I can't pretend to deny that my entire family has been counting the days until a certain movie premieres in the U.S. – a movie involving a green-eyed, bespectacled young wizard with that irresistible British accent. Come to think of it, the entire cast speaks that way. Ahhhh.
But I digress. Robert and I have read all seven Harry Potter books out loud to our kids – twice. And yet our devotion pales in comparison to many people we know, who have read them even more times – one friend is re-reading the entire series, this time in the colloquial British version.
I'm guessing some of you have, and some of you have not, read the Harry Potter books, but since we all love the violin, I wanted to note that in many, many instances throughout this book, one could replace "music" for "magic." Moreover, the whole world of "wandlore," with wandmakers, shops, the choice of a wand – is so much like lutherie, I found myself wondering if author J.K. Rowling had ever visited a violin shop or talked to violinists about their instruments.
For example, when Harry gets his wand at "Ollivander's – Maker of Fine Wands."
Ollivander, a total wand wonk, absolutely reminds me of certain luthiers, who are full of the knowledge of their craft, and of their customers' preferences.
Page 83, from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone:
"Yes, yes. I thought I'd be seeing you soon. Harry Potter." It wasn't a question. "You have your mother's eyes. It seems only yesterday she was in here herself, buying her first wand. Ten and quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow. Nice wand for charm work."
Mr. Ollivander moved closer to Harry. Harry wished he would blink. Those silvery eyes were a bit creepy.
"Your father on the other hand, favored a mahogany wand. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power and excellent for transfiguration. Well, I say you father favored it – it's really the want that chooses the wizard, of course."
Mr. Ollivander had come so close that he and Harry were almost nose to nose. Harry could see himself reflected in those misty eyes.
Harry is clearly intimidated by the hundreds of wands in the store, and by their mystique. I was reminded of being a college student, looking for a bow at Bein and Fushi. My musical Muggle parents were not present, and it was up to me to decide. Suddenly I felt like I didn't actually know how to use a bow, or how to play the violin, because I didn't actually know how to choose a bow.
"Well now – Mr. Potter. Let me see." He pulled a long tape measure with silver markings out of his pocket. "Which is your wand arm?"
"Er – well, I'm right-handed," said Harry.
"Hold out your arm. That's it." He measured Harry from shoulder to finger, then wrist to elbow, shoulder to floor, kneed to armpit and round his head. As he measured, he said, "Every Ollivander wand has a core of a powerful magical substance, Mr. Potter. We use unicorn hairs, phoenix tail feathers, and the heartstrings of dragons. No two Ollivander wands are the same, just as no two unicorns, dragons, or phoenixes are quite the same. And of course, you will never get such good results with another wizard's wand."
Harry suddenly realized that the tape measure, which was measuring between his nostrils, was doing this on its own. Mr. Ollivander was flitting around the shelves, taking down boxes.
They try wand after wand, dutifully searching for the one that will best enable magic to flow from Harry's fingers.
"Tricky customer, eh? Not to worry, we'll find the perfect match here somewhere – I wonder, now, – yes, why not – unusual combination – holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches, nice and supple."
Harry took the wand. He felt a sudden warmth in his fingers. He raised the wand above his head, brought it swishing down through the dusty air and a stream of red and gold sparks shot from the end like a firework, throwing dancing spots of light on to the walls.... Mr. Ollivander cried, "Oh, bravo! Yes, indeed, oh very good. Well, well, well...how curious...how very curious..."
Now, I certainly didn't find my perfect bow, or my perfect violin, the first time I tried. It was a greatly attenuated process, but this description sounds exactly like how it felt when I found the right violin – how it felt immediately familiar, how I felt like the violin itself was making requests of me.
I even called my violin an enchanted piece of wood – was it magic? For me, yes. Of course, a few details were different (sparks didn't literally fly, and my violin doesn't have a magical phoenix feather at its core, much less a mysterious connection to Evil Lord Voldemort....)
Still, many violins do have connections to other musicians, and this is another aspect mirrored in the Harry Potter wand world. Just like the ghost of Jaqueline du Pre seemed to hover with Yo Yo Ma when he first played the Elgar on the cello that was once hers (see Stradivari's Genius), a wand in Rowling's magical world also will retain the last spells it has performed, and under special circumstances, reveal them, a phenomenon called "Priori Incantatem."
And how about the mystical "Elder Wand"? Is this perhaps a bit like our Messiah or Il Cannone in the violin world? Is studying this wand a little like trying to uncover the secrets of Stradivari and replicate them?
From page 497 of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, about the "Elder Wand":
"You really think this wand exists, then, Mr. Ollivander?" asked Hermione.
"Oh yes," said Ollivander. "Yes, it is perfectly possible to trace the wand's course through history. There are gaps, of course, and long ones, where it vanishes from view, temporarily lost or hidden; but always it resurfaces. It has certain identifying characteristics that those who are learned in wandlore recognize. There are written accounts, some of them obscure, that I and other wandmakers have made it our business to study. They have the ring of authenticity."
Then on p. 498, Ollivander talks about a competing wandmaker, who was alleged once to have the "Elder Wand" in his possession:
"It was a rumor..." whispered Ollivander. "I believe Gregorovitch himself started it. You can see how good it would be for business: that he was studying and duplicating the qualities of the Elder Wand!"
Hmmm, looks as though wandmakers are as competitive and back-biting as... oh never mind!
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