Welp, if you’re going to do a show about storytelling and fiction, seems pretty inevitable that you’ll get around to discussing Rowling’s work at some point. We’ve come to that bridge, and we’re crossing it in a haze of sparkly-eyed wonder.
If we’re being honest, it wasn’t actually any sense of obligation that drove us to start this series on Harry Potter. We’re doing this because we watched Fantastic Beasts, and as we did we felt ourselves being lulled back into the warmth and whimsy of Rowling’s world. And it was wonderful, and we wanted immediately to explore it.
Our first thought was just to do a series on how Rowling captures that feeling, but we quickly realized how much of that is in the nuance of the prose and—in the context of the films—the cinematography. It would certainly be interesting to talk about, but not necessarily conducive to the creation of new fiction. Easy to end up just copying Rowling’s style that way, which is something we like to avoid if we can. Always that mantra, “inspiration doesn’t have to mean imitation”.
Thankfully, Rowling is an incredibly capable writer, and imbues in her work far more than a veneer of fantastical intrigue. While watching Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, we also picked up on something else:
Rowling presents an incredible allegorical structure that’s present throughout her wizarding world, but most apparent in the newest film.
Before we go any further, let’s be good little scholars and define some terms real quick: there’s an important difference between metaphor and allegory that you oughtta know:
Metaphor — A figurative reference to one object or concept as another (e.g., “she was the storm, and I the shuddering tree”); symbolism
Allegory — The use of multiple, interactive metaphors within the context of a larger narrative which itself conveys some figurative meaning
So what we were picking on wasn’t just that many of the fantastical elements of Rowling’s fiction can be interpreted as poignant symbols, but that the narrative structures themselves are highly symbolic.
Hopefully you weren’t too excited for us to tear through all the allegories in Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts though, because that simply isn’t a task we’re equal to. There are… a great deal of them. A dragon’s hoard. And that’s because Rowling’s done something with her setting/presentation that allows all of them to coexist in the same context without making us feel as though we’re crawling through some ancient holy text.
She shows us very clearly the dichotomy between the magical and the mundane.
She presents her world with a profound emphasis on the fantasy elements, even going so far as to contrive the names of characters with pivotal roles like Severus Snape and Ron Weasley. And then she takes this overt whimsy and juxtaposes it against our world by moving Harry back and forth between the two, showing how wondrous and strange the wizarding world is compared to his grim, frankly depressing “muggle life”.
I’m sure you see where this is going.
While we’re wrapped up in the sheer magic of her fiction, the literal progression of events, the disclosure narrative of what her world is like—while the wool is pulled over our eyes—she takes the opportunity to assemble her narratives’ scaffolding in such a way so as to lead to us to a place of philosophical/moral/personal import. It’s like disembarking from a Disney ride to find that the whole thing was actually a rail system taking you to some unexpected destination.
Invisible allegories, layered into the most engaging part of the fiction.
Pretty incredible stuff. We want to replicate it with this month’s short story. So, if you have any suggestions about how we should approach it—what kind of allegory we should use, what our magic should be like, what you’d like to see in our fantasy—let us know. This’ll be a tough one, but it should also be a lot of fun.
Also, if you’ve picked up on any particularly poignant allegories hidden away in Rowling’s work, let us know. We could use your input for an upcoming video. Leave a comment. Tell us about what you’ve found.
We’ll be talking more about this over the course of the month, so stay tuned.