…in which Harry Potter helps me understand my colleagues
29 September 2011
She’s not very good at her job, but she’s got a good heart and she’s given to sparks of real insight. Professor Trelawney’s getup is a bit outré, and it’s really those coke-bottle glasses that nail it. When the students first meet her in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, she announces, “You may not have seen me before. I find that descending too often into the hustle and bustle of the main school clouds my Inner Eye.”
But I’ll take a roomful of Trelawneys over Umbridges. Dolores Umbridge is Senior Undersecretary, and she’s not going to let you forget it. “May I interrupt for the teensiest minute?” she’ll ask with the most sinister of intentions — but that’s only when you first meet her. Let me say how much I love the motif of the decorative plates on the walls, all featuring mewing kittens that seem simultaneously to be scary guard dogs and prisoners.
And finally there’s Filch. In the HP books and film, he’s the disagreeable janitor/watchman. Amongst my colleagues, he’s been raised to near-Umbridge like status over promotion and tenure cases. In the book he says, “I’ve been telling Dumbledore for years and years he’s too soft with you all. You filthy little beasts would never have dropped Stink Pellets if you’d known I had it in my power to whip you raw, would you, now? Nobody would have thought of throwing Fanged Frisbees down the corridors if I could’ve strung you up by the ankles in my office, would they?” Just imagine what such a person might have to say about the quality of your research.