27 April 2007

On Happiness and House-elves

I've talked before about how humans were meant to be royalty, to rule and to subdue the earth. But I think that truth has a complementary one: humans were made to serve God. The service we are intended to render, though obligatory, is not supposed to be burdensome or servile. Instead, it is a robust, lively activity, the only activity in which we will find thorough and profound happiness. One of the greatest duties—no, the greatest duty—we have in service to God is taking delight in him.
It was with that theological framework that I approached the text of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. Perhaps it is only a silly parallel, but I really thought it was pertinent.
As our parallel begins, Winky, a female house-elf, is quite depressed because her role as servant to the Crouch household has been terminated. The house-elves, like humans, were made to serve. But unlike fallen humanity, house-elves delight in serving their masters. It is, even in Dobby’s case, part of their nature. Dumbledore takes Winky on to serve at Hogwarts, but the devastating blow of being sacked is too much for her to handle. She is an emotional wreck. All of the other house-elves at Hogwarts think of her as a disgrace. Hermione tries to defend Winky, telling the other house-elves that Winky is simply unhappy. But they respond:

‘Begging your pardon, miss,’ said the house-elf, bowing deeply again, ‘but house-elves has no right to be unhappy when there is work to be done and masters to be served.’ ‘Oh for heaven’s sake!’ Hermione cried. ‘Listen to me, all of you! You’ve got just as much right as wizards to be unhappy! You’ve got the right to wages and holidays and proper clothes, you don’t have to do everything you’re told (p. 538).

Of course, Rowling’s point is that Hermione’s quest for elf-liberation is immature, but still--Leave it to human autonomy to completely ruin the picture. We humans would rather rule ourselves than be happy with God’s rule over us. Instead of actively doing everything we’re told, in the expressed divine will, humans insist, “No, I have every right to be unhappy!”

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