In the seventh Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fans learned that the deathly hallows are three magical objects that any Wizarding child should know about from listening to The Tale of Three Brothers, a classic wizard fairy tale from a book called The Tales of Beedle the Bard.
Now, author J.K. Rowling has published The Tales of Beedle the Bard, a book of five fairy tales purporting to be the very same book mentioned in Hallows, and translated from ancient runes by Harry s friend Hermione Granger, with commentary by Albus Dumbledore, former Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
What are the lessons any child, from the Wizarding world or the Muggle (non-magical) world, can learn from these tales?
The theme of virtue being rewarded and wickedness punished is common to the fairy tales of both worlds. However, in Muggle tales, magic may be the root of the problem a magic pot endlessly overflows, or a poisoned apple puts a princess into a deep magical sleep.
In Beedle s tales, the main character is magical, but finds that magic does not necessarily solve problems, a painful fact for Wizarding children to learn. In the fairy tale The Fountain of Fair Fortune, for example, the characters seek a magical cure for their disappointments in life, but find their problems solved by a fountain that turns out not to be magical at all.
Fairy tales come from the oral tradition, and Babbity Rabbity and the Cackling Stump shows that the tension between magical and non-magical people so central to the Potter books happened from early times onward. Babbity the witch escapes witch hunters by turning into a rabbit, an initial indication of the existence of animagi, witches or wizards who can turn into animals. The important lesson in this story, though, is that no magic can bring someone back from Death.
In The Warlock with the Hairy Heart, the most gruesome of the tales, we learn the origin of the Wizarding expression to have a hairy heart, which in Muggle terms means to be cold-hearted. This story is about the quest for invulnerability, a quest not unknown in the Muggle world, but especially tempting to those who can do magic.
Separating body and heart, as the young warlock in the story did, is a recipe for disaster.
Fans of the Harry Potter books should thoroughly enjoy these tales and the commentary, which explains a variety of facts about the Wizarding world in Dumbledore s wise and quirky voice. Those new to the Potter phenomenon will find the book understandable, thanks to Rowling s footnotes. The lessons of the stories, painted with charming humor, are appropriate for Wizarding and Muggle children alike.
Profits from this book will support the Children s High Level Group, a charity co-founded in 2005 by Rowling to help children living in large institutions in Eastern Europe. For details and ways to get involved, visit www.chlg.org.
Melissa Cain of the University of Findlay is among the educators on The Blade s panel of reviewers of children s books.