The Origin and Meaning of ‘Voldemort:’ Allingham’s ‘The Tiger in the Smoke’?

Can it really have taken us twenty years to track down the origin of the name and the essential meaning of J. K. Rowling’s pathological villain, Lord Voldemort?

I read a mystery novel yesterday, Margery Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke, that seems to have a passage that satisfies the several tests I’ve been able to come up with for verifying a true Voldemort source. Let me share those tests or metrics, the passages in question, as well as the several competitors for the title of ‘Original Dark Lord’ all of whom I think Tiger in the Smoke trumps.

First test: The Presence Herself has to like the book being cited as a possible source for Voldemort’s name.

The most frequently cited source for the name on the Internet is “Voldemortis,” a supposed wizard who battled Merlin. Sadly, this idea seems to have appeared out of thin air in 2004, the earliest source I found for it, and you can tell it has been cut and pasted in every names meaning list since because they all begin with “In another language, Voldermortist means “Lord of Evil” or “Dark Lord”. Legend has it that Voldermortist once tried to destroy Merlin…” I kid you not. MuggleNet, Korean Potter fan sites, the whole spectrum.

Rowling never mentions ‘Voldemortis’ or the Arthurian legends as a Dark Lord point of origin. I was a little disappointed that she hasn’t discussed The Master and Margarita, either, because the plot of that book — not to mention ‘Woland De Mort‘ (?) –is a great match for Lord Thingy, too.

Edgar Allan Poe’s “M. Valdemar“? This is the best name reference match-up, hands down, and the gruesome finish of The Facts in the Case of M. Valdemar corresponds with the Dark Lord’s (sort of). But we have no comments by the author about loving Poe…

Second Test: Lord Voldemort is a psychopath, full stop. The Original Can’t Be Mister Rogers.

He is “a raging psychopath, devoid of the normal human responses to other people’s suffering” (EW). “If you are writing about evil, which I am, and if you are writing about someone who’s, essentially, a psychopath – you have a duty to show the real evil of taking human life” (BBC Christmas). “If a psychologist were ever able to get Voldemort in a room, pin him down and take his wand away, I think he would be classified as a psychopath” (Radio City).

Third Test: The Name Itself — French, Fictional, ‘Invented’

Rowling has said publicly that the name ‘Voldemort’ is French (not Latin, Lexicon!); that she made it up, and that she pronounces it sans final ‘t:’  “Vol-de-mor.” And, no, “I didn’t base Voldemort on any real person!” (Though what about all the men named ‘Tom Riddle’?)

She is sometimes cited as the source of the translation from the French, “flight from death.” I could not find verification of this ‘internet-fact,’ i.e., a seeming-truth that is believed because it is repeated in thousands of places. It is not in the index of Rowling quotations about Voldemort.

How does The Tiger in the Smoke stand up to these tests? Answers after the jump! [Read more…]

John Dawlish and – Margery Allingham?

Hogwarts Professor Louise Freeman said in the ‘Reading Writing, Rowling’ premiere podcast in Roanoke, a discussion of the ‘Top Twenty Harry Potter Moments’ that “‘Dawlish is still in St. Mungo’s and Gran’s on the run’ is one of my top ten lines from the series.” It certainly reflects the nadir in the never especially bright life of Auror John Dawlish. Being toyed with by an escaping Dumbledore and then, one hopes under the Imperius Curse, being made the heavy for the Dark Side Ministry of Magic in Deathly Hallows, Dawlish never seems to catch a break. Professor Freeman told me that she thinks of him as “the Harry Potter equivalent to the red-shirted Star Trek security guard.

I bring this up today because I think I have found the origin for Auror John Dawlish’s last name.

If you’re a Cryptonym Specialist, Harry Potter division, you may be scratching your head about this “discovery.” We already have two decent explanations for Dawlish’s last name and the author herself has explained Dawlish being named ‘John’ (the Leaky Cauldron’s John Noe is the most celebrated Dawlish fan and The Presence anointed her character ‘John’ in Noe’s honor). The two explanations for ‘Dawlish’ are that it is a city in Devon near Exeter where Rowling went to college (see The Harry Potter Lexicon on Dawlish for more on that) and, more importantly, it’s referenced in Austen’s Sense and Sensibility and Dickens’ Nicholas Nickleby.

I wasn’t looking for an alternative to this rather mechanical explanation when I stumbled over it. Now that I have seen it, though, I much prefer it to the Sea Coast town with thin literary echoes having no connection to an Auror, even a can’t-win nebbish like Dawlish, the Wizarding World’s equivalent of an FBI Special Agent.

Here’s how I stumbled over the name Dawlish in an important novel by one of Rowling’s favorite mystery writers —

[Read more…]

After-Action Report on the Amazing Roanoke Harry Potter Festival!

In case you did not see all the stars shooting up over the Star City of Roanoke recently, May 12 and 13 marked a very special event. The town’s first ever-Harry Potter festival was fantastic and included a rare gathering of the four Image may contain: textHogwarts Professor Faculty Members in one place! John Granger, Elizabeth Baird Hardy, Louise Freeman, and Emily Strand don’t usually get to be at the same event in real life, as most of our faculty meetings are virtual ones, so it was a great experience for us to chat, record a live podcast for the new Reading, Writing, Rowling podcast (stay tuned for more on that!), and take part in a festival that was both academically rich and fun for everyone. We’ll each be sharing our thoughts on this wonderful event, which we joined primarily through the tireless efforts of Dr. Lana Whited, friend of this blog, professor at Ferrum College, and Minister of Magical Education for the Festival. Dr. Whited put together a stellar program, and we were all delighted to be part of it, though we were in different areas, which means we have some different insights on this enchanting festival that we all hope will invite us back in 2018! [Read more…]

Fantastic Beasts: ‘Original Screenplay’ Compared to Actual Film – What the Movie Makers Changed or Left Out

A Team Effort Guest Post by Kelly Loomis and myself! At my urging, knowing her skills as a literary detective, Kelly watched the Fantastic Beasts DVD with the ‘Original Screenplay’ in hand. She noted any differences between published text and released movie. We already knew that the ‘Original Screenplay’ was actually not the shooting script, which included at least fifteen scenes, props, and plot points that didn’t make it to us in the theaters. Kelly’s check of ‘Original Screenplay’ with the actual movie reveals that there are even major differences between the film and what seemed like just a transcript with enter-and-exit stage notes and descriptions. Enjoy her findings and our shared thoughts on their meaning!

When I heard that JK Rowling would be writing the screenplay for Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, my Potterhead self was excited and gratified. “Now,” I thought, “the film wouldn’t be missing the important details she weaves into her writing!”

I have been disappointed again.

First, as we’ve seen from John’s Fantastic Beasts posts about the shooting script and deleted scenes, the final film product is very different from the initial story Rowling approved for filming. The many cut scenes disappointed serious Rowling Readers as they were crucial to what we felt were key elements of the story. I’ve put a Round-Up of John’s posts below about the grand canyon separating the shooting script and the movie released last November and even the DVD we have now.

Second, incredibly, even the published ‘Original Screenplay’ doesn’t match up with the movie. Having compared the one with the other, scene by scene, I‘ve found that even the final printed screenplay is different in some areas than the film. Prompted by John, I’ve put these into writing for you all to ponder.

The good news? The “original” in ‘Original Screenplay’ used to seem ironic if not flat-out dishonest. What I’ve learned from comparing the published text, however, has shown me that this book is not just a transcript. It’s another window into the shooting script that Rowling wrote and approved for filming.

I list after the jump all of what I found. All citations are from the first edition of The Original Screenplay of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. All opinions are subject to 180 degree shifts consequent to your corrections! [Read more…]

Why the Harry Potter Books are Better


“Professor Strand, which is your favorite Harry Potter movie?” a student asked recently as class began.

“I’m sorry,” I replied, “did you ask, ‘which is my favorite Harry Potter BOOK?’”

“Oh, yeah, right. Which book,” she said, unfazed. A few students murmured their understanding of her error, but most simply waited to see how much class time the question would chew up (a favorite pastime of my students: baiting instructor into digressive pop culture conversation).

I wasn’t altogether surprised by her phrasing, as I had encountered the same movies-as-primary attitude in a college-aged Potter fan just a few weeks before, as I attended a collegiate Muggle Quidditch tournament. Seeking an understanding of the viability of Quidditch on its own terms, I had asked one of the players if everyone on her Quidditch team was a Harry Potter fan, or if some players simply played for love of the sport. She informed me most were indeed big Potter fans, but there were one or two players who, she said, despairing of their poor taste, “haven’t seen any of the movies!” (Their attention to the books: not mentioned.) [Read more…]