The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter (revised edition)

The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter (revised edition)

by David Colbert


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The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter (revised edition) by David Colbert

This is the indispensable source guide to J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter novels-revised and updated with information relating to Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780425223185
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/06/2008
Edition description: Revised
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 467,305
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 12 - 18 Years

About the Author

Formerly a head writer for “Who Wants to be a Millionaire,” David Colbert, author of The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter and The Magical Worlds of The Lord of the Rings, is best known as an author of the acclaimed Eyewitness history series. A graduate of Brown University, he studied anthropology and mythology and has spent much of his life in libraries.

Read an Excerpt


One of the pleasures of reading J. K. rowling is discovering the playful references to history, legend, and literature that she hides in her books. For instance, the Sphinx in the maze during the Triwizard Tournament asks a riddle, just as the Sphinx of ancient Greek mythology did. Hagrid's pet dog Fluffy is actually another famous beast from Greek mythology, Cerberus. "Durmstrang," the name of the wizarding school that admits only full-blooded wizards and has questionable links to Lord Voldemort, comes from a German artistic style called Sturm und Drang, which was a favorite of Nazi Germany. As well, Durmstrang students arrive at Hogwarts in a ship like the one featured prominently in a famous Sturm und Drang opera. Alert readers know Rowling also hides fun clues in the names she chooses for characters. Draco, Harry's nemesis, gets his name from the Latin word for "dragon" or "snake." Dumbledore's pet phoenix, Fawkes, gets his name from a historical figure linked to bonfires just as phoenixes are said to be reborn in fire.

This book decodes her clues to reveal the artfully hidden meanings. In an online chat with fans, she encouraged one reader who asked the origin of a particular phrase to "go and look it up. A little investigation is good for a person." That's what The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter is about: a little investigation, in a spirit of fun. The point is to entertain, amuse, and fascinate.

You may even be sharing a laugh with Rowling herself. As TIME magazine said when noting that Hogwarts caretaker Argus Filch gets his name from the Argus of Greekmythology, a watchman with a thousand eyes on his body, "it's the sort of touch that can prompt an author's inward smile."

If you've never noticed those clues, don't feel alone. One of Rowling's amazing gifts is her ability to toss them out without breaking stride in telling her story. For example, she's happy to make only a passing reference in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban to a manticore—a nasty, man-eating, imaginary beast. Skipping the opportunity to describe that creature in detail takes discipline. But for Rowling, it's just a casual reference. Still, when you know what a manticore is, and that it has appeared in legends for thousands of years, Rowling's story is all the more satisfying.

J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, coined the term "cauldron of story" to describe an ever-cooking pot of ideas, themes, and characters from which every writer takes, and to which every writer adds. Though the fictional world created by J. K. Rowling is unique, it grows from a deep foundation of myths and folklore that have endured across distance and time. The popularity of Rowling's books testifies to the breadth of culture from which she draws many of her images, characters, and themes. This book reveals that broader realm to fans whose awareness has been awakened by reading Rowling. As you'll see, she creates something entirely new with the bits of material from which she draws; yet she remains remarkably true to the essence of each.



Just what were alchemists trying to do? Did they accomplish anything, or did all their work disappear in a cloud of smoke?

Anyone who has read Stone knows that alchemy is an ancient mix of chemistry and magic. Alchemists tried to create gold from less valuable metals, and to concoct a potion that could cure all ills and make the drinker immortal.

The Arab world is credited with the origin of alchemy. The name comes from the Arab term al-kimia, which also gives us the word "chemistry." However, some historians say the root of that Arab word is the ancient Greek Khmia, which means "Egypt." They believe Egyptian alchemists may have existed long before the Arab world began the practice. In any case, alchemy actually developed all over the world, including China and India.

We tend to think of alchemists as greedy and overreaching, obsessed with wealth and immortality. But some people say their work laid the foundation for modern chemistry. Indeed, real scientists studied alchemy. Sir Isaac Newton, the physicist and mathematician, wrote millions of words on the subject. However, in keeping with tradition, Newton was secretive about his alchemy experiments—at one point urging another alchemist to keep "high silence" about the work.

The Metropolis of Alchemy

During the late 1500s two emperors hired the world's leading alchemists to work in the city of Prague in what is now the Czech Republic. This led to a nickname for the city: "the Metropolis of Alchemy." Emperors, however, can be fickle. When a British alchemist, Edward Kelley, failed to create gold, he was thrown in a dungeon. Even the efforts of Britain's Queen Elizabeth I failed to win his release. He died trying to escape.

Of course, there were many frauds. A story is told of the arrival in Prague during that era of a stranger from Arabia, who invited the city's wealthiest men to a banquet where he promised to multiply the gold they brought. After gathering the offerings he prepared a mixture of chemicals and odd ingredients, such as eggshells and horse manure. This blend proved to be a stinkbomb, which permitted the charlatan a quick escape with the gold.

The Philosopher's Stone

One source calls the actual process followed by alchemists "hopelessly complicated." However, the basics were simple. According to the standard theory, all metals were a combination of mercury and sulfur. The more yellow the metal, the more sulfur in the mixture. So combining sulfur with mercury, in the right proportion and with the proper sequence of steps, would create gold.

Eventually, alchemists became frustrated with simple methods that did not work. They began to search for a magic ingredient, which they called the philosopher's stone. Some alchemists continued to believe the magic ingredient was simply sulfur. However, in Stone it is described as "blood-red," so Rowling probably had something more interesting in mind.

* * *


Basilisks are among the most dreaded magical creatures. "Of the many fearsome beasts and monsters that roam our land," Hermione reads in Chamber, "there is none more curious or more deadly."

The basilisk is certainly more than just a large snake. Also known as a cockatrice, it has existed in legend for centuries. Rowling is just having fun in Beasts when she credits a Greek wizard named Herpo the Foul with breeding the first basilisk. Herpein is a Greek word meaning "to creep" that came to be a word describing snakes. The study of reptiles such as snakes is now called herpetology.

However, just as she suggests, by legend the basilisk was said to be the offspring of a rooster or hen mated with a snake or toad. Some artists followed that description literally, and drew strange beasts combining features from those animals. But more often the basilisk was portrayed as a serpent with a crown or a white spot on his head. Cobras, which have such marks, may be the origin of the basilisk legend.

The basilisk was reported to be deadly even from afar. The Roman naturalist Pliny said, "He kills the shrubs, not only by contact, but by breathing on them, and splits the rocks, such is the power of evil in him."

Some sources describe three varieties: the golden basilisk could poison with a look; another sparked fire; a third, like the famous snaky hair of Medusa in Greek mythology, caused such horror that victims were petrified.

William Shakespeare even mentioned a basilisk in his play Richard III. The evil title character kills his brother then immediately flatters his brother's widow by mentioning her beautiful eyes. But she isn't interested in his compliments. She replies, "Would they were a basilisk's, to strike thee dead!"

How to Fight a Basilisk

A basilisk controlled by Lord Voldemort slinks through Hogwarts in Chamber, almost killing Harry and several of his friends. Harry is saved from that basilisk by Fawkes, Professor Dumbledore's pet phoenix, who pecks the monster's eyes. It is fitting that a bird saves Harry. According to legend, a bird—the rooster—is fatal to the beast. In the Middle Ages travelers were known to carry roosters as protection against basilisks.

Excerpted from The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter by David Colbert. Copyright © 2001 by Lumina Press LLC. Excerpted by permission.

Table of Contents

Did Alchemists Really Search for a Magic Stone?5
Who Was the Most Amazing Animagus?9
Is "Avada Kedavra" a Real Curse?17
Are Basilisks Just Big Snakes?21
Which "Fantastic Beasts" Come from Legend?23
Why Would Sirius Black Become a Black Dog?29
Which Creature Doesn't Know When to Say Good-bye?33
Have Witches Always Flown on Broomsticks?35
Why Do Centaurs Avoid Humans?37
What Is the Favorite Trick of Cornish Pixies?39
Why Would Voldemort Put the Dark Mark on Death Eaters?41
Why Would Chocolate Help After Escaping a Dementor?43
Is Sibyll Trelawney Ever Right?45
Which Creature Is Fit for a King?47
Who Were the First British Wizards?53
If Dumbledore Is So Powerful, Shouldn't He Fight Voldemort?55
Why Would Durmstrang Students Travel by Ship?59
Where Does Magic Come From?63
Which Character Can't Die?67
Was the Real Flamel a Successful Alchemist?71
Why Would Fluffy Come from "a Greek Chappie"?75
Why Would the Forest near Hogwarts Be "Forbidden"?77
Are All Giants All Bad?79
Which Real-Life Creature Still Eludes Scientists?83
Why Are Harry and Cedric Like Knights of the Round Table?85
Why Are Goblins Such Good Bankers?87
Which of Draco's Sidekicks Is Also Named for a Dragon?91
Which Creature Is Master of Both Earth and Sky?93
Why Do Parents Worry About Grindylows?97
Which Is the Least Likely Magical Creature?99
Why Would Anyone Go to School with a Slytherin?103
Which Creature May Not Bow Its Head?107
What Is the Most Important Language for Wizards?109
Why Is Each Malfoy Aptly Named?115
Why Won't Wizards Go near a Manticore?117
Why Is the Third Task Set in a Maze?121
Why Might Prof. McGonagall Appear As a Cat?123
Why Might a Human Fear Merpeople?125
Why Are Mirrors Magical?127
Which of Voldemort's Cohorts Comes from India?131
Where Do Those Names Come From?!133
Besides Mail, What Does the Arrival of an Owl Mean?139
What Makes Harry a Universal Hero?141
What Are the "Runes" on the Pensieve?153
Why Does the Sphinx Ask Harry a Question?155
How Do You Scare a Spider?159
Why Do Trolls Stink?163
How Do You Catch a Unicorn?165
Who Really Wrote the Book on Divination?171
What Makes Veela Angry?173
What Kind of Nightmares Created Voldemort?177
Why Do Wizards Use Wands?181
Are Any of the "Famous Witches and Wizards" Real?183
Bibliography & Notes199

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The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 37 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I own the origional print, which did not include anything from books 5-7. It was a favorite in my mytholigical and magic collection for quite sometime. this is absolutly a must own for any harry potter fan.
c_bookluvr More than 1 year ago
This book was had great facts, interesting stories, and many fun to read chapters. It made me look at Harry potter in a brand new way. If you are a Harry potter fan I would deffinetly read this book!! : )
nina929 More than 1 year ago
U will love this book if ur a Harry Poter lover,because u see what an amazing imagination J. K. Rowling have, u will love it!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He's all so weird
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This is nice mmmmmmm
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