J.K. Rowling And The Narwhal Tusk Of Historical Identification

Four narwhals plotting to write 'expelliamus' on a seal's face.

Four narwhals plotting to write ‘expelliamus’ on a seal’s face.

This might be the best story to feature J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and a narwhal that I’ve heard in… well it’s a while.

It begins 40 years ago, when a Cornishman called Jeffries bought an ivory narwhal tusk at an auction, as the start of a collection. It was a hefty spear of bone—nearly 8ft long—and it had previously belonged to a sailor, to whom it was presented in 1881.

So far, so humdrum. I don’t know what life is like in your part of the world, but Cornwall is awash with bits of aquatic mammals from the Victorian era.

On inspecting his new purchase, Mr Jeffries noted that the name of the sailor had been engraved on the tusk, and thought no more about it. After all, what possible significance could there be to a name like Cornelius Fudge?

Then J.K. Rowling comes along with her minister for magic, and what do you know, he’s called Cornelius Fudge too. What was Mr Jeffries supposed to make of it all?

So he write the Harry Potter author a nice letter, asking if she’d named her character after his tusk-owning fisherman, or even seen the tusk before, and being a nice person, she wrote back.

According to the Telegraph, her letter read: “How utterly extraordinary! No, I made up the name Cornelius – or thought I did. I had never come across it and did not know of the existence of a naval C.F.

“Thank you for a most interesting addition to the postbag. With very best wishes, JK Rowling.”

Mr Jeffries said: “J.K. Rowling’s letter said how utterly extraordinary it was that I had such a tusk.

“She said she thought she made the name up – but she couldn’t be absolutely certain.

“In a way it’s quite nice that we’re still in the dark about its ultimate origins. This way the tusk retains its mystery.

“Narwhals used to be seen as mythical creatures associated with unicorns, which ties in well with the Harry Potter magical theme.”

And to add a perfect end to an unusual tale, Mr Jeffries has now sold the tusk, raising £36,000, and pledged to donate a portion to a multiple sclerosis charity, a cause dear to J.K.’s heart, after her mother died of the illness.

Her explained: “I’m giving £900 of the money made from the tusk to her chosen charity.

“I feel that the books were part of the reason the tusk sold for so much, and that it was only fair some of the proceeds went to her charity.”

See more:
JK Rowling and the Novel of Hidden Authors
Poll Results! 10 Greatest British Sci-Fi/Fantasy Novelists
J.K. Rowling: ‘I Nearly Killed Off Ron Weasley’

Fraser McAlpine

Fraser has been writing and broadcasting about music and popular culture for over 13 years, first at the Top of the Pops website, and most recently for the NME. He also wrote BBC Radio 1's Chart Blog and reviews albums for BBC Music.

He is Anglophenia's current resident Brit, blogging about British slang and running around the Mall taking snaps of the crowd at the Royal Wedding, as well as reigniting a childhood passion for classic Doctor Who and cramming as much music in as he can manage.

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