Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

In the Goblet of Fire Hogwarts is hosting the Tri-Wizard tournament where three magical schools come together and choose a champion each. The champions compete in three tasks testing their daring, their magical ability and whatnot. Harry is accidentally chosen as the fourth champion when his name is put into the Goblet of Fire by someone who wanted to kill Harry in a very specific way.

So first off, Voldemort is all for flair, I love it. He can’t just kidnap Harry, he has to make Harry join the Tri-Wizard tournament, hope he wins, get him to the churchyard, and have a fight with him, hopefully kill him, and Bob’s your uncle. It’s completely insane. And yes, he has a guy at Hogwarts who can make it more likely, but still, Harry is 14, and anything could have happened during the tournament. It’s so weird.

Something else that comes up in book four is House Elves and House Elves’ rights. Hermione is told about House Elves, and has a quite frankly, fitting reaction to the fact that the Wizarding world has enslaved another people. Anyways. Hermione creates a society, S.P.E.W., the acronym is a bit unfortunate. It is her attempt to make House Elves’ lives better. It is admirable, Hermione sees injustice and tries whatever she can to help them. She is single-minded and bossy, and a badass. And she’s magical. It’s a great metaphor for women’s suffrage. It also works to a certain extent as a metaphor for the slavery in the US, but it’s more women’s rights. House Elves are seen as property, they can only be freed by given clothes, women for a long time did not have the right to own property. The House Elves are for the most part happy in their slavery, and a lot of women fought against suffrage. In Harry Potter’s world Dobby is happy to be freed, but it still creates problems for him, because his demands and wishes are seen as preposterous and it is probably scary for the other House Elves to contemplate the idea of being free and trying to make their way in the world. Like it was scary for women who were content as Housewives. Because they were safe and they had food and shelter, and children and husbands they loved. And even if they were in abusive households it could probably feel safer than the prospect of being divorced, alone, and trying to get a job in a world where people don’t want to give you a job.

When Hermione tries to tell her friends and peers about her Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare for the most part they deride her, they tell her that the House Elves are happy and don’t want to be freed. And they make fun of her for being passionate about it. Which is obviously quite normal for teen girls. Teen girls being passionate is always seen as a bit weird and obsessive and it’s easy to make fun of. Hermione is obviously also written a bit exaggerated, because her personality is very much focused on right versus wrong. And she’s very moral and a bit obsessive. She will do what’s right, well, what she sees as right, to a fault. She’s also single-minded and she isn’t great at listening to differing opinion. Now concerning House Elves I think she’s right, but she is so single-minded she overrides everyone else. Also I would like to point out the delightful dichotomy of Sirius saying you should judge a man by how he treats his inferiors, and is then a complete shit to Kreacher in the Order of the Phoenix. Great job Sirius.

The way House Elves are treated by most people is horrendous. They are often referred to as “Elf,” not by name. They’re treated as if they aren’t there, and they are prohibited from using their own magic. THEIR OWN MAGIC. They can’t use their own magic unless their owners let them. In Order of the Phoenix we’re told that Sirius’ family used to decapitate their dead House Elves and display them like trophies, and no one but Hermione gives that the reaction it deserves, it’s fucking atrocious. They’ve been slaves their whole lives and now they get to be humiliated in death as well. Awesome.

I feel like my reading of Hermione in Goblet of Fire has changed as I’ve gotten older. When I was 15-ish and read it the first time my internalized sexism made me think Hermione was silly and weird, and why was she harping on about this? But as I’ve gotten older I love her more and more. As I let go of my own internalized sexism and misogyny bit by bit I love Hermione with all her ups and downs.

Here’s the thing about SPEW. Hermione is coming from a place that is great. She wants to help. She sees this massive, awful injustice and she thinks: “this cannot stand” and she does what she can. Still, she speaks from a place of privilege. She is a free witch. She can use whatever magic she wants, she’s by most people not seen as a second-class, or third-class maybe, citizen. On the other hand she is also marginalized in that she’s both a woman and a muggle born, so I guess she can see how difficult it is to be marginalized and to be told she can’t do what she wants, or that she’s not valued in the same way as men, or as pure blood or half-blood witches and wizards. The thing is, Hermione has decided that House Elves are treated poorly and she will save them. If you’re going to have any kind of revolution it also needs to come from the community or people who need emancipation. If the House Elves were to have a revolution they would probably need someone like Dobby to start it. Someone who is one of them, someone who has fought against his own injustice and come out victorious. Someone who actually knows what the problems facing House Elves are. At the same time; you probably need the help of someone in a position of privilege. So I think the House Elves need someone like Hermione to help pave the way for them, to help change opinions among witches and wizards. But Hermione can’t decide how someone else is going to fight their fight. So while her intentions are amazing, and great, the way she goes about it isn’t necessarily great. She refuses to listen to the Elves and what they want. She’s just decided it. It would be like men telling women what they need, or white people telling black people what they want and need. That obviously happens too, but you know what I mean.

I wish Hermione had more supporters, because she seems so alone, and it makes me feel like Elfish suffrage will take a long time. Whenever anyone said the House Elves are happy I felt like shouting: “They’re brainwashed and systematically oppressed, of course they think they’re happy, you wankers.”

So these are my surprisingly angry thoughts about House Elves and the rights of House Elves. I hope Hermione managed to get a House Elf or two on board and they worked together to find a way to make the lives of House Elves, and other creatures better. Because let’s face it, the world of Harry Potter is in many ways stuck in the past. In a world that the muggles have gotten past when it comes to equal rights and all that. Yeah.