03 August 2007

Dobby and Kreacher the House Elves

Maybe it struck me as it did because of my thoughts earlier this week about the significance of the body. Whatever the reason, the death and burial of Dobby the Free Elf in The Deathly Hallows has proven to be the most moving part of the book for me, both when I read it to myself and again as I have been listening to Jim Dale on CD. Not only that, but, as I was listening to the narrative of the burial, it occurred to me that "Dobby" is a play on the word body, and that suddenly made a whole lot of sense in my mind.

I've thought all along that the name of the other pivotal house elf, "Kreacher," was significant. Not simply "creature" in the sense of an animal, but in the more profound sense of creation. Now, thinking of "Dobby" as a reference to the body seems to substantiate that line of reasoning. At least the light bulbs have been going on for me this morning.

Some time ago, my good friend Susan reflected helpfully on Dobby becoming a free elf and choosing in his freedom, for the sake of love, to serve Harry Potter. Indeed, there are some beautiful expressions of this, not least of all in The Deathly Hallows, when Dobby shows up to rescue Harry and his friends from Malfoy Manor. Dobby's love and self-sacrificing service, not under compulsion but freely and willingly given, an outpouring of gratitude and thankfulness for the one who set him free, is no less significant than Lily's or Dumbledore's or Harry's sacrifices.

Kreacher, too, is a far more complex and ultimately sympathetic creature than we were led to believe in previous books. Hermione has been naive and simplistic in her campaign for the house elves, but there has also been a ring of truth in her compassionate concern for them. And Dumbledore was correct in his assessment of Kreacher's attitude toward Sirius, that it was largely due to the way that Sirius had treated him with contempt and disdain. Now we have found out, first of all, that Kreacher was loyal and devoted toward Regulus, no less so than Dobby has been toward Harry Potter. We discover that Kreacher has suffered a great deal for his faithful service. And we learn that Harry's kindness and gentleness toward Kreacher bring about a remarkable transformation of the house elf. These are the themes that dominate the entire series, really, but they stand out poignantly in the case of these two elves.

What I am thinking this morning is that these house elves present us with a picture of our flesh and blood, our creaturely bodies, and the way in which they are liberated for service by the love of God in Christ. Because of the fall into sin, our bodies have been enslaved by our mortality, in bondgage to sin, death and the devil, and we are unable to set ourselves free. To the extent that we outwardly keep the Law, it is only because we must, for fear of punishment, or in order to receive some reward. Our true master, however, prior to redemption, is unrighteousness. Just as Dobby was bound to the Malfoy's and Kreacher to the Black's. But that is not the end of the story!

Dobby is dramatically freed from his enslavement, and in his freedom he chooses to serve for the sake of love and thankfulness. That is the beautiful point that Susan made some time ago, and I'm sorry that I don't have the link ready to hand for her insightful comments. Kreacher is not set free from his station in life as a house elf, but he is set free from his bitterness and guilt, from his resentment and regret, by the compassion that Harry shows to him. This is freedom in a different sense, and the resulting service that Kreacher gladly begins to render is no less remarkable than Dobby's. So also, for freedom Christ has set us free, no longer to be slaves to unrighteousness but, if one may speak in the way of man, "slaves" to righteousness in Christ, by grace through faith in Him. Our bodies of sin and death remain at odds with the New Man who lives in us, but those bodies have been redeemed for life with God in Christ; so that, in spite of our sin and the war that rages within our members, we now gladly serve with our bodies in faith and love toward God and in fervent love toward our neighbors.

In The Half-Blood Prince, there is one scene in which Dobby and Kreacher are embroiled in a terrible fight with each other. Now, in retrospect, their battle strikes me as a vivid picture of that very war which rages in our members (as St. Paul describes in Romans 7). Thanks be to God, who has given us the victory over sin and death in our Lord Jesus Christ. We live no longer for ourselves, but for Him, who for our sake died and was raised. In these books by J.K. Rowling, Dobby didn't live to see the victory that Harry accomplished by his voluntary self-sacrifice, but he had already known and been a recipient of Harry's love and compassion. Harry had set him free, and in his freedom Dobby chose to love and serve his hero, his friend. He did not wish to die, but he died bravely, for love's sake, in faithful service to his redeemer and others.

In like manner, we live and serve in our bodies, and we do care for our bodies as those who live in the hope of the resurrection, but we are also willing to lay down our bodies in faith and love, for Jesus' sake. We do not fear those who can hurt the body but cannot touch the soul; we trust the One who is the Lord of both body and soul, who is the Judge of both the living and the dead. He has redeemed us, lost and condemned creatures, purchased and won us from all sin, from death and from the power of the devil, not with silver or gold, but with His holy and precious blood, by His innocent suffering and death. Whether we live or die, we are the Lord's, and like the holy martyrs who have gone before us we can offer up our bodies as a living sacrifice, knowing that sin and death no longer have dominion over us.

Dear little Dobby and Kreacher provide us with an endearing picture of the place that our bodies have been given in the Christian faith and life. These fictional icons are not perfect images, to be sure, but I find them to be compelling. Today they have called me to mind of that great cloud of witnesses, the real men and women who lived by faith, who suffered and died in the hope of the promise.

"They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitue, afflicted, ill-treated (of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect. Therefore, let us also lay aside every encumberance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 11:37 - 12:2).

On a final note, it seems to me that Harry's tender burial of his dear little friend, Dobby, was a beautiful portrayal of the very sort of attitude toward burying the bodies of the dead that I thought out loud about earlier this week. Well done, Harry. Well said, J.K. Rowling.


Susan said...

In that long-ago post you were referring to, all I did was quote the line and say that it reminded me of Romans 6.

Harry said, "Dobby, I know I'm not allowed to give you orders...."

"Dobby is a free house-elf and he can obey anyone he likes and Dobby will do whatever Harry Potter wants him to do!" said Dobby, tears now streaming down his shrivelled little face onto his jumper.

By the way, Rick, thanks for your insights on this topic about the house-elves and Apostle Paul's catechesis.

Lutheran Enigma said...

This is the referenced blog entry:

Dobby on "Freedom of a Christian"

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thank you, my friends, both for your original comments (Susan) and for recollecting them here.

You may have used an economy of words in your long-ago post, but your point was not lost on me. It struck me then as a profound insight, and all the more so in retrospect when it resurfaced so poignantly in The Deathly Hallows.

Like house elves, our bodies of frail flesh and blood are easily despised and taken for granted, and abused in various ways. Yet, they are God's good work to begin with, and they are redeemed by the precious blood of Christ for the resurrection and eternal life.