This week on Advanced Muggle Studies, we discuss: Salazar Slytherin, the snake-fetish Zorro; differences in Chamber set design; enter Tom “Blofeld” Riddle; THE BIG REVEAL; sociopathic memories; dangerous toddlers; ironic narcissistic racism is ironic; and then the murders began; Tom Riddle sucks at anagrams; douchey school nicknames; Harry drops all the mics; useful plot information; speaking nonsense to statues; over-reliance on adverbs; Fawkes the super-mutated rooster; Gryffindor was also over-concerned with male endowment, apparently; basilisk lore comes full circle; stop ignoring Ginny, dammit; Lockhart had it coming; King Arthur and Guinevere in the Chamber of Secrets; what Harry Potter, Thor, and King Arthur have in common; why we’re always pulling things out of hats; the shitty reason witches wear pointed hats; the Christian roots of EVERYTHING; snakes and the Devil; the Sword of Truth; fulfillment of the first Biblical prophecy; stigmatizing armadillos; humanity’s obsession with swords; symbolism of books in medieval art and why Harry should only have stabbed the book once; how magic violates the “natural order”; theories on where magic wands come from; and a healthy dose of White People Nonsense.
Welcome back! We are on Chapter 17 – the Heir of Slytherin.
C: AKA The good stuff.
S: Let’s dive in! We’ve got so much to talk about.
Chapter 17: The Heir Of Slytherin
When we last left our intrepid heroes, they entered the Chamber of Secrets, found the door with all the snakes on it, told it to open, and walked inside. Harry is now standing at the end of a very long, dimly lit chamber with towering stone pillars entwined with more carved serpents.
Salazar Slytherin had a very high opinion of himself.
C: And a snake fetish.
S: I understand having an ability that makes you feel special, but I feel like this guy went around emblazoning snakes on everything he possibly could.
C: He was like a shitty version of Zorro.
S: Exactly! Now I’m just picturing him whipping out a sword and scrawling “S” on things.
C: Like in the movie when Tom Riddle writes in the air? That’s what he would do – whip out his wand and draw “S”’s and snakes and things in the air in front of people.
S: Harry goes forward between the serpentine columns, looking for Ginny. He finally comes face to face with a statue as high as the Chamber itself standing against the back wall. One must presume a statue of Salazar Slytherin, who we have established is very much in love with himself, his own visage, his ability to talk to snakes, the letter S – anything remotely related to himself.
C: Well, unless this is a stylized statue there’s really not much to be impressed with, because he looks like a monkey.
S: “Ancient and monkeyish.” I’ve always thought that was an interesting description. It feels weighted. I’m not sure if it’s meant to indicate that, quite literally, Salazar Slytherin was not the best-looking guy – or maybe a difference in artistic style, given that this was built hundreds of years ago – or then again, everything I associate with descriptions like “monkeyish” is so racist. And I think about this guy going on about his own racial superiority being described as monkeyish and ancient, and it makes me laugh.
C: Well, even though it says monkeyish, the way it describes a long thing beard makes me think of old statues in China.
S: Me too!
C: I wouldn’t necessarily look at that and think monkeyish, so…
S: Maybe just a stylistic choice. The beard falls almost to the bottom of his robes, where his two enormous feet stand on the floor. Really, if you close your eyes and imagine this gigantic statue Harry is standing at the base of, with Ginny lying prostrate at the feet of this towering figure – it’s kind of terrifying. It’s a powerful image. The great big face in the movie, which they opted for instead of a standing statue – I guess it accomplishes the same thing, but it has a different feel.
Either way, we found Ginny. Harry is desperately trying to resuscitate her. She’s cold, white and unconscious, but not Petrified.
Harry is trying to wake her, but –
“She won’t wake,” came a soft voice.
Oh look, it’s Hot Tom Riddle. I’m growing more and more depressed that he’s Hot Tom Riddle, because he’s so evil. It’s so unfortunate. Harry turns and sees Tom “strangely blurred around the edges, as though Harry were looking at him through a misted window.”
Do remember what you thought you would actually find when Harry finally entered the Chamber of Secrets?
C: No, it’s been too long.
S: I don’t either – but I do remember that I did not expect to find Tom Riddle. It’s a great surprise in the sense of – you really could not have seen this coming. I love that the book is unpredictable that way. Sure, I found this guy’s diary, but I really didn’t expect to come down to a giant ancient chamber and find him hanging out there.
C: So, I have a question. I don’t know if it’s better to ask now or later, but I’ve already started talking so what the hell. Let’s say that Harry didn’t get there in time and all of Ginny ‘s life force finished transferring to the diary. Does that mean that a 16-year-old version of Voldemort with 1/7th of a soul is going to be walking around, talking and breathing like a real human being?
S: Apparently. Terrifyingly so.
C: That’s awful.
S: It’s a really good thing this book ends the way it does.
C: You’d have two Voldemorts. One would kill the other.
S: Possibly, unless there was a way to unite them somehow. They are fragments of the same person. But a young Voldemort brought back is scary. It’s a similar thing to Book 4 – Voldemort goes through multiple iterations of trying to reclaim some kind of body – whether Quirrell’s, or recovering one through the diary, or cobbling one together from a nice homemade recipe.
C: And then going on to bang Bellatrix and knock her up.
S: Well, he went to all the trouble to build a new body – you’ve got to get some mileage out of it!
This face-off is epic and fascinating. It’s a great moment. Even if you’re not a huge fan of the movie, at this point it’s riveting watching the two of them. Riddle says he’s not a ghost, but a memory – slightly disingenuous, but sure – preserved in a diary for fifty years. The diary is here.
For a second, Harry wondered how it had got there.
Ginny took it, Harry. Spoiler alert. I know I’m repeating myself, but I love this scene, the way it builds up slowly. Harry thinks, well, I know Tom, he’ll help me.
You’ve got to help me, Tom. We’ve got to get her out of here. There’s a basilisk.
But Tom is just standing there, watching Harry oddly. Harry goes for his wand, but his wand isn’t there.
C: Because you threw it away, you dumbass.
S: And Riddle has picked it up. I love this description –
Riddle continued to stare at Harry, twirling the wand idly.
Absolutely no sense of urgency on Tom ‘s part. He’s supremely relaxed, confident, and enjoying the moment. Whereas Harry is starting to get frustrated with Tom‘s lack of action. “We have to go! There’s a basilisk!” Tom:
Harry: “Give me my wand.” Tom: “You won’t be needing it. Also, we need to talk.”
C: It really takes Harry a while to catch on here.
S: It does. It makes sense because he comes into this with an idea of who Tom is, and he’s inclined initially to trust him. There’s no reason not to – Ginny is here, Tom is here, there’s a monster – help me! It takes him a while to realize that Tom is there to only help himself, as per usual.
Look, said Harry, losing patience. We’re in the Chamber of Secrets! We can talk later!
No, Harry, you’re in the Chamber of Secrets book, which means you’ll talk now.
Harry stared. There was something very funny going on here.
C: No shit, Sherlock.
S: Hey, no one said Gryffindors were quick on the uptake! Harry is brave, but…
“How did Ginny get like this?”
“Well, that’s an interesting question.” “The real reason Ginny is like this is because she opened her heart and spilled her secrets to a total stranger. She’s been writing in the diary for months.”
Of course, Tom has been writing back, although it was “very boring.” Poor Tom. He was bored. Let’s all feel bad for him, shall we?
He played Ginny very well – wrote back, sympathetic, kind. Ginny is so happy to have him to confide in.
“If I say it myself, Harry, I’ve always been able to charm the people I needed.”
You fucking sociopath.
C: Except for Dumbledore, bitch!
“Ginny poured out her soul to me, and her soul happened to be exactly what I wanted.”
S: This has always been fascinating to me, and it’s not deeply explored in the books although it’s suggested in a number of places – the Horcruxes become dangerous when you become emotionally attached to them. It seems that some of the Horcruxes in the later books, already important magical objects in their own right, possibly had their own powers before Tom meddled with them. This one obviously didn’t, as he bought it in the Muggle world. But you really see the danger when Ginny becomes emotionally attached to this thing, which allows Tom to latch on to her. Although I feel like, if you’re the kind of person who can say
“I grew stronger and stronger on a diet of her deepest fears, her darkest secrets,”
you really have to question if at some point you turned a corner and became a dementor.
C: This entire thing, he comes across like Blofeld to me. “Let me tell you my entire plan in large swaths of dialogue, and give you a very detailed idea about what I did so you’ll have all this information later.” I know we have to have stuff like this for books or movies, but if you’re going to kill someone, just do it and get it over with.
S: He’s monologuing! You don’t go into the line of work of being an evil supervillain if you don’t get the privilege of monologuing.
S: Perks of the job! Everyone has to have this moment. Although I will hand it to J.K.’s skills as a writer that Tom monologuing in this scene actually makes a modicum of sense. I grant you, it’s the typical setup of “Sit down, Mr. Bond, and hear about my evil plan.” In this case – number 1, he’s stalling. Number 2 – I kind of enjoy Tom’s monologuing, because it makes sense. He’s wanted to tell someone how clever he is for literally years, and now Harry is here, and he’s so thrilled with himself and his great plan coming to fruition. I can see Tom’s psychopathy and self-absorption overflowing because he has to gloat, triumph in his plan.
Of course, Tom has to explain the obvious to Harry: Ginny – Weasley – opened – the – Chamber of Secrets.
It’s been Ginny the entire time. She killed the roosters, wrote messages on the walls, directed the basilisk to attack people and the cat. Tom was always chilling, but reading him again, he’s so insanely sociopathic.
“It was very amusing. I wish you could have seen her new diary entries. Far more interesting they became.”
Someone who could find it amusing as Ginny ‘s entries become disjointed, confused and terrified – Ginny is losing time and her memory – “I think I’m the one attacking everyone!” He finds that funny.
S: Ginny eventually became suspicious of the diary, tried to get rid of it, and that’s when Harry conveniently came along and conveniently picked up the diary conveniently. It made Tom’s decade, I imagine.
C: Ginny, you cannot flush something as large as a diary down a toilet.
S: Excellent point. Only thing I can think is was that she was so out of her head that she wasn’t thinking. But, I mean, it’s paper…maybe try burning? Not that it would have worked.
C: Why do you think it wouldn’t work?
S: Because when the trio tries similar things to destroy other Horcruxes, they find that your basic methods of destruction don’t work.
C: More stuff from Book 7 I don’t remember.
S: I love that you don’t remember some of this stuff from Book 7! It’s like going through it for the first time again.
Tom Riddle is just giddy that he got to meet Harry. Well, everyone is giddy to meet Harry, Tom, get in line. Join the Harry Potter fan club. Ginny had talked about Harry to Tom at length. Tom thinks he’s got to find out more, so he showed Harry
“my capture of that brainless oaf Hagrid to gain your trust.”
He describes how it went down.
“You can imagine how it looked to Armando Dippet – on the one hand, Tom Riddle, poor but brilliant, parentless but so brave, on the other hand, big blundering Hagrid, in trouble every other week, trying to raise werewolf cubs under his bed, sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest to wrestle trolls.”
C: This is more Book 6 and 7 stuff I don’t remember, but – a werewolf cub? I thought you became a werewolf when one bit or scratched you, because werewolves are humans. So what the fuck is a werewolf cub?
S: I have no idea. I had the same question reading this again.
C: It doesn’t make any sense.
S: Are they just very dangerous toddlers? Maybe there’s a side of the werewolf experience we haven’t seen yet. I’m more interested that Hagrid was sneaking off to the Forest to partake in a troll Fight Club. Tell me you can’t imagine all the Forest’s creatures betting once a week on the wrestling match.
But I also found extremely amusing this paragraph: on the one hand, Tom is gloating about how clever he was to frame Hagrid for opening the Chamber, but in the same breath he’s annoyed that people fell for it.
“I thought someone must realize that Hagrid couldn’t possibly be the Heir of Slytherin. It had taken me five whole years to find out everything I could about the Chamber of Secrets. As though Hagrid had the brains, or the power!”
Beautifully ironic. Tom uses Hagrid, the half-giant, and benefits from that prejudice because people assume that of course, he’s much more likely to be the villain than Tom is. But at the same time, he’s upset people fall for it.
C: He’s got a point. If Dippet had stopped to think about it instead of just being so relieved to catch a culprit – there’s no way Hagrid could have done this. Unless they didn’t realize – I guess they didn’t realize it was anything related to the Chamber at all?
S: Maybe they thought Hagrid just seized on an old legend and had an unrelated monster?
C: But McGonagall said it’s been opened before.
S: Right. So they didn’t think about it too close, which is an indication of how much they wanted this to go away. It’s distressing, and you could see why Dumbledore would adamantly stand up for Hagrid .
C: You have to think Dippet knew at some level that Hagrid didn’t do it. There’s no way he’d let someone he genuinely thought was a murderer stay on the grounds and become gamekeeper.
S: So then why accept this explanation and not ask any more questions ever?
C: Because it’s easy and convenient.
S: I guess because the murders stopped?
S: Oh – before we go on to more terrifying and intense things – what I just said made me think of something I’ve been meaning to bring up to you. It cracked me up a couple of weeks ago – there was this guy who claimed he’d found a way to immediately improve any book ever written, simply by changing the second sentence.
So take any book you can think of, think of the first sentence, and then change the second sentence to “And then the murders began.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. And then the murders began.” My personal favorite was “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And then the murders began.”
C: Not too far off!
S: Just the accelerated version.
C: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife. And then the murders began.”
S: My husband and I spent an afternoon howling with laughter doing this – it works every time.
C: If only I could add that in to my reporting. “After months of debate, the city of _______ finally voted to join the ______. And then the murders began.”
S: Isn’t it beautiful? Doesn’t it add a whole new perspective to your life?
C: It’s like fortune cookies, when you add “in bed” to the end of everything.
S: It makes it work so much better! So listeners, think of your favorite book opening and change the second sentence. Damned if it doesn’t make it better, guaranteed.
C: I’ve got “The Spy Who Came In From the Cold” by John le Carré. Let’s see. “The American handed Limas another cup of coffee and said, ‘Why don’t you go back to sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.’ And then the murders began.”
S: So, if ever you’re feeling depressed about a book that’s not going your way, just remember the murders. It makes life that much better.
Back to the actual murders! Tom is monologuing his monologue, pacing back and forth, probably tossing his head in the light to cast dramatic shadows off his cheekbones.
Only Dumbledore seemed to think Hagrid was innocent.
“Dumbledore might have guessed. He never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did.”
NO FUCKIN WAY. REALLY.
He knew it wouldn’t be safe to open the Chamber of Secrets again while at school, so he left behind the diary with his 16-year-old self preserved in it, so one day he could lead someone else to do the same.
After all these years, Tom immediately gave up on that plan, because he’s now way more interested in Harry. He got pissed when Ginny started writing in the diary again, so he had to come up with some way to get Harry. He made Ginny write her own farewell on the wall and brought her down to the Chamber.
“She struggled and cried and became very boring.”
Tom, you unbelievable twat. He really has problems with children, doesn’t he?
C: Well, he is the bad guy.
S: Tom is a pretty bad bad bad bad guy. Also, fun saying bad that many times. Now Tom has questions, and we’re getting to the crux of what he wants to know – how did Harry beat Voldemort? Harry: That matters why? He was way after you. BUT NO! Tom:
“Voldemort is my past, present, and future.”
We get the epic moment where he writes Tom Marvolo Riddle in the air, waves his wand, and the letters rearrange themselves to read “I am Lord Voldemort.”
When I first read this book, I do remember that moment gave me chills. My mind was totally blown. No, I read it and I have to wonder how many versions he had to generate to get this. Was he sitting in History of Magic anagramming his name?
C: I thought that was interesting too. Typically, if you’re going to do something like that with your name you wouldn’t add “I am.”
S: But he had to, because he has leftover letters. Which leads me to believe that he couldn’t come up with something that incorporated all the letters of his name, and had to leave a few out, and made himself feel better by making it “I AM Lord Voldemort.” So, this all happened because Tom can’t do anagrams.
C: I wonder what I can make out of my name?
S: It’s got to make sense, right?
C: That’s the idea. Well, if I ignore the C and R I can spell Feed Processor. I’m still working, though.
S: I’ve got too many E’s! I got Pairs of Sheep Son.
C: Oh, I’ve got a good one! Sore Creep Rod.
S: Do you have leftover letters?
S: See, I guess it’s not that easy. Tom had to resort to French to make it work. But I do enjoy imagining him going through all these different iterations to make it work. And apparently, it was a name he was already using at Hogwarts to his most intimate friends. Seriously? In your 6th or 7th year, your friends were calling you “LORD” Voldemort? That’s so prickish! It’s one of the douchiest things I’ve ever heard.
C: I guess it was a case of extreme peer pressure. Imagine being in school, imagine the cool kids – and then imagine thinking, “That cheerleader over there is going to kill me.”
S: The social dynamics of this are fascinating. We get some useful information about Tom’s Muggle father,
“who abandoned me even before I was born just because he found out my mother was a witch. I fashioned myself a new name, a name I knew wizards everywhere would fear to speak when I became the greatest sorcerer in the world.”
And I love this moment.
“Harry’s brain seemed to have jammed. He stared numbly at Riddle, the orphan boy who had grown up to murder Harry’s parents and so many others.”
At this point, yes. Your brain is like, I’ve got nothing in the face of this crazy speech, face to face with the person responsible for murdering your family and so many others.
And Harry has the most flawless response.
C: Look, bitches!
S: Two words. So simple. Beautiful. He could come up with all kinds of eloquent responses, but it’s quite simple. You’re not. You couldn’t come up with a more perfect way to wound Tom’s ego. He has spent quite some time lecturing you on how great he is, and your response is just, you’re not.
“Sorry to disappoint you, and all that, but the greatest sorcerer in the world is Albus Dumbledore.”
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHH FUCK YOU TOM RIDDLE.
C: Sick burn!
S: Oh, he is not happy.
“The smile had gone from Riddle’s face, replaced by a very ugly look.”
You’re so insecure, Tom.
“Dumbledore’s been driven out of this castle by the mere memory of me!”
Actually, it was 11 Ottaline Gambols and Lucius Malfoy.
C: How dare you! We’re not speaking.
“He’s not as gone as you might think!” Harry retorted. He was speaking at random, wanting to scare Riddle, wishing rather than believing it to be true.
And then…music. Eerie, spine tingling, unearthly music that makes Harry‘s heart feel as though it’s swelling to twice its normal size. It’s Fawkes, “piping its weird music to the ceiling.” He drops “a ragged bundle” at Harry’s feet.
I like the difference in the book and movie in how Tom reacts to things. In the movie, he’s not impressed at all. Tom scoffs it off here in a bit too, but in this first moment, Tom is thinking. He looks at it and is trying to figure out why the phoenix is here.
C: That’s interesting, because Voldemort’s wand – and I assume he’s used the same wand all this time – had a core of phoenix feather. So did Fawkes give that before or after he was with Dumbledore ? And did Tom know?
S: That’s why I like that line:
“That’s a phoenix,” Riddle said shrewdly, staring at Fawkes.
You can hear him thinking, trying to figure out why it’s here. He doesn’t dismiss it out of hand. It’s not something that shows up in your average, everyday Chamber.
“And that,” said Riddle, eyeing the ragged thing that had dropped, “Is the school Sorting Hat.”
Then he reverts to Blofeld and laughs – a songbird and an old hat.
Back to business, and what Tom wants!
“Twice I have failed to kill you.”
Oh, Tom, that’s so naïve. You’re going to fail to kill him so many more times.
“The longer you talk, the longer you stay alive.”
Fortunately for all of us, Harry ‘s brain has started working again. He’s figured out that going along with this plan is a terrible idea. The whole “keep talking to stay alive” thing – Harry is like, fuck that. The longer I talk, the more power Tom gets from Ginny, and if it has to come to a fight, better sooner than later. Damn straight, Harry Potter. Way to have some common sense.
C: Good for you, Harry.
S: Harry: “No one knows what happened to you. But I know you couldn’t kill me because my mom died to save me.” It’s key information Tom needed.
“There is nothing special about you after all.”
And, of course, he still dismisses it.
“It was a lucky chance that saved you from me.”
Actually, we just established that it was Harry’s mother’s sacrifice, but sure, call it luck. He never learns, does he?
S: So, we’re going to have a battle. In the grand tradition of Bond villains everywhere, it’s time to pull out the laser sharks.
C: Sharks with laser beams on their heads!
S: He has Harry’s wand, but it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Why have a gigantic basilisk that makes you feel better about your male endowment if you can’t use it?
And this is pretty creepy. It’s creepy in the movie, but it’s creepier the way it’s described here. He goes to the Slytherin statue and speaks to it. Again, I wonder – Tom says,
“Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.”
And the statue responds.
Is that a bit of information passed down through the generations? Because again, I have to picture Tom standing there, tossing random phrases at the statue to see what would happen.
C: I could legitimately see him pacing back and forth, muttering to himself, saying “Speak to me, Slytherin!” Given how coincidental these things can be, I can see that.
S: The face moves – the mouth opens to make a huge hole, and out slithers the basilisk. Again we are back to – Salazar Slytherin was a little too in love with his ability to speak to snakes. He literally makes the snake issue forth from his mouth.
C: If he was more a fan of dark ages marginalia, it would have come out his butt, and that would have been funnier.
S: And as we all know, that is where sin enters and exits. The snake comes forth.
C: I have to ding J.K. for this sentence.
“He could hear its heavy body slithering heavily across the floor.”
S: Yeah, she leans on the adverbs a little sometimes. I’ve seen that a few places. Are we dinging her, or her editor?
S: Now we have a moment where Harry has to try to escape this basilisk with his eyes closed as it is heavily slithering heavily across the heavily dusty floor, breathing heavily.
It’s funny how in the same paragraph it transfers. Earlier it says he heard Riddle’s hissing voice, but then it says he heard Voldemort laughing. It’s an interesting way he is transitioning to thinking of Riddle as Voldemort.
C: I think, other than the fact that she just wrote it that way – he’s heard Tom Riddle speak English and Parseltongue, but he remembers that high cold laugh from his childhood. So when he laughs, it’s Voldemort, because that’s what he remembers.
S: I think you’re absolutely right. Harry can’t see anything, gets smashed into the wall, hears crazy thrashing, and finally has to peek like we all do at horror movies. I don’t want to but I have to!
Fawkes has not been idle – and we replicate this powerful and ancient cultural image of bird flying overhead, attacking a snake. We’ve seen this motif in so many cultures. Fawkes is not stupid – he’s punctured the basilisk’s eyes.
C: So, here’s my question – wouldn’t the basilisk have killed him as well, if he looked at the eyes?
S: That’s what I’d think, so I’m just going to say that Fawkes is an exception because he’s a magic phoenix and the rules don’t apply to him. Unless Fawkes’ eyes are closed as he does this –
C: Maybe he counts as some kind of super-mutated rooster.
S: Well, the history of phoenixes and their entanglements in bird and rooster mythology – I’m just going to say he’s exempt. Either way, it works. The basilisk is blind, but he can still smell, and now Harry asks for help. Literally. “Help me, help me,” Harry muttered wildly. “Someone, anyone.” The tail thrashes and something soft hits him in the face. “The basilisk had swept the Sorting Hat into his arms.”
Harry literally asks for help, and it is given. He puts the Hat on his head – which I see why they didn’t do in the movie, because it looks funny.
C: That, and he almost gets knocked unconscious by the fucking sword.
S: Which falls out the top of the hat and bonks him on the head. He pulls out “a gleaming silver sword, its handle glittering with rubies the size of eggs.”
OH MAN. If you couldn’t tell, I’m holding off on tackling the symbolism of everything that has happened so far, but I have so many things to say!
C: My comment would be – yes, Salazar Slytherin was full of himself, but I think Godric Gryffindor was feeling himself as well if he’s carrying around a big ass sword full of big ass rubies.
S: Want to know more about the sword?
C: You can now, or you can wait. I just fixed myself a rum and coke, so.
S: Nice! Well, briefly Pottermore says the sword was made 1,000 years ago by goblins, pure silver with rubies. It’s made to Gryffindor’s specifications, so that’s all him – he commissioned that bling. It was made by “Ragnuk the First, finest of the goblin silversmiths, and therefore King.”
Apparently Ragnuk coveted it, pretended Gryffindor had stolen it from him, and sent minions to steal it.
C: Do they not keep records of services rendered?
S: Apparently not. We’ll revisit this issue in Book 7. But I thought it was interesting:
The question of why a wizard would need a sword, though often asked, is easily answered.
C: Because it makes you look pimp!
S: Giant rubies! What, bitches?
In the days before the International Statute of Secrecy, when wizards mingled freely with Muggles, they would use swords to defend themselves just as often as wands. Indeed, it was considered unsporting to use a wand against a Muggle sword (which is not to say it was never done). Many gifted wizards were also accomplished duellists in the conventional sense, Gryffindor among them.
Oh, the fuck he was! He commissioned a sword out of silver. I’m not a metallurgist, but I’m pretty sure that a silver sword vs. one that is steel – isn’t steel a lot harder?
C: I don’t know. Also not a metallurgist.
S: At this point, if you’re not hearing echoes of King Arthur in pulling the sword from the hat, I don’t know where your head is at. But – hold off! I can do this!
Back to killing the boy! Harry takes the sword, the basilisk lunges, Harry raises the sword in both hands and drives it to the hilt into the roof of the serpent’s mouth.
Love it. Also very fitting that, given Salazar Slytherin’s obsession with his own ability to talk to snakes, it seems very fucking appropriate that Harry kills this snake through its mouth. So there.
Also, there was that legend that basilisks were so venomous that you could stab them with a sword, and the venom would travel up the sword and kill you. So, it’s echoes of that here – even though Harry stabs the basilisk with the sword, he’s still gotten by a basilisk fang sunk into his arm. So – he gon die. It’s pretty bad. And Harry being Harry, he at least has the presence of mind to tell Fawkes that he was fantastic.
“You’re dead, Harry Potter. Even Dumbledore ‘s bird knows it. Do you see what he’s doing? He’s crying.”
C: Riddle, how do you not cotton on this earlier, dumbass?
S: He really is great at missing the smaller things, isn’t he?
C: It’s because he’s so fucking smug.
S: “I know everything, except the things I don’t, which are consistently my downfall!” Now he’s sitting and watching Harry dying. Harry thinks dying must not be so bad – but is this dying? Oh yeah – Fawkes’ tears have healing powers. Tom tries to shoo Fawkes, but it’s too late.
Riddle does the thing now that he should have done ages ago – he raises the wand. Okay, I did my Bond villain thing and it backfired, so now it’s time to just kill you.
And then, in a rush of wings, Fawkes had soared back overhead and something fell in Harry’s lap – the diary. For a split second both Harry and Riddle, wand still raised, stared at it. Then, without thinking, without considering, as though he had meant to do it all along, Harry seized the basilisk fang on the floor next to him and plunged it straight into the heart of the book.
YES! There’s something so satisfying about this scene.
C: I don’t like how in the movie Harry stabs the book over and over again.
S: They were really trying to drag it out and use their CGI budged on Tom exploding bit by bit.
And that’s it. There’s a scream, ink spurts out like blood, and Tom is gone. The basilisk fang burned a hole through the book. Badass.
And hey, Ginny is alive! Can you imagine waking up to all this? There’s a dead basilisk, Harry is covered in blood, you’re in the Chamber of Secrets – holy shitballs! Fuck you, Albus Potter, you didn’t have anything close to a bad first year at Hogwarts.
C: He’s the worst.
S: Ginny has tears pouring down her face trying to explain, and Harry is like, let’s just get out of here.
Fawkes is there, they head up the tunnel. Hey, Ron! He’s been shifting rock like he said he would. They see his face peering through the gap. Ron’s reaction: “What happened? Where did the bird come from? How come you’ve got a sword?”
Poor Ginny cried the whole time, and now is crying even harder. Harry: “Maybe not talk about this right now?” They make it back up to the mouth of the pipe, and there’s Gilderoy Lockhart, humming placidly to himself. “Odd sort of place, isn’t it? Do you live here?” He’s completely lost his memory. It’s evil and I shouldn’t triumph over his demise, but.
C: He had it coming.
S: It’s so ironic that the man obsessed with himself loses his sense of self.
C: I wonder if St. Mungo’s is ever able to help him at all, or if he’s just like this forever.
S: By 5 at least he remembers vague bits, but he doesn’t understand why he’s famous. He likes signing autographs still, but. I’d like to think eventually they could rehabilitate him a little.
And last but not least we finally see why it was so useful that Dumbledore mentioned phoenixes’ ability to lift heavy loads, because Fawkes is going to fly us the fuck outta here.
Harry grabs Fawkes’ tail feathers, everyone grabs on, and they fly out the pipe.
C: So how did Tom get back up the pipe?
S: Good question! Did he ride the basilisk up? Did he levitate himself? Did he bring a rope? No, that would be too Muggle.
C: We know he couldn’t Apparate!
S: He must have figured out how to levitate, because he’d never use something so pedestrian as a rope. They make it back to good old Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom, who is very disappointed that they’re alive. Thanks, Myrtle! To be fair, she must think he’s cute. She wanted him to come hang out in her toilet.
Well, where to now? Professor McGonagall’s office, where we all go when in trouble.
That’s the contents of this chapter. Is everyone ready for me to go off on all this symbolic, folkloric, religious shit I’ve got? Have you had enough alcohol?
S: Damn straight. Where to start? Do we want to start with medieval stuff? I guess we should do that first.
Let’s hit the King Arthur stuff first. If you haven’t already noticed, there are a lot of Arthurian parallels in this epic story, but this is probably the clearest.
The image everyone has of King Arthur pulling the sword from the stone, Excalibur, which is the thing that tells him that he is the rightful king and sets him on his path – Harry pulling the sword from the hat is a clear echo of that.
I also saw it noted that Ginny’s full name, Ginevra, is a play on Guinevere.
S: So, we have Harry descending to the depths to save Ginny, using his magical sword to defend her.
C: But who is Lancelot?
S: It doesn’t really go that far.
C: Well, then, it all falls apart.
S: It’s echoing the big motif but it’s certainly not an itemized parallel. We’ve got Merlin/Dumbledore, at least.
C: And Tom Riddle is Mordred?
S: I guess so, if we go that route.
C: I really just want to make a joke about the Knights of Ni, but I can’t think how to make it work.
S: You totally should! The Knights that say “Ni!”
C: It’s just a flesh wound!
S: J.K. Rowling mentions Excalibur on Pottermore as an inspiration. “Gryffindor’s sword owes something to Excalibur.” And we see more echoes of that in Book 7, which you probably don’t remember.
S: There’s the idea that just having the thing doesn’t mean it works for you or that you deserve to wield it. We get the first taste of this with Gryffindor’s sword – that it presents itself to the worthy, to the most badass among us.
C: It’s like the Hammer of Thor.
S: He who be worthy – or, perchance, the hottest – can wield the sword. Harry is worthy, Neville is hot, and that’s how we do that.
I’ve also mentioned how previously this series delighted me by how Rowling took the expected trappings of magic and played with them, like the way she gently pokes at what people expect from spells, or brooms – and it’s done in a more chilling way in Book 4. But I loved here that Harry pulls the sword out of a hat, because that is the epic trick of pulling a rabbit from a hat. Isn’t that the quintessentially magic show thing?
C: That, and all the scarves you pull from your sleeve.
S: Apparently in 1814 Louis Comte was the earliest magician to pull a rabbit from a hat in his stage show. The trick was later attributed also to an American magician, and it became so popular that it became synonymous with stage magicians and popularly used to represent magic.
But I have to just go for it, because there’s so much in this scene that’s Biblical, and I can’t help myself. Yeah, there’s mythological parallels of Harry descending into an underworld, although he did do that in the last book – but there are echoes of Persephone, taken into the underworld and in need of rescue.
C: Persephone is an excellent name, by the way.
S: I was also thinking about the hat – the Sorting Hat. I should have mentioned this before.
C: Much like our Lord wore a crown of thorns, Harry Potter wore the Sorting Hat!
S: That’s a good one! We should have talked about witches’ hats back in the last book, but I thought about how pointed hats are symbols of witches. They tried to play with that in the costuming, although the movies quickly abandoned it and McGonagall was the only one who consistently wore the pointed hat. But you do have to wonder how the witches’ hat became that hat.
C: As far as McGonagall goes, she’s the only one who can pull it off. McGonagall’s got swag.
S: There’s an interesting history of pointy hats – they’re not entirely sure how these started getting associated with sorcery. There were three Chinese mummies uncovered, known as the Witches of Subeshi, and they were known for wearing pointed headpieces, but I think it’s a bit much to think that Chinese mummies were enough to influence Western civilization’s ideas of what witches look like. As we know, medieval depictions of witches showed them nude, because you know, they were flying and having good times.
It wasn’t until 1700s that children’s stories started illustrating with crones in pointed hats, and the stereotype caught on. Artists started modifying images of witches, and it became an easy way to signal magic.
You see this emerge as a theme in kids’ stories, art, even the Salem Witch Trials when witnesses reported the Devil wearing a high-crowned hat.
But the thing that I found to be the most plausible explanation?
C: Oh. Well, isn’t it always that?
S: It is, isn’t it?
C: Poor Jewish people. Why do they always get stuck with the crappy stereotypes?
S: Because Christianity…. sucks….in a lot of ways? Or at least the people who say they’re Christian suck a lot of the time?
In 1215, the fourth council of the Lateran required all Jews to identify themselves by wearing the Judenhat. Good god. These people. Jewish hat, or “horned skullcap.”
And of course, that type of hat became a target for anti-Semitism, and artists often painted Devils muttering curses beneath Jewish crowns. In the 1400s Hungary required first-time sorcery offenders to walk among their peers in peaked Jewish caps. And medieval representations tying Jews to Satan were definitely nothing new. So, by the 13th century Jewish attributes signified demonism, Satanism and witches. So, I think it’s fair to say that’s the most likely influence on the idea of a witches’ hat being a pointy hat.
C: Oh, Mike Pence, tell me again how Christians are the most persecuted people.
S: Also, please go fuck yourself at your earliest convenience. With your wife present to supervise, of course.
S: Mmmmm. Yeah. There are other theories about Quaker hats and other things, but the biggest link seemed to be the Jewish one, and given what we’ve seen of Jews being considered evil, I would not be a bit damn surprised.
So, there’s that. Hooray. Now let’s go into all the damn Biblical stuff since we’re already on the right foot talking about anti-Semitism in Christian thought.
This battle between Tom and Harry is so Biblical. A lot of people have noted this similarity in the way things play out between Harry versus Tom and the basilisk. It plays out repeatedly in the series, but in the biggest way in Book 7. There’s a scripture in Genesis 3:15 which is considered the first prophecy in the Bible. “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers. You will strike him in the head and he will strike your heel.” Other versions I recall – you will wound him in the head, he will wound you in the heel. This is the prophecy uttered after Adam and Eve are cast out of the Garden, and basically after God was like, okay, no more privileges, and also, I blame Satan for coming in and messing with you, this prophecy is interpreted to set up the path by which Jesus would come and redeem mankind. There will be this situation – he will wound you in the head, he will wound you in the heel, as in, that’s how it plays out later on.
So “you” being Satan, who God is addressing here, wounds “him,” the promised Seed, in the heel. It’s interpreted by many as Jesus coming to earth, being put to death, but then resurrected, in the way that a heel wound versus a head wound would play out – one is an injury, the other is fatal. You’ll strike a blow against me, which won’t be fatal, and then I will strike a fatal blow against you.
C: Unless you’re Achilles.
S: In which case, you’re fucked. In which case, it doesn’t matter, you won’t make it to the end anyway. So, in time Jesus comes to earth, is put to death, resurrected three days later, takes his place in heaven, ensuring that Satan will be cast out, and thereby ensuring that things would eventually be put to rights. And then everything gears up for this big battle with Satan, in which he would be put down for good.
You’ve got a similar set up here in that Harry does battle, is wounded by the basilisk, which absolutely should kill him, but doesn’t, he’s saved – how? If you want to be overly Scriptural you could consider it as similar to God’s grace, since Fawkes is sent as a gift from Dumbledore.
C: I think we’re reaching a little.
S: Not really! Anyway, Harry is wounded, should die, doesn’t, and takes Tom out. You can get way more into crazy detail, and people have gone deep in relating the phoenix and the hat being sent by Dumbledore to help him, sending him the things he needed to fight the battle.
C: But Dumbledore didn’t send them.
S: That’s the question, isn’t it? Where do they come from? Harry asks for help, and Dumbledore gave us a cryptic message that help would be given to those who asked. Harry asks, and it’s given. Which, of course, relates to “ask and ye shall find, seek and it shall be given.”
And then, of course, he’s given a sword. The most famous sword in the New Testament is probably the Sword of Truth, used to fight spiritual battles. It’s a metaphor – you’re not really using a sword – but that metaphor has been heavily used ever since in art and literature.
We’ve also used snakes heavily to symbolize Satan, associated with liars and untruth – Satan is described as the Father of the Lie in the Bible – it’s a nice parallel to using truth to destroy evil.
As I’ve said before, I by no means think that J.K. Rowling was like, “Let me write a Biblical allegory into my story!” No. I do not think that is what happened. What I do think is that you’re seeing patterns that are so prevalent, that have been repeated so many times in so many forms, that they come through here, and they feel familiar – because they are. We’ve seen them before, and they’ve influenced how we view epic battles between good and evil.
C: I just added more rum to my rum and Coke for this conversation.
S: That will get you through it! Even if you go with that very literal parallel of final battle between Jesus and Satan – Harry literally kills the serpent by wounding it in the head. Which is either a total coincidence, or – just why the fuck not? It ties in so well with multiple things – basilisk lore, it’s thematically significant – this battle in the Chamber of Secrets works so well on so many levels, because it hits so many notes! It hits Arthurian parallels, folklore, Biblical parallels, themes she’s already set up in the book – it’s a damn good scene!
C: Imagine how we would feel if the person who wrote Genesis had, instead of an acute fear of serpents, an acute fear of giant sloths instead.
S: NOT SLOTHS! I love sloths.
C: That’s only because you don’t view sloth – okay, it’s one of the Seven Deadly Sins, isn’t it funny I picked that animal? Okay, armadillos!
S: Yep. There’s so much we tie into ideas of magic and the supernatural that we get from the Bible. The snake thing comes through a lot, not just in the Garden of Eden but in the Moses stories.
C: I’m telling you, whoever wrote that had a phobia. Or it’s an elaborate penis thing.
S: Speaking of penis things, I also thought about symbolism of swords, and I was looking at cultural traditions tied into swords, and oh my god, we have invested so many meanings and traditions into swords!
C: Men are very insecure.
S: There are so many rites of passage! Taking an oath by your sword, being sworn into a position by your sword, surrendering by your sword – swords are also closely linked to light, mainly because they’re shiny, but we love making that connection – swords, light, goodness…
S: And I didn’t know if this is true – this comes from a Masonic site – but it says that in alchemy the fire in the furnace is called the Philosopher’s sword. I’m starting to think that in alchemy they just called everything the Philosopher’s something. It’s the Philosopher’s shoe! The Philosopher’s bag!
There’s also the duality of the sword, both destructive and positive in defending justice and destroying injustice.
Another thing I thought about was books. I believe that Tom‘s Horcruxes are significant in terms of what they are and how those objects play into symbolism in art.
C: The only one I remember is the locket.
S: Well, I looked into symbolism of books in art, and there’s a medieval concept called the “book of the heart.”
It’s pretty basic – a book represents yourself. A lot of times in art you’d see heart-shaped books, and heart-shaped books were popular items, to represent the self.
It was kind of fun to see the Christian symbolism of this, because why not?
S: There’s a lot of Christian symbolism in how books are depicted in medieval art. Depending on how the book is shown means different things – an open book, an open heart-shaped book, a book with a cross on the cover, a heart-shaped book….
C: Did medieval Christians not have enough to do?
S: Obviously not. But I thought it fun that a closed book symbolized incomplete knowledge, could indicate the presence of heretics, and rejection of God’s holy law in favor of heretical doctrines. A closed book also indicates the Kingdom of Heaven is closed to nonbelievers.
Which is fun! It’s a closed book and Harry totally stabs it with the fang.
Difference in the book and movie – in the movie they have him stab it multiple times, but in the book, he stabs the closed diary! Symbol of something something something Voldemort incomplete evil something something!
I have so much fun with this crap. If you want to go off the rails on the symbolism, you totally can.
C: You know, the next time symbolism comes up and you start spouting facts, I’m going to come back with, “Well, this is what my research revealed,” and then just make shit up.
S: That would be great! And it would probably make more sense than some of the stuff I find! This series is one of the best-selling series, not just because it’s awesome and inventive, but because it hits universal themes like love, fear, pride, redemption –
S: All of those things, easily found in the Bible, and because the work has been so influenced by medieval art and history and lore, there’s going to be so much Bible shit in there. You can’t throw a stone without hitting something Biblical.
C: I don’t have enough rum for this.
S: I think the people who go around saying Harry is all about Christ, it’s an allegory, it’s a Bible story – no, it fucking isn’t. There’s just a lot of parallels there, and it’s fun to connect the dots. I think it’s fun, anyway. It gives you a headache, but I find it fun. “And also this! Did you know about this?”
C: Have I told the story about when I worked at the library and there was a woman who was not a Harry Potter fan?
S: Not on the air.
C: There are a number of private Christian “schools” in the area where I live, and this woman is a teacher at one of them, and is of course an extremely godly woman. She brought her class in regularly, but for some reason on this particular day the Harry Potter series came up between her and my boss. And she made some comment about how she was against Harry Potter because of the whole witches thing, and it says in the Bible “thou shalt not suffer a witch to live,” or whatever that quote is. And I’m one gigantic eye-roll overhearing this conversation.
Then she starts talking about how much she loves the Twilight series, because Edward won’t sleep with Bella until they’re married. At which point I wanted to interrupt and ask, how is it Biblical to have eternal life on earth, and do these people have souls?
S: Edward’s a vampire! If you want to go with supernatural concepts, I’m pretty sure that qualifies.
C: But oh no, it’s great, because never mind the issues about whether or not they die, or being immortal – that’s all fine because Edward doesn’t believe in premarital sex.
S: I know! I have so much fun with that Christian symbolism stuff, and I know people object to it since it’s magic.
C: PSST! Magic is not real and neither are witches, so it’s totally fine!
S: I understand the theological argument for it, but again, at the same time it’s literature, and literature is about coming up with new ways to explore the human condition and consider life and entertain ourselves, and this does that.
C: And also, these things are not real.
S: It’s not much different than stories with talking animals – those aren’t real either, and you’re okay with that.
C: No offense to any Wiccans who are listening. Different kind of witch.
S: I would hope they understand we’re talking about the Voldemort kind of witch, and I don’t know enough about the Wiccan religion to say much on that, so I won’t. We’re talking about the fictional magical world.
S: The theological reasons against magic – gee, you couldn’t tell that I’m into theory and philosophy – but there was something I read a while back that I found fascinating. The idea was that magic was considered anti-Christian because the notion of speaking things into being is something that belongs to God. In the Bible, it says that God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. It equates the act of speaking with the act of creation. So, when God says something is, it is. Speech and creation are one and the same. That’s supposed to be exclusively God’s power. And then you have this idea of magic, where you get that power – you have a wand, you speak the words, and something is.
C: But, but, but but, the problem with that is – look at all the things that exist that wouldn’t be things unless we put them together and said they should do things, like, “Let this be a lamp!” God did not create a lamp. We don’t go out and pick lamps in the field. We have to put shit together to make lamps.
S: Right, but that’s proper for us. As non-divine creatures, we shouldn’t have the power to speak something into being. Making and building is our realm, and that power to say, “let this happen” and make it happen only belongs to God. So, this idea that there are people who are magic, who could – or even wanting to be the kind of person who could – there’s a sense that these people are usurping something from God, trying to attain a power that should not be theirs. Therefore, magic is verboten, because it violates the natural order of things as God has established. Etc., etc., etc.
C: So, explain to me the morality of cross-breeding different vegetables to come up with pest-resilient or drought-resistant vegetables, or two breeds of dog bred to make a third.
S: Well, apparently if you’re not magically making it happen, as long as you have to work for it and it took labor that required your hands and brain, you didn’t just snap your fingers and it appeared – that’s fine.
C: As long as you follow the rules?
S: Sure, you’re not usurping God’s authority in that case.
C: Now I no longer have to worry about keeping my horse separate from my donkey.
S: You should feel better about that! I’ve also long suspected that wizards having wooden wands and using them to channel magic spells – I’ve long wondered if the idea of that being related to magic, and people being offended by it — at least in the medieval Christian sense – was because that was what Moses did when he went before Pharaoh and he had a staff, God told him to touch his staff to the water to turn it to blood, or throw it to the ground and it turns to a snake, then he picks it up and it’s a staff again. Those things are only possible because of direct Godly intervention. God says, do this, because it’s representing my power, so I’m giving you permission. That’s the Christian understanding. So again, the idea of people doing these kinds of things without God giving them permission must be getting their powers from somewhere else, and if it’s not God, and they’re usurping the power of God, then it must be – who is it? We all know?
C: SATAN! But why would you assume people could do that without God being like, yeah, I’m cool with it?
S: No idea. I just find it fascinating that that could be why people find it offensive – the idea that people having these godly powers is the thing that’s wrong, and so in crafting the idea of what a wizard is, if they’re not backed by God they’re evil. I get wrapped up in the base philosophy of it. I should probably stop thinking.
C: I don’t think these people put a lot of thought into stuff. It was probably gut reactions out of fear and ignorance. So, think away!
S: That is true. As we’ve seen, assuming that the pointed wizard caps come from hating Jews, for example, it’s convenient the way people take their Biblical beliefs and twist them to fit the fears and prejudices of that particular day.
C: It generally seems to be mostly white people.
S: True, although that could just reflect my lack of knowledge about prejudices and superstitions specific to Asian and African and South American culture. There’s still just so much that you can dig into and see how fucked up we are.
But J.K. Rowling digs into all those things that are weighted and heavy and have so much sexism and racism hanging on them, takes the fun bits and turns them into something nice with a message about tolerance and NOT being crazy sexist, racist and power hungry. There’s a nice symmetry to that, don’t you think?
S: So – hooray! Sorry people, I know I rambled about religiosity. But it was fun. I don’t even know where to go from here.
C: I think from here we go to Chapter 18.
S: We do! That will be for next time. We only have Chapter 18 left, and then it’s Prisoner of Azkaban!
C: Ah ah ah – then we go to the Drunk Watch.
S: Of the very long movie.
C: Of the very bad movie.
S: We’ll finish Chapter 18, then do our Drunk Potterwatch, and I hope we’re both drunk this time.
C: You and me both!
S: That’s it for us this week. I am Professor Seraphine –
C: I am Red For Process –
S: And we’ll see you next time on Advanced Muggle Studies!
Intro music: “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Kevin McLeod
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