Wand of the Week: Rowena Ravenclaw

J.K. Rowling recently revealed that Slytherin’s wand was made of snakewood and basilisk horn, but what about the other three founders? Naturally, I have my own thoughts.

Living a thousand years before Garrick Ollivander standardized wand cores, the four Hogwarts founders wouldn’t necessarily have had unicorn hair, phoenix feather, or dragon heartstring in their wands. In fact, since Slytherin’s wand had a basilisk horn core, I find it likely that the other three would also have made their own wands, or at least obtained the cores themselves. I love the idea of Ravenclaw having sphinx hair at the core of her wand. Getting such a hair would not be easy, but perhaps she could have earned a hair from a sphinx by solving its riddle, at the same time drawing inspiration to guard her house’s common room with riddles instead of passwords.

For the wood, walnut seems like an obvious choice. According to Ollivander, walnut is best suited to “highly intelligent witches and wizards” and “often found in the hands of magical innovators and inventors”. He warns that its “unusual versatility and adaptability” can make it “a truly lethal weapon in the hands of a witch or wizard of no conscience”. We have seen this negative tendency of walnut wands in the wand of Bellatrix Lestrange, but for someone whose intelligence was matched by a strong conscience, whose goal was to establish a school of magic and educate young witches and wizards, a walnut wand could be a powerful force for good. Its adaptable nature could allow her to experiment with new spells and areas of magic, while its tendency to choose the most intelligent would be fitting for someone who valued intelligence highly in her students.

Four Founders, Four Visions

Said Slytherin, “We’ll teach just those
Whose ancestry is purest.”
Said Ravenclaw, “We’ll teach those whose
Intelligence is surest.”
Said Gryffindor, “We’ll teach all those
With brave deeds to their name.”
Said Hufflepuff, “I’ll teach the lot,
And treat them just the same.”

Maybe it’s just me, but these seem like odd things for a school’s founders to say. Hufflepuff, sure, she valued fairness and wanted to educate everyone. And Ravenclaw’s vision was different from Hufflepuff’s, but there are plenty of private schools that have academic criteria for the students they accept. But Slytherin’s obsession with ancestry seems out of place, and ambition – cited in the Goblet of Fire song – seems more like the sort of thing you demonstrate to get into an exclusive university, not a secondary school. And as for brave deeds, how many eleven-year-olds have done anything very brave? Modern-day Gryffindor certainly selects for potential, rather than choosing only kids who already have “brave deeds to their name”.

It’s almost as if the four founders had very different ideas about what kind of school Hogwarts was going to be.

Remember, Hogwarts was founded 1,000 years ago, in the early middle ages. Even muggle education did not look a thing like it does today, and was not widely available to ordinary people. Magical education was nonexistent in Britain. Ravenclaw may very well have seen Hogwarts as an elite school for the most intelligent students of magic, rather than a public institution where nearly every witch and wizard in Britain would be educated.

Slytherin, on the other hand, might have seen Hogwarts as a place to train magical leaders, since he valued ambition and cunning in his students. In a time period where positions of power were inherited, his obsession with ancestry actually makes a certain amount of sense; he was probably looking to form his own magical aristocracy. Although, of course, sending a basilisk to kill the muggle-borns was uncalled for.

And Gryffindor? A school for the bravest students may seem odd by modern standards,  but the middle ages were a bloody time, when the unforgivable curses were not yet illegal and most wizards’ duels ended in death. Gryffindor may have wanted to take the most courageous young witches and wizards and teach them combative magic, in order to turn them into warriors and protectors, essentially the knights of the magical world.

None of those attitudes would be out of place in their era, but it’s Hufflepuff’s vision for Hogwarts that survives in the present day. Hogwarts takes any student with magical abilities, and they are all given access to the same education. No one, from muggle-borns to werewolves to students who don’t quite fit into any of the houses, is turned away. I think it’s fair to say that, without her belief in fairness and acceptance, Hogwarts wouldn’t be what it is today.