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I do love Jo... oh, and something to talk about - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
fernwithy
fernwithy
I do love Jo... oh, and something to talk about
You know, I sometimes get frustrated with funky time spans and clunky recaps of events (where everything is explained to Harry), but the diary on JKR's site is too priceless. Who hasn't done this?

2. Do not lose any more notebooks.
After a somewhat panicky few weeks I have finally located a missing notebook. As always when I mislay these things, I had been 'remembering', in its absence, that it contained notes so essential and ideas so imaginative that I would never be able to duplicate them, and the whole of the next book would be impoverished if they were never found. Now that I have said notebook beside me on this desk, however, I see that it contains few useful nuggets amid a lot of complete dross.


Snerk. I can identify. Only my notebooks have dross that is illegible as well as useless.

Anyway, my fondness for Ms. Rowling notwithstanding, a conversation elsewhere led to a post topic, so yay!

A brief question on the Quill about language at the time of the Founders led into some historical discussion of the period, and the fact that the vast majority of the population was illiterate at the time came up, and I wondered... might that have contributed to some of the issues between pure-bloods and Muggle-borns?

There's no definitive proof, but the prevalence of old books in the Hogwarts library and the heavy verbal component of the spellwork (along with minor asides like "letters" reprinted in Quidditch Through the Ages) suggests that the wizarding population was, in general, more literate than the surrounding Muggle population. What kind of effect would that have had on early Hogwarts?

The first thing that comes to mind is that wizard-born kids would come with some working knowledge of reading and writing, learned at home from parents with books (books, after all, are easier to reproduce when you can just charm a quill to do it, rather than having a hundred monks painstakingly copy them out). When they arrived at school, they'd have a basic understanding of reading and writing, possibly some arithmetic. They'd be at slightly different levels from one another, but they'd all be more or less ready for the kind of magical training we see in the books--the basics would be in place. Muggle-borns, on the other hand, might never have seen a book. They'd be floundering around trying to master academic basics before they could even begin to make use of them in magical learning. I could see Slytherin flying off the handle about having to accept "them" and how "they" were making it impossible to conduct his classes in anything like an appropriate manner. How could he instruct in the brewing of a potion (if that's what he taught, though the same would be true in other subjects) if his students could barely count, let alone follow written instructions? And why should capable students be held back for these ignoramuses? It wouldn't take long for that to leap from "illiterates" to "Muggle-borns," as at the time, the two would be pretty much synonymous. The Muggle-borns would also have to be chased down to attend school, since they couldn't very well get a letter, thereby making them a huge amount of extra work which wasn't benefitting all the students.

Another point that occurs to me is that the social structure would make it awkward. While the witch persecutions really hadn't started then, despite the books, they likely would have been harassed for cures and blamed for curses and things of that nature, and would want to keep to themselves. The magical child of a Muggle nobleman might be able to go off and serve in the court of some mythical Scottish nobleman who conveniently outranked him, but the child of a serf, magical or no, would be bound to the master's land--not slaves, but also not free to go without the master's permission... and it would take a pretty enlightened feudal lord to let one go to be educated in any case. (Rumors of magic might also make the lord want to hold on to use any powers for seeing or whatnot to his own advantage.) He also wouldn't be the parent who was observing this behavior and wasn't entirely surprised by the call. The nastier idea is that they would have had to abduct the children and not allow them home (maybe spawning stories like "Tam Lin"?). Either way, every time they went out, they were risking angering nobles, and why? We return to the unpreparedness of the potential students.

I don't see any reason to assume that the wizarding community was on particularly bad terms with the religious authorities (it was a time when such a thing might be seen as a miracle, and besides, the religious authorities could, at least, read and therefore would be--along with the few Jews in the land--the people the wizarding communities would feel most at home with), but alongside religion, there was also a lot of superstition afoot. Things that witches and wizards did normally would be a subject of dark wonder for your average Muggle at the time. Meanwhile, the wizard-born kids, who pretty much have to have a higher standard of living, would start to see themselves as superior and disparage what the Muggles could do. That would cause a cultural rift.

There's also the language issue. Most of the spells are Latinate, and Latin was the lingua franca of the Western World for a very long time. It makes sense that instruction would have been in Latin, since the vernacular of the various parts of Britain would vary widely (including th Gaelic languages, the Anglo-Saxon, and, relatively close to the founding, the Norman French). Again, we return to prior education. While people in the lower classes would have familiarity with Latin from church services, they probably wouldn't be able to speak it with any degree of fluency. I'm not sure what the status would have been among the Muggle nobility. Wizarding families, knowing it would be expected (and again, sharing books), would prepare their children for it.

Anyway, with those sorts of things going on, I can see Slytherin seeing his position as perfectly sensible, and the morality of excluding people based on birth was (a) not really questioned by many people at the time and (b) not his concern, anyway. In fact, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff must have been exceptionally forward-thinking to not buy into it. I do wonder if Hufflepuff took a lot of these kids in and patiently taught them all, thereby earning the house the reputation for being patient and hard-working.

Thought for the afternoon.
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mamadeb From: mamadeb Date: January 6th, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC) (Link)
I hadn't thought about the problems of serfs getting away, but I assume that wizards would make use of the same skill set Dumbledore had when he found Tom Riddle. And there's always obliviate and so on.

I assume that they'd go to Muggle-born children at a point when, if the child was illiterate (much more likely than not until the mid19th C), they could place them in a remedial school where they'd be taught the basics, possibly using magic and potions to enhance their ability to learn.

I also do believe that this would, in fact, lead to more anti-Muggle-born feelings, because if they need special training, they're clearly stupid.

Even if this is not so.

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 6th, 2006 08:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can definitely see them setting up a school, and this engendering more anti-Muggle-born sentiment.

I think the difference between what happened with Tom and the orphanage and a serf on a medieval fief is that the head of the orphanage was both glad to be rid of him and at least nominally interested in his potential for betterment. A feudal lord losing his serfs would be losing a laborer and getting nothing in return, and certainly wouldn't even care about the appearance of giving the child a chance at social mobility. Obliviate would have had to be used quite a lot.
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: January 6th, 2006 08:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
I have a feeling Rowling doesn't give nearly as much thought to Muggle historical conditions as you have here, but this makes a lot of sense, and it sounds like it would make a fascinating basis for a fanfic.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 6th, 2006 08:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, I wouldn't have given it any thought if I were just starting it, either. ;) That's purely a function of having a lot of time to think and pre-existing material to mull over.
maple_clef From: maple_clef Date: January 6th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Interesting thoughts. As a_t_rain says, I'm not sure that Rowling considered it in quite so much detail, but it does provide a very credible basis for Slytherin's rift with the other Founders. Rather than demonising him, we can assume that the others were somewhat ahead of their time (which is fairly radical in a wizarding context, where much of society seems to be rather stuck in the past).

I do wonder if Hufflepuff took a lot of these kids in and patiently taught them all

Given that both Gryffindor and Ravenclaw seem to require standout qualities of the intake that Muggles - particularly children of serfs, etc - would be less well-equipped to show at the time of selection... It seems likely there'd be a certain degree of separation between magical/non-magical families and also between kids from different social classes, no matter what their magical provenance.
hermia7 From: hermia7 Date: January 6th, 2006 08:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
(I'm very commenty today—slow day at the office because all my stories printed earlier this week.)

This is...fascinating. It never even crossed my mind, which I'm a little embarrassed by. The theory makes so much sense, and makes Slytherin's stand SO much more logical, if still misguided. But in a way he'd be saying "Look, we're punishing everyone who is prepared by taking our time and resources to provide basic prerequisites to these Muggleborns, who are a giant pain to rope in anyway..." Especially since at the very beginning I always assumed it was just he four founders teaching, so as the school grew it would be pretty hard for them to teach basic literacy skills while also trying to get the school up and running and train the more advanced students.

You don’t feel the urge to write some good founder fic, do you? (Post-Shades, of course!) It can be so good or SO bad, and I think you’d bring such a nice academic feel to it. So annoying to read a story set in the "Middle Ages" in which everyone is clean all the time, isn’t it?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 6th, 2006 08:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
You don’t feel the urge to write some good founder fic, do you?

Heh, occasionally (though definitely post-Shades, unless it's a short piece). I'll do my best to keep Rowena and Helga from shopping at Hot Topic, or to go on about Godric's Quidditch toned muscles. ;)
keridwen From: keridwen Date: January 6th, 2006 08:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
I also wonder what impact the Norman invasion had on the Magical world. If old pureblood families like the Blacks and the Malfoys came to England after 1066, the purely cultural differences could have made quite an impact on Hogwarts.

Damnit. Now I want to pull out the shreds of the story idea that I had about Merlin's time.
gehayi From: gehayi Date: January 6th, 2006 08:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well, going strictly by the etymology of the names, the names of "Malfoy" and "Lestrange" are French. The name Black, on the other hand, comes from the Anglo-Saxon word blaec. So I'd say the Malfoys and the Lestranges came over in the Norman Conquest, while the Blacks were Saxons who met the boat, so to speak.

(That also explains why the Blacks are the MOST ancient house of Black. Can't you just hear some medieval Black proclaiming loudly that HIS family had been wizards in England long before those blasted Norman upstarts?)

And this is brilliant, Fern. It makes so much SENSE. Definitely going in my LJ memories.

rabidsamfan From: rabidsamfan Date: January 6th, 2006 11:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.
From: cosmic_llin Date: January 6th, 2006 11:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Got here from daily_snitch.
This makes so much sense! I can't believe I never thought of it before.
And your theory about Helga Hufflepuff is adorable, and I think I will adopt it. :P
auroraceleste From: auroraceleste Date: January 7th, 2006 12:09 am (UTC) (Link)
Great ideas.

A brief question on the Quill

Can you link me to that? It sounds like something I'd be interested in.

You may also want to post this on hp_essays, it would be very welcome there. You could just post a link if you wanted.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 06:36 pm (UTC) (Link)
Can you link me to that? It sounds like something I'd be interested in.

Here 'tis. It's in the general historical question in the writing research area. The question is at the bottom of the previous page, but discussion starts at the top here.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: January 7th, 2006 12:12 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting and a very good constructed explanation for something that is only passed over briefly in the books. As others said above, I don't think JKR bothers all that much about strict historical accuracy -- as with a number of other things that only play a minor background role in Harry's story. It's just us fans who want to know this stuff in detail. :)

The 'historical data' in FBAWTFT and QTTA (which is where most of the references come from) always struck me as being roughly apt, but a little bit 'off', in keeping with the general comic tone of those books. Little things like the modern-day organisation of Quidditch even back in the 15th century (leagues, World Cups, etc), or the supposed 19th century newspaper articles written in the style of a modern tabloid. And as for the arithmetic -- let's not go there. :) I think it may be one of those things where we just have to shrug and let it go.

As for the Founders, mind you, one of the few bits of concrete data we have is that they all had a house in whicn they could teach their favourites to start with. So if we imagine the situation the way you described, it would fir -- Slytherin and probably Ravenclaw might insist on basic literacy, the ohers might not, but all would just do their own thing for a while, and the four Houses really would be largely separate -- and presumably the curriculum and teaching would be fairly basic compared to modern-day Hogwarts anyway?
ryuuhime2005 From: ryuuhime2005 Date: January 7th, 2006 12:28 am (UTC) (Link)
I got to this through the daily snitch as well. And I have to say that I feelt hat it is sheer brilliance. fernwithy, you are my hero for bringing this discussion here.

But onto something I want to toss in that came to my mind as I was reading through the comments.

To add to what maple_clef said earlier:

"Given that both Gryffindor and Ravenclaw seem to require standout qualities of the intake that Muggles - particularly children of serfs, etc - would be less well-equipped to show at the time of selection... It seems likely there'd be a certain degree of separation between magical/non-magical families and also between kids from different social classes, no matter what their magical provenance."

Now, I must say that I do agree with the little theory added mentioned above about Helga Hufflepuff taking the children of serfs, and quite possibly spending many a long hour above and beyond her day of teaching to help these children keep up.

Godric Gryffindor took in those who were brave and noble.

"You might belong in Gryffindor,
Where dwell the brave at heart,
Their daring, nerve and chivalry
Set Gryffindors apart..."

Philosopher's Stone - The Sorting Hat

"By Gryffindor, the bravest were
Prized far beyond the rest..."

Goblet of Fire - The Sorting Hat

Is it just me, or does anyone else think of The Chivalric Code? So now we have GG looking for the most part at the children of knights. These were the children of nobles. They would have been literate. Especially for those days. Especially since the fathers would have expected their sons to follow after them and be knights.

So while we have GG having Muggle-borns, they are more likely than not, literate.

Then we have Rowena Ravenclaw, who prises above all intelligence and wit.

"Or yet in wise old Ravenclaw,
If you've a steady mind,
Where those of wit and learning,
Will always find their kind..."

Philosopher's Stone - The Sorting Hat

"For Ravenclaw, the cleverest
Would always be the best..."

Goblet of Fire - The Sorting Hat

RR's values too point to having a lower population of students in her house that were illiterate. I mean, it is not always the case... but especailly in young people, those who like to read do tend to be more clever and intelligent. So when you have literate vs illiterate, who ended up in her house wouldn't have been a hard choice. So again we are left with RR having very few of the illiterate children.

Salazar Slytherin prized those individuals who were pure-blooded. Even in present day, there are very few half-bloods, let alone Muggle-borns in his house. I can't see him haply choosing them himself. Though again... I can't see him having none of the illiterate children.

This next bit is a bit more of a personal opinion... but I'm going to say it anyway. I have always, right from the beginning of the series had a strong image of each founder. I've always pictured Hufflepuff as a matron-like figure. The woman always trying to keep everyone happy. I see Ravenclaw as very smart, and learned. I also picture her walking around with her nose in a book. And like most people of that sort (myself included), and little oblivious of some of their surroundings.

I picture Gryffindor as, essentually, the smart jock. A little more muscle than brain. A person who was all about the doing, a little less with the "how we get there", and the "what happens after" part. And then I picture Slytherin as a rather shrewd individual who liked power. As a person who doesn't like wasting his time on what he thought was pointless.

I know I have just painted a picture of "four wizards of renown" seeming not-so spectacular. But then again, most of what Hogwarts' students learn now has been invented or improved since the time of the founders. Magic and magical learning would have been something very basic at the time. And it wouldn't have taken genius' to figure it out. I often wonder if Hogwarts started off as a seven-year school. And if it was... perhaps those first few years were in bringing all the students up to a level where they were literate and could actually learn the subject matter.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: January 7th, 2006 12:37 am (UTC) (Link)
Is it just me, or does anyone else think of The Chivalric Code? So now we have GG looking for the most part at the children of knights. These were the children of nobles. They would have been literate. Especially for those days. Especially since the fathers would have expected their sons to follow after them and be knights.

My pet theory--which has no substantiation whatsoever--is that Godric himself is a half-blood, and the son of a Muggle nobleman. This is entirely based on his ownership of a fancy sword. ;) So I think that fits very well with it, though I doubt he'd think of it in quite those terms; it's just that those students would be the ones most likely to share his value system.

Ravenclaw, I see as a nun. I can't seem to help that. I read the theory once from someone else, and it just... clicked. It won't leave my brain. So she might deal with bright kids who aren't necessarily of the upper class (the Church was basically the only way out of one's birth station), but only the ones who have shown a dedication to learning.
alexia75 From: alexia75 Date: January 7th, 2006 12:30 am (UTC) (Link)

here from <lj user="daily_snitch">

Generally interesting but there are a couple of points I'd quibble with

There's no definitive proof, but the prevalence of old books in the Hogwarts library and the heavy verbal component of the spellwork (along with minor asides like "letters" reprinted in Quidditch Through the Ages) suggests that the wizarding population was, in general, more literate than the surrounding Muggle population. What kind of effect would that have had on early Hogwarts?

The books in library are only described as old. There are no publishing dates, there's no mention of whether they are handwritten or not. To a lot of kids, books from the turn of the last century would seem old. Books dating from the early days of printing exceptionally so. I doubt books any older than that would hae survived use in a school library. They would have fallen apart and been reprinted.
I also would like to point out that in the medieval world, books and letters were written extensively. It is by no means the case that only the aristocracy could write, and ideas about illiteracy tend to be exaggerated. Especially with the advent of commerical enterprise, a lot of low born people, men and women, would be able to write and perform simple arithmetic.

The first thing that comes to mind is that wizard-born kids would come with some working knowledge of reading and writing, learned at home from parents with books (books, after all, are easier to reproduce when you can just charm a quill to do it, rather than having a hundred monks painstakingly copy them out). When they arrived at school, they'd have a basic understanding of reading and writing, possibly some arithmetic.

The same applies here as I've stated about literacy above, but I would also like to add that although undoubtedly the reproduction of books would be easier with a charmed quill than with a monk, obviously, still the attitude towards books at the time has to be remembered. The idea expressed here presupposes that the people in charge would want all and sundry to be able to read whatever they wanted. At the time that was simply not the case, for which reason the church controlled, pre-printing days, which books were copied and put into circulation. I don't see any reason anywhere to presuppose that the wizarding world was ahead of its time in anyway with this.

But an interesting read. Thanks.
tuesday_skyline From: tuesday_skyline Date: January 7th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC) (Link)
*laughs over notebook* Too close to the mark, Jo. (Illegibility is why I gave up pencils forever. It's bad enough that I can't read my own handwriting; when my handwriting fades into obscurity, I'm always certain there was something really brilliant there and lose my mind over the tragedy of it all. Of course, if it was written in pencil, it was most likely very desperate rubbish anyway.)

Oooh, my inner history geek is positively drooling over your theories. *geeky happiness* I wish more people wrote historical fic (but then, that involves actual research!). One thing that's been occupying my mind a lot lately is the idea that a lot of traditional Celtic ballads had wizarding origins, and I'm trying to figure out how I could possibly work that into a piece of writing.
faeriemaiden From: faeriemaiden Date: January 7th, 2006 12:46 am (UTC) (Link)
Whoops, posted under my vignettes-for-superhero-novel name. *headdesk*
From: underaloggia Date: January 7th, 2006 01:10 am (UTC) (Link)
Fascinating idea... Something about your theory bothered me while I was reading it, and I think I've figured out what it was: I've always figured that the social dynamics of the wizarding world basically mirror those of the Muggle world, so the notion of having Muggles with a feudal system and wizards with a more fluid (modern/classless/meritocratic) society strikes me as extremely weird. Was only my own assumption, though; now that I think about it, you raise a good point.

That said, it occurs to me that three of the four founders' values fit interestingly into the traditional "3 Orders" model of medieval society: bellatores (those who fight; the nobility), oratores (those who pray; the religious), and laboratores (those who work; everyone else). Which suggests that GG, RR, and HH had natural "pools" of people to draw from--and rather leaves SS out in the cold.

As another idea, it does strike me that the relatively low percentage of Muggle-borns in the wizarding world might correspond to the relative rarity of social climbing in the medieval world: it was *possible*, and it did happen, but more often (then as now) like associates with like; bishoprics were more often filled by members of the nobility who entered the church than lowborn clerics who worked their way up on the basis of their personal merits. What if most medieval wizards came from the wealthiest, most influential, and more commonly literate 15% of the population *anyway*?

Sorry if less than coherent; I'm thinking this through as I go along and I'm not sure I've got it yet...
chicleeblair From: chicleeblair Date: January 7th, 2006 01:53 am (UTC) (Link)
This is so amazing Fern, and it does make so much sense. I'm not sure how much Jo thought it out (perhaps more than people think) but I love your ideas as well!!!
From: (Anonymous) Date: January 7th, 2006 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I love this! Although, just to add my own two cents worth, Slytherin would also have been a man of the middle ages living in northern Scotland. The idea of trusting people based on kinship was pretty common then. The fact that the Sorting Hat, which should be working on Slytherin's values, has freely tossed half-bloods into Slytherin suggests that Slytherin may have been more concerned with kinship loyalties than with ethnic purity.

Or that's what I thought until now.

Ellen
tamerterra From: tamerterra Date: January 8th, 2006 03:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yeah, the loyalty of kin was my theory, too.
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