Podcast Question of the Week – Episode 94

Sometimes even the smallest detail can offer a wealth of theory, and this week’s PQotW is just one of these details!

In this chapter, as Harry struggles to bring aid to his injured owl, Professor Binns grants his leave by addressing him as “Perkins.” This seemingly random name is shared by Arthur Weasley’s co-worker. Just what similarity if any does Harry share with Arthur’s cube-mate, and WHAT WORLD is Professor Binns in, that he makes this naming blunder? After all, this is Harry Potter we’re talking about!

Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and tune in to episode 94 to see if your ideas are discussed on the show!

  • That is a very astute observation, but perhaps it has nothing to do with Arthur’s co-worker at all. What if Binns lost the ability to learn new names when he died, so he just reuses names from the last class he ever had? What if he doesn’t realize this is even a new class and just wants to know why Perkins dyed his hair and when he got rid of that horrible wart?

    I think a bigger question is what’s going to happen in 100 or 200 years when Binns is still teaching and has no idea about any “recent” history? Will Hogwarts students never learn about the battle at Hogwarts or Voldemort at all? It would be like history teachers today never mentioning the world wars. Not to say that students shouldn’t study the goblin rebellions, but recent history is, perhaps, the most important part of history in regards to making decisions about the current world.

    • Casey L.

      I think, knowing the size of the wizarding community in England, “Perkins” definitely has something to do with Arthur’s colleague, but other than that, I think you’re right. According to Pottermore, a ghost’s “knowledge and outlook remains at the level it attained during life.” That would suggest Binns is incapable of learning and wouldn’t be able to teach anything that happened following his death to his students. At some point, it appears it will be necessary for a future headmaster or headmistress to either 1 – replace him or 2 – hire someone to teach “modern” magical history. Depending on when he died, it seems that could cover over 40 years by now.

      All that being said, Binns doesn’t seem to follow the rules the other ghosts we see at Hogwarts do. They seem perfectly capable of learning new students’ names and communicating with them and recognizing them for who they are, so what makes him different? I know I’m venturing outside the Potter universe here, but in shows/books on ghosts here in the muggle world, they talk about “residual” versus “intelligent” ghosts. Do these different forms of ghosts exist in the magical world? In this scenario, it seems the house ghosts – Nearly Headless Nick, the Fat Friar, the Gray Lady and the Bloody Baron – would be examples of intelligent ghosts, while Binns would appear to be closer to a residual one, although he does occasionally display more intelligent interaction, as when he explains the Chamber of Secrets in Book 2.

      • He certainly isn’t quite like the other ghosts. I think it has to be centred around the fact that he didn’t realize he died. Many of the other ghosts seem focused on the fact that they died: the Baron with his chains, Nick with his head, and Myrtle with her moaning. I think it has to be this that keeps him from truly learning about and interacting with the world as a ghost. If he accepts the fact that he teaches “Harry Potter” and not “Perkins,” then he might have to start questioning other things, like why papers sometimes fall out of his hand, and why he doesn’t have to open doors to walk through them anymore, which might mean that he’s dead and shouldn’t actually be teaching anymore–which definitely isn’t the case, so that boy with the messy hair has to be Perkins.
        Basically what I’m saying is that I’m amending my previous statement. It probably isn’t that he’s unable to learn the names, but that he’s refusing to learn them, if on a subconscious level.

        • Casey L.

          My first thought was that Binns has to know he’s dead, because ghosts are supposed to have the choice of staying in the living world or moving on, but after thinking about it some more, I think you’re right.

          The way I imagine it comes from what happens to Harry when Voldemort “kills” him in Deathly Hallows. He ends up in a place that reminds him of King’s Cross, and Dumbledore is there to talk to him and at that point, he has the choice of going back or going “on.” If, when a witch or wizard dies, they go to their own version of King’s Cross, I think that must be when they decide whether or not to become a ghost. If Binns went to sleep and woke up at the station, maybe something in him said, “Hey, I’ve got a class to teach,” and he then “woke up” at Hogwarts and went on his way, imagining it as some funny dream and not for what it really was. In this case, he could have made the choice without realizing it.

          If this is the case, though, I feel sorry for him, because unlike Harry, he apparently didn’t have anybody like Dumbledore to realize he might need help and meet him and tell him it was okay to get on the train, or whatever it would have been in his mind, and moved on.

          • I’ve been thinking about that exact scenerio! He probably looked around the train station (it seems logical that either King’s Cross or Hogsmeade station would be his in-between place) thought, ‘what in the world am I doing here? The term’s not over yet!’ and became a ghost. It is pretty sad, because he doesn’t seem too enthusiastic about teaching. It always just seems automatic to him.

            Do you think he would have made the same decision if his choice had been more conscious? Also, do you think a ghost in the HP universe can move on once they decide too? If, once Hogwarts no longer exists and is just a pile of rubble under a lake, the Hogwarts ghosts can finally leave the Earth? Or are they stuck there forever?

          • Casey L.

            I’m guessing the Harry Potter ghosts don’t get a second chance, or at least if they do, not enough time has passed since their deaths for it to happen. The only canon evidence I can think of to base that on is Nick’s conversation with Harry at the end of this book where he almost seems to regret being a ghost, he is described as speaking “miserably” and wondering if he should have passed on. It sounds to me like he has regrets about his choice. My gut instinct is that once that choice is made, it’s for a very, very long time, if not permanently, or at least until Hogwarts is that pile of rubbish at the bottom of the lake. It seems like a harsh fate, doesn’t it?

            As for Binns, I’ve been thinking about this, and I’d like to think he would have gone on if he fully realized he was dead, but I don’t think we know enough about him to know for certain. In a way, this ties into the question from last week, about Luna’s faith versus Hermione’s rationality. If Binns is so rational he doesn’t believe there is anything to go on for, he might have stayed anyway. If he has enough faith that there is something else afterwards, he would have moved on.

          • suprememugwump

            I agree with Casey L. that the choice to become a ghost is probably permanent. But you seem to be implying that Hogwarts ghosts are tied to Hogwarts as a physical place. I don’t think that’s true. Myrtle haunted Olive Hornby (the girl who made fun of her) when she became a ghost, but then decided to come back to Hogwarts when Olive basically got a restraining order.
            As for whether Binns would have made the same choice if he was conscious, I think he would have. For him, teaching seems to have become a part of his existence, as normal as walking. He seems so bewildered and confused by any change to his routine that I feel like he would have just found the fact he was dead tiresome and wanted to keep going with his routine.

          • I’m not saying they’re physically tied to Hogwarts, but, in popular legend, when a ghost is haunting a place it usually has some sort of task to carry out. I think the ghosts might be tied to Earth because of these tasks (and the tasks are tied to Hogwarts). Nearly-Headless Nick, the Grey Lady, and the Bloody Baron* all came to their horrible ends because of failings to do with the traits of their houses. Nearly Headless Nick was reckless and a coward, the Grey Lady coveted knowledge so much that she would abandon her family and life to be “the smartest”, and the Bloody Baron used his cunning and resourcefulness to literally hunt a girl down and–when he couldn’t accept failure–killed her.
            It seems to fit with popular legend that these ghosts, having chosen to stay behind, would have a task in helping the students of their houses make better choices about bravery, wisdom, and ambition. However, if a ghost is a ghost “forever” these house ghosts lose much of the purpose of their afterlife once in a thousand or ten thousand years, Hogwarts is a pile of rubble and there are no more students to help or if, in a million years, there are not even any more humans left on Earth. So I would like to suggest that these ghosts aren’t doomed to stay in this universe until the sun engulfs the Earth, but have either consciously chosen, subconsciously chose, or have been forced to stay on Earth until they’ve done their duties as the house ghosts.
            Professor Binns, seems to be in a similar situation. As a ghost, he has a task–to teach students. What will happen when there are no students left? Having completed this task, will he have to find a new one? Or will there be some way for him to return to his train station and go on?
            Though, Myrtle presents a problem in this theory, too. She’s the only task-less ghost we know. I’ve no idea what purpose she might have.

            *As for the Fat Friar, he does not seem to have been a particularly studious and hard working member of the clerical order, but we don’t know what caused his death.

          • Elise Roberts

            I think you answered the Moaning Myrtle question without realising it; maybe her purpose is to stop moaning and complaining about things, and get a life, other than blaiming the others for her failures. It might sound harsh, but I think she was too absorbed with the injustice in life, moaning and complaining, instead of focusing on something else and make her life easier and more pleasant; and she does it after death too.

          • What a great idea!

    • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

      I totally agree! Binns shouldn’t keep teaching if he can’t understand what’s going on around him. That said, we do (frequently) see the low standards set for some Hogwarts teachers. As was talked about only a couple episodes ago, there are very few (legitimate) teacher evaluations (not counting Umbridge – I don’t really see her as legitimate), and I think that having a history teacher who won’t teach some of the most important parts of history a result of this.

  • Hufflepug

    Professor Binns didn’t even realize he was dead, so I doubt he would pay any attention to current events even if there was a crowd of people screaming about them in his face. It’s fitting that he’s the History of Magic professor because it seems like his thoughts are always a few centuries behind what is actually going on. I agree with surprisinglyswishy and Casey L that he isn’t exactly fit for the job since history is always changing, but it’s a bit of an issue because he would never actually leave Hogwarts and even if the headmaster tried to appoint another teacher he would probably not even notice they were there and would continue doing his job.

    As for the Perkins reference, perhaps Harry bears somewhat of a physical resemblance to Perkins in the past, and since both of their names start with P he just thought of that first.

  • LeslieLovegood

    I’ve always also thought that Binns continues to call students by the names of the last class he ever had when he died. And I’ve always also thought that for Binns, time basically froze at that point. I’ve also always thought that Perkin’s was too coincidental and that Arthur’s co-worker was likely a student when Binns died.

    This brings up a few issues. He’s a history teacher (as am I) and history is constantly evolving, so how can he really be an effective teacher. He’s not creating relationships with his students, nor creating any student engagement. I would think that if teachers were evaluated he would be one of the first who should go.

    Another problem that arises would be how to fire Binns/get him to retire. He is a ghost. He’s never going to be too old or want to spend his final years in retirement. And if Dumbledore tried to fire him, would Binns really understand? I’m not so sure.

    I too think that what Binns kind of has to do is accept that he is dead. And at that point he would be aware of the world around him. My issue here is that with all the chaos that happens at Hogwarts (Chamber of Secrets, Triwizard, Umbridge, Battles, how can he not be aware? I don’t get it)

  • fayehazel

    I think the problem with Professor Binns is that he lives completely in the past – the same cowardice that caused him to remain as a ghost is now the reason why he doesn’t realize he is dead. He doesn’t want to think about anything outside of his lessons and every day life, so for him, time has frozen. I think he is still going along with the pattern he had in his last year of life, using the same lesson plans and the same names. Like the other commenters said, I bet there was a Perkins in the last class he had while living, so the name has stuck with him. Maybe Harry and Perkins had the same hairstyle, or sat in the same seat. I think that because he is living so much in the past, he has no idea that the war with Voldemort even existed, so he really doesn’t know who Harry is. This lack of knowledge of current events would make him a very ineffectie teacher, Hogwarts will definitely need to replace him in the future….

    Binns really is a clever character, now that I think about it. It makes sense that the man stuck in the past is the one that teaches history! Maybe his character is meant to shed some light on the sad existence of ghosts. They have to wonder through the places they used to frequent, stuck forever in times that are long gone. Binns’ life after death portrays that perfectly.

  • I think we’re all forgetting that Binns was already OLD by the time he kicked the cauldron.

    I think this inability to remember students’ names is a sign that he was already pretty doddery when he shuffled off his mortal coil and went to join the choir invisible (or, in his case, didn’t).

    If he didn’t even remember students names when he was ALIVE, you can hardly expect him to start trying now he’s an ‘EX’ teacher! >:-D

  • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

    I think there is a connection between Arthur’s co-worker and Professor Binns’s comment because Harry, Ron, and Hermione end up living in Perkins’s tent in Deathly Hallows. While I think the only reasons Professor Binns called Harry “Perkins” is because he is old, forgetful, and really not very invested in his students (he doesn’t even notice when they talk and pass notes his entire class – his focus is on the subject matter), I think it is, in a sense, an Easter Egg for readers. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are going to go through a lot in that tent. The events that take place in and around that tent will stay with and define Harry for the rest of his life. To me, this is just an early reference to that. Already, Harry is starting to be associated with these events, even if just by the name of the person’s whose tent will keep him safe and give him shelter for his journey.

    • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

      just thought of something else –
      It is Perkin’s tent that keeps the trio safe. Binns, without really trying, is also keeping Harry safe. There are too many connections for me to think that Rowling just used the same name (but maybe this is just another “Evans” situation?). I think it is also a possibility that Binns was teaching a Perkins (maybe the same one!) when he died, hence him using the name. I still think there is a deeper meaning meant for readers, as well.

      • GinnyWeasley002

        I love this train of thought! It makes wonderful sense to me, what with the whole tent thing. Perchance it’s some strange form of foreshadowing? I wonder what Rowling would think of these discussions… haha. 😀

        • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

          I hope she’s secretly looking through all the discussions 😉
          I just think the fact that they end up living in this guy’s tent and Binns is using his name is too much of a coincidence. If nothing else, I think it must be foreshadowing. Maybe JK had a larger plot planned for him that had to be cut? Or maybe it was just something she and her editor overlooked (like Mark Evans). It’s so awesome that we can discuss this stuff, too! I feel like Hermione would be proud.

  • I only thought this was coincidence, but then that would be undermining the power that is JK.
    In the UK, we have the theory that most ghosts become stuck for numerous reasons. They have regret, they did bad deeds, they’re scared of death or they don’t even know that they’re dead.
    The ghosts who don’t realize they’re dead relive most of the last moments of their life everyday. Is it possible that Perkins was in his last ever class? Is it possible that after he taught Perkins’ class, he went and popped his clogs? How does he know to teach a different lesson everyday? Is he on auto pilot? Why is it Umbridge doesn’t inspect him? Is she likely to fall asleep too?
    No matter what. He’s dead. Dumbledore kept him on staff. It saves finding another teacher, and Dumbledore would save a heck load of money of not having to pay him.

    • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

      I totally believe that Binns could be living his last class. He obviously moves forward with curriculum, but could easily believe he is teaching the same students. Maybe Dumbledore uses the money he would pay Binns to pay Dobby… 😉

      • Shame the other house elves don’t want the cash.
        Maybe he thinks he’s teaching his last class, but does that mean there’s no advancement in what the students learn? Or does he keeps going with the correct curricular for each year?
        It’s reflective of what ghosts are said to relive of their last moments. They don’t know they’re dead. Binns obviously doesn’t know.

        • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

          I think the curriculum must advance. If no one else, Hermione would realize that he’s just teaching the same thing. And there’s no way Dumbledore would keep him on (okay maybe Dumbledore would, but I don’t see McGonagall or Flitwick putting up with their students actually bring taught the same thing day in and day out). That said, if ghosts relive their last days, then why would his curriculum advance? We see ghosts like Nearly Headless Nick who move forward and adapt – maybe Binns is just bad at adapting?

          • Dumbledore would keep him on staff. Free teaching lol.
            Ghosts are said to relieve their last moments. However, those kind of ghosts can also make visitation or perform acts that they used to do routinely.
            So, each year has a set carricular that probably wouldn’t change as it’s HoM. So Dumbledore may have not changed Binns timetable for each year group, which would allow Binns to continue following what he’s supposed to teach. However, he can only remember the names of his last class.
            Then again, if Binns is not living in his time, then it could be reflecting who he was in his life time. Someone who doesn’t make the effort to know his students names. I’ve met a few like that.

          • ChocolateFrogRavenclaw

            That would be so crazy as a student. It actually makes a lot of sense though. I was never fully sold on no kids being interested, but if he is literally teaching the same thing (well, different for each class, I guess, but more or less the same) and not making an effort, then it explains why the kids don’t respect him at all.

  • SpinnersEnd

    Have we talked about how ghosts learn? Or if they do…? Our example of ghosts throughout the story show them “living” mostly with the same temperament, knowledge and emotional status as when they died.

    We see Nearly Headless Nick acknowledge current events (especially in Chamber of Secrets), but beyond that we get no indication of whether or not he can consciously hold on to that information and “learn” it.

    Ghosts may be able to keep information in their short term memories, but unable to transfer it to their long term memories. And in Binns case, it seems like he really doesn’t care too much about his classes and students, so he just doesn’t make the effort the remember his students’ names.

    • Hufflepug

      I love that point. I do think that the short-term/long-term memory bit isn’t necessarily true because we see how Myrtle recognizes Harry despite only seeing him every other year pretty much, but perhaps ghosts can only commit to long-term memory the things that would have been important to them in their past lives? So Binns would remember historical events and Myrtle would remember… well, teenage boys.

  • DisKid

    My personal theory is I’ve always thought of Professor Binns being one of those elderly folks who seem to not be aware of anything going around them except for one particular subject. For example: I had to deal with an elderly person once who mixed up names, days of the week, months, ect. all the time but one thing he could always focus on was his books. He remembered everything in his books. I think Professor Binns is like that with History. He remembers history and that’s the only thing he can focus on. I don’t think Professor Binns is really aware of who his students are even though one of them is important to Wizarding history. Perhaps he knows Harry Potter’s role in history, but isn’t well aware he’s in his class. This has always made me wonder, since Professor Binns seems to always mix names up (he does it with Hermione and Parvati as well) how is his grading? Does he remember his students for grading? That could really complicate grading!

  • GinnyWeasley002

    I adore this question so much! It reminds me of the good ol’ days of Mark Evans…
    Though I’m sure there’s the obvious answer of Prof. Binns merely being a REALLY old guy who never payed much attention to his students in the first place… However, I’d like to believe that there’s a different answer. I would like to believe that there was something about Harry Potter that honestly did remind Binns of Perkins (and since Binns has no sense of time, really, caused for him to mistake Harry for Perkins).

    We must, however, take into account that Binns has been known to call Hermione “Miss Grant”, Parvarti “Miss Pennyfeather,” and Seamus “O’Flaherty.” Perhaps all these people have something in common. Perhaps Pennyfeather, O’Flaherty, Grant, and Perkins, played some pivotal role in their life. Maybe they were all members of his final class (before dying).

    But I digress, back to Harry. I honestly don’t think that Binns cared much for current events, despite his being a history teacher. Unlike Sir Nicholas, Binns was (and is) quite the loner and never really socializes with student or staff, to the best of my knowledge. Maybe Binns is stuck, reliving the final year of his life over and over again? Not in an actual time loop, but that could explain his absolute boredom in class, and the lack of attention he pays TO his class. Perhaps, to him, they are the same people?

    Though in bk. 2 McGonagall does inform him that Harry and Ron will not be in class, but will instead be visiting the petrified Hermione. That could full well just be a formality, because does anyone REALLY believe that Binns would notice that they weren’t there?

    We know that in OotP Perkins had “fluffy white hair,” so we can guess that he would probably be a decade or two older than Mr. Weasley. We can safely assume that if this is indeed the Perkins Binns was referencing that Binns was teaching in the 40’s, during McGonagall’s time at Hogwarts. We KNOW that he was teaching in the 70’s, and apparently gave one of his chocolate frog cards (Circe) to James Potter. In order to physically give the card to James, (Harry Potter Wikia) Binns would have to still be alive in the 70’s. Which, in order for him to have taught Perkins, would mean that Binns had been teaching at the school for at least 30 or 40 years prior to his death.

    I’m not sure what all that means, but I found the timeline fascinating. Mark Evans has returned! (In the form of Harry Perkins!)

  • Laura Albert

    I haven’t read all the comments so if someone already made this point, I apologize. Harry is not the only student whose name Binns gets incorrect. In Chamber he also calls Seamus ‘Mr. O’Flaherty,’ Parvati ‘Miss Pennyfeather,’ and Hermione ‘Miss Grant.’ I think Professor Binns just doesn’t pay enough attention/care enough to remember everyone’s/anyone’s name. Also, isn’t he supposed to be old? Like, that he was old the day he died? So it could be that he has trouble remembering things in general, due to age or possible Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. Oh, and I believe it’s not related to Perkins who works with Arthur in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts office. Just coincidence.

  • FeatherSickle7662

    Um, he’s dead?? What does he care if he learns his students names? This man died in his chair and then his ghost got up and started teaching! He doesn’t care, he just wants to teach and be done with it. There is also the possibility that Harry looks similar to this mysterious Perkins, but that seems to be stretching it. We also have to remember that Perkins seems to be a very common Surname and the likelihood of Binns getting Harry’s name wrong is actually quite great if you think about it.

  • SnidgetPhoenix

    Although I really like the idea that Professor Binns is simply reusing names from the final class he taught whilst alive I think it would probably be to much of a coincidence to have names so fitting for Harry’s class.
    For example Binns calls Hermione ‘Miss Grant’, Pavarti ‘Miss Pennyfeather’ and then Harry ‘Perkins’. It’s more likely that he vaguely remembers the students’ initial of their surname and merely can’t be bothered remembering there actual name, so just reuses any name he can remember from his years of teaching. Likewise he calls Seamus ‘Mr.O’Flaherty’– probably the name of a previous Irish student.
    Most interestingly we see a number of Teachers and Authority figures do this in the series, including Barty Crouch and Slughorn. Perhaps this is an indication of who these characters consider unimportant. Slughorn often calls Ron the wrong name but has no trouble remembering Ginny’s name because he believes her to be much more talented than her brother. Binns died a very long time ago and so maybe has no idea of Harry’s significance in the history of the wizarding world. If he did, do you think he would remember Harry’s name?

  • Mama_Slytherin

    JKR has made it known on Pottermore that a ghosts knowledge remains at the level it was at their death. While this gets a little wishy-washy in terms of other ghosts seemingly being “in the present” with remembering current events and students, it does suggest that perhaps their memory isn’t what it once was. Perhaps they have to really work at committing things to long-term memory, which student names over seven years would be long-term.

    Binns has no issue remembering history since it doesn’t really change often (in terms of what is going to be taught in school anyway, which for wizards appears to not be recent history). In order to remember names he would need to be reminding himself of the students names constantly, and honestly he seems to not notice the student most days at all. He simply floats in the class room, takes roll, drones on and on….and then does it again tomorrow. We all remember his surprise at Hermione’s questions in CoS, as though students don’t normally speak to him at all – so why would he bother to remember names?