Reading, Writing, Rowling: Episode 8 Dirt and the Dark Arts – Tackling Taboos in ‘Harry Potter’ (Beth Sutton-Ramspeck)

From the write-up of this month’s ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ podcast:

At its core, a story of good winning out over evil, Harry Potter is full of the dark arts and the unforgivable.

In this ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling’ episode, Katy and John talk with Associate Professor of Literature Dr. Beth Sutton-Ramspeck (The Ohio State University in Lima) about Rowling’s “literary housekeeping” in the Harry Potter series. Bringing her knowledge of Victorian literature to her analysis of Harry Potter, Sutton-Ramspeck explores the complex array of attitudes toward filth, innovation, artistry, and the unforgivable in the wizarding world. Challenges to taboos, creativity and innovation, and images of dirt and cleanliness in the Harry Potter books help further Rowling’s vision of social reform and urge readers to consider their own roles in playing out their destinies.

How does the term “mudblood” automatically convey its profanity? What’s the significance of the Burrow’s clutter and the Dursleys’ sparkling clean house? Does J.K. Rowling celebrate rule-breakers or show the dangers of violating social norms? Why do the most creative uses of magic tend to come from Death Eaters and Voldemort?

Consider with us how characters’ eyes provide evidence of mind-control, whether the Imperius Curse is really more unforgivable than the use of Amortentia or Obliviate, and how rule-breaking can become a seductive lure to the exercise of power over individuals. We debate the implications of these questions for the key theme of free choice versus destiny in the Harry Potter books.

Please join the conversation via email ( or on Twitter (@ReadWriteRowl)! We’d love to hear from you!


  1. Brian Basore says

    Mrs. E. D. E. N. Southworth, “the most popular American novelist of her day,” her “day” being the late 19th century, felt that women were especially qualified to be in charge, to be social reformers. Generations of little girls were named for her heroine, Capitola Black. (My wife collects and reads Southworth’s books. I’ve read some of them.)

  2. Thanks for jumping in, John, when Dr. Sutton-Ramspeck gave her “more disgust = xenophobia and homophobia = conservative values = the Malfoys, Death Eaters, and Voldemort” theory. I actually stopped listening at that point, but decided to continue and hear the rest of the discussion. I had noticed the dirt thing before in the books. That the Dursley are super clean and most everywhere in the Wizarding World is a little dirty. Number 12 Grimmauld Place does finally become a real home to Harry in Hallows after Kreacher starts cleaning and cooking, as an interesting note. It talks about the pans hanging in the kitchen being polished and shining. Looking forward to listening to more of these.

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