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The “Wand Order Problem”

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"We were all very sleep-deprived at the time ..."
-- J.K. Rowling (JKR)

The “Wand Order Problem”

Sooner or later every fan stumbles across certain mysteries in the Harry Potter books. Some actually find them in the books, other stumbled across them in discussions online. Once discovered, any good fan will then ponder whether this intriguing new mystery is a clue, foreshadowing, foreboding, a misdirection (red herring), or a mistake (which fans back in the day called a “Flint”). However, before you let your imagination run wild, you should know that many of these mysteries have been cleared up.

One such mystery is referred to in fan circles simply as ‘The Wand Order’, and I shall clear up this mystery after laying some groundwork.

The Mystery

Throughout the series of Harry Potter books up until near the end of Goblet of Fire, it has been implied or stated that James was killed before Lily. However, in very early editions of Goblet of Fire, in the graveyard scene, James exits the Dark Lord’s wand before Lily. This now implies that James was killed after Lily and creates a substantial mystery.

The Background

Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands share a common magical core. They both contain a feather from the same phoenix: Dumbledore’s phoenix, Fawkes. Wands with common magical cores are referred to as ‘brother wands’.

When two brother wands cast spells head-to-head against each other, as happens in the graveyard scene where Harry and Voldemort duel, the wands create the ‘Reverse Spell Effect’ called Priori Incantatem. This causes the spells cast by one of the wands to expel a shadow or echo of each previous spell cast by that wand, expelling the most recently cast spell first.

The Problem

In the graveyard scene in Goblet of Fire, Harry forces Voldemort’s wand to expel the shadows or echoes of its previous spells. As I said before, in early editions, James comes out of Voldemort’s wand first. That implies, since the spell come out in reverse order, that James was killed after Lily, and that is inconsistent with what the previous books and Voldemort’s own words have led us to believe.

The Result

This led to many many weeks of wild speculation among online fans. Some assumed it was a mistake, other believe it was a clue. Those believing it to be a clue wondered if the earlier references to James dying first were ‘red herrings’ meant to mislead us, and that J.K. Rowling was now revealing some special truth about what happened to Harry’s parents, but was doing so in by hiding the clue in an exciting emotionally charged scene where we were likely to overlook it.

As weeks went on speculation grew exponentially with each new theory being more wild and extreme than the one before, with each new speculator being absolutely sure that they had solved the mystery of “The Wand Order.”

The Solution

Fortunately, we were saved from many hours of late night speculation and debate when J.K.Rowling finally confessed that it was nothing more than a mistake cause by writer’s fatigue. All newer editions of the books in all languages (to the best of my knowledge) have corrected this error, and now show Lily exiting the Dark Lord’s wand first, meaning she was killed last.

It was fun while it lasted, but the mystery of ‘The Wand Order’ has been solved.

Resources

The original version of the text:

… because the man appearing was the one he’d thought of more than any other tonight …
The smoky shadow of a tall man with untidy hair fell to the ground as Bertha had done, straightened up, and looked at him … and Harry, his arms shaking madly now, looked back into the ghostly face of his father.
“Your mother’s coming …” he said quietly. “She wants to see you … it will be all right … hold on …”
And she came … first her head, then her body… a young woman with long hair, the smoky, shadowy form of Lily Potter blossomed from the end of Voldemort’s wand, fell to the ground, and straightened like her husband. She walked close to Harry, looking down at him, and she spoke in the same distant, echoing voice as the others, but quietly, so that Voldemort, his face now livid with fear as his victims prowled around him, could not hear … (GF34)

The corrected version of the text:

… because the woman appearing was the one he’d thought of more than any other tonight …
The smoky shadow of a young woman with long hair fell to the ground as Bertha had done, straightened up, and looked at him … and Harry, his arms shaking madly now, looked back into the ghostly face of his mother.
“Your father’s coming …” she said quietly. “He wants to see you … it will be all right … hold on …”
And he came … first his head, then his body… tall and untidy-haired like Harry, the smoky, shadowy form of James Potter blossomed from the end of Voldemort’s wand, fell to the ground, and straightened like his wife. He walked close to Harry, looking down at him, and he spoke in the same distant, echoing voice as the others, but quietly, so that Voldemort, his face now livid with fear as his victims prowled around him, could not hear … (GF34)

Quote from J.K.Rowling explaining the error:

Lily first, then James. That’s how it appears in my original manuscript but we were under enormous pressure to edit it very fast and my American editor thought that was the wrong way around, and he is so good at catching small errors I changed it without thinking, then realised it had been right in the first place. We were all very sleep-deprived at the time (JKR).

Commentary

Pensieve (Comments)

  • Barbara

    There is another problem with the regurgitated spells: Between the appearance of Bertha Jorkins and that of Lily Potter, there should have been some echo of the avada kedavra Voldemort threw at toddler Harry and that rebounded on him …

Tags: fan theory inconsistencies mystery

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