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

fbFollowing up last week’s part one on the influence of C.S. Lewis on J.K. Rowling’s cast of creatures, here  is the second part of the paper (though edited) that I originally presented at the 2005 Witching Hour conference in Salem, Massachusetts, a lovely event that set me off on the last decade of Potter scholarship.

As we pack our bags (ones that hold many very interesting things) for another journey into the Wizarding World with Newt Scamander and his Fantastic Beasts, we pick up after examining the heraldic animals of Hogwarts as they connect to Narnia, as well as connections with domestic animals and wildlife.

Now, we’ll head off the map a bit, more into Newt’s territory, as we look at creatures more up his alley–that long scary alley with something scuttling over behind the bins….

Not so Unique Unicorns

In addition to using creatures that at least resemble ones in our everyday world, both Lewis and Rowling employ a host of creatures born in mythology and in their own imaginations.  As such, many of these animals are unique, including a number of the fabulous monsters of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  Many other mythological monsters have direct connections with similar creatures in Narnia.

One of the most popular of all magical beasts is one which figures prominently in both Narnia and the wizarding world.  The unicorn receives only a short paragraph in Fantastic Beasts, but plays an important role in Harry’s adventures, beginning with the Sorcerer’s Stone in which Voldemort, sharing the body of the hapless Professor Quirrell, kills unicorns and drinks their blood, giving Voldemort a partial, but cursed, life.

The purity and power of the unicorn is part of its legend, and these traits appear in Rowling’s unicorns as well as in Lewis’s.  While Harry only encounters dead unicorns in his first trip into the Forbidden Forest, Professor Grubbly-Plank, substituting for Hagrid, later teaches a lesson on the remarkable creatures, including an actual live unicorn “ so brilliantly white it made the snow all around look gray” ( Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 436).

Unicorn hair and horn are also extremely valuable commodities in the wizarding world, as Professor Slughorn observes in The Half-Blood Prince, but these items are apparently harvested without harming the unicorns, as killing one is considered such a heinous crime.  Lewis also characterizes his unicorns in similar fashion.  Unicorns make only a brief appearance in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, where they are included in the animals Aslan frees from the White Witch’s statue spell and join in the battle against her army.

In The Last Battle, however, a unicorn, Jewel, is a prominent character distinguished primarily by his devotion to King Tirian. When Tirian’s honor dictates that he must hand himself over to the Calormenes, Jewel goes with him, saying “If you are dead and Aslan is not Aslan, what life is left for me?” (25) Jewel, described as “one of the noblest and most delicate of beasts” (76), also connects immediately with Jill, the only woman among the protagonists.

Although he is devoted to the King, he also shows the preference Professor Grubbly-Plank describes for “the woman’s touch” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire 436) by his immediate bond with Jill. She, in turn “had quite fallen in love with the unicorn.  She thought…he was the shiningest, delicatest,   most graceful animal she had ever met; and he was so gentle and soft of speech that…you would hardly believe how fierce and terrible he could be in battle” (87-88).  Like the female students in the Care of Magical Creatures class, Jill has an immediate rapport with Jewel.

Unicorns, in both series, embody beauty and purity, but also power, and it is interesting to note that though these are traditional attributes of unicorns, both Lewis and Rowling dispense with the part of the myth that a unicorn can only be tamed by a virginal young woman.  Hagrid works closely with unicorns, and Grubbly Plank is no fair maiden. She only warns students that unicorns are somewhat fonder of girls, just as Jewel is deeply attached to Tirian, but soon grows close to Jill.  It is intriguing that both authors have dispensed with the same traditional part of the legend.

Stargazing Centaurs

Another legendary animal they depict in similar fashion is the centaur. The centaurs, like merpeople and giants, are not exactly beasts, of course.  However, they prefer to be considered as such, and are rather less anthropomorphic than merpeople and giants, both of which also have connections between Lewis and Rowling.  Rowling tackles the beast/being question handily in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Although centaurs figure prominently in Greek mythology, Rowling characterizes them in much the same way as Lewis does.  In fact, Rowling has inherited Lewis’s habit of pulling together influences from diverse mythological backgrounds. Though many of Lewis’s colleagues, including J.R.R. Tolkien, found his meddling with these traditions irksome, thanks to Lewis, elements of classical mythology are now woven inextricably with British and Germanic elements in the fantasy genre.

In Narnia, the centaurs are “solemn majestic people, full of ancient wisdom which they learn from the stars, not easily made either merry or angry; but their anger is terrible as a tidal wave when it comes” (Lewis, The Silver Chair 206).  These centaurs are frequently seen in their role of sage advisors, seeking knowledge from the stars. In both Prince Caspian and The Last Battle, centaurs speak of the future as they have seen it in the heavens.

Glenstorm the centaur, having viewed the conjunctions of great stars in the night sky, knows that Caspian must wage war against the usurper Miraz: “I watch the skies…for it is mine to watch….Tarva and Alambil have met in the halls of high heaven, and on earth a Son of Adam has once more arisen…The hour has struck.  Our council at the Dancing Lawn must be a council of war”  (Lewis, Prince Caspian 74).  Several hundred years later, his counterpart, Roonwit, tells King Tirian:

Never in all my days have I seen such terrible things written in the skies as there have been nightly since this year began.  The stars say nothing of the coming of Aslan, nor of peace, nor of joy. I know by my art that there have not been such disastrous conjunctions of the planets for five hundred years….the stars never lie, but Men and Beasts do ( Lewis, The Last Battle 15).

Roonwit’s dire predictions come true, as Tirian, the last king of Narnia, leads his country in its final battle.  Rowling’s centaurs are of a very similar temperament. They are also stargazers, carrying on a nearly incomprehensible conversation about the brightness of Mars when Hagrid asks them about suspicious activity in the forest: “Never…try an’ get a straight answer out of a centaur.  Ruddy stargazers. Not interested in anythin’ closer’n the moon” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 254).  However, Firenze, at least, understands that what is written in the heavens can be read more than one way: “The planets have been read wrongly before now, even by centaurs.  I hope this is one of those times” ( Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 259).

Emotionally, Rowling’s centaurs also resemble Lewis’s. While Bane is fiercer and wilder than Ronan or Firenze, they are all generally solemn, and terrible when truly angered as they are against the loathsome Professor Umbridge or when they join forces against the Death Eaters in the climactic Battle of Hogwarts.  Narnian centaurs are somewhat aloof, but still involved with humans and their affairs, while the centaurs in the wizarding world even refuse classification as “beings,” preferring to officially remain beasts. They have little contact with the ministry of Magic: “Although a Centaur Liaison Office exists in the Beast division of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, no centaur has ever used it”(Scamander xiii).

When Firenze casts his lot with humans in The Order of the Phoenix, he is ostracized from the herd, who see him as a traitor “peddling our knowledge and secrets among humans” (698) while they view themselves as “a race apart and proud to be so….an ancient people who will not stand wizard invasions and insults” (756-7).  Both authors also emphasize the fact that it is most unusual for centaurs to be ridden by humans.  In The Silver Chair, the Faun Orruns stresses what a great honor Jill and Eustace are being given by the centaurs who have offered to carry them to Cair Paravel: “you realise it is a most special and unheard of honor to be allowed to ride a Centaur.  I don’t know that I ever heard of anyone doing it before” ( 204).  Firenze is chided by Bane for giving Harry a ride in order to escape Voldemort: “you have a human on your back! Have you no shame?  Are you a common mule?”  (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone 257)

Firenze, however, understands how crucial it is to protect Harry, and does not let his pride keep him from assisting.  Like the centaurs who transport Jill and Eustace, telling them “about the properties of  herbs and roots, the influences of the planets, the nine names of Aslan with their meanings, and things of that sort” (207), Firenze is a grave and polite teacher, instructing Harry on the dreadful use to which unicorn’s blood can be put, and later joining the Hogwarts faculty as teacher of Divination; his lecture echoes the words of  the Narnian centaurs: “We watch the skies for the great tides of evil or change that are sometimes marked there” (Rowling, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix 603). Clearly, there is a strong similarity between Rowling’s centaurs, and those of her predecessor, Lewis.

Don’t Tickle the Dragon

One of the most dramatic magical creatures in all of fantasy literature is the dragon.  In Fantastic Beasts, the dragon is one of only a handful of creatures given the impressive XXXXX ranking as a known wizard killer that resists all efforts at domestication.  Both Lewis and Rowling employ dragons, often in similar fashion. Though there are a number of dragon or dragon-like creatures in the Chronicles (one of the statues in the White Witch’s collection; the sea-serpent encountered by the crew of The Dawn Treader; the monsters that take over the world at the end of The Last Battle), the most interesting dragon employed by Lewis is not technically a real dragon at all.  In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the obnoxious Eustace, attempting to skive off work detail, wanders to the interior of a strange island and beholds a bizarre sight:

The thing that came out of the cave was something he had never even imagined–a long lead-colored snout, dull red eyes, no feathers or fur, a long lithe body that trailed on the ground, legs whose elbows went up higher than its back like a spider’s, cruel claws, bat’s wings that made a rasping noise on the stones, yards of tail. (69)

Eustace, who has read none of the “right” books and has no idea how dragons behave, is still surprised when the dragon dies.  After Eustace falls asleep on the dragon’s horde, he wakes up to discover he has become a dragon himself.  Though it is some time before he becomes fully cognizant of the awful truth, Eustace soon realizes that he is trapped in the monstrous body of the dragon, and it is only the redemptive intervention of Aslan that saves him.

Rowling’s dragons are clearly dragons rather than pernicious British schoolboys in disguise, but there are a still a number of similarities between the two authors’ giant reptiles. Like the Antipodean Opaleye described in  Fantastic Beasts, the dragon Eustace emulates “dwells in valleys rather than mountains” (11).  In fact, the valley is so remote that it is only because Eustace, in dragon form, can fly that he can even get out of it. The Ukranian Ironbelly has red eyes, similar to the dragon Eustace sees and the one he becomes, while the Herbridean Black has similar spine ridges and “batlike wings” ( Scamander 12).  Interestingly, this species, dwelling in the Hebrides, is an islander, as is the dragon Eustace finds.

The independent nature of dragons is also emphasized by both authors. Once Eustace has been transformed, he eats nearly all of the dead dragon’s carcass before he realizes what he is doing: “There is nothing a dragon likes so well as fresh dragon.  That is why you seldom find more than one dragon in the same country” (Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader 76).  Rowling emphasizes in Fantastic Beasts that the Chinese Fireball is very unusual in that it will tolerate several of its own kind.

The dragons that Harry and his fellow champions must fight also have a similar temperament to Narnian dragons.  They are all treasure-guarders, although the treasure guarded by the dragons in the Triwizard Tournament has been disguised to look like their eggs, thus making their violent defense more understandable.  The dragon that is imprisoned in the bowels of Gringotts has had its treasure-guarding instinct co-opted by the Goblins.  Even blind, it is a seriously dangerous creature that only assists Ron, Hermione, and Harry in their escape because he doesn’t know they are riding on his back.

In addition, both authors’ dragons behave in much the same way.  One of the ways Eustace’s shipmates know that there is something funny about the dragon he has become is its behavior, since he does not breathe fire or behave aggressively, like Hagrid’s pet Norbert, who is vicious from birth, or the dragons Charlie Weasley works with, who have left him with burn scars despite his expertise.  Also like dragons in the wizarding world, Eustace the dragon lives on sheep and wild pigs that he dispatches humanely with his massive tail (83).

Although the dragon is sometimes seen as a stock fantasy creature, it is important to note the similarities between Lewis’s dragons and Rowling’s since not all authors depict dragons in the same way. The infamous Smaug, of The Hobbit, for example, can speak like a human, while Rowling’s have no such capability, and even Eustace, who really is human, cannot speak or communicate effectively in his terrible form.

Clearly, Rowling uses a number of elements similar to Lewis’s in her depiction of animals, which leads one to ask why this is the case.  Certainly, many of the similar traits come from  their voracious reading habits and the fact that both authors are working within the confines of a fantasy world.  However, the similarities are also evidence of Lewis’s subtle influence on Rowling’s work.  Just as Jack Lewis was himself influenced by everything he read, from The Faerie Queene to Norse myths, so too has J. K. Rowling woven together elements from her own  journeys to other literary worlds to create a world that rings with reminders of other authors.

In no way does this pattern of influence diminish her work.  Rather, it speaks of the amazing way in which her world can be unique and yet familiar, original and yet hinting of a place we’ve been before.  It reminds us that great authors are not independent and self-sufficient, laboring in a creative vacuum.  Instead, they are part of a community, a network of writers whose stories allow elements of previous tales to live on in new forms, and one hopes, allow readers to see and appreciate their interconnectedness.

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. Emily Strand says

    Great post, Elizabeth! I have never been a voracious reader of Narnia (though I could read the first and last books over and over, and have), but your post makes me want to go back through the series, looking for the more subtle ways in which Lewis shapes Rowling. Thanks for this!

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