Archive for the ‘Grail Hallows’ Category

This post is the third part of a series which began here in part one, a discussion of the lion, eagle, griffin, serpent, basilisk, and badger: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-one/ and continued here, with a discussion of the unicorn: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2011/06/19/harry-potter-and-the-bestiary-of-christ-part-two/. Now on to the third installment…

The Hunting of the White Stag

          A Christ symbol that is closely related to the unicorn is the stag, whose earliest representation in Christian art can be found in the Roman catacombs and in baptismal font designs and basilica altar mosaics of subsequent periods.  It appeared as a Christ symbol in bestiaries, stories of the lives of the saints, and in medieval romances, such as the Queste del Saint Graal, where the stag served as a guide toward the object of the quest, the Holy Grail.

P. M. Matarasso's translation of The Quest for the Holy Grail (Queste del Saint Graal)

           The stag appeared as a symbol of Christ in the story of St. Eustace. This saint, like C. S. Lewis’s fictional character Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, experienced a miraculous conversion.

Narnia' s Eustace Scrubb, like St. Eustace, experienced a life-changing conversion.

 The pagan Eustace was a Roman general who enjoyed hunting. On one hunting expedition, Eustace tracked a stag through the woods and prepared to kill the magnificent creature. Just as Eustace was ready to slay the majestic stag, a miraculous vision appeared to the hunter: a vision of Christ crucified appeared between the stag’s antlers. The hunter was converted to Christianity on the spot.  A similar tale of a hunter who converted due to a miraculous vision is in the story of St. Hubert. While out hunting on Good Friday the future saint encountered a stag with a crucifix between its antlers. A voice spoke to him from where the stag was. It asked why Hubert was pursuing him, and Hubert realized he had been searching for Christ for many years, and had finally found him. Hubert was converted at that moment. St. Hubert’s desire to find Christ was a thirst for God that manifests symbolically as a stag. This symbol of the soul’s thirst for God is derived from Psalm 42:1 (NRSV), “As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.”

          Because of the stag’s longing for streams of water described in the Book of Psalms, it became associated with the soul’s desire for purification through Baptism.

                   Just as the deer devours the snake,

                   Then rushes off his thirst to slake,

                   Lets spring the venom wash away,

                   So all is well, can Christian say,

                   For he is saved, sin’s trace is lost,

                   When in baptismal font he’s washed. (Biedermann 93)

This explains why the relief-work on many old baptismal fonts often includes representations of deer. Mosaics in some European churches, such as the mosaic above the altar in Rome’s Basilica of Saint Clement, sometimes depict a doe or stag drinking the water of life from the running stream described in Psalm 42. 

Stags drinking from the waters of life-detail from the mosaic above the altar of the Basilica of St. Clement in Rome. I visited this beautiful church when I toured Italy in 2008.

Early Christian texts such as Physiologus describe the deer as spitting water into every crevice in which poisonous snakes hide, then trampling on them, just as Christ strikes at the Devil with the heavenly water of Baptism. (Biedermann 92) The stag was thus seen as the symbol of the triumphant Christ. When a stag’s antlers break, they regenerate, and for this reason the stag became a symbol of the Resurrection as well.

Other ancient lore associated the stag with the discovery of dittany, a miraculous herb that cures all wounds. In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Hermione carries a bottle of the essence of dittany to cure the wounds of her injured companions during their quest to destroy the Horcruxes. This miraculous liquid is mentioned first in Chapter 14 when Hermione heals the bleeding Ron Weasley, who has splinched himself while apparating. Hermione also uses dittany to heal Harry when he has been bitten by the snake Nagini in Chapter 17. In Cavallo’s The Unicorn Tapestries, the author quotes from Margaret L. Freeman’s book of the same title in the appendix, where it says, “Stags can shake off any arrows which they have received if they partake of the herb called dittany.” (Cavallo 119) J. K. Rowling must have had some knowledge of this ancient lore of dittany because she made great use of it in Deathly Hallows.

Hermione used dittany on Ron's splinch wound to save his life in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

In the Medieval religious story, The Quest for the Holy Grail, the Knights Galahad, Percival, and Bors were riding through the forest when they encountered a white hart escorted by four lions. The three knights followed the white hart, and it lead them to a chapel where the Mass was being sung. Inside the little church the four lions transformed into the four living creatures that symbolize the four evangelists (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), and the stag transformed into a man enthroned, Jesus Christ. The priest explained the symbolism of the miracle that the knights had witnessed. It is only after they have had the vision of the transformation of the white stag that they are able to find the Holy Grail. (Matarasso 243-245)

The knights Perceval, Bors, and Galahad were led to the Grail Hallows by a white stag. Galahad, a character who is himself a Christ-figure, is clad in the Eucharistic colors of red and white, and is shown kneeling among the white lillies, which are symbolic of his purity. An angel holds the legendary Grail Hallow known as the Spear of Destiny.

 In The Grail: Quest for the Eternal, John Matthews explains the symbolism of the white stag with relationship to the Holy Grail quest:

To reach the temple of the Grail, the knights who set out from Camelot must undergo many tests and experience terrible ordeals. But often, when the way seems darkest, the enigmatic white stag or hermit figure appears, to lead them forward through the mazes of forest and hill. In medieval iconography the stag was identified with Christ and the soul’s thirst for God, which accounts for its appearance in this context. (Matthews 88)

          In C. S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the author made use of the same symbolism that is found in the Grail legends. When Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy Pevensie followed the white stag they were able to re-enter the wardrobe to return home to England. Recall the symbolism of the stag and the running stream in the book of Psalms which signifies the soul’s thirst for union with God. The Pevensies’ s quest for the White Stag is symbolic of the soul’s search for Christ, a search that will eventually lead the seeker further up and further in to his or her true home. This parallels the story of the knights who follow the white stag to find Christ and the Grail.

The stag appears in Harry Potter’s world as a symbol of his father. “Prongs” was the nickname given to Harry’s father James, an animagus who could transform himself into a stag. In the third novel Rowling spoke to her readership through Dumbledore, who told Harry (and us) that the ones who love us never truly leave us, not even in death. When Harry suffered from attacks from soul-sucking Dementors in The Prisoner of Azkaban, he had to learn how to conjure a patronus to protect himself. The words “Expecto Patronum!” translate as “I expect a protector!” and protection arrived in the form of a luminous, graceful four-hoofed animal, which Harry initially mistakes for a unicorn. (PA 385) It is a luminous stag, the form his father once took when he was alive, and the brilliant patronus, like a guardian angel providing protection, drove away the darkness and despair of the Dementors. Harry’s protector is a stag, which like the unicorn, is a symbol of Christ.

Harry's stag patronus. His protector is a Christ symbol.

The stag’s female counterpart is the doe. Just as the Knights of the Grail and heroes of Narnia followed the white stag, our hero must follow the silver doe in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. “The Silver Doe” is one of the most beautiful chapters in the novel:

A bright silver light appeared right ahead of him, moving through the trees. Whatever the source, it was moving soundlessly. The light seemed simply to drift toward him.

He jumped to his feet, his voice frozen in his throat, and raised Hermione’s wand. He screwed up his eyes as the light became blinding, the trees in front of it pitch-black in silhouette, and still the thing came closer…

And then the source of the light stepped out from behind an oak. It was a silver doe, moon-bright and dazzling, picking her way over the ground, still silent, and leaving no hoofprints in the fine powdering of snow. She stepped toward him, her beautiful head with its wide, long-lashed eyes held high. (DH 365-366)

"The Silver Doe" fan art by Harry_Potter_Spain.

Just as King Arthur’s knights followed the White Stag to find the Holy Grail, Harry followed the Silver Doe into the dark forest. The luminous creature led Harry to a frozen pool where, beneath the ice, lies a shape like “A great silver cross.” (DH 367, emphasis mine) The Silver Doe had lead Harry to the Sword of Godric Gryffindor, which lay trapped beneath the frozen water.

The Sword of Gryffindor lay like "a great silver cross" beneath the surface of the frozen forest pool.

Harry, wearing the locket of Slytherin Horcrux, dove into the frozen pool and was nearly drowned by the evil power of the Horcrux. Ron’s dramatic return to rescue Harry and destroy the locket occurred in a chapter filled with the imagery of baptism and words of reconciliation between the two best friends.

Please subscribe to this blog so that you don’t miss the next installment of “Harry Potter and the Bestiary of Christ,” which is entitled “Phoenix Rising.” If you would like to order a copy of  my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter, it can be obtained from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

If you are wondering what other connections can be made between the quest for the Grail Hallows and the quest for the Deathly Hallows, you should read this blog post: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-quest-for-the-deathly-hallows/ You might also like https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/melissa-anelli-and-j-k-rowling-interview/. Comments are welcome! 🙂



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When re-reading the Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis, I came across a passage that reminded me of another story that I love.

“Oh, what a shame!” said Lucy. “I did so want to read it again. Well, at least I must remember it. Let’s see … it was about … about … oh dear, it’s all fading away again.
“And even this last page is going blank. This is a very queer book. How can I have forgotten? It was about a cup and a sword and a tree and a green hill, I know that much. But I can’t remember and what shall I do?”
And she never could remember; and ever since that day what Lucy means by a good story is a story which reminds her of the forgotten story in the Magician’s Book.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader – Chapter 10






I think that we all know how Lucy felt at that moment.

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I just read a fascinating interview with Daivd C. Downing, the author of the Inklings novel Looking for the King. His comments on C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and Charles Williams are very insightful and exhibit Mr. Downing’s great knowledge of the Inklings’ personalities, interests, and other biographical information. I really love what he had to say about the quest for the Spear of Destiny and the theme of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings:

DOWNING: The spear of Longinus (the traditional name given to the soldier who thrust his lance into Christ’s side) is only one of many ancient artifacts associated with the Crucifixion. But it has a special aura about it because of its alleged powers. It is said that the Emperor Constantine claimed to have the spear, given to him by his mother Helena after her famous pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Legend has it that Constantine boasted he would never lose a battle so long as he possessed the spear. After that, all the conquerors seemed to lay claim to it.

Charlemagne said he had the spear, adding that it always brought him victory and even allowed him to read the thoughts of his enemies. As the fabled lance came to be known as the Spear of Destiny, it is said that both Napoleon and Hitler tried to lay their hands on it — though accounts differ widely about the veracity of these claims.

But if the Spear is seen as a talisman of power, that would make it almost the opposite of “Christ-centered.” Christ emptied himself of power on the cross, refusing to call down legions of angels to come to his aid. As Tolkien suggests in his Lord of the Rings epic, perhaps the truly Christ-like act is not to seek out such power, but to renounce it. That is a question I try to explore in Looking for the King.

Renunciation of power as a primary theme in The Lord of the Rings has intrigued me ever since I read Rendel Helms’ explanation of it in Tolkien’s World. Nearly all of Tolkien’s most noble, heroic, and admirable characters are tempted by the Ring (or some other type of power), and they exhibit their true worthiness by renouncing it. In the novel and in the films, we see that Frodo, Sam, Gandalf, Aragorn, Galadriel,and  Faramir are all tempted by the power of the Ring and all of them exhibit great moral courage and strength of character by renouncing it. Another example of renunciation in The Lord of the Rings is when Eowyn renounces her “love” for Aragorn when she finally realizes her first desire was for honor and glory as a warrior and then afterwards, her desire was for power as the wife of a king. She then confesses that she no longer wants to be the Queen of Gondor when she finds true love with the humble steward, Faramir. The depressed and lonely Eowyn finds true love and happiness only when she renounces the selfishness of honor, glory, and the tempatations of power.

This Christian theme of renunciation is also found in the Harry Potter series. In the first novel of the series, Harry is able to take the Philospher’s Stone from its hiding place in the Mirror of Erised because he only wants to stop Voldemort from using it to obtain an immortal body. Harry has no desire to use the Stone for himself and gladly renounces the temptation to use it to obtain as much life and wealth as anyone could ever want. In the seventh novel Harry renounces two of the Deathly Hallows: the most powerful wand ever made–the Wand of Destiny–along with the Resurrection Stone. The uncanny similarities between the Wand of Destiny and the Spear of Destiny are described in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

I also agreed with David C. Downing’s remarks about the recent controversial opinion voiced by actor Liam Neeson with regards to who or what Aslan represents in The Chronicles of Narnia.

LOPEZ: Could Narnia’s Aslan be Mohammed, as Liam Neeson recently suggested?

DOWNING: Neeson is a fine actor, but he is not a theologian or a Lewis scholar. Of course, Mohammed said he was a prophet of Allah; he did not claim to be divine himself. So the analogy doesn’t really work.

 I suppose what was meant is that Aslan could represent the God of any religion. That is high-minded and well-intentioned, but it doesn’t do justice to the Chronicles. You can pick up just about any guide to the Narnia books to discover how deeply rooted they are in Lewis’s Christian faith. In my book Into the Wardrobe, I argue that the Chronicles constitute Lewis’s Summa Theologica, the fullest and most comprehensive expression of his Christian worldview.

I wouldn’t presume to give Mr. Neeson any tips about acting. And I think he would do well to avoid any politically correct but puzzling remarks about the spiritual foundations of the Chronicles.

You can read the entire interview with David C. Downing here:  http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/255485/thinking-and-believing-interview?page=1

Also, I’d like to recommend this blog post to Christian fans of The Lord of the Rings. This is a link to a blog post about Samwise Gamgee made by my friend and fellow author Michelle Weston: http://www.mbwestonblog.com/2010/12/somewhat-daily-inspirations-i-am-samwise.html

Comments are welcome! 🙂

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This is a really nice book trailer for David C. Downing’s Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel. I saw it recently over at the Hog’s Head and decided to post it here as well.

The fictional portrayals of Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and J. R. R. Tolkien in this novel are very convincing. This book was also an enjoyable read because of the questions about faith it answers and the Christian moral virtues it depicts. If you are interested in learning more about it, read my review of Looking for the King, which you can find here: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/10/11/my-review-of-looking-for-the-king-an-inklings-novel/ I also mentioned David C. Downing at https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/11/10/looking-for-the-king/ After that you may wish to join the patrons of the Hog’s Head in their discussion of the novel over here:  http://thehogshead.org/looking-for-the-king-an-inklings-novel-5898/#comment

David C. Downing has spoken briefly about his novel and the Spear of Destiny in this interview.

You might also want to read what I have written about Harry Potter, the Grail Hallows, and the Spear of Destiny, which can be found at this link: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-quest-for-the-deathly-hallows/ I’d really appreciate it if you would read and comment on that particular blog post.

You can also read more about Harry Potter and the Arthurian legends in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter,  which is available from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows. It would make a great Christmas gift for that Harry Potter fan who has almost everything. 😉

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I’ve blogged about Christian imagery in the upcoming Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows films here:


 and here: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/10/17/harry-potter-film-wizardry-christian-imagery-in-deathly-hallows-rhr-moments-more/ 

This post is about the Christian imagery in the Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince film. A cross can be clearly seen in this screencap, taken from the scene in which Harry and Dumbledore are apparating away from Horace Slughorn’s village.

Then there is the scene at the end of the film in which Harry, Ron, and Hermione are having a conversation at the top of the Astronomy Tower in the aftermath of Dumbledore’s death.

Look on top of the castle turret on the right side of this screencap. The decoration at the top of the turret appears cross-shaped from this distance, although a closer inspection may reveal that it is not a cross, it certainly looks like one. What are Harry and Hermione looking at in this scene?

They are watching Fawkes the Phoenix soar joyfully into the blue, of course. The phoenix is a symbol of the Resurrection whose origins I explained in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.

      The mythology of classical antiquity described the phoenix as a majestic bird which flew to foreign lands to gather fragrant herbs and spices to heap upon an altar, set fire to them, and then burn itself to ashes, only to rise from the pyre after three days time. The early Fathers of the Church logically saw this myth as a typological symbol of the death of Christ, who rose from the tomb on the third day.

          The phoenix was adapted by the early Christians as a symbol of the Resurrection as early as the first century A.D. Drawings of the creature appear amongst the Christian murals and “graffiti” that identify the tombs of the martyrs in the catacombs beneath the city of Rome. St.Clement of Rome, who was pope at the end of the first century, wrote of the legend of the phoenix in his First Letter to the Corinthians. He used the story of how the bird died and rose again as a new phoenix to explain the Resurrection of the Christian faithful which will occur at the end of time. –quote from pages 37-38

The symbolism of the phoenix has been important throughout the series. Harry met Fawkes, Dumbledore’s pet phoenix, in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Fawkes saved Harry’s life by crying healing tears to heal a mortal wound Harry received from the deadly basilisk. The tears of a phoenix are the only known cure for the basilisk’s poisonous venom. Fawkes’s song gave Harry renewed strength and courage in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire when the young hero had to face Voldemort in the flesh during the wizard’s duel in the churchyard. Dumbledore’s patronus is a phoenix, and the name of the Anti-Voldemort league that Dumbledore established is called “The Order of the Phoenix.” All of the good adult wizards that Harry admires—Dumbledore, McGonagall, Hagrid, Sirius Black, Remus Lupin, Tonks, Mad-Eye Moody, Kingsley Shacklebolt, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley—are members of the new Order of the Phoenix. Harry’s deceased parents, James and Lily, along with Ron’s deceased uncles, Gideon and Fabian Prewett, and Neville’s parents, Frank and Alice Longbottom, were all members of the original Order of the Phoenix during the First Voldemort War. We even witness Fawkes the Phoenix saving Dumbledore’s life when Voldemort tries to use Avada Kedavra, the Death Curse, to defeat him: “Fawkes swooped down in front of Dumbledore, opened his beak wide, and swallowed the jet of green light whole.” (OP 815) Only the phoenix, like Christ, could take the curse of death upon himself and rise again in glory, unharmed. From the earliest days of Christianity, the phoenix was a symbol of the believer’s hope of Resurrection at the end of the world. Its ascension into the heavens, like that of the eagle, symbolized the soul’s desire for union with God. At the funeral which concludes the sixth book, Harry saw smoke rising from the white flames around Dumbledore’s body, and “Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue.” (HBP 645)–quote from pages 40-41.

Here’s another screencap from the sixth Harry Potter film.

The tapestry behind Ginny is based on a very famous work of art, “The Unicorn in Captivity.”

It is the seventh in a series of tapestries entitled The Hunt of the Unicorn as an Allegory of the Passion. The unicorn is captured, killed, and resurrected in the series of tapestries, and is thus a Christ symbol. In The Lord of the Hallows, I wrote:

Another set of famous unicorn tapestries, currently housed in the Cloisters, the Medieval exhibit of the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, is a set entitled The Hunt of the Unicorn as an Allegory of the Passion. These tapestries, woven in 1495-1505 in the Netherlands, depict the betrayal and passion of Jesus Christ as a unicorn hunt. Although the unicorn is killed in the sixth of the seven tapestries, he appears alive and well in the seventh tapestry. Here, the unicorn is a collared beast in a small enclosure, surrounded by a field of colorful flowers. “The Unicorn in Captivity” is symbolic of the resurrected Christ. A unicorn tapestry copied from this famous work of art appears in the film Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), and can be seen clearly behind Ginny Weasley when she takes Harry by the hand in front of the Room of Requirement. –quote from pages 29-30.

If you would like to read more about what I have written about the phoenix and unicorn, as well as the symbolism of the lion, serpent, stag, griffin, eagle, and the weasel, please consider ordering a copy of my book from www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows. Other topics covered in the book include the influence of Inklings C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien on Rowling’s writing, Harry Potter’s Christian themes (such as free will, the immortality of the soul, and the power of self-sacrificial love), Horcruxes and Hallows, the Arthurian legends of the Grail Hallows, a belief in God in Harry’s world, the Biblical quotations in Godric’s Hollow, Aslan, Frodo, and Harry Potter as Christ figures, and much more!

The book is also available from http://www.amazon.com/Lord-Hallows-Christian-Symbolism-Rowlings/dp/1432741128 I noticed that Luke Bell’s Baptizing Harry Potter and Travis Prinzi’s Hog’s Head Conversations are listed as books that people also buy when purchasing my book. I’ve read both of those volumes, and I would definitely recommend them to all of the Harry Potter fans who follow this blog. Both books are excellent! 🙂

You might want to read these posts if you haven’t done so already:

Harry Potter and C. S. Lewis’s Silver Chair: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/29/exciting-narnia-news-and-the-deeper-meaning-of-the-silver-chair-and-harry-potter/

The Deeper Meaning of the Quest for the Deathly Hallows (a Grail Hallows Comparison) https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/09/26/the-deeper-meaning-of-the-quest-for-the-deathly-hallows/

Weasley Is Our King! (The Weasel as a Christian Symbol) https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/08/08/weasley-is-our-king/

The Power of Love and Self-Sacrifice in Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/08/03/the-power-of-love-and-self-sacrifice-in-harry-potter-and-the-lord-of-the-rings/

An Excerpt from My Mythcon 41 Paper on Horcruxes and Sauron’s Ring: https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/06/27/mythcon-41/

Melissa Anelli’s Unpublished Rowling Interviews (“Hallows of Hogwarts” and other possible titles for Book 7, and the Dumbledore as “God” & Grindelwald as “Lucifer” quote)  https://phoenixweasley.wordpress.com/2010/04/30/melissa-anelli-and-j-k-rowling-interview/

If you like this blog and would like immediate updates on  my latest posts, please enter your e-mail address in the subscription box. Thanks! 🙂

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Today I finished reading David C. Downing’s Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel and I gave it a 5-star review at goodreads.com. This is the synopsis of the novel:

Looking for the King: An Inklings Novel
“It is 1940, and American Tom McCord, a 23-year-old aspiring doctoral candidate, is in England researching the historical evidence for the legendary King Arthur. There he meets perky and intuitive Laura Hartman, a fellow American staying with her aunt in Oxford, and the two of them team up for an even more ambitious and dangerous quest. Aided by the Inklings-that illustrious circle of scholars and writers made famous by its two most prolific members, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien-Tom and Laura begin to suspect that the fabled Spear of Destiny, the lance that pierced the side of Christ on the cross, is hidden somewhere in England. Tom discovers that Laura has been having mysterious dreams, which seem to be related to the subject of his research, and, though doubtful of her visions, he hires her as an assistant. Heeding the insights and advice of the Inklings, while becoming aware of being shadowed by powerful and secretive foes who would claim the spear as their own, Tom and Laura end up on a thrilling treasure hunt that crisscrosses the English countryside and leads beyond a search for the elusive relics of Camelot into the depths of the human heart and soul. Weaving his fast-paced narrative with actual quotes from the works of the Inklings, author David Downing offers a vivid portrait of Oxford and draws a welcome glimpse into the personalities and ideas of Lewis and Tolkien, while never losing sight of his action-packed adventure story and its two very appealing main characters.”–synopsis at goodreads.com
I enjoyed this book for many reasons: the Spear of Destiny plot was intriguing, the original main characters (Tom and Laura) are likeable and interesting, and the most importantly, the Inklings dialogue was based on quotations from their published works, letters, and biographies. When reading this book I felt that I had actually met C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Charles Williams. Hugo Dyson’s appearance in the novel is brief, but nearly all of his lines were really hilarious. I also enjoyed the cameo appearance by Tolkien’s daughter Priscilla. Downing’s detailed descriptions effectively captured the atmosphere of wartime England in 1940. He made so many references to places of interest to seekers of the “historical” Grail Hallows that I was compelled to search online for photos of the places he described in such fascinating detail. One such location, for example, is the cave of the Knights Templar at Royston. I was also very interested by the Celtic Cross at Gosforth and it’s link to the Spear of Destiny legend.

Look at the bottom of the fourth drawing for the figures of a crucified man, a figure holding a spear, and a figure collecting the blood. Is this ancient stone carving a link to the Spear of Destiny legend? Another interesting place that we visit in this novel is the Abbey of Malmesbury which has a stained glass window designed by Edward Burne-Jones that is described in detail.

The first figure is of St. George, and the second is of the devout king, St. Ethelbert. The third figure is supposed to be St. Longinus the Ceturion with the Spear of Destiny. Downing gives his readers a convincing story of how the legendary spear may have been hidden in England and how the lance that Hitler obtained from Austria’s Hofburg Museum in the Second World War was probably not the true Spear of Destiny.

There are many wonderful Inklings moments in this novel. At the suggestion of C. S. Lewis, Tom McCord attends a lecture on the Holy Grail legends given by Charles Williams at Oxford. After the brilliant lecture, Tom has a conversation with Williams:

“I can’t say I’m a believer,” said Tom. “It all seems like wish-fulfillment and hocus-pocus to me.”

Laura winced, but Williams didn’t seem to mind the comment at all. “Fair enough,” he said. “It is only the arrogant or the insecure who claim to know about such things, unless perhaps you are a genuine mystic. For the rest of us, all we can do is choose what to believe.” (page 58)

The line “all we can do is choose what to believe” really stood out for me. I recently blogged here about how “making the choice to believe” is a theme in Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows and C. S. Lewis’s The Silver Chair. This line introduces the reader one of the story’s most important character arcs: Tom McCord’s journey from agnosticism to faith.

Another favorite moment of mine is when Tom is allowed to attend an Inklings meeting at the famous pub, The Eagle and Child (a. k. a. the “Bird and Baby”). The conversation turns to the “dying god” story of various mythologies–the Egyptian Osiris and the Norse Balder to name two examples– and the role of such mythologies in C. S. Lewis’s conversion to Christianity. Tolkien explains, “We believe that the great and universal myth, the dying god who sacrifices himself for the people, shows everyone’s inborn awareness of the need for redemption. As we understand it, the Incarnation was the pivotal point in which myth became history.” (page 144) During this conversation Tom “felt himself outnumbered, a whole tableful of believers, and every one of them a formidable intellect.” (page 145)  Tom’s main obstacle in making the “choice to believe” at this point in the story seems to be the problem of evil. If God is all-good and all-powerful, why does so much pain and suffering exist? Lewis helps Tom to understand that if God intervened every time someone did an evil act or had an evil thought, God would be taking away the Free Will of humanity.

There are also numerous references to the published works of the Inklings authors as well as hints of “future” publications. An example is when Lewis says, “We’re hoping that Tollers will favor us with the latest installment of his ‘new Hobbit’.” (page 150) The new Hobbit of course, would be published about 15 years later as The Lord of the Rings. I loved that the characters of Bilbo, Frodo, Sam, and Strider are all mentioned in the novel. Lewis also alludes to the series of novels that he is about to write when he says that he has been sheltering war evacuee children at his home: “They’re charming creatures, though they don’t know how to entertain themselves. I was thinking that there might be a story in that–children sent away from London who have a series of adventures in the country. I started something a few months ago.” (page 251) The story that Lewis was referring to, of course, would be the first book of The Chronicles of Narnia. 🙂 

Another part of the story that I loved was Tom and Laura’s visit to Tolkien’s house. Apparently “Tolkien” (the fictional character in the novel) is quite the expert on the various legends of the Spear of Destiny, and his vast knowledge helps Tom and Laura to understand all of the unsolved mysteries of their quest. (pages 163-170) I loved this part because Professor Tolkien recounts the history of the Holy Lance in great detail, and I could definitely identify with the good professor in this scene. Much of what he says in this chapter I had discovered myself from researching the history of Spear of Destiny for my book, The Lord of the Hallows. (Visit www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows for more information.)

I won’t spoil the climax of the novel’s main action, but the climax of the story’s spiritual dimension is Tom’s conversation with Lewis, in which they return to their discussion of the problem of evil. Lewis says, “If some amoral brute created the world, he also created our minds. And how can we trust moral judgments given to us by this same amoral brute? If you reject God because there is so much evil in the universe, you need to explain where you obtained your standard for discerning good and evil.” (pages 211-212) Lewis offers further proof of God’s existence in humanity’s “homesickness for heaven,” and then he quotes St. Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee. “If the Christian view is right, we are all exiles from paradise.” (page 214) Tom then realizes that his entire quest may not have been his own, but the will of Another. He prays for the first time in the novel and by doing so, Tom makes his choice to believe. Initially, Tom went on a quest for the historical King Arthur, but did not find him. He found faith in the King of Kings instead.

This novel is a must-read for Inklings fans and is available from the publisher, Ignatius Press, at http://www.ignatius.com/Products/LFK-H/looking-for-the-king.aspx?src=iinsight. You can also find a listing of Dr. David Downing’s scholarly books on C. S. Lewis and a few short, but very positive reviews of Looking for the King at the publisher’s site. This novel was truly a delight. Please let me know if this review was helpful to you in the comments section. Thanks!

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 Most of the information in the following blog post is can be found in my book, The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter. There are many new tidbits to be found here as well, so even if you have read my book, there’s more new information to discover in this post. Enjoy!

     Have you ever wondered about the deeper meaning of the Deathly Hallows symbol? First we must answer the question, “What are hallows?” 

What is Albus Perceval Wulfric Brian Dumbledore looking at in this still from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire?

     The noun hallow means “a holy person or saint.”  “Hallows” is a word that refers to “the shrines or relics of saints.” The verb “to hallow”  means “to make holy, to sanctify, to purify” or “to honor as holy, to regard and treat with reverence or awe” as in the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name…” The October 31st celebration of Halloween is also known as All Hallows Eve, or the Eve of All Saints. 

     Then of course there is the Christian mythology of the quest for the Hallows of the Holy Grail in the Arthurian legends. Typically, the Grail Hallows are identified as:

1. the Sword of King David or, (alternately) the Sword that beheaded John Baptist

 2. the Dish of the Last Supper

 3. the Holy Grail Cup

 4. the Spear of Longinus (also referred to as “the Spear of Destiny”)

The Four Grail Hallows of Arthurian Legend. When I first saw this representation of the Grail Hallows I thought of the triangular Deathly Hallows symbol.

The cup, dish, and the spear are part of a larger collection of objects known as the Arma Christi, or Articles of the Crucifxion of Christ.  When the title of the final Harry Potter novel was released, I immediately thought of the Grail Hallows and their correspondences with the four suits of the Tarot (swords, disks, cups, and wands), then looked for parallels in Harry’s world. I expected the Sword of Gryffindor to play an important role in the final book, and it did. The dish or disk has a parallel in the Locket of Slytherin, and the cup is present as the Cup of Hufflepuff. But what of the spear? I examined the parallel with the four suits of the Tarot, and realized that a wand would be a suitable quest object in this story about wizards. I expected the Spear of Destiny would have a parallel as the Wand of Destiny in the wizarding world, and when the seventh novel was released, I discovered that this was indeed the case.

The Spear of Destiny and the Holy Grail Cup of Arthurian Legend have their origins in the Crucifixion of Christ

The legend of the Spear of Destiny developed from a passage in the Gospel of John, in which Jesus is found dead on the cross: “Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out.” (John 19:34, NRSV) Tradition derived from the non-canonical Gospel of Nicodemus gave this Roman soldier a name: Gaius Cassius Longinus. A sculpture of the legendary saint by the brilliant Italian artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598-1680) can be seen in Saint Peter’s Basilca in Rome. Longinus is depicted holding the Holy Lance in his right hand. 

This sculpture of St. Longinus is located in St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican

 In 326 A.D. St. Helena, the mother of Constantine the Great, discovered relics thought to be the Arma Christi while on a pilgrimage in Jerusalem. Among the relics were the True Cross of Christ’s crucifixion, the crown of thorns, the pillar at which Christ was scourged, and the Holy Lance. A legend later associated with this Holy Lance claimed that whoever possessed it would be able to conquer the world. A group of knights found a lance believed to be the Lance of Longinus beneath St. Peter’s Cathedral in Antioch during the First Crusade. Possession of the alleged Holy Lance spurred the crusaders on to victory.

     Harry Potter enthusiasts should notice that “Antioch Peverell” is the name of one of the three brothers who once possessed the Deathly Hallows. Antioch was the brother who wielded the Elder Wand, also known as the Wand of Destiny. Throughout history there have been many legends surrounding the relics that were thought to be the Lance of Longinus, the Holy Lance that came to be known as The Spear of Destiny. Likewise in the fictional wizarding world of Harry Potter there were many legends surrounding the Elder Wand. Like the would-be conquerors throughout history who thought that the army who possessed the Spear of Destiny would be invincible, in Harry’s world, the wizard who possessed the Elder Wand was thought to be unbeatable.

          One candidate for the title of Holy Lance, allegedly the spear that was found by St. Helena and once belonged to Constantine the Great, was possessed by the Holy Roman Emperors. It was believed to have contained one of the nails used in the crucifixion. This lance was called the Hofburg Spear, and it was kept in Austria’s Hofburg Museum until Adolf Hitler had it removed. 

The Hofburg Lance was believed to be the Spear of Destiny.

 On March 12, 1938 Hitler went to the Hofburg Museum to visit the supposed Holy Lance on the very same day that Nazi Germany took control of Austria.  Hitler believed this relic was truly the Spear of Destiny, and possession of it would make him invincible. On October 13, 1938 Nazi troops moved the Hofburg Spear from Vienna to Nuremberg where it was on display at St. Katherine’s Church for much of the Second World War. During the Allied Forces’ bombing of Germany the spear was moved to a secure underground bunker in Nuremberg.

          It is interesting to note that in Harry’s world, the dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald, who was obsessed with the Wand of Destiny, was kept in a prison called Nurmengard.  

          The Hofburg Spear came into the hands of U. S. troops under the command of General Patton on April 30, 1945 at 3:00 p.m. when Nuremburg Castle was captured.  Hitler committed suicide on April 30, 1945 at 3:30 p.m., just a half hour after he lost his “Spear of Destiny.” The lance was returned to the Hofburg Museum in January 1946, where it has remained until this day.

          Note that Hitler’s defeat takes place in 1945, the same year that Dumbledore defeated the dark wizard Grindelwald and became the new owner of the Wand of Destiny. When asked if it was a coincidence that Grindelwald was defeated in 1945, Rowling said, “No. It amuses me to make allusions to things that were happening in the Muggle world…” (Anelli, 16 July 2005)

          Hitler’s obsession with the Spear of Destiny may have been the result of his passion for the operas of German composer Richard Wagner. Wagner’s opera Parsifal, composed in 1882 was one of Hitler’s favorites. The story of the opera is about Parsifal (known as Percival in the English versions of the tale), who is one of the knights who is questing for the Grail Hallows. The opera’s plot is partially derived from Parzival, a German Medieval romance written in 1202-1210 by the poet Wolfram von Eschenbach. In the opera, the Spear of Destiny is glorified.

          Wolfram’s Parzival differs from Wagner’s opera in many ways, most notably in the portrayal of the Grail itself. Wagner’s Holy Grail is the traditional cup that one would expect, but in Wolfram’s version of the tale, the Holy Grail is a stone. Why Wolfram chose to portray the Grail as a stone rather than as a cup was a mystery that perplexed scholars for many centuries. A recent piece of scholarship may have solved that mystery.

          In the book Gemstone of Paradise: The Holy Grail in Wolfram’s Parzival, author G. Ronald Murphy, a Jesuit priest, explains that the grail stone in Wolfram’s romance was probably an altar stone, symbolic of the stone that was rolled across the entrance of Jesus’s tomb before the resurrection. Father Murphy thought that Wolfram may have been inspired to imagine the Holy Grail as a stone because of his encounter with a portable altar of the type used on the crusades. This small altar was a container for holy relics (hallows), as well as holding the consecrated bread of the Eucharist inside it beneath the removable altar stone.

This is a type of portable altar used during the Crusades.

Father Murphy translated the Latin inscription on one such an altar as follows: “The altar of Christ’s cross is one with this table, and this is therefore the proper place for the sacrifice of the victim who secures life.” He later wrote, “This is the wood and the stone that guarantee the passage of Good Friday to Easter Sunday, death to life. The portable altar, and perhaps this very portable altar, is Wolfram’s special stone of Resurrection, the phoenix stone in Wolfram’s language…” (Murphy 185)

          Indeed, this is how Wolfram describes the stone. In A. T. Hatto’s English translation of Parzival, the passage describing the powers of the Grail Stone, or Stone of Resurrection, reads as follows: “By virtue of this Stone the Phoenix is burned to ashes, in which he is reborn—Thus does the Phoenix moult his feathers! Which done, it shines dazzling bright and lovely as before.” (Parzival 239) According to Wolfram, the phoenix’s power of Resurrection is from the power of the Grail Stone. In Harry Potter, Dumbledore hides the Deathly Hallow known as the Resurrection Stone within the Golden Snitch, a physical representation of the winged solar disk, a phoenix symbol. One symbol of resurrection is hidden inside of another.

"I Open at the Close" fanart by Gold Seven

          Wolfram von Eschenbach was known to have an interest in alchemy. In alchemical language the Holy Grail, or phoenix stone, was in fact the Philosopher’s Stone. The Medieval tales of the quest for the Holy Grail, like the alchemist’s path to the creation of the Philosopher’s Stone, is symbolic of the pursuit of spiritual perfection. That J. K. Rowling is aware of the connection between Wolfram’s Grail Stone and the alchemical Philosopher’s Stone is suggested in a footnote on page 99 of Rowling’s The Tales of Beedle the Bard. Here, Rowling prompts her readers to make the connection between the Philosopher’s Stone and the Resurrection Stone from “The Tale of the Three Brothers:” “Many critics believe that Beedle was inspired by the Philosopher’s Stone, which makes the immortality-inducing Elixir of Life, when creating this stone that can raise the dead.” (TBB 99) I had developed my theory of Parzival’s Grail Stone as the inspiration for the Resurrection Stone Deathly Hallow in 2007, before The Tales of Beedle the Bard was published. When reading Rowling’s footnote from page 99 in December of 2008, I was delighted. I see this footnote as evidence that my theory of the hallows is a plausible one. Two of the three Deathly Hallows of Rowling’s fiction—the Wand of Destiny and the Resurrection Stone—seem to have been inspired by the Grail Hallows of Arthurian legend. The legendary knight Parzival, or Perceval, was the hero of many Medieval romances, one of which was La Folie Perceval. Perceval in this version of the tale was thought to have been influenced by the character of Payne Peveril in Fulke le Fitz Waryn (1260 A.D.). A Welsh poem called Peveril also featured a character similar to Perceval. Perhaps the name “Peverell” (the surname of the three brothers who possessed the Deathly Hallows) may have been derived from Peveril. Antioch Peverell was the master of the Elder Wand, and Cadmus Peverell held the Resurrection Stone. But what of the third Deathly Hallow, the Invisibility Cloak of Harry’s ancestor Ignotus Peverell? For the answer, perhaps we must turn to the ancient mythology of the British Isles.

Hermione discovers the tomb of Harry's ancestor Ignotus Peverell in Godric's Hollow.

          The legend of the “Thirteen Treasures of Britain” also known as the “Thirteen Hallows of Britain” describes an impressive collection of magical objects that would not seem out of place in Harry’s world. The twelfth treasure, for instance, is a magical chessboard with “living” chess pieces, not unlike the Wizard’s Chess game that Ron Weasley is so fond of playing.

"I'll be a knight," said Ron.

The thirteenth hallow in this collection is known as “The Mantle of Arthur” with the power to make the wearer invisible. This is very much like the Invisibility Cloak that was given to Harry by Dumbledore during his first Christmas at Hogwarts, the cloak that is the third of the Deathly Hallows.

Harry received the Invisibility Cloak for Christmas during his first year at Hogwarts.

          Rather than four Grail Hallows or thirteen Hallows of Britain, Rowling creates a trinity of Deathly Hallows, represented by a vertical line and circle contained within a triangle.

The Deathly Hallows symbol as it appears in the film.

This is the symbol that was mistaken for the “Peverell coat of arms” by Marvolo Gaunt. (HBP 207) The vertical line represents the Elder Wand, or Wand of Destiny, which is all-powerful. The circle represents the stone with the power of resurrection, and finally, the triangle represents the cloak with the power to make the wearer invisible. Thus, the three Deathly Hallows are that which is all-powerful, the power of resurrection, and the presence that is invisible.  In Christianity, this could symbolize the Holy Trinity: the all-powerful Father, the resurrected Son, and invisible presence of the Holy Spirit.

The equilateral triangle symbolizes the Holy Trinity of Christianity.

The circle in Christian symbolism represents eternity because it has no beginning and no end. (Luna Lovegood explains this on page 587 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.) A bright ring, the circular halo, is used to represent sanctity in Christian art.

The circular halo represents sanctity. The circle represents eternity in Christian art.

The Celtic symbol of the Holy Trinity combines the triangle and circle in one symbol to represent the Triune God.

This symbol which explains the Holy Trinity is quite similar to the Deathly Hallows symbol.

     In addition to the Trinitarian symbolism of the Deathly Hallows, in the Harry Potter series there are a trio of protagonists on a quest, not unlike the trio of knights who find the Grail in the Medieval Christian romance The Quest of the Holy Grail. Galahad, Perceval, and Bors are the three knights who find the Grail.

Galahad, Perceval, and Bors find the Chapel of the Holy Grail.

Galahad, the story's Christ figure, is surrounded by lilies, which symbolize his purity.

Notice that the third angel is holding the Spear of Destiny and the Dish.

Perceval and Bors complete the Trio of knights who achieve the quest for the Grail Hallows.

Galahad is identified as a symbol of Christ in the narrative of The Quest of the Holy Grail. He is compared to the “lily of purity” and the “true rose, the flower of strength and healing with the tint of fire.” The nature of his quest is a spiritual one which ends in his death after finding the Holy Grail. The angels carry him up to heaven along with the Holy Grail and the Spear of Destiny. Harry Potter is the character in Rowling’s saga that is most like Galahad. His quest is a spiritual one which involves self-sacrifice: he experiences a kind of death and resurrection that saves the wizarding world. Just as the Grail and Lance are taken up to Heaven, never to be seen again, Harry deliberately loses the Resurrection Stone in the forest and also renounces the power of the Elder Wand. The story ends with Harry declaring his intention to return the “Wand of Destiny” to Dumbledore’s tomb where it cannot be used again.

Galahad’s companion Perceval triumphs over temptations of the flesh in his many adventures, which include being tempted by the Great Serpent, Satan, in the form of a beautiful temptress.

Perceval is tempted by Satan in the form of a beautiful woman. He is saved from the temptation to sin when he beholds the "red cross that was inlaid in the hilt" of his sword.

 Perceval’s sword, like the Sword of Gryffindor, takes the shape of the Cross, the symbol of Satan’s ultimate defeat.

Ron drew the Sword of Gryffindor, which appeared as a "great silver cross" in the forest pool, to destroy the Locket of Slytherin Horcrux, thus destroying a fragment of the wicked soul of that Great Serpent, Voldemort.

Perceval also rescued a lion’s cub from certain death when he struck the head of the serpent that was trying to devour it. Perceval was then befriended by the King of Beasts. The lion, of course, is a symbol of Christ.

Perceval decapitates the serpent. This has an obvious parallel in Harry Potter: Neville vs. Nagini.

 Bors, unlike Perceval, faced intellectual temptations on the quest. He had to make difficult decisions concerning moral dilemas, as when he had to decide whether to rescue his beloved brother Sir Lionel or an innocent maiden who was being abducted by an evil knight. He made the correct decision to rescue the the defenseless girl rather than saving his warrior brother. Bors is most like Hermione, the thinker of the heroic Trio. Together the three knights Galahad, Perceval, and Bors, and the three young wizards Harry, Ron, and Hermione represent the spirit, body, and mind, the “soul triptych” that John Granger first identified in his excellent book The Hidden Key to Harry Potter.

In The Quest for the Holy Grail there is another important parallel with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.  Galahad, Percival, and Bors were wandering through a forest when they saw a “white hart with its four attendant lions.” The three knights followed the white stag, which led them to a chapel where the Mass was being sung by a holy hermit. Inside the little church the four lions transformed into the four living creatures that symbolize the four evangelists–the man (St. Matthew), the eagle (St. John), the lion (St. Mark), and the bull (St. Luke). The white stag transformed into a man enthroned as Christ the King. The hermit explained the symbolism of the miracle that the knights had witnessed:

For to you has Our Lord revealed His secrets and His hidden mysteries, in part indeed today; for in changing the Hart into a heavenly being, in no way mortal, He showed the transmutation that He underwent upon the Cross: cloaked there in the mortal garment of this human flesh, dying, he conquered death, and recovered for us eternal life. This is most aptly figured by the Hart. For just as the Hart rejuvinates itself by shedding part of its hide and coat, so did Our Lord return from death to life when he cast off his mortal hide, which was human flesh He took in the Blessed Virgin’s womb.—The Quest of the Holy Grail (244)

 It is only after they have had the vision of the transformation of the white stag that the three knights are able to find the Holy Grail. In The Grail: Quest for the Eternal, John Matthews explains the symbolism of the white stag with relationship to the Holy Grail quest:

To reach the temple of the Grail, the knights who set out from Camelot must undergo many tests and experience terrible ordeals. But often, when the way seems darkest, the enigmatic white stag or hermit figure appears, to lead them forward through the mazes of forest and hill. In medieval iconography the stag was identified with Christ and the soul’s thirst for God, which accounts for its appearance in this context. (Matthews 88)

 The appearance of the White Stag in the Quest for the Holy Grail has a direct parallel in the appearance of the mysterious Silver Doe in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry, Ron, and Hermione have had no success in destroying the Horcruxes until the Silver Doe appears to lead Harry to the forest pool when the Sword of Gryffindor lay hidden beneath the ice.

Intrigued by this blog post? You can read more in The Lord of the Hallows: Christian Symbolism and Themes in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter by Denise Roper. It is available at www.outskirtspress.com/thelordofthehallows.

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