Friday, September 23, 2011

Commentary on The Theology of Harry Potter

J.K. Rowling

Why have people eight to 80 read Harry Potter?
Why have 450 million copies of Harry Potter been sold?
Why has Harry Potter been translated into 67 languages?
Why is the Harry Potter Brand worth $15 billion?
Why is J.K. (Joanne “Jo”) Rowling worth $1 billion?
Why are all of the Harry Potter movies on the list of the best selling movies of all times?
Perhaps there are reasons...
I decided to take Dr. Catherine Howard’s course “The Theology of Harry Potter” to find out what the fuss about Harry Potter was all about. Dr. Howard teaches religion at Columbia College in Columbia, South Carolina. The course started August 24 and meets fifty minutes three times a week. I am beginning to understand the addiction to Harry Potter.
To know more about J.K. Rowling, watch the 2008 Harvard Commencement Speech at
Alchemy and Harry Potter
Many great British authors and J.K. Rowling have used the alchemic process in their stories. I will start this commentary with a very simple explanation of how I understand alchemy, and then I will move into my most favorite part of the course: Dr. Howard’s discussions of good and evil.
Have you ever had your life pulled apart, fractured into pieces? My life as I knew it totally fell apart when I got divorced in 1981. I was a teacher, a mother, and all-of-a-sudden single. Everything changed—my family, my location, my friends, my teaching position. For several years I moved through life like a zombie. And then light began to shine for me in 1984 when Dr. Miles Friedman, a University of South Carolina professor, asked me to take his theory of problem solving and turn it into a textbook for middle school children and teachers. The way he treated me—with such dignity and respect—and the confidence he had in me that I could actually do this project made me begin to feel like a worthwhile human being again. I came back to life. These life struggles happen over and over to all of us. This to me is the alchemic process.
Authors who know the human condition and can reveal it to you through literature are the ones we read and discuss with our friends and recommend to others. The characters they write about go through struggles, polarities, and in the end perhaps are transformed to a place of ultimate human dignity. These books inspire and give us hope.
A friend asked me if I knew for sure that Rowling used the alchemic process in the series or were the examples just coincidences. According to Dr. Howard, Rowling did and in her course, “The Theology of Harry Potter,” Dr. Howard sites hundreds of examples.  John Granger, the author of several books analyzing J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels, says there is much proof that she used the alchemic process in the books.
What then is alchemy? Simply put, Alchemy is the medieval practice of creating gold from lead. Alchemy is quite different from magic. It was the alchemist’s metaphorical process of transformation: the process of the body and spirit being broken down, purified, and then reformed.

Examples of alchemy in Harry Potter
I will cite a few of the many examples of alchemy in the Harry Potter series. The philosopher’s stone (the elixir of life or immortality) is the traditional description of the end product of the alchemic process. The British edition of the Harry Potter series was first named The Philosopher’s Stone, rather than the American version: The Sorcerer’s Stone.
In The Sorcerer’s Stone Harry, discovers that the three-headed dog Fluffy is guarding the sorcerer’s stone. At this point Harry thinks Professor Snape is guarding the stone of immortality for Voldemort, the dark lord who killed Harry’s parents.
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, the school of wizardry, is famous for his work with Nicholas Flamel, a man who actually lived from September 28,1330–1418 and was a successful French scrivener and manuscript-seller who developed a posthumous reputation as an alchemist due to his reputed work on the philosopher's stone. Harry saw this information about Dumbledore on the chocolate frog card he got on the train ride to Hogwarts.
Harry’s father is James, also the patron saint of alchemy; his mother Lily is the symbol of the white or second stage of alchemy.
Harry’s two best friends Ron and Hermione represent the quarreling couple, sulfur and mercury. Sulfur is the male polarity and its color is red (Ron’s hair is red). Mercury represents the cool or white one. Hermione’s name comes from the Greek Hermes, the messenger god (the Roman god, Mercury). Also, her initials are HG, the chemical symbol for mercury.
The alchemic process is three distinct stages: nigredo or black, albedo or white, and the rubedo or red.  The black stage or dissolution stage is the breaking down stage (my divorce). An example in the books of this is every time Harry is with the Dursley’s, they treat him as subhuman. Sirius Black, Harry’s godfather, is named for this stage.
The white stage is purification stage (my relationship with Dr. Friedman). Albus Dumbledore is named for this stage. Albus is Latin for white. The red stage and last stage is the recongealing or the perfection (my return to life).  Rubeus Hagrid is named for this stage. Rubeus is Latin for red.

Dr. Howard: “Rowling uses literary alchemy as one of the structural, literary devices to explore the transformation of the soul. The structure of the first six books reflects the threefold alchemical process. The black or dissolution stage begins on Privet Drive and continues in Snape’s classroom or under the watchful, punitive eye of Umbridge in book five. The white work or purification while at Hogwarts is done under the masterful guidance of the master alchemist himself, Albus Dumbledore, often in combination with a painful separation from Hermione and Ron. Finally, the red work is the ‘climacztic crucible sense,’ which normally occurs underground in a graveyard or at the end of the series in the Forbidden Forest, where Harry dies a figurative death in order to be reborn.”
If you are interested in more information about alchemy, google Dr. Carl Jung and alchemy.

Next: What is meant by GOOD?


  1. I'm so proud of you!!! It's a fantastic article, insightful, intense, indepth, but very readable. Way to go Mimi!
    Pam S.

  2. 1st: I love the picture! 2nd: I love the article and all the symbols. I had no idea!

  3. This sounds like a fascinating topic and a great class! I wish they had offered something like this when I was in undergrad. I've been a Harry Potter fan for years but never really looked at the stories this way before. Thanks for sharing this so well with us Mimi! :-)