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You've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above - On Remus Lupin's character

Remus Lupin.

I will first of all cop to an extreme bias in his favor -- you can maybe tell I like Sirius by the way I write about him. Well, multiply that by, like, a million, and you get how I feel about Remus.

So, I will try to be evenhanded and not too fangirly when discussing him, because god knows, he’s a flawed and sometimes weak man and I recognize that, even if I forgive him for it far too easily.

What do we know about Remus Lupin?

He "received the bite" at a young age (though the age is never specified. I’d place it between 4 and 7, personally). His name is an obvious pointer to what he is, but since so many people in the HP books have names like that, I don’t know that we can look for the deeper significance of his parents being stupid enough to name their child “Remus” when his last name is “Lupin” in a world where werewolves do exist.

We don’t know whether he’s pureblood or if one of his parents was Muggle-born; nor do we know of any siblings, though again, the name Remus lends itself to the belief that there was at some point a twin named Romulus (interesting sidenote: Romulus kills Remus in a quarrel and goes on to found Rome), but that’s just fannish speculation.

Fanon tends to have him either home-schooled or in Muggle school pre-Hogwarts because of his condition.

His most salient characteristic is that he wants to be liked, which implies that he spent a lot of time being shunned, or being told that he would be shunned, and that he knows, even as a child of eleven, how the wizarding world treats werewolves.

Rowling herself has said that Lupin’s desire to be liked leads him to be very forgiving of his friends, and to let them slide on things that he really ought to call them on.

The most obvious example of this is in the Pensieve scene in OotP – Remus clearly knows Sirius and James are wrong for tormenting Snape; he does not join in, nor does he laugh or encourage them.

Sadly, he does nothing to stop them, even though he is, at this point, a prefect and in a position as an allegedly close friend of theirs to exert some influence over their behavior. He himself speculates that this was why he was given the position to begin with.

(It’s interesting to note that Neville Longbottom, at the age of eleven, was able to stand up to *his* friends and only being petrified kept him down. On the other hand, Ron shows the same disturbing lack of backbone, especially when it comes to Fred and George. Fred and George, however, show no signs of being nasty bullies like James and Sirius were – they’re equal opportunity offenders, with a Gryffindor just as likely to end up with a Ten Ton Toffee as a Slytherin.)

While I don’t condone his behavior, I can understand it – at fifteen, it’s a rare person who *can* stand up to his friends, especially when those friends are handsome, popular, admired and quite possibly the only close friends you’ve got. There’s also the question of his secret, though at this point, he still has no reason *not* to trust them to keep it (I’ll get to The Trick in a bit), not because they’re such great friends, but because *they* derive something from it (namely, the ability to roam school grounds and the Forbidden Forest in their Animagi forms) and James and Sirius both adventurous types.

Lupin is capable of keeping a secret, and quite skilled at lying, and doing so under pressure. He *says* he feels guilty, but never guilty enough to stop the illicit monthly activities with his illegal Animagi friends. It’s typical teen behavior to shrug off thoughts of responsibility and danger.

While he may be the cautious one of the bunch, we don’t know enough to do more than speculate on his role in whatever pranks Sirius and James got up to, though given his personality, and the way he teaches, I’d peg him as a tactical thinker – James and Sirius had ideas and James and Remus were the ones who made them work (Sirius is all about the wild ideas; James is more a big picture type; Remus handles the nitty-gritty). That could just be me, though.

Then there’s the favorite fanon characterization, bookworm!Remus.

As much as I adore this characterization, I don’t know that it really fits him.

Yes, he’s reading in the Pensieve scene, he’s worried about his exams and he apparently planned to be a teacher (the briefcase is old) though how he thought that would work, I don’t know. I don’t know when he was registered as a werewolf, nor how the Werewolf Registry works. I imagine it’s probable that he was registered right after the bite, but that the records are kept confidential and available only to potential employers etc. Otherwise, everyone would have known. I don’t think he’s unregistered, because obviously, his parents had to take him to the hospital after he was bitten, and it’s not exactly something that can be kept a secret from medical practitioners.

Anyhow, we’re told that James and Sirius were the cleverest boys in the school, brilliant etc. Sirius finishes his test early and isn’t worried about his grades.

Remus, otoh, may have had his nose in a book all the time simply to keep up. It can’t be easy to miss at least one day a month of school, possibly more, and we’re given no indication that school was *easy* for him. He’s intelligent, yes, but not brilliant, and it’s quite possible he had to *work* in school (a foreign concept to many, myself included. *snerk*). We know Peter struggled, and James and Sirius passed without much effort. I’m willing to bet Remus was your solid B student who worked hard for it. If he weren’t so pathetically grateful that they were his friends, I’d say he'd probably resent the hell out of how easy James and Sirius made school out to be (personal experience tells me that if you have to work your ass off and your friends aren’t, you resent it).

Remus is not the male Hermione.

Wait. Let me repeat that again.

Remus is not the male Hermione.

Do I think Remus and Hermione share some character traits? Yeah. I also think Snape and Hermione share some character traits, and Snape is not a male Hermione either.

Remus has little respect for rules. While he may pay lip service to respecting authority (and he certainly learned to exert some, finally, but more on that in a bit), he has no problem actively circumventing Dumbledore’s authority on occasions too numerous to count, to his own benefit and at the expense of the student body’s safety, both as a student himself, and more damningly, as a teacher.

If his defining characteristic is a need to be liked, then it's somewhat easier to understand why he remained friends with Sirius after The Trick. Even putting aside any thoughts of Remus and Sirius as lovers or whatever, Remus acts the role of needy girlfriend, putting up with shit from his friends because he doesn’t (believe he) deserve(s) to be treated with respect, or because he’s so scared that they’re the only ones who’ll ever like him that he can’t bring himself to stand up for himself (or others) when he disagrees with them, because that would be putting the relationship in jeopardy.

I won’t go in to a big thing about how or why Remus believed Sirius was guilty – 15 dead bodies (twelve Muggles, James and Lily, and apparently, Peter) is a *reason*, not an excuse, to paraphrase Xander Harris, to believe someone is a murderer. I also won’t speculate on the relationship between Sirius and Remus post-Hogwarts, though my feeling is there was probably an estrangement of some sort, because Sirius believed Remus was the spy (and I’d really, really like an explanation of *why*, but we’ll never get it now), and vice versa.

We don’t know what Remus was up to in the twelve years between October 31, 1981 and September 1, 1993.

He obviously developed *some* backbone – he can keep control of a class; he’s a good teacher who knows his material; he has no trouble exerting authority over Sirius in the Shrieking Shack.

He is still circumventing Dumbledore’s authority, keeping secrets that endanger the whole of the school, and Harry in particular. This is a pretty egregious character flaw, and one that has no excuse. It’s there, and it’s a damn crappy thing for him to do. It’s criminally negligent and the fact that it’s glossed over so easily is... simply a function of the genre, I think, because Lupin is a "good guy," one of the "White Hats," so even though he did something horrible, it wasn’t malicious and so we’re all just supposed to forget about it. (And if you want to argue that it was malicious, please go elsewhere with your insane troll logic and remember to take your medication. It was self-serving and *wrong*, but it wasn’t done with intent to get Harry or anyone else harmed. Hence *negligent* rather than depraved indifference.)

I don’t know that I’d have trusted him again, were I Dumbledore, but Dumbledore’s not exactly the most forthright and honest of men, so I guess it takes a liar to forgive one. (Dumbledore trusts him at least as far as keeping him in the Order and knowing he’s not a spy. Would he trust him again with the children? Given the fact that he keeps Snape around, I’d say yes. Would I trust either of them with my children? Probably not.)

He also keeps his relationship to James and Sirius a secret from Harry and lies flat-out to Snape about the map (though Snape knew he was lying; he just couldn’t *do* anything about it at that moment).

I think it’s somewhat plausible to believe Remus has some residual, deep down loyalty to Sirius that he can’t quite get over, even after twelve years of believing him to be a murderer, which contributes to his keeping silent.

Now we come to a fanon characterization that drives me bugfuck – weepy!submissive!Remus.

I suggest anyone who writes Remus as tearing up at every memory of Sirius or James reread PoA several times, and if they still think that’s fitting characterization, they ought to be beaten about the head with OotP. Repeatedly.

Remus reacts to seeing Harry the first time – he reaches out and doesn’t touch him. He shows no other over reaction that Harry notices. The biggest reaction we get is when his briefcase slips off the desk as he and Harry are discussing Sirius. Again, I’m not going to speculate on the nature of their relationship (I think you all know how I feel about it ::coughtheirloveissocanoncough::), but Lupin is able to speak “lightly” about the dementors and Sirius in Azkaban. Now, I think Harry’s just not observant enough to see that the lightness was probably forced, because talking about your old friend the murderer, to the kid whose parents he killed and whom he’s now stalking and apparently wants to kill? Not the easiest situation ever. But Remus handles it with aplomb (at least from Harry’s POV. I wouldn’t be surprised if he broke out the firewhisky after that conversation and had a quick belt.).

He has a mischievous side, and is not above tormenting an old schoolboy rival, all while appearing to be totally professional. I find his relationship with Snape highly amusing, but that could be because I don’t like Snape and enjoy seeing him do a slow burn.

Which brings us to the Shrieking Shack incident in PoA.

Lupin rushes in and takes complete control of the situation. He thinks on the fly, is able to take in and assimilate new information quickly and make decisions based on it.

This is not a man who breaks down and weeps under pressure, is what I’m saying.

He holds Sirius back from killing Peter. He convinces the Trio to hear Sirius out, going so far as to rearm them, when Harry is in the throes of blind rage. He speaks in a “steely tone” he’s never used before when he tells Ron to “give [him] that rat.”

He also has a healthy measure of regret and self-loathing, I think, stemming not only from his condition as a werewolf (and society’s response to that), but because of his own seeming complicity in Sirius’s (apparent) crimes (he trusted Black and was fooled as well).

He’s unable to find steady, paid work, he lives on the fringes of society, and it’s not even his own goddamn fault (though to be fair, he does take risks he shouldn’t, and unlike any of the diseases/conditions for which his lycanthropy may be a metaphor, he really is dangerous to other people, and not in an unsafe sex kind of way but in a violent, immediate and grisly death kind of way, for that one night a month, and if he’s not taking the potion, he *ought* to remain locked up).

He’s probably repressing some serious rage and bitterness.

Which brings me to why I think Evil!Remus is so implausible.

Because he’s spent most of his life being pegged as evil before he even opens his mouth. Once someone knows what he is, they simply *assume* werewolf=evil, even in human form. And that’s simply not so. So I think Remus being a member of the Order, fighting Voldemort, isn’t, as it is for (young)Sirius, an adventure; nor is it a calling against the Dark Arts, the way it probably was for James (that’s the impression I get, anyway – James fought because it was the right thing to do). For Remus, I think that it being the right thing is nice and all, but it’s also a big ‘fuck you’ to everyone who ever expected him to be nothing more than the ravening beast he can’t help but turn into one night a month.

And I can’t help but think that Sirius’s attempt to use him as a murder weapon had to imprint on him badly. Not just because of the betrayal, or because his so-called friend could use him like a tool, an object, rather than see him as a person, but because he so easily could have killed or turned Snape and James.

I think that forces him even further into attempting to be a good man, because his virtue is slammed directly up against his “vice” (in quotes because technically, it’s not really *his* vice. Remus doesn’t want to go out and kill people, the wolf does. He becomes the wolf, but the wolf is not him. Remus’s vices are far more insidious and more potentially dangerous in the long-term). If ever a man knew the darker, uglier sides of himself, it’s Remus Lupin. (paraphrasing Frank Pembleton)

Now, sometime during his twelve years on his own (and does anyone else want to smack the old Order around for not giving him some help during that time? Unless they all thought he was secretly complicit in James and Lily’s deaths, after all, *he* wasn’t killed, and everyone knows he and Black were tight, if not, er, more than that. Ahem. And you know how gossip works, especially in such an insular society as the British wizarding world), he grew something of a backbone, because he is able to rein Sirius in, not only in the Shack in PoA, but throughout OotP.

Part of that is simple adulthood, growing into and gaining confidence in one’s authority. And part of it is probably the knowledge that he didn’t do it in school and he should have. (As an aside, I’d *really* like to know what he was doing in that time.)

He’s the leader of the expedition to pick up Harry, not Moody (at least, that’s the impression I get – Moody’s too much of a loose cannon to be a leader, though I’m sure he’s a mentor to the younger folks). Molly looks to him as the voice of reason in the argument with Sirius, and he provides a more balanced, less emotional point of view in the discussion about what Harry ought to be told.

In fact, there are numerous times the Sirius/Remus interaction parallels the Molly/Arthur relationship.

Not only does Remus provide calm good sense in that discussion (and apparently a good working knowledge of mischief makers’ ways of thinking – do Fred and George know that Sirius and Remus are Mr. Moony and Mr. Padfoot?), he tells Sirius that he will be the one to talk to Snape about resuming Harry’s Occlumency lessons (a failure, but no one wound up maimed in the course of the conversation, so probably better than if Sirius had done it. Though there’s an interesting thing -- you’d think Sirius at the least would have told Harry what was going on once they knew the lessons wouldn’t be resumed. I wonder if Remus talked him out of that. If so, poor Remus.).

He’s also sensitive to his students as a teacher (he figures out the best way to encourage Neville to success, and manages to mock Snape at the same time. Everybody wins!), he comforts Molly and assures her that of course they’ll take care of the kids should something happen to her and Arthur (and I can just see Molly thinking, “Ron and Ginny are NOT going to be raised by a werewolf and an ex-convict” when she finally gets her head back together), he talks to the werewolf guy in the hospital...

He has all the earmarks of a man trying to do the decent thing when everything and everyone expects him not to.

Plus, he’s got that whole suffering thing going on, because life (or JKR, that bitch) just does not give him a break.

And I’m sure I’m missing things here, but this is already longer than the razorfic *snerk* and I have to leave soon to catch a train.

To sum up:

Decent but flawed man, whose flaws are potentially lethal. Negligent and yet sensitive. Guilt-ridden and self-loathing yet also mischievous. Intelligent but not going to hit you over the head with it. Quick thinker, loyal, but lies like a dog. Or wolf, in this case. Weak in the face of his friendship and his pathetic desire to be liked, yet strong enough to survive losing everything and being an outcast without turning evil or hateful. So emotionally repressed controlled, it hurts.

All wrapped up in that lovely, cool gay uncle package.

Yes, he pings me as gay. I realize that it’s highly unlikely that JKR would make the character who may or may not be a metaphor for homosexuality/AIDS an actual gay person, but come *on*.

Anyway, I said I wouldn’t get into the Sirius/Remus relationship in this post, so I won’t, but I think the subtext practically became text in OotP. ;p~

Comments, questions, and brilliant perceptions are, of course, most welcome. So are differing POVs and corrections of any errors I've made. Be prepared to cite text, as once I am gone from here, I will be checking once again with PoA and OotP to make sure I got stuff right. I'm sure I missed a few things, and I do want to discuss both Sirius-Remus (slashy or not) and Sirius-Remus-James, and also Remus-Severus (again, slashy or not), Remus-Dumbledore, and the Remus/Sirius-Molly/Arthur parallels, but that's for different posts.

cross-posted from my LJ
Tags: characters:remus lupin
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