Monday, July 26, 2010

Text Analysis - The Sneak

So, here's a fun game I like to occasionally play. I pick up a Harry Potter book from the many on my shelf, flip it open to a random page, and break apart what's happening in a particular section ... what's working, and, sometimes, what's not.

For today's game, I opened Order of the Phoenix (Bloomsbury edition) to Chapter 16, "In The Hog's Head," page 309, where the group that will soon become known as Dumbledore's Army is meeting for the first time.  They are all rather nervous, what with Umbridge's crackdown at school, meeting in a dodgy place, and a nearby heavily veiled witch whom Harry fears may be Umbridge.  The atmosphere is set for a risky venture and Hermione is about to provide a critical clue.

She rummaged in her bag and produced parchment and a quill, then hesitated, rather as though she was steeling herself to say something.

'I - I think everybody should write their name down, just so we know who was here. But I also think,' she took a deep breath, "that we all ought to agree not to shout about what we're doing. So if you sign, you're agreeing not to tell Umbridge or anybody else what we're up to.'

Bolds and italics are my addition.

In this short passage, JKR laid a critical clue that there would be a traitor within Dumbledore's Army and how Hermione would reveal her.  Of course, in hindsight, we all know that this is the parchment Hermione had placed a binding oath upon, which later pox-marked Cho's traitorous friend. None of that is obvious here.  However, with subtle wording, JKR played fair with her reader that something was afoot, giving three words/phrases showing Hermione's reluctance for asking people to simply sign a roster. Hermione even warned the students, and thus the reader, that they were signing an agreement--she just never said it was bewitched.

Another hint of what is to come lies a few paragraphs further into the text.  JKR diverts her reader with Ernie Macmillan's reluctance to sign.:

But Ernie was looking rather hesitant about signing too. Hermione raised her eyebrows at him.

"I--well, we are prefects," Ernie burst out. "And if this list was found...well, I mean to say... you said yourself, if Umbridge finds out..." ...

..."Ernie, do you really think I'd leave that list lying around?" said Hermione testily.

"No. No, of course not," said Ernie, looking slightly less anxious. "I--yes, of course I'll sign."

Nobody raised objections after Ernie, though Harry saw Cho's friend give her a rather reproachful look before adding her own name.

If the witted reader was alerted to a sneak about, Ernie's pompous objections spotted him as the likely culprit. Still, there was Cho's no-named friend being rather forced to sign. Not being named, Cho's friend slips under the radar. And Ernie's objections leaves the reader feeling that all the subtextual innuendo is building to that list being found ... not to a betrayer "shouting," or in US terms, "blabbing."

Sneaky...sneaky. That's JKR. She lets you know something is afoot, but diverts you into another direction. No in-your-face clues, but a well-laid trail just the same.

What clue and diversion have you written into your text recently?

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