Professor Quirrell and the Representation of Disability

Throughout Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone readers are led to believe that the culprit behind the mysterious goings on at Hogwarts is Severus Snape, the seemingly villainous Potions professor. So, it came as quite a shock to many to find out that Professor Quirrell was in fact behind the true villain. Perhaps the most shocking aspect about this reveal is that Professor Quirrell is arguably a minor character up until the last chapters of the novel. Added to that, everything that readers are told about Quirrell gives the impression that he isn’t worth paying attention to; his odd mannerism, his physical description, and his stutter make him inconsequential. Of course, you could argue that J.K. Rowling purposefully wrote Quirrell this way so the ending would be more surprising, the same way she purposefully wrote Snape to appear to always be the bad guy. However, Rowling uses Quirrell’s disability, his speech impediment, as a tool to make him appear less threatening, weak, and incapable of perpetrating any of the events at Hogwarts during Harry’s first year.

Before we dive in, stuttering is considered a disability by the American Disabilities Act. They define disability as “a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity” (ADA). Stuttering is a condition that affects speech and can limit that person’s ability to participate in “major life activity”; the term disability isn’t only attributed to physical disabilities. Quirrell’s stutter, at least in America, would be considered a disability as it affects his ability to do his job and interact with students and other professors.

The first introduction to Quirrell is at the Leaky Cauldron when Harry and Hagrid are on their way to Diagon Alley. “‘P-P-Potter,’ stammered Professor Quirrell, grasping Harry’s hand, ‘c-can’t t-tell you how p-pleased I am to meet you’” (Rowling 70). The first impression the reader get of Quirrell is that he has a stammer and the second is that he is constantly nervous and afraid. Hagrid says about Quirrell, “Poor bloke. Brilliant mind…scared of students, scared of his own subject” (Rowling 71). This leaves the reader with the impression that Professor Quirrell is not a very intimidating character, even for a professor at Hogwarts. For comparison, Snape’s first introduction is a description of his appearance at the sorting hat ceremony. He has “greasy black hair, a hooked nose, a sallow skin” and when he makes eye contact with Harry, Harry feels a “sharp, hot pain” in his scar (Rowling 126).The immediate impression of Snape is that he’s creepy and he somehow poses a threat to Harry. Professor McGonagall’s introduction as well is very different than Quirrell’s. As Harry and the rest of the First Years enter Hogwarts for the first time, McGonagall is waiting for their arrival. Harry describes her as “a tall, black-haired witch in emerald-green robes” as well as having a “very stern face and…snapenot someone to cross” (Rowling 113).professor mcgonagall quirrell

As with Snape, the description given of McGonagall is fierce and intimidating and the reader is almost invited to forget all about Professor Quirrell.

Quirrell’s stammer is his defining characteristic and marks him as ‘other’ from the rest of the professors at Hogwarts. Rosemarie Garland Thompson, author of Extraordinary Bodies, states,

“a disability functions only as visual difference that signals meanings. Consequently, literary texts necessarily make disabled characters into freaks, stripped of normalizing contexts and engulfed by a single stigmatic trait” (11).

Arguably, it is this characteristic that makes his villainous identity so surprising. Joseph Jordan, a writer for the Journal of Popular Culture, states that “the least likely suspect is usually guilty. But we seem to forget the rule when the least likely suspect is physically disabled, or seems to be” (855). This is true for Quirrell as well. He is the very least likely character to be searching for the sorcerer’s stone and therefore he should have been the number one suspect.  Here’s an article on Pottermore that lists all of the obvious signs that Quirrell was the villain all along. The signs are indeed glaringly obvious and yet those signs were ignored or overlooked because there was no way Quirrell was intelligent enough to pull something like this off. So, instead of being undesirable number one, Quirrell is cast aside as an incapable, weak, and even comic relief character. Quirrell is the professor for Defense Against the Dark Arts but not a very good one as his “lessons turned out to be a bit of a joke” and he “smelled strongly of garlic” to protect himself day and night from a vampire (Rowling 134).  Quirrell’s stutter gives him the air of ineptitude that Harry, as well as most of the Hogwarts population and the reader buys into. The problem with this is that Rowling’s strategy for throwing her audience off the scent of the real villain is to give that character a disability which automatically renders him incapable of the crime in the mind of her audience.

For example, the moment when Quirrell runs into the Great Hall and says, “Troll- in the dungeons- thought you ought to know” seals his fate has a weak, timid, and unsuspicious character (Rowling 172). troll.jpegQuirrell is described in that moment as having “terror on his face” and after delivering his message he “sank to the floor in a dead faint” (Rowling 172). While this is clearly a plot device to cast Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s suspicions elsewhere, it also works to hammer in the uselessness of Quirrell as a wizard and a professor and therefore not even considered to be the villain; because someone that scared of a troll could never skillfully make their way through the protections to the sorcerer’s stone.

Rosemarie Garland Thompson argues the context around the disabled body is “informed more by received attitudes than by people’s actual experience of disability” (9). The assumptions made about disabled characters like Quirrell in literature are formed by the social treatment of people with disabilities which is often uninformed. Similarly, Michael Hart writes in an article for The Journal of Modern Literature that “it does not matter whether Character X has disability Y. What matters is the web of social relations that constitutes other people’s responses to Character X” (186). It’s not the actual speech impediment itself that casts Quirrell as an inept character, it’s how the other characters and how the reader responds to Quirrell that allows his character to be pushed aside. The general misunderstanding and misinformation about people with disabilities allows for Quirrell’s character to be assigned the same assumptions that are made in reality about people with disabilities. Quirrell’s nervousness, oddness, and skittish nature help the audience to buy into the stereotype his stutter already planted. Garland Thompson makes another great point about the representation of disabled bodies in literature that is applicable to Quirrell. She states,

“representation tends to objectify disabled characters by denying them any opportunity for subjectivity or agency. The plot or the work’s rhetorical potential usually benefits from the disabled figure remaining other to the reader- identifiably human but resolutely different” (11).

Throughout the novel, Quirrell continuously aids the plot by being ‘other’. His stammer separates him from the other professors and allows the students to not take him seriously. Without either of these, the shocking ending would not be as powerful. Quirrell’s stammer only operates to discredit Quirrell as an option for the villain to make the ending much more shock inducing.

What makes Garland Thompson’s point that much more fitting for Quirrell is that as well as revealing himself as the villain, he also reveals that his stammer is fake. Jeffery Johnson writes, “Quirrell feigns stuttering in order to appear weaker and this not be suspected of his crimes” and “when he stops pretending to be meek, Quirrell also stops stuttering, and is shown to be a powerful villain” (250). This casts people with disabilities as people who can’t be strong or powerful. Johnson further states that “stuttering is often used as a visual shorthand for weakness” and characters depicted with a stutter are “rarely cast in the role of the hero” because the typical hero, or villain for that matter, must be “strong and confident” (251). This very reason can be attributed to Snape being the primary suspect; it goes beyond character description, Snape was thought to be the villain because he is powerful and confident enough to have been one. Rowling plays into the stereotypical disability trope with Quirrell’s character and perhaps does more damage by making Quirrell’s disability fake in order to appear weaker. In the final pages of the novel, Quirrell’s true identity is revealed to Harry and he makes the comparison to Snape’s seemingly suspicious behavior. Quirrell tells Harry,

“Severus does seem the type, doesn’t he? So useful to have him swooping around like an overgrown bat. Next to him, who would suspect p-p-poor, st-stuttering P-Professor Quirrell!” (Rowling 288).

Here’s a YouTube clip of the ending to get a better impression. In this passage alone, Rowling makes multiple statements about people with disabilities. By mentioning Harry’s suspicions of Snape, Rowling is pointing out that Snape not only looks and acts the part of the villain, but that he’s strong enough to be the villain simply because he’s the opposite of Quirrell. Rowling is also making a point that Quirrell’s fake stutter was to make him appear less threatening and weak by having Quirrell make fun of it. It’s also implying that people with a stutter are automatically looked-down upon and pitied.

Quirrell’s disability is represented in such a way as to make him appear nonthreatening, weak, and largely incapable of being the villain Harry must face in order to get the sorcerer’s stone. The idea that disability equals ineptitude is perpetuated in literature as well as in reality. Literature has the unique capability of assisting in shaping our perceptions and “especially regarding situations about which we have little direct knowledge” (Garland Thompson 10). Literature has a great power over its readership and the way people are represented in what we read effects a least part of our perceptions of the world. Poor representation of disabilities in literature leads to a negative perception of disabilities in reality. Using disability as a plot device to avoid suspicion of a character shows that people with disabilities are to be assumed incapable.

Works Cited

Garland Thompson, Rosemarie. Extraordinary Bodies: Figuring Physical Disability in American Culture and Literature. Columbia University Press, New York, 1997.

Hart, Michael Patrick. “Narrative Strategies and Fictional Intellectual Disabilities”. Journal of Modern Literature. Vol. 42, No. 2, 2011, 185-191.

Johnson, Jeffery K. “The Visualization of the Twisted Tongue: Portrayals of Stuttering in Film, Television, and Comic Books”. The Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 41, No. 2, 2008, 245-261.

Jordan, Joseph. “The Man with Two Faces: Stuttering Characters and Surprise”. Journal of Popular Culture. Vol. 50, No. 4, 2017, 855-870.

Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Scholastic, New York, 2008.

“What is the Definition of Disability Under the ADA?” ADA National Network. July 2019. https://adata.org/faq/what-definition-disability-under-ada.

The Incredibly Easy to Steal Sorcerer’s Stone

I have to admit that Sorcerer’s Stone is my least favorite Potter book. The biggest reason for this is mainly Dumbledore…I have major issues with his decision to leave Harry with the Dursley’s  when he knows the abuse Harry suffers when he’s with them; but a post about that would be incredibly long and include more of the series. So, I’m going to  talk about the second main reason Sorcerer’s Stone is my least favorite of the seven. Throughout the novel everyone repeatedly tells Harry, Ron, and Hermione that the Sorcerer’s Stone is super protected and very hard to steal and yet three First Year’s manage to get past all the protections and enchantments to get the stone….WHAT?! That’s a little too unrealistic for me. I understand that for the sake of the novel and plot and all the other things to come in the next books that Harry, Ron, and Hermione had to be able to get past all of the Stone’s protections but I think it just makes the witches and wizards who put those protections in place look incompetent and we know they really aren’t. Let’s take a closer look at each protection;

Fluffy

fluffyFluffy appeared to be the best defense against threats of theft of the Stone; a big scary three-headed dog would deter even the most determined of thieves…except that literally every professor knows about the beasts’ music weakness. Not only are Harry, Ron, and Hermione entirely capable of enchanting a musical instrument as First Years, the trap door Fluffy is guarding isn’t even enchanted or locked! Not that the door being locked or enchanted would have stopped Hermione but it could have at least challenged her a bit! Fluffy was brought to the school by Hagrid, Hagrid knows what Fluffy is guarding, and he still allows himself to get tricked by three 11 year olds into saying what Fluffy’s weakness is. Hagrid is often a big bumbling teddy bear but he isn’t stupid and I feel like this entire scenario diminishes his character. 

Devil’s Snare

devilssnare.jpgDevil’s Snare is on the same level as Fluffy in terms of its effectiveness. It looks scary and threatening but is actually extremely easy to bypass. Let’s face it, even in book one we know that there isn’t much Hermione doesn’t know or can’t do and Devil’s Snare didn’t stand a chance against her.  What’s worse is First Year’s are even taught the spell for Devil’s Snare. Hermione recalls Professor Sprout’s Herbology lesson that Devil’s Snare “likes the dark and the damp” (Rowling 278). I find it very hard to believe that Professor Sprout would really think to protect the Sorcerer’s Stone with a magical plant that she also planned to teach students how to protect themselves against.  

Flying Keys

Winged_keys.gif

The flying keys are slightly more challenging for Harry, Ron, and Hermione. But again it’s just too easy a protection for something as important as the Sorcerer’s Stone. Not only are broomsticks provided (unbelievable) but the door key is also noticeably different than the other keys; it’s a “big, old-fashioned one” (Rowling 280). Again, as a protection against someone stealing the Sorcerer’s Stone, it’s pretty weak. Not only are the tools provided for capturing the right key, if Harry, Ron, and Hermione can easily catch the correct key than it would be a walk in the park for a more experienced witch or wizard….like Professor Quirrell.

Wizard’s Chest

wizard's chess.gif I think the giant Wizard’s Chess is actually the best protection out of all of them. I mean, its unsuccessful at stopping an adult Professor and an 11 year old but I attribute that to coincidence rather than the enchanted chess’s games protection abilities. For instance, had Harry been alone I don’t think he would have made it through this one (or any of them honestly). But of course, its just handy that this protection happens to be the one thing that Ron is successful at every time he plays. It’s just too coincidental for me. You can preach the “for the sake of the plot” argument all you want but I just can’t extended that excuse to cover every single one of these. And honestly, I don’t buy that Professor McGonagall, Queen McGonagall if you will, would ever think transfigured giant chess pieces would stop a grown man.

Potion Riddle

snape.gifHere is where I lose it. Severus Snape is so sneaky and smart yet the best protection he could come up with is a logic riddle?? For real? And not just any riddle, a riddle that an 11 year old can solve in a matter of minutes. Severus Snape is better than that and he deserved better than that.

 

The Mirror of Erised

mirror of erisedEarly in the book Harry finds the Mirror of Erised and see’s himself with his parents; thats what he most desires. As Dumbledore explains, the Mirror of Erised shows “nothing more or less than the deepest, most desperate desires of our hearts” (Rowling 213). When Harry is facing Quirrell he thinks to himself, “what I want more than anything else in the world at the moment…is to find the Stone before Quirrell does” (Rowling 291). If what Dumbledore said about the Mirror is true, then what Harry wants in any given moment doesn’t matter. The Mirror should only show his deepest desire and no one will ever convince me that Harry Potter will see anything other than his parents in the Mirror. I find this to be a huge flaw in Sorcerer’s Stone. The Potter books have such a strong theme of love running through them and Harry’s parents are never far from his mind that I find it very unrealistic that they would even be momentarily replaced in the Mirror by the Stone.

Introduction

IMG_7851Hello! My name is Katie. I’m an English major and a rhetoric and writing minor. I’m set to graduate in December and I just can’t believe I’m almost done! My plans for the summer are up in the air at the moment. I have a six month old (he’s the cutest ever) that I stay home with, so the majority of my summer will be spent hanging out with him; so far we’ve been to the zoo…A LOT. I’m a pretty big reader and I’ll basically read anything but my favorite genres are historical fiction and romance/fantasy. At the moment, I’m rereading A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness which is a trilogy and I highly recommend it! I’ve taken so many literature courses and probably half of them have been with Professor DeSpain. I’ve experienced many different teaching styles for literature courses as well and have found what works best for me. I’ve also taken a few lit courses online as well, also both with Professor DeSpain so I’m very familiar with the setup of this course and her expectations for the course.

An ideal student for an online course like this would be one that does more than the bare minimum. They take the time to engage with others in the comments with meaningful input rather than just making evaluative statements. they also should engage with the texts as much as possible to make discussions much more interesting.

Analyzing Gender in Alice

Carroll’s Alice was published during the Victorian period and during this period the expectation was for women to stay and happily serve in the domestic sphere. These gender roles were clearly defined in Victorian England with Queen Victoria being the supreme example of how women should behave. In the BBC article linked in the Week One Initial Post by Professor DeSpain, Lynn Abrams defines the Victorian Era as “epitomized by Queen Victoria, who came to represent a kind of femininity which was centered on the family, motherhood and respectability”. Very early on in the novel Alice is upending this expectation of womanhood. She goes on an adventure that takes her away from reality and into a world of fantasy, she is also curious and very outspoken, and she isn’t afraid to take up space in the public sphere that is reserved for men. The perfect example of this is at the end of the novel when Alice is at the trail for the Queen of Heart’s stolen tarts. At the beginning of the trial, Alice experiences a “very curious sensation” and begins to grow back to her normal height. In response to her increasing size, the Dormouse tells her that she has “no right to grow here” (Carroll 98). This is important because this is taking place in a court room, a place that is in the public sphere and where women were kept out. Alice is growing and literally taking up space in a setting that is typically male dominated. Not only that, but she is also extremely outspoken and even argumentative (I don’t mean this negatively) while she’s testifying as witness. First, the Queen of Hearts tells Alice to “hold [her] tongue!” to which Alice responds, “I wo’n’t!” (Carroll 107). Then after this, the Queen of Hearts yells “off with her head!” and Alice, back to her full size, yells back “who cares for you…you’re nothing but a pack of cards!” (Carroll 108). I think the setting of this scene is so important when thinking about gender in this novel. A court room is like one of the most masculine arenas a woman, or in this case a young girl, could be in. The combination of Alice growing to her full size and Alice’s outspokenness really highlight her differentness (is that the word I’m looking for?) from the traditional expectations of women during this period.

 

Works Cited

Abrams, Lynn. “Ideals of Womanhood in Victorian Britain.” BBC History Talks. 9 Aug. 2001. Web. 29 May 2015. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/trail/victorian_britain/women_home/ideals_womanhood_01.shtml&gt;.

Carroll, Lewis. Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. London, The Penguin Group, 1998.