Khaytman on Dumbledore, Ch 7 [end]

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.

Khaytman on Dumbledore, Ch 6

Further reflections spurred by reading The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman.

In the Half-Blood Prince chapter, Irvin starts with the moment that Dumbledore is injured by the ring Horcrux and then branches out into complex speculation about what Dumbledore might have been thinking during his final year, as he prepared Harry to fight Voldemort without him.  My conclusions are different from Irvin’s on several points, but I agree with him that, in many ways, it is Dumbledore rather than Snape who most closely resembles Machiavelli’s prince.

As I followed along with Irvin’s many forays into Dumbledore’s possible thinking, I realized his considerations about Hallows and Horcruxes have led me to a new view of Dumbledore’s goals during his final year.

Like the Knights of the Round Table with the Holy Grail, the Hallows quest is about worthiness.  When the ring Horcrux blew up and killed Dumbledore’s hand, it was the clearest possible message that Dumbledore was not worthy; his lifelong quest to unite the Hallows was over.  He only survived long enough to secure an extra year of life because he and Snape, together, fought to keep him alive in order to protect others — a motivation that has greater magical power than simply a desire to survive for one’s own sake.

I believe Dumbledore’s catastrophic failure to possess the third Hallow humbled him and refocused him to realize that the work of his remaining life would be in guiding Harry, the one with the power to vanquish Voldemort.  Although Dumbledore wanted Voldemort defeated, he knew he could leave that ultimate confrontation to Harry — or rather, that he should, and that it was not up to him, ultimately, to control the success or failure of a fight that belonged to Harry.  Dumbledore’s part was in keeping Harry’s soul whole and strong, because it was the wholeness of Harry’s soul that gave him the advantage over Voldemort.  Killing another person splits the soul; Dumbledore had to set up Harry to avoid killing.  Disarmament through Expelliarmus and other defensive moves are more powerful than attack, as we saw from Draco winning the Elder Wand from Dumbledore; Dumbledore had to train Harry to face Voldemort without attacking.  Dumbledore had definitive proof that anyone who tried to seize the Deathly Hallows for personal gain would be too distracted by their greed or obsession to possess them safely.  He could not guarantee that Harry would be able to resist, for example, the desire to use the Stone to see his dead parents; he could only try to stress to Harry that it was more important to continue with the quest to rehumanize Voldemort through destroying Horcruxes than to encourage an iffy and misleading fantasy about Hallows.

The Arthurian allusions in HP, especially in the final volume, are among the most imaginative and confident of JKR’s manipulations of folklore.  The concept of Hallows recalls the quest for the Holy Grail and how it eluded all but the worthy.  I hadn’t thought much, until Irvin’s book, about how the Dumbledore of HBP and DH acknowledged that Hallows were his life quest, that he had made a valiant attempt and united two of the three, and that his time was over.  The Hallows were not meant to be Harry’s quest.  Harry’s quest, to destroy Horcruxes, meant this:  a powerful serial killer had scarred Harry for life from toddlerhood, and Harry had to fight to remain himself, not to let this criminal become a true part of him, not to become this criminal — as would happen if he killed Voldemort but retained part of Voldemort’s soul, still alive, in his scar.  In other words, Voldemort had more-than-human stature in Harry’s life and imagination; Harry could secure the wholeness of his soul by cutting Voldemort down to size.  Making him mortal again.  He was just a human, and a severely damaged human, at that.  He was not immortal, and not meant to be.  Let him die.  Let Harry survive, whole.  Let him track down every point at which Voldemort fractured himself, understand them, bring those things to their mortal end, and know Voldemort for a human who can choose to be accountable for his crimes, like the rest of us are.  Never mind uniting the Hallows.  The important thing for Harry is the right to live and die a mortal life, with love.

I don’t think Dumbledore was sacrificing Harry for Dumbledore’s own ultimate goal of defeating Voldemort from beyond the grave.  I don’t think he had such a goal.  I think he knew that if he stuck with his plan of safeguarding Harry’s soul, guiding him toward keeping his soul whole, that it was everyone’s best chance for Harry to put away Voldemort for good — which would leave not only Harry’s soul intact, but return Voldemort to being a mortal with a soul, an achievement that would be awesome in the truest sense of the word.  I think this because in the “King’s Cross” chapter, Dumbledore acknowledges, without agenda, that Harry has a choice.  He can return to fight Voldemort and possibly end his reign of terror.  Or he can choose to go on.  Dumbledore guesses, based on the best information and knowledge of Harry’s nature, that Harry will choose to return… but there is no pressure from Dumbledore to influence Harry’s decision.

This is why I think Dumbledore’s ultimate goal was not to defeat Voldemort but to do whatever he could, within his mortal power, to help his students and former students keep their souls intact.  We see foreshadowing of this intention in his scene with 11-year-old Tom Riddle in the orphanage, spelling the stolen trinkets in Tom’s wardrobe to rattle, like soul fragments in their Horcrux containers, to emphasize that stolen or separated things should be reunited with their owners.  Dumbledore enabled Snape to do that with the repeated chances to fight for Harry, tough customer though Snape was; Snape returned memories of Lily to Harry before he died.  Dumbledore enabled Harry to do that by training him to focus on rehumanizing Voldemort rather than chasing supermagical objects; Harry reconsolidated Voldemort into a single soul by ensuring that no outside fragments of Voldemort’s soul remained.  Dumbledore enabled Voldemort to do that by following the one drop of hope, Voldemort’s identification with Harry and the possibility of empathy and therefore remorse.  Dumbledore enabled Draco to do that, more successfully than he expected, by working with Snape to put in safeguards against Draco becoming an attacker and a killer.  But he didn’t stick around beyond his own mortality to ensure that Voldemort would be defeated.  He made one choice when the curse on the Resurrection Stone destroyed his hand:  he chose to go back, to spend whatever time he had left in helping to prepare Harry.  He made the other choice when he was facing Draco and Snape in the tower:  he chose to go on, and he did not haunt anyone.

Khaytman on Dumbledore, Ch 5

Further reflections spurred by reading The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman.

The Order of the Phoenix chapter of Irvin Khaytman’s Dumbledore book is the one that opened my eyes the most.  Even though the clues had always been there, and there had even been explicit pointers to the clues, I had never thought to put everything together to realize that Dumbledore spent the rest of his life hunting Horcruxes, from the end of Goblet of Fire until the day he died.

Foreshadowing, from the second chapter of Goblet of Fire:  “Harry had no idea where Dumbledore went during the summer holidays.  He amused himself for a moment, picturing Dumbledore, with his long silver beard, full-length wizard’s robes, and pointed hat, stretched out on a beach somewhere, rubbing suntan lotion onto his crooked nose.”

Clue, as Irvin points out, from the moment in OotP when Dumbledore claims responsibility for Dumbledore’s Army and leaves the school:  “‘Oh no,’ said Dumbledore, with a grim smile, ‘I am not leaving to go into hiding.'”

Clue, from the “Silver and Opals” chapter of Half-Blood Prince:  “Where was Dumbledore, and what was he doing?  Harry caught sight of the headmaster only twice over the next few weeks.  He rarely appeared at meals anymore, and Harry was sure Hermione was right in thinking that he was leaving the school for days at a time.”

In his OotP chapter, Irvin goes over the timeline of what Dumbledore figured out about the Horcruxes and when, what questions he had, and how he sought answers.  He is right.  This was fully occupying Dumbledore’s mind behind the scenes of OotP — and OotP has the most complex simultaneous, interwoven scenes of any of the books.

There are many points in this chapter where Irvin’s reading and mine diverge.  For example, he believes that the prophecy means that Harry and Voldemort will have to kill each other, so Dumbledore is training Harry to be a “Voldemort slayer”; I believe Dumbledore interpreted the prophecy to mean only that Voldemort would have to kill Harry, not the other way around, but he chose not to enlighten Harry about that specific interpretation when Harry said, at the end of the “Horcruxes” chapter of HBP, “That one of us is going to end up killing the other.”  Irvin believes that Snape was taunting Harry in his customary self-indulgent, immature manner during the Occlumency lessons, whereas I think Snape was too tense to do so, conducting the lessons in a mindset of grim, businesslike fear, mindful that Voldemort was eavesdropping on his performance through Harry’s scar.

However, any differences in reading are minor compared to the great gift that this chapter gave me:  the clear recognition of Dumbledore’s steady Horcrux hunt for the last two years of his life.  Irvin’s book paid for itself with that point alone.

Khaytman on Dumbledore, Ch 4

Further reflections spurred by reading The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman.

In the Goblet of Fire chapter of Irvin Khaytman’s Dumbledore book, he writes that there is a rift between Dumbledore and Snape, following the events of Prisoner of Azkaban, so severe that they are not even speaking to each other for most of this year.  While I don’t agree that the lack of communication is caused exactly by the kind of rift Khaytman describes, I am completely convinced by Khaytman’s demonstration that problems arose because Dumbledore and Snape were not communicating.

In my reading, Snape is jumpy primarily because his Dark Mark is coming back and he has to reckon with the past, with the change in loyalties that have been mostly theoretical until now, and with the likelihood that the return of Voldemort is a death sentence for him, one way or another.  He has to think about this while under the mocking and skeptical magical gaze of Mad-Eye Moody (or so he believes), who knows every bad thing Snape ever did, believes Snape does not have it in him to reform, and taunts him about it.  Furthermore, Snape is resentful about being demoted from his role as unofficial part-time Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher because unlike Lupin when he was ill, or Quirrell and Lockhart, who were useless, Moody is fully qualified to teach DADA, much better than Snape is.  I think Dumbledore is giving Snape space and keeping an eye on him while the Dark Mark intensifies, checking in on him during the Yule Ball, but not relying on him during this uncertain time, especially when he has his old war buddy Moody in whom to confide.  The status-conscious Snape is touchy about this decreased access to the one person who matters most at Hogwarts — and this is something I did not realize until I read Khaytman’s book.

I had never before found a fully satisfying reading for Snape’s twisted gatekeeping tactics when Harry is trying to get to Dumbledore’s office to tell him that Barty Crouch, Sr. is in the forest (GoF 558).  He sees Harry’s panic and takes pleasure in obstructing him from reaching Dumbledore — why?  “Because he’s a miserable git” is not enough of an answer for me; Snape is a miserable git all of the time, but he only blocks Harry’s access in this manner once.  Now that I look at the scene while thinking about Khaytman’s discussion of Snape’s reduced access to Dumbledore, it finally occurs to me that Snape is acting out his frustration at being excluded by wielding petty power and excluding Harry, in turn.  It would be in character for him.

We see a callback to this kind of jealousy and insecurity in the Spinner’s End chapter of Half-Blood Prince when Snape knows just how to drop delicate taunts about Bellatrix’s decreased access to Voldemort.  I don’t think there’s a direct line between the two incidents, and I’m sure Snape had many other opportunities to become an expert on the nature of jealousy, but remembering his (feigned) smugness and Bellatrix’s insecurity affirms my reading of a similar dynamic between Fake Moody and Snape during the year that Dumbledore confided in Snape the least.

On my next re-read of GoF, I look forward to spotting the instances when JKR shows us, without telling us directly, that Snape and Dumbledore are speaking far less than they usually do.

The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman

The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore

by Irvin Khaytman

Story Spring Publishing, July 31, 2018


If you could know more about one character’s story from the Harry Potter series, who would it be?

By the time Harry Potter was old enough to have questions about Albus Dumbledore as a person, it was too late for him to ask. Dumbledore was dead, in large part due to a fatal injury he sustained during his final grand endeavor: hunting and destroying Voldemort’s Horcruxes.

Readers who grew up with the series, the “Harry Potter generation,” shared Harry’s love and frustration with this greatest of characters. For most of the series, his wisdom and goodness inspired enormous loyalty. Then, in Deathly Hallows, readers met more troubling aspects of Dumbledore: his ruthless scheming, which J.K. Rowling called “Machiavellian,” and his shameful Dark Magic past.

Millennial author Irvin Khaytman grapples with the process of reconciling the benevolent headmaster with the strategist who orchestrated Harry’s death. Through a close reading of the original seven-book series, Khaytman reconstructs the story from Dumbledore’s perspective. What did he know about the Horcruxes, and when? What was he doing, beyond Harry’s view?

Even after the close of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling continues to tell us more stories about Dumbledore. We heard from his portrait in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. We’re about to get the second installment of the five-film Fantastic Beasts series, featuring Dumbledore in middle age as he approached his life-defining showdown with Grindelwald. Khaytman’s deep dive into old-age Dumbledore, especially his guesses and errors, is an invaluable guide to the kinds of revelations we can expect.

Through most of the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore seemed pure in his goodness, leagues beyond the dirtied soul of former Death Eater Severus Snape. By the end of Deathly Hallows, though, we learned that Dumbledore’s worst qualities led to a loved one’s death as surely as Snape’s worst qualities led to Lily’s. Snape lived only one year after he experienced true and full remorse for Lily’s death. What kind of person might he have become if he had lived for decades longer, devoting himself to fighting the evil he once enabled?

Khaytman’s insights will be valuable to any Harry Potter fan, but especially the millennials who came of age with the series, as he did.

The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore by Irvin Khaytman is published by Story Spring Publishing, who are also the publishers of Snape: A Definitive Reading.  Reserve your signed copy at Books of Wonder or order in paperback or electronic format from Amazon. If you’re in New York City on July 31, 2018 at 6 PM, swing by the downtown branch of Books of Wonder for the release party!