Last hour, we did some rants about the power of Authorship, the foibles of plot-first writing, and the ebb and flow of James Potter, among other things.
Hour #2: p. 137-267 (from “The Wedding” through “The Muggle-Born Registration Commission”)
- I’ll confess that during most of my early Potter readings, Fred and George were largely interchangeable entities in my mind. This is forgivable, I think, because most of what they do is fairly interchangeable, starting from their first appearance at Platform Nine and Three-Quarters in PS/SS when they mess with their mother by pretending to be the other. They aren’t exactly Samneric of Lord of the Flies fame, but there aren’t very many hints that Fred and George have individual personalities until GoF, where the hints actually become really frequent. My favorite example is Fred’s method of asking girls on dates: “Oi! (insert girl’s name here)!” Perhaps more tellingly, it’s Fred, not George, who is more in favor of blackmailing Ludo Bagman for the payment of the money they bet on the Quidditch World Cup. There’s a lull in individuality for the twins after that (OotP makes them one fiendish havoc-wreaking mastermind again, and in HBP, of course, they’re not very much in the picture). Of course, in DH, the twins become rather less identical when George loses his ear, and Fred is killed late in the book in what I think is the most shocking death of the whole series. The reason I bring this up now is because Fred manages to seat “veela cousins” before the wedding while George gets left out of that particular escapade. All of this is indicative of the fact that Fred and George are not quite equal partners, as much as it’s hard to imagine one without the other. It’s Fred who’s more ambitious, the greater risk-taker, the stronger-willed. He’s the one who goes out to get the girl on more than one occasion, though he’s also the brother who gets angry enough at the toddler version of Ron to turn his teddy bear into a spider. George has always been the one who hangs back a bit: if you believe in linguistic determinism, there’s something to the fact that they’re always “Fred and George.” I complained a good deal in my first hour post about some shoddy work from Rowling, but there’s real credit due here: the fact that Rowling manages to keep Fred and George distinct enough that both have their own personality, consistent enough that the personalities don’t mix, and still keep them so bound to each other that Fred’s death is almost as moving as the death of both twins would have been is really impressive. Not only is it good writing, but it’s also a good example of how ordered the Potterverse can be at its best.
- One of the great mysteries of the Potterverse is in the realm of social custom. There are some things that are spelled out pretty clearly once you get far enough into the series: for example, the procedures at weddings and funerals is discussed a little bit in DH and HBP, respectively. Some little man with “tufty hair” comes and does the ceremony, basically, which in both cases appears to be somewhat formal (but which lacks the pizzazz of the Church of England, say). Here’s a question: can you get divorced in the wizarding world? There are lots of different kinds of families in the Potterverse, but as far as I know, no one has divorced parents. Perhaps more importantly, the marriage of Bill to Fleur appears to be bound not by social convention or through the benevolence of some divinity, but through a spell which looks not unlike the Unbreakable Vow and which, the little wizard professes, bonds them “for life.” Honestly, it looks like it’d be terribly hard to divorce under those circumstances. While we’re here, let’s discuss some of the other weird social idiosyncrasies of the Potterverse…
…this is a pretty famous one, but no one in the wizarding world appears to have done a lick of math or English instruction after age eleven. (The exception is Arithmancy.) I turned eleven when I was in the middle of fifth grade. Imagine a whole society of people who probably didn’t hit algebra or any sort of advanced reading and writing, and that’s if they went to Muggle schools. Some children with magical parents may not have been schooled at all, for all we know. No wonder it’s hard to pump out rolls of parchment for their writing assignments; no wonder Arithmancy is, in Hermione’s eyes, “the hardest subject there is!”
…what is the wizard tax system like? Obviously there have to be wizard taxes, because otherwise the Ministry wouldn’t be able to pay its workers, not to mention the money it takes to build things like massive Quidditch stadia or, indeed, paying for Hogwarts. So what kind of taxes get levied in the wizarding world and who bears the brunt of that financial burden? And perhaps even more curious: what kind of economy are the wizards running, anyway? This is a really small system of wizards with a pretty clear class system…what kind of cash flow is there?
…Some potions take a lot of time to make. For example, we know that Polyjuice Potion takes about a month to brew; Felix Felicis takes six months. This makes me wonder about when wizards make potions, as well as how/when they store them for long periods, as well as how long those potions remain viable. A lot of unanswered questions about those.
…is Quidditch always decided by who’s got the better brooms? Obviously not, since Harry is riding a Nimbus Two Thousand (probably the second best broom in existence at this point) when Gryffindor beats Slytherin’s Nimbus Two Thousand and Ones in CoS. Imagine that the big-market Yankees and the small-market A’s played a game, and the Yankees could afford to use aluminum bats and the A’s could only afford wood. I mean, there would be dead Athletics all over the field by the end of the game, and that’s aside from the fact that the Yankees would probably hit a dozen homers. Or, the big-market Patriots are playing the small-market Jaguars and the Patriots can afford better pads and helmets. By PoA, the Firebolt is the international standard broom (though it’s actually questionable if Bulgaria has anyone on Firebolts: the way the shopkeeper announces that the Irish have ordered Firebolts in PoA and the way the Irish Chasers outclass Bulgaria in the World Cup makes me wonder), and Harry is the only one at school who’s got one after that. I mean, big surprise they keep winning with him on the pitch.
…that’s the tip of the iceberg concerning wizard society and its various unexplained oddities.
- Speaking of unexplained oddities, Luna is such a gem. It seems incredible that she’s only in three of the seven books, especially because she becomes so important so quickly; it’s important that it’s Luna and not someone like Ernie McMillan or Hannah Abbott who goes to the Ministry in OotP with Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, and Ginny. Luna is also one of two Ravenclaws in the series who has more than about ten lines of dialogue. Ravenclaws in general are an overlooked bunch, and although the late quest for the Grey Lady is a fitting salute to that house, Luna is still the best and most interesting fixture from Ravenclaw. And despite being instrumental in the fight at the Ministry, being Hermione’s liaison to the Quibbler for Harry’s expose, and being a fundamental player in destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes, Luna is always going to be best known for nargles and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks. What is probably the second funniest moment in the whole series (I’ll get to the winner later, if I ever finish this series) is a Luna moment.
“And Harry Potter’s now having an argument with his Keeper,” said Luna serenely, while both Hufflepuffs and Slytherins below in the crowed cheered and jeered. “I don’t think that’ll help him find the Snitch, but maybe it’s a clever ruse…”
- Chapter Nine, “A Place to Hide,” is the first place of many in DH where Hermione is proven to be the single most useful human being in the world, and how totally helpless Harry would be without her. However, Harry still has a totally inexplicable need to be alone. Think about this. When the Bill-Fleur wedding is invaded, Hermione grabs Harry and Ron, Appparates them to a safer location where she picks up their belongings (through the use of a charm neither Harry nor Ron can work), is an integral part of fighting off two Death Eaters, performs a Memory Charm that neither Harry nor Ron can work, and helps put the coffee shop back together after it’s been totaled after wizard dueling. This all happens, in my copy, from pages 160-168. And then Harry says for the zillionth time, when Hermione wonders if Harry might have had a Trace put on him, something to the effect of, “Maybe you guys should leave.” OotP is full of Harry making these demands, especially around the time that Harry wants to save Sirius at the Ministry. I understand the reasoning behind all this: Harry doesn’t want to have more deaths credited to him, and that’s fair. And yet I have no idea what Harry thinks he’s going to get done by himself, which makes the effect less “Harry is noble” and more “somebody slap that boy.” Harry is not Howard Roark, who can shrug off the world and make the buildings he wants (until he blows them up, anyway), and despite the messianic tone of the series, he’s not Jesus of Nazareth, whose disciples were probably the least helpful group of people relative to their leader in history during Jesus’ ministry. But in this one eight page stretch, it’s obvious that Harry needs Hermione desperately if he wants to get anything done. When Snape talks to Bellatrix and Narcissa about Harry riding the coattails “more talented friends” in HBP, he’s not far wrong. Harry is a solid leader and a good dueler, but even he realizes, in OotP, that he’s had loads of help with all of his accomplishments…and most of that help comes from Hermione. I’m also reminded of one of Harry’s upcoming mental laments about Dumbledore, wondering if Dumbledore thought of Harry as a “tool” instead of a friend or compeer. And the answer, to some extent, is “Yes, duh.” Harry wouldn’t have come to the conclusion that Voldemort had Horcruxes if you’d put a book about Horcruxes in his dorm room. (Remember that time Harry needed to find out about gillyweed? Or, perhaps more literally, remember how Harry talked to a book that actually was a Horcrux in his dorm room in CoS?)
- Lily’s letter, called the “miraculous paper,” is really wonderful for two reasons. First off, how wonderful to hear Lily’s voice in any depth, which is a first in this series (dementor attacks and Priori Incantatem excepted because of their brevity). We get the feel of her own character and James’ as well in this really brief note, and that’s an exciting development. The second reason, of course, is who has the last bit of the letter.
- Lupin shows up and tells our Trio that the Jews of Europe are being rounded up by the Nazis. As Hermione is Jewish, this causes some concern. Harry also manages to get it out of Lupin that he’s left his wife and unborn child because Lupin’s HIV/AIDS is a massive social stigma, not to mention that he’s afraid his son will be born with HIV.
I’ve read opinions that suggest having magical powers in the Potterverse is not unlike being a homosexual in the real world. In the sense that it’s often kept secret from the larger population and it’s feared and hated by the small-minded, I suppose that’s so. But I’ve always thought that was rather a weak analogy simply because nothing else about it fits once you bring it to the actual plot of the series: I don’t think even Glenn Beck would suggest that the homosexuals are sending children to a special school to hone their homosexual gifts. However, the connections between the Potterverse and the rise of Nazi Germany have been well documented, and in DH, they’re exacerbated to “Okay, we get it” levels, as they are when Lupin reports on the Nuremberg Laws that Voldemort has fashioned after taking control of the Ministry. You can find someone on the Internet, I’m sure, who will tell you precisely how Potter and Europe from 1933-1945 align, but I’m not that girl. What I’m much more interested in is the lycanthropy-as-HIV analogy, which is imperfect but still fits pretty nicely. While those with HIV/AIDS don’t form leper colonies the way that werewolves in the Potterverse do, Lupin’s outburst here is indicative of the stigma that both groups face, even from otherwise rational people (like Tonks’ parents). But what really gets me is that statement Lupin makes about werewolves not usually having children, and it’s unknown whether or not the child will be a werewolf himself. I won’t speak to the frequency of pregnancies of HIV-positive mothers or how many HIV-positive fathers sire children without stats in front of me, but it’s a major consideration, certainly. And HIV/AIDS hasn’t been defeated by any stretch of the imagination, but it can be controlled better now than ever before; similarly, the Wolfsbane Potion can render the werewolf harmless during an otherwise hairy time. I might be overstating the case; I’m sure I’m not the only “wit” to notice that Snape may have provided Lupin with the equivalent of Midol in PoA.
- Harry’s epitaph is in Chapter Eleven, “The Bribe.” When Kreacher successfully retrieves Mundungus, Harry thinks to himself, “It felt wonderful to have something to do, someone of whom he could demand some small portion of truth.” I’ll leave it to you to decide which part is more important to him.
- The raid on the Ministry that the Trio undertakes is sort of the ultimate compilation of all the elements which made Harry Potter what it was. And I’m not just talking about “Harry, Ron, and Hermione do something dangerous to fight Voldemort and make it out just in time,” a scenario which occurs no less than 1,825 times this book, but the tools they use. I don’t have stats on this and I wish I did, but Polyjuice Potion is almost certainly the most mentioned and most used potion in the series. Their raid requires a bunch of Polyjuice. Harry’s signature spell, according to Lupin, is the Disarming Spell (and there’s a world of symbolic meaning to the fact that Harry is defined by his ability to “disarm”), but the Patronus Charm sums Harry up more cleanly: he has to overcome massive adversity to make it happen, but once he does it’s a powerful force against fear and paralysis which is recognizably his. Harry has to use the Patronus Charm in the Ministry. Harry has spent roughly as much time with Ron and Hermione underneath the Invisibility Cloak as he has outside of it, and of course, the Invisibility Cloak is Harry’s signature item as much as the Patronus Charm is his signature piece of wandwork. No surprises that he spends a good deal of his time at the Ministry underneath it. Most important though to the tried-and-true devices that Rowling brings back for this Ministry excursion is Harry’s perpetual mindset. In OotP, Hermione puts her finger on one of Harry’s strengthflaws: “You … this isn’t a criticism, Harry! But you do … sort of … I mean—don’t you think you’ve got a bit of—a—saving-people thing?” That turns into rather a lengthy passage in OotP, so I won’t excerpt the whole of it here, but Harry’s saving-people-thing is, at age 17, as much a part of him as that lightning-bolt scar. Thus, it’s not surprising that an attempt to go into the Ministry and hijack a Horcrux from Dolores Umbridge, which is meant to be carried out with the utmost secrecy, turns into a massive prison break for Muggle-born witches and wizards led by Harry. It’s undoubtedly the right thing to do, just as Disarming Stan Shunpike showed more “moral fiber” than Stunning him from thousands of feet up, but Harry shows here, as he always does, that he’d rather be noble than clever.
- Other honorable mentions for Potterverse rehashes in these two chapters: the appearance of Mafalda Hopkirk (whose signature I recognize as quickly as I can my father’s), Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes products, and Harry’s use of a Summoning Charm (“Accio” is the third-most used word in GoF, after “Harry” and “Voldemort”).
- The real exception to the norm in Chapters Twelve and Thirteen (“Magic Is Might” and “The Muggle-Born Registration Commission”) is that there’s been a jump of about a month without any hint of what, exactly, the Trio is planning to do. When Harry suggests that they “do it tomorrow,” we aren’t sure, precisely, what exactly “it” is that they mean to “do.” Most of their plans in the past have been formulated with us there watching them. Here, their plans are made first and we’re efficiently filled in on everything they’ve learned through some dialogue after the fact. It works better than having five to ten pages devoted to Harry, Ron, and Hermione keeping watch outside the Ministry and then reporting little details back while eating Kreacher’s French onion soup, certainly; it’s just a departure from what we’re used to in a Potter novel.
- We’ll end today on a piece of worthless trivia which amuses. Mary Cattermole is the daughter of a greengrocer, just like Margaret Thatcher.