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A Deep Dive Into Harry Potter
March 13, 2019
The Harry Potter books are a Gen Z staple- I’ve only met a select few people from my generation who haven’t read the books. Even then, most of those people have at least watched the movies. As a hardcore Harry Potter fan myself, I’ve dedicated a healthy chunk of my free time to deciphering a lot of the “Whys” of the books.
J.K. Rowling herself is no longer a reliable source for answering the many questions I have; ever since she said that she believed Snape was a good person, I gave up on her judgement. I’ll get into my problems with Snape in a minute. Instead of listening to Rowling spew random, non-canon facts about the books published over a decade ago to answer my questions, I have decided to turn to implications in the books as well as some snazzy facts that make suggestions to answer the questions that I have.
Think of these articles as an organised brain dump mixed with obscure facts pulled from academic papers. By mixing my interpretations of the books with fact, I have (hopefully) answered some of the primary questions I had while reading the books. Please enjoy.
Why do people hate Umbridge more than Voldemort?
Umbridge is evil. Anyone who has read the books, seen the movies, or come within touching distance of a Potterhead knows this. Despite this community hatred for Umbridge, I’ve often questioned exactly what makes her so awful. Yes, she’s mean and doesn’t like our lord and saviour McGonagall, but neither does Snape and people still apologise for his actions for some reason. So why is she so, so much worse?
Voldemort is the undisputed villain of Harry Potter, with Rowling making him the cause behind any problem Harry faces (Snape, plumbing, etc). However, this makes him such a normal villain. His character, minus the nose (ah?) is a carbon copy of every villain ever. He has an obsession with power, the protagonist, and has a devoted right hand man (or left, in Pettigrew’s case). He’s practically Megamind. No matter how scary and violent he is, he’s so familiar in a distant sense- we know that he’s just a villain and will be defeated, and that is comforting to us.
However, Umbridge snuck out of nowhere. She starts off innocent and sweet yet the way she acts is subtly wrong. Not explicitly, like Voldemort, but implicitly. She turns into a villain though what we see of the way she treats students, which gets progressively worse. This is an evil everybody understands; everybody has had a teacher or mentor who is a little too mean or liberal with punishment. At minimum, someone we know has experienced similar abuses. Very few people have met Hitler or Stalin or Hussein, so we see them as bad but it’s not personal unless something has directly tied us to them. However, everybody knows someone like Umbridge and seeing her thrive in the setting she’s in (she has support from authority, which makes her worse) is infuriating. When she’s put in her place by McGonagall, it’s just so satisfying because the whole situation is representative of a struggle between good and evil, and since, by that point, we’ve all been well acquainted with McGonagall, so when who we want to win triumphs over the obviously evil Umbridge, we get our first taste of real victory in the series. Even though she pops up every once and awhile, and is more prejudiced and horrible every time, the initial smackdown is just so nice.
Voldemort’s death is as flat as a saltine and was anticipated- he obviously had to die, the book was set up as a heroic journey from the start and an important part of this variation of that plotline is the death of the villain. Once again, he was familiar. Even though I hated him, he was such a distant character that only really arrived when Umbridge did, and she was more of an evil than he was during the fifth book. Once she’s out and he begins to recruit, he becomes the main villain. But, when she’s the primary villain and we see her abuses from the perspective of someone being directly abused by her, she just becomes so much more evil than him because she’s so present.
What is wrong with Snape?
One of the largest points of contention in the Harry Potter fanbase is Snape. People are either for him or against him, however, a core contributor to each side’s argument is his relationship with Lily. Thus, my analysis of why he sucks will be centralised on his relationship with her (it’s a little difficult to get through all of why I dislike him but this is a primary).
Those who are for Snape say that his love for Lily was corrupted by the Death Eaters and, subsequently, his death and associated redemption are incredibly important. His death and the information he gives to Harry are important, I won’t deny that, however, his mistreatment of his relationship with her (as demonstrated by the memories provided) far overshadows his good deeds.
Before I get too far into this discussion, I have to get two things off my chest. First, this:
He forced Hermione to show Snape her teeth – she was doing her best to hide them with her hands, though this was difficult as they had now grown down past her collar. Pansy Parkinson and the other Slytherin girls were doubled up with silent giggles, pointing at Hermione from behind Snape’s back.
Snape looked coldly at Hermione, then said, ‘I see no difference.’
Hermione let out a whimper; her eyes filled with tears, she turned on her heel and ran, ran all the way up the corridor and out of sight.
How do people ignore this? How does he get a pass for this? Let’s also make note of, in the first book, when he poisons a toad and as a result, traumatised Neville to the point he becomes a fear of Neville’s so intense that it parallels Remus Lupin’s (a werewolf) fear of the moon. I have more but then this would get quite long and I honestly don’t have the heart health to accommodate such ranting.
A couple key points I have about his toxic relationship with Lily are set in the memories shown in the pensieve in book seven. Firstly, the scene where he rips a photo of Lily and James in half, discarding the half with James and putting the half with Lily in his pocket. My interpretation of this is that he’s trying to preserve her happiness, and by removing James from the picture (no pun intended) he’s acting like the love and happiness in the image is reserved for him.
Secondly: mudblood. Before I explain, here’s a small disclaimer: there are many “followers” in the series — Percy Weasley, Kreacher, and others who, often because of complicated backgrounds, fall in with the wrong crowd and eventually come around. If anything, they set an example for the series: a character can be a follower who becomes a sort of bully but will ultimately grow as a character. Snape is not that — he’s a follower who, instead of becoming good, does a final act for himself (faux kindness stemming from a desire to prove himself) because he knows he’s dying, not because he’s a good person. So when we look at when he calls Lily a mudblood, keep this in mind. He doesn’t grow from this; it doesn’t become a learning experience for him. Instead, he gets worse and doesn’t change. He loses his best friend, who he’s known since childhood and was a refuge from his horrible childhood, and doesn’t think twice because (in my opinion) he didn’t value Lily, instead, he valued whoever was the most conveniently accessible emotional dumping ground.
Oh but wait. Hold on. Here it is. The real kicker. He uses people. He doesn’t care who, he needs validation. I understand that everybody is searching for those things but not everybody calls their best friend horrible slurs, abuses children, and projects a horrible childhood experience onto the son of their best friend who they are still horrible obsessed with over a decade after their death. Returning to the photo: based on the previous, it can be assumed that he is admiring the photo and taking it not because he is in love with her but because she is an ideal; a representative of a childhood he lost and an innocence that, if he still had it, would have her, the beacon of childhood innocence. It’s a cycle.
Why did Sirius Black have to die?
Out of the three questions I have been asking since I first read the books in second grade (for what probably was the worst and longest book report my teacher ever had and will ever have to read) is “Why did Sirius Black have to die?” Black has been my favourite character, tied with Remus Lupin, since I first read the books. The reason I’m not screeching about Lupin’s death is because he died in the battle of Hogwarts with his wife, while his son was guaranteed a home. It was also established throughout the books that, to someone who suffered as much as Lupin, death wasn’t necessarily a relief, but something that he was acquainted with the possibility of. Black, on the other hand, died seemingly randomly and, supposedly, at the metaphorical hands of his beloved godson, Harry Potter. This unintentional betrayal makes his death so much more heartbreaking. Throughout the books, all Harry needs is a father figure. People constantly compare him to James, and every time they do, it is a reminder that his father is gone. Black’s presence gives him that comfort- he knew James, was his best friend, and understood Harry as not as the chosen one, but as a son.
Since everything was going so well between Black and Harry, his death was not only a tragedy, but a shock. This raises the question: Why did he have to die? And, subsequently: What did this do to the story? What were the causes of his death? i.e, did Harry actually accidentally kill his godfather?
I do not believe Black’s death was Harry’s fault. In the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore completely ignores Harry for a majority of the plot. Harry is forced to suffer through the tyranny of Umbridge, discussed in the first article, with very limited adult guidance. Black was forced into hiding by Dumbledore (being hidden in the childhood home where he was routinely abused by his violent parents) which isolated Harry from further guidance. Lupin was on an order mission, conveniently away from both Harry and Black. Although Harry has minor contact with these individuals, they can’t do much to help him due to possible conflicting interests of Dumbledore, who I’ve often considered the “Voldemort of the good guys” not because of the fact that he is the ideological opposite of Voldemort, but because he is just as controlling and power hungry. By declining a position as minister of magic, he maintained his control over the wizarding youth, allowing him to brainwash all of the students except for the Slytherins, who he openly hated and most likely turned away and, as a result, turned them against him. I digress. Anyways.
By isolating Harry from the only adult influences outside of the oversheltered and controlled environment of Hogwarts (and simultaneously forcing Harry to be mentally enslaved by one of his abusers, Snape, who is also discussed in a previous article), Dumbledore creates an emotionally strained, hormonal teenager with no outlet for the aggression present. Thus, when presented with the possibility of his godfather’s death through mind control (Occlumency on Voldy’s part), Harry understandably freaks out. Long story short, Sirius dies when Harry takes his gang of outcasts to “rescue” him, and everything goes south when they realise Black wasn’t even there to begin with.
Dumbledore blames Harry for the situation; he says he wasn’t prepared enough and didn’t pay attention in Occlumency. How was Harry supposed to pay attention when the teacher was his abuser who didn’t stop ripping on his father? It’s an unrealistic expectation. By raising him “like a pig for slaughter,” Dumbledore doesn’t treat him like a boy and instead like an object, which is no way to treat a child. It’s damaging. Yes, Harry may have called the initial shots, but what led him to make that decision can’t be ignored.
All of this leads to the question: Why did Sirius Black have to die? His death seems senseless; if anything, it’s a means to an end to make Harry seem more young and more foolish. However, going beyond the basic storyline, I think his death means so much more. For starters, the loss of a second father figure for Harry really just piles on the trauma, which adds to the tragic hero elements of his character. By killing Black in a senseless, unavoidable manner (which was not Harry’s fault), the futility of life and war is demonstrated. Quick note: Rowling is a Dumbledore apologist, so my depiction of Dumbledore as a total mess is entirely based on personal interpretation of the books. Black’s death adds further tragedy to the story and increases sympathy for Harry, and makes Voldemort even more evil because he added another important character to the list of those he killed. This highlights Harry’s innocence as well. He’s just a child and should be treated as such. If he isn’t, then there are consequences, and one consequence is death.