R.A.B. is Not a Person
An original editorial by Ben
While much of the established criticism of Half-Blood Prince has led to the choice of
Regulus Black for R.A.B., along with numerous other witches and wizards, perhaps
attention should be re-directed, yet again, to Melissa's and Emersons interview
with Ms. Rowling:
ES: Whats one question you wished to be asked and what would be the answer to
JKR: Um - [long pause] - such a good question. What do I wish I could be asked?
[Pause] Today, just today, July the 16th, I was really hoping someone would ask me
about R.A.B., and you did it. Just today, because I think that is - well, I hoped
that people would.
MA: Is there more we should ask about him?
JKR: There are things you will deduce on further readings, I think - well you two
definitely will, for sure - that, yeah, I was really hoping that R.A.B. would come
No matter how encouraging her response might seem, it is tactful; all references to
R.A.B. are not gender-specific. When Melissa and Emerson proceed to ask Ms. Rowling questions concerning Regulus Black, she switches accordingly to masculine
pronouns. And in the previous mention of R.A.B. as a candidate for Regulus Black,
Melissa and Emerson use he (Can we figure out who *he* is, from
what we know so far?), but Rowling skillfully uses the equivocal neuter
pronoun, that: Well, I think *that* would be, um, a fine
Pointing this out may give more encouragement to those wishing to advance the claim
that R.A.B. is a woman, but the purpose of shedding light on Rowlings use of
neuters is to open the possibility that R.A.B. is not a person at all, but rather a
message. Specifically, an acronym, like O.W.L. (Ordinary Wizarding Level), N.E.W.T.
(Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests), or the more common P.S. (post script) that
occurs at the end of letters.
This is a theory that has been in hiding for some time, partly because theories which favor Regulus as R.A.B. are so abundant (matched only by dissenters
favoring another wizard, male or female) and partly because the possibilities of
R.A.B. serving as an acronym or abbreviated message are endless.
At the moment, however, I am taking an Introduction to Childrens Literature course,
and the class was assigned to read Toms Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce, which
was published in 1958. In it, Tom is sent away to live with his aunt and uncle in
their flat because his younger brother Peter has the measles. Soon after Tom goes
to stay with them, he discovers a grandfather clock in their downstairs hall which
enables him to go back in time. When he tries to discuss this with his aunt and
uncle, they are predictably dismissive. Angry and determined, Tom writes a letter
to his brother, Peter, explaining what happened. The text continues to read thus:
When he had finished his letter, Tom wrote across the top the initials: B.A.R.
They stood for Burn After Reading. All Toms letters to Peter, from now on, bore
(pg. 33-34, from the Harper Trophy edition)
This is relevant only if one keeps in mind how well-read Rowling is. If Toms
Midnight Garden was published in 1958, chances are that she has read the book; but
even if she has, chances of B.A.R. occurring in a letter and R.A.B. occurring in a
letter (one written by a boy named Tom and one addressed to a man formerly known as
Tom) are entirely coincidental.
Or are they? (Sorry, overdramatic.)
At best, Toms Midnight Garden may be treated as source material, if, in fact,
Rowling ever read it. As far as I have read in interview transcripts, Rowling has
not mentioned TMG, which regrettably bodes ill for the theory that R.A.B. is loosely
based on B.A.R. On the other hand, it does advance the possibility that R.A.B. is
not an initialed name, but a message, a motto, or even directions, especially if it
is remembered in the scene we first encounter R.A.B.
At the end of the chapter The Flight of the Prince, Harry realizes that
the locket is a counterfeit and he reads the note left inside. Harry is also reading
the note next to Dumbledores dead body. A phrase that most of us are familiar
with is R.I.P., which stands for Requiescat In Pace, or Rest In Peace (the initials
in the Latin conveniently corresponding to the English initials), and which is
commonly spoken over the body of a dead loved one or engraved on a beloveds
headstone. Might we have a similar motto on our hands? Perhaps in Latin?
Incidentally, another instance of Rowling using a phrase in a foreign language is on
the Black Family Tree (oh no, my theory crumbles at another mention of Black):
Toujours Pur, French for Always Pure.
One could conflate message and directions, if one considers Toms B.A.R., Burn
After Reading, in his letters to his brother, Peter. In Toms Midnight Garden,
Peter understands these instructions: Peter read the letter, and then burnt it, as he must burn all Toms correspondence now
It is strange that the author of the note in Half-Blood Prince states, I want you
to know that it was I who discovered your secret, but then goes on to leave the
initials R.A.B. instead of a name. Unless, like Tom and Peter in TMG, the initials
are a message or instruction or insult of some sort that only the sender and the
Its a shame that Rowlings use of the neuter with regard to R.A.B. is not
more abundant. This is due to the shocking fact that the only interview with
Rowling to give birth to a question about R.A.B. since the release of Half-Blood
Prince was the Mugglenet/TLC one. Admittedly, however, interviews with Rowling
post-HBP were scarce due to work on the final novel. At this stage, Rowling is not
likely to give any interviews until after the release of Deathly Hallows, by which
point we will have found out about R.A.B. Until then:
To J. K. Rowling
I know I will be dead long before you read this
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your acronym.
I have Read All Books so far and intend to re-read them as soon as I can.
I face Deathly Hallows in the hope that when you meet your deadline,
I may be mortal once more.
Posted by: Rachael