In “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone,” Ron and Harry play a game of magical chess, where the pieces move according to voice command. These pieces that make up the tray are inspired by an authentic and very old creation.
In the first installment of the Harry Potter saga orchestrated by Chris Columbus, Ron and Harry find themselves in the Great Hall of Hogwarts, and play a part of Wizard Chess. A magical chess game, in which the pieces move by themselves, according to the indications of the voice command. When an opponent’s piece is taken, it is unceremoniously cleared by its attacker; literally smashed in fact.
Souvenir sequence, to review below, where the Queen, in red, smashes the knight …
You may not know it, but these chess pieces are a faithful reproduction of very famous and above all authentic chess pieces, called Lewis figurines. Discovered in 1831 in Uig Bay on the Isle of Lewis, one of the Hebrides in Scotland, these pieces date from the 12th century! Probably Scandinavian-made, almost all of the pieces in the collection (93 in total, including 78 chess pieces) are carved in walrus ivory, and a few are made from whale teeth. The pieces in this game were separated at a sale, and the British Museum bought 67 pieces and 14 pawns.
If the set of parts used by Ron and Harry in the film is a copy, it is not just any copy! This is Irving Finkel’s personal game. Assistant at the British Museum in writings of ancient Mesopotamia, specialist in cuneiform in the Middle East department, the septuagenarian also studies the history of board games.
The interested party recounts with gluttony and full of humor in a video the origin of these famous pieces, but also how he bought, year after year, his own pieces to make a complete game. And especially how he ended up lending his game of chess to the production of the film.
She was looking for a game of chess for this streak. The head and costume designer, Judianna Makovsky, then went to the British Museum to get a replica of these Lewis figurines. She was on familiar ground elsewhere within the museum: her father and grandfather were indeed the guardians of this museum!
But she quickly became disillusioned: no replica was for sale in the museum’s souvenir shop. She therefore had the idea of contacting Irving Finkel, to ask him if he would agree to lend his personal chess game.
Watch the video below. It is still aimed at the most English-speaking among you, even if English subtitles are available: