[Show music begins]
Michael Harle: This is Episode 191 of Alohomora! for May 21, 2016.
[Show music continues]
Michael: Welcome, listeners, to another episode of Alohomora! – no longer mugglenet.com’s global reread of the Harry Potter series. At the moment we are mugglenet.com’s global reread of the Harry Potter school books. I’m Michael Harle.
Meg Scott: I’m Meg Scott.
Rosie Morris: And I’m Rosie Morris. And it is my pleasure to introduce the voice before me, which was Meg Scott today, who is one of the transcribers of this very podcast. She helps out at MuggleNet and does some amazing work making sure that all of our podcasts and [social media] posts have the best high-quality [grammatical] features that they can possibly have. Hi, Meg!
Michael: Yay, Meg!
Rosie: [laughs] It’s also my pleasure to introduce our fan guest for the day, Quentin Day. Hi, Quentin!
Quentin Day: Hello.
Rosie: Do you want to tell us a little bit about yourself?
Quentin: Sure. I started reading the Harry Potter series around probably third grade, I think, so 2000 or so. And when I joined Pottermore, I found out I was a Slytherin. Surprisingly.
Michael: Oh! Yay! We never have those. Great!
Quentin: Yeah, I took the test five times.
Quentin: And I found out I’m about 60% Slytherin, 40% Hufflepuff.
Michael: Ah! Interesting.
Meg: That’s the rarest blend.
Quentin: And I’m proud of it.
Michael: That’s awesome.
Rosie: And Meg, how about you? What House do you associate yourself with?
Meg: I am a Ravenclaw. I always have been since birth or whatever…
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Meg: … or when I started reading the series, which was also around third grade in 2000. My dad read me the first one, and then I couldn’t wait for him to read the rest. I had to speed ahead.
Rosie: Always good, we recommend speeding ahead as much as possible. However, do not speed ahead beyond reading our first two stories in Beedle the Bard! We are starting our new book today. Gone are the Harry Potter and the _____ series…
Rosie: … and we are starting with Beedle and his stories. Today we are reading “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot” and “The Fountain of Fair Fortune,” as well as the introduction by J.K. Rowling. So we recommend pausing this podcast right here, going away to read those three sections of Beedle the Bard, and then pressing play to listen to the rest of our lovely discussion.
Michael: Unless of course you’re Hermione and you’ve already read the book over and over and over.
Rosie: [laughs] Well, she did translate the thing, so…
Michael: Yeah, she did, that’s true. And I’m sure Hermione would be very happy to donate to our Patreon.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: Somewhere J.K. Rowling and her lawyers are like, “No, she would not!”
Michael: But we want to remind you and let you all know that this episode is sponsored by Ali F. on Patreon. Thank you, Ali, for helping us out with this episode today. Everybody give Ali a round of applause and say thank you to Ali.
Michael: And you – yes, you – can become a sponsor for as little as $1 a month. We will continue to release special exclusive tidbits for sponsors on Patreon. And as we’ve mentioned on a few episodes, Rosie and I are really eager to break out the joysticks and game controllers and do some Harry Potter Let’s Plays so that you guys can watch us, as Rosie said, fall and die multiple times throughout the series.
Rosie: [laughs] It’s just going to happen. It will be brilliant.
Michael: It’s the only way we can explore the Harry Potter video games properly because it wouldn’t really make for a very good podcast. And there'[re] all kinds of other things we’re trying to hit with our goal, so check out our Patreon page through the main website, alohomora.mugglenet.com. But now, forget that. No.
[Michael and Quentin laughs]
Michael: But now, moving on, it’s time to take a look at The Tales of Beedle the Bard. And actually, before we get into it, we were having an interesting discussion earlier before we started, where everybody was saying how much they’ve examined Tales of Beedle the Bard. How many times have you guys looked over these stories before?
Meg: I read my book once in 2008 when I got it, and then that was it. Put it back on the shelf.
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Quentin: Yeah. I probably have to say that’s about the same with me. I probably read them once and then read “[The] Tale of the Three Brothers” a couple of times, and then that was about it.
Rosie: Yeah, that was my experience. I’ve reread “[The] Tale of the Three Brothers” several times, especially because it was linked to Chaucer. However, I really think I only read the other stories maybe once or twice, and I’m quite embarrassed by it now, having looked back at it for this. It has reminded me how brilliant they actually are, and I applaud J.K. Rowling for her fairy tale goodness in these stories. How about you, Michael?
Michael: I was surprised to hear that you guys haven’t read it very much because I’ve read it quite a few times. Not nearly as many, obviously, as the main series since we didn’t get it until late 2007, I believe… or early 2008. So I haven’t got to read it a lot, but I definitely know the tales pretty well. I actually used – I was very proud of this – “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” at my library for our Halloween night, and I read it to the kids…
Rosie: [laughs] Oh, wow!
Quentin: Oh, buddy.
Rosie: That’s such a good idea.
Quentin: It would be a “Tell-Tale Heart” to them, I bet.
Michael: It basically was. And when the part with the ending… Some of the little girls’ eyes were just like, “What?!”
Michael: And then I closed the book, and I was like, “And no one lived happily ever after!”
Rosie: You, a librarian?
Michael: Yeah, that’s the fun… It’s no fun on Halloween if there’s not a bit of a scare.
Michael: But yeah, I enjoyed these because they’re so… I love the Grimm fairy tales, and Rowling just so perfectly… and obviously she does too, by the writing style of Beedle the Bard. It’s really cool to me that she just ended up… after all the Harry Potter books and then also having already written Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts and coming up with two other voices already for those books, that she managed to come up with a third [is] very impressive. And not only that, but she was sticking in all her other little characters too in between, because quite a few characters make appearances and get mentioned in The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Meg: I love also that she has illustrations in it, and she did seven hand-done copies that she gave out to people who were important to the series. But I love that in the published book, the illustrations are still done by her. That’s just really cool to see.
Rosie: And there are some really interesting details of those illustrations as well that we’ll probably talk about when we get to them in each story, which will be really cool. I have another reason for really loving Beedle the Bard, even though I’ve only read it once or twice.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: And that’s because the book release for Beedle the Bard and the parties that went along with it were the very first thing I did for MuggleNet in the Muggle world.
Rosie: Yeah. MuggleCast came over to the UK and did the book release of the live podcast in Waterstones Piccadilly in London. And it was the very first event I went to where I was Rosie from MuggleNet, and I was doing things as an official thing at an actual MuggleNet event. So it holds a little space in my heart as the very first MuggleNet thing I did. So I’m really happy to be coming back to the books now. [laughs]
Michael: That’s cool that you guys did such a big event for it too, because I remember zero hoopla whatsoever for Beedle the Bard. The bookstores put up the posters, and they were like, “A new book from J.K. Rowling,” but they didn’t really do anything. At least not in… I was in New Mexico, where we never do anything. We had had book releases for the main series, but we didn’t do anything for Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Quentin: Yeah, here in Indiana, about the best they did was they put a kiosk in the center aisle at Barnes & Noble, and they said, “Oh, look, a new Harry Potter book! Please buy it.”
Meg: I actually got mine at Target.
Quentin: Oh, really?
Meg: And there was nothing there. I remember I went to the book section with my mom, and off to the side, it was like, “New Harry Potter thing!” No posters or anything.
Rosie: Isn’t that interesting, the difference between that and what they’re now doing with Cursed Child?
Meg: Yeah. Now they’re everywhere.
Michael: Well, that, I think, is really important to notice as far as how Tales of Beedle of Bard isn’t the first of the Harry Potter series, obviously, to be an extra tidbit. That was Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch through the Ages. But – and I saw this when I was working at a children’s bookstore – Rowling has set a new standard and new expectation for a lot of young adult and children’s authors that the world doesn’t end with the main series anymore. And I think the publishing…
Rosie: It can be more expansive.
Michael: Yes, it can be more fruitful, as far as profits, I think. And I know Rowling… The nice thing is that Rowling started out and still continues to do these extra things with the intention of giving. And you’ll see that at the beginning of this book as well as the other school books. She gives that money to charity; that money doesn’t go to her. So that’s always been nice to see, but it’s definitely… I think we talked to Veronica Roth about the expectation of doing more when you’re done, and she said that that is definitely something that publishers are pressing their authors for now, because people want more. The funny thing about The Tales of Beedle the Bard was that it wasn’t supposed to be for the public, as Meg mentioned – it was a gift to Rowling’s friends. But the word unfortunately got out, and then it was a gift to the world!
Meg: We’re all her friends!
Michael: [laughs] So… but of course they got very special editions compared to all of us.
Quentin: And didn’t some of the really special editions go up for charity auctions as well?
Rosie: Yeah, I think there was one or two really, really super special editions that were…
Michael: Yeah, I think they called those the moonstone editions or something like that, yeah. And then there was another special edition that came out especially on Amazon, like a limited print.
Rosie: Yeah, that was almost like a gift edition version, isn’t it?
Rosie: That was just… The cover was in 3D. It was amazing. [laughs]
Michael: Yeah. And it immediately sold out when it went on sale.
Michael: So that’s also a hard item to find. I actually have… I currently have three editions of Beedle the Bard. I have the first American edition with Mary GrandPré’s art, which is meant to go along with the first American printing. I happened upon the British edition. Somebody donated it to the library, so I got to take it.
Michael: And I also have the edition that came… Because now Beedle the Bard is boxed with the school books and considered one of Harry’s school books, so that’s joined Quidditch and Fantastic Beasts. But Rosie, you did some excellent notes that kick off Beedle the Bard, so you want to lead us into it?
Rosie: Sure. So we’re first going to look through the introduction that J.K. Rowling wrote in character at the beginning of em>Beedle the Bard…
Michael: This is so revealing! It’s so exciting!
Rosie: It is the most fan fiction-y thing that she could have possibly done.
Rosie: It’s perfect that we are hosts on this episode, Michael, as the fan fiction hosts coming to this genre.
Rosie: It’s really amazing that she is writing as this character. It’s almost like her Harry Potter novels were her being a biographer of Harry Potter.
Rosie: So she’s taking on that character of… I don’t know, it’s almost… I don’t want to say… Ah, names! My mind has gone completely blank apparently. That’s really bad. [laughs]
Michael: It reminded me… Because the school books are the first time that she did that, where she makes it canon that she is knowledgeable of the wizarding world and they somehow get the information to her. And I mentioned this on an episode before, but listeners, if you’ve ever read the Wizard of Oz series, L. Frank Baum used that same technique in his introductions for the Wizard of Oz series, saying that once Dorothy started living in Oz, she helped them set up a telegraph system so that they could relay the stories to him and he would write them down. So it’s very much that she becomes a character [in] the series. Or I suppose the other current popular one would be Lemony Snicket.
Meg: Yeah, I was going to say Lemony Snicket’s [A Series of] Unfortunate Events.
Michael: Yeah. He does it in a way… Even though his real name, of course, is Daniel Handler, he takes that to an extreme. Have any of you ever seen him live?
Rosie: I have not.
Meg: No, I had a chance once, like ten years ago, but then I missed out on it.
Michael: Well, I was lucky enough to. That was before I was working at the bookstore, but at that bookstore they hosted him in New Mexico. And he does a great shtick where he basically keeps saying during his presentation, “I know you were all expecting Lemony Snicket, but I am his rep, Daniel Handler.”
[Meg, Quentin, and Rosie laugh]
Michael: And he just keeps dropping all of these hints obviously that he is Lemony Snicket, but he’ll never flat-out say it.
Michael: But it’s a great method, too, because it explains… He signs the books, but he also stamps them with Lemony Snicket’s signature.
Rosie: Yeah. And that keeps the magic.
Michael: Yeah, exactly. He plays that role really well. He takes it to extremes. But Rowling is definitely touching that here.
Rosie: Yeah, and it adds a really nice feeling of reality to the wizarding world, that if these stories are real and she is the biographer, then the wizarding world is out there.
Michael: Yay! [laughs]
Rosie: And these stories are a real thing that wizarding children experience, so it’s making them validated a little bit. And they are so good.
Rosie: But luckily, Rowling is a much better biographer than Rita Skeeter or Gilderoy Lockhart, so we can enjoy her stories and believe that they were given to her rather than stolen.
Rosie: And in her introduction of The Tales of Beedle the Bard, she tells us exactly how these stories came to be in the possession of wizarding and Muggle children in this format. And she tells us that there is a difference between traditional Muggle fairy tales and the fairy tales we will find in these books. And that is mainly the presentation of magic. In Muggle fairy tales, magic is often the curse or the problem and is something that needs to be solved or conquered, whereas in these fairy tales, we will see that the users of magic are the heroes and heroines and that magic is a tool to solve a problem or just a simple way of life. So anyone who experiences magic shouldn’t feel alienated and always cast as the villain, which is lovely.
Michael: What you are saying, Rosie, with how Rowling clarifies the role switch-up, it’s funny when you read that because perhaps I think we’re used to understanding magic being pervasive in fairy tales and not really… When she said that to me, I thought back to some of the traditional fairy tales, and I was like, “Yeah, there are often issues in fairy tales where magic is the problem rather than [the solution].” The only one that I can think of where magic benefits more than it hinders is “Cinderella.”
Rosie: Yes. Yeah. And that’s more wishes than magic as well, Aladdin and the genie and that kind of thing.
Michael: Well, yeah. Especially if you read the Grimms’ version, where it’s not a fairy godmother. It’s the spirit of her mother.
Rosie: In which case it becomes miracles, and miracles are accepted magic rather than…
Michael: Black witchcraft?
Rosie: Yeah. So it’s interesting thinking about the amount of backlash that J.K. Rowling has had over the years in terms of schools and Christian groups and that kind of thing, banning Harry Potter as promoting witchcraft. So to have this storytelling set where witchcraft is very much not seen as an evil and is very much seen as a benefit is an interesting spin and an interesting answer to some of those issues, perhaps. But it’s not only the issue of magic that is turned on its head: In these stories, “witches are much more active in seeking their fortunes than our fairy-tale heroines.” So we’ve got a feminist view on fairy tales here as well. Gone are the 15th-century morals that are supposed to be in this book, where women were supposed to be at home, and the men were the ones [who] would go out and do all of the knight “saving-the-women” stuff. Here the women are very much forefront in the stories, making sure that they got their own parts to tread, as we will see particularly in “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” And there’s quite a nice tradition of that in modern fairy tales as well. So it’s following on from Angela Carter and fairy tale writers such as her […] bringing that ethos back to a younger audience. I don’t recommend any children reading Angela Carter.
Rosie: Wait until they grow up a little bit. They are brilliant.
Michael: That piece is interesting in terms of what we’ve discussed in the reread of Harry Potter – the debate that continues to the stay of how feminist Harry Potter perhaps is. Does it achieve all those goals? Does it fail in some respects? It’s interesting that by this point in the series, near the end of the 2000s, Rowling is flat-out saying in her book, “Yeah, the female characters are taking charge of their own destiny.” She’s not going to even give us the chance to see it; she’s just going to tell us that’s happening right from the get-go.
Rosie: Yeah. And I think, Rowling having her young daughters and things, that she wanted to have a set of stories where the girls were the ones [who] could be the heroes. And they would have grown up with the fairy tales and the Disney stories and all those kind of things where women really don’t get a chance to do their own thing, so it’s nice to have this set that will show the other side. So she’s spotted a gap.
Meg: It’s also quite cool that she’s not saying, “Well, I’m going to publish a story about what certain female wizards are doing in the year 2050.” She’s saying, “Well, this is what they were doing way back in the 1300s or whatever.”
Rosie: Yeah. She’s making it a properly accepted thing right from the very beginning.
Meg: Yeah, a historical thing.
Michael: Well, and we’ve heard from Rowling – and we’ve discussed this on the show before too – that wizards, according to Rowling, don’t tend to have as much of an issue as far as sex and sexuality. They don’t seem to care about that. According to Rowling, they don’t have gender issues in the wizarding world as much as we do. They don’t have issues about sexuality the way we do. Their issues stem more from bloodlines, so…
Quentin: Seems to be more of their level of power as opposed to what gender they are because if a woman is more magically inclined than a man, then she [tends] to be held in higher regard than most men are, at least in the wizarding world.
Rosie: And as we’ve been saying, these stories are a very modern view, but however, written as if they were from the 15th century. And Beedle himself was born in the 15th century, this introduction tells us, which places him pre-Shakespeare and post-Chaucer, for all of you guys who have not perhaps read up on your early literature timelines. So we’ve got some kind of tradition of tale-telling and fairy tales definitely being told in the area where this is written, but we haven’t quite got to the prosaic nature of storytelling in the age of Shakespeare. Which also places this story around the time of Caxton’s revolutionary printing press, which I really like because it gives the idea that Beedle was writing at a time where stories were being mass-produced for the first time. And also, possibly Sir Caxton’s creation, although mechanical, may have some kind of wizarding background! Who knows?
Rosie: Which, yeah, is really a nice thing. Some notable other Muggle writers at the time include Margery Kempe, Thomas Malory, and John Lydgate, most of whom were writing with religious themes. Thomas Malory actually wrote a very famous – or at least, famous within those who know of Thomas Malory – story about witchcraft. And he actually wrote Le Morte d’Arthur, so you’ve got these King Arthur stories, and the question of the fall of Arthur and Merlin and those great presentations of witchcraft and wizardry and which one is good and evil, coming out in the themes of the stories of the time. Beedle is presented to have some very similar views to Albus Dumbledore. He was a great Muggle sympathizer and an enemy of Dark magic, this introduction says. The introduction also adds that Dumbledore added commentary to the stories in an edition [that] was donated to the Hogwarts library on the occasion of his death. The notes were written 18 months prior to his death during the recent wizarding war, but we should take note that his commentary of “The Tale of the Three Brothers” omits many of his suspicions about the truth of the story, as now revealed by Harry Potter. These theories have been covered in what are called the “seven volumes on the life of Harry Potter,” and therefore, his original notes are printed here without any additional detail.
Michael: Can we officially start referring to the series as that? “The seven volumes on the life of Harry Potter”?
Meg: Harry Potter: The Biography.
Rosie: By J.K. Rowling.
Michael: There’s that line that confirms that it is real to the wizarding world. So 18 months prior to his death; so that places it right around the end of Order of the Phoenix, right?
Rosie: I believe so, yeah.
Meg: Yeah, just about mid-Order of the Phoenix.
Michael: That’s interesting because I guess… That’s interesting, too, that that is the point where it said that he omitted his beliefs on “The Tale of the Three Brothers” because I guess that point would be the point where Dumbledore pretty much knows everything he needs to know to set his plans in motion.
Meg: I like the idea that he’s researching these stories and what he will about the Deathly Hallows and thinking about Harry’s task ahead, and then in the meantime, he’s just like, “Oh, I think I’ll read all of them and write some commentary about them. Take some notes.”
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: I like the idea that if… Something must have started him back on the Deathly Hallows trail. So if this is 18 months before he died… and we know that he definitely had a year between him finding the ring and actually dying, so that would put us at about maybe, let’s say, five or six months before he finds the ring, that he actually goes and translates or adds notes to these stories. That puts us around the time of certainly Sirius’s death – maybe a few months before that – and makes us think that he must have gone on this search for a reason. Was it something that was during Order of the Phoenix that actually started him on this trail? Did he find some kind of Dark implement? Did he find some knowledge during that time that really set him on the idea again of finding these stories and thinking about what would benefit the wizarding world to know about its history?
Michael: Well, that is really that perfect time because I think that’s the point of the books in the series as a whole where we don’t know what Dumbledore was up to because that’s the period where he was avoiding Harry.
Rosie: It’s not even that; it’s probably the moment where he flees Hogwarts.
Meg: Yeah, right when he’s kicked out by Umbridge.
Rosie: The moment that Umbridge kicks him out, yeah. So maybe that’s what he was doing; he was just holed up in a library somewhere, adding some notes!
Meg: He was like, “I’ve got no headmastering to do.” Yeah.
Michael: [laughs] Well, and remember, Dumbledore is an academic, first and foremost. So it would seem natural to him probably to jot down his thoughts and notes.
Rosie: And like a true teacher who wants to be an author, there’s just never any time when you’re actually at school, so as soon as you leave, you do all your work.
Quentin: “Finally, a chance to write my novel!”
Michael: If only, Dumbledore. If only. [laughs] Well, and it’s nice, too, because in that way, I think… and all of Dumbledore’s notes do this, but with that introduction, too, it’s a friendly reminder [of] just how much of in complement these stories are meant to be to the main series. I think it’s good that we chose to read Tales of Beedle the Bard before Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch because I don’t think those ones are as intrinsically tied to the events of the series and the themes of the series as Beedle the Bard is.
Rosie: Definitely. And reading Beedle the Bard in such close proximity to “The Tale of the Three Brothers” and the story within Deathly Hallows as well is, I think, really important.
Quentin: I was going to say, I do want to backtrack a little bit to the comment you made earlier, Rosie, about how Dumbledore omits the information about his beliefs on whether Harry ties in with the Hallows or anything like that. I find it quite interesting that he doesn’t write it at that time because why wouldn’t he write out his own thoughts to himself? Unless he believed that maybe somebody would put them out for the public, or maybe he wanted to keep them secret in case Hermione got his book early or something?
Michael: I think that was it because Dumbledore was setting his plans into motion about… Because obviously, by Deathly Hallows, we know he bequeathed at least some of his books to Hermione and probably intended for her to get the rest of them, so if he had put too much in there that obviously… I think that very nicely covers the plot hole issue.
Rosie: [laughs] I think it’s also slightly a tongue-in-cheek comment from J.K. Rowling herself. She’s saying, “I’m not going to put the story here because you need to go […] read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” It’s very much covering her copyright and saying, “There are no spoilers here,” so you can read on if you haven’t read that book.
Michael: Oh, yeah, no, absolutely, because yeah, we do have a generation now who might read the Harry Potter books in a different order and might read the school books before they read or in the middle.
Rosie: Especially because they’re shorter, you can read these stories really quickly, so it would make a really nice thing to read for the kids who perhaps read [Books] 1 and 2, but they’re too young, a bit, to read [Book] 3, so they’re waiting for that book, and they can read this in that time.
Michael: And we’ll leave that for when we get to “Tale of the Three Brothers” at the end, but listeners, be ready to read between the lines of Dumbledore’s commentary because while he may not say things straight-out, there’s definitely some of his suspicions hidden in the words that he chose to write.
Rosie: Yeah, and remember that this voice is not strictly Dumbledore from the novels; this is Dumbledore, but it’s J.K. Rowling. It’s very much, she is present in Dumbledore more […] than she has ever been before in this voice and in this commentary. But at the same time, these notes have supposedly been allowed to be printed with permission of the Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall…
Michael: Hey oh!
Rosie: … alongside a new translation written by Hermione Granger. So we’ve got this lovely hint at a world after Harry Potter and a future career for these two characters, which isn’t really conducive with what we’ve now discovered from interviews and Pottermore comments. Am I right in thinking that we definitely see other Headmasters and [Head]mistresses, and I think Minerva was only it for a very short time if she was at all?
Michael: No, I think Beedle the Bard confirms that she was at least headmistress up to 2008, so I think that’s the only theory. She did say in an interview that McGonagall was getting on in years, but of course we have to remember, too, that I think by the Harry Potter series, McGonagall is in her 70s, so she probably could’ve… Because wizards live longer, I’m assuming she probably was able to handle the school for a few more years and then probably… That gives it… That’s still quite a long time if she committed for ten more years. But that’s, I think we’re saying, probably somewhere around 2006/2007 was when she would’ve departed. It lines up with Hermione because I mean, wouldn’t Hermione be translating runes in between doing her work at the Ministry?
Rosie: Probably. That’s just a hobby for her.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Meg: Just doing a job on the side.
Quentin: That’s her afternoon crossword puzzle.
Meg: Translating ancient runes.
Michael: And the book was left in her possession, so it is hers to…
Rosie: Yeah. And ten years gives her some distance from the war as well and time to get over losses and time to actually distance herself from the Deathly Hallows and give her some breathing space before she goes back to it, which is quite nice.
Michael: And who more than anyone would know the value of disseminating the information to the public by that point than Hermione?
Rosie: We also have to remember that if we’re talking “Nineteen Years Later” and at 19 years after that moment in Deathly Hallows, they’ve got kids [who] are old enough to go to Hogwarts, that means that how many years after the war they were having children? So Hermione is translating these stories at the time that she would be starting to read fairy tales to her children, which is just so sweet and so lovely.
Michael: That’s [a] really interesting idea. She did it for mothers everywhere.
Rosie: She did.
Rosie: And as usual, J.K. Rowling has somehow managed to get that timeline absolutely perfect. Well done.
[Meg, Michael, and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: Because it’s real, guys.
Rosie: It’s all true. But there is a final note at the end of that introduction that says [that since] Dumbledore’s notes were written for a wizarding audience, there are some colloquial and dialectal terms particular [to] the wizarding world that have been translated and clarified in the notes for a Muggle audience. So luckily, anyone who has perhaps not read the full Harry Potter series or has some terms that they are not quite familiar with will be able to have some explanation when they’re reading a story, which is perfect for young children reading these fairy tales the first time.
Michael: That’s an excellent thing that she does that here in the intro, too, because she immediately… That’s her saying, “Do not skip the footnotes. You’ve got to look at the footnotes because they’re funny, because I wrote them and they’re funny.”
[Michael, Quentin, and Rosie laugh]
Michael: It’s probably my favorite use of footnotes in a book.
Rosie: I really love the ones in Fantastic Beasts and Quidditch Through the Ages as well. Yeah, footnotes are amazing in the additional stories from J.K. Rowling.
Michael: Yeah. That’s where the majority of the humor goes in this book.
Rosie: Yeah. Always read the small print.
Michael: Yes. So with that lovely introduction by both Dumbledore and J.K. Rowling, we hop in…
Meg: We hop in!
Michael: … to our first story. Oh, hey!
[Meg, Michael, and Quentin laugh]
Michael: To “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” specifically. Quick summary of the story, but really, you should’ve read it; it’s only a few pages: A young wizard has a father who is very generous to both wizards and Muggles in his town [and] makes potions and cures for them with his little pot, with his cauldron. He dies [and] leaves it to his son. His son is not as charitable as his father and rejects all the townspeople and their ailments and needs. The pot magically sprouts a brass foot, begins hopping up and down, and begins to also take on the imagery and the sounds of all of these ailments of the town to the point that it finally annoys the son so much that he decides to be a good person, and that’s the end. So…
[Michael, Quentin, and Rosie laugh]
Michael: The moral of the story being that if you annoy somebody long enough, they’ll change.
Michael: Rowling first spoke about this story and most of the other Beedle the Bard stories on Pottercast at the end of 2007, just prior to the publication of Tales of Beedle the Bard, and as she was wrapping up Deathly Hallows and her discussions on that… And all she said on Pottercast: “I can tell you […] ‘Wizard and the Hopping Pot’ […] the moral, really, is to teach young wizards and witches that they should use their magic altruistically.” So it’s about being nice and sharing and not being selfish. Just a few little fun facts from the real Wizarding World, the Muggle Wizarding World: There is a pub in Diagon Alley for the eagle-eyed named after this story called the Hopping Pot, at the Wizarding World. If you look up, you’ll see the almost exact painting of the brass pot with the foot on it. So take a look for it; it’s hard to spot if you’re not keeping an eye out when you’re in Diagon Alley. Something that I thought was interesting about the story [was], I think one of the most interesting aspects itself is the hopping pot because the hopping pot brings up a bigger question, which is…
Michael and Quentin: “Is it alive?”
Rosie: Is it alive?
Michael: The most important question… Okay, see, that ties into this question because is the magic in The Tales of Beedle the Bard… The magic that we see… Is it strictly…? Is some of this magic actual magic by the wizarding world standards or is this an exaggeration of magic? Could the hopping pot exist within Harry’s world, I guess?
Rosie: Yes. It’s completely… I think all magic within these tales is supposed to be exactly the magic that wizards have in the wizarding world; it’s all based on Gamp’s laws and all of that kind of thing.
Michael: Ooh, well, that brings up the… because there is, of course, one story in here where we know the magic is exaggerated, and what story is that?
Rosie: Is it exaggerated, though?
Michael: In the last one. In “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” There is magic that… Nut the magic… We get that clarification from Dumbledore that the magic isn’t exactly what we saw in the story, and we even see Deathly Hallows, but it doesn’t work exactly the same.
Rosie: But it is very similar, so… yeah.
Michael: Well, and I was just wondering if the Hopping Pot is like the Elder Wand or like the Resurrection Stone; maybe it exists somehow in the wizarding world but not exactly as that?
Quentin: I would say that’s probably more it.
Rosie: See, yeah, my idea of the Hopping Pot was always that it was just a regular cauldron but it had been charmed; it had been cursed. So rather than it being a living thing and being its own kind of creature and its own magical entity, it is just something that the father has done to the pot to make it teach a lesson to his son.
Meg: Yeah, I was going to say I think it has more basis in reality than “The Tale of the Three Brothers” with Death being an actual being because in the books, we meet plenty of inanimate objects that seem to have opinions, like mirrors that say, “Fix your hair.”
Meg: Or there are objects that scream if you ignore them or something.
Rosie: Things like The Monster Book of Monsters as well; you’ve got a book that will eat you. It’s that kind of strain of magic.
Quentin: I’d probably say about the only part that’d be an exaggerated bit of magic is when the pot reflects the ailments of the villagers.
Michael: Really? Why?
Quentin: Yeah, because I feel like it would take quite a bit of magic for an artifact to be able to reflect the health of every single living being within a town. And even to a certain extent, doesn’t it also reflect the health of livestock and plant life in the village?
Michael: It does.
Rosie: Yeah, missing donkeys and things.
Michael: Well, yeah, I was wondering because I was thinking about if maybe the Hopping Pot in a way is a revelation about medicinal magic because that’s a branch of magic we actually see probably the least of in Harry Potter. And we get touches of it here and there, especially in Order when we get to go to St. Mungo’s. But Rowling really… I think part of the reason… She even explained that on Pottermore, that part of the reason she strayed away from medicinal magic is because it sometimes can create too many solutions to problems in the wizarding world. And she even discussed on Pottermore where she laid out where magic stops and how effective it can be. Of course, at the end of the story, the son must be a very practiced wizard despite his reluctance because he fixes everything.
Meg: Yeah, it’s like he just had to do one thing, and it’s not even an issue for him.
Meg: Why is he such a jerk?
Rosie: He was just not generous. Yeah, I think it’s the whole Muggle idea.
Meg: The apple really does fall far from the tree.
Rosie: He was the wizard in the Muggle town, and he’s got no interest in helping Muggles at all who can’t help themselves, so it’s that kind of altruism that is being taught here, which is interesting.
Quentin: In that respect, Rosie, the story actually reminded me a little bit of A Christmas Carol…
Rosie: Yes, I was going to talk about that.
Quentin: … with Ebenezer Scrooge having absolutely no interest [in] the poor, and he has the power to be able to assist them in any way they want, but he just doesn’t want to. And then he just gets tormented by people from the past, and then he ends up helping them.
Rosie: Yeah. And it’s an identical story structure as well: You’ve got the three visitations and then the very much hyperbolic, exaggerated, over-the-top, final visitation being the absolute worst where everything goes completely wrong. And you get all of the town’s maladies at once before he finally has this revelation, and it’s a complete change of heart, waking up one day and going to fix everything, just like going to the meal at the end of A Christmas Carol. So yeah, A Christmas Carol and Dickens and that kind of thing is an extremely strong storyline within this story, but you’ve also got the idea of “Tell-Tale Heart” that we mentioned earlier on. Did we mention it earlier on or did we…? Yes, we did. Trying to think, pre-show? On show? Yes.
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Rosie: With the idea that your internal conscience and the black marks on your soul become an external curse, and you’ve got this very loud physical noise happening as the constant reminder of the things that you’ve done wrong that will build and build and build until your nerves snap and you have to go and change something.
Michael: That’s interesting that we’re already seeing the “The Tell-Tale Heart” here because as Quentin mentioned, we’re going to see it again later. A lot more straightforward and horrifically, later.
Michael: But Rosie, you also had a point about medicinal magic as far as the medieval times.
Rosie: I do, so my…
Michael: I see your cursor just dancing around it.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: My MA that I did my master’s was on medieval literature, and specifically, my dissertation that I wrote was on medieval medicinal charms, so this is kind of perfect for me.
Rosie: But at the same time, I’m bemoaning the lack of actual medicinal medieval magic, and I wish I could see more of it because there are some amazing, amazing Anglo-Saxon and medieval charms that actually existed in the so-called Muggle world that included things like picking up a snail, circling it three times around your head, and then giving it a wish, and it would cure your headache.
Rosie: There’s a recipe that uses… sorry, but cow stomach bile that has actually recently been tested and has been proven to cure MRSA, so it’s actually a really good cure that will help solve superbugs in hospitals and that kind of thing.
Michael: What did they…? Was that what they thought it did back then?
Rosie: I think it was some kind of cure of a pox or something? So it was some kind of a viral ailment cure.
Michael: Well, yeah, because they wouldn’t have had the deep understanding of exactly what it was.
Rosie: Yeah, no. But it’s not the nicest thing to create but does actually have some apparent antibiotic qualities. So this idea of medicinal magic is really fun; to see that the wizards were the ones [who] were the healers, and you would go to a kind of wise man figure, or a wise woman figure, who would have something called a leech book or a Lacnunga, and that would be like a potion book or spell book that would have all of these different cures. You would tell them your ailment, and they would give you some kind of poultice or potion or charm to do in order to cure your ailment, and that is exactly what we see here that the old man had done. The people go to him with their maladies, he tells them the cure, or he goes to his magical hopping pot – that wasn’t hopping at the time – magical cauldron and asks it for a wish, [and] that wish then comes true. So it’s really nice to see that reflection of reality again in these stories bringing it to life.
Michael: Well, and Beedle potentially, even though he was writing from – what was it? – the 15th century?
Michael: So he’s near the… He’s not quite up to the Renaissance, but he’s getting there. He’s writing more medieval, which… That fits perfectly with what you’re saying, Rosie, because the little history that we know for medieval times in the wizarding world is that wizards actually seem to be okay living beside Muggles throughout the medieval ages. And then it started to take a turn around the 1500s and 1600s.
Rosie: Yeah. So our actual medieval history… The very earliest witch trials were starting off in Burgundy and France and the Western Alps. It didn’t quite hit England and the European and Scottish area until James VI and around the very late 1500s/early 1600s. So Beedle was very much the time period where ideas of witchcraft were turning and the wise woman was becoming the sign of the devil rather than the sign of the cure and very much Christianity as the base of what was turning people against these wise healers.
Michael: But it definitely reflects perhaps why Beedle’s stories have Muggles, and we’ll see that in the next one, too, but why Muggles and wizards and witches aren’t questioning each other in proximity.
Rosie: Yeah. There’s very much a belief in magic at the time and a belief in higher powers that will be able to either help or hinder your life.
Michael: So you guys brought up Dickens and A Christmas Carol, and I’m so glad you did because I have to mention it; the only story I could think of… and I thought of this story immediately when I first read the book and read this short story. Have any of you ever read the picture book Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola?
Rosie: I’m afraid not.
Michael: Ooh. Go to a library right now.
Michael: Run yourself into the picture book section, sit with all the little children, and read this book.
Michael: Because… and listeners too, if you haven’t…
Meg: Oh, oh! I have read this, actually.
Michael: You have! Okay.
Meg: Yeah! Years and years and years ago.
Michael: I’ll remind you guys of the story and let you know if you haven’t read it. I’ll give you a quick summary. But it’s definitely worth reading. It’s about… Strega is Italian, I believe, for “witch,” and so Strega Nona… She’s this little old woman who, just like the character here, the father, cures ailments and helps out her town. And she has a magic pot that does things for her. And she usually, though, uses it every night to make pasta. And she gets a little worker named Big Anthony, who helps her out, and she tells him when she leaves town, “Don’t use my pasta pot.” So of course he uses it, and he floods the town with pasta.
[Quentin and Rosie laugh]
Michael: So it’s not so much about being altruistic because Big Anthony wants to share, but there is an element of being responsible with things you are given. And it’s definitely very similar to this. And Tomie dePaola actually called it an Italian fairy tale/folk tale, which it wasn’t. He made it up. But it definitely draws from fairy tale traditions in the same way, so it was funny for me to see this.
Rosie: Yeah. There’s a Grimms’ fairy tale, which is “The Magic Sweet Porridge” or “The Magic Porridge Pot,” which is a very similar thing. There’s a pot that will always create the most loveliest porridge, and she keeps asking it to cook and cook and cook until eventually it floods over the top and floods the whole street, and she has to make it stop. So there [are] lovely ideas of the cauldron being a gift-giver and [of] those gifts being a bit too much, that are very much traditional folk tales.
Michael: And Dumbledore had some thoughts on this story. Once again, I have to just point out: Make sure you’re reading those footnotes because they are funny. I think my… Where is it in here? My favorite one was near the end when… or was that in the other one? Yeah, no, it is here, where Dumbledore says, “This prejudice eventually died out in the face of overwhelming evidence that some of the world’s most brilliant wizards were, to use the common phrase, ‘Muggle-lovers.'” And he’s footnoted “most brilliant wizards” with “Such as myself.”
Quentin: His ego knows no bounds.
Meg: He’s like, “I’ll keep it quiet. It’ll be a footnote.”
Michael: He’s so humble.
Quentin: “I’ll make it a footnote. No one will see this.”
Michael: The interesting thing is that – and Rosie, you touched on this a little bit with the introduction – Dumbledore says at the beginning of his footnotes… First he says that if you thought this was just a nice little morality tale, then you’re a nincompoop. And he does use that word exactly.
[Meg and Rosie laugh]
Michael: He says, [as Dumbledore] “It is nothing short of amazing that any copies of the original [version] of this tale survived the flames to which they were so often consigned.” And I thought, Rosie, you were talking about – in the introduction – just how interesting it is that Rowling decided to write these tales as “Look at witchcraft being a positive thing!” And here we are, having Dumbledore directly referencing book burning.
Rosie: Yeah, definitely. I think it was… One of the most shocking things for me growing up was knowing that one of my school friends and her family had actually gone out and bought an entire box of Harry Potter books. I think it was Order of the Phoenix, in fact. At the midnight opening, they bought so many of them, and they literally went and burned a whole box.
Rosie: And that’s in England, where we really don’t do extreme things like that that much.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: So to know that there was someone who, for religious reasons, thought that extremely negative feeling about something that I loved so much and something that is pure fantasy… It’s not supposed to be teaching you anything more than love thy neighbor, help people out, [and] good versus evil. This story and the morals in the story are very similar morals to Christian morals. They’re very much the stories that people should be learning about and learning about how to be a good person. So just because it’s witchcraft, that’s the only reason that you think it’s evil? It’s shocking to me. So I really love and embrace these narratives that show witches and wizards in a positive light, that these fictional characters that are so departed from that traditional idea of a demonic magic is the kind of magic we need to be reinforcing the image of.
Michael: Why do you guys think Rowling chose this book to so directly address those who criticized the Harry Potter series? Because she does it a lot in this book. This is not the first instance of it.
Meg: It’s like this was the proper moment. The whole series had ended. It was time for everyone… People couldn’t picket the book releases anymore and say, “Devil-worshipping is going on here.” She was like, “All right, well, you’ve had your say; I’m going to have my say now [and] put out this book.”
Michael: Hmm. Well, and I wonder, too, if when she wrote these… I’m assuming – and I can’t say for sure – when she wrote this book originally for her friends, I’m guessing Dumbledore’s notes probably weren’t a part of it and that the commentary [and] the criticism to her detractors comes through Dumbledore’s notes in the modern reflections on these fairy tales. And I think that’s great to bring up, too, because Dumbledore’s notes also go extensively into detail about how there have been alternate versions of this story. [laughs] Most popularly, in the wizarding world, there is an anti-Muggle version of the story where the pot defends the wizard against the pitchfork-carrying Muggles.
Meg: The evil Muggles.
Michael: [laughs] The evil Muggles. And then the pot actually eats them, and then the villagers promise to be nice and leave the wizard alone, so the pot spits them back out. They’re not quite the same [as] they were as before the pot ate them, apparently. Slightly mangled.
[Meg and Rosie laugh]
Quentin: Well, of course. Those horrible Muggles can’t get away without some form of punishment, right?
Michael: Well, and I thought that was interesting too. What do you guys think Rowling is trying to say with that?
Rosie: I think it’s very much a reference to the idea that fairy tales are not always sweetness and light, that even though these stories are quite positive and very much fairy tales that we would want to read to our children – with some obvious exceptions…
Rosie: … that there is this darker side. This anti-Muggle version is almost like the Grimms’ version of a fairy tale. It’s not the “Cinderella” where she goes and has the Fairy Godmother and the fancy shoes and the ball and the prince. It is the version of “Cinderella” where her sisters cut off their toes and their heels to fit their feet into the shoes, and her mother died, and there is a tree that’s granting these wishes instead. It’s the other side, and the darker side, of magic.
Michael: And taking it to the extreme other side is Miss Beatrix Bloxam. Probably one of my… Next to Celestina Warbeck, Beatrix was probably one of my favorite sideline characters because… She first got a mention, actually, in the Sorcerer’s Stone video game. That is her first appearance. And she appeared on a Wizard Card. She was born in 1794 and died in 1910. She was originally mislabeled on her Wizard Card in the Sorcerer’s Stone video game as being born in 1894, so that means she would have died at 16.
Rosie: Oh, gosh.
Michael: Which was very confusing to a lot of people because the picture on her Wizard Card is an old lady.
Michael: She’s the author of Toadstool Tales. She is very likely, almost undoubtedly, a reference to Beatrix Potter.
Rosie: Yeah. You can’t grow up in the UK, and I’m guessing you can’t grow up in the US or anywhere else as well, without having Peter Rabbit…
Michael: [in an English accent] Peter Rabbit.
Rosie: … as some major feature of your childhood, so this is definitely going to be…
Meg: Yeah, my entire infancy was Peter Rabbit themed.
Rosie: So this is definitely Jo going, “This is a reference to those stories too.”
Michael: As her Wizard Card said, she… This was our first understanding of Beatrix: She was the author of Toadstool Tales, a series of children’s books since banned because they have been found to cause nausea and vomiting.
Quentin: Which I genuinely thought that was because being called Toadstool Tales… I thought her book was made of toadstools the first time I read that.
Michael: Not quite. It’s content like this, which I will read because it makes me laugh every time.
Meg: Oh, good.
Quentin: [laughs] Oh no.
Michael: Get your puke bags ready because… my God. So we do get a little example of Beatrix Bloxam’s writing. In her version of “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” at the end, it goes, [in a high-pitched voice] “Then the little golden pot danced with delight – hoppitty hoppitty hop!” [laughs] And I’ve read books like this. This is why it’s so terrible. [in a high-pitched voice] “… on its tiny rosy toes! Wee Willykins had cured all the dollies of their poorly tum-tums, and the little pot was so happy it filled up with sweeties for Wee Willykins and the dollies! ‘But don’t forget to brush your teethy-pegs!’ cried the pot. And Wee Willykins kissed and huggled the hoppitty pot and promised always to help the dollies and never to be an old grumpy-wumpkins again.”
Rosie: So everyone who says Harry Potter is just a children’s book: That is a children’s book.
Meg: Point them in the direction of Toadstool Tales.
Michael: Yet again, another… And I think there is… I mean, not perhaps so much a criticism as a loving poke, I think, especially.
Rosie: Oh yeah. It’s satire. It’s pure satire. It’s saying these books do actually exist in the world, and it’s also showing… This is what Umbridge would write if she [were] writing a children’s book and [were] actually nice.
Meg: It is.
Rosie: It’s hilarious. I love it. [laughs]
Michael: It’s a thorough misunderstanding of children. And as… The funny and fun thing about The Tales of Beedle the Bard is that Beatrix Bloxam will have her character developed as a secondary character throughout the book, so keep an eye out for her because she ends up getting quite a lot of mentions in this story. [laughs]
Rosie: We’ll definitely have to try to have a hunt for her as we’re playing the video games as well.
Rosie: See if we can find that card.
Michael: Yes. And I do think the satire, I was thinking too, really hits on the head as… And Rosie, you mentioned it earlier with… I think the big one that’s being targeted here is Disney and the redefinition of a “fairy tale” because I think fairy tales historically have always been warning and morality tales for children, but I think with the changing of the times, the content of those fairy tales has seen fit to change because of course, listeners, if you haven’t read the original “Little Mermaid” or the original “Beauty and the Beast,” they’re not quite as pleasant as Disney’s versions.
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Rosie: We have to say “original” with a pinch of salt as well because there are…
Michael: They’ve changed so much.
Rosie: They have changed, definitely, but there is no necessarily “original” version of those stories. What we consider to be original versions, even things like Grimms’ tales or Charles Perrault stories, have been recorded based on folktale, and folktale has no origin; it has been passed on by word-of-mouth through generations and generations and from town and town. And things change and things develop, and I think there are 300 versions of “Cinderella” in the world. There are at least 20, I think, ancient stories of “Beauty and the Beast.” Every single one of these stories that we consider to be an iconic fairy tale [has] got so many ancient versions of them that are so interesting to read. At university, I did a comparative literature degree, and so I did a whole module on exploring the history of fairy tales and looking at comparative tales right from ancient Mesopotamia up to the modern day. And it is so rewarding to see these [kinds] of storylines traced through history and traced through culture and see each culture make its mark on that story. And this is just Jo putting the wizarding world’s mark on those ancient culture tales, and yeah, it’s lovely. Please, please, please, think about literature as comparative and not just “Here is a book; let’s read it.”
Michael: Well, and the important thing, too, is you go forward from that, and even to modern times these fairy tales have inspired so many modern works that are so popular. Like “Beauty and the Beast” is present in Phantom of the Opera and King Kong. There’s, I think… Isn’t there a theory…? Rosie, you might know more about this: a theory that there [are] five basic stories in the world?
Rosie: Seven. There are seven basic plots.
Michael: Seven! Of course there are seven!
Rosie: Magical number! So some of those plots are “Overcoming the Monster,” which is very much a Harry Potter tale, where you’ve got an evil villain and you have to defeat it by the end. You’ve got “Voyage and Return,” so think back to The Odyssey: The character has to go out on a journey and will eventually make its way back to its original starting point, having learned a great deal about the world. You have got the traditional “Comedy” and “Tragedy”; think Romeo and Juliet [and] think of those great stories. You have got… I’m trying to remember what the titles of the other ones are…
Michael: [laughs] There are seven. There are so many!
Rosie: There are seven.
Rosie: If you search “seven basic plots” on Google, you will find those stories. Let me do that now. There’s a great book by Christopher Booker – brilliant surname for an author…
Rosie: … [that] analyzes these seven basic plots and really looks at what kind of stories they are and analyzes some really famous works and thinks about what stories they actually fit into. But even if you have got the same plots that are the basic storylines, it is what you do with those plots that makes each story an individual and each story different. And it’s just the lenses that you tell these stories through. There we go, we’ve got “Overcoming the Monster”; “Rags to Riches,” so think “Aladdin”; “The Quest,” which is very much Deathly Hallows, [where] you have to go out and find things; “Voyage and Return,” [where] you go out and come back having learned something; “Comedy”; “Tragedy”; and “Rebirth.” So pretty much all seven of those can be found…
Michael and Rosie: … in Harry Potter.
Rosie: Which is what makes it so magical. It is all of these at once.
Michael: How many stories are in Beedle the Bard? Six? Five?
Michael: That’s not a magical number.
Rosie: Why didn’t she write seven?
Quentin: One for each plot.
Rosie: Seems so obvious!
Meg: She loves seven!
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: Just two more, J.K. Rowling, come on!
Meg: They’re so short.
Michael: Well, and speaking of stories, our last bit from Dumbledore’s notes is that we do get some further details on a few characters. We get a little more detail on what happened to poor Nearly Headless Nick. Rowling had previously explained his story on her old website, where she actually revealed that Nick had a whole little ballad that he was meant to sing at his party in Chamber of Secrets about how he died…
Michael: … but it unfortunately just didn’t make it in. But we do find out that he had… What’s funny there, too, is Rowling uses that story also to clear up plot holes about why Nick wasn’t able to escape from his imprisonment, even though he probably should have been able to. We also get the first mention of Brutus Malfoy, who[m] we will have later seen on Rowling’s family tree. He is the editor of Warlock at War, and he made the “scientific” argument that Muggle-sympathizing wizards are inefficient at magic.
Michael: That was perfect what you were saying, Rosie, I guess, about the transition in the Muggle world, how we view wizards and witches, and I think perhaps this is also the point where the wizards are having their reciprocating feelings and starting to look for differences, perhaps?
Rosie: Yes. And it perfectly mirrors the historical reality of how that propaganda happened. Pamphlets were created. King James VI actually wrote his own book on witchcraft and why it was so evil, so it was very much the printed word that perpetuated these stories. So the fact that Brutus Malfoy was one of these writers [who] was creating these pamphlets and creating these periodicals and helping to shape the literature on anti-Muggle propaganda at the same time as this anti-wizarding propaganda was happening… It’s just perfect. It’s 1675 that Brutus writes that story, I believe?
Michael: Yes, yes.
Rosie: Let me just double check my history.
Michael: [laughs] What’s going on in 1675? What’s the weather like outside in 1675?
[Meg and Quentin laugh]
Rosie: So the very famous Salzburg witch trials…
Rosie: … in Austria, which led to the death of 139 people, began in 1675.
Michael: Oh, golly.
Rosie: So Jo knows her history.
Rosie: She knows exactly what’s happening when. Let me just check when James wrote his book because I’m fairly sure it’s going to be sometime previous. Oh, he died in 1625, so it’s going to be a long time before that, but it’s very much that time period. If you think Macbeth and the three witches in Macbeth… Macbeth was written for King James becoming King of England. It was written around that time that this massive witch hunt was beginning. Demonology – the book that he wrote – was written in 1597. So definitely earlier than this particular story and definitely earlier than Malfoy, but you can see why Malfoy in particular would start to feel this anti-Muggle viewpoint considering what has happened to witches and wizards in the Muggle world in the 50 to 100 years previously.
Michael: If we are going this far back, really, the cards were just stacked against Draco and Scorpius, weren’t they? [laughs]
Rosie: He’s got 500 years of anti-Muggle propaganda going on in that story.
Michael: But overall, that’s the summary of “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot.” I don’t know what your guys’ feelings are. This is perhaps one of my least favorite of the tales overall, just because I’d say it’s the shortest and least substantial of all of them.
Rosie: Yeah. It’s interesting that she put it first, I think. It’s very much a soft opening. Here is a nice little fairy tale that you may feel you have some recollection of if you’ve ever read “The Magic Porridge Pot” or something like that. But it’s not one of these epic tales that feels like it’s a grand fairy tale. We’ll feel more like that into the next one.
Michael: Perfect transition. Yeah, perfect transition into the next one…
Rosie: Thank you.
Michael: … because I think this one may have come out as one of the most… next to “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” probably the most popular fairy tale in this grouping.
Rosie: Which is interesting, I think, mainly because it has so many other fairy tales combined to create it.
Michael: To create it, yeah.
Rosie: But we’ll talk more about that in a moment.
Michael: This is “The Fountain of Fear Fortune.” It already has a great name! So…
Rosie: Alliteration. You can’t go wrong with alliteration.
Michael: Alliteration always takes the cake. As a reminder of this story, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”: We have three poor ladies, they have many woes and woos and boo-hoos, and they’re going to the Fountain of Fair Fortune to [turn] their lives around. One of them ends up being chosen. They all end up going in along with a very bizarre little white knight. They journey through the challenges of the garden, they finally get to the Fountain of Fair Fortune, and they all realize that they actually all had everything they needed within themselves, and they leave the fountain without ever knowing that the fountain itself has no magic properties at all. Rowling said on Pottercast that “‘Fountain of Fair Fortune’ is my favorite one, and that’s really about the qualities you need to achieve your heart’s desire and the moral being that magic, ultimately, is not the best weapon.” Actually, another tidbit about the Muggle Wizarding World, if you go to the park at Universal, this fairy tale was chosen to be performed by members of the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts, or…
Meg and Michael: … WADA.
Michael: Which, Rosie, I believe is a play on the British academy of dramatic…
Michael: Yes! [laughs]
Rosie: Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Michael: Royal Academy, yeah. But it is performed at the Wizarding World as a puppet show in Diagon Alley’s Carkitt Market. It is sometimes performed in tandem with “The Tale of the Three Brothers.” And once again, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” was also given a pub in Diagon Alley.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: How many pubs are there in Diagon Alley?
Michael: There are so many!
Rosie: It’s sounding like a British town now.
Quentin: There'[re] a lot of drinkers in Diagon Alley.
Michael: And it’s a good tip, listeners, to seek out the Fountain of Fair Fortune at the park because it’s around the corner from Florean Fortescue’s, and nobody ever sees it, but it’s a great place to go get some butterbeer [whispers] without having to wait in line…
Michael: [whispers] … because nobody’s ever there! So head to the Fountain of Fair Fortune. It’s just across from the bathrooms. Maybe that’s the other reason people don’t go to it!
Rosie: Are you sure that was butterbeer? I don’t know…
Michael: So as Rosie mentioned, there are a lot of familiar stories that tie into this one. I want to ask Meg and Quentin first. Did any stories pop into your guys’ head as you were reading this one?
Quentin: Yes, and you actually have it in the show notes. The Wizard of Oz…
Meg: I know! That’s what I was first thinking.
Quentin: … immediately popped into my head.
Meg: Yeah, Wizard of Oz, right there.
Michael: Isn’t it interesting, because The Wizard of Oz is probably the quintessential American fairy tale. It reeks of very American imagery. But it’s so… And I’ve always found it interesting that The Wizard of Oz is so beloved around the world despite that because it very much takes from that iconography of the Midwest. Even Oz itself… It has the big planes and the corn fields.
Rosie: Would you say that the movie is more well known than the actual story?
Quentin: Oh, yes.
Rosie: Because I think that plays such a massive part in it because the introduction of technicolor and the magic of this other world going from black and white into color that brings its own layer of magic to it, so The Wizard of Oz – the story – transcended itself with that movie, and that is why it’s quite as beloved as it is. It really sticks a pin in that moment in history.
Michael: Has everyone here read the original book?
Quentin: Just you and me, Michael.
Michael: The boys have!
[Meg, Michael, and Rosie laugh]
Michael: Quentin, would you say there'[re] differences between the morality of the Oz book and the Oz movie? And perhaps how they relate?
Quentin: Not too terribly much, honestly.
Michael: Because I’m thinking in how they relate to “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” Because in the movie, there’s an understanding that what the Wizard is giving them is not what they wanted. And it’s more obvious, I think, a call to “Oh, well, we had it in us all along. But the Wizard is just giving us these physical objects to represent that.” In the book, it’s presented more as a trick. The Wizard gives them what they want without telling them that it’s all fake.
Quentin: My favorite one in the book is when he fills the scarecrow’s head with bran…
Quentin: … sawdust, and nails. And he says, “Now you have bran new brains!”
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: Yes, he cheats a little bit. He gives the lion a drink – a potion that he says that will give him courage.
Quentin: Yeah, he gives him a hip flask with alcohol in it, basically.
Quentin: Here’s liquid courage. [laughs]
Rosie: Felix Felicis.
Meg: Yeah, Felix.
Michael: And he gives the tin man a little heart stuffed with sawdust, I think.
Quentin: Yeah, a plush heart.
Michael: Yeah. But he doesn’t make it clear that he’s not giving them what they want. So the lesson isn’t really learned in the same way in the book as it is, I think, presented in the movie.
Quentin: Yeah, that’s right. Because in the movie he says, “You have the courage.” With the scarecrow, he says, “You have the brains; what you don’t have is something to represent your intelligence.” And then he gives him a diploma.
Michael: And then the scarecrow proceeds to pronounce the Pythagorean theorem wrong.
Rosie: Education is important, guys!
Michael: Yes. So it’s funny to me because in a way I feel “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” is actually taking more from the Oz movie in that way than the book because there’s a big stress in the movie compared to the book that Dorothy had the power within her all along to go home. That’s not so stressed in the book. In fact, she has a whole other journey after she kills the witch. The witch is not a big player in the book. She climbs over a mountain, she goes to a little town made of China, and then Glinda is like, “You have shoes that can take you home.” And it has nothing to do with your own personal power. They’re just really good shoes.
Michael: So it’s funny that the movie… Like you were saying, Rosie, the movie pervaded the culture in that way even more so. Because I know over in the UK, I think, is where they developed… Was it Andrew Lloyd Webber or one of the other UK Broadway composers who created a Wizard of Oz stage show based on the movie that started out in the UK before coming here? The movie, obviously, is a pretty big thing over there compared to the book.
Rosie: Yeah. And I think the prevalence of the musical Wicked and things and obviously the book series for Wicked have really brought new life into that Oz mythology. But I wouldn’t necessarily think of The Wizard of Oz as a fairy tale, even. I would think of it as a classic of literature almost in the same way as Lord of the Rings. It’s that story that everyone knows, even if they haven’t actually read it or seen it. They’ve got some idea of what actually happens in the plot.
Michael: That’s so funny because over here, we Americans are so excited to call it our American fairy tale.
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Rosie: Yeah, because you guys don’t have fairy tales.
Michael: We don’t have any!
Meg: Take what we can get. Yeah.
Quentin: Yeah, the closest thing we have to a fairy tale is Paul Bunyan, so give us Wizard of Oz.
Rosie: Yeah. I will. It’s fine.
Rosie: But yeah, fairy tales in terms of genre definition: generally shorter. Generally very much moralistic. Obviously, The Wizard of Oz has those morals, it has that allegory, it has that fable aspect of it. But the fact that it is such a longer book – it is actually a novel rather than a short story – would make it more of a classic of literature rather than a fairy tale to me.
Michael: Rosie, you put down two fairy tales that I think were really interesting comparisons. What did you see in those?
Rosie: So my two suggestions were “Rapunzel” and “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” “Twelve Dancing Princesses” is such an underrated fairy tale that everyone always forgets exists.
Michael: It’s a great fairytale.
Rosie: And “Rapunzel” in particular was the very traditional beginning of “Rapunzel.” Just the atmosphere, I think, that this story creates reminds me of these two traditional stories. So the opening of the actual “Rapunzel” is a pregnant mother who gets a craving, and the craving is for a particular type of lettuce, I believe – rapunzel lettuce – that is growing in the witch’s garden just across the wall. If you’ve ever seen Into the Woods…
Michael: Into the Woods!
Rosie: … that is the story that starts off Into the Woods. The evil witch…
Michael: Not the Disney movie. The original play, guys. Go seek out the original play.
Rosie: Yeah, the original play. The Disney movie’s all right. It’s still got this story in it, so it’s not that bad.
Rosie: But the original play is better, obviously. So the husband has to go across into the witch’s garden to steal some of this rapunzel lettuce to try [to] sate this craving of his wife and unfortunately gets caught. And just this idea of having to cross this wall into this unknown area to get this dream and to have this benefit….
Michael: Yeah, to get your wishes fulfilled.
Meg: Get your reward.
Rosie: Yeah, get your reward. It’s very much what this story is. You have to cross this hedge or this wall to get to the fountain in the first place. And then “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is a little bit later on, once we see the three witches bring the knight in with them and pulling each other hand by hand, and the illustration in particular of the three witches and the knight following on is very much reminiscent of an illustration of “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” I had when I was growing up. It’s just this beautiful image of “Oh, you’ve got to come along now. You’re here with us. You’ve got to come help us.”
Rosie: It’s very much like the prince in that story following the princesses going across the boat and doing what the princesses wanted. And also falling in love with the youngest princess, the youngest witch, in that story as well.
Michael: Side note: Still surprised that Disney hasn’t adapted “The Twelve Princesses” because they could double their princess franchise with one movie.
Rosie: They could have so many!
Rosie: As I was saying, it’s such an underrated story that I think people read when they are young but forget about really quickly. And I don’t know why. It’s such an evocative, gorgeous story. It’s probably because the women are the ones [who] are actually doing something in that story, so it’s not interesting to most people.
Rosie: Skeptical, sorry.
Michael: Well, no. It’s interesting, too, that you bring that up alongside “Rapunzel” in terms of the female roles in the story.
Rosie: Yeah, true. Yeah. The women want something, and the men go out and get it in these stories. Always read the traditional ones, guys. They’re brilliant.
Rosie: But to get back to this Rowling version, “The Fountain of Fair Fortune”…
Michael: The other story similarities that immediately came off the top of my head. This one isn’t necessarily so much story as it is a concept. It’s something that Indiana Jones would go looking for. That is the fountain of youth.
Rosie: Yes. Which I definitely would’ve added, but you already had.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: I don’t really know too many traditional stories, specifically, about seeking out the fountain. I know it more as a concept, and sadly, I know it from Pirates of the Caribbean.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: Which was not its best use. [laughs] What’s interesting there is that the fountain really is the thing that you seek. The idea of being eternally young. Versus the fountain here, which ends up being completely a MacGuffin in that the fountain is just the thing to get them moving, but it’s not the ultimate goal in the end. Because it’s not going to teach them what they need. It’s just a fountain. I don’t know if that’s why “The Fountain of Fair Fortune” takes me so much as my favorite, because of that little… She didn’t have to put that little ending line about the fountain. But it wraps it up so perfectly.
Rosie: Yeah. The concept of the fountain of youth is a really interesting thing because the longevity myth, the idea of living beyond the set time that we all have, living beyond our standard lifespan, is so pervasive in every single culture, every single religion. For obvious reasons. We have this life; we want to live it for as long as possible. The idea of conquering death is obviously so important to so many people because we want to have more time with our families and all of these kinds of things. It obviously comes up several times within Harry Potter earlier on. Philosopher’s Stone straight away is that idea of prolonging life – obviously, it’s Voldemort’s ultimate aim. But the actual Fountain of Youth is in the New Testament, it’s in Jewish tradition, [and] I believe there’s a version of it in the Quran. There are versions of it in Herodotus that come from Ethiopia. It links all the way back to an Eden tale.
Michael: I was going to say that the interesting thing about the Fountain of Youth, especially more recently… And I don’t know if it was always this way traditionally, but the Fountain of Youth has lately become a tale of… The fountain is something that’s actually undesirable to use, I think.
Rosie: Sure, yeah. The curse of the Fountain of Youth is becoming interesting. And I think that’s partly due to advances in modern medicine and our understanding [that], actually, old age is not necessarily as…
Michael: … fun?
Rosie: … good as we thought it was going to be.
Rosie: That there are a lot of hardships that come with old age and that there are a lot of things that we need to fix perfectly. We need the Fountain of Youth to be an actual fountain of youth rather than a fountain of prolonged life. And it needs to be available for everyone because if you become young and your family [is] still old, you have that curse of seeing people die and that kind of thing, which is explored in Doctor Who and all of those areas. So yeah, there’s an interesting problem with the concept of prolonged youth.
Michael: I was going to say, since this seems to be the literature-heavy episode…
Rosie: Yay! [laughs]
Michael: [laughs] … I will also recommend to our listeners… If you’ve never read Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, that deals with this theme very strongly. Plus, they just turned it into a Broadway show! So Meg, you could go see that. [laughs]
Meg: I could go see it! And I could be sitting there taking notes about…
Rosie: Isn’t there a film as well, with Alexis Bledel?
Michael and Quentin: Yes.
Rosie: I don’t know how good that is. I just know that I’ve seen the picture on Netflix.
Michael: So-so Disney film with Alexis Bledel. And they had to change character ages, and that lost a bit of the story. But [it] definitely touches on that issue of eternal life. The other story similarity that I didn’t know about – that I actually found through research and was likely Rowling’s inspiration – is something called the fountain allegory by Bernard of Treviso. And Bernard of Treviso is likely multiple people somewhere around the 15th century – so around Beedle’s time. But nobody quite knows who he is – or [who] they are. But the story itself is basically about a guy who goes to a fountain where he finds out from an old man, who’s the keeper of a fountain, that this king comes to bathe in the fountain every night for 200-some nights. And his men in waiting come and stand by, and the fountain… Nobody ever sees what’s in the fountain, but the fountain apparently has youthful properties. And the interesting bit where it ties in – not only with the fountain imagery – is also that if you look at Rowling’s drawing, there are runes on each level of the fountain. Those rune symbols apparently translate to Mars, Jupiter, Mercury, and Saturn. And Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn are actually the names of the king’s men in waiting who hold all of his stuff while he goes into the fountain. So there’s definitely… And since Rowling drew the pictures, that’s got to be where that comes from.
Rosie: Also, the fountain is a dragon! It’s so cool.
Michael: Yes! And there’s something very interesting at the bottom of the fountain.
Rosie: There is.
Michael: Anybody notice what that was?
Quentin: The symbol of the Deathly Hallows!
[Michael and Quentin mock gasp]
Michael: [laughs] What is that doing there?!
Quentin: Oh my gosh!
Michael: This isn’t “The Tale of the Three Brothers”!
Michael: I guess Dumbledore suggests that Beedle was also one of those believers in the Hallows, right?
Michael: I guess that would be suggested by the tale itself, so apparently, Beedle was also leaving little hints in his other stories.
Rosie: So the idea of Bernard of Treviso is particularly interesting in terms of “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” in terms of the Hallows, and in terms of Harry Potter because… did you do any research into who he was, Michael?
Michael: I couldn’t find any definitive stuff. What do you know, Rosie? Impart your wisdom, please.
Rosie: Okay, so Bernard of Treviso is also known as Bernard Trevisan, and he refers to one or more Italian alchemists…
Rosie: As we know about alchemists, they create certain stones that are important in prolonging life.
Rosie: And he was part of a very noble family in Padua. He spent his entire life, spending his entire family fortune, in search of the philosopher’s stone – the actual philosopher’s stone. He attempted…
Michael: Well, isn’t that quite the coincidence?
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Rosie: It’s a lovely coincidence. I wonder where she would ever have come up with this story and where she may have researched something about these philosopher’s stones and found his name. Who knows? Yeah. He fashioned a philosopher’s stone out of eggshells, egg yolk, and horse manure. Not sure if it worked, but that’s the story.
Michael: [laughs] The one guarantee he’d have is that nobody would want to share it.
Rosie: Indeed, yeah. Definitely.
Quentin: It might keep his plants alive forever, but that’s about it.
[Meg, Michael, and Rosie laugh]
Rosie: Yeah, definitely. So yeah, there’s a major link to him and the idea of overcoming death. So it’s interesting to see on this fountain. But especially because we’ve got these symbols – alchemical symbols, astrological symbols – on this picture of a fountain [that] is also a dragon. But we’ve also just – literally a page before or earlier on that page – been told that this fountain has no magical properties. So whoever carved those images on it would have some inkling of the moral [and] would have some inkling of the idea. So maybe that symbol there is trying to say, “You will not conquer death by using this fountain. You need to go […] search for the Hallows instead.”
Quentin: I was almost thinking along the lines of – because the Hallows aren’t conquering death in the sense that a lot of the characters think it is in the seventh Harry Potter book – that maybe this fountain isn’t the answer to your problem as you might think it is.
Michael: I think that’s an excellent explanation of why Beedle would have drawn… or why somebody would have carved the Deathly Hallows symbol onto the fountain. Because it represents… The lesson, the ultimate lesson – like you were just saying, Quentin – of the Deathly Hallows is that they are not the solution to your problem. That idea, even though it’s so prominent here… I think it pervades all of the stories of Beedle the Bard – the idea that the true strength you need is within you. Even in “The Wizard and the Hopping Pot,” it’s the boy needing to realize that he needs to take responsibility; it’s him stepping up to his responsibility. I think that we’ll see later with “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart,” that’s an example of failing that responsibility within you, that power within you, or taking it too far. And speaking of characters, actually, we have four main characters who I just wanted to quickly break down their names because they had some… I figured these had to have meaning of some sort because it’s J.K. Rowling. Notwithstanding that all three of the girls… All three of their names start with A. Interestingly, they are not sisters; they’re not even related. They’re just fellow witches who ran into each other waiting to get into the fountain. The first one is Asha. She’s the one who is sick. Her name means “hope and life,” which is fitting. Altheda… She’s the one who’s poverty-stricken and describes herself as powerless. She’s the one who was robbed. Her name means “to heal,” which fits perfectly with her ending. She’s the one who collects the herbs at the end and heals Asha, actually. And Amata, who is the heartbroken one… Her name, of course, means “beloved.”
Michael: And then there is…
Meg: So subtle.
Quentin: So much irony in this.
Michael: [laughs] Well, it’s that thing of wizards just having the perfect names for their lives. Who knows? Maybe these witches were named after a prophet told them… Because that’s something that Pottermore confirmed. And then, of course, my favorite – his name needs no breakdown – Sir Luckless.
Meg: Poor guy.
Michael: This character is fascinating, and not only is he a Muggle – he’s not a wizard – I really thought that he is cut almost exactly from the same cloth as not only Sir Cadogan, who is a wizard, but also, I was thinking of Alice in Wonderland’s White Knight from Through the Looking Glass. Very similar… I guess the part that makes it humorous is that he’s everything counter to what a knight should be.
Rosie: He is the Cowardly Lion, isn’t he?
Quentin: Yes, very much so.
Michael: Yes. He’s the bumbling knight; he can’t do anything right. I love his… He gets a coin out to use, and it’s his last coin, and it just goes flying off.
Rosie: It rolls away. [laughs]
Michael: [laughs] His sword breaks.
Rosie: It’s even… He gets dragged through the hedge and immediately goes, “Oh, I shouldn’t be here. I’m just a burden to you guys. Sorry.”
Meg: Yeah. He’s almost got some Neville Longbottom in him. He’s like, “I’ll just go back out, guys. Sorry.”
Rosie: Yeah. Oh, Neville is so Sir Luckless! Aww.
Michael: And is it Asha who’s just like, “Hey, no, you’re coming with us”?
Michael: “Some knight you are, trying to abandon us.”
Rosie: But it’s Amata [whom] he’ll eventually go off with. It’s the heartbroken and the beloved one that he eventually will…
Michael: Well, like you said, Rosie, “The Twelve Dancing Princesses, falling in love with the youngest one in the group. The challenges are absolutely…
Rosie: Before we move on… Sorry, before we move on to the challenges, just sticking on those character names. So Asha, Altheda, and Amata… They are alliterative names, which we love. We already talked about their meanings, but their origins are also gorgeous. And the fact that Jo has managed to pick one Greek name, one Latin name, and one name that the origin is from Sanskrit…
Quentin: Oh, wow.
Rosie: So you’ve got three ancient, classical, magical origins, and you’ve got your diversity tick right there.
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Michael: Brilliant! I didn’t even realize that. How clever.
Rosie: Yeah. So “Asha” is Sanskrit, “Altheda” is Greek, and “Amata” is Latin.
Michael: How lovely.
Rosie: So there you go. And Sir Luckless is British.
Michael: So now, the challenges. Because… These challenges are so great in that they draw so much from fairy tale tradition, and simultaneously, they’re new. They’re fresh. To me, I felt like it was a lot of revisiting of the third task from Goblet of Fire. There’s a lot of that imagery here. Well, the one I specifically thought of… the way the creatures that they come upon and the challenges they come upon always say, “Show me the fruits of your labor” and things like that.
Meg: Yeah, answer this riddle with bodily fluids.
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Michael: Yeah! Which reminded me of… That’s very medieval.
Meg: [laughs] Very medieval.
Michael: But that reminded me of the sphinx in the third task. And the other thing that reminded me of the third task was the hill that they move on but doesn’t go anywhere. That seems similar to the magic of the mist that turns the world upside-down.
Meg: Or just of the maze in general.
Michael: Yeah, it is, yeah.
Meg: Just neverending.
Michael: It’s a different version, yeah. Well, and I liked that idea, too, of the hill that keeps going, but you’re not getting anywhere. Because like the mist, that’s another version of magic that is warping reality in a really extreme way, but it seems to only be doing it for the individual who[m] it’s affecting. So that’s… And again, I wonder, is this place with the fountain… Is it in the wizarding world, is it a real place, or is it just a thing of legend like the Deathly Hallows? Nobody’s ever found it, but maybe this fountain…
Rosie: It’s King’s Cross!
Michael: They built over it! [laughs]
Michael: Of course, we have the giant white worm, which has really no comparison to anything in the wizarding world.
Quentin: Not necessarily in the wizarding world.
Meg: Pretty much the human world.
Quentin: Has anyone read the Keys to the Kingdom series?
Rosie: Yeah! Garth Nix.
Quentin: It reminds me of the book Lord Sunday, where there’s the great stone worm that was one of the very first creations in the universe and is completely indestructible.
Rosie: Yeah! Yes. I think the idea of the Midgard Serpent, the Norse legend, is a great white worm. And that worm… When it comes to the land of mankind, it will signify Ragnarok, the apocalypse, and it will end in flooding the whole land. So you’ve got this connection between water and liquid and tears and this great white worm, which would be a massive barrier to cross to survive and to gain long life. So you do have some ancient mythological traditions again with the idea of the worm. And the story of worms (traditionally spelled W-Y-R-M) and dragons is the connection here. So you’ve got the fountain itself, which is in the shape of the dragon in that story, [and] that illustration at the end would be that great white worm, possibly, if we were thinking of worms as dragons.
Michael: And the worm definitely functions similarly to the sphinx in this story.
Rosie: Yes. It is the barrier that you must cross, yeah.
Michael: But in the end, the answers to these riddles all require some physical manifestation of something, not a spoken answer. So that’s a little different. Probably the most striking one is that Amata has to give up her memories, and what’s interesting about that is that brings up the debate again about when you take out your memories, do they go away? Or do you… Because the story implies that she does let those memories literally go.
Meg: Eternal Sunshine-style?
Michael: Yes! Yes, that’s exactly it. And the thing is, she still remembers who he is, but without those memories blocking the way, she realizes that he wasn’t a good person.
Quentin: It may be like how, recently, Rowling revealed that there are two different types of Memory Charms, one to completely erase and one to alter. Maybe there’[re] two different ways to remove memories. One, you remove a copy of the memory and another, you completely remove it from yourself.
Rosie: Yeah. Extracting it or duplicating it. Yeah, I like that idea.
Meg: Yeah, she didn’t have a back-up copy, “save as.”
Quentin: Get rid of the original file.
Rosie: I think it’s interesting to try… You compared these tasks to the third [task] maze, but I think you could also compare them to the closing sequence of Deathly Hallows. If we’re thinking “giant white worm,” where do we see one of those in Deathly Hallows?
Michael: [whispers] Giant white worm in Deathly Hallows…
Rosie: Giant white dragon?
Meg: Oh yeah.
Rosie: At Gringotts.
Meg: There you go.
Rosie: You have to fly on the giant white worm. It will take you into a lake: water.
Rosie: And then you have to walk up that never-ending hill, or you Apparate, obviously, into Hogwarts, but then that battle becomes never-ending; you’re running up and forth throughout the castle, and Amata’s memories could be seen as Snape’s memories. You’re giving up those memories; you’re giving up that idea. Never-ending hill could even be Harry walking into the forest and up to that moment there, giving up that particular sequence of events. But also, the idea that these three gifts that you must give in order to get to the fountain are tears, sweat, and memories. The tradition we would think of whenever you’re putting your heart and soul into something is blood, sweat, and tears, isn’t it?
Meg, Michael, and Quentin: Mhm.
Rosie: So the idea that memories become a replacement for blood and that the experience and the idea of something happening in your intellect, in your mind, is as important, if not more important, than the actual… almost hurting yourself to do this task. Just thinking of it as a mental health kind of aspect, your mental/physical boundary is blurred here, and I love the idea of memories rather than a blood sacrifice as being the important thing for magic. It’s gorgeous.
Meg: Yeah, and it makes me think of [the] end of Half-Blood Prince when they’re in the cave and Dumbledore realizes he has to cut his hand and wipe it…
Rosie: Yeah, he has to…
Meg: … and he’s like, “This is just Voldemort thinking that this is the biggest sign of human weakness.” It’s just physical.
Rosie: That’s so nice.
Meg: There are deeper things.
Rosie: Ooh, perfect. Love it. [snaps fingers] Yes. I love being on Alohomora!
Michael: Wouldn’t that be crazy? Wouldn’t that be so cool if…? I mean, Dumbledore was a very learned man, but wouldn’t that be cool if this story was where he learned that?
Meg: That would.
Michael: That idea that there [are] more egregious things to sacrifice than blood.
Rosie: And just that imagery; you’ve got the idea of Snape being so much better than Voldemort because Voldemort will always go back to blood and go to blood sacrifice as the key thing, whereas Snape will sacrifice his memories and his love in order to protect… That’s just… There we go; Snape is a good guy.
Rosie: We know from this riddle.
Michael: I guess we’re finding out more reasons why everybody likes this story the best out of the Beedle the Bard stories.
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Rosie: It’s just so rich, the imagery in this story and everything that comes into it. The allegories in it are just gorgeous. I really, really love the story.
Michael: Well, yeah, I think the fact that we compared it just to so many fairy tales… I think – like you said, Rosie – there’s a little more painted imagery going on here, and therefore, there’s also a little… That makes it easier to recall very beloved stories that we already know like this one. The Wizard of Oz is so well liked that it’s almost like you can’t help but like this story structure and this setup. Rowling just manages to make it her own by making these four characters distinct in their own special ways and very easy to love because they’ve lost things that we can all lose, and they’ve been through trials we can all go through, and figuring out their way through it is just… It’s a very cleverly simplified way of how you get through these things in real life. Dumbledore has some notes about this story. They’re not quite as extensive as far as his feelings on the story. This is actually the moment where you’re like, “Oh my gosh! J.K. Rowling is totally going to write Hogwarts: A History!”
Rosie: [laughs] If only! Please write us Hogwarts: A History.
Michael: [laughs] She gives us a little bit here. We learn about poor Professor Herbert Beery. He was the Herbology professor during Dumbledore’s tenure as Transfiguration professor, and he so badly wanted to start a dramatic arts department. [laughs] Of course.
Michael: He would… This is actually the first story… so fittingly because it’s performed by the members of WADA. This is the first mention of WADA in Harry Potter canon – the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts – because that is where Herbert Beery will later move to after his time at Hogwarts because the experience that happened to poor Professor Beery definitely, I think, changed his mind about teaching there.
Michael: Professor Beery decided that they should put on a pantomime of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” Rosie, maybe you can tell us a little more about pantomimes.
Rosie: Do you guys not have pantomimes?
Michael: Not in the way you do.
Meg and Quentin: No.
Michael: We have this…
Rosie: See, we were talking last episode about how you guys are so reactive in films, and we are not. We sit in a cinema, we watch the film, we think, “Oh, that was very good,” and we walk away. In pantomimes, we let all that go.
Rosie: Pantomimes are the moment where it’s total 100% interaction with the audience; everything is over the top.
Rosie: It is extreme to the point of ridiculousness. We have a massive, massive tradition of transvestitism on the stage, where men play the dames and young girls play the lead boy roles, all of that kind of thing.
Michael: How very Shakespearian of you all.
Rosie: It’s extremely Shakespearian…
Rosie: … in the traditional Shakespearian sense, not the high-arched idea of Shakespeare, but in the actual peasantry-standing-in-the-pits-and-throwing-things-at-people stage of Shakespeare.
Rosie: It’s hilarious. Pantomimes are just such a staple of Christmas. If you’ve never been to one, try to go, because they are hilarious.
Michael: And as I understand it, a Christmas pantomime isn’t always a pantomime about Christmas. Right?
Rosie: Oh, never. They’re fairy tales.
Rosie: You may occasionally get some kind of connection to Christmas. There may be a Christmas song or something in there, but traditionally, they are fairy tales. They are “Cinderella,” they are Dick Whittington, they are… Peter Pan can be a pantomime. They are stories and simple fairy tale-like stories designed to make people happy at Christmas.
Michael: Because here, everybody just does the Nativity play, and if…
Rosie: We still do Nativities. Nativity is never going to be a pantomime. It’s…
Michael: No, of course.
Rosie: Nativities are taken very seriously. Pantomime is what you go to after you’ve gone to the Nativity. [laughs]
Quentin: Because you definitely wouldn’t want to see a transvestite performance of the birth of Jesus.
Rosie: No. That would be different.
Rosie: Although now I really do.
Rosie: I’m sure it will appear on – I don’t know – RuPaul’s Drag Race or something at some point.
Rosie: Maybe not.
Michael: So Hogwarts, in the tradition of pantomime, decided to do a production of “The Fountain of Fair Fortune.” Dumbledore was put in charge of special effects, which I thought was fantastic.
[Michael and Rosie laugh]
Michael: So of course, this production went on. It did not go very well because poor Professor Beery was not aware of the backstage drama going on among the students that was not quite in character with who was playing who, and so there was quite a tiff behind the scenes. And then Professor Kettleburn, who[m] we’ve heard about before… His first name for the first time is revealed in these footnotes. His first name is Silvanus. He had… We find out that Professor Kettleburn… This would be one of his 62 probation periods…
Michael: … because he thought it would be funny or clever to use an Ashwinder as the giant worm. Why in goodness’ name he didn’t use a Flobberworm instead, I will never know.
Meg: Because it’s a pantomime; it’s all about the extreme.
Michael: [laughs] Got to go to the special effects.
Quentin: I have to say, his use of the Ashwinder made him my favorite Hogwarts professor.
Michael: An Ashwinder, for those of you who don’t know and as the footnotes mention… Pick up your copy of Fantastic Beasts to learn more, which we will be reading through on an episode, but the Ashwinder is a serpent that is born of a magical fire that’s left sparking too long. It will lay eggs very quickly, and then it will go poof and disappear. But of course, Professor Kettleburn had to make the Ashwinder really big for the play, so it exploded because you should never put an Engorg[ement] Charm on an Ashwinder. And the entire Great Hall caught fire.
Michael: Then all the actors were just trying to beat the crap out of each other because they all were angry with each other. It was just not a pretty scene. Dumbledore was very proud of his special effects, though.
Meg: He says without vanity that his parts all went completely smoothly. Nothing on him.
Rosie: That’s so typical Dumbledore. That’s brilliant.
Michael: [as Dumbledore] “My set pieces were just fine.”
Rosie: Quick note on the name origin of Silvanus: He is the Roman god of woodlands and fields, so he is perfect for a…
Rosie: … Care of Magical Creatures person who is going to be in charge of the Forbidden Forest. Very good. Moving on.
Michael: As far as we know, this is not one of the particular events where he lost one of his limbs.
Michael: Those, apparently, stayed intact for the play. Probably just barely. But the play and the disaster that followed led to a blanket ban on theatrics at Hogwarts, set in place by Armando Dippet and proudly kept to tradition by Dumbledore.
Michael: This would later come into play when Ms. Celestina Warbeck went to Hogwarts. She might have actually been there around this time, but this is why poor Celestina never got to test out her theatrics in Hogwarts during her time. So if you want to be a theater major but you find out you’re a witch or you’re a wizard, you can always attend the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts. [laughs] There is a place.
Meg: Just don’t look for extracurriculars while you’re at Hogwarts.
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Michael: They’ve all been blown out of the water. The only real commentary we get on this tale is… Once again, we get a mention of the Malfoys. But a Malfoy [whom] we’re a lot more familiar with. Lucius has seen fit to make a point that he did not like this story very much, and he wrote a letter to Dumbledore expressing that he did not believe this was a good story. Once again, Muggles fraternizing with witches and wizards, and in this case marrying them.
[Meg and Quentin laugh]
Michael: Disgusting. And as Dumbledore says, Lucius wrote to him saying, “Don’t put this in my child’s school. I would never want him to read this.”
Michael: Yeah. And as Dumbledore says, this letter correspondence was what specifically began his feud, his correspondence and his feud with Lucius Malfoy. So we actually got to see a little bit of what happened between them that caused direct contact, was actually this little fairy tale. Oh, the power a seemingly harmless fairy tale can do.
Rosie: And because no books are ever removed from libraries because of a letter from a parent with backing by a board of governors.
Rosie: You’ve had no experience of that ever.
Meg: This is just like the ultimate nasty PTA mom who gets so involved.
Rosie: “My father shall hear about this.”
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Michael: Yes, there’s a reason that things like Banned Books Week sadly still have to exist. To remind readers that there are books out there that have been challenged, and for a reason. But the problem… It always works against them because any publicity is good publicity. I think whether the magic or Muggle world, you tell somebody not to do something, and it just makes it more tempting for them to explore it. And The Tales of Beedle the Bard definitely fit that bill. And so ends our examination for this episode of Tales of Beedle the Bard. We have two more episodes coming up. We will be discussing the next two tales, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” and Ron’s personal favorite, “Babbitty Rabbitty and Her Cackling Stump”…
Michael: … on the next episode.
Meg: Certainly my favorite title.
Michael: [laughs] And of course…
Meg: I call my cat Babbitty all the time because of that.
Michael: Oh! It’s perfect.
Meg: Her real name is Luna, but most of the time it’s Babbitty.
Michael: And as Rowling pointed out, she somewhat regretted giving her story that title, not knowing that she was actually going to write it out later after the fact. Of course, for our last episode of Beedle the Bard, we will reexamine “The Tale of the Three Brothers” before going into one episode on Fantastic Beasts and two episodes of Quidditch Through the Ages. But we still want to hear from you guys on your thoughts on Tale of Beedle the Bard, so please leave your comments this week. Just because we’re doing things a little differently doesn’t mean we don’t want to hear from you. We definitely want to see what you guys have got to say about these.
Meg: This has been a fantastic show, and we would love to thank Quentin for being here with us.
Michael: Yay, Quentin!
Rosie: Thank you so much!
Quentin: Oh, it’s my absolute pleasure. I’ve been wanting to be on this show for a while now, and I’m glad you guys extended the podcast.
Michael: Yes! We’re glad we did too. We’re so glad you got to come on and share your opinion on Tales of Beedle the Bard with us. We hope it was just as satisfying as being on an episode on the books.
Quentin: Oh, yes, very much so.
Michael: Oh, good! Okay, see? You heard it here first, listeners. These ones are still good.
[Meg and Michael laugh]
Rosie: Who knew we could talk for two hours about two such tiny stories?
Michael: We done good. And we of course also want to thank Meg for stepping in so wonderfully at the last minute to host with us. Thank you, Meg.
Quentin: Yay, Meg!
Meg: Oh, well, thank you. It was a dream to finally be on the show rather than just typing it all up at the end.
Michael: Yes, and this one will be so much easier for you to type out. Because you’ll be like, “I know what was said already.” [laughs]
Meg: Exactly! I’ll be like, “Oh, that’s definitely me speaking.”
[Michael and Quentin laugh]
Michael: And if you, listeners, would like to be on the show, because, per Quentin’s recommendation, they’re still good, and so if you would like to join us for our discussions, not only of the schoolbooks but onward into topic discussions, we definitely would love to have you. Please head over to the main site, alohomora.mugglenet.com, to find out how you can be on the show. We do have a topic submit page there on the main site. Please suggest your ideas of what you would like to discuss. We touched so many topics just today, as Rosie mentioned, about two little fairy tales. We got into Disney, we got into medieval ages, we got into all kinds of cool stuff. So we want to hear what you guys want to discuss in relation to Harry Potter. If you want to record with us, we just ask that you have a set of headphones, some recording equipment like a microphone or a built-in mic on your headphones, as well as recording equipment on your computer, and you’re all set. We really don’t require anything too terribly fancy.
Rosie: And also, if you want your voice to be heard on the show, but not necessarily heard on the show…
Rosie: … you can contact us in all the usual social media ways. That includes Twitter at @AlohomoraMN, on Facebook facebook.com/openthedumbledore, [on] Instagram we are @alohomoramn, [and] you can visit our website, alohomora.mugglenet.com. Don’t forget: You can download your ringtones for free, and you can also send us an owl over on audioBoom. You can do that on our main site, alohomora.mugglenet.com; there should be a button on the side. It is currently broken. It should hopefully be fixed, perhaps by the time you’re hearing this. So this may all be completely pointless.
Rosie: But all you need to do is click on that button or click on that gap where that button should be, voice record your little clip, keep it under 60 seconds, please, and we may include it on the show. And just a quick reminder as well to check out our Patreon page. If you’ve enjoyed Michael and I wittering on for a couple of hours about things…
Rosie: … you could enjoy that as commentary to video games too, hopefully, in a few weeks’ time. We’re really trying to get to $400 a month to make that happen. And you can sponsor us for as low as $1 a month. There are some other really cool perks on there, so please do go and check it out.
Quentin: Oh, I’ll definitely sponsor that.
Rosie: Aww, thank you so much. Please do.
Rosie: And all that remains for us to do is pick up our hopping pots, find our way to the Fountain of Fair Fortune, and say goodbye for this episode. So I am Rosie Morris.
[Show music begins]
Meg: I am Meg Scott.
Michael: And I’m Michael Harle. Thank you for listening to Episode 191 of Alohomora!
Meg: Open the Dumbledore.
[Show music continues]
Quentin: Seems to be more of their level of power as opposed to what gender they are. Because if a woman is more magically inclined than a man, then she tends to be held [in] a higher regard than most men are, at least in the wizarding world.
[Car horn honks]
Michael: [laughs] Somebody in New York agrees.
Meg: Somebody right outside my apartment.
Meg: Honk if you love feminism!