Mythology In Harry Potter
Throughout the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling created a magical world full of creatures, characters, events, and objects known across the world. While her imagination played a major role in crafting these novels, she did use more than just that to craft the names, creatures, and story elements of the series. Rowling’s degree in classics is often used to explain why there are many allusions to folklore, religion, and mythology in the books. In fact, allusions to Greek and Roman mythology are frequently seen throughout the series and provide a deeper meaning to the plot as a whole. This paper argues that when composing this series, Rowling used Greek and Roman mythology as an inspiration for storylines and characters, in addition to using it as a tool to foreshadow future events.
Throughout the series, characters are based on, or inspired by, mythical creatures or people, whether it be their name, characteristics, or character as a whole. A prime example of this is the three headed dog, Fluffy. Fluffy is like that of Cerberus, Hades’s three headed dog that guards the underworld. There are very few differences between Fluffy and the Greek creature. Hagrid even said that he bought Fluffy off of a “Greek chappie” (Rowling 1997, 192). There is quite a bit to dig into with this allusion because Cerberus guards the underworld. That poses the questions of exactly what is underneath the trapdoor that Fluffy is guarding and how it is similar to the underworld. Fluffy and Cerberus are both soothed in the same way, through music, in order for someone to get past them. When Harry, Ron, and Hermione go beneath the trapdoor, they are essentially leaving the world of the living, just as they would if they were to pass Cerberus. Because of the emotional trauma, dangerous puzzles, and physical distress that these 11-year-olds are facing, are readers meant to question if they are going through the gates of hell? The Greek description of hell is often that it is like a dungeon of suffering, and the trials and tribulations the trio experience are not easy or pleasing at all. Because the Greek underworld is where souls go after death, and Fluffy is an allusion to Cerberus who guards the underworld, the trio getting past Fluffy is a symbolic death. They are losing the child within them because it is such a great task, that hardly anyone else could do. The inspiration of Cerberus for Fluffy is significant to the series, especially the first book, because it makes readers question early on what more there could be as far as symbolism and deeper meanings in challenging situations.
Two characters inspired and foreshadowed by Roman mythology are Remus Lupin and Fenrir Greyback. In Roman mythology, Romulus and Remus are twin brothers who were raised by a she-wolf, and in the Harry Potter series, Fenrir Greyback and Remus Lupin are obviously not brothers, but are werewolves and connected by blood in another way. Because Greyback turned Lupin, they can be seen as blood brothers, therefore mirroring the relationship Romulus and Remus had. In the myth, Romulus is portrayed as the aggressor, and this is shown in the series as well. Greyback wanted nothing more than to turn as many people as he could, so werewolves would dominate the wizarding world. Remus, on the other hand, is shown as the inferior brother in both the myth and the Harry Potter series. Lupin’s desire and need to be accepted and liked is all consuming and his will isn’t strong enough. By comparing the story of Romulus and Remus to Greyback and Lupin, Lupin’s death by Greyback is foreshadowed. However, Lupin’s desperate need to be liked could have become one of Greyback’s followers. If that was the case, surely his death would be of another person close to him. This could have been Harry Potter, as his father and godfather were both close with Lupin. Although Lupin’s death was not at the hand of Greyback or someone connected to him, it was still ultimately foreshadowed. Rowling giving Lupin the first name of Remus like in the myth, foreshadowed that he was a wolf in the first place. The use of this particular Roman myth with her foreshadowing was a strong idea on her part because readers who know the myth will catch on right away, and others who are unfamiliar with it will be able to go back and realize what she did. Foreshadowing is not the easiest thing to do in a series of novels, but when it’s subtle like Lupin’s name and character, it enquires the reader to look further into the plot.
During the third task of the Triwizard Tournament, Harry, and only Harry, had an encounter with the Sphinx. In Greek mythology, the Sphinx presents one with a riddle and if they cannot answer, they will suffer a terrible fate. J.K. Rowling is known for being subtle when foreshadowing, and the sphinx’s riddle in The Goblet of Fire is a prime example. By looking at the riddle differently than Harry, there are connections to previous books as well as events that are foreshadowed. When deciphering the first two lines, “First think of the person who lives in disguise, who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies,” I found that they refer to Peter Pettigrew. Wormtail had been in disguise for 12 years and betrayed the Potters when it came to being their secret-keeper. The next two lines, “Next, tell me what is always the last thing to mend, the middle of middle and end of the end,” had me go towards the middle of the middle book of the series and find a negative encounter between Snape and Harry, making their relationship what is the last thing to mend, at the end of The Deathly Hallows, the end of the series. After Harry sees Snape’s memories, he realizes that although he disliked him, he looked after and protected him in his own way. The following lines, “And finally give me the sound often heard during the search for a hard-to-find word,” refers to “You-Know-Who” as wizards are often too scared to actually say “Voldemort.” Voldemort is a hard word to find in the Wizarding world until around book 4 and on, except for Harry and a few other characters. I analyzed final lines, “Now string them together, and answer me this, which creature would you be unwilling to kiss,” like Harry did, referring to spiders. There are many spider references throughout the series. Spiders like Aragog and the Acromantula in the maze have helped but also been a danger to harry. They are also somewhat of a barrier between Harry and Voldemort, with Aragog having the information for getting into the Chamber of Secrets, and the Acromantula being the last obstacle in the maze. In The Goblet of Fire, the Sphinx was used as a tool to primarily to foreshadow and connect previous books to this one.
Overall, J.K. Rowling’s use of Greek and Roman mythology as an inspiration for characters and events adds a greater element of surprise to the series. This magical world she has created is truly unique but has an extensive amount of influence from different types of mythology. One of Rowling’s most used writing elements in particular, foreshadowing, is heavily influenced, and this can be seen throughout the series.