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Berserker's avatar

What mythology has JK Rowling borrowed from other sources to construct the saga of Harry Potter?

Asked by Berserker (33470points) February 16th, 2010

So this older question from a few days back got me thinking about how a lot of the things in Harry Potter are basically mirroring popular myths from somewhere else.
Not saying, whatsoever, that it’s a bad thing, and as was pointed out that most fantasy literature does this anyways.
But now I’m all curious, are there any myths that you recognize in the series that originally come from something else?
(For example, the Gryffindor sword being found at the bottom of a pond, kinda like Excalibur comes from the bottom of a lake, or Voldemort almost being a lich? And I wouldn’t know if that counts anyway, since that is a mythical creature, rather than an event.)
I’m sure there’s more, what have you noticed?

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10 Answers

Jeruba's avatar

Well, for one, Nicholas Flamel was a real person. For another, the Philosopher’s Stone (“Sorcerer’s Stone” in the American edition, presumably because we aren’t expected to know our cultural heritage) is a key notion in alchemy. Dumbledore is an obvious Merlin figure. Magical creatures such as dragons and boggarts are familiar in traditional lore. The whole idea of action at a distance (“magic”), with its potions, charms, spells, incantations, etc., etc., is about as old as humanity.

Berserker's avatar

Haha I’m surprised they didn’t have Roger bacon in there.

YARNLADY's avatar

There are entire websites dedicated to this subject. You might want to consult them.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Believe it or not, she lifted a great deal from Monty Python, including the name of her protagonist (@ 1:28).

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Ouch! @Jeruba beat me to most of my answers. Isaac Newton was heavily into alchemy also.Roger Bacon is credited with the invention of gunpowder (at least in the West). Modern chemistry derives from these earlier efforts at eternal life or converting base metals into gold. The inferii are obviously zombie-like creations. She borrows werewolves, vampires, unicorns, trolls, giants, leprechauns, mer-folk from ancient European legend. The snake hatched from a chicken egg that kills with a glace (can’t remember its name) is part of southwestern Native American lore. The powers that she assigns to goblins (magical metal working) are given to elves by Tolkien. The elves of Middle Earth would be shocked at how their relatives are treated in Harrys world. The whole concept of “white” vs “black” magic is very old. Much of the potion making, such as the polyjuice, is straight sympathetic magic. Ms. Rowling did a very good job of introducing lore from many sources that her readers might otherwise never learn of.

Berserker's avatar

The snake is called a basilisk, which is very prominent with a “gorgon” I imagine. Although in Dungeons and Dragons, a basilisk does the exact same thing, but is instead a lizard with six to eight legs.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Symbeline Merci beaucoups! had the name on the tip of my tongue but couldn’t remember it. Do people play D&D as a board game anymore or is it all computer now? (I despise computer games).

Berserker's avatar

@stranger_in_a_strange_land Oh people stay play it a lot. Yeah there are plenty of video games for D&D but they’ll never be as deep and intricate as the table top. I used to play it often, for at least three years.
But yeah it’s still very popular, along with a lot of other table top RPG’s, like Vampire Masquerade, Shadowrun, Warhammer and it never ends.
The only problem is finding a team of players and setting up times to play, but when you do, it’s a hell of a lot of fun. We always did on Sunday evenings usually, ordering pizza and getting stoned lmao and playing until the hours of the morning. Way better than playing on your own on a video game version.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

@Symbeline Wonderful! Just like my college days in the 70s, including the pizza, bierre and weed. I’ve been living in a time warp, like Rip van Winkle. :^)

oxenfree's avatar

alot of the names she used in the books come from Greek Mythology. i took Latin the first 3 years of highschool. and we talked about this many times before. here is a good site to refer to

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