Friday, August 30, 2013

Harry Potter and the Five Sisters

I haven't yet read The Cuckoo's Calling, so I can't comment on it—though I certainly won't get my knickers in a twist over "Galbraith-Gate."  I'm just glad J.K. is seeking new authorial voices.  She's a brilliant writer.

"Deathly Hallows" symbolFor my summer reading this year, I felt knackered enough from the challenges of work that I didn't want to "work at" reading. So....I decided to reread the whole Harry Potter series straight through. What a treat!

I'll leave it to the reader to imagine the fascination of being able to catch the set-ups and clues Rowling puts in early volumes for things that happen several volumes later, as well as the mastery with which she weaves her core themes through the seven books. All I'll say for now is that my admiration for her genius in this series keeps increasing.

Yet something struck me toward the end of the last book, The Deathly Hallows, a curiosity about five powerful women.  They are rarely seen in the novels, yet they play essential roles in the overall story.  I thought it might be intriguing for Rowling to write a novel for adults from the perspective of these "Five Sisters."

[spoiler alert]

Three of the sisters belong to the Wizarding Black family, Bellatrix Lestrange, Andromeda Tonks and Narcissa Malfoy. Petunia Dursley and her younger sister, Lily Potter, belong to the Muggle Evans family.

We readers and movie fans of Harry Potter tend to give our attention to two of the sisters. We feel fairly sure we know these women.

Lily PotterLily, Harry's mother, was murdered by Voldemort,  yet she returns in spirit at key moments of Harry's ordeals.

Bellatrix, cousin of Sirius Black and closest disciple of Voldemort, rages through the later books and dominates the screen.

We see a bit of Petunia in the early chapters of each volume, mostly as a comic character. Some of us, though, recognize her more tragic nature. It is that deeper reality of the character which intrigues me.

Bellatrix LestrangeThe same goes for Narcissa, who rarely appears yet makes a critical choice in the last volume.

Andromeda is scarcely mentioned, except as the "blood traitor" disinherited from the Black family for marrying a Muggle. Nonetheless, her choice allows her daughter Nymphadora (aka "Tonks") to play a powerful role in the series.

Petunia and Narcissa are dominated by men who impose upon them conformity to the worst, most dangerously prideful aspects of their respective Muggle and Death Eater worlds.  For the most part, both them cleave to the expectations of those worlds and strive, sometimes at great expense to themselves, to demand the same of others.

And yet....

Petunia Dursley
At the start of The Order of the Phoenix, Harry rescues his Muggle cousin Dudley from a magical attack. He tries to explain to his furious Uncle Vernon that Voldemort is back.
"Back?" whispered Aunt Petunia. 
She was looking at Harry as she had never looked at him before. And all of a sudden, for the very first time in his life, Harry fully appreciated that Aunt Petunia was his mother's sister. He could not have said why this hit him so very powerfully at this moment. All he knew was that he was not the only person in the room who had an inkling of what Lord Voldemort being back might mean....
The furious pretense that Aunt Petunia had maintained all Harry's life—that there was no magic and no world other than the world she inhabited with Uncle Vernon—seemed to have fallen away. (37-38)
When Uncle Vernon tries to throw Harry out of the magical safe haven of the Dursley home, it is Petunia who—granted, with the encouragement of a howler from Professor Dumbledore, but also out of mother love for Dudley—deflates him with her old what-would-the-neighbors-think pretense.
"He stays," she said.... She was regaining her usual brisk, snappish manner rapidly, though she was still very pale.... "We'll have to keep him." (41)
And, at the end of The Deathly Hallows, it is Narcissa Malfoy who—out of love for her own son Draco, not for Harry—risks all in response to Voldemort's command to make sure Harry is dead.
Narcissa MalfoyHands, softer than he had been expecting, touched Harry's face, pulled back an eyelid, crept beneath his shirt, down to his chest, and felt his heart. He could hear the woman's fast breathing, her long hair tickled his face. He knew that she could feel the steady pounding of life against his ribs.

"Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?"

The whisper was barely audible; her lips were an inch from his ear, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face from the onlookers.

"Yes," he breathed back.

He felt the hand on his chest contract; her nails pierced him. Then it was withdrawn. She had sat up.

"He is dead!" Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers. (726)
In the darkest of times, five women risk everything for love. Bellatrix for her love of Voldemort's wicked power. Andromeda for the love of the Muggle Ted Tonks. And Lily, Petunia and Narcissa for the love of their sons.

What, I wonder, could we learn of the tragic and powerful family dynamics of the Blacks and the Evans? All five women pulled in extremely different directions. All five together determining the fate of the world.

Now that would be a novel!

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