Deconstructing Harry Potter

By Staff Writer • Published: October 30th, 2012
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

Harry Potter fans know a proper Halloween costume includes a magic wand, a book of spells, a tie and V-neck sweater… and Harry’s signature spectacles. But what will make your little Hogwart stand out among the sea of wannabe’s this year? The answer is in the science.

According to the National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry magic in the popular books is based on Renaissance traditions that played a key role in the development of Western science, such as alchemy, astrology and natural philosophy.

For example, series author J.K. Rowling included the work of Paracelcus [pare-a-SELL-suss], a 16th century physician who named the mineral zinc and is referred to as the “father of toxicology.” Rowling wrote that a statue of the alchemist is on display at Harry’s school.

One of history’s most famous alchemists, Nicolas Flamel, is featured in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone as the creator of the magical Stone. Even though the Philosopher’s Stone is now known to be a myth, Flamel and other alchemists’ at the time attempted to create it by experimenting with metals and influenced the development of modern chemistry.

And, like Harry’s professors, Swiss naturalist and physician Konrad Gesner believed that basilisks and dragons existed. He recorded their medicinal uses alongside those of their reptile relative, the snake. Gesner wrote that viper flesh was effective in theriac [THEER-ee-ac], an antidote and cureall that was widely used in the late 19th century. He also wrote about dragon fat being effective against creeping ulcers.

So, this Halloween give your little Potter an edge among the lookalikes. Share the magic of knowledge!