Albus Severus and the Burden of History

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There be liberal spoilers for Cursed Child below.

There were many things I didn’t like about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. I read it in a haze of disbelief, often resorting to texting a friend in the format Harry made so famous in Order of the Phoenix: using all-caps to communicate my rage and frustration. ‘How is this a thing?’ I demanded at one point, and her responses, which ranged along the lines of ‘I knew you would say that’ did little to soothe me.

It’s been a couple of weeks now since the ordeal, and while I’ve safely moved on and begun reading other, less disappointing follow-ups to fantasy series, I haven’t been able to get some of Cursed Child’s more startling ‘revelations’ out of my head. So much about the story didn’t make sense given the context of Rowling’s carefully built world, and the themes she espoused with such fervour in the Potter books. Just one tiny, but irritating example: people went around saying ‘By Dumbledore!’ or ‘Thank Dumbledore!’ the same way they say ‘Thank God’ in the ‘real world’. In Deathly Hallows, Rowling made it very clear that no one, least of all Dumbledore, is perfect, god-like. In fact, she took care to point out that he was much more flawed than many other characters, including Harry. So to suddenly raise him on this pedestal was not just alarming, it was so profoundly antithetical to all she had drilled into us before.

And let’s not even get into that ridiculous stuff about Voldemort having a child. Not only do I seriously doubt he was physically capable of conceiving one (the ‘man’ was built of a dead person’s bones, Pettigrew’s severed hand, Harry’s blood and a baby form that had lead_largebeen reared on snake ‘milk’ and had no nose—are we expected to believe he had a penis?), but why on earth would he want one at all? He believed he was immortal, so there was no need for him to have an heir, and second, at no point has Voldemort ever been shown as capable of experiencing feelings as ‘human’ as love, or even lust. He had one goal, and I sincerely doubt child rearing would have been anything but a hindrance to it.

So yeah, many things bothered me. There was the Panju nonsense, the fact that Ron was a blundering idiot, that Ginny existed merely to soothe Harry and her son (whatever happened to her important career?), that Hermione had little to no security on her office (seriously, the same woman who was part of a plan to get into the Ministry at the age of 17 using Polyjuice Potion wouldn’t ensure the glitch wasn’t repaired when she was Minister?), that the Fidelius charm makes zilch sense to me anymore (if Lily and James were under the charm when they were in Godric’s Hollow, how were Harry and company able to see them when they traveled back in time? Pettigrew had never revealed the secret to them!), and that’s just scratching the surface. If I start talking about how the Time Turner was just the worst plot device ever, I’ll probably implode.

But what really bothered me was Harry, and his lack of relationship with this child, Albus. For whatever reason, Albus seems to have always had a victim complex. Perhaps it was the result of growing up with James for a brother; in a curious twist, the kids seem a lot like the people they were named after, James being popular, brash and sure of himself, and Albus ‘Severus’ the misunderstood misfit, whose need for attention drives him to do silly and ultimately, destructive things. So much for the whole ‘we are more than our abilities and blood’ spiel that the Hogwarts years were all about; so much for nothing but choices, much less names, deciding our fate.

In the Epilogue to Hallows, it looked like history was set to repeat itself in certain ways: Rose was already being touted as the smart kid, this time blessed with a magical background that she didn’t have to scramble for; Scorpius was the designated enemy, the one to be beaten, and Albus was, well, Albus was most like Harry. Not only had he inherited the green eyes, the ones that Severus basically threw his life away for (still not getting over that), but he had the insecurity and worries that plagued Harry too. It was to him that Harry imparted the secret of his own Sorting, so readers could be forgiven for thinking that out of all his kids, Albus was the one who Harry understood best.

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Evidently not. So much for Harry’s saying he doesn’t mind if Albus ends up in Slytherin, since his Sorting is what seems to set the ball rolling, culminating in a surprising declaration about Harry sometimes not wanting him as a son. While I completely agree that, given his own history, Harry is likely to be a lousy father, it was still a huge surprise that Albus, and not someone like, say, James, brought this on. Albus is the kid who is actually most like Harry: awkward, unsure of himself, holding onto one friend rather than making pals with loads of students. Harry too had faced the burden of history and expectation during his early years in school, and been alternately mocked, feared by, or lauded by peers. Hogwarts was never smooth sailing for him, and whatever happened in Year 6, before that, his time was marked by a less than stellar experience. Whether it was the aftermath of losing a landslide of points during his first year, being shunned for speaking Parseltongue, derided for fainting before Dementors, or haunted by whispers of death during Sirius’s escape from Azkaban, not to forget the anger that followed his announcement as Hogwarts champion, Harry knows what it’s like to not be understood or liked by Hogwarts students. So it’s really stunning that seeing what’s happening to his son, he does little to nothing about it for three whole years. When he does confront Albus, it’s with spectacularly bad results.

Ultimately, this is my major problem with Cursed Child. It’s not so much the ridiculous plot and the ridiculous turns and devices it employs to make its ridiculous ‘progress’, but what it does to the things we think we ‘know’ about these characters. Would Hermione simply hot-headedly cancel meetings and show up at Hogwarts with no plan? Would Ron just joke around and give out love potions, like he’s never done something more daring than leave the shop alone for a day? And would Harry, who’s seen so much and gone through so much shit himself, act out the way he does with a son who, more than any of his other kids, seems to bring to life the worst aspects of his own time at Hogwarts? Maybe they would, and maybe he would, but I’d prefer not to know it, thanks. I’d prefer to think he’d be a little more sensitive about it.

But oh well, that’s the price of not letting an end be the end.

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The Potter Christmas

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Merry Christmas, world! Today, I thought I’d take a tour through the Potter Christmases, and focus on my favourite one. Thanks to the school-year structure of the books, Rowling as ample time to explore the various wizarding holiday traditions, and Christmas often receives special treatment in her books. It forms a kind of turning point, functioning as a halfway-mark for the adventures of Harry and company. You’ll notice that no matter how crazy the rest of the world, or their own lives, Christmas provides at least a few moments of calm and reflection for our favourite wizards, and Rowling often uses it to underscore the series’ themes of family, love and dealing with loss.

I love her Christmas chapters, some more than others. For instance, Order of the Phoenix’s is, in my opinion, undeniably the happiest, with Harry seated amongst the loving Weasley family, Hermione, Ron and Sirius at his side. It seems to be,really, the series’ peak moment, a bittersweet one, in retrospect, that shows us what could have been Harry’s life, had the school year not ended the way it did.

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But my favourite Potter Christmas by far is Harry’s first one in Hogwarts, when he sees his parents for the first time.

When Harry wakes on Christmas morning, he is surprised by the pile of presents at the foot of his bed. The Dursleys, after all, had never made his Christmases particularly wonderful. Not only do all his new friends give him gifts, but he also receives a key plot device that makes his adventuring a little bit easier: the Invisibility Cloak. Being a good little hero, Harry puts it into service right away, and lands up in front of the Mirror of Erised, where he sees his family waving back at him.

This moment is exceptionally beautiful, delivered as it is in Rowling’s trademark simple prose.

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The Potters smiles and waved at Harry and he stared hungrily back at them, his hands pressed flat against the glass as though he was hoping to fall right through it and reach them. He had a powerful kind of ache inside him, half joy, half terrible sadness.

Rowling ties back to this first Christmas in the seventh, and final ‘canon’ Christmas, when Harry and Hermione visit Godric’s Hollow in Deathly Hallows. Apart from actually seeing the home he inhabited so briefly with his parents, Harry’s connection to Voldemort enables him to relive his final evening in the cottage, watching as his father plays with him, and his mother scoops him up to carry him to bed. Again, the parallels between Voldemort and Harry are underlined by this full circling: where Harry stands before the mirror, aching to join his parents but unable to, Voldemort too stands outside, watching as the family carries on with their everyday lives, so close to destruction, and yet so far from him, experiencing things he will never himself understand.

Similarly, Rowling closes the circle begun in Philosopher’s Stone by having Harry’s parents appear before him and speak to him, no longer just images waving from a mirror. Lily’s words to him, ‘We never left,’ are a beautiful allusion to the distance that Harry felt, in Book 1, and how that distance never really existed at all. It’s evident that, at the close, Harry has realized the truth of Sirius’s words to him in Prisoner of Azkaban: ‘The ones we love never truly leave us.’

Harry’s first wizarding Christmas is, I would argue, the most pivotal one in the series. Not only is his traipse through the castle his first solo adventure (it’s the first time he ventures out without Ron at his side), but the Mirror also provides his first real test. Harry has a choice, as Dumbledore reminds him. He can spend days before the Mirror, wasting away, or he can take the glimpse of his parents it has offered him, and use it as an anchor in the testing times to come. ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live,’ Dumbledore tells him. The eleven-year-old Harry takes this to heart, I assume, because the next time he stands before the Mirror, it isn’t impossible dreams that haunt him, but a single-minded desire to do the right thing, a trait that he carries forward hereon out.

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Harry Potter, the Everyman Hero

Recently, in a letter, I tried to describe what various books mean to me, the relationships I share with them. Of course, most of those described were fantasy books, ranging from Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to the stupendously weighty (literally) Wheel of Time books. I called The Lord of the Rings my ‘Bible’, the book that I harry sorcererslove and, as much as I might find elements of it jarring or disturbing, would not presume to pull down from its hallowed space. And I called Harry Potter a best friend, a companion found early on whom I tussle with, ignore sometimes, but ultimately, and overwhelmingly, adore.

Enough and more has been written about the books, and what they’ve done for readers across the world. Fans have started charities in the name of Harry Potter spells, Emma Watson has channeled Hermione-like spirit and called for change in the name of feminism, and there are probably fans everywhere who try to live by the tenets embodied in the characters: justice, patience, and acceptance. But what does Harry himself, the character, mean to someone who is, now, approaching the not-so-YA age of 26, who has declared on many occasions that Harry is far from her favourite character, and would rather be sorted into his rival house than the one he himself is in?

(I think that last might be wishful thinking though. Honestly I’m more likely to be a moody and tempestuous Gryffindor than a calculating Slytherin. But hey, the Sorting Hat judges us on the basis of what we choose, right?)

Who is Harry Potter? You can get the biographical details easily enough. He’s a fanciable Dark Wizard destroyer, who carried the burden of his destiny from a young age. He is a
harry_potter_-_quidditch_hbp_promo_2social media celebrity in the age before social media celebrities, the sort of boy who might have become the star of a Vine or Youtube video made by other people, against his will. Through this relatively innocent character, Rowling explored a magical world that has delighted a host of us, imparted some lessons about good and evil and inspired a wave of fanfiction, some of which (gods forgive me) builds upon her creation so amazingly well that it’s been hailed as better than the original.

But after the initial rush of reading the series, it’s easy to let Harry himself slide. He is, after all, a stand in for the reader more often than not, a relatively empty canvas upon which you can paint yourself and stand in to better observe the people around him. It’s the other characters—Hermione, Snape, Dumbledore, SIRIUS— who command my attention as a reader, who make me want to go back to the books again and again and have consumed a majority of my posts. Harry? He sort of slides into the background.

This is obviously a deliberate move on Rowling’s part, to make it easier for people to step into Harry’s shoes and sympathize with his dilemmas. She allows her readers to make Harry a character of their own, to become a part of themselves in an unconscious manner. You might not love Harry as an individual—and god knows I have enough problems with him—but you can’t utterly detest him either. If you did, you wouldn’t be able to read the books.

And Rowling does a brilliant job of making him so utterly believable. I can’t think of another YA/fantasy (not the GRRM variety!) whose hero is as flawed, and yet heroic as Harry. He’s an average sort of boy—he’s okay with his lessons, but Hermione’s always going to be better. He’s great at Quidditch, but even here, he’s aware that there are some people,
harry-potter_original-new-harry-potter-movie-trilogy-announced-jpeg-42959Viktor Krum and Diggory being examples, who are better and always will be better than him. He’s pleasant looking, but he’s no Bill Weasley, able to pull off long ponytails and dragon fang earrings. He’s funny, but he’ll probably never be known for it. He’s not wise in the same manner as Luna, or as successful on his own as Neville. And he’s certainly not half as conventionally popular as his girlfriends—Cho or Ginny.

Even his bravery, the sort of quiet, steady strength that propels him through his quest, is not flashy, not the hijinks of Sirius or Fred and George. What really sets him apart from his fellows is his faith in himself, and his ability to simply push on and, in spite of everything, to trust people. These are not qualities that are sexy, easy to impart. They’re the reason someone like Frodo isn’t the most attractive character in LOTR. Both of them would be dead meat in the world of Westeros, you know, the character most similar being Sansa Stark, and even she’s changing to cope with the big, bad world.

But it’s Harry’s very averageness that makes him a hero, and makes him so much more of a friend than his compatriots in the Potterverse. He is easy to slip into, to see oneself in, and he provides consolation more often than any other character in the series does. It doens’t matter if you’re not the best, not the smartest or most popular. It doesn’t matter if it looks like you’re wandering mindlessly through a forest, circling around a goal you’ve told yourself you need to complete, that seems, at the moment, impossible. Harry loses his way spectacularly, and then things fall into place by sheer luck, or coincedence, but they fall into place. Being lost is okay, he seems to show us, you’ll pull through it in the end.

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DANIEL RADCLIFFE as Harry Potter in Warner Bros. Pictures’ fantasy adventure “HARRY POTTER AND THE DEATHLY HALLOWS – PART 1,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.    Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

In my 20s, this last has become increasingly important. It’s been a time of some confusion but, as a very very wise person told me, ‘everything passes’. And as long as I, like Harry, have my Rons, Hermiones, my Siriuses and Dumbledores and Lupins, my Molly Weasleys and Nevilles around, things will be okay. The Dark Lords will be defeated, the woods will end, and all will, eventually, be ‘well’.

Choosing sides: Cho Chang and the dilemma of friendship


23-leslie-ann.w529.h352.2xPowerful female friendship is something that, increasingly, TV shows are getting the hang of depicting. Bonds between female characters are increasingly becoming the focus of various series, most notably in Girls, Parks and Recreation and even Orphan Black. Even the very testosterone-laden Mad Men has its share of female friendships, like the one that’s grown between Peggy and Joan.

Fantasy, though, seems to be lagging behind in this field. Perhaps its the overwhelmingly ‘male’ nature of the genre, where female character led books are outnumbered drastically by their male counterparts. Even Harry Potter, which has a good number of strong female characters, stumbles when it comes to depicting friendship between them. This may of course be due to the fact that the narrative usually follows Harry’s view, and he’s hardly the most observant narrator. But Rowling does throw in a few tidbits about conversation between, say, Hermione and Ginny, or Molly and Tonks, to indicate the ‘girls’ do talk, but when they do, it seems to be mostly about men.

Here’s an example. When Harry breaks up with her, Ginny says that Hermione had told her to date other people earlier, to loosen up around Harry. So the one reported conversation we have between the two (apart from vague allusions to Ginny telling Hermione about how she would break into the boys’ broom cupboard at home) is about a boy. Tonks comes over to the Weasleys’, for ‘tea and sympathy’ about Remus. Romilda Vane asks Ginny about the rumoured tattoo on Harry’s chest. And Mrs. Weasley, Hermione and Ginny sit around giggling over a love potion in the dining room of the Leaky Cauldron in Prisoner of Azkaban.

Given all this, I somehow doubt the books would pass the famous Bechdel test.

But my point here is not to dissect the gender dynamics of the Potterverse. Or rather, it is, but I want to focus on the presentation of one character in this regard: Cho Chang.

Cho-cho-chang-16186170-1919-2560Cho is, funnily enough, the one character who really sticks up for a female friend over a boyfriend. When Marietta Edgecombe gets hauled up as the snitch, the one who ratted on Dumbledore’s Army, and Harry confronts Cho, Cho springs to her friend’s defence. She tries to explain what drove her friend’s actions, mentioning the fact that her mother works in the Ministry and that she was under pressure to protect her family, but Harry is unsympathetic. In fact, later he fumes that Cho should have had better sense than to be friends with the girl in the first place, and is incensed that she would even try to stick up for her.

And after that, things sort of unravel for the two of them.

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I suppose you could put this outburst down to the fact that Harry is, at the end of it all, a fifteen year old boy, and not a very sensitive one at that. But given that loyalty and sticking by his friends is such an intrinsic trait for him, it’s surprising that he doesn’t appreciate it in Cho. But I guess that’s because, to his mind and that of most of his supporters, Cho’s friend has done an unforgivable thing, and she is compounding her own guilt by continuing to associate with her. From Harry’s point of view, Cho might be endorsing Marietta’s extremely problematic actions.

I think Rowling presents a very interesting dilemma here. Is Marietta’s selling out of the group similar to the way in which Pettigrew sold out Harry’s parents? I think Harry might see it that way, which is a little unfair because the bond between Marietta and the rest of the group is not halfway near as strong as that between the Marauders. Second, would Cho-Chang-promo-cho-chang-22382815-1846-2560
Harry really have respected Cho if she had turned her back on her friend, instead of defending her? Right then, Harry sees it as a simple choice: Cho has to choose between him and her friend. By defending Marietta, Cho declares that her support lies with her, and she doesn’t care how Harry feels.

One of the key indications we have of Harry maturing is his forgiveness of Snape at the end of the series. In Half Blood Prince, when he finds out that it was Snape who told Voldemort of the Prophecy, he is extremely angry, both at the professor and Dumbledore for continuing to shield him. But at the close, he has forgiven and understood Snape’s actions enough to actually name a son after him, and confess that Snape was ‘probably the bravest man’ he ever knew.  He’s learned enough to place actions in perspective, and possibly to forgive people for doing things he himself wouldn’t. He is able to feel sympathy for Draco when he has a viewing of Voldemort using him to torture others; he can coach Ron into destroying a Horcrux very soon after his return, not letting any of his anger for his abandonment touch him; he even, we are led to believe, helps to commute the Malfoys’ sentence, and lets them get away with paying fines rather than serving time in Azkaban. Harry stops reacting in a knee-jerk manner, being less of a Sirius and growing into a Lily by the end of the series. And it’s because of things like the encounters with Cho that we can really see and appreciate this change.

Wow, J K Rowling. You really are a genius.

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Wow, J K Rowling. You really are a genius.

The ‘more important things’ AKA Why Hermione is an Exemplary Gryffindor

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Reading the Harry Potter books, it is safe to say, changed my life to an extent that only The Lord of the Rings can claim to match. Since I read the first page of ‘The Prisoner of Azkaban’ all those years ago, they have become an integral part of me, allowing me to define myself during years where self worth and identity were hard to come by, picking me up when I thought I had hit rock bottom emotionally and mentally. Even now, when I need a quick reminder of how to get past something that seems insurmountable, I turn to Harry Potter and the different kinds of bravery enshrined within its covers.

Two of those I’ve already spoken about here, on this blog: Sirius’s sort of heady, crazed defiance, which pays little heed to personal safety; and Harry’s much more quiet, dedicated sort of bravery, that enables him to keep his nose to the grindstone and shoulder on even when people tell him to just stop already. In this post, I’m going to tackle another kind, and one that has become a sort of fascination for me, precisely because it’s the kind I feel the most in need of/have felt at some point in the past: the sheer gutsiness of Hermione Granger.

Hermione is walking encyclopaedia of knowledge in the Potterverse, and makes that obvious right at our first encounter. She’s read nearly everything she could get her hands on within two months of being notified that she is a witch, and reels off names to a stunned Harry and Ron. She has read everything in advance, and is the only person who seems prepared to answer the questions Snape puts to Harry during that calamitous first Potions class.

Hermione-hermione-granger-33203720-1383-2100This is a consistent character trait, for most of the series. Hermione, the character who comes from a world and background utterly alien to the magical one, knows more than most wizards and witches her age, or even older. She over-prepares for every test, and her worst fear is, literally, failing all her exams.

Rowling described Hermione as ‘terrified’, explaining that this terror at being unprepared, at finding herself caught out without an answer, is what drives her manic need to know it all and know it now. What propels Hermione’s academic brilliance is not only her near-idetic memory and inherent gift for the subjects, is the simple thirst for knowledge. And
she doesn’t grab it all up for the sake of competing and emerging ahead of the others—she does it because she is terrified of what would happen to her if she doesn’t know.

Hermione is, in some senses, the ideal student, and the most organized human being in the Potterverse. She is amazingly rational, tackling problems with a combination of logic and skill. Identify the cause, identify the solution (through methods of deduction that even Holmes would approve of) and then proceed to apply. The results will be flawless as all the books tell you they should be.

What keeps Hermione from being the hero, though, is her lack of spontaneity, and her need to follow a path laid down for her by books. This is best exemplified in the first Potions lesson of Half Blood Prince, where Hemione refuses point blank to listen to

When playing by the rules gets you nowhere...

When playing by the rules gets you nowhere…

Harry’s notes (rather, the ‘Prince’s’ notes) and proceeds doggedly according to the trusted book’s instructions. Her inability to veer from the printed matter results in Harry, for once, beating her at the subject and taking the lead from then on.

Rebelling against these rules—Hermione’s one guide to a completely unfamiliar world—happens rarely, and when it does, Hermione’s rebellion is usually quite spectacular. She slaps Malfoy across the face, helps to break a convict out of death row (pretty much), starts an underground Defence league and then, finally, bunks an entire school year to bring down the most feared Dark Wizard for a century, following a friend who, she finds out along the way, has absolutely no idea of what he’s doing.

Given that rule breaking and improvisation is really not her thing, it’s a huge huge HUGE deal that Hermione becomes the irreverent, quick thinking witch she does in ‘Deathly Hallows’. What’s perhaps the biggest indication of this change and maturity is the fact that when they finally realize that Harry has no set plan, it’s Ron, the much more impulsive,
badass hermspontaneous character, who walks out on him. Hermione sticks by his side, and doesn’t even give him grief. She keeps her feelings to herself, and shoulders much more of the burden from then on.

The reason I find Hermione so inspiring is, simply put, this: when you’ve been a model student all your life, when you’ve lived your life, clinging desperately to rules and books to anchor you in a wholly new and unfamiliar world, it’s really hard to throw all that aside and just make a go of it on your brains alone. It indicates an extremely high level of maturity and belief not only in your friends, but in yourself. Hermione, by this point, has hermione wandtruly grown up, no longer hiding behind pure logic and reason to guide her. Of course, those remain her greatest weapons, but she finally brings to bear the words she’d uttered all those years ago in the chamber housing Snape’s riddling potions:

‘Books! And cleverness! There are more important things—friendship and bravery…’

No one utterly refashions themselves and gets over their inner hurdles the way Hermione does. And for that, she’s a bloody amazing character and one hell of a role model.

Growing up Potter: The Sins of the Father

In the third year of the my undergrad degree, my class studied a play called ‘Ghosts’ by Norwegian heavyweight, Henrik Ibsen. The play brings to life an old adage, ‘the sins of the father shall be visited upon the sons’. Oswald, a bright, young artist is laid low by a congenital disease he’s inherited from his debauched sire, and ends the play (spoiler) mindlessly chanting ‘the sun, the sun’ while his mother wrestles with the weight of a past that has brought them to this.

Now, a lot’s been written about the role of mothers in the Potterverse, how they shape their children, provide a grounding force in the face of evil and sometimes, literally give their kids another chance at life with their sacrifices. In this post, I want to look at the other half of that parenting equation, with a study of how fathers shape their (specifically) sons. I would argue that this shaping is, more often than not, a root cause of several problems that characters face. It seems a negative rather than positive force in many male characters’ lives, a negativity that is only corrected with the application of a mother’s love and influence.

In short, fathers mess up the sons so that the mothers can set them right.

I’ll illustrate this with, what seems to me, the most glaring examples in the Potter canon. By asserting that fathers are often a negative force, I don’t mean to cast aspersions on the integrity and character of the fathers themselves. Some of them, such as Arthur Weasley and James Potter, are no doubt wonderful (in James’s case, become wonderful) human beings, who do all that can be expected, and more, to defend and protect those they love. Nonetheless, their actions, whether meant in good faith or not, often rebound in a negative manner on their offspring. Let’s consider a few examples, shall we?

1)       James and Harry Potter

jamesJames is absent for most of the books, but it was his behaviour in school that, allegedly, caused Snape’s undying hatred of him and resulted in the bullying that Harry faced for six years. If Lily had married someone else, would Snape’s virulence been as pronounced? Idle speculation, probably, but no doubt his hatred of Harry was exacerbated a huge amount by the fact that he was his schoolyard rival’s son.

 

James is held up as a shining paragon for all of four and a half books—until that terrible moment in Order of the Phoenix where all of Snape’s worst stories seem to be confirmed. The viewing of ‘Snape’s worst memory’ causes perhaps the most profound moral crisis Harry has faced until this point, a crisis that never really gets resolved, given that James, from this point on, begins to lose his lustre (a move that only gets cemented with the death of his staunchest supporter and the strongest link—Sirius) and Lily becomes much more of a player in Harry’s life.

 

2)      Lyall and Remus Lupin

remusThanks to recently published information on Pottermore, we now know that Lyall Lupin, Remus’s father, was a ‘world renowned authority on Non-Human Spiritous Apparitions’ such as Boggarts. He was unlucky (and bigoted enough) to express an opinion on werewolves to Fenrir Greyback, calling them ‘soulless, evil and deserving nothing but death’. To teach the Ministry man a lesson, Greyback retaliated by biting his almost five-year-old son, Remus Lupin.

You can read the full story here: http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Lyall_Lupin

Do I really need to spell this out for you? Remus’s whole life has been shaped by that moment, his ‘furry little problem’ dictating both his career and personal
choices for many, many years. Right until Deathly Hallows, Remus is struggling with his identity as a werewolf, his fear of his own strength and darkness prompting him to run away from his pregnant wife.

 

3)      Lucius and Draco Malfoy

lucius and dracoIf there’s one thing that little Draco knows, it’s the power his father’s name commands in the wizarding world. ‘My father will be hearing about this’ is his catch phrase, and he uses it on everyone, from Hagrid to fake!Moody to Ron and Harry. Lucius is the brick on which Draco rests his own importance, whether it be his facilitating Draco’s entrance into the Slytherin Quidditch team in Chamber of Secrets or cozening up to Snape and suggesting that he take up Headmastership in Dumbledore’s absence. Draco’s near hero worship of his father reaches a head at the end of Order of the Phoenix when he promises to make Harry and his friends ‘pay’ for putting him behind bars. Draco’s unquestioning love of his father extends to a wholesale acceptance of his ideals, leading to an unthinking parroting of conservative pureblood attitudes from a very young age. It also, scarily enough, leads to his acceptance of a position in Voldemort’s circle.

There’s no doubt that Draco’s Death Eater status is a result both of his espousal of their ideals (or what he thinks their ideals to be) and careful bullying from Voldemort’s supporters. Draco’s service under the Dark Lord is marked by a crumbling of illusions; by halfway through Half Blood Prince Draco has understood the reality of his position and the complete lack of glamour it possesses. It’s thanks to Narcissa’s snap decision in the Forbidden Forest that Draco gets out of Hogwarts relatively unharmed. I don’t see him lasting happily under Voldemort’s reign.

 

4)      Arthur and Percy Weasley

arthurI know, this is an incredible assertion to make: Arthur Weasley, model father in the Potterverse (i.e. the only one who fulfils basic criteria like being alive, being one of the good guys and not running out on his family, unlike the three previously mentioned) messed up his son? But consider this: one of the reasons Percy gives for walking out on his family is that his father was unambitious, that he didn’t do all he could to better the status of the family or his own position in the Ministry. Percy sees Arthur’s lack of ambition and eccentricity as a handicap, something he has had to struggle against in his own professional life. A self constructed sin, perhaps, but certainly something that resulted in Percy’s morally questionable actions and decisions in the latter half of the series.

 

5)      Barty and Barty Crouch Jr., Tom and Tom Marvolo Riddle

Barty_Crouch_JrFake!Moody/Barty Crouch Jr himself draws the parallels between him and his master at the close of Goblet of Fire. Both are ashamed of/opposed to their fathers; both were ‘abandoned’ by them; both paid the ultimate price for their abandonment. Crouch’s negligence of his home life, the subject of furious gossip after his son’s trial, resulted perhaps in his son’s straying to the ‘wrong’ side. Tom Riddle’s abandonment of Merope resulted in Tom growing up unloved in an orphanage, setting in course a series of events that would see him rise as a vengeful Dark Lord with no desire for forgiveness or understanding. If Tom Riddle Sr hadn’t left his wife, would Voldemort have turned out the way he did? Rowling stated that he was ‘incapable’ of love since he was conceived under the effect of a love potion, but perhaps the presence of a parental figure might have remedied that. Who knows?

And so we have it: the dad’s job in the Potterverse is to pass on prejudice, be the cause for prejudice, or set up skewed morals in his son. There’s a hint of this being carried on even in Harry’s generation: Ron warns Rose against Scorpius Malfoy, telling her that she has to ‘beat him in every test’ and that ‘Grandpa Weasley’ would never forgive her if she married a pureblood. Hermione, strikingly, says nothing.

You have to admit this is a little disturbing: Scorpius is being judged, much like Harry was, on the basis of his parentage and not his own merits or lack thereof. Evidently some things don’t change.

 

 

 

 

The Importance of Being Hermione: Part I

hermione_granger_by_crymson99-d3oobb7I’m finally going to discuss a character I have been rather noticeably reticent about in all my previous entries. She’s amazingly popular, so it’s a little strange that I’ve ignored her for so long. I’ll be breaking this entry into two separate posts, the first dealing with the character herself and the second with the ‘relationship’ that, for me, is the most realistic and relatable of the Harry Potter canon, as well as the larger fantasy canon in general.

Recently, there was a great hullaballoo in the Harry Potter fandom. This was the result of Rowling sitting up and saying (according to selectively quoted portions of an interview with Emma Watson in Wonderland magazine) that the Ron-Hermione relationship was a form of ‘wish fulfillment’ and that perhaps, Harry and Hermione ‘are a better fit’. In the interview, Rowling cast aspersions on the stability of the pair’s marriage but admitted, eventually, that they would probably be ‘alright with a bit of counseling’.

I’ve never been a Harry/Hermione fan, not even when they were stuck in a tent together in the middle of Gods-only-know-where. There are a bunch of reasons for this, including the fact that I never really saw Harry as ‘ending up’ with anyone, really. I sort of assumed he would die at the close of the seventh book; to my mind, that would have been the most poetic ending. Also, given that his greatest desire at the start of the series is to see his family, it might have been nice to have him reunited with them at the close.

But perhaps that’s just me being morbid.

Anyhow, let’s get back to Hermione/Ron and Hermione/Harry. I think Rowling pitting Hermione with Ron was a great decision. Last night, I sat and thought about leading female characters in fantasy I could look upon as potential role models in a romantic relationship (after all, I do take my role models for everything from fantasy fiction, make of that what you will) and realized that very few are of any real use to a twenty-something, or any-something for that matter, urban, educated and relatively independent girl.

The problem is, many, many women in fantasy fiction, whether it be the beautiful Arwen or the feisty Ginny, fall into the familiar trap of waiting-for-Hero-to-finish-Quest. They are almost preternaturally understanding and patient creatures, providing unquestioning support to a Hero whose mission is, we assume, much more important than anything they might get up to or want to get up to. The other category of women, which includes people like Egwene al’Vere from Wheel of Time and Eowyn of Rohan, seem to see romance almost as a weakness, something they do not have time for. In fact, when Eowyn falls in love with Faramir, her emotional change is described as a ‘thaw’, melting her from the self-imposed frost that had previously defined her dealings with men.

My point is, none of the women I could think were shown as having healthy, functioning relationships with their significant others until that significant other had completed whatever divinely or fatefully ordained quest they were on. The other women, who were on quests themselves, acted like the men, refusing to really get ‘into’ a relationship, or fall in love, until they had finished their business. I include Katniss Everdeen in the latter category.

I noted in a previous entry (Ginny Weasley and the Loving Hero Paradox) that this is all too common a theme in epic fantasy, and that perhaps, if there were more novels floating about with female leads, we might see a change.  But if there is anyone who comes close to being in a healthy, somewhat relatable relationship, and still manages to go about saving the world, I honestly think its Hermione Jean Granger.

Cue for the splutters of surprise, confusion and even outrage.

herm and ron

 

It’s self-evident why Hermione is such a popular and important character. Not only is she Harry’s best friend, but she is not a conventionally attractive, popular, sporty girl. She is a swot, a geek, a girl who freaks out at the possibility of getting one question wrong in an exam. Find me another girl like that in popular fiction, I dare you. She’s always got her facts handy, and when she doesn’t, she refuses to let ridicule keep her from running off to her favourite haven: the Library.

Hermione taught me that it was okay to be yourself in high school, a hard lesson to drill into an adolescent girl. I never really saw myself in her though, chiefly because she was much more assertive and independent than I was. Also, I lacked the social consciousness that she had, the drive to do good things for the world. I wanted to do great things, not necessarily good, and there was the difference between us.

What was most relatable about Hermione, however, was her lack of perfection. For all her brains, for all her dedication to the good of the wizarding world, she was not the paragon of girlhood in the Potter books. That was Ginny Weasley, woman who never cries. Hermione gets emotionally overwrought, she acts silly and competitive and does immature things in order to get back at people (Ron, mostly). Unlike in the case of Ginny, Hermione’s particularly vicious jinxes are not held up for admiration; when she sends Charmed canaries whirring at Ron’s head, we’re meant (I believe) to see the act for what it is: vindictive, petty vengeance for his ‘snogging’ Lavender. Harry notes that Hermione’s eyes are ‘wild’, her voice ‘high’ when she does this. Clearly, the girl is not in her usual reasonable and reasoning frame of mind.

Contrast this to Ginny, whose Bat Bogey Hex on Zacharias Smith and deliberate crashing of her broom into the commentator’s box (when he was holding forth) is touted as ‘cool’ and totally okay. Ginny seems to be able to escape authorial and reader judgment, while Hermione, for all her admirable qualities, does not.

This is an important point, and one that I want to take forward into the second half of my post. Harry, for all his imperfections, is very rarely judged negatively by the reader. Even his darker actions, such as casting Unforgiveables, are put down to the influence of the Horcrux he carries within him (this was the explanation Rowling gave in an interview). This lack of accountability that he enjoys makes him somewhat difficult to like in the last two books, I think, which is why both Hermione and Ron, whose faults also glare much more brightly in these volumes, suddenly begin to steal the limelight from their more famous friend. Harry becomes more and more a remote ideal, much like Ginny does. How can you pair a very human girl with this increasingly blank Hero figure?

What Hermione, in all her glorious imperfection, needs is a fellow imperfect being. And that’s where Ron comes in.

 

 

Growing up Potter: Becoming Ron

  In my early adolescence (think 13), I spent many hours doing stranger and stranger ‘personality’ tests in an attempt to discover myself. I would copy paste the results on a Microsoft Word document and pore over them later, analyzing every word in those descriptions (probably written by girls only a little older than me) and convincing myself that these computer-algorithm-based assumptions told the truth about me.

 It was, as I said, a phase.

 Of course, I did tweak my results at times, especially when it came to those ‘Which Harry Potter house would you be in?’ or ‘which character are you?’ tests. I always worked it so that I got Gryffindor (I was such a populist) and more often than not, aimed to be classified a ‘Harry Potter’ in the ‘character’ tests. When I was a little more honest with my answers, as I grew older, I was told I should be in Slytherin or Ravenclaw, and that I was Ginny Weasley. The last, I think, was chiefly because I answered with absolute adoration when asked how much I liked Harry himself, admitting that I wanted to marry him.

 And then, at the age of twenty three going on twenty four, I took a mandated MBTI test. And was told I now had the same personality initials as … Ron Weasley.

Image Yes, this was a surprise. No, I had never seen myself as Ron, Ron—the least conventionally ‘academic’ of the trio, the most traditional in terms of blood status, the most prone to being used for random comic relief. I am not a Ron, I thought. I don’t like to think of myself as a side-kick, a second-fiddle. I am not perennially insecure about my own abilities, needing a boost before every test. I am not the ‘funny’ one in my group.

 The shock and, dare I name it, outrage that gripped me for a couple of seconds after getting the result is telling, I think. It reveals a lot about my inherent snobbishness (seriously, I might have preferred the rich and aristocratic Draco Malfoy, budding Hitler Youth though he is), but it also says something about Ron. If someone who’s read the books back to front countless times can’t recall anything especially emulation-worthy about him in a second of being confronted by his name, whither the appeal of this character?

 I sat back, and I thought about it, and I realized what my problem with Ron was.

 Through books 1 to 4, Ron is undoubtedly Harry’s best friend. He is, in many ways, Harry’s guide to the wizarding world, volunteering as ‘second’ in a planned midnight duel with Draco, sacrificing himself in a game of chess to enable his friends to move forward, providing Harry a family that welcomes and takes him to their hearts. It is a matter of course that these two ‘partner off’ in most lessons, including reading each other’s tea leaves in that memorable first Divination class in Prisoner of Azkaban. Harry does not seem to share the same sort of unquestioned, deep-seated bond with Hermione; in Azkaban, there is a period of time when Hermione’s ‘interference’ results in a fight within the group, with Ron and Harry refusing to speak to her. When compared to the rift that Ron’s jealousy creates within the Trio in Goblet of Fire, however, and the amount of emotional energy Harry expends in ‘hating’ Ron, the break with Hermione seems inconsequential. Rowling devotes large portions of her text to how angry and betrayed Harry feels at Ron’s seeming lack of interest in his fate.

 I would argue this is not only because of Harry’s ‘dark’ teenage angst surfacing (it comes into full throttle in Order of the Phoenix), but because the idea of Ron turning his back on his best friend is so incomprehensible as to shock Harry out of his (until now) usual emotional quietude. Harry is curious or nervous or determined, he is very rarely bitterly angry until this point in the books. Another point to note is that even before they became friends, Hermione has shown a tendency to interfere and boss over Harry and Ron; recall the ‘Midnight Duel’ chapter of Philosopher’s Stone where she waits up to waylay them in the Gryffindor Common Room as they sneak out to meet Draco. Rowling even states that ‘Harry couldn’t believe anyone could be so interfering.’

 Ron’s betrayal was necessary for his, as well as Harry’s, character development. The ever-loyal best friend was shown to have depth and a bit of a petty streak (only natural when you’re usually the underdog, even in your own family), and Harry was forced to make do without one of his usual emotional crutches and so begin his long and lonely hero’s journey. It also allowed him to bond with Hermione, who really begins to steal the limelight at this point in the series.

Image So given that the betrayal has already happened once, and Ron has walked out on Harry when needed already, why have a repetition of the same in Deathly Hallows? Aside from the improbability of Ron managing to get home and stay undercover without putting both his family and himself in grave danger (in the middle of a media campaign which paints his known best friend as Undesirable No. 1), his departure has no significant effect on the plot. He might as well have stayed, stewed, rescued Harry when needed and then destroyed the Horcrux. The information he brings back, that Voldemort’s name is now Taboo, is relayed too late to be of any use.

 This, really, is why I don’t have great fondness for Ron, or the way Rowling treats him in the latter half of the series. The staunchly loyal strategist with a marked flair for improvisation (he was the one who bashed the troll with its own club in the infamous bathroom scene in Philosopher’s Stone) becomes a young man who needs a book to charm the supposed love of his life (who he’s known for six years), who chooses the comforts of home and effectively abandons his best friends and is the only one of the Trio to persist in calling Voldemort ‘You-Know-Who’ (though he is, ironically, vindicated for his nervousness). He’s even stupid and petty in matters of romance, his insecurity laid bare when Ginny lashes out at him and calls him jealous because both Harry and Hermione have ‘snogged’ people. The best Ron has done, Ginny whines, is be kissed by Auntie Muriel.

 Ron had a big moment in Book 5, when he becomes prefect and is given responsibility that even Harry does not have. Again, we are witness to his surprise and insecurity when he says that he expected Harry would get the title. Of course, it turns out that the only reason, ostensibly, Harry didn’t get the job was because Dumbledore thought he had far bigger worries. Poor Ron.

 I do  think the Horcrux-destruction in Hallows was very important and certainly called-for, given the sustained reminders we’d been getting of Ron’s insecurity and inferiority complex, but I’m not sure it was enough. I don’t deny that the movies have also played a huge role in the undermining of this character, the most memorable being the stealing of Ron’s lines in Azkaban in the Shrieking Shack. In the book, Ron, bed-held by a broken leg, screams out ‘If you kill Harry, you’ll have to kill us too!’; in the movie, Hermione, both legs sound, throws herself in front of Harry and delivers the same line. Ron is silent.

 And I’m not even going to mention the fact that in Hallows Part 2, Hermione volunteers to accompany Harry to the Forest while Ron stands around looking macho. Okay fine, I mentioned it.

 I feel sort of, sad, when I think of Ron now. I feel like I often overlook the brave little boy who faced a cold, stone-faced White Queen, not knowing what was going to happen, to help his friend. The unquestioning right-hand man who braved his worst fears and went into the Forbidden Forest, convincing himself with a glance at his Petrified friend. The friend who wasn’t too proud to come back and confess to his mistakes, not once, but twice. Instead I remember the insecure boy who runs around screaming ‘HERMIONE!’ when he really should be keeping his head cool and figuring out a way to get the hell out of that basement.

 But at the same time, I can see why I, or most people for that matter, would be Ron. Constantly beset by insecurity and doubt, measuring ourselves against other, seemingly more ‘collected’ people and feeling and responding to peer pressure in the most immature ways possible. Ron’s is a messy growing up, with ups and a hell of a lot of downs. Ron’s is, therefore, perhaps the most realistic growing up. We don’t all have Dark Lords and prophecies riding on our shoulders, but we sure as hell do have pettiness, jealousy and insecurity to contend with.

 And that’s when Ron becomes a hero.