Weekly Archive
January 27, 2002 - February 2, 2002

RE: Hagrid, Moody and Violent Responses

Cindy wrote:

Am I forgiving Moody just because I like him? Uh, this is the part where I'm supposed to come up with all kinds of impressive reasons why Moody can be forgiven a violent response, but Hagrid cannot.

No, no, Cindy! This is the part where you're supposed to smile sheepishly and say: "Well...yeah, okay. I guess I am just forgiving Moody because I like him."

But since you refused to cooperate with my cunning plan... ::sigh::

I also think that Moody had authority over Draco that Hagrid does not have over Karkaroff. A teacher who disciplines a student and acts to protect another student from the offending student is entitled to some leeway.

I tend to agree with Marina on this one: the degree of authority that Crouch/Moody already held over Draco in that scene was a large part of what made it seem so horrific to me.

But I can see your point, and I recognize that my own emotional response to the scene was probably informed in large part by both my own personal neuroses (I confess to a somewhat instinctive mistrust of authority in general) and by my own cultural assumptions. My own parents never used corporal punishment, and I've never attended a school that even permitted the use of corporal punishment, so I'm culturally conditioned to read an adult's use of physical means to reprimand a child as "assault," rather than as "discipline." It's quite likely that had I grown up someplace where corporal punishment was more commonly used (is it still used in British schools?), then I wouldn't have reacted to the scene in the same way at all.

Also, by the time Karkaroff is slammed into the tree and Draco is bounced, we have very different amounts of information about these two antagonists. First, Karkaroff at this point isn't really an antagonist. Karkaroff's only crime up to that point was showing up wearing fur. :-)

Heh. Well, fur-wearing aside, there's also Sirius' claim that he (a) used to be a Death Eater, and (b) ratted out a whole bunch of his old DE buddies to the ministry. IIRC, Sirius tells Harry about all of that in the head-in-the-fireplace scene, which comes long before Hagrid smashes the poor guy up against the tree. So while Karkaroff may not be an antagonist per se, he's certainly someone the reader has cause to mistrust and suspect at the time of the attack.

Also, he's been oleaginous and smarmy and unpleasant since the moment he first arrived. Not, of course, that any of that justifies assault.

And also you're quite right: Draco does have three whole books of unpleasantness stacked against him, while Karkaroff only has a few hundred pages. And firing off a curse at someone's back is a rather more serious offense than spitting at someone's feet. So okay.

To be fair, though, I suppose Moody could have just transfigured Draco without bouncing him in the air. Yeah, OK, that part wasn't justified. But it was very, very funny.

See, I did recognize that it was supposed to be funny. But I just found it horrifying, myself. Something about the way the ferret was described as lashing and squealing, perhaps. Or perhaps I just found myself imagining all-too-vividly what it might feel like to get bounced around like that.

I've taken a lot of flack for refering to the ferret-bouncing as "torture"—and I concede that my use of the word was probably unwarranted—but that really was how it came across to me when I first read that scene: as not only violent, but as extremely brutal and cruel. I winced when I read that scene; I was profoundly relieved when McGonagall came by to intervene; and I felt genuinely uncomfortable whenever one of our protagonists gloated over Draco about it.

Maybe I'm just overly sensitive. Or maybe I just readily identify with muscalids. I dunno.

While we are on the subject of violent responses, there is another scene that really bothered me. I didn't like it all in CoS when Arthur Weasley and Lucius Malfoy fought each other with fists.

See, here's another place where mileages vary. I found that scene absolutely hilarious. I don't know, something about the image of mild-mannered government official Arthur Weasley and haughty blue-blooded aristocrat Lucius Malfoy actually engaging in fisticuffs. And in a public place, no less! It was just so utterly incongruous, and so profoundly undignified, that it struck me as funny.

I feel certain that both men were absolutely mortified over it later.

Especially Lucius Malfoy.

Which is, of course, largely why I found it so funny. I mean, you're Lucius Malfoy, right? And this...this clerk suddenly attacks you in a bookstore. Not even honorably, like a proper wizard, with a wand. No. No, he attacks you with his fists.

What in God's name are you supposed to do about this? In a Right and Proper Universe, of course, your servants would just take the miserable little serf aside and give him a good thrashing, but alas, things don't work that way anymore, and besides, your servants aren't there. So what are you supposed to do? Let yourself get pummelled? Not good. Call the authorities? Lord no, you'd look like the worst sort of weakling if you did that! Descend to his level and hit back? Probably the best of a host of bad options, but still utterly degrading.

There was just no way for Lucius to emerge from that situation with his dignity intact, and I guess maybe I am mean-spirited enough to have got a bit of a chuckle out of that fact.

Aside from the fact that it didn't seem believable that two wizards would use their fists to fight instead of wands, I wasn't plesed that Arthur would lunge at Lucius over a petty insult.

I'm under the impression that drawing wands is serious for adult wizards, the equivalent of drawing weapons. Had they gone for their wands, then their altercation would have been a duel, rather than merely an exchange of blows. And that wouldn't have been funny to me at all. That would have been extremely scary and disturbing.

But I do know what you mean about Arthur. I was rather disappointed in him as well. I assumed that it was old school boy habits taking over: I'm firmly in the camp that believes that Arthur and Lucius were contemporaries at Hogwarts.

I guess that reaction makes me a pacifist, unless of course 14 year old boys are being attacked by fully grown men. :-)

::laughs:: Well, that's different. 14 year old boys deserve what's coming to them.

I think I will have to adopt a new rule for myself that each beloved character is allowed one hideous mistake, and after that, I will cross them off my list. Lupin and Black have used their quota. Snape probably has used his quota.

Probably? The man was a Death Eater, Cindy. I think he ran out his quota a long, long time ago.

Besides, he picks on Trevor. And while picking on Neville might be excusable, picking on his poor long-suffering toad is utterly unforgivable.


Posted January 27, 2002 at 4:04 pm
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RE: Ludo Bagman Is Ever So Evil

Cindy wrote:

As I said before, I'm convinced that Bagman will turn out to be an evil DE after all. Caroline is on board, ::waves to Caroline:: but maybe a few others can be persuaded to see Bagman as the Longstanding Devoted Servant of the Dark Lord that he really is.

::Elkins removes the pipe from her mouth and squints speculatively over the top of her spectacles at Cindy::

So...Cindy. Tell me now, in all honesty.

Do you like Ludo Bagman?

::puts pipe away::

Wow. You know, you really do make a good case for this? I think that I'm starting to believe it.


Because you see, I really don't want Bagman to be guilty. I really, really don't. Not because I have any particular liking for the man (I have no feelings at all about him one way or the other; he's an utter flat-liner for me), but because I would like to believe that somewhere, somewhere out there, there is at least one person who honestly was bewitched or threatened or coerced or just plain duped into serving Voldemort's cause. One. Just one. One would be nice.

I mean, we've got Malfoy and Avery, right? Both of them acquitted because they claimed to have been acting under the Imperius Curse.

Guilty, guilty, guilty.

And then we've got all their DE buddies, similarly acquitted.


And then we've got Pettigrew, who claimed to have been terrorized and browbeaten and threatened until he agreed to pass on information to Voldemort...but who actually turns out to have been deeply enough involved to be sporting the Dark Mark.

Oh, SO guilty!

And then there's young Master Crouch, who even Sirius thought might have been caught in the wrong place in the wrong time, and who even Dumbledore thought might have really been innocent, and who screamed his innocence at the top of his lungs all the way through his trial...

Oh, no. He's guilty. And mad, to boot.

You see where I'm going here, I trust. It's a little disturbing, isn't it? Was there really no one serving this guy unwittingly, or even unwillingly? Didn't anyone really get duped? For heaven's sake, where are all of the patsies and the weaklings?

Yeah, yeah. I know. The patsies and the weaklings are all hanging out in the Green Room, getting sympathy hugs and cookies from the Bleeding Hearts.

—Elkins, patting one of Mulciber's Imperius victims on the back while murmuring soothingly: "Now, now...there, there...I know, I wasn't your fault..."

Posted January 28, 2002 at 12:23 am
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RE: Voldemort's Unwilling Executioners

I found myself wondering whatever happened to the Imperius Victims of the first Vold War. Where are the Imperius victims?

Judy wrote:

Excellent point! Just whom did Mulciber put under the Imperius Curse, if everyone and his uncle was really a willing Death Eater? We haven't seen anyone who actually turned out to be Imperio'ed during Voldy's first period in power.

I hold some hope that Arthur Weasley might turn out to have been one of them.

It seems to me that the younger or lower-ranking ministry workers would have been prime targets for that sort of thing. And I found the "The Unforgivable Curses" chapter of GoF somewhat suggestive of that possibility.

Although "several hands rose tentatively into the air" when Crouch invites the students to name the Unforgivables in DADA class, he calls upon Ron. (He's already, earlier in the class, identified Ron as Arthur Weasley's son.) And when Ron says that his father told him about one called the Imperius Curse, Crouch/Moody responds with:

'Ah, yes,' said Moody appreciatively. 'Your father would know that one. Gave the Ministry a lot of trouble at one time, the Imperius Curse.'

Given Crouch's penchant for sly double-edged statements throughout the book, I find myself wondering whether his comment there might not have a second meaning.

And it would seem perfectly in character for Crouch to go out of his way to call on Ron to answer the question, just as he later chooses to call on Neville. (I feel certain that he would have called on Harry, too, were it not for the fact that Harry didn't know the names of any Unforgivables and therefore never raised his hand.) The man does seem to be a bit of a sadist.

Of course, if poor Arthur really was Imperio'ed at some point during the first Voldie War, then it's clearly a Deep Dark Secret, and not something that anyone's told the younger Weasley kids about. Ron is spooked by the spiders, but he is resolutely unfazed by either Crouch/Moody's comment or by the demonstration of the Imperius Curse itself. Very disappointing for Crouch, I'm sure.

If Arthur Weasley really had been Imperio'ed at some time in the past, it might also explain a bit of:

'I've heard of his family,' said Ron darkly. 'They were some of the first to come back to our side after You-Know-Who disappeared. Said they'd been bewitched. My dad doesn't believe it. He says Malfoy's father didn't need an excuse to go over to the Dark Side.'

This, from a kid who doesn't even know what the Dark Mark is? And who was raised in a culture that seems extraordinarily unwilling ever to speak (or even to think) about those days? And yet he knows the specific grounds of Lucius Malfoy's acquittal?

If poor Arthur Weasley had really sincerely truly been Imperio'ed, then I imagine that Malfoy getting off on the same claim would have really rankled—rankled badly enough, perhaps, for him even to have mouthed off to his younger children about it, in spite of the general wizarding reluctance to speak of such matters.

Also, Ron seems to have an unusually hard time with the Imperius. Could be genetic.

A far-fetched speculation, I admit. But I'm partial to it.


Judy wrote:

This also reminds me of a related question—just who are all those wizards in Axkaban? Sirius talks as if there are lots Voldemort supporters there, and we hear about Moody catching dark wizards, but in the Death Eaters chapter of GoF, Voldy mentions only the Lestranges as being in Azkaban.

Oh, I'm sure that there are plenty of Voldy's old supporters in Azkaban. There are many gaps in the DE circle at the graveyard, even if most of them go uncommented upon by Voldemort.

He only mentions the Lestranges in particular because they were loyal enough to have acted in his service after he had been discorporated. The people who went to prison for serving him when he was still the Big Bad? Nah, he doesn't bother to talk about them. To his way of thinking, those people don't warrant any special mention.

Maybe Voldy only mentioned people who were killed or captured since the last time the circle was formed?

No, I think he only mentions people whom he has marked either for particular praise (the Lestranges, the loyal servant at Hogwarts) or particular shame (the coward, the traitor). The only reason he bothers to mention those "three dead in my service" at all, IMO, is because it rounds out the oratory. He's already paused at that gap in the circle to denounce the coward and traitor, and to praise the loyalist; and so while he's there, he figures that he might as well mention the dead guys—it evens out the sentence structure. But I really think that's all there is to it.

Or maybe there are lower-level followers who aren't Death Eaters?

I feel certain that there are. Or were, at any rate, back when V was powerful.


Now me, I wonder about those prisoners Sirius claims Karkaroff put in Azkaban. The "load of other people" Sirius says Karkaroff sent to prison in his place? Who on earth are those people? The only person we know about is Rookwood. Everyone else Karkaroff mentions in the Pensieve scene is already either dead or apprehended by the time he cuts his deal.

Two suggestions occur. Well...three.

(a) Karkaroff's testimony was not, in fact, sufficient to convince the ministry to release him. He named more names later on.

(b) Rookwood's arrest led to many other arrests (like Bagman's). All of the people who were caught through Rookwood held Karkaroff responsible.

(c) There weren't "loads of people" at all. There was just old Rookwood, who once treated Sirius to a long hoarse rambling half-mad monologue about that rotter Karkaroff through the bars of their respective cells one day, and Sirius just remembers it slightly differently because...well, because his own grasp on reality wasn't all that firm either, at the time.


Cindy herself had no difficulty imagining where all the Imperius victims went. She wrote:

Oh, there probably are some innocent people who were only evil because of Mulciber's Imperius curse. Where are they, Elkins asks (through a cloud of pipe smoke)? Rotting in Azkaban, of course.

Thus answering both my question and Judy's question in one fell swoop!

Wizard justice stinks. You know it, and I know it. Wizard justice results in the innocent being locked up for life (Sirius), and the evil-to-the-core getting off (Avery, Karkaroff, Pettigrew, Malfoy).

Hey! Don't abuse Avery! Avery's not evil to the core. He's just misunderstood.

Oh, er...sorry. Wrong thread.

That said, I really must invite Elkins to put her feet up and have a brandy while she explains why it is so important that someone in canon be absolved of guilt because of the Imperius Curse?

::eyes light up::

Brandy? Don't mind if I do.

::leans back expansively and begins to muse::

Well...let's see now. Why is it so important to me? A very good question, that. I suppose that it all really goes back to that time when I was seven years old, and my mother...

::sits up abruptly in chair, sloshing brandy over upholstery, and narrows her eyes suspiciously at Cindy::


That was sneaky, Cindy. And I'm having this brandy tested before I drink any more of it.

::puts brandy quite firmly down on the table::

Why is it important to me? Oh, I don't know. Part of it is my discomfort with the feeling I sometimes get that JKR's moral universe is composed of only three types of people: Wicked Villains; Those Strong and Brave Enough To Prevail Over All Manner of Coercion; and Those Fast On Their Way To Becoming Either One or the Other.

The other part of it is that the very idea of mind control scares me silly—it's a pet terror of mine—and so I would find it enjoyably frightening to be given evidence that Voldemort and his pals really did once force a whole lot of weak-but-well-meaning wizards to do things against their will. It would make the bad guys scarier—and scary is all to the good, AFAIC.

In the meantime, I will scour canon for an example of someone who served the Dark Lord only because they were under the Imperius Curse ::cough::VictorKrum::cough::

Good point. I will accept Viktor as our canonical example of Victim of Imperius and stop complaining.

(I'm still hoping to learn sad things about Arthur Weasley's past, though.)

Apparently, serving the Dark Lord is so rewarding on its own merits that DEs serve voluntarily and don't have to be coerced.

As I've been imagining the whole DE thing, it can't be coerced. It's a voluntary compact. All of the DEs entered into that relationship willingly and consciously, IMHO. More fools them.

But there are lesser ways of serving a cause.

As for this Mulciber person, perhaps he uses Imperius sparingly because a wizard can throw it off with a bit of concentration, which would prove awkward if it happens at the wrong moment.

Now, now. Harry can shrug it off readily, yes. But Crouch Sr. was a powerful and experienced wizard, and even he had to fight like the very devil to break through it. And it took Crouch Jr. (whose magical capabilities seem not inconsiderable at all) ten years to throw the thing off.

I think Harry's a freak, myself.

So the Dark Lord probably did not give the really evil jobs to those acting under the Imperius Curse. Wizards acting under Imperius probably drove the getaway broom or something.

Planted things, stole things, broke windows, scrawled anti-Muggle graffiti on public buildings...

—Elkins, who may be weak-willed, but is nonetheless not (she hopes) either a Wicked Villain or fast on her way to becoming one.


RE: Devout Students at Hogwarts

Judy wrote:

So, what do we know about religion in general in the Potterverse? We know that Christmas is celebrated at Hogwarts. And, there is an Easter break. And, we never see students complain that their religion is being left out.

Oh, well. There are lots of things that we never see about Hogwarts, but that I think we can feel free to deduce do indeed go on behind the scenes. We only see the story from Harry's POV, after all, and Harry is hardly an aspiring journalist. Curiosity is not one of his personal strengths. Neither is observation.

All that we can really deduce from Harry's POV, IMO, is that there are no students in Harry's own circle of Gryffyndor friends who object to Hogwarts' Christian culture. For all we know, there's that one kid in Ravenclaw who complains constantly about it, and circulates petitions every year objecting to the school's insistence on decking the halls with boughs of holly at Yuletide, and badgers all of his friends into wearing the badges he whips up in the library, and takes no end of flack from the Slyths about this eccentricity during their shared Herbology class...

But that kid's not cute or pretty, like Cho Chang, and it has nothing to do with Quiddich or Voldemort or any of Harry's friends. So he just never noticed it.

(Hermione, OTOH, does know all about it, as the boy in question was the one who taught her how to make those SPEW badges. But since it's never come up in conversation, she's never bothered to mention it to Harry.)

What does this tell us? Well, I'd guess that there are no practicing Jews or Muslims at Hogwarts. I just don't see what they'd eat.

I feel convinced that a school willing to make special arrangements for a werewolf would manage, somehow, to accomodate unusual dietary restrictions. Real world boarding schools do so, and so do summer camps—and they don't even have magic to help them out.

So Dumbledore just goes down to the kitchens and explains matters to the House Elves, and they conjure up separate stoves and ovens and dishes and the like for the kosher students, and the Elves are thrilled to death to be given such a nice heavy load of extra complication to their work, and when the food all gets magicked up onto the tables, the kids with the special dietary restrictions get their special food on individual plates at their seats. And when the regular dinner is Shepherd's Pie yet again, all of the other kids at their table are madly jealous of them. Just like on airlines. ;)

Again, I don't think that just because something doesn't bludgeon its way into either Harry's field of notice or the author's list of Things the Reader Must Be Shown, we should necessarily assume that they are excluded from the realm of possibility. The narrative just isn't concerning itself with such matters.

And, I think Muslims would have a hard time with the course schedule; when would they pray? Jews, Muslims, and people of other non-Christian faiths might have a hard time with classes being held on their holidays, too.

Just as in real schools, I imagine that special dispensation is offered to those students devout enough to request it. The devout Muslims are allowed to slip quietly out of class to say their prayers, and groups of devout Christians and Jews get ferried off to their respective houses of worship once a week.

At any rate, that's how things get done in many boarding schools here in the US. And really, if you aren't close friends with any of the religious students yourself, and if you are not by nature terribly observant (I am not), then it is quite possible to go for literally years before you realize that the reason So-and-so is never around on Sunday mornings is because she gets taken off to morning services by a designated member of the staff every week. Embarrassing, yes. But quite possible.

On the other hand, we don't see any Christian students praying, either. There is no mention of a chapel, as far as I recall. So, my best guess is that Hogwarts is made up almost entirely of cultural Christians, but few if any of them are very observant.

Thus reflecting fairly well the Muggle society it parallels, no?


Posted January 29, 2002 at 10:31 pm
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RE: Future books: humor element, Voldemort/Harry encounters

On humor in the books (sorry about the, er...Non-U spelling, folks, but I'm one of them Murricans and incapable of shaking off my upbringing), Devin wrote:

To me, the books are relatively constant smile-bringers, and occasionally they make me burst into laughter. It's very refreshing to read something I can get a REALLY good laugh out of (although the title for most real laughs from a book goes to Catch-22 where I was almost hysterical on several occasions).

::great big smile::

Ah, a reader after my own heart!

Catch-22 is my all-time favorite novel.

But I do find myself wondering: if Catch-22 gets your vote for "most laffs for the buck," then why would the darkening tone of the HP books worry you so? Catch-22's humor is pretty black.

Is anyone worried about the tone of the future books being SEVERELY affected by the darker subject matter?....Can the humor really stay in the same league with the foreboding over everything?

Ah, yes. Okay. I think that I see what you mean. The humor that you've enjoyed in the past in the HP books is not black humor—it's fairly whimsical humor—and so you're worried that JKR won't be able to maintain that tone in the face of a steadily-darkening plotline. Is that it?

Hmmm. Well, I think that Rowling has proven herself more than capable of dark humor as well as the lighter, more whimsical variety, so I don't worry too much that future books will lack for humor. Whether it's the sort of humor that her readers particularly enjoy, however, is another matter.

It's an interesting topic, IMO, because humor is always so very subjective. Me, I found GoF by far the funniest of the books to date. The previous books, while they raised smiles in places and even a few "mental chuckles," never actually made me laugh out loud. GoF's the only one that's done that for me.

But then, my sense of humor is very black (and also at times just plain weird), so I don't know how typical my own experience might be. Did anyone else out there find GoF the funniest of the four books? Or am I alone in this?

Some of the brands of humor that JKR favors have never amused me, frankly. I absolutely hate most varieties of "comeuppance" humor, for example—I always have, ever since very early childhood—and there's a lot of that in these books. It doesn't ruin them for me or anything (when I reach those scenes, I merely wince in irritation and then move on), but I can't say that I'd exactly mind it if we started seeing less and less of that sort of thing as the tone of the series darkens.

One thing I've been longing to discuss with others is the future of Voldemort vs. Harry, in direct conflict, that is. How many more times can Harry face Voldemort and maintain realism?

They're already straining the leash, IMO. PoA is my favorite of the books, and I often suspect that part of the reason for that might be that it contains no direct confrontation with Voldie.

Personally, I'm hoping that we won't see another face-to-face Harry-Voldemort confrontation in Book Five. In fact, I'd be perfectly content with no further direct conflict until Book Seven. But I don't really think that's going to happen.

So the question is once again, how many more times will they come into direct conflict before the series ends? Personally, I think two.

I like the scenarios you propose, and I'd be happy with them. So, okay. I'll go for two. Hell, I'll even go for three, if two of them both fall within Book Seven.

But I'm still hoping we'll get at least one more book that doesn't end on an H/V confrontation.


Posted January 30, 2002 at 3:31 pm
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RE: Dehumanizing Language-Sirius' Prank

Eileen, who is a Canadian, wrote:

Actually, I'm not an American, but a Canadian...

[Elkins winces, then bangs her head three times hard against the wall, exclaiming: "BAD American! BAD American!"]

Oh, I was so afraid of that! From your diction, I was pretty sure that you were North American, but...

::very small voice::


...and capital punishment has not been a legal penalty for murder for quite a number of years either....Even so, it [Vernon's pro-capital punishment stance in PoA] struck me as unduly political.

::nods:: Okay. So maybe it could read as highly politically-charged to a Brit as well. I don't know. Certainly here where I live, it's absolutely not a topic about which people can be counted to keep their tempers under control.

On the subject of Granting Slack To Characters We Like, I wrote:

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.

Eileen said:

That's a funny example, b/c I find it hard to stomach Sirius's attitude in that scene, even though I can offer up a million justifications for it. There's something about its dehumanization of Pettigrew that just sickens me.

Well, yes. It is sickening. It has to be, I think, for the scene to work. All of the adult characters allow themselves to become distressingly dehumanized there; IMO, that's precisely what makes that entire sequence so very effective.

"Lack of dismay" was a poor choice of words, as I certainly did find Sirius' behavior dismaying. But not nearly so much as Lupin's, which made me surprised to hear you say:

And on what appears to be a third hand,(/me looks down at her hands in amazement), I don't feel the same way towards Lupin, whom I very much love, even though he was right with Sirius in that scene.

Funny, because I found Lupin's reaction to the situation more upsetting by far. Sirius' snarling rage was only mildly painful to me because really, that was just about the only emotional state I'd ever seen him in at that point in the book anyway. Lupin, on the other hand, I'd had an entire novel to get to know and love, so his cold-bloodedness—he totters perilously close to the borders of outright sadism in that scene, IMO—was pretty devestating. It really brought home the extent to which the entire situation was corrupting and dehumanizing everyone that it touched.

By 'lack of dismay,' I suppose I really meant 'inability to inspire me to pass harsh judgment on the character.' Sirius' use of the dehumanizing language there didn't make me think of him as someone who regularly dehumanizes people, mainly because the situation is so obviously extraordinary—and because his use of the language is not in the least bit casual. He's furious, and he's been personally betrayed, and he's slightly deranged; and he's working himself up to murder in cold-blood someone who is grovelling for his life—and someone he used, at one time, to care about, at that. His dehumanization of Pettigrew is deliberate, and it is personal, and it is directed at its target: even when he's ostensibly addressing Harry, Sirius' language is aimed dead straight at Pettigrew himself. There's nothing in the least bit casual or off-hand about what he is doing.

Moody, on the other hand, isn't even addressing Karkaroff in the Pensieve scene, nor can Karkaroff even hear him. He's talking to a third party, in a fairly relaxed way, and it doesn't even seem particularly personal. It's a generalization of type: the use of dementors is okay for "scum like this." It seems casual, off-hand, automatic, just a reflection of how the man thinks: "Men like Karkaroff are filth and scum: they are not fully human and therefore do not warrant the considerations we accord to other people."

It makes a big difference to me. It's a bit like the difference between hearing a man fling an extremely offensive gender-based epithet directly into the face of a woman who has betrayed him while they are having a screaming argument, and then hearing some guy on the street casually chatting to his friend about how he feels about "[precise term deleted]'s like that."

The first man is certainly not using nice language, but I don't automatically assume that he regularly dehumanizes women as a class. The second fellow, on the other hand, is going to have to work very hard indeed if he wants to convince me that he is not, in fact, a misogynist.

Hmmm. I did say before that I had decided to just chalk this issue down to one of personal dislike and move on, didn't I? Yes, I seem to remember that I did indeed say that. Oh, well. I guess I lied.

Eileen wrote:

I also find it difficult to see Sirius's POV in the Black/Snape debate.

Oh, you don't want to get me started on the prank. You really don't. You...

Oh. But you just did. Okay, then.

Well. On the one hand, it did happen twenty years ago, so I suppose that one could argue that it's really long past time for Snape to just let it go.

On the other hand, I don't feel much sympathy when the grown-up incarnation of the popular, good-looking and academically brilliant teenager's take on the affair is still: "Well, he was this oily, greasy, slimy kid, see, and we didn't like him, and he was always trying to get us in trouble, and besides, his hair was always dirty, and so it served him right." That doesn't win any affection points from me. I expect a man in his thirties to at the very least be able to admit that it was an incredibly stupid thing to do, that it really could have got Snape killed, and that if nothing else, that would have been absolutely disastrous for poor Remus. At the very least.

Then, I'm not at all rational on this subject. This one is intensely personal for me, because...well...

[apologies for anecdotal digression]

The year I turned twelve, a group of girls at the summer camp I'd been shipped off to (and believe me, you don't want to get me started on the subject of summer camps, either!) decided that it would be highly amusing to pour kerosene over my head and chase me around with a Bic lighter. As far as I can tell, this struck them as appropriate because (a) they didn't like me, (b) they thought that I was oily and creepy and weird and nasty, and (c) I didn't wash my hair often enough for their tastes, and so the idea of burning it off struck them as somehow apropos.

And, no. I'm not making this up. Not even the part about the hair.

Moreover, it didn't even seem to occur to the beastly little troglodytes (oops! was that offensively dehumanizing language? so sorry!) that the fact that they were actually flicking the lighter and making sparks fly out and big flames appear while I had kerosene dripping all over my face and down my neck really did mean that they could hurt me. I could have been badly burned; I could have been blinded; I could even have been killed; and maybe they didn't realize that fact, but I certainly did. I was absolutely terrified, which they all seemed to think was hysterically funny, and...well, and ugh. It was not only frightening; it was humiliating. Humiliating in the extreme.

And you know what happened to them when the Powers In Charge found out what had occurred?

Nothing. Nothing. They got a little talking to about how very reckless they had been, and how they really could have killed me. I, on the other hand, got a lecture on how maybe these sorts of things wouldn't happen to me quite so often, if only I would try to work harder on "learning to get along with my peers."

[Elkins, noticing that her lips have now drawn back into an actual snarl, takes a few long deep cleansing breaths]

Yes. Well. Like I said, my feelings about the prank, and my identification with Snape in that conflict, are not so much canonical as deeply and intensely personal. And while I do recognize that Snape's grudge-holding is a problem, well...

I was twelve then. I am thirty-five now. Am I still angry about it?

Oooooh, you bet. Oh, yes. Yes, I am. Haven't let that one go. Not by a long shot. Doubt I ever will.

Angry enough that I might relish the thought of the ringleader of that little group being given the Dementor's Kiss?

::long, long, long silence::

::very slow exhale::

No. No.

At least, I hope not.

But still. I can't say I have any sympathy for Sirius at all when it comes to the prank, or place much blame on Snape for feeling the way he does about it. Some schoolboy grudges have more bite than others.

—Elkins, who still sometimes has nightmares about summer camp.

Posted January 30, 2002 at 5:26 pm
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RE: "Types"--Stock Characters--Identification Issues

A bit more on the various reasons people might have for "liking" certain characters over others: stock characters, characters who seem to "come alive," characters who break type, various different forms of reader identification...and so on.


1) Stock Characters

Mahoney wrote:

What generally determines whether or not I like a character is whether or not the character is either well-crafted ("alive" on the fictional plane), or is a particular favorite character type of mine. I.e., I like both Harry and McGonnagal because they're both "alive" to me; but I like...Legolas from Tolkien's Rings books because, even though the character is dimensionless, he's a favorite character type (frufry mystical nature-boy archer guy type, LOL).

"If you like the stock, you'll like the soup."

The Venal Aristocrat, the Good-Hearted Yet Under-educated Rustic, the Wise Old Wizard Mentor, the Grovelling Coward, the Boorish Middle Class Status-Seekers...

Yes. I think that we probably all have our favorite character types, and that our preferences in 'stock' often do go a long way toward determining our liking for certain characters.

I like Pettigrew, for example, largely because he's a favorite character type of mine: I've always been partial to the Grovelling Coward, especially the "capable of ruthless cunning" variant. What can I say? I just like these guys. Even when they're utterly dimensionless, even when they're pure cliche, even when I feel that I really by all rights ought to be finding them irritatingly de trope...I just can't seem to help myself. I always end up liking them anyway. They may be stock, but they're stock that I happen to enjoy. God only knows why.

So even though I do think that Rowling has done a bit of nice work in fleshing out Pettigrew (I liked the way that she depicted his discomfort with Harry in the Graveyard scene of Gof, for example), I suspect that I'd probably feel a fondness for the character even if she hadn't bothered.

Sometimes, though, even a fondness for the basic type can't save a character for me. For example, I ordinarily quite enjoy Boorish Middle Class Status-Seekers as comedic types, but I just can't bear the Dursleys. They're too broad a rendition of the type for my own personal tastes: too grotesque, too Roald Dahlesque. They irritate me, I don't find them amusing, and I'm always extremely relieved when Harry escapes from their clutches, because it means that I don't have to put up with them anymore either...until the start of the next book, that is. With the Dursleys, even my predisposition to like the type was not sufficient to make me enjoy JKR's variations thereof.

Dumbledore's rather the opposite. I don't like Wise Old Wizarding Mentors as a general rule—they tend to grate on my nerves—but Dumbledore has succeeded in overcoming my general resistance to his overall type. I have come to like him as a character—a great deal, in fact—and that really is impressive, because frankly, he had quite a lot to overcome in the way of reader prejudice from the very start.


2) Characters who seem to "come alive," type-breakers, morally ambiguous characters.

Mahoney spoke of well-crafted characters seeming to come "alive" on the fictional plane. Tabouli also brought up the issue of how well-crafted a character seems.

She wrote:

Ooo, the ol' fictional/factual divide!

An Oldie, but always a Goodie. ;-)

As characters, I like 'em both [Hagrid and Snape]. I look forward to scenes where they appear. Both are interesting and flawed in ways which drive the plot (if you think about it, both Hagrid and Snape have played vital roles in all of the books so far). From a writer's craft perspective, I prefer Snape. The Lovable Oaf is a bit of a literary cliche, whereas Snape is a more singular creation: bitter, complex, unpredictable.

Of course, breaking type was Snape's function for the plot of the first book—and it's a function that he continues to perform—so it's probably unsurpising that he feels less cliched, and thus more "real," than many of the other characters.

Even aside from that functional aspect of his character, though, I agree that Snape does seem unusually vital. And he's also highly charismatic: he tends to dominate whatever scene he's in and can draw the reader's attention even when he's only hovering at the periphery of the relevant action.

And, of course, he's morally ambiguous, which is related to 'breaking type.' The morally ambiguous characters are nearly always favorites. As jchutney wrote:

It seems to me that the "whiter" or "blacker" a character the less interesting. It's the "grey" like Sirius and Snape that provoke discussion (so, is he good OR bad?) and of course, "greys" keep readers guessing. We have no idea what Snape will do next.


3) Identification With Real People, Ourselves Vs. Others

Tabouli, who identifies strongly with Hermione,, whoops! I seem to have lost the citation. Well, as I seem to remember, she wrote something about how while she generally does not think of fictional characters in terms of how she might get on with them in real life, she does sometimes draw analogies between them and real people she has known; and that characters can either gain or lose emotional brownie points based on those associations. (Was that right, Tabouli? If not, then apologies.)

She then went on to describe how this differs, for her, from identifying herself with a character:

Identification breeds empathy, certainly....I feel I understand Hermione intimately, and get defensive if people misinterpret her in the way they misinterpreted me. Nonetheless, for me it's not the same as "liking" a character....I mean, you could say I "like" Hermione, but it's more complicated than that - it's more that I want her to be happy and get what she hopes for in life, independently of liking or disliking, because she's me!

Does that make sense?

Absolutely! (And I hope that you don't feel that my snippage violated your intent in any way—that was a great paragraph, but it seemed a bit long to cite in its entirety, as I would have liked to.)

I don't identify nearly that strongly or completely with any of the HP characters, but I can imagine what it might be like—you describe the phenomenon very well.

There would seem to be a number of different ways in which one can personally identify with characters. The three characters I most strongly identify with create very different dynamics for me as a reader, because I identify with them on completely different levels, and in completely different ways, each of which inspires a slightly different relationship with the text.

There's Snape. I identify strongly with Snape, but in a wholly negative sense: he is the sort of person I feel (or fear) that I might well have grown up to be, if my life had taken a rather different turning at around the age of 15 or 16 or so, and he's the person that I'm always on some level terrified that I might become. The points of identification are nearly all the things that I like the very least about myself: they're things that I'm relieved to have overcome, or things that I work very hard to suppress. He's a bit like a cautionary tale. ("If you start slipping, you're going to end up just like poor Severus—so for God's sake, Elkins, watch yourself!")

That's a painful sort of identification, because it breeds empathy without approval. When Snape is on his worst behavior (end of PoA, for example), he can make me cringe with something very akin to personal embarrassment; when he manages to behave admirably (end of GoF), what I feel is not so much pride as a profound sense of relief.

Hermione, on the other hand, is a character I can identify with in a positive sense. I am not all that much like her, but there are enough points of identification to allow her to serve as a protagonist for me in a way that Harry simply cannot. (I'm just nothing like Harry. We're completely different types of people.) I am not as kind as she is, nor as generous—and I am not in the least bit brave—but I would like to be all of those things, and I'm enough kin to her in other ways that she can serve as a kind of exemplar. When Hermione behaves badly, I feel disappointed in her in a way that I just don't when Ron or Harry show their flaws; and when she does something particularly admirable, I feel gratified on a far more personal level.

And then there's Neville. My identification with Neville is value-neutral—it is neither positive nor negative; it is just there. Primarily it makes me anxious with the text, anxious and also extremely irritable, because I so often find myself thinking that Rowling just really doesn't get people like Neville—or therefore, by extension, people like me. She really just doesn't understand us at all. I am often deeply irked by the things she does with Neville—crazy though this may sound, I feel that she frequently "gets him wrong"—and I'm deeply fearful over her plans for him in future books. Whatever she ends up doing with him, I feel almost certain that it will anger and offend me.

This last type of identification is probably the closest thing I have to what Tabouli describes with Hermione. The difference, of course, is that while Tabouli's identification is canonically sanctioned (presumably she does not feel that Rowling ever gets Hermione "wrong"—how could she?), mine with Neville is both canonically indefensible and indeed, on the face of it, utterly absurd.

But then, you know. Reader identification can be like that. It's hardly a rational phenomenon to begin with.


Posted January 30, 2002 at 9:36 pm
Plain text version


RE: Sirius' Prank & Lupin

Jo, who is now worried about sending her child to summer camp, asked:

However, would you want to take your revenge upon any offspring of any of those people if they happened to fall within your sphere of influence?

No, of course I wouldn't. At least, I should certainly hope that I wouldn't.

But you know, even if I did find in myself that kind of vengeful impulse (which I doubt that I would, but I suppose it's possible), I would still manage to resist it somehow. Desire is one thing. Action is something else entirely. We all have sadistic and vindictive impulses (er...don't we?). That doesn't make it acceptable to go so far as to act on them.

I do find Snape's problems with grudge and bitterness and envy and resentment—as well as his instinct for cruelty—all highly sympathetic. I identify with them: they're tendencies that I share, things that I have struggled with myself. But his behavior is absolutely appalling, and while I can often (more often than I'm comfortable with, actually) empathize with it, I can in no way condone it.

(Oh, and BTW, about summer camp? If your child doesn't get picked on regularly at school, then s/he will probably be just fine at summer camp. If your kid's the Designated Scapegoat, on the other hand, as I always was...well, you just never know. S/he might be just fine at summer camp anyway. But I'd be wary.)

Cindy wrote:

This isn't going to be easy, but I'm going to give it everything I've got to explain why Sirius is not so bad, and uh, why Sirius is not so bad.

I think that people may have misunderstood me here. I don't actually think that Sirius is a bad guy at all. I like him. Honest, I do. And even the prank doesn't really make me think all that badly of him. It was a monstrously thoughtless and insensitive thing to do, yes. But he was sixteen. I did some pretty stupid things as a teenager myself. I'm perfectly willing to forgive him for the prank, myself. (Hell, easy for me to say, right? He didn't play the prank on me.)

Or, as Cindy wrote: "It was a dumb mistake that a dumb kid made, it's long since over, and that's that."

But at the same time, I can't really feel too harshly towards Snape for still feeling angry about it, either. Yeah, I know. It's Snape. He holds onto grudges forever, he can't ever let anything go, he's trapped in an arrested state of development, and on top of all of that, he's also cruel and vindictive and sadistic and unjust. Yes, yes, yes. All granted.

But I just can't find it in my heart to blame him for this particular grudge. Did he ever even receive an apology? I somehow doubt it. Or if he did, then I'll bet it came from James, on Sirius' behalf. Ugh. Horrid even to contemplate.

(Not, of course, that I think that he would have accepted an apology, even if one had been offered to him. But still.)

And besides, the hostility is hardly one-sided, is it? Sirius gets all snarly over the mention of Snape's name even before Snape shows up and starts putting on his Great Big Bad Villain Act. The anger and the hatred are mutual, which doesn't absolve either one of them for being such Big Babies, of course, but which does make me feel more generous about Snape's attitude. Let's face it—Snape's not exactly a turn-the-other-cheek kind of guy. Unlike his vendetta against Harry, or his viciousness to Lupin, his hatred of Sirius is not and has never been a one-way street.

[Cindy argues that Sirius, having spent the past twelve years in Azkaban, is himself trapped in a state of arrested development, and so can be forgiven both for continuing to make school-boy jibes about Snape to Harry et al and for lacking the maturity to just suck it down and admit that his "little prank" was exceptionally stupid and wrong-headed]

Eh. I agree with you that he can't have been expected to have gained much in the way of maturity while moaning in Azkaban. But he didn't go to prison until he was in his twenties, no? Plenty of time for it to have occurred to him that maybe trying to use one of his best friends as a weapon to murder another teenager might have been a tad, well, impetuous, to say the least. Plenty of time to have come to the conclusion that "he was utterly unpleasant, and so deserved it" is perhaps not the most appropriate sentiment to express when you're talking about an action that could have killed someone.

I mean, I like the guy too, Cindy. But he certainly is flawed.

Of course, for all we know Sirius might be perfectly willing to acknowledge that his prank was a dreadful error now. It has, after all, only come up that one time—and he was kind of distracted by being all obsessed and hell-bent on his vengeance on Peter at the time. So, you know, I'm not even willing to go so far as to say that he's not sufficiently mature these days to admit that he was wrong.

I was just saying that the one comment on the event that he did make didn't win him any points from me. And that I can't honestly blame Snape for still being peeved about it.

As for Lupin...

So here goes, and as a courtesy, I'll throw in some Lupin to soften you up before we get to Sirius.

::faint smile::

Lupin can always soften me up.

::shakes head firmly::

There, now you see? That's precisely why I rearranged the subject matter. Didn't want to get too sloppy while talking about Sirius and Snape, after all. That just wouldn't do.

But Lupin now...

I wasn't troubled much by Lupin's behavior in that scene. I didn't see him as cold-blooded, well, at least for a person about to kill someone in cold blood. He had a tragic, no-win situation to resolve, and he dealt with it in a methodical, fair, mature and business-like manner. I really don't see any other way he could have reacted consistent with his character....Peter never even expressed any remorse for what he did, so I don't see how Lupin even has to reach the question of whether he ought to show mercy.

[Cindy goes on to defend Lupin's refusal to show Peter mercy]

Again, I think that you misunderstood my major point there. What I found so chillingly dehumanizing about Lupin's behavior in the Shrieking Shack wasn't so much his eventual agreement to help Sirius kill Peter (although that is pretty chillingly dehumanizing, IMHO) as it was what I perceived as a decided tinge of sadism that started to creep into his tone toward the end of that scene.

Clearly we read his dialogue there very differently. You say that he deals with the matter "in a methodical, fair, mature and business-like manner." I would say that in some ways he does. But in other ways...I don't know. The particular manner in which he addresses Peter himself struck me as fairly sadistic, actually. It's a particular type of sadism, a sadism that masks itself as mild-mannered reasonableness—it's not all that distant, in fact, from that "I am your reproachful parent figure" tone that we see Voldemort taking with his DEs in the graveyard in Book Four.

Not that I'm equating the two characters, of course. Lupin's a sweetie. But the situation is an ugly one, and it has a nasty effect on all of those people, each according to his temperament. Sirius gets brutal, and Peter grovels pitifully, and Lupin...well, Lupin starts to edge into a rather sophisticated brand of verbal cruelty. That's just how someone of his particular temperament expresses extreme anger and hostility.


Posted January 31, 2002 at 12:13 am
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RE: Real Wizards Aren't Squeamish (Pettigrew, Wizarding Culture)

Quite some time ago, Cindy wrote:

Oh, I think there is one character even less sympathetic than Karkaroff, who has at least reformed himself into a headmaster of a school. Pettigrew is worse, IMHO.

Aw. Poor widdle Peter. Can't you cut him some slack, Cindy? I mean, what's he ever really done—other than betraying all of his friends, facilitating the return of Voldemort, abducting Bertha Jorkins and aiding in her torment and death, and murdering 12 anonymous Muggles and poor Cedric Diggory, that is? I mean, hey. We all make mistakes, right?

Heh. No, you're right. Pettigrew's seriously bad news. But I still find him more sympathetic than Karkaroff somehow. Maybe that's because Karkaroff still has some pride. He's smug and preening and sleek and vain, he vacillates between smarming up to Dumbledore and snarling accusations at him, he's mean to his students (with the exception of Victor), and his solicitousness to Victor...well, maybe that was just me. Was I the only one left with the unsettling suspicion that Karkaroff's relationship with Victor might have been neither purely pedagogical nor purely platonic—and almost certainly not purely consensual?

OK. So maybe I just have a very sick mind.

But even leaving aside for the moment the question of inappropriate relations between Karkaroff and his pet pupil, there still wasn't very much there to garner my sympathies—until he starting reacting to the reappearance of the Dark Mark, that is, at which point he did start to rack up some sympathy points with me. I sympathize readily with desperation, and with people trapped in no-win situations.

Pettigrew, on the other hand...well, every time we see the poor wretch, he's in some state of utter abjection. If he isn't grovelling for his life, then he's weeping in helpless terror at his impending death at the hands of his old classmates, or he's cringing in fear and revulsion from his Evil Undead Baby Master, or he's screaming or sobbing or moaning in physical agony. He's a broken man; his life is just one long unending misery; I don't believe that he's enjoyed a single moment of happiness or pleasure or even real contentment since the first day he joined Voldemort's cause. Even as a rat, he seemed profoundly depressed. ("")

And, yeah. That does make him somewhat sympathetic. To my way of thinking, at least.

But then, given that Cindy's admitted that she values toughness highly and identifies with it, while feeling little but contempt for vulnerability and frailty, I strongly suspect that this is precisely what makes Pettigrew her candidate for Least Sympathetic Character.

And then there's also the squeamishness issue. Cindy, again:

Wormtail? He's one of the few characters who we know doesn't like to kill people or see people killed, although he did what he had to do when he blasted all those Muggles on the street. That assessment is based on Wormtail's reluctance to curse/kill someone in GoF, and his unwillingness to look Harry in the eye in the graveyard.

Agreed. Although he is capable of killing without even a moment's hesitation. He doesn't balk for so much as a second before offing Cedric Diggory in the graveyard, and he couldn't have pulled off his snookering of poor Sirius if he'd messed up the timing on the muggle-blasting stunt. He may not care much for it, but he doesn't falter.

But I would agree that he doesn't like it very much. And again, I suspect that this probably acts as a black mark in Cindy's books, while it's rather a sympathy point in mine. Although I do feel a certain degree of contempt for the hypocrisy displayed by those who condone killing while being themselves unwilling to get their hands dirty, it still makes me think better of people when they seem squeamish about it. I don't like killing.

Cindy wrote:

Anyway, I don't think that there are that many characters in the series who are squeamish about killing people.

I think that this is an important observation, and one that strikes to the heart of a number of the topics I've brought up here recently: Where the Bleeding Hearts?, for example, or my discomfort with the idea of the equation of weakness and wickedness.

I very much liked Barb's observation that the most Bleeding Heartish character we've seen so far is Hermione, as well as her suggestion that this might have a lot to do with the fact that Hermione is muggle-born and thus out of step with wizarding culture as a whole. I agree with her entirely. Wizarding culture is not our own, and it differs in ways that run far deeper than a mere reliance on magic over technology.

The wizarding culture of the books strikes me as one that retains much stronger traces of Warrior Ethos than our own does. Wizards seem for the most part decidedly un-squeamish about killing, or indeed, about violence in general. Students at Hogwarts are exposed as a matter of due course to a degree of physical risk that strikes many readers (it would seem) as excessive or even horrifying, and they are expected to learn to handle this with aplomb. Timidity is only marginally better tolerated by the teachers than it is by the students themselves (far less so in Snape's case, but even the generally humanistic McGonagall has very little tolerance for it); cowardice is simply and purely and completely loathed.

The pureblooders' emphasis on the concept of "wizarding pride" is also telling, to my mind, as is the fact that duelling is still a common enough practice for it to be taught as an extracurricular option at Hogwarts. Pride—and a particular kind of pride at that, a combatative pride—is evident throughout the books as a trait on which the culture as a whole places a high degree of emphasis.

It's always struck me as amusing—amusing and also kind of sad, really—that the Slytherins seem to ascribe to this ethos very nearly as closely as the Gryffyndors do. They're supposed to value cunning and deceit, and achievement through any means possible, and all of that, right? They're supposed to value sneakiness. They're supposed to value the ends over the means. So why on earth should they care about things like warrior pride, or physical courage, or dignitas, or in-group loyalty?

But they do. They care about all of that a great deal. We see it with Voldie and his Death Eaters, and we see a lot of it with Draco Malfoy. Accused of having bought his way onto the Quiddich team, Draco actually loses his temper. If he's such a good little Slyth boy, then shouldn't he have simply smirked? After all, isn't that just the sort of practice that he's supposed to be engaged in? Finding the underhanded way to get things for himself? Exploiting a situation by any means possible? Really, he should be taking pride in his utterly House-sanctioned behavior. But he's not. He's ashamed. And he doesn't like being accused of cowardice, either. And he feels honor-bound to avenge insults against his mother's name. And...

And, well, it's all just plain sad, if you ask me. The poor Slyths just can't win: their House emphasizes the very values that their overall culture most strongly militates against. No matter how many times they may win the House Cup, no matter how loudly and shrilly they may proclaim their superiority by virtue of blood or money, no matter how successful their Old Boys may have been at attaining positions of power and prestige, the fact still remains that they're losers by cultural default, and they know it. Small wonder that they're so prone to envy and resentment, or that Evil Powers find them so very easy to corrupt and to seduce.

By the way, Lupin and Sirius really weren't thinking all that straight in the Shrieking Shack. If I felt I had to dispatch another human being in cold blood while that person begged for his life with three 13-year old kids standing around watching, I'd ask the kids to go stand in the hall.

You would think. But if wizarding culture really does adhere to a fairly strong warrior ethic, then maybe it wouldn't particularly occur to Sirius and Lupin. After all, the kids are wizards-in-training. They're expected to be pretty tough.

And, of course, Ron couldn't walk.

But yeah, I agree that if they'd been thinking more clearly, they probably would have at least tried to send the kids out of the room.



RE: Future books: Humor element, Voldemort/Harry encounters & Non-Characters

On "Comeuppance" humor, and brands of humor in general.

Cindy also thinks that GoF was the funniest of the books so far:

Oh, I'd agree that GoF was the funniest book by quite a bit.

I'm glad it wasn't just me.

CoS might also contend if you like Lockhart.

Lockhart didn't do it for me at all. I found him irritating, and only rarely amusing.

PoA is my favorite book overall, but I think that is because of the characterizations, not the wit.

PoA is my favorite for a number of reasons: theme, characterization, keep-you-guessing plot, and high melodrama. (I don't care that it's cheesy—I like a bit of melodrama from time to time!) Most of all, though, I think that I liked it for its oh-so-tight structure.

But I also found it pretty darned funny: it would definitely get my vote for second funniest of the books so far. It had a number of really good farce scenes, and I love farce. But more on that below...

I wrote:

I absolutely hate most varieties of "comeuppance" humor, for example—I always have, ever since very early childhood&8212;and there's a lot of that in these books.

Cindy wrote:

"Comeuppance" humor, I'm guessing, refers to things like Draco the Bouncing Ferret where we are supposed to think it is funny when a character is abused? Are there other examples you're thinking of?

A few other people chimed in to express their own dislike of slapstick, or of sadistic humor, so now I feel compelled to elaborate.

What I tend to dislike isn't so much slapstick or sadistic humor per se. Far from it—my sense of humor is actually quite sadistic.

What I don't much care for is a particular brand of sadistic humor in which the comedy is meant to derive largely from the perception that the abused character "deserved it," or that he "had it coming." I don't like "Just Desserts."

I am resolutely unamused, for example, when Dudley must take the fall over and over and over again; and when at the end of GoF the Gryffs, not content with having already hexed the Slyths into unconsciousness on the train, also feel the need to tramp all over their supine forms on their way out the door, it doesn't make me feel happy or gleeful or amused, or as if I've just been provided with a feel-good moment to lighten my mood. It makes me feel simply weary. Weary and sad, and very very old. (Part of me desperately wants to believe that, given the general emotional tenor of the end of GoF, this was indeed the intent. But the realist in me knows better.)

Pig's Tail and Tongue Toffee and Bouncing Ferret and Sylth Stomping fail to amuse me because...well, honestly, because I just don't see what's funny about them. They all seem to fall into a general category of "it's funny because he really had it coming" humor that I just don't happen to get.

But I do very much like other types of humor that derive from characters' being horribly pained or humiliated or embarrassed or abused. For me, though, in order for such scenes to work, the characters have to be active agents. It makes me laugh to see people desperately struggling to extricate themselves from impossible or embarrassing or even potentially lethal situations. I don't know quite what this is called, but I tend to think of it as the primary comedic attribute of Farce.

Both forms of humor are fairly sadistic, of course. The difference, I suppose, is that "Just Desserts" is purely sadistic—there's no particular identification with the victim involved, although there may well be a strong identification with those who witness the victim's humiliation—and it also has a tinge of righteous satisfaction: it is gratifying because it makes us feel that Justice Has Been Served.

Farce, OTOH, is more sado-masochistic. We take malicious enjoyment in the character's discomfiture (and may even take a good deal of self-righteous gratification in its "you had that coming" aspects), while simultaneously sympathizing and identifying with the victim's plight.

The latter makes me laugh; the former doesn't. Why? Who knows? I guess I must just have a taste for both sides of the whip. ;->

I enjoy farce in all its forms, from the cheesy low-brow bedroom variety ("Oh, no! It's my husband! Quick—go hide out on the balcony!") to the far more sophisticated verbal type. I'm particularly partial to those farcical scenes in which one character is desperately trying to defend an all-too-obviously indefensible statement or position to someone who just isn't buying it for a second. (The closest thing to a one-liner version of this that I can think of is: "She turned me into a newt! got better.") The more twists and turns the argument takes, the funnier I tend to find it, and of course, it always helps if the character to whom things are being explained is a bit of a sadist.

PoA had a lot of nice examples of this form of humor. I loved, for example, the scene in which Harry desperately tries to give Snape some explanation for why his head might have been spotted in Hogsmeade. Snape's own dry humor adds tremendously to the comedy, of course, as does his malice.

And then, naturally, there was Shrieking Shack.

Yes, of course I found Shrieking Shack funny! It was grim and terrible and disturbing—and also utterly hilarious. The steady degeneration of Pettigrew's attempts at self-defense—from "It wasn't me, it was Black!" to "Listen to all the clever arguments these nice thirteen-year-olds are making here, why don't you? It was Black, I'm telling you!" to "Well...okay, so it was me, but it happened in a moment of weakness, and really, what the hell else could you expect? You know what a terrible coward I've always been," to "Well...okay, so I was actually passing on information for an entire year, but Voldemort made me do it!" to finally "Oh God, just please don't kill me"—was absolutely hysterical. me, at any rate. Like I said, I've got kind of a black sense of humor.

But then, I'm particularly partial to what one might call "black farce," farce in which the penalty for failure is monstrously severe—death or enslavement or torment, for example, rather than social embarrassment or unemployment or plain old humiliation. The darker it gets, the funnier I tend to find it.

No-win situations also always tickle me. There is a subset of black farce (often known as "ghetto humor") in which the humor derives from the understanding that the character actually has no chance of extricating himself from his terrible predicament—he's utterly powerless, and the situation completely hopeless; he simply can't win. The best short example of this type I can think of right now is that bit in Monty Python's Life of Brian, when the Centurion tells the crucified prisoners, already hanging bound and nailed to their crosses: "Right, then. All those who don't want to be crucified, raise your hands."

JKR's never gone quite that dark, but she starts edging there in a couple of places in GoF. Voldie and the DEs in the graveyard, for example, was the scene that I've found the funniest in all the books so far. Particularly the brief exchange with Nott ("Yes. That will do" was the GoF laugh-out-loud line for me.) Again, it's black farce and while the humor there can be explained, I suppose, there's probably little point in doing so. If it's not the sort of thing that happens to strike your comedic fancy, then it just isn't.

Mainly, though, GoF's humor for me lies in the re-reading. Just about every Crouch/Moody scene in the book strikes me as funny, because I always enjoy humor that derives from the reader's being in on the joke. I like con artistry; I enjoy deceit. And I particularly love to be in on the joke when it comes to statements with hidden secondary meanings—especially if the motives of the character making the statements are malicious, or even downright wicked. (Richard III, Iago) I'm not quite sure why this form of humor should work so much better for me when the double-edged statements come from someone with ill-intentions, but I suspect that it may have something to do with the fact that I actively enjoy feeling strong conflicting sympathies. Laughing along with the villain, while simultaneously getting to sympathize with the innocent dupe, is just far more satisfying somehow than laughing along with the hero at the innocent dupe can ever be.

It's only on re-reading that you find the really black humor in GoF, but some of that is very black indeed. The scene in the anteroom off of the main hall right after Harry's name has come out of the Goblet of Fire, for example, is the thing that has definitely made me laugh the hardest in all the books to date—but it's definitely sadistic humor, and it's only evident on second reading. It made me giggle madly the second time through because, knowing the plot, Crouch Sr.'s position there is just so absolutely horrific that I found it funny.

I mean, there the poor bastard is, he's all Imperio'ed, and he's trapped in a very small room with Karkaroff, and with Snape, and with Ludo Bagman (who may or may not really be a Baddie, but I'd be willing to bet that at that point, Crouch was convinced that he was)—from his perspective, he's fallen into a pit of vipers, he really has—and then, as if that weren't bad enough, in stomps his polyjuiced son, pretending to be Moody, and starts just torturing the poor man, going on about "gee, maybe someone confunded the Goblet, wonder who could have done that?" and "I'll bet this is all part of someone's plan to murder Harry Potter, wonder who that can be?"

And poor Crouch can't do a thing. He can't warn anyone, he can't tell Dumbledore what's going on. All he can do is stand there, looking sicker and sicker by the minute (Harry notices how ill Crouch looks not just once, but twice in the course of that scene), and recite his designated lines whenever he's called upon to do so. Even when Dumbledore, who is obviously quite concerned that something may be up with him, invites him to stay for tea (his chance! his one chance!) the poor guy can't even manage to throw the curse off long enough to so much as accept the invitation. And I'm absolutely certain that Crouch interpreted Ludo Bagman's cheerful prodding ("Oh, come on, Barty—do say yes") as deliberate cruelty.

It's terrible, but it's also very funny in a black, black way: the second time I read GoF, I found myself giggling out loud all the way through that scene.

Then, I have quite a few rather, parental issues. (Why, yes! As a matter of fact, I did identify with young Barty Crouch. Why do you ask?) So I'm willing to acknowledge the possibility that my appreciation for the comedy inherent in that scene might well have been edging into the domain of the purely sadistic.

Anyway, as far as I'm concerned, JKR is going in the right direction as far as the humor element of the books goes. But then, I like my funnies dark.

—Elkins, who is willing to cut Crouch Sr. some slack, but only because he suffered horribly before he died

Posted February 01, 2002 at 4:18 pm
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RE: Humor--the Train Stomp--Crouch Jr. and Sr.

On the Train Stomp, Cindy wrote:

I had a different issue with that scene. Bad guys kick their foe then they are down and helpless and unconscious. Good guys do what they have to do and move on. They do NOT curse people just for saying something they don't like, stomp them, and then leave them there powerless to rescue themselves.

I share that issue.

No, there was nothing chivalrous about it at all, was there? Five against three. (And given that two of those three were Crabbe and Goyle, perhaps we ought to call it 'five against one and a half?') Fred and George attacking from behind. Not to mention the fact that, as far as I could tell, the Slyths hadn't even considered reaching for their wands.

And that's before we even got to the stomping.

But then, Harry and friends are only fourteen years old, and the verbal provocation was quite severe, and poor Harry had quite the trauma-inducing year, so I'm willing to forgive them for it.

Fred and George, however, are another matter. They're seventeen years old, for heaven's sake! By the standards of their culture, they're legal adults! And they're hexing a bunch of fourteen-year-olds in the back, stomping all over them while they're lying there unconscious, and then leaving them alone on a train in the middle of London? Where I come from, we had a word for older teens who did stuff like that. We called them "bullies."

Then, I've never much cared for the twins. (Oh, boy. I'm really not making myself popular here, am I?) Playing their practical jokes on everyone. Springing booby-trapped sweets on unsuspecting younger kids. And hissing poor little eleven-year-old Malcolm Baddock at the Sorting Ceremony, just because he got sorted into Slytherin.

That last is by far the worst, to my mind. I mean, really! What a rotten thing to do. We've never seen even the Slyths hiss or jeer at anyone during the Sorting Ceremony. Inappropriate. Inappropriate, and very mean-spirited.

And what a lovely way to start your school career. I mean, can you imagine it? Here you are, you're just a little kid, it's your very first day at Hogwarts, everything is incredibly intimidating, you're scared to death of this whole Sorting process, you put the hat on your head, it pronounces you a Slytherin, and then, just as you're beginning to feel that maybe this might not be so bad after all ("Hey, those kids at that table are actually clapping! For me! Cool!"), just when you're beginning to relax, that's when these two enormous red-headed louts over at another table -- and they're really big kids, too; they're big, and strong, and much much older than you—they start to hiss at you. As if they hate you, or something! And you've never even met them before!

Sheesh. Poor little Malcolm Baddock.

Me, I think the twins are a couple of cads.

Maybe the train stomp scene is transitional and is designed to show that this is an all-out war now? I hope that's all it is supposed to be.

I hope so, as well. Like I said before, I really do find myself hoping that the train stomp—like the nastiness of Draco's comment that prompted it—was supposed to make the reader feel saddened and wearied and concerned about the corrupting effects of all of this hatred and violence on these terribly young people...

But I really don't think that it was. I've a horrible suspicion that JKR actually intended for the payback to be a feel-good moment for us.

If so, then it sure didn't work on me. I found it...grim.

I wrote:

It makes me laugh to see people desperately struggling to extricate themselves from impossible or embarrassing or even potentially lethal situations. I don't know quite what this is called, but I tend to think of it as the primary comedic attribute of Farce.

Cindy said:

Hmmm. I'm trying to think of examples of this from canon.

Well, Gwen (I believe) classified the Yule Ball sequences as "romantic comedy," but I see many aspects of farce there as well. Ron and Harry's attempts to find dates, and the inevitability that they are going to embarrass themselves in this endeavor, qualifies as farcical to my mind.

But the classic farce scene in GoF, which I'm appalled to notice that I actually forgot to mention last time around, comes in the "Egg and the Eye" chapter, when Harry gets stuck in the trick stair under his invisibility cloak and has to try to get himself out of the situation while dealing with Snape, Filch and Fake Moody, all of whom are themselves pursuing their own agenda.

I love that scene. It's got everything. It has Harry's predicament, which is fundamentally absurd, yet compelling. It has dreadfully mistaken characters insisting on their version of events at the top of their lungs ("I'm telling you, it was Peeves!"). It has some variants on mistaken identity—who has been breaking into Snape's office, anyway? And where the devil is Bartemius Crouch? It has (on rereading) all of Crouch's sly double-edged comments. And it also has a secondary dilemma, also only visible on second reading, in Crouch's own predicament: his reaction to the Marauder's Map, the near-miss aspect of Harry's fingering him (or, rather, his father) as the mysterious intruder in Snape's office.

And on top of all of that, it also falls back on that old farce stand-by of allowing us to see ordinarily dignified characters wandering around in their night-clothes. That's a classic. You can just never go wrong with that one.

One is Pettigrew trying to talk his way out of trouble, as you mention. Another is Harry trying to escape from the graveyard.

Harry trying to escape from the graveyard does fit my description, but I didn't find it farcical at all—it just wasn't written that way. Of course, the question of "how something is written" is always a rather difficult one—it's a question of nuance, and of tone, and thus totally subjective. Hmmm. Let's see if I can manage this...

Shrieking Shack, deadly serious though it may have been in some ways, also had quite a few farcical elements: Pettigrew's repeated "Yes! There! You see?" comments every time one of the kids makes an argument in his favor, for example, or the humor implicit in his appealing to Ron on the grounds that "I was a good pet" (when in fact the notion that Scabbers was an utterly unsatisfactory pet has been emphasized repeatedly throughout the rest of the book), or the painfully obvious way in which he appeals to each and every person in the room (one at a time, as if he's following some sort of official "supplication by the numbers" manual), or the way that he keeps changing his story, looking for an exit strategy.

Harry's duel with Voldemort, though...well, I just didn't see any elements of farce there. Yes, Harry did want quite desperately to escape from the situation, but there's no touch of the absurd there, as there is in Shrieking Shack, and there's no point at which his desperation becomes...well, funny. He doesn't resort to any ridiculous lengths, or attempt anything utterly untenable, or...

Well, gah. Humor is hard to define. It's more a matter of tone, I think, then of anything else.

I think for me to be amused by a character squirming in a tight spot, the tight spot can't be a matter of life or death.

::nods:: Farce usually keeps the stakes lower than life or death, and for just that reason. I think that most people stop finding it funny once it starts to get too grim.

[Crouch/Moody, stomping in to announce the plot right after Harry's name spits out of the Goblet]

On a re-read, I was amused by just how brazen Moody is. He walks right in and gives away half of the plot twist, and I didn't believe it. Nope. I wasn't buying anything Moody said in that scene.

Crouch Jr. was just such an utter show-off. It's one of the things that I found so very appealing about him.

Really? Crouch Jr. was kind of a flat-liner for me. I mean, he was great as Moody, but I didn't get a real sense for him individually.

I liked him for the way that he was constantly entertaining himself by making all of those sly double-edged comments that no one else (except the re-reader) could possibly ever appreciate. I enjoyed both his sense of irony and his sense of malice, and the pure and simple glee that he seemed to take in combining the two. I found the fact that he really did seem to be having a whole lot of fun with this mission—this whole masquerading as Moody thing was the greatest thing since sliced bread so far as he was concerned; he was just having a blast with it—to be curiously endearing, even refreshing.

And I think that he really enjoyed teaching the DADA classes as well. I'm convinced that Crouch could have been a damned fine teacher himself, if only his life had gone...well, very differently.

I also found his acting talent extremely impressive and found it interesting to contemplate the extent to which his ability to immerse himself so fully in his role might not have been an effect of having spent over a decade effectively stripped of any real identity of his own—enslaved, invisible, presumed dead, permitted to speak to no one but (shudder) Winky.

(Sudden image of Barty Crouch, staring blankly at himself in the mirror between Polyjuice doses and murmering to himself: "But what's my motivation here? I mean, really now: what's my motivation?)

I felt a certain sympathy for him, too, even though he was admittedly a very evil fellow. His insistence on viewing Voldemort as his Good Daddy figure was just so very pathetic.

And now that you mention it, I gather that we are not supposed to like Crouch Sr., but I liked him well enough. I guess we're not supposed to like him because he spent too much time at the office, and because he gave his son a rather truncated trial.

Me, I don't care about 'too much time at the office.' But I do think that the man was a hypocrite and a control-freak, and that he wasn't terribly clear on the entire notion of a child as an individual person, rather than as an extension of the parent's identity. I also think that what he did to his son was considerably more cruel than just leaving him to die in Azkaban would have been.

That said, I also think that (whatever young Barty himself might have thought on the matter), Crouch Elder did genuinely believe that he loved his son. I'm just not certain that he really got the whole love thing, at least when it came to his own child.

Really, what did Crouch Sr. do to deserve his unfortunate transfiguration into a bone, other than show mercy to his no-account, good-for-nothing, disgrace-to-the-family-name offspring?

Mmmm. Well, as you know, Cindy, I'm decidedly squicky on the subject of the Imperius Curse. But all the same, it still seems to me that stripping your no-account, good-for-nothing, disgrace-to-the-family-name offspring of all personal volition, rendering him completely invisible, denying him all human contact, and keeping him locked in your kitchen is...well, that isn't exactly mercy, is it?

That isn't mercy at all. That's stripping someone of all of the signifiers of personal identity, and then just keeping them around as a kind of robot. It's preserving the form, while denying the essence. It's almost like a lesser manifestation of the Dementor's Kiss.

I read it as fairly symbolic, myself. Crouch always viewed his son as an extension of his own identity, and so when his son rebelled against him by turning to the Dark Side, he first tried to sever the tie ("You are not my son!") and then, when that didn't work out for him, he chose instead to use the Imperius Curse to render the boy incapable of being anything but an extension of his own identity.

You know what they say about all unhappy families...

I'll definitely cut Crouch Sr. a break, but not Crouch Jr.

Aw, hell. I'm happy to slather on the slack for them both. After all, one of them's dead, and the other is worse than dead, and they didn't leave anyone else to carry on their twisted family legacy, so why hold grudges?


Posted February 02, 2002 at 3:34 am
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RE: Tough Peter

Cindy wrote:

Oh, gee. What was that weird fluttering sensation? It felt suspiciously like a pang of sympathy for Peter.

<For just a moment, a Gleam of Triumph may be seen in Elkins' eyes>

<It is quickly suppressed.>

Oh, I shouldn't worry too much about that odd little sensation if I were you, Cindy. It's really only when you start to feel the blood trickling down that you need to become concerned, you know.

Trust me.

Is Peter Tough? Yes, because he cut off his own hand and considering that this probably hurt a bit, he handled it as well as could be expected. No, because he does a fair amount of sniveling in the Shrieking Shack. Yes, because he cut off his own finger. No, because he does a fair amount of sniveling in the graveyard. Yes, because he outsmarted Sirius. The dial on the Toughmeter is whipping around because it can't get a reading on Peter at all. I have to think of some other way to size up Peter.

Problem is, you've got two different types of Toughness there, maybe even more.

If you mean Tough in the sense of Able To Do What Needs To Be Done, then I'd say that he's extremely tough. When he has a job to do, he does it. He may not like it much, but he does not balk and he does not hesitate. He gets it done. It's not just that he manages to cut off his own hand that impresses me, frankly, but that he cuts off his own hand in the middle of what looks to be a rather tricky piece of ritual magic—and then, by God, he completes it. He may be sobbing in pain, but he doesn't allow himself to actually collapse until he's finished the job. So, yeah. In that way, I think that he's pretty tough.

Or, if by Tough you mean "capable of swift and decisive action, even when it places him at personal risk," well...he's Tough in that way, too. Peter's not really a coward at all, in the most common definition of that term. His framing of Sirius took a lot of guts, yes, but his escape at the end of PoA? Now, that required nerves of steel!

I know that if I'd just had as narrow a brush with death as Peter had, and then I'd been told "well...okay, Elkins. We'll take you up to the castle now. But just so you know: if you so much as think about transforming, then we really are going to kill you. You got that?" then I would never, not ever, not in a million years have been able to seize an unexpected opportunity for escape the way that Peter did. Nope. No way. Not even to avoid Azkaban. Not even if I thought they were going to give me the Kiss for what I'd done. I still wouldn't be able to bring myself to take the risk. I'd just be far too cowed.

But Peter isn't. He isn't nerveless, and he isn't unwilling to take risks. He's Tough in that way, too.

I think that what might be giving Cindy her headache here, though, is that Peter is definitely not Tough in the sense of being stoic. He isn't a stoic at all. He lacks pride, and I don't really think that he has very much in the way of emotional control, either. In short, he's a cry-baby. I get the impression that he's simply not terribly concerned with that type of personal dignity. If pleading or snivelling or grovelling seems likely to help him, then he feels no particular shame in doing so; and he's not going to bother to try to choke back his screams or sobs or moans when Voldie smacks him with a Cruciatus, or when he's just cut his own hand off with some evil Dark ritual blade. Why on earth should he? It really hurts, dammit!

And you know, I've some respect for that, actually. It takes a certain type of courage to display so little pride.

I also do think that Peter's a moral coward. But I don't know if that has any bearing on "Toughness." It certainly does on the question of courage, but that's a slightly different matter.

Donna, who can picture Peter crying and grovelling, while the inner Peter is thinking Suckers!, wrote:

After reading both Elkins' and Cindy's posts, I think Peter is tough. I see Peter's snivelling as something that's worked very well for him in the past, so why wouldn't he keep using it?

I would agree that he certainly is a manipulative little man, and I'm sure that he knows how to turn on the waterworks when he thinks that it might get him something. I don't know if I believe that's all there is to the snivelling, though.

In the Shrieking Shack, Peter really doesn't seem to be very skilled at controlling his fear responses, even when doing so would have benefitted his cause. His sweating and trembling and darty eye movements and the like don't inspire Harry's confidence in the veracity of his tale, and I doubt that they helped him much with Remus either. I suspect that he's just not very good at controlling such things. Maybe he can switch the waterworks on at will, but I somehow doubt that he knows how to turn them off.

When Sirius cornered him after the Potters' deaths, he judged that it wouldn't work on Sirius on this occasion and didn't even try. He worked very coolly, cutting his finger off, and accusing Sirius without hesitating. If he was a true coward, I think he couldn't have helped crying and begging first, claiming to be under the Imperius Curse.

I'll bet he was shaking, though. And probably sweating. And breathing hard.

His apparent terror right before he performs Voldie's rebirthing ritual serves no manipulative purpose that I can see, and yet he's quite clearly scared out of his gourd there. I agree with you that he's both manipulative and Tougher Than He Looks, but I don't think that he's exactly on top of his physiological fear responses.

But on this topic, I've always wondered why Peter didn't take that approach with Sirius in the first place. He already knows that Voldemort has mysteriously vanished, and he may even already know that the other DEs are starting to mutter things about him having betrayed their master to his doom. So wouldn't you think that it would make more sense, from a strategic standpoint, to try to get back in with the winning side while the getting's good, rather than going into hiding for thirteen years?

Do you think Sirius really would have killed him right there on the street if he'd burst into tears and choked out some sob story about how the evil Death Eaters tortured him horribly, and hard as he tried he just couldn't withstand them, and so he betrayed Lily and James, and now he'll never forgive himself for being such a useless, hopeless, impotent wretch, and would Sirius just kill him now, please, quickly, and put him out of his guilt-racked misery?

Hell. That's what I think that I would have done, had I been in Peter's position.

The fact that Peter didn't go for that approach makes me suspect that he figured that Sirius probably really would kill him if he tried it—which in turn makes me think some rather nasty things about Sirius Black and his infamous temper, honestly. (Sorry, Cindy.)

Although he does whine in front of Voldemort, I don't believe he does it with him for the same reason. I think it's a useful strategy because it draws V's contempt. V is too dismissive of him to see him as much of a threat (unlike Malfoy).

He's not all that bad when he speaks to Voldemort, actually. I mean, except for those times when Voldemort is actually threatening him, or torturing him, or ignoring him while he slowly bleeds to death...

Well, okay, so that's most of the times that we've seen them together. But still. When Peter actually wants something from Voldemort—when he's trying to convince him to use someone other than Harry in the rebirthing ritual, for example, or when he's registering his doubts over the plans as they stand, or even when he's reminding him of his promise in the graveyard—he actually uses a comparatively normal tone. It's not exactly dignified, but it isn't his full-blown Snivel Mode either.

I think he's smart enough to realize that if the tone gets too snivelly, no one really listens to the content.

Back to Cindy, who asked:

What the heck made him betray the Marauders?

I tend to go along with the poor opinion of his ex-friends on this one. I think that he wanted to be on the winning side of the war, and he guessed wrong.

Why was he so reluctant to proceed with the plan in the beginning of GoF?

I'm not sure. But it certainly was a rather...far-fetched plan, wasn't it? Rather baroque, and over-complicated, and full of places where things could have gone horribly awry? And it involved relying on the abilities of young Barty Crouch, who as it turned out was quite competent in his role, but who was also a complete and utter lunatic who'd spent the past ten years locked up in his father's house, under the Imperius, and wrapped up in a cloak.

I wouldn't have had much confidence in the plan either, truth be told. I mean, it's one of those crazed villain plans, isn't it? It's a nutter plan. You'd have to be as mad as young Crouch to think it a good plan. You'd have to be as crazed as...well, as Voldemort.

But of course, poor Peter couldn't really say that, now, could he? So he did his best.

Does he really want Voldemort restored, or is he just doing that because he has nowhere else to go?

Well, after the events of PoA he probably figured that not only Sirius and Remus, but also the Ministry of Magic would be out looking to hunt him down. It probably didn't even occur to him that the Ministry would fail to acquit Sirius. So from his perspective, there are going to be Aurors out looking for him, and now they'll all know that he's an animagus, they'll have descriptions of his rat form as well as his human form, and...

Yeah. I think he assumes that Voldie getting restored and seizing power is just about his only chance of ever having any sort of life. Sadly, he's probably right.

Also, I suspect that after thirteen years of life as Scabbers—being manhandled by grubby little Weasley children, shoved into their lint-filled pockets, fed on table scraps, used as the test subject for the twins' pranks, dressed up in Ginny's doll's clothes—it had to feel good to finally have someone to talk to for a change.

I mean, okay, so that person happens to be the Great Evil Dark Lord Who Must Not Be Named, who's currently trapped in an only partially corporated state. It's not really like having a friend or anything. It's not even as if the two of you ever have real conversations. Mainly what happens is that he says things, and then you agree with them—if you know what's good for you. He's abusive and contemptuous and cruel, and you know full well that he doesn't really like you—he doesn't like anyone, and even if he did, it sure wouldn't be you—and in fact, he's probably planning on killing you the instant you no longer serve his purposes...

But all the same, you know, at least it's adult company.

And besides, right now he actually needs you. Which is kind of nice, you know. Someone needing you. Especially when it's someone who may someday be Very Powerful Indeed.

Pathetic, it is. Just pathetic. But Peter certainly does get sulky enough whenever Voldemort starts going on about his good servants, his loyal servants, doesn't he? Petulant, even. Jealous. I think he's headed for empty nest syndrome ("My little Baby Who Must Not Be Named, all grown up, doesn't need me anymore..."). He's going to be reminiscing wistfully about those fine old pre-Bertha Jorkins days, when it was just the two of them (well...and the snake), out there in the Albanian wilderness...

—Elkins, getting slightly loopy as the hour grows late.

Posted February 02, 2002 at 6:38 am
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