Tuesday, 29 March 2011

K for Killing Curse [Avada Kedavra] (ABC Wednesday)

Since last week I wrote about jinxes, I thought I might continue on the same track this week and write something about the Killing Curse used in the Harry Potter books: ‘Avada Kedavra’.

In an audience interview at the Edinburgh Book Festival in 2004, Jo Rowling was asked a question about the use of Latin spells in her books. Here is part of her answer:

“Occasionally you will stumble across something in my Latin that is, almost accidentally, grammatically correct, but that is a rarity. In my defence, the Latin is deliberately odd. Perfect Latin is not a very magical medium, is it? Does anyone know where avada kedavra came from? It is an ancient spell in Aramaic, and it is the original of abracadabra, which means “let the thing be destroyed”. Originally, it was used to cure illness and the “thing” was the illness, but I decided to make it the “thing” as in the person standing in front of me. I take a lot of liberties with things like that. I twist them round and make them mine.”

Rowling's “twist” in this case was probably  influenced by Latin cadaver meaning corpse.

Avada Kedavra is the most feared of all spells in the Wizarding World, because it means instant death. The only person known to have survived it is Harry Potter. Lord Voldemort used the feared curse to kill Harry’s parents; but with Harry, who was still just a baby, he failed. Not until the last book in the series do we find out why.

It is often stressed in the HP books that the power of a spell does not lie in the words alone – you have also got to focus, and mean what you say. Bellatrix Lestrange says to Harry in a fighting scene at the end of The Order of the Phoenix, about another of the Unforgivable curses, Crucio (a torturing curse):

‘Never used an Unforgivable Curse before, have you, boy?’ she yelled. She had abandoned her baby voice now. ‘You need to mean them, Potter! You need to really want to cause pain – to enjoy it – righteous anger won’t hurt me for long – I’ll show you how it is done, shall I? ‘ (OP36)

Curses are also accompanied by flashes of light from the wand used, making the power visible. The Avada Kedavra curse comes with a flash of green; green also being the colour associated with the House of Slytherin, and thus with the Dark Arts.

While power does not lie in the words alone, it is also worth thinking about the idea that words can sometimes be more powerful than we imagine. In the HP books, magic spells are used both to hurt and to heal, to destroy and to defend. This should remind us of the power that we all have.


(Photo from one of the Potter films – I think)

Read more: Wikipedia (Abracadabra)

ABC Wednesday



Roger Owen Green said...

Tho I've never read HP, this is still fascinating linguistic stuff!

ROG, ABC Wednesday team

Anonymous said...

Unlike Roger, I've read all the books at least twice and the same for all the (released) movies! Unique take on K-day! Am I right to think Luna will be your next ABC entry? :-) My K-day entry is: http://www.peripheralperceptions.org/2011/03/29/k-is-for-knowledge/

DawnTreader said...

Roger - Yes, and that's one of the reasons why I got really hooked on these books. There are layers and layers of fascinating linguistic, mythological and historical stuff under the surface.

LisaF - Glad to meet someone else who found these books worth more than one read! As for Luna... Well, yes, it would seem impolite to skip over her, wouldn't it, when I'm using her spectrespecs and image and all for this blog ;)


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