Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A Juxtaposition of Clues

This post is part of the Mystery Plotting series, in which we are examining, one by one, techniques JK Rowling used to hide clues and plot her mysteries.

One nifty trick for sneaking a clue past your reader is to juxtapose your villain with the scene of the crime.  Or, even more simply, you can place two apparently separate thoughts or actions next to each other that by their mere proximity hint at a relationship.  I gave you an example of how this simple form of juxtaposition can be used in Drifting Off to ClueLand.  There, Harry's dream of doors is juxtaposed with his next thought of his scar, as if unrelated, but the reader is supposed to catch the connection between his dreams and Voldy.

For another simple example of how to juxtapose two supposedly unrelated ideas to hint at a relationship, let's look at Goblet of Fire.  Early on, JKR tells the reader, straight-up, what to look-out for in this book.  In Chapter 9, The Dark Mark, after the Quidditch World Cup, when some unseen person near the Trio has cast the Dark Mark into the air, and wizards pop in all around shooting stunning spells at Harry, Hermione, and Ron:

"Do not lie, sir!" shouted Mr. Crouch.  His wand was still pointing directly at Ron, and his eyes were popping -- he  looked slightly mad.  "You have been discovered at the scene of the crime!"
Discovered at the scene of the crime!  Get that?  We're supposed to watch out for it.

Then Bagman pops onto the scene:

"Where have you been, Barty?" said Bagman.  "Why weren't you at the match?  Your elf was saving you a seat too --"

Take note!  Although "Barty" was at the World Cup, he had his elf saving him an empty seat that he never used.

Bagman's comment reminds us of what Winky had told Harry, and the readers, back in the stands.  She was a good house-elf, not a shameful one like Dobby.  Winky always obeyed her master...even to the point of saving a seat for him in the highest box when she was deathly afraid of heights.

So when Mr. Diggory asks her impatiently, "Elf? Did you see anyone?"
Winky began to tremble worse than ever.  Her giant eyes flickered from Mr. Diggorty, to Ludo Bagman, and onto Mr. Crouch.  Then she gulped and said, "I is seeing no one, sir...no one..."
Ludo Bagman is placed in that sentence for a purpose.  He is a reminder, though his comment above, that Winky's belief above all is to obey her master, who her eyes flicker to next before she gulps and fudges the truth.  The juxtaposition of Bagman to Crouch in this sentence is supposed to remind the reader as to where Winky's loyalties lie...and how committed she is to carrying his orders out.


JK Rowling uses the second, more complex juxtaposition technique quite wonderfully throughout Goblet of Fire with Pseudo Mad-Eye Moody.  He's always Johnny-on-the-Spot when something goes wrong with Harry.  But do most readers suspect him because of that? No, because JKR offers as diversion the fact that Moody is the coolest teacher of the year and Harry's secret ally in winning the Tri-Wizard Tournament.  Of course, we all know now WHY pseudo-Moody wanted Harry to get that cup, but at the time -- who would have suspected the most celebrated dark-wizard catcher of all times to be in league with the most feared dark wizard in recent memory?

Here's a couple of scenes where JKR hinted, through juxtaposition, of Mad-Eye's involvement in the crime.

First, from Chapter 25, The Egg and the Eye, Harry has just finished his dip in the Prefect's bath, and is returning, after hours, to his dorm with his golden egg when he checks his map:
Peeves was not the only thing that was moving.  A single dot was flitting around a room in the bottom left-hand corner--Snape's office.  But the dot wasn't labeled "Severus Snape"...it was Bartemius Crouch.
Earlier, Harry had heard through Percy that Mr. Crouch (who of course he assumes this is) has been ill and not able to even go to work.  So why was Crouch at Hogwarts sneaking around Snape's office?

Deciding to find out for himself, Harry sets off down the stair and his leg plunges through the trick step.  The egg wails, Filch bounds into the scene determined to catch Peeves, who he is sure is to blame, and then Snape shows up.  Harry is all a quiver under his invisibility cloak while Filch and Snape argue as to what's going on:
   "--Peeves threw it, Professor--"
   "--and when I passed my office, I saw that the torches were lit and a cupboard door was ajar! Somebody has been searching it!"
   "But Peeves couldn't--"
   "I know he couldn't, Filch!" Snape snapped again.  "I seal my office with a spell none but a wizard could break!"
As Filch and Snape continue to argue about Peeves and the intruder, with Harry sending silent and inept Legilimency demands for them to leave, a "Clunk. Clunk. Clunk" approaches.  Mad-Eye!

Filch explains to Mad-Eye about Peeves and that someone has broken into Snape's office.  Snape hisses at him to "Shut up!"

Moody sizes up the scene, including Harry trapped in the stairs beneath his invisibility cloak, and then rounds on Snape and confronts:
   "Did I hear that correctly, Snape? he asked slowly.  "Someone broke into your office?"
   "It is unimportant," said Snape coldly.
   "On the contrary," growled Moody, "it is very important. Who'd want to break into your office?"
Can't  hear that emphasis on the word "your?"

Snape suggests students, because, "It has happened before.  Potion ingredients have gone missing from my private store cupboard...students attempting illicit mixtures, no doubt...."

As the reader should very well be aware!  Just two books ago we watched the Trio do this exact same thing as they stole ingredients to make the Polyjuice Potion....Wait....Are we supposed to be thinking of how Polyjuice allows one wizard to become another right now?? :-)

But no, we wouldn't suspect Polyjuice, at least not of Moody, because JKR, I mean, Snape, expertly distracts any suspicion of covert actions from Moody when he says, "You know I'm hiding nothing, Moody," he said in a soft and dangerous voice, "as you've searched my office pretty thoroughly yourself."

Moody's face twisted into a smile.  "Auror's privelege, Snape, Dumbledore told me to keep an eye--"

And then we get into the whole bit of Dumbledore being a trusting man and spots that don't come off and Snape grabbing his "left forearm" where his Dark Mark is burned into his flesh.  Snape is quite neatly thrown into the red herring soup!

Yet...clues abound in this scene!  And one of the prime techniques is juxtaposition.  JK Rowling juxtaposed Mad-Eye to the scene of the crime by bringing him onstage after the precise moment that someone had been searching Snape's cabinets.  She even gave us the further clue to remind us of the Polyjuice pretenders of years' past.

BUT, Jo almost never gives a clue without providing more compelling sleight-of-hand distraction.  Here, she provides several.  First, Moody is on the offensive -- forcing Snape to talk about the break-in against his will rather than having Snape accuse Moody and confront him of snooping -- which would have been too easy and way beneath JKR.  Second, Snape acknowledges that Moody already searched his office, which, when Moody parries as an Auror's privilege reminds us not only what a totally cool guy he is, but on which side his loyalties lie.  A distinction which is totally brought home by Moody's distrust of Snape, his intimating that Dumbledore told him to watch out for Snape, and the hint of Snape's dark and murky past.

Finally, we're getting all this from Harry's POV, and we know which of these two men Harry trusts and respects the most. Moody, to seal his image as good-guy-protector-of-Harry, even helps Harry escape Snape's notice as the oily Potions Master seeks his least favorite student out on the stairs.

Still...Moody was there...next to the scene of the crime.  And Harry had just seen in his Marauder's Map, which never lies (remember Pettigrew) -- that Bartemius Crouch was searching Snape's office.

Lastly, I want to point out what JKR has Filch call the golden egg in this scene -- not a  golden egg, not a dragon's egg, but a Triwizard CLUE! Filch is seeing clues in this scene, and we're supposed to as well!

Three chapters later, in chapter 28, The Madness of Mr. Crouch, just to make sure we take notice of who is nearby when something goes wrong, JK Rowling repeats her juxtaposition technique.  The senior Bartemius Crouch stumbles onto the Hogwarts grounds, semi-crazed and insisting upon talking to Dumbledore.  Harry leaves Krum with Crouch as he goes to collect Dumbledore, and when they return, they find Krum stunned and Mr. Crouch vanished.

Just as Dumbledore is sending Hagrid (brought by a Patronus) to go fetch Mad-Eye Moody...who should stumble up, "limping toward them, leaning on his staff, his wand lit" but Mad-Eye Moody himself.
"Damn leg," he said furiously.  "Would've been here quicker...what's happened? Snape said something about Crouch--"
Instantly, he provides an alibi for his presence.  But, once again, he's Barty-on-the-Spot when that Spot has involved a crime.

Sill, JK Rowling provides distraction.  Harry mentions to Dumbledore how he had just been talking to Mr. Bagman right before Crouch appeared.  We know that Bagman is a slimy character.  Plus, Kakaroff is also hinted at, and Krum himself believes that Crouch attacked him from behind.  Well....Crouch did.  Just not Senior.

For readers, unanswered questions and hidden secrets keep them glued to the page.  As long as they are actively involved in their quest to know more, wondering and worried about what's to come, we have their page-turning interest.  Therefore, as writers, we should be careful to employ a  variety of techniques to hide clues to our ongoing mysteries.  Juxtaposition is one such technique which JK Rowling showed us delightfully how to employ.

Have you ever used juxtaposition in either its more simple or complex form to hide clues or tease with red herrings?  Do you think this technique could be used outside a mystery to hide secrets your characters keep from each other?

(Check Out JK Rowling's Newest Release -- Harry Potter and the Cursed Child here!) 

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