“Potterversity” Episode 25: “The Alchemy of Harry Potter”
Discover the transfiguring effects of reading the Harry Potter series on this month’s episode.
Emily and Katy talk with Dr. Anne Mamary (Monmouth College) about her anthology The Alchemical Harry Potter: Essays on Transfiguration in J.K. Rowling’s Novels, published by McFarland & Company in 2020. We talk about the power of the Harry Potter books and films, and how they not only express alchemical themes but also work a kind of alchemical magic on readers and viewers.
Anne explains that alchemy is a way to transform not only metals but also the alchemist and our entire worldview. Although we could look at nature from a modernist perspective, requiring the neutrality of the experimenter and presuming a mechanical model of the universe, alchemy requires being open to the enchantment within nature and our deep connection to it. Not all historical alchemists were Christian, but often a notion of religious or metaphysical transformation emerges through alchemical explorations of nature.
Anne explains that alchemy posits that the heavenly exists within the Earthly, that the sacred can be found everywhere, and we live in an enchanted world that is not just a world of machines. She sees this approach pervading the Hogwarts curriculum and the Harry Potter novels as a whole.
Pointing out the overt alchemical references in the books, from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Anne also explains how the themes of immortality and personal transfiguration connect alchemy with the book series. Harry’s journey through the seven books helps him to transform worldly aims into more meaningful ones. For example, a desire for money and immortality transforms into a desire for a “golden life.” Alchemical experiences change how Harry views power as well as self and the community.
Anne gives us a glimpse of some of the essays in her anthology that explore these themes in more detail, including her own about the alchemical importance of stargazing in both Plato and Harry Potter. To highlight the intergenerational power of the novels, The Alchemical Harry Potter features essays by authors from the ages of eight to eighty. We also talk about rereading Harry Potter and how reading it at different points in one’s life can affect different transformations in the reader.
What have you discovered when you encountered the Harry Potter stories at various points in your life? We’d love to hear from you! Please send us an email at PotterversityPodcast@gmail.com, and connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.