Rowling Confirms Literary Alchemy in PotterMore Post– about Father Figures?

Yes, Yes, I’ve heard! Joanne Rowling is talking about her use of alchemical colors. In a post last week on Pottermore about Father Figures, the Presence herself admits that Rubeus Hagrid and Albus Dumbledore have their names from the alchemical colors red and white. But here’s the thing all the stories in print and online miss about this revelation: she told us this back in October 2013.

It’s not news, alas.

First, in case you missed this, check out these links to the story as reported in TIME ‘Here’s What New Information J. K. Rowling Revealed on Pottermore’ — and ‘CinemaBlend’ — ‘J. K. Rowling Reveals the Two Characters Who Represented Harry Potter’s Ideal Father Figures.’

No mention of her 1998 comments about wanting to be an alchemist in either one, right? Or the October 2013 alchemical colors discussion on Pottermore? Nada.

Here’s what she posted about alchemy last week if you want the cheat-sheet short-cut:


Alchemy … was once believed to be possible and real. However, the central quest of alchemy may be more complex, and less materialistic, than it first appears. One interpretation of the ‘instructions’ left by the alchemists is that they are symbolic of a spiritual journey…

The colours red and white are mentioned many times in old texts on alchemy. One interpretation is that they, like base metal and gold, represent two different sides of human nature, which must be reconciled. This was the inspiration for the Christian names of Rubeus (red) Hagrid and Albus (white) Dumbledore. These two men, both hugely important to Harry, seem to me to represent two sides of the ideal father figure he seeks; the former is warm, practical and wild, the latter impressive, intellectual, and somewhat detached.”


Although there are books on alchemy in the library at Hogwarts, and I always imagined that it would be studied by very clever students in their sixth and seventh years, Hermione most uncharacteristically ignores the opportunity. Perhaps she feels (as Harry and Ron certainly do) that, far from wishing to make another Philosopher’s Stone, they would be happy never to see another one in their lives.

Contrast this with what she posted in 2013:

Colours also played their part in the naming of Hagrid and Dumbledore, whose first names are Rubeus (red) and Albus (white) respectively. The choice was a nod to alchemy, which is so important in the first Harry Potter book, where ‘the red’ and ‘the white’ are essential mystical components of the process. The symbolism of the colours in this context has mystic meaning, representing different stages of the alchemic process (which many people associate with a spiritual transformation).

Where my two characters were concerned, I named them for the alchemical colours to convey their opposing but complementary natures: red meaning passion (or emotion); white for asceticism; Hagrid being the earthy, warm, physical man, lord of the forest; Dumbledore the spiritual theoretician, brilliant, idealized and somewhat detached. Each is a necessary counterpoint to the other as Harry seeks father figures in his new world.

So… the net gain is that we now know (1) that Ms. Rowling thinks alchemy is something All Stars at Hogwarts can study (in Transfigurations? Potions?) before graduation and (2) that she is an ardent online environmentalist, which is to say, she re-packages, re-uses, and re-cycles her bon mots.

One of my daydream delusions is that one day The Presence will be interviewed by a panel of Potter Pundits that are more scholars than sycophants. I expect the Lord will return first. This being the case, rather than put these thin, repeated comments under the microscope — is she saying that alchemy is primarily psychological because it is part of Harry’s search for “father figures” even though she acknowledges alchemists believe theirs is a spiritual journey? — let’s look back at our previous discussions of this subject.

One re-run deserves another.

Rowling Confesses Desire to be an Alchemist (2007)

PotterMore: J. K. Rowling Discusses Alchemical Colors (October 2013)

Be sure to read the comments on this thread about Sirius Black, et cetera.

Thanks to the many friends who sent me the news of this sort of new posting!

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