Small Historical Details Hidden In The Background Of 'Harry Potter' Movies
The Harry Potter films brought to life a highly intricate and complex setting revolving around Hogwarts. The book and film series are both rich with mythological themes, historical allusions, and references to arcane historical figures like Nicolas Flamel, among others. The filmmakers, however, went beyond using the larger, more overarching legendary features of the story of Harry Potter. Throughout this fantasy world, historically relevant details were carefully placed in the background, adding more depth to the ancient castle and the wizarding world that surrounds it. It adds an extra layer of intrigue to know the set designers and artists inserted interesting historical parallels, objects, and works of art where they could. Some of these are so unobtrusive, and touched upon so quickly, that they're easy for fans to overlook.
This list takes an in-depth look at the historical Easter eggs hidden in the films, including references to art history, political ideologies, astronomical events, and more. Weigh in on the details you find to be the most intriguing or surprising.
- 11,100 VOTES
A Real Full Moon Explains Lupin's Exhaustion On The Hogwarts Express
A clever background detail adds a layer of intrigue to the introduction of Remus Lupin. The events of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban begin in the year 1993. The students would have boarded the Hogwarts Express, as usual, on September 1 for their first day of the term. Harry, Ron, and Hermione board the compartment with a sleeping man, who they later learn will be their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher. Many fans have expressed their doubt that Lupin did nothing to protect the trio during the first Dementor strike that night on the train. At first glance, it seems odd that his slumber could have been deep enough that he would not stir during all the commotion.
However, when one considers his condition and the phase of the moon, this starts to seem much more likely. In 1993, the night of September 1 was actually a full moon, meaning the previous night at 2 am, Lupin would have transformed. The professor shares later that the transformations leave him completely exhausted, which easily explains how he could have been tired enough to sleep through the Dementor onslaught.
- 2972 VOTES
A Portrait Of Anne Boleyn Displayed At HogwartsPhoto: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / Warner Bros. Pictures
Keep a close watch on the portraits hung on the walls of Hogwarts to catch a glimpse of Tudor Queen Anne Boleyn. As the second wife of the infamous King Henry VIII, she met a gruesome end when her husband ordered her execution by beheading. Her portrait's appearance in the film is a reference to the folktales that surround her demise, namely that she was accused of witchcraft in addition to the other charges that brought about her untimely end. While the stories surrounding the accusations of witchcraft are falsehoods, they keep cropping up nonetheless. The idea that Anne was a witch possibly arose from the rumors that she had extra fingers and multiple moles that could've been taken for "witch's marks." This myth has been reinforced, in part, due to Anne Boleyn's depiction in the novel The Other Boleyn Girl, in which her character practices dark spellcraft.
Her face appearing on the walls of Hogwarts seems to be a reference to these myths; it's a fun in-joke for lovers of history and hints that she may have even been a Hogwarts student. Of course, given that possibility, one can't help but wonder whether Anne was sorted into Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, or Slytherin. Odds are she probably wasn't a Hufflepuff.
- 3858 VOTES
This Replica Of A Real, Historical Chess SetPhoto: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone / Warner Bros. Pictures
An interesting background detail appears in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone as Ron and Harry play a game of Wizard's Chess in the Great Hall of Hogwarts. Fans may remember the striking chess set used during this sequence, and enjoy the thrill of watching the red queen smash the knight. Many fans may not realize, however, that this is a replica of the famous Lewis Chessmen - and not just any replica! This particular set belongs to museum curator Irving Finkel, who tells an amusing tale about how he lent his personal set to the filmmakers.
The original pieces were discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Their origin is murky, but it appears they were carved of walrus tusk and half of the pieces were once dyed red. They somehow became buried on the shore at some point after their creation in the 12th century. The artifacts were uncovered in the 1830s and parts of the collection are on display at both the British Museum and the National Museum of Scotland.
- 4924 VOTES
A Wizard Reads Stephen Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time'
This is a blink-and-you'll-miss-it comical detail that happens around the beginning of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. In an establishing shot as Harry arrives at the Leaky Cauldron, we see a wizard reading a book. Most eyes will be drawn to the fact that he's magicking the spoon to stir his drink, but a closer look at what he's reading may prove more interesting. He is engrossed in A Brief History of Time.
This title by famed physicist Stephen Hawking is considered to be one of the most influential (and popular) books on theoretical physics. Showing that wizards are also interested in scientific material from the Muggle world is a cool detail supplementing the larger world-building of the Potter universe. It's a small detail, but it's enough to make one wonder how the realms of magic and science come together in this fantasy world.
- 5694 VOTES
'The Lady and the Unicorn' Adorns The Gryffindor Common RoomPhoto: Harry Potter and The Sorcerer's Stone / Warner Bros. Pictures
This real set of six Renaissance tapestries hangs in the Gryffindor common room. The images show a woman coexisting harmoniously with both a lion and a unicorn. This set of symbols creates a very interesting contrast to the tapestries in the Slytherin common room, which show people hunting and capturing unicorns. The lion, meant to be representative of Gryffindor House throughout the series, has also been known to stand for bravery and nobility. The unicorn also may stand for purity, innocence, and eternal life. Whereas the images in the Slytherin room show attempts to capture and use the unicorn, a la Voldemort, the Gryffindor common room speaks to living alongside the creature.
Five of the six tapestries in the set are focused around the five senses; this could be seen as consistent with the overall thematic message of Harry Potter - that life must be experienced and appreciated while you have it, and trying to conquer death can only lead to ruin. Evidence to support this is shown in the central usage of the sixth tapestry. It bears the words "A Mon Seul Désir," which can be interpreted as both "my soul desire" and "by my own free will." This seems to be a powerful commentary on both Harry and Voldemort's relationship toward death and life. It could also represent Harry's deep desire to belong to a family and how he gains this through the connections he makes in Gryffindor.
- 6635 VOTES
Snape's Werewolf Slideshow Alludes To Many Works Of Art
During one scene in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we see a fun collection of werewolf-themed art history slides. This is during Professor Snape's lesson as a substitute teacher while he is attempting to blow Professor Lupin's cover. While each of the images in the slides appears to have been created specifically for the film, they all harken to real works of art. The first is a cave drawing showing a wolfish man, much like these 6,000-year-old rock drawings of wolves found in the Cumberland Plateau. The next slide shows ancient Egyptian wall art of a man fighting a wolf-headed biped. This bears resemblance to images of the wolf deity Wepwawet found at the Temple of Seti I.
The next image is an obvious reference to Leonardo da Vinci's The Vitruvian Man, with the man's head being replaced by that of a wolf. Finally, we see a piece of Grecian pottery that appears to be from antiquity. This item is evocative of this piece of 5th-century pottery that depicts the Illiad's Dolon in a wolf skin.