The Alchemist’s Tale

  November 4, 2003 at 1:13 PM ET
  grae     The Leaky Cauldron (via Touchstone)

John Granger, author of The Hidden Key to Harry Potteropens in new window, was one of the speakers at this year's Nimbus 2003 symposium, where his address was voted best paper by the participants. You can now read his article The Alchemist’s Taleopens in new window online, where Granger explains how Rowling uses alchemy in the Harry Potter novels, and also includes some interesting predictions.

Here are some brief excerpts:

How does Rowling use alchemical symbolism in her books? To answer this question, two other questions must be answered: (1) Is she intentionally using alchemical imagery? (2) How does understanding the alchemical themes and images of the series improve our understanding of the books and their power to charm and delight young and old around the world?

To the first question. Although Rowling has not said that she is writing in the alchemical tradition of English literature, she has insisted that she is a Christian and that her faith is important in understanding her work. If the author has not said that alchemy is at least part of the Harry Potter books, how can we know if it is or isn’t?

The title of the first book is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (retitled Sorcerer’s Stone by the American publisher). And Warner Bros. has reserved the title Harry Potter and the Alchemist’s Cell for the sixth or seventh novel.

Harry’s two closest friends are Ron Weasley, the redheaded, passionate boy, and Hermione Granger, the brilliant, cool young woman. They are also living symbols of alchemical sulfur (Ron) and mercury (Hermione). Together, and more obviously, in their disagreements and separation, Harry’s friendships with Ron and Hermione transform him from lead to gold. Sulfur and quicksilver are frequently called "the quarreling couple," an apt name for Ron and Hermione.

His new friend Luna is another alchemical symbol. "Luna is the bride, the white queen, consort of King Sol. She is the moist, cold, receptive principle which must be united with Sol, the dry, hot, active principle in the chemical wedding." A girlfriend for the hot and dry—burned to a cinder—Harry? Luna "symbolizes the attainment of the perfect white stage, the albedo, where the matter of the Stone reaches absolute purity." (Look for Harry and Luna to be a couple in the sixth book—much to Hermione’s and Professor McGonagall’s disgust.)


Browse Related Stories