The Hogwarts Professor Is In: Do You Have a Question for Ms. Rowling?

Thank you, Robert Trexler, for filling in for me here the past few weeks while I have been touring the West Coast, moving my family for the second time in three months, settling into a new routine, unpacking the library, and waiting – and waiting – for the home computer to go on-line. I have a bunch of thank-you notes to write tonight and tomorrow to my friends at Biola, Pepperdine, Church of the Mediator, and points East, West, North, and South before I can put up some Dante notes here and re-open Deathly Hallows for discussion. I am very flattered that folks have been writing regularly in my absence and am grateful to Bob for freshening the page with something new every few days when I couldn’t post. It’s great to be back.

I am putting together a list of 20 Questions this week that, in my dreams at least, I hope someday to ask Ms. Rowling. I cannot afford the time or the ticket to see her at Radio City Music Hall, but, on the off-chance that her house-elves surf Harry Potter fan sites (and that they haven’t given up on this one!), I want to post here the literary questions from serious readers that reporters won’t ask her and fans consumed by ‘shipping and their concerns about Ron’s future employment neglect. Please feel free to join me in putting together this list!

I doubt I would open with this question, but here’s a sample of what I’m looking for:

Question 1: The last three Harry Potter novels feature the deaths of characters named, sequentially, ‘Black’ (Sirius), ‘White’ (Albus Dumbledore), and ‘Red’ (fRed Weasley). The stages of the alchemical work are often distinguished by colors, which, sequentially, are black, white, and red. You commented in 1998 that you’d read a “ridiculous amount” of alchemy before writing this series and that alchemy set the “magical parameters” and “internal logic” of the books. Should we as readers play close attention to the colors you use in the Harry Potter novels with the attendant alchemical meanings of these colors?

Okay. Your turn. More tomorrow from me on other subjects, God willing.

Grateful John, delighted to be back with the HogPro All-Pros



    Of course, I head over to Sword of Gryffindor right after posting this and find that Dr. Amy Sturgis, who will be going to Radio City Music Hall, is asking for your questions, too. The more the merrier!

  2. Thanks for the mention, John! Just to clarify, I will be attending the Open Book event at Carnegie Hall – that’s the one for which no tickets were sold. All of the attendees are winners of Scholastic’s Open Book Tour Sweepstakes. I would be very grateful for recommendations on questions to ask Ms. Rowling from you and your readers. I’m also polling my students from my Harry Potter university class. I’ll be writing up a report of the Q&A session and her answers. Thanks so much!

  3. JohnABaptist says

    Question: Throughout the initial six volumes of the Harry Potter saga, there was an underlying theme of who copied, recopied or edited who’s parchment scrolls is there a message here about how the written record of each student’s search for answers came to be formed–or is it merely incidental by-play?

  4. So many of the questions I have need introductions. They are not just simple questions – which would do better in an interview context, with cups of coffee at Starbucks. But perhaps something could be gleaned from this:

    Background: The Christian doctrine of the atonement seems to be infused through out your entire series – that is, that sacrifice is more than just dying for love but that there is real power in the sacrifice in that it protects others from the same fate (including judgment and annihilation). In the Christian doctrine of the atonement, Christ took the place of the guilty and suffered the punishment in our place, He sacrifice Himself for us. In his death and resurrection, through his “blood” Christians find redemption and life. They are “covered by the blood.” From gospel hymns to the Eucharist we see this powerful doctrine and what a surprise to see it reflected in Harry Potter.

    Are we wrong to see this over and over again in the Harry Potter series? Do we not see it from the very beginning? Lily sacrifices herself to save her son and her “blood” protects him, he is “covered” by her blood – to the closing pages when Harry sacrifices himself and his sacrifice “covers” all those in Hogwarts when Voldemort’s curses no longer have lasting power on Harry’s friends.

    Is this true? And if so …

    Question: How did you come to write on Christian doctrines in your books – especially after the initial outcry from the very folks who would later come to love your books? Can you tell us more about your own Christian faith journey?


  5. JohnABaptist says

    Question: In the opening chapter of Deathly Hallows, Snape and Yaxley are startled by “…a pure-white peacock strutting majestically along the top of the hedge….” Since peacocks are in fact large, heavy, fairly awkward birds it seems that they would have extreme difficulty perching, much less strutting, along something as insubstantial as the top of a hedge. Was your intent in introducing the figure of “The White Peacock” at this point actually a small thank you to D.H. Lawrence whose first published novel had that identical name? A novel in which he introduces both the stereotype of the crude and rustic but admirably honest gamekeeper and the compositional technique of building a long novel out of shorter stories each of which is complete in itself, and yet all of which must be taken in proper sequence to understand the longer story?

  6. JohnABaptist says

    Question: In a 2005 interview by Time magazine you [Lady Rowling] are quoted as saying: “But, obviously, Dumbledore is not Jesus.” How would you respond to the statement “obviously, Dumbledore is a parable of the Jewish expectation of the Messiah as portrayed in the Tanakh (Old Testament)”?

  7. JohnABaptist says

    Question: In French, the phrase “vol de mort” means “death’s flight”. In the Deathly Hallows, much is made of the point that Voldemort does not require a broomstick or other appliance in order to fly. Is the intent here to equate the restored Voldemort with the biblical “angel of death”?

  8. Arabella Figg says

    Welcome back, John!

    My question will no doubt go into the circular file, but here goes:

    “Were you aware that John Granger quickly caught on to your use of literary alchemy, and revealed underlying themes and symbols, providing older readers an appreciative understanding of the intellectual and spiritual depth of your work? What did you think of this? Would you speak on these thematic aspects of the series now for your adult fans?”

    Gah! Thudders is fanning his tail and blowing the curtains around…

  9. Great to be back, Arabella, if I spent the day with my son Methodios putting together shelves for my office and then loading them up with unpacked stuff and broken appliances (three record players?).

    And you’re right, your flattering question could only be asked by Gilderoy about himself. Please feel free to write Ms. Rowling, though, and see what she says.

    FYI, at my talk two weeks ago at Church of the Mediator in Allentown, I met an Episcopalian priest from out-of-state who (1) knew Ms. Rowling’s Episcopal Church of Scotland rector and (2) has a parishioner who received a copy of Deathly Hallows ahead of schedule this summer (May?) because she has terminal cancer. I wonder how many of those copies were sent out and how long it will be before the families share stories of Ms. Rowling’s kindness.

    I should say that, as interested as I am in the subject and curious about Ms. Rowling’s thoughts on the subject, I doubt even my fantasy interview would include questions about details of her faith and its impact on the stories. If she is “smuggling the Gospel,” I would be lifting the veil she has carefully maintained and putting her on the spot. Let’s try to come at the subject more obliquely than with a head-on confrontation.

    One good avenue would be to ask questions about specific books and plays or historic personages. Here is my question for tonight:

    Question 2 (John): The axis of the Wizarding World is the fault line separating the Gryffindors and Slytherins. Though there are two other houses and all four represent the traditional four elements, it is the opposition of cold and wet Slytherin with hot and dry Gryffindor that define much of the action in your Harry Potter novels. Do you think your inspiration was from literature, say, the Capulets and Montagues, or historical divisions, as in the War of the Roses or the Ghibellines and Guelphs of Dante’s Florence?

    Ms. Rowling says her greatest delight is that readers of her books are often “first time readers,” i.e., her books are the first books they have read and they go on to read other things. Here’s hoping that she’ll want to talk about books she loves and that are part of the fabric of Harry Potter to encourage her fans to read those titles…. JohnABaptist’s question above about The White Peacock is just the sort of thing I’m looking for, if I would be obliged to ask her if it was a Lawrence reference or the alchemical “cauda pavonis” separating the white and red stages.

  10. John,
    Welcome back. You just finished moving for the second time in 3 months? GASP I can’t even begin to imagine the ghastly amount of work involved in moving once, never mind twice in 3 months. I hope you and your family are well.


  11. JohnABaptist says

    Question(JohnABaptist): Several commentators have observed that they have found repeated alchemical references to the color sequence black, red, white and gold in your writings. Are these purely references to alchemy, or might they also be interpreted as representing the “Wordless Book” invented by Charles Spurgeon in 1866? He used the first three colors in that exact sequence to illustrate a sermon on the text: “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” [Psalm 51:7]. Spurgeon used black to represent the sinful state, red the cleansing agent of the Messiah’s blood, and white the resulting redeemed state. The book was extended by D.L. Moody (Mad Eye’s ancestor?) in the 1880’s to include a final page of Gold representing both the reward of heaven and the reduction of Death to nothing more than the line separating the white from the gold?

  12. Arabella Figg says

    Well, John, my question above was not meant to be a self-flattering question for you to ask. It would be for someone else to ask. And I agree about direct confrontation on the Christian element. But spiritual could mean something beyond Christian, because there is much in the books dealing with spiritual aspects of human life–as well as spirits, both ghostly and liquid! 🙂

    The kitties just enjoy catnip…

    P.S. You also have my sympathy on the moves. Just the books and kitchen alone…shudder.

  13. Okay, I’ll try again, because I really do want to know why she would take on such Christian theological doctrines – like the atonement, which has just completely lost its meaning in the post-Christian West. How do you explain to children what the atonement is? She does a tremendous job explaining the affects of the atonement on believers, I could certainly make the case for it. Perhaps these questions will be asked when when we are sitting in a pub swashing the butterbeer, but here it is – for the record. 😉

    Perhaps it would be wise to quote Dorothy Sayers:

    Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as a bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine—dull dogma as people call it. The fact is the precise opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man—and the dogma is the drama.

    Question: Do you agree with what Dorothy Sayers is saying here, that that the Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination? How were you inspired by that drama in the writing of the Harry Potter series?

    zr 😉

  14. Just a quick note after a Sabbath of worship, Columbus Day Sales shopping, and no work (something like rest…): Fascinating Spurgeon reference but the colors aren’t in the alchemical sequence black, white, red in the Wordless Book and Rowling’s books are pretty faithful to that series. I’ve been reading the sixth chapter of the George MacDonald Conference essay collection which Zossima Press is publishing and it features MacDonald’s thoughts on explaining what he wrote (he wouldn’t). More on that in the morning.

    Question 3 (John): Ms. Rowling, you said in 2000 that you wouldn’t talk about your faith because it would reveal the ending to readers “age 10 to 60” and that the last book would answer questions about your beliefs. We have the last book now and it answers many questions some people had while others want a more explicit statement of your religious beliefs. Are you intending to follow George MacDonald’s lead in refusing to explain the meaning of your stories because “if my dog doesn’t bark, I won’t bark for him”?

  15. JohnABaptist says

    Question(JohnABaptist): In the very beginning, in Philosopher’s Stone, to the consternation of the balance of the Hogwart’s Staff, Professor Dumbledore leads the student body in the school song. Although he is careful to provide every person with exactly the same words, he is insistent that each student and staff member not only select their own melody to accompany these words but actively and enthusiastically sing the words according to that tune rather than to any mutually common melody. Indeed when the Weasley twins insist on singing to a prolonged Funeral Dirge, Dumbledore does not chide, correct or hurry them; but instead directs them to the end of their song with a beam of approval and then declares the resultant cacophony to have been “…a magic beyond any we do here!….” Would you say this was your way of providing far warning that you find the widely diverse range of individual reader responses to your work to be precious far beyond any value gained from enforcing a unified interpretation onto your work, and that you will therefore likely never provide any sort of cathecism defining an official interpretation of your text, no matter how hard persons such as myself may beg you to produce one?

  16. JohnABaptist says

    John to John…please note that Ronil has not been exorcised…in the previous post, “far warning” should, obviously to all save myself, have been “fair warning”…

    With respect for the ordering of colors in Spurgeon and Moody, some points for consideration:

    1) While the “Wordless Book” colors take effect in the order black, red, white…it is key to understand that they must be contemplated, i.e. read, in the order black, white, red…That is to say we are originally black, and until we apprehend, consider, evaluate and ultimately desire the white (i.e. we repent) ; we can not appreciate the value or the proper application of the red. Therefore perhaps the true order is not as far off as you would think.

    2) Also Lady Rowling does not appear to feel constrained to always present her symbols in the same order other works do. As an example I read into the Horcruxes the seven seals on the Lamb’s Book of Life. All seven Horcruxes are broken, each is in the hand of a Christ symbol (although not always the same Christ symbol) at the time it breaks; but the order in which they were broken does not at all match the order our mutual namesake John presents in the Revelation. (Also you need to read quite carefully to see that the diadem fried in fiendfyre set by Vincent Crabbe was in fact in Harry’s hand when it broke; and you need to accept that while the Harry Horcrux was apparently broken by Voldemort’s curse, Harry was actually in charge of the scene–Voldemort did not kill him, rather Harry gave up his life freely…Harry’s life was in Harry’s hands to the end even as the horcrux broke.)

    3) In furtherance of point 2): In Revelation, the seven seals are presented first, the last seal causes the first of seven trumpets to sound and the last trumpet leads to the seven vials of woe appearing. In Rowling, the seven vials appear in the first trumpet (volume) and the seventh volume presents the breaking of only 5 seals, the first having been broken during the 2nd trumpet (volume 2) and the 2nd during the 6th trumpet (volume 6). The order in other words is generally backwards with slight adjustments to fit the needs of other elements of the narrative.

    4) In the final “Flight to Safety” episode Lady Rowling combines the incidents of “putting away childish things” (loss of Hedwig and Harry’s school trunk), the sending of the 12 disciples two-by-two with empty purses, the summoning of a Peter figure (whilst falling through midair–“Accio Hagrid!”) and the death of a John the Baptist figure all in one breathless rush of events.

    In other words, Lady Joanne is true to her models without being a slave to them.

    (Oh my, just listen to me run on! You should never allow us engineers to run amok in the halls of academe… we do tend to foam at the mouth.)

  17. Question: Could you tell us the titles of the Christmas carols Harry heard while searching for his parents’ grave in the churchyard at Godric’s Hollow? If not, how about naming a few of Dumbledore’s favorite carols he led in singing at Hogwarts? We know Sirius sang “God Rest Ye Merrye Hippogriffs” at Christmas time in OOTP.

  18. Was the “struggle to believe” the reason for The Fat Frier, ghost of Hufflepuff House, for remaining in the wizarding world as an imprint and not going “on” after death? Did the Hufflepuff cup that was used as a horcrux have a history and play a role? Can you elaborate?

  19. Do you consider yourself a Calvinist? How has your religious faith influenced the plot of Deathly Hallows?

    She’s said that her religion has affected the series’ plot, but that she couldn’t reveal too much before DH came out. Well, it’s out now & I hope JKR explains this topic some more in her interviews.

  20. Continuing with the theme of “putting away childish things”…I was disconcerted mightily when watching Harry sort his possessions prior to leaving Number 4 Privet Drive for the last time. Honestly, I had to reread the passage until I could get my head around the idea that Harry was “forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Horcruxes, Voldemort, and possibly his own death). Initially I presumed as Harry, that the Dursleys would most likely burn everything associated with his presence in the house because of their intense hatred of all things magical; now looking back, I don’t think so. I believe (albeit in a Pollyanna-sort of way) Dudley would secretly intervene and preserve those things that could be easily hidden from Mr. & Mrs. Dursley.

    My question is more of a request to expound on the subject of “hope” in light of the person of Dudley Dursley: What motivated Ms Rowling to show us a glimmer of acceptance amidst the inhuman, Muggle personnas of Vernon, Petunia and Dudley and their twisted ideology of familial responsibility?

  21. JohnABaptist says

    Question(JohnABaptist): Regarding the double epigraph at the beginning of Deathly Hallows that seems to promise an Alpha to Omega transformation over the course of the book, is there a reason why you give us the full speech of the Chorus from Aeschylus’ Libation Bearers, but only half the speech of the “Union of Friends” quotation from William Penn’s “More Fruits of Solitude”? has the full quotation for the curious.

  22. Why had Hermione (or the boys, for that matter) not thought about packing food in the beaded bag? I would think that after the narrow escape following the wedding, one of the three (especially Ron) would have insisted on storing edible supplies in the event of another untimely exit.

    Chrystyan, I love your question about the carol titles, though not naming them allows us to insert preferences, don’t you think? One more way JKR has freed the readers from the burden of manipulated interpretation and given us the privilege of personal lens! I mean, Christmas sounds/smells/tastes differently for everyone; therefore, Harry’s emotional journey through Godric’s Hollow is as much a walk down memory lane for the reader as it is a reminder of the great losses in Harry’s life.

  23. My question would be this: Was the diary always a horcrux or did you come up with the idea of horcruxes as you were writing HBP?

  24. PJ- I wanted to leave my questions a bit open-ended so that JKR would have some wiggle room for answers without pinning her down if she didn’t want to be. I thought through (Christian) deductive reasoning that if she made up Christmas titles using Hogwart’s themes or actually named carols outright that we could hum the tunes and know what she meant. I thought it could be fun and enlightening! And I see that I misspelled friar up there, too (sorry). I’m hoping if the questions have merit that John has permission to edit. I really am curious about the Friar (the ghost of Hufflepuff House) and how he came to have a religious occupation and was also a wizard.

    Another question:
    In DH we have access to shared vision of Voldemort and Harry at Godric’s Hollow specifically after the Bathilda snake incident. The vision is Voldemort on his way to kill James and Lily on Halloween night. I was further impressed by Voldemort’s observation of two children dressed as pumpkins waddling across the square, the shop window covered in paper spiders, “all the tawdry Muggle trappings of a world in which they did not believe.” (DH-Page 342) Is this speaking about the supernatural elements, principalities and powers associated with the spiritual world or realm of darkness and the lack of belief by people in it?

  25. There’s probably no good way to ask this question without it coming across as “you’ve already answered this question in public – I just don’t believe the answer”, but I’ll give it a go anyway.

    “So many of your characters have names that are very carefully related to their nature and/or their role in the story. How does Harry’s name relate to your vision of him?”

    John’s given some interesting thoughts on this one in “LFG”. I wonder how close he is.

    I guess I have another one as well, that goes along with the high regard that JKR professes for the abilities of her readers.

    “In the end, the relationship between the Slytherins and the Gryffindors, and between Harry and Draco in particular, seems to be left somewhat ambiguous. Was this an intentional case of letting the readers decide for themselves how the fundamental conflict in the saga was resolved?”

  26. JEP, that’s a question I have had as well. When did the idea of horcruxes enter the picture, and how much of the story (if any) was reinterpreted as a result?

    I have the same or similar questions re. several other revelations that appear in later books which shed new light or understanding on things that have been there from the beginning. A few that quickly spring to mind are: when Hagrid says he borrowed the motorcycle from “young Sirius Black” did JKR know then who Sirius was and would be; did she always know the reason that the Bloody Baron is covered in blood; the reason nobody can see the invisible “horses” (thestrals) pulling the carriages; the roles that the broken vanishing cabinet and the room of requirement will ultimately play and many such others.

    Speaking of the room of requirement, that is one of the annoying “plot holes” for me. The room was full of stuff hidden by Hogwarts students over the centuries. How could Voldemort possibly think that he alone knew of that room, as if it were one of Hogwarts’ deepest, unplumbed secrets? I can fathom (though have a hard time believing) that he might think Dumbledore didn’t know of the room. But the very fact that it was full to bursting with stuff hidden there by prior students should have made him realize it had been and would continue to be discovered accidentally from time to time, and make him hesitant to hide the diadem of Ravenclaw in there.

  27. Arabella Figg says

    A question that is rather mundane, I suppose. I can’t seem to word this question very well:

    What was the fate of the Dementors after the Hogwarts battle? I can’t see the revamped Ministry continuing to use them as allies and Azkaban guards. Do they, like demons, just “roam about as a roaring lion, seeking whom they may devour?”

    Ms. Rowling, you’ve said Dementors represent depression and despair; they also feed on such, sucking personhood from people, and they were able to infiltrate the Muggle world. Dementorhood is not limited to magical creatures, but is also found in human behavior. Are the Dementors, in a wider view, symbols of our own falleness, its resulting evil and desolation, and our ability to feel and give emotional harm?

    And, in connection, what then is the source of the healing through chocolate and the protective Patronuses?

    I just ate chocolate, which little Flako would love to have. As I held him, he sniffed the fragrant exhalation from my nose, then shot his tiny tongue up my nostril (true story of a former kitten)…

  28. “Speaking of the room of requirement, that is one of the annoying “plot holes” for me. The room was full of stuff hidden by Hogwarts students over the centuries. How could Voldemort possibly think that he alone knew of that room, as if it were one of Hogwarts’ deepest, unplumbed secrets? I can fathom (though have a hard time believing) that he might think Dumbledore didn’t know of the room. But the very fact that it was full to bursting with stuff hidden there by prior students should have made him realize it had been and would continue to be discovered accidentally from time to time, and make him hesitant to hide the diadem of Ravenclaw in there.”

    Best place to hide something is in plain sight. I think it would have served his purposes brilliantly.

  29. To Emily, ZoeRose, John, and all:

    I’d say, don’t bother asking JKR what she’s already given us in her work, in a more discursive form than Q. and A. format. (Indeed, that’s the beauty of literature.) JKR cannot possibly be a Calvinist, because the salvation of both Harry and other characters involves their making the right choices. For example, all along Harry could have listened to Voldemort’s seductions, could have gained the Stone for himself, and–finally–could have used the Hallows to ensure his own immortality. Instead, he chooses to fight Voldemort, whatever the cost to himself. Likewise such unlovely characters as Dudley–who appears sympathetic to Harry in DH–and Snape, who fights Voldemort for whatever reason, if only out of love for Lily, CHOOSE to act for the Good. I don’t see how their deeds can be interpreted as anything other that a free choice, as opposed to a pre-destined fate.

    ZoeRose, I agree that the true Christian concept of the Atonement has been utterly distorted in the West. Anselm of Canterbury had a perverse theory about our many offenses against the Divine Majesty, whereas–no matter how obnoxious our behavior, God is not offended by it but wants to rescue us from it. So certainly Lily Potter died to save her son–a God-like act–but she acted from compassionate and self-sacrificing love, Christian AGAPE. For this reason her blood protected Harry. (And one might assume that she had the same love for her husband, who had been a rather obnoxious bully at school).

    So, it’s rather obvious that JKR has a true Christian understanding of the Atonement, or the Redemption, which are all very clumsy human terms for a great mystery. However, this should not be surprising. As I think Tertullian said, “The human soul is naturally Christian.”

    There are many other questions we might want to ask JKR, about the alchemical stages in the books, the horcruxes, and any apparent plot holes.

    P.S. John. I hate to think of someone moving so often. Ouch! My husband just retired, and we are now shovelling out the house–in itself a fate I wouldn’t wish on anyone!

  30. JohnABaptist says

    Hi Karl,

    Due to a youth spent enthralled by Edgar Alan Poe, I think I may be able to shed some light on that. The principle is the same one used in “The Purloined Letter” which Poe wrote in 1845. It is considered to be the short story that launched the entire detective story genre and inspired the creation of Sherlock Holmes and the generations of fictional detectives who came after him.

    The theory is that people hunting for “hidden” things look for them in “hiding places”, therefore a genius hides his object in the most obvious place and no one ever looks for it there. Poe’s villain hid a stolen letter in a letter box on his mantle, disguising it by turning the letter inside out and scribbling a fake letter on the back.

    Because seemingly every guilt-ridden student at Hogwarts had concealed the broken results of their mischief in the Room of Requirement, it was the obvious place hide something, and was therefore the last place anyone would look. Especially since the tiara was given such a tarnished appearance as a disguise that it barely registered in Harry’s consciousness when he used it as a marker for his hidden Potions book. [Half-Blood Prince, Scholastic hardback edition, page 527.]

    Poe incidentally begins his Purloined Letter with a quote from Seneca: Nil sapientiae odiosius acumine nimio — “Nothing is more hateful to wisdom than too much cleverness.” Truly applicable here, as an unseen force lead Harry to “accidentally” grab the tiara, put it on top of a mangy wig, on top of a chipped statue of an ugly warlock and then stare at it so he would be sure to remember what it looked like. How often we dismiss the guiding hand of Divine Providence as “a lucky accident”!

  31. Shane and JohnABaptist: the “hiding it in plain sight” theory did occur to me and may in fact be JKR’s answer to my objection. But it seems like she contradicts that theory somewhere in the text itself – suggesting that Voldemort really thought he had found a super-secret hiding place within Hogwarts that not even Dumbledore knew existed, because he thought he had plumbed its secrets to a greater degree than anyone else since the 4 founders. I’d have to search for the exact quote and page reference(s). Maybe my memory is incorrect and built more on unwarranted assumptions.

  32. Isn’t written in I think either HBP or DH that Dumbledore says something to the affect that Lord Vol believed that he alone knew all of Hogwarts secrets ?

  33. Cassiane,
    Thank you for the discerning thoughts on JKR and Calvinism. While an understanding of Ms Rowling’s doctrinal beliefs would prove enlightening to some, I feel such a discussion would pull focus away from the interpretive qualities of the HP series itself. Every HP reader brings something valuable to the table of analysis due to personal experience, no matter what age. We apply meaning according to our level of knowledge, and our knowledge comes from experience…no different from the Christian’s journey, would you agree?

    Questions: Why did LV use Narcissa to verify Harry’s death? Why not Bellatrix? (“You,” said Voldemort, and there was a bang and a small shriek of pain. “Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead.” DH p.725) And as for the Malfoys themselves…was the decision not to kill them off an attempt to demonstrate the lostness of the misguided soul refusing to repent and accept reconciliation?

  34. I’ll take a bit of a poke at your questions, pj.

    Q: Why did LV use Narcissa to verify Harry’s death? Why not Bellatrix? (”You,” said Voldemort, and there was a bang and a small shriek of pain. “Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead.” DH p.725)

    A: I think he didn’t use Bellatrix for the same reason he didn’t check on Harry himself: he was still secretly afraid of him, and so he sent someone he didn’t value to do the possibly-dangerous job.

    Q: And as for the Malfoys themselves…was the decision not to kill them off an attempt to demonstrate the lostness of the misguided soul refusing to repent and accept reconciliation?

    A: I see the Malfoys as the Doppelgangers (to borrow John’s term) of the Dursleys: wizard and muggle families who both held Harry in contempt, and who both wound up indebted to Harry for saving the life of their only-son-and-heir. And in both cases, faint signs of acknowledgement: Dudley saying “You’re not a waste of space” and Draco’s little nod on Platform 9 3/4 in the epilogue. It’s the first faint glimmer of reconciliation, but it would lack verisimilitude if it happened all at once.

  35. JohnABaptist says

    Hi Karl —

    Above you say: ” But it seems like she contradicts that theory somewhere in the text itself – suggesting that Voldemort really thought he had found a super-secret hiding place…” Indeed she appears to! See page 623 of Deathly Hallows [Scholastic hardback edition]. Harry says, “He [Voldemort] hid it exactly where I hid my old Potions book, where everyone’s been hiding stuff for centuries. He thought he was the only one to find it.”

    Narrative misdirection is alive and well in the final volume. Patently on the face of it, the amount and age of items in the room would have instantly told Tom Riddle that “everybody” hid stuff here; just as Harry himself saw in the quotation given. Harry wasn’t thinking at all clearly.

    In fact, just a page before he was chewing Hermoine and Ron out to the extent of actually using profanity for wasting time with “…large, curved, dirty yellow objects….” which he didn’t recognize as basilisk fangs, even though he had killed the basilisk they came from, and had a desperate need of them because he had nothing else at his disposal that would destroy a Horcrux.

    Because of the depth of our [the reader’s] commitment to Harry at this point, we do not see the illogic of some of his statements and go away with exactly the degree of confusion about the real state of affairs that Lady Joanne wishes us to have at that point…narrative misdirection, the epic novelist’s best friend.

  36. sleepingdragons says

    Questions for Ms. Rowling:

    In the beginning of Book I, Harry is being “hounded” by letters from someone who seems to know where he sleeps. Uncle Vernon does everything possible to prevent Harry from getting these letters, finally taking the entire family to a house purched on a rocky island in the sea where he is sure no one will find them. But, at precisely midnight of the day of Harry’s eleventh birthday, on a very dark and stormy night, someone representing the author of those letters does find them, bursting in on them; it is Hagrid, “the Keeper of the Keys.” Every time I read this section, I can’t help but be reminded of the 139th psalm that says these things:
    “Thou searchest out my path and my lying down…” and
    “…whither shall I flee from thy presence?” and
    “If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the
    uttermost parts of the sea, even there…thy right hand
    shall hold me.” and
    “…even the darkness is not dark to thee, the night
    is bright as the day…”

    Did you have this psalm in mind when you wrote this lovely section? Does this section point to an idea of a providence watching over Harry, and does having him rescued by someone called “the Keeper of the Keys,” a name elsewhere attributed to St. Peter, then point to this providence as being a specifically Christian one?

    I have a more mundane question:

    Why does Dumbledore fly up when Snape hits him with the Killing Curse? The Avada Kadavra curse seems only to have made the victim “drop” dead where he stood when used elsewhere in the books.

  37. Thank you, Helen! Your answers make perfect sense and I appreciate your graciousness in responding.

    To sleepingdragons:
    I’ve always considered the Killing Curse, with its green flash and ultimate outcome (save for Harry), to be controlled by the one using it. Didn’t Bellatrix tell Harry that to use an Unforgivable Curse, he had to really want to make it work (my paraphrase)? Therefore, wouldn’t the user also be sending his/her desires through the Curse, “directing” the victim’s final moments? For example: Cedric flew through the air away from Wormtail in GOF, James dropped where he stood in DH, and LV intended for Harry to remain stationary so he could watch the light go out of Harry’s eyes in GOF.

    Perhaps Snape’s intentions to lift and drop Dumbledore’s body over the wall was two-fold: one, he would be providing a distraction to allow time to escape and two, I believe Snape was aware of Harry’s presence on the Tower through Dumbledore and by sending the Headmaster’s body off the Tower, Snape would prevent Harry from delaying his own departure and getting trapped by other Death Eaters.

  38. I like the “hidden in plain sight” angle. It is true however, that Dumbledore did not discover the Room of Requirement until recently. I can’t remember which book it was in, but he tells Harry he was pacing the hall wishing there was a restroom nearby, when suddenly one appeared. In OoP Harry remembered Dumbledore telling him this when he needed a place for the DA to practice.

  39. The Room of Requirement reminds me of intercessory prayer: the one requesting must be very specific about the need in order to obtain the desired results! How many times did Harry have to reword his request as he passed back and forth along the corridor in DH before the RoR opened to him?

    Did JKR have prayer in mind when she introduced us to the Room of Requirement?

  40. Just a note on the meaning of Voldemort’s name. I like “death’s flight” and the “angel of death” interpretation of “Vol-de-mort.” That may be it. But in French, “de” can mean either “of” or “from.” I interpreted the name to mean “flight FROM death,” which makes sense in the context of the horcruxes. Voldemort was fleeing from death, trying to avoid it, by creating horcruxes.

    I would love it if Ms. Rowling would explain more about the origins and meanings of so many of those great names she created for her characters. Perhaps she could provide this information in the encyclopedia she has said she might create?

    Also, I want to know if little Albus Severus Potter winds up in Gryffindor or Slytherin! Would she every consider writing his story?

  41. Casiane,

    Well, I’m just wondering because JKR is a member of the Church of Scotland, which is a Calvinist (Reformed) Protestant church. Other people have speculated & written essays on whether Calvinist precepts are reflected in the series, and it seems to have some validity to me. However, this would seem to lessen the importance of choice as a theme. So, I’m curious!

  42. maybe I’m bonkers, but didn’t John post a story recently about JKR’s kindness gotten through Episcopalian/Anglican sources? A rector he met knows the rector at her church, etc., thus settingly that the Church of Scotland we’re talking about is an Anglican church? I know Scots went Presbyterian largely, but Anglicanism is (was?) the official religion of the Crown; hence, it makes sense that very official sounding Church of Scotland is the church favored by the English overlords. Coupled with John’s story, it seems like she is most likely Anglican…which would resolve the choice issue entirely, as Anglican’s don’t subscribe to predestination as a doctrine. Of course, John has the details, so perhaps it is best he respond!

    As far as Voldemort as a name, well, I don’t really know French, but I studied Latin for four years, and ‘de’ means anything in the realm of ‘from, of, down from, concerning/about’, but ‘from’ was the one I came across most. Also, we see this meaning or extrapolated meanings from it most commonly in English: devolution; deconstruct; devalue; etc (‘from’ taking on an ‘away from’ connotation– away from value, etc). Since Rowling is a classicist, I think the Latin meaning is most likely (or atleast I hope so, since it’s the only one I’ll likely understand!)

    So, I think the main meaning comes from these:

    volo, volare – to fly/flee
    de – from
    mors, mortis, f. – death

    so, Voldemort = ‘flight/fleeing from death’

    Of course, I think JKR is brilliant at double entendres, multi-meanings, etc., so perhaps the above is accurate, but maybe there is a second meaning?

    volo, velle – to wish/will (think ‘volunteer’)
    de – of
    mors, mortis, f. – death

    so, Voldemort could also = ‘will of death’, which certainly makes sense given how little compunction he has about killing people..

    anyway, my apologies for digressing terribly. I’ve been trying to think of a question to ask, but nothing I come up with resonates much with me… I feel like there’s something I’d really like to know, but I can’t recall it.. and unfortunately I haven’t got the time to go find it out b/c I have a terribly busy reading days…

    speaking of which.. I should probably go read more.. or atleast take a nap before I have to work tonight… of course, I’d much rather sleep… or make cookies, lol… than read. 🙂


  43. To Emily:

    I have learned from experience in my own denomination that not everyone who joins the local church fellowship embraces 100% of the denomination’s doctrine beyond the fundamentals of salvation by grace through faith in the Risen Christ; Scripture, the inspired and inerrant Word of God, and belief in The Trinity. Sadly, even these great tenants of the Christian faith are not always embraced and church membership becomes more important than faith relationship, hence RELIGIOSITY.
    Sometimes where we live dictates where we worship…and then others tend to label by association. Sad, but true.
    For me, JKR’s denominational affiliation is not the issue, rather her relationship with the Risen and Living Christ that evidences itself in the HP series. Sometimes I wonder if she doesn’t feel “on trial” with persistent questionings concerning her personal faith. Even if JKR was a Calvinist by definition, she did not write HP in that vein, otherwise “choice” would not play a pivital role in Harry’s life.

  44. Emily:

    I don’t see any Calvinism in the books themselves, and I find it intriguing and puzzling that some have interpreted them that way.

    Is JKR a member of the Church of Scotland, which is or at least was Calvinist in its origins? Or is she a member of the Anglican Church in Scotland (which in the past had some flirtation with Calvinism)? I don’t know if we ever decided that. In any case, I rather suspect than many contemporary members of the C. of S. do not believe in Calvin’s doctrines.

    Ultimately, I don’t know how relevant this is to JKR’s work. Maybe at some future time someone can ask her over a large glass of butterbeer. . .

  45. On the subject of the atonement …

    As far as the whole of the Christian Church in its western expression goes (I can’t speak for the East), there have been several theories of the atonement over the centuries. However, none has been deemed the definitive theory. I suspect that is because there is some degree of truth in all of them (Christus Victor, Anselm’s, Abelard’s, a minor theory with its roots in the Covenant …) and all of them fail to fully explain it. In the American situation, Anselm has gained a great deal of prominence, especially among evangelicals who tend to treat it as if were the only perspective. It isn’t … and Abelard’s critique is a fair one: If the problem is one of justice, how does the greatest injustice of all solve it? Of course, in fairness, one must look at Abelard’s answer and ask, “Well, then, why aren’t we, as Christians, more loving?”

    But on the whole, JKR seems to give more credit to Abelard than to Anselm. (I’ve long thought Bella’s taunt about righteous anger not being enough for the Cruciatus Curse was a covert slap at Anselm.)


  46. Coppinger Bailey says

    This question is straight from the “insufferable know-it-all wannabe” file, which is probably grounds for instant disqualification. But I just can’t help myself! I’m too far removed from my past studies of literature, so I don’t know how to cleverly link what I want to ask to something else. I am left with being painfully overt (if the only tool you have is a hammer…). Like ZoeRose, my question needs an introduction.

    Background: For a few months I’ve been studying some of Evelyn Underhill’s work, especially “Mysticism,” as well as her latest biography by Dana Greene. In July I wrote an essay that John kindly posted in which I hypothesized that the Christian mystical tradition – and Evelyn Underhill’s treatment of the subject, in particular – may be inspirations for some of the structure & symbolism in Harry’s story as well as the boundaries & limits of magic in Harry’s world.

    My curiosity in this topic was piqued again last week when a friend gave me a copy of the Oct. 14, 2007 issue of The Living Church (Fall Book Issue). In this issue is an article by Timothy L. Jones on “Harry Potter and Spiritual Context” which describes the series as “an immense, careful, wonderfully crafted, accessible modern exploration of Christology.” (He goes on to say that he hopes that critics such as Lev Grossman at least now have the “grace to be embarrassed” upon the release of Deathly Hallows.) Near the end of the article, Rev. Jones closes with an explication of the DH Epilogue that really grabbed my attention:

    “…and the story concludes in the late summer of 2017. Harry is sending his own children off to learn how to be good wizards. The final sentence of the saga is ‘All was well.’ The best-known assertion of the 14th-century mystic theologian, Mother Julian of Norwich, writing in an era of unprecedented mortality, plague and disaster, is that Christ has defeated the powers of evil and death, and that because of the all-powerful love of God ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.’…”

    According to biographer Dana Greene, Julian of Norwich was one of Evelyn Underhill’s favorite mystics. So…

    Question to Ms. Rowling (from insufferable know-it-all wannabe fan): In previous interviews you have revealed that your study of alchemy greatly influenced the crafting of Harry’s story. You have also intimated that Harry’s story clearly possesses religious undertones. In addition to alchemy, did any study of the Christian mystic tradition influence Harry’s story? In particular, are mystic symbolism (i.e. pilgrim’s quest, marriage, & alchemist’s work) and the distinction between magic as occult practice and mystical, or “God-seeking,” practice in the Christian tradition important to understanding Harry’s story and the choices made by people in Harry’s world?

    Thanks for posting & reading this question!

  47. Arabella Figg says

    Helen, you wrote:

    “I see the Malfoys as the Doppelgangers (to borrow John’s term) of the Dursleys: wizard and muggle families who both held Harry in contempt, and who both wound up indebted to Harry for saving the life of their only-son-and-heir. And in both cases, faint signs of acknowledgement: Dudley saying “You’re not a waste of space” and Draco’s little nod on Platform 9 3/4 in the epilogue. It’s the first faint glimmer of reconciliation, but it would lack verisimilitude if it happened all at once.”

    Brilliant! I’m filled with admiration for this connection.

    Fullatricks thinks she sees a doppleganger, but she only sees herself in the hall mirror…

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