Potterversity Episode 20: Noble Blood in Harry Potter and Arthurian Literature

Apr 11, 2022, 02:00 PM

Understand the ties that bind – blood and otherwise – in Arthurian legend and the wizarding world in this episode.

Emily and Katy discuss with Dr. Carol Jamison (Georgia Southern University) the links between Arthurian literature and Harry Potter through the concepts of blood lines, noble (or “pure”) blood, and blood feud. Author of Chivalry in Westeros(McFarland, 2018), Carol examines medievalism in popular culture, not only in the Potterverse but also Game of Thrones. She explains both medievalism and neo-medievalism in pop culture and how the Harry Potter stories play with Arthurian themes that fit these categories. We learn about how views of chivalry and heroism connect the characters and themes of the two literary sources, including the values of generosity, loyalty, and sacrifice, along with the notion of noble-bearing or birthright that distinguishes heroes in both. But the two series actually test the assumption that heroism comes automatically from bloodline, pointing out that virtue does not, in fact, come from blood or heritage.

We talk about Harry’s connection with Voldemort as a kind of blood tie that also has corollaries in Arthurian legend. This unwanted blood connection parallels the connection between Arthur and his son/nephew Mordred, leading to similar peril and self-sacrifice. Blood feud also drives the action in the two series, as desire for revenge and restitution motivates major events in each, creating alliances as well as rivalries. Analysis of the Malfoys and Gaunts, in addition to Snape, demonstrates the importance of medieval feuding to the Harry Potter story.

Carol shows how these links to Arthurian legend allow the Potter books to challenge contemporary ideas about racial purity that lead to profound injustice (Dolores Umbridge, we’re looking at you). This emphasis, too, presents a parallel particularly to Thomas Malory’s collection of Arthurian tales. Both the late 15th century and today evince the effects of social and political upheaval as old ideals about the link between virtue and blood are challenged. How much do we still esteem bloodline and elect “dynasties” to positions of power? These issues continue to resonate with us today. You can read more about Dr. Jamison’s analysis in “Blood Ties, Blood Sacrifice, and the Blood Feud in Malory’s Le Morte D’Arthur and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series” in Children’s Literature Quarterly (2021).