Throwback Thursday with Narnia, Newt Scamander, and Fantastic Beasts: Part I

fanblww  As we’ll doubtless be covering in the weeks to come, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is flying, crawling, and      stomping into theaters this month. While we are all interested to see more of the wizarding world, I am particularly  intrigued, as that slim red volume actually launched me into serious academic scholarship into the Potter-verse.

In 2005, I attended my first national Harry Potter Conference, The Witching Hour in Salem, MA. There I presented my paper,    “Fantastic Beasts: C. S. Lewis, J. K. Rowling, and the Menagerie of the Imagination,” a project that I began while I was  reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to my son. Though I had already worked extensively with the  Chronicles of Narnia, I noticed something during those read-alouds that I had missed in dozens of re-reads: when Peter,  Edmund, Susan, and Lucy arrive at the home of Professor Kirke, they speculate on the animals they will see, listing, specifically, eagles, stags, hawks, badgers, and snakes.

Taken with Aslan, who is the Lion of the title and at the back of all the stories, there in the first few pages of the first of the Chronicles of Narnia (yes, it is the first one, no matter what misguided publishers do to the order), we have the four Hogwarts House mascots and Harry’s Patronus.

When I made that head-slapping connection, I did not realize that, more than 10 years later, I would be thoroughly immersed in Potter scholarship and that the story of Fantastic Beasts would be appearing on the big screen, but I did know that I had made a magical discovery, one that propelled me through the paper for the conference and into a wonderful journey of literary analysis and exploration. So, as we gear up for Newt’s big screen debut and since Thursday is a day when we throw back, here is part one of a selection from that paper, greatly edited from its original bulk (my poor patient audience at the Witching Hour!), and an invitation, as always, to share your thoughts, and perhaps, your own experience with the intrepid Newt Scamander and his role in your Potter studies.

All authors weave into their own work that which they have read, from the great stories of the Bible or classical mythology, to the poems of childhood songs or nursery rhymes, to phrases or words caught in passing. J .K. Rowling is certainly no exception. In fashioning the remarkable world of Harry Potter, she has drawn from an array of literary sources. One author whose work has undoubtedly influenced Rowling’s composition process is C. S. Lewis. Lewis himself was well known for using ideas and influences picked up in his widespread and diverse reading. Colin C. Manlove claims in Christian Fantasy from 1200 to the Present, Lewis “looked for sources as he looked for friends… essentially gregarious in his vision” (232). Though Rowling may have a mixed reaction to Lewis, if all the comments on the Narniad attributed to her are, in fact, authentic, she salutes Lewis with names, dubbing Fred’s and George’s replacements on the Gryffindor Quidditch team Jack Sloper and Andrew Kirke: Lewis always went by “Jack”; Andrew Kirke is a connection to The Magician’s Nephew, in which the scheming Uncle Andrew menaces his nephew, Digory Kirke, who later becomes the Professor of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Digory’s name, with the addition of one “g,” was bestowed by Rowling on the doomed Cedric Diggory. Even more intriguing than the name connection, however, is the way in which Rowling employs animals in much the same way as Lewis does in the Chronicles. From heraldic beasts, to “ordinary” animals, to the fantastic beasts of mythology, these two remarkable authors use animals in a variety of strikingly similar ways. While this is often a case of authors drawing from mutual sources, such as mythology, there are other similarities that reveal deeper links.

Houses and Heraldry

Heraldic, or symbolic, animals figure prominently in both series and with congruent associations. The four houses of Hogwarts are each symbolized by an animal as well as a distinctive color scheme, and each of these representations has a link with The Chronicles of Narnia. Just three pages into The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the first of the Chronicles of Narnia, the four Pevensie children speculate about what kind of wildlife they will find on the rural estate where they have been sent during the London air raids. Peter, the eldest, says,

“Did you see those mountains as we came along? And the woods? Therehog

might be eagles. There might be stags. There’ll be hawks.”

“Badgers!” said Lucy.

“Snakes!” said Edmund. ( Lewis, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe 3)

The eagle, badger, and snake, so prominently mentioned here, taken along with the book’s titlular lion, connect directly with the emblematic animals of Hogwarts’s four houses and share characteristics with those symbols as well.

Badgers? Yes, We Need those Stinking Badgers!

Hufflepuff, not just a house for huff“a lot o’ duffers,” is actually the home of the most loyal and steadfast individuals, described by the Sorting Hat: “Those patient Hufflepuffs are true/ and unafraid of toil.” The Hufflepuffs Rowling introduces include the unfortunate but always honorable Cedric Diggory who offers a Quidditch rematch when his team wins because dementors interfered. Cedric’s death is actually a direct result of his honorable desire to do the right thing in the Triwizard Tournament. Other Hufflepuffs include Susan Bones, Hannah Abbot, Tonks, and Ernie McMillian, all positive, loyal characters. Hufflepuff is always symbolized by a badger, an association going back to founder Helga Hufflepuff. The connotations of loyalty and hard work are strongly connected to Lewis’s use of badgers. While some of these associations also connect to the traditional heraldic meaning of badgers, Rowling has shown that she has no qualms about altering traditional associations with animals. Such is the case with the weasel, who traditionally has negative connotations, but whose name she grafts onto the loyal and trustworthy Ron and his delightful family(“Other Stuff”). Lucy, who indicates an interest in seeing badgers, has much in common with the Hufflepuffs of Hogwarts. She staunchly defends the truth, even when it causes her discomfort or outright misery. Lewis also features a trustworthy and steadfast badger as a major character in Prince Caspian. Trufflehunter is the very epitome of loyalty: “You Dwarfs are as forgetful and changeable as the Humans themselves. I’m a beast, I am, and a Badger what’s more. We don’t change. We hold on” (65). The qualities of loyalty and trustworthiness Lewis thus ascribes to badgers and those associated with them are also attributed to Rowling’s badgers, the Hufflepuffs.

Flying High with Eagles and Ravens

The eagle, named by the soon-to-be-High King Peter, is also the animal that represents the House of Ravenclaw. Ironically, the House’s symbol is not a Raven. Both eagles and ravens figure in the Chronicles. It is appropriate that Peter, in his regal role, speaks of the eagle, a bird connected with majesty and power. This foreshadows his role in Narnia. At Hogwarts, the Ravenclaws are known for their intellect, prompting the Sorting Hat to state that in this house “Those of wit and learning/ will always find their kind” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 118) and causing ravenclawTerry Boot to marvel at the fact that Hermione, with all her intellect, was not placed in his house. Some Ravenclaws, of course, do not make the most intelligent choices; Cho Chang’s ill-placed trust in her friend Marietta leads to the discovery of the illegal Defense club Harry teaches in Order of the Phoenix, for example. Yet, their reputation for wisdom and good advice prevails. Ravens, of course, are remarkably intelligent birds, and Lewis includes a sage old raven, Sallowpad, as a wise counselor in the court of Peter and his siblings. The eagle Farsight, who plays an pivotal role in The Last Battle, provides the terrible news that the Narnian capital, Cair Paravel, has been taken by sea. Although his message is grim, he is able to prevent King Tirian and his supporters from walking into a trap. Likewise, Rowling’s most prominently placed Ravenclaw, the delightful Luna Lovegood, has a knack for revealing painful truths. Even in the most dire situations, Luna is wise, if eccentric, helping her friends in the Ministry of Magic and, in The Deathly Hallows, aiding in the escape from Malfoy Manor and encouraging Harry with her Patronus when his “happy thoughts” fail him.

Slither Hither

snake   The snake, symbol of Slytherin, and the animal mentioned by Edmund in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has negative connotations stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden, but Rowling’s use of the symbolic snake has strong ties to Lewis’s work as well. Edmund, of course, becomes a traitor, but is later redeemed, and though Rowling makes it quite clear that Slytherin has produced a disproportionate number of evil witches and wizards, there is also the Sorting Hat’s reminder that all four Houses have roles to play, and the house with a tendency for treachery turns out to be just as crucial to the preservation of good as the other three, as Harry discovers when learns the true story of Severus Snape. Harry’s Slytherin-like qualities and the possibility that he could have been placed in that house emphasize this ambiguity. In addition, the villain by whom Edmund is led astray is Jadis, the White Witch, whose wand turns people and animals into stone, much like the indirect stare of Slytherin’s basilisk. The Turkish Delight, with which the White Witch enchants Edmund, is in a box tied with a green ribbon, and green and silver are the emblematic colors of Slytherin. This color combination is also associated with the Chronicles’ impressive snake-villainess, the Green Witch of The Silver Chair. Just as Salazar Slytherin and his heir, Tom Riddle, can speak to snakes, the Green Witch actually becomes a serpent as terrifying as the basilisk that inhabits the Chamber of Secrets. When the Witch takes human form, she always wears a green gown, and has a voice as seductive and subtle as the hiss of a snake. Like most Slytherins and Lewis’s other villains, she is willing to use any means, from deception to violence, to achieve her goals. Also, the Green Witch is a female snake, like Voldemort’s beloved Nagini, who takes on her own female human form, though Bathilda Bagshot is certainly no winsome maiden. Nagini, like the Green Witch, has her snake-head chopped off by a sword.

King of the Beasts….and the Houses 

The lion, emblem of Gryffindor, is the one animal not mentioned by the four children in the opening chapter of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. However, he hardly needs any mention since he is the dominant character of the series. Aslan, the great lion, savior of Narnia and King over all High Kings, is remarkable for many characteristics, but one is certainly courage; and courage, the trait that Rowling herself has said on numerous occasions that she most admires, is the defining trait of Gryffindor, “where dwell the brave at heart,/ Their daring, nerve, and chivalry, set Gryffindors apart.” Aslan, who goes willingly to his death to save Edmund, certainly displays remarkable courage, as does Lily Potter, former Gryffindor, when she sacrifices herself to save her son; and both sacrifices result in greater good. Aslan is resurrected and saves all Narnia, as well as Edmund, and Lily’s powerful love for Harry protects him from the Avadra Kedavra spell and, for years to come, from Voldemort himself. Harry’s sacrifice of himself in The Deathly Hallows is an even more dramatic mirror of Aslan’s actions, as both take a somber walk in the woods to certain death, lionaccompanied by loved ones. Harry is guided by the shades of his parents, Sirius Black, and the recently deceased Remus Lupin, while Aslan lets Susan and Lucy bury their hands in his mane and walk with him to the Stone table, though he sends them away before they can be in danger. Both Harry and Aslan are willing sacrifices, and both return from their deaths to return stronger than ever and uniquely able to defeat their adversaries. The resurrected Aslan frees the White Witch’s statue prisoners and sends them into battle, where he personally destroys the Witch. Harry faces Voldemort and declares that the Dark Lord cannot hurt the defenders of Hogwarts since they are protected by Harry’s willing sacrifice. The House of Gyffindor is also represented by the colors of red and gold, colors Lewis repeatedly ascribes to Aslan. Peter’s shield with the image of Aslan on it is “as red as a ripe strawberry at the moment when you pick it” (Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 104), and when Prince Rilian is freed from the evil spell of the Green Witch, his once black and plain shield bears the image of a lion “redder than blood or cherries” (Lewis, The Silver Chair 168). Gold is also the color Lewis uses to describe Aslan’s fur. Of course, lions are generally golden, so the color seems an appropriate choice for Gryffindor, but, as with Ravenclaw, the obvious animal is not used, for one would expect Harry’s house to be symbolized by a griffin, rather than a lion since griffins are certainly part of the wizarding menagerie and are given an entry in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Clearly, with the four animals used to represent the four Hogwarts houses, there is a strong link between the four creators of Hogwarts and the four children who come to rule Narnia.

Real Animals…Sort of

Since both Lewis and Rowling are known for a love of animals, it is not surprising that both include a number of “ordinary” and even domestic animals in their fantastic realms. Intriguingly, one creature often associated with magic, in particular with witches, is the cat, and both Lewis and Rowling depict cats rather ambiguously. Rowling admits that she is no cat lover, due in part to allergies (“Other Stufff”), and Lewis, though he often owned a cat, was more partial to dogs. Both Lewis and Rowling feature ginger cats who turn out to possess a number of secrets. Cats in the wizarding world tend to be more than they seem, as one realizes from the first appearance of Professor McGonagall in The Sorcerer’s Stone as a tabby cat reading a map (2). Crookshanks, Hermione’s ginger catcat, is in fact half Kneazle, thus giving him the ability “to detect unsavoury or suspicious characters” (Fantastic Beasts 24) such as Peter Pettigrew masquerading as a harmless rat. While Crookshanks turns out to be a better creature than at first he appears, the ginger cat Lewis includes in The Last Battle is a traitor, revealing that there is also more to him than meets the eye. Initially, Ginger appears to be only one of the many animals summoned to the midnight meetings at which Shift the Ape brings out the hapless Donkey Puzzle dressed in a lionskin, claiming he is Aslan. Yet, it soon becomes clear that Ginger, not the Ape, is the real brains behind the scheme, and it is the cat, not Shift, who is really in cahoots with the Calormenes. However, when Ginger tries to go into the Stable and see “Tashlan,” as part of the carefully constructed plot, he actually encounters the supernatural and is turned into a dumb animal instead of a talking cat. Although they are very different in character, both Lewis’s and Rowling’s ginger cats are full of surprises.

Good Doggies…and Bad

Both series include dogs as well. With the exception of Fluffy, who can hardly be called domestic, dogs in Narnia and the wizarding world are generally portrayed positively. Granted, Aunt Marge’s nasty bulldog Ripper is certainly an unpleasant creature, but that seems to be more a reflection on Aunt Marge; because she is a thoroughly disagreeable person, her favorite pet follows suit, just as the seemingly fierce but actually affectionate boarhound Fang reflects this master Hagrid’s outward fearsomeness and inner gentleness. In addition, the pestilential bulldog serves as a foil to the very different dog Harry encounters soon after escaping Ripper, Aunt Marge, and the Dursleys: Sirius, in his dog form. Though he seems threatening at first, even causing Harry to think he is a wolfmanifestation of the Grim, he does, in fact, turn out to be a loyal and true friend to Harry. In The Last Battle, when Narnia is in her most desperate hour, “every single Talking Dog in the whole meeting…came bounding and barking joyously to the King’s side” (116). Most of these are large, heavy dogs that resemble “Snuffles,” or Fang. It is clear that for both Lewis and Rowling, dogs, especially large ones, are positive animals whose boundless energy and spirit are refreshing.

Another kind of canine, however, has a very dark side in both series. The wolf has often generated fear, particularly when linked with the legendary werewolf. Remus Lupin, the reluctant werewolf, the most competent Hogwarts teacher ever and a decent, admirable person, once he transforms, loses all identit, attacking even his dearest friends. Fenrir Greyback, unlike Lupin or other unintentional werewolves, deliberately places himself near those he wants to attack so that when the full moon effects his transformation, he will be able to reach his chosen victims, connecting him to the savage werewolf that attacks Prince Caspian after being denied entry into the Old Narnians’ army. This monster has a “grey” voice, echoed in the name “Greyback.” In addition, Fenrir Greyback attacks untransformed, ripping out throats and thriving on human flesh while he is still in human form. With the introduction of this chilling character comes another connection with the Chronicles: “the grey Wolf, Fenris Ulf, the chief of the [White] Witch’s Secret Police” (Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe 93). ( His name is Maugrim in the British editions of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). Though Fenris Ulf is all wolf, rather than a werewolf, he does speak, and he also has a confused identity, since Edmund thinks he is a statue, and Peter, astonished at the monster’s size, thinks at first he is a bear or perhaps an Alsatian dog. Both Lewis and Rowling name their wolf villains after the Norse Fenris Wolf, one of the monstrous children of the god Loki, destined to destroy Odin in the great battle of Ragnarok. Lewis drew a number of the Chronicles’ elements from Scandanavian legends, so it is not surprising that the Witch’s devoted Wolf draws his name from Norse legend. Rowling’s use of the name may be a case of using the same source, but it also forms a strong link between the texts.

Owl Post

owl  In addition to the standard domestic animals, like cats and dogs, many wizarding homes include domestic owls, with even the impoverished Weasleys able to support pathetic old Errol, and later, Percy’s Hermes and Ron’s Pigwidgeon. Lewis also employs owls, particularly in The Silver Chair. In the Parliament of Owls (Lewis’s homage to Chaucer, one of his own influences), Jill and Eustace meet Glimfeather and a host of other owls in a setting very much like the Hogwarts owlery, which has “glassless windows” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 282). The Narnian owls meet inside the top of a stone tower or “dusty belfry sort of place” (54) which Jill notices is “rather fusty inside” (45) and filled with soft hooting and rustling feathers. Rowling also characterizes her owls much as Lewis does. Though Hedwig and the other owls do not speak per se, and Glimfeather and the Narnian owls do, they are still alike in temperament. While everyone else is distracted by the sailing of the King’s ship, only Glimfeather notices the magical arrival of Jill and Eustace: “There’s something magical about you two. I saw you arrive: you flew. Everyone else was so busy seeing the King off that nobody knew. Except me” (31-32). Likewise, Hedwig and the other messenger owls always seem to have special knowledge, particularly about where people are. No matter where the Dursleys drag Harry, the letters from Hogwarts keep coming, and Hedwig and other owls Harry uses always have an uncanny ability to find even Sirius when he is in hiding. And yet, also like Lewis’s owls, Rowling’s winged messengers do not get directly involved in the plot. They deliver their messages and get out of the way. Likewise, Glimfeather and his associates deliver to Jill and Eustace very important information about Prince Rilian and his history, and then deliver the children themselves to Puddleglum the Marshwiggle, who becomes their companion and the perfect guide. Although both Lewis and Rowling are drawing on a cultural history that casts owls as wise counselors and using the zoological facts about owls’ habits, such as eating rodents and preferring nocturnal activity, they also depict the owls in remarkably similar ways.

Stag Party

Because Narnia is populated with talking animals, nearly every “real” creature in our world has a talking and intelligent counterpart in the land beyond the lamp-post, thus turning “ordinary” creatures into extraordinary ones. Rowling also follows this practice. Certainly, each author has creatures not included in the other’s work. Lewis has a number of Talking Horse characters, particularly in The Horse and His Boy, while all Rowling’s equines, such as the Thestrals, are distinctly not regular horses, and Lewis did not include giant spiders, such as the acromantula Aragog and his kind, anywhere in Narnia. (He was terribly phobic about spiders and insects, particularly large ones.) But another creature they both include is a stag, with both authors transforming an stagordinary male deer into a magical white stag. Lewis describes Talking Stags a number of times, including one who brings news of Aslan’s supposed return in The Last Battle and one who is killed by the Giants of Harfang then inadvertently eaten by the protagonists of The Silver Chair. Peter also mentions stags in his expectation of wildlife he wants to view on the Professor’s estate. In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the four Pevensies, at the zenith of their magnificent reign in Narnia, go out hunting “the White Stag who would give you wishes if you caught him” (182). When Tumnus first describes this magical creature to Lucy, he calls it a “milk-white stag” (13). The color and the magical power are both similar to the stag that Harry conjures as his patron. The patronus is an elusive creature, defying Harry’s best efforts to summon it until the moment he needs it most and realizes that he can do it. In addition, a patronus protects the conjurer from dementors, surely answering the one wish that anyone under such an attack would have. Likewise, the Narnian milk-white stag, with its ability to grant wishes, is elusive, appearing only when the time is right for the four children to go back into their own world. Harry also discovers why his patronus takes this specific form. Only after traveling back in time with the time turner does he realize that he saw himself, not his father, conjuring the patronus that saves him, Hermione, and Sirius from the dementors. Harry is at once the dying teenager in the grip of the dementors and the powerful young wizard who could easily be mistaken for James Potter. Lewis’s stag is also directly connected to time travel and identity confusion, as the Pevensies have, by the time of the stag hunt, completely forgotten their past identities as young British children. Only after they have left behind their courtiers and horses to pursue the stag into the depths of the forest do they find the lamp-post and, shortly beyond it, the wardrobe door. Once they pass through, they have been returned to the very same day they left, and the fifteen years that have passed in Narnia have taken no more than a moment or two of time in their own world. They have transitioned from powerful and confident adult versions of themselves back into children just as Harry switches roles at the appearance of his own milk-white stag. In addition, the time-travel element is an important factor of the Chronicles. In all of the Chronicles, the children experience effects similar to those of a time turner, since they return home to find that no matter how long they have been in Narnia, no time at all has actually passed. In just such a fashion do Harry and Hermione go back in time to save Sirius and the hippogriff Buckbeak from their respective executions, and only because they have time traveled does Harry conjure the stag patronus and experience the strange sensation of being in two places at once. The stag then, in both Rowling’s world and Lewis’s, is a magical creature that appears in conjunction with altered time and leads the protagonists to remarkable reunions with the past.

Next Thursday—part 2, which looks at the really fantastic and mythical creatures Lewis and Rowling feature! In the meantime, comments and thoughts are always welcome!

Works Cited

Fraser, Lindsey.  Conversations with J.K. Rowling.  New York: Scholastic, 2000.

Ford, Paul F. Companion to Narnia.  New York: MacMillian Publishing Company, 1986.

Hooper, Walter, and Roger Lancelyn Green. C. S. Lewis: a Biography.  New York, Harcourt, Brace Jovanovich, 1974.

Lewis, C. S.  The Horse and His Boy. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

—.The Last Battle.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

—. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

—. The Magician’s Nephew.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

—. Prince Caspian . New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1988.

—.The Silver Chair.  New York: Scholastic, Inc., 1988.

—.The Voyage of the ‘Dawn Treader’.  New York: Scholastic Inc., 1988.

Manlove, Colin.  Christian Fantasy: From 1200 to the Present. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

“Other Stuff” J. K. Rowling. 22 Sept. 2005.


Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. New York: Scholastic, 1999.

___. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  New York: Scholastic, 2007.

—. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.  New York: Scholastic, 2000.

—. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  New York: Scholastic, 2005.

—. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  New York: Scholastic, 2003.

—. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  New York: Scholastic, 1999.

—. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.  New York: Scholastic, 1999.

Scamander, Newt. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  New York: Arthur A Levine Books, 2001.


  1. Calvin Sommers says

    Rowling’s portrayal of werewolves gives something I find to be lacking in many twenty-first century werewolf stories because the “wolf” side of the werewolf in her fiction is much more of a superdisability rather than being some sort of superpower that the werewolf learns to tap into; I often related to this as a teen with bipolar disorder.

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