Thoughts on social distancing and isolation

I’m so sorry I haven’t written in so long; I took the blog offline for a while because I got a bit paranoid about people reading it and became completely convinced people I knew were reading it even though I hadn’t shared it with them.  I’ve since changed the domain name and *hopefully* if anyone was, then they won’t be able to find it now but I don’t know how they would have found it anyway and tbh, it was probably just me being over-paranoid anyway!

SO…back to blogging.  I’ve really missed it; it’s one of the only ways I can try to actually make sense of my brain in a way that other people can understand and maybe relate to, and I miss that connection.  Which is especially true now we’re in the middle of social distancing and self isolation!  It’s a weird and disconcerting time for everyone and I’m swinging between being kind of relieved that for once it’s not just me feeling lonely, anxious and guilty all the time but then feeling really guilty for thinking that and just generally overwhelmed by the whole situation- again, like most of the world!

It’s weird that in one sense, not much has really changed- I was signed off work for two weeks before lockdown started anyway and it’s not like I had a particularly active social life (or even one at all).  But I had school and it was the hope of going back to school that had kept me going while I was signed off, and the idea of schools closing before I could go back felt really horrible and disorientating.  I know that a massive proportion of the country are feeling similar with schools closed and exams cancelled, teachers are feeling disorientated and kids are stuck without the structure of school, and for many Year 11s and Year 13s, they didn’t even get a chance to ‘leave’ school properly.  So in the context of that, how I’m feeling really doesn’t even compare to how a lot of people will be feeling at the moment but for me, it was the loss of hope and possibility of structure, purpose and social contact that really got to me the most.  And it’s still so, so hard to deal with.  I’ve set up a website of fun activities, quizzes and puzzles for kids off school to try to keep them entertained and I’m updating it every day but it still doesn’t feel ‘real’ or like there’s any actual point to it.  Trying to focus on it as a distraction and purpose but it’s hard when I don’t know if any kids are actually using it!  It’s Purple Jedi Activities if anyone’s interested 🙂

It’s hard to work out what’s going on at the moment because before coronavirus took over the news and lockdown started, I was already having issues with medication, mood swings, anxiety and paranoia and the current situation really hasn’t helped.  It’s been going on for months- I started to feel rubbish again just before Christmas and it got progressively worse up till February when I kind of hit a massive low and just felt horrible, guilty and lonely all the time but so much that it hurt.  I had a couple of overdose attempts (which I’m rubbish at anyway- both times I panicked afterwards, tried to throw up, felt ill later and went to A+E) and have been having a lot of issues with mental health services recently because I “make people anxious” and it’s a “barrier to treatment” but I honestly don’t mean to and it’s making me feel so shit and trapped.  Long story; I ended up increasing medication to the point when I felt genuinely stoned and spun out all the time which wasn’t safe, was signed off work and have been trying to get the right balance of medication since then.  Currently on a mix of vortioxetine, quetiapine, pregabalin, lorazepam and zopiclone and trying to find the right amounts of each one so that I’m not too hyped, panicky or suicidal but can also function relatively OK day-to-day.  Really tough!!

But anyway, that’s just background :/ I think even without the Covid-19 situation, I’d be a bit all over the place atm but now it’s like the world has honestly gone nuts.  And for once it’s not just me!  It’s crazy to realise it’s a global issue and that the majority of the world is feeling scared, overwhelmed and anxious atm which is weirdly reassuring as well as a bit scary in itself.  For me, the hardest parts are the lack of structure which leads to feeling chaotic, ‘vertigo-y’ and like there’s no point, and the isolation which leads to intense loneliness and feeling cut off from everything.

One of the things I really struggle with is the idea that people will totally forget I exist if they don’t see me, and it’s so so hard not to keep contacting people I care about all the time to check.  And it’s SO BLOODY LONELY isolating on your own and not knowing when you can see a real person again.  I’m not a physical contact-type person but right now, I could really, really use a hug and I need it so much it actually hurts- my whole body is physically aching and tingling with anxiety and loneliness. And that must be a million times harder for people who are used to physical affection!

I realised recently that one of the main criteria for diagnosis of BPD is ‘fear of abandonment’ and being isolated on your own feeds into it- it really does feel like you’ve been abandoned by everyone and everything and I’m having to keep reminding myself that it’s a global situation and not just ‘me’- support groups stopped because they had to with social isolation not because they didn’t want me in the group, I’m not on the school rota v often because they’re limiting staff in school not because they don’t want me in, people aren’t messaging back because they’re overwhelmed and scared like everyone atm or busy with other things not because they hate me, social distancing was not introduced because I’m too intense and people need a break from me! I know it sounds over-dramatic, self-centred and ridiculous (which it is) and I know that rationally but it feeds into the main idea that people just don’t want you around which still really hurts and makes you feel rubbish.

One of the other criteria for BPD is ‘chronic feelings of emptiness’ which I’ve always referred to as ‘vertigo’ and it’s so, so intense at the moment without any real purpose or connection.  For me, that’s the part that leads to pretty much constant suicidal thoughts because there really is no point and I’m so scared people I’m close to will forget about me, and it’s so hard to manage.  But I can’t act on any of it atm anyway because I don’t want to put any extra pressure on the NHS by having to go to A+E so feeling really trapped and rubbish.  Which I’m trying to channel into more positive distraction but is leading to a lot of negative behaviours which I hate but tbh if it means I’m not overdosing or ending up in A+E then it’s not the end of the world.

The other overwhelming feeling atm is guilt.  Which tbh isn’t just atm- I feel guilty A LOT of the time anyway but it’s constant now and literally taking over most other feelings.  Part of it is justified- I know I can be too intense and needy and although I really try to manage it and not keep contacting people, I am still ‘too much’ when I talk to people because I honestly am feeling so horrible so much of the time and it’s hard not to let that show.  But I keep apologising and trying to let people have the choice if they let me contact them or not, but I still feel shit for being like this in the first place.  I really am trying to change it- I’m doing a lot of online courses in Food and Nutrition, Health and Social Care and some self-help courses for BPD which challenge viewpoints and behaviours but it seems to be taking a really long time to see any change at all which is frustrating and I just wanted to be a nicer, less draining person.  But at least one positive to social distancing is that people don’t have to put up with me in person any more!

One of the other issues I’m finding hard (and links to guilt) is feeling like everything is my fault.  This is something I’m challenging a lot atm- I know rationally that I am not all-powerful and I definitely didn’t start coronavirus or create the crisis that the world is in at the moment, but I still feel really, really guilty that people are dying all over the world and it feels like I should be doing more to stop it.  I’ve signed up for NHS volunteers and for social care volunteering but haven’t heard back yet, and I’m aware I’m a drain on NHS resources even without Covid-19 pressure which makes me feel really guilty.  I’ve been in touch with CMHT, ED services and the crisis team a lot over the last few weeks because I genuinely don’t feel safe in the house on my own, partly because of intense suicidal thoughts pretty much every night, partly because of medications making me feel stoned or spun out and partly because I’m still getting occasional extreme mood swings which can make me really impulsive.  But they can’t do much atm- they’re not admitting any new inpatients because of the pandemic and all they can really suggest is to keep a mood diary, have a crisis plan and take lorazepam which I’m doing but it still doesn’t feel safe a lot of the time.  But I’m still trying!!

The last issue I’m going to talk about here is the idea of feeling chaotic, out of control and scared which for me, is a big trigger for eating disordered behaviour which I’m trying SO HARD not to fall back into atm.  It’s taken 20 years and some v direct honesty from a couple of friends to get into a ‘healthy’ eating routine and I really, really don’t want to lose that.  So I’ve literally made a timetable to structure the day around a ‘school day’ with set mealtimes which I have to stick to.  And it feels so much safer because it’s not my ‘choice’ and apart from a couple of really horrible, chaotic days, I’ve pretty much managed to stick to it.  Will share it here in case anyone else finds it useful 🙂

 

But even though the world is chaos and scary, there have weirdly been some positive effects!  Which I’m trying to focus on and see as proof that things can change…

  1. Thanks to necessity for medical appointments, helplines and crisis calls, I can actually make and receive phone calls now without getting panicky!  Which is a HUGE thing for me.
  2. I have several friends who are amazing and some of whom put up with sometimes ridiculous texts or calls.  Several being a BIG change because before I’ve only managed to keep one or two friends at a time and now I have a few!  And I’m really trying to believe they won’t forget I exist just because I haven’t contacted them in a few days…
  3. Social media is not all paranoia and anxiety and with only close friends, can be an absolute lifeline.
  4. I can go to the supermarket only twice a week, buy more food at once without being convinced everyone will think I’m a greedy, lazy bitch and actually keep the food in the house without bingeing on all of it!!  Which, as someone who used to only be able to buy a day’s food at once, is a BIG change.  Mostly helped by my equally intense fear of germs meaning that I’m genuinely scared to go to the supermarket but I’m still taking it as a positive!
  5. I now wash my hands in a normalish way.  Which again is a big thing- I used to have to use 2-4 pumps of handwash and sometimes 2-4 more depending on if they ‘count’, and careful not to accidentally hit 13 overall so sometimes even more but now, thanks to restrictions on how much handwash you can buy, it’s 2 pumps ONLY and they both necessarily count.  And it’s amazing how much less anxiety I have now about washing my hands!
  6. I bought a weighted blanket to help with anxiety and needing a physical ‘hug’, and I’ve never slept so deeply in my life.  OK, it’s still not for very long and not always at night but it’s seriously amazing!
  7. Focussing on Jedi living is actually a lifesaver atm.  I won’t go into it too much now because I’m planning a whole post on it later on but there’s something really grounding about connecting with a Force greater than yourself and trying to really focus on quieting your mind and letting go of attachments and fear.  I know it might sound a bit weird but it honestly does really help.
  8. I have never spoken to my little cousins on FaceTime so much in my life (or ever, in fact)!  They’re all off school and bored atm and it’s so nice to connect with them, watch them play lego/do crafts/just hang out.  Living in England while they’re in Scotland means that sometimes I miss out on my little cousins growing up and it’s so nice to connect with them properly now.  Feels like I’m actually in Scotland with them!

Anyway, this post is a lot longer than I’d intended so will leave it here 🙂 REALLY hope everyone is managing OK and sending lots of hugs to anyone else self isolating on their own.  It really is hard and can feel like it’s never going to end but IT WILL and reach out to as many people as you can ❤

Yet another apology post!

Hi guys, just another apology post for not writing much recently! Not been feeling great and been a bit dissociated a lot of the time which hasn’t helped 😦 back to work next week though which I’m REALLY hoping will help…

Got a few blog posts which I’m halfway through writing though so will hopefully post properly again soon. I attempted a run across Scotland which was really tough and had to withdraw partway through so trying to write about that, and been doing a lot of thinking about ED, recovery and what it actually is (kind of following from the post I wrote last year Thoughts about ED recovery but probably more confused by now!) so also trying to make enough sense of it to write about that too.  Fingers crossed I’ll have a proper post written soon and thanks so much to anyone still reading this blog!

Day Two of Lent

Day two and still trying…!  I’m not going to detail every aspect of every day because I know that too many food details can be really triggering for people at any stage of ED recovery, and because I don’t want to affect anyone by talking about specific thoughts or behaviours.  So I’m going to focus on a few things each day that have been particularly challenging, useful or interesting.

Most of today’s been OKish which was a relief after the mega emotion swings yesterday.  Had to talk myself into eating a banana at break because it really is hard to make yourself eat something when you’re not hungry at all and it’s not a mealtime, but I kept reminding myself that I did it yesterday and survived, and it had actually had a positive effect on energy levels and mood during the day.  Felt horrible and shaky after it again but had to go straight into lesson which was a really good distraction again- I think school is a really good time to challenge new foods/behaviours because it really is a forced distraction/supervision!

Year 11 mocks meant that I had to work through lunch which completely threw me off track.  I had no idea what to do and the bitch in my head started reminding me that I didn’t have to eat it, I’d already had a banana so didn’t really need lunch as well, it would be really selfish and greedy to ask for time to eat etc and I started to feel sick and really, really guilty.  It was so hard to know what the best thing to do was, and I was trying to rationalise the bitch in my head by telling her that I had rules I needed to stick to, it’s only for six weeks and I won’t know if it works or not unless I fully commit to it and that I can always go back to my usual routine after Lent is over.  It was so exhausting having a pretty much constant brain argument all through the morning’s lessons and luckily the kids were doing an assessment so not too much concentration needed but felt really zoned out and nervous which wasn’t great in lessons.

It was a bit frustrating because I really did want to try to have beans on toast for lunch (since I’d chickened out and had porridge yesterday) and decided to compromise by eating the bread in between lessons three and four (ate it quickly in the toilets which took me straight back to being at school and eating cereals bars in the toilets at lunch; really need to work out a more ‘normal’ alternative to that!) which was ‘lunch’ then I had two oatcakes as well as yogurt when I got home to make up for it.  Which seemed to make sense rationally but the bitch in my head didn’t agree and started telling me how greedy and ridiculous I was being, and I felt guilty-sick and really edgy about it.  So I went for a walk to try to shut her up and calm down, which helped a bit.

Still felt really anxious when I was making tea and had a bit of a freak out about carbohydrates (I genuinely have no idea what constitutes a ‘meal’ and what a portion of carbohydrates actually is), and decide to compromise by having baked beans (one of my ‘safe’ foods) as carbs with fish and vegetables.  It was OK, mostly because all of them are relatively safe foods but the bitch in my head started up again when I came to eat the beans because I don’t really need that as well as the fish and it’s basically another meal which made me feel even more jittery and sick.  But I finished it because that’s the rules, and had a peppermint tea afterwards to try to ease the bloating feeling.  It hasn’t really worked though and I feel like I’ve put on about half a stone just since this morning.  Even though I know rationally that’s not possible, I’m feeling horrible and disgusting and wish I could vacuum off half my body just to feel more comfortable.  I think it maybe didn’t help that someone at work said I looked nice this morning and that I looked different somehow, and I know that probably means I’ve put on weight.  Hate it!!  I hate not knowing what’s happening with my weight but I’m even more scared to weigh myself- I haven’t known mu weight since 2009 (when it went over my then highest ever weight) and I’m really, really nervous of what it actually is.  Bitch in my head would probably kill me or something if she found out :/

Anyway, day two down and still managed not to binge!!  Seeing that as a mega positive at least.  Only 38 days to go… 🙈

National Poetry Day 2016

Yesterday was National Poetry Day in the UK and I forgot to post a poem, so posting one today which is partly influenced by the Bad Girls convention I went to last weekend and which I’m in the middle of writing a blog post about.  Hope you enjoy it!

“How does hate swing through fixation into love, or something like? So if she drives by in the
family car I want to part the traffic
like a sea for her-“
– ‘Clodia’, Tiffany Atkinson
 
There are times when the body
doesn’t make sense. A sudden heart-
jolt, stomach-swoop at the wrong time,
obsession you don’t want to start.
How does hate swing through fixation into love?
 
I know that I shouldn’t like her.
She’s so smart, strong, complex and free:
everything that I’m not. And yet
why do I need her to need me,
or something like? So if she drives by in the
 
pouring rain, I’m in the road, soaked.
She’s in the blueprint of my mind,
my default thoughts, pulling feelings
like gravity. If I’m behind
her family car I want to part the traffic.
 
It’s visceral; my blood beats with
emotions I don’t understand,
a vertigo of confusion.
Love-hate crashes like waves on sand,
like a sea for her.

Quick apology post!

Hi, just a quick post to apologise for the fact that I haven’t posted in months!  had a bit of a rubbish summer, decided to try to come off medication because I was fed up with the side effects and feeling rubbish for relying on drugs which really wasn’t a good idea and my mood started swinging from totally jittery-hyped to wanting to not exist on a nearly daily basis which was exhausting and nearly lost any friendships or close relationships I actually have.  So I’m taking them again and have just about settled back into ‘normal’ or whatever that means when you’re on high doses of psychiatric meds!  But I feel ‘real’ again, my mood’s more stable and I’m nowhere near as paranoid as I was over the summer so definitely a good thing.  And am hoping to get back on track with blogging!  Sorry again for disappearing off the face of the blogosphere 😉

Horcruxes

Just a short post today because my brain is frazzled, I’ve been awake pretty much consistently for the last four days, got up at 2am this morning and keep needing to remind myself where I am, why and what day it is!  Been a bit of a stressful week, feeling rubbish and getting meds withdrawals (on day five without them) so actually writing this feels like processing thoughts through peanut butter but I really want to get one last Harry Potter post in before the Cursed Child release at midnight tonight!!

So, Horcruxes.  I realise this is a bit of a random topic to write about but the more I’ve been thinking about the bitch in my head and how I’m trying to manage her constant arguments and influence, the more I’m realising that it’s closer to the concept of Horcruxes than I’ve ever thought about.  It’s taken a while to conceptualise the horrible thoughts, urges and brain arguments as anything other than just ‘me’ being a horrible person and for the last year or so, I’ve seen it as a ‘bitch in my head’ (see Inside my head… for a proper explanation about that) and she has direct access to my thoughts, feelings and urges which I need to identify and try to manage, and one of the ways I’ve found useful for that is through Occlumency and other strategies from Harry Potter which I wrote about in Mental Health Awareness Week 2016, Part One: HARRY POTTER.

Thinking about that made me realise that the bitch in my head is actually close to a Horcrux- a part of someone else’s soul which is evil and sometimes takes control of my thoughts and emotions in a way that I don’t like but, importantly, it ISN’T PART OF ME.  This is really, really important as a way of conceptualising it which has taken a long time to actually accept and try to believe- when I have paranoid, obsessive thoughts about other people or about myself, it doesn’t necessarily mean I’m a horrible person because I try really hard not to act on the thoughts/urges and I don’t want them in my head, and that means that there must be a ‘me’ outside of those thoughts/feelings/urges that ISN’T weird, obsessive or horrible and that’s the part I want to keep and is actually ‘me’.

Not sure if that makes sense?  I started to realise it after a conversation with a friend I’ve known for years but don’t get to meet up with that often, and who is someone I really look up to and trust.  We met for coffee a couple of months ago and she was talking about spirituality and the idea of a ‘still space’ inside you which is the part you need to connect with and that doesn’t judge or anything like that, and I really liked the concept even if I still don’t fully understand it.  When I knew her ten years ago, she recommended Paulo Coelho’s books which I read and loved, especially Veronika Decides to Die and Eleven Minutes which taught me that it’s OK to be different and not fit in, and that ‘normal’ is relative and actually conformity is the worst thing people can do because it goes against the natural ‘self’ and who you actually are.  There are so many amazing quotes from those books and I’ll list a few which I found really useful at that time (and still do now):

“You have two choices, to control your mind or to let your mind control you.”

“Haven’t you learned anything, not even with the approach of death? Stop thinking all the time that you’re in the way, that you’re bothering the person next to you. If people don’t like it, they can complain. And if they don’t have the courage to complain, that’s their problem.”  (THIS IS SO IMPORTANT AND TRUE!)

“We all live in our own world. But if you look up at the starry sky – you’ll see that all the different worlds up there combine to form constellations, solar systems, galaxies.”

“When I took the pills, I wanted to kill someone I hated. I didn’t know that other Veronikas existed inside me, Veronikas that I could love.”  (Kill the Horcrux, not yourself)

“At every moment of our lives, we all have one foot in a fairy tale and the other in the abyss.”

“That’s why I’m telling you: don’t get used to it, because it’s very easy to become habituated; it’s a very powerful drug. It’s in our daily lives, in our hidden suffering, in the sacrifices we make, blaming love for the destruction of our dreams. Pain is frightening when it shows its real face, but it’s seductive when it comes disguised as sacrifice or self-denial. Or cowardice. However much we may reject it, we human being always find a way of being with pain, of flirting with it and making it part of our lives.”  I’ve put part of this in bold because when I first read it aged 19, I could identify with it so strongly and wrote an intense diary entry about it which I’ve since lost which is maybe a good thing but I would be interested to re-read it.  Definitely worth a blog post at some point…

Having written out those quotes, I really want to re-read Paulo Coelho now and I think it deserves several blog posts of its own!  But the point I’m trying to get clear in my head is that ten years ago, the realisations I got from reading Paulo Coelho probably set the framework for the way I’m thinking about the bitch in my head and Horcruxes now, and it’s amazing how your thought processes can grow and develop over your lifetime.  The recent conversation with my friend (which was actually one of the first proper conversations I’ve had with her in ten years which is pretty incredible considering how much I’ve learned from her and how much she’s influenced how I view my life probably without even realising it) has helped to solidify it and she mentioned some more spirituality-type books which I’m going to read and hopefully be able to learn from…  I really like the idea of connecting with a part of ‘you’ which isn’t the obsessive, paranoid part and I think it’s similar to the way you sort of ‘zone out’ in a good way during long runs and get an amazing feeling of freedom and calm- trying to learn to manage that without having to run 40 miles first!

Sorry this is a bit of a rambling post, brain really not focussing clearly at the moment but I wanted to try to explore a bit the idea of Horcruxes and how Occlumency can be useful in trying to stop the direct access to thoughts and emotions.  It links to Paulo Coelho because it’s a lot like mindfulness- focussing on the present, trying to ‘close your mind’ to paranoid or obsessive thoughts, not fixating or focussing on them.  Harry uses mindfulness consciously in Deathly Hallows when he tries to stay fully ‘present’ as a way to stop Voldemort being able to access his mind and to manage pain or intense emotions that aren’t his own, and this is really useful to learn from and apply in a DBT-type way to managing thoughts or intense emotions from the bitch/Horcrux in your head.  Will try to expand on it when my brain’s a bit more functional but wanted to introduce it as a concept!  Hope at least some of it makes sense 🙂

Reality and consciousness in the Harry Potter series: another academic-type essay!

J.K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ series hinges around the final chapters of the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’- ‘The Forest Again’ and ‘King’s Cross’.   At the end of his conversation with Dumbledore in King’s Cross, Harry says to him, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”, to which Dumbledore replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.579). This exchange seems to epitomize the series as a whole and bring up one of the main questions- that of what is ‘real’ and what is illusory or imagined. In this essay, I am going to look at ideas around what ‘reality’ means in the world of J.K. Rowling’s novels, how that affects the identity of the characters and the series as a whole, and focus finally on the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter of the final book. I have included a brief synopsis of the series and characters as an endnote.

The most obvious aspect of the Harry Potter series relating to the concept of reality is the presentation of different ‘worlds’ throughout the series, which should be clarified before analyzing the series itself. This has been interpreted in various ways by different critics, and I am going to examine the different viewpoints and attempt to find examples to support the view that J.K. Rowling has created a ‘fantasy’ world which contains various sub-worlds representing different key themes and ideas in the novels.

The first, most obvious distinction is the difference between the world of the reader and the world of the novels. The world of the reader is experienced by the reader outside of the books and which shapes the concepts of reality and identity. For the purposes of the essay, I am going to assume an objective, external world, the experiences of which create a person’s unique perception and identity, and imagination which allows a person to ‘transcend’ the world they live in. The world of the novel is a creation in itself, and functions through the writing to form a world separate from the experiences of the external world.

The Harry Potter series is different to many other ‘fantasy’ (the word ‘fantasy’ is used loosely as J.K. Rowling does not consider her books to be ‘fantasy literature’ and they do not adhere to traditional fantasy guidelines) series as it portrays two worlds, magical and non-magical within the same global space. In the ‘Lord of the Rings’ series, Middle Earth is a new world in its own right, and in the Narnia series, Narnia is a separate world accessible only through ‘gateways’ from our world, whereas in the Harry Potter books, both worlds exist side by side. This leads to different problems relating to the ‘reality’ of the novels than other series as it requires a total suspension of disbelief. Because of this, I think it is important to distinguish between the world of the reader and world of the novels before looking at the novels themselves and their own concepts of reality.

In an essay called ‘Three Worlds’, Suman Gupta examines the idea of different worlds with the Harry Potter series. In a similar way to that which I have described, he writes that “The Harry Potter books play deliberately and self-consciously with three worlds: the Magic World, the Muggle world, and…our world”. His interpretation is slightly different, as he says in the next paragraph that “our world in implied through both these worlds”. I would argue that ‘our world’ is not “implied”- the fact that J.K. Rowling was a British novelist writing on Earth influenced her choice to set her ‘fantasy’ world in the U.K. rather than a conscious choice to imply aspects of ‘our world’, and the world of the novels he creates is separate from any implications. Rather than three ‘equal’ worlds, I think “our world” is equal to the world of the novels, and within that are the two sub-divisions of the “Magic world” and the “Muggle world” as it would be difficult to make a parallel from an external world to a fictional world without qualifying how it was created.

Gupta then discusses the “Muggle world” represented in the novels, and compares the Dursley household to “microcosm” of the Muggle world as a whole, saying that they are “bound to represent something general”. This is not necessarily true, as we see other Muggles in the novels such as Hermione’s parents who do not “shun” magic, even though they, like the Dursleys and most other Muggles, “desire to live in a causally explicable world” (Gupta, ‘Three Worlds’). Gupta describes the magic and Muggle worlds as “mutually definitive” as he writes that “The Muggle world that is presented exists as complementing the Magic world”. This is again not necessarily true- the reason we do not see as much of the Muggle world as the wizarding world is that we see events through Harry’s eyes, who is a wizard, which supports the view that J.K. Rowling is advocating the idea of reality existing from a ‘personal’ perspective, and that a person’s perceptions create their own identity and reality, which is linked to the idea of free will which I will explore in another section. The Muggle world is not “presented as though to draw the reader away from it and into the Magic world”; they are two separate but co-existing worlds within the world of the novel which necessarily interact as people inhabit both but have separate laws and customs, in a similar way to the way in which countries exist in the same ‘global space’ but are separate entities in themselves. Gupta’s point that the Muggle world acts as a “focalizing device” could be true in terms of the literary writing, but in terms of the worlds within the novel, they are not interdependent. Because they inhabit the same global space, they two worlds necessarily interact. An example of this is the chapter ‘The Other Minister’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ where the Minster for Magic, Cornelius Fudge, has a meeting with the Muggle Prime Minister because events happening in the wizarding world are affecting Muggles such as Dementors causing fog and mist in July and murders. This scene also shows the reaction of Muggles towards wizards- the Prime Minister says that “For a time he had tried to convince himself that Fudge had indeed been a hallucination”.

Some similar ideas are discussed in ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, by Travis Prinzi. In Chapter Two, he quotes J.K. Rowling as saying that the wizarding world is “a world within a world that you can see if you happen to belong”, which shows the idea that the wizarding world is a part of the world created within the novel, and is separate from the Muggle world (which is another aspect of that world) as you can only be a part of the wizarding world if you belong to it by having magical powers. Prinzi describes this as an “ontological break between the Wizarding and Muggle words” (Ch.2 ), which is true as “witches and wizards will never be Muggles, and Muggles will never be witches and wizards”. This view seems to fit the series better than Gupta’s argument, as the two worlds are portrayed as separate but parallel in the novels as opposed to interdependent. The concept of reality is complex because within the fictional world of the novel, it is important to distinguish between the Muggle and wizarding worlds which are equally ‘real’ and then it is possible to explore the issues of reality, illusion, imagination and identity within that world. Platform Nine and Three Quarters at King’s Cross station in London acts as a ‘way into’ the magical world, as only wizarding people know how to access the train that takes them from Muggle London to Hogwarts. Rubeus Hagrid’s answer to Harry’s question about finding wizarding place is London of “If yeh know where to go” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.53) illustrates the parallel worlds of Muggle and magical.

Another important theme to consider when looking at problems of reality and consciousness in the Harry Potter series is the link between consciousness and reality. For John Locke, the ‘self’ comes directly from consciousness and this forms the basis of his concept of personal identity, which is that a person’s thoughts and actions constitute the identity of that person. He distinguishes personal identity as different from identity in general as he sees ’humans’ (or physical bodies) as separate to ‘people’ as he thinks that the term ‘human’ refers to another biological animal whereas a ‘person’ has an identity of their own different to the identity of animals and plants, which is defined in physical terms. He does not, as Aristotle and Descartes state, think that personal identity is the same as the soul because for him, a soul is another substance. Instead, he concentrates on the question of how the idea of personal identity can relate to being a human. He defines person as distinct to simply human as it encompasses the idea of reason and the power to be conscious of itself through time, which is different to simply being able to think. He also seems to link this idea with memory as he says “memory or consciousness of past actions”, and equates this with the idea of the ‘self’ as that of which a person is conscious which persists through time.

As a contrast, David Hume thought that there could be no innate personal identity. Being an empiricist, he agreed with Locke that a person sees themselves as the same person they experienced at a time in their memory, but instead of drawing the conclusion that there is an intrinsic personal identity, he says that the sense of personal identity is caused by the memory rather than depending on it. He argued in a similar way to Heraclitus that everything changes, and so do people. For him, the idea that a person is the same as they were in a time that they remember is caused by the fact that they remember, not an identity proved by memory. His argument has been called the “bundle theory”, because he sees people as ‘bundles’ of properties. Unlike Locke’s concept of ‘properties’, for Hume this encompasses everything about a human, including their thoughts, feelings and experiences, which are not necessarily linked, and therefore cannot constitute a personal identity. What we perceive to be a ‘self’ is really just a collection of experiences and ideas which make up a human being; there is no intrinsic ‘I’.

This is interesting to explore in the context of the Harry Potter novels because of the relation between Harry and Voldemort’s identities. In ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’, Harry has a series of dreams and visions in which he ‘sees’ places he has never been to and feels emotions unrelated to how he is feeling at the time which he realizes are linked to Voldemort. From Locke’s view, the fact that he is having the same consciousness as Voldemort would mean that he has Voldemort’s identity at those times since his feelings, experiences and consciousnesses are those of Voldemort. This view does not fit the novels, since J.K. Rowling writes explicitly about souls and their importance to personal identity, which I will examine in another section. Locke’s view is interesting in looking at the way in which Voldemort uses the connection between his and Harry’s minds to control and influence his thoughts. Near the end of the book, he plants a vision in Harry’s mind that his godfather, Sirius, is being tortured in the Department of Mysteries. Harry takes this to be true and according to Locke’s view this would be true for him at the time because he is conscious of ‘seeing’ and experiencing that at the time even though it is not happening in the reality of the novel.

In an essay called ‘Why Won’t Voldemort Just Die Already: What Wizards can teach us About Personal Identity’, Jason T. Eberl writes about the concept of Harry and Voldemort sharing consciousnesses. He observes that “At the time of each experience, they share the same consciousness and will have the same memory of the event…Thus, since for Locke and Hume consciousness and memory are the foundation of personal identity, the conclusion apparently follows that Harry and Voldemort are one and the same person when they share these experiences” (‘Harry Potter and Philosophy’, Ch.15). This raises several problems, both in the context of the novels and in the context of personal identity. Eberl goes on to argue that since they only share their consciousnesses at certain moments in time, they are not truly identical because, according to Leibniz, “for any two things to be identical, they must share all and only the same properties”, whereas Harry and Voldemort have different memories and experiences of other events.

J.K. Rowling uses the idea of illusion in her writing. Since the novels are (mainly) written from Harry’s perspective, the reader sees events from Harry’s point of view which can be flawed and since we do not see all the events in the novel, we are often given a false impression. The main example of this is the portrayal of Severus Snape. In the first book, Harry (and the reader) believes that Snape is trying to kill him whereas in reality it was another wizard. This is a microcosm of the series as a whole, where the reader is presented scenes in which Snape would appear to be working for Lord Voldemort. In the fourth and fifth books, we see Snape working for Dumbledore in the Order of the Phoenix, but Harry (and the readers through Harry’s eyes) does not trust him. At the beginning of the sixth book, we see what appears to be Snape showing his “true allegiance” when he makes an Unbreakable Vow to help fulfil Lord Voldemort’s orders. Bellatrix voices the reader’s doubts when she says “Oh, he’ll try, I’m sure…the usual empty words, the usual slithering out of action” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, Chapter Two) but the final paragraph of the chapter seems to convince both her and the reader: “Bellatrix’s astounded face glowed red in the blaze of a third tongue of flame, which shot out of the wand, twisted with the other, and bound itself thickly around their clasped hands, like a rope, like a fiery snake.” Through the novel, we see Snape working both for Dumbledore and for Voldemort which increases the ambiguity of where his allegiance is but the scene near the end of the novel seems to confirm the suspicions from the beginning where Snape kills Dumbledore. The ambiguity is extended through Rowling’s writing as Snape and other Death Eaters face Dumbledore, and then the line “Snape gazed for a moment at Dumbledore, and there was revulsion and hatred etched in the harsh lines of his face” (HBP, Ch.27) sets up the killing of Dumbledore. In the end, the reader discovers that Dumbledore had planned his death at the hands of Snape to fulfil part of a ‘greater plan’, which introduces one of the main (but unknown until the final chapters) themes of the series- that nothing happens independently and everything is part of a larger plan. This implies that there is a greater ‘reality’ than the external world Harry lives in, which will be explored in the King’s Cross chapter.

A subject closely related to ideas about consciousness and identity is that of dreams linked to desires. After Harry has discovered the Mirror of Erised, which shows “what is the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.12), Dumbledore reminds him that “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live”, which is another common theme in the books. The symbolism of mirrors in significant in the series because they represent more than just reflecting appearances and reflect aspects of characters.

The Mirror of Erised is a good example of this. Dumbledore tells Harry that the Mirror reflects “neither knowledge nor truth” and that “men have wasted away before it…not knowing if what it shows is real or even possible”(‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.157). The mirror represents an illusion which confuses the perception of reality and allows human greed and ambition to overtake reason. An essay called ‘”Interpret Your Findings Correctly” Harry’s Magical Self-Discovery’ by David Jones from the book ‘Hog’s Head Conversations’ edited by Travis Prinzi examines this idea further. He describes the mirror as a “means for manipulating the senses” (‘Hog’s Head Conversations’, p.193) which is interesting because it brings up both the idea that mirrors do not represent truth and the idea that the senses are not totally reliable, which is relevant in the context of this essay because questioning the validity of the senses is linked to how we perceive the external world. Although Harry knows that what he sees in the mirror cannot be ‘real’, it becomes an obsession for him and he returns several times before he is stopped by Dumbledore. The idea of desire overtaking reason or possibility can also be seen in his (and others’) obsessive thoughts about the pursuit of the Deathly Hallows in Book 7, where the search for the three objects that ‘conquer death’ consumes all his thoughts and has consumed the thoughts of Dumbledore, Voldemort and others before them. It again brings up the question of whether ‘death’ is an inevitable part of human life which is questioned throughout the series or whether, as Dumbledore says in King’s Cross, “Of course this is happening inside your head” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.579) and all that exists is illusory. Jones writes that “The mirror distorts reality by reflecting fantasy back to its subject” (p.194) and the mirror can be seen as a symbol that hints towards the idea that reality is not necessarily ‘real’ and what is seen through the senses can be ‘distorted’.

The concept of imagination is very important when thinking about reality and illusion. In an article called ‘Kant and Coleridge on Imagination’, Robert D. Hume outlines Kant’s concepts of reality and the cognitive process. He writes that “’Reality’ Kant defines as a category of the Understanding” which implies that ‘reality’ for an individual is related to the way in which the external world is perceived or interpreted subjectively. This would seem to fit with Dumbledore’s reply in King’s Cross that “Of course it is happening inside your head” if everything we experience is interpreted subjectively, and “why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” reflects the idea that reality comes from our ‘Understanding’.

Later on in the article, Robert D. Hume says that “Imagination…is then the very ground of our having a world of experience at all, for without its mediation between Sensibility and Intellect there could be no applications of categories to possible objects of experience”, which shows how important the imagination is in the formation of our experience of the external world. J.K. Rowling creates a fantasy world which engages the imagination in a way similar to that of Kant’s “free-play” of the imagination (‘Critique of Judgement’), which in turn allows a reader to reflect on the events within a created world objectively.

An essay called ‘The Well-Ordered Mind: How Imagination Can Make Us More Human’ by Travis Prinzi from ‘Hog’s Head Conversations’ examines different ideas about imagination in relation to the Harry Potter novels. He begins the essay by describing the moral imagination of Russell Kirk, which he explains as the idea that “the imagination has the power to change ourselves and the world around us for the better” (‘Hog’s Head Conversations’, p.103) which again brings up the idea that imagination of different for each person and, in this context, can influence people’s individual worlds. He quotes J.K. Rowling’s usage of a Plutarch quotation in a speech: “What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality” and this seems to be another motivation for the events of the Harry Potter novels- Harry’s choice to sacrifice himself and, as Prinzi points out, purify his soul leads to his ‘reincarnation’ and Voldemort’s downfall. Morality is an important part of the Harry Potter series and can be epitomized in Minerva McGonagall’s reply to a Death Eater that her priority is “the difference between truth and lie, courage and cowardice” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, p.477). The emphasis on morality again seems to point to a ‘greater reality’, which is implied throughout the novels.

In ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, Dumbledore refers to “the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wild guesswork” (p.187) which seems to illustrate the way in which memory is depicted in the novels. Memory is an important idea in all seven books, and we are first introduced to it in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ where we are told that Harry’s first memory is a flash of green light which we later discover was the curse the Lord Voldemort used on him as a baby. The idea of memory becomes more significant in ‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’. The diary of Tom Riddle contains memories “recorded…in a more lasting way than ink” (‘Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets’, p.179). When Riddle comes out of the diary, he describes himself as “A memory…Preserved in a diary for fifty years.” (p.227). Unlike a ghost, he is a “tall, black-haired boy…strangely blurred around the edges…not a day older than sixteen”(p.227) whose existence depends on the diary; when Harry destroys it, Riddle’s ‘memory’ is also destroyed. Later in the series, we discover that the diary was a Horcrux where Lord Voldemort (Tom Riddle) had hidden a part of his soul which took the form of memory when it came out of the diary’s pages. By linking the ideas of soul and memory, Rowling is implying that a person’s soul or identity depends at least partly on their memories which is consistent with John Locke’s view of personal identity.

The main way in which memories occur in the novels is through the use of the Pensieve. Dumbledore explains to Harry that “One simply siphons off the excess thoughts from one’s mind, pours them into the basin, and examines them at one’s leisure. It becomes easier to spot patterns and links”. Harry is able to experience these memories firsthand by going into the Pensieve, which makes Locke’s view problematic because he is experiencing and having consciousness of something from Dumbledore’s mind and following Locke’s argument, this would mean that he has taken on Dumbledore’s identity. This seems to contradict the link between memory and soul made in the second book, unless memories do not necessarily entail the idea of souls. Voldemort’s Horcruxes are unusual (Dumbledore describes them as ‘beyond the usual evil’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), and most memories might not be linked directly to the soul of the person they belong to, which could account for examples such as memory loss or unreliable memories.

An example of unreliable memory comes from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’. Harry witnesses a memory from Horace Slughorn in which Tom Riddle asked about Horcruxes and Slughorn refused to answer. Dumbledore tells Harry that is has been edited, because “He has tried to rework the memory to show himself in a better light” (p.348) and when Harry manages to get the true memory out of Slughorn, he realizes that the actual conversation was much longer and more complex than the first memory had shown. This example illustrates how memories do not necessarily reflect reality, and the consequences of their subjectivity.

In his essay, Jason Eberl discusses Hume’s concept of memory forming the basis of personal identity. He writes that “Hume would caution Harry to remain skeptical of the story that others had relayed to him since he has no perception of it that he can link by memory to his present perceptions” (‘Harry Potter and Philosophy’, p.204) since Hume, unlike Locke, relies on memory rather than present consciousness to form the concept of ‘self’.

One of the fundamental ideas of the Harry Potter series is the idea of souls and the relation between souls and identity. The first book to explore this idea in detail is the sixth book in the series, ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, although there are allusions to the concept throughout the novels. The first detailed reference is when Harry witnesses Slughorn’s memory of Riddle asking about Horcruxes and the concept of splitting the soul is introduced. Slughorn describes Horcruxes as “the word used for an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul” (p.464) which would prevent a person from dying because “even if one’s body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for the part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged”. This raises interesting questions about identity and whether is it linked to the soul or to consciousness. In ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Remus Lupin explains to Harry that “You can exist without your soul, you know, as long as your brain and heart are still working. But you’ll have no sense of self anymore, no memory, no….anything. There’s no chance at all of recovery. You’ll just exist. As an empty shell” which illustrates the importance of the soul in the context of the Harry Potter novels.

When Dumbledore explains his theory about Voldemort’s Horcruxes to Harry, he says that “Lord Voldemort had seemed to grow less human with the passing years, and the transformation he had undergone seemed to me to be only explicable if his soul was mutilated beyond the realms of what we might call usual evil…” (p.475), and this seems to suggest that Voldemort’s identity as a human being had been damaged with each Horcrux, which implies that personal identity is linked to the soul. Another example of this idea in shown in ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, the use of the Resurrection Stone caused the person to return “separated…as by a veil” (p.332). The idea of a veil separating life and death is illustrated in the chapter ‘Beyond the Veil’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” where Harry can hear voices coming from behind a veil in an archway in the Department of Mysteries but cannot reach them, and when Sirius is killed, his body falls through the veil. In the Harry Potter series, life and death are separate worlds and once the soul passes “through the veil”, it cannot return. This again supports the idea that personal identity come from the soul, although this idea is flawed in that it relies on the existence of the soul. This is partly because the Harry Potter series, like the Narnia series, uses Christian allegories and ideas which is seen particularly in the end of the seventh book in the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter, and suggests the idea of a greater ‘reality’ past the external world.

Near the end of the seventh book, we discover that Harry himself is a Horcrux and that part of Voldemort’s soul “lodged itself” in his body when Voldemort tried to kill him as a baby. This again raises questions about Harry’s identity and whether the traits he shares with Voldemort by virtue of having part of his soul (such as speaking Parseltongue and being able to see events literally from Voldemort’s perspective) would mean that he really does share a part of Voldemort’s identity. I think that main aspect to look at with this question is not whether Harry has taken on Voldemort’s identity, but where Voldemort’s true identity is. If, as Dumbledore says, Voldemort has become so far from human that he cannot be called a human any longer (in first chapter of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, he says “I am much, much more than a man”) then the concept of personal identity might not apply to him in the same way. If he has ‘damaged his soul’ so much that it is so ‘unstable’ that it no longer has a true identity, then his ‘identity’ would be with his consciousness but it would not be the same as true personal identity.

In his chapter ‘Dehumanization: Defining Evil in Harry Potter’ from ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, Travis Prinzi writes that “The “soul” points to an origin and identity beyond ourselves, beyond this present life” whereas Voldemort “believes precisely the opposite: that his goal in life is to remain alive eternally and never to face death”(p.75). This again alludes to the Christian elements in the Harry Potter series and implies that there is another world after this one- as Dumbledore says “To the well-organised mind, death is but the next great adventure (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, p.215). Prinzi uses some interesting quotations from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ to illustrate his argument. “A Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being” again shows the idea that Voldemort has become so far from human that he no longer exists as a man and “If I picked up a sword right now…I wouldn’t damage your soul at all…whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched” which shows the metaphysical nature of the soul and how it can survive beyond the external world. Ironically, in trying to create an eternal identity for himself, Voldemort has destroyed his ‘self’, both literally and metaphorically. When Dumbledore first met him as Tom Riddle at ten years old, he did not like the name ‘Tom’ because “There are a lot of Toms” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, p.257) and he later re-creates himself as Lord Voldemort, showing how he wants to be unique and ‘extraordinary’, but in the Harry Potter universe, there appears to be a ‘greater reality’ hinted at which makes this impossible. In ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Dumbledore explains to Harry that “Of house elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing…That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped” (p.568) which shows partly the true nature of the ‘greater reality’, although not its whole nature.

The concept of time in the Harry Potter series is different to that of the Narnia chronicles because of the fact that the wizarding world occupies the same global space as the Muggle world. Narnian time is totally different to the human world, whereas the wizarding and Muggle worlds interact and function in the same space and time, although there are parts of the wizarding world that Muggles cannot access. This shows that the ‘reality’ of the world within the novels encompasses both the magical and Muggle worlds. Dumbledore’s remark “Time is making fools of us again” from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’ unconsciously points to a theory of time separate from the external world. The use of the time-turner in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ introduces the concept of time-travel. In an essay called ‘Space, Time, and Magic’, Michael Silberstein uses scientific explanations of time and the possibility of time travel to show how it can be possible, and how it works in the context of the Harry Potter novels. He explains the difference between a ‘tensed’ and ‘tenseless’ view of time, and demonstrates that only a tenseless view of time, where “past, present and future are all equally real” in a four-dimensional universe allows the possibility of time travel, and this is the current scientific view of the universe. Time is relative, just as ‘place’ is relative. He uses the idea of a ‘block’ to describe this concept, and writes that “The events of your birth and death, just like Paris and Hong Kong, are equally real, the just exist at different space-time points”. In this way, use of the time turner in ‘Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban’ is scientifically ‘valid’, although Rowling creates a ‘causal loop’ because, although Harry and Hermione do not change events that have already happened, the outcome depends on the start and vice versa- explained by Silberstein as “(A) Harry was saved from the Dementors because he travelled back in time and saved himself and (B) Harry was able to travel back in time because he saved himself”.

Silberstein’s essay was written before the sixth and seventh books were published, and it is interesting to look at the events in ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ alongside this view of time to try to determine the nature of the Harry Potter universe. When Harry enters the forest to be killed by Voldemort, he knows that “Of course there had been a bigger plan” (p.555) and the Dumbledore had ‘planned’ his life to defeat Voldemort. The question of prophecy and determinism has already been shown in the series by the prophecy made seventeen years ago that a baby born that summer would be the person to defeat Voldemort, and Voldemort “marked” Harry as a baby which fulfilled part of the prophecy and in that way affected Harry’s fate. Because Voldemort chose to believe the prophecy, he created his own fate while believing that it was determined, in a similar way to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. This is illustrated when Dumbledore explains to Harry that “Voldemort singled you out as the person who would be most dangerous to him- and in doing so, he made you the person most dangerous to him!” (‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’, p.476). As a contrast, Harry chooses to sacrifice himself whereas he could have chosen to abandon Dumbledore’s plan. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, John Granger writes that “He embraces the necessary conformity to the Divine Will” (p.113), which implies that Harry has no choice over what Dumbledore has planned, but this is not necessarily true although the reader cannot know whether Harry could choose not to sacrifice himself even though he seems to choose to.

When Voldemort kills Harry, he seems to be transported to somewhere outside of time and space. Once he realizes he is there, he describes it as “A long time later, or maybe no time at all” (Dh, p.565) which suggests that he is outside the usual constraints of time. This can be interpreted in several way, but the two main interpretations could be that either, as explained by Silberstein, time is relative and he is in a ‘space’ where he cannot relate the ‘local time’ to time that he understands, or that he is in a timeless place, which would be consistent with a religious reading of the series (which is the ‘usual’ interpretation, although I am going to focus on the ‘time’ and reality aspect) where the space he is in represents purgatory. When “it came to him that he must exist, must be more than disembodied thought” (p.565), he looks around the place, describing it as “unformed nothingness” (p.565) which implies that it is not part of the same ‘universe’ that he had previously been in . This is confirmed by the fact that “His body appeared unscathed…He was not wearing glasses any more” (p.565) and by the appearance of Dumbledore, “whole and white and undamaged” (p.566). During their conversation, Harry begins to realize that he is not dead, although he is not in the ‘real world’, which leads to the question of the prophecy: “I live…while he lives?…I thought it was the other way round…we both had to die? Or is it the same thing?” (p.568) which seems to call into question the nature of reality, life and death in the Harry Potter novels. Dumbledore said in the first book of the series that “No spell can reawaken the dead” and so Harry cannot be ‘dead’, but he is not in the ‘real’ universe. Dumbledore’s final words to Harry, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (p.579) question this idea even more, but also seem to clarify the chapter a bit more. The concept of reality in the Harry Potter novels seems to relate directly to the concept of ‘self’, since Harry realizes in the King’s Cross chapter that “he must exist” (p.565) and ‘existence’ in that sense is defined as ‘embodiment’, and so Harry identifies ‘himself’ with his body and therefore an external world. There is also the concept of an ‘ultimate reality’ shown in King’s Cross and Dumbledore, if it is not totally ‘inside Harry’s head’.

It is interesting to compare the Harry Potter universe to the ideas of Baruch Spinoza. Spinoza was a determinist who thought that God is an integral part of the universe- God and Nature are in essence the same concept. The external world is a ‘mode’ or part of God, which led him to conclude that thought and extension must also be features of God, and men are not truly ‘free’ as they are modes of God. This could be associated to the Harry Potter series if Dumbledore is seen as God, because ultimately he has ‘preordained’ the events of Harry’s life and Voldemort’s downfall. He also ‘controlled’ his own death, although a curse from the Horcrux was already killing him. This does not totally correlate because Harry does seem to ‘choose’ his own fate which is acknowledged by Dumbledore in King’s Cross, but this view of the world makes the situation of (and in) King’s Cross a bit clearer. The existence of a ‘space’ outside of the Harry Potter universe shows that there is the possibility of something outside of the external reality. There are conflicting views of the King’s Cross chapter, but the main ideas seem to be that either King’s Cross is a religious analogy of purgatory or that King’s Cross exists only in Harry’s head and that he does not really die. Both readings are possible and it would be impossible to rule either out. In the context of the themes of the Harry Potter novels and the symbolism of the final books, the first view seems more likely although Dumbledore’s comment seems to suggest the second. Both views could be correct if ‘purgatory’ takes place inside Harry’s mind, and it would be hard to ‘place’ somewhere outside of the external universe. An argument to support the view that it only happens in Harry’s mind is posited by John Granger in ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, where he writes that Dumbledore does not tell Harry anything that he does not already know, and he comes to the conclusion that the exchange could take place in Harry’s unconscious mind which does seem to be a logical conclusion. For Granger, the key to the series is the difference between relativism and materialism, which is interesting to look at in relation to Kant.

Kant’s account of intuition in ‘The Critique of Pure Reason’ is relevant in looking at the nature of ‘King’s Cross’ (it appears to Harry as King’s Cross station, which links back the motif of the station as a link between worlds shown from the first novel with ‘Platform Nine and Three Quarters’ acting as a gateway to the magical world). Kant believed that there are certain a priori intuitions that can provide a structure for our a posteriori knowledge. For him, space can be known as both synthetic and a priori because it cannot be known from outside experience because experiences reflect space rather than direct experience of space itself. He also argues that space cannot be analytic because it is not innately known as it does not solely depend on terms or concepts, and therefore it must be both synthetic and a priori, and so must also be subjective as a condition of intuition. Kant’s version of the Copernican revolution states that the world must fit our perceptions as we cannot know the nature of ‘things in themselves’, and this is interesting in the context of the ‘King’s Cross’ chapter. Since, by Kant’s definitions, space is subjective, Harry could be in a ‘space’ that exists only for him and therefore the encounter with Dumbledore could be classified as ‘real’ even though it takes place only for him. The idea that the world fits our perceptions is useful in examining this idea, because it allows that Harry has synthetic knowledge of Dumbledore and King’s Cross without having to experience it a posteriori. In comparison to Kant’s argument, the exchange between Harry and Dumbledore begins to seem more ‘real’ and it shows how a different interpretation of the chapter can allow it to have a new form of ‘reality’.

These ideas seem to suggest that, although Harry’s sense of reality is mainly subjective, the Harry Potter universe seems to follow Kant’s writings that although we interpret the world subjectively and form our own ‘ideas’, there is an objective reality that is the subject of interpretation, and an objective ‘self’ that constitutes the mind that interprets the perceptions. The ‘King’s Cross’ chapter seems to work well with a Kantian reading, and this helps to understand more clearly the nature of reality in the Harry Potter series.

Endnotes

Synopsis of the Harry Potter series:

In the 1970s, a man formerly known as Tom Riddle renames himself as Lord Voldemort and becomes the most powerful Dark wizard of all time. He gains followers known as Death Eaters and they terrorize and kill many of the wizarding community. In order to protects himself from death, he splits his soul into seven parts and hides each in an inanimate object known as a Horcrux. In 1980, a prophecy is made to Albus Dumbledore, the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the only man that Voldemort fears, that a baby born will been born in July who will have powers to rival the Dark Lord. This is overheard by one of Voldemort’s spies, and Voldemort marks Harry Potter, a baby born to wizarding parents who are fighting Voldemort’s forces as his rival. After the Potters are betrayed by one of their friends, he attacks and kills Harry’s parents and tries to kill Harry as well. The curse rebounds on Voldemort, whose body is destroyed but he lives on due to the Dark powers that prevent him from being killed while his Horcruxes are intact. Harry grows up and goes to Hogwarts at 11. In his fourth year, Lord Voldemort rises again and focuses on trying to kill Harry. No-one apart from Dumbledore realizes that a part of Voldemort’s soul is now inside Harry from his attempt to kill him as a baby, and Voldemort uses this connection to control Harry’s thoughts. A former Death Eater but now a member of the Order of the Phoenix (a secret society set up to defeat Voldemort) called Severus Snape protects Harry while still at school, and acts as a double agent after Voldemort’s return to power. Voldemort continues to terrorize the magical and Muggle (non-magical) communities and Dumbledore tries to find and destroy the Horcruxes. He is cursed by one of them, and asks Snape to kill him to protect the soul of a student-turned Death Eater who Voldemort has ordered to kill Dumbledore. Before he dies, Dumbledore leaves instructions with Harry to destroy the Horcruxes and Voldemort. In the final book, Harry finds out through Snape’s memory that since he has part of Voldemort’s soul inside him, in order for Voldemort to die, he must be killed my Voldemort to destroy the Horcrux inside him. He sacrifices himself to Voldemort in a forest, but because of the nature of the sacrifice, does not die and has an encounter with Dumbledore in a timeless ‘place’ that he experiences as King’s Cross. He returns to the Forest and duels Voldemort, eventually killing him. Since all the Horcruxes are now destroyed, Voldemort finally dies and the Death Eaters flee.

 

 

 

Bibliography

Baggett, David and Klein, Shawn E. (editors). Harry Potter and Philosophy, Open Court

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey, New World Library

Colbert, David. The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, Penguin

Fraim, John. Symbolism of Place, http://www.symbolism.org

Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Zossima Press

Granger, John. Harry Potter’s Bookshelf, Penguin

Gupta, Suman. Re-Reading Harry Potter, Palgrave

Heilman, Elizabeth E. (editor). Harry Potter’s World, Routledge

Hume, David. A Treatise on Human Nature, Penguin Classics

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Reason, Penguin Classics

Kant, Immanuel. The Critique of Judgement, Penguin Classics

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, Harper Collins Publishers

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins Publishers

Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Oxford World Classics

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination, Zossima Press

Prinzi, Travis (editor). Hog’s Head Conversations, Zossima Press

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury

Whited, Laura (editor). The Ivory Tower and Harry Potter, University of Missouri Press

 

The Forbidden Forest: The symbolism of forests through folklore and storytelling behind J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series

***This is an essay I wrote at uni years ago; thought it would fit with the Harry Potter-themed posts I’m sharing this week!***

In an interview in 2008, J. K. Rowling said “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest… it is the last truth of the story”. Forests have been an important symbol in folklore from ancient mythology to modern fantasy and in this essay, I am going to examine the meanings behind their symbolism and how they have been used in different forms of storytelling leading up to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

Forests played an important part in ancient mythology, and in particular in the Greek, Celtic and Native American mythologies. In Ancient Greece, they were the home of Dryads, or wood nymphs, who lived in the trees. The word ‘Dryad’ comes from the Greek ‘drys’ meaning oak although the word is used to describe nymphs from different types of trees, each species of which has its own different nymph. As well as spirits living in trees, they are seen as semi-divine as they are spirits of nature which played a very important role in the belief system of almost all ancient civilizations. In a ‘Dictionary of Greek and Roman Biography and Mythology’, William Smith writes that “The early Greeks saw in all the phenomena of ordinary nature some manifestation of the deity; springs, rivers, grottoes, trees, and mountains, all seemed to them fraught with life; and all were only the visible embodiments of so many divine agents. The salutary and beneficent powers of nature were thus personified, and regarded as so many divinities; and the sensations produced on man in the contemplation of nature, such as awe, terror, joy, delight, were ascribed to the agency of the various divinities of nature”, which could also be applicable to other ancient civilizations.

The forest is associated with change and cycles because of the changing of the seasons, which is described in John Fraim’s ‘Symbolism of Place’ as “the time aspect of place symbolism”. This illustrates the idea that time is relative, and that for ancient civilizations, time is cyclical and dependent of the seasons and natural phenomena rather than the human constructions of clocks and watches. In Greek mythology, Demeter was the goddess of the harvest and the seasons. When her daughter Persephone was taken to the underworld by Hades, she stopped the movements of the Earth while she searched for Persephone, and life on Earth began to die because of the lack of seasons. Zeus ordered Persephone’s return which led to the emergence of spring and the four seasons. This myth illustrates the importance of the cycles of nature and ‘natural time’ as opposed to constructed, which was the view held by the ancient civilizations. Trees also play an important part in the cycle of life on Earth as they produce oxygen needed to breathe, which also adds to their importance in the natural world.

The forest is a key feature of Celtic mythology due to the landscape of Celtic countries such as Scotland, Wales and Ireland. The Celts believed that there was an ‘Otherworld’ governed by deities and other supernatural beings such as fairies and spirits which existed in the same spatial world as mortals but had a different concept of time. In Celtic myths, this enchanted space was often portrayed in forests as they symbolized Nature, or Mother Earth. Each tree had different connotations, which shows how important tree and forest symbolism was in Celtic mythology.   J.K. Rowling draws on these associations with the different woods that make up the wands in the Harry Potter series. Harry’s wand is made of holly, which is associated with life and protection whereas Voldemort’s wand is made of poisonous yew. The elder wand from ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’ represents sorrow and death as well as rebirth and renewal, which is significant because of the way Harry’s battle against Voldemort can be seen as illustrating the ancient view of time as cyclical as Harry’s ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ lead to a new beginning in the Wizarding world.

Bruno Bettelheim writes in ‘The Uses of Enchantment’ that “Since ancient times the near-impenetrable forest in which we get lost has symbolized the dark, hidden, near-impenetrable world of our unconscious” (‘Uses of Enchantment’, p.94) which is the way in which he interprets the frequent use of the forest as a fairytale setting. He uses the act of a fairy tale hero entering a forest “with an as yet undeveloped personality” and coming out with “a much more highly-developed humanity” (p.94-5) to symbolize “the need to find oneself” (p.217). This follows Carl Jung’s analysis of fairy tales showing that certain ‘archetypes’ shown in fairy tales illustrate forms of the collective unconscious which is “identical in all individuals” (‘Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious’, p.43). The idea of the collective unconscious does seem to fit with the way in which some fairy tales are common to many different cultures although they vary dependent on differing worldviews. For example, the Native American myths often describe the four elements, the seasons and the Great Spirit in Nature whereas Ancient Greek myths involve various deities and heroes. All traditional cultures seem to have accepted the idea of an ‘ultimate reality’ but it is interpreted in different ways. According to ‘A Dictionary of Symbols’ by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, “Forest-symbolism…is connected at all times levels with the symbolism of the female principle or of the Great Mother…since the female principle is identified with the unconscious in Man, it follows that the forest is also a symbol of the unconscious”, which links the ideas of the forest as Nature and Mother Earth and Jung’s analysis of the unconscious.

In an essay called ‘Transformations of the Fairy Tale in Contemporary Writing’ from ‘A Companion to the Fairy Tale’, Tom Shippey writes fairy tales are “set against a background of forests and peasants and kings of nameless countries” (p.266). He says that, for modern readers, this “lack of verisimilitude is incomprehensible” (p.266) but is could be seen as another form of archetype because the lack of specific time and space is part of what makes fairy tales so ‘timeless’ and applicable universally. The universality of folk and fairy tales can make them seem more ‘believable’, not in the sense that they actually happened but that, as Bettelheim says, the forest is a metaphor for something common to all peoples and cultures. Jack Zipes expands on Bettelheim’s analysis in his book ‘The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world’ where he writes that “Inevitably they find their way into a forest. It is there that they lose and find themselves. It is there that they gain a sense on what should be done” (Ch.3, ‘Exploring Historical Paths’) which seems almost identical to Bettelheim’s analysis, but Zipes adds that “Nothing gains power over the forest, but the forest possesses the power to change lives and alter destinies”. This idea seems a little excessive as it appears to personify the forest as something other than an archetypal setting but there is a sense in many fairy tales, particularly those of the Brothers Grimm whose tales Zipes is analyzing, that the forest has “powers” of its own and is in itself ‘magical’ although that is not specifically stated. In fairy tales, when a hero or heroine enters a forest, it can be assumed that something threatening or dangerous is going to happen, but whether the forest itself is the danger is ambiguous.

In the article ‘Once Upon a Time’ from a magazine called ‘Inside Journal’ published in 1997, Jonathan Young writes that “The deep dark forest is a common representation of the feared elements within” and refers to Jung’s analysis of the ‘shadow’, which is a repressed part of the unconscious mind (not part of the collective unconscious- it is individual to each person) and represents weaknesses and instincts. This demonstrates the idea that fairy tales can be interpreted uniquely be different readers as well as being universally applicable. This is because archetypes can be individual as well as collective, and different people can relate to different archetypes. He continues by saying that “The monsters live in the forest. The forest can reflect parts of ourselves that are never entirely tamed, that are always somewhat dangerous and chaotic” and that “They are important parts of ourselves” because they lead to new ideas and creativity, which is a slightly different interpretation than Bettelheim’s because of its emphasis on creativity. The ideas of collective versus individual unconsciousness are important because they illustrate the difference between traditional folk and fairy tales as fables and the way in which they have become individual and interpreted in different ways- almost as though a ‘template’ of archetypes were filled in. This is similar to the way in which traditional folk tales have been written into literary fairy tales, although this idea is slightly different in that both folk and fairy tales have archetypes that can be both universal and individual. The forest is something that is both universal and can be individual, as is seen in the various interpretations. The forest is also seen as a place of change and transformation, both due to the changing seasons that created myths and ideas about the psyche undergoing some form of change.

The forest can also be seen as an ‘otherworld’ or enchanted space as is shown in Shakespeare’s ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ where it is the realm of fairies and magic contrasted to the world of Athens. In ‘An Anatomy of Criticism’, Northrop Frye describes the forest portrayed Shakespeare’s “drama of the green world” (Third Essay, p.182) as “the embryonic form of the fairy world” which links the world of Nature to the world of enchantment. He writes that “The green world has analogies, not only to the fertile world of ritual, but to the dream world that we create out of our own desires” (p.183) which seems to fit with the idea that the forest can be individual and reflects the desires of the unconscious. He expands on Jung’s concept of archetypes by defining the ‘Theory of Myths’ in terms of archetypes and in particular the changing seasons, which again reflects the ancient symbolism of forests as associated with change. He associates the ‘green comedy’ with spring because it is associated with birth, death and resurrection with forms the basis of many forest myths and stories and like Jung, bases his concept of archetypes on myths. In his sections in the Third Essay on ‘apocalyptic imagery’, Frye describes the “vegetable world” (p.144) as “the archetype of Arcadian imagery” in the Bible and associates it with the “forests of romance”, but in the next section on ‘demonic imagery’, he writes that “The vegetable world is a sinister forest” and compares that view with “the opening of the ‘Inferno’” (p.149). These two conflicting views illustrate further the contrasting ways in which the forest has been represented and interpreted, and how ambiguous it is as a ‘space’ (or otherworld).

The Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series can be seen as showing various forms of these ideas. Harry’s first encounter with the Forest is in the first book of the series where he overhears a covert conversation between Professors Quirrell and Snape and the secrecy of the conversation suggests that the Forest is a place of ambiguity. The name ‘Forbidden Forest’ also supports this and suggests danger, which is reinforced by teachers repeatedly warning students not to go near it. The chapter ‘The Forbidden Forest’ in ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is (like the majority of the series) written from Harry’s perspective and the description emphasizes the atmosphere of fear and oppression. The forest and trees are repeatedly described as “black” and “dark” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) and the “silence” and “rustling of leaves” add to the tension as does narration from Harry’s point of view such as “Harry kept looking nervously over his shoulder. He had a nasty feeling they were being watched”. The idea that the forest has powers of its own can be seen through the centaur in Rowling’s Forbidden Forest who are linked to Nature and the forest in the series. The centaur Bane shows this knowledge when he says “we are sworn not to set ourselves against the heavens” (Ch.15) and it can be seen in ‘Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix’ where the centaur Firenze teaches in the castle and makes his classroom resemble the forest. This links the forest and Nature to a higher power or knowledge, as can be seen when the centaurs predict the second Wizarding War with their repetition of “Mars is bright tonight” (‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, Ch.15) as Mars is the planet associated with war.

The main significance of the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter series is in the seventh book, ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’. In an interview with a Spanish reporter for ‘El Pais’ in 2008, J.K. Rowling states that “Everything, everything I have written, was thought of for that precise moment when Harry goes into the forest” and that “That moment is the heart of all of the books. And for me it is the last truth of the story”. The chapter is significant in the plot of the series because it describes Voldemort finally killing Harry, but also in the ideas behind the series such as forgiveness and symbolism. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, John Granger explores this idea, linking it to Biblical imagery and to Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’. He says that “the trial Harry begins in ‘The Forest Again’ parallels Dante’s three part spiritual odyssey that begins in a dark wood”(p.111) as Dante’s journey begins on Holy Friday and Harry’s death and rebirth in the Forest have links to the Easter story.

The first canto of the Dante’s ‘Inferno’ does seem to have some similarities with ‘The Forest Again’. The “journey of our life” (l.1) is analogous to Harry’s journey as the traditional Romantic ‘hero’ and the series and in particular the seventh book is essentially a commentary on his ‘journey’ from child to adult and from birth to death and rebirth. The “dark wood” (l.2) introduces the light and dark imagery which is also very common throughout Harry Potter series and especially in this chapter. There are repeated references to the “darkness” of the wood and how “cold” it is. On a more general scale, the series is preoccupied with the difference between light and dark, as can be seen with the Dark Lord (Voldemort) and Dark magic. At the end of ‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Albus (whose name means ‘white’) Dumbledore says “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy” in reference to Lord Voldemort rising again. Line three of ‘Inferno’ says “the straight way was lost” which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of forests in fairy tales and is also relevant in ‘The Forest Again’ where Harry has no idea which path to follow to find Voldemort and fears the unknown, echoing another quotation from Dumbledore from ‘Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince’: “It is the unknown we fear when we look upon death and darkness, nothing more”. In the interview, Rowling says that “It’s important to have light and darkness, it’s a very conventional mechanism, but to be able to create a transition between a mundane universe and the cruel and oppressive existence adds shadows” which also seems to support Jung’s idea of the shadow in the unconscious. The description of the forest as “wild, and rough, and stubborn” (l.5) is consistent with Rowling’s description of the Forest as “tangled”, “gnarled” and “twisted”, although Dante’s description personifies the forest more than Rowling’s- for Dante, the forest itself is threatening whereas Harry fears the unknown within the Forest. Both Dante and Harry contemplate the idea of death, which J.K. Rowling said the same interview is the key to the series. As he begins to accept the fact that he is going to die, he uses the Resurrection Stone to create visions of his parents, godfather and Lupin which calms him in a similar way to Dante’s vision of the Sun. The “Divine Love” in Dante is echoed in the Harry Potter series where Dumbledore frequently tells Harry that the inability to comprehend love is Voldemort’s downfall.

Some writers have seen Dumbledore as a godlike figure, and the “ancient magic” of love to represent the love of God, and this does have some resonance in the series, especially since Rowling has said in interviews that Harry’s doubts about Dumbledore in the final book personify doubts about faith. Granger writes that “Dante’s walk in the woods to God ends at Easter in Paradise, much as Harry’s agony ends when Sun rises in the Great Hall ceiling at his conquest of Voldemort” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, p.112) which seems to fit with a ‘religious’ reading of the Harry Potter series. An argument against his analogy could be that Harry is not experiencing sin because, although he has had doubts about Dumbledore’s intentions, by this point in the story he has already discovered the truth and has accepted his own part in the greater plan. Although Harry can be seen as a “spiritual pilgrim” (‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures, p.112), he has chosen to die for the ‘greater good’ and has accepted what Dumbledore has planned rather than continuing to doubt him and has always fought for “what is right” (‘Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire’, Ch.37). Dante’s ‘Inferno’ has several similarities with ‘The Forest Again’, but does not parallel exactly because, although the setting and imagery is similar, the actual representations are different. The reason Harry does not die when Voldemort tries to kill him is because his soul is “whole”, and when he enters King’s Cross, which can be seen as representing Purgatory, his soul is already “pure”. Granger writes that “’The Forest Again’ is simultaneously a retelling of the Crucifixion and a story of the death of a Christian Everyman” which could be true, but the Crucifixion allegory seems to fit more with the ‘backstory’ and values of the series, although there are elements that seem to fit with Dante.

Another children’s fantasy series which parallels the Crucifixion story is C.S. Lewis’ Narnia series, and there are similarities between Rowling’s chapter ‘The Forest Again’ and Lewis’ description of Aslan walking through the forest to his death in ‘The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe’. Lewis uses the forest setting throughout the Narnia series. In ‘The Magician’s Nephew’, the ‘Wood between the Worlds’ serves as an ‘in-between’ place that links different worlds that can be accessed by jumping into pools. This seems to support the idea that forests are a symbol of change and the unknown and also the idea that a forest setting being an archetypal ‘nowhere’ setting that links other, more concrete places. The forest in ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ symbolizes the change in Narnia itself and echoes the ancient myths of the seasons- when Queen Jadis is ruler, there is perpetual winter and it is only when Aslan arrives that the trees begin to blossom into spring. This reflects the view from ancient mythologies that the forest represented time according to the seasons, and this is shown by the way that Narnian time is different to “our time”.

The other main form of tree symbolism in the Narnia chronicles is the planting of the Tree to protect Narnia in ‘The Magician’s Nephew’. This represents both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge from the Bible, and has the power to heal Digory’s mother. In a book called ‘The Secret Teachings of All Ages’, Manly P. Hall writes that ‘Under the appellations of the ‘Tree of Life’ and ‘The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil’ is concealed…the mystery of equilibrium” which seems to be reflected in the Narnia chronicles which advocate the pursuit of ‘goodness’ and harmony as opposed to ambition or greed. In a subversion of the myth in Genesis, Digory is tempted to eat the apple but does not which shows his innate ‘goodness’. When he approaches the tree and picks the apple, “he couldn’t help looking at it and smelling it before he went away. It would have been better if he had not. A terrible hunger and thirst came over him and a longing to taste that fruit” (‘The Magician’s Nephew’, Ch.13), which shows how his human desires represent ‘unbalance’ and mortality as opposed to the ‘immortal’ balance or equilibrium.

In ‘Harry Potter and Imagination’, Travis Prinzi compares Aslan and Harry’s journeys in a chapter called ‘Christ in the Forest: Aslan and Harry Walk to Their Deaths’. He writes that “both Aslan and Harry serve as a Christ symbol” (Ch.6) but distinguishes that “the two accounts highlight different aspects of the atonement of Christ” as “Aslan is clearly a one-to-one Christ parallel. Harry is a flawed human who commits himself to a Christlike sacrifice”, which illustrates the way in which Rowling is using Christian ideas and imagery in her novels without giving a direct analogy the way Lewis did. In Narnia, Aslan is the same ‘archetypal’ character as Dumbledore as he guides and to an extent directs the children’s lives in a similar way to the way in which Dumbledore guides Harry and from a religious perspective it would be Dumbledore who would be seen as ‘divine’ (in both meanings- Godlike and controlling destiny) whereas it is Harry, a “flawed human” who sacrifices himself and comes to represent Christ.

The Biblical imagery in Aslan’s forest can be seen in the description and pattern of events. The night before his death, Aslan does not sleep well and walks into the woods accompanied by Lucy and Susan, which parallels Mary, mother of Jesus, and Mary Magdalene in the gospels of Luke and John.   The description of the creatures at the Stone Table seems to ‘personify’ evil itself and its fear through ineffability as Lewis writes “creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book” (‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, Ch.14). This idea of the unknown in the forest again suggests the way in which is can be seen as mysterious and dangerous although Lewis would not have been writing from a Jungian perspective because of he was writing a Christian allegory. The shaving of Aslan again parallels the taunting endured by Jesus, and Aslan giving himself voluntarily illustrates how Jesus did not protest against his Crucifixion.

In ‘The Forest Again’, Harry gives himself up to Voldemort voluntarily. As a contrast to Lewis’ Aslan, Rowling describes Harry’s human fears about death which echoes back to the links to Dante’s ‘Inferno’ although Harry’s thoughts are voiced through narration such as “It was not, after all, so easy to die…At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34) which empathizes his humanness compared to Aslan as Jesus’ divinity. In ‘The Deathly Hallows Lectures’, Granger breaks the chapter down into three parts that parallel the Crucifixion.   “Harry has Garden of Gethsemane desires and chooses to act in obedience as saviour” (p.113) which he explains corresponds to the way in which Jesus feared his own death, and compares Harry’s fear although he “knew he must” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). “Harry walks the Via Dolorosa, stumbles, and is helped by Lily, his mother” (p.113) corresponds to the road to Calvary walked by Jesus carrying his cross and , according to Luke’s gospel, is comforted by his mother. “Harry dies sacrificially and without resistance to defeat the Dark Lord, as Christus Victor died on the cross” (p.114) reflects how Jesus does not fight against his crucifixion and dies willingly.

Rowling’s forest in this chapter represents Harry’s spiritual journey and how he, as a mortal human, performs the ultimate sacrifice for the ‘greater good’. It seems to have influences and aspects from various sources and analyses of forests. It supports Bettelheim’s argument about the unconscious because Harry does change from when he enters to when he leaves the forest, although the actual change itself takes place in the King’s Cross ‘otherworld’ rather than the forest itself. If King’s Cross does not exist and takes place inside Harry’s head, as Dumbledore hints, then Harry’s metamorphosis from sharing a part of Voldemort’s soul to having a whole, pure soul takes place in the forest as a place of change. From Bettelheim and Jung’s view, the forest could be seen as an analogy for Harry having got rid of his ‘shadow’ (the part of Voldemort’s soul latched onto his) and emerged from the forest having ‘found himself’ for who he really is, and fulfilled his hero’s journey according to the archetype of the collective unconscious.

Joseph Campbell is quoted in ‘The Hero’s Journey’ as saying “You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or a path, it is someone else’s path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else’s way, you are not going to realize your potential”, which is similar to Bettelheim’s analysis of the “near-impenetrable” forest and Harry’s experience in the forest reflects this. He does not know where to find Voldemort, but follows the path guided by some other power; “his limbs were working without conscious instruction” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.34). Harry is at the “darkest point” in his life- both literally in the darkness of the forest and metaphorically as he is about to give himself up to Voldemort. He is following “someone else’s path” as Dumbledore has already ‘predestined’ what he must do in order to defeat Voldemort, but as a contrast to Campbell’s quotation, he does “realize his potential” through his death and rebirth although he does this because he has chosen to follow Dumbledore’s orders an die willingly, which, as Dumbledore tells him in King’s Cross “made all the difference” (‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows’, Ch.35). Campbell also said that “Alone he would enter the dark forest where there was no path. This is the myth of the Hero’s Journey”, which seems to be reflected in almost all forest myths, fairy tales and fiction. Harry’s ‘hero’s journey’ ends after his journey to death through the forest and consequent rebirth and defeat of Lord Voldemort. The forest is a very powerful symbol that has been interpreted in various ways and this reflects its ambiguity and universality.

Bibliography

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment, Penguin

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero’s Journey, New World Library

Cirlot, Juan Eduardo. A Dictionary of Symbols, Dover Publications

Dante. The Inferno, Aldine Press

Ellis Davidson, Hilda and Chaudhri, Anna. A Companion to the Fairy Tale, Brewer

Fraim, John. Symbolism of Place, http://www.symbolism.org

Frye, Northrop. Anatomy of Criticism, Princeton University Press

Gallagher, Ann-Marie. The Wicca Bible, Sterling

Granger, John. The Deathly Hallows Lectures, Zossima Press

Hall, Manly P. The Secret Teachings of All Ages, Wilder Publications

Kirkpatrick, Robin. Dante: The Divine Comedy, Cambridge University Press

Lewis, C.S. The Magician’s Nephew, Harper Collins Publishers

Lewis, C.S. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Harper Collins Publishers

Pinkola Estés, Clarissa. Women Who Run With the Wolves, Ballatine Books

Pogue Harrison, Robert. Forests: the Shadow of Civilization, University of Chicago Press

Prinzi, Travis. Harry Potter and Imagination, Zossima Press

Rowan, Arthur. The Lore of the Bard, Llewelyn

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Bloomsbury

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Bloomsbury

Warner, Marina. Fantastic Metamorphoses, Other Worlds, Oxford University Press

Zipes, Jack. The Brothers Grimm: from enchanted forests to the modern world, Palgrave Macmillan

Thoughts on Harry Potter Part One…

Warning: lots of Harry Potter-related posts coming up this week!  I still can’t believe that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child script book is being released this weekend- nine years since Deathly Hallows and I genuinely thought that would be the end of the Harry Potter saga.  It’s so, so weird and I can’t fully process it even though I’ve booked my ticket for a midnight release party and pre-ordered my copy.  One of the weirdest things is that Harry’s going to be ten years older than I am in this book whereas when all of the previous books were released, I was exactly the same age as him.  I’m a bit nervous about how the characters are going to have turned out…  Anyway, the first post I’m going to share about HP is something I wrote five years ago right before the release of the last film in the Harry Potter franchise.  A lot of my thoughts are still the same now and I think it’s a good place to start!  SO…

“Not really into notes usually but the last HP film is a big thing! Although I really don’t like the way people are saying it’s the end of an era… I grew up with Harry Potter (literally- the first book came out when I was 10 and got hooked from then on…read all the others the day they came out and happened to be basically the same age as Harry down to doing GCSEs the year he did OWLs and leaving school in his last year at Hogwarts). I’ve listened to HP audiobooks nearly every night since I was 11 and have no intention of stopping now!

Hogwarts was a kind of alternate reality when I was a teenager- was still waiting for a Hogwarts letter right up till I left school and, even though it never came, still ended up pretending I was there so much that when I read the books/watch the films now, it feels more like a memory of a direct experience than a memory of a fictional place. Imagination can be really powerful- sometimes I read the first three books and feel like they’re missing something, and I think it’s because I’d imagined being in them so much that I’d imagined more than was there and somehow convinced myself that it happened :s, although to me that makes it even more real! In between books, I tried to make up what I thought would happen in the next one and some of those things are as ‘real’ in my HP universe as what is actually in print, lol.

As far as I’m concerned, Dumbledore, McGonagall and Lupin were my favourite teachers (along with a couple of ‘real’ teachers). When I was at school, I used to pretend that I could ‘combine’ school and Hogwarts where I’d go to Hogwarts but it would have a ‘real’ school structure/timetable as well as a magical one, and some people from the ‘real’ world were there too (think I’d need several time turners for that one…still waiting for one to come through the post along with a Hogwarts letter so I can go back and go to school again but Hogwarts this time :p) which was a big part of my life from the age of 10-20, when the last book came out. By then, I’d grown up enough to actually ‘get’ a lot of the philosophy/ideas behind it so I feel really, really lucky to be the age I was for every book, think I was born in exactly the right year :), and to get into HP from the beginning. Even did my undergrad dissertation on identity/reality in the HP series which felt strange coz it was about a ‘fantasy’ world which was for me (and a lot of people) like a reality but glad I did, felt like a good form of closure although I’m still as into HP as I was as a teenager, just in a different way.

Talking of characters, there are a few in HP who are AMAZING. When I first ‘met’ Luna Lovegood in OOTP, I was 16 and a bit ‘weird’ (still am, lol, but don’t really mind as much now!) and was so glad to meet someone I could actually identify with and who was more weird than I was! She’s my favourite character of the series, think she’s amazing. I love Neville Longbottom too, and I love the way he ‘grows’ through the series. My other favourite character’s Dumbledore, mainly because of his incredible quotes:

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

“It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

“Time is making fools of us again.”

“That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.”

“Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on the light.” (from the film version of PoA)

“In dreams, we enter a world that’s entirely our own.” (again, from PoA film)

“It is my belief… that the truth is generally preferable to lies.”

“If you’re holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time.”

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”

I found the last book hard to read because of the ‘Dumbledore doubting’ but the end made up for it. Snape grew on me massively through the series- I always felt a bit sorry for him (and weirdly guilty at the same time :s) as a teenager, but when I read DH, he became one of my favourite ever characters. Also love McGonagall- I think she’s the best teacher in the series and I’d love to be like that when I’m older! She’s really fair and cares about the students but manages to be firm at the same time… Thought it was interesting how Maggie Smith saw her as an older Miss Brodie, hadn’t made that connection before but can kind of see how it fits.

I haven’t seen the last film yet (seeing it on Tuesday), since I’ve cried in both HBP and DHp1, I think I’ll end up crying, even if it’s just saying ‘bye’ to the characters (although it’s not really…). It’s weird, I don’t usually cry in books/films but HP still makes me :s, I must have seen HBP over 20 times and still cry at the end! Think it must be something to do with the ‘reality’ of the series, and how it takes on a greater ‘reality’ than just the words on the page. I don’t like the idea that the last film is the end though – I’m with Dumbledore on this one, as long as something exists in your head then it’s real! HP has been ‘real’ for me for the last 14 years…why should it stop now?! If anything, it’s more real because it’s an individual experience of the HP universe that’s carrying on, not someone else’s interpretation of it which, much as I enjoy watching, never matches up to my teenage ‘memories’. HP has been a massive part of my growing up (that really isn’t an exaggeration) and the film franchise has nothing to do with that, and I really don’t see why that’s going to stop any time soon!”

A sonnet for Carrie Mathison

You don’t strike me as the poetry sort
unless, perhaps, it’s straight-laced with liquor.
But there’s an intensity, a flicker
of sideways-sharp awareness in your thoughts
that parallels your mind with metaphor.
How else would you see beyond the concrete
to know what others see as incomplete?
Hyper-everything, pure focus, hardcore
and yet
there’s a harsh vulnerability
that sometimes cuts too deep, a salted knife
in the heart’s open wound. Ability
to see too clearly and not unsee, life
heightened by emotions’ fragility.
You’re an ice-fire paradox of extremes,
nuclear fusion of hyperreal and dreams.