In Prisoner of Azkaban (Ch 16), Rowling describes Forbidden Forest as seemingly being to the west of the castle:

Walking very close together so that nobody would see them, they crossed the hall on tiptoe beneath the cloak, then walked down the stone front steps into the grounds.

The sun was already sinking behind the Forbidden Forest, gilding the top branches of the trees.

So.. [setting sun]<-[forbidden forest]<-[characters going from castle].

The sun sets in the West; so forbidden forest is westward of the Castle.

However, JKR apparently produced a drawing showing that Forbidden Forest was to the east of the castle (according to DVD supplementary materials, the drawing was done by JKR at a hotel dining table for Stewart Craig, production designer for Philosopher's Stone film, when he started his work on the movie).

Is there any indication of which one is canonically correct and how we are supposed to reconcile the difference?

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2 Answers 2


This is a repeat of an answer I wrote in the comments. I'm just placing it here as an official answer.

The Forbidden Forest should canonically be considered west of Hogwarts because, as DVK quotes in the question, the sun sets behind the Forbidden Forest. As per common knowledge, the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. The books are the most reliable sources of canon we have. As The Giant of Lannister puts it in the comments, the map was hand-drawn by J.K. Rowling in "just a few minutes" probably without direct reference to her books. It is very much possible that Rowling may have made a continuity error in drawing this map. The biggest indicator of this is evidenced in her positioning of the lake 'behind' the castle i.e. on the opposite side of the double front door entrance.

In Chapter 15, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire the Hogwarts students await the arrival of the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang on the front lawn:

When the bell rang early, Harry, Ron and Hermione hurried up to Gryffindor Tower, deposited their bags and books as they had been instructed, pulled on their cloaks and rushed back downstairs into the Entrance Hall. The Heads of houses were ordering their students into lines

... "Follow me, please," said Professor McGonagall, "first-years in front ... no pushing ..."

They filed down the front steps and lined up in front of the castle (pg 212, Bloomsbury Edt.)

So, from this position, virtually on the cusp of the bottom-most front step, it would not be possible for the students to see the Durmstrang ship arrive in the middle of the lake - if the lake were on the other side of the castle.

"The lake!" yelled Lee Jordan, pointing down at it. "Look at the lake!"

From their position at the top of the lawns overlooking the grounds, they had a clear view of the smooth black surface of the water ... Some disturbance was taking place deep in the centre ... and then, out in the very middle of the lake, a whirlpool appeared ... Slowly, magnificently, a ship rose out of the water, gleaming in the moonlight.

This quote explicitly places the lake within a field of vision from the front steps.

Now, although I have argued that the map is incorrect, I did notice something new whilst re-reading the first quote that I think must be mentioned:

(Pg 212 again) They filed down the front steps and lined up in front of the castle. It was a cold, clear evening; dusk was falling and a pale, transparent-looking moon was already shining over the Forbidden Forest ... "Nearly six," said Ron, checking his watch and then staring at the drive which led to the front gates.

This last quote presents a new problem, I think. If it is dusk, around 6pm, then the moon should be rising over the east, right? According to this scene, east happens to be over the Forbidden Forest - which ties in with the map Rowling has drawn - but this contradicts the sunset in Prisoner of Azkaban (see DVK's quote in the question), which also happens over the Forest, suggesting the Forest's position as to the west of Hogwarts.

I think Rowling may have made some continuity mistakes with the Hogwarts grounds that we can't really make sense out of. It's no big deal, really, it's similar to the mix-up with every September 1st (start of the school year) happening to land on a Monday, the start of the school week; but for the purposes of this discussion, it makes answering the question difficult.

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    Actually, the rising, setting and movement of the moon relative to Earth and Sun is a bit more complex. The moon generally rises further to the east, but can, be southeast or northeast depending on time of year and moon phase. Additionally, there are times when moon rise happens while the sun is still up and the moon's setting happens not terribly long after sun-set. "The moon was already shining over the forbidden forest," does not mean it rose over the forbidden forest and may have already passed its zenith for the evening. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 3:08
  • Yes, the moon differs in its position, but generally speaking, it rises in the east and sets in the west, just like the sun. In this case, that is the main point. I emboldened the word 'already' because that strongly indicates that the moon had just risen, and it was sunset at the time. Even if it was full moon and was closely 'following' the setting sun, that would mean the moon was setting, not rising. Though I'm sure you're right when you say that Rowling probably didn't consider this when she wrote these scenes. It's just a pretty image, having the moon or sun just above the trees. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 4:06
  • See, I don't see the word "already" as indicating it had "just" risen at all, just that it was already visible - meaning a setting moon is also possible here. However, as I said, she probably didn't think about it that much in reality and it is probably an inconsistency as you point out - simply because it makes for a pretty picture. Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 4:09
  • Well, if it's dusk and there's still some sun light, you wouldn't usually expect to see the moon out 'already' - even though it happens quite often. Generally, the sun and moon are not seen together. That's what is meant by "already". Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 4:15
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    More like, surely J.K. Rowling didn't even think of considering this when she wrote the scenes. This really isn't an argument that necessitates astrophysics and online worldclocks. Many things are possible, including a late moon-rise, but that is not happening in this scene. The point is, Harry was surprised that the moon was "already" risen over the horizon, and the sun was not mentioned over the same horizon, so it wasn't WEST. It's a contradiction. Please, before this discussion gets overly complicated, let's just end it there. Rowling made a mistake, that's it. Commented Feb 5, 2014 at 2:11

I don't believe we can simply say (as suggested in some of the comments) that the map is simply upside down (i.e. the top of the map is south rather than north). Consider the end of Prisoner of Azkaban when Harry and Hermione rescue Sirius with Buckbeak.

Dumbledore tells them where Sirius is:

"Sirius is locked in Professor Flitwick's office on the seventh floor. Thirteenth window from the right of the West Tower.

Now if we assume that the map is reversed (i.e. west is the right side) then we will run into a problem. The thirteenth window from the right of the West Tower would have to be in an eastern direction (coming away from West Tower), i.e. towards the center of the map. In order for it to be from the right that would mean that it could not be referring to the front of the castle. If the window was on the front side of the castle then it would be the thirteenth window from the left. Now we know that Harry, Hermione, and Buckbeak approached from the front of the castle because right before they flew up to the window they saw Macnair coming out of the castle:

"Look!" Hermione whispered. "Who's that? Someone's coming back out of the castle!"

Then when they fly up to the window there is no mention that they had to go around to the other side of the castle. We are simply told that they flew up, located the window, and parked there:

Harry urged Buckbeak forward. They were gliding quietly toward the upper floors of the castle.... Harry pulled hard on the left-hand side of the rope, and Buckbeak turned. Harry was trying to count windows flashing past —

"Whoa!" he said, pulling backward as hard as he could.

Thus, from the fact that they approached from the front of the castle and were able to get to the thirteenth window from the right of West Tower without going around the castle, we know that west must indeed be the left side of the map.

We can derive this from another passage in Prisoner of Azkaban as well.

The first time they head to Divination they have trouble finding North Tower. When Hermione suggests a certain passage, we are told the following:

"Can't be," said Ron. "That's south, look, you can see a bit of the lake out of the window..."

Thus we know that the lake is south, which means that the forest on the map is indeed east.

So now we are left with the question of how the sun could be setting over the forest if the forest is in the east. The answer to this appears to be that this is an inconsistency. Indeed, elsewhere in the books we find that the sun rises by the forest. In Order of the Pheonix Harry wakes up one morning and looks out the window and we have the following description:

Something caught Harry's attention: movement on the edge of the Forbidden Forest. Harry squinted into the sun and saw Hagrid emerging from between the trees.

As it is the early morning the sun would be in the east. As Harry squints into the sun to see the forest, it follows that the forest is in the east. This accords with its placement on the map.

The author probably just wanted to write about the sun in the forest, so she had the sun rising and setting by the forest, according to necessity, without necessarily making sure that such descriptions would always fit the actual layout of the school and grounds.

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