Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Intention Behind the Birthday Present

Okay, so here we go.

. . .

About four months ago I was discussing Harry Potter during lunch at work (something I do frequently, thought I doubt you are surprised). And while I don't recall exactly how this came up, I remember that my friends and I got into a terrific argument about a particular moment in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows chapter seven, "The Will of Albus Dumbledore."

We'll get into the specifics of the argument and the details later, but I want new readers and people outside of the argument (which has been going on for the last four months) to listen to the source material with an unbiased ear.

So, listen first, then we will discuss.

. . . waiting . . .


All right. Now, to help the unfamiliar with some background information, let me present the following:

1. Harry briefly dated Ginny Weasley at the end of his sixth year at Hogwarts (Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince), but when he committed himself to finally chasing down Voldemort and destroying him, he intentionally broke up with her. He told her he did this to prevent her from becoming a target for Voldemort's followers. He broke up with her to protect her from the dangerous crowd that he was swearing to defeat.

2. Since their breakup in June, they have been apart. Harry is now visiting the Weasley house at the end of July because one of Ginny's older brothers is getting married. According to the text of the story, this is the first time they have talked directly to each other in weeks.

3. It is Harry's 17th birthday. The wedding will take place the following day.

4. When Ginny is telling Harry that she wanted him to "have something to remember me by . . . if you meet some veela when you're off doing whatever you're doing" she is acknowledging that she knows he's not going with her to Hogwarts at the beginning of September, but will instead be hunting down Voldemort. A veela, by the way, is this. [Scholastic first edition, c. 2007, p. 116]


Now . . .

. . . the argument between my friends and I is this--what exactly was Ginny's intention in this scene?

My friends--and I will be honest and say that ALL of my friends are in this camp--believe that Ginny is offering herself to Harry. She is telling him, by inviting him into her room, that she is willing to and in fact wanting to go all the way . . . well, I'm sure you know what I mean.

I, however, adamantly oppose this point of view.

I agree that Ginny is offering something to remember her by--she says so. But she does not intend to go further than intense kissing . . . possibly rounding first base, maybe. But, that is it.

Why do I think this?

Well, my best argument is that I don't think it is true to Ginny's character to assume this about her. She has always been portrayed as level-headed, rational, and calm. (The audio says as much, remember, telling us that she was "rarely weepy." She is concerned for Harry's safety, certainly. She is worried about what he is intending to do. She loves him, yes. But, having sex with him at this moment is outside of who is has always been and who she actually is.

And then you have to consider the setting for this scene. What exactly is the moment in which she is supposedly offering herself to him as a birthday present and remembrance of things past? Well, it is in the morning hours of her parent's house at a time when the place is simply crawling with family, wedding guests, and future in laws. Would it be the act of a rational person to decide to commit this act at such a time and in such a place? I say no.

My friends who argue against me (and I am, so far, alone in my position here) laugh at my reasons. They, no doubt, think I am hopelessly naive. To think that Ginny cares about what time of the morning it is. To think if she cares who is outside the door or up a flight of stairs or anything like that. But that is my point. She does care. She is not overly emotional or prone to poor decisions. She would not take such a leap outside of who she is.

One of my friends even had the temerity to suggest (after he listened to the audio earlier tonight) that Hermione was in on Ginny's "plan" and was helping her by drawing Ron away and allowing Ginny to seduce Harry.

No way, whatsoever!

Sure, Hermione helped Ginny and Harry have privacy, but it was because she knew Ginny wanted to talk to him in private--something that had not been possible in the days running up to the wedding, as Mrs. Weasley had kept them all constantly busy with pre-wedding chores. Hermione would no more be an accomplice to premarital teenage sex than she would order around a house elf! If there is any female in the Harry Potter series more level-headed than Ginny, it is Hermione.


So, that's it then. Might I have persuaded some of you? (I don't expect to, given my lack of success at work over the last few months.) One day I threw out the question to The Leaky Cauldron staff and the folks of Pottercast. Sometimes they deal with these types of interpretive questions on the podcast. But they have been busy with summer touring and pre-film hype, so they haven't answered me . . . if they ever will.

Maybe I should pose the question to the only person who had the ability to definitively answer the question. But, I don't have the juice to contact J.K. Rowling. So, why don't you throw this post around the web and let's see if we can go viral? Maybe she'll take notice someday and tell me I am firmly in the right.


A P said...

Oh David . . .

I see you continue to fight the good fight. It is a fight for a lost cause, but still.

Anonymous said...

Actually David, I agree with you whole-heartedly and have had this same discussion with my family (all 3 of my sisters & my mother are HP fans like myself). 2 of my family feel like your friends fell and think she was "offering" sex where myself and 2 other members feel there is no way she was thinking sex only a very passionate kiss.


Anonymous said...

David, I know your coworkers, very well, actually, and this is not a slight against them, but honestly, they have no idea what they are talking about. They are driven by their own visions of what they would want to do in that situation, not by an understanding of the setting, the characters, the world, Rowling's intentions, the plot, or anything else actually contained within the books or their author. This is the same kind of problem some historians do when they analyze ancient history as though the facts should be held up to the standards of the present day. It's called presentism., and it's dishonest history.

A careful reading of J.K. Rowling, both in terms of character development, world setting, and morality in the books, along with the genre, very clearly supports the thesis that Ginny was not offering more than a kiss. She liked Harry, and it is very in keeping with the sort of fairy tale theme implied by the setting, as well as by her countless actions, that Ginny would be pure, as she is consistently portrayed. Yes she snogs, but she wouldn't debase her champion. A kiss is always considered the highest of compliments in fairy tales, and is the ultimate gift. Anything else would be discordant not only with the genre, but with Rowling's methods.

There is no suggestion anywhere in any of the books that students' morality veers anywhere beyond snogging, which is to say, making out.

Second, Ginny is not an idiot. She knows full well the risks of doing anything else. To imply based on zero evidence that Hermione was helping her by watching the door begs the question, have they read the books? Furthermore, the very fact that Ron does interrupt them substantiates the claim that it would have been too risky. Ginny would not have made such a ridiculous invitation under the same roof with her perilously inflammatory mother, who would have banished Harry from their home instantly and perhaps forever.

Interpreting this as offering anything more than a kiss is tantamount to rewriting the story. And if you do that, why bother reading Rowling in the first place? Not content with her fantasy, readers are creating their own.


David said...

It will be interesting to just drop this comment link here, after all the years since this was originally posted.

I hope that the link stays active as a time capsule to another window on this argument.

Still haven't changed my mind about Ginny's intentions, though.