Tag Archives: Mythology

Harry Potter: A History of Magic

It has been twenty years since Harry Potter enchanted a global audience and I have been waiting three months now to see Harry Potter: A History of Magic, a British Library exhibition at the New-York Historical Society in New York City. The exhibit focuses on “the traditions of folklore and magic at the heart of the Harry Potter stories, Harry Potter: A History of Magic unveils century-old treasures including rare books, manuscripts, and magical objects from the collections of the British Library and New-York Historical Society—with original material from Harry Potter publisher Scholastic and J.K. Rowling’s own archives.”

The exhibit showcases the of art, artifacts, and documents of traditions of folklore and mythology across the globe that influenced J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter. 95% of the magic in the books was invented by Rowling herself, but the remaining 5% was taken from folklore and mythology to embellish the stories and draw the reader in.

Enter Room One –  Alchemy, the forerunner of Chemistry. A alchemist would need to have gold and solver, “stinking water,” mercury and white smoke among other ingredients, to make elixirs. On display was the 17th Century’s Ripley Scroll. The symbols, words, and colors on this scroll gave clues to readers in medieval times on how to create a Philosopher’s Stone – something many believed could make you live forever!

Go Into Room Two – Herbology. Who was Potions master during Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts? It wasn’t Professor Snape! It was Neville Longbottom.

J. K. Rowling drew inspiration for naming herbs and potions from historical herbals, which are books about plants that often reference their medicinal properties. In this gallery real and fictional plants are displayed to cure all kinds of ailments.

Enter Room Three – Charms. A combination spell and hand movement add magical property to an object or creature like causing an item to float in midair: Winggardium Levisoa!. Charms add properties to an object rather than transforming it completely. In Harry Potter, charms also provide magical shortcuts, like summoning things from across the room (Accio!) or turning one’s want into a light source (Lumos!)

Also on display in this room was the Cloak of Invisibility.

In Japanese folklore the story of Tengu no Kakuremino describes a similar raincoat of invisibility.

Room Four – Astronomy. Luna Lovegood shares a name with the Roman Goddess of the Moon and Sirius Black with the brightest star in the night.

J.K. Rowling actually has a notebook for unusual names:

“I collect unusually names. I have notebooks full of them. Some of the names I made like like Quidditch and Malfoy. Other names mean something – Dumbledore, which means ‘Bumblebee” in Old English – so far I have got names from saints, place names, war memorials, and gravestones.” 

Enter Room Five – Divination. This is the art of predicting the future. People have used a variety of objects and methods to see what the future holds, from palm reading to gazing into a crystal ball. In this room you will find a witch’s mirror, oracle bone, and fortune-telling cup. Divination is the “most difficult of all magical arts  . . . books can only take you so far in this field.” — Professor Trelawney

Come into Room Six – Defense Against the Dark Arts is a core subject at Hogwarts. In this class students learn how to magically defend themselves against Dark Creatures, the Dark Arts, and other dark charms. The ultimate evil is “Unforgivable Curses” with the worst used to kill. No Hogwarts teacher of Defense Against the Dart Arts has stayed in the position for a year.

Go Into Room Seven – The Care of Magical Creatures

Owls, Unicorns, Phoenixes, Dragons, Unicorns and more.

A Magizoologist is a person who studies magical creatures – a field known as magizoology. A person may not need to have graduated from school to become a Magizoologist like Newt Scamander in Fantastic Beasts.

Outside of the exhibit there is a wall featuring the different book illustrators Jim Kay, Mary GrandPré, Kazu Kibuishi, and Brian Selznick, as well as interviews with them.

Mary GrandPré is famous for illustrating the American editions of J.K. Rowling’s book. She designed the covers for all seven of the main books in the series, made the chapter illustrations, and invented the famous lightning bolt-styled logo that’s still used today. Her images were the first images people had for what Harry Potter looked like, years before Daniel Radcliffe was on the scene.


J.K. Rowling has said Deathly Hallows is one of her favorite book covers. Throughout the exhibit are Rowlings notes and illustrations. To see her writer’s notebook and her schedule for writing are enlightening.


“You have to resign yourself to wasting lots of trees before you write anything really good. That’s just how it is. It’s like learning an instrument. You’ve got to be prepared for hitting wrong notes occasionally, or quite a lot. That’s just part of the learning process. And read a lot. Reading a lot really helps. Read anything you can get your hands on.” – J.K. Rowling

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Mythology is Everywhere: 5 Ways to Utilize Myths for Teaching & Learning

Words like alma mater, atlas, labyrinth, lunatic  and narcissistic derive from mythology. References to mythology are apparent in many movies and books from Star Wars to Harry Potter and even Percy Jackson.  The mythic hero is not only a Western or popular culture phenomena. Heroes from the Ancient Near East include Gilgamesh, Hippopotamus from the Middle Kingdom in Ancient Egypt. Classical mythological heroes include Achilles, Apollo, Athena, Hercules, and Prometheus. King Arthur and his Knights are considered heroes of the Middle Ages. Every country and region has their own heroes. In fact, mythological themes are timeless.

Hero in mythology is a person who is endowed with great courage and strength, celebrated for bold exploits, and favored by the gods. A hero is also one noted for feats of courage or nobility of purpose, especially one who has risked or sacrificed his or her life.

What do you think makes a hero, a “hero”? What qualities do we tend to look for in this person? Should heroes be strong, courageous, selfless and charismatic? Could someone still be considered “heroic” without these qualities?  Who are some of your “real life” heroes and how do they stack up against the heroes presented to us by Hollywood and or classic mythology? And what about the Antagonist – can the “bad guy” also be the hero, and if so, why?


Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey

The topic of mythology and heroes can be brought into the humanities classroom in different ways that allow students to critically read and reflect on this genre. Here are five different literacy assignments that showcase mythology.

  1. Create a Heroic Myth – After reading and examining the hero’s journey across texts, students create their own futuristic hero/heroine whose story addresses a global issue. Students write a short story describing this new hero/heroine. The story should include at least one intervention of the hero/heroine dealing with a major global use he or she was developed to counteract. The hero/heroine can be comprised of the following four components: part human, part animal, part machine, part supernatural. Additionally, students can create a superhero picture depicting the hero in action; fighting against the force the hero was created to fight.
  2. Mythology Collage Box – Students create collages or collage boxes along the lines of Joseph Cornell’s work that includes personal adaptations of mythological subjects. In preparation for their work, students would need to become familiar with Greco-Roman myths and examine how artists throughout history have been inspired by mythology. The collage will represent an event or a character from mythology or can even depict an abstract idea (for example: jealousy, ambition, war, music, love).
  3. Dramatize the Story – Become one of your favorite mythological paintings or sculpture. Speak in its voice, or the voice of one of its characters or objects. What does it feel like to be that person or object? Speak in first person and describe the experience, feelings, and character.
  4. Critical Analysis of Mythology Represented in Art – Students examine paintings, sculpture, poetry, and art that represents mythology. Ask students to think, discuss, and write about why has the artist chosen to paint this part of the myth? How is color used in the painting? What symbols or allegory are presented in the art work? How has mythology been appropriated and inflected with new meaning?

Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) Ceres c. 1715

5. Deconstructing Mythology in Popular Films – With movies like Thor, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Wonder Woman, mythology is alive in popular films today. Have students view the films and categorize the mythology references in each or one of the movies. Students can present an analysis how the film pulls from different mythological sources and evaluate the accuracy of the mythological references.

For example, thinking of Diana and Wonder Woman. In previous myths, the Amazons were a fierce tribe of warrior women; they scorned men, except once a year when they would seek out men from neighboring tribes in order to procreate. Any male children that resulted from these unions were either murdered or sent to live with their fathers. In some myths, Amazons would cut off one of their breasts so that they could better shoot their bow and arrow. Their brutal and uncompromising toughness frames Wonder Woman in a different light than how she is often portrayed, and how this influence is utilized makes for an exciting film.


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The Hero’s Journey: A Study in Film

Years ago I attended the National Gallery for Art‘s Summer Workshop focusing on Mythology. I spent a week in Washington, DC with fifty other educators learning from academics, teachers, and visiting every museum in the District. One evening we attended the National Air and Space Museum to see an exhibit highlighting the Joseph Cambell’s The Hero Journey through the lens of George Lucas’ Star Wars. The exhibit paralleled two stories, making visible a plot structure and trope that plays out continuously in film and story canon.

Joseph Campbell, an American mythological researcher, wrote a famous book entitled The Hero with a Thousand Faces.  As MythologyTeacher.com points out, “in his lifelong research Campbell discovered many common patterns running through hero myths and stories from around the world.  Years of research lead Campbell to discover several basic stages that almost every hero-quest goes through (no matter what culture the myth is a part of).  He calls this common structure “the monomyth.” It is commonly referred to as “The Hero’s Journey.'”


When George Lucas was writing his drafts of the early Star Wars movies he had read Joseph Campbell’s work and there is a clear structure of the Hero’s Journey in Lucas’ films.



Star Wars is not the only films that follows the Hero’s Journey. Many of Disney’s Films also use this plot structure in their animated feature films: Finding Nemo, Mulan, The Lion King, The Incredibles, and Moana. Additional movies include Shrek, and Kung Fu Panda. Major feature films like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Spiderman, Matrix, and The Hobbit also follow this trope.

I am using The Hero’s Journey with in my Media Literacy class to teach about plot structure, character motivation, and theme in the stories they write and films they create. I started by asking students to think about what qualities they associate with heroes. Are heroes born or are they made? Are there heroes in real-life or must they be larger-than-life? Who are the heroes in our society.

Students viewed short films about the Hero’s Journey to understand the monomyth. Then we brainstormed possible movies, books, and stories that would fit within this structure. Students were given a graphic organizer of the The Hero’s Journey to map out a text on their own. The graphic organizer on MythologyTeacher.com was clear and specific to help students articulate their understanding. I found out among my students that not many have seen animated Disney Films, The Hunger Games, or the new Spiderman Homecoming movie. With this in mind, I will be showing the class the movie  Spirited Away by MIYAZAKI (2001), one of my favorite filmmakers.

Many of Miyazaki’s films follow the Hero’s Journey and are great to use with students. Once we view a film in it’s entirety together, we will discuss and plot out the Hero’s Journey in the film. Students will use this foundation for writing their own Hero’s Journey story that they will make into a movie. Additionally, students will apply the foundations of film knowledge (Types of Shots, Color, Sound, and Style) to effectively tell their Hero’s Journey story.


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