Transcript #568


MuggleCast 568 Transcript


Transcript for MuggleCast Episode #568, Indefensible Characters in Harry Potter, and How to Understand Them

Show Intro

[Show music plays]

Andrew: Welcome to MuggleCast, your weekly ride into the wizarding world fandom. I’m Andrew.

Eric: I’m Eric.

Micah: I’m Micah.

Laura: And I’m Laura, and this week we will be arguing in defense of some of the most controversial, least favorite, most complicated characters in Harry Potter.

Eric: That’s right. Well, before we begin, I’d like to shout out the brand new Hogwarts Hunt, which is a fundraiser that’s being put on through various members of the Harry Potter community. I’m very excited to say that MuggleCast is the head of Hufflepuff House, but actually, we’re among a lot of greatness. The Gryffindor head is Chanel Williams, who you may know for her TikTok McGonagall impressions. The Ravenclaw head is Chris Rankin, a.k.a. Percy Weasley. And the Slytherin head is Maja Bloom, who plays Carrow in Fantastic Beasts. Anyway, we are up against those fellow team leaders, but really, it’s all a wonderful charity to be doing a scavenger hunt. Look at the MuggleNet socials for more information, and MuggleCast socials as well for the clues, or you can donate to each of our charities. In fact, our charity that we’re playing for this is the Transgender Law Center; we’ve got to support and do anything that we can to prevent discrimination, and that’s where the Transgender Law Center excels. For more information, check out, and definitely check out, stay tuned to MuggleNet and our social medias for more info. Thanks, and Happy Pride Month, everybody.

Andrew: So yeah, we’ll have a link in today’s show notes. Thanks, everybody, who helps out with that.

Main Discussion: Indefensible characters in Harry Potter

Andrew: All right, Laura, so let’s jump into today’s discussion.

Laura: Yeah, I’m really excited for this; it’s something that we’ve been toying around with for a little while. It started out as doing a defense of James Potter conversation, but we realized there was more room to expand that and look at some other characters who are complex in the series. But I thought as a warm-up, each of us could bring one character to the table who we think is completely indefensible and why we think that there are no redeeming qualities for these characters. Andrew, it looks like you have everybody’s favorite second year Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher.

Andrew: [laughs] Everybody’s favorite? Not after I’m done with him.

[Laura laughs]

Andrew: Yeah, so Lockhart, obviously. There is a special kind of evil, in my opinion, in stealing the adventures of others, then wiping those adventures and everything else from these unsuspecting people’s memories, and then profiting off of these stories by claiming they are his own, and then to carry the ego of someone who actually did all these things. He’s an extremely egotistical guy. And then to accept a role at Hogwarts with a bunch of lies as your resume, where he will be unqualified to teach, and he knows that deep down. And then, of course, as we see in Chamber of Secrets, he unsuccessfully comes to the aid of students, namely Harry; it’s all based on a lie, and he just isn’t able to help them, and it’s a unique kind of evil. He’s not the evilest person in Harry Potter, but it’s just a special kind of bad person, and it’s always really bugged me. I’m a journalist, so I can’t take when people lie.

[Laura laughs]

Andrew: I’m not really a journalist, but it hurts my soul.

Laura: You’re an independent journalist, Andrew.

Andrew: [laughs] Former independent journalist.

Laura: What I think is really interesting about Lockhart is that I think we’ve all had a Lockhart at some point or another…

Andrew: Ooh.

Laura: … maybe not someone who is as exaggerated and larger than life than this character, but I think that we’ve all had a teacher whose credentials we maybe questioned because they weren’t the greatest teacher, and we all probably found ourselves wondering, “How did this person get this job?”

Andrew: Yeah, or even just a serial liar. I think we’ve all known somebody who loves to lie and finds it very easy to do to make them sound more impressive than they actually are.

Eric: Well, and Lockhart is a great example of just unbridled ambition, right? Unchecked. There’s been no one to ever say, “You can’t do this.” He’s doing it and he’s promoting himself to a ridiculous level and he’s just not worth it inside, and that’s a horrible trait. Usually, if we were looking for a more redemptive character, you would have to have an element of, I don’t know, self-doubt… something lovable. There’s nothing lovable about Lockhart deep down. He’s harming people and actually putting all the students at Hogwarts at an even greater risk. He’s their Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher; they rely on him when stuff hits the fan, and he’s incompetent. He can’t do it.

Laura: Yeah, I think we might have felt differently about Lockhart if he had a threshold that he could reach where he would realize what he was doing is wrong. For example, with Harry and Ron in the Chamber of Secrets, had he said, “You know what, this is too far; I’m going to come clean,” I think that we might be having a very different conversation about Lockhart today, but because he attempted to wipe the memories of two 12-year-olds and it ended up backfiring on him, we don’t feel sorry for him.

Andrew: Right, exactly, yeah.

Eric: He got what he deserved.

Laura: Okay. Eric, what about you?

Eric: I have another Ravenclaw for the list.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: Professor Quirrell! And again, how does Dumbledore choose these DADA teachers?

Laura: I know.

Eric: But yeah, I mean, we know that Quirrell was actually a competent professor and he ventured off before Harry’s first year into the woods to go and find Voldemort, and based on some extended canon, he thought he could either subdue Voldemort or wanted some kind of glory or accolades to locating him. Unfortunately, we know how this worked: Voldemort played him like a fiddle, ended up Quirrell is now Voldemort’s number one supporter, and in fact, sharing his human body with him in a quest to find and get the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone and bring it back to life. So because of Quirrell’s ego, which I don’t think we’ve really focused on very much, because of Quirrell’s own “I can do this,” he ends up nearly unleashing Voldemort on the world a few years before we know that Voldemort actually returns. And it’s just a complete disregard for the danger of the situation. When you make a decision that puts yourself at risk, okay, that’s your decision. But when you make a decision that’s going to impact the entire wizarding world, think about the consequences of your actions here. And there was none of that. Again, it was just ambition the whole way through for Quirrell, and he spends his last year or so of life cowering under the guise of a wizard much more powerful than him, which he probably didn’t think existed. So it’s just the worst kind of mistake, because it’s a mistake, but it impacts so many other people.

Andrew: I like how the two non-Ravenclaws on this panel picked Ravenclaws here.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: They are the worst, aren’t they?

Andrew: Yes, they’re totally the worst. I don’t know how you can be one, Micah and Laura. Kidding.

Laura: [laughs] Well, no, I mean, I think that it’s a great point, because some of the ambition that is normally cast as a negative characteristic of Slytherins is also present among some Ravenclaws who turned bad, so I like that we’re equal opportunity offenders on the show when it comes to the Houses.

Eric: I think, too, as a Ravenclaw, if you have a so-called big brain, right, turn that intelligence… I guess the expectation from where I’m sitting on my comfy chair in Hufflepuff is that you turn that towards the betterment of humanity, and if you have more of a narrow focus and decide to use your smarts to propel yourself through high society, all the honors that that gets you, and don’t end up doing something like doing any philanthropic work or anything, then I view you poorly, as a Hufflepuff. And so these Ravenclaws are examples of people that really were just in it for themselves, despite having potentially some level of skill somewhere along the way.

Laura: Yeah. And there’s a lot of hubris there, too, right?

Micah: For sure. I think if you look at a lot of the Ravenclaws that we know in the series – maybe with the lone exception being Luna – there’s a lot to criticize. There’s a lot to look at, there’s a lot to evaluate, because they have all kind of used their wits for negative purposes, especially in the cases of both Lockhart and Quirrell.

Laura: Agreed.

Eric: With great power comes great responsibility.

Laura: Right. Oh, thank you, Uncle Ben. Well, shifting focus here, Micah, you have someone who didn’t get to go to Hogwarts.

Micah: No, but perhaps she would have been a Ravenclaw. Who knows?

[Laura laughs]

Eric: Oh, nicely done.

Micah: Yeah, so I’m curious to get all your thoughts after this, but I think that Petunia may be one of the most overlooked villains of the Harry Potter series. While she has taken her nephew in to safeguard him against the Dark side of the wizarding world, it may be worth wondering if even Death Eaters would be impressed by her treatment of Harry. She imprisoned him underneath the stairs, made him a servant to other members of the family, and allowed him to be shamed at every opportunity, even more so after his wizarding abilities came to light. She’s more than willing to try and repress his magic, and she’s willing to let tall tales be told about her sister, demeaning both Harry’s mother and father in front of him on countless occasions, so that’s why I really don’t think that she is defensible. We know that, obviously, she really wanted to go to Hogwarts, and that Harry represents probably everything she wanted for herself, but again, this is family, and this is also a child that she is responsible for, and she really does not do right by him at all.

Andrew: It’s interesting. It’s almost a hiding-in-plain-sight type of thing, because you don’t think of her as a villain since Dumbledore put Harry with the Dursleys; she is Lily’s sister… it doesn’t scream villain. But when you look at her this way, you get an entirely different impression. So yeah, I don’t know if I would go and say she was one of the worst, but most overlooked, yeah, for sure.

Eric: Well, put it this way: If Harry were anybody else other than Harry, with his unfailing lack of self-doubt, she could have instilled in him some crippling anxieties that he either lived with long into adulthood, or never recovered from because of her treatment and abuse of him. I do agree she belongs on this list of the irredeemable ones, because if you take what a caregiver or mother figure is supposed to be and turn it on its head, you get Petunia.

Laura: Yeah, it’s a great point. And based on this conversation, it has me wondering, did anybody…? When we first read Book 7 and we found out the truth about Petunia’s backstory, did we feel anything for her? Or did that not move the needle for us?

Micah: I don’t know that I looked at Petunia through that lens when I was first reading the series, where I would look back and think about how she brought up Harry. I think that’s more of something that we’ve all gotten to talk about over the course of the last couple years, and looking at the series through an adult perspective, I do think there was probably part of me that felt a little bit bad for her. She seemed like she was on the outside looking in and she really wanted to go to Hogwarts and she wanted to be just like her sister, but for whatever reason, Dumbledore doesn’t let her in and you do feel for her, I think, to some extent.

Eric: I think it’s because Petunia didn’t have a bakery, so she can’t come to Hogwarts.

[Andrew and Laura laugh]

Laura: Right.

Andrew: Wow, when you put it that way, oof, that’s pretty rough.

Laura: Isn’t that rough?

Eric: Dumbledore is like, “What is she going to bring to me, really? Not like that Kowalski guy who always brings me fun pastries.”

Andrew: “I want some fresh bread and pastries. A man with a pan and a plan.”

Laura: A man with a pan.

[Andrew laughs]

Laura: Somebody make that shirt, please. It makes you wonder why wouldn’t Dumbledore have given Petunia a fake wand? He already did it with one Muggle.

Eric: Oh my God.

Andrew: This is why prequels are dangerous.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: I mean, and it’s not like Jacob at this time is studying in Hogwarts. It was just a visit.

Andrew: Right.

Eric: But still, still. I mean, I think Petunia would have appreciated a field trip, a sympathy field trip.

Andrew: Yes! Early on, especially.

Eric: As far as do we feel bad for her after learning that stuff? It’s kind of like Snape for me. There is sort of this tragic backstory; there’s this human moment where we as the audience can be like, “Oh, I get that. I can connect to that emotion of feeling sad and disappointed.” But from that point forward, if your choices are all garbage like Snape’s and Petunia’s were, there isn’t that much redemption to be had. I’m not going to feel that sorry for you. It’s uncomfortable, but it’s not very much because I’m just able to say, “Look, you resolved yourself to hatred and bigotry and all this other stuff later.” It’s like, “Just because you were sad as a kid, and then you went and made other kids sad. So who are you, really?”

Laura: Right. It’s about the choices you make, right?

Micah: Of course. Speaking of that man, though, I think he’s probably an indefensible character to some extent. And as it relates to Petunia, let’s just look at what he did: He denied her entry to Hogwarts – and I know it’s not technically up to him – and then years later, what does he do? He puts the son who has all this magical ability of her sister at her doorstep and makes her responsible for taking care of him, re-exposing her all over again to the magical world. I think there’s something a bit sinister in that.

Eric: Well, then again, that’s how we process emotions. We have to have that exposure therapy of… Petunia was presented with the choice of continuing to resent her sister or starting anew, and she chose the former rather than the latter, so I think there’s only… not to defend the indefensible Dumbledore – I do agree a lot of what he does is indefensible – but I think that there’s only a certain amount of things he could have predicted. We know he needed to put Harry with Petunia because of the particular magic that he was working to protect him.

Laura: Great point. Well, I’ll share mine, and this one is probably one of the more predictable options here. I chose Umbridge. I think that she’s one of the most obvious villains in the series. She’s not leading Voldemort’s movement or marching at the front of a crowd of Death Eaters ever, but she is using her position in the bowels of government to support it. And as Sirius said in Book 5, “The world isn’t separated into good people and Death Eaters,” and I think that is a perfect descriptor of Umbridge.

Eric: Laura, you just quoted Sirius Black in a defense?

Laura: I did. I did.

Andrew: That’s so beautiful.

Eric: I love it so much.

Laura: I know. I have problems with Sirius, but not as many as I have with Umbridge, so…

[Andrew and Eric laugh]

Eric: That’s a good barrier.

Laura: But I wanted to ask y’all, before we move on here: Of these characters that we’ve stated as indefensible, which one of them would you say…? If you had to pick one that was the most indefensible, who would it be?

Andrew: Well, I’ll never be over Umbridge and her detentions for Harry. Just the worst of the worst. And I still remember feeling so mad at her reading Order of the Phoenix, so I think of this list, I have to go with Umbridge.

Micah: Agreed.

Laura: Great.

Micah: But here’s a question: Would any of you have saved her from the centaurs? Or would you have just left her?

Laura: [laughs] I would save anyone from the… I don’t know. I would like to think that my humanity would override and I would say I wouldn’t want anyone to be tortured, even if they deserved it.

Andrew: Yeah, because we’re good people and we want to help somebody when they’re in need, no matter who they are. I mean, there’s some people you draw the line at. [laughs]

Eric: Well, it’s tough because in that moment, they have to get away. Hermione and Harry have to get away.

Laura: Right.

Eric: They can’t even… they don’t have an opportunity to really stop what’s going on, because Umbridge was so unrelenting in letting them go or flee or do what they need to do or listening to them or any of the things a teacher should have done, that it had to be that way with her.

Laura: I am glad to hear that we’re all in agreement that Umbridge is the most indefensible of these characters, because later on in the episode, we are going to be defending her. So great job, y’all.

Andrew: Excellent.

Eric: Half of us are going to be defending her. [laughs]

Andrew: Yes.

Laura: Well, we’ll be coming from different points of view on it. Have that to look forward to. And here in a moment, we’re going to talk about which characters we love to hate, but first, well, I thought we could shift focus a little bit and talk about the characters that maybe they’re not necessarily indefensible, but they are the characters that we love to hate.

Andrew: Oh, man, this one was so easy for me. Percy Weasley. This butt face falls in love with the Ministry. He’s so proud of himself for getting the job. Of course, Fudge just promoted him to Junior Minister to keep an eye on the Weasleys and Harry and Dumbledore, actually, so he’s so excited to get this role. He prioritizes his Ministry family over his own family. He doesn’t believe Dumbledore that Voldemort is back, “Dumbledore is off his rocker,” “Fudge is awesome and amazing and right,” and then, of course, the truth is finally revealed. He comes to his senses, Percy does, and feels really guilty, but he got played big time. And the reason I love to hate Percy is because I just love seeing him realize his mistake, and it was a very big mistake, and it knocked him down a few pegs ego-wise. He was very egotistical with that role at the Ministry, and turns out he was wrong.

Eric: His letter that Ron just gets and scoffs at is a great part of that book because you’re just like, “He’s what now?”

Andrew: Yeah, yeah. So smug, if I recall correctly.

Laura: Well, he’s also… Percy is someone who’s power hungry. You see that even when he’s at Hogwarts; he takes being a prefect and then Head Boy perhaps a little too seriously.

Eric: He also cares about the responsibility, though. That’s the thing, is I think he really enjoyed being a prefect, first for the honor, right? And that’s what Fred and George constantly pick at him for. But I think he also feels like he could handle the responsibilities in any given role.

Micah: I might make a unfavorable comparison here, though: I don’t think he’s that much different in his ambition than Umbridge. If you look at it, they’re both very much disappointed in their father’s lack of achievement within the Ministry that they themselves go to the Ministry to ascend to these levels of power.

Eric: Here’s the difference: Umbridge knows what she’s doing is wrong, and Percy has just bought into the common public perception of the day. Percy is toeing the Ministry line only so far as it seems to be a plausible, reasonable route, and falls out of it. Umbridge actually forcibly creates the world she wants to see and the reality she wants to see by bending the rules and sending Dementors after Harry to make sure that Fudge as Minister would support her actions, and there’s, I think, an entire canyon of distance between those two characters for that reason.

Micah: They’re comparable in the fact that I think they both have some daddy issues. And if you look at Percy, I mean, within a very short period of time, he is already buddy-buddy right there with the Minister. Now, the Minister doesn’t even know his name, so that is a bit of a slap in the face.

[Eric laughs]

Micah: However, I’m just saying, if you look at what he was able to achieve, versus what Arthur was able to achieve in his long career at the Ministry, it would be night and day for those on the outside looking in. And obviously, Umbridge does something not all that dissimilar; she gets very close to the Minister and then can sort of, as you were saying, enact her own policies as a result of that. I’m not saying they’re similar in character; I’m just saying they’re similar in terms of how they chose to approach their careers.

Laura: Yeah, I think the key difference is Percy is, of course, a good bit younger, and he does redeem himself, albeit in the 11th hour of the series. [laughs] But he does eventually come around much earlier in his life than Umbridge, and we’re never led to indicate that Umbridge ever came around after any of this. So that’s really the difference, is just the choice Percy made later on in the series to come back into the fold of the good guys.

Eric: Onto the light side. I mean, it just represents, too – Percy does – the capacity in all of us, even among so-called good families, to stray to a totalitarian fascist regime. Pure intentions, but it really is tricky out there.

Andrew: Admittedly, it happens, so I’ll give Percy that. Especially when you’re growing up. But all teens are rebellious when they’re teenagers.

[Andrew and Eric laugh]

Laura: I just want to say – and this is plugging our Discord and thus our Patreon – I’m really loving the discourse that is happening in our Discord right now where people are making some real-life comparisons to what Umbridge and Percy would do in some real-life current situations happening that you might see reported on the news. It’s very funny. You should join our Patreon; it’s a ton of fun over there. We love hanging out with these folks on Saturday mornings. But Eric, do you want to tell us about Snape?

Eric: This is a really easy one, yeah. Snape, but I put him in the category of love to hate. I think that a function of these books, insofar as they’re formulaic, there is that big misdirect. There is the person that is held up as “This guy’s the bad guy,” but he’s not; he turns out not to be the bad guy. So starting way back in Book 1, Snape being held up as this cruel teacher that is dirty all the time, hangs out in the dungeons, really has nothing going for him…

Andrew: Greasy hair.

Eric: Greasy hair. That git. But it turns out that he’s spent the whole first year of Harry’s year at Hogwarts protecting Harry, and you’re just like, “What? Double take!” That said, once you have that revelation at the end of Book 1, it doesn’t get better. [laughs] He’s still continuing to make life miserable for the students at Hogwarts. He does some really awful things to Hermione and Neville, really just shatters their confidence or tries his damnedest to. And so yeah, not a good guy. But there’s still this element… I think it helps that he ends up being a good guy in the sense that he was working with Dumbledore to topple Voldemort and is possibly the single most important person, the most important cog in that whole set of gears for that cause, so it’s like, “Okay, I love to hate him because he is actually a good guy, but I really hate him.” But then there’s also that element of… the scenes with him are just so ridiculous. I’m thinking in particular when Harry is knocked out after the Dementors swarm him and he wakes up in the hospital wing, and Snape has regained control of the entire situation with Sirius Black and he’s talking with Fudge, and Fudge is just so delighted; he’s like, “Oh, Order of Merlin, second class. First class if I can manage it!” And Snape is just basking in the glow of this righteous act that’s going to get Sirius – who he knows at this point is innocent – is going to get him murdered or worse, and Snape doesn’t care. But that scene is so… because you feel powerless, and then there’s that triumph of Harry… you love having Snape as your, let’s say, mini-villain of any one particular book.

Laura: Yeah. Snape kind of has a one track mind when it comes to doing what’s right, because what’s right for him is that he knows he has to keep Harry alive. It’s very minimalist. It’s similar to Petunia, in a way. She provides the most – and I mean the most – basic of housing for him, so that she can satisfy the requirement of letting him come home once a year, and Snape is doing the bare minimum to keep Harry alive. And it doesn’t… the ancillary characters that Harry cares about don’t really seem to matter to him because he doesn’t care so much about Harry’s quality of life or mental state; he just needs to keep him alive because he made that promise to Dumbledore after Lily died.

Andrew: Also fun to hate Snape just because of the big “Snape good versus evil” debate back in the day. [laughs] Just fun to hate on him from that perspective, too.

Eric: It was kept ambiguous. Well, even the Marauder’s Map makes fun of Snape.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: It’s like, everybody jump on board.

Andrew: Everyone’s favorite punching bag. Poor guy.

Laura: Do we remember what side of that debate we were on back in the day?

Andrew: We’d have to pull up the old episodes of MuggleCast. [laughs]

Laura: I know.

Andrew: Man, I wish I remembered off the top of my head.

Laura: I feel like we were pretty solidly in the “Snape is good” corner because we had done so much theorizing and we were like, “No, no, no.”

Micah: As Eric was just describing, “good” is such a vague term.

Eric and Laura: Yeah.

Micah: He’s not good. He’s both good and bad.

Eric: It’s crazy that a character that murders Dumbledore could be considered a good guy, but I think we all razor focused – if I’m remembering correctly – on the “Severus, please” thing…

Laura: Yes.

Eric: … to really remember that Dumbledore planned this. And I remember feeling after reading Half-Blood that because it was part of Dumbledore’s plan. Snape, again, just is not guilty, is not a bad guy, so to speak, of doing what he’s doing.

Laura: Well, Micah. Love to hate.

Micah: Love to hate but I also think indefensible, so she probably fits both categories.

[Laura laughs]

Micah: And this may be influenced a bit by Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of Bellatrix. However, we know that she is easily Voldemort’s second in command, and I believe I’m quoting David Heyman here from our Episode 200 interview with him when he said she has a “deliciousness” to her evil. We don’t know much about Cygnus and Druella Black, her parents, but it is fair to say that the Black name and reputation speaks for itself. She’s clearly a pure-blood loyalist and obsessed with the Dark Arts, being taught by Voldemort himself. She’s the most maniacal of her sisters, Narcissa and Andromeda, disowning Andromeda after marrying a Muggle. And probably most notably, she’s responsible for the torture of Frank and Alice Longbottom and the murder of Sirius Black, so she has quite the resumé. But I still think people love to hate Bellatrix.

Andrew: And she loves being evil, so she welcomes everybody hating her, too, I think.

Eric: That’s a key component, I think, is “Love who you are, even if who you are is a horrible person.” [laughs]

Andrew: It’s an inspiring message. We all should carry Bellatrix’s message with us.

Laura: Yeah. Do you remember when Dumbledore was talking to Snape and made it clear to him, “I would prefer that you kill me, because Bellatrix likes to play with her food”? [laughs] Because he knew he would suffer, right? He knew Snape would make it quick. But I agree; I think that so much of this… and I think we’ve talked about this when we’ve analyzed Bellatrix’s character before: It is surprising to look back at the written word and see how little of Bellatrix there is in the books, actually, but Helena Bonham Carter just made that character jump off the page.

Andrew and Eric: Yeah.

Andrew: Absolutely.

Laura: To this day.

Eric: Yeah, there’s an example of the character sort of even being better in the adaptation than it is in the books, again, because I think in the book if you were to distill it down and erase our minds of any film portrayal and just have us assess the character, we’d say, “Well, she’s the fanatic.” You’ve got to have… this evil regime, you have to have the true believer, evil regiment person, but then we’d just be like, “Yeah, she was in a couple of scenes. She did that thing with the Longbottoms; then she just is always harping on the kids for being against her man, Voldemort.” But there’s a lot of color and flavor that Helena adds to it.

Laura: Agreed.

Micah: Yeah, she also gets Harry to use the first Unforgivable Curse that he uses.

Eric: That’s right. I mean, she murders Sirius Black; I guess I should hate her more because of that. But also, what did it for me was Spinner’s End, getting to see the one person besides Voldemort that she feels some earthly attachment to – not her husband, surprisingly, [laughs] but her sister Narcissa, and their dynamic and their relationship is really interesting. But again, Bellatrix is there to say, “You should be doing what Voldemort wants no matter what,” and so it’s very good insight into her character.

Laura: And for my love to hate character, I picked Rita Skeeter. I don’t know that we’ve talked about her a ton on the show in recent history. She is not an amazing journalist by any stretch, but there is some cleverness to what she does. She was my favorite character to hate in Goblet of Fire, which is also my favorite Harry Potter book. This wasn’t a connection that I made before I started planning for this episode, but I feel like I need to go reread it now to see if the Rita Skeeter arc was one of my favorite parts of the book. It was also really satisfying to see her outwitted by a 14-year-old; I love those moments and these characters who get bamboozled by teenagers. And while everything she does is sensationalized, her work does slightly graze the truth enough to entice her readers and to keep the plot moving along. Even thinking about The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore, there’s a ton of sensationalism in there, but at its base, at its core, there is some level of truth. That’s how we find out about Grindelwald and Dumbledore knowing each other. It’s another place where Hermione sees the Deathly Hallows sigil and realizes that there’s a theme here, so it gives Harry and Hermione a direction to move in. So I really enjoy the character, not because I like her, but I do love to hate her.

Eric: It’s another one of those classic takes of how femininity is bad in the view of the author, the way she shows up and she’s very posh and accomplished, but she actually does not want what’s best for the wizarding world, if we all can believe that.

Laura: Nope. [laughs]

Eric: She wants success and fame and fortune and all the usual trappings.

Micah: She’s Lockhart with a quill, essentially.

Andrew and Laura: Yep.

Laura: Do you think she was a Ravenclaw too?

[Laura and Micah laugh]

Micah: We could probably check on that.

[Eric and Laura laugh]

Micah: I do think, though, too, just like Bellatrix, there’s a deliciousness to her evil, and that may also have to do with Miranda Richardson’s portrayal of her. We don’t get her a whole lot in the fourth movie, right? We actually don’t even get her after that when she does make a couple of appearances, so that’s disappointing.

Laura: I know.

Andrew: Y’all…

Micah: Rita was a Ravenclaw, okay.

Andrew: Yeah, I just Googled it. She was a Ravenclaw.

Laura: [laughs] Oh no!

Eric: Oh my God.

Andrew: There’s a trend here.

Eric: There’s a Ravenclaw in every book that’s evil.

Andrew: [chanting] Leave this House. Leave this House.

Laura: No, Micah and I have to redeem the reputation.

Andrew: Oh, fine, fair.

[Laura laughs]

Andrew: Slytherin! Slytherin!

[Andrew and Laura laugh]

Laura: It’s a different kind of evil.

Andrew: Yes.

Laura: Well, I thought we could chat about now, after we’ve warmed up with talking about some completely indefensible and some love to hate characters, what makes a character defensible or even complex enough that we enjoy them as readers? I think Snape is most often the example that fans of the books look to. There are even a lot of readers of the books who cite Snape as their favorite character, not because they agree with him ideologically, but because he is such a gray area complex character. And I was just thinking off the top of my head, what are some of the characteristics of a character like this that maybe people can connect with or at least understand? And I think it’s he’s deeply intelligent, he has this tortured childhood, he’s got an unrequited love angle… we’ve all been there at some point. I’m wondering, though, what is the most common defense of Snape that we’ve heard from Snape fans over the years?

Eric: I think that Dumbledore really manipulated him. We see Snape was a good enough person in the sense that he could love somebody – that’s questionable whether it was healthy love, etc., etc. – but then to have the back half of your life be dictated by this megalomaniacal Machiavelli character that’s going to say, “Oh, you felt for this person? I’m going to use that to put you exactly where I want you the next 20 years.” It’s arguable whether Dumbledore was doing what absolutely needed to be done because he needed an inside man because that’s just Voldemort was that terrifying, but at the same time, it’s wrong that Snape never really got to process those emotions necessarily, because he had to just be in it for the last 13-15 years of his life.

Andrew: Yeah. Yeah, I agree. I think Dumbledore is the most common denominator as to why Snape was most defendable. It’s hard to argue with the fact that Dumbledore and Snape were working very closely together and we consider Dumbledore mostly a good guy.

Laura: Do we on this show? I feel like we critique Dumbledore on a lot on this show.

[Laura and Micah laugh]

Andrew: No, we do. We definitely do. But I think I say from time to time that he’s one of my favorite characters, if not my favorite character.

Micah: He’s a fascinating character.

Laura: Oh, yeah.

Micah: I just think looking back on it, we’re able to see how he was this master manipulator and moved all these different chess pieces throughout the Harry Potter series so that ultimately, we got the result that we did.

Laura: Well, I mean, when we look back at the indefensible characters that we started at the beginning of the show with, Dumbledore is the common denominator with all four of these people.

Eric: Oh, God. You’re about to… you just blew my mind. But look, but look, here’s my rule of thumb, good guy versus bad guy: Are they nice to children?

Laura: Yep.

Eric: That’s it. Snape is not… he’s no. Petunia is not…

Laura: That’s a good barometer. [laughs]

Andrew: Yeah, I mean, rereading some of the ways he treats the students, it makes you sick. And in those moments, I’m like, “Damn, this guy really does suck.”

Eric: But then Dumbledore is like, “Alas, earwax.”

[Laura laughs]

Eric: He really makes effort, I think… even with Ron, when he… and he gives the points to Neville at the end of year one. I think because Dumbledore was good with kids, he’s okay, or a little bit more all right.

Laura: Well, he’s good with kids interpersonally, but he doesn’t put kids in the greatest position either. [laughs]

Eric: [sighs] Yeah, there are kind of all those security nightmare moments that we talk about.

[Andrew laughs]

Laura: Yeah. Well, speaking of something that could potentially lead to a security nightmare, or at the very least an emotional nightmare, let’s talk about Filch. I think Filch is not a character that gets discussed often, but I think that there is somewhat of a defense that you can make of Filch and his really terrible sour personality; he’s a member of a society that treats him like a second class citizen.

Andrew and Micah: Yeah.

Micah: And not to bring up Dumbledore again, but I will.

[Laura laughs]

Micah: I was wondering, do we need to really defend Filch? Or is it more of a question of Dumbledore’s judgment? Because Dumbledore essentially makes Filch the Hogwarts custodian, and Filch is a person with no magical ability that has to clean up after children who constantly remind him of what he is not. He’s already at a major disadvantage in his attempts to discipline and do his job, maybe less so with the younger students because they’ll obey authority, but certainly the older ones are not going to listen to what he has to say. And I really think that comes down to the fact that it’s doubtful he has the students’ respect. He can’t even use magic to do his job, and given his job, this would be a major benefit. So I think one point we looked at how inclusive Dumbledore is in terms of his staff at Hogwarts, but I feel like in this role for Filch it’s very difficult for him to do his job. It’s almost like Dumbledore is putting him in a position to be ridiculed.

Eric: I really would have liked… now I see there’s this absence of why Filch does it. We get the sense… we know what he’s missing, which is magic. We see the Kwikspell whole thing in Book 2, which is a big deal, him being a Squib and all. But I don’t understand why he would put up with all these – forgive me – shitheels at Hogwarts, these students that are just going to make his life a living hell. Is it just because he feels inferior for not having magic that he then needs to be in the only magical position he can be as a custodial worker for this magic school? Because that’s a lot of scrubbing old trophies. That’s a lot of polishing. That’s a lot of bullcrap that you’re putting yourself through that otherwise you wouldn’t. I really wish we would have gotten that component of why does Filch continually subject himself to the abuse?

Andrew: Yeah, I don’t think we ever did. I was just looking around and I don’t really see any official backstory. That would be nice to know. And we probably… I would assume that there is some reason and story that if we read it, we would be like, “Oh, okay, now it all makes sense.” I assume it has something to do with him wanting to go to Hogwarts. But yeah, you would think that, okay, you take this job, and then you do it for a few years. You’re cleaning the trophies and all that. You’re like, “What am I getting out of this?” And then maybe after that, he decided, “Well, I’ve got nothing else going on in my life. What am I going to do outside of this?” Maybe it’s one of those examples of he was looking for another job and just never found one.

[Andrew and Eric laugh]

Eric: The job market in the wizarding world is very, very slim.

Andrew: Yeah, although I could see him being a bartender at the Hog’s Head or something like that.

Eric: Oh, that would be great.

Andrew: Dumbledore could have hooked him up with Aberforth.

Micah: Yeah, I could see that. But I also think there’s something really cruel, though, about the detention aspect of Filch, right? A lot of times he’s the one that’s carrying out detention and imposing that on students for doing something that he himself is not capable of doing. And I’m also thinking about taking the students into the Forbidden Forest like he does in Sorcerer’s Stone. He’s not qualified to protect them in any way. Should something happen, the students are more equipped to protect Filch than Filch is the students, so…

Andrew: Security nightmare.

Micah: [laughs] I don’t understand Dumbledore’s rationale here.

Eric and Laura: Yeah.

Laura: My assumption was always that job prospects for Squibs are extremely limited in the wizarding world, and that assuming completely positive intent, Dumbledore was thinking, “Well, this is at least a safe” – I’m doing air quotes here – “a safe place for a Squib to be, because Hogwarts is a fortress.” And I can see him going about it that way. But we also have to remember the Kwikspell moment that we got with Filch in Book 2, when Harry found his correspondence, magical learning courses. Remember when he was in his office, and he found them on his desk and there was that moment of realization that, “Oh, Filch really wants to learn magic”?

Andrew: “I want to be a wizard.”

Laura: Yeah, and it’s a deep insecurity of his, so it makes me wonder, did he want to be at Hogwarts because maybe he thought proximity to an educational institution might rub off on him and give him some chance?

Andrew: Maybe. And we’ve heard, isn’t this the premise of the new video game? You’re going to be a late-blooming wizard?

Eric and Laura: Yeah.

Andrew: And so maybe he’s always just held out hope that one day that magic is going to kick in. But by the way, I do really like this comment from Danielle, who’s listening live. She says, “Hogwarts offers great pet insurance. That’s why he stays.”

[Andrew and Eric laugh]

Laura: Aww, Mrs. Norris.

Andrew: Sometimes it’s all about the benefits. That makes a lot of sense to me.

Eric: [laughs] I don’t know. Pet insurance? Mrs. Norris straight up is Petrified the whole second year.

Laura: Hey, maybe Filch got a great payout from that.

Eric: Oh, yeah. “Sorry for your damages. Here.”

Laura: [laughs] He’s got a great ADD policy on Mrs. Norris. But why are these conflicted characters so interesting? Filch is a character – I think it’s pretty obvious from the way I talk about him – I find him interesting, and I find the prospects of what might explain his character to be really fascinating, and I feel like we missed out on some of that sometimes. I wonder if there was supposed to be more there than what there really was, because there was so much establishment of his character early on in the books that kind of fades away as the books progress. I want to know what makes these characters so interesting to us, and we can use Filch or Snape or really any complex character in the series as an example here. There can be things, like Snape for example, things that he does that we’re not in favor of. He objectifies Lily, he practices the Dark Arts, he’s a pure-blood maniac, and yet, we can still see some good or at least track the trajectory of when they had their departure from the bad side or from the darker side of things.

Andrew: I think part of it is the mystery, the intrigue around the unknown.

Eric: I think, too, it’s crucial that there’s a point of connection for the audience on any character of seeing either themselves in a character or a universal truth in a character to see, again, where specifically they diverged, and it’s like, “Oh, I could have been this way if I had made these same choices or if I had the same trauma.” That’s a point. Or in the absence of all of that, just seeing a master of his craft, which Snape is. As potions master, you’re like, “Okay, I hate this guy, but look at him brew a potion. And then what makes him…? What qualities that are these horrid qualities makes him really good at this? Because I’m going to learn what makes a potion master get to where he is, and see if any of that involves some of the stuff that Snape is displaying.” So I think Snape was interesting from that angle, too, the fact that he was not only a Head of House, but objectively the best potion-er in the entire series.

Andrew: Or, “Oh, I hate this guy, but aww, unrequited love; that’s so sad,” or, “Oh, he’s working with Dumbledore? Okay, well, maybe there’s something here.” [laughs]

Laura: Yeah. Or, “Oh, he was bullied horribly during his schooling years.”

Andrew: Yes!

Laura: “I was bullied during my schooling years.” And that stuff – I was about to say a different word – that stuff leaves a mark. It does.

Andrew: What is that different word? I honestly don’t know. [laughs]

Eric: So again, it’s a point of connection. You need a point of connection, I think, with the best characters to really love them so thoroughly.

Micah: Conflict is king, as they like to say.

Eric: There you go.

Laura: Well, speaking of that point of connection and Snape’s bullying during his Hogwarts years, let’s talk about James Potter. James Potter was the original inspiration for today’s discussion, and I think that he warrants some nuanced conversation. Do we think that James Potter as we see him in the memories – in Harry’s – or in the books, is he better or worse than Snape? Or are they the same?

Micah: For me, it’s so hard to answer this question because we don’t get a lot of James, and a lot of what we do get of James is through Snape’s perspective, which is likely going to be skewed. Now, I’m curious, though, is it fair to say that James’s treatment of Snape helped define Snape’s decisions and who he would ultimately become? Because I think that the bullying of Snape was likely a constant reminder of how Snape was being treated at home, how he saw his mother being treated by his father, and it’s fair to say that Lily ultimately choosing James was probably similar to his mother staying with his father.

Laura: Ooh.

Micah: I know that’s digging levels deep into some of the psychology of what’s going on here, but I don’t want to pigeonhole James here. People have disagreements.

Laura: No, I think that’s… I mean, looking at it from Snape’s point of view, I’ve never thought of him potentially comparing James to Tobias, but I think you’re absolutely right; he probably sees these archetypes of men in his life who are abusive towards him and he lumps them all together and assumes that because Tobias was incapable of growth or improvement, that James probably wouldn’t be either. Snape cast him as a role and assumed that he was static and wouldn’t grow.

Micah: Right. And in both cases, the women that he loves end up going to these abusive individuals.

Laura: Oh, man, that’s deep.

Andrew: Yeah, and you can think about how that would really bother you as a person. You’re like, “Wow, I see this happening again here at Hogwarts. Will I ever get out of this cycle? Are a lot of people like this? Am I just going to keep encountering people like this?”

Micah: I tried dropping the mic, but it didn’t work.

[Andrew and Laura laugh]

Eric: You could try, but don’t. Yeah, I mean, for me, too, we were just talking about what makes an interesting character, and I’m like, “You need that point of connection with that person and how they grow and it’s very exciting…” I don’t have that with James. I think you’d be hard-pressed to find it. James is very… for how close he is to the main hero of the story – one degree of separation, his father – we have probably the least about him than we do for most of the peripheral characters in the series, and we’ve seen him the least, partly because he’s dead. But I think that unlike Lily, whose love is this resounding ever-present thing for Harry and allows the series to really continue, James is relegated to just a few moments here and there where people are commenting about James to Harry, and so we don’t have that point of connection. It’s really hard to say that James grew or evolved because we don’t see it firsthand.

Laura: Yeah. And I think, to a point that I think one of y’all inserted here in the doc, the only lens we have through which to observe that change is Lily. We know that when Harry first sees them interacting in Snape’s Worst Memory in… Book 5? Yes. She clearly doesn’t like James, so something had to have changed between when they were 15 and when they got married and had Harry. So I’m wondering, do we believe that James could have truly outgrown his bullying tendencies? I think we actually brought this up in a Slug Club meeting last month with our patrons there, where we were wondering, “15. James dies when he’s 21. Is six years enough time to really grow out of that?”

Andrew: No. No. And this is my big reason for trying to defend James. Sometimes when you’re growing up, you’re not a great person. You’re a bully. But a lot of people do grow out of that. Think of our own high school bullies; I think a lot of them are pretty normal now. That doesn’t mean I necessarily forgive them for what they did back in those days, but you grow out of it. And Harry became a great person, right? He’s a good guy. Some of that comes from being James’s son. He’s a Potter. So I have to think that James would have been a good guy – was a good guy – post-Hogwarts.

Eric: Really interesting. For me, it comes down to an either/or surrounding Lily. Either she compromised her principles and married a jerk, or he became less of a jerk. And maybe there’s an in-between; maybe Lily, feeling bad about the falling-out with her lifelong friend Severus Snape, started to feel as though James’s tauntings of him were more valid than they were, or had cause as a result of Severus’s choice to completely surround himself with the Dark Arts and Dark side. So maybe James was right that there’s something off about Snape because he chose not to be friends with Lily anymore. And so I think that there’s some nuance there, sure, there’s some room there, but ultimately, Lily would not have married somebody that wasn’t good for her. So that’s the way I answer that question of James’s whole personality: Well, Lily, who we love, chose this guy, and I don’t think she was doing so in a self-deprecating manner, so he probably did change a little bit.

Andrew: #TrustInLily.

Laura: Yeah. And I think that there is a degree to which we can assume that the one year Harry spent with his parents was a happy one. There’s a comparison to be made here between Harry and Voldemort as babies. And there’s a ton of psychological research into the impacts of your upbringing, particularly during your first year of life, that things that happened to you during that time, even though you won’t remember them, do have an impact on your capacity to grow and thrive and handle certain things. So if we’re looking at Harry and Voldemort as opposites, Voldemort was in an orphanage and would not have been receiving the level of care that Harry would have been receiving from his loving parents who he lived at home with, so we can at least say… it’s probably safe to say that James was a loving father…

Andrew: Absolutely.

Laura: … which to me, indicates some kind of growth.

Andrew: Yes. He was also part of the Order, he also trained to become an Animagus when Remus was transforming with Sirius and Pettigrew, so there are some elements that show he likely was a good person. We can’t listen to everything that Snape said. Snape thought that he was extremely arrogant, but Snape has reason to have bias towards James, so you have to take some of what Snape said with a grain of salt too.

Laura: Well, and Snape is also extremely arrogant. I mean, this is the guy who came up with a villain origin hero name for himself.

[Andrew laughs]

Micah: Right.

Eric: Wow. That’s a good point.

Micah: Right. Well, I’m also thinking, too, not just about James, but how some of the other Marauders, particularly Sirius and Remus, behave towards Snape. At least with Remus and Snape, they seem like they’re both… they tolerate each other, even if they don’t necessarily like each other, whereas Sirius and Snape, it’s very much a defense of James, right? And I don’t know, is Sirius sort of the wildcard in all of this? And would James at 30-something be behaving more of an adult towards Snape than Sirius is? It’s really interesting to look at the psychology of it all, but we’re never going to know because unfortunately, James passes at 21, as you said.

Laura: Yeah. Do we ever feel like…? Because reading over Snape’s Worst Memory again, I almost wonder sometimes if James is performing for Sirius, or maybe they perform for each other.

Andrew and Eric: Yeah.

Andrew: I was going to say something similar to that. These four together, I think they might amp things up when they’re together. They’re the Marauders, they’re a little gang, they’re a little squad trying to impress each other, and that’s kind of what you do as you’re a kid as well. You have your clique, and if you start interacting with other people, you’re also trying to impress your clique while you’re interacting with those other people, I think. We all just want to be loved and impress our friends and look cool for the girls, and unfortunately, sometimes that involves being a bully to other people.

Micah: But to Eric’s point earlier, the barometer for Snape is how does he treat children? Because he’s a bully towards children, which is not acceptable as an adult.

Andrew: Yes. And do we see James treating kids like that? No. 1,000% no. As an adult, no.

Laura: Well, one last point on James: I just wanted to ask y’all – and we have no idea of knowing this, really – but I’m wondering what is your headcanon about what we think James did to change Lily’s mind?

Eric: Maybe stopped trying so hard. Maybe once he saw that she was actually devastated over her loss of Snape as a friend… and she would never have told this to him directly; I think he would have relied on either Alice Longbottom or one of her female friends to be like, “Hey, what’s going on with her? Evans seems a little under the weather,” whatever, then somebody would tell him, and it’d be like, “Oh,” and maybe in determining how he should approach still trying to date her, he had to come up with some maturity points to help her out in that time, and actually became more of a friend than this stooge, I guess, so to speak.

Laura: And I feel this is exactly the kind of thing that fans have always wanted to see. We want to see what those early days of Order of the Phoenix looked like. We want to see what it was like for the Marauders as they’re coming of age under the threat of Voldemort rising to power, and then ultimately, how all of these interactions played out. So what’s the name of our friend? Zaslav? [laughs] Like, are you listening? This is what we want.

Andrew: I also read that James bought one of those “Happy wife, happy life” T-shirts, and Lily was really impressed by that.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: Ohh.

Andrew: She was like, “He’s the one.”

Eric: Did he get that down at the Jersey Shore on the boardwalk?

[Andrew laughs]

Laura: You did the bare minimum.

Andrew: I hate those shirts, those license plate border things…

Laura: Oh, yeah. It’s like, “Man, that tells me a lot about what you think of your wife.”

Andrew: Yeah, it’s just such a suck-up thing to do. [laughs]

Laura: Well, to round us out today – something that I hinted at earlier on in the episode – we are now going to try to make a difficult defense case of Umbridge. So we’re working in teams, so Andrew and Micah are team one; they’ll be arguing that Umbridge is the way she is because of her childhood. Eric and I, we’re going to talk about Umbridge’s career aspirations being the real moment that she made some evil contributions to the world. But it sounds like, Andrew and Micah, you’re ready to kick it off.

Micah: I came all the way to Leavesden for this, as you can see by my background.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: Oh, yeah, yeah.

Andrew: Micah has an Umbridge office background today, yes.

Micah: With the cat.

Andrew: With the cats. Micah and I are arguing that Umbridge is the way she is because of her childhood. So Umbridge – and this is all canon – Umbridge had an upbringing that put her in this position. Her father raised her to dislike her Muggle mother and her Squib brother, which then, in my opinion, rooted an evil bias in her. The harm she and her father caused pushed her mom and brother out of their home and life – that’s true – which showed Dolores the power that came with treating others as less than. So then she gets to Hogwarts as a student, and she never received a position of power that she had wanted, like Head Girl or prefect, and that left her feeling deprived. It left her with a hole in her heart. She wanted control, and this was all the more reason for her to aim for power and control later in life, right, Micah?

Micah: Absolutely right, Andrew. And if you want proof that her childhood influenced the way she is today, look no further than the relationship she forms with Filch, who is a Squib. Given what happens with her brother, also a Squib, and that her father worked in the Department of Magical Maintenance at the Ministry – a custodian, let’s just say – and that’s essentially Filch’s Hogwarts role, one could argue that she sees her brother and her father in Filch and is in fact trying to make amends for past family issues. Separately to Andrew’s point above, Umbridge got a taste for what it was like to treat others as less than in her upbringing and remove said people from her home early on, and effectively does the same thing at Hogwarts with various professors who she considers to be beneath her. She removes Trelawney. She removes Hagrid. She tries to remove Dumbledore, but she considers… I wouldn’t argue she considers Dumbledore less than her, but I would argue certainly she considers Trelawney to be less than her, certainly, she considers Hagrid, as well as others, so I definitely see a correlation here between her upbringing and where she’s at today. Thank you.

Andrew: Agree. We’ve got canon to back us up. There’s no beating us today, I’m sorry.

Laura: Well, speaking of canon, I totally agree with you that what happens to someone during their childhood can have a significant impact on their capacity for adulting, right? And doing so in a way that is productive, and not harmful to society. I completely agree with that point. But there are also plenty of examples in these books of people who were abused as children who didn’t grow up to be bigots. I give you Neville. I give you Harry. I give you Sirius, who is a great example of somebody who was raised in a very similar ideological environment to Umbridge. None of them grew up to be this way. And I think ultimately, Umbridge is someone who was so driven by the desire to hold on to power that she saw the writing on the wall at the Ministry, and realized that she needed to fall into line with Fudge to have a chance to climb that career ladder and grow her power and influence. This was a choice she made as an adult, not as a child. And yes, she was already primed to hold these kinds of reprehensible views before she got to the Ministry, but had the ideological tone at the Ministry not allowed for her to help fill the bigoted vacuum, there wouldn’t have been anywhere for her to go. There are bigoted adults everywhere; I’m sure some of us have known some. But the key difference between those people who are bigots in their day-to-day lives, and the ones that are then handed political power, is that the person who’s a bigot in their day-to-day life has a much smaller sphere of influence, but someone who is able to step into a position of power and exercise that can have a much more negative impact down the line on a greater number of people, which is what Umbridge does.

Eric: Agreed. And I’ll only add that thinking about what you guys were presenting about her childhood and her relationship with her father and how he supposedly taught her to dislike her sibling and mom, she also distances herself from her father. Umbridge’s ambition – which may have been learned at a young age – is so unchecked that she also chooses to distance herself from her dad because he was a custodian at the Ministry of Magic. So she has no relationship with her father, and that’s because she sees it as a barrier to her own success and rising within the ranks of the Ministry, so that’s cold, that’s calculating, and that takes a whole generation, I think, to develop. And the idea that she could rise to power so quickly and stop at nothing to get that power shows me a very mature sense of following one’s dreams. There’s nothing childish about it; she has chosen time and again to be this way, and it’s gotten to the point where being this way brings her joy, that we see her throw a temper tantrum when she doesn’t get those moments of joy, because she needs it. But this is all born out of this gradual evolution into the character that she is, which these are adult choices that she’s making.

Micah: But I would just say… she is the way she is, you’re arguing, because of her career aspirations. But where do those career aspirations come from? Her childhood. Her upbringing.

Andrew: Yes! She wasn’t a good person as a child. This would be one thing if maybe she was, but she wasn’t.

Laura: I mean, neither was Sirius.

Micah: Right, but Sirius didn’t grow up in the same circumstances as she did. And I would say, too, that certainly, it’s all about her own choices, but those choices subconsciously are influenced by her childhood and how she was brought up. How she developed the relationship with her father certainly impacted her decision in terms of her career choices. She wanted to be more than her father; she wanted to hold a higher position of power than her father did at the Ministry. She sees her father as a failure. And her father taught her things that she then grew to take into later in life, how her mother was treated, how her brother was treated. She enacts those things out constantly in Order of the Phoenix, and later on in Deathly Hallows, against those that she considers to be less than, so I would argue that it all begins in her childhood.

Laura: But there’s a definitive choice for her. She is someone who receives a full education, she works for the government, so there is a definitive moment of choice for Umbridge where she decides to use that influence to fuel her bigotry and her bad acting through her job at the Ministry. Again, it’s our choices that define us, not where we came from.

Eric: Yeah. And there’s a point where all of her hobnobbing can only get her so far, and she causes the events of the beginning of Order of the Phoenix in order to further her own selfish cause. Even her beloved Cornelius would not agree to send Dementors to Little Whinging, and it’s up to her. She decides that she is going to… that Cornelius will be so thrilled by the circumstances, if Harry is just removed from the playing board. That’s a serious calculation on her part that I don’t think has anything to do with her childhood or how she was raised, and more to do with her ambition, more to do with her career prospects. She sees a way for her to immediately get at the top of the pile, and it’s by doing that.

Micah: It totally does, though, because that’s pleasing an authority figure, and you can argue that’s trying to please a parental figure as well in Fudge.

Eric: But it’s so shallow. I don’t think she actually believes that she’s going to get… it’s not seeking daddy’s love here; it’s seeking power.

Micah: Well, no. I mean, she has a picture of him on her desk.

[Andrew laughs]

Eric: Performative.

Laura: I mean, we drew some comparisons between Percy and Umbridge earlier on in the episode. Percy’s upbringing couldn’t have been more opposite than Umbridge’s upbringing, and yet they both ended up in very similar places.

Micah: Right, and I’m not disagreeing with you about the choices aspect of it, but in as much as Umbridge’s choices are informed by her childhood upbringing, so are Percy’s.

Andrew: Yeah. You have to, I think, at least admit that some of her actions as a child influenced her later on. It’s not like none of that was carried into her adult years.

Laura: Oh, of course.

Eric: Well, I think with every waking day you have to choose what kind of person you want to be, and after a certain point, it’s either going to… you’re going to grow weary of choosing to be a bad person, or you’re not, and she doesn’t.

Laura: Well, and I think it depends on, again, what you choose to do with that. Like I said, there are plenty of people who are brought up in racist, bigoted homes with backwards views…

Andrew: Umbridge.

Laura: … that want to take us all back – agreed, Umbridge – that want to take us all back 50 years, but not all of them seek political office. That is a conscious choice. When you are going from saying, “I believe these things and this is the way I want to live my life,” yes, you will still have negative impacts on people that you meet in your day-to-day life because of who you are, but that sphere of influence exponentially increases the second that you pursue a job in politics, because you’re making decisions for everyone at that point.

Eric: Well, think of it like why Dumbledore backed off from being Minister. He knew that he couldn’t trust that aspect of him. He knew that his views at one point in his own life would have had devastating consequences on a large number of people, and that’s why he never allowed himself to be Minister. Umbridge sees that part of herself, if she has so much self-reflection, and just goes for it. She’s like, “No, I’m right. I’m going to get all the power I can get.”

Micah: Right, but you’d have to ask yourself that question: Why does she choose to go the route of becoming a member of the Ministry in the first place? It’s because her father worked for the Ministry and she saw him as less than in performing a role that she considered to be beneath him and beneath their family, so what is she trying to do? She is then trying to go to the Ministry herself and raise the Umbridge name to a higher level.

Eric: That sounds like a career aspiration to me.

Andrew: Stemming from her childhood.

Micah: But the choice is informed by her childhood.

Eric: Informed, yes, but not because of.

Micah: I think all of this is true, by the way.

[Andrew laughs]

Laura: Well, of course, but that’s the point of a debate, right? You’re taking very black and white sides of a conversation.

Micah: Well, not always one-sided.

Andrew: I cannot accept that if she was raised well, she would have suddenly transitioned into the evil person that she is today. No way. No way!

Micah: You’d have to find some trauma in her past that would have caused her to behave that way.

Andrew: Yes.

Eric: You do get people who choose to see others as less than. I think overall, bigotry is a learned behavior. Hatred is a learned behavior. Intolerance is a learned behavior. I do think that, but at the same time, there are still those people that are inclined to view themselves with an unhealthy level of superiority, and I think all of this is true. I think that what Umbridge chooses to do in her career feeds into the worst possible part of herself and her superiority complex that drives her to make horrible choices with devastating consequences.

Laura: Well, thanks for participating in this exercise, y’all.

Eric: It’s fun.

Laura: It’s obviously intentionally difficult because one, we’re defending Umbridge, but two, we’re taking two statements that are both true, right?

Andrew: Yes.

Laura: And trying to argue where the most influence came in, when the reality is, it’s both. It’s both.

Andrew: That said, listeners, which side of this debate do you fall on? We’ll have polls up on social media this week, so you can vote one way or the other. We’re @MuggleCast on Twitter and Instagram; I believe that’s where the polls will be, but we’re also @MuggleCast on Facebook and TikTok, so follow us.

Laura: And we definitely had a bank of controversial characters that we didn’t even get to today. So of course, there’s Cornelius Fudge, there’s Ludo Bagman – that’s someone we haven’t talked about a ton – there’s Lavender Brown, Cho Chang, Marietta Edgecombe, Mundungus Fletcher is another really interesting one. So we may revisit some of these in the future, but we would love to hear your thoughts.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, let’s try to keep that in mind. Don’t worry, other controversial characters. We didn’t forget about you. We’ll get to you one day.

[Eric and Laura laugh]

Andrew: You didn’t sneak out of this, not yet. Well, if you have any feedback about today’s discussion, you can pen an owl and send it to, or use the contact form on To send a voice message, record it using the Voice Memo app on your phone and then email us that file, or use our phone number, 1-920-3-MUGGLE. That’s 1-920-368-4453. However, if sending a Howler, please give us a warning so we can turn our volume down. Thank you in advance.

[Laura laughs]

Eric: I can just see that email now. “This is a Howler.” It’s like, do you think we’re really clicking on that, though?

[Eric and Laura laugh]

Andrew: Warning. Warning.


Andrew: All right, it’s time for Quizzitch!

[Quizzitch music plays]

Eric: Last week’s question: Dumbledore’s nose appeared as though it had been broken how many times according to the first chapter of Philosopher’s Stone? The correct answer was at least twice. Correct answers were submitted to us by Bally Who Thunder Plump; The only bort he ever feared; Whiskey da goat; Ginny the G.O.A.T.; Eleanor; Buff Daddy; Vecna’s man bun; Bubotuber Pus; Kate Lyles; The Rouge Niffler, and others. I think it’s supposed to be Rogue Niffler.

Micah: Was that a Stranger Things reference too?

Eric: Yeah, Vecna’s man bun.

Andrew: Think so, yeah.

Micah: There’s a Harry Potter tie there as well.

Eric: There is, with the actor. Congrats to all who submitted the correct answers. Here is next week’s question: Since we talked about Umbridge so much on this episode, which of Umbridge’s educational decrees – what number – barred teachers from giving students any information that was not related to the subjects they were hired to teach? Submit your answer to us over on the MuggleCast website,, or go to and click on “Quizzitch” on the nav bar.

Andrew: Fourth of July is coming up here in America, so we will be off next week. We will see you the week after. But if you’re missing us, check out our Wall of Fame for more episodes on And also, check out me on Swish and Flick, another Harry Potter podcast; our friends run that show, and we discussed the history of Dumbledore’s sexuality. Of course, I was there when the author revealed that Dumbledore was gay, so I retold that story, and we discussed everything that’s developed or lack thereof since then. So again, that’s happening over on the Swish and Flick podcast, and we’ll have links up on social media. Again, we’re @MuggleCast on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok. Also, make sure you’re following the show for free in your favorite podcast app so you never miss an episode, and leave us a review. And as we mentioned a few times now, don’t forget to support us at It’s easy to forget, but it’s the reason why we’re a weekly podcast. So I think that’s about it. Thank you everybody for listening to today’s episode. I’m Andrew.

Eric: I’m Eric.

Micah: I’m Micah.

Laura: And I’m Laura.

Andrew: Bye, everybody.

Laura and Micah: Bye.