Oct 21 2010

How Rowling organized one of the Harry Potter books

Published by at 10:01 pm under Eccentric Tangent

One of the things that strikes me about her organizational scheme is that she kept track of the month of each event, information that’s was rarely referred to in-story but is very important to maintaining coherence.  If you’re not sure which month you’re depicting when you’re writing a scene, even the weather becomes a potential continuity hazard.  She and her editors were freakishly good at keeping everything logically consistent.  (The closest thing to a continuity error I found in the HP series was a student showing up at Hogwarts the year after she should have graduated, and some religious texts have pages with more continuity errors than that).

34 responses so far

34 Responses to “How Rowling organized one of the Harry Potter books”

  1. Steton 22 Oct 2010 at 5:44 am

    I haven’t read all the books, but a friend told me that the Deathly Hallows came outta nowhere suddenly in Book 5 or some such, without the slightest foreshadowing, to become a Very Important Thing Indeed.

    Not true?

  2. Beccaon 22 Oct 2010 at 10:25 am

    Stet: I’m pretty sure the information was alluded to very early in the books, and the reason the readers didn’t know about the Hallows was because Harry himself was too young to have the information given to him. Same with the prophesy stuff. Dumbledore was very protective of Harry, and the readers, too. The logical progression of the plot in the seven books is pretty seamless.

  3. B. Macon 22 Oct 2010 at 10:41 am

    I have to say that the Powers that Be were pretty consistently useless, including Dumbledore*. He was routinely shown up by a bunch of twelve year olds at his own school. I guess administration just really takes a lot out of you.

    (Stories with kids as main characters will almost always have conspicuously useless adults–it gives the kids more to do).

  4. Trollon 22 Oct 2010 at 7:30 pm

    I think Dumbledore knew Harry could do it along…that’s why he let him take on Quirell, a Basilisk, a werewolf, participate in the Triwizard tournament, try to take Occlumency, etc…yeah, I’d totally send my kids there.

  5. B. Macon 22 Oct 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Well, okay, but he can’t even take down his own potions professor? I was sort of expecting more from someone who’s repeatedly hyped up to be one of the greatest wizards alive, so much so that even Voldemort might be afraid of him.

  6. ShardReaperon 22 Oct 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Or, option B, it was all some crazy and elaborate ruse for Dumbledore to die and pass off headmaster responsibilities to some other poor sap.

  7. Trollon 23 Oct 2010 at 10:10 am

    The 7th book explains what was behind that duel…just saying 🙂

  8. Lighting Manon 23 Oct 2010 at 11:30 am

    Harry Potter could have all been solved by taking the giant eagles and dropping the McGuffin in the lava.

    No two buts about it.

    Seriously though, if you think about it, like ninety people died because Dumbledore insisted on Harry Potter fulfilling the mystical prophecy. If he just used the Elder Wand, blown up Quirrell, which the seventh book revealed that Snape and Dumbledore knew he was wonky, all those characters that died would have lived, and everyone apart from Harry Potter would have lived happily ever after.

  9. B. Macon 23 Oct 2010 at 11:42 am

    But only if we take the revelation that Dumbledore knew something was up with Quirrell at face value. 🙂

  10. Beccaon 23 Oct 2010 at 5:00 pm

    You guys are just a bunch of cynics 😛

  11. B. Macon 23 Oct 2010 at 5:20 pm

    Agreed. 🙂

  12. NicKennyon 24 Oct 2010 at 5:35 am

    The one thing that really annoyed me was Colin Creevey having died in the 7th book. If he was Muggle-born, why the hell was he in the school???

  13. Rachel Mon 24 Oct 2010 at 8:11 am

    Hermione was muggle-born, she was in Hogwarts because she had magic. The Creevey brothers had magic, too.

  14. Dillanon 24 Oct 2010 at 9:21 am

    The seventh book was kinda extreame people dying left and right and Ron’s first girlfriend got killed by a werewolf. My favorite in the series had to be the sixth book HBP.

  15. Herojockon 24 Oct 2010 at 3:47 pm

    The Deathly hallows were not directly mentioned in the previous books. However if you read them again, with the knowledge you have now, you’ll realise why Harry’s cloak was so always said to be ‘special’. Or maybe my subconsciousness is making this up, I can’t say for sure.

    What do people think of the school year formula? I know some who found the whole October (school’s in), Christmas, spring and then summer (school’s out) pattern boring and predictable. Especially because book 1-6 was pretty much confined to a school setting, albeit a magical one.

    Oh and Dumbledore and the wizardry world should be charged with superdickery! you telling me ‘the greatest wizard of all’ could not have gotten mature wizards to just deal with the Horcruxes earlier? so much unnecessary death Albus…

  16. Trollon 24 Oct 2010 at 3:57 pm

    Lavender (she was Ron’s first girlfriend) didn’t die, Hermione saved her from Fenrir.

  17. Dillanon 24 Oct 2010 at 5:25 pm

    Wow, I really thought fenrir killed her.

  18. Trollon 24 Oct 2010 at 6:01 pm

    I have an insane memory…

  19. B. Macon 24 Oct 2010 at 6:48 pm

    “you telling me ‘the greatest wizard of all’ could not have gotten mature wizards to just deal with the Horcruxes earlier?” Quoteth Darth Helmet: Evil will win because good is stupid. 🙂

  20. Dillanon 24 Oct 2010 at 8:28 pm

    Darth helmet is a wise man 😉

  21. NicKennyon 26 Oct 2010 at 9:46 am

    NOOOO!! Colin Creevey was muggle-born, yes. But in the 7th book muggle borns were being persecueted and having their wands taken off of them. There is no way Colin would have been in Hogwarts that year. So how did he die in Hogwarts???

  22. Rachel Mon 26 Oct 2010 at 10:03 am

    “in the 7th book muggle borns were being persecueted and having their wands taken off of them. There is no way Colin would have been in Hogwarts that year.”

    Hmm… Good point.

  23. B. Macon 26 Oct 2010 at 10:49 am

    The details have blurred in my mind quite a bit in the years since I’ve last read the seventh book, but if the Muggle-borns were being persecuted to begin with, there had to have been some Muggle-borns left at Hogwarts, right?

  24. Dillanon 26 Oct 2010 at 2:50 pm

    Anyone else notice how the books started feeling like ww2, you know with voldermort’s parallels to Hilter? Oh and the hunting down muggle born wizards. Or am I tripping out.

  25. Rachel Mon 26 Oct 2010 at 3:10 pm

    I think a lot of stories can end up feeling that way. Not because authors are deliberately making parallels, but because it just makes for a compelling, dramatic story.

  26. Dillanon 26 Oct 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Yeah thats what I came to conclude, but seriously the deatheaters were nazi’s and voldermort was hilter with the whole being part muggle and hating muggles. But seriously why didn’t Dumbledore take action against voldermort sooner?

  27. Rachel Mon 26 Oct 2010 at 4:09 pm

    It’s like the Tootsie Pop question-“The world may never know.”

  28. ShardReaperon 26 Oct 2010 at 5:49 pm

    Gaping plot hole aside, Deathly Hollows looks pretty sweet, does it not?

  29. Madaliason 26 Oct 2010 at 10:47 pm

    I don’t think the DH plot came out of nowhere (as I have heard many people say). Aspects of it and the horcrux plot are alluded to early on in the first few novels. I don’t believe there is any reason to believe she pulled that plot out of her …hat at the last minute.

    Having said that, I would have to say that Rowling /doesn’t/ do a great job of keeping track of some kinds of facts. I think in general she isn’t interested in dates and doesn’t do a great job of making sure the various dates of events and characters ages line up. She contradicts the ages of the older Weasley boys for instance and makes several other small continuity mistakes. The Creevey thing may be one of those things she didn’t think about. I’m sure she was much more interested in the pathos that Dennis’ body would stir in Harry (and the fan base) than she was about making a comprehensive list of which kids were muggleborn. (There’s evidence she went back and forth about which of the supporting characters were muggleborn, halfblood, etc. and she has said herself in interviews that she sometimes forgot small details and had to go look them up using the Lexicon site so she could remember what she wrote in previous books.)

    As for Dumbledore not being sharp enough to know what’s going on with Voldemort and to try and stop him himself or to at least do a better job of keeping Harry out of danger …I would argue that Dumbledore was probably was more aware and probably did intentionally allow Harry to put his life at risk when he (Dumbledore) could have stopped him (Harry). I actually think that is one of the more interesting things that JKR revealed about Dumbledore in the later books. Dumbledore isn’t just a benign old man who only cares about his students’ well being. Dumbledore is actually rather manipulative in how he orchestrates the amount of info Harry has at any given time and how he allows Harry to put himself at risk. I would argue that this is because Dumbledore suspected the horcrux business all along and knowing the prophecy Dumbledore is operating under the assumption that Harry must kill Voldemort or be killed by him. I think as Dumbledore gets closer to Harry it becomes more difficult for Dumbledore to keep putting Harry in danger, but difficult or not he’s willing to sacrifice Harry for the greater good. This somewhat callous aspect of Dumbledore is one of the reasons Aberforth won’t have anything to do with Albus. Even Snape is appalled when he realizes that Dumbledore intended to sacrifice Harry all along. I think that Machiavellian aspect of Dumbledore is probably the most interesting thing about the character.

    Other than that though, I think she did sort of write herself into the same dilemma that most writers do when they give the young hero an extremely powerful mentor. Yes it’s great to explain how your hero gets trained and to have the ALL-WISE character show up anytime you need to impart KNOWLEDGE to the readers. However if the guy is so damn powerful, why isn’t the story about the mentor and not the snotty-nosed little hero. That’s why you have to kill the mentor off or otherwise maim/disable/remove him from the ability to help the hero at the critical moment. Lacking a Ballrog, we should have all been waiting for Dumbledore to die by at least book 6. And yes, it’s hard for even a good writer to explain why the ALL-WISE mentor was so damned cagey about not telling the hero everything that could have helped him. Some of it can be explained believably in this case but some of it probably falls into the category of Damned Convenient Lapses. I suppose we could argue that Dumbledore thought he’d have more time. (A trifle arrogant of him, but maybe that’s in character too.) I do think that if Dumbledore had the foresight to put the Tales of Beedle the Bard and the Putter Outer Thingy in his will for Hermione and Ron that it really would have been nice if he’d also had the foresight to have clued Hermione in on the significance of the Deathly Hallows, etc. I mean, sheesh, he could have made her write a book report or something.

    btw, I’m a moderator of an HP site. I’m not terribly knowledgeable of the Superhero genre, but I thought about HP a bit more the average nerd.

  30. NicKennyon 27 Oct 2010 at 3:07 am

    No B.Mac all the Muggle-borns were getting there wands confiscated and being persecueted etc. That’s why Hermione and Dean Thomas went into hiding in the 7th book.

    I’m actually surprised by how worked up I’m getting about this.

  31. Lighting Manon 27 Oct 2010 at 6:47 am

    It’s all pretty much explained if you look up Colin Creevey’s Harry Potter wiki page, Colin Creevey was kicked out of school, showed up in preparation for the retaking of Hogwarts, was told he couldn’t get involved because he was too young, did so against their advice and died outside the castle walls. Granted, it is a wiki and vulnerable to manipulation, but that seems an odd one to make, it also may be combining depictions of the character, I haven’t spent much time on the web site and so I don’t know how or if it handles that element.

    Granted, personally, I stopped reading the books after I realized I was just reading them for odd appearance of Remus, and I’d have to watch the movies anyway so I may as well just save my time and get the werewolf fix in the long term, so I haven’t read Deathly Hallows.


  32. Madaliason 27 Oct 2010 at 6:50 am

    I get exactly what you’re saying NicKenny. It’s the reason why Dean Thomas is hiding in the woods in the 7th book. The Death Eaters controlling the Ministry and the school are rounding up ALL muggleborns. They’ve even got teams of snatchers (somewhat like bounty hunters) paid to find the ones in hiding. One would think that they would have rounded up all the muggleborn kids at Hogwarts fairly early. So the Creevey brothers ought to either be incarcerated or in hiding by that point.

    The only way for them to still be at the school is if they aren’t actually muggleborn (doesn’t seem likely) or they have somehow been able to disguise the fact that they were muggleborn. Granted there is absolutely no magical way to identify muggleborns from other wizards, but you’d think there would be a paper trail of records that would identify which students had muggle parents. JKR has said before in interviews that the Ministry dispatches agents to speak to the parents of muggleborn witches and wizards before they are admitted to Hogwarts. There ought to be records of those visits. Of course, if she wanted the Creeveys to still be at Hogwarts JKR could say that Professors like McGonagall and resistance agents at the Ministry were destroying the evidence to hide muggleborns, but that would have made for a much more complex plot.

    So yes, this looks either like an error (most likely) or the explanation is part of a longer description that JKR cut because it wasn’t germane to the main plot. (It would not be the first time: Like the fact that Dean Thomas is actually a halfblood not a muggleborn, but Dean didn’t know because his father left the family to protect them when Dean was still a baby, and then was killed by Death Eaters without Dean and his mum ever knowing he was a wizard. Whew. I can understand why she cut that one.)

    If it is an error it would not be the first one she made concerning the Creeveys. When Harry has his first organizational meeting for Dumbledore’s Army, Hermione has all the children meet in Hogsmeade at the Hogs Head. Both Creevey brothers are there despite the fact that Dennis Creevey would not be old enough to participate in Hogsmeade weekends.

    I honestly think this is the kind of minutia that slips JKR’s mind because it isn’t how she thinks. I don’t think she ever expected the fans to be picking the details apart with such cult-like fervor. I do think she does a very good job of pre-planning when it comes to plot arcs for all 7 books, but I don’t think she does as good a job of keeping track of all the endless details.

  33. Madaliason 27 Oct 2010 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for the Wiki Lightening Man.

    I don’t actually think JKR explained that bit about Dumbledore’s Army calling back the kids in hiding before the battle, but now I’m going to feel compelled to go back and check the text. It’s possible that this is something JKR explained to fans after the fact.

    (Would have been nice if the Wiki had better source info.)

  34. Yogion 03 Nov 2010 at 5:48 am

    Actually, I’m pretty sure Dumbledore knew exactly what was going on with Quirrell, but wanted to save him from Voldemort, and Harry just mucked up his plans. Quirrell would have been stuck with the Mirror, ready to be picked up by Dumbledore, but Harry’s intervention caused the Philosopher’s Stone to drop into Quirrell’s hands and for Dumbledore to have to rush in and kill Quirrell. This is a very interesting article that speculates on what exactly was going on in Harry’s first year, and what Dumbledore was planning.


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