J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world, which was first introduced with the release of “Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone” in 1997, draws heavily on both historical mythology and the natural world to create its magical creatures. Some of the concepts from the book, including the animagus and the Patronus, are based upon real animals in the normal “Muggle” world. This article will cover some interesting details about the top 10 animals in Harry Potter. It will contain very minor spoilers, but this shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who has already read the books and seen the movies.
One of the most memorable scenes in the Harry Potter series involves a duet between humans and singing toads. Led by Professor Flitwick, the Frog Choir is a group of Hogwarts students who hold their talented toads aloft on pillows. They can be first seen performing “Something Wicked This Way Comes” during the Welcoming Feast after the Sorting Ceremony. Book readers probably know that the frog choir did not make an appearance anywhere in J.K. Rowling’s text. Instead, it was a pure invention of future Academy Award-winning director Alfonso Cuaron, who wanted to create a magical scene for “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.”
Ron Weasley’s pet rat, Scabbers, is a bit of a lazy lout who’s constantly napping. Characterized by a ragged left ear and an amputated finger, Scabbers may be a type of agouti rat, at least judging by the fur color. First obtained from Ron’s older brother, Percy, Scabbers was later revealed to be none other than the animagus form of Peter Pettigrew, who was in hiding from the dark lord himself. An animagus is a witch or wizard who can transform into an animal at will. The revelation of Scabber’s true identity would continue to have important ramifications throughout the rest of the series.
In the wizarding world, snowy owls are the ultimate postmasters: they possess the ability to deliver mail even without knowing the address of the recipient. Harry’s companion and pet owl, Hedwig, is one of the most well-known animals in Harry Potter who was given to him by Hagrid on his 11th birthday, proves her loyalty continuously throughout the entire series.
In real-life, the snowy owl is a large, majestic bird that hails from the northern Arctic. The male is clad in all-white feathers, whereas the females and juveniles also have dark stripes or spots. While the bird only measures up to 27 inches tall, the yellow eyes are just as large as a human’s, which makes them proportionally huge in comparison to the head. Because the eyes always remain in a fixed position, the owl must turn its head (up to 270 degrees) to see around it.
Many of the animals in Harry Potter tend to be exaggerated forms of real animals. The acromantula is no exception. This giant eight-legged magical spider is supposedly native to the rainforests in the Pacific island of Borneo. Ron and Harry meet Aragog, Hagrid’s blind acromantula, on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where he lives with thousands of his creepy, crawly children. Aragog produces deadly venom and reaches up to 15 feet long, but it’s otherwise quite intelligent and even capable of speaking human languages. He gave Harry some important clues to identify the real monster inside the chamber of secrets, provided they could survive an encounter with his children.
The Harry Potter universe is populated by both real cats and Kneazles (a magical creature with a similar appearance to a cat). Despite their magical abilities, Kneazles can interbreed with normal cats and produce offspring. Hermione’s pet cat, Crookshanks, is half Kneazle. Highly intelligent and an excellent problem solver, Crookshanks helped to expose the true identity of the rat Scabbers as Peter Pettigrew.
Dogs make several appearances in the Harry Potter universe. Hagrid’s massive dog, Fang, is played by a Neapolitan Mastiff in the movies but is a Great Dane or boarhound in the books. He accompanies Hagrid on his journeys to the Forbidden Forest and provides him protection. On the more fantastical side of the animals in Harry Potter is the three-headed dog Fluffy, who’s based upon the Cerberus, the guardian of the underworld in Greek mythology. After being purchased by Hagrid, he was given the task to guard the valuable Philosopher’s Stone, which had unbelievable powers to extend one’s lifespan and turn metal into gold.
However, despite being an excellent guard dog, Fluffy had one major weakness: he couldn’t quite resist the temptation to fall asleep to the sound of music. In the movie version, each of Fluffy’s heads had different personalities: one was sleepy, another clever, and the last alert.
Winged horses are a common staple of human myths from all around the world, the most famous of which is the Pegasus of Greek mythology. Several types of winged horses also inhabit the magical world of Harry Potter. The Abraxan, for instance, is a large, powerful horse that resembles a palomino. They make a few brief appearances throughout the Harry Potter series, the first of which occurs at the Triwizard Tournament, where they pull a carriage from the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic. The Thestral, which has a black skeletal body with leathery wings and reptilian features, is another magical horse in the wizarding world. They can only be seen by people who have experienced death and fully understand its implications. Despite their gruesome appearance, when treated with kindness, they allow people to ride on their backs. The winged horse is one possible form of the Patronus Charm (which conjures up a spirit animal). The Patronus is conjured by concentrating on one’s happiest memory.
Another creature that’s heavily based upon real-life mythology is the unicorn. While the myth of the unicorn dates back thousands of years, possibly from South Asia, it is also a magical creature in the wizarding world. They are firstborn with gold fur, then turn silver around the age of two, and finally develop a pure white coat by adulthood. The silver blood has incredibly healing properties that can save someone from death, though with unforeseen consequences.
The griffon is a pure mythological creation, perhaps originating from ancient Egypt and Iran, but they do have the parts of real animals, including the body and tail of a horse and the face and wings of an eagle. A griffon by the name of Buckbeak formed a special bond with Harry Potter in the book “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.” After he saves the griffon from execution, Buckbeak in return helps Harry rescue Sirius Black. While he played no other role in the films, Buckbeak did continue to appear in the book series.
The phoenix is an immortal bird, somewhat resembling an eagle or falcon, that comes to life again after being reborn from the ashes. While it’s closely associated with Greek mythology, this mythical animal may have originated in Egypt. It also has analogs in Persia, Turkish, Chinese, and Japanese cultures. One of the few known domesticated phoenixes in the wizarding world is Dumbledore’s pet, Fawkes. Clad in scarlet feathers, Fawkes can heal wounds with its tears and lift to 100 times its weight. These birds can live for hundreds of years and very rarely appear as a type of Patronus.
Snakes are some of the scariest animals in Harry Potter. The first magical snake encountered is the basilisk, a legendary reptile based on real European mythology. Nicknamed the King of Snakes, the basilisk reaches up to 50 feet long, delivers deadly venom with its bite, and turns anyone who makes even indirect eye contact into stone. The chamber of secrets located beneath the school grounds contained an ancient basilisk whose purpose was to purge all Muggle-born students until it was defeated by Harry Potter and Fawkes.
The second harrowing snake in the Harry Potter series is Nagini. Reaching about 12 feet long, Nagini is a Horcrux, which means that part of Voldemort’s soul thrives within her. Their close bond gives her the ability to communicate with him even over large distances. The bite she inflicts on her victims never closes and is often fatal. Nagini might be based on the immortal Indian mythological creature Naga (whose name means serpent in Hindi).
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