First of all, I would like to thank you to every single person who has contributed a post or commented on a Potterhead July post – you’ve made July truly magical. We have less than a week left until the release of The Cursed Child, and I hope we will all love it as much as we loved the adventures of Harry Potter.
Here’s my own entry for the Potterhead July festival, admittedly several weeks late because I am horribly disorganized and got consumed by Pokemon GO. I also wanted to chance to finish rereading The Tales of Beedle the Bard before I completed this post because I wanted it to be a truly informed and comprehensive discussion on the function of fictional works – both within our real lives and within the world of Harry Potter.
I remember my initial excitement over The Tales of Beedle the Bard, and how it made me felt closer to Harry Potter’s fantastical world. It felt right that young witches and wizards would also fall asleep to bedtime stories, and that these repeated stories should be more powerful than they seem. After all, isn’t this exactly what happens in real life? I have always loved books about stories, especially the ones that hid truths in plain sight or became more powerful with each telling. The Tale of the Three Brothers will eventually go on to become a fine example of this fact.
The wizarding’s world lack of fictional books prior to the reveal of Beedle the Bard have always struck me as odd. Here was a group of people living amongst the magic we Muggles could only dream of, yet they seemed utterly devoid of fictional imagination. Where was their equivalent for Tolkien, or Jane Austen, or J. K. Rowling? Entire generations of children grew up to be obsessed over Quidditch and love potion, where people poured over gossips penned by Rita Skeeter, yet where were the people in love with fictional universes? Hermione Granger, our resident bookworm, mentions only non-fictional biography or textbooks. Even Gilderoy Lockhart’s wildly fictitious accounts were based on the real life and works of other witches and wizards.
Naturally, the lack of fictional works in the world of Harry Potter had a very obvious explanation: it’s a gap in JKR’s immense world-building. To an avid fantasy reader like myself (and like most readers of Harry Potter), it’s an absence that made the wizarding world less believable – simply because I think a civilisation cannot exist in the absence of stories. Do wizarding folks simply not need fantasy because their life is literally magic? Do they not need grand legend and tales because, for them, Merlin and the philosopher’s stone are real? Somehow, I doubted this. When Tales of Beedle the Bard arrived, it saved me from a wizarding world identity crisis. It’s OK, everyone, they also grew up with stories, they also know of their power.
In the next section, I will highlight Tales of Beedle the Bard which resonated the most with me, to demonstrate the power of these stories.
The Wizard and the Hopping Pot is a very revealing story, it tells of a kind wizard who helped Muggles, and of his son who wanted to do nothing of the sorts. It reminded me of our own fairy tales about kindness being its own rewards.
But more importantly, Dumbledore’s notes on the tale itself was extremely illuminating. He recounts pure-blood, anti-Muggle families weaponising the stories by eradicating the original message. Instead, they altered the hopping cauldron into a Muggle-eating defender of a helpless pure-blood wizard. Even wizards understand the transformative power of tales from a young age. Is it any wonder that Draco Malfoy grew up to be such a piece of work, with Narcissa telling him these poisoned tales before bedtime?
This is personally one of my favourites in the collection, as it brings together a witch and a Muggle – proving that Beedle the Bard was a man before his time and free of prejudices. It also reminds us that magic is not the solution to all troubles, instead – it’s often the instigator.
As I am Muggle to the core, this thought somewhat cheers me. While Harry’s world is wondrous, its inhabitants are still vexed by the same problems we are: maladies, money, and heartbreak. Yet, they solved their issues with the help of their friends rather than the aid of magic. Personally, I think it’s wonderful that wizarding children are taught this story from a young age – I am also greatly cheered when JKR reveals that this is one of Beedle’s most popular tales.
Now here’s a tale that really needs no introduction, as it plays such a pivotal role in our beloved series. In this story, the truth is literally hidden in plain sight. It also has many elements familiar to us from our own fairy tales, from the three brothers – each trying to succeed in a task (in this case: cheat Death). With only the youngest brother managing to do so through both ingenuity and a lack of greed.
The moral of the story was laid bare, understandable even by the youngest of children. And yet, the most powerful wizards in the story: Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort, did not manage to learn from the tale. Each seeked to obtain power or overcome Death. It was ultimately Harry who managed to resist temptation and saved the day.
Personally, I think there are two things which will always be enduring: our belief in stories and our belief in magic. The Tales of Beedle the Bard is a happy marriage of both, and it exists to remind us that even witches and wizards need the power of tales.
Ultimately, Tales of Beedle the Bard taught us the story with the truest message are the ones that prevail the test of time. JKR points out herself in the introduction that these tales are full of good-hearted witches and wizards, triumphing with their brain and heart rather than through the use of powerful magic.
It’s this same magic that gives rise to spells like Expecto Patronum, or Riddikulus – where the users’s own positive experiences empower them. It’s the same magic that Lily used to save Harry’s life that October night. It’s the same magic that began and ended the Harry Potter series. And it’s the same magic that allows you and I to share our love for Harry Potter, years after the final book have been published.