He Was a Free House Elf
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child comes out in a few weeks and it has got me thinking about this, my favorite fantasy book series. I’ve read through it five times, which isn’t that great a number except for the fact I didn’t read a page until June of 2014. My now wife (then girlfriend) told me she was like Hermione Granger and not knowing who that was, I wanted to find out.
As much as anything I love the characters. I care about them. I wish they all were real people (and half giants, and house elves, etc.) And as much as I see myself in Harry, as much as I want to hang out with the Weasley twins, as much as I wish I could ask Snape about a million questions about his life, there is one character that I love the most. He may not be the best or the most important, but he’s my favorite. I love me some Dobby.
What’s crazy is that after the first two-thirds of The Chamber of Secrets, the first book in which Dobby appears, I could not stand him. He annoyed me so much it was like a three horse race with him and Lockhart and Draco for whom I wanted to punch the hardest (all of which were eventually eclipsed by Dolores Umbridge). Perhaps the real life magic Rowling was able to do involved getting us to change our minds about characters as we learned more about them. By the end of Dobby’s filled-with-purpose life halfway through The Deathly Hallows, I knew he was special. After several readings, I knew he was my favorite.
There are several reasons. Some of these could be said about any house elf, but not all. And even then, there is no doubt that Dobby is the most important of his species in J.K. Rowling’s fantasy world.
“Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit”
First, I love that Dobby was so humble and meek. There is no human characteristic that I adore and that I am attracted to more than this. It’s what I love most about my wife and my parents. And while I have no idea to what extent Rowling wrote the Christian faith into character development, I have no doubt Dobby is in some ways to be emulated by followers of Christ in his attitude towards others.
This is, of course, not to say he was always a doormat or passive. When he defends Harry by attacking Lucius Malfoy at the end of the second book, he shows he can be tough when it comes to the things he loves and the things that matter. That is special. And I love it that the house elves had their “own brand of special magic” that they did not abuse but was powerful enough to overcome limitations even possessed by the most adroit human wizards.
When I think of Dobby, more than anything I think of how poor in spirit he was. I want to cry and laugh at the same time when I think of him turning down 10 galleons a week and weekends off to accept one galleon a week and one day off a month. Or when I think of how sincerely overjoyed he was when Harry gave him a pair of socks for Christmas, even though Harry clearly was doing it out of guilt. Or the image of him in 27 pair of socks, scarves and hats made by Hermione since no one else would wear them. If Harry Potter were real, I think I’d spend a lot of time in the kitchen at Hogwarts, and spend a ton of time with Dobby.
Free To Do Whatever Harry Wanted…
Since I see myself as Harry when I read, I cannot help but be drawn to how much Dobby truly loved Harry. He loved him so much he was willing to injure him to keep him safe from the events at Hogwarts his second year. He loved him so much he helped him cheat in the Triwizard tournament. He loved him so much he helped him find the Room of Requirement and warned him of Umbridge’s coming after they were ratted out. He loved him so much he knocked Kreacher’s teeth out to defend Harry’s honor.
Dobby seemed more loyal to Harry than anyone or anything, including the Ministry of Magic and his former owners. If I could choose anyone to be my best friend from the series, Dobby would be on the short list. It would be a selfish choice, because he would do so much for me with nothing expected in return. Maybe instead of desiring that kind of friend, I should be that kind of friend…
I Is Loving Too Much the Way He Talks…
Admittedly, this is a small part of why Smeagol Gollum is my favorite in The Lord of the Rings series, but the house elves’ syntax tickles the linguistic part of my brain like few other things. The use of the third singular verb no matter the subject, the incessant use of referring to himself in the third person (which is normally annoying, see: “The Jimmy” of Seinfeld fame) and, my favorite, always calling Harry by his first and last names so often they were his very last words…I can’t get enough of Dobby dialogue.
Perhaps my favorite Dobby quote other than his last two words is:
Socks are Dobby’s favorite, favorite clothes, sir! I has seven now, sir. . . . But sir …they has made a mistake in the shop, Harry Potter, they is giving you two the same!Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Chapter 23
Nearly everything I love about Dobby is wrapped up in those few words.
Greater Love Hath No House Elf…
Dobby had the most noble, tear-jerking death of the series, in my opinion. Dumbledore’s death was emotional and stunning, but happened because he was selfish. Fred died valiantly, but not with the same poignancy. Even Sirius’s death, while tragic, didn’t seem as dramatically heroic to me. Dobby made the ultimate sacrifice saving several people, including the Big Three, and saved the series as a result. I honestly didn’t cry for any other death or even when Harry was on his death march. For this moment, I did:
“I want to do it properly,” were the first words of which Harry was conscious of speaking. “Not by magic. Have you got a spade?”
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorifying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of sweat felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.
Even though it’s not expressly mentioned in the books, I have an easy time imagining that Dobby had a great sense of how dangerous it was when Aberforth sent him into that basement and that he did not hesitate for even a millisecond, knowing that he could save Harry Potter. I don’t know that Dobby even had it in him to hesitate when it came to Harry. I don’t think of him as a robot, but that he had so much goodness and selflessness at his very core that he nearly could not do anything other than try to help. And help to the death. I think the way he died is exactly how he would have wanted to. Like a soldier dying for his country. Or someone dying for his best friend. There is no love greater, according to the One who defines it. And when Harry buried him, he did it right–without magic. To show honor. If anyone deserved Harry’s honor, Dobby did.
I unashamedly get completely lost in fantasy worlds while reading. Dobby is a tremendous microcosm of why. I feel like I’m interacting with him when I read and I wish so badly that I could. I’m certain God gave us imagination for good reason and it is healthy to have fun with it. And that annoying little house elf from Rowling’s magnificent imagination is my favorite of hers.
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