Where Does She Get Those Ideas?

by Cassandra Vert

J.K. Rowling draws on a variety of sources for ideas for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Fans of literature love tracing the various influences that may have influenced their favorite books, and Harry Potter fans are no different. With the publication of OotP, readers around the world are diving into mythology, astronomy, French, and other sources J.K. Rowling is believed to have drawn from in the past to trace the origins of new character names and new plot twists. Here are a few possible sources of her inspiration:

Meet the Black Family

In OotP, we learn that most of the Black family prided itself on following the beliefs of evil Lord Voldemort. We meet Sirius’ evil cousin Bellatrix, and we hear of many other relatives, including a brother, Regulus. Sirius, Bellatrix, and Regulus are all names of stars.

The star Regulus is called “prince” and “the heart of the lion,” positioned in the heart of the constellation Leo, and is the 25th brightest star. Regulus was the favored son in the Black family. He went so far as to join Voldemort’s supporters, the Death Eaters, although he was killed when he changed his mind. Still, he upheld the family honor, warped though it was.

Sirius is called the “dog star,” as it’s the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius Black rebelled against his family and joined the good guys, the Order of the Phoenix. As a result, he was scorned by his family: “in the doghouse.” However, as if to reaffirm that most of the rest of the world would hold him in higher regard, Sirius is the brightest star in the sky. Of course, Sirius Black can also change into a black dog.

The star Bellatrix is called “the warrioress” and the “Amazon star” and is the 22nd brightest star. Despite her relatively brief appearance in OotP, the character Bellatrix is a fierce “warrior” Death Eater on several occasions and arguably the most effective. In addition, of course, the name “Bellatrix” has an irresistible aural appeal: “bella,” Italian for “beautiful,” combined with “tricks.” Sirius’ cousin Bellatrix is indeed tricky and was once attractive.

The Legend of Dame Le Strange

local legend from the Norfolk coast in southeastern England provides a wealth of references from several Harry Potter books, including quite a few from OotP. Harry Potter fans will immediately recognize the name Le Strange … the Lestranges (sic) are Death Eaters who spent the first four books languishing in Azkaban prison. Near the end of the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, a newly resurrected Lord Voldemort praises the Lestranges and promises to give them great honor for their loyalty. In OotP, the Lestranges escape from Azkaban, and Madame Lestrange turns out to be none other than Sirius’ cousin Bellatrix.

In the Norfolk legend, Dame Armine Le Strange was mistress of Old Hunstanton, also known as Old Moated Hall, and went on to haunt it. In OotP, Sirius’ mother (whose first name we never learn, unfortunately) lived in the family home in Grimmauld Place and went on to haunt it loudly and rudely through a painting in the front hall that was permanently affixed to the wall by magic.

In the Norfolk legend, Dame Armine’s most prized possession is a Persian rug, which she made her son promise to leave in the drawing room after her death. In the Black house, affixed to a wall in the drawing room, is a tapestry on which is inscribed the Black family tree.

According to the legend, instead of leaving the rug alone, he has it boxed up and put in the attic. In OotP, Sirius believes nasty house elf Kreacher to be in the attic when he is actually out passing information to Sirius’ evil cousin.

In the Norfolk legend, nothing happens to the son, but a later mistress of the house, Emmeline, finds the rug. In OotP, Emmeline Vance is one of the elite Guard of witches and wizards who comes to escort Harry from the Dursley house, Harry’s home away from Hogwarts. She is described simply as “a stately looking witch in an emerald green shawl” (OotP 49). She never appears again in OotP.

In the Norfolk legend, Emmeline decides to cut up the Persian rug and distribute the pieces to the poor. When Emmeline returns, she sees the ghost of a lady in grey. In the Harry Potter world, the Grey Lady is the house ghost of Ravenclaw. (In fairness, other grey lady ghosts appear in other legends.)

When Emmeline tells her husband about the rug and the apparition, he realizes it is his ancestor Armine and convinces Emmeline to recover the rug pieces, and she even has them sewn back together. “However, it appears that Armine was not appeased and continued her nightly haunting, making a thorough nuisance of herself.” No one who has read OotP could say that Mrs. Black did not make a nuisance of herself.

Like most good writers, J.K. Rowling started with familiar ideas and put them together in a fresh and original way. These sources may be among many from which she culled ideas.