Owls and Opera Glasses
Professor Mitchell glanced at the clock as the line of owls at the back of the classroom hooted and cooed softly. She was walking around the room, setting what appeared to be owl treats on each of the desks as the students filed in. When she was finished, she returned to the front of the room and turned to face the class.
Welcome, class, to another lovely day for transfiguration. Today we will be working on transforming owls into opera glasses, but before we get into the spell, I would first like to discuss a couple of topics that I’ve mentioned a few times over the last few weeks.
As I told you all back in Lesson Four, intelligence plays an important role in determining the difficulty of an animate transformation. In general, it is a measure of mental complexity, more directly defined as the “ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills.” This includes things such as problem solving, recognition, memory, communication, and creativity among a multitude of other factors. With all of these aspects to consider, it is immensely difficult to give a creature a numerical measure of “intelligence.” Some might say it is nearly impossible as the testing of any one of these skills has proven to be a difficult task. Many have tried to develop ways to obtain a relative measure of problem solving, self control, communication, and others amongst various species, but none have so far been able to produce accurate or verifiable results. For humans, there exists the IQ test, or Intelligence Quotient test, that is supposed to be a measure of one’s intelligence. It is a standardized test of sorts that grades relative to the societal average. Though it is widely used in the Muggle world as a means of academic or job placement, it faces plenty of criticism and is by no means a perfect test. Many critics argue that the test doesn’t measure all levels of intelligence and mainly focuses on those which are mathematical, scientific, and problem solving in nature. It does little to measure creativity or social intelligence. For our purpose, it is unhelpful as it can only be applied to humans, but is still worthy to note as human intelligence has been researched much more than that in other creatures and yet we still have no clear measure or understanding of it.
Taking all of this into account, you may be wondering how in the world we are supposed to apply this to transfiguration when we can barely even define it. The answer to that is the same as with most other aspects of transformation: we use our intuition and what we do know to get a general feel for the intelligence of the creature we are working with. Just as how I hope many of you are getting to the point in your transfigurative careers in which you no longer need to explicitly list out all of the sensual aspects of your target objects to get an idea for the level of concentration you need, you will also get to the point where it does not take much analysis to get an idea for the mental complexity and level of intelligence of your targeted creature.
I hope this is all sitting well in your brains as I have just a little more before we move on. I have told you before that intelligence increases the difficulty of a transformation, requiring you to apply more willpower in order to overcome the consciousness of your target, though I have yet to fully explain why. An intelligent creature is more likely to pick up on your intent when you approach them than an unintelligent one. They are more likely to get scared or spooked and throw up mental defenses against your magic. Additionally, their minds in general present more pathways and thoughts and moving pieces of information that must be overcome. In other words, it is harder to trick their mind to become something it is not, simply due to the increased “size” of their consciousness.
Trust is an abstract concept that, like intelligence, isn’t something that can be quantitatively assessed. It is built through positive interaction and reinforcement and is defined as the feeling of confidence in a person or thing and their reliability and strength. In other words, the more you interact with your friend, family, pet, etc. in a positive way, proving your reliability, the more that friend, family member, or pet will trust you. Note, however, that this only applies to socially intelligent creatures who are capable of building relationships, so as much as you love and care for your pet worm, the level of trust it has for you will probably not change. In terms of transformation, increasing the level of trust between you and the creature you’re working with makes it less likely that they will throw up mental defenses against your magic. They will most likely be more relaxed and comfortable in your care and therefore their mind will be slightly more malleable, meaning the level of willpower you will need to exert will lessen.
There are a few methods to build trust between you and the creature you are transfiguring. The first is to show them affection. This can be in the form of physical affection, such as petting or patting, or just simply talking to and praising the animal. You need to be careful, though, when taking the physical affection route as different creatures interpret and respond to physical interactions differently. The second way to improve trust with a creature would be through food and care. Being consistent in providing food and other necessities to an animal teaches them that you are one to go to for survival needs. As you can imagine, the longer you can maintain these habits, the stronger your relationship and the more trusting the creature will be with you. This is why many transformations are more easily performed on pets. If you must use a creature you are not as familiar with, treats are generally a good place to start to get a baseline level of trust.
I know all of you know what an owl is as we interact with them daily here in the wizarding world, but bear with me as I delve into some of the lesser known aspects of these fascinating birds There are over 200 known species of owl, falling under the order Strigiformes. They stand upright and have sharp beaks and talons that they use to kill their prey, which usually consists of small mammals, insects, and occasionally fish. They use stealth and surprise when they’re hunting and their wings are even adapted so that they can fly with as little sound as possible.
Their binocular vision is of some importance today as it is the main similarity between our hooting little friends and our target opera glasses. Owls have large eyes in comparison to their skulls that are tubular in shape. They can’t move their eyes in their sockets like a human can, so instead their heads can swivel up to 270 degrees, allowing them to look around without moving their bodies. They are mainly farsighted, meaning that they can’t see things up close very well, but the shape of their eyes allows them to see in the dark so that they can hunt at night. This comes in very handy since most owls are nocturnal, meaning they are active at night and rest during the day.
In the wizarding world, owls are trained and used as one of our main forms of communication. They are smart little creatures, able to understand English and locate almost any witch or wizard without an address. The only way to throw them off their course is to use a repelling or disguising charm. Though they carry a natural affinity for magic and their intelligence is more widely acknowledged among magical communities, even Muggles often associate this bird with knowledge and wisdom.
Opera glasses are a type of decorative binoculars used by theater-goers since before the 1800s. I say binoculars, however there do also exist monocular versions as well. They typically have x3 magnification, though some variations may have more or less. By the 19th century, many were designed with handles in order to emulate the popular lorgnettes at the time, which were types of glasses with handles rather than arms that went around the ears. Many opera glasses include ornate designs and are made with gems, enamel, or ivory. Like other objects we’ve discussed in this class, they were a social staple, “needed” by every opera frequenter of the time and often given as gifts.
Now on to the transformation! Keep in mind everything we’ve discussed and use the owl treats I’ve given you to try to build a little trust with your owl. If you’re feeling confident, perhaps attempt the spell once before the treat and once after to feel the difference in the resistance presented by your owl.
I believe I have already exhausted our talk of willpower for the day, so I’ll keep this bit short. In terms of concentration, all of the normal rules apply and feel free to get creative with the design of your opera glasses. Just remember to keep in mind the eyesight of the owl when thinking about similarities.
Where did this come from? Why do I care?
This spell was actually originally invented to create normal binoculars in 1807 by bird enthusiast Leonard Lintu. It was an early morning when Leonard thought he had spotted a double-crested cormorant out of his back window. With his field glasses nowhere in sight, he instead transfigured his trusty owl Norman, who was sitting on the window sill. By the time he got the spell right, however, the cormorant was gone.
After its invention, this transformation saw little use until about 1820 when it was discovered that, with a little extra concentration, it could be applied to create more ornate binoculars. It was at this point that many magical theater-goers got tired of shelling out Galleon after Galleon for extravagant opera glasses, so they instead began transfiguring their own. While today opera glasses aren’t quite as popular as they were back in the 19th century, this spell is still a handy one if you ever find yourself in the back bleachers at a Quidditch match and unable to see the pitch.
That is all for today’s class! For assignments, you’ve got a mandatory quiz and an extra credit essay. I’ll see you all next week!
*Owl image credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barn_owl*
*Opera glasses image credit: https://www.kiwibinoculars.co.nz/product-category/saxon/opera-glasses-saxon/*