Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2001
17 Pages, Grade: very good
2. Symbols and Myths
3. The Good and the Evil – The General Conflict in Harry Potter
4. Mythic and Symbolic Things
4.1. The Philosopher’s Stone
4.2. The Mirror of Erised
4.3. The Sorting Hat
4.4. Mythic Numbers
5. Persons and Figures
5.1. Magicians and Wizards
5.5. The Man With Two Faces
6.1. Never Ending Life
6.3. Going Through Walls
6.5. Doing Magic
6.6. Being Invisible
7. Animals and Mixed Creatures
I chose the topic
Myths and Symbols in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
because I have been fascinated by the wealth of myths and symbols in this book. A big part of the book’s value bases on their usage and deep inner meaning. Searching for them let me better understand the book and its own myth.
Many thanks to my girlfriend Silke for her support. She helped me with her big knowledge about myths and symbols to understand some of them.
Quotations and references taken from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone are given in parentheses without the author’s name. Other sources are mentioned in parentheses with the author’s name and the page respectively the websites. For the most part, I followed the MLA style (http://wisc.edu/writing/Handbook/).
It’s beyond doubt that J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books are one of the biggest surprise and success in literature history. They influenced the youths’ reading habits in a never known way.
What is this great success founded on? This question can’t be answered sweepingly. The reasons are many-sided.
In my opinion, an important reason is the combination of the youths’ real world with the fantastic and mystic world. The youths find their real experiences at school, with parents, friends and enemies combined with a realm of witchcraft, symbols superhuman skills and dangerous adventures.
But a lot of youths know a big part of the mystic world, too. Subconsciously the old fairy tales and legends are waked up again. And so the fascination from childhood days is swinging in the background while reading Harry Potter. The youth find again well-known symbols and myths, e.g. mystic numbers, ghosts, struggle between good and evil, transformation and invisibility, animals like dragons, owls, rats and mystic places like a dark wood, an old hut, secret passageways etc. But they discover or learn about new aspects of the mystic world by reading Harry Potter, e.g. the wish for never ending life, the philosopher’s stone, desire and craving, meaning of unicorn or the search for wisdom. They get new experiences and see some new aspects of their own life. These delicate net of myths and symbols woven in the books make they very exiting for adults, too.
Besides some new ideas, there are a lot of traditional symbols and myths with different origins and meanings. In this paper I am describing only the most important symbols and myths. I am going to explain the general meaning from history and the specific meaning in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Symbols are found in all cultures. From stone age to the present, symbols accompany the human development. They show as a part of human communication a concrete meaning, e.g. an owl is a bird hunting mice in the dark. But symbols often have contact with our psychic and spiritual world (Fontana 8). They carry a deeper inner meaning. So an owl is also a sign for wisdom but also for dark frightening power. Humanity uses symbols to express dynamic and creative power of its existence, especially basic and abstract characteristics like truth, justice, heroism, compassion, wisdom, courage and love (Fontana 13). To put symbols in concrete terms they are used in understandable context like fairy tales, legends and myths. So the symbol’s inner meaning comes into people’s consciousness and influence the personality development.
Myths are symbolic tales. They tell about Gods, people with supernatural skills or unusual events (Fontana 26). By myths a society tries to explain different aspects of the world, e.g. the creation of the earth, the death, the hierarchy of a society or the grain’s origin. “Myths contain profound truths about human existence, and therein lies their power.” (Houghton, John. A Closer Look at Harry Potter. <http://www.childrens
ministry.co.uk/html/f-harry-potter.htm>) Unfortunately, the knowledge’s development drives the myths away. But even in our modern and enlightened society we sometimes use myths to explain inscrutable things or events, e.g. unusual light phenomenons in the sky.
“It is obvious that the Harry Potter books are based on mythic structure. Harry, the hero…, enters a parallel world. There he begins his dark journey to face the shadow in his past, to deal with…the blessing and the curse of his origin…In the success of the hero the youth can find hope for their own uncertain path…If Harry cannot defeat evil, will evil prove to be the stronger force after all?” (Houghton, John. A Closer Look at Harry Potter. http://www.childrensministry.co.uk/html/f-harry-potter.htm)
The unbelievable success of Harry Potter shows that myths are alive and that they have an unspoilt appeal on people.
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