The Problem of Draco Malfoy

Look at li'l Draco, all intense!

I’ve finally finished reading the Harry Potter Saga – finishing a full week before the last movie was released! I’d lost interest after reading book five, and I’m not entirely sure why. Order of the Phoenix was great and I wanted to leap into book six… but then I didn’t. And I didn’t. And time passed, and I still didn’t.

Finally, I saw a trailer for this most recent movie. And that was it: I was awed. Time to finish the books.

(I have an anal tendency to never see a movie if I know it’s based on a specific book until after I’ve read the original.)

So, I raced through books six and seven in the matter of a week. Yes, I know, I’m terrible for not finishing them in a mere forty-eight hours or whatever your reading speed was for Rowling’s Epic. Please forgive me. Reading a novel in the course of a week, particularly ones as lengthy as those, is nothing short of miraculous for me.

And I have to say: overall I’m pleased. I enjoyed the ending, and Rowling did her level best to tie up loose ends. Harry got his happy ending, Hogwart’s survived to teach another day, and through appropriate hardships, the good guys triumphed.

But…

Spoilers follow. Go read the book if you haven’t, and then come back. No, watching the movie does not count. Watching the movie never counts. It’s just good fun, that’s all.

Throughout the previous six volumes, Rowling amped up the conflict between Draco and Harry. At the end of the Halfblood Prince, we get a wonderful confrontation as the youngest Malfoy attempts to kill Dumbledore. (How odd that Microsoft recognizes Dumbledore as a word!)

That confrontation lays amazing groundwork. Albus calmly tells Draco that he is no murderer. All this, after Harry has attempted to catch his foil in evil antics for hundreds of pages! We see an amazing amping up of conflict: Draco does not want to kill. Perhaps he is a Death Eater; perhaps he is forced to be so because of his parents’ position. I don’t think Draco’s position is ever fully revealed.

And that is the first part of Rowling’s failure in my book. Where do Draco’s loyalties truly lie? Do we ever find out?

We have a chapter near the end of the Deathly Hallows that, in my opinion, breaks all the forward momentum of the Battle of Hogwarts, and ruins it by showing us that Snape isn’t that bad after all. I will fully grant that the chapter, taken by itself, makes for great drama. The place for it is not in the middle of a battle! Did we really need all those scenes at that point in time?

Rowling devotes an entire chapter to exonerating Snape. Good. We all knew he was a good guy, anyway. Anything else would have been far too predictable. But what about Malfoy? Where does Draco land?

Rowling set up a marvelous confrontation. How does Harry react to the boy who failed to kill Dumbledore? After years of brewing conflict, will the two finally explode at each other while a greater battle rages, or will they set aside their differences as Malfoy finally realizes that Voldemort must be confronted?

Oh, never mind. Malfoy hardly appears in Deathly Hallows. He has a fun brief action scene in the Room of Requirement, chasing down a horcrux, but after that… yeah, pretty sure a few throwaway sentences in the epilogue.

I wish that Rowling had used Malfoy after the action scene in the Room of Requirement. Have him suddenly turn and join with Harry as a grudging ally. How does Harry react? Must he struggle with emotions that push him to shoot Draco in the back? Do the Malfoys then reject Draco as their son or embrace him all the more?

If Rowling had wanted to amp the epic-ness of the saga (not that it was needed!), she could have Harry ask Draco to give the killing shot, destroying the last Horcrux. Not entirely sure it would have worked in that system of magic, but it would have added some nice symmetry: Snape serving Dumbledore by killing him, while Draco serves Harry (and spites Voldemort) by killing him.

Either that, or a pre-Voldemort-Harry fight between Harry and Draco. It was needed after all the build-up. I think it would have been less dramatic than a team-up, but still far more satisfying than what we got:

A scene where Goyle (if memory serves) releases some fire, causing Harry to save Draco AGAIN. Oh, and those life-saving moments never build to anything. Just… nothing.

Then again, maybe I’m underestimating Rowling. Maybe this is actually simply set-up for a new set of novels focusing on Draco and Potter facing off later in life.

I really don’t think that’s going to happen, though.

What I’m getting at: this is a specific example of an author failing to use the tension that had built deliciously over the course of hundreds – thousands? – of pages. Authors of the world, use the tension you’ve created. Can you save it for later? Sure, but only if there’s a “later” in which to use it! Rowling couldn’t stuff more into Deathly Hallows – meaning, in my opinion, something should have been removed to allow this last, greatest confrontation between Harry and Draco.

Maybe remove some camping scenes. I could have lived with that.

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8 thoughts on “The Problem of Draco Malfoy

  1. Yup, Draco Malfoy’s anticlimactic ending was…well, a letdown.

    But I’m one of the few who actually seems to enjoy the camping scenes. It really showed the effect of Voldemort’s power, and the tension that comes from growing up and dealing with things that aren’t easy to understand.

    Besides, it shows Draco’s true cowardice that he didn’t take on Harry in a fight.

  2. I agree with your assessment of this part of the book, though I’d kinda forgotten it was there. I do remember thinking at the time, “Hm, that didn’t resolve the way I thought it would.” Apparently it wasn’t glaring enough as an oversight for it to stick in my mind as a major problem with the ending of the whole story.

    I’m reading a book on writing fiction called “Scene and Structure” by Jack Bickham, which is part of the “Elements of Fiction Writing” series. In it he talks about the issue of cause and effect. You can’t build up a cause and have no effect, nor can you have an effect without any logical cause. These things happen in the real world, and they frustrate us to no end, so when we’re reading a story we don’t want to see it happen. We want to delve into a world that makes some sense to us. It’s necessary to have things proceed in this logical, cause and effect pattern.

    So when Rowling set up all manner of cause for the effect of a major confrontation between Harry and Draco, and it ended up not really making much of a difference, it was… disappointingly unpredictable.

  3. I thought it was perfect! And I think the book still went and told you which side Draco was on… And one of the best chapters was Snape’s chapter! I thought it fit perfectly, because anywhere else it wouldn’t make sense!

  4. The point of the Snape scene was a break in the tension, so it could get ramped up again. To much continuing tension, for this reader anyway, is boring. That said, I could have used a little more tension, and a little less action in the final battle in the movie. Which is unusual for me. As far as Draco, I liked the reality, and the parallels to Dudley. Just because someone bullies you in school, doesn’t mean that they won’t grow up and ammend their behavior. I also don’t think Draco hated Harry as much as Harry thought he did, or as much as Harry hated Draco.

    I probably could think more clearly about this if it wasn’t 10:30 at night.

  5. Bookspirit, Snape’s chapter made sense where it was in the plot, but for me, it simply broke the tension. And not in a good way — I understand that there couldn’t be a continual straight build or it would get to be too much, but at that point in the book, for me, it hadn’t been reached. I thought the chapter went on too long to simply say, “Snape is a good guy because he loves Lily.”

    And, sure, Draco is intimated to be a good guy, but we never get to see it on screen, which is simply a deflating of tension that had built for seven books. Is it more realistic that we don’t get resolution? Sure. But Harry Potter isn’t exactly known for realism; it’s fantasy. Let it be fantasy and tie up its loose ends, particularly ones that have been building nearly as long as the Voldemort-Harry confrontation.

  6. I have always loved the tension of moral ambiguity in novels. I like my heroes to be good in these novels of course, but secondary characters or sidekicks or people asked to rise above moral failings or have difficulties coming to grips with their own moral imperatives… I find those delicious for some reason. It has to challenge the reader or viewer to wonder what he might do in such a situation. So… yeah.

    A glaring example: the Spiderman movie (Tobey Maguire version). I generally like the movie, and at the beginning when he lets the robber escape as “revenge” and then suffers unforeseen consequences is exactly what I like to see. The problem comes later, when Green Goblin presents the typical evil archetype dichotomy “the girl you love, or suffer the children!” (aside: this is the incorrect usage of a confusingly-translated and oft-misunderstood verse of the Bible. “Suffer” is simply an archaic word for “allow”.)

    The problem I have with the scene is that Spiderman gets to choose both. He chooses BOTH. HE GETS TO HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. THIS IS NOT REAL LIFE, PEOPLE! Some days, you just have to choose what’s right and SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES. This opportunity was completely squandered, and this type of stuff really jars my conscience and disappoints me. I think we can make an educated guess that Spiderman would save the children and hope Mary Jane can make it on her own… but ARRRRG–he never DOES make a choice but instead cops out, thanks to incompetent, lazy, uninspired writing.

  7. @Luke, you wanted a scene similar to that at the climactic scene of Phantom of the Opera, the “Point of No Return”, where The Phantom demands Christina’s loyalty in exchange for the life of the (wimpy) man she loves. When she chooses to save her sweetie pie and the EEEVIL Phantom gets exactly what he demands…. he relents. He allows them to go free, and we realize that there was really some good in him after all, as he dooms himself to loneliness and heartbreak forever. (Yes, forever. Never see nor speak of nor google-search the ill-fated sequel.) THAT is the kind of moral dichotomy I love to see.

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