Amazon.com Reviews The Tales of Beedle the Bard
There is no easy way to define the experience of seeing, holding, or reading J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard, so let's just start with one word: "Whoa." The very fact of its existence (an artifact pulled straight out of a novel) is magical, not to mention the facts that only seven copies exist in all the world and each of the never-before-told tales is handwritten and illustrated by J.K. Rowling herself (and it's quite clear from the first few pages that she has some skill as an artist). Rowling's handwriting is like the familiar scrawl of a favorite aunt--it's not hard to read, but it does require attention--allowing you to take it slow and savor the mystery of each next word.
So how do you review one of the most remarkable tomes you've ever had the pleasure of opening? You just turn each page and allow yourself to be swept away by each story. You soak up the simple tales that read like Aesop's fables and echo the themes of the series; you follow every dip and curve of Rowling's handwriting and revel in every detail that makes the book unique--a slight darkening of a letter here, a place where the writing nearly runs off the page there. You take all that and you try and bring it to life, knowing that you will never be able to do it justice. With that, let's dig in and begin at the beginning, shall we? --Daphne Durham
1. "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]
As in her Harry Potter series, garnishing the top of the first page of the first fairy tale, "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot," is a drawing--in this case, a round pot sitting atop a surprisingly well-drawn foot (with five toes, in case you were wondering, and we know some of you were). This tale begins merrily enough, with a "kindly old wizard" whom we meet only briefly, but who reminds us so much of our dear Dumbledore that we must pause and take a breath.
This "well-beloved man" uses his magic primarily for the benefit of his neighbors, creating potions and antidotes for them in what he calls his "lucky cooking pot." Much too soon after we meet this kind and generous man, he dies (after living to a "goodly age") and leaves everything to his only son. Unfortunately, the son is nothing like his father (and entirely too much like a Malfoy). Upon his father's death, he discovers the pot, and in it (quite mysteriously) a single slipper and a note from his father that reads, "In the fond hope, my son, that you will never need this." As in most fairy tales, this is the moment when things start to go wrong....
Bitter about not having anything but a pot to his name and completely uninterested in anyone who cannot do magic, the son turns his back on the town, closing his door to his neighbors. First comes the old woman whose granddaughter is plagued with warts. When the son slams the door in her face, he immediately hears a loud clanging in the kitchen. His father's old cooking pot has sprouted a foot as well as a serious case of warts. Funny, and yet gross. Vintage Rowling. None of his spells work, and he cannot escape the hopping, warty pot that follows him--even to his bedside. The next day, the son opens the door to an old man who is missing his donkey. Without its help to carry wares to town, his family will go hungry. The son (who clearly has never read a fairy tale) slams the door on the old man. Sure enough, here comes the warty, befooted clanging pot, now having captured both the sounds of a braying donkey as well as groans of hunger. [Spoiler alert!] In true fairy tale fashion, the son is besieged with more visitors, and it takes a few tears, some vomit, and a whining dog before the wizard at last succumbs to his responsibility, and the true legacy of his father. Renouncing his selfish ways, he calls for all townspeople far and wide to come to him for help. One by one, he cures their ills and in doing so, empties the pot. At the very last, out pops the mysterious slipper--the one that perfectly fits the foot of the now-quiet pot--and together the two walk (and hop) off into the sunset.
Rowling has always made her stories as funny as they are clever, and "The Wizard and the Hopping Pot" is no exception; the image of a one-footed cooking pot plagued with all the "warty" ills of the village, hopping after a selfish young wizard, is a good example. But the real magic of this book and this particular tale lies not just in her turns of phrase but in the way she underlines the "clang, clang, clang" of the pot for emphasis, and how her handwriting gets messier when the story picks up speed, like she's hurrying along with the reader. These touches make the story uniquely her own and this volume of stories particularly special.
|2. "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]|
Featured at the top of what may be one of our favorite fairy tales ever is a picture of a sparkling, flowing fountain. Now that we're thirty pages into the book, it has become clear that Rowling enjoys (and is quite good at) drawing stars and sparkles. The beginning and ending of almost every tale appears sprinkled with pixie dust (à la Peter Pan--fans know that Rowling's pixies are less likely to leave such a pretty trail). This first page of the story also features a small rose bush below the text. It is quite lovely, and as anyone who has tried to draw a rose knows, not that easy to pull off--a fact that makes it less likely that Rowling did it to cover up a mistake (the way some of us might). It is a gorgeous way to start, and it gives "The Fountain of Fair Fortune" a lot to live up to. Perhaps this is why the story begins so grandly and with such a perfectly lush and mysterious fairy tale setting: an enchanted and enclosed garden that is protected by "strong magic." Once a year, an "unfortunate" is allowed the opportunity to find their way to the Fountain, to bathe in the water, and win "fair fortune forever more." Ahhhh, such is the stuff of Harry Potter fans' dreams. In fact, this tale stands out as a favorite partly because it follows the quest arc that fans fell in love with in her novels—the kind we still crave.
Knowing that this may be the only chance to truly turn their lives around, people (with magical powers and without) travel from the far reaches of the kingdom to try and gain entrance to the garden. It is here that three witches meet and share their tales of woe. First is Asha, sick of "a malady no Healer could cure," who hopes the Fountain can restore her health. The second is Altheda, who was robbed and humiliated by a sorcerer. She hopes the Fountain will relieve her feelings of helplessness and her poverty. The third witch, Amata, was deserted by her beloved, and hopes the Fountain will help cure her "grief and longing." In just a few pages, Rowling has not only created terrific fairy tale drama, but an interesting conflict--readers young and old can relate to at least one the woes of Asha, Altheda, and Amata (and can we talk about how great those names are?), so how can you choose which one should win? The witches (much like the characters from our favorite series) decide that three heads are better than one, and they pool their efforts to reach the Fountain together. At first light, a crack in the wall appears and "Creepers" from the garden reach through and wrap themselves around Asha, the first witch. She grabs Altheda, who takes hold of Amata. But Amata gets tangled in the armor of a knight, and as the vines pull Asha in, all three witches along with the knight get pulled through the wall and into the garden.
Since only one of them will be permitted to bathe in the Fountain, the first two witches are upset that Amata inadvertently invited another competitor. Because he has no magical power, recognizes the women as witches, and is well-suited to his name, "Sir Luckless," the knight announces his intention to abandon the quest. Amata promptly chides him for giving up and asks him to join their group. It is heartening to see Rowling continuing to embrace the themes of friendship and camaraderie so prevalent in her series, not to mention her ability to draw strong, intelligent, female characters. We spent seven books watching Harry learn that it is okay to need the help and support of his friends, and that same notion of sharing responsibility and burden is strong in this tale.
On their journey to the Fountain, the motley band faces three challenges. We're in familiar fairy tale territory here, but it is the strong, simple imagery (a "monstrous white worm, bloated and blind") and way the characters work together to triumph over adversity that makes this story such a rich read, and pure Rowling. First, they face the worm who demands "proof of your pain." After several fruitless attempts to attack it with magic and other means, Asha's tears of frustration finally satisfy the worm, and the four are allowed to pass. Next, they face a steep slope and are asked to pay the "fruit of their labors." They try and try to make it up the hill but spend hours climbing to no avail. Finally, the hard-won effort of Altheda as she cheers her friends on (specifically the sweat from her brow) gets them past the challenge. At last, they face a stream in their path and are asked to pay "the treasure of your past." Attempts to float or leap across fail, until Amata thinks to use her wand to withdraw the memories of the lover who abandoned her, and drop them into the water (hello, Pensieve!). Stepping stones appear in the water, and the four are able to cross to the Fountain, where they must decide who gets to bathe.
[Spoiler Alert!] Asha collapses from exhaustion and is near death. She is in such pain that she cannot make it to the Fountain, and she begs her three friends not to move her. Altheda quickly mixes a powerful potion in an attempt to revive her, and the concoction actually cures her malady, so she no longer needs the Fountain's waters. (Some of you see where this is going, but stay tuned--Rowling has more surprises in store.) By curing Asha, Altheda realizes that she has the power to cure others and a means to earn money. She no longer needs the waters of the Fountain to cure her "powerlessness and poverty." The third witch, Amata realizes that once she washed away her regret for her lover, she was able to see him for what he really was ("cruel and faithless"), and she no longer needs the Fountain. She turns to Sir Luckless and offers him his turn at the Fountain as a reward for his bravery. The knight, amazed at his luck, bathes in the Fountain and flings himself "in his rusted armour" (this is the genius of Rowling--the addition of one word gives us the hilarious image of the knight bathing in full body armor in the Fountain) at the feet of Amata and begs for her "hand and her heart." Each witch achieves their dreams for a cure, a hapless knight wins knowledge of his bravery, and Amata, the one witch who had faith in him, realizes that she has found a "man worthy of her." A great "happily ever after" for our merry band, who set off "arm-in-arm" (it’s particularly nice the way this is handwritten, with the hyphens supporting a visual of linked arms). But the story wouldn’t be Rowling's without a kicker at the end: we learn that the four friends live long, never realizing that the Fountain's waters "carried no enchantment at all." Best. Ending. Ever.
As in her novels, Rowling emphasizes that the true power lies within, not merely in a wand and in a mind, but in a heart. Faith, trust, love give her characters the strength to meet the challenges before them. She doesn't preach to her readers, but the message is definitely there: if you allow yourself the chance to trust and love others, you can harness the power that you already have. What a great message for kids (and adults) to learn, and oh, what a lovely and memorable package.
|3. "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]|
Beware dear readers: Rowling channels the Brothers Grimm for her third and darkest fairy tale. In "The Warlock's Hairy Heart" there is little laughter and no quest, only a journey into the shadowy depths of one warlock's soul. There is no evidence of pixie dust on this first horrible page, instead we see a drawing of a heart covered in coarse hair and dripping blood (again, it's really not easy to draw an actual heart, with valves and everything, but Rowling gets it just right--gross hair and all). Beneath the text is an old-fashioned key with three loops at the top, lying in a pool of blood, making it quite clear that we are in for a different tale than the others. Don't say we didn't warn you....
At the start we meet a handsome, skilled, and rich young warlock who is embarrassed by the foolishness of his friends in love (Rowling uses the word "gambolling" here--a perfect example of how she never talks down to her readers). So sure is he of his desire never to reveal such "weakness" that the young warlock uses "Dark Arts" to prevent himself from ever falling in love. Fans should recognize the beginnings of a cautionary tale here--Rowling has explored many lessons on the rashness of youth and the hazards of such power in the hands of the young in her series.
Unaware that the warlock has gone to such lengths to protect himself, his family laughs off his attempts to avoid love, thinking that the right girl will change his mind. But the warlock grows proud, convinced of his cleverness and impressed with his power to achieve total indifference. Even as time passes and the warlock watches his peers marry and have families of their own, he remains quite pleased with himself and his decision, considering himself lucky to be free of the emotional burdens that he believes shrivel up and hollow out the hearts of others. When the warlock's older parents die, he does not mourn, but instead feels "blessed" by their deaths. At this point in the text, Rowling’s handwriting changes a bit and the ink on the page appears slightly darker. Perhaps she is pressing harder--is she as frightened of and frustrated by her young warlock as we are? Almost all of the sentences on the left page nearly run into the fold of the book, as we read about how the warlock makes himself quite comfortable in his dead parents' home, transferring his "greatest treasure" to their dungeon. On the facing page, when we learn that the warlock believes himself to be envied for his "splendid" and perfect solitude, we see the first stutter in Rowling’s writing. It is as if she cannot bear to write the word "splendid" since it is so clearly not true. The warlock is deluded, making him all the more upset when he hears two servants gossiping--one taking pity on him, and the other making fun of him for not having a wife. He decides at once to "take a wife," presumably the most beautiful, wealthy, and talented woman, to make him the "envy of all."
As luck would have it, the very next day the warlock meets a beautiful, skillful, wealthy witch. Seeing her as his "prize," the warlock pursues her, convincing those who know him that he is a changed man. But the young witch--who is both "fascinated and repelled" by him--still senses his remoteness, even as she agrees to attend a feast at his castle. At the party, amidst the riches of his table and as minstrels play, the warlock woos the witch. Finally, she confronts him, suggesting that she would trust his lovely words if only she thought he "had a heart." [Spoiler alert!] Smiling (and still proud), the warlock leads the young maid to the dungeon, where he reveals a magic "crystal casket," in which lies his own "beating heart." We did warn you that this was going to be a dark tale, right?
The witch is horrified at the sight of the heart, which has turned shrunken and hairy in its exile from the body, and she begs the warlock to "put it back." Because he knows it would further endear him to her, the warlock "slices open" his chest with his wand and places the "hairy heart" within. Thrilled that the warlock may now feel love, the young witch embraces him (surprising, since we're clearly yelling "Get away from him!" by now), and the horrible heart is "pierced" by the beauty of her skin and the scent of her hair. "Grown strange" from being disconnected from his body for so long, the now "blind" and "perverse" heart takes savage action. Would that we could end here, and allow you to just wonder about the fates of the young witch and the hairy-hearted warlock, but Rowling marches the story on, as the guests at the feast wonder about their host. Hours later, they search the castle and find them in the dungeon. On the ground lies the dead maiden with her chest cut open. Crouched beside her is the "mad warlock," caressing and licking her "shining scarlet heart" and planning to switch it for his own. His heart is strong though, and it refuses to leave his body. The warlock, swearing never to be "mastered" by his heart, seizes a dagger and cuts it from his chest, leaving him briefly victorious, a heart in "each bloody hand" before he falls over the maiden and dies. The last paragraph describing the death of the warlock is the first that looks uneven--the handwriting skews up and to the right just slightly enough that it's noticeable, making the ending feel all the more abrupt and unsettling.
Rowling, like most of the really great fairy tale writers, has no pity for the wicked. Acting out of pride and selfishness from the start of the story, isolating and hardening himself against all feeling, the warlock opened himself up to madness, subsequently taking an innocent life, and destroying his own in the process (sound like any other villain you've met?). As with the other tales we've read, the secret lies in the imagery, both real and imagined (particularly once you see the drawings from the first page). The disturbing and indelible vision of the crazy warlock licking the bloody heart rivals the darkest of the Grimm brothers. Given that this story (and the entire text, after all) is meant to be a book of fables for young wizards and witches, it's fitting that Rowling would make a tale about the misuse of the Dark Arts the most horrible and least redemptive of them all. The Dark Arts, as we fans well know, are not to be toyed with--ever.
|4. "Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]|
A large tree stump (with twenty growth rings—we counted) squats atop Rowling's fourth and longest fairy tale. Five tentacle-like roots spread from the base with grass and dandelion clocks sprouting out from beneath them. At the center of the base of the stump is a dark crack, with two white circles that look like tiny eyes peering out at the reader. Under the text is a small narrow paw print (with four toes). Not as horrific as the bloody, hairy heart of the last story (and this time we do see bright pixie dust on the facing page), but we don’t entirely like the looks of that stump.
"Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" begins (as good fairy tales often do) long ago and in a faraway land. A greedy and "foolish king" decides that he wants to keep magic all to himself. But he has two problems: first, he needs to round up all the existing witches and wizards; second, he needs to actually learn magic. Just as he commands a "Brigade of Witch Hunters" armed with a pack of fierce black dogs, he also announces his need for an "Instructor in Magic" (not too bright, our king). Savvy wizards and witches go into hiding rather than heed his call, but a "cunning charlatan" with no magical ability at all bluffs his way into the role with a few simple tricks.
Once installed as the head sorcerer and private instructor to the King, the charlatan demands gold for magical supplies, rubies for creating charms, and silver cups for potions. The charlatan hoards these items in his own house before returning to the palace, but he does not realize the King's old "washer-woman," Babbitty, sees him. She watches him pull twigs from a tree that he then presents to the King as wands. Cunning as he is, the charlatan tells the King that his wand will not work until "your Majesty is worthy of it."
Every day the King and charlatan practice their "magic" (Rowling shines here, painting a portrait of the ridiculous King waving his twig and "shouting nonsense at the sky"), but one morning they hear laughter and see Babbitty watching from her cottage, laughing so hard she can hardly stand. The humiliated King is furious and impatient, and demands that they give a real demonstration of magic in front of his subjects the very next day. The desperate charlatan says it is impossible since he needs to leave the kingdom on a long journey, but the now suspicious King threatens to send the Brigade after him. Having worked himself into a fury, the King also commands that if "anybody laughs at me" the charlatan will be beheaded. And so, our foolish, greedy, magic-less King is also revealed to be both prideful and pitifully insecure--even in these short, simple tales, Rowling is able to create complex, interesting characters.
Looking to "vent" his frustration and anger, the cunning charlatan heads straight to the house of Babbitty. Peering in the window, he sees a "little old lady" sitting at her table cleaning her wand, as the sheets are "washing themselves" in a tub. Seeing her as a real witch, and both the source and solution of his problems, he demands her help, or he will turn her over to the Brigade. It is hard to fully describe this powerful turning point in the story (and any of these tales, really). Try to remember the richness and color of Rowling's novels and imagine how she might pack these bite-sized tales full of vivid imagery and subtle nuances of character.
Unruffled by his demands (she is a witch, after all), Babbitty smiles and agrees to do "anything in her power" to help (there’s a loophole if we’ve ever heard one). The charlatan tells her to hide inside a bush and perform all the spells for the King. Babbitty agrees, but wonders aloud what will happen if the King tries to perform an impossible spell. The charlatan, ever convinced of his own cleverness and the stupidity of others, laughs off her concerns, asserting that Babbitty's magic is certainly much more powerful than anything "that fool's imagination" could dream up.
The next morning, the members of the court gather together to witness the King's magic. From a stage, the King and charlatan perform their first magical act--making a woman's hat disappear. The crowd is amazed and astonished, never guessing that it is Babbitty, hiding in a bush, who performs the spell. For his next feat, the King points the "twig" (every reference of this cracks us up) at his horse, raising it high into the air. Looking around for an even better idea for the third spell, the King is interrupted by the Captain of the Brigade, who holds the body of one of the King's hounds (dead from a poisonous mushroom). He begs the King to bring the dog "back to life," but when the King points the twig at the dog, nothing happens. Babbitty smiles inside her hiding place, not even trying a spell, for she knows "no magic can raise the dead" (at least not in this story). The crowd begins to laugh, suspecting that the first two spells were just tricks. The King is furious, and when he demands to know why the spell failed, the cunning and deceitful charlatan points at Babbitty's hiding place and screams that a "wicked witch" is blocking the spells. Babbitty runs from the bush, and when the Witch Hunters send the hounds after her, she disappears, leaving the dogs "barking and scrabbling" at the base of an old tree. Desperate now, the charlatan shouts that the witch has turned herself "into a crab apple" (which even at this tense and dramatic point draws a snicker). Fearful that Babbitty may turn herself back into a woman and expose him, the charlatan demands the tree be cut down--because that is how you "treat evil witches." It is quite a powerful scene, not only for its "off with her head!" drama, but because the charlatan's ability to whip up the crowd is evocative of the all-too-real witch trials. As the drama builds, Rowling's handwriting appears slightly less polished--the spaces between letters of her words widens, creating the illusion that she's making the story up as she goes along, getting the words down on the page as fast as she can.
[Spoiler Alert!] The tree is chopped down, but as the crowd cheers and heads back toward the palace, a "loud cackling" is heard, this time from within the stump. Babbitty, smart witch that she is, shouts that witches and wizards cannot be killed by being "cut in half," and to prove it, she suggests that they cut the King's instructor "in two." At this, the charlatan begs for mercy and confesses. He is dragged to the dungeon, but Babbitty is not finished with her foolish king. Her voice, still issuing from the stump, proclaims that his actions have invoked a curse on the kingdom, so that every time the King harms a witch or wizard he too will feel a pain so fierce he will wish to "die of it." The now desperate King falls to his knees and promises to protect all the wizards and witches in his lands, allowing them to perform magic without harm. Pleased, but not completely satisfied, the stump cackles again and demands a statue of Babbitty be placed upon it to remind the King of his "own foolishness." The "shamed King" promises to have a sculptor create a statue in gold, and he heads back to the palace with his court. At last, a "stout old rabbit" with a wand in its teeth hops out from hole beneath the stump (aha! The source of those tiny white eyes) and leaves the kingdom. The golden statue remained on the stump forever more, and witches and wizards were never be hunted in the kingdom again.
"Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump" highlights the winking ingenuity of the old witch--who should remind fans of a certain wise and resourceful wizard--and you can imagine how old Babbitty might become a folk hero to young wizards and witches. But more than just a story about the triumph of a clever witch, the tale warns against human weaknesses of greed, arrogance, selfishness and duplicity, and shows how these errant (but not evil) characters come to learn the error of their ways. The fact that the tale follows so soon after that of the mad warlock highlights the importance that Rowling has always placed on self-awareness: Babbitty reveals to the King his arrogance and greed, just as the Hopping Pot exposes the wizard's selfishness and the Fountain uncovers the hidden strength of the three witches and the knight. Of the first four of her tales, only the hairy-hearted warlock suffers a truly horrible fate, as his unforgiveable use of the Dark Arts and his unwillingness to know his true self exclude him from redemption.
|5. "The Tale of the Three Brothers" [CAUTION: SPOILERS WITHIN!]|
If, like us, you raced through your first reading of "The Tale of the Three Brothers" on your way to the finale of all finales, then you missed quite a tale (one that we think can stand among the best of Aesop). Lucky for you, you can open your copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows to Chapter Twenty-One and read it any time you like. If you have not already read the final book of Rowling's series (and what a feast you have ahead of you), you might not want read this review…yet. Give yourself a chance to read the tale in context first. You won’t be disappointed.
A trio of toothy skulls stare out at the reader at the top of the last of the five tales (oh how we wish there were dozens more). The skull in the middle has a symbol carved into its forehead--a straight vertical line in a circle, enclosed by a triangle. Fans will remember the symbol from Mary GrandPre's drawing on the first page of the chapter. Underneath the text is a pile of fabric, upon which lies a wand (spouting a swirling stream of sparkles), and what looks like a small stone.
This spooky tale about three brothers, three choices, and three distinct fates begs to be read aloud--in fact, the first time we meet the three brothers is when Hermione reads the tale to Harry and Ron (and Xenophilius). Three brothers traveling along a deserted road at "twilight" (midnight, according to Mrs. Weasley's version of the story) come to a "treacherous" river they cannot cross. Well versed in magic, they create a bridge with a wave of their wands. Halfway across they are halted by a "hooded figure." Death is angry, and tells the brothers (in a funny moment from Hallows, Harry interrupts the story here "Sorry, but Death spoke to them?") that they have cheated him out of "new victims" since people usually drown when they try to cross the river. But, Death is shrewd and offers a reward to each of them for being smart enough to "escape" him (for those of you interested in the tiny details, our copy uses "escape" instead of "evade" that is printed in Book 7). Our favorite fairy tales have this same kind of "choose your fate" plot--you can learn so much about a character from a single choice, and the best stories, like this one, lead you away from where you think it's going toward an ending you never expected.
The oldest brother, a "combative man" asks for the mightiest wand ever created--a wand that will win every duel for its owner, one befitting a wizard who "conquered Death." So Death creates the (fateful) wand from an "Elder tree" (capitalized in our copy) and gives it to the quarrelsome, boastful brother. The second brother, an "arrogant man" who is determined to demean Death further, asks for the power to summon others back from Death. Picking up a stone from the ground, Death tells the brother that it holds the power to bring back the dead. The youngest brother, the most humble and wise of the three, did not "trust Death" so he asks for something to allow him to leave without being "followed by Death." Knowing he may have been outsmarted, Death, hands over "his own" invisibility cloak with a "very bad grace" (as opposed to "most unwillingly" in Book 7). Each brother's choice reveals so much about his motivations: the oldest brother wants the Elder wand to make him powerful over all others; the second brother wants to have power over Death; and the youngest brother wants to leave Death safely behind him.
[Spoiler Alert!] Eventually the brothers take their gifts and go their separate ways, toward very different fates. The first travels to a "certain village" ("distant" in Book 7) and tracks down a wizard with whom he had fought to challenge him to a duel he "could not fail to win." After killing his enemy, he retires to an inn where he brags about the Elder wand, how he won it from "Death himself," and how it makes him all-powerful. That night, a wizard sneaks up on the oldest brother and steals the wand, slitting the brother's throat "for good measure." The haunting refrain, in which Rowling describes Death as taking the brother "for his own," helps both anchor the story as a cautionary tale as well as teach a lesson about the inevitability of death. One of the most important messages from this tale, and from this particular brother, is the notion of using power for good (advice Rowling clearly takes to heart).
The second brother arrives at his empty home, where he turns the stone "over thrice in his hand" (the text in Book 7 omits the "over"), using it to "recall the Dead" (capitalized in our copy). He is thrilled to witness the return of the girl he once wanted to marry, however she is "silent and cold" ("sad" in Book 7) and suffering because she no longer belongs in the "mortal world." Desperate and filled with "hopeless longing" the second brother kills himself so that he can join her, allowing Death to win back his second victim.
The youngest brother uses the "Cloak of Invisibility" (even those of you who haven't read Book 7 yet should realize that this may not be just a fairy tale after all) to hide from Death, until at "very old age" he takes it off and gives it to his son. Then, he greets Death "gladly" and "as an old friend" and departs from "this life." Such a satisfying close to this tale--it still packs a punch even after a second reading. Simple, powerful, and poignant, "The Tale of the Three Brothers" introduces theories about the use and abuse of power (also strong in the series) and shares important messages about life and death. There are many ways in which this tale informs and enhances Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (the curious should reread Chapter Thirty-Five, "King’s Cross" and discuss), but our favorite is highlighted by the message that Dumbledore himself imparts to Harry about accepting Death and embracing life: "Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love." The youngest brother did not try to cheat Death or harm others with his power; instead, he used his gift to live simply and without fear of Death, so that at the end of a long and happy life, he was able to go willingly from this world.
It is a true testament to Rowling’s talent that her fairy tales carry such a strong message, but never appear preachy or overtly didactic (this goes double for her books, and is in part why they are so special). The Tales of Beedle the Bard imparts several of the same lessons as the Harry Potter series, and the stories reverberate with Dumbledore's warning about choosing "what is right and what is easy." Whether she is warning against arrogance and greed, revealing the responsibilities that come with immense power, or extolling the importance of love and faith in oneself, Rowling's boundless imagination and masterful storytelling keep her loyal fans (young and old) coming back for more, ever eager for the next lesson.