EXCLUSIVE interview with “The Wand Collection” author Monique Peterson

Apr 15, 2020

Posted by: Amanda Kirk

Books, Books - Release Dates, Contests, Exclusives, Films, Interviews, Paperbacks, Props-Sets

We recently had the pleasure of informing our readers that Harry Potter: The Wand Collection will be released in paperback by Insight Editions on May 12, 2020. (Follow this link to enter our contest to win yourself a free copy!) The Wand Collection‘s dramatic black pages feature photographs of each character’s wand and behind-the-scenes info on wand design, battle scene choreography, and how the actors mastered wand handling and spell technique (“swish and flick” is harder than it looks).

Thanks to the magic of technology, Leaky had the pleasure of conducting a socially distanced FaceTime interview with author Monique Peterson, who talked wand lore with us and shared her research and writing process for this book, as well as some deeper insights into the significance of the Wizarding World in general, and wands in particular, for our imaginations and growth. The interview transcribed below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

I’m excited to talk to you about this stunning book. It is such a useful book for fans! How did you get this great gig?

The connection that I have with Insight Editions has to do with one of their designers, John Glick, with whom I used to work in New York when we both worked on Disney content. Working on fan content was my milieu in other areas, and also coffee table art books, and really gathering, really understanding, the crème-de-la-crème of what a lover of a unique asset wants, what is that bouquet of yummy truffles of goodness. What can I deliver that is going to touch every little aspect of what they love? I worked on so many books at Disney in that regard. It was delicious; for me it was like being, to use a Disney reference, Br’er Rabbit in the briar patch. I got to do what I loved, which is research, digging deep, finding the goodies, and putting them together in a new little package. That’s what this book was about.

So, to connect the dots, John Glick moved to San Francisco, and I had worked on some other Harry Potter books for Insight Editions, and so I was already familiar with the content, which is how I got involved in this project, which was a lot of fun.

DumbledoreIt seems like such a fun job.

It’s delightful; I love to get lost in it. I adore reading it as well as participating in it. There’s great energy in that audience base, and in the shared love of a common interest. Even if you are not a fan of something initially—I have gotten introduced to other people’s worlds because they’ve loved it so much and I’ve thought, nah, I’d never be interested in that, and then I find myself thinking, wow, this is really good. So, I’ve come to appreciate things I would never have wandered into on my own.

Did you treat yourself to a Harry Potter re-read or re-watch when you worked on The Wand Collection?

Let’s just say, 24-7 nonstop! I had read every Harry Potter book in hardcover when they first came out so I had my own first editions. I knew the whole world, and I was following it from the very beginning, and with the films, of course, as they came out. For this, I completely did a deep, deep, deep dive. For me, as a writer, what that means is I will watch the same film hundreds of times to recapture certain aspects. In this case, I went through every single instance where there was a wand on screen and I would study what the characters were doing, what their facial expressions were, what their body movements were, what words they used, and all the elements of the story around that. For my creative process, how I normally come up with story, that’s how I do any kind of project. So, yes, I did watch the films, and then when I am not watching them, they are just running, so through osmosis it’s coming all in. (laughs) I’m a big believer in osmosis.

How did you organise the book?

The easy part for me was the design was already in place. They wanted to make a book that had the shape of a wand. It’s such a beautiful layout; it’s really gorgeous. When you open it up wide, every page is dedicated to a single wand.

I knew in advance the characters who were going to be included, 56 or 57, I think one or two got changed in or out. So, I knew that I would be looking at each of these characters and determining what I could say uniquely about them and their relationship with the wand, whether it was from the point of view of the character, or some scene the director was describing, or perhaps the props manager.

They gave me a bucket of assets—hundreds of interviews with every single person who worked on the films. I read through all of those, looking for little tidbits of detail that might shed light on a particular wand or a particular story that I could weave into a specific focus on wands.

So, how I organised it, to answer that original question, the editors had given me a very basic outline I was to follow, and I just really did all the homework and came up with the story in a way that I could fashion some narrative around the assets they wanted to feature in this book. It was a very, very, very fun project to do. I just love being behind the scenes, having the chance to be on the film set as it’s being made, like a ghost after the fact, or being able to travel back in time and then bringing back that aspect into this book.

Harry PotterWhat was the most surprising thing you learned about wands, either in the magical world of the story or the filmmaking world of wands as props?

In terms of prop-making, I’ve been on a lot of film sets, so that wasn’t so new to me, to understand how they’d go about it. I would say if anything the biggest surprises for me were the a-ha moments that particular people had in their process as a result of working with the wands. The real magic of the wands is probably what surprised me the most.

Ralph Fiennes, who plays Voldemort, developed his own particular way of holding the wand that was always kind of up and above. He was infusing his character into what the wand was made out of, and what it represented, and also his relationship with it. That complete dynamic has its physical result in the way he holds his wand.

There were some other magical moments. Evanna Lynch, who plays Luna Lovegood, experienced a transformative thing. When you’re acting, there’s no magic happening, so how to pretend that there’s magic happening, how do you project that intention? Luna had this grace/a-ha moment with her performance and the believability of it that took her into this other realm with the magic of it. That also speaks to the power of the imagination, and ultimately why I think Harry Potter is so successful and why wands are so wonderful and magical. They represent our intent; they are the agency by which we can manifest that. It’s a way we can focus our intent, which is what they are doing, bringing their intention to a point, the end of a wand. The magic is there, the wand is just a prop, we can actually do that, we don’t need the wands.  But it’s a wonderful way to get there, to imagine that and suddenly we are doing it. That’s part of what some of these actors experienced in the way they talked about doing the choreography. It was really fun to see, just to get the full experience, the full story, how it touched them in so many different dimensions from on the page to on the screen, to being physically acted out in space, being choregraphed in physical space. The wands come to life, that’s it.

That’s a good way of putting it, “The wands come to life.” You mentioned that wands are not needed. One of the interesting things we learn about the magical world is that wandless magic is possible. I like how you describe wands as an “extension of intent”, and you note that they are “more than a tool”. The wand channels the power that exists in the wizard or witch. What research did you conduct into wand-lore for the book?

I really find natural materials all have some connection in folklore. The materials that the wands are made out of, what kind of wood, core of phoenix feather or unicorn—I was interested in what are the stories around those, the rich lore behind that. All of that comes to bear in building a story around each wand, and how each wand can have its unique properties depending on the materials it is made out of.

For me my love begins with folklore and fairy tales. I was weaned on that and anything that is folklore or fairy tale-related is where I love to live. These are the mythologies that have crossover in all of these languages, so it’s about tapping into that well, and it gives a larger context. I think that’s why it is more easily universal because it does tap into these deeper images that we have that cross cultures and timelines.

Do you have a favourite character wand?

Bellatrix LeStrange without a doubt. The one that looks the most natural, like she just broke it off the branch of a tree. That’s what I would do; that makes sense to me.

When J.K. Rowling came on the scene, I fell in love instantly for one reason alone: Because I used to be a reading teacher. I worked with all age groups and my biggest concern was that boys did not read as much as girls, especially at a younger age. J.K. Rowling got boys to read and I loved her for that alone. She really got a lot of kids reading.

You sort of answered this question when you were talking about Bellatrix’s wand, but what would your wand look like?

I can tell you based on what my garden looks like. Every plot in my garden is crafted from big branches that have fallen—old branches that are strong and sturdy enough, and I have strung them up with stripped vine that I have used as twine. I use all-natural materials to build my structures in my garden, so my wand would probably be made from whatever I found around that fell from nature and I’d probably not even refine it, it might be on the rough side. I might choose one that is naturally smooth. It will lend itself, it will land there, and it will be “I am your wand” and I will be, “Yes, you are my wand”, and that’s how it will happen.

A potential wand in the author's yard.

A potential wand in the author’s yard.

What magical core would it have? Are you partial to phoenix feather, dragon heartstring, unicorn hair?

Hmmm. Something native from California. I like the idea of using hair from the tail of the saber-toothed cat, Smilodon californicus, which is the state fossil.

What is your Hogwarts house?

That’s really difficult because as a writer I’d definitely want to go to Slytherin but, as a person, I would be Hermione’s roommate, and I’d be competing very strongly with her. Let’s just say I’d fashion myself into twins so I could go dark & light simultaneously.

Looking at the wands in the book, I was disturbed that some of my favourite wands belonged to some of the “evil” characters. I was drawn to the elegant, old-fashioned wands belonging to Pius Thicknesse (p. 134), and Scrimgeour (p. 231) and Yaxley (p. 116). I like the wands that have newel posts and inlaid bands.

The wand that surprised me the most was Fenrir Greyback’s (p. 114). I expected him to have a rough wand, that looked bitten, scratched, and abused, and yet his is one of the more elegant wands. It’s inlaid, it’s highly polished. That to me was the most unexpected wand of any character.

I remember feeling similarly. The wands I thought were the most interesting, the most well-done, were from the dark side. Villains have good taste. They are always well-dressed. They have sex appeal. They have elegance, they have class. Of course they do. That’s why they are on the dark side, they have magnetism.

It was interesting what you wrote about Lucius Malfoy’s wand (p. 142), about actor Jason Isaacs proposing the idea of the wand being in a cane, which was an affectation, a prop of class, not of physical need.

That was another little surprise for me that I liked. He came up with the idea of having the wand in his walking stick.

Ron WeasleyRon got to have more than one wand. I like his crooked wand, it looked like a broken finger. I liked the humour in there too, with the Spellotape.

For me, the wonderful thing about wands, coming from me as a writer of fiction, they’re an extension of character. The wands are another way of showing character. As a writing teacher, I am always working with students on how to show versus tell, and descriptions of what something looks like can connect to a personality, can reveal something about temperament or character. That’s what’s so wonderful about looking at each of these wands, and wondering what kind of personality that wand suggests, and how it connects to the character in interesting ways. That’s another fun way to be studying these wands, and to be looking at them: what does it reveal about the character?

That raises a question: How well do you think you could match the wand with the character?

Now there’s a fun game. I would like to play that card game.

Which wand surprised you the most, when you thought, “Oh, this is so-and-so’s wand?!” I was surprised by Bellatrix’s wand. Perhaps I shouldn’t have been but I thought, at first, because she is a wizarding aristocrat, one of those purebloods who think they are better than everyone, that she in her snobbishness might think she deserves the best wand, something that shows her status as being above other witches and wizards, and Voldemort’s right hand. Now that I’ve reflected on it, I think her post-Azkaban wand fits her unhinged madness.  It’s just a tool to her now, that she uses for torture and murder, not a status symbol.

Now that you mention it, the one that jumped out at me was Sirius Black’s wand (p. 102). It’s simple, like a chopstick, with runes on it.

I was surprised by that, too, but I wonder if its simplicity fits his rejection of his family’s pureblood snobbery. The runes also figure in his tattoos, which used to be considered a form of rebellion in the Muggle world.

I wondered about those images. Why did he choose images with circles and dots? What does this mean? I really did want to have a conversation with him. I want to know more about why this pattern. I found myself looking at it for a long time and trying to connect the dots to Sirius. And in a way it suggested a kind of elegance he had in his own style. It was almost like two different mythologies represented here, two different kinds of ancient languages. One’s more symbolic, one might suggest…it’s hard to… it almost feels like it doesn’t match. I did find myself asking a lot of questions about it, when I came across that one.

HermoineWhat did you learn about the personalization of wands? We had a bit of what appeared to be retconning when the movies came out because the way the books portrayed the wands had a certain uniformity through the materials Ollivander used but then when the characters had these elaborate wands, made from disparate materials, inlaid with metal and bone and jewels—there’s a nod to Mundungus Fletcher’s thievery in the large gemstone inlaid in his wand (p. 108)—that were clearly custom jobs, after-market detailing, so to speak.

Well, there were a few different wandmakers.

True, we learn a bit about them in Goblet of Fire when Ollivander assesses Fleur and Viktor’s wands, which were made by other wandmakers abroad. Ollivander notes somewhat scathingly that he doesn’t use Veela hair as a core.

As far as personalisation, they very well might. I don’t recall anything from my research about that specifically. But Professor Umbridge comes to mind, with her funny little wand with the knobs. I feel like if anybody would have had their wand personalised, it would have been her, or somebody like our vain Professor Lockhart. But I kind of think they came that way.

But for the dark wizards, with the skulls and snakes, it’s hard to see Ollivander making those.

I know what you mean but, if you’re out there, you’re out there. The wand is going to find you. It might be there waiting for you.

Ollivander may be inspired, since the wand chooses the wizard, the design choosing itself.

He’s the gateway to the entire wizarding world. He’s only the most sought-after, the most popular. There are many other wandmakers so it does make sense you could go to some other wandmaker who has a different way of doing it. I didn’t really know about the other wandmakers’ methods. Ollivander would probably know about every walk of life in the wizarding world.

You raise an interesting point. It’s possible that dark wizards got their wands from other wandmakers, not Ollivander. Or perhaps there is an entirely separate trade in after-market wand detailing, with its own artisans in their little shops in Diagon Alley.

I do think all the asset information on the wands included who made the wands and where they originated.

Did you get prop wands? Did you have a selection of wands to play with?

Back in the olden days, I do mean before the Internet, I did used to get physical props in the mail when I worked on book projects. Now, they’ve all become digital assets <sigh>.

What about Hadrid?

I love his umbrella! I want a crosscut to see the broke wand inside the umbrella. I just also love the fact that there is this huge guy—he’s one of my favourite characters—who’s got a huge prop, this big umbrella. When I lived in New York City, I never wanted to carry an umbrella because there were too many people around, and if you’re big like Hagrid, and then you have this big umbrella….

And it’s pink.

I love the colour!  It’s perfect.

Lord VoldemortVoldemort’s wand doesn’t appear to be made of wood…

Yeah, it’s definitely made of some kind of bone.

What do you think happened there? Do you think that after his transformation he preserved the core of his wand but the wood was destroyed so he put it in bone? Maybe one of the bones from his father’s grave? As we learned from his choice of horcruxes, Voldemort chose his props with care; they all had meaning. He wouldn’t have used a random bone.

I think something like that could have happened. That rings true. Of course, this is just me speculating as a fan along with you, I don’t want to give a suggestion that goes against the Warner Bros.’ lore. I did have to be clear, being distinctive between Warner Bros. lore and J.K. Rowling lore. It’s a venn diagram, and I had to be sure I didn’t bring anything in that wasn’t Warner Bros.

It does get fuzzy. People forget what was from the books versus the movies.

The worlds do collide very easily.

And now with the Wizarding World site that has replaced Pottermore, those two worlds are becoming more integrated in a richer fashion than previously, and now they have even roped Cursed Child into that.

I know that J.K. Rowling is continually involved in all of these projects, so it is her world. But these people have manifested her world into reality and that’s what’s so wonderful. We get physical, real wands, but the actors who got to play the characters got to experience the 3-D world in ways we as filmgoers don’t get to experience it. They got to have more of a real-life experience because the way they create the sets and build the world, it’s about as close to making fantasy reality as you can get. It’s really, really cool.

And you provide a lot of interesting description when you talk about wand battles and wand technique in those sections at the beginning of the book, before you get into the individual wands. What were some interesting things that you learned about the wand battles and choreography?

As I was writing the book, I really tried to imagine all of it as a person experiencing it. I put myself in the place of the actors experiencing how they are working with the choreographers and the director, and what the director is saying about the intent. It’s really about an emotion or an attitude and how the actor has to manifest that. We see a lot of distinction—say, Ron and his broken wand. He is making all kinds of mistakes with his broken wand and it’s humorous.

Like when he tells Malfoy to eat slugs and it backfires.

I think about how they crafted a physical embodiment of what their intentions were in this new kind of dance. The choreography part was interesting. It’s not sword-fighting; it’s not any other kind of martial art or sport; it’s not dancing; so, it requires a unique movement that goes with it. There was a new combination of different movements. I love that. I love that it created almost a new art form. That was really fun. And it came together organically, so it was an organic evolution and discovery, and then it became really cool when we got to see it.

Professor McGonagallAnything else you would like Leaky readers to know about the book and your experience writing it?

I love to get back to the magic and imagination that is behind it. I love how fans are reading these books and making something personal out of the wands. This is so inspiring. It’s like looking at every character’s personal inspiration and their source of power, their ability make their intentions happen. This is evidence of that. That alone is inspiring as an individual: I alone can make my intentions happen too. For me, that is why fantasy is an important genre for young people because it connects us to that which we are capable of doing ourselves. It’s about believing in ourselves, and I think that’s what these wands also represent, our ability to do that. It’s getting down to the magic of it and making it personal. That’s why we love these books, right?

Anything else Potter-related that you are working on?

The last thing I did was a model book for thestrals. I’m hoping for more opportunities when more of the films come out. I’m eagerly awaiting the third Fantastic Beasts movie. It’s another world of deliciousness. I love that it’s continuing so hopefully I’ll get a chance to work on something down the road again because these are really fun projects.

Fantastic Beasts has beautiful art deco and Art Nouveau wands from the era, so perhaps they’ll have to create an updated edition of The Wand Collection to incorporate all of these new wands.

That would be nice. That would be fun.

If they do, we at Leaky look forward to you writing it.

Thank you. That would be wonderful.

You can find out more about Monique Peterson at her website. Don’t forget to enter our contest to win a copy of The Wand Collection.


The Leaky Cauldron is not associated with J.K. Rowling, Warner Bros., or any of the individuals or companies associated with producing and publishing Harry Potter books and films.