“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 24: “The Wand in the Stone? Harry Potter and King Arthur”

Explore the many Harry Potter references to King Arthur in this month’s episode!



Three generations of Potter scholars gather to talk about J.K. Rowling’s Arthurian influences. From the significant naming of characters to points of plot and theme, Katy and John discuss the many connections between the wizarding world and the medievalism of the King Arthur stories with special guests Laurie Beckoff (MuggleNet, MSc University of Edinburgh) and Beatrice Groves (Oxford University, author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter).

Medievalism and fantasy have a long relationship. The Harry Potter series evokes the many filters for medievalism that we have inherited in our modern age. We look at the medieval qualities of the late 20th-century wizarding world Rowling has created and examine particularly the King Arthur allusions. Laurie points out the deliberate references (like Dumbledore as a Merlin figure or Excalibur and the sword of Gryffindor) as well as the evocations of magical education that emerge from both Arthurian literature and the wizarding world.

The tensions between violence and magic evident in Thomas Malory’s Morte D’Arthur, Laurie explains, reappear in the Harry Potter series. The “sword and sorcery” tradition – where both are dangerous and require training, but one is more normed and impulsive (violence) while the other challenges norms and requires self-control (magic) – continues in Harry Potter. How do knights and how do wizards struggle with the idea that “might is right”? Laurie argues that Rowling’s fantasy emphasizes even more the value of education, study, and restraint and the dangers of violent reactions. Bea helps us see its connections to the medieval Arthurian poet’s Gawain and the Green Knight (particularly with Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets) and also to Victorian Arthuriana and T.H. White’s The Once and Future King. We talk gender, Christianity, the liturgical calendar, magical and violent spaces, heroism, the medieval Gothic, and much more!

Come along for this wide-ranging and meaningful discussion about knights and enchanters and women in ponds distributing swords!

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Laurie Beckoff

My Harry Potter journey began in 2000 when I was six and continued through a bachelor's thesis and master's dissertation on medievalism in the series. I'm a Gryffindor from New York City with a passion for theatre, fantasy, Arthurian legend, and science fiction.