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The Harry Potter Lexicon

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The universe of Harry Potter was created by J. K. Rowling beginning in 1990. For five years, she worked on not only the first book but also the outline of the entire series of seven books and the development of the world in which the stories occur. Rowling wanted her world to be consistent and detailed. She never suspected that so many people all over the world would be analyzing all that consistency and detail; she did the work for her own satisfaction.

Because of all this careful work on her part, the world Rowling created is rich beyond what can be included in the books themselves. She has written past histories of many of the characters and developed origins and back stories for many parts of her world. For example, she has written that the Death Eaters were originally called the Knights of Walpurgis. The Lexicon's entry on this topic shows the richness of her work:

JKR made this comment during the Jeremy Paxman interview on the BBC, Thursday night, June 19, 2003, while looking at some of her notes on the books: "...here is the history of the Death Eaters and I don't know that I'll ever actually need it -- but at some point -- which were once called something different -- they were called the Knights of Walpurgis. I don't know if I'll need it. But I like knowing it. I like to keep that sort of stuff on hand."

This is a play on "Walpurgis Night" -- April 30th, named for Saint Walpurga (whose feast day is the next day, 1 May, and who is the protectress against witchcraft and sorcery). On Walpurgis Night, witches are supposed to meet in the Harz mountains, especially near the highest point. Incidentally, Walpurgis Night stands opposite the calendar from Halloween. (http://www.hplex.info/wizards/death_eaters.html)

This depth of meaning and detail is found throughout the Harry Potter series. Casual readers of the novels will very likely miss most of it. The Lexicon is intended to help fans of the series understand and appreciate Rowling's creative work at all these levels.

The 'canon'

The Harry Potter Lexicon is an attempt to catalog in a user-friendly way all the information J .K .Rowling has given us about the world she has created, the universe of Harry Potter. For that purpose, a distinction is made between information which comes from the author herself and that which comes from other sources, whether officially licensed or not. Information which comes directly from Rowling is referred to as "the canon."

The use of the term "canon" to represent the body of work by a particular author, excluding that which is added or derived by others, is not unique to the Harry Potter books. Aficionados of the Sherlock Holmes stories refer to Arthur Conan Doyle's complete stories and novels as "the canon". Holmes fans have been writing fan fiction and deconstructing the tiniest of canon details for decades. The same is true of fans of Tolkien's Middle Earth saga. Potter fans are in good company indeed.

It would never occur to a Tolkien fan to include the animated Lord of the Rings film in their studies of that author's work. No Holmes fan would argue a point about Dr. Watson's skill as an M.D. based on lines from one of the plays or films that have featured the famous detective and his assistant. In the same way, the Lexicon makes a distinction between material which appears in the writings or words of the author and that which is derived from her work, such as the films or the video games. In order to make that distinction clear, it is important to state which sources are considered to be part of the canon and which are not.

The definition of canon is not agreed upon by all fans, however. A strict interpretation of canon insists that only information specifically stated in the books themselves qualifies, and (if you're going to be extremely strict about it) only in the corrected Bloomsbury editions. By that definition, the discussion of the Knights of Walpurgis cited above would not be considered canon.

Most fans are willing to expand the definition of canon to include any information developed by Rowling, whether published in the books or stated in other sources. The Lexicon uses this expanded definition. Since Rowling herself treats the extensive backstory as part of her world, we do as well. Some of the back story is a bit difficult to categorize, of course. For example, can we say that it is canon that a dog-loving witch named Mopsy lives on the outskirts of Hogsmeade? In one draft of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Rowling had Sirius staying with Mopsy in his dog Animagus form. Since Mopsy never made it into the final version, is she canon? We're not sure.

It is important to realize that there are still inconsistencies no matter how narrowly you define canon. Within the published books there are contradictions. Some of Rowling's comments in interviews simply don't fit with the world she's described in the books. Some dates and other information on the Famous Wizard cards are just not logical. Fans like to assume that there is one true set of facts, and as a result they work very hard to rectify these inconsistencies.

For that reason, the Lexicon prioritizes canon sources. It is important for people trying to better understand the Harry Potter universe that they understand which canon sources are considered "more correct." Below you'll find the list, with the most trustworthy canon sources listed first. The various canon sources on this list are linked to separate pages where they are described in more detail. The abbreviations following the sources are used throughout the Lexicon in endnotes.

Information which has come directly from JKR in either written or spoken form is considered canon. All other sources, including the film version from Warner Bros., are NOT considered official or canon, although some information from them is included in the Lexicon.

The Harry Potter Canon

the Harry Potter novels

Bloomsbury editions, with corrections

other Harry Potter books by Rowling

other writings by Rowling

Other sources considered to be canon

where they don't conflict with the above sources
  • online chat and interview transcripts where Rowling is quoted exactly - (see detailed list of chats and interviews)
  • Harry Potter and Me (HPM)
  • see also: WEB LINKAccio Quote
  • other interviews where Rowling is not quoted exactly, but her comments reported
  • deductions made from canon, where such deductions are self-evident or virtually certain
    Any such assumptions are often challenged by fans or rejected outright. However, some amount of deduction is necessary and perfectly acceptable. In the Lexicon, we try to make sure we always indicate when we're making these kinds of assumptions.

After the release of the fourth book, the world of Harry Potter expanded quite dramatically. Rowling sold the film rights of the series to Warner Bros. and also signed merchandising contracts with a number of companies. Rowling was called upon to create some "filler" for the development of the video games and other products. One result of this was the Famous Wizard cards. These cards appeared in the Electronic Arts games and were included in actual Chocolate Frog candy. They are now included on Pottermore.

The companies who used this information were not allowed by their contracts to indicate that their products included new Harry Potter information, so it can be a bit difficult to determine what is canon in, for example, a video game. However, Rowling announced on her website that she wrote the "original chocolate frog cards," so we can say with certainty that those facts are canon.

Since all of this material was created by Rowling, the Lexicon includes it. However, numerous inconsistencies can be found in these sources, some of which are impossible to rectify. As Rowling makes corrections to the text and adds details on her website, some of these inconsistencies will be ironed out. The Lexicon will attempt to include the latest and most accurate information available.

A note about illustrations and artwork

As products were developed by these various companies, it became necessary to standardize the "vision" of the characters and settings of the Harry Potter universe. The resulting artwork appeared in a variety of places, from product packaging to coloring books. Rowling didn't create that artwork, so it is not canon. The same is true for the illustrations in the Scholastic versions of the book or the cover art for any other version: since they didn't come from Rowling herself, they are not canon. Rowling did create some illustrations for the books. Some of these illustrations appear on her website while others were shown during the "Harry Potter and Me" television special. Because they are directly from Rowling, they are considered to be canon, although they include details never mentioned in the books. Also, the artwork for the Pottermore website is directly controlled by Rowling and follows the books with extreme care (e.g. the students are shown wearing robes, not British school uniforms). These illustrations are considered to be canon.

List of interviews with J. K. Rowling:

Abbreviation Date Interview
ET 25 July, 1998 WEB LINK"Harry Potter Charms a Nation." Electronic Telegraph
AOK1 early spring, 1999 on WEB LINKamazon.co.uk
Ind1 29 January, 1999 WEB LINKThe Independent, "The spotty schoolboy and single mother taking the mantle from Roald Dahl"
Con 12 October, 1999 on WEB LINKThe Connection radio show
SLG 16 October, 1999 WEB LINKThe Star-Ledger, "Harry Potter's creator meets her public: Author J .K. Rowling answers questions from students at a school in Montclair"
WP1 20 October, 1999 WEB LINKWashington Post, "Charmed, I'm Sure."
NPC 20 October, 1999 Q&A at the WEB LINKNational Press Club
SFC 30 October, 1999 WEB LINKThe San Francisco Chronicle, "Harry Potter's Wizard / Creator of children's book series tours Bay Area"
Sch1 3 February, 2000 on WEB LINKScholastic.com
HE 8 July, 2000 Fry, Stephen. WEB LINK"Launch Day interview aboard the Hogwarts Express," Bloomsbury Press
SN 8 July, 2000 on WEB LINKSouthwest News
Sch2 16 October, 2000 on WEB LINKScholastic.com
AOL 19 October, 2000 on WEB LINKAOL
BN 20 October, 2000 on WEB LINKBarnes & Noble.com
CBC 23 October, 2000 on WEB LINKRogers, Shelagh. "INTERVIEW: J .K. Rowling," Canadian Broadcasting Co.
RC March 2001 with WEB LINKRaincoast Books
CR 12 March, 2001 on WEB LINKComic Relief website
BP 12 March, 2001 on WEB LINKBlue Peter TV show
HC 20 March, 2001 with the WEB LINKHouston Chronicle
Nr 27 April, 2001 on WEB LINKBBC Newsround
HE 2 November, 2001 on WEB LINKBBC Newsround, aboard the Hogwarts Express
HPM 28 December, 2001 WEB LINK"J .K. Rowling--Harry Potter and Me,", BBC1
NR2 19 September, 2002 on WEB LINKBBC Newsround
Scot2002 November, 2002  WEB LINK"Harry Potter - Harry and me," The Scotsman interview
RAH 26 June 2003 WEB LINKinterview conducted by Stephen Fry at the Royal Albert Hall
WBD 4 March 2004 WEB LINKWorld Book Day online chat
EBF 15 August 2004 WEB LINKEdinburgh Book Festival
PA/dvd 23 November 2004 WEB LINKPA/dvd "Extra"
ITV 16 July 2005 Edinburgh "cub reporter" press conference, ITV
TLC 16 July 2005 The WEB LINKLeaky Cauldron and MuggleNet interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling: WEB LINKPart 1 - WEB LINKPart 2 - WEB LINKPart 3
R4 10 December 2005  WEB LINKconversation with Stephen Fry on BBC Radio 4 
BP2 20 July 2007 WEB LINKpost-DH chat with kids on the Blue Peter show
Today1 26 July 2007 WEB LINKfirst part of the post-DH interview on the Today Show (NBC)
Today2 27 July 2007 WEB LINKsecond part of the post-DH interview on the Today Show (NBC)
BLC 30 July 2007 WEB LINKlive online chat with on Bloomsbury's website
MTV 17 October 2007 'Harry Potter Author J.K. Rowling Opens Up About Books' Christian Imagery' MTV.com
NO 18 October 2007 New Orleans students give Rowling a rousing welcome
OBT/CH 19 October 2007 OBT/CH ‘Open Book Tour: Carnegie Hall’
OBT/NYC 19 October 2007 J.K. Rowling Talks Marriage,Writing and More at Open Book Tour Stop in New York City (from TLC)
PC122 19 October 2007 Pottercast 122
10Q 19 December 2007 Time Magazine 10 Questions About Harry
OBT/T 23 October 2007 Open Book Tour: Toronto
PC-JKR1 17 December 2007 Rowling’s first interview on the Pottercast podcast
PC-JKR2 24 December 2007 Rowling’s second interview on the Pottercast podcast
ITV-YIL
or YL
30 December 2007 ‘J.K. Rowling, A Year in the Life’ ITV1
SDNY 14-16 April 2008 transcript of the trial of JKR/WB vs RDR Books in the Southern District of New York

 

Other non-canon sources for some information in the Lexicon:


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Original page date 30-May-2004 ; Last page update 5 January 2014 SVA.