As a kid, my favorite thing in the world was to read fairy-tales and fables. I couldn’t get enough of them. At one point, I think I had actually read every single book in my local library that contained anything remotely like a fairy-tale. So yeah I’m automatically going to like this, but add in that it’s an extension of the Harry Potter universe, and that each story is followed by pages of ‘commentary’ discovered after Dumbledore’s death means I’m going to LOVE it. They also come with Jo’s own hand-drawn illustrations, so bonus! (If I ever got my hands on one of Jo’s hand-inked leather-bound editions, I think my brain might explode.) I know this is technically a re-read, but if you’re like Jennie and haven’t read it before (see below), you should track down a copy and read it. It won’t even take you an hour. –Ashley
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A wizard is left a pot by his deceased father, and inside is a small, single slipper. The Muggles of the town come to the wizard in hopes that he would be as kind as his father, but he sends them all away. The Hopping Pot manifests each of the townspeople’s ailments that the wizard refuses to help. By the time the wizard has had enough, the pot does all sorts of nasty things: vomiting, spitting slugs, braying like a donkey, clacking around on its single brass foot, and it’s totally covered in warts. Finally, the wizard goes to the townspeople and offers his services, and the Hopping Pot offers up his slipper for his obnoxious foot.
Obviously, this is a story for young wizards about using magic for good. The interesting thing is that it was actually taken out of existence later because it was so pro-Muggle. It’s sort of depressing that a story that had such an important message was destroyed because of prejudices against Muggles. Perhaps JKR was making a censorship statement with this add-on.
While this is a wizard fairy tale, we Muggles can have our own moral of the story: use our lives for good. All too often we go through our days wrapped up in our own problems that we can’t see the suffering of others. I’m not even talking about the obvious stuff- homeless on the street corners, sick person in my hospital bed. Suffering is often much more abstract and not worn like a t-shirt. Just as the wizard can make a Muggles’ day better by easily curing warts, we can easily make someone’s day even just a little bit better. It doesn’t require money or a ton of work or a bleeding heart liberal view- it may just takes a simple smile or a sincere thank you. A little bit often goes a long way. We are all fragile beings. We should act more like a team, rather than every Muggle for himself.
I love a cautionary tale as much as the next person, but there’s something to be said for learning by example.
The Fountain of Fair Fortune isn’t a warning about being selfish or vain, it doesn’t tell of what happens if you don’t eat your vegetables. Instead it takes the opposite approach. It says here are some folks who made some good choices, here’s what we can learn from them. And there are a lot of little lessons in this tiny tale, but I’ll touch upon my favorites:
Kindness/empathy: Three women, strangers, all vying for the same thing, which only one can have. Yet such empathy they feel for one another that they decide to go into the garden together should one of them get chosen. And what’s more: they follow through with that promise. I won’t lie, not knowing what kind of story this was going into it, I expected whoever got chosen first to be like, “Haha bye bitches!”
Know your strengths/Teamwork: The trio, now with a useless knight in tow, meet various obstacles along the path to the fountain. Each of the women realizes they have something to offer at each turn, but they wouldn’t have made it through without each other. Which, appropriately enough, can be applied to the Trio of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Ever since day one. From making their way to the Sorcerer’s (Philosopher’s) Stone all the way to finding the Deathly Hallows. They all had something to offer, but they were stronger together.
Confidence is key/Happiness is inside you if you know where to look: By the time they get to the fountain, each of the women realized that they had the answers to their own problems all along. They didn’t need a magic fountain or a fairy godmother to make them happy. They had the power to change things, they had the tools to find happiness. What’s really great about these women is that, upon realizing this, they opt out of the shortcut. They all the answers, sure, but they weren’t going to solve ALL of their problems overnight. One woman was broke, and realized she had a marketable skill, and was ready and willing to earn her own money, even though the fountain could have meant she’d stumble on a rucksack of galleons tomorrow. There was surely someone else who needed it more than she. The same went for the other women, and it was their dopey tagalong night who bathed in the fountain. But he was just a regular Ron Weasley, getting in his own way. Because the Fountain of Fair Fortune had as much magic in it as Ron’s Fake Felix Felicis. But sometimes all you need is a little confidence to succeed. Never underestimate the power of positive thinking.
Dumbledore’s notes on this chapter are the perfect balance of silly and serious. His story about the time Hogwarts tried to pantomime this tale is delightful. I’m a little sad that a twisted love triangle deprived us of getting to see the Trio have to put on a play (Harry and Ron for detention, Hermione for extra credit she doesn’t need) and all of them being just dreadful at it. The more serious part of Dumbledore’s notes is sadly a parallel to our Muggle world that still holds weight. Many parents, Malfoy included, didn’t want this story available for the children to read at Hogwarts, because it ends with a witch and a Muggle living their happily ever afters together, and they don’t support the notion. Heaven forbid their children find out that this is a thing that happens and get any ideas. Better to keep your kid in an ignorant bubble than expose them to as much as possible while telling them what your own values and beliefs are and letting them make their own decision. Luckily, Dumbledore wasn’t having any of Malfoy’s whining, and the Fountain of Fair Fortune lives on in the Hogwarts library, to this very day.
WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ. No, seriously. I have a confession to make and that is: I’ve never read all of Beedle the Bard and, in fact, only read my story out of the collection. I’M SORRY. I do love that this fairy tale FOR CHILDREN is just the most fucked up thing ever (except that story about the woman with the ribbon tied around her neck that she tells her husband to never, ever untie and one day he gets curious and unties it and her head falls off) because kids have sick imaginations so I’d imagine they’d love this. It’s like a Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale before it gets all Disney-fied.
Anyway, so there’s this wizard who doesn’t ever want to fall in love or feel feelings (which I sympathize with) until he hears two lackeys talking about what a loser he is for not being able to get someone to marry him, even with his wealth and castle and stuff. So one day a hot witch moves in next door and he decides he needs to marry her, even though he feels nothing for her because a long time ago he cut out his heart and put it in a jar, where it grew lots of hair (because not using something makes it grow hair?) and when the witch saw it, she freaked the fuck out (like you do) and was like, “put your heart back in your chest!” so he did because he really, really wanted to marry her, and his heart was all primal and stuff at that point (think BeerBad!Buffy) so it made him rip out the witch’s heart and wouldn’t leave when the wizard tried to remove it again and so the wizard stabbed himself in the hairy heart and died THE END.
That is essentially exactly the way it happened.
Babbitty Rabbitty is a strange little story about a King who decreed magic illegal for anyone but himself, and at the same time issued the genius proclamation that he was seeking a magic tutor. With the real witches and wizards in hiding, it’s a charlatan who steps up to swindle the foolish King. Babbitty Rabbitty, a real witch, ends up teaching both of them a lesson by essentially using their own faults (foolishness, pride, greed, cowardice) against them. What interests me the most about this story, though, has almost nothing to do with the actual story itself.
First, there’s the bits of wizarding history hiding in plain sight. Dumbledore’s commentary notes that Babbitty herself (fictional though she may be) is one of the first recorded Animagi, with her ability to turn into a rabbit. He also explains that many magical historians believe Babbitty to have been based on a real sorceress who famously somehow escaped her Muggle captors:
“Although it has never been proven that Lisette was an Animagus who managed to squeeze through the bars of her cell window, a large white rabbit was subsequently seen crossing the English Channel in a cauldron with a sail fitted to it, and a similar rabbit later became a trusted adviser at the court of King Henry VI.”*
*FN: “This may have contributed to that Muggle King’s reputation for mental instability.”
The second is his claim that Beedle is one of the main places wizarding children learn that magic cannot bring people or animals back from the dead. This, of course, has enormous relevance on the rest of the Harry Potter series, as I have written about previously, death is at the core of Harry’s story.
Third: The curse Babbitty threatens the King with (“. . .will feel like an axe stroke in your own side, until you will wish you could die of it!”) sounds suspiciously like the Cruciatus Curse. Dumbledore notes that the Unforgiveable Curses were not actually made illegal until 1717.
And finally, the reason I most like this story is this:
“Babbity Rabbity and her Cackling Stump is the stupidest title ever written by man or beast and of course when I wrote it, I never- I had not, at the point, when I gave Ron that title, I didn’t imagine for a second that I was actually going to write the story.” — JK Rowling, from a post Deathly Hallows Leaky Cauldron podcast, which you should all listen to if you haven’t yet. It’s fantastic.
It is very difficult to separate “The Tale of the Three Brothers” from its direct parallels within Deathly Hallows. Even Dumbledore couldn’t stray too far from the legend of the Hallows in his commentary after the story, though given that he is one of the parallels, he could hardly be blamed for it. The Three Brothers are represented by Voldemort (the Elder Wand), Dumbledore (the Resurrection Stone), and Harry himself (the Invisibility Cloak). Some people swap Dumbledore with Snape in that list, which may be thematically appropriate as Snape is haunted by his own long-lost love, but this also forgets that Deathly Hallows is – as Ashley pointed out – The Book Of Dumbledore.
Uncouple the fable from the legend of the Hallows, however – both in-universe and out – and you have a surprisingly strong and cohesive story that’s as worthy as any of our own Muggle favorites. Life and Death are two sides of the same coin, we are told, and the choices we make in life are given a lot of weight.
The Elder Wand* is a cautionary tale about the acquisition of power, as the eldest brother becomes driven to win duels and garner fame and attention. He is seen as combative, ignores the warning signs of grabbing glory at any cost, and is murdered in his bed by someone who wishes for the same and sees an easy way to get it.
The Resurrection Stone, conversely, warns of becoming lost in the past to the exclusion of living your own life, as the second brother kills himself rather than live without his long-lost love.
But it is the Cloak of Invisibility that provides us with the most interesting result. The youngest brother uses the Cloak to live his own life without worrying about what is coming, or becoming trapped in his own grief and sorrow. He is able to have a full and happy life, and in doing so, becomes the equal of Death.
Taking all three into account gives us the final lesson. Do not carelessly seek power and glory and lose sight of your own life and surroundings. Do not cling too tightly to your past regrets, as doing so will hold you back and prevent you from living your life. Take life as it comes, and enjoy what you have while you have it.
*Note from Ashley: If you read Dumbledore’s commentary, he makes a really interesting point about the Elder Wand that could account for its power, even though it may not be “unbeatable”. He notes that the wand/wizard relationship is not a static one. Both wand and wizard have the capability to learn and absorb experiences, skills, and magic from one another. If this is the case, then even if the Elder Wand was not the most powerful wand in existence when it was first made, the fact that it survived generations of owners, absorbing their experiences and magic, could very well account for the fact that it IS markedly powerful when compared to other wands. The difference is that it wasn’t made that way, but allowed to become that way. (Most wands are buried with their owners by tradition.)