Because the 17-19 episode runs a little long, we’ve posted a special section just focusing on the fascinating discussion about the lore and significance of werewolves.
In this section, we discuss: Peter Stubbe, Werewolf of Bedburg; belts, nudity and violence in werewolf lore; werewolves all over the world and why there are so few female werewolves; werewolves and Christianity; werewolves as metaphors for homosexuality and deviant male sexuality; how JK Rowling doesn’t understand the metaphor she actually wrote; and why it’s far too simplistic to read Lupin as gay or an AIDS survivor; the power of NOT sterilizing your lore; male role models; Hermione and Ron and menstrual subtext; and really, just all the proof that the Year 3 Book is the sexiest Book so far.
So: WEREWOLVES! We really need to talk about werewolves. And there’s a lot of symbolism with the various creatures that all three of the Marauders transform into.
Let’s start by talking about Peter Stumpf, or Peter Stubbe.
C: Who is that?
S: Stubbe is pretty much the basic starting point of the werewolf as we know him. We know about him because of a 16-page pamphlet published in London in 1590, and was discovered again in 1920 by an occultist who found it interesting.
C: By an occultist?
S: Did you know that was a thing?
C: I know people who are into the occult exist. When you tell me 1920’s and the occult, I’m immediately like, Cthulu’s coming.
S: Peter Stubbe was a German farmer. He goes by several names – Griswold, Stumpf. Apparently he had his left hand cut off at a certain point. He lived Cologne, in the village of Eprath, and so apparently people called him Stumpf because he was missing his left hand. Which I also think is funny, given Peter Pettigrew missing a toe, but it’s purely coincidental, I think.
And, frankly, his story is pretty rough. He is known to history as the Werewolf of Bedburg. Weird stuff starts happening in Stubbe’s village, children are going missing, people start getting attacked, and a lot of animals start being found brutally massacred in fields. Logically, people assume that it’s an animal, a bear or a wolf or something. And for quite a while the people of the village are hunting, trying to find what it is that’s causing all of this. And I’m trying to find in here, if it says exactly how they come to the conclusion that it’s actually Peter who is doing all of this.
C: Well, it was the Middle Ages, and they were superstitious people who didn’t know much about science.
S: That is true. And to be fair, the jury is somewhat out as to whether or not Peter Stubbe actually did do this stuff or not. He’s arrested in 1589, and accused, and evidence is brought forth saying that he had been attacking and eating goats, lambs and sheep, but also men, women and children for over 25 years. That was the accusation. Now. This article says, “facing torture, he then confessed.” Now, I don’t know if that means he confessed before they tortured him or that he confessed while they were torturing him. It’s anyone’s guess.
C: How dare they ruin this for us with poor sentence structure?
S: It’s unfair. But he did confess to having murdered and eaten 14 children and two pregnant women. In fact, he describes — this is gross, I’m sorry, trigger warning — he described actually having extracted the fetuses from the pregnant women and eating that too.
C: I mean, in for a penny in for a pound.
S: Yeah. If you’re going to go that far, I guess he figured it was a bonus. He also confessed that he regularly had sex with his daughter.
C: And I’m sure his daughter appreciated that.
S: I’m sure she did. And he claimed to have had sex with a succubus that the devil had sent to him.
C: Okay, so I think now we know he’s crazy.
S: So either he’s making shit up, to get out of being tortured, which — fair? Or, he really was kind of crazy. It’s hard to know. What I’ve read about him has mostly led me to think that it might be a little bit of both. I know the evidence is limited, but my personal opinion is that he was a little crazy. And it is possible that he had killed some animals, and maybe some people, I mean, the fact that he went on for so long. And this was something that he claimed he had been doing for a really long time. I don’t know, there’s, as you can imagine, lots of very imaginative engravings of this. I just don’t know what to think. He could be crazy. He could be just making stuff up because they’re gonna torture him.
C: Here’s the thing, though. We don’t know that he actually confessed to any of this at all. And, presumably he was — anybody who is an expert in, you know, European Middle Ages, if I’m wrong about this, feel free to write in and tell us — probably not super educated, probably not even literate. So if they were like, here’s a whole bunch of shit that you did, including boning a succubus, he’d be like, okay, here’s the X. I did it.
S: It’s possible. Now I am going to say that the records indicate that he was wealthy and was a pretty respected member of the town and a wealthy farmer and landowner. So I don’t know. Now they do torture him and we find out the things he confesses to get more outlandish with torture, so you know, big surprise.
C: Wait, are you telling me waterboarding doesn’t work?!
S: Yeah. Just before being stretched on the rack, Stubbe confessed to having practiced black magic since he was 12. He said the Devil had forged and given to him a magical belt, enabling him to metamorphose into “the likeness of a greedy, devouring Wolf, strong and mighty with eyes great and large, which in the night sparkled like fire, a mouth great and wide, with most sharp and cruel teeth, a huge body, and mighty paws.” When the belt was removed, Stubbe claimed, he would transform back to his human form.
C: How did he take off his own belt? How is he even wearing about when he’s in wolf form? How does he take off his own belt with his big paws that don’t have opposable thumbs, without say, tearing the belt?
S: That’s like you asking why Jacob Black isn’t naked every damn time he transforms into a wolf and back out of being a wolf, and I don’t know why you got to bring your logic into this.
C: I just wasn’t meant to be a superstitious person, I guess. I don’t know.
S: I’m more inclined to think that Peter Stubbe might have been, if anything, a serial killer, and an incestuous, abusive man. His confessions get more fantastical the closer we get to the threats of torture, which is not surprising. So I wouldn’t be surprised if he might have actually had killed some people. And then as the interrogation become more intense, it’s like, “I did it because the devil and magic and I’m a werewolf also!”
C: Do we know anything about his daughter or his family?
S: You’re not going to like it.
C: Are we sure that he — I mean, obviously, we can’t be sure. But was he actually having an incestuous relationship with his daughter? Or was that one of the increasingly outlandish horrible things he confessed to because Oh, God, maybe they’ll stop?
S: That actually seems to be one of the earlier things he confessed to before the torturing. So I don’t know.
C: That’s just deeply unfortunate.
S: It is. And you’re not gonna like what little we do know about his family. Because it’s awful. They execute him on October 31 — Of course they do – in 1589, in what even now people consider an extraordinarily violent way to kill someone. This particular article compares it to something aesthetically similar to a scene from the Saw franchise.
C: Oh, God.
S: So, you were warned listeners, but I’m going to tell you what it is anyway. They strap him to a wooden wheel. They tear flesh from his body in 10 places with red-hot pincers.
S: And then I’m a little bit confused because again, how dare they confuse me with their vague syntax? This is the second time this has happened in one article, and I’m very displeased! Because the quote from the pamphlet says “flesh was torn from his body in 10 places with red hot pincers, followed by his arms and legs.” So that leads me to believe that they tore his arms and legs off. But then it says, “Then his limbs were broken with the blunt side of an axe head to prevent him from returning from the grave.” So I guess his legs were still attached and they just broke them.
C: If they tore off his arms and legs, I don’t think he would have survived that happening too long, right? Because of blood loss.
S: Yeah, so maybe it’s just the bad syntax — they pulled flesh off of his body, including his arms and legs. Then they broke his limbs. Then they beheaded him and burned him on a pyre. Unfortunately, for everyone, history is a horrible place to be and people are horrible in general…because his daughter and his mistress apparently were flayed and strangled and burned along with his body.
C: That just seems unfair.
S: And as a preventative measure, the torture wheel was erected on a pole, with the figure of a wolf on it, topped by Peter Stubbe’s severed head as a warning to all.
C: So then, do these weird attacks and murders continue?
S: Apparently not. Now, there is some speculation that there might be something additional here because it says that the pamphlet and all the broadsheets that talk about the execution noted that there were members of the aristocracy, including the new Archbishop and elector of Cologne, in attendance at Stubbs execution. And they think it might be relevant because of the fact that he was committing his crimes from 1582 to 1589. And apparently, the electorate of Cologne was already in a bit of a political upheaval because Protestantism had been introduced and Peter Stubbe was an early convert to Protestantism.
C: Now we get to the real shit behind it!
S: “In 1587 Protestants were finally defeated, and the new Lord of Bedberg made Bedberg Castle the headquarters of his Catholic mercenaries who were determined to reestablish the Roman faith. Stubbe’s werewolf trial may have been performed to, a tad more than gently, persuade the remaining Protestants to sign up to Catholicism, it is unlikely that any of Germany’s elite would have attended a regular werewolf or witch trial, and they were regular. It is most likely the case that having drawn up Stumpp’s alleged and truly outrageous crimes, the elite constructed a popular popular public spectacle with assured visibility to the public at large, and then attended the embodiment of a werewolf, a Protestant scoundrel and archetype of anti Catholic spiritual darkness.” Again, none of that really speaks to whether or not he actually did one, two, or all of the things that he said. But it certainly suggests that whatever he may or may not have done was very likely highly exaggerated, to see much worse than it actually was. And, you know, there’s no way to ever know. The guy may have just been crazy. He may have just been slightly crazy and maybe did a couple things, and all the rest got tacked on. He may have done none of it. I don’t know. We don’t know. But he is certainly one of the most famous werewolf figures that we have.
And, lycanthropy is this mythological folkloric thing that’s been in our society for a long time that has always really kind of focused on the intersection between human nature and beast nature.
So werewolf legends are all over the world. And there’s a lot of them in Norse mythology, the Volsung saga that resembles werewolf legends, fighters who would wear hides of animals and then channel the spirits of those animals. And then there’s 11th century Russian folklore. This Prince, Vseslav of Polotsk, was considered to have been a werewolf — at night he proud in the guise of a wolf. Armenian folklore is one of the few that actually talks about women becoming werewolves.
C: Aw, yeah.
S: Very few female werewolves. And we will talk about why here very soon. But it should surprise no one that we’re going to see a lot of intersection between fear of werewolves and concerns over Christianity. This is one of the few cases in which we have a creature who is not compared unto our Lord and Savior.
There are quite a few werewolf trials in 16th century France. There was Gilles Garnier in 1573 — there was clear evidence against maybe a wolf attack, but not against the man. There’s different documented events caused by the full moon. There was from 1764 to 1767 an unknown entity which killed upwards of 80 men, women and children. And the creature was described as a giant Wolf by the sole survivor of the attacks. So then they went and killed a bunch of wolves and that stopped, so hey, it was probably just a wolf. But in lore, there’s different ways to become a werewolf, obviously, the one that most of us think of is getting bitten by a werewolf – which, from what we understand, is what happened to Lupin — but you can also become one by drinking water from a wolf’s pawprint, eating wolf brains, wearing a wolf skin or wolf skin belt, or a wolf skin garter — that one is really common, the idea of a belt of putting on a belt or some kind of girdle and that is what turns you into the wolf and then you take it off — a pact with the devil, of course, or some kind of family curse. And there’s all kinds of really interesting ones! In Portuguese and Brazilian folklore there’s the idea that the seventh of the sons, or your seventh child, will become a werewolf. In Portugal, the seventh daughter becomes a witch and the seventh son will become a werewolf. Don’t have seven kids, I guess.
C: That’s — that’s really unfortunate.
S: Yeah, it’s an odd one, right? I think the very rare example of — because after a while, everybody’s like, okay, werewolves and the devil go hand in hand — there was this one dude in 1692 in Jergenberg in Livonia, a man named Thiess of Kaltenbrun who “testified under oath that he and other werewolves were the hounds of God, that they were warriors who were who went down into Hell do battle with witches and demons, and their efforts ensured that the devil and minions did not carry off the abundance of the earth down into hell.”
C: Now, that dude was clever.
S: He was! “He was steadfast in his assertions, claiming that werewolves in Germany and Russia also did battle with the devil’s minions in their own versions of hell, and insisted that when werewolves died, their souls were welcomed into heaven as a reward for their service.” So we have found the first person to hazard the concept that, indeed, All Dogs Go To Heaven. Apparently, he was ultimately sentenced to 10 lashes for his superstitious and heretical beliefs.
C: I mean, that’s so much better than being stretched out on a torture wheel and having hunks of yourself torn off with red hot pincers.
S: Oh, yeah, that I forgot about when it said talking about like eating the brains of a wolf could turn you into one, I forgot that is also one of the things that that Peter Stubbe said that he did, only it was his son. He said that he killed his own son. The guy had problems. Or else he didn’t. And I’m not sure which one it is.
So, to kill a werewolf, you can either take the coat or the belt off. strike them in the heart with a silver bullet, arrow, or knife, have three drops of blood spilled or be struck three times on the head with a knife (that seems really like a broad spectrum,) or touch it with an object made of iron. Hmm, very, very strange vulnerabilities. I mean, silver seems to be the thing, but also of the weaknesses that werewolves supposedly have, the most common is an aversion to wolfsbane, (the Wolfsbane potion), and in mythology, wolfsbane is a plant that supposedly sprouted from weeds, watered by the drool of Cerberus, while he was brought out of the underworld by Hercules.
S: Fluffy drool has magical powers! They also apparently have a notable dislike for certain metals, which is iron or silver, which are both considered to represent the moon; and unlike vampires, they are not harmed by religious artifacts, such as the crucifix.
All right, all that is fine, and probably not all that surprising. That’s pretty straight-up what we all know about werewolves. Not that unusual. Most of the lore that we have about werewolves hasn’t changed all that much.
But there is a pretty key element that has — and I’m about to pull that up and talk about it.
So, we talked a lot about the medieval view of things because that seems to be really important in terms of where she pulls a lot of her ideas from, and the Hogwarts world itself feels very medieval. The church had this bestiary where a lot of these magical creatures from the Harry Potter universe come from, like basilisks and manticores. But werewolves were not included in the bestiary. And that’s partly because the bestiary was supposed to communicate a moral message from God to mankind somehow. But werewolves were not included in that. Mainly, this is because everybody hated wolves in Europe, because you know, they’re dangerous, and they eat everything. And they’re very powerful creatures.
In the allegorical tradition, they’re linked with greed, and gluttony. There’s a lot of different kind of werewolf stories. Some of them have to do with a man who’s trapped in a bestial form. Usually, it’s his wife’s fault, for some reason.
C: I mean, come on.
S: Blame the woman! Blame the witch! That’s a moral of a lot of the stories — learning that the lady is to blame, and can’t be trusted. But it’s really the tail end of the Middle Ages, in the 15th and 16th centuries, where people start believing that werewolves, like witches, are servants of the Devil. And so if you’re convicted of being a werewolf, you can be burned alive.
C: May I interrupt you? At what point did it come into the tale that you transformed into a werewolf during the full moon? Because I thinking it would be really easy to hold someone for a month and see if they transform into a werewolf. And if they don’t, I guess they weren’t the person killing people, I don’t know, maybe we should let them go instead of torturing them to death.
S: That’s so smart. You’re so logical. You’re so wise.
C: I mean, one doesn’t get to be a professor based on emotion alone.
S: No, no, that is true. No, I mean, I think it’s probably tied in with the fact that — and there is data to back this up — human behavior can be affected by the moon. They say crime tends to go up around the full moon. And that’s just kind of a thing that happens. People get a little goofy, and scientists hazard that it maybe has something to do with, you know, the pull of the moon affects the pull of water, and we’re mostly water. So maybe there’s something there. I’m not sure where when exactly that idea became firmly entrenched.
But it may not surprise you to learn that in a lot of cases, the werewolf symbolized anxieties about male sexualities that were considered deviant. Particularly, three motifs common in Netherlands, Flanders and Germany can be considered as metaphors for male homosexuality, sexual violence, and bestiality. The first motif featured the werewolf as a “back rider.” In legends dealing with this, the werewolf would jump on someone’s back, who then had to carry the werewolf. And the werewolf would also then lick or urinate on the person he jumped on, which according to this historical anthropologist, indicated homosexual acts. Although if that’s the case, I don’t think these people know what homosexual acts actually entail. Because that’s not how any of that works.
C: Well, I mean, if the back jumping is supposed to represent, let’s say, non-missionary –
C: Yes. Straight people do that, too. And I’m sure that is not something that started in the 90s after everyone got the internet and easy access to porn.
S: But not the GOOD straight people!
C: Oh, please.
S: I’m sorry, I couldn’t even finish that.
C: Yeah, that’s why like the state in this country that watches the most porn is Utah, with all those good Mormons out there who would never touch it.
S: So there are versions of putting on clothes that the devil gives you that turns you into a werewolf. There was also this this one version of a story that’s honestly really reaching, that had said that they kind of interpret it as some kind of take on bestiality or something like that. But the bottom line is that the werewolf tends to be on this border between civilization and wildness.
This is the one that I feel is really reaching. “Another theme that reflected anxieties about male deviant sexuality can be found in the most common type of werewolf story called The Hungry Farmhand.” Oh, dear. Okay. I don’t know if he realized where that was going. “In these legends a group of laborers took a nap. One of them put on a belt, transformed into a werewolf, and devoured a foal. Another labor only pretended to sleep and watched the werewolf.” Because I guess he gets off on watching. When the werewolf returned, he complained about a stomachache or a lack of appetite, depending on the legend. The labor who watched him replied that this was no wonder, since he had just eaten a foal. Since in some stories the werewolf put off his trousers before the transformation, and due to the impossibility of devouring an entire foal in such a short period of time, the anthropologist interpreted this type of legend as a metaphor for bestiality.
C: Um. Okay.
S: And then of course, we have our dear friend Peter Stubbe. One of the crimes he was accused of was killing a girl who he had first “deflowered.”
Many cases associated werewolves with sexual violence that was perpetrated after their transformation. “And the underlying anxiety was once again the Devil would undermine Christian society with the help of werewolves. In Westphalia, Hesse and Schonburg werewolves were often called the Boxenwolf, meaning “trouser wolf,” and this name stressed the lower half of the werewolf’s body and thus their sexuality. It should be noted that in many stories, means such as belts or girdles help the werewolves to assume their form. Peter Stubbe claimed the same thing — that he would put on a girdle and that would help him transform. Most of the stories — even in stories for the Brothers Grimm. And since belts and girdles divide the body into two halves, they emphasize the lower half of the body and hence the person’s sexuality.” Additionally, “wild hair stands for wild morals,” the anthropologist pointed out. Oh my!
C: Are we sure that’s what that’s talking about?
S: “But essentially, in looking at all the stories and how they overlap, it becomes obvious at least in these areas, the werewolf is often a metaphor for deviant male sexuality. Thus, the werewolf in these regions expressed anxieties about male sexual deviance closely associated with the transformation and the lupine shape. The animalistic nature of a werewolf enabled by the Devil posed a danger to society, since it caused people, particularly men, to deviate from early modern sexual norms.” How dare they! Because that’s really what it was. It wasn’t you know, men being into other men, it’s because the Devil made them do it. Not that, dude, your neighbor is hot, you know?
C: I mean, look at how burly he is after spending 14 hours a day tilling his rocky soil that he doesn’t own, you know.
S: And so according to Catholic tradition, the wolf symbolizes heresy, gluttony, false prophets and the devil. Gluttony of multiple natures, particularly a sexual nature.
C: What other than lambs and doves does the Catholic Church not think symbolizes the Devil? And let me actually just rewind that and just let’s say all of Christianity, I don’t want to like, pick on them.
S: It’s either Jesus or it’s the devil. It’s one of those two things. They also point out that lycanthropy can be a metaphor for puberty — all the changes, trying to struggle with your primal instincts. It could also be a metaphor for menstruation — a regular monthly cycle, changing once a month. And then of course, “because of its typical transmission through biting and frequently fatal outcome, lycanthropy can also be a metaphor for any contagious disease, particularly those that are transmitted sexually.” So all of this brings me back to the fact that JK Rowling said that she intended Lupin being a werewolf as this metaphor for HIV.
C: Have we talked about that on the show?
S: Briefly, but we hadn’t really got into it much because I had lots of complicated thoughts and didn’t want to get too deep into it.
C: I mean, I don’t remember that which should shock no one who knows me because my memory is terrible.
S: I think that’s pretty widely acknowledged. JK Rowling said herself that she originally intended Lupin’s werewolf status — him being an outcast, people are afraid of him, no one wants to trust him with their children, he has a hard time keeping a job, his appearance of being sickly and thin and everything — that she had intended it as kind of an AIDS metaphor.
C: I mean, I guess I can see that. You become a werewolf when someone bites you and you know, it’s transmission by bodily fluid, essentially. I would not have come up with that on my own, like reading it, I would not have made that connection. Um, I guess it’s kind of interesting that that’s what she was going for.
S: Now, as a result of that, David Thewlis said—
C: Oh, okay, I remember this now!
S: — that he when he was playing Lupin, his thought was he was trying to play Lupin as kind of like a gay junkie. That’s exactly what he said – a gay junkie.
Now, he had no idea at the time that he was going to have a female love interest written into the series. So as he has said, when he had Lupin in his mind, and the way he played him in Prisoner of Azkaban, in his mind Lupin was gay and maybe had a drug problem, or at least it was a parallel for that. And then he had to deal with the introduction of the Tonks story, which was surprising to him but he was like, okay, you know, whatever, I’ll go with it. And I just wonder what your thoughts are on that because I know we haven’t gotten to the Tonks love story. And I know that everybody loves Lupin and Tonks, because Tonks is awesome. Lupin’s awesome. We like the idea of someone like Lupin finding love after everything that he’s done. We like the fact that Tonks loves him for him, despite the age difference, despite everything. But JK Rowling apparently was not super thrilled with people suggesting that Lupin might possibly be gay or anything like that, which, you know, big shock. JK Rowling being unhappy about other people suggesting things that she didn’t suggest first.
C: You know, I really feel like she at this point is herself moving into problematic fav territory.
S: She is. And Lindsay Ellis did a great video about Death of the Author, in which she talked about JK Rowling. And yeah, we’re kind of we kind of are getting into that territory and if she keeps going the way she’s going on Fantastic Beasts, I think we’re definitely getting there. But here’s my thing with Lupin. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about this until we get to book six. But you know, we’ll never get to book six. So I might as well talk about it now.
C: We can talk about it again because I will have completely forgotten all aspects of this conversation.
S: In book six, we’re introduced to the character of Fenrir Greyback. When we first hear his name, when his name is first mentioned, Lupin is described as gripping the thing he is holding convulsively, and freaking out just at the name. He asks Harry, “Oh, you don’t know who that is?” And Harry doesn’t. Well, Fenrir Greyback is one of the most notorious werewolves in the wizarding community, and he is super into being a werewolf, to the extent that he actually positions himself near children on purpose so that when he turns he’ll be near enough to bite children and victimize them. And that he’s in fact so far gone that he’s begun attacking children, it is suggested, even when it’s not a full moon and he hasn’t fully transformed. Later in book six when we finally see Greyback, and he’s talking to Dumbledore, there’s this scene where he is described as slowly and obscenely licking his fingers. It’s suggested that he has attacked someone down below in Hogwarts, so he’s got blood on his fingers.
C: Is that when he gets Bill?
S: think it might be. And then Dumbledore makes a comment about how he is so far gone that he’s allowing his monstrous urges to take him over. And Greyback licks his fingers slowly and says, “Oh, but Dumbledore, you know how much I love children.”
S: So, all of that taken together, my thoughts on Lupin become much more complicated, and probably not a place that most people want to go with the character. But it seems pretty obvious by the time we get to book six that that werewolf-like behavior is being pretty heavily coded along the lines of pedophilia. I mean, there’s really no question about the way Greyback is being depicted. And Lupin struggles violently with being a werewolf, with the trauma of what has happened to him. And then in book seven, when Tonks becomes pregnant, part of the reason he runs is because he says, What if he’s like me, but also his fear that he might attack his kid.
And I know I’m taking this in a very dark place. And I don’t mean to suggest that Lupin is a pedophile by any means. But what I do mean to suggest is that part of Lupin’s issue is being a victim of sexual assault at a very young age. If we take lycanthropy as being a coded way to look at sexual assault, in a series that is very careful to heavily redact sexual implications, but in THIS ONE CASE really doesn’t — to me, that explains a lot more about his issues with his relationship with Tonks, his hesitation to get married, his struggles once he does get married, as more of a sexual trauma coded thing, rather than an AIDS metaphor. But that’s also an extremely dark and troublesome way of looking at a much beloved character. And so it’s not something I bring up very often. But having gone through all that, I would love to hear your thoughts.
C: Well, my first thought is this pernicious lie, that will never go away. Or I mean, hopefully one day it will go away, but has not in God only knows how many years, is that that gay men are pedophiles.
C: So – ugh. Obviously, HIV and AIDS is the thing that afflicts everyone, but it first became a big crisis among the gay male community, and these books are set in sort of that time period. Well, a little later than that, I suppose. I hope that was not what she was going for with that, because I know you said that she was irritated with a suggestion that Lupin was gay, and that was just like a David Thewlis thing. But all of that together is not ideal.
S: It’s not. Here’s what I think I. I don’t think that she intended for Lupin to be gay. And I actually don’t read him as gay. I can see where people could though. I could see, given his close relationship with Sirius, his longtime bachelorhood, his continued ostracism from the rest of the wizarding world — and frankly, and I know, I would anger a lot of people by saying this — but frankly, his steady resistance to being in a relationship with Tonks and their lack of chemistry post-relationship is very suggestive.
I don’t think Lupin is gay, but I also think that JK messed up in her thought of being a werewolf as being equivalent to having AIDS — because if that was her intention, she messes it up when she introduces Greyback. Because by introducing Greyback, she makes it much clearer that her intention actually is a lot more along the lines of sexual trauma, and sexual predators, and dealing with the fallout of that. Now, is it possible that a sexual predator could give someone AIDS on purpose? Sure. But I don’t think the metaphor holds up very well that way. I think, as a metaphor, once you introduce Greyback, it becomes much more about a person who’s been victimized and is struggling to have any kind of healthy sexuality post-that kind of trauma. And that goes a lot farther to explaining his problems with having any kind of a healthy relationship and his insistence on keeping tongs at arm’s length, and just his fear after the fact that he’s going to ruin it because, you know, you’re dealing with massive trauma, and that kind of thing affects you.
That’s my read on the whole Lupin thing. And people don’t like that so much, because it’s not so clear cut. And it’s also a little bit darker and a little bit more distressing. And I guess it’s not as cool and subversive, at least from like, a straight person’s point of view about ‘Oh, Lupin could be gay and wouldn’t that be cool,’ but yeah, I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think it holds up. And I actually think it’s a really bad and lazy reading to just be like, oh, Lupin’s gay because reasons. Saying that he’s gay just leads into, like you say, more troubling associations with the stereotype of some gay dude with AIDS, you know?
C: Yeah. And there’s a whole big fandom around the Marauders, you know, all sleeping together. Or at least James, Sirius and Lupin.
S: Sirius and Lupin are a really common pairing.
C: And part of that, I think comes from, one, there’s just such a dearth of depictions of straight male friendship, or even straight-gay male friendship. Because, you know, God forbid. So anything that’s like remotely affectionate or close? People hone in on. Also, that comes from the fact of there’s a dearth of queer representation in media. So anytime you see something, it’s like, oh, my God! and people imprint on it whether it’s there or not. I get why people would look at Lupin throughout the books and think, hey, he’s gay, he and Sirius had a thing or whatever. But at the same time, he marries Tonks. He and Tonks have a kid. Not that you can’t do that as a gay person, because that has happened too, plenty of times. It very openly still happens with people who are Mormon. I’m sure it happens with women too, but mostly happens with men that I’ve heard of. Men admit, “Yes, I’m a gay male, but it’s okay. God loves me as long as I don’t act on it.” And women marry them knowing their husband is gay.
But at the same time, I think you have to deliberately read against the text to say, Oh, yeah, this is going on, but secretly Lupin’s gay.
S: I guess the problem where I get nervous about my read on Lupin is that I wouldn’t want to make the mistake of looking at sexual trauma in that that terrible stereotype, like you said, that idea that like all gay men are pedophiles, or, even conversely, that a man who is abused by another man grows up to be a pedophile and to repeat the abuse, which is not true. It can happen, certainly. But just the fact of Lupin’s own fears about himself as a parent — to me, you could read it that way. To me, I think it’s more a fear of just himself as a person being emotionally stunted. Like, he’s afraid that the traumas that he has been through have made it next to impossible for him to be a healthy person emotionally, as a spouse, as a father.
C: And if we go with the assumption that Lupin actually does love Tonks, hence him marrying her and having a child with her, his fear, too, is especially as a man, she’s going to be ostracized with me, our child is going to be ostracized with me, they’re going to lose everything, I’m not going to be able to provide for them. It’s literally everything.
S: At the same time, it’s something that I almost wish was a more common reading of Lupin, because in terms of healthy and positive representations of men who have suffered sexual trauma at a young age at the hands of other men, which is explicitly in the text, right? It could do so much good. Does that make sense? Lupin is this incredible, heroic, wonderful person. He’s a complex person that that provides so many wonderful traits, ways to to be masculine, and to be a man and to be a compassionate person. And if we were more comfortable talking about the fact that she pretty much wrote into the text that he’s a man who was sexually assaulted by another man, if you follow her own coding patterns, and he spends the rest of his adult life struggling to deal with that — I know, that’s a really heavy thing to throw into a kid’s series, but it’s also there! She put it there!
C: The thing is, though, and not that you’re wrong, because having said everything you’ve said, absolutely, I can see that. But to me, it’s like her making the bankers hook-nosed goblins. You explained to me, who is an ignorant person, how that was a Jewish stereotype. And of course, Jewish people have this stereotype of being rich and being money lenders or whatever, all that nonsense. The assumption here with this would be that that’s what she thought of, and that’s what she’s intended, where we have this other example of the goblins where presumably she didn’t realize this what she was doing. And, and that seems like that at least, despite me not knowing stuff — she’s a writer, maybe she would know a little bit more than I do? And would be more up on stuff like that? Maybe not. I don’t know. All I’m saying is she used stereotypes once and let us hope that she did so out of ignorance. So, if that’s the case, then it’s likely that happened with this as well.
S: It is possible. It’s just so suggestive because she’s shown that she understands mythology and a lot of these creatures really well, and their origins. And we’ve said that she’s taken a lot of these mythological creatures and their origins and really sanitized them. And maybe that’s what she intended to do here. And maybe what she ended up doing with Fenrir Greyback was completely by accident. And even if it was entirely subconscious, though, this is the one time when she didn’t sanitize the myth. Because everything in the way that she describes Greyback really speaks to this idea of deviant male sexuality. He’s described as lascivious, in a way, deviant, unsafe. And we only meet two werewolves in the story — well, one of them is a predator who’s constantly talking about how much he likes children. I don’t know that we can avoid the association for the other one and not look at the implications of that. Whether she intended it or not, she picked a mythological creature that’s steeped in sexual connotation, and in this case particularly, didn’t really expunge the sexual connotation. It’s one of the few times where she didn’t! We have brooms that go from sexual objects to fun sports things. But we also have werewolves that go from deviant male sexual and murderous behaviors… to…um… deviant male sexual and murderous behaviors.
That may be what bugs me about it, because she did sanitize everything else. But she didn’t sanitize this. Whether it was on purpose, I don’t know. It might not have been, it might just come across that way and she didn’t really realize she was going there until it was done. All I know is that Lupin is one thing, but once you introduce Greyback and provide that kind of context for Lupin’s own story, it changes a lot of stuff. And then his reaction to his own future with Tonks is also something that is just I struggled with for a long time. The whole Book 7 rounding out of his arc confused me for so long.
C: I’ve only read book seven once, but I was super disappointed with all of that. They got married and had a kid and everything, that’s great. But it’s like, Lupin, man, you’re not the character you were! What has happened to you?
S: I struggled with it at the time. But the more I thought about it in the context of Greyback and the metaphor, it all of a sudden made a lot more sense. Reading it through that lens, everything Lupin does in seven actually makes a lot of sense. So I guess that’s the reading I go with because it makes his behaviors as a character consistent throughout the story. I think that’s possibly what makes him so fascinating to me because, if that’s true, we’ve got a character who’s undergoing a massive internal struggle that he never talks about. We got a character undergoing a massive internal struggle that we only see through a limited external view, through Harry’s eyes. And so as adult readers who are more perceptive than Harry is, we read it, and we’re like, oh, there’s way more going on there than Harry realizes. That’s just has been one of the more complex and interesting things to me about Lupin and about the whole werewolf thing. And as we go on, it’ll come up again, I know we’ll talk about it more.
But I also thought you might appreciate knowing this. I’ve talked so far about the symbolism and the history of werewolves. But I also thought about looking at it in context of werewolves’ interactions with the other animals, like the Animagi in the books. And there’s some interesting stuff here.
First of all, rats. It may not surprise you to know that rats don’t have a real positive symbolic history in medieval art. The rat or mouse, because of its destructiveness, is a symbol of evil.
C: Of course!
S: All these other animals have, like a full paragraph, and this one is so simple, because rats are destructive, and everyone hated rats. It was a massive problem in the Middle Ages. And so it’s just a symbol of evil, plain and simple. Okay, fine.
So then I’m going with this whole symbolism-of-animals-with-religious-overtones, because so much of this is that, so I was like, Okay, what about the deer? The deer, according to Catholic saint information, is a symbol of solitude and piety. It could denote someone who was a hunter in life. And deer are associated in art with a lot of people — King David, Jesus, and then a whole bunch of saints, and one of those saints is –
C: SAINT POTTER!
S: St. Francis of Assisi was a rich cloth merchant. He was well educated, but he had a bit of a misspent youth. And he was a prisoner of war at a certain point and had a conversion experience, and so began to take his faith seriously, renounced his former life, began following Christ, etc. St. Francis of Assisi is really a big, big one among the saints. In the Middle Ages, people who were believed to be possessed especially called upon the intercession of St. Francis because they believe that he was opposite the demon in heaven. He’s a powerful dude in the world of saints.
C: Meanwhile, poor Francis is over here like, “Dude, I just liked animals.”
S: Well, here’s an interesting story about Francis and the Wolf of Gubbio. The Wolf of Gubbio was a wolf that terrorized the Umbrian city of Gubbio until it was tamed by St. Francis of Assisi acting on behalf of God. So according to the story, around 1220, a fierce wolf appeared in the country and began attacking livestock. “And soon the wolf graduated to direct assaults on humans and not long after began to dine upon them exclusively. It was known for lingering outside of the city gates and wait for anyone foolish enough to venture beyond them alone. No weapon was capable of inflicting injury upon the wolf and all who attempted to destroy it were devoured. Eventually, the mere sight of the animal caused the entire city to raise alarm and the public refuse to go outside the walls for any reason. It was at that point that St. Francis announced he was going to take leave and meet the wolf. He was advised against this more than once, but irrespective of the warnings, he made the sign of the Cross and went beyond the gates with a small group of followers. When he neared the lair of the wolf, the crowd held back but remain close enough to witness it.” So the wolf rushes at St. Francis with its jaws open, and Francis commands the wolf to cease its attacks in the name of God, at which point, the wolf trots up to him docilely and lays at his feet, putting its head in his hands. And then it describes what he says — he calls him his brother, he says, “You’ve done much evil in the land, killing creatures of God, you’ve dared to devour men, etc. All men cry out against thee but I will make peace between them and thee,” so if you’ll be good, they’ll forgive you and no one will chase you anymore. And the wolf agrees, submitting to St. Francis. And Francis in return offered, “If you make this peace, you’ll be fed every day by the inhabitants of this land so long as you live among them. You will no longer suffer hunger. And I will do all of this for you if you promise never to attack any animal or human being again.” So, in agreement, the wolf placed one of its four paws in Francis’s outstretched hand and the oath was made. Francis then commanded the wolf to return with him to Gubbio, and it was considered a miracle. And when Francis reached the marketplace, he offered the assembled crowd an impromptu sermon with the tame wolf at his feet. He is quoted as saying, “How much we ought to dread the jaws of Hell if the jaws of so small an animal as a wolf can make the whole city tremble with fear!”
C: Something tells me that didn’t really go down that way.
S: Probably not, because apparently the wolf kept putting its paw in St. Francis’s hand to illustrate their pact, so either that’s a really well trained dog or I don’t know what, but according to tradition, they gave the wolf an honorable burial at the church of St. Francis, and apparently, during renovations in 1872, they did actually find the skeleton of a large wolf, apparently several centuries old, buried under a slab near the church wall and then reburied inside.
C: I kind of dig that part of it!
S: I just found it super interesting that in, in medieval art and lore, the deer or the stag is associated with St. Francis. And the deer is constantly a symbol of Jesus, with the cross and everything. There’s all these legends about a deer that was spotted out in the forest and somebody tried to hunt it, but then they looked closely, and a cross appeared between its antlers. And they were like, “Oh, no, I can’t kill it! Apparently, it’s Jesus!”
C: I’ve never heard of that!
S: That’s apparently a legend that shows up a few times from this time period. So, the deer is consistently associated with Jesus, but it’s also consistently associated with St. Francis. And St. Francis is considered the guy who befriended the wolf when nobody else would. And so I find that just very interesting that you have James Potter as the deer, who’s the guy whose son ends up saving the whole wizarding world, but he’s also the guy who helps befriend the wolf, and makes it possible for the wolf to you know, not kill people and stuff.
C: That’s probably deliberate.
S: I’m going to say it probably is. Even if it was a coincidence, that would be one hell of a coincidence, and I think it probably is pretty deliberate. I just liked that a lot. I thought that was really cool. But rats don’t get anything quite so good. They’re just awful and evil, and we want them all to die. So there’s your moral lesson for today.
C: What about big dogs?
S: Well, we talked about big dogs previously in one of our last episodes, and I need to go back and look at what all we said about them. We talked about the folklore of them being specters of death and signs of death, but also very loyal. And then that was that awesome guy who used to take his dog out on the battlefield and everybody thought it was like possessed or immortal or something, which was freaking cool. But um, let me see. I think there was something —
C: Dogs are Jesus.
S: Of course they are! Oh, this is fun. “Dog symbolize fidelity, loyalty, watchfulness, and orthodoxy. There are many examples of the faithfulness of dogs.” And then occasionally, black and white dogs were used as symbols of the Dominicans, dogs of the Lord. Because the friars wear black and white robes. So the loyal dog that stays at the side of the holy ones and assists, one would assume, with the taming of the werewolves? It’s complicated. But it’s fun to look at all these little intersections of medieval lore that come into all of this. I mean, there’s just so much there. And it’s crazy, the depth of what goes into choosing these animalistic symbols for these people. And since so much of this book is about that intersection between animal and humans, it’s a great time to look at it. The medieval world was really interested in this. A lot of medieval time and effort that went into this discursion of the boundaries between the animal and the human and where that lay.
C: I think it’s fascinating that the animal is always the lower part of your body, as if wanting to bone is a terrible thing.
S: It is, though, according to this kind of thought! Because this goes back to the philosophical idea that the soul and the body were two different things. And that not only that, but that the soul was the divine and the body is the earthly, and that one had to fight the other, that you had to resist the flesh in order to be more divine. And this is where we get all of our sexual hang ups. Because of the idea that you had to fight the impulses of your own flesh in order to be closer to the divine, or closer to God. And so people get all caught up in the struggle.
S: That’s why the lower half of your body with all the fun sexy times been portrayed as the animal side!
C: Because it couldn’t be that like, human beings were supposedly made deliberately by God in a specific way, and that maybe God wants us to have fun boning. And that’s why it’s fun.
S: You know what I’ve always found hilarious? The idea, and I’m going to offend so many people with this, although if you’re listening to our podcast, you’re not easily offended, so nevermind. This is this is not new. The idea that sex is the original sin. You know, the story in the Bible, Adam and Eve, and the tree —
C: I thought it was about disobeying God!
S: That really is a much more logical interpretation of it. But for forever, the Catholic Church said that no, the original sin was sex. And the reason they said that is because Eve tempted Adam into it. And that whole partaking of the fruit thing, that that was just a big metaphor for sexy times. Which is funny because the Bible just straight up calls it like the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad. And that actually when Satan’s talking to Eve, he’s like, “You know, if you eat of this fruit, you’d be like God, and you’d know what was good and bad, and you could make your own decisions.” Not, “You can go hump your husband!”
C: They were already humping!
S: This is where I get to that part, because the Catholic Church maintained forever this concept of original sin, and that original sin was sex, that led to the downfall of man. And that’s why we blame the women, because they’re the reason we can’t keep it in our pants. And that led to the fall of mankind, etc, etc. Right? And only after the fall, did Adam and Eve have children? And so they took that as evidence that you know, sex was the thing. But see, that doesn’t work. Because in Genesis, I think Genesis 1:26, before all of that nonsense with the tree, God’s like, “So now that you’re here, here’s what I want you to do, Be fruitful and fill the earth!” Well, how do you think they’re gonna do that? People? I’m pretty sure that was God-sanctioned boning right there.
C: Well, and the other thing, too, is like, after all of this happens is we’ve only been talking about Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, and then they have their son Seth, you know, here’s your replacement kid be happy, whatever. Yeah. And then suddenly, they’re like all these other tribes out there. Okay, where do they come from?
S: Yeah, well, because the implication being that actually, you know, Adam and Eve had some daughters too, but they just didn’t mention them. Because, you know, Cain gets married, he has a wife at a certain point.
S: So that would be his sister. Because, you know, that’s the other part that nobody really wants to have to talk about that at a certain point. That’s the thing that happens — limited number of people, limited number of boning partners. But yeah, anyway, I just always found that whole Original Sin thing really funny given that like two verses ahead of that idea, it’s completely flatly contradicted, and it makes no sense.
C: Wait, are you telling me the Bible contradicts itself?
S: No, what I’m saying is that people reading the story of Adam and Eve and being like, “Aha, this is clearly a lesson on how women are evil! Having sex ruins everything!” had an agenda, is what I’m saying. Because if you walk away with that message, you brought your problems to the to the story. I don’t know how you could read that and be like, “Oh, yes, obviously, it was sex. That was the problem.”
C: Gosh, you should tweet Mike Pence and let him know.
S: Oh, it would be very distressing to him, I imagine. Mike Pence is also, I think, pretty clearly closeted, too. I mean, his life would be so much better if he could just get past that.
C: Oh, what was the name of that one Republican woman who ran for president?
C: YES. Her husband – my word. Allegedly. Presumably, I know nothing. I know nothing. I’m not saying this is fact. I have no idea. I kind of feel like that may be a situation like that. I don’t know, I feel like they’re going to come sue us for this.
S: They’re not going to listen to this! We’re talking about Devil fiction!
C: Well, that’s true.
S: Harry Potter is the devil and we’re already practicing witches just by talking about it. I mean, hello. No, I know exactly what you mean. And that just always makes me think of Parks and Rec with that lady Marcia Langman, who’s the head of the family something and something else Council. And she’s always trying to destroy anything and everything that has any vague relation to sexuality, but her husband is so obviously gay it’s insane. Thank you Parks and Rec, I love you so much.
Wow, I feel like we got off topic, just in a different way than normally. Rather than just being horribly heretical, we ended up in this deep dive of medieval sexuality and the way that mythology is used to explore that fear of deviant male sexual mores. But seriously, like all that werewolf legends and stuff like I don’t know, man. I don’t know why. And I can’t remember what version of the story it was. But the first time I heard that Peter Stubbe story, some of the stuff that they were saying that he did, and the way it was described, really made me think of child victimization. And that’s kind of what led me to the whole thing with Greyback. So I don’t know, I feel like werewolves are another one of those concepts that we invented, because we can’t process how some people can be so horrible and predatory towards others, particularly the weak. And maybe that’s where we get that idea from, because we’re trying to process it.
But then again, it could just be good old homophobia, although I feel like that’s what centaurs are for. Gotta love the centaurs having big old bone fests in the forest.
C: If there’s one thing I think we’ve learned is that it’s fine to have multiple ways to criticize homosexuality. Why stick with one when you could have all of these different things?
S: Well, as long as we can do that, and not focus on the problems inherent in our own misogynistic patriarchal culture that seems to prioritize heterosexual relationships while simultaneously demonizing one half of the heterosexual relationship and then wondering why stuff doesn’t work well, then. Sure.
C: I mean, if women just knew their place, if we would just stay home and have babies and raise babies!
S: But don’t enjoy it, though.
C: You’ve got to be amazing at sex and do all kinds of different things. But you know, you yourself can’t enjoy it.
S: Yeah, blaming the gays is so much easier.
Okay, well, if you’re not completely like turned off and offended by everything we’ve said thus far, we haven’t dragged your personal beliefs through the mud somehow, some way, or your personal views of the character that you liked, somehow, some way –
C: Just give us time.
S: Then you pass the test. Just so you know, we’re only on book three. There are four more books of this, so if you haven’t stopped listening yet, you may still, I mean, there’s time.
C: How low can we go? LOWER THAN YOU THINK.
S: So next time we’ve got chapter 20, “The Dementors Kiss,” – woo! Things getting spicy up in here.
We can finish the book next time! We’ve got “The Dementor’s Kiss,” “Hermione’s Secret”… You know, if we really read these chapter titles wrong, all sorts of things are going on.
C: “Hermione’s Secret!” She’s having a love child with a Dementor!
S: Oh my god, there was one other thing I wanted to bring up to you. Oh my god. Do you mind?
C: No, go for it.
S: I know this episode is super long. Okay, so I want to bring something up that has been on my mind. And you might find this ludicrous and think I’m overreading into this story, which is very, very possible.
But I was thinking about the age at which all of this is happening at. Everybody’s 13. And the movie actually kind of makes some sly visual jokes about that — I mean, they’re really not that subtle or sly, what with Harry playing with his wand under his sheets at night at home now that he’s 13. But I was really struck by the struggles between Ron and Hermione in this book. And their back and forth, back and forth, and Ron’s –
C: Being a total dick?
S: Yeah, being a dick and being really frustrated with her. And then my brain went so Freudian I frightened myself. Do you want to hear my Freudian take on all of this?
C: I mean, why the hell not?
S: Okay. So when we encounter Ron and her money in this book, and we are reintroduced to their struggles with each other, they’ve really taken it up a notch. And you’ve got Ron’s super strong attachment to his rat, which I think is very emblematic of his childhood. It’s something he’s grown up with. He’s had it for 12 years, as long as he’s been a kid, but he’s 13 now, right? Puberty is a thing that is happening. The kids are moving into adulthood. But Ron is very not happy about that. And I think he’s clinging very hard to his rat and his concept of his rat. At the same time, you’ve got Hermione, who is instead embracing something new in her personal development, as symbolized by her purchase of Crookshanks in Diagon Alley — which is also a cat, which – I’m not going to get that Freudian, but —
C: VAGINAS is what we’re talking about, Ladies and gentlemen.
S: So she purchases a cat, and Ron immediately is unsettled by this choice.
C: *dies laughing*
S: And they spend a lot of time feuding over the disconnect between her cat and his rat. This is the worst sex talk ever.
C: HER VAGINA, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.
S: This is what really clinched it and made me start thinking along these lines anyway, and I should have brought it up last time, but I had didn’t have the fully formed theory on my brain yet. So there’s sniping back and forth. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Hermione is showing herself to be much more mature than Ron is in this book, but also that Hermione is feeling a little bit overwhelmed by a lot of the stuff that she’s taken on herself this year — stuff that the boys have no conception of. She’s frazzled, she’s overwhelmed, she’s a little stressed out. She’s a little exhausted, and the boys are completely clueless. And yes, I know. That’s the Time Turner. But again, puberty. And all of this culminates in what is actually kind of a breaking point in the relationship between Ron and Hermione, until the plot points swoop in to save us all, which is when they’re up in the dorm and Ron storms up there, and there’s all this confusion. And the evidence that ends up serving as the breaking point for them is some blood on a sheet.
You knew I was going there right?
C: Yeah, as soon as you got close to it.
S: And that’s the thing that pushes Ron deep into denial territory. Like hardcore, angry denial territory! Hermione, meanwhile, is really frustrated and emotional about this. She’s like, I don’t understand why everything I do is wrong. This sucks, and he’s being an ass.
Man, did my brain just run with it. Because there’s so much in this book that’s just a metaphor for struggling to deal with not only your own puberty, but the fact that the people around you are going through puberty, particularly the girl that you kind of like, and is developing and maturing in ways that you’re not, and you’re having a hard time dealing with that.
C: This is my new favorite interpretation.
S: Is it? I was afraid you were gonna be like, Oh my god, you’re the worst. Why would you think of it that way? But I’m pleased that you are appreciative of this reading.
C: IT’S ABOUT VAGINAS, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN.
S: It’s about vaginas. And it’s about periods. But really, in a book that certainly deals with puberty, but does not deal with the nitty gritty stuff and is, frankly, obtuse about a lot of Hermione’s situation growing up, and focuses mainly on the boys situation, this feels very authentic, in a sense of their being completely oblivious and completely confused by what she’s going through and how she’s behaving. And then their entire worldview is disturbed and thrown off because periods! And fortunately, there’s a convenient murder-liar-spy plot going on to distract them from all of this terrible puberty stuff! But seriously the more I thought about it, the more I was like, ooh, the undertones are definitely there.
C: Yeah, I would not have thought about it. But I’m glad you did. Because I find it hilarious.
S: Yeah. The more the more we go forward, I’m going to continue kind of keeping my thumb on that particular pulse.
C: What are you going to keep your thumb on?
S: VAGINAS. Because I think we’ve established that JK Rowling, whether she intends to or not, puts interesting subtext through some of these books. And do I think that she intended to do it that way? I have no idea. But if she didn’t, my hat’s off to her subconscious for doing that in the book where they’re all 13.
C: Here’s the thing about subtext, though. Because I felt this way when we were in school and analyzing some of our books and stuff. Is there ever a point where you’re reading something and your professor’s like, but what is the theme? And you’re like, there’s no fucking theme. He just wrote a book, not everything means something, some things are just things, you know.
S: Yeah. And I think there’s validity to both interpretations of that. This is what I’m always telling my students, because my students come up with the same question. When is blue just blue? Or a house is just a house? You know? And the interpretation rests on context. If you’re going to try and say, Okay, I think the color blue symbolizes this, or this or that, okay, if you’re going to back that up, you need evidence from multiple usages throughout the book that are tied to significant events. There needs to be a pattern and some evidence to back you up. In this case, a book, you know, a spot of blood on a sheet being a problem in a relationship between a boy and a girl of 13 years of age. That’s suggestive. But is there enough in the rest of the book that supports the thought that maybe there is a symbolic meaning to that? I think there is. And that’s why I started my explanation back in Diagon Alley with the relationship that’s established, and then the problems that are introduced in it, and then the unraveling of it going forward. I think there’s enough evidence to support it. But with anything like that, there has to be enough to back you up. Otherwise, it’s not a very good interpretation. It’s just you trying to assign value to things. Some people try read into everything. And I know, I have been annoyed by that listening to other Harry Potter podcasts that are like, “Oh, this thing, it must mean that!” No, it doesn’t. And the reason I say that and the reason I feel confident in saying that you’re wrong is because there’s simply not enough there to support your reading.
C: You’re an English teacher, damn it. You know shit.
S: Yeah, I mean, I do. But I’m also one of those English teachers that gets annoyed at other English teachers that take a book like 1984 and ask “What does the clock mean in this scene?” or “What does the book mean in this scene?” or “What does the pen mean?” That drives me up the freaking wall, I get really annoyed at that. Because unless there is a clear pattern, and some kind of motif, there comes a point where you are picking at objects looking for symbolism, and yes, maybe you can read a certain amount into certain things. But there comes a point where there’s not enough and you’re just trying to pick apart a scene. Maybe the author did sit down and proclaim, “In this scene, this shall symbolize this!” But it’s much more likely that the author wrote a scene that they thought would be a good scene, and had the characters doing things that seemed important to further the scene in a way that meshes intertextually with patterns of literature as they themselves have consumed, processed and interpreted them. Maybe as an author, I’m picking up on subconscious connections to other scenes that I’ve seen, maybe I didn’t even really think about the fact that the pattern was there, and I put it there, but it is there. And when you go back and read it, you’re like, oh, that really is there! Did I mean to put it in? Maybe I didn’t, but it’s there nonetheless. But that’s a whole further discussion about intertextuality and that leads us back to Death of the Author and all of that, but there’s a point where you’ve either got to be able to defend it or stop.
I think my interpretation this time is defensible. If nothing like that ever shows up again, going forward in the series, then it could just be a one-off, it could definitely be a fluke, it could be something that she didn’t really intend to do. We’ll see if it comes up again. I don’t know. But I’ll be looking.
C: Good to know.
S: I’m always looking for, you know,
S: We’re always looking for vaginas. And crotch broom fun times.
C: Can you please name this episode Crotch Broom Fun Times? I mean, it will greatly mislead people but when they finally get to that comment it’ll be worth the two and a half hours.
S: So…Sexy Werewolves and Crotch Broom Funtimes?
C: Except the werewolves aren’t sexy!
S: They’re very unsexy. They’re very sexual, but they’re very unsexy.
C: You should definitely put Sexual Werewolf in there somewhere, because that sounds like — like Dark Magic Moves is eau de parfum for women, but Sexual Werewolf is cologne for men.
S: I think it needs to be Hypersexual Werewolf. I don’t know why but it just sounds better.
C: I like it.
S: All right, well, before we get ourselves into any more trouble with Freudian interpretations or more penis symbolism –
S: — I think we’re gonna wrap this one up. We got so close, man. We did an entire episode. We talked about religious symbolism and the deeper implications of mythology and then we dovetailed into just saying vagina over and over, because THAT’S WHAT THIS PODCAST IS.
C: Can I say for the record, that you were the one who brought it up?
S: I did. Yes, I did. I brought up periods and pussy symbolism. I guess I’ll see you in hell.
C: I mean, my ticket’s already been punched.
S: Well until next time, I don’t know when it is, but keep the faith, dear listeners! We will be back with more heretical takes on Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Until that time, I am Professor Seraphine—
C: I am Professor Creed –
S: And we shall see you next time on Advanced Muggle Studies!
Intro music: “Danse Macabre” by Camille Saint-Saens, performed by Kevin McLeod
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