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Muggles' Guide to Harry Potter/Magic

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A Note on Writing MagicEdit

To quote the "other minister", in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: "But for heaven's sake — you're wizards! You can do magic! Surely you can sort out — well — anything!" Making characters omnipotent, able to do anything, sounds good, but ultimately makes the story boring. A fictional wizard who could do anything at all that he wished, ultimately would be a plot-destroying device; he would have the power to instantly get out of any predicament he is in, and readers would not be intrigued to see him wave his wand and remove all barriers yet again.

When writing fiction that involves magic of any sort, one must be extremely careful to plan and limit that magic so that barriers remain, so that the challenges faced by the hero are difficult for him to surmount. In order to captivate the reader, the hero must be seen to be stretching his abilities; the reader has to wonder how the hero is going to get out of the predicament he is in, so he can share the hero's joy at having figured it out, and his relief at escaping relatively unscathed.

It does not need to be said that the Harry Potter series shows signs of careful planning of the available magic. The need to hide the relatively small Wizarding population from the much larger Muggle world is mentioned early in the first book, and over the course of the series we learn about the measures needed to manage that concealment, and the reasons such measures are so harsh. The relative strengths of wizards and witches is very nicely managed, as is the growing strength of the characters, especially Harry and Neville. And it is of interest that Harry's most bitter battle is not against Voldemort, a wizard of great power who at least commands respect, but rather against a petty bureaucrat and her power-hungry boss.

No writer is an island, at the very least a writer must have read enough of a genre to know that they want to write in that genre. And influences do creep in, as writers adopt techniques that they appreciate. We note that in the treatment of magic, there are some similarities between this work and the Lord Darcy series by Randall Garrett. In particular, we note Garrett's mention of the difference between active and passive magic, covered in more detail in the article on The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery; the distinction between Light and Dark magic; and the difference in types of magic, notably healing magic, covered in more detail in the article on Madam Pomfrey. No doubt there are other stories that similarly show reasonable limitations on magic, and it is equally possible that the seminal influence could have been some other work, but the similarities with the Garrett series do seem at least vaguely present to us.






Words or phrases that cause a certain effect when using a wand or when said by a wizard. In the books, the terms Spell, Charm, Jinx, Hex, and Curse are all used; the author explains the difference as follows:

  • Spell is the generic term, used for all incantations.
  • Charms typically would affect the behaviour of an object but do not change its nature. Thus making a pineapple tap-dance across the desk is properly a Charm, because the object remains a pineapple; but turning a teapot into a turtle, as is done in Transfiguration, is not.
  • Jinxes carry a connotation of dark magic, though of a very minor sort. Jinxes, like Rictusempra, irritate and amuse, rather than harm.
  • Hexes also carry the connotation of dark magic, again of a minor nature, but slightly darker than Jinxes. An example would be Petrificus Totalus.
  • Curses are spells that are quite firmly in the Dark Magic camp, and are purely harmful in effect.

A Stunning spell is more properly a charm, because the spelled object changes behaviour and not nature; but the name is kept because of the alliteration. These definitions are flexible; for instance the stunning spell Stupefy can be used either by light or dark wizards, in which case it might be seen as a charm or a hex.

A note on incantation pronunciationEdit

It appears that there are three components to a spell: the incantation or spoken portion, the wand motion, and a mental component involving visualization of the desired effect. We learn in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince that the incantation does not need to be spoken, but can be subvocalized, and we also observe a few spells where one or two of the three components is not required. In those cases where an incantation is required, we note that it seems to be based on the Latin word for the desired effect; this, with other context, would suggest strongly that most incantations are to be pronounced with the Latin character sounds. In particular, the "i" is generally, though not always, pronounced as a long "e", and the "o" is the long form of that vowel, while the "a" and "e" are generally the short forms of those vowels. Among the exceptions are "Wingardium leviosa" and "Rictusempra", where the first "i" seems to be best pronounced as the short English "i". "U" generally takes the long form when it is on its own, but the short form in the "ium" and "us" word endings.

  1. a b c Unforgivable Curses

Near-Human and similarEdit

It does not seem quite right to place these in the same category as magical beasts.

Blood Status and similar categoriesEdit

A sizable fraction of the Wizarding population believes that lineage is important, to the point that they actually categorize wizards based on their ancestry. As this is a characteristic of the Dark side in these books, these categories are important to the story, and are listed below:

Additionally, the following terms are used to refer to segments of the population.


Fictional languages used throughout the books.


Legal StructuresEdit

Key Magical ArtifactsEdit

Intermediate warning: Details follow which you may not wish to read at your current level.

Objects that have special significance to the entire series.