The Tale of the Three Brothers

chapter twenty-one of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The trio listens as Xenophilius has Hermione read the Tale of the Three Brothers, and then explains that the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone, and the Cloak of Invisibility are the Deathly Hallows. Hermione in particular is skeptical but they are interrupted by Death Eaters come to capture Harry, and narrowly escape.

The Peverell Brothers, by MartinTenbones

“There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely, winding road at twilight….”


The Tale of the Three Brothers, by somelatevisitor

“The brothers… were halfway across [the bridge] when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure….”


Death at the Elder, by Beeeb

“…Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother….”

(by Beeeb)


The Tale of the Three Brothers, by Hannah-Dora

“The Elder Wand,” he said, and he drew a straight vertical line upon the parchment. “The Resurrection Stone,” he said, and he added a circle on top of the line. “The Cloak of Invisibility,” he finished, enclosing both line and circle in a triangle…. “Together,” he said, “the Deathly Hallows.”


Deathly Hallows, by briarthorn and greendesire

“It’s just a morality tale, it’s obvious which gift is best, which one you’d choose -“
The three of them spoke at the same time; Hermione said, “the cloak,” Ron said, “the wand,” and Harry said, “the stone.”


about the chapter


The Power of Magic

When discussing the Deathly Hallows, Xenophilius makes a comment that I’ve always found interesting:

“Witness that knuckle-headed young man at your brother’s wedding,” he nodded at Ron, “who attacked me for sporting the symbol of a well-known Dark wizard! Such ignorance. There is nothing Dark about the Hallows – at least, not in that crude sense.”

First of all, I love that Xenophilius just called a international superstar athlete a knuckle-head. But beyond that, his reference to Dark magic is fascinating. We usually think of Dark magic in the same “crude” sense as Krum – if somebody is doing something bad, they must be using Dark magic. But we’ve gotten a few hints like this one that magic can be considered Dark without necessarily being evil or law-breaking. The existence of Borgin and Burkes as a shop is a testament to this – surely it wouldn’t have existed for so long if there weren’t some branches of Dark magic that are widely considered acceptable? Exactly what that might mean, of course, is open to interpretation. But it’s interesting to consider.

Full Circle

I love the moment when Harry, Ron, and Hermione each think it’s obvious which Deathly Hallow is most desirable – yet each chooses a different one, surprised by the choices of their two friends. It reminds me of something Rowling once said about the quotes at the beginning of this book – she picked them out early on in her writing, saying that she “always knew if I could use them at the beginning of book seven then I’d cued up the ending perfectly. If they were relevant, then I went where I needed to go.” In some ways, this is a similar moment for her three main characters. Each chooses the Deathly Hallow best suited to them, and just as Rowling planned it all along, each chooses a different one – a choice that, when you think about it, isn’t a bit surprising. Of course Harry wants Dumbledore’s help on his quest; of course Ron wants the wand to defeat Voldemort; of course Hermione will see the morality in the tale and choose accordingly. It’s perfect, and like with her quotes, it means Rowling got her characters right where she needed them to go. What a perfect moment.

Of course, in as much as the trio each chooses a different Hallow, it’s also clear that they each *symbolize* a different Hallow. Harry, driven above all by love and longing; Ron, by the need to prove himself; Hermione, by the need to do what’s right. And of course, much of their friendship has been driven by the need to overcome death, in a way, and destroy Voldemort. This book easily could have been titled “Harry Potter and the Horcrux Quest,” but while destroying Horcruxes accurately describes what Harry is trying to do in this book, his specific means of targeting Voldemort isn’t nearly as important as the fact that he, Ron, and Hermione are pooling their talents to simply do whatever it takes. In a way, they are the Deathly Hallows, and that’s what this book is about. Amazing. (And thanks to Amy for pushing my thinking on this!)

34 Responses to “The Tale of the Three Brothers”

  1. I love that the trio all chose different hallows. They really do fit them perfectly. Hermione, the one who wants to follow rules, chooses the one you are ‘meant’ to pick; Harry, the one who has suffered so much loss in his life, chooses the one to bring back the dead; and Ron, the one who has been overshadowed not just by his family but also by his best friends, chooses the one which would make him unbeatable. I think their choices are very important in terms of the series as a whole. The hallows, when united, make the holder the master of death. Just look what happens when the trio, who are each represented by a different hallow, are united.

  2. I still wonder if the importance of The Tales of Beedle the Bard in the whole story would have been hinted if that particular book was published, let’s say, alongside with the Chamber of Secrets.
    Btw, Josie, you made Krum a “kunckle-head” :)

  3. Welcome back (temporarily), Josie!

    And wouldn’t it be just like a seeker-of-knowledge to call some international superstar athlete a knuckle-head? :)

    And I know we don’t usually get into the movies here, but I’d just like to say that this part of DH pt.1 is beautifully done; artistically, and in the way Emma Watson narrates it. In my mind, the film makers captured that feeling of fairy tale wonder and destiny perfectly.

  4. Amy: I *love* your metaphor – the trio representing the Hallows, and uniting to fight Voldemort. That’s what the whole book is! And that’s why Deathly Hallows is the title. Ahhh. I might add something about that to the page now….

    Jose Lopes: haha, kunkle-head! I think I like that better, I might start using it. Anyway, I’ll fix it.

    Natalia: In total agreement about the movie scene. It was beautiful. And I was glad they left out Ron’s interruptions. ;)

  5. Thanks Josie. It was your comments that made me think of it in that way so you’re more than welcome :)

  6. Josie — So glad you’re back! Did anyone see “Deathly Hallows: Part I”? The animatic of this fairy tale was utterly goregeous, one of the best things to come out of any Harry Potter film. Such a haunting tale, even here on the page!

    Jose Lopez — I love going back and rereading the books and seeing what might fit in where. The Tale of the 3 Brothers is one of those aspoects of the story that illuminates so much. Seeing in in CoS would have been a shocker, to say the least.

  7. Wow, I love the idea of the trio as representing the Hallows – the Hallows, combined, can defeat death, just as the trio, combined can defeat Voldemort, who represents death to the wizarding world. Fantastic theory!

  8. Welcome back, Josie.
    Meri, I too loved the part in the movie where Hermionie narrates the animated story of the three brothers. Josie, your discussion about the trio and the hallows is excellent. Rowling was brilliant with this concept.

  9. Welcome back, Josie

    When you think about it, really, of course Krum has no idea that the symbol of the Deathly Hallows is more than Gregorovitch’s sign. It’s EXACTLY like the ‘muggle world’ (our world) where, when shown a Swastika, we will all immediately think of the Nazis when really Hitler just utilized the symbol that dates back thousands of years as a religious tote for ancient civilizations.

  10. The drawing of the three brothers and Death on the bridge by somelatevisitor is wonderful! It’s so Tim Burton-ish.

  11. Argh — I am still waiting for the DVD of Deathly Hallows (wasn’t able to see it in the theatre).

    It was apparently released today (!) but we’ll see how long it takes us to get it from Netflix. :)

  12. I, too, loved this section in the movie! I’m glad they left Ron’s interruptions out but his comments are really neccesary to realize that this is a fairy tale; there are many versions and believing that it is more than a morality tale sounds absolutely crazy.

  13. Correction — I guess they are advertising it already, but the DVD won’t be out in until 4/15.

  14. I loved this part in the movie…it was so hauntingly beautiful. It’s interesting that each of the hallows represents them… I had never thought about it like that before. :)

  15. UK release is on 11/4/11 (i.e the day after tomorrow)

  16. Like Adele was saying, this is just another Grindelwald-Hitler comparison. Just like Hitler took the Swastika, which was an ancient symbol from various cultures that had a prominent geometry, Grindelwald took an ancient symbol and gave it a new meaning as the symbol for his campaign.

    The Hitler analogies go far beyond just this:

  17. In the movie, I absolutely LOVED this scene and how it was so awesomely artistic! I do love the scene in the book, even with Ron’s interruptions (so like Ron!). I really love when Ron is stretched out with his hands behind his head like it’s story time–classic Ron!

  18. I really, really enjoy all of JKR’s writing, and I’m usually pretty unfazed by wee errors and inconsistencies (Weasley ages, missing days…). Most of them I never would have noticed if they weren’t pointed out on this brilliant site :). However, this chapter holds one thing that has bugged me right from the first read-through. Hermione has a book written in Ancient Runes. In a language that is no longer spoken, and in a completley different script. From other passages I imagine it’s supposed to be something like futhark runes, and a variant of an Old Germanic language. All fine and believable. But then she picks up this book and reads from it without hesitation, in fluent, fairytale-style contemporary English, beautifully phrased. It’s absolutely impossible to do that. Even a trained interpreter for two modern languages needs a lot of practice to read something straight off the page like that, and even then you need to pause every now and then to sort things out in your head. To read so fluently from a “dead” language in an unfamiliar script is simply not possible, not least because there are always bits that can’t be deciphered or interpreted in texts of that age. Yes, Hermione is very clever, and she has put a lot of effort into studying Ancient Runes, but still. And I don’t think she’s using some kind of “interpreting spell” – that wouldn’t fit with how magic works in this world. If there was such a spell, why would anyone bother to learn the ancient language and decipher the script? I know this is a beautiful scene, and the tale needs to flow smoothly for dramatic reasons. But why not have Hermione read out her own translation of the tale, that she carefully and skilfully jotted down on scraps of parchment while she was studying the book on their travels? Absolutely believable, and a nice tie-in with the fact that she published the entire book in translation later in life. I can just see her during maternity leave with Rose, digging out her old notes from the Voldemort-hunt and compiling a truly scholarly and well-phrased translation of this classic. Ah well. Maybe just a tiny snag that bothers a language-person like me. Apologies for the long post, and I’d love to hear what you think!

  19. I hope you’ll all pardon a quick editor’s note.

    I’ve removed several posts from this comment thread – one because it was clearly an intentionally inflammatory remark with no basis in fact. The others I removed somewhat regretfully, as they were well-written, thoughtful, and polite responses, but they simply didn’t make sense once the original comment was taken down. :)

    I’m interested in hearing a variety of perspectives and opinions on this website; however, I’m not interested in comments which simply bait other visitors to respond and which ignore all rational argument. These types of comments will be deleted in the future.

    Thanks everyone – you’re a fantastic group of readers (not least for your responses to an inflammatory remark) and I appreciate that I very, very rarely have to involve myself like this. :)

  20. Judith — I think what we hear her read *is* Hermione’s translation. There has been a lot of downtime on this horcrux hunt. I would imagine that Hermione spent most of that translating all of the tales in the book, including that of the 3 Brothers. If she didn’t copy the translation onto a separate parchment or scroll, perhaps she worked it out directly on the pages of the book itself. Not entirely respectful, perhaps, but even an old book lover like myself occasionally writes in the margins.

  21. Josie, I forgive you… But I did spend a lot of time typing that on the phone. =/
    Luckily, I’m done with exams for a while, so I didn’t take time off studying. =p

    (btw, the original comment was so surreal, I didn’t even consider it inflammatory)

    Judith’s comment points out something I had noticed myself and since in the book it’s specified that she’s reading straight from the Tales, we can rule out the “reading from her own translation” option. I’m not discarding the possibility that she might have taken notes directly on the book, but I can’t really see Hermione doing that… Still, it’s not entirely preposterous to think that she’s doing a straight out translation, as she reads: 1) we’re not told how long she takes to read the story: she’s not faltering as she reads, but she might be reading rather slowly, to allow for some thoughts on the proper translation. 2) she’s been pouring on that book for months!! Ancient Runes sounds like a dufficult language, especially as a dead language, and I certainly couldn’t pull such a direct translation of an Aesop fable from the original Ancient Greek. But I probably could read out a translation of a Latin text I’d been analyzing for months, and I certainly could give a fairly good English-Italian or Italian-English translation of something I’d read or heard before (my mom usually employs me for Frank Sinatra translations =p): I’m probably more fluent in English than Hermione is in Runes, but my Latin is certainly rustier, since I haven’t studied it in the last 5 years (except for the random Latin quote in Law books), so if I’m confident I could do it, I guess Hermione could as well. And the fact that the alphabet is different shouldn’t be much of a hindrance, since once you start studying a language the first and easiest thing you interiorize is the alphabet.

  22. Regarding Hermione reading the tale – during the time Ron left she took the book out to study it. She didn’t have much else to do at the time as they had found dead ends with every line of thought. She noticed the tale of the three brothers was slightly different to the other stories as it had the hand-drawn ‘eye’ above the heading. She clearly thought it was a clue from Dumbledore. I’m quite certain she spent ages trying to translate that specific story looking for more clues. Remember she didn’t have much else to do at that point and wanted a distraction from Ron. By the time it came to her reading it out to Xeno, Harry and Ron I think she would have already translated it. It would be much easier to read it out then as it would be mostly remembering what she had already translated.

  23. Thank you Josie! Thought that was a weird comment but you know us, we can’t wait to show off our HP thoughts!

  24. Amy, I’m with you. I think Hermione had already fully translated the story while she was camping. She knew it was a clue; it isn’t long; and it is a coherent narrative. And she was translating Futhark-to-English, which is much easier than vice versa. I think she’d have had the words pretty well memorised by this time. By using the original text as a prompt, she would have easily recalled the translation in her notes and recited it fluently.

    Anyone who has proper training in a foreign language can do this; I speak as the teacher who has given the training! Yes, Futhark might be more difficult than a modern language, but it’s a language that Hermione has studied for four years.

    Josie, I don’t have a problem with your removing inflammatory comments. This has always been a friendly site where people don’t take offence at ordinary debate. Let’s keep it that way!

  25. I’m with those that think Hermione translated while camping – there really was a lot of downtime, and the best way to keep track of her translation notes (in my opinion) would be to keep them in the book, or even to write in the book itself. I’m bilingual, so I know from experience how difficult it is to translate on the fly, no matter how well you know the language. She’d have to at least have notes.
    I suppose you choose the Hallow according to what you value the most. Harry values people, hence the resurrection stone. Hermione values knowledge, which the cloak has already helped them gain. It could also mean security. Ron, much as I love him, is the most shallow of the three, I think, and so goes for power as represented by the elder wand. I love Amy’s comparison of the Hallows to the trio in her first comment.

  26. Aw man! I can’t believe I missed the big fight! I always missed fights in school, too.
    I did like the way they did this scene in the movie, but it seemed a little out of place, like nothing they’ve ever done before.
    And I love all the little clues about poor Xenophilius’s treachery: looking out the window the whole time, the owl flying past the window, etc. Things I never noticed the first time and attributed to his weird personality and JKR’s description.

  27. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, folks! I agree that Hermione must have pored over this particular part of the book for quite a while. That would make it easier to read it, true – I never thought of that. I know it’s possible to translate off the page (I do it a lot myself), but not that fluently and seamlessly. And I still think it’s harder with a so-called “dead language”. And the text she reads is so implausibly flawlessly phrased… it just reminded me of all the silly films where people read ancient carved glyphs straight off a rock face :D.
    I can’t imagine Hermione scribbling in the book either – just seems out of character.

  28. I’ve never really thought about her translating perfectly from the page… But it’s possible that she did what I do when translating – write the English on a scrap piece of paper (or parchment, in this case) and leave it in the book on the page where the original is written

  29. Adele, your idea makes sense to me. Like Judith, I can’t see Hermione writing in a book. Especially *this* book – Xeno says it’s the “original” edition of the Tales, and it was Dumbledore’s personal copy. No way I see her scribbling notes in the margins.

  30. Amy, you are spot-on about the choices made by the Trio, and it does sum up their personalities and values pretty well. It wasn’t until I read the debate here that I realised what had been bothering me. I can’t really say this without referring to spoilers.

    Harry, the hero who has lost his family, chooses the Resurrection Stone. Yet it turns out to be a cheat: it cannot truly bring his family back.

    Hermione, who is logical and rule-abiding, makes the intelligent and “correct” choice. In the story, the Cloak is the only way to face up to Death courageously. You’d think from the Tale that the Cloak would be the vital clue to defeating Voldemort. Yet in real life – it isn’t. The Cloak helps with a few clues along the way, but it contributes very little to defeating Voldemort. Harry has to take it off to communicate with Snape and discover the nature of his final task.

    Ron, who is impulsive and wants to get on with the action, chooses the Wand, which is the weapon of violence and revenge. It’s supposed to be an immature choice. Yet this turns out to be the right choice. It’s the Wand that finishes off Voldemort. It’s the crudest and least inspiring of the Hallows that they actually need to defeat Death.

    Of course, Harry doesn’t exactly use the Wand. On the final page of the story, it doesn’t even occur to (the now grown-up) Ron to covet it for himself.

  31. Gosh, I love StumbleUpon. This whole site is amazing and filled to the brim with talented people. I love how intuitive the analysis is, and in some place, you’ve echoed my thoughts. But at the same time, there are some things that make so much sense that I’ve just never thought of. The artwork is beautifully done and I love comparing what I saw in my mind’s eye to what another reader.

    Excellent, excellent work, all of you. I was disappointed that this is the last updated post. I can’t wait to read more. Keep up the good work and thank you once again for your beautiful insights and for making this HP dork feel less alone in her interests. :]

  32. The Tale of the Three Brothers:

    One died for power(like Voldemort),the other sought dead love(like Snape),and the last greeted death as an old friend(like Harry).

  33. Although it seems out of character for Hermione to write in a book, she did rip a page out of one in Chamber of Secrets (though she was in more of a hurry then.)

  34. I like the names of the three brothers. First, Cadmus, the ancestor of Voldemort, and the one linked to the Slytherin line (presumably he or one of his descendants married into Slytherin’s descendants, rather than all three brothers being descended from Slytherin). The original Cadmus, in Greek mythology, slew a dragon sacred to Ares, and as penance, was changed into a snake at the end of his life – an appropriate name, thus, for the Slytherin-connected brother to bear.

    The other two are named Antioch and Ignotus, which together suggest St. Ignatius of Antioch. His feast-day on the Roman Catholic calendar is October 17 – the day after October 16, which is the feast-day of St. Hedwig (after whom Harry’s owl was named). But there’s more. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, took his name of “Ignatius” from St. Ignatius of Antioch – and Ignatius of Loyola’s feast-day on the Roman Catholic calendar is July 31, which is also the birthday of both Harry Potter and J. K. Rowling.

    I suspect that Rowling knew all that when she wrote this chapter.

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