Three Dumbledore Quotes I Didn’t Appreciate When I Was a Kid

Check out my new MuggleNet post about the ways that Dumbledore’s wisdom went over my head when I first read the books. Also included is a video of fans discussing sections of the books that they missed or misunderstood as kids!


Hermione’s Moral Development: From Good Girl to Activist

Check out my newest MuggleNet post analyzing Hermione’s moral development through the theories of cognitive scientist Lawrence Kohlberg. Hermione may start out as a teacher’s pet, but over time she learns to break the rules in order to protect not only her friends, but also the wider wizarding community.


The Magic of Memory: A Peek Inside the Pensieve

The Pensieve is, in my opinion, one of the magical world’s most fascinating inventions, because it appears to break not only laws of the physical world, but also laws of the human psyche.

My first question about the Pensieve is: when a person removes a memory from his or her head to put in the Pensieve, are they still able to access it in their minds? Snape’s Occlumency lessons with Harry in OOTP make me want to say no. Before each of Harry’s lessons, Snape removes three memories from his head and places them in the Pensieve, presumably to protect his privacy if the Legilimency backfires (as it does when Harry uses the Protego charm). On a second glance, however, this doesn’t make much sense. In Harry’s lessons with Dumbledore, the two of them discuss Dumbledore’s memories while the memories are in the Pensieve, not in Dumbledore’s head. This would be quite difficult to do if Dumbledore could not remember anything about the memories that he put within the Pensieve. It would also be significantly harder for him to convince witches and wizards like Bob Ogden or Hepzibah Smith to part with their memories if they would have complete amnesia of the event.

Another aspect of the Pensieve that confuses me is that the Pensieve rebels against the laws of how memory works. Psychology tells us that memories are not purely accurate representations of events that have happened in the past. We tend to remember only the gist of an event, and fill in the details based on our expectations of what should have been there. The original trace fades, and as we recall events and retell stories, more and more of our memory becomes fabricated and simplified. The Pensieve, however, shows events exactly how they occurred, with all the surrounding details and even sometimes more. Harry, for example, is able to listen to his father’s entire conversation with his friends even though Snape, whose memory it was, probably did not hear it (Snape’s Worst Memory, OOTP). The Pensieve also shows us events not through the perspective of the person who experienced it, which would make sense if it was a true memory, but through the perspective of a third party. Admittedly, there are some people who see their own memories through an observer perspective, but the observer in the Pensieve is an independent actor who is not always focusing on the person whose memory it is.

We are given one situation where a memory in the Pensieve is not purely accurate.This memory is Professor Slughorn’s recollection of telling Tom Riddle about Horcruxes. It is common for people, over time to attempt to recall uncomfortable memories of themselves in a more flattering light. Slughorn’s version of this, however, is not particularly normal. His involves thick white fog and loud, booming voices, which are not features that people typically incorporate into their memories. Dumbledore describes this as, “[Slughorn] has tried to rework the memory to show himself in a better light, obliterating those parts which he does not wish me to see. It is, as you will have noticed, very crudely done, and that is all to the good, for it shows that the true memory is still there beneath the alterations” (A Sluggish Memory, OOTP). This description of Slughorn changing his memory makes me think that Slughorn did not “rework” his memory in a normal, natural way, but rather tampered with it through magic. When Harry finally gets Slughorn’s “true memory” it is just as accurate as any other memory they have viewed in the Pensieve.

All of this evidence convinces me that the Pensieve does not actually deal with memories, at least in the way that we think about and experience our memories. It is far more magical than that. The Pensieve accesses a moment in time, one that we happened to be a part of, and recreates that moment in time for us to watch. This makes me believe that, as far as the Pensieve is concerned, people are able to put this exact recreation of an event into a Pensieve and still keep their own biased, limited, inaccurate perspective. They are not able to access the accurate version of events without the help of a Pensieve, but they are able to relive their own memories within their head whenever they want.

What are the implications for this theory, then, on how Legilimency works? If Snape was trying to protect himself from Harry’s intrusions by putting the true, accurate “memories” in the Pensieve, then that suggests that Legilimency does not access our own changed, subjective accounts, but rather something more fundamental underneath. There is some evidence to support this view. During Harry’s Occlumency lessons we are told that he is forced to “relive a stream of very early memories he had not even realized he still had” (Seen and Unforeseen, OOTP). If these memories are early enough, it is possible that Harry would not be able to consciously or accurately recall them by himself. However, through Legilimency, or the Pensieve, he is able to “relive” them. When Harry breaks into Snape’s mind and observes his memories he is, once again, from an outsider perspective, watching young Snape, in a way that is similar to the Pensieve. If Legilimency is, after all, allowing access into the purer form of memory, then it is potentially even more dangerous as a weapon, treating the mind like a Pensieve of its own.

On Pottermore, JK Rowling has written about the history of the Pensieve, but she has not addressed any of my questions about how it works. We would need more information from Rowling herself to know if my theory is correct.


Hogwarts Houses and Big Five Personality

In psychology there are five main traits that researchers argue make up the human personality. These traits are Conscientiousness, Agreeableness, Neuroticism, Openness, and Extraversion. Since the Hogwarts Houses are supposed to sort people based on their personalities, I decided to see if I could match combinations of these traits to the four houses.

First, a full description of the five traits:

Conscientiousness: Conscientious individuals are highly organized, and have a strong commitment to their duties. They are highly self-disciplined and pursue perfection in everything they do. They often make plans in advance and think before acting.

Agreeableness: Agreeable people are trusting, selfless, and often defer to others instead of pushing for their own desires. This is often divided into two factors: compassion and politeness.

Neuroticism: High neuroticism is characterized by a tendency to become anxious, hostile, sad, or embarrassed. In short, it involves being predisposed to experience negative emotions, and to be ing more emotionally reactive to situations.

Openness: Openness is possibly the most difficult trait to characterize. It involves openness to fantasy, a sensitivity to art and beauty, and curiosity about learning new ideas and values and trying new things.

Extraversion: People who are high in extraversion tend to desire lots of social stimulation, activity, and excitement. Other facets of extraversion include assertiveness, and a predisposition towards positive emotions.

If, as some personality researchers claim, all personality differences can be explained by these five traits, then the Hogwarts Houses should map onto these traits as well. In fact, it’s easy to see how they might.

Gryffindor: Gryffindors are known for their bravery and daring. This often manifests itself in reckless stunts, but Gryffindors usually have a big heart as well. It appears, therefore, that Gryffindors are probably high in the assertiveness and excitement-seeking areas of Extraversion. They are probably fairly high in the compassionate and selfless aspects of Agreeableness as well.

Ravenclaw: Ravenclaws are known for their sharp minds, and also their creativity. These traits connect fairly clearly to Conscientiousness and Openness. Ravenclaws work hard to complete their work, and are very academically focused. However, they are also characterized by curiosity, fantasy, and openness to ideas (think Luna Lovegood). Some Ravenclaws may be higher in one of these traits than the other.

Hufflepuff: Hufflepuffs are, quite obviously, very high in Agreeableness. They are selfless, welcome everyone into their group, and are unlikely to push others out of the way for what they want.There is some evidence that Hufflepuffs may also be high in Conscientiousness, based on the description of them as hardworking. As a result of the all-inclusive nature of Hufflepuff, however, the people in this house probably have an eclectic variety of traits.

Slytherin: Slytherins are known for their cunning, ambition, and willingness to do whatever necessary to get what they want. Slytherins are probably high is the assertiveness aspects of Extraversion, and low in Agreeableness. Gryffindors and Slytherins, therefore, are not too dissimilar, just scoring on opposite ends of agreeableness.

Neuroticism appears to be a trait that is not connected to any one house in particular, but is equally spread out among the four houses. This is probably a good thing, as a house filled with highly neurotic individuals would probably not fare well.

Any good scientist, however, has to test her hypotheses. Therefore, I decided to take Big Five personality tests from the perspectives of different Harry Potter characters. Although I did not test enough characters to come to conclusive results, I did observe enough to modify some of my earlier statements. Gryffindors, I found, are on the whole not particularly high in Agreeableness. The personality test I used was not refined enough to detect the differences between the two aspects of Agreeableness, but my guess is that Gryffindors are compassionate, but very low in politeness. This makes sense, as Gryffindors are known for doing the right thing with little regard for whether it upsets social norms or ruffles the feathers of important people. In fact, it might be Gryffindors’ very lack of politeness that allows them to be so brave. Slytherins, on the other hand, may sometimes be higher on the politeness aspect of Agreeableness. Like Tom Riddle, they often know how to be charming in order to get what they want.

Personality psychology does use questionnaires taken by friends to assess individual’s personalities, and considering how often I have read the books I consider myself like a friend to these characters. However, some of the traits were more difficult to assess for some characters than others, and my answers were based on my own interpretation of the characters. Below are the scores I found for each character, but other people might get different results. If you are interested in testing these out yourself, feel free to contact me and I can send you the materials I used.

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Costa, P.T. & McCrae, R.R. (2003). Personality in Adulthood: A Five-Factor Theory Perspective, The Guilford Press, NY. 2nd ed. 47-50

Fantastic Beasts: Shedding Light on the Obscurus

SPOILER ALERT: This post contains information from the new Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them movie.

For me, and I’m sure for many other Harry Potter fans, the most exciting part about watching the new Fantastic Beasts movie is the ways in which it connects to the magical world that we all know and love. Nifflers and bowtruckles come straight off the pages of Harry’s fourth year Care of Magical Creatures lessons, house elves give jazz entertainment, and a young Grindelwald causes mayhem in New York. One central plot point that was completely new to Harry Potter lovers, however, was the concept of the Obscurus, a dark, powerful force created when a young witch or wizard tries to suppress his or her magic.

Or is this concept completely new? Although the term Obscurus was not used, we have seen a situation where a young witch tried to contain her magical powers with disastrous consequences. When Aberforth Dumbledore describes his little sister Ariana, he says, “She wouldn’t use magic, but she couldn’t get rid of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn’t control it, and at times she was strange and dangerous” (The Missing Mirror, DH). In fact, one of the times that Ariana becomes “strange and dangerous” she accidentally kills her own mother. Nobody was around to see it, so it is quite possible that she became a dark, swirling force like Credence in Fantastic Beasts. Did Kendra have the telltale marks of an Obscurus on her face when she died?

This theory further illuminates why Ariana had to be so well hidden. Aberforth says, “If the Ministry had known what Ariana had become, she’d have been locked up in St. Mungo’s for good. They’d have seen her as a serious threat to the International Statute of Secrecy” (The Missing Mirror, DH). Judging by the reaction of MACUSA in Fantastic Beasts, however, if Ariana was an Obscurus she could have been in much more danger than just being sent to St. Mungo’s. Aberforth’s language is also telling: he says, “what Ariana had become,” which implies that Ariana was something no longer quite human.

And then there’s Grindelwald… In Fantastic Beasts it appears that Grindelwald has been masquerading as a member of MACUSA in order to find an Obscurus that he can use as a dark force against other witches and wizards, or possibly as a catalyst for a war between wizards and muggles. He might have been inspired on this mission during his teenage years when he discovered the powers of a different Obscurus: Ariana Dumbledore. Which leads to another question–could Grindelwald, more than just wanting a partner and companion in his search for the Deathly Hallows, also have had a different motivation for gaining Dumbledore’s trust? Could he have been planning all along to use Ariana for “the greater good”? And, even more disturbing, could Albus have known that fact? Was his sister, perhaps, part of the plan?

If Grindelwald was planning to use Ariana, he would have been thwarted by her sudden death. The depiction of Obscurus in Fantastic Beasts is as a terrifying destructive power, almost impossible to control. After watching the movie, it is hard for me to imagine that a wayward curse killed Ariana–it seems more likely that in an attempt to defend themselves from her, any of the three men, or possibly all of them, might have taken it a step too far. It is also possible that Ariana died due to the sheer destructive power she held within herself. At age 14, Ariana had already survived longer than most Obscuri, who generally don’t live past the age of 10. Fantastic Beasts, however, implies that witches or wizards with unusual amounts of power (such as Credence, who seemed several years older than 14) may be able to live longer as Obscuri.

The mystery of Obscuri is just starting to be unraveled, and it is impossible to know yet about Ariana’s behavior, Grindelwald’s true motivations, and what Dumbledore did or did not know. Hopefully the next Fantastic Beasts movie will reveal more clues to the connection between Obscuri and Ariana Dumbledore.

Happy Birthday Neville!

Neville Longbottom and Harry Potter, their birthdays just a day apart, have many similarities that go beyond the fact that either could have been chosen to fulfill Trelawney’s prophecy. Both Neville and Harry grew up without parents, in the homes of families who were critical of them. Once at Hogwarts, they were both Hatstalls who were eventually sorted into Gryffindor. In Potions class, both were tormented by Professor Snape. In fact, it is quite easy to imagine how Neville could have completed the prophecy just as well as Harry had, if the situation had been reversed. Neville’s bumbling awkwardness and insecurity might have slipped away quite easily if, instead of being treated as incompetent, his family had raised him as The Boy Who Lived. Constantly challenged by Lord Voldemort and his Death Eaters, Neville could’ve discovered his latent bravery much earlier in his life.

As it is, however, Neville does not need a prophecy to discover the power that will help him defeat Voldemort. He eventually breaks out of his shell because he is motivated by much the same thing that Harry is: love. The biggest transformation we see in Neville is during the fifth book, when he learns that his parents’ torturer, Bellatrix Lestrange, broke out of Azkaban. Neville starts focusing particularly hard in Dumbledore’s Army, determined to fight Bellatrix Lestrange should they ever meet. Just like with Harry, Voldemort (and his supporters) hand Neville the weapons he needs to destroy them. Dumbledore say to Harry in the sixth book, “If Voldemort had never murdered your father, would he have imparted in you a furious desire for revenge? Of course not!…Don’t you see? Voldemort himself created his worst enemy, just as tyrants everywhere do!” (HBP, Ch.23). Neville, just like Harry, is protected by his ability to love. He follows Harry to the Ministry of Magic to protect his friends and face Bellatrix Lestrange. Even more so than Harry, Neville faces temptations to join the Dark side because of his pure-blood status. In the seventh book, Neville takes over Dumbledore’s Army and fights the Carrows, despite the fact that the Death Eaters would have welcomed him into their ranks. In the end of the seventh, Voldemort offers for Neville to join the Death Eaters, and Neville replies, “I’ll join you when hell freezes over” (DH, Ch. 36). Neville is not foolhardy in his bravery; he is not reckless, nor does he pick out fights. He is brave when his love for his friends and his family, and his sense of justice, demand it.

Neville represents the combined power of both choice and fate in the series. He was not picked to fulfill Trelawney’s prophecy, and yet his fate ends up still being entwined with Voldemort, partly because of Voldemort’s cruelty, and partly because Neville himself chooses not to take the easy path.


Any favorite Neville quotes or moments in the series? I’d love to see your questions or comments!


The Potions of a Prince

In honor of Severus Snape’s birthday on January 9th, I have researched the different potions ingredients found throughout the books. On Pottermore, JK Rowling said, “I always enjoyed creating potions in the books, and researching ingredients for them. Many of the components of the various draughts and libations that Harry creates for Snape exist (or were once believed to exist) and have (or were believed to have) the properties I gave them.”

Shrinking Solution:
Chopped daisy roots: Daisies symbolize childhood, innocence, gentleness, and purity, and therefore were probably used in this potion to represent becoming smaller or  younger.

Skinned shrivelfig: The Abyssian shrivelfig is a magical plant  that seems to have been created specifically for the Harry Potter series, with unknown potion making qualities.

A dash of leech juice: leeches drain away from their host, and therefore represent shrinking, or growing smaller

Draught of Living Death: A powerful sleeping potion

Powdered root of asphodel: A plant connected to death and the underworld

Infusion of wormwood: Wormword was historically used in absinthe, and was believed to cause a condition called absinthism, which involved sleeplessness and hallucinations

Valerian Roots: Used as a natural remedy for insomnia

Sopophorous Bean: Probably comes from the root soporific, which means “tending to induce drowsiness or sleep.”

Aconite (Monkshood and Wolfsbane): Aconite is a genus containing many species of plants, most of which are poisonous. Aconite poisoning in humans may ultimately lead to coma, which may explain why they are ingredients in the “Draught of Living Death.” In the first book, Snape claims that aconite is the main ingredient in this potion, although when Harry makes this potion in his sixth year, neither monkshood nor wolfsbane is mentioned.

Potion to cure boils:

Dried nettles: Nettles are used for many medicinal purposes, including to cure hives

Crushed snake fang: Snake’s venom is often associated with either poison or medicine

Stewed horned slugs: The slime from slugs has been used for centuries to cure skin afflictions such warts.

Porcupine quills: porcupine quills have the amazing ability to pierce the skin and then expand, making them very difficult to remove. It is unclear, however, what makes them useful in this particular potion

Polyjuice Potion:

JK Rowling said, “I remember creating the full list of ingredients for the Polyjuice Potion. Each one was carefully selected.”

Lacewing flies: JK Rowling says,”the first part of the name suggested an intertwining or binding together of two identities”

Leeches: JK Rowling says were used “to suck the essence out of one and into the other”

Fluxweed: A plant in the mustard family, used to cure dysentery. JK Rowling used it in this potion to represent “the mutability of the body as it changed into another.” Flux means, “a series of changes.”

Knotgrass: JK Rowling used the word knot as, “another hint of being tied to another person.”

Powdered horn of a bicorn: Bicorns were magical beasts in medieval times who were said to feed on devoted husbands. JK Rowling used this ingredient because its name represented, “the idea of duality.”

Shredded skin of boomslang: Boomslang is a large, venomous snake. The skin of snakes represents becoming something new, getting rid of the old, rebirth, etc. JK Rowling described it as “a shedded outer body and a new inner.”

The Draught of Peace: a potion to calm anxiety and reduce agitation

Powdered moonstone:moonstones are given many symbolic meanings, but one of which is calming powers and the ability to help with sleeplessness.

Syrup of hellebore: Hellebore is used for nervous disorders or hysteria

Confusing and befuddlement draughts:

Scurvy grass: Rich in vitamin C, often used by sailors suffering from scurvy. It’s unclear why this ingredient would be used in a confusing and befuddlement draught, as the symptoms of scurvy are mainly spotted skin, fatigue, and bleeding from mucous membranes.

Lovage: In the UK, lovage is mixed with brandy to create a winter drink. If you drank too much of it, you may become confused or befuddled.

Sneezewort: The plant is poisonous to cattle, sheep, and horses. Symptoms include fever, rapid pulse, difficulty breathing, drooling, spasms and loss of muscular control, and convulsions.

Other Potion Ingredients:

Bezoar:  In ancient medicine, the bezoar actually is a stone from the belly of a goat, that was believed to be an antidote to most poisons. The word “bezoar” comes from the Persian pād-zahr (پادزهر), which literally means “antidote.”Modern scientists have shown that bezoars are, in fact, capable of removing arsenic from a solution.