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


Wednesday, 23 March 2011

J for Jinx (ABC Wednesday)

Among the various things students at The Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry come across is a variety of magic spells. The line between different kinds of spells used in the Potter books is sometimes a bit blurry, but basically, a good kind of spell is called a “charm”, while the really bad ones are called “curses”. A jinx is milder than a curse – causing some trouble, but no lasting bodily harm. Jinxes are sometimes used for practical jokes, sometimes defensively to prevent something more serious. (If you happen to be reading this post without having read the books, I should perhaps point out that “the Dark Arts” are not taught at Hogwarts; but “Defense Against the Dark Arts” is.)

The etymology (origin) of the word jinx is obscure. In folklore too it is connected to minor misfortunes and bad luck. One theory is that it may come from the Latin name iynx, for a kind of small woodpecker. In English it is called wryneck, from the ability to turn its head almost 180 degrees. When disturbed at the nest, this bird twists and turns its head in a snakelike way, also making a hissing sound. This odd behaviour led to it being connected with witchcraft.


Picture of Wryneck/Jynx from Wikipedia.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

BTT: Headlines


btt buttonDeb @ 1:13 am


The news has been horrifying and addictive this week, with catastrophe piled on catastrophe, to a degree that–if I had read this in a book or seen it in a movie–I’d be protesting that it was just too unlikely, too farfetched.

But, topics for novels get ripped from the headlines all the time. Or real-life events remind you of fiction (whether “believable” or not) that you’ve read but never expected to see. Or real life comes up with an event so unbelievable that it stretches you sense of reality.

Hmm … I can’t quite come up with an outright question to ask, but thinking about the theory of fiction and how it can affect and be affected by real world events can act as a buffer between the horrific events on the news and having to actually face that horror. So … what happens when the line between fiction and reality becomes all-too slim? Discuss!

… … …

That has got to be the hardest question yet from the weekly Booking Through Thursday meme!

I know I commented to someone yesterday – right now I can’t recall to whom – that one thing that perhaps makes a catastrophe like that in Japan – or, just weeks before, also the earthquake in Christchurch, NZ – come “closer” to us who live on the other side of the world, than some other world events do, is that it was brought about by Nature. We can sympathize without mixing it up (immediately, anyway) with the question of Who To Blame, which is there whenever war or terrorism is involved.

At the same time, having no one to blame often makes us feel helpless and confused. So with any kind of accident we still tend to get hung up on questions like: Could this not have been foreseen and prevented? And to follow: Did we react quickly enough? Were the right decisions made within the first five minutes/first day/whatever? Isn’t there someone whose head should be cut off (at least figuratively) for not doing a better job…?

I suppose that’s one area where fiction steps in as a buffer. In crime fiction for example, things get sorted out in the end. All damage cannot be healed; and people are rarely raised from the dead; but the reader is not left in the darkness of mystery. Someone was to blame and they usually do not go unpunished.

With fantasy literature – at least most that I read - I’d say these kinds of books usually also have a mythological foundation in that there is a battle between good and evil, which often involves also other beings than just humans and animals. (Elves, trolls etc.) Sometimes nature itself gets involved and take sides – like when the trees/ ents march to Isengard in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Landscapes and climate are used to illustrate moods and spiritual status – like mountains and valleys, ice and water, woods and deserts, or flying vs going down deep under the surface. Like the mines of Moria (Tolkien) or the Underland (CS Lewis: The Silver Chair).  Very little is left to pure chance. Somewhere in the background there is spiritual warfare; powers are at work that go far beyond what can be seen.

The relief that fictional stories of this kind brings us (as does religion) is that there is an end to it. There comes a day when we’ll be able to put the book down and say “phew”.

With authors like JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis, their fiction reflects their personal Christian faith, with a deep interest in theology as well as classical mythology (especially Greek, Roman, Celtic and Old Norse, which are all also embedded in our Western culture).

I see the same pattern in JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series. She may be simplifying things in some ways, and complicating them in others. But whether one sees her attempts as wholly successful or not: By letting the Wizarding world and the Muggle world (our modern world at the end of the last century) interact, with only a limited number of characters able to move between both, she does bring in the perspective of “unseen powers” at work.

The sixth book in the Harry Potter series (The Half-Blood Prince) opens with a chapter called “The Other Minister” which describes a meeting between the Prime Minister of England and the Minister for Magic in the Wizarding World (Fudge). The latter has a very different explanation of some recent events that have also mysteriously affected the Muggle world. (Muggles = non-wizards.) Like a collapsed bridge in central London, and a hurricane in the West Country.

The Half Blood Prince was released on 16 July, 2005. Rowling had intended to read from the first chapter of the book at her official presentation. The choice of text for the public reading was changed, because only a week earlier, on 7 July 2005, there had been a series of coordinated suicide attacks upon Londoners using the public transport system during the morning "rush hour". Fifty-six people, including four bombers, were killed by the attacks, and about 700 were injured.

Attacks that came just a little too close to the fictive disasters that open The Half-Blood Prince:

The Prime Minister’s pulse quickened at the very thought of these accusations, for they were neither fair nor true. How on earth was his government supposed to  have stopped that bridge collapsing? It was outrageous for anybody to suggest that they were not spending enough on bridges. The bridge was less than ten years old, and the best experts were at a loss to explain why it had snapped cleanly in two, sending a dozen cars into the watery depths of the river below. And how dared anyone suggest that it was lack of policemen that had resulted in those two very nasty and well-published murders? Or that the government should have somehow foreseen the freak hurricane in the West Country that had caused so much damage to both people and property?

And indeed, the explanation that the Minister for Magic gives turns out to be a little different: Voldemort and his Death Eaters were behind the bridge accident, and as for the hurricane:

‘… and we suspect giant involvement.’
The Prime Minister stopped in his tracks as though he had hit an invisible wall.
’What involvement?’
Fudge grimaced. ‘He used giants last time, when he wanted to go for the grand effect. The Office of Misinformation has been working around the clock, we’ve had teams of Obliviators out trying to modivy the memories of all the Muggles who saw what really happened, we’ve got most of the Department for the Regulation and Control of  Magical Creatures running around Somerset, but we can’t find the giant – it’s been a disaster.’
’You don’t say!’ said the Prime Minister furiously.

So with the tragic London events on everyone’s mind, the text for the public reading on the night of the book release was chosen from another chapter. Just one of those times “when the line between fiction and reality becomes all-too slim”, as Deb puts it in her BTT-question…


I’m publishing the above also in my blog Beyond the Lone Islands, since it is from there that I usually take part in the Booking Through Thursday meme.


Adding a few extra notes here:

Headlines and distorted news play a very important role throughout the whole Harry Potter series.

Already in the first chapter of the first book (The Philosopher’s Stone) news are “spilling over” from the Wizarding world into the Muggle world:

‘And finally, bird-watchers everywhere have reported that the nation’s owls have been behaving very unusually today. Although owls normally hunt at night and are hardly ever seen in daylight, there have been hundreds of sightings of these birds flying in every direction since sunrise. Experts are unable to explain why the owls have suddenly changed their sleeping pattern.’ ---

‘Well,Ted,’ said the weatherman, ‘… it’s not only the owls that have been acting oddly today. Viewers as far apart as Kent, Yorkshire and Dundee have been phoning in to tell me that instead of the rain I promised yesterday, they’ve had a downpour of shooting stars!…’

(This refers back to when Voldemort/the Dark Lord failed to kill Harry back when he was still a baby. He seemed to disappear after that event. Celebrations broke out in the wizarding world; and owls are the newsbringers of that world.)

In the second book (The Chamber of Secrets) we get to meet Gilderoy Lockhart who loves nothing better than being in the limelight. Until… well. Other even more distorted versions of “truth” are also revealed.

At the beginning of the third book (The Prisoner of Azkaban), the news of an escaped dangerous prisoner (Sirius Black) makes it “across the border” to the Muggle news; of course omitting the fact that the prison he escaped from was located in the realm of magic. Again, things are not exactly as the first might seem.

In the fourth book (The Goblet of Fire), the reporter Rita Skeeter is introduced, working for the Wizarding World’s own newspaper, The Daily Prophet. Her methods of acquiring news turn out to be… unorthodox, to say the least.

In the fifth book (The Order of the Phoenix), we get to know Luna Lovegood, whose father runs the magazine The Quibbler. (Not until the seventh book do we get to meet the man himself.) This book significantly starts with media not reporting the kind of news that Harry is daily expecting them to.

In the seventh  and last book (The Deathly Hallows), a biography of Albus Dumbledore (and newspaper reviews of the same) turns some things upside down for us. Pirate radio broadcasts are also introduced as a way of spreading a different news than those presented by the official media.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

I for Invisibility Cloak (ABC Wednesday)


All through the Harry Potter series, an invisibility cloak plays an important part in the story. It is given to Harry as an anonymous Christmas gift in his first year at Hogwarts. It turns out that it was Dumbledore who gave it to him; but that it had belonged to Harry’s father, James. Not until the last book do we learn how and why the cloak came to be in Dumbledore’s possession in the first place. The cloak also turns out to be more unique than Harry and his friends have hitherto realized, in spite of the fact that it has been of immense help to them through seven years.

In an essay I wrote between the sixth and the seventh book, i.e. before any of us readers knew the full story about the invisibility cloak, I made these notes:

The cloak is a mantle, which also belongs to the royal insignia [along with the sceptre=the wand, the crown=the Sorting Hat and the Goblet of Fire – three other objects that also “chose” Harry, rather than he them]. Among the Thirteen Treasures of Britain, we find, as the thirteenth object, “The mantle of [king] Arthur; whosoever was beneath it could see everything, while no one could see him.”

The Invisibility Cloak, I think, should be considered as a kind of opposite of Voldemort’s new body after his rebirth in the cauldron in The Goblet of Fire. This new body is in itself not much more than a Horcrux, since it is not really his own, but is made up of “Bone of the father, unknowingly given,” “Flesh of the servant, willingly given,” and “Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken”. When he rises again from the cauldron, he says: “Robe me”. Voldemort has chosen to become visible and tangible again. The Emperor puts on new clothes but cannot see that in spite of all his royal attire, his scattered soul is still vulnerable.

While Voldemort chooses to become Visible, Harry often chooses to become Invisible by help of his magic cloak.

The idea of the Invisibility Cloak goes even further back than King Arthur. I believe it is connected to the Biblical idea of the Cloak of Righteousness:

I delight greatly in the LORD; 
my soul rejoices in my God.
For he has clothed me with garments of salvation  and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness  - Isaiah 61:10

In Christian theology, the robe of righteousness is traditionally interpreted as the righteousness of Christ covering our sins and protecting us (the soul if not the body) from evil.

In the Harry Potter story there are many possible layers of interpretation; I believe the author herself is very conscious of them. Harry is in one sense a saviour, but at the same time he is only human. He is a Wizard, but from part Muggle background. The cloak came to him from his Father; and also from Dumbledore who is a sort of father-figure to him (and to all of the students at Hogwarts). The cloak is given to Harry (not initially earned) and it protects him and enables him to fulfill what he must fulfill. It protects not only him, but also his friends.

ABC Wednesday


Saturday, 12 March 2011

The White Stag


Can you see the white stag?
If not, I suggest you put your spectrespecs on! Smile

The Celts saw white stags as messengers from the Otherworld. In Arthurian legend, the pursuit of the white stag represents mankind’s spiritual quest.

In ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ by C.S. Lewis,
at the end of the book, it is a White Stag that guides the children (then Kings and Queens of Narnia) back to their own world.

In the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, when Harry learns how to perform a Patronus charm to guard him from the Dementors, it takes the form of a White Stag.

If you read the books, you also know that Harry’s patronus to him represents his dead father, James Potter, whose animagus shape was a stag. Since James is no longer alive, he can be said to belong to “the otherworld”.


SPOILER WARNING: If you haven’t read the last book in the series yet, you might want to stop reading here.


In the last book, The Deathly Hallows, a white doe (a female deer) also appears at a crucial point in the story. She, too, turns out to be a patronus, representing Harry’s mother, Lily (also dead and hence belonging to the Otherworld). But produced by someone from whom Harry would not expect it…

Well, if you did read the last book – you know who!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin