Sporting a whimsical bowtie and mustache, John Granger — known as “The Hogwarts Professor” for his Harry Potter scholarship — lectured on sorcery and symbolism to a group of transfixed muggles at a Saybrook College Master’s Tea on Wednesday.
People enjoy reading about magic, but there is much more to J.K. Rowling’s world than wands and potions, Granger, the author of “The Deathly Hallows Lectures,” told his audience. His professed goal at the talk, which drew more than 50 Harry Potter enthusiasts, was to disclose the underlying symbolism hidden in the so-called “children’s stories.” Students at the talk said they found Granger’s interpretations thought-provoking, although they found some unexpected or questionable.
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Granger — no relation to Hermione — earned himself the title of “The Hogwarts Professor” after writing four books analyzing the seven-book saga.
The Harry Potter series has proved itself the biggest literary phenomenon of the modern era, Granger said. J.K. Rowling’s books have now been translated into more than 67 languages, and readers of all ages around the world have acquired more than 400 million copies of the series.
“I tried to write down a list of 67 languages,” said Granger, who was stupefied that the books’ popularity rivaled that of religious texts. “I only got 40,” he admitted.
When asked what one question he would address to J.K. Rowling, Granger quickly replied: “I think I’d just say: May I look at your bookshelf?”
Rowling’s writing, he posited, is influenced by many other texts and literary trends.
“Harry Potter is ‘Pride and Prejudice’ with wands,” he said, adding later that there is a hint of Dante’s “Purgatory” in the death of professor Severus Snape.
But it is Shakespeare’s “literary alchemy” that interests him the most, Granger said, since “stage performance is an alchemical act” and “J.K. Rowling was always fascinated by alchemy.” According to Granger, Rowling’s world features an alchemist, Dumbledore, trying to improve, “to make gold” out of, people, including Harry. Harry’s friends Ron and Hermione come to be mercury and sulfur, respectively, he said — these two chemicals are in constant reaction, “purifying” Harry.
Saybrook College Master Mary Miller asked about Granger’s view on the fundamentalist conception of Harry Potter “somehow embodying the Anti-Christ.”
“This is the source of J.K. Rowling’s frustration,” he replied. “The books actually cry out world views that are completely different to what fundamentalists are describing.”
King’s Cross, the London train station in the series, he said, represents the “kingdom of heaven within you.” The wands used by wizards and witches are made of dragon’s heart fiber (or Jesus Christ’s blood), unicorn hair is “another symbol to represent Christ,” and phoenix feathers are “a symbol of resurrection.” The house elf Dobby, according to Granger, represents a loyal Christian, who sees in Harry the savior, the Messiah who freed him from the Malfoy family.
Granger said he is convinced of the religious parallels even though Rowling refuses to reveal her personal beliefs in order to root out false assumptions about her work.
While some students said they were unsure about Granger’s interpretations, others said they enjoyed the new spin on a familiar story.
Jeffrey Tai ’09 said the talk had given him a whole new perspective on the books.
“There’s a lot more going on that I didn’t see at the beginning,” he said.
But Corina Stephanides ’12 said she thought the talk was going to include more in-depth analysis of the books, rather than a discussion of Christianity.
Erica Rothman ’12 said she disagreed with some of Granger’s interpretation of the symbolism.
“A lot of what he said were just projections of his ideas about the text,” she said.
To Heather Rivard ’11, Granger’s work represents a “super-sized” version of how readers experience the books.
“What he does is the epitome of artistic license to interpretation,” Rivard said.