Dabney GrinnanKeymaster04/05/2021 at 11:25 amPost count: 128
I’m listening to ALL the books, one after another. (Jim Dale is a god among mortal narrators.) I began at the beginning of the pandemic and am now at the start of the fifth book, The Order of the Phoenix. I’ve read all the books, seen all the movies, but am most familiar with the first four. When I first read the books, it was clear that Voldemort was THE villain but now, I’m not so sure.
Voldemort is unalloyed evil. From the moment we encounter him, until his death at the series’ end, he is presented as all that is unholy. We know and expect him to maim, torture, murder, and mock.
But, as I’ve been listening over the past months, it now feels to me that perhaps the true villains in Rowling’s world are the adults who deliberately look the other way, who pursue power for power’s sake, and who allow others to suffer for their own selfish, unethical aims. I’ve just listened to the horrific scene where Dolores Umbridge makes Harry torture himself by writing lines. She’s the embodiment of that which destroys us–cruel, petty, deliberately obtuse, and gleefully imposing her psychoses on children. Cornelius Fudge’s behavior is much like that of the Trump administration for much of the pandemic–he recklessly and purposefully refuses to acknowledge or act on what he knows to be true because to do so would, he believes, cede power to those whom he sees as his rivals.
Carrie GParticipant04/05/2021 at 12:12 pmPost count: 28
There are definitely more villains in the stories than Voldemort, as you pointed out. Umbrage is in many ways my most hated character, because she does things with the veneer of goodness and morally superiority. She is the evil I see around us today much more than Voldemort.
But the characters who interest me the most, even as they make me uncomfortable, are the anti-heroes and morally grey ones, like Snape. Snape ultimately did some good things, but his story arc never completely does away with his grey areas, and I like that. He isn’t a kind person, nor does he do anything altruistically except begrudgingly protect Harry because of his love for Lily. In a romance novel he would be the anti-hero who is partially redeemed, but never safe or completely kind, sort of like Ann Stuart’s Bastien.
Other morally grey characters for me include Harry’s father and Dumbledore, as well as Draco. Of these, the only one who feels totally redeemed is Draco. His is perhaps the most powerful story of redemption in the book. Unlike Snape, Draco is set on a completely different path at the end of the novels than he was on at the beginning. Harry’s dad, whose name is eluding me at the moment, was another character that makes me uncomfortable. That’s because he is idolized and held up by so many as this great guy, but in reality, he was a selfish, entitled bully, at least as a teen. The flashback memories show his casual abuse of those weaker than himself, and the author never tries to fully redeem him, which I think was a good move. He stays morally ambiguous like most people, and Harry grows a little realizing that no one, in fact, should be idolized. The dad is every privileged prep-school bully we’ve all encountered, and while he was definitely on the side of right, that doesn’t mean he was going to be a “nice” person as he matured and became politically active in the wizarding world.
Much has been written about Dumbledore, and overall I tend to think he was like a general who regretfully does what needs to be done to win the war, knowing others will sacrifice everything to accomplish it. He manipulated Harry and others behind the scenes to bring about the confrontation he knew had to happen. I know many feel like Dumbledore knew Harry would eventually survive, but that really isn’t the point. It wasn’t only Harry in mortal danger and Dumbledore knew there would be huge losses. I don’t think he was sanguine about it, but he was determined to see it through, and was never completely honest with anyone about what he was doing.
All-in-all,I like that Rowlings left a lot of room for characters who are complex, not all good or evil, and who represent what we see in real life.
Dabney GrinnanKeymaster04/05/2021 at 12:37 pmPost count: 128
Umbrage is in many ways my most hated character, because she does things with the veneer of goodness and morally superiority. She is the evil I see around us today much more than Voldemort.
Yes. Exactly this.
I love how grey so many of Rowling’s characters are. Even our beloved leads, Harry, Ron, and Hermione, are all routinely rottenly behaved. They’re human i the best way.
I suspect that James Potter actually would have grown up to be a good man. Rowling lets all of her teenagers be flawed in a way that doesn’t telegraph their personas as adults.
Carrie GParticipant04/05/2021 at 1:59 pmPost count: 28
I saw the rotten times for Harry, Hermione and Ron more in the light of immature selfish teenage angst, and not anything born of entitlement or privilege. To me, James Potter’s behavior was more than that, it was casual cruelty to hose weaker than himself, which makes me thing of entitlement and privilege. I definitely believe he was redeemable, but Rowlings doesn’t really show that happening, so we’re kind of left hoping that James would have been the role model Harry believes him to be. I think that’s important, because Harry needed to see his father’s flaws as a way of understanding his own flaws, and to see Snape’s sacrifices as a way to understand that people are not just what they seem on the surface. For me this juxtaposition of James Potter and Snape is one of the most important lessons in the books for all of us, but perhaps especially teens. We can’t just look at the outside of a person, or accept what society sees and says about them. We need to dig deeper to see the worth (or rotteness) below the surface and make judgments based on that and not the picture shown to the world at large. This is a life skill that we all need. It’s literally headline stuff, as we are led to believe the rich white guy should get off with a slap on the wrist for rape but it’s okay for the POC to get life imprisonment for marijuana possession.
chrisreaderParticipant04/05/2021 at 4:04 pmPost count: 35
I think they did show that James turned into a good man.
First by the fact Lily ended up with him when she wouldn’t have anything to do with him in her younger years. He clearly outgrew whatever spoiled or obnoxious tendencies he had when he was younger. He becomes “Head Boy” without ever having been a prefect and it’s understood he really cleaned up his act in all areas.
Then by his treatment of Remus, who he not only befriended and protected while in school, but financially supported as an adult because Remus couldn’t get work when it was known he was a werewolf.
James also had very strong principles and was outraged at Snape’s willingness to use racist language even against his “best friend” Lily. When Voldemort tried to recruit James he wouldn’t have anything to do with his ugly philosophies.
Most of James sins are against Snape, but that was a two way street. Sure James was arrogant and sometimes mean spirited but the hexes he would use against Snape were ones Snape created himself. Snape hated him even as an adult but James saved his life in school risking his own to do it. And while it’s never good to bully anyone, if you put it in modern terms would people feel the same sympathy towards Snape if he were in some Neo-Nazi group? That’s really what he was involved in.
By the time James had matured he was willing to sacrifice everything for his principles and his friends. Snape willingly joined with Voldemort and only broke with him because of his feelings for Lily, not because he saw him as wrong.
While we see a scene entirely unflattering to James from Snape’s point of view we never get to see one from James regarding Snape.
As an adult Snape picked mercilessly on the child of his old rival to get his revenge and still tried to ruin Remus’s life because he had an incurable disease. James died a hero for a cause and protecting his wife and child.
James clearly had his flaws when he was younger which were exacerbated by older, indulgent parents but he was at heart a good person and improved as he aged even dying young as he did at something like 21 years old?
Carrie GParticipant04/06/2021 at 11:11 amPost count: 28
These are all very good points, chrisreader. I don’t think James was as completely redeemed in the book as you do, although we have evidence that he may have turned out to be a better man. I definitely don’t think Snape is either totally redeemed, or totally heroic. I like that about the character because it helps us see that people are not all good/all evil. It’s great to have the Beatrix or Valdemort characters to defeat because they are pure evil and that makes us fell good. Snape is not pure evil. He is so much more complex. James Potter was not pure good, he had things to overcome as well. These are much more like the people we’re likely to meet in life.
The Neo-Nazi comparison is a good one, and yes, I think it helps us to see that even those who espouse dangerous ideas are not caricatures, but real people. I’ve read some stories behind some of the people in these groups and some of them have definitely been sympathetic characters, misguided but with understandable anger and hopelessness. And the fact that many people quit the groups and even the Republican party after Jan 6th shows that when faced with hard truths, some people can step back and question what they thought they knew.
chrisreaderParticipant04/05/2021 at 4:20 pmPost count: 35
Umbridge is probably the most hated villain in all of the HP fandom if I had to hazard a guess. Even worse than someone like Bellatrix who was pure evil and took out a really beloved character.
Rowling is phenomenal at creating every variant and shade of grey in her characters from the willfully neglectful to the truly maleficent. Even the way pretty good characters like Harry’s friends (except for Hermione) will get jealous and turn on him at times when things look bad for him. People exploit others, turn a blind eye to injustice and cruelties and chicken out when their neck is on the line.
Snape gets remembered as a hero but he spent his entire adult life avenging childhood slights and picking on children. He torments Nevill and does everything he can to make Harry’s life miserable if he can. Draco is seen by many as redeemed because he doesn’t choose to destroy every enemy, including Harry at one point, but as Rowling has pointed out -he’s still a horrible racist and it’s only because his wife doesn’t believe in his “mud blood” views that his child is raised differently.
Rowling gives a few female characters some near saintly personalities like Hermione and Lily, but pretty much everyone else is a very complicated, mixed bag of personality traits and frailties.
Dabney GrinnanKeymaster04/06/2021 at 12:14 pmPost count: 128
I’m currently in the time in the books when Percy is awful. And he does real harm. But he’s misguided and young so he’s clearly nowhere nearly as evil as his adult compatriots at the Ministry.
I think Rowling believes that we should, like Albus, assume the best about people rather than the worse.
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