“Reading, Writing, Rowling” Episode 34: “Werewolves of Wizard London (and Other Animal Transformations)”
Get to the heart of werewolves in the Harry Potter series in this month’s special double episode!
In this supersized episode, John and Katy talk with literary scholars and werewolf specialists Dr. Melissa Aaron (California Polytechnic State University) and Dr. Renée Ward (University of Lincoln, UK) to reveal the true nature of beastly transformations in the Harry Potter series. “Everything you know about werewolves is wrong,” Melissa tells us, explaining the literary origins of werewolf lore and its key elements. Renée explains the diversity of classical and medieval lycanthrope references, which were not necessarily judgmental but often emphasized martial violence and extreme difference. Melissa cautions that there is no stable “Ye Olde Book of Werewolves” with one static understanding of what werewolves are or were, but you will nevertheless get lots of ideas for your werewolf reading list from our discussion.
What do werewolves represent? Often they represent the beast within, and fear of oneself, which is clearly a theme of Rowling’s series, especially with Remus Lupin. Renée explains the significance also of Fenrir Greyback (and his name) and how both he and Lupin are searching for similar things: In struggling with their own identities, they look for communities in which they can find acceptance and play meaningful, powerful roles. Rowling’s archive of character histories reveals important contrasts between Remus’s and Fenrir’s developments. Werewolves in general, and these two characters in particular, explore the fear that having been a victim of a predator, one may become a predator oneself.
Newt Scamander in his Fantastic Beasts textbook has difficulty categorizing werewolves as “beings” or “beasts.” Rowling problematizes such a binary system, using the werewolf as a case study. Transformation is a fundamental, often involuntary part of werewolf nature. To her magical world, Rowling adds Animagi and Metamorphmagi, who transform at will. Why does she do that? What do we think about the concept of wolfsbane as a medical treatment for lycanthropy? We look at the various metaphorical readings scholars have used to understand Rowling’s transforming characters, the alchemy of these transformations, struggles with one’s own duality, and whether the novels support a romantic Beauty and the Beast reading of werewolf relationships. The movies, the Twilight series, and the new Fantastic Beasts films (especially Nagini) – we leave no stone unturned in this conversation! Human/animal transfiguration, we realize, is genuinely at the heart of Rowling’s most important themes.
The nuance, humor, and deep literary knowledge of this episode will tremendously expand your view of human transformation in the Harry Potter series.