Weekly Archive
January 20, 2002 - January 26, 2002

RE: Snape, the DEs and the Longbottoms

Hello. Newbie here, bleary and dry-eyed and trembling from weeks of staring at the computer screen reading old posts, and now finally ready to de-lurk with a few comments on Snape, the DEs, and the Longbottoms.

Proposing that Snape's shoddy treatment of Neville might be partially motivated by some old grudge against the Longbottoms, Dicentra spectabilis wrote:

The Longbottoms were powerful enemies of the Death Eaters, undoubtedly when Snape was one of them. Why would Snape hold a grudge against someone who was fighting for a cause he eventually embraced?

Well, why on earth wouldn't he? Embracing a cause is one thing. Embracing the individuals responsible for hunting down and killing your old friends, colleagues, and classmates is quite another. Just because Snape chose to betray the Death Eaters doesn't necessarily mean that he didn't retain a good deal of personal affection for them, and as Judyserenity pointed out, Snape's old classmates do seem to have had a poor track record with the Aurors.

In the Pensieve chapter of GoF it is strongly implied that Evan Rosier met his death at Moody's hands--and according to Sirius, Moody was exceptional for the extent to which he tried to avoid killing. So God only knows how many of Snape's old colleagues Frank Longbottom might have offed. For all we know, he could have been the one who killed Wilkes.

While we're on the subject of Snape's old Slytherin gang, I've noticed a curious tendency of fans, both here and elsewhere, to resist strongly the notion that Snape could possibly have retained any affection or regard for his old DE colleagues after his defection to Dumbledore's camp. In fact, many people seem to prefer to believe that he never really liked them all that much to begin with. (This is particularly evident in fanfiction, where Snape's relations with his old classmates, when depicted, run a very small emotional gamut indeed, ranging all the way from contemptuous disdain to virulent hatred.) The general attitude seems to be: "Oh, well, Sevvie never really could stand any of those guys in the first place, you know. And even if maybe he did once, he sure loathes them now."

Why do we believe this? Snape did join the DEs of his own free will, after all. He went to school with these people; he worked with them; we can probably safely assume that he risked his life alongside them. He did eventually choose to betray them, yes. But that doesn't mean that he never really liked them. Why is it so important to us to believe otherwise?

Is it perhaps because the Snape we see in canon strikes us as so profoundly anti-social that we simply find it impossible to imagine him ever having had any friends? Or is it, perhaps, because we as readers find the DEs so utterly and completely loathsome—they are the Baddies, after all—that we are unwilling to humanize them even to the extent of conceding that they might ever do anything so sympathetic as form friendships? Do we think them incapable of it? And if so, then why? Because they're Dark Wizards? Because they're Slytherins? Because they're bigots?

Because they're the sort of people who dehumanize their enemies?

Or is it, perhaps, that when push comes to shove, we just don't really believe it possible to continue to care for people personally once one has broken with them politically, ethically, and spiritually? Do we reject out of hand the possibility that one might hate the sin while loving the sinner?

Or, alternatively, might the unwillingness to concede the possibility that Snape might have truly cared for his old friends and colleagues be really nothing more than a ploy we as readers have devised to ensure our own psychological comfort with the character? Perhaps in order to redeem Snape to ourselves we must first place him in an emotional context from which he was not, in fact, betraying his friends when he defected to Dumbledore's camp?

Because, really, there's just no getting around it, is there? It's an ugly thing to do, to betray ones friends. No matter what the justification, no matter how sound the principles or the motivations underlying the betrayal, no matter how much we may approve of it as a political act, it remains undeniably ugly.

So is that it, perhaps? Do we tell ourselves that Snape never really liked the DEs in the first place because we are unwilling to acknowledge the extent to which Severus Snape is just Peter Pettigrew, seen through the looking glass?

Heh. Well. Whatever the reasoning behind the assertion, I'm afraid that I just can't buy it. I see nothing in canon to suggest that Snape never cared for his DE colleagues, and plenty to suggest that he did and does. His favoritism of the DE's children, his advocacy of House Slytherin, his reactions to Crouch/Moody, the very depths of his bitterness...there are other ways to explain all of these things, certainly. Many, many people have.

But I prefer not to. Until Rowling proves me wrong, I will continue to operate under the assumption that even while conspiring to betray them, Snape retained a strong personal affection for many of the DEs, and that when they got themselves slaughtered by Aurors or shipped off to Azkaban, it really hurt—even (or, rather, especially) when it happened due to the information he was secretly passing along to Dumbledore. It is terribly common for real-world spies to engage in just this brand of cognitive dissonance. One might argue, in fact, that the ability to maintain such a schismed perspective is the hallmark of a successful agent.

But returning to the Longbottoms...

Judyserenity wrote:

I have to admit, anger at the Longbottoms in particular would not be especially fair, since two of Snape's friends were jailed specifically for torturing the Longbottoms, but since when are emotions rational?

Indeed. Emotions are not rational, and anger is very rarely "fair," and blaming the victim, while it may be horrendously unjust, is also an all-too-human tendency. I can easily imagine Snape feeling particularly resentful towards the Longbottoms. They are, after all, the reason that the Lestranges (who should have been safe, dammit—the war was over, the arrests had come to an end, they would have been home free if only they hadn't had to go messing with the Longbottoms like that) are now serving life in Azkaban.

(Note to nitpickers: for purposes of this discussion, yes, I am assuming that the Pensieve couple and the Lestranges are the same people. And yes, I know that this Remains To Be Proved. But I think it strongly enough implied by the text to operate under the assumption for the nonce.)

But even if we assume that Snape bears no particular animosity toward the Longbottoms themselves, the fact still remains that Neville must serve as a highly unpleasant reminder to him that two of his oldest friends are to this very day gibbering their sanity away in wizard prison hell—something that I feel certain he'd much rather avoid thinking about.

And there are likely guilt issues as well. From what Sirius tells Harry et al in GoF about Severus Snape's School Days (famous for his fascination with the Dark Arts, entered school knowing more curses than half the 7th years, and so forth), it seems more than likely to me that Snape was the one who led the rest of his old Slytherin gang down the road to damnation in the first place. If such is the case, then he's doubly culpable, bearing responsibility not only for what eventually happened to Rosier and Wilkes and the Lestranges, but also for the fates of all of their victims—the Longbottoms included.

That can't be a nice feeling, and once you factor in Neville's propensity for melting cauldrons and generally making a mess of things in Potions class, I think it gives us more than sufficient explanation for Snape's treatment of the poor lad. Really, while it is a great deal of fun to contemplate the possibility that Snape might harbor some old grudge against Frank Longbottom, I hardly consider it necessary. His behavior seems perfectly comprehensible to me without adding a personal grudge on top of all of it.

Pigwidgeon37 asked:

... does anybody have an idea as to why the Lestranges got it into their fanatical heads that the Longbottoms might eventually know his [Voldemort's] whereabouts?

To which Judy replied:

I assume the Lestranges and their accomplices (Crouch Jr. and the other guy) started with the Longbottoms because the Longbottoms were the easiest to catch, and then got caught themselves before they could torture anyone else.

Well, of course that's always possible. But I tend to assume that the Lestranges started with Longbottom because they had reason to believe that if anyone knew anything about Voldemort's current whereabouts, he would. I doubt he was targetted simply because he looked like easy pickings. On the contrary, I suspect that Longbottom was quite a high-ranked Auror, privy to the details of the MoM's search for Voldemort: a Person In the Know, and no easy prey. Had he been such a lightweight, then surely his protestations of ignorance would have been believed long before both he and his wife were tortured to the point of irrevocable insanity?

(Of course, I suppose Crouch, Lestranges, et al could have just been entertaining themselves. But I've got a feeling that they were in a rather goal-oriented frame of mind at the time: had they not believed that Longbottom was holding out on them, I suspect that they would have moved on to the next victim, rather than hanging around increasing their chances of getting caught just for the sake of getting a few sadistic kicks.)

We do tend, I think, to envision the Longbottoms as hapless innocents—at least, I know that I do. It's hard to avoid the temptation to read them as young and inexperienced, as profoundly vulnerable, as defenseless. And of course, there are a number of reasons we read them this way. There's the identification with Neville, for starters. There's also an identification with James and Lily Potter, who if they were not hapless, were at least very young at the time of their deaths. Then there's Dumbledore's evident outrage over what was done to them. And, of course, there's also the fact that suffering of the magnitude that we can imagine the Longbottoms must have experienced grants the status of "innocent" as a matter of humanitarian default: in the face of such suffering, all men are innocent.

But all that said, I think that we might want to bear in mind that Frank Longbottom was not precisely an innocent in the full meaning of that term. His wife may have been, but he himself was not. He was not a hapless bystander, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. He wasn't even a civilian. He was an Auror, invested with the authority to investigate, interrogate, arrest, and—in the last year before Voldemort's defeat—also to torture, to magically coerce, or even to kill those he suspected of malfeasance. Not to say that he abused his power, of course—Dumbledore seems to have liked him, so we may perhaps safely assume that he did not—but the fact nonetheless remains that we are not talking about a defenseless bystander here. What happened to the man was horrible beyond imagining, yes. But he wasn't exactly a lamb.

Nor was he even necessarily all that young. We are told that the Longbottoms were "very popular," which does rather encourage us to think of them as popular in the same way that the Potters were popular—which is to say, as young and handsome and overflowing with potential—but given the mood of wizarding society at the time, "very popular" could equally well refer to a hardened, tough-as-nails war-hero, well out of his twenties. Not everyone chooses to have their first child at the tender age of twenty-one. Certainly the impression I get of Neville's grandmother is one of old age, rather than late middle-age, which to my mind rather implies that the Longbottoms weren't all that young when Neville was born.

My own feeling on the question of "why the Longbottoms?" is that Longbottom was probably an experienced Auror of high rank and no small repute, deeply involved in the MoM's search for Voldemort, and that while the Lestranges and their accomplices may very well have been sadistic, fanatical, and more than half-mad, they were nonetheless not being entirely unreasonable in their choice of target.

Then, of course, I could be wrong.



RE: Wizarding Justice (WAS: use of unforgivable curses)

Christi wrote:

I'm guessing that there is no death penalty in the british wizarding community.

The wizarding community would seem to be strongly opposed to the death penalty. We've never heard of anyone being sentenced to death for any crime, and given the ugly mood of the crowd in the Penseive scene of GoF, I imagine that the subject would at least have been raised, had the death penalty been an available option.

For that matter, the fact the Aurors were only authorized to kill as an emergency measure during a time of war (were they allowed to kill in self-defense before then, I wonder?), and that this was generally perceived as a Desperate Measure, would seem to indicate that the wizarding world really is remarkably pacifistic, in its own twisted sort of way.

And being kissed by a dementor would be worse than death, so even wizards who wanted revenge for the reign of terror might be reluctant to call for it.

I get the impression that the Dementor's Kiss is authorized only for those who have managed to escape from Azkaban. The only time we've ever heard of it being officially sanctioned was for Sirius, and the only time we've ever seen it performed was on Crouch Jr—both of them Azkaban escapees.

There's actually a nasty sort of logic at work there, if you think about it. If Azkaban can't hold a wizard, then chances are that nothing short of death will suffice to control him. But the wizarding world doesn't believe in the death penalty. So what on earth are we to do about this dilemma?

Hey, I know! How about the Dementor's Kiss? It's just like death really...except it leaves them alive, so it doesn't violate our objection to capital punishment! Best of all possible worlds. Problem solved.

Ugh. Nasty.

—Elkins, who thinks that wizard justice leaves much to be desired

Posted January 20, 2002 at 8:36 pm
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RE: Hermione's ethnicity -- Other wizarding schools in Britain

The Catlady wrote:

Until GoF, I had a vague impression that Hermione was a light-skinned black, maybe of West Indian ancestry...

(she then goes on to discuss the extent to which the brainy, middle-class, left-wing-leaning child of West Indian dentists might be attacked as an ethnic stereotype by critical readers)

Hee! Funny, because when I first read the books, I immediately identified Hermione as Jewish, and for very much the same reasons. The bushy hair, the dentist parents, the academic drive, the somewhat precious newly-risen-to-the-middle-class speech mannerisms, the strong social conscience and left-leaning political tendencies...

Where I come from (the New York metropolitan area), these are the signifiers of the stereotypical assimilated Jew.

Then I remembered that these are British books, and realized that my reading was in all likelihood seriously culturally flawed.

While I labored under this delusion, though, it never once occurred to me to be offended by the stereotype. I did wince once or twice—but that was mainly because I am myself a brainy, left-leaning, somewhat pretentious child of nouveau-middle-class suburban assimilated Jewish dentists, and the depiction at times struck a little close to home. ;)

Rowling paints with one hell of a broad brush, and I sincerely doubt that those easily offended by stereotypes would enjoy the books anyway. What must young aristocrats think of the Malfoys, one wonders? Or working class kids, of Stan Shunpike? Or, for that matter, French and Eastern European readers, of nearly all of Goblet of Fire?

Like so many other enjoyable things in life, Rowling just isn't suited for the easily-offended.

About Hogwarts, Catlady wrote:

I believe that JKR told one untruth in canon and another in interviews. I have come to believe that even though she said that Hogwarts is the only wizarding school in Britain and has 1000 students, it actually is one of three or four schools in the British Isles (Britain + Ireland + Man etc) and each has around 250-300 students. Hogwarts is the BEST and OLDEST of the lot.

I'd buy that.

I don't think that Rowling's claim that Hogwarts is the only magical school in the British Isles meshes at all well with the real canon, truth be told. The books themselves strongly imply otherwise.

In Chapter Six of PS, on the train, Hermione tells Harry and Ron:

" was ever such a surprise when I got my letter, but I was ever so pleased, of course, I mean, it's the very best school of witchcraft there is, I've heard..."

Why on earth would she say this, if Hogwarts were the only school of witchcraft in Britain? As a British citizen, where else would she go? Hogwarts would be rather the default, wouldn't it? So why would she bother to mention how pleased she is to have been accepted at Hogwarts in particular, unless there were other, far less prestigious possibilities open to her?

(Yes, all right. I know. Draco's parents did consider sending him off to Durmstrang. But the Malfoys are a rather special case: Lucius can pull strings, and he has sway over the headmaster there. We don't really know whether English students normally have the option of attending foreign schools, or whether Draco's admission to Durmstrang would have been a special exception made as a personal favor from Karkaroff.)

And then, in Chapter Seven, we get from Neville:

"And you should have seen their faces when I got in here—they thought I might not be magic enough to come, you see."

Neville's already told the other kids about how pleased his family was when he first showed signs of magical ability. His admission to Hogwarts is described as an even further triumph: "And you should have seen their faces when I got in here."

When I got in here. As opposed to...where? If all magical children in Britain go to Hogwarts as a matter of due course, then this statement just doesn't make any sense to me. It only makes sense to me if there are other, less prestigious schools—schools for the magical, but the not-particularly-magically-gifted, perhaps—to which Neville could have been (and clearly expected to be) relegated.


Posted January 21, 2002 at 6:55 pm
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RE: Some more thoughts about Lily and the Marauders

Catlady wrote:

She (Lily) is not exactly the fifth member of the gang because she doesn't transform into an animal, so I imagine that there are a LOT of nighttime escapades that she doesn't join, not just at Full Moon.

Lily doesn't seem to have been a member of the gang at all, IMO. She wasn't in on the animagus research, she wasn't one of the creators of the Map, and when Harry overhears McGonagall, Flitwick and Hagrid reminiscing about what trouble-makers Sirius and James were in their school days, Lily is not once mentioned.

Neither is Lupin, true, but given that James and Lily later wed, it would seem likely that if she had been a member of the gang, someone would have brought her up in the conversation. It would have been "that Sirius Black, always making mischief with James and Lily," rather than "that Sirius Black, who was always making trouble with James." Once people become coupled in the public eye, as when they marry, people do have this weird tendency to start coupling them retroactively as well, even when they have to bend the historical facts a bit out of shape to do it.

My guess is that Lily wasn't a member of James' clique not because she was excluded, and not because she was too mature or too girly to be interested in playing pranks, and certainly not because the other guys thought she was a "Yoko," but rather, because she and James just weren't all that close until quite late in their Hogwarts careers.

After all, there's no real reason to believe that they were an item, or even particularly close friends, back when they were fifteen or sixteen, is there? Perhaps they only really got to know each other in their final year, when they had to work together as Head Girl and Head Boy. The majority of their courtship could have been conducted in the years directly following their leaving school, in which case the "Yoko Factor" would be greatly mitigated.

I like to think that MWPP had already named their group the Marauders before Lily got involved, but she became so helpful with their plots and so trusted with all their secrets that they bought her a (too-tight) t-shirt with the slogan MARAUDER MASCOT. (I imagine the future Mrs. Lestrange having a similar role as only girl in Snape's little group of Slytherins.

I like to think that if anyone ever handed Lily a too-tight MARAUDER MASCOT t-shirt, she would have rammed it down their throat, but that's just me.

And if anyone ever dared to hand the future Mrs. Lestrange such an item, I suspect that she would have hexed them straight into the hospital wing...and then forced Avery to wear the t-shirt.


Posted January 22, 2002 at 12:13 am
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RE: Snape, the DEs and the Longbottoms

Rebecca Allen wrote:

Welcome to the list!

Thanks! It's good to be here.

You've presented some interesting arguments, and seeing as some people support you in this, I feel I can get away with making some arguments in the opposite direction.

But of course. That's the name of the game, isn't it? Fire away.

[I asked: do we have difficulty imagining even a younger and less bitter Snape as a social creature?]

Well, yes. If he were really gregarious he'd probably have recovered a little by the end of several years and made new friends. I don't think it's irrational to assume that his moody, contemptuous personality hasn't been with him since he was really young.

Neither do I. But as it happens, I do think that Snape was probably moody and snappish and temperamental and prickly and unpleasant from a very early age. Less bitter, perhaps, but still hardly an easy personality. After all, what other sort of person arrives at school at the tender age of eleven with an unwholesome fascination for the Dark Arts and a wicked repertoire of curses under his belt?

But he can't have been all that much of a loner. Sirius says that Snape "was part of a gang of Slytherins who nearly all turned out to be Death Eaters." You don't get identified as "part of a gang" unless you hang out with the gang's other members on a fairly regular basis.

(BTW, that "nearly all" is interesting, isn't it? Not all of them, but "nearly" all of them. Who, one wonders, were the abstainers? And how do they feel about all of this?)

If he'd been having so much fun with his friends he might not have had such a (solitary) obsession with the Marauders.

True. And really, while being the guy in your circle who knows all of the really scary curses may be intensely gratifying, in a creepy Slytherinesque sort of way, it is unlikely to have been very much fun.

But then, I was never trying to argue that the other members of Snape's gang provided him with a warm and loving environment that fulfilled of all of his emotional needs. I think it quite clear that they did not do that. He'd be a very different person if they had, and I daresay he wouldn't have been so creepily obsessive about the Marauders either.

I just see no reason to believe that Snape hated or loathed or despised his classmates, or that he never enjoyed their company, or that there was never any bond of affection or loyalty or respect between them.

We're talking about people who hung out, attended classes, ate meals, and slept in the same room together for seven years, from the age of eleven to the age of seventeen, in a school environment which actively encourages students to think of their housemates as their "family." Even if their relationship was deeply ambivalent—and it probably was—there's still got to be a strong bond there.

[I asked why people seem to find it impossible to imagine the future Death Eaters ever having formed friendships]

Maybe because JKR has yet to portray a sympathetic Slytherin other than Snape....Let's face it—JKR's Slytherin is the House of Bad Guys. Snape is the only exception so far.

It's very hard for me to imagine a Wizarding Britain in which a full quarter of the population is composed of murderous sadists with little or no redeeming qualities. Let's face it—if the Slytherins really are all like that, then the entire society is doomed, no matter what Our Heroes might or might not accomplish.

Killing and torturing is hard to relate to.

I'll go you one further and say flat-out that I consider killing and torturing people to be evil. My, how morally daring of me!

But you know, in the real world, people who kill and torture others do generally have friends, and loved ones, and people they care very deeply about. Life is complicated that way.

We hear a great deal about Rowling's statement of intent to show how genuinely bad evil is in these books, and I laud that sentiment. But evil is also complicated, and there are times when I find myself wishing that Rowling would run a little further with that particular ball.

And they betray their friends too.

Well, some of them do. But by no means all of them. Avery and Malfoy both managed to evade justice by claiming to have been under the Imperius Curse, yet as far as we know, neither of them ever named names. Nott, Goyle, Crabbe and MacNair would all seem to have managed to make it through their trials all the way to acquittal ("You are merely repeating the names of those who were acquitted of being Death Eaters thirteen years ago!") without succumbing to the temptation to cut a deal with the prosecutors by squealing out their comrades. The Lestranges certainly didn't tell any tales, and neither did poor little Barty Crouch (although perhaps he just didn't know enough about the organization to do so).

From the way that Sirius talks about the other prisoners crying out in their sleep about Karkaroff's betrayal, and from Moody's particular contempt for Karkaroff in the Pensieve scene, I got the impression that Karkaroff's plea bargain was unusually dastardly, even by Death Eater standards.

And Harry's generation of Slytherin kids seem loyal enough to each other, don't they? Pansy exhibits genuine concern for Draco's well-being when he is attacked by the Hippogriff, and Crabbe rushes right over to pick up ferret-Draco during the Bouncing Ferret Incident, in spite of the fact that the entire situation must have been pretty terrifying—Moody is scary, and his use of transfiguration as a punishment marks him as a loose cannon. For that matter, when Draco makes his nasty "Mudblood" comment on the Quiddich pitch in CoS, Marcus Flint shields him with his own body—and continues to stand in the path of fire even after wands have been drawn. They're not nice kids, no. But they do seem to have a strong sense of in-group loyalty.

See, if we are to imagine Snape really liking these people, we have to have some reason to imagine them as likable.

Well, the issue here isn't really what we find likable. It's what Snape finds likable, which may not be at all the same thing.

But leaving that aside for the moment, I guess I just don't have a problem imagining this. People who do dreadful things usually do have friends and associates and colleagues who consider them perfectly likable, worthy of affection and respect. People are more than the sum of their rap sheets.

Also, as Marina pointed out today, they probably all joined when they were in their teens, so none of them might have known exactly what they were doing.

They were very young, yes. Depressingly so. And I strongly suspect that none of them really understood completely what they were getting themselves into. Not at first, at any rate.

I wrote:

Perhaps in order to redeem Snape to ourselves we must first place him in an emotional context from which he was not, in fact, betraying his friends when he defected to Dumbledore's camp?

Rebecca replied:

As a big fan of Snape, I'd say this isn't true. We like him angsty.

Heh. Indeed. The more he suffers, the more we like him. It's sick, really.

Betraying old friends is ugly; no one should have to do it. I just don't see why we should imagine why they were such lovable types and that he misses them so much.

Good lord, no! Did I give the impression that I was imagining them as lovable types? That wasn't at all my intent. "Lovable" and "not altogether devoid of redeeming qualities, capable of forming normal human relationships" are not at all the same thing!

Nor did I mean to imply that I think that he misses them, per se. I hardly imagine that he has fond memories of his schooldays, or that he looks longingly back on those fine old nights spent practicing Cruciatus on the lab rabbits up in the Slytherin dormitories after lights-out (or whatever other unsavory nastiness he and his cronies used to get up to), or that he's just dying to take Avery out to lunch so that they can reminisce about old times, or anything like that.

I do think that he feels wretched about them getting themselves killed and imprisoned, and that he would have far rather they had all escaped unharmed, promptly abandoned their wicked ways, and then disappeared from his life altogether. (As, indeed, Avery would seem to have been quite obliging in doing. But that's not really at all the same thing.

[the "Severus Snape is Peter Pettigrew through the looking glass" comment rises ire from Rebecca]

Whether or not one likes Snape, I think this last statement is completely unsupported by the text.

I adore Snape, and I don't think that it is at all unsupported by the text. Just look at how Snape reacts to Sirius, when he thinks that Sirius, rather than Peter, is the traitor.

For that matter, look at how he reacts to Quirrel in PS, when he comes to suspect Quirrel of infidelity to Dumbledore. Or how he reacts when Crouch/Moody implies that Dumbledore doesn't really trust him. Issues of trust and betrayal are serious hot buttons for Snape. He's exceptionally sensitive there; they're sore spots.

In order for them to be reflections of each other you have to overlook some barn-door sized issues like, oh say, good vs. evil, cowardice vs. courage, etc. The mirror reverses that which it reflects. In order for Snape and Pettigrew to be reflections of each other, what they need to do is to be the same in certain respects, while "reversing the image" in others. Which I think that they do quite nicely, myself.

I don't really think that you're in disagreement with me here.


Posted January 22, 2002 at 4:12 am
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RE: Snape and the Longbottoms

Eric Oppen wrote:

One thing to keep in mind about Snape's attitude toward the senior Longbottoms is that during the latter stages of the First Voldemort War, the Aurors were about as ruthless and hair-triggered as the DEs themselves. We don't know how Mr. Longbottom, or both Longbottoms if they were both Aurors, approached their duties...were they like Mad-Eye Moody, and at least willing to try not to kill, or were they more like Judge Dredd on acid?

Heh. Oh, boy, do I like you! My original de-lurk actually had some very harsh things to say about Aurors, but I was too cowardly to leave them in. You're very brave.

But I can't quite bring myself to believe that Longbottom was Judge Dredd on acid. Dumbledore gives too great an impression of having approved of the man, and while my readings of the books may often be a tad subversive, I just can't quite help myself. I do trust Dumbledore.

No, I'm sure that Frank Longbottom was not all that bad, as Aurors go. (I don't think that his wife was an Auror, BTW. Had she been one, then Crouch's summary of his son's crimes in the Pensieve scene would surely have included something about the prisoners having captured two Aurors, rather than an Auror and "his wife.") I feel reasonably confident that Longbottom was a "Good Auror."

For whatever that's worth.

I mean, let's take a look at our exemplar of "Good Auror" for a moment, shall we? Alastor Moody. Dumbledore's friend. The man Sirius claims was one of the better ones. Tried to avoid killing. All of that. What do we know about him?

Well, he doesn't believe in plea bargains, which is certainly understandable--most cops don't. But he also seems to consider it morally acceptable to break faith with captive prisoners ("Let's hear his information, I say, and throw him straight back to the dementors.") He is not adverse to dehumanizing his enemies; he feels free to sneer at them; in the course of a single page, he refers to Karkaroff as both "filth" and "scum." He is skeptical of Dumbledore's judgement of Snape; he does not believe in second chances. He tries not to kill, but he doesn't seem unduly bothered by it when he does so. And he approves of the use of the dementors as prison guards. ("For scum like this...")

Also, word of Crouch/Moody's decision to torture a student surely must have made its way to Dumbledore's ears at some point, and it didn't tip him off. I think it safe to assume that such an action would have been in character for the real Moody as well.

And this is one of the GOOD Aurors.

I know that many people on this board really really like Moody, and that I'm probably making myself very unpopular by saying this, but I simply must. I don't like Moody. I really don't care for him at all. He strikes me as the sort of person who would happily strip away all of my civil liberties, given half the chance, and I consider such men a serious threat to civilized society.

::deep breath::

There. I've said it. I feel better now.

[Eric offers a hypothetical scenario which would explain why Snape might have a bone to pick with the Longbottoms]

A while back, JudySerenity wrote that the fates of Snape's old friends might have given him a "powerful reason to hate Aurors." To which I was sorely tempted to reply: does anyone really need a personal reason to hate Aurors?

Sirius—no bleeding-heart himself—says that many of the Aurors descended to the level of the Death Eaters. We've heard about the licence to kill; we've heard about the licence to use the Unforgivables. God only knows how many innocent people were interrogated under Cruciatus in those dark days before Voldemort's defeat. Or, for that matter, how many other "special powers" Crouch invested in his jackbooted, excuse me, I mean Protectors of the People, before he was done. Search and seizure, anyone? Surveillance without warrant? Indefinite detention without arrest?

(Am I treading too closely on current political events here?)

Hey, or how about Profiling? Returning briefly to the issue of the members of Snape's little clique who did not become Death Eaters, does anyone but me worry about what might have happened to them during those years?

If we want to assume that Snape doesn't like Aurors, I really don't think we have to wander too far into the realms of the personal. There are plenty of reasons why even perfectly law-abiding witches and wizards with no personal baggage might dislike them as a general class.


Posted January 22, 2002 at 4:48 pm
Topics: ,
Plain text version


RE: Sins of Hagrid - Subversive bigotry

cindysphynx wrote:

Hagrid gave Dudley (an innocent child) a pig's tail because he was angry at Vernon.

Jo replied:

Dudley an innocent child? He's a horrid, mean, bullying brat.

Yes, but Hagrid had no real way of knowing that at the time, now, did he? He may have inferred it from the overall unpleasantness of the family, but that's every bit as bad as people judging Hagrid himself on the basis of his giant parentage.

I just went and re-read the scene in question, and it seemed quite clear to me. Hagrid was angry with Vernon, and he chose to take it out on the man's eleven-year-old son.

Not nice. Not nice at all. I do think that he acted impulsively, without any particular degree of malice aforethought, but it was still a rotten thing to do, and it doesn't win him any sympathy points from me. Furthermore, I think that it revealed a rather disturbing lack of respect and consideration for Muggles as a general class.

Which brings me to my own problem with Hagrid. My problem with Hagrid isn't that he's a rotten teacher (although I think that he is), nor that he recklessly endangers his students' safety (although he does), nor that he tipples (which he does, but I don't have a problem with that), nor even that he lacks discretion (hey, nobody's perfect).

No, my problem with Hagrid is that his thoughtlessness all too often leads him perilously close to bigotry.

I don't think that he's a bigot in any deep, philosophical sense, no. Far to the contrary, he is one of the most consistent and vocal antagonists to the entire "pure-blood" aesthetic throughout the books.


He's also a bigot himself, and a very particular type of bigot: the thoughtless man whose fondness for sweeping generalizations and snap judgments leads him to make statements that are not only deeply prejudiced, but also frequently Just Plain Not True.

"Not a single witch or wizard who went bad who wasn't in Slytherin," for example. Or that bit about how you can't trust foreigners. Or his comment about the Malfoys having "bad blood"—which really is rich, you know, given the big-boned skeletons hiding in Hagrid's own family closet. Or, for that matter, his assurance to Harry that he'll surely grow up to be a great wizard, because "with a mum an' dad like yours, what else would yeh be?"

Hagrid is not a believer in the primacy of blood. He really, really isn't. But when he isn't thinking too hard, he just kind of...slips back into that mode of thinking, and starts going on about "bad blood" and Harry's rights of magical inheritance and so forth. Just as he is not a muggle-hater, and yet, and yet, and yet...

"I'd like to see a great Muggle like you stop him."

"'s your bad luck you grew up in a family o' the biggest Muggles I ever laid eyes on."

"Look at what she had for a sister!"

And so forth.

I like to think that we're supposed to notice this unsavory tendency of Hagrid's, that this is Rowling's way of showing the subversive power of institutionalized bigotry. Hagrid's a product of his culture, and his culture is not an egalitarian one. He does believe in egalitarianism, very strongly. But when he isn't watching himself, the ugly underside of his own culture slips through the cracks, and he betrays himself.

—Elkins, who is kind of fond of Hagrid, but sometimes wants to smack him upside the head

Posted January 22, 2002 at 10:16 pm
Plain text version


RE: Moody -"Types" - Where Are the Bleeding Hearts?

A bit of clarification, and some hopes of a cool-down.

I worry that we're veering dangerously close to the border of off-topic-land here, but if possible, I would like to try to keep this discussion within the bounds of this board. I think that there are some interesting and important on-topic issues lurking somewhere just beneath the surface here, and it might be nice if we could try to raise them up a bit, while turning the heat 'way, 'way down.

First, though, some apologies.

Bobby wrote:

I could not disagree more with your post... not necessarily the content, but the underlying tone inherent in it.

Yes. It's obvious that my tone really rankled, and I apologize for causing offense. I didn't mean to come across as sneering or contemptuous towards law enforcement, but I'm getting the distinct impression that I did, and that this was what angered you. Again, apologies.

You wrote:

What annoys me is that people who champion civil liberties seem to without fail give the benefit of the doubt to those that least deserve it, may that be Death Eaters, terrorists, what have you.

Okay. You are here making quite a few assumptions about my political biases and inclinations. In short, you've just presented an encapsulated summary of the negative stereotype of the "Bleeding-Heart Liberal." There is a certain justice to this, admittedly, as I myself pretty well did exsctly the same thing to Moody when I wrote:

He strikes me as the sort of person who would happily strip away all of my civil liberties, given half the chance, and I consider such men a serious threat to civilized society.

That was an equally harsh encapsulated summary of the negative stereotype of the "Law-and-Order Fascist," wasn't it.

Yes. I suppose that it was.

So, okay. Tit-for-tat, and turnabout is fair play, and all of that. I would like to point out, however, that while Moody is a fictional construct, whose tendencies and political inclinations are within the fair scope of discussion here, you and I are real people whose respective philosophies, while they cannot help but inform our views, really aren't.

But there's an interesting issue here that might bear some examining. On another thread, one about Hagrid, Mahoney made a few comments about her feelings for characters based not so much on whether they're Good or Bad people, but rather on whether they're "Types" that she happens to like in real life.

This is germane because—given that you admit that you pretty much agree with the content of my post, even down to its political elements—what I suspect you must have read that angered you so much was: "Moody's a law-and-order type, and I just don't like people like that, so I don't like Moody."

And so (being perhaps a law-and-order type yourself?), you quite reasonably took personal offense at this and retaliated with: "Oh yeah? Well, I don't like you bleeding-heart jerk-offs either. So there!"

Am I off-base here? (Suddenly, I feel that I can finally understand why those SHIPping types can get so heated in their debates. I never really understood that before!)

Anyway, again, sorry about that. I didn't mean to attack anyone personally, not even through analogy-by-stereotype. And for what it's worth, I don't dislike you.

But getting back to the Potterverse, where are the bleeding heart liberals in canon? Have we actually seen any at all?

Fudge is certainly a head-in-the-sand appeaser—but he also allows his dementors to perform summary executions on accused criminals, which absolutely disqualifies him for the Bleeding Heart Club.

Then we have the Pensieve mob who let off Ludo Bagman—but their behavior is motivated more by a starry-eyed worship of sports heroes than by any bleeding-heart tendencies; we later see that they are more than capable of turning hard-line, even when faced with a screaming pleading teenager in the dock.

Now, Lupin would initially seem to fit the profile well enough (he's so sensitive, don't you know, so...well, so pale and interesting) —but when push comes to shove in the Shrieking Shack, he is revealed to be no bleeding-heart. And the same goes for Hermione, who otherwise would seem to be the primary candidate.

Really, so far in the series, Dumbledore seems to me to be the closest thing we've got to the stereotypical bleeding-heart liberal—and he's still not all that close. Dumbledore may not like the dementors, and he may approve of giving people second chances, but he's hardly a softie.

So where are the Bleeding Hearts of the wizarding world? If they exist (and surely they do), then Rowling has not yet chosen to depict them within the books.

But back to your objections to my feelings about Aurors...

The people that are out there, fighting FOR YOUR SAFETY while you lie comfortably in your bed, however, are subject to incredible scrutiny and mistrust.

I do not think it unreasonable to subject people who have been granted special license to interrogate (even under torture, if they so choose)and to kill to a higher-than-ordinary degree of scrutiny. Do you? As you yourself say:

People who champion civil liberties DO serve a purpose because if a watchful eye were not kept on law enforcement, a "1984"-like world would soon develop, which is something that obviously no one wants.

And indeed, if Sirius is to be believed, wizarding society was very much in danger of becoming that sort of world in the last years of the war. Sirius goes so far as to say that some of the Aurors descended to the level of the Death Eaters, which I think we can both agree is pretty dire.

And that's where the "mistrust" comes in. If I seem to mistrust Aurors, that is because there has been significant indication that, at least at one point in history, they behaved in a highly untrustworthy fashion.

You then go on to say:

What bugs me to no end is that while you are watching law enforcement, you refuse to give them the same benefit of the doubt that you do those who readily and willingly break the law to harm the public.

I am going to continue to assume that we're talking about Aurors and the Potterverse here, although I kind of get the impression that we're not. ;)

I think that if you look back over my posts on this topic, you will find that I have, in fact, been more than willing to give the Aurors the benefit of the doubt. When Eric suggested that Frank Longbottom might have been "Judge Dredd on acid," for example, I disagreed with him, insisting that I refused to believe that Longbottom was a bad Auror. On the contrary, I defended the notion that he was a responsible Auror who did not abuse his power. Nor have I ever expressed any doubts that Moody really did try to avoid killing whenever he could, even though the only evidence we have for this is Sirius' claim. I don't think that I've at all withheld the benefit of the doubt from the Aurors.

Nor can I think of anywhere where I have granted extraordinary benefit of the doubt to the Death Eaters. I've never tried to argue, for example, that Lucius Malfoy really was under the Imperius Curse (of course he wasn't!), or that maybe the Lestranges were framed, or that perhaps Voldemort is just this nice guy who had a bad childhood and has simply been terribly misunderstood. I've not made any of those arguments, nor would I want to. So where do you see me granting more benefit of the doubt to the law-breakers than to the law-enforcers?

Thank God the magical world had someone like Moody to catch Death Eaters, because if the Aurors ascribed to your philosophy, Voldemort would have taken over even faster than he did.

Which of my philosophies do you mean, precisely? The political philosophy, which holds that Aurors who descend to the level of Death Eaters are Seriously Bad News? Or the personal philosophy, which states: "I neither like nor trust the sort of men who torture students, refer to their enemies as 'scum' and 'filth,' show no signs of remorse over killing, approve of the use of dementors as prison guards, and advocate breaking faith with captives?"

Because honestly, I can't see how either of those philosophies would prevent an Auror from the competent commission of his duties.


[Mod note -- Elkins has done a great job relating this rather political discussion to the Wizarding World. Please remember that this list is for canon discussion (i.e. the books), and reference your posts appropriately, using canon as evidence. If you find yourself doing otherswise, please contact the Mods for advice at If this thread starts getting any more flamey than it is, the Mods will have to think about taking action. Thanks,
—John, for the HPFGU Moderator Team.]


RE: Moody-"Types"-Where Are the Bleeding Hearts?

Hi, Bobby. I'm glad we're still on speaking terms.

You wrote:

1) I knew that I was making assumptions and stereotypes about your political beliefs while I was writing the post and really regretted doing so because that was what had annoyed me about your post (lumping law-enforcement, etc under the "Law-and-Order Fascist"... I do very much appreciate that you recognized the stereotype).

Well, my characterization of Moody there was bigoted and offensive, and your retaliation in kind did prove a highly effective means of leading me to recognize that fact. The rebuke was warranted, and while the tone may have been a bit flamey for the prevailing standards of this particular forum, it did have its desired effect.

I'm accustomed to a much harsher mode of debate than that found here, actually, and can take a lot without flinching. So I wouldn't feel too regretful, if I were you (although for the sake of the Mods, we should definitely try to keep it genteel in the future, and not scare too many horses).

In short: no harm, no foul.

On to the topics...

On the lack of depiction of "bleeding-hearts" in canon, Bobby wrote:

I agree that there are no "bleeding-heart liberal" stereotypes in Potterlore and there is a reason for it....because the world of Voldemort is basically a war-time era, JKR is not really able to introduce a believable "bleeding-heart" liberal stereotype because that viewpoint simply does not wash in a time of war.

I disagree. Regardless of what one may think of the philosophical or political merit of continuing to maintain a hard-line "bleeding-heart" stance in a time of war (and we should absolutely not start debating that issue here!), the fact remains that there are always a good number of people who do. Their numbers tend to drop dramatically during war-time, admittedly, but they are always still in evidence, often quite noticeably so.

Also, as Barb points out, Pensieve flashbacks aside, the story is no longer really taking place during war-time. (Well...okay, maybe from here on in it will be, but it has not been up to this point in the series.) It's taking place twelve or thirteen years after the last of the hostilities. Ample time for for the bleeding-hearts to crawl out from the woodwork, brush themselves off, and get cracking on making the world unsafe for humanity. ;)

Although I suppose that Rowling has given us Fudge-as-appeaser, who I think serves many of the same functions, although wholly in a negative sense. I just find the absence of bleeding-heart types a curious ommission from the world-as-presented, and one that leaves me with a decidedly (while admittedlly utterly personal and highly subjective) creepy feeling about the wizarding world as a whole.

Barb wrote:

I disagree that there are no "bleeding-heart liberal" stereotypes in the books. Hermione is very much playing this role when she conceives S.P.E.W.

I agree that Hermione generally fulfills this function. In my original message, however, I disqualified her from membership in the Bleeding Heart Club on the basis of her refusal to attempt to intervene on Pettigrew's behalf in the Shrieking Shack scene of PoA. She is sufficiently tender-hearted (or sufficiently squeamish, depending on how you wish to interpret such matters) to turn away so that she need not witness his death, but she does not speak up on his behalf, and she recoils from him when he appeals to her personally for intercession.

Nor is this mere timidity: before Hermione becomes convinced of Pettigrew's guilt, she is quite vocal in raising her objections to Sirius and Remus' accusations, and she even goes out of her way to address the (at that point in the series, terribly intimidating) Sirius Black by name in order to force his engagement in the debate (one of my all-time favorite Hermione moments, BTW). Once convinced of Pettigrew's guilt, however, she abruptly abandons her advocacy.

Of course, I do realize that this is largely a matter of literary necessity. In order for the scene to work, both aesthetically and thematically, Harry absolutely must stand as Pettigrew's last and only hope of clemency.

But all the same, I always find myself feeling weirdly disappointed in Hermione there. I like to think that she would have spoken up in favor of mercy, if only the dictates of thematic necessity had not prevented her from doing so.

Barb continues:

She [Hermione] is also, IMO shown to be very much out of step with wizarding society, however. Even the "Muggle-loving" Weasleys seem to be somewhat on the conservative side about many things. One wonders whether very many of the Muggle-born witches and wizards reflect Muggle attitudes of this sort, and whether this is another source of friction between 'pureblood' magical folk and these relative 'newcomers.'

I know that I've certainly been making this assumption about the wizarding world and its political frictions. The wizarding world as a whole is deeply concerned with keeping itself isolated from Muggles; the pureblood extremists' chosen idiom focuses on issues of purity and corruption. It's not too hard to imagine how these two concepts could combine and become intertwined with one another, thus leading even decent folk into some disturbingly shady territory when they start contemplating the strange and upsetting Muggle attitudes that "those people" have started bringing in.

As for the Weasleys seeming fairly conservative, though, I would like to point out that although Arthur Weasley is indeed a "Muggle-lover," he is also a government official, and so not all that likely to hold views ranging too far outside of the bounds of conservative wizarding culture. He is a liberal (and his career advancement has been held back because of it), but he is still within the mainstream. I suspect that you might find far more radical attitudes in those pureblood wizards who work in, say, the music industry, or in retail. (How might the Weird Sisters' booking agents, assuming that they are purebloods, feel about House Elf Liberation? Or the proprietor of one of Diagon Alley's smaller bookshops?)

Barb wrote:

Also, while it is easier to "sell" conservative attitudes during times of war, the wizarding world has been free of Voldemort for going on fourteen years. What excuse is there for continued entrenchment and conservatism? (Other than force of habit?)

I know that I myself said much the same thing above, but I would point out that fourteen years is not really all that long a time when it comes to recovering from the degree of cultural trauma that Voldemort's reign of terror would seem to have inflicted. They can't even say his name, for heaven's sake! The culture is clearly still deeply scarred, and I don't think that's unreasonable: fourteen years is nothing, really. It's not even a full generation. It's a blink of the eye.

I still think there would be bleeding-hearts, though.

RE: Crouch and Moody, Bobby wrote:

Crouch is clearly set as a "bad" example of power-hungry law enforcement, while Moody is set up as a "good" example.... By creating these two characters, she does a fantastic job of addressing a touchy issue. On one hand, with Crouch, she acknowledges the danger of a militarized state in the name of peace. However, with Moody she acknowledges that to fight evil, sometimes you have to get a little dirty yourself.

I can accept this reading, although it is not my own. I didn't perceive Crouch and Moody as juxtaposed in quite the way you describe, and although I think that you make a very good case for it, it doesn't quite work for me. Crouch struck me as far more strictly juxtaposed against Fudge in GoF, while Moody seemed to me to be held up more against Sirius' unnamed "Bad Aurors" than against Crouch himself. But it's an interesting reading, and certainly food for thought; and I absolutely agree with you that both characters serve to force the reader to think about the ends-means difficulties of times of war.

I would argue, however, that both Crouch and Moody are deliberately ambiguous characters—I don't perceive Crouch to be painted nearly as black as you imply, nor Moody nearly so white—and that both of them speak to the ethical perils and temptations and slippery slopes of the dilemma of ends and means.

On which subject, a quick quibble...

Moody's tactics may be questionable, but his motives are clear and just, and they are SUCCESSFUL. This is not a case of the ends justifying the means, only one of practicality.

But that's exactly what a case of "ends justifying the means" is!

To "use questionable tactics in the service of just motives" is a perfect example of "using the ends to justify the means." In fact, it is one of the classic examples. How do you see a difference between this and "mere practicality?"

However. This is really a moot point, as far as I'm concerned, as we have no evidence at all to suggest that Moody has ever once used questionable tactics, or bent the rules of engagement, or failed to do things "by the book." Maybe he has, maybe he hasn't. On this subject, canon is silent. Canon does, however, suggest that his tactics are not all that questionable—or, at least, that he was not as prone to using questionable tactics as a number of his colleagues were.

But what makes Moody an ambiguous character to my mind really has nothing to do with any suspicions of malfeasance or questionable tactics (no matter how justified). It has everything to do with the state of his psyche, and with how I suspect that this state might lead him to behave toward others.

It is quite clear, I think, that Moody is a scarred individual, internally as well as physically. Sirius as good as says so, when he talks about Moody's paranoia being unsurprising "given what he's seen," and even the many characters who are personally fond of him readily acknowledge that his experiences have left him erratic and prone to violence. And the one glimpse we get of the "real Moody" in the Pensieve scene also shows us that he has been calloused—or, if you prefer, "hardened." All of the things I've cited elsewhere in defense of my personal problems with the character—his sneering at fallen enemies, his lack of any evident remorse over killing, his blase attitude toward the dementors—they all attest to this fact. Moody is paranoid, he is prone to violence, and he is callous.

Is that his fault? No, of course not. Is it reasonable for someone with his life experiences to have become that way over time? Yes, of course it is. Did he get that way in the service of admirable and heroic goals? Yes, he did.

Does any of that make me feel any more comfortable with him, or mitigate my sense that this fellow is not someone I altogether trust?

No. It does not.

Moody's an ambiguous character, IMO, not because of anything he has ever done, necessarily, but because of who he has become—and because of what that might mean in terms of his future behavior. To put it unkindly, he is damaged. That's not his fault at all: he sustained that damage most honorably indeed. But the damage is still there, and it strikes me as the particular kind of emotional damage which is more than likely to manifest itself in ways that are both dangerous and harmful.

Even paranoids have enemies, true, and if you're going to be hunting down Dark Wizards for a living, you had better develop some fairly thick callouses, or you will very quickly be dead. But that doesn't mean that paranoia and callousness are good for people. They're not. They don't make people behave well. All too often, they combine to make people behave very badly indeed.

So when I wrote the paragraph that offended you so badly, when I wrote that I considered Moody "the sort of person who would happily strip away all of my civil liberties, given half the chance," this may have been harsh, and it may have been unjust; it may have been a conclusion reached on the basis of rather scanty evidence—we have, after all, seen precious little of Moody himself so far in canon. And it may not have given him very much in the way of benefit of the doubt.

But it was an assumption based on observations of his behavior in the one scene in which he appears, and on what may be deduced about him from other characters' statements about him, and I don't think that it was an especially irrational one. Everything that we have seen and heard about this character so far has to my mind combined to paint a rather disturbing picture: a picture of a man who holds what I consider to be some highly dubious and potentially harmful character traits. If Moody shows up in the fifth book and reveals himself to be completely different than the sketchy portrait I've got of him so far, then all to the good. But in the meantime, I draw my conclusions based on what we've been offered.

However, Moody has spent his life fighting the bad guys for all the right reasons. He has lost his leg, his eye, and a large chunk of his nose. He never asks for thanks, or power, or riches. And what does he have to show for it? A writer for the Daily Prophet, who has never actually fought anyone from the Dark Side, believes Moody to be a threat to civilized society. Is that fair?

No, of course it isn't fair, if you mean "fair" in the sense of "people getting their just reward." But that doesn't mean that it is not true. Truth is often horribly unfair that way.

::sigh:: Look. I certainly hope that you're right about Moody, that emotionally scarred and troubled though he may be, he would nonetheless never allow his paranoia, or his callousness, or his ruthlessness, or his propensity for violence to lead him into any unethical behavior, or to cause him to act with a disregard for the rights of others. I really do. But if we're going to talk about our willingness to look unflinchingly at the nature of evil, then I think we must acknowledge that people who share Moody's character traits often do exhibit just such a disregard, and all too often in ways that end up harming innocent people.

Finally, I'd like to draw (once again!) a distinction between a personal liking for a character as a person, and approval of a character on moral, ethical, or political grounds. There is a big difference between considering someone a good person and actually liking him. There is an even bigger difference between approving of someone's actions and considering him a person you might want to invite to dinner.

From what we have seen of Moody so far, I do not like him as a person. His behavior in the Pensieve scene raises my hackles. Even understanding that he must be particularly frustrated by the situation—I'm sure that I would feel pretty cranky as well, if I'd spent six months of my life risking life and limb to apprehend a criminal, only to have him walk free after a plea bargain—I still don't care for his attitude. He strikes me as callous and unpleasant, and as someone whose company I would personally not enjoy at all. I don't like hearing people say things like "throw him back to the dementors," and it genuinely offends me when I hear anyone referred to as "filth" or as "scum." These are things that just really do bother me.

But this is a personal reaction, a matter of "liking," and while it obviously has philosophical underpinnings, at the end of the day it is really less a matter of philosophy than of plain old compatibility.

So when I write, say, that I've got a problem with people who refer to their enemies as "filth" and "scum," and then Bobby replies:

Believe it or not, Karkaroff is "scum" and "filth".

Well, all I can really manage by way of reply is to laugh uneasily and say: "Well...yes. I suppose that he is, rather. But that's still no reason to SAY so, is it?"

No, but seriously. Karkaroff is, IMO, quite possibly Rowling's least sympathetic character to date. Just about the only nice thing I can think to say about him is that he did, at least, seem to suffer from a brief moment of inner turmoil right before he fingered Snape to the ministry. That's about it, really.

But, you know, I still didn't like the way Moody was talking about him. It really rubbed me the wrong way.

My basic disagreement was that 1) you disliked Moody even though he gave his life to protecting the populace with no other designs for power, riches, etc...

Yes, but am I really obligated to like him because of that? I mean, to respect him? Okay. To admire him? Perhaps. To feel grateful to him? Certainly. But to like him?

I don't really see why I should be obligated to like him. Many people do heroic things without ever becoming in the least bit likeable.



RE: What Does It Mean To "Like" A Character - "Types" - Hagrid

Some thoughts here on the various ways in which it is possible to "like" characters: as characters (Do we enjoy reading about them? Do we enjoy the narrative function they fulfill?), or as people (Do we identify with them? Do we consider them to be "good people?" Do we think that we would enjoy their company in real life?)

Also, a bit of Hagrid, a bit of Moody, and a few words on what happens when an author seems to be speaking out in opposition to the reader's own deeply-held political or philosophical beliefs.


A while back, I wrote:

I like to think that we're supposed to notice this unsavory evidence of Hagrid's, that this is Rowling's way of showing the subversive power of insitutionalized bigotry.

Mahoney responded by expressing her distaste for trying to second-guess Authorial Intent, particularly hortatory Authorial Intent, or "message," and stated that she far prefers to read characters as characters, rather than as talking heads. She wrote:

I don't think that Hagrid was meant to be an example of institutionalized bigotry; rather I'm struck by how he reflects a certain type of colorful rural personality.

The thing is that I quite agree with Mahoney here: I, too, dislike "message" and would far prefer not to spend too much of my time or mental energy trying to second-guess authorial intent. The above was very badly phrased.

What I suppose that I was really trying to express there was something more along the lines of: "I really hope that when Hagrid says these awful things, he's only saying them because he is Hagrid—a sweet, well-meaning, but not always terribly thoughtful member of a far-from-utopian society—and not because he is actually serving as the author's mouthpiece."

That I find myself thinking such things at all, of course, reveals a certain lack of trust in the author on my part. But the fact is that I don't altogether trust Rowling—and from the discussions here, I gather that this is not all that unusual an ambivalence.

Which brings us to the question of how readers respond when an author whose work they enjoy suddenly seems to be attacking closely-held beliefs.

Eileen wrote (about the scene at the beginning of PoA in which the unpleasant Vernon Dursley goes on a rant about those darned bleeding-heart types who object to capital punishment):

I actually remember being quite shocked that the book would get so political there....I am opposed to capital punishment...However, it was the practice of putting such a statement in the mouth of the ridiculed and stereotyped character that made me uncomfortable with it. I could have taken stubborn Percy or obsessed Crouch Sr. saying something like that (and indeed, they say much more serious things), but Vernon Dursley? All my sense of fairness cries out!

LOL! You have an extraordinarily well-developed sense of fair play, Eileen. I'm sincerely impressed.

But one thing that we Americans (I'm assuming here—please don't hurt me if I'm wrong!) might want to keep in mind about that scene is that capital punishment has not been a legal penalty for murder in Great Britain for quite a number of years now. So while it is still a political issue of sorts (there are people in Britain who advocate the resumption of the death penalty), it's hardly the flaming-hot, red-button, "let's-not-go-there-if-we-want-to-avoid-a-screaming-argument" sort of topic that it can be here in the US.

Sirius Black cannot be legally executed for the crime of murder under British Muggle law, so Vernon ranting and raving about how he ought to be is more humorous, IMO, than it is blatantly political.

However, I see your point. It is awkward, to say the least, when a political hot topic intrudes without warning in a work of fiction, worse still if the author happens to disagree with you, and worse still if she chooses to express her disapproval by placing your beliefs in the mouth of a character who is not only generally portrayed as Wrong About Everything Under the Sun, but is also an object of mockery and disdain.

Rowling hasn't done that to me yet, but other authors certainly have, and there's no question about it: it can hurt, and it can anger. Unfortunately, it's also hard to avoid—and the further from the mainstream your deepest-held beliefs happen to be, the less avoidable it becomes. The best remedy that I'm aware of is simply to learn to swallow the indignation and read on. (Although throwing the book across the room can also prove gratifying, in its way.)

(Just develop thick skin. Right. Sage advice. And yet...and yet...and yet I can still remember with unpleasant vividness just how horribly angry and resentful I felt towards C.S. Lewis over this sort of thing when reading the Narnia books as a child. It's visceral, my memory of that anger. Physical. And that was nearly thirty years ago, for heaven's sake! It's weird, that. And surely not altogether healthy. Just a moment—must pop a sedative. There. Ah. Better.)


On the subject of Hagrid's flaws, Mahoney conceded that Hagrid does have a lot of them. In the end, though, her feelings about him seem pretty-well summarized by the statement:

I like Hagrid, gargantuan flaws and all.

While Cindy said:

He is clearly someone we are meant to love deeply. So why does JKR keep having Hagrid do these awful (IMO) things?

Hmmm. Well, personally, I find Hagrid both flawed and loveable, if also often irritating. But it's curious, isn't it? Why is it that Mahoney likes Hagrid (in spite of his flaws), while Cindy cannot bring herself to do so (in spite of the fact that she considers it clear that the reader is "meant" to like him)?

This interests me in part because so much of the discussion here seems to center on the use of canonical citation to evaluate the HP characters on moral grounds. Evidence is presented to support or condemn characters ethically, or philosophically, or even spiritually.

I strongly suspect, though, that more often than not what is really at issue is simple personal affection. We like some characters and dislike others in very much the same way, and for very much the same reasons, that we like or dislike real people; and as in real life, our reasons rarely have all that much to do with moral virtue.

People generally don't choose their friends based on a strict weighing of their moral flaws against their strengths of character. (Surely we all know virtuous people whom we just can't stand to be around?) Attachments are far more often, it seems to me, formed on the basis of things like sense of humour, and temperamental compatability, and shared interests, and even shared dislikes than they are on any strict accounting of moral virtues.

What worries me, I think, is that I suspect that all too often, we form our judgements about the characters based on these sorts of factors first, and only then go searching for evidence of their moral wrongdoings, or their hidden virtues. It's only human, I suppose: we readily forgive the people we like for precisely the same behavior that we roundly condemn in the people we loathe; my friend's Endearing Little Foible is my enemy's Horrible Great Sin.

For an example of this phenomenon, I might cite my own vehement condemnation of Moody for using nasty language to describe Karkaroff in the Pensieve scene of GoF, while noting my own utter lack of dismay over Sirius' use of similarly unkind and degrading language to refer to Pettigrew in PoA. And you know what? Even writing this, I find myself feeling this overwhelming urge to qualify ("Yes, but you see, Sirius has far more personal reason to call Pettigrew 'filth' than Moody does to refer to Karkaroff that way, and Sirius has suffered so badly, the poor dear, and...and...") All of which has some validity, IMO. But is the reason I want to say it really because it "has validity?" Or is it simply that I like Sirius, while I don't like Moody, and so Sirius gets leeway from me, while I'm willing to cut Moody not a single lousy break?

I honestly don't know. But I rather suspect that it's the latter.

For another recent example of this phenomenon, Cindy wrote about Hagrid:

Indeed, I'm unhappy with Hagrid's behavior in another important scene. Karkaroff spits at Dumbledore's feet, which is not nice, of course. Hagrid, who is bigger and stronger, responds with a fair amount of violence by slamming Karkaroff into a tree. The reader is apparently supposed to be impressed with Hagrid's loyalty to Dumbledore. Ok, I get it.

I still don't like this scene, though.

I found this very funny when I read it, largely because it appeared on the very same day that, elsewhere, Cindy had defended Moody (or, rather, Crouch/Moody) to me for his behavior during the Bouncing Ferret Incident—a scenario that seemed to me to share many of the same dynamics.

In both scenarios, the actor is responding with an excessive degree of force to a not-very-nice action taken by a not-terribly-sympathetic antagonist character. In both scenarios, the attacker is vastly more powerful than his victim. In both scenarios, by the time the act of violence takes place, the victim is really no longer in any way a threat to the person who is supposedly being "defended against." (Karkaroff, while rude, was never really any physical threat to Dumbledore in the first place; Draco, while angry, was certainly not going to continue to fire off curses at Harry once a teacher had arrived on the scene.) Although in neither scenario does the victim of the violence suffer any permanent damage, in both cases, the degree of violence used was sufficient to cause real injury (a subject which has been under some debate, I know, but I am firmly of the opinion, that being bounced onto a floor from ten feet in the air while in the form of a ferret would leave bruises at the very least; frankly, I'm surprised that Draco didn't break any bones). And in both scenarios, the reader is supposed to be impressed (at least, with Crouch/Moody, until we learn better) with the actor's loyalty to one of the protagonists—Dumbledore in Hagrid's case, Harry in the case of Crouch/Moody.

Now admittedly, the two situations are not identical. But they are sufficiently analagous that I feel compelled to ask: Cindy, do you think that your willingness to forgive Moody for Bouncing Ferret might not have quite a bit to do with the fact that you just plain like the guy, and so find yourself willing to cut him more slack than you're willing to cut for somebody you don't like, ie Hagrid?


Of course, sometimes when we say that we "like" a character, we just mean that we enjoy reading about them. Often the characters we like the most are the ones that we dislike the most: the characters we love to hate.

So Mahoney writes:

I love both characters [Hagrid and Snape] because they are interesting and surprising; I feel affectionate toward Hagrid despite his flaws, but I happily loathe Snape in spite of his positive qualities.

Mahoney likes both Hagrid and Snape as characters; she likes Hagrid as a person, while disliking Snape as a person.

Or so it would seem. But then she writes:

On the other hand, if I were to meet them both, in reality, I would have a difficult time accepting Hagrid's loveable qualities...while I would probably cut Snape a huge break...

Now this I find absolutely fascinating! Mahoney, do you think that you might be able to explain why you think that Hagrid and Snape's positions reverse themselves, once you imagine yourself meeting them in person?

I can think of a couple of reasons why this might be. There's the filter of Harry's POV, and the bias that this casts on all of the characters while we are reading the books. Is this what accounts for it? Or is it more a matter of the idiosyncracies of personal contact? ("I love Hagrid in print, but loud voices really just make me crazy, and he's so prone to bellowing...") Or is there some other factor at work, which I've not considered?

Or is it, perhaps, a matter of personal identification? It seems to me that this is yet another way in which someone might "like" a character: through personal identification and empathy, which is not at all the same thing as wanting to spend time with someone, or even particularly liking them in a personal sense. (I may be unusually self-loathing, but I often do not enjoy the company of people who remind me too strongly of myself—especially when they remind me of my less savory characteristics. But because I am at heart a masochist, I absolutely love reading about characters who remind me of my less savory characteristics.) So what role might empathy and identification play in what we mean when we say that we "like" a character?

Eileen wrote:

I sometimes feel personally attacked when somewhere goes after a character in which I see a lot of myself. Characters to whom I've built a strong personal connection....

She explains her reasons for identifying strongly with Ron, and then writes:

I feel like going into a rage when people say things like, "Ron's jealousy proves he's likely to betray Harry." I know it's not rational, but I feel it deep down, as if I was being accused of my schoodays jealousy leading to treason.

I can certainly understand that!

So, Eileen, do you like Ron? In the sense of thinking that you'd get on well with him in real life? In the sense of enjoying reading about him? In the sense of feeling personal affection for him? All or neither or only some of the above?


Finally, a brief note on teaching styles:

Eileen wrote:

I found that discussion illuminating as well, since I realized that I preferred "Snape" teachers to "Hagrid" teachers all through school, probably contributing to my feelings towards the two in fiction.

Mahoney concurs:

....(And actually, I would probably seek out Snape to challenge me as a teacher...)

To which I can only say: Wow. You guys really are brave.

I had a Snapesque mathematics professor once. Thirty minutes before every class, my stomach would begin to ache. Ten minutes before class, I would start to cry. And then after every class, I would have to go be violently sick. After Every Class. Not an experience I ever want to repeat.

Then, the most Hagrid-like teacher I ever had, I made cry once. So I suppose that it all came out even. In the end. More or less. With a big whomping heap of karmic "You Got Yours, You Rotten Kid" tacked on the end, that is. ::sigh::


Posted January 25, 2002 at 1:10 am
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RE: Snape, Sirius, the Dementors

Cindy wrote:

During one of my anti-Snape rants, someone (pigwidgeon?) kindly informed me that Snape had every opportunity to turn Black over to the dementors in PoA. Snape wakes up, finds Black, conjures a stretcher and takes Black . . .to the castle, not to the dementors. Snape could have taken Black to the dementors (or called the dementors). This, according to the pro-Snape crowd, means Snape is not pure evil incarnate.

Cindy then struggles to account for this decision in some way that might allow her to continue to think bad things about Snape, but fails to be convinced by her own theories. She finally sighs:

So I am left with the idea that Snape showed mercy on Black because Dumbledore would have wanted him to. ::hangs head in defeat::

No! Wait, Cindy! Don't give up! All is not lost!

How's this? Snape takes Black back to the castle, rather than handing him over to the dementors, because he thinks that he'll get more glory that way.

After all, any old Squib could squeal for a bunch of dementors to come and rid the world of a dangerous criminal. But to be the wizard who captured Sirius Black single-handed and brought him in alive? That's Order of Merlin territory.

There now. You see? Cheer up. You can keep on hating Snape, if you want to.

—Elkins, who just couldn't stand to see Cindy so disheartened

Posted January 25, 2002 at 1:45 pm
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RE: Karkaroff's hesitation (WAS Moody - "Types"...)

I wrote:

Karkaroff is, IMO, quite possibly Rowling's least sympathetic character to date. Just about the only nice thing I can think to say about him is that he did, at least, seem to suffer from a brief moment of inner turmoil right before he fingered Snape to the ministry. That's about it, really.

Eileen wrote:

Hmmmm.... and I read that as. "Let me think. What else have I got? Is it time to play the Snape card?" I don't think he had even a BRIEF moment of inner turmoil.

::laughs:: You're probably right.

Although wouldn't you think that the guy in the Department of Mysteries (Rookwood? Was that his name?) would have been his real ace in the hole, rather than young Snape? I mean, a mole in the Department of Mysteries? Wow. That's good. Hard to trump that, really. I doubt that he was holding back Snape's name for any strategic reasons.

But you're probably right that he wasn't really conflicted there at all, just desperately ransacking his his mind for any other names that might help his cause.

I just thought I'd give him the benefit of the doubt, seeing as how I was trying to think of something nice to say about the man. You know what I am. Always extending the benefit of the doubt to the dregs of society. ;)


Posted January 25, 2002 at 2:02 pm
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RE: Wizarding Justice, again

I agree with Barb, when she writes:

Indeed, we have yet to see a really extensive depiction of wizarding justice. We saw what we thought was a miscarriage of justice when Crouch sent his son to Azkaban (turned out to be perfectly right) and what seemed to be justice when Bagman was released (there are hints from Winky that he is far more sinister than he appeared, and the twins' opinions notwithstanding, possibly brighter than he seemed as well). We also see an episode that is common in the Muggle world: someone making a deal to get released, with no intimation that they were not completely in the wrong (Karkaroff naming names).

Yes. I'd also like to add that while people keep referring to these scenes as "trials," they aren't really. What we see of Crouch and Bagman's trials are only the sentencings. Both parties would seem to have been already found guilty in their respective scenes (Bagman was not acquitted of the charges against him; he was merely absolved from penalty, which is not at all the same thing). What we see in both cases is the declaration of verdict and the sentencing, not the trial as a whole.

And of course Karkaroff's scene isn't a trial at all. It's some kind of hearing, but it's not exactly a trial.

We have no idea what evidence may have been presented over the course of Bagman or Crouch Jr.'s trials, nor what the rules of preponderance of evidence might be in the wizarding world.

Sirius claims that Crouch the Lesser's trial was little more than a show-trial, but his knowledge of the event must be second-hand—he was in prison at the time. From Dumbledore's comments on the unreliability of the Longbottoms as witnesses, and from his admission that he was not absolutely convinced of young Barty's guilt, we might infer that Dumbledore, too, feels that the evidence was scanty and the outcome possibly unjust. And it's certainly obvious that an ugly mood prevailed over the proceedings. The trial was certainly biased.

But we can't really say that it was improper. It's possible that the rules of preponderance of the evidence are just not very strict in the wizarding legal system. It's also possible that the onus of proof within the system falls upon the defendant—that it's a "guilty until proven innocent" system. While both trials do strike us as rather dubious according to the Spirit of Justice, they may well have been perfectly within bounds of the legal system itself.


The only other "justice" we know of is Sirius' being imprisoned without a trial--but it seemed that his deep-seated feelings of guilt for switching the Secret Keeper were as much to blame for this, as we never hear of him demanding a trial. He seems to have gone off willingly (he's said to be laughing madly).

However, I don't know about this. It's possible, I suppose, that by the laws of the wizarding world, the defendant only gets a trial if he wants one, or that confession obviates the need for a day in court...but I don't quite believe it. Sirius certainly seems bitter enough in retrospect about having been sent to prison without trial, and he speaks of it as if it were an extraordinary event: an exception to normal legal proceedings, rather than an unfortunate by-product of his state of mind at the time of his arrest.

Although if wizarding law did hold that a criminal who confesses his guilt does not need to stand trial, that would cast the Shrieking Shack scene of PoA in a somewhat different light, wouldn't it?


Posted January 26, 2002 at 1:14 pm
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RE: Crouch and the Imperius Curse

Devin wrote:

Hey everyone, first-time writer.

Hi, Devin! I'm new here, too. ::Newbies wave shyly to each other::

I tend to agree with you that we probably can deduce quite a bit about Real Moody from Crouch's masquerade, and for all the reasons you cite, while also conceding that we can't really know for sure until we see Real Moody in action. (Waffle, waffle, qualify, hedge...)

About Crouch and the Imperius, you wrote:

Before I leave off on this topic, even though I know it's probably been addressed somewhere before, I cannot for the life of me understand why Crouch as Moody would teach Harry how to break the Imperius Curse (or at least give him opportunities to learn how since it seems to be a possibly un-learnable skill, more something one empirically has as a gift). Or at least, having done so, why he wouldn't let Voldemort know that Harry could break the curse.

This has been discussed here before, at some length, but then, so have the SHIPping debates—and besides, why shouldn't the new kids on the block get to have a bit of fun? So a quick summary of what, IIRC, people have said about this and related issues in the past.


Question One:

Surely Dumbledore didn't really tell Moody to teach the Unforgivables to fourth-year students, did he? And even if he did, he didn't really authorize Moody to cast Imperius on students. Did he? Did he?

Possible Answers:

(a) No, Dumbledore did not really give his new DADA teacher instruction to cast Imperius on students. Crouch only did so because he's a sadist who enjoys casting Unforgivables, or because he wanted to size up the students' capabilities so that he could advise Voldemort later on which members of the younger generation would be the easiest to control.

(b) Yes, Dumbledore most certainly did ask Moody both to teach students about the Unforgivables and to give them practical hands-on experience in shaking off the Imperius Curse. Crouch, in his role as Moody, therefore complied.

Of these, I insist on (b). Crouch may be a tad deranged, but he is no fool, and he could not possibly have thought that word of what he was doing in class would not have made its way back to Dumbledore's ears. Use of the Unforgivables on human beings carries severe penalty, and Crouch is on an important mission. He just wouldn't take that risk. For that matter, if Dumbledore really hadn't authorized it, then surely he would have heard about it—the entire student body was excitedly chattering about Moody's DADA class—and he would have put a stop to it. So while Crouch may indeed have enjoyed making the students do odd things in class, and he may well have been noting carefully which of the students seemed likely candidates for later use, my vote is for (b).


Question Two:

Surely it's counterproductive to teach an enemy as useful a skill as resisting the Imperius Curse! So why does Crouch/Moody seem so pleased by Harry's talent in this arena, and why does he continue to encourage him to strengthen his resistance?

Possible Explanations:

(a) Crouch is deeply immersed in his role. The real Alastor Moody would have been pleased by Harry's talent and would have gone out of his way to encourage him to develop this skill. Crouch therefore does the same.

(b) Little Barty Crouch, the Boo Radley of the wizarding world, hates Imperius, having been himself enslaved by it for over a decade. He is thrilled to see anyone succeed in fighting it off and takes a grim satisfaction in teaching students to resist it.

(c) Crouch doesn't believe for a moment that Harry's talent at resisting the Imperius Curse will do squat for him in the long run. Voldemort plans on killing Harry, not controlling him. And even if he does decide to play with the boy for a little while first, it will not matter: Harry's resistance to Imperius will not save him, and may even bring greater glory to the Dark Lord's inevitable victory. So why on earth not teach him? And why bother to inform Voldemort of his talent in this arena?

(d) Crouch would have been an excellent teacher himself, if only his life had turned out differently; like all good teachers, he takes a genuine and instinctive pleasure in helping students to succeed at difficult tasks.

Of these, I prefer (e), all of the above.


Your suggestion that resisting the Imperius Curse might be an unteachable talent is new to me. If it's come up here before, I must have missed it.

Hmmm. Well, Harry obviously has unusual native talent in this arena—he very nearly throws it off on his first try—but I don't think that it's unteachable, or unlearnable. People can train themselves to withstand higher levels of pain and fatigue than those they could cope with before training; learning to withstand attempts at mental domination would seem to me to be much the same thing.

Obviously, certain personality types are going to be better suited to this than others (I myself am a coward and a weakling, and so suspect that I would not fair well), but with the proper training, I'm sure that just about anyone can at the very least improve their chances.

And I think that ones chances of fighting off Imperius are probably raised dramatically simply by virtue of knowing what it feels like when someone's doing it to you. ("Ah...what a pleasant feeling. Just like floating. This is lovely, really, it's very nice, it's...oh. Hold on, wait a moment. I've felt this before. This is...this...this...oh. OH! Oh, damn.")


Posted January 26, 2002 at 2:13 pm
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