Monday, November 17, 2014

Grawp the Gentle Giant

            Giants in medieval England were seen as violent, feminine, masculine, sexual, and excessive in all ways. Books, stories, and different mascots throughout history have both followed this view of giants (Jack and the Beanstalk) and strayed away from it (the Green Giant). Rarely do stories use both violent and gentle giants, opting instead to make giants either one or the other. One exception to this is the giants in the hit young adult series about wizards and adolescents, Harry Potter. There are the classically violent, animalistic giants that live in the mountains, but there are also Grawp and Hagrid, the child-like, gentle giants who are not quite humans but not quite giants.
            Hagrid, as reiterated again and again, is trustworthy, kind and always trying to do his best. He’s dangerous, but in an adorable, goofy way. He brings violent animals into the school (dragons, giant spiders, three-headed dogs) that could end up killing hundreds of children, but it’s okay because he just thinks all monsters are lovable and misunderstood. Grawp, Hagrid’s half brother, is the gentle giant who can’t figure out how to be gentle. He can’t talk, he pulls up trees and he bruises Hagrid on the daily, but deep down, he’s not violent at all, he just “doesn’t understand his own strength.”
Both Grawp and Hagrid are different from the giants in the medieval England in a myriad of ways. They’re the opposite of excessively sexual; in fact, they’re desexualized to the point where it would be revolting to think of either of them in a sexual way.
They’re both masculine, but that masculinity is overshadowed by how child-like they’re portrayed. They seem to always need to be looked after; Grawp, because he might tear down the forest if left alone, Hagrid, because he might buy a new, deadly animal to bring into the school. They’re vocabulary is sparse (Grawp is unbelievably bare) and Hagrid is constantly making reckless decisions that he never thinks through. Hagrid seems to never know the right social cues or emotional responses; he cries at uncomfortable times, he talks too loudly, he’s too trustful and naïve. Grawp has no hold over his emotions either, but those emotions seem to be mainly confusion and fear whenever he can’t find Hagrid (his parent figure). Hagrid is like an eight year old boy who makes decisions without thinking and says things without understanding how uncomfortable he’s making everything, while Grawp is like an infant, who can’t stay alive without being taken care of. Grawp and Hagrid are incredibly different from the giants in medieval period, where the giants, while more violent, vicious and animalistic, are still fully capable of taking care of themselves.
Even the violent giants in Harry Potter are different from the giants in the medieval period. While they are violent, and they seem to be constantly turning on each other and killing each other, they’re also portrayed in a more humane light than the medieval giants ever were. They’re seen as treated unjustly by humans, who pushed them into small spaces, which was what lead to them constantly attacking each other. Although they are written as violent creatures, they aren’t written as evil creatures; they’re just trying to survive and do what’s in their nature. And while Hagrid and Grawp are seen as less violent than these giants, when ever they do anything slightly violent or giant-like (like pull up a tree or buy a dragon) it’s still seen as just part of their nature (although they’re actions are portrayed in a way that’s more comical than violent). These giants are also desexualized in comparison to the medieval giants (although that may just be because they’re characters in a children’s book) and there are both male giants and female giants; Hagrid’s mother, for instance, is a giantess, but is seen as just as ruthless as any male giant. 
The model of a giant may have come from medieval England, but JK Rowling shaped them to match her own views on human nature. While the medieval authors wrote about theirs fears and longings for a hyper-sexualized, hyper-violent being, JK Rowling focused on how humans persecute those who are seen as violent and animalistic, and how those beings are not so different from humans after all. The way giants are depicted in literature such as Harry Potter may seem like a trivial concept, but it shows how people's views of what a human is or should/should not be has changed (and not changed) since the medieval period.

1 comment:

  1. You've brought up some really interesting points! Given the careful consideration that Rowling put into the series, I think it's safe to say that there's a reason for Hagrid's gigantic heritage, and for his key role in the story.
    As you said, despite how well he's trusted, Hagrid's friends are often reminded of how (unintentionally) dangerous he can be. Rowling portrays him as someone struggling to nurture his humanity, which seems to be constantly at odds with his Giant-nature; the giants in Harry Potter are, like medieval giants, untamed, and aligned with wild forces that are a threat for humans (wizards) to prevent or conquer. It is important to note that while Hagrid plays a pivotal role in the story, he is often misunderstood or outright rejected by those who hold traditional, "pureblood" values--the Malfoys, who represent (among other things) the negativity of racial and socioeconomic discrimination--reduce Hagrid down to his "oafish", giant-esque qualities, implying that the "impurity" of his blood is an impossible obstacle to overcome. By proving his worth time and time again, Hagrid is a character that successfully subverts the medieval archetypal Giant.

    Also: You're totally right that, in contrast to medieval giants, it's hard to imagine Hagrid or Grawp representing any kind of sexual excess; the question of Hagrid's conception (human father, giantess mother) is made all the more disturbing by the fact that most giants don't have a firm grasp on language, and are seen as being far less intelligent than humans......... honestly how did Hagrid happen.