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Harry Potter: Why The Films Changed Peter Pettigrew’s Death

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 changes Peter Pettigrew’s death to make it less scary — but loses part of the story in the process.

Peter Pettigrew’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 was different from the book; here’s why the seventh film changed the scene from J.K. Rowling’s novel. Deathly Hallow, Part 1 covers roughly two-thirds of the material in the final novel, beginning with Harry’s exit from Privet Drive and ending with the death of Dobby the house-elf following a close escape from captivity in Malfoy Manor. Shortly before Dobby’s demise, however, another important character exited the story permanently: Peter Pettigrew, aka Wormtail.

In both book and film, the lead-up to Pettigrew’s death is the same: Harry, Ron, and a few other allies were trapped in the Malfoy’s cellar when Harry decides to use the remaining shard of a magical mirror (given to Harry by his late godfather, Sirius Black) to call for help. The help came in the form of Dobby, who helped the gang form a plan to escape the cellar and save Hermione, who was being tortured by Bellatrix Lestrange.

The differences between book and film come after Dobby makes a racket that causes Lestrange to send Pettigrew down to the cellar to check on the captives. In the film, Pettigrew’s death is largely played for comic relief as Pettigrew enters the cellar and is hit with a spell by Dobby from the back, muttering a soft “ow” as he falls face-first. It almost makes it ambiguous as to whether or not Pettigrew dies, except that the character never appears in the movies following the fall. In the book, Pettigrew goes to choke Harry but hesitates — which the enchanted hand (given to him by Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) — interprets as weakness. The enchanted hand then turned on Pettigrew and strangled him to death. Pettigrew’s book death was deemed too frightening for younger film-goers, leading to the version seen in the seventh Harry Potter film.

While the movie producers may have been trying to protect younger viewers, they did a disservice to the story arc for Harry and Wormtail. The moment was set up in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, when Harry chose to stop Sirius Black from killing Pettigrew and allow him to live. This also allowed Pettigrew the opportunity to escape and return to Voldemort. In the book Deathly Hallows, Harry reminded Pettigrew of the life debt that he owed to Harry, causing the hesitation. The magical hand, having been created by Voldemort, may have even recognized that having a servant with a life debt to Voldemort’s worst enemy was dangerous, and so it eliminated the threat — ironically saving Harry’s life in the process.

Even aside from the violence of this death that might frighten young viewers, the filmmakers may have felt they were asking too much of audiences to remember the mercy Harry showed to Pettigrew in the third film. They may also have been afraid of alienating those audience members who hadn’t read the books, even though the movies also showed Harry’s mercy to Pettigrew. By altering Pettigrew’s death in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1, the filmmakers minimized J.K. Rowling’s attention to detail in her writing shown by this turn of events and also lost an opportunity to show how Harry’s ability to do the right thing paid off later in life.

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