Wands from a Muggle Perspective (If You’re a Programmer)

The wand is a very important tool in the lives of witches and wizards of the Harry Potter universe. This is a look at those wands, from the perspective a muggle computer programmer, using actual examples from the Harry Potter books.

ollivander
Mr. Ollivander, wand maker
and Java programmer

I believe the magical wands of Harry Potter’s world could actually be tiny hand-held computers. The processors in these computers are magical-creature-based, as opposed to muggle computers, which are silicon-based. From the way they are used, we can reasonably infer that the operating systems of these computers are written in the object-oriented programming language Java.

The wand’s command interface is voice activated, and commands are comprised of objects and methods. Many objects and methods have been preprogrammed into the wand. These built-in objects and methods are named mostly in Latin.

For example, in The Sorcerer’s Stone, on the Hogwarts Express, Hermione fixes Harry’s glasses with the charm “oculus reparo”. Internally in the wand, that charm is represented this way in Wand Java:

oculus.reparo();

In this case, the message reparo() (to repair) is sent to the object oculus (eye-glasses), causing the glasses to be repaired. Since most of the internal objects are dervied from the same base class, most of these pre-programmed objects could be sent this reparo() message.

There is also the possibility of an unvoiced object that is derived by pointing the wand at something physically. In The Goblet of Fire, Hermione simply points her wand at a broken window and says “reparo”. Internally, the wand is sending the reparo() message to the derived target of the wand pointer:

Pointer.getTarget().reparo();

Also in The Sorcerer’s Stone, in Professor Flitwick’s Charms class, Hermione demonstrates the proper way to do the levitation charm, “wingardium leviosa”:

wingardium.leviosa();

“Wingardium” is the feather object, and sending the leviosa() message to it causes the object to be levitated.

Under certain conditions, the pointer object and the voiced object can be evaluated together. For example, later in The Sorcerer’s Stone, Ron points his wand at the troll’s club and yells “Wingardium Leviosa!” In this case, the voiced object, “wingardium”, is up-casted to the derived pointer object, the troll’s club, which is lifted up above the troll’s head:

Pointer club = new Pointer.getTarget();
(club) wingardium.leviosa();

Two methods, sonorus(), which causes your voice to become greatly amplified, and quietus(), which turns it off, are used with the internally derived pointer object, but are only valid when the derived pointer object of the wand is your own throat:

Pointer.getUser().sonorus();
Pointer.getUser().quietus();

These functions throw an exception if you try something like pointing your wand at a Slytherin and commanding “Quietus!” Exceptions in Wand Java are nasty, and cause the wand to make a big “Bang!” and singe anything that happens to be too close to the pointer.

There are also some built-in methods which do not work on external objects like all the other methods do, they work on your own wand instead:

this.lumos();
this.nox();

The lumos() function causes your wand to act as a flashlight, and the nox() function turns lumos() off. “Nox” in Latin means “night”. But, in technical jargon it could also mean “negate operation”, and presumably nox() could be used to negate any other currently operating feature of the wand, although we only have documented use of it in conjunction with lumos().

Some methods require attributes. For example, in The Prisoner of Azkaban, Professor Lupin teaches Harry and the students how to deal with a Boggart, by pointing your wand at it, thinking of something funny, and yelling “Riddikulus!”. Internally, the command is represented like this:

User image = new User.getTarget(MEMORY);
Pointer.getTarget().riddikulus(image);

Here, the internally derived target of the pointer object is sent the riddikulus() message, with the image the user is concentrating on as an attribute, which results in the Boggart being turned into the ridiculous thing. The global constant MEMORY causes the getTarget() method of the User object to retrieve what the user is remembering. Other global constants which can be applied in this manner are SEE (retrieve what the user is looking at) and IMAGINE (retrieve something the user is imagining).

Some methods are so handy that they are also provided as static, so that even if you don’t know or can’t remember a built-in object’s latin name, or you can’t directly point your wand at it, you can apply the method to any object using its name in English as an attribute. For example, in The Goblet of Fire, to fly around the dragon in the first task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry summons his racing broomstick by using the charm “accio firebolt!”. “Accio” is the summoning method, and internally in Wand Java, that command looks like this:

accio("firebolt");

Some of the other built-in methods in the wand that are used similarly to the methods described above are:

aparecium() - appear
confundo() - confuse
crucio() - torment (one of the unforgiveable curses)
deletrius() - eradicate
engorgio() - enlarge
ennervate() - revive from stun
incendio() - create fire at target
obliviate() - erase memory of target
reducio() - reverses engorgio

Finally, there is one special built-in method which only affects another wand or other wands in the derived pointer target:

Pointer.getWand().finiteIncantatum();

Professor Snape uses the Finite Incantatum spell in The Chamber of Secrets to put an end to a duel betwen Harry and Malfoy that gets out of hand. The finiteIncantatum() method causes the operating system of the wand or wands in the target of the pointing object of your wand to reboot.

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David Haber
David Haber

D.S. Haber (known to his friends as Dave) is a professional muggle computer programmer and web designer and lives in Los Angeles. He is proud of the fact that he is a new-blood wizard with no (apparent) previous magical blood in his family. His favorite Quidditch team is the Falmouth Falcons, who's motto is "Let us win, but if we cannot win, let us break a few heads." He is also a West Ham United (Hammers) fan.

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Marcia
Marcia
17 years ago

Hilarious and very informative article. It actually serves as a nice primer for people unfamiliar with basic programming of standard Muggle computers as well as wands. Good job!

Charlotte
Charlotte
17 years ago

Very funny. I wish J.K. could see that. Suddenly understood a great deal more. And was entertained at the same time. Keep up the good work!

Martin McCallion
Martin McCallion
17 years ago

This is a work of hilarious genius! Just a couple of points, though:

1) I think in your club example you should have some more brackets:

((club)wingardium).leviosa();

That is, if you mean to call the leviosa() method on the Club object that you have cast from wingardium. Oh, and since Club is a class, it should be capitalised. As written you would be casting whatever wingardium.leviosa() returns, to a Club.

2) I think you’ll find that the finiteIncantatum() method can also be called on a running instance of a Spell object. Thus we would have:

Pointer.getSpell().finiteIncantatum();

I refer you to the battle in the Ministry from Order of the Phoenix, when Neville is dancing the Tarantella.

I’d check the JavaDoc for this, but java.hogwarts.ac.uk appears to be offline at the moment.

Mike
Mike
17 years ago

That was great! I can’t really add to the praise already given, but I do have one question: How do nonverbal spells work? Would it sense when you’re casting a spell, then do this:

User.getTarget(MEMORY);

and pass the result of that into another function that runs the right spell?

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
17 years ago

Yes, this article was written before non-verbal spells were documented in Half-Blood Prince. The syntax would be:

User spell = new User.getTarget(SPELL);
spell.castNonVerbal();

Mike
Mike
17 years ago

Oh nice, that does make sense too. Great article, I shared it with my few friends who would understand it.:D

Poojitha
Poojitha
17 years ago

Well, I do think that wands might be minute computers. And I really like the syntaxes you’ve given.

Robert
Robert
17 years ago

Well, the wands could act like miniature computers but could not be miniature computers. Remember, no electronic things work inside Hogwarts.

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
17 years ago

Well… not miniature muggle computers, anyway. We know muggle electronics don’t work at Hogwarts. We don’t know it’s not possible a Wizard could get around that…

Toxicologist
Toxicologist
17 years ago

Unlikely. By this article, only wandmakers could create new spells. The Half Blood Prince, Snape, was not a wandmaker, but he made lots of new spells.

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
17 years ago

Nowhere in the article did it say that the programming of a wand was in something like ROM (read-only-memory). A wand wouldn’t be very useful at all if it couldn’t learn new spells (recieve new programming). It’s most likely voice-based commands that allow you to add new spell syntax…

Kevin
Kevin
17 years ago

The question needs to be asked..
How would one go about “upgrading” a wand?

What if you found yourself in a job that required a lot of charms work but your wand was “hardwired” for transfiguration?

Could there be a market for aftermarket add-ons?

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
17 years ago

Well, as I say, I think wands would have to have some built-in upgradeability simply by speaking new spells into it. Since it’s a magical device, it’s logical to assume this capacity wouldn’t be very limited. A wand owner may not ever need to have his wand physically upgraded in its lifetime.

Random Dude
Random Dude
17 years ago

Great stuff, maybe the core could be a magical memory device, or possibly a different operating system? Maybe the wand just interprets commands from the latin language. That would be why the spell which hangs someone from the ankles had to be changed such alot, hence the crossings out in the textbook. The program could interpret them differently, so each ‘spell’ would not have to be learned

sylvanawood
sylvanawood
17 years ago

When I read this for the first time, the comment feature wasn’t here yet. Since it’s easy now to comment: this was such a good laugh, and so intelligently written, thank you for that.

Sarah
Sarah
17 years ago

Now what fun would that be? It would be highly anti-climactic for us to get the end and say something like “Just as Voldemort was about to Avada Kedavra Harry, his wand hard drive fried and he had to reboot it. Harry took this opportunity and killed Voldemort on the spot.”

This theory does not account for the magic done without a wand. Harry made his aunt blow up without trying to, made glass disappear and jumped onto a roof without touching his wand. He has also been depicted as an extraordinary wizard with extraordinary powers. Similarly, Squibs don’t have any magical powers at all, with or without a wand.

Great idea, really. I got a kick out of it.

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
17 years ago

Ah, you forget. These are Ollivander wands we’re talking about here. He’s been perfecting his craft for centuries, they don’t crash!

As to wandless-magic, please see the other article, Wand Basics 101.

Ellie Cosmo
Ellie Cosmo
17 years ago

Haha, funny. Clears up both the aspects of some magic and the aspects of some computing. (And about the “some”: I hate making generalizations.)

Oh, and what about the mind of the wizard? Might it contain some structure (organic, it would need to be) that could communicate with the wand?

Daniel Blom Paulsen
Daniel Blom Paulsen
17 years ago

Dear god, that was funny! I’m quite interested in programming, although I’m not very good at it, so this was a very interesting (and funny) article!

Irtiza Nazar
Irtiza Nazar
16 years ago

Great work! Loved the syntaxes too.

Just one thing: you would also need a Wand JVM on your wand to run all those commands, and oh, what operating system would we need if we need to run the Wand JVM? Operatus Javum? and to boot it we would need a command like

Wand.getCommandLine().Run(“Operatus.Javum”)

except you would need an already running voice activated shell to run a command like this.

Adinda
Adinda
16 years ago

Mhm, I did love this article! I’m an informatica-student at university and working hard at learning java. But, I’m also a Harry Potter-freak, and seeing these two combined in this wand-programming theory really is good fun!

How you’d make new spells is an entirely different thing, but we haven’t actually read much about that in Rowlings books, now have we? We know that Snape designed new, working spells, but there’s hardly a clue as to how he did so. Without that information, you hardly can explain it from this java programming view.

Imagine a wand crashing… Or having Harry say as he enters the maze in GoF: just a sec while I reboot my wand, I don’t want it going in overload with an acromantula approching!

It would be a nice idea for some Harry Potter parody fanfic actually. Having Snape debug his spell for turning people upside-down, or having Crabbe accidentilly reprogramm his wand so lumos doesn’t cause it to light up, but to turn on a sirene.:P

Keep up the good work!

Kalidas
Kalidas
16 years ago

*giggles* Oh, that was hilarious. Thanks for that, seeing Harry Potter and java together has been… an eye-opening experience, shall we say.

Emilio
Emilio
16 years ago

I think we have already seen a kind of wand crash in the series, every time that Ron wants to use his Broken Wand, the programing of the Targetting Software is off line…

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
16 years ago

Exactly! It’s like driving a car without a steering wheel!

Ashley
Ashley
16 years ago

I’m not really a technical type of person, so the first time I read the article I’m like.. is he serious? What?
Then I read alot of the comments of the article. Way to connect Muggles and wizards without the inconvenience of a half-blasted-away living room and a pig’s tail poking out of your pajamas.

Mike
Mike
16 years ago

Great article, but what would the code be for something like the patronus charm? How could the ‘wand’ know if a picture is happy?

Ashley R.
Ashley R.
16 years ago

Mike,

I have a feeling that if the picture was happier it would be sharper, brighter, and more colorful. An angry or depressed picture would probably be dark and dull.

Patty
Patty
16 years ago

Regarding the patronus, maybe the connection is an electromagnetic pulse which is stronger with the happier emotion of the wizard holding the wand. Like a biofeedback program.

Alienweeble
Alienweeble
16 years ago

It would be cool if they made a miniature computer shaped like a wand that had java software with voice recognition, a motion sensor, an extremely strong battery, and the computer would have the ability to convert the electrical energy into the type of spell being cast. If you concentrated hard enough, you could send out a large amount of positive energy, negative energy, or both, in order to perform a spell.

And they could set all this up in a harry potter amusement park where people could actually dual in an actual full size model of hogwarts and spend a week there doing cool fake magical spells.

Catherine
Catherine
16 years ago

A very funny article -I found myself hoping the wands won’t crash or freeze in the middle of a spell and then when you call the help line and ask if there’s anything that avoids the problem the guy whose head’s in the fire doesn’t tell you “Nah…that’s Windows, it just does what it does.”

Bekah
Bekah
16 years ago

Hopefully the Magic operating system works a lot better than Microsoft.

The amusement park idea was pretty good, Alienweeble…but how would the wand-computer translate the positive/negative energy into a spell?

Sam Johnson
Sam Johnson
16 years ago

Oh my goodness that was incredible.
I would want my wand to run on linux.

Dave Haber
Dave Haber
16 years ago

Sam: A Linux wand might be cool, except you would want to restrict all but root access, because a wand with multi-user access I think would be a bad thing…

Christoph
Christoph
16 years ago

I was just wondering about the wands’ upgrade feature. Of course, when Snape invents a new spell and programs his wand to interpret it correctly, that will work fine as long as he’s using his own wand. But what about Harry’s?

It seems to me that wands have to be interconnected permantly, in some kind of wWAN (wand wide area network). In this way, when one wand’s programming is changed, all other wands would upgrade immediately.

I could also imagine different wWAN for different regions, like a latin-based one for Europe and Northern America, an Aztec- or Incan-based South American wWAN – and probably a variety of wWANs, or rather wLANs, in Africa…

C. J.
C. J.
16 years ago

Very nice. Interesting and well explained. I always thought there was a scientific explanation to magic, and here’s the proof. I mean, religious people who think you’ll go to hell for reading HP really ought to get out more. I like this article a lot.

siaru
siaru
16 years ago

I disagree on one or two points.

I understand your Object-Oriented bias, but it seems to me that object-binding is inferred, not formal, otherwise rote object-references would be required for all spells, and no new object-references would work until they had been impressed into the wand or the magical plenum by practice. In GOF, “Accio Firebolt” was practiced to perfection, but “Accio Trophy” worked in the Riddle graveyard on the first try.

Also, considering the importance of runes in the Wizarding world, it’s more likely that the magic (of wands, and perhaps in general) is written in Forth (back in the early Doctor Dobbs days, there actually was a Forth dialect called Runic), considering how bind-runes are built. About the only syntactical sugar in Wizarding magic is their preference for Latin (which makes sense as a safety precaution, using a dead language for live ammunition). Forth definitions are about that sparse.

Ashley R.
Ashley R.
16 years ago

Okay I was reading this and not understanding a single word any of you say, and I gotta wonder, when we talk to non-Harry Potter fans, is that what we do to them?

Lev
Lev
16 years ago

All this concern about creating new spells, but as java is open-source, you could easily obtain/create a wand-java SDK, probably what Snape did in his free time. Then the possibilities are endless.

Jach
Jach
16 years ago

Very funny, but I personally think they’d be in a procedural language rather than OOP. Or at least Python opposed to Java.

Nat D. Aiken
Nat D. Aiken
16 years ago

Wow! Does anyone wonder how the magical element is inserted into the wood itself? Also, although any wand can do any spell, the books state the importance of practicing (as Harry did with summoning spells) any newly learned spell. Kind of inures your wand into getting used to performing that spell. Plus, on page 171 of SS Prof. Flitwick says you need the proper state of mind in order to successfully perform a spell/charm. I guess this is why you have differences in wand makers skills. I’ve read a few of the explaination books, ” the End of Harry Potter?” and they seem right in line with the above start of this thread.

C.J.
C.J.
16 years ago

What is the core of the Elder Wand?

Jannory
Jannory
16 years ago

I thoroughly enjoyed this article on wands and them being a-kin to computers and internet language (I being a web designer myself) I also like apple computers as well. Keep up the good work!

Luna lovegood 4 life ( luna)
Luna lovegood 4 life ( luna)
16 years ago

allenweeble, that would be awesome! you should run that by jk.

Nyx
Nyx
15 years ago

Allenweeble and Luna Lovegood 4: Do you really think that would work. That would have to be tecchnology that isn’t even from our time period. As amazing as that sounds, there is no way it could end up possibly working.