[This is a bonus essay to my series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. I had originally intended to stop at seven essays, but some people have asked me to write about a couple additional numbers. The previous essay – “Harry Potter Numerology: Twelve (Abundance)" – was published on November 4, 2012.]
Since I began writing this series, several people have asked me if I thought J.K. Rowling intended for her numbers to have specific meanings? Or if it’s coincidence (e.g. coincidence that every time an Eleven pops up something transforms)? Or if I’m just seeing things where I want to see things? Well, there is no stronger case for Rowling’s intentional use of number symbolism (that I have found) than The Number Thirteen.
Aside from being mega-hot, bestselling fiction and film, there are actually quite a few similarities between J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy, both on the surface and deep within their structural and thematic cores. These similarities might account for the reason fans of one series often become fans of the other, and also why these books are worthy of study as literature and not to be dismissed as merely “children’s stories” (as if children’s stories weren’t some of the most profound works ever written…but that’s another essay). Hogwarts Professor John Granger has examined some of these similarities at his blog site, including the literary alchemy of both works, their ring composition, and underlying morality. But there’s still a lot of ground to cover. This series of essays will compare Harry Potter and the Hunger Games in three areas:
- Part I. Harry, Katniss & the mythic Hero’s Journey;
- Part II. Hogwarts, Panem & the Dystopian Literary tradition; and
- Part III. Blood Sport in Panem & Hogwarts.
OK. Onto Part I.—
“Father Christmas” illustration © Jef Murray 2012,
all rights reserved.
What is Father Christmas doing in Narnia? I confess it’s one of my favorite scenes in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe: the children, along with Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, flee from the White Witch across a snow-covered waste, when behind them comes the jangle of sleigh bells. She has caught them! – I was sure the first time I read it. But in one of the book’s sweetest eucatastrophic moments, the sleigh bells belong not to the evil Witch but to the saintly Father Christmas who has arrived to bestow urgently needed gifts. But my delight in this scene is far from universal. Some readers feel there is no place for a Christian figure in a world without Christ. Others object to the mish-mash of characters from competing mythologies such as Germanic, classical and medieval. So how does one explain Father Christmas’ presence in Narnia? Several have tried.
As this post goes up, it’s still November 29 by my clock, on account of which: Happy Birthday, C.S. Lewis and Madeleine L’Engle! Born exactly twenty years apart–Lewis in 1898 and L’Engle in 1918–the two authors must have shared a trace of magic along with a birthday, for few children’s books have been more loved than The Chronicles of Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time. Here’s to Jack and Madeleine, both of whom have been loved by many of us for nearly all our reading lives.
Fairy tale writer and aficionado L.C. Ricardo, has written a beautiful piece on symbolism and meaning in fairy tales, which was just published on the webzine Enchanted Conversation. From L.C.:
That is not to say that fairy tales are mere allegory. Perhaps this one-sided interpretation carries some blame for people’s frustration in“telling the same story over and over again.” If a tower is always a phallic symbol and the maiden either imprisoned or protected from the masculine, we rob the tower of its first childhood impression. That of something tall, stone, unreachable. Something enchanted, according to that which makes up its very definition. And from there—who knows what it could be?
Do you agree with her on the openness of interpretation, or disagree? What do you think of the universality and personal appeal of fairy tales and fantasy literature? Feel free to hold forth in the combox.
Here’s the news from the week:
[This is the seventh and final essay in the series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay --"Harry Potter Numerology: Eleven (Transformation)" -- was published on October 16, 2012.]
Did you remember to turn your clock back this Sunday morning? Well, if you didn’t, go do it now… and while you’re there notice the round clock face with twelve numerals making a full circle. That’s the perfect introduction to the Number Twelve in Harry Potter.
The ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Etruscans were all duodecadic: built upon the Number Twelve. By observing nature, these ancient civilizations noted that the moon and sun moved through 12 houses (the 12 signs of the zodiac), there were 12 months of the year, 12 hours of the day and 12 hours of night. In religion, there were 12 gates of the Egyptian heaven, 12 tribes of Israel, and 12 apostles of Jesus Christ. The Chinese zodiac was divided into 12-year cycles (Schimmel 192-193, 197). Continue reading
[This is the sixth essay in a series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay -- "Harry Potter Numerology: Seven (Completion)" -- was published on October 2, 2012.]
A particular number that occurs frequently, and at significant moments, in the Harry Potter series (but fails to get much notice by Potter scholars) is the Number Eleven. But it is a very important number.
The Number Eleven was often avoided by medieval scholars, who believed that –wedged as it was between the perfection of 10 and the wholeness of 12 – it must be an evil number. Eleven “was always interpreted in medieval exegesis ad malam partem, in a purely negative sense” (Schimmel, 189). 16th Century numerologist Petrus Bungus claimed that eleven “has no connection with divine things, no ladder reaching up to things above, nor any merit” (quoted in Schimmel, 189). (But honestly, what can you expect from a man named “Bungus”?!) Continue reading
[This is the fifth essay in a series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay -- "Harry Potter Numerology: Four (Instability)" -- was published on September 16, 2012.]
Having looked at unity and opposition (One and Two), stability and instability (Three and Four), we are skipping a few numbers in order to focus on those that appear to be most significant to J.K. Rowling. The next of these is Seven.
The Number Seven was sacred to many ancient cultures, including the Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews, Maya, Chinese, Japanese, Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and medieval Europeans. The sevenfold path of the soul’s journey to blessedness is an almost universal idea across world religions, including Mithraism, Sufism, Siberian shamanic cults and many more (Schimmel, 145). Ancients and medievals observed the proliferation of important sevens in the heavens: Continue reading
[This is the fourth essay in a series on numerology in the Harry Potter books. The previous essay -- "Harry Potter Numerology: Three (Stability)" -- was published on September 4, 2012.]
Last time we looked at how the Number Three in the Harry Potter series represents Stability. The Number Four, then, represents… you guessed it: Instability. And here Rowling does more than adopt ancient interpretations of a significant number; she adds her own twist to the underlying meaning of Four.
Throughout the ancient world, many cultures — including the Pythagoreans, Mayans, Etruscans and Chinese — believed that Four represented the natural order of the physical world. There are the four seasons, four directions, four elements, four bodily humors, the four winds, etc. (Schimmel 86-90). It is the first number with which one can describe three-dimensional space: the pyramid can be plotted with only four points. And to psychologist Carl Jung, four seemed “to be an ideal symbol of the ordering” of the world (Schimmel 104). Continue reading