Mina de Malfois (mina_de_malfois) wrote,
Mina de Malfois

Spoilerific. Meta.

[Again: if you don't want to be spoiled for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, don't scroll down or click the lj-cut or anything. Mina's essay contains, along with a lot of fake-facts, some trufax spoilers.

This is a public post; please do feel welcome to link to it. It's meant to be an amusing and tongue-in-cheek look at fanon, and is not intended to bash anyone.]

Warning: My betas have told me that this essay contains possible spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I don’t even see how that’s possible, unless this J.K. Rowling person has been ripping off The Tortured Tutor, but just in case you’d better not click if you don’t want to be spoiled.

Title: The Dark Schoolmaster: Chavalrous or Chivalrous? A Prince’s Mirror of Aspiration.

Fandom: The Tortured Tutor series

Acknowledgments: I am, as always, deeply indebted to the Clives for their input and feedback, and for their research skills. This couldn’t have been written without them. A handful of them deserve writing credits, really, although they seem reluctant to claim credit. They’re sweetly modest that way.

Second warning: This essay contains possible spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Don’t scroll down if you don’t want to be spoiled.














Dedication: For my friend Mrs.Sev., who is understandably distraught, and for those of you who share her distress, even if only to a lesser extent. I don’t usually do meta, but I know you need something to smile at, so consider this my tribute.

The Dark Schoolmaster: Chavalrous or Chivalrous?

The Dark Schoolmaster is, his friends and detractors agree, an ambiguous character. After all, he himself is a hybrid, but he shares many of the tastes of the pur laine Sages. When we first see him at home, the contrast between the squalid poverty of the public rooms and the luxury of his boudoir is striking. And, of course, he is a masterful virgin, an expert in the ars amor even though technically innocent of real, soulbonded satisfaction. He stands at many thresholds, defying easy categorization. Obviously one framework for contemplating the magnificent contradictions embodied in this man is that of chivalry and courtly love. Is he, as superficial readers might assume based on his poverty and lank hair, a chav? Or is he an embodiment of the chivalric ideal?

Common conception links chivalry with the moneyed, but this association followed from the ‘over-elaboration of chivalry into costly fantasies (playing Acadia, paseos de honor, etc)’1 and not from the lofty literary ideals which are the more suitable guide to the Dark Schoolmaster’s personality. Scaglione2 describes the essence of chivalry as ‘the need for self-sacrifice, the devotion to a distant ideal, and the satisfaction in chastity and frustration,’ and devotees of The Tortured Tutor series will recognize that description. The Dark Schoolmaster’s devotion to his unobtainable beloved--foolish girl!--is legendary, and now, alas, so is his final act of self-sacrifice.

In the Sage Society of The Tortured Tutor series, the nominal ‘elite’ are the pur laine Sages, and of course our Byronic hero cannot be counted amongst them. His ancestry casts a wide net, and so many of his attributes--his unerring taste in food and wine; his instinctive grasp of the intricacies of any number of languages; his cool analytical logic and prodigious feats of memory; his innate musicality--are reflective of his mixed Italianate, Russian, French and Romany heritage. As a hybrid Sage with a complex ancestry, he is barred from easy access to his deserved place in the top ranks of society, but this injustice only adds to his scornful pride. Perhaps it is his haughty demeanor and supreme self-confidence in his countless abilities that make him the envy of other men, and the secret desire of women.

The Dark Schoolmaster is noted for his apathy towards these women. He appears not just totally self-controlled but indifferent towards the lady Sages, and most fans and readers agree he is a virgin in spirit if not in the flesh. Oh, there may have been any number of fortunate and willing offerings to assuage his powerful physicality, but this is surely the author’s way of pointing us towards the parallel use of peasants by knights, and is a clue that chivalry is the key to the series. It doesn’t undermine the essential purity of his devotion to his one true love.

And that devotion is essentially courtly. We now know the name of the woman he has loved for his entire life. His devoted fans knew it long before this point, because they saw the clues the rest of us missed. And this steadfast but unrequited love follows the chivalric conception of courtly love. To quote at length from Barbara Tuchman:

Courtly love was understood by its contemporaries to be love for its own sake, romantic love, true love, physical love, unassociated with property or family and consequently focused on another man's wife, since only such an illicit liaison could have no other aim but love alone. ...The fact that courtly love idealized guilty love added one more complication to the maze through which medieval people threaded their lives.3

The Dark Schoolmaster's life was shaped by unrequited love. His worst memory is of being goaded by circumstance into betraying that love with careless words. He indirectly upbraids himself for a life steeped in rather sad memories, even while his devoted readers sob their assurance that these sad memories are the source of his strength. The readers are right, as they so often are. His love is what has led him to strive for continual improvement of his natural abilities.

As its justification, courtly love was considered to ennoble a man, to improve him in every way. It would make him concerned to show an example of goodness, to do his utmost to preserve honor, never letting dishonor touch himself or the lady he loved. On a lower scale, it would lead him to keep his teeth and nails clean, his clothes rich and well groomed, his conversation witty and amusing, his manners courteous to all, curbing arrogance and coarseness, never brawling in a lady's presence. Above all, it would make him more valiant, more preux; that was the basic premise.4

Disloyal readers will argue that the Dark Schoolmaster is not, in the The Tortured Tutor series, shown to be particularly well groomed or clean. Admittedly his skankiness worsened following his lady’s death, but he disdained middle-class standards of tidiness early on. Most likely he took his inspiration from Templar Knights, who used to wear sheepskin breeches in all weather and never bathed or changed them. His outer disorder is a contrast, and probably a necessary balance, to the perfect control and order he has established over himself in the realms of mind and soul.

The Dark Schoolmaster’s self-control is notorious. Only now have his worshipful readers been offered a glance at his private indulgence of his romantic side. The wooden trunk in his room, symbolic of treasure and of secrets, has been flung open in the latest installment of The Tortured Tutor. His devotees have been allowed to learn that is was his practice, each evening, to write love letters to his lost lady, wringing tortured drops of emotion from his overburdened soul. More touchingly still, he wrote his unsent love letters with a punishment quill, allowing the words, already etched in his soul, to etch themselves in his flesh. His heart’s blood poured freely from his hand while his tears spilled. What potent potion could be brewed from such elements! Certainly it has enchanted and enslaved his readers, who mourn him sincerely. May he be resurrected in their hearts and in their fanfiction.


1. LH Nelson, The Sundering of Society. (http://www.vlib.us/medieval/lectures/sundering_society.html)

2. Aldo Scaglione, Knights at Court: Courtliness, Chivalry, & Courtesy from Ottonian Germany to the Italian Renaissance. University of California Press, 1992.

3. Barbara Tuchman, A Distant Mirror. Ballantine Books, 1987 (reissue).

4. Ibid.
Tags: meta
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