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The Tale of the Three Brothers

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The Tale of the Three Brothers was a fairy tale often told to wizard children. Believed to be written by Beedle the Bard, it was published as part of a collection of his works called The Tales of Beedle the Bard . While most wizards viewed this story as one that teaches children morals, such as humility and wisdom, others believed that the story refers to the Deathly Hallows, three highly powerful magical artefacts coveted by generations of wizards.

Many also believed that the three Peverell brothers were the inspiration for the story, and that they first obtained the artefacts known as the Hallows. Any one who manages to possess all three hallows was said to be a Master of Death.


Peverell brothers with the Deathly Hallows

The Peverell brothers receive the items, and then go their separate ways to meet their fates

Three brothers, travelling along a lonely, winding road at twilight reached a deep treacherous river where anyone who attempted to swim or wade would drown. Learned in the magical arts, the brothers conjured a bridge with their wands and proceed to cross.

Halfway though the bridge, a hooded figure stood before them. The figure was the enraged spirit of Death, cheated of his due. Death cunningly pretended to congratulate them and proceeds to award them with gifts of their own choosing.

The eldest brother, a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence. Death granted his wish by fashioning the Elder Wand from a branch of a nearby elder tree standing on the banks of the river. The second brother, an arrogant man, choose to further humiliate death, and asked for the power to recall the deceased from the grave. Death granted his wish by crafting the Resurrection Stone from a stone picked from the riverbank. The third and youngest brother, who was the most humble and wise, did not trust Death and asked for something to enable him to go forth without Death being able to follow. A reluctant Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Invisibility Cloak.

The three brothers took their prizes and soon went on their separate ways.

The eldest brother traveled to a village where a wizard whom he had quarreled lived. He sought out a duel and fought the wizard using the wand, instantly killing the latter.

Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor, the eldest brother walked to an inn not far from the dueling site and spent the night there. Taken by his conscience and lust of the Elder Wand's power, the eldest brother boasted of this wand gifted by Death and his own invincibility.

That very night, Death transfigured to a murderous wizard. The unknown murderous wizard crept to the inn as the eldest brother slept, drunk from wine. The wizard slit the oldest brother’s throat for good measure and stole the wand. That was when Death took the first brother.

The second brother returned to his home where he lived alone. Turning the stone thrice in his hand the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him, much to his delight. Yet she was sad and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there and suffered. Finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, committed suicide by hanging from his house' balcony so as truly to join her. That was when Death took the second brother for his own.

Death searched for the youngest brother as years passed but never succeeded. It was only when the third brother reached a great age, he took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. Greeting Death as an old friend, they departed this life as equals.

The Deathly Hallows

Death, Ignotus Peverell and the cloak of invisibility

Death, Ignotus Peverell, and the Cloak of Invisibility

Main article: Deathly Hallows
Harry: "Death had an Invisibility Cloak?"
Ron: "Sometimes he gets tired of running at people flapping his arms and shrieking—sorry Hermione."
— Death's Cloak of Invisibility[src]

The three objects mentioned during the tale are believed by some to be the Deathly Hallows, the most powerful magical objects of their kind in existence. The Elder Wand is the unbeatable wand of the oldest brother, the Resurrection Stone is the stone given to the second brother that can bring back the dead, and the Cloak of Invisibility is the cloak given to the third brother that could hide the wearer even from Death. It is believed that whoever succeeds in uniting all three of the Hallows would become the Master of Death. Xenophilius Lovegood, Gellert Grindelwald, and Albus Dumbledore were among those who believed in the existence of the Hallows and sought to reunite them.

The Peverell Brothers and the Fate of the Hallows

Main article: Peverell family
Ignotus Peverell's grave

Ignotus Peverell's grave in Godric's Hollow

The story is believed to refer to three actual wizard brothers from medieval times: Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus Peverell. Antioch was the oldest brother, who likely crafted as well as possessed the Elder Wand that was passed down not by inheritance but through combat. It became the property of whoever won it from its previous master and held a long and bloody history, until it came into the hands of Albus Dumbledore, who sought to change its infamous reputation and use it for the good of others. After his death, it came into the possession of Lord Voldemort, though he could never win its full allegiance and upon his defeat by Harry Potter, the Elder wand was returned to the grave of Albus Dumbledore.

Cadmus was the second brother, who likely crafted and possessed the Resurrection Stone, which passed down through his descendants until it came into the Gaunt family. Marvolo Gaunt was known to have possession of it, until it changed hands to his son Morfin, and then to his grandson Tom Riddle, who transformed it into a Horcrux and hid it away. Ultimately discovered by Albus Dumbledore, it was bequeathed to Harry Potter who intentionally lost it in the Forbidden Forest.

Ignotus was the youngest brother, who likely crafted and possessed the Cloak of Invisibility. This Cloak was passed down initially through his male descendants, but entered the Potter family after the marriage of his granddaughter Iolanthe Peverell to Hardwin Potter, and was eventually given to James Potter. Before James died, Albus Dumbledore had asked to see the Cloak, and still had possession of it until he passed it to Harry Potter on Christmas Day during Harry's first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and remained in his possession throughout the Second Wizarding War.


"One of the things that got me excited about it in the early stages was the question of what it should look like. We knew it was going to be stylised, but not exactly how. The producers came along with the suggestion of creating something in the vein of Lotte Reiniger, an Austrian-born animator working in the 1930s and 50s doing silhouette style animations. What we got out of that was a certain simplicity and naivety. We knew it had to be told very graphically with bold silhouettes. But Ben and I were keen to make sure it wasn’t only that, that there was something else we could add."
—Dale Newton, supervisor of animated sequence[|[src]]

This three minute animated sequence has been created by Framestore, directed by Ben Hibon and supervised by Dale Newton.[1]

The Tale of the Three Brothers (HD)03:00

The Tale of the Three Brothers (HD)

Behind the scenes

  • In the film adaptation of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 , the scene where Hermione Granger reads this story is replaced with an animated shadow-play sequence which Hermione narrates. It was the first and only time a fully animated scene was used in all 8 movies.
  • In The 50 greatest Harry Potter moments documentary, Emma Watson said that she found the narration difficult to do, because her lines had to be right with the animation.
  • The scene in the video game is the same as that in the movie, but the figures in the shadow play are interpreted differently - the characters have more flesh, and death is represented by a skeleton.
  • The story itself also may had been based off the fairy tale, "Three Billy Goats Gruff", in which the characters were depicted as animals who managed to systematically outsmart the danger that lurked beneath the bridge, a troll, by exploiting its inherent stupidity. The only difference is, while the goats managed to avert the danger by cooperating as one, the Peverells took down their own path of life. It also takes some inspiration from the "Three Little Pigs", where it depicts what happened afterwards upon the siblings after what happened on the encounter over the bridge and how they fared after it.
  • According to J. K. Rowling, The Tale of the Three Brothers is loosely based on Geoffrey Chaucer's The Pardoner's Tale.[2]
  • It is possible that this story's moral is that "one will meet their demise untimely if it was for extreme greed", as the power-hungry Antioch Peverell asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence and he was the first to die. Cadmus was also greedy but not as much as Antioch, he was the second brother to die. But the youngest brother who was a humble man asked for a thing that he could use to live a long and happy life. And thus because of this he attained a great age and passed The Cloak of Invisibility to his son.
  • It is also possible that the moral is that one can not escape death, but only delay it, and that eventually one must accept death in old age and "depart as equals"
  • In the book The Tales of Beedle the Bard that was released into the Muggle community, Dumbledore notes that the belief that possessing all three Hallows will give you power over death contradicts the story entirely.
  • There have been some speculations that the three brothers correspond to Harry Potter, Severus Snape, and Lord Voldemort, with Harry corresponding to Ignotus (who lives to an old age), Severus corresponding to Cadmus (whose loved one dies), and Lord Voldemort corresponding to Antioch (power hungry). This also corresponds with the order of the ages of the brothers. An extension of this theory suggests that Albus Dumbledore corresponds to Death, the figure that all three brothers meet on their journey. When a user on Twitter asked J.K. Rowling what her favourite fan theory was, she responded with this one saying, "It's a beautiful theory and it fits."[3]
  • Alternatively it can be argued that Dumbledore is the third brother since he both greeted death voluntarily and handed the cloak to Harry as the story states that the 'father' gave the cloak to his 'son'. Father here being Dumbledore and Son being Harry.
  • Another possible interpretation may be that the role of Snape as Cadmus is replaced by Albus Dumbledore, whose death was caused by attempting to use the Stone, especially since ultimately it was his choice to end his life.
  • LEGO Harry Potter: Years 5-7 features a playable section based off this story. It features the three brothers walking down a road to a village and using the powers of their respective Hallows to progress past obstacles. At the end of the section, Death flies in and literally takes the three brothers away, with Ignotus only barely having time to pass the Cloak off to his son.
  • Quite a lot of fairy tales feature three brothers. The one commonly known as The Three Brothers concerns not about cheating death but which of three sons would inherit a house.
  • A short film adaptation of The Tale of the Three Brothers was produced by students of the New England School of Communications with permission from Warner Bros.
  • The Tale of the Three Brothers was featured as one of the Tales of Beedle the Bard performed by the Wizarding Academy of Dramatic Arts as live entertainment in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter- Diagon Alley. It featured puppetry and props fabricated by Michael Curry (The Lion King on Broadway)[4]


Notes and references

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