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The Five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law

by David Haber

Elemental transfiguration is the magical art of physically converting one thing into another. But as with all types of magic, there are limitations to what you can do with transfiguration, as we learn in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when Hermione mentions the five Principal Exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration. But she only tells us one of them. What are the other four? I think we know two more, and can guess another.

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Reader Comments: (Page 22)

Yes, Elizabeth - if you are thinking along these lines, there is of course a literary history of (I should really assume) everything in HP.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 27, 2009 06:15 AM

The tragic in "Frankenstein" in my opinion isn't so much the unnatural creation of life by the hands of a human being. It is more the rejection of that being (interestingly, Shelley never called it "monster" ) by society. He only starts revenging himself on Victor after he was rejected by the DeLaceys. He is a likeable being really up to that point. He tries to educate himself and is capable of empathy with other human beings. After his rejection, he reacts in a totally human way as well - wanting a companion for himself to save him from solitude. Victor Frankenstein then lets him down once again. The films only later created this inarticulate monster - threat with Frankenstein as the victim of his own doing.
The being never asked to be created, he had no choice - but Voldemort surely recreated himself by choice.
So yes, there are similarities, Elizabeth - but the overall message is completely different in HP and Shelley's work.
As for Gamp's Law - when is Rowling's reference book supposed to get out...? She probably surprise us all. I remember someone before saying in this blog that she might not have thought about all five exemptions at all... this is a possibility to be considered.
By the way can anyone explain the difference between Tranfiguration and Charms to me? Because in one of Flitwick's (Charms)classes, Harry and Ron are supposed to turn vinegar into wine. Wouldn't this actually be a transfiguration? I mean yes, vinegar and wine could both be made out of grapes but not necessarily,they are quite different substances.So the process does really involve the change of an object/substance.

Posted by Cai from Berlin, Germany on October 27, 2009 08:51 AM

Creating live being can't be in exception, 'cause in the very first transfiguration lesson (HP & the SC) McGonagall turns a table into pig.

If only it was pig =)

Posted by Neolord from Russia, Moscow on October 27, 2009 4:37 PM

Neolord, I think the exception would be to do with creating a creature with a rational soul. Pigs are intelligent, but would you describe a pig as having a rational soul?

Cai - yes, Shelley and Rowling wrote very different stories, exploring different aspects of a similar theme. I certainly did not intend to suggest that they were the same. Just that there was a relationship in that they both revolve around a human messing with the mysteries of life and . I agree that in the book Frankenstein's creature is not at all an inarticulate monster as shown in the movies. By the end of the book one sees him as more of a victim. We pity him and feel empathy for his loneliness. Frankenstein himself is the one who has transgressed both in creating the creature in the first place and then in rejecting his creation. As you say, quite different to Voldemort, but Frankenstein made a choice to "play God" for want of a better expression. That choice came back to haunt and destroy him, just as Voldemort's choices destroyed him. My point is that they both tried to subvert the natural order. Frankenstein by creating life in an unnatural way, and Voldemort by attempting to avoid by perverting the natural order. Different sides of the same coin, perhaps?
And yes, I think there is a possibility that Rowling hadn't quite worked through what the other exceptions were. Then again, apparently she has books and books of notes which furnished the material for Quidditch through the Ages and Fantastic Beasts... just think of Tolkien, all those odd references to long ago history in The Hobbit and LOTR, and it's all there in detail in the History of Middle Earth volumes. LOL! Rowling's kids may have a mammoth task ahead of them!

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on October 27, 2009 8:54 PM

But Cai -apart from yours being an excellent reading of "Frankenstein" by the way - I can definately see where Elizabeth's references are coming from. I mean the striking similarities...both the "Being" and Voldemort are boiling away in a vessel, both are created out of bones (in Voldemort's case real bones and I think Victor Frankenstein creates artificial bones(?) as far as I can remember...
But Elizabeth, I don't understand what you mean by "rational" soul". Do you mean a thinking,intelligent soul? But then can a soul be described as such?I know there is always this debate among animal rights activists and people who claim human beings have a priority claim on being regarded the ultimate receiver of God's blessing... and obviously,if having to chose between saving a child and saving an animal we'd be obliged to save the child...I don't know this is difficult...

Posted by Siena from Nottingham,UK on October 28, 2009 08:05 AM

That's it, Siena. A thinking, intelligent, self-aware soul. Have you read Fantastic Beasts? There's a very funny description of a series of meetings where wizards try to work out just which magical beasts count as "human." The centaurs eventually demanded to be classed with "beasts." The problem of course was the definition of "human" and what that meant in terms of rights and responsibilities. A great deal of that comes out in the later Harry books with Umbridge calling the centaurs filthy half-breeds, or whatever it was she said, and the Ministry attitude towards werewolves and Muggles. They are considered beasts. It is a very hard area. I suppose what it comes down to is moral awareness and responsibility. Put it this way, if my neighbour's dog came over here and ed one of my sheep that would be illegal and I'd be furious, but I would not consider the dog's actions to be morally wrong as such. A dog has no morals in that way and is not morally responsible for its actions. I'd be furious with the owner who ought to have trained the dog better and kept it in. But if my neighbour came over and ed my sheep THAT would be morally as well as legally wrong, because as a thinking, rational creature my neighbour knows perfectly well that ing my sheep is wrong. That then is my definition of a rational soul - a thinking creature who ought to be able decide whether or not to do something based on right or wrong. As opposed to my dog who chooses not to steal the butter off the bench because I'll yell at her if she does. Of course my definition falls down when applying such criteria to someone with an intellectual disability who may lack that ability, or a very young child. No one would deny their humanity, I hope! There are so many grey areas here. Which is possibly why messing around in this area either magically or otherwise is so fraught with danger! We don't really comprehend the ramifications of what we're dealing with. It's the ultimate can of worms.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on October 29, 2009 06:34 AM

But isn't moral awareness something we humans have learnt by our environment because our mind is capable of processing such information and linking it to our emotional Self? Therefore I would suggest the term rational and morally responsible MIND better suitable than the term soul. A dog hasn't got the mental ability to decide that ing a sheep is morally wrong - it does it by instinct, for survival, it is a perfectly normal action for it, the dog is therefore not necessarily a "bad" or violent being. And as you said we can that dog so that it refrains from stealing food but then it has been conditioned to fear the consequences. But of course animals habe great capacities for compassion and to feel love and losses - think of pet dog grieving for ages because its owner has d or an elephant mourning a companion. As such animals have souls and they are rational - only this rationality doesn't apply to the way we define moral causality. What is rational and intelligent for animal (ing the sheep as it is regarded as prey) is not acceptable for us.
I suppose what I don't like is the connection of this vast concept of soul with the term "rational" - but as you said (and what you are saying above makes of course perfect sense ) we don't really have an understanding of this area anyway. I just prefer to attribute a soul to every living being that is capable of love and compassion - in whichever way these might be applied - and thinking about it I find it a bit tricky that Rowling chose transfiguration from soulless, non-living objects into animals possible. No, a pig hasn't got the same mental abilities as we have and therefore cannot apply our moral standards - but it is a rational and thinking creature in itself by its own standards, so I wonder how a table could be turned into one.

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 30, 2009 09:25 AM

Rowling once expressed concern about the fact that a lot of younger readers were more shaken by Hedwig's than by Mad-Eye Moody's. First of all I found it very interesting that this was voiced by children - adults, whether they felt the same or not, would have been obliged to keep quiet about it - naturally, you shouldn't mourn more over an animal than over a man. But I found the reaction totally understandable: Hedwig has been with Harry right from the beginning, she was a highly trustworthy (if slightly haughty) companion for Harry. Whereas we get to know Moody as an Impostor version only (although performed brilliantly) and after that he plays only a small part in the Harry story. It is natural therefore to feel more for Hedwig, but obviously morally wrong.
I must check out "Fantastic Beasts" that sounds interesting. Rowling has obviously got so many ideas that all contribute to the overall discourse. The Centaurs, I had always thought, preferred to be considered as beasts because they found humans to mundane and short-minded, incapable of feeling the vibrations of Mars...

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on October 30, 2009 09:51 AM

Siena, I would not deny that an animal has a soul. Far from it. Of course a dog can love. Any of us who owns a dog knows exactly how much a dog can love. However, rational and soul are not inextricably linked in my mind. The very word "animal" comes from the Latin "anima" which means soul. In linking the word "rational" to "soul" I was trying to explain, or more likely understand, the distinction between human and animal. I think you are right in not linking rationality with at least the initial possession of a soul. Look at Voldemort - highly intelligent, yet as he destroys his soul he becomes more and more like a snake, and even his ability to think clearly is impaired because he is blind to certain things like love and loyalty.
I'll put it like this; a dog has a soul, but not a rational one. A human supposedly has a rational soul. Our rationality IS part of our soul. When Voldemort destroys his own soul he also impairs part of his ability to think as a human being. Perhaps it is unfair to beasts to say that he becomes beast-like. In fact he is something far more dreadful.

Actually Lupin is a fascinating character in that regard as he embos both human and beast. It seems clear that many werewolves end up having to live apart from wizard or muggle society. People don't want to be around them and a man like Remus is very aware of the danger he poses to others. So they become isolated, and this may end up causing bitterness and hence further isolation and damage to their human soul. Perhaps the beast soul becomes stronger? Interesting that when Remus has left Tonks to try and protect her, it is then that Harry sees the shadow of the wolf on his human face. When he has decided to put his love behind him. But because of Harry's reaction Lupin makes the right choice. He chooses to go back to Tonks and his unborn child. They have at least those few months of joy and love. Their child can grow up knowing that his parents loved each other and him.
As for Hedwig, I can understand children being more upset about her , and I don't see that as morally wrong. Think of everything Harry has already lost - parents, home, Sirius, Dumbledore - and now he loses Hedwig and his broomstick, both gifts from men he loves dearly and who have been like fathers to him. And as you say, children are closer to Hedwig who has always been with Harry, than they are to Moody. I freely admit that I cried more over the of my pet dog when I was a child than over the of an elderly uncle I didn't know very well. I lived with the dog, he slept on the end of my bed. That's just how kids are. As you grow up you develop a sense of proportion. Maybe that's how it's meant to be. I was upset about Hedwig's , partly I was upset for Harry. I've cried over several dogs, cats and one pet magpie. I can certainly understand children relating more to that, but yes, as an adult I felt Mad Eye's more deeply. Kids instinctively see with Hedwig's that Harry has just lost something else that he loved. He is being systematically stripped of just about everything and everyone who can help him. Even Ron for a time, and his faith in Dumbledore. In fact his returning faith in Dumbledore is in part triggered by Ron's return courtesy of the Deluminator.

I have the impression that Centaurs do rather look down upon humans and find us arrogant and condescending. Which, one could argue, is often a product of being mundane and short-sighted! Fantastic Beasts is a lot fun. Check it out.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on November 1, 2009 7:44 PM

It is interesting what you are saying about Lupin, Elizabeth - I have never thought about him like that ( just, like James Potter and Harry, I thought he just had a "little problem" - but the hints are there definately. Harry says something like: "But you are human! " and Lupin laughs at him, partly because of the memory of James this comment awoke in him, but probably also because this isn't 100 percent true.) But still, it is the COMBINATION of beast and human that does seem to be at the root of this particular evil. Wolves are usually quite shy animals who would stay away from humans if they can help it, wouldn't they? So isn't it really down to the human part in a werewolf that makes it a dangerous being?

As for your thoughts on Intentional Curse Damage, David, a thought just occured to me: Maybe it isn't curse damage that makes an exemption, but "normal" damage: In the first book, Snape's leg gets mangled by Fluffy. He treats it in normal Muggle fashion with bandages - no spell-work involved! Of course, Fluffy is a magical creature, but it applied the wounds through a simple bite or two, not by a curse. Still, Snape doesn't seem to be able to magically repair them. Further still, in DH Harry cuts himself on a broken teacup and contemplates asking Hermione later to tell him how cuts can be healed magically. However, Hermione later on is the one first mentioning Gamps Law - not directly referring to healing (non-magical) wounds od course, but still... could this be a hint?
Also, I don't think Mrs Weasley was unable to help George just because his ear was cursed off by dark magic. I think it was only Snape who would know the counterspell for "Sectumsempra - after all, he invented it. As far Mad Eye Moody - I think he probably liked his magical eye quite too much to get rid of it- it sounded quite useful for his job and for his state of nervous paranoia anyway. And you don't even know whether his real eye was cursed off by Dark magic - it could have happenend in a normal accident also!

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on November 4, 2009 02:26 AM

Sorry - what I meant to say was: Could Snape's inability to cure his leg magically, Harry's contemplation about how to heal (non- magically inflicted) wounds and Hermione later introducing Gamp's Law mean that "normal" damage falls under the law instead of magical damage?
In OoTP Mr Weasley messes around with stitches to treat his snake bites and of course they don't work on it because the basilik venom is magical. But then Hermione or someone says that stitches work really well on normal wounds... so maybe normal wounds can only be treated by mundane Muggle remes such as bandages, stitches and time?

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on November 4, 2009 02:44 AM

Regarding wounds from normal damage: I don't think this can be an exception. In the cave in HBP we see Dumbledore cutting himself with a knife and then using his wand to heal the wound. It doesn't seem as though the knife has magical properties (or at least, Dumbledore is not using them if it does). Also, when Malfoy stomps on Harry's nose, Tonks is able to mend it with her wand. Madame Pomfrey is said to be able to fix broken bones easily, but I'm not sure if broken bones are under the same category as other forms of damage.

Posted by Anonymous from Arizona on November 4, 2009 11:35 AM

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