“…it’s really the wand that chooses the wizard, of course.” - Mr. Ollivander1
Ah, wouldn’t we all love a wand? Just a swish here and a flick there, and the washing up does itself, or the Traffic Warden about to place a ticket on your car is suddenly completely unable to remember what she was doing… In this essay, I will attempt to examine J.K. Rowling’s ideas about wands in the world of Harry Potter and will add some of my own.
Harry’s First Wand
Harry purchases his first wand from Ollivander’s – “Makers of fine wands since 382 BC.” 2 For this he has to be carefully measured, and tries out several wands, but nothing happens. Finally Harry is handed a wand made from holly and phoenix feather:
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 the walls.3
There are two interesting points I noted in this scene – firstly, that the sparks produced are red and gold… this may foreshadow that Harry will become a Gryffindor, whose colours are red and gold, or may be because the wand contains a feather from the tail of a phoenix, whose feathers are red and gold.
The other interesting thing is just how impressed Mr. Ollivander seems to be with the wand that has chosen Harry. He cried “Oh Bravo! Yes indeed, oh, very good. Well, well, well … how curious …how very curious ….” 4
We then learn that the phoenix who gave the tail feather gave only one other – and that made up the core of the wand of Lord Voldemort.5 The significance of this will be examined later in the essay.
Why Do You Need a Wand?
It would seem that children are taken to buy their first wands prior to going to magical school. There is evidence in the Harry Potter series that children are able to do magic before this. For example, when Harry makes the glass of a snake enclosure vanish when he is angry with his cousin Dudley,6 or when Neville is accidentally dropped from a second storey window and rather than being hurt, bounces down the garden.7 These incidences seem to occur when the individual is scared or angry, when they have a very strong emotion. However, the effects are not necessarily planned or focused. As J.K. Rowling tells us:
You can do unfocused and uncontrolled magic without a wand (for instance when Harry blows up Aunt Marge) but to do really good spells…you need a wand.8
In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban Harry accidentally ‘blows up’ aunt Marge: Aunt Marge makes insulting remarks about Harry’s parents, and suddenly finds herself ‘swelling’ until she drifts up into the air.9 Although Harry feels she deserves this, it wasn’t an intended effect, but rather happened because he had become so angry with her. Had he had his wand in his hand, and been allowed to practice magic with it, he probably would have chosen a different method of retaliation – perhaps one to silence her.
There are other magical devices used in the Harry Potter stories, such as the ‘put-outer’, a device which puts out street lights so that Wizards can go about their business unseen by Muggles,10 or the Quick-Quotes Quill used by Rita Skeeter, a quill which writes by itself, freeing the interviewer to concentrate on the interviewee.11 But these devices are used for convenience, and have one use only. The wand is the only device that is versatile and multi-purpose, and, it would seem, is essential for effective defensive magic if it is to be used in a focused and controlled way.
Wands are made of wood – this is a very warm and soft material to hold – unlike a gun or a knife, which are very hard and cold. This is important, I think, because wands are not just weapons, but tools the witch or wizard uses to perform many different kinds of magic, for good as well as for evil. Wood is also the kind of material that can change shape over time – I imagine an old wand might become smooth and well worn where it has been gripped by its owner.
There are many different types of wood from which the wands in the Harry Potter series are made. Different types of wood have different properties in terms of flexibility and colour. The Celts believed that different types of wood held special spiritual significance:
To the Celts and many other people of the Old World, certain trees held special significance - as a fuel for heat, cooking, building materials and weaponry. In addition to this however, many woods also provided a powerful spiritual presence.12
The oak, for example, was held particularly sacred and was believed to be “King of Trees, or King of the Forest.” Hagrid’s wand was made of this wood and he could be thought of as the King of the Forest in the Hogwarts grounds, as he probably knows it better than anyone else.13J.K. Rowling tells us in her website that she had initially chosen holly for Harry’s wand because “European tradition has it that the holly tree (The name comes from ‘holy’) repels evil” 14 – this is significant because, as we later learn, it is Harry who has to defeat Voldemort. She goes on to say that she later discovered that the Celts had assigned trees to different parts of the year, and that by coincidence she had assigned Harry the correct wood for his day of birth. She then went on to give Ron and Hermione wands made from trees for their dates of birth too (ash and vine, respectively).15 However, as the Lexicon points out, although Ron was originally using a wand made of ash, which is correct for his day of birth, this is in fact his brother Charlie’s old wand. This wand is broken during the flight in the Ford Anglia in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Ron then gets a wand made of willow.16
As well as assigning dates of birth to different woods, the Celts also believed that people born within these dates had certain characteristics.17 Since it is the wand that chooses the wizard, perhaps it is this that is one of the deciding factors for who the wand chooses. Holly people, such as Harry, are said to be “strong willed, affectionate and trustworthy friends with a great amount of physical endurance”, which I think aptly describes Harry’s personality throughout the Harry Potter series.18 Vine people (Hermione is one of these) are described as “instinctive organisers” 19 – an example of this is where Hermione organises the meetings of ‘Dumbledore’s Army’: a group of students that Harry teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts.20
As Ron has two wands during the series, we need to look at both to see which is the most appropriate. Ash people are described as highly adaptable but with a tendency towards isolating themselves from others.21 I would disagree with this as a description of Ron, as he is not really described as a loner in the series, and is nearly always to be seen with Harry and /or Hermione. Willow people have a reluctance to forgive and forget. I feel this more accurately describes Ron, for example in Harry Potter and The Order Of The Phoenix, where Ron’s brother Percy refuses to believe the Voldemort has returned, and Ron tears up the letter his brother sends him, proclaiming him “the worlds biggest git.” 22 Thus, although Ron’s first wand was made of the correct wood for his date of birth, it didn’t quite suit him, which makes sense as it was his brother’s hand-me-down. The first wand that was really his was much more suitable for his character.
Voldemort’s wand is made of yew – “…which can achieve astonishing longevity…can symbolise death and resurrection” 23 – death and resurrection…should we take this to mean that Voldemort ‘died’ (or would have done if it hadn’t been for the Horcruxes) during the failed Avada Kedavra he tried to perform on the year old Harry? And that he then resurrected himself during the graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Or is it a foreshadowing that he will die in the final book and then will somehow come back?
Wands contain magic cores that are sourced from magical creatures. Ollivander uses phoenix tail feather, dragon heart string and unicorn hair. Other makers may use other cores, but these are the only ones Ollivander uses, and J.K. Rowling goes on to say that he is “widely acknowledged to be the best maker.” 24
Harry’s wand core, as we have said, comes from the tail of a phoenix, notably Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Hermione’s is made up of dragon heartstring, and Ron’s of unicorn hair. J.K. Rowling states in her web site that Harry, Ron and Hermione “unite the three Ollivander wand cores.” 25 This fact may become important in Book 7 – will the Trio use their wands together to destroy Voldemort? Is there some kind of magical effect, that as yet we are unaware of, that comes from using three wands of this combination together?
The phoenix is described in the Lexicon as a magical bird whose tail feathers provide a powerful magical substance for wand cores, and who, whilst gentle, is also capable of great strength. This, then, is a good match for Harry – throughout the series he discovers he has great magical abilities. For example when he is able to create a corporeal patronus – a defence spell for repelling Dementors, but which takes on a very definite shape, in this case a stag – and which is thought to be particularly impressive for someone his age.26 You can also see that Harry is capable of great strength, when he accepts the challenge before him in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – that he must be the one to kill Voldemort.27
Like Ron, Cedric and Neville also have unicorn hair in their wands. The Lexicon makes a worrying prediction on this. They point out that when the unicorn is found dead in the forest in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the centaurs remark “Always the innocent are the first victims.” 28 The Lexicon then goes on to point out that Cedric is already dead29 – does this foreshadow death for Ron and Neville in book 7?
And what is the significance of Hermione’s wand core? To get some idea, we can look at the characteristics of the beast from which it came. Dragons are known to be “untameable” 30 – maybe this reflects Hermione’s character – she is opinionated and stubborn, and knows her own mind. She is a very strong character, and in this sense could be seen as ‘untameable’.
Fleur Delacour’s wand core is made from her grandmother’s hair31 (her grandmother was a veela – I really like this idea, that it would contain something personal, an heirloom if you like). However, Ollivander never uses veela hair and states that it can make a temperamental wand.32 This may hint that Fleur has a temperamental character.
Other Wand Characteristics
Wands seem to vary in their flexibility, probably due to their length, and to the wood from which they were made. This characteristic may also reflect the personality of the owner. Ollivander describes Lily Evans’ wand as “ten and a quarter inches long, swishy, made of willow” and James Potter’s wand as “mahogany. Eleven inches. Pliable. A little more power.” 33 I wonder whether this gives a little insight into what Lily and James were like as people – Lily perhaps was very flexible as a person, maybe very quick witted. James was perhaps stronger as a character – maybe Lily found him to be ‘more pliable’!
There is more evidence that some wand characteristics can reflect the personality of the owner. Lexicon tells us that the handsome Cedric had a wand whose core consisted of the hair from a “particularly fine male unicorn;” 34 the ‘gruff’ Victor Krum’s wand is described as “quite rigid;” 35 and Professor Umbridge’s wand is described as “unusually short”, like Umbridge herself.36
It also seems that different wands are suited to different types of spells – Lily’s, it is said was a “nice wand for charm work”, whilst James’s was “excellent for transfiguration.” 37 Harry’s, we can surmise, may be particularly suited to defensive magic.
We are told that you never get as good results with someone else’s wand.38 Yet many characters in the series have wands that are handed down. For example, Ron’s first wand previously belonged to his brother Charlie, and Neville’s had previously belonged to his father.39 There is significance in both of these – coming from a large and poor family, most of Ron’s things are hand-me-downs, and it seems he has to permanently fight to earn respect in his own right; whereas Neville is given his fathers wand, and we later learn that Neville’s grandmother was extremely proud of her son, and wants Neville to live up to his father’s memory. It’s almost like she is hoping that if he has his father’s wand, he will emulate his father.
Another thing that can reduce the magical effect of a wand is if it is broken. We see our first glimpse of wand magic with Hagrid – the Game Keeper whose wand was snapped in two when he was expelled from Hogwarts, and who, we suspect, now carries it about disguised as an umbrella. Hagrid’s spells don’t always work the way he intends them to. After he endows Harry’s cousin Dudley with a pig’s tail he comments: “…it didn’t work anyway. Meant ter turn him into a pig….” 40 This may be because wands don’t work quite so well after they have been broken, even if mended with Spellotape. An example of this can be seen in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets when Ron tries to curse Draco Malfoy for calling Hermione a ‘mudblood’ and the spell ends up rebounding onto him instead – with the result that Ron spends the rest of the day belching slugs.41 As wands are made of wood, you can imagine that wands are broken quite frequently, which is maybe why Ollivander’s has been in business for so many years!
Swish and Flick
Once one has one’s wand, it is not a simple case of waving it about in the air. In the words of Professor Flitwick: “I am a wizard, not a baboon brandishing a stick.” 42 We learn throughout the series that for certain spells, the wand has to be waved in a certain way; for example, for the Wingardium Leviosa spell, to float a feather in the air, the motion is “Swish and flick.” 43
For defence and attack, it would seem that you need to point your wand at the opponent, focusing the spell in their direction. For example, when Harry joins the duelling club in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and is forced by Professor Snape to duel with Malfoy, he “pointed his wand straight at Malfoy and shouted ‘Rictusempra!’.” 44 This resulted in a ‘jet of silver light’ hitting Malfoy in the stomach, causing him to bend double, wheezing.
I rather like the idea of starting by swinging your wand over your shoulder. An example of this can be seen in the same Duelling Club scene between Snape and professor Lockhart when they are trying to teach the students how to duel:
Both of them swung their wands up and over their shoulders. Snape cried: Expelliarmus!45
This way you would be literally throwing the spell at your opponent. In this case, the result was that Lockhart was blasted backwards, off his feet, hitting the back wall. Is this a more powerful way of getting the spell across than merely pointing? Is there any risk that you might miss?
I think though, that my favourite wand movement has to be the lazy, casual flick. Several characters do this, but it must be noted that they are older, more experienced wizards. Snape does this as he run’s from Hogwarts at the end of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince when he “deflected the spell with an almost lazy flick of his arm.” 46 To me, this is like saying “Look at me, I’m just so good at this, I barely have to try.” Whether you think Snape is good or evil, you can’t deny his style.
The Priori Incantatum spell is mentioned twice in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is the spell, so we are informed by Lexicon, that can be cast upon the target wand to “emit a ghost image” of the last spell cast by this wand.47 It is used by Amos Diggory on Harry’s wand to prove that it cast the ‘Dark Mark’.48
The Priori Incantatem effect is also produced when two wands whose cores came from the same magical creature are used against each other in a duel. This occurs during the graveyard scene in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.49 As jets of light shoot from Harry and Voldemort’s wands, they connect to form a golden thread connecting the two wands. Because the wand cores contain phoenix feathers, phoenix song can be heard, and eventually Harry sees ‘echoes’ of the spells last performed by Voldemort’s wand.
Dumbledore later explains this:
They will not work properly against each other, […] If, however, the owners of the wands force the wands to do a battle … a very rare effect will take place. One of the wands will force the other to regurgitate spells it has performed – in reverse.50
It is interesting to reflect on this. If Ollivander only uses three types of magical core, how often would it be that brother wands would meet in battle? Was this intentional on Ollivander’s part, or does he only use three types of cores because they are the best?
If the wands will not work properly against each other, it is unlikely that neither Harry nor Voldemort will be able to use their wands to kill the other. Either they will have to use someone else’s wand, which, as we have seen, does not have as good results, or they will have to find another way of doing the deed. Harry should know this because Dumbledore explained it to him. But does Voldemort know? Is that why Ollivander has disappeared? We shall have to wait and see.
The Tail in the Wand
As we have seen, wands have many different characteristics that are suited to their owners (so long as they were bought intentionally for their owners and not handed down). I believe that the characteristics of the wands belonging to the Trio (Harry, Ron and Hermione) and of that belonging to Voldemort will be key in the final battle. And I believe that Ollivander, who made all their wands, has the answer.
I also believe that we will see more of Fawkes (whose tail feather resides in Harry and Voldemort’s wands) during the final scenes, and that he will somehow play an important part in Voldemort’s defeat.
1. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p63.
3. Ibid. p. 65.
6. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London, Bloomsbury 1997. p26.7. Ibid. p93.
8. “Comic Relief Live Chat Transcript.” March 2003, Quick-quotes-quill. 23 May 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2001/0301-comicrelief-staff.htm.
9. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999. p27.
10. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p12.
11. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p266.
12. “Sacred Celtic Trees and Woods.” March 2000. Groovyskye. 25 May 2006. http://pages.prodigy.net/groovyskye/11.html.
13. Rowling J.K. “Wands.” Extra stuff. 2004. J.K. Rowling Official site. 23 May 2006. http://www.jkrowling.com/en/thankyou.cfm.
16. The Harry Potter Lexicon. “Wands: Confusion about Ron’s Wand.” Magical Items and Devices. 11 April 2006. The Harry Potter Lexicon. 23 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/wands.html.
17. “Celtic Tree Calendar.” March 2000. Groovyskye. 25 May 2006. http://pages.prodigy.net/groovyskye/11.html.
18. Celtic Tree and Animal Astrology. “Holly.” 2006. Wicca. 27 May 2006. http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/tigris/567/id54.htm.
19. Celtic Tree and Animal Astrology. “Vine.” 2006. Wicca. 27 May 2006. http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/tigris/567/id54.htm.
20. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003 Chapter 18.
21. Celtic Tree and Animal Astrology. “Ash.” 2006. Wicca. 27 May 2006. http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/tigris/567/id54.htm.
22. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p268.
23. Rowling J.K. “Wands.” Extra stuff. 2004. J.K. Rowling Official site. 23 May 2006. http://www.jkrowling.com/en/thankyou.cfm.
24. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p129.
25. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. p479.
26. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p129.
27. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. p479.
28. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p185.
29. The Harry Potter Lexicon. “Wands: Unicorn Tail Hairs.” Magical Items and Devices. 11 April 2006. The Harry Potter Lexicon.23 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/wands.html.
30. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury 1997. p169.
31. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p270.
33. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury 1997. p63.
34. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p271.
36. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of The Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003. p216.
37. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p63.
38. Ibid. p64.
39. The Harry Potter Lexicon. “Wands: Some famous wands and their characteristics.” Magical Items and Devices. 11 April 2006. The Harry Potter Lexicon. 23 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/wands.html.
40. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p48.
41. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. p87.
42. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. p333.
43. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997. p126.
44. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998. p143.
45. Ibid. p142.
46. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005. p562.
47. The Harry Potter Lexicon. “Prior Incantato” Encyclopedia of Spells. 11 April 2006. The Harry Potter Lexicon. 23 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/magic/spells/spells_p.html#prior_incantato.
48. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000. p121.
49. Ibid. Chapter 34.
50. Ibid. p605.
J.K. Rowling Official Website. http://www.jkrowling.com/en/.
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998.
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997.
———. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999.
The Harry Potter Lexicon. “The Most Complete and Amazing Reference to the Wonderful World of Harry Potter.” 2000-2005. The Harry Potter Lexicon. 23 May 2006. http://www.hp-lexicon.org/.
Quick Quotes Quills. “The Largest Archive of J.K. Rowling Quotes on the Web.” 2003-2005. Quick Quotes Quills. 23 May 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/index2.html.
Celtic Tree Calendar. March 2000. Groovyskye. 25 May 2006. http://pages.prodigy.net/groovyskye/11.html.
Celtic Tree and Animal Astrology. 2006. Wicca. 27 May 2006. http://www.fortunecity.com/greenfield/tigris/567/id54.htm.