Friday, August 12, 2011

Dogging JK Rowling's Deathly Clues

Yesterday, I posted an article analyzing one technique JK Rowling used to hide clues to her mysteries in an innocent manner that would not draw the initial attention of the reader.  This technique was coined by Galadriel Waters of the Ultimate Unofficial Guide to the Mysteries of Harry Potter series as "running bits."  I suggest that if you didn't read Tossing Snowballs at Your Clues, that you skim over it before going on, because here I will pick up where I left off to provide further examples.

As many of you seemed somewhat doubtful that JK Rowling had deliberately used a trail of words to point to a trail of clues, I decided to dig a bit deeper and show you a more complex example from Order of the Phoenix. We all know what one of the greatest surprises in store for fans of this book was the death of Sirius Black (aka Padfoot) at the end. However, fans were anticipating a death ever since Voldemort AK'd Cedric (and turned him into a sparkly vampire :-) at the end of Goblet of Fire.

Because JKR knew by now that her fans were on to her tricks, she plotted the clues to this mystery even more intricately. She had to give hints toward who would die in book 5, without ruining the dreadful surprise at the end. For these running bits, she clumped them together, using images related to death and associated with Sirius Black or his animagus form of Padfoot

The words we'll be following are bark, howl, dog, grim, and black. The first three are associated, of course, with a dog and point the reader to notice that there's a very important dog in this story and something black and grim is looming for him. JKR uses grim and black in association with death, and in Order of the Phoenix, they are also closely linked, used quite frequently with Sirius (aside from his last name, of course).

Let's look at some quotes in detail.  Once again, I'm only using the first half of the book because to cite from the whole thing would fill a very long parchment.  Also, I'm only picking up important instances or an example of ones that are oft-repeated.  If I showed every time a character "barked" or "said grimly" in Order of the Phoenix, we'd be here until the Thestrals came home!

Here's some instances of JKR using bark early on to draw our attention to it:
Dudley gave a harsh bark of laughter then adopted a high-pitched, whimpering voice. “ ‘Don’t kill Cedric! Don’t kill Cedric!’ Who’s Cedric — your boyfriend?”

“I want the truth about what happened tonight!” barked Uncle Vernon. “If it was demenders who hurt Dudley, how come you’ve been expelled? You did you-know-what, you’ve admitted it!”

And just to make sure we remember who the main barking character in this story is:

Dumbledore’s Secret-Keeper for the Order, you know — nobody can find headquar­ters unless he tells them personally where it is — that note Moody showed you last night, that was from Dumbledore. …” Sirius gave a short, barklike laugh. “If my parents could see the use it was being put to now … well, my mother’s portrait should give you some idea..”

JKR continues to toss in "barks" wherever she finds, or creates, the opportunity:

“Oh, most think he’s barking, the Potty wee lad,
But some are more kindly and think he’s just sad,
But Peevesy knows better and says that he’s mad —

Pansy Parkinson gave a shriek of laughter that turned almost at once into a scream, as the twigs on the table leapt into the air and revealed themselves to be what looked like tiny pixieish creatures made of wood, each with knobbly brown arms and legs, two twiglike fingers at the end of each hand, and a funny, flat, barklike face in which a pair of beetle-brown eyes glittered.

“Well said!” barked Ernie Macmillan, whom Harry had been ex­pecting to speak long before this.

But an animal that barks may also:

JK Rowling uses howl almost always in an ominous manner in this book, associating this dog-like word with stormy weather or Voldemort's supporters.

“Does it work?” inquired Ron hopefully, as the hammering of rain on the roof intensified and wind howled around the building.

   Harry sat quite still, staring at his feet, allowing his mind and his memory to relax in the aftermath of the pain. …
   A confused tangle of shapes, a howling rush of voices …
   “He wants something done, and it’s not happening fast enough,” he said.

October extinguished itself in a rush of howling winds and driving rain and November arrived, cold as frozen iron, with hard frosts every morning and icy drafts that bit at exposed hands and faces.

Mrs. Black’s portrait was howling with rage but nobody was both­ering to close the curtains over her; all the noise in the hall was bound to rouse her again anyway.

All these howling winds and Death Eaters make me feel rather:

In OotP, JKR uses grim A LOT. Grimmauld Place is a right grim place with its grimy windows in a row of houses, all with grimy fronts.  But people are constantly talking grimly.

“Hello, Harry,” [Sirius] said grimly, “I see you’ve met my mother.”

Again, I will not repeat the number of times someone speaks grimly in OothP, there's just too many.  However, not only do they talk grimly, they also look rather grim as well.

Sirius scratched him absentmindedly behind the ears as he turned, still grim-faced, to Harry.

Mrs. Weasley followed them upstairs looking grim.

Mr. Weasley stumbled to a halt outside a grimy dark door with an immense iron lock and slumped against the wall, clutching at a stitch in his chest.

Professor Umbridge, however, did not flinch. She was staring at Harry with a grimly satisfied expression on her face.

His eyes rested on Harry and his lip curled. Harry glared back, feel­ing a grim pleasure at the idea that he would be able to give up Potions after fifth year.

Here's a cool snippet which uses several running bits all together:

Mundungus fumbled nervously in his pockets, still staring at Harry, and pulled out a grimy black pipe. He stuck it in his mouth, ignited the end of it with his wand, and took a deep pull on it. Great billowing clouds of greenish smoke obscured him in seconds.

Notice how it has three death images/words: grim, black, and the green of Avada Kedavra!

Throughout OotP, JKR also shows people or things being obscured, hidden by smoke, or disappearing from sight.  These images foreshadow how Sirius disappears behind the Veil.

And Sirius is quite the...

Lots of dog words, besides just Sirius, gambol about in OotP:

“Ministry of Magic?” bellowed Uncle Vernon. “People like you in government? Oh this explains everything, everything, no wonder the country’s going to the dogs. …”

The elf took absolutely no notice of Harry and the rest. Acting as though it could not see them, it shuffled hunchbacked, slowly and doggedly, toward the far end of the room, muttering under its breath all the while in a hoarse, deep voice like a bullfrog’s

Here's the actual black dog of death in action:
The figures of Tonks, Lupin, Moody, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley shrank rapidly but the black dog was bounding alongside the window, wag­ging its tail; blurred people on the platform were laughing to see it chasing the train, and then they turned the corner, and Sirius was gone.

Yes, "Sirius was gone" is intended foreshadowing!

“I seem to have touched a nerve,” said Malfoy, smirking. “Well, just watch yourself, Potter, because I’ll be dogging your footsteps in case you step out of line.”

JKR even plays with her clue hunters with this next one. Are we searching too hard, seeing clues where they are not intended, IS it coincidental?:

...what if he had deduced that the Weasleys, Lupin, Tonks, and Moody knew where Sirius was hiding? Or had Malfoy’s use of the word “dogging” been a coincidence?
Some of you, I'm sure, will answer yes.  I, of course, think not! :-)

One last dog clue:

“Come back, you scurvy dog, stand fast and fight!” yelled Sir Cado­gan in a muffled voice from behind his visor

On a side note, it might be worth mentioning that two new names to this book both have a dog in them, Doge hides a dog in it as well as Cadogan. Sir Cadogan is always going on about scurvy dogs and Doge is called "Dogbreath" by Rita Skeeter, though that's not until a later book.

Of course, the main dog we know about in OotP is:


Everything about the Black family home is grimy and black, all hinting at death and decay, and Sirius is trapped inside, unable to break free of it's deathly hold.

Harry walked up the worn stone steps, staring at the newly materi­alized door. Its black paint was shabby and scratched.

He heard a soft hissing noise and then old-fashioned gas lamps sputtered into life all along the walls, casting a flickering insub­stantial light over the peeling wallpaper and threadbare carpet of a long, gloomy hallway, where a cobwebby chandelier glimmered over­head and age-blackened portraits hung crooked on the walls. 

Notice in the quote below that it is black liquid used to kill the doxies:

“Cover your faces and take a spray,” Mrs. Weasley said to Harry and Ron the moment she saw them, pointing to two more bottles of black liquid standing on a spindle-legged table. “It’s Doxycide

Yet, despite their cleaning, the house is getting blacker every day as death looms for its last inhabitant.

   “Kreacher is cleaning,” the elf repeated. “Kreacher lives to serve the noble house of Black —”
   “— and it’s getting blacker every day, it’s filthy,” said Sirius.

Then black becomes associated with a very important door:

“Quick, Harry,” said Mr. Weasley as the lift doors rattled open, and they sped up a corridor that was quite different from those above. The walls were bare; there were no windows and no doors apart from a plain black one set at the very end of the corridor.

Guess which door this one is mentioned above.  The door that keeps appearing in Harry's tormented dreams.  The door into the Department of Ministries.  The black door beyond which Sirius meets his death.

In the Ministry of Magic, Harry meets a nasty piece of work who is mostly associated with the color pink, except for a curious bow that she wears.  Enter Umbridge:

He thought she looked just like a large, pale toad. She was rather squat with a broad, flabby face, as little neck as Uncle Vernon, and a very wide, slack mouth. Her eyes were large, round, and slightly bulging. Even the little black velvet bow perched on top of her short curly hair put him in mind of a large fly she was about to catch on a long sticky tongue.

That poor black fly, I mean bow, meeting its fate on top of Umbridge's head.

Of course, the twins have their own agenda going on, as always.  But in OotP, even their tricks hint at a black death:

Look what Dung’s gotten us,” said George, holding out his hand to Harry. It was full of what looked like shriveled black pods. A faint rattling noise was coming from them, even though they were com­pletely stationary.

“Venomous Tentacula seeds,” said George. “We need them for the Skiving Snackboxes but they’re a Class C Non-Tradeable Substance so we’ve been having a bit of trouble getting hold of them.”

The Venomout Tentacula is highly poisonous and in fact is used as a weapon in Deathly Hallows.

Perhaps one of the darkest and most sublime deadly images associated with black comes from Dolores Umbridge:

She handed him a long, thin black quill with an unusually sharp point.
 “I want you to write ‘I must not tell lies,’ ” she told him softly.

This black quill draws blood and leaves a permanent scar, as the death of Sirius will do for Harry.

Perhaps one of the most haunting uses of these running bits is not only a mirror image to how Sirius disappeared at Platform 9 3/4 and to how he will vanish behind the veil, but also a foreshadow to the death of Hedwig herself.

“Safe flight, then,” said Harry and he carried her to one of the win­dows; with a moment’s pressure on his arm Hedwig took off into the blindingly bright sky. He watched her until she became a tiny black speck and vanished,
Finally, the great thestrals with their black wings are visible only by those who have seen death, as Harry has already experienced, and will experience again even more painfully by the end of this book.

A great, reptilian winged horse, just like the ones pulling the Hogwarts carriages, with leathery black wings spread wide like a pterodactyl’s, rose up out of the trees like a grotesque, giant bird.

I think that's enough examples for now.  Each of these quotes taken alone mean nothing. All these words -- bark, howl, dog, grim, black -- are common and of course would be used in many stories.  What is notable with JK Rowling is the frequency of use and the associations that go with each one.  When you put them all together, they are used to draw the reader's attention to one particular large black dog in this book who will meet his grim fate at its end!

Have I convinced more of you yet?  Or are you still doubtful? Regardless, have you got a desire to play with clues like this in your own work?

The bottom line is, if you think this works whether or not JKR intended it or not, you can incorporate clues like this yourself simply by asking yourself the kinds of questions I mentioned at the end of Tossing Snowballs at Your Clues.  Think of major clues you want to hint at, then choose words related to it that can be tossed in subtly but frequently to attract your reader's notice.

And let me know how it works for you!

P.S. - Need a professional edit on your manuscript before you submit or publish direct? Be sure to check out my services!