Posted in Prose

It’s S.P.E.W. NOT Spew!

spew940-vhq
Hermione and Crookshanks at the entrance to the kitchens. Tickle the pear.!

‘What’s in the box?’ he asked, pointing at it.

‘Funny you should ask,’ said Hermione, with a nasty look at Ron. She took off the lid, and showed them the contents.

Inside were about fifty badges, all of different colours, but all bearing the same letters: S.P.E.W.

‘“Spew”?’ said Harry, picking up a badge and looking at it. ‘What’s this about?’

‘Not spew,’ said Hermione impatiently. ‘It’s S – P – E – W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.’

‘Never heard of it,’ said Ron.

‘Well, of course you haven’t,’ said Hermione briskly, ‘I’ve only just started it.’

This little quote is from Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire. From the book of the series where beasts and beings and their treatment, or rather mistreatment, get a little attention. One of the reasons why Hermione Granger is my favourite character is that she takes time to think of others. She was the one who helped Neville look for Trevor the moment she met him, she was the one who adopted the unloved and unwanted cat Crookshanks and the only reason Harry survived to finish off Voldemort was, again, her. So, it is no wonder it was Hermione who took the time to find more about the conditions of house elves. For those who don’t know, there are at least a hundred house elves working in Hogwarts, preparing the feast and cleaning the school-you didn’t think it was Filch who did the all cleaning, did you? They were brought by Helga Hufflepuff and although there is no information, it is suggested that they all sleep in the kitchen or somewhere nearby-close to the Hufflepuff common room. It feels weird to have Helga Hufflepuff, who is the nicest of the founders to allow such a huge amount of slaves in school. The problem with it is that people who grow up in the wizarding world tend to think that house elves like what they are doing and they are, in a way, meant to do chores. I am not talking about Malfoys or Blacks here who do not consider house elves as individuals and constantly abuse them, but regular good guys like Helga Hufflepuff and Ron Weasley. Ron does not question the situation the house elves are in and claims that they like working; until the Battle of Hogwarts, after they are put in almost the same conditions as house elves while they were on the run-plus Hermione’s consistent trials at educating him, Ron realises the problematic position elves are in. This kind of thinking is reinforced in their household, unfortunately. Mrs. Weasley is a traditional old-school house wife and she would like to have a house elf if they could afford to it, they are extremely expensive much like exotic pets and only the upper class can afford to have any. They accept magical beings as they have always been, the common social discourse is what they go with. This acceptance can only be challenged by an outsider, who encounters both the beings and traditions for the first time and that is where Hermione Granger comes in. Being a muggleborn, Hermione faces discrimination early in the series and develops a coping system. This “unwantedness” of Hermione is reflected in the house elves and thus she is more observant and interested. She has a basic understanding of muggle history and that is why she can see elves as enslaved creatures rather than masochistic work-loving “animals.”

123-hogwarts-tea-towel
The kitchens as depicted in the old Pottermore

The reason why Ron never heard of S.P.E.W was not because Hermione just founded it, but because it is actually a muggle reference. “The Society for the Promotion of Employment of Women” which also can be abbreviated as S.P.E.W. was a a movement founded in 1859. Back in the Victorian era, women had one major duty: to be a housewife. Some women even fought against the right to vote for women in  “An Appeal Against Female Suffrage” in 1889 and stated that a woman is too delicate to be involved in politics and real world matters. They were seen as pretty objects, in upper class, to possess and to show off. The poor were not that lucky. The more fortunate worked as governesses, the more unfortunate as prostitutes and later on worked in newly rising factories and mines. The working conditions were so harsh and the money they got were so low that a few families had to rent the same room to be able to afford a place to sleep. They worked up to 18 hours and pregnant women had to work until they gave birth and come back when they physically could. Although some acts passed to regulate the working hours and “humanise” the working conditions but they were not nearly enough. So this society was founded to address the urgent need to open up new areas of employment for women and the lack of education available. Another main focus of the society was to make women economically more independent, hence the society offered loans to help cover the costs of their education. You can see the parallelism now, right? The women in Victorian times were oppressed, forced into the house and into two categories; either angel of the house or the loose, sexual women. They were treated badly, didn’t have fundamental rights and suffered under a more dominant power: the men. In Harry Potter, the house elves not only symbolise slavery but also the situation women were in in the past. It is a woman that tries to something for the creatures, the men tagging along unwillingly. And it is a woman, J.K. Rowling who, with a simple abbreviation, reminds the reader of the effort women made to gain, maybe not equal but some footing. It is a nice detail having Hermione, an outsider, a woman, a muggleborn to start a movement to educate the purebloods and help house elves even though they have no conception of fundamental rights and any kind of freedom themselves. This maybe one of the easily missed details hidden in the series, but makes the reader think whether he/she knows the historical context or not.

-For those who are interested, you can check out this website to know more about the Victorian era.

 

Posted in Prose

“It Was A Children’s Book. And That Is How the Trouble Began.”

It has been a while since I’ve posted anything-over two months. At first, I was actually really busy with papers and finals, after that I lost my will to do anything that required any sort of work besides lying in bed and binge watching “The Man In the High Castle” (would recommend by the way). What pushed me into writing was this book I have bought as a gift for one of my close friends. Reading it again after all those years, 14 to be exact, exited me and I just could not contain myself.

Everybody, meet WProcessed with Rookie Caminnie the Witch and her lovely companion Wilbur the Cat. This is the first English “book” that I have ever read like, probably, most of you. In fourth grade, I started learning English and “Winnie the Witch” was the first book I was given besides my usual course pack. I don’t ever remember the process of learning the language and now in retrospect it feels heartwarming to picture my nine year old self reading and trying to understand it-although I still maintain the habit of not understanding things as I read them. Though this was not the only book we read that year, for some reason Winnie stuck with me. Not just as a book series from my childhood but I clearly remember the songs we learnt, especially Winnie and Wilbur Song. I have recently found it on youtube, and every time I listen to it, I immediately return to my childhood. So what made Winnie so special?

Processed with Rookie Cam

I have always remembered this picture vividly but not the title and hence I went ahead and looked through every Winnie the Witch book I could find until I stumbled upon this. Look how cute the page is-I love the fact that everything Winnie has is black apart from her clothes which are channeling some Dumbledore colouring. And the fact that her nose is red, resembling an alcoholic made me question whether this was all her imagination and that she was not in fact a witch. Well, Dumbledore has a splendid answer for my 14 year later issued questioning: “Of course it is happening inside your head, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real.” With that, it is not hard to see that I am going to end up mentioning Harry Potter yet again. Apart from the fact that Winnie is a witch and Harry is a wizard, there is something both Harry and she share. They, without a doubt, symbolise my childhood.

Processed with Rookie Cam
Aww look at sad Wilbur 😦

The plot of this story is that everything Winnie has is black, so is her cat Wilbur and Winnie keeps sitting on Wilbur and ends up either hurting herself or him. Hence she recolours Wilbur a few times: first she turns him green but it becomes a problem when he goes outside. Then she makes him colourful but Wilbur gets bullied by the birds and a hurt Wilbur is not something Winnie can handle and she ends up changing the colour of everything she owns and turns Wilbur black again. The pages are really colourful, they are fun to look at even if the child is not old enough to read. But under all that colour and childishness lies the serious messages. The usuals. Like accepting people as they are and not trying to change them, that bullying hurts people and that we need more colour in our boring lives. Simple enough. I am not going to go ahead and outright say that this books make the person that I am today, but certainly it made me like colours, cats and magic.

Similarly, I first read Harry Potter when I was eight. It made an impression on me, however I never got into it until I was in my senior year in high school. All of my friends kinda made, and some still do, fun of me for reading and loving “children’s books.” (I am not even going to give an answer to that.) But when I read the series now I find these easter eggs in them. There are mentionings of very obscure literary characters from canonical works, myths and legends, creatives puns, historical events and figures and their appropriation… And many more! It is a goldmine really. And under all this “childishness” of the narration and fantastic quotes, lie the same warnings; about slavery, racism to corrupt media and government (that seems familiar somehow, hmm.). It is not cool to not read children’s literature guys, really. They are actually more complex than you think, it is really hard for a writer to talk about serious matters in an obscure and fun way as not to scare of nor bore the children who do not seem to like reading anyway (and yeah, those who prefer watching the tv/movie adaptations to reading the books I judge you severely). “Powerful messages can be found, even in the childest of the books, if one remembers to turn on perception.” (yes, this is yet again another Dumbledore quote) I have to say I agree with Mark Gatiss (co-writer of the hit tv series “Sherlock” who also portrayed Mycroft Holmes) on something. After the fans’ negative reaction to Sherlock’s ending, he suggested they read more children’s books. That is exactly our problem. We are so keen on suppressing the child in us, we don’t even enjoy Winnie the Witch anymore. So this post is a shoutout to those who are still children at heart. You are the real mvp!

Posted in Prose

The Witches of Hogwarts

Today, I realized something and although it is not of high importance and relevance, finding it on my own without googling for once was quite awesome if I may say so myself. I have already established how much I love Harry Potter in my first post, but there is something, or rather someone else, I love to the same extent and that is William Shakespeare (may sound a bit shocking but there you go). A few days ago, I was going through “Macbeth” and the song of the Witches sounded peculiarly familiar for some reason. Last night I was watching “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” which happens to be my favourite, and the song (to which I will put a link below the post) that the choir sang sounded, again, peculiarly familiar. Then, it clicked. “Double Trouble” from Harry Potter is actually the slightly altered song of the Witches form Act 4 of  Macbeth.

The intertextual usage of the song is a nice touch considering the nature of the series,we have Alfonso Cuaron and his team to thank for the inclusion, and it is not the only instance where the Three Witches make an appearance. They are also called “The Weird Sisters” and the famous band in the books is also called as such, but what is peculiar is the way the song is altered in the movie.

“Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing.

 

In the cauldron boil and bake

Fillet of a fenny snake

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf”

When compared, the song of the Witches is much longer and it is not surprising that they decided to leave out most of the lyrics (are they still called lyrics when the song occurs in a play?), but their decision to change the sequence of some of them made me think, as there is no apparent reason to do so. Originally, the song goes like this:

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn, and cauldron bubble.

Second Witch

Fillet of a fenny snake,

In the cauldron boil and bake;

Eye of newt and toe of frog,

Wool of bat and tongue of dog,

Adder’s fork and blind-worm’s sting,

Lizard’s leg and owlet’s wing,

For a charm of powerful trouble,

Like a hell-broth boil and bubble.

ALL

Double, double toil and trouble;

Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third Witch

Scale of dragon, tooth of wolf,

Witches’ mummy, maw and gulf….(Act4.Sc1.10-23)

 

I would say that the animal imagery is emphasized here to create the atmosphere the book depicts; animals are used in potions, communication and as companions. “Frog” and “owl” can be allusions to the pets of  Harry and Neville and that makes the “dog” Sirius obviously, who gets introduced to us in this very book. Apart from those, the first stanza looks like the instructions to a potion (though I highly doubt that Snape would sing it). The second however, has some details from the previous, current and the next books. The “wolf” seems to be Lupin as the werewolf, who also gets introduced in the third book. The “snake” and “dragon” are part of the first book (the snake Harry sets on Dudley and Norberta who is shipped off to Romania with Charlie) and also the fourth (the fourth book came out in 2000 whereas the third movie did in 2004, so the timeline fits), but in “Harry Potter and Goblet of Fire” these two figures are more integral to the plot. There, we see Harry battling a Hungarian Horntail, which is the first task of the tournament and the reason why Harry and Ron reunite as friends after Ron’s jealousy (in “Harry Potter and Deathly Hallows” it reoccurs: they break out of Azkaban on the back of a dragon after Ron returns to them following a jealousy fit, again) and that makes dragons important in the series, and also they are pretty cool. The snake mentioned in the song is an allusion to Nagini that we see in the fourth book and as she is a  horcrux she is essential to the plot, though at this point we only know that she is essential to Voldemort as she is the only reason that he’s alive. And this whole cauldron boiling, the “scale” and “tooth” reminds me of the rebirth of Voldemort; how he used bones and flesh and blood to beget himself. Here, tooth and scale are bone and flesh substitutes and following those with “witches’ mummy” makes the song a mirror image of what is to come, turns it into almost a foreshadowing.

What is also peculiar here is the end of the song: “Something wicked this way comes.” In the play, after the second witch utters this, Macbeth walks in, making himself the something wicked by himself because of the witches (another post idea right here). At first I took it as a foreshadowing of the arrival of Sirius Black, whom we all thought as guilty criminal, or even Peter Pettigrew and Voldemort, but after the song ends in the movie the camera shows Dumbledore. I don’t want to say that this was certainly intentional, but it probably was. “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” had  also been published by the time the third movie was produced and we see the glimpse of how much of a wicked man he was and can be when he wants. He is probably the grayest character of the book-I still cannot decide whether he is good or not, but if this was the movie’s way of showing its take on Dumbledore’s character, then it is darn impressive.

The Song from the Movie

Posted in Prose

Harry Potter and the Green Voldemort

Okay hold my coffee while I write this, and that is your cue to understand that I am going to write about something I find quite minute and maybe a little bit irrelevant if not outright stupid (and you’ll find out that that is something I usually end up doing). As a huge Harry Potter fan, wanted to elaborate for those who didn’t get the quote “you are just as sane as I am,” I made it my mission to start off with an entry on the series. Hence, this is going to be about Harry Potter and hopefully I can suppress my enthusiasm so that this will not turn into a 100 page piece on how awesome the books are.
What I am about to say will sound so absurd, but hear me out. Isn’t Harry Potter like a modern Arthurian romance? Well, it isn’t actually but I have been finding these elements in the books that made me think about medieval times. Obviously Hogwarts being in Scotland like a Camelot figure (those who think it was in England, shame on you), the names of the Weasleys, the possible brief reference to the Wife of Bath, constant usage of Merlin’s name and various sirs,-Cadogan, for example, was a sworn knight of the Round Table-throughout the plot makes the reader think of the Arthurian times and Arthur directly reminds me of Arthurian romance and hence the code of chivalry. There are some basic rules to be a chivalric knight (and we need one for the sake of the romance): no murder, no treason, no fights over mundane things and always help those in need. Pretty straightforward, right? Let’s see how Harry deals with these.

First of all, his signature spell is “Expelliarmus” rather than a more sinister one, like the killing curse, and it pretty much says it all about the ultimate rule though it is okay for knights to kill monsters. Hence our little knight in shining armor kills Slytherin’s “monster.” Other than that he is pretty harmless except for that one “Sectumsempra,” Harry doesn’t even kill Voldemort, Voldemort kills himself on his own. He may have caused some people’s deaths, but they were never intentional.

Secondly, you cannot betray your king. In the medieval sense, a king is the one who acts as a shepherd to his people and in our case it is Dumbledore. He acts as this wise, old, almighty figure and guides and aids his students throughout his career. Teens even form an army under his name. For the sake of chivalric code, Harry has to be totally loyal to him and he actually is. Remember that one time he managed to call Fawkes to him? Yeah only those that show him real loyalty could summon Fawkes. Even though their relationship is strained in his fifth year, Harry names his extracurricular activity group after him and does not betray him against Rufus Scrimgeour (“Dumbledore’s man through and through, aren’t you, Potter?”).

His main fight in the series is against the darkest wizard of all times-blah blah blah, but he is not the only one. Harry fights various monster like figures (dementors, rogue bludgers, blast-ended skrewts…) but most of all he fights bullying (against himself and others) and peer pressure, corruption of media and government, injustice and eventually death. His literal fight against Voldemort is a representation of the fight put against tyrants and proving that as an insignificant nobody, anybody can stand up to those who oppress them. Also throughout his journey, he seems to be helping those in need; Ginny, Fred and George, Sirius, the entire world.

As you can see, Harry is the idealized modern medieval knight. His very own quest is to conquer death (a very noble and medieval theme) and defeat a dark lord. He is our very own version Sir Gawain. He is also on his way to defeat another powerful knight-also death eventually. The way he accepts death with open arms (like the youngest brother from “The Tale of the Three Brothers”) albeit with some hesitation mirrors the way Harry also accepts death in the forest. Gawain’s causes Green Knight to spare his life whereas Harry’s causes him to reclaim his own. Also the usage of green in both of them (the knight being green and Voldemort’s house color and favourite way of killing being green) ties Voldemort and the Green Knight on another level-though I find the latter more likable and redeemable. Hence, whenever I reread Harry Potter, I can’t stop myself from remembering that particular romance and to some extent picture Harry in a knight’s armor with a wand instead of a sword.