Ah, duelling. The noblest of all methods of inflicting physical discomfort and public humiliation on a person you don’t like. The origins of duelling go way, way back into history – at least a hundred years if I’m not mistaken. And I, Lance Bluntley, blessed since birth with piercing insight into all things duel, shall be your guide in exploring the facts and shattering the myths surrounding this popular wizarding tradition.
For over three decades I’ve been enlightening the masses as founding father of the world-renowned league Duelling for Important Magicians (DIM) and Chief Duelling Consultant on the Hogwarts Governors Board.1 You may be familiar with my prodigious and thorough volumes on the subject including Simple Duelling Made Simpler for Simpletons, Your Head’s Been Severed – Now What? (foreword by Sir Nicholas de Mimsy-Porpington), and Dancing With Danger: The Life and Times of Sir Lance Bluntley. However, many poor souls outside of the wizarding community have been sadly denied exposure to my acclaimed works, so the corking staff at Scribbulus asked me to whip up this piece to acquaint its audience a bit with the history of the duel.
Most people seem to think that Shakespeare, the Muggle famous for fusing poetry with origami,2 invented duelling as a means to kill off play characters who had either sinned beyond redemption or simply grown tiresome and begun spouting increasingly depressing soliloquies.3 However, in my extensive research I have found this to be somewhat untrue. Although it’s been confirmed that staging duels is a brilliant method of trimming up the amount of actors roaming about loose on a stage, the inaccuracies lie in the fact that Muggles did not invent the duel. In actuality, like most everything, they came to be aware of it rather later than the far cleverer wizarding world.
The astounding truth of the matter is that Merlin, the greatest sorcerer of his age (though frankly no match for yours truly in a duel if he were alive today), invented the concept of the duel, although quite by accident as I shall reveal in due course. We are all aware of Merlin’s vast contributions to the realm of magic, but most common wizards and witches know virtually nothing of his minor inventions; the myriad non-magical trifles he devised which add comfort and convenience to our modern lives. His innovations in the field of nougat were particularly prolific, and it’s a little known historical footnote that Merlin stumbled upon the sweet substance that holds a cockroach cluster together during one of his many attempts to turn base metals into piping hot sticky buns – his attempts to create pure gold would come later. In addition to the cockroach cluster, Merlin is credited with inventing the mitten, lightly comedic ventriloquism, and duelling.
Merlin Gets Physical
While bed-and-breakfasting through Wales in the early 1970s, researching my very first best-seller The Merlin Mystique, I haggled a hag into showing me secret documents confirming what I had suspected for years: Merlin, by all accounts, was clumsier than a particularly large and ill-mannered troll in a tea shop.4 Thus it follows that when he slapped a fellow wizard in the face with a mitten during the Wizards International Meet-up Picnic (also known as WIMP) of 532, it was simply the result of an oafish hand and perhaps one goblet too many of mead. Though records show Merlin was merely demonstrating his new invention of a warmer and less restrictive type of glove and intended no mischief, the fellow who got slapped turned out to be some chap who had just been named High Faerie to King Arthur.5 Still reeling with pride and I daresay feeling the sting of wounded vanity, the High Faerie challenged Merlin to prove himself in a magical contest set to commence following the WIMP at sundown.
However, their contest to see who could consume the most ale proved to be an unsatisfactory assessment of skills as neither party remembered to keep score, therefore another type of match was scheduled for dawn the next day. This would be a public tête-à-tête – a magical joust between two wizards armed with nothing more than their wands and cunning know-how. As both wizards considered themselves to be noble gentlemen, care was taken to ensure that strict codes of honour were enforced upon the match. Only respectable spells to wound (such as papyro novacula, the papercut incantation) and to mildly disgrace (like pedarifundus, the charm to induce a “Kick Me” sign to appear on an opponent’s backside) would be allowed.6
With swarms of magical onlookers cheering them on, Merlin and the High Faerie quickly abandoned all pretence at dignity, cast aside their wands and began hailing crude insults and vast amounts of saliva at one another. In fact, so much spitting was involved before the whole business was through that the incident came to be known as a “druel,” the Olde English word for spit. The “r” was eventually dropped and the term we all know as “duel” was officially born. (The art of drooling took a separate path, but I regret to say it is beyond the scope of this essay to follow its journey.)
Duelling Takes Off
When the duel was finished and the bodily fluids mopped up, the faerie chap left the country in disgrace; Merlin was the clear winner and was quickly named Arch-Wizard to the royal court. As his fame grew, the duel became an ever more popular means of settling a score between wizards. The rules were gradually refined to include more formalities such as bowing, and fewer savageries such as the time – early in the history of duelling – when Roger Bacon bewitched a piece of cutlery (witnesses believe it to have either been a fish fork or a sauce ladle) to fly through the air and into the face of his opponent Nicholas Flamel, narrowly missing his left eye and becoming firmly entangled in his wig. Thankfully, Flamel emerged unscathed from the battle and went on to live for another 608 years, although his wig would never be the same.
Before long, wizards across the world began challenging each other to duels at the slightest affronts. No excuse was too small to prove oneself bolder and more powerful than one’s enemy. In one instance, the astrologer Agrippa initiated a duel with Nostradamus simply because he was “not fond of Sagittarians,” and proceeded to hurl slanderous mockeries at the soothsayer, calling him “cholerick” and “maelevolently afflicted by Saturn.” 7 Happily, the duel was called off due to “ill-favoured omens” and the two great magicians remained wholly intact.
Inevitably, Muggles somehow caught wind of these duelling matches and began adapting the tradition to suit their plain and distinctly un-magical lifestyles. Instead of wands, they fought with swords and pistols. I even recall hearing about one duel (between two farmers in Berwick-Upon-Tweed) where pitchforks were used, but I believe this was an exceptional, and very messy, case. Muggle folk of nobility curiously adopted the lore of Merlin’s duel-challenge of a mitten slap across the cheek: instead of mittens they used gloves, presumably because they left a fancier mark upon the face.
Rules of the Duel
By now you all must be clamouring for details on how a duel is actually fought. Fear not, dear readers! I intend to masterfully guide you all through the thrilling process presently.
The first priority upon being challenged to a duel is wardrobe. How does one dress for a trial by combat? Since times of Antiquity wizards have faced this thorniest of quandaries. Obviously, wearing loose-fitting clothing is essential for ease of movement, yet just as crucial – perhaps even more so to those of us in the public eye – is appearing debonair and posh. To the dashing swashbucklers of yore, style went farther toward proving one’s prowess than skill. In Renaissance-era Spain, the winner of a duel would frequently be determined solely on which contestant donned the sauciest chapeau or who harnessed a cape festooned with most intricate brocade.8
I, for one, enjoy keeping this tradition alive today by really dolling up for a duel. As I describe in my book So Your Opponent is Immortal, I employed this strategy to great advantage when I duelled the notorious vampire – and rather snappy dresser – Count Balázs of Hungary.9 I knew my foppish foe would attempt to dazzle me into submission with his legendary style, so I spent an entire week readying myself for the showdown. For countless hours I soaked in baths perfumed with the finest Arabian oils; each flaxen hair in my beard was impeccably curled and coiffed with a delicate mermaid’s comb; a thousand fairies spent days weaving robes of the rarest silk; a sublime midnight blue cape of cut velvet was fashioned, embellished with sapphires, and inlaid with exquisite satin. The moment I opened my cape and the count caught a glimpse of my elf-made, aubergine purple cravat (the exact same shade as my hat, mind you) he knew he was beaten. I needn’t have even brought my wand.
Stance, eye contact, footwork, incantation enunciation and of course good aim are all important ingredients in fighting a duel. It is always helpful to be well-versed in basic shield charms and knowing when to aim an Expelliarmus at the enemy is certainly of great use. I find, though, that the well-dressed wizard always wins the battle. Even if he is beaten, disgraced, injured or fatally wounded; even if a mockery is made of his honour, his reputation and all that he stands for as a man, he can’t go wrong in looking well-groomed. At least he will lose with style.
The Future of Feuding
The contemporary wizard must remain constantly ready to defend himself. What with all the political tension, disorder, and downright nastiness of our modern age, duelling may be a skill more worth developing now than ever. Young wizards and witches – yes, you too, girls! – are well advised to brush up on their duelling techniques in preparation to defend wizardkind if an all-out rumble should ensue. Muggles, on the other hand, seem to have abandoned the whole concept of the duel ages ago. Between their disdain for mittens and their lack of ability to magically reattach severed limbs, I suspect non-magic folk never really had the knack for duelling and I marvel that they kept up the practice for as long as they did. (They also seem to have grown rather ambivalent toward ventriloquism, but perhaps a revival is looming round the corner.)
Alas, I suppose it is down to us wizards to uphold this noble custom and ensure that Merlin’s grand contribution to the field of organized brawling is not forgotten. One day I hope to see an age in which all witches and wizards exist harmoniously, hand in magical hand, with no need for violence, animosity or fashion faux pas. Until that day arrives – let’s duel!
1. Though constantly in demand, I pride myself on my hands-on approach to ensuring that Hogwarts students are properly trained in duelling. Why, just 15 years ago I sent my owl Sloan to drop off an encouraging postcard when my protégée, Gilderoy Lockhart, started up the Duelling Club.
2. Legend has it that Shakespeare often folded his parchment into four compartments before writing upon it. This curious practice not only enabled one page to be used as four, but is believed to be the godfather of such Muggle oddities as paper aeroplanes, paper boat regattas, and scrapbooking.
3. According to my own research, the more long-winded a Shakespearean character’s speeches become, the greater his odds of being slain in a duel before the final curtain is drawn. Take for example Hamlet, who bored all of Denmark with his incessant pensive bellyaching before being silenced for good with the poisoned tip of Laertes’ sword. Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet met a similar fate – apparently it was the only means to stifle his loquacious banter.
4. Agatha Saint Aberdare, High Priestess of the secret society known as Welsh Hags Of Anonymity (WHOA), possesses ancient woodcarvings which depict Merlin’s remarkable ungainliness. I am not at liberty to divulge any of these shocking revelations at present, but the reader need not despair. A new addition to the Sir Lance Bluntley library, tentatively entitled Merlin’s Magical Mishaps, should be hitting the shelves before long.
5. History has largely neglected mention of Nigel Bumthicket, but according to the book Who’s Who Among Royal Has-Beens by Petronella Pickwick, he did indeed reign as High Faerie to King Arthur’s Royal Court from 3 May of 532 to 9 May of 532. Pickwick implies that Bumthicket was verging on losing favor with the king anyway as it had just been discovered that his claims of allegiance with faerie folk were exaggerated at best and blatantly falsified at worst, and furthermore his magic was solely based upon card tricks.
6. Other spells deemed as acceptable include cabezamellita, the charm to invoke a fleeting yet intense ice cream headache, porcodoro, which causes a person to smell faintly of boiled ham for a fortnight, and Celine Dionysus, which creates the sensation of extremely shrill and repetitive singing in the opponent’s ear.
7. Full texts can be found in Why Nostradamus Bugs Me and Other Astrological Observations by Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, Heretics Press, 1520. (Out of print)
8. One such duel took place in Granada in 1567. Records show that a wizard called Miguel de Magusto was declared winner of the contest simply due to the fetching peacock’s plume adorning his hat and the stunningly elegant, swept-hilt design of his gold rapier wand, which was fashionable at the time. Being pure 24 karat gold – and therefore quite soft and pliable – it would have been ill-equipped for aiming curses, so perhaps it was fortunate that no actual combat ensued.
9. Count Agyar Balázs III has duelled many notable wizards in the 319 years he has been undead (as well as gracing the cover of Vampires in Vogue more times than any other bloodsucker) until I shamed him into seclusion by defeating him at his own game. My victory became all the sweeter when my autobiography outsold his only scant days after our duel. Rumour has it the count has since retired, become a vegetarian and spends afternoons tending a small lettuce farm outside of Kent.
Agrippa, H.C. Why Nostradamus Bugs Me and Other Astrological Observations. Heretics Press, 1520. (Out of print)
Bluntley, Lance, Sir. Dancing With Danger: The Life and Times of Sir Lance Bluntley. London: Flourish & Blotts, 1987.
———.The Merlin Mystique. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts Academic Press, 1972.
———.Simple Duelling Made Simpler for Simpletons. Hogsmeade: Hogwarts Academic Press, 1978.
———.So Your Opponent is Immortal. London: Literary Magic Inc., 1985.
———.Your Head’s Been Severed – Now What? Oxford: Colthurst St Barleigh, 1982.
Pickwick, Petronella. Who’s Who Among Royal Has-Beens. Trewick-Upon-Tyne: McGillycuddy & Pitt, 1899.