Something that (maybe irrationally) irritates me is J. K. Rowling’s refusal to let go of her prejudices against Draco Malfoy. Yes, she is his writer, but at the same time, she deliberately shaped him to be seen as such a negative, “bad” character, and did him a massive disservice in the process.
Trying to shape a character to be seen a certain way is understandable, and it’s something I understand myself, as a writer. However, when you place a book in your reader’s hands, that story is no longer solely yours. That story belongs to the world and the interpretations that your readers create. Whatever you intended for your characters can easily be flipped on its head.
Draco Malfoy is, perhaps, the most classic existence of this. [Quick note before I continue: I don’t like Cursed Child, I have no interest in reading it, I really don’t want to consider that in my explanation for this blog post, because in my opinion, it shouldn’t exist. You can love it, I don’t mind, I just won’t call on it here.]
Draco is in Slytherin – the House set up to be the house of evil from the beginning. Hagrid says it himself:
“There’s not a single a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin.”
And from that moment in The Philosopher’s Stone and on, we are pushed into perceiving Slytherin to be wholly negative. Many, many people misinterpret this quote as saying that everyone in Slytherin is bad. I, myself, had a massive argument with a (now ex) friend on a train ride to sixth form because he said Slytherin was a bad House.
Slytherin’s representation is not representative of its inhabitants. Remember, we read all the books through Harry’s eyes. Harry has, from Hagrid, from Ron, and from all the other Gryffindors he becomes friends with, learnt to see Slytherins as bad people.
Draco Malfoy’s characterisation as a bully and a coward is intrinsically unfair. Harry Potter is an unreliable narrator, he is biased, as any person would be when faced with something they have been conditioned to fear and hate. Hagrid says Slytherin is somehow bad from the outset, because a “bad” House is needed to provide suitable dramatic tension, and Voldemort’s House is the easiest option.
[angsty teenager alert: definitely more relatable than harry and his weird growling at ginny and dean in harry potter and the raging hormonal sixth book]
We are not able to sympathise or empathise with Draco because we are not allowed inside his head. J. K. Rowling does not let us. We can’t say a character is intrinsically evil when we can’t see inside his head.
What many forget when they read the books, is that Draco’s family are not nice people. It’s popular fanon that Draco was emotionally, or even physically abused growing up, and there is some evidence of emotional abuse by his family within the books itself (mostly from Bellatrix, I would argue). He is not given the choice as to whether he wants to become a Death Eater or not.
In a deleted scene from Deathly Hallows Part 2 we can see that Draco does actually show some evidence for helping Harry. This isn’t in the books, but I thought it would be interesting to add in, especially as in the final film, Draco is seen hurrying away with his parents, without a single look behind him.
Dudley, Petunia, and even Vernon Dursley are all given moments to show their “good” sides as they disappear from Harry’s life. Draco is not given that luxury (except in aforementioned deleted scene). It is up to us, as readers, to take all of the evidence we are given, and draw our own conclusions, not just blindly leap to what we’re “supposed” to read into these novels.
I don’t know about you, but I choose to believe that Draco Malfoy was, perhaps, the most misunderstood character of the entire series. And Tom Felton is bloody beautiful.