Literary Allusion and a Magical Journey to Adulthood

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash

On March 29, 2022 member Moorea G. took us into the fantastic world created by J.K. Rowling. There is no greater statement on the universality of Ms. Rowling’s work than the comments of our members at this very well attended Zoom meeting. Several members spoke of how the Harry Potter series evoked their childhood memories of the British public school system, with it’s uniforms and houses. Another member recalled standing in a long, midnight lineup on an icy Calgary night to get a newly released volume in the series, so her son could stay up until the wee hours reading it.

Moorea said that while Harry Potter’s story enchanted her children, she was also enchanted by the inspiring story of J.K. Rowling as an author who overcame personal struggles to produce her art.

After a brief introduction to the life and works of Ms. Rowling, Moorea played two videos showing the evolution that the story takes: from the innocence of children starting school to confronting evil and death in the final book of the series. Links to these video’s can be found here:

The core of the Harry Potter series is a coming of age story that highlights friendship, loyalty, love, and the nature of good and evil. Ms. Rowling enhances that story with a glimpse into a strange, beautiful world where all things are possible and good can conquer evil. J.K. Rowling has a knowledge and love of the Greek and Roman classics, Shakespeare, and literature generally that is shown through her extensive use of literary allusion. Allusion in the Potter books is (in my opinion) like hiding Easter Eggs in the story for parents and older young adults – and it keeps the reader captured even after they have closed the book.

Moorea highlighted a number of her favourite examples, limited only by the brief length of our meeting.

Alchemy: the Philosopher’s Stone, which plays a prominent role in the first Harry Potter book, is a reference to the traditions of alchemy – an ancient branch of natural philosophy which in part hopes to turn base metals into gold.

Jane Austen: the school cat, that spies and tattles on students is named Mrs. Norris after a similar character in Mansfield Park.

Shakespeare: like Macbeth, the battle between ‘he who cannot be named’ and Harry is foretold in a prophesy. Hermione, who is briefly petrified, is named for a character in a Winter’s Tale.

Thomas Gray: Moorea noted that the Dementors flying around Hogwarts may reference the death imagery in the poet’s “Ode On a Distant Prospect of Eton College”.

Ovid, Homer: Fluffy the guardian of the Philosopher’s Stone is very like Cerberus, the guardian of the Underworld.

The enthusiastic comments and questions for this presenter show that J.K. Rowling and the world of Harry Potter have enchanted young and old. Next time you want to challenge yourself, take up these novels that are old friends and hunt for the Easter Eggs.

Shawna M.

Next week, we will have a Special Guest, University of Calgary Writer in Residence, Teresa Wong. Interested in joining us? Click here:

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