Order of the Phoenix: Page 13
The Harry/Dudley friendship (?), boxing as a character builder, evaluating theories, and some Little Whinging geography.
Welcome back! This week, we dive into an interesting early page. Book five is just getting started, Harry is bored out of his mind in Little Whinging, and he encounters Dudley on a walk home. There’s not much action, but there’s a lot to talk about — enjoy!
Page 13 of Order of the Phoenix makes a good first impression. It kicks off not only with a clean sentence leading into dialogue, but also right at the start of a scene. We all remember the beginning of OotP: Harry gets in a fight with the Dursleys, wanders off, and runs into Dudley’s gang. The page picks up right as the members of Dudley’s gang go their separate ways, and Harry steps forward to engage Dudley in conversation.
The Harry-Dudley Relationship
Since the beginning of the series, Dudley, almost without fail, has been adversarial to Harry. He’s a very minor character, but he certainly doesn’t treat Harry well. In book two he makes fun of Harry for not having any friends with whom to celebrate his birthday; several times, he steals Harry’s food; in book four, Harry agrees with Fred’s (or George’s) description of Dudley as “a great bullying git.”
But suddenly, as they meet in Order of the Phoenix for the first time, there’s a different dynamic at work. It seems that both Harry and Dudley have accepted the fact that they have to live together in this adversarial, unbalanced relationship — and paradoxically, by accepting that fact, they’ve changed their relationship from one of outright hostility to something that looks more like grudging tolerance.
You certainly wouldn’t have expected them to walk home side by side, trading insults, in book one, for instance. You absolutely wouldn’t have expected dialogue like this:
“Oh,” Dudley grunted. “It’s you.”
“How long have you been ‘Big D’ then?” said Harry.
“Shut it,” snarled Dudley, turning away again.
“Cool name,” said Harry, grinning and falling into step beside his cousin. “But you’ll always be Ickle Diddykins to me.”
Something has happened here. Actually, two things have happened. Harry and Dudley have both somewhat matured, and because of that and other factors, the relationship has become more balanced.
Not without reason, Dudley is terrified of magic. He knows perfectly well that Harry isn’t allowed to do magic outside of school, but still, the fact that Harry has the magical ability that scares Dudley so much elevates Harry in Dudley’s eyes. In book one, in this same conversation, Dudley probably would have punched Harry’s lights out. In book two or three, he probably would have said something more actively rude — “you have no friends, your parents are dead, you’re a weirdo,” etc. — when Harry approached him and initiated a mocking conversation. But now, he just goes along with it. Not only that, Rowling inserts repeated images that paint Dudley and Harry as slowly becoming grudging friends. They “fall into step.” Later on down the page, they turn right together; their footsteps are muffled by a hedge. Obviously, Harry is also saying things that make Dudley extremely angry, but they’re also walking and talking together. There’s a lot of “they,” which is absolutely not how readers ordinarily think of Harry and Dudley. The relationship has clearly taken a step forward.
Part of this dynamic, strangely enough, seems like it comes from the Dursleys. Obviously, Harry thinks very little of the Dursleys. Now, though, it seems like Dudley may be starting to have similar feelings. We’ve heard on previous pages that Dudley is very transparently lying to his parents about what he’s doing, claiming that he’s at dinner (“tea”) with a different member of his gang every night, and they’re completely buying it. On this very page, we see Dudley get annoyed when Harry mentions the names that Aunt Petunia uses when she’s talking to him.
It seems that Dudley has started to realize that his parents are pretty lame. He knows that Harry feels that way too. That’s a pretty normal part of the teenaged experience, but the realization does seem to bring Dudley and Harry closer together. On this walk, they both know that they’re walking home to a place — #4 Privet Drive — that’s not that much fun. They know that Little Whinging isn’t much. Suddenly, they have a fair amount of pretty important things in common.
One other reason for Dudley’s maturation
Clearly, this isn’t the Dudley we once knew — and that’s not just abstract. Something concrete has changed. When Harry mentions the names that Aunt Petunia uses to refer to Dudley, Dudley gets angry. But he doesn’t lash out. “Dudley said nothing,” Rowling writes. “The effort of keeping himself from hitting Harry seemed to be demanding all his self-control.”
Wait…Dudley has self-control? He didn’t used to. He was so lacking in self-control that everyone else in the house had to wolf down their meals in case Dudley turned the table over. If he has self-control now, where and when did he get it?
We get an answer a few pages before this, I believe: Dudley has discovered a new hobby. He’s dieted hard for a year, hit the gym, and ultimately become the Inter-School Boxing Champion of the Southeast. He’s always liked punching people, but now he’s doing it in an organized way. He’s disciplined and regimented. Obviously Dudley is such a minor character that the book doesn’t say elaborate at all about the news, but becoming a regional boxing champion in a single year is extremely impressive. It’s not just deciding one day that you’re going to give a sport the ol’ college try; it seems more like Dudley has radically changed his life. He’s in the gym or at the boxing ring for hours every day. He’s dramatically changed his body — presumably going from where he was in book four, so big that the Smeltings nurse put him on a diet because the school store didn’t carry uniforms big enough for him anymore, to a dense, muscular hulk. And it seems that Dudley hasn’t just changed his body; his mind has grown as well.
In the first four books, Dudley is almost completely defined by two things: 1) laziness, and 2) lack of self-control and discipline. He eats monstrous amounts of food for very little reason, isn’t very interested in doing much else besides watching TV and playing computer games, and is quick to anger and start fights. There’s a hilarious moment at the beginning of book four when Dudley snatches Uncle Vernon’s grapefruit quarter away from him the second he looks away. But now look at him. He’s learned to control his eating. He’s working out enough to transform his life. And he’s also controlling himself in social settings.
What’s happening here, exactly? I could go full Richard Brody and argue something like “this represents J.K. Rowling endorsing hard dieting as a positive life choice that impacts the mind as well as the body,” which, I don’t know, maybe? But whatever the message is, we see in this scene (if we look closely, which is what we do here) that Dudley has started the transformation that will lead to his apology to Harry in book seven. All that’s changed since the previous books is that Dudley got his life under control. Maybe Uncle Vernon could do something similar; if he started going to spinning classes three times a week and cut out red meat and fried food, maybe he would suddenly realize that Harry wasn’t so bad after all. Now that would be J.K. Rowling endorsing hard dieting as a positive life choice that impacts the mind as well as the body. But clearly, that hypothetical story arc doesn’t happen.
The other possibility is that this isn’t about the dieting but the sport — “the noble sport,” as Uncle Vernon calls it. “Sports build character” is one of the oldest claims in the book, and it’s probably true; in this case, Rowling certainly seems to believe it. There are exceptions — Malfoy, Zacharias Smith, McLaggen, and Crabbe and Goyle all play Quidditch and have little character to speak of — but at least for Dudley, sports have transformed his life.
Of course, we shouldn’t overstate the changes that Dudley has made. He’s just come with his gang from beating up a ten-year-old (or at least, they’ve been beating up someone, and the other day they also beat up a ten-year-old). Maybe that’s just peer pressure, because Dudley’s only friends are these delinquents who have nothing better to do than beat people up; it’s not like Dudley’s going to come home from school and convince the gang to start doing yoga with him to help limber up for boxing season. The bottom line is that Dudley still has a long way to go, but at the very least, it’s clear that the changes have started. It’s no coincidence that after this scene, we don’t hear about Dudley’s gang for the rest of the series. It would have been better if we’d seen Piers Polkiss go to prison and Dudley cut him out of his life, or something like that, but frankly, that’s more page space than Dudley needs when there are literal pieces of Voldemort’s soul floating around.
I’m too young to remember this, but apparently it was a real thing. Mark Evans was the kid that Harry says that Dudley’s gang beat up two nights before this scene; Dudley responds that “he cheeked me.” (Harry, of course, responds “did he say you look like a pig that’s been taught to walk on its hind legs? Because that’s not cheek, Dud, that’s true…”).
When people read this back in 2003, though, apparently a theory immediately took shape: Mark Evans was related to Lily Evans. It’s not crazy — it’s a little bit strange that this inconsequential character shares a last name with Harry’s mother — but I also wonder where people thought this was going to lead. I think it’s probably based on Sirius’ story arc, where in book one Hagrid makes a throwaway remark that “young Sirius Black lent it to me,” and then two books later Sirius shows up again and becomes a central character. But book five is a little late in the series to introduce a new background character, then have him wait until later to suddenly take on an important role. I can imagine it somehow happening — Harry is walking through Little Whinging when an enemy shows up, and Harry is rescued by Mark Evans, who reveals that he’s Harry’s cousin and his parents are also dead and he’s been working to kill Voldemort and they can work together, or something like that — but it also seems pretty farfetched. It seems like something that people would need to force themselves to believe.
There are always theories like that, and those are things to look out for as the Fantastic Beasts series continues. There are some theories that make a lot of sense even if they don’t ultimately end up coming true. We don’t know exactly who Credence/Aurelius is yet, but “he’s an alchemical creation of Grindelwald and Dumbledore” is definitely possible, even if it doesn’t end up being correct. But some theories, on the other hand, are almost certainly false even if there’s facial evidence for them. There’s one theory, for instance, that Dumbledore’s father Percival escaped Azkaban and fathered Credence, which is how Dumbledore has a brother. It’s definitely possible, and having the same father is an easy way for two people to be called brothers, but come on. For one, it would be sort of disappointing if the connection between Albus and Credence was that mundane. For another, no one escapes from Azkaban besides Sirius, and even if Percival had, it would have been a national incident just like Sirius’ escape was, and people would have known about it. For yet another, according to book seven, Percival died in Azkaban, so he escaped and fathered a child only to get found and sent back? Sure, it could have happened, and it’s a fine way to explain everything in the story — but it really just doesn’t fit with the plot or the tone of the story. Just like Mark Evans.
Little Whinging Geography
Here are three different streets, all apparently connected to each other, in Little Whinging. 1) Magnolia Crescent 2) Magnolia Road 3) Wisteria Walk.
Is Magnolia Crescent the same as Magnolia Road?
If not, then why are there two streets named after the same flower, differentiated only by words to describe the shape of the street?
Presumably a crescent is basically a curve in the road, maybe branching off from the main road, roughly in the shape of a crescent. Does that mean there’s only one crescent on Magnolia Road?
If there’s another one, wouldn’t it be confusing for one crescent to be called “Magnolia Crescent” and the other to have some sort of different name?
To my knowledge, we know of four streets in Little Whinging: these three and Privet Drive. “Privet” is defined as “a shrub of the olive family, with small white heavily scented flowers and poisonous black berries.” Is it normal for one town to have this many streets named after plants in such close proximity?
We know about Little Whinging. Why don’t we know about Great Whinging?
Can Harry get to Great Whinging on foot or via some sort of commuter rail?
Does Great Whinging have a cinema?
If the two biggest summer movies of 1995, “Clueless” and “Waterworld,” were playing at the same time at Great Whinging Theatre, which would Harry choose?
Why isn’t there a road named after Uncle Vernon’s Agapanthus?
In major cities, by which I mean New York, you have streets and avenues and that’s basically it. Why do suburban towns have all these differently-named streets: crescent, walk, pass, drive, place, court, lane, stile (whatever that one means), field (I thought we already had a meaning for that), row, rise, way, green, etc.? By the way, I took most of these names from real streets in Ashford, which Surrey Live identified as a likely site for the real Little Whinging. Places with these names exist.
There’s not really much to talk about here, I suppose; it’s just strange to have four streets so close to each other, all named after flowers, two named after the same flower. I’m not sure why. Maybe English villages are really like this, or maybe it’s something more. Heck, maybe it’s J.K. Rowling endorsing gardening as a positive life choice that impacts the mind as well as the body.