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Everything I Need to Know About Hospitality, I Learned from Molly Weasley

The first time we meet Molly Weasley in the Harry Potter books, she welcomes the stranger. At King's Cross Station, she patiently teaches Harry the trick of finding Platform Nine and Three-Quarters, not because she knows he's famous -- she has no idea who the scrawny boy before her might be -- but simply because the very core of her person is suffused with hospitality.

And when, later in the scene, she does discover his identity, her immediate thought is not that he is famous but that he is alone in the world and needs a little mothering. She cautions her daughter that Harry won't want to be gawked at like some creature in the zoo.

A few months later, she sends Harry a homemade Weasley sweater for the holidays, much to Ron's chagrin. But to Harry, who has never received a Christmas present, the hand-knitted sweater signals belonging. It brings a message: You are part of us now.

As I explore our spiritual practice of hospitality throughout September, I keep circling back to Molly as the hospitable person I want to become. She's not a perfect person by any means; she has a fierce temper, succumbs to a dubious Author Crush, and has lousy taste in music. But she is always, always one who welcomes the stranger. In Book 2, when Harry visits the Weasley family, Molly immediately treats him like one of her own children. He's given a little extra food to fatten him up, but he's also allowed to go out and de-gnome the garden, doing household chores like everybody else.

She regards him as both special and not special, which is just about right, I think. One trick of hospitality is treating people not as you would want to be treated yourself, but as they want to be treated, which is usually much harder.

Treating people like we would wish to be treated ourselves is great in theory, but in practice it can be an extension of our own ego and selfishness. Molly and Harry butt heads a few times in the later books over his growing adolescent need for independence, but she ultimately respects his need to not be, quite literally, mollycoddled.

It's not just Harry who benefits from Molly's open-handed generosity. The Weasley home is a safehouse for all sorts of flawed humans (Mundungus Fletcher, anyone?), not to mention assorted creatures that others might censure, such as werewolves. Molly feeds everyone her famed cooking, despite the fact that it's not like her family is drowning in cash. The Weasleys are perpetually short of money with their own large family, but you never see either Molly or Arthur turning guests away because they're poor. She refuses to accept Harry's Triwizard Tournament prize money when he attempts to press it on her, even though a thousand galleons would go far to alleviate her own family's poverty.

Molly's no saint, except when she is; her fierce love for her own family extends outward to create an entire community with bonds of love. Until the end of the seventh book, we only see her magical power in terms of housewifely arts -- she can make potatoes jump out of their jackets (please, please teach me how to do that) and knitting needles clack amongst themselves. But in the Battle of Hogwarts, we get a glimpse of a different, powerful Molly Weasley -- a strength that has informed her character all along, but is galvanized into action when her daughter is attacked. "Not my daughter, you bitch!" Molly hurls, singlehandedly dueling Bellatrix Lestrange to the death in order to protect the Weasley family.

But that's just it. Molly's protectiveness has never been reserved just for her own seven children. From that cocoon it has ever extended outward to include the stranger and build community. In a fantastic twist of irony, the woman who is best known for welcoming the stranger kills the woman whose very name means "the stranger"; Bellatrix has spent a lifetime as the anti-Molly, and she is about to pay.

And so it is that Molly Weasley, housewife, deals the penultimate death blow to the Death Eaters.

Her hospitality helps save the world.

 

 

Tags: death of bellatrix lestrange, flunking sainthood, harry potter and the deathly hallows, harry potter and the sorcerer's stone, hospitality as a spiritual practice, jana riess, molly weasley character, molly weasley hospitality, spiritual practice

Comments

  1. I perish the thought that I live in a world where “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love” is casually dismissed as “lousy taste in music” grin

  2. Thanks for your *delightful* post on Molly Weasley - classic illustration of the biblical/missional “person of peace.”

    I wonder ... did J.K. Rowling model Molly Weasley somewhat after herself? She seems to totally get it about people who’ve been passively overlooked or actively marginalized. Here’s an intriguing read on Ms. Rowling’s construction of a complex social structure in the wizarding world of Harry Potter - with much to learn about the dynamics of being “the stranger” and even on the art of hospitality:

    http://www.amazon.com/Prejudice-Harry-Potter-Karen-Brown/dp/1602641536/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1347555436&sr=8-1&keywords=prejudice+harry+potter

  3. Wow-they really will publish anything on the internet.
    Has “fierce” started to become the new “sincere” or “real” or “authentic”?  I’m seeing a lot of it around, linked especially to the new buzzword “passion/passionate”.  Must be like someone adding jalapenos to oatmeal; you know that most of what you’ve made is unbelievably bland, but you figure they’ll at least remember it if you add something that supposed to make food interesting.

  4. I’m an English student and I study the intersection of fantasy and religion. I’m also a Christ-follower and love to see other people following Christ, in the world and through their creating. JK created a strong, brave woman in Molly and both women are excellent role models. Thank you for pointing that out!

  5. I’ve often thought that the golden rule is a bit inadequate. Don’t get me wrong: it’s a good principle. But I agree with you: it’s much more difficult (and selfless) to love others as they would have you love them. Thanks for your post.

  6. Love, love, love this! Molly Weasley has always been one of my favorite characters in the Harry Potter universe, but you really fleshed her out even more.

  7. I concur! As we watch Molly “flesh out” as a character, she becomes the epitome of class regardless of financial standing. My breath literally caught when she killed the evil Bellatrix at the end. Would that I were as gracious and as fierce! I aspire to as much.

  8. I love Molly’s big heart and the love and grace she pours out on all her children (and so many strangers). And I love her bravery too. What a fabulous post!

  9. I love this.

    And I love Molly. My own mom is somewhat like her, so when I grow up, I do want to resemble them both - my mom and Molly.

  10. Bellatrix does NOT mean “stranger”.  It is Latin for female warrior. Bella + trix = war woman. Just like aviator and aviatrix there is bellator and bellatrix.

    I rather liked the article up until that bit of ignorance

  11. And the Latin word for stranger is hospes; the root word for hospitality.

  12. The name is Bellatrix Lestrange.

  13. Valerie, thank you for your comment. Just to clarify, I was referring to the character’s last name, not her first.

    You are quite correct that the Latin root for stranger—and, oddly, both host and guest—is hospes. But I didn’t suggest that Latin was the language Rowling was using for this. In French (Rowling’s primary area of concentration at university) the word for “stranger” is nearly identical to this character’s last name: le etranger. (I’m particularly intrigued by the Camus connection, since the main character in Camus’s “L’Etranger” is one who kills without compunction or remorse. Unlike Bellatrix, however, that character does experience remorse at the very end.)

    Thank you to everyone who has commented. This post was a joy to write.

  14. Perfection - I see why so many people put this on their must-read list. Now I’m intrigued enough to look around a bit. Thank you!

  15. I am a sucker for compassionate characters in books and other forms of story telling.  Molly never struck home for me until she defended her daughter at the risk of her own (and others) life.  I feel that the only truly compassionate are those that have conquered their anger and found that love is all that remains.  We never had heard much about Molly’s part in the original uprising of Voldemort, but I think she was probably one of the most fierce, and only through tempering herself was she able to become a truly profound symbol of a mother and friend.  And yes, some of that is projection!

  16. Mothers of large families have to be assertive. When our daughter was growing up, her tendency to want to be in charge of things was noted by many of her teachers. Now she has channeled that managerial desire into raising two boys and four girls.  But she wishes she had a magic wand.

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