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Evolution of wand designs in the Harry Potter universe

Wand design is a key part of the Wizarding World's visual worldbuilding, from the redesigns in Prisoner of Azkaban to the 1920s wands of Fantastic Beasts. On this page of the Wandmaker's Notebook, we'll look at how the wands have evolved over time, and explore the role artists and prop makers play in this evolution.

           How did we go from this...
...to this?!         


Our exploration begins with the books.


In the illustrations by US first edition artist Mary GrandPré, the wands are drawn as nothing more than a long, thin, simple stick - uniform down their entire length, with no discernible handle. They are not unique to individual characters, nor physically differentiated from each other in any way.

For the first edition UK covers, wands are seen only on the children's edition of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. Both Harry and Dumbledore are shown with identically looking wands, but unlike their US counterparts, they are shorter, thicker, and wavy, with a clearly defined tip.



This simple design can be found in other pre-movie merchandise, like the trading card game, posters, journals, pop-up books, and the like. (How many readers are old enough to remember these?) These illustrations, by a number of different artists, generally fall somewhere between the scale of "long straight rod" and "short wavy pointy stick," but all of them are plain and clearly wood.





By adding handles, the films introduced an overall look for the wands that has become iconic.


During production of the first film, the responsibility of creating the wands fell on the art department. In The Art of Wand Work, included in The Wand Collection: Collector's Edition published by Insight Editions, head prop maker Pierre Bohanna recalls why the first wands were kept simple:

"For the first film, we probably made two dozen sample wands all in completely different styles . . . to show J.K. Rowling. There were some like roots with crystals tied on the ends, some with metal castings, through to crazy, Baroque-style wands with gilding on them. Loads and loads of different types of interpretations of what a wand should be - right down to fairly simple, straightforward, turned precious wood versions. And she went for the very simple wands."



The filmmakers stuck to this simple aesthetic, though unlike the books' cover art, exercised some artistic creativity to give each character's wand a few distinguishing traits. Compare Harry's, a simple brown wand with a slim handle, to Hermione's, a two-color wand with a white handle and wider pommel.



"[J.K. Rowling] was adamant that a wand was just like an old stick. So we tried to keep them simple." - Hattie Storey, Art Director

In fact, these wands greatly resemble orchestra conducting batons of the 19th and 20th centuries (a fact that will come back into play later, when we look at the wands of Fantastic Beasts). Take a look at these batons used by the great conductor Arturo Toscanini (1867-1957).

Photo source: The National Museum of American History.

Is it possible that one of the intricate prototype wands found their way into the films anyway?

In an interview with HelloGiggles, Professor Flitwick actor Warwick Davis describes the first wand he was given:

“I have two different wands in Harry Potter. In the first two films, when I played the older looking Flitwick, I had quite an intricate wand that consisted of many different materials. It was wood and it had a kind of pearlescent handle and then a kind of brass tip, and the brass tip connected with your hand.”

If you watch the Wingardium Leviosa scene, you can see him holding it! Whether it was indeed a prototype, or created afterwards in spite of J.K. Rowling's insistence on simple wands, we won't know for sure... unless Pierre or Hattie decide to spill the beans, that is.






Along came Prisoner of Azkaban, and with it, a new director, new costumes, new sets, and of course - new wands.


But why were the wands changed?

"[Director Alfonso Cuarón] thought that the other wand [from the first two films] looked too smooth, like it was from Ikea." - Daniel Radcliffe (A Conversation With J.K. Rowling 47:24)

"Alfonso Cuarón was quite keen on the actors choosing their own wands, so a selection of wands was designed by the art department, and then Pierre [Bohanna] made eight or ten or so and the actors could choose whichever one they wanted." - Hattie Storey, Art Director


Highly detailed carvings and plain sticks

The third film represents the transition point between the simple sticks of Stone and Chamber, and the highly detailed, conceptual designs that followed Goblet of Fire and beyond. These wands saw a slight departure from J.K. Rowling's preference for plain, simple sticks of wood. The redesigned wands of Prisoner and their predecessors have a few things in common, and several notable differences:
  • Common features
    • Wood* - no metal inlays, no bone. The only exceptions are Professor McGongall's wand, which has a very subtle glass tip on the handle, and Professor Flitwick's wand, which was discussed above.
    • Straight, fairly plain shafts
  • Differences
    • Old wands are turned, i.e. rotational symmetry. New wands have carved details (Hermione's vines, Sirius's runes) that break the symmetry.
    • Handles take on new shapes (Ron's and Lupin's bulb-like handles)
    • Natural, organic textures (handle of Harry's and Ron's wands) 
*The master copy of each wand was created in wood, but copies for filming were made with resin, or rubber for stunt work.

The wands that didn't change

Though Harry's and Hermione's wands have a new look, they are canonically the same Holly and Vine wands as they were before. Similarly, Tom Riddle's wand in the Chamber flashback scene is canonically the same Yew wand he wields as Voldemort in Goblet of Fire, though their on-screen designs are different. However, Ron's wand in Prisoner is an entirely new wand (Willow), as his old one broke in Chamber.

Other wands, such as those of Draco Malfoy and Professor Minerva McGonagall, were never redesigned. I don't believe there is an official tally, but it's likely that judging from their designs and their relative importance to the story, background characters like Crabbe, Goyle, and Mrs. Weasley retained their original wands. And of course, characters like Gilderoy Lockhart who only appeared in one film wouldn't have an opportunity for their wands to be redesigned at all.




The rise of conceptual designs and non-wood components in Goblet of Fire and beyond


In The Art of Wand Work, Pierre Bohanna goes on to describe the wands made after Prisoner:

"After the third film, there was a lot more development of the concept of the wands. Wands from then on were a lot more liberal in their design, which was great. This is essentially a stick that's been reinterpreted hundreds and hundreds of times in lots of different ways. From simple wands, we went into all sorts of different finishes, incorporating bone finishes, different metal components. . . inlays, crystals, and on and on."

The prop department was moving further and further away from J.K. Rowling's initial conception of wands as a "simple stick," but whether this is good or bad is a matter of opinion. Let's take a look at some wands as a case study of how non-wood components made their way onto the wands over time.

Dumbledore's Wand / The Elder Wand

This famous wand makes its first appearance in Goblet of Fire, when the teachers are discussing how to proceed with the Triwizard Tournament due to the drawing of Harry's name. Dumbledore deposits a memory into the pensieve, and we get our first look at the Elder Wand


Its distinctive nodes and white band with runes set it apart from every other wand seen on screen thus far, and this turned out to be a good thing. From Harry Potter: Film Wizardry, we learn that "the [Elder Wand] prop is made of English oak, with a bone inlay inscribed with runes." For a wand said to have been created by Death (though the art department would not have known the significance of the wand at the time of creation), a bone inlay is certainly appropriate and adds to the intrigue.

Umbridge's wand

The wand of Dolores Umbridge first appears in Order of the Phoenix and is notable for several different reasons. It is the first wand to incorporate a gem, in this case, separating the handle and shaft. It has a highly decorated shaft, whereas those of wands seen up to this point have, for the most part, been mostly smooth and unadorned. Finally, it is one of the only wands in the entire film franchise to take its canon length into consideration - an unusually short 8 inches - though the prop itself is longer than that, measuring 10 1/2 inches (27 cm) according to stores that sell the replica.


Slughorn and the politicians

The wands of these characters, Slughorn, Thicknesse, Scrimgeour, and Yaxley, are notable for their inclusion of metal parts.


Slughorn's is by far the furthest from "simple stick of wood" with its metal handle and what looks like metal inlay on the shaft. The pommel is also an on-the-nose depiction of his name. The politicians' wands retain the simple silhouettes of the early wands of Stone and Chamber but add embellishments fitting their occupations in a way that contributes to the overall elegant aesthetic without overdoing it.

Other wands notable for containing metal parts are those of Narcissa Malfoy and her husband Lucius, (though the snake head handle on the latter's is removable, as seen in Deathly Hallows when Voldemort takes it). Lucius's wand is also the first wand with metal to appear in the films, in Chamber of Secrets (concealing the wand inside the walking stick was actor Jason Issacs's idea!).

Snatchers, Death Eaters, and Voldemort: the forces of evil

Oh boy. These wands' designs would fit a lot of tropes (Skeleton MotifDress-coded for your convenienceSinister Scimitar but for wands, just to name a few). Evil-looking wands for evil characters.

At the time of Voldemort's first appearance in Goblet, his wand, with its conceptual bone-inspired design, was the most radical departure from "simple stick" thus far. It is a great example of the way the prop department had started to tailor wands specifically for individual characters. Compared to the Death Eater Wands that would appear in the final three films, though, it's actually quite tame!

Of the Death Eater wands, Hattie Storey has this to say (from Harry Potter: Page to Screen):

"[The Death Eaters’ wands exhibit] showy aesthetics. Their masks are made out of filigreed silver, and their costumes are quite intricate, so the idea was that they show off with their wands too."

In the entire 8-film series, these wands are the furthest they've ever been from "simple wooden stick," featuring thorns, carved skulls, animal heads, and other evil and fancy motifs. In contrast, the blackthorn snatcher wand is pretty much the opposite, and has a very organic look. Given that Harry has to use it, it mustn't be too evil, after all!


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A quick detour to the stage: the wands of Cursed Child

No matter what you think of the plot, the play's production design is by all accounts amazing. J.K. Rowling herself shared some wand designs made for the production on Twitter:
Presumably, this means she approves of them, but whether she had any input during the design process itself is not clear. Cursed Child set designer Christine Jones, who won an Olivier Award for her work on the play, designed Scorpius Malfoy and Albus Potter's wands. For all these wands, the influence from the films is strong, with their defined handles and unique shapes. Based on promo photos of the cast, the wands appear to be made of wood, and do not seem to have any metal or non-wood accents. It's back to basics, and if I'm honest, quite refreshing.


Fantastic Beasts jumps back in time...but the wands get fancier.

We're only two movies into the five planned, but we've already seen a jump in the way the wands are designed and made. Many of the wands take inspiration from the time period, a factor not present in Potter. In an interview with The Leaky Cauldron, Pierre Bohanna has this to say:

"The interesting thing as far as wand design’s concerned is an application of period as well. It’s a great period in time where in an artistic sense there is a lot of liberation and a sort of rethinking of styles, et cetera, and it really kind of shows." 

In the Harry Potter series, non-wood accents were uncommon. The opposite is true in Fantastic Beasts, with metal accents, shell inlays, and even crystals everywhere - certainly a far cry from "just like an old stick." Tina and Newt's wands, with their understated designs and wood construction, are now the exception to the rule. Even with all the "liberation" and "rethinking of styles," going on, at least the prop department hasn't entirely forgotten J.K. Rowling's original vision for what wands ought to be.

Queenie Goldstein's wand


For the first time, we see mother-of-pearl used as major component, alongside a metal accent. However, the mother-of-pearl, at least, is canon, as the North American wandmaker Johannes Jonker was known for using it in inlays. The shaft is simple, made of rosewood, and hearkens back to the early wands, but the beautiful handle takes inspiration from Art Deco.

Percival Graves's wand



In an interview with Pottermore, junior concept designer Molly Sole reveals that Graves's wand (top photo) was based on an antique conductor's baton. (See, I told you it would come up again!) A cursory Google search reveals a smattering of ebony and silver batons (bottom 3 photos) from various antique auction sites. It's unlikely Graves's wand was based on any particular one of these, but the influence is obvious. Here we have another example of period pieces providing inspiration to the prop department, and another example of metal accents taking center stage.

Seraphina Picquery's wand


Boy oh boy. This wand. The crystal here is much more prominent than in Umbridge's wand, and metal accents have never been this fancy. Though the shaft is simple, like Queenie's wand there's not a speck of wood in the handle - might as well make it removable like Lucius Malfoy's!



Is this the direction the films will continue to go? Will we continue to see more metal, more crystal, more shell? Will the wands come full circle and wind up like the prototypes that J.K. Rowling rejected? We can only wait and find out.

Do you like the way the wands have evolved? Share your favorite wand from the films or the play, and tell us why you like it!

See you on the next page,
Maranda

Comments

  1. I always found the artistic progression of wand design in the films quite interesting. I've fancied personal touches with wands, though I prefer more simplistic, natural design.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My favorite designs are those that seem simple at first glance, but are actually full of detail when you look closer, such as the wands of Cho Chang, Viktor Krum, and Fenrir Greyback.

      Delete
  2. Personally, I've always liked the slightly more complex designs of the post-Chamber films more than the simple designs of the first two films. There's something to be said for simplicity in design, but I feel like if a design is too simple, it has no personality. In something as intensely personal as a wand, it seems to me that the personality of the design ought to match the personality of the character.

    My favourite designs tend to have simple shafts and distinctive handles. Also, a bit of an accent with a different material or colour generally doesn't hurt, in my opinion.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely agree with you about wands having no personality if they are too simple. I think there's a sweet spot around PoA and GoF that the prop department nailed!

      Delete
  3. I think my favorite wand is the wand of Hermione Granger she has vine in her wand and vine reminds my nature. Also just she has a wand that is nice

    ReplyDelete
  4. I developed a personal headcanon related to this change. That as a magical uses their wand, the interplay of magic in and out of the wood changes the wand. Slowly, over time.

    Obviously Ollivander crafts the simple plain looking wands we see in PS and COS and as the magical grows and learns who they are, as their personality and magic matures, the wand twists and morphs into what they have later in life.

    Mostly because I could never see Garrick crafting a wand that looked like what Voldemort used in the end. Things like Ron's first wand buck the trend by being hand-me-downs. The constant changing of hands corrupts the process and they take on the generic state once again.

    As you've detailed, it was a simple prop choice taht made the change, but I think it adds a new mystique to the world of wandlore.

    ReplyDelete
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  6. Very nice blog! I highly recommend this written and I’ll visit this blog again. Keep writing.
    Interesting Facts about Draco Malfoy

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