The ramblings of a freelance writer, novelist and avid reader.

Monday, February 8, 2010

HP Monday – Expelliarmus! An Extremely Close Read

Today I am mind-boggling obsessed with this one word: Expelliarmus. Why you ask? Well, we all recognize it as a word for one. I mean before 1998 it didn’t exist, did it? One day maybe a billion people will know what Tweety-Twatting is too, but will my made up word really have the same impact?

And that’s it right there. Reading book 5 I had this epiphany – one word sums it up. Expelliarmus. Words are ridiculously powerful things in our world and the wizarding world – words are a call to action and a cease and desist as well. If you have the right words you have power. And as simple as Expelliarmus is; it’s the most powerful thing in Harry’s arsenal – in Rowling’s arsenal really. Without Expelliarmus there would be no story, no books, no Harry. I mean, I know it’s no Avada Kedavra, but in the end (and I’m foreshadowing all the way to the very end here) it’s all that’s needed.


I bring this up now because of the following passage found somewhere in the middle of the great vastness that is book 5:
“Right,” said Harry, when she had sat down again, “shall we get practicing then? I was thinking, the first thing we should do is Expelliarmus, you know, the Disarming Charm. I know it’s pretty basic but I’ve found it really useful – “
“Oh, please,” said Zacharias Smith, rolling his eyes and folding his arms. “I don’t think Expelliarmus is exactly going to help us against You-Know-Who, do you?”
“I’ve used it against him,” said Harry quietly. “It saved my life in June.”
Smith opened his mouth stupidly. The rest of the room was very quiet.

And then I really thought about all the times – past and in books yet to come – where this one simple charm is used. I’ll give you all a few minutes to think about it. YEAH, I KNOW!

This is how close of a read book 5 is for me this time. I know I complained about the weight and thickness of this daunting novel last week. If you read my blog or know me at all, you know I have a problem with many, many books needing another edit before they go to print. This is a different story for a different time, but basically this is a lot to do with the current economic crisis and the world of publishing; it doesn’t mean I have to like it. But this book is different. Rowling wrote a very long book, but every word and every action is perfectly placed. I’m not saying there aren’t plot holes, like Anna suggested last week – I really do think there are. But the writing itself is just so close – every sentence of dialogue exists for a reason and most scenes play for back story, foreshadowing and action all together. Expelliarmus is the key.

What do you think? Have I jumped off the deep end now? Is there another word, charm or counter-curse out there you think means more? Let us know what it is this week. Next week we’ll discuss the movie and why I just may like it more than the book…

Oh, and there was no Buffy this week, but I’m leaving you with a clip from another one of my geeky addictions. If you haven’t seen Doctor Who, I highly recommend this episode “The Shakespeare Code” from season 3. Hey, you already knew I had a small obsession with David Tennant; this should not be surprising at all.


  1. Okay, first, I absolutely adore that episode of Doctor Who; it's brilliant, and I love David Tennant (Anyone else trying to get access to his filmed performance of Hamlet/if you've found it could you let me know?). It think that the fact that such a simple spell made up for a YA book series has become so pervasive as to be used in a television series as part of a crucial plot element is fantastic! Yes, it's Doctor Who, which doesn't have as large a fanbase as say, Friends had, and yes, it's a British show that would have a (however slightly) larger connection to a UK written and based series, it's still amazing. And in particular it's that spell: Expelliarmus. It is used as a means of disarming the "witches" of their "magic" it takes away their power and their advantage over The Doctor in much the same way Harry Uses it to save his own life time and again. The interconnectedness of it all and the choice of acknowledging and applauding another work within a popular series is really beautiful. The writers of the show could have picked a number of words, pop culture references, or other devices for that episode but they made it Harry Potter and his disarming spell. It's a conscious choice and a very good one.

    On the subject of just HP with absolutely no Doctor Who references whatsoever, I think having such a simple spell that just about every student at Hogwarts can learn be so effective is marvelous and brilliant. It means that anyone can save themselves--that if you try to prevent harm, good will come of it. I love that! that choosing to defend rather than fight back will get you far more than learning horrible curses to try and thwart your enemies. It really says a lot about morals, courage, and free will. I'm sure there are plenty of readers who think this simple spell is a cop-out for "real action" but I think it's much more important than action because it teaches the reader that decisions and the actions that follow matter just as much as the outcome of the fight. It rewards virtue.

    If any of that didn't make sense, chalk it up to rambling and typing this out as I thought of it.

    Also, Mariah, if you want to learn to embed a link into you post, go to the Wikipedia page on Hyperlinks. I usually just copy and paste the examples for my blog posts and then change out the details, but it's pretty nifty.

  2. Yay! I can learn to hyperlink effectively! I promise to try this technique in upcoming posts. Anna, thanks for helping out less-savvy me. Also, I agree with your ramblings and am very glad you did. I do feel like the Expelliarmus spell may be the whole pen is mightier than the sword adage, but definitely NOT an action cop-out. In fact, it's part of the whole gray line thing. Using hexes and jinxes (as well as the unforgivable curses) have moral repercussions and serious side-effects.

  3. Upon rereading, several things stuck out to me in this book. First, the way Harry reconsiders education in this novel fascinates me, and not just because I am a teacher. Putting his further schooling in jeopardy at the beginning makes Harry realize how important Hogwarts is for him. This idea becomes magnified when he has a horrific teacher from whom he can learn nothing, and the concept grows exponentially when young Mr. Potter becomes a DADA instructor himself. He puts thought into his lesson plans, and he is excited to receive books from Sirius that will help him advance his pupils knowledge. The O.W.L. exams hang over this book like a dread cloud, and the appearance of the skiving snackboxes seems just in the nick of time. Furthermore, when Dumbledore reveals to him near the end that Harry still has more to learn about himself—through the prophecy, his destiny, and the role of his kin—we see his education in a new light.
    Secondly, the whole idea of kin here peels off in layers. Rowling introduces us to this notion that Sirius hates his family in much the same way that Harry detests his. James Potter served as Sirius’s brother by bringing him home after Sirius runs away, and later the intrepid Mr. Black treats Harry like his brother. Even Dumbledore insists after Bellatrix murders Sirius that he was a combination father/brother to Harry. We find out that Sirius did have a brother of his own, and Regulus Black will come up again in Book Six to play his part. Likewise, Harry treats Dudley more like a foster brother than he ever has before by defending his life—at great cost to himself—against the Dementors. At the end of the book, we find out why Harry has to return to Privet Lane every summer. The blood of his mother runs in Petunia’s veins, and kinship will save Harry from Lord Voldemort, at least for that period of time. I’m leaving out the way Molly Weasley treats (and calls) Harry like a son, and we cannot forget that Arthur Weasley includes Harry among his children visiting him in the hospital. Kreacher belongs to the Black family, but he can obey Cissy and Bellatrix as well because they too are family. Another line of attack could be that Dumbledore claims his feelings for Harry extend beyond that of a teacher for a student when Albus tries to protect him from finding out the truth about what Harry has to do, much like a parent would. These connections are the very threads Tom Riddle cannot understand. When Voldemort has Harry in his clutches, he must let go because the fifteen-year old wishes to die so that he can be with Sirius again. Love and kinship are the very things the Dark Lord rejects, all the while keeping from his Death Eaters that he himself is not of pure blood, not toujours pur.
    Thirdly, I was struck by the information “buried” in chapter titles. I dread every chapter with the Occlumency training because I want Harry to work harder to learn how to defend his mind, and I know he never will. No matter what you might think about Professor Snape, he warns Harry each time to put up barriers of defense against Legilimens, and he counts down in a preparatory manner. Introducing the Pensieve again here, Rowling writes that Severus empties certain thoughts into its shallow bowl before attempting to break into Harry’s mind. Understandable, he wouldn’t want Harry to get into his thoughts when he holds so many secrets for both sides. However, I wondered how someone who suffers through what Snape suffers could regard Harry’s memories with so little empathy. Could the two be related? By siphoning off the most depressing recollections, by ridding himself of his nastiest remembrances, might Professor Snape be holding himself aloof from Harry’s pain? The two boys have much in common, yet Severus never seems to acknowledge their shared tortures. Dumbledore puts events he recalls into the cauldron to allow patterns to shine through, but why would Snape perform this action before the Occlumency lessons if not to protect his past?

  4. This feeds into the chapter titles. The nastiest encounter between the two occurs when Professor Snape catches Harry rooting around in his worst memory. “Snape’s Worst Memory” is the name of this chapter. At first I thought it was so horrific because James and Sirius were having a go at Severus. But this was not a one-time occurrence. As a matter of fact, Lupin and Black don’t even know which time Harry is talking about when he begins his story of persecution, and they relate the frequent and long-standing nature of this hatred. Even after Lily agrees to go out with James, he continues harassing Severus for fun. No, this memory is not awful because of the maltreatment so much as it is the word Snape uses for Lily. She offers to shield him from the dynamic duo, rushes to his defense, yet he pushes her away by calling her a Mudblood. This is the memory that haunts him. In our lives we reflect daily on injustices we endure, but what keeps us up at night are the injustices we perpetrate.

    Finally, I thought the Department of Mysteries within the Ministry of Magic was fascinating. Behind these revolving doors we find time, the future, space, the human mind, and death. I may have missed a few, but these are what the Unmentionables study. The time turners and the time bubble with the bird/egg represent the transmogrification we experience and the nonlinear loop Einstein theorized. I love how the Death Eater’s head changes and events transpire and un-transpire, only to transpire again. Rows and rows of prophecies lie on shelves holding possible futures. Some bloggers posited that Rowling tipped them off to when Book Six would come out in the scattered lines of prophecy we overhear as they shatter. Remember that Oedipus was only foretold to kill his father. The whole marrying his mother thing came as an afterthought as his parents tried to undo his fate. And what was Oedipus’s foster mother’s name? Merope. What is Voldemort’s mother’s name? Merope. How did Voldemort mess up his own destiny be interfering in the prophecy? You get the idea. Neville tells us about blasting through planets (including Pluto, remember when that was a planet?) while trying to make himself and his friends safe. What a revelation it was to see this other July birther come into his own in this book! At the end, the Nurse, Pomfrey? I can never remember her name, says that Ron’s scars will take a while to heal because the human mind is capable of so much damage. Plus, we encounter the ancient daïs with an arch and a softly blowing curtain (It’s curtains for you, Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains!). Luna states that the voices they hear are those of the dead, and that makes sense. We hear from the dead through the Mirror of Erised, Tom’s diary, the ghosts floating around the school, the Pensieve, Priori Incantatem, the curtained archway, the portraits of former headmasters, the Horcruxes, and the Resurrection Stone. That’s a lot of death for an alleged “children’s book.”

    Those are my garbled thoughts, for whatever they’re worth!

  5. Woo Hoo to the Dr. Horrible quote! Also for your extensive post(s) that I will comment on in MY next post - WHICH I PROMISE TO DO TONIGHT.