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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 23)

I'd forgotten all about Snape's leg. I think the answer is fairly simple though. That happened in the first book. At that point I doubt that Rowling had even thought about magical healing of wounds. She was still creating her world and some of the ins and outs probably hadn't occurred to her. While she must have had some idea of the arc, or central thread, of the whole story, I doubt she'd figured out all the details. Even writing a single, stand-alone-book you tend not to see all the details when you're right at the beginning. You sort the details out when they arise in the course of the story. Which can of course lead to to minor inconsistencies here and there.

Posted by Elizabeth from Australia on November 4, 2009 9:40 PM

Anonymous you are right about Dumbledore healing his cut - this scene has escaped me! I am sorry. But still - is the healing of curse damage really a transfiguration? I mean to say you wouldn't change the body part you are mending by that - there is no transformation involved from say, turning an arm into a leg. You would only change the condition of the body part from wounded to healed? Cai's comment about Charms and Transfiguration brought me onto this... I mean take food, the only exception we know about for sure. If you could change a stone into a meatball, you would really change the substance. But if you sealed a cut made into flesh, you are not really changing the substance (it is still skin, tissue, etc.) but only change the condition of it?

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on November 7, 2009 02:20 AM

Siena, I think it depends on how you define the term Transfiguration. Taken quite literally, only food and money would qualify as exemptions, as creating both the witches and wizards would need to transform some different objects. If taken not quite so literally ( and I think this is what David Haber is doing when assuming that bringing people back from the or Intentional Curse Damage must be transfigurations: Quite literally speaking (as you said, Siena)they don't transfigure, they just change a condition: living/, undamaged/wounded. The object or in this case person remains the same. As Rowling considered the production of food as an exemption, I think you are quite right in assuming that for her in this case transfiguration means the actual and complete change of an object. Money would go under the same heading, this makes sense. As for the other suggestions made by David, they can't be proper transfigurations, if viewed in this way.

Posted by Cai from Berlin, Germany on November 14, 2009 02:25 AM

But then of course my suggestion about repairing wands would go under the same heading - changing the condition of it from broken to mended. Therefore it's probably rather changing some other object into a wand (as suggested by someone before).

Posted by Siena from Nottingham, UK on November 17, 2009 10:20 AM

Wow. This is over a year-long conversation. I love I'm new to this discussion, so I only bothered to read the first page or so. I think the fifth is love. One of the major themes in the series is the power of love. It would lose all value and power if one could just conjure up true love, wouldn't it? If love lost its power like that, or didn't even have power for that matter, Harry would've d when Voldemort ed his parents.

Posted by Rob from Florida, USA on December 18, 2009 9:48 PM

I agree Rob this is an amazing discussion! Forgive me if I repeat points already given, but I have to join in.

I think the fifth exception is oxygenated air. In the fourth book the Triwizard contestants had to find ways of breathing under-water. Two of them used bubble-head charms. My understanding of that is that they trapped air and, therefore, had a finite amount. None considered conjuring air underwater - because maybe it can't be done.

In reference to someone's comment about aquamenti - technically this charm doesn't conjure water from nothing, water vapour is around us at all times. I think it merely increases what is already there.

Also I like the idea of one of the excemptions being to do with wands - that one cannot change another object into a wand - otherwise there would be no need for wand makers.

Regarding snape's wound in the first book - maybe he personally didn't have enough s to heal it magically and neither did his colleagues, i.e. it was something that a sed healer from St. Mungo's would have to do, therefore he resorted to Muggle ways.

I also think that one of Gamp's excemptions must have something to do with the creation of life. We do see inanimate objects being transfigured into animals, but never into an independently reasoning beings or forms with the potential to be independently reasoning. Is this because it can't happen (one of Gamp's excemptions) or because it shouldn't happen (it's a moral thing)? Also, thinking about it, the life within the being that has been created through transfiguration hasn't been conjured out of thin air - it already exists with the wizard or witch working the spell. So are they simply increasing it to animate something that has only been changed in form?

My last suggestion on what one of Gamp's exemptions may be is magic itself - none of the characters seem to be able to create magic from nothing at all. It has to exist in the first place, e.g. if a Squib were Imperuised he or she would still not be able to perform spells because no magic exists within them. Or am I wrong?

Posted by Tee from Birmingham, UK on December 19, 2009 5:32 PM

Maybe you're on to something Tee. I still kind of believe love could still be the fifth. And maybe the person who started this discussion was wrong about the others. But, I think your theory on the creation of magic could definitely be one of them as well. It's highly unlikely, but maybe Hermione made a mistake ant there are more than But, yeah, your theory is intriguing. Maybe JK Rowling include these laws in her tell-all Encyclopedia. I hope so.

Posted by Rob from Florida, USA on December 19, 2009 6:33 PM

Yeah - that encyclopedia would make an amazing read!

Posted by Tee from B'ham, UK on December 21, 2009 12:21 PM

i think, like many on this site do, that the 5th exception is love. because even in Tales of beedle the bard dumbledore says that no one was ever able to create the true feeling of love. no real love potion has ever been made and it probably won't. voldemort's mother, for instance, never managed to make his father love her truly althought she's been giving him love potion for a fairly long time.

Posted by Marina from Greece on January 9, 2010 06:29 AM

This is one of the mysteries of the wizarding world J.K.R hasn't ventured to fully tell us. Currently, from what everyone has discussed and from the evidence we have, the exceptions to Gamp's Law of Elemental Transfiguration are all necessities to life. I think Magic is also one of the exceptions otherwise wizards would be transporting, stealing and making their own ability with magic more powerful. It could be referred to the fact that if we were on the verge of , someone else can not transport some of their strength or soul into our body to save us. Or the difference between wizards and muggles. If Magic was not an exception, I'm sure the very intelligent Tom Riddle Jnr would've figured out a way to conquer the Wizarding World with an irreversible effect.
Also emotions and, by extention, the feeling of love. It has been said countless times by the books, by J.K.R and by numerous fans that you can only create an image or shadow of love (also despair, happiness etc) and not the depth of the feeling.
So I believe the exceptions to Gamp's law are: Food, Money, Life, Magic and Emotions.

Posted by Danielle from Melbourne, Victoria on January 15, 2010 11:57 PM

I think the 5Th is people. As when Hagrid fell down in the DH Harry said "accio hagrid and it didn't work. You can't transfigure people, summon them or clone them.

Posted by Khadija from Bristol on April 5, 2010 11:56 AM

Um... I think I covered that in my original article with Exception #3: Intentional Curse Damage.

Posted by Dave Haber from Hollywood, CA on April 5, 2010 12:11 PM

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