Happy Birthday Quirrell!

Happy Birthday Professor Quirrell! I hope you enjoy this amusing insight from the first book:

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JK Rowling wrote an interesting post on Professor Quirrel on Pottermore that goes into his childhood and how he met Voldemort. See the etymology of Quirrell’s name below, based on information from JK Rowling:

Quirinus Quirrel: Quirinius is a Roman God associated with war. Quirrell is close to “squirrel,” and also to “quiver.” JK Rowling said that she wanted to give him a name that represented the contradictions involved in his apparent nervousness and his dark nature.

 

What I find most interesting about Professor Quirrell is the nature of his possession by Voldemort. We have seen Voldemort possess people in three different way throughout the series. We have Quirrell, who doesn’t only have his personality subjugated by Voldemort, but actually has Voldemort physically on the back of his head. Then we have Ginny, who is possessed by Voldemort’s soul but has no physical representations of this possession. She is her normal self most of the time, but there are large stretches of time when she can’t remember what she was doing or how she got there. We have no way of knowing whether Quirrell had a similar experience, or whether he was entirely subjugated by Voldemort. Then we have Harry who, as a Horcrux, permanently has a piece of Voldemort’s soul within him. The scar on his forehead is physical evidence of this connection. Harry’s connection with Voldemort is different than both Ginny’s and Quirrell’s. It is a two way connection, and and more based on feelings and visions. Voldemort can plant images in his head, but he doesn’t actually have any control over his actions. The only time he actually tries to possess Harry, in Order of the Phoenix, ends in extreme pain for Voldemort. Why is it that Voldemort possesses Quirrell so completely, and isn’t able to possess Harry to the same extent? I think the answer is love. Quirrell actively went looking for Voldemort, seeking to control him. Ginny, similarly, connects herself so emotionally to the piece of Voldemort’s soul, actively pursues conversation with it, that she is overcome before she knows what’s happening. Once she realizes what’s happened, however, she starts to fight the possession, and almost wins. Both Harry and Ginny’s hearts are too full of love for Voldemort to be able to stay within them.

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Happy Birthday Ollivander!

Because of the large concentration of September birthdays, I have decided to do only small posts for both Ollivander (Sept. 25th) and Quirrel (Sept. 26th). If you are interested in knowing more about Ollivander’s life, family, and interests, JK Rowling has released a very interesting piece on him on Pottermore. Also on Pottermore you can take a quiz to see what the wood, core, and length of your wand would be. JK Rowling goes into more details about the exact significance of each wand wood and core, and it’s very interesting to see how much research and thought she put into this important aspect of the wizarding world.

 

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Happy Birthday Hermione Granger!

In honor of Hermione’s birthday, I am analyzing the organization that she founded, S.P.E.W. (the Society for the Protection of Elfish Welfare).

The main argument wizards give against S.P.E.W is that the house-elves enjoy the work that they are doing. Hagrid says that freeing house-elves would

“be doing them an unkindness, Hermione. It’s in their nature to look after humans, that’s what they like, see? Yeh’d be makin’ ‘em unhappy ter take away their work, ‘an insultin; ‘em if yeh tried ter pay ‘em” (The Goblet of Fire, GOF).

Ron puts this statement in much blunter terms saying, “Open your ears, Hermione! They. Like. It. They like being enslaved” (The Unforgivable Curses, GOF). In fact, as readers we are bombarded on all sides by evidence and statements that house-elves are happier being enslaved. When we visit the house-elves in the kitchen we see them so happy to serve, so horrified by the idea of freedom, that it does in fact seem cruel to force it upon them. And besides, if Harry, our champion of justice and equality, does not seem perturbed by the house-elves conditions, then why should we?

The first step of debunking this notion is to place it in historical context of human societies. Whether or not house elves are happier in this condition, there can be no doubt that it is a form of slavery. Looking at the arguments that had been used to justify slavery in America and Europe, they are actually very similar to those used to oppress house-elves. Southern plantation owners claimed that black slaves were happy being enslaved, that they enjoyed the work, and that freedom would be too much responsibility for them to handle. They also described slaves, especially house slaves (think house-elves) as having an extreme sense of loyalty to their masters, being unwilling to leave them even in the event of freedom, and being the sole confidant in all matters of the home. In fact, the most famous Southern novel, Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, depicts a character, Mammy, who is shown as simplistic but loyal, willingly staying with the family even after other slaves had been freed. I see Winky as an example of the Mammy archetype, with her devastation at being taken away from Mr. Crouch and her extreme loyalty to his family. There are thousands of modern people who read novels such as Gone With the Wind, but they do not take these racist views at face value. Modern readers know that slaves were not happy, loyal, or simple. They simply read the book as an example of how people thought in that specific place at that period of time. The same could be true with Harry Potter. We are reading a wizarding novel, through the perspective of a wizard, looking at a social construction which is completely normal for wizards. The books show the house-elves exclusively from the wizarding point of view. It is only Hermione, who comes from a muggle family, who can see the true injustice of this system. Harry, however, also comes from a muggle family. Why didn’t JK Rowling make him the champion of S.P.E.W? In making it Hermione, not Harry, who is able to recognize this cruelty, JK Rowling is putting us into a uniquely uncomfortable position as a reader. She is forcing us to view a flawed world through the eyes of a narrator we trust, yet not be blinded by his acceptance of this society. Therefore, we are led not only to see Harry as an imperfect person, but also to understand the flip side: that imperfect people who participate in unjust systems are not inherently cruel and unfeeling. Harry has to deal with this realization after Sirius dies when, tellingly enough, Dumbledore discusses how Sirius’ unkindness towards Kreacher was ultimately a factor in his death. He says that “Sirius was not a cruel man,” but he never “saw Kreacher as a being with feelings as acute as humans” (The Lost Prophecy, OOTP). Harry is forced to decide whether he believes Dumbledore, thereby tarnishing his memory of Sirius, or if he will fall into the same prejudiced trap as his godfather. In making amends to Kreacher in the beginning of Deathly Hallows, Harry aligns himself once and for all on the side of the house-elves. Ron’s realization comes later, during the Battle of Hogwarts, when he says “We can’t order [the house-elves] to die for us!” It is Ron’s final change from his wizarding bigotry that allows him and Hermione to finally get together.

Although both Ron and Harry start to change their beliefs about house elves at the end of the series, we are given no evidence of any major shifts in wizarding policy towards them. How do you think house-elf laws should change? How should Hermione go about changing them? Should they be allowed to carry wands, like wizards? How would wizarding society be affected if they were free? I think that this is a fascinating subject that I could easily write much more about, but for now I would like to hear your thoughts on anything you agree with, disagree with, or find interesting. Let me know if there are any issues left unresolved, and I will happily do another blog post on this topic.

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