Dobby’s fellow house-elves never respected him. All that liberation talk was shameful ― a disgrace to the name of inherited servitude. He could have been a throwaway character in the “Harry Potter” universe, there to simply muck up Harry’s second year at Hogwarts before sinking into the scenery. But his intentions were too noble. When he wasn’t thumping his head against a wall in melodramatic self-discipline, Dobby became an iconoclast, a civil-rights advocate, a freedom fighter and the most loyal pal any witch, wizard or Muggle could envision.
In honor of the first “Harry Potter” novel’s 20th anniversary, I am here to extol the virtues of Dobby, that squat critter who, in J.K. Rowling’s words, bears “large, bat-like ears and bulging green eyes the size of tennis balls.”
He is my favorite. Dobby embodies an altruism not enough humans aspire to. Now, with an American president who employs bullying tactics and an internet culture that lets brutes hide behind anonymous avatars, that benevolence resonates even more than it did nearly two decades ago.
Because they don’t fight for their own rights, house-elves reflect a timeless fear: the idea that we are stuck with whatever fate dictates. But Dobby’s employment with the oppressive Malfoy clan, which comes to a blissful close when Harry’s scheme to free him works at the end of Chamber of Secrets, turns him into a resilient ideal. Being released from his harsh past bestowed in Dobby a generosity that he then showed to others. Like so many great literary figures, that generosity became his tragic flaw.
Forever amazed by Harry and company’s most basic kindnesses, Dobby did not exploit his newfound autonomy. He remained humble. In liberating the elf, Rowling made him the backbone of a key political divide: how labor is honored within the wizarding world. House-elves are low-ranking members of the proletariat, their owners slave drivers. Freed, Dobby rightly insisted he be paid for his work, a foreign concept for house-elves, penniless creatures expected to preserve unyielding loyalty toward their masters. But he wasn’t fighting for his pocketbook ― he just wanted an emblem of respect. When Dumbledore gave Dobby a gig in the Hogwarts kitchen, Dobby negotiated downward, accepting a mere portion of the salary and benefits package offered to him. He is everything we human greed machines are not: humble, dutiful, limber.
Rowling found optimal use for Dobby’s purity throughout the series. He brought Harry a bundle of Gillyweed during the Triwizard Tournamnet. When Winky imbibed too much Butterbeer, he hid her in the Room of Requirement, which he then recommended to Harry as a boardroom for the Voldemort-resistant Dumbledore’s Army. (Essentially, Voldemort’s demise can be traced to Dobby’s guidance.) When the vile Kreacher insulted Harry, Dobby pulverized him, tearfully insisting his cherished pal is a great wizard. Later, in the story’s most tragic death, Dobby Apparated to Malfoy Manor ― his former penitentiary ― to save Harry and crew from Bellatrix Lestrange, only to meet the cold quietus of her silver knife. By the time Harry escaped with Dobby in his arms, it was too late. Dobby died sputtering his two favorite words: “Harry ... Potter ...”
We can also credit him for fomenting Ron and Hermione’s relationship. Moved by Dobby’s plight and death, Ron suggested evacuating the house-elves during the Battle of Hogwarts, promoting Hermione to kiss him for the first time.
For a loud-mouthed sprite whose initial appearance threatened to derail Harry’s Hogwarts trajectory, Dobby remained a champion beyond his final breath. In Harry and his comrades, he found humans who saw him as they did themselves: worthy, competent, crucial. Few of us are or have friends as lovely as Dobby, true stalwarts who look outside their own economic and emotional sorrows in the name of others’ prosperity. We need more of that right now.
I sobbed a pond of tears when my beloved little chum perished. While re-reading his death scene in “Deathly Hallows” last week, I teared up again. Harry’s mutual loyalty runs deep and rich, years after he wanted nothing more than for those tennis-ball eyes and bat-like ears to get the hell away from Privet Drive. It’s a buddy tale for the ages.
Here lies Dobby, a free elf and a fantastic character.
From June 1 to 30, HuffPost is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the very first “Harry Potter” book by reminiscing about all things Hogwarts. Accio childhood memories.