|The domovoi usually appear as a living (or deceased) Master, |
or occasionally as the family dog or cat.
Granted, I’m not very familiar with English household spirits. In my mind, the closest I come to Rowling’s elves are the domovoi - the home-guardian/poltergeist/servant/master who wreaks havoc when his will is thwarted, punishes violently the lazy housewife, the drunken husband, the neglectful servant, drives off animals he considers ugly, and of course, helps out with chores when he considers it worth his while. He is decidedly Slavic though, and I knew I wouldn’t find him in Rowling’s England, so I hunted down the less terrifying English equivalent: the Brownie. Like Rowling’s elves, Brownies leave when offered clothes (the domovoi stomps around in peasant garb and boots, or else skulks through the yard as a dog or cat..rumors have him even becoming a bouncing sack of grain, but I’ve no experience with such playful domovoi.) Brownies are tame, and decidedly English in their Faerie ways, but they have dignity. They are never the slaves of the family they serve, and are not so beaten as to miss the chance to harangue an unpleasant home-owner or defend their strange Faerie pride. It’s a dignity Rowling denies Dobby and his race, and the idea that a being exists not merely to serve, but to be enslaved is horrific. Then to use such a being comically..it leaves a sour taste in me that all Harry’s kindness to Dobby can’t wash out. I know Rowling does try to work her way through this problem as the series continues, but at her best she seems to manage a sort of Gone with the Wind attitude: happy slaves, well-meaning but ignorant abolitionists, loving masters, and no concept that a soul could be designed for more.
But Jenna loves Dobby, I know, and so do many fans of the series. Dobby is loveable (though honestly I had trouble finding him loveable until Seth drew Adorable Dobby for this post). He’s earnest if nothing else, and sort of sweet, but why the life-time of slavery for all house-elves? And why is that not troubling anyone (SPOILER/ ‘well meaning but ignorant abolitionist’ aside)? The creation of the house-elves as they are - a downtrodden race with no self-respect and the dismissal of even the tiniest bit of self-worth as being akin to insanity - is the product of a sort of negligent relativism on the part of the author: negligent because she should have been more aware of how her house-elves would reflect on back on her own views and character, which seems to be a sort of contentment with the status quo enslavement of creatures that very obviously have personhood; and relativistic because such an order of creatures - even in an entirely imaginary world - indicates a complete lack of moral order within that world. It’s one of reason why I’m much happier with my Domovoi; demonic tricks, self-serving household management, and all. He’s fully Faerie - in the Slavic sense - dark, dangerous, and too, too intimate; house-elves are merely abused to various degrees, they’re depressing to read about and disturbing to consider.