Deathly Hallows Discussion Point #18: Fairy Tales

Dumbledore leaves Hermione the original (if glossed by symbols) runic version of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, in which Grimm Brothers like collection we find The Tale of the Three Brothers. This story turns out to be a cipher of sorts for the “real-world” Peverell Brothers, of whom Harry is a descendant, and which story drives much of the Deathly Hallows action of the book. As interesting, the Ravenclaw ghost, The Grey Lady, tells the story of stealing her mother’s diadem and the agonies and consequences of the Bloody Baron’s unrequited love (see point #11). Ms. Rowling seems to be suggersting that literature, even kids’ fairy tales, need to be taken very seriously, even as “real-world” events. What are the messages of the “Kid-lit” she is writing and how seriously are her readers to take them?


  1. sibelius says

    I’m not sure she is suggesting that – isn’t a truth universal that myths, especially those passed on through oral tradition initially – while not literally true, contain powerful lore, and that is this lore that keeps them interesting and alive? Potter, like all good enduring stories, provokes thought and contains some timeless wisdom of the ancients.

  2. chrusotoxos says

    “Fairytales are not true because they say dragons exist – but because they say dragons can be beaten.”
    Chesterton (quoting from memory)

  3. Dr. Amy Sturgis writes:

    Reason 5: Fairy-Stories: I love how Rowling’s use of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, for example, and even the romance of The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron, suggests that fairy stories need to be taken seriously. Tales need not be factual to be true and meaningful (though some might be factual as well!), and when we blithely disregard so-called “childrens’ stories,” it may be to our peril. Some of Rowling’s critics should ponder that a while!

    Check out all ten of Dr. Sturgis’ reasons for loving Deathly Hallows at

  4. It’s a funny separation we encourage anymore. We segment stories based on age levels (often artificially created). That wouldn’t be so bad if it were merely geared towards language and complexity issues. But instead we expect all “children’s” lit to be fluffy bunny stories, stripped of character. But that’s the thing: fairy stories of the Grimm variety didn’t start out as children’s tales, and it’s something of a historical accident that we now regard them so. As such, we teach kids that the monsters under the bed aren’t real and that there’s no such things as monsters. Then, as adults, how can they handle a Dahmer or Hussein?

    Interesting about Hermione, though: after all she’s seen of the wizarding world, she balks at the possible reality of something because of how it’s transmitted. She’ll believe in Horcruxes–why, she has a library book about them!–but Hallows are too far out because they come from a story for children. Seems like you could work all kinds of insights about technology/magic, materialism/spiritualism, and modern/medieval from that little juxtaposition.

  5. See Lewis and Tolkien on Fairy Stories to answer this one! I’m VERY SURE our beloved authoress has!

  6. Wonderful essay at Scriptorium today by Prof. John Mark Reynolds (Torrey/Biola) about the importance of Fairy Tales, Myths, Icons, and the shadows of these traditional paths to faith that we can find and follow in popular culture. Despite his kind comments about HogPro, I think this is one of the most sober or objective view of the Potter books taken by a scholar and Christian who loves the books.

    Make time to read it!

  7. Miss Prewett says

    Fairy tales, and especially nursery rhymes, usually have more to them than meets the eye. Most historians agree that popular nursery rhymes (like “Humpty Dumpty,” “Jack and Jill,” “Ring Around the Rosey,” etc.) contained some hidden meaning, often commenting on the politics of the day. This seems to be just as true in the Wizarding world- Ron (and later, Hermione) dismiss the Tales as mere children’s stories, but some (e.g. Xenophilius Lovegood) know better. Finally, in the King’s Cross scene Dumbledore explains to Harry the things which he most underestimated are the true cause of his downfall:

    -Children’s Stories -> had he known the Tales, he might have been more successful searching for the Hallows, and valued more than just the Elder Wand
    -House-Elves -> we could make a very good case that Dobby and Kreacher are very responsible for Harry’s final victory. Kreacher, certainly, was able to give Harry information on the Locket Horcrux, and his leadership of the Hogwarts elves was likely important for the battle of Hogwarts. Dobby appears time and time again, helping Harry in unlikely ways, and Harry’s kind treatment toward Dobby gains him the (however temporary) allegiance of Griphook.
    -Love -> Harry was saved by love countless times: his mother’s initial sacrifice, Petunia’s (grudging) acceptance of him in her home, his own willingness to die in the forest, and Narcissa Malfoy’s love for Draco.

    What I’d love to find out is what hidden meanings the other Wizard fairy tales contain (especially “Babbity Rabbity!”). Maybe Jo will list these in her (!) encyclopedia?

  8. Inked–
    I agree. Tolkien said it all in “On Fairy Stories.”

  9. RenaBlack says

    Or Dumbledore a la Tolkien at the end of Ch. 35:

    “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”


  10. fastboy21 says

    I especially like that Hermione got a book of fairy tales from Dumbledore.

    Hermione, the most book smart, of the trio gets a book from Dumbledore…on fairy tales that she dismisses as mere fiction and unimportant if taken literally.

    She is the only that can read the runes AND she is the only one that can’t believe the stories she translates. Is Dumbledore trying to teach her a lesson?

    It reminds me of something that Captain Aubrey says to his very educated scientific surgeon in one of the Patrick O’brien novels on the occasion that the crew believes one of their mates has brought a curse on the ship:

    “Not everything in the world is written in your books.”

  11. Beyond thumping Hermione on the head for not seeing the truth behind fairy tales and myth, I think J. K. Rowling might be doing the same for readers and non-readers of her books. Some look at her books as not much more than fodder for children, to be overlooked (as Ron did). Some look at actual story rather than its meaning and underlying story. Some won’t even touch her books because of the magical elements. Then, I wonder if one reason she had the fairy tale book written in Runes is to hint that sometimes one needs to figure out how to translate her books (i.e., applying alchemy to read the story beneath the story).

    I would also like to leave these links on the subject of fairy tales, myths, and truth:

    On Fairy Stories by Tolkien in a PDF File:

    C. S. Lewis thoughs on myth in his preface to a George MacDonald book:

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