Hitchhiker's Guide to
Publishing in the Wizarding World
by Diana Patterson
Wizards are very fond of books, newspapers, and
magazines, ones filled with moving photographs. But their presence in
the world of quills, ink and parchment raises some problems about
publishing - at least for us Muggles.
What is Publishing?
Before beginning to decipher the ways of publishing,
it may be necessary to define exactly what publishing is: it is making
ideas public. Technically, yelling in the street or scribbling in chalk
on a pavement would be a form of publishing. But more practically,
publishing involves making copies of material in such a way that
someone can make money from the exercise. A publisher need not be
anyone who makes copies of something (such as a printer), but must be
someone who distributes the copies.
Medieval Setting and its Implications
Now the wizarding world is mainly medieval. Wizards wear robes, presumably
in such a way as to get a 'healthy breeze' around their privates
(GF7) in the medieval manner, and
similarly they use drippy ink with mainly
quills (reed pens for thicker writing) on parchment,
in the late Classical or early Medieval manner.
There certainly was publishing of books in the Classical and Medieval
times. One person copied a book from another, or, for more 'mass-market
items', copying was done in scriptoria, where either a text was read
aloud to several copyists, or the exemplar was taken apart and each
copyist had a portion of the exemplar to work on, then everyone traded
until each copy had all the parts (this is called the pecia system of
copying, and need not be carried on in one room at the same time). Of
course what I have just described is the Muggle Medieval world. Once we
have magic, why things change.
What do Wizard Books Look Like Inside?
The Muggle technology to replace magic was the printing press, a device that
delineates the Middle Ages from the Renaissance. But we are never told
whether particular books or newspapers or magazines are done in type, or in
manuscript (handwriting). The films (non-canonical) tell us that the
Daily Prophet is in
manuscript, but books are nineteenth-century, printed, Victorian items, like
Moste Potente Potions,
although the miraculous book that
Hermione refers to that
mentions Nicolas Flamel,
and updates itself to record his current age, is in manuscript with
metal tags sewn to the presumably parchment leaves. This makes sense since
Nicolas Flamel was born
around 1330, before paper was much used in
We know that some books are as big as paving stones, and some are very tiny.
We know that they are in the familiar form of books in our era: the codex,
as opposed to the Classical form of the book, the scroll. The only books
whose pages we have been able to turn are
Quidditch through the Ages and
Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.
These are printed books on paper, at least to my Muggle eyes, although
they could be done by magical quills that draw extremely good book
hands, and the paper might just be for us Muggles. Of course neither of
these books contains photographs, only some sketches that appear to
have been done in manuscript, not like the images in
Moste Potente Potions
[film version], which appear to be wood blocks. The spelling of
Moste Potente Potions
suggests that the book ought to be a Renaissance production, not a
Victorian one, however; in which case, in the
Muggle world, illustrations would have been
either more elaborate wood blocks, or engravings on copper.
Parchment and Paper
We do know that the students write essays using quills on parchment.
Now in the Muggle world, parchment is a really
tough, whitish substance made of animal skin. The skin has the hair
removed, and it is stretched and dried, and has all the fat scraped off
it as it stretches and dries. The best parchment is made from young
sheep or goats, but really, it could be made of many animals, including
dog and cat. It looks vaguely like paper, but it is not paper. (My
publishing students have trouble describing a sheet of writing material
as anything but paper, but parchment is not a kind of paper — paper is
vegetable, and parchment is animal.) The animal skin is enormously
difficult to tear. It is impossible to crumble. But when it gets wet,
it warps and thickens: it tries to turn back into the skin of the
animal it came from. Nobody dealing with Muggle parchment could wad it
up into a ball, tear off a strip to hand somebody a note, or do any of
the many things that wizards seem able to do with their parchment.
We do not know whether most books are made of paper or parchment, although
we do know that at least one book, the one containing information about the
(CS16) is paper. Paper came into the
western world from
China, through the
Arabic countries, at about the same time that the printing press (actually
movable type, not really the printing press, but . . .) came to be used in
1450. Thus the particular copy of the
basilisk book is
that late. We also know that for some odd reason, although temporary lists
for bulletin boards are on parchment,
Snape uses a roll of paper to give
the clues about the vials guarding the
So we see elements of the Renaissance here. Still very old books, even
printed ones, are likely to be of parchment, as they are in the
It takes many dead animals to make a parchment book.
One complete sheep is required to make between four and eight pages of
a book as big as a paving slab (depending on the size of the paving
slab and the size of the sheep). Thus a book of, say, 394 pages,
in a size we would recognize as the size of a textbook (octavo), would
require 394/16 sheep, or about 25 sheep. If everyone in a class of 20
had such a textbook, a Muggle would have to have 500 sheep on hand to
slaughter. Presumably wizards have developed some
magical-synthetic parchment, since we don't run into many sheep around
Flourish and Blotts
or Hogwarts. Not only does
this magical material tear, and crumple, but also it withstands being thrown
into toilets too, since nobody seemed surprised when the
diary of Tom Riddle survived
being thrown into a toilet.
In the Muggle world, books made of
parchment were bound in wood (which is why we use the word
‘board’ to describe the heavy paper used for covers).
To keep the parchment from changing shape, the boards had latches on them to
press the parchment flat.
One of the possibilities of making a
Daily Prophet would be
using a collection of enslaved
that would write out thousands of copies of
Rita Skeeter's text at one go so that
they would be available next morning for owl post. Or, there might just
be a reproduction spell for making copies:
(meanwhile the wizard imagines how much abundance he wants in order to
produce the correct number of copies).
Integrating photographs into this process would be difficult if not
impossible in Muggle technology, but clearly not in magic. The photographs,
so far as we know from seeing
Colin Creevey using a
camera and the
photographer from the
Daily Prophet with his purple flash,
are the result of a mechanical process, much like Muggle photography, only
using potions to create the moving images
(CS6). How one copies the photograph
into a manuscript is, well, magic.
One of the problems of publishing is distributing the weight of paper and
cardboard. Magically transporting parchment and wood solves this problem, of
course. But as in the
Summoning Charm, the
materials requested fly through the air as heavy objects rather than
presumably as atoms. Similarly, sending material by
would create flying objects through chimneys: imagine attempting to go to
Diagon Alley and meeting
a shipment of the
Monster Book of Monsters
coming from another direction! We don't know how published material gets
distributed other than by owl post and by carrying the books around
after a purchase in a book shop.
The HP Lexicon lists the known
publishers of the wizarding world
(see), including their addresses and published books. Two of these have
offices in Diagon Alley,
where we know the Daily Prophet
also has its offices,
but whether they have other premises at which they reproduce their materials,
or warehouse them, we know not. Somehow, one is sceptical that
The Quibbler has offices in
One last problem in considering publishing in the
wizarding world is the quality of the books.
Literature, composition, and editing are not skills taught at Hogwarts, and
no books described so far seem to have fiction in them, the only stories
being histories, biographies or travels.
So far we know of only one play
(Hélas, Je me suis Transfiguré mes Pieds
[Alas, I have Transfigured my Feet] a play by a wizard named
Malecrit [he writes badly]
(QA8)), and one book of poetry
(Sonnets of a Sorcerer
in all those tens of thousands of books in the
How good is the writing and editing in these many wizard books?
(Editor's note: Since this essay was first written, further wizarding
books have come to light; see books
by title for more information.)
To learn more about parchment and medieval books:
Brown, Michelle P. The British Library Guide to Writing and
Scripts: History and Techniques. Toronto: U of Toronto P, 1998.
ISBN 0-8020-8172. (Available from the British Library bookshop on-line).
To look at some manuscript books, browse the
Bodleian Library's sample
To see how books changed between manuscript and printing, you might look at
the University of South Carolina's on-line exhibit: