Seventh and final blog post spurred by reading The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman.
The final chapter of Irvin’s book addresses the similarity between Dumbledore’s storyline and Snape’s.
In the chapter of Deathly Hallows called “The Life and Lies of Albus Dumbledore,” Harry and Hermione lay out the terms of the debate. Harry is in despair after seeing Rita Skeeter’s proof that Dumbledore once supported Grindelwald’s cause. Hermione says “they were both really young,” and Harry points out that he and Hermione, “risking our lives to fight the Dark Arts,” are the same age that Dumbledore was then. Harry shouts about this so loudly that he scares several blackbirds. Hermione replies to him with this truth:
“He changed, Harry, he changed! It’s as simple as that! Maybe he did believe these things when he was seventeen, but the whole of the rest of his life was devoted to fighting the Dark Arts! Dumbledore was the one who stopped Grindelwald, the one who always voted for Muggle protection and Muggle-born rights, who fought You-Know-Who from the start, and who died trying to bring him down!”
Unlike Snape, Dumbledore lived to old age, fighting this fight. By the time we meet him, decades of powerful good magic had changed him. If Snape had lived to the same age, who knows if he would have grown to be more like Dumbledore. Snape did believe in Death Eater philosophy when he was seventeen and he did die trying to bring Voldemort down. Snape is an extremely unpopular character in many parts of Harry Potter fandom; fans will commonly point out that he spent many years as a classroom bully and no time demonstrating in public fashion that he championed Muggle-born rights. If we look at the analogous period of Dumbledore’s life, the nebulous years between Ariana’s death and the moment he defeated Grindelwald after long avoidance, we see a story similar to Snape’s. Dumbledore once believed in something indisputably evil, rationalized it, contributed to the death of a loved one, and spent the rest of his life in regret and atonement. He and Snape were both very young at the time; the point is that when one’s youthful mistakes lead to death or irreversible harm, especially to a loved one, that splits the soul in a way that does not make exceptions for youth. You suffer guilt even if you were not quite an adult choosing to cause harm in full, mature consciousness; the dead person is just as dead. Snape and Dumbledore work together to prevent Draco and Harry from bringing the same fate onto themselves, even unintentionally.
Many fans who have anti-Snape sentiment argue strongly against considering the circumstances that shaped Snape, afraid that understanding them may lead to excusing him for his crimes and abusive behavior. I argue that understanding the circumstances that shaped him is essential to seeing how he became a young Death Eater and applying that knowledge to intervening in other young people’s lives before they, too, can make similar choices that lead to irreparable harm. I am not saying that Snape wasn’t as bad as people think; I am saying that Dumbledore, who had become a great and good wizard by the time Harry knew him, was once just as harmful. Irvin takes us up to this point with his book, looking at the Dumbledore we knew through Deathly Hallows. Now that we are getting new material about Dumbledore, a bit from Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and a great deal, most of it still to come, from the Fantastic Beasts film series, I predict that we will see, in much greater detail, that the problematic Dumbledore of youth and middle age was more similar to Snape than we previously believed.
Buy Irvin’s book! It’ll help you think new thoughts about Dumbledore and ground you in the next several years as you encounter new information about the wizard who defined the 20th century in Potterverse!
The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman, $14.99.