Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess. Once upon a time there was an ugly girl. Show these two beginnings to any child or adult and ask them: was the character, described so briefly above, good or bad? Most of them will tell you almost without thinking: the beautiful girl was probably good, the ugly girl was probably bad. After thinking a bit longer everyone would agree that it’s against logic and experience but nevertheless, it works this way amazingly often. Although our life is not a fairy tale, we do judge people by appearances. According to the research, those among us who are supposed to be more than averagely good-looking tend to earn more, get a job quicker, marry a better situated partner, win the sympathy of strangers in times of trouble, and even get lower sentences in court.1
A survey conducted by London Guildhall University showed that good-looking people are definitely privileged in many ways. Alternatively, one could say that people who earn more are more likely to be (or able to be) beautiful. 2 Nobody says it is fair, but what can you do? Let’s face it – personal appearance is not exactly a thing you can make your choice about.
Now, is it true for the magical word created by J.K. Rowling: a world where you are what you choose to be? This essay will try to analyse the connection between the looks and the morality of characters in the Harry Potter series; not all of them, though – it would be twice as lengthy as it is now- just a few examples. I would like to start, however, with a more general question.
What Is Beauty? How Can We Define It?
Believe it or not, this is a problematic question to ask. Everyone knows when they see a beautiful person, thing or landscape, but to define objectively what beauty is would need some magic indeed. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – that means that we set the rules for our own definition of beauty, every single one of us. It implies that different people perceive different things as beautiful or ugly, unless we happen to deliberately follow the majority, as is the case from time to time. The notion itself seems to be a maze of different meanings.
Many people would contrast physical beauty with moral beauty, describing the first as a shallow representation of somebody’s attractiveness, and the second as a deeper trait of somebody’s character or inner self. Hence religious and moral teachings of many saints and philosophers, living in different countries and in different times, have often focused on the divinity and/or virtue of beauty. They tended to assert natural beauty as an aspect of a spiritual beauty (i.e. truth) and to define all self-centred or materialistic pretensions as based in ignorance. It is true that nice-looking people are not moral just because of their looks, but from ancient times the notion of beauty connected closely with goodness or virtue (“kalos kai agathos” in ancient Greek, which can be translated as “beautiful and good”) was meant to be the height of human perfection, linking physical and moral attractiveness in one, creating a symbol of universal beauty and nobleness.b>3
It raises another question: are bad people/things/animals also ugly? The most natural answer seems to be “no” but you cannot deny the influence of physical ugliness over our perception of people and things. Italian author Petrarch stated: “Rarely do a Great beauty and Great virtue dwell together.”4 Is it really so?
Let’s see how it was presented in the Harry Potter books by analysing the physical appearances of the characters in the series and their morality and behaviour.
Starting With Those Undefined By their Looks…
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts, is (or rather was) one of the most prominent and interesting characters of the series. He is described in this way:
Nothing like this man had ever been seen in Privet Drive. He was tall, thin and very old, judging by the silver of his hair and beard, which were both long enough to tuck into his belt. He was wearing long robes, a purple cloak which swept the ground and high-heeled buckled shoes. His blue eyes were light, bright and sparkling behind half-moon spectacles and his nose was very long and crooked, as though it had been broken at least twice. 5
The first thing that comes to mind reading such a description is that there are no evaluating words whatsoever. Nothing in this man’s appearance is described as “nice” or “beautiful” or “handsome” or even suggested to be so. We just see a tall, elderly wizard with acrooked nose and bright blue eyes. Only during the following conversation with professor McGonagall do we learn that he speaks “gently” 6 (in a nice way), has a sweet tooth (something that might reflect the “sweetness” of his character) and is admired by his interlocutor for being “noble” – i.e., “good.” 7
Physical appearance is moved to the background and made almost insignificant; we are told, though, what others think about Dumbledore – he is definitely perceived as “beautiful” from the moral point of view. This impression is deepened by the headmaster of Hogwarts himself when he produces words and deeds of power and wisdom during the rest of the series until the end of his life. Although old and tired, he has definitely been presented as “positive,” and the more we learn about him the more we like him and value his opinions. After all, actions speak louder than words, and Albus always puts his money where his mouth is. Rowling herself explained it this way:
Professor Dumbledore, though very old, always gave an impression of great energy. He had several feet of long silver hair and beard, half-moon spectacles and an extremely crooked nose. He was often described as the greatest wizard of the age, but that wasn’t why Harry respected him. You couldn’t help trusting Albus Dumbledore….8
Trust and respect are “beautiful” feelings but they are earned mainly by other factors than your looks. It can be summed up best by the words of J.K. Rowling herself:
I believe in different kinds of magic. There’s a kind of magic that happens when you pick up a wonderful book, and it lives with you for the rest of your life. That is my kind of magic. There’s magic in friendship and in beauty and… Metaphorical magic, yes.9
Dumbledore apparently had always plenty of it – and not only him, to tell the truth. Let’s have a look at Harry now, as he is the hero of the whole series. His creator hada very precise vision of him even before she wrote anything and she stated in one of her interviews:
Harry, I saw Harry very very very clearly. Very vividly. And I knew he didn’t know he was a wizard. So I see this skinny little boy with black hair, and green eyes, and glasses. And erm… Patched-up glasses, you know, that got scotch tape around them, holding them together.10
That description remained intact in the first book of the series, where Harry is presented as:
small and skinny for his age. He looked even smaller and skinnier than he really was because all he had to wear were old clothes of Dudley’s and Dudley was about four times bigger than he was. Harry had a thin face, knobbly knees, black hair and bright-green eyes. He wore round glasses held together with a lot of Sellotape because of all the times Dudley had punched him on the nose. The only thing Harry liked about his own appearance was a very thin scar on his forehead which was shaped like a bolt of lightning.11
Once again, no evaluating adjectives here, like “pretty,” “nice,” “handsome” – after all a skinny little boy, even with brilliant green eyes, can hardly be described as the paragon of beauty. We might sympathize with the fate of an orphan, forced to grow up with horrible relatives, but we are not in awe about his looks. Of course you cannot deny Harry some inner beauty which is reflected by his deeds and decisions; this is what the others are drawn to, almost unconsciously, like Ron and Hermione on the Hogwarts Express or Dobby during his short visit to Privet Drive. Not to mention a few million avid readers, of course. The description of his physical appearance – a skinny, knobbly-kneed boy with untidy black hair and a narrow face – doesn’t determine our perception of Harry at all. It’s merely a shell hiding his great and incredibly strong ability to love. We don’t need any coding here to know that Harry is good and the author didn’t provide it, in my opinion, on purpose.
A very interesting detail is connected with the scar. Harry has a scar on his forehead – the memory of his first encounter with Lord Voldemort. In fact, it’s the only thing he actually likes about his own appearance. Isn’t it rather strange? Usually people don’t consider scars as something that makes them more attractive, and only too often the scarred tissue on your body reminds you about accidents or other mishaps. In other words, scars are hardly considered to be beautiful. Harry approves of his scar, though. Without going deeper into the reasons for this feeling, from an aesthetic point of view it shows clearly that Harry has nothing against some disfigurement or ugliness. It’s not a case of external beauty coded as a “heroic” trait.
Similarly, no coding can be found in the description of Hagrid, Harry’s first wizarding mentor and also one of his best friends:
A giant of a man was standing in the doorway. His face was almost completely hidden by a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard, but you could make out his eyes, glinting like black beetles under all the hair.12
Although the appearance of Rubeus Hagrid might be terrifying or even repulsive, his character traits definitely make up for it – he is a loyal, honest and brave man, and one of the wizards whom Dumbledore trusts the most. His internal beauty makes us forget about his looks and other vices, like drinking or having a knack for saying too much in the wrong moment, very quickly.
Are there beautiful people in the HP series? Surely they are there. Their beauty, however, is rather misleading sometimes.
The Beautiful – Sometimes Even Beauty and Beast In One
The first really good-looking character is introduced in the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. His name: Gilderoy Lockhart. His occupation: writer (of some kind) and con man. Let’s ponder a while over his physical description:
There was a big photograph on the front of a very good-looking wizard with wavy blond hair and bright blue eyes.13 […] Gilderoy Lockhart came slowly into view, seated at a table surrounded by large pictures of his own face, all winking and flashing dazzlingly white teeth at the crowd. The real Lockhart was wearing robes of forget-me-not blue which exactly matched his eyes; his pointed wizard’s hat was set at a jaunty angle on his wavy hair.14
Was he handsome? Yes, certainly. Was he “morally beautiful?” No, not exactly, taking into account the fact that he made his career tricking other wizards out of their achievements and was rather proud of his own ingenuity and Memory Charms. His own beauty was for Lockhart an object of almost idolatrous and narcissistic pride. It has been emphasized in the books by the fact that the walls of his office were full of his own framed portraits.15 Appearances are very deceptive in his case – although good-looking, Lockhart has almost no moral scruples or sense of decency and shame. Two students’ memories and the life of a little girl was nothing to him compared with his future career prospects.
Here we see a man who suits the role of a hero only on a physical level, a perfect example of stupidity and cowardice disguised by his looks; his conscience is non-existent and his skills are doubtful to say the least. A great lesson can be drawn from Lockhart’s example – somebody who judges others only by their looks may be bitterly disappointed. The pop culture often presents that kind of hero – an empty-headed butterfly – and Rowling’s criticism is very loud here. She makes her own character explain his personal success in an honest but chilling way:
No one wants to read about some ugly old Armenian warlock, even if he did save a village from werewolves. He’d look dreadful on the front cover. No dress sense at all. And the witch who banished the Bandon Banshee had a hairy chin. I mean, come on…16
It seems almost like an explanation of a marketing or television pundit.
The thing about Gilderoy that is perhaps most bothersome is the fact that he has actually succeeded so easily in the magical world – he has been famous, admired (“Witch Weekly’s Most-Charming-Smile Award won five times in a row,” 17 as he repeats every chance he gets), probably even rich, offering no more in return than his treacherous, distorted books, good looks and a small degree of wit. Like similar people in the real world, he has plenty of gullible fans. Eventually, he is even employed as a Hogwarts teacher. Hermione – a twelve- year-old girl at the time – has held him in awe, and older women than her make the same mistake as well. Sensible and down-to-earth Molly Weasley, a happy wife and a mother of seven, has had a crush on him. Later on, in St Mungo’s hospital, where Lockhart has been a permanent resident due to hislack of memory after the adventure with the basilisk, he has been treated probably better than the others because of his looks – one of the healers, a motherly-looking woman, actually called him “a sweetie” and “a poor lamb,” which might suggest something more than a professional sympathy for a patient.18 The power of beauty is amazing.
The next case of great appearances presented in the Harry Potter books is Fleur Delacour, a young French witch and the Beauxbatons Academy champion during the Triwizard Tournament. Her description leaves no doubts about her appearance and the reaction of the people around her:
A long sheet of silvery blonde hair fell almost to her waist. She had large, deep blue eyes, and very white, even teeth. [...] As the girl crossed the Hall, many boys’ heads turned, and some of them seemed to have become temporarily speechless, just like Ron.19
Fleur is undoubtedly beautiful, but is she “good?” Ron happened to think that this unusually good-looking girl is a Veela – a creature introduced a few chapters earlier during the Quidditch World Cup. Veelas were incredibly beautiful Bulgarian team mascots, too beautiful to be true, as Harry thought when observing them for the first time.20 During the match, though, these fabulous beauties revealed their other, different face:
At this the Veelas lost control. They launched themselves across the pitch, and began throwing what seemed to be handfuls of fire at the leprechauns. Watching through his Omnioculars, Harry saw that they didn’t look remotely beautiful now. On the contrary, their faces were elongating into sharp, cruel-beaked bird heads, and long, scaly wings were bursting from their shoulders – 21
In this way we are introduced to a literal representation of the beauty and beast concept – the fiery character of the Veelas is a good metaphor of inner ugliness lying dormant in many beauties. We have been told about the mother of Blaise Zabini, for instance, a famously beautiful witch who has been married seven times and who, it is strongly implied, has been responsible for the deaths of her rich husbands. If these rumours are true she would definitely be this type of a beast – like a cross between a black widow spider and a praying mantis.22
What about Fleur? Apparently her “beastliness” is limited to commenting in a contemptuous way about the food, location and everything connected with Hogwarts23 but it changes very soon. When Harry saves her little sister, Gabrielle, during the second task, Fleur definitely becomes nicer and more lovable to him.24 Finally, she proves her good character in choosing to remain with maimed and disfigured Bill Weasley, her fiancé, and declaring with amazing resolution that she wants to marry him, against all odds.25 In my opinion they will be a well-matched couple – she partly a Veela, he partly a werewolf. Two “beauties and beasts in one” joined in a marriage!
Finally, let’s look at the handsome but tragically deceased Cedric Diggory, a Hogwarts champion like Fleur, and a victim of Voldemort’s ruthlessness. The boy is definitely handsome, but what’s more important: he knows what fair play and gratefulness mean, so he is morally beautiful too. He, like his father, could have borne a grudge against Harry, who unwillingly “stole his glory” becoming the second Hogwarts champion, but apparently that isn’t the case – he still wants to repay Harry’s tip about the dragons with a tip about the second task. He shows his real value arguing with Harry in the maize about who should take the Triwizard Cup first, although he could have taken it alone. His inner personality is even more beautiful than his looks, and the fact that he is described as a handsome boy only emphasizes his noble character. Look at his short but meaningful description: “Cedric Diggory was an extremely handsome boy of around seventeen. He was captain and Seeker of the Hufflepuff house Quidditch team at Hogwarts.” 26
For the first time in the description of a character J.K. Rowling uses explicit, unambiguous words. Is there any beast hiding in the boy? No, apparently not - Cedric’s looks don’t make him evil at all, and we pity him even more because he is “such a lovely boy” and also had such a nice personality. Because of these traits, he was a perfect person to make the main “baddie” look even worse; by his pointless death he proved the ruthlessness of Lord Voldemort beyond any doubt.
Speaking of his Lordship…
Tom Marvolo Riddle a.k.a. Lord Voldemort is a special case here. He used to be a very handsome man and he decided to change into a beast out of his ownfree will. He destroyed not only his own appearance but also his personality. Why has he done so? Apparently he didn’t hold his beauty, either internal or external, in high esteem.
First, we see a physically attractive, intelligent and highly gifted wizard boy, not exactly innocent but certainly very promising. He was described this way: “There was no trace of the Gaunts in Tom Riddle’s face. Merope had got her dying wish: he was his handsome father in miniature, tall for eleven years old, dark-haired and pale.” 27
Riddle as a young man used to be even more handsome and even more like his Muggle father, Tom Riddle, Sr. Let’s quote one more description of young Riddle, working at that time for Borgin and Burkes: “He was plainly dressed in a black suit; his hair was a little longer than it had been at school and his cheeks were hollowed, but all of this suited him: he looked more handsome than ever.” 28
The resemblance between the father and the son was apparently great, and it happened to be the dearest wish of his mother, Merope. This broken-hearted witch, who fell in love with the handsome Muggle man from her village, tricked him into marrying her, and was abandoned by him shortly afterwards, must have known a lot about the power of good looks.29 The looks of Voldemort, however, covered the greed, selfishness and the cruelty of a sociopath – a strong contrast with Cedric Diggory here. Unfortunately, few people realized that truth. Later in life, Tom Marvolo Riddle used his skills and charms to make others part with their treasure. We’ve been shown a short scene between him and a rich, old and apparently besotted woman called Hepzibah Smith. Although Riddle at no point made a pass at her or even pretended that she’d aroused an interest in him (really, did he need to?), he knew perfectly well why she put out the welcome mat for him. Other sales wizards, his own bosses amongst them, weren’t so warmly invited (most likely, they weren’t invited at all).30 Tom used her infatuation and stole some precious objects, killing her in the process. Voldemort wasn’t as stupid and as vain as Mr. Lockhart, though – his sinister pride hasn’t been limited to his good looks. He had his own schedule and aims and when he needed to get rid of his beauty, he did it without any regret or second thoughts. The change of looks indicated here something definitely more profound than aging, difficulties in life or mood. In the case of Lord Voldemort it reflected a drastic change of his character – essentially when he made the first Horcrux he stopped being human. Let’s look at the description of his appearance some years after the visit to Hepzibah Smith:
Voldemort had entered the room. His features were not those Harry had seen emerge from the great stone cauldron almost two years before; they were not as snakelike, the eyes were not yet scarlet, the face not yet masklike, and yet he was no longer handsome Tom Riddle. It was as though his features had been burned and blurred; they were waxy and oddly distorted, and the whites of the eyes now had a permanently bloody look, though the pupils were not yet the slits that Harry knew they would become. He was wearing a long black cloak and his face was as pale as the snow glistening on his shoulders.31
In this fragment Harry made a quick comparison between Voldemort after his rebirth, portrayed in the Goblet of Fire book, and Voldemort after making at least some of his numerous Horcruxes. In both scenes, the main villain of the series has become a portrait of Dorian Grey incarnated, reflecting the evilness of his deeds with his facial features. What does it indicate? Maybe the fact that Lord Voldemort has placed himself at a point of no return and is beyond any possible forgiveness or mercy. He’s become a beast out of his own free will, hoping for immortality and partly achieving it. Perhaps he thought that the loss of his great looks was a reasonable price to pay. After all he hated his Muggle father and therefore, he might have observed the change of his facial features with something close to morbid satisfaction. He hasn’t noticed, though, that his inner nature, not necessarily totally bad from the beginning, changed too and with more grave and devastating effects. I believe that Lord Voldemort, in choosing his path, has destroyed himself.
Ugliness At Its Finest and Possible Reasons Behind It
Harry Potter books are a place where you can meet some really unpleasant people, but it would be difficult to find anyone as physically repulsive as the Gaunts, the family of Voldemort from his mother’s side. They are the descendants of Salazar Slytherin, pure-blood descendants additionally, which might have sounded great to them but really meant years of inbreeding that left them without wealth, position or even a decent cottage to live in. What a stark contrast with Hepzibah Smith, the rich lady mentioned earlier, who was a descendant of Helga Hufflepuff.
The description of Lord Voldemort’s grandfather, his daughter and son is one of the darkest in the whole series so far. This is the portrait of Marvolo Gaunt:
An elderly man had come hurrying out of the cottage, […] This man was shorter than the first, and oddly proportioned; his shoulders were very broad and his arms overlong, which, with his bright brown eyes, short scrubby hair and wrinkled face, gave him the look of a powerful, aged monkey.32
His son, Morfin, looks, if it is possible, even uglier:
The man standing before them had thick hair so matted with dirt it could have been any colour. Several of his teeth were missing. His eyes were small and dark and stared in opposite directions. He might have looked comical, but he did not; the effect was frightening, and Harry could not blame Ogden for backing away several more paces before he spoke.33
Now, let’s look at Voldemort’s mother, Merope, the second child and the only girl in the family:
…a girl whose ragged grey dress was the exact colour of the dirty stone wall behind her. […] Her hair was lank and dull and she had a plain, pale, rather heavy face. Her eyes, like her brother’s, stared at opposite directions. She looked a little cleaner than the two men, but Harry thought he had never seen a more defeated-looking person.34
Why werethe Gaunts portrayed like this?Just to be coded as “baddies”? In my view it is not as simple as that. There might have been at least three factors leading to their nasty looks.
Firstly, they might have inherited some of the traits of their ancestor. The statue of Slytherin, most probably being his own likeness or even a self-portrait, situated in the Chamber of Secrets at Hogwarts that had been built by him, is described in the second book of the series:
Harry had to crane his neck to look up into the giant face above: it was ancient and monkey-like, with a long thin beard that fell almost to the bottom to the wizard’s sweeping stone robes, where two enormous grey feet stood on the smooth chamber floor.35
The likeness to a monkey, therefore, is something that might be a common family trait. The second factor that should be mentioned here is inbreeding – the Gaunts, according to Dumbledore, had a custom of marrying their own cousins with disastrous effects for their mental health and stability.36 What’s more, it might have strengthened their likeness to each other and could have enhanced the ugliness from one generation to the other.
The inter-family marriages were also very fashionable among the Muggle noblemen of Europe, but the effects discouraged the practice, mainly because of the genetic illnesses, incurable at best, deadly at worst, which decimated their offspring – if there were any offspring to talk about, of course. You can argue that the Gaunts got off tolerably lightly as they inherited only repulsive looks and a very nasty temper in the form of a vein of instability and violence. They were wizards, though, and I suppose wizards have had their own methods of getting rid of the more severe side effects of inbreeding. They had to, being not very numerous, especially those who believed in the higher value of pure-blood offspring.
The final factor which, in my opinion, had a bearingon their looks was the Dark Arts. Although we aren’t shown any dark magic performed by any of the Gaunts in the memory of Mr. Ogden, it seems certain that they were the kind of wizards who practiced the Dark Arts without qualms of conscience.Some indirect evidence could be quoted here. The Gaunts hated Muggles and Muggle-born wizards, calling them “Mudbloods” – a more than derisive term in the wizarding world – and believed firmly in their own superiority. Such an attitude only too often leads to crime, especially if combined with poverty and a sense of injustice. Certainly it’s only speculation, but personally I doubt if the Gaunts had enough moral force left to know better than toperform an Unforgivable curse – if only they knew them, of course. Morfin didn’t hesitate to attack an unknown man because he entered his “territory” and the curse he used didn’t seem innocuous.
It’s easy to imagine that using the Dark Arts might affect your looks and your personality as well. This branch of magic emphasizes and helps to develop such negative feelings as hatred, contempt, greed, and even a sadistic pleasure in dominating other beings, hurting them or killing. Tom Marvolo Riddle definitely lost his good looks as well as any positive traits of character he’d ever had because of the Dark Arts. Although you may start as a tolerably nice person, you’ll end up as a monster and, one way or the other; it will be seen on your face too. Curiously enough, we haven’t been shown any really handsome Death Eater throughout the series, like Bellatrix Lestrange, who, although very good looking as a young woman, kept only the vestige of her beauty being the Death Eater, mainly because of long Azkaban stint. Even Lucius Malfoy, played in the movies by the handsome actor Jason Isaacs, is described in a less than flattering manner by Rowling – a pale pointed face, cold grey eyes, blond hair, and a drawling voice. Really nothing to get excited about.37
The only other person whose ugliness could be compared with the Gaunts is Fenrir Greyback, the second werewolf that we have been shown so far. He is described as
…a big, rangy man with matted grey hair and whiskers, whose black Death Eater’s robes looked uncomfortably tight. He had a voice like none that Harry ever heard: a rasping bark of a voice. Harry could smell a powerful mixture of dirt, sweat and, unmistakeably, of blood coming from him. His filthy hands had long yellowish nails.38
It’s the first description when our senses are practically attacked by the ugliness – not only our sight but also our sense of smell and our hearing. An unpleasantly weird voice, a powerful body odour … small wonder, though, as it all has been reserved for one of the most repulsive wizards we’ve seen so far - a werewolf who happens to attack not because he has to do so, but because he wants to. He aims at children, small and defenceless, turns them into werewolves and makes them join his side afterwards, as usually the werewolves have no better option offered. I see it as Greyback’s personal revenge on the wizarding world. Voldemort uses Greyback to blackmail those who refuse to obey him and he usually gets the right results – people would rather do something awful than expose their own children, especially with the knowledge that a meeting with a werewolf might end tragically. We’ve been told about the Montgomery sisters and their younger brother who, being only five, was bitten to death.39 Apparently his mother refused to carry out the wishes of the Death Eaters. No wonder Fenrir is coded so unambiguously by his physical description – “ugly” definitely means “bad” here.
It’s time to present the last of the “ugly faces”. Here he comes – Professor Severus Snape, the linchpin of the whole series. His appearance leaves nothing to doubt – he is not very handsome. Here are the quotes concerning his appearance:
…a teacher with greasy black hair, a hooked nose and sallow skin.40
…even Harry, who hated Snape, was startled at the expression twisting his thin, sallow face.41
He was a thin man with sallow skin, a hooked nose and greasy, shoulder-length black hair.42
His eyes were black like Hagrid’s, but they had none of Hagrid’s warmth. They were cold and empty and made you think of dark tunnels.43
Say what you might, it is a description of a villain born or at least, somebody with serious psychological problems. Some of his traits might have been inherited, of course. At the same time, the man has all the specific appearances of a Byronic character – he is a mysterious individual, often at odds with the law, hiding his real nature and motives of his deeds deep enough to make the whole lot of ladies sigh and swoon. Not to mention his wearing these stylish black robes all the time.
Why is Severus presented in this way? His past experience might be the clue. As a young boy he was said to be attracted strongly by the Dark Arts and used to experiment with new spells, later on he joined the Death Eaters and I suppose he did it out of his free will. Knowing that Voldemort has always ordered his followers to do terrible things, Snape’s face has every right to be pale and sallow and his character acidic as a result. The other fact is that Severus doesn’t seem to consider his behaviour as wrong in any way.
Human eyes are known to be the mirror of one’s soul – what do they say about our dear Severus? He is a complex character, nobody can deny it. His feelings are profound but suppressed. Is he evil? Is he simply misunderstood and good? The appearance could indicate both answers; the most possible answer is that he just represents complex characters and defies simple classification. It is true that, contrary to people, mentioned earlier as “undefined by their looks,” who show the sweetness of their character with almost every word and move, he seems to be coded as a baddie very strongly. Snape’s behaviour is usually full of distrust, venom and prejudice. Now and then, however, we are being led astray by a comment of Dumbledore, who happens to be the only friend of Snape, at Hogwarts and elsewhere. In the end, Severus Snape will be presented as an independent man – that’s my best guess anyway.
What counts the most?
Researchers report that women’s magazines have more advertisements and articles promoting weight loss than they used to, and over three-quarters of the covers of women’s magazines include at least one message about how to change a woman’s bodily appearance – by diet, exercise or cosmetic surgery.44 What can be suggested by these facts? Nowadays beauty is no longer an extra feature or addition but an essential thing in life – or at least it is presented this way. It seems that nothing counts more than your weight, height, waist size, bust size, hip size.… What seems to be even more outrageous, male and female models – and their body parts – are overused and sell everything from food to cars. Their constant presence in the media makes other people think that they should look exactly like them – or die trying. Teenagers are the most vulnerable group, but the influence of very thin, very made-up and very artificial models, doesn’t end with them. Popular film and television actresses are becoming younger, taller and thinner. Some have even been known to faint on the set from lack of food. J.K. Rowling has noticed the trend, or rather has been forced to do so. This is an excerpt from her internet diary:
I whiled away part of the journey reading a magazine that
featured several glossy photographs of a very young woman who is either
seriously ill or suffering from an eating disorder (which is, of course, the
same thing); anyway, there is no other explanation for the shape of her body.
She can talk about eating absolutely loads, being terribly busy and having the
world’s fastest metabolism until her tongue drops off (hooray! Another couple
of ounces gone!), but her concave stomach, protruding ribs and stick-like arms
tell a different story. This girl needs help, but, the world being what it is,
they’re sticking her on magazine covers instead. […] I went to the British Book
Awards that evening. After the award ceremony I bumped into a woman I hadn’t
seen for nearly three years. The first thing she said to me? ‘You’ve lost a lot
of weight since the last time I saw you!’
‘Well,’ I said, slightly nonplussed, ‘the last time you saw me I’d just had a baby.’
What I felt like saying was, ‘I’ve produced my third child and my sixth novel since I last saw you. Aren’t either of those things more important, more interesting, than my size?’ But no – my waist looked smaller! Forget the kid and the book: finally, something to celebrate!
[...] I’ve got two daughters who will have to make their way in this skinny-obsessed world, and it worries me, because I don’t want them to be empty-headed, self-obsessed, emaciated clones; I’d rather they were independent, interesting, idealistic, kind, opinionated, original, funny – a thousand things, before ‘thin.’ 45
Although this was said (or written) some time after publishing the first six Harry Potter books, the appearances of different characters in these books reflect well the sensible approach of the author – the mere fact that somebody is more beautiful than the rest of the population doesn’t code them as better, nicer, or braver and never should do so. In fact, the opposite is true in many cases. It’s the personality which counts the most, your inner value; who you choose to be, not what you look like. If you are bad, or you want to be so, it will be seen sooner or later. On the other hand, even if you are physically ugly, you can choose to be beautiful and it will be seen as well. Let it be the final warning: you can make a beauty of yourself but, even easier and quicker, you can make of yourself a beast.
1. Wikipedia, s.v. “Beauty.”
3. Donlan, “The Origin of Kalos kagaqos.”
4. Wikiquote, s.v. “Petrarch.”
5. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 12
6. Ibid., 13.
7. Ibid., 14.
8. Rowling, Prisoner of Azkaban, 71
9. Rowling, Interview with Diane Rehm.
11. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 20.
12. Ibid., 39.
13. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 32.
14. Ibid., 49.
15. Ibid., 92.
16. Ibid., 220.
17. Ibid., 71.
18. Ibid., Order of the Phoenix, 451.
19. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 222–23.
20. Ibid., 93.
21. Ibid., 101.
22. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 138–39.
23. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 363–64.
24. Ibid., 439.
25. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 580–81.
26. Ibid., Goblet of Fire, 67.
27. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 252.
28. Ibid., 406.
29. Ibid., 201–3.
30. Ibid., 407.
31. Ibid., 413.
32. Ibid., 192.
33. Ibid., 191.
34. Ibid., 194.
35. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 226.
36. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 200–201.
37. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 42.
38. Ibid., Half-Blood Prince, 553–54.
39. Ibid., 442.
40. Rowling, Philosopher’s Stone, 94.
41. Ibid., Prisoner of Azkaban, 72.
42. Ibid., Chamber of Secrets, 62.
43. Ibid., Philosopher’s Stone, 102.
44. Media Awareness Network, “Beauty and Body Image.”
45. Rowling Official Site, “For Girls Only, Probably….”
Donlan, Walter. “The Origina of Kalos kagaqos.” In The American Journal of Philology 94, no. 4 (Winter 1973): 365.
Harris, Sara. “New Research Reveals Insight Into How We Perceive Beauty, Emotions From a Face.” http://apu.sfn.org/index.cfm?pagename=news_111405c
J.K. Rowling Official Site. “Extra Stuff: For Girls Only, Probably….” http://www.jkrowling.com/textonly/en/extrastuff_view.cfm?id=22 (accessed 28 November 2006).
Media Awareness Network. “Beauty and Body Image in the Media.” http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/stereotyping/women_and_girls/women_beauty.cfm (accessed 28 November 2006).
Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. London: Bloomsbury, 1998 (2004 edition).
———. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. London: Bloomsbury, 2000.
———. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince. London: Bloomsbury, 2005.
———. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. London: Bloomsbury, 2003.
———. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. London: Bloomsbury<, 1997.
———. Interview with Diane Rehm. The Diane Rehm Show, 24 December 1999. Transcript, Accio Quote! http://www.accio-quote.org/articles/1999/1299-wamu-rehm.htm (accessed 28 November 2006).
Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia, s.v. “Beauty.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beauty (accessed 28 November 2006).
Wikiquote, s.v. “Petrarch.” http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Petrarch (accessed 28 November 2006).