Thursday, July 21, 2005

More on Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince

This post is a huge spoiler – do not read any further if you haven’t finished Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, and you still intend to read it.

You’ve been duly warned.

I’m not kidding ... Quite serious indeed. What I’m discussing in this post will blow the ending of the book ... Turn back now before it’s too late.

Last chance ...

For those of you still with me – you’ve either read the book or you haven’t. I’m commenting on one of my favorite characters: Albus Dumbledore.

Dumbledore is the headmaster of Hogwarts School, and he’s something of Harry’s mentor and protector. I enjoy the character so much because he maintains a childlike and playful spirit throughout all the books. We meet Dumbledore in the first book of the series when he stands and welcomes new students to the school: "Welcome to a new year at Hogwarts. Before we begin our banquest, I would like to say a few words. And here they are: Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!" (123). The secret password to get into his offices are invariably his favorite sweets ("sherbet lemon" being my favorite). He is powerful and at times solemn and always proper, but he is not always serious.

But what I most enjoy is how he is the master of giving second chances – he accepts into his school as professors those who are otherwise ostracized by the wizarding world: the bumbling but ever brave half-giant Hagrid, the incompetent but once gifted teacher of Divination Trelawney, the threadbare warewolf who is a brilliant teacher Lupin, and the former servant of evil who repented Snape. Again and again, Dumbledore shows himself to be a picture of grace – of the idea that these people didn’t earn their positions off their titles or how good they looked. Dumbledore granted them their positions purely out of grace, and his love for them transformed them into the delightful, if oddball, characters that they are. Not a bad image of the kind of radical transforming grace God extends to us, is it? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:8-10)

Now for the spoiler – it seems in this new book that Dumbledore’s desire to give second chances causes his downfall. In the climactic scene, Dumbledore is killed by Snape – who he had sent to work as a double agent, spying on Voldemort’s plans. In this book, Dumbledore dies.

It’s a sad scene, and it has made a lot of readers mad, but it makes perfect sense. Evil does destroy – even beloved mentors. Dumbledore is prepared for this, and he's ready to pass the baton. It is time for Harry to grow up. Harry must confront the evil and combat it. However, that is not the end – Harry will also have to become a Dumbledore figure to the next generation.

Now for my totally unsolicited theory – and this will get Potterheads gabbing with comments: I don’t think that Snape really betrayed Dumbledore. A careful reader of that climactic scene will notice that Snape didn’t inflict nearly the destruction on Dumbledore’s allies that he should have, if he were truly given over to the dark side. My theory (and Tammy shares this, so it must be a good theory) is that Dumbledore knew Snape might have to kill him in order to preserve his underground status – he knew that Snape’s proximity to the villain was a key element in ultimately overthrowing him. I think that Dumbledore, working like an expert chess master, placed his pieces on the board in such a way so that when he sacrificed on major piece (ie, himself), he is able to ultimately win the day.