Interior/exterior in the Harry Potter series: duality expressed in Sirius Black and Remus Lupin.
Given the extent to which magic envelops the world of the Harry Potter novels, it becomes easy to dismiss both Sirius's mastery of the Animagus spell and Remus's lycanthropy as mere window dressing with no deeper textual meaning. Throughout his adventures, Harry Potter encounters all degrees of magic and enchantment, from Bertie Bott's Every Flavor Beans to the Knight Bus, convenient transportation for the stranded witch or wizard. While the preceding examples highlight the wondrous and oftentimes humorous nature of the Wizarding world, Rowling also borrows from a variety of darker and complex folkloric and mythological traditions, including the use of Cereberus, Greek guardian of the underworld reimagined as Fluffy, and the self-resurrecting Phoenix. However, she may not always represent these creatures in exactly the same manner in which they appear in their original manifestations. Critic Suman Gupta makes just such an assertion in his analysis of the borrowed mythological and folklorical elements of the series, finding an "inconsistency and indiscriminateness of the allusive strategy of the Harry Potter novels" (98). This point of view proves not only dismissive of Rowling's often clever and inventive re-imaginings of older traditions in favor of the insistence that these are merely children's books deserving no degree of critical study, but it also fails to acknowledge that a folkloric or mythological creature may in fact change from account to account, as will be the case with the Grim. The fluid nature of myths and folktales comprises a vital component of their lasting legacy in that they may adapt to myriad worldviews, and even perhaps the whim of their storyteller.
Rowling's choice of a limited third person narrator, with Harry as the vehicle through which nearly all events and characters filter, confines the reader to one perspective. Furthermore, the reader ends up at the mercy of Harry's lack of maturity, especially in the first few novels of the series, which finds Harry so in awe of the Wizarding world and its inhabitants that he overlooks or minimizes negative details. Although the use of Harry as narrator limits the level of understanding and subtext provided to the reader, it does not exclude such subtle details from existing within the text. While the younger reader may focus on black and white expressions of type and anti-type, exemplified by the half-giant Hagrid, monstrous in size and physically intimidating, who defies expectations by being gentle, loyal, and kind-hearted, the older reader catches the complex interplay between the adult characters. In the case of Sirius Black, Rowling depicts a man in a state of psychological distress, yet Harry rarely picks up on his godfather's depression and ensuing descent into alcoholism, steadfastly viewing him as a positive, fatherly role model. Indeed, Harry does not outwardly acknowledge any of Sirius's faults until the final novel of the series, which centers in many respects on Harry's role models losing their superhuman invulnerability to fault in his eyes. After Harry has accepted the role of godfather to Lupin's newborn son Teddy, he somberly contemplates the path he must follow to defeat Voldemort and wonders if he will be "as reckless a godfather to Teddy Lupin as Sirius Black had been to him" (Rowling, Deathly Hallows 518). (1)
Before delving into an analysis of Sirius Black's character, the history and background of the creature best known simply as The Black Dog requires discussion. He dwells in the British Isles, with reported sightings of him widespread throughout this area. In addition to The Black Dog, he goes by such names as Black Shuck, the Grim, and the barghest and its variant spellings. Since the alternate names reference the same basic creature, The Black Dog will be used to describe this folk creature, while the Grim will be applied to Sirius Black, as this is how other characters perceive his Animagus form. Perhaps most striking in its parallel to Sirius Black, this creature also goes by the name Padfoot, which Theo Brown describes as a variant of the Black Dog that shapeshifts into a number of various animal or humanoid shapes. Padfoot is the nickname bestowed on Sirius during his Hogwarts days, but it also denotes him while in dog form. Brown describes this type of Black Dog as belonging to the "barghest" type (176-177). He separates this shapeshifting form from what he terms The Black Dog, which always assumes canine form and remains tied to a specific place or road (178). Rowling synthesizes both traditions, in that Sirius's first appearance marks him as an almost spectral creature watching Harry from just off the main roadway and he proves capable of shapeshifting only into canine form. This final point proves critical, as the Animagus assumes only one animal form that the wizard or witch does not specifically choose yet reflects some inner character trait.
As with many folkloric creatures, The Black Dog's characteristics change as well, whether from location to location or person to person. Although Theo Brown breaks down the Black Dog along its shapeshifting qualities, he writes, "All these creatures are ominous. Some are belligerent as well, and many are associated with burial sites and churchyards" (178). In her vast study of Black Dog sightings in Lincolnshire, Ethel Rudkin found that he "is looked on as a bad omen, ill luck, disaster or death attend his appearance," but the dog itself does not terrify those who catch sight of him, as supposedly only good people can see him (130). This distinction ties in with Sirius Black in that he never comes across as inherently evil, yet the following analysis of his character which follows demonstrates that death ends up following in his wake. Finally, the Black Dog may truly be a ghost, either of a dog or of a human (Briggs 115), and although normally perceived of as male by those reporting sightings, in this incarnation the Black Dog may also be female. Further muddying the waters are those informants who described the Black Dog to Ethel Rudkin as a companion for those walking along given roadways. In these stories, he follows alongside these travelers for a while, presumably until they leave the boundaries of his territory (124).
Although accounts of The Black Dog differ widely across the British Isles, with everything from his name, to his physical attributes, to his symbolic significance capable of flux, several key points come up time and again. Death intertwines often with The Black Dog, whether or not those who catch glimpse of him believe him to be intrinsically evil or dangerous. The Black Dog frequently possesses the ability to shapeshift as well. Finally, people often perceive him to be spectral in nature, which Rowling expresses metaphorically in her depiction of Sirius Black both in his haggard, ghastly physical appearance and then literally with his eventual demise. Although the particular details of his habits and whether or not eyewitnesses perceive him as threatening vary from region to region, one common thread ties all of these accounts of The Black Dog to one another. Back into the reaches of early Celtic Europe, dogs and the underworld share a close association (Green 187), whether with menacing undertones or not. The reader watches Sirius over the course of several novels remain a man prone to recklessness, one who endangers others and ultimately ends up losing his life. Against this complex backdrop of the folkloric heritage of The Black Dog, the character of Sirius Black emerges.
Even before Rowling introduces the reader to Sirius Black as a character, her selection of name proves crucial to unlocking the tragedy of his character and association with the Grim. His surname parallels both his ability to transform into a black dog and that creature's long-standing association with death and foreboding. The name "Sirius" also provides immediate associations with the canine, as it is the name of the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major. Although the reader enjoys only brief glimpses into Sirius's student years, the handsome, charming, and popular young man in these episodes shines as brightly as his namesake. However, these traits combine with an air of arrogance and casual cruelty to those outside of his inner circle of friends as evidenced by his constant tormenting of Severus Snape, oftentimes at no provocation other than boredom. Above all else, Sirius's excessive sense of self-importance leads to the tragedies surrounding him, especially in his youth. This sense of a bright star falling out of grace calls to mind the story of Lucifer, the angel who shined with the greatest radiance yet was thrown out of heaven when he led a revolt against the Christian god in an act of pride. Sirius's shine loses luster as well, culminating with the death of the Potters and his imprisonment in Azkaban, events which will be analyzed in greater detail further on.
Sirius's first appearance in Prisoner of Azkaban while in his Animagus form bears striking similarity to accounts of The Black Dog. As Harry stalks away from Privet Drive, he glimpses "the hulking outline of something very big, with wide, gleaming eyes" (Prisoner 33) hidden in the darkness of an alley off of the main road, and the sight terrifies him. Although his godfather means him no harm, the encounter offers no solace to Harry. Instead, he immediately reacts with primal fear from the moment he senses he is being watched at a point in the story before he learns of Sirius Black's escape from prison. Shortly thereafter, he catches the Knight Bus and describes the creature to the conductor as "a big black thing ... [.] Like a dog ... but massive" (34). Harry's experience bears more than passing resemblance to depictions of the Grim. Sirius's introduction makes him akin to those accounts of The Black Dog either tied to, or following people traveling along a particular patch of road. Furthermore, those who claim sightings of The Black Dog describe how he appears at the same place along a given spot of road, perhaps in the hedges lining the main path, "but was sometimes seen as a shadow" (Rudkin 118).
The association of Sirius's Animagus form with the darkest expressions of The Black Dog continues during one of Harry's Divination classes. Upon seeing the configuration of tea leaves in the bottom of Harry's cup, Professor Trelawney views the contents as an ill omen in the form of the Grim. She describes the Grim to her students as, "The giant spectral dog that haunts churchyards! My dear boy, it is an omen--the worst omen--of death!" (Azkaban 107). Certainly, Trelawney often gives herself over to dramatics, especially with Harry, and enjoys informing him of his ever-impending doom. Albus Dumbledore later reveals that Trelawney possesses the talents of a true seer, however infrequently her gift manifests, so although it might be tempting to dismiss her likening of the tea leaves to the Grim as hysterical theatrics, the reader cannot dispel the possibility that she could well be right in recognizing the Grim. This classroom scene also marks the second occasion where others perceive Sirius in his dog form as either frightening or a potential omen of death. Harry himself acknowledges the canine-like form of the creature he encounters near Privet Drive but draws no comfort from the possibility. Trelawney likewise does not identify the pattern in the tea leaves as an ordinary dog, capable of loyalty, protection, and friendship, instead immediately likening the shape to something far more menacing.
The first instance of Sirius's close association with death occurs as a tragic byproduct of his friendship with James Potter. As a result of his belief that their friend Remus had turned spy for Voldemort, Sirius convinces James and Lily to select Peter Pettigrew as their Secret Keeper in his stead. In so doing, Sirius unwittingly delivers his dearest friend and his family into the hands of the enemy, as the cowardly and traitorous Peter already allied himself with Voldemort. Peter's Animagus form, the rat, proves a pointed choice. The one selected as the Potter's Secret Keeper held their safety in his or her hands as the family fied into hiding with their infant son Harry, with only the Secret Keeper possessing knowledge of their location. The ensuing confrontation between Sirius and Peter after the murder of the Potters leads to the former's arrest and incarceration in Azkaban.
Clearly, Sirius never intended for events to turn out as they did, and he would surely have given up his own life to keep them from coming to pass. However, his rash decision making skills may have played a part in his passing the role of Secret Keeper to Peter. Sirius suspected Remus of being a spy for Voldemort, but the final book does not disclose that he had potentially damning evidence against his friend which leaves the reader to wonder if perhaps Remus's status as a werewolf, classified in the Wizarding world as a "Dark Creature," led him down that path. A second possibility exists, since Sirius apparently never viewed Peter as a potential traitor. All of the descriptions of Peter paint him as being in utter awe of both James and Sirius, hanging on their every word and action. Perhaps resulting from his belief that Peter was inherently weak of character and incapable of plotting against them, Sirius overlooks Peter as a suspect. Instead, as soon as Remus's guilt solidifies in his mind, he swiftly moves to have Peter replace him as Secret Keeper rather than acting methodically and carefully. Given Sirius's death in the fifth book and Remus's reluctance to reveal details about his past to Harry, no such explanation appears as to what created the dibide between them. Sirius's inability to fully think through the ramifications of his actions appears to precipitate the murder of James and Lily.
The Sirius Black encountered by Harry in The Prisoner of Azkaban exists as a shell, a broken version of the vital young man glimpsed by Harry in the Pensieve, fueled by the desires for revenge against Peter and the protection of Harry. Herein lies the profound tragedy of Sirius. In the twelve years leading up to the events in the novel, Sirius remained imprisoned in Azkaban, just barely managing to hold on to his sanity. Prior to that, he had to cope with the murder of his best friend and Peter's betrayal. Yet the horror of Azkaban and its Dementors does not afford Sirius any time to mature emotionally. When he emerges from prison and finally proves his innocence to Harry and his immediate circle of friends, he does not have the wherewithal of a man in his thirties but rather that of one in his early twenties. Furthermore, he gains no perspective on much of what occurred in his life as a result of his incarceration. Where many adults look back on their more destructive youthful exploits and see irresponsibility, Sirius does not. He recalls sending Snape to the Shrieking Shack where Remus in werewolf form waited out the full moon in an act that not only could have resulted in Remus's expulsion from Hogwarts but in Snape's death as well. Only James's heroic intervention prevents a grisly outcome. Yet Sirius steadfastly continues to refer to the event simply as the "prank" and, as far as Snape goes, he believes "It served him right" (Azkaban 356). Even in his present dealings, Sirius remains prone to adolescent cruelty and bouts of rage, ending up in a fight with Molly Weasley and a near brawl with Snape. He also treats the House Elf Kreacher with contempt and violence to the point where Hermione Granger, young enough to be his daughter, pleads with him to stop as Kreacher "is not right in the head" (Phoenix 110). Although troublesome and spiteful, Kreacher clings precariously to the last shreds of his sanity, yet Sirius refuses to exhibit the slightest hint of compassion. It is this emotionally stunted, increasingly unstable Sirius Black who goes on to exert a profound influence over his godson.
Rather than serving as Harry's protector, Sirius takes actions leading to the contrary. Rowling hints that although Harry immediately views Sirius as a father figure, Sirius may not be up to the task of acting as a role model to the impressionable youth. As Amanda Cockrell states, "Harry does indeed find a father, but one who is himself an outcast and fugitive" (24), rendering Sirius unprepared for the depth of such a responsibility. Certainly, Harry perceives Sirius as a substitute for his murdered father, but as with many situations throughout the novel, Harry's understanding of a given scenario or person does not necessarily reflect accurately. Harry adopts Sirius's opinions as his own most strikingly with regards to Snape, whom he hates with increasing fervor once he witnesses his godfather's utter disdain. This results in Harry placing no trust in Snape at all, yet although his motivations remain cloudy, Snape rescues Harry and his friends on several occasions. Harry's inability to overcome his mistrust of Snape nearly ends in his own death at the Department of Mysteries in The Order of the Phoenix. After Snape fails to react outwardly to Harry's desperate pronouncement that Voldemort holds Sirius prisoner, Harry and his friends risk their own lives by mounting a rescue operation. Due to his predisposition to view Snape as an enemy, it never occurs to Harry that since they are in the presence of Dolores Umbridge, Snape dare not respond nor can he in any way acknowledge that he will get help. The tragic irony of the events at the Department of Mysteries unfolds with the revelation that Sirius never was in danger and ends with Sirius losing his life after all in an attempt to rescue Harry. Voldemort successfully turned Harry's devotion to his godfather into a means of luring the young man into a trap.
Arguably, Harry's desperate attempt to save Sirius from perceived danger results from the scheming of Voldemort and not from Sirius's desire to place Harry in mortal peril. Yet at other points in the series, Sirius's behavior becomes harder to excuse. At the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, Sirius heads off into hiding for his own protection, as his innocence in the Potters' murders cannot be proven. Yet he quickly returns and ends up taking up residence in a cave on the outskirts of Hogsmeade to be closer to Harry. Once Harry ends up mysteriously entered in the Tri-Wizard Tournament, he hesitates revealing what occurred to his godfather. Harry worries, "He'll probably come bursting right into the castle" (Goblet 290). Although Harry plays this off as a bit of a joke, an element of truth lies beneath the surface since Sirius often acts without applying rational thought to the situation at hand. Sirius finds out anyway and goes so far as to meet up with Harry, Ron, and Hermione when the trio visit Hogsmeade. He underplays the potential danger of their meeting not just to himself, but to them as well. His motivation for doing so does not appear to be allaying their fears, but rather because he thinks his ability to turn into Padfoot is too clever for anyone to figure out. His overconfidence becomes apparent after he sees Harry off to Hogwarts disguised as Padfoot and is spotted and seemingly discovered by the Malfoys.
One can understand Sirius's desire to spend time with his godson, but he crosses the line during The Order of the Phoenix and comes closest to leading Harry to harm directly. Sirius grows increasingly isolated and unsettled during his time as a virtual prisoner in his childhood home, albeit in an attempt by others to keep him protected. He tries to get Harry to visit him, but Harry finally balks at doing so. Rather than acknowledging Harry's concerns over his potential discovery, Sirius instead says, "You're less like your father than I thought [...]. The risk would've been what made it fun for James" (Phoenix 305). His appalling words attempt to manipulate Harry emotionally into doing his bidding by implying that the son does not live up to the memory of the father. Sirius levels a calculated verbal assault since Harry eagerly soaks up any information about James Potter.
Despite the condemnatory nature of some of Sirius's actions regarding Harry, Rowling leaves no doubt that he holds a deep and genuine love for him. His inability to act as an ideal parent stems from Sirius's long imprisonment and stunted emotional development rather than a desire to see Harry injured. This ties in to the idea that the Grim need not always be a figure of evil, despite its association with ghosts or death. Furthermore, dogs found in lore and myth themselves need not always be associated strictly with death. They also became important symbols of protection, acting as guardians over both people and property, evidenced by the story of the Irish mythological hero Cuchulain, who must assume this vital role of protector by becoming the Hound of Ulster after killing Culann's guardian hounds (Green 25). Rowling reminds the reader not to condemn Sirius wholesale for his reckless actions and lack of foresight. Sirius degenerates emotionally and mentally before Dumbledore and the members of the Order of the Phoenix, who come and go on business, and Remus, who takes up residence at Grimmauld Place to keep him company. Sirius often reeks of Firewhiskey, a type of alcohol, which Harry glosses over in his observations, while still providing the reader with the sickening realization that he likely abuses alcohol to try to quiet his personal demons. Sirius needs adult guidance and intervention as much as any troubled adolescent, but no help arrives.
Remus Lupin's lycanthropy both expresses deep flaws in his personality and explains his existence as a pariah of the Wizarding world due to his affliction. Remus parallels Sirius in that the latter also remains separated from society due to his status as a fugitive from Azkaban. Despite this immediate similarity, Remus deals with his outcast status far differently than does his childhood friend. The werewolf aspect of Remus represents both his separation from the community and the suppressed aspects of his personality. As with the Black Dog, no one simple definition exists to describe the werewolf and its symbolic meanings across time. Rowling's conception of the lycanthrope blends aspects of several of these traditions. Western popular culture portrays the werewolf as human save for the duration of the full moon when he or she sheds human form and transforms into a wolf. Whether appearing to be more lupine or a hideous melding of human and wolf while in the transformed state, the werewolf demonstrates an insatiable need for blood and an inability to control baser urges. While this conception of the werewolf comprises only one of many depictions, it mimics an early tradition set forth by both Ovid and Pliny that also describes the lycanthrope as a hairy sort of beast and consumer of human flesh. The werewolf found in the literature, theology, and Romances of the 1200s loses its anthropomorphic qualities in favor of the lycanthrope changing into a literal wolf. Furthermore, these traditions introduced the element of sorcery, with lycanthropy resulting from the curse of a witch (Bynum 95). Rowling's werewolves take the form of oversized wolves in their transformed states, but are also murderous, bloodthirsty, and devoid of their humanity. Victorian writers shifted focus to the nature of the werewolf as an "outsider who posed a threat to the natural order" (Frost xi), setting up Rowling's vision of the lycanthrope as an ostracized, reviled figure in Wizarding society.
Author Angela Carter reinvigorated the genre of werewolf literature in the twentieth century by honing in on the eroticism and sexuality of the lycanthrope. Salman Rushdie describes her stories as "a metaphor for all the myriad yearning and dangers of sexual relations" (qtd. in Bynum 173). The werewolf proves the perfect vehicle for the expression of wanton sexuality in that the lycanthropic transformation frees him or her from societal constraints while under the elements of the curse, vividly displaying those "bestial instincts lurking beneath our civilized exteriors" (Frost x). Certainly, the Harry Potter series will never depict blatant expressions of sexuality, yet a degree of sexual tension surrounds Remus, especially in The Half-Blood Prince. Remus's affliction stifles his ability to find a lover, a predicament only worsened by his poverty. Yet the events of this novel reveal that he has been involved with Nymphadora Tonks to some degree, evidenced by the latter's public declaration of her desire to be involved with him regardless of his lycanthropy.
The depiction of the werewolf that diverges from the previous accounts comes from occult traditions describing it as a projection of a living person's aura or psyche. One story in this vein tells of a woman who, during a time when she plotted revenge against someone who wronged her, manifested a werewolf out of herself (Frost 15). Rowling uses the tradition of werewolf-as-outsider rather than this metaphysical variant, depicting Remus as a fragmented man due not only to his lycanthropy but also to his lack of agency and passive-aggressive nature, both of which will be analyzed in depth.
In the same way that Rowling's choice of name in Sirius Black hints at the innermost aspects of his character, so, too, does her selection of "Remus Lupin." The surname holds a hint of tragic irony in that young Remus ends up bitten by the vengeful, feral werewolf Fenrir Greyback, but the use of "Remus" signals a deliberate and complicated choice. The name recalls the myth of the founding of Rome by the brothers Romulus and Remus, twins fathered by Mars who were saved from death as infants. A she-wolf famously suckles the young boys, thus ensuring their survival. When grown, the young men go on to found a city, which Romulus christens "Rome" after himself. Remus, however, does not survive to see the city completed. Romulus is said to have murdered his brother after Remus mocks the low height of the city's walls, which his brother designed. Certainly, Remus's first name in the Harry Potter novels ties him to the wolf, as does his last name. Yet it also sets up a stark contrast between the two. The Remus of the mythic Roman past dies as a result of his aggressive mocking of his brother, whereas Remus Lupin nearly always adapts a passive demeanor, choosing his words in careful measure and taking care not to upset anyone else.
Remus's greatest character flaw lies in his inability to stand up for himself, and his lycanthropy becomes the means by which Rowling expresses the dichotomy of the character. Remus is more than just exceptionally polite: his civility and deference to others borders on domestication. His behavior stands in ironic contrast to the wolf, who "is not susceptible to being tamed" (Jacques-Lefevre 187). Werewolves suffer grave injustices in the Wizarding world, which not only looks upon them in disgust but passes legislation limiting their ability to earn a living. In every sense, they are outcasts. Since Remus was bitten by Fenrir at a very young age, most of his life experiences contain some degree of societal scorn. He understands that others view him as something less than human and begins to adapt his behavior accordingly. Critics describe the shunning of werewolves in Harry Potter as commentaries on modern societal inequities ranging from racism, class distinctions, homophobia, and the discrimination AIDS sufferers face, especially in the early days of the disease. While these interpretations certainly hold merit, the werewolf throughout history stands as the ultimate expression of the "other." In most traditions, lycanthropes spend the majority of their time in human form, creating a situation whereby they are "really 'one of us' and can act out clearly human behavior" (Frost 47). For those in the majority who are not afflicted, denying such poor souls their humanity becomes easier than trying to understand a human who "destabilizes reality, making boundaries fluid, categories and interpretations problematic" (Bynum 93).
The werewolf exemplifies the fear of losing control of one's body, of becoming something monstrous and out of control. Remus can thus be viewed as "neither wolf nor man[;] he is at the same time both the one and the other in a continuous mutation" (Jacques-Lefevre 189). No one around Remus ever describes him as a human being--a victim of Fenrir Greyback, but human still. He is only ever a werewolf, as are all others suffering the same condition. The only instance when others including Albus Dumbledore view Remus's status as a werewolf in a positive light occurs when Remus assumes the perilous task of spying on those werewolves who side with Voldemort. Remus's placid veneer finally slips when he tells Harry of his mission, with Harry noticing that Remus "sounded a little bitter, and perhaps realized it" (Half-Blood Prince 334).
Remus's introduction in Prisoner of Azkaban lacks the menace and danger surrounding Sirius Black's. Not only does Remus sleep deeply, therefore removing him from any interaction with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, with whom he shares a train compartment, but his appearance fails to inspire respect. He wears "an extremely shabby set of wizard's robes" and looks "ill and exhausted" (Azkaban 75), yet the duality that comprises so much of Remus's personality appears shortly thereafter. When a Dementor besieges Harry, Remus not only awakens from his slumber but is also "holding a handful of flames" (83). While magic requiring a verbal incantation and a wand occurs all the time, Remus casts "wandless magic" here, successfully practiced by only the most powerful of wizards and witches. He follows this up with the casting of the Patronus spell, a complex incantation requiring force of mind which many wizards and witches struggle to master. Remus again demonstrates his potential to command respect in how he conducts his Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. He seems capable of drawing the best out of all of his students and even manages to help shy and awkward Neville Longbottom overcome his fear of Snape through the use of a boggart and some women's clothing of questionable taste. Another example of Remus's ability to function in a leadership position occurs at the beginning of The Order of the Phoenix when members of the Order spirit Harry away from the Dursley's house. Given the increasing level of violence perpetrated by Voldemort's followers, Harry's life hangs in the balance, and the mission must be handled with utmost care. Given these parameters, it falls to Remus to lead the group and coordinate their flight back to headquarters and safety. The Deathly Hallows finds Remus continuing to battle against Voldemort's Death Eaters at great personal risk. Despite the episodes depicting Remus as a powerful, capable wizard, he garners little respect. His poverty and resulting rundown appearance earn him the contempt of Draco Malfoy and his cronies. Snape remarks to Tonks that her wolf Patronus "looks weak" (Half-Blood Prince 160), knowing that it is symbolic of Remus. Although Snape undoubtedly wants to antagonize Tonks, his words are not utterly devoid of truth. Remus becomes an easy target for insults and snide remarks in that he never outwardly fights back.
Remus frequently employs an outward appearance of passivity as his modus operandi, often manifesting as a failure to act when the consequences might cause him to lose friends. When he loses his teaching post at Hogwarts after Snape reveals his lycanthropy, he does not react with any outward degree of anger. Furthermore, in the subsequent novels Remus continues to treat Snape with unerring civility. Although he appears to do so in part to get under Snape's skin, Snape perceives the lack of confrontation as weakness. Worse still, Remus does not attempt to fight for his job. Given his perpetual state of poverty, Remus has much at stake in holding down a stable position, not the least of which is his demonstrated ability to teach the children competently. He simply says his good-byes to Harry and to Dumbledore then leaves Hogwarts alone. Remus passes up the opportunity to stand his ground not only for himself but also for other werewolves suffering the same appalling discrimination. Although he undoubtedly speaks correctly about the complaints Hogwarts will receive from students' families, the possibility exists that some will rally behind Remus and work to keep him in the school. Regardless of whether or not Remus would have ended up losing his job anyway as a result of public outcry and the belief that a curse hangs over the Defense position, he does not even attempt to fight but allows the possibility of the disapproval of others to guide his actions.
Remus's friendship with Sirius, James, and Peter during his school days functions in much the same way. Although the four of them comprise a tight-knit group, a clear hierarchy exists, with Peter in the position of adoring follower of Sirius and James and Remus as the one in need of tight controls and parameters, including the expectation he will not speak out against the antics of the others. Even once Sirius, James, and Peter master the Animagus spell to spend full moons safely with Remus, their primary mission focuses on keeping Remus under control. Sirius in dog form and James as a stag are of adequate size to contain a werewolf if need be, but danger still exists. Remus recalls how their group spent full moons wandering around the area surrounding Hogwarts and the nearby village of Hogsmeade and acknowledges their recklessness, saying, "And there were near misses, many of them. We laughed about them afterwards. We were young, thoughtless--carried away with our own cleverness" (Azkaban 355). Remus also fails to put a stop to the constant tormenting of Snape by James and Sirius. As Head Boy, Remus held a position of authority and, as such, should have put a stop to such cruelty. He fails to do so, reminiscing later to Sirius, "Did I ever have the guts to tell you I thought you were out of order?" (Phoenix 671).
While the reader undoubtedly sympathizes with Remus given not only his werewolf status but society's inability to allow him even the simple dignity of earning a living, some of his decisions cannot be excused. As with Sirius, Rowling denies the reader a simple black and white scenario that absolves Remus of all responsibility for his actions. His behavior towards Harry proves especially baffling. When he saves Harry from the Dementor on the Hogwarts Express, Remus does not in any way make known the close relationship he shared with James Potter. Even once he reveals this information, he never attempts to bond with Harry the way Sirius immediately does. He teaches Harry the Patronus charm on his own time but keeps their relationship as one of teacher to student. After he leaves Hogwarts at the end of Prisoner of Azkaban, he maintains no contact at all with Harry throughout the events of Goblet of Fire. When Remus leads the mission to pick up Harry from the Dursley's, Harry's reaction to his voice is that he "hadn't heard it for more than a year" (Phoenix 47). The most telling proof of the gulf between Harry and Remus lies in Harry always referring to him as "Lupin" or "Professor Lupin," never by his first name as he always does with Sirius. Yet Rowling never portrays Remus as cold or uncaring. When Molly Weasley weeps at the sight of a boggart that assumes the murdered forms of her loved ones, Remus provides her with comfort and reassurance. Remus's reluctance to forge a bond with Harry may stem from unpleasant memories of the Potters' murder and the mistaken belief that Sirius turned traitor. It seems more likely, however, that his reticence stems from a reluctance to be emotionally vulnerable to another person coupled with his internalization of his society's belief in his inherent worthlessness. Especially during Sirius's increasing downward spiral, Harry needs a mature, responsible adult figure both to emulate and to provide him with comfort. Remus's ties to Harry's past make him the logical choice, but he eschews the responsibility.
Remus's worst display of his reluctance to lose face centers on Sirius Black's escape from Azkaban. Up until the final chapters of Azkaban, Remus has every reason to believe Sirius wants to sneak into Hogwarts and murder Harry. Despite increased security measures put in place at the school, Sirius ends up breaking in anyway and appears to make an attempt on Ron's life. While the method by which Sirius enters Hogwarts eludes Dumbledore, Remus knows full well that Sirius utilizes his Animagus form to escape detection. He offers only this explanation for why he failed to impart this knowledge to Dumbledore: "Because I was too cowardly" (Azkaban 356). Remus does not fear Sirius's potential retribution, however. He neglects to confess to Dumbledore because to do so would reveal his complicity in cavorting with his friends during the full moon rather than staying safely confined in the Shrieking Shack. As distasteful as his failure to spare Snape torment during their schooldays might be, his actions here are unconscionable. He believes Sirius capable of murder and does nothing to save any denizen of Hogwarts, let alone Harry, in favor of preserving his image in Dumbledore's eyes.
Remus's lycanthropy expresses physically the compartmentalizing of his personality, whereby he sublimates any hint of personal desire or aggression in favor of an outwardly placid demeanor. Although lethal in his werewolf state, the period of the full moon also marks the time when Remus sheds any societal constraints and concerns about the outward appearance of propriety. The werewolf serves as the purest expression of Remus's id, giving form to all of the rage he feels at the iniquities he suffers, his fear of angering friends, and his hesitance to form any new bonds with those around him. However tragic Remus's fate has been, Rowling leaves open the possibility that he may find some measure of peace, which eludes Sirius entirely prior to his death. The Half-Blood Prince ends with Remus apparently deciding to risk a romantic entanglement with Tonks.
Unfortunately, his story comes to a tragic and permanent conclusion in The Deathly Hallows. Following a brief courtship, Lupin and Tonks not only marry, but Tonks soon becomes pregnant. Although Rowling does not set forth a hard timeline, the reader suspects that the pair may have married as a result of the pregnancy above all other considerations. Lupin's story culminates with his decision to abandon his pregnant wife completely as he attempts to join Harry, Ron, and Hermione on their quest for horcruxes. He expresses his concern over having made both his wife and unborn child pariahs in the Wizarding world as he is, and, indeed, his fears may well be understandable. Lupin's choice to abandon his family proves more problematical, however. They remain outcasts whether or not he stands by them. After all, Tonks remains the wife of a werewolf, her son tainted by werewolf blood. Lupin describes his unborn child in curious terms when he fears "It will be like me." (213). By using a descriptor more appropriate for a non-human entity, Lupin attempts to place emotional distance between himself and his familial responsibilities. Once rebuffed and reprimanded by Harry, Lupin returns to his wife and later seems smitten with his newborn son. Rowling, however, once again denies the reader any tidy conclusions through the deaths of both Lupin and Tonks. Whether Lupin would have thrived as a result of his family's love or would have buckled under the pressure remains unclear.
In approaching the complex characters of Sirius Black and Remus Lupin, both capable of acts of heroism and appalling lapses in judgment, the ancient Greek term "hamartia" provides an excellent starting point for analysis. With hamartia properly understood not as the "tragic flaw" but rather as a "missing of the mark," it immediately characterizes both men. Neither Sirius nor Remus hold some inborn character flaw, and they are not the hapless victims of tragic circumstances bound to fail despite their best attempts. Instead, these are men whose life events leave them deeply scarred and in Sirius's case, emotionally stunted. As a result, both men sometimes fail to act in ideal ways and, in some instances, make decisions which could lead to death. They are not inherently evil, but, as is frequently the case, doing what is right proves infinitely difficult. By reaching into the mythological and folkloric past, Rowling provides the reader with hints about the destructive or hidden character traits of Sirius and Remus. Sirius's constant likening to the Grim creates an immediate association with foreboding and doom, although he would never knowingly cause harm to Harry. a werewolf turned at a very young age, Remus suffers a denial of agency that leaves him passive, reluctant to form close ties with others, and desperate not to anger or disappoint those does count as friends. Yet Rowling's characterizations deny the reader the ability to condemn either man easily. Sirius's mental state clearly degenerates throughout the series, yet no one intervenes to assist him. Remus suffers as a result of discrimination and legislation that makes holding a job nearly impossible. The world's profoundest tragedies, from those of the ancient Greeks to those of Shakespeare, serve as reminders that even the greatest of figures under the most ideal circumstances may end up following a path to tragedy and anguish. Sirius and Remus both endure disastrous life events, yet they both try persevere, and although they stumble in their decision making, it is never their intention to create suffering or to bring harm to their friends and family.
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AMY M. GREEN is currently a Ph.D. student in literature at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Her work also appears in Popular Culture Review and DoubleTake with several publications forthcoming. She is especially interested in the reimagining of folklore and mythology in modern literature.
(1) All future quotations from or references to the Harry Potter novels will be cited by the specific titles alone.
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|Author:||Green, Amy M.|
|Publication:||Papers on Language & Literature|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2008|
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