Rowling Confesses Desire to be an Alchemist

This just in — albeit from 1998! The web mavens at Hans Andrea’s Harry Potter for Seekers recently highlighted this money quotation from an interview with Ms. Rowling in the UK that was published soon after Chamber of Secrets was released. The full article can be read at right here.

The quotation:

“I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.”

To all those skeptical readers who have asked me with denial in their voices, “Has Ms. Rowling ever said there is alchemy in these books?” I now say, “Yes, she has.”

Not that the books themselves didn’t scream “Alchemy, anyone?” from the cover of the first book on, but what a delight to have this unexpected and undeniable confirmation! Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, of course, features an in-depth discussion of Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy throughout the series and how it points to certain plot points in Deathly Hallows.

Orders for Unlocking Harry Potter made today at will be mailed on Monday of next week, with autograph and all that. If you are new to the idea of literary alchemy and what Ms. Rowling, alchemist wannabe, is about in her use of alchemical images and themes, read ‘The Alchemist’s Tale’ in Touchstone magazine (taken from my “Best In Show” talk at the Nimbus HPEF gathering in 2003). I’ve also written here about the alchemical meaning of the title, Deathly Hallows.

Let me know what you think and what questions you have in the comments boxes below. An alchemical weather report for Deathly Hallows is already up!


  1. John,


    How anyone can ignore the concept of alchemy being in the books when the very first installment was named “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone”? Unless of course they think she didn’t understand what she was writing about.

    That however is the confirmation you and Hans have been looking for. The “ridiculous amount about alchemy” proves that your prediction of the weather for HBP being wet was not luck but understanding the alchemical process.

    Okay, so what’s the weather going to be like starting out the book in Deathly Hallows?

    Scorchingly dry, rainy, overcast?

    Chance of snow? I honestly don’t know but I defer to you in this area.


  2. Pallas Athena knows, as an old friend of mine who has defended me publicly and privately, that there are quite a few folks in Fandom who have openly ridiculed the idea of literary alchemy in the Potter books as my private fantasy. As she writes, it is not exactly a “well-hidden theme” in the books or an “obscure literary device” in English letters. The fervor of the resistance to the interpretation of the books, however, in light of how Ms. Rowling has given them an implicit and explicit alchemical structure has been remarkable and, frankly, unpleasant.

    What a relief to have a direct quotation from the author saying she has “learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy” and that it is the alchemy that sets the “parameters and internal logic” of the magic in the books. I am as amazed here that the reporter in 1998 did not follow-up this answer with more questions along these lines as I was that the MuggleNet crew in 2005 failed to ask Rowling any Four Element questions after she said the Four Houses were based on them and their “harmony” was essential for victory over Voldemort. As I recall, they rushed right past this answer to press her on a ‘shipping point….

    Anyway, the weather in ‘Deathly Hallows’!

    ‘Phoenix’ was hot and dry (choleric) as befit the Nigredo or “reduction to prime matter” stage of the alchemical work. ‘Half-Blood Prince’ opened cold and wet (phlegmatic) because it was the Albedo or purifying stage. The only options left for the Rubedo and climax of the work are ‘cold and dry’ (melancholic) or ‘hot and moist’ (sanguine or “bloody”).

    Ummm… I don’t think this last chapter will be especially melancholy.

    Look for summer storms or balmy humidity, ‘hot and moist,’ Pallas Athena, as ‘Deathly Hallows’ opens.

  3. Yeah I read this blurb from J.K. Rowling as I was browsing the archives at HP Lexicon Quick Quotes Quill recently. You were certainly on to something about alchemy. I am glad that JKR confirmed (even if it was in 1998) what you knew all along.

  4. I think I figured out something really important about Dumbledore’s management style, that makes me think things are being set up between werewolves and death eaters – or Lupin and Snape. But this is only part of a larger framework, that ought to have fascinating alchemical implications for the series, and bringing us closer to the question of What Happens Next.

    Here’s what just hit me. Dumbledore’s mysterious actions can be explained by the notion that Dumbledore maintains contacts who have questionable involvement within various groups of people, as part of a larger plan to overthrow voldemort. Here’s a list.

    Obvious ones are Lupin/werewolves, Snape/Death Eaters. But there are others. Dobby/House Elves.
    Evans sisters (lilly or petunia???)/Muggles. Slughorn/Slytherin. Draco/Aristocracy. Hagrid/giants . Sirius/Afterlife??? R.A.B/Black family??? Muddungus/Black Market. Stan Shunpike/the working class. Aurthur/Ministry.

    Can you see where this is going? Understanding this framework makes it seem a bit less puzzling, and is now seems that lot of the larger mysteries have to do with some kind of imbalance in this model.

    I suggest: Dumbledore wanted Snape to check up ONE OF HIS CONTACTS WITHIN ANOTHER GROUP (probably Lupin. Dumbledore doesn’t realize that this isn’t how things are supposed to be, and that this was too much for Snape. Snape is Death Eater Contact. Having Death Eater Contact spy on Werewolf Contact doesn’t work. Hence, the Argument.

    As Voldemort’s power grows, it is more important that Dumbledore maintain a contact within the Death Eaters. Snape ALSO can’t simultaneously be Slytheryn Contact (Dark Arts Teacher) and Death Eater Contact.

    Voldemort’s curse makes the problem of maintaining a Slytherin contact a rather interesting one, to say the least. Especially Gryffindor Lupin, who can’t be Slythin Contact and Werewolf Contact at the same time.

    What does it mean now that Dumbledore is dead (as a result of his mishandling of Snape), and why does that mean that Dumbledore isn’t going to pull a Gandalf?

    Because Jo has set Harry (or Aberforth???) up to be the new Dumbledore. Jo says, “it’s more complex than that.”

    Yes, I’d agree with her. Writing this series is slightly more complex than killing of Dumbleodre and not having to ever worry about him again when she writes Deathly Hallows.

    My fun guess – in Deathly Hallows, there will be some climactic battle between werewolves and death eaters, (during the full moon, which probably has something to do with “hallows”) and Snape will get ripped to shreds by Lupin, who ran out of Wolfsbane because Snape was too preoccupied with protecting Draco(fulfilling the vow, another tricky thing that throws off the “balance”)to remember to make it for him.

  5. I’m always happy when someone unearths an old interview as Rowling seemed to be more candid about her beliefs. The books were doing well by 1998, but not nearly as well as after they crossed the pond. Once we all found each other on-line, and started discussing the books in detail, Rowling, I think, realized that some people were keying into her literary techniques perhaps more than she wanted.

    And so, to have this interview, with such a specific quote about alchemy surface now that the last book is finished (and we’re all planning on where and how we are getting our copies, it makes all those hours of researching alchemy seem worthwhile.

    John, I can imagine that you were so extremely pleased to read that. I think the best thing was that Jo brought it up–not the reporter. And it wasn’t just one of those passing comments that she now tends to make.

    At the end of HBP, it was not so dismal and dreary and rainy, but the sun was starting to shine. This is where I always get a bit murky with alchemy. We’ve had the two weather combinations, so now what remains is to combine the two that we have already had? Is that the reason for hot and moist? And then will we also have the cold and dry in the winter months? Do we have to have both?

    I’m curious why you don’t think this last book will be melancholic. I would think that if Harry is going to visit Godric’s Hollow, and after Dumbledore’s death, as well as the possibility of not returning to Hogwarts as a student, that there is plenty of opportunity for melacholy.

    Note: I just looked up sanguine in my old Webster’s dictionary. Most of the definitions of any form of the word have to do with blood, except the one that says:

    2. “in medieval physiology, having the warm ruddy complexion of one in whom the blood is the predominant humor of the four; hence, 3. cheerful; confident; optimistic; hopeful.”

    That seems like a complete opposite to all the other definitions. Is that one of those words that has actually changed over time, or does the difference have to do with the reference to the four humors?

    Pat (eeyore)

  6. Hi John! I finally got around to checking out your blog, which I have been hearing about for a while, but had no fun time to come and see for myself. I’m enjoying it already. I hope to get your new book soon!

  7. Welcome, Regina!

    Pat, great question! “Sanguine” means both “bloody” from the Latin word for blood and, more commonly, after the temperament, “cheerful, confident, optimistic,” etc. I think we’ll see humid weather if not dramatic summer syorms to illustrate “hot and moist” because the drama of the Rubedo demands something vibrant, flushed, even bloody.

    Could it be melancholic (cold and dry)? Certainly. But it wouldn’t follow the alternating qualities of the books and the sense of story climax the way “hot and moist” does.

    Or so I think! I’d love to hear what you and others think of my alchemical weather prediction for *Deathly Hallows*!

    John, back to’s Book Club (Where We First Met, Pat!)

  8. oriflamme says

    hello John,
    I was glad to read this quote of JKR about Alchimy because we’ve just begun a discussion on that subject in ” Le repaire de Harry Potter ” a french website and forum.
    French fandom’s traditionnal analysis privileges psychanalyst and fantastic arts themes rather than history or spiritual ones. But , as Harry does , young fans grow up along the books and they are looking for more keys. I hope your books could be translated an published in France soon . Do you have some contact for ?

    On the Forum I’ve tried to explain the basic part of your alchimic analysis( I guess not to badly) and invited people to consult the present blog.
    We’ve got a question about Ron and Hermione : do you think that as mercury and alchimical sulfur they would be distroyed (killed)in the story climax? Or could we imagine a symbolic death ?

    ps: sorry for my nearly “Acceptable” english, never practised since … twenty years.

  9. I just realized my post has very little to do with alchemy. I think it was meant for the one about Jo’s recent comment on Dumbledore.

    I am so convinced of this model (which has evolved significantly) that I am writing a new book.

    It will be called Snape is the Man: Elements of Reformed Doctrine in Harry Potter.

    Look for hilarious open letter to Jo to be dropped on Mugglenet very soon. That’s me.

  10. Oriflamme,

    About translating my books into French, contact

    About the necessity of Ron/Hermione being killed in the last book, you’re on the right track, but I think Ms. Rowling has chosen an alternative couple. There needs to be an “Alchemical Wedding” in the Rubedo or final stage of the Great work, in which the Red King and White King “die” and the Philosophical Orphan is produced. Ron and Hermione were the obvious candidates for these roles, however young they are, until Bill and Fleur’s engagement was announced. I have to suspect, when Ms. Rowling announced that two people died whom she thought would live, that she was talking about Bill and Fleur.

    Killing Ron or Hermione would be harder for many fans to take than Harry’s demise, for which death they seem prepared. Here’s hoping for an Alchemical Wedding without casualties, however unlikely that is.


  11. Doesn’t it do your heart good to see that quote in Rowling’s own words!

    I only today decided to get more into Harry Potter fandom again and decided to check your webpage. How exciting to see the post I placed into HP for Seekers showing up here! It is just such a cool coincidence!

    Regarding the demise of Ron and Hermione, I think all that is needed is for Harry to think they died. Since the readers work off of Harry’s point-of-view, if he is convinced, we will be convinced for a few uncomfortable and sad pages.

    Remember Buckbeak?

    Then think of how joyful Harry (and ourselves!) will be to the King and Queen back in business.

  12. John,

    As a fairly new “student” of yours since, “Looking for God in Harry Potter” and
    learning of the rich literary alchemy history
    in JKR’s work with Harry Potter, all I can do right now is shout a loud, “Yessss”!!! To the
    fact that J K Rowling CONFIRMS your observation of the alchemical literary system she has alined with the characters and internal symbols within her books.


  13. What is alchemy? Is it Christian? For what reason did Rowling write it into her books?

  14. Start here:

    Almost every book I’ve written discusses this at length.

    Thanks for joining the discussion at HogwartsProfessor!

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