POSTS TO HPFGU
2002-2003
     
       
       

Weekly Archive
March 10, 2002 - March 16, 2002

RE: Sartorial blind-spots, Animagi clothing, Sirius' motorcycle


There does seem to be a great deal of sartorial inconsistency in the books (if the Weasleys are so oblivious to the ways of the Muggles, then why does Harry only recognize them as a wizarding family when he overhears mention of Platform Nine and Three-Quarters? Shouldn't he have known this instantly from their bizarre form of dress? Do the students wear those pointy hats to all their classes or don't they? Is a robeless Hogwarts student indecently-exposed or isn't he? How do you manage to straddle a broomstick in floor-length robes? And so forth.) The animagus question is just one of a long list.

My gut feeling about JKR as a writer is that she doesn't tend to visualize clothing very much at all when she imagines the scenes to herself. Descriptions of clothing in the books are rare, and where they appear, they are quite sparse. Unless the the author is going out of her way to make a point about someone's form of dress, she rarely thinks to mention what people are wearing at all. Fudge's gaily-colored ensemble merits some description, as do Hagrid's awful suit and the dress robes people wear to the Yule Ball. There is quite a bit of sartorial description in the QWC segment of GoF. But generally speaking, there just isn't very much emphasis on clothing in the text. I get the impression that JKR is simply not terribly interested in clothing (unlike food, which clearly is something that interests her and that plays a large role in her visualization of the fictive world).

So when it comes to Shrieking Shack, for example, my suspicion is that it didn't occur to the author to specify whether or not Pettigrew was dressed because what the characters were wearing played very little role in her own visualization of that scene. She may, indeed, simply not have considered the question. Sirius' ratty grey robes did occur to her, because his role as "convict" was important, and so the appropriate clothing for that role leapt to her mind. Pettigrew's dress (or lack thereof), on the other hand, was something that she may well just never have thought to consider.

This may seem strange to people who are interested in and attentive to clothing. To me, it seems perfectly natural. As both a reader and a writer, I know that while I always visualize things like facial expression and body language and landscape in photographically vivid detail, I often fail to visualize clothing at all. This is likely related to my oblivion to clothing in real life: I am remarkably inattentive to what people are wearing; unless they are indecently-exposed or in some truly bizarre get-up, like a period costume, I rarely notice their clothing. (This makes me absolutely useless as a witness, as became all too clear when the police asked me questions about a con-man who had tried to pull a scam at our store and upon failing, fled the scene. "Well, all right, then. Was what he was wearing dark or light?" "Um...I'm sorry. I really just didn't notice.") Whenever sartorial issues come up on this list, I find myself wondering if JKR might not suffer from a similar blind spot.

Charis Julia wrote:

So, Peter left his robes behind him when he transformed. Was he naked in the Shrieking Shack then? Ugh, ugh, shakes self violently trying to rid brain of horrible new envisioning of scene. Nope. Won't work. Stuck with it. Bother.

Ugh. You know, I have to admit that it never once occurred to me to wonder what Pettigrew was wearing in Shrieking Shack. And you know what else? In this particular case, ignorance really was bliss. I could, I think, have lived very happily for the rest of my life without ever being forced to contemplate the possibility that the poor wretch was actually stark naked throughout that scene, or (even worse) being forced to try to visualize it that way. So thank you, HPFGU. Thanks a whole lot.

<Elkins pauses for a moment, trying to envision Shrieking Shack with a starkers Pettigrew, then shakes her head with a shudder>

No. Ugh, no, that's just far too degrading. I balk at the concept. My imagination goes on strike; the shutter on my mental camera refuses to click; I instinctively avert my inner eye. I simply cannot bring myself to go there. Therefore, I am forced to deduce that Pettigrew must have been clothed.

So there. That's settled, then.

Charis wrote:

By the way, one thing I've always wondered. Why did Sirius tell Hagrid he wouldn't be needing the motorcycle any more? The only explanation that I can come up with is that, in a blinding rage that had possessed him and half unhinged by grief, he really does intend to murder Pettigrew. Oh, yeah, actually we know that for a fact, he says so at the end of PoA. So, he knew he would be caught and sent to Azkaban, but had no problem facing the prospect if it was necessary in order to avenge his friends death.

That was always my understanding. He was slightly unhinged at the time, and he wasn't thinking too clearly; he felt as if his life were over. There's a tinge of the suicidal there, to be sure — giving away cherished possessions, you know. Never a good sign.

Except that, well, all this doesn't fit in too well with my perception of wizarding justice at all. Surely in the post—Voldemort years a man would be honoured for bringing in a Death Eater, not hauled off to prison.

But there would have been no way for Sirius to prove his story, would there? If we assume (as I think that we must) that for whatever reason, veritaserum was not being used for such purposes at that time, then it would have come down to Sirius' word. He didn't expect that anyone would believe him.

Moody doesn't seem to have been punished for killing Rosier, does he?

Ah, but that's different. Moody was an Auror, with a licence to kill. He was authorized to identify people as Dark Wizards and to take violent action against them. Sirius was not. The wizarding world may be a bit anarchic, but it nonetheless does seem to draw a distinction between vigilante justice and the activities of the duly-authorized representatives of the judicial system.

—Elkins

Posted March 10, 2002 at 11:15 am
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RE: Chess Game, Snape's spying career


Chelsea wrote:

I don't knw much about chess, so I'm not sure exactly how significant the knight piece is. However, Ron taking the knight piece, and valiantly sacrificing himself to help his friends, seems a very powerful thing to do.

You know, I've always wondered about Ron taking the knight's position as well. Ron's obviously a very good chess player. So why would he have chosen to take the place of a knight? I am not very good at chess myself, but I have played enough of the game to know that the knights are, well...

Well, there's just no nice way to say this. They're pieces that one often chooses to sacrifice.

But I agree with Chelsea's implication that the symbolism was probably more on JKR's mind there than the actual strategy. All the same, as an in-character action, it has always bothered me a bit. Taking the part of one of the knights was wiser than taking the place of one of the pawns, admittedly — but it still would have been safer for Ron to clamber up into a castle. Or, for that matter, just to play the king.

<Elkins experiences a sudden and intense desire to lay into an elaborate speculation which would culminate in the mysterious Florence singing a rousing rendition of "Nobody's On Nobody's Side," but she valiantly resists this urge and carries on...>

I said that I shared Athena's perplexity over Dumbledore's decision to pronounce Snape's agent role to the crowded tribunal. David wrote:

My view is that this is because Dumbledore considered that Snape's spying career was, and still is, over.

Even so, though, surely Dumbledore's pronouncement could have placed Snape at far greater risk from other (still at-large) Death Eaters? He makes the pronouncement during Karkaroff's plea bargain, at a time when the Ministry clearly believes that there are many Death Eaters not only still at large, but also as-yet unidentified. For that matter, he makes the pronouncement after it has become clear that there might still be Death Eater moles within the very ministry itself! It just seemed a bit...inconsiderate to me.

For that matter, what about all of the DEs who gained aquittal on the grounds of Imperius? As far as I've been able to reconstruct the timeline of events here, Lucius Malfoy was probably already a free man at the time of Karkaroff's hearing, as likely were a number of the other DEs we know to have been aquitted (Avery, Nott, Crabbe, Goyle).

I very much doubt that Dumbledore ever attached much credence to Lucius Malfoy's claims of innocence. At the time of Karkaroff's hearing, he must have known that there were Death Eaters who would likely never be brought to justice. Why place Snape at risk of acts of retribution from his former colleagues by making his pronouncement in what seems to be such a (relatively) public milieu?

Did Dumbledore really have faith in the discretion of all two hundred or so of the people in that room? Did he feel confident that not one of the walked-free Death Eaters would be willing to risk his own safety by trying to get a bit of payback on a traitor? Did he figure that all of the DEs had to know the score already, so a public pronouncement couldn't possibly do any more damage? Or did he just want to ensure that poor Severus would never be able to feel comfortable setting foot outside of Hogwarts again, or be able to socialize with those who might prove a Bad Influence on him? ;-)

I realize, of course, that the scene is probably just written that way because it makes for a more dramatic moment. But all the same, it does make me wonder.

—Elkins

Posted March 10, 2002 at 11:44 am
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RE: Kitty-Gro, FLIRTIAC, and Argus


Tabouli suggested a new spin on FLIRTIAC:

In Harry's fifth year, however, the situation is too serious. Dumbledore can no longer justify keeping talented a witch hidden in feline form, and reunites Filch with his beloved in human form, thus gaining a new member of staff...Professor Norris, the new and female professor teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts!

Oh no, Tabouli! Just think of the terrible potential for heartache!

I mean, we all know that the new female DADA professor is always the one who finally manages to break through poor dear Sevvie's nasty old shell and win his warm and squishy heart, right? And we all know how Snape and Filch feel about each other. So you can't go putting poor Mrs. Norris in the middle of all that, Tabouli, you just can't! I won't allow it! It would be far too ugly, and too too cruel.

<Elkins pauses to consider, then raises one eyebrow>

Although...

Although it would make for one great bang-up of a love triangle, don't you think? Especially if combined with the Kitty-Gro variant of FLIRTIAC?

After all, as you yourself said:

Moreover, Filch knows that Snape not only knows about his tragic secret, but is devoting hours of research to the one thing that matters most to him in the world... curing Mrs Norris.

Ah...but why? Why does Snape devote all of those hours of research to curing some Squib's muggle-born girlfriend? Just because she was once, like Snape, an ally of Dumbledore? Just because of his regard for Filch? Just because he feels a little guilty about helping to invent the Kitty-Gro? Just because he's a Great Big Softie when it comes to doomed romance?

Naaaaah.

No, it's obviously because he was in love with her himself! And furthermore, he still is.



(Could even Snape and Filch not be friends under such circumstances?)

But of course they would have to have become friends! It's one of those classic male-bonding things. It's that "united through their shared love of the same woman" thing, don't you know. It's that old Romantic Rivals thing. Works every time.

But oh, how ugly things could become once Mrs. Norris is returned to human form! Fifteen years ago, admittedly, she chose the older and more worldly (if far less magical) of the two men. But would she make that same choice again? Perhaps now that she's had fifteen years of Filch's company, Filch's Lover Is Regretting that decision? Perhaps now that she is no spring kitten herself, she might find Snape's boyish charm and youthful good looks (hey, it's all relative, right?) far more appealing than Filch's worldly wisdom and serene maturity? (I said it's relative, dammit! Relative!) Forced to choose once more between these two paragons of masculine desirability, would Mrs. Norris make the same decision the second time around?

Oh, how Filch wonders sometimes — especially on those nights when sleep simply refuses to come. How he wonders in the wee hours, as he stares sightlessly at those useless Kwikspell course notes, waiting for the first light of dawn...

And Snape wonders too, of course. Why else would he be working so hard on that antidote?

So long as Mrs. Norris cannot express her opinion, this tension may go pleasantly unresolved, adding a special piquancy to those tender moments when Filch tends Snape's wounds or helps him to cover up those pesky grey hairs.

But oh, once she is transformed back into a woman, what on earth will happen?

<Elkins contemplates the possibilities, then smiles to herself>

Yes, all right, Tabouli. You've sold me on it. But only if I can turn it into a love triangle.

::innocent look::

But surely that's perfectly okay with you. Right?

I think the evidence before us is clear, ladies and gentlemen, so much so that I might take some time out from LOLLIPOPS and rewrite the FLIRTIAC manual...

Your canonical evidence is indeed most impressive (I particularly liked the Polyjuice Precedent)! But might I suggest one further bit of canon that helps to support my variant?

The smirk. That little smirk on Snape's face when Filch is overcome with grief over Mrs. Norris' petrifaction in CoS. One thing that Kitty-Gro utterly fails to explain to my satisfaction is why on earth Snape would be suppressing a smile there.

But if Filch is his romantic rival, you see, then it makes a bit more sense. Snape knows perfectly well that Mrs. Norris has merely been petrified, not killed, and that her condition is both painless and reversible. That Filch does not himself realize this is indeed rather pathetic. Snape bothers to suppress the smile because he really does have some affection for Filch. But what he's really thinking there is: "A man like this could surely never hold her. She will be mine!"

Reepicheep (the Talking Mouse) wrote:

She might be in her cat form for any reason, but I seriously doubt she'd be any kind of lover of Filch. I mean, we all know how he is described; can you see any sensible girl falling for a guy like him?

A sensible girl? Of course a sensible girl could fall for a guy like that! He may have all sorts of sterling qualities that we the readers, limited in our perspective to Harry's point of view, might just never have seen.

I mean, just think of the, uh...tenderness he shows to Snape in PS/SS, helping him tend to his wounds. Think of the, uh, depths of emotion that he shows in CoS, as he sobs over poor petrified Mrs. Norris. Think of...of...

Well, yeah, okay. Now I'm out of examples. But surely the man has many admirable traits that have simply not yet been brought to light.

Filch is not, it is true, very much in the way of eye candy. But then, surely sensible girls shouldn't care about such things. That's for frivolous girls.

Hmmph. First Captain Charis goes denying poor Peter a teenaged love interest ("who would have him?" she asks, just because he was a little short and podgy), and now here you go, picking on Filch! What a bastion of Lookism we are here at HPFGU, aren't we!

Besides, it could well be that Mrs. Norris was just really really into those manacles.



Tabouli objected:

Ah, but no! We only know how he's described now, after years and years of anguish over his feline beloved have turned him cruel and hysterical. . . .Perhaps as a younger man he was dashing and devoted!

Erm. Well, really, if we go by the Kitty-Gro FLIRTIAC timeline, then it can't have been more than fifteen years, can it? I don't really know if I believe that to be quite enough time to turn someone young and dashing into...well, Filch.

But hey. Who cares?

<Elkins dons her "Society for Yes-Men, Cowards, Ostriches, Passive-Aggressives, Hysterics, Abject Neurotics, and Toadying Sycophants" spokesperson's hat>

After all, ugly, creepy, mean-spirited, cruel old hysterical people need love too.

<Having thus done her duty, Elkins removes her hat>



Reepicheep added:

Also, if we think of JKR's use of names, I don't think anybody called Filch (OED: to filch - petty stealing) can ever be a likeable character. (Of course, if we assume her to be evil, then it would be a different matter, but as a cat lover I refuse to consider this idea.)

Oh, come now! Filch isn't evil. He's unpleasant, yes, not a terribly likeable fellow. But I don't think we've seen any evidence that he's evil.

And Mrs. Norris is certainly not evil. She's very compassionate. Just think of all of those times that she's stared right at Harry while he's been skulking about in that invisibility cloak, and yet not turned him in! She's a real softie, is Mrs. Norris.

How about the idea that she was turned into a cat to ESCAPE Filch's hateful attention (see Daphne and Apollo, and Apollo wasn't half the creep Filch is!)?

Hmmm. Well, if you want to run with the classical allusions and the significance of names (and since you really do seem to dislike Filch), then might I suggest that you focus on Filch's first name: Argus?

If you run with the name Argus, then with only a slight twist on the legend, you could propose that Filch might actually be an ally of the wicked Mr. Norris, appointed by him to keep watch over his erring (and now transfigured) wife. This would, of course, make all of Filch's endearments—"my sweet" and suchnot—merely an expression of a kind of perverted prison-guard sadism, and his hysteria over Mrs. Norris' petrifaction in CoS the purely self-indulgent tears of a man who fears that he has failed the instructions of his powerful and dangerous master and may himself therefore soon be facing merciless punishment.

It also could provide you with endless happy hours of speculation over just who Mrs. Norris' lover could have been. (Bonus points if you make it be Florence!)

I prefer FLIRTIAC, myself. But I offer you the Argus Theory as a gesture of peace and good-will, and of open relations between Rapier-Wielding Talking Mice and Bleeding-Heart SYCOPHANTS.

—Elkins

Posted March 11, 2002 at 1:56 am
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RE: Neville and the Canary Creams

Porphyria wrote (as an addendum to her excellent post on Lupin's teaching skills, to which I can add nothing but agreements):

Elkins' original concern, if I understood her correctly, was whether Neville himself feels *condescended to*.

Yes, that was precisely my concern, and I believe that it originated for me in the way that Lupin uses Neville's first name in the boggart sequence. He addresses Neville by name in very nearly every sentence that he speaks to him, and that really did made me squirm just a bit as a reader. It's the way that one talks to a much younger child — or to a dog.

It is also, of course, the way that one talks to a frightened person, or to someone in crisis, which I'm sure is the reason that Lupin does it in the first place. Neville is frightened—far more of being put on the spot in front of the entire class, IMNSHO, than of the boggart itself—and he's known to have some problems with attention and focus, particularly when under stress. I assume that Lupin's repeated use of his first name was intended not merely as a form of reassurance, but also as a means of keeping Neville's attention anchored on the task at hand.

And it works. Neville does indeed manage to stay well enough focused, despite his nervousness, to fend off the boggart, and I agree with Porphyria that his self-esteem is clearly bolstered—in the short term, at any rate—by the experience.

But, but, but.

But.

I don't think this is the reaction of someone who feels that they are being pitied; I don't think Neville is second guessing Lupin's treatment of him at all at this point. Whether he ponders it at length in private is anyone's guess...

Yes. It is anyone's guess at this pont in the game, and this was the reason that I took some pains to qualify my reading of Neville as intensely (and quite possibly utterly unreasonably) personal. I have alluded elsewhere (messages 34381, 34856) to my anxiety with Neville as a character, an anxiety which is rooted in my uneasy suspicion that while JKR certainly knows how to depict Neville-types from an external perspective, she doesn't really "get" them on a deeper level — doesn't understand how they think, has little insight into the real challenges facing them, does not deduce correctly the nature of their internal lives.

From the perspective of many types of orthodox analysis, of course, this is an absurd notion: as the author, JKR is free to declare Neville's internal life to be whatever she imagines it to be; so long as the character remains internally consistent, the author cannot be "wrong."

From the point of view of a slightly different type of engagement with the text, on the other hand, authors can err when it comes to character, and this was the perspective from which I was speaking when I wrote my original throw-away comment about Lupin's boggart lesson. I later backed off from that approach—and stated far more explicitly my personal bias—largely because I had then gone from speaking to Kimberley to speaking to David, someone I was guessing, on the basis of some of his previous writings, might feel a bit more comfortable with a far more academic/analytical and far less popular/"fannish" (personalized, interactive, extrapolative, rebellious) approach to the text.

But if I may return briefly to the realms of the personal, my reading that Neville might indeed have considered Lupin's pedagogy to be pitying or condescending was based on identification and familiarity with my own responses when faced with similar behavior at that age. I remember all too well the strange mixture of emotions that that sort of thing used to inspired in me: a peculiar blend of gratitude, irritation, and a certain degree of sympathetic (and even at times somewhat contemptuous) bemusement over the oblivious habits of well-intended adults. Most of my housemates, themselves Neville-types as children (what can I say? we tend to stick together), instinctively read the scene much as I did.

Does JKR's Neville feel the same way though? Oh, probably not. As I've said elsewhere, I suspect that my reading of Neville and JKR's intended reading are widely divergent.

Does canon exclude the possibility that he perceives condescension in how he is treated by others, and that this bothers him?

No. I don't think that it does. In fact, I think that in places, it supports it.

Naama wrote:

Moreover, my sense of Neville is that he feels so weak, luckless and skill-less that he is humbly grateful for any help or kind attention that comes his way. . . . He's very lovable that way and very pitiable too - like a lost child in a panicky search for someone to lean on. . . . To me, what is so heart rending about Neville is that he has no self-belief at all.

He certainly does not have nearly as much self-belief as he needs. If he did, then he would have stuck to his guns in PS/SS, rather than being suckered into parroting other people's notions of what he should say and do and be.

However, the picture of Neville that you are painting strikes me as inconsistent with what we learn about him in GoF: namely, that he is not, in fact, nearly as emotionally transparent as Harry (or the reader) initially imagines him to be. He is keeping secrets. He has a hidden inner life. And far from seeking out others to lean on, he in fact tries to gloss over his vulnerability when Hermione actively offers him a shoulder. He is obviously appreciative of her in many ways, and he likes her well enough to ask her to a ball. He is perfectly willing to beg for her assistance when he believes his pet's life to be in danger. But in the corridor outside of that DADA class, Neville effectively rejects her.

And once we realize this about Neville, many of his actions throughout the previous three volumes start to appear in a somewhat different light, IMO. His utter silence, for example, at the beginning of the first book, while Hermione is parading him around from compartment to compartment, helping him to find his toad. The fact that while Harry obviously assumes that his reaction to winning the House Cup for Gryffindor at the end of PS/SS is one of undiluted pleasure at finally receiving some praise—and while this is certainly the interpretation encouraged in the reader—the text never actually gives so much as a glimpse of a happy or pleased expression on his face during the event: he is, in fact, merely described as "white with shock." The fact that he never once mentions to any of his classmates that he has "lost" his list of passwords. The way that he chooses to curl up to sleep on the floor outside of the Gryffindor common room when he cannot remember how to get in, rather than seeking out the relevant authority to let him in. The way that he seems so often to vanish from the narrative view — one moment he's there, the next moment he's not. The fact that although he would seem to have no friends at all, other than perhaps Hermione, we only see him press his company on any of the protagonists twice in four novels: once in PS/SS, when he is terrified of the Bloody Baron; and once in PoA, when he and Harry are the only students in their year still in Hogwarts.

Not to mention, of course, the fact that the Sorting Hat took a very long time with him.

Neville does indeed send an unspoken but clear message that he is vulnerable, and that he is in a position neither to resent the form in which any help might be given nor to defend himself against those who would take advantage of his vulnerability. But the message that one sends through ones demeanor and the message that one sends through ones actions are not always aligned — and both of these are even more often misaligned with ones own personal thoughts on the matter. In Neville's case, I see a very strong disconjunct there, and to my mind, this grants him a certain degree of indeterminacy as a character, which in turn makes him rather intriguing. What does Neville think about? What are his real opinions? His real motivations? We really just don't know. He's a highly opaque character who has been masquerading for three books as an extremely transparent one, and that makes you wonder (or it makes me wonder, at any rate) what else might be going on there.

Elirtai wrote, on JKR's character list:

Neville's entry is not only hard to read, it has no symbols or house at all.

There, now. You see? Didn't I just tell you that Neville was a strikingly indeterminate character? *vbg*

Naama signed off with:

Naama, horrified to suddenly realize that Neville is no. 1 candidate for Forthcoming Death (but would sacrifice Neville in a minute if it would save Hagrid)

You'd trade Neville for Hagrid? Gee whiz. No wonder the poor kid has self-esteem issues. ;-)

But I feel fairly certain that Neville's safe until Book Seven.

—Elkins

 

RE: Crouch Jr and Mystery DEs, Fourth Man, SYCOPHANTS


Hi, Jamie!

Wow. Did you know that you were touching on all of my favorite topics here? I mean, it's just uncanny. You hit Crouch Jr. You hit the graveyard scene. And you even brought up the ever so mysterious Fourth Man!

I hope that you don't mind long replies. ;->

Jamie asked:

Does anyone else think that, while Crouch Jr. was certainly guilty of being a Death Eater, he may not have been guilty of using an Unforgiveable Curse?

Yes, that's occurred to me as well, and honestly, it wouldn't particularly surprise me if JKR were to reveal this as truth in some later volume. It seems perfectly likely to me that while guilty of being a Death Eater, Crouch really was innocent of torturing the Longbottoms. Dumbledore himself acknowledges that there was little real evidence against him, and from what we saw of the ugly mood of the crowd at his sentencing — not to mention his father's desperation to uphold his hard-line reputation — his trial was obviously grotesquely biased.

Like Eileen, I too find myself wondering if Crouch might not have been telling the truth whenever I contemplate his behavior in Penseive. He was obviously a rebellious teen, and there does seem to me to be a strong hint of that classic indignation of the bad kid actually wrongly accused for once in his life — "But when I'm really telling the truth, you won't even believe me!" — to his pleas in Penseive. It's emotionally magnified by a factor of thousands, of course, but nonetheless I do still see bit of it there.

And it is interesting that no one bothers to ask him about the Longbottoms while he's under the veritaserum, isn't it? Certainly JKR's left open the possibility that he might have been innocent — and making him so would be just the sort of thing that she likes to do.

But then, of course, there's plenty to support the notion that he was guilty as well.

Personally, I tend to prefer to believe that he really was guilty, but only because I find that believing him so makes his interactions with Neville in GoF absolutely fascinating for me to contemplate. (And also, as Eileen pointed out, I really do enjoy spinning wild and implausible backstories predicated on the assumption of young Crouch's guilt. For "Neville Owed A Life-Debt To Barty Crouch," see the ends of both messages #35187 and #35895.)

It's come up before that maybe he was under the Imperious Curse. How else could a man who spent most of his adult life in Azkaban perform such difficult magic unassisted?

There is some suggestion in the books that either Voldemort himself or allegiance to Dark forces in general might indeed have the ability to imbue wizards with magical powers previously beyond their capabilities.

In the Shrieking Shack scene of PoA, for example, Pettigrew offers up Sirius' escape from Azkaban as proof of his Dark allegiance. ("He's got dark powers the rest of us can only dream of! How else did he get out of there? I suppose He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named taught him a few tricks?") And Pettigrew himself seems to me to be extremely magically capable, for someone who is constantly accused of being a weak wizard. That muggle-blasting spell couldn't have been easy, and I imagine that the ritual spell by which Voldemort was rebirthed in GoF must have been quite difficult — yet Pettigrew manages to complete it even after severing his own hand.

It seems more than likely to me that casting ones lot in with Dark forces really does grant one a certain boost in magical power. It would do much to explain Dark magic's siren song appeal to those ambitious, power-hungry, ends-over-means, rules-disregarding, fair-play-is-for-dummies members of House Slytherin. And there's also an enormous weight of cultural and literary precedent behind the notion. Traditionally, after all, deals with the Devil do usually get you something — even if you pay far too high a price for it, in the end.

If this is the case, then it could help to explain Crouch's magical prowess. We know that he was exceptionally bright to begin with: he got twelve O.W.L.S. And then, under the influence of veritaserum, he claims that once he had been nursed back to health after being rescued from Azkaban: "I had to be controlled. My father had to use a number of spells to subdue me."

In fact, his father eventually resorts to the Imperius Curse to keep him under control. That certainly makes it sound to me as if even at the age of twenty, young Barty was magically powerful. If he was getting an added boost from Dark magic, then he could have been quite formidable indeed.

It seems unlikely to me that such a young man with no family background in the Dark Arts should be able to perform the Cruciatus curse to the degree required to drive the Longbottoms to insanity.

Well, at the risk of sounding utterly morbid here, I don't really know that I think this would be nearly so much a matter of magical prowess as it would be a matter of...well, time mainly. Time and patience and, er, determination. We don't know, after all, how long the Longbottoms were forced to suffer. I rather got the impression that it, um... ::wince:: that it went on for a while.

And, of course, Crouch had help. Which brings us to...

Who are the other Death Eaters involved in that trial? There are two men and a woman - one of those men and the women might be the Lestranges?

The text never explicitly states that they were the Lestranges, but it implies it so very strongly that I think we're reasonably safe making that assumption. I find it very difficult to imagine why JKR would have chosen to deliberately lead the reader astray on that particular point.

Who is the last man? Anyone we know?

Ah-HAH!

Eileen wrote:

/me calls to Cindy, Elkins, and Avery (still dripping wet and cowering under Cindy's tough gaze)

"Let's row the Fourth Man kayak over here to talk with Jamie, OK?"

Yes! Let's!

<Elkins pins her SYCOPHANTS badge onto her chest, leaps into the kayak behind Eileen, and picks up her paddle, grinning in anticipation of yet another exhilirating battle with the treacherous currents of canonical plausibility.>

Jamie wrote, about the mysterious Fourth Man:

Whoever he is, we can presume he is still in Azkaban.

Ah. But can we?

It certainly is curious that Voldemort doesn't mention him by name in the graveyard, isn't it? He raves on and on about the Lestranges, after all, who were loyal to him even after his downfall, who have suffered imprisonment for him, who will be sprung from Azkaban and be honored above all other Death Eaters, yadda yadda yadda. He just can't stop rubbing all of the other DEs' noses in how much he loves those Lestranges, right?

So what about that Fourth Man? If he were still alive and in prison, then presumably he would be mentioned along with the Lestranges. Even if we assume that he died in Azkaban, you would still think that he would warrant some special mention, wouldn't you? Wouldn't you think that as Voldemort was walking around his Death Eater circle, he would have said something along the lines of: "And here is where once stood so-and-so, who remained loyal to me, who died a martyr's death for me in Azkaban," and all that blah-blah-blah?

Well, I sure would.

I also find the Fourth Man's utter anonymity in the text highly suspicious. Why does he go unnamed throughout Book Four? The reader is certainly encouraged to be interested in the Longbottom Affair. We are given (or at least believe ourselves to have been given) the names of the other three defendents. So why should the identity of that Fourth Man remain so strangely hidden from view?

Could it be because his identity is intended to come as a surprise when it is finally revealed to us?

Could the Fourth Man in fact be a character we have seen...and yet not seen? Is there a character who seems unusually strongly emphasized by the text, and yet has no seeming narrative function? A character that we as readers have been actively encouraged to pay attention to and to remember, but who nonetheless seems to have no strong connection to anything else within the story? A character who although he has indeed appeared, has yet remained so utterly lacking in any form of physical description that he really could be just about anyone? A character whose face and normal speaking voice have been obscured both from both Harry's view and from our own?

Is there a character who has a name, but neither face nor role — just as the Fourth Man has both a face and a role...but no name?

The "Fourth Man" theory, outlined in message #35062, proposes that the mysterious Fourth Man in the Pensive scene was actually Avery, who managed to secure himself a pardon when his case was reexamined during the political backlash to which Sirius refers in the "Padfoot Returns" chapter of GoF, the same wave of public sentiment which swept Fudge into office as Minister of Magic and got Crouch Sr. shunted off into the Department of International Magical Cooperation.

It further proposes that after his release from Azkaban, Avery shunned Dark activities, severed all connections with his former DE colleagues, and certainly made no effort at all to seek out Voldemort. This, claims Fourth Man, is the reason that Avery arrives at the graveyard in such a highly nervous condition, and the reason that he cracks so quickly once Voldemort starts accusing his Death Eaters of ideological infidelity.

It is also, the theory suggests, the reason that Voldemort punishes Avery for the same sins that he is willing to overlook in others. The other DEs abandoned Voldemort at the time of his fall, which is a matter of self-interest, of wishing to be on the winning side — in short, a matter of ambition, a motivation which a Slytherin Old Boy like Tom Riddle can grudgingly accept. Avery, on the other hand, remained loyal to Voldemort even after his fall and only later abandoned his efforts, thus making it obvious that his infidelity was motivated less by any personal ambition than by weakness and fear — both things that Voldemort simply despises.

"Fourth Man" therefore offers the suggestion that the reason that Voldemort never mentions Crouch Jr's fourth co-defendent in the graveyard scene is because all of the DEs present already know perfectly well who the Fourth Man was: he was Avery, and Voldemort has made it all too clear what he thinks of the Fourth Man's performance — namely, that it was shoddy beyond all hope of forgiveness, so craven that only thirteen years of faithful service could possibly even begin to make amends for it.

The canonical defense for this theory, and for its mother-theory, "Redeemable Avery," is laid out in messages #34911, 35062, and 35187.

Eileen wrote:

Avery comes with sidehelpings of Imperius, Remorse, and whatever else you want to add.

Yup. We're pretty accomodating here in the Fourth Man kayak.

Because the Fourth Man Theory grew out of a previous "Redeemable Avery" defense, many of the variants on Fourth Man are designed to excuse or to defend his behavior, but if you like him better as a thoroughly venal and villainous coward, then you're free to stick with "No-Frills Fourth Man."

Otherwise, you could go for "Fourth Man with Remorse," in which Avery feels truly repentent about his DE past and has been striving for the past decade or so to redeem himself. In "Fourth Man With SHIP," Avery was hopelessly in love with Mrs. Lestrange, remained so even after she married his classmate and omantic rival, joined the DEs in the first place largely in the hopes of impressing her, and joined with her and her husband in searching for Voldemort chiefly out of personal devotion. In "Fourth Man With Imperius," Avery really did spend much of his time as a Death Eater under the Imperius Curse. There's even a "Fourth Man With Innocence," in which Avery, although he was indeed a Death Eater, was nonetheless utterly innocent of any complicity at all in the Longbottom Affair and was arrested and convicted solely on the basis of guilt by association with the Lestranges.

Naturally, all manner of permutations of these factors (some even involving perversions!) are possible. "Fourth Man with Imperius, SHIP and Remorse," for example, is my own personal favorite (and also one for which Porphyria has expressed a preference), while I believe that Eileen prefers to take her Fourth Man with Remorse alone. Cindy, who does not share our Bleeding Heart tendencies, is far more of a No-Frills type.

Avery himself, although he sometimes shares the kayak with us, doesn't get to express his own opinion on the matter, because he's just an in-jokey parody of somebody else's fictional character, and so doesn't count. ;^)

So that's Fourth Man. It's, er, not a very popular theory, I'm afraid. In fact, at one point I seem to remember being reduced to claiming that two people constituted a "drove" in my feeble attempt to portray it as a burgeoning speculative movement. But you're welcome to join us, if you like. We don't have staterooms or cute cabin boys or tasty snacks or great big can(n)ons, like some of those bigger ships do, but...um...we do have Avery on board as our mascot. And sometimes Cindy brings S'mores.

Eileen warns:

But remember that the crew of the Avery kayak: Elkins, Cindy, Eileen (and anyone else?)...

Well, Porphyria once agreed to join us, but I think that she was probably just being polite.

...are rather bloodyminded people, and are also into bloody ambushes.

That is true, I'm afraid, but you don't really have to be morbid and bloody-minded to adhere to the Fourth Man theory. In fact, Fourth Man is really quite a kind and gentle theory, offering as it does the possibility of redemption and great reader sympathy to a character who, frankly, does not seem terribly likely to be granted the same consideration by Rowling herself.

Nor, for that matter, do you even have to join the Society for Yes-Men, Cowards, Ostriches, Passive-Aggressives, Hysterics, Abject Neurotics, and Toadying SYCOPHANTS — an organization for the promotion of reader sympathy and identification with a wide range of grossly underappreciated character types — if you don't want to. Very few people do. In fact, I believe that Eileen and I are SYCOPHANTS' only two members. Which does mean, though, that if you want in, you'll be on the ground floor, so that when the stampede to join us begins, as really, it must do, one of these days...

<Elkins pauses in her rather desperate attempt to convert Jamie to her cause, frowning. Wait. What is this? Something seems amiss. Eileen is looking decidedly....dejected. She hasn't even put on her life-jacket, and her Lucky Kari helmet is drooping at a distinctly dispirited angle.>

Eileen?

Eileen, still smarting from being called a SYNCHOPHANT by Elkins, but not sure how to deny it...

Smarting? Uh-oh.

<Concerned, Elkins offers Eileen a tube of soothing ointment>

Smarting? Because I called you a SYCOPHANT? Oh, but Eileen, consider the source, will you? I mean, I'm all in favor of sycophants! Look, I've even got the badge to prove it.

And besides, you think that I'm one to talk? The person who grovels at Captain Tabouli's feet, only to then turn around and spray-paint graffiti all over the side of her SHIP? The person who snaps at Tough Cindy about canonical support, of all things, only to then back away quickly, hands raised and teeth bared in an ameliorating submissive grin, whining for forgiveness? The person who calls herself a Sweetgeorgian, yet who jumps onto the Big Bang destroyer whenever she gets bored, vacillates wildly between wearing her featherboas with pride and shuddering at the mere thought of them, claims to dislike SHIPs but can't seem to stop boarding them, and confesses to a partiality for So EWWWWWer It's In the SEEWWWWWWer? And you're worried because I called you a sycophant?

<Elkins shakes her head in saddened dismay at this new evidence of just how marginalized our people have become, how deeply and utterly we have internalized society's loathing for all our kind. This Just Will Not Do. It's time for some serious Sycophant Anti-Defamation. Her mouth tightens in resolve and she rises to her feet, staggering slightly as the kayak tilts dangerously from side to side.>

There is nothing wrong with being a SYCOPHANT! We are fine people, people of great sensitivity and refinement. Oh, sure, we may not have much in the way of those boring old heroic virtues, like Toughness and Valor and Honesty and Integrity and the Courage of Our Convictions. We may not get much in the way of reader sympathy, and we may rarely get happy endings. But we have something even better than that! We have...we have soul, is what we have! We have complexity! We're cross-motivated! We have pathos, and we have bathos, and sometimes we even have a touch of eros! We. Have. HUMANITY.

And so long as we stand together...

...er, which may prove a little difficult for us, as truth be told we're not really known for our loyalty...

...and, um, which might also prove a bit difficult for us as we are, as a class, generally more comfortable kneeling, or lying prostrate on the ground, or else curled into fetal position than we are standing...

...and, um, which could also prove difficult given that to date there are in fact only the two of us here in SYCOPHANTS, no one else having been willing to buy a badge, or even to accept a free badge, or even for that matter to sign a single lousy one of our many petitions...

...and...and...oh, damn, where was I?

Oh, yes. That's right.

And, so long as we stand together, we shall certainly if not exactly prevail (for in truth, we hardly ever do that), nonetheless survive — which is very nearly almost as good as prevailing, once you factor in all of the extenuating circumstances, and, um, well, and...you know. And take one consideration with the other. And all of that.

<Elkins resumes her seat in the kayak. It occurs to her that she's really got to work on that oratory thing. That last bit somehow just didn't have quite the inspirational punch that she had been hoping for. She scrawls a note to herself: "To Do List: (1) Work on oratory. (2) Try to avoid weak endings.">

—Elkins, offering to read Eileen that nice bit at the end of Return of the King where nasty old Saruman finally gets his, if it will help her to feel better about the whole SYCOPHANTS thing.