Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Harry Potter - details anchored in history

William has just finished the last book in Harry Potter series with a sigh "oh, now what?! what can I read after this?".

I have to agree with the child, having read the book numerous times (usually before each volume came out I read the previous ones one more time... thus having read volume 1 an incredible 8 or 9 times - the extra with the child :) ) - every time thinking the same. I've mentioned the books before - in my opinion they are the best tool to open a child's eye on how evil can slowly infiltrate and take over. They are the best G-rated rendition of any totalitarian regime, similar to Orwell's 1984, but in terms a child can understand.

Not only that - but J.K Rowling did some serious research for the books and as I read them to the child (up until middle of 4th volume I did the reading, after that William took the matter in his own hands - I could afford 30-60 minutes a day of reading, while he could afford many more hours :) ) I found little details that made so much sense.

Sirius, Canis Major, a Harry Potter subtle reference :: All Pretty ThingsOne is the name of Harry's Godfather, Sirius Black. In the book he's an Animagus (he can transform into an animal) - and his is a huge black dog. I got the last name (black dog, 'black' family - as in dark wizards), but I was wondering about the first. Then I came upon the 'dog days' expression and I had to look it up. Only to find my answer to the Harry Potter question.

In the Roman Empire days, during the month of July Canis Major's brightest start is the brightest star in the sky. Its name? Sirius. Sirius and Canis Major (the "Big Dog" constellation) was rising almost along the sun, so the Romans thought the heat from the big, bright Sirius star adds to the heat from the sun to create the hot July days. Hence 'the dog days' expression. And - hence Sirius' name as Harry's Godfather.

Another detail is even more subtle. Ron's oldest brother, Charlie, is mentioned a couple of times as working in Romania, with dragons. When William heard the first time he asked 'Why Romania?!'. I admit - I didn't know at the time. We are 'known' in the western hemisphere for vampires... not dragons... so I kind of assumed she just threw up a country name in there. I should have known better - since she mentions very few countries and none without a reason (I am still looking for the Albania mention, though).

Just a year or so ago I received a history book from my mom - written by a wonderful historian in amazing style. That specific book was about what you know as 'Dracula' - in fact the Prince of Wallachia in the early-mid 1400s. His name was Vlad and he's mostly known in Romania as the father of one of the next Princes of Wallachia, Vlad the Impaler (we won't get into details). Both Vlad Dracul (where Dracul is a popular translation of the English word 'Dragon') and his son, Vlad the Impaler, were inducted in the "Order of Dragon" founded by a King of Hungary, as part of a design to gain political favor from the Catholic Church and to aid in protecting Wallachia against the Ottoman Empire.

Order of the Dragon - inductee Prince of Wallachia, a Harry Potter subtle reference :: All Pretty Things

Vlad the Dragon - Prince of Wallachia, a Harry Potter subtle reference :: All Pretty Things

The word Dragon got translated as 'The devil' (Dracul), apparently from Latin, and then wrongly interpreted by Stoker as 'Dracula' the vampire...

But here you have it: J.K. Rowling put together one of the most renowned fiction (Dracula) with its factual origins (Vlad the Dragon) and set the dragons in Romania.

A less subtle detail is the naming of the 4 Hogwarts schools by their founders, especially the 'evil' house of Slytherin. Salazar Slytherin. You do the math on this one :)

There are many other details, like the name of Remus Lupin (one of my favourite) or the neatly Latin translations of all the spells or charms or plants.

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