“It’s Just Like Waking Up, Right?”: “Crimes of Grindelwald”, Kipling, and Shakespeare’s Midsummer Dreaming

As we look forward to the release of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, here’s the first of three articles by Dr. Beatrice Groves. Please check back tomorrow for the second article in this series.


by Dr. Beatrice Groves

In much fantasy writing, magical lands – such as Narnia or Middle Earth – remain resolutely separate from the real world. This is known as “high” fantasy – which means that the kind of stories J.K. Rowling writes are (rather unfairly) given the label “low” fantasy. Rowling, however, thinks that the way in which the wizarding world runs parallel to our own is one of the main appeals of her creation. As she mentioned at the premiere of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them“there’s something delicious in this idea of hiding in plain sight, that there is a world within a world, that we could all access.” And “low” fantasy has a highly illustrious pedigree. The most important forerunner, perhaps, of Rowling’s magical world that “hides in plain sight” is Shakespeare’s A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream. I have written about a number of specific links between Dream and Harry Potter, but new evidence has recently emerged that Shakespeare’s play is still casting its spell on Rowling.

Dan Fogler (who plays Jacob Kowalski in the Fantastic Beasts franchise) noted in an exclusive interview for MuggleNet that in the forthcoming film Crimes of Grindelwald, “everybody is chasing down their lover.” David Yates has likewise given hints of how couples chasing each other will form a central structure of the film:

We’re following a lot of characters all at the same time, and it’s a series of couplets. It’s a series of love stories, really. It’s a series of people. And really, the central theme is falling in love, falling out of love, falling in love with an ideology, being drawn into love, being corrupted by love. It’s really– it all circles around that central premise of love, I think.

In Shakespeare’s Dream, likewise, a large number of couples are “falling in love, falling out of love” and everyone is, likewise, “chasing down their lover.” Dream features four “couplets”: Titania and Oberon; Hermia and Lysander; Helena and Demetrius; and Theseus and Hippolyta. There are also other pairings within these – for example, the (previously) inseparable friends Hermia and Helena and the commonly doubled roles of Titania/Hippolyta and Oberon/Theseus.

We can speculate that the fate of some of Shakespeare’s pairs will play out in Crimes of Grindelwald: the falling out between Helena and Hermia, for example, leads the expectation of division between the hitherto closely knit sisters Tina and Queenie. Likewise, the power struggle between Shakespeare’s Theseus and Hippolyta are played out, in effect, in their substitutes: Oberon and Titania. It is possible that this may find an echo in Dumbledore sending Newt as his proxy to move against Grindelwald.

This theme of “couplets” has been underlined in the release of posters and images where all the characters are paired; see also: the Hogwarts Professor’s take on the group portrait. And as Elizabeth Baird Hardy has noted, one of these pairings is almost identical to one of Shakespeare’s couples: Theseus and Leta are a modern version of Shakespeare’s Theseus and Hippolyta.

This is not the first time Rowling has borrowed names from Dream. And very satisfyingly, the last time she did it was also for a member of Newt’s family. The first evidence that Rowling had a family tree marked out for Newt Scamander (who would, otherwise, have seemed like a pretty minor character in the Potter universe) was when she revealed in a 2007 interview that Luna married Rolf Scamander, “the grandson of a great naturalist,” and their twin boys are named “Lorcan and Lysander.” When the interviewer, spotting that Dream is the source for Lysander’s name, notes “very Shakespearean,” Rowling gives a throaty laugh. (I suspect if we ever get more of Newt’s family tree, we will find that people beyond Newt’s great-grandson, his brother, and his fiancée have names drawn from Dream.)

My first sense that this most magical Shakespeare play is still influencing Rowling’s wizarding world came exactly two years ago, as I watched the end of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the moment when Jacob Kowalski returns to the mundane world. Like Bottom, Jacob is the only mortal to enter into the magical world, a world where he is enthusiastically greeted by the beautiful Queen (“Queenie”), he is given his favorite food, and a very promising hook-up seems on the cards. Like Bottom, too, Jacob is an entirely likable character: Emphatically not the hero, he nonetheless steals the show. (I wasn’t alone in spotting this – Elizabeth Baird Hardy’s excellent piece on Dream has also noted that Jacob is a Bottom look-alike.)

Jacob says returning to the mundane world will be “just like waking up,” the metaphor that likewise governs Bottom’s return to normality when he casts what has just happened as a “dream” (it’s a midsummer dreaming, of course, that all the characters have unknowingly been caught up in). For Bottom, as for Jacob, it is a dream world that still fires his creativity when he “wakes up.” Bottom writes a ballad of his dream (“Bottom’s Dream”) while Jacob creates baked versions of his dream visions. Jacob’s imagination has been lastingly affected by his magical sojourn and his thriving bakery sells Nifflers, Demiguises, and Erumpents – ideas that “just come!” into his head.

Fantastic Beasts also recalls Dream because of the explicit “Green World” at its center, this verdant, transformative landscape into which characters could both escape and find themselves: the woods outside Athens in Shakespeare’s play and the spectacular natural habitats within Newt’s suitcase. Shakespeare’s “Green World,” incidentally, is a sufficiently famous, and classic, idea that it even has its own Wikipedia page and would, I suspect, have turned up in Rowling’s school Shakespeare syllabus. Northrop Frye, the critic who invented the term in the 1950s, describes it as “visualizing the world of desire, not as an escape from ‘reality,’ but as the genuine form of the world that human life tries to imitate.” Rowling has created an explicitly “Green” world in the verdant delights of the magical habitat that nestles at the center of her film within the relentlessly urban and monochrome landscape of the rest of Fantastic Beasts. The vibrant colors and lush landscapes inside Newt’s case are an explicitly “green” Green World and if we accept Frye’s formulation above, it seems possible that the concept helps paints the magical world as both desirable and in some senses more “true” to human nature than the repressive No-Maj landscape.

In a delightful touch, the bakery where Jacob relives this Green World (in his magically inspired bakes) is situated on Orchard St. The Occamy silver found within Newt’s case has translated him from the canning factory to the bakery that was always his dream, and he has taken this Green World with him in the way the fantastic creatures influence what he bakes.

But these imaginative bread rolls, of course, are not the only evidence that Jacob has not forgotten his magical sojourn. When Jacob sees Queenie again, he touches the spot on his neck where he was bitten by a fantastic beast:

QUEENIE beams, radiant. JACOB, quizzical and totally enchanted, touches his neck – a flicker of memory. He smiles back.

The spot he touches is the Murtlap bite – fittingly since Murtlap essence is very much on the side of the angels in Harry Potter. It is the film’s most explicit nod to Shakespeare’s Dream. There is only one magical beast in Shakespeare’s play – the comic Minotaur into which Bottom is transformed: half human, half ass. And when Bottom wakes from his dream, he touches the place where those ass’s ears were and says, “Methought I had….?” (Compare Dan Fogler’s performance to that of Kevin Kline in this film version of Dream.)

Jacob touching his neck where the Murtlap bit him, wonderingly remembering the magical world, is a direct reference to Bottom touching his head where the ass’s ears were, wonderingly remembering the magical world.


Rowling and Kipling: Puck of Pook’s Hill

This link between the wizarding world and Shakespeare’s Dream, however, particularly interests me in part because it forms a further link with a classic of children’s literature: Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill (1906). Puck of Pook’s Hill, as the title suggests, explicitly links the pleasures of “low” fantasy (what Rowling calls “a fantastic world that has to live shoulder-by-shoulder with the real world”) with A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It tells the story of two children (Una and Dan) who unconsciously summon Puck by acting out A Midsummer Night’s Dream on Midsummer’s Eve within “a large old Fairy Ring of darkened grass.” They act out a shortened version of the most memorable parts of the play three times – beginning “where Nick Bottom the weaver comes out of the bushes with a donkey’s head on his shoulders and finds Titania Queen of the Fairies asleep” – and as they do so, Puck steps out of Shakespeare’s play. Puck of Pook’s Hill magically joins together various skeins of English history – Viking, Roman, medieval, and Tudor – as Puck takes the children on tour of English folklore and myth. The children magically join in all the ancient adventures that have passed through that spot of Surrey where they now live and Puck shows them how the old god “Weland gave the Sword! The Sword gave the Treasure and the Treasure gave the Law. It’s as natural as an oak growing.”

Puck doesn’t like to be called a fairy – “how would you like to be called… ‘son of Adam’ or ‘daughter of Eve’ [all the time]?” – and those of you who love C.S. Lewis will no doubt wonder if Kipling’s story has influenced Narnia as well as Hogwarts. In fact, Lewis was strongly taken by Puck of Pook’s Hill, and it seems certain (to me at least!) that the surname of the Pevensie children alludes to it. Pevensey is where William the Conqueror made landfall to begin the Norman Conquest, and it is also where Una and Dan live. This location reverberates throughout Puck of Pook’s Hill, and since Kipling links Pevensey with children traveling through a magical portal, it is surely this fictional version of Pevensey rather than the real place that is the primary source for Lewis’s Pevensie children.

The influence of Puck of Pook’s Hill on Rowling is less clear, but beyond the use of Dream in a children’s book, there is also a crucial sword with runes of prophecy carved onto the blade and a wise woman who is called a “Seeker.” There is also the issue (present likewise in Dream) of how, once mortals have realized the reality of the magical world, they can be made to forget it. Kipling gives a similar solution to Rowling’s Obliviating: After each adventure, Puck gives Una and Dan the leaves of oak, ash, and thorn to bite on and it wipes their memories.

This Kipling link is tempting in part because Rowling has given us – in the 2017 BBC interview for the documentary accompanying the Harry Potter: A History of Magic exhibition – her most substantive Harry Potter source for years: “‘The Man Who Would Be King,’ for those who don’t know, is a story with Sean Connery and Michael Caine in it. And it’s from an old Rudyard Kipling story. And the Masonic symbol is very important in that movie. And it was literally twenty years later that I looked at the sign of the Deathly Hallows and realized how similar they were.”




Rowling and Kipling: Stalky & Co.

This 2017 interview was the first time that Rowling has linked her work with Kipling’s – and it is a connection that bears attention. Kipling shared with Rowling the distinction of being the most popular living writer in English, and Harry Potter shows the influence of a number of his works. In a post I wrote last December about the idea that Nagini might be a Maledictus, David Llewellyn Dodds pointed out to me that Rowling could have drawn Nagini’s name from Kipling’s cobra Nagaina. But the most striking Potter overlap is with Kipling’s stories of a trio of inseparable school friends: Stalky & Co. (1899)¹

Like Hogwarts, Stalky’s school (“College”) comprises four houses locked in academic and sporting rivalry (acting for the “honor of the house” is the equivalent of winning points for Gryffindor). College also has a secret tunnel, which is used for rule-breaking by the hero. Despite the obvious links of the central trio with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, it is Hogwarts’ more determined rule-breakers (Fred and George; James and Sirius) who are the true heirs of Stalky’s amoral adventures, fuelled by both his dislike of boredom and unassailable self-possession.

There are also clear parallels in the teachers – primarily the saintly and omniscient headmaster (“father-confessor and agent-general to them all”) and Stalky’s nemesis: the housemaster Mr. King (who, as with Snape, the hero disrespectfully refers to by his last name only). King also links to Snape by being very good at his subject and having some unexpected hidden depths. As S.A. Hawksworth suggests, his name may lie behind Snape’s chosen moniker of “Prince.” (King’s name is also one that Kipling himself enjoys a pun on since he is partial to quoting from the biblical book of Kings.) King’s startlingly kitsch tastes also have shades of Hogwarts’ most hated teacher: He has “a china basket with blue ribbons and pink kitten on it, hung up in his window.”

And then – in the most striking link of all – there are the names.

There is a long-running craze for a book called Uncle Remus, there are bullies named Vernon and Maclagan, and there is a reference to a certain Bishop Odo. Odo was, historically, the brother of William the Conqueror and it is a name that also crops up in Puck of Pook’s Hill. It is a name that Kipling seems to have found inherently amusing, and its comic nature adds zest to perhaps my favorite of Rowling’s comic songs:

And Odo the hero, they bore him back home
To the place that he’d known as a lad.
They laid him to rest with his hat inside out.
And his wand snapped in two, which was sad.” (HBP, ch. 22)

One of the Stalky stories – entitled “Regulus” – revolves around Horace’s poem of the heroic Roman general Regulus who sacrifices himself for the sake of Rome – just as Regulus Black sacrifices himself for the sake of the wizarding world. Regulus Black faces his death with precisely the stoic virtue of his classical namesake:

Regulus, a Roman general, defeated the Carthaginians 256 B.C., but was next year defeated and taken prisoner by the Carthaginians, who sent him to Rome with an embassy to ask for peace or an exchange of prisoners. Regulus strongly advised the Roman Senate to make no terms with the enemy. He then returned to Carthage and was put to death.” (Stalky & Co.)

Most satisfyingly of all, there is a Head of Games named Flint who, to my delight, has spent rather longer at school than he should have done.


Empire-Building in Stalky and “The Man Who Would Be King”

Kipling’s staggering popularity at the start of the 20th century has waned, in part because of the belief that he is an apologist for the British Empire. As Amy H. Sturgis has insightfully argued, Harry Potter harks back to, but also parodies, traditional “empire-building” school stories: “One of Rowling’s strokes of subversive genius in the original Harry Potter works, then, was to employ a storytelling model that had enabled the British Empire in order to relate a saga that is vehemently anti-imperial.”

Stalky, like Harry Potter, is unusual for a school story in that it deals with the deaths of some its child protagonists. It is causally noted of a child named Hogan that “three years later he should die in the Burmese sunlight outside Minhla Fort.” This is not a random specificity: Kipling is referring to the actual death of one of his schoolfellows here. Likewise, the old boy “Toffee” Crandall is noted as having been “rather knocked about, recovering poor old Duncan’s body.” Crandall has sustained lasting injuries rescuing the dead body of another old boy on the battlefield, a classically inspired piece of heroism that recalls Harry risking his life to save Cedric’s body. Both are surreal, painful moments, and with the specter of young death comes at least an implicit questioning of an imperial project that trains up these children to die – and to kill – so far from home.

A deeper questioning of the project of empire occurs in the Kipling text that Rowling has explicitly cited: “The Man Who Would Be King.” This short story – written when Kipling was only 23 – is an extraordinary achievement: An H.G. Wells character even calls it “one of the best stories in the world” (indeed, the director John Huston was so taken by his childhood reading of it that he spent 20 years trying to make it into a film, finally succeeding in 1975). It tells the history of two chancers – Peachy Carnehan and Daniel Dravot – who, not finding an opening for their ambitions as soldiers in the Raj, decide to become Kings of Kafiristan. As Peachy and Danny set off on their adventure, the narrator gives Danny his Masonic token as a good luck charm.

Kafiristan (a historical region in Afghanistan) was virtually unknown to Europeans in the late 19th century.



This pretty featureless map, for example, was one of the first published (in 1880), and Kafiristan had only been first surveyed five years prior to Kipling’s story (by Captain McNair, who had traveled there in disguise).² It was believed that no Europeans had previously set foot in it since Alexander the Great’s conquest, and Huston’s film builds on the idea (implicit in Kipling’s story) that it was Alexander himself who had brought the Masonic craft to Kafiristan. Danny’s Masonic token, which he wears as a necklace, therefore leads the Kafirs to believe that he is the son of Alexander. It is believed that it is because Danny is the son of Alexander that he can understand the Masonic symbol (“the missing Mark that no one could understand the why of”), and he declares himself “the Grand-Master of the Sign cut in the stone.” As a direct result of this Masonic symbol, therefore, the Kafirs give Danny Alexander’s treasure hoard (that they have carefully guarded for his successor through the centuries) and make him king.

The story succeeds both as a captivatingly exciting escapade and as a parody of such “boys’ own adventure” stories. The amorality of the protagonists, and the ironic distance at which the narrator keeps them, means that the story – for all its luxuriating in the secret wealth of mysterious foreign lands – can be more convincingly read as a parody of British empire-building than as a defense of it. The antiheroes have no rights to the gold they steal from those who have faithfully kept it, and they are not allowed to get away with their plunder.

In the final two posts of this series, I will explore this newly revealed source for the Deathly Hallows symbol and what it may mean for Crimes of Grindelwald.

¹ I am grateful for first being alerted to the Stalky links by Joshua Richards (via John Granger). They have also been noted by Jem Bloomfield, David Langford, Amanda Cockrell, and S.A. Hawksworth’s insightful 2008 Amazon review of Stalky (entitled “Hogwarts – the Original”).

² Jaffa, Richard. Man and MasonRudyard Kipling, 2011, p.102.

Dr. Beatrice Groves teaches Shakespeare at Oxford University and is the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, which is available now. Don’t miss her earlier posts for MuggleNet, in which she discusses Harry Potter and Shakespeare, Harry Potter and Sherlock Holmes, and more!


Writing with cutting-edge literary analysis of the series, Bathilda's Notebook explores the literature and ideas that have most inspired Rowling, from Shakespeare to Sherlock Holmes.
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