Our timeline project shows very distinct first or characteristically known spells conducted by six of the main characters in the Harry Potter series. Each character shows personal growth, whether from a place of righteousness as Harry Potter, a place of uncertainty between light and dark such as Draco Malfoy, or just a journey into the unrelenting shadows of dark magic. These notable or first use of spells helps to further develop each of the characters as one of the subtle things J.K. Rowling includes in her series. Along with these spells are the etymology of names that place a subtle baseline for each of the characters destinies. For example, Draco Malfoy as we discovered means “Bad Dragon” which can show that as a stereotype all dragons are seen as bad or malicious, but as the series progresses he is “tamed” in a sense and turns more towards the light as he sees the more evil nature of Voldemort and his followers. By taking all of these names and spells and placing them into one timeline, it further shows the transformations of each character in this one aspect of the series. It can lead more fans to discover more simple parts of the books that lead to the ultimate ending of the series, and how and why all the characters ended up the way they did.
Throughout this project, we searched for etymologies of names and spells from various sources. The Harry Potter Wiki was a great site as well to use as it provided a grand central station of Harry Potter facts and lore written by other fans just like us. This site includes information from plot, to characters, to locations, to simple themes that were held throughout the book.
This project can be seen as a stepping stone in discovering various themes within the Harry Potter book series, as we only managed to stumble onto one part. There are many different aspects of Harry Potter that have lead to character and plot development that could also be visualized and theorized in a similar manner. By showing evidence of these simple aspects, we have shown that there is more to these books than what just shows on the surface.
Stated to be Rowling’s favorite name for a boy, the name “Harry” comes from the Anglo-Saxon for “power.” A “potter’s field” refers to a community’s cemetery where the unwanted or unclaimed are buried, suggesting an orphan community. Although Harry uses magic intermittently throughout his childhood, the first spell he uses as a self-aware wizard is “wingardium leviosa” in The Sorcerer’s Stone. From Harry Potter Wiki: “Wingardium is a composite word, based on: English to wing meaning “to fly” ; arduus (meaning “high, tall, lofty, steep, proudly elevated”) or arduum (meaning “steep place, the steep”); and the common Latin ending -ium. Leviosa probably derives from Latin levo, meaning to “raise, lift up”, or levis, meaning light (of weight). Altogether,therefore, the incantation could best be read as “lift up high”.”
The significance of this being Harry Potter’s first spell is symbolic of his journey from muggle life to wizarding world. He has been lifted from a cruel and unforgiving childhood with his family into a higher, more advanced form of human interaction and being.
Rowling was inspired for the name Hermione by Shakespeare’s “The Winter’s Tale” as well as the Greek god Hermes, of wit, eloquence and quick-thinking. Her last name of Granger comes from the reference for a farm bailiff; a suggestion towards her heritage as a muggle. One of the first spells we see Hermione use in The Sorcerer’s Stone is the unknown incantation for the bluebell flames. Similar to the incendio spell, which translates to “fire,” the bluebell flames flow from a wand in a stream and lights the nearby object on fire. Unlike incendio, which creates “real” fire that would register with a muggle, the bluebell flames are blue in color and eat through clothing and plants but can be contained within glass. They hold greater magical qualities than the regular flames from an incendio charm. Hermione first uses the flames to keep her, Harry and Ron warm in the courtyard.
The second use is more significant to her growth as a character. Though still in the Sorcerer’s Stone, readers see a jump in the personality of Hermione as she uses this flammable spell to distract Snape, who she believed was cursing Harry. The manipulative qualities of the bluebell flames almost foreshadow Hermione as a character throughout the entire series. Not only does she outwit many of her peers and superiors, she does it in a way that is subtle and purposeful. As we first meet Hermione, she is intelligent but obedient. As the series continues, she more than adds to her intelligence but also blossoms as a strategic practicer of witchcraft.
Different forms of Ronald come from Scandinavia and the German language, both meaning “advice” or “advisor to the prince.” His name is a complete reflection of his character as a support to Harry throughout the series, although this develops and is challenged throughout the series. Although Ron is one of the first to use “wingardium leviosa” outside of the classroom, he rarely uses any other spells until the Chamber of Secrets. Readers see Ron try to curse Draco Malfoy after he calls Hermione a mudblood, but the curse backfires and affects Ron instead. He begins to throw up slugs, which does not slow or desist. This scene and the curse generalize Ron’s plights throughout the entire series: He does all he can to help his friends, but sometimes that is not good enough. Often, Ron fails more frequently than he succeeds. He is seen as almost a mediocre character: Performs sub standardly in his classes, can only make the Quidditch team because Hermione hexes another person trying out. Ron’s laid back attitude toward responsibility is challenged by his heart and compassion for his friends.
Voldemort translates to “Death Theif,” which he notably is known for the avada kedavra curse in his many years of “evil”. From our list of spells, the most notable usage of such spells are avada kedavra and crucio. The most notable Use of the crucio curse was when he was first brought back into his full body. He used the crucio curse on Harry Potter in the The Goblet of Fire, toying with him before what he thought would be the end of his enemy. He countlessly uses the killing curse without reconsideration (books 5-7), truly showing his evil nature and his willingness to cheat death by having it befall on others around him. It has not been shown for him to have a patronus charm, as he would never need others to come protect him against the dark (which he is). In fact it can be brought up for debate that the dark mark spell may be his own form of a “patronus.” As far as other spells go, there has been evidence of using expelliarmus, but only with those that he has complete control over and is simply annoyed at their attempt to attack him, If given the chance Voldemort will use the killing curse instead, showing his primary urge for evil. Voldemort himself never uses Morsmodre, as his followers will do it for him.
Draco Malfoy’s name origin translates to “bad dragon.” He may be more of a misunderstood being when analyzing his character progression throughout the films. Dragons are dangerous creatures in the wizarding world, and may have harsher temperaments than other creatures. But as it showed within the series, as Draco begins to lose touch with the evil in the wizarding world after the death of Dumbledore, not all dragons are bad forever. Some can be tamed, given the right conditions. Draco, like Voldemort, has no patronus, as he draws in the protection of his parents through the last few books of the series and was affiliated with the dark side of magic before. Draco has thrown the crucio curse around with little concern starting in as early as The Half Blood under the command of Lord Voldemort showing obedience but not total willingness to actually perform the spell out of his own will. One of his most notable spells has been the petrificus totalus spell against Harry Potter in the train. At this point in the series, they have been notable rivals, and the divide between Draco and Harry is more light than dark. When he leaves Harry paralyzed and hidden, he is essentially leaving him to be trapped without aid. He does this without hesitation and leaves without a second word. Draco has always been seen as borderline evil. But he was never able to utter the killing curse against Dumbledore, leading Snape to commit it (as pre-arranged) himself. Does this potentially show his “good side?” This is also confirmed by how he only disarmed Dumbledore, he didnt torture him, or control him simply disarmed him. Is this Draco’s turning point? When he uses the same spell that Harry always turns to, in order to disarm than destroy?
Dumbledore’s name quite literally means the “white piercing veil with wolf power of nobility bumblebee.” Dumbledore was the general force of good in the series. He had some rough goings for a short while, yet became a strong force for good in the end. This can be shown by his patronus, a vision of cheating death. Dumbledore’s patronus is that of a phoenix, which shows the power of rebirth. Dumbledore, like Voldemort, sought a way in a sense to cheat death, although not in the same way. He sought to cheat death by controlling when it occurred, and who it would be done by. When he was younger, he sought the three items of power that would allow him to cheat death even further – though this may be seen in a more negative manner. As well as arranging for events to occur after his death (such as Harry’s death and perhaps the granting of ownerships of the elder wand to harry), we never really hear of Dumbledore’s magic unless it was great magic, such as the waterball spell in the Ministry of Magic or the great fire wall spell done within the horcrux cave. Thus, any view of his magic we often see as being great and powerful.
About the Authors
Maddie Cicitto and Zachary Gross are both seniors at Westfield State University. While Zachary is a psychology major, Maddie is a English major, and both are great fans of the “Harry Potter” series and this is the first time they have worked in a collaborative project of this nature. Maddie discusses the balance between loving pop culture and feminism on her blog “Babe With the Power.” . Zachary, a future therapist writes about human interactions particularly relating to smartphone usage on his blog “Dont look Down, look Up” and about daily running on his Twitter.