Unreliable Media: A 31 July Essay for J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s Birthday

The arrival of the 31st of July means it’s time for my yearly Harry Potter essay in honor of Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s birthday.[1] This year, prompted by Rowling’s recent short story on Pottermore (written in the form of an 8 July 2014 Daily Prophet article titled “Dumbledore’s Army Reunites at Quidditch World Cup” by Gossip Correspondent Rita Skeeter),[2] I’ve decided to write about the theme of unreliable media in the Harry Potter series.

The main newspaper of the wizarding community in Great Britain is the Daily Prophet. Harry Potter first sees a copy of the Prophet on his eleventh birthday, after Rubeus Hagrid comes to deliver Harry’s Hogwarts acceptance letter and take him to Diagon Alley.[3] Over the next seven years, the paper plays an important role in the story, serving both as a source of information and misinformation. Prophet reporter Rita Skeeter is the story’s prime example of an untrustworthy reporter, someone who fabricates and alters stories in order to gain more readers. In addition to the Prophet, there are many other sources of false information for our characters, as they try to figure out who and what they can trust. Because of the unreliable media, Harry and his friends also encounter and participate in alternative media that (despite, or perhaps because of, its unofficial nature) helps to provide more accurate information to the wizarding community.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione first meet Rita Skeeter during their fourth year at Hogwarts, during the Triward Tournament. The Tournament is big news, not least because it hasn’t taken place for many years.[4] Throughout the tournament, Skeeter writes factually-incorrect sensationalistic articles. Skeeter wants to interview Harry, but the resulting article is filled with fake quotes of statements he never actually said.[5] She writes an article that paints Harry as disturbed and dangerous.[6] Skeeter also reveals that Rubeus Hagrid is half-giant, which (in a society that is prejudiced against “half-breeds”) is something he was hoping to keep hidden. Hagrid is devastated, and his friends intervene to cheer him up.[7] In an article for the magazine Witch Weekly, Skeeter accuses Hermione of emotionally and romantically manipulating boys, including Viktor Krum and Harry Potter, with a quote from classmate Pansy Parksinson suggesting that Hermione might be using illegal Love Potions to get attention from boys.[8] The articles about Harry cause people to become even more suspicious about him and mistrust him, including those who’ve known him for a while. Even Molly Weasley, who knows Harry and Hermione as good friends of Ron’s and has had them over at her home during holidays, is tricked by Rita Skeeter; Mrs. Weasley seems to believe Skeeter’s article about Hermione, and Harry has to point out to her that the article isn’t true.[9] Much like in our own world, certain types of news stories (e.g. spreading rumors about famous people’s love lives and revealing people’s private information) are tactics used to gain readers. Coverage of an event like the Triwizard Tournament provides an opportunity for the media to include these types of stories around a high-profile event that many people will be paying attention to already. We see how the false information in the media can be used as a form of entertainment and as a tool of division, encouraging people to be interested in gossip and suspicious of those who are different from them.

After the return of Lord Voldemort, the Prophet’s unreliable reporting gets even worse. The paper’s antics had been frustrating before, but they became even more dangerous when the powers that be at both the Ministry of Magic and the Prophet deny that Voldemort has returned, casting Harry Potter and Albus Dumbledore as dangerous liars.[10] Dolors Umbridge arrives at Hogawarts, as the new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor and later becomes the Hogwarts High Inquisitor; as Hermione says, Umbridge’s presence at the school means “the Ministry’s interfering at Hogwarts”.[11] Throughout Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s fifty year, she doesn’t teach the students properly and enforces very strict rules with the goal of preventing students from assembling and doubting the government.[12] It’s another form of false information, this time through classroom instruction, with the aim of bolstering the Ministry’s propaganda while limiting access to correct information. Once again, even people who already knew Albus Dumbledore Harry and even know people who are fighting against Voldemort, still believe the government and media. Percy Weasley believes the Ministry and the Daily Prophet accusations, resulting in a fight between him and his father Arthur Weasley, after which Percy leaves home and stays away from his family.[13] Percy even sends a letter to Ron, advising him to stay away from Harry and seek advice from Dolores Umbridge.[14] Later, when the Ministry is under the de facto control of Voldemort’s followers, Ministry officials start to send out propaganda materials to encourage distrust of and discrimination against Muggles and Muggle-borns. The Ministry has new Muggle-born Registration Commission (headed by Dolores Umbridge)[15] and it’s likely that his propaganda is being sent out so that people will support the persecution of Muggle-borns by the Commission. The state of affairs places many people in both the wizarding and Muggle worlds in danger. Because the Ministry doesn’t acknowledge that Voldemort has returned, they also refuse to do anything to protect the public. As in our own world, bad reporting in media can keep a population unaware of a danger in society, while creating pariahs and scapegoats and not addressing problems. There is propaganda by both the government and ideological groups in order to encourage hatred and distrust of certain people, especially people from marginalized demographics. Having one major established source of news in a community can exacerbate the problem, making it even easier for that one source to be inappropriately controlled by the government.

In addition to being a reporter for the Prophet, Skeeter is also the author of various books, including a biography titled The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore.[16] This book shows how both truth and lies can be combined to achieve deception. It’s true that Albus Dumbledore did lie to Harry (and many other people) about aspects of his life and his plan to defeat Voldemort. However, Skeeter exaggerates the accurate information and writes in order to completely discredit Dumbledore, emphasizing his wrongdoing and underemphasizing his good actions. Again, there are many parallels to the real world, as many authors write books about issues that are being discussed in the media. Many arguments contain some truth (which make them sound plausible) but have much added rumor and other false information.

In response to the unreliable media, there are attempts to fight back with more accurate news, even from unexpected places. The Quibbler, a questionable magazine at the best of times, becomes a venue for Harry to share the truth about what really happened at the end of the Triwizard Tournament, when he saw Voldemort come back. Fellow Hogwarts student Luna Lovegood becomes friends with Harry during his fifth year at Hogwarts, and as her runs and edits The Quibbler, she’s able to get an interview of Harry printed there.[17] After Rita Skeeter’s false reporting the previous year, Hermione figured out her secret (that Skeeter is an unregistered Animagus, able to turn into a beetle, which is how she eavesdrops on people in order to write her stories)[18] and blackmails her into writing the article for The Quibbler.[19] Although Dolores Umbridge bans The Quibbler at Hogwarts, many of the students still read it. As Hermione comments, “If she could have done one thing to make absolutely sure that every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”[20] Throughout the year, the students and faculty of Hogwarts have been lied to and harassed by Umbridge. We see how banning information makes people more curious to read the banned material. When authority figures abuse the trust of others, people are eager to hear from someone else.

During the last year of the war, an underground radio program called Potterwatch becomes a source of news about the resistance against Voldemort. Hosted by Lee Jordan, the program includes guests who are part of the Order of the Phoenix, a secret organization that’s fighting against Voldemort and his supporters. The hosts and guests on the program use pseudonyms, because the Death Eaters would come after them if they knew their identities. There are passwords related to the Order which allow people to hear the program. When Ron returns to Harry and Hermione and tells them about Potterwatch, hearing the radio program is a source of connection to the outside world for these characters who’ve been on the run for months. In one of the installments, the guests encourage witches and wizards to help the Muggles who live near them.[21] This shows how even a message emphasizing kindness and solidarity can become a dangerous thing to say. When bigotry becomes mainstream, people risk their lives to promote a more hopeful message.

Unreliable media shows up repeatedly throughout the Harry Potter series because it ties in with a major theme of the story: that of fighting against discrimination and misinformation, even when powerful institutions in society support it. As previously-trusted news sources are revealed to be unreliable, alternate media sources become places for people to share more accurate information, and sometimes people have to risk their lives to share real news. We see the power of media to influence people’s opinions and society, as media content can cause both good and bad consequences.

#

Note

This essay was completed and posted on 7 October 2014. It is dated 31 July 2014 to keep my archives in order.

###

References

[1] To see all of my essays in the 31 July series category, go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/31-july-series/.

[2] Sims, Andrew. “J.K. Rowling writes new story about Harry, Ron, Hermione at the Quidditch World Cup”. Hypable, 8 July 2014. Retrieved on 2 August 2014 from http://www.hypable.com/2014/07/08/harry-potter-new-short-story-jk-rowling/.

[3] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997, Ch 5, p. 49-51.

[4] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000, Ch 12 pp. 165-7.

[5] Goblet of Fire, Ch 18, p. 266-Ch 19, p. 277.

[6] Goble of Fire, Ch 31, p. 531-2.

[7] Goblet of Fire, Ch 25, pp. 380-97.

[8] Goblet of Fire, Ch 27, pp. 444-5.

[9] Goblet of Fire, Ch 31 p. 537.

[10] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London, Bloomsbury, 2003, Ch 4, pp. 70-1; Ch 5, p. 90.

[11] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 11, pp. 190-3; Ch 15, p. 274-6 [direct quote from p. 193].

[12] See, e.g., Order of the Phoenix, Ch 11, pp. 190-3; Ch 12, pp. 215-22; Ch 13, pp. 238-41; Ch 15, p. 274-6 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-two; Educational Decree Number Twenty-three); Ch 17, p. 313 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-four); Ch 19, pp. 367-9 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-five); Ch 25, pp. 486 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-six); Ch 26, pp. 509-12 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-seven); Ch 27, pp. 535-49; Ch 28, pp. 550-6 (Educational Decree Number Twenty-eight; Educational Decree Number Twenty-nine, never actually passed). (Umbridge and the Ministry do this for most of the book. These are just some examples, including the Educational Decrees and other relevant moments from the story.)

[13] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 4, pp. 69-70.

[14] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 14, pp. 265-9.

[15] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007, Ch 13, p. 205-20.

[16] Deathly Hallows, Ch18, pp. 286-295.

[17] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 25, p498-502; Ch 26, p. 503.

[18] Goblet of Fire, Ch 37, pp. 630-2.

[19] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 25, pp. 498-502.

[20] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 26, pp. 509-12.

[21] Deathly Hallows, Ch 22, pp. 354-60.

My BookTube-A-Thon 2014 To-Be-Read (TBR) List

Recently, I’ve been watching and really enjoying some BookTube videos. Apparently, today is the first day of BookTube-A-Thon 2014, which is from July 14th to July 21st.[1] There’s a YouTube channel for the event with several videos that explain what the event is.[2] Basically, it’s a weeklong read-a-thon created by BookTuber Ariel Bisset.[3] There are seven Reading Challenges and Video Challenges associated with the event.[4] Obviously, as I don’t make videos, I can’t complete the Video Challenges, but I’m hoping to complete the Reading Challenges.

So, here are the seven Reading Challenges and which books I plan to read to complete each challenge, plus one extra item on the list.

  1. A book with pictures

Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata’s Death Note I (Black Edition): This manga series was highly recommended to me by a friend about a year ago, but I only recently picked up a paperback of the beginning of the series. This book actually contains volumes one and two (chapters one through sixteen) of a total of twelve volumes. I have mixed expectations going into this book. On the one hand, the premise sounds really interesting, and I know the book has been highly-praised and has sold many copies. On the other hand, I recently read Bakuman Vol. 1 (which is by the same writer and artist) and found it frustrating and insulting, due to the bad writing and sexist content. I’m really hoping this book is better.

  1. Start and finish a series

Marjane Satrapi’s The Complete Persepolis: I’m counting this book as a series, because it was originally published in multiple volumes (four volumes in French and two volumes in English) bebefore being collected into one book. I picked this up recently due to my increased interest in comics and my preexisting interest in the subject matter. I’ve been focusing a lot more on the speculative fiction and superhero comics, so I’m excited to read a non-fiction comic.

  1. A book with red on the cover

Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story (Translated from the German by Ralph Manheim; Illustrated by Roswitha Quadflieg): This book has been on my bookshelf for a while, and it seems like the kind of thing a fantasy fan should read at some point.

  1. A book someone else picks out for you

Laurie Halse Anderson’s The Impossible Knife of Memory: This was the second book over at the Reblog Book Club on Tumbr. I read their first book Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl,[5] but never got around to The Impossible Knife of Memory. They’ve since moved on to their third book, so I’m hoping I can catch up if I read this during BookTube-A-Thon.

  1. A book from the genre you’ve read the least this year

Michael Chabon’s Maps and Legends: Reading and Writing Along the Borderlands: I haven’t read any essay collections this year. I’ve been trying to read this book for a while now (in fact, I’ve started it at least twice before) but never finished it. This isn’t because it’s bad; I actually really love the parts I’ve read. For some reason, every time I’ve tried to read it, I’d get distracted by a different book or schoolwork. Then, when I’d pick it up again, I’d decide to just start over from the beginning, since it’s a short book and since I knew I’d enjoy rereading the parts I’d already read. This resulted in me never actually reaching the end of this rather tiny volume. Hopefully, I’ll remedy that this time around.

  1. A book to movie adaptation

J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire: I tend to perpetually reread the Harry Potter series in the background of whatever other books I’m reading, and I’ve just about finished rereading Prisoner of Azkaban, so Goblet of Fire is the next one up.

  1. Read seven books

Civil War: Young Avengers/Runaways Vol. 1 #1-4 (By Zeb Wells, Stefano, et al): Since the two volumes of Satrapi’s Persepolis are in one book, I’m adding this book to round out the list. I just read Civil War Vol. 1 #1-7 (By Mark Millar, Steve McNiven, Dexter Vines, Morry Hallowell, et al) and really enjoyed it. That series was kind of an introduction or framing story of the Civil War event in the Marvel universe; there are many other issues from many different titles which are part of this event and show what various characters were doing during the war. Since I already like the Young Avengers and am planning to read Runaways, I thought I’d read the Civil War series about these two teams.

  1. Other

Ms. Marvel Vol. 3 #6 “Healing Factor”: The latest issue of Ms. Marvel will be released this Wednesday, 16 July 2014, and I’m extremely excited about it. Since I know I’ll definitely read this issue right when it’s released, I thought I’d add it to my TBR list.

So, that’s the list of books I’m planning to read this week. I don’t usually create a to-be-read list for a specific period of time, preferring to just pick up whatever interests me on a particular day, so we’ll see how this goes.

#

References

[1] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “BOOKTUBEATHON 2014!”. Posted on 17 June 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JauBxxVGa24.

[2] The BookTube-A-Thon YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/BookTubeAThon.

[3] Ariel Bissett’s YouTube channel can be found at http://www.youtube.com/user/ArielBissett.

[4] Ariel Bissett/BookTubeAThon. “OFFICIAL READING AND VIDEO CHALLENGES!” Posted on 7 July 2014 at the BookTubeAThon YouTube channel. Retrieved on 14 July 2014 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_XOtGOUdUg.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: Rainbow Rowell’s ‘Fangirl’”. Posted on 2 October 2013 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 14 July from http://eternalbookshelf.wordprss.com/2013/10/02/book-review-rainbow-rowells-fangirl/.

‘The Book Is Too Short’: Leviathan Books and Fandom

‘It is perhaps not possible in a long tale to please everybody at all points, or to displease everybody at the same points; for I find from the letters that I have received that the passages or chapters that are to some a blemish are all by others specially approved. The most critical reader of all, myself, now finds many defects, minor and major, but being fortunately under no obligation either to review the book or to write it again, he will pass over these in silence, except one that has been noted by others: the book is too short.’ (J. R. R. Tolkien, Forward to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings)[1]

I read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings during high school, over a period of about three years, during which I was also reading other books. I remember finishing The Lord of the Rings in the fall semester of twelfth grade and telling my calculus teacher that I’d (finally) reached the end. I even wrote an essay about the book for English class when we were given the assignment of writing an essay on a book of our own choosing. Though it has been seven years since I saw Frodo off at the Grey Havens and returned with Sam to the Shire, there are many memorable parts of the story which are still in my mind. Even a part of Tolkien’s Forward to the second edition of The Lord of the Rings, the last five words of the passage quoted above, stayed with me, and I went looking through the Forward years later to find the passage which contained them.

When I first read these words, remember, I had not yet read the leviathan that is The Lord of the Rings. I had just finished The Hobbit, and was about to start its lengthy sequel. I found this quote hilarious, having tried (and failed) to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings a few years prior, while I was in middle school, partly due to the intimidating length and writing. Looking back on it now, I still find it hilarious. The observation on The Lord of the Rings that ‘the book is too short’ is of that variety which invite the amused smile, uncertain if the author is attempting to be humorous, suspicious that he may be at least partially serious. Tolkien created a fictional universe that expanded beyond the covers of the works published during his lifetime. The material about Middle-earth that he left behind, unpublished during his lifetime, was of sufficient quantity that his son has been able to edit it and release more than a dozen volumes after Tolkien’s death. Tolkien kept writing about Middle-earth; one suspects he would not have finished writing about it even if he was still alive today. One is reminded of the title character in Tolkien’s story “Leaf by Niggle” (and the essay “On Fairy-Stories”). Niggle takes on a project that consumes all else; other works that he starts are attached onto the master work.[2]

While authors may seek to endlessly expand their stories, there are also fans who hope that their beloved stories never end. It seemed to me at the time, and it still does, that there are few quotes which so briefly, accurately, and humorously describe fandom as the phrase ‘the book is too short’. There are some stories that fans hold close to their hearts, and it seems to us that there can never be enough tales of our beloved worlds (which is one of the reasons why fan fiction exists).[3] And so, even The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings (which have an estimated combined word count of over 500,000 words)[4] seem too short to those who would love to spend more time in Middle-earth. The more than 1,000,000 words of the seven main books of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series[5] seem too few, too little time to spend in the wizarding world, for those who’d love to attend Hogwarts. ‘The book is too short’ is perhaps one of the most accurate summations of fandom sentiment I’ve ever seen.

There are some stories which are longer than others, and some fandoms which have a gigantic canon, while others don’t. There are story empires, the behemoths (as I like to call them) which dominate fandom spaces and have fanbases like armies. There are stories which have lengthy canons, adaptations in many types of media, expanded universes, alternate universes, extended editions, collectors’ editions, and lengthy analyses from everyone from university literature professors to laypeople. There are other stories which have small canons, and yet, fans love these stories just as much as the fandoms of the behemoths love their more-famous cousins. Fans of stories with canons large and small both want more to enjoy, to stay a little longer in the places they consider their second homes, with character they love. As Peter S. Beagle wrote in 1947, of The Lord of the Rings,

‘For in the end it is Middle-earth and its dwellers that we love, not Tolkien’s considerable gifts in showing it to us. I said once that the world he charts was there long before him, and I still believe it. He is a great enough magician to tap our most common nightmares, daydreams and twilight fancies, but he never invented them either: he found them a place to live, a green alternative to each day’s madness here in a poisoned world.’[6]

After all has been written, rewritten, reissued, adapted, altered, expanded, re-released with new covers and extra content … there are stories, there are authors, and there are fans. There are those who love these stories and will continue to love them, will continue to write them and continue to read them. Authors will always tell stories. As fans, we will always perhaps want our favorite stories to continue, which shows how much they mean to us. These worlds become our safe havens, places that we cherish beyond imagining. And yet, as fans, we know that Frodo must go to the Grey Havens and depart from Middle-earth; that Harry will have to walk into the forest again; that our heroes will age, find a home to settle down in after their adventures, and perhaps even have children who will go off on new adventures—children whose stories we will have to imagine on our own, because the book ends after the Epilogue. The story, inevitably, will always be too short. But that too-short story is eternal, everlasting; it will stay with us forever.


References

[1] Tolkien, J.R.R. “Forward”. 1966. The Fellowship of the Ring. 1955. Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings. New York, Ballantine Books, 1994, p. xi-x.

[2] Tolkien, J.R.R. Tree and Leaf. 1964. (Includes “Leaf by Niggle”, originally published in 1945; and “On Fairy-Stories” originally published in 1947.) In: The Tolkien Reader. New York, Ballantine Books, 1966, p. 29-120.

[3] Sharmin, Ani J. “We Do It Out of Love: a poem about fan fiction writers”. Posted on 29 February 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 11 January 2014 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/02/29/we-do-it-out-of-love-a-poem/.

[4] Lord of the Rings Project (LotrProject). “Word Count and Density”. Retrieved on 11 January 2014 from http://lotrproject.com/statistics/books/wordcount.

[5] Information found via a post at MuggleNet Fan Fiction Forums, Equinox Chick quoting from a Yahoo question response. Retrieved on 11 January 2014 from http://fanfiction.mugglenet.com/forums/showthread.php?42248-Harry-Potter-book-word-counts&p=350047&viewfull=1#post350047.

[6] Beagle, Peter S. “Introduction”. Watsonville, California, 14 July 1973. In: The Fellowship of the Ring. Being the first part of The Lord of the Rings. New York, Ballantine Books, 1994, p. iii.

Book Review: Robert Galbraith’s “The Cuckoo’s Calling”

They wrote that she was unbalanced, unstable, unsuited to the superstardom her wildness and her beauty had snared; that she had moved among an immoral moneyed class that had corrupted her; that the decadence of her new life had unhinged an already fragile personality. She became a morality tale stiff with Schadenfreude, and so many columnists made allusion to Icarus that Private Eye ran a special column.

And then, at last, the frenzy wore itself into staleness, and even the journalist had nothing left to say, but that too much had been said already.

(Robert Galbraith, The Cuckoo’s Calling)[1]

In a mystery solution worthy of the new literary detective Cormoran Strike, J.K. Rowling was revealed to be the author of the new book The Cuckoo’s Calling, the first of a new series written under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith (originally published 18 April 2013). The news was first announced on Saturday, 13 July 2013, after which many J.K. Rowling fans hurried to obtain a copy, resulting in the book becoming temporarily out of stock, followed by a reprint of 300,000 copies. The week after the news was revealed was a busy one for the fandom.[2] The book was selling well even before the revelation. In the FAQ section on the new Robert Galbraith website, J.K. Rowling writes,

Although Robert had only been in print for three months, he had sold 8500 copies across all formats (hardback, ebook, library, and audiobook), reached number one on the UK audiobook charts and received two offers from television production companies. Robert’s success during this period compared favorably with J.K. Rowling’s success during the equivalent period of her published career and I was very proud of him![3]

There was even a wonderful review from before the reveal. It traveled around the internet, because reviewer Karen wrote, in part, “This book is so well written that I suspect that some years down the road we will hear the author’s name is a pseudonym of some famous writer.”[4] When I first heard the news, I felt shocked and happy, and immediately decided to read the book. I finished reading it on 17 July and decided to write a review, but it’s taken me a while to actually finish writing it.

Much like Rowling’s previous writing, the story begins with a death. Lula Landy, a famous model, falls to her death from a balcony. There is much media coverage about the incident, and it’s eventually concluded that she killed herself. Three months after her death, Lula’s brother John Bristow hires private investigator Cormoran Strike to figure out who killed her. Strike is a war veteran who’s going through a really difficult time; he’s currently living in his office after a breakup. He takes the case mostly because he needs the money, but finds out that there is more to the situation than he’d first expected. Robin Ellacott is Strike’s new assistant, who initially arrives at his office because she’s been given an assignment by the temp agency Temporary Solutions. Though she was expecting the job to last only one week (and looking for a more permanent position elsewhere), she’s very excited when finds out she’ll be working with a private investigator. She decides to stay at the job and help with the investigation.

The story is written in third person, and mostly follows Cormoran Strike, though there are some sections from Robin’s perspective. Strike is really fascinating, as we find out about his past and his current troubles. He’s trying to handle his horrible situation with some degree of self-respect and determination. As he is working on solving the case, we also see him struggle with his past and his injuries. I would have liked to get to know Robin a little better; the “sidekick” is often just as interesting as the main detective. The assistant is often a person who has some insight into the investigator’s personality and makes important contributions to the case. When I saw that the beginning of Part One was written from Robin’s point of view, and then switched over to Strike’s point of view, I was excited and hoped that the narrative would perhaps be split evenly between them. I was disappointed to find that we spend much less time with Robin, and I hope we get to know her better in future installments. As for their relationship, I was very glad that Rowling chose to create a platonic work relationship, developing into a friendship. I hope that the friendship continues in future installments, and does not develop into a romance.

There is a sizable cast of characters, many of whom knew Lula Landry in some way. As Strike speaks to many different characters, trying to figure out what happened during her last day on Earth, we find out a little bit about each of them, their personalities, and their relationship to Lula Landry. Because Rowling doesn’t have a magical world (with lots of magical events and objects) within which to hide her clues, the hints are instead hidden within the interviews with these characters. As Strike speaks to each of them, we wonder about their motivations and the veracity of their stories. We gain knowledge about Lula Landry little by little, as each person adds some new information. Because these characters are people being interviewed in relation to this particular investigation, the reader doesn’t get to know them as well as we would recurring characters in a series or main protagonists. Some are more interesting than others, but their stories add to each other in fascinating ways that left me guessing.

The book has a prologue, five numbered parts (further divided into chapters) and an epilogue titled “Ten Days Later”. As usual with Rowling’s writing, the structure of the story is very important, giving certain important information at the right time, building the mystery and suspense. Clues lead us to suspect multiple characters without knowing the answer definitely. There is a gap between the moment when Cormoran Strike figures out the identity of the killer and when the answer is revealed to the reader. Although this is Rowling’s first mystery novel, there was a great deal of mystery in her previous books. Rowling knows how to set up the hints and develop the plot and characters in an intricate way, to keep readers guessing. I was not able to guess the answer before it was revealed by Cormoran Strike, though there were many suspicious-sounding characters throughout the story. I am not as familiar with the mystery genre as I am with science fiction and fantasy, so I can’t accurately judge where this book stands in terms of subgenre and tropes in mystery novels. I don’t know whether its conclusion is one that regular mystery readers would have been able to figure out easily or not.

Reading Rowling’s writing is, again, a wonderful experience, as she guides us through London and through the intricacies of the case. Reading her outside of a Harry Potter book seems more comfortable now, due to The Casual Vacancy, and I was really excited when I heard about this book, without the added apprehension I felt before Vacancy was released. I enjoyed reading this book right from the beginning. The prologue about Lula Landry’s death was intriguing. The beginning of Part One immediately got me interested in the story and in getting to know Robin. There are some wonderful descriptions of London and details about characters that made the story fun to read.

One of the topics discussed in this book is race, because Lula is multiracial and was adopted by white parents. There are also several characters of different racial backgrounds in the story. Certain characters, including one of Lula Landry’s relatives, express bigoted views against racial minorities. Race isn’t the focus of the story, but it does play a role in the mystery. Rowling has written several books so far which mention discrimination and equality: the Harry Potter books obviously had a theme of fighting for equality (though mixed in real-world representation, including several female main characters, but not many racial minority characters, and no canon characters of several other minority identities); The Casual Vacancy had a theme of concern about the poor through the story of the Weedon family, included an Indian-British Sikh family (two of whom were viewpoint characters) with brief passages about the discrimination they face, and very briefly mentioned one character in a same-sex relationship. This makes me wonder if other books in the Cormoran Strike series will have similar mysteries in which societal discrimination is part of the story. Rowling has written about discrimination and equality in her stories, so I’m also hoping for more minority main characters in her future work.

Another topic discussed in the book is fame and celebrity. From the very beginning, we see how the media are focused on Lula Landry and talk about her death incessantly. As Strike interviews the different people who knew Lula, it becomes clear that no one knew her completely. There are also some glimpses into celebrity culture, the world of those who have fame and fortune. Most of us reading the story won’t have had the described experiences, but it’s a compelling story.

As I said in my review of Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy,[5] this is a book that has an automatic audience due to its author. I would recommend this book for fans of Rowling and fans of mystery. It has a suspenseful story and good writing, though I would have liked to get to know the characters better. Rowling has already written a sequel and expects it will be published next year.[6] I definitely plan on reading it. This is an exciting time for fans, with the prospect of new J.K. Rowling writing (in the new Cormoran Strike book and recently-announced Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them film[7]) in the near future. I look forward to it, and I hope there will be even more to come.


References

[1] Galbraith, Robert. The Cuckoo’s Calling. London: Sphere (an imprint of Little, Brown), 2013, Prologue, p. 5-6.

[2] Medicoff, Laura. “MuggleNet news roundup”. Posted on 20 July 2013 at MuggleNet. Retrieved on 3 October 2013 from http://www.mugglenet.com/app/news/show/7021.

[3] J.K. Rowling’s new Robert Galbraith website can be found at http://www.robert-galbraith.com.

[4] Karen. “Great Read!” Review of Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. Posted on 7 July 2013 at Amazon. Retrieved on 3 October 2013 from http://www.amazon.com/review/R8GYN2HLDXVFB/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B007189SBQ&linkCode=&nodeID=&tag=.

[5] Sharmin, Ani J. “Book Review: J. K. Rowling’s ‘The Casual Vacancy’”. Posted on 16 November 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 25 October 2013 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/11/16/book-review-j-k-rowlings-the-casual-vacancy/.

[6] See FAQ section of J.K. Rowling’s Robert Galbraith website: http://www.robert-galbraith.

[7] Hawk, Keith. “Warner Bros. Announces Expanded Creative Partnership With ‘Harry Potter’ Author”. Posted on 12 September 2013 at MuggleNet. Retrieved on 25 October 2013 from http://www.mugglenet.com/app/news/show/7209.

The Legacy of Sirius and the House of Black: an essay in honor of J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s birthday

“Am I to understand,” said Phineas Nigellus slowly from Harry’s left, “that my great-great-grandson — the last of the Blacks — is dead?”[1]

The 31st of July is the birthday of author J.K. Rowling[2] and also the birthday of her famous fictional creation Harry Potter.[3] A few years ago, I started a tradition of writing essays discussing some aspect of the Harry Potter books in honor of their birthday.[4] This year, given the recent decisions (United States v. Windsor[5] and Hollingsworth v. Perry[6]) by the United States Supreme Court on 26 June 2013, and the recent wedding of Remus Lupin and Sirius Black at LeakyCon 2013 in Portland, Oregon on Sunday, 30 June 2013,[7] I’ve decided to write about one of the ways in which equality movies forward: by children disagreeing with their parents, with a focus on the House of Black.

The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black is one of the supposedly “pure-blood” families of the wizarding world. A tapestry of the their family tree hangs in the sitting room of 12 Grimmauld Place, the childhood home of Sirius and Regulus Black. The Black family is related to many of the other pure-blood wizarding families, including the Weasleys, the Malfoys, and the Lestranges. They have a long history in the wizarding world, with a reputation for being incredibly wealthy and for being in favor of pure-blood supremacy,[8] but the readers get to know only a few of the members of the House of Black, some of whom questioned the beliefs held by their parents. Their stories, and the ways they came to doubt what they had been taught, are different; however, they are illustrative of the way that bigotry can be fought, even if is a slow process.

At the beginning of the series, Sirius is the last living male descendent of the House with the last name Black, and he is imprisoned in Azkaban soon after Lily and James Potter’s deaths, for betraying them to Lord Voldemort and killing thirteen other people (his childhood friend Peter Pettigrew and twelve Muggles). He escapes during 1993, and readers later find out that he was wrongfully imprisoned for crimes actually committed by Pettigrew, who had framed Sirius.[9] As Harry gets to know Sirius, we find out about his views and how they differed from his parents’. During the summer of 1995, after the Order of the Phoenix started using 12 Grimmauld Place as their headquarters, Sirius shows his godson Harry Potter the tapestry that depicts the family tree of the House of Black (along with their motto “Toujours Pur”). When Harry is surprised that Sirius is not on the tree, Sirius explains that his mother blasted him off after he ran away. Harry asks why he ran away, and Sirius responds, “Because I hated the whole lot of them: my parents, with their pure-blood mania, convinced that to be a Black made you practically royal . . . my idiot brother, soft enough to believe them . . .” He goes on to explain that although his parents weren’t Death Eaters, “believe me, they thought Voldemort had the right idea, they were all for the purification of the wizarding race, getting rid of Muggle-borns and having purebloods in charge. They weren’t alone either, there were quite a few people, before Voldemort showed his true colors, who thought he had the right idea about things. . . . They got cold feet when they saw what he was prepared to do to get power, though.” He says, of his parents and his other relatives (such as the Lestranges), “As far as I’m concerned, they’re not my family.”[10] Sirius Black’s parents were people who thought themselves better than others, who tried to teach him those same beliefs, but when they failed, he turned on them and grew to hate them and everything that reminded him of them. He fought against the Death Eaters, risking (and eventually losing) his own life in the process.

Sirius is not the only member of the House of Black who ends up disagreeing with these prejudicial views. His brother Regulus, who joined the Death Eaters initially, ended up betraying Lord Voldemort. It was thought that he tried to leave the Death Eaters and was therefore killed; the details were unknown.[11] When Harry and Albus Dumbledore try to retrieve one of Voldemort’s Horcurxes (Salazar Slytherin’s locket), they find a different locket in its place. Inside the locket, there is a note “To the Dark Lord” signed by R.A.B. which read, “I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match you will be mortal once more.” Harry later finds out that that R.A.B. is Regulus Arcturus Black; Regulus had discovered Voldemort’s secret and died while retrieving the locket horcrux with the help of Kreacher.[12] Though he made a grave error in joining the Death Eaters, he later chose to do what he could to fight against his previous master.

Though Sirius was the last male heir of the House of Black after the death of his younger brother, one of their female relatives was also disowned by the family for defying their beliefs in pure-blood supremacy. Andromeda Black, like Sirius, was blasted off the family tree because she married a Muggle-born named Ted Tonks.[13] Their daughter Nymphadora Tonks went on to become an Auror and join the Order of the Phoenix.[14] She believed in equality and married Remus Lupin despite knowing that she would be shunned in wizarding society for marrying a werewolf.[15] Ted Tonks, Nymphadora Tonks, and Remus Lupin all lose their lives during the second wizarding war.[16] Andromeda Tonks is still alive at the end of the series, and she will likely instill in her grandson Teddy the same values of supporting equal rights.

This topic is fascinating, because part of the message within the Harry Potter series is that of equality and the importance of fighting bigotry. There are several lessons one can take from the lives of those who came to disagree with their families’ beliefs in pure-blood supremacy. We see how making friends who are different from oneself or from one’s family can be a part of realizing that what society says about a group of people is false. Sirius becomes friends with Remus, despite discrimination against werewolves, and Andromeda marries Ted, despite discrimination against Muggle-borns. We see how changes of heart can happen slowly, how even those who support equality still have immense flaws and may not support full equality for all groups. Sirius did not see how the house-elf Kreacher had been horribly treated by wizards and witches and didn’t choose to be understanding of him, instead just seeing him as a reminder of the family and childhood he hated. We do not know if Regulus had a complete change of heart, if he truly began to see non-purebloods as equals, or if he took a step in the right direction, realizing that Voldemort’s genocidal campaign was going too far. Similarly, we do not know Andromeda’s beliefs about various other people who are discriminated against in wizarding society. We see how a difference in beliefs can tear families apart. Sirius despised most of his family, to the point that he could not stand staying in the house in which he’d grown up, due to the memories. Andromeda lost the love of her sisters. We see how defying one’s family to support what is right can be a thankless and dangerous job. Sirius dedicated himself to fighting people who shared his parents’ beliefs, but ended up (somewhat ironically, mostly sadly) being accused of supporting them and of killing his best friend, spent twelve years in Azkaban, and subsequently died while fighting his cousin Bellatrix Lestrange. Regulus sacrificed himself to obtain one of Voldemort’s horcruxes. Andromeda lost her husband Ted, daughter Nymphadora, and son-in-law Remus during the second wizarding war. We see how the road to greater equality and freedom is fraught with hardship and danger, but that does not mean it is not worthwhile.

The most important lesson we see is how a long history of bigotry does not have to continue indefinitely; it is possible for children to disagree with their parents, and this is one of the ways in which support for equality grows in a society. Even though, in Sirius’s words, “anytime the family produced someone halfway decent they were disowned”,[17] some of those who were disowned went on to do great things and disagree with the discriminatory views of their family members. Phineas Nigellus asks if the last of the Blacks is dead, but another question to consider is what legacy was left behind by the House of Black. Even though those who did great things and supported equality had to defy their family to do so, they left behind a better legacy than many of those who remained on the family tree. We know how difficult it is to reject discriminatory beliefs, after having been taught them your whole life, and so we are grateful for their bravery. We are heartened when characters like Ron Weasley, who supported equality for Muggle-borns but not for house-elves, change their minds and realize that their beliefs in equality should be broadened to include more people. We hope that characters like Draco Malfoy will be able to reject his family’s beliefs. Our feelings towards these characters and their struggles are so strong, and we cheer for them to do the right thing, because they reflect our own society. Many of us know what is it is like to be discriminated against by our peers, who learned their views from their parents. Many of us also know what it is like to disagree with a relative who has incorrect and harmful beliefs; we know the difficulty this may cause in the family, but we believe that it’s worth it. Our hope, when seeing progress towards greater equal rights in the real world, is that more people will question the bigotry that they have been taught. We hope that such people will pass the message on to future generations, who will hopefully improve upon it. We hope that humanity will leave a better legacy, one of considering everyone as deserving of equal rights, as time moves forward. And that is a legacy worth fighting for.

Happy (belated) birthday to J.K. Rowling and Harry Potter!

#

Note

This essay was posted on 8 August 2013. It is dated 31 July 2013 in order to keep my archives in order and make later referencing easier.


References

[1] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. New York: Scholastic, 2003, Ch 37, p. 826.

[2] “J. K. Rowling”. Harry Potter Wiki entry. Retrieved on 6 July 2013 from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/J._K._Rowling.

[3] “Harry Potter”. Harry Potter Wiki entry. Retrieved on 6 July 2013 from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Harry_Potter.

[4] Link goes to my essays in the “31 July series” category, which can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/categor/31-july-series/.

[7] “REMUS & SIRIUS GET MARRIED AT LEAKYCON”. Posted on YouTube by thehpalliance on 2 July 2013. Retrieved on 6 July 2013 from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCmVvvOQ-Kw.

[8] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6, pp. 111-7.

[9] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. New York, Scholastic, 1999.

[10] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6 p. 111-116 (direct quotes from pp. 111, 112, 114).

[11] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6, pp. 111-112.

[12] Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York: Scholastic, 2005, Ch 28, p. 609. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic, 2007, Ch 10, pp. 185-200.

[13] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6, p. 113.

[14] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 3, pp. 49, 52.

[15] Rowling, Half-Blood Prince, Ch 29, pp. 623-4. Rowling, Deathly Hallows, Ch 4, p. 46.

[16] Rowling, Deathly Hallows, Ch 22, p. 439; Ch 33, p. 661.

[17] Rowling, Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6, p. 113.

In Honor of Hufflepuff House [Part 2 of 5]: “Where They Are Just and Loyal”

[To read Part 1, click here.]

‘You might belong in Hufflepuff,

Where they are just and loyal,

Those patient Hufflepuffs are true

And unafraid of toil’

(The Sorting Hat’s Song, 1991)[1]

Justice and loyalty are virtues that are greatly valued by Hufflepuff House, and they are among the most important and recurring themes throughout the series. Justice is at the very heart of the story, as Harry and his friends observe and experience the various injustices of the world and attempt to fight against them. Loyalty is demonstrated by characters with various beliefs on different sides of the fight, and we see the power of loyalty to bring about both the worst and the best in people. Ultimately, those who have a loyalty to justice show how a combination of these virtues can improve the world.

Justice against Injustice

The fight against Lord Voldemort is a fight for justice, as he and his Death Eaters would create a world in which there is great injustice. They commit violence against innocent people, as Hagrid tells Harry about the first wizarding war: ‘Anyway, this – this wizard, about twenty years ago now, started lookin’ fer followers. Got ’em, too – some were afraid, some just wanted a bit o’ his power, ’cause he was gettin’ himself power, alright. Dark days, Harry. Didn’t know who ter trust, didn’t dare get friendly with strange wizards or witches … Terrible things happened. He was takin’ over. ’Course, some stood up to him – an’ he killed ’em. Horribly.’[2] Many of the Death Eaters believe in pure-blood supremacy and were motivated by that belief to join Voldemort and take discriminatory actions against those who are not of a pure-blood ancestry. This is demonstrated by various actions, from name-calling to discriminatory laws to violence, on the part of Death Eaters and their supporters.

During the second wizarding war, after Voldemort and his followers take over the Ministry of Magic, there are various discriminatory laws being put into place and discriminatory actions taken against anyone who is considered to be of inferior blood status. Attendance at Hogwarts is made mandatory for all young witches and wizards, so that the Death Eaters will have the chance to teach these students their ideology, and all students must show that they are of wizard descent in order to attend.[3] There is a Muggle-born Registration Commission (headed by Dolores Jane Umbridge) and the Ministry hauls those who they suspect of being Muggle-born in front of the Commission. They are accused of stealing magic from witches and wizards, as we see during the interrogation of Mary Elizabeth Cattermole.[4] Some who suspect they will be targeted go on the run to escape being captured, and people are threatened, imprisoned, and murdered for their blood status or their opposition to Voldemort.[5] Much of this is done with the claim that society is being made a better place.

One of the reasons why the Death Eaters, and all such villains, are so frightening is because they believe that what they are doing is correct. They are not comical villains, but rather villains whose ideology reminds readers rather disturbingly of the support for discrimination and persecution in our own world by people who claim they are doing the right thing. Though there are those who support Voldemort for various other reasons (such as fear, bewitchment, or a desire for power) many of the Death Eaters believe that their ideology of pure-blood supremacy is justice, that the world will actually be a better place for them and their families if those who are different from them are either killed or otherwise persecuted. They see themselves as protecting their families against a dangerous threat in their fight against those who are not pure-bloods.

This demonstrates that even those who are actually doing injustice may believe that they are doing what is right; we see how justice can be corrupted, and this corruption of justice — this mirror image of justice, which may insidiously integrate itself into society by resembling the real thing, by making claims of justice while promoting injustice — can convince a great many people to support it and even more to ignore its consequences.

As there are in the real world, however, there are people in this story who do not ignore those consequences. Those who are fighting against Voldemort and the ideology of blood purity are motivated by the injustice they see and a desire to make the world in which they live a better, more equal, place. As Sirius Black responds when Pettigrew ask what will be gained by fighting Voldemort, innocent lives can be saved by opposing evil.[6] As Remus says to Harry, when Harry expresses regret about the fact that Remus died so soon after his son Teddy was born, ‘I’m sorry too. Sorry I will never know him … but he will know why I died and I hope he will understand. I was trying to make a world in which he could live a happier life.’[7] We see in their willingness to fight for justice an understanding of what will happen to even more innocent people, in addition to those who have already been harmed, if Voldemort and his Death Eaters can rule unopposed. Professor Dumbledore helps Harry realize that it is his own knowledge of the harm caused by Voldemort that motivates him to fight, not the prophecy.

‘Imagine please, just for a moment, that you had never heard of the prophecy! How would you feel about Lord Voldemort now? Think!’

Harry watched Dumbledore striding up and down in front of him, and thought. He thought of his mother, his father and Sirius. He thought of Cedric Diggory. He thought of all the terrible deeds he knew Lord Voldemort had done. A flame seemed to leap inside his chest, searing his throat.

‘I’d want him finished,’ said Harry quietly. ‘And I’d want to do it.’[8]

Even though Harry is the boy who lived, even though there is a prophecy about him, it is not these things which motivate him to fight against Voldemort and the Death Eaters. Because of all he’s been through and learned before this conversation with Professor Dumbledore, he had already decided that he has to fight; he would fight Voldemort even if there was no prophecy. He does not feel that he is being forced to, but knows that he should, because of the injustice promoted by the Death Eaters.

We are motivated to cheer for the members of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore’s Army, and their various allies because of their reasons for fighting against the Death Eaters. They are not merely taking up a fight against comical villains who are proud to be evil, against villains who we know are evil only by their being labeled as such. We see the harm that the Death Eaters are doing, and so we know that our heroes are fighting against injustice; therefore, their fight has behind it a certain moral and just cause that makes it essential for them to win. They must fight, not just because they have been told to do so, but because it is the right thing to do; they must win, not just because they are the main characters, but because their triumph will have an impact upon the lives of those around them. Their victory would mean much more, far more, than just a personal triumph, and their defeat would mean more, much more, than a personal failure. Upon their success or failure hinge the lives of many people, and it is because of the human desire for justice that we want them to win.

Justice is clearly an important theme throughout the books, both in its corruption and in its defense. This virtue, when corrupted, is a great force for evil in the world, and this same virtue, when defended, is a great force for good. The characters in the story each make decisions based upon their own ideas of justice. The characters’ motivations seem a reflection of our own world, because we so often take actions upon our own beliefs of what is just; we are familiar with the arguments between people who have different views and who all think that their beliefs and actions are the best possible way to achieve a better world. These actions affect the lives of others, sometimes intentionally and sometimes unintentionally, and should teach us to think before deciding on our own ideas of justice, given the power these ideas have to motivate the best and worst in human beings. The virtue of justice, so prized by Hufflepuff House, has a great impact upon this story and on the lives of its characters, showing us how people’s idea of what is just can define who they are, can motivate them to take great actions both good and evil, affect those around them, and change the world for both good and ill.

The Loyalties of Villains and Heroes

The loyalty of the fans of the Chudley Canons, who ‘live in hope of a renaissance’ despite the fact that many consider the team’s glory days to be over,[9] may be a source of good fun in the series — an attempt to show that we can become very devoted to our favorite sports team, band, or book series — but loyalty, and the actions taken by characters based upon their loyalties, are very important parts of the series. The importance of loyalty in the series is shown in Sirius Black’s memorable admonishment to Peter Pettigrew (the series’ infamous coward and traitor) after Peter tries to explain his betrayal by saying Voldemort would have killed him: ‘“THEN YOU SHOULD HAVE DIED,” roared Black. “DIED RATHER THAN BETRAY YOUR FRIENDS, AS WE WOULD HAVE DONE FOR YOU!”’[10] Sirius is willing to die rather than betray his friends, and he isn’t the only one. There are characters who stay true to their friends and to their cause, no matter what the danger, on both sides of the fight. We see throughout the story that a person’s loyalty, their devotion and dedication, can result in a myriad of outcomes and effects on others, based upon what exactly they are loyal to.

Bartemius ‘Barty’ Crouch Junior (son of the Minister of Magic of the same name) joined Voldemort and was sent (along with three other Death Eaters) to Azkaban for the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom.[11] He was later able to leave the prison secretly when his mother disguised herself as him by drinking Polyjuice Potion and took his place. He lived under his father’s Imperius Curse before escaping and rejoining Voldemort, who gave him the assignment of impersonating Alastor Moody; since Moody was to be the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor during the 1994-5 school year at Hogwarts, this assignment would bring Crouch close to Harry and allow him to deliver Harry to Voldemort. After this plan is successfully carried out, and Voldemort has regained a body, Crouch (while still disguised as Alastor Moody) has a conversation with Harry in which he reveals his true loyalties (though Harry does not understand what is happening until Crouch later tells the whole story under the influence of Veritaserum).

‘If there’s one thing I hate more than any other, it’s a Death Eater who walked free. They turned their backs on my master, when he needed them most. I expected him to punish them. I expected him to torture them. Tell me he hurt them, Harry …’ Moody’s face was suddenly lit with an insane smile. ‘Tell me he told them that I, I alone remained faithful … prepared to risk everything to deliver to him the one thing he wanted above all … you.’[12]

Barty Crouch Junior valued loyalty and considered himself Voldemort’s most loyal Death Eater, because he served time in Azkaban while others went free and also because he helped Voldemort get back into power when others had abandoned him. Although he, unlike Bellatrix Lestrange, begs to not be sent to Azkaban, he believes that the fact of his imprisonment, later confinement by his father, and eventual taking on of the assignment to capture Harry demonstrated his loyalty to Voldemort. He is so fervent in his obsession about loyalty that he wishes to see those who were disloyal tortured. He is desperate to be praised for his loyalty by the person he considers his master, showing that loyalty to Voldemort has become his overriding obsession.

Bellatrix Lestrange is Voldemort’s most devoted follower, ‘his last, best lieutenant’[13] who stayed by his side and fought to her death, even after other Death Eaters had abandoned the fight. Even before her last stand, she was already known for both her loyalty to Voldemort and her cruelty. While there were Death Eaters and other supporters of Voldemort who claimed, when the first wizarding war ended, that they had been bewitched and forced to follow Voldemort, she didn’t. When she is on trial along with three other Death Eaters for the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom, she says, ‘The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban, we will wait! He will rise again and will come for us, he will reward us beyond any of his other supporters! We alone were faithful! We alone tried to find him!’[14] After Draco Malfoy joins the Death Eaters, his mother Narcissa Malfoy (Bellatrix’s sister) is concerned about him, worried that he will not be able to complete the task Voldemort has given him and be killed as a punishment. When Narcissa expresses this concern, Bellatrix says to her, ‘If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!’[15] Her loyalty to Voldemort is so strong that she is willing to sacrifice anything for him. She is loyal even when others are not, and her loyalty to Voldemort becomes her greatest goal, an essential part of her character.

Voldemort has his followers, some more loyal than others. After he regains his body, he summons his Death Eaters to the graveyard in Little Hangleton, where Tom Riddle Senior (Voldemort’s Muggle father) is buried and accuses most of them of forsaking him. He says, ‘I ask myself … why did this band of wizards never come to the aid of their master, to whom they swore eternal loyalty?’ When a Death Eater named Avery begs forgiveness, Voldemort refuses, saying that he wants thirteen years’ repayment for the thirteen years he was without a body after his defeat at Godric’s Hollow. There are three people who Voldemort believes have been most loyal to him. He praises the Lestranges, saying ‘They went to Azkaban rather than renounce me … when Azkaban is broken open, the Lestranges will be honored beyond their dreams’. He refers to Barty Crouch Junior as the one ‘who remains my most faithful servant, and who has already re-entered my service’.[16] Voldemort demands loyalty of an extreme degree, commanding his followers to forsake everything for him, to go to prison for him, to die for him, to kill for him. His demand for service is a vivid illustration of loyalty taken to its extremes for the most horrible of causes.

Loyalty is demonstrated by characters on the other side of the fight as well, of course. Hermione and Ron are loyal to Harry, from their remaining friends with him even when other students were gossiping and spreading rumors about him to their willingness to risk their lives to help him defeat Voldemort. When Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he’s not planning to return to Hogwarts for his seventh year, and will instead be searching for Voldemort’s Horcruxes to destroy them and eventually kill Voldemort himself, they say they will come with him.

‘We’ll be there, Harry,’ said Ron

‘What?’

‘At your aunt and uncle’s house,’ said Ron. ‘And then we’ll go with you, wherever you’re going.’

‘No –’ said Harry quickly; he had not counted on this; he had meant them to understand that he was undertaking this most dangerous journey alone.

‘You said to us once before,’ said Hermione quietly, ‘that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?’

‘We’re with you whatever happens,’ said Ron.[17]

Ron’s statement, ‘We’re with you whatever happens’ is an excellent summation of the essence of loyalty. Loyalty is demonstrated, not by staying by a person during the good times, but by staying by them no matter what happens. There are various characters who demonstrate great loyalty to certain people and causes.

Nymphadora Tonks, herself a Hufflepuff,[18] shows great loyalty in both her personal life and in her work for the Order. She demonstrates her love for and her loyalty to Remus Lupin when she says that she wants to be in a romantic relationship with him regardless of the fact that he’s a werewolf.[19] Even though she knows that she will be shunned by many in wizarding society because of her decision to become romantically involved with a werewolf, she does not allow that to stop here from expressing her feeling for Remus.

Perhaps the character whose loyalties most intrigued readers throughout the series and whose actions and motivations continue to be a topic of great discussions is Severus Snape. Snape’s loyalties confused and mislead those around him. He acted as a double agent during the second war, with both sides believing he was on their side until he killed Dumbledore,[20] which provided confirmation for the members of the Order that he was actually loyal to Voldemort.[21] We get hints of Snape’s personality, past, and motivations throughout the story,[22] but it is not until after his death, when Harry looks at Snape’s memories in the Pensieve,[23] that Snape’s love of Lily and some of his reasons for switching sides, secretly helping Dumbledore and the Order (including killing Dumbledore due to Dumbledore’s own request), are revealed. Snape’s loyalties have a great influence on Harry’s life and his task of defeating Voldemort. His character has been analyzed, with many varying interpretations offered; his reasons and motivations for his actions (for joining the Death Eaters in the first place and leaving them to help the Order in the second place) are extremely important and the various hints we receive are taken into account during the analysis. How a reader interprets his actions, words, and memories to determine his motivations and loyalties greatly influences that reader’s opinion of him; that his actions, thoughts, and loyalties were of utmost importance to the story is evident.

Loyalty, another virtue prized by Hufflepuff House, plays an essential role in the story. The various characters in the books show loyalties to their families, friends, and causes. They make difficult decisions when they are faced with conflicting loyalties, and the decisions they make have a big effect on those around them. These characters, and more besides, reflect the world in which we live, as we make our own decisions based upon our own loyalties. In our own lives, we demonstrate the depth of our loyalties to our loved ones and to the ideas which we believe in. One of the reasons that the loyalties of the characters resonate so much with us is because of this similarity between our own world and theirs, between our own personalities and theirs. The virtue of loyalty, so valued by Hufflepuff House, can be used for both good and ill; it has the power to motivate the best and the worst in humanity, depending on what the person is loyal to, and the loyalties of the characters in this story are an essential part of them, just as our loyalties are of us.

A Loyalty to Justice

Throughout the series, characters take actions based upon what they believe is right and demonstrate their loyalty to those who they love and to the causes they support. Based upon their ideas of justice and their loyalty, they take greatly varied actions. It is those, however, who demonstrate their great loyalty to justice by risking their own lives to make the world better and more equal who show us the best of what these virtues can inspire.

Part of this loyalty to justice is the realization that the lives of others are worth defending, that one’s own comfort in a society should not be one’s sole concern, but that we should also be concerned about how our society treats those who are different from us in some way. On an episode of the underground radio program Potterwatch, a conversation between Kingsley Shacklebolt (‘Royal’) and Lee Jordan (‘River’) contains this important sentiment.

‘Muggles remain ignorant of the source of their suffering as they continue to sustain heavy casualties,’ said Kingsley. ‘However, we continue to hear truly inspirational stories of wizards and witches risking their own safety to protect Muggle friends and neighbours, often without the Muggles’ knowledge. I’d like to appeal to all our listeners to emulate their example, perhaps by casting a protective charm over any Muggle dwelling in your street. Many lives could be saved if such simple measures are taken.’

‘And what would you say, Royal, to those listeners who reply that in these dangerous times, it should be “wizards first”?’ asked Lee.

‘I’d say that it’s one short step from “wizards first” to “pure-bloods first”, and then to “Death Eaters”,’ replied Kingsley. ‘We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.’[24]

Harry, Ron, and Hermione are in a tent, during their extended journey to find and destroy Voldemort’s Horcruxes, when they hear this broadcast of Potterwatch. They have been having a very difficult time during their journey, as they must look for Horcruxes using the limited information that they have and avoid being caught or killed in the process, even though they are being specifically targeted and searched for. Ron’s return has cheered up the group significantly, and Potterwatch cheers them up even more, as they hear the voices of friends who they have not seen for quite a while and about whom they have been concerned. The reason these three friends are putting themselves in danger is for the reason that is stated by Kingsley on Potterwatch; they believe that every human life is worth saving, regardless of the person’s blood status or other differences. They demonstrate through their actions, and their taking on of this great responsibility, that they are truly dedicated to their cause, and they show that their cause is just by advocating a position which puts them in mortal danger.

During the Battle of Hogwarts, many of the students want to stay to fight the Death Eaters, even many who are not yet of age. When Pansy Parkinson wants to hand Harry over to Voldemort, students stand up to defend him, despite Voldemort’s threat.

Before Harry could speak, there was a massive movement. The Gryffindors in front of him had risen and stood facing, not Harry, but the Slytherins. Then the Hufflepuffs stood, and, almost at the same moment, the Ravenclaws, all of them with their backs to Harry, all of them looking towards Pansy instead, and Harry, awestruck and overwhelmed, saw wands emerging everywhere, pulled from beneath cloaks and from under sleeves.[25]

After this display of loyalty to Harry, students who are of age have to decide if they will stay to fight in the battle or leave. Included among those who stay behind are many of the members of Hufflepuff House. The reason for this is because they, being in a house that values justice and loyalty, are motivated by their belief that fighting Voldemort is the right thing to do. Though it is not only the Hufflepuffs who contribute to the fight against Voldemort (in fact, members of all four houses do), these essential values of justice and loyalty are a part of Hufflepuff House’s beliefs, showing that Hufflepuff is important, not just an extra house.

This action by the students near the end of the story is symbolic of an ongoing idea; this theme of characters having a great loyalty to justice is present from the very beginning of the story. In the saga’s first chapter, we learn of the deaths of Lily and James Potter, killed by Voldemort.[26] They fought against the Death Eaters and sacrificed their lives. As Hagrid tells Harry, who had not heard the truth about his parents’ previously,

‘Now, yer mum an’ dad were as good a witch an’ wizard as I ever knew. Head Boy an’ Girl at Hogwarts in their day! Suppose the myst’ry is why You-Know-Who never tried to get ’em on his side before … probably knew they were too close to Dumbledore ter want anythin’ ter do with the Dark Side.

‘Maybe he thought he could persuade ’em … maybe he just wanted ’em outta the way. All anyone knows is, he turned up in the village where you was all living, on Hallowe’en ten years ago. You was just a year old. He came to yer house an’ – an’ –’[27]

They weren’t the only ones who were maimed or killed at the hands or on the orders of the Dark Lord, though. Hagrid also tells Harry that Voldemort ‘killed some o’ the best witches an’ wizards of the age – the McKinnons, the Bones, the Prewetts’.[28] Four years later, Alastor Moody shows Harry a picture of the original Order of the Phoenix, including many people who were killed. Among the names are some familiar ones, including Marlene McKinnon, Edgar Bones, and Fabian and Gideon Prewett, in addition to several others.[29] Frank and Alice Longbottom, also members of the Order, reside at St Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, because they were tortured into insanity by Bellatrix Lestrange.[30] These are people who put themselves at great risk and were terribly hurt or killed due to their participation in the Order; they joined the organization and went into the fight knowing the risks, and chose to take those risks, because they believed that it was just, and they were truly demonstrating their loyalty to justice by taking those risks.

Part of the loyalty to justice that is shown by various characters is seen when people who could have, if they wanted to, stayed out of the fighting and yet chose to put themselves in danger because they know that fighting against Voldemort and the Death Eaters is the right thing to do. Sirius Black, a pure-blood, could have joined Voldemort. He told Harry that his parents, though not Death Eaters themselves, approved of Voldemort’s beliefs and actions.[31] Unlike Muggle-borns, Sirius would not have been automatically targeted due to his blood status; he could have adopted beliefs of pure-blood supremacy and become a Death Eater. Nymphadora Tonks, being a Metamorphmagus,[32] could have chosen to go into hiding, taking on a disguise so that she would not be recognized. Considering that she was especially being targeted by Bellatrix Lesrange,[33] one of Voldemort’s most dedicated and deranged followers, such a decision on her part may have even been understandable. Remus Lupin is discriminated against in wizarding society because he is a werewolf;[34] he could have made a decision similar to that of Fenrir Greyback some other werewolves who sided with Voldemort. Even though Voldemort and the Death Eaters may have provided him with an outlet for his frustration and anger against wizarding society, he chose to join the Order. These are people who had danger all around them, and the opportunity available to choose a safer option; however, they chose to do the more dangerous, more moral thing, by being just and by showing that they were loyal to the cause by fighting, and ultimately dying, for it.

There is, then, the boy who lived. Harry walks into the Forbidden Forest, walks willingly to his death, in order to make sure that Voldemort can be defeated.[35] Though Harry’s sacrifice is the one that offers protection to those who are fighting against Voldemort in the final battle[36] and though it contains significant symbolism from readers’ perspective, his sacrifice is one of many throughout the story. He demonstrates his great dedication to defeating Voldemort by walking willingly to his death; others who fought did not know for certain that they would die, but they knew there was a good chance they would end up either dead or seriously injured.

All the characters who sacrifice their lives to defeat Voldemort echo the sentiments expressed by Regulus Arcturus Black, who wrote in a note to Voldemort (after realizing his mistake in joining the Death Eaters), ‘I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.’[37] There is, in this statement, a mixture of acknowledging one’s own mortality and impending death while hoping that another person in the future will continue, and finish, the fight. After Harry’s sacrifice, Dumbledore tells Harry that he has the choice of whether or not to go back to fight Voldemort, adding, ‘By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, then we say goodbye for the present.’[38] This sentiment is also echoed by the characters who fought against Voldemort; they decided to join the fight for the lives of innocent people and continued to fight even when they had already given so much.

A person can demonstrate loyalty to an unjust cause, which is why loyalty alone is not sufficient; a person can believe in justice but not feel enough loyalty to the idea to take action based upon it, which is why the belief alone is not sufficient. Many people have beliefs about what they think is just and many people have ideas to which they are loyal, but this story teaches us that the truly good thing to do is to support true justice that helps others and to be loyal to this cause to such a degree that risks to oneself are considered acceptable. The characters who are extremely loyal, but to an unjust cause (which they believe to be just), become the most terrifying villains. The characters showing great loyalty to justice become to us, the readers, heroes, because they consider the lives of others important and are willing to put themselves at risk to create a better world. Both justice and loyalty are included in the story through the words and actions of characters who clearly place much importance in them and are motivated by them; these values, considered important to Hufflepuff House, are essential to the story to such a degree that the books would not convey the same ides if these values were not included.

[To read Part 3, click here.]


References

[1] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997, Ch 7, p. 88. Print.

[2] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 4, p. 45.

[3] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007, Ch 11, p. 173. Print.

[4] Deathly Hallows, Ch 11, pp. 172-3; Ch 13, pp. 206-15.

[5] Deathly Hallows, Ch 15, pp. 242-7; Ch 21, pp. 338-43; Ch 22, pp. 355-61.

[6] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, 1999, Ch 19, pp. 274-5. Print.

[7] Deathly Hallows, Ch 34, p. 561.

[8] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005, Ch 23, p. 478. Print.

[9] Rowling, J. K. Kennilworthy Whisp’s Quidditch Through the Ages. London: Bloomsbury, 2001, Ch 7, p. 66. Print.

[10] Prisoner of Azbakan, Ch 19, p. 275.

[11] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 200, Ch 30, pp. 516-525. Print.

[12] Goblet of Fire, Ch 35, pp. 582-600 (quote from pp. 586-7).

[13] Deathly Hallows, Ch 36, p. 590.

[14] Goblet of Fire, Ch 30, pp. 516-25 (quote from p. 517); cf. Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003, Ch 25, pp. 480-1. Print.

[15] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 2, pp. 37-9 (quote from p. 39).

[16] Goblet of Fire, Ch 33, p. 561-71 (quote from pp. 562, 564-5).

[17] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 30, p. 607.

[18] J. K. Rowling had originally stated that Tonks was in Hufflepuff House on her official website http://www.jkrowling.com. Since then, however, the site has been redesigned and the pages that once contained the extra information about characters are no longer there. Information about Tonks can be found at http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Nymphadora_Tonks.

[19] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 29, p. 582.

[20] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 27, p. 556.

[21] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 28, p. 573-9 and Chapter 30, p. 593-5.

[22] See, e.g., Philosopher’s Stone Ch 17, p. 217; Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch 18, pp. 261-2; Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003, Ch 26, p. 521 and Ch 28, pp. 563-73. Print.; Half-Blood Prince Ch 25, pp. 508-14 and Ch 30, pp. 593-4. (There are many passages one could cite; I’ve included the ones that came to mind.)

[23] Deathly Hallows, Ch 33, pp. 529-53.

[24] Deathly Hallows, Ch 22, p. 357.

[25] Deathly Hallows, Ch 31, pp. 490-1.

[26] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 1, pp. 14-5.

[27] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 4, p. 45.

[28] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 4, p. 45.

[29] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 9, pp. 157-9.

[30] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 23, pp. 454-5.

[31] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 6, pp. 103-4.

[32] Order of the Phoenix, Ch 3, pp. 51-2.

[33] Deathly Hallows, Ch 1, pp. 16-7 and Ch 5, p. 68.

[34] See, e.g., Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch 22, p. 309; Order of the Phoenix, Ch 14, p. 271; Deathly Hallows, Ch 11, p. 175-6. (There are many passages one could cite; I’ve included the ones that came to mind.)

[35] Deathly Hallows, Ch 34, pp. 554-64.

[36] Deathly Hallows, Ch 36, p. 591.

[37] Half-Blood Prince, Ch 28, p. 569. cf. Deathly Hallows, Ch 10, p. 154.

[38] Deathly Hallows, Ch 35, p. 578.

In Honor of Hufflepuff House [Part 1 of 5]: Introduction; or, The Misconception Summarized

Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has four houses (named after the four founders of the school) into which new students are sorted: Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin. Gryffindor is focused on, because it is the house of Harry, Ron, and Hermione. Slytherin is also often discussed, as is the house of their school rival turned uncertain Death Eater Draco Malfoy, of the villain Lord Voldemort, and of the intriguing Severus Snape. Ravenclaw comes to the forefront when Luna Lovegood is one of the students who travel to the Ministry of Magic near the end of the 1995-6 school year and when Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem is found to be one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes. Hufflepuff receives some attention when Cedric Diggory becomes one of the four champions in the Triwizard Tournament and is murdered and when Harry, Ron, and Hermione must come up with a plot to break into Gringotts to find Hufflepuff’s Cup in the Lestranges’ vault; despite this, however, less information is found out about Hufflepuff throughout the series, compared to the other three houses, and some characters have a negative opinion in of the House. When Harry meets Draco for the first time in Madam Malkin’s, Draco says about being sorted into houses, ‘Well, no one really knows until they get there, do they, but I know I’ll be in Slytherin, all our family have been – imagine being in Hufflepuff, I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?’ After their conversation, Harry asks Rubeus Hagrid some questions about what Draco said (since Harry is not yet familiar with the wizarding world). About the school houses, Hagrid gives voice to a common perception of Hufflepuff when he says, ‘Everyone says Hufflepuff are a lot o’ duffers, but –’[1] Whether or not Hagird personally has a negative opinion of Hufflepuff is uncertain, as he is cut off before finishing his sentence, but Harry learns from him that Draco’s opinion of Hufflepuff House is not uncommon in the wizarding world.

Within the Harry Potter fandom, there is a certain amount of willingness among some fans to take seriously the insults that are targeted at Hufflepuff. The lesser amount of information we find out about the house may contribute to this feeling. Even among fans who may not necessarily dislike or hate Hufflepuff House (feelings that are sometimes expressed towards Slytherin) there are those who think of it as being boring or not good enough. It is sometimes seen as the extra house, where students are sent if they aren’t exceptional enough in the qualities that the other houses value.

My contention is that this is a misconception. Rather, the opposite is true: The characteristics valued by Hufflepuff House and its founder are exceptional and ever-present throughout the journeys of Harry Potter and his friends, as well as being essential in the fight against Voldemort. The negative opinions of some characters (which are included in the series, in my view, to create a realistic world with school rivalries and misconceptions about others) are shown to be false upon analyzing the books. The story contains a clear message that justice and loyalty, hard work, and equality are of the utmost importance.

[To read Part 2, click here.]


References

[1] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997, Ch 5, pp. 59-62 (quotes from pp. 60 and 61). Print.

Book Review: J. K. Rowling’s “The Casual Vacancy”

But then, so local legend told, came the sudden darkness that attends the appearance of the wicked fairy. (J. K. Rowling, The Casual Vacancy)[1]

Barry Fairbrother dies (of an aneurysm) within the first few pages of J. K. Rowling’s new book The Casual Vacancy. His death will likely not surprise readers, as it is mentioned in the synopsis, but it does surprise the people in the town of Pagford. The book is about the aftermath of his death, and during that aftermath, we see into the minds of various Pagford citizens whose lives interact with one another’s and show some of the most disturbing aspects of life.

This book was released on 27 September 2012, and I finished reading it in early October. I decided that I should write a review, but the idea of doing so presents a certain personally fascinating topic for thought. It should perhaps be clear from my confessed devotion to[2] and frequent writing about[3] the Harry Potter series that my reviewing of any book by J. K. Rowling will present the dilemmas of how to make sure I am being as fair as possible and how to determine what effects my love of Harry Potter is having on my review. This feeling began even before the book was released. I was extremely excited about the release of Vacancy, but also felt a feeling of quiet dread; I felt afraid that I would hate it or that I would be so biased due to my love of Harry Potter that I would not be able to judge the book fairly, considering it better than it actually is (due to my bias in favor of the author) or considering it worse than it actually is (by comparing it to Harry Potter and thereby, inevitably, finding it lacking). I have mentioned before that I think Barry’s death is a metaphorical death for Harry Potter,[4] and I think Vacancy is a book that, because it is the first book by a famous author that is not part of her beloved series, presents fans with the excitement and nervousness of unexplored territory.

The territory, it turns out, is fascinating but uneven in places, sometimes delightfully and sometimes frustratingly. This is a book that takes a while to become enthralling. The book is divided into eight parts, seven of which are numbered One through Seven with a part called (Olden Days) in between Part One and Part Two. Each part begins with a (surprisingly relevant) quote from Charles Arnold-Baker’s Local Council Administration, Seventh Edition. Part One reads a bit like a prologue that’s meant to give small amounts of information that will be expanded upon later, but at fifty pages long, it’s a bit lengthy for that role and it takes at while for the reader to get settled into the world of this book. The reader is introduced to many characters in quick succession; the purpose of this is to introduce them by showing their reactions to the death of Barry Fairbrother. The beginning sections of the part called (Olden Days), from page 51 to page 62, read more like the actual beginning of the story, after the Part One prologue has ended. This section introduces the reader to the history of the Pagford and its relationship with nearby Yarvil and with the Fields (the council estate just north of Pagford). After this, the remainder of the part titled (Olden Days) and the rest of the book continue with the stories of the various characters, their interactions with each other, and their personal struggles within the larger narrative. The structure of the story is clearly very important, because experiencing the story from the points of view of certain characters during certain events helps to build the different levels of the narrative and gives us insight into various characters’ minds.

The characters in Vacancy range from the fascinating to the boring, from the sympathetically almost-lovable to the thoroughly despicable. It sometimes happens in a story with many points of view that I will find myself looking forward to certain sections moreso than others, and that was the case with this book as well; there were certain characters who were immediately interesting and whose sections I would look forward to reading, and other characters whose sections I found a struggle to get through. Certain characters were better written and more developed than others. It has been commented on by others that Rowling’s teenage character are more sympathetic and interesting than her adult characters — an assessment which I think is partially accurate for this book specifically. The teenagers in this book are all extremely fascinating. Krystal Weedon is, of course, the person whose life story shows the central theme of the story, and she is portrayed in a way which makes the reader cheer for her to overcome the struggles she is faced with and despair when horrors occur in her life. Sukhvinder Jawanda almost immediately became one of my favorite characters soon after she was introduced. Andrew “Arf” Price is extremely sympathetic due to his horrible home life and his struggle to be brave enough to stand up to his abusive father. Gaia Bawden is at first just the loud teenage daughter of one character and the crush of another, but she becomes more interesting as the story goes on, especially in her friendship with Sukhvinder. Some characters, despite being not very likeable, were still interesting to read about. One such character was Stuart “Fats” Wall. Though he is one of the characters I very much disliked, due to his treatment of Sukhvinder and sympathetic feelings towards Simon Price, his sections are among the best writing in the book. Not all of the adult characters are beyond redemption, however, and some were among the best characters in the story. Parminder Jawanda, Kay Bawden, Tessa Wall were great to read about; in addition to each of their roles in the story, they were each full-developed as characters in their own rights, in addition to being sympathetic due to at least some of their actions. Parminder’s internal struggle about her motivations for wanting to help the people in the Fields and her reminders to herself, when she has acted in a way she feels ashamed of, that she ought to see the good in everyone make her story fascinating. Her actions which emotionally harm her daughter Sukhvinder make me angry at her, but the fact that she does this unknowingly makes me feel sad for her as well. Kay Bawden is a social worker whose concern for the Weedons makes her an almost-immediately likeable character and I ended up wishing that she would be able to inspire more characters to share her dedication. Tessa Wall is the guidance counselor who wants to help her students, but at the same time, has trouble with her own son at home, especially in dealing with the relationship between her son Stuart Wall and husband Colin Wall. By contrast, some other characters were not as well-developed. Samantha and Shirley Mollison were defined almost entirely by their rivalries and resentments. Colin Wall was a character who I would have liked to know more about, but it’s understandable why his story wasn’t central to the narrative. There were some characters, such as Howard Mollison and Gavin Hughs, who were effective in showing legitimate problem in society (with Howard Mollison’s reasons for being against the Fields sounding extremely similar to arguments put forward by politicians in our own world), but who were not as fascinating and didn’t motivate a desire to know more about them. Overall, Rowling has a talent for creating fascinating characters who take on a life of their own in readers’ imaginations, but that talent was on display here for only some of the characters and not others.

The writing in this book may seem shockingly different from the writing in Rowling’s previous books, due to the profanity and descriptions of sex, but after this briefly surprising impression, there is the recognition of the fact that these aspects are appropriate for this particular story. Reading Rowling without Harry, Ron, and Hermione is initially an odd experience, but once I got settled in, I began to recognize the familiar contours of Rowling’s writing. As uncomfortable a place as Pagford is, and despite the fact that readers likely want to run away from it as quickly as we wanted to run towards Hogwarts, Rowling’s writing is — at least in some places — a welcome place to return to. Though I did not finish reading this novel as quickly as I got through each of the Harry Potter books, it is still compulsively readable after a bit of a slow start.

Vacancy contains important social messages, the most prominent of which is the theme about how we treat others and how a person’s actions can affect others, sometimes even in ways the person is not aware of. This is not a story of a gigantic battle between good and evil, but it is about how little good and bad things done by individual people affect others, and the story of this village is powerful despite the small size of its setting, due to the fact that its story is relevant to so many societies and to humanity in general. There are certain parts of the book which are disturbing reminders of the horrors which occur in the world, bringing to mind the reader’s own personal experiences. While reading the book, there were several times when I felt that sick feeling of recognition, that feeling that an author has so well captured a situation I have been in or a feeling I have experienced that I feel both ill at the reminder and grateful for the understanding. This book illustrates the existence of bullies without the comfort of a story in which the bullied find allies and triumph over those who hurt them. It shows a world in which teenagers cause great harm to their peers without others in the class standing up for the student who is being bullied, in which those who are abused and assaulted find themselves without anyone to turn to for help, and in which adult bullies are in positions of power with the ability to make life much worse for those who are already in desperate circumstances. This is where Rowling’s writing is at its best, as she is able to write passages which make us feel the horror of being in the situations her characters are experiencing. There is great emphasis on both the mundane aspects and horrors of life, with some hints that hope exists but is easily defeated by humanity’s great faults — one of which is our ability to avoid paying attention to and thinking about things which make us uncomfortable. The last line of the book reads, “Her family half carried Terri Weedon back down the royal-blue carpet, and the congregation averted its eyes.”[5] This, I think, a wonderful summation of the social message of the book. Many of the people in the town of Pagford have been ignoring the plight of those who are in less fortunate circumstances than themselves, sometimes even despising people like the Weedons instead of feeling motivated to help them. At the end of the story, though they regret what happened to Robbie Weedon, there is not a great indication that they have realized their mistakes or changed their behavior. To put it another way, this is a book in which the funeral of Barry Fairbrother is one of the most humorous passages.

This book is one of that number which come with automatic audiences; there are a great many Harry Potter fans (myself included) who decided to read this book due to our love of Rowling’s previous books. This is, I suppose, to be expected whenever any book by J. K. Rowling is released. Readers who judge this book against their feelings towards Harry Potter will likely be disappointed. (It would perhaps be too much to ask for a repeat of the series’ success; there are books which take on such a central role in a person’s life that not many others, even those by the same author, will be considered equal.) Readers who are willing to accept that their opinion of J. K. Rowling’s most recent book do not have to be equivalent to their feelings of her previous ones may find a book worth reading. This isn’t a book which will be reread innumerable times by fans looking to return to a beloved story and a place where they feel hope. It is, however, worth reading and considering, given the writing and the subject matter it addresses.


References

[1] Rowling, J. K. The Casual Vacancy. London: Little, Brown, 2012, (Olden Days), III, p. 55. Print.

[2] Sharmin, Ani J. Harry Potter is Love. Retrieved on 24 October 2012 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/harry-potter-is-love/.

[3] The link goes to the posts in the “Harry Potter (i.e. My Life)” category on my blog. These posts can be found at http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/harry-potter-i-e-my-life/.

[4] Sharmin, Ani J. J. K. Rowling’s New Testament “The Casual Vacancy”: My Thoughts on the Announcement and Hopes for the Book. Posted on 13 April 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 10 November 2012 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/rowlings-the-casual-vacancy-announcement/.

[5] Vacancy, Part Seven, p. 503.

“Do Some Good in the World”: a blog entry in honor of J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter’s Birthday

July 31st is the birthday of J. K. Rowling[1] and her famous fictional hero Harry Potter.[2] Continuing a tradition I started in 2010,[3] I decided to write an essay about an aspect of the Harry Potter series. This year, the topic of my essay is Hermione Granger’s dedication to using her talents and education to do good in the world and how she made brave decisions based on this dedication, showing who and what she truly is.

Hermione Granger is the best student in her year, who studied the set books by heart before starting her education at Hogwarts. She’s from a Muggle family and is very curious about the magic that is taught at Hogwarts,[4] asking an older student Percy Weasley about the classes on the first day of school.[5] She frequently raises her hand in class to answer questions and corrects her classmates when working together. It’s clear from the way that she is treated by some other students that she has quickly become known for being a good student (and perhaps for being a favorite of the professors), for following the rules, and for not having any friends. Rubeus Hagrid comments that “they haven’t invented a spell our Hermione can’t do.”[6] What is perhaps one of the most well-known descriptions of Hermione is spoken by Remus Lupin after she says she had already figured out that he is a werewolf. He says to her, “You’re the cleverest witch of your age I’ve ever met, Hermione.”[7] Hermione is clearly very concerned with doing well in school to such a degree that a boggart turns into Professor McGonagall telling her she had failed everything during her Defense Against the Dark Arts exam in third year.[8] Ultimately, however, it is not just Hermione’s intelligence that defines her and it is not her grades that she cares about above all else. As she says to Rufus Scrimgeour when he asks if she intends to go into a career in Magical Law, “No I’m not […] I’m hoping to do some good in the world!”[9] Although the comment is a way to show her negative opinion of the actions of the Ministry of Magic, the last part of it is actually an accurate statement of Hermione’s goal. Hermione’s dedication to doing the right thing, to helping others and being brave, is what motivates her to take certain actions and guides her decisions in how to use her education, abilities, and intelligence.

There are several instances when Hermione expresses views which show that there is a difference between a person’s talents and what they consider most important. On the train ride to Hogwarts at the beginning of her first year at the school, Hermione expresses her view that Gryffindor sounds like the best Hogwarts house, based upon the reading she has done about the magical world and the school.[10] Since Gryffindor House values bravery, this shows that Hermione greatly values bravery, even though her talents at schoolwork and love of books make one initially suspect that she could be sorted into Ravenclaw House. At the end of their first year at Hogwarts, when the three friends Harry, Ron, and Hermione, go through the trap door in the forbidden third-floor corridor to stop Lord Voldemort from obtaining the Philosopher’s Stone, all three of them use their abilities to contribute to the effort. Hermione is able to help them get past Devil’s Snare due to her remembering Herbology lessons and is able to solve a logic puzzle to figure the correct potions to drink to walk through magical fires that blocked their way. After Hermione praises Harry’s abilities as a wizard, Harry says he isn’t as good at magic as she is. She responds, “Me? […] Books! And cleverness! There are more important things – friendship and bravery and – oh Harry – be careful!”[11] This shows not that she considers books or cleverness unimportant, but that she values both friendship and bravery more than either of them. These statements by a young Hermione show what she believes more than her talents do. As in our own world, knowing a person’s talents may tell us what they are able to do, but knowing their beliefs and opinions tell us what they believe is right.

Hermione studies and does well in school, but her desire for knowledge and dedication to hard work is not limited to situations in which there will be a benefit to her grades. The situations when Hermione is the most fervent in her efforts are situation when she can use her intelligence and cleverness to do some good in the world. When Hermione sees how badly house-elves are treated by their masters without their masters being confronted or condemned[12] and learns that there are house elves at Hogwarts,[13] she becomes motivated to help them. She criticizes Hogwarts: A History (a book which she often references and usually thinks highly of) due to its omission of the school’s house-elves. She says, “Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts: A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!”[14] She does research about the treatment of house-elves and starts the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare (S.P.E.W).[15] During the fight against Lord Voldemort, Hermione’s intelligence and abilities are indispensible. She makes preparations for the journey that she, Harry, and Ron are going to embark upon by studying about Horcruxes and making sure they will have the supplies that they will need.[16] This shows that Hermione believes that her education is not an end in and of itself but should be used to do good things; she believes in using her abilities and efforts to improve the world. She does not limit her hard work and studying to topics which will earn her good marks in school or a good job in the future, but makes an effort to learn about the horrible things that are going on in her world and then tries to make things better. There are many talents a person can have, but the goals towards which they use those talents tells us what they value, and Hermione clearly values making the world a better place. We have to make choices about what to spend our time on and decide what we aim to accomplish with the abilities we have been given, and those choices show who and what we truly are.

A person may believe that certain actions are right but still be concerned about the consequences they will face, and their ability to overcome their fears will determine whether or not they are able to do what is right. Hermione’s actions and words show that, even though she is concerned about breaking the rules and taking possibly dangerous actions, she is even more concerned about doing the right thing. In their first year, after Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville are nearly caught roaming around Hogwarts in the middle of the night and come across a three-headed dog in the process, Hermione says to Harry and Ron, “I hope you’re pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed – or worse, expelled. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”[17] However, while Hermione does not want to get in trouble, she is willing to break the rules if there is something important to be done. While she does not believe that a duel with a rival classmate is worth sneaking out in the middle of the night and possibly getting into trouble, there are other situations in which she believes breaking the rules is justified. In their second year at Hogwarts, when there are mysterious threats and attacks against Muggle-borns, Harry, Ron, and Hermione decide to investigate to determine who opened the Chamber of Secrets. Hermione suggests brewing the Polyjuice Potion and the three friends are able to convince Professor Lockhart to sign a permission slip allowing them to get the book Moste Potente Potions out of the restricted section of the school library. After seeing the recipe for the potion, Ron and Harry express doubt about the endeavor but Hermione convinces them that they should go through with it.

Ron turned, speechless, to Harry, who had another worry.

“D’you realise how much we’re going to have to steal, Hermione? Shredded skin of Boomslang, that’s definitely not in the students’ cupboard. What’re we going to do, break into Snape’s private stores? I don’t know if that’s a good idea …”

Hermione shut the book with a snap.

“Well, if you two are going to chicken out, fine,” she said. There were bright pink patches on her cheeks and her eyes were brighter than usual. “I don’t want to break rules, you know. I think threatening Muggle-borns is far worse than brewing up a difficult potion. But if you don’t want to find out if it’s Malfoy, I’ll go straight to Madam Pince now and hand the book back in …”

“I never thought I’d see the day when you’d be persuading us to break rules,” said Ron. “All right, we’ll do it. But no toenails, OK?”

“How long will it take to make, anyway?” said Harry, as Hermione, looking happier, opened the book again.[18]

This conversation shows that Hermione is willing to break the rules in some instances, especially when the cost of not doing so would lead to harm. Three years later, during their fifth year at Hogwarts, Harry, Ron, and Hermione start Dumbledore’s Army because Dolores Umbridge (the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher during that school year) is not teaching her students properly. Hermione proposes the idea to Harry and Ron and convinces Harry to secretly teach a group of students. She says to them, “It’s about preparing ourselves, like Harry said in Umbridge’s first lesson, for what’s waiting out there. It’s about making sure we really can defend ourselves.” The first meeting is outside the school, in the village of Hogsmeade because, as Hermione says, “I don’t think Umbridge would be very happy if she found out what we were up to.”[19] Hermione participates in creating this organization, even though she knows that they will get in trouble if they are caught, because she knows (as do the others who join) that their Defense education is important, especially since Lord Voldemort has returned. At the end of their sixth year, when Harry says he is not going to return to Hogwarts for seventh year so he can find and kill Voldemort, Ron and Hermione say they will go with him, even though Harry is reluctant to let them come. Hermione says, “You said to us once before […] that there was time to turn back if we wanted to. We’ve had time, haven’t we?’[20] They all know that the journey will be dangerous and that they will be risking their lives, but they are all willing to undertake it anyway, because they realize that defeating Voldemort is very important, as he has been murdering innocent people. Even though Hermione cares about the rules and about being safe, she is just as willing to participate in the effort. She knows she has the option to go into hiding, and she knows that she will especially be targeted as a Muggle-born and as a friend of Harry Potter, but she is willing to take that risk. As Hermione faces different situations in life, she modifies her views from what they once were and realizes that there are some instances when breaking the rules or taking dangerous actions is justified and morally right. She is willing to get in trouble if it means helping her friends and especially if it helping others who are being hurt. The situations in which a person is willing to break rules and put themselves in danger show what that person values, and Hermione’s actions show that she considers loyalty to her friends, bravery, and standing up against injustice very important. In our own lives, we are also faced with situations in which we feel that the danger of a certain action is worth it. We may find ourselves, like Hermione, concluding that it’s morally right to take an action that puts us in danger and hoping we have similar courage to do the right thing.

Hermione Granger, though she is known for her bookishness and cleverness, shows through her words and actions what she values. She believes it is important to be brave and loyal to one’s friends; she is motivated by a desire to help others and fight for justice; and she believes that doing the right thing is so important that she is willing to put herself in danger in order to do what she believes is right. Albus Dumbledore’s said, “It is our choices […] that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”[21] and the choices that Hermione makes throughout her life show what she truly is – a person who wants to do some good in the world.

Happy Birthday to J. K. Rowling and Harry Potter!


References

[1] J. K. Rowling. Harry Potter Wiki entry. Retrieved on 17 July 2012 from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/J._K._Rowling.

[2] Harry Potter. Hary Potter Wiki entry. Retrieved on 17 July 2012 from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Harry_Potter.

[3] To see the essays in my 31 July series go to http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/category/31-july-series/.

[4] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury, 1997, Ch 6, p. 79. Print.

[5] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 7, pp. 93-4.

[6] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998, Ch 7, p. 89. Print.

[7] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. London: Bloomsbury, Ch 17, p. 253. Print.

[8] Prisoner of Azkaban, Ch 16, p. 234.

[9] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. London: Bloomsbury, 2007, Ch 7, p. 105. Print.

[10] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 6, pp. 79-80.

[11] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 16, pp. 196-208. [Direct quote from p. 208.]

[12] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000, Ch 9, pp. 118-125. Print.

[13] Goblet of Fire, Ch 12, pp. 161-2.

[14] Goblet of Fire, Ch 15, pp. 210.

[15] Goblet of Fire, Ch 14, pp. 197-9.

[16] Deathly Hallows, Ch 6, pp. 81-91; Ch 9, pp. 135-6.

[17] Philosopher’s Stone, Ch 9, p. 120.

[18] Chamber of Secrets, Ch 9, pp. 120-1; Ch 10, pp. 122-5. [Direct quote from p. 125.]

[19] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003, Ch 15, pp. 289-94; Ch 16, pp. 295-310. [Direct quotes are from p. 291 and p. 297.] Print.

[20] Rowling, J. K.Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005, Ch 30, p. 607. Print.

[21] Chamber of Secrets, Ch 18, p. 245.

This Book Needs No Introduction: On The Fifth Anniversary of the Release of J. K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”

For now, all I could do was stare at the words I had just written on my screen, words that would shape the next several months of my life, that signified the end of an extraordinary time, a time that had given me confidence and purpose and independence, an era in which millions of people found fun and community and enchantment under one boy wizard’s thrall.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be published on July 21, 2007.”

(Melissa Anelli, Harry, A History)[1]

Today is the fifth anniversary of the release of J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. The book was released on Saturday 21 July 2007, the day that fans had been counting down to ever since the release date was announced on 1 February 2007.[2] Rowling had finished writing the book earlier that year, leaving on a bust of Hermes in her room at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh a note that read, “JK Rowling finished writing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in this room (652) on 11th Jan 2007”.[3] The announcement of the release date was an historic moment for us; on that day, we knew when the story would end. We knew this would be, as Anelli wrote in Harry, A History (quoted above), the end of a very important time in our lives; it was the end of a story that had shaped our lives in such a way that we knew that we’re different people for having read it, and we knew that its influence on our lives wouldn’t end, even when the story did.[4]

I went to a bookstore early on that summer morning, and bought the book with the money I had saved for this purpose. I came back to the car and sat in the back seat. I remember opening the book and looking at the summary (as I do whenever I start reading a book) on the front flap of the dust jacket, seeing the following words:

WE NOW PRESENT THE SEVENTH

AND FINAL INSTALLMENT

IN THE EPIC TALE OF

HARRY POTTER[5]

I remember being happy and amused that there was no summary — that this book, metaphorically and literally, needed no introduction. There were already people lining up to get their copies of Deathly Hallows, eager to read it.

The journey through the book was magical. As I started reading, I knew this was the last book, and as much as I wanted to know what would happen next, I also didn’t want the story to end. I have so many memories.

I remember being touched by the dedication: “The dedication of this book is split seven ways: To Neil, to Jessica, to David, to Kenzie, to Di, to Anne, and to you, if you have stuck with Harry until the very end.”[6] I remember being surprised by the epigraphs, one from Aeschylus’s The Libation Bearers[7] and one from William Penn’s More Fruits of Solitude,[8] being moved by them and also afraid for my favorite characters, afraid that they would be killed off during the book.

I remember feeling excited and happy that the story started with Severus Snape, because I very much wanted to know more about him and his true loyalties. I remember reading Elphias Doge’s article about Albus Dumbledore, in the chapter so appropriately titled “In Memoriam”. I remember feeling annoyed at the Dursleys one last time, surprised by Dudley’s show of appreciation. I remember feeling the sense of reunion when thirteen people showed up to escort Harry to safety, feeling grateful for their bravery. I remember seeing the title of chapter five (“Fallen Warrior”) and feeling anxious about who would die, then feeling that the deaths (though sad) were appropriate, showing that even someone who had been constantly vigilant could be cut down by evil.

I remember the little time left of feeling safe at the Burrow, filled with family frustrations that seemed so minor compared to the task that was ahead for our heroes. I remember the Weasleys’ birthday gift to Harry, and Harry hugging Mrs. Weasley. I remember being inspired by Hermione, who was ready to face whatever was ahead and determined to keep working hard until their goal was accomplished. I remember feeling scared when Bill and Fleur’s wedding was interrupted, the three little sentences, the ten terrifying words — “The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming.”[9]

I remember returning to 12 Grimmauld Place, the house having lost the merriment of friendship and instead having become a hideout surrounded by enemies on all sides. I remember loving Lily’s sweet letter, moved that Sirius had kept it all these years, and being correct about R. A. B.’s identity. I remember being happily surprised by Kreacher’s change of heart and upset by Remus’s anger.

I remember the Ministry turned to tyranny, the Commission, the cruelty of Dolores Umbridge, and Mary Elizabeth Cattermole thinking of her children. I remember Voldemort’s overheard thoughts, taking a toll on Harry’s mind, and overheard conversations of those on the run, giving hope in the hardest of times. I remember being unbelievingly furious at Ron for abandoning his friends. I remember being moved nearly to tears when Harry and Hermione visited the graves of Lily and James Potter, with Harry wishing he could be dead and buried under the snow with them. I remember being terrified when Harry and Hermione were attacked by Nagini and Voldemort in Bathilda Bagshot’s home. I remember being moved and fascinated by the life of Albus Dumbledore, struggling to decipher the truth from the lies along with Harry. I remember Ron’s triumphant return.

I remember loving the ceiling of Luna’s bedroom, a reminder of friendship amidst the feeling of loneliness. I remember The Tale of the Three Brothers, a fairy tale having such a great impact upon lives. I remember Potterwatch. I remember Draco Malfoy’s fear and his lie. I remember fearing for Hermione as she was tortured by Bellatrix, wanting to cry out her name in terror with Ron. I remember the decision between Hallows and Horcruxes. I remember the greatest bank robbery of all time.

I remember returning to Hogsmeade, finding it under the Death Eaters’ control. I remember Aberforth Dumbledore’s story and having hope despite his advice. I remember Neville Longbottom leading Dumbledore’s Army and wanting to cheer at his bravery. I remember walking into Hogwarts again, into a home that’s been infiltrated by evil. I remember the Battle of Hogwarts, wanting to cry at the death and destruction, as my home went up in flames and my friends laid down their lives.

I remember the Prince’s Tale, finally knowing the truth about Severus Snape, the character who had and has been the subject of much conversation and many questions.

I remember the boy who lived walking to his death.

I remember Albus Dumbledore’s post-mortem advice, his wisdom living on after his death, with the last line of the chapter “King’s Cross” so aptly summarizing not only Harry’s experience but our experience with the story — “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”[10]

I remember Molly Weasley surprising line and the death of the Dark Lord’s most faithful follower, his “last, best lieutenant”.[11] I remember the defeat of Lord Voldemort, the cheers at his death, and the boy who lived wanting a sandwich.

I remember returning to Platform 9¾ on the way back home to Hogwarts.

I remember “All was well.”[12]

Lastly, I remember most of all, the feeling that I wanted the story to go on, for my favorite characters to be alive, for story to never end.

I finished reading book seven in the middle of the night, about an hour into Monday morning. While writing this entry, I decided to go find the journal entry I wrote after reading the book. (I keep an ink-and-paper journal.) The entry dated Monday, July 23, 2007 is about how much I loved the book and how I loved that Rowling introduced a whole new story (about the Deathly Hallows) and wove it into the existing story in addition to bringing the previous plotlines to their conclusion. I wrote about how sad I was that so many characters died but that I understood their deaths were not in vain. I also wrote about how I am going to read lots of other books, because there are so many universes to explore. I wrote then, and I know now, that the lessons I have learned from Harry will stay with me.

These books have been a way for me to find others who love to read as much as I do and who don’t think it’s weird that I enjoy talking about fiction. I have friends who I initially met or got to know because we talked about books. As a confessor stated in a submission to the Harry Potter Confessions blog, “Without Harry Potter, I would still be sitting in the library by myself.”[13] I remember that before Harry I used to feel that I was different due to my love of books, but Harry Potter was the first book series for which I participated in fandom and spoke with others who were just as obsessed with the books as I was. Finding out that there are communities of people in the world who love to read and realizing I could participate in these communities made me feel great joy.

The story has also helped me think about our own world. I read the books and look at the world in which I live, and there are so many parts of the world which I find reflected in those pages. As I reread the books, I find ideas within them that I hadn’t noticed before, I find that some part of the story is relevant to something that is going on in my life or something I am thinking about. The story has taught me and continues to teach me important lessons that are relevant to the real world; everything — friendship and family, sadness and fear, morality and meaning — is affected by the fact that I’ve read these books and continue to think about their story.

I can’t believe it’s been five years. Here’s to many more.


References

[1] Anelli, Melissa. Harry, A History: The True Story of a Boy Wizard, His Fans, and Life Inside the Harry Potter Phenomenon. New York: Pocket Books, 2011, Ch 1, p. 8. Print.

[2] Anelli, Melissa. DEATHLY HALLOWS RELEASE DATE ANNOUNCED. Posted on 1 February 2007 at The Leaky Cauldron. Retrieved on 10 July 2012 from http://www.the-leaky-cauldron.org/2007/2/1/deathly-hallows-release-date-announced.

[3] Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Harry Potter Wiki entry. Retrieved on 10 July 2012 from http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_Hallows.

[4] Sharmin, Ani. The Great Transition: Thoughts on the Future of the Harry Potter Fandom. Posted on 3 July 2012 at The Eternal Bookshelf. Retrieved on 10 July 2012 from http://eternalbookshelf.wordpress.com/2012/07/03/the-great-transition/.

[5] Front flap of the US edition of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

[6] Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. New York: Scholastic Inc., 2007, dedication, p. v. Print.

[7] The text in the epigraph (from the US hardback edition of Deathly Hallows, p. xi) reads as follows:

Oh, the torment bred in the race,

the grinding scream of death

and the stroke that hits the vein,

the hemorrhage none can staunch, the grief,

the curse no man can bear

But there is a cure in the house,

and not outside it, no,

not from others but from them,

their bloody strife. We sing to you,

dark gods beneath the earth.

Now hear, you blissful powers underground —-

Answer the call, send help.

Bless the children, give them triumph now.

Aeschylus, The Libation Bearers

[8] The text in the epigraph (from the US hardback edition of Deathly Hallows, p. xi) reads as follows:

Death is but crossing the world, as friends do the seas; they live in one another still. For they must needs be present, that love and live in that which is omnipresent. In this divine glass, they see face to face; and their converse is free, as well as pure. This is the comfort of friends, that though they may be said to die, yet their friendship and society, in the best sense, ever present, because immortal.

William Penn, More Fruits of Solitude

[9] Deathly Hallows, Ch 8, p. 159

[10] Deathly Hallows, Ch 35, p. 723

[11] Deathly Hallows, Ch 36, p. 590

[12] Deathly Hallows, Epilogue, p. 759