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Harry Potter and the Secondary Character Theory - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Harry Potter and the Secondary Character Theory
Okay, the first of probably many entries inspired by participation at TWH.

I love theories and meta. I do. The last thing I want to do is have fewer theories in the world. If you can find a way that Blaise Zabini is really Norbert the Norwegian Ridgeback, and his true love for Nagini will create an essential opening for Harry, I'll be very impressed, not to mention amused. I won't think it's likely to pan out in canon, but there are some damned clever theories out there, and they make fandom really, really fun, imho.

The reason I'm thinking about the issue, though, is something that came up in secondary (and even minor) character panels. I went to panels on Neville and Luna, and I modded one on Tonks. All three involved theories about how that character was going to play an extremely key role in the final battle. It's said about other characters, too, I believe. As fun meta to play with and write fanfic with, what the heck? But for Canon Divination... I think it may lead to some disappointment.

Here's why:

  1. We've already hit book six of a seven book series... all the fuses should be lit and burning merrily toward the explosion. There's room for new minor characters, I think, and maybe a major "guest star," but the major arc of the books is nearing its completion, and that means focusing back down, getting a sharp picture of the battle between Harry and Voldemort. The other threads that have been introduced should also resolve themselves somehow or other, or at least be addressed if questions have been raised, but for the sake of the main, ultimate cage-match showdown, with Harry in red in this corner and Voldemort in green in the other... it's time to get down to brass tacks, and...

  2. The minor characters aren't emotionally positioned to take on a major role at this point. I love Tonks--honestly, I do!--but in the arc of the story from Harry's point of view, she's a peripheral character at best. He may finally realize that, hey, she's an Auror and could talk to him about what he thinks his chosen career is, and she may be able to help with things, but to have her be the key to his victory over Voldemort would be asking too much of the Tonks character. The same is true of Luna Lovegood. So why introduce them? Atmosphere, widening of the scope, a chance to see parts of the wizarding world that were unrepresented... they were there. Neville Longbottom has a good chance of doing something instrumental--he's been subtly spotlighted from the start--but not of abruptly becoming the protagonist of the books, because that would be a literary cheat... and there's a big difference between a well-constructed literary surprise ("Oo! It's really been this all along! I see it now! How did I miss it?") and an authorial cheat (where the author has not provided any clues to go back and see in context). Things like this take time to build emotionally--we've spent six books with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, and with Ginny and Neville (though in lesser parts); if the power is shifted to someone else in the end, the reader may say, "Huh, I didn't see that coming," but will feel that something is wrong (as opposed to a good surprise ending, where the reader says, "YES! That's the way it had to be!" and can go back and see all the little clues lying around the pages). Having Ron die so that Harry is able to go on--a theory I hate emotionally but certainly can't discount logically--makes sense because it was set up in the first book's chess game, and deals with the issue of loyalty and the ability to give up what one wants. Having Luna die so Harry can go on dooesn't mean anything in a visceral way.

  3. There's still a lot to "pay off" in the space of one book. In book 7, JKR has a lot on her plate. The battle with Voldemort has been set up with many subordinate battles. We know that he has a huge interest in Hogwarts and the Horcruxes are largely related to it, but we know Harry is leaving... what happens there? We have no idea what's going on with Snape, not really--I can't think of many Snape scenarios she could do right now that I would reject out of hand. Peter Pettigrew is tantalizingly placed and has a blood debt to Harry; what's up with that? What is the Black family connection? Harry is now their heir, and there's the whole probable identity of R.A.B. and the stealing of items from the house has been covered. How's that going to play out? What about Percy? Is she going anywhere with his defection from the family? In other words, JKR has a lot of balls in the air that are directly related to the main conflict--to abruptly drag in a minor character, give page space to make him/her seem more relevant to those readers who haven't scoured the text for every mention (guilty!). People called Tonks a Mary Sue (wrongly) because she had pink hair and was an attention-grabber in her few scenes, and because she's related to Sirius (which was used to establish the interrelatedness of pure-bloods, which paid off in learning about the Gaunts)... imagine the indignation if she, rather than Ron or Hermione, was the one who took all the risks and was the key to Harry's battle strategy. Hell, I love Tonks and I'd be saying WTF. And if this went on not just with Tonks but with all of the minor characters who've been theorized about, the book would lose all of its focus. I don't doubt that each will make a contribution, but there's just not time or room to set up a key role emotionally in canon.

But s/he must be there for a reason!
Well, yes. As Twain put it, "[The rules governing literary art in domain of romantic fiction] require that the personages in a tale, both dead and alive, shall exhibit a sufficient excuse for being there." But what is "sufficient" is entirely dependent on how much weight there is on a character in the story. Harry, obviously, has to have the biggest "excuse for being there," because Harry's reason for being there is the story that's being told. Ron and Hermione, likewise, have a lot of weight on them, and getting sidelined... well, it's like giving a mover an empty box after he's been hefting loads of lead bars. Neville has moderate weight on him. So do Dudley and the Dursleys, Lupin, Luna, and a handful of others, and they'll all need to accomplish something in the course of the battle to meet Twain's "sufficiency" requirement--but they're secondary characters, and their most likely function is in a secondary role. Characters like Luna, Tonks, Slughorn, Mad-Eye, Dung, and so on can walk on and off stage pretty freely--their function, broadly, seems to be serving specific purposes at a specific times, and doing it in a reasonably entertaining way. Tossing the weight of the main plot a them would be like handing a toddler a barbell taller than he is.

It's not just a question of page time. There are characters who haven't gotten as much page time as, say, McGonagall, but can take more weight in the battle. Peter Pettigrew is the most obvious case of this, because Rowling may as well write sparkly question marks around his name every time he appears to say, "I am raising a plot-related question about this person." Snape can do nearly anything, but he has to do something, because the whole character turned into a question mark at the end of HBP. Draco has been left running away from Hogwarts, friendless and powerless, and probably in trouble with Voldemort. The Black sisters (Narcissa and Bella, anyway), so carefully introduced in OotP and followed in HBP, probably have their own battles and vendettas coming. Raising a plot question about a character puts weight on him automatically.

I think that one of the reasons the "last battle" scenario has become common enough in fics to call it a "cliché" is that it makes a lot of sense of the way the secondaries are set up. You can have Harry and Ron and Hermione making their way to Voldemort, while simultaneously Lupin is battling Fenrir, Neville gets a whack at Bellatrix (possibly with an assist from Tonks, who's been connected to Bella, but not as importantly), and Bill, Fleur, Charlie, and all of the third-tier characters fight with Voldie's "Third Spear Carriers on the Left." All of them will have "sufficient excuse for being there," but wouldn't shift the focus away from Harry.

Anyway, it's not something I'm overly fussed about. Like I said, it's fun to make up wild and weird theories. I guess I'm just worried that after spending so much time on them, the actual book might disappoint a minor character fan who's spent a lot of energy coming up with a theory about how that character won't be minor in the end.
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From: tunxeh Date: October 11th, 2005 05:17 am (UTC) (Link)
Well said. All this talk and fic-scenario-exploration of "The Final Battle" irritates me anyway; I mean, it does seem likely that the final play of the war against Voldemort will be some kind of battle, but why should the characters know in advance that it's going to be the final one?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 11th, 2005 01:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Right--if it follows the pattern of HP, the characters will be preparing for something, but end up having the battle thrust upon them. Harry rarely knows when he wakes up on the morning of a big battle that it's going to resolve anything.

I expect we'll see them doing more active planning, and it will be a more serious issue, but I also think that any carefully laid plains are likely to be abruptly laid waste, and Harry will end up, as usual, thinking on his feet and improvising a new battle plan around new circumstances.
clumsymaniac452 From: clumsymaniac452 Date: October 11th, 2005 05:23 am (UTC) (Link)
This was a wonderful read. I'm big fan of wild theories, in the way that I find them both intriguing, and at times, hilarious. IAlthough many are outlandish to the point of *headdesk* I've got to admire the creativity and debating skills one must have to come up with them. I've got to say I very much agree with this: "the actual book might disappoint a minor character fan who's spent a lot of energy coming up with a theory about how that character won't be minor in the end." Considering the fall out to HBP, the reaction to book the seventh is going to be absolutely frightening. I'm quite worried about the reaction, personally, and this is one of the many reasons. After the end there's no way that any loose ends will ever be tied up. It's wonderful to read your thoughts as you're so well versed in literary meanings, and this: "Voldie's "Third Spear Carriers on the Left." " Made me laugh more than I reasonably should.
skelkins From: skelkins Date: October 11th, 2005 05:30 am (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the sanity.

I'm a minor character fan myself, and I love those "damned clever theories." They're the thing that I first came to the HP fandom for, actually. And my minor character love, which is by no means limited to HP, is also a big part of what appeals to me about fandom as an overall phenomenon: fandom is, after all, the place where you go to find people who share your bizarre fascination with Second Stormtrooper From the Left, or whomever.

But as predictions go? The sort of theories you refer to are really pretty worthless. Which isn't, of course, to say that they never get realized in canon (stopped clocks, and all that), but the chances of that happening are exceptionally slim. Clever intricate theorizing is all about playing within the boundaries of canonical possibility; it's not about predicting future canon. These sorts of theories are not plausible; they're really not meant to be. (After all, if they were, would they really be half so much fun? I don't think so.)

It's been my experience in this fandom, though, that a lot of people don't seem to be able to appreciate that sort of theorizing on its own terms. Either they're totally obsessively and psychotically hating on it, or they're getting so caught up in it that they lose sight of the fact that these theories are supposed to be playful, not predictive. There just always seems to be so much wank over loose canon speculations in this fandom, and it makes me so sad -- because I love loose canon spec. And I don't love drama.

All of that makes it particularly refreshing to see someone able both to appreciate it for what it is and to understand what it is not. So...thanks. :-)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 11th, 2005 01:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think it frustrates me when it seems to be serious (or mean-spirited, for some reason), but mostly... yeah. I love to think about what the other characters can do. My own particular brand of meta on them tends to be separate from the main arc--What might Tonks mean in terms of the general shapeshifter mythology? What factors would drive Percy over the edge?--but that's because I like to play at being Trelawney and look all smart and everything if something I say turns out to be right. ;) (And there's no way in hell that I'll actually be able to divine the main plot.) If other people can come up with a neat theory about how Luna gets control of the heliopath army, thereby wiping out a whole lot of Harry's obstacles, then go for it... but don't take it seriously or get attached.
dalf From: dalf Date: October 11th, 2005 08:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I think you said all of that much more succently thatn I could have. Which is nice because when I try to formulate my ideas on such thigns in the future I canjust point people to this.

Though I do have a question. Do you really think that Tonks is a as you put it "secondary character" while Bill, Charly, and Flur are tertiary?

The only secondary character that I can see as significantly involved in book 7 and the end is Remus, and that is based on JKR saying so in an interview as much as it is his being the last standing mentor/older friend/link to Harrys parents. As such I wonder what your thoughts are on Remus' possible role in the next book will be?
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 11th, 2005 11:53 am (UTC) (Link)
Though I do have a question. Do you really think that Tonks is a as you put it "secondary character" while Bill, Charly, and Flur are tertiary?

Heh, that's a remant of writing it while propping my eyelids open with toothpicks. :) She's the same level as Charlie, Bill, Mad-Eye, etc--an Order member. She might have a specific place to be, either helping in the Bellatrix battle or helping in the Fenrir battle--but no, she's not someone who has a particular character destiny.
(Deleted comment)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: October 11th, 2005 11:51 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah--I'm actually curious as to how she's going to handle quite a lot of it, given the severe limitation of Harry's single POV. She's set herself quite a task.
strangemuses From: strangemuses Date: October 11th, 2005 12:19 pm (UTC) (Link)
Well said!

*gives you a cookie for quoting Twain*
valerie_valerah From: valerie_valerah Date: October 11th, 2005 12:26 pm (UTC) (Link)
As I have only been awake for twenty minutes, I don't have much to contribute. Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoyed reading this. It got me all excited for book 7 :)
lacontessamala From: lacontessamala Date: October 11th, 2005 03:46 pm (UTC) (Link)
I like things the way they are--JKR can write the main bits, and you can play Tom Stoppard (author of Rosencrantz and Gildenstern Are Dead, for those of you not familiar).

Also, an otherwise unrelated comment, but something I've jsut realized. Common theory says R.A.B. is Regulus Black, but what if it's Amelia Bones? Perhaps she goes by her middle name? Just something I hadn't heard anywhere else, and thought was interesting.
a_t_rain From: a_t_rain Date: October 11th, 2005 04:29 pm (UTC) (Link)
Amelia's full name is Amelia Susan Bones; it's given in the scene where Harry has his hearing before the Wizengamot.

On the other hand, we do NOT know the full name of Edgar Bones' wife, who was killed by Death Eaters along with her husband, but I think JKR would have dropped a first name along the way if she was going to turn out to be R.A.B.
snorkackcatcher From: snorkackcatcher Date: October 11th, 2005 04:51 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you're basically right, unfortunately - it would be nice if the secondary characters got more screentime, but there are a lot of things to tie up. It's a pity, because OotP expanded the cast a lot and gave a number of interesting characters a reasonable run-out; one thing I found disappointing about HBP was that most of them dropped into the background again. I'd have liked the book to have been longer, at around OotP length, to give both characters and scenes more room to breathe. I'm hoping book 7 will be like that (I don't suppose any of us would complain if it were to be the longest HP book of them all).

One of my pet theories on the various secondary characters (especially the adults) is that they will come into it a bit more because book 7 will be the book where Harry has become an adult. He's learned to stop thinking of adults as guardians who help him in a generally protective way, but will now have to learn to regard them as colleagues, friends, and resources who can help him when asked with specific tasks needed to fulfill his role - i.e. it's the book where Harry takes charge and starts to use those leadership skills he has in earnest.

If so, several characters have things to offer him, once he learns not to try to do everything himself. Bill's curse-breaking skills, for example, are likely to be needed when they find Horcruxes. Tonks offers a connection to the Blacks, Kingsley to the Muggle centres of power (if that wasn't just a throwaway line), both of them to the Aurors. Lupin is Harry's last available link to his parents (which is apparently going to be relevant), and (another theory I like) may be a Legilimens and the one to teach him the basic Occlumency Snape tipped him off that he needed. The schoolteachers could provide all sorts of useful information.

That sort of scenario could give the secondary characters a bigger role while keeping Harry central and Ron, Hermione, and probably Ginny most important to him. Not the only possibility by any means, but it would be nice if something like that happened!
angua9 From: angua9 Date: October 11th, 2005 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for a most interesting post. I, of course, agree with you on speculation versus prediction, but what got me really excited reading the post is that it re-awakened my anticipation of seeing how Rowling is going to wrap everything up in Book 7. I am a very plot-centric reader, and it seems to me that she is a very plot-centric writer. I'm trying to think of another work I've read that had so many open plot threads to resolve at a corresponding point in the book/series, and having a hard time. Tolkien, I suppose.

I think I had better transfer this to a post on my own LJ, because I can feel it growing long...

eir_de_scania From: eir_de_scania Date: October 11th, 2005 06:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I can already imagine the anguished shrieking, complaints, accusations and general gnashing of teeth that will follow Book VII. ;-)

JKR set out to tell Harrys story, and she will continue to do so. She will - hopefully- tie up those loose threads that concerns him, but there will be so many questions not answered. Unless sh writes an appendix roughly twice the size of the first series, that is.

mrs_who From: mrs_who Date: October 11th, 2005 07:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
We've been listening to HPB all this week and similar thoughts came to me. Luna - for as much as I love her - functions greatly as comic relief as the anti-Hermione. She's also, probably, a future partner for Neville. As we love Neville so much, Luna's got to be somewhat lovable while still fulfilling her plot place. A lot of nutty (and not so nutty) things can come out of Luna's mouth without the reader questioning them. Just as Hermione can serve as a source of info (she must have read it in a book) Luna can serve as a source of unlikely-but-possibly-true info.

It occurred to me during this particular listening, in sort of a sinking way for I love Tonks, that she might not be there for much actual plot purpose either. She's a young auror - so she can serve as someone for Harry to want to be like or look up to, yes. She's a metamorphmagus but is probably just JKR's clever idea - like all the odd sweets and Wheezes and animagi and such - and won't bring much bearing to the climax of the story. She's also a big red herring in HPB, and had me wondering if she was in love with Sirius, was under the Imperius curse, was the one who gave the necklace to Katie, was a polyjuiced DE, etc.

Then - here's where the sinking feeling came - I realized that Tonks's actual *life's purpose* (if you will) in the series is to be a delightful pink gift to the author's favorite (non-trio) character. I was really kind of bothered by the idea that JKR created and introduced this colorful (no pun intended) character just to give a life partner to Lupin, but I honestly think that's Tonks' main purpose in the series. Not that she doesn't serve the plot in other areas - clearly she does. But why is she THERE? Why give us this young, fun, energetic, tough, clever, nice, brave, changable woman who we would like in book 5 and worry about in book 6? Because she'd given us a kind, quiet, gentle, intelligent man who was so unfairly treated by life and by society and yet was one of the finest teachers Hogwarts ever saw. And he was alone. Always alone. JKR pulled out the play clay and crafted him a colorful mate.

The series is all about love, friendship and loyalty, after all!
From: (Anonymous) Date: October 11th, 2005 07:56 pm (UTC) (Link)
I think you and Fernwithy are right about Tonks' ultimate purpose, but of course, JKR is going to get as much mileage as possible out of the character so in OOTP she helped lighten the tone of a very dark book, in HBP she was a red herring and in book 7 she will probably fight either Bellatrix or Greyback, or both, survive to the end (hopefully), and then provide a happy ending for Lupin. But, you know, that's OK with me. The fanfic writers can fill in the missing moments for me. My only worry is that she will get cut from the movies like Peeves, Professor Binns, Winky and Dobby in Goblet of Fire. Steve Kloves wanted to cut Trelawny but JKR told him that she and the prophecy were vital.

peachespig From: peachespig Date: October 11th, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC) (Link)

Saw via angua9

I agree: I think it is probably too late for a secondary character to step up into a significantly larger role in the last book. Instead, I think what we just saw in book 6 was that Draco and Snape turned out to be even more important than we might have thought previously: they were the "secondary" characters that moved up in importance.

After book 5, Draco seemed easily headed for irrelevance while Harry had moved on to bigger enemies, and it was not at all obvious that Snape was any more important in the long run than Lupin, say, or some other member of the Order. Now Snape has turned out to be possibly the most interesting character in the books, and Draco has clearly been set up to have a potentially redemptive journey. Those were the steps up; I don't think there will be any more that significant.

She has also created so many villains, and I agree wholeheartedly that there are secondary characters who seem tailored to defeat certain bad guys, like Neville/Bella and Lupin/Fenrir, as you mention. I think it's pretty likely Harry won't singlehandedly defeat every servant of evil: some must be left to others.
katiemorris From: katiemorris Date: October 11th, 2005 10:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
You know, I've been wondering. What actually happened to Fenrir at the end of HBP?

We don't actually know. Is he really still running about? I wondered about him. The last we heard of him he was attacking Harry:

As Harry plunged after them, one of the fighters detached themselves from the fray and flew at him: it was the werewolf, Fenrir. He was on top of Harry before Harry could raise his wand: Harry fell backward, with filthy matted hair in his face, the stench of sweat and blood filling his nose and mouth, hot greedy breath at his throat -

"Petrificus Totalus!"

Harry felt Fenrir collapse against him; with a stupendous effort he pushed the werewolf off and onto the floor as a jet of green light came flying toward him; he ducked and ran, headfirst, into the fight.

And Fenrir isn't mentioned again in the book!

There is no mention of his capture, or of his escape. Only Snape and Draco and the Big Blond Deatheater get outside of Hogwarts to apparate.

Harry flew across the entrance hall and out into the dark grounds: He could just make out three figures racing across the lawn, heading for the gates beyond which they could Disapparate - by the looks of them, the huge blond Death Eater and, some way ahead of him, Snape and Malfoy.....

I find the total non-mention of Fenrir intriguing. I somehow don't think he is in Azkaban. What thinkest thou?
story645 From: story645 Date: October 12th, 2005 12:42 am (UTC) (Link)
I'm using your explanation with why Tonks can't save Harry as the same one for why Ginny can't go on the Horcrux quest with them. It just isn't her role, she's not Harry's sidekick, that's Ron and Hermione, and to have her along would be a hero/herione thing, wich JK isn't doing. Oh, and total word, anyone but Ron and Hermione being the major forces aside from Harry, and anyone but Harry killing Voldy, and I'm throwing my book against a wall.
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