Dueling Fandoms?

There have been two interesting trends on Facebook lately:

One is the posting, sometimes obsessively, of pictures that have captions or other statements. This seems to suggest that we’re trending toward visual communication again.

The other is posting photos that use images from respective fandoms and using the captions to put them at odds with each other (as though they were meeting somewhere in their respective media). For example, one such image crossed my Facebook this morning:

Dueling Fandoms


In this particular example, images from Harry Potter are pitted against other groups, such as Dr. Who, etc.

Why I find this noteworthy is that, when the Harry Potter books were coming to an end and the HP Fandom had to reinvent itself–a time before other fandoms such as Dr. Who had really taken off–the community was talking about House Unity. To paraphrase the Sorting Hat, in order for the wizarding world to overcome evil/Voldemort, everyone had to work together toward the common goal, not against each other. There’s the unspoken component of “do this in order to support the Chosen One, who will cast the final spell and destroy You Know Who once and for all.” We see this similar theme echoed in Avatar: The Last Airbender and to an extent in Dr. Who. But in light of the dystopian nature of stories like The Hunger Games or the vampire stories (which Barnes and Nobel collect under the section heading, “Teen Paranormal Romance”), it seems that we are once again reverting to the very human tendency of dueling against ourselves.

Did we lose a sense of the “common goal” when Obama was re-elected? or when Occupy lost steam?

Or is being our own advocate just too overwhelming?

What we do within fandoms reflects how the myth is communicating to us, how it’s working it mojo. If we are designing duals, are we also experiencing conflict between the mythic messages?

What happens if we, in the course of experiencing media burnout, also experience mythic burnout?

Comments welcome.


Re-Visioning the Mother and Father with the Help of Harry Potter

James and Lily Potter represent for their orphaned son, Harry, the ideal Father and Mother. They died in a surprise attack protecting Harry from Lord Voldemort when he was only one year old. Throughout J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Harry learns about his parents, facts that threaten to abolish his ideal, while having to learn to identify the Mother and Father as archetypes in his life. In her book, The Wisdom of the Psyche, Ginette Paris recounts a need to reconnect with the Mother and Father archetypes. Separation from these archetypes manifest on a social level as problems that threaten order, such as a generation of eternal youth tormented by housing, fuel, and food crises that threaten a way of life and basic survival needs. Like Harry, a reconnection with the traditional images that embody these archetypes is in order, due in part to a mythic paradigm shift that has challenged and upturned traditional beliefs and behaviors. Instead, what is needed is a re-visioning or re-imagining of the Mother and Father archetypes. The model provided in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series suggests not only that the new images can be found in unlikely people or places, but also that the archetype can have many faces.

To best understand how this can be accomplished, an understanding of an archetypal approach is necessary to lay the foundations of an archetypal reading of Harry Potter. In his treatise on soul making through archetypal psychology, James Hillman in Re-Visioning Psychology offers methods of seeing and applying archetypes to one’s life. He suggests that archetypes are "the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of the soul governing the perspectives we have of ourselves and the world" (xix, emphasis original). By this model, archetypes are held to be any universal pattern, regardless of the degree of sacred quality it possesses. They are symbolic metaphors that point beyond the normal framework of the ego-consciousness, and they affect the individual on a deeply personal, emotional level. Hillman goes so far as to compare an archetype with a god in a generic, sacred sense (xix). While Harry Potter does not resemble a god of any tradition, the series is nevertheless full of archetypal characters who influence the reader to behave in comparable fashions, from the hero, Harry, to the Wise Old Man, Albus Dumbledore, and can lead the reader on his or her own fruitful, rewarding journey. Hillman presents four categories of archetypal re-visioning: personifying, pathologizing, de-humanizing, and psychologizing. Some of these categories are more relevant to the reader than to the series’ characters, but an understanding of them makes the reading experience richer.

Personifying “implies a human being who creates Gods in human likeness much as an author creates characters out of his own personality” and is the process of naming the archetype (Hillman 12). Hillman relates this to the naming of experiences and feelings, to giving them a capitalized name. In the world of Harry Potter, archetypal evil is characterized by Voldemort, a power-hungry, dark wizard who utilizes all avenues needed to accomplish his goals. Harry is one of the few in the Wizarding World who is not afraid to speak Voldemort’s name, but he is surrounded by people who cringe at its utterance. Albus Dumbledore, the school’s headmaster, teaches Harry and the reader that the fear of using the name incites fear of the thing. In fearing to use the name, to personify the archetype, the individual is essentially avoiding the archetype itself creating a barrier of fear around it. This is applicable to all archetypes, both positive and negative. Giving the archetype a name and an image brings it to a level with which the individual can identify with by making it represent the observable universe.

Pathologizing is the psyche’s reaction to an experience or behavior that manifests as an “illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering” (Hillman 57). It follows a religions and/or medical model of cause and effect: because of "a," then "b”: “We suffer, it has been customary to say, because we are either sick or sinful, and the cure of our suffering calls for either science or faith” to explain what is ailing the individual, to give it a simple, straightforward explanation with a simple, straightforward cure (Hillman 57). Both of these models “imply that pathologizing is wrong” (ibid.). The discovery of this correlation between archetypal unrest and physical malady is the socio-psychological bridge between the onset of the problem and the path to a new enlightenment and archetypal connection.

The physicality of pathologizing is less relevant to Harry Potter than the tradition that shuns it. Hillman argues that pathologizing is the model for why monotheism is dangerous to the psyche, because, like science, it does not attend to the complex needs of the psyche through its simple, straightforward explanation. Monotheism places a very thick, limited frame around archetypes and their ability to influence the psyche. In his world, Harry, as the archetypal hero, challenges the assumptions held by the Ministry of Magic regarding Voldemort and the nature of evil. The Ministry, tied to the steadfast monotheistic point of view that Voldemort was defeated the night Harry’s parents died, ignore all of the signs of his return. This piece of plot demonstrates the potential damage that can come from a closed mind, or a limited point of view. Like Hillman, Harry challenges the monotheistic mentality embedded in the Western tradition. The Harry Potter Alliance, a social activism organization inspired by the themes of Harry Potter, calls this the “muggle mindset,” using Rowling’s term for non-magical people. To combat the “muggle mindset” means to see the people of the world as equal with equal rights, regardless of religious creed, race, gender or culture. In other words, to break out of the monotheism that limits perspectives towards global and psychological affairs.

Furthermore, Hillman calls for a return to a polytheistic mindset, idealized by the Greeks and their pantheon of gods that describe various behaviors, emotions, experiences, and anything else that could not be explained by immediate observation. The monotheistic mindset has birthed the modern approaches to science that strive to identify the explanation behind everything, reducing the need to accomplish the same explanation through imaginal practices. Science overshadows the imagination, evidenced in the works of Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung and their students declaring myth, mythic thinking and mythic imagination to be either missing or dead. In reading Hillman’s work, it seems to me more like a call to return to the Greek pantheon altogether. I am critical of that approach because the Greek pantheon fulfilled the needs of a specific group of people at a specific time. Studying the myths assists in identifying their psychic power, but the modern mind needs an entirely new approach, one not reliant upon an alterable history. The archetypes Hillman is identifying are idealized within Greek mythology, but also manifest in various places throughout popular culture. In Harry Potter the parallels to the Greek pantheon are non-existent; however, the archetypes manifest in other ways relevant to the modern mind. Time will tell what future generations think about the books and whether they still hold the archetypal significance they hold now.

Because Harry holds his parents in such high regard, especially since they died protecting him, de-humanizing their ideal is crucial for him to accomplish his task. As he gets older, he learns more about them, especially about his father, who was not the pristine hero Harry thought he was. Eventually, he realizes he loves his parents despite all their faults. The lesson for the reader is that the idea of the parents is the archetype projected onto the actual people, and it is important to learn to separate the parents from the projection. As soon as Harry learns this, he is able to use his own voice and act beyond the expectations his parents’ memory forces on him, and, thus, he is able to individuate and say goodbye.

Psychologizing is particularly helpful for the readers of Harry Potter who get caught in the throes of mythopoetic arrest, the "a-ha" feeling in the books. Some readers need to create in response to this feeling, and this has given birth to the "fandom." Fans are linked not only by their love for the books, but also by fan fiction, podcasts, Wizard Rock (or "Wrock"), arts and crafts, group meetings, and many other things. What is missing, in my opinion, is the use of creative energy to create new myths, to live out one’s personal myth as inspired by the archetypes in Harry Potter rather than through those archetypes. Hillman describes psychologizng as mythologizing or as "seeing through," “a process of deliteralizng and a search for the imaginal in the heart of things by means of ideas” (Hillman 136). There is plenty of discussion in the fandom of the "whats" of Harry Potter, but the dialogue falters at the "hows" and "whys". By "hows" and "whys", I am referring to the reasons behind the significance of the series and its popularity. Whether it is through the methods of archetypal psychology, comparative mythology, or any other approach, the "seeing through" of the myth is the most crucial to is continuation, which is essential for a story to be labeled as a myth and not just a really popular story. It is very simple for a myth to be discarded before it passes into subsequent generations. The modern Western mentality of a disposable culture constantly bounces from myth to myth, object to object, person to person. There is little room for mythic blooming in an age of too much information. A recent example is the fever and failure of the Star Wars phenomenon. The original trilogy touched an archetypal need that was otherwise lacking in the culture at the time. Twenty years later, George Lucas re-released the original trilogy, edited and updated, not in response to cultural needs, but because of technological advances. He then proceeded to release a "prequel" trilogy that, to some extent, alienated the original fans that found the new movies void of the mythic qualities they loved in the first trilogy. Because George Lucas has continued to revisit the myth for his own reasons, they have lost their mythic qualities.

Because Harry is constantly forced to revisit the archetypes versus the actual people, Harry Potter acts as a model for the process of reconnecting to and re-identifying the Mother and Father archetypes. The lack of these particular archetypes, or, rather, their weak presence in this country, has created several problems unique to the modern era, ranging from a breakdown of community and communication, an overload of information and net-based globalization, to various "crises" that upset the flow of society, such as the rapid increase in fuel costs to the mortgage fall-out and the resulting banking crisis. The severity of these crises depends wholly on one’s vantage point. Younger people, such as myself, with their lives still ahead have different perspectives of these events than those in the end of their lives, seeing them more as a threat to their overall well-being. Each generation gets progressively "younger," holding onto the myth of eternal youth and dependency, “caught betwixt and between the Child and the Adult, and the consequences of their failure is tragic for them as for the rest of society” (Paris 114). All they are craving is for the love and care of Mother and Father, whom are missing.

Without a stable parental structure, onto whom does one have to project these archetypes? Part of this comes from the need to redefine the general appearance of what Mother and Father. No longer do they resemble "Ozzy and Harriet," the Cleavers, or other iconic couples from early television. Father is not necessarily the male of the house who goes out to earn money to take care of the family. Mother is not necessarily a female who is home all day, baking cookies and waiting for her children to return from school. In some cases, no one is at home at all, dinner is take out, and the only quality time the family spends together is watching TV or driving to school. This is shifting, but not quickly enough to make a smooth, clear transition. It is up to the individual to find someone onto which they can project. Harry has two Father figures: his headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, and his godfather, Sirius Black, both representing an authoritative, loving role model. His friends’ mother, Molly Wesley, most closely resembles a mother for Harry, but he does not identify her with Mother. Instead, Mother is represented by Hogwarts, the magic school he attends. This Mother nurtures and loves him. His ongoing battle with Lord Voldemort is driven mostly to protect the school and the people he loves whom she houses.

Because Harry is forced to separate his parents with their corresponding archetype, he helps readers see archetypal possibilities beyond traditional stereotypes. Perhaps Harry Potter is not meant to survive as a myth beyond the present era. But his story functions at this time as a transition from a traditional mythology to a new, developing mythos.

Works cited

  • Hillman, James. Re-Visioning Psychology. New York: HarperPerennial, 1992.
  • Paris, Ginette. Wisdom of the Psyche: Depth Psychology after Neuroscience. London: Routledge, 2007.

Why We Need Harry: Harry Potter and the Process of Individuation

When J.K. Rowling gave Harry Potter to the world, she had little to no idea how far the fan phenomenon would go. With the release of each book, the fandom grew experientially, and still continues to grow. For example, a couple years ago, Wizard Rock, a genre of grassroots music written, performed, and inspired by the books, was defined only by Harry and the Potters, Draco and the Malfoys, and the Remus Lupins. Now there are more bands than I can begin to name, including Melissa and the Anellis, named after the host of the popular fan podcast, PotterCast. That people are interacting so strongly with Harry Potter demonstrates its mythic powers, but are not always using these powers to inspire new, non-Harry Potter-themed creations. Of course, there are exceptions.

Within the Harry Potter dialogue, there is much discussion toward understanding the why’s and what’s of both the books and the fan phenomenon, but little discussion on the how’s. For this reason, I recommend plugging Harry Potter through the translator of mythology and depth psychology. These disciplines provide a language and some tools for understanding Harry Potter in an endearing fashion, not simply as a passing phenomenon. The languages of myth and psychology help a reader (or viewer) internalize the myth, to experience it on a deeply personal level, rather than letting the words or images stay on the page or screen and beyond consciousness. One example of this is the application of Jung’s theory of the process of individuation. Through an understanding of this process, one can experience Harry Potter not just as a literary hero, but also as a metaphorical self through whom we can all undergo a part of our own individuation process.

The process of individuation is the process by which one becomes an "’in-dividual,’ that is, a separate indivisible unity or ‘whole’” (Storr 212). There are two levels of understanding this. Linguistically, we acknowledge the individual to be one with traits unique from the rest of the group. The traits are often unconscious personality traits, but they manifest within the person’s life from personal expression of opinion to the manner in which one dresses. The other level is one in which a person achieves a degree of wholeness such that he or she is no longer psychically divisible, meaning he or she operates within and acknowledges the realm of psyche and is not constantly shifting gears for the sake of the collective outer world. As demonstrated in the phraseology, this is a process, one that may never be fully achieved, and only then, in old age. Myth offers the possibility of the process and provides the metaphorical tools to help guide one to this state of wholeness.

A central misunderstanding of the process stems from the parallels with Joseph Campbell’s model of the hero’s journey called the monomyth. This process of separation, ordeal, and return is essential to individuation because it is through the constant repetition of these steps that one can truly become whole, limited only by the willingness of a person to see it thusly, because the goal of the quest is for the boon of the Self. The hero’s journey as story structure gives a sense of finitude that the journey ends at the end of the story, rather than acknowledge the ongoing process through which the hero, ourselves, must journey. Jung never intended the process to be complete within the framework of the Western psyche, and probably marveled at the Eastern quest for enlightenment. I believe that he would have scoffed at the number of young people taking an interest in the process as a possible goal of life, not just as a theory to study. Indeed, the popularity of Harry Potter has brought renewed interest in the hero’s journey. Exploring the books through individuation offers a different perspective by which to understand the books, and, hopefully, keep them relevant as fans move into new stages of psychic development.

The “scientific”, “concrete” evidence of this process comes from Carl Jung’s rediscovery of alchemy. While the subject is often disregarded in the modern scientific community as a non-science, Jung recognized within it a “mine of symbolism” that removed the alchemical process from a literal transformation into gold into a metaphorical parallel to “the way a human being, with a correct use of will and imagination … can enter a process whose goal is the creation of an internal structure he called the self[,]” symbolized by the Philosopher’s Stone (Schwartz-Salant 2). From this reading, the alchemist’s latent goal was to unlock or uncover missing or well-covered psychic energies while manifestly experimenting with substances and chemicals, which, incidentally, helped induce the hallucinations that guided the alchemist closer to his latent goal. Many of the alchemical writings that survived the wrath of the Church are written cryptically, as though written by the psyche itself. The fear of the Church against this discipline suggests a fear at the loss of power over the subjects due to their own psychic awakening and, thus, the pulling away from God and the Church. For this reason, many alchemical texts were destroyed. Clearly, the central body for worshiping the Christian deity was suffering from its own God-complex.

J.K. Rowling has said or has been credited with saying in numerous interviews that she drew inspiration for Harry Potter from alchemy and classic British literature, namely Jane Austen and Grail romances. The story is of Harry Potter, an orphan, who learns he is a wizard after living with his non-magical relatives after the death of his parents. Not only is he a wizard, but he is also famous for vanquishing the Lord Voldemort, a dark wizard committed to a reign of terror that extends beyond the boundaries of the Wizarding community. Harry learns that Voldemort was not fully killed but only defeated, and that he is still pursuing Harry while slowing regaining the power he once had. It is Harry’s mission, with a little help from his friends, to avenge the death of his parents and rid the world of this evil forever. With each book, chronicling one year of Harry’s life, he comes closer to achieving his goal as he learns more about magic, his opponent, and himself.

The stories are told solely through Harry’s perspective, with a few necessary sidetracks at the start of the novels to set the stage for the confrontation between Harry and Voldemort or one of his helpers that occurs at the end of each book. This narrative perspective places the reader in Harry’s position, even if he is not the character to whom he or she is mostly drawn. It is through Harry that the reader experiences Hogwarts, Harry’s school, Hogsmeade, the wizarding village near the school, and Harry’s relationship to the various members of the Wizarding world. Because the series is told through Harry’s perspective, as he learns more about himself and the Wizarding world, so does the reader. As Harry develops into a stronger wizard, so does the reader, though unconsciously. As Harry finds the hero’s strength, so does the reader. But how does this happen? As I have previously suggested, the key is the alchemical process, as psychic parallel for the process of individuation. Through literature, this manifests as literary alchemy, the process by which an individual, or prima materia, is transformed through engaging with literature, which serves as the metaphorical catalyst that launches or guides the prima materia through its transformation. Because of the limited nature of this assessment, I will focus on some key plot points and symbols rather than try to confront all of the symbols that are critical for an alchemical understanding Harry Potter and individuation.

The first book lays the groundwork nicely: Harry, once he learns that he is a wizard, gets thrown rail station trolley first into the Wizarding World during the first part of the book. His first adventure involves trying to protect the Philosopher’s Stone that is hiding in the Hogwarts castle from theft. Although he is convinced one of the professors is going to steal it, it is actually the target of Voldemort. That both hero and arch-nemesis are seeking the same boon is significant to how the series ends. Voldemort seeks the Philosopher’s Stone for its power of eternal life. Though he and we are unaware until the last part of the seventh book, the power of Voldemort’s life lies in Harry because he was inadvertently made into a horcrux the night his parents were killed. A horcrux is a vessel of some kind into which one places a piece of his or her soul. It is very dark magic and often involves a murder as a part of the spell. Harry is Voldemort’s Philosopher’s Stone, which, Jung notes, is sometimes called the orphan (Schwartz-Salant 45). For Harry, the Philosopher’s Stone means something different, but he is not concerned with what that meaning is. He is more focused on ensuring that Voldemort does not get the Stone. Consider how Harry gets the Stone at the end of the first book: With Professor Quirrell and the spirit of Lord Voldemort standing behind him, Harry looks into the Mirror of Erised, a mirror that shows one’s deepest desire, which Dumbledore charmed to give the Stone to someone seeking it with no intent to use it. As Harry gazes at himself in the mirror, he feels a sudden weight in his pocket and realizes the Stone has just been magically given to him. The image here is that Harry must look within himself in order to reach the Stone, implying that the most rewarding boon is the one found within the psyche that will lead an individual into wholeness. This lays the groundwork for the rest of the series. Through self-reflection, Harry, acting the part for the reader otherwise incapable of going on a literal journey, can grow into the hero he is expected to be, and he takes the readers along in this journey.

As Harry proceeds through the trials and ordeals of both Voldemort and adolescence, the events of the Tri-Wizard tournament both foreshadow the rest of the series and provide several metaphors for the alchemical process of individuation. When the tournament is announced, it is open only to seventh years and one champion will be selected from each participating school, Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. The impartial judge choosing the contestants is the Goblet of Fire, a symbol parallel to the Grail. Three champions are selected, plus Harry, whose name was mysteriously entered into the Goblet. Jung often references the alchemical significance of the trinity becoming a quarternity, symbolizing perfection by union with the divine feminine (Storr 236). Furthermore, this movement into a quarternity represents a union of the four elements crucial to Western alchemy: Harry represents fire and Cedric of Hogwarts represents earth, as those are the elements associated with their houses. Not much is known about the other two participating schools within canon, but one can surmise the other two elements based on the school’s preferred mode of transport. Viktor of Durmstrang represents water because the students arrive to Hogwarts by ship, while Fleur of Beauxbatons is associated with air because those students arrive by flying carriage. The quintessence of the four elements is their mutual goal of winning the Tri-Wizard cup. Harry’s role in the quarternity is to attempt to bridge the three schools. His actions during the tournament win him the respect and loyalty among the other competitors that become crucial in the last book of the series.

The three events of the tournament take the reader through the alchemical process and also a condensed hero’s cycle. The first task is to rescue a golden egg, the cosmic egg, from a nesting mother dragon. Each champion is to come up with a way to get past her in the least amount of time with the least amount of damage. This is the nigredo because the prima materia, the champion, while risking fire to rescue the egg, is exposed to the full onslaught of the tournament. Before this event, the champions thought that this was just fun and games. By going through this blackening phase, they enter a limbo between being students and being tournament champions. More pressure rests on Fleur and Viktor because Hogwarts as double the chance of winning.

The rescued egg holds the clue to the second task, which can only be heard by opening the egg under water. The only way for the reader to fully understand the power of the cosmic egg, the image suggests, is to plunge into the unconscious and listen to it in its own element, pictured as water. The voice within the egg is a mermaid, a catalyst figure that lures the alchemical hero into the abyss, which is the test behind the second task. The champions are to rescue a special friend from the Mermaid Kingdom in the lake by the school. Harry, the first to arrive on the scene, stays to make sure everyone is rescued properly, and eventually saves his friend, Ron, and also Fleur’s sister, Gabrielle. This albedo task is both a cleansing process after the nigredo but also represents and foreshadows the sacred union to come later in the series. Harry’s swim into the Mermaid Kingdom represents his willingness to embrace the feminine. He has to fight against the Mer-King to allow him to take Gabrielle to the surface, raising a piece of his inner feminine into consciousness.

The last event, the maze, ends with Harry and Cedric unexpectedly transporting to a distant graveyard when they grasp the Tri-Wizard Cup unexpectedly transporting Harry and Cedric to a distant graveyard. The events that transpire in the graveyard are Harry’s rubedo because the events that happen bring Harry into a transformed state closer, though not entirely, to one of purification: he witnesses Cedric’s death, a symbolic death of things to come, Voldemort’s rise as a homunculus from the cauldron, a brief reunion with his parents caused by the power of the phoenix feather embedded in the cores of both Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands. Through Harry, the reader experiences a death of innocence, but also a transformation into wisdom. The graveyard sequence is not only a period of being in the unconscious, but also of being in the shadow.

Like the Philosopher’s Stone book-ending the entire series, the Goblet of Fire and the Tri-Wizard Cup bookend the events of the fourth book. These cups are intentional parallels to the Holy Grail, which is symbolic of the quest of individuation and parallel to the Philosopher’s Stone. In the Grail romances, the Grail is symbolic of the hero’s boon that is sought but rarely found. This is the boon of the Self, of psychic wholeness. With each adventure, the Grail knight, like Harry, grows stronger. A representation of the Philosopher’s Stone can be won at the end of an adventure, but it will only be the genuine stone after a campaign of adventures.

Another psychologically relevant symbol, but not necessarily alchemical, of Harry’s individuation is the "King’s Cross" chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Having just been struck with the killing curse from Voldemort, Harry awakens in a sort of netherworld between the realm of life and death imagined as London’s King’s Cross station, the location of Harry’s threshold crossing into the Wizarding World, to the screaming of a mutilated, naked child. Dumbledore is there and Harry is given the opportunity to ask him several questions previously unasked. To Harry, Dumbledore represents both the Wise Old Man/Mentor archetype and also a manifestation of his wiser, shadow-self containing the good aspects of his shadow. This final conversation with his mentor allows him to embrace, if not integrate to a degree, these aspects of himself. The screaming thing is the piece of Voldemort’s soul that Harry has unknowingly carried around for sixteen years. This is the negative aspect of his shadow. As though to emphasize that these negative aspects are inherent in the psyche and individuation, Dumbledore urges Harry to forget the child, because there is nothing he can do for him now. This is not in opposition to Robert Johnson’s urging to acknowledge the shadow. Harry on several occasions acknowledges Voldemort’s role as his arch-nemesis, and understands that a link exists between the two of them. This scene enables him to understand to what extent that link exists. By defeating Voldemort, Harry is conquering his shadow. I doubt such a feat is possible within the "real" world, but the image is an admirable guide for the readers. Harry is given the choice to live or die at this point. Should he die, he becomes a martyr to Voldemort’s cause. Should he live, he will be able to complete his task of defeating Voldemort. Either way, his partial death is self-less and thus affords all of his friends protection against further harm from Voldemort. To bring to a close this phase of Harry’s individuation, he asks Dumbledore once he has decided to live whether or not this is all in his head. Dumbledore responds, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” (Rowling, Deathly 723)

A comment is necessary about the horcruxes and the Deathly Hallows, because not only do they carry the plot of the last two books, but they also function in the prolonging of life in a negative, superficial manner without the transformative significance of the Philosopher’s Stone. These tools are ego’s tools to escape the individuation process used to prolong the end rather than focus on the inner work, the alchemical process that will make present life more memorable. There are seven Horcruxes: Riddle’s diary, the Gaunt ring, Slytherin’s locket, Hufflepuff’s cup, Ravenclaw’s diadem, Voldemort’s snake Nagini, and Harry. As mentioned above, they are vessels to contain pieces of a person’s soul. Voldemort, fearing death, created them in the hopes of indefinitely prolonging his life. Considering that Jung’s message is to bring about the wholeness of psyche, splitting the soul is counter to the process of individuation, and explains Voldemort’s downfall. The more he split his soul, the more focused on ego he became. We can assume that each piece of soul hidden in a horcrux is a good piece of Voldemort, those aspects he chose to repress rather than address. Thus he became the shadow.

There are three Deathly Hallows: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Invisibility Cloak. These three are tools to cheat death, as they are described in Rowling’s fairytale, “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” In the tale, the brother who is most happy is the one with the invisibility cloak. With this, he was able to live his life to the fullest possible extent while remaining shielded from death, which allowed him the time and opportunity to pursue individuation and achieve it before dying.

The Harry Potter series is not only an entertaining series of books about which people are fanatics. It has a strong hold on those fanatics and lends itself to discussion. Fan conferences are not just opportunities for fans to dress up and meet other fans. They are also academic conferences for scholarly dialogue. Scholars from all disciplines are likewise fascinated by the Harry Potter series and base their interpretations on the assumption that the Harry Potter series is vital to understanding the various trials and tribulations of both adolescence and the modern socio-political atmosphere. It is my contention that Harry Potter is a myth for modern times, with enough timelessness to be a respected myth for future generations. In order to understand the power of this myth, it is helpful to look at it through the lens of depth psychology. As modern myth drifts further from sacred narrative, it becomes progressively more psychological. Interpretations of modern myths follow the hero into the unconscious as he or she quests for the boon of the Self, the goal of the individuation process symbolically understood in the alchemical process as the Philosopher’s Stone. The confines of this paper prevent a full psychoanalysis of Harry Potter; however, the few examples I have given demonstrate that such a mythic reading is possible, and that doing so can unlock an understanding of the fever behind the fandom.

Works cited

  • Fabricius, Johannes. Alchemy: The Medieval Alchemists and their Royal Art. London: Diamond Books, 1994.
  • Johnson, Robert A. Owning Your Own Shadow: Understanding the Dark Side of the Psyche. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1991.
  • Rowling, J.K. 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 Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Schwartz-Salant, Nathan, ed. Jung on Alchemy. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1995.
  • Storr, Anthony, ed. The Essential Jung. Princeton: Princeton U P, 1983.

Harry Potter and the Alchemy of Love

One of the dominant themes of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series is love: romantic love between two characters, platonic love between two friends, parental love between an elder and a child, and inter-species love between a human and a creature or being from another species. Throughout the series, Rowling treats love as a force beyond all others that will always triumph over evil. Within the alchemical process, key stages of the work, such as the rubedo or the coniunctio, symbolize the union between gold and silver to produce the Philosopher’s Stone, similar to Carl Jung’s outline for the process of individuation. The theme of love in Harry Potter is emphasized between the contrast between Harry and his arch-nemesis, Lord Voldemort, who is completely unable to love. The entire story parallels The Chemical Wedding of Christian Rosencreutz, a Renaissance allegorical story that symbolically describes the separation and spiritual death in preparation for the divine union. The Philosopher’s Stone in both cases is the experience, psychic, spiritual or otherwise, of the reader, strengthened by Harry’s defeat of Voldemort’s horcrux, made possible by the energy of love in his life.

“The alchemical mysteries of marriage involve the metaphorical transformation of molecular compounds, which are reduced to bare elements, and then reunited to produce the philosopher’s stone” (Smith 86). The process of transformation parallels the mythological hero’s journey: The elements of the prima materia are separated from each other, and then are thrown through the ordeal of the opus, or experimentation trying to unite substances that will produce something new, and then the boon of the perfect union and rebirth as the philosopher’s stone.

To understand why the coniunctio holds such transformative energies, I begin with the story of love described by Plato in his Symposium: Once upon a time, humans were ball-shaped with four arms and legs and two faces. There were three types of people, each corresponding to a heavenly body: male of the Sun, woman of the Earth and androgynous of the Moon. One day, the ball people decided to attack the gods, who retaliated by splitting them apart, leaving them with two arms and legs and one face. The goal of humans has since been to find the lost genuine companionship, or popularly known as "soul mates," so ancient is this desire it “is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature” (Plato 27). Thus, love is an essential part of the human experience and a catalyst for wholeness.

The psychoanalytic revolution defines the wholeness of love as a union of unconsciousness and consciousness. Carl Jung defines the love-center of the psyche as anima/animus. The anima is the unconscious feminine aspects of a man, the masculine aspects of a woman, or the appropriate aspects of a transgendered individual. The key is that it is the opposite masculine/feminine identity of one’s conscious masculine/feminine identity. Without proper guidance into the psyche, the unconscious projects itself into our conscious world. Because of these projections, the energies inherent in the unconscious are transferred onto the person or object, temporarily becoming equated with it. Transference is temporary, according to Jung, because eventually the conscious will awaken to the unconscious, and the wily energies can be kept under control. The anima/animus is seeking the hieros gamos, the sacred marriage of opposites: male/female, conscious/unconscious, Sol/Luna, symbolized in alchemy by the coniunctio. This is an essential part of the individuation process or hero’s quest, because without it, psychic forces can remain out of control or the Philosopher’s Stone as a psychic boon will never be purified.

Before the opus can get to the coniunctio, the prima materia must first be isolated. For Harry Potter, as he is our literary prima materia, this involves separating him from his non-magical ("muggle"), mundane existence. Initially, the "prima materia [is] thought of as a composite, a confused mixture of undifferentiated and contrary components requiring a process of separation" (Edinger 183). To isolate and purify its components, the prima materia undergoes a separatio. The chemical components that make up a substance provide complexity; the separatio provides simplicity, a sort of tabula rasa on which to project the work. The mythic hero must be separated from his or her homeland in order to fulfill the hero’s task and find the boon. For the reader or participant engaged with the myth, this literary separation is housed within the psyche, crucial to fulfilling the psychological need of the hero’s journey. Harry’s journey from the muggle to magical world each school year symbolizes the separation all individuals undergo during the course of individuation. At the end of each foray into the psyche, the individual must return to the real world, until the opportunity arises that they can permanently enter the magical world, i.e., they can follow their bliss without the threats of a "schizophrenic crack-up" (Campbell, "Hero’s").

Once the factors are isolated, the prima materia then undergoes a mortificatio, a death that removes any lingering ties to its original form and forces it into a liminal state of being and non-being. Edward Edinger associates this with the first stage of the "coloring process," the nigredo, or blackening (147). This spiritual death is more intense than the separatio, because it prevents the prima materia from reverting to its original state. This is necessary prior to the coniunctio because the contamination of original substances can prevent a successful union with new substances. This is played out beautifully at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Harry, on the threshold of his greatest adventure to date, breaks up with his girlfriend, Ginny Weasley, because he needs to concentrate on saving the Wizarding world for “some stupid, noble reason” (Rowling, Half 646). They are prevented from being together because of Lord Voldemort and the trail of horcruxes he has left behind. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows follows Harry through his horcrux hunt. Beginning with the fourth book of the series, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Harry witnesses a death of someone important. In Deathly Hallows, he has to experience his own death – relatively late in the game – to achieve the necessary degree of maturity in order for the mortificatio to take.

The remainder of the "coloring process," the albedo and rubedo, help transition the newly blackened prima materia into the coniunctio. The entire process is played out in the "King’s Cross” chapter of Deathly Hallows:

Voldemort challenges Harry to face him in the Forbidden Forest away from his friends and supporters. This is one of Harry’s many separatios: he is separated from all things with which he both consciously and unconsciously identifies himself. His separation is further accented by opening the Golden snitch, a small, winged golden ball used in the sport, Quidditch. The Golden Snitch is Harry’s Cosmic Egg, "the alchemist’s vessel of transmutation in which the birth of the Philosopher’s Stone takes place," because his first awakening occurred when he realized he had extra-special flying abilities (Abraham qtd. in Granger 98). Inside the ball, Dumbledore hid a ring that could temporarily resurrect the dead. Among the resurrected were Harry’s parents and father-figures. Their ghastly presence foreshadows the liminality Harry must experience as he advances through his mortificatio/nigredo.

When he confronts Voldemort, Harry is struck with the killing curse, avada kedavra, described as instant death by blinding green light (fire). Harry finds himself in a liminal state that resembles London’s King’s Cross station, his threshold between the muggle and magical worlds, thus making King’s Cross a threshold between life and death. There is an ugly baby-like thing crying in pain, and Harry’s dead professor, Albus Dumbledore, is sitting nearby. The ugly baby-thing is a piece of Voldemort’s soul lodged within Harry’s psyche, a dark pollutant that Harry needs to absorb and acknowledge in order to release him from its powers. The nigredo is associated with death because the blackness resembles rot. Dumbledore’s name, Albus, is derived from the same root word as albedo and the cleansing he provides Harry during this final conversation between the two is Harry’s albedo. Harry learns from Dumbledore that he has the power to choose to live because of the nature of his death as a willing sacrifice to save his friends. The option to choose is made possible because of the horcrux Harry did not realize he carried. As long as Harry lives, the piece of soul lives. Harry is faced with a cross road option, similar to the alchemical symbol of the cross, which Carl Jung describes as a symbol for wholeness: "Submission to a fundamental contrariety of human nature amounts to an acceptance of the fact that the psyche is at cross purposes with itself. Alchemy teaches that the tension is fourfold, forming a cross which stands for the four warring elements" (Jung 143). Harry’s dilemma is to live or die. He has suffered his whole life because of Voldemort; however, he also has grown into the hero figure by necessity of his connection to him. Harry realizes that dying, while "the next great adventure," would give Voldemort the upper hand in the fight (Rowling, Sorcerer 297). The death of the hero means the death of ego and consciousness, and thus the shadow (Voldemort) would have power in the conscious sphere: Campbell’s projected "schizophrenic crack-up." The alchemical quarternity manifests in this chapter as King’s Cross represents the meeting point between the cross roads of Harry and the cross roads of Dumbledore as they manifest in Harry’s psyche. Harry, as well as readers of his adventure, not only have to sort out Harry’s liminality, but also Dumbledore’s. This is his final goodbye.[1] Harry chooses to live, but Voldemort’s soul dies. Harry’s rubedo involves the integration of this psychic connection to Voldemort, then letting the piece of soul go.

Similarly, the adventure of Christian Rosencreutz involves separation, mortificatio, and nigredo. One day, after prayers, Christian Rosencreutz receives an invitation to a royal wedding by way of a vision of a woman standing on a globe, surrounded by stars and animals, holding a golden trumpet and several envelopes. Christian, not wanting to miss such an opportunity, leaves his house, headed for the castle where the wedding is to be held. It should be noted that the outfit he dons for the wedding is full of red and white. He arrives at the castle, and is led about by a Virgin. This same Virgin weighs all the guests of the wedding and selects Christian for marriage and a banquet is held in his honor, with gold and silver dishes. After a day of exploring the castle and some evening theatrics, he follows the Virgin into a great hall, where he watches funerary preparations for six beheaded people. He follows the pallbearers into the lower area of the castle and finds a strange vault, inside of which is a tomb of a dead King and Queen covered with mysterious inscriptions. They lead him back up and onto a ship flying twelve flags representing the signs of the zodiac and he is married. Then, the wedding party took the Order of the Golden Stone, thus becoming Knights of the Golden Stone.

Christian, the prima materia, must first be broken down. In its initial state, the prima materia is “thought of as a composite, a confused mixture of undifferentiated and contrary components requiring a process of separation” (Edinger 183). This can be done by water, by fire, or by any other transformative method that can separate the pieces from the whole. In Christian’s case, he receives a wedding invitation. An element is isolated to undergo the work (Christian is selected for the wedding) and the opus, the alchemical work¸ can get underway. This element is exposed to all the natural elements, especially fire, water, and air, to temper and purify it before it is combined with other elements. While the processes themselves have their own names, this can be summed up by the “coloring process” of nigredo, albedo and rubedo. The nigredo is the blackening process, and is often associated with death, rot, and burning by fire. This stage alters the prima materia so greatly that it is no longer able to return to its original state. The albedo, or whitening, is a cleansing and a purification process that washing away all of the soot and grime of the nigredo. The rubedo is the infusion of life, associated with blood or sulphur, into the white element to resurrect it and product the Philosopher’s Stone (which can be either red or gold). In the allegory of Christian, it is necessary for him to participate in the funeral in order for his original state to die (nigredo). His return to the surface and to the ships cleanses him and washes away the decay (albedo). The rubedo is often associated with a marriage, pictured as the marriage between Sol (sun) and Luna (moon), the White King (Christian) and Red Queen (princess), sulphur and quicksilver. This union will produce the philosopher’s stone, which is allegorized as a hermaphrodite.

Love is a necessary emotion for all humans because it connects people with each other. The first experience of a child is, usually, the love of the mother. Harry Potter lived with his mother one year before her death and is therefore capable of love, but he never experienced it while living with his foster parents, the Dursleys. Because of his cruel upbringing, Harry is able to distinguish behavior because he never appreciated the cruelty of the Dursleys. On the other hand, Voldemort’s mother suffered from strong animus transference, such that she died shortly after Voldemort was born of a broken heart. Her heart was entwined with a neighbor who refused to acknowledge her existence. She bewitched him into loving her and kept him under the spell for almost a year, a dangerous amount of time to keep one under enchantment. She releases him from the spell, and he is so appalled, he leaves her pregnant and refuses to speak to hear, possibly forgetting what occurred when they were together. She, however, in her delusion, was convinced that he learned to love her and would stay with her, and if not, then he would stay for their child. When her plan backfired, she carried the child to term, and left him at an orphanage, and died. Voldemort was unable to learn to love.

J.K. Rowling gives Harry a special power, the "power of love" that protects him from harm, especially by Lord Voldemort, who is incapable of understanding love. This power comes from a deeply magical protection placed on Harry when his mother sacrificed herself to protect him from Voldemort. Harry later repeats this when he likewise sacrifices himself for his schoolmates and teachers. The scene of his sacrifice helps exemplify the alchemical process, although the entire series is full of such incarnations; this paper doesn’t allow time to cover them all. After returning to the world of the living, Harry, still believed dead, is carried to the battlefield in front of Hogwarts. Voldemort attempts to curse one of Harry’s classmates, but he is unharmed, as are other targets of curses. At a crucial moment, Harry jumps up, alive, and rallies his classmates and professors. The battle continues, and Harry and Voldemort dual one-on-one. None of the good side is harmed while several Death Eaters are. One-by-one, contaminating elements, Death Eaters, are removed from the process, until only Harry and his arch-nemesis remain. Harry turns Voldemort’s curse back on himself, killing him, and leaving Harry is free to love without constraint. The Epilogue of the seventh book shows Harry as an average father, married to his true love, sending his middle son off to school for the first time. His coniunctio is represented literally by his marriage to Ginny Weasley. Harry advanced from Plato and the separation to lovers, Rowling brings them together, skipping over most of the unnecessary romance in favor of Harry’s epic adventure.

The coniunctio brings together two different substances to create something beautiful. The first substance, the prima materia undergoes a strenuous process of purification before the coniunctio can be initiated. The second substance is brought into the coniunctio already purified. The stories of Harry Potter and Christian Rosencreutz exemplify the alchemical process, emphasizing that transformation does not come easy. The transformative process ushers a person into a new state, often of wholeness and fulfillment, symbolized in alchemical literature as the Philosopher’s Stone, which is believed to give its possessor infinite life and wealth. As a symbol for a psychological or mythological process, the Philosopher’s Stone is equated with the goal of the individuation process or the hero’s journey. This approach is sometimes discounted because the psychological approach purports to reconcile the ego with the unconscious, both personal and collective. As Titus Burkhart argues, “[t]he alchemist’s ‘fountain of youth’ in no wise springs from an obscure psychic substratum; it flows from the same source as the Spirit” (9). Similarly, John Granger, a noted Potter-scholar, describes alchemy as “the means, in conjunction with the Mysteries of the Church … that [the alchemist] could regain [his lost spiritual] capacity; the substance changing from lead to gold was his soul and the riches he would glean were spiritual riches” (50-51).

Regardless of whether the images of alchemy come from a psychological or a spiritual realm, the projection onto the opus comes after the manual manipulation of chemicals. That alchemy can be interpreted in a modern sense as a primarily psychological or spiritual process is a testament to the disparity between the spirituality and the science. The story of Harry Potter demonstrates that there are multiple perspectives to any story, and all are equally valid in a given situation. The series is told from his perspective and often his adventures occur because he misunderstood his own perspective without exploring others.

Love is both a psychological and a spiritual process. In order for love to succeed, one has to have a degree of self-love as well as a connection with the other party. The alchemical process gives us both: It can be seen as a pathway towards self love and individuation, but it also fuses together the two parties. Love cannot restore Plato’s globular people, but it can instill the same emotional response. Harry Potter’s story shows the process leading up to the coniunctio, while Christian Rosencreutz takes the experience to its culmination with the creation of the hermaphrodite, who is as complete and fulfilled as Plato’s original people. Achieving the Philosopher’s Stone is a life-long dream that may never be attained, but once it is, it is only the starting point.

Works cited

  • Burckhardt, Titus. Alchemy: Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. Louisville: Fons Vitae, 1997.
  • Edinger, Edward F. Anatomy of the Psyche: Alchemical Symbolism in Psychotherapy. La Salle: Open Court, 1985.
  • Granger, John. Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader. Wayne: Zossima P, 2007.
  • “The Hero’s Adventure.” Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth with Bill Moyers. PBS. 1988. DVD. Wellspring Media, 2005.
  • Jung, C.G. The Psychology of Transference. Trans. R.F.C. Hull. New York: Bollingen, 1966.
  • Plato. Symposium. Trans. Alexander Nehamas and Paul Woodruff. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1989.
  • Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005.
  • —–. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic, 1997.
  • Smith, Evans Lansing. Sacred Mysteries: Myths About Couples in Quest. Nevada City: Blue Dolphin, 2003.
  • Yates, Frances A. The Rosicrucian Enlightenment. London: Routledge, 1972.

[1] Few of the fans wanted to acknowledge his death, despite Rowling’s comments that dead is dead. This chapter serves as a final goodbye.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2

*Warning: Contains Spoilers.*

In the purest use of the term, in cinematic parlance, none of the Harry Potter films are particularly “good.” Sure, they are filled with eye candy (visual effects and actors alike), but the acting is often dry or forced, and the scripts too often make assumptions based on readers’ prior knowledge of the books. This is more apparent in the first films, when they were trying to stick closely to the books. By the last films, the script had to take license just to squeeze the story into the limited time of cinema. Deathly Hallows benefits from being split into two films, though I still see this as a money-making move on WB’s part and less a story preservation technique.

As I said in my Potter-thon post, I’ve long since made peace with the divergences in the film adaptations. Harry Potter is one of the few things I love more than cinema, and my enjoyment of the films is greatly reduced when I compare plots. The last couple films (Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows) have benefited from my grad school sabbatical of reading the HP books, and I have not read the entire series through but once since the Deathly Hallows book release. On a personal side note, I’m sad to realize that my Deathly Hallows, Part 1 post was lost in the Mythic Thinking Shake-up of 2011.

*Below there be spoilers*

I appreciate that with DH2, the script writers finally stopped making assumptions about reader knowledge. In fact, this is the first film of the 8 that does this so well. Before he died in Half-Blood Prince, Dumbledore failed to give Harry the laundry list of where to find the remaining horcruxes. The cup of Hufflepuff (which is just another gold cup in Belatrix’s vault, no significance given to it) is found by logic and Harry’s connection to the Horcruxes. They speak to him and he can feel them (this becomes key in helping Harry understand that he is a Horcrux too). Utilizing Harry’s failed occlumency lessons, Harry is able to learn about the other 2 horcruxes they can’t identify through logic: Nagini and Ravenclaw’s diadem.

The acting in this film was far superior to the previous ones, especially by those characters who step up during the battle: Neville, McGonagall, Dumbledore and Snape. I’ve never seen Alan Rickman pull off such a depth of dramatic acting before. The visual effects, likewise stunning. The “King’s Cross” scene, one of my favorites from the books, was one of the best in the film.

But I left the theater with some mixed feelings, and here’s why. Most of them are concentrated on the last third of the film.

When he is going to the forest to die, Harry resurrects his parents, Sirius and Lupin. In this scene, powerful as it is, Harry asked Lupin something about his son. Son? This was not mentioned in the film. Tonks tries to hint at it before the “Seven Harrys” scene, but that does not mean it should be mentioned here. Nor does said imaginary “son” appear anywhere in the film. It should not have been mentioned.

Molly Weasley’s famous line is anti-climatic. In the book, I always got the sense that she was stepping in to defend Ginny from Belatrix, not stepping up to challenge her. There was no fire to her line, and frankly I didn’t find it believable. When she offs Belatrix, I didn’t cheer as much as I did for the book.

Ginny’s only emotion toward Harry was when she thought he had died. Not any sign of happy relief to find out that he was alive. I get that she was overcome with grief, losing her brother and all, but come on. She didn’t even acknowledge him after he defeated Voldemort.

Which is another problem. Sure, Hogwarts was destroyed. Sure, many people died. But Harry’s victory just went unacknowledged. Not even a handshake or congratulations by a professor here or there. You can get away with something like this in a book, because you can write about how the hero was satisfied, etc. But since we can’t read the hero’s thoughts in a film, something should happen to illustrate this point. The only point I got from this ending was that Harry was more alone at the end of his mission than he was when the books began. Yet, the ending of the book was supposed to be about building Harry’s new family and letting the old one go.

I have always disapproved of the epilogue, and the epilogue in the film is no exception. I’m glad they kept the same actors and aged them a bit, but there is just no life in the film’s epilogue. The acting falls flat again.

This leads me to conclude that the Harry Potter films are just pure entertainment, and supplements to the books, but that they cannot stand on their own. This is, of course, the danger of any adaptation from book to film. But it can be done. Even Tolkien purists will acknowledge the quality of Peter Jackson’s films. Indeed, Jackson took the “right” kind of licenses when making that trilogy. The Potter films just fall short.

Our server at the Alamo Drafthouse was mentioning to customers that last night was the end of their childhood. This does raise an interesting thought, one that merits consideration at another time.

Potter-Thon 2011

I like watching movies. I like watching movies all day. But the longest I have ever gone is the LOTR extended editions, and that was a marathon in and of itself. But the idea of an all-day Harry Potter marathon proved irresistible, especially in light of the prohibitive expense of doing the Alamo Drafthouse feast. So the day started at 8:00am CST with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and will go until ???? and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1.

At my core of cores, I’m a Potter-geek. My MA thesis exists because of my love of Harry Potter, and I enjoy attending the Potter-conferences, etc. But my other great love is Disney, which won out the whole “which dissertation topic” debate.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

  • How did Harry’s parents get so wealthy? Interest-bearing savings account?
  • Daniel Radcliffe became a much better actor as he grew up. I think this is also due to the fact that Chris Columbus was taken off the project. At first I thought that the change was going to affect the movie series, but in retrospect (knowing the remaining half of the series) it was a really good move. The first two Potter books are noticeably light and fluffy, but so are 11 and 12 year olds. The darkness that appears in book 3 and beyond is very applicable to the same level of darkness of teenage life. There was a tweet I saw the other day that said something like, “If you are opposed to the darkness in YA lit, then take the darkness out of teen life. Good luck with that.” It’s very true indeed. So, thinking about it, Voldemort could be seen as a metaphor for teen inner darkness, making Harry Potter a fundamentally Bettleheimian series (which is, of course, how I met Bettleheim’s work, though the context of the analysis wasn’t as metaphorical as I would like). Another read about the popularity of the books on a psychological level…
  • Though I have to admit, I still am disconcerted to see the kids wearing Muggle clothing throughout the movies. That is one change from the books that I still disagree with. I’ve made my peace with many of the others.
  • Ron tells Harry that his father said there’s not a single bad wizard that wasn’t in Slytherin. I have a hard time believing this, because it implies that all Death Eaters were Slytherin, but there are pure-bread wizards in the other houses that could just have easily been twisted to the Dark Side. There’s nothing in the rules that Death Eaters can only be Slytherins, but that they have to pure-blood wizards who are willing to support Voldemort’s plans unconditionally. I think that the canon has said forever that Dumbledore was a Gryffindor, and I think JKR confirmed that somewhere, but I think he would have been a prime example of a non-Slytherin Death Eater had he been Tom Riddle’s peer rather than professor. Based on what we learn in the last book, I’ve kind of thought that Dumbledore was actually a Slytherin, but I bet he, like Harry, could have gone either way. Of course, like all fraternities and school organizations, they really don’t matter once you graduate – they just help shape you. That’s one of the fascinating things about Individuation: the process is likewise individual, and difficult to systematize. Reading the Jungians, you’d think that individuation is a singular process, but it’s not really.
  • Madame Hooch looks like one of my professors.
  • Harry Potter and the Ring of Gyges
  • So the Mirror of Erised shows you your deepest desire.  I wonder how often what it shows you changes.
  • Someday, I’d like to slap Jung’s Red Book down on a table and tell my friends that it’s a “bit of light reading.” In the original German, no less.
  • The one protection I wish they hadn’t cut from the quest to the stone is Snape’s. I’ve tried to riddle through the one in the book before, but somehow miss something, and I consider myself fairly decent at logic puzzles. Plus, in the Lego game, that would have been such a nice add. Speaking of which, I can’t wait for years 5-7 this fall…

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

  • I would own a fireplace if I could use Floo powder.
  • Flying cars … the cars of the future.
  • How does a ghost get petrified? This somehow implies that a petrification spell freezes the soul, not the body.
  • At the end of the day, this is one of my least favorite of the films. Order of the Phoenix is the least favorite period, but only because Harry is somewhat whiney and Umbridge is a bit much to handle, but Chamber falls a close second.
  • Why do Tom Riddle’s robes have the Hogwarts crest and all the “modern” characters robes have their house crest?

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

  • Start of the movie—Why is it okay for Harry to practice magic under his sheet at the Dursleys, but not any other time?
  • An observation by a friend of mine: many of the movies start off with Harry doing vindictive behavior but with happy music, a connection I‘d never made before, perhaps as a parallel between Harry and Voldemort. Except that Harry’s vindication is “justified” because he is provoked.
  • Observation by another friend: all of the wizards are dirty, except the kids. Why is that I wonder?
  • Of course, this was the movie I spent most of the time being social, so I kind of missed the entire movie. Luckily, it’s my favorite, so I don’t mind watching this again later sometime.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

  • Yay! My Doctor!
  • Here is the turning point of the series. This is when Harry first witnesses death, but it’s also when Voldemort becomes a real threat. Before he was a bit of an ideological threat, but now he’s real. Going off the idea that the series is a metaphor for teen development, among other things, then this turning point reflects a major change in teen development, probably about the time when the teen darkness likewise becomes something real. when the teen crisis really begins. The earlier stuff we can write off as part of the shift, but the real major shift happens in the middle of the teen years. 14/15/16, which is also when we go to high school. What a cruel joke adults play on their progeny.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

  • So just what did Dudley see during his Dementor’s Kiss? It was quite a shock on the kid. Is it an Ambrose Bierce-style flash-of-events, or does your entire life flash before your eyes?
  • I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Delores Umbridge is vile.
  • “The world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We all’ve got light and dark inside.” – Sirius Black. All about balance.
  • The Department of Mysteries is one of the most fascinating elements of the Wizarding World in the books. Each of the rooms explores a fundamental mystery of the human experience; things that in ancient times were explained by gods and goddesses. It’s interesting that the only room (again, in the books) that Harry cannot enter is the Love room. It’s something so potent that it cannot be entered into easily, just like in real life. Death is easy, time is easy, the universe is easy, but not love. It’s kind of like what James Hillman was talking about in Surfing LA about Pandora’s box. Hope was the only thing left in, but it was an evil. Perhaps Love is a similar evil, so it has to remain behind locked doors.
  • At the end of the day, Harry is really a mediocre wizard. It’s not just that the spells he uses in duals don’t deal major damage, but it’s also that he doesn’t have the heart behind it.

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

  • I’ve been at this all day, and I’m entering into the 11th hour (the literal 11th hour) and just starting this film. An all-day Potter-thon does take commitment, and I can’t imagine doing this anywhere but in the comfort of my (or someone else’s) own home, where you can control the viewing and break schedule (and the foods).
  • In light of my recent discussion about consumption, it occurs to me that Harry Potter is one of the brands I have most consumed in the past decade. I’ve not been the most consumptive person, having consumed more of the idea of Potter rather than the stuff of Potter. In fact, it was Harry Potter that inspired my studies into Myth and the Humanities. I wanted to find some mode of studying the potency of the idea of Harry Potter without having to commit to a straight literary analysis or some of the more boring topics (such as pedagogy and such). There are so many myths waiting to be consumed. These myths seem to grip different people with the same exact potency. For example, I have friends who are in the holds of Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Buffy who are just as gripped by these myths as I am Disney and Potter (for that matter, there are those out there that put my Potter-ness to shame). So… There are two things to consider: the degree to which consumption is an essential part of the myth experience, and the connection between the personalities of the people and which myths speak to that particular personality. I’m not advocating a psychological profile of myths to person, because the experience of a myth, like individuation, is an individual experience. But I think there is a degree of coaching that could be offered in the fashion of analysis to help people understand why a particular myth has gripped them so.
  • I think this is my favorite book/film, and I think this is because it follows the whineyness of Order. The dialogue is wittier, and this is yet another turning point in the series—the beginning of the denouement, but if I say anything we’ll go into the spoiler territory.
  • Every now and then, I wish something like Liquid Luck really existed. It’s one of those things that I could use from time to time.
  • And I wish I had a penseive to unload all of my memories. Imagine how much easier writing a dissertation could be with a time-turner and a penseive. I’d never have to worry about information retention again!!!
  • So, I’m a little curious how Harry knows how many Horcruxes to seek and what they are. There’s a very quick edit following the scene in the penseive when Dumbledore and Harry finally watch Slughorn’s unedited memory, suggesting that they cut that bit out for time with the hopes that fans would fill in the blanks. Because, after all, only people who read the books first ever go to the movies….
  • The scene in the cave when Dumbledore is drinking the potion is so difficult to watch. It’s as though Harry is taking care of the invalid old man, pushing the previous generation aside in order to be able to fulfill his destiny. This is another component of the growth process.
  • Harry’s tragic flaw is that he cares too much for the people he loves. Technically this isn’t a bad thing, but it does induce him to make some really dumb mistakes.
  • I’ve sometimes wondered if Snape’s AK was supposed to be a trick spell, and the aftermath was an accident.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

  • And here we are, the very bitter end. Granted, I just brewed a pot of coffee, so there was an extended break.
  • I wish they had kept Dudley’s Tea Cup scene in this one.
  • Another Wizarding tool I wish was real: Hermione’s Bag of Holding.
  • The Seven Harrys scene reminds me of the Multiple Jacks from Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. I wish they could have extended the prep scene by a couple more minutes.
  • Paranoia, paranoia, paranoia, let me go.
  • I like how Ron reminds Harry that the Cause is bigger than just him. The Bad Guys aren’t just me versus them. They are all of them against all of us. Harry Potter is one of the best examples of a hero’s story that involves the entire community, not just the single epic hero working alone.
  • I’m going to post this now. We’re only half way through, but I’d rather just soak up the remaining bit. The real adventure begins with Part 2.

More Potter? Maybe I’ll finally write my book…

Summer 2007 was a really fun summer. I attended a Potter Con, stood in the Austin heat at Book People for the midnight book release, and was getting ready to start my new life as a Pacifica student. The previous fall, I had just completed my Master’s Thesis, Searching for the Golden Snitch, addressing some then-unformulated theories about the relationship between literature and American myth, which I was energized to edit for publication.

And then 2 very goal shattering things happened:

1. I became a college professor in the fall of 2008. That move from perpetual student into semi-student/semi-teacher complicated my relationship to the Potter mythos. I could identify with Potter as a student, but I had a more difficult time identifying with Potter as a teacher. I have not fully explored yet which Potter teacher I identify with best, because most of the strongest teachers possess some trait I haven’t claimed yet for myself. This will be something to consider later. Anyway, after this awakening, I stopped writing Potter papers at Pacifica. The ones I have written, I’m holding on to for the sake of “The Scottish Potter Book.”

2. I went to Pacifica. You’d think this would be a good thing, right? It’s the “Harvard” of Mythological Studies. My previous myth degree was a self-guided degree in the Humanities, so I lacked a strong faculty to guide me through the material. As a result, I read just about everything I found relevant by Joseph Campbell (which was a lot in retrospect), but only a little bit by C.G. Jung. I’d read Jung sure. I relate to his work because I intuited much of what he claims long before I knew who he was. But at Pacifica, I learned more about Jung and became a bit disillusioned with Campbell. OK, that’s a lie. I became disillusioned with the whole “Hero’s Journey” bit, which I have written about previously.

So The Scottish Potter Book was put aside. I did have a friend read it, and I have comments and feedback that will help me write said book, but I need a new organizational structure and thesis. Dissertation first, Potter later.

What does Pottermore.com have to do with anything? This is probably the best announcement I’ve heard since finding out the release date for the Harry Potter, years 5-7 Lego video game. With the completion of the final book, there was a big bruhaha that resulted in a teaser announcement by J.K. Rowling code named “The Scottish Book”. Could this website finally fill in some blanks concerning backstory? Could this website be The Scottish Book? Considering the magnitude of the idea, Rowling would either need to publish a 20 volume Hogwarts: A History, or she could write a website right? Websites can be constantly updated and revised. This is a good thing, Rose.

And perhaps this is the kindling I need to finally get off my duff and finish the Scottish Potter Book.

My original dissertation plan was to write about Potter, but I’m very glad I chose Disney instead. Disney is a much smarter choice when it comes down to exploring American myth, for obvious reasons (i.e., it’s American). Getting past the American part, Potter is myth, which is why it became the world wide phenomenon it did, and this is why books need to continue exploring the topic. That’s what academics do. To paraphrase Walt Disney, the artist just makes the work, then the academics come in and tell the artist what it means.

War Against Teachers?

There’s been a lot in the news recently about teachers: Some outspoken individual has claimed that teachers have a cushy job and are overpaid for the amount of work that they do, which is essentially just baby-sitting, and many states are calling for cuts in teaching positions to help reconcile budgetary shortfalls. Many of the people and media channels I follow on Facebook and Twitter are a-twitter about all of this: in what ways will this devaluing of education impact culture?

This is nothing new – teachers being underappreciated, greatly misunderstood, and teachers being confused with professors who lead college classes and – the lucky ones at least – may have someone else to do the grading for them so they can concentrate on their research. But, there’s been something in the water that I’ve noticed since leading undergraduate, and I encounter more and more people who tell me, with dead seriousness, that education (particularly higher education) is a complete waste of time. I’ve had students or classmates who say that they dropped out of high school and took their GED because high school was a waste of time, and are coming to college to get the piece of paper that entitles them to a better job. (Note, I’m not saying that all non-traditional adult students are in this category; some legitimately aren’t ready or can’t handle the pressures of college.) What makes school a “waste of time?”

So, then I try to think of stories of teachers. All heroes have some sort of sagely teacher, the Wise Old Wo/Man. This figure, one of the top ten archetypal figures of literature, gives the hero the knowledge and advice s/he needs to successfully complete her/his mission. Obviously, no hero can be successful without some kind of mentor/educator.

The next challenge is to think of stories that involve modern classroom settings – 1 teacher to several students. There are plenty of historical examples of this, from Plato and Charlemagne’s medieval universities, to the Renaissance and beyond. But I’m struggling to come up with a myth other than Harry Potter, so let’s work with that.

There are three types of Potter teachers: the McGonagalls, who are dedicated to student success; the Snapes, who openly play favorites and make education difficult for those they don’t necessarily like; and the Trelawneys, who are quite out there. This covers a fair spectrum of modern teachers (and professors, to be sure). Were these teachers accountable to the American Education System, all of them would have earned their position, because of the importance we place on Teacher’s Certification for primary and secondary schools (graduate level degrees for higher learning). Yet, at the end of HBP, Harry drops out of school, claiming that he has learned all that he can and needs to fulfill his mission to defeat Voldemort. Apparently, to Harry, school has become a complete “waste of time.”

There is something to be said about practical education versus book learning. In regards to defeating Voldemort, yes, Harry had learned all that he would learn from books (assuming that he even read any), and felt that it was time for some practical education. This makes sense in the context of Harry’s adventures. Perhaps this also makes sense in the “real world.” But, with the exception of Snape and, to an extent, Trelawney, Harry doesn’t blame his teachers for dropping out of school. He doesn’t blame them for not giving him the practical education he needs. He makes this decision for himself.

So why is there a recent push to blame teachers for everything that is wrong? Teachers hands are tied by so many different policies and learning objectives, such that the only thing they can be accused of doing “wrong” is following the rules. Perhaps rather than firing teachers, or chopping their salaries, Education Reform should revisit rules and regulations, and untie some parental hands. Or, better yet, maybe it’s time to rewrite the myth that education is an institution, which is such a loaded term, and return to the idea that education is part of the hero’s story?

Teen Lit Pre-Potter

For some reason, when I was at the used bookstore at Halloween, I had an overwhelming urge to re-read one of my favorite trilogies from Junior High. So I tracked down R.L. Stine’s Fear Street Saga trilogy. They only had the first book at the time, The Betrayal, so I took that one home. It’s set in Colonial New England and is about an ongoing family battle between the Goode family and the Fier (Fear, get it?) family. Anyway, what really stood out for me was the difference between this series and many of the ones written post-Potter. So I got to thinking about those books I read when I was in Junior High – the Babysitters Club, R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike (though I preferred R.L.), some Mercedes Lackey and the occasional Stephen King and Anne Rice, but of course, those aren’t considered teen lit. I’m not sure what else I read. But all of those books are really silly. True, the Fear Street Saga is well written and descriptive, but it’ is only 161 pages. Tiny pages. Small potatoes compared to the epics that are being published these days.

I’m curious why the change. I’ve read that publishers really just underestimated the attention spans of young readers, but I suspect that it’s more than that. I suspect it has something to do with authors finally writing something interesting, books relevant to the actual teenage experience, not the idealized fiction of John whatshisface movies. But, here’s the rub: they accomplish this without directly addressing these issues. The fictionalized realms and heroic journeys are exactly what the young reader needs. Not further reminders that being a teenager really sucks.

What is additionally interesting is how attractive these stories are to older readers. I’ve been suspecting that for awhile, American society is prolonging adolescence intentionally because something isn’t being fulfilled during the usual time. I’m not sure exactly what that something is. It’s not enough to say that we are a society without cultural mythologies and rites of passage. I think there’s something actually not fulfilling. I don’t think that this can be easily blamed on our social materialism, or on the failings of our educational program, or on various diseases and such. Maybe the problem is inherent in just being American. Maybe the problem is our culture and the cultural psychology. Maybe because the country was founded on ideals, and ideals built upon ideals, and Xerox copies of ideals drastically faded from the originals.

I’m not sure what happens next, but I am certain that we can’t keep up the current M.O. As a culture, it is making us cranky, aggressive and rude. And suppressing it with a lolly doesn’t seem to be working.

Personal Myth from Wonderland to Who

Those stories we hold especially close are those that often have some connection with our personal myth at the time we encounter them. It’s not just a happy accident that we fall in love with something. It’s something far deeper than that. Something has been triggered psychologically.

As an undergraduate and throughout a portion of my graduate studies, my myth revolved around all things Harry Potter. Like so many others, I was drawn into the stories, to the point where my life felt enhanced every single time I read the books. I remember the day when that changed. Somewhere along the way – I think when I started teaching – the myth of the student slowly lost its potency. This might also be a large contribution to why I’m writing a dissertation over Disney and not Potter.

But in the last few months, my myth has been defined by Alice in Wonderland. This might have something to do with the shift from grad student to dissertating student and the frightening aspects that comes with this change. It felt like I was dropping into Wonderland, tuning out and turning on … the laptop at least.

Even more recently, I have been sucked into the mythos of Dr. Who, to the point that I’ve made it my goal in recent weeks to watch every single available serial for all doctors on Netflix Instant. Of course, the limitation on Netflix Instant cuts out a large part of the series. But it’s almost to the point of an addition. I can’t do basic tasks – like grading – without the show running simultaneously. But here’s the question: Dr. Who is about a Time Lord who can move around time and space. It’s as though time is infinite and unchanging. The Doctor is in control of his own past, present and future. So why this myth, why now? I’m sure this has something to do with the whole dissertation business. The idea of having a series of adventures and return home at the right time to finish writing the thing.

There aren’t many of us who haven’t wished for a Time-Turner. But I suppose a TARDIS would be a perfectly acceptable substitute.