Woman or Monster? Nagini in the Wizarding World

BY KATHERINE JOVANOVIC

Since J.K. Rowling confirmed a fan theory that Voldemort’s snake Nagini was originally a witch, she sent Harry Potter fans into quite a frenzy.

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Here’s what we know:

  1. Nagini the snake used to be a witch.
  2. She suffers from maledictus, a blood curse passed from mother to daughter that causes animal transformation.
  3. The species of animal transformation depends on the curse.


Bothersome to many is the casting of Asian actress Claudia Kim as Nagini. This casting choice perpetuates racial stereotypes, since Nagini becomes subservient to Voldemort. Setting “The Crimes of Grindelwald” film aside, Rowling’s unleashed secret changes how we read Nagini in the “Harry Potter” series.

We can no longer think of Nagini as only a snake. She is also a woman. Therefore, she is the monstrous feminine. “The Monstrous-Feminine”, written by Barbara Creed, argues that female monsters in horror film represent the abject, or the other, through motherhood and reproduction.

In “The Goblet of Fire,” Voldemort explains to Harry that he found “the essential ingredients for true rebirth” by drinking a potion of unicorn blood and Nagini’s venom. She also sustains Voldemort with milk, which parallels breastfeeding. Here Nagini represents the mother.

Nagini as a witch-turned-snake also perfectly demonstrates the mother’s link to the animal kingdom. Birth terrifies because it also connects women to decay and death, as explained by Creed.

Birth horrifies Voldemort, especially since his own mother died in childbirth. To him, birth and death would seem intertwined, so he chooses an unnatural form of rebirth with Nagini’s help. Creed asserts that “nature reminds man of his mortality and of the fragility of the symbolic order.” Any HP reader knows Voldemort detests “mortality” and “fragility.”

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Why a blood curse exclusive to females? While the love and sacrifice of Lily Potter exists in Harry’s blood as protection, blood acts as curse for Nagini. Clearly, maledictus is not just monstrosity, but a case of female monstrosity. Barbara Creed also mentions ancient cultures that compared snakes to women because “the snake sheds and renews its skin” and the “woman sheds and renews her blood.” The maledictus curse certainly seems to portray the female body in a negative light.

Is Nagini a victim? Does her body symbolize the abject? Does she choose to join Voldemort? How Rowling tells Nagini’s story in “The Crimes of Grindelwald” holds major repercussions on how we view female and minority roles not only in the Wizarding World, but also in today’s entertainment industry.

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