Friday, July 15, 2005

House Elvis

Sock it to me, baby.

What's up with the house elves in the Harry Potter books? They seem like another whimsical group of magical beings — like Gringotts' goblins, or the centaurs of the Forbidden Forest — but I think there's more to them than that.

To my American sensibilities, their enthusiastic servility sounds a lot like slaves as depicted by slavery's apologists. Since JK Rowling is a Brit, they're more likely modeled on Victorian servants, who could be more snobbish than their upstairs employers. Either way, Hermione comes off as a lame do-gooder who is utterly ignorant of those she's trying to help. And her organization, Society for the Preservation of Elvish Welfare (SPEW), has the worst acronym since Nixon's Committee to RE-Elect the President (CREEP).

I suspect both Hermione's cluelessness and her group's name are hangovers from the early books, when Hermione was much more a standard type from boys' books, the silly, know-it-all gurl. So, as Hermione has become more an individual, and less a type, maybe we'll see her become more engaged with house elves as individuals, rather than as an faceless cause. If we're lucky, Hermione's elf-rights group will get a better name.
Better Elfy Acronyms Now
ELF Elf Liberation Front (from a chapter title in book 4)
THE Together with House Elves
SHE Support House Elves
HEHE Help Enfranchise House Elves
HEAL House Elves Are Lovely
HELP House Elf Liberty Plan
Draco could start a counter-organization. Besides, it's more fun to think up snarky, snotty names (and for me, it's more natural).
Malfoy Is Largely Fascist
ELF Elves Love Families
House Elves Love Living Oppressed
House Elves Are Less Than Human
Elves Love Voldemort's Innocent Supporters
HERMIONE House Elves Resent Mudbloods Interfering in Our Normal Endeavors
Even without Hermione's organization, house elves' contradictions have a lot of dramatic potential. They love Harry Potter, but many are devoted to Voldemort's supporters among the aristos. They're everywhere, they're pretty powerful, and yet they're almost invisible. They are ideally situated for either side to use in gathering intelligence, or even as a fifth column. Or they could develop an independent perspective, with independent actions. In our muggle world, elves have begun to assert their rights — although that seems to be centered in Iceland, so far.

I'm going to go get the book, and find out for myself. So I'll put a sock in it.


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