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…]

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…]

Five Reasons Harry Potter Fandom Isn’t Excited about Cormoran Strike — Yet

Kernel's Corner Fan Art

Kernel’s Corner Fan Art

Last week, ChrisC! wrote a guest post about the Cormoran Strike mysteries, in which reflection he shared his thoughts about several reasons that Harry Potter fans have not warmed to Rowling’s latest hero and series. He was criticized for not mentioning every reason; he responded that the issue had been discussed before, both at the website and on MuggleNet Academia.

Which is true, but not as true as we’d like! Links to MuggleNet Academia’s old home on MuggleNet are dead (go here to find the elusive ‘Cormoran Strike and the Invisibility Cloak’ discussion) and the HogwartsProfessor post I wrote on the subject was linked to, a website no longer up and running. Fortunately, I have that piece in my vaults and was able to find it to share with you here.

It was written before Career of Evil was published, of course, but 4 1/2 of the 5 reasons are still valid. I’ve updated the fifth just a touch and included the comments left at Cormoran’s Army for your reading pleasure. Be sure to read Oona Eisenstadt’s five reasons at the end for why the series will NOT ever be popular with Potter-fans. Enjoy!

Burke 1When I have given talks at Harry Potter conferences the last two years about the artistry and meaning of the Hogwarts Saga, I see big crowds, great interest, real enthusiasm. When I speak about Jo Rowling’s new seven book series, the Cormoran Strike novels, the crowds are much smaller and the prevalent attitude is a mix of curiosity and something like confusion. “Wait — there’s a new series from my favorite author? Why isn’t anyone besides John talking about that?” (Not knowing, it seems, that Karen Kebarle is also on the case….)

Which raises the question: “Why so little enthusiasm in the Harry Potter fandom for the Cormoran Strike mysteries?” Here are five reasons from the top of my head; please let me know why you think in the comment boxes below.

Five Reasons Harry Potter Fandom Isn’t Excited about Cormoran Strike — Yet

(1) There’s No Controversy.

Harry Potter was selling very well in the UK and word of mouth was growing in the US before Prisoner of Azkaban was published in 1999. But there was no mania to speak of, no Midnight Madness parties at bookstores nationwide, no covers of important periodicals, no flood of online speculation about its possible contents as there were a year later before Goblet of Fire’s appearance. What happened?

Two things: Prisoner, about which more in a second, and the Potter Panic. [Read more…]

Guest Post: Why No ‘Cormoran Mania’?

COEFans, Noir, and the Question of Violence: Speculations about the Popularity of J.K. Rowling’s Detective Fiction — A Guest Post by ChrisC!

With the impending release of Lethal White, the next volume in J.K. Rowling’s Cormoran Strike Mysteries, an old question occurred to me.  Has there been any uptick in enthusiasm from her fanbase?  Maybe I don’t pay enough attention, however I still don’t know whether the series has yet to pick up steam.

I hope the series does pick up notice.  It’d be a mistake for her fans to neglect what so far has proven to be a more or less fine-tuned storytelling machine.  At the same time, it is possible to take a few educated guesses at just why the series might be held back from total popularity.  It can even be argued what elements of the books themselves might keep it from a wider appeal.  I bring the topic of the books’ reception up because I think that if the response to Cormoran Strike should ever turn out to be more guarded than that given to the Potter series, then it helps to understand the reasons why longtime fans might turn out to have a surprising amount of ambivalence with regard to the latest fictional exploits of their favorite author.

With that in mind, after the jump, you’ll find a list of aspects about the series, Jo Rowling’s fans, and what a potential clash between the two could mean for the series’ prospects. [Read more…]