Potter's magic school first appeared in 1950's classic

It might be a straight lift, or perhaps it is a remarkable coincidence. But it is certainly the case that Hogwarts, the name of the world famous school for magicians in JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, has been used before.

It might be a straight lift, or perhaps it is a remarkable coincidence. But it is certainly the case that Hogwarts, the name of the world famous school for magicians in JK Rowling's Harry Potter books, has been used before.

Hogwarts, it turns out, features in one of classic 1950s Molesworth books written by Geoffrey Willans and illustrated by Ronald Searle.

The connection between Harry Potter and Molesworth has been discovered by Oxford classics professor Richard Jenkyns - whose literary scoop appears in this month's issue of the intellectual magazine Prospect.

In the Molesworth book How to be Topp, says Jenkyns, "there is a cod Latin play, 'The Hogwarts', by Marcus Plautus Molesworthus, and Hoggwart is also the name give to the headmaster of Porridge Court, a rival academy. As far as I know, no one has yet noticed this." There are other parallels. "Even Harry Potter's appearance, with his round glasses and perpetually untidy hair, seems to be modelled on Molesworth as drawn by Searle," says Jenkyns.

In many ways Potter and Molesworth are diametrically opposed. Potter is immersed in school life, respects the Hogwart's traditions and admires a fair number of the teachers. Molesworth, by contrast, is essentially anarchic, he shows no affection for school life, considers that: "peotry is sissy stuff that rhymes", and is awful at "foopball".

At a deeper level, though, Joanne Rowling, Jenkyns points out, is plainly true to the boarding school genre. "The social set-up at Hogwarts is remarkably old-fashioned," he says. "It feels less like the 1990s than the 1950s - the Molesworth period."

Jenkyns sees Harry Potter as essentially boys' books (despite their immense popularity with girls). And Rowling's Hermione is a real Molesworth girl. "Gurls," he considers, are "intent, eager, keen ect. in class, and stick their hands up excitedly when the teacher asks a question". It is an accurate description of Hermione.

In America, Ms Rowling has faced more serious accusations of lifting material. Author Nancy Stouffer is bringing legal action, claiming that Rowling has plagiarised her books about Larry Potter and creatures called Muggles.

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