Wandlore: Hidden Worldbuilding
“The wand chooses the wizard.”
For at least some Harry Potter fans, this particular line is spoken by Ollivander, the wandmaker, is one of the most mysterious in the series.
And it’s something we see to be categorically true time and time again.
There are many rules to wand ownership especially on the exchange from one wizard to another. The only way a witch or wizard can obtain a wand in combat is to defeat the wand’s original owner. After that, it will switch its loyalty. Wands are also drawn toward certain individuals especially as we see when Harry is getting his first one.
Many fans have probably given this a passing curious glance without thinking too deeply about it. They probably just think it’s a neat little worldbuilding detail for the sake of consistency.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Like with many aspects of the wizarding world, these details are just the tip of the iceberg. Beneath it lies a fairly deep, rich web of lore details that people overlook.
It’s definitely worth a deeper look, focusing mainly on the physical properties of wands and the attributes associated with them.
There are four main attributes to any given wand: length, flexibility, wood, and core. For example, Harry’s initial wand was an 11” nice and supple holly with a phoenix feather core. All four of these attributes do have some meaning to them, though some are rather ill-defined.
The wood and the core are the most well-defined attributes. Each wood and core have their own unique properties which help inform the wizard’s personality and circumstances. There are three main cores used in modern wand making, those being unicorn hair, dragon heartstring, and phoenix feather. Others in the series are cited such as Fleur’s veela hair core and the elder wand’s thestral hair core, but those are exceptions, not the rules.
Length is…interesting when it comes to definition. Wands are measured in imperial inches, not the metric system. They usually range from nine to fourteen inches. Sometimes length has a correlation with certain aspects such as anything below eight inches “usually select those in whose character something is lacking,” according to Ollivander. Numbers can sometimes have attached meanings such as thirteen.
Flexibility or rigidity is the least well-defined aspect of this. According to Ollivander, “denotes the degree of adaptability and willingness to change possessed by the wand-and-owner pair.” That is all of the explanation we’ve gotten from JKR herself, though fans have stepped in and created unique analyses of the flexibilities. However, we are sticking strictly to canon, so that will not be touched upon.
With the basics out of the way, let’s look at a few wands.
The first we’ll look at is Harry’s first wand which was cited earlier: 11” nice and supple holly with a phoenix feather core.
The core is where I personally begin when dealing with wandlore as it often speaks to the core of the person. The phoenix feather is the most powerful but also rarest of all the cores. It can be difficult to work with due to the phoenix itself being so distant. It’ll also often do things on its own which many witches and wizards dislike.
Holly wood is one of the rarest wood types and tends to pair with people that have a protective personality as well as need help overcoming anger and impulsiveness. It is extremely difficult to pair holly wood with a phoenix feather core. The phoenix’s detached nature and the holly’s volatility conflict. So witches and wizards who find themselves with this rare pairing are usually on some dangerous quest.
This definitely sums up Harry pretty well. Throughout the books and movies, we see him struggle with anger and impulsiveness. Hermione often has to pull him back from the brink of doing something kind of stupid so that he won’t land face-first into Voldemort’s clutches. This impulsiveness and desire to do things can make him hard to work with at times, but it also makes him great opposition for the Dark Lord.
Perhaps one of the best examples of this was when he formed Dumbledore’s Army. While this was not an impulsive decision as it took much planning and support, it shows several of the highlight points. It puts him smack dab in the middle of his dangerous quest by opposing the Ministry of Magic itself as well as Umbridge herself. He opted to step in and offer education where there was none. He did this of his own accord which the Ministry and Umbridge did not like.
And speaking of Umbridge…
Her wand is an 8” birch with a dragon heartstring core. The flexibility is unknown.
Dragon heartstring cores are literally what they sound like; they’re fibers gathered directly from the heart of a dragon. They’re the most flamboyant of all the cores and are the type most prone to accidents. They will always bond strongly to their current owner though their allegiance can be more easily won than the other two types. They are also the most inclined to the Dark Arts, though that arises from the user and not a property inherent to the core.
Birchwood unfortunately has no listed wandlore properties.
The focal point here isn’t the wood, flexibility, or core in this case; it’s the length. As stated earlier, wands of eight inches or below are drawn to a witch or wizard whose character is lacking. Considering this is Umbridge, it doesn’t take much explanation for that.
Regardless…the best example of this, though, was the entire Patronus incident in the Ministry during Deathly Hallows. Muggleborns were being accused of “stealing” magic from purebloods and suffering. Umbridge had her cat Patronus out in full force and this was while she was wearing Voldemort’s Horcrux which temporarily tore the Golden Trio apart.
There are many other examples of how deeply wandlore is rooted into the wizarding world. Each unique wand tells the story of its original holder and even those of the people that acquire them. Like most things in Harry Potter, what you see is not what you get and a second or even third look is required.
Rowling, Joanne. “Garrick Ollivander.” Harry Potter Wiki, 10 Aug. 2015, harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Garrick_Ollivander?file=Harry-potter1-ollivander_harry.jpg.
Phoenix feather. (n.d.). Harry Potter Wiki. https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Phoenix_feather
Holly. (n.d.). Harry Potter Wiki. https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/HollyDragon heartstring. (n.d.). Harry Potter Wiki. https://harrypotter.fandom.com/wiki/Dragon_heartstring