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Essays

Fawkes and Gryffindor

by Phyllis D. Morris FawkesFawkes, Professor Dumbledore's phoenix, has played a prominent role in the first four Harry Potter books. With the fifth book reportedly titled Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is worthwhile to speculate about Fawkes' past.

There is strong support in J. K. Rowling's canon for the theory that Fawkes was Godric Gryffindor's phoenix when Gryffindor was alive:

Fawkes is scarlet and gold, the colors of Gryffindor House. Harry's wand contains one of Fawkes' feathers as its magical core, and red and gold sparks fly from the end of his wand the first time he waves it.

Fawkes lives in Dumbledore's office along with the Sorting Hat and sword that we are told once belonged to Gryffindor. The large number of items in this office that were previously owned by Gryffindor also suggests that Dumbledore's office was once Gryffindor's office. This is further supported by the griffin-shaped knocker on Dumbledore's office door.

In FB, Newt Scamander (J. K. Rowling's pseudonym) indicates that the "phoenix gains a XXXX rating not because it is aggressive, but because very few wizards have ever succeeded in domesticating it" (p. 32). Both Gryffindor and Dumbledore are described as uniquely powerful wizards, so it would stand to reason that if Dumbledore is one of the few wizards able to domesticate a phoenix, Gryffindor was likely to be another.

In FB, Scamander tells us that the "phoenix lives to an immense age as it can regenerate, bursting into flames when its body begins to fail and rising again from the ashes as a chick" (p. 32). Since phoenixes can resurrect themselves from the ashes of their elderly bodies, Fawkes could have been alive since Gryffindor's time. Moreover, the basilisk survived since Slytherin's time (until the end of Chamber of Secrets, of course!).

In legend, the griffin was believed to be the "adversary of serpent and basilisks, both of which were seen as embodiments of satanic demons" (from the What's in a Name website - paraphrased from the Dictionary of Symbolism). This could be a parallel to Gryffindor's Fawkes and Slytherin's basilisk, and perhaps a clue to a possible good-against-evil fight between Gryffindor and Slytherin 1,000 years ago. Moreover, Fawkes helps Harry defeat the basilisk in the Chamber and phoenix song strengthens Harry both in the Chamber and in the graveyard in Goblet of Fire. Fawkes' strengthening of Harry's courage is consistent with what Scamander tells us in FB: "Phoenix song is magical; it is reputed to increase the courage of the pure of heart and to strike fear into the hearts of the impure" (p. 32).

So if we accept the premise that Fawkes was once Gryffindor's phoenix, it raises the interesting question of who might have owned Fawkes between the time of Gryffindor's death and when Dumbledore assumed responsibility for him. In David Colbert's book, The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter, he describes the Druidess Cliodna (one of the famous witches on the trading cards that come with the Chocolate Frogs) as owning "three enchanted birds that heal the sick" (p. 185). Since "phoenix tears have powerful healing properties" (FB), perhaps the Druidess Cliodna was Fawkes' interim owner!

© 2002 Phyllis D. Morris, used by permission

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