Every couple has that one topic they cannot discuss. I have a friend who can’t talk about politics with her husband. Another who can’t talk about guns with his wife. My husband and I can’t talk about House Elves.


It sounds like a joke, and I really, really wish it were, but if S.P.E.W. comes up, we have to stop the conversation before one of us (I) gets reasonably (irrationally) angry. Maybe it’s because I want to think I’m a  good person, but I struggle to understand how someone could not support The Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.

You know, if it were real.


The background: The world of Harry Potter contains creatures called “House-elves,” shown above. A house-elf lives in a wizard household and does the bidding of the wizard family – cooking, cleaning, anything it is asked. You’ll notice that our house elf-friend above is wearing a pillow-case. This is because if a House-Elf is presented with clothes, it has been “freed,” a mark of shame for their kind. House-elves do not make any wages and are generally appalled at the thought. Dobby, above, thinks differently. Dobby frequently has to punish himself for not living up to his masters’ wishes – no big deal. Just ironing his hands, banging his head against lamps. The usual. He longs for his freedom, which he eventually attains, and comes to work for a meager wage (his insistence – he was offered more, but freedom isn’t easy to accept for those who have never experienced it).

One of the main characters, Hermione, is appalled by the slavery of another species by wizards. She decides to create S.P.E.W. to try and bring awareness to the plight of the elves, but finds little support among her wizard peers, who generally tell her the same thing: They like it. They don’t want to be free.

So begins the debate: Do house-elves like slavery because it is all they know? Have they been brain-washed into submission? Should freedom be forced upon them? Or are they actually happy? Should they be allowed to remain enslaved, because slavery makes them happy? And if they’re happy, they aren’t really slaves, right?

If I were a wizard, I guarantee you I would have bought a S.P.E.W badge and participated in a sponsored cleaning of the Gryffindor Common Room. I’d support helping them slowly adjust to freedom. It’d be hard, but no race should be enslaved. My husband, meanwhile, would not have bought a badge. He tends to feel for Winky, a house-elf who was freed and became an alcoholic from shame. He can’t imagine forcing freedom on anyone if it would result in that. We have yet to find a middle-ground that will make us both happy.

The craziest part of this is that every time the topic has come up with friends, it has started a debate. A coworker of mine found that he and his wife had a similar debate. A couple friend of ours made fun of us, and then realized they were getting annoyed with each other for the same reasons as us.

In the end, that’s the power of literature. J.K. Rowling created imaginary creatures that reminded us of struggles in humanity.

What do you think? Is this the most ridiculous argument you’ve ever heard? Have you read Harry Potter? Would you buy a badge? What about your significant other?