I recently reread the Harry Potter series, and this time around, took note of how the librarian, Madam Pince, is depicted. This librarian is never mentioned by name in the films as such, but she does make a physical appearance in the film version of Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002). As portrayed by Sally Mortemore, the reel Madam Pince — her first name, Irma, is also revealed in that film’s credits — is physically more attractive than her counterpart in print.
Below is a reel of different roles Sally Mortemore has played, and you can spy her as Madam Pince at 4:34 minutes into the video:
Considering how negatively Madam Pince is portrayed in the books, I’m actually glad the Hogwarts librarian didn’t make more of a screen appearance!
Note: The following descriptions and page numbers come from the hardback American editions, published by Scholastic.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone:
Madam Pince’s first appearance comes about three-quarters of the way into the first book, on p. 198. Harry, Ron, and Hermione are trying to uncover a reference to Nicholas Flamel in the Hogwarts library. Harry wanders over to the Restricted Section.
“What are you looking for, boy?”
“Nothing,” said Harry.
Madam Pince the librarian brandished a feather duster at him.
“You’d better get out, then. Go on — out!”
Wishing he’d been a bit quicker at thinking up some story, Harry left the library. He, Ron, and Hermione had already agreed they’d better not ask Madam Pince where they could find Flamel. They were sure she’d be able to tell them, but they couldn’t risk Snape hearing what they were up to.
What they needed was a nice long search without Madam Pince breathing down their necks.
A memorable introduction, one complete with a feather duster and a not-so-subtle reference to Madam Pince as a kind of dragon-lady librarian. (Sigh.)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets:
On p. 147, Hermione, Ron, and Harry are once again in the library, working on homework for History of Magic. No mention of Madam Pince, but Hermione’s irritated that:
“All of the copies of Hogwarts, A History have been taken out,” she said, sitting down next to Harry and Ron. “And there’s a two-week waiting list. I wish I hadn’t left my copy at home.”
On p. 163, we are treated to the first physical description of Madam Pince, and shocker, it’s NOT a flattering one. :
They dropped their voices as they entered the muffled stillness of the library. Madam Pince, the librarian, was a thin, irritable woman who looked like an underfed vulture.
“Moste Potente Potions?” she repeated suspiciously, trying to take the note from Hermione; but Hermione wouldn’t let go. […]
Madam Pince held the note up to the light, as though determined to detect a forgery, but it passed the test. She stalked away between the lofty shelves and returned several minutes later carrying a large and moldy-looking book.
On p. 200, Harry gets into an argument with another student about Parseltongue:
He [Harry] turned on his heel and stormed out of the library, earning himself a reproving glare from Madam Pince, who was polishing the gilded cover of a large spellbook.
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban:
Nothing to see here!
No mention of Madam Pince, the librarian, at all in this book.
All that time-travelling in this storyline must have put her off. 😉
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire:
This is my personal favorite of the series. But not because of the perpetually unflattering portrait of Madam Pince, who shows up again on p. 482. Harry’s preparing for the second quest of the Triwizard Tournament:
So Harry, thinking that he would soon have had enough of the library to last him a lifetime, buried himself once more among the dusty volumes, looking for any spell that might enable a human to survive without oxygen. However, though he, Ron, and Hermione searched through their lunchtimes, evenings, and whole weekends — though Harry asked Professor McGonagall for a note of permission to use the Restricted Section, and even asked the irritable, vulture-like librarian, Madam Pince, for help — they found nothing whatsoever that would enable Harry to spend an hour underwater and live to tell the tale.
We don’t get a sense if this lack of answers in the library bothers Madam Pince, but a few pages later, we do sense Hermione’s personal frustration:
She [Hermione] seemed to be taking the library’s lack of useful information on the subject as a personal insult; it had never failed her before.
Side note: Too bad Hermione didn’t become a librarian — she would have been excellent!
Indeed, the students are pretty much on their own. On p. 488, Madam Pince is mentioned for the final time in this book.
By eight o’clock, Madam Pince had extinguished all the lamps and came to chivvy Harry out of the library. Staggering under the weight of as many books as he could carry, Harry returned to the Gryffindor common room, pulled a table into a corner, and continued to search.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix:
About one-third through the fifth book, on p. 345, Dumbledore’s Army is trying to think of a place to practice in secret.
“Library?” suggested Katie Bell after a few minutes.
“I can’t see Madam Pince being too chuffed with us doing jinxes in the library,” said Harry.
On p. 538:
Harry found Ron and Hermione in the library, where they were working on Umbridge’s most recent ream of homework. Other students, nearly all of them fifth years, sat at lamp-lit tables nearby, noses close to books, quills scratching feverishly, while the sky outside the mullioned windows grew steadily blacker. The only other sound was the slight squeaking of one of Madam Pince’s shoes as the librarian prowled the aisles menacingly, breathing down the necks of those touching her precious books.
Later, on p. 655, Harry dares to bring food (chocolate) into the library to keep his energy up, earning the ire of the fire-breathing Madam Pince:
“WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU ARE DOING?”
“Oh damn,” whispered Ginny, jumping to her feet. “I forgot–“
Madam Pince was swooping down upon them, her shriveled face contorted with rage.
“Chocolate in the library!” she screamed. “Out — out — OUT!”
And whipping out her wand, she caused Harry’s books, bag, and ink bottle to chase him and Ginny from the library, whacking them repeatedly over the head as they ran.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince:
About a third of the way through this penultimate volume, on p. 305, Harry and Hermione are hanging out in the library to avoid Ron.
Hermione refused to sit in the common room while Ron was there, so Harry generally joined her in the library, which meant that their conversations were held in whispers.
“He’s at perfect liberty to kiss whomever he likes,” said Hermione, while the librarian, Madam Pince, prowled the shelves behind them. “I really couldn’t care less.”
As they continue their conversation, a couple of pages later, they hear a sound behind them, and we get the longest scene featuring Madam Pince in the entire series:
Hermione stopped dead; Harry had heard it too. Somebody had moved close behind them among the dark bookshelves. They waited, and a moment later the vulturelike countenance of Madam Pince appeared around the corner, her sunken cheeks, her skin like parchment, and her long hooked nose illuminated unflatteringly by the lamp she was carrying.
“The library is now closed,” she said. “Mind you return anything you have borrowed to the correct — what have you been doing to that book, you depraved boy?”
“It isn’t the library’s, it’s mine!” said Harry hastily, snatching his copy of Advanced Potion-Making off the table as she lunged at it with a clawlike hand.
“Despoiled!” she hissed. “Desecrated! Befouled!”
“It’s just a book that’s been written on!” said Harry, tugging it out of her grip.
She looked as though she might have a seizure; Hermione, who had hastily packed her things, grabbed Harry by the arm and frog-marched him away.
“She’ll ban you from the library if you’re not careful. Why did you have to bring that stupid book?”
“It’s not my fault she’s barking mad, Hermione. Or d’you think she overheard you being rude about Filch? I’ve always thought there might be something going on between them…”
Enjoying the face that they could speak normally again, they made their way along the deserted, lamp-lit corridors back to the common room, arguing about whether or not Filch and Madam Pince were secretly in love with each other.
On p. 381, Hermione seems to have forgotten the disappointment of the library back in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Meanwhile, the Hogwarts library had failed Hermione for the first time in living memory. She was so shocked, she even forgot that she was annoyed at Harry for his trick with the bezoar.
Near the end of the book, at the bottom of p. 640, we get a brief description of those who attend Dumbledore’s funeral, and it seems that the theory of Filch and Madam Pince might be true!
[W]hen they reached the entrance hall, they found Madam Pince standing beside Filch, she in a thick black veil that fell to her knees, he in an ancient black suit and tie reeking of mothballs.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:
Although there is no mention of Madam Pince in this finale of the series — even through the final showdown battle at Hogwarts — the concept of a library (and research connections), remains important.
On p. 95, Hermione is busy sorting out books.
“What are you doing with all those books anyway?” Ron asked, limping back to his bed.
“Just trying to decide which ones to take with us,” said Hermione. “When we’re looking for the Horcruxes.
“Oh, of course,” said Ron, clapping a hand to his forehead. “I forgot we’ll be hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library.”
A few pages later, on p. 101, Hermione lets out a secret that she’s been researching Horcruxes.
“How?” asked Harry. “I didn’t think there were any book on Horcruxes in the library?”
“There weren’t,” said Hermione, who had turned pink. “Dumbledore removed them all, but he — he didn’t destroy them.” […]
“How in the name of Merlin’s pants have you managed to get our hands on those Horcrux books?”
“It — it wasn’t stealing!” said Hermione, looking from Harry to Ron with a kind of desperation. “They were still library books, even if Dumbledore had taken them off the shelves. Anyway, if he really didn’t want anyone to get at them, I’m sure he would have made it much harder to — “
“Get to the point!” said Ron.
“Well… it was easy,” said Hermione in a small voice. “I just did a Summoning Charm.”
And once Hermione visits the dark side, we get one final mention of a library on p. 290:
Without any other leads, they [Harry, Hermione, and Ron] traveled into London and, hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, searched for the orphanage in which Voldemort had been raised. Hermione stole into a library and discovered from their records that the place had been demolished many years before.
Although research and trips to the library are highlighted throughout the books, the characterization of Madam Pince is strikingly one-dimensional. Again and again, the Hogwarts librarian is described as “vulture-like” and physically unattractive, with an equally unattractive personality.
Although never described wearing glasses, the librarian’s surname, Pince, recalls pince-nez, a kind of glasses that “pinch” the nose. Madam Pince’s persona could definitely be described as pinched!
More about Madam Pince can be found online here through the Harry Potter Wiki.
- “Irma Pince.” Harry Potter Wiki, Fandom, n.d.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Scholastic, 1999.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Scholastic, 2007.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Scholastic, 2000.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Scholastic, 2005.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Scholastic, 2003.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner Of Azkaban. Scholastic, 1999.
- Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, 1998.
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