Happy Birthday, Dobby!

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Jun 28, 2018

Posted by: Dawn Johnson

Birthdays, Books, Fandom, Fans, Fun, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling, News

Today we celebrate the birthday of Dobby the House Elf, one of the most beloved of J.K. Rowling’s magical characters. Over the course of the Harry Potter series, Dobby was an irresistible personality and proved himself to be quite a hero as well. In fact, he’s so popular among fans and holds such a significant place in their hearts, that his death late in the story was among the most tragic–and that’s saying something!

There’s not much that hasn’t been said about the indefatigable elf, to the point where I briefly struggled to find a new way to honor and commemorate him. With inspiration temporarily flagging, I turned to my children, also fans, to see if they could help me view Dobby through fresh eyes. (You really never know what children will come up with, and their observations are often the most truthful!)

I went to them with the questions: “What do you like about Dobby?” and “What makes him heroic?” They mentioned his bravery, his loyalty and his sacrifice. Good answers all–these traits are oft-visited and indisputable. I asked them to try and be more specific, and my 8 year old, who recently finished reading Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets for the first time, hit on something profound. She said, “Whenever there’s danger, he tells people.

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Well, there it is. The simplest of statements, really. But that’s what heroism often looks like in practice. One person who is willing to stand up and say something when no one else will. One person who is willing to be a voice, who is willing to take action, who is willing to risk the danger and incur the wrath of others when it would be so much easier to downplay it and “pass the buck”–or remain silent altogether.

Let’s not forget how hard it was for Dobby to be the one who “tells people.” He was under the imposition of magical sanctions which prevented him from saying anything negative or critical or untowardly revealing about his wizarding family. He was under intense pressure, and he felt the burden of that so greatly that simply appearing in Harry Potter’s room caused him great anguish. Every word of warning was balanced by self-inflicted punishments. And in spite of all that, the ingrained anxiety, fear and obligation, he adamantly declared:

“But Dobby has come to protect Harry Potter, to warn him, even if he does have to shut his ears in the oven door later…

“Harry Potter must stay where he is safe. He is too great, too good, to lose. If Harry Potter goes back to Hogwarts, he will be in mortal danger.

“There is a plot, Harry Potter. A plot to make more terrible things happen at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry this year,” whispered Dobby, suddenly trembling all over. “Dobby has known it for months, sir. Harry Potter must not put himself in peril. He is too important, sir!”

Dobby’s efforts to keep Harry from returning to Hogwarts always struck me as a bit over-the-top and ridiculous. I never thought much about what it cost Dobby, what it really cost him, to show up at 4 Privet Drive. Certainly, he went on do other great and noble things, defying the Malfoys and later forfeiting his life to save Harry and his friends from Voldemort’s clutches, but it is this early act of determination that defines who he is and what he will become.

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I am put in mind of a quote from another well-known wizard from the fantasy genre which seems particularly applicable here. (And I don’t think Rowling would mind at all to find herself in Tolkein’s company.) Gandalf the Grey observed:

“Some believe it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found. It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay. Small acts of kindness and love. Why Bilbo Baggins? Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.”

In Dobby we see the impact of one brave soul choosing to do that which was in his power to make a difference. We learn that those small acts cannot be underestimated, and we find that the words of that other wizened wizard mentor, Dumbledore, apply not just to Harry.

“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

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Dobby’s choices reveal a strength that is an inspiration to us all. But more than that, in Dobby, Rowling reminds us that we don’t all have to be the Harry Potter figure to bravely do what’s right. We can be the unexpected hero doing the unexpected thing.

So raise your wands in remembrance of Dobby’s birthday, and remember to do the small things, make the small choices, that one by one produce a multiplying ripple effect you cannot even begin to imagine.

 





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