For today’s blog post I would like to take a look at the ways in which J.K. Rowling referenced Arthurian legend in the Harry Potter series of books. Some of these references are very obvious and others are less so. It is important that we are able to understand just how Rowling was inspired by the Arthurian legends to fully understand the story of Harry and his friends.
The plot of the Harry Potter series is formed was a classic heroes journey. Harry must overcome many obstacles in order to find himself ready for the final battle that makes him fulfill his destiny. He is the only who can defeat a great evil and it had been a prophecy before his birth. All of these aspects are classic components of the heroes journey, and come into play time and again in the Arthurian legends.
In some ways we can view the complete ouvre of the Harry Potter tale as a new version of the search for the Holy Grail that makes up some of the most important tales in the Arthurian legends! Harry combines the aspects of the knights that go on heroic quests in order to defeat the ills plaguing the world.
Within the context of the series we see that some of the prime magical players within the Arhurian legends existed within the universe of Harry Potter. Merlin actually lived and attended Hogwarts, as did Morgana Le Fay! They even each have a chocolate frog card devoted to them. In the universe we do not get to learn a whole lot about either figure. We did learn from J.K. Rowling that Merlin was actually a member of Slytherin! This was something that was surprising for many Harry Potter fans, but for those of us that were fans of Arthurian legends, it made sense. Merlin had a much darker side than many people would assume. In many early traditions it was stated that his father was either a demon or an incubus, and he was very cunning, making him a prime candidate fro being a Slytherin! We also learn that Morgana was a dark witch, and likely an antagonist of Merlin.
Although we do not officially learn Morgana’s house, I personally do not agree with most people stating she would have been in Slytherin. The animosity between her and Merlin, to me, links her to being in a different house than his. Plus I need to state that early versions of Morgana (like Monmouth’s Morgen) show her as an ideal candidate for being a Ravenclaw! Even if she was to go dark and start practicing evil forms of magic, she need not always have been this way. So when she first got sorted at age eleven, she very likely could have been a Ravenclaw! I am not just saying that because I am a Ravenclaw, but because I have always felt a connection to Morgana, and I myself have many times tested as Slytherin on quizzes. It was always either Ravenclaw or Slytherin, then when I took the quiz developed by J.K. Rowling I was officially sorted into Ravenclaw!
Another reason I can see Morgana being a Ravenclaw is that I have always gotten very Morgana vibes from Rowena Ravenclaw and her daughter, who was the house ghost, The Grey Lady! In the cases of all three characters they were great witches who took great pride in knowledge and leading others to find the best in their own magical abilities!
Another obvious reference to Arthurian legends is the Sword of Gryffindor. This is an obvious version of Excalibur, both swords were made by the fae. Excalibur was created in the faery land of Avalon, and Gryffindor’s Sword was created by goblins! Both swords also are powerful tools that help the protagonist of the tale complete quests that will lead to fulfilling his destiny! Additionally Hufflepuff’s cup can obviously be seen as a version of the Holy Grail. In all we see many references both large and small to all types of people and objects from the Arthurian legends!
I hope you have enjoyed this brief analysis of how Harry Potter has a connection to The Matter of Britain. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is Rowena Ravenclaw made by an artist on deviant art. She reminds me of Katie McGrath as Morgana on BBC’s Merlin! I found the image on https://www.deviantart.com/annettasassi/art/Rowena-Ravenclaw-685796784.
- Le Morte D’Arthur by Sir Thomas Malory
- Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling