Society, Morality and Harry Potter #2

Posted on September 20, 2011 by

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Fred and George Weasley as Model Entrepreneurs

 

It’s been a while, and it’s not as specific as I’d like, but I wanted to put out this piece of Fred and George so I can move on to the next part in my Harry Potter series of posts. I’m still working without the books in front of me, so I’m not citing page numbers in this one, sorry.

 

 

— Spoilers, of course, for anyone who gives a care —

 

It might have been telling, symbolic, or necessary that Fred Weasley dies at the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It might have symbolized the crippling effect that war can have on industry and innovation. Or it might have been an opportunity to show how a promising business can fall apart when it loses a key component of its innovative faculties. It was neither of these things, and Fred’s death is actually very problematic for Harry Potter’s conclusion.

For one, Rowling admits that she killed off Fred in order to avoid killing Arthur Weasley. I personally find this cowardly and unnecessary, but if you’re going to kill off a character, killing Fred is more problematic than killing just about any other character because he is one of a matching pair. Fred and George are inseparable. Not only do they always appear together, but they represent a single force in the narrative, which is a force of comedy, a force of chaos, and a force of entrepreneurship. Without Fred, who is George? We do not know. Rowling’s awful epilogue to Deathly Hallows, set nineteen years after the events of the novel, might have provided an interesting glimpse at what sort of person George might have become without Fred, but we sadly do not get such an account. All we know is from what Rowling told folks verbally after Deathly Hallows was published – apparently, Ron helped George at Weasleys’ Wizard Wheazes. This is intriguing, because Ron never was very good at jokes, nor did he seem to possess any business acumen. Would WWW be able to sustain its rapid growth and enormous success without Fred? We know also, from Rowling, that George ends up marrying Angelina Johnson, which seems more insulting than anything else because Fred had been involved with Angelina before his death. As in most cases, it’s important to pretend that the last few chapters of Deathly Hallows didn’t happen, and proceed from there.

So we have Fred and George. The twins, unflappable till the end, with somewhat distinct mannerisms, but largely a two-headed quip machine. There is no Fred without George, no George without Fred. If Rowling had rolled them into a single character, they would lose all of their power. The duopoly is the strongest monopoly. At first the two are for comic relief only, but we start to see signs that their mischief is more directed than delinquent when they reveal the Marauder’s Map to Harry in Prisoner of Azkaban. By the beginning of Goblet of Fire, they have revealed themselves, at least to Harry and the reader if not to their Mother, as entrepreneurs, hoping to turn their talents for prank-making and mayhem into a profitable business selling enchanted novelty products.

Here’s one way of looking at the two: Fred and George are forces of chaos.  They make trouble, incite others to make trouble, and unashamedly break all of the rules (as when they make no secret that they’ve taken aging potion in order to fool the Goblet of Fire). They are also chaotic in their benevolence, swooping down unbidden to help Harry by giving him the Marauder’s Map. They are never, except maybe when teasing Ron or Percy, malevolent. The Weasley twins are also depicted as a force of chaos on the Quidditch field, where their sole job as beaters is to cause trouble for their opponents. Their chaos reaches a high-water mark when they use their new line of products to unleash pandemonium upon Umbridge’s strict, ordered Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix. The Weasley twins are not usually wantonly destructive like this, though they could have let loose their pranks in this fashion all along. Instead, they had restrained themselves, and it is only in the case of significant duress that they use their talents to undermine authority.

But beyond the chaos, all of the twins’ traits make them ideal entrepreneurs. They are charismatic, outgoing, inventive, perceptive, and shrewd. They take risks and make mistakes, like their bet with Ludo Bagman in Goblet of Fire (a mistake despite winning the bet because Bagman would not pay their winnings). But the twins notably spend most of their face-time in Goblet of Fire tirelessly dogging Bagman to try to get their money. Once they have the seed money – a small fortune given beneficently by Harry Potter, perhaps in exchange for the Weasley’s beneficent gift of the Marauder’s Map a year earlier – they are able to scale up production and, in less than a year, operate a successful retail establishment.

The Weasley twins begin with a clear business to emulate, the Hogsmeade joke shop Zonko’s. This assures the Weasleys that they have a ready, healthy market (think of all the times Filch complains about fanged Frisbees, etc.), and can use their talents for enchanting objects for profit. Zonko’s, always mentioned as a stable and well-known institution in the wizarding world, increasingly becomes a joke itself, unable to compete with Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes’s innovative products. Eventually, the Weasley twins reveal that they considered buying Zonko’s, and only decided not to because Hogwarts has ceased sending students into Hogsmeade, eliminating most of Zonko’s customers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. As Fred and George plot their business-to-rival Zonko’s, they start a mail-order service. They quickly realize that they will need a significant amount of capital in order to get their business off the ground. Perhaps they put their combined savings on a longshot bet against Ludo Bagman because they reason that they’ll still have a couple years in school to earn back the money if they lose. It’s a calculated risk – ambitious, and it seems crazy to Harry, Ron and Mr. Weasley, but the twins have already run the numbers, and it’s a risk they’re willing to take. They had already been take risks all the time testing their inventions on themselves. “Where’s the fun without a bit of risk?” asks Fred when defending his and his brother’s plans to enter the Triwizard tournament.

As entrepreneurs, Fred and George aren’t always the most scrupulous. Their practice of testing their products on young students stands as particularly questionable, and Hermione is justified in condemning this practice. Their willingness to project their own risk onto others isn’t the best, but testing their products is unlikely to be lethal: Ron remarks that while Fred and George cause a lot of mischief, he doesn’t think they’d actually hurt anyone.

The shop is always described as a place of magic in Harry Potter. Even before Hogwarts, the first magical spaces we are taken to in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Philosopher’s stone are the shops of Diagon Alley. But the most magical space, the absolute most enchanting and delightful description of a space we ever get in a Harry Potter novel, is the description of Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes. Basically, it is a wizard toy store, with colorful displays and bins of all sorts of items that neither we nor the characters of the novels know about. The store is crowded with people and merchandise, giving a feeling of abundance and variety. All these are in themselves delightful. But what really sells it is Fred and George themselves, presiding over the store, busily but proudly, in fancy clothes and big smiles. They are, in their store, the bringers of wonder. They’ve set up a place where they’re the ringmaster, and from it they can pitch their wares. It’s a pretty great success for them, and we feel happy that their three-book-long quest to open a business has been successful. In Harry Potter, products are things of wonder. And so, the stores that sell them are also wonderful and ought to be celebrated.

But though their store is fantastical and their clothes fancy, Fred and George work hard to keep their business both legitimate in the eyes of their family and profitable for them long-term. Their insistence that Harry not pay for their products shows that they feel indebted to their benefactor, but their refusal to let Ron get free products may go beyond tough-love between sibling. To run their business properly, they can’t set a precedent for giving their friends and family special treatment. Along with their planned purchase of Zonko’s, the Weasley twins also expanded their markets by selling simple enchanted devices to the Ministry of Magic as security devices. Though they started in the joke business, there’s no telling where the Weasleys would have ended up in the business world.

Few characters in Harry Potter are actively seeking riches. Most want a fulfilling career and a comfortable living, or are scholars or politicians seeking knowledge or power. Those that do seek wealth, like Gilderoy Lockhart, are doing so dishonestly. Characters depicted with wealth are aristocratic old-money types, like Lucius Malfoy or even James Potter, whose family fortune Harry inherits, allowing Harry to work through his book series without worrying about his finances. The Weasley twins are the only characters in Harry Potter who are focused primarily on accumulating wealth through legitimate means. What’s more, their business grew out of their passions rather than a simple desire for money. The Weasley twins are astute and aggressive businessmen, but this aspect of their character is never portrayed unfavorably, and in their personal lives and commitment to the anti-Voldemort cause, their goodness is never in doubt. In fact, the two thrive when times are tough, providing the humor that Harry predicts the resistance to Voldemort will need from them. Once set free by the demise of Voldemort, it would be interesting to see where their entrepreneurial flair and gift for invention would take them. It’s really too bad Rowling had to go and kill one of the matched set, cutting the Wizarding World’s greatest creative team in half too soon.

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Posted in: Literature