Minerva McGonagall: A Few Things Overlooked?

by Terri C. 

I believe that most major Harry Potter fans have some favouritism towards a particular character. Perhaps this means you might take note of everything the character says or does, or anything that remotely relates to your particular favourite Rowling creation. And, if you’re like me, and your favourite character happens to be a secondary character, then this factor is even more pronounced. Whereas others merely see your favourite as “just another character,” you not only record in your mind exactly where your character makes an appearance in each book, but exactly what he/she says in these appearances, and what your characters’ actions and behaviours conclude.

Sure, many HP fans peruse the books, meticulously analysing every single word and determining what it might mean in the grand scheme of things. But for readers and their favourite characters, that analysis takes on a whole new depth. It’s personal. Because of this greater need to realise every single detail of one’s favourite character, I am going to share with you a couple of interesting points that I have noticed about my favourite character — one Professor Minerva McGonagall.

For most of the series, McGonagall has been the Hogwarts’ Transfiguration teacher, Head of Gryffindor House, and Deputy Headmistress. She is also a member of the Order of the Phoenix. While she may be a secondary character, she is “always dependably, solidly present,” as Harry observes in OOTP. (pg. 644) McGonagall’s greatest time in the spotlight is in OOTP, where she is perhaps the most overtly disdainful Hogwarts staff member towards our dear Dolores Umbridge. Who can forget that great line, “It unscrews the other way”?

But I’m sure most of you do not want to hear a long biography about the new Hogwarts Headmistress, so let’s get onto more important things… things that many may not have noticed. Now, some of these ideas do not necessarily pertain to further information about McGonagall. But what I do have for you are just a few points that I think J.K. Rowling could be alluding to… bigger, more significant things than readers may have initially thought.

In my English class, my teacher constantly tells us during our film analyses to understand that every shot in a film is there for a reason. There is always some motive behind a close-up of a certain character. For instance, there is a reason for a peculiar shot of a beautiful landscape taken from behind a fence rather than simply showing the landscape as it is. The close-up wants us to see and acknowledge a certain character’s reaction, perhaps to an event in the previous shot. Perhaps the fence in the foreground of the landscape shot might symbolise someone’s captivity or their detainment from freedom. In any case, the point is that in films, and indeed books, everything is deliberate. To put this into a Harry Potter context, let us look at a few examples concerning Profressor McGonagall.

In OOTP, Dolores Umbridge attains the position of Hogwarts High Inquisitor, gaining the power to inspect the Hogwarts’ professors to “make sure they are coming up to scratch.” (pg. 275) Readers witness the inspection of several professors, including Trelawney, Snape, Grubbly-Plank, Hagrid, and McGonagall. Now, in each of Trelawney’s, Snape’s, and McGonagall’s inspections, Umbridge asks each of them how long they have been teaching at Hogwarts. As the series plays out, we find that the answers to these particular questions prove very significant. Trelawney’s appointment as Divination Professor of “nearly sixteen years” (pg. 281) coincides with the all-important prophecy concerning Harry and Voldemort, which is made to Dumbledore (and the readers discover at the end of OOTP). Snape’s appointment of “fourteen years” (pg. 323) denotes the year that Harry’s parents are killed and Voldemort is supposedly defeated; Snape also goes to Dumbledore, repenting for his misdeeds as a Death Eater (as readers find out in HBP). Both Trelawney’s and Snape’s answers are deliberately included within the series before the answers’ significance are known to Harry and the readers, as well.

So that leaves us with one more time-frame given by the only other professor asked the same question… McGonagall. McGonagall says that she has been teaching at Hogwarts for “thirty-nine years this December.” (pg. 287) As far as we know, the significance of this statement has not been revealed thus far in the HP series, which leads me to believe that it will play some importance in Book 7. Afterall, J.K. Rowling made the point of having Umbridge ask Snape and Trelawney how long they have been teaching at Hogwarts, and their answers end up having great significance to the plot of the HP series. J.K. Rowling has also made the point of having Umbridge ask McGonagall this same question, and we can only assume that her answer will play some role in the final book.

What intrigues me most about McGonagall’s answer is the fact that she begins teaching at Hogwarts in the month of December. Why would she start a teaching post during the middle of the school year? Again, J.K. Rowling appears to make the point of making sure readers understand that McGonagall started teaching in December. Otherwise, McGonagall’s answer could have simply been “thirty-nine years.” It may eventuate that McGonagall’s commencement of teaching in December will not be directly significant in Book 7, but perhaps Dumbledore’s appointment as Headmaster during this month, and the consequent need of a new Transfiguration Professor. Now, this leads us to the question as to why Dumbledore is made Headmaster during the middle of the year. This would undoubtedly have been an impractical time for his predecessor, Armando Dippet (or any Headmaster/mistress for that matter) to simply resign. What event would have required Dumbledore to assume the role of Headmaster of Hogwarts at such an awkward time of year?

Another of my little perceptions about McGonagall is a more commonly discussed topic — her existence as an animagus. Just why has J.K. Rowling made the point of introducing McGonagall as an animagus? What is McGonagall’s role as an animagus throughout the HP series? One answer may be that it provides a link into one of the major plot lines of POA, as Harry and Co. discover the animagus abilities of Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and James Potter. Yet, McGonagall’s Transfiguration lessons during the school year on animagi tend to fulfil this requirement on their own. It seems unlikely that McGonagall’s own transformations into a tabby cat are simply there for effect. Perhaps J.K. Rowling merely includes McGonagall as an animagus to provide a fantastical element to the story, particularly in the first chapter of PS/SS, where the wizarding world is first introduced. But, I’m more inclined to believe that McGonagall’s ability to transform into an animal will play some sort of role in Book 7, or at least play a role in any back-story that is revealed in Book 7. Again, I stress the point that J.K. Rowling has made the point of making Professor McGonagall an animagus — there certainly has to be some motive behind this action.

Of course there are other points I have wondered about in relation to McGonagall, and perhaps more underlying significance to her words and actions. But, like I’m sure many of you will understand, there is a point where one has to draw the line when it comes to speculating. For example, what exactly does McGonagall whisper “urgently” to Dumbledore following Harry’s name being drawn from the Goblet of Fire? And what has she been doing for the Order when she comes to Grimmauld Place “looking very odd in a Muggle dress and coat”? While it is unlikely that these questions will ever be answered, I am fairly convinced, however, that the items I have mentioned in the above paragraphs will play some sort of importance in the upcoming HP book.

J.K. Rowling has indicated that there are a multitude of clues hidden throughout her books. HP fans have undoubtedly picked up on a lot of these, but of course there will always be the obscure quote or action that just doesn’t seem quite “normal.” However, remember that there is a reason for everything. Ask yourself the following: just why has she included this particular piece of information? You may just stumble across a gem that will lead to a great revelation about Book 7. Who knows? A little speculation can’t hurt… or so I’ve heard.