17 May 2016


Character Connection 53

Created by The Introverted Reader

If we have different personalities in different languages, are we also different readers? That is, if what we project outward changes depending on the medium of projection, does what we take in also change, for the same reason? I'm going to say yes, though this is one (more?) hypothesis I will never be able to test, because of my experience with the German translation of a novel I was already familiar with in English.

Since it is very likely that you are also already familiar with this novel, see if you can figure out which scene the excerpt is from before I reveal the answer . . .

Draco Malfoy
Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen
von J.K. Rowling

"Hallo," sagte der Junge. "Auch Hogwarts?"

"Ja," sagte Harry.

"Mein Vater is nebenan und kauft die Buecher, und Muetter ist ein paar Laeden weiter, und sucht nach Zauberstaeben," sagte der Junge. Er sprach mit gelangweiter, schleppender Stimme. "Danach werd ich sie mitschleifen und mir einen Rennbesen aussuchen. Ich seh nicht ein, warum Erstklaessler keinen eigenen haben duerfen. Ich glaub, ich geh meinen Vater so lange auf die Nerven, bis er mir einen kauft, und schmuggeln ihn dann irgendwie rein."

Der Junge erinnerte Harry stark an Dudley.

Remember when LTG said that Draco Malfoy would have been a good friend to Harry Potter--indeed, a better friend to him than Ron Weasley ever was? That was two and a half years ago, and it sounded so wrong to me that I was happy to point out that the text itself--particularly their first meeting in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone--doesn't support such a reading. My whole argument was that Draco immediately reminds Harry of his cousin Dudley, who is a spoiled brat and a bully; so how in the world could Harry ever get along with someone like that?

Well, I'm either more emotionally sensitive in German than I ever get in English . . . or the same text, translated in Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen, actually does support LTG's interpretation. For this time, what was clear to me was not that Draco is Dudley-ish, but that Harry is Muggle-ish. That is, having been raised outside of wizarding culture, Harry judges his fellow wizards using some unfair standards. What if smuggling contraband into boarding school actually isn't entitlement for some, but a tradition for many? What if Draco's plan to sneak in a broom was inspired by his father's own memories of Hogwarts? What if he is typical of his generation in this? What if the teachers, Hogwarts alumni themselves, are happy to look the other way while the fun stays harmless?

I'm reminded of the time a convert to Catholicism gave a talk at a high school in an area that had been culturally Catholic for generations, and accidentally insulted the entire student body by saying that the girls' raising of their hemlines was a sign that modern sexual norms had corrupted even the good Catholic kids. It totally flew over her head that the girls in the audience had been wearing Catholic school uniforms longer than she herself had been in the Church--and she really had no idea that everything she "knew" about these clothes was merely the secular media's sexualising of them.

Similarly, all Harry would have known of wizards would have come from Muggle media. And what really bugs me now is that he gets this . . . and then proceeds to double down. For someone so self-conscious about being an outsider, he does nothing to fit in. Instead, he spends all his time on the fringes of Hogwarts society, hanging out with fellow misfits Ron, Hermione Granger, and Hagrid--and we readers, limited by his focus, don't really get a clear idea what the "normal" wizard children do. But given the impunity with which the Weasley twins sneak in their own contraband and the nonchalance with which Professor McGonagall bends the rules so Harry can have a broom, Draco hardly seems entitled.

Then there's the truth that humor can be slippery when you're with someone from a very different background. If Harry dislikes Malfoy's plans "to get on his father's nerves" ("seinen Vater auf die Nerven gehen") until the latter lets him "smuggle in" ("reinschmuggeln") a verboten broom . . . well, remember that not only did Harry not grow up with boarding school smuggle culture, but he also didn't grow up with his father. Malfoy could have been joking around in a friendly manner and it would have all gone over outsider-orphan Harry's head.

But the main reason I wanted to write this post in defense of Draco Malfoy is that I saw, with my new German Erfindlichkeit (that's "sensitivity" to you Anglos!), how badly he really does want to be Harry's friend. You don't follow a classmate around school in the dead of night, unless you desperately long to be a part of his crew. And telling on him so he gets in trouble might seem like a good way to impress him if, those two earlier times you tried to be friendly, he shot you down.

I remember thinking years ago that J.K. Rowling's biggest mistake was not making Neville Longbottom the fourth member of Harry's gang. Now I see that she dropped the ball even earlier with Draco Malfoy.

Image Source: Harry Potter und der Stein der Weisen


love the girls said...

Miss E,

I think your proposition is more of Harry should have been Hanna.

My position didn't anything to do with outsiders or culture or any of that, but was instead simply based on the nature of boys. Boy who are at the top naturally become friends with their equals. When the new Alpha type boy shows up on the first day of school one has to kick his butt, or at least do one.s best to do so, and after that you become best of friends. Or at least that is how it was when I was young.

Draco did the ritual correctly, and Harry responded like a Hanna.

Enbrethiliel said...


LOL! Well, another friend of mine has said that Harry never seemed like a real boy to him, but like what a woman author would think a boy is like. =)

Itinérante said...

N! I totally agree about this observation! I truly liked Draco! I felt he was very sincere! I am glad you read it in German so we can have a similar point of view ^^
In terms of human interactions I think Harry Potter books are not the finest examples. I mean it in a sense of depth of the relationships and how "real" they are...
I find that there are awesome "plot books", other awesome "Character books" and then there are genius ones :)

Enbrethiliel said...


I felt that J.K. Rowling bent over backward to make Draco look awful. (Were there truly no other Slytherins other than Crabbe and Goyle whom Draco liked well enough to be friends with??? If I remember correctly, another of LTG's points from two and half years ago was that Harry is so famous that Ron is a Crabbe/Goyle-type friend to him, too! So why do we condemn one and not the other?)

Anyway, yes, the Harry Potter series certainly has its flaws! (It also has enough die-hard fans to turn it into a sacred cow, but that's another story . . . =P) I don't think it's an awesome example for any literary element, but it gets good enough marks across the whole board for it to seem, once the points are all tallied, head and shoulders above other books that are vastly superior.

What are your favourite "plot books" and "character books," Itinierante? =)

Belfry Bat said...

I've tried to argue before that H.P. is about families more than it is about Harry (cf. how most of Dumbledore's closest secrets are about his family); and that the reason Harry and Ron hit it off so well is becacuse Ron comes from a huge and mostly happy family (so he knows how to get on with people but also needs someone from outside). Certainly, Draco is well-placed to be a powerful ally (and why not a good friend) if it were allowed; and more: Harry would be a great corrective for Draco, if it were allowed. The story doesn't seem to allow it, (and Draco never reacts well to having his life saved) but... we do know that some things get better, in the end.

Enbrethiliel said...


Draco would be a corrective for Harry, too!

I can totally see the overarching conflict of the Harry Potter series as which wizarding families should "rule" their world. By the time Harry enters it, we could say the main contenders are the Malfoys and the Weasleys. But the problem is that the Weasleys, who should probably do it, don't want to, and the Malfoys, who obviously want to do it, are going about it in the wrong ways. Thanks for the idea, Bat. =)