There is so much emphasis on word choice. Voldemort’s name and its taboo is a plot point frequently highlighted. Pronouncing a spell incorrectly can have disastrous effects. Rowling insists, throughout the series, that words have power, and on so many different levels.
If it weren’t for Ron and Harry’s cruel words, as 11 year olds, Hermione would not have been crying alone in the toilets. Had Hermione not been crying alone in the toilets, they would not have felt the need to save her from the troll, and in turn would not have become such close friends.
The werewolf, and the language surround them, are an incredible example of the powers of language. There’s great contrast, between the quasi-clinical terms such as ‘lycanthropy’ and potion related vocabulary, and the negatively charged vocabulary regarding werewolves that can be found in Harry’s DADA text books. That werewolves are included in a book on ‘Fantastic Beasts’ dehumanises them immensely. No wonder the bias against werewolves, and their mistreatment within the magical community continues. There is of course, an issue in general, in regard to the speciesist nature of the wizarding world. However werewolves, are distinctively different to species that Dolores Umbridge might refer to as having ‘near human intelligence’. The werewolves were human, and, should still be considered human, as the concept of a ‘cure’ suggests that they exist as humans with an illness; continuing the various allegorical connotations attributed to them. But Rowling embraces a doubling. In the Harry Potter universe, the werewolf is considered both as a human with an illness that can be treated effectively by the more progressive community, and as a monster and subhuman creature by the conservative and traditional community. To dehumanise them within the education system through such simple word choice, demonstrates at least in part the dangers and incredible power that can be found within words.
There is also, an acknowledgement of the power of words, through the fact that the majority of spells are verbal and require incantation, and through both Harry and Voldemort’s ability to speak parseltongue. Words give individuals power and control. Though children are said to accidentally use magic, and Harry himself remembers ending up on the roof of the school without meaning to, it is through language that the young wizards and witches learn to control their powers. The issue of parseltongue and its significance is equally interesting. That Dumbledore can understand it, but cannot speak it, demonstrates the power attributed by the individual, in that he felt the desire to learn it in the first place.
Of course Rowling is a clever writer. She likes to put in little references, which is why translating the books can be so difficult, because of the symbolism or witty puns inserted through word play. Rowling acknowledges the importance of stories; through her Tale of Three Brothers in reference to the Deathly Hallows, and the importance of self-created myth to gain understanding and contentedness. Whether or not Harry actually speaks to Dumbledore at Kings Cross when he is ‘dead’, or whether it’s all in his head, isn’t important to Harry as the character, or the reader. But rather the words are thought and written, and thus are important in themselves. The status of the books as a work of literature, is highlighted by this; because ultimately it doesn’t matter beyond what is gained by Harry, and by extension the reade.r
The issue of symbolism extends beyond just the author. The creation of a Horcrux, in itself, is symbolic. Life, the ultimate good, can only be unnaturally extended, through doing something that is subjectively defined as the ultimate wicked act. This is just one of the many stark juxtapositions Rowling so frequently creates. Furthermore, there is almost a necessity for the Horcrux to take the form of something symbolic. So many people ask, why not make a Horcrux a grain of sand, and so on and so forth. It’s not dramatic, it’s not literary, and it’s not symbolic. Magic is tied to language, and by extension to symbolism.
Moreover, language and symbolism are at the centre of the community depicted in the Harry Potter franchise, perhaps a parallel of the importance of language, and word choice, in our own world and governments. There is a sense of determinism, perhaps enhanced through the idea of authorial intent, in that every sentence must have meaning both to the reader, and to the characters within the books. That language and symbolism, are the core of the magic encountered in Rowling’s Harry Potter franchise, is a convenient and strong theory to prescribe to.