Saint or Sinner? - All Things Characterisation - "A Sirius Matter"

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Title: Saint or Sinner? - All Things Characterisation - "A Sirius Matter"
Creator: JK Ashavah
Date(s): July 21, 2001
Medium: online
Fandom: Harry Potter
External Links: Saint or Sinner? Characterisation Issues "A Sirius Matter"
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Saint or Sinner? - All Things Characterisation - "A Sirius Matter" is an essay posted to "S.P.I.W." by JK Ashavah in July 2001.

"S.P.I.W. (The Society for the Promotion of Issue Welfare: Under-represented issues in Harry Potter Fanfiction)" was the name of the author's regular column at Another essay in the column was Saint or Sinner - All Things Characterisation - "The White Bumblebee" Albus Dumbledore/

Some Topics

  • characterisation techniques


Sirius Black's name, like that of many others in the Harry Potter universe (eg. Remus Lupin [Remus - Roman hero raised by wolves; Lupin - bears close resemblance to the Latin and French words for wolf]), is an example of nominative determinism. In other words, it's a very accurate description of him. If you take both first definitions, it is a great clue to certain aspects of his character. His name indicates that maybe he has something to do with a black hound. At the end of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, we learn that his Animagus form is a bear sized black dog.

If you take both the second meanings, he is exceptionally bright, but has been disgraced or condemned. That is also true. His name is a very useful clue to his character, but it doesn't stop there. It is also an oxymoron, a contradictory statement. If you take the third meaning of his first name, he is exceptionally bright and shining, however, when you examine his last name, you see that he is supposed to be evil and murderous. Most members of the wizarding world who knew him would agree with both these definitions.

How, when the man's name in itself is both a description of his personality and a contradictory statement, can we portray him accurately as a major character in fanfiction without first closely examining him? It is hard, and I offer my heartiest congratulations to anyone who has done it. I don't think I could.

Sirius is a remarkably complex character, and we don't actually have a lot of information about him, so we have very little to help us with our characterisation of him. Those scenes that are in the current four books that have him in them are of very little use to writers of fanfiction about the young Sirius, as between the man that is and the boy that was there are twelve years in Azkaban which left him unrecognisable. What changes did those years make to his personality?

As his personality has changed, we no longer can easily understand why he told Snape how to get past the Whomping Willow or Hagrid that he would no longer need his precious motorbike. He must have had reasons to do these things, but what were they? We must make our own decisions, based on the evidence we are given.

What does he look like? We have been told very little about his appearance. It is mentioned in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire that he is tall and has black hair. The former book also states that the young Sirius' face was handsome and full. That is another change that has been made by Azkaban. The Sirius of the books doesn't eat properly because he is on the run, and has a haunted look in his eyes.

That is all we know about his eyes. We aren't told what colour they are. The only real clue we have is that in his Animagus form he has pale eyes. As a person, are his eyes bright blue? Pale grey? Puppy dog brown? Some other colour? From what we have, that choice is to be made by each individual fan depending on how they view him.

Sirius has seen terrible things and was subject to the powers of the Dementors for twelve years. This has meant that we have lost a lot of what he was, which is now only hinted at. It also makes it difficult for us to piece together a lot of information about what motivated him to act the way he did when he was young. To do this, and also to work out how he may have behaved, we need to go over all the clues and facts we have been given in the books.

I think the easiest way to do this is to decide which part of his life the information we have is about and separate it into three phases - the prankster, the person and the prisoner.