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Aspects of love and anti-love - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
Aspects of love and anti-love
After my last post, I've been thinking a lot about love and its opposite in HP. I'm not going to call the opposite "hate" here, because I think hate is only part of it, one of the things that fills the vacuum in the absence of love.

Aspects of love and their counter-images

Self-sacrifice. The books open with the self-sacrifice of Lily and James Potter. Much has been made in trying to figure out Voldemort of the fact that he offered Lily a chance to live, but I don't think this is really material to his character. I think the point of the memory of Lily being told to stand aside is that she had a chance to be the one who lived, and didn't take it. She died rather than betray her son, and in doing so, gave him the power to defeat Voldemort (eventually). We later see Snape sacrificing his all-important grudge to help Harry in PS/SS, and of course, most spectacularly, we see Ron risking what could easily have been death on the giant chess board. We see both Ron and Hermione offer to die to protect Harry in PoA, and of course every time Harry goes to fight, he could very well die, and certainly would have in CoS, if it weren't for Fawkes's magic tears. This never stops him. James, in preventing the Prank, risks his school career and possibly being bitten by a werewolf. Sirius ends up sacrificing himself, of course, and it's pointed out through GoF that the man is eating rats just to keep an eye on Harry. Cedric doesn't choose to die in GoF, of course, but he's already committed the self-sacrifice of sharing the Triwizard cup with Harry when he could have had it for himself.
  • Counter-examples: The most obvious counter-vision to this is Peter, pleading that he would have been killed if he hadn't betrayed James and Lily. "Then you should have died!" Sirius bellows, "as we would have done for you." It's also Marietta and Percy, putting their interests ahead of the fight against Voldemort. Cowardice, set against self-sacrifice.

Sharing and giving. One thing that's missing in the movies are the annual gifts that Harry gets and catalogs for readers, and comments like "He opened his first ever birthday card." The Weasleys, poor though they are, lavish Harry with gifts as much as they lavish their own children, and more importantly, open their home, family, and hearts to him. Harry always feels in their debt, and, understanding that giving them money would be insulting, feels guilty because he feels that money is all he can give them. He's perpetually astounded by how much they give him (up to and including a link to his blood family, via the Marauders' Map from the twins). When he first meets Ron on the train, his act of sharing food while Ron shares knowledge is emblematic of this aspect of love in the Potterverse.
  • Counter-examples: Gluttony seems to be the counter to this--Dudley's tantrums over sharing his second bedroom, or even his broken toys. The Dursleys' general stinginess with Harry. Draco's constant harping about having "the best" of everything, and ridiculing of people who don't.

Compaassion. When Hermione overhears Ron's insult, the easy thing for the boys to do is brush it off. At this point, she's just an annoying know-it-all. But Ron spends the rest of the day becoming increasingly uncomfortable, knowing he's hurt someone, and Harry also feels guilty enough to take on a mountain troll to save her. Later, Harry's compassion for Neville is striking, as is Ginny's (in the train compartment in OotP). The house elf issue is a kind of complex compassion that you almost never see--so many competing goods that it makes Harry's head spin. Hermione wants what's intellectually and morally right because she hurts for what they go through, but she doesn't listen to individual house elves. Ron isn't so good on the big picture, but he is the one who won't let her change their lives against their own will. And Harry couldn't care less about the issue, but cares a great deal about individual house elves of his personal acquaintance, both positively (Dobby) and negatively (Kreacher), and absolutely treats them as free agents. All three views are needed. They also care a great deal about Hagrid's travails. Lupin is able to play on Harry's compassion (though Harry doesn't admit it at the time) by asking if anyone deserves to have his soul sucked out. And of course, Harry is forced into some degree of compassion for Snape in the Pensieve.
  • Counter-examples: Lucius's treatment of Dobby is abysmal, and Sirius's treatment of Kreacher isn't much better. I don't necessarily think it would have made a difference to Kreacher if Sirius had been kinder, but I think it might have made a difference to Sirius himself. We also see Draco constantly laughing at other people's pain, trying to get teachers sacked, and mocking Harry about the Dementors. Dudley mocks him about Cedric, as well as generally being a bully. The Marauders at fifteen obviously don't have much compassion for Snape, and Snape at thirty-eight doesn't have much for Harry. This is the most difficult of the virtues, because it's a heavy burden to feel someone else's feelings, and all of the main good characters fail in it at some point. The evil characters don't even try--that's one of the clearer delineations between the two sides. Harry may feel sorry for Tom Riddle as seen in his diary, but Tom's interest in Harry is strictly in killing him.

Cooperation and equality. Harry's trio works together, with each of them contributing something. Harry always seeks out Ron and Hermione when he wants to solve a problem, or even for a post-mortem on his first kiss. The Order is under Dumbledore's orders, but it's by mutual consent, and when they argue, they do so as equals. Werewolves, Muggle-borns, blood traitors, and Pure-bloods, all working together and viewing one another as people. When Harry contacts Sirius or goes to Lupin, his parent figures, they speak to him as though he's an intelligent human being who is just missing a piece of knowledge.
  • Counter-examples: By contrast, Draco's trio is made up of Draco and his lackeys. We see him when he believes he's talking to Crabbe and Goyle, and he treats them as much as lackeys there as he does in Harry's (known) presence. He certainly doesn't run to them for advice or a different perspective--he expects his own to be parroted back. When we see him with his father, Lucius treats him like an idiot (just as the Dursleys treat Dudley), and the whole thing is quite hierarchical. Voldemort isn't interested in magical cooperation; he's interested in people doing his bidding without delay and exactly as ordered, and for his own benefit. Lucius and Bella bicker in the Department of Mysteries, and come to a truce, not an agreement. Karkaroff is out to control Krum, not mentor him, and the whole setup at Durmstrang seems geared toward that. And of course, there's the major issue that they don't like anyone who is an "outsider"--they are wildly xenophobic.

There are other apparent contrasts--kindness vs. cruelty seems to be a big one; mercy vs. vengeance; openness vs. fanaticism--but I'm kind of running out of time and making my fingers hurt here, so anyone else who wants to comment, feel free. ;)

I feel a bit...: pensive pensive

13 comments or Leave a comment
From: ireact Date: June 8th, 2004 01:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
Your observations are beautiful, particularly in how Harry shared his treats with Ron and how Ron's family essentially took Harry in, and how Harry only has money with which he can repay them.

Thank you.
narcissam From: narcissam Date: June 8th, 2004 02:17 pm (UTC) (Link)
Isn't it spooky how the Dementor's *Kiss* is a mockery of love, taking instead of giving?

fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 8th, 2004 04:55 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, shiver. Good observation--I hadn't thought of it before, and now I always will.
ashtur From: ashtur Date: June 8th, 2004 02:21 pm (UTC) (Link)
Here's how I tend to look at it. True Love (in the proper sense, not Twoo wuv or whatever) is essentially selfless and centers in and on others. Your concern is them, not yourself.

The opposite of that is selfishness, a caring more for ones own self than anything else. The examples you cite are examples of that in one form or another. For that matter, hatred is itself an example of that, a focus on the wrongs that have been done against you, and nurturing the anger within one's self.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: June 8th, 2004 07:13 pm (UTC) (Link)
That's a really lovely structural observation about the house-elves...it's an aspect of fandom that's always puzzled me that lots of people tend to demonize Hermione because of her attitude toward them.

There are a lot of other nice examples of how the trio's attitudes, together, form those of a truly loving person, which is why I'm rather reluctant to see romance between any two of them...they all need each other so much, and so equally.

May I add you to my flist? I found "Shifts" and have gotten addicted...your Remus is wonderful. He always seems tired of life, yet far too rational to believe that life isn't full of things worth living for.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 8th, 2004 07:21 pm (UTC) (Link)

I've actually seen Ron abused over it more than Hermione ("She's so obviously right! He must be a total bigot to argue with her! He's insensitive!")
scionofgrace From: scionofgrace Date: June 8th, 2004 09:01 pm (UTC) (Link)
Is your name really Scheisskopf? ::isn't sure whether to laugh or not::

Fern: I do love your analysis. It's so much more articulate and thorough than I could ever make it.
sophonax From: sophonax Date: June 9th, 2004 05:07 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hee, no. It's after a character in *Catch-22.*
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 8th, 2004 07:37 pm (UTC) (Link)
I await the rest with an utter humility of heart that I never saw the depth of what you're writing about here, and absolute awe at your ability to discern it and write about it so well.

akilika From: akilika Date: June 8th, 2004 07:39 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love reading these sorts of things. Analysis has always been . . . well, one of those things for me.

I can't really add anything at this point, I'm afraid. (Only even actually own one of the books . . .) But I really enjoy reading your comments, and the comments you get. Very enjoyable.

I just felt I should probably mention that.
mafdet From: mafdet Date: June 8th, 2004 10:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is a really well-thought out and spot-on analysis of the "love" that is a theme of the series. I think you should post this to hp_essays.

Very, very astute observation that you paired Marietta with Percy in the "selfish" department, both willing to betray for their own ends. Percy betrays his (loving) family, and Marietta seems to have betrayed Cho, who I believe is her best friend, when she is "down" and on top of that, Cho stays loyal to her.

Much as I dislike Cho for the selfish aspects of her character, she does display some of that selfless love you mentioned when she sticks by Marietta even after what she did.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 8th, 2004 10:47 pm (UTC) (Link)
I meant to do that and forgot... thanks for the reminder! :)
the_gentleman From: the_gentleman Date: June 9th, 2004 11:41 am (UTC) (Link)
Seconding on the hp_essays idea.
I was interested by the idea that Percy as a coward and as rejecting his "loving" family, because I don't really see their actions towards him as particularly loving. Molly has incredibly high expectations of him, and he does fulfil them. And yet, when he becomes Assistant to Fudge, they belittle his achievements and say that it's only so he can spy on the Order. Plus, he has been raised to have loyalty to the Ministry, whilst he has a better experience of Dumbledore's failings as Prefect and Head Boy- a sister almost lost, a murderer escaped (and certainly Ron or Dumbledore tells him that Sirius isn't guilty), and the Triwizard Tournament hijacked with a classmate dead. Switching his allegiance to the Ministry isn't cowardice- it's part of him growing up and beyond his school days.

Also, he's willing to go down to the dungeons to look for the basilisk, alone, and he shows true remorse when his girlfriend becomes a victim. He searches Hogwarts with the teachers to protect the school from a mass murderer. That's not to mention him pitching in to stop the Death Eaters at the World Cup.

However, I thought the point that fernwithy used in regards to Sirius's treatment of Kreacher was very interesting. At the time, Sirius is struggling to stretch beyond simply thinking of himself- his arguments with Molly are mostly to do with his status in the Order and in looking after Harry. His death is ultimately due to his desire for personal glory, and his arrogance as Bellatrix's better. Treating Kreacher with kindness would have tempered his pride and allowed him empathy.
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