The Tales of Beedle the Bard Read online

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  He resolved at once to take a wife, and that she would be a wife superior to all others. She would possess astounding beauty, exciting envy and desire in every man who beheld her; she would spring from magical lineage, so that their offspring would inherit outstanding magical gifts; and she would have wealth at least equal to his own, so that his comfortable existence would be assured, in spite of additions to his household.

  It might have taken the warlock fifty years to find such a woman, yet it so happened that the very day after he decided to seek her, a maiden answering his every wish arrived in the neighbourhood to visit her kinsfolk.

  She was a witch of prodigious skill and possessed of much gold. Her beauty was such that it tugged at the heart of every man who set eyes on her; of every man, that is, except one. The warlock’s heart felt nothing at all. Nevertheless, she was the prize he sought, so he began to pay her court.

  All who noticed the warlock’s change in manners were amazed, and told the maiden that she had succeeded where a hundred had failed.

  The young woman herself was both fascinated and repelled by the warlock’s attentions. She sensed the coldness that lay behind the warmth of his flattery, and had never met a man so strange and remote. Her kinsfolk, however, deemed theirs a most suitable match and, eager to promote it, accepted the warlock’s invitation to a great feast in the maiden’s honour.

  The table was laden with silver and gold bearing the finest wines and most sumptuous foods. Minstrels strummed on silk-stringed lutes and sang of a love their master had never felt. The maiden sat upon a throne beside the warlock, who spake low, employing words of tenderness he had stolen from the poets, without any idea of their true meaning.

  The maiden listened, puzzled, and finally replied, “You speak well, Warlock, and I would be delighted by your attentions, if only I thought you had a heart!”

  The warlock smiled, and told her that she need not fear on that score. Bidding her to follow, he led her from the feast, and down to the locked dungeon where he kept his greatest treasure.

  Here, in an enchanted crystal casket, was the warlock’s beating heart.

  Long since disconnected from eyes, ears and fingers, it had never fallen prey to beauty, or to a musical voice, to the feel of silken skin. The maiden was terrified by the sight of it, for the heart was shrunken and covered in long black hair.

  “Oh, what have you done?” she lamented. “Put it back where it belongs, I beseech you!”

  Seeing that this was necessary to please her, the warlock drew his wand, unlocked the crystal casket, sliced open his own breast and replaced the hairy heart in the empty cavity it had once occupied.

  “Now you are healed and will know true love!” cried the maiden, and she embraced him.

  The touch of her soft white arms, the sound of her breath in his ear, the scent of her heavy gold hair: all pierced the newly awakened heart like spears. But it had grown strange during its long exile, blind and savage in the darkness to which it had been condemned, and its appetites had grown powerful and perverse.

  The guests at the feast had noticed the absence of their host and the maiden. At first untroubled, they grew anxious as the hours passed, and finally began to search the castle.

  They found the dungeon at last, and a most dreadful sight awaited them there.

  The maiden lay dead upon the floor, her breast cut open, and beside her crouched the mad warlock, holding in one bloody hand a great, smooth, shining scarlet heart, which he licked and stroked, vowing to exchange it for his own.

  In his other hand, he held his wand, trying to coax from his own chest the shrivelled, hairy heart. But the hairy heart was stronger than he was, and refused to relinquish its hold upon his senses or to return to the coffin in which it had been locked for so long.

  Before the horror-struck eyes of his guests, the warlock cast aside his wand, and seized a silver dagger. Vowing never to be mastered by his own heart, he hacked it from his chest.

  For one moment, the warlock knelt triumphant, with a heart clutched in each hand; then he fell across the maiden’s body, and died.


  As we have already seen, Beedle’s first two tales attracted criticism of their themes of generos-ity, tolerance and love. “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart”, however, does not appear to have been modified or much criticised in the hundreds of years since it was first written; the story as I eventually read it in the original runes was almost exactly that which my mother had told me. That said, “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” is by far the most gruesome of Beedle’s offerings, and many parents do not share it with their children until they think they are old enough not to suffer nightmares.[8]

  Why, then, the survival of this grisly tale? I would argue that “The Warlock’s Hairy Heart” has survived intact through the centuries because it speaks to the dark depths in all of us.

  It addresses one of the greatest, and least acknowledged, temptations of magic: the quest for invulnerability.

  Of course, such a quest is nothing more or less than a foolish fantasy. No man or woman alive, magical or not, has ever escaped some form of injury, whether physical, mental or emotional. To hurt is as human as to breathe. Nevertheless, we wizards seem particularly prone to the idea that we can bend the nature of existence to our will. The young warlock[9] in this story, for instance, decides that falling in love would adversely affect his comfort and security. He sees love as a humiliation, a weakness, a drain on a person’s emotional and material resources.

  Of course, the centuries-old trade in love potions shows that our fictional wizard is hardly alone in seeking to control the unpredictable course of love. The search for a true love potion[10] continues to this day, but no such elixir has yet been created, and leading potioneers doubt that it is possible.

  The hero in this tale, however, is not even interested in a simulacrum of love that he can create or destroy at will. He wants to remain forever uninfected by what he regards as a kind of sickness, and therefore performs a piece of Dark Magic that would not be possible outside a storybook: he locks away his own heart.

  The resemblance of this action to the creation of a Horcrux has been noted by many writers.

  Although Beedle’s hero is not seeking to avoid death, he is dividing what was clearly not meant to be divided – body and heart, rather than soul – and in doing so, he is falling foul of the first of Adalbert Waffling’s Fundamental Laws of Magic:

  Tamper with the deepest mysteries – the source of life, the essence of self – only if prepared for consequences of the most extreme and dangerous kind.

  And sure enough, in seeking to become super-human this foolhardy young man renders himself inhuman. The heart he has locked away slowly shrivels and grows hair, symbolising his own descent to beasthood. He is finally reduced to a violent animal who takes what he wants by force, and he dies in a futile attempt to regain what is now for ever beyond his reach – a human heart.

  Though somewhat dated, the expression “to have a hairy heart” has passed into everyday wizarding language to describe a cold or unfeeling witch or wizard. My maiden aunt, Honoria, always alleged that she called off her engagement to a wizard in the Improper Use of Magic Office because she discovered in time that “he had a hairy heart”. (It was rumoured, however, that she actually discovered him in the act of fondling some Horklumps,[11] which she found deeply shocking.) More recently, the self-help book The Hairy Heart: A Guide to Wizards Who Won’t Commi[12]t has topped bestseller lists.


  A long time ago, in a far-off land, there lived a foolish king who decided that he alone should have the power of magic.

  He therefore commanded the head of his army to form a Brigade of Witch-Hunters, and issued them with a pack of ferocious black hounds. At the same time, the King caused proclamations to be read in every village and town across the land:

  “Wanted by the King, an Instructor in Magic.”

  No tr