What Really Happened to Dolores Umbridge (and Why It Matters)

What Really Happened to Dolores Umbridge (and Why It Matters) September 24, 2011

The Friendly Atheist has already pointed out religious people are geeks. This must mean Pagans are uber-geeks, because we can seamlessly slide from theology into Monty Python and back again. Which is why when my friend Anita posted a simple question about Harry Potter we delved deeply into religion, gender issues and all things Harry Potter. Like we do.

Here’s her question, paraphrased: in the Order of the Phoenix Dolores Umbridge is carried off into the woods by centaurs after she insults them. She appears alive and whole later on, having been rescued by Dumbledore, but has obviously undergone a traumatic experience. What happened to her when the centaurs carried her off?

Quite a few commenters, myself included, came to the same conclusion as Cracked.com, that she had been raped:

People on the Internet familiar with the mythology were quick to notice this, as were feminist blogs. After all, showing Umbridge getting dragged away by centaurs would be like having Draco Malfoy getting his comeuppance by having him get hauled into the back of a windowless van by a creepy guy with a wispy mustache. We don’t need to see what happens next if we know the context.

Centaurs are known for a lot of things, it’s true, but most of the famous ancient stories about them involve abducting women. If a centaur had gently conducted her into a library, we would all have jumped to the conclusion that he was going to patiently educate the mean, sadistic, racist woman all dressed in pink, like the famous centaur Chiron would have done. But when a bunch of angry centaurs forcibly drag a woman who’s insulted them off into the woods, a lot of folks jump to the idea of rape. My mind immediately brought up the story of the abduction of the Lapithian women, but there’s also the story of Nessus.

It could be argued that rape, seduction and abduction are simply prevalent Greek themes and to place undue emphasis on centaurs as rapists in Greek mythos is wrong, and there is also the problem of seduction and rape as the ancients viewed it not lining up with our modern view. All worthy of discussion, but the interesting thing here is that if Umbridge was raped by the centaurs, how do we feel about the characters reactions, and our own reactions? And what does this mean for us in religious terms?

Whatever happened to Umbridge, Harry and Hermione made no move to stop it. After her rescue, they actually torment her a bit and laugh at her. It’s generally an unspoken rule in Harry Potter that if bad things happen to bad people, they deserve it. Even when it’s being murdered. If Umbridge was raped, in the books and film it’s treated as no more than her due.

We have a visceral reaction of disgust and outrage at the idea of treating rape so casually, far more than we have to brutality or murder. It makes us far more uncomfortable to think of Umbridge being raped than to think of her being killed, or of the better-loved Tonks being killed. Why is that, when Umbridge is physically unharmed and lives to fight another day, while Tonks will never see another day? Someone suggested that rape is something we perceive as happening to vulnerable and powerless people. Perhaps we see murder as something that happens to powerful people then, and have a milder emotional response?

There are a lot of questions that can arise from this, but it got me to thinking about our religious views. Kore has descended to become the Dread Queen, Persephone. We actually celebrate this cycle of a woman being released only to inevitably be sent back to her rapist. Perhaps the story is better interpreted as seduction, that Hades won Kore’s heart away from her mother and caused her to willingly abandon her home, which would have been considered a worse crime than the physical act of rape in ancient society. Why do we celebrate this?

How many Gods and demi-Gods are said to be borne of rape? Europa is not the only woman Zeus abducted, and his conquest of Ganymede was via abduction as well. Rape is so prevalent it’s even a category of classically-inspired art. How do we reconcile this? Rape is nothing to sneeze at, nor are other forms of violence and yet we tend to accept the violence inherent in ancient myths while being disgusted and outraged when it’s hinted at in modern mythos, such as Harry Potter.

I’ve got more questions than answers on this, but I don’t think anyone would characterize Pagan culture as rape culture, so I think we have a problem. How do we resolve the celebration of rape narratives in Pagan religions?


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