It is safe to say that the Harry Potter franchise is one of the most successful franchises in history. The brand is worth about $25 billion dollars, the movies together made about 7.7 billion dollars, and the books have made JK Rowling one of the riches authors in the world with a net worth of $ 1 billion. What made this series so popular? I believe the reason why this series was so popular because both children and adults enjoyed the story. Children could experience a world of fantasy and adults could see the mythology behind the characters and creatures they come across in the books. In this essay I will be discussing all the references of ancient mythology that are represented in the Harry Potter films and books.
According to Joseph Campbell, when people think of mythology, “they usually think of Greek mythology or the biblical mythology” (Campbell pg. 71). Myths are stories that can help us and guide us through life, and there are lessons that can be learned from these myths. Some myths are so ancient that people forget about them and just don’t talk about them, forgetting the lessons that can be learned from them. In Joseph Campbell novel A Hero with a Thousand Faces, he says, “‘the models must be appropriate to the time in which they are living’ (Campbell pg. 16). The models Campbell mentions are the myths and in this case the models are the Harry Potter books and films. Harry Potter fulfills society’s earning for supernatural and fantasy by creating a wizarding world with new creatures and history but also incorporating our history ancient mythology. In Sharon Black’s article, The Magic of Harry Potter: Symbols and Hero of Fantasy, talks about how children use these stories of supernatural and fantasy to understand reality, “to speak to him in the language of symbols and not that of everyday reality” (Black pg. 239). When Harry find the Mirror of Erised he sees his dead parents stare back at him from the mirror, that isn’t real because Harry’s parents are dead. What is real is Harry’s desire to be loved by a family which is a real feeling people have.
There are many references to ancient mythology all throughout the Harry Potter series. We can see a lot of influence from ancient mythology starting with characters names. Hermione, one of the main female roles and she is Ron and Harry’s best friend. Her name was inspired from Greek mythology, the god Hermes, who is known for being a quick thinker which is shown in Hermione’s intelligence. Minerva McGonagall, a Hogwarts professor was also inspired by Greek mythology. Minerva was the roman goddess of wisdom, craft, and strategy. Minerva Mcgonagall is the transfiguration professor at Hogwarts who is also very wise, and she is also see as fierce and smart when going into the battle of Hogwarts in the last book. Sirius, another character, was the pet dog of Orion, and Artemis the Greek goddess falls in love with Orion. Artemis accidentally kills Orion and to remember him she him in the sky as a constellation with his dog Sirius by his side. In Harry Potter Prisoner of Azkaban, we meet Sirius Black who is an Animagus, a wizard that can transform into an animal and he takes form of a dog. His form of a dog is fitting because Sirius is a loyal friend to Harry, and we later find out is Harry’s godfather and was best friends with Harry’s father when they attended Hogwarts.
In the seventh book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, we come across some Christian allegory. Harry and Hermione visit Harry’s parents grave, on the grave it reads “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” which is a verse from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 15:26. Laura Feldt talks about in her article that religion is a form of believing and understanding your emotions and knowing what is right and what is wrong (Feldt p. 563). What helped Harry win in the end was his understanding of what he had to do in order to do what was right and protect the ones that he loved. This religious idea that the last enemy is death is also seen throughout the last five Harry Potter books when Lord Voldemort comes back to life. Throughout the last books the main conflict is Harry fighting Voldemort and in the end we come to find that in order for Harry to defeat Voldemort for good Harry must die which shows the last enemy to face is death. In the fifth book, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Hermione uses a protean charm to communicate with all the other members of Dumbledore’s army. Each member has a galleon that is charmed to change, so they all know when the next meeting time is without drawing attention to themselves. The name for the charm comes from Greek mythology, Proteus. Proteus was a servant of Poseidon who was able to change into any animal or creature. “Protean” means, “to change frequently.” In the fourth book, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Hogwarts hosts the Yule ball. In the wizarding world, the Weird sisters are a popular wizard band that also performs at the Yule ball. The bands name comes from the three witches in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, which were also called the Weird Sisters. Shakespeare even got the name from British folktales. JK Rowling has also mentioned in interviews that Macbeth is her favorite Shakespeare play which shows were the influence came from.
We come across a couple creatures that have been inspired by different mythologies. In the first book, Harry Potter the Sorcerer’s Stone we meet Fluffy, the three headed dog that guards the Sorcerer’s Stone. In Greek mythology there is a three headed dog named Cerberus, who guards the entrance to the underworld. Orpheus uses his gift of music to send Cerberus into a deep sleep. This same strategy is used in the first book when Harry, Ron, and Hermione use Hagrid’s flute to send Fluffy to sleep, so they can get past Fluffy to retrieve the Sorcerer’s Stone. Nagini is another creature we encounter throughout the books and films, Nagini is Voldemort’s pet snake and one of the living Horcruxes. Naga means snake in Sanskrit; the name is a kind of semidivine snake in Hinduism and Buddhism. according to legend nagas are half human half snake. In the most recent film The Crimes of Grindelwald, we come to find that Nagini was a woman that could transform into a snake, and female nagas are called nagini. There are other creatures that have appeared throughout the series like, Hippogriffs that come from European folklore, Cornish pixies appeared in the 4th book; they originally appeared in English, Scottish, and Irish folktale. Dragons and goblins appear in the series, both date back to Medieval folklore.