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.
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!
We know about nick. Just search the internet for ‘the ballad of Nearly Headless Nick’ it was a poem written by Jo in an early draft of CoS.
Cool! Thanks! (I actually had no idea The Ballad of Nearly Headless Nick existed.)
Didn’t Nick accidentally preform magic on a girl while inside of the court, which made her grow tusks?
oh damn. that’s some serious magic misuse – if he gave her tusks on purpose. if it was accidental, though, banishing him and executing him via a dull blade seems a bit extreme…
“Was “wizard at the Royal Court” an official position? I assume the Royal Court was a Muggle institution.”
The most obvious interpretation is that this simply means that he was a wizard, and that he was a courtier (i.e., someone mandated to attend the monarch on a regular basis). There’s no indication of it being an official position. An official position would probably have a proper title like “Royal Sorcerer” or “King’s/Queen’s Warlock”. And yes, the “Royal Court” refers to the court of the reigning monarch (Henry VII at the time of Nick’s death), who would be a muggle.
“what crime did he commit that was so heinous as to banish him to the dungeon, wandless, sentenced to execution?”
Trying to doing a teeth-straightening spell on a lady of the court, only to give her tusks instead.
“Was it normal procedure to strip an accused warlock of his wand?”
Well, he’d been seen to do magic with a wand, so presumably this was just a sensible precaution on the part of his muggle gaolers.
“Why did he, specifically, become the ghost of Gryffindor Tower?”
An interesting question, since the ghosts we meet in the books seem very much associated with a particular locale, which is what you’d expect from a traditional haunting. Yet none of the House ghosts actually died at Hogwarts – The Grey Lady and the Bloody Baron died in Albania, the Fat Friar was executed by the Church, and Nick beheaded somewhere in England (presumably London) – yet all four of them seem to have gravitated back to the school. One assumes a combination of sentimental and practical reasons for this – muggles can’t normally see ghosts, so the only way that ghosts can continue to interact with the living is by haunting a location frequented by witches and wizards. As for why Nick became the Gryffindor House ghost, there doesn’t have to be any particular reason. Maybe he was the only ex-Gryffindor amongst the ghosts at the time who took an interest in the pupils. Being the “Ghost of House X” always struck me as being an ad hoc sort of tradition, a thing of accident and habit (like most of Hogwarts’ traditions), rather than an official position.
Eesh. That reaction from the Court seems a bit rash. I wonder, though, if that spell was the same one either Crabbe or Goyle did on Hermione, to make her teeth grow uncontrollably…
*hands on chin* Yes, you’re absolutely right, that none of the House ghosts died in Hogwarts proper. I *so* want JKR to go in-depth about ghosting, and if there’s a rhyme or reason to 1) why ghosts end up in Hogwarts (although your assumption about ghosts wanting to interact with people, and witches and wizards the only beings who can see them is a very good one) and 2) how ghosts end up as official House X ghosts.
Regarding the severity of Nick’s punishment, this was the late 15th century, when (historically speaking) witchcraft persecution was becoming a fairly regular thing (although it had yet to reach its height). Pre-Statute of Secrecy, witches and wizards were still mingling with Muggles, although one assumes they were doing so with increasing circumspection – and this is where Nick went wrong. He was (a) too obvious, (b) apparently cursed someone, and (c) “cursed” an upper-class woman. So he would be perceived as performing maleficium (black magic as a form of heresy) and he had apparently attacked someone who may well have had powerful male relatives. And the fact that he was a courtier and had at least some access to the King would have added a national security element to his prosecution.
Nick, by the standards of the time, was in a lot of trouble.
On the other hand, witchcraft wasn’t actually a capital crime in England at this point (that wouldn’t happen until 1542), so one assumes Nick was probably a victim of court politics as much as anything else. Or possibly, in the Harry Potter universe, there was a Witchcraft Act on the statute books a lot earlier than in the real world.
The Fountain of Fair Fortune has some parallels with The Wizard of Oz who, like the fountain, had no magical powers. The three witches, like the tin man, the cowardly lion and the scarecrow, seek magical cures for their troubles and end up curing themselves.
Ooooooooh. I’d never thought of that – that is WAY cool and so on-point.
I recently had the oppurtinuity to read Jack Zipes translation of The Brothers Grimm’s 1st edition of folk and fairy tales.
The stories and tales within are as weird and on some occasions, even more revolting as JKR’s Beedle the Bard’s tales.
The way JKR wrote Beedle’s tales was very reminiscent of the style.
My favourite Dumbledore footnote from the book has to be again regarding Lucius Malfoy, in his notes on “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”.
“My response prompted several further letters from Mr Malfoy, but as they consisted mainly of opprobrious remarks on my sanity, heritage and hygiene, their relevance to this commentary is remote.”
I just love it.
Book!Dumbledore is always so sassy, it’s a gift, really.