Academic journal article Mythlore

Dragons and Serpents in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series: Are They Evil?

Academic journal article Mythlore

Dragons and Serpents in J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter Series: Are They Evil?

Article excerpt

ONE OF THE GREAT PLEASURES of reading the Harry Potter series stems from the numerous mythological and literary references that J.K. Rowling has included in her magical universe. Rowling's amazing ability to merge these cultural allusions with material that is unique to her works is best illustrated by her depiction of the most familiar antagonists in the Bible and other works of literature, the serpent and the dragon.

It is important to note that even though the term "dragon" is designated by the Latin draco while "snake" is designated serpens, in many literary texts and sources the symbolism of "serpent," "snake," and "dragon" are either synonymous or closely related (Rose 327). For instance, the Bible consistently identifies both the snake and the dragon with evil, and the term "dragon" was often used during the Middle Ages to denote the concept of sin (Gravestock 126). In addition, T. H. White's The Book of Beasts defines the dragon as the "biggest of all serpents" (White 165), and J.R.R. Tolkien classifies the serpent as a type of dragon, or Great Worm (Day 197). Contrary to this portrayal of serpents and dragons as interchangeable entities, J.K. Rowling makes a clear distinction in her series between these creatures as they serve different functions within the moral framework that she has fashioned. The serpents in the Harry Potter books are mainly associated with the forces of darkness against which the hero and his allies are destined to fight, while the dragons in the series are not specifically allied to either side in this cosmic battle.

Serpents have been the subject of myth and folklore from time immemorial and are linked to the ancient serpent-worshipping religions of the world (Rose 327). This fascinating creature is the embodiment of contradiction as it symbolizes both death and destruction due to its poisonous venom or fatally tight squeeze, as well as life and resurrection in light of its ability to shed and renew its skin (Gordon 613).

The snake plays a rich and complex role in ancient Egyptian belief, and is frequently depicted as an elemental symbol of chaos and evil. For example, the monstrous snake Apophis was seen as an aggressive and treacherous instrument of evil that could bring about the Apocalypse. According to the myth, Apophis would lay in wait every night to ambush the sun god, Ra, thereby preventing the sun from rising. Consequently, every sunrise and sunset is an indication that Ra has defeated his serpentine foe and will not allow the world to die (Kronzek & Kronzek 206).

In early Arab and Hebrew demonology, the serpent also occupied a prominent place, most likely due to the dread it inspired by its swift and subtle movements, unchanging expressions, and deadly nature (Langton 7; Kronzek & Kronzek 207). In the Old Testament, the snake appears as a fearsome and malicious creature with which man lives in enmity. This hostile relationship begins in the book of Genesis when Satan selects the tempting serpent of Eden as the most suitable instrument to bring about the fall of man (Langton 55; Rose 328), and continues in Christian lore where the snake is depicted as wound around a cross, suggesting the all encompassing power of evil. In addition, the serpent is sometimes portrayed with the icon of a woman's head to symbolize lust and temptation (de Vries 412), and may also be depicted at the foot of the cross where it is a symbol of good triumphing over evil (de Vries 413). Finally, the villainous Midgard snake of Norse Mythology is a giant destructive serpent that represents the malignant powers of the universe and will ultimately bring about the final destruction of the earth (Kronzek & Kronzek 206; Rose 329).

Despite these powerful associations with evil, the snake has also been endowed with noble qualities, and is often associated not only with death, chaos, and terror but also with fertility, healing, wisdom, and insight (Kronzek & Kronzek 206). …

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