I know, it's been a while, circumstances beyond my control and so on. Getting back in the blog saddle with a month devoted to my favorite characters who, by all rights, should never in a million years be on any of my favorites lists. And yet, here they are.
This isn't a list for those charming and/or badass villains and antiheroes we all love to read about and watch, in spite of, or because of, their shortcomings as human beings. Fiction has to explore the best and worst of human nature, so it can't very well be populated entirely with perfectly good people. I have no qualms about about enjoying a well-crafted character I'd never want to be like or have dinner with.
No, to make it onto this list, there has to be a reason to dislike these characters as characters, as symptoms of and contributors to unjust cultural attitudes, for example, or just as clumsily or thinly drawn puppets of their plots. And yet, there's something about them that charms me all the same.
First up, the doting matron of the Weasley clan.
****Spoilers through book seven ahead****
Why I shouldn't like her:
This isn't a shot at homemakers, either real or fictional. The work that happens at home is important, distributing it to one stay-at-home spouse works for some couples and not others, and the women (and men!) who take on that role absolutely deserve respect for what they do. This shouldn't even require stating. And of course, not being a parent yet, there’s plenty I can’t comment on about what it’s like.
No, my complaint here is about a major character being made out of an embellished surface image of an archetype, rather than a thorough look at who she is, how she functions, and why.
Here's what we're told about Molly: She's a stay-at-home mom who loves her children and husband more than anything in the world.
In other words, she's the stereotypical good housewife, with a significant effort made at stripping the stereotype of any insulting elements, i.e., weakness, helplessness, lack of authority, exclusion from any important discussion or decision-making.
When you put in a little too much thought into the equation that remains, though, and a few things don't quite add up.
Firstly, for all the authority Molly commands among her mostly male family and the more male than not Order of the Phoenix, we see her do nothing to encourage the same confidence and self-respect in her one and only daughter.
She didn’t face the same social frustration Ginny deals with and make some kind of resolution not to let it stop her? Wouldn’t she want the same success for Ginny?
That one’s a bit of a personal peeve of mine, but at least it can be rationalized into a consistent enough character, so maybe we can let that slide.
But then there’s that thing about running herself ragged looking after seven kids.
Wait. Every time we see Molly do housework, thanks to the fantasy of casual magic use in the Potter universe, what we actually see is the housework doing itself. Rooms clean themselves in seconds. Knives and cutting boards can be enchanted to chop vegetables by themselves with minimal supervision. Even those lovingly handmade sweaters she gifts her children with every Christmas…
In the years between Ginny, her youngest, starting at Hogwarts, and The Order of the Phoenix needing to become active again, I gotta ask, what exactly was Molly filling her days with for those ten months out of the year? We never see her express any personal interests outside of her family's well-being and her homemaking tasks.
There's not one mention of her trying to bring in extra money, or even considering and discarding the idea. It's just plain not acknowledged as a possibility, in spite of that shoestring budget cinching tight enough to be a serious academic handicap for those beloved kids of hers.
We're not talking about big class distinctions between public and private school. Hogwarts is the one and only option for English wizarding kids, and tuition is free. But Ron not having a working wand to practice with is the magical equivalent of a present day first world muggle student having zero access to a working computer, only resulting in more violent slapstick.
There are plenty of reasons she might have chosen to stay home, or had no choice but to stay home. It's no secret that a woman with a lifetime resume of homemaking will have a ridiculously hard time being taken seriously breaking into the working scene in the real world, and the wizarding economy in the Potter universe is so tiny and insular that competition might make it downright impossible for her to get started, in spite of having the same level of education as her male peers.
Or maybe her identity is so entrenched in feeling more needed at home, doing the things she's spent her life getting excellent at, that she doesn't want to re-assess that, consequences be damned. That would be very far from a fatal, unforgivable character flaw if so.
Fine. Whatever the reason, Molly devotes herself a hundred percent to being the best mother she can be to her mostly absent and grown up children, with the help of every time-saving spell a muggle mom could possibly fantasize about. She can't give them money, but she showers them with love.
Except she kinda sorta drops the ball even at that.
Ron is one of the chosen three who take on the quest to hunt down Voldemort's horcruxes so that he can be defeated in the end. He's the one out of those three who comes closest to failing at his part, because the mind-manipulating horcruxes find they can play on his gargantuan inferiority complex, born of a lifetime of feeling unimportant, overshadowed, and ignored.
Sure, some of that was inevitable in a sixth child out of seven. Ron would have been at least a little jealous of his older brothers no matter how much attention he got himself, and a lot of his inferiority issues are money-related, which we can chalk up as unavoidable too, as per the above conversation that we never hear.
Molly can't afford to get him a cool racing broom or this year's style of formal wear. Fine. Can't be helped. Many a family can heartily relate, my own included. And maybe she doesn’t really forget that Ron doesn't like corned beef when she packs the lunches for the train that first day, but she doesn’t have a lot of options other than to stretch those leftovers a little further, and she needs him to suck it up just until he gets to school where he can eat whatever he wants.
But then there's Christmas.
Why I love her anyway:
It might not make perfect sense what's going through Molly's head sometimes, given what we're told about her priorities, but the evocative details of what we see on the surface of this not-to-be-laughed-off mom character deserve their due. From the outside, from the perspective of the kids the story is about, so much about her is so lifelike.
Or to her own kids, she's the embarrassingly affectionate hardass, all sides of a mom. She's the parent whose love it's (mostly) impossible to doubt, no matter how much she yells. She's the parent whose mistakes you defend to your friends even when they secretly piss you off, because you know she means well.
She's the ally you take for granted for when it really matters. There's so much about her you can't help but feel you know. And then, after all that time knowing her as that tough lovable mom, seeing her finally cut loose...