Posted in Prose

Beorn Is the Old Black

 

the hobbit

Today, I’m gonna be taking you on an adventure through The Hobbit. This is my copy of the book and every image that I will be including in the post, is taken from this lovely illustrated version-which I highly recommend. Although I have a lot to say, I shall be focusing on one specific character, of whom I have not really thought about.

the hobbit hole

“In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit.” And whose story I have recently had the chance to read. I have to admit, I like it better than the trilogy. The Hobbit is full of fun adventures and some serious stuff in the end, but it is more sunny and enjoyable than the other three. Don’t get me wrong, the trilogy is amazing, but I sometimes find it a bit too dark for my taste. The narrator’s humorous tone here and stance to the whole thing as if he/she is a traditional story teller, a bard figure if you will, made it a light reading. When compared to the movie trilogy of the book, interestingly the book felt rushed. And the Battle of Five Armies was disappointingly short and quick. Also kudos to Peter Jackson for including the scene between Gandalf and the Necromancer the book casually mentions through Gandalf’s own account of things he has done after leaving Thorin & Co. That part of the movie was marvellous, but I will not even start ranting about the whole elf-dwarf love thingy.

As the book tells the adventures of Bilbo Baggins and puts him in the focus, some things are left to the reader’s imagination-like the escape of the dwarves from the goblins and the battle itself to name a few-and the other characters, including the dwarves even, did not really interest me when I first watched the movies. But when I started reading the book, one character stuck with me, who does not even get nearly enough book time, and that person is Beorn.

Why I focused on Beorn was because I had this class in my last semester in university called “Animal and Human at the Crossing of Literature and Philosophy ” and in that class we have read four novels and discussed the role and treatment of the animal. It was by far the most interesting elective that I had taken. And as per usual, we had to write a paper on a novel and discuss the animal in it. Naturally, I had chosen Harry Potter. I focused on the animagi (I like pluralising it in the proper Latin form) and the usage of animal body, more specifically Nagini. The concept of animagus has always fascinated me; having a connection to an animal so strongly that your soul and character reflects that. (Don’t forget that the patronus, the protector spell, also reflects the character of the person casting it—remember only McGonagall can save McGonagall!) So I started asking the basic questions: how does the transition work? Does the animagus have the human mind and consciousness whilst in animal form? How and where can we draw the line between the two?

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Peter Pettigrew as shorn in Pottermore.

What we know from the Potter universe is that the outer appearance of the animagus matches the animal he is. For example Peter Pettigrew’s “skin looked grubby, almost like Scabbers’s fur, and something of the rat lingered around his eyes” and Minerva McGonagall’s animagus form has markings around its eye in shape of her glasses and her patronus has the same markings as well. So appearance wise, the animagi resemble the animal. Manner and character wise this also apply. Sirius Black, with his black hair and “bark-like laugh” resemble the huge black dog that he turns into. His fieriness, loyalty and loving and trusting nature reflect the stereotypical dog characteristics as well. What is curious about Sirius is his manners.

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The cave scene in The Goblet of Fire from Pottermore

When he tags with Harry and the order when they escort the kids to King’s Cross, Sirius “snaps at pigeons and chases his own tail,” “scares a couple of cats” and acts like an over enthusiastic dog on a walk. Yet, he knows that he is Sirius and his godson is leaving him for the semester, so he “rears onto his hind legs and places his front paws on Harry’s shoulders” and Mrs Weasley admonishes him to “act more like a dog.” Even though his body is totally in animal form and he acts like an animal would, he still is Sirius inside. That was how he managed to escape Azkaban. Had he not have consciousness, he would not have survived the waters and wander purposelessly. That is not all; when he comes to Hogsmeade to be near Harry after his name was selected by the Goblet of Fire, he transforms into his animal form to hunt rats to survive in the cave. We can see that Sirius Black has mastered using his animal form and human consciousness in a complementary way (as did Peter Pettigrew, who stuck with the Weasleys in his rat form but watched out for any activity on Voldemort’s part), making him much stronger and superior to ordinary wizards. This superiority is also emphasised by his ability to communicate with “real” animals. He forms such a close relationship with Crookshanks, who trusts no one, he ends up helping Sirius.

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Beorn in his bear form, from “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug”

This is why Beorn was the most interesting character for me. As it turns out he is the first animagus that we encounter in popular canonical fantasy literature. He is said to descend either from the bears who had lived in the Misty Mountains before the arrival of the giants, or from the men who had lived in the region before the arrival of the dragons or Orcs from the north—Gandalf believes the second to be true. Either way, Beorn lives alone in a wooden house between the Misty Mountains and Mirkwood. He can also change his form at will, and I believe because of this he refuses to eat meat and use anything in his house that is animal related; he uses wooden utensils and everything. Just like Sirius Black, he has a special connection with the animals around him and also the nature. He has ponies, dogs and sheep as his companions who aid him in the house which is designed for them: the stools are made low so that they can use them. And just like the animagi from Harry Potter, his appearance has some resemblances to his animal form: he is a big hairy man and has a temper and one needs to be cautious when approaching him. He also likes to feed on honey. He is like a grizzly bear in that sense.

beorns table
Bilbo, Gandalf and Thorin & Co at Beorn’s house, dining after finishing their story

Beorn prefers the company of animals to the other races, but he does not like goblins who disturbs the forest. So when he hears the peculiar story of Gandalf, welcomes them to his house. But he does not trust them. He leaves them in his house almost like prisoners, to go and find about whether they had truly slain the Great Goblin. Though he is fair and helpful, he does not trust people. That is why he follow the dwarves to the entrance of Mirkwood, to see if they’d let his ponies go. He uses his bear form to do this; to blend better with his surroundings and use a bear’s speed to his advantage.

beorn
Beorn fighting a goblin in the battle

 

Again, like Sirius he has mastered the shape shifting and uses it to his advantage. He travels fast in his animal form and that is how he can make it in time to the Battle of Five Armies and in his animal form he is more fierce and magnificent. I don’t really know how he has heard about the battle and neither does Bilbo, but I believe that it was through his connection to the animals. He makes it to the battle to fight against the goblins specifically who are the common enemy, against which all the races unite.

 

Based just on these, Sirius Black reminded me of Beorn; his possible ancestor from a bigger and more complex book series, from a master author. I do not know whether J.K. Rowling had the idea of the animagus based on The Hobbit, as it is not really uncommon to see shapeshifters in literature, Beorn belongs to the most famous fantasy series ever. And the way this duality between the animal body and human consciousness is portrayed in the Harry Potter franchise seems like an improved version of Tolkien’s skin changer.

the journey home
Beorn with Bilbo, Gandalf and the Elvenking after the Battle of Five Armies, on their way back to their individual homes

 

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Posted in Prose

The Tragical History of Draco, Prince of Slytherin

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Chapter: “The Lightning-Struck Tower” on old Pottermore.

To kill, or not to kill.. That is sort of the summary of Hamlet.. or The Half Blood Prince. Oh yeah, this is another post on Harry Potter and its resemblance to a more canonical work. This time, I take on William Shakespeare’s most well-known tragedy Hamlet.

As you may expect, I will not be writing about how Harry is like Hamlet; trying to avenge his murdered parents. No sir! This is about Draco Malfoy and the situation he was put in in the sixth book of the series. However, mind you, I will not be glorifying him nor justify his actions but merely comment on his terrible year.

Draco Malfoy was forced to join the Death Eaters simply because his father, who was in charge of retrieving the prophecy from the Department of Mysteries failed against bunch of teenagers. He was given this task of killing the greatest wizard of all times as a punishment to his whole family, to rectify his father’s mistakes-he was not supposed to succeed though, but that’s another story. You can guess now where I am going with this. Both Hamlet and Draco were forced into situations where they swore to avenge their fathers. Hamlet was quick to give his word to the ghost of his late father, but not so quick to act when he needed to, while Draco had no choice to take on the task set for him, quick to act but not really knowing what he was doing. When “my father will hear about this” card was taken away from Draco by Azkaban, he ended up being a scared, confused child who tried to do things way bigger than him. In his haste to complete the task, he put various people’s life in danger; as a consequence Katie Bell, Madam Rosmerta and Ron suffered. This also applies to Hamlet. Poor Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were sent to their deaths and Polonius was killed by Hamlet, albeit unintentionally. Both of these characters lack a stable father figure in their lives and without any guidance they struggle to keep going and continue making mistakes.

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I found this fan art on deviantart, done by suwi.

While we were discussing Hamlet in class, my professor told us that Hamlet was a true intellectual, though he was ambitious and wanted the throne as well, and because of that the scheduled murder of his uncle bothered him. Had he been a chivalrous prince, he would have slain the king, taken the throne and ruled over his subjects and probably not ended up dying. Hence, the whole play is the gap between the moment Hamlet agrees to kill his uncle and he actually does. He struggles to close this gap; he is stuck between acting and not acting. And when he acts eventually, it was initiated by forces out of his control. This applies to Draco as well. When he choses to use the cursed necklace and the mead, he cannot control the outcome, although he does not intend to Ron gets poisoned and Katie gets cursed instead of Dumbledore. It is clear that his heart is not in it, yet he is under immense pressure, causing him to break down in front of Moaning Myrtle. He wants to do well, so that Voldemort does not kill him and his parents and he blames Dumbledore and Harry for the downfall of his father. Such a teenage angst he’s got going in this book. What I like about Draco here is that, up until this book he has been such a privileged pain in Harry’s ass, throwing racial slurs at people and bullying Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs left and right, but now he has shouldered responsibility for the first time and he has changed because of that. No more taunting Ron and being mean to Hermione, rather he focuses on saving his family. That is the only redeeming quality about the Malfoys: they love one another so much so that a teenager accepts to kill a man, and a mother lies to the darkest wizard of all times. And still, Draco cannot kill Dumbledore after he disarms him. The love for his family and the desire to prove himself to the Dark Lord so that his father’s misdeeds would be forgiven are not enough to turn him into a killer. Like Hamlet. No matter how the throne does not belong to the king and how his uncle betrayed his father, both through regicide and fratricide which are regarded almost as holy, Hamlet cannot find in himself to kill his uncle but to defer the ultimate encounter.

When the dreaded encounter comes for Draco, Dumbledore is calm and welcoming, like the third brother from Beetle the Bard’s tales. He has accepted his death long ago, but he tries to save Draco’s soul from ripping apart and fragmenting just because Voldemort wanted him and specifically his father to suffer. He tries to reason with Draco, to make him see that there is a way out. When he says “Draco, Draco, you are not a killer” Draco does not object to that. He answers with “How do you know?” He also knows that he is not a killer, be it from his cowardice or good heart. Dumbledore continues to emphasise this. “I am more defenceless than you can have dreamed of finding me, and still you have not acted…” That single sentence reminded me of Hamlet on its own and made me think of the situation Draco’s in. Yes, Draco cannot act until he must act. Had he been a more vicious person who really wants to join Voldemort he would have tortured or even killed Dumbledore. But Draco does not want that. After seeing Voldemort’s way of punishing his most loyal servants, aka his father, and living with him in the same house gave him a new perspective on things. Hence he does not really identify the trio when they are brought to the Manor by the snatches. He wants nothing to do with the man who forced him into his breakdown and punished his father with the worst thing he can do: by taking away his wand, both emasculating and muggling Lucius. With Half Blood Prince, Draco realises that what he thought he wanted to be did not really correspond to the image in his head.

Although what he has done cannot be excused, it is good to know that Draco realises that there is something rotten in the state of Voldemort’s reign. He could have acted against him, but he is a Slytherin and a Slytherin always thinks of his advantage first. He was in a limbo in term of acting, like late Hamlet, but he was also in limbo in terms of ideology. He thought purebloods to be above everyone, yet he found out that it was not the case. So he almost stayed neuter in the war; he only meddled when he thought that he could save his family.

Hamlet and Draco were both forced into fates that they did not really want by their fathers. Hamlet could not prevail, nor did Draco. While Hamlet paid the price with his life for audience’s sake, Draco’s image of his father and what he had been teaching him as the ultimate truth had been shaken and challenged, and that changed and broke Draco. In that way, he is the tragic hero of the sixth book, our very own Hamlet; the prince of Slytherin.