Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Wolf in Professor's Clothing: J. K. Rowling's Werewolf as Educator

Academic journal article Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts

Wolf in Professor's Clothing: J. K. Rowling's Werewolf as Educator

Article excerpt

MONSTERS, IN GENERAL AND BY THEIR VERY NATURE, ACT AS EDUCATORS. Through them, in Asa Mittman's words, the "audience is invited to adopt temporarily the perspective of people more marginal than themselves" (107-08). Although the educational value of adopting different perspectives is rather obvious, occasionally stating the obvious can be helpful. The marginalization Mittman discusses is doubly true of the werewolves in J. K. Rowling's work. Initially, these representatives of the shadow and shape-shifter archetype are marginalized as part of a special sub-community and world, that of the wizards and witches. Even in that already marginal (if somewhat elite) community, they are further marginalized and pushed to the fringes by both popular fears and legal statutes. From the marginal position, Remus Lupin steps forward, temporarily centralized, to teach other characters and Rowling's readers three lessons about their world and themselves: overcoming intolerance of the racial Other, accepting the incurably ill, and abandoning moral binaries in favor of a more nuanced morality.

Such scholars and non-scholars as Heather Arden, Kathryn Lorenz, Amanda Cockrell, and David Colbert have noted that Rowling's invented world owes a considerable debt to medieval and early modern sources. Her werewolves, especially Lupin, are no exception. In her novels, Rowling draws upon the medieval sympathetic werewolf tradition exemplified by Marie de France's "Bisclavret" (c. 1190), William of Palerne (a fourteenth-century translation of a twelfth-century French romance), and "Arthur and Gorlagon" (fourteenth-century). These werewolves were presented as figures deserving of sympathy and concern rather than as vicious monsters. Marie especially makes this position clear as she starts her lai with a description of the monstrous, garwulf, tradition found in the folklore of her period before introducing her hero, the sympathetic, bisclavret, figure. "Arthur and Gorlagon" records a similar tale in which a nobleman is trapped in wolf-shape by his wife, although with considerably different details. William of Palerne presents a related tale, but one in which the werewolf, Alphouns, is technically a minor character. This situation is very much related to Lupin's position in Prisoner of Azkaban: like Lupin, Alphouns appears in a romance named for another character, but without the werewolf, the narrative collapses and would have a very different outcome. (1) Even non-literary medieval authors discussed the sympathetic werewolf tradition upon which Rowling draws. One such nonliterary text is Gerald of Wales's History and Topography of Ireland (1183), which includes a tale of two werewolves cursed by a saint and seeking last rites. Although Lupin owes a debt to these medieval sources, Rowling's other major werewolf, Fenrir Greyback, recalls later sources, notably Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood." Like the wolf in the familiar fairy tale, Greyback appears as a threat to children and as a representation of Jung's shadow. Each of these early sources has a significant impact on Rowling's conception of werewolves, from fear responses to their place on the margins of her invented society. Moreover, the medieval construct of sympathetic versus monstrous werewolf forms a lens through which Rowling discusses Lupin's lessons as well as a historical connection to our literary past.

In Rowling's work, the primary werewolf--Lupin--serves to directly educate key characters, especially Harry, Ron, and Hermione, as their instructor in Defense Against the Dark Arts, while indirectly signaling to the audience lessons about a variety of subjects via his role as the first werewolf schoolteacher. On one level, the werewolf speaks to intolerance, prejudice, and racism. This particular lesson becomes more overt through Hermione, Ron, and Lupin. The werewolf is only a facet of Rowling's discussion of that issue, but it is one that is commonly overlooked or dismissed. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.