to get my hands on the book.

    If MuggleNet Academia gets archived somewhere I hope you will let us know. Thanks.

  2. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks very much for this Katerina – really glad you enjoyed it (for some reason my computer was hiding some ‘comments’ in the autumn, so I’ve only just seen this!). I agree with you that Reading, Writing, Rowling is a new home for fans of MuggleNet Academia; and I do hope you enjoyed Literary Allusion in Harry Potter if you got a chance to read it!

  3. Charity Li says

    I’ve long been interested in literary allusions in HP! Thank you so much for your interpretation of Cratylic naming! But I still have trouble with understanding the connection between Dumbledore’s name and The Mayor of Casterbridge.

  4. Beatrice Groves says

    Thanks for this Charity – delighted to hear it!

    Rowling explicitly noted in interview (in 2000) that Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge was the source for Dumbledore’s name. It is a traditional Dorset name for bumblebee and she has noted that she chose it because he is a musical person and she imagined him humming to himself all the time (like a bee’s buzzing!): ‘I chose it because my image is of this benign wizard, always on the move, humming to himself’ (Rowling, 2002). There is also the sound of the word: Dumbledore’s name is another example of Rowling’s excellence at cratylic naming. The sound of the name evokes a friendly dependability – the repeated ‘d’ sounds solid and reliable, the soft ‘um’ sounds warm – and it ‘sounds endearing and strangely impressive at the same time’ (Rowling, 2002). She first came across the word by reading this passage in Hardy, in which Elizabeth-Jane has to ‘unlearn’ her native dialect in order to please her new father and appear more genteel:

    One grievous failing of Elizabeth’s was her occasional pretty and picturesque use of dialect words–those terrible marks of the beast to the truly genteel… in time it came to pass … that she no longer spoke of ‘dumbledores’ but of ‘humble bees’… that when she had not slept she did not quaintly tell the servants next morning that she had been ‘hag-rid,’ but that she had ‘suffered from indigestion.

    As you can see Hagrid’s name turns up here too – it feels like a little gift left unmentioned by Rowling for those who choose to retrace her steps! I think this source also gives these names a more important significance than simply their sound and sense. Rowling’s Wizarding world, the world of Hagrid and Dumbledore, is being identified here with a native dialect. Elizabeth-Jane’s childhood, her authentic self and these names therefore connect the Wizarding World with something of this native, imaginative space, free from the repressive strictures of the Henchards and Dursley’s of this world (both ‘adoptive’ families in which the hero/heroine find themselves are obsessed with and deeply stressed by keeping up appearances; and hence try and stamp out the protagonist’s true nature.)

    I hope this answers your question! (I have lots more on cratylic naming in my book, if you are interested….!)

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