In a weekly series, staff writer Katie Majka takes a look at some of our favorite witches and wizards, and how they fit into literary and social archetypes. This week: the Weasley twins, Fred and George
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No matter the genre, every story necessitates a break from whatever drama it contains, both as a means to lighten the burden from characters and audiences alike, and to more realistically portray what life is: that is to say, a multi-faceted experience, a pile of good things and bad that aren’t mutually exclusive. Whatever its purpose, the comic relief always has one; whether the humor is crass, slapstick, self-aware, or macabre, there is purpose and philosophy to the lightheartedness.
This humor is presented less in situational comedy and more by particular characters, commonly known as the trickster, the fool, or the jester. All vary slightly in their specifics, but offer the same basic relief from the tension present in the narrative and whatever world they inhabit. Although their humor is often deliberate, it is also in the nature of these characters to provide it. While Luna Lovegood may boast the title of the fool within the Potterverse, it is unsurprisingly the Weasley twins who don the jester’s hat.
Initially, Fred and George’s humor is part of their respective characters, but as the series unfolds it becomes an essential cog within the narrative. I’ve often said that Harry Potter thrives on its ability to mix heavy material with the light, and the Weasley twins exemplify that light more obviously than any other character or element in the series. Their introduction at Platform 9¾ in Sorcerer’s Stone paints them as the jesters of the series, and as we progress through the books, their humor becomes less flippant and more purposeful.
Such is the point of the jester—to offset the seriousness of the plot, and in doing so they often reveal the innermost recesses of the human psyche, and simultaneously put it at ease. This is a theme throughout the works of Shakespeare, which has influenced the structure of literature since its inception. While the jester does not seek to solve the story’s problems, he does alleviate them, if only for a moment, and we see Fred and George put their humor to the greater good in the darkest times of Harry Potter.
Never ones to downplay their spark when it can be fanned into a flame, the Weasley twins use their humor to at once illuminate and eliminate the horrors of the world which, in turn, levels the playing field between the powerful and the downtrodden. One such instance of this appears in Half-Blood Prince, when the twins display in the shop window of Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes:
WHY ARE YOU WORRYING ABOUT YOU-KNOW-WHO?
YOU SHOULD BE WORRYING ABOUT U-NO-POO
THE CONSTIPATION SENSATION THAT’S GRIPPING THE NATION!
Mrs. Weasley may have balked—“they’ll be murdered in their beds”—and rightfully so: We can imagine Voldemort’s reaction to such an advertisement in two ways—horrifying and hilarious. Imagine the all-powerful Dark wizard who has taken so many pains to becoming the greatest, most feared wizard of all time, and the fear that follows his very name is suddenly turned into a joke at his expense. As Ron says, it’s “brilliant,” and serves to humanize Voldemort: He is not above mockery, not free from anything that would plague anyone else, no matter the power he wields and the violence he incites.
For the jester, present-minded joy is the priority; their game is the emotional well-being of themselves and others. Their natural state of inner peace drives them to spread that blitheness among their fellows, who often hold the jester in high esteem due to their cleverness, honesty, and general likeable character. As Ron notes of his brothers in SS, “Fred and George mess around a lot, but they still get really good marks and everyone thinks they’re really funny.”
The twins use their popularity for good early on in the series, as demonstrated in Chamber of Secrets when they make light of the rumor that Harry is the heir of Slytherin:
Fred and George, however, found all this very funny. They went out of their way to march ahead of Harry down the corridors, shouting, “Make way for the heir of Slytherin, seriously evil wizard coming through…”
Percy was deeply disapproving of this behavior.
“It is not a laughing matter,” he said coldly.
“Oh, get out of the way, Percy,” said Fred, “Harry’s in a hurry.”
“Yeah, he’s nipping off to the Chamber of Secrets for a cup of tea with his fanged servant,” said George, chortling.
While on the surface it may seem that Fred and George parade Harry about as such for their own amusement, the result may be twofold, and encourage their classmates to see the absurdity in the gossip they’re spreading.
Another function of the jester is apparent in historical times, when he would often play a sort of advisor to the king, and offered him insight on the people who came to court. The jester was not a definitive source of power, but a trustworthy one nonetheless. Fred and George prove themselves in this characteristic as well, again in COS, when they explain the nature of house-elves to Harry following Dobby’s obscure warnings: “Put it this way—house-elves have got powerful magic of their own, but they can’t usually use it without their masters’ permission…. [W]hoever owns him will be an old wizarding family, and they’ll be rich.”
Jiving with this bout of seriousness, the jester may prove himself an asset to the drama in ways other than comic relief that still employ that humor. This is evident perhaps most plainly in the twins’ legendary departure from Hogwarts in Order of the Phoenix:
“We won’t be seeing you,” Fred told Professor Umbridge, swinging his leg over his broomstick.
“Yeah, don’t bother to keep in touch,” said George, mounting his own.
Fred looked around at the assembled students, and at the silent, watchful crowd.
“If anyone fancies buying a Portable Swamp, as demonstrated upstairs, come to number ninety-three, Diagon Alley—Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes,” he said in a loud voice. “Our new premises!”
“Special discounts to Hogwarts students who swear they’re going to use our products to get rid of this old bat,” added George, pointing at Professor Umbridge.
“STOP THEM!” shrieked Umbridge, but it was too late. As the Inquisitorial Squad closed in, Fred and George kicked off from the floor, shooting fifteen feet into the air, the iron peg swinging dangerously below. Fred looked across the hall at the poltergeist bobbing on his level above the crowd.
“Give her hell from us, Peeves.”
And Peeves, who Harry had never seen take an order from a student before, swept his belled hat from his head and sprang to a salute as Fred and George wheeled about to tumultuous applause from the students below, and sped out of the open front doors and into the glorious sunset.
Here we see the twins making a statement in the best way they know how: by upsetting the status quo, challenging the corrupt, showing faith to the goodness of Hogwarts by raising hell for the evil that currently dwells within.
While Fred and George demonstrate their eptitude at academia and their ability to take things seriously (see also: their determination to fight for the Order and their reaction to Arthur’s attack in OOTP), their main function is to provide comic relief. The Weasley twins manage to lighten up any darkness, whether it’s the mundane day-to-day work, or the political and social revolution in which they participate. They provide a stream of normalcy during the chaos of war—they fight evil by mocking it, by presenting a world that’s worth more than the atrocities in it, both in the big picture as well as the small, day-to-day details that make us smile.
The Weasley twins consistently make a difference in the world as we see it through Harry’s eyes. While they may not be the hero of the story, the jester makes his mark in often small but significant ways: They shoulder the burden of others’ happiness and ease, and while the hero battles the face of evil, the jester battles the strife and destruction it leaves behind. Fred and George never fail in their pursuit to lighten the load, and remind us all that sometimes—while it may not solve anything—a little laughter is enough to make the fight worth it.
Be sure to check out our other Harry Potter and the Order of Archetypes installments.