PDay Minus Two: Prediction #6 — The House-Elves

Here we are, the “night before the night before.” I confess that I’m very tired and very excited about the day to come.

Before I begin this next-to-last of my seven predictions, which is largely taken from a previous post, I want to note a difference between what I am doing here and what everyone else is doing on their predictions lists on the Internet and in public spaces.

I’m just like everyone else in being overly attached to pet theories I’ve made up myself or just adopted. And you would have a hard time distinguishing my not-so-private hope of being acknowledged as brilliant or at least insightful if I hit a plot-point spot-on from every other Potter Pundit and faux-expert. Like Janet Batchler said about one of her excellent predictions, “If this one hits, I want a parade.”

The difference is that my predictions are all correct. None of them are wrong. Really.

Now before you call Mary to suggest that I call it a night with such a big day coming up (and a long night of reading aloud), let me explain.

There is an important difference between illustrating themes and ideas with crack-pot theories and trying to hit plot-point bull’s eyes for the glory of hitting plot-point bull’s eyes. No matter how silly and off-base my theories are — and however much I have come to enjoy them and defending them against all comers — I’ve always known they were wrong and not what Ms. Rowling was going to do. After four hours of discussing the Five Keys and these Seven Predictions at Enlightenment 2007 in Philadelphia last Friday I had a hard time convincing that crowd that I was wrong, but I insisted on it.

Because the theories and predictions will all be revealed as what they are on Saturday morning. The Five Keys these ideas and best guesses illustrate are invaluable in unlocking Harry Potter and they will still be essential for Serious Readers studying the book for years to come.

In that sense, then, my predictions are all correct because they can only be “failures” if they haven’t made the literary point necessarily clearer. None of them fail in this regard, so, though Stoppered Death, Scar-O-Scope, and Harry Through the Veil will all be just happy memories on Sunday, they have all succeeded in doing all I hoped for them. Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader will be re-written without it’s speculative pieces but it won’t change in purpose or substance.

I do hope Zossima Press will include pictures of Janet’s victory parade in the second edition.

Now that I’ve disavowed the truth value of my prognostications as plot-point detectors and affirmed their great value as illustrations of literary principles, let’s get back to tonight’s crystal ball gazing.

The Keys were illustrating tonight are Ms. Rowling’s postmodern themes, her use of traditional symbolism and repeated elements, and not a little narrative misdirection. The prediction is simply that the house-elves will be the saviors of the Wizarding World.

I cannot remember if I first read this in Janet Batchler’s posts at the old HogPro Forums (it is in her book) or at Travis’ Sword of Gryffindor website. Either way, it is not my thought. I came late to the House-elf Party. It wasn’t until I heard Marietta College Prof. Kathryn MacDaniel’s paper, The Elfin Mystique: Fantasy and Feminism in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter Series, at the “Past Watchful Dragons” CSL Conference in Nashville, 2005. Dr. McDaniel made the strong case that the house-elves are Ms. Rowling’s portrait of house-wives and their three dimensional portrayal in the characters of Dobby, Winky, and Kreacher are a snapshot of feminism’s victories and failures.

It was at that same conference that I realized, while listening to Andrew Lazo’s talk on the modernism of the Inklings, that Ms. Rowling’s books had to be examined for qualities of postmodernism. The house-elves had to be central in the story’s punchline if Prof. McDaniel was right in the parallel she drew (See pages 169-171 of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader for more about feminism and house-elves).

That was the background to this HogPro post in celebration of discovering another jewel at Sword of Gryffindor.com: How the house-elves would save the day at story’s end.

House-elves as Saviors: Dumbledore’s Trump Card

How will Harry and friends overcome the combined forces of the Dark Lord, his Death eaters, the Giants, the Goblins, and the rapidly-reproducing dementors?

Travis Prinzi, maven at the Sword of Gryffindor weBlog, has a theory that I think satisfies one of the Postmodern requirements of the story, namely, that the periphery become the center, that the “other” becomes what is good and decisive in the central conflict. Travis’ theory is that the house-elves in Hogwarts are Dumbledore’s real Army; Ollivander has “disappeared” to arm them with wands and Dobby will lead them in combat against the Dark Lord they all despise to save their hero, Harry Potter. Travis’ original post, “What Happened to Ollivander,” is worth reading in its entirety, but here is the part about the house-elves I find so striking:

[The goals of S.P.E.W. as Hermione shares them in Goblet are:] fair wages, good working conditions, political representation, and — wands. Wands! I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same book that focuses so heavily on house-elf slavery also focuses so heavily on wands, and makes the point that the wizarding prejudice against house-elves is actually institutionalized, by forbidding them wands. We should probably conclude from this that, with wands in hand, house-elves would be powerful enough to be a threat to wizards.

And a threat to wizards is exactly what we need, isn’t it? Let’s take up a quick assessment of Voldemort’s army: (1) Voldemort himself, (2) Death Eaters, (3) Dementors (a vast and growing army), (4) innumberable Inferi, (5) werewolves, and (6) giants. Yikes. Compare that to (1) Harry, (2) the bungling MoM, (3) the leaderless Order, and (4) a bunch of kids from Hogwarts, and it’s not much of a fight, is it? Something is going to have to give as full-scale war breaks out, which it will, now Dumbledore’s out of the picture.

So my theory is basically this: Ollivander’s been hidden by Dumbledore, maybe protected by a Fidelius charm (with Snape as the secret-keeper?), and he’s got wands for an army of house-elves, ready to fight for their freedom.

But they don’t want to be free

I know, I know. I’ve already established that a revolutionary change in house-elves’ status is not something the house-elves themselves are ready for. So why would they voluntarily fight? The key to this lies with Dobby. Despite the fact that Dobby is held in ill-repute for wanting freedom and wages, he makes a point universal to house-elf experience in Chamber of Secrets: the house-elves were treated horribly during the first reign of Voldemort, and Harry is something of a hero to their kind. Let’s hear Dobby’s explanation:

Ah, if Harry Potter only knew what he means to us, to the lowly, the enslaved, we dregs of the magical world! Dobby remembers how it was when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was at the height of his powers, sir! We house-elves were treated like vermin, sir! life has improved for my kind since you triumphed over He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named. Harry Potter survived, and the Dark Lord’s power was broken, and it was a new dawn, sir, and Harry Potter shone like a beacon of hope for those of us who thought the Dark days would never end, sir.(CS-10)

In short, then, Harry Potter may just be the person to inspire the house-elves to desire their freedom, especially if the alternative option is to return to the Dark days under Voldemort’s reign. Dobby’s words, combined with Dumbledore’s urgency to teach Harry about the evils of prejudice against other magical brethren suggests that Harry will be something of a great uniter in Book 7, and house-elves certainly have the motivation to follow his lead.

But house-elves must obey their wizarding families, correct? How many families will agree to give up their house-elves to VoldWar II, or even command them to go into battle? Probably not many.

There are, however, at least a hundred house-elves at Hogwarts, and the school may not even be open in Book 7. I’m willing to bet a good number of them were refugees from Death Eater households who fled to sanctuary with Dumbledore after Voldemort was destroyed and the DEs were rounded up after VoldWar I.

Consider this: Everything so far has foreshadowed an attempted Voldemort takeover of Hogwarts. In Books 1, 2, and 5, Dumbledore was tricked or forced entirely out of the castle. In Book 6, he was AK’d right out of the picture, and Death Eaters were loose in the school. “The only one he ever feared” is gone, and we learned from Book 6 that Hogwarts is the only place Voldemort ever truly had affection for. It’s where he wants to be. Expect an attempted Voldemort takeover of Hogwarts in Book 7.

Harry feels the same way about Hogwarts, and he’s not going to give it up without a fight. I don’t think the house-elves of Hogwarts would be too keen on having to submit to Voldemort himself, especially if many of them recall their days as slaves of Death Eaters. Look for a force of house-elves, finally armed with wands provided by Ollivander himself, in Book 7.

In terms of the Five Keys, this theory satisfies the Postmodern theme requirement, Traditional Symbolism (can you say, “the Last will be First”?), Repeated Elements (what Travis points out in the several attempts at taking Hogwarts from Dumbledore’s control), Literary Alchemy (Harry as quintessence, the resolution of contraries), and, of course, Narrative Misdirection. As important as Dobby, Winky, and Kreacher have been in the story-line thus far and as involved as Hermione has been in her fantasy of liberating the oppressed house-wives (I mean “elves”), no one takes the house-elves very seriously, do they? House-elves are comic relief, and pathetic comic relief at that.

But it is just this “overlooking” that is the strongest pointer to the likelihood of Mr. Prinzi’s theory. Dumbledore doesn’t overlook the strengths and possibilities in people or Magical Brethren.

On their first meeting in Goblet of Fire, Dobby says to Harry, Ron, and Hermione down in the kitchens that he and the other house-elves are delighted to be in the Headmaster’s service. He goes so far as to say the house-elves know the Headmaster’s secrets.

“Tis part of the house-elf’s enslavement, sir. We keeps their secrets and our silence, sir. We upholds the family’s honor, and we never speaks ill of them — though Professor Dumbledore told Dobby he does not insist upon this. Professor Dumbledore said we is free to — to –”

Dobby looked suddenly nervous and beckoned Harry closer. Harry bent forward. Dobby whispered. “he said we is free to call him a — a barmy, old codger if we likes, sir!”

Dobby gave a frightened sort of giggle.

“But Dobby is not wanting to, Harry Potter,” he said, talking normally again, and shaking his head so that his ears flapped. “Dobby likes Professor Dumbledore very much, sir, and is proud to keep his secrets and our silence for him.” Goblet, Chapter 21, ‘House-Elf Liberation Front,’ Scholastic page 380.

The biggest of these secrets seems to be his training them for more than cooking and cleaning duties. All Five of the Keys for the Serious Reader (have you ordered Unlocking Harry Potter yet?) point to Travis’ being “spot-on” in his SWAG that the house-elves will be the deciding factor in the climactic battle in Deathly Hallows. A tip of the hat to my friend at “Sword of Gryffindor” and my request that friends here will share their thoughts about this possible ending of the series. Don’t forget the house-elves at the Ministry of Magic after the battle between the Dark Lord and the Headmaster…

That was the end of my House-elves as Saviors: Dumbledore’s Trump Card
post (the comments following this post were especially rewarding and I encourage you to go the original post to read them). I’d only add to it the necessary note with which I began this exchange; the prediction that the house-elves will save the Wizarding World as the real Dumbledore’s Army is an excellent illustration of four of the Five Keys — and it will prove to be wrong Saturday morning as a plot point. The Keys it illustrates, however, will be correct.


Do you remember Dobby’s aside to Harry when promising to follow Draco everywhere, that he’d throw himself “off the Astronomy Tower” if he failed? Dobby may be proud to keep Dumbledore’s secrets but he also likes to give Harry clues when he can for Harry to figure out. One of Dumbledore’s secrets may have been the plan to stage his death on the Tower.

Nah. Couldn’t be.

Or could it?


  1. John,

    A full on house-elf rebellion! Yes, that’s what I want to see.

    If it isn’t part of the 7th book, I’ll be terribly disappointed that Hermione’s awakened political consciousness in Books 4 & 5 went for naught. As if political oppression of an entire species can be forgotten when you decide that you want to start dating.

    If the house-elf rifle doesn’t fire (or wand doesn’t cast a spell) then Chekhov’s dictum will be violated.


  2. Travis Prinzi says

    It’s so difficult when one bombards oneself with Harry Potter discussion to remember where ideas come from…sometimes you’re convinced you had a brilliant idea in your own brain, only to find out you read it previously and forgot! I seriously cannot remember whether I wrote my Ollivander theory or read Janet’s chapter on house-elves first, but the latter is much more likely. As I said in a recent podcast, Janet definitely deserves the credit for the house-elf theory, and I will most definitely throw her a parade if that one comes true, because I don’t think I’ve gotten more mileage on any HP issue than I have on house-elves!

  3. jjmahoney says

    Based on the content that was not filmed for the Harry Potter movies, I would think that a house elf uprising is unlikely. J.K. Rowling insisted (or strongly recommended) that they include Kreacher in Order of the Phoenix, but nothing about the house elves in Hogwarts has been mentioned in the movies. Now they could certainly include something about it in the 6th movie, but they have skipped the majority of it from the books to wait until then to mention it.

    Of course Kreacher belongs to Harry now and will have to do whatever he says (but that wasn’t mentioned in the movie), and we haven’t seen Dobby since Goblet (and that was brief). Granted the movies have followed the books less and less since Azkaban, but it seems unlikely that such a key part of the story would be cut from the movies if it was part of the last book, and Rowling seems to try and make sure they leave in parts to the movies that will be vital to the events in Deathly Hallows.

  4. Arabella Figg says

    I hoped to put this on today’s last post, but must leave soon and this evening looms. So I’m placing it here.

    I just want to comment that I feel close to tears today, rocketing between feelings of anticipation and loss of something precious—the stimulating anticipation/speculation that has been a part of my life for seven years since reading the first four books. It’s been one of the most fun things in which I’ve ever engaged.

    So many articulate, thoughtful, scholarly writers along the way who have enlightened, delighted and amused me. Thank you, John for all your hard work, and to you and others for sharing great thoughtful, academic posts, links, comments and books during the Interlibrum, enhancing understanding and appreciation of the books. What a fun time awaits us post-DH.

    Today is the last day we will “not know.” Once we’ve read Deathly Hallows, an epoch has closed. No one in the future will know what it was like to for this “HP generation” during this literary worldwide phenomenon to wait years for the next book, feverishly speculating during Interlibrums, researching and concocting wild (and not so wild) scenarios and enjoying the heck out of ourselves.

    Accio Deathly Hallows!

    I (along with Thudders, Hairy Plotter, Mrs. Fleasley, Stabbers, Rumbleroar, Screecher, Felis Felinius, Curious Black, Slobby, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Tamed, Cleverpuss, Madame Scrawney, Flako, Detressor HawKuphairball, Fullatricks, Luscious Badboy, Tuna Yumgood, Tom Piddle, Big-Eye Foody, Frenzy, Flitquick and all the rest of the dear kitties) wish you “Happy Reading!!”

  5. I love the house-elf uprising idea, though I agree that it does seem strange that Rowling hasn’t pushed their prominence more in the film versions if they will (as a community) play such a large role. Not that I really understand how much influence/involvement she has in the making of the movies!

    I do find it fascinating that she went to bat to get Kreacher into the 5th film, however. I have a good friend who has made a great case for Kreacher having assisted R.A.B. on the locket horcrux hunt (however unwillingly) and I think she might be onto something.

    I am fascinated by Travis’ ruminations on Ollivander. Well…in another day, we’ll know!

  6. LydiaCarol says

    Well, the book is read and we all know the part that the house-elves played in the final battle. A valiant and important part, but in my mind, they did not come to occupy the center, as post-modern theory would predict. There was barely a paragraph about their uprising.

    I was feeling mighty disappointed about this after I read it. I had loved John’s predictions in “Unlocking Harry Potter” that the house-elves would be a major part of the 7th book. I agreed with him that having the house-elves still remain in their historical state of slavery after the 7th book was done would be a tragedy and a monumental disservice to these wonderful, magical creatures. There was no indication, at the end of DH, that their status was any different than before, other than not having to worry about Voldemort anymore.

    However, I then read the Bloomsbury interview. What happiness! JKR said that Hermione eventually heads up (or just works at? I forget exactly) the Department of the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures at the MoM, and that she is able to put some reforms in place that enhance the status of the house-elves. I was supremely glad to read that, and very glad that I’d found the link to the Bloomsbury interview at all. All due to my coming here to read thoughtful discourse on HP.

Speak Your Mind