The Two-Way Mirror #3: Arithmancy and Muggle Studies

By Daniela

I found the editorial on Arithmancy interesting, and I think Jenna Sottle made an important discovery with her “dingo kidney” rating system. First, the question: are there more or less valid ways of reading Harry Potter? Second, the answer: not Arithmancy! This argument involving the One Truth and the numerous individual truths… makes some interesting observations. Only Hermione’s number comes close to saying something… Hermione = number 5 = “half a dingo kidney” (a very good rating). (I wish we knew Luna Lovegood’s middle name.) But I think it is nicely appropriate, even if it’s just a fluke (or is it?) to have Arithmancy work for Hermione only (although, with only three characters counted…). Only Hermione studies Arithmancy (among the main characters). ‘Half a dingo kidney’ is not perfect dingo kidney, but… the occult and extra-sensory perception part… Hermione’s Arithmancy is not entirely foreign to divination (“manteia” (Greek) means divination). Why does Hermione say she’s wasting her time with Trelawney when she could (of all things!) be doing Arithmancy… isn’t that a bit ironic? It’s not divination itself, I think, that Hermione is against: just Trelawney’s “old fraud” methods. Sure, numbers can be misleading and studied in a silly way, like trying to predict when one will forget to turn off the oven by following the schedule of encounters between Mars and Venus. But maybe numbers can also be used to predict greater truths, somewhere beyond the kitchen level spheres. In addition, the occult… is Hermione a witch, or isn’t she? So I plead for a zero dingo kidney rating for Hermione = number 5.

I am imagining the Arithmancy chart used comes from somewhere outside the books (things from outside the books may not always be the best key into them). If Arithmancy is a form of “truth” applicable only to Hermione (and anyone else?), then some truths can be true even if they are not universally applicable: if they apply only where it makes sense that they should apply. In justice, “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” is a must. But can “truth” take some interesting turns in literature?

I think my editorials fall in the Arithmancy category (Double, DoubleThe Seven…). I would venture to say that in that way they differ from a good number of editorials that are particularly insightful samples of Muggle Studies. Hermione takes Muggle Studies too (and Dumbledore reads Muggle News). Hermione also takes Ancient Runes… Always reading, trying to understand. Isn’t Hermione the only one always reading things right? (Except for Lupin in the Shrieking Shack: not up to her usual standard, but she did read all the signs that showed he was a werewolf, not to mention looking up all the Animagi of her century in a reference book.) Hermione is carefully poring over every little detail of the Daily Prophet, drinking in every bitter tasting word of Umbridge, detecting what’s hidden in that “load of waffle” (“bacon” if you wish), narrowing her eyes at the three course goals Umbridge puts up on the board (that no one else had bothered to read before she brought them up). (And she also solved Snape’s riddle in Book 1. Might she solve more mysteries in Book 6?)

What about different ways of reading Harry Potter? Here is Hermione’s reading list:

  • Arithmancy = aesthetic logic: it’s just beautiful, so it has to be that way: “beauty is truth,” and it is beautiful when everything adds up to One! (i.e. looking for unity in the books): a logic that is exterior to the story: something for the readers and author to talk about (not fun if you want to relive the books as if you were a character)
  • Muggle Studies = common sense logic and realistic observation: applicable to character development and plot lines: a logic that is interior to the story: character themselves could be discussing these same points (but divining Muggle Studies readers have the distinct disadvantage of not being able to verify things the way characters might: have a chat with Draco, ask him some pointed questions). The “muggle” readers study the “magic” characters, and the characters don’t even know about this world of readers… so many enthusiastic plug-collecting Arthur Weasleys…
  • Ancient Runes = Ancient: literary influences, mythological references…: exterior to the story and the book & Runes: words, names, signs, images…: mostly exterior to the story
  • Daily Prophet = “scoops” we get from the news (interviews with J. K. Rowling,, etc.)

I would not compare these ways of reading, qualifying them as more or less valid, but rather, I think they work together.

I think you end up with a great work of art when different forms of logic meet. Doesn’t it take some kind of brain magic for an author to create all kinds of agreement among the different parts of her book?

And aren’t all Potterholics really trying to prove that the Harry Potter books are brilliantly written? Potterholics Fight for Respect. Why else would side comments like ‘Jo, she’s such a genius’ pop up with frequent regularity in so many editorials.