Tuesday, July 03, 2007

More Harry Potter Speculation

Like everyone else, I'm re-reading Half-Blood Prince in order to prepare myself for Deathly Hallows and now come two other bits of prognostication.

First, the Soccer Dad maps out the Rowling Uncertainty Principle.

Then, GS Reader C.C. sends us this link to the famed Hogwarts Professor, who makes the mind-blowing case for an Evil Snape (meaning that Snape is a quadruple, not triple, agent; I think).

Those of you who have followed the Hogwarts Professor and his very convincing theories on literary alchemy may recall that he was previously a proponent of the Good Snape. But this scholarly dissection--it runs thousands of words--has me re-examining everything I thought I knew from Half-Blood Prince:

My reason for taking the Evil!Snape position more seriously than I have or than I ever expected to is Ms. Rowling’s fascination with the Italian Renaissance. If this fascination is not news to you, forgive me if I review it here for readers who may have missed it. In brief, the magic of Ms. Rowling’s world is the Hermetic magic of the Italian Renaissance. . . .

* The “good” centaur in the Harry Potter books is named “Firenze.” Firenze is the Italian word for the city of Florence, arguably the center and heart of the 15th Century renaissance of arts and sciences in Northern Italy. Firenze the Centaur is an accomplished astrologer, and, unlike the herd in the Forbidden Forest, he believes that his art does not reveal what must come to pass so everyone should step aside and “let it happen.” Firenze argues with Bane and others what is essentially the humanist “free will” position of Albus Dumbledore that “what is foretold” reveals the playing field of choice. [Friends of Narnia will see Ms. Rowling’s tip of the hat here to Roonwit the Centaur’s final words in The Last Battle.]

* Maybe you don’t like Firenze or the Centaurs. How about Buckbeak the Hippogriff? Ms. Rowling lifts this magical animal right out of Ariosto’s early 16th century epic Orlando Furioso, which is in many ways the completion of Matteo Boiardo’s Orlando Innamorato of the late 15th century. Both writers are from Emilio and Ferrara. Hippogriffs are the heroic steeds of Italian Renaissance fantasy epic.

* Ms. Rowling said in 1997 that “To invent this wizard world I’ve learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy… to set the parameters and establish the stories’ internal logic.” If you’ve read Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader (and if you haven’t, you really should), you understand at no little depth how literary alchemy is the skeleton on which Ms. Rowling has built her stories. This is a pointer to Florence and the Renaissance because alchemy, as a Hermetic art, owes its Western rebirth (or better, “second wind”) in the 15th Century to Ficino’s translation at the direction and expense of the Medici of Hermes Trismegistus. Alchemy is a cornerstone of Renaissance magic. . . .

* The Italian Renaissance is largely about the relations between the four Principal Cities of the Peninsula: Florence, Naples, Venice, and Milan. Their inability to get along or even co-operate in shared emergencies leads to their subjection to France (Charles VIII, Louis XII) and Spain (Ferdinand of Aragon). “Four rivals in division being vulnerable to takeover” sound familiar? I suspect, too, that one of the spurs to Ms. Rowling’s creation of Quidditch as experienced at Hogwarts was the Palio di Siena. Though it is now a competition between 17 different sections of the city, these passionate horse races, according to Titus Birckhardt in his book on Siena, were originally between the principal four quarters of the city.

* And, while that mention of Titus Burckhardt is still fresh, two notes. Is it odd that this author of the best book on alchemy in print, though Swiss, was born in Florence and wrote at length about Siena? And that, to University historians at least, the name “Burckhardt” means Jakob Burckhardt, the author of The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, and great uncle of Titus? What I wouldn’t give for a peek at Ms. Rowling’s bookshelf. I’m guessing that her copy of Burckhardt’s Alchemy is the one with the Hagrid Hermaphrodite on a dragon straddling a Golden Snitch and that it sits right right next to Frances Yates’ books on Renaissance magic and Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy.

* There’s more. All the references in the books to specific stars (Sirius, Regulus, etc.) and the importance of astrology both in Divinations and with the Centaurs are pointers again to Renaissance memory-based magic, in which astrology plays a huge part. The Tarot? Again, whether you’re talking about their origins as playing cards or their occult usage, you wind up in 15th Century Italy (specifically, Milan). Remember Boiardo, the hippogriff guy? He wrote a poem on Tarot cards as well.

Ms. Rowling’s magical world, like it or not, is an echo of the hermetic magic and heroic literature of Renaissance Italy. . . .

A little over a month ago I received a letter and essay from a serious reader of Harry Potter named Sally Palmer. She wrote in a very flattering note that she thought I was way off in my arguments that Severus Snape is a Dumbledore man. Ms. Palmer shared a few links to help make her case that the Potions genius is a relativist and power seeker. The links were to essays on The Leaky Cauldron and on MuggleNet that explored Severus Snape in light of Niccolo Machiavelli’s political treatise The Prince.


The case builds from there. Read at your own peril. I loved Snape the minute he called Harry "our new celebrity," but for the first time I'm now wondering that he might be evil.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

You loving Snape from the get-go is about as surprising as you loving the Red Sox and being sorted into Slytherin. : )
www.harrypotter.warnerbros.com/web/hogwarts/sorting_hat.jsp

-GW

Avi said...

I think it's kind of obvious that Snape made an unbreakable vow with Albus and Abelforth Dumbledore to do whatever is needed.

Angry Sam said...

I'll be EXTRAORDINARILY disappointed if Snape turns out to be no more than a villain, motivated by the ill treatment he received from Harry's dad back in his school days. Rowling seems to have a tendency to keep the "Slytherin bad, Gryffindor good" mantra going, though, so I wouldn't rule it out.

Oh, and GW... Yankees Slytherin, Red Sox Gryffindor. Everybody knows that.