The ideas behind the books


I love a good boggart. It's a northern English dialect word (apparently) for poltergeist. They're the mischievous ones that clatter about the house carrying out minor acts of wanton destruction. Since they are attached to a particular dwelling place for all time, the present occupants must learn to rub along with the boggart as best they can:

Before they had got into the house Keith felt his ankle nipped. He thought it would be a creeping silent dog, but the dog was tied up by the pig hole. Keith wriggled his foot, and something rushed across the hay-strewn yard, and the front door of the farm swung open, and closed with a bang. Mrs Watson appeared in the doorway. Over her head appeared the teapot, swinging through the air. David thought it would fall to the ground, but it didn't. It landed at his feet, and the lid rattled.
Mrs Watson laughed. 'It's him,' she said 'The good little fellow.'
'Did he bring it to me?' said David. 'Shall I say thank you?'
'You try that,' said Mrs Watson. David said it, then picked the pot up, and followed Mrs Watson into the house. He found a chair nudging him behind the knees, and he sat down. Then he thought a cat had jumped into his lap, but there was nothing there when he looked.
'Performance over, I hope,' said Mrs Watson.

This particular boggart appears in Earthfasts by William Mayne. He's a bit of a grouchy specimen, the boggart, and capable of quite immoderate behaviour:

'He's a rotten little ...' But they did not hear the word that followed, because there was a disturbance in the hay behind Frank, and something began scooping it up and dredging it out over his head, so that he was out of sight under the fall of hay. The fall spread on to the steps, and became an avalanche and a whirlwind all in one. Then it stopped and Frank Watson stood up. He had been forced down the steps by the weight of moving hay. He pulled strands from his hair and from his eyes, and ran his finger round inside his neck where the hayseeds had stuck.
'I'll put it back,' he said, without any emotion in his voice at all.

In her book The Boggart, Susan Cooper creates a spectacular character with a fierce loyalty for his place and people, but who nevertheless is always looking for mischief on a grand scale. She does give us a clue to the origin of the thing, though:

The Boggart was his own master. Being one of the Old Things of the world, he was not made for human warmth; he belonged to the cold separate heart of the Wild Magic, which like everything that is wild operates by the law of the survival of the fittest. He did no hurt to anyone, but he lived for the satisfaction of teasing and trickery, and if the humans around him objected to his jokes they would find those jokes taking on a quality very close to malice. A boggart, by his nature, feels warmth for no one. 

But we only learn how to deal with a boggart  when J K Rowling takes the matter up in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:

'The charm that repels a Boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind. You see, the thing that really finishes a Boggart is laughter. What you need to do is force it to assume a shape that you find amusing ..'

Actually, Harry Potter's boggart is a bit different from the usual run, but he is quite diverting in the classroom.

Because the boggart is so clearly wrapped up in its own affairs it can be used as some sort of distracting sub-plot in a larger story. This is how William Mayne and J K Rowling choose to do it. Susan Cooper, on the other hand makes him the centrepiece of two books and they are highly entertaining. If you are interested, have a look at these:

William Mayne

  • Earthfasts
  • Cradlefasts
  • Candlefasts

Susan Cooper

  • The Boggart
  • The Boggart and the Monster

J K Rowling

  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone
  • Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban