The Selfless Love of Sirius Black

People have stressed this often: the Harry Potter series is all about the power of love and choice. Often, it is about how love dictates choice. The greatest example of that is probably Severus Snape who, we’re led to believe, changed sides from ‘evil’ to ‘good’ because of his love for Lily Evans Potter. You choose who you become, you choose your fight (the difference between being ‘dragged into the arena and walking in with his head held high’ that Harry reflects on), unless, of course, you are Lord Voldemort.

There’s all sorts of examples of all sorts of love in the Potter books, and all of them are of varying degrees of intensity. Familial love, as most well-evidenced by the Weasleys and (I insist) the Malfoys; romantic love in the form of Ginny and Harry and Remus and Tonks and umpteen other couples; platonic, ‘friendly’ love exemplified by the Golden Trio and a more abstract, universal agape that is the province of Harry in his final stand against Voldemort. I would love to dissect all these examples, but in this post, I’m going to focus on what, to me, seems the most intense, powerful and selfless form of love in the books: the love of Sirius for Harry.

ImageI know this is a bit of an unconventional choice, given that Lily’s ‘sacrifice’ is usually touted as the be-all and end-all of selfless love. While I certainly admire Lily for her willingness to die for her son (with no idea that he would live because of it), I think that she really, honestly, didn’t have a choice. I don’t think Lily ever believed that Voldemort would let her live, despite his commands for her to ‘stand aside’. She had no reason to think that he would show her mercy, given that she has ‘thrice defied’ him and is one of the core members of the Order of the Phoenix. She would have been silly to trust to his words. And even if she had listened and stood aside, she would probably have been unable to live with herself.

Besides, Lily’s is not the only example of a mother’s sacrificial love for her children. In Deathly Hallows, Voldemort kills a family when he is hunting Gregorovitch. We are told the woman ‘spreads her arms’ as though to ‘protect’ the children behind her. Technically, she also dies in the hopes that they may live; perhaps she was expecting them to escape in the fleeting moment of her death. In a manner, she also dies for them, protecting them. Yet, this ‘sacrifice’ accomplishes nothing.

Anyway, we’re quibbling here.

Why do I call Sirius’s love for Harry the most intense and powerful in the series? Let’s consider what we know:

1)      Sirius was in Azkaban for 12 years. Not only was he thrown in here unjustly, refused a trial, but he was also a ‘high security’ prisoner which, I’m assuming, meant that he had more dementors around his cell than most other people in that hellhole.

2)      From what we’ve read of the dementors’ effects on a person, being near one is an awful lot like suffering clinical depression. You are constantly forced to live out the worst experiences of your life, again and again and again, it seems impossible to find the will to live or change what you are hearing, and the only way to combat it is to force yourself to be cheerful. And eat chocolate, which is a known anti-depressant. Sirius, like his fellow prisoners, could be said to have suffered major depressive disorder for nearly twelve years. That is a long, long time.

3)      Sirius kept himself from ‘going mad’–I would assume that means losing touch with reality and ‘retreating into [himself]’  the way many other prisoners do—by holding on to a thought that was ‘not happy’, the knowledge that he was innocent. While this no doubt held as an anchor against the dementors (‘they couldn’t take it away’), it would still not have ensured a healthy mind. Rather than becoming depressive, Sirius became dangerously obsessive, using his hatred of Peter as an anchor on which to rest his sanity. The fact that he muttered ‘He’s at Hogwarts. He’s at Hogwarts’ even in his sleep shows the extent to which he had shored his mental balance upon the idea of revenge.

4)      Sirius conceivably escaped from Azkaban because of this obsession; it gave him the strength to transform and the will to live in a place where nothing else could. His mission is not so much to rejoin the world and become a citizen of it as it is to find and kill Peter for what he did to the Potters. That is why he heads to Hogwarts and breaks into the castle.

5)      In spite of this overriding obsession, in spite of the fact that he stayed mentally grounded in hellish circumstances by basing his entire existence on this one desire, Sirius gives it all up when Harry asks him to.

I want you to consider the magnitude of that sacrifice. For Sirius (and Lupin, to a lesser extent), Peter is the reason their lives fell apart so spectacularly. Twelve whole years of Sirius’s life were defined by what Peter had done, and those twelve years were also, perhaps, made a trifle more bearable by the knowledge of it. And yet, when his godson asks him to give it up, to let him go because his ‘dad wouldn’t have wanted his best friends to become killers’, Sirius lowers his wand.

Honestly, I don’t think I would have had the presence of mind to do that.

Now, let’s consider other instances of Sirius’s regard for his godson. On the first indication that he might be in trouble, Sirius risks life, limb and soul to come back to England (from wherever in the tropical world he is) to watch out for him. He subsists on rats in Hogsmeade in order to be close to him, unarmed with anything except his Animagus ability. His devotion prompts a response from the usually emotionally-obtuse Ron: ‘He must really love you, Harry. Imagine having to live off rats.’

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I don’t picture Oldman when I picture Black, but the sentiment is expressed clearly here.

Sirius pretty much replaces his obsession with revenge with a deep and unconditional love for Harry. His regard for Harry is not really surprising, given his reported love for James and Sirius’s own supremely loyal nature. I think the only point at which Sirius really comes close to breaking is when he is cooped up in Number 12, Grimmauld Place. The house does to him what twelve years in Azkaban did not manage to: drive him slowly but surely around the bend. He resorts to alcoholism, littering his table with Firewhiskey bottles and carrying around a ‘distinctly Mundungus-like whiff’ of spirits.

Even then, his first thought is for Harry. When Harry needs him, Sirius rushes out of the house and barrels into the Ministry, regardless of his personal safety. You could say that this is because of his ‘reckless’ nature, his need to be doing something for the Order. But even if it is, to a certain extent, informed by this need to be in action, Sirius’s rushing out of the house and to Harry’s side is consistent with previous actions. When Harry is in trouble, he will do anything to make sure he gets out of it. Therefore, it’s unfair to pin the onus of that particular action totally on his need to expend energy.

In fact, I believe that Harry’s later insistence on it being Snape’s fault that Sirius risked himself is  a form of self-defense, a walling off of the fact that it was really, ultimately, for Harry’s sake. This defense mechanism is, again, consistent with Harry’s refusal to let other people die ‘for’ him in Deathly Hallows. He knows it’s what happened with Sirius, and the pain of that knowledge ensures that he will do his best not to let it happen again, going (literally) to suicidal lengths to make certain of this.

We know that Sirius’s love for Harry is reciprocated. Even Voldemort knows that ‘the one person’ Harry would literally do anything to save is his godfather. This is what he picks up from Kreacher, from the Malfoys. Sirius is the ‘closest thing’ to a parent that Harry has: he’s the first person Harry thinks to write to when in trouble, he turns to him for reassurance and support in times of moral dilemma (such as when he witnessed Snape’s worst memory), he trusts him within a few hours of meeting him. After his death, Harry is unable to really talk about his passing with anyone, the closest he comes to it being a brief conversation with Luna Lovegood. We know however, from vague references in Half Blood Prince, that Harry is nowhere near close to healed; every time Sirius is brought up in conversation, Harry closes the subject off and casts about for something else. If not, his friends do it for him.

Why I call Sirius’s love selfless is for the reason I’ve underlined again and again in this post: many of the actions he performs for Harry give him absolutely no advantage, nothing in return. He gives up a quest for revenge  (which, as I have pointed out, is no ordinary quest, as far as such things can be ordinary), centres his life around a boy he’s met only a couple of times and then dies for said boy, all to ensure that he remain protected, safe and, most importantly, happy. That last is, really, the only reason I can see Sirius letting Peter live in that one pivotal moment in Azkaban. It would make Harry happy.

There’s a point in the movie-sequence of Lily’s death where she’s standing before the cradle that holds Harry and whispering to him:

 You are so loved, Harry. So loved.

I think Sirius, more than anyone, highlights the truth of those words.

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Cersei Lannister and the Perils of Love

Warning: There are spoilers for A Song of Ice and Fire ahead.

For some reason, this morning Cersei Lannister’s words from Season 1 of a Game of Thrones came back to me with a force they never displayed in three viewings of the episode:

All the things men do to show you how much they care.

ImageThere’s something so profoundly sad about the way she says it.

Cersei, the consummate top-bitch that many men (and women) detest, says this during her brief condolence meeting with Catelyn Stark. Bran lies unconscious before them and a depressed Cat is making one of her signature guardian wreaths, beseeching the Mother to take pity upon her son. Cersei, who we know is one of the reasons Bran lies here in such a state, talks of her firstborn son with Robert and his death, of how her husband ‘beat his hands bloody’ on the walls, wailing against the gods. She mentions that when ‘they’ came to take the baby away to the crypt she screamed and cried, but Robert ‘held’ her.

But Robert held me. He held me.

She sounds perfectly genuine about all this, and even her sympathetic ‘I pray to the Mother that she return your son to you,’ seems true to me.

Cersei Lannister is such a wonderfully complex character. More than anyone in that messed-up world of A Song of Ice and Fire, she scares me because she seems so perfectly to figure forth how the world can really mess up a smart, loving woman, drive her to take monstrous and psychotic steps to protect her happiness. She seems to me like a warning sign against so many things: against love, against attachment and, scarily enough, the perils of non-attachment as well.

Tyrion thinks of Cersei as stupid, which she is in many, many ways. She is not half as smart as she gives herself credit for, he says. She grasps at more than she has the ability to hold, a tendency I would say results from her ever-present feeling that she has not been given her due. Because the world (she thinks) underestimates her, she compensates by overestimating her abilities. Because she feels abandoned (first by her mother, then by her husband, father and brother), she makes up for it by lavishing what might be an unhealthy amount of affection on her children, displaying a blindness to their faults (especially Joffrey’s) that leads to terrible decision making and political shortsightedness. She is so very terrified of being left alone that she gallops ahead making friends in the wrong places, trading favours for the illusion of safety and ignoring the advice of those whose only intention is to keep her from losing her head.

In some ways, Cersei reminds me of Voldemort. Like him, she’s acting crazily on the basis of a prophecy made to her in a smoky tent long years before the series opens. She is half convinced of the truth of the prophecy, which states that she will only die after she has seen her three children laid in ‘golden shrouds’ before her. Like Voldemort, one could say that her very desire to ensure that the prophecy does not come to pass is what will lead to its fulfillment. Terrified that Tyrion is the one responsible for Joffrey’s death, she turns against him completely, thus ensuring his cast-iron will to revenge himself upon her. Certain that Margaery plans to steal Tommen from her maternal grasp, she acts like a headless chicken and attempts to drive spokes into the progress of the Tyrell-Lannister alliance. A Storm of Swords, A Feast of Crows and A Dance of Dragons are all littered with examples of Cersei’s mother-headed thinking.

Motherhood is a very powerful motivating force in A Song of Ice and Fire, since it’s the one career path most of its women (the royal ones, that is) can aspire to. You have Catelyn Stark, the idealized home-maker, loyal to her husband and her children, following them across the land as they wage a war that she doesn’t fully agree with. There’s Dany, who, unable to bear children (supposedly), sets herself up as a sort of Universal Mother figure (Mhysa) for the poor and defenceless, compromising on her duties to her ‘true’ offspring: her dragons. There’s also Melisandre, who literally makes magic out of the process of birthing and messes up a major political player’s ambitions (Tyrells, I’m looking at you).

For Cersei though, since her dreams of a happy and loving marriage have been shaken and destroyed not once but twice, every Imageupsurge of affection is directed towards her children. Neither does she seem to have any especially close female friends and, lacking the support of a female coterie, something that Margaery enjoys, her only ‘trusted’ ally is, for a very long time, her twin. Even her connection to Jaime is premised on the idea that he is a lot like her. Her attraction, for sure, is based on that. In fact, Jaime even reflects that Cersei wouldn’t be happy with his beard because he won’t ‘look so much like her’ any more.

Cersei’s relationship with Jaime begs the question: is she capable of loving anyone apart from her children? Her regard for Jaime seems something born of a desire to live through him, rather than any real affection for him. The moment he begins to assert some form of independence, call her out on her bad decisions and contradict her wishes, she seems to lose interest in him. She sees his questioning her as an abject betrayal, a turning away from the family that he has helped to create. Cersei is so terrified of being left alone that she sees hints of it everywhere: even from the father of her children and her ‘other half’.

When you read her, it’s all too easy to sympathize with Cersei. At least for me. As someone who cares heedlessly and passionately, who throws herself into things (sometimes, my friends might say, stupidly), I can see where she’s coming from, how the abject fear and near-certainty she has of being alone has driven her to the bad place she occupies now. I think,  more than anything, Cersei displays what routinely frustrated love can do, how it seeks a safe channel and then will do whatever it takes to defend it. I think Cersei is the road that Voldemort was afraid of (yes, I mix fandoms sometimes), the perfect example of the sheer stupidity and fear that come with being so completely attached to something that you cut ties with everything else.

So yes, ironically enough, I think Cersei Lannister is the perfect embodiment of love, albeit love of a crazy, crazy sort. But then again, what in the Song of Ice and Fire world is not crazy?

A Valentine for Voldemort

‘You’re the weak one. And you’ll never know love, or friendship. And I feel sorry for you.’ 

Valentine’s Day has just flashed past, festooned with hearts and roses and sundry red material. Some people celebrated love  while others berated them for it, whether for ‘religious’ reasons or simple desire to look cool and above the whole branded holiday. It got me thinking, however, of a person who, for whatever reason, is immune to and incapable of feeling love and I wondered what he would make of it.

ImageLord Voldemort has always struck me as a rather unsatisfactory villain. He starts out in Philosopher’s Stone as a terrifying, megalomaniacal figure (‘There is no good and evil’, he teaches Quirrell, ‘There is only power and those too weak to seek it’). In Chamber of Secrets we learn that he was always a sort of Machiavellian character, plotting from the sidelines and covering his tracks with practised ease even as a sixteen-year-old. In Prisoner of Azkaban and Half Blood Prince he doesn’t appear directly on screen, but in both he exerts a pull as a vague suggestion of menace, one who can rip apart friendships and loyalties with insinuations and threats. But the rather terrifying, smooth-talking, sinister figure who calmly lays out and executes a master plan in Order of the Phoenix disappears almost entirely in the shrieking, trigger-happy dictator in Deathly Hallows. What happened to good old Voldemort on the way?

I want to point out the one basic problem I have with Voldemort: he just doesn’t strike me as a convincing character. And for that reason, I cannot see him as a convincing villain. Perhaps I’ve been spoilt by reading G. R. R. Martin, whose ‘villains’ are indistinguishable from his ‘good guys’ most of the time, with everyone being liberally painted with shades of grey. But my problem with Voldemort is very specific. It’s not that I don’t agree that his agenda of world domination is terrible (at least in the way he executes it), and yes, since the series is, as a whole, a great deal about accepting and living with the reality of death, he is a despicable coward for going the lengths he does to secure immortality.

But the infamous Prophecy, that marks Harry out as the hero who will defeat him, ascribes Voldemort’s downfall to one particular thing: ‘the power the Dark Lord knows not’. Which is, simply put, love.

My problem is: Voldemort is incapable of love. It’s not that he’s turned his back on it. It’s not that he has felt it and then decided that it was not for him, that it was something he should actively root out of the world and destroy. He is physically, emotionally, psychologically, whatever you want to call it, incapable of it. Since he was conceived under the influence of a Love Potion (we are told), the magic of Love does not extend its tendrils to him.

Now, I have a few quibbles with that theory (which J. K. Rowling stated later was no theory, but fact. Voldemort is constitutionally incapable of love because he was created by an act of love that was not entirely consensual, merely a product of magic). For one thing, does this mean that all babies who were born out of forced coupling (for whatever reason) in the wizarding world are incapable of love? Isn’t this a very easy way to explain Voldemort’s almost dyed-in-the-wool sociopathic tendencies? From the young age of eleven, Tom Riddle seems to be a monster-child and terrorizing his fellow Woolworth’s residents, stealing trinkets to memorialize his misdeeds. Even as a baby, we are told, he didn’t like to be touched, barely cried and in general, behaved rather strangely. Put together with Rowling’s statement about his constitutional incapacity, this behaviour makes sense.

And really, it would be fine if you had a villain who was rather sociopathic and couldn’t help his behaviour, if you didn’t have another very strong moral running through the series:

‘It is our choices, Harry, that define us, rather than our abilities.’

harry and voldemortTime and again, Rowling underlines the parallels between Harry and Tom Riddle/Voldemort, from their entry into the world of magic (ushered in as wards of the school, rather than by a parent), the manner in which they view Hogwarts, their shared abilities and finally, linking them with that most intimate of connections: sharing a piece of soul. Dumbledore even points out that one of the many reasons Voldemort probably chose Harry over Neville as his potential vanquisher was because he saw in Harry, the half-blood, a reflection of himself.So in this case, Voldemort exercised his ability to choose, and thus defined Harry’s destiny and his own.

But Harry is who he is because he chooses to be. He chose to be in Gryffindor, he chose to trust Sirius and show mercy to Pettigrew, he chose to face Voldemort at the very end, despite learning of Dumbledore’s grand deception. In fact, even if he hadn’t heard of the Prophecy, he admits to Dumbledore that he would not walk away from the fight against Voldemort, going so far as to say ‘I’d want him finished. And I’d want to be the one to do it.’ The Prophecy doesn’t force his hand. He genuinely wants to fight and put an end to Voldemort.

And Voldemort? It appears he was born a certain way, lacking something that Harry has in such abundance. He never had to consciously make a choice to be a loving person, to care for others, simply because he can’t. In such a scenario, how is it fair to expect him to make the ‘right’ choices? During their stand-off on the Astronomy Tower, Dumbledore mentions to Draco that he once knew a young man who had made ‘all the wrong choices’, implying that Voldemort had the ability to choose otherwise. But he really couldn’t, could he? How was it possible for him to choose a side he simply did not have the ability to understand?

In such a scenario, what is right and wrong?

So in a series, where you highlight the importance of choice and the role it plays in defining a person, and take away the villain’s ability to choose (at least choose in the sphere that ‘counts’ in this universe), are you not weakening your villain considerably? Can he really be anything but a cartoon blow-up?

There’s a very poignant moment in Deathly Hallows where this inability of Voldemort really comes through in a rather bittersweet manner. It happens when he stands outside the Potter cottage, its inhabitants revealed to him by the Fidelius Charm. He looks through the window into the sitting room for a couple of moments, and witnesses the following:

They had not drawn the curtains; he saw them quite clearly in their little sitting room, the tall black-haired man in his glasses, making puffs of coloured smoke erupt from his wand for the amusement of the small black-haired boy in his blue pyjamas. The child was laughing and trying to catch the smoke, to grab it in his small fist…

A door opened and the mother entered, saying words he could not hear, her long dark-red hair falling over her face. Now the father scooped up the son and handed him to the mother. He threw his wand down upon the sofa and stretched, yawning…

It’s the one domestic scene we have of the Potters, describing what seems to be a normal routine for them: James amusing Harry before handing him to Lily to be put to bed. It’s startling because we know what awaits outside the window, how it’s all going to come crashing down in a matter of seconds.

Throughout this little section, where we’re in Voldemort’s head as he relives that fateful night, we have his thoughts on the weaknesses of the humans around him. He considers killing a child, then deems it ‘unnecessary’, he feels ‘calmly euphoric’, he reflects that it is ‘too easy’ to kill James because he comes rushing out without his wand. But his feelings on this scene are curiously absent. There is no thought about the weakness of this happy family, nothing about the silliness of the smoke rings, no word on how triumphant he feels at seeing them exposed, vulnerable. No, Voldemort is curiously expressionless on witnessing this cosy family scene. Almost as though he doesn’t know what to feel.

And I think it was at this point, really, that I felt most sorry for him.

When Gossip Girl meets A Game of Thrones

I recently quipped that, based on a rewatch of the Gossip Girl series, the Upper East Side looks a whole lot like the seamier world of Westeros. It’s got the same elements: people from privileged backgrounds/powerful families fighting for control of a limited geographic space. What happens outside of that Upper East Side (henceforth referred to as UES) area is of little concern, but for some reason it’s a power base that even outsiders want to enter or are forced to contend with, and it ends up corrupting them.

And the true voice of power here? A Varys-like figure who collects and disburses information at his/her own discretion and can lay low the most elevated with one fell swoop.

I decided to have a little fun and lay out some of the parallels between my favourite UES families and their Westerosi counterparts.

The Humphreys – House Stark

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This was a no-brainer. The only family that pretends to have any sort of noble idealism, who live outside the polluting atmosphere of the Manhattan area, but who, for some odd reason (love or friendship or simple desire to climb socially) have gotten sucked into a world that leaves them scrambling for purchase. Whether it’s Jenny’s Sansa-like fascination for all things fancy or Dan’s Jon-like ‘outsider’ status, the Humphreys are the Starks, sans the direwolves.

The Waldorfs – House Tyrell

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The Waldorfs are the one family that has finished playing out its family drama before the show opens. Headed by a formidable matriarch (Eleanor Waldorf is a little scatter-brained at times, but it was she who, by her own admission, taught Blair her scheming ways), its pride and hope rests on Blair, the supposedly virginal beauty who seeks to rule the UES with an iron fist. Blair is perhaps the one character who is most open about her desire to rule (what, exactly, is debatable at times), echoing Margaery’s famous line in the show: ‘I want to be the Queen’. And Blair will do whatever it takes, marrying disastrously into the royal family of a tiny European nation if that’s what’s called for.

The Archibalds – House Baratheon

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Baratheon, to me, has always been a bit of a random house. What is their USP? It’s not dragons, it’s not wealth, and it’s certainly not misinformed idealism. The three Baratheon brothers we meet in the course of the books are all radically different from each other, and their motto, ‘Ours is the Fury’ is rather lacklustre compared to heavyweights like ‘Fire and Blood’ or the ever-doleful ‘Winter is Coming’. But they are rich, and they are royal—indeed, they were second in line after the Targaryens were bumped off. And people do seem to like (some of) them. The Archibalds struck  me as that sort of family—very random, very rich and sitting on a huge family history that they could use to their benefit if they chose to (which they do, a couple of seasons into the show).

And Nate, if he were anyone on Game of Thrones, would be Renly. Pretty, popular, but no way would he be able to handle the pressures of being king. That’s best left to…

The Basses – House Lannister

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You knew this was coming. The wealthiest house on the UES? The one with the most spotted reputation, with the scheming, cold-hearted father and the disappointing, profligate son who (SPOILER) ends up acting out in the worst ways possible? The Basses can afford to pay off Blair’s dowry and still remain top-dog on the UES, just as the Lannisters extend credit to the throne and manage to field large armies at the same time. The Basses know how to play the games of the UES perhaps better than anyone else, disappearing and reappearing as per their own convenience. They run with unsavoury types, but manage to come out of each scandal with their fortune and their name intact.

And finally..

The Van der Woodsens – House Targaryen

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I have never understood why the VDW’s are so popular on the UES. Aside from Serena’s obvious good looks, the family seems to have nothing but bad decision making skills on its resume. Their family affairs are more messed up than any others on the show, with cheating and lying about deathly illnesses running rampant. They even have a con-artist snuggling into their ranks (literally) and passing off as one of them.

But for some reason, they are up there, powerful and making terrible judgment calls to protect themselves. Like Dany, Serena wants to  dissociate herself from the madness of her forebears and tries time and again to shuck the UES-VDW mantle, to become one of the ‘people’, whether by dating ‘outsiders’ or changing her name. Time and again, she is hauled back to awareness that she can’t escape her past. Serena is perhaps the one idealistic and naïve figure in this bunch of messed-up blondes, and she seems well aware of that.

But when Serena wants, she can take the world down in more fire and blood than even Blair is capable of. In fact, in terms of sheer collateral damage on the show, its Serena who wins top-spot in her generation.

Really, when you step back and look at it, the parallels are rather uncanny. Are we sure the Gossip Girl makers were not reading A Song of Ice and Fire when they scripted their show?

Ginny, Cho and the Case of the Weeping Woman

How often do you cry?

Myself, I cry a lot. If I feel sad, I cry. If I feel frustrated, I often vent a little to a close friend and might get teary in the process. I have found that I don’t really feel worse after I cry, but I do feel quite terrible in the moments leading up to the cathartic weeping session, so I prefer to just cut to the chase and play fast and loose with my lachrymal glands.

I know some people find this odd, my friends included. Also, given the prevailing tone of the Potter books, I’m pretty sure it would have meant that Harry would never have dated me.

ImageI realized this when I was re-reading The Order of the Phoenix a couple of months ago: weeping is not seen as a very constructive or even therapeutic act in the Potter books especially when it’s being done by women. Perhaps this has a lot to do with the fact that the books are told, by and large, from the perspective of an adolescent boy who is (like many adolescent boys in literature) ‘uncomfortable’ in the presence of a weeping woman.

Consider Cho Chang. Here’s a sixteen year old girl who lost her boyfriend in an extremely traumatizing manner and (maybe unwisely) took a call to move on and date the person who saw him die. Cho is popular, sporty and very pretty, but whenever shes with Harry, she inevitably breaks into tears and acts, as he puts it, like a ‘human hosepipe’. Hermione’s attempt to explain Cho’s conflicted emotions impresses Harry and Ron (‘no one could feel all that at once, they’d explode’), but does it really lead to any increased sense of empathy for Cho?

It might be too optimistic to expect Harry to understand Cho’s viewpoint—after all, he is only fifteen years old and rather wrapped up in the larger issue of dealing with Voldemort’s return. In itself, his inability to be supportive is not a terrible thing, it’s hardly the biggest problem in the series, but when Cho’s weepiness is contrasted strongly with Ginny Weasley’s behaviour, Harry’s lack of supportiveness becomes much more problematic.

In Deathly Hallows , Harry and Ginny have a ‘moment’ on his 17th birthday. Despite the fact that she knows Harry and his friends are going off on a dangerous mission, Ginny does not press for details, nor does she betray (except for one moment of pale-faced shock) any sadness or worry at the prospect. Harry reflects on this during their brief encounter in her sunny bedroom: ‘…that was one of the things he liked about her, she was very rarely weepy’.

Ginny does not cry, not usually. She’s been ‘toughened’ by living with six brothers, rarely succumbing to the weakness of tears. The one time she cries on-screen after her emergence as a bright, focused character in Order of the Phoenix is at this point in Hallows , when her birthday surprise for Harry is ruined by the ‘pointed’  entrance of Ron and Hermione. Then she ‘succumbs’ ‘for once’ to tears.Image

It is noteworthy that, even at this point, she turns away to cry, sparing Harry the sight.

Ginny’s ‘toughness’ is contrasted strongly to Cho’s hosepipe-like behaviour at the close of Phoenix when the six Ministry survivors sit around discussing the Ravenclaw-Gryffindor Quidditch match. Ginny snags the Snitch from ‘right under’ Cho’s nose; Harry asks what Cho did in response, enquiring (rather nastily) whether she burst into tears. As it turns out, she did throw a bit of a tantrum, casting her broom aside and rushing off to be comforted by Ginny’s onetime boyfriend, Michael Corner. This hissy fit neatly ties up the straggling ends of both Harry and Ginny’s drama-soaked love lives in Phoenix, leaving Harry free to move on to the tougher girl. Of course, Ginny dallies for a bit before she gives him the satisfaction of being with her.

 Ginny is an odd blend, feminine without being ‘girly’, understanding without words Harry’s need for unquestioned support and being just tough enough to be a love interest who doesn’t sap at his attention. She seems, in some respects, impossible to emulate; I can’t imagine being half so mature at the age of sixteen – indeed, even Hermione has more moments of emotional weakness than Ginny does. She has the ability to be one of the ‘boys’ in a manner that Hermione does not, chiefly because of her interest in and skills on the Quidditch pitch. I think Rowling gave her the strengths of many of the other leading female characters in the series: the more typical high-school success traits of attractiveness and popularity that define Cho, the spunk and independence of Luna and the impressive insight into other people that Hermione betrays time and again. Take all these ingredients and mix them up, and you’ve got Harry’s ideal partner.

Ginny is pure nerve, unlike her rival. Cho seems to run on emotion and impulse, rarely appearing to filter what she feels or says once she’s let her guard down and shown her feelings for Harry. Ginny, despite the overwhelming trials she faces, never once breaks down except, for a couple of moments, in the privacy of her bedroom.

Maybe this is why it took me so very long to warm up to Ginny. She seems sort of unbelievably perfect, a shining ideal that not all of us, least of all me, could hope to emulate. Cho, on the other hand, is much more easily accessible, more ‘human’ in some ways. She certainly seems closer to the everyday teenage girl than strong and perfect Ginny.

I would like to think, however, that Ginny made Harry work a little in the years after the war, and wasn’t too perfect. Perhaps he even learned how to deal with crying women once he was done ‘hunting Voldemort’. There’s no doubt that the boy needed time to do his own growing up; one can only hope that Ginny didn’t make that ride too easy for him, as he didn’t make it easy for anyone else.