Linda C.'s Reviews > Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader

Unlocking Harry Potter by John Granger
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's review
Jun 20, 2007

it was amazing
bookshelves: referencebooks
Recommended for: Harry Potter fans

John Granger has been one of the foremost champions of recognizing the importance of literary alchemy in the Harry Potter series. This is his fourth book examining and analyzing evidence from the wildly popular series.

Many people simply scratch their heads and say, "Alchemy? That weird pseudo-science that predated chemistry? The one where nuts tried to turn lead into gold?"

Yup, that's the one. Except John Granger goes on to explain exactly what alchemy was and wasn't, and why our perceptions of the secretive practice are skewed. He also convincingly argues that literary alchemy is a long-term practice by notable authors such as Shakespeare, Milton, Blake, C.S. Lewis and James Joyce.

Then he gives example after example of the evidence of alchemy in the Harry Potter books. Examples which cannot be simply coincidence.

A quote was found that confirms Jo Rowling's preoccupation with alchemy was found. It turns out that this interview was from 1998, but it had not been one bandied about with regularity by the HP fandom. You can find it here:

Simpson, Anne. "Face to Face with J K Rowling: Casting a spell over young minds," The Herald, 7 December 1998

The money words are these:

"I've never wanted to be a witch, but an alchemist, now that's a different matter. To invent this wizard world, I've learned a ridiculous amount about alchemy. Perhaps much of it I'll never use in the books, but I have to know in detail what magic can and cannot do in order to set the parameters and establish the stories' internal logic." - J.K. Rowling

Bingo. In one fell swoop, John has been proven correct in his analysis that Jo Rowling uses literary alchemy in structuring her series.

Other ways to tell alchemy plays a large role in the Harry Potter books is by looking at the illustration he chose for the cover of this book. Do you see the Golden Snitch?

It's too bad that quote was found after "Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader" was published, otherwise Granger's discourse on alchemy would have been different. He would not have written:

"As far as I know, and I am far from current on the track of reading Ms. Rowling's various interviews, she has made no such confessions (about alchemy.)"

Except now we know she has.

Buy his books, read them over, and then read the Harry Potter books again. You will then recognize that there are layers of meaning and structure beneath the text. You can also check out his blog for current discussions of all things Potter:
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