The Phoenix Files: Folder #3: Rita Skeeter
By Christopher Stephen
Today’s folder from The Phoenix Files is that of Rita Skeeter, one of the newest and most interesting characters in the series. We first meet Rita Skeeter in the fourth book, Goblet of Fire, and throughout that book she causes mayhem and is constantly up to no good. Thankfully, Hermione captures her at the end of that novel, but Rita’s vow of silence (which she took for one year after the fourth book ended, according to the American edition; some of the editions have conflicting information on this) is now over as we prepare for the sixth book, Half-Blood Prince.
Rita writes for The Daily Prophet and is known for her Quick-Quotes Quill, the acid-green pen that writes lies and destroys reputations. (Interested in some theories about her Quill? I’ll explain more in the CoS Forums. Click the link at the bottom of this page!) As Galadriel Waters and company pointed out in their first Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter, Rita Skeeter is described in detail by J. K. Rowling. Waters seems to imply that Rita Skeeter is not at all a woman, but rather a man in disguise. Evidence presented include Rita’s “surprisingly strong grip, large, mannish hands, and curiously rigid curls” (283). All true, all described in detail by JKR. While it is true Rita may not be what she seems, there are a few flaws I find with Waters’ analysis of Rita:
3) Real Rita
First, why would a wizard wear a disguise when there are much better methods of infiltrating enemy areas, such as Polyjuice Potion or Invisibility Cloaks? I just don’t see a wizard putting on a wig to try and fool other wizards. Maybe that’s the point, though. Perhaps nobody in the Wizarding World is looking for a disguised reporter/who-knows-what? While it’s true Rita is described by JKR to be manly, could she herself be a half-breed, perhaps with a troll or other species? That would certainly cause her to appear less feminine.
The second problem is that the Rita Skeeter we know is an animagus. She can change into a beetle at will and appears in this form multiple times during the series. This means that if a man is disguising himself as Rita Skeeter, he would have to be an animagus. This is possible, but unlikely. We would then have the problem of clothing. We don’t really know how clothing works with animagi; the third film shows the Scabbers-Pettigrew transformation with Pettigrew keeping his clothes, but then when he transforms back at the end of the film, his clothes stay behind. Would he then re-transform naked? There are still a lot of questions left to be answered about animal transformations. Similarly, there are a lot of questions still to be answered about the existence of Rita Skeeter, as will be evidenced in the next paragraph. Does that mean the real Rita Skeeter is also an animagus? If so, is she also a beetle? If not, how did she get her inside scoop?
Third, is there even a real Rita? Or is Rita Skeeter a made-up character? In other words, is Rita Skeeter an alias for someone sympathetic to Voldemort’s cause who is using the media’s influence to turn the public’s ear away from Harry and Dumbledore? Or is/was there a real person named Rita Skeeter who has been “replaced” as Mad-Eye Moody was replaced throughout the fourth book by someone sympathetic to Voldemort’s cause? Rita is present in the scene in the Pensieve, looking younger, but sucking on her acid-green quill. Is this Rita the same person as the Rita who interviews Harry at the Wand-Weighing Ceremony, or not? If so, then that would mean either that Rita is totally made-up and an alias of one of Voldemort’s supporters or that her character has been used by that supporter for years and years. If not, then when did the Skeeter-switch take place?
As you can see, the theory proposed by the WWP is a good one, but it creates more questions than it answers. I believe it is highly unlikely that Rita Skeeter is a man in disguise; however, I will not go so far as to say that she is acting of her own free will. It is quite possible she is either under the Imperius Curse or is getting paid by Malfoy or another Voldemort supporter to run the horrible stories she is writing.
In the fifth book, we only see Rita briefly, in Hogsmeade, and she looks like she wants to “thrust” an umbrella “up Hermione’s nose”. In fact, a whole chapter is devoted to her — “The Beetle at Bay” (Chapter Twenty-Five). Hermione basically blackmails Rita into writing the story that appears in The Quibbler, proclaiming Harry’s story to the world. Carefully examining all the events leading up to the meeting, we can infer some information.
First, Hermione sent the owl immediately after the Death Eaters escaped from Azkaban, and it took “ages” to come back. That means that either Rita was very far away from Hogwarts or she waited a long time between receiving Hermione’s letter and returning her response.
Next, the hair was lank and unkempt around her face. This seems to denounce the wig theory; wigs don’t become lank after time. Her fingernail paint was chipped and her glasses were missing a few jewels. In other words, she was pretty beat up. Was she possibly in hiding as Sirius was in Book Four? If so, from whom/what is she hiding?
Then her reaction to the sound of Voldemort’s name (when Hermione says it this time) — she jumps very badly and slops “half her glass of firewhiskey down herself”. None of the Death Eaters ever did this; in fact, they just get furious for someone having the courage to speak his name. This denounces even more that Rita could be a Death Eater in disguise. It is possible she could be a Fudge-like Voldemort supporter, I suppose, but there are still way too many questions to answer before we begin speculating too much on this idea. Rita also believes The Quibbler is full of rubbish like Hermione herself did. If you look more closely, Rita seems to know the ins and outs of being in business, explaining to Hermione the Prophet “exists to sell itself” and that “Fudge is leaning on the Prophet“. She wouldn’t admit that if she was a huge supporter of Fudge. So, let’s suppose Rita is not a Voldemort supporter or a man in disguise (and we KNOW she’s definitely not a Fudge supporter or Bagman supporter). Then who is she? I believe she is just one of those horrible people you meet once in a while who likes nothing more than ruining other people’s reputations. She represents everything JKR herself sees in the media. She is nosy, obnoxious, and often willing to stray from the truth in order to sell her stories.
Regardless of Rita’s “true” identity, we do know and realize one thing: she is vitally important to the rest of the series. What she writes seems to have a lot of sway (just think of all the people who followed Harry’s story [Seamus’s Mum for one] — and that was in The Quibbler!) Who will be her next target? Is it possible she could come to our side (even though she hates Hermione) and begin reporting horrible stories about Death Eaters? To follow yet another commentary by JKR on the world around her, the people in the wizarding world (much like people in our own world) sure seem to believe anything that she writes in print, no matter how far-fetched or illogical. I wrote an entire essay on this subject for my college composition course. If you would like a copy, or just want to comment on this editorial, feel free to e-mail me at the address below. I really like hearing from you. And who knows? Your e-mail just may end up here someday!
Thanks for reading! Remember to send me your comments and be on the look-out for Folder #4, that of Seamus Finnigan–a much more interesting character than he first appears!