Tracing the Logic of the Wizarding World: Fun, if Pointless.

In his recent post on “The Birthday Misconception,” our Headmaster commented on the seemingly endless efforts we readers do to make the Harry Potter world logically consistent:

What we are doing, then, in hunting for a logic and a system where, as likely as not, there is none is simply paying tribute to the author’s achievement in making us believe her imaginative world is that much like the profane, Muggle existence in which we live.

I believe that one of the first comments I made on this site, back before I was offered the faculty position, was a comment trying to make sense of the Fidelius Charm, so I’ve been in the game a long time  A fun, if somewhat pointless exercises

The thoughts on how long it takes to notify Muggleborn parents of the existence of Hogwarts, and persuade them to send their child off to Hogwarts made me think of another means the Ministry might have of monitoring Muggleborns prior to the arrival of their letter  This is “The Trace,” one of the more inconsistently applied charms of the series. 

Has it ever  been explicitly stated that this form of surveillance is started on the first summer home after Hogwarts?  Or is it on all magical kids from birth to age 17?  We know its use is limited; it does not detect the child doing magic, but only spells cast in the vicinity of underaged wizards; hence Harry being blamed for Dobby’s Hovercharm. Therefore, only Muggleborn and other kids like Harry who are in non-magical homes can be caught and disciplined for underage magic. A good wizarding lawyer ought to be able to win a case-action suit for discrimination. But, this limitation would also make it a convenient tool for monitoring pre-Hogwarts Muggleborns, if employed from birth.

It also apparently does not pick up Apparation and Disapparation, or it would have been easy to tell that someone magical had visited Privet Drive before the spell was cast, and left immediately after.

If all Muggleborn kids are monitored with the Trace from birth, I could see a special ministry division employed to detect displays of accidental magic that might threaten the Statue of Secrecy. Small things like Harry shrinking Dudley’s revolting sweater would not get attention, but what if a tantrumming Muggleborn toddler pulled an Aunt Marge?  Surely that would result in the Ministry swooping in to fix the situation and modify memories. This could certainly give the ministry some hint of how powerful the child is, and when that chat with the parents might need to happen a bit sooner.

Additionally, we know the Ministry had other surveillance around Harry, since they knew when he was sleeping in the cupboard, and when he was moved to Dudley’s second bedroom: non-magical acts not subject to the Trace.  Which leads to the question, why didn’t someone intervene earlier? If they knew where he slept, surely they also could tell things like when he was locked in the cupboard for days at a time. It’s almost as if a Star Trek style Prime Directive is in place; look, but don’t interfere, at least until it’s time to send the letter.

Is this surveillance also in place for other Muggleborns?  If so, why didn’t someone go get poor Tom out of that orphanage; he had no special protection there.  Why didn’t his aggressive magic, like the attack in the sea cave, get picked up by the Trace?  I guess this would be an argument for the Trace not being employed until the kid starts Hogwarts.

So how many Muggleborns under 10 are going to be blowing up tyrannical parents in the meantime?

Or maybe this is a newer technology, not available when Riddle was a lad?

The Trace was introduced fairly late in the series, so it is perhaps not surprising it creates a few corner-painting moments  This is true of a lot of elements we learn about in the last couple of books:

  • Horcruxes:  If you really want it safe, why not make one  from a nondescript pebble and toss it in the ocean?
  • The Taboo: If you really want magically concealment charms to stop working, wouldn’t Taboo-ing something like “the” or “and” work better than “Voldemort?”
  • And my perennial favorite: the Fidelius Charm:  What would actually happen if someone other than the Secret-Keeper tried to disclose protected information?  Would the speaker be struck dumb? The hearer struck deaf? Or could someone die, a la the Unbreakable Vow? If Harry wanted to tell Neville where the Order of the Phoenix is headquartered, could he say “It’s not at #10 Grimmauld Place in London; and it’s not at #11.  And it is definitely not at #13,” and hope Neville gets the hint?

I think out Headmaster’s last paragraph, above, is the best and most generic explanation of all.

Save Noddy! The Donkeys of Skegness Fall on Hard Times

Strike fans on Twitter have a vicarious front-row seat to the TV filming of Troubled Blood in Skegness, thanks to @CormStrikeFan, who has followed the cast and crew to the coast and is reporting on what he can see of the filming. Check out the Twitter link above to see some amazing pictures, including the actor cast as Steve Douthwaite, the inn cast as the Allerdice, and the car cast as the Ellacott Family Land Rover. To me, the most intriguing bit is that the hotel was decked out with Christmas swag, suggesting a major change in the timeline of the novel. This is in accordance with what happened in both the Career of Evil and Lethal White adaptations.

Skegness is near the top of the list of Strike sites I would most like to visit, ranking right up there with Masham, St. Mawes and the White Horse of Uffington. I was curious about the donkeys Robin remembered from her childhood, and, searching the web, I learned that the century-old tradition was almost a casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic, then nearly forced out of business by a robbery. Happily, supporters have pitched in to help the business, and a hand-reared foal has become somewhat of a celebrity, and a symbol of the business’s struggle to survive.

I think Robin would be pleased. By my calculations, little Annabel should be about 8 1/2 this summer; prime donkey-riding age. Hopefully, the beasties will make it through the lean winter season and Auntie Robin will get to take her on a weekend outing once warmer weather arrives. And, just maybe there’s an Uncle Cormoran traveling companion by now. In the meantime, they are still taking donations.

Family Ties: Guessing the Ages of the Ellacott Brothers

Timeline mistakes are par for the course in the Cormoran Strike series, but Career of Evil seems to have more than its fair share. Donald Laing alone would make your head spin, but on my latest re-read I realized there is also some minor inconsistency in the lifelines of Robin’s brothers.

We know she has three:  Stephen, the eldest, and Martin and Jonathan, who are younger. The question is, is it possible to deduce anything about their ages, relative (pardon the pun) to Robin?

Stephen is perhaps the easiest.  Robin remembers racing him to choose the preferred donkey in Skegness as a child,  which suggests he isn’t too much older than her;  I would estimate one to three years at the most. The biggest inconsistency in his story that I have found, so far, is his marital status circa 2011. In early April, on Robin’s trip to Masham for a wedding dress fitting, Robin reflects that her parents would be paying for half of Steven’s wedding in “six months time.” Yet, less than three months later, at Robin’s Lethal White wedding reception, Jenny introduces herself as “Stephen’s wife.” If they moved up the wedding, Robin clearly did not go to it. Maybe they caught a glimpse of the bills for Robin’s nuptials, and decided to elope.

What about the younger two? Both are old enough to go out drinking after Mrs. Cunliffe’s funeral in The Silkworm, meaning they are at least 18 in January 2011. In Career of Evil, Martin, the second-to- youngest, is old enough to bet on horses. We are also told that he is the only Ellacott sibling not to attend university and to still live at home, and is considered a bit of an “underachiever” because of this. This suggests he is at least in his early 20’s, so my best guess is that he is somewhere between 1-5 years younger than Robin, who was 26 at that time.

This leaves Jonathan, the youngest. He is enrolled in university in spring 2011, which means, assuming he is in his first year and started right after secondary school, that he is about 19, seven years younger than Robin. He has to be early in his college career at this point, because, by the disastrous Valentine’s Day 2014 of Troubled Blood, he is in his final year. However, most degree programs in the UK are three years in length, meaning, if Jonathan was a freshman in 2010-2011, he should have graduated in 2013. This suggests he is either in a longer-than-typical degree program, that he flunked a semester or two’s worth of classes, or that his own university career was interrupted. It also means he was only about 12 when his older sister was raped; perhaps that is why he was clueless enough to blab about it to his friends.

So, the Ellacott brothers have a timeline that mostly makes sense, but there are still a couple of head-scratchers.

Cormoran Strike and the Itch That Cannot Be Scratched

Before you read this post, please review my earlier one on this topic, JK Rowling and the Phantoms in the Brain. It will explain my hypothesis that “Robert Galbraith” consulted neuroscientist V.S. Ramanchandran’s popular books for information about amputated limbs and phantom pain in her research for the Cormoran Strike books. While she was at it, she incorporated a few of the other conditions described in the Ramachandran’s books, as well.

At the time, I left out what I think is the best Easter Egg in the series, at least for neuroscientists. It seemed a little adult for a site that was still predominantly Harry Potter-themed. But, as more and more of our posts concern Cormoran Strike, our discussions have become more mature, so this seems a good time. After the jump, tune in for a close reading of Strike and Ciara’s encounter in the limo, in Cuckoo’s Calling. Images include some “naughty bits.”


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One more step towards Strike-mania: A Sporcle quiz!

Despite our best efforts, we here at Hogpro have not managed to convince as many people to read the Cormoran Strike Series as read Harry Potter. There have been no midnight release parties, as yet, announced for The Ink Black Heart. However, there is once indicator that the adventures of Strike and Robin are catching on: a new Sporcle quiz challenging readers to name the top 100 Cormoran Strike characters, based on number of mentions.

This, of course, is a counterpart to the Harry Potter Top 200 character quiz. I was proud of my first efforts:  While I can usually get 70-80% of the Harry Potter (though I worked my way up to 90% when studying for the quiz show), I hit 81% on my first try at the Strike quiz, and a whopping 96% on my second, missing only Flick, Derrick Wilson and the two Riccis.

Check it out…  how many can you name?  Two hints:  1) enter last names to get full families at once;  Chiswell is pretty lucrative.  2) Troubled Blood characters have an advantage, given the length of the book.