Deathly Hallows Cover Comments: Fire Away!

I think I hear Joyce Odell, the Red Hen, saying, ‚ÄúThe covers of the first six books have never told us anything we could understand until we had read those books; why should this time be any different?‚Äù The explosion of comment about the covers across Fandom, not unlike what happened at the release of the seventh book’s title is more a gauge of how high the interest is in the reading world about the final Harry Potter installment than a revelation of any events or meaning. This is snipe hunting, right?

But, yes, just like everyone else, I was looking hard at the covers today to see if anything could be found. The four things that struck me were:

(a) the house-elf piggy-backing Harry with sword (UK – are the trio in dress robes? making a stop at Gringotts on their way to the alchemical wedding?);
(b) the Hogwarts(?) ice-castle (UK back);
(c) the absence of wands (US and UK); and
(d) the skewed chopping block under broken platform (US).

Professor Mum and her friend SP Spial have found two neat alchemical links. Mum wrote me these notes this afternoon that I have italicized here:

On the back of the UK Kid’s cover, there is a globe, seemingly with 3 snakes or a 3 headed snake or a tri colored snake. SP Spial points out that it looks suspiciously like this alchemical picture...with the same 3 colors present.

I don’t know the source for this description of the picture but she included it, in red:

The above links to an alchemical plate in the work of Salomon Trismosin (Splendor Solis, 1535) the reputed mentor of Paracelsus. It depicts three birds in an alembic (alchemist glass still): one red, one black, and one white. The birds represent the three essential elements of alchemy: sulfur, salt, and mercury. Black, white, and red also represent the three stages of the alchemical process in creating the Philospher’s Stone.

As interesting was the Circle and Triangle image on the spine of the UK books. Professor Mum explains:

Look again at the UK’s cover. The spine has a triangle with a circle inside of it. In the past, the British kid’s cover has always had some sort of symbol on it: DD, Hedwig, the Peverill ring.

This particular LAST series symbol is reminiscient of the Eye of Horus that SP Sipal discussed in her Mugglenet essay, but it also has a place in John’s alchemy lore… and, wouldn’t you know, a link with Mr. FLAMEL….which explains the sulphur (red) and gold (orange) colorings to the covers.


About the alchemical symbolism, while I have admired the detective work Wendy and SP Sipal have done, I know that we won’t know what the triangle and circle or Snakey Globe mean until July 21. Establishing an alchemical parallel is exciting (believe me, as the supposed alchemical guy, I’m all over it) but what can we do with the connection(s) they have found? New Yorkers will remind you that the three dimensional sphere and triangle were the symbols of the 1939 World’s Fair….

More obvious is the color of the lettering chosen for the title and Ms. Rowling’s name on the US cover. If we had any doubt, we are certainly in the rubedo now.

One of my favorite Potter Pals and frequent poster on this site, Rumor, has written that Harry on the US cover is in a Christ-on-the-Cross posture. Her art studies trump anything I can say on this subject, certainly. Unable to resist the chance to say this, though, before I read it somewhere else, the US cover, I think, is Harry and LV, wandless, looking at Severus in the final confrontation when he reveals his true colors.

No? Isn‚Äôt that what we‚Äôre all waiting for? My off the wall fun guess is that Harry was about to be decapitated (hence the chopping block), sacrificially, when Severus (or LV?) intervenes. The artist hasn’t chosen scenes of climax from previous books, but I imagine, if this is the BIG SCENE in Deathly Hallows, she couldn’t resist.

Certainly she hasn’t given away much!

I look forward to reading your thoughts about the three covers released today.

Alchemy and the Tarot: Hanged Man on the Struck Tower

Some wild and crazy thinking over at the “Waiting for Harry” Book Club this month! My favorite is a Tarot and Alchemy connection being forged by a reader calling himself/herself “BNMC2007.” S/he starts with the “hanged man motif” we’re seeing of late:

1) When J.K. Rowling announced the Title of Deathly Hallows, visitors of her website could play a game of Hanged Man to get the name.

2) We see a magical game of Hanged Man in the Weasley twins Magic shop.

3) The Hand of Glory that Draco uses – is a Hanged Man’s hand.

4) We see images of the Hanged Man anytime someone uses the Levicorpus Spell- in particular Snape in his Worst Memory. He simulates the Tarot’s card for a Hanged Man (Hung upside down by his ankles.)

From there, s/he explores a possible link between Deathly Hallows and “gallows,” The Fool, the Tower, and Temperance, the so-called “Alchemy Card” in the Tarot deck most people are familiar with.

If this link to the thread doesn’t work, please go to, click on the Book Clubs tab (upper right corner of home page), sign in, and go to the Waiting for Harry discussion group (and say, “Hi, John!”). Here are my first thoughts on bnmc2007’s efforts: [Read more…]

“No God-stuff in Harry Potter:” Correspondence from Ohio

Over at the Barnes and Noble book club, a writer named “The Apologist” made some thoughtful points about Christians with reservations about these books, all of which points brought the attentive reader to the conclusion that we shouldn’t rush to judge people who act out of sober prudence to guard their children from dissipating influences. Like “The Apologist,” I have no arguments with parents that refuse to let their children read Harry Potter in obedience to instruction from the people they accept as spiritual authorities in their lives. Obedience and humility are the foundation of spiritual accomplishment in every revealed tradition; how could I say "trust my opinion of these books more than the authorities to which you are in obedience"?

What galls me is (1) the authorities who have not read the books but use them as litmus strips of orthodoxy or "right belief" (and to keep their congregations in line with simnple markers), (2) those in obedience who become zealots and evangelists (using the litmus strips as billy clubs in parishs and the public square; obedience sans humility), and (3) the secularist clan that belittle believers as idiots for having sober reservations about a book that does present an exciting, engaging version of witchcraft.

Alas, I get far more letters from these last people than from Christians and true believers that hate Harry. This one was in yesterday’s mailbag: [Read more…]

“Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” Four Words for “Other”

A friend over at the Barnes and Noble Book Club I’m moderating this month wrote a longish post about the Four Houses, their Four Elements equivalents, and their probable spiritual qualities. I do enjoy thinking about Ravenclaw (Air), Hufflepuff (Earth), Gryffindor (Fire), and Slytherin (Water) along these lines, if I would have never come up with what Oriflamme did. More recently I have been tracking the choleric, phlegmatic, sanguine, and melancholic humors/temperaments in the various characters. Fun stuff.

Most interesting to me is how Ms. Rowling has used these traditionalist conceptions of character and physics to make postmodern points — and has done so from the first book of the series.

I am thinking about Dumbledore’s four word speech to the Four Houses after the sorting in Philosopher’s Stone. He says, “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” and sits down. This talk made enough of an impression on Harry (and Ms. Rowling thought it important enough) that he recalls these words during the eulogy at the Headmaster’s funeral in Prince.

The context of his talk is the Sorting of the ickle firsties into their respective houses. However off-the-wall, Albus seems to be making an important point about the divisions that have just been made and the identities these students are about to take on. In short, each of the four words is a “put-down” that one house would use to describe the “other” (anyone not part of their new house).

“Nitwit:” Ravenclaw is the house of witches and wizards of greater intelligence. As a rule, Rowena’s children will think of those not selected for membership in their select group as “nitwits” or dummies.

“Blubber:” Blubber, in contrast, is a word used on playgrounds in the English speaking world for “fat.” It is disparaging because children use it to be unkind to their peers who are heavier than the average kid and probably less athletic. Gryffindor, the jock or frat house, sees the “other” as less physically bold or courageous, for which condition, an eleven year-old would probably find “blubber” a handy signifier.

“Oddment:” This is a word from the world of sewing and fabrics. An oddment, if memory serves, is the remainder from the bolt of cloth, a remainder not large enough to be usable in making anything significant. Slytherins are lovers of “pure-blood” and, in this, “wholeness” or “integrity.” The “other” to a Slytherin is any witch or wizard born with insufficient purity, an insufficiency that makes them an oddment of less, even no value.

“Tweek:” Hufflepuff is the Hogwarts House for magical folk who were not smart, bold, or pure enough for the three Houses described above. From Malfoy’s comments in Madame Malkin’s in *Stone,” they seem to be the dustbin house, where the nobodies wind up. Cedric’s success in *Goblet* also suggests that glory is something of a stranger to Hufflepuff champions.

I have to doubt this is the Hufflepuff self-understanding. They look at the “other” and see “excess” or “imbalance” not “excellence” and “virtue” they lack. Hufflepuff witches and wizards are down-to-earth, humble (humilis), and real people. The “other” needs to be “tweeked” or adjusted to refine their excess and bring it to the mean, which as Aristotle teaches, is where virtue really lies.

The Headmaster doesn’t make a long speech about what a shame it is that they have been divided and will soon see themselves as better than their friends who have had the misfortune to be sorted into the “other” houses. As a good postmodern linguistics professor, he notes that the Sorting Hat is the vehicle of the metanarrative or Grand Myth that is the *real* evil of their world and throws out his comic marker for those capable of hearing what was not very well hidden in his short speech.

As Harry must act as Quintessence to the Four Houses and Four Magical Brethren and was destined to this role as “The Chosen One,” it is no accident that these words stayed with him. Here’s hoping he can make sense of this lesson in his Deathly Hallows efforts to unite the Magical World against Lord Voldemort.

Story-Telling: The Sixth Key?

As I’ve said before here, I look forward to July 21 and the release of Deathly Hallows as much as every other Fandom reader, if perhaps for different reasons. Yes, I just want to find out how the story ends and will devour the book mindlessly cover to cover in the early hours of the day it is released. Won’t we all? What a relief that will be!

I am looking forward to P-Day (for “publication”), though, almost as much because it will end the Interlibrum and the super-speculative fascination of Fandom waiting on the saga’s last volume. There will be plenty of questions left over at book’s end, I’m sure, that only Ms. Rowling’s version of a Silmarillion will resolve but at least a new period of writing and thinking about the books can begin. This period, to last until the Lord comes I guess, will focus on the interpretation of the meaning and discussion of the artistry of the series. “What’s gonna/gotta happen?” will be supplanted by “What makes these books so popular to so many different people?” as the chief question thoughtful people are trying to answer.

Which is good news and bad news for me. I have been trying to answer the latter question since 2003 and finally having the complete series will mean I have to re-write Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader and cut out the speculative parts and expand the explanations in light of what we will soon know about Harry, Severus, and company. The good news is that finally Ms. Rowling will answer questions about the alchemy in the books, her themes, and her grand-scheme for the stories. The questions, in other words, that I have been trying to answer without her help.

That, frankly, is as exciting to me as finding out what happens to Harry in Deathly Hallows. I won’t miss the speculative side of things because (a) I’ve only engaged in it to illustrate larger points (and have some fun) and (b) I’m not very good at it because I don’t think like a story teller. [Read more…]