The Phoenix Files #5: Arabella Doreen Figg
By Christopher Stephen
Squib alert! That’s right, everyone, we’re discussing everyones favorite Squib (well, I hope no one likes Filch more than Figg, but I suppose it’s possible): Arabella Figg!! Now, before everyone gets all upset, there’s not a ton of information on “Figgy,” so I’ll be criticized for either over- or under-analyzing her character. Please give me some wiggle room on this one; in case you didn’t see it, my computer was hijacked the other day and required days of intensive work that took away some of my writing time. Dont you worry, I have a heck of a good File for you next time!
First of all, I’d like to start off by thanking all the people who have e-mailed me and posted on the CoS Forums in the TPF threads—your comments are greatly appreciated and encouraged. One user even called TPF a “living” column, which is exactly what I was shooting for. In my view, this kind of interaction is absolutely necessary between author and audience in any format and especially in a cyber one. This applies even more directly because the HP series itself is still a “living” series because it is not yet finished. We can still debate, guess, and speculate about the futures of the characters, unlike fans of The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia.
Secondly, I’d like to announce that there have been or are going to be substantial updates to the first four Files based on reader comments and my own additional research. Please take the time to read them as they are posted by me on the individual Phoenix Files threads. They will eventually be added to the Files themselves, but that may take some time.
OK, Mrs. Arabella Doreen Figg. Mrs. Figg is one of the very first characters mentioned in Sorcerer’s Stone (p.22 of American paperback edition). From Harrys perspective, she is a “mad old lady,” and it says he “hated it there.” Now why would he hate Mrs. Figg’s as much as or possibly even more than the Dursley’s? As Mrs. Figg herself reveals, she needs to make sure Harry is miserable while visiting so the Dursley’s will continue to send him back. This is certainly true. We all know how she makes him look at all the pictures of all the cats she’s ever owned, and we all know about that odd cabbage odor. The cabbage odor is present once or twice more in the series—once, Harry detects the scent while visiting Diagon Alley. I find it quite possible there is a connection between Mrs. Figg and this Diagon Alley shop; is it possible Mrs. Figg uses some ingredients from this shop in her Squib work (breeding Kneazles, for example), or could she possibly be attempting to do magic?
As we all know, however, Mrs. Figg’s real debut comes in Book Five. We had learned a little bit about “Squib-hood” from Filch in Book Two, but not nearly as much as we learn in Book Five from Arabella. Firstly, we know she is part of the “old crowd” mentioned by Dumbledore at the end of Book Four. This means (to me) that she was a member of the original Order. One very interesting thing to note, however, is that we do not see her in the picture Moody shows us in Book Five. Perhaps that picture was taken at the original Headquarters of the Order. We never saw Arabella at Sirius’s home, so she probably wouldn’t have been at the old HQ, either. Still, her absence brings up quite a few questions. Seriously, does anyone else find her absence interesting or mysterious?
Okay, so Incident One with Figg: the dementors. We finally get a good description of Mrs. Figg. She has grizzled gray hair and wears (surprise!) tartan carpet slippers. A few people have mentioned to me (too many to credit) that this could link her with McGonagall, who wears tartan clothing items as well (and is the only other character in the series seen to be wearing the plaid). I agree this could be a link, possibly familial, but we will just have to wait for Book Six to find out for sure.
So Figg had Mr. Tibbles on the case, and she knew Mundungus was gone. As she came back to look after Harry (apparently back from shopping), the dementors came. Then, however, a sad description of Squibs follows. “I’ve never so much as Transfigured a teabag…”; “I’m a Squib, as Mundungus knows full well, so how on earth was I supposed to help you fight off dementors?”; “Don’t I keep telling you that I’m no use?” It’s obvious that she is self-degrading because she is a Squib, and that has probably been reinforced by the prejudices of the wizarding world. Like werewolves, Squibs are shunned from most wizarding communities, as we find out later at the Hearing.
So we then learn that Figg didn’t tell Harry she was a Squib because of Dumbledore’s orders. Mrs. Figg takes Harry straight to the Dursley’s and then returns for more instructions from Dumbledore. She sure is furious at Mundungus, though, whacking him over the head with a bag full of cat food. OK, I find it a little mysterious that she just leaves Harry and walks away from the Dursley’s. She surely had been in contact with the Dursleys, she definitely could have explained her appearance at their home. Why, then, does she leave? Is it really to await instructions from Dumbledore? Do we have any reason to question her motives?
Next, we see “Arabella Doreen Figg” at Harry’s hearing. Arabella Doreen Figg is an interesting name. It seems to be that Doreen is an odd, commonplace name (somewhat like Brian in the middle of Dumbledore’s name). Could this hold some significance? Arabella is also an interesting name. Many people believe first names have more significance than do last names, but this is one case where I would like to differ. As pointed out in her Ultimate Unofficial Guide, Galadriel Waters states that Figg looks extraordinarily like fig, the leaf of which is often used to conceal genitals in ancient art. It is obvious Arabella Figg was concealing her status as a Squib; could she be concealing even more? JKR herself did tell us that someone in the series would be showing magic surprisingly late in life. While many think it will be one of the Dursleys (Petunia?), I believe it could be Mrs. Figg. She seems a fantastic candidate because we learned so much more about her in Book Five. Anyway, back to the hearing. She tells the Wizengamot her story, but it is obvious that she cannot actually see dementors. Mrs. Figg, however, finally convinces the Wizengamot that there were dementors there by describing the chilling feeling they instill in all. She finishes with, “That was what happened,” even when Fudge asks if that was what she saw. Verrrry mysterious. She definitely didn’t see the dementors. It seems to me as though Dumbledore may have “helped” her prior to (or possibly even during) her Wizengamot testimony.
So, Figg is not introducing us to the world of Squibs (that was Filch’s role), but she is giving us much more information. It is interesting indeed that even the respectable Madam Bones wonders if a Squib is a good enough witness to a dementor attack (it seems she was right, in fact!). It is obvious that quite a few members of the Wizengamot would feel no shame in totally disregarding her testimony. To me, this only reinforces what we already knew about Squibs from Filch’s attempts at magic: the wizarding world (especially by Voldemorts crew, I’m sure) is quite prejudiced against them, and it is obvious they are held at a somewhat lower level than normal wizards and witches (even Muggle-borns).
Mrs. Figg is a minor character in the series so far, but she is much less minor than we thought at the end of Book One. It is possible she could once again come to Harry’s rescue (as she did twice: both in the alleyway and in the courtroom) in the future. Thanks to my friend Denise, as well, for some of the inspiration for the piece as well as helping proofread. Sorry not all of your theories got in!
Between now and the time the next File is posted, be sure to check out the CoS Forums by clicking the link at the bottom of this page, so you can share your ideas with fellow fans—and with me—as well as check out the updates to the first four Files!
Thanks for reading! Remember to send your comments to christopherstephened at hotmail dot com and be on the look-out for Folder #6, where we’ll (after multiple requests) open the file of James “Prongs” Potter. (I told you it would be a good one!)