[Optional soundtrack to this post.]
I’ve never had much in the way of famous close friends. Successful in their own ways, sure, but not really famous. The closest I came was when working as a sports reporter for a college newspaper and meeting various athletes. But although Roger Staubach once answered a single question from me, he’s never responded to any of my Christmas cards; at some point, I can take a hint, Rog.
So I can’t say I can really relate to Ron Weasley’s perspective, but I will say that he’s had one of the better character arcs of the HP series, culminating in the first half of Hallows.
Ron’s development has often been unsteady throughout the series, the way that adolescent development tends to be. For the first two books, he mostly exists to be Harry’s friend and often comic relief. Azkaban is his first big step forward, as we see him assert himself more – and begin the bickering with Hermione that eventually blossoms into something like dysfunctional courting.
But Goblet marked the beginning of another important aspect of Ron’s personality: latent jealousy. When his best friend is the most famous kid in the wizarding world, Ron’s occasional envy feels only natural. He overcomes it, because in his heart, Ron is just a really good guy. His friend means more to him than personal glory. It’s noteworthy that the other member of our main trio, Hermione, never seems to have this issue. Her frustrations with Harry are all based on his lapses in judgment or, especially, his poor study habits; the closest she comes to jealousy is when Harry is better than her at Potions in Prince, and even that is more about Harry cheating than Hermione feeling inadequate.
But for Ron, that longing never quite goes away. I think Ron has something of an inferiority complex because of how much Harry is loved and adored; that’s gotta be part of why he struggled so much with confidence playing Quidditch in Phoenix and Prince. It doesn’t help that he’s the youngest male in a family where all his older brothers have been very successful, either in academics, their professions, or general BAMFing. Nor can it help that his biggest achievements seem to come as a result of Harry being unavailable; see: winning the Quidditch Cup in Phoenix and Prince (would he have still been the hero if Harry had played?) or becoming a prefect (only chosen because Dumbledore thought Harry had too much to deal with).
So going into Hallows, Ron is used to, but probably not fully satisfied with, being a supporting character. With that in mind, Rowling makes him the subject of the most interesting character development of the book’s first half, with his departure and return marking the high point and resolution of Ron’s internal conflict.
To escalate matters, Rowling uses the newly found locket Horcrux. Ron’s feelings and doubts always existed, but wearing the Horcrux made everything worse and come to the surface. Rowling has introduced a very tangible form of evil that’s even more fascinating than its use in Chamber of Secrets, since we see the “possession” more fully realized. Even a sliver of Voldemort is enough to drive Ron to the worst parts of his psyche.
But his return and redemption is quite the payoff. I loved the magic in how he found his way back through Dumbledore’s gift, and though that speech wasn’t delivered quite as well as in the film, I loved the way it softened Hermione’s anger at him.
Most fascinating of all, though, was Ron’s destruction of the Horcrux. It was a rather overt metaphor, with Ron quite literally facing his demons, but the lack of subtlety was warranted. It was a big moment, as we learned much of the why of Ron’s lingering feelings of jealousy and inadequacy: Hermione. In the end, it all came back to Hermione, and Ron’s fear that he would in some way be not enough for her.
Seeing him conquer that inferiority complex felt like the final step in Ron’s maturation process. He’s gradually learned to recognize and express his emotions betters, but now he can finally put it all together. At last, he should be free to move beyond the passive-aggressive bickering and reach the inevitable happy ending he’s destined for with Hermione.
And with Ron back in place, Rowling was free to start ramping up the action. So much of the first half of the book was searching and putting pieces into play, and while exciting in its own way, it was relatively short on action. But after Ron’s return, we begin a crescendo that starts to produce more firepower, and with the promise of even more to come.
The musical accompaniment to this post is Tchaikovsky’s Slavic March, or “Marche Slave,” a piece inspired by a Slavic-Ottoman war with Russian intervention. It really has nothing to do with Ron Weasley, even thematically, but the excitement of that march music really plays well with the rising stakes and increased action we see after Ron’s return. Ignore the various anti-Semitic remarks on its YouTube comments section that exist to remind you that the Internet is an awful place, and it feels like quite the tone setter, especially that rise from about 5:00 on. And we’re getting to a point where Rowling is keeping your blood raised just as much.
This post is for the first 518 pages, or 26 chapters, of Deathly Hallows, which means I have way too much to cover to do most it proper justice within my time constraints. But I’ll try.
- This seems like a good time to revisit the issue of Elf slavery, a topic that I was … less than kind about when first discussing. I thought that Rowling’s main critique of the slave system she created would remain Dumbledore’s comments at the end of Phoenix, stating that wizardkind would have to answer for how they treated non-humans, including the rather indisputable fact that Sirius helped cause his own death by mistreating Kreacher. Those remarks were a welcome change from the mockery the topic received in Goblet, but I still didn’t think it was enough.
In Hallows, though, Rowling tries to go further. The biggest step was trying to redeem Kreacher. As Kreacher becomes more cooperative and downright friendly, Hermione is finally validated with proof that the elf will respond to how he’s treated. Later, we see Dobby heroically die to save our heroes.
Dobby was a character I hated in the films, and while his death was fairly sad at the end of the seventh movie, it didn’t affect me greatly. The books didn’t make me like him much, if any, more. So it was really surprising to me how affected I was by his death. It was really quite emotional. A large part of that was tied to how incredibly successful Rowling was in making the reader feel her characters’ grief.
The result of Kreacher’s change of heart and Dobby’s sacrifice (and even, to a lesser extent, Griphook’s further indictment of wizards’ treatment of non-humans) is that house elves seem more relatable, and the characters seem more sympathetic to their plight. All of which was a welcome addition to the narrative of that species. So, do I feel differently than when I tried to eviscerate Rowling for her botched slavery parallel in Goblet?
Yes and no. Yes, because I think she was more effective at redeeming that subplot than I could have guessed after its awful beginnings. No, because I still think she botched it by having those awful beginnings. I think that could have been a powerful subplot on the abuses of this magical world, and the ways that prejudice affect even our more likable characters. But her tone in Goblet made it so uncertain that we would ever reach this point, and I think it was a mistake to allow so many negative reactions to dominate the house elf conversation for so long before we got to see effective counterarguments. If she had found some way to move the house elf slavery plot points from Goblet all to Phoenix, where they would have been capped off by Dumbledore’s strong stance, that might have helped. But she still has the unresolved issue that Ron and others are right in saying that the elves, aside from Dobby, really do want to be slaves. If she had left that conclusion more open-ended (keep in mind just how much Winky reinforced it in Goblet), addressed it from a less mocking tone early on, and given Hermione some backup sooner, I think these final moments of elf subplot redemption would really be something. As is, I still think she mistepped too much.
- I loved Harry telling off Lupin for the idea of not staying with his wife and future child. If anything, I wish Harry hadn’t felt so remorseful about it right after. Knowing what’s going to happen nearer the end of the book, Lupin later announcing the birth of his son felt like a sad moment when it was intended as joyful. But however brief Lupin’s time with Tonks and young Teddy will be, he wouldn’t have even gotten those moments of rejoicing if not for Harry’s tough love.
- The scene at Godric’s Hollow combined two of my worst fears: old people and giant snakes. I think I had nightmares for a week after watching that movie, and they’ll probably come back now.
- Oh yeah, I should probably discuss the Deathly Hallows themselves. I was impressed by how exciting it felt when all that information finally came together for Harry: that his father’s heirloom was the Invisibility Cloak, that the Resurrection Stone must be contained within the golden Snitch that Dumbledore left him, that Voldemort was also seeking the Elder Wand, that his parents’ epitaph seemed to tie back to the idea that he was meant to master the Deathly Hallows.
In Phoenix, when Rowling had Dumbledore reveal the reason why Harry had to stay with the Dursleys and how he was safe there, I said I didn’t really believe that she’d had that planned out all along, though I respected her for filling in a gap in logic with a fuller explanation. In Hallows, it does often feel like there’s been more of a grand plan in store all along, as we see so many references and plot points come back with greater significance, including those related to the Hallows and the Horcruxes. Was Rowling really such a grand visionary all along? I don’t know; I suppose I still doubt some of it. I’m sure she’d say she had everything planned all along, because who doesn’t want to be known as a visionary. The interconnectedness in Hallows with the rest of the series would certainly support such a conclusion, but her writing early in the series is far more suggestive of someone who definitely didn’t have it all figured out yet. Ultimately, it probably doesn’t matter. At the very least, she found ways to tie so many things together that it has certainly increased the drama of what the final volume in a series should feel like.
- Scrimgeour might have been a dick, but much respect for the fact that he died rather than rat out Harry. He was a minor character, but that detail of his death makes him a more interesting character than his perpetually red-faced predecessor, Fudge. Both were pretty crappy Ministers of Magic, as near as we can tell, but Scrimgeour was still an auror, and had the greater resolve that seems to come with it.
- The break-in at the Ministry of Magic was entertaining, though I do think the plan the trio had in the movie made more sense. If they knock out all three of the people whose place they’re taking, their cover should be good for as long as the originals are unconscious (which probably fits their preexisting time constraints of polyjuice potion anyway). But in the book, they give the latter two workers a Weasley product to make them too ill to come into work. The stated reason is so that they don’t leave a suspicious pile of bodies behind, but even one unconscious Ministry body will raise suspicions. Wouldn’t just making sure that the stunned bodies are well-hidden be less dangerous than the risk that one of the sick men would contact someone at the Ministry from St. Mungo’s to say that he couldn’t come in?
- Am I the only one who desperately wants to see a prequel book about young Dumbledore, focusing on the duel with Grindelwald? It’s such a tease to get all these repeated references to what an awesome fight that apparently was … and never actually see it.
- I like how Rowling has found a couple ways to work in former classmates from Hogwarts even before the gang’s inevitable return there. Seeing Dean Thomas again was whatever, but I’m a big fan of Luna Lovegood. I hope she and Neville end up together, because they both rock. Though a part of me thinks Harry should have ended up with Luna, and Neville with Ginny.
- I love Harry’s renewed focus and emerging leadership after Dobby’s death. Seeing him take charge and create a real plan is really building the book’s crescendo. I can almost hear Tchaikovsky’s Marche.