So I’m on my way to being halfway through Goblet of Fire now and there was one scene that has stuck with me ever since I read it.
We all know and fully admit that Rowling is a genius, from her use of foreshadowing to her placement of real-life problems into a magical world. It just never fails to astound me how she’s able to realistically put so much into these books, especially as it gets later in the series.
One of the most heartbreaking scenes in the first half of the book is Harry’s first Defense Against the Dark Arts class with Professor Moody. In it, Moody decides they need a real-world application lesson and shows them—on spiders—the Unforgivable Curses. Ron mentions the Imperius Curse, Neville the Cruciatus Curse, and Hermione the Killing Curse.
As I was reading this scene (and wanting to give both Neville and Harry a big hug), I connected all of this to my students. Let me explain.
In Harry’s 4th year, the war against Lord Voldemort has been over for 13 years. Harry’s classmates were barely alive when Voldemort was in power. They don’t remember what the world was like at that dark moment. Harry and Hermione didn’t know what the Dark Mark was when they saw it over the Quidditch World Cup and couldn’t understand why everyone was in so much of a panic. Then, as they were talking to the older Weasley brothers and Mr. Weasley, you could practically see the haunted looks in their eyes as they remembered those times.
And when Moody showed them the Unforgivable Curses, you could tell they didn’t exactly understand the ramifications of that either. Even Ron was going around saying things like, “Did you see when that spider just died?” but stops immediately when he sees Harry’s face. And of course, Hermione had to yell to get Moody to stop torturing the spider as it greatly upset Neville.
This all reminded me of trying to tell my students about 9/11 and the 2000s in general.
My students were born in 2004/2005. They seriously have no concept of what the world was like before about 2010. They didn’t live through 9/11. They were only 3-4 when Obama was elected president, so they don’t really remember that either. They don’t remember the start of the Iraq war or really the end of Saddam Hussein or Osama bin Laden. All these pivotal moments, they have little have little frame of reference for, even if they were alive for some of it.
Reading about Harry’s classmates not understand how deeply those Curses impacted Harry and Neville’s lives…it was stunningly accurate to what I see in class. I think both sides (magical and my muggle students) want to understand what happened in these times. And I think that since they didn’t experience it the same way we (and witches and wizards) did, they sometimes say inconsiderate or rude things because they simply don’t realize where the pain lives. In fact, most of the time it simply isn’t painful for them. It’s just fascinating.
It’s like the way there are so many World War II history buffs. People specialize on battles and weaponry and tactics used and talk about the loss of lives in a completely blasé way, like it was just an unfortunate consequence. It’s callous. And it makes me think of my grandfather, who served in the Army just after World War II. He never, absolutely never, talked about what he saw.
There will always be a new generation that doesn’t understand. There will always be people who didn’t experience the pain the same way the previous generation did. And that’s something we’ll have to accept as we grow older, because every generation has its new experiences.
I didn’t live through the assassination of John F. Kennedy or Martin Luther King, Jr.
I didn’t live through the Vietnam War.
I didn’t even live through the Cold War or the Reagan years.
I will never fully understand them the way someone who was there or who lived through it will. And it’s funny that a few Unforgivable Curses made me think of all of this.
Reading this as a teenager, I never would have thought of this. I didn’t have the same frame of reference for it. I hadn’t yet known people who didn’t remember 9/11 and I probably rolled my eyes at people who told me the Cold War was a big deal. It’s only now, rereading it as an adult who has been in Moody’s position (of trying to teach history the kids have no understanding of) that I finally get it.
I’ll be interested to see what some of the later moments make me think of next.