We know that this Tuesday was the first of November, since Harry’s parents had been killed the night before and that was October 31, so November 1 was a Tuesday. Ten years later, the day before Harry’s birthday was a Monday, according to PS3, which means that his birthday, July 31, was a Tuesday. Now there is no way that those two days can both be Tuesdays using our calendar. It isn’t mathematically possible.
-- from the essay "Timeline Facts and Questions", August 23, 2003
I recently received two comments on two different entries in the Lexicon which brought up the same problem: the real world calendar doesn’t always agree with the days and dates in the books.
I’m sure some of you are saying “Of course, we know that, this has been discussed in fandom for years and years.” That’s because you’ve been in fandom long enough to realize that. A lot of people, however, are just coming into fandom or haven’t ever paid close enough attention to the details in the Harry Potter books to realize the discrepancies. Now they see a problem — for example when the newsreader in the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone says that Bonfire Night is next week, but he says this on Tuesday the 1st of November, which would make November 5th the Saturday of the same week — and wonder if anyone else has ever noticed this.
The answer is yes, we have. And there are a lot of such issues in the books, so many that finding them is kind of like finding “hidden Mickeys” at Disneyland. It’s clear that Rowling has made no effort to correlate real world calendars with her stories, and that’s okay. After all, the Harry Potter universe is not ours, it’s a fantasy reality. There’s no requirement that the calendar of the stories has to match that of our reality. It’s a fantasy. Just run with it.
Except that when I’m working on the timeline, I sometimes have to try to make things fit anyway. If I’m going to place events in a logical sequence, I have to make some assumptions and guesses, and those assumptions and guesses have to come from somewhere. I use the real world calendar for that. I know that things are never going to actually fit, but I have to do the best I can. I sometimes have to assume dates and times just so the timeline will put things in the proper order. The timeline is programmed to look at the structured data to figure out the correct sequence of events.
So I use whatever real world information I can find to make those assumptions and enter my best guesses into the structured data for an event. For example, I find out what time the sun set on a particular day and if the event happened after it was dark, I’ll guess a logical time after it. I’ll guess how long it took for something to happen and then put an approximate time on the next event to keep things in the correct order. Take a look at the events for the Battle of Hogwarts, as a great example. No times were given for any of the events from jumping off the dragon to appearing in Hogsmeade to infiltrating Hogwarts and so on. So I checked what time the sun set in various parts of Britain on that day and then worked my way though the text of the chapters, looking for any reference that might help me guess the times for subsequent events all the way through to sunrise the next day, which is when Voldemort was killed. All of those times were entered into the structured data for the events, which is why you will see them on the timeline in the correct order.
Will users see those times? Probably not. Sometimes I’ll add details into the Timeline Notes, but most of the time this information is hidden. After all, it’s not canon — it’s assumptions. Since we know that Rowling was making no effort to match up to real world dates and times, we can’t figure that she checked things like sunset times. But if I didn’t add those details behind the scenes, the timeline programming would have no way of properly ordering events.
I mentioned that I had two different comments that spurred this blog entry. One of them specifically mentioned the Bonfire Night problem. The other noted that I had listed March as the timeframe for the capture of the Trio by Snatchers and the imprisonment in and subsequent escape from Malfoy Manor, while Narcissa clearly states that Malfoy in home for the Easter holidays. Easter in 1998 was on April 12, so the two-week Easter holidays would have been in April, not March.
The commentor was correct. This was a dilemma. The books states that Ron finally guessed the correct password for Potterwatch in March, but the incident at Malfoy Manor was during the Easter holidays. I checked with my British editors and they told me that in “real world” 1998, the Easter holidays were from April 6 though April 17. So how can we make this all work out?
I decided that, in spite of the real world school schedule, Hogwarts must have had their Easter holidays a week earlier, starting on March 29. That way Ron could figure out the password on March 29, 30, or 31, at which time Malfoy would already be at Malfoy Manor since his holiday break would have already started. So I went through the sequence of events and guessed times for everything. Now that series of events appear in the correct order. I did add some notes to the entries explaining the reasons for the dates chosen.
If you’d like to read more about the problem of days, dates, and times in the Potter books, check out these pages:
The Lexicon's homepage for calendars and timelines
The Lexicon's homepage for the Day-by-Day Calendars of the books