Tuesday, 28 June 2016

Review: 'Into the Pensieve: The Philosophy and Mythology of Harry Potter' by Patrick McCauley

As a child nothing was as enduring and ever-present as Harry Potter. First the books and then the films became a constant part of my life, a consistent presence that let me dream and explore my own imagination. As the first Potter-generation grows up, Potter is becoming more and more interesting in how it survives and finds relevance. It's also becoming an academic subject, with people explicitly searching through its layers for an answer as to why J.K. Rowling's series has proven so important to so many. Into the Pensieve is a great addition to this new writing. Thanks to

Pub. Date: 28/10/2016
Publisher: Schiffer Publishing Ltd.
This book takes a look at the arc of the storyline in Harry Potter, digging below the surface to explore ethical, mythological, and religious meanings in J.K. Rowling s best-selling series. Why do we find ourselves so intrigued with the tale of Harry Potter? Many of the millions who passionately read the Harry Potter series found they could relate to the details, dreams, and fears of Harry s life. From a phoenix that dies and rises again to Dumbledore, a character who appears in a realm beyond death, there can be little doubt that Rowling s story delves into profound themes and ideas. She tackles issues of grief, responsibility, individual excellence, and heroism in the face of violence and corruption. This philosophical analysis shows that if, in fact, we do find ourselves reflected in Harry s story, then we may also find that our destiny and individual potential resonates with his as well.
First and foremost it has to be said that I am an absolute sucker for anything Harry Potter. As said above, it's been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. As such it is no big surprise that I would be interested in Into the Pensieve or would find its contents interesting. So this review will only partially be on the actual content, while the other part considers the form etc. McCauley covers a wide range of topics in this book, covering both traditional elements of the Hero's journey, such as the importance of the Father'figure, as well as what Harry Potter has to offer its readers on the subject of power. The broad range of topics means that not everything could be discussed quite as much as might have been interesting, but that a reader walks away with a good idea of what kind of treasures can be found in Harry Potter. Personally I found the chapter on 'Women and Violence' incredibly insightful and definitely something that I hadn't read about before.

Academic books, in my eyes, whether meant mainly for the general public or written for the dusty corner of a discipline, need to engage with other critics. In order to show how Harry Potter operates within a certain tradition or how it develops a certain literary trope the critic has to engage with the wider research in that area, with what has been said before, in order to show breaks with convention. If that doesn't happen a book is just personal opinion rather than research. This unfortunately does come with the cost that a book will require some effort because it isn't always easy to keep up with ideas and traditions. McCauley does his best to keep as much academic lingo as possible out of his writing as possible. As such, Into the Pensieve is really quite accessible which is a good thing since Harry Potter has also proven to be one of the most accessible series in this century.

What the reader will have to consider when it comes to Into the Pensieve, however, is if they actually want to read about their favourite series this way. For many of us Harry Potter holds a very special place in our hearts which means we may be too close to it to appreciate an academic dissection of it. As with all books such as these, you won't agree with everything McCauley has to say in Into the Pensieve and there will even be points where you actively disagree with him. However McCauley doesn't expect you to. As a University lecturer himself he wants to start a conversation, introduce his reader to their beloved Harry Potter in a new way and grow their understanding of the books and of themselves as readers. For me reading Into the Pensieve in no way lessened my love for Harry Potter but only increased it. A note also has to be made of how Into the Pensieve looks. Schiffer Publishing really tried to make this book look wizard-ly with nice fonts, paper quality and page illustrations. It will look very well next to my Harry Potter books.

I give this book...

4 Universes!

Into the Pensieve is very well researched and beautifully laid out. McCauley does a great job in reintroducing the reader to Harry Potter and starting a conversation. I'd recommend this to anyone who is a Harry Potter fan but also to those interested in story telling and mythology.


  1. I think I'd be into this book^^ I would have LOVED to study Harry Potter in an academic sense and even though I might not agree with everything the author says, it'd be nice to see the story from an academic perspective. It'd make a nice change from the constant FANGIRLING perspective LOL! GREAT review!!

    1. I wish they had brought up HP during my undergrad in English Literature! And it definitely is interesting to look at iconic scenes like the Patronus scene in Prisoner of Azkaban from an angle that is not filled with tears ;) And thank you! :D

  2. I definitely want to read this! A more analytical look at HP would be interesting, because like you I grew up with the series. Glad you found it insightful. :)

    1. I'd definitely recommend it then! It covers loads of topics and does so in quite a fun way! Thanks for commenting :D

  3. Patrick McCauley3 July 2016 at 05:06

    Hello everyone,

    This is Patrick McCauley. Just loved your thoughtful review. I was very pleased to hear that you found points of both agreement and disagreement. You are right when you say that Pensieve is about starting a conversation (not ending one). The book has been out for a little while and I have not yet had much of an opportunity to get into good discussions about it. Your review gives me hope that these discussions are coming soon. Please let me know if you have any questions or want to express an outrage at one of my thoughtless suggestions.