Friday, November 11, 2011

There's Magic in Numbers

NaNoWriMo Day 11 Tips from Harry Potter

Today is a significant date, is it not?  Something special, almost magical, should happen on a day like 11/11/11.

Ever since humans started counting, we have searched for and found significance in these units of measurement.  Humans as a whole are prone to supernatural thinking, and as we clearly understand the magic of words, so too do numbers hold sway over our minds.

Specific numbers have come to symbolize certain concepts in our Western mindset.  Consider the forty days and forty nights of the Biblical flood -- a representation of a really long time.  Or the completion hinted at through twelve disciples and twelve constellations.

Marking time seems to have been the first prompting for humans to count.  And with the regular lunar phases, the moon gave ancient people a calendar in the sky.  One hypothesis suggests that the 30,000-year-old markings on a bone tool discovered in the Blanchard rock shelter in France represents phases of the moon.

Notice how the markings are presented in a serpentine image -- even back then a link was made between the monthly renewal of the moon and the regenerative nature of the snake as it sheds its skin.

Coming forward a few thousand years, people continued their fascination with the study of time as they marked numbers and counted astrological events on the passage tombs in Ireland.

Note: This picture has been enhanced to show markings stronger.

This kerbstone at Knowth is theorized to show either a lunar or solar calendar with certain marks indicating days counted.

And we must not forget that good old ancient Ionian Pythagoras (of the triangle fame) who based a whole philosophy based on the universal harmony found in numbers.

Rowling uses numbers for magically symbolical purposes throughout Harry Potter.  Of course, the most obvious is her use of seven.  Seven is the most potent magical number -- seven books, seven years at Hogwarts, and for Voldemort, seven pieces of his soul.  But when old Voldy makes a mistake and accidentally splits his maimed soul into eight with the murder of Harry's mum, he shares his Parseltongue abilities and gives Harry an unintentional tool of insight into his mind, which leads to his downfall.

Other numbers held power throughout the Potterverse as well.  Rowling has said that the Dursley home is at #4 Privet Drive because she never liked the number four.  Throughout the series there are numerous references to pairs and mates and the number two -- perhaps hinting at Neville as the second child of the prophecy, or the bound-but-separate dual nature of Harry and Voldemort's nature.  And perhaps drawing upon Biblical ideas of twelve companions of Jesus, the home in which the Order of the Phoenix first comes to life is at Number 12 Grimmauld Place, where when 13 sit down to dine Harry's first night there, the one who rises is the first to die -- Sirius.  And thirteen is the chapter all of the early books in which Rowling chose to give her hidden villain a cameo appearance (a post for another day!).

Using numbers to hint at deeper meanings is just one tool we as authors can choose to employ in our stories -- if it fits our story and our style.  However, it's good to know that if we choose to, we'll be using a magical tool employed by keepers of time for millenia.

I'd love to add more instances to this post of numbers used magically or symbolically both within Potter and ancient times.  Can you spot some more?  Have you used numbers to convey deeper meaning within your own story?  Please share in the comments if you have!

Blanchard bone picture photo credit.
More on the Blanchard bone markings.

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!)