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CSI: Hogwarts

Beyond Hogwarts Guest Article
by Galadriel Waters and E.L. Fossa

It's not enough to have a feeling that Dumbledore's not , or to want him not to be . What you need is a way to prove he's not .

We at Wizarding World Press are happy to help you work on techniques needed for doing that.

Now, if life was a Jasper Fforde novel, you could just walk right into Book 6 and do a little poking around like his Jurisfiction operative Thursday Next. You could get there before Hagrid, for instance, and listen to ALL of that conversation Dumbledore had with Snape. That would rock, especially if it meant you heard something that meant the book was supposed to have ended differently.

Sadly what would be standard operating procedure for Thursday Next would be fanfiction for us. So what to do, what to do...

You could always engage in what has come to be known as "HP Sleuthing."

Sleuthing Harry Potter has become a popular sport -- er, pastime -- for thousands of series fans. The serial publishing of seven books, in essence seven parts of an epic mystery, has led to fans trying their best to stay one step ahead of that redoubtable Games-Mistress who has kindly told her fans to call her "Jo". Can fans figure out what's going to happen before Jo makes it happen? Before the last book? Before the last page? Maybe. Can we figure out the great Dumbledore question, once and for all? Maybe.

Long ago in the English classes you were forced by law to take, they tried to teach you a technique they called "close reading". Pull your memories of that s out and dust them off. The teachers who told you it was useful weren't lying, any more than the ones who told you that you would need math.

Some familiarity with great literature won't hurt, but isn't absolutely necessary. And if you decide you need to know what TS Eliot (for example) has in common with Harry Potter, there's always the Internet. WWP deeply admires the work of, which has gathered a reference-library full of wonderful stuff and placed it at our busily tapping fingertips.

Finally, you need to read the Harry Potter books. Again, and again, and again, and again. How often is really necessary, you ask? Well, if you have a bookcase with a copy of Goblet of Fire that's been reduced to a series of soft-cover pamphlets, you've probably read the series enough to get started.

Like most talented magicians, Jo is a mistress of misdirection, and has created books that are able to be read on so many different levels.

There are the readers who genuinely admire the story, and who are happy to wait to find out what happens when each book is released. They share the series with their friends, they share it with their children -- especially with their children, of course, it's a children's series, isn't it? ;) These readers don't sleuth.

Then there are the learned readers, who know all about literary tradition and criticism. They sleuth, but in the time-honored fashion. They didn't have to dust off their knowledge of close-reading. There's a lot in Harry Potter for these folks to find -- hero's journey, mentor's revival, Greek traditions, Egyptian legend. It all relates, it's all there, you can find the parallels, you can do a LOT with close reading and literary analysis in Harry Potter. For those readers, sleuthing is just one of many means of dissecting and analyzing the septology.

Then there's the rest of us.

We have watched the evolution of Jo's trio over a series of six books now, and we have seen the patterns develop on her loom as surely as the wildest paisley. We have realized that Jo does nothing without reason, even if the reason is to camouflage her plans. Where in the world did Hagrid get that flying motorcycle? Poor Harry, getting sent to that old bat's house to look at pictures of cats so he won't blow up the house... Isn't it funny that Montague got shoved in that cabinet and disappeared!

Look for Jo's odd words, sprinkled like fancy stitches woven into the tapestry. If you have ever come across a name, magic spell, or other word in Jo's books and said to yourself, "Gee, this sounds like the word..." then you have encountered a Rowlinguistic. Many times those strange names and words in the Harry Potter books have been made up by Jo from French, Latin, or other derivations. It is no coincidence that the names seem to relate directly to the personality of the character or the purpose of a spell. Remember those two words: No coincidence. It is very important that you remember them if you are going to sleuth.

The shuttle goes from left to right, then back again, and the cloth lengthens, and the story grows. Here a Muggle-born witch, there a pure-blood boy, there a half-blood with a past -- and always in the background of the design, the elderly wizard with a twinkle in his eye and a secret. Maybe many secrets.

The hardest part is to not get so involved in the story that you forget to keep looking for the clues. With Jo's works, that is quite tricky. You may need to start passages, pages, or even chapters all over again, when you suddenly realize you haven't been paying attention because you got caught up in her world. The slight-of-hand is Jo's cleverest move. She draw your attention one direction while handing out clues off in the corner. Keep your eye on the lady!

For instance: In Chapter 16 of Book 1, J. K. Rowling writes that Harry "watched an owl flutter toward the school across the bright blue sky, a note clamped in its mouth." Even after reading the book several times, it still catches readers by surprise when they realize that this note was probably the message used to trick Headmaster Dumbledore into leaving the school for a trip to London. That clue doesn't help us solve the plot of the book and it was never explained or mentioned again, but when we see similar clues in other books, we know that we need to pay much closer attention.

It is the charge of the HP Sleuth to predict the pattern as it grows and changes. Does a repeated mention of goblin wars mean something? Why was it Hermione never told all of what she read in the library about house-elves? Can you believe what you've been told about, say, Aberforth?

Because you couldn't believe what you were told about Gilderoy, could you?

Prediction is, as Trelawney herself would admit, an uncertain thing. HP Sleuths theorized, from Jo's "running bits" in Book 5, that water would be important in Book 6, but who could have imagined the kind of watery world in which Jo was going to immerse us? Look for her repetitions, it's a tool HP Sleuths use often, and to good effect, to construct theories.

HP Sleuths also use a tool in theory construction that serves much the same purpose as the carpenter's adage, "Measure twice, cut once". It's called Two Degrees of Separation.

We all love fanfiction, there's just a big difference between fanfiction and theory. Basically it is this: a theory is based directly on canon. If I say, "Snape was a Eater", that is canon - verifiable from what Jo has specifically stated in the novels. If I say, "Snape was a Eater, therefore he might have been there when the Potters were ed", that's a theory based on the canon we all know to be true. If I say, "Snape was a Eater, therefore he might have been there when the Potters were ed, so he might have preserved Lily's soul in a potions bottle he had on him for that purpose and now he's keeping her soul upstairs at his house in preparation for the day when he's able to restore her body just like Voldy's body was restored! And that's why Wormtail's there, he's watching it!", that falls under Two Degrees of Separation, otherwise known as fan fiction. (Okay, it's, um, six degrees -- Snape keeping Lily's soul in a potions bottle was two -- but once you get to two why bother counting any further?)

You want to prove Dumbledore's not ? Go for it! We at WWP would dearly love for him not to be . Just remember, though, if you get to the point where he's being kept in a bottle upstairs at Snape's house, check your Degrees of Separation. They probably got a bit too separated. ;)

Galadriel Waters is a professional HP Sleuth and author of several books that explore the mystery of Harry Potter, including The Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter (Analysis of Books 1-4), The Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter (Analysis of Book 5), and editor of The Plot Thickens... Harry Potter Investigated by Fans for Fans.

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Published September 7, 2006

This article is Copyright © 2006, Galadriel Waters and E.L. Fossa, and may not be reproduced on other web sites or in print, in whole or in part, without expressed permission

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