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Just Charming: Tapping into the Latin Magic of Harry Potter
By Ginny Lindzey, TCA Editor and Clint Hagen, St. Andrew's Episcopal School of Amarillo
The magic of Harry Potter has swept the nation. Students and adults of all ages are reading the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) and loving them. Children can be seen with fake lightning bolt scars on their foreheads, broomsticks lovingly labeled Nimbus 2000, and wands for working charms.
The Harry Potter novels are appealing on many levels, and one level most certainly is this fascinating use of words-most of them Latin-for working magic. As adults, we are fully aware the words do have a magic of their own. Most of us Latin teachers have always found words and their derivatives fascinating. But somewhere between childhood and adulthood students lose that fascination with words. Reading becomes drudgery; lists of vocabulary become dull and tiresome.
Why not take advantage of this very positive reading craze, this love for Harry Potter? Want to attract more elementary and middle school students to your Latin program? Why not hold an after school meeting on the Latin in Harry Potter!
Let's explore the Latin and pseudo-Latin words as well as classical names that can be found in the Harry Potter books. In some instances author J.K. Rowling has used real Latin, in other places she has used what we will call here pseudo-Latin-creating words of her own, perfectly within her rights as an author of fiction. New words come into the English language every day; perhaps looking at the creation of words in another language may make it easier to look at words in English, their derivatives and origins.
First, let's look at the names of some of the characters. Some names have Latin/Roman origins, some from mythology. If nothing else, it is clear that Rowling has great fun in naming characters and authors of books.
Next, let's look at the Latin and pseudo-Latin used in charms and spells (with the help of a wizard's or witch's wand).
Finally, let's look at other Latin or classical references in the books.
The fact remains that Latin and the classics have a very, very long history. That words hold magic is an ancient idea, one demonstrated in the importance given to words in formulaic prayers at ancient Roman ceremonies, in the power held in knowing the true name of a city, or in the use of defixiones or curse tablets.
Words still hold a special kind of magic and power. The Harry Potter books can act as a delightful and entertaining springboard to capture that magic for young people and shape it into a lifelong love and respect for the power of words and language and books.
* * *
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban are published in the United States by Scholastic Press, which has an informative and educational (not to mention entertaining) website for Harry Potter at http://www.scholastic.com/harrypotter
Ways to Use Harry Potter in the Latin Classroom
Activity 1: Have students who have read or are reading the books make lists of terms that have Latin roots or classical origins. (You might do this in conjunction with an reading or communicative arts teacher). Make it a game to see which students can come up with the most classical terms, and give extra credit for ones we didn't even list here.
Activity 2: Give students the list of Latin words in Harry Potter and challenge them to explain what the significance of these terms are. For instance, why is Rubeus an appropriate name for Hagrid? You could do this activity using our list, or you could use the lists the students came up with in Activity 1.
Activity 3: If you could create a magical spell, what would it do? What equipment would be necessary? Most importantly, what Latin (or pseudo-Latin) phrase would be spoken to make the spell work?
July 30 , 2001
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