[DWJ] Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, part 2

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Thu Jul 12 03:46:58 EDT 2007

Last, Dumbledore.  My reading of his character has definitely been
influenced by the discussion on this list, which I much enjoyed.  I
conceived this project as an independent reading of the series rather than a
response to those who dislike it (though since I do like the series, a
certain amount of that is natural).  So I haven't, though I've wanted to,
gone back to re-read the posts about Dumbledore and some of the problems
people have with him, because I didn't want to deliberately read to counter
those opinions.  What I have done is taken the general sense of those
opinions as a challenge to myself to read Dumbledore a little more
critically, to see whether my opinions are based on the unquestioned
assumption that he is the archetypal Obi-Wan mentor figure, and whether the
encouragement of that assumption represents a flaw in Rowling's universe.  

In _Chamber of Secrets_, Rowling develops Dumbledore as the all-knowing
super-mage and establishes that this is something inherent in him, not an
aspect of his role as headmaster (and, presumably, as the only wizard
Voldemort was afraid of).  When Tom Riddle, monologuing in the finest
supervillain style, tells Harry the full truth about what happened the first
time the Chamber of Secrets was opened, he mentions that Dumbledore seemed
to suspect him:

"'Only the Transfiguration teacher, Dumbledore, seemed to think Hagrid was
innocent....Yes, I think Dumbledore might have guessed....Dumbledore never
seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did....'
"'I bet Dumbledore saw right through you,' said Harry." (p. 312)

Dumbledore, while not as omniscient as he is in the "present" of the novels
(see p. 245), still has the foundation for the skills he develops later.
Though he seems to know a great deal--he knows that Harry is hiding
something about the Chamber of Secrets (p. 208-9), and he seems to know that
Harry and Ron are using the Invisibility Cloak in Hagrid's hut (p.
264)--he's also willing to let Harry, Ron, and Hermione take enormous risks
rather than intervene and have the adults handle it.  There are a number of
ways to interpret this.  Either Rowling is acting in the tradition of all
young adult fiction in letting her young heroes solve problems without adult
help, or she's allowing the one character who has the knowledge, skill, and
responsibility to solve the problem be criminally negligent in his duties to
the children in his care.  (A third possibility is that Dumbledore's great
insight and omniscience tells him exactly how Harry is capable of handling
things; this reading is supported by textual evidence of Dumbledore's
capabilities, but there's nothing in the *plot* that suggests Dumbledore
operates this way, so I mention it as a possibility that could be borne out
in later books.)

To be honest, that second possibility never even occurred to me until later.
I'm used to reading books in which kids overcome tremendous odds and face
mortal dangers, even fighting well-meaning adults who don't want to see them
get hurt.  That Dumbledore doesn't intervene strikes me as a natural part of
this kind of story.  The thing that makes it problematic (to me, anyway) is
just that he's *so* aware and insightful and so forth, but there isn't any
evidence that he has his own agenda when these horrible events come up--and
if he's that good, he really ought to.  Geez, even *Snape* has his own
agenda and you can even see what it is sometimes.  I think the problem is
that Dumbledore isn't being used *enough* in this story.

And that's my conclusion, as well: J.K. Rowling is an insanely creative
person.  She comes up with ideas that have shape and form and a lot of
possibilities.  Most of them, she uses well--I forgot to bring up earlier
how much I liked the Polyjuice Potion and Hermione's "exploration" of a
possible side effect (p. 225-6).  And some of them really are just throwaway
ideas that don't have to be fully realized.  But there are a few that have
implications for the story world that just don't get handled--and they're
good enough, solid enough, that you can't just ignore them or read past
them.  This is, I think, where Rowling is going to get herself into trouble
in future episodes of the Harry Potter saga.

Next up:  _Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban_.  I've always said it's
my favorite of the series, but will it stay that way?

Melissa Proffitt

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