Saturday, January 29, 2005

Illusions in Book Four

I am in the midst of reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire once more. I'm at the Quidditch World Cup, perhaps the first Quidditch scene within the Harry Potter universe that I enjoyed. There is a lot of meat in the chapters devoted to the cup. Here we see Fudge's laughable attempts at foreign relations, Crouch's sneering attitude, and Winky's plight as a house-elf. We are also warned about the illusions that will follow us throughout this book.

Two of these illusions come in the form of magical creatures.

The veelas illusion is obvious; they dance and men are enchanted by their beauty. A man would do anything for a Veela when taken under her charm. However, if one makes a veela angry, beware. Her beauty will fade and he will see a ghastly image of what lies within.

Instead of dancing, they launched themselves across the field and began throwing what seemed to be handuls of fire at the leprechauns. Watching through his Omnioculars, Harry saw they they didn't look remotely beautiful now. On the contrary, their faces were elongating into sharp, cruel-beaked bird heads, and long, scaly wings were bursting from their shoulders--
Page 111

Leprechauns are creatures of illusion in what they promise. Fools Gold, Leprechauns Gold, is only an illusion that quickly passes away. As a mascot for Bulgaria, leprechauns offer money to appease the crowd, but where has the money gone when the game is over?

The illusions brought forth from the leprechauns and the veela open the ground to the mysterious incidents within Book Four. Is anyone as they appear? Who can Harry trust when so many things around him are based in illusion?

(The rest of this is based on memory from reading the book a while ago. It is not as fresh in my mind as the above.)

In the second and third tasks, Harry must face illusions in battle.

In the second task, Harry must race past some mermaids in order to save his friends trapped at the bottom of the lake. Will they die if he doesn't make it there on time? Or are his friends simply trapped within a different illusion?

The meraids that Harry must fight look nothing like the enchanted picture he had seen earlier in the Prefect's bathroom.
The merpeople had grayish skin and long, wild, dark green hair. Their eyes were yellow, as were their broken teeth, and they wore thick ropes of pebbles around their necks. They leered at Harry as he swam past; one or two of them emerged from their caves to watch him better, their powerful, silver fish tails beating the water, spears cluched in their hands.
Page 497-498 US ed.

At the end of the the second task, Harry has failed and succeeded at the same time. He did not manage to fight the illusions long enough to save both of his friends, but they were never in any real danger. Ron and Hermione awake from the enchanted sleep. Harry has technicaly lost the second task but has gained points for valor.

In the Third Task, Harry must fight illusions both great and small. While many illusions exist within this third task, I would like to center on the most drastic. First, Harry watches when Krum attacks one of the other champions. Does this follow with what Harry knows of Krum? How much does Harry actually know of the Bulgarian Quidditch player? Harry races to help Cedric, wondering if something more is happening within this third task. Harry knows someone is out to kill him, but what motives lie in Krum attacking Cedric? Could the two be connected somehow?

Harry continues through the maze, facing challenge after challenge, until faced once more with Cedric. The two of them race toward the one thing Harry has dreamed of the entire book. The Triwizard Cup lies at the center of the maze, just waiting for Harry to touch it. Both Harry and Cedric put their hands on the cup, not realizing that the cup was the greatest illusion of all.
"Instantly, Harry felt a jerk somewhere behind his navel. His feet had left the ground. He could not unclench the hand holding the Triwizard Cup; it was pulling him onward in a howl of wind and swirling color, Cedric at his side."
Page 635

The cup was a Portkey. More than a transportation device, a portkey is based in illusion. It looks like an old tire, a bit of rubbage, or a championship cup. The illusion is used to keep muggles away from suspecting what the object really is, but now it has fooled two young wizards. Harry and Cedric are swept away to a graveyard, where everything becomes real. Illusions are shattered as Cedric is killed and Harry watches Voldemort rise to power.

Worth noting, it is the shadows and illusions of people past that help Harry, not defeat, but escape the dark villain.

Illusion after illusion continues to break open and reveal the truth when Harry returns to Hogwarts. His trusted teacher turns out to be another person, the son of Crouch and the fiend behind the Triwizard Cup machination. It was he that had enchanted Krum into attacking Cedric. We also see the Minister of Magic show his true colors as he refuses to believe in Harry's tale.

To Fudge, Harry must still be trapped in a world of illusion. Even as Snape reveals his Death Eater mark, Fudge refuses to budge. He would rather stay in fantasy than become disillusioned.
Fudge stepped back from Snape too. He was shaking his head. He did not seem to have taken in a word Snape had said. He stared, apparently repelled by the ugly mark on Snape's arm, then looked up at Dumbledore and whispered, "I don't know what you and your staff are playing at , Dumbledore, but I have heard enough. I have no more to add. I will be in touch with you tomorrow, Dumbledore, to discuss the running of this school."
Page 710

And Fudge himself is an illusion proved false. He is not a high magistrate capable of handling affairs of state, as we have grown to expect he is a bumbling fool and a coward. Only now, he is becoming the enemy.

The Fourth Harry Potter Book is not the only book of the series based in illusions, but it is the first book where illusions are shattered, not only for Harry, but for all the wizards. Many choose to remain ignorant. Still, many wake up to the horrors that they will have to face in the coming books.

Other interesting Questions and Articles:

Why are veela and leprechauns treated differently by the magic community than other magical creatures? After seeing what the veela turned into, I'm sure they would fall under the prejudice Ministry of Magic's definition of a creature. Yet a veela is allowed to attend school as a witch. Is it because she is only a half-blood veela? Why the differential treatment? How can this affect the entire picture?

If you want to hear more about breaking illusions and how they affect individual characters, read Reconciling Percy