Beedle the Bard: Twelve Answers

For a tale by tale discussion of Beedle the Bard (BTB) with separate threads for each tale, please head over to The Hog’s Head where Travis is on the job. I have just finished BTB and hope to put up a thought per day the next few days; the livelier conversation will surely be at The Hog’s Head, something akin to the Thirty Threads here after Hallows was published last July.

Tonight, I want to thank JohnABaptist for taking the reins today. I was able to celebrate the Feast, read Beedle, and meet my Friday deadline early thanks to JAB so I am very grateful.

Next, I feel obliged to answer the 12 questions I posted late last night for those at midnight releases:

(1) How was the run-up to Beedle‘s release different than previous Potter publications? Was it more like a movie or schoolbook party than a book event? What did your bookstore do to make the event memorable, if anything?

My wife picked up the book this afternoon (Thursday) after church. No crowd, no fuss, no line, just a big stack of BTBs on their own island at the entrance to the bookstore. Mary tells me the cashier said she was disappointed; she had hoped “it was going to be bigger.” Mary assumed she meant the book itself, which struck her and the cashier as rather thin. I think the young woman might have meant the event itself, which, compared to other Potter opening nights, was a dud. Having said that, my 13 year old daughter, Anastasia, when she saw me reading the book, almost fainted with excitement. And I have to admit to being delighted myself to be reading these Tales, which, as Lewis said of Austen novels, have only two failings, “both of which are damnable; they are too few and too short.”

(2) Having read the synopses on Amazon, what was your motivation to buy this book? To complete your collection of all-things-Rowling? A charitable contribution? To participate in online discussions? To read Dumbledore’s notes?

I confess my interest was in finding out if Ms. Rowling had Dumbledore openly mock academic or overly involved interpretations of the Tales as a slap-down to serious reader sites like the one you are reading now. As I’ll write tomorrow, Dumbledore’s discussion of ‘The Tale of the Three Brothers’ does indeed disparage superficially those wizards who think there is more to the story than the surface and moral layers of meaning — and then proceeds to discuss at some length why they are probably right. No slap-down there.

(3) Your favorite tale? Why?

‘The Tale of the Three Brothers,’ though, of course, we already had it in its entirety in Hallows. It is the only part of BTB that is canon, so I found Dumbledore’s notes to this section and Rowling’s notes in the Introduction the most valuable.

But, really, it was all good, even excellent. What a wonderful sense of humor. And think of the children that will benefit! I hope HLCF gets a check on St. Nicholas Day (6 December in the West, 19 December in many of the countries HLCF serves) and that the myrrh gushing Wonder Worker brightens the lives of little ones all over Eastern Europe through this charitable vehicle.

(4) What tale sent a confused message or a tired one?

There wasn’t much new here, certainly, because we had the story synopses from Amazon and the notes weren’t written by a Death Eater but a Rowling stand-in. Perhaps Ms. Rowling’s up-front feminism in the Introduction (‘note that all the aggressive women do well and the one who isn’t, doesn’t’) was a SPEW-ish flavored comment and unnecessary. But I found the genius and freshness of her postmodern ‘Sisters Grimm’ fairy tales delightful and anything but boring or tired. Again, “too few and too short;” where is the Goat Tale that Aberforth preferred? Did the Bowdlerizers get it?

(5) Which tale confirmed a suspicion you had about a Potter theme that was suggested in books or interviews but not fully developed in canon?

(6) Are these stories morality tales as Ron and Hermione say in Deathly Hallows at the Lovegood zigguraut? Or are there allegorical and symbolic layers of meaning as well? Give an example and your interpretation, please!

I think we’re invited (via Dumbledore’s notes to ‘Three Brothers’) to assume the stories are more than “just morality tales.” I wouldn’t overlook the moral aspect of the tales, though, to leap into anagogical speculation.

At least, not tonight.

(7) The value-added portion of this edition are Ms. Rowling’s illustrations and Dumbledore’s editorial notes. What are your thoughts about the illustrations? Could she have illustrated her own books do you think? What do we learn about the stories from her pictures?

RedRocker wrote that she shouldn’t leave her day job. Fair enough without being too harsh. A lot better than I could have done.

My favorite picture was the horrible drawing, in both senses of “horrible,” for ‘The Hairy Heart’ of the heartless bodies as they were found. Scary.

(8) Dumbledore’s notes: are they faux academic, teasing egghead footnote scholarship that misses the forest for the trees of obscure citation trivia about differences between various editions and marginalia? Or does he make substantial comments about what the tales mean and how to interpret them? What was his best joke?

The notes are worthy of their own post. They were anything but “faux academic,” especially the disarming and hilarious “brilliant like me” footnotes in various places. Would that academic commentary was this good. The degree to which he reviewed wizarding historical background was just right.

Best joke? The discussion of Dumbledore’s exchange with Lucius Malfoy about whether his son should be reading Muggle-loving fairy tales. This is as close as Ms. Rowling could come to a face-slap to the Harry Haters, if Malfoy’s comments are satirical straw men for racist views no one would dare express openly in our politically correct world (about which, thank God). As I noted yesterday at Hog’s Head, there was no real way she could have Dumbledore call out religious fundamentalists (sic) in a sub-creation sans formal religion or revelation.

The Malfoy point was nicely done, though, both in her expressing her disgust with those who would ban her book ‘to protect the children’ (a point made in another place with a bowdlerizing, dumbing down editor who secretly loved ‘The Hairy Heart’) and because it brought out the usually hidden dark side of Dumbledore. The Malfoy battle was personal, and, seemingly, began here, in a disagreement about a children’s book. Malfoy’s plot to bring Dumbledore down by hiding Riddle’s diary inside Ginny’s textbook, consequently, has another layer of malice and sharper edge. And Dumbledore made bringing Malfoy down within the Dark Lord’s circle a peevish priority.

How personal. How Machiavellian.

The joke I liked best was in the footnote explaining why Malfoy’s responses to his letter were note germane to the discussion.

(9) Did anyone out there buy the Deluxe $100 edition from Amazon? Are you feeling buyer’s remorse, delight in being the only one on the block to own one, fascination with its feel and text? Let us know what it’s like, please.

I expect to see these big books proudly carried about at the next FanCon I go to. I hope the owners let me peek into one!

(10) Biggest surprise of your purchase? Delight? Disappointment?

I was delighted there little overt politic-ing or pay-backs and that Ms. Rowling has retained her wonderful sense of humor despite the ugliness of the copyright trial and her supposed difficulty adjusting to life post-hyper-Potter-mania (2007). None of that was in play here, which I think is remarkable and to her great credit.

(11) How do the Tales expand your appreciation of the canonical seven novels? Was there something in the presentation of or notes to ‘The Tale of Three Brothers’ that helped you understand what the Trio experienced in hearing the story at the Lovegood’s place?

Yes and no. I’ll write about this tomorrow, time allowing.

(12) What questions do you want to discuss? Were there any references to Fandom controversies between-the-lines? Harry as gateway to the occult? Gay Dumbledore? Snape as Vampire? ‘Shipping? Memerson?

Other than the two asides about hyper sensitive and reactive readers noted above, I didn’t catch any references to fandom controversies. Maybe on my second or third readings I’ll see the pumpkin pie shippers lauded or the Snape-is-Bruce-Wayne references but I missed ’em all on my first run through tonight.

Please let me know your answers to the 12 questions here, your first impressions, and go ahead and ask any questions you’d like me to answer in the next few days. It promises to be a lively time in Fandom, the ‘Indian Summer’ of the long wait until the Half-Blood Prince movie comes out in July. Thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts, comments, and correction here.


  1. (1) Woke up in the morning, picked it up when the store opened. I was the only one holding a copy.

    (2) Dumbledore’s notes

    (3) “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” because of its darkness, and its confirmation of several of my thoughts about themes in HP.

    (4) None.

    (5) “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart.” Evil = dehumanization. Horcrux’s follow the MacDonald “The Giant’s Heart” tradition.

    (6) Agree with John above.

    (7) Agree with John above.

    (8) Not faux-academic, and the “such as myself” footnotes were the funniest, along with the Malfoy footnote.

    (9) Didn’t buy it. I doubt many people will be toting them around at conferences. I’ve heard they’re so beautiful, everyone’s headed out to buy a standard edition, so they don’t actually read from the collector’s edition.

    (10) How short it was.

    (11) Dumbledore’s commentary on this tale is genius (or genius-ly written by Rowling), and it needs a whole post or more worth of attention.

    (12) No Fandom controversies that I could find.

  2. (1) Um, I live in Potter-desert. I’m at my parents’ so I keep it quiet. Plus, books are so personal to me, I enjoy the hype of my own mental creation, and the real excitement is like ocean lapping – a soft, personal experience in reading it.

    (2) Well, I did want to read them myself. I also am really glad to support eastern European childrens in orphanages, since one of my sisters spent the first couple years of her life in one.

    (3) Hard to say. I love the Three Brothers’ Tale and also the Hopping Pot.

    (4) I don’t know if I’d say ‘confused’ but I thought the Fountain of Fair Fortune was a bit old.. it actually made me think of a Slovene folk tale I read as a little girl, which is somewhat odd because the plot itself is very different, but the result is similar – goodheartedness leads to true rewards (although the folk tale is less kind – the youngest prince, who is kind, gets everything, and his selfish brothers nothing!). I guess in a way they could all be a bit ‘tired’ because folk stories have a lot of common elements, but that didn’t make me dislike any of them. 🙂

    (5) Well, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart was strongly reminiscent of Dumbledore saying, “Pity the living, and above all those who live without love.” The idea that not being loving, etc., warps someone is also carried throughout with Voldemort.

    (6)Well, of course they’re morality tales – they’d be rather poor tales if they weren’t such. I don’t know about allegory, but certainly symbolic. The hairy, decrepit heart is not so because it happened to grow hair, but because the Warlock was loveless and selfish, seeking only pleasures. I don’t see Rowling as writing allegorically, however.

    (7) Well, I’ll stick up for JKR’s drawings – I really liked them. Perhaps its because I have no confidence in my ability to do pen and ink drawings, but I thought they were very nice. And while I’m not an art historian, I’ve got no pedigree on this, but I did do a theatrical design major, and have taken a lot of art lessons. For an illustration of that kind, you don’t want to be overcomplicated or too detailed in the drawings. She represented three-dimensional figures recognisably and with a distinct style. It’s also nice to see the pen drawings, which have been traditional in older books for occasional illustrations.

    (8) I don’t know… In some ways I was a bit disappointed – I wanted more info, but in a way, isn’t that typically Dumbledore? I’d say rather academic, but highly limited.. I think were he real he’d be quite capable of expounding at much greater length, but oh well. Best joke… there were lots of funny bits, but I’ve packed it all away and I’m not going to drag it out to look up again.

    (9) I did and yes, I do feel some remorse, but I also really like it. If I meet up with you again sometime, John, I’ll bring it. I feel remorse mainly because I can barely afford it – can’t really. But I went up from the cheaper one for three reasons: at the time, I thought I could afford it; I love books but almost always have to buy paperbacks because of limited income, and I just love everything about books, the feel, the smell, turning the pages, the font, the binding, etc.; and because I am happy to have a thinner wallet for a good cause, especially because I am grateful my sister isn’t in an orphanage, and I hope other kids can get the care they need as well (the people can be very well-meaning, but they simply haven’t got the resources).

    My review of the feel and text: It’s really cool. I even don’t mind the skull on it, and the look is fantastic. It feels beautiful and a bit heavy, which is nice for its small size. I love the nice pocket for it, the larger fake book is fun if a bit unwieldy, and I guess it’s nice I like the drawings, because, and I didn’t realise this, it comes with prints of them in a nice pocket in the false-book encasing. The pages are good quality, heavy but no ‘linen’ or ‘grain’ feel to them. My only complaint relates to the font/typefaces. The preface from Rowling is in her own handwriting and I noticed slight fuzziness (did I mention I do some graphic designs on the side?) that probably came from stretching the text size a bit from the original. More importantly, however, the font used in the stories was interesting. I don’t hate it, which is good because I have very strong reactions to fonts (John may recall the poster I made for his talk – there were some strong font choices in that) and I do a lot with fonts – I’ve downloaded over 200 free ones. The font wasn’t a bad choice so much as one that could have been improved upon. I believe the aesthetic was weighted slightly more than the functional, because the capital As were rather odd, and I think irregular. Also, the letters seemed not tied to a baseline but perhaps to a centerline for alignment. It was a bit distracting, but I adapted. 🙂 The footnote font might’ve been a better choice. I will say the font does work well in the idea of them being somewhat old stories, but next time they should ask me and I’ll hook them up with a modernised half-uncial-based font… yes, I am that nerdy, and proud :D.

    (10) Indeed, it was short.

    (11) I don’t know.. Maybe I’ll return to this after more folks say things..

    (12) Would anyone read these to their kids as fairy tales? I think I might…

    And not at all Potter related, but John, the similarities between your family and mine continue — Anastasia is one of my mom’s favorite names, and every successive sister I had I was sure she was going to be given it; in fact it’s rather odd I haven’t got a sister by that name. We thought perhaps we’d get one from Russia but my sister was a little older than we’d intended (Mom was thinking one year old and she was nearly three) and we added onto her name (Julia–>Juliana) rather than change it.

  3. JohnABaptist says

    (9) Only one I’m able to speak to at the moment as my day turned out to be far busier with other things than I had anticipated when John asked me to take the wheel for a day. I haven’t done more than rapidly skim Dumbledore’s notes of the actual book. I must confess, I bought both the deluxe edition, and the standard edition. Planning on admiring the pretty one and reading the plain one, since when I read a book, it tends to collect about as much ink in its margins as it has on its pages after the third or fourth time through. The deluxe edition actually exceeded my expectations. I find it beautiful where I had expected I would find it tacky.

    It is of course, faux through and through. Not real chased silver, not real jewels, not real tooled leather; but–somehow it manages to convey the impression that it all is real.

    Travis is right, I will not actually read the deluxe, in fact, I have already repacked it in its shipping box (ideally designed for such re-use) retaped the joints to seal out dust and stored it atop a bookcase. Yet, I have my money’s worth.

    I’ll take the book down to show my children as they come by, and the grandchildren that they bring along, and God willing, the great-grandchildren they in turn will bring; and in that I will have riches more than my money was worth in the looks on their faces alone.

    Beyond that, I’m already drawing profit from the investment, by sharing with Blake the vision of children “…like Thames waters flow[ing]…”, if not into St. Paul’s at least into some form of sanctuary better than that from whence they came. And knowing I paid for one small step for one small foot is a return above any other I could seek.

  4. esoterica1693 says

    I will post my responses to your 12 questions when I have more time to re-read the book. But I do have a looming question after a first, very fast, reading: If the Tale of the Three Brothers was AD’s favourite tale, which do you think was his second?

    Personally I wonder if he perhaps didn’t have a love-hate relationship w/ The Warlock and the Hairy Heart, b/c in a way he behaved similarly to that wizard, at least according to JKR….having been horribly wounded by his affair with Grindelwald and its consequences, he remained celibate the rest of his life. While he loved others in the abstract (loving the wizarding world enough to dedicate his life to improving it, and allowing himself to die a rather ignoble death to save Draco’s soul), and perhaps he loved some individuals platonically/philia-ly, (such as Harry) he never let himself love personally and passionately again. He was never intimate w/ anyone as far as we know–not physically, and not emotionally (which intimacy I think is even more important for mental and spiritual health). In a very real sense he locked his heart away.

    His own life was the poorer for it, surely, and his detachment was also what enabled him to play Chess-Grand-Master w/ others’ lives w/o seeming to suffer nearly as much agony and remorse as we might have hoped. While his impersonal machinations helped win the war, they left those he maneuvered scarred and in some cases dead. He talks of Harry being the better man, having a purer soul than he himself….I wonder if he also realizes that Harry’s heart is distinctly un-hairy (almost a Hebraic-style pun there!), while his own, well …….

    AD’s commentary on this one seems to also draw out its metaphysical similarities to the Tale of the 3 Bros.

  5. Oh, I just thought of something else – I was glad to see McGonagall as Headmistress. I had heard somewhere she was too old or something (weird, I know) and she wouldn’t be taking over for Dumbledore despite being Assistant Headmistress. That was a nice touch. Her bit about being an animagus was fun. It also seemed to show how open the Order could be after the defeat of Voldemort.

  6. Red Rocker says

    esoterica, now those are very interesting observations. Yes, I do see that Dumbledore might have been thinking of his own heart, locked away since his encounter with Grindelwald. In his case, though, the reason was at least as much to preserve the world as himself from harm. And what was the net result? He played chessmaster with others’ lives, as you say. And lived a lonely life, with no intimacy except in moments of tearful confession to Harry.

    But as interesting as this line of conjecture is, in order to validate it, we’d have to know if the author was thinking along these lines when she wrote either the story or the commentary. Or is she expounding a moral which has universal application, including within the world she’s created, at least to the extent that that world follows universal rules about the human heart?

  7. esoterica1693 says

    The only thing that makes me think that it was maybe intentional on JKR’s part, at least the Hairy/Harry pun, is how DD always describes HP as “Pure of heart,” iirc. So he’s repeatedly drawing attention to Harry’s Heart. And what makes Harry pure of heart? His ability to love so much, and act on that love, not to lock his heart away even when he himself had been treated so badly, and literally locked away. The complete opposite of the Warlock of the Hairy Heart. So I wouldn’t be at all surprised if JKR deliberately was making a pun on the contrast between Harry’s heart and the Hairy Heart.

    As to whether she intended to imply that JKR!Dumbledore would have found the Hairy Heart story disconcerting, I don’t know. Maybe not. I cannot presume to say what JKR thinks goes on in the head of her Dumbledore, b/c to me she’s written 2 Dumbledores… who we meet on the pages of Bks 1-6, and a very different one who apparently existed in her head and in her notes all along and who she tried (but failed, IMHO) to bring into being in Bks 1-6. She finally forces him into existence in Bk 7, but it doesn’t work. I believe I expounded on this blog about my feelings on DH!APWBD quite a bit in July and Aug and so won’t go on at length here. (And no, my dislike of DH!Dumbledore has nothing to do w/ his being gay or even his youthful misjudgments and actions. See my post-DH-release posts for details.)

  8. esoterica1693, that’s a very insightful examination of Dumbledore in the books & in the mind of JKR. If Red Rocker’s reading, I’d be interested in your comments on esoterica’s thoughts because they seem to hit on a lot of what we’ve discussed about Dumbledore.

    But that’s so very interesting, especially in light of a contrary view of Snape in the books & in the mind of Rowling. For books 1-6 she gives us one view of Dumbledore but then totally changes it in book 7. And she does something similar to Snape, for in books 1-6 he is an enigma & constantly grasps our attention & speculations but in book 7 she seems to wrap up his story & all the complexities involving him in one brief chapter.

    Is this a failing in her as a writer or just a brilliant piece of narrative misdirection?

  9. I guess I forgot, Rocker, that you were reading along since you commented right above esoterica’s last post. Sorry. Still interested in your comments, though.

  10. esoterica, a better man would go back and track your comments from the summer so as to get a better idea of your argument. I am not that man, unfortunately, so I’m going to try to “wing it”.

    I like your idea that there are two DD’s: the one we saw in the first 6 books, and the one that emerged in book 7. I like it because I think that is sort of what JKR intended: that in book 7 we (and Harry) would see a side of DD that we’d never suspected, and be shocked and confounded. And I think that revgeorge’s idea goes along with that: that she did the same thing with Snape, presenting him one way in the first 6 books, and then showing that he was batting for the good side all along.

    I like the idea, but I don’t agree with it. Reason being, I think we were given clues about Dumbledore’s other side as far back as book 4 (the gleam of triumph), book 5 (distancing Harry without an explanation, the muttering to himself over the snake, the tearful confession at the end) and book 6 (scolding Harry over not getting the goods out of Slughorn; the incomprehensible moanings as he was drinking the green potion of awfullness, ordering Snape to zap him). Now we didn’t know exactly what all these hints meant – although we speculated endlessly, as was probably the author’s intent. But we knew something was up. We knew that Dumbledore knew more than he let on, that he had plans we (and Harry) knew nothing of. Like Harry, we were in the dark, but we put our faith in Dumbledore that he knew what he was doing and would steer us to victory. His death, at the end of book 6, was stunning at least as much because of the disappointment of that hope as because we lost a beloved character.

    So we knew, from book 4 on, that there was more to DD than we knew. Did we ever suspect that he had a dark side, a side which was tempted by the same things that Voldemort had fallen prey to: the lust for power and dominance, power over death (albeit not for himself)?

    Well, I for one did not. But I think that’s my own error more than anything else. I assumed – without much proof – that Dumbledore had never done anything reprehensible. Unlike the case of Snape, where the author did a lot of misdirection in order to get us to believe in his perfidy, JKR did not go out her way to present DD as somoeone who was pure of heart. Not at all. Wise and cunning, certainly. Knowing more than anyone else in the tale. Respected. Powerful. Yes. Yes. But pure of heart?

    I don’t believe so.

    BTW, I don’t see what I call DD’s dark side as consisting of being gay or of having wanted to dominate Muggles as a youngster. In my own value system, being gay is not a good or bad thing. It just is. Wanting to dominate Muggles is dark, but that’s not the main thing. The dark core of the man, the hairy part of his heart, if you will, is his ability to bring Harry up, to love him, and to deliver him over to his doom without so much as an explanation. Not to mention fooling Snape into believing that he was atoning for his betrayal of Lily by keeping her son from harm.

    Travis (over at the Hog’s Head) is bound to disagree, but using a man’s struggle for redemption – to save his soul, if you believe in such things – to further your own agenda, is cold. Very cold.

  11. great to read these very interesting posts

    a couple of points come to mind about DD – and his ‘dark’ side

    I see more now (in retrospect only) at play during the scene in book 1, where Harry suspects DD of not telling the truth: DD says he sees himself holding socks in the mirror of erised (which you can ‘never have too many of’ and here Dobby might agree). Harry then reflects that maybe his (Harry’s) question had been too personal.

    as for the importance of saving a soul as being a ‘cold’ approach: yes unless you lived during the middle ages. At that time saving souls was the most urgent and important thing in the world (to the Inquisition and others) – all else would be secondary.

  12. Red Rocker says

    SeaJay, I did not make my meaning clear. What I meant was that Dumbledore took advantage of Snape’s urgent quest to save his soul in order to further his (Dumbledore’s) own agenda. That’s why it was cold: he used a desperate man by letting him believe something that wasn’t true.

  13. mdyesowitch says

    9. It is beautiful. And it is its own experience.
    I really need to take pictures to accompany this. The box is white, with a burgundy strip running around the top and bottom of the sides. The printing is in black, and white. The long sides have the Amazon logo in black and the Beedle the Bard Logo (the crested skull) in burgundy. The short sides have “ATTENTION MUGGLES – DO NOT DELIVER OR OPEN BEFORE DECEMBER 4!” in white on the Burgundy stripes. The center section has “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” in script.

    I open the box and there’s a cardboard inset holding the book in place. I fold back the cardboard inset to find the packing slip. It reads “The Tales of Beedle the Bard” in script.

    I lift the book out of the cardboard inset. It is wrapped in plastic.

    I remove the plastic. There is a white plastic sleeve covering the book.
    I take off the sleeve and there’s this large burgandy leathery book-like case with what looks like gilt pages and even though I know the book is tiny and this is a case, for a moment I’m just blown away by the sheer size of this tome.
    And then I opened it and on the one side is a sleeve with the copies of the images from the book. I leaf through them, identifying the stories, and appreciating them for moment before replacing them in the sleeve and putting them back in the case.
    Then I lift out the bag that contains the book…

    And it feels like there should be bells ringing and a choir singing when I lift it out. Everything is set up to create an atmosphere of, and I know it sounds silly, reverence.

    …and I flip open the catch, and remove the bookmark and leaf slowly through the pages, absorbing; admiring.

    And then I put it carefully all back away because tomorrow I shall bring it to my crochet group and I don’t want them to miss out on the experience because I think the book alone is cool, but the experience of traveling through the layers and making that journey is from start to finish the way books should be lived.

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