Argus Filch (David Bradley) is one of many characters in Harry Potter that lost a lot in the translation from page to screen. The caretaker of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Filch is verging on villainy in the movies; an ugly, cranky old man who delights in the misery of the students. In the books, however, there is a little more balance to the character. He is still far from likeable (and still sighs wistfully thinking of the days that students were hung by their ankles for infractions), but we get to know a little more about why he’s so miserable, and Filch becomes a little more sympathetic (with a little help from Peeves, of course!).
A cat-lover, devoted servant to the school, and surprisingly sad character in many ways, there’s more to Argus Filch than meets the eye. Whether you are a long-time book fan or a casual movie watcher, we have a feeling that you might not know absolutely everything about Mr. Filch and his faithful cat, so we’ve rounded up fifteen of our favorite facts about the duo.
15. His Name Comes From Greek Mythology
Like many of J.K. Rowling’s characters, the name Argus has a story behind it. In Greek mythology, Argus (or Argos) Panoptes is a giant with a hundred eyes, known as the all-seeing one. He is charged to act as watchman to the goddess Hera, guarding the nymph Lo in order to keep Lo away from Zeus.
Argus Filch is another all-seeing guardian, watching over every inch of Hogwarts and keeping his (two) eyes on the students there. Like the Greek Argus, Filch isn’t too successful at his job, although he does know Hogwarts better than almost anyone else, and is often aware as soon as a student has stepped out of line, he is continually thwarted by Harry (Daniel Radcliffe) and his friends, as well as poltergeists and pranksters.
The caretaker’s surname, Filch, comes from modern English. In the UK, ‘filch’ is a common word for ‘steal’. It’s not directly connected to his work at the school, but the name definitely has some negative connotations to make sure we dislike the character from the get-go.
14. He Became Caretaker In 1973
We do not know how old Argus Filch is in the books, as his date of birth has never been revealed. We can assume that he is quite old, however, based on his description as rheumatic, and his general physical appearance. He’s been at Hogwarts since the ‘70s, when he took over as caretaker, and we have no idea what he was doing prior to that appointment, or even how he came to get the job.
Filch took over from the previous caretaker, a man named Apollyon Pringle (another name from Greek mythology, Apollyon being the Greek name for Abbadon, the Destroyer). Pringle was caretaker when Molly Weasley was at Hogwarts, and according to her (and Filch himself), he was a brutal man who was a big fan of corporal punishment. Filch deeply respects his predecessor, and often bemoans the fact that he is not allowed to use the same methods to discipline students.
13. He Took Secret Magic Classes By Mail
Despite being born into a magical family and working at Hogwarts, eagle-eyed viewers may have noticed that Filch never uses a wand. All of his punishments are decidedly magic-free, and although it may seem like he just hates magic and prefers to do things the old-fashioned way, the truth is that Filch is actually a squib. A squib is someone who possesses no magical ability, despite being born to a magical family – not quite a muggle, but not a witch or a wizard, either.
This makes them the opposite of characters like Hermione Granger (Emma Watson), who are witches or wizards born into Muggle families (or to mixed Muggle/Wizard parents). In the books, it is revealed that Filch is so ashamed of his squib status that he is taking a beginners magic course by correspondence (Kwikspell). The course is designed for witches and wizards who simply aren’t that talented at magic, but squibs have been known to take it in a futile attempt to become witches and wizards themselves.
12. His Squib Status Was Cut From The Films
Many fans of the films don’t even realize that Filch is a squib, as it is largely glossed over in the movies. While the books reveal his Kwikspell course in a scene that makes it clear that he is not only a squib, but deeply unhappy about that situation, that scene was cut from the films entirely. This was actually shot for Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry picks up a Kwikspell letter that Filch has dropped, but those thirty seconds or so didn’t make it into the final cut. (Presumably it was felt that this just wasn’t necessary to tell the story, or that it would have needed further explanation for first-time viewers.)
Filch is labeled as a squib at least once in the movies, however, as Draco (Tom Felton) angrily refers to it when Filch finds him lurking near Slughorn’s (Jim Broadbent) Christmas party in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
11. He Doesn’t Belong To A Hogwarts House
Due to his squib status, Filch never actually went to Hogwarts as a student (which could even be why he wanted to work there, as a substitute for missing out on the experience as a child). Without magical ability, squibs would either continue their education at home or potentially attend muggle school and become part of the muggle world. Because of this, Filch was never sorted into a Hogwarts House, and technically has no affiliation with one.
However, it’s generally assumed that Filch would have been in Slytherin, had he been born a wizard. He is sneaky, a little bit of a villain, and hungry for power (although that may not have been the case were he not a squib) – all Slytherin traits. Although Slytherins are most likely to look down on squibs and the muggle-born, Filch seems to relate to Salazar’s house, and can be seen cheering for Slytherin during Quidditch matches at the school.
10. He’s Actually A Good Caretaker
Although we aren’t supposed to like Filch, and he was something of a slapstick/comic relief character in many of the films, he’s actually pretty darn good at his job. He manages to keep a very close eye on the students, even though there hundreds of them and the school is vast, sprawling, and actually changes structurally on a regular basis. He and Mrs. Norris are rarely more than a step or so behind Harry when he is sneaking around the school, and Filch seems to be stymied only by rarities like the invisibility cloak, the Maurader’s Map, and the Room of Requirements. A normal student sneaking around would be caught easily.
In addition, he seemingly manages to clean and repair the school impressively quickly, from the damage done by the troll in the first film to the portrait of the Fat Lady that was destroyed later in the series. At various times, he’s cleaned the entire castle, and filled up every hole in the entire castle down to the mouse holes – no mean feat. And while he hates the students, Filch is actually very dedicated to the castle itself, and seems truly upset when it is damaged.
9. He Has Over 1,000 Boxes Of Punishments
In addition to being a surprisingly competent caretaker, Filch is an impressive record-keeper. As well as tracking the myriad different rules and regulations of the school (including the addition of a huge number under Dolores Umbridge), he has entire rooms filled with confiscated contraband, and keeps immaculate records of the many punishments that he doles out.
In Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, we learn that between the time he took the caretaker job (1973) and the end of the ‘70s, he had filled over one thousand and fifty boxes with ‘punishment records’. That’s an average of 150 boxes of records a year, at a school with approximately 300 students (based on Harry’s class size). We don’t know how big these boxes are or how many individual punishment records they hold, but that’s around a half box per student, per year. Even if these are fairly small boxes, that’s a lot of punishments!
8. He Fought In The Battle of Hogwarts
Although Filch was a big supporter of Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton) during her tenure as Headmistress of Hogwarts, he is not one of Voldemort’s followers. In fact, we can assume that Voldemort wouldn’t have had him, as Filch is not a witch or wizard. Therefore, despite Filch’s love of Umbridge and her methods, he actually fights on the side of the Order during the final Battle of Hogwarts.
Although he cannot use magic, Filch was instrumental in other ways. He helped to evacuate those students who were unable to fight, and a deleted scene from the movies show him locking away the Slytherin students (who were later freed by one of the explosions). He is also sent to find Peeves, and rouse the poltergeist to fight on the side of the school. Mrs. Norris also appears at the battle, hissing and trying to get the owls to return to the owlery. It’s unknown what else the cat did, although we’d like to think that she tried to help.
7. He’s Terrible Because He’s Bitter, Not Evil
Although Filch is a generally pretty nasty human being, it’s not necessarily down to an innate character flaw, but the result of his history. Had Filch been born a wizard, he would probably have become a very different, potentially quite successful, member of the wizarding community. As a squib, however, Filch is shunned from childhood. Raised by magical parents, he would have grown up aware of all the wonderful magic in the world, but been unable to use it. As a squib child, he couldn’t attend Hogwarts with his peers in the magical community, and was undoubtedly bullied over his status (depending on his family, this could even have come from the adults as well). Unlike fellow Squib Arabella Figg, who seems relatively content with her life, Filch is miserable and bitter, suggesting that he had a very tough time growing up without magic. He is still attempting to learn, as well, which shows a certain degree of self-loathing and an unwillingness to accept his lot in life.
In short, Filch is a cautionary tale for the wizarding world. He is a character who is so twisted and embittered by his treatment by the rest of the community that he takes delight in physically punishing those children who were born magical. He’s a bitter old man, for sure, but he’s also not an evil one.
6. His Relationship With Peeves Was Cut From The Films
Many fans of the books were disappointed to see that a favorite school ghost was missing from the movies: Peeves the Poltergeist. Peeves, described as “the most notorious and troublesome poltergeist in British history” spends the novels wreaking mischievous havoc, and although he is not entirely necessary to the plot, many readers absolutely loved him. He also has an important relationship with Mr. Filch – in a bit of an odd-couple kind of way.
As the caretaker, Filch is the sworn enemy of Peeves, who has tormented caretakers for centuries. An earlier caretaker, Rancorous Carpe, even attempted to set an elaborate trap for the pest, but his plan backfired horribly. Although Peeves drives Filch to distraction, he also helps the caretaker by loudly announcing any student that he finds out of bed, and we suspect that Peeves needs someone like Filch to torment (while Filch actually secretly appreciates both the help and the extra work). Like Filch, Peeves seems to have his own loyalties (primarily to Hogwarts itself), and are two sides of the same coin – one in love with order, and the other, chaos.
5. He May Have Been Dating The Hogwarts Librarian
Another character largely missing from the films who had an important relationship with the caretaker was the Hogwarts librarian: Irma Pince. Madam Pince had much in common with Filch, being an incredibly strict staff member with a borderline-obsessive love of order and cleanliness (when it comes to her library and beloved books, that is). She is largely feared and disliked by the students, and often scolds them harshly for ‘suspicious’ behavior.
Potentially because of this, it is believed by many of the Hogwarts students that Madam Pince and Mr. Filch are either in a relationship or at least attracted to each other, although this is never explored in any depth. Pince does appear in one film (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), where she is portrayed by Sally Mortemore, but she has a very small part in the film. She appears as a background character, and we never get to see Pince and Filch together. Sorry, Pinch shippers!
4. He Has A Quasi-Telepathic Connection With His Cat
Filch is rarely seen without his cat, Mrs. Norris, although the two have been known to split up in order to track down misbehaving students faster. Despite Filch’s inability to use magic, he has a quasi-telepathic connection with her. At the very least, the two are extremely close, and the caretaker has devised a way of communicating with the cat over distances. This is shown when we learn that if Mrs. Norris shows up to catch a student misbehaving, Filch will appear on the scene within moments, suggesting that she is able to communicate with him in some way if she has found something. (Although it’s possible that he is simply following her.)
Hagrid (Robbie Coltrane) also believes that Filch has somehow set Mrs. Norris to spy on him, and Harry suspected that she could see or sense him even under the cloak. However, this connection is not explained as legitimate telepathy or magical in nature, and it seems that the two are simply extraordinarily close.
3. Mrs. Norris’ Name Is From Another Novel
Mrs. Norris’ name is another that J K Rowling borrowed from literature – in this instance, from Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Austen’s Mrs. Norris (obviously a human, not a cat) has some similar traits to the Hogwarts version, too. The Mrs. Norris of Mansfield Park is a disagreeable, judgmental, and prim woman who is easily the villain of the novel (although Austen’s work rarely has true heroes and villains in the simplest sense).
It’s easy to see why Rowling would choose to re-use the name for Filch’s cat, although this does raise some further questions about Filch. If, like in the muggle world, owners name their pets, does this mean that the miserable Filch is secretly a Jane Austen fan? If so, why would he name his ‘sweet’ after such a horrible character? Perhaps Filch and Madam Pince are in a serious relationship, and Irma named the cat – a librarian would certainly be familiar with Austen, and it could even be a subtle dig at the other love of Filch’s life…
2. There Have Been Multiple On-Screen Mrs. Norrises
As is the norm for animal characters, multiple cats have played the part of Mrs. Norris on screen. The three primary ‘actors’ for the part are named Maximus, Alanis, and Cornelius, and each was trained for a different aspect of Mrs. Norris’ scenes. Prop versions and animatronics were also used (obviously, the cat visible in the scene where Mrs. Norris is petrified is not a real cat).
In addition to the multiple actor animals used, there are some inconsistencies in Mrs. Norris’s appearance. In the earlier films, she has red eyes, but in the later films, her eyes appear blue. Both of these contradict her description in the books, where she’s described as having “yellow, lamp-like” eyes. The rest of her appearance also changes significantly between the novels and the films, as she is initially described as scrawny, skeletal and dust-colored (presumably meaning gray). In the films, she is played by Maine Coons, which are very large cats with lots of fluffy fur, which is predominantly brown.
1. Mrs. Norris Is Not Part Kneazle
Due to the extraordinary intelligence of Mrs. Norris (and her ability to communicate with Filch the way she does), many fans speculated that the cat is actually part Kneazle. In Rowling’s world, Kneazles are cat-like creatures that are described as highly intelligent, capable of detecting suspicious people, and with an excellent sense of direction. They can also be highly aggressive and independent – in short, Mrs. Norris fits the description perfectly.
However, Rowling has confirmed that Mrs. Norris is an ordinary cat, albeit a particularly smart and unpleasant one. Hermione’s cat, Crookshanks, is a cat-kneazle cross, however. This explains Crookshank’s immediate dislike of Ron’s rat, Scabbers (who, as we all know, is actually the disguised traitor Peter Pettigrew). Rowling also told fans that if it came down to a battle between Crookshanks and Mrs. Norris, it would be Crookshanks’s Kneazle heritage that would win him the day (but that it would be a very close match).
What else should fans know about Filch and his not-so-cuddly companion? Let us know in the comments.