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.

Harry Potter Discussion on BBC Radio – Beyond Belief

Beyond Belief is a radio program from the British Broadcasting Corporation broadcast weekly on BBC Radio 4 that explores the place and nature of faith in today’s world. Yesterday we were treated to our own esteemed headmaster Prof. John Granger, author of Literary Allusions in Harry Potter Dr. Beatrice Groves and co-host of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text Vanessa Zoltan joining the host Ernie Rea to discuss the Christian allegory and religious themes in Harry Potter.

The program can be accessed here from around the world, and it really is a very fun and informative listen. Please join me after the jump for my own notes from this fascinating program.

[Read more…]

New Species of “Potter Wasp” Named for Mad-Eye Moody

One of my favorite talks to give is “Muggle Scientists and Magical Names”: a compilation of Potterverse-themed scientific names for new animal species. I have given versions of this talk once at the Chestnut Hill Harry Potter Academic Conference and several times at the Queen City Mischief and Magic Festival, most recently in the online version of 2020: “The Year That Shall Not Be Named.” However, this is one talk I am forced to update regularly, as scientists continue to discover new species and give them wizarding inspired names. I have recently become aware of lucky Potter species #13:  a bona-fide “potter wasp” named for Auror and Order of the Phoenix leader Mad-Eye Moody. 

The wasp, Alastor moody, was described along with eight other species in a paper published in August 2020 in the journal Zootaxia. The genus name, Alastor, is not new, dating back to the 19th century, when it was first used for one of some 200 genera of the insects known as “potter wasps.” This gives the new wasp something in common with the Luscius malfoyi wasp, in that the genus name was pre-existing (and, in this case, spelled slightly different from Draco’s dad), and the species name tacked on in to create the wizarding world moniker. Potter wasps get their name not from the Boy Who Lived, but from the clay nests in which they lay their eggs.

Alastor moody.

The wasps in the new paper were described from preserved specimens stored in an Italian museum. This gives Alastor moody something in common with Clevosaurus sectumsemper, the extinct lizard with self-sharpening teeth that was identified from preserved bones. Discoverer and paper author Marco Selis, who choose the name, stated that “The name of this species is dedicated to the fictional character Alastor Moody, from the “Harry Potter” book series by J.K. Rowling.”  The wasps themselves are found in the Western Cape region of South Africa. Alastor moody is the third species of wasp whose name was inspired by the Potter series. In addition to Luscius malfoyi, named in 2017, the Ampulex dementor wasp was discovered and named in 2014. 

Time to revise the talk again!

Shared Text: SNL, JKR, and Harry Potter

Where do you start? That the two actors cannot pronounce Rowling’s name correctly? That the Gingrott’s Goblins are not cartoon Jews? That the transphobic controversy, #RIPJKRowling, is a hate-driven Cancel Culture social-media production?

Oh, well. At least Robby Coltrane had the courage to speak in defense of Rowling. And Davidson’s Dobby Look Alike joke was pretty funny…

Why this post? The Shared Text point is that there is no other written work by any author that Pete Davidson, confessed non-reader, could have referred to and been so sure that his audience would get the jokes. Maybe someday she’ll be so famous that everyone will know how to pronounce her pen and maiden name?

In a World Full of Umbridge, Who Would You Be?

Like a lot of Potterphiles, I have Harry Potter merchandise popping up on my social media feeds on a near-daily basis. One of the more recent appearances was a T-shirt reading “In a world full of Umbridge, be a Fred and George.”  While the mischievous redheads were undoubtedly major nemeses of the Toad Lady, I found it hard to envision myself wearing one of these shirts. I guess I’m at the age where I identify more with the middle-aged ladies of the Wizarding World than the kids.

Which led me to think, who would I put on mine?  Two answers immediately sprung to mind.   First, the teacher who was the antithesis of Dolores: Minerva McGonagall. In our humor episode of Reading, Writing, Rowling, several McGonagall v. Umbridge moments made it into our “funniest scenes” lists. Certainly McGonagall is one of the finest teachers in the series, one with high standards of excellence and who daily earns the respect of her students. In other words, everything dear Dolores wanted to be. Harry’s regard for her is clear: when even his own godfather’s murder could not push him into performing a Cruciatus curse on the perp, Amycus Carrow’s spitting in McGonagall’s face did.

The second, of course, is the best (or, at least the best living) mom of the series, Molly Weasley. In addition to being a surrogate mom and regular source of comfort (as opposed to pain) for Harry, Molly is also a loving mother to the twins. Yes, she gets exasperated with them frequently, sometimes seeming as short-tempered as Umbridge, but her love never wavers and she is never cruel. In the end, she accepts that the twins are successful in their own right, even with their poor OWL results, aborted education and non-conventional career choice.

More on Minerva, Molly and T-shirts after the jump! [Read more…]