Thursday, 16 April 2009

Names: Lily and James

Looking up the meanings of names used in the Harry Potter story was one of the things that made me aware of how much effort J.K. Rowling put into the details of her story.

One common flower name that has a lot more connotations than you might think is Lily – which was the name of Harry's mother.

The flower Lily, and hence also the name, commonly represents purity, innocence, beauty, death and majesty. In the Church, the Lily is used as a symbol of the Virgin Mary. The fleur-de-lis, a stylized design of a lily, is a common symbol in heraldry (particularly associated with the French monarchy), for example in coats of arms.

"Other folklore tells of lilies, unplanted by any human hand spontaneously appearing on the graves of people executed for crimes they did not commit. Some believe that planting lilies in a garden will protect the garden from ghosts and evil spirits. In China, the day lily is the emblem for motherhood. To dream of lilies in spring foretells marriage, happiness and prosperity; to dream of them in winter indicates frustration of hopes, and the premature death of a loved one."

Furthermore: "Long ago, Spaniards believed that eating a lily's petals would restore someone who had been transformed into a beast back into human form."

It is tempting to believe that Rowling knew about this. In his third year at Hogwarts, Harry learns that his father James was an Animagus; that is, he could magically transform himself into an animal (a stag). In his fifth year, through the magic Pensieve, Harry learns less flattering things about his father: "Judging from what he had just seen, his father had been every bit as arrogant as Snape had always told him." (OP28) Yet, as James grew older, he seems to have shaped up under the influence of Lily, and stopped playing cruel games just for fun.

James, by the way, is the English version of the Hebrew name Jacob, meaning: "He who supplants." Supplant means "take the place of". Jacob in the Old Testament outsmarted and took the place and birthright of his older twin Esau. Seen from the perspective of additional things that we learn in the 7th book about Lily's early life, it could perhaps be said that for her, James (in a way) came to supplant Severus...

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Names: Harry, Ron, Hermione

The name Harry is used as a nickname both of Henry
(French origin) = "home ruler", and Harold (Scandinavian origin) = "army ruler".

In The Order of the Phoenix Harry becomes the leader of a group of Hogwarts students who call themselves "Dumbledore's Army".

Ron, Ronald: (Old Norse) = "Ruler's counselor."

Hermione: (Greek) = "Messenger; earthly." Femine form of Hermes. Hermes was a messenger for the gods on Olympus and was himself the god of eloquence. Hermione is a witch, but Muggle-born. She reads a lot, knows a lot, talks a lot - and provides a lot of useful information.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Names: Hogwarts, Hogsmeade, Hogshead

As all readers of the Harry Potter books know, the school of Wizardry and Witchcraft that Harry goes to is called Hogwarts.

J.K. Rowling said in an interview back in 1999, about the name: "I thought I made up Hogwarts, but recently a friend said, 'Remember we saw lilies in Kew gardens (a garden in London.)' Apparently there are lilies there called Hogwarts. I'd forgotten!"

Today, if you try to look up "hogwart" on the internet, the problem is that you just get referred to thousands of pages talking about the Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. However, Hogwart as the name of a plant can also be found on lists over toxic plants that shouldn't be eaten by rabbits...

There are two more important "hog" references in the Harry Potter books: The village near Hogwarts Castle is called Hogsmeade, and in the village, there is also a pub called The Hogshead.

Mead is an alcoholic liquor of fermented honey and water. And if you look up hogshead in a dictionary, you will find that it is a large cask or barrel, or a measurement equaling around 50 gallons of liquid (for example beer).

It turns out in the last book in the HP series (after just being subtly hinted at in the previous ones) that the landlord of The Hogshead is Aberforth Dumbledore, brother of Albus. The earlier hints about Aberforth include that he is somehow mysteriously associated with goats. This connection is never really explained in the books, but...

… In Norse mythology, in the Hall of the Gods, Valhalla (the place where all the slain heroes go), there is a goat (named Heidrun), that continually produces mead. And the meat served at the same table comes from a boar (called Sarimner) that gets killed every night but always comes back to life again after being eaten…

(Digging deeper into Norse mythology, other links between the brothers Dumbledore and the Norse god Odin also seem possible, but I'm not going into that in this post.)

Furthermore, the pig/boar/ hog is also an animal connected to the wizard Merlin in the Celtic/ Arthurian legends. According to a book I have*, Merlin kept a pig as a "pet". The same book also provides this information about the pig in the Celtic tradition:

"It is, first of all, the preferred dish for the banquets that take place both here and in the Otherworld. The wild boar, 'le solitaire' or solitary one, is the animal symbol of the druid, adept in magic and prophecy, protector of heroes, bringer of abundance and good fortune. The position of swineherd was one of the most honoured among the Celts."
(as opposed to for example Biblical contexts)

*On the Trail of Merlin. A Guidebook to the Western Mystery Tradition, by Deike Rich and Ean Begg, 1991

If you want to look up the names from the Norse mythology, try Wikipedia, or just Google them.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Going to the Bathroom

In some LeakyLounge discussion thread back in 2005, post-HBP, someone posted the question:

"Why would Dumbledore go to the bathroom?"

The question refers to Chapter Four in The Half-Blood Prince, where Dumbledore excuses himself (very politely, as usual) to go the bathroom, in the middle of a conversation he and Harry are having with Dumbledore's old friend and former colleague Horace Slughorn. His main purpose would have been to leave Harry alone for a while with Slughorn, to let them get to know each other. But the question pin-points a theme used both cleverly and amusingly by J.K. Rowling throughout the books: In lots and lots of other adventure stories throughout literary history, people never seem to be in need of finding a toilet in midst of their other predicaments. In the Harry Potter books, the lack of toilets in other stories is revenged: Here, toilets and bathrooms are made an integral part of the story. However, they still seem to be used chiefly for other purposes than the most obvious…

Some examples:
Book 1
– Hermione hides in the bathroom to cry, and gets shut in with a Troll.
Book 2 - Riddle's diary gets thrown into a toilet. Moaning Myrtle, the bathroom ghost who lives in the u-bend of a toilet, is introduced. Polyjuice is secretly made in the bathroom. And last but not least, the entrance to the Chamber of Secrets is through the bathroom.
Book 4 - Harry uses the prefects' bathroom when trying to figure out the secret of the egg.
Book 5 – A Slytherin student turns up jammed in a toilet after having vanished through a Vanishing Cabinet.
Book 6 – Harry finds Draco crying in the boys' bathroom, and that's also where Harry tries out the sectumsempra curse.
Book 7 – Since Voldemort took over, Ministry employees are forced to enter the Ministry of Magic through toilets instead of through the fireplaces.

Rowling connects the Four Houses of Hogwarts to the Four Elements:

  • Fire/Gryffindor

  • Earth/Hufflepuff

  • Air/Ravenclaw

  • Water/Slytherin.

The use of bathrooms in the books is in no way random. As water is the symbol connected to Slytherin, bad and secretive things and use of dark magic tend to take place in the bathrooms. Whereas fireplaces are chiefly used for communication (except when Umbridge shuts down that possibility in Book 5).

I don't remember just now in which book it is that Dumbledore first tells the story about how he had to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and happened to conveniently find a room full of chamberpots; but the chief purpose that this story serves, is to introduce the Room of Requirement.

To return to Chapter Four in The Half-Blood Prince, and the Muggle house where Slughorn has temporarily made himself at home:

Dumbledore re-entered the room and Slughorn jumped as though he had forgotten he was in the house.
'Oh, there you are, Albus,' he said. 'You've been a very long time. Upset stomach?'
'No, I was merely reading the Muggle magazines,' said Dumbledore. 'I do love knitting patterns.'


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