The Struggles of Albus Dumbledore

Posted by Mike Merritt in Books on

This entry contains SPOILERS from the J.K. Rowling novel Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows!

Continuing with my series on the new Harry Potter books, I’ll speak, this entry, about Albus Dumbledore. Like Karl Rove (why must I compare the two?), Albus seems to be a master planner, The Architect of Voldemort’s demise, if you will. Yet, it will be Harry Potter who gets the fame of defeating Voldemort, the one who has books written about him and his quest to rid the world of a horrible evil. In this entry, I’ll discuss Dumbledore’s behind-the-scenes contributions to this era, but also much more. I won’t comment further in this summary, because I know I risk beheading if I do. So, see you on the flip.

I feel that it’s best if I start things chronologically with Dumbledore, since that’s really where all this starts.  The story of Dumbledore almost builds itself into this life long saga.  So, we know now that Dumbledore and Grindelwald were friends, at least briefly.  If you only take a quick skim at the whole relationship between the two and their goals, it would almost seem contrived, given what we know about the rest of Dumbledore’s life.  However, I think all of us, upon further reading of the book, could at least have some sympathy with Dumbledore.  Haven’t we all had stupid ideas when we were younger?  Haven’t we all thought we knew what was best for the world, then realized how wrong we were as we grew up more?  Well, this seems to be the case with Dumbledore.  He thought he had some good ideas, and met a man with similar ambitions, which only seemed to strengthen his own resolve about the situation.

On the other hand, Dumbledore eventually realized he was wrong.  Sure, it took the death of his sister to do it, but he now knew that he was mistaken.  This makes him very different from Voldemort, who also had some of the same ideas.  This difference is that Dumbledore realized he was wrong, but Voldemort never did.  There’s a bit more to the story with Voldemort I think, but that’s for another entry.   So, Dumbledore and Grindelwald broke off their relationship, which I think could be the only thing to do after Dumbledore’s sister died.

Speaking of his family, I like the interesting dynamic that was going on.  It shows again the rather arrogant and self-centered person Dumbledore was as a kid/young adult, compared to the one he would be as an adult.  He never cared much for his family, it seemed.  And, it was only out of duty to Ariana that he even went back after graduating Hogwarts.  Even then, his plans with Grindelwald really put Ariana out of the way.  As for Dumbledore and Aberforth, I can understand their situation.  Aberforth knew that Dumbledore would rather not be bothered with his family.  And I can see why Aberforth would blame Albus for their sister’s death.  After all, if it hadn’t been for Albus’ relationship with Grindelwald, it might never have happened.  Still, I’m glad to know that they at least came back to speaking terms after many years.  I believe that after hearing about Albus’ plight in the cave, that perhaps Aberforth might consider their feud officially ended.  Shame it had to come post-humorously, though.

So, Dumbledore realized he was wrong about ruling over muggles, and spent the rest of his life doing good for the world.  He defeated Grindelwald, and probably hoped to live a rather peaceful life teaching the kids who went through Hogwarts.  It might have been so, if not for Voldemort.  Now Dumbledore had to help the wizarding world get rid of another threat.  It’s hard to comment on what Dumbledore may have planned for a strategy in defeating Voldemort.  I think it’s more likely that at this point, he was in a desperate situation, just like everyone else.

Then Voldemort was defeated by Lily’s sacrifice.  Suddenly, Dumbledore had 14 years to found out the best way to defeat him.  He had earlier heard the prophecy, and with Voldemort marking Harry as his equal, knew what had to be done.  Everything that he did afterward, finding out about the prophecies, finding the memories, etc. was all part of an effort to formulate a plan.  And it seems that he did do so.  With the memories, he wanted to find out more about Voldemort the person, in an effort to try and see his weaknesses.  Through them, he found out about the horcruxes.  After that, it was probably fairly easy to see the way forward.  I’m guessing that he would probably wanted to go it alone as long as he could.  Try and protect Harry until the time that he had to face Voldemort.  Or maybe not: perhaps, like in Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore would have worked with Harry to get the horcruxes.  He certainly would still needed to have had help getting the locket, and definitely needed help getting the goblet.  We may never knew how he would have proceeded had events been different.

Then he just had to try on that damn ring!  Well, that changed everything, didn’t it?  Also, he then found out about Draco.  I’m not sure how events would have proceeded if he didn’t try on the ring, but he did.  So, now he had to change his plans.  Instead of maybe going on a quest alone, or with Harry, he knew that Harry would have to go it alone.  Perhaps he always had some inkling of this fact.  Only Harry could defeat Voldemort.  Does this include destroying the horcruxes?  That’s deliberately a gray area, I think.   Still, it doesn’t not matter.  He was going to die, and now he had to feed anything he knew to Harry to help him.  And so he did.

Even after death, Dumbledore was still planning.  It’s still unknown the exact nature of the headmaster portraits, but I don’t think it’s just a copy of their “character” as I’ve seen suggested before.  The fact that Dumbledore could still give Snape instructions means that some kind of critical thinking process exists in these portraits.  Maybe whatever ideas and knowledge that still exist in a headmaster’s mind at the time of death get transferred to the portrait?  The still-alive Dumbledore, knowing that his death was coming, would know that the sword would need to get to Harry somehow, and that he’d have Snape do it.  Perhaps he even knew that Harry would at some point be on the run from Voldemort.  It’s hard to tell, and until Rowling lets us know how Dumbledore’s portrait could have given Snape those orders, we can only guess.

I think it’s very clear that in the years leading up to Voldemort’s return, and even afterward, Dumbledore was able to formulate something of a plan to finally defeat him.  Voldemort once suggested that it had fallen to Dumbledore to plan Harry’s future.  Retrospectively, we can see that it is sort of true.  Dumbledore couldn’t just leave Harry to wander aimlessly, and knew he needed some kind of roadmap, especially since Harry is not always one to think things through (how many times in book 7 did Hermione tell Harry they needed to sit down and make up some sort of plan?).  So, even though Harry will be known as the one to defeat Voldemort, we must give Dumbledore credit where credit is due.  However, I don’t think Albus would be angry that his contributions will be overshadowed, nor do I think Harry will be silent on what Dumbledore contributed to Voldy’s demise, such as Rowling suggested he wasn’t quiet on clearing Snape’s name.  On the whole, I enjoy thinking that Dumbledore would be quite modest on the topic, pointing instead to all that Harry had achieved.

Also, I’m extremely happy that Rowling decided to expand on Dumbledore’s past.  By doing so, it showed that Dumbledore is not some flat, always-do-good character.  We already knew from past books that he has flaws, and he even foreshadowed what we learned in this book by stating that wizards of his magical stature have even bigger ones.  We now know it’s true.  Dumbledore can now be safely known as a round, three dimensional character.

And that ends my essay on Dumbledore.  Next time: Voldemort.

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