Title: Rotting Monsters Behind His Slow Boyish Smile
Spoilers: General series knowledge, more specifically PoA, OotP, and HBP.
Personal Website: They call me DrWorm...
I. The Prologue
To begin, I think that it is both fair and prudent to acknowledge that I don’t view the coupling of Harry and Remus quite as many other fans seem to view them. That is, my own opinions are the result of, oh, three years of juggling archetypes and ideals and finally deciding the hell with it. In any case, I’ve made no effort to speak for the rest of the fans of this pairing; let them come out of the woodwork and defend their views on their own time.
And so, I would ask those of you who are still reading to please dispense with any preconceived notions or associations of pedophilia (or ‘chan’ as so many have taken to vulgarly, not to mention incorrectly, calling it) or student/teacher relationships; please leave your Harry/Remus connotations with the man at the door (don’t fret, as you’re free to have them back when we’re through). In fact, why don’t we begin by taking a more esoteric turn and leaving behind the entire world of Harry Potter for a brief moment? Why don’t we talk about Lolita?
Lolita is a story that enjoys reference in a great number of portrayals of romantic relationships in which there is a significant imbalance of power and difference in ages, regardless of whether there is any logical resemblance to the dynamic between Dolores Haze and Humbert Humbert that Vladimir Nabokov laid forth. That being said, Harry is not Lolita and Remus is not Humbert (even if I did take the title of this essay from the text of the novel in question). One could make an argument for slight resemblances, vague parallels at best, but that is really immaterial. The point of the allusion is not to point out direct similarities in the characters or the relationships, but to highlight the precarious allocation of control, power, and authority that exists in a relationship between an adult and a child or teenager. That is, when we invoke the name “Lolita,” we are calling forth the image and fantasy of the sexually precocious youth, the child as seductress. And yet it is most often the child as conscious seductress that is intended in the mores of popular culture; interesting, considering how focused Humbert himself is on the concept of the ‘nymphet,’ the natural and unconscious beauty and seduction found in certain young girls. Innocence and experience are not factors in this equation, certainly not so much as they are in many of the trends that sweep our culture, not to mention fan community. What do we fetishize in these relationships that Humbert does not: age, innocence, or an incongruity between the two?
Forgive me if this seems tangential to the subject at hand, but I find it absolutely necessary to take a preliminary stab at the conventions of age and relationship dynamics when thinking about any student and teacher pairing, particularly when there is no convenient springboard of emotional tension present within canon (as there is with, say, the most popular student/teacher pair among Harry Potter fans: Harry/Snape). It’s slightly ironic that it can be more difficult to justify a romance between two similar characters who genuinely like each other than it is between two characters who openly profess their mutual hatred.
II. The Characters
It has been noted by many other fans that Harry Potter himself is a difficult character to describe, and I certainly don’t disagree. Harry is, awkwardly, a character difficult to describe on his own merits, and so we compensate with comparisons: he is not as highly-strung or dedicated as Hermione, he is not as easygoing or fitfully jealous as Ron, he is not as much a snob as Draco, etc. In truth, I believe Harry is difficult to describe because he is so closely twined with the reader; we experience events from Harry’s point of view and, as Harry grows and discovers the new world he is submerged in, so do we. It is all too easy, therefore, to project many of our own traits or preferences onto him. And this is, perhaps, why his characterization in fanfiction is so variable as to give one vertigo. From virgin to slut, violent to passive, I’m sure there is a Harry out there to suit your needs.
Or perhaps he is so difficult to describe because he is so gut-wrenchingly normal, a characteristic that is heartily deliberate and a major factor in allowing many fans to view him as practically a blank canvas for emotion. But, no, he’s really that character that is most sophisticated and difficult to write or describe: an average person thrust into extraordinary circumstances. He is not overly traumatized by the deaths of his parents or the abuse he suffers at the hands of the Dursleys. He is brave, but not overly heroic, devoted and loyal to his friends, and of above-average intelligence. As the series progresses, he grows from being a somewhat wide-eyed child to being a more volatile teenager, a quite common progression. He does not remain stoic under pressure, nor does he crumple emotionally or make overly brave gestures. He shows average degrees of stubbornness, cockiness, messiness, and downright stupidity at times, along with better qualities like perseverance, independence, an eagerness and willingness to help, adaptability, and even kindness. No, what is remarkable about Harry is not so much within his character, but in what has been done to his character. (As William Shakespeare shrewdly noted, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and others have greatness thrust upon them.”) Harry himself is, at heart, a very ordinary young man.
Remus Lupin, too, is a character remarkable more for what has been done to him than for the person he is. Bitten by a werewolf at an early age, he has been living with and managing (to the best of his ability) this malady for the majority of his life; he is one of few werewolves to have completed formal schooling as well as retained employment as an adult. As a werewolf, Remus has done something we are led to believe few others afflicted with this condition have been able to do: integrate himself into the mainstream of the magical world and lead a very nearly normal life. Clearly, it takes a very determined and strong character to do such a thing, however Remus is never overly forceful or pushy in canon; he is commonly described as ‘mild-mannered’ with good reason. Though not as powerful or immediate a personality as, say, Sirius Black or Severus Snape, he is still not a character who fades easily into the background.
In fact, it is his gentler nature that makes him so intriguing, contrasted as it invariably is with the wolf he becomes once a month. As Faith so eloquently put it in an episode of Buffy (“Beauty and the Beasts”): “Every guy from... Manimal down to Mr. I-Love-The-English-Patient has beast in him.” Within Remus Lupin, this beast has a name and a separate form and comes into play on a regular basis; it is a literal beast, and the more interesting conjectures come to be drawn when the wolf is compared to the antediluvian violence within every human being. Remus is a man with a non-threatening exterior and a deadly animal inside him. How he differs from our own societies’ monsters—the killers and the rapists and the predators of the urban jungle—is in the manifestation of this all too human violence in an inhuman way.
From what we see of Remus as a professor, he is patient and inventive and genuinely interested in helping children learn. He is, for many, the teacher we always hoped for and never got. His greatest flaw is his own reticence; he wants so badly to be liked by others that he often keeps quiet when it would be better if he did not. We see in Order of the Phoenix that, as a student at Hogwarts, he chooses not to speak up against his friends even as they do something he doesn’t entirely approve of, clearly for fear of losing them:
“As [Snape] emerged from the shadows of the bushes and set off across the grass, Sirius and James stood up. Lupin and Wormtail remained sitting: Lupin was still staring down at his book, though his eyes were not moving and a faint frown line had appeared between his eyebrows.” p. 645, OotP
Remus himself admits this: “Did I ever tell you to lay off Snape? … Did I ever have the guts to tell you I thought you were out of order?” p. 671, OotP
As an adult, he struggles with the same difficulties, as he notes in Prisoner of Azkaban:
“All this year, I have been battling with myself, wondering whether I should tell Dumbledore that Sirius was an Animagus. But I didn’t do it. Why? Because I was too cowardly. It would have meant admitting that I’d betrayed his trust while I was at school, admitting that I’d led others along with me… and Dumbledore’s trust meant everything to me.” p. 356, PoA
It is clear that Remus recognizes this fault and dislikes it immensely, though it is an understandable one for him to have since, as a creature commonly hated, it would obviously be more difficult for him to make and maintain relationships with others; it is natural that he would be overly sensitive, even paranoid, about losing them. But he also resigns himself to accepting the blame for the actions of others (note that he says he “lead others along with me,” rather than acknowledging that the others had control over their own actions), a way of thinking that adds considerably to his pseudo-martyrdom.
Not only that, but he is somewhat prone to becoming depressed or bitter and self-deprecating over his situation, as we see in the Christmas scene in Half-Blood Prince when Remus tells Harry about living among other werewolves as a spy for Dumbledore and remarks: "Dumbledore wanted a spy and here I was... ready made." (p. 334) He then realizes how bitter he sounds and adds "I am not complaining; it is necessary work and who can do it better than I?", demonstrating quick self-correction of his expression of a feeling that is less than positive or even neutral. Indeed, we find in Half-Blood Prince that it is difficult to know how Remus really feels about anything, as we see that he goes out of his way to assert his neutral feelings about Snape, his almost clinical assessment of Fenrir Greyback, and the fact that when Lupin hears of Dumbledore's death his reaction is particular strong; Harry observes that "[He] had never seen Lupin lose control before; he felt as though he was intruding upon something private, indecent" (p. 614), suggesting that such a display of emotion is highly unusual from Remus and his normal calm--while certainly a natural personality trait--is one that hides a great deal of what Lupin thinks, feels, and experiences beneath the surface.
Really, is it any surprise he looks so tired all of the time?
III. The Wheres and Whys of Happenstance
And so we come to the crux of the matter: why place these two characters in a romantic relationship? Or, more accurately when it concerns my own preferences, why place these two characters into a situation of mutual symbiotic obsession and neediness?
Canonically, I think it boils down to two very simple elements: first, that they enter into an amicable, solidly-based platonic relationship—one going slightly beyond that of a professor and his pupil—quickly and naturally; second, Remus’ history of friendship with Harry’s father predisposes him to liking, possibly even doting slightly upon, Harry. (Clearly, I am the sort of person who puts his stock in people who like each other moving on to more romantic interaction, rather than people who actively dislike each other coming to a similar conclusion. Your mileage may vary.)
The similarities between the two also draw them closer: both went through extraordinary circumstances at young ages that shaped who they would grow to be and left them with noticeable physical scars (or so we presume in Remus’ case, at least in the books), both suffered great losses in the deaths of Lily and James Potter and the surrounding circumstances (Harry, obviously, lost his parents, while Remus lost all of his closest friends), and both are somewhat socially hesitant creatures, fiercely loyal to and almost entirely dependent on the friendships they do develop (the likely result of largely isolated and friendless early childhoods).
Specifically, in canon, Harry and Remus have a fair number of moments that are indicative of the closeness of their relationship. A few of the more significant follow.
Harry pays close attention to how Lupin regards him as a person, and is very aware of what he does and does not say and what kind of impression he gives, as shown particularly in the subsequent passages:
“He didn’t want Lupin to think he was a coward, especially since Lupin already seemed to think he couldn’t cope with a boggart.” p. 154, PoA
“He would have liked to have told Lupin about the conversation he’d overheard about Black in the Three Broomsticks… but it would have involved revealing that he’d gone to Hogsmeade without permission, and he knew Lupin wouldn’t be very impressed by that.” p. 248, PoA
It is apparent to other characters that Harry is a particular favorite of Lupin’s, as Ron notes here after Harry receives the Firebolt:
“’I know who it could’ve been—Lupin!’
‘What?’ said Harry, now starting to laugh himself. ‘Lupin? Listen, if he had this much gold, he’d be able to buy himself some new robes.’
‘Yeah, but he likes you,’ said Ron.” p. 224, PoA
Harry is particularly distraught over what he views as an extremely personal breach of trust from Professor Lupin:
“Harry could feel himself shaking, not with fear but with a fresh wave of fury.
‘I trusted you,’ he shouted at Lupin, his voice wavering out of control, ‘and all this time you’ve been his friend!’” p. 345, PoA
Upon learning of Professor Lupin’s resignation, Harry is clearly the most upset; he is the only one to go and say goodbye and it is clear that he wants to be the only one:
“Harry scrambled to his feet.
‘I’m going to see him,’ he said to Ron and Hermione.
‘But if he’s resigned—‘
‘—doesn’t sound like there’s anything we can do—‘
‘I don’t care. I still want to see him.’” pp. 422-23, PoA
Most telling when it comes to the future of Harry and Remus’ relationship is the brief period of time directly after Sirius falls through the Veil:
“But as he reached the ground and sprinted toward the dais, Lupin grabbed Harry around the chest, holding him back.
‘There’s nothing you can do, Harry—‘
‘Get him, save him, he’s only just gone through!’
‘It’s too late, Harry—’
‘We can still reach him—’
Harry struggled hard and viciously, but Lupin would not let go….” p. 806, OotP
Lupin restraining Harry, telling him the truth of the matter, and especially refusing to let go of the distraught Harry indicates not only the level of caring Remus has for Harry, but also that Remus will continue to play a major role in Harry’s life, well into the next book. “Lupin would not let go,” is of special significance when it comes to this conclusion, as is the fact that it is Lupin who reaches Harry first after Sirius’ death, which suggests that Remus is poised to slip into a semblance of the role Sirius had previously occupied in Harry’s life. And we see this happen to a small extent in Half-Blood Prince, as Harry hopes that Remus will write to him as Sirius used to, although Remus has never done anything of the sort before:
"Harry had received no mail since the start of term; his only regular correspondent was now dead and although he had hoped that Lupin might write occasionally, he had so far been disappointed." (220 HBP)
Also interesting is that, when Lupin grabs Harry as Sirius falls through the Veil, it is the most prolonged physical contact Remus has with Harry; in Prisoner of Azkaban, such moments as “Lupin made a sudden motion with his arm as though to grip Harry’s shoulder, but thought better of it" (187-88), show a pronounced hesitation on Remus’ part to touch Harry. Even during their Patronus lesson, Lupin wakens Harry with minimal contact: a hard tapping on the cheek. At the beginning of Order of the Phoenix, Remus greets Harry with a strangely formal handshake, putting him more on the level of an equal than that of a former student.
Though Half-Blood Prince attempts to establish romantic relationships for both Harry and Remus (with Ginny and Tonks respectively), it falters on several counts. Most obviously, Harry severs his relationship with Ginny at the end of the book; most fans have come to refer to this as "pulling a Peter Parker," a reference to the similar ending of the movie Spiderman, in which Peter Parker's character tells Mary Jane that he can't be with her, internally justifying this act by citing his newfound responsibilities as Spiderman and the dangers that accompany them. Remus, similarly, is reluctant to pursue a relationship with Tonks, and when confronted with his reticence in front of a group of people he avoids their eyes and becomes distracted, clearly uncomfortable with the public public discussion of this relationship. Later, we learn that Tonks' hair has changed back to her more customarily cheerful pink color and that she seems to be holding hands with Remus, and the reader can infer that they have obviously reconciled to some degree. But to what degree and for how long?
It is interesting to note that Harry and Remus, in their canonical romantic relationships, both seem to bring up the same fundamental argument (that being connected to them in such a way is too dangerous), and yet while Harry breaks off his relationship, Remus begins his. These sorts of choices represent a certain similarity of personality, a kind of underlying rapport that can be used to justify their relationship almost as effectively as blatant interaction (of which Half-Blood Prince gives us precious little.
What moments Harry and Remus have together in Half-Blood Prince serve mostly to reinforce the friendship (or, perhaps more honestly, the acquaintance) that had been established in the previous books:
"'What have you been up to lately?' Harry asked Lupin....
'Oh, I've been underground,' said Lupin. 'Almost literally. That's why I haven't been able to write, Harry; sending letters to you would have been something of a giveaway.'" p. 334, HBP
Oddly enough, it would seem that both Remus and Harry had considered exchanging letters, although Remus never wrote to Harry previously. This seems to emphasize that in both their eyes Remus has stepped into the place Sirius previously occupied, albeit somewhat less effectively. Remus' status as Harry's makeshift 'caretaker' is again alluded to at the end of the novel as Harry enters the infirmary: "Hermione ran to Harry and hugged him; Lupin moved forward too, looking anxious" (613 HBP).
Harry also makes a statement in the Christmas scene that seems to foreshadow Tonks' assertion that Remus' lycanthropy shouldn't matter in their relationship:
"'But you are normal!' said Harry fiercely. 'You've just got a -- a problem --'" p. 335, HBP
Obviously we can see from this quote, as well as the entire conversation, that Harry's level of comfort with Remus is quite high and that he doesn't regard the fact that Remus is a werewolf as a serious issue or barrier of any kind.
The connection between the two is even more apparent in the movie-version of Prisoner of Azkaban. It is clear that Cuarón took pains to highlight the underlying sexuality in the interaction between Lupin and Harry, exaggerating and enhancing what is already apparent in the book; certainly this portrayal contributed to the slight swell of Remus/Harry fans that trickled in after the movie was released.
The first image of interest we are confronted with occurs as Lupin shields Harry from the boggart, fearing that it will take on the image of Voldemort. Earlier in the boggart-scene, he begins eating an apple, which he can clearly be seen still holding as he surges in front of Harry (above, left). Apples have been used to convey a wide variety of different concepts, but as symbolism in the Western world goes, the apple is best know as either a symbol of some aspect of sex and fertility or for causing the downfall of Man (according the Bible, the apple is allegedly the piece of fruit that Eve ate from the forbidden tree of knowledge). Indeed, this dual interpretation becomes even more relevant if you consider an attraction between Harry and Remus, which would be largely considered an inappropriate relationship if it became overtly sexual.
Other scenes, like the walks Lupin and Harry take while Harry's classmates are in Hogsmeade (above, right) are more obviously intimate, even verging on date-like.
The scene in which Professor Lupin teaches Harry the Patronus charm contains a surprising amount of sexual innuendo and symbolism, not to mention the subtly lit and suggestive atmosphere of the set. The room is lit, at least secondarily, by a large number of prominent and rather blatantly phallic candles, one of which Harry pauses in front of to run his fingertips through the flame. The use of the wands in this scene is also significant, particularly since Cuarón had already highlighted Harry's use of his wand during a spell as a masturbation/ejaculation in the infamous opening scene. If one then reads this scene on a similar level, Professor Lupin becomes something of a sexual mentor who urges Harry past fears of sexual intimacy and growing up to orgasm and adulthood.
Lupin's dialogue in this scene is also laced with innuendo from the moment he opens the scene with the line "You're sure about this, Harry?" in his quiet, intense tone of voice. When instructing Harry to think of a happy memory in order to perform the Patronus Charm, he says: "Let it fill you up. Lose yourself in it." Much of the language both Lupin and Harry use in this scene is very sensuous and emotional, particularly for Harry. The physical toll that practicing the charm takes on Harry and Remus' subsequent understanding and quiet praise is oddly reminiscent of a first uncertain sexual encounter.
Interesting, Cuarón uses a view of Harry and Remus sitting side-by-side as viewed from behind (above right and left) recurrently, again presenting us with a very intimate portrait of their tentative friendship.
In a radio interview, director Alfonso Cuarón describes Professor Lupin, as he is portrayed in the movie, as being "like your favorite gay uncle who does smack," which might go a long way toward explaining why Lupin's relationship with Harry contains so many sexual undertones in this interpretation. From Lupin's entrance to the boggart scene to Harry's moment of oddly misplaced concern (“Poor Professor Lupin is having a really tough night!”) to Lupin's final, evocative goodbye at the end, Harry and his relationship with Remus is portrayed as significant and important, occasionally with a greater degree of emotion and dignity than are even afforded to them in the books.
Regardless of what direction the Harry Potter series takes in its final chapter and the upcoming movies, the relationship between Remus and Harry as it has been portrayed is an intriguing one that, with it's myriad subtleties, should have no difficult in maintaining the interest of its fans.
IV. Floorboards Squeak and Out Come the Freaks
I read the first three books in the Harry Potters series almost six years ago… a number that probably isn’t terribly impressive to the hardened veterans, but that certainly sets my mind reeling a bit. I’ve been involved, off and on, in online Harry Potter fandom for about four years, and have spent more than three of those years with a bit of a Remus/Harry fixation. (I began with Remus/James, and made the natural transition.)
One of the interesting things about Harry Potter fandom as it stands following the release of Half-Blood Prince is the sudden concentration on the 'sinking' of romantic 'ships by the latest canon revelations. A lot of the concern and hysteria seems misplaced to me, drummed up by the assumption that only relationships that are canon are worth talking about or enjoying or are somehow inherently more worthy than other, more speculative relationships in the books. A lot of this assumption seems to stem from the (now fully infamous) wars between those who support Ron/Hermione and those who support Harry/Hermione, as well as from the assertion by some Sirius/Remus fans that the relationship was 'canon' or 'practically canon.'
Fans of Remus/Harry--as well as those of similar pairings--need to be honest with themselves: these pairings will not take place in the books. This is not a bad thing, as indeed Harry Potter fandom seems to have a monopoly on non-canon pairings. But if something has no chance of becoming canon, how can you invalidate it? The characters' interaction still remains and can still be used to form the basis for a romantic relationship, if with quite a bit more effort.
But, as I said when I began, my own concept of this relationship deviates slightly from what the majority of fans seem to be interested in (not that it’s better or worse, just that it’s different). I prefer not to focus on happy endings or on a more adult Harry in an adult relationship. I am most drawn to the dynamic between Remus and thirteen year old Harry, simply because that is when the relationship is first forged and solidified, and so is, in my mind, the most important and most interesting stage one can explore.
On the other hand, I also prefer examining relationships in which love is never explicitly stated, in which desire is not vocalized, and in which there is none but the most innocent of touching. I would venture that this isn’t the most popular way of looking at things, but it’s the one that makes the most sense to me… and the one that fits most believably into canon events, another element that appeals more and more to my own sensibilities.
Of course, I also think it’s vitally important to note that you can achieve this effectively without even mentioning the dreaded ‘pedophilia.’ I hold out hope that humanity can observe an unconventional love without slapping a label of perversion on it.
V. The Wide World Outside
Well, it probably isn’t as wide as we’d like.
Scarred: A Harry/Remus Archive
List of all existing Remus/Harry fics and art by everythingisaid: Authors A-L, M-Z, and Additions