Dobby and Harry: Disciple and Savior?

Two things made me think of Dobby today. First, the discussion on the Alan Jacobs thread about Harry as a Christ Figure left out Dobby’s relationship with Harry, which, frankly, borders on the messianic. We don’t see other house-elves devoted to their masters the way Dobby is to Harry Potter. Second, a short piece sent to me by HogPro All-Pro, Deborah Chan that I’ve posted below. Note the references to the Book of Revelations hidden in Dobby’s burial:

Dobby, A Model Christian

By Deborah Chan

Dobby, the house elf, introduced in Chamber of Secrets, served the cruel Malfoy family; overhearing their discussions of Harry Potter, he admired one so “bold and valiant.” At great risk to himself (along with many self-punishments for disloyalty), Dobby visited Harry at the Dursleys to warn him of mortal danger. Harry, learning of Dobby’s plight, offered help and the elf, overwhelmed, cried, “Dobby has heard of your greatness, sir, but of your goodness, Dobby never knew….” He became Harry’s secret protector.

Harry redeemed Dobby from Malfoy slavery by giving him clothing (a sock). “Harry Potter is greater by far than Dobby knew!” Dobby declared; he subsequently discarded his filthy wrap and proudly wore fresh, clean clothes.

No longer a slave, Dobby willingly chose faithful, loving service to Harry, in which he found reward and dignity. He joyfully and consistently proclaimed he was “a free elf,” and tried to persuade other enslaved house elves of freedom’s benefits; their rejection never deterred him.

Dobby courageously returned to Malfoy Manor to rescue Harry and was mortally wounded. Wrapped in Harry’s coat, Dobby died at Shell Cottage, gazing solely upon his beloved redeemer, with Harry’s name on his reverent lips.

Harry hand-dug Dobby’s grave and, with his friends, tenderly clothed the elf’s body for burial. He then carved (ironically, with a Malfoy wand) on a “large, white” gravestone, “Here Lies Dobby, A Free Elf.”

What a beautiful portrait of salvation, redemption from slavery to free service (Romans 7:4-6), being clothed in righteousness, rewarding new life, restoration of dignity, devoted service, evangelism, martyrdom and looking to his savior at life’s end. Two aspects of Dobby’s burial are reminiscent of the Book of Revelation: the afterlife clothing of the saints (6:11; 19:8) and overcomers’ names written on white stones (2:17).

In her touching eulogy, Luna told Dobby he was good, brave and sacrificial (yes, well-done, good and faithful servant), closing with, “I hope you’re happy now.”

Yes, I’m certain Dobby’s afterlife was very happy.

Is Dobby’s faithful service another pointer to Harry being a Christ Figure, be it as seeker and Christian Everyman or as allegorical Aslan? What is Dobby’s role in the end-story, especially in his demise and funeral? As always I look forward to your comments and corrections.

Comments

  1. I think given the context you can only view Dobby in relation to Harry’s role as an Everyman, not as Christ figure (which I think he attains only at the end, and briefly), and I’m not even sure about that. I appreciate the symbolic significance that Deborah attaches to Dobby, but I’m hesitant to see how far it extends to other characters.

    Besides, Dobby’s death is doing quite enough work in the story: it’s a payoff for this somewhat silly, often absurd character; it’s laying the groundwork for a future wizard/elf/goblin reapproachment (hinted at by Griphook’s reaction); it’s marking a real transition in where the story’s going to (Horcruxes instead of Hallows.) But the biggest thing is that it delivers Harry from temptation for self-aggrandizement and puts him squarely on the path of sacrifice which will ultimately save his world.

    There are a number of deaths in these books, but I would argue that, with the possible exception of Lily’s, Dobby’s is the most significant. It is distinctive (about the only non-magical death that comes to mind immediately, Nagini aside), wholly self-sacrificial (“greater love hath no man”), and free of any obligation (like master/servant or mother/child). It also reawakens Harry’s ability to trust and to act on inner promptings that served him so well in the past. After a fashion, it is because of Dobby’s death that Harry no longer walks by sight but by faith. Pretty impressive for a character we all considered comic relief.

  2. Travis Prinzi says:

    That’s the second time someone’s brought out a fascinating connection to the Book of Revelation. The first, by Alastair over at SoG (and probably the more direct), was the imagery of Revelation 12 at Godric’s Hollow, where the serpent was waiting for the woman to kill the Christ-child when born, and they narrowly escape.

  3. MsAbbigailW says:

    I think that your analysis of Dobby was quite good, and I think that you have a point about the symbolism in his relationship to Harry. I can easily look at it and see how you came to your conclusion. However, I personally do not think that his place in the story is quite so symbolic. I think that any house elf would be just as devoted to his or her wizard masters if, as Hermione and Dumbledore always say, the masters simply treated them the way Harry treats Dobby. Kreacher’s devotion to Regulus was just as strong as Dobby’s to Harry, and I believe that, had Kreacher been free, he would have still been unswervingly loyal to his beloved master. I also gather, from everything else Rowling has written about house elves, that most of them do not want to be set free, and I often get frustrated at Hermione for trying to force her ideas on them. I guess you could also connect this to Christianity by saying that the elves are kind of like the pagan tribe who doesn’t really know Christ, and Hermione is the missionary, trying vainly to make them see the truth.
    I agree with you that Harry is an expectional wizard, and Dobby is an exceptionally devoted and loyal elf. I think that their relationship is beautiful and unique, but I don’t know that I would say Rowling is actually attempting to use Harry as a Christ-figure and Dobby as the good and faithful servant (though, he ubdoubtedly is that).

  4. Beautiful reflections, and though I hadn’t caught the Revelation parallels, they definitely work. I think it’s really interesting what Rowling does both with Dobby and Kreacher in this book…

    Harry gives Dobby what he most craves: freedom. He gives Kreacher the equivalent – a physical reminder of his beloved master, binding him still more deeply to his house. Something he can carry with him even if he’s working in the Hogwarts kitchens, which I don’t imagine he’ll do much of anymore, though perhaps he’s grown rather fond of having company other than a yowling painting. And he gives him still more: The promise that he intends to help him fulfill his vow to Regulus. And though he hasn’t managed it by the time he leaves Grimmauld Place – hasn’t even gotten the locket by that time, let alone figured out how to destroy it – that promise, coupled with the empathy of Harry, Hermione and even Ron, is enough to effect a complete change in Kreacher, to bring out the very best in him and to show that he never really was rotten to begin with.

    Without Kreacher, Harry would’ve had a heck of a time getting his hands on that locket. I suppose he might have managed it eventually, but Kreacher really allowed him to pursue a definite plan, the starting point of his year of wanderings, and because of the new bond of loyalty that formed between him and Harry, Kreacher also led the house-elf forces at the end of the book.

    Dobby, meanwhile, who has fallen all over himself to help Harry in the past, with varying degrees of success, is the height of heroism here, returning to the place he loathes most in all the world in order to rescue Harry and his friends. Without him, doom might well have come to Harry, Hermione, Ron, Luna, Dean, Mr. Ollivander and Griphook. He valiantly rescued all seven of them, and Harry’s absolute anguish over his death spared him the unholy influence of Voldemort’s rage at the critical moment, throwing into sharp focus the proper way for him to proceed.

    I’m reminded of the scene between Sam and Frodo at the top of Cirith Ungol, when Frodo is temporarily rendered vicious by a desire for the power the Ring would bring. Harry’s lust for the Elder Wand made him take leave of his senses and speak Voldemort’s name despite the taboo, which landed him at the Malfoys’ in the first place. Just as his love for Sam brings Frodo back to reason, healing grief over Dobby allows Harry to see just how poisonous the desire for the Deathly Hallows is, how he would have the potential to become that which he seeks to destroy if he got too hung up on possessing these objects. He chooses to vanquish evil rather than seize power for himself, and from that point his purpose never wavers, even when Voldemort is gone and all three Hallows could easily be Harry’s for the taking. In that way, Dobby not only saves his life, he helps to preserve his soul.

  5. Of course, for Dobby to be the saved believer in relation to Harry the savior doesn’t mean that Harry has to figure the Savior throughout. From the point of view of the sleeping dragons, it’s only necessary really for the heart to be caught. If someone who doesn’t know the One being pictured, fleetingly, by many of the HP characters reads about Dobby, catches a hint of the nobility of his service to Harry, and weeps over his death, isn’t it possible that, upon later encountering the idea of being “slaves to righteousness,” it might not seem so immediately repellent? And that’s worth something.

  6. colorless.blue.ideas says:

    I hope a demurral isn’t inappropriate. ErinMc, you wrote that Harry’s work was enough to effect a complete change in Kreacher, to bring out the very best in him and to show that he never really was rotten to begin with.

    I think the first part is true, but I don’t think that the latter part (never really was rotten to begin with) is quite justified. It certainly is not required by the text, although it is allowed.

    More likely, methinks, is that it shows how the servant partakes of the characteristics of its master.

    While serving Sirius’ and Regulus’ mother (I forget her name), he gained the characteristics of hating muggles, elevating ‘pure-bloods’, in a very unthinking manner. Under Sirius’ lordship, he never lost that hatred, perhaps because he continued in Sirius’ very judgemental and harsh-to-outsider ways.

    When serving Harry at the end (when Harry actually became de facto Master of the Manor, he changes under the very real influence of Harry.

    I do think your note is great overall — lots of good things that I hadn’t noticed. But to say that Kreacher was never really rotten to begin with goes beyond what we can glean from the book.

  7. colorless.blue.ideas,

    I think ErinMc has a point about Kreacher, and so do you. I think Kreacher is an exact reflection of the treatment he receives. Regulus treated him with dignity and respect; Sirius didn’t. This is why Kreacher wanted to fulfill Regulus’s last order to him and had no problem whatsoever with betraying Sirius.

    With nothing to do for a good ten years but listen to Walburga Black’s portrait scream and moan about the uselessness of anyone who wasn’t a pureblood wizard, it’s easy to see how Kreacher was indoctrinated into the Blacks’ pureblood mania. Sirius doesn’t suffer from that delusion; he hated Kreacher because Kreacher was a part of the house he thought he’d escaped.

    I love the change in Kreacher that Harry and Hermione bring about. Hermione, being Muggle-born and raised, knows that all creatures deserve to be treated with dignity and respect; it seems to come naturally to Harry.

  8. Arabella Figg says:

    I’m so pleased my little essay on Dobby, written under my Muggle alias, has brought forth such intriguing discussion. I didn’t expect it to be posted as a thread.

    First, a note on Kreacher and other house elves. JKR’s Black family tree (donated to Book Aid, Int., for a 2-22-06 auction, and found at HPL) notes that Kreacher had been with the Black family for seven centuries, implying elves were quite long-lived. Kreacher’s pureblood opinions likely weren’t generated by contemporary Blacks. True, Kreacher was devoted to Regulus, but that was still in the context of slavery; it’s also likely that, were the indoctrinated (as surely all house elves were and apparently happily so) elf freed, he’d have continued to devotedly serve the Blacks. Disloyalty was rare and dismissal was shame.

    Which makes Dobby’s case that much more startling. He dreams of something better. He would have been with the Malfoys for generations as well, perhaps receiving better treatment in earlier times (remember, not all Slytherins were evil). We’re left in the dark on this and the origins of his disloyalty to the current Malfoys. However, Dobby makes it clear when he meets Harry that he despises the Malfoys’ beliefs and reveres Dumbledore. Dobby shows the capability of elvish independent thought, seeing his slavery as a terrible burden and coveting freedom and reward.

    Second, Helen, you understood exactly my intention behind this essay analogy. Dobby’s example has nothing to do with Harry’s worthiness, or Christlikeness (although I forgot to add in the essay that Harry redeemed Dobby with his own sock). It’s about Dobby’s redemption road from forced slavery to free and faithful service to, even unto death, his redeemer–our road as depicted in Scripture. And what an inspiring example Dobby is.

    To Harry, Dobby was pitiable, aggravating, amusing, servile and convenient. Sometimes Harry took Dobby seriously, mostly with discomfiture or embarrassment, but I don’t believe he ever truly saw Dobby or any house elf three-dimensionally (as Hermione did) until his beginning “aha!” moment with Kreacher.

    Sometimes Dobby’s efforts were truly comical and hapless (even though he was a force with which to be reckoned, elves having “powers wizards know not”). It was only Dobby’s death and its manner that causes Harry to finally, truly see and fully appreciate the elf’s love, humility and worth.

    Dobby isn’t about Harry. He’s about us. Thankfully, God truely sees our hearts despite our sometimes pitiable, aggravating, comical, servile and hapless, though sincere, efforts to serve him out of grateful hearts.

    Kitties don’t know servility from tangerines, but they’re certainly comical…

  9. Arabella Figg says:

    I need to clarify something I said above: “Dobby’s example has nothing to do with Harry’s worthiness, or Christlikeness….”

    I definitely agree that in many ways Harry fits the definition of Christ-figure as explained so eloquently on this and the previous thread. But the relationship between Harry and Dobby isn’t a match-for-match comparison. Apart from Harry’s redemption and burial of Dobby, the symbolism breaks down on Harry’s end, as I tried to explain. This is why I feel Dobby’s story is more about us than Harry.

    Think I’ll go redeem another kitty from the Humane Society…

  10. RenaBlack says:

    Helen – Exactly. 🙂

    As for the Relevation theme that keeps popping up here and there (I have a sneaking suspicion there may be other references in DH and elsewhere), I’d just like to say that those resonances are entirely appropriate to a “final book,” the “end of the story.” Book Seven, by default, had to have some sort of eschatological character, a coming-to-fruition and denouement of the preceding battles and relationships. I hadn’t noticed the white stone image, but it’s beautiful. Dobby’s death was the only one which caused me to put the book down and really cry; this is in part because Rowling’s usual treatment of death is so matter-of-fact (for lack of a better term), and this scene had an uncharacteristic solemnity. But I now realize know that Dobby’s mirroring of Christian discipleship definitely contributed to my sorrow and emotional engagement at his death; it’s actually portraits of self-sacrifice like his that make me cry most often and most honestly.

    On a slightly different now, Nagini’s death is particularly satisfying in terms of the biblical-eschatological themes. The serpent’s head is destroyed/removed by the lowly (in this case, Neville).

    Awaiting Her Patronus.
    Rena Black

  11. Arabella Figg! I had no idea who Deborah was–I’m glad to know it’s you.

    You had some very interesting insights. The only one that I read very differently was the white stone. For me, it was an echo of Dumbledore’s white tomb; his was grand, befitting his position in the wizarding world, and Dobby’s was humble, as his life as a house elf had been. But while Harry grieved for Dumbledore, his mind wandered from the formal funeral ceremony itself; but Harry digging Dobby’s grave by hand, wrapping his body and the very private and personal nature of his funeral was the one thing that brought Harry to his senses, brought him back to pursuing the Horcruxes instead of the Hallows. Both characters guided Harry, but in very different ways; both gave their lives to save Harry, and the graves of both are marked by a white stone–which is also an alchemical reference.

    The reference that you site from Revelation gives added depth to the relationship between Harry and Dobby, and to Dobby’s death. Thank you for pointing that out.

    Yes, Helen and RenaBlack, we can only hope that people who read this last book will begin to realize and accept the sacrifice that has been made for all of us.

    Pat

  12. Arabella Figg says:

    Thank you, Eeyore/Pat for the alchemical aspect of the white stone (dunderhead here) and the comparison of Dumbledore’s and Dobby’s funerals (good catch on Harry’s attention at each). There was more I wanted to say, including Harry’s comparison of DD’s grand funeral with the meanness of Dobby’s, but it didn’t fit within the analogy boundary. I may write a little larger Dobby essay around my analogy so I can expand a bit–giving credit, of course, if I use contributions added here, if no one minds).

    RenaBlack, I too cried at Dobby’s death and it moved me as no other in the series. No film can ever fully capture my image of the stars reflected in Dobby’s sightless eyes, one of JKR’s most moving descriptions.

    The kitties would rather see catnip than stars any day…

  13. I would just like to say that it is, I believe, to recognize that though the Story of Harry Potter is not an Allegory as a whole, parts of it are. I would also submit that though I know that these books where in not Divinely inspired in the way that Scripture is…It very well may be in the same way that any Christ Centered book, Song, Poem, Image or other Art might be. That said, sometimes there is more to the details than even the author could imagine. The most polarizing example of which is the Crucifixion of Christ. Seemingly, from one perspective orchestrated with glee by an ultimately witless and ignorant Satan, and later revealed to have been devised by the Father. The Crucifixion had more to do with Life than death.

    I say all of that to say, despite what the authors intent was…there is a beautiful allegory of the relationship of Christians to Christ.

  14. padfoot1500 says:

    After reading Jo’s interview when she talked about her struggle with faith; I think that Harry (with his struggle of having to choose whether dumbledore was the man he believed him to be or not) represents jo as a christian. Dobby (with his unwavering loyalty and unconditional love for his savior, Harry) represents the christian Jo wishes she could be. So, that would mean that, yes, Harry does represent christ. but he also represents the everyman. What a lot of people don’t seem to grasp is that in these stories one character can symbolise more than one thing.

  15. I think Harry paints an excellent picture of the dying to self that a christian is called to do. I wrote about it in an article I wrote for my blog this week… That’s kind of funny. (I’m not sure what John’s rules are so I won’t quote it or link to it here.) I wouldn’t say Harry is supposed to represent Christ so much as Christlikeness. Voldemort personifies selfishness, or not dying to self. Harry, is selfless in the end and overall throughout the series, and is ready to die to himself.

    There is certainly a multi-leveled symbolism here. Harry and Voldemort so adequately represent so many things. The battle of the spirit against the flesh, the others centered against the self centered nature, the christian against the world system, etc.

  16. Maybe this is too simplistic…First, we don’t know of a very many house elf relationships. Second, Dobby and Harry are more friends.

    We do, however, see a change in Kreacher after Sirius dies and Harry inherits the house. As he is nicer to Kreacher, Kreacher is willing to do some work for Harry.

    It’s possible Dobby sees Harry as a God, and maybe he did so much more when their relationship was just beginning. And it is possible he’s acting like a disciple.

    But I think Dobby remains dedicated to Harry as one who’s life has been saved by another, and I don’t mean in a God-like way.

    Harry freed Dobby from the Malfoys, which was like saving his life, and Dobby appears forver in Harry’s debt.

    But Dobby also saves Harry. And Harry is touched and affected as a friend would be touched for the action and the great sacrifice.

  17. Arabella Figg says:

    Yes, ED-jumpback, Dobby does save Harry, but he is also martyred. The twist of his saving Harry and its impact–Harry discovering he should be as Dobby was–is outside the analogy. Kreacher is also “saved” or restored to being a faithful servant for good, but the analogy isn’t as wide and specific as Dobby’s.

    I don’t believe Dobby worships Harry as any kind of god; he sees Harry as a beloved master. And I feel Dobby’s love and willing service to Harry goes beyond debt.

    I don’t believe that equality of friendship is ever shown; to his detriment (in my mind) Harry didn’t make an effort to really get to know Dobby. I feel he understood his failure in this only when Dobby died.

    However, I certainly respect your opinion; not everyone will see the Dobby analogy as I do.

    Fullatricks is reminding me that humans worshipped cats as gods in Egypt; this slave off to clean the cat box…

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