26 Thoughts While Rereading “Tales of Beedle the Bard”

On December 13, 2007, J.K. Rowling unleashed The Tales of Beedle the Bard onto the real world, publishing the very stories that she had tantalizingly mentioned in Deathly Hallows. To celebrate the Tales‘s eighth anniversary, I, a lover of fairy and folk tales, have reread the thin anthology of stories and accordingly, documented my reaction for your reading pleasure:

1. I love that the book credits Hermione as the official translator of the stories from Ancient Runes.

2. Based on JKR’s description of Beedle the Bard, he looks an awful like Dumbledore in my mind (“he had an exceptionally luxuriant beard”).

3. Tales of Beedle the Bard came out six years after Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, but Dumbledore dots his footnotes with so many references to the textbook that one would think they were published simultaneously.

4. Fascinatingly, JKR references her series as “seven volumes on the life of Harry Potter,” a good history source for the Second Wizarding War. Additionally, her treatment of Tales via footnotes interestingly implies Harry, Dumbledore, etc., aren’t entirely fictional.

5. “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” reads most like a fable, out of the five tales. You’ve got your ne’er-do-well son who learns a sorely needed lesson, via anthropomorphic objects, about humanity; you’ve got a dearly departed father; and you’ve got a whole cast of nearby peasants. It’s also the grossest – can you imagine being perpetually followed by a pot that keeps throwing up on you? Eurgh.

6. Man, the previously wicked son in “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” really has no qualms about keeping secret the source of his powers, does he?

And with the foul pot still bounding along behind him, he ran up the street, casting spells in every direction.

7. Oooh, we get a little bit of background information on Nearly Headless Nick. Sad information, in retrospect, but ripe for analysis:

It is true, of course, that genuine witches and wizards were reasonably adept at escaping the stake, block, and noose… However, a number of deaths did occur: Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington (a wizard at the Royal Court in his lifetime, and in his death-time, ghost of Gryffindor Tower) was stripped of his wand before being locked in a dungeon, and was unable to magic himself out of his execution.

Was “wizard at the Royal Court” an official position? I assume the Royal Court was a Muggle institution – but what crime did he commit that was so heinous as to banish him to the dungeon, wandless, sentenced to execution? Was it normal procedure to strip an accused warlock of his wand? Why did he, specifically, become the ghost of Gryffindor Tower?

8. Woof, wizards are incredibly vulgar when it comes to insults hurled at pro-Muggle witches and wizards: Mudwallower? Dunglicker? Scum-sucker?!

9. Good to know that Malfoy’s entire bloodline is ruthless and vile: His 17th century ancestor, Brutus, was shockingly prejudicial; an editor of an anti-Muggle periodical, lovingly titled Warlock at War; had no issue with sneering down at Squibs, seeing them as useless to society as so-called Muggle-lovers; and predated his descendant Lucius to call for the removal of a disagreeable person or thing. Ah, the Malfoys, what a wonderful brood.

10. I think Mrs. Bloxam – an inane storyteller who scrubbed Beedle’s tales of any violence, wickedness, and unwholesomeness in her rewrite – is supposed to be a satire of Beatrix Potter or of the Peter Rabbit books. Many people assume Peter Rabbit is all hopping bunnies, but there’s a whole history of Beatrix Potter’s writing as being much more straightforward, dry, and potentially psychedelic than expected or assumed.

11. Tales of knights on quests get me so good. (My favorite Arthurian series is Gerald Morris’s The Squire’s Tales, which is a goofy, tongue-in-cheek adaptation and retelling.) Therefore, I was an immediate fan of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” with its inclusion of a weary-looking knight who oh-so-happens to get pulled into the adventure.

12. Did anyone else get flashbacks to the third task in the Triwizard Tournament as the four protagonists had to triumph against the enchanted garden in “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”? With the garden’s “creepers”? And the three puzzling obstacles?

13. JKR herself illustrated the stories, so there must be significance to the Deathly Hallows sign she inscribed upon the four-tiered fountain at the end of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” I just can’t understand what – unless it was to clarify the seemingly magical quality of the fountain, what with the signs of the omega and an all-seeing eye drawn on the tiers above.

14. Hysterically – and comfortingly – Hagrid wasn’t the worst most reckless Care of Magical Creatures professor in Hogwarts history. That award definitely goes to Professor Silvanus Kettleburn, who ended his Hogwarts career with only one and a half of his original limbs.

15. Dumbledore is the sassiest of sass masters:

This exchange marked the beginning of Mr. [Lucius] Malfoy’s long campaign to have me removed from my post as headmaster of Hogwarts, and of mine to have him removed from his position as Lord Voldemort’s favorite Death Eater.

16. “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is, hand’s down, my favorite of Beedle’s tales. All of the elements are terrific: a cold, self-serving protagonist who literally locks away his heart, a seemingly perfect plan to extinguish all weakness, a palatial castle that is reminiscent of the one in “Beauty and the Beast,” a beautiful, accomplished, self-aware lady who is both repulsed and fascinated by the main warlock, a locked-up heart that has grown feral and aggressive, and an unbelievable turn of events, where it’s revealed witches and wizards can casually slice open their chests to remove and replace inner organs.

Ah. Maze. Ing.

17. Additionally, Dumbledore’s commentary for “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is analytically on-point.

18. The visual image of twigs, freshly snapped from the arms of trees, subsequently used as wands, is hysterical. As is the term “Brigade of Witch-Hunters,” which immediately brought to mind the movie Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, despite the horrifying realization that the foolish King didn’t think twice about setting rabid dogs on otherwise-innocent witches and wizards.

19. It’s so interesting the emphasis JKR places upon the strict division of life and death, both throughout the series and in Tales of Beedle the Bard.

20. Apparently, the Cruciatus Curse feels like “an axe stroke in your own side, until you…wish you could die of it!” This is an interesting description for excruciating pain.

21. Finally, we get to “The Tale of the Three Brothers”!

22. “Wine-sodden” might be my new favorite way to describe that particular state of being.

23. Dumbledore’s interpretation of the tragically lost fiancée who was brought back to existence, thanks to the Resurrection Stone, is incredible and hearkens to the Greek myth of Orpheus:

Beedle’s story is quite explicit about the fact that the second brother’s lost love has not really returned from the dead. She has been sent by Death to lure the second brother into Death’s clutches, and is therefore cold, remote, tantalizingly both present and absent.

24. Wandlore, as discussed in “The Tale of Three Brothers” commentary, is thrilling. There’s no other word for it than “thrilling.” Dumbledore goes more into depth about the material wands are made of, elder wood’s unlucky association in the world of wandmaking, the superstitions that revolve around the craft, laws that were enacted to basically keep wizards alive, and the extent of wand allegiance. The wizarding world JKR created back in 1997 succeeds because of world-building just like this.

25. JKR tells us exactly how Dumbledore managed to render himself invisible during one of Harry’s desperate visits to the Mirror of Erised in Sorcerer’s Stone in a footnote within his commentary for “The Tale of the Three Brothers”:

[Invisibility cloaks are not, generally, infallible. They may rip, or grow opaque with age, or the charms placed upon them may wear off, or be countered by charms of revealment. This is why witches and wizards usually turn, in the first instance, to Disillusionment Charms for self-camouflage or concealment. Albus Dumbledore was known to be able to perform a Disillusionment Charm so powerful as to render himself invisible without the need for a cloak.]

26. Tales concludes with a brief note from a Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne, co-chair of a charity organization named “Children’s High Level Group.” Rather than being completely fictional, a quick Internet search revealed that the CHLG, which works to benefit children in desperate need of a voice, is either a simple nod to or a legitimate precursor to JKR’s very real charity group: Lumos.

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Whew, and we’re out! How long has it been since you, dear readers, read or reread The Tales of Beedle the Bard? Do you remember your impression of the stories when they first came out? What are your reactions to them now, as adult fans of Harry Potter? Discuss in the comments below!