It’s been ages since the Harry Potter books entered my life – or I should say I entered the books, because there’s the life in which I read, and the one I live in the books I read; with a series of seven, the Potter novels make a world of their own. And after all this time I still find things I didn’t know; it’s like a fountain that never runs out.
John Everett Millais: The grey lady
I love Pre-raphaelite painters, and when I finish teaching romantic poetry I usually discuss them, as they are the perfect bridge to Victorian culture. This is where I am right now with my literature classes, so I was browsing the public domain picking pictures for a brief presentation and there she was: The grey lady, by Millais. I had never seen the painting, it caught my eye with its dark transparency; I thought it must be an apparition – I checked the title and I saw I had found yet another little gem from Mrs. Rowling’s treasure trove: the Ravenclaw ghost, the sad young woman Harry talks to while looking for Horcruxes, originates from this beautiful work in which the painter depicted his daughter as a spectre. Of course I am sure many other readers will have made the same discovery.
There are other such surprises in store as you roam Hogwarts, especially at night.
I have never been a Jane Austen fan. Great novelist, yes. But. Not for me, really: although I did like Pride and Prejudice when I read it (would I like it now?), I felt it was enough. Adaptations are something else, more digestible, and they are usually good, especially when they are British. The film Mansfield park was released in 1999, the year I had discovered Harry Potter, but in Italy films are usually released some time later, because they have to be dubbed. We went to see it and there I discovered where Mrs. Norris, the cat, got her name from. I couldn’t help laughing out loud, which probably sounded out of place, but it was such a revelation!
Let me explain, for the benefit of any accidental Jane Austen readers who may have stumbled here with no Potter lore to help them: the caretaker at Hogwarts school of magic is a horrible little man called Argus Filch. He has an equally horrible cat, whose name is Mrs. Norris (I consider it a mark of how good Rowling is at making characters what she wants them to be, that I may feel no sympathy for a cat); I had no idea the name was that of a mean woman who is quite horrible to her niece, the heroine of Mansfield park. A horrible guardian for a meek 19th century young woman had given its name to an equally horrible feline, the patroller of the vast corridors of the school of Witchcraft and Wizardry. (Mrs. Norris the cat is interesting in another way as well: Filch bears the name of a monster in Greek mythology, Argus, a guardian of Hades whose body is entirely covered in eyes; being human, Filch only has a pair of eyes, though large and bulbous; his cat’s eyes are equally large and lamp-like, to make for the all the other eyes someone bearing the name Argus name should sport).