A short story by any other name simply has to be a tale, cautionary or otherwise. That’s why I’ve chosen a collection of ‘tales’ to review in honour of For Pity Sake Publishing’s current creative writing competition for short stories and poetry. That and the fact that 2017 marks 20 years of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter phenomenon.
I’d hardly classify myself as a Harry Potter devotee. I never drew a lightning-shaped scar on my forehead, changed the frames of my glasses to nerdy round, nor joined the queue at the local bookstore on the day new additions to the series were released.
But I was certainly reeled into the franchise hook, line and sinker. I didn’t want the series to end with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I wanted the magic, quite literally, to continue.
J.K. Rowling truly is a marketing wizard. For all the people out there like me, (and I suspect there are more than a few) she’s produced, or had a hand in producing, fabulous little offshoots to the main Harry Potter series, such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and most recently, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. The former poses as an official Hogwarts text book and the latter is the script of a West End theatre production.
And while none of the offshoot offerings are substitutes for an eighth book in the Harry Potter series, The Tales of Beedle the Bard comes closest to keeping the magic alive in my view.
There are five tales in the compilation – The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, The Fountain of Fair Fortune, The Warlock’s Hairy Heart, Babbity Rabbity and Her Cackling Stump and the most famous story of all, The Tale of the Three Brothers, the ultimate cautionary tale expounded in the last book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
The Tales of Beedle the Bard presents in every way like a real-world short story collection complete with explorations of each tale by none other than Professor Albus Dumbledore (headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) written some eighteen months prior to his untimely demise in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Hermione Grainger, one of Harry Potter’s closest cohorts and widely credited as being ‘the brightest witch of her age’, gets a nod for her translation of the tales from the original Ancient Runes.
But it is J.K. Rowling’s own introduction to the collection that seals the magical contract, so to speak. The author never once concedes the smallest amount of territory to the notion that a secret wizarding parallel universe is, indeed, a fantasy. She stays completely in character, referring to Dumbledore as if he actually existed and even footnoting some of his observations throughout the collection in order to make the deeper wizarding concepts clearer to Muggles or non-magic folk.
Rowling also deftly describes two key differences between Beedle the Bard’s tales, read to wizarding children for centuries, and the fairy tales of the Muggle realm. The first and most prominent of these is that magic isn’t a panacea for the trials and tribulations of everyday life. Witches and wizards have as many problems as Muggle women and men and, it could even be argued, that the application of magic to ordinary life-problems exacerbates them in surprising and often gruesome ways.
The second difference is a more feminist one. Rowling compares the inert female heroines of Muggle fairy stories (think Cinderella or Snow White who need to be saved by a handsome prince) to the witches in Beadle’s tales who are generally more self-directed, even ingenious, in their quests to solve their problems. It’s an interesting take and one that’s the prerogative of the female author to articulate. And yet I suspect it’s real purpose is to further underpin the whole scrupulously constructed concept that there really is a magical realm operating in parallel to the one we mere Muggles currently know.
Which reminds me of the exchange between Harry and the now deceased Dumbledore ‘in the beyond’ in the final chapters of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The place where these two meet resembles Kings Cross Station only much cleaner, as Harry himself observes, and filled with heavenly white light.
Harry says, “Tell me one last thing. Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?"
To which Dumbledore replies, "Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” (Relive the movie moment here.)
Way to keep the magic alive, J.K. Rowling!
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