POSTS TO HPFGU
2002-2003
     
       
       
HPfGU #39083

Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame. Yet Sympathetic. And Dead, Too.

RE: Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame. Yet Sympathetic. And Dead, Too.


I promised to weigh in on Redeemable!Draco, didn't I?

Yeah. I did. So okay, then. Here it is.

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James wrote:

After recieving the last (and my first) digest, I was quite surprised about the desire of the members for Draco to change. Why should he, do we need him to? I think a lot of this might be to do with the Draco Dormiens, Draco Sinester and the latst in the series of those fanfics (I may be wrong).

Welcome, James!

I don't think that Cassandra Claire's fics have very much to do with it at all, really. Rather, I sort of suspect that Claire (like so many other fanfic writers) made the authorial decision to change him in the first place for precisely the same reason that so many readers feel such a strong desire to see him change in canon: namely, that as he is currently written, Draco Malfoy is a profoundly unsatisfying character.

I further believe that the very things which make him so unsatisfying a character also serve as by far the most compelling argument for the belief that JKR herself may indeed have plans to force his character to undergo some form of change in future volumes.

There are two reasons that Draco doesn't really work very well for me as a character in his current state. One of them is more emotional and meta-textual, while the other is more purely literary.

Hana touched on the literary problem here, when she wrote:

The other thing to consider when talking about character change will be the final outcome of the book. . . . Could Redeemable!Draco help further the plot? Possibly, though not likely until near the end of the last book. I think Draco serves well as RivalPeer!Draco and it seems to be a likely place to keep him for quite some time regardless of what people would personally like to see.

I agree that this question is very well served by approaching it in terms of Draco's narrative function. Where Hana and I disagree, however, is on the issue of whether Draco really serves very well as RivalPeer!Draco at all. I don't think that he does, and I have a suspicion that dissatisfaction with this aspect of the text is probably one of the major factors leading to the popularity of Redeemed!Draco in both speculation and in fanfic.

As the story currently stands, Draco is indeed presented very much as Harry's rival, his peer antagonist. That is his ostensible narrative function within the text. And yet, he strikes me as far too weak a character to really fulfill this role in at all a satisfying manner. It therefore becomes difficult to avoid the nagging suspicion that perhaps Draco is not, in fact, really meant to serve as Harry's peer antagonist throughout the entire series at all, that perhaps JKR may indeed have some slightly different role planned for him by series' end.

I have been very surprised, in past Draco discussions on this list, to see that so many people seem to ascribe to him such a lot of power. In a discussion of the so-called "train stomp" (the scene on the train at the end of _GoF_), for example, someone (UncMark, I believe?) expressed the belief that the Gryffindors' use of force there seemed justified because within the context of that scene, Draco's words could be read as a "death threat." Similarly, I have seen people argue for Draco's gloat at the QWC as a veiled rape threat against Hermione, his wishing Hermione dead in _CoS_ as proof that he is surely capable of becoming a killer, and his attempt to sabotage Harry's Quidditch match by dressing up as a dementor in _PoA_ as "attempted murder."

These interpretations always amaze me, frankly, not so much because they ascribe such pure malice to Draco (although I myself don't read him that way, I am certainly capable of entertaining that reading without undue difficulty), but rather because they all seem to ascribe to the little putz such a high degree of competence, of power.

And that's really not a reading that I can bring myself to entertain, not even for a minute. I simply cannot bring myself to perceive Draco as the least bit competent or powerful. It's just plain impossible for me to read him that way because, as I see it, Draco is absolutely the opposite of powerful. He is weak. He's pathetic. A total loser.


Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame.


As Harry's rival, he starts out with a number of advantages that are clearly meant to reflect Harry's own situation. Harry is an orphan who has been raised in utter ignorance of his own culture; his personal strengths are courage, grit, resourcefulness, resiliency, and plain old-fashioned virtue. Draco is therefore, and quite properly, established right from the start as having the corresponding and contrasting advantages. He's a mass of social privilege, his family is wealthy and powerful, he is highly knowledgable about the wizarding world. He is also shown to be dishonest, cowardly, cunning, snobbish, and a bully.

Well, okay. So far so good.

But then the whole dynamic just falls completely to pieces for me.

For one thing, Harry ends up trumping nearly all of Draco's advantages right from the very start. By the end of PS/SS, there's just nothing left to Draco's advantages. He's lost each and every one of them.

Whatever status Draco can claim as a Malfoy is nothing in comparison to Harry's own fame within the wizarding world, and as we see in the very first book, Draco's family connections and influence just can't compete with the kind of patronage that Harry receives by simple virtue of being who he is. In spite of what he is obviously hoping at the beginning of PS/SS, Draco does not in fact manage to get the prohibition against First Years keeping their own brooms at Hogwarts waived for him. But Harry does -- and furthermore, he even has somebody buy him that broom even though as it turns out, he isn't really a poor orphan boy at all. He's a rich orphan boy. A very rich orphan boy. He doesn't even have the disadvantage of poverty to contend with.

At Hogwarts, Harry gets Dumbledore as his mentor, with McGonagall and Hagrid both stepping in to help play that role as well. Draco gets...well, he gets Snape. Snape, who is actually spending a huge amount of his time and energy protecting Harry.

Draco's entire childhood spent immersed in the culture of the wizarding world doesn't help him all that much either. He does seem to be a reasonably competent student, but if he ever surpassed Harry when it came to practicing magic at all (and I think it clear that by this point in the story-line, he no longer does), then he never had a strong enough advantage to make very much of a difference. And of course, Harry's ally Hermione has always had him beat on that count anyway.

Nor were all of those years that Draco spent practicing his flying skills sufficient to counter Harry's own innate and savant-like talent. Harry himself acknowledges that Draco is very good with a broom. But Harry's better.

And on and on it goes, throughout four entire volumes. Draco just can't do anything right. He is profoundly ineffectual, and not a one of his purported advantages actually helps him at all.

The Malfoy wealth doesn't help Draco. Harry regularly trumps him in the ever-escalating broom war, and even when Draco has a temporary advantage in having the better broom in _CoS,_ he still loses.

The Malfoy influence doesn't help Draco. Lucius does manage to get Dumbledore ousted from power for a very short period of time, true, but he only winds up being himself then ousted from the school's board of governors. Just about the only thing that the Malfoy influence has ever accomplished for Draco was to get Hagrid's pet hippogriff slated for execution. Draco can't even manage to get rid of Hagrid himself. Not even through helping to out him as a half-giant can he manage to get rid of the man. All he can succeed in doing is nailing one of Hagrid's animals. And even then, Buckbeak escapes.

The Malfoy political savvy might have helped Draco, but in fact it doesn't, because Draco seems determined to ignore every single piece of political advice that his father ever gives him. He has been advised to mask his dislike for Harry Potter -- and so, naturally, he blabs his hatred of Harry to the entire school. He is advised to "keep his head down" while Slytherin's basilisk is on the loose -- and so, naturally, he makes an utter spectacle of himself in front of the entire school by gloating over the monster's predations, thus leaving himself open to suspicions of being Salazar's heir himself. And does anyone really think that Lucius Malfoy would be pleased, if he ever heard about Draco refusing to stand for Harry at the end of _GoF,_ or worse, insulting Cedric Diggory's memory on the train? Somehow I rather suspect that these actions, too, were probably undertaken in blatant disregard of parental admonition. For all of his "my fathering," Draco really isn't even a very loyal son. Strategically and politically speaking, he is a moron.

From his sorting into Slytherin, we are presumably meant to assume that Draco is supposed to at least be cunning. But he isn't very. His "midnight duel" scheme at the beginning of the first book was indeed a nice little bit of Slytherinesque planning, but from there on out, it's just been all downhill for poor old Draco. None of his subsequent plans to get Harry in trouble have worked out very well at all. When he tries to spy on the Trio, he gets caught. When he tries to turn the student body against Harry, his successes are very short-lived. And that "dressing up like Dementors" scheme was just plain lame (how on earth did the Slytherins ever imagine that they'd get away with that without getting themselves in loads of trouble and losing their House points?) Even when he is actually in the right, as in _PoA_ where (whatever one thinks of squealing as a general practice) Harry really was in Hogsmeade without either proper permission or any really compelling excuse for having broken the rules to be there, Draco's ratting him out still does him no good: Harry is rescued by Lupin.

The only times that Draco manages to be even the slightest bit successful against Harry are those times when he has a far more experienced adult ally helping him. He does indeed manage to cause a bit of mischief in Book Four -- but only with the aid of Rita Skeeter. He does manage to discomfit Harry in the Duelling Club scene in Book Two -- but only because Snape is there helping him out. (And again, Harry's adult allies are far more powerful, in the long run, than Draco's.) Left to his own devices, Draco really can't seem to do much of anything, really, other than pick on poor Neville Longbottom in the corridors.

Draco has no real strengths and no real advantages. He doesn't even seem very happy with the strengths that he's supposed to be playing to: his response to the accusation in _CoS_ that he has bought his way onto the Quiddich team—surely a perfectly appropriate Slytherinesque thing to do—is not one of smug satisfaction, but instead of shamed fury.

I don't even really believe that he's at all popular, although I know that many people have come to the opposite conclusion. Marcus Flint does indeed go out of his way to protect him, as do Crabbe and Goyle on a regular basis. Pansy certainly seems to care for him. But is he really all that much of a House leader? I don't think that he is. His own year woud seem to lack any male students of strong enough character to contest his role there, but the House as a whole certainly doesn't follow his lead. They're happy enough to snigger at his jokes, but when push comes to shove, as at the end of _GoF,_ we can see just precisely to what extent the rest of House Slytherin is willing to close ranks behind slippery old Lucius' idiot son. They're, well, not. Not at all. Not in the least. They're on their feet for Harry at Dumbledore's closing banquet. The only people willing to follow Draco's lead in remaining seated would seem to be...Crabbe and Goyle.

It's just plain sad, is what it is. Draco just doesn't have very much in the way of strengths, while his weaknesses are legion. He is a coward, both in terms of his visceral response to immediate peril (the Unicorn-blood-swilling Quirrell in Book One, Buckbeak in Book Three) and in terms of his lack of longer-term resilience. He does not bounce back well from traumatic events: after being ferret-bounced by Fake Moody, even the mere mention of the man's name is enough to make him blanch. He can't control his emotions very well. He loses his temper; he speaks when it is unwise for him to do so; he can dish out verbal abuse, but he can't take it.

Furthermore, on the two occasions when we have seen his behavior when he's not putting on a front for Harry and his friends—the Knockturn Alley scene and the Polyjuice scene, both in _CoS_—he is sulky, petulant and whiny. His tone in those two scenes isn't really reminiscent of Snape at all, regardless of the way that the text is always encouraging us to draw a generational parallel between the two characters. Really, if Draco sounds like anyone at all in those two scenes, then I'd have to say that person would be Peter Pettigrew, whose sulky and petulant tone when he speaks to Voldemort in _GoF_ actually strikes me as remarkably similar to the way that Draco speaks whenever he doesn't know that Harry is observing him.

Just about the only striking personal strength that I do see in Draco, in fact, is a certain degree of wit. His jibes are usually pretty unamusing, true, but then sometimes he is capable of a really nicely dry sense of humor. His running commentary on Hagrid's abysmal Care of Magical Creatures class always makes me smile, and I thought that his choice of the Densaugeo curse in his impromptu duel with Harry was really very clever. But even his humor—when it succeeds in being funny at all—is still the sort of humor that derives from weakness, rather than from strength. His constant carping in Hagrid's class is ghetto humor, really: it's the wit of somebody who knows perfectly well that he is powerless to change his situation. Hermione, similarly trapped in a class that she absolutely detests in _PoA,_ has the opportunity to walk away. Draco doesn't have that option, so he gripes instead. And while the Densaugeo curse was indeed a very clever bit of word play, in the end it only serves to draw attention to Draco's weakness: his envy and resentment over Harry's position as Triwizard Contestant. Even Draco at his best is still weak Draco.

As a reader, therefore, my reaction to Draco in his narrative role as Harry's peer rival is primarily one of intense frustration. It just doesn't seem right to me. It doesn't work. It's not a fair enough contest. Draco strikes me as so hopelessly outclassed on every conceivable level that I simply can't take him at all seriously as Harry's peer antagonist. Harry already has him licked on all fronts, as far as I'm concerned, so if that's really all that Draco is there to do, then what on earth is the point of him?

This is my primary reason for finding the notion that ultimately, Draco might have some other narrative function to fill to be not only highly convincing but indeed very compelling. I think it clear that Draco must change. Either his narrative function itself must change, or something about his power level or his competence will have to change. Because as things now stand, I just don't see how JKR can possibly make PeerRival!Draco work for another three whole novels.

But if Draco is in fact not really supposed to serve the function of Harry's peer rival forever, if JKR actually does have some other plans for him, then what could that plan be?

Well, there are a number of possibilities. One might be that in the end, Draco will actually serve less as Harry's rival than as a cautionary tale about the spiritually degrading effects of envy. I can easily see him becoming quite a pathetic figure of evil by the end, lost in a wash of hopeless resentment, causing trouble through small and petty acts of betrayal, sneakiness, and recourse to bigger and more powerful people than himself: Snape meets Pettigrew.

The "how bad is Voldemort? Ever so bad!" scenario which James suggested is also a possibility, I suppose, as is the filicidal version -- Draco dead at Lucius' hands. We did get all of that parricide in Book Four, which does sort of make you wonder when filicide might rear its ugly head as a running motif.

And then there's Redeemable!Draco. Ah. Good old Redeemable!Draco...

Cindy wrote:

If someone wants to make the case for Redeemable!Draco, I'll always listen, of course. But I can't make any promises that I'll sign on for a tour of duty. ;-)

Well, okay. I'll give this a shot, if you like, although I doubt that I'll succeed in convincing you. ;-)

I'm not going to list all of the places in canon that can be read as evidence of Draco's ambiguity here, because, um, I think that Heidi's probably already hit them all -- and if she didn't actually hit each and every one of them this time around, then she surely did the last time around, or the time before that. At this point, I imagine that she's probably got a little list saved somewhere. I can't possibly compete with Heidi when it comes to Draco apologetics; I'm not even going to try.

Nor am I going to list the extra-canonical factors that I think contribute to Redeemable!Draco's canonical plausibility here because I already went through all of those (as well as the similar arguments of the opposition) in message #34802.

Instead, I'd like to argue the case on slightly different grounds in this post. To my mind, by far the most compelling arguments for Redeemable!Draco are as follows:

1) Draco is far too weak a character to serve very well in his ostensible role as Harry's peer antagonist. It is therefore tempting to consider the possibility that his ultimate narrative function must be something else. A redemption scenario is the most logical, obvious and instinctive idea of what that something else might be.

This one I just covered above.


2) Draco reaps a good deal of reader sympathy due to both the "Sympathy For the Devil" and the "Hurt-Comfort" phenomena, both of which JKR has shown herself more than capable of combatting when it comes to other characters in her books. She does not seem to be even trying to combat them when it comes to Draco. This suggests that she may well have reasons of her own—such as planning a more sympathetic role for him in the future—for wanting the reader to retain the ability to view this character with a sympathetic eye.



I do feel that Draco has been written in such a way as to encourage a good amount of reader sympathy, something that cannot be said for any of the series' other villain characters. Voldemort is not written as a sympathetic character in the least. Pettigrew is even less so. Crouch Jr. isn't either, and neither is Quirrell, and neither is Lockhart. Sure, SYCOPHANTS like me often do find these guys intensely sympathetic, but the general readership absolutely does not. The general readership does, however, tend to sympathize with Draco—it's an incredibly popular and wide-spread reading—and I can't help but feel that if JKR honestly didn't want for so many people to read him that way, then she made some very serious errors of judgement in how she chose to portray him in canon.

For one thing, she never lets Draco win. Never. Not ever. what few successes he has are both short-lived and do no permanent harm, while his failures are often overwhelming. He can't whip Harry in Quidditch, and he can't win the House Cup for Slytherin; he can't get his least-favorite teacher fired, and he has this unfortunate tendency to wind up at the end of the novels in some state of embarrassingly abject defeat.

And that is sympathetic. It's sympathetic because for the most part, people prefer to root for underdogs and losers, especially ones who have pluck and always get back on their feet again no matter how many times they're knocked down. We like the existentialist Sisyphean hero, doomed to failure and yet still gamely struggling on against all odds.

Of course, Draco Malfoy is not designated "Underdog" by the text itself. The text itself defines him as a mass of privilege. But the meta-text—the unspoken body of genre convention and literary trope that readers cannot help but hold in mind while they read a work of fiction—designates him quite clearly as the Underdog of the piece. As readers, we know perfectly well that Draco cannot win. Even little kids get this about the way that the books are structured: it is fundamental to the genre that Draco's never going to get to win. He is the designated loser of the books. He's always going to be thwarted; the deck is hopelessly stacked against him; the very authorial voice has it in for him. And yet, even though he's utterly trounced at the end of each book, there he is at the start of the next one, still plugging away at trying to make life difficult for Harry, even though he's not really very good at it and never manages to get away with it, in the end.

And you know, it's really hard not to sympathize with that.

This phenomenon, which sometimes goes by the name "Sympathy For the Devil," can be fought. There are specific things that authors can do to keep their readers from sympathizing with the villains on the grounds of meta-textual rooting for the underdog. JKR knows what they are, too: she uses them all the time when she writes about Voldemort. Voldemort is also doomed to failure, but that fact doesn't suffice to reap him very much in the way of reader sympathy for a number of reasons. For one thing, he's truly monstrous. For another, he doesn't show us very much in the way of real emotional vulnerability. And finally, his temporary victories are permitted to have long-term consequences: even when he loses in the end, he succeeds in doing real, lasting and permanent damage to those who get in his way, or whom he uses in the pursuit of his goals.

None of that applies to Draco. Draco is portrayed as emotionally vulnerable, and in the end, none of his nastiness ever really amounts to very much more than an irritant for our heroes. Any damage that he does is always undone by the end of each volume. No particular effort is being made to counteract Sympathy For the Devil when it comes to Draco, which does sort of make you wonder whether part of the reason for this might not be that the author herself really doesn't want for him to forfeit all of that nice reader sympathy that he gets by virtue of being marked as the designated loser. Indeed, perhaps she wants for him to retain that sympathy. And if she does, then it's tempting to think that the reason she must want it that way is because she plans on eventually giving him some type of sympathetic sub-plot.

Another way in which the authorial voice often seems to be encouraging readers to view Draco in a sympathetic light lies in the disparity between what the narrative simply tells us, and what it actually shows us happening ight in front of our proverbial eyes. In fiction, what the reader actually sees almost always carries more weight than what the reader is merely told, and the more immediate and sensory this information, the more convincing it is. For example, things about character that are conveyed through that character's own dialogue tend to be more convincing than information that is conveyed by means of a narrative backstory. If the two come into conflict, then the reader will usually choose to "trust" the dialogue.

In the Harry Potter books, the more immediate and sensory information about both Draco and House Slytherin often seems designed to undercut the more overtly stated narrative message.

In the first book, for example, JKR tells us that the Slytherins have won the House Cup for years and years running. The Gryffindors, we are informed, are therefore the Underdogs. Really, they are.

But what we actually see happening over the course of the books is Gryffindor taking the cup again and again and again, and Harry always winning every Quidditch match in which he is pitted directly against Draco, and all of the other houses uniting behind Gryffindor, and Dumbledore's infamous "dissing the Slyths" scene at the end of PS/SS.

This is the reason, I think, for the prevailing notion that there is a strong bias against House Slytherin. The narrative voice tells us that this is absolutely not in fact the case. But everything that we actually see happening before our very eyes conveys a slightly different message.

Similarly, what JKR tells us at the end of _GoF_ is that Draco, Crabbe and Goyle look to Harry "more arrogant and menacing" than ever before. But what does she show us? What do we actually see?

What we actually see is a smirk that quivers.

We also see a somewhat fumbled and even (to my mind) faintly hysterical-souding insult, followed promptly by the most summary and effortless dispatch imaginable. The Slytherins don't even seem to have thought of reaching for their wands before they manage to get themselves hexed into unconsciousness by five opponents, two of whom are older than they are and who also attack from behind. And then they get stepped on. While they're unconscious.

Uh-huh. Yeah. "Menacing." To Harry I'm sure that they really did seem that way. He has his reasons for viewing them in that light. But to many readers, I think that it comes across as more purely pathetic than as anything else, and it's hard to imagine how the author could not have anticipated that the scene would be read that way.

I mean, come on! You just do not describe a smirk as "quivering" unless you want readers to interpret the smirker's internal state as highly ambivalent. You just don't.

Finally, the text often seems to me to actively encourage the reader—or at the very least its adolescent female readership—to not only sympathize with Draco but also to find him slightly erotically appealing, by the mere virtue of showing him getting physically hurt so very often.

Oh, come on now! Don't look at me like that. You all know what I'm saying here. It's the old "Hurt-Comfort" phenomenon, is what this is, and we all know about it, even if we like to pretend that we don't.

What "Hurt-Comfort" comes down to is the fact that women are just plain Bent, and adolescent girls even more so. They like to see male characters suffer, so long as they do so with some degree of manly dignity, because it turns them on. Male vulnerability garners their sympathy, and it also kind of excites them. They like it. No one ever wants to 'fess up to this, but it's true. Just look at the characters most often fixated upon as drool-worthy by JKR's adult female readers, will you? Lupin. Sirius. Snape.

We all know what's really going on there, don't we? Are we all grown-up enough to admit it? All three of those characters have erotic appeal primarily because they all suffer so much. Lupin's kindness wouldn't alone be sufficient to make him so sexy; it's all of that exhaustion and illness and emotional damage that really nets in the fans. Sirius without all those years spent in Azkaban wouldn't have nearly the following that he has. And Snape...well, it's all that angst that does it, right?

Female readers are almost always attracted to male characters who get hurt a lot. They just are. And Draco does get smacked around a lot in these books. He gets ferret-bounced and hippogriff-slashed and pimp-slapped and seriously hexed. And that's just the sort of thing that female readers—and particularly adolescent girls—really go for. It's why they think Harry's so sexy too, I'd warrant. It's because they're twisted little FEATHERBOA wearers, each and every one of them.

And JKR must know this. She must. I mean, even Draco himself—who's really rather stupid, honestly—is hip to this dynamic. Just look at how he responds to Pansy in _PoA,_ when she asks him if his arm hurts. Draco knows the score, all right. A macho "nah, not really, don't worry about it" just isn't going to win you any eros points from an adolescent girl, not unless there's one heck of a wince accompanying it. And Draco knows that. To get the adolescent girls crushing on you, you have to be hurt...yet still doing okay with it. But not too okay. Not really okay down deep inside. Just marginally okay. Okay for now. Okay, but tottering dangerously on the cusp on not really okay at all.

Yeah, I think that JKR knows what she's doing with that one. I think she knew full well that all the adolescent girls were just going to swoon in guilt-ridden sadistic crush-mode the second that she smacked poor Harry with all of that Cruciatus in the graveyard, and I think that she knew exactly what she was doing when she started beating out her tune on that "Harry can't cry" drum, too. I think that she knew what she was doing when she gave us poor pallid haggard prematurely-grey Lupin, and I think that she knew what she was doing when she told us all about Sirius' haunted Azkaban eyes, and I even think it possible that she might have had some inkling of what she was up to when she kicked Snape's emotional legs out from under him for just a second there in "The Egg and the Eye."

So what gives with Draco, then? Why does the author seem to want to hurt him so much? Ostensibly, it's to give us all a bit of "Just Desserts" satisfaction, but is that really all that's going on?

I don't know. But I do wonder about it sometimes.

For one thing, if you want to make a male character suffer and yet be absolutely certain that no reader will be the slightest bit tempted to get any erotic charge out of it, then there are certainly ways to do that. The author can stave off "Hurt-Comfort," and JKR herself seems to know exactly how to do it. She does it all the time when she writes Pettigrew, who no matter how much pain he might be compelled to endure throughout _GoF,_ no matter how vulnerable he may be, nonetheless never once derives the slightest bit of erotic frisson from any of it. That's because the author goes to great lengths to describe his suffering as simply disgusting, and his vulnerabilities as just plain pathetic. She works really hard at that. Similarly, she knows exactly how to handle my boy Avery in the graveyard to make his own little bout of Cruciatus merely blackly humorous, rather than either sympathetic or at all appealing.

So why can't she do the same for Draco? She doesn't even have him "scream" when he gets attacked by Buckbeak. He's certainly acting like a great big baby, but at the same time, the verb that she actually chooses to use for his line there is "yell," which is a lot more macho then her usual "shrieking," to be sure. And while Hermione may take a great deal of pleasure in mocking Draco for his fearfulness in the wake of the ferret-bouncing incident, the way that JKR actually chooses to describe his behavior in the immediate wake of the incident is really remarkably sedate, given that she's dealing with a character who is supposed to be such an absolute coward. He picks himself up off the floor, and he's flushed and dishevelled. But he doesn't even whimper. This is really not the way to go about writing a character whom you wish to discourage as an object of some erotic interest among your female readership. It really isn't.

There are very simple ways to discourage such readings. But when it comes to Draco, JKR isn't using them.

All of which does, to my mind, beg the question of just what JKR's intentions towards this character really are. If she doesn't want people to read him as sympathetic, then why on earth does she keep pulling her punches with him? She could take action to combat all of the built-in sympathy points that Draco is racking up in the text. She certainly has shown that she knows how it's done. She knows how to battle Sympathy for the Devil, and she knows how to nip Hurt-Comfort in the bud. She has shown that she knows how to do these things.

But when it comes to Draco, she's not doing them. In fact, in some places, the text even seems to be actively encouraging all of those so-called "subversive" readings of his character.

It's certainly curious, and it does make me feel somewhat more sympathetic towards the notion that perhaps Draco is indeed being set up for some narrative function other than that of pure antagonist. I don't really think that Redeemed!Draco is necessarily all that likely an outcome. But I do think that it is rather more plausible than it might at first appear.


One thing that I do feel fairly certain of, though?

James wrote:

Draco!Corpse anyone.

Yes. I will happily take a helping of DeadDeadDead!Draco. Because you know, there is not one character in the entire series who strikes me as having "Doomed To Die In Book Seven" stenciled across his forehead quite so blatantly as Draco Malfoy. He's ducking the vulture droppings even as we speak. Whether he's getting a last-minute redemption or not, whether he's going at his father's hands or Harry's or Voldemort's or even his own, whether he will wind up spending the next three volumes irritating me by being a profoundly unsatisfying (IMO) foil to Harry, or whether he will finally be given something a bit more interesting to do with himself, whether he will degenerate into a pathetic whining SYCOPHANTic villain's sidekick, or whether he will finally get something on the ball and manage to do something right (or at least manage to do something wrong, but with some degree of competence) for a change, whether he's going to outlive his father or not, that is one thing that I do feel sure of.

He's dead, James.


—Elkins

Comments and References

ThreeOranges wrote:

I mean, come on! You just do not describe a smirk as "quivering" unless you want readers to interpret the smirker's internal state as highly ambivalent. You just don't.

I disagree; I took "quivering" to represent the movement around the lips when someone's struggling not to burst into outright laughter. Draco's words left no room for misinterpretation, did they?

Melanie wrote:

I've always seen Draco's narrative role as being not much more than the Daffy Duck to Harry's Bugs Bunny, to be honest. I mean, lookit-- Draco announces his intentions to flounce that wascally Potter at the top of his lungs to anyone who'll listen, only to be consistently thwarted in what's mostly a quasi-humorous fashion. Look at the end of Book 5, for heaven's sake-- Draco enters Stage Right, apropros of nothing, only to sneer at our heroes before getting hexed into oblivion-- just like the end of Book 4. With all the more important things going on in Book 5, it seems clear to me that Draco's role here is Designated Stress Relief for Harry-- the guy who spews out hateful diatribes so the protagonists can let off witty zingers (and hexes) without the audience feeling that, you know, our beloved heroes might have a cruel streak. As a full-blooded character, Draco's Patheticus Totalus, but I find it oddly satisfying to see that particular "I've got you now- ut-oh!" pattern repeated.

As tempting as it is to err on the side of over-complexity with unsatisfying characters like Draco, I'm a graduate of the "Respect the Obvious" school of interpretation. While things *are* getting more morally ambivilent as the series progresses, this is still a story about a boy whose virtue and purity of heart triumphs over eeeeeevil. And while it might not be particularly deep, successfully putting the verbal/hex smack-down on a smarmy peer who shouts to the heavens that he hates you, who baits your friends over their poverty and family history, and whose dad is drinking buddies with the no-goodnik who offed your parents *is* satisfying, at least at some level. Poor Harry's having a rough adolescence-- can't he even win a few against the Designated Patsy?

And honestly, don't you have to *do* something bad in order to be redeemed? True, Draco is cowardly, deceitful, and racist, but he's saved from really going to the dark side by the enormity of his incompetence. For now, that is. While good ole' JKR might well be setting Draco up for some greater narrative purpose in Books 6 and 7, I for one would be a tad disappointed if DaffyDuck!Draco suddenly launched into "Is this a dagger I see before me, Potter?" theatrics.

Suzanne Ryan wrote:

Draco Malfoy is not lame he is fine!

Rosalee wrote:

Draco Malfoy is ever so lame! And a agree that we do see the hurt/ comfort and Sympathy For the Devil at work in the novel.

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References:

TBAY (Mild): Slytherin and the Reader -- Sympathy for the Devil vs SYCOPHANTS
from Overanalyzing the Text

House Slytherin and Reader Response. Draws a distinction between Sympathy For the Devil and the sort of 'rooting for the underdog' that leads people to identify with or like minion characters like Pettigrew, Avery and Gollum (SYCOPHANTS). Suggests th...... (Read More)

מאמר מתורגם: להגדיר את דראקו מאלפוי

Aja

הודעת כותבת: וואו. אני חושבת שזה עשוי להיות הדבר הקשה ביותר שעשיתי אי פעם בפאנדום רק מבחינת ההיקף העצום של כל זה. תודה רבה ל-circe_tigana ול- Sprenעל שהעניקו לי את ההזדמנות להתמודד עם הנושא הענק הזה. נהניתי מאוד.

בכתיבת הקטע הזה לidol_reflection – שם מתאים, היות שאף דמות לא התפתחה יותר להגדרה של אליל פאנדום מדראקו מאלפוי- אני הולכת להתמקד בדראקו מאלפוי כפי שהוא מוצג בקאנון, ואיך ...

static_pixie: On Draco, Work...and then more Draco

I've decided that Draco is Simba, and not only because it would make Snape Zazu and that thought makes me laugh harder than it should. But, like...can't you just see Draco singing "I Just Can't Wait to Be King", like, with Pansy as Nala? That's always the song I think of when I think of him, despite the fact that Disney is actually sucking the soul out of evil at this point. The story doesn't really follow, but young Simba, young Simba. Is Draco. :)

Also, that would make Bellatrix Ed. :D

Ummm...there has to be a better point to this entry...

scilla: Entrevista da Dana

Tô participando também, aee! Joguinho legal :D

Entrevista

O joguinho funciona mais ou menos assim:

1. Me deixe um comentário escrito "me entreviste".
2. Eu vou te responder, fazendo 5 perguntas terrivelmente íntimas e embaraçosas (talvez nem tanto…)
3. No próximo post no seu livejournal, você responde às 5 perguntas que eu te fiz.
4 Você deixa a mesma explicação do joguinho no seu LJ e se ...

lastseptember: I got a new haircut, which--apparently e

I'm so glad that I'm not the only one who thinks both of the Malfoys (both father and son) are pathetic. Actually Draco is a bit of a twerp wouldn't you say? I actually feel a bit sorry for him and maybe would feel more sorry for him if he did not have so much 'fangirl backing'. Just posting this is probably going to. . . .

psilan: I am one sick, sad, sorry, little man

Why, do you ask? Because I spent my lunch break musing over a series of articals/essays in regards to literary analysis of the Harry Potter series. Some of them extrapolate from the books and make predictions. Some of them have unfortunately been proven wrong by now, I think - but still, the skill with the references and the sheer amount of "cool - I never noticed that before" is just staggering. Here are the links to the essays, in case there are more unfortunate souls willing to be sucked in: . . .

harrydraco: Draco essays

Hello everyone I'm in the process of writing what will probably become a draco-centric story. What I would like though are some character essays on our favorite blond. Would anyone know where I can find these types of essays? I know many many people write essays a lot on LJ but I was hoping there was a place essays were already archived or something like that. Thanks!

Dramione Alliance

Draco/Hermione Essays:

Why D/Hr Is Possible By Tripzy
Of MudBloods And Ferrets By Wynn
Canon Provide Proof! By Bohemian Vixen
Moments from HP and TOotF By Pixyzombie
Slytherin vs Gryffindor: The Inevitable Conflict and the Possible Solution By MagicalThinking

Draco Essays:
. . . .

• hp_essays: Dragon of Bad Faith: Draco Malfoy and Existentialism, Part II

Prelimary notes:

1: I'm delighted at the positive response to Part One of this essay. I was worried I was doing my usual mad over-interpretation and over-intellectualization, but I seem to have struck a chord, which is fantastic! The world needs more existentialist Harry Potter fans. ^_^ I hope Part Two doesn't disappoint.

2: The central theme of Part Two is Draco's inability to take death seriously. I owe this...

puritybrown: Elkins! thou shouldst be living in this hour!

Elkins! thou shouldst be living in this hour!

Well, as a matter of fact thou art living in this hour, but not posting anything new to Harry Potter For Grownups, much to my irritation. Especially since Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame has (in my opinion) been spectacularly vindicated by HBP.

I'm very tempted to start quoting, but this is one of those occasions when one dare not begin for fear of never stopping. F'r'instance I randomly clicked on this link and discovered....

penfold_x: Draco Sucks

I've been trying to puzzle out why so much of HP fandom is obsessed with Draco, and why he leaves me utterly cold. It's not because I don't love Teh Evil, or characters of ambiguous morals. I have a long history of glomming onto anti-heros (Severus Snape, Harry Maybourne, Elim Garak, Cigarette Smoking Man). Upon reading this essay, entitled "Why Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame," I realized that I dislike him because he's a terrible Slytherin...

gornishka: the one where my brain explodes from too much HP overanalysis

Thanks to ter369, have been introduced to two new HP communities, and thus am spending far too much time thinking far too deeply about HP when I should really be in bed: daily_snitch and quickquote. I'm sure that, given the complete dearth of HP fans on my flist, this will be of no interest to anyone. . . .

Riding Thestrals: an OotP reading-reaction

Below is a belated (October 2004) fanreview of JKR's Order of the Phoenix; feel free to skip to the body of the review (contains spoilers) or the numbers; all page numbers refer to the Bloomsbury hardback 2003, printed in Australia by Griffin Press (which looks identical to the UK edition, which I also bought).

the_snarkery: Chapter sixteen

* What were they going to do if the great black dog came bounding up the street towards them in Hogsmeade, perhaps under the nose of Draco Malfoy?

Um, didn't it already? Hence the ‘dogging’ and WHAT DOES HE KNOOOW?

* To his slight surprise, Hermione found this story highly interesting, much more, indeed, than he did himself.

Also more interesting than me. I might have found it more interesting if there was any kind of resolution - did Malfoy tip off Filch? Was it Umbridge? Did JKR forget?
Either way, it's kind of a retread plot. . . .

FictionAlley Park - Canon!Draco in character

quote:
Originally posted by Anjali Organna

I do think that Draco believes everything he has done is justifiable. From his pov, he's obviously not a horrible, bad person.

People habitually chance their own memories to make themselves come out the good guy. One's life through the faulty filter of one's memories was usually much nicer than it was in reality. . . .

rosacurry: For my fellow H/D-shippers, but foremost

For my fellow H/D-shippers, but foremost Draco-lovers, I must recommend a few articles I spent this evening reading.

The Ferveo Project: Character Essays and Guides

Off-Site Character Essays and Guides

NQR: Topgallant: Rants

Defining Draco Malfoy.

Originally posted to idol_reflection, November 28, 2004:

Wow. I think this may have been the hardest thing I've ever done in the fandom just in terms of the sheer scope of it all. Thanks so much to circe_tigana and Spren for giving me the opportunity to tackle this huge huge topic. I had a great time.

In writing this piece for idol_reflection�an apt name, that, for no character has ever more fully evolved into the definition of fandom idol than Draco Malfoy�I am going to focus on Draco Malfoy as he is presented in canon, and how this translates into fanon interpretation....

hp_essays: List of HP Essays posted *outside* of hp_essays

Hi everyone,

We've had dozens and dozens of wonderful essays posted here at hp_essays since the community was begun; but there are loads of other great essays out there - both on LJ and outside of it - that you might have missed. That's really a shame, given all the wonderful speculation and discussion that's going on all the time; so I decided to put together a collection of links to some of the essays posted outside of this community that I had stored in my bookmarks and in my memories...

idol_reflection: Draco Malfoy

Title: Defining Draco Malfoy
Fandom: Harry Potter
Spoilers: minor spoilers for all books but nothing plotty. . . .

sabershadowkat: HP Meta

People always ask me who my favorite HP character is and I answer promptly: Draco Malfoy. Then comes the stares and the "Why in the worlds?" Every time I try and answer coherently it makes me sound lame, because at most I can say that he is an ambiguous, honest character (honest in speech, not in deed) who tries so hard to Be Someone Important, better than Harry Potter at least, and fails repeatedly and miserably, but tries and tries again.

In 2002, Elkins on HPFGU wrote a great essay on why there are Draco-lovers out there, and while I don't think Draco needs to be *redeemed*-redeemed, he doesn't have to end up being eeeeevil. He, out of everyone in the books, has the most potential of just being a normal teenager, spouting political ideologies but never acting on them, and trying to one-up Harry in their neverending game of Exploding Snap.

Studies in Popular Reading Practice: Self-Awareness and Constraint i

unwise to assume that all participants in fandom culture are oblivious to the underlying dynamics of popular reading practice. "Elkins," a pseudonymous participant in the adult Harry Potter discussion group "Harry Potter for Grown-Ups," has written on this topic so often that it comprises an entire subdirectory of his on-line archive. Of particular interest for....

maureenlycaon: Priceless Harry Potter fandom quote

From this essay.

What "Hurt-Comfort" comes down to is the fact that women are just plain Bent, and adolescent girls even more so. They like to see male characters suffer, so long as they do so with some degree of manly dignity, because it turns them on. Male vulnerability garners their sympathy, and it also kind of excites them. They like it. No one ever wants to 'fess up to this, but it's true. Just look at the characters most often fixated upon as drool-worthy by JKR's adult female readers, will you? Lupin. Sirius. Snape. . . .

biichan: Dude. Give me a big helping of THAT theory

I think I am in love with the kick-ass arguing powers of skelkins. No, I know I am. *grins*

Feast upon the lovely theoretical products of a most deranged mind. . . .

synaesthete7: It must be a sign...

I was debating to myself just last night whether I ought to write up a theory that had been taking shape in my mind over the last few weeks, when I saw this, on the comments to a recent posting at The Leaky Cauldron. . . .

hp_essays: Draco Malfoy Essay

Hi everyone!

I was looking in the memories and while I've found several wonderful essays on Cho Chang, Dumbledore, etc. I can't find an essay ONLY on Draco Malfoy and his role/character breakdown in the HP series. Does anyone have a link to one or has written an essay on his chracter and I just can't find it? . . . .

Argenterian Thoughts

"OMG! There's a site of Elkins essays? Where??!!"

Here. It's nicely divided into categories:

Aurors and Wizarding Justice
Canonical Plausibility and ...

shezan: Overanalysing the text?

Rather clever analysis of what JKR really means to do with Draco Malfoy, here. Some people would win course credits with work of that quality, y'know?

narcissam: A Site Rec

For a while, I've been telling people to go hunt through HPFGU for various interesting posts. Which is difficult. Well, finally, one of my favourite HPFGUers, Elkins, has her posts up on the web. They are fully searchable and keyworded into all sorts of nice categories.

Here.

If you haven't read any Elkins yet, I suggest starting off with Draco Malfoy Is Ever So Lame. Yet Sympathetic. And Dead, Too.

NM