As we continued our series last week with the Pensieve, so we move into Part 5: The Mudblood, the derogatory and tradition-favoring term used against wizards from non-magic families. A thoughtful and enduring device used by Rowling throughout the Harry Potter saga, the notion of race purity says a lot about our own sociological world, the inversion of that sociological world in the Church, as well as the world of faith in regards to the relationship between law and acceptance.
“No one asked your opinion, you filthy little Mudblood,” he spat.
Harry knew at once that Malfoy had said something really bad because there was an instant uproar at his words. Flint had to dive in front of Malfoy to stop Fred and George jumping on him, Alicia shrieked, “How dare you!”, and Ron plunged his hand into his robes, pulled out his wand, yelling, “You’ll pay for that one, Malfoy!”
It’s not just any bad word, and it’s not a catchall term that one wizard can use to insult another wizard—even worse, it’s rooted in an unmistakably true precondition for the insulted wizard, but one that he or she cannot help. In this case, the first time Harry Potter readers see the word used, Draco Malfoy is using it towards Hermione Granger, and the word itself instantaneously incites violence. Ron, in defense of Hermione, casts a curse on Draco that backfires on himself, leaving him barfing up slugs. It’s a quick and artfully kid-friendly diffusion of the gravity of what’s happened, but Harry and Hermione, being new to the wizarding world, only know that what was said was offensive to Hermione. Ron explains later:
“It’s about the most insulting thing he could think of,” gasped Ron, coming back up. “Mudblood’s a really foul name for someone who is Muggle-born—you know, non-magic parents. There are some wizards—like Malfoy’s family—who think they’re better than everyone else because they’re what people call pure-blood…I mean, the rest of us know it doesn’t make any difference at all. Look at Neville Longbottom—he’s pure-blood and he can hardly stand a cauldron the right way up…It’s a disgusting thing to call someone,” said Ron, wiping his sweaty brow with a shaking hand. “Dirty blood, see. Common blood. It’s ridiculous. Most wizards these days are half-blood anyway. If we hadn’t married Muggles we’d’ve died out.”
Rowling is exceptional at analogy in this series, and she does so by adhering to an anthropological continuity between the two worlds. Muggle-born wizards come in to Hogwarts and learn the charms and spells and jinxes and games; on a superficial level, the experience is fantastical, exciting, inventive, and this alone makes her impossible to put down. And yet throughout the series, by conflict and resolution, we find the inner-life of wizards no different from our very own inner-lives. Wizards are humans, just as love-hungry, power-hungry, compassion-seeking and conniving, law-burned and law-bound. Mudblood is poignant because, although the reader is finding out its meaning alongside Harry and Hermione, it turns the reader back on his or her own world and experience. It takes the potentially escapist world of Wingardium Leviosa and Crumple-Horned Snorkacks and grounds it in the reality and weight of the human rift. This is not new to Harry, of course—he had heard such distinctions from Draco in his first year at Hogwarts:
I really don’t think they should let the other sort in, do you? They’re just not the same, they’ve never been brought up to know our ways. Some of them have never even heard of Hogwarts until they get the letter, imagine. I think they should keep it in the old wizarding families.
Mudblood is the Law Gone Wrong, and the Law marks distinction. Hermione’s first time hearing it is her verdict before it. Daughter of Muggles, a heritage of those not worthy, she is guilty. Despite her scholastic superiority, her skillfulness at charms, her thorough use of her magical knowledge, she stands before the Malfoys, the Slytherins, the Pure-Bloods, as unwelcome filth. Despite Harry and Ron’s words of comfort, the place that had once been a celebration of her peculiar gifts stands now as a confusing dual-world between those who have (heritage), and those who have not.
If the question is “Magic, who really has it, who doesn’t?” Mudblood exposes the schism that will later be the final battle. On one side, there are those Pure-Bloods who make the distinction between those born worthy and those not, and use the distinction to root out those unwanted. Those Pure-Bloods, led by Lord Voldemort (who is not Pure-Blood! Ringing any bells?), intend to “cleanse” the magical world with a rigorous re-interpretation of the Law. They later do so by upending the Ministry of Magic, interrogating those with questionable blood heritage, and refusing Muggle-borns from Hogwarts. On this side, though, there are no friends, only constant and perpetual suspicion. Once one claims to be Pure-Blood, he or she is not safe from having to prove oneself, as Hermione suspects:
The Death Eaters can’t all be pure-blood, there aren’t enough pure-blood wizards left. I expect most of them are half-bloods, pretending to be pure.
On the other side are the Mudbloods, the Half-Bloods, the “Blood-Traitors” (Pure-Bloods like the Weasleys who see no distinction) who believe in the magic rather than the heritage. In this sense, it is some Spirit of Magic that breathes universal (“The wand chooses the wizard!” says Ollivander) and not the blood. This side, upon which Dumbledore stands champion, believes in magic as a great leveler, where all are equally distinguished as Chosen. They are magical because magic has been imputed upon them—magic chose them! Hermione, in this sense, is righteous. Daughter of Muggles, she is given a magic that surpasses many who came from magical homes. On this side, then, the power which chose them—which sounds a lot like love—is what will confront that which bound them to particular categories. It for this reason that Hermione, in The Deathly Hallows, is able to say:
“I’m hunted quite as much as any goblin or elf, Griphook! I’m a Mudblood!”
Ron started, “Don’t call yourself-”
“Why shouldn’t I? Mudblood, and proud of it!”
To read Part 6: Horcruxes, go here.