Harry Potter and the Documentary Hypothesis

by Robbie Fischer

I would be the last person in the world to suggest there can be too much of a good thing — such as enjoying every page of Harry Potter over and over and over! And when there are still so many questions to be answered, I say: speculate, speculate, speculate! But where does entertainment end and obsession begin? Where does reverent analysis become absurd? Take for example, this facetious essay, showing what might happen — way, way in the future — if we start taking Harry’s world so seriously that it stops being fun!

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Until recently, believers had always taken for granted that the entire Harry Potter series was written by a single author, whose name was actually J.K. Rowling. Admittedly there have been some dissenting views, but they were never tolerated for long. In the Year of Harry Potter 586, for example, Lothar of Noodlechop was expelled from the 600th annual Accio Debauchio held in Chicago, after Lothar refused to back down from his doctrine that J.K. Rowling was actually the pen name of the Prince of Wales. And in YHP 712, a disciple who called herself DorcasMeadowes8943385 was required to make a pilgrimage to Edinburgh with a broomstick lashed across her shoulders, after teaching that the Seven Books of Rowling were not meant to be interpreted as literal history. It is only in these more open-minded times that the right to ask such questions, without being flogged in public, has been recognized.

Scholars are generally agreed that the door to “critical scholarship” was opened by Dr. Les Moore’s seminal book, Harry Potter and the Oral Tradition. Published in YHP 1127, and revised the following year, Moore’’s treatise argued that there was not actually a historical person named J.K. Rowling — or at least, that she was not one person, but several people who lived at different times in the early centuries YHP. The effect on the Harry Potter community was explosive! But since people were reading the books with more interest than ever, the Webmasters were hesitant to condemn this new thought.

Building on Moore’’s work, Dr. Augusta Blowhard published Unfogging the Past: or, Will the Real JKR Stand Up? in 1129. Blowhard’’s chief contribution was to distinguish between the early pre-redaction sources “Y” and “H.” In Blowhard’’s view, the fact that Voldemort was sometimes called one, and sometimes the other, was compelling evidence that the work of two different authors, or oral traditions, was combined together at an early stage in the development of the Harry Potter canon. Source “Y” was responsible for all the times Voldemort was called “You-Know-Who,” and was therefore preoccupied with the concept of secret knowledge and arcane magic. For example, the Mirror of Erised and the whole idea of the Fidelius Charm were supposed to have come from “Y.” “H,” on the other hand, uniformly applied the title “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named,” and was responsible for the thread of prohibitions and taboos throughout the series, such as Trelawney’’s distress at having thirteen people sit down at one table, and Hermione’’s nagging against Harry breaking into Umbridge’’s office.

Further scholarship found that Blowhard’’s distinctions were not sufficient to explain all of the diverse attitudes and views woven into the Harry Potter tapestry. Dr. Edmund Skink in 1130, and independently Dr. Blodwen Filibuster in 1131, both posited a third “T” source, explaining the occurences of the name “Tom Riddle” in reference to Voldemort. This source was held responsible for all of the phenomenological explanations for the things that, elsewhere in the canon, were simply written off as “magic.” For example, the “T” source was the one Skink and Filibuster held responsible for all the long explanations that Dumbledore delivered at the end of each book, a rationalizing trait represented by calling Voldemort by his all-too-human birth name, Tom (which, indeed, is what Dumbledore calls him). However, Skink and Filibuster disagreed on whether T came from an earlier or a later date, in relation to Y and H.

In 1134, the Rev. Uriah Schmaltz produced his 11-volume landmark book, The Life of Harry Potter, which (among other things) made an invaluable distinction between the redactor THY and a subsequent traditor named D, whose references to Voldemort as the “Dark Lord” represented a shift in the early community’’s attitude, away from the liberal, egalitarian views that typified the early community, toward a more centralized authority. At that stage of redaction, the positive aspects of the Ministry of Magic were inserted, to soften the negative image portrayed by the earlier contributor. Examples of D’’s influence include the sympathetic portrait of Cornelius Fudge in Prisoner of Azkaban, and the character of the Aurors such as Kingsley Shacklebolt. Schmaltz also suggested that references to McGonagall as “stern but fair” were also evidence of a D source. It was therefore a review of Schmaltz’s work by Honorius Bigglesconk in Muggle Quarterly that coined the fateful name of the “YTHD Hypothesis.”

The name has stuck ever since, though the theory’s development did not stop there. In 1137, Dr. Hieronymus Chalk spotted the likelihood of an M source (named after the “Morsmordere” incantation that conjured the Dark Mark), which added the Death Eaters and their symbol at a much later date than Y, T, and H. The M source seemed to have a fixation on food; all references, for instance, to treacle tarts, Yorkshire pudding, and even pumpkin pasties had to have dated from later than the so-called “proto-canon,” which dated from a time in the mid-21st century when history records a major, worldwide dieting craze, the results of which included YHP 238’’s Miss U.S.A. being the first winner to starve to death during her reign. Chalk’s very persuasive conclusion was that the M source must have been added to the canon during a second redaction by the “early mid-community” of the late 200s, when a reaction against the “twiggy look” had swung society so far in the other direction that most countries offered a tax deduction for “percent body fat.”

Then there was Dr. Lowell Howell’s moving dissertation of 1138, titled Who Was Harry Potter, After All? Not only was it a deep personal expression of the end of one phase of Harry Potter fandom giving way to the beginning of another, but it also explained that both the M source and the D source were subsequent to an S source (as in “Shipping”), which fulfilled the desires of the more hormonal members of the reading community by giving them a reason to flame each other in the forums without intruding upon the orthodoxy required by the Webmaster authorities. Ron and Hermione’’s internecine bickering was dated, according to Howell’’s 1139 treatise But Who Was He Really?, to the period during the early 300s (YHP) when Uruguay conquered and occupied Europe after their First Lady fell out with the Queen of Denmark over whether or not Hermione was good enough for [***Deleted for spoiler reasons***].

And now, most recently, we read in the Journal of Redaction Criticism, Vol. 77, No. 8, Dr. Lingenberry Dworak’’s sniping critique of the whole movement titled, “YTHDM, LMNOP, LSMFT, and ABCBBD: Why the Documentary Hypothesis is a Load of Bollocks.” With his characteristic lack of charm, Dworak exposed some areas of the theory that do, in all honesty, need some touching up, but in the process he also added not one, but two new sources to the alphabet soup: B (the Buckbeak Source, which at a surprisingly late stage in the development of Harry Potter introduced the whole thread about magical creatures and respect for all living things, including Hermione’’s enthusiasm over S.P.E.W.) and Q (a “sayings source” that introduced such memorable epigrams as “”To the well organized mind, death is but the next great adventure,”” and, ““Never trust anything that can think for itself if you can’’t see where it keeps its brain.””) This will, we are sure, provide sufficient fodder for another generation’s worth of scholarly wrangling and re-envisioning of the authorship of Harry Potter.

How does this effect the way we read the stories written by J.K. Rowling — or rather, by any number of people who, over the centuries, contributed their part to the gathering of the Written Tradition? Well, I suppose it stimulates each of us to try to read back through all the layers of tradition and find, each in his or her own way, the real Harry Potter (if he actually existed at all) and what he means to us. According to Dr. Lyman Coquenutt, in his dissertation Why I Still Believe In Harry Potter Anyway from the year 1136, it could be as simple as realizing that the real Harry Potter was the World War I soldier whose gravestone now resides in the Harry Potter Cathedral in Edinburgh, and that he was really no more than a decent young man who, up to a certain point, inspired his fellow soldiers by his indestructible courage and cheerfulness. Or it could be, rather, as I see it today: that he was just a boy out of someone’’s imagination, and we needed him to take us (all too briefly) out of our day-to-day frustrations and cares.