The Three Broomsticks Centenary: Workings of the Wizarding World and the “Harry Potter” Books
Jo’s writing is phenomenal – both in terms of the world-building and in terms of the artistry on display in crafting the seven Harry Potter novels. Patterns, themes, and symbols are all infused in the text yet never detract from a story that keeps the pages turning and a world we’re desperate to explore. The essays exploring all of these topics stand among my proudest efforts in my bibliography.
We’ll begin with the wizarding world itself. The world that Jo has created in Harry Potter is so incredible, both in its internal consistency and its breadth, that no bit of world-building minutiae is too obscure to write editorials about. (No, really: Alohomora! has spent YEARS debating whether a Desk!Pig is alive!) I have applied myself to this task with as much fervor as anyone. So if you have always wondered about the inner workings of some obscure magic or some aspect of wizarding society, the articles below are for your perusal.
Magic’s Inner Workings
On the subject of magical artifacts, among my earliest written efforts was Three Broomsticks (referred to as TB from here on) #5: “More Important Things: How the Sorting Hat Sorts.” I attempted to reconcile the seemingly incongruous House affiliations of many characters by pointing out the Hat Sorts people based on their values rather than their attributes.
On the question of wandlore, I wrote TB #55: “The Yew Wand.” Readers helpfully pointed out that the first part of the essay is wrong based on textual evidence – and I’m grateful for the commenters keeping me honest. But the remainder of the essay remains relevant, talking about wand mastery of Harry and Voldemort’s wands.
More recently, I completed a six-part series on the inner workings of Felix Felicis, which I believe finally provides a comprehensive explanation of how Liquid Luck works.
TB #82: Part 1: “Felix’s Helping Hand”
TB #83: Part 2: “Free Will and Felix”
TB #84: Part 3: “How Felix Works”
TB #85: Part 4: “Conversing with Slughorn”
TB #86: Part 5: “Fight with the Fat Lady”
TB #87: Part 6: “The Felix-Struck Tower”
In TB #75: “Two Voldemorts Are Better Than One,” I address the still unanswered question of what would have happened if Tom Riddle escaped the diarycrux. And in TB #99: “Alivening ‘Harry Potter’ Through ‘The Christmas Pig,” I explore how emotional attachment imbues items with power since the concept was further fleshed out in Jo’s latest book, The Christmas Pig.
In the concluding part of my “Did Umbridge Have a Point?” trilogy, I considered that maybe the powers that be at Hogwarts should take a long, hard look at TB #21: “Punishment and Safety.” And if it reads like someone two years out of high school is just coming to the realization that even magic schools should be safe… well, that’s what it was.
In the most research-intensive piece I have ever worked on, I considered how wizarding geopolitics in Europe would differ from those of the Muggle world in TB #58: “Redrawing the Map of Wizarding Europe.” It’s a long read, but I also highly recommend reading all the comments on the article, where readers from around the world brought their own areas of expertise to the field. In fact, I may or may not have recently been convinced by commenter Edgar of a completely different theory from the one I presented.
And I finally injected my Muggle field of expertise – taxes! – in addressing the question of TB #79: “Do Wizards Pay Taxes?”
There is a reason websites like the Harry Potter Lexicon are such invaluable resources – there are so many characters in the wizarding world, it can be tough to keep them all straight. So on several occasions, I have gone painstakingly through the seven books and the assorted apocrypha to try to make sense of some disparate nuggets of information.
In the first example of this, I tried to sort out the time line of headmasters of Hogwarts in TB #29: “Headmasters in Canon” – prompted by the erroneous rumors that Newt Scamander was once a headmaster. (He wasn’t. No way, no how. And this is a valuable cautionary tale against blindly trusting the Harry Potter wiki.) In a similar vein, I looked at the evidence for who taught what subject at Hogwarts in the 1920s–1940s, prompted by a deviation from canon in the Fantastic Beasts movies, in TB #61: “Albus Dumbledore and the Career Change.”
I strove to provide an update to the seminal essay “Secrets of the Classlist,” originally written by Diana Summers, in TB #41: “The Revised Forty,” creating a list of all the students meant to be in Harry’s year at Hogwarts.
Most recently, I dove deep into the world of the Death Eaters, tracking the names and the crimes of Voldemort’s henchmen throughout the text in a six-part series:
TB #93: “The Death Eater Roster”
TB #94: “Voldemort’s Resurrection”
TB #95: “The Battle of the Tower”
TB #96: “The Azkaban Ten”
TB #97: “The Death Eaters of ‘Deathly Hallows'”
TB #98: “The Battle of Hogwarts”
Foreshadowing in the Earlier Books
It’s extraordinary to consider how Jo planted seeds in the first two books that would hint at how the rest of the series would play out. One of the most elegant examples of this is how the obstacles guarding the Sorcerer’s Stone each foreshadowed one of the seven books – a theory that was very in vogue when the books were still coming out. I broke this down in TB #35: “Seven Obstacles for Seven Books,” which has proven to be a perennial favorite among readers that still gets linked to all over the place.
Those seven obstacles had a wealth of hints for the future of the series. In TB #36: “The Three-Book-Long Chess Match,” I laid out how the chess match the trio plays foretells the major beats of the conflict against Voldemort in the later books. In TB #37: “The Seven Battles,” I look at how the pattern of seven in the potions riddle of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone is seen in the seven battles between Harry and Voldemort… and how each of those battles has seven of something associated with it that also fits the pattern.
Jumping forward a book, I wrote a pair of essays about how the items we see in Borgin and Burkes will show up again in the future. In TB #50: “The Foreshadowing of Borgin and Burkes,” I point out how the seven items Harry sees become motifs for the climaxes of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. In TB #51: “Borgin, Burke, and the Half-Blood Prince,” I look at how the six items Draco dwells on all reappear in Half-Blood Prince.
Patterns in the Series
There are many patterns buried in the seven books, and I’ve enjoyed teasing them out. In TB #38: “The Potions Riddle,” I apply the pattern in that riddle of 3-2-1-1 to many of the well-known sets of seven throughout the text. (I’ve also picked up on myriad other septets in the years since, so this essay is probably long overdue for a sequel.)
Delving into ring theory to add my two cents, I looked at how the Christmases in the books mirror each other in TB #72: “Wreath Theory in the ‘Potter’ Books.”
I pointed out how the trio is always TB #70: “Getting a Clue for Christmas.” And I established several patterns seen in Chapter 13 in Jo’s books in TB #80: “Chapter 13” – the really cool thing here is that the pattern extends to Jo’s non-Potter works like The Ickabog and The Christmas Pig. (One of these days, I’ll have to see if it applies to the Cormoran Strike series as well.) And just to offer a teaser, I have another series in the works in this vein that you can look forward to reading soon.
And for a nostalgic look back, my very first essay on MuggleNet – and the only one published pre-Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – also looked at a potential pattern in Harry Potter. Intrigued by what we were studying in my ninth-grade Global Studies class, I wrote an essay about how the seven books paralleled the seven chakras in TB #1: “Harry Potter and the Seven Chakras.” And let me tell you, my 15-year-old self was over the moon to be published on MuggleNet.
The Themes and Messages of Harry Potter
In addition to the artistry of patterns and symbols and world-building, Jo did a fantastic job addressing many themes in the books. One that I found especially interesting was the theme of revenge. It was brought up in a panel at my very first convention, and I just had to dive further into it. So I wrote TB #24: “Revenge – Part 1: The Missing Message,” – and as evidenced from the numbering, this became part of a trilogy. I next looked at how Hermione and Harry interacted with the theme in TB #25: “Revenge – Part 2: Hermione’s Revenge” and TB #26: “Revenge – Part 3: Harry’s Mercy.”
One of the articles that I was, quite frankly, terrified to revisit for this retrospective was TB #28: “Is HP a Feminist Text?” This was written back in 2013 for context. But to my genuine shock, this nine-year-old treatise on feminism aged reasonably well. Sure, this may not be a topic that lends itself to being answered in one (albeit lengthy) editorial, but I think the analysis contained therein is more or less sound. Whew!
And while not exactly a theme or a message, I refuted two of the common critiques that were being lobbed at Jo’s writing ten years ago in TB #12: “In Defense of Jo Rowling.” Back then, it was in vogue to critique Harry’s penchant for caps lock in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and the tedium of the camping trip in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. So I wrote an essay pointing out that we only feel that way because of Jo’s incredible talent for making us empathize with Harry and that the frustration is actually evidence of how successful the text is in pulling on our emotions. (I will say, though, that I wish I’d gone with a more specific title for the essay. This one isn’t very helpful in communicating the topic we’re broaching.)
In general, the province of “What If?” questions seems to be fan fiction and podcasts – there’s not much analysis to be offered for most of the queries. However, one such question (posed, appropriately, on the Alohomora! forums) gave me enough to think about that I spun off my response into a full-fledged essay: TB #78: “What If There Weren’t a Parting of the Ways?” It takes a look at how things would have played out had Fudge not parted ways with Dumbledore after the Triwizard Tournament.
A different kind of “What If?” was addressed in TB #73: “Heliopaths, Fiendfyre, and a Cassandra Complex”, where I try to parse out what Jo’s original intention was regarding the inclusion of Heliopaths and Fiendfyre in the story. This type of analysis – trying to reverse engineer the story plans that fell by the wayside in the revision process – has become a particular interest of mine recently, and you can look forward to more editorials in this vein coming soon.