“Ginny Weasley [...] was distraught, but Harry felt that Fred and George were going the wrong way about cheering her up. They were taking turns covering themselves with fur or boils and jumping out at her from behind statues” (Chamber of Secrets 185).
At the center of J.K. Rowling's phenomenally popular Harry Potter series is a great hero — Harry, a boy wizard who must defeat a powerful dark lord who has had it in for him since his birth, and at the same time, deal with the normal stresses of growing up. But on the outskirts of the story's serious central plot are important supporting characters who contribute lighter moments of friendship, support and comic relief.
Two of these characters are the twins Fred and George Weasley, the mischevious older brothers of Harry's best friend, Ron. The Weasley twins serve as trickster figures in the Harry Potter novels. While they do not possess every characteristic of the archetypal trickster established by ancient myth, the Weasley twins play a role in the Harry Potter stories similar to the roles of tricksters in myths. Like the Greek Prometheus who defies Zeus to bring fire to humans, the twins use their tricks and inventions to help their fellow students defy oppressive authorities.
Unlike most ancient tricksters, the Weasley twins are not ambivalent characters. Rowling portrays the twins as positive characters, and although they may frequently get into trouble, they are still very hard to dislike. However, there are four characteristics that the twins do share with typical ancient tricksters: 1) they love to pull pranks for pleasure, 2) these pranks often benefit others, 3) through their pranks, they defy authority, and 4) they live on the fringe of two worlds.
In their book Introduction to Mythology, Eva M. Thury and Margaret K. Devinney discuss the Native American trickster figure Raven. They define Raven as a “raucous trickster who pulls outrageous pranks to get what he wants. At the same time, he is also a creator and provider who gives humans what they need” (288). Similarly, throughout the course of the Harry Potter series, the Weasley twins pull a multitude of pranks. Some of them are pointless jokes, but most of them benefit others.
When Fred and George Weasley are first introduced in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone they are preparing to board a train for Hogwarts School for Witchcraft and Wizardry, their boarding school. As their mother kisses them goodbye, Fred and George try to make her feel guilty for mixing them up when she really hasn't. From the platform of the train, they wave to their younger sister, Ginny, who is still too young for school, and yell, “We'll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat” (Sorcerer's Stone 97).
This amusing first glance at the characters sets the stage for the antics that are to come. In the first book of the series, Fred and George appear to be little more than silly troublemakers, but as the stories progress, the twins begin to use their tricks for higher purposes. As Thury and Devinney explain, “Trickster figures often start their careers as simple figures who perform tricks to satisfy their own appetites. However, the trickster becomes a figure whose tricks are directed toward the needs of others.” (291).
In the beginning of the second book, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, the twins and their brother, Ron, fly in a bewitched car to rescue Harry from his cruel “Muggle” (human) aunt and uncle. Flying a car in a Muggle neighborhood is against wizard law, because the existence of magic is a secret kept from Muggles, and if Muggles see magic being used, there can be disastrous consequences. Fred and George ignore this rule, because they believe it is worth the risk to get Harry away from his awful relatives. In the course of the escape, Fred and George must pick locks to rescue all of Harry's belongings. Harry is amazed that they know how to do this because in ordinary settings, wizards would simply use magic to unlock locks. Fred tells Harry, “A lot of wizards think it's a waste of time, knowing this sort of Muggle trick, but we feel they're skills worth learning, even if they are a bit slow” (Chamber of Secrets 26). The twins use their expertise to help Harry when few other wizards would be willing to or could.
After rescuing Harry and bringing him home with them, Fred and George must face an angry earful from their mother. This is a scene that appears frequently throughout the series — Mrs. Weasley laments over the twins' disregard for rules, and she repeats a hopeless request for them to stop getting into trouble. Early on, the twins are established as hopeless causes who will never achieve the success of their older brothers, Charlie, Bill and Percy, who were favorites at Hogwarts and became “prefects” (student leaders). In contrast, Fred and George have no goals to become authority figures [George asks, “What do we want to be prefects for? It'd take all the fun out of life” (Prisoner of Azkaban 62)]. Instead, the twins see most authority figures in the series as misguided idiots who are just asking to be defied.
The Weasley twins can be compared to Prometheus, who ignores the law of Zeus. Thury and Devinney claim that Prometheus“is not just a builder of civilization who gave humans fire; he is the revolutionary who rebels against the despot and stirs up the existing order” (359). Fred and George stir up the order at Hogwarts by inventing Skiving Snackboxes. These are enchanted sweets that give Hogwarts students temporary illnesses, allowing them to skip classes. Included in the twins' line of Snackboxes are Puking Pastilles, Nosebleed Nougats, Fainting Fancies and Fever Fudge. As George explains to Harry:
“They're double-ended, color coded chews. If you eat the orange half of the Puking Pastilles, you throw up. Moment you've been rushed out of the lesson for the hospital wing, you swallow the purple half which restores you to full fitness, enabling you to pursue the leisure activity of your own choosing during an hour that would otherwise have been devoted to unprofitable boredom” (Order of the Phoenix 104).
Later, after opening a joke shop in Diagon Alley, the twins develop Daydream Charms. The description on the package reads, “One simple incantation and you will enter a top-quality, highly realistic, thirty-minute daydream, easy to fit into the average school lesson and virtually undetectable. Side effects include vacant expression and minor drooling” (Half-Blood Prince 117). Through Skiving Snackboxes and Daydream Charms, Fred and George offer Hogwarts students a way to defy their teachers with little risk of getting caught.
While the Snackboxes and Daydream Charms offer relatively harmless and lighthearted opportunities to defy authority, Fred and George themselves become involved in more serious tricks to defy an oppressive authority at Hogwarts. In Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, an evil Ministry of Magic official, Dolores Umbridge, supplants the Headmaster of Hogwarts, Albus Dumbledore, and begins ruling the school in cruel and unusual ways. When Umbridge confiscates their broomsticks and bans Fred and George from playing the beloved wizard sport, Quidditch, they decide they can't take it anymore. (Fred and George most appropriately both hold the position of “beater.” Their purpose is to send the “bludger”, a fast, dangerous ball, smashing into opposing players). The twins decide that sneaky tactics to defy authority are no longer enough, and they don't care if they are eventually expelled. First, they set off an entire box of enchanted fireworks to create a diversion so that Harry can break into Umbridge's office (Order of the Phoenix 632). Then, they transform a school corridor into a swamp, declaring that they've “outgrown full-time education,” and they fly away to open a joke shop never to finish school (Order of the Phoenix 674).
Like the trickster in ancient myth who “is part of society, but functions at its outer limits” (Thury and Devinney 343), Fred and George Weasley (in the first five books) are trapped between two worlds — the world of Hogwarts and what they call the “real world” (Order of the Phoenix 674). Fred and George are never as academically successful as their siblings. They both passed only three of their Ordinary Wizarding Level exams (given in the fifth year at Hogwarts), while their older brother, Percy, passed 12 of them. But as they explain to Ron, they expect their futures to “lie outside the world of academic achievements” (Order of the Phoenix 227).
“We seriously debated whether we were going to bother coming back for our seventh year [...] but we didn't think Mum could take us leaving school early. [...] We're not going to waste our last year here, though. We're going to use it to do a bit of market research, find out exactly what the average Hogwarts student requires from his joke shop, carefully evaluate the results of our research, and then produce the products to fit the demand” (Order of the Phoenix 227).
The tricksters Fred and George want to make a living by mass producing their tricks, and they are no longer interested in the world of academia. That is why at the end of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, it is no longer worth it to them to put up with oppressive school administrators. They have nothing to lose by defying authority, leaving a school and performing the task that most tricksters are charged with doing — bridging the gap between the two worlds they live in. While they remove themselves from the world of Hogwarts and open a booming business in Diagon Alley, the twins still contribute to it through their products targeted for students.
One of the series' last images of Fred and George is of them proudly running their joke shop, selling a product known as U-No-Poo, “the constipation sensation that's gripping the nation” (116). With one more installment yet to come in the Harry Potter series, one can only imagine what these tricksters will come up with next.