Harry Potter and the Tremendous F***-up.

Or: Deconstructing Dumbledore.

(Major and serious spoilers for Half-Blood Prince and Deathly Hallows follow. In fact if you haven't read them this will make very little sense.)

There's a lot of villains in the Harry Potter series. They are young and old, male and female, human and otherwise, magical and muggle. They range from indolent and reformable pests to soul-sucking embodiments of death personified. Not all of them set out to be bad. Some are good people who made bad choices; some are power-mad petty bureaucrats. But if you want to pick out the single person who caused the most damage, it's an easy task.

He is, of course, Albus Dumbledore.

You think I'm joking? On the contrary, through a combination of staggering incompetence, dereliction of duty, and wholly unmerited hubris he managed to spend his entire life busily nurturing minor problems into world-ending catastrophes.

Let's start at the beginning. Like most young English wizards, Dumbledore learned of his talents early in life and entered Hogwarts as soon as he came of age. While there he rose to seldom-seen levels of magical skill and along the way befriended another young wizard named Gellert Grindelwald. Grindelwald was a German expat wizard, having been kicked out of Durmstrang (the German equivalent Hogwarts) for being a dangerous nutjob. If you accept the author's word as canonical, the situation is even weirder: Dumbledore was not merely a friend but actually in love with Grindelwald. The books themselves contain no real indication that Dumbledore batted for the other team, nor does the author give any indication that Grindelwald returned the interest. But however you slice it, they were certainly very close. Lie down with dogs and get up with fleas, and soon enough Grindelwald had Dumbledore solidly radicalized. The two of them plotted to take over the world and rule the muggles for their own good. Dumbledore's younger brother Aberforth had more sense and confronted the two over their plans. Their other sister, the brain-damaged and disabled Ariana, was also there. It would have made a great Jerry Springer episode, what with the gay/racist/disability trifecta. Well, except being wizards they had considerable magical firepower at their disposal and Ariana was killed in the ensuing fight. Good job, Dumbledore!

All that was tragic enough, but things were just getting warmed up. Grindlewald went off and started a massive wizarding war. Dumbledore dithered ineffectually for several years as his former friend / gay lover wrecked Europe. Apparently he didn't want to be reminded that he was at least partially responsible for the death of his sister. Presumably he didn't worry too much about also being at least partially responsible for the FREAKING HOLOCAUST. Because let's be honest about Grindelwald: evil German, interested in a master race ruling the rest of humanity, beaten in 1945, tried and imprisoned in Nurmengard (hmm)... he was either Hitler or the magical power behind the Fuhrer. We do know that the real Hitler was pretty darn interested in the occult, after all.

So Dumbledore finally got out of his funk and defeated Grindelwald in battle. He then retired to the countryside where he could live out his life in peace. Ok, well, the first sentence is true. Actually he went off to become the headmaster of Hogwarts (the British boarding school jokes write themselves) and shape the minds of tomorrow. Because he's clearly such an excellent judge of character.

About this time there's a young half-wizard fellow named Tom Riddle. An orphan from a horribly difficult background, he displays sociopathic tendencies, a serious red-flag magical ability to talk to snakes, and considerable but largely unexplored latent skill in magic. Dumbledore is nothing if not consistent at being a reliably dangerous fool, and so of course he immediately sends him to the one place were he can learn the most powerful abilities on the planet, and furthermore allows a talking hat to place him in Slytherin the psychopath factory. (Why no one shut down Slytherin is beyond me. The best that can be said is that while every dangerous lunatic wizard was a Slytherin, not all Slytherins were dangerous lunatic wizards. Still, they pretty much to a man abandon the good guys in the climactic good/evil battle at the end of the last book. It would've saved everyone a lot of pain if the whole house had been shut down. So obviously Dumbledore didn't.)

As you could guess from Dumbledore's success at working alongside and/or fornicating with wizard Hitler, Tom Riddle turned out pretty much how you'd expect. He declared himself Lord Voldemort, started a magic army of overtly Klan-style terrorist wizards, killed a bunch of people, and rather successfully began taking over. Dumbledore leaped into action and organized the Order of Rank Incompetence. Excuse me, I mean the Order of the Phoenix. So far as I can tell their successes were minimal to nonexistent, consisting largely of a single unsolicited defection. Under the enervated leadership of Dumbledore, a massive fraction of their membership was brutally slaughtered, the parents of the infant Neville Longbottom were tortured to insanity, and James and Lilly Potter were murdered while protecting their infant child Harry Potter. Thanks to some staggering luck that Dumbledore never planned or anticipated, Voldemort failed to kill Harry and was in fact reduced to impotent ghostliness.

Dumbledore, realizing that he was obviously as bad as humanly possible at working with young wizards, retired. Excuse me, that's what he'd have done if he had any decency. He didn't, so he stayed on at Hogwarts.

Harry Potter grew up and matriculated at Hogwarts. Long story short, Dumbledore spends most of the first five books failing to prevent the repeated infestation of Hogwarts by villains of various stripes, failing to do even slight due diligence on the applicants for the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, and failing to prevent the subsequent and repeated near-deaths of Harry and other students. In some cases like the poor unfortunate Cedric Diggory, it's actual death. There's little more Dumbledore likes better than repeating past failures, so he reforms the Order of the Phoenix. It fails to accomplish anything. Well, not other than getting Sirius Black killed horrifyingly right in front of Harry. Good thing he wasn't one of Harry's few real adult friends and father figures - oh wait, he was. And though we don't know it until book 7, Dumbledore figures out at some point that Harry and Voldemort's fates are linked. Not to put too fine a point of it, at that point he's pretty much trying to get Harry killed. His plans are cut short in book 6 by his own death.

Wanna know what kills him? I don't know if you watched Lord of the Rings, but it's pretty much Magic 101 that you DO NOT TOUCH EVIL RINGS OF POWER. Dumbledore found one, and like a retarded puppy licking a electrical outlet, he tried to use it. He survives his injuries for another year, which he spends failing to clue poor Harry in on what's going on. Finally he dies in front of Harry in the most traumatizing way possible.

Harry wins, of course. He gets killed first, but he comes back to life and kills Voldemort for good. Everyone celebrates the memory of Dumbledore because the narrative requires it. Whatever, Dumbledore you old bat. When Snape waxes you I'll be cheering in the theater.

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Brilliant! Came here via BoraZ. If this post is any indication, I'll hang around for teh invective. It is tres delicious.

I've always had a soft spot for Voldemort, Snape and Hermione. They're the nerds. They love knowledge, and are bent on mastery. A bit deranged, but par for the course for the mad scientist! Harry, on the other hand, is the typical jock. An irritating, obnoxious piece of shit who's only interested in sports, doesn't pay attention in class, doesn't learn anything, doesn't care to learn anything, gets by with a combination of sheer dumb luck and others watching out for him.

Dumbledore himself said that because his intellect was considerably greater than most, so were his mistakes.

You're treading on thin ice here, Matt. Very...thin...ice...

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think it's even Harry that strikes the fatal blow, is it?

oh crap. i have never read the harry potter books. now you ruined it for me! argh! i must get even!

you know that woman in the movie "Crying Game?" yeah, well, she's a guy!

oh, and Vader is Luke's father!

i don't remember who shot J.R. but if i did i would tell you!


See, when I read through the books, I got a different read of the Grindlewald situation. As youngsters they wanted to expose the wizards to the world and "fix" is, and Grindlewald wanted an army to assist them. After the fight he slunk off to Eastern Europe. It wasn't until the camps were going in full force that Grindlewald decided "Yeah, scum capable of doing this can't be trusted to run the world, look at what they are doing now". The timeline for when he stole the wand of power doesn't match with him being a cause of WW2, but fits with him being simultaneous.

And in any strategic sense, Voldy was never a threat. He's the wizard version of Osama Bin Laden. Less in fact, as OBL and Al-Queda had territory and a standing force in Afghanistan.

Slytherin is bursting with heroes. A Slytherin Hell with brilliant lights is vastly preferred to a do-gooder heaven of managers forever pursuing agents of Goldstein with inevitable collateral damage. How do you know traffic is being managed unless it is being managed badly?

Real World evil does it to benefit others: Goldman-Sachs, insurance of all stripes, liberated Iraq, "The Great Society," The War On [insert morality], Homeland Severity, Vietnam, Ruby Ridge, Waco, Elliot Ness, EPA, HHS, Department of Education, censorship...

Bernie Madoff! Madoff only hurt those who volunteered, as do state Lotteries and Las Vegas, albeit with no chance at all of winning. Bernie Madoff should have awakened on his back, strapped to a table, staring up at a mirror reflecting the image of his own split and retracted rib cage and empty chest, with heart-lung machine connections. Pay-For-View then patiently watches pain meds subside. (You want the lungs out to sustain tension re all the otherwise silly screaming.)

Well, what can anyone say. He was a brilliant, but flawed man. Although I have always wondered about slytherin too, and about shutting it down. Maybe it is designed to put all of the psycopaths together so that they don't mix in with the others? ^_^

Hmmm, you seem to be taking for granted a lot of the main tenets of the series.

First of all, the reason why Dumbledore is such a great character is because he is flawed. If he was perfect he wouldn't be interesting or even relatable. People aren't black and white, and I think that's a big part of the message that JK Rowling tries to get across. (Eg. "Everyone has light and dark, it's what we choose to act on that makes us who we really are.")

It would be completely ridiculous for Dumbledore to just "go off to the countryside". By that time he had realized his folly, and being that he was certainly a very powerful wizard, probably realized he had the capacity to make up for it (at least in some small way). Which, in spite of all his "f***" ups, he did. Without Dumbledore's advice and all the information he provided to Harry, the war against Voldemort would have been completely hopeless. From knowing and watching Tom from such a young age, Dumbledore had a lot of crucial information about him. Without that Harry would have been no where.

Also, it is very evident in the book that Dumbledore realized his mistakes, and was not nearly as full of himself as you make it seem. It was for this reason that he turned down the job of Minister of Magic, why after drinking the potion in the cave he screamed "take me instead" in reference to the death of his sister.

And The Order of the Phoenix accomplishes a lot. They keep Voldemort from getting the prophecy for one thing, and they also foster a feeling of friendship and hope by banding together in such a way, which is very important in bad times like the ones they were in.

As for doing away with Slytherin / not letting Tom Riddle in, that would completely go against all of the schools (and Dumbledore's) beliefs. The thing that is so great about Hogwarts is that they allow anyone, from anywhere who has the capacity to learn magic, to ability to study there. Their message is one of anti-prejudice. To not let certain students in based on a few qualities that may or may not have any significance (Harry could talk to snakes as well, and he was no dark wizard), and to disband a house just because a lot of dark wizards originated from there, would completely go against their message and make them a bunch of hypocrites. Not to mention a lot of really great wizards came from Slytherin as well. Snape, even if he only was in it for his own interests, was crucial towards winning the war against Voldemort. And Slughorn, in spite of his past mistakes, rose up for the fight as well. To not allow potentially good wizards to learn magic just because of a lot of fuck ups came from their house, would be horrible and completely unfair. Besides, even if most of Slytherin house is mean or nasty, that doesn't mean they are "dark wizards".

*claps hands*

Freakin' awesome.

Didn't Cracked.com already do this?

Also note that books 1-6 are about Dumbledore manipulating Harry into a suicide weapon to use against Voldemort. Dumbledore knows about the Harry-Voldemort connection all along. It's Harry he keeps in the dark.

Dumbledore is Hasan ibn Sabbah, Hogwarts is Alamut, and Harry is an Assassin.

By Bob Hawkins (not verified) on 15 Jul 2009 #permalink

Sometimes you do everything right, and things still go wrong. When you are a older and have a few good fuck ups of your own under your belt you will appreciate this better.

And Malfoy, if you remember, turned out not so bad.

By John Ellis (not verified) on 15 Jul 2009 #permalink

Hitler allegedly made fun of those in the higher Nazi ranks who tried to turn him on to various brands of occultism. He probably didn't bite their bait. He seems to have been more of a non-denominational (leaning Protestant), racist pseduo-Christian than anything else. He thought that Jesus was Aryan instead of Hebrew and that he died fighting against Jews. So, I wouldn't stretch that whole occultism thing too far.

Here's some sources in case you want to investigate that bastard's nonsense beliefs further:

Heschel, Susannah. (2008). The Aryan Jesus: Christian Theologians and the Bible in Nazi Germany. Princeton University Press

Steigmann-Gall, Richard. (2003). The Holy Reich: Nazi Conceptions of Christianity, 1919-1945. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press

Hilter's April 12th 1922 speech

Point 24 of the Nationalsozialistiche Deutsche Arbeiterpartei Program of 1920

Hitler's October 27th 1928 speech in Passau

Hitler's January 1st 1934 New Year Message

Various Mein Kampf sections

Brilliant analysis.

You should have been an English major. ;-)

Like another person noted, putting this flawed man at one center of the story - and a flawed boy at another - is the genius of this set of books. We see Dumbledore as Hero when we first start out in Book 1, but discover the flaws in his Socratic teaching methods and the flaws in his own character along the way. The "bad guys" would not have lost if he had not died. Similary, Harry is not an All Powerful SuperHero. He isn't even Tom Swift or Perry Mason. It doesn't always work out well in the end.

The key to success is choosing light over darkness and blending your best skills with those of your friends and colleagues in a collaborative effort. Like in real life.

And, yes, these books don't go very deep. They are thick with concepts one can clearly associate with Star Wars or the Ring Trilogy, but the resulting combination is a powerful one that can stand more than a superficial reading.

Brilliant read, I was chuckling all through it.

Wow. I never regarded it like that before. I always knew Dumbledore had made some cringe-worthy mistakes, but you've put a whole new perspective. And i think you're right! Dumbledore messed up everything! (But in doing so, his mistakes are what made my favourite books EVER!)

Thanks for this insight, it was really interesting

I disagree. The article is an entertaining straw man, but lacking in substance.

Hindsight is 20-20 and all that: Dumbledore never claimed to be as formidable in divination as he was in other magical subjects. Also, the Order of the Phoenix's successes or lack thereof have never been elucidated in canon. The adults were in charge and carrying out various activities (often preventative) which were never specified and therefore their efficacy cannot be judged. I prefer to give the benefit of the doubt that they, as with most insurgencies (counter-insurgencies?), sometimes succeeded, sometimes failed, and sometimes succeeded in postponing or reducing the magnitude of terrible events. The fact that some adults who consented to be part of the Order died and left orphans is on the shoulders of those adults, not Dumbledore. You may attack their judgment as parents if you wish, but the wizarding world has always had a slightly different paradigm regarding risks and horrors they expose their children to.

Secondly, I disagree with judging a man's entire character but things he did when he was young. In fact, one of the interesting messages in the book is regarding character, choices, and redeemability. Dumbledore as an old man recognizes many of his mistakes as a young man, but it doesn't follow that as this wise older man he should be condemned. Nor was playing with the evil ring of power an act of stupidity: he was intentionally sacrificing his life in his quest to destroy the horcruxes. Dumbledore fully acknowledges that the chess game he was playing by the end of his life was not one of black and white moral decisions, but was fraught with the moral complexity and ultimate ambiguity that exists in real life but is lacking in this essay.

The valid piece of criticism is on his hiring practices for the DADA teaching position. But that's a plot device Rowling relied on to accomplish many, many things over the course of the series. She is, after all, human, and so is (would be?) Dumbledore.

Interesting, but not brilliant. Something I understood from the series is that Dumbledore is burdened with knowledge. He knows that Harry has to risk his life in order to defeat Voldemort. He knows that he made a huge mistake with his plans with Grindelwald. The problem with your analysis comes down to choice.

Grindelwald chose to let his desire for power and domination consume him, while Dumbledore did not. Voldemort chose his life of fear [of death] and violence as well. Dumbledore made a conscious effort, however, to take people at their word, despite his knowledge that they may be lying. He demonstrates this numerous times throughout the series, and it pains him because he knows that his actions may lead to the suffering of others.

Tolkein absolutely hated allegory, and I would wager that J.K. isn't trying to say anything other than what is in the books. It really isn't fair to take her story and read it through a lens of the atrocities of the real-life 20th century. First of all it makes light of those horrors, and secondly it takes away from (or adds nastiness to) the story.

Finally, I think what you're essentially saying is that through his mistakes and inactions Dumbledore is responsible for the combined actions of Grindelwald and Voldemort. Doesn't that mean that the first person who didn't kill young Gellert or Tom [at the first sign of their homicidal tendencies] is really responsible for their actions? What about Adolf Hitler's teachers as he was growing up? Couldn't they have prevented the holocaust? It's an impossible question really and a poor argument for assigning blame to Dumbledore.

Just my too sense. =)

By Dissenter (not verified) on 16 Jul 2009 #permalink

you are my soul sister man...that was great and spot on :)

By Tyler Dwiggins (not verified) on 16 Jul 2009 #permalink

That. Was. Awesome. I completely agree.

Well first of all, it's fiction!! Secondly, it's children's fiction! Thirdly, as others are pointing out, making up for character flaws or the suffering caused because of them is a large part of the ethos of the stories.

Yes there are gaping holes in the plots when looked at from an adult perspective, but that didn't stop Rowling from becoming a quarter billionaire from the stories! Clearly they touched a nerve.

Personally I find Diane Duane's "Young Wizard" series to be better written, but they don't seem remotely as popular and probably will never be made into movies.

The issues are manifold in the Potter books. If veritaserum were the truth-inducing potion it was supposed to be, a good many issues could have been cleared-up without any problems in pretty much every book.

For example, Snape could have found out the truth about Quirrell in book 1. (For that matter, no one has explained how it was that Voldemort could even think of trusting Snape after the way Snape tripped-up Quirrell in that same book!).

They could have learned the truth about what happened between Sirius Black and Peter Pettigrew, and Black would have escaped a dozen of so years in Azkaban in book 3!

The ministry could have determined that Harry was telling the truth when he said Voldemort was back in book 4!

Dumbledore could have found out what Malfoy was up to in book 6!

If people would only have talked to each other, another bunch of issues could have been cleared up.

For example, if Sirius Black had simply made himself known to Harry when he first saw him at the beginning of book 3 and explained everything, the entire issue of Harry's fear and desire for revenge would have gone away.

In fact, if Black had pointed out the truth about Ron's rat instead of keeping it to himself, he would have been exonerated, yet he inexplicably chose to neglect his godson (whom he apparently loves dearly by book 3) and languish in an awful prison for over a decade!

If they'd let Harry listen to the prophecy at the start of book 5, and then destroyed it, Voldemort's entire enterprise would have been undermined! No one would have had to guard the corridor at the ministry and Arthur Weaseley would have escaped life-threatening injuries.

The biggest plot destroyer of all was in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Hermione has a "Time-Turner" which she repeatedly uses to go back an hour and take a second class so she can get more schoolwork done.

No one has explained why Dumbledore couldn't have used this self-same device to stop Voldemort in the very beginning, and also save Harry's parents, or why one of Voldemort's supporters couldn't have gone back and warned Voldemort not to attack. And Rowling never explained why only Lily Potter's love for Harry save him from the klilling curse whereas no one else's love for anyone else anywhere saved anyone else at any time from that same deadly curse!

If magic is simply a matter of saying an incantation and waving a wand in a particular fashion, why can't anyone do it?!

And there's no explanation (or excuse) for why Dumbledore coutenances the appalling child abuse Harry gets at the hands of his adoptive parents for 11 straight years.

So yes, ultimately none of it makes sense, but again, it's fiction for children! The requirement isn't for it to make precise sense or carry extreme verisimilitude; the requirement is for it to be an entertaining read for its youthful audience, and perhaps impart some life lessons along the way.

Rowling seems to have achieved that in spades and brought millions of children back to the rewarding and useful habit of reading. I think she's earned her millions.

Dumbledore wasnt Headmaster when Riddle entered Hogwarts and he didnt trust Riddle either.

Some of this is fact. Some of this is your own theory which shouldn't be put into a debating form. Lets keep the story telling to the author shall we.

you matt, are retarded. thats all i have to say on the subject

Funny article. Interesting ideas about Dumbledore. Still, I have faith in Dumbledore. I have an question for you. How do you aim love? Here's a clue: Does Dumbledore believe in the abilities of Professor Trelawney? Think about it and then read on...

Dubmeldore used his knowledge of magic to set up Voldemort. He had Trelawney say the prophesy knowing that Snape was listening and take that information to Voldemort. Voldemort feels he is the only one to kill Harry and kills Lily in an attempt to get ot Harry, thus giving Harry the power of love which shields Harry from Voldemort's attempt to kill him. Voila, Dumbledore wins. It's enough to make George Smiley proud.

Absolutely brilliant article! I'd say these books are fiction for children AND adults...they are beautifully written with fantastic visual descriptions. When the movies came out, it was surreal.

I must say, I did enjoy this article.
And to those that didn't much care for it, I hear this British guy named Swift is proposing that we eat poor peoples babies.

Amusing. I've always thought Dumbledore was a little fishy (especially in the first book - he just conveniently absconds and leaves the eleven year olds to fight a resurgent evil? How do you justify that?). I think the major problem is that we only see Dumbledore when world-ending catastrophes are at hand, and we have to just take it on faith that he really is amazingly competent the rest of the time.

Have you ever lost a loved one? For example
a mother, father or sibling? Imagine losing three.
Not only that but imagine feeling that it should have
been you, could have been you and you could
have prevented it. Have you ever asked yourself
what-if in any situation? What if you had in your hand
the one thing in the world that could let you see them
speak to them and possibly forgive yourself? Would
you use it? I know I would even if it was cursed.
As for dumbledores obsession as a boy with grindelwald-
would you not make the same mistake? His sister was brain
damaged because of young muggles who hurt her. Would
not want revenge? Do you have a little sister? Would you
ever let someone hurt her that bad and get away with it? If so
you sir are a coward.
As a teacher dumbledore invited Tom riddle to hogwarts
because he had the ability and will to earn. As a teacher you
shouldn't have prejudices in any shape or form. He kept his eye
on him that's all he could do.
As for veritaserum- the ministry didn't want to believe voldermort
was back, Sirius black didn't have the luxury of a trial, and sirius
didn't know where pettigrew was until the picture of the weasleys
was published in the prophet.
The love that lily was a spell. Her love and sacrifice run in Harrys
veins. Her sister petunia strengthened that bond by allowing him
to stay. That is the reason dumbledore makes Harry return there
every summer.
Dumbledore knows of the connection between Harry and voldemort
all along- would you give all of your information to the enemy?
How would you handle any of these situations differently? If you would
you are a heartless, emotionless, mechanical moron.

I have a few problems with this blog. First of all, up the top of the page, it says 'based on facts'. This blog is based on opinions, not facts.
Also, Durmstrang is Bulgarian, Tom Riddle is a half-blood wizard, not a half wizard (there's a difference), the crazy people who were in Slytherin were in Slytherin because their families were wackjobs that 'trained' for them to be there. It would have made no difference if there was no house for them to go in - they still would have been crazy. Lily and James weren't killed due to Dumbledore's incompetence, they were killed because their fried was a rat and ratted them out to Voldemort. Finally, Harry did not, at any point in the series, actually die. If you're going to make an opinionat - factual blog, you should at least get the little facts right.

Reading some of these comments makes me wonder whether these people have even read the books! And as for this blog - as said in an above comment, he never claimed to make the right decisions, and regretted his wrong-doings. So this blog is amusing, but far from truthful!