Guns on the Wall There's a famous saying by the Russian author and playwright Anton Chekhov, which goes: 'If you hang a gun on the wall in Act I, you must use it in Act III.' Sometimes it's differently translated as: 'If you introduce a gun at the beginning of the play, you must use it by the end of the play.' J.K. Rowling hangs plenty of gun-equivalents on the walls of Hogwarts and elsewhere, but Chekhov's rule needs to be taken with a large pinch of salt when we're talking about novels. What he had in mind was the script of a play, where anything that's important enough to be mentioned in the stage directions should have its part in the action. Suppose, though, that in such-and-such a scene set in a stately home, that gun on the wall of the stage-setwasn'tin the play script but is just a touch of high-class decoration added by the set designer...? Harry's Uncle Vernon actually does buy a gun in Chapter Three ofPhilosopher's Stone--but it's not there to be used, only to underline how desperate he's getting (and also, when Hagrid so easily takes it away from him, to remind us again of what a wimp Vernon really is). It's an extra touch of make-up or stage decor, rather than an important piece of plot machinery. Part of the fun of reading detective stories is the challenge of trying to sort out these ornamental extras from the real 'guns on the wall', the clues which are part of Agatha Christie's or Dorothy Sayers' or J.K. Rowling's secret script. As her readers have discovered, Rowling is rather good at inventing smokescreens of comic diversion to help conceal important clues, even when they're right under our noses. Now you see it, now you don't. Chocolate Frog InPhilosopher's Stone, our author wants to plant the name of Nicolas Flamel--the wizard who created the Stone itself--in such a way that we barely notice its appearance, and will later kick ourselves for not remembering it. So the brief mention of Flamel is deftly slipped into a mini-biography of Albus Dumbledore, printed on the back of the collectable picture card which Harry finds in his very fi rst Chocolate Frog wrapper. Meanwhile, during this scene on the Hogwarts Express, there's a flood of distraction as Harry boggles at new wonders of the wizarding world. It's the first time he's met photographs whose subjects wander in and out of the visible picture-frame, and it's also his first encounter with half a dozen other brands of magical sweeties like the very weird Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans. A subtler distraction for the reader is the nagging thought that perhaps Chocolate Frogs are a little homage to the Crunchy Frog sketch fromMonty Python's Flying Circus--whose Cockroach Clusters will indeed turn up much later, in the third Harry Potter adventure... All this inventive stuff is great fun, and it is also a conjuror's display of dazzling lights and coloured ribbons, designed to lure your eye away from the key reference to Nicolas Flamel. Rowling has a real gift for this kind of misdirection, as perfected by stage magicians who subtly guide you to look in just the wrong place. Pyrotechnics Onwards! A bit closer to a literal gun, since they contain real explosive, are the Filibuster Fireworks which appear early inChamber of Secrets. At first sight these don't appear to be at all important--just something to provide entertainment for young wizards and witches, like all those weird sweets. But by writing these fireworks into the story, Rowling is secretly preparing a stage-effect for a much later chapter. When Harry needs to cause a diversion in the Potions class, tossing a Filibuster Firework into a Slytherin student's cauldron is a perfect way to create total chaos. Why are they called Filibuster FireworkLangford, David is the author of 'End of Harry Potter? ', published 2007 under ISBN 9780765319340 and ISBN 0765319349.