The Dark Side

by silvercherubim

The appeal of the dark side is not universal. For Harry and the Gryffindor posse, it doesn’t seem to have any appeal – at first glance, that is. Yet we can’t all have such pure intentions. I love Harry as much as the next obsessed fan, but have you ever wondered how different this saga would be if it were told by someone other than Harry Potter? I have. I – along with many others I have spoken with – ascribe to the idea that just because the protagonist dislikes a character, doesn’t mean the readers will or should. We often root for the villain in movies, especially if he/she is a genius compared to the hero/heroine and is defeated by pure moral default. We find Tweety Bird annoying and the Road Runner as likable as nails on a chalkboard, whereas Sylvester and Wile E. Coyote are both amusing and creative. We prefer Darth Vader to Obi-Wan and Catwoman to Wonder Woman. We’d choose Angelus over Angel, and sure, we’ll admit that the White Witch was a little power-hungry – but you can’t deny that she had style. We’re not evil people, but we crave interesting characters regardless of their moral stance. We don’t see things in black and white and find it dull and simplistic when other people do.

How does this apply to Harry Potter? Well, when fans of the antagonist like us read the much beloved Harry Potter series, we find ourselves wondering where the heck Harry gets the nerve to be outraged by Draco’s petty activities when he can’t seem to go a full year without infiltrating the Slytherins’ confidence using any dastardly means possible. We might have stomped on someone’s face, too, if we’d found them spying on us during private conversations. We think Snape should have given Harry a lot more than a slap on the wrist when he entered his most personal and painful memories. Now, certainly, Harry Potter as a character exemplifies a melding of the human qualities that I have discussed above with those of a “good” nature as well: the dark and the light, the noble and the not-so-noble – but honestly, we’d rather be reading a bit more about the more dangerous Malfoy clan or Severus Snape. These characters appeal a little more to us because they’re mysterious in contrast to the heart-on-their-sleeves heroes/heroines. We all know about Harry’s past – what about Bellatrix, Wormtail or Lucius? We’d rather consider their motivations than just write them off as “bad guys” and therefore stupid, inferior opponents.


Evil versus Inferior

Now here’s the controversial part: I think that JKR is one of us and that this is going to influence the outcome of the seventh book. I believe she enjoys writing for her “bad” characters just as much as for the “good” ones and does not easily dismiss someone as pure evil or pure good. She repeatedly gives her “evil” characters certain skills and admirable powers equal to or even beyond those of the good guys. Malfoy appears to have mastered Occlumency, while Harry’s successful attempts at it amount to a grand total of one. Although Harry, Ron, and Hermione dismiss Malfoy as having never been “one of the world’s great thinkers,” I think that JKR put a heavy dose of irony into that statement. Many of the things Malfoy tells Dumbledore on the tower are definitely revelations to the headmaster. Draco proudly reveals how he formulated his plan, placed a competent adult witch under the Imperius spell, and used a Protean charm – something we have only seen the cleverest student in the series (Hermione, duh!) master. Malfoy’s popularity in the fanfic world is evidence of his status as perhaps the most intriguing secondary character in the series.

Continuing in the “bad guys are not stupid” vein, Snape (regardless of whether you believe he is truly evil or just pretending) seems to have powers rivaling the Dark Lord’s since he is able to work his way off Voldemort’s hit list and back to his right hand while still maintaining his position at Hogwarts and in the Order. Let’s not forget that the one person Dumbledore knew could save him in his final hours was also the only one that managed to kill him. I have yet to meet an HP reader who doesn’t think that Snape – lying or not – is an intricate and fascinating character. As much as it pains me to say it, I must also add that Bellatrix Lestrange manages to take out Sirius Black fair and square, and Sirius, along with the other Marauders, was one of the most talented wizards Hogwarts had seen in a while (secretly becoming an Animagus in his free time constitutes a pretty clever degree of wizardry). Dumbledore saw and understood the distinction between mischievous/badly-influenced individuals and evil beings. He also realized that true evil spawns power that kindness and goodness can never hope to generate but the opposite is true as well. This is what made him an excellent wizard and a dynamic character.


Degrees of Darkness

As with all higher-caliber fiction, J.K. Rowling’s characters are usually three-dimensional as opposed to stereotype – and the “bad guys” are no exception. There are varying degrees of evil in every single character in this series. At one end of the spectrum we have annoying do-gooders and sycophants like Ernie Macmillan and Marietta Edgecomb; at the other end sit complete monsters like Tom Riddle/Voldemort and Fenrir Greyback the baby-eater. Towards Voldemort’s end are the Death Eaters, again, some worse than others; and in the opposite direction (order debatable) are Harry, Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, Dumbledore, and the like. So where do Snape and Malfoy fall? That can’t truly be answered until the end of book seven, but as of now, I personally would put them both closer to Harry than to Voldemort, especially Malfoy since he has never actually committed murder.


Harry’s Dark Side

An open-minded reading of the series reveals how much Harry has in common with both Snape and Malfoy though he often can’t see it himself. The desire for revenge as opposed to true justice is something Harry, Malfoy, and Snape have all experienced firsthand for similar reasons, as well as outbursts of temper, which Harry actually displays the most. Secretive plotting, outright lying, and rule-breaking just are some of the things Harry and his friends have proven themselves quite adept at – the Sorting Hat was obviously not wrong when it said Harry would go far in Slytherin. The most obvious connection between Harry and Snape is, of course, the whole half-blood prince relationship. Harry finds Snape so understandable and even admirable under that guise yet recoils in horror upon learning the truth – quite possibly because he couldn’t handle the realization that Snape had given him advice that he actually valued. So what sets Harry apart from Malfoy and Snape? Depending on your view of things, very little except for the undeniable fact that Harry is definitely fighting for the good side, whereas the other two are questionable. I believe one of the revelations found in the seventh book will be Harry’s realization of these common traits, and hence, his realization of himself as a whole human being. Whether or not Harry has to murder Voldemort or anyone else, he will face challenges that test his character in a whole new way. Like so many protagonists before him, he will face the dark side of himself and undoubtedly triumph over it.

With that being said, I sincerely hope to see more of this aforementioned darker side, from Harry and from other characters. Harry spent the sixth book in a brief limelight of popularity that, in my opinion, didn’t become him. His short relationship with Ginny, his Quidditch captainship, his falsely earned teacher’s pet status, and his position as the media darling of the wizarding world were all rather annoying to him. Moreover, I was shocked at how easily Harry gets over the use of Dark Magic on another person (Sectumsempra on Malfoy – after all, the spell is marked “for enemies”), and I think that this is evidence of Harry’s “bad side” because preceding and following that incident, he has never been able to cast such a Dark spell. Harry definitely has a darker side that JKR has shown, and I believe it will reach its peak in a scene of glorious self-confrontation. Harry will be forced to take his formerly underestimated adversaries more seriously (Malfoy and Snape) and will gain insight into the minds of the others (Voldemort) by realizing his own darker qualities. In short: Never underestimate the power of the dark side.

Contact silvrcherubim at chairubim at hotmail dot com with questions and comments about this editorial.