One of the biggest reasons J. K. Rowling turned the fans of her Harry Potter series into fanatics were—besides from the exceptional characters and rich world building—the clues and hidden secrets that were sprinkled through each book. These things had the fanatic fans searching the stories and analyzing every little detail to try and figure out what they meant.
This kind of engaged audience is what all writers want, right?
In this blog post series, I’ll show you Rowling’s different techniques of dropping clues and hiding secrets.
Note that the tips I share in this blog post can be used by any writer, no matter in which genre you write.
Warning: There are spoilers from the Harry Potter series below. If you don’t want to know more about this series, I advise you to not read this blog post.
What Techniques J. K. Rowling Used
There are many ways in which Rowling dropped clues and hid secrets in her Harry Potter series, but, I’ve chosen to focus on five techniques. These are:
- Divert attention with action
- Divert attention with jokes and ridiculous statements
- Drop clues in dreams
- Hide clues in lists of interesting things
- Discredit the witness
In this blog post, we’ll focus on the third technique: Dropping clues in dreams.
Dropping Clues in Dreams
The technique of dropping clues in dreams is something that’s quite common in stories today. But, it’s a really good way to do so because all of us have weird dreams that make no sense at one point or another.
Rowling used Harry’s dreams to drop clues many times. For example, the entire first chapter in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire is a dream in which a little more about Voldemort’s past is revealed as well as it offers information about the conflict that’s to come (to capture Harry with the aid of a reliable servant).
Another example is in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when Harry has just arrived at Hogwarts. That very first night, he has a dream that drops clues and shows hidden secrets in direct connection to the plot of the first book, but also the rest of the series:
Perhaps Harry had eaten a bit too much, because he had a very strange dream. He was wearing Professor Quirrell’s turban, which kept talking to him, telling him he must transfer to Slytherin at once, because it was his destiny. Harry told the turban he didn’t want to be in Slytherin; it got heavier and heavier; he tried to pull it off but it tightened painfully — and there was Malfoy, laughing at him as he struggled with it — then Malfoy turned into the hook-nosed teacher, Snape, whose laugh became high and cold — there was a burst of green light and Harry woke, sweating and shaking.
(Chapter 7, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone)
Quirrell’s talking turban is a direct connection to Voldemort who is attached to the back of Quirrell’s head. The turban telling Harry to transfer to Slytherin has its connection to Voldemort who was a student in Slytherin himself. Having it say that Slytherin is Harry’s destiny connects to the fact that a part of Voldemort latched onto Harry when the killing curse bounced off of Harry and struck Voldemort himself, revealed in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. This dream the first night at Hogwarts is, therefore, a subtle hint at what’s to come not only in this first novel but also the rest of the series.
This dream is also great because it lines up all the antagonists that will oppose Harry through the entire series: Malfoy, Snape, and Voldemort (although the Dark Lord isn’t mentioned point-blank). Lining up the antagonists in this way sets the tone for who we, the readers, can’t trust.
Side-note: While we learn, in the end, that Snape was loyal to Dumbledore and sacrificed himself to save the wizarding world, he will always be seen as an antagonist up until the end of the series. Mostly because he’s described from Harry’s point-of-view, who is directly affected by Snape’s vindictive side. Snape’s way of treating Harry—the way he looked at Harry that first night at Hogwarts, and the way he continuously challenges Harry throughout the series in a way that most readers found despicable and distasteful—marks him as an antagonist because that’s the way Harry felt. As long as Harry believed Snape was an antagonist, so did the readers.
There you have it. I hope this has been helpful.
Next time I’ll go through how J. K. Rowling hid clues and secrets by hiding them in lists among other interesting things.