Friday, September 13, 2013

Blast from The Burrow: Part 1

From 2003 to 2008, I was a regular contributor to a column on MuggleNet called The Burrow. The idea of The Burrow was that the editor (a succession of MuggleNet staffers who burned out quickly) would put out a call for essays on a given topic related to the Harry Potter phenomenon, and then publish the best submissions at a rate of about one a week. In practice, the frequency of the postings varied from one or two a month to loads and loads, piled on indiscriminately. While it lasted, and when the topic was at all interesting to me, I corresponded faithfully with the editor(s) of The Burrow. Even when they didn't use my piece, they said it helped them to have someone they could count on in a pinch. Here are the installments of The Burrow that I contributed. My first one was another demonstration of my lack of divination skills...
Possible Things to Be Revealed (11/24/2003)
Topic: Possible Secrets about HP Characters

Here are some ideas that I've entertained, about how the characters in the next two Harry Potter books may entertain us. If they're not exactly original, then say I've put my dittos on existing rumors and speculation.

Neville Longbottom: His magic will improve once he has a proper wand of his own ("The wand chooses the wizard..."). But as McGonagall pointed out when she was preparing Harry's year for OWLs, all Neville really wants is some confidence. He has gotten a lot of that through working with the D.A. and it showed in the Department of Mysteries, when of all people he was the last school friend standing by Harry. Going out on a limb: maybe the fact that the prophecy could have been about Harry or Neville, will become more important. At least I think Neville will play a pivotal role in the downfall of the Dark Lord.

Peter "Wormtail" Pettigrew: Don't forget he owes Harry a life debt. This will prove very inconvenient for Voldemort. In fact, it may even be the very thing that tips the scales in the final reckoning. Fans of LotR will remember how Bilbo's, and later Frodo's pity toward Gollum made it possible for Gollum to play his key part in the Cracks of Doom. I think in a similar way, Harry's pity toward Wormtail may be the final clincher, or turn the tide when all seems lost.

Cornelius Fudge: His consuming passion is holding onto power. To him the definition of evil is anything that threatens the status quo. Even now that he has been forced to face the truth, I don't think Fudge is to be trusted. He will lead a camp in the anti-Voldemort forces that wants to "fight fire with fire"-that is, use dark magic to fight dark magic, use deception and skullduggery to combat even greater evil. But I think this approach will make people like Fudge more of a prey to dark forces, and will leave them helpless to face the powers that will be brought against them. In short, I think Fudge is going down, and a whole way of looking at things in the magical world will go down with him. And I also ditto the speculation that Arthur Weasley will be the next Minister, because it does look as if Ron has more talent in divination than anyone in the story realizes.

The Dursleys. Sooner or later Voldemort has to realize that if he eliminates Petunia Dursley, his path is clear to come and get Harry. Petunia had better look out for diving broomsticks, curses, and letters filled with nasty substances. I think by the end of the 7 books, after being forced to treat Harry nicely for a while and to depend on him to protect her from magical attacks (which also concern him nearly), Petunia will be a little warmer toward the boy. I also think she and Vernon have set themselves up for a big disappointment with Dudley, and that will also be a factor in creating a new relationship between Harry and his Muggle relatives.

Firenze/Trelawney: I hardly think Firenze was brought into the story merely to serve the tiny role he served in OotP. Therefore I think that somehow, Harry and Ron will continue to study Divination at a NEWT level. And it may come out that they both have considerable gifts in this area, and the fact that they picked the subject for their OWL studies was very providential. I think Trelawney's incompetence and "blinkered, fettered" human perspective has been holding them back, and Firenze will really open them up. However, I think Trelawney has more to contribute too. There is a good reason Dumbledore considered it so important to keep her at Hogwarts, probably in addition to keeping her from falling into the hands of the Death Eaters and probed for her memories of her first prophecy. That's part of it, but I think Dumbledore expects Trelawney's on-again, off-again Sight to prove important at least one more time.

Katie Bell: She will be in her last year at Hogwarts in Book 6, and I think she will be the new Quidditch captain. The Gryffindors will need two new chasers (one of them will be Ginny Weasley), Harry will be seeker again, Ron will stay on goal, and if they don't do something about Sloper and Kirke there will be a good deal of comic relief from those bumbling batsmen.

Draco Malfoy: I think he'll have to be cut down to size, a bit, in the aftermath of his father's arrest and the discrediting of Umbridge, of whom Draco and his friends were known toadies. Perhaps Draco will get a taste of what Harry has felt like, being shunned and picked on. His character is either heading for a cleansing catharsis or for some kind of nuclear explosion (in terms of personality). I don't think his rivalry with Harry is on the same level as the Snape-James grudge. But if Draco keeps going in the direction he has been, we'll be seeing the awkward situation of having Junior Death Eaters operating freely at Hogwarts. I just don't think that can happen. Some kind of restraint has to be put on Draco, but I think he'll end up being offered the opportunity to do something really Dark and he'll blow it. Maybe his conscience will make him hesitate. Maybe Harry will take pity on him...?

Lupin: From the scene in which he visited with the werewolf at St. Mungo's, I gathered that Lupin's mission for the Order may be to recruit werewolves to fight against the Death Eaters, just as Hagrid was sent to recruit the giants. Maybe success will surprise both of them, and maybe Charlie Weasley will come through with some dragons, and maybe the creatures of the forest will get into the act and when the all-out war opens up, maybe a lot of things Wizards have tended to fear and avoid will come out as allies against the Dark Lord.

The D. A.: The fact that representatives of Ravenclaw, Hufflepuff, and Gryffindor came together for this, in spite of their Quidditch-related differences, is an encouraging sign. The Sorting Hat should be pleased, in view of its song at the start of Harry's fifth year. This trend of uniting the different houses may continue to be a key element in Hogwarts' defense against Dark Forces-and I think the defense of Hogwarts will be a key element in this war. Will the DA continue as such? Will some Slytherins join up? That'll be the day!

Ginny Weasley: Someone has to carry on the Fred and George tradition, and Ginny has already shown signs of having it in her. Look to Ginny for daring exploits and wild, wacky schemes. I also think that her ability to talk openly with Harry will help the two of them to grow together. Ron wants that to happen, obviously...

Snape: What is going to happen when he finds Harry in his NEWT class? We already know Snape is a double agent. He practically admitted as much to Harry. The funny thing about double agents is that both sides know, to some degree, that they are working both sides. At least their controllers on both sides (in this case, Dumbledore and Voldemort). But as the Good Book says, "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be loyal to the one and despise the other." Which master does Snape really serve? Could the answer to that question change over time? How far will he go?

Hermione's activism for house-elves may lead her into a career in the Ministry of Magic, making sure that the rights of elves, goblins, centaurs, and so on, are preserved, their conditions improved, peace and cooperation fostered, etc. Harry will have to get surprisingly good OWLs to continue in his ambition to be an Auror. Everything Ron saw in the Mirror of Erised will come true: he will end up as Quidditch Captain, Head Boy, and the hero of more House Cup and Quidditch Cup victories. I expect that he'll start to get a bit stuck-up and there will be another rift, temporarily, between him and Harry.

Viktor Krum will show his surly face again, and a more mature romance will flare up between him and Hermione. I can't believe JKR would pass up an opportunity to put Ron through a torturous conflict between hero worship and insane jealousy. It would be so much fun to write!

Fred and George will make so much money that they will either redecorate the Burrow beyond recognition, or do something even fancier. Mrs. Weasley will ultimately make up her mind to be grateful that they went into the Joke Shop line. Maybe their funding will become important for Order of the Phoenix activities.

The next DADA teacher will be a totally new character.

The next major character to die will be a member of the Hogwarts staff.

Aaaaand..."open" or not, the coming war will involve a lot of covert activity. These stories are, after all, a lot closer to being mysteries than war novels. I don't think that "open war" is going to change the format that much. The burden of the story will still be some covert mystery that Harry and friends are trying to figure out before it rises up and bites them. And for open war to come to the Hogwarts campus would be ridiculously disruptive. School could not go on under those conditions; it would ruin the setting. So my main prediction for Harry is that he will spend his next year or two at Hogwarts, anxiously keeping tabs on events outside the school, and getting into danger by leaving the campus to take part in those events. He's not going to sit on his tuckus while the people who took Sirius from him are out there...

Making Time for Magic (12/21/03)
Topic: Learning From Harry Potter

We can learn one moral from the Dursley family, the ultimate Muggles. A life without wonder or imagination, without play or fun, without a kind of "magic" (not necessarily in the literal sense of the word) is not worth living.

According to The Leaky Cauldron [a competing fan website], a recent study showed that adults who watch Oprah are more likely to take medications to relieve stress than adults who read Harry Potter. Why is this? The researcher's conclusion shows his bias: people who read about boy wizards are escapists who live in denial and hide from their problems. Maybe the same data could lead you to conclude-- without showing the same bias-- that people who use their imaginations, who let a little magic into their lives and expect entertainment to take them out of themselves, are better able to COPE with stress. And people who take refuge from their daily reality by dosing themselves with MORE reality-- even in their recreation-- are not helping themselves at all.

I see the Dursleys as model victims of this syndrome. They cannot bear even a word about magic to be spoken in their presence. The kind of people who represent the world of magic are not welcome under their roof. Vernon and Petunia are petrified of the social disgrace if their neighbors should find out they have anything to do with the magical world. Dudley is just plain petrified of magic itself.

It is clear that these attitudes go beyond mere hatred of magic, though. We learn right off that Vernon disapproves of the imagination, and that even interesting dreams seem to him to be symptoms of a break with reality. The Dursleys aren't just foils against which the magical world of Hogwarts shines with greater glory. They are people who have raised mundanity into the realm of sickness.

Some time ago, I wrote for MuggleNet that I think J.K. Rowling has a lot in common with Charles Dickens as a writer. The rich variety of characters and events, the waif-orphan-hero who triumphs over the baddies, the tales of virtue overcoming un-thought-of obstacles, all connect the two authors. But another thing that connects them is their satire of a society that, ironically, resembles many of the people who militate against exposing children to the magic of Harry Potter.

In his rather short novel Hard Times, Dickens aims his satirical barbs at a society that moralizes and rationalizes childhood off the map; that forbids children to believe things, wonder about things, and be afraid of things that go bump in the night... basically anything that can't be scientifically measured or logically demonstrated. You could point the same finger at today's enemies of the fairy tale and young-readers' fantasy genre. People who see no point in Harry Potter or can't conscience exposing their children to it are only depriving their children of things that brighten dull hours and awaken human sympathies.

The moral of Hard Times is that life without magic is not worth living. In Dickens' case, we're not talking about literal magic, but about public entertainment, play, wonder, fanciful thoughts, and tales to stimulate the imagination-- including fairy tales, band concerts, and circuses. For grownups these are things that lighten the burden of lives full of stress and strenuous labor; for children, they are simply the things that really allow them to be children, and the kind of children who may grow up to be good people.

But some people would take all the "fancy, fantasy, and sentimentality" out of life, and fill everyone's life, young and old, day after day, with a monotonous round of Facts-- sterile, scientific, algebraic Facts. And as Dickens warns-- and the Dursleys prove, in the upbringing of Dudley-- this rigid adherence to "sanity" only leads to madness (like Vernon pulling the hairs out of his moustache) and breeds sullen youths whose only concern is Number One (like both Dudley Dursley and young Thomas Gradgrind of Hard Times).

The moral of the Dursley family saga, then, is about the same as what Dickens put forth 150 years ago. We need magic. It isn't about denial or escapism or hiding from our problems. It's about learning not to be consumed by them, learning to deal with them better, and learning that sometimes it's okay just to let go of them and visit another world. It's about the fact that books, films, and TV programs that tell all the ugly truth and show us nothing but unvarnished reality are not entertainment at all; that sometimes, a gripping story can be more educational than a multiplication table; and that a mind that needs everything to have a rational explanation and an orderly arrangement-- a mind of method and rules and straight-jacketed reason-- is closer than most minds to the cusp of madness.

Save the Hippogriff (1/4/04)
Topic: Fantastic Beasts in Harry Potter

The magical world is full of creatures that are half-this, half-that. And most of them are not things you would want to meet in a dark forest. Don't even think about savage manticores and bloodthirsty chimeras, devious sphinxes or (gag me) blast-ended skrewts. No one would be sorry to see the back of them forever.

On the other hand, there can't be many members of any given "magical species," or else it would be very hard to conceal their existence from Muggles. Apparently the wizards' ban on experimental breeding, and controls on the breeding of established species such as dragons, explains this in part. The wizards and witches of Britain keep pretty busy, holding down the population of magical creatures so that they can be the more easily hidden from Muggle witnesses. But as a result, they are purposely creating "endangered species." Wouldn't it be sad if these wonderful creatures died out? Manticores and chimeras excepted, of course...

Naturally, the first species that wizard environmentalists would rush to protect are the cute ones, like nifflers, and the useful ones, like house-elves. And maybe they would also try to provide more room for intelligent species to roam in, such as merpeople and centaurs. But with the spread of urban sprawl, advanced communications, and satellite imaging, the world is shrinking...and so are the number of potential "habitats" for these endangered, magical creatures!

If I had any pull with the Wizengamot, I would propose...well, not a solution, but maybe the beginning of one. Perhaps there are some species of magical creatures that the world is ready for. Perhaps under cover of "genetic engineering" or "cloning" or even exploring uncharted forests, we could introduce to the Muggle world species that were previously believed to exist only in myth and legend. And perhaps, if they were useful enough and likeable enough, the Muggle world would join in concern for their preservation.

I think the equestrian races-ones that have a bit of "horse" in them-are probably prime candidates for this program. Horses have been, historically, the most useful and accepted animal, most carefully bred and protected, most highly respected, and most nearly thought of as human, of all animals known to man. And until the internal combustion engine eclipsed the age of the horse and carriage, horses were always needed for horsepower. Maybe some of the specialized equestrian races, currently known only to wizards and witches, could raise the image of the horse again, and make it valuable and worthy of protecting for more and more reasons.

Of course the centaurs have no interest in human affairs, wizard or otherwise, but maybe it's time to add their wisdom to the collective knowledge of our world. Maybe it's time for mankind to hang up on the psychic hotline and plug in to the deeper celestial musings of these ancient, thoughtful beings. And they could probably find work, for instance, as Grand Canyon tour guides and park rangers, going where wheeled vehicles cannot go. It would be an economically sound idea, anyway. Unlike regular horses, they wouldn't make any mess that they couldn’t clean up themselves...

Then there are unicorns. I'm not saying anything so crass as to suggest raising them as a cash crop. But there are uses for their horns and tail hairs, and the field would be particularly open to women-a rare line of work in that regard, that promotes a young woman's sense of self-worth, and also (if what they say is true) provides incentives for sexual abstinence. Anything so clearly innocent and defenseless needs care, and maybe if the public were better educated about unicorns, they would be safer from crass exploitation.

How about thestrals? They say that adopting a pet is good therapy. And some people find horse riding to be an especially helpful escape from everyday cares and pressures. Suppose we tried incorporating thestrals into grief counseling? Think of it as losing one thing, and gaining another in the process. Plus, a thestral corps could bring back the old Mounted Police, and give helicopters a run for their money.

But I think the species that especially needs protecting is the hippogriff. They aren't people who can look out for themselves, like the centaurs. They aren't protected by the same powerful magic as unicorns, and though they can fly to escape from predators and so forth, they don't have the advantage of invisibility that thestrals have.

On the other hand, they would make much, much better pets than any of these other equestrian beasts. Just try suggesting to centaur that he become someone's pet, or submit to a breeding program, or wear tags, etc. You probably wouldn't live to try it again. As for unicorns, they simply wouldn't be good with families, considering the high percentage of families that have male members. And while thestrals might be handy companions for people recovering from traumas (war veterans, widows, orphans, etc.) and possibly even blind people, they are unnerving for the many people who can't see them, and carry the stigma of being considered unlucky.

Hippogriffs, on the other hand, have none of these disadvantages. Sure, they are fiercely proud, but if you handle them respectfully they are no more dangerous than any ordinary horse or giant eagle. Sure, they have a vast appetite for bird-of-prey type cuisine, but a rural setting (and even some urban ones) can provide ample sustenance for a free-range hippogriff. Sure, they make a BIG mess when they molt, and their claws and hooves are hard on carpets and polished surfaces, but who apart from wanted fugitives keeps their hippogriff inside a house anyway?

But consider the advantages of owning a hippogriff. Cowboys, for instance, would be able not only to ride around the edges of their herd, but could actually fly above them and thereby have greater control while gittin' them li'l dogies along. Again, police and rescue personnel would be able to revive the Mountie concept (only without the stealth features of the thestral) and save tons of Diesels a year, compared to flying helicopters around. Riding schools would make tons of money selling lessons and rides to people who will now not only want to gallop along the ground, but soar over the countryside and even, perhaps, parachute down to the ground. This would be safer from the back of a hippogriff anyway, since your mount could catch you if your chute didn't open. And besides, the riding schools would make more profit, since they would only spend half as much on horseshoes.

But hippogriffs are especially good pet material. You already know how dangerous they are if they are handled disrespectfully. Suppose you trained them to guard your family and property? No one would want to mess with them! Meanwhile, your children would learn good manners REALLY FAST, perhaps from painful (though, probably, quite harmless) experience. They wouldn't soon be grieving for their deceased or lost pets, because (1) a hippogriff is not hard to find against any given background; (2) a hippogriff only has to fly a little higher to see home; and (3) hippogriffs live longer than dogs and cats, and probably don't have as many natural enemies, at least none that will trouble them twice. Also, hippogriffs have ways of avoiding moving vehicles that dogs and cats do not. Really, choosing any other pet is merely gambling with a broken heart. Unlike many dogs and cats, hippogriffs "know how to take care of themselves."

I'm sure the discerning breeder and connoisseur will be intrigued by the different breeds and varieties of hippogriffs, just as there are different kinds of eagles and horses. Whether purchasing your hippogriff for the family or for the business, you can get exactly the kind you want, and breed them for the traits you desire. And if you are ever captured by an evil wizard and locked in a topless tower, you will be thankful for the faithful hippogriff-companion who comes to your rescue.

If all else fails, you can turn your hippogriff into a racing steed. Imagine the effect wings would have on the Races!

I think the time has come for the Muggle world to become acquainted with the wonderful stock animal, working animal, and potential household pet known as the hippogriff. There may be no other way to save this noble, beautiful creature from extinction. If the wizarding world plays its cards right, this could be a revelation that Muggles can actually accept-and more than accept: embrace!

Ugh. I'm really disgusted with myself for writing this. But hey, I was 31 going on 13...
Sunday School Lessons From Harry Potter (2/7/04)
Topic: How HP Relates to Other Stories/Myths)

Martin Luther is reported to have said, “Why should the devil have all the good songs?” Even if there is something evil about the magic of Harry Potter—as some Christians fear there is, though I doubt it—there is no denying its popular appeal, and the fact that kids of all ages are reading these books. Meanwhile a lot of kids—and some grown-ups even—could obviously stand to brush up their Scripture. So why not alter the Luther quote a bit. Why let the devil have all the good stories? Why not take advantage of their popular appeal to draw young eyes from the ripping good fun of Harry Potter to the dwell on the Good Book itself?

There are a lot of Bible stories you can tie in with the Harry Potter phenomenon. For example:

Harry and Voldemort as David and Goliath.” Heap big powerful bad guy is running rings around all the good guys, terrorizing them so that no one is brave enough to come forward and face him. Then along comes a little boy, too small to walk in a grown man’s armor, and fells him like an oak tree. Of course in the Bible, Goliath didn’t come back for a second helping. But David had already survived the threats of wild animals before he went to face Voldemort. King Saul (say, Cornelius Fudge) may have thought he was sending the boy to his death, but he could not deny that the boy was a survivor. As David (Harry) said, “The LORD, who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And Saul (Fudge) replied, “Vaia con Dios!” Take a lesson, Cornelius!

Harry and Dudley as Jacob and Esau.” What can I say? Their father Isaac loved Esau rather than Jacob. But Mom (and God) had it the other way around. Jacob turns out to be the man of a great destiny, whose descendents would turn a pivot point in world history. Esau sells his destiny in order to fill his tummy. Hmmmm....Sort of like how Vernon Dursley puts all his bets on the wrong kid, too....

“Harry and the Dursleys as Jephthah and the sons of Gilead.” Jephthah’s father Gilead was a happily married man with oodles of sons, but Jephthah was, ahem, an illegitimate child. So when they grew up, Jephthah’s brothers drove him out saying, “You shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.” But a little time goes by and they’ve changed their tune to, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.” Isn’t that rich! So Jephthah becomes a great war hero, and he does OK without help from the folks who brought him up. Kind of like Harry, maybe? Maybe the Dursleys aren’t the only ones who will come to depend on the child they rejected to save them. Maybe Fudge should take note of this, as well!

Peter Pettigrew as Judas Iscariot.” Do I have to explain this one at all?

“Sibyll Trelawney as Balaam.” You remember Balaam, from the book of Numbers? Most of the time, his Ass was a more accurate prophet than he was. But when it came to the Chosen People, he couldn’t help it; he even tried to curse them, but got carried away by the Spirit of prophecy and blessed them instead. And bad King Balak, after trying several times, finally had to give up on using Balaam to his advantage.

Tom Riddle as Lucifer.” The Star of the Morning has fallen. He who was once bright, beautiful, and full of promise, has turned toward darkness. The former Head Boy and Prefect has become the rallying-point of all the foul and evil creatures in the world. Yeccchhh.

Neville Longbottom as Doubting Thomas.” Thomas was a pretty gloomy guy. He always sounded like he was preparing for the very worst, and when the very best happened, he was the last person to get excited about it. For instance, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” (John 11:16). And then, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5). And everyone’s favorite: “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25). But once he saw, he believed! (John 20:28). After that, his confidence grew and grew, apparently. He fought fearlessly for the Lord, finally laying down his life for the truth. Legend has it that he did some really cool things. It’s amazing what suddenly seems possible when you have hope and a purpose. Right, Neville?

Ron Weasley as Simon Peter.” They’re pretty close, aren’t they? And Ron can get pretty rough-and-tumble, can’t he? And when Ron separated himself from Harry, and sort of “denied” him (in Goblet of Fire), it was one of Harry’s darkest hours, wasn’t it?

Cedric Diggory and the Slaughter of the Innocents.” Like the innocent babes in Bethlehem who got in the way when King Herod was looking for somebody to take it out on, only the one he was really after (Jesus) got away. Voldy got Cedric, but not Harry.

Dumbledore as Pharaoh’s Daughter.” Now this one is really going out on the limb. But Pharaoh’s daughter saved the baby Moses from being drowned in the river, or worse, and brought him into her own house. Sort of like how Dumbledore keeps looking out for people who have deadly enemies after them (like Harry) and inviting the outcasts to live under his roof (like Firenze).

Sirius Black as Samson.” For a biblical hero, Samson comes off as a pretty dumb guy, all brawn and no brains. And his behavior is rather poor, and his downfall comes about because of one weakness: love for a woman. Now, no one will deny that Sirius acted unwisely and immoderately, and this got him into a lot of trouble. According to Snape’s memory that Harry saw in the Pensieve, Sirius sometimes acted pretty badly. But in the end his true weakness turned out to be his love for Harry, for whom he blindly and intemperately rushed into danger, to his doom. But maybe his death will be a catalyst that leads to the downfall of the dark wizards, by setting Harry on the path of vengeance.

Dobby the house-elf as an angel of the Lord.” This is pretty thin, but have you noticed that Dobby always shows up to warn Harry about something that’s about to happen? He’d make a pretty ugly angel, though.

Centaurs as the Magi from the East.” You know, all that stargazing and stuff. Though Harry has yet to see the tiniest bit of gold, incense, and myrrh from them.

“Dumbledore as Solomon.” Wise man, that Dumbledore.

The Wizengamot as the Sanhedrin.” That would make Fudge and Umbridge the High Priests, Caiaphas and Anna(s). Didn’t they seem determined to find Harry guilty of something? Umbridge in particular just wanted to shut him up, and they would believe anything anyone said against him but wouldn’t listen to anything said in his defense. Fortunately we saw “Dumbledore as Gamaliel,” counseling the Sanhedrin to leave the Christians (Harry) alone, and persuading them for the moment. Too bad we also had to see “Percy Weasley as Saul of Tarsus,” holding Fudge’s lime-green bowler hat while he persecuted Harry, as Saul held the coats of the Sanhedrin as they stoned Stephen to death. Then there’s “Hagrid as Elijah” (they’re both hairy, anyway), “Kingsley Shacklebolt as Elisha” (they’re both bald, but you’d best not mention it), “Filch as Belshazzar” (they were both unnerved by the handwriting on the wall), “Prof. Binns as St. Paul” (someone fell asleep during one of Paul’s sermons and fell out of a second-floor window), “Delores Umbridge as Jezebel” (ish!), and “Moaning Myrtle as the Flood of Noah,” until I finally come to “Lily Potter as a Christ figure.” By willingly giving her life for her child, she gave him such a protection that the enemy could not touch him. And as long as Harry makes his home where his mother’s blood is, he is still protected from the evil one. So you see, you can weave a lot of “Harry” threads into your Sunday School lessons, to help young readers of good books pay more attention to the Good Book. Why let the opportunity go to waste? As Ron memorably said, “Accio brain!”

I don't think I seriously held the position below. I think I was assigned the task of arguing it. And then I got scooped and ended up looking the fool.
Is Percy Bewitched? (3/8/04)
Topic: Perplexing Percy

Editor's note: We realize that JKR recently said that Percy was acting of his own accord. However, this was written well before anything was known for certain. Plus, it's just fun to speculate.

Of all the theories that have come forward to explain Percy Weasley's behavior in Order of the Phoenix, perhaps the one that gets the least respect says that Percy is not his own man; he has been put under an Imperius Curse.

To be sure, there are other and simpler explanations for most, if not all, of his changed attitude toward Harry and his strange conduct toward his own family. His own ambition has blinded him. He has a tendency to believe the "party line," such as what the Ministry was publicizing about Harry. He shares the attitude with many of your darker wizards and witches, that the dignity of old wizarding blood (and galleons) counts for something. Or perhaps he has really gone over to the dark side of his own free will. Any of the same things could be (and have been) theorized about Fudge too. But the Imperius Curse? If Dumbledore didn't think Fudge was under one, why believe that Percy was? And where is there any evidence that Percy has been bewitched?

Okay, I'll admit, the positive evidence is a bit thin. But let's not be too hasty in dismissing this theory from view. It is, after all, possible. And until we have more information, until we see evidence that proves this theory impossible, we should keep it open and give it due consideration.

After all, Percy's behavior and attitudes in Book 5 really are shocking. Even taking into account his pompousness and ambition, and his refusal to apply critical thinking skills to anything that the Ministry says or does, it's hard to understand how this young man could much such a clean break from his family and Harry. How he could think the things of Harry that he expressed in his letter to Ron-— the one advising his brother to break off relations with that "deeply troubled boy"—- is beyond understanding, apart from some powerful force working on Percy's mind.

Percy must remember that Harry saved his sister from the basilisk in her first year at Hogwarts. And that Harry enabled him to win a dishonest bet against his girlfriend in the Quidditch season of Harry's third year. And that Harry has been all but a foster child to his parents, from whom Percy has heard all that Harry has gone through with his Muggle relatives and his confrontations with the Dark Lord. Percy must recall how Harry performed in the second task of the Triwizard Tournament, proving not only that Ron is the most important thing in Harry's world, but that Harry would even risk losing 1000 galleons to help the mer-people's hostages to safety.

All these things from Percy's own experience, besides all Harry's triumphs and goodness that the Weasley family has discussed over the previous four years, ought to give Percy a good idea what kind of boy Harry is. How could he set aside this firsthand knowledge and simply, suddenly, adopt a completely opposite view—- even on the say-so of his hero Fudge? Either Percy has lost his mind, or he has made up his mind to be unjust to Harry (either out of self-delusion or pure evil), or his mind has been taken out from under his own control. Or of course, Percy could be faking the whole thing for any of several reasons. Any of these, really, is equally possible. We only lack specific evidence to point toward the Imperius theory. But we may find it in due time!

But who could have put Percy under the Imperius Curse... and when and how... and why?

As fans of detective fiction know too well, you need to know about Motive, Means, and Opportunity to answer these questions... or at least, to narrow down the list of suspects. When you don't even know whether the crime has been done, this is only a first step—- it proves nothing. But it may steer us toward the real evidence.

Motive is simple. What's in it for whoever might have bewitched Percy? What would they gain from having a member of the Weasley tribe under their thumb? Well, someone might want a spy inside the Arthur Weasley household. But if that's what they wanted, they haven't gone about it the right way; Percy couldn't have distanced himself more from the Weasleys without changing his name and leaving no forwarding address. He has moved out and has nothing to do with them, other than to write Ron pompous letters. He didn't even visit his father in the hospital, and he slammed the door in his mother's face.

More likely, the motive is to have somebody looking over Fudge's shoulder, and perhaps feeding Fudge shrewd ideas and deceptions to weaken the Ministry from the top down. Maybe Percy is a spy inside the highest levels of the Ministry... or maybe he is a saboteur, a mouthpiece for the Dark Side. Is his enthusiasm for destroying Harry Potter's reputation inspired by Fudge and Umbridge, or is he the one inspiring them? And is he blindly going along with Fudge's missteps and self-delusions, or is he the one putting the blindfold on Fudge? And if spying on the Weasleys or the Order isn't the motive (which now seems really unlikely), how do you suppose he rose so quickly in the Ministry anyway?

So there is a Motive, and it points to the Dark Side. How about Means and Opportunity? When and how could Percy have been bewitched? It seems to have happened sometime after the last time we saw him in Goblet of Fire, which (if I remember correctly) was at the judging of the Second Task. At that time, you remember, his boss Mr. Crouch was under the Imperius Curse, being held as a prisoner in his own home by Wormtail, who had also helped put the real Alastor Moody under an Imperius Curse and who further showed his readiness to do Unforgivable Curses when he killed Cedric Diggory. Maybe, some time after the Second Task, Percy made a call on the ailing Mr. Crouch and got himself Imperioed.

But it also could have been done to him at the Ministry, where dark wizards like Lucius Malfoy and Walden Macnair were frequently seen—- the former paying numerous visits to Fudge's office, the latter working in the same building and perhaps finding himself alone in an elevator with Percy. Even if Lucius didn't nail Fudge with an Imperius Curse, he might have stuck one on Percy. Or it could have happened in any number of other places, times, and ways that we don't even know about. But if Percy has been bewitched, I think we'll learn that either Lucius cursed him at the Ministry, or Wormtail at Mr. Crouch's house. And if they had meant him to turn spy against the Order of the Phoenix, they would have been more careful to make him stay undercover. His mission, instead, had to do with Fudge's office, and particularly Fudge's campaign to smear Harry.

Don't take the Imperius option off the table. We know that You Know Who's crowd used that curse more than once during Harry's fifth year. They bewitched Broderick Bode and probably Sturgis Podmore in their efforts to get the Prophecy from the Department of Mysteries. I think security wizard Eric Munch might have gotten hit with a load of dark magic too, considering that he was conveniently away from his post when the Ministry was crawling with Death Eaters, half-cocked kids, and Order of the Phoenix members dueling it out for all they were worth. So why not Percy?

The thing to look for, as we wonder about this possibility, is if... and how... Percy comes to his right senses in Book 6, and what he says about it. Other signs there are none. Since he didn't look at all sick when he stood at Fudge's elbow at the hearing and at the attempt to arrest Dumbledore, we can assume that if Percy is under the Imperius Curse, he hasn't learned to fight it yet.

But if the person who put the curse on him is Lucius Malfoy, and being taken to Azkaban has any influence on Lucius' ability to maintain the curse, we may see Percy coming to himself early in Book 6. If, however, Wormtail put the monkey on Percy's shoulder, we may not yet have seen the last of the tragic consequences. Like for instance, someone in the Weasley family being hit by a deadly curse that would have been avoided if Percy had been himself. And Percy getting clear, only in time to regret what he has would be the very sort of twist to make the final chapters of Book 6 or 7 really emotionally intense. And on those grounds, I wouldn't put it past J.K. Rowling, consummate storyteller, to reveal that Percy has been Voldything's puppet all along.

Harry and Dudley and Cain and Abel (4/4/04)
Topic: Siblings and Sorcery

While they're not, strictly speaking, siblings, the relationship between Harry Potter and his cousin Dudley resonates with classic themes of sibling rivalry. Ever since the very first pair of brothers on earth (Cain and Abel), it seems it has been the nature of brothers-or at least, boys raised under the same roof-to think of each other, and treat each other, the way Dudley and Harry do. The exceptions, I think, are few enough to be treasured.

Maybe I'm just saying this because I have a brother myself-very close to me in age, but very far from me in personality. And maybe birth order has to do with it. That raises complex issues I don't want to get into at this time. But let me lay out what's on my mind, plain and simple.

From Dudley's point of view, Harry is the classic younger brother. He is resented from day one because he has moved in on a good thing Dudley expected to have to himself, forever. Namely, his parents' love, their time and attention, space in the home, and a lot of belongings too. Harry has taken possession of a lot of things that used to belong to Dudley (though mostly ones that were too used up to matter much, like outworn clothes). He has even taken over one of Dudley's bedrooms. And perhaps, in some deep, dark corner of Dudley's insecurity, Harry is eating food that was meant for Dudley. Maybe this explains, in part, Dudley's pathological greed and gluttony.

Of course it doesn't matter to Dudley whether he perceives things as they really are. For instance, the part about his parents' love-anyone but Dudley would hardly guess that the Dursleys loved Harry by the way they treat him. No, but what matters is that Dudley feels this way, and it affects the way he gets along with Harry. He is fundamentally afraid that Harry is going to take away what is his. Ironically, this may contribute to Dudley's weird combination of hyperactivity (notice all the broken toys and games he has lost interest in?) and laziness (for never was there a more inactive lump of a boy). He is simply discontented with everything, because whatever he has reminds him of all the things Harry could take away from him...and so he moves from one interest to another, mercurially.

To make matters worse, Dudley realizes that Harry moves in a circle that is forever closed to him: the world of magic. He has powers Dudley does not understand, and Dudley fears them because they give Harry more power to take away what belongs to Dudley. Dudley compensates by using the powers at his own disposal to keep Harry down and to exclude him from the circle over which Dudley has influence. Dudley is motivated to be a leader, a competitor, a fighter, and a bully.

And finally, from Dudley's point of view, Harry is an ungrateful wretch. Harry treats the Dursleys as if they have deprived and mistreated him. Dudley is revolted when Harry acts as if the Dursleys have shown favoritism to Dudley (which, considering Dudley's insecurities, he would find preposterous). Dudley thinks Harry is a whiner, who just wants more for himself. And Dudley is disgusted that Harry would stoop to putting on the "You always give Dudley everything and you never give me anything" act. I'm sure this fills Dudley with a sense of righteousness, by which he feels justified when he uses whining and tale-telling to bend his parents to his will. It's what he feels he must do to keep Harry in his place!

Why would I bother to look at things from Dudley's point of view? (Blush) Because between my brother and me, I'm probably the one on the "Dudley" end of the stick. The one who got to do everything he wanted, while the other had to kow-tow to all kinds of rules, etc. At least, that's how my brother views things, and that's how Harry looks at the situation too. Probably a lot of younger siblings feel that way, and that adds to the appeal of the fantasy. How many of you haven't wished, at times, that your parents would suddenly tell you that you were adopted or switched at birth, and that your real parents (rich, nice people who were going to love you to pieces) were on their way to take you home? Or that a marvelous creature like Hagrid would come and tell you, "You have magical powers that the other people don't have," and take you to a place where your gifts could thrive?

Harry is the underappreciated younger sibling in so many of us. In his case, he really is less loved, less fed, less well clothed, less provided with toys. His adult providers (virtual parents) are disengaged from his life and interests. His "older sibling" has stolen not only their love, but the possibility of friendship with anyone else in the neighborhood. Harry is the frustrated loner, longing to break away and find his own place in the world, longing to be appreciated, longing to be admired and liked.

In real-life families, I suppose it's the younger of the two siblings who usually ends up growing bitter and discontented. But Harry's hopes come true, while Dudley's nightmare goes on and on. And while his time at Hogwarts, and in the wizarding world, sometimes gives Harry even more freedom and fame and excitement than he can handle, Dudley's insecurities have become an inescapable trap in which he runs round and round, turning in on himself, devouring himself-physically, and mentally.

So in the end, ironically, Harry will be the one who turns out to be successful and well-adjusted. And Dudley will be, well...a total loser.

As for my brother...well, he does have a scar on his forehead. I shouldn't have brought it up at all.

More highly imaginative prognostication:
Mix It All Together and You Get... (5/2/04)
Topic: What JKR Won't Tell Us

J. K. Rowling's World Book Day chat has so far provided Harry Potter fans and "sleuths" with their first hints, since the advent of Book 5, about what is in store for Books 6 and 7.

At first blush, her hints don't seem to give a lot of information. Most of her answers, it seems, were "No comment" or "You'll just have to wait and see."

I’m sure some of those “non-answers” are actually pretty interesting, like whether Harry’s eye color is going to be important, etc. It gives us something to speculate about, stuff she neither confirms nor denies. But JKR also supplied some concrete information we have been thirsting for...just enough to tantalize us, and to keep us guessing.

And that’s what I want to talk about this month: the CONCRETE. Or since it’s just a few dry little specks waiting to be mixed up with our guesses and theories, and pressed into shape, maybe it would be better to call it CEMENT (which is to concrete what flour is to bread).

Here are the actual pieces of “cement” information we can draw from the World Book Day chat. I am not including revelations about the past or general interest, such as “Winky never gets over her butterbeer addiction,” or “The Weasleys were home-schooled,” which is all very interesting FYI, but probably won’t help us guess what’s going to happen next. I am also not including non-answers like “You’ll find out more about him/her in Book 6.”

1. There WILL be a new minister of magic by the end of the series. So many of us have already guessed that it's going to be Arthur Weasley. The only thing directly pointing to that is Ron’s remark, before winning the Quidditch Cup against all odds, that he had as much chance of winning as his father had of being the next MOM. And some have noted a pattern of Ron’s offhand remarks becoming accurate predictions.

It would be ironic if this were true, considering how Arthur’s enthusiasm for Muggles has stymied his political prospects under Cornelius Fudge. It would also make sense if the understanding that Arthur and Dumbledore seem to share is going to shape the future course of wizardry. This may actually be stronger evidence than the shaky “Ron dibsed it so it’s gotta happen” argument. And after all, if there’s going to be a new Minister, it might as well be Arthur.

2. Harry is going to keep making progress in wizardry. Big surprise! We heard it from Mr. Ollivander in Book 1: “I think we can expect great things from you, Mr. Potter...” And though Harry is occasionally modest enough to overlook it, he has done some amazing things for his age. What will he learn to do next?

I think, for starters, he will get a few pleasant surprises when his OWL scores come. And maybe one or two that aren’t so pleasant. For instance, he will continue having Snape for Potions. And he may also continue having Firenze for Divination. I think, however, that he needn’t worry about Astronomy or History of Magic ever again.

3. Something pretty nasty/scary is going to happen to Harry. The kind of thing that, if you knew it was coming at you, you would probably go into hiding. Worse than the nasty scary stuff he has already faced up to? Dude...

4. Ron might have trouble staying on the Quidditch team. It’s barely a hint, but JKR at least takes time to raise the doubt that the new Captain will let him stay. Who will it be? By my reckoning, the only past players returning to Hogwarts are Harry, Ginny, Katie Bell, and (just technically) Kirke and Sloper.

I doubt that someone who hasn’t even played a full season will be captain, and JKR would have to be really mincing words if Ron was going to be captain, so that leaves Harry or Katie. Won’t it be fun to see them auditioning new players! I’ll bet Kirke and Sloper won’t get in unchallenged, and I’ll bet Ginnie makes the team as a chaser.

But why would anyone not want Ron on the team after his triumph the previous year? Could there be a clash of egos between Ron and Harry? Could it be that Ron’s delicate self-image will suffer from having to fly in Harry’s shadow again? This could put a big strain on their friendship.

And if the result is that the captain considers putting Ron off the team, my guess is that Harry would be the one facing that agonizing dilemma. If Katie was captain, I don’t see why she wouldn’t just tell them to work it out or they could both take a hike. My GUESS is, JKR has just given us a clue that Harry is going to be team captain, and Ron is going to give him trouble.

By the way, has anyone noticed that the Slytherin team seems to have had four chasers at one time? Count’em: Flint, Pucey, Montague, and Warrington. What’s the deal with that? OK, all 4 were never actually mentioned as players in any single game, but how could they all be on the team if they never played together? Did they meet just for practice during Harry’s Year 4, in spite of having no matches? Or are they bright enough to have reserve players, unlike the Gryffindors?

5. Ron is going to be jealous about Hermione and Viktor Krum again. Another “big surprise!” Maybe romance will bloom between them, maybe not. But it will be fun to see them torture each other more and more, won’t it?

6. Harry has his shortest stay ever with the Dursleys after his fifth year. Infuriatingly, this is the MOST concrete piece of information JKR has given us so far. Or rather, it is the biggest pinch of cement. It doesn’t add up to much. Why, or how, does Harry get such an early reprieve from the Dursleys? Does something awful happen? What could be more awful than what happened the last four summers? Item: The Masons. Item: Aunt Marge. Item: Ton Tongue Toffee. Item: the Dementors. What sinister thing awaits Harry now? Or will he have...I am almost afraid to ask, lest I jinx it...a good summer?

7. “The Sorting Hat is certainly sincere.” This is a very ominous answer, or rather non-answer, to a penetrating question: Can we believe everything the Sorting Hat says? It’s a non-answer because the Sorting Hat could be misled...or there could be a flaw in its “programming”...and maybe, with complete sincerity, it will give bad advice that will lead to greater peril for Hogwarts and for Harry.

8. The Magical and Muggle worlds are not going to be rejoined. “The breach is final.” So whatever Arthur Weasley does as MOM, it won’t mean a new era of openness with Muggles. The MOM’s job will be, as it always was, to keep Muggles from noticing magic. It’s for their own good, really.

9. Harry will tell his “nearest and dearest” about the Prophecy after he digests it a bit. Some of us can probably write that conversation ourselves. JKR has done a lot to make it clear how Hermione and Ron will react, for instance. The conversation I’d really like to know about is the one in which Snape and Harry bury the hatchet.

Like I said, there’s a lot of other stuff in the World Book Day chat for you to turn over in your the “Oooo good question” non-answer to the question about Sirius’ magic mirror, and the dreadfully vague answer to the “will Harry get another kiss again” which might mean a Dementor’s kiss!

But if you want CEMENT, that’s all you’ve got. Nine things. And really No. 5 was a non-answer too (wouldn’t Ron like to know!). And so, in their own way, are Nos. 3 and 7. Now mix in some imagination, a little hope and fear, a little wild speculation...and what do you get?

Whatever it is, it probably won’t be as cool as what JKR delivers in Book 6. Bottom line... “Wait and see.”

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