Essay: Not Just Fredandgeorge – The Twins’ Differences
by John Kearns, October 2009
Even though I’ve read the Harry Potter series many times over, I have always more or less lumped Fred and George together in my mind as two parts of a single character. Whenever I see “Fred and George,” my mind interprets it as “FredandGeorge;” whenever I see the name of just one of the duo, I treat it as “FredorGeorge,” not really noticing any differences between them.
Nor am I the only one who feels this way. Even their own mother, when she encounters a boggart and sees her family members dead one at a time, only sees the twins together. Even Harry gets his own boggart, but as with everything else, the twins are a package deal.
This viewpoint seems to even be true for J.K. Rowling herself. After all, once Fred is killed, she has said in interviews that she sees George as marrying Angelina Johnson – the girl Fred took to the Yule Ball. Could they really be that interchangeable?
Well, a closer inspection reveals a slightly different story.
Consider the following (admittedly unscientific) statistics that I compiled looking through the books:
- When the twins are telling jokes, Fred initiates the goofiness roughly 75% of the time.
- When the twins take action (such as buying butterbeers for the D.A., making a wager with Bagman, or bargaining with Mundungus Fletcher), Fred is the instigator about 85% of the time.
- When the twins are selling merchandise from Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes, Fred is virtually always the one hawking their wares to the crowd.
Of course, these statistics could easily be explained by the fact that Fred is the first twin to pop into Rowling’s head when she’s writing the duo – after all, not once in hundreds of references are the pair ever described as “George and Fred.” Perhaps they simply pop into Rowling’s head in the same order, and thus Fred tends to always go first?
As you’ve probably guessed, that’s not quite true.
Harry of course first meets Fred and George at King’s Cross Station, where he encounters the Weasleys as they’re getting onto Platform 9¾. But the first twin he talks to is not, in fact, the first twin:
“Want a hand?” It was one of the red-haired twins he’d followed through the barrier.
“Yes, please,” Harry panted.
“Oy, Fred! C’mere and help!”
With the twins’ help, Harry’s trunk was at last tucked away in a corner of the compartment. (PS6)
This is a rare occurrence – the twins are doing something that doesn’t involve some type of joke! But much the way Fred’s introduction (“Only joking, I am Fred”) gave us a quick insight into his personality, George’s introduction here lends insight into what he’s like as well.
Again it’s possible that Rowling wrote things this way inadvertently, of course; after all, the first time we saw the twins, Fred spoke first, so it makes sense that the twins’ second appearance is initiated by George, right? For any given moment, this is certainly a possibility. But over the thousands of the pages of the books, a pattern emerges that I think is too pronounced to be a coincidence. A few more stats:
- When a twin is making fun of a family member, it’s Fred 85% of the time.
- But when a twin is sympathizing with family or helping them out, 80% of the time, it’s George.
- When one of the twins steps a bit over the line – trying to get their younger brother to make an Unbreakable Vow, or feeding a firework to a salamander, or chucking his beater’s club at Marcus Flint – it’s Fred just about every time.
- And while Fred gives Harry plenty of laughs, when Harry needs a hand or doesn’t know what’s going on, George is the twin to step up and help him out 72% of the time.
The picture is starting to become a little clearer. So let’s look at the twins (for a change) one at a time.
Fred Weasley: The Driver
”Where’s the fun without a bit of risk?” – Fred Weasley, GF12
The fact that the twins are consistently referred to as “Fred and George” and not the other way round actually says a fair amount about Fred’s character. It’s fair to guess he was probably the first one born, as he seems to have been first in most other things since. Fred is the twin who jumps across the Age Line first when entering the Triwizard Tournament; he’s the first member of the D.A. to grab Hermione’s parchment and sign his name without hesitation; and he’s the first to jump up and volunteer for a role in the final battle against Voldemort. George may never be far behind, but it’s rare that Fred is behind George at all.
When the twins fly Arthur’s Ford Anglia to get Harry from Privet Drive, Fred is of course the one in the driver’s seat – which I think is an appropriate metaphor for his role as a twin as well. He’s almost always the one pushing forward, and while George usually jumps right in with him, he does sometimes have to rein Fred in a bit, for example telling Fred while they write Ludo Bagman that they’ve “got to be careful,” and warning him when they “could end up in serious trouble for that.”
Fred also has an impulsiveness about him that sometimes leads to problems – in fact, he’s rather like Harry and Ron in that regard:
…said Mrs. Weasley, “Floo powder’s a lot quicker, dear, but goodness me, if you’ve never used it before –“
“He’ll be all right, Mum,” said Fred. “Harry, watch us first.” (CS4)
You may recall that the Harry didn’t exactly end up “all right” the way Fred expected.
We’ve learned from Ron that this impulsiveness of Fred’s isn’t exactly recent; after all, while they were growing up, Fred was the one who turned Ron’s toy into a spider, gave him an Acid Pop that burned a hole in his tongue, tried to get his younger brother to make an Unbreakable Vow, and warned Ron that the Sorting ceremony involved wrestling a troll. George tends to be conspicuously absent in these stories, and today Fred’s still the one playing most of the jokes – though his primary target seems to have shifted, as Percy now needs to check to be sure the first twin isn’t shutting him in a pyramid or bewitching his badge to read “Pinhead.”
Of course, there’s more to Fred’s character than a simple inability to take things seriously. It’s clear he cares very much about Harry, for example, and considers him a good friend – little hints of this, like Fred’s winking at Harry as he makes his way out of the common room towards the Yule Ball, are scattered throughout the books.
And perhaps it’s partially as a result of his impulsiveness, but Fred also seems to be the twin who is most stunned when something catastrophic really does happen:
“Harry!” said Fred, who looked extremely white underneath, the mud. “How’re you feeling?”
“What happened?” he said, sitting up so suddenly they all gasped.
“You fell off,” said Fred. “Must’ve been — what — fifty feet?”
Harry put his face to his knees, his hands gripping his hair. Fred grabbed his shoulder and shook it roughly.
“C’mon, Harry, you’ve never missed the Snitch before.” (PA9)
Likewise, when Ron is poisoned, Fred is the sibling who expresses the most concern – and when Ron can’t manage to save a goal in a Quidditch match, Fred realizes that saying anything to Ron about it would be going too far, saying he hasn’t “got the heart.”
So while Fred can come across as brash, brazen, and overly exuberant, these alone don’t provide the full reason Harry enjoys his company. He’s a true friend, and deep down very loyal and caring. In fact in this regard I think he has far more in common with Harry – and Ron – than either of them fully realize.
Though mostly he’s just a whole lot of fun.
”Excellent, are we carrying on?” said Fred Weasley brightly. (PA13)
Dumbledore cleared his throat…. “It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tour¬nament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.”
“You’re JOKING!” said Fred Weasley loudly. (GF12)
Chest heaving with emotion, Wood turned to Harry.
”It’ll be down to you, Harry, to show them that a Seeker has to have something more than a rich father. Get to that Snitch before Malfoy or die trying, Harry, because we’ve got to win today, we’ve got to.”
“So no pressure, Harry,” said Fred, winking at him. (CS10)
“… said Percy sanctimoniously, “I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days.”
“Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?” said Fred.
“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy, going very red in the face. “It was nothing personal!”
“It was,” Fred whispered to Harry as they got up from the table. “We sent it.” (GF5)
George Weasley: The Navigator
While Fred is flying the Ford Anglia towards the Burrow, George is of course sitting in the passenger seat, guiding the way. And just as it works with Fred, this metaphor is a good description of George’s role, too. He’s definitely the more reserved of the two, and does a good deal of the thinking for the duo – after all, he’s the one reining in Fred when they’re discussing Ludo Bagman, and when Hermione asks whether they’ve ever truly cared about getting into trouble, George is quick to point out that “[of] course we have…. Never been expelled, have we?”
And just as Fred has a lot in common with Harry and Ron, I think George has quite a bit in common with Hermione. I’ve said elsewhere that Harry and Ron are lucky to have Hermione, in that she helps them avoid over-the-top stupidity (like flying a car to Hogwarts). Fred is lucky, in much the same way, to have George – the fact that the twins haven’t been expelled is probably largely thanks to him.
Of course it’s worth remembering that the person George is reining in is Fred Weasley – it’s not like that’s saying George is an angel himself. He’s still a Weasley twin, and he still goes along with nearly everything Fred starts. And for that matter, it’s not like he’s not goofing around himself – he may only instigate 25% of the twins’ jokes, but he joins in on most of the others. And after all, a quarter of the twins’ jokes is still a whole lot of jokes.
Where I think George really differentiates himself from his twin, though, is in his thoughtfulness. Look at the difference between the twins’ first reaction to hearing they’re required to buy all of Lockhart’s books:
Fred, who had finished his own list, peered over at Harry’s.
“You’ve been told to get all Lockhart’s books, too!” he said. “The new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher must be a fan – bet it’s a witch.”
At this point, Fred caught his mother’s eye and quickly busied himself with the marmalade.
“That lot won’t come cheap,” said George, with a quick look at his parents. “Lockhart’s books are really expensive….” (CS4)
George is the twin who spots Harry’s quizzical looks and explains to him about gnomes; who jumps in to compliment Oliver Wood after Oliver has complimented everyone else on the team; and who refuses – and then thanks Harry for – the Triwizard winnings. And while Fred jumps in with George, just as George joins Fred’s jokes, George is the generally the one who thinks to say these things in the first place.
It’s also clear that family is important to George, more so than Fred. He forces Percy to sit with his brothers on Christmas because it’s “a time for family;” he gets excited when he notices his father’s home from work (“Dad’s home!”); and he notices when Ron and Bill aren’t back yet from their flying encounter with the Death Eaters. And it’s probably as a result of this that he gets upset when he and his brother are passed over:
Mrs. Weasley let out a shriek just like Hermione’s.
”I don’t believe it! I don’t believe it! Oh, Ron, how wonderful! A prefect! That’s everyone in the family!”
“What are Fred and I, next-door neighbours?” said George indignantly, as his mother pushed him aside and flung her arms around her youngest son. (OP9)
There are admittedly fewer “George moments” in the books than there are for Fred; George just seems to spend a little bit more of his time in the background (though again, compared to Fred, that’s not saying a lot). But he’s a great friend, and lots of fun to be with – and really helps complete and round out the Weasley twins.
Mrs. Weasley… was sporting a brand-new midnight blue witch’s hat glittering with what looked like tiny starlike diamonds, and a spectacular golden necklace.
“Fred and George gave them to me! Aren’t they beautiful?”
“Well, we find we appreciate you more and more, Mum, now we’re washing our own socks,” said George. (HBP16)
”What’s going on?” said Wood as the Gryffindor team huddled together, while Slytherins in the crowd jeered. “We’re being flattened. Fred, George, where were you when that Bludger stopped Angelina scoring?”
“We were twenty feet above her, stopping the other Bludger from murdering Harry, Oliver,” said George angrily. “Someone’s fixed it – it won’t leave Harry alone. It hasn’t gone for anyone else all game.”
“If we stop now, we’ll have to forfeit the match!” said Harry. “And we’re not losing to Slytherin just because of a crazy Bludger! Come on, Oliver, tell them to leave me alone!”
“This is all your fault,” George said angrily to Wood. “’Get the Snitch or die trying,’ what a stupid thing to tell him.” (CS10)
“Right you are, Verity, I’m coming,” said George promptly. “Harry, you help yourself to anything you want, all right? No charge.”
“I can’t do that!” said Harry, who had already pulled out his money bag to pay for the Decoy Detonators.
“You don’t pay here,” said Fred firmly, waving away Harry’s gold.
“You gave us our start-up loan, we haven’t forgotten,” said George sternly. “Take whatever you like, and just remember to tell people where you got it, if they ask.” (HBP6)
Fred and George – or George and Fred
It’s probable, of course, that J.K. Rowling didn’t consciously intend for every one of these moments to highlight the differences between the twins’ characters. But I think it’s clear that she had individual traits in mind when she was writing them, and that they came across clearly throughout the books.
Of course it’s also true that at the end of the day, Fred and George are far more alike than they are different. Both are fun and goofy; both care deeply about Harry and, in the end, their family as well. And naturally, the quotes I used here to highlight their differences were carefully selected – there are plenty of other quotes that could be used to dispute my ideas. But the source of these ideas was the statistics I compiled first, on which twin tended towards certain interactions – and I do think that generally speaking, the twins do tend toward different characteristics.
What makes me saddest about these ideas is the thought of George being left behind after Fred’s death. Of course the twins were an inseparable duo, but even more than that, they were a duo for whom Fred provided much of the humor, and the fun. Rowling has said in interviews that George never really recovered from his twin’s death, and it’s not hard to see why. After all, if there’s one thing George did, it’s care for his family – and without Fred’s impulsiveness and humor, Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes could never quite be the same.