Guy Fawkes and the Order of the Phoenix
Dumbledore's phoenix, Fawkes, carries the same name as the most famous traitor in British history, Guy Fawkes, a man still burned in effigy every Fifth of November in Bonfire Night celebrations all over Great Britain. This alone might seem to be an adequate reason to call a phoenix 'Fawkes,' given that a phoenix burns up completely and is reborn from its own ashes; however, is it possible that JK Rowling had another reason for choosing this name for Dumbledore's emblematic pet?
More than one reader has questioned Rowling's choosing to give this phoenix, known for its loyalty, the name of a notorious traitor. But was Guy Fawkes considered a traitor by everyone? He was a known agitator and was part of a cadre of what we would call terrorists today; every member of this cadre was punished after Fawkes was discovered in Westminster with the ordnance that gives the Gunpowder Plot its name. But the people on whose behalf these agitators were fighting probably felt otherwise upon learning that their champions had been arrested and condemned to death. The leaders of a successful revolution are revered by future generations; leaders of a failed rebellion are reviled as traitors and burned in effigy.
This presentation examines the remarkable parallels between the real-life Gunpowder Plot and the plot JK Rowling created for the fifth book of the Harry Potter series and examines where Rowling's book diverges from history in ways that could challenge traditional black-and-white views of Guy Fawkes and his compatriots. What is the difference between a traitor and a freedom-fighter? It just might be all in your perspective.
Barbara Purdom has been writing about the Potterverse since 2001 and has presented seven papers at five symposia, which she is incorporating into books about the Harry Potter series. She has also led classes for people of faith about all seven Potter books and was a religiously-based activist for gay rights, reproductive freedom and church/separation for ten years, as well as also being interviewed by Bay Windows concerning Dumbledore's "outing" after Bay Windows also interviewed her about Metaphorical Queerness in the Harry Potter Books, presented at The Witching Hour (Salem, October 2005). She was a classics major and anthropology minor at Temple University and still lives in her native Philadelphia with her husband and teenaged son and daughter, plus their five cats. She has been on the board of HPEF since its inception.