Sunday, July 3, 2011
Harry Potter: The Magic of House-Elves
House-elves are non-human, intelligent, sentient, magical beings who appear in the Harry Potter novels. House-elves appear to be lowly creatures. They serve witches and wizards and seem perfectly content to do so. A house-elf's highest purpose is to obey his or her master's or mistress' command. Lowly as they are, house-elves have magic peculiar to themselves and unavailable to witches and wizards. The magic of house-elves is wonderfully illustrated in this story of Kreacher, as told by Kreacher to Harry, Ron, and Hermione in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.
Kreacher is a house-elf in the Black family household. The Black family, except for Sirius Black, Harry Potter's god-father, are all enamored of the Dark Arts and of Lord Voldemort. Sirius' younger brother, Regulus, has become one of Voldemort's Death Eaters. Regulus is also very fond of Kreacher.
One day, Regulus tells Kreacher that Lord Voldemort requires a house-elf for some particular task and that Regulus has volunteered Kreacher. Regulus explains to Kreacher what an honor this is, for both Regulus and Kreacher, to be chosen for special service to the Dark Lord. Regulus tells Kreacher to go with Lord Voldemort, to do all that Voldemort requires, and then to come home. Kreacher obeys.
Lord Voldemort takes Kreacher by boat out to an island in the middle of a lake deep within a cave. Voldemort intends to hide one of his horcruxes there, surrounded by spells and curses that will prevent anyone getting to it. This horcrux contains a piece of Voldemort's soul within a gold locket. Voldemort plans to place the locket at the bottom of a basin filled with cursed liquid and to place a powerful spell upon the locket so that it will not budge unless someone drinks the cursed liquid first. Kreacher's role is to insure that the cursed liquid works.
Once they reach the island, Voldemort commands Kreacher to drink the cursed liquid within the basin. The liquid causes the drinker to experience mental horror and tremendous thirst. Kreacher drinks the liquid and experiences these tortures before the cold eyes of Voldemort, whose only concern is to ascertain if the liquid works as it should. When Voldemort sees that the liquid works as expected, he departs the cave in the boat, leaving Kreacher in agony on the island.
Voldemort knows that the horrible thirst will eventually drive Kreacher to drink from the waters of the lake. This will trigger the Inferi. The Inferi are bodies of dead people who are buried underwater and who will drag down anyone who enters the lake. The Inferi will drag Kreacher to his death, and there will be no living witness to the hiding place of Voldemort's horcrux.
However, Kreacher comes home. Harry, Ron, and Hermione simply cannot understand how Kreacher can possibly have escaped the Inferi. Kreacher, for his part, cannot understand why Harry, Ron, and Hermione are astonished. Master Regulus had told Kreacher to do the Dark Lord's bidding and then to come home. Master Regulus had said, Come home. Kreacher obeyed his master. Kreacher came home, as Master Regulus had told him to do.
Clearly, Kreacher had used magic peculiar to house-elves. The house-elf's highest purpose is to obey his or her master's or mistress' command. Master Regulus had said, Come home. Kreacher's purpose was to obey his master, and this activated powerful magic that allowed Kreacher somehow to escape the Inferi and to come home. Kreacher doesn't seem able to explain this. It seems self-evident to him: my master told me to come home, so of course I came home.
This cold-hearted use of Kreacher is what turns Regulus against Voldemort. Regulus procures another gold locket and asks Kreacher to take him to the island in the cave. Kreacher does so. Regulus then tells Kreacher to wait until the basin is empty, to remove the gold locket horcrux and replace it with the fake gold locket, and finally to return home and destroy the gold locket. Regulus drinks the cursed liquid, knowing it will bring about his death, but willing to sacrifice his life to destroy Voldemort's evil horcrux.
Kreacher sees Regulus suffer from the mental torture of the cursed liquid and finally succomb to the horrible thirst by trying to drink from the lake, which triggers the Inferi, who drag Regulus down under the water to his death. Overcome with horror and sadness, Kreacher nonetheless obeys Master Regulus, exchanges the lockets, and goes home. However, try as he might, Kreacher is unable to destroy the gold locket because a horcrux cannot be destroyed by ordinary means. (Much later, Ron is able to destroy the locket, using the Sword of Gryffindor.)
This story shows that non-human creatures have powerful magic of their own and that love can lead to incredible acts of heroism.