Question About Fidelius Charm

I received a list of questions this morning from a reader in Germany, Bernhard Nowak. Herr Nowak was disappointed in what he felt was the inconsistency of Deathly Hallows with the previous books of the series and Ms. Rowling’s comments on her web site. He wrote a polite letter to Christopher Little, Ms. Rowling’s literary agent, and to Bloomsbury, in which letter he detailed ten specific points that he thought didn’t line up, points that the Continuity Editor, if not Ms. Rowling herself, should have caught.

He has not received a response. Having just finished reading my The Deathly Hallows Lectures in which I discuss the questions I would ask Ms. Rowling in an interview, he sent his questions to me on the unlikely chance Ms. Rowling and I ever have tea.

I post the best of Herr Nowak’s ten questions here, one about the Fidelius Charm, with his permission. Is this a continuity gaffe? Can it be explained logically within canon? Or do we need an ex machina explanation? What, for example, does the inability of Death Eaters to enter 12 Grimmauld Place in Deathly Hallows tell us about the continuing effect of the Fidelius Charm? Are they only there because Harry and friends continuously break the Name Taboo?

Herr Nowak’s question for your consideration:

Why does the fidelius charm suddenly operate differently in the book compared to the description on JK Rowling’s website?

On the website, it reads:

“What happens to a secret when the Secret-Keeper dies?

I was surprised that this question won, because it is not the one that I’d have voted for… but hey, if this is what you want to know, this is what you want to know!

When a Secret-Keeper dies, their secret dies with them, or, to put it another way, the status of their secret will remain as it was at the moment of their death. Everybody in whom they confided will continue to know the hidden information, but nobody else.

Just in case you have forgotten exactly how the Fidelius Charm works, it is

“an immensely complex spell involving the magical concealment of a secret inside a single, living soul. The information is hidden inside the chosen person, or Secret-Keeper, and is henceforth impossible to find — unless, of course, the Secret-Keeper chooses to divulge it” (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban)

In other words, a secret (eg, the location of a family in hiding, like the Potters) is enchanted so that it is protected by a single Keeper (in our example, Peter Pettigrew, a.k.a. Wormtail). Thenceforth nobody else – not even the subjects of the secret themselves – can divulge the secret. Even if one of the Potters had been captured, force fed Veritaserum or placed under the Imperius Curse, they would not have been able to give away the whereabouts of the other two. The only people who ever knew their precise location were those whom Wormtail had told directly, but none of them would have been able to pass on the information.

All rights reserved JK Rowling.”

By contrast, in “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” on page 79 it reads:

„Mr. Weasley had explained that after the death of of Dumbledore, their secret-keeper, each of the people to whom Dumbledore had confided Grimmauld Place`s location had become a Secret Keeper in turn. “And as there are around twenty of us, that greatly dilutes the power of the Fidelius Charm. Twenty times as many oppoertunities for the Death Eaters to get the secret of somebody. We can`t expect to hold much longer.”

Could you please explain the obvious contradiction to the website text, which excludes the disclosure of the secret to third parties[?] How can the Death Eaters find out about the Grimmauld’s Place secret, if – according to the JK Rowling website information – it cannot be divulged to third parties? Is this difference due to a lack of planning or simple sloppiness?

John here again. An excellent question. Can the answer be as straight forward as Mr. Weasley (and the Order?) don’t understand the Fidelius Charm or are being overly cautious in not using the House of Black for their Headquarters? For story telling reasons — the trio’s discovery of R.A.B and the Snape torn photo, the Kreacher chrysalis — Ms. Rowling doesn’t want the whole Order visiting, of course. The Death Eaters, as mentioned, might only be waiting outside because of the Name Taboo being violated again and again, so it isn’t as if Mr. Weasley’s explanation played out and they have learned its unplottable location from a “new” Secret Keeper-traitor.

I look forward to your comments and corrections, as well as to links to other sites where this Flint has already been discussed.


  1. I’d argue that it’s not really a contradiction in the story itself if the contradiction is with Rowling’s website. Nothing in the explanation of a Fidelius Charm in the story text itself says anything about what happens when a Secret Keeper dies, so Rowling was more than free to change the precise mechanics of this or that spell while she was till in the process of writing, so long as she didn’t contradict herself within the pages of the story. The quote from PoA doesn’t address the question of the Secret Keeper’s death, hence Rowling’s extrapolation of the Fidelius Charm’s mechanics is irrelevant to what she chose to do with it in Book 7.

  2. Oh, you’re not going to start up that old argument, are you, John? 🙂

    The text is primary. Authorial statements can be instructive & helpful but they cannot necessarily be primary for a variety of reasons. HPL is simply wrong by accepting as Gospel truth every single word that proceeds from the mouth of Jo.

    BTW, the Lexicon is still around; just undergoing technical difficulties right now from what I understand.

  3. Let’s give this ‘Text First’ theory of what constitutes canon a name, shall we? How about ‘Text First’?

    Back to Herr Nowak’s question. He clearly believes in the inclusive HPL definition of canon as “anything and everything from Ms. Rowling” which excludes only movies and theme parks (please correct me if I’m wrong on this). Ms. Rowling, incidentally, seems to hold to the HPL standard as well; witness her comments about Dumbledore post Carnegie Hall on the Open Book Tour to the effect that their her characters belong to her and she’ll do what she wants with them. Herr Nowak isn’t being obtuse in his continuity question, consequently; he is adhering to Fandom and the author’s accepted ideas of canon.

    (1) Citing ‘Text First’ is an acceptable answer to his question, then, only if we allow the question to be changed substantially. Of course there is no inconsistency if extratextual comments are not considered canonical. But, within the rules of the game as Ms. Rowling and Fandom understand them, is the flip on the Fidelius Charm a Flint or can it be explained away?

    (2) If we choose to accept ‘Text First’ or the John Mark Reynold’s variation ‘Text Only,’ as many HogPro and Hog’s Head readers have, is there any measure of extratextual value we can accept as a standard? The textbooks, for instance. They are not proper text in that the Quidditch Teams and Magical Creatures may appear in the story but not with the textbook explanations. Are the textbooks canon? If they are canon within Text First, then why not lengthy statements on Ms. Rowling’s website as in her definition and explanation of the Fidelius Charm and how it works after the Secret Keeper dies?

    ‘Text First’ shouldn’t become a dodge of convenience. It might be as easy to simply say that what she describes as an “immensely complex spell” involving the “placement” of immaterial information in a non-local space was not properly understood by anyone other than Dumbledore, the only wizard capable of casting this spell it seems, and Ms. Rowling. Mr. Weasley and the Order are mistaken, and understandably paranoid about traitors in their midst after Harry’s escape from Privet Drive. [ERROR: See Felicity’s comment below. Dumbledore doesn’t cast the Fidelius Charm over the Potters, Aunt Muriel’s, or Shell Cottage.]

    That solution within Text First allows the in-text explanation of the Fidelius Charm to stand alongside the author’s written answer to the question — and gives us the deserted House of Black we need for the nigredo of Deathly Hallows.

    Your thoughts? Should we ask Cheryl Klein, the continuity editor at Scholastic, if she discussed this with author or just missed it? Anyone else already discuss this in the Potterverse?

  4. Interesting point, Travis. Am I right in thinking you’re saying ‘canon’ either does not include Ms. Rowling’s extra textual comments or that the books are definitive and the interviews and web site gleanings are ‘deuterocanonical’ (heh) or to be interpreted as relatively plastic?

    If you are, I’m sympathetic but you know this is not the accepted HPL version of what constitutes ‘canon.’ Of course, last time I checked, the Lexicon was not even online. Has the game started over? I look forward to reading your alternative guide to the parameters of canon, Travis, which I assume will be mostly text, and Dr. Sturgis’ which will be correspondingly broad and inclusive…

  5. John, certainly what you call ‘text first’ isn’t a dodge of convenience. That would be text only & I don’t think many people have taken that position. Certainly I haven’t.

    But I think in text explanations are a better place to start with trying to find an answer to questions. Example: The Flint question. Marcus Flint is a 6th year in HPSS which makes him a 7th year in COS. Yet he shows up in POA. Here’s an in text contradiction. Obviously Flint’s there, though. What’s the simplest explanation? He was held back for some reason. We can figure this out without resorting to the author’s authority. Most other things can be figured out the same way, albeit there may be differences of opinion.

    And even the author’s opinion may be different or still contradictory or not sufficient in explaining a question. Do we need the author to write a dissertation on the fidelius charm in order for us to have its mystery completely cleared up? And if that, then do we need the author to go back & completely revise the books to clear up any confusion that might arise?

    Frankly, I think the people who hold to the “Every word that proceeds from the mouth of Jo is the Gospel Potter Truth” are in a more difficult position than those who hold to the ‘text first’ theory. As long as text first is not understood to be text only. Which is why I think your explanation given above, John, works out.

  6. Inked, you’ve perhaps gone a bit further than I would but you make some good points. The text is what’s given to communicate with us. If the text doesn’t do that & we instead have to rely on constant revelations & explanations from the author, then the text has failed to communicate which really means the author has failed to communicate. The author’s intention is thus questionable to some extent. I think Travis has quoted something from George MacDonald which essentially says, “Only God can mean exactly what He says; everybody else can’t necessarily fully communicate what they intend.”

  7. Rowling changed her mind. I think she forgot about her initial rules regarding it, and then decided this. I think they asked her about it on Pottercast, and I’ll come back and post when I find it (or don’t) in the transcripts.


  8. Textus receptus is textus primus, period, end of story, no matter what the author subsequently says. A revision in the text by the author then becomes dueterotextus receptus and may shed light on the “problem”. The materials under discussion are from the admittedly official website but are in fact gnostic variants – unless and until they become dueterotextus as above.

    You are allowed to differ and be in error, of course. But it remains that the text is the text and no revised works have been published of the actual series. Thus JKR’s answers are in the same realm as JRRT’s published letters from fans. When and if she releases the “Making of Harry Potter” series of her notes (or her children edit and release them after she’s gone on) those stories will not constitute canon either.

    The canon was unwittingly defined by Pontius Pilate: “What I have written, I have written.”

  9. ned, love seeing Pub Patrons over here at our sister site.

    Some unorganized responses:

    revgeorge already covered this, but I don’t think “Text First” or “Text Only” is just a default to deflect tough questions. I just don’t think there’s much of a question in the first place; but I do recognize that Mr. Nowak and I are coming at this from different starting points (he clearly accepts the HPL version of canon). There’s just as much a question here as there is why Grindelwald was dead and came back to life for Book 7, or why nobody in Book 7 ever “did magic late in life.”

    You’re right – I’m “Text First” or even “Text Only.” What do we do with JKR’s statements? We’ve been round and round this at The Hog’s Head a lot of times, and I’m basically here: The text is canon, and JKR, having written what she wrote, is now a participant in the interpretive process. She’s got higher statute than the rest of us, but some of us know stuff about her work that even she doesn’t know (as MacDonald and Tolkien both admitted happened or could happen with their own works).

    The two textbooks and the forthcoming Tales all count, I think, because they’re published portions of the Potterverse. I’ll have to give that a bit more thought, though. This “encyclopedia” is going to be a different animal, and I think it will have sharp fangs and claws.

    A “Text First” or “Text Only” person wouldn’t much care if Rowling takes the HPL version of canon. She’s only the author 😉

    If we do take the HPL version of canon as a given (*cringe*), then I think John has constructed a very nice answer to the question: the Order was wrong. After all, we never saw the charm (or its breaking) working differently in the text than it was described on Rowling’s site. We only heard Mr. Weasley’s assumptions about the spell.

  10. Hello all. First time posting here.

    Maybe I’m being overly optimistic, but I don’t think there is necessarily a contradiction. It all depends on what she means by saying “the status of their secret will remain”- does she mean that the status will remain _forever_, or merely that nobody will suddenly forget or come to know the secret? The first contradicts the book, the second doesn’t.

    It does seem more likely to me that she intended the first interpretation, but I’m giving her the benefit of the doubt 🙂

  11. Hello, Everyone!

    I think the Fidelius Charm was handled in a sloppy manner throughout the series above and beyond the difference between the web explanation and what we see in the story. How’s that for my first public HP comment in over a year?

    In PA Chapter 10 (The Marauder’s Map), Filius described the Fidelius Charm as “An immensely complex spell . . . involving the magical concealment of a secret inside a single, living soul. The information is hidden inside the chosen person, or Secret-Keeper, and is henceforth impossible to find—unless, of course, the Secret-Keeper chooses to divulge it. As long as the Secret-Keeper refuses to speak, You-Know-Who could search the entire village where Lily and James were staying for years and never find them, not even if he had his nose pressed against their sitting room window!” (US HB page 205).

    I included Flitwick’s PoA quote because I think the last sentence is important (JKR left it out of her web answer). JKR’s web information and Arthur Weasley’s explanation of the elevation of secret-holder to Secret-Keeper upon the death of the original Secret-Keeper have already been quoted in John’s post, so I won’t include them here. But whether you include everything JKR said on the subject or only consider what is in the books, there is no Fidelius Charm continuity in the series.

    The most glaring breach of Flitwick’s description and JKR’s additional information regarding the FC is in DH Chapter 23 (Malfoy Manor), when Ron told Dobby to take Luna, Dean, and Ollivander to “Bill and Fleur’s . . . Shell Cottage on the outskirts of Tinworth!” (US page 468) Acting on this information, Dobby took those three to Shell Cottage and then returned to Malfoy Manor to collect Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Griphook. (US page 475) When Harry reached the Shell Cottage property, he was able to see the cottage (lights and figures moving within). Following Dobby’s burial, Harry entered the cottage and learned from Bill that the Weasleys had been moved from the Burrow to Aunt Muriel’s under the protection of a Fidelius Charm (Arthur was Secret-Keeper), and that Shell Cottage was itself under the Fidelius Charm, with Bill Weasley as Secret-Keeper (“And we’ve done it on this cottage too; I’m Secret-Keeper here.”) (US page 482). So if Bill Weasley was the sole Secret-Keeper of Shell Cottage as his statement indicates, then Ron should not have been able to reveal the location, and Harry and the others should not have been able to see the Cottage when they reached the property.

    Readers don’t likely notice the breach because they’re so caught up in the escape from Malfoy Manor and the death and burial of Dobby. I suspect JKR and her editors missed it for the same reason. Certainly, I see no evidence in the text that JKR wants the readers to infer from this passage that the Fidelius Charms placed on Aunt Muriel’s house and Shell Cottage had been cast incorrectly. Bill Weasley was a curse-breaker for Gringott’s, so he had extensive knowledge of Charms. And if JKR is suggesting that Albus Dumbledore alone was able to cast the FC (per John’s comment), how could he have cast the FC at Godric’s Hollow without knowing Wormtail was the Secret-Keeper? Lily had a wand that was especially good for Charms, so I suspect she cast the FC at Godric’s Hollow. We know from PoA that Albus Dumbledore advised the Potters to go under the FC, but nothing was said about who cast the FC. So did JKR want the reader to believe the Weasleys are inept at casting the Fidelius Charm? No. I think she and her editors lost track of the details.

    As for the quality of Arthur’s information regarding the secret-holders becoming Secret-Keepers following the death of the original Secret-Keeper, I believe JKR wants the reader to accept the information as accurate. It wasn’t just Arthur. All the order members believed that Snape would be able to reveal the location of 12GP. Moody had set up curses that were meant to repel Snape and also bind his tongue should he try to talk about the location. And finally, it would be a very easy theory for any of them to test out; they simply needed to attempt to pass on the location to someone who didn’t previously know it. Arthur’s information strikes me as being very solid. The source of the Order’s anxiety about using 12GP wasn’t their insecurity about whether any of them could reveal the location but about whether any of them would reveal it deliberately or under duress.

    Another highly problematic passage is in DH when Hermione Apparated to 12GP and inadvertently took Yaxley with her when he grabbed her arm as she was Disapparating (Chapter 14). She claimed that since Yaxley probably saw the door when she Apparated to the front steps that she had “taken him inside the Fidelius Charm’s protection.” She then asked Harry, “Since Dumbledore died, we’re Secret-Keepers, so I’ve given him the secret, haven’t I?” JKR then wrote: “There was no pretending; Harry was sure she was right. It was a serious blow. If Yaxley could now get inside the house, there was no way that they could return. Even now, he could be bringing other Death Eaters in there by Apparition.” (US page 271)

    We can’t square this passage with any prior FC information. Hermione had no intention of divulging the location to Yaxley nor did she give him the location in word or writing. Flitwick said, “As long as the Secret-Keeper refuses to speak, You-Know-Who could search the entire village where Lily and James were staying for years and never find them, not even if he had his nose pressed against their sitting room window!” So how was Yaxley able to see the door just because Hermione saw the door? And what possible reason could Harry have for concluding that Yaxley was thereby able to Apparate other Death Eaters into the dwelling? Yaxley did not become a Secret-Keeper just by briefly seeing the door (if he did see it), so how could he divulge the location to anyone else?

    In the Spinner’s End chapter of HBP, Snape told Narcissa and Bellatrix that he was unable to give Voldemort the location of the Order’s headquarters because he wasn’t the Secret-Keeper. But if just seeing the door to 12GP enabled Yaxley to take other DE’s inside the house via Apparition (even though Yaxley wasn’t a Secret-Keeper), doesn’t that mean Snape would have been able to take Voldemort and his Death Eaters into 12GP via Side-along Apparition? Wouldn’t someone in Voldemort’s ranks have known of this vulnerability (assuming Harry is correct)? I don’t recall reading confirmation that the DE’s were thereafter able to enter 12GP; however, throughout DH, JKR has been showing us that Harry’s magical instincts are increasing sound. So may it’s true.

    Incidentally, Snape must have told Voldemort that he didn’t know the identity of the Secret-Keeper for the Order’s headquarters (saying he got it from a piece of paper or something) and then was able to pretend convincingly that Dumbledore’s death did not alter the security of the building. If Voldemort had known that Dumbledore was the Secret-Keeper, he would have ordered Snape to share the location with the DE’s, and they would have been able to both see and enter the building. Since they didn’t enter the building even though they would have been able to see the trio going inside, Snape never told.

    So why were the DE’s across the street from 12GP during DH? Given that Kreacher was “stationed” at 12 Grimmauld Place and had contacted the Black sisters and dropped hints about Sirius and Harry, maybe Narcissa or Bellatrix guessed that the Black family residence was being used as the Order’s headquarters. As members of the Black family, they would have known where the house was located and also known Sirius had been the legal owner and had bequeathed the building to Harry. The wonder is that it didn’t occur to either of them sooner given that Kreacher visited them at Christmastime in OotP. All they needed to do was visit the street to see if number 12 was visible to them. Since 12GP would not have been visible to them, they might have made an educated guess that the house was being used by the Order (or at least that Sirius was hiding there).

    A seeming irregularity regarding the Fidelius Charm and 12GP is that when Ron and Hermione were living there over the summer at the beginning of OotP (and so had been told the secret to the location) but Harry was at Privet Drive (and unaware of the existence of 12GP and the Fidelius Charm on it), Harry, Ron, and Hermione were able to exchange letters via Hedwig. How difficult could it have been for a good flyer on a fast broom or thestral to send an Owl to someone known to be in a secret location (even one protected by a Fidelius Charm) and follow the Owl to the location? The location of the dwelling would be known even if the dwelling itself couldn’t be seen. And given the “Yaxley” business, grabbing the arm of the visitor as the door appeared would have been sufficient to see the dwelling.

    Hagrid had been sent by Dumbledore to the Potters’ house in 1981 to retrieve Baby Harry and that Hagrid was worried that the partially-destroyed house would attract the attention of Muggle authorities, so the house was visible at that point to everyone. In Chapter 17 of DH (Bathilda’s Secret), when Harry and Hermione first looked upon the standing remains of the Potters’ house, we got an explanation of sorts: “He could see it; the Fidelius Charm must have died with James and Lily.” (US page 332)

    This is new information about the FC and doesn’t contradict information about the FC from the books or website. However, Harry was still alive in the house, and I would have assumed that the secret was worded to protect the entire family and especially to include Harry since Harry was Voldemort’s target and the reason the family was hiding in the first place. Is this charm so specific that the secret had to have been worded something like “James and Lily Potter live in Godric’s Hollow” to have ended when they died, but had the secret been worded something like “The Potters live in Godric’s Hollow at 10 Honeysuckle Lane,” the house would not have become visible because Harry was “covered” by the secret and Harry lived?

    While not related to the mechanics of the FC, it bugs me that the Potters’ house in Godric’s Hollow was at the end of a row of houses in a neighborhood of magical families. When the Fidelius Charm was performed, didn’t anyone in the neighborhood notice that a house had suddenly disappeared? Wouldn’t that have been the subject of gossip and curiosity? Since the goal was to hide the Potters from Voldemort and his followers, wasn’t it stupid to make a house disappear in a magical neighborhood given that no one in the OotP knew whether any Voldemort sympathizers were nearby who would surely pass along this curiosity? For obvious plot reasons having to do with the graveyard and the Bathilda-Nagini trap, JKR wanted the Potters to be hiding in Godric’s Hollow. But given that in OotP, Sirius told Harry that at the time of Voldemort’s first rise to power, he had bullied or bewitched large numbers of wizards and witches into doing his bidding and given that Dumbledore suspected a traitor within the Order itself, as a matter of strategy, hiding the Potters in a suddenly-invisible house in a magical village was simply lackwitted. Dumbledore is supposed to be a brilliant character.

    In Chapter 10 of DH (Kreacher’s Tale), Harry found a letter Lily had written to Sirius when the Potters were in the secret-kept house in which she wrote, “Bathilda drops in most days” (US page 180). So Bathilda Bagshot had been given the secret to the Potters’ house. It could be that Lily asked Wormtail to write down the location for Bathilda (just as Dumbledore had written down the location of 12GP for Harry in OotP), which would explain how Bathilda could visit the Potters without knowing the identity of the Secret-Keeper. A written communication would also explain why Wormtail didn’t see the need to kill her to cover his tracks after he faked his death in 1981 and framed Sirius. However, Bathilda’s frequent visits to the “hidden” house at the end of a row of houses in a magical neighborhood are additional evidence that the Potters were not well-placed in that neighborhood IMO.

    So my opinion is that the Fidelius Charm was handled in a very sloppy manner throughout the series (the mechanics particularly seem to unravel in DH). There is no continuity at all relative to the mechanics of the charm, and it doesn’t matter whether we work exclusively from information contained in the books or include JKR’s website information.

  12. Welcome back, Felicity! I have marked my comment above with an ‘ERROR!’ note and a link to your exposition of the Fidelius Flint.

    Two quick notes:

    (1) I think Her Nowak has found and Felicity explained a continuity error that a truck can be driven through. Whatever the rules or parameters of canon, this is a gaffe.

    (2) So what? I think we have to slap ourselves and recall that the point of story telling isn’t getting every detail just right; it’s writing a story that will transfigure the reader in suspended disbelief. Would that end have been reached if Harry and Dobby couldn’t find Shell Cottage or see it when they arrive? No. Felicity’s points about the sudden disappearance of the Potter cottage are well taken (“spot on!”) but if the Potters are hidden in a more befitting place, we don’t get the Godric’s Hollow nightmare Christmas Eve chapter.

    Details are critically important. If they weren’t, Levine Imprint at Scholastic wouldn’t be paying Cheryl Klein the big bucks to catch gaffes like this. But assume she caught it and confronted Ms. Rowling with it. Might she have just shrugged her shoulders and said, “I can live with it”?

    The sad thing is that fans chose a Fidelius Charm question above all other questions to ask the author. Whatever the story considerations, you would think that she would have taken that as a marker that something was weak in that area.

    Again, Felicity, welcome back! Wonderfully insightful demonstration of the Fidelius Charm Flint.

  13. Felicity, that was a wonderfully insightful exposition of the Fidelius Charm!! Brilliant analysis & questioning of it!!

    I think it goes to show that with something in question like that, that it would absolutely not help at all to ask the author. Because she obviously doesn’t know or couldn’t do it any other way except as kind of a deus ex machina. Obviously, her “canon” answer hasn’t answered the questions about the fidelius charm at all!

    So, again we are left with the text & the way the fidelius charm works in the text. Is it just sloppy writing? Perhaps. Is it a deus ex machina? Quite likely. But then again, every writer should be allowed at least one deus ex machina.

    And finally, does it really matter to the enjoyment of the text & also to the fulfillment of the plot of the story to have the fidelius charm be entirely logically consistent & fully explained to us? As both Felicity & John have noted, the storytelling is what really takes precedence.

    We don’t think about how Yaxley could’ve become privy to 12GP because we’re caught up in the story. Indeed, we don’t even know that he was able to enter 12GP! And as John points out, would we really want to trade the Godric Hallows Christmas Eve trip & even the horrific follow up to it, two of the best chapters in the book, in my opinion, along with The Forest Again & King’s Cross, would we really want to trade all that in for a technical adherence to a plot device?

    I think the answer is a resounding “NO!!”

    So, here’s a place where I think Jo would do best to simply be silent on the matter. As Inked referenced to Pontius Pilate, Jo the author should be able to say at times, “What I have written, I have written.”

    If Jo absolutely cannot live with the way the story worked out & the way she used the fidelius charm, then she should revise the books. But I don’t think that’ll make them any better & perhaps will make them worse.

    And fans who have questions about the continuity errors or seemingly contradictory uses of the fidelius charm should be free to question it & come up with plausible explanations for it, based mainly on the text.

    But a certain sense of disbelief will always have to be involved. After all, I certainly do that every time I read Goblet of Fire. Talk about plot holes there! But I set aside those concerns when I read the book & get a great deal of enjoyment out of GOF.

  14. LadyOfTheSilent says

    Dear Mr. Granger,

    I am the administrator of, a message board which Mr. Nowak is a member of. The Fidelius Charm has been discussed there at great length in the past few years, particularly after the release of book 6, but I strongly object to the following statement of yours:

    >>The sad thing is that fans chose a Fidelius Charm question above all other questions to ask the author. Whatever the story considerations, you would think that she would have taken that as a marker that something was weak in that area.>>

    Since I do not know whether or not you speak German, I’d like you to know that this is just one question among many that have been discussed at I do dislike Deathly Hallows, but not because I think that the Fidelius Charm is just one of many gaps a truck could drive through.

    I object to the philosophy of the series as a whole, just as I do to the message of the final novel. However, I think that every author should care enough about his or her work to try and avoid plot holes. But this is just my humble opinion, and I do not think it sad at all people are asking questions about the Fidelius Charm.

    Bernhard Nowak’s letter to JKR raised a lot of important questions that should have been considered – not only by JKR herself, but also by her fans.

    Yours sincerely,

  15. Some thoughts on Felicity’s post:

    1. I had always taken Bill’s comments about the FC at Shell Cottage to mean he had just performed the charm (perhaps while Harry was digging the grave) specifically because Harry had come. He even says he got the rest of the Weasleys into hiding since the DE’s now knew that Ron was with Harry- which had only happened a few hours before.

    2. When Hermione apparated to 12GP she was giving a specific and previously unknown location to Yaxley. I don’t see a problem with this. I don’t know what would have happened if Hermione had not been a secret keeper at that point, but I expect it wouldn’t have worked. I think you’re right to say that Yaxley could not have brought other DE’s there, but Harry’s not exactly the brightest crayon in the box, and I expect he’s confused.

    3. As for why there are DE’s outside 12GP- well, 12GP has obvious connections to Harry, and Harry keeps using Voldemort’s name, so they know someone’s inside. I don’t think it matters if they’ve guessed if it was once Order HQ or not since they were never told by a secret keeper. I don’t think knowing the information is enough to bypass the charm. That’s why following owls wouldn’t be good enough- the owl is not the secret keeper. Also I believe JKR has said in an interview that owls cannot be followed- the same kind of magic that lets them find people keeps others off their tail.

    4. It doesn’t matter how many people noticed the Potter house going missing. They were not told by the secret keeper, so they could sit outside all day chanting “The Potters are there” and still nobody could find them. Stupid, perhaps, but not necessarily flawed.

    I do, actually think the FC has a lot of problems, but not nearly so many as you are suggesting.

  16. Looking at Mr. Nowak’s question again, specifically “Why does the fidelius charm suddenly operate differently in the book compared to the description on JK Rowling’s website?”

    With all respect to Mr. Nowak, I think this is the wrong question. The fidelius charm operates as it operates in the text. It’s what it is. The question might well be instead, “Why does Ms. Rowling’s explanation not match up with what the book says?”

    The fidelius charm stands as it is written & must be dealt with thusly, especially if the author herself is having a hard time explaining what’s going on! Again, it’s not that the charm itself has changed; it’s operating as it’s been written. JKR’s explanation seems to change or at least doesn’t totally clarify the matter. This is the problem of taking a human, fallible author’s word as inspired & inerrant.

  17. Dear Lady of the Silent,

    Thank you for writing.

    My comment about the “sad thing” of fans asking about the Fidelius Charm was not meant to suggest it was disappointing that fans asked about the Fidelius Charm. I was trying to say it was sad Ms. Rowling missed her mistakes in text about the very charm to which her readers had asked her to pay special attention.

    Please forgive me for my part in this misunderstanding.


  18. Great post, lmf3b! There really are a lot of complications & questions with this spell. I think we can easily chalk up this deus ex machina device as simply being a very complicated spell. As you note, this isn’t unusual in most fantasy & science fiction. So, I don’t think it’s really a cop out at all to use such an explanation.

    Really, is Star Trek any less enjoyable to watch just because we don’t have full schematic diagrams of a warp engine or a full detailed analysis of how faster than light travel can be explained contra Einstein’s theories?

  19. Ah, the Fidelius charm! I see it as the wizarding world equivalent of “reconfiguring the sensory arrays” to scan for XX,” where XX = whatever the Enterprise is looking for and can’t find. The success of this technique depends on the demands of the script and the outcome will be whatever works best for the scriptwriter. It may seem a cop-out, but a certain amount of that is almost inevitable in science fiction or fantasy, where magic and/or ultra advanced technology are the solutions to so many problems.

    One possible resolution to the inconsistencies could be simply that magical concealment is a complicated business, with multiple spells and counterspells and wizards actively trying to outdo and undo each other. Whose magic works could depend on which wizard or wand is more powerful, as well as on the strength of the individual spell themselves. Dumbledore clearly worried that the spells Sirus’s long-dead father had cast to prevent the house from being owned by a non-Pureblood could cancel out the effects of the Fidelius Charm and allow Bellatrix to enter. But happily, Sirus’s magic proved superior. The Voldemort name taboo instantly undid the concealment spells on the tent, but did not reveal #12 Grimmauld. Harry’s invisibility cloak, supposedly the most powerful every created, didn’t work against the Marauder’s Map or Moody’s Mad-eye.

    I also think our capacity to fully understand the FC is limited by the very limited use we see made of it. We don’t know what happens if a non-SK tries to reveal a secret. What if, for instance, Harry had tried to tell Neville the location of the Order headquarters in OOTP or HBP? Would Harry have been struck mute? Neville gone deaf? or would, heaven forbid, someone have dropped down dead, a la Unbreakable vow?

    Similarly, the only thing we actually see the FC do is render houses invisible and un-enterable. This is itself odd, since the Secret Dumbldore guarded was not “A house exists at 12 Grimmauld Place” but the fact the the Order uses it as headquarters. The Black family clearly knew a house existed there and had for generations, unless the spell causes retrograde amnesia to protect its secret. In which case, Dumbledore would have been far wiser to make the secret “James and Lily Potter have a son born at the end of July” rather than to just hide them all in a house. If an outsider had entered #12 when there weren’t any Order members present, they wouldn’t necessarily have discovered it was headquarters and the secret would have still been protected. And since the Trio were not officially Order members, discovering them in the house would not have necessarily given the secret away, either. It’s not clear what a Fidelius charm did for #12 or for the house at Godric’s Hollow that the various magical concealment charms used on the Burrow, Auntie Muriel’s, etc did not.

    What if the secret was something like, “There will be a surprise birthday celebration for Professor McGonagall after the Quidditch match Saturday.” Would she not be able to discern the plans afoot, even if she saw the house elves carrying a giant “Happy Birthday Minerva” cake onto the field? Or “Madame Pomfrey was once married to Aberforth Dumbledore?” Would the wedding guests and minster suddenly lose their memory and the wedding album go invisible?

  20. Another good analysis, Red Rocker. I think it goes to show that Jo uses the Fidelius charm in the way she needs to use it. And that is in service to the story. That’s the primary object.

    Kind of like how Avada Kedavra simply drops its victim where they stand, except in the case of Dumbledore who is blasted off the tower. Why the contradiction? Because the story demands something dramatic in the way of Dumbledore’s death.

  21. Feel moved to come to JKR’s defense in the instance of the Fidelius.

    Thank you, Felicity, for laying out the facts so clearly and comprehensively. It’s always easier to think when the facts are well organized.

    This is my point about the Fidelius: the charm, as described, is impossible.

    How is that different from all the other charms, you ask?

    Most magic is impossible because of the laws of physics. The Fidelius is just not logically feasible. And the reason has to do with the nature of a secret.

    What is a secret? Here are some definitions of the word “secret” from the Internet:

    hidden: designed to elude detection; “a hidden room or place of concealment such as a priest hole”; “a secret passage”; “the secret compartment in the desk”

    confidential: (of information) given in confidence or in secret; “this arrangement must be kept confidential”; “their secret communications”

    something that should remain hidden from others (especially information that is not to be passed on); “the combination to the safe was a secret”; “he tried to keep his drinking a secret”

    information known only to a special group

    There are other definitions, but these ones make my point: a secret can be a thing, or it can be a piece of information. As used in connection with the Fidelius, a secret is a piece of information. But the charm works as if a secret is a thing.

    An object is something that can be felt by the senses. A piece of information, or a fact, has no form, it can’t be sensed.

    You can hide a thing (provided you have a place to hide it) and not tell anyone, and unless they come upon it by chance, it will stay hidden.

    How do you hide information? Well, you can keep the people who know it from talking about it, and that is what the Fidelius does. Let’s look at that.

    What does the Fidelius keep you from saying, exactly? Does it allow you to say where they are not? Does it allow you to say who doesn’t know the secret? Who doesn’t live near them? Who they have no contact or communication with? Who do they do have contact or communication with? You see where I’m going with this? A fact is much more loosely defined than an object because it does not exist in isolation from other facts. Bring other facts into the conversation, and you can sooner or later triangulate onto the hidden fact.

    But there are other ways of finding out a fact than through disclosure. Reasoning, deduction, inference, trial and error, experimentation, and of course, observation. My point is, unlike and object, information is almost impossible to hide, or keep secret.

    It seems that JKR tried to cover one of these ways, in her original definition, by saying that observation wouldn’t work (“if you had your nose pressed against the window”). But again, there is a confusion between an object and a fact. We know tha you can see the house. What would you not see if you looked inside? If James was holding a cup, would you see a cup suspended in mid-air? Would you see someone else, not James, holding a cup? Would you see nothing? What is the exact piece of information that is being kept privy from you?

    For the sake of argument, let’s make a few assumptions. When you look through the window, whatever you see has no connection to the Potters. The Fidelius keeps your senses from registering information that the Potters are there.

    But what about the other ways of knowing? Logic, deduction, inference, all forms of reasoning. Could you not arrive at a probabilistic statement that there is, say a 25% likelihood that the Potters are there? After all, James Potter lived there, and there are historical associations. Could the Fidelius keep you from arriving at such a deduction? Could it keep you from thinking logically about the Potters’ probable hiding place?

    Well, theorertically,yes. But did JKR really mean to go as far as saying that one could not deduce, infer or otherwise logically figure out a fact covered by the Fidelius?

    Going by Felicity’s excellent summary, and by the name of the charm itself – the Latin word fidelis means faithful, loyal, true – it seems that JKR intended the charm to describe entrusting a secret to a loyal friend who would guard it unconditionally. But somewhere along the way, the charm underwent reification, and acquired physical qualities. A secret – which is an abstract concept, and very relative – became more like a concrete thing. No wonder that the Fidelius became full of inconsistencies.

    Now that is interesting in an epistemological sort of way. I think that it’s a common tendency, to reason with abstract concepts as if they were concrete objects, and has gotten other thinkers into trouble besides JKR.

    Even more interestingly, it also parallels what Voldemort did with his soul – who dreamt that a soul could be partitioned like an orange? Yet in that instance, JKR worked the reification very well, to almost universal acclaim.

  22. Am I right in thinking that Text First/Text Only canon parameters differ from Fandom canon not only in their being relatively narrow or exclusive but in their being ‘Story First’ as well?

    The conclusion Felicity, LMF (welcome back! wonderful post), Red Rocker, and RevGeorge seem to be driving at from different points of departure is that the end is not a perfect or even justifiable consistency or plausibility; what Ms. Rowling is aiming at is the “power beyond magic” in children’s tales and if the story isn’t flawed so the reader is distracted by evident contradiction, the greater magic in the tale is not broken.

    Your thoughts? Is this the answer, ultimately, to Herr Nowak’s question? “Yes, the Fidelius Charm is a Flint. But the story is served by the Charm, however it is understood to work, so it’s a gaffe we can chuckle about — and admire.”

  23. For me, certainly, the Fidelius is a gaffe I can admire – for its conceptual audacity. Has anyone ever thought of a spell like that in the past? The fact that JKR couldn’t quite make it work is not too important because when it does become a bit awkward, it’s not central to the plot.

    Let me explain.

    I think the Fidelius was important and essential to the story in PoA. It was much less so in DH. That’s because the idea of fidelis – loyalty – and its opposite, betrayal, was central to PoA. And not as central to DH, where faith, love and sacrifice hold center stage. JKR introduced Fidelius in PoA to show Pettigrew’s betrayal. But in DH, the charm is just a mechanical device to explain how the DE’s got to 12 Grimmauld – or how the Weasleys stayed safe. That’s when it breaks down; and given its relative unimportance, I can shrug: so what?

    But there is an interesting observation to be made here. The Fidelius – imperfect as it is – is not a problem when it’s an essential part of the story. It breaks down when it becomes a clutch, or a prop to keep the story going.

  24. Something like the way Polyjuice Potion jumped the shark after Chamber? It takes months and months of work and attention for our favorite twelve year olds to brew and no little thievery but everyone seems to have a jug of insta-made PJ Potion on the shelf in later books. It does serve a purpose in those besides plot points (identity/eyedentity being no small thing in a Bildungsroman piece and mistaken identity in a postmodern tableau) but it only has ‘wow’ value in Chamber.

    [I’m not suggesting that there is a Polyjuice Flint but I would like to know how Slughorn had all those potions ready on his first day of class when he couldn’t have had more than a week or two to start them. If Felix Felicis was an instant tea, I’m confident they would have been serving it at breakfast or Fred and George selling it in hip flasks.]

  25. John said, “[I’m not suggesting that there is a Polyjuice Flint but I would like to know how Slughorn had all those potions ready on his first day of class when he couldn’t have had more than a week or two to start them. If Felix Felicis was an instant tea, I’m confident they would have been serving it at breakfast or Fred and George selling it in hip flasks.]”

    Or how Malfoy was able to nip a flask of polyjuice potion on the first day of class, which then lasted the entire school year!

    I think perhaps the main problem with the fidelius charm, looking at it textually, is that the more people who know the secret or even kind of know the secret, the less effective the charm becomes. In POA, only three people know the secret of the Potter’s hideout. Well, four counting Bathilda Bagshot but we don’t know about her until DH. In OOTP & DH the number who know the secret of 12GP grows exponentially. Plus, they may not have been doing the spell properly in the sense of having everybody in turn become secret keeper.

    Still, the fact is a whole bunch of questions do remain if one focuses on the details of the spell itself & not on its role in the story. Which I think sums up the point which you mentioned, John, that, yes, if the story is written well enough & seems to hold together fairly well on the surface, then occasional flints or even deus ex machina’s are okay. As LMF said, every author is going to have something like that.

    Sure, it’s probably best if things like the fidelius charm are done a bit more neatly & consistently. Mr. Nowak’s question hits on this in part: “Is this difference due to a lack of planning or simple sloppiness?” Although perhaps I wouldn’t have put the question in that way, still it’s somewhat of a valid question. I would tend to say that the problem with the fidelius charm is lack of planning on the author’s part, rather than sloppiness. We all know how exacting Jo is in her details of the books.

    But Jo has admitted to forgetting about things from previous books & having to look them up on the Lexicon to make sure she’s getting things straight. She may not have done that with the fidelius charm because, being the author, she should be expected to know how things in her world work. Or, as some of us have noted elsewhere, in particular Red Rocker, Jo seems to be a bit story driven at points & so things & characters that are important or that have taken on a life of their own get stuffed into her plot line in order for it to work for her.

  26. Good points, John and revgeorge. A lot of the magic has the “wow!” factor when first introduced, and becomes commonplace upon subsequent appearances. And loses some internal consistency. I think part of it is loss of focus (as someone – Felicity? – mentioned above). JKR’s focus moves on, so she’s not as interested in the old device for its own sake, just wants to insert it into the story and move on.

  27. I’ve been mulling over this thread and the questions herein.

    John wrote: “The conclusion Felicity, LMF (welcome back! wonderful post), Red Rocker, and RevGeorge seem to be driving at from different points of departure is that the end is not a perfect or even justifiable consistency or plausibility; what Ms. Rowling is aiming at is the “power beyond magic” in children’s tales and if the story isn’t flawed so the reader is distracted by evident contradiction, the greater magic in the tale is not broken.”

    First of all, I would define a Flint as a continuity error of negligible consequence that could be corrected with a very simple correction in a subsequent printing. Two examples:

    The eponymous Flint, of course, regards Marcus Flint, who is a sixth year in PS, but is still at Hogwart’s in PoA. When asked about it, JKR punted and said he had to repeat a year, but she could just have easily made Flint a fifth-year in the next printing of PS.

    In PS, Sir Nicholas tells Harry that he hasn’t eater in nearly 400 years, but in CS, he celebrates the 500th anniversary of his death. In subsequent printings of PS, 400 is changed to 500.

    So for me, Flints are minor errors that do not affect the story at all. Even more substantive problems like plot holes are not going to be noticed by the majority of readers. For instance, the gaping plot hole in GoF (why didn’t Fake Moody just portkey Harry to the Riddle graveyard during the first week of class?) isn’t even exposed until the very end of the story, and I doubt most casual readers will even think about it. IMO, the people who notice the flints, large errors in continuity, and plot holes are the “serious readers” who go back into the story after reading it once to look for deeper meaning.

    Sometimes, when JKR is really on her game, what seem like continuity errors arguably enrich the story, especially in what they tell us about various characters. JKR has described her story as being very character-driven, so it’s always worthwhile to determine if a seeming continuity error is really an error or if JKR is cleverly giving us additional information about characters. Examples:

    RevGeorge noted a seeming discontinuity in the effect of the AK. However, as we learned in the series, casting an Unforgivable requires both power and intent. In OotP, Harry was unable to cast the Crucio on Bellatrix because he didn’t have the intent even though his power (via the Patronus) had been established; in DH, Harry was able to cast the curse correctly on one of the Carrows, so he had both power and intent. In HBP, we learned that Herbert Chorley was impersonating a duck and had attempted to strangle three people at St. Mungo’s because of a poorly performed Imperius Curse (we don’t learn whether this was a failure of power or intent or both). Then we come to the Avada Kedavra. Frank Bryce only crumpled because the AK was cast by a weakened Babymort (Voldemort complained about his weakness in that form). Cedric Diggory was clearly airborn to some extent when hit by Wormtail’s AK (he had been standing next to Harry when struck, but his corpse ended up spread-eagled on the ground, so he didn’t just crumple as Bryce did); Wormtail was magically stronger than Babymort. Finally, we saw Dumbledore lifted by Snape’s AK from a crouched position and flung like a rag doll over a rampart; the implication is that Snape is extremely powerful. So what seems like a continuity error in the effect of the AK actually reveals the relative magical strength of the caster.

    Similarly, we can infer from the potions Slughorn had on the first day of class that he had been keeping himself supplied with candied pineapple by selling potions on the side, which is why he had a cauldron of Felix even though it takes six months to brew and he had only agreed to take the job month before the start of school. The potions he had available for his students were all high-value: Veritaserum, Amortentia, Polyjuice, and Felix Felicis. When we also consider that he was eager to get his hands on the acromantula venom and the unicorn tail because of the high price each would fetch, we have more support for the hypothesis that Slughorn was selling potions on the side. And when we consider the nature of the potions he was making and wonder to whom he was selling them (black market?) and for what unsavory purposes they might be used, we start to wonder about Slughorn’s character and whether he had been crossing ethical lines knowingly or if he had been willfully blinding himself to the consequences of his actions. That he is primarily concerned with his own well-being was established by his refusal to reveal himself even when he knew his old friend Dumbledore had set off his alarms. We got further proof when he blithely told Harry that the wine he had for Aragog’s funeral was safe to drink because he had ordered a House Elf to test each bottle. So for me, Slughorn’s ready-made potions give the reader important information about Slughorn in addition to introducing potions that are important to HBP (Amortentia, Polyjuice, and Felix Felicis). BTW – I agree with John that she jumped the shark with Polyjuice.

    Red Rocker’s comment: “Most magic is impossible because of the laws of physics. The Fidelius is just not logically feasible,” I can only partially agree with. I entered into the HP fantasy fully prepared to suspect disbelief and accept that magical people, creatures, and objects would be breaking the laws of physical science left and right. However, I do expect that the author’s rules of magic JKR will be internally logical and coherent within the fantasy world created. That isn’t always the case with HP IMO. I admittedly don’t have a problem with the Fidelius Charm until the Yaxley business. However, the time-turner is a problem for me as JKR used it at the end of PoA. Hermione’s use of the time-turner is coherent. If she wants to take two classes that are both offered from 9:00-10:00 AM on the same day, she goes to Class A in “normal” time, then provided she is not incapacitated at 10:01 AM, she can use the time-turner to go back to 9:00 AM to take Class B. When she is taking Class A, she doesn’t know what will be taught that day in Class B because she hasn’t used the time-turner yet. When she takes Class B, she knows what was taught that day in Class A because she is reliving the hour. There is a chronological order and logical progression to her use of the time-turner that enables her to be in two places at once.

    However, the use of the time-turner by Harry and Hermione at the end of PoA to save Harry and Sirius from the dementors is utterly incoherent and JKR broke her own rules in trying to pull it off. Harry’s time-turner-self cannot be present to cast the Patronus Charm because the action at the edge of the lake is happening in “normal” time (he’s still taking Class A and won’t be able to go back via the time-turner because his soul will have been sucked out). I fully understand that JKR was giving us Harry’s figurative death and resurrection in the presence of a Christ-figure (and saving Buckbeak to boot), but the sequence doesn’t work. It’s certainly dramatic, but the logical flaw does IMO diminish the book. This plot resolution isn’t a Flint or a continuity error; it’s a flat-out impossible action under JKR’s own rules for using this device. I do wish she had thought it through and found another way to resolve the PoA story.

    What does any of this have to do with the Fidelius Charm? As noted, I don’t have a problem with the FC until we get to the Yaxley business, and my problem has to do with my inability to explain this continuity error in the way I can explain the different effects of the AK or Slughorn’s potions.

    Both Hermione (our logical character) and Harry (our instinctive character) are agreed that Yaxley was able to see the door to 12GP. Not only that (which shouldn’t be possible given what we were earlier told about the charm), but Harry believes Yaxley will now be able to conduct other DE’s into the building. It’s unclear to me whether Harry is correct or not, but given that JKR has been (throughout DH) showing us that Harry’s magical instincts are growing stronger and sounder by the day, I tend to believe JKR wants the reader to accept Harry’s belief as correct. The idea that 12GP would thereafter be off-limits to Harry does, as John mentioned somewhere, fit well with the Nigredo section of DH. But there are consequences relative to the backstory if Harry and Hermione are correct.

    The Fidelius Charm is an immensely complex spell, but it’s an established spell, so I expect that its strengths and vulnerabilities had been explored and recorded. Given that, I have to wonder why neither Voldemort nor any of his supporters knew of these vulnerabilities or ever tried to exploit them via Snape. Voldemort didn’t expect the AK to backfire on him because JKR explained that it had never happened before, and Voldemort didn’t expect the Priori Incantatem effect because he didn’t know Harry shared a wand core with him and perhaps because the PI is so rare an event that it’s not well known. But Voldemort surely knew of the FC and should have made it his business to find out everything about it.

    What I’m trying to get at is that JKR’s continuity error with the FC fits in with what I see as a pattern (especially regarding Voldemort) whereby she compromises character in the service of her plot. Dumbledore’s decision to place the Potters in Godric’s Hollow is an example of that because Dumbledore desperately wanted to keep the Potters hidden and he is too brilliant not to have seen that they would vulnerable in that location. She had good “story” reasons for putting them in GH, but she nevertheless undermined Dumbledore’s intelligence. As with the time-turner, I do believe that if she had thought about it more, she could have had her cake and eaten it too. She’s good enough that didn’t need to put the Potters cottage in the same village as the graveyard for Harry to have visited both on the same night and she could have found a way to work in the Bathilda-Nagini scene as well.

    What I loved about the pensieve scenes in HBP is that we saw a Voldemort who was truly an evil mastermind—powerful, brilliant, malevolent, ruthless, and tenacious. The Morfin memory was particularly effective. Voldemort, after years of searching, tracks down his family with only his middle name, Marvolo, to guide him. He talks with Morfin long enough to learn of his paternity, and in a one-two-three punch, knocks out Morfin, uses Morfin’s wand to kill the Riddles, returns the weapon to Morfin, plants a false memory on Morfin so powerful Morfin brags about the murders, steals the Peverell ring, and returns to Hogwarts brazenly wearing the ring. That is a wizard who can think on his feet, rapidly assess his options, and exploit the opportunities available to him.

    That’s the Voldemort we never saw in the story proper. First of all, we can’t explain why Voldemort, following the disaster at Godric’s Hollow, spent the next 10 years sulking in the forests of Albania. He could possess people (as he did with Quirrell) and he could communicate instructions to return himself to a physical body (as he did with Wormtail). So why was he so passive for so long? Because JKR needed him to be passive while Harry was growing up with the Dursleys.

    After his failure to capture the Philospher’s Stone, Voldemort returned to Albania in spectral form, and would presumably still be there feeling sorry for himself if Wormtail hadn’t gone looking for him. Does that make sense? No. At the end of PS, Voldemort would have known through Quirrell and his students which of the Death Eaters had escaped Azkaban and were walking free. The 16-year-old Voldemort would have paid a visit to Lucius and threatened to possess Draco unless Lucius helped him with the magic that would return him to his body and full powers. And Lucius would have done it, but that would have meant Lucius would not have planted the Diary on Ginny in CS.

    In GoF, we have the previously mentioned ridiculously complicated plan that involved Fake Moody’s daily exposure as an imposter over an entire school year of scheming and plotting and cheating, only to activate a portkey that could have been activated on the second day of school.

    In OotP, upon learning that Bode fought Lucius’ Imperius Curse because he knew that removing the prophesy globe would result in madness, did it occur to Voldemort that he could just Imperius anyone who did not work in the Department of Mysteries to get the job done? No. And since the DE’s were able to get into the DoM to ambush Harry and his friends, they clearly didn’t need a DoM employee to gain access to the Hall of Prophesy. Instead, Voldemort’s plan was to plant images in Harry’s head for months in order to lure Harry to the DoM.

    What was Voldemort doing in HBP? After ordering the mayhem at the beginning of the book, he dropped off the page. He surely wasn’t recruiting new followers himself (he used his minions to approach the giants). Other than drumming his fingers on the table waiting for Draco to fail, he doesn’t seem to have been doing much of anything.

    It’s true that we saw a very evil Voldemort at the beginning of DH, but his use of an AK to kill Charity makes me pull out my hair when I think of the murder of Severus Snape. The only reason Voldemort killed Snape was to assume mastery of the Elder Wand. He knew from Gregorovich that it was not necessary to kill the previous owner to establish mastery (Gregorovich had only been stunned), so Voldemort must have decided that a murder would guarantee ownership. But did Voldemort use the wand to kill Snape? No, he didn’t. He used the wand to move Nagini’s magical cage over Snape’s upper body, and then he instructed Nagini, in Parseltongue, to kill Snape, which she did. It makes no sense that, given his objectives, Voldemort didn’t employ the wand directly to kill Snape with an AK as he had Charity Burbage. But since JKR wanted to kill Snape yet needed him to live for a few minutes in order to pass on his memories to Harry, she lets Voldemort make another bizarre decision.

    Dave the Longwinded had a post a while ago on Travis’s blog about Voldemort as a failed character, and while I didn’t post in response, I did largely agree with him. JKR wants us to regard Voldemort as a brilliant, driven, and utterly evil character. Dumbledore said Voldemort was the most brilliant student ever to attend Hogwarts. The craft and cunning of the Diary Horcrux astonished Dumbledore, who is truly JKR’s most brilliant character. Even at the end of his life, one of the last things Dumbledore told Harry was not to forget that despite Voldemort’s maimed and diminished soul, his powers and mind were intact and that it would take a wizard of uncommon skill and power to defeat him. So right up until the end, JKR wants the reader to “see” the Voldemort she gave us in memories and ignore the oddly passive and imperceptive Voldemort we see in the “real time” part of the story. And I don’t think it’s a case of JKR’s wanting the reader to regard Voldemort’s lack of intelligence as a product of his decreasing humanity. Dumbledore didn’t believe that to be the case, and Dumbledore knew Voldemort better than anyone. Nor did we hear any character in the story ever make a comment that contradicted Dumbledore’s assessment.

    And is the Yaxley business another example of Voldemort’s passivity in not learning everything possible about the Fidelius Charm used by his enemies in order to exploit its vulnerabilities? The security of 12GP would have been breached in OotP if Voldemort had known that Snape could Apparate him and his Death Eaters to the door of 12GP and thereby indirectly make them all secret-holders.

    Or if “instinctive” Harry and “logical” Hermione were wrong about the FC, are we meant to draw conclusions about them because of their error at this point in the story?

    Is just a case whereby JKR allowed the mechanics of the FC to unravel because she needed a reason to cut Harry off from 12GP and altering the FC was easier than thinking up a new reason that wouldn’t implicate Snape as a traitor?

    It’s questions like this that make me say, yes, these large errors in continuity matter to the story. Flints? Amusing. Large errors in continuity? Not amusing at all. At the very least, they diminish the work. At the very worst, they make it difficult to sort out whether JKR was introducing them for a purpose that enriches the story (like the different effects of the AK) or if she was deliberately undermining her previously-established rules as the easiest way to make x, y, or z happen or if she just wasn’t paying attention.

  28. Another excellent analysis, Felicity. I’m starting to come over to your point of view. One difference, though. When I sit down to reread the books, I know all about the large errors in continuity & yet they don’t affect my enjoyment of the books very much at all.

    I think what that points to is that the books are still very masterful works but yet could’ve been even better if the large continuity errors or plot holes were dealt with more carefully.

    So, that leaves us with several questions about these plot holes & errors: Is JKR simply a poor writer & her works not worth much at all, as many seem to think? Was she just sloppy in her details in places but still a good writer? Or was it not sloppiness that led to the plot holes & continuity errors but instead her loss of focus on particular details pursuant to her focus on the story line & the characters of the story? Was any of this caused by the length of the series & the increasing demand to finish it in a timely fashion?

  29. Of course, I agree also with your questions, too, Felicity. I forgot to mention that. Sorry.

    Just another thought in regard to Voldemort understanding the Fidelius Charm. I don’t really think he would. The charm is all about fidelity, loyalty, friendship. All things Voldemort doesn’t understand & as we’ve seen, what Voldemort doesn’t understand, like love, he doesn’t pay much attention to.

    But again, that doesn’t diminish the appropriateness of your other points about the various things in the books that just don’t make sense, except as being necessary to the way Jo is telling the story. After all, when Hermione hides her parents, she doesn’t just leave them in the same place & cast a fidelius charm. She gives them false identities, modifies their memories so they won’t give themselves away, & then sends them across the world! You’d think Dumbledore would’ve taken a few more precautions with someone who is prophesied to defeat the Dark Lord!

  30. I would agree that there are some glaring errors in continuity in the saga, but the time-turner sequence is not one of them. On the contrary, I think it’s a piece of genius that taps into the essence of the paradox of time travel.

    As JKR says, the reason why Harry is able to save himself (and Black and Buckbeak) by travelling back in time is because he already did it. His soul was not sucked out by the Dementors. There are no alternate time streams – only the one. And everything that happens is part of that one time stream.

    In exploring the idea of time travel Wikipedia refers to this event as an instance of the predestination paradox:

    Types of time travel
    Time travel themes in science fiction and the media can generally be grouped into two main types and a third, less common type (based on effect—methods are extremely varied and numerous), each of which is further subdivided. These classifications do not address the issue of time travel itself, i.e. how to travel through time, but instead call to attention differing rules of the time line.

    1. The time line is consistent and can never be changed.

    1.1 One does not have full control of the time travel. One example of this is The Morphail Effect. This concept of time can be referred to as circular causation. For examples of circular causation, see Robert A. Heinlein’s story By His Bootstraps.

    1.2 The Novikov self-consistency principle applies (named after Dr. Igor Dmitrievich Novikov, Professor of Astrophysics at Copenhagen University). The principle states that if you travel in time, you cannot act in such a way so as to create a paradox.

    In 1.1, time travel is constrained to prevent paradox

    In 1.2, the Novikov self-consistency principle asserts that the existence of a method of time travel constrains events to remain self-consistent (i.e. no paradoxes). This will cause any attempt to violate such consistency to fail, even if extremely improbable events are required.

    An example which could conceivably fall into either 1.1 or 1.2 can be seen in book and film versions of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry went back in time with Hermione to change history. As they do so it becomes apparent that they are simply performing actions that were previously seen in the story, although neither the characters nor the reader were aware of the causes of those actions at the time. This is another example of the predestination paradox. It is arguable, however, that the mechanics of time travel actually prevented any paradoxes, firstly, by preventing them from realizing a priori that time travel was occurring and secondly, by enabling them to recall the precise action to take at the precise time and keep history consistent.

  31. I thank RR for making the same points I hoped to make, and for making them more eloquently. I’ve always enjoyed time travel stories, and was going to point out the two main paradigms for a time travel story, and some popular culture examples.

    1 – In the first case, “history” only happens once, and if it includes a time traveller, it always includes the times traveler. Hence, there was never a 9 o’clock hour in which Hermione was not in Class B. Similarly, there was never a moment at the lake in which future Harry had not been there to cast the Patronus.

    My favorite example of this is “Somewhere in Time”, with Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour. In that case, even before Richard Collier tried to travel back in time, he found evidence that he had already successfully done so. And, as we learn later, he had actually been the inspiration for the photograph that gave him the desire to do so in the first place.

    Another example of this paradigm, much more light-hearted, was “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure”.

    The second paradigm is the one in which one *does* potentially change history. Perhaps the best-known of this type in popular culture is the “Back to the Future” series.

    In this latter story paradigm, the paradoxes are much more obvious. The classic illustration is the man who travels back in time and accidentally kills his own grandfather, hence insuring that he can never be born, and cannot travel back to kill his grandfather, hence allowing hm to be born after all, . . . . . . .

    Actually, I’m more interested in the idea of jumping the shark with Polyjuice. Are we talking about the Gringotts break-in, or something else?


  32. What do you do when the supervillain in the story doesn’t act as intelligently as you would, under the same circumstances? What do you do when the near-omniscient/omnipotent Wise Old Man twiddles his thumbs and lets the villain recoup, when a step or two taken early enough would have prevented the loss of many lives?

    We have talked about the problems generated by all-powerful villains and heroes before (I think it was at the old SoG). Unless they act in a willfully dense way at times, there would be no story. They would forsee the consequences of every move their opponents made, and preempt them. Dumbledore would have kept the Potters safe, and destroyed Voldemort before he had a chance to kill the Potters, there would never have been a Boy who Lived. Alternatively, Voldemort would have destroyed Harry the first time he tried. Again, no story.

    Now you could argue that we don’t need Voldemort or DD to act with superhuman knowledge and intelligence – that it would be enough if they just used some common sense. And I think that is partly where you’re coming from, Felicity. And I agree. The story requires them to act in exceedingly silly ways. Some of the ways can be explained by their flaws – Voldemort doesn’t think anyone can best him and he has no concept of friendship, love or self-sacrifice; Dumbledore plays a lone hand, trusts no one, and is a manipulative schemer. But some of their actions are not determined by their characters but the requirements of the plot.

    To which I say: if you’re looking for a story in which people do act completely in accordance with their characters, and think and feel and act like real people, and the story follows character, sort of like in real life, then you’re reading the wrong book. In fact, you’re probably reading the wrong genre. That kind of writing is too messy – too messy for kids, too messy for lovers of magic and fantasy and epic tales of good versus evil. If you do want all those things, then you have to settle for some suspension of disbelief that real people could or would actually act this way.

  33. Red Rocker said, “If you do want all those things, then you have to settle for some suspension of disbelief that real people could or would actually act this way.”

    We don’t have to suspend our disbelief. Real people act this way in real life all the time! Otherwise normally brilliant people make mistakes all the time! Some of the greatest generals in the world, experts at strategy & tactics, have made completely boneheaded moves that have lost them major battles, even wars!

    Take a man who is otherwise brilliant, mature, & in complete self control & put him in a room with a woman to whom he is attracted & you will see a gibbering idiot. Love has made people do all sorts of things that go beyond common sense. Just as hatred & lust for power have made people do things that are incomprehensible when viewed rationally.

    Sure, LV & DD appear to make obvious mistakes, & they do make mistakes. But they are obvious to us because we’re outside observers & we can view things a bit dispassionately & with some hindsight.

    Are some of these things plot holes or poor characterization? Perhaps so, but it’s also not a stretch to conceive of brilliant but arrogant & manipulative people who make obvious, simple mistakes. And who also have a hard time learning from their mistakes.

  34. cigar95,

    Thanks for the vote of appreciation, but most of my comment was a direct quote from Wikipedia, so I can’t take credit for any extraordinary degree of articulateness.

    About jumping the shark with the polyjuice, I believe Felicity already answered that one: having expensive tastes – only the best orange peel, from the Talking Orange tree of Sumatra, which only blooms once every 50 years for one day, would do – Slughorn had a sideline in blackmarket potions. Who knows, he might have been the one who supplied Barty Jr. with his cache earlier on, in GoF. From the bits of information we get about the seamier side of the wizarding world, it sounds like there are quite a few low-lives prepared to sell you whatever you want – for a price.

    But the main point here is that what is initially wondrous becomes commonplace in subsequent stories, and seems much more easier to conjure – or brew – up. But that much, at least, is just like real life. Remember the first time you drove a car. The first time you saw the Rocky Mountains. The first time you saw your child. What a big deal it was. And then you get used to it, and stop boring your friends by going on and on about your experience and just pass the polyjuice.

  35. Jumping the Shark is a colloquialism that refers to something that was once great but that has declined in quality. I can’t speak for John, but for me, Polyjuice Potion jumped the shark because JKR became so reliant on it as a plot device that it became hackneyed. Look over this list and see how many times PP was used overall, but especially in DH:

    Harry Potter to Gregory Goyle in CS (Visit to Slytherin Common Room)
    Ron Weasley to Vincent Crabbe in CS (Visit to Slytherin Common Room)
    Hermione Granger to a cat in CS (Visit to Infirmary due to error using cat hair)
    Barty Crouch, Jr. to Alastor Moody in GoF (entire book)
    Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle to numerous disguises in HBP (entire book)
    Ron Weasley as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    Hermione Granger as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    Mundungus Fletcher as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    Fleur Delacour as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    Fred Weasley as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    George Weasley as Harry Potter in DH (Seven Potters Ruse)
    Harry Potter as “Cousin Barny” in DH (Bill and Fleur’s Wedding)
    Harry Potter as a Muggle man in DH (Visit to Godric’s Hollow)
    Hermione Granger as a Muggle woman in DH (Visit to Godric’s Hollow)
    Harry Potter as Albert Runcorn in DH (Infiltration of the Ministry of Magic)
    Ron Weasley as Reginald Cattermole in DH (Infiltration of the Ministry of Magic)
    Hermione Granger as Mafalda Hopkirk in DH (Infiltration of the Ministry of Magic)
    Hermione Granger as Bellatrix Lestrange in DH (Break-in at Gringott’s)

    As for the Time-Turner sequence at the end of PoA, I appreciate the links, but I’m not convinced by them. Here is the type of predestination paradox (causal loop) I can wrap my scientifically-challenged brain around:

    An historian with a time machine decides to investigate the cause of a famous fire. He travels back in time and while there, he accidentally knocks over a kerosene lantern, thereby starting the very fire his future self went back in time to investigate.

    The Time-Turner in HP is still incoherent to me. When Hermione was explaining the Time-Turner to Harry, she said, “I’ve been turning it back so I could do hours over again, that’s how I’ve been doing several lessons at once, see?” (PoA 21). So Hermione is telling us that she needed to complete one hour in Class A before using the Time-Turner to go back one hour to take Class B and perhaps use it a second time in order to take Class C. In one scene, Harry and Ron found Hermione asleep in the common room and asked her why she had missed Charms because she had been with them right to the door of the Charms class. Obviously, Hermione had used the Time-Turner to take a different class and then forgot that she still had to take Charms. That is what I mean when I say that using the Time-Turner, as JKR conceived it, must still follow a logical process in chronological order.

    Harry and Hermione, incapacitated by the dementors, would have been soul-sucked before they ever got to use the Time-Turner to go back to save themselves. It would have been possible for Dumbledore to have gone back to save them (at a hefty cost of losing the stag and Harry’s glimpse of “James”), but I don’t see how Harry and Hermione could have gone back so that Harry could cast the saving Patronus.

    Moreover, I couldn’t figure out when I read OotP why a Time-Turner had not been used by an Auror to go back in time in order to save Frank and Alice Longbottom from insanity. Why was there a whole cabinet full of Time-Turners in the MoM if no one ever used them to save MoM employees who had come to harm? JKR said no magic could restore the dead, but Frank and Alice didn’t die. And please don’t tell me the answer is that no one could use a Time-Turner to rescue Frank and Alice after the torture was complete because no one had thought to use a Time-Turner while they were being tortured.

    I agree that JKR’s “brilliant” characters can’t be perfectly brilliant, but if she tells me over and over that Voldemort is aggressive and brilliant, then she shouldn’t present me with a passive, stupid Voldemort throughout the book. As I explained in an earlier post, Voldemort couldn’t have known about the effect of Lily’s sacrificial death nor could he have expected Harry’s wand core to be a twin of his own, but the problems with his decisions and plans that I listed earlier are not in the same category. His plans are cartoon-like in their absurdity, but I believe JKR nevertheless wanted the reader to regard Voldemort as a brilliant character.

    Am I really expecting too much from this genre, Red Rocker? I was thinking of LOTR, which is one of the few fantasy books I’ve read other than HP, and I see that Tolkien lets the plot arise naturally from the characters. He doesn’t compromise his characters in the service of his plot. His wise old men, like Gandalf, do err as when he goes to Saruman with news of the One Ring, never expecting Saruman’s treachery. His characters aren’t static, but they develop in a way that is very natural and realistic. Within the rules of the fantasy world he created, we don’t find anything irrational in the action, by which I mean there is a logical consistency within the story both with plot and with character. Sauron, the Big Bad of the story, fails to thwart his own destruction because he cannot conceive of any of his adversaries choosing to destroy the One Ring instead of using it, so he never expects his enemies to slowly working their way into his own backyard to the Cracks of Doom to destroy it; furthermore, when the allies assemble their inferior forces to confront Sauron’s forces in order to divert his attention from Frodo, Sauron assumes that Aragon must be acting rashly because he is in possession of the Ring. Those are the types of errors I expect major characters to make that drive the action. Those are not the types of howlers Voldemort makes.

    I will say, however, that I’m intrigued by JKR’s use of a “predestination paradox” because it’s a cousin of the self-fulfilling prophesy. After the release of DH, Merlin over at Muggle Matters wrote about the broken mirror and the blue eye and how he was seeing in that image a type of transcendence that he had been hoping to see in the last book. IIRC, he said he (along with Harry) wanted the blue eye to belong to Albus and to be “answering” Harry from Beyond. It turned out to be Aberforth’s eye, but Merlin still argued that Aberforth nevertheless embodied the concern that Albus had for Harry, and as Albus’s brother, had a kind of trace of Albus in him, so in a way, it was figuratively transcendent.

    I agreed with him about wanting to clearly see the “transcendent” in the final book as opposed to JKR’s more standard ‘everything you need is right inside you.’ And although I didn’t see that in the last book, the prophesies, or rather the source of prophesy, is a form of the transcendent. We are never told by JKR what the source of prophesy is. We know that the seers who issue the prophesies are overcome by some prescient Entity from Beyond, speak in a voice that is not their own, and have no memory of the prophesy themselves. The prophesy foretells events that do occur.

    Now whereas the “Chosen One” prophesy was self-fulfilling in the story, the “Faithful Servant” prophesy was not. Harry forgot about the prophesy almost as soon as he heard it, and he didn’t remember it or repeat it until after Wormtail’s escape. There was nothing in Harry’s actions that were Macbeth-like in taking action based on knowledge of the prophesy that subsequently made the prophesy come true. Harry acted completely in character when he chose to spare Wormtail’s life and when he was too confused by Lupin’s transformation and Ron’s incapacitation to do anything other than tell Sirius that Wormtail had escaped. So I was thinking about how Trelawny, when she made the prophesy to Harry at the end of PoA, didn’t blurt it out in front of the whole Divination class, but rather was overcome only at the moment when Harry returned to her classroom with the crystal ball after the other students had cleared out. It seems to have been tailor-made for Harry alone. For what purpose? Could he have thwarted it had he remembered in time? Could the Time-Turner have been used again by someone like Dumbledore to go back to that scene and prevent Wormtail from escaping? Was it just a heads-up from beyond tipping off the good guys that Voldemort was going to be coming back soon? Was it predestined?

    And if the Faithful Servant prophesy was tailor-made for Harry, was the Chosen One prophesy tailor-made for both Dumbledore (in its entirety) and for Snape (partially)? For that prophesy to have come true, Voldemort needed to hear the first part (but not the second part), to have decided the prophesy pertained to Harry Potter, to have offered to spare Lily’s life. It seems to have been crucial that Snape knew of Voldemort’s plan to kill the Potters; at least we never learn of any other character who would have asked Voldemort to spare Lily’s life. Was that prophesy, given exactly at the moment it was so that Snape only heard the first part, also a bit of help from Beyond? Snape, like Harry, acted in character both by repeating what he heard and by asking Voldemort to spare Lily’s life. It was only the fact that Lily sacrificed her life after being given a chance to keep it that caused the backfired curse that destroyed Voldemort and the subsequent fracturing of his soul that turned Harry into a Horcrux. It was the fragment of soul inside Harry that enabled him to learn the whereabouts of Voldemort’s final Horcrux and hence destroy a great evil for the good of the world.

    Does anyone else see a predestination pattern that nevertheless does not restrict free will?

  36. Arabella Figg says

    I’ve only now had time to read this post and comments. And I have to say I think it one of the more brilliant and fascinating discussions at HogPro in a long time. Everyone has such amazing insights and thoughts. Mine will be pretty simple.

    First, on Harry’s and Hermione’s decision regarding Yaxley and the FC. The trio had been living hand to mouth under a great deal of stress for weeks. Their very-justified fear had made them necessarily hyper-vigilant, perhaps even a bit paranoid. This would have affected their judgment in interpretation and action. As the old saying goes, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.” Better to be safe by leaving than sorry. And, didn’t the Name Taboo decree come after the trio left 12GP?

    As for Godric’s Hollow. Perhaps the FC works in a manner of “you see, but you do not see.” In other words, the Potter house continued to exist and people saw it, but their brains didn’t register either it or the Potters (who must have gotten some great “bargains” at the grocer’s). So there was nothing to miss, and yet everything to miss.

    And, speaking of secret-keeping, how did Sirius send a broom to baby Harry if he didn’t know their location? And wouldn’t neighbors have noticed owls with letters and packages until they entered secret-keeper space (unless the owls delivered the goods to Bathilda)?

    Does anyone else think the Potters were staying in Dumbledore’s family home in GH? I thought this from the first, but have seen no comment on it.

    This probably goes outside canon, but could other charms and spells accompany the FC to make it operate differently according to the wizard who used it?

    Imf3b: if we’re comparing DH to Star Trek, now we know why Harry went shirtless in The Silver Doe! 😉

    I love time-travel stories (no matter how illogical) and their various constructs, some of which can really twist the grey matter.

    Kitties don’t time-travel, but they can seem to be across a room before they’ve taken off…

  37. Arabella, I agree that time travel, while fascinating, is hard to wrap one’s mind around. In other words, temporal physics makes my head hurt!

    Felicity wrote: “Does anyone else see a predestination pattern that nevertheless does not restrict free will?”

    I’m not sure working the predestination line is the right way to go but rather a providential pattern that sets things up in a certain way but then the outcome is dependent on the characters’ actions.

    To use your example of LOTR, early in FOTR, Gandalf explains to Frodo how the Ring came to him. He tells Frodo that when the Ring was searching for its master, looking for a way to get back to him, another power intervened. A power that wanted the Ring to be found by Bilbo & not by some wandering goblin. And if Bilbo was meant to find the Ring then Frodo was meant to have it, too. Now, did this mean that Frodo was then constrained to do what he did in bearing the Ring to Mt. Doom? Did he have no choice in the matter?

    Well, of course he had no choice! Because characters in a story never have any choice. They are only what they are written to be!

    But aside from that consideration, yes, Frodo had choices. He could’ve refused to start out for Rivendell. He could’ve thrown the Ring away, not without difficulty of course. Or he could chose to claim the Ring for his own, which is what he eventually chooses to do. And he is saved by the intervention of…providence! Gollum, desiring only evil, accomplishes that which the heroes could not do; the Ring falls into the abyss & Sauron falls.

    I think where LOTR comes off as more logically consistent than HP is in the fact that, one, there is no time travel. And two, the magic of Middle-Earth is much more restrained & kind of in the background, that is, woven into the very nature of the world, as opposed to the mechanical, technological nature of the magic in JKR’s world, which one would expect then to work logically.

    But then again the story of HP is not solved by logical consistency but by those most illogical of things: Love, self-sacrifice, & wand lore!

    Which is what will keep me coming back to the stories. Yes, Voldemort is kind of a failed villain & could’ve been used to better effect. Yes, there are problems with the Fidelius Charm. Yes, there are problems with the time travel. Yes, Jo has certain failings as a writer.

    But, no, these things don’t give me very much pause while I’m reading the books & enjoying them. Do they diminish the work? I suppose they could for some people. Could Jo have done some things better? Yes, but we’re rather stuck with it now. Is it even possible, if we would want such a thing, for her to go back & rewrite these things to tidy them up?

    I won’t even get started on the prophesy problems. That makes my head hurt, too. 🙂

  38. Appreciate and enjoy your observations, analyses and questions, Felicity. They make me think.

    I’m going to “cherry pick” the ones I take up, on account of being rushed.

    Your (rhetorical) question, whether you (meaning any of us) do expect too much from this genre is one that I wrestled with before. And like you, I turned to LOTR, which I consider the best of the genre. And there too I could see decisions taken to advance the story which didn’t make sense from the point of view of logic or common sense. Why would Gandalf leave the Ring unprotected for so long. If he even suspected that Bilbo’s ring was the One Ring, why would he just let it stay at the Shire, and then let the hobbits take off alone with the Nazgul abroad? When I think of the events at Bree, and at Wearhertop and at the river, and how close the Nazgul got to seizing Frodo and the Ring, I shake my head. It makes for stirring saga, yes. But it doesn’t make sense. And that’s not the worst of it. Aragorn and Faramir after him both make the decision to let Frodo deal with the Ring, while they go off and do heroic things.

    Now the one accusation I would never make of LOTR is that it is character driven. Few of the characters transcend their archetype (Wise Old Man, noble hero, faithful side kick, comic relief, spiteful side kick, etc). Gollum is the one character who wrestles with transcending his archetype – and is the more interesting for it. So the question doesn’t really rise for LOTR.

    Your other point which really caught my attention is why the powers of the Time Turner weren’t used to prevent other bad events. Very good questions. There are at least three different answers.

    First, the story requires some bad things to have happened, and to keep on happening, because a world in which nothing bad ever happens would not be very interesting. So JKR uses the Time Turner selectively, and there is a great inconsistency there.

    Second, you could argue that it’s the predestination paradox at work. The Longbottoms were not saved from insanity because they were not saved from insanity. That is not what happened. We almost don’t need to know why it didn’t happen – although we could come up with some interesting ways in which attempts to change that outcome didn’t work – all we need to know is that that is what happened.

    The third explanation is a corollary of the second. Dumbledore, we all know, is a great wizard. He has powers which transcend others, including the ability to do wandless magic and see through the invisibility cloak. Perhaps he also has the “power” to know things which are happening outside of his immediate sight. Thus he might have known that Harry and Hermione were back from the future and might have then acted to make it happen. Furthermore, DD might have some ability to know what would happen in the future. So at the beginning of the school year he might have “known” that Harry and Hermione would be coming back via Time Turner, and instructed McGonagall to instruct Hermione in the use of a Time Turner.

    This is of course a very conjectural line of analysis. It has two real strengths, to my mind. One is that it reflects what actually happened, not in Dumbledore’s mind but in the author’s. She knew she’d need a Time Turner later in the story, so introduced it earlier. Second, it’s consistent with the “single time-line” theory – everything that’s happened has happened, and can’t be changed.

    BTW, one of the neater depictions of this view of time travel is in Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughter House Five wherein the Tralfamodorians move freely through time, but know and accept that they can not change events, including their own final cataclysmic – and easily preventable – destruction. Amongst my favorite lines:

    Among the things Billy Pilgrim could not change were the past, the present, and the future.

  39. Red Rocker wrote, “Your other point which really caught my attention is why the powers of the Time Turner weren’t used to prevent other bad events. Very good questions. There are at least three different answers.”

    Yes, at least three different answers but even more than that, too, that we can guess at & at least put together plausible theories why the time turners worked the way they did. Indeed, quite a few essays have been written on this matter. And both your & Felicity’s comments contribute to the matter.

    So, I think it might be safe to say that if there is some confusion over the nature of time turners & how they worked out in the series, that it is not necessarily then a knock on Jo’s writing ability nor her planning of the series but of the complex nature of time travel & the various theories & contradictory opinions on it.

    That, of course, doesn’t get JKR off the hook on other points, though, so it’s necessary to still have these discussions.

  40. Arabella Figg says

    Poor Jo.

    To have “boxes and boxes” filled with an overwhelming amount of detailed material and plot points and devices, presented lovingly and beautifully for our delectation. And we circle around the feast pointing out that there are some pinfeathers on the baked turkey, and the cranberries don’t all match.

    But I don’t care. I sit down with those books and I’m gobbling away like Ron with a drumstick in each hand at a Hogwarts feast. I may question the peas, but the meal is fully satisfying.

    Still, I’m tremendously enjoying this discussion and think it’s one of the best ever. Please excuse me while I wipe my mouth.

    Oh, for a long kitty tongue to do a wicked good job of it…

  41. OK, I’m back. And ready to take on another of Felicity’s thoughtful observations.

    Do the prophecies – or at least one of them – show the power of the transcendent here on earth? And by transcendent, I assume we’re talking about a greater power, a cosmic consciousness, known elsewhere as The Force, Iluvatar and the Ainur, and most closely, God and his angels.

    Have to agree with Felicity. The Chosen One prophecy was definitely self-fulfilling. That doesn’t make it non-transcendent, just that the hand of the transcendent is fully transparent, and invisible unless you choose to see it there. The Faithful Servant prophecy, on the other hand, is a bit of a poser for many reasons. First, it does not influence Harry’s actions. He doesn’t put much faith in what Trelawney – not a very credible person at the best of times – croaks out, and certainly has no reason to link it to Voldemort. This is in line with his general incuriousity about things magical. It is also very different from Voldemort’s reaction to the first prophecy. Granted that his doom is spelled out more clearly, Voldemort does the carpe diem thing, with disastrous immediate – and long term – results. Harry ignores the prophecy about the return of his potential enemy, with acceptable long-term results.

    I think there is a message there, although it’s a bit of a reach. Take heed of the oracle and try to control your destiny, try to take out your enemy before he’s fully formed, and your actions will come back to bite you. Ignore the oracle, let destiny take care of itself, and you will live long and prosper. It’s also similar to the centaurs’ message in the books.

    Going one step further, towards that tantalizingly out-of-reach transcendent, it seems almost as if the agenda of the transcendent in throwing out these cosmic forewarnings is like a test: try to mess with the future – i.e. things you have no business messing with – and you end up under a bench at King’s Cross. Keep it simple, and you’ll get a return ticket from the land few have ever come back from.

  42. It’s very late, and I have miles to go before I sleep, but could not resist adding this.

    According to one theory of time travel, everything that will ever happen has already happened.

    We could look at that statement in two ways: as prescriptive, or as descriptive. Seen as prescriptive, then it does seem as if there is a kind of predestination which rules out free will. But seen as descriptive, there is no predestination. Just an infinte number of mathematical equations which ultimately only have one solution.

  43. I’ll skip any comments about the time travel. I remember trying to understand how that worked and it just made my head hurt. It’s odd, but whenever I read POA, it all makes sense, but when I think about how that would actually happen, I don’t get it. So I decided a long time ago not to worry about it. It’s more important that Harry (with Hermione’s assistance) is able to be at the right place at the right time to save himself, Sirius and Buckbeak. For me, it doesn’t matter how they got there. And it’s more important that he sees the embodiment of his father when he sees the stag Patronus repelling the dementors. The meaning to the story is what counts, not whether or not Rowling made sense of the time travel bit. That part (the time travel) is the sci/fi part of the book and I’m willing to leave it as just that–imaginary, made up, and until they give me my own Time Turner, I won’t believe that it can happen to anyone. So as soon as we start travelling in time, I automatically suspend any disbelief and just go along for the ride.

    You know, this is just the sort of discussion that I loved while we were still waiting for the last three books, and just the sort that I avoided once we had the last book. I’m not sure why, but the inconsistencies don’t bother me that much. Perhaps it’s because I was so pleased overall with book 7 that I’m able to look past all of that. So the details of the charms, which are really (as I see it), a device for getting to the point of the story, don’t matter so much anymore. It’s not as if we are reading about something that is based in reality. If this were historical fiction, based on real events or people, I’d be looking at all the details and complaining if they weren’t correct. But it’s fantasy. The part that becomes real for me is only in how the characters react to one another (or to the situation)–personal interaction is the only thing that has to follow something really logical for me, and Rowling does that very consistently.

    But, all that aside, I did want to comment on the Fidelius Charm as it relates to 12 Grimmauld Place and the Potter’s house in Godric’s Hollow. The Fidelius Charm doesn’t make a building invisible–it makes it impossible for someone looking in to see the people who are protected by the FC. It’s never really explained whether someone looking in the window sees no one inside or sees someone else–kind of a Witness Protection version, where the identity of a person is completely changed. I do think that it’s more than just Pettigrew who was in on the Fidelius Charm, though. Dumbledore offered to be the Secret Keeper, so in some way he must have known where they Potter’s were going to be stashed (I like the idea that it was Dumbledore’s family home and that’s why they were in Godric’s Hollow–too bad no one ever asked JKR that detail). They could have requested that Bathilda be told so someone could go to the store for food. Sirius was going to be the Secret Keeper but he and James decided to change at the last minute to Pettigrew, so Sirius knew where to go to check on them. Somehow, he had to know where they were; I just assumed that once the charm had been put in place, he and Dumbledore couldn’t actually see James and Lily there.

    But 12 GP was protected by more than the Fidelius Charm. Sirius’s dad had placed all sorts of protections on the house that were still in effect–that it was invisible had to do with it being unplottable and some other charms, rather than an effect of the Fidelius Charm. So the Death Eaters couldn’t see it because of one charm/protection, and couldn’t get inside because of another. It’s possible that they were told to watch 12 GP because Harry had inherited the house from Sirius (which Bellatrix and Narcissa must have known by that time), but because they couldn’t actually see the house, due to the protections that made it disappear (not the Fidelius Charm) they made no attempt to enter it. All they could do was hope to see Harry coming out and suddenly appearing on the sidewalk once he was outside the protective barrier.

    It didn’t really matter to me whether Harry and Hermione were right about Yaxley being able to spread the word about 12 GP and get himself and other DEs inside. It was a chance they couldn’t take, just as Dumbledore had been cautious about whether they could continue to use 12 GP once Sirius had died. If I had a great hiding place that no one else knew about, but then I knew that someone chasing me had seen it, even only once, I’d leave and not go back again. To me, that was a logical and valid choice that JKR made for the trio–their stay at 12 GP couldn’t be assured as a safe haven any longer. And they really didn’t have the time to test it to see if it was still a viable hide out.

    I’m not bothered about the seemingly silly or stupid mistakes made by Dumbledore or Voldemort either. I’ve known some brilliant people, highly intelligent, who have absolutely no common sense and who do things that leave most reasonable people shaking their heads, saying “What were they thinking?!?” Well, clearly, they weren’t.

    JKR gives us two excellent examples that intelligence alone isn’t enough. Dumbledore, with his brilliance, isn’t able to really trust anyone with all that he knows, because he doesn’t trust himself after he made such disastrous mistakes in his pursuit of power. For me, Dumbledore is a more interesting and compelling hero because of his flaws. If he were perfect, as he seemed to be in the earlier books (even though there were hints he was not), he wouldn’t be someone that we, as readers, could relate to at all.

    Voldemort was brilliant at 16, when his soul was still intact. But it’s now years later, with his soul maimed. Even worse, he has always isolated himself, while seeming to surround himself with followers. But none of them really know much about who he is.

    And in truth, he has been so focused on his quest for immortality that he hasn’t been doing the normal sorts of things in his life that would lead to his growth into a healthy mature adult. Voldemort has spent all of his time chasing after a way to ensure that he lives forever, but none of his time in understanding what life really is. In thinking himself above human faults and frailties, Voldemort has so separated himself from the rest of humanity that he doesn’t function the way an ordinary person does; his logic is his own, and he is one of those who has not a lick of common sense. We shouldn’t be surprised when he doesn’t act in ways that any of the rest of us would–he’s not like any of the rest of us. In Voldemort, JKR has given us a villain that is so narrowly focused that he shows just how scary the real world villains are–people like Hitler, Idi Amin, et al.

    I think that when we pay too much attention to the details of the Harry Potter books, we end up not being able to see overall gift that Rowling has given us. Personally, I prefer to see the forest that’s pleasing to look at and enjoy and not worry so much about the individual trees, some of which aren’t growing as straight as they might if they stood alone.


  44. A couple of quick points:

    Arabella – Wormtail had given the Potters’ location to Sirius. Sirius, after all, was the person everyone believed to be the Secret-Keeper, so for that reason alone, he needed to know where to find them.

    The name taboo was in place early on, which is how Harry, Ron, and Hermione were found by Death Eaters on Tottenham Road moments after they left Bill and Fleur’s wedding.

    When Harry was given the secret to the location of 12GP, he literally saw the house emerge between 11GP and 13GP, so the house does truly disappear.

    Red Rocker – JKR said in an interview that Dumbledore could not see through the Invisibility Cloak. He knew that Harry was arround by casting a spell to reveal the presence of humans in the area. And I don’t see evidence anywhere that Dumbledore has powers of premonition.

    I do think characters in LOTR develop, especially Frodo. Many remain static, but Frodo is deeply changed by bearing the Ring.

    Gandalf appointed the Rangers, led by Strider, to watch over the Shire and he told Frodo not to use the Ring at all if possible. It’s expained in the book that Saruman was the head of Gandalf’s Order and made ring-lore his special study. Saruman had told the others that Sauron’s Ring had no doubt long been washed out to sea (while Saruman was himself trying to find it). Gandalf was not satisfied, but he hunted down Gollum and consulted libraries for documents hundreds of years old for the history of this Ring so that he could identify it.

    Yes, there were close shaves when Frodo was on the road. Frodo was reluctant to start out, the letter Gandalf tried to send via Butterbur telling Frodo to leave immediately was three months delayed, which is why the Nazgul were in the Shire before Frodo left.

    Etc., etc. The point is that plausible reasons were given for why things happened as they did. As a story, LOTR holds together better than HP in my opinion.

    RevGeorge – Frodo was a reluctant hero. He didn’t want to bear the Ring, wishing instead to stay behind with Bilbo. He tried to give it to Gandalf, Elrond, and Galadrial at various points in the story. He accepted the task, as I read the story, because he was convinced that the task had been appointed to him.

    I used the word predestination rather than Providence for a few reasons.

    One, the Time-Turner sequence at the end of PoA is a predestination paradox (causal loop). Harry was saved by the Patronus he cast while using the device, therefore he was predestined to use the device. I’m not sure how this conflicts, if at all, with the choice and free will theme in the book.

    Second, I was thinking of LOTR and Gandalf’s comments about another power at work that didn’t want the Ring to return to Sauron. There are hints througout LOTR of a benevolent, guiding Providence. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring, and Frodo was meant to bear it. Gollum is also part of this Providential design:

    Gandalf: “I have not much hope that Gollum can be cured before he dies, but there is a chance of it. And he is bound up with the fate of the Ring. My heart tells me that he has some part to play yet, for good or for ill, before the end; and when that comes, the pity of Bilbo may rule the fate of many – yours not the least.”

    However, in HP, even though the prophesies seem to be given for reasons that ultimately help the good guys, they are delivered, not by the Providential intuitions of a kind and wise wizard like Gandalf, but through a kind of violent possession. There is a violation of free will in the way this Entity takes over a seer’s mind and body to communicate the prophesy in a loud, harsh voice. Harry first described Trelawney as having unfocused eyes and slack mouth, then said her eyes started to roll and she appeared to be having a seizure. She had no memory of the prophesy when she became herself again.

    There’s nothing benevolent in that description. The information contained in the prophesies is outside what any human could guess, especially the Chosen One prophesy. And yet the information seems to be benefiting the forces of light.

    It is Providential in HP in the sense that (other than the seer), the characters who hear the prophesy are not coerced into acting against their own natures. And as I mentioned before, Snape played an especially crucial role in the Chosen One prophesy. For instance, had those first two lines been overheard by Yaxley and had Voldemort not shared the prophesy with any Death Eaters other than Wormtail, we have no reason to believe that anyone would have asked Voldemort to spare Lily’s life. Had the offer not been made, Voldemort would have succeeded in killing the whole family.

    Moreover, Snape’s remorse at having delivered this information to Voldemort that led to Lily’s death was the reason he was in place at Hogwarts to protect Harry all those years, he was able to spy on Voldemort, and he was able to heal Dumbledore temporarily from the curse on the Peverell ring giving Dumbledore the year he needed to instruct Harry in how to kill Voldemort, etc.

    So Snape seems to have been a deliberately chosen player in the fulfilling of this prophesy. In LOTR terms, Snape specifically (no other Death Eater) was meant to hear the first two lines of the prophesy and deliver them to Voldemort.

    Anyone have thoughts about this?

  45. Felicity, those are helpful thoughts on prophecy. I was tempted to first not consider prophecy as providential, seeing as it is, as you so accurately describe, not a very pleasant thing.

    But then I thought about what would’ve happened if Voldemort would not have heard only certain portions of the prophecy, what if, as you note, it was not Snape but another Death Eater who heard it, what if Voldemort had not set any store by prophecy & had done nothing. Would no one have been able to stop the Dark Lord then? Would Dumbledore even realized that LV had horcruxes?

    If someone had managed to leap from behind a bush & AK LV, would the result of his ‘death’ have been the same? That is, he’s broken & goes into hiding but always with the possibility of coming back & never being truly defeated because his horcruxes would always be tying him to mortal life. Almost like how the Ring ties Sauron’s spirit to Middle Earth & he can never truly be defeated until the Ring, which houses the greater part of his power, is destroyed. Which reminds me of how prophecy also plays a part in LOTR. The dream that comes to Boromir & Faramir. The vision Faramir sees of Boromir’s death boat. I’m sure there’s lots of others, too.

    I’m not sure where I’m going with this but I still think prophecy can play a part in providential action. Dumbledore takes a dim view of divination as a study subject but he seems to take true prophecy seriously. He also seemed to have held Trelawney’s grandmother in high regard as a genuine seer.

  46. Arabella Figg says

    Felicity, thanks for the clarifications. But I agree with Pat about the Potters revealing their location to Sirius, not Wormtail, and her point about the many other charms placed on 12GP rendering it completely invisible. This makes me think that we can’t dollar for dollar compare 12GP with GH. I still think GH was a “they have eyes, but they do not see” situation. The indication is: “You-Know-Who could search the entire village where Lily and James were staying for years and never find them, *not even if he had his nose pressed against their sitting room window!*” (US HB page 205).

    As for prophecy, my husband pointed out that since there were true prophecies, this points to a higher being. While they may have come unwillingly and violently through the negative character, Trelawney, we don’t know how they came through the OT prophets or Balaam’s ass. We certainly know about the possesed young prophetess plaguing Paul in Acts who acted much as Trelawney. While her pronouncements came from demons, the prophecies (in true meaning–speaking truth) themselves were true.

    This argument may be weak, but I think Trelawney was a willing/unwilling conduit of higher truth. Her incapabilites prevented her from being the distinguished seer her grandmother was. Trelawney, despite her sad degradation, had enough whatever to be a rare “conduit” of prophetic truth.

    As for the predestination/providence time-travel argument. This is one of those mobius loop things. I don’t think predestination plays a part.

    Felicity, you write: “One, the Time-Turner sequence at the end of PoA is a predestination paradox (causal loop). Harry was saved by the Patronus he cast while using the device, therefore he was predestined to use the device. I’m not sure how this conflicts, if at all, with the choice and free will theme in the book.”

    Harry would never have saved himself with his Patronus if he hadn’t chosen to go back with the Time-Turner. He wouldn’t have chosen to go back unless he’d seen himself and Sirius be soul-sucked. This is one of those time-travel conundrums, but I don’t think it argues for predestination.

    Also, in time-travel lore, you have the “butterfly” principle: if you go back in time and accidentally step on a butterfly, it changes the course of history. A SF short story (Asimov? Heinlein?) dealt with this. The changes caused by Time-Turner Harry and Hermione were: the Minister’s vain visit, the executioner’s experience, Buckbeak’s escape, Harry’s Patronus, Harry and Sirius saved from soul-sucking, Dementors flee, Sirius freed and Snape’s “severe disappointment.” (Not to mention seeing themselves, another time-travel conundrum usually not allowed.)

    So what were the historical consequences? The Ministry becomes more suspicious of Dumbledore; a pumpkin is beheaded, Buckbeak does heroic deeds, Harry lives to teach the DA, whose members fight DEs in the Ministry, Sirius lives (for good or ill depends on your point of view) and Snape’s resentments further smolder. The most critical butterfly effect is that Harry lives to defeat Voldemort, and his child Albus hermetically helps heal the Slytherin/Gryiffindor divide, so beautifully laid out by John.

    As RevGeorge says, I’m not sure where I’m going with all this, but time-travel as deus ex machina is tricky.

    The kitties believe I’m predestined to meet their every need, and in a way, they’re correct…

  47. Very good points, Arabella. I think you summed up a few things I was thinking too but just couldn’t put into words.

    I think perhaps why Trelawny’s true prophecy was so otherworldly & grating was to distinguish it from her normal flim-flammery gimmicky stuff, i.e. tea leaves & palmistry & crystal balls, what not. The prophecy is set apart by its strangeness & unpleasantness to show that, wait a second, something different is going on here, something unusual, something not of this world, something real as opposed to all the silly stuff Trelawny did.

    Of course, historically speaking, Sibyl Trelawny gives her prophecies in almost exactly the same way her ancient namesake did. From the wikipedia article: “‘The Sibyl, with frenzied mouth uttering things not to be laughed at, unadorned and unperfumed, yet reaches to a thousand years with her voice by aid of the god.’ (Heraclitus, fragment 12)”

    Somewhat similar also is the Delphic Oracle who would go into a trance & speak her prophecy.

    So, perhaps Jo is not saying anything in particular about the nature of prophecy but simply, as she does with so many other things, echoing Western mythology & history.

    Makes me wonder about Trelawny’s grandmother, Cassandra. Like her historical namesake, was she forever giving true prophecies but never being believed?

  48. Thanks for your response, Arabella.

    JKR (website):

    “In other words, a secret (eg, the location of a family in hiding, like the Potters) is enchanted so that it is protected by a single Keeper (in our example, Peter Pettigrew, a.k.a. Wormtail). Thenceforth nobody else – not even the subjects of the secret themselves – can divulge the secret. Even if one of the Potters had been captured, force fed Veritaserum or placed under the Imperius Curse, they would not have been able to give away the whereabouts of the other two. The only people who ever knew their precise location were those whom Wormtail had told directly, but none of them would have been able to pass on the information.”

    So the Potters could not have given Sirius the secret themselves. Only the Secret-Keeper can reveal the whereabouts of the hidden subjects (Harry, James, and Lily). We know it can be done verbally or in writing, but it must come from the Secret-Keeper. This is why the Shell Cottage Fidelius Charm presents a problem. If the cottage was under the FC (Bill being the Secret-Keeper) before the Malfoy Manor scene, then Ron could not have given the location of the cottage to anyone. If Bill rapidly placed the cottage under the FC as soon as Luna, Ollivander, and Dean showed up with Dobby, then Harry and the others should not have been able to get there let alone have been able to see the cottage when they arrived. It doesn’t hold together because it would make no sense at all if the FC had no effect on anyone who had previously known the location of a newly secret-kept dwelling. It would mean that everyone who knew the location of Aunt Muriel’s house would still be able to find it even after the FC had been cast on it with Arthur as the Secret-Keeper.

    As for the HP prophesies, I have to point out that we only ever saw Sibyll Trelawney make them, and while she is a clownish character, I wouldn’t put her in the category of negative character. Moreover, Dumbledore held Sibyll’s grandmother Cassandra in high regard, so not all seers are fools. There is nothing in the text to indicate that Dumbledore regarded the violent manner of Sibyll’s Hog’s Head prophesy as unusual, so I conclude all seers undergo the same experience.

    I think RevGeorge hit on the right answer to this question. The key (I feel very foolish for not considering this) is in the names of the seers who are known to us, Sibyll and Cassandra, which clearly reference pagan sources.

    The young female soothsayer of Acts only started following Paul and Silus after they had been preaching for days in Philippi, so she was not revealing anything “Here are the servants of the Most High God; they have come to tell you how to be saved!”) that Paul and Silus hadn’t been saying in the public squares and marketplaces. And while I don’t want to offend PETA, Balaam’s Ass was a dumb animal, not a human prophet.

    I’m not a Bible scholar, so I could hardly give a rundown of OT and NT prophets. Even so, it goes against every Christian instinct I have to believe God would ever utterly overtake the mind and body of a true prophet to deliver a message and then leave behind a bewildered servant. Happily, I do trust St. Jerome and St. John Chrysostom on the subject, and was glad to read the following in the Catholic Encyclopedia online:

    “(c) State of the Prophet during the Vision — Ordinarily the vision occurred when the Prophet was awake. Dreams, of which the false Prophets made ill use, are scarcely ever mentioned in the case of true Prophets. Much has been said about the ecstatic state of the latter. Possibly the soul of the Prophet may have been at times, as happened to the mystics, so absorbed by the activity of the spiritual faculties that the activity of the senses was suspended, though no definite instance can be cited. In any case, we must remember what St. Jerome (In Isaiam, Prolog. in P.L., XXIV, 19) and St. John Chrysostom (In I Cor. homil. XXIX in P.G., LXI, 240 sqq.) remarked that the Prophets always retained their self-consciousness and were never subject to the disordered and degrading psychic conditions of the pagan soothsayers and pythias; and, instead of enigmatical and puerile Sybilline oracles, their pronouncements were often sublime and always worthy of God.”

    The whole section is here if anyone wants to check it:

    So RevGeorge, I do believe you are correct that JKR clearly had pagan sources in mind. In light of the Returning Servant prophesy in PoA (that’s closer to the mark than Faithful Servant), I don’t really understand all the passages in which Dumbledore insists that the Chosen One prophesy was only fulfilled because Voldemort heard part of it and acted on it. Of course, DH begins with two epigraphs, one pagan and one from a Christian tradition, so it’s not beyond possibility that she was deliberating combining pagan elements with what we might consider Divine Providence.

    Here is the prophesy Trelawney gave to Harry, a prophesy Harry promptly forgot about and didn’t remember until Wormtail had escaped:

    “The Dark Lord lies alone and friendless, abandoned by his followers. His servant has been chained these twelve years. Tonight, before midnight . . . the servant will break free and set out to rejoin his master. The Dark Lord will rise again with his servant’s aid, greater and more terrible than ever he was. Tonight . . . before midnight . . .the servant . . .will set out . . .to rejoin . . .his master. . . .”

    As we’ve already discussed, Harry did not take any Macbeth-like actions to fulfil this prophesy – it just happened as predicted. When Harry remembered the prophesy much later and told Dumbledore, Harry initially thought that by preventing Sirius and Lupin from killing Wormtail, he was at fault for allowing Wormtail to return to Voldemort. But Harry would have done exactly as he did even if Trelawney had not made the prophesy. Harry emphatically was not preventing the execution for Wormtail’s benefit. The reason Harry didn’t want Sirius and Lupin to kill Wormtail was that he didn’t think James would want his friends to become killers on his (James’s) behalf.

    So what to do with Dumbledore’s statement to Harry in HPB 23, “Do you think every prophesy in the Hall of Prophesy has been fulfilled?” Since the only two prophesies we see play out in HP both come true, I don’t know how Dumbledore can be so sure. Is Dumbledore wrong? And is Dumbledore correct in saying the Chosen One prophesy would never have been fulfilled had Voldemort not known of it?

    After thinking about it more, it’s clear that JKR wanted the Chosen One prophesy to play out in a self-fulfilling manner. But say Voldemort had never heard of the prophesy and Yaxley had captured the Potters for no other reason than that they were members of the Order and working against Voldemort. What if this had happened:

    1) Yaxley captured the Potters and took them to Voldemort
    2) Voldemort decided to kill the three of them
    3) Yaxley asked Voldemort to spare Lily for unsavory purposes
    4) Voldemort killed James and told Lily to stand aside
    5) Lily begged Voldemort to spare Harry instead
    6) Lily threw herself in front of the AK Voldemort aimed at Harry

    Wouldn’t the Chosen One prophesy have still played out?

    Back to “small ‘p'” providence. Since both prophesies we do see in HP ultimately played out for the betterment of wizardkind (the Returning Servant prophesy heralds Voldemort’s return to a form in which he can be defeated by Harry by dint of the events that had occurred as a result of the Chosen One prophesy), does that suggest all the other prophesies were given for the benefit of the wizarding world in some way?

    As you can see, I’m chewing on these prophesies, and given JKR’s explicitly Christian references, I want to know if she fitted the HP prophesies into an overarching theological cosmology in the way that Gandalf’s prophetic intuitions and Galadrial’s mirror are fixed in the theological cosmology of Tolkien’s LOTR.

    It’s easy to see the designs of Providence working throughout LOTR. We’ve already touched on Gandalf’s intuitions about the “other power” at work in the finding and bearing of the One Ring (Bilbo was meant to find it, Frodo was meant to bear it, Gollum has yet some part to play, etc.). Moreover, Tolkien tightly associates the designs of Providence with theological virtues (especially mercy in the sense of sorrow or pity for one in distress) demonstrated by the characters. It is when the characters demonstrate Christian virtue that they serve the designs of Providence.

    Bilbo was able to possess the Ring for many years with minimal harm because his possession of the Ring began with an act of mercy (he stayed his hand out of pity for Gollum) whereas Gollum, though not wholly ruined, was greatly influenced by the Ring because his possession had begun with an evil act (murdering his cousin).

    Through Gandalf and Frodo’s discussion of Bilbo’s mercy toward Gollum, Frodo (who had wished that Bilbo had killed Gollum when he had the chance) begins to understand the value and power of mercy and later shows mercy to Gollum.

    Gollum, responding to Frodo’s mercy, wants to help Frodo (Smeagol surfaces) and guides Frodo and Sam through the Marshes of the Dead, gathers food for the hobbits, etc. Gollum’s mistaken belief that Frodo has betrayed him brings his darker side back to the surface. Gollum sets the hobbits up with Shelob, but nevertheless, Gollum’s plans are thwarted and Frodo experiences a figurative death and resurrection. Despite Gollum’s treachery, the hobbits break into Mordor.

    Upon hearing Faramir’s account of his meeting with Frodo, Sam, and Gollum, Gandalf said to Pippin, “Yet my heart guessed that Frodo and Gollum would meet before the end. For good, or for evil. . . . Treachery, treachery I fear; treachery of that miserable creature. But so it must be. Let us remember that a traitor may betray himself and do good that he does not intend. It can be so, sometimes.”

    And ultimately, Gollum is at the Crack of Doom where his concupiscence results in the fulfillment of Frodo’s task when Frodo failed. As Frodo said to Sam, “But do you remember Gandalf’s words: Even Gollum may have something yet to do? But for him, Sam, I could not have destroyed the Ring. The Quest would have been in vain, even at the bitter end. So let us forgive him!…”

    Interestingly, mercy is also mentioned in the Harry-Wormtail plotline. In the Shrieking Shack, Wormtail said, “James would have understood, Harry . . . he would have shown me mercy . . . “. But Harry didn’t precisely show mercy to Wormtail. When Harry told Sirius and Lupin not to kill Wormtail but to give him to the dementors at Azkaban instead, Wormtail thanked Harry, but Harry replied, “I’m not doing this for you. I’m doing this because—I don’t reckon my dad would’ve wanted them to become killers—just for you.” (PoA19) This is not sorrow or pity for one in distress.

    In DH, when Wormtail seized Harry by the neck, Harry said, “’You’re going to kill me?’ Harry choked, attempting to prize off the metal fingers. ‘After I saved your life? You owe me, Wormtail.’” And then, “The silver fingers slackened. . . . He saw the ratlike man’s small watery eyes widen with fear and surprise: He seemed just as shocked as Harry at what his hand had done, at the tiny, merciful impulse it had betrayed, and he continued to struggle more powerfully, as though to undo that moment of weakness.” And “Pettigrew was reaping his reward for his hesitation, his moment of pity . . . “(DH23)

    I loathed this resolution to the life debt. I wanted the life debt to inspire some consciousness of virtue remaining in Gryffindor Wormtail in a way that would be connected to a real opportunity for redemption. It’s certainly clever to use Voldemort’s silver hand as a means by which Wormtail kills himself (if Snape is a triple spy, Wormtail is a triple traitor), but yet I don’t have a sense of theological virtue being played out in this resolution. JKR tells us that Wormtail experienced a moment of pity, and yet it seems more likely that he felt a twinge of guilt at Harry’s accusation.

    I don’t deny that the Christian elements in the books are very obvious, especially in DH. Moreover, it was clear throughout the series that she believes strongly in the major themes of Judeo-Christian philosophy (free will, sacrificial love, right and wrong, good and evil, redemption, forgiveness, mercy, “doing unto others,” life after death, etc.), themes that are reinforced through the alchemical (personal transformation) and traditional Christ imagery woven through the books.

    And I’ll agree that it’s unfair to expect HP and LOTR to be Christian novels in the same way because JKR and JRRT did not write the same book and do not share the same beliefs. JRRT was a convinced and devout Roman Catholic, and he described his own story as a fundamentally religious and Catholic work. And boy howdy is it. I’m far less certain of JKR’s precise beliefs. As she said in the “Veil” interview in the latest HogPro post, “Do I believe you go on? Yes, I do believe you go on. I do believe in an afterlife, although I’m absolutely doubt-ridden and always have been but there you are.” According to reports, she may be a member of the CoE, but she certainly isn’t a convinced orthodox Anglican on the level of CS Lewis.

    In a post DH interview, she said her religious doubts are evident throughout the story. I couldn’t help but notice that none of the official religious characters in the books reflect well on the institutional Church. While there are no living characters who represent any kind of corporate worship, the jolly Fat Friar is the Hufflepuff house ghost and “a group of gloomy nuns” attended the Deathday Party in CoS. I’d wondered what Rowling might be saying by making the friar and nun ghosts since these are all formally-professed religious who presumably had extensive instruction in Christian theology, and yet they chose half-lives as ghosts rather than “go on.”

    Christians at a minimum believe that Jesus Christ became man to suffer and die for our sins to enable us to share the afterlife with God in Heaven. As Christ said to the Penitent Thief: “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Yet the Fat Friar and gloomy nuns chose to stay behind in a pale imitation of their living selves. Why did Rowling show us examples of Christians who had extraordinarily close contact with Christian theology and yet apparently drew no strength or understanding from it? She didn’t have to use religious ghosts at all, but she did, and I can’t help but be reminded of her July 13, 2000 CBCNewsWorld interview in which she said the church and Christian spirituality did not help her to deal with her mother’s death.

    BTW – The only other religious figures we see in the books are in the paintings. One is a group of “drunk monks” near the Charms corridor (HBP17) and the other is a group of “sinister-looking” monks on the staircase leading to the North Tower (PA6). I don’t assume these paintings reflect an anti-Catholic bias since the Church of England still has active orders of habited nuns running around the UK and an active Franciscan community. I can’t help but be intrigued by her decision to include these negative images of people who clearly represent the “conventional organized religion” that in her interview she expressed having problems with.

    Which brings me back the questions of what JKR might be saying to us relative to the source of prophesy in HP, the manner in which the prophesies are delivered, and the way in which they are fulfilled (or not according to Dumbledore).

  49. Arabella Figg says

    Felicity, I’m amazed and impressed at the amount of thought and work you’ve put into this.

    I thought about it over the weekend and realized PoA does reveal that Wormtail told Sirius. It was in pondering motivation–why would Wormtail reveal this to Sirius, who felt himself too risky. Wormtail was, of course, setting Sirius up for the Potter and Pettigrew murders. And he, of course, revealed it to Voldemort, thus the GH attack.

    However, Dumbledore had to have known, too. How else was Hagrid dispatched so quickly to the right place? This is why, in combination with location, I believe DD offered the Potters his own GH home. So, it had to be DD who told Bathilda (so she could help the Potters), since he wasn’t in on the Secret-Keeping business.

    I used the wrong word–negative–about Sybil. By negative I meant that she was not a respected character in WizWorld. She got by, barely, on her grandmother’s reputation. DD only hired her because of the prophecy, wanting to protect it and her. Her student “fans” are presented as foolish. Both DD and McGonnagal treated her sympathetically, while not endorsing her skills.

    As for the prophcies. There is plain prophecy–speaking truth, such as the young girl in Acts and Balaam’s ass. And there is foretelling prophecy, such as Sybil’s and the OT prophets. I too believe God would not violate his servants. I agree with you that Sybil’s methodology was probably normal in WizWorld, and her foretelling prophecies were delievered in a manner to set them apart from her generic silly ones.

    I also agree to disappointment over Wormtail’s fulfilling the life debt. It seemed as if it were done for him and he was unwilling. I also wanted to see him voluntarily pay the debt, in an act of redemptive conscience.

    It has been much discussed that Harry showed mercy to Peter in the Shrieking Shack. This continues to not set entirely well with me. Giving Peter over to Azkaban and the Dementors was less merciful than death (explained in PoA). It seems Harry was rather showing mercy to Sirius and Remus, in preventing them from becoming murderers, because James wouldn’t have wanted it. Peter, though, seemed to regard it as mercy, perhaps because he knew it gave him a chance of escape.

    Just a few thoughts before i change the litter box…

  50. as far as the shell cottage issue though someone else already made this point but posts afterwards make me see that no one read it

    how it is written in the book leaves room for the fidelius charm to have been put in place while Harry is digging the grave.

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