A Key to Maternal Love in Harry Potter? Mum Crouch’s Sacrifice in Goblet of Fire

There is a fascinating conversation taking place today on a HogwartsProfessor comment thread that I want to bump to a post of its own, both because it’s only tangentially related to the original post and because the conversation deserves highlighting and a place of its own lest it be difficult to find and cite in the future. The conversation is about the death of Mrs. Crouch, the wife of Bartimeus Crouch and mother of his namesake (her first and maiden names are never given and she is only described as “wispy” in her Goblet appearance [595]).

After the jump I’ll review Mrs. Crouch’s death and the conversation about her on the other thread, explain its importance for understanding the Hogwarts Saga (with my own late-to-the-party contribution to the conversation), and invite, as always, your further comment. See you there! Readers of Harry Potter meet Mrs. Crouch on the boy wizard’s first trip into the Headmaster’s Pensieve, Goblet of Fire chapter 30, ‘The Pensieve.’ We witness with him the Wizengamut trials of Igor Karkaroff, Ludo Bagman, and the Death Eaters who tortured Frank and Alice Longbottom. While Bellatrix Lestrange has her moment in this last trial, the great drama in it is the exchange between the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, Bartmaeus Crouch, Sr., presiding in the courtroom, and his son, Barty Crouch, Jr., one of the accused Death Eaters. The son begs his father not to return him to the Dementors, swears to his innocence, and cries out to his mother “the wispy little witch beside Crouch,” who, grief stricken, already “whimpering into her handkerchief” (594), “began to sob, rocking backward and forward,” something like the house-elf Winky’s signature tick in the Hogwarts kitchen. Crouch disowns his son and condemns him to Azkaban at which the mother “gave a great gasp and slumped in her seat. She had fainted” (595-596). 

We hear nothing more about Mrs. Crouch until Alastor Moody has been revealed to be Barty Crouch, Jr., in Polyjuice disguise. Under the influence of Veritaserum provided by Severus Snape, the Deatheater tells the story of his escape from Azkaban:

“My mother saved me. She knew she was dying. She persuaded my father to rescue me as a last favor to her. He loved her as he had never loved me. He agreed. They came to visit me. They gave me a draft of Polyjuice Potion containing one of my mother’s hairs. She took a draft of Polyjuice Potion containing one of my hairs. We took on each other’s appearance.”

Winky was shaking her head, trembling.

“Say no more. Master Barty, say no more, you is getting your father into trouble!”

But Crouch took another deep breath and continued in the same flat voice.

“The dementors are blind. They sensed one healthy, one dying person entering Azkaban. They sensed one healthy, one dying person leaving it. My father smuggled me out, disguised as my mother, in case any prisoners were watching through their doors.

“My mother died a short while afterward in Azkaban. She was careful to drink Polyjuice Potion until the end. She was buried under my name and bearing my appearance. Everyone believed her to be me.”

The man’s eyelids flickered.

“And what did your father do with you, when he had got you home?” said Dumbledore quietly.

“Staged my mother’s death. A quiet, private funeral. That grave is empty. The house-elf nursed me back to health. Then I had to be concealed. I had to be controlled. My father had to use a number of spells to subdue me. When I had recovered my strength, I thought only of finding my master . . . of returning to his service.” (Goblet, 684-685)

This sacrificial death of a mother to save her child spurred the conversation beneath the Guest Post by Wayne Stauffer, Mums and Their Sons — Mother/Son Relationships in Harry Potter. That review of the several important mother-child relationships in the seven book series had been inspired by my contention that mother’s love is Rowling’s ‘go to’ symbolism for unconditional and sacrificial love, the Logos fabric of reality (cf. Christmas Pig 5: The Blue Bunny and Rowling, Ring Writing, and Maternal Love). I noted in this second piece that one of Rowling’s few admissions of ring structure in her work was her saying that Narcissa Malfoy’s saving Harry from the Dark Lord in Deathly Hallows was a “quite conscious echo” of Lily’s saving Harry in Philosopher’s Stone:

ultimately I want – there’s an echo of what Lily did – quite conscious echo of what Lily did right at the start of the story at the very end of the story. At the start of the story Lily dies to keep her son alive. At the end of the story, Harry lies, pretending to be dead on the ground and it’s a mother who saves him again because she’s trying to get to her own son. So that was my, you know, that was closing a circle. He was saved there by Lily and he’s saved there by Narcissa (‘The Women of Harry Potter‘).

Mother’s love, in other words, acts as the bracket or ‘inclusio‘ to the series ring structure.

The conversation beneath Wayne Stauffer’s post about the death of Mrs Crouch begins, oddly enough, because her death was one left out of the otherwise complete review. Brian Basore brought up this omission and Beatrice Groves then noted the ring composition aspect of this death:

For me (always looking for John’s 1-4-7 ‘spine’ of the series, the son-saving death of Mrs. Crouch is the Book 4 hinge between the crucial son-saving acts of Lily and Narcissa (in the latter case, only a risk of dying at Voldemort’s hands, but as you say it is a real risk!).

Wayne Stauffer replied with this review:

I felt compelled to add a little more about Mrs. Crouch and Barty Jr., exactly Dr. Groves’ point above.

Alert reader Brian Basore caught a missing mum & son pairing in Mrs. Crouch and Barty Crouch, Jr. As he also mentioned, they seem to come and go without much development. But they are still important. In Goblet, this mother/son relationship is another example of a mother sacrificing herself for her son. After Barty, Jr. is sent to Azkaban, Mrs. Crouch devises the plan to get him out by trading places via Polyjuice Potion—she will take on his form, he will take on hers. She does this because her health is already failing. She would rather die in prison than have her son remain in prison. But this son continues to make wrong choices after his escape by going back to the Dark Lord and disguising himself as Alastor Moody to get Harry to the graveyard. This mother/son pair is important in the story arc because it reminds us of the sacrificial love at the turning point of the Ring Cycle. Lily saves Harry in the first book, Narcissa “saves” Harry in the last book, and Mrs. Crouch saves Barty, Jr. in this middle book.

Louise Freeman noted wryly that Mrs. Crouch’s death, while working something of a miracle for her boy, “her decision has a very bad outcome for Mr. Crouch,” her husband.

My three points about Mrs. Crouch and this conversation, points I hope will spur you to share your thoughts in the comment thread below (I’ve closed the other comment thread so we don’t run in parallel paths here and there):

(1) The Meaning Is In The Middle: Something of a rule in ring writing and traditional chiasmus is that the middle term or turning point is where the secret message of the story is hidden. We know that Rowling enjoys this aspect of her story scaffolding because the five murderers in her Cormoran Strike mysteries have all appeared openly or in disguise in the central chapters or Part of their respective books. I’m definitely of one mind with Professor Groves that Mrs. Crouch’s sacrificial death for her son in Goblet nails down the central meaning of the series we see and Rowling has admitted are in the Stone-Hallows latch, namely, its being about the importance of a mother’s love and, as I read it, by extension its anagogical meaning, the correspondence between mum’s unconditional love and God’s. Hard to overstate the importance of this, especially with respect to our ability to use that finding as a key to unlock her other later work where she deploys the same symbolism.

(2) The ‘Bad Dad’ Dark Side: Rowling in her 2005 interview with Lev Grossman spoke at some length about the genesis of evil in Harry Potter. In a nutshell, it is the failure of fathers. From the secret transcripts of that interview:

 [people throw the word evil around a lot these days. what do kids learn about evil from HP?]

My glib answer would be that you really need a good father. Because as I look back over the five published books I realize that it’s kind of a litany of bad fathers. I would say that you have 2 examples of good fathers, really, in the whole series. Mr. Weasley, who is held up to be a pretty exemplary father, he connects well with all his sons, and his daugther, he’s very involved in his family. And you have Dumbledore as a father figure. However Dumbledore obviously is not perfect. He is detached, in many ways….

[W]hat do we know about evil? If you set aside Mr. Weasley, and you set aside Dumbledore, who‘s not actually a physical father. Also Hagrid’s father, who died before we ever meet Hagrid, that Hagrid’s father, who was a single father, we are meant to believe was a good father, you have a whole procession of bad dads who turned out bad sons. You have Voldemort – well, you find out a lot more about that in book 6 – you’ve Barty Crouch jr. and sr., Vernon Dursley – shocking stepfather, or whatever he is, adopted father to harry, not a good father to his own natural son, who is allegedly the apple of his eye. And so it goes on. Maybe that’s where evil seems to flourish, in places where people didn’t get good fathering. More so than mothering.

Now I’m saying this is as someone who’s trying to look at my own work objectively. I didn’t set out to say that, but it kinda turns out that that what’s I have, when I sit down and look at what I’ve written…. [I]t’s something that struck me as I’ve gone on, I look back and I see a repeated pattern of me saying that men have failed their [pause as she takes a deep, hoarse breath. she whispers:] failed their families. Sorry. But it does seem to be what I’ve written. Mothers – there are more good mothers in the books. [emphasis added]

Was Barty Crouch, Sr., a ‘Bad Dad’? Oh, yeah. Remember Sirius’ relaying the Crouch family history to the trio in his cave outside Hogwarts.

“Crouch’s principles might’ve been good in the beginning – I wouldn’t know. He rose quickly through the Ministry, and he started ordering very harsh measures against Voldemorts supporters. The Aurors were given new powers – powers to kill rather than capture, for instance. And I wasn’t the only one who was handed straight to the dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence, and authorized the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. I would say he became as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark Side. He had his supporters, mind you – plenty of people thought he was going about things the right way, and there were a lot of witches and wizards clamoring for him to take over as Minister of Magic. When Voldemort disappeared, it looked like only a matter of time until Crouch got the top job. But then something rather unfortunate happened. …” Sirius smiled grimly. “Crouch’s own son was caught with a group of Death Eaters who’d managed to talk their way out of Azkaban. Apparently they were trying to find Voldemort and return him to power.”

“Crouch’s son was caught?” gasped Hermione.

“Yep,” said Sirius, throwing his chicken bone to Buckbeak, flinging himself back down on the ground beside the loaf of bread, and tearing it in half. “Nasty little shock for old Barty, I’d imagine. Should have spent a bit more time at home with his family, shouldn’t he? Ought to have left the office early once in a while . . . gotten to know his own son.

He began to wolf down large pieces of bread.

Was his son a Death Eater?” said Harry. “No idea,” said Sirius, still stuffing down bread. “I was in Azkaban myself when he was brought in. This is mostly stuff I’ve found out since I got out. The boy was definitely caught in the company of people I’d bet my life were Death Eaters – but he might have been in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the house-elf.”

“Did Crouch try and get his son off?” Hermione whispered.

Sirius let out a laugh that was much more like a bark.

“Crouch let his son off? I thought you had the measure of him, Hermione! Anything that threatened to tarnish his reputation had to go; he had dedicated his whole life to becoming Minister of Magic. You saw him dismiss a devoted houseelf because she associated him with the Dark Mark again – doesn’t that tell you what he’s like? Crouch’s fatherly affection stretched just far enough to give his son a trial, and by all accounts, it wasn’t much more than an excuse for Crouch to show how much he hated the boy . . . then he sent him straight to Azkaban.”

“He gave his own son to the dementors?” asked Harry quietly.

“That’s right,” said Sirius, and he didn’t look remotely amused now. “I saw the dementors bringing him in, watched them through the bars in my cell door. He can’t have been more than nineteen. They took him into a cell near mine. He was screaming for his mother by nightfall. He went quiet after a few days, though . . .they all went quiet in the end. . . except when they shrieked in their sleep. …”

For a moment, the deadened look in Sirius’s eyes became more pronounced than ever, as though shutters had closed behind them.

“So he’s still in Azkaban?” Harry said.

“No,” said Sirius dully. “No, he’s not in there anymore. He died about a year after they brought him in.”

“He died?”

“He wasn’t the only one,” said Sirius bitterly. “Most go mad in there, and plenty stop eating in the end. They lose the will to live. You could always tell when a death was coming, because the dementors could sense it, they got excited. That boy looked pretty sickly when he arrived. Crouch being an important Ministry member, he and his wife were allowed a deathbed visit. That was the last time I saw Barty Crouch, half carrying his wife past my cell. She died herself, apparently, shortly afterward. Grief. Wasted away just like the boy. Crouch never came for his sons body. The dementors buried him outside the fortress; I watched them do it.” (Goblet, 527-529)

Crouch loses his shot at the Minister of Magic job, according to Sirius, because

“Once the boy had died, people started feeling a bit more sympathetic toward the son and started asking how a nice young lad from a good family had gone so badly astray. The conclusion was that his father never cared much for him. So Cornelius Fudge got the top job, and Crouch was shunted sideways into the Department of International Magical Cooperation” (529-530).

I reproduce this at such length because I think Barty Crouch, Sr’s fate is almost as important in understanding Rowling’s spiritual symbolism with parents as is Barty, Jr.’s mother’s salvific death. Bad Dads in Rowling’s work, as she says, are the genesis of evil, which in parallel with the Christic correspondence with mother’s love gives a satanic coloring to negligent or abusive fathers.

Note that there are only two characters named for their fathers in Harry Potter: Barty Crouch, Jr., and Thomas Riddle, aka Voldemort. Both wind up killing their namesakes, the younger in obedience to and on the model of the Dark Lord. Just as a mother’s sacrificial love is saving and salutory, the hatred inspired by a father’s active or passive abusive is at least as destructive, even murderous to the soul of the child affected.

The roots of this, I think, are Rowling’s reflections on her own name. Her father, Peter John Rowling, wanted a boy and planned on naming him ‘Simon John,’ according to Rowling in her ‘Year in the Life’ interviews with Runcie. He was, of course, disappointed and his daughter says he never really gave up on that disappointment. As discussed in Troubled Blood: Rowling Father Echoes, Rowling’s admission in the Runcie interview on nationally broadcast television that she was “very frightened of my father for a very long time” and had only relatively recently given up the pursuit of his approval (“shamefully late in life”) are significant ‘tells.’

Even more so, with respect to characters Barty and Tom, because she was named for her father though a girl. ‘Joanne’ is the anglicized version of the Greek ‘Johannes’ or ‘John.’ Rowling has chosen to give Johns and James in her stories a profoundly Johannine Logos meaning and Peters a legalistic and unloving role, the great betrayers and cowards (cf. Christmas Pig 1: Jack Jones, Peter, and John), but it seems clear that she believes her father’s frightening behaviors as a dad are at the root of her problems and a fount for her artistry (she told Grossman in 2005 that much of the work at its beginning was written “pain to brain,” i.e., from personal trauma to projection in story).

The meaning in the middle of the Harry Potter series, the murder of Barty Crouch by Junior, a son saved by his mother’s love, incorporates the key symbolism of Rowling’s work with respect to sin and death as well as virtue, love, and the victory over death in one family.

(3) Threads to Research: What does this tell us about Cormoran Strike? Is Rokeby’s right hand man named Peter the man who killed Leda Strike? Are there parallels in the third and fifth and in the second and sixth Potter novels of mother’s love and dad’s failing that re-inforce with turtleback lines the story axis in Stone-Goblet-Hallows? Who are the good mothers in Casual Vacancy or is that just the litany of Bad Dads, especially Simon Price, Peter Rowling’s most obvious depiction in his daughter’s fiction?

As always, I covet your comments and correction.


  1. Thank you for this John!

    The main reason that Mrs Crouch’s death had leapt out at me, is that it is yet another example of one of my favourite Austen/Potter parallels – links between Potter and Northanger Abbey. As we know, Hogwarts is a quintessentially Gothic edifice, and when Harry first enters it he is taken down concealed passageways hidden by ‘sliding panels and hanging tapestries’ (Philosopher’s Stone, Chap 7). This precise phrase – ‘sliding panels and hanging tapestries’ – echoes Henry Tilney’s parodic-Gothic fantasy of passageways concealed behind ‘sliding panels and tapestry.’ Hogwarts is Henry Tilney’s Gothic burlesque made flesh (Rowling as rapt a listener, perhaps, to his fantasies as Catherine!) and many of its most Gothic moments echo Catherine’s fevered imaginings. The parallels between what Catherine imagines to have happened to Mrs Tilney and what has actually happened to Mrs Crouch share the gothic tropes of imprisonment and a fictitious funeral: ‘Catherine had read too much not to be perfectly aware of the ease with which a waxen figure might be introduced, and a supposititious funeral carried on.’ The comic irony of Northanger Abbey mediates Harry Potter’s modern Gothic and this is marked in this instance by the shift in female agency between the tragic destiny Catherine imagines for Mrs Tilney – imprisoned while her husband conducts her sham funeral – and the way this fate is realised by Mrs Crouch: *choosing* to imprison herself while her husband conducts her sham funeral, against his own desires and at her behest.

  2. Louise Freeman says

    If the pattern holds, Peter Guillespe is a bad guy, Jonny Rokeby a good guy.
    So far in Strike, we haven’t seen a lot of self-sacrifice of mothers for their children, with Leonora Quine being a notable exception, given the devotion of her life (including the willingness to put up with philandering Owen Quine) for her daughter’s sake. With a 2-6 parallel, maybe that means a similar other coming up in Ink Black Heart.

    And, with the exception of Ted and Joan, adoptive, step- or surrogate parent situations don’t seem to turn out particularly well, either. Lady Bristow was a disaster. Cynthia Phipps deceived Anna. Grandpa and Grandma Whittaker didn’t have a great outcome with the grandson they tried to raise. Brockbank abused his common -law step-daughter, just as he and Holly were abused by theirs. Laing was raised by an abusive non-biological father. Dennis Creed. Even Gloria Conti went off the rails, despite the grandparents’ best efforts.

    Successful parents also seem to be associated with good middle-incomes. Both poverty-stricken (Rochelle Onifade’s, Marlene Higson, Betty Fuller, Janice Beatty’s, Shanker’s, Knight) and wealthy parents (Chiswells, Phipps, Whittaker grands, Rokeby, Campbells) seem destined to screw up pretty badly.

  3. Wayne Stauffer says

    Great conversation! Glad to be a part of it.

  4. I want to add another thread to research now that Louise has summarized the Strike symbolism.

    In the Land of the Lost, the Law is the Loser’s internalized power over the Things there, a power enforced on the outside by his Loss Adjusters. Can the Petrine aspect of this juridical rule and the Loser’s correspondence with the Devil and his Lair with Hades be considered another instance of Rowling’s Bad Dad satanic symbolism, as Mum and Jeannie in the Finding Hole are of the author’s Life-Saving Lily logos conceit?

  5. Wayne Stauffer says

    This, as are all conversations on this website, is why I majored in literature all those years ago.

  6. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    All very interesting – thanks all round! What strikes me as inviting more consideration are what might be called ‘variously “bad” couples/sets of parents’ – compare Vernon and Petunia, Barty Sr and Mrs. Crouch, Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, – what do we know about Orion Black? – in comparison or contrast with Walburga Black (how did she get so great a Saint’s name, by the way?). Who (if anyone else)? Also inviting attention is the Wizarding sociology aspect: Barty Jr was guilty – what options were there for him, other thn Azkaban? Is there any evidence that he fooled Mrs. Crouch into thinking he was innocent, or penitent? For, did not she prevail on the weaknesses of Barty Sr to unleash Barty Jr, in fact – how blindly, recklessly, willfully?

  7. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    It suddenly strikes me to wonder if there is wordplay between ‘Dementors’ and absent but implicit ‘penitentiary’?

  8. The interview with Billy in Lethal White touches upon these points, Being broken by fathers and saved by mother’s love.

    Billy’s “face betrayed the fear and hopelessness of a small, motherless child whose sanity had been broken by the men who were supposed to protect him. Strike, who had met countless rootless and neglected children during his rackety, unstable childhood, recognized in Billy’s imploring expression a last plea to the adult world, to do what grown-ups were meant to do, and impose order on chaos, substitute sanity for brutality.“

    In response to which Strike’s thoughts turned to his mother – “but perhaps the only difference between the two of them was that Strike’s mother had lived long enough, and loved him well enough, to stop him breaking when life threw terrible things at him.”

    The central idea in the central book?

  9. Karol Jay, I think you have spotted the Goblet/Lethal White correspondence and textual evidence that nails down that the Strike books are, as was Potter, psychomachia written in the language of mothers and fathers as ciphers for good and evil.

    If I am right in reading Strike and Robin’s relationship as a Spirit-Soul allegory after Shakespearean models (Romeo and Juliet, Anthony and Cleopatra, even Othello and Desdemona; cf. Lings) and if Rowling-Galbraith’s uses mother’s love and daddy neglect as her ciphers for Christ and Satan, Logos and Evil, respectively, then the angst and confusion each principal character experiences about becoming a parent, Robin as mother and Strike as father, are best read as spiritual markers, i.e., Robin the psychologist’s coming to terms with her own desire for self-transcendence in an unconditional and selfless love for other and Strike the decorated soldier and agent of justice alarmed at his possibly becoming a genesis point of sin if he proves unequal to that sacrificial love for a child.

    The Billy scenes in Lethal White and Strike’s reflections — in the novel’s conclusion chapter? — are substantial evidence that this idea has merit. Great catch — and thank you for sharing it here!

  10. The interview takes place in Chap 56. The epigraph for the chapter is “ I cannot—I will not—go through life with a dead body on my back.” I can’t help but think about Dave’s “Anna Karenina” reference in Troubled Blood. Would Rowling plan that?

  11. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    I do not get around much, Potterwise (in the common sense of that word): what do we know about the unusual name – or form of the first name – of Bartemius Crouch? Is that a known variant of ‘Bartim(a)eus’? Do the two Barties (if that’s the/a plural), sadly betray – by contradicting – it, each effectively embracing spiritual blindness in his own way? ‘Crouch’ as surname Wikipedia tells me by link to ‘The Internet Surname Database’ “is a topographical name for someone who lived by a cross.” Another sadly contradicted name in spiritual sense. In the version or analogue of the event in St. Matthew, chapter 20, there are two blind people, and their cry is “eleison himas Kyrie Huios David”. Is Barty Jr’s summoning ‘the dark Lord’ a consciously jangling echo of that?

  12. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Returning to Walburga Black, do we know if JKR knows Mendelssohn’s ‘Die erste Walpurgisnacht’ (‘The First Walpurgis Night’)? Or, how good her German is? Is she likely to have encountered Goethe’s poem independently of Mendelssohn? Is it good enough for her to have read Karl Kraus’s Die dritte Walpurgisnacht [The Third Walpurgis Night] (published posthumously in German in 1952)? Happily, all Anglophones can now read it in Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms’s translation (Yale UP, 2020) – though I have not yet caught up with it in German or English.

  13. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Considering not only parents, but spouses, key to HP1 are two historic spouses, historically ‘mythologized’ in a way involving supposed faked deaths – since, e.g., his historic tombstone survives: Nicolas Flamel and his wife Perenelle (chapters 13, 17). As far as I know, childless spouses. And, in the way Dumbledore tells Harry of the destruction of the philosopher’s stone, it seems implicitly clear that both Nicholas and Perenelle have fully acted in accord with respect to its destruction, and so their own deaths, as it will be impossible to produce any more of the Elixer of Life. A touchstone for the actions of parent-spouses in the HP books. And – inescapably, in faithfulness to their historical names – and intriguingly, her name is in some sense a ‘Peter’ derived one (she presumably being named after St. Petronilla, of whom, e.g., J.P. Kirsch in his 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia article, writes the “name comes from Petro or Petronius, and, as the name of the great-grandfather of the Christian consul, Flavius Clemens, was Titus Flavius Petronius, it is very possible that Petronilla was a relative of the Christian Flavii, who were descended from the senatorial family of the Aurelii” while noting “A legend, the existence of which in the sixth century is proved by its presence in the list of the tombs of the Roman martyrs prepared by Abbot John at the end of this century […] regards Petronilla as a real daughter of St. Peter”).

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