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The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter (revised edition) Paperback – May 6, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 110 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Anyone who has read the Harry Potter books is aware that author J.K. Rowling infuses her stories with references to mythology, literature, history, and legends. Even if you don't know exactly what a manticore or a griffin is, it's likely that many readers have at least a vague sense of the existence of these creatures in ancient lore. Inspired by Rowling's suggestion to a young fan to "go and look it up," author David Colbert did quite a bit of investigation himself. The result is the fun, entertaining, and enlightening Magical Worlds of Harry Potter.

From alchemy to hippogriffs to veela, Colbert explores the fascinating meanings between the lines and buried within the names of characters and places in all the Harry Potter books. Chapter headings include such intriguing questions as "Have Witches Always Flown on Broomsticks?" "Why Would Chocolate Help After Escaping a Dementor?" and "Are Any of the Famous Witches and Wizards Real?" A small purple tab in the margin of the first page of each chapter guides readers looking for specific subjects: Divination, Goblins, McGonogall, Owls, Voldemort, Wands, etc. Curious readers will learn the link between Hagrid's pet dog, Fluffy, and the mythological Greek sentry to Hades, Cerberus. And they'll get a taste of scholar Joseph Campbell's theories on heroism, with Harry as the hero, of course. The true magic of this book is that it will surely inspire Harry Potter fans to delve deeper into the various areas it explores. Readers will soon be clamoring for collections of Greek, Japanese, Indian, and Egyptian mythology, as well as copies of The Sword in the Stone, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Canterbury Tales, and Treasure Island, to discover the sources of their favorite Harry Potter books. (All ages) --Emilie Coulter --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From School Library Journal

Grade 5 & Up--A book for librarians and teachers to introduce fantasy, mythology, and folklore; a good reference source; and a title that will appeal to Harry Potter's multitude of fans. The 53 entries, most of them two to six pages in length, are arranged in alphabetical order by a highlighted keyword. For example, words such as "Alchemy," "Animagus," "Grindylows," "Voldemort," and "wizards" are defined, traced to their usage in other tales, and given an expanded description. Some see-also references appear in the margins. Long after the enthusiasm for Harry and friends has abated, this small volume will serve as a resource to answer questions that may result from reading other stories in the genre. Buy two copies-one for reference and one for circulation.

Mary Lankford, Library Consultant, Austin, TX

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Updated edition (May 6, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425223183
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425223185
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.7 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #369,072 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on September 8, 2001
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I am an adult Harry Potter fan, and I found this to be an excellent guide to the historical events and figures behind the characters in the books. I learned about the real Nicolas Flamel, for instance, and about many mythological creatures similar to those in the Potter books. Surprisingly, it is a much better guide than the 500-plus page volume, "Beacham's Sourcebook...Exploring Harry Potter" by Elizabeth Schafer. Schafer's book seems at first glance to be a well-researched guide to the ideas and figures behind the series, but I found her analysis and conclusions to be somewhat forced. It strikes the reader as more of an adult reference book than "The Magical Worlds..." does--this one can definitely be enjoyed by young readers-- but Colbert's guide is much more grounded in fact, sticking to explaining who the historical figures were and what events are related to the Potter books. Each chapter is short, explaining one name, creature, or idea. This made it very easy to explore in short stretches, without having to start from the beginning. It doesn't pretend to offer a deep analysis of Rowling's motives or thought process, but does give us the background to further appreciate her work. Think of it as a quick course in mythology and history as related to the Harry Potter books. I find myself referring to it repeatedly, while Schafer's book sits on my shelf. A must-read for any Potter fan interested in learning more about his magical world!
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Format: Paperback
This wonderful book covers a broad array of fascinating topics related to our favorite wizard and hero, Harry Potter. "The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter" reveals the actual historical and mythological backgrounds of the magic spells, magical beasties, locations, good wizards and the nasties that make up J.K. Rowling's world(s). Before I read "The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter", I had no idea that J.K. Rowling infused the Harry Potter stories with SO MANY inside jokes and hidden meanings. Rowling was brilliant in creating and intertwining everything in her stories. David Colbert, the author of "Magical Worlds" was equally brilliant in explaining it all clearly and concisely. David Colbert discusses Harry's relationship to people like Ovid, Shakespeare, Dickens and Flaubert in a highly informative yet lighthearted and irreverent way. Reading in bed at 2:00 in the morning, I was laughing out loud. The book is beautifully illustrated.
Now that I've read "The Magical Worlds of Harry Potter" I have an incredibly greater appreciation for the richness and depth of the Harry Potter epic. Whether you are simply a curious Muggle or a die-hard Harry Potter fan, this book is a MUST READ. It's as good a read as the stories themselves!
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Format: Paperback
First of all, DON'T READ THIS BOOK UNTIL YOU'VE FINISHED ALL FOUR HARRY POTTER BOOKS! I was surprised there wasn't a warning that the book contains "spoilers".
Before reading Colbert's book, I was in awe of Rowling's mastery of storytelling and truly impressed by her craftsmanship. Now, after reading Colbert, I am... well, I don't even think there's a word to describe how magnificently astonished I am.
It boils down to this: I thought I was clever. I saw a lot of references to mythology, Latin, etc. I DIDN'T EVEN CATCH A TENTH OF THE REFERENCES. The fact that they are so seamlessly hidden is striking proof of great writing.
Colbert is one of those people who reads too much and is much too smart for his own good. In other words, I envy him terribly! Here he has compiled a fascinating collection of historical & mythological tidbits into a very easy-to-read, easy-to-comprehend book. Interesting to adults, understandable for kids.
On the downside, this means he only teases the reader with enough knowledge to make them want to go out and research some more. Some may find this annoying, but I think that was the point--to inspire young and old alike to do a bit of research. I think Rowling would probably prefer it this way.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
David Colbert is an editorial director at HarperCollins Publishing Company. I think he missed his real vocation; he should have been a middle school teacher. Mr. Colbert has an amazing gift for catching and holding youngsters' (and us oldsters', too) interest through forays into scholarly erudition that actually sound like fun as he presents it. Have you ever noticed that so many of the names and terms in the Potter books have Latin bases; or wondered where the legend of the manticore originated; or wanted to know more about the influence of magic and legend on the writings of Shakespeare, Flaubert, Dickens, and John Donne, among others? It's all here, and lots more, in this fact-and-fancy-packed and fascinating book. Pottermaniacs from 7 to 97 will love it.

(Although I'm still wondering about what kind of spray will work on that nasty Peeves the Poltergeist...)

Judy Lind
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Format: Paperback
Don't be fooled, all ye who are not Scholars! This book is one of the most incorrect books I have ever read! But, David Colbert cleverly disguises ignorance with eloquent words! (I'm not ignorant, by the way, in case you were thinking...).
1. Firstly, I'll touch on a less important mistake; the table of contents on the back of the paperback edition is faulty - it says there is a section on snakes; there is not! But that could merely be dismissed as an accident. It also states, "AND MORE!", when there is just one more (true, but rude). He also names each of his chapters with a question (i.e., "Why are mirrors magical?"), but often times does not answer the question!
2. Secondly, his information is faulty. He did not do he research he should have; for example, he says the grindylow and the jenny greenteeth are the same thing, when they most certainly are not! The grindylow, or grundylow, is a Yorkshire water goblin. Jenny Greenteeth, for one, is individual. She is an old hag that supposedly lives in Lancashire who LIVES IN A TREE hanging over a river. When travelors come by, she reaches out her spidery arm to catch her victim, which she devours with her green teeth.
3. He gives several bogus etymologies (historical roots of words). But the one that really gets my dander up is HIPPOCAMPUS (a horse of the sea). He states, "This sea horse gets its name from the Greek word for horse (hippos) and the latin word for ground (campus)." For those of you not educated in etymology, I would like to point out the first fatal flaw - Latin and Greek NEVER go directly together to make a word. Sometimes, a Greek word is Latinized and THEN is put together, but never without the Latinization.
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