Author: Beth H. (bethbethbeth)
Spoilers: All five books
Email: beth-h @ mrks.org
Personal Website: Madwoman in the Basement
"Do you mean ter tell me [...] that this boy - this boy! - knows nothin' abou' - about ANYTHING?"
When the time finally comes for Harry Potter to be re-introduced to the wizarding world after a decade of living with his Muggle relatives, the person chosen to tell the boy all he needs to know about who he is and where he comes from is Rubeus Hagrid, a "giant of a man" with "a long, shaggy mane of hair and a wild, tangled beard." (39) From an adult [reader] perspective, Hagrid might seem an odd choice as an ambassador from the Wizarding World, but Harry takes to him immediately, as much for the warmth and affection Hagrid shows him - things that had been in very short supply for most of Harry's life - as for the way the big man is able to intimidate the relatives who have made Harry's life a misery.
It would probably be stretching the limits of literary parallelism to suggest that Hagrid should be viewed as a sort of hairy Virgil to Harry Potter's pilgrim (ala Dante's Inferno), but Hagrid does serve as guide to the boy as Harry [re]enters a strange world about which he knows nothing. Hagrid shares stories about the boy's dead parents, warns Harry about Voldemort, and takes him on his first trip to Diagon Alley to purchase the items (wand, cauldron, spell books, owl, etc.) that he'll need for his first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. The friendship and love he provides to Harry (at least through OotP) is one of the most welcome gifts the young boy could wish for.
Note: along with being a relatively well-rounded character in his own right (or as well-rounded as almost any character gets to be in the HP-verse), Hagrid serves a secondary [narrative] function. He is - along with Albus Dumbledore and Hermione Granger - one of the three main purveyors of expository information about the Wizarding World to Harry and to the readers alike. Hermione knows a great deal, of course, but being Muggle-born, most of the information she's able to share comes from books, and Dumbledore is often far better at keeping information from Harry than he is at sharing it. Hagrid is both readily accessible and is able to share first-hand knowledge with Harry.
So Who Is Hagrid?
Rubeus Hagrid is, like a number of the key players in the Harry Potter series, a half-blood, the son of a Wizard and Fridwulfa the Giantess (who left the family when Hagrid was three years old). Early in his life, he shows a fondness for magical - and often dangerous - creatures, most notably Aragog, the giant spider he raises in his room while a student at Hogwarts (and who later furnishes significant information to Harry and Ron in CoS). His interest in these dangerous creatures was probably well-known, which makes it easy for the young Tom Riddle (aka, Voldemort), with whom Hagrid attended Hogwarts, to spread the false rumor that Hagrid was raising werewolf cubs under his bed and also to lay the blame for Myrtle's death (for which Riddle himself was ultimately responsible) on Hagrid's doorstep. The latter incident is responsible for Hagrid being expelled from school in his third year, although thanks to Dumbledore's intervention, he's allowed to stay on at Hogwarts as a groundskeeper. Hagrid's father had died shortly after the boy started at Hogwarts, which makes Dumbledore's defense of Hagrid and his efforts to secure a suitable position for him all the more important; if it hadn't been for Dumbledore, the thirteen year old boy would have had nowhere to go.
The faith that Dumbledore places in him plays a large role in shaping Hagrid's unswerving loyalty to Dumbledore personally, and to Hogwarts (and its staff and students) generally. Hagrid has something akin to hero worship for the headmaster ("Great man, Dumbledore"), and he shows a great deal of respect to the Hogwarts' professors (most notably Professor Snape). However he does not have unquestioning faith in them, as we see early on in CoS when Harry asks Hagrid what that year's DADA teacher, Gilderoy Lockhart, had wanted with him. Hagrid replies "Givin' me advice on gettin' kelpies out of a well . . . [l]ike I don't know. An' bangin' on about some Banshee he banished. If one word of it was true, I'll eat my kettle." (88) It's not that I think Hagrid is the only adult to recognize Lockhart is a fraud (...and even earlier in the book, Ron appears dubious about Lockhart's qualifications, although his antipathy seems due, in part, to his jealousy over Hermione's quite obvious crush on Lockhart), but Hagrid is the first of the adults to come right out and say it.
Recognizing Lockhart's [lack of] worth isn't the only time when Hagrid shows that he's not as slow-witted as many people seem to think he is. In PS/SS, Hagrid is talking to Harry about Voldemort, and he says "Some say he died. Codswallop, in my opinion. Dunno if he had enough human left in him to die." (46). It's certainly possible that he's just parrotting Dumbledore's words, but given how quick Hagrid is to give Dumbledore credit for his wisdom, I suspect that when Hagrid says "in my opinion," he means just that (and he turns out to be right, of course). Hagrid can also be very sensitive when it comes to other's emotions (perhaps because he's so emotional himself). He's the only one who seems to be aware of Hermione's feelings of abandonment in PoA - and he isn't backward about trying to encourage the boys to be more sensitive themselves.
In addition (and despite the many times Hagrid is heard to say things like "I shouldn'ta told yeh that!" in the books), I find Hagrid at least as trustworthy (if not more so) as almost any of the adults in the wizarding world. When the headmaster tells Minerva McGonagall that the newly-orphaned Harry is being brought to his aunt's house by Hagrid, McGonagall asks "You think it - wise - to trust Hagrid with something as important as this?" Dumbledore answers "I would trust Hagrid with my life."
Clearly Dumbledore does trust Hagrid, and Hagrid appears to live up to that trust. Not only is Hagrid responsible for retrieving the Philosopher's Stone from Gringotts (quite a risky venture, given Voldemort's interest in acquiring it for himself), but also for training Fluffy (the Cerberus-like dog) to guard the stone, passing information to Harry and Ron about how to find Aragog (dangerous, yes, but no more dangerous than Dumbledore sending Hermione and Harry back in time to free Sirius and Buckbeak in PoA), and for going on a secret mission - to the giants, as it turns out - with Madame Maxime. Hagrid is also trusted enough to be given a teaching position (although that may not actually mean quite so much when you take even a cursory glance at the people - Remus Lupin aside - that Dumbledore hires as Defense teachers).
Much has been written about Hagrid as a teacher, and his critics are legion; however, it has to be said that his subject - Care of Magical Creatures - would be a potentially dangerous class, no matter who was teaching it. Yes, Draco Malfoy is injured by Buckbeak in Hagrid's first class, but in his defense, Hagrid warned the children about how Hippogriffs had to be approached, and Draco ignored the warning. Interestingly enough, when Hagrid is away at the start of OotP, Professor Grubbly-Plank's first Care of Magical Creatures lesson is on Bowtruckles, which "when angered . . . will try to gouge at human eyes with their fingers." When Harry is angered by Malfoy, he grips his Bowtruckle so hard it swipes at "his hand with its sharp fingers, leaving two long deep cuts there," (235), yet nobody - characters and readers alike - seems to think Grubbly-Plank is a bad teacher because one of her students got hurt as a result of ignoring instructions. In point of fact, almost all the classes at Hogwarts are potentially dangerous - even fatal, in some cases. Students who don't pay attention to their teachers' instructions might have things blow up in their faces (Charms), be killed by the cry of a mature Mandrake (Herbology), get poisoned or injured by a melting/exploding cauldron (Potions), or fall off their brooms from a great height (Flying).
Perhaps it's time to discuss some of the other less-laudatory aspects of Hagrid's character. As should be obvious to anyone who reads the books, Hagrid isn't perfect (I was going to say "he's only human," but...he's not, of course.). He's a big drinker (I believe he's the only character who appears drunk in front of the children apart from the House-Elf Winky). With the notable exception of Hagrid's secret visit to the giants in OotP, he apparently finds it hard to keep a secret (although, to be honest, it's a bit unfair to expect Hagrid to fulfill his "exposition function," as discussed above and keep secrets from Harry. In fact, some people have suggested that Hagrid's "accidental" revelations may be rather more intentional than they appear on the surface, serving as a way for Dumbledore to relay information to Harry when he's unable, for whatever reason, to speak to Harry himself).
There's also the issue of the casual cruelty Hagrid directs towards Harry's cousin, Dudley, in the first book. Hagrid, although certainly not in agreement with the Death Eaters' genocidal philosophy toward Muggles and Muggle-borns, does seem to hold many of the standard Wizarding World prejudices against the Muggle world (although it should be noted that he quite obviously has no problem with Muggle-born magical children), so he is pre-disposed to dislike the Dursleys. Hagrid's response to Vernon Dursley insulting Albus Dumbledore (in absentia) is to use his magic to give Harry's cousin, Dudley, a pig's tail - and by Hagrid's own admission, he had actually intended to turn the boy into a pig. (*1*) While I agree completely with those who say this act was unwarranted, particularly since Hagrid knew nothing about Dudley's treatment of Harry at this point, I will say that Hagrid's behavior seems to be quite typical of the "adult" segment of the wizarding world, at least when one remembers incidents like the faux-Moody turning Draco into a ferret or Snape's frequent vitriolic verbal attacks on countless students, most of whom have done little or nothing to deserve that treatment.
Hagrid also has the standard Gryffindor prejudices against Slytherins (although, to be honest, given his history with Tom Riddle, I'm not entirely surprised that he's quick to say all Slytherins are bad), yet unlike Ron, for example, who shows his anti-Slytherin prejudices at every opportunity, Hagrid is a constant defender of Professor Snape, who's about as Slytherin as they come, and when Draco is injured in his class, he doesn't hesitate to take him in his arms and carry him to the infirmary.
The situation with Grawp in OotP is far more difficult to ignore. While I challenge anyone to say they can't understand why Hagrid wants to have his newly-discovered half-brother with him (particularly since Grawp, who's 'small' for a giant, was being bullied back home), it seems exceedingly irresponsible to keep Grawp so close to Hogwarts and its young, vulnerable students. If even Hagrid can't escape the occasional injury from his brother, it's hard to imagine why Hagrid would ask Harry and his friends to spend time in Grawp's company. And as Lexin notes, the fact that Hagrid keeps Grawp a virtual prisoner (regardless of his good intentions) is morally problematic. Without actually attempting to defend Hagrid's actions, I'll just say (as I said to Lexin) that "I suspect I was so numb by OotP from examples of (both well-meaning and antagonistic) family members and friends locking up people (e.g., Crouch and Barty Jr, Harry at the Dursleys - both by the Dursleys themselves and by Dumbledore; Sirius at Number 12, Grimmauld Place, various House-Elves, Remus on full moon nights before the three other Marauders became animagi, etc.) that I didn't actually notice that aspect of the Hagrid-Grawp situation as being anything out of the ordinary."
When I began writing this, I worried about whether I'd end up turning this essay into a hagiography, but clearly that didn't happen. Hagrid is no saint; he's one of the "Good Guys," but he's flawed and just as prone to unthinking prejudices and careless actions as anyone else. He's also just as likely as anyone else to be deserving of trust, considerate of others' feelings, and competent. Hagrid is not merely a 'comic rustic," nor is he a child . . . he's an adult, with all the strengths and weaknesses of any other adult in the Wizarding World. And really, in the end, I think that's exactly the point I wanted to make.
A Word (or . . . so) about the fandom response to Hagrid
An informal survey of children (mostly young relatives and random kids I was able to corner on buses and in bookstores *g*) reveals that Hagrid is one of their favorite characters, right after the Trio and occasionally Draco. Rowling's intended audience (at least for the early books) think Hagrid is a good guy and that he's funny. Asked specifically about the pig tail incident, most of the children I spoke to seemed to think that Dudley deserved it for "being mean to Harry."
The mostly-adult online response to Hagrid is much more ambivalent. While 80% of respondents to an LJ poll I created two weeks ago either like Hagrid in the books or are neutral about him, less than half of the respondents like to see Hagrid as a character in fanfiction (although, to be fair, quite a number of people cited the apparent inability of some authors to write his accent convincingly as one of the reasons they don't like to see him in stories), and when Hagrid is considered as part of a pairing - of any kind - only 20% of the respondents had a positive response.
I also asked what three or four words first came to mind when they thought of Hagrid, and the vast majority of respondents answered with words that were physical descriptions only and not personality traits (which is what people tended to focus on when similar questions were asked about other HP characters). Far and away the largest single response had to do with Hagrid's size (with 58 people saying "big," "large," or "giant") and "hairy" or "beard" drew a further 20+ responses. The greatest number of negative responses were for the words "dumb/stupid" (10), "reckless/irresponsible/careless" (12), and "naive/childlike" (11), while the greatest number of positive responses included the words "friendly," "loyal," "caring," "loving," "kind," and "good-hearted" (72 in total).
(note: Given the dearth of Hagrid fic generally, and the fact that Hagrid is one of the few characters in canon to actually be involved in an adult relationship, I decided not to exclude non-gen stories from this discussion)
Generally speaking, HP fiction largely ignores Hagrid, using him as little more than a bit of background color in stories, when he's included at all. There are some rather odd 'novelty' Hagrid-centric stories (generally of the "Hagrid has 'relations' with Dobby or Winky" variety), but apart from Ciircee's "And the Hat Said ‘Gryffindor’" (a gen story featuring the young Hagrid and Albus Dumbledore), Nym's First Day (gen, focusing on Snape's first day of teaching). Ursula's "In Which Hermione S. Granger Fails to Save the Day" (which sees Hermione paired first with Snape - briefly - and then Hagrid for slightly less brief a time), and Arionrhod's Unlikely Cupid (a thirty-minute fic from Hagrid's quite-perceptive p.o.v., in which Hagrid observes the relatively-subtle courtship of Snape and Lupin), there seem to be very few well-written stories with Hagrid at their heart.
The one major exception to this rule, however, can be found in Sweet & Sour, the Snape/Hagrid archive that's run by Bernice Russell (iibnf), which includes approximately one hundred stories . . . and counting. Some of the earliest stories featuring this pairing are Bernice's own Care of Magical Creatures, Lynda's Home Brew, and Predatrix's Size Queen), but the site is updated regularly and many excellent stories continue to find their way into that archive. Oh, and if you're thinking to yourself that this is an unlikely pairing, just think about Snape's personality for a moment, and then remember that Hagrid likes nasty, snarling, dangerous creatures.
Quotes in this article refer to the Raincoast, Canada paperback editions of PS, CoS, PoA, and GoF and the Bloomsbury, UK hardcover edition of OotP.
(*1*) There is an interesting allusion here to the powerful witch of Greek mythology, Circe, who was well-known (in The Odyssey) for turning humans into pigs, often for no better reason than Hagrid had to try to transfigure Dudley into a pig. As it happens, Circe's subsequent advice to Odysseus turns out to be absolutely necessary in his attempt to return home after the Trojan War, much in the same way that Harry needs Hagrid's help to return to the Wizarding World after so many years living with his Muggle relatives.])