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02 July 2005 @ 01:01 am
[essay-a-thon entry] Dumbledore’s Decisions and the Vulnerability of Authority  
This is my attempt to respond to storyteller's questions about Dumbledore’s actions following the Potters’ deaths at Godric’s Hollow. All quotations come from the Scholastic version of the Harry Potter books. I apologize for any mistakes or typos.


Dumbledore’s Decisions and the Vulnerability of Authority in the Harry Potter Series


After the release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Albus Dumbledore’s reputation within fandom seemed to have hit an all-time low. Long gone was the kindly grandfather figure whose cryptic advice and odd behavior added mystery and color to the series. In his place stood, at best, a well-intentioned puppet master or, at worst, an evil manipulator. Granted, many fans began to suspect Dumbledore of dastardly things after Goblet of Fire when Rowling described the “gleam of something that looked like triumph” in Dumbledore’s eyes (GoF, 696). But for many fans, myself included, those moments at the end of Order of the Phoenix truly shook our faith in the great Albus Dumbledore. It seemed as if the sum total of Dumbledore’s decisions regarding Harry had resulted in that heart-wrenching moment near the end of the book when the Boy-Who-Lived wanted nothing more than to die.



It’s no wonder that so many of us distrust Dumbledore’s intentions; there are many unanswered questions about his past behavior. Two of the biggest questions have to do with his actions immediately following that fateful Halloween Night in 1981. Did Dumbledore really make the best choice for Harrry when he left him on the Dursleys’ doorstep? And why didn’t the headmaster get to the bottom of Sirius Black’s supposed treachery? These questions point to an overarching question regarding Dumbledore: Why couldn’t the headmaster, with all of his wisdom and power, have made life a little easier for these two characters who would spend the next decade in prisons of one kind or another?

Rowling has actually given us answers to these questions, though some may find her explanations unsatisfying. Dumbledore admits, near the end of OotP, that leaving Harry with the Dursleys was not an easy or even a good decision: “You had suffered,” he acknowledges to Harry. “I knew you would when I left you on your aunt and uncle’s doorstep. I knew I was condemning you to ten dark and difficult years.” But as he goes on to explain, Dumbledore felt as if he had no other choice. “My priority was to keep you alive,” he tells Harry. First, there was the problem of the Death Eaters still on the loose. Pointing out that these criminals were “almost as terrible” as Voldemort, particularly because they were “still at large, angry, desperate, and violent,” Dumbledore felt he could not risk putting Harry with a Wizarding family who, though they might have loved him, would have made Harry vulnerable to attack by the Death Eaters (OotP, 835).

Then there was the even more serious threat of Voldemort himself. Although Dumbledore wasn’t sure if it would be “ten, twenty, or fifty years” before Voldemort’s return, the headmaster was certain that the monster would reappear. And when he did, Dumbledore predicted that he “would not rest until he killed” Harry. So why couldn’t Dumbledore have protected Harry? After all, he is the only wizard that Voldemort ever feared. As Dumbledore explains, “Voldemort’s knowledge of magic is perhaps more extensive than any wizard alive. I knew that even my most complex and powerful protective spells and charms were unlikely to be invincible if he ever returned to full power.” So Dumbledore turned to the only magic that he felt Voldemort discounted: the “ancient magic” of sacrifice. Because Lily gave Harry “lingering protection [Voldemort] never expected,” Dumbledore placed his “trust” in Lily’s blood, namely Petunia. As his “only remaining relative,” Petunia Dursley, with her hatred for all things magical, represented Harry’s strongest protection from Voldemort (OotP, 835-836).

Still, we might ask, couldn’t Dumbledore have made things a little easier for Harry? Perhaps he could have pressured the Dursleys to treat him more kindly. Perhaps he could have sent a friendly face – Remus Lupin, perhaps – to meet with Harry as he was growing up so that the boy did not feel so isolated. Rowling offers no direct answer to the question of why Dumbledore didn’t try to make Harry’s life in the Dursley household a little more bearable. Part of the answer may lie in the fact that Dumbledore had to enter a “pact” with Petunia (OotP, 836). We don’t know what exactly this pact entailed, but it might very well be that Petunia would have refused to take Harry had she known that wizards and witches would be making regular appearances at her house.

So, while we may despise the choice that Dumbledore had to make when handing Harry off to the Dursleys, it appears that, from Dumbledore’s point of view, he made the best decision possible for ensuring Harry’s safety. Of course, some readers may doubt Dumbledore’s veracity. There are several theories floating about that suggest that Dumbledore is an evil overlord greater than Voldemort or that he is a callous chess master who will say whatever he needs to say in order to hone Harry into a dangerous weapon. But as I will discuss in a moment, I think Dumbledore has another function in the series.

As for Dumbledore’s dealings with Sirius, Rowling also offers an explanation, though perhaps not as directly as she does with the above question. Many readers have wondered why Dumbledore didn’t insist that Sirius, once he had been captured by the Ministry in 1981, take Veritaserum. Certainly, if he had been questioned under the influence of the truth serum, Sirius would have cleared up the whole, messy matter of Pettigrew and the last-minute secret-keeper switch. In a recent update to her web site, Rowling responded to the frequently asked question regarding Veritaserum. Noting that “Sirius might have volunteered to take the potion had he been given the chance,” Rowling goes on to say that Barty Crouch, Sr., did not even offer Black a trial, much less a chance to take Veritaserum. Furthermore, Veritaserum “is not infallible,” as a skilled witch or wizard can keep from telling the truth even under the effects of the potion.

Still, even if Veritaserum wasn’t an option for Dumbledore, couldn’t he have used Legilimency? The problem with this theory is that it assumes that Dumbledore had a reason to suspect Sirius’s innocence. According to McGonagall, Dumbledore still believed, as of the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, that Sirius was the Potter’s secret keeper. Furthermore, Dumbledore had long suspected that there was a traitor close to the Potters (PoA, 205). Then there were Muggle witnesses who claimed to have seen Sirius murder Pettigrew the night of the Potters’ death (208). Given that evidence, Dumbledore, who held no office or position within the Ministry, had neither the impetus nor the power to go above Barty Crouch, Sr.’s head and request permission to question Sirius Black.

Even given these explanations as to why Dumbledore did not do more to help Harry and Sirius after the first fall of Voldemort, I tend to feel uneasy, angry even. How could it be that Albus Dumbledore - the only wizard Voldermort ever feared, the wise headmaster of Hogwarts, the man who defeated Grindelwald – had no other options?

Then I realized that the anger that I felt about Dumbledore’s failure to be more proactive corresponds directly with the anger Harry feels at the end of OotP. Like Harry, I wanted to throw something at the old man, to shake him and demand how he could have let these things happen. Rowling, then, had done her job. She had me as disappointed in the chimera of infallible authority as she had made Harry.

When we, like Harry, blame Dumbledore for failing to act, we’re admitting that we expected him to have the answers. Like Harry, we looked up to him, admired him, believed in him. By showing us Dumbledore’s mistakes, Rowling is not suggesting that we should now despise the once-great headmaster, though we may be tempted to dislike him in the wake of OotP. No, I think we’re meant to see Dumbledore for who he truly is: an old man who, despite all of his experience and wisdom, is not omniscient. Like most every other adult in the series, Dumbledore has made mistakes because he is, after all, just human. Dumbledore’s failures - beginning with his inability to rescue Harry from the Dursleys and Sirius from Azkaban, and ending with his failure to save Harry from the prophecy and Sirius from the Veil – are Rowling’s most powerful symbols of the vulnerability of authority. Teachers, parent figures, and government officials all fail Harry in his time of need. In the end, Harry has to rely on himself.

OotP shows the powerlessness and frailty of other adults besides Dumbledore. Molly Weasley, Harry’s strongest living mother figure, is seen weeping on the floor of the Grimmauld Place drawing room. McGonagall, for all of her sharp-tongued responses to Umbridge, cannot control the bureaucrat. And the Transfiguration professor is, in the end, literally knocked off her feet by the corrupt Ministry figures. Aside from Dumbledore, perhaps no other adults in the series fall quite so far in our estimation as Sirius and James, who are transformed from brave idols to bullying show offs in the depths of Snape’s Pensieve. Each of these characters appears weak – emotionally, physically, or personally - during the course of the novel.

The Ministry of Magic also serves as a symbol of the failure of authority. The actions of Fudge, Umbridge, and Percy Weasley teach Harry that he cannot rely on the government – the official authority of the community – to do what is right. Indeed, these authority figures, in my opinion, take the worst beating of all the characters in OotP. For all of Dumbledore’s failures, for all of Voldemort’s great crimes, it is Umbridge – the voice of the government – who becomes the most frightening villain of the book. Her cruel punishments and abuse of power suggest to Harry that he cannot equate civil authority with moral authority. Percy Weasley, much to the dismay of his family, fails to understand this lesson.

The initial result of this failure of authority is that Harry is isolated, either emotionally or physically, throughout much of the book. Some of this isolation is self-imposed, as when he refuses to talk with his friends in the aftermath of Arthur’s near death. Some of this isolation originates from Dumbledore, such as when he leaves Harry to stew over the summer at the Dursleys, or when the headmaster fails look Harry in the eye. By the end of the book, when Voldemort uses Legilimency to convince Harry that Sirius is danger, Harry does not have a single adult presence at Hogwarts that he can trust. Snape, of course, should have been the exception to this isolation, but the Potions master’s past interactions with Harry had already taught the boy not to rely on his bitter professor. No, Harry was alone.

Or was he?

OotP isn’t only a book about knocking Dumbledore and the rest of the adults off their pedestals. It is also a book that praises the power of friendship. While those with authority in Harry’s life fail him at ever turn, Harry’s friends remain at his side, even when he attempts to push them away. They even follow him into what at least one of them (Hermione) suspects is a trap.

Given the thematic overthrow of adult authority and the elevation of teenage friendship, it is tempting to argue that Rowling is simply appealing to her primary audience: young adults. However, I think Rowling’s message is deeper than a marketing ploy. The relationships that are most damaging in OotP are hierarchical in nature. Most often, this hierarchy is upheld by age: adults versus adolescents. However, there are counterexamples. The Order’s struggle against the Ministry, for example, has little to do with age. It has to do with power. And interestingly enough, there are hints that Hermione Granger, champion of house-elf freedom, is also abusing her authority. Her attempt to transform S.P.E.W. into a house-elf liberation front relies on deception, as she hides her knitted clothing in hopes that elves will accidentally free themselves. Hermione is much more successful when she helps to create another organization: Dumbledore’s Army. There, students come together, rejecting Umbridge’s hierarchical methods of teaching and instead embracing Harry’s more interactive, level instruction. Hermione should have realized from experience that groups based on common goals tend to be much more successful than organizations that, intentionally or not, reinforce hierarchy. By forcing clothes on the house-elves (in essence, forcing her values onto them), Hermione is, despite her good intentions, attempting to replace one hierarchy (master-elf relationship) with another. Once again, Rowling hints that authority, even in the best of hands, is vulnerable.

So while most of the positive relationships in OotP revolve around Harry’s friendship with other teenagers, Rowling is not calling for teenage rebellion (though Fred and George are fantastic role models for such behavior) so much as she is showing the importance of relationships built on commonality and equality. Individuals cannot count on authority figures – whether benevolent characters such as Dumbledore or power-hungry fools like Fudge – to do what is best for them. They are much more likely to be successful when they come together as relative equals with common goals.

However, when it comes down to the basic struggle of the series, Harry can’t even count on his friends. They may help him reach that final showdown with Voldemort, but if the prophecy is to be believed, the battle will take place on a lonely battlefield. When facing the ultimate evil, Harry will be quite alone. He will have learned important lessons from the best role models, like Dumbledore, even if they have failed him in times of need. He will feel the emotional support of his equals, his friends, even if they cannot do the job for him. But he will have to be the one to vanquish Voldemort.

A very real and frightening fact of life – for Harry and for us – is that there are some struggles that we have to face solely on our own. Dumbledore, as we learn at the end of OotP, was never meant to be the one with all of the answers. Indeed, when it comes to the one question that matters most – Will Harry be able to defeat Voldemort? – there’s only one person who can provide the answer. And that is, of course, Harry Potter himself.
 
 
 
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sophieromsophierom on July 2nd, 2005 12:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much!
the pink plotbunny's penfriend: robinwordplaywright on July 2nd, 2005 11:06 am (UTC)
OotP shows the powerlessness and frailty of other adults besides Dumbledore.

[...]when it comes down to the basic struggle of the series, Harry can’t even count on his friends[...]

He will feel the emotional support of his equals, his friends, even if they cannot do the job for him. But he will have to be the one to vanquish Voldemort.

A very real and frightening fact of life – for Harry and for us – is that there are some struggles that we have to face solely on our own.


Yeah, I guess you're absolutely right in all this - you've made a wonderful analysis, and pointed out all new things Rowling has brought into characters' interpersonal issues. Very nice work :)

You also imply that all these changes are the result of Voldemort's return, because the matters of life and death he makes Harry face introduce Harry into the adult world. Harry starts to see adults as vulnerable because he's slowly becoming one of them. The responsibility he has to cope with is the sign of adulthood.

That's all very well, but I don't feel that Voldemort's return is a strong enough basis for these changes. You see, when I reached the end of GoF, I thought Voldie is not a real/everyday kind of evil. When I say real/everyday, I mean dictators like Hitler. Or Stalin, or Kim Jong-il, or Mao Tse-tung, or Pinochet, or Saddam, or Usama Bin Laden. These real-life dictators were/are hopelessly human beings. Hitler loved dogs and was a charming old coot when it came to babysitting Frau Goebbels' kids. Stalin had a wonderful, wicked sense of humor. Bin Laden spent half his evil plotting life in a hospital bed while his kidneys were being washed clean. There isn't/wasn't anything mythical about these guys. In contrast, Voldie is absolutely mythical. For Heaven's sake, he looks like the devil incarnated, and speaks like Darth Vader. He drinks unicorn blood for breakfast, can talk to snakes, and has returned from death. That's quite a bit of symbolism, I guess.

So, I would have expected him to make events take a turn towards the mythical. In literature, evil guys like Voldie make the hero move towards unrealistic realms. Think about LOTR - the Shire is a bit of early 20th century rural England. When Sauron's ring comes into the story, Frodo's world starts swarming with fairytale creatures like elves, barrow-wights, nazguls etc. A journey like this, where the hero has to fight a mythical evil overlord is a journey into one's self. So, in that respect, I don't like the way Rowling has made events turn in OotP - it sort of mixes up Harry's mythical (psychological) fears and real-life-like events - it makes Harry's adventures look kind of lopsided, neither quite real nor magical enough. :(

I guess Rowling simply messed up the book in that respect.
sophierom: lily and harrysophierom on July 2nd, 2005 12:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comments. Your discussion of Voldemort and what kind of evil he represents is fascinating (a whole essay unto itself!). You make a persuasive argument that Rowling has conflated everyday evil and mythical evil.

A journey like this, where the hero has to fight a mythical evil overlord is a journey into one's self.

But hasn't Harry started on this journey? I'll admit that I'm way out of my depth here because I don't have a strong background in fantasy literature. I'd love to hear more, if you have the time and willingness, about what you see as the nature of this "journey into one's self." I'm not quite clear how that relates to the appearance of mythical, fairytale creatures. As I said, my understanding of the fantasy genre is quite weak.

I do think that Rowling's strengths are rooted in her ability to deal with "everyday" problems and struggles: maturation, interpersonal relationships, power relationships, and death are all issues that most humans deal with on a regular basis. So, are you arguing, then, that she should have made Voldemort a much more "human" or "everyday" villain to match these kinds of topics?

Very interesting ideas. Thanks so much for your comments. You've given me a great deal to consider.
the pink plotbunny's penfriendwordplaywright on July 3rd, 2005 10:59 pm (UTC)
So, are you arguing, then, that she should have made Voldemort a much more "human" or "everyday" villain to match these kinds of topics?

Yeah, because in real life it always turns out there's no such thing as a completely evil person. People are multifaceted beings. I guess JKR made Voldie so evil because she wanted kids to hate him, together with all his pureblood supremacist ideas. Actually, I think he's some sort of an educational aid. He provides JKR with supplementary material to teach kids racism as such is a bad thing. :)

But hasn't Harry started on this journey? [...] I'm not quite clear how that relates to the appearance of mythical, fairytale creatures.

There's a woman called Hanna Kende who works for the Society of Adlerian Psychoanalysis in France. She uses the Harry Potter books in child psychotherapy. She says the fact that the books are enjoyed by both adults and children shows there's a vital need in people to visit fantasy realms, fairy worlds or dreamlands sometimes, no matter how old they are.

She says dreamworlds allow you to see problems similar to real life problems (friendship, love, decisions about your future). The difference is that in a dreamworld, you always have magic, which makes the problems look easier. That helps people to see all those hidden and often irrational motivating factors that made them decide this way or that way in a particular question.

That's where fairytale creatures come in. The way they differ from "normal", everyday creatures is an indicator of your fears and/or desires, your expectations etc. (A therapist can even interpret them and then help you to overcome these fears, or to achieve whatever you want to achieve.)

A fairytale world allows people to use a part of their personality which would otherwise remain unconscious. It gives you a chance to clarify emotional issues which bother you.
cordelia_vcordelia_v on July 2nd, 2005 11:35 am (UTC)
This is very well-reasoned and well-crafted. I enjoyed it greatly. In fact, it's so persuasive that I find myself at a loss for any response, other than to nod repeatedly!

Thanks so much for this.
sophierom: walk in the woodssophierom on July 2nd, 2005 12:33 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! Without meaning to sound like a sycophant - but sounding like one, nonetheless - it means a lot that you found the essay persuasive. I've enjoyed lurking around your LJ in order to read your essays and thoughts on fandom. ;-D
cordelia_vcordelia_v on July 2nd, 2005 12:38 pm (UTC)
Oh, I wouldn't call what you do "lurking": you comment sometimes, so I knew you were reading my lj.

Anyway, congratulations on a successful piece!
laurenstoryteller on July 2nd, 2005 02:14 pm (UTC)
Thank you for such a poignant look at Dumbledore. I agree that one of the hardest lessons for me as an HP reader to learn is that of the fact that Harry can truly count on no one, which is a pretty pessimistic outlook. However, the fact is, people aren't infallible, and Dumbledore is certainly no exception. I love your picture of authority, and this essay was a treat to read.

However, I do have two questions:

Firstly: Harry is already quite independent. He got that from growing up in a cupboard. What point was Dumbledore trying to make by making him not trust adults, but then trust *him*, only to then prove that he himself is not worthy of complete trust?

Secondly: I understand that Veritaserum, Legilimency &etc. weren't valid options, as they are ultimately fallible. However, why did Dumbledore not even *talk* to Sirius. Why did no one talk to him? And why was Dumbledore so quick to accept his story in PoA? If they had that conversation twelve years earlier ...
sophieromsophierom on July 2nd, 2005 02:37 pm (UTC)
First, thanks so much for the topic! I realized, after I posted, that I didn't, perhaps, answer your questions so much as go off on my own little tangent. Sorry about that ... never could stay on topic in school! ;-D

In an attempt to respond to your questions:

1. What point was Dumbledore trying to make by making him not trust adults, but then trust *him*, only to then prove that he himself is not worthy of complete trust?

See, I don't think Dumbledore was trying to making Harry "not trust adults." I think this is a bad side effect of Dumbledore's inability to make any other choice in the matter. He knew, as he said in OotP, that he was sending Harry off to 10 years of darkness, but if we are to believe him, Dumbledore made this decision only because he felt he had no other way to ensure Harry's safety. Also, it's interesting that Harry doesn't, in my view, distrust adults in Book 1. He certainly dislikes his aunt and uncle, but this dislike seems to translate not to distrust instead to disbelief - disbelief that anyone could possibly love him. The effect of living with the Dursleys, then, was to create lower self-worth, not lack of trust. After all, Harry trusts Hagrid almost without question in Book 1. The only adult figure that he doesn't trust is Snape, and that's because of Snape's seemingly shifty behavior in that book.

I also think that Dumbledore's failure to tell Harry about the propechy resulted from the headmaster's feelings of guilt for putting Harry with the Dursleys for so many years. I don't have my books nearby, but I believe Dumbledore said at the end of OotP, something like, I wanted you to have a childhood (did I just imagine that? Quite possible!). I don't think Dumbledore ever intended to keep Harry from trusting all adults except himself. I think Dumbledore just didn't know how to reconcile his guilt with his need to ensure Harry's safety, and that resulted in the headmaster's failure to be trustworthy. It was a mistake motivated by guilt and lack of choices, not by a desire to keep Harry from trusting others.

How do you see the issue?

2. why did Dumbledore not even *talk* to Sirius. Why did no one talk to him? And why was Dumbledore so quick to accept his story in PoA?

When Sirius was arrested in 1981, Dumbledore held no position within the government. How could he have demanded to speak to Sirius when Barty Crouch, Sr., wasn't even willing to give him a trial? It's as if a well-respected scholar from RL demanded that the U.S. government let him question a prisoner in Guantanamo Bay (er, maybe I best not make that analogy, but as an American, I've seen this discussion so often in the news that I can't get it out of my head. Sorry!). The government would say, forget it. You have no authority to do so. Also, if all evidence pointed to Sirius's guilt, Dumbledore would have no grounds for requesting such a meeting. He's a powerful wizard and headmaster of Hogwarts, but as far as I know, he has no power in the Ministry. We see this even in Harry's time ... he's constantly fighting the Ministry over the running of the school and the progress of the second war. Dumbledore is powerful but he's an outsider to the system.

As for why Dumbledore so quickly accepted Sirius's story in PoA, this is something that I readily admit I cannot answer. That does seem problematic. My only guess is that Lupin went to Dumbledore, showed him the Marauder's Map, and told the headmaster all about how the Marauders were animagi. These pieces of evidence might have made Dumbledore realize that he'd been mistake about Sirius all along.

Again, what are your thoughts on this?

Best,
Sophie
laurenstoryteller on July 2nd, 2005 03:19 pm (UTC)
I know exactly what you mean about getting off topic. I oftentimes forget what the subject I'm supposed to be writing on actually is.

1) I do actually think that Harry distrusts adults, or rather, if he can avoid it, he does not go to them for help. I look at how long it took for Harry to say anything until he was *sure* that the stone was in jeopardy. I look at how when Dumbledore asks Harry in CoS if there is anything more he wishes to tell him and Harry shakes his head. Harry likes doing things on his own. He never had a parent - someone to go to when things were going wrong. He's reluctant to go to Sirius in OotP with his problems because he's afraid Sirius will over react and do something stupid. In the end, his distrust of Snape (which really is another thing altogeher, but similarly related) leads to him leaving for the Department of Mysteries. Harry has been taught by example (true, through the Dursleys) that adults aren't meant to coddle you. He doesn't know how to react to Molly hugging him in GoF, like a mother would. From what I gather, Dumbledore in OotP is the *only* person to tell Harry they love him (excluding people telling him his mother and father loved him very much). Love is almost uncomfortable in HP, because through Harry's eyes, it is rarely named or addressed, and it is almost always associate with pain.

Anyway, getting back on subject, I do agree that Dumbledore was probably not trying to teach a lesson on trust. Harry learned one, no doubt, as did Dumbledore. Not trusting Harry with the truth is, I believe a mistake, but who knows. He might have made a smart move. I *do* think that Dumbledore wanted Harry to not depend on the help of adults in order to strengthen him (out of love, if you will) so that when it came down to the end - when Harry is facing Voldemort, alone (though how ironic if the power Voldemort knows not is friendship?), he will be able to save himself and the Wizarding World. I also do think that Dumbledore wants Harry to trust him, but not depend on him, which brings up an interesting conflict of interests. There, I do pity Dumbledore.

2) I don't actually agree that Dumbledore didn't have the power to talk to Sirius. He very much had the power to. For one thing, the wizarding community is much smaller than a Muggle country's. Almost every witch or wizard in Britain has passed through Hogwarts. He controls education, inadvertently controlling the future - without his impressive credentials, he's already a formidable power.

It would be very plausible to want to hear why Sirius turned, who turned him, if there were any other traitors. At the very least, wouldn't they want to question him to root out more Death Eaters? As the supposed second-in-command to the Dark Lord, wouldn't Sirius be privy to that knowledge? (Of course, I'm also wondering why the Ministry didn't come to this conclusion.)

Personally, I've always been a bit of a conspiracy theorist. I do think that Dumbledore wants the good side to win in the end, and that he really does love Harry. However, I do also think that he manipulates things to an environment he can control. Sirius is a person he cannot control. For him to be free, Harry would be his. Sirius isn't the best of influences on a child, if we're honest. If Sirius is gone, Harry grows up like Dumbledore wants him to. If you're really interested in what I think, check out Harmatia a Dumbledore-centric gen fic I wrote about my feelings.
Chicleechicleeblair on July 2nd, 2005 04:19 pm (UTC)
To butt in with no real reason, I think Harry doesn't mistrust adults so much as, as you said, he has never had a parent figure and never learned to go to them for help. One can see four year old Harry bandaging himself after a fall, for instance. He never went to the Dursleys with any problems, as he points out in PoA, so even now he'd rather solve problems for himself, as he knows he will get them done. It's an unconcious "if you want something done right do it yourself".
sophierom: walk in the woodssophierom on July 2nd, 2005 06:36 pm (UTC)
I think, as both you and storyteller have pointed out, there's a fine line between self-reliance and mistrust. Whether Harry always walks that line ... I'm conflicted about that, honestly. He doesn't seem to show the sort of mistrust that I imagine someone like Snape - possibly the classic abused/abuser figure - shows. Snape seems like someone who relies on himself because he absolutely refuses to rely on anyone else. Harry, though, does seem willing to open up to adults a bit, if they work with him. So yes, I like the idea that Harry doesn't automatically mistrust adults so much as he doesn't know how to approach them.
lauren: smokin'storyteller on July 2nd, 2005 09:46 pm (UTC)
Point taken - it's not mistrust so much as independence. However, I do think that Harry was afraid to trust people with the fact that he was hearing voices in the walls.

And Harry does go to Dumbledore when things go very awry. Which makes me wonder if he will continue to do in HBP.

I also like the idea that Harry is just now learning how to have relationships with people. I think he's slowly growing up in that regard, though he's still much more mature than many people his age as far as his relationship with adults. Ron doesn't have the same kind of camardie Harry shared with Sirius or Remus.
sophieromsophierom on July 2nd, 2005 06:05 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comemnts and for the link to your fic. I'll check it out when I have a moment.
vanityfair00vanityfair00 on July 2nd, 2005 05:04 pm (UTC)
Rowling, then, had done her job.
I completely agree with this. We also don't have the full story yet. Not until the end of book seven do I think we will truly understand what happened that night and why Dumbledore did what he did.

OotP shows the powerlessness and frailty of other adults besides Dumbledore.
I read this and I kept thinking about that moment in my own life when I suddenly realized that the adults, mainly those in my family, were not as perfect as I had thought them to be, but real human beings that had flaws and made mistakes. As teenagers we tend to go to the other extreme, thinking that adults know nothing. We turn to our friends, as Harry does in OOTP. In my opinion a sign of maturity is the ability to balance that idea, that those people in authority over us aren't perfect but not completely useless either. I hope to see that progression in Harry in the next two books.

Thanks for the interesting read. You did a fantastic job.
sophierom: lily and harrysophierom on July 2nd, 2005 06:38 pm (UTC)
In my opinion a sign of maturity is the ability to balance that idea, that those people in authority over us aren't perfect but not completely useless either.

You said exactly what I was trying to say, but with so much more concision! ;-D

Thanks so much for reading and commenting!
a_t_raina_t_rain on July 2nd, 2005 06:53 pm (UTC)
Thank you for writing this. I've gotten so sick of all the Dumbledore-bashing in the fandom, and it's nice to see a balanced view.

I also think you're spot-on about what Rowling is doing with authority in the series.
sophierom: walk in the woodssophierom on July 2nd, 2005 07:20 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much! After writing this, I'm more keyed up than ever to read HBP ... definitely want to see how Dumbledore approaches Harry after their big discussion in OotP. I just have to keep telling myself, two more weeks, two more weeks! (That, and I have a billion non-fandom things I'm supposed to be doing! ;-D)

Lovely avatar, btw ... Kanga and Roo?
Don't Make Me Get The Newspaperblack_dog on July 3rd, 2005 08:05 am (UTC)
This is a great essay, and I think your description of Dumbledore is not only dead-on-target, but very important for understanding the series as a whole. An essential part of our moral development is coming to understand the fragility and fallibility of authority, even as we may respect and love what it aspires to be.

If I have any dissent from this essay, it's that in your conclusion it feels like you reach for too clean a sense of closure, for too complete a solution to the problem of authority, in your praise of friendship and shared enterprises and self-reliance. It's true that these are important sources of reassurance and power, important alternative resources that make up for the limits of authority. But friends can be unreliable; mob behavior can ripple through your social connections; and self-confidence can be devastating if it is deluded. Even friendship and self-reliance, then, are not exempt from the same sense of vertigo and instability that you convincingly attribute, here, to authority.

I very much like a point that Harry himself makes in OOTP when he is explaining to Ron and Hermione why he is not a hero. When he mentions how easily it could have been him that was killed, instead of Cedric, and insists that the victory had nothing to do with his own qualities, he seems to be stressing, in a very tough minded way, that there are no guarantees at all -- not in authority, not in friends, not even in yourself. (In fact, it can be disastrous to trust in yourself if you have an overly mythical sense of your own heroic or invulnerable nature.) And it may be that this sense of vulnerability, this refusal of any security from fantasy or hope, is itself an important resource for someone like Harry. While of course it offers no more guarantees than anything else, it does keep him alert -- it keeps him focused, wary, self-critical, on his toes.

A grim picture, yes, but this, perhaps, is what keeps him alive and gives him a chance to prevail. Constant Vigilance! :)
sophieromsophierom on July 3rd, 2005 01:45 pm (UTC)
First off, thanks so much for reading.

Even friendship and self-reliance, then, are not exempt from the same sense of vertigo and instability that you convincingly attribute, here, to authority.

Well said. I take your point, though as you mention at the end of your comments, this paints a grim picture. I agree, though, that my take on authority as the only vulnerable source of power is more than a little too neat.

And it may be that this sense of vulnerability, this refusal of any security from fantasy or hope, is itself an important resource for someone like Harry.

What an interesting idea. What you seem to be suggesting, then, is that although this is a fantasy series, Rowling is actually talking about the danger of fantasy. I don't know that I agree with the idea that she's promoting a "refusal of any security from ...hope", because I think fantasy, unlike hope, is generally baseless. Hope (or perhaps faith) is, in its best manifestation, built on action. I fantasize about winning the lottery, but I hope for a better life by working hard (perhaps a facile example, but oh well!). And yes, fantasy is the dead opposite of "constant vigilance!", isn't it? Of course, on either extreme, these positions appear slightly foolish. It's Mad-Eye Moody versus Luna Lovegood! ;-D

Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply.
Don't Make Me Get The Newspaperblack_dog on July 3rd, 2005 04:15 pm (UTC)
What you seem to be suggesting, then, is that although this is a fantasy series, Rowling is actually talking about the danger of fantasy.

Yes, I do think so. I think her take on fantasy is complicated, because she's talking about the whole process by which a person matures. At some point, Harry needs absolute (and somewhat "fantastic") confidence in, for example, Dumbledore, so that he can feel secure enough to grow and to partly recover from the Dursleys. But at some further point -- and this was OOTP, I think -- he needs to painfully get past that simple, absolute confidence. If you don't manage it . . . you end up like Luna, as you say. Certainly a major theme throughout the books has to do with the many ways decent people can lose their bearings, and fantasy is one of them. That overall theme is one of the things that makes her world so much more interesting than black and white.

On the other hand, you make a nice point here about Moody, and the dangers of excessive lack of faith. I think you're absolutely right to make a distinction between fantasy and hope, and I'm willing to stand corrected on that.

It makes me think a little bit about where exactly Harry is on that spectrum, and where he needs to be. Maybe Harry right now is a bit too much of a fatalist, maybe he really is a bit too grim. And so, one of the next issues in his development is whether he can find some strong sense of realistic hope, at least in some areas of his life, and flourish a little bit more, emotionally.

Interesting. And fun to talk with you, when it provokes thoughts like this.