Guest Post – Bezoar: The Princely Stone

Pratibha Rai is an Oxford University graduate and she has been a Harry Potter partisan since 2001. Her research today mostly concerns the sociology of collecting in early modern Europe. She enjoys finding parallels between Harry Potter and history of art — and you will enjoy reading what she has discovered about that life-saving short-cut antidote, the Bezoar!

Bezoar: the Princely Stone

For today’s lesson, we descend to the shadowy dungeons of Hogwarts to “learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making”. As Philosopher’s Stone describes, it is “colder here than up in the main castle and would have been quite creepy”. Among its steaming cauldrons and apothecary jars, Harry Potter learnt of the power of potions under the watchful eye of Professor Snape. In the first ever Potions class in chapter 8 of Philosopher’s Stone, Snape teaches the class about the unusual Bezoar stone, which has the ability to cure the victim of almost any poison (except Basilisk venom). In order to chastise Harry for not paying attention in class, Snape quizzes Harry: “where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?” Only to answer the question himself: “A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons.” We know that bezoars were stocked in the Potions classroom cupboard and in the hospital wing of Hogwarts (both mentioned in chapter 18, Half-Blood Prince). The Potions textbook Magical Drafts and Potions by Arsenius Jigger also contains a recipe called ‘The Antidote to Common Poisons’, which uses ingredients such as Bezoars, mistletoe berries, and ground unicorn horn. Though Harry had not shrugged off the mysterious antidote in his first Potions class, his life at Hogwarts was to be particularly shaped by it. [Read more…]

Live at Queen City Mischief and Magic!

I’ll be speaking today and tomorrow at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival (QCMM) in beautiful Staunton, Virginia, nestled in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley.

My four, count ’em, four talks will be:

  • ‘Why We Love Harry Potter’ Saturday morning at 10:30 on the Festival’s main stage,
  • ‘Harry Potter and the Ring Composition’ at 2:00 this afternoon at Mary Baldwin University’s venue,
  • Sunday at 1:00 PM I will be talking at The Wharf about the Christian content of the Hogwarts Saga, and
  • I may be speaking again on the main stage Sunday morning as well. If I do, I think I’ll try out something knew: ‘Everything I Needed to Know about Shakespeare I Learned from Harry Potter.’

And there is a panel discussion at 5:00 today at which Prof Louise Freeman and I will answer questions from all-comers from the main stage.

If you can make it to Staunton this weekend, please be sure to introduce yourself as a HogwartsProfessor reader. There will be thousands of people, I know, but I really look forward at these live events to meeting my virtual friends with whom I spend so much time during the year. I hope to see you there, especially if you’re going to see Antony and Cleopatra as I did last night at the American Shakespeare Center’s magnificent Blackfriar’s Theater.

Hidden Photos at Rowling Websites: Digital Clues and Detective Work #4

The is the fourth in a HogwartsProfessor series of close-up looks at pictures displayed at and The first three entries in the series can be found here, here, and here.

Today, perhaps the ultimate in visible literary allusion, we have a stack of five books we are supposed to assume (?) can be found within easy reference reach on Rowling’s writing desk.

What the picture’s url calls a ‘book stack’ includes, top to bottom, a Roget’s thesaurus, A. D. Mills’ Dictionary of English Place NamesRice’s Architectural Primer, Keaney & Wilson’s Dictionary of English Surnames, and the Oxford World Classics edition of Four Revenge Tragedies. I had a Roget’s (if not this edition) and the OWC Four Revenge Tragedies before Evan Willis showed me how to open up these partially obscured photos on Rowling’s site. I have since acquired the three other books in the stack.

The copy of Four Revenge Tragedies, I have to think dates the photo to the time Galbraith was writing or updating The Silkworm. All four of the tragedies therein are used as sources for chapter epigraphs in what Rowling has said was the first Strike mystery she wrote, although the second one to be published.

The Dictionary of English Surnames has already proven a gold mine for Serious Strikers and Potter Pundits. Beatrice Groves used it to explain Rowling’s choice of ‘Galbraith’ as her pseudonym; Keaney & Wilson define this surname (p 182) as meaning “stranger-Briton” in Old Gaelic, “a name given to Britons settled among Gaels,” an apt description of Rowling-Murray in Edinburgh. I used Groves’ clue about ‘Burkes’ in another of her HogwartsProfessor posts, to find the ‘Borgin’ of the Knockturn Alley shop; in Keaney & Wilson, ‘Burgoin’ is the surname listed immediately before ‘Burk’ and an alternative of ‘Burgin’ is listed there (p. 74). I suspect this Dictionary will be a go-to item for all future Cratylic name searches.

The Roget’s Thesaurus is a gentle reminder that the author is a wordsmith, who beyond not wanting to use the same word repeatedly is wont to find just the right word with the appropriate nuance and shading necessary. Nabokov always wrote with a copy of Webster’s New International Dictionary of the English Language, second edition, at hand. (yes, I own a copy and it is huge). Same thing, sort of.

I have leafed through the Architectural Primer and Dictionary of Place Names but not with a specific task in mind, and, not too surprisingly in consequence, without any finds worth noting. Feel free to click on ‘Leave a Comment’ up by the blogpost title and share any questions you might have, place names to look up, ideas for the Primer as reference; I’ll do my best to pull the reference book ion question and get right back to you!

Will Benson and Tess De Vere Last Call: ‘Summary Justice’ On Deck at HogPro

On 1 October we will begin discussion of the John Fairfax (aka William Brodrick) novel Summary Justice. I have explained why and my excitement about this first book and the series of novels it introduces here and here and here. We’ll move on to the second book of the Benson-de Vere court room thrillers, Blind Defence, on 14 October and speculation about the third, Forced Confessions, that will be out in March 2020.

Today, in hope of encouraging you to pick up the book at your local library or to buy it online or at your local bricks-and-mortar store, I will list as my ‘Last Call!’ seven of the topics scheduled for this first week of discussion:

  • ‘Did He Do It?’ The big question of the series is whether the hero, William Benson, actually committed the murder for which he was convicted and imprisoned as a young man. We’ll list the evidence for and against that is provided in Summary Justice.
  • The Cratylic Names: Benson, and De Vere, certainly, but what about ‘John Fairfax,’ a name associated in the UK with a heroic athlete and with a creative writing teacher;
  • Benson/Strike: Comparing and contrasting the main male characters of the two series
  • De Vere/Ellacott: Comparing and contrasting the main female characters of the two series
  • Rowling/Galbraith versus Brodrick/Fairfax: The similarities and the differences in their choices of and decisions to use a pseudonym;
  • The Slow Release: We get a story that is told against the backdrop and bracketing of the larger mystery in Summary Justice. Here the larger story is Benson’s murder rap with some questions about de Vere’s escape to and return from Belgium. Does Fairfax’s use of this continued story model compare favorably with Galbraith’s slow release of details about Leda Strike’s death, Cormoran’s history at Oxford and Afghanistan, the Charlotte lost child, and Robin’s reasons for not completing her university degree?
  • The Romance: Well, does Benson love de Vere? She him? What’s going on in this bizarro relationship of inspiration, admiration, curiosity, and secret-keeping?

Get reading — and feel free to keep notes on any and all of these question topics for our discussion that begins here on 1 October!

Reading, Writing, Rowling: Tolkien Again


From Laurie Beckoff’s description of this episode over at

Katy and John continue the conversation with Dr. Sara Brown and Dr. Amy Sturgis, this time focusing on the fans and the film versions of the iconic fantasy series of J.R.R. Tolkien and J.K. Rowling. We discuss whether the Rowling and Tolkien fandoms are oppositional or intersecting, and what the newer Rowling fan community can learn from Tolkien fans’ experiences. In both fandoms, there are questions about how people became interested in the worlds (books, movies, cosplay), intergenerational and global differences, and people who mingle elements of Middle-Earth and the Wizarding World in their own creative fan productions. Amy asks, “What Hogwarts house would Galadriel have been in?”

We compare fans’ creative expressions and consider whether these offer fans a chance to critique Tolkien and Rowling, especially through what Sara calls “writing into the gaps,” which allows fans to greatly expand the worlds they love so much by focusing on neglected characters and scenes. Fan discussions of the authors’ approaches to race and gender exist in both fan communities. Tolkien and Rowling readers alike seek immersive experiences, too, that allow them to live in the Shire or attend a wizarding school. Fans of Middle-earth and the Wizarding World seek out communities based on “loved things held in common.”

Part 1 of this Tolkien-Rowling discussion can be found here: ‘Reading, Writing, Rowling: It’s Tolkien!