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  • Writer's pictureAaron Fonseca

Harry Potter's Time-Turners Have a Disturbing Background

This weeks Your Nerd Side Show:

While the Wizarding World regards the Unforgivable Curses as some of the most potent and dangerous forms of magic, the unsettling implications of the exploration into time surpasses them. Countless muggles fantasize about waving wands and soaring on broomsticks, but the realm of magic conceals horrific truths and an immense responsibility to wield its powers wisely. An iconic part of the franchise and representing one of its biggest mysteries, many are surprised to discover that Harry Potter's time-turners have a disturbing background.

First appearing in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the time-turner was a device that allowed witches and wizards to manipulate time. Introduced somewhat lackadaisically by its author, J.K. Rowling, just like many time travel tales such as Back to the Future, Avengers: Endgame and Star Wars: Rebels, it opened up more than its share of complications and narrative intricacies within the Wizarding World. Although playing a vital role in future stories, Rowling previously used the time-turner as a lesson in writing fiction, cautioning on Pottermore, "This is just one example of the ways in which, when writing fantasy novels, one must be careful what one invents. For every benefit, there is usually a drawback."

Who Is Madam Eloise Mintumble?

While Hermione Granger briefly touched on the perils of time travel, Rowling elaborated on how the Wizarding World discovered them. While seemingly written as a way to curb the use of time travel as a deus ex machina, the story of Eloise Mintumble proves magic in the Harry Potter series can create just as many terrifying problems as it can solve. Just as profound as atomic technology and just as dangerous, cases like Mintumble's made a strong argument for Ministry of Magic regulation and ethical use of magic when toying with the natural order of the cosmos.

In 1899, Madam Eloise Mintumble traveled back to 1402 as part of an experiment at the Ministry of Magic's Department of Mysteries. Despite spending less than a week in the past, Madam Mintumble's actions did irreparable damage to herself and the fabric of time, offering a clear lesson on why undertaking such a journey should be avoided. Upon finally returning to her own time, the Ministry of Magic noticed that Eloise had aged five centuries, her years catching up to her in a single, fatal surge. Moreover, the investigation unveiled that Madam Mintumble had eradicated the existence of countless individuals through her interactions, all while inadvertently extending the duration of the following Tuesday to span two days and compressing that Thursday into a mere few hours. After the Mintumble incident, the Department of Mysteries terminated such experiments, and Ministry of Magic laws dramatically restricted the use of time-turners. Unlike other stories like Back to the Future, those who were never born were never restored and, along with Mintumble, served as a cautionary consequence for the rest of the Wizarding World.

Why Tampering With Time in the Wizarding World Is Horrific

While Harry Potter and the Cursed Child further explored the sensitivities of the timeline and the dangers of changing history, other works such as Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix showcased some of the Ministry of Magic's other disconcerting experiments within the Department of Mysteries. The Bell Jar of Time stands out as a particularly unnerving item, containing a hummingbird trapped in an eternal loop of life and death that happens in a condensed bubble of time. Moreover, when dropped on the head of a Death Eater, the Bell Jar of Time reverted his skull to that of a baby in a noted moment of body horror within the books. The Unforgivable Curses have garnered their infamy, but it seems there are unfathomable horrors that are far worse that come as a result of trying to control time, space and nature through magic.

Saul Croaker, an Unspeakable for the Ministry of Magic, once lamented, "Just as the human mind cannot comprehend time, so it cannot comprehend the damage that will ensue if we presume to tamper with its laws." In the Harry Potter series, it appears that, for better or worse, witches and wizards share the same curiosity about life's enigmas as their muggle counterparts, and they may be just as interested in exploring them. However, curiosity sometimes guides people to shadowy and unsettling realms of possibility, where the only lesson learned is that some chilling, unsolved mysteries are best left alone.

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