Couldn’t Stop for Death

The Books

Tales of Beedle the Bard book coverAuthor: J.K. Rowling

The Tales of Beedle the Bard

Genre: Children’s Literature; Folk tales; Short stories

Publisher: Scholastic

Published: December 4, 2008

Number of Pages: 109


Originally mentioned in Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, this slim book collects several short folktales set in the Wizarding World, including The Tale of the Three Brothers, The Wizard and the Hopping Pot, and Babbitty Rabbitty and her Cackling Stump. The book itself is presented as a new edition orchestrated by Hermione Granger after the events of Deathly Hallows. Since Albus Dumbledore bequeathed his copy of The Tales to her, she had access to “the original” stories in addition to the notes Dumbledore added to the margins. In keeping with this idea, this edition proclaims to be translated by Hermione and to include Dumbledore’s insights.


Canterbury Tales book CoverThe Canterbury Tales

Author: Geoffrey Chaucer

Genre: Classics; Satire; Linked Short Stories

Published: between 1387 and 1400

Number of Pages: 504


The premise of this book is that a party of strangers has decided to travel together since they are all making a pilgrimage to visit the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket at Canterbury Cathedral. As they travel together, they decide to hold a story-telling contest. Accordingly, the 24 existing stories are each presented as being told by a certain character, thus we have The Knight’s Tale, The Merchant’s Tale, The Wife of Bath’s Tale, etc.

If you were a college English major, then there’s a good chance you’ve struggled through the Middle English version of at least some of the stories. It’s also likely part of your grade included memorizing and reciting the prologue. “Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote…”


The Ties That Bind

*Spoilers follow for The Tale of the Three Brothers and The Pardoner’s Tale.*

The Tale of the Three Brothers in The Tales of Beedle the Bard was very loosely based on The Pardoner’s Tale in The Canterbury Tales.

In The Tale of the Three Brothers, a trio of brothers manages to escape Death by drowning in a river because they cast a spell to create a bridge. Death offers each of the brothers a prize for their achievement. The eldest brother asks for the most powerful wand in the world, the second brother asks for a stone that allows him to bring back the dead, and the third brother asks for an invisibility cloak that will allow him to hide from Death. Things don’t go well for the elder two brothers, but the youngest is able to live to a ripe old age before willingly leaving this world with Death.

In the Pardoner’s Tale, a trio of brothers hears that their friend has been killed by Death. The brothers decide to seek vengeance by killing Death themselves and set out to where they are told they may find him. Rather than Death, the brothers find a bunch of gold coins and completely forget their original intent. Consumed by greed, the two elder brothers send the younger one off to find food and drink When he returns, he is attacked and killed by his brothers for his share of the gold. The brothers then help themselves to the provisions he had returned with. Unfortunately for them, the youngest brother had also gotten greedy and mixed rat poison into the wine before his death. Thus, Death was able to defeat and claim all three of his adversaries.

Both stories involve a trio of brothers who encounter Death, and in both stories, the youngest brother makes a decidedly different decision than the older two. Though Rowling’s tale has a decidedly happier ending then Chaucer’s, it must be admitted that in the end, everybody dies.

Up Next

Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann and Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

merged covers for Three Bags Full and Where the Crawdads Sing

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