10 Best Literary Allusions in Harry Potter


One of the reasons the Harry Potter series is such a fantastic collection of stories is thanks to the rich literary tradition that Rowling pulls from in order to create her work. These are the 10 best literary allusions in Harry Potter.

1. The Lady of the Lake

Remember that epic scene when Harry Potter draws the sword of Gryffindor from the lake? Not only is it the best scene in the entire Harry Potter series (in my opinion), but it actually draws from one of the most popular folklores of all time.

In the stories of King Arthur, unlike what has been retold in many modern retellings of the story, “the Sword in the Stone” was not excalibur. Excalibur, Arthur’s legendary sword, was actually bequeathed to him via the Lady of the Lake.

According to legend, the Lady of the Lake would only give Excalibur to someone who was worthy, meaning who excelled in the main virtues.

Oddly enough, Rowling’s version of the tale does not see Harry Potter draw the sword from the lake. In fact, it is his friend Ron who does it – proving that once and for all, there’s a lot more to Ronald Weasley than meets the eye.

Although Harry may not have pulled the sword from the lake as King Arthur did, he does marry Ginny aka Guinevere, the way Arthur did.

2. The Philosopher’s Stone

Of course, this is another very blatant allusion to literature. The philosopher’s stone, the ancient stone legend to be able to turn anything into gold, was repurposed in the American version of Harry Potter into “The Sorcerer’s Stone”. The idea of a stone that has supernatural powers shows up quite often not only in history but in literature of many kinds.

3. The Lord of the Rings

Whether done on purpose or not, the Horcruxes made by Voldemort are almost identical to the Ring of Power created by Sauron in The Lord of the Rings.

In the seventh book, we also see Harry, Ron and Hermione carrying a Horcrux around their necks, the same way Frodo carries the Ring around his. Also like the Ring, the Horcrux causes depression and despair for the person who carries it.

4. Boarding School Literature

Believe it or not, the boarding school genre, concerned around the goings on at boarding schools (Hogwarts) was not invented by Rowling. In fact, there is a long history of boarding school works written in the English language.

Rowling, of course, leverages this genre in a whole new way. But she really is standing on the shoulder of giants here.

5. The Bible

Messianic prophecy – the idea that one man will come to save humanity. This is, after all, the story at the center of Harry Potter. One man will conquer death. Harry Potter in this way is literally the Jesus figure of the story – being the chosen one, marked virtually since birth by prophecy to defeat the Dark Lord.

Of course, Harry Potter isn’t the only story to draw inspiration from Messianic tradition. Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, for example, do the same.

6. Greek Mythology

There are also plenty of allusions to Greek Mythology throughout Harry Potter. One of the biggest allusions to Greek Mythology, and also one of those that ties in with the reference listed above, is how Harry Potter dies and returns. Not only is this similar to the story of Jesus, who dies and returns, other heroes in Greek Mythology in particular die and come back. One such hero was none other than Hercules.

Other references to Greek Mythology include Fluffy, the three headed dog guarding the gates to the underworld, and the boat that crosses the lake in Half Blood Prince – it is a shoutout to the boat that crosses the River Styx.

7. The Canterbury Tales

Believe it or not, the Tales of Beedle the Bard are a direct reference to stories found in “The Canterbury Tales”. The rendition in the movie is also quite fantastic.

8. Shakespeare

Did you know that Hermione is actually based after a character from Shakespeare’s “A Winter’s Tale?”

In the story, Hermione turns to stone, and is eventually brought back to life. Similarly, in Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter’s Hermione is petrified, which is basically the same thing as being turned to stone.

There are additional references to Shakespeare throughout Harry Potter. For example, the way Draco beats around the bush before killing Dumbledore is reminiscent of Hamlet, whereas the “Weird Sisters” band that plays at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire are a direct reference to Macbeth.

9. The Knight and the Dragon

In Chamber of Secrets, Harry literally slays a dragon. Well, a Basilisk, but that’s basically the same thing as a dragon. Literature is filled with knights who slay dragons – in fact, the Patron Saint of England is Saint George who legend says slayed a dragon.

Of course, the dragon George slayed was a metaphor for sin, not actually a dragon. And we do also have a George in Harry Potter – our favorite, one-eared twin!

10. A Tale of Two Cities

The Prince’s Tale is another one of those scenes in Harry Potter that stand out among the best in the series. However, some of the themes regarding Snape, Lilly and James might seem familiar to you. In fact, Rowling herself has stated that perhaps more than any other book, Dickens’s book “A Tale of Two Cities” has inspired her.

Similar to Snape, Sydney Carton goes to his death to save the woman he loves who actually loves another man.


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