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PDay Minus Three — Prediction #5: The Rubedo

HPEF invited me early in 2003 to participate as a Featured Speaker at Nimbus 2003. I learned later that it was not a unanimous decision of the HPEF Board to invite me. It seems several Potter-philes, even at the height of ‘The Controversy,’ thought Connie Neal’s invitation was sufficient to cover the “Christian Interpretation” sub-category. The few board members who had read my Hidden Key to Harry Potter explained that mine was a literary rather than theologically driven approach to the books and that my thoughts on Alchemy were sufficient to warrant an invitation as Featured Speaker. I got in through the back door.

In 2003, “literary alchemy” was terra incognita to all but the few in Fandom who were subscribers to Cauda Pavonis, the academic journal devoted to the subject. Google “alchemy” and “Harry Potter” today and prepare for an afternoon of reading (most of it, unfortunately, will be time spent “wading” through papers not having been read by editors or “peer reviewed” by people familiar with the subject).

My talk at Nimbus 2003, “Alchemy, Doppelgangers and the Irony of Religious Objections to Harry Potter” (which was published in Touchstone magazine later that year as ‘The Alchemist’s Tale,’ brought Ms. Rowling’s use of alchemy to Fandom at a popular level — and the Slash writers, homeschooling soccer moms, and professors of Medieval Literature there were pretty excited about it. They voted that talk the “best presentation” of the 65 talks and panels at Nimbus. [Read more…]

Harry’s Hero Journey: Is He Going Through the Veil in Deathly Hallows?

If I have neglected one key here at HogPro that I discuss at length in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader, it is Harry’s Hero Journey. In Unlocking I explain it in great detail (with other repeated story patterns and elements) in a chapter that is something of a break between the more challenging material in the literary alchemy and postmodern themes sections.

Events of last week, though, call for a closer look at Harry’s formulaic journeys here with special attention given the descent, literal or figurative, he makes in each book before his annual confrontation with the Black Hats. An article by Anne Johnstone in the Glasgow Herald reminded us (via Lisa and her ever industrious house-elves at Accio Quote!) that Ms. Rowling had told Ms. Johnstone in a 2000 interview that in Deathly Hallows we would see “how close we can get to the dead.” [Read more…]

Great Expectations: What Sort of Ending Can We Expect?

Today is my daughter Sarah’s 17th birthday and we celebrated it by going to the movies. Our family usually skips out on the cinema during fasts but, as it isn’t an obedience of the Orthodox Church (just a reminder for the children), Mary and I let it slide on special days. Sarah likes movies; her birthday, consequently, was three movies: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer with dad, Ocean’s 13 with mom, and Ghost Rider with a sister and two friends from church. Not especially edifying, I’m sure, but she was “wow’ed.” And dad got to enjoy the alchemical delights again of the Fantastic Four….

For the younger guys I bought a collection of Dickens and Austen novels (16!) made into movie serials by the BBC. While mom and Sarah were at the movies this afternoon, I watched two or three episodes of the 353 minute version of Great Expectations. Mary wanted to leave for my dad’s place before it got dark and started raining, though, so they left in the middle of Episode 10 (just before the arrest of Magwitch on the river).

That was too much for me! After I packed the children into the car, I ran to the computer and brought up a text version of the last six chapters of the book. What a great read…. Really, if you haven’t read it for a few years, there are few uses of an hour that I’ve enjoyed this much at the great white screen.

I bring it up here on HogPro because I want to begin the discussion today, before the Interlibrum reaches what promises to be a frenetic ending next month, about what our individual and collective expectations are for Deathly Hallows. Dickens’ ending of Great Expectations is a good place to start — for a different reason than you might think. [Read more…]

BNF Notes: WSJ, A&E, Sectus Reversus!, & Book Expo America

If you understand what all the abbreviations and Fandom lingo in the title above mean, you are way ahead of where I was a month ago. Here is a hurried catch-up of my May and June when HogPro was lost in CyberSpace, from BNF and A&E to BEA and BNU. [Read more…]

Snape as Vitriol: The Green Lion alchemical catalyst?

I promised more than a week ago to post something about the place of Severus Snape in the alchemical drama of the Harry Potter novels. I’m still very much of two minds about this; I had hoped to post something definite but I cannot do that now. I don’t think that I’ll be sure enough of what Snape does and does not represent to say “I’m sure” until I can talk to Ms. Rowling about it.

As I don’t think I’m on her A-list for tea invitations, I will jump the gun of academic prudence instead and share with you (1) the Fandom research which has brought this to my attention, (2) my enthusiasm for this work (that is very different from what I have done or have seen elsewhere), and (3) my equally strong misgivings about it.

Let’s start with Severus Snape and my frustration in trying to see him in light of the Great Work taking place in the seven book alembic.

I have been asked several times at conventions, book stores, and on campuses when talking about the alchemy of the series what part the oily Potions Master plays. It’s a natural question, especially after I’ve detailed Ron, Hermione, and Harry’s roles and the meaning of Sirius’, Albus’, and Rubeus’ names in the black-white-red spectrum of the laboratory.

I’ve never given an answer that really satisfied me, if my interlocutors usually have been polite enough not to insist I come up with something better. Talking about Severus as both Dumbledore’s apprentice and his mirror image as an alchemist, the Gryffindor/Slytherin androgyn that is “slytherin-side-out,” is fascinating, even important (if true!), but it lacks the connect-the-dots transparency of Hermione as alchemical mercury or Sirius as the embodiment of the nigredo. I am eager to read anything that suggests something more easily understood about the character of Snape in the light of alchemy. [Read more…]