|I went straight down to discuss Emily Dickinson's|
"Soul at the white heat" afterward, based on what
he said about alchemy in writing.
When you hear that the local college, your alma mater, has a speaker on Harry Potter coming in, there's not much choice but to attend. How often is it you get to hear from a man titled the Dean of Harry Potter Scholars? I'm going to be up front with you though. I'm writing about this because it was a great lecture on a really cool topic, a book topic no less, but it's also a somewhat involved topic, all new to me. So, I apologize ahead for any gaps in my info. I'll provide information for further study at the end.
Anyway, at the end of September, Youngstown State University (YSU) held a lecture titled Literary Alchemy, featuring Harry Potter, given by John Granger, Dean of Harry Potter Scholars. I decided to go on that information alone and invited the biggest Harry Potter fan friend I have, SR. (She's read the books multiple times and is my go to for HP detail checks when my students or I write on the topic, such as parts of this post!) Then I received a flier in the mail that convinced me I had to go.
Harry Potter in connection to Lewis, Dickens, and Shakespeare? Yes please. The background they have in common is alchemy. There is so much information here, but a few points I remember pretty well. According to Granger, besides the attempts to turn lead to gold alchemists are known for, alchemy is about spiritual purification. In literature, certain authors have used alchemical symbols and tropes in their storylines to represent their character's quest for purification. For example, there are color schemes and stages connected to alchemy. The most obvious element, based on alchemy's more well known principal, is gold, the purest form a medal can achieve. When Romeo and Juliet die, their families declare peace by erecting GOLD statues in their children's honor. And what is Harry always chasing in his Quidditch matches? A GOLDEN snitch. Then there are the colors black, white, and red. Sirius BLACK? And ALBUS, white in Latin, Dumbledore? (The Twilight series book covers aren't a coincidence either.) Besides colors, there are seven stages in an alchemical cycle. There are seven Harry Potter books, with the later books' plotlines cycling through seven stages each. Each of these authors' stories reaches the ultimate goal of alchemy as well: a transformation of character(s).
And these are just the minor details. There's also the types of characters involved. Pairs of opposites working together, for example. Romeo and Juliet come to mind with Shakespeare, Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, and Edward and Bella in Twilight. One character in each pair represents the hot sulfuric element of alchemy (Romeo, Hermoine, and Bella), while the other is the cool mercurial element (Juliet, Ron, and Edward). The two characters in each pair play off of each other, becoming more than pawns in a plot.
If you're not convinced this is not all coincidence, or if you're completely lost by my gaps in knowledge, here's some contact information to start reading further. You can always Google "Alchemy in Harry Potter" too. A little side note: JK Rowling studied alchemy in school and so did Granger, which allowed him to easily pick up on the alchemical elements Rowling so carefully pieced together. In an article from 1998, Rowling states:
“I’ve never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that’s a different matter.
To invent this wizard world, I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy.
Perhaps much of it I’ll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what
magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the
stories’ internal logic.”
Here's the information I promised! John Granger not only invited emails, but will also connect you with further reading. Go, explore, and learn something you may have never known about the never ending wonders of our literary world.