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The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Moaning Myrtle
Well, I couldn't think of anything to write about (and heaven forbid I should spend a whole day not writing anything), so I took out the HP book I read longest ago (at this point, it's GoF, though I may re-read) and let it flop open to wherever it wanted to, to write about something that appeared on those facing pages.

As it happens, it opened to the middle of "The Egg and the Eye," where Harry is talking to Moaning Myrtle about merpeople. I can't think of a thing to say about merpeople or the prefects' bathroom, but I've thought on and off about Myrtle, so why not do a Myrtle post?

The first thing that strikes me about Myrtle--weirdly, even before the fact that she was Voldemort's first victim--is that she died in almost exactly the same scenario in which Hermione almost died in book one. She's a lonely Muggle-born girl who's been hurt by thoughtless peers, and goes into the girls' room to cry all afternoon. While she is there, she's trapped with a monster. In Myrtle's case, there's no chance of being rescued quickly enough, but even if there had been, the only other person there is Tom Riddle, who obviously does nothing to help her. Is Myrtle a shadow figure of Hermione? A kind of vision of a Hermione who never befriended Ron and Harry?

What does Myrtle say about the state of being a ghost? I don't mean in terms of how she died, or the rules of the afterlife, exactly, but... wouldn't Myrtle have a pretty good idea that entranced!Ginny had been there in the bathroom, or at least that the basilisk was coming from there? Is she prohibited from speaking about things she sees? Could a ghost be put under the Imperius curse? Or did Tom know of a good way to make sure that she was never looking when he drove Ginny in there? (Or did Ginny just poke her head in and check? But how could she--well, he, as she's Tom at this point--have known that Myrtle wouldn't come back and tell everyone what was happening?) Why couldn't she at least report that it wasn't an Acromantula that killed her? Or could she, but the Wizengamot doesn't like ghost testimony much more than werewolf testimony?

Myrtle, like Dobby, is an annoying character who is also a very effective helper for Harry, both in CoS and the scene I opened to in GoF (as well as the scene at the bottom of the lake). Dobby is rewarded with his freedom... is there any reward that Myrtle could have? Can she be released from haunting the bathroom at least? Allowed to move on from being a ghost? I'd really like to see something resolved in Myrtle's situation--she was Voldemort's first victim, and it would seem fitting somehow for her to be involved with his end in some way, and to have some sort of release from a very miserable existence because of it.

Just oddball thoughts:
  • Myrtle would have been a contemporary of Hagrid's--one might even say another one who was unfairly expelled because of Riddle, and right around the same time--does Hagrid know she haunts the place, and does he ever keep her company for a spell?

  • I remember a joke once about what a real eleven-year-old would do with an invisibility cloak, mostly involving peeking in the girl's locker room, but it strikes me that Myrtle really does behave in this way--the way an adolescent child who could become invisible would: she peeks at naked boys in the prefects' bathroom. And when she's bored with that, she starts feeling sorry for herself because she's invisible to everyone.

  • Having done the Hermione comparison, I can't help but also make a Snape comparison--she's quite a lot like him in her inability to stop living in her tormented schoolgirl past. Is it suggested through this device that Snape is something of a ghost? Or Sirius, who has the same problem, minus the torment (at least torment about his school life, where he was happy)?

  • If Myrtle were to start attending classes for the year she died, would she be able to move up year by year with classmates (though of course she wouldn't physically age) and eventually take her exams, maybe become a teacher or something? I mean, aside from Ministry regulations, is it possible for a ghost to grow and learn?

Guess that's it.
28 comments or Leave a comment
sannalim From: sannalim Date: April 26th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
Wow, Fern, I'd never thought of any of those things before.

... Sorry, I don't have anything more insightful to say or add to the discussion right at this moment.
author_by_night From: author_by_night Date: April 26th, 2005 02:39 am (UTC) (Link)
If Myrtle were to start attending classes for the year she died, would she be able to move up year by year with classmates (though of course she wouldn't physically age) and eventually take her exams, maybe become a teacher or something? I mean, aside from Ministry regulations, is it possible for a ghost to grow and learn?

Possibly, but I never got the impression Myrtle really wanted to grow up and learn. I think if she'd been forced to, though, she would have.
straussmonster From: straussmonster Date: April 26th, 2005 02:45 am (UTC) (Link)
I have a pet theory that the defeat of Voldemort is somehow going to involve the liberation of the ghosts, allowing them to pass on as they should have, but were chained down by fear and/or resentment. Liberation from bondage would be a nice thematic element.
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 26th, 2005 03:23 am (UTC) (Link)
I think one of the interesting things about Myrtle is her name. Not Myrtle Smith, or Myrtle Brown, but Moaning Myrtle. If I may venture a guess here, I think that's what being a ghost (or, for that matter, a portrait) does to you. It reduces you to a fragment, a single aspect, a one-dimensional version of yourself. We've never seen Mrs. Black do anything but ham it up as a horrible, bigoted, angry woman, we've never seen anything from Sir Cadogen but a cheap caricature of...Don Quixote, I suppose, and we've never seen Myrtle do much except weep and complain. Though I think with portraits, the skill of the artist is also a factor. Phineas at least has some depth, I think.

Of course, I'm not certain how Nearly-Headless Nick fits into this.

Looking at the whole thing thematically, I think it just says that you can't escape death in this universe, and any attempt to do so is going to be very shallow and very limited.
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 26th, 2005 03:24 am (UTC) (Link)
forgot to mention Professor Binns, but hopefully he speaks for himself. I doubt that he was quite *as* boring when he was alive.
iczer6 From: iczer6 Date: April 27th, 2005 02:44 am (UTC) (Link)
But Mrs. Black and Sir Cadogen aren't ghosts but living portraits.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: April 26th, 2005 03:51 am (UTC) (Link)
The ghosts do seem trapped in the same time frame that they existed in when they died. I believe that Myrtle cannot age or really grow - that is one of the penalties of being a ghost, one is frozen in time.

I like straussmonster's idea that the ghosts could be liberated when Voldemort is defeated. It seems to me like a peculiarly hellish existence.

Myrtle could be a mirror for many of the characters: unfairly "expelled" like Hagrid, trapped in her past like Snape and Sirius, and - might I add - unable to resolve her grief, like Cho, who spent most of OOtP weeping. Cho also managed to drive away all her friends except for the one Judas-friend Marietta, and it seems that Myrtle managed to drive people away from her in life as well as in death.
malabud From: malabud Date: April 26th, 2005 04:33 am (UTC) (Link)
I think Dumbledore's words to Harry at the end of PS/SS are very important: "To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure." Those that reject that adventure, that come back as ghosts, are quite literally damned. They're stuck. They cannot go forward to see what lies in the afterlife, and they cannot go backwards, for they are dead. They stagnate and they fixate on death and on whatever their concerns were the moment they died. (Myrtle only stops her wailing and is somewhat pleased when asked about her manner of death.) Nick, because he was executed, perhaps had a bit more time to prepare than those who met death suddenly and without warning. That might explain why he is less fixated on any one thing. But, death is still of great importance to him -- he celebrates his deathday, and he wishes he was fully decapitated.

I do not think it is possible for a ghost to grow and learn while still a ghost. Ghosthood is a very sad, very permanent existence. Even Nick admits as much at the end of OotP, and he's had over 500 years to get used to it. He calls it "a feeble imitation of life" and says he is "neither here nor there," meaning he is neither alive nor dead. Just stuck. Damned. Nick is also very convinced that Sirius will not come back as a ghost. I wonder why? Perhaps death, for Sirius, freed him from the stagnation of his life, even as it may eventually free Snape. Only through death can those two, who despised each other so much in life, find a measure of peace and progress beyond their individual tormented pasts.

straussmonster's theory that the ghosts will be freed to continue on to the afterlife when Voldemort is defeated really appeals to me. Such an end could also symbolize the "next great adventure" Harry will be able to enjoy without the shadow of Voldemort hanging over him; that is, the great adventure of being a human being with friends and family and no one out to kill you.

My ideas are only half-formed even as I type. I shall have to cogitate on this a bit more.
sep12 From: sep12 Date: April 27th, 2005 03:20 am (UTC) (Link)
I think the reason Sirius will have moved on is fairly simple. He spent most of his life dealing with death. House Elf heads on the wall at Grimmauld Place, ghosts all around at school; and as an adult, his stongest lasting memory is the murder of his best friends, and he has to live without them. So he has seen death, enough to know that he can't escape it. I also think that while he might have loved seeing Harry's life, at some point Harry is going to die. EVERYONE he loved and knew will die, and he'll be alone.
mediumajaxwench From: mediumajaxwench Date: April 27th, 2005 07:38 pm (UTC) (Link)
Peter Pan also called death the next great adventure...perhaps Dumbledore was thinking of Snape at least, since Sirius was still in Azkaban, and that entire generation's seeming inablity to grow up.
story645 From: story645 Date: April 26th, 2005 05:13 am (UTC) (Link)
Interesting observations about Myrtle. I'm wondering if Myrtle even wants to be released. I think she likes being a ghost to a degree, in a weird way, it gives her all this power she never had when alive. Now she can get back at her tormenters or escape them more readily, plus she has perks, like peeking at the boys. The Snape/Sirius parallels are cool, never thought of those before. I don't know, I always liked Myrtle, could identify with her, probably because of the Hermione parallels you mention.
jesspallas From: jesspallas Date: April 26th, 2005 07:33 am (UTC) (Link)
Fascinating observations! :)

I haven't much time to respond in detail so just a quick point - in regards to Myrtle exonerating Hagrid - did she know what had killed her? From her account in CoS, I think all she saw was a big pair of eyes and would anyone have caught enough of a glimpse of Aragog to know he didn't have those eyes? He could have been a hybrid acromantula!

Probably talking rubbish but what the heck...;)
iczer6 From: iczer6 Date: April 27th, 2005 02:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Exactly. I think people are applying OOC character knowledge to IC actions.

Myrtle had no idea who or what killed her and she really didn't seem to *care* either.

I believe all she heard was a boy's voice and then saw a pair of eyes, assuming that Tom was both older then her and in a different house I doubt she would've been able to pick him out of a line-up let alone figure out that he was the cause of her death.
From: lejic Date: April 26th, 2005 02:24 pm (UTC) (Link)

Well...here's my two cents

*nods* Lots of these are valid points. BUT. There's a huge "but" there.

The thing is, Rowling admitted to basing Hermione off of herself in her schooldays. This really explains all the other similar characters - an author, without wanting to, puts a lot of herself in every character. So if one character is based off of them, it seems like the others are like that one. Do I make sense? ^^; I sure hope so.

What I mean is; because Hermione is based off of Rowling, and all other characters come out of Rowling's mind, lots of similar things will be found in their lives/characters.

As for Myrtle, I think that she could've been a very interesting character but just isn't. Sometimes characters really are there for a purpose and have no depth, I guess.

The studying thing wouldn't work because, as has been mentioned, Myrtle is pretty much stuck in her state - we have lots of ghosts who are in terms with their condition but Myrtle is one of those who will never be because she never saw it coming; her death was too sudden and unexpected for her mind to truely register, and she died as an adolscent so all the raw feelings will always be there. Studying means concentrating and determination - for a person who's been teased all the time when she was going to school...I doubt she'd want that.

As for Tom making her shut up... Myrtle is just too self-centered, in a manner of speaking; it doesn't seem unbelievable that she would be too caught up in herself to realise Ginny came by every once in a while. In fact because Tom controls the Basilisk from afar, only once, at the end of the book.

Oh my I need to shut up now. Oh well, interesting stuff, will read your other enteries! :3 ♥
maple_clef From: maple_clef Date: April 26th, 2005 02:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
Ooh, interesting points.

I think one of the themes running through the series has been change as a positive thing - growing up, moving on, making choices. All those characters who have - either through choice (Snape), external factors (Sirius in Azkaban) or a combination of both (Myrtle & Nick) - not fully moved on, appear to be the most miserable; they are all in some form of purgatory. I like straussmonster's thoughts on their liberation as part of Voldemort's downfall - it seems fitting...

As for ghostly participation in mortal matters - I'm not sure. Clearly, there's not a problem with the idea of Binns continuing to teach, but the other ghosts, even the house 'mascots' seem to be ignored by everyone except Dumbledore (who also talks to portraits, thinking back to someone else's earlier post about the similarities between the two). With respect to Binns again, it could be another aspect of the theme above: stale, dead ideas and not moving on... history as a ghost subject. Of course, history is a very *interesting* subject, and is crucial in teaching us the lessons and mistakes of the past, etc. but not in the way it's taught at Hogwarts...
sreya From: sreya Date: April 26th, 2005 02:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Speaking of Binns... I wonder what would happen if someone decided to hire a new History professor. Would they have to change rooms, and Binns would continue going to his old room every day and teaching even if no one is there? It's pretty clear he doesn't pay much attention to the students even when they ARE there!
keridwen From: keridwen Date: April 26th, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'm interested in how, exactly, Myrtle became a ghost in the first place. When Harry talks to Nick at the end of OotP, Nick makes it very clear that only wizards can become ghosts, and that it's a very intentional thing. Obviously, Myrtle was a witch, but she doesn't seem to have the intention aspect at all. She says that she saw the basilisk's eyes (although she doesn't seem to know what it was) and then she was dead. It seems too accidental to fit in with what Nick told Harry.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 26th, 2005 03:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
The choice may come on the other side of death--Myrtle crosses over to... wherever... and goes into hysterics demanding to be sent back?
keridwen From: keridwen Date: April 26th, 2005 06:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
Or she whines so much that they kick her out. <grin>
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 26th, 2005 09:10 pm (UTC) (Link)
Trouble is, Nick told Harry he couldn't tell him a thing about the other side, because he'd never been there.
(Deleted comment)
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 27th, 2005 12:05 am (UTC) (Link)
works for me =)
iczer6 From: iczer6 Date: April 27th, 2005 02:48 am (UTC) (Link)
Myrtle says in the book that she wanted to come back and haunt Olive Hornby who was her main tormentor at the time.

It's not a great reason but I could certainly see revenge being enough to make her want to stick around.
olympe_maxime From: olympe_maxime Date: April 26th, 2005 04:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Just thought I'd jump in to point out that Myrtle couldn't possibly have seen the Basilisk because ghosts are affected by the giant snake, too - Nearly Headless Nick got burned to a crisp or some such, didn't he?

And given that Ginny's presence in the bathroom would probably coincide with the appearance of the basilisk, it's possible that she just missed Ginny. Or, in all probability, Possessed!Ginny told Myrtle in her VoldyVoice of Command to go hide in the u-bend. Very probable. I wouldn't be surprised if Myrtle is scared of Ginny.

Ooooooh, the plotbunnies!
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 27th, 2005 12:06 am (UTC) (Link)
So does this mean that at some point after Hagrid's expulsion, when they were cleaning everything up, they had to bring Myrtle down to the hospital wing and somehow get some mandrake draft into her? (I'm still confused about how they did that with Nick. Put it in a spritzer and spray it through him?)
From: (Anonymous) Date: April 27th, 2005 04:00 am (UTC) (Link)
Have you read the books? Myrtle wasn't petrified she was *killed* no mandrake potion could fic that.
dudley_doright From: dudley_doright Date: April 27th, 2005 05:20 am (UTC) (Link)
Re-reading PoA for the nth time as we speak =)

the person I was replying to was suggesting that after Myrtle was killed, her ghost was petrified, and that's why she didn't manage to see anything. Same way Nick was petrified. He was *killed* and then petrified. Somewhat more of a time-delay between the two, but yeah.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: April 27th, 2005 05:27 am (UTC) (Link)
so I think that she isn't being forced to haunt the girl's bathroom, either. She probably spend so much time there because that's where she died and therefor she has some connection.

Actually, she says she followed Olive Hornby around for quite awhile and made such a pest of herself that the Ministry forced her to return to Hogwarts.

Didn't she say that all she saw was a pair of big yellow eyes before she died? When she was recounting the story to Harry she never mentioned anything beyond that ...

But an acromantula is a spider. It would have eight eyes, and I wouldn't expect that any of them are yellow. And if it were coming up, she wouldn't see them, because a spider rising up in front of someone would have only belly visible. So while she couldn't say it was a basilisk (though someone should have been able to guess from her description), she could have certainly ruled out an acromantula.
lodessa From: lodessa Date: April 27th, 2005 06:05 am (UTC) (Link)
Myrtle fascinates me in concept for the very reason that she would have been a contemporary to Tom, Hagrid, and McGonagall. It's a generation that hasn't been replayed to death by fandom like Harry's and the marauders. In my head I have Hagrid and Myrtle being friends (all cute and social outcast-ey) and kind of an unstated possiblity of romantic dynamic implied.
I like to think also that myrtle was killed because she knew something (if she's close to hagrid that really makes sense too) and perhaps if Tom put a spell on her to keep her mouth shut before she died then the spell would remain in death?
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