In the Goblet of Fire, Hermione says:

All those substitutes for magic Muggles use – electricity, and computers and radar, and all those things – they all go haywire around Hogwarts, there’s too much magic in the air.'

Goblet of Fire - pages 475-476 - Bloomsbury - chapter 28, The Madness of Mr Crouch

But it is impossible for electricity not to work. If electricity didn't work then:

Well, the universe literally would not exist as we know it, because electricity is streams of electrons, and without electrons, compounds (and thus most matter) wouldn't exist. If electricity (electromagnetism) did not exist the universe would not exist, since EM forces are an integral component of the (commonly accepted) standard model.


Besides is it just me or our brains work on basis of sending electrical impulses through neurons?

So how can electricity - and I don't mean electronics, but basic electricity - not work?

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    Electricty has to work at Hogwarts. Otherwise people couldn't think or move at all. But magic could scramble electronics easily, especially poorly EM shielded items.
    – StarPilot
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 3:26
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    It is pretty clear that the quote is referring to electric devices not the fundamental laws of the universe.
    – DQdlM
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 13:41
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    Note that the quote says "electricity goes haywire", not "electricity doesn't exist". Presumably, magic causes some sort of interference with electric fields (possibly because magic is derived from electromagnetism itself).
    – Steam
    Commented Apr 10, 2013 at 15:57
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    Some of the comments in this question explain why computers and electronic devices would fail without Special Relativity. scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/155804/… Maybe JK Rowling made a magical world without Special Relativity.
    – RichS
    Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 15:05

9 Answers 9


As to a possible explanation it might be a localized limitation of EM field functions E.g. similar to the "damping fields" which have been used in Star Trek. This would include ST:DS9: Paradise in which a duonetic field artificially suppressed EM functions.

As a further example, of suppression of high-energy-density electrical items vs. lower density items such as bio-electricity. you might check out S.M. Stirling's Dies the Fire series. In it, not only electricity but gunpowder, steam engines, etc. do not work. The key difference being the level and density of the electrical/heat energy being artificially produced.

In particular given the "magical" overtones which later come to the fore in Stirling's universe, as the likely cause of the "Change" it would be similar to the Hogwart's damping.

Neither of these explanations would necessarily be in in-universe explanation for the Potterverse. But, such a phenomenon is certainly common enough in regular SF situations, not too mention more Fantasy based stories.

  • thx. finally somebody with concrete explanation.
    – agni666
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 16:26

The quote

All those substitutes for magics that muggles use [...]

suggests to me that Hermione did mean "electronics" and not "the fundamental force of electromagnetism". That aside, she doesn't say that electricity doesn't work, she says the way muggles use it goes haywire.

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    yes, even though she says "electricity", i agree we can take this to mean "electronic devices that use electricity". the context makes it clear. people don't always mean every word they say 100% literally. in fact, that's pretty rare in language. upvoted. this is the best answer.
    – user428517
    Commented Jan 22, 2016 at 19:54

I don't know where you got your second quote, but I'm pretty sure it will insist that magic doesn't exist. Since it does, any and all claims it has to understanding what keeps the universe together is irrelevant.

Additionally, I think your question overstates what Hermione says. At no point does she claim that all electrical impulses go haywire around Hogwarts, only that some electrical devices go haywire. On one hand, it can be simple hyperbole or lack of understanding on Hermione's part - she's a 14 year-old girl at this point, remember, not a theoretical magical physicist. But even if we accept it at face value, there's nothing to say that electrical synapses don't "go haywire" in our brains - but the effects aren't death or madness, just a warping of thoughts.

  • So they have 'wingardium leviosa' so gravity doesn't exist its magic, 'incendio' fire burns its magic that is your line of thinking? magic doesn't change laws of universe just bends them.
    – agni666
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 16:05
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    @agni666 how on Earth can you say that magic doesn't change the laws of the universe? Magic doesn't exist, what it does or doesn't do is entirely up to the author
    – jono
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 16:15
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    @agni666 Rowling introduced magic. Magic is literally, per definition, a breakdown of physics. That is what the word means.
    – jono
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 16:50
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    @agni666 ...what on earth? You can't break the laws of physics, no matter how much energy you have. That's why we call them laws. And what, exactly, is the difference between bending and breaking in this case because I honestly have no idea
    – jono
    Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 17:05
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    @agni666 Remember that this is a fictional world in which magic works. You can easily drill down into many of the magical effects in Rowling's books and see how they violate all sorts of inviolable laws of physics. That's why it's magic in a fantasy novel. Commented Apr 7, 2013 at 17:06

From my experience from working with electronics I can tell other examples of electronics not working. Around very strong electromagnetic noise. For example, under a high voltage power line, on the mast of a radio tower, unshielded from radiation in space, (or just having a less then optimal voltage regulator for your device, and having a washing machine, a giant lathe and a vacuum cleaner plugged in at the same time) many of our sensitive electronic gadgets don't work properly.

It's not that electricity itself doesn't work, but there is a lot of interference. Think about the above examples scaled up by many orders of magnitude. Like constantly having an EMP blast around it.

Maybe if the muggles had the opportunity to study it, just maybe they could develop some very strong shielding for their sensitive electronics, but that's not in the scope of the Harry Potter books. (would be a nice fan fic, though)

  • I post this here, rather than the accepted answer, because I think it does better at suggesting a possible way for HP magic to operate. Some suggestions for this answer: If magic suppresses EM fields moreso than interferes with them i.e. cancellation and noise, then perhaps it only affects free electrons in fields with high potential i.e. voltage. Bound electrons and ionic charges in solution aren't affected. Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 5:23

From the quote you've quoted there, she's saying that the actual electronics themselves don't work. It's not that radar doesn't work, it's that it's jammed by the magic in the air. It's not that the lights wouldn't turn on if properly installed, it's that the magic in the area would make the light malfunction in some way. Probably by burning out, the bulb exploding, among others, so they simply don't use them.

If you need another explanation, I suggest you check out the Dresden Files, by Jim Butcher. Technology goes haywire around Wizards in that series as well, but it's set in Chicago, so you can see how it actually goes haywire. The main character can't approach a computer without something bad happening to it. He can't carry a cell phone, and he drives a 'vintage' car, all because the magic around him causes things to cease to function. But, if you or I were to use the same item, there wouldn't be an issue, because we don't have massive amounts of magical power.

  • I like your comparison to another fantasy work, but you should edit it to make it clear that they are separate works that are merely similar, if you want to approve it. Upvote, by the way.
    – John O
    Commented Apr 9, 2013 at 22:46

My brain continues to work even when the batteries are flat in my phone, and the mains power is out.

Magic at Hogwarts is similar. It affects batteries and mains power, not biochemically powered processes.

Which opens up a whole world of possibilities for electrical devices powered by (say) severed frog legs. Perhaps muggles could attempt to mount surveillance at or even an armed assault on a magical installation such as Hogwarts using such devices.


Magic is illogical and mysterious (I'm speaking in-universe, of course). There are facets of it that even Dumbledore doesn't understand, and judging by the fact that there is a field of academia in the Wizarding World, the mysteries of magic are similar to the mysteries of science in the real world. The entire Department of Mysteries at the Ministry of Magic is like an Area 51 for wizards! So not everything can be explained, including an answer to this question. Let's not get bogged down in applying the laws of physics to something that is completely irrational as magic. Hermione says that electronic Muggle devices malfunction around Hogwarts because there is "too much magic in the air", so just accept that as all there is to it and go with it. I like that you're using your head, but it's wasted effort when we're talking about a fictional world with fictional rules.


The provided quote does not say that fundamental laws of universe are being changed, so let's assume that instead of breaking them, magic interacts with them in a special way, not discovered by Muggle sciences. Then we can conclude that some of those interactions could be produce effects that harm or confuse electronics, especially charms and transfiguration. These effects might usually not be that strong in predominantly Muggle locations. However in a place like a Wizarding School that hosts a large amount of active practicioners of magic, as well as it being enchanted itself with multiple charms, it is much more likely that the sheer density of magic effects producing various interactions makes it improbable for electronics to function properly.

Even in the Muggle world there are things like magnets and electro-magnetic pulses that could lead to such effect, especially if highly concentrated.


One way to get electricity to work in Hogwarts may be to use a Faraday Cage to shield electronics from the magical interference. Here is pictures of a Faraday ROOM muggle scientists uses to shield electronics but you can make them in a much smaller scale for home electronics. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faraday_cage#mediaviewer/File:Elektrisch_dode_kamer_%28kooi_van_Faraday%29.JPG

Also as a bonus the cage will save electronics from an EMP attack too either man made or intense energy from the sun similar to the Carington Solar Flare event of 1859 that almost fried the telegraph system and it wasn't even solid state circuitry!!.

I'd hate to see to what effect wizard magic would be screwed if just ONE huge CME from sunspots were to interfere with wizard spells and all of Scotland would be bathed in the Northern Lights. The students of Hogwarts would wake up at 3am thinking it was daytime and go to their lessons to only find out none of the teachers are there and wonder why!!!

Then they will wonder why their wants are going haywire when trying to cast spells!!!

  • Interesting idea — wrong place to offer it :-( Commented Sep 4, 2017 at 5:18

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