Podcast Question of the Week: Episode 175

Mr. Ollivander has us feeling “curious. Very curious.”

In this chapter, Harry reflects on his first encounter with Ollivander, noting that “he had been unsure, when they first met, of how much he liked Ollivander. Even now, having been tortured and imprisoned by Voldemort, the idea of the Dark wizard in possession of this wand seemed to enthrall him as much as it repulsed him.” This impression of Ollivander was poised to be recalled since his first appearance in Sorcerer’s/Philosopher’s Stone. Why is this aspect of his character recalled in this moment? What is the significance of this to Ollivander’s character and to Harry’s journey?

  • Ollivander has a deep passion for wandlore. He is devoted to finding the perfect match of wand and wizard, wood and core. To him, the idea of the ancient Deathstick, the Elder Wand, the most potent wand in existence in the hands of He Who Must Not Be Named, an exhilarating concept because of the raw, utter power of the two combined. The most powerful wand with the most skilled wizard. Terrifying perfection.
    I think that this is just a reminder of his knowledge and devotion his craft. Ollivander’s awe doesn’t take sides, even when he has been tortured to a disgusting extent by the warlock in question.

    • DoraNympha

      This! If he was asked whether he’d want Voldemort in possession of the Elder Wand, I’d bet he’d say no. However, if we asked if the idea of it is an interesting one to consider, from a wandlore perspective, he’d say yes. Of course it’s interesting, as interesting as Dumbledore or an untrained child wizard/witch or, say, a Veela being its master. The best HP theories are the ones such as what if a Dementor swallowed a Horcrux or last week’s question of the week about the sword. It’s not an exactly pleasant subject, Horcruxes are as Dark as it gets, but super fascinating to think about! Hang on, last week we did exactly what Ollivander did in this chapter: ‘what if Voldemort made a Horcrux out of the sword? Discuss.’ We don’t want that to happen but it’s great to explore the idea. Formidable. Or, like you said, “terrifying perfection”. Wow, I’m awed at the theory myself. And you’re absolutely right, a wandmaker has to be impartial. I’ll defend Ollivander to the grave, I’d go as far as to say he should have been given the Elder Wand in the end, I think it would have been in safe hands with him and his lineage, and the family deserves it. (Whether they’d be masters of it or not if Harry willingly gifts them the wand.)

      • HowAmIGoingToTranslateThis

        great contribution, these ideas and theories are also some of my favourite things to do as a HP fan. Take the facts and try to think of something that get’s your imagination to it’s full capacity.
        I don’t agree with you on giving Ollivander the Elder wand, though. Because everyone who is known to have it would be the target of people who want to own the Elter wand, I’d suggest it should either be locked away in a secret location or the secret of who has it should be hidden with a Fidelius Charm or the like. No more murdering for the ultimate weapon.

        • DoraNympha

          Thank you! And I see the risk, but Ollivander and his family doesn’t strike me as prone to being foolish owners of the Wand. Its history has long periods of time when it disappeared, so I think it is very possible to be an unboastful owner of it. It could be done in secret, too. Or the Ollivander family could just be curators of the Wand rather than masters of it. (And I never believed that the mastership ends with Harry, given he becomes an Auror so almost certainly Disarmed by opponents sometimes and woops there goes the Elder Wand, whereas if it was Ollivander’s, he’s got less of a probablility of being Disarmed by someone.) Maybe Ollivander could mend broken wands if he had the Elder Wand, something that is sadly impossible otherwise. But in any case, I think he’s wise and learned in wandlore enough to treat the Elder Wand with the respect and cautiousness it requires. The only really risky aspect of this I can imagine is rivalry between wandmakers. If an Ollivander got too proud, letting it slip that they own the Elder Wand while boasting about being better at other wandmakers, whether of real conviction or just for business, that would start up strife for the Wand again and who knows where that would end. It does take someone wise like Dumbledore to be a safe master of the Elder Wand, maybe Ollivander could live up to it? It’s kind of a nice way to close the story, to place it back into Dumbledore’s tomb, but I agree with you in that it should still bear a Fidelius Charm on it too, so if anyone tries to steal it, they won’t be able to find it.

      • No, This! If we are asked if we’d want Voldemort in possession of the a Horcruxified Sword, I’d bet we’d say no. However, if we asked if the idea of it is an interesting one to consider, from a magical theory perspective, we’d say yes.

        • DoraNympha

          Ohh and you know what, I read through the Battle of Hogwarts chapters this morning (best time, when you can’t sleep so the sun comes up just when it does in the story – yes I’m sleepy and have cried more times than there have been hours in the day—) and I realised Dumbledore does something like this all the time: he speaks about serious and often grim subjects and yet we often read stuff like “Dumbledore’s tone was conversational; he might have been asking for a weather forecast.” (Bloomsbury, p.746) And Harry pulls himself together later too, reminding himself to be like Dumbledore, get a grip and get on with what must be done – but it doesn’t mean Dumbledore’s impassive or unfeeling. (Although, we do feel unsure about him a lot because he’s a bit hard to read because of this.)

  • DoraNympha

    Good question. I’ve always felt that this kind of doubt about Ollivander is representative of most Ravenclaws, too. (I think I may have already mentioned this in a comment a few weeks ago too)

    Ravenclaws are too individualistic and/or obsessed with their own thing, such as wandlore, not ignoring the ugly side of it, to just mindlessly ride into battle screaming “for Harry!”, and it seems that anyone who isn’t like that, Harry (and thus the reader) wonders whether he likes or trusts them, really.

    Clearly, Ollivander is on Harry’s side, he’s not a fan of Voldemort, but he is first and foremost a wandmaker, and he’s a Ravenclaw, so of course he’ll consider the idea of Voldemort in possession of the Elder Wand, as an academic, kind of like how when Slughorn is asked about Horcruxes and he entertains the idea of theorizing and hypothetical conversations, quite enthusiastically. They’re discussing something as vile as soul-splitting by murder but he’s quite happy to theorize, as an academic, and it’s fine. I really don’t think there is any reason to doubt Ollivander, not that Harry doubts his allegience, just is kind of not sure how much he likes him, because I really don’t think there’s anything wrong with toying with ideas. You also have to detach yourself from sentimentality to consider some theory anyway, otherwise scientists would be crying into petri dishes from the thought of what the viruses they’re examining can do and how many people die from them.

    But really, other than the always nice (but also Gryff-Raven Hatstall) Flitwick, and Luna, who seems to take it as evident that she’ll be there to fight without being particularly heroic and showoffy about it but nonetheless brave, Ravenclaw characters seem to have this doubt about them. We see the whole story from a Gryffindor point of view, so it’s almost like readers are asked to doubt Ravenclaws but to me, as a Ravenclaw myself, it just seems the sensible way to live, to think first and act second, (unless intuition is your thing, which can also be a good guide and is also quite Ravenclaw, I think) so it seems sensible to second-guess, for the whole of Ravenclaw not to stay as one for the battle, like Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors did, to let everyone make their own minds up as they wish. Yet, it’s not just Ollivander we’re made to feel unsure about: Cho, Marietta, Lockhart, Trelawney, Helena Ravenclaw, etc. they may be on Harry’s side, or they’re not particularly evil or anything, or they do help, like Ollivander now, having endured more than a year in the cellar and multiple torture sessions, AND YET you’re not sure about them simply because they are not blindly fighting for Harry and against Voldemort, they might stall information or really consider every outcome, however horrible. Marietta is inproportionately shamed for one bad move, Helena has to be convinced to help, etc. So for example, I think stuff like choosing not to stay for the battle is not cowardly or wrong if you know you’re really not good at duelling – meanwhile, Gryffindors want to stay, even the little ones, and it feels like we’re supposed to celebrate that while being on the fence about Ravenclaws. BUT, disclaimer: this is just something I sometimes feel while reading the books, and it’s especially apparent during this conversation with Ollivander, when Harry spells it out to himself that he’s not sure he likes this guy. Ollivander’s been so incredibly brave, yet… it’s not enough for Harry because he entertains the hypothetical idea of Voldemort and the Endler Wand for a second? If Ollivander got sentimental about wands, he would refuse to sell wands for people with the potential to do evil, the whole point of his field is impartiality, he gave Harry Potter his wand but he gave Bellatrix hers too. He equiped everyone in the past, what, 70 years, with their weapons, it doesn’t make Ollivander a bad person if his wands are used to do evil.

    So to me, Ollivander saying Voldemort did terrible but great things or taking a second to muse over the idea of Voldemort having the Elder Wand is no different than Wood skirting over recently petrified people insisting that you can’t cancel quidditch. Or Slughorn being willing to discuss Horcruxes. It’s just what they do, this stuff is their lives, of course they get fascinated by even the terrible parts of it. it doesn’t mean they’re dubious personalities. But we see everything through Harry, so that’s what we’re asked to feel. As for why this is brought back, what it does to Harry’s journey, I don’t really know but maybe it’s a reminder of what Sirius said, that the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters, and perhaps Ollivander brings this back to Harry?

  • Arthur Dent

    For me, Ollivander resembles the scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project. He is so focused on the new knowledge and understanding of wandlore that the ultimate wand/wizard combination could provide that he doesn’t think of the consequences.

    • ‘The Dark Lord, in in possession of the Elder Wand would be, I admit… formidable’.
      To me it sounds like he is scared of the idea, but his awe is overdoing his fear.

    • Antipodean Opaleye

      This is exactly what I thought of when I tried to compare Ollivander to the muggle world. He’s intrigued by the possibilities of a wizard as powerful as Voldemort who won’t hesitate to use his power as master of the elder wand for academic reasons. I think that he has thought about the potential power without dwelling on the ramifications.

  • Silverdoe25

    Ollivander strikes me as someone who might be described as being somewhere on the autism spectrum. He completely and thoroughly is absorbed in his specialty, wands and wand lore, and doesn’t really relate too well to any particular people. As an educator, I often see children like this who are very intelligent, but very focused on one area of interest to the exclusion of other things and to making or forming relationships with friends.

    • Crimson Phoenix

      I definitely agree with your comment and I want to expand a little. I think Ollivander would be on the extremely high functioning end of the spectrum but I wanted to pull out my handy-dandy DSM-5 to be completely sure. Background: I’m currently studying to become a therapist.

      So the two main diagnostic criteria are as follows:
      “Persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, as manifested by…deficits in social and emotional reciprocity…deficits in nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction…and deficits in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships.”

      “Restricted repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities manifested by at least two of the following…stereotyped or repetitive movements, use of objects, or speech…insistence on sameness, inflexible adherence to routines, or ritualized patterns of verbal or nonverbal behavior…highly restricted, fixated interests that are abnormal in intensity or focus…and hyper-or hyporeactivity to sensory input or unusually interested in sensory aspects of the environment.”

      The severity levels are mild, moderate, and severe.

      We can make a case for the first of the criteria for Ollivander because he is not shown to have any relationships (though it is not known if this is necessarily due to lack of interest in them) but by not having relationships with other people, it is clear that he either has problems developing or maintaining social relationships. The second of the criteria is a little more clear cut. He has a highly restricted and repetitive interest: wandlore, on which he is intensely focused. And I think we can speculate that he may be interested in sensory aspects of his environment (woodwork and collecting unicorn hair, phoenix feathers, and dragon heartstrings). Again, as he is able to function in wizarding society without supports in place, I’d place him at the mild end (high functioning) of the spectrum. Your comment was also very interesting to me because I have many friends and relatives on the spectrum all ranging from mild to severe so it was fun to see where a favorite character of mine fell in relation to them.

      • Silverdoe25

        My daughter is working on her doctorate in psychology as well! She would love your response.

  • Have a biscuit, Lupin

    I think Jo uses Ollivander well here to establish the Elder Wand as a really credible threat. So far we’ve only heard about the Elder wand from Xeno and the tales of Beedle the Bard as a semi-mythical object, but Ollivander’s awe confirms for the reader that not only is the Elder Wand real, the tales of its power are also true. We believe that the Elder Wand is going to be a big treat because Ollivander’s reaction is so rooted in his character.

  • DisKid

    Ollivander understands wands better than most people. He has a deep fascination with them. He knows it would be very dangerous for the wizarding world for Voldemort to have the Elder Wand, but at the same time, his fascination can’t help but imagine all the “terrible, but great” things Voldemort would be able to do with the wand. More than many wizards who would ever come into possession of the wand, that’s for sure. He could turn the world so dark, nobody can possibly imagine it. I find myself imagine it with fear, but fascination as well. He probably has a fantasy, in his head, of somebody as powerful as Voldemort getting possession of the wand and performing great things that are better for the world. Things that were seemingly impossible with any other wand. One example is the Elder Wand repairing Harry’s broken wand. That’s a task no other wand can do. Imagine what a wizard with extraordinary magical powers would be able to do with such a powerful wand. Even I have to admit that’s a fascinating thought, but perhaps that’s too much power even for a good wizard. All the more reason why we can’t let Voldemort have it.

  • WhoDoYouKnowWho’sLostAButtock?

    Ollivander is the link between Harry and his wand. He shapes Harry’s views from the initial purchase of his wand. So in a wider sense, he is part of the formative link between Harry and his views on power, if we take a wizard’s wand to be their source of power.

    Ollivander makes Harry uncomfortable because Ollivander allies himself with wands, wandlore, their history and creation. He does NOT ally himself with the acts committed by the wands, either good or bad. In a sense then Ollivander is a representation of power itself, and a reminder of the nebulous nature of it. This is perfect timing for Harry to recall this, since he is now in a delicate situation — Hallows or Horcruxes?

    He’s made his decision to pursue the Horcruxes, but Harry has been and will continue to be forced to come face to face with his own views on power and how much he is willing to give for power. Ollivander is the perfect reminder of that struggle, right here at this moment. Harry is reminded that yes, power is enticing, fascinating, magnetic, but it has a dark side, and for someone like Harry, not acknowledging that is dangerous in itself. He’s not okay with that kind of moral relativism. But as someone who is going to be the Master of the Hallows by the end of the book, who will have to make some decisions regarding how to use them, and who will have to face his own views of Dumbledore once he understands Dumbledore’s own struggle with the Hallows, he needs to face up to this moment of discomfort right now. It’s a key reminder both for Harry and the reader.

    • Soc.forRescueofVanishedAnimals

      Great point about Harry not being okay with moral relativism. I was thinking that in this situation, Harry is a lot like his father, James, in his aversion to the Dark Arts. I don’t think Ollivander is at all interested in participating in the Dark Arts, but he seems to have a theoretical interest in all kinds of magic that might be performed by wands and in the range of power wands can exhibit. But Harry doesn’t have the kind of mind that takes an interest in knowledge for the sake of knowledge. And just like his father, he instinctively dislikes people who show any fascination with the Dark Arts, like Snape and Draco.

      • WhoDoYouKnowWho’sLostAButtock?

        Agreed. I think Ollivander must have been a Ravenclaw, with that ability to focus in an almost disinterested way, not on the moral consequences of the wand owner’s actions, but on the more academic interest of wands themselves, their powers, etc.

        • PuffNProud

          I was thinking along the same lines at first, with Ollivander being a Ravenclaw and focused on the technicality and complexity of the magic that could be performed and the power one might have as a result. But then I thought that perhaps this is another lesson about love. A lesson that power without love, empathy, and a sense of morality is not the right path.
          Perhaps Ollivander is here, at this point in the story, to help confirm to Harry how important his choice of Horcruxes over Hallows was. That Ollivander, Ron, and others are still fascinated and drawn to the power of the wand despite its bloody history could mean that anyone would be tempted to have it, even perhaps Harry. And Ollivander, here, affirms for Harry the choice he made was right.

        • No, thats actually canon, Pottermore approved.

          • WhoDoYouKnowWho’sLostAButtock?

            Hey, cool! Called it right!

    • thequeerweasleycousin

      I really really like the idea of Ollivander as a representation of power. That’s brilliant.

      • WhoDoYouKnowWho’sLostAButtock?

        Thanks! I also have always loved Ollivander’s name. With a Germanic touch it literally sounds like / parallels “all wands.” (German alle, with Germanic pronunciation of wand). Which tells you everything you need to know about him: ALL wands. Not just the good ones.

  • Soc.forRescueofVanishedAnimals

    This exchange between Harry and Ollivander continues the theme of obsession that has been in play since Harry learned about the Deathly Hallows. Ollivander is a man obsessed — with wandlore and his own personal quest to discover the properties of the perfect wand. As JKR writes of Mr. Ollivander on Pottermore, he “from his earliest days conceived a single-minded, even fanatical, determination in his pursuit of the ideal wand.” This obsession (or in Mr. Ollivander’s preferred term, “vision”) is why he is so enthralled by the idea of Voldemort in possession of the Elder Wand. I believe his fascination is purely theoretical, an academic curiosity about what kinds of immensely powerful magic this wand-wizard combination might produce, rather than tainted by any dark intent or sympathy for Voldemort’s cause. Yet for Harry, seeing a good person like Ollivander succumb to an obsession in this way–being in awe of the villain who tortured him–confirms his choice to abandon his own obsession with the Hallows and pursue the more clearly noble goal of destroying Horcruxes.

    This interaction with Ollivander, and the memory of their first interaction, also reinforces for Harry that wands not only possess the power to perform magic but also in the power to shape their owner’s character and potentially change them, in good or bad ways. The sentience Ollivander ascribes to wands, and their ability to teach wizards and share a “mutual quest for experience,” shows how a wand can potentially draw out and reinforce the dark aspects of a person’s nature. In contrast, the humble, natural power that Harry felt as he dug Dobby’s grave with his own hands, and the uncorrupted purity of his motives in that act, is what drew him to all of the important realizations that he has in this chapter, and the decisions he makes about what direction his journey should take. (The dubious qualities of wands are also emphasized in the conversation the trio has with Griphook about the goblin-wizard wand controversy.) Harry first learned about the dangerous aspect of wands from Ollivander himself, when Ollivander told him that his wand’s core-twin murdered his parents and gave him his scar and also predicted that Harry was destined to do “great” things with his wand. This was Harry’s first lesson in the dark side of magic and probably the first time since learning that he was a wizard that he felt scared by that idea. The memory of those feelings further solidifies Harry’s belief that Dumbledore did not want him to seek the Elder Wand.

    [Mr. Ollivander is one of my favorite characters! I’m so glad that I finally got in sync with the podcast again and could contribute something to this discussion.]

  • IlvermornyAlumna (RoseLumos)

    Thinking about this question, I realized that Ollivander is a lot like us, the fans of the series. He doesn’t like to see Voldemort win, just like how we don’t like to see our favorite characters die. But we all love the mystery and the puzzles that are left for us to solve. We don’t like Voldemort and his decisions (although we love how well his character is written) but we still talk about Voldemort, analyzing every horrible decision he made from making the Horcruxes to sending his Death Eaters to kill and torture innocent people. Ollivander can step out his situation to see the bigger picture, and like us as the readers, he is interested to see how the wands work and what the outcome of the war will be. So, could Ollivander represent the obsessive fans? We don’t take pleasure in seeing bad things happen to good people, but we are still excited to see what will happen. The last part of the PQOTW is how Ollivander related to Harry’s journey, and I think he is just like us, interested to see what the end will bring.

    • Yes, but to us, this is a fictional world. Olli is looking out on a very real world. We don’t analyse modern-day extremists this way.

      • IlvermornyAlumna (RoseLumos)

        To be fair, there are a lot of people who do. Historians, politicians, government advisers, war generals. They may have an agenda, but if they are good at their job they can step out of their personal bias to see the bigger picture.

        • Recretionaly? Excited to find out where they’ll drop their next atom bomb, who next they’reprepared to kill?

          • IlvermornyAlumna (RoseLumos)

            Do you really think that Ollivander is that excited? No, I think he likes the puzzle and the mystery. He fears Voldemort but he is interested in what will come next. In this case, interested isn’t the same as excited. I’m interested in the war in Syria. I don’t want anyone else to die or suffer, but I am interested to see how it will be resolved.

          • No, I think that you inadvertently implied that Ollivander was excited.

      • thequeerweasleycousin

        There are many people fascinated about real-world villains, even though if they think about it, they wouldn’t want them to rule their neighborhood. It’s power and recklessness and streching the limits of what is imaginable, exploring the unknown, breaking every taboo, being feared and worshipped and excepitonal. For many people that’s exciting to think about. To a certain degree, I think it’s even normal.

    • thequeerweasleycousin

      I don’t think it’s about something as specific as obsessed fans, but more about a general fascination for power and evil. Many stories work so well because they present us a villain, a truly evil character, that repulses and fascinates at the same time. And Ollivander is a personification of this ambivalence: intellectually he is fascinated by the idea while rationally he knows it’s horrible and wrong. He’s the confession that this feeling exists, and at thee same time a warning not to give in and live according to it, because it’s grotesque.

  • Swedesflyfords

    Ollivander is really fascinated with power, something that surely has developed during his many years of working with wands, I believe that the line between what is good and bad gets a bit fussy when you’re only focusing on what a wand was able to do. Voldemort has done many great (terrible..yes.. but great) things with a wand and that is Ollivanders main focus.

    Harry on the other hand is disgusted by people like him (and old Sluggy for that matter.) They’re the ones who doesn’t like to take a stand and are more comfortable in the outlines of a conflict just to later on join the winning side. Ollivander simply gave Voldemort information about the Elderwand, knowing what it could do, and what he would do with it. I’m not saying what he was glad to do it, but “we would have died rather that betray our friends” probably stuck with Harry pretty good.

    (Also you could argue that it has to do what Jo has said on being suspicious of people who are interested of power.)

  • Crimson Phoenix

    From the context of the story arc, I think it is interesting that Harry recalls his first memory of Ollivander at the end of the series. Especially considering we saw Ollivander in the fourth book and Harry flashes back to Ollivander explaining to him the twin cores. This scene also unnerves Harry a bit. Its as if Ollivander has come around at precarious points in Harry’s life. Besides Hagrid, he is first to usher Harry into the magical world as he bestows upon him the thing that sets him apart from muggles. Second, he makes an appearance at the beginning of a tournament that will ultimately return Lord Voldemort to full power. Finally he is seen again at the precipice of the most important decision Harry will make in the series, Hallows or Horcruxes? Also this time, we see him confirming what Harry had suspected and bringing Ron and Hermione fully around to the idea of a world with Hallows as well. He has such an even pacing in the books (first, middle, last) and he left such an impression on young new wizard Harry that it makes a lot of sense for Harry to recall his and Ollivander’s meeting so vividly.

  • dont_blink_harry

    I also agree that Ollivander had an obsession with wand lore. I think that if he was so interested in how wands chose their owners, he would have mentioned to someone the connection between Harry’s and Voldemort’s wands. That connection to the wand owners would have been something very fascinating to anyone. It should also have been a red flag in Ollivander’s mind. He should have mentioned this to Dumbledore the day he sold Harry his wand. Ollivander’s actions show that he was more interested in his own obsession than the safety of the wizarding world.

    • Arthur Dent

      But that’s exactly what he did. In Goblet of Fire, when Harry tells Dumbledore what happened in the graveyard, Dumbledore mentions that “Mr. Ollivander wrote to tell me you had bought the second wand, the moment you left his shop four years ago.”