Modern fantasy takes its roots in older legends: epic myths, fireside tales, and the stories of the Bible. The roots of a name, a hero’s talisman, a moment’s treason or loyalty: all allude to deeper things, strengthening the modern story through allegory. The Harry Potter books and His Dark Materials are no exception. Harry Potter is the foretold British king, determined to repair the betrayals and failures of King Arthur and usher in a new golden age free from betrayal. Likewise, Lyra quests for knowledge through her alethiometer, gladly falling as Eve did and losing her heaven-sent grace. Yet for Lyra, this is a triumph: the gift of growing into adulthood even with the losses and sorrows it encompasses. In both cases, the protagonists destroy the old regime in a glorious revolution of adulthood and growing power, casting Eve and King Arthur both as heroes reborn.
Reenacting King Arthur: Names in Harry Potter
King Arthur’s tale appears frequently in the wizarding world’s history, as “Merlin” and “Morgana” famous wizard cards. Likewise, the Goblet of Fire, the graillike object Harry quests for, is the only item (through its portkey magic) that can save him from Voldemort’s evil. Even the magic ceiling above Hogwarts’ Great Hall is an exact copy of the ceiling above Arthur’s Round Table (Granger 80). “Harry, like Arthur, is “The Chosen One,” the child of destiny. As Arthur was the only one who could pull the sword from the stone, so Harry is the only one who could pull the Sorcerer’s Stone from his pocket” (Lambarski). Both heroes grow up in obscurity, innocent of their destinies, and then embrace magical tutors (Pharr 54). Despite this evocative list, Arthurian mythos is reborn even more strongly in character names: Ginevra, Arthur, Voldemort, and Percival.
Before Lancelot was later added to the story by Chrétien de Troyes, Guinevere was depicted as a powerful queen, ruling independently and named for the Welsh triple goddess, Gwenhwyfar. Having been informed by JKR on her website that Ginny is short for Ginevra, not Virginia, we have only to note that Ginevra is Italian for Guinevere to realize that, as Guinevere was meant for King Arthur, so Ginny is the only one fit to be Harry’s queen,”Tim Lambarski notes in “Ginny Weasley: A Gryffindor and a Match for Harry.” Thus, Ginny Weasley is a powerful heroine and suitable partner for Harry, the hero-king. She defends Harry from criticism and self-doubt:
When Malfoy claims that Harry is always making the front page, she bursts out, “Leave him alone, he didn’t want all that!” In Chamber of Secrets, Rowling has set up a connection between Harry and Ginny by making her the only other student of their time to be confronted by Riddle/Voldemort and experience the Dark Lord inside her head (Lambarski).
This proves invaluable in book five, when Ginny uses her experience to convince Harry he’s not becoming Voldemort. “You don’t know anyone but me who’s been possessed by You-Know-Who, and I can tell you how it feels,” she says angrily (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 23). Book five shows her as Quiddich seeker like Cho: both of Harry’s girlfriends are his equals on the playing field as well as in life. She’s talented in Dumbledore’s Army, which she names, and her “Bat-bogey hex” gets her an invitation to the prestigious Slug Club, based solely on her talent. Ginny, of course, remains steadfastly loyal in the series, rather than committing the treason that brings down King Arthur’s kingdom. She willingly stays in safety at Hogwarts, rather than distracting Harry or becoming a hostage for Voldemort. She only says, “I knew this would happen in the end. I knew you wouldn’t be happy unless you were fighting Voldemort. Maybe that’s why I like you so much” (Rowling, Half-Blood Prince 647).
Arthur Weasley, her father, is a hero of the Order of the Phoenix, unquestionably brave and loyal, undisputed ruler of the enormous Weasley family. His children Ginny and Percy (Percival) emphasize the King Arthur connection once more. Further, Rowling stated in an interview that he was supposed to die in book five (Vieira). This death would have marked the end of safety and a stable kingdom, forcing the next generation (in the form of Harry and his friends) to restore the lost Camelot of the Wizarding World. Lacking the tragic sense of Le Mort de Arthur, Rowling preserves Arthur Weasley, allowing him to defend a Camelot shaken by filial betrayal (thanks to Percy’s Mordred-like lust for power), yet unfallen.
In all other ways, Voldemort is very much the Mordred character, and not just because of the “Mor” (death) Latin root they share. Voldemort created Harry as his nemesis by creating an unnatural Horcrux with his attempted infanticide. Likewise, King Arthur created Mordred through his incestuous union with a half-sister. Both creations are entwined with prophecy and murder: Voldemort sets out to destroy “the one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord,” while Arthur learns with horror that a child born that year will bring about his undoing (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 841). Both attempt to kill this infant nemesis: Voldemort kills both of Harry’s parents, but his mother dies to save him and his curse rebounds upon himself. Likewise, Arthur orders the deaths of every baby born that year, but young Mordred escapes, and later ensures his father’s destruction.
Voldemort’s true name is “Tom Riddle.” Riddle, of course, refers to the mystery behind him, as he’s revealed later to be a young Voldemort. Thomas, however, means twin, suggesting his unalterable link with Harry (Granger 43). The two similar antagonists, joined by curses, prophecy, and destiny, must eventually battle, as “neither can live while the other survives” (Rowling, Order of the Phoenix 841). In some versions, like The Mists of Avalon, Mordred shares the same birth name as Arthur, renaming himself later, Voldemort-like, in order to forge a separate identity. In all, he proclaims himself Arthur’s heir and demands the throne, offering a new world unencumbered by the old ways.
These rulers and their creations struggle for power throughout the story: one leads the forces of light, and the other, forces of death and destruction. Only through an epic battle can the war finally end in a metaphor for the son growing into adulthood, supplanting the high king, his father. This is the mythic cycle: “The son against the father for the mastery of the universe” (Campbell 136). As Joseph Campbell, greatest analyst of the hero-epic puts it, “The work of the hero is to slay the tenacious aspect of the father (dragon, tester, ogre king) and release from its ban the vital energies that will feed the universe” (352). In one tale, our hero is the father (Arthur), in the other, the creation (Harry). Still, the cycle holds—and this very difference molds whether the story will turn to tragedy or fulfillment. King Arthur cannot return to childhood and hold the throne forever, thus he can only stop his successor, Mordred, through mutual destruction. Harry, however, destroys Voldemort’s regime forever, setting himself in place as hero and protector of the Wizarding World.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore offers five names to readers. Albus means white, suggesting spirituality and altruism, while a Dumbledore is a mythic bumblebee. “The bee is a traditional symbol for the soul,” famed Potter essayist John Granger comments, naming Albus Dumbledore “resplendent soul” (108). But what of the other names?
Percival, of course, offers the Arthurian link. He was a valiant fighter who quested for the grail (or in Harry Potter’s world, the Horcruxes) but failed in his goal. His teenage protégé Galahad succeeded, through immaculate faith and goodness. Clear parallels appear here with the Dumbledore-Harry relationship. Percival Dumbledore (father to Albus) and his namesake, Percy Weasley, likewise appear as knights who fail, but leave others to battle and complete the great quest against Voldemort. Galahad dies as he grasps the grail, just as Harry dies just after uniting the Deathly Hallows. Still, the protection of Harry’s blood binds him to life, allowing him to return as mankind’s savior.
Wulfric and Brian are both names of Catholic British saints: Wulfric of Haselbury was a hermit and miracle worker. Blessed Brian Lacey was one of the London Martyrs of 1591 (“Saints and Angels”). This connection to sainthood and martyrdom suggests pure goodness, but an altruism lacking the practicality to finish the war. Dumbledore indeed becomes a martyr, willingly sacrificing his life in order to save his students, Draco and Harry, among others. Merlin, too is filled with this selflessness; in fact, both are ancient, white-bearded, quirky wizards, with an impressive mastery of the mystic arts. In Arthurian legend, Merlin ensures that Arthur will keep Excalibur and its magic scabbard that can protect him from harm after Merlin has gone. Thus, he safeguards and instructs Arthur, all the while knowing he will fall to Morgan Le Fay’s duplicity. Likewise, Snape apparently betrays Dumbledore, striking the killing blow in the lightning-struck tower. Yet as we later learn, he is fulfilling his promise to Dumbledore, rather than committing treachery. Thus, the Merlin of the Wizarding World deliberately sacrifices himself and enlists his betrayer. Harry triumphantly tells Voldemort as they duel that Voldemort has failed to master the Elder Wand, thanks to Dumbledore’s deliberate sacrifice: “He chose his own manner of dying, chose it months before he died, arranged the whole thing with the man you thought was your servant” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 740), Harry says, watching Voldemort cast the spell that kills him. Snape’s loyalty and Dumbledore’s trust leave Harry the master of the world’s deadliest weapon.
Last, of course, is Harry’s own name. On the surface, Harry James Potter is a common British name. All three names suggest a normal kid from the Muggle world who turns out to have extraordinary abilities, adding sympathy and connection between the character and his readers:
The ordinariness of Harry is magnificently emphasized by his name, which clearly stands out as plain and unpretentious beside Dumbledore, McGonagall, or Draco Malfoy. While these associative names are used to contribute to their bearers’ individuality, Harry’s name underscores his “everyman” nature, signaling to the readers: “He is just like one of you” (Nikolajeva 131).
But just as “Arthur Pendragon” echoes “Uthor Pendragon,” emphasizing Arthur’s similarity to his father and presumptive heir status, Harry’s name contains some interesting allusions. The name “Harry” is derived from Henry and Harold; many heroic kings of England bore those names. It also sounds like a “herald,” most likely of a new age free of Wizarding corruption. Continuing to play with sound patterns and homographs, his name also suggests “heir”: Heir to Gryffindor, heir to his father and namesake James, and heir destined to lead the Wizarding World into battle against Voldemort (Granger 112). He’s even “heir” to Voldemort’s powers, from Parseltongue to their mental connection.
James, of course, references Harry’s bravely impulsive father and is a terribly common British name. It also has godly connections: Saint James was the brother of Jesus, and the only sibling to recognize him as the Messiah. “Saint James” also refers to the British royal court. “The name resonates with royalty, and through Saint James and the divine right of kings, with divinity,” notes Granger (110).
In the Latin, Hogwarts’ favorite language, “Pater” (same pronunciation as Potter) means father. In the Bible, the potter is frequently a metaphor for God, shaping, changing, and strengthening his human creations as he wishes. Symbolically, thus, Harry is “an heir to God the Father (Pater/Potter) or a herald of the same” (Granger 114).
Here he is like Galahad, the only knight pure and holy enough to claim the Holy Grail. Galahad, son of the heroic but imperfect Lancelot, sits in the “Perilous Seat” and is a true, blameless knight who has never sinned. True, he dies in his quest. But only through this sacrifice can he reach total spiritual sanctity. Harry “bears the mark of the chosen on his forehead, and he is—although unaware of this himself—worshipped in the wizard community as the future savior” (Nikolajeva 137). Arthur and Galahad both share these marks of destiny, identifying themselves through drawing the sword from the stone and claiming the “Perilous Seat.” Both are saviors, Galahad in a religious sense and Arthur in a more material sense, as he protects the land from chaos and civil war, uniting all kingdoms into one. All, once restored to the birthrights they lost as infants, must struggle through awesome trials to claim their destinies as leaders.
Casting Harry as Arthur with a touch of Galahad emphasizes his heroic role, but this charming fantasy repairs the tragedy and betrayal of the Arthurian Saga. Ron, the best friend, stays loyal to Harry (though many readers expected a three-way catastrophe over Hermione), and Ginny never betrays him. Merlin-Dumbledore and his betrayer work together, to ensure Harry masters the Elder Wand and defeats his enemy. Rather than losing Camelot forever, Harry preserves it, destroying the evil Mordred forever.
Pullman’s Names and The Biblical Pagan Dichotomy
The Golden Compass, of course, offers Biblical names but also Greek ones, reminiscent of not only the Greek Orthodox church but also the beloved pagan myths of Zeus and his Pantheon. These symbolize the great struggle reborn: paganism or Church, freedom or obedience? Each character in the series is torn between religion and independence, skepticism and faithful obedience. Many characters have hidden motivations, such as Mrs. Coulter’s love for Lyra or Lord Asriel’s willingness to sacrifice a child. And nearly every character switches allegiance. Too, each character is split into human and dæmon with two sets of desires and personalities. As Lyra struggles to choose a side: Church or fallen Eve and “Republic of Heaven,” these mixed allusions reflect her confusion and shed doubt on her entire world.
All this ambiguity is symbolized by the dæmon each character has, a part of the soul, yet with different thoughts and opinions. “A dæmon is a visible, external part of a person that represents facets of the person’s character” writes Tony Watkins, author of Dark Matter: Shedding Light on Phillip Pullman’s Trilogy His Dark Materials (113). While strong Lord Asriel has a leopard and crafty Mrs. Coulter, a monkey, the dæmons more often represent a hidden or contradictory part of the personality. Mrs. Coulter speaks sweetly to Lyra while her monkey brutally attacks Lyra’s dæmon. When Lyra first meets Will Parry, she wishes to see his dæmon to know what secrets he’s hiding. However, Will, perhaps the most forthright character, cannot see his dæmon for most of the story: He has few secrets or conflicting desires. And almost all dæmons are the opposite gender from their owners, again emphasizing each character’s dual nature. A dæmon acts more as a devil’s advocate, or angel on one’s shoulder than the agenda-free soul. Critic Sally Vincent adds, “It is your guardian angel, your confidante, your conscience, your representative.” This sensation that all characters are split in two: male and female, doer and questioner, emphasizes the characters’ moral confusion.
Lyra’s dæmon, Panteleimon, evokes St. Panteleimon of the Orthodox Churches: “’Panta’ means ‘all’ in Greek, and ‘eleison’ means ‘have mercy’ in Greek, thus Pantalaimon means ‘all merciful’” (Srafopedia). Here he sounds angelic, but Lyra calls him Pan, a nickname that evokes the crafty and mysterious satyr of Greek myth. So dear little Pan the shapechanger is part Orthodox saint, part pagan mischief-maker. He is the “all merciful” one that can intercede between Lyra and God, yet he can be selfish and dismissive: the first time we see him, he suggests Lyra not save Asriel from the poison—hardly a merciful act. This myriad of contradictions always surrounds the shapeshifter, keeping him neither one thing nor, the other, especially for very long. Campbell scholar Christopher Vogler notes that “people have a complete set of male and female qualities which are necessary for survival and internal balance” (66). These repressed qualities of the recessive gender within us appear through shapeshifters, in this case dæmons. This changeability mirrors the confusion of Lyra’s task: deciding whom to trust when her parents betray her, the Church experiments on children, and only society’s outcasts can protect her.
Lyra herself splits into sinner and saint, angel and dæmon, liar and defender of truth. At the beginning, Lyra is very much a flawed, immature character, worthy of her Eve parallels. Many notice the lexical link between Lyra and “liar,” her biggest hobby. As one critic ironically comments, “Little lying Lyra is the one who’s going to help save the world(s) through truth” (Wilkinson 8). Self-centered and egocentric, “she does whatever she finds to be fun, and is only obedient so she can avoid being punished,” as Kim Dolgin comments in her essay, “Coming of Age in Svalbard, and Beyond” (75). Yet she receives the alethiometer, truth incarnate. This guide preserves her from the Church, while offering her the divine power to read its message better than anyone else can. Iorek Byrnison names her Silvertongue when she fools Iofur Raknison, the King of the Bears, by telling him that she is a dæmon and that she is willing to change sides for the “strongest bear.” Clearly the name refers to her skill at lying, reminiscent of Eve who fell to the snake’s lying words. At the same time, silver is a feminine symbol, associated with water and the moon as well as spirituality. As Lyra calls herself a dæmon, she is reconciling her two selves. She is no longer divided into human and dæmon, Lyra and Pan: now she has taken on both roles and thus claimed power over her innate feminine wisdom. Thus armed, she can confront the Authority itself, defying him to do what she believes is right. She has become liar and truth teller, both shown through the name of Silvertongue.
Will, it’s been noted, has more “will” than most people. Like the Biblical Adam, “earth,” he’s a simple primal character with a simple primal name. When we first meet him, he has a cat named Moxie, and later, a dæmon named Kirjava (Finnish for “multi-colored”). These animal sidekicks reveal Will’s hidden side through contrast: they exhibit the traits he lacks. In the beginning, Will lives at home with his mother, going to school and awaiting his father’s return. In danger, he hides. He indeed lacks “moxie,” as shown by the brave cat beside him, foreshadowing his future dæmon. By the time Kirjava has arrived, Will has grown into resolute strength: he bears the subtle knife which trembles and then finally breaks when his resolve is divided. Thus, his “multi-colored” dæmon arrives as his hidden side, as the bearer of the Subtle Knife, wielder of the greatest will, cannot afford to be multi-faceted.
The name of Lord Asriel relates to the Hebrew Ashriel, who, in the Jewish and Muslim tradition is the Angel of Death, who separates souls from their bodies (Gresh 49). In English, Asriel is an anagram of Israel, which means “struggles with God.” The Koran, however, regards Ashriel as helpful rather than dæmonic (Masson 35-36). Lord Asriel is the Lucifer figure, who rebels against God and is cast from heaven. Like Lucifer, he is beautiful and proud, commanding the scholars of Oxford and winning Lyra’s unquestioning loyalty in her childhood. He is charismatic yet dangerous, offering Lyra sanctuary is one moment, and murdering her friend Roger in the next. His window opens the world to atmospheric anomalies and chaos. Though technically on Lyra’s side through his rebellion, his morals are ambiguous and he doesn’t mind committing a few murders. Nonetheless, he rejects the Church’s fears of Dust and “sin,” as he understands that sin is the joy of life.
Lord Asriel's dæmon is Stelmaria, a beautiful, powerful snow leopard. The Latin roots, “Stel-Maria” mean “Star Mary,” associated with the Star of Bethlehem and the Nativity.Thus the Lucifer figure is constantly shadowed by Mary, light to his innate cruelty. Asriel is Lyra’s father (though he nearly sacrifices her at the end of The Golden Compass) and Stelmaria a divine mother-protector. As Asriel is the Authority’s adversary, Stelmaria’s name suggests his greatest divine follower. In this way, the leopard’s innate nobility helps to conceal Asriel’s treachery and cruelty until his murder of Roger at the end of The Golden Compass.
Mary Malone’s name suggests Mary, the saintly mother of Jesus and female figurehead of the Church: protective, mothering, and angelically innocent. Yet she is a fallen angel. Once a nun, she has become an atheist, turning from a devout believer in the Church to its antagonist. Her apparent sinfulness evokes Mary Magdalene, a fallen woman who devotes herself to Jesus, as Mary Malone does to Lyra. Yet the alethiometer has identified her as the one who will play the serpent to Lyra’s Eve.
Mary Malone's dæmon, the alpine chough, is a “black bird with red legs and a bright yellow beak, slightly curved. A bird of the mountains.” (Pullman. Amber Spyglass 453). Birds, the dæmons of choice for Serafina Pekkala and all the other witches, symbolize air spirits and even the divine soul itself. Birds offer prophetic knowledge in Pagan myth; in the Bible they offer redemption and peace. Though cast as the serpent, Mary has saved the world by preserving Dust and defying the angels. Mary is a woman of the earth, shaping the world with her knowledge of Dust and how its loss threatens nature. Her hidden dæmon, however, is a spiritual creature of heavenly enlightenment. When Serafina helps her see her dæmon, this moment is lifechanging: Vogler notes “An encounter with the anima or animus [hidden male or female side to a person] in dreams or fantasy is considered an important step in psychological growth” (66). Thus, in this moment, Mary reconciles her two halves and reaches this accord between seeking wisdom and finding it.
All these ambiguities and contradictions between pagan and Christian values echo a world in torment, as angels and Asriel vie for dominance. Lying has merits and leads Lyra to her font of mystic power, just as Mary, the serpent, can save the world. Throughout, every character has a dæmon, offering more contradictions, as each dæmon has all the characteristics his or her master lacks. Lyra struggles to trust through lies, betrayals, and endless moral confusion. Thus, she must reconcile these conflicting beliefs to rescue many many worlds from destruction.
The Hallows of Britain in Welsh and Irish Myth
King Arthur’s realm is decaying, and his quest for the Holy Grail, rather than saving it, dooms all his knights to obscurity and death. In fact, all Arthur’s treasures, from the mystic Excalibur to his thirteen hallows fail to preserve Camelot. Arthur quests for kingship, but such a material power is transient, as magic is departing the world forever. Harry Potter’s tale, however, is of growing into adulthood and thus earning power and magical treasures:
While Lord Voldemort has been disintegrating himself [by splitting his soul into Horcruxes], Harry has with each new year at Hogwarts integrated more and more into himself: knowledge, memories, courage, friendships, and most of all, love. With each new memory added, he becomes more than he was before, even as Voldemort is becoming less” (Kerr 13).
Each year he gains spells and treasures, like Sirius’s mirror and the Sorting Hat, which help him to summon loved ones at need. Likewise, the Goblet of Fire, the grail-like object Harry quests for, is the only item (through its portkey magic) that can save him from Voldemort’s evil. These treasures reflect his growing spirituality and power. “Harry, like Arthur, is ‘The Chosen One,’ the child of destiny. As Arthur was the only one who could pull the sword from the stone, so Harry is the only one who could pull the Sorcerer’s Stone from his pocket” (Lambarski). Though Harry keeps few of the Deathly Hallows, nearly identical to many of Arthur’s treasures, he uses them heroically to preserve the Wizarding World.
The Tuatha de Danaan were said to have brought four treasures to Ireland from the Otherworld. The Spear of Victory wins every battle, while the Sword of Light always destroys its target. The Cauldron of Plenty produces food enough to feed a kingdom. The Stone of Destiny confers kingship, much like the ancient Scottish Stone of Scone or a myriad of thrones, crowns, orbs, and scepters (Young). These four symbols appear in the climax of the Arthurian grail quest, and later became the suits on Tarot cards, and then modern spades, clubs, hearts, and diamonds, echoing through The Tain, The Mabinogion, and many other Celtic tales. King Arthur wields these items and yet is defeated, relinquishing Excalibur and passing into legend.
Harry’s Deathly Hallows and their tie to Arthurian legend are unmistakable: The Spear of Victory descends through Rowling intact, transmographied into the similar-looking Elder Wand that defeats all opponents. However, the other Hallows have been massively changed. Why? Harry’s destiny lies in defeating death, rather than in kingship. Thus, he quests to destroy the Horcruxes, unnatural defeaters of death created by soul-maiming, something only a depraved villain would attempt.
The Hallows of Britain
The Earliest Hallows
Shining spear of Lugh
Provides victory in any fight
The Pole of Combat
Spear or Wand
Sword of Nuadu
Always destroys its target
The Sword of Light
Cauldron of Dagda
Provides endless food
The Cauldron of Cure
Hermione’s Beaded Bag
Stone of Fal
The Stone of Destiny
Platter or Stone
Harry Potter is a book about mastering death, as is apparent when Harry gravitates instantly toward the Resurrection Stone (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 414).His power comes from repeatedly surviving Voldemort’s Avada Kedavra: as a baby, in book four’s graveyard, and in book seven’s ultimate test of courage and sacrifice. In each case, his skill evading death gives him the power to resist or defeat Voldemort, finally destroying him forever in the climax of Deathly Hallows. Harry’s test is to literally defy death, not to sit on a throne, and so that is the power the Resurrection Stone grants him. As Rowling told interviewers, “As Dumbledore explains, the real master of Death accepts that he must die, and that there are much worse things in the world of the living. It is not about striving for immortality, but about accepting mortality” (“Bloomsbury Live Chat”). Thus the stone sends James, Lupin, Sirius, and Lily to protect him and it only comes to Harry when he willingly surrenders his life to destroy Voldemort. “I am about to die,” he whispers, summoning the power for his greatest adventure of all: death itself (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 698). Voldemort never masters this sort of surrender:
King Arthur’s task is to rule Camelot, never surrendering it, even to Mordred. Thus, Arthur wins in the end, having defeated the evil usurper, though the deed costs his own life. Harry quests to master death, and he likewise succeeds: thanks to his magical blood, bequeathed by his dying mother and stolen by Voldemort in the graveyard, Voldemort has lost the power to kill him. At the same time, Harry’s death and resurrection has extended his protection over everyone at Hogwarts. “You won’t be killing anyone else tonight,” he says. “I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 738). Now Harry, master of death, can save all his friends from dying. Even before the final duel, he has truly conquered death in a way Voldemort never manages.
Harry likewise doesn’t need to feed and care for subjects, only defend those in need. In fact, the teens’ lack of food and supplies is a major plot device, as the teens suffer depravation and unending depression while hiding in the forest. While “magic can’t provide food,” they rely on books, information, and rumors from Hogwarts, all available from Hermione’s beaded bag. Though their equivalent to the cauldron doesn’t nourish them, it lets them accomplish their quest.
Harry needs a sword of unavoidable destruction, but to murder Voldemort’s Horcruxes, not people. In fact, Harry, as master of life, never uses the Sword of Gryffindor to attack another person at all. Harry’s “Sword of Light” is indeed powerful, but, like the original Arthurian Hallows, descends from the gods (or at least the founders of Hogwarts like Godric Gryffindor), only to protect those worthy of its magic. He draws it from the Sorting Hat, as Neville does later, and he finds it in a forest pool, since the sword only appears to young heroes at the proper time: “It must be taken under conditions of need and valor” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 689), and it only appears when a worthy person summons it.
The four Arthurian Hallows, thus, have changed into the prized Elder Wand and Resurrection Stone, along with the beaded bag and Sword of Gryffindor used throughout book seven. These items represent power over, not only the world, but also the self, as Harry grows skilled in their use.
Swords, spears, and wands are male symbols, like the spear and shield of Mars that make up our modern-day symbol for “masculine.” Harry must embrace the intuitive, hidden side of himself through feminine symbols as well as masculine, tapping into an area that Voldemort (with his fixation on the Elder Wand and nothing else) will always discount as useless. However, as Hallows go, this is “the meanest of them, the lest extraordinary” (Rowling Deathly Hallows 720). It has only the masculine aspect, only the power to destroy. Voldemort takes the killer wand from his male enemy’s body and considers his quest for power complete. But Harry, master of all the hallows, male and female, has a far more complex task.
While wands are an obvious phallic symbol, feminine symbolism is only slightly more subtle. A magic purse or cauldron suggests the womb, source of all life in the world (Freud 166-177). Thus, Hermione nurtures Ron and Harry with the beaded bag, retrieving everything they with from its cavernous depths. She is the all-mother, endlessly capable, endlessly providing. While Harry leaves the bag’s use to Hermione, he benefits from its contents and from her protection and wisdom in a way friendless Voldemort will never know.
Psychiatrist Maureen Murdock links women with “the vessel, cave, and grail; the mountain, water, and trees” (143). Water evokes the deep feminine: interconnectivity and flexibility. It offers a chance to let go: to let intuition and nature buoy the woman forward (Chinen 174). Here is the domain of the Lady of the Lake, the domain Harry (in an Arthurian moment) must dive into to retrieve Gryffindor’s sword. The shining doe, a representation of his mother, guides him to it and guards him while he reclaims the weapon. By doing so, he blends sword power and water power, and gains understanding of the intuitive strengths inside himself as well as the dominant.
Arthur, with his sword and spear on the one side, and stone and cauldron on the other, is perfectly balanced between intuition and strength, wisdom and fortitude. He receives Excalibur from the Lady of the Lake, blending feminine intuition with the masculine symbol of the sword. He has learned from Morgan Le Fay as well as Merlin, Guinevere as well as Lancelot. Thus he prepares himself to face the unbalanced, power-hungry Mordred.
The resurrection stone allows Harry to reach his greatest mentors, both male and female, as he prepares for the dark journey into death. Again, Voldemort lacks this spiritual guidance, and again, Harry’s mother’s sacrifice, her blood in his veins, saves him from death, all through Voldemort’s misunderstanding of this primitive, maternal shield. A throne (this was the early function of the Stone of Fal), with its bowl shape, is more of a feminine symbol, but the resurrection stone is set in a ring, another popular feminine device (Gould 74). It suggests a mystical marriage between male and female, life and death, as Harry wields it. “I open at the close,” it says, offering another double-natured riddle that Harry must unravel before he can use the ring’s power.
Obviously, one item is missing from this collection: the third hallow of Harry’s invisibility cloak. As Dumbledore reveals, its true magic is that “it can be used to protect and shield others as well as its owner” (Rowling Deathly Hallows 716). Again, it has a masculine nature, as it’s been passed from father to son, proof of Harry’s ancient bloodline, and a feminine nature, used to shelter. This hallow is less of a plot point, useful but always in Harry’s possession. Perhaps it is not surprising that the humblest of these, the one he’s had and used all along, comes from a more modern list.
Later Arthurian legend lists thirteen treasures, most of which seem to have evolved from the previous four. The treasures could only be used by the King or his representative in battle. Six of the thirteen provide food or drink (something our trio would’ve welcomed). The others are more interesting, as they likewise offer a number of Deathly Hallows parallels. Dyrnwyn, the sword of Rhydderch Hael, would burst into flame if drawn by any man but its owner. While it is a blade in the original myth, a clearer parallel with the series is Fiendfyre: the unworthy Crabbe casts it and he and the tiara Horcrux are destroyed by its unstoppable force. Also new to book seven is Apparating, since all three teens have passed their tests and left the confines of Hogwarts. This new power is much like “the chariot of Morgan Mwynvawr: whoever sat in it would be immediately wheresoever he wished” (Guest). The Halter of Clydno Eiddyn lets the owner call any horse, just as Harry uses Sirius’s mirror to summon Dobby and rescue, while the Whetstone of Tudwal Tudclud kills any man it wounds, rather like the total destruction inflicted by Gryffindor’s Sword. The next two appear many times in Harry Potter: One is the chessboard that plays by itself, a favorite pastime of Ron’s. The other is a coat that identifies those of noble birth, paralleling the Sorting Hat and its uncanny ability to choose one’s Hogwarts house. The thirteenth hallow is Arthur’s Mantle, an invisibility cloak and the parallel for the third Deathly Hallow (Guest).
Highlights of The Thirteen Treasures of Britain in Arthurian Legend.
The Arthurian Hallows
The Mantle of Arthur
The Whetstone of Tudwal Tudglyd
The Chariot of Morgan the Wealthy
Dyrnwyn, Sword of Rhydderch
The Coat of Padarn Red-Coat
Chessboard of Gwendd-olau
Halter of Clydno Eiddyn
Makes the wearer invisible
Ensures death follows wounding.
Travels at great speed to any location.
Bursts into flame.
Identifies those of noble birth.
Plays by itself.
Calls any horse into it (for summon-ing aid).
Produce and prepare food and drink
Between the Hallows, the spare wands, the new spells, and other items (Sorting Hat, Sword of Gryffindor, beaded bag, basilisk fangs) Harry has at least thirteen treasures aiding him on his sacred quest to destroy Voldemort. Only King Arthur or one appointed in his stead could wield these treasures, just as only Harry, the symbolic king, or those whom he’s appointed to aid him (As he confides his task to Ron, Hermione, and Neville) can destroy the Horcruxes. Dumbledore’s greed for the Resurrection Ring overcomes his caution: “I lost my head, Harry,” he says. “I quite forgot it was now a Horcrux, that the ring was sure to carry a curse” (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 719). He wears it, desperate to see his family, and the trapped ring unleashes a fatal trap. Likewise, Crabbe’s overzealous use of Fiendfyre destroys a Horcrux but himself as well. Harry destroys three portions of Voldemort’s soul, and his three friends, with his encouragement, each destroy one, thus fulfilling book seven’s goal. When Harry appoints his friends to help him destroy Horcruxes, they, especially Neville, do what he cannot and make the quest succeed. After Harry loses his magic sword, Neville draws it from the Sorting Hat and wields it, proving himself a worthy successor. Ron and Hermione get the basilisk’s fangs, again with Harry’s blessing and guidance, as he killed the basilisk long before. Dumbledore must realize that being appointed is not enough: only those imbued with kingship can succeed. He withholds knowledge of the Hallows because Harry has to prove himself worthy, and he does, passing the tests and, with his friends, destroying all of Voldemort’s soul.
Compass, Knife, and Spyglass
Peter’s sword of knighthood, given by Father Christmas. Excalibur, Sting, Andrúil, The Sword of Gryffindor. Every hero caries a blade destined to win his battle against the evil overlord. In fact, Will Parry’s blade destroys the greatest overlord of them all: the Authority himself. The gentler alethiometer and amber spyglass, by comparison, help the heroines to channel the feminine power of the unconscious, leading them to likewise reject the Church. The heroines have the harder task: to comprehend that goodness lies somewhere beyond the corrupt Church and hollow Authority, and that they must seek deeper meaning in their lives.
It is basically a reworking of the Genesis story. But in this version, the innocent couple does not damage humanity, but instead, delivers it. Through their love for each other, they rescue everyone else from a spiritually darkened state. (Abanes 33).
All three characters defy their religion and “fall,” but this fall is not Eve’s failure: it is the trilogy’s triumph.
As a boy hero, Will receives the most dangerous gift of all: the knife that cuts anything. The cliff-ghasts call it the Æsahættr, or God-destroyer, for its prophesized mission. Everything in existence must succumb to the blade, which, in turn, has chosen Will to bear it. The Subtle Knife is of a double nature, warning both Will and the readers that moral judgment is necessary with such a deadly weapon. Here it is like the Elder Wand, forcing its wielders to decide to use it as a force of violence or a tool to be carefully guarded:
It is used to open passages between the different worlds, and as such seems to serve a good cause. What the characters only learn later is that the passages they create are the very source of the threat to the universe they are trying to save (Nikolajeva 136).
The hero generally pits his magic sword against the tyrannical ruler of the world, in this case, the Authority. By defeating evil, the young hero can begin a benevolent reign over a newer, better kingdom. Many readers are shocked that the tyrant here is portrayed as God, whereas others can’t accept that a rigid, decrepit angel with delusions of grandeur even deserves the association. Fantasy writer Kay Kenyon asks, “How could this so-called God doom billions of the dead to a horrifying underworld that forcibly exiles them from their own souls, for crying out loud? Kill the Old Man, put Him out of His misery” (104). Whatever the Authority’s true identity, Will, as chosen wielder of the knife, is the only one with the power to destroy him. After much travail, Will uses the Subtle Knife to slice apart the Authority's protective crystal:
In the open air, there was nothing to stop the wind from damaging him, and to their dismay, his form began to loosen and dissolve. Only a few moments later he had vanished completely (Pullman, The Amber Spyglass 367).
The wind blows him away, thus completing the prophecy.
The amber spyglass is used by Mary Malone to see Dust and view its effect on the environment. As one critic notes, “In order to create the amber spyglass, Dr. Mary Malone realizes she will have to cultivate the same unfocused state of mind Lyra uses to read the alethiometer” (Debrandt 35). This helps a heroine tap the font of feminine creativity: the unconscious. Often mirrors represent the soul—the hidden self or doppelganger. When Mary looks through the spyglass for answers, she’s truly abandoning obedience to the stale, domineering Church and even her beloved science: she’s asking her soul for the truth. Through inquiry, rather than blind faith, she learns Dust’s secrets.
Surrounded by technology and computers, Mary can only help the primitive Mulefa by embracing a more primitive, true way of seeing: her spyglass of amber sap. Thus the amber spyglass is made from the most natural of materials: tree sap and seed pod oil, with a bamboo tube holding the plates apart. In fact, it starts out as a mirror in an experiment to try capturing Dust and help the Mulefa save the dying wheel-pod trees. Mary Malone uses it as a lens to discover the truth behind the dying trees: Dust is being deflected rather than drifting down naturally. Only Dust’s restoration will restore the balance.
Dust, original sin as the Church thinks, preserves nature rather than destroying it. Likewise, Eve’s fall from innocence into consciousness is not the horror they think it. The Mulefa tell Mary their own version of the Eden story thusly: The snake advises a young Mulefa to “Put your foot through the hole in the seedpod where I was playing and you will become wise.”Upon doing so, the young Mulefa woman shares it with her kindred. “They discovered that they knew who they were, they knew they were Mulefa and not grazers. They gave each other names” (Pullman, Amber Spyglass 200).As critic Naomi Wood puts it:
Consciousness, for these creatures, is not a source of shame and guilt, but of joy. Pullman strongly suggests that to fall from innocence is not to become guilty, but simply to become conscious of responsibility as a sentient and moral being (91).
Thus armed with knowledge (like Lyra with her alethiometer), Mary can battle to save the gentle mulefa, and nature with them.
Lyra’s “golden compass” or alethiometer, like most heroines’ talismans, is nonviolent, bestowing advice and wisdom away from the battlefield. At the same time, it is completely reliable, offering unwavering intelligence that only Lyra can decipher. Its truth forms a powerful counterpoint to Lyra’s lies, teaching her through example how magical honesty can be. “Lies have a place, Pullman tells us. But ultimately, it’s truth that is important, particularly inner truth, being truthful to yourself” (Wilkinson 13). As Lyra uses the alethiometer, her morality grows. She searches for Roger and finally rescues him. Likewise, she offers compassion to Iorek Byrnison and helps him retake his kingdom. At last, “she and Will sacrifice their own happiness for the ghosts of friends and strangers alike,” thus ascending to the highest moral level of all (Dolgin 76). This grasp of morality, the journey from innocence to wisdom, is condemned by the Church. They would rather kill her to keep her loyal to the Authority than let her evolve to a point where she rejects his design and frees the ghosts trapped in the land of the dead.
Many heroines have gifts of prophecy or foreknowledge, gifts linked with the unconscious, or mystic feminine power. Lyra can read the alethiometer if she gazes at in “a particularly lazy way, as she thought of it” (Pullman, Golden Compass 174). One critic describes this particular lazy way as “The same kind of unfocused state that many people find to be when they get their most creative ideas” (Debrandt 35). Thus, the alethiometer trains Lyra in tapping into her deepest intuition. Lyra, rejecting the Church, devotes herself to the alethiometer which speaks to her in the voice of Dust—pure consciousness. This is the voice of responsibility and adulthood, urging her to grow up.
Lyra, as Eve reborn, must abandon the world of faith, childhood, and unquestioning obedience: She ends the epic as an adult who has lost her grace for reading the alethiometer. Likewise, Pan, brushed with a “lover’s touch” can no longer change form. But leaving Eden isn’t a loss, it’s growth, and Lyra and Pan celebrate it in this vein. Even the pain of losing Will is worth the price of saving the world forever. Lyra’s choice frees the ghosts trapped in torment; no longer suffocated by their own unchanging garden, they’re free to go forth and merge with nature, embracing life’s unending cycle as they continue their journey. This is the exodus from Eden: a time of rebirth and triumphant change.
The Church condemns Eve’s fall as sin, and tries to kill Lyra rather than let her “fall” to Mary’s temptation. However, the alethiometer and spyglass save them, offering unflinching truth. When Lyra steps beyond the Authority’s teachings, it’s not because of a lie. The Dust made up of love, joy, creativity and inspiration is not evil: it’s the source of nature and growth, and the power behind both compass and spyglass. Only by Will’s wielding his knife to destroy the restrictive Authority can Lyra joyously cast aside her innocence in favor of growing up. She frees the tormented souls of the dead, falls in love, and feels her dæmon settle. A life of innocence has no comparison.
Lyra’s Biblical fall is an act of joy and growth: she surrenders to the power of truth, rather than a snake’s lies leading to despair and damnation. Likewise, Harry’s Camelot never falls, instead leading to evil’s defeat and a wizarding world free of corruption. This is the story of Harry’s triumph, in which he grows to adulthood and battles death in order to become an inspiring leader, not a failing king besieged by betrayal. Lyra intends to be the new Eve, building a far better “Republic of Heaven” on earth. Both Pullman and Rowling redress these ancient legends, turning decay and entropy into a renaissance of rebirth, and delighting young readers throughout the world.
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