Dragons as merchandise and exotic illegal pets
Use in Magic Wand Cores, Gardening Gloves, and Potion Ingredients
Dragons are not domesticated, nor ridden, but that does not protect them from being killed for the sale of their blood, skin, and livers. Despite being highly capable of harming humans, the trade of their body parts is common. Like the Muggle trade of rhinoceros horns, the trade of dragon parts relies on people believing that magical properties of their body parts influence potions and other magical objects. But unlike fictional dragons, rhinoceros horns contain the same materials that human fingernails are made of.
Hogwarts school endorses the killing of dragons since products made with dragon skin are required to attend certain classes. Students use supplies like dragon liver in Potions Class, dragon hide gloves, and dragon dung as fertilizer in Herbology. The Headmaster himself became famous by discovering the “12 uses of dragon’s blood” (two of them being rather petty cleaning solutions). This creates a culture of abuse in which dragons are perceived as mighty, yet inferior, beasts.
A question arises from the Potterverse in that no one seems to be authorized (or strong enough) to murder dragons. How is dragon blood obtained? That is a mystery. The magical creatures are so powerful and resistant to spells that it seems only a fellowship could hope to defeat them.
Subject to Illegal Trade As Pets
Despite being killed (somehow) without apparent restrictions, the use of dragons as pets is forbidden. This prohibition probably arose as a protection against the discovery of the magical world by Muggles and against the stupidity of people who would likely have been killed while keeping the dragons. Selling and buying dragon eggs is also illegal. However, an illegal market exists, which is how Hagrid obtained Norberta as an egg.
Hagrid’s Stance on Dragons
Hagrid is fond of all magical creatures. His character is ambivalent towards the use and abuse of animals, which is illustrated in the way he behaves towards dragons. Despite bending over backwards to possess a dragon pet and realizing the said pet would be happier in a sanctuary, Hagrid uses dragon meat to heal his wounds. This is (probably) not intentional from the author and only a reader analysis. Yet, this conflicting behavior can be understood as the reflection of the society in which caring deeply for non-human animals is not an abnormality, while using their body parts for minor benefits is the norm. If we consider dragons as representing both pets and farmed animals, Hagrid’s stance on dragons illustrates the cognitive dissonance of eating cows while loving dogs.
Objectivization and the use of dragons as weapons
Use of Dragons Imported for Entertainment
Although dragons are rare creatures, Harry Potter and his friends see several of them in the context of serving humans’ purposes. The 1994 re-installment of the Triwizard Tournament used dragons for the first task. The dragons were imported from Romania with the help of Charlie Weasley the Dragonologist. Charlie usually works in a dragon sanctuary, and the specific origin of the dragons is not disclosed. Thus, it can be presumed that the four dragon females were living in the Romanian sanctuary. The dragons are secretly held captive on Hogwarts ground before the opening of the first task.
Parallel with Bullfighting: Initiation Rite for the Hero
Each champion needs to capture an egg. This relies on the speed and cunning of the human to both trick the dragon and escape alive. It can be seen as a rite of passage since it is the first task of the tournament, the first step toward becoming a famous winner, and is supposed to occur at the age of 17. The student acquires a heroic dimension by facing the mythical creature in front of the eyes of all of their peers, professors, and rivals from other schools. The dragon is in a barren environment during this face-to-face encounter and is provoked. In bullfighting, a toreador “faces off” with an intelligent animal in an arena in front of an audience.
Use of Behavioral Traits and Maternal Motivations to Create a Performance
To succeed in the task, the champion needs to go against the very strong desire of the dragon to protect her eggs. Before the task, the Tournament Committee had replaced one of the eggs with a fake one, unbeknownst to the mother dragon. Not only does the Committee remove a real dragon egg from the warmth of their mother’s flames needed for survival, they also use the protective motivations of the mother to design a challenge for students. Are the real eggs kept in a hatchery and warmed artificially? Meanwhile, the audience is eager to see how humans trick each of the dragons, who are merely seen as obstacles in a hero’s quest. And sadly, these performances sometimes result in tragedy as one of the provoked mothers accidentally trods on her own real eggs in an effort to defend herself and her babies.
It seems as if the dragons are studied only to better understand how to trick them and make them obey humans. Deciphering their behavior is not a scientific discipline per se, and little is known of the profession of a Dragonologist. Though Charlie works at a dragon sanctuary, he also takes part in the relocation of the dragons from Romania to England, which suggests that he supports their exploitation. Similarly, within Muggle behavioral sciences, researchers often perform conflicting actions by tirelessly investigating the fascinating abilities and behaviors of individual animals while simultaneously acting against these same individuals’ needs and desires.
What if Harry Had Chosen Not to Take Part and Spoken Out for the Dragons’ Right to be Free?
The Triwizard Tournament demonstrates human supremacy within the wizarding world. No questioning of the use of the dragons arose publicly (not even from Hermione). However, an episode of The ChickPeeps podcast explored how Harry could have acted to condemn this abusive practice. Publicly refusing to take part would correspond to his Gryffindor heart, but it was suggested that wanting to succeed in the task to talk about dragons’ needs and rights might be wiser, since the champion would then have a higher notoriety and audience. On the contrary, speaking out and boycotting the task may have been more powerful, as it would show coherence and a strong will to end cruelty by choosing not to comply with the rules.
Suggesting cruelty-free alternatives to this task would have been a good way to show the wizarding community that other means of testing students’ abilities and creating a performance were possible. Harry could have set the dragon free, although it is not clear how that would have been possible. A freed dragon would pose a danger to humans, especially when separated from her offspring. Setting the dragon free may have resulted in injuries or deaths that Rita Skeeters would certainly have used to paint a horrible picture of dragons. Eradication of dragons may have followed as a result of her article in the popular Daily Prophet.
Dragons living in sanctuaries
Why Do They Live in Sanctuaries?
Little is known about the sanctuary where Charlie Weasley works. One can only ponder on its purpose and type of facility. Are the dragons living there misfits and injured individuals who could not survive in the wild? Are they housed in a gated and secured park to enjoy a life of rest? Is the sanctuary similar to a reserve that separates humans from animals, with Dragonologists acting as keepers or anti-poaching squads? More gloomily, are sanctuaries refuges for animals rescued from farms, or could they be places where dragons are prisoners and kept alive to extract their body products, similar to bear bile farms?
Six reserves or sanctuaries exist in the wizarding world. Reserves might function like African reserves, where animals are enclosed but protected from humans to prevent poaching.
Because dragons are highly territorial animals, and the nature of the relationship between dragons and humans is rather conflicting, their social structure has not extensively been documented.
Empathy from Charlie Weasley
Dragonology is one branch of Magizoology, just like primatology is a branch of ethology. Charlie Weasley may be investigating one kind of behavior in one or several species of dragon. The sanctuary offers the benefits of stable populations and known individuals, but also (hopefully) guarantees good welfare practices towards the dragons. Why did Charlie become fascinated with dragons in the first place? Ron’s brother (and his colleagues) shows readers an empathetic option for dragons by offering to help Norberta find a more suitable home.
Dragons as prisoners of an unjust system
Gringotts Bank as the Epitome of Capitalism
Within the capitalistic framework, goods and properties are accumulated. Animals are treated as goods and commodities. They are traded and used without remorse, as it is not considered that they have any intrinsic value. Every individual needs to produce something to be of value to society within this framework. At Gringotts, some wealthy people deemed it reasonable, and indeed useful, to chain a dragon and use her as a protector for their treasures. The sentience and intelligence of the dragon is denied as humans push her into the role of a monster. She is used as a commodity, and her welfare, let alone freedom, does not matter. Only preserving wealth matters. In this regard, Gringotts Bank is the epitome of capitalism.
Hermione’s Outlook on the Dragon: Empathy, Intersectionality, and a Feminist Approach
As Harry, Hermione, and Ron discover that a dragon is chained within the wizarding bank, only Hermione is immediately drawn to liberate the dragon. One might think that this is because she has the brightest and wisest mind of the trio, yet one may ponder on how much her empathy towards the dragon emerged as a response to feeling a sense of understanding. By being a woman in a patriarchal world and a Muggle-born in a school still stained with pure-blood supremacy, Hermione knows first-hand about systemic domination and oppression.
The Dragon as an Individual Freed of Her Suffering
When Hermione sets the dragon free, Ron and Harry finally realize that the dragon is, like Buckbeak, a sentient being. Free of her suffering, the dragon will roam wherever she wants. The trio recognize that she is an individual who has a will, desires, and needs. The humans only succeed in escaping the vaults because of the dragon, for which they are grateful.
Hope for the Liberation of All Magical Creatures?
Together, the humans and the dragon spectacularly leave Gringotts. When one reads between the lines, this cooperation presents the message that the fight against pure-blood supremacy also extends to justice for non-human animals. Since Hermione tackled the issue of elf rights and continued that fight by working for the Ministry for Magic, hope blooms for the liberation of all sentient magical creatures.
Dragons are subject to the systemic oppression of speciesism. They are used and abused without a second thought by the majority of the wizarding community simply because they are not humans. They can be seen as a symbol of animal liberation in the context of the books because one of them who is oppressed is eventually set free.
Dragon body parts are taken without consent and their use is ubiquitous at Hogwarts, but dragons cannot legally be kept as pets. During the Triwizard Tournament, participants need to deceive mother dragons to succeed, without any question as to the fate or welfare of the dragons and their babies. Charlie Weasley is here to remind us that dragons sometimes live in sanctuaries, but little is known about them.
Overall, dragons are held captive in an unjust system. The courageous and ethical action of the trio to set the Ukranian Ironbelly dragon free gives us some hope of the possibility of liberating more dragons. As Harry, Ron, and Hermione peacefully cooperate with the dragon, a new future of positive relationships between humans and other sentient species emerges.
Written by Laure Olivier
- The ChickPeeps Episode 9 ¾ (part 1 and 2), January 2018. Animal rights in the wizarding world. Episode about dragons in the Triwizard tournament.
- Dowsett, E., Semmler, C., Bray, H., Ankeny, R. A., & Chur-Hansen, A. (2018). Neutralising the meat paradox: Cognitive dissonance, gender, and eating animals. Appetite, 123, 280-288.
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