Books and Writing
Canon discussion

The 2004 Open Letter to Rowling


The Open Letter to J.K. Rowling

September 2004


Dear Jo:

Not surprisingly, we’re thrilled to know that you visit the Lexicon and MuggleNet on occasion. We are delighted that the work we’ve done is helpful and appreciated, not only to you but also to fans all over the world. Thank you so much for honoring us on your site.

First, let us say that we don’t want to know any big secrets from upcoming books. What fun would that be? We want to be surprised when we read them. However, there are some more mundane things that we’d love to know. As obsessive as we are, we would love to have some nagging things answered, partly to add missing details into the Lexicon and MuggleNet’s pages, but also just because it’s fun to learn these kinds of things. We discussed this with your solicitor and he suggested that an open letter might be the best way for you to do this. That’s why this letter is here.

At the bottom of this letter is a list of questions that just beg to be answered. We don’t think any of them cross the line into giving too much away, and we would be thrilled if you could fill in the blanks for us.

Thanks for considering this. We can’t thank you enough for creating your website and for communicating with us all. Most of all, thanks for creating such a wonderful world for us to play in.


Steve Vander Ark
The Harry Potter Lexicon
Emerson and the rest of the crew

Questions and More Questions

The questions on the Open Letter were written by me, Steve Vander Ark, with the exception of a few which Emerson of MuggleNet asked to add. I spent over a month writing these questions, trying to find ways to word them which would clarify what exactly I wanted to know and, quite honestly, trying to make sure that Jo’s response wouldn’t just create a host of new questions. I figured I’d only have one chance to do this–I don’t expect to write a new Open Letter whenever Jo happens to answer all the questions on this one.

I knew that at least one or two of the questions would not be able to be answered in a way that satisfied all the references from the books. For example, I knew that there was really no way that Jo could rectify all the references to Charlie’s age from the first three books, no matter how she answered. Please don’t interpret that to mean that I was hoping to trick Jo into saying something that I could “prove” was wrong by the books. Nothing could be further from the truth. Since I write the Lexicon, and since I’m trying very hard to list the facts in its pages, I wanted to have a definitive answer to some of those questions, even though I knew that some book references may have to be ignored for now. Since Jo is actively editing her previous books, I am hoping that my mentioning some of these inconsistencies will be helpful not only for fans but for Jo as she works on that.

What you’ll find below are the same questions that are on the Open Letter, along with notes on the questions, Jo’s responses, and comments on her responses. I hope that this will be helpful.

Steve Vander Ark
The Harry Potter Lexicon
July 2005

The Questions, Some Responses, and Commentary

What are the first names of Flitwick, Sinistra, Vector, Sprout, and Hooch? What houses were they in?

This is really ten questions, if you think about it. Jo has answered a few of them.

Some people were surprised that I asked for first names, when the Lexicon lists those names for Flitwick, Sprout, and Hooch. However, the first names I had were from the Trading Card Game. According to Wizards of the Coast, the facts on the cards were verified by Jo, but I really wasn’t so sure. I know from various conversations with their representatives that neither Wizards nor Electronic Arts are allowed to state that their products contain new canon information, so it’s hard to tell exactly what’s from Jo and what isn’t. In fact, I asked a question about this a little further down in the letter.

Jo’s responses so far tell us that Flitwick’s first name is Filius, which means “son” in Latin. Her response to the next question also tells us that Flitwick’s house was Ravenclaw while Sprout’s was Hufflepuff. We’re still waiting for the rest of the information.

UPDATE: Jo has now indicated that Sprout’s first name is Pomona. This tallies with the name that appears on the Trading Cards. Incidentally, Jo never said she wrote the information on the trading cards, just the Famous Wizard cards. More on that below.

UPDATE: On her website in 2006, Rowling released a page of scribblings which included the names of most of the teachers. According to that paper, the names for teachers we didn’t know are Aurora Sinistra, Cuthbert Binns, and Septima Vector. She also lists Bathsheda Babbling as the teacher for Ancient Runes.

UPDATE: The other side of the aforementioned page was released on Rowling’s website a year later. Notably, Professor Sinistra’s name is given here as Aurelia. Although “Aurora” has become the popular name to use in fanfiction and the like, we must list both as equally valid. (This of course opens up another plotpoint needing Rowling’s clarification.)

If a teacher is head of a house, can we assume that they were sorted into those houses when they were students at Hogwarts? Is that also true for the house ghosts? So was Snape a Slytherin? (It never actually says he was in the books…)

Jo’s response: (yes)

I designed this question to fill in a number of blanks for me. On the Which Wizard pages, people are given little shield icons in front of their names colored to indicate houses. I would be tickled if I could put a colored shield in front of each and every person. The answer to this question, if yes, would fill in that shield for many of the ghosts and for a number of teachers. There was another motive to this question. Someone had challenged my placing Snape in Slytherin in the Lexicon. They asked me to indicate where I found that. I had used a reference that Snape hung around with a “gang of Slytherins” while at Hogwarts, but my correspondent pointed out that it never actually says that Snape was a Slytherin himself. I was sure he was, but to be honest, it never actually says so. I specifically mentioned Snape in the question, hoping that even if Jo said no, that ghosts and heads aren’t necessarily from the houses they currently serve, she might mention Snape’s house.

Who teaches Ancient Runes and Muggle Studies? Are there other teachers and subjects that we haven’t heard about yet?

This question will hopefully help us to understand a little more about Hogwarts. Fans have debated long and hard about the problem of so few teachers teaching so many students. Even using Time Turners, is would seem impossible for the small number of staff to handle the classes they would be teaching. For example, since McGonagall is the only one we see teaching Transfiguration, and since her classes consist of only the students from one year of one house, it is logical to assume that she teaches 20 separate OWL-level classes every week. Since these meet more than once a week, poor Minerva is teaching at least 40 class periods per week! That’s a lot of teaching, far more than teachers would typically be teaching. And that’s just through OWL level. We know that there are NEWT-level Transfiguration classes, so those would only add to the workload. There is really no way that one person can do all this, no matter how talented she is. I’m hoping that Jo will tell us that there a a large number of teachers which we haven’t encountered in the books simply because they haven’t been teaching Harry’s classes. While it is a bit strange, if that’s the case, that we haven’t heard them mentioned at all, at least this would be logical. We’ll have to see what she says.

UPDATE: We know that Prof. Bathsheda Babbling teaches Ancient Runes from Jo’s site (9-March-2006) but the Muggle Studies teacher is still not named. According to the list on the site, there aren’t any more teachers than that, which supports the idea of a smaller student population.

UPDATE: At the beginning of Deathly Hallows we discover that the Muggle Studies teacher was Charity Burbage (DH1).

Is Flitwick a short human or is he some other type of being?

Jo’s answer: He is part-goblin and part-human

Pretty straightforward question, I think.

What is Godric’s Hollow? Is it a town, a house, a street, a tree…?

Jo’s response: (a village)

This was one of the questions Emerson really wanted on the list. I had already decided from the evidence in the books that Godric’s Hollow was a village, but Emerson didn’t feel like it was certain. I know that there has been an ongoing discussion about this on the Chamber of Secrets forums, which are affiliated with MuggleNet, so this answer will settle that for them.

How many students are there really at Hogwarts? You said 1000 once, but that doesn’t really work out very well with information elsewhere in the books. Do you have a better explanation for us?

This is one of those questions which have been debated for five years. The biggest reason for the debate is that Jo said one thing in an interview and has strongly implied something else in both the books and her comments about the film.

First the interview. In an online chat with Scholastic on October 16, 2000, this exchange took place:

How many students attend Hogwarts, and how many students per year per house?

There are about a thousand students at Hogwarts.

This seems pretty straightforward. However, there are a number of references in the books which suggest a somewhat smaller number. Also, when Rowling saw the film version of the Great Hall, she said it looked exactly as she imagined it. There were a little over 300 kids on that set. In this case, it certainly seems like her off-the-cuff answer of “about a thousand” wasn’t really very well thought through, like her answer to the Charlie Weasley question in a recent interview.

This is one of the instances where no answer will actually satisfy every reference in the books, however. Hopefully her answer will include mention of this and perhaps a note that she will be editing the books to fit whatever number she chooses.

As with a number of these questions, this one connects to another question. The number of students directly affects the number of teaching staff. If Jo does stick with “about a thousand” as the correct answer, she really will need to say that there are a lot more teachers as well.

UPDATE: Jo talked about this when she was interviewed by Melissa and Emerson. She seemed to settle on there being 600 students at Hogwarts, although she couched her comments in more warnings about how bad she is at numbers.

How old are Molly and Arthur Weasley? (Thanks for letting us know that Lucius is 41, by the way. We wondered.)

Someone recently emailed me and told me that the books say that the Whomping Willow was planted the year after Molly left Hogwarts, so we can determine that she was seven years older than Lupin. The books don’t say that, though, they only say that the tree was planted after she left; it could have been any number of years after. I’m glad it doesn’t say “the year after,” or Molly would have been pregnant with Bill (or even already given birth) when she was still in school. Bill, we know, was born approximately a year before Lupin started Hogwarts. Of course that’s certainly possible, but I’d like to think that Molly and Arthur had a few more years for courtship and together-time before the kids started filling up the Burrow around them.

You said recently that Charlie was two years older than Percy. If that’s so, he would have been the Seeker in Harry’s first year. Can you clarify his and Bill’s ages for us?

Jo’s response: (Charlie is THREE years older than Percy)

Okay, we have the answer now, and we’re going to have to live with it. This was another question for which no answer would work out. The answer Jo gave doesn’t actually fit with the facts from the books very well, but perhaps she will do some editing. Unfortunately, the parts which will need to be edited are quite extensive and are fairly important to the story. Perhaps the most improbable reference in the books is when Fred and George say that they “haven’t won…since Charlie left.” When they say this, in September of Harry‘s first year, Charlie would have been gone from Hogwarts only since June, a total of three months. During that time there was no Quidditch, so it really makes absolutely no sense. A few fans have gamely tried to suggest that Fred and George were being sarcastic when they said it, but this isn’t really supported by the text. It seems far more likely that Jo simply hadn’t worked out details of the ages of the various Weasley children when she was writing that part of book one.

As you probably know, we have worked out the years of the books to 1991 through 1998 using information from the books. The official timeline on the Chamber of Secrets DVD follows this as well. Is that correct?

This whole timeline thing really irritates some people. They point out that Rowling has intentionally avoided noted actual dates within her books, with the exception of the date on the Death Day cake, and therefore we shouldn’t be trying to pin it down. First of all, I agree that Jo is writing stories which readers will read as if they are happening “now,” and that “now” isn’t any particular year. However, there is a definite chronology to the stories which we discover in phrases like “fifty years ago” and so on. Specific dates are given in a number of places, such as the years that Dilys Derwent was headmistress of Hogwarts, so there is a chronology built into the overall saga. If we take the Famous Wizard cards into account, we have a vast history of names and dates, detailing the developing culture and civilization of the Wizarding World. Jo has created a world which has a definite timeline to it, and she has attached dates to almost all of it.

So what is wrong with trying to work all those details out? So what if I assign particular years to the events and facts, if those years are derived from the date given in the book itself? I have gone out of my way to indicate which dates we know for sure and which we derive from other sources. Surely you can use a timeline like that to help you understand the overall flow of the story without feeling annoyed with me for making it for you.

I know that this topic generates a lot of controversy. People bring up a variety of “facts” which support one timeline or another. Here’s an important point to consider: Jo’s world is not ours. In Jo’s world, the PlayStation could have been available whenever she wanted it to be. July 31 can be a Tuesday in 1991 in her world. Anything can be if she so chooses, even two days in a row both being Monday, which happens in GF. So we can’t really argue using those kinds of details when the books “have” to have happened. It’s entirely up to Jo.

So now to the question I asked here. Jo did date the second book quite precisely. In her world, the Deathday Party took place in 1992. I’m only asking her to verify that fact for me, so I can remove all the “approximate” symbology from the Lexicon. If she says that she didn’t actually work it out that way, I’ll leave that symbology in, but I’ll leave the dates as they are, since that’s what the book actually says.

A nice, clear answer from Jo would certainly put an end to a long-standing debate, though, wouldn’t it? You bet it would.

Well, no, it wouldn’t, because no answer will actually match all the references in the books, any more than her answer about Charlie could. Oh well. We’ll see what she says.

UPDATE: The family tree of the Black Family which Jo recently created for a Book Aid International charity auction shows Draco‘s birthyear as 1980. This confirms what is already a canon fact from book two, that Harry was born in 1980 and that the books cover his school years from September 1991 through, presumably, June 1998.

Speaking of that official timeline, there is some pretty convincing evidence that they took the timeline directly from the Lexicon. Do you know anything about that? The folks at Warner said that they took a timeline and gave it to you for review. Was the timeline they gave you from the Lexicon’s calendars?

This is an important question, and not just for me personally. The official word from Warner Home Video is that they took a timeline and gave it to Jo to verify. They don’t say where they got that timeline from. I suppose it’s possible that they did all the research themselves. The dates they found for things exactly match the Lexicon calendars and timelines, but if they did the research just like I did, they certainly would match, right? If that’s all there was to go on, I wouldn’t be able to question where the timeline came from. But upon careful examination, I discovered that the timeline on the DVD reproduced a small factual error from my day-to-day calendar for book one. I suppose it’s possible that they made that exact same silly error when they were creating their timeline, but it isn’t likely. It’s much more likely that they simply printed out the Lexicon’s calendar, ran it by Jo, and then published it in their own format.

But like I said, this is not just an important question for me. It’s an important question for everyone. Think about it. If they did get the timeline from the Lexicon and if Rowling never really gave it a careful look-over, then we can’t treat it as canon. If, however, they used Rowling’s notes as the source, then we CAN treat it as canon. I mean, honestly, I can’t really call something canon if I’m the source. I need to know if I am.

Did you actually write the information that ended up on the Famous Wizard cards? Most of it fits pretty well into the overall story and they do seem to be written in your style. In fact, the material from the cards is now turning up on your website. So how about it? And then what about things like “Flipendo”? For that matter, what about the spells in the films? Some of them do seem a bit dodgy. Did you invent those or did Steve Kloves? And why were new incantations created for the movie in the first place? (Example: “Incendio” to “Lacarnum Inflamari”.)

Jo’s answer: She wrote the information on the “original” famous wizard cards.

Here we go again. I should have been more precise when I wrote this question. Jo’s answer leaves us with quite a few unanswered questions. First of all, Jo doesn’t say that she wrote the information on ALL the famous wizard cards. So which ones did she write? Second, she doesn’t say that she wrote the information on the trading cards. I should have asked that too. I mentioned above how much time I spent writing these questions. I can’t believe I messed up on this one so badly. Oh well.

What house was Myrtle in? What was/is her last name?

Also a fairly straightforward question.

UPDATE: Rowling let us know via Twitter that Myrtle‘s full name is Myrtle Elizabeth Warren and that she was in Ravenclaw.

Are there other Gryffindors in Harry’s year besides the ones we’ve met in the books?

Some of you know that there is a theory in the Lexicon that the forms the Boggart takes during the Defense Against the Dark Arts class in PA indicate that there are two additional Gryffindor girls present. Someone actually asked Jo about this during a chat and her answer certainly made it sound like there were more. However, it’s also possible that she just didn’t have her list with her–probably the list we all saw in Harry Potter and Me–and wanted to make sure before she answered…and then never got around to answering.

UPDATE: During the Emerson/Melissa interview, Jo discussed this. Here’s what she said:

Way before I finished Philosopher’s Stone, when I was just amassing stuff for seven years, between having the idea and publishing the book, I sat down and I created 40 kids who enter Harry’s year. I’m delighted I did it, [because] it was so useful. I got 40 pretty fleshed out characters. I never have to stop and invent someone. I know who’s in the year, I know who’s in which house, I know what their parentage is, and I have a few personal details on all of them. So there were 40. I never consciously thought, That’s it, that’ s all the people in his year, but that’s kind of how it’s worked out. Then I’ve been asked a few times how many people and because numbers are not my strong point, one part of my brain knew 40, and another part of my brain said, Oh, about 600 sounds right. Then people started working it out and saying, “Where are the other kids sleeping?”

The gist of it is that she only created ten Gryffindors in Harry’s year, but she never intentionally decided that they were the only ones. As the series has progressed, however, she’s written everything as if those are the only kids in that year, and so at this point it looks like that’s the end of the matter. If she answers this question for us, perhaps she’ll give a more definitive answer.

Is Theodore Nott the “stringy” Slytherin mentioned in the Thestral class scene? If he isn’t, who is that boy?

Jo’s response: (yes)

I was really surprised when I read Jo’s answer to this one. This was one of Emerson’s questions, and I have to admit that I’d never given it a whole lot of thought before he brought it up. But now we know.

On your website, you used the term “marauders” to refer to James and his friends. Were they actually called that or are you just borrowing the fan term?

Jo’s response: (they called themselves ‘marauders’)

Now this is interesting! What is Jo saying here? Notice that she didn’t say that James and his friends called themselves “The Marauders.” No, she says that they referred to themselves as marauders. It doesn’t say that the group was called that as a title. They are using the term the way we might refer to ourselves as writers or artists. While this should be taken into account in fan fiction — there is no such thing as The Marauders, but there are certainly four boys who would each use the phrase “I’m a marauder.” What is also tells us is that her use of the apostrophe in the title of the map is correct…it’s a map to be used by a marauder–and James and his friends all fit that description–and not a map to be used by The Marauders.

UPDATE: In book six, Ron actually refers to the four as the Marauders, so that term is now canon. We don’t know if the Marauders used that term for themselves or whether Harry, Ron, and Hermione started using it from the title of the map, but the name is now canon.

Were Gideon and Fabian Prewett Molly’s brothers?

Jo’s response: (yes)

Was James a Chaser, as you said in an interview at one point, or a Seeker? Or did he play both positions?

No answer for this one. And the confusion goes on.


Do all young people in the Wizarding World (from Britain) go to Hogwarts? For example, did Stan Shunpike attend Hogwarts? Or is Hogwarts a school just for those who are particularly good at magic while others go into trades without formal schooling?

Jo’s response: (all magical young people are invited, not all attend)

This is another example of an answer that tells us nothing at all. She didn’t actually say if Stan attended, for example. She didn’t give us any hint of how many kids who have magical ability choose not to attend. So we’re left with no answer to the basic question. Is Hogwarts an elite school, attended only by those who aspire to something more than working in a trade? There’s a bit of an inconsistency in Jo’s answer, too. She says they’re no level to magic, that either you have it or you don’t. But some characters are clearly noted as having more magical ability than others. Barty Crouch Sr. for example is described as “powerfully magical.” I think she intends that statement to mean that there’s no minimum level of magic which allows you to go to Hogwarts, below which you have to be a dishwasher in the Leaky Cauldron or something like that.

In fifth year, some students are made Prefects. Are there sixth year and seventh year Prefects as well? Are they simply the same kids or are there new Prefects chosen each year? (We’re resisting the urge to ask how James became Head Boy if he wasn’t made a Prefect in fifth year).

This question may have been answered in book six. Harry is made Quidditch Captain and Hermione and Ron express their delight that he is now of the same status as Prefects. Perhaps the Head Boy and Girl are chosen from Prefects AND Quidditch Captains. We’ll see what Jo says in response.

How old are Mad-Eye Moody and Tonks and what houses were they in?

Yes, I know that we can work out the math to determine when Tonks probably attended Hogwarts. We’ve done so and the results are in the Lexicon. But that’s not definitive. She may have taken a few years off between Hogwarts and starting her Auror training, or may have spent an extra year or two in training. We’re the Lexicon, we get picky about these kinds of details. (No, really?)


You’ve told us that Hermione’s birthday is September 19. When she first came to Hogwarts, then, was she nearly eleven years old or was she nearly twelve? The official timeline says that she was nearly eleven, but we’re all still very unsure about this.

Jo’s response: (she was almost 12)

What are Dumbledore, Draco, and Hermione’s wands made of and what are their cores?

Jo’s partial answer (Hermione’s wand core is dragon heartstring)

UPDATE: Thanks to Deathly Hallows, we know that Dumbledore‘s wand was the Elder Wand and Draco’s wand was hawthorn with a unicorn tail hair.

Is there a living heir of Gryffindor? The books only mention an heir of Slytherin. What about Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff?

No answer for this one either. For some reason, it doesn’t seem like a very important question anymore.

Table of Contents



In September of 2004, I wrote a list of questions which I wanted Rowling to answer. I did so after being given permission by Neil Blair, Rowling's solicitor. These weren't plot questions which would have spoiled future books but rather factual details which hadn't been given in the books. I sent a copy of the letter over to Emerson Spartz of MuggleNet to give him a chance to comment and he sent the list back with several added questions. Once the list was finalized, I sent to questions on the Blair. Then we waited.

Eventually, a number of the questions were answered by Rowling on her website. Several others were answered in the next two books. One or two remain unanswered to this day.

One question I asked was for details about Dumbledore's wand. She didn't answer this one, which makes sense since, as it turned out, Dumbledore carried the Elder Wand which was a rather important plot point. However, I found it a humorous that Rowling stated after Deathly Hallows was published that she was surprised that no one had ever asked her about that wand. Ah, but we did, Jo, we did! You just never answered us.

The essay above was written in July of 2005 as a way of sharing the answers to the questions, which had been posted on the Lexicon for months as we waited for the reply.

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