“But Obviously Dumbledore is not Jesus:” The Hogwarts Headmaster as Christ Symbol in Half-Blood Prince

I taught Harry Potter classes at Barnes & Noble University and co-moderated Discussion Rooms there before they changed to their new ‘Book Clubs’ format (and I will be joining them there in March for more “moderated discussion”). These electronic classrooms are a fascinating symposium and slice of Harry Potter fandom that includes not only a diversity of nationalities but the spectra of age, beliefs, and vocations not to be rivaled at any bricks-and-mortar school (six continents and four archipelagoes is the best we’ve done but the 400-800 students that post messages always represent an international community of readers). The best discussion room included a Zarusthustran, a Hollywood screenwriter and blogger, and a teacher in the Kanto Plain outside Tokyo.

When we were trying to make sense of the latest Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, when it first came out, the questions, themes, and theories we explored were respectably far ranging from the battle raging everywhere then in fandom, is Snape misunderstood or the murderer he seems to scenes-as-subtext questions, “What do the fox that Bellatrix kills, the telescope that punches Hermione, and the gnomes at the burrow mean?” and real puzzlers. I mean, when you’re asked if Horace Slughorn is Lord Voldemort’s agent inside Hogwarts, the man who brewed Malfoy’s Polyjuice Potion and the emerald phosphorescent frosty that tumbled Dumbledore, you’d better be prepared to argue at length about who this guy is and why (or why not) he is good (or EVIL).

There were a few questions that kept coming up in different forms, most having to do with the dearly-departed Dumbledore. Much of fandom was in serious denial and the other parts were trying to reconcile themselves to a Hogwarts without the affable Headmaster. Every Harry Potter reader, including the Harry Haters, were trying to make sense of his last hours and death (a Catholic seminarian from Louisiana sent me an owl a day for a week to convince me that Ms. Rowling was sending disturbing mixed signals to the children of the world about euthanasia and mercy killing with Dumbledore’s death).

The question I heard then from serious readers and now on this weBlog, especially from those who have read my book, Looking for God in Harry Potter (Tyndale, 2004), is about the Christ symbol in this book. Every Harry Potter adventure features a scene in the climactic battle with evil where Harry dies a figurative death and rises from this death in the presence of a traditional symbol of Christ because of love. The question for Half-Blood Prince has been “Is the sixth year’s salvific symbol Albus Dumbledore?”

That would be a real switch from the previous symbols Ms. Rowling has used. The white haired mage is a far cry from the Philosopher’s Stone, Phoenix, and Stag that have saved Harry in previous years both in being a human character we know and love and in his dying soon after rescuing Harry from the Inferi in “The Cave.” And there are other reasonable objections readers make to this choice.

For example, there are other symbols (yes, two others) that could be the image of Christ saving Harry from death per formula. Dumbledore, too, serves mythic or symbolic functions in this story and some readers think making him the “Christ figure” is stretching a point and Dumbledore’s symbolic capacity (!). Those who keep up with Ms. Rowling’s interviews object that the author herself has said that “Dumbledore is not Jesus.” Each of these objections is worth taking a further look at – but let me tell you in advance that none of them make taking the possibility of Dumbledore as Christ a risible idea.

Let’s start with the other symbols of Christ that save Harry from figurative deaths. The most surprising of these is Severus Snape, the seeming murderer and turncoat of Half-Blood Prince. Harry is in hot pursuit of Professor Snape (who is fleeing from the grounds so he can Apparate and escape) when he is cut down by the Cruciatus Curse:

But before he could finish this jinx, excruciating pain hit Harry; he keeled over in the grass. Someone was screaming, he would surely die of this agony, Snape was going to torture him to death or madness…

“No!” roared Snape’s voice and the pain stopped as suddenly as it had started.
(Prince, chapter 28, Scholastic, p. 603)

After the formulaic “I’m dying!” Snape saves him from the other Death Eaters, whom he reminds that the Dark Lord has said wants to kill Harry himself.

I can hear you saying, “Okay, he saves Harry, but how can the bad guy in the piece be a Christ figure?” Good question. Two possible answers.

The first, of course, is that he is not the bad guy he seems but a horribly misunderstood hero whose courage and self-sacrifice will be revealed in the last installment of the seven book series. I know. That is not a very satisfying answer. It is nigh on a requirement of narrative misdirection but Snape as Christ is a real stretch for most readers. “Would Harry hate Jesus? No way.”

A clue that it might be the right answer, nonetheless, is in his revelation as he tutors Harry in dueling at the end that he, Severus Snape, is the Half-Blood Prince. Ms. Rowling always names her books with synonyms or suggestions of Christ; this year’s title was the baldest one since the debut novel. “Half-Blood Prince” is quite the pointer to “double-natured King.” That Snape is the Half-Blood Prince raises his stock considerably in the contest for this year’s Christ symbol in story form.

Snape also is the “Great Physician” in this book. Cathy Liesner at our Barnes and Noble University postulated in what she called the “Stoppered Death” hypothesis that Snape does not cure Dumbledore of his injury (incurred at the destruction of the ring Horcrux). Instead of saving his life, Snape “saves his death” by applying a potion tourniquet of sorts that keeps the wound’s poison from killing him, a capability that Snape mentions in Harry’s first Potions class years ago, a class referred to several times in Half-Blood Prince (for more on this theory, see the first chapter of Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader here. I’ll autograph every copy purchased from this site, a la Gilderoy).

The resistance to Snape as Christ figure, though, is considerable and, fortunately for those who want to believe with Harry that Snape is evil, Buckbeak is a more than acceptable alternative. Buckbeak/Witherwing the Hippogriff drives Snape away from Harry.

How is a hippogriff a symbol of Christ?

A hippogriff is a flying combination of steed and griffin. The griffin part, half lion, half eagle, is a traditional symbol of Christ because it represents in animal form “the King of Heaven and Earth” as the eagles are king of heavenly animals or birds and the lion of terrestrial beasts. A hippogriff (after Orlando Furioso) is sometimes said to be a symbol of love, and, inasmuch as God is love, it also serves as a symbol of Christ. BB/WW rescues Harry from a seemingly murderous Snape in chapter eight, the Flight of the Prince (Scholastic, pp 604-605).

The problem is that in each of the previous books Harry says something about dying or being near death before his rescue or recovery near or because of the symbol. Harry doesn’t say anything like this when Snape may or may not be about to kill him. The hippogriff is much more like the previous symbols Rowling has used at the climax of her books, but she breaks with her formula in not having Harry cry out about death before his rescue.

The door, then, is still open for Dumbledore?

Well, there are other objections. Most cogent among them I think is the protest that Dumbledore is a busy figure in these books serving several genre functions. Does he have figurative “room” in his schedule or on his plate to be the figure of Christ, too? Serious readers of the Potter books have assigned Dumbledore the following roles:

* He is the wise, old man of the hero’s journey that initiates the young seeker into the meaning of his quest;

* He is Merlin to Harry Potter’s Arthur, by rescuing him as a baby and finding him hidden sanctuary, by being his private instructor and mentor, and by revealing his royal nature in the extracted sword exercise;

* He is the Fisher King of the Grail myth, wounded mortally, waiting on the champion to take his place;

* He is the grand alchemist and personification of the white stage of the Great Work, who labors for Harry’s purification and preparation for the final step in his transformation from lead to gold; and

* He is the saintly Headmaster Dr. Arnold we remember from Tom Brown’s Schooldays (complete with White Tomb at story’s end and Harry’s heroic resolve there to be “a Dumbledore man, through and through”).

Isn’t asking Dumbledore at his death to be Christ, too, rather over doing it?

Perhaps this is just a matter of taste but I don’t think so. Rowling is writing a symbolist drama not an allegory of any kind and there can be no limits on the use of a character as a symbol short of contradiction.

The confusion of symbolism and allegory is rife and especially in Harry Potter fandom which group represents all readers in a significant way so it is worth a stop here to make this distinction plain. An allegory is a one-on-one correspondence between a fictional character and a “real world” person or human quality. A symbol is a means or a passage to an other-worldly referent that transcends space and time. Rowling has allegorical and symbolic figures in her books but much of the power of her writing is in her effective use of traditional symbols.

Her allegorical figures are the funniest ones, though. Gilderoy Lockhart, for example, is a delightful Philip Pullman, whose novels feature a Sallie Lockhart. Anyone familiar with Margaret Thatcher’s blustery self-importance and who did not care for her “get tough” social policies (as Rowling evidently did not!) recognizes her in Harry’s conservative Aunt Marge, the bulldog fancier that Harry blows up because of her uncharitable comments about his late parents.

The Muggle Prime Minister in Half-Blood Prince, too, I’m told by friends in the UK is a dead ringer for Tony Blair and his distinctive ellipses and pauses in speech (not to mention his politician’s mind set). Some think Cornelius Fudge and Rufus Scrimgeour, the Ministers of Magic, are Neville Chamberlain and Winston Churchill fighting Voldemort/Hitler. Others think the Dark Lord is an Osama Bin Laden stand-in.

Allegory, though, is painful reading as a rule and is made only worse, certainly, by those translating the allegories they have found or imagined in novels. Ever read the allegorical interpretation of The Lord of the Rings as WWII? WWI? As a history of the industrialization of Britain? Ouch. This apparently made the Inklings wince.

Why? Because the correspondence of their symbolist dramas and “real world” events was only the inevitable intersection of story and reality that happens because story and life both reflect transcendent realities. A story about good versus evil will also reflect this heavenly struggle as it shows itself in every generation and within every individual. A symbol has its ability to engage and move us because of its acting as a means for us to know, however remotely, what it symbolizes of truth, beauty, and goodness in the realms beyond matter and energy and even the soul.

Symbols differ from allegory not only in their referents but in their being multi-valent and being able to be interpreted correctly on multiple levels as well. Look at a lion, for example.

The lion can be understood in a story as a symbol of courage and nobility. The lion’s carriage on the savannah and the fear other creatures there have for him as a hunter inspire this correspondence with these virtues. Simultaneously, the idea of other animals being subject to this power and virtue suggest the lion as a symbol of the natural king. From kingship in nature it is not a great leap to divine kingship and spiritual authority. Scriptural lions can be killers and they can be symbols of Christ, a usage C. S. Lewis used famously in his Narnia novels (Aslan is Persian, I’m told, for “lion”).

A lion, then, can be simultaneously a virtue, a king, and the Lord. These various referents are to different spheres of a reality greater than our own and each corresponds with the other so to allow a lion to represent all these things and more at one and the same time.

More interesting to me is that symbols can co-exist. I cannot have two or three allegorical representatives of Neville Chamberlain in the same historical story line. It gets too confusing, not to say annoying, if the story is crowded with overlapping stand-ins. In symbolist story, though, there can be multiple images of the same transcendent referent.

Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings is a great example. The angelic wizard, like Aslan, is a multi-dimensional, multi-valent symbol. He is Merlin, intellect, and a High Priest whose death and resurrection make him an important Christ symbol in the books. Gandalf, of course, is not the only Christ figure in Tolkien’s middle earth fantasy. Aragon the King, who rises from the Land of the Dead, and Frodo the Sacrifice, who dies a figurative death on Mt. Doom, are simultaneously cogent images of Christ in story form.

Dumbledore, then, can be a Christ figure that saves Harry from death on top of the several purposes he serves in the Hogwarts saga and he can be a storybook icon of Christ in addition to the Phoenix, Unicorn, Hippogriff, White Stag, Philosopher’s Stone, and other traditional symbols Rowling has used in her story. Symbols work this way.

But if Ms. Rowling has said, flat out that “Dumbledore is not Jesus,” as she seems to have in a 2005 Time magazine profile, you’d have to think this closes the discussion. Often in literary history a book’s intention has been greater (and better than) an author’s intention but it’s a rare event when a writer that plans his or her books as painstakingly as does J. K. Rowling would lose track of what her characters mean. Let’s take a look at this interview.

Here is the paragraph in which she said “Dumbledore is not Jesus:”

“Although,” she adds, “undeniably, morals are drawn.” But she doesn’t make it easy. In Goblet, the good-hearted Cedric Diggory dies for no reason. In Phoenix, we learn that Harry’s dad, whom he idealized, had been an arrogant bully. People aren’t good and bad by nature; they change and transform and struggle. As Dumbledore tells Harry, “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.” Granted, we know Harry will not succumb to anger and evil. But we never stop feeling that he could. (Interestingly, although Rowling is a member of the Church of Scotland, the books are free of references to God. On this point, Rowling is cagey. “Um. I don’t think they’re that secular,” she says, choosing her words slowly. “But, obviously, Dumbledore is not Jesus.”)

The article is worth reading in full because it is based from title (“Joanne Rowling: Hogwarts and All”) to conclusion on the premise that Rowling is a secular liberal trapped in a conservative genre. Grossman has an axe to grind with C. S. Lewis whom he imagines as a Red State Nazi. He writes, incredibly, that Lewis would “probably wind up a Death Eater” if he stumbled into Rowling’s world.

Grossman presses her on the differences between her and C. S. Lewis. Rowling responds (as she has in previous interviews) that her stories are different than Lewis’ Narnia novels both in their allowing and featuring the changes in her major characters as they age in the stories and in not being transparently didactic. It is in this context that we have to read her Dumbledore comment.

Grossman writes that Rowling “uses the word obviously way more often than the average person does” but describes her as speaking in a “cagey” way and “choosing her words slowly” as she responds to an assertion about the books being free of religious meaning. “Um. I don’t think they’re that secular,” she says, choosing her words slowly. “But, obviously, Dumbledore is not Jesus.”

Rowling gave five interviews at the time of Half-Blood Prince’s publication and every one of them featured her reticence in speaking about the story lest she give away or somehow spoil the story’s ending. Her comment about Dumbledore, in which she is denying Grossman’s assertion that her book lack religious meaning but are different than C. S. Lewis’ theological stories, is not a flat denial of Dumbledore’s being a Christ symbol. She is denying that the Hogwarts Headmaster is obviously Jesus the way Aslan is obviously Jesus in the Narnia books.

If anything, that Rowling brings up Dumbledore as Jesus as a topic out of the blue suggests that Albus Dumbledore is in fact a Christ symbol. Until she brought it up in this interview (and the events of Half Blood Prince) I had not read of anyone trying to make the case for this usage. The symbolism I am confronted with in questions from readers after my talks or from those who have written me after reading my book (hundreds of them because I put my email address in the introduction) is that Harry Potter himself is the Christ symbol, whom a large part of Fandom believe will die a sacrificial death in the last book.

They think Harry is the Christ symbol bound for Calvary and a trip beyond the Veil because of a comment Ms. Rowling made in the year 2000 to a Canadian reporter about her faith. She said then she doesn’t discuss her faith in Christ because if she did all her fans “age 10 to 60” would know exactly where the stories were going. To many readers this sounded like a ticket to Aslan’s Narnian stone table. I have argued that Harry is not a Christ symbol but an “Everyman” figure; this argument has not stilled the “Harry is Jesus” believers.

Rowling, though, does not say that Harry is not Jesus. In a discussion of the differences between her and C. S. Lewis’ work and on the specific point of the religious content of her books, she raises the subject of Dumbledore being Jesus, in his being obviously not like Aslan, that is, transparently symbolic, even allegorical, and with an openly didactic purpose. Was this denial of transparency an implicit suggestion that “the greatest wizard who ever lived” is only a more oblique image of Christ?

On one level I can say “yes” immediately. We can be reasonably sure that Dumbledore will not be an obvious symbol of Christ by rising from his white tomb a la Aslan from the Stone Table or Gandalf the Gray as Gandalf the White. Though she has used Christ symbols that have their correspondence in resurrection imagery (the Phoenix and White Stag) and eternal life (the Philosopher’s Stone), Rowling has repeatedly said in answer to questions about the several characters who have died in her books that they are not coming back. Death in Harry Potter, books largely about the meaning of death, is final.

When I started writing the books, the first thing I had to decide was not what magic can do, but what it can’t do. I had to set limits on it immediately and decide what the perimeters are. One of the most important things I decided was that magic cannot bring dead people back to life. That’s one of the most profound things. The natural laws of death applies to wizards as it applies to Muggles and there is no returning once you’re properly dead. You know, they might be able to save very close to death people better than we can, by magic. They have certain knowledge we don’t, but once you’re dead, you’re dead. So, yeah, I’m afraid there will be no coming back for Harry’s parents.

And she has said, of course, that “Dumbledore is definitely dead” and that he “won’t be doing a Gandalf.”

Having said that Dumbledore will not be an obvious Christ figure in rising from the dead, the storyline in Half-Blood Prince and what we know of Dumbledore makes Ms. Rowling’s mention of the Headmaster as a Christ symbol meaningful. In quite a few ways, she seems to be offering him to us as a shadow or image of the God-Man.

* Formula requirements: The Cave

Ms. Rowling’s formula ending for her books are an underground confrontation with evil in which Harry dies a figurative death and is saved by love in the presence of a traditional symbol of Christ. Though it can be argued that Snape and Buckbeak satisfy this formula requirement, the scene in which Dumbledore saves Harry from the Inferi dragging him into the Cavern lake is most like Rowling’s formulaic usage.

They are underground, to begin with, on an island in a Stgyian lake that is reminiscent of Dante’s Inferno in more ways than being populated by monstrous Inferi. Harry’s death seems much more likely here, too, than it does later in the story at the Hogwarts School gates.

as he backed away still farther, he felt arms enclose him from behind, thin, fleshless arms, cold as death, and his feet left the ground as they lifted him and began to carry him, slowly and surely, back to the water, and he knew there would be no release, that he would be drowned, and become one more pale guardian of a fragment of Voldemort’s shattered soul. (chapter 26, Scholastic, p. 576)

Harry is saved here by love in the presence of a symbol of Christ because Dumbledore drives away the Inferi with a ring of fire. He had told Harry earlier that fire was the answer to the challenge of the Inferi and in this explanation he uses the alchemical language of love in the sense of love’s being “the resolution of contraries.”

“Yes,” said Dumbledore. “I am sure that once we take the Horcrux, we shall find [the Inferi] less peaceable. However, like many creatures that dwell in cold and darkness, they fear light and warmth, which we shall therefore call to our aid should the need arise. Fire, Harry,” Dumbledore added with a smile, in response to Harry’s bewildered expression. (26, p. 566) [Echo of Devil’s Snare hurdle in HP1]

The fire, then, is love but where is the Symbol of Christ? Well, it’s Dumbledore.

He has finished drinking the potion in the basin (about which more in a second) and has expired. Harry revives him with a Renervate charm (formerly the humorously contradictory Ennervate charm; see Amos Diggory with Winky at the Quidditch World Cup) and is forced to touch the Lake water to give him the water he requests, a touch that wakes the Inferi.

Dumbledore, however, rises from his seeming death and becomes something of a beacon in the darkness.

Dumbledore was on his feet again, pale as any of the surrounding Inferi, but taller than any too, the fire dancing in his eyes; his wand was raised like a torch and from its tip emanated the flames, like a vast lasso, encircling them all with warmth. (26, p. 576)

To Christians, this resurrected figure in the infernal depths that is a shining light in the darkness recalls the image of Christ the Logos that is the light that came into the world “which the darkness comprehendeth not,” the resurrected Jesus of Nazareth harrowing hell in his resurrected body, even the resplendent light of Mt. Tabor at Christ’s transfiguration (Albus is Latin for both “white” and “resplendent”). That he saves Harry’s life with love here when we thought him dead makes for a powerful, seering image of the God-Man.

* Drinking bitter cup

Beyond satisfying mechanical formula requirements of the author, Dumbledore’s action in the cave before he saves Harry would make the thoughtful reader scratch his head, I think, and wonder about the Christian symbolism. The Headmaster drinks 12 chalices of a phosphorescent emerald green fluid in the Horcrux basin, does so sacrificially, and suffers terribly before expiring and rising to save Harry from the Inferi.

Let me translate this for you if the parallels aren’t obvious.

The drinking of the 12 cups is a pointer to the prayer of Christ in the garden at Gethsemane, “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matthew 26:39). Dumbledore does this sacrificially we know because he says to Harry who offers to drink it for him,

“Why can’t I drink the potion instead?” asked Harry desperately.

“Because I am much older, much cleverer, and much less valuable,” said Dumbledore. (26, p. 570)

What is this emerald potion? Rowling does not reveal any details in her story line but the clues she does share with us — its color, there being 12 cups, and Dumbledore’s reaction while drinking it — again point to a Christian symbolism.

The potion is described as “an emerald liquid emitting that phosphorescent glow” (26, p. 567). The color green throughout the Potter books, with the exception of the eyes of Harry and his mother Lily, is the color of evil, most notably it is one of the Slytherin House colors, the snakes in the book, and of wizards of ignoble hearts (e.g., Fudge’s green bowler). When we see a glowing emerald liquid in the basin, Rowling has given us a color cue that this cannot be good and is almost certainly something horrible, coming from the Dark Lord himself.

Dumbledore assumes it will cause the drinker to be unable to drink it on his own. “It might paralyze me, cause me to forget what I am here for, create so much pain I am distracted, or render me incapable in some other way” (26, p. 569). Nonetheless, he makes Harry promise him he will be sure Dumbledore drinks the whole basin, which comes to twelve full crystal chalices.

We do not know what happens to Dumbledore as he drinks the twelve chalices, but his suffering and screams are terrifying and pathetic. I expect we will learn in Deathly Hallows either that this is a staged melodrama (about which more in a minute) or that it is a liquid boggart of sorts, the drinking of which causes the drinker’s worst nightmare to come up in their minds or a vision of a probable future. Dumbledore’s greatest fear seems to be the capture of Hogwarts by Death Eaters and the torture of his students while he watches, helpless.

He drinks four goblets almost without assistance but accepts Harry’s help to finish the fourth and with the fifth and sixth, as he begs Harry to stop, saying he “doesn’t want” to drink anymore and that, if they stop, he’ll “never, never again” do the wrong he knows he did (26, p.572). Harry has pledged to force Dumbledore to finish the basin no matter what he says, so they continue.

At the seventh goblet, Dumbledore turns from asking the drinking to stop. Instead, he begs “invisible torturers” “Don’t hurt them, don’t hurt them, please, please, it’s my fault, hurt me instead!” (26, p. 572). The torturers seem to take seriously his offer of himself as a sacrifice for others or as the truly guilty party because through goblets eight and nine he begs for mercy for whatever these invisible tormentors are doing to him, culminating in his cries after ten, eleven, and twelve that he wants to die (10), “KILL ME!”(11), and, at 12, “Dumbledore gulped at the goblet, drained every last drop, and then with a great rattling gasp, rolled over onto his face.”

The green tells us the fluid is evil. The number twelve, the number of a completion of a full cycle, hence of totality, means that Dumbledore will be drinking the whole of evil into himself, sacrificially. His cries are the cries of the guilty, the penitent, those who suffer for others, and of those, at last, at the basin’s dregs, of those who despair and beg for death. Dumbledore assumes this suffering and the punishment of others by drinking, which, if he begs to be freed from them, he never resists or flags from drinking.

This may not be obvious or transparent symbolism but it is not especially opaque, either. Dumbledore, the Christ of the wizarding world, drinks the cup he must drink to defeat the Dark Lord and “takes unto himself the sins of the world” and dies, albeit here only a figurative death (albeit with death rattle!). And Dumbledore’s vain cry for water? Jan Voetenberg of the Netherlands reminds me this is an echo of Christ’s “I thirst” from the Cross as he expires (John, 19:28).

Rowling makes a nod to obvious Christian symbolism — the blood sacrifice for atonement — in the entrance to the Cave, which requires blood on the wall to reveal the Cave. The Headmaster is appalled by this requirement, but not because it is onerous or especially unpleasant (he insists that he give the blood rather than Harry because Harry’s blood is “more valuable”). He is disgusted because the requirement (and I would suggest Rowling is saying, “the symbolism, too”) is “so crude” (26, p. 539). The cave drama is more subtle but as effective a Calvary synonym if not more so for not being a cookie cut-out in fiction.

* Not thinking as the world thinks

If this scene were the only one in which the Hogwarts Headmaster behaves in a Christ-like manner, I could understand the inevitable protestations of skeptical readers (those, sadly, that more often than not have a good deal of baggage and are resistant to anything with Christian meaning even within a Christian literary tradition) that this is a “forced reading” born of “Christian bias” and “wishful thinking” or “projection.” I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve heard the word “Procrustean” the last three years.

But Rowling has not made a demonic figure fill the role of Christ at Gethsemane and Calvary on the underground lake island. Dumbledore is not a perfect man but he is something of a saint. Most notably, he doesn’t think the way the world thinks (cf., Matthew 16:23).

Dumbledore, for example, not only “gets along” with everyone, he makes a point of understanding and appreciating everyone. The merpeople in the Hogwarts lake sing a mournful dirge at his funeral and we are reminded that, alone among wizards, Dumbledore had learned Mermish and was on good relations with these magical creatures. The centaurs, too, pay Dumbledore tribute at the funeral with a ceremonial shower of arrows, remarkable because the centaurs had exiled Firenze in Phoenix for agreeing to work with the Headmaster and “share their secrets.”

It is remarkable but believable because of the difference between Dumbledore and, say, Dolores Umbridge, the acting Headmistress in Phoenix, whom the centaurs capture and torment. Unlike Umbridge, who hates magical creatures and mixed blood wizards as a rule, Dumbledore is on good terms with house-elves, centaurs, and goblins. He is even able to parley with the giants through Hagrid and Madame Maxime because of his good reputation among the giants. He sees the crisis in the wizarding world with Lord Voldemort largely as crows coming home to roost for the prejudices of the Wizarding world against magical creatures.

He also adopts those the world would not. Remus Lupin, boy werewolf, is admitted to Hogwarts and later even given a job as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher despite wizard prejudice against his affliction. Hagrid, too, is trusted and respected by Dumbledore despite his being half-giant. Muggle-born wizards and witches, Half-Bloods, and Pure Blood families are all treated by the Headmaster without distinction or prejudice except in the light of their respective virtues and vices born of their choices rather than their blood lines. Snape, if not a half-vampire, then as certainly no Little Lord Fauntleroy, is also an Albus adoptee. In being “no respector of persons,” Dumbledore thinks as God thinks, not as men think.

* Unable to think anything but “the best of people”

His enemies are encouraged to think of this discernment and his absence of prejudice as a failing. Severus Snape says to Bellatrix LeStrange during her visit to his apartment in Spinner’s End, “And you overlook Dumbledore’s greatest weakness: He has to believe the best of people” (2, Scholastic p. 31). Even Harry thinks this is a failing. On the cavern’s island he thinks, “Was this more of Dumbledore’s insane determination to see good in everyone?”(26, p. 569).

But Dumbledore is not possessed by an “insane determination.” He does not imagine good where there is evil or cower from sharing with the self-important and self-blinded their failings (cf. his conversation with Lucius Malfoy at the end of Chamber, with Cornelius Fudge at the close of Goblet, and his talk with the Dursleys in the third chapter of Prince). He has the ability to see the good in everyone, however, and only those who are an absence of good (e.g., the Dementors) or who embrace evil openly (e.g., Lord Voldemort and his minions) are his enemies.

Thomas Aquinas once wrote that “concupiscence darkens the intellect” which has been translated into popular idiom as “sin makes you stupid.” Rowling’s point is the inverse of Aquinas’, if I understand her character Dumbledore, in that she is saying the very wise are those who are the most loving or, at least, those who are least diminished by hate and prejudice.

* Refusing world’s crown

But Dumbledore differs with the majority of men not only in embracing those despised by most and by laboring to be untouched by prejudice or hate. He goes to some lengths to “live in the world but not be of the world”(cf., John 17) and “to render to Caesar only what is Caesar’s due” (cf., Matthew 22:21), especially with respect to the Ministry of Magic.

In previous books we learned that Dumbledore was consulted frequently by the leaders of the magical government and that one Minister, at least, thought Dumbledore was plotting to get his job. No less a personage than Lord Voldemort himself reveals to us in Half-Blood Prince that the young Dumbledore, even while only just beginning his time as Hogwarts Headmaster, had been offered this job many times and turned it down.

“I see [the attraction of teaching] still,” said Voldemort. “I merely wondered why you — who are so often asked for advice by the Ministry, and who have twice, I think, been offered the post of Minister -�”

“Three times at the last count, actually,” said Dumbledore. “But the Ministry never attracted me as a career.” (chapter 20, Scholastic pp 442-443)

This otherworldliness and dedication to the formation of young souls creates the back drop for recognizing in Dumbledore’s actions in the Cave a shadow of the work of the God-Man who refused an earthly crown.

Dumbledore’s life work, too, besides “passing on ancient skills, helping hone young minds” (chapter 20, p. 442), is opposition to evil and the invisible spiritual warfare necessary to defeat the Evil One (contrasted with the negligent bumbling of Minister of Magic Fudge and the political “get tough” showmanship of Rufus Scrimgeour). Without Dumbledore, there would have been no resistance to the Dark Lord; the Headmaster is the only one in the stories besides Harry not tempted by personal advantage or the dark side of magic.

* Phoenix Association

So Dumbledore has the character traits, too, that we’d expect in a Christ figure. Another pointer would be his association with Fawkes the Phoenix.

Fawkes is what some Harry Haters have mistakenly called his “familiar.” As he is only a loyal friend, too noble to be thought of as a “pet,” and never takes part in Dumbledore’s spellwork (if he proves a great help in battle as he showed in the climactic struggles of Chamber and Phoenix), calling the Phoenix a familiar is another instance of prejudice driving reasoning and faux research.

The Phoenix, commonly called the “Resurrection bird” because of his ability to rise from his own ashes, for obvious reasons has been a traditional symbol of Christ in European literature and art for centuries. His help in battling the Basilisk in Chamber and healing Harry of his wounds in the Chamber of Secrets with Phoenix tears and his swallowing the “death curse” in the battle with Lord Voldemort at the end of Phoenix reveal Ms. Rowling’s conscious use of this Christian topos.

Fawkes has a special relationship with Dumbledore that extends beyond that of, say, Harry and his pet owl, Hedwig. Fawkes, for example, will fly to the aid of someone expressing loyalty to Dumbledore (as he does in Chamber). Phoenix song, as Rowling describes it in her small Hogwarts textbook Fantastic Beasts & Where To Find Them can “increase the courage of the pure in heart and to strike fear into the hearts of the impure” (p. 32), which we see in the wand-to-wand battle between Harry and Voldemort in Goblet.

This song that stirs the pure of heart (cf., Matthew 5:8 and Dumbledore on Harry, Prince, chapter 23, Scholastic p. 509) ties Fawkes and Dumbledore to Christ beyond the mechanical tie with the “Resurrection bird” of legend. The song Fawkes sings at Dumbledore’s death and the effect it has on those who hear it is a song of love from their own grieving hearts. In Prince, chapter 29, “The Phoenix Lament,” after Harry explains in the Hospital Wing how Dumbledore died, those gathered hear Fawkes:

Somewhere out in the darkness, a phoenix was singing in a way Harry had never heard before: a stricken lament of terrible beauty. And Harry felt as he had felt about phoenix song before, that the music was inside him, not without: It was his own grief turned magically to song that echoed across the grounds and through the castle windows.

How long they all stood there, listening, he did not know, nor why it seemed to ease their pain a little to hear the sound of their mourning, but it felt like a long time later that the hospital door opened again. (29, Scholastic pp 614-615)

Ms. Rowling has revealed in interviews that Dumbledore’s Patronus, too, is a Phoenix, and it appears from the white flames and smoke that consume his remains become the White Tomb memorial to him on Hogwarts grounds.

Bright, white flames had erupted around Dumbledore’s body and the table upon which it lay: Higher and higher they rose, obscuring the body. White smoke spiraled into the air and made strange shapes: Harry thought, for one heart-stopping moment, that he saw a phoenix fly joyfully into the blue, but next second the fire had vanished. In its place was a white marble tomb, encasing Dumbledore’s body and the table on which he had rested. (30, Scholastic, p. 645)

Ms. Rowling, by repetition and reinforcement, drives home that we are to connect the Headmaster with the Resurrection bird, a traditional symbol of Christ, even if he won’t be “doing a Gandolf” in Deathly Hallows.

* Sacrificial death on tower — mercy to Malfoy, Snape, and the world

Every Harry Potter book has a crucible scene and confrontation with the bad guy. In Stone it is Harry and Quirreldemort before the Mirror of Erised, in Chamber the fight with the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner features the nightmare revelations and mercy in the Shrieking Shack, Goblet Voldemort’�s Rebirthing Party, and Phoenix the battle at the Ministry of Magic. Half-Blood Prince’s crucible is Dumbledore’s finale on the Astronomy Tower after he and Harry come back from the Cave.

The Tower is a crucible in a traditional alchemical sense as well as being the crucible of this book’s action. Lyndy Abraham, in A Dictionary of Alchemical Imagery, defines the “tower” as a “synonym for the athanor or philosophical furnace” (p. 202). Ms. Rowling underlines this meaning by having Professor Trelawney insist, before Harry leaves for the Cave, that calamity awaits the Headmaster:

“If Dumbledore chooses to ignore the warnings the cards show ” — her bony hands closed suddenly around Harry���s wrist. “Again and again, no matter how I lay them out –” And she pulled a card dramatically from underneath her shawls. “-the lightning struck tower,” she whispered. “Calamity. Disaster. Coming nearer all the time –“ (25, Scholastic, p. 543)

The chapter of Dumbledore’s murder on the Astronomy Tower is titled, “The Lightning Struck Tower.” Beyond the tarot card’s supposed meaning, there are few Harry Potter fans that didn’t feel they were blasted by a lightning bolt along with the Headmaster — I did and I had said Dumbledore had to die for three years – so we all might be excused for missing the connection with his death there and Christ’s. Here’s a quick review:

1. Dumbledore arrives at the Tower near death and on a mission of mercy. He and Harry are in Hogsmeade when they see the Dark Mark over the Astronomy Tower. They forget Dumbledore’s condition and rush to the rescue — and right into a trap.

2. There Dumbledore is disarmed and held at wand-point by Draco Malfoy, a student who must kill him or be killed with his whole family by Lord Voldemort. Dumbledore, as his life ebbs away, respects the boy’s free will and mercifully guides him away from the Unforgivable Curse and a splintered soul.

3. They are joined as the boy lowers his wand by four Death Eaters who insist the boy kill Dumbledore in keeping with the Dark Lord’s command. Snape appears, learns the boy will not kill the Headmaster, he hears Dumbledore say, “Severus –. Please –” and he blasts the Headmaster over the battlements with the killing Avadra Kedavra curse.

4. Snape and boy escape.

The connection with Christ’s death is the love and otherworldly mercy Dumbledore shows in his death.

Like the Son of God and Creative Word at his scourging, again on the Via Dolorosa, and finally on the cross at Calvary, Dumbledore is more powerful than his tormentors and executioners. Wandless and wounded, Dumbledore is more than capable of unspoken spell work and transfiguration, not to mention disarming and subduing a boy “in way over his head.” But he speaks kindly to the boy and slowly brings him to realize, of his own free will, that he cannot murder the seemingly helpless old man. The boy at end understands, as Dumbledore tells him, that “It is my mercy, and not your mercy that matters now” (27, Scholastic p. 592).

But the boy is not allowed by his Death Eater companions to submit to his mercy and accept his offer of forgiveness and sanctuary. They are shouting at him to kill Dumbledore or get out of the way when Snape arrives to send the Headmaster off the Tower.

Curiously, Dumbledore in his death throes had been telling Harry in Hogsmead and on the Tower when they arrived that he must get Snape. Harry is on his way to get him when Dumbledore body-binds him under the Invisibility Cloak lest he attack Malfoy or excite Malfoy with the hatred necessary to perform the Avadra Kedavra curse. Or just to insure that he stays and watches.

As readers we assume that Dumbledore is asking for Snape because of the former Potions Professor’s skills with dark magic potions and wounds. This may well be the case, if he seems to have died two or three times that night already. Whether he was calling for medical aid or not, we do know that Dumbledore had another reason to call for Snape.

We first meet Snape in Half-Blood Prince in an industrial ghost town called Spinner’s End where he lives in an apartment with Peter Pettigrew. He entertains Narcissa Malfoy, desperate for Snape’s help in saving her son from Lord Voldemort’s suicide mission, and sister Belatrix LeStrange. Narcissa extracts from Snape the Unbreakable Vow that he will watch over her son, protect him from harm, and carry out the deed assigned to him by Lord Voldemort if he should fail. Snape takes the Vow, a vow that will cost him his life if he fails to keep it, either knowing the boy’s mission or not knowing it.

Snape and Dumbledore learn during the year that Narcissa’s son, Draco, the boy on the Tower, is trying to kill Dumbledore in obedience to the Dark Lord. Dumbledore knows about the Unbreakable Vow (either from Snape himself or from Harry who overhears Snape talking to Draco about it).

Dumbledore is calling to Snape even before he gets to the Tower and sees that he has been trapped (and the boy caught in a position where he might be psychologically rent). Taking the story as Harry sees it, the Headmaster is taking care as he dies to be sure that Snape needn’t die from failing to fulfill the conditions of the Unbreakable Vow. Dumbledore sacrifices himself for Draco Malfoy and also for Snape. By dying as he does, he saves both Draco and Snape.

And whether his death was something he and Snape had planned — and which Snape carried out in obedience — or if it is even not Dumbledore on the Tower or at the Lake, though fascinating questions to explore with other readers, does not change the narrative-line horror and tragedy of his murder at the hands of a friend. It may lessen, even extract the sting of what seems an inhuman betrayal of a mentor but the murder remains painful and almost an attack on goodness itself.

Jan Voetenberg in the Netherlands says of Dumbledore’s first comments to Draco after being disarmed and threatened with death:

I would like to add that the sentence: “Well then, you must get on and do it, my dear boy” reminded me of a verse which is in only one of the Gospels. At the last supper, suddenly Jesus says to Judas: “What you want to do, do it quickly”. (John 13: 27). (Private Correspondence, 8/19/05)

Note, too, Dumbledore’s offer of sanctuary and forgiveness to Draco before the other Death Eaters appear:

“I can help you, Draco! [Lord Voldemort] cannot kill you if you are already dead. Come over to the right side, Draco, and we can hide you more completely than you can possibly imagine” (chapter 27, Scholastic pp 591-592).

The parallels with Christ? Dumbledore is murdered by those who are not his equal even on a “dying day.” He is taunted and tormented by his would-be executioners. He forgives them and shows them his mercy and forgiveness, not to mention that he is not afraid of death. He offers himself (again) as a sacrifice to save the lives, spiritual (Draco) and physical (Snape) lives, of those before him. He tells Draco if he will die to himself (and be born again?) he will be saved. If the basin drink in the Cave was the Horcrux or just the symbolic equivalent of all sin, he also by dying destroys the evil he has taken unto himself.

Coupled with his draining the bitter cup in the Cave and all we know of him, Dumbledore’s death on the Astronomy Tower, the alchemical crucible, may not be obviously a pointer to his being a Christ figure. Short of his resurrection in the footprints of Aslan and Gandalf, though, it is not particularly obscure, either. Dumbledore’s sacrificial death – after taking on the sins of the world and showing his mercy and forgiveness to those who would kill him for no reason other than that he is good – is a death in the image of the God-Man and His death on Calvary.

* “You are with me”/ “I am with You”: echoes of the Last Supper

I did not think of this much, I confess, as I hurried through the story for the first time. What struck me then and again a week later are two comments by Dumbledore that act as bookends to his work in Half-Blood Prince. The first is a throw-away aside he offers in explanation of why Harry will be safe from attack the night he picks Harry up from Privet Drive.

“You are with me,” said Dumbledore simply (chapter 4, Scholastic, p. 58). Harry echoes this confidence before departing for the Cave when he reassures Hermione by saying, “I’ll be fine, I’ll be with Dumbledore” (chapter 25, Scholastic 552).

Dumbledore says something eerily similar to “You are with me” to Harry near the book’s end as they escape from the Cave and the Inferi. To enter the Cave Dumbledore had to wound himself and offer his blood on the wall of the Cave. Harry does this blood sacrifice for them as they exit. Harry is in charge now of the dying Headmaster and whelmed by the responsibility. He says:

“It’s going to be all right, sir,” Harry said over and over again, more worried by Dumbledore’s silence than he had been by his weakened voice. “We’re nearly there! I can Apparate us both back! Don’t worry!”

“I am not worried, Harry,” said Dumbledore, his voice a little stronger despite the freezing water. “I am with you.” (26, Scholastic p. 578)

Dumbledore’s “I am with you” gave me goose bumps — and I was not alone in this. In my Barnes and Noble classroom there was a section in which Prince readers were asked what their favorite lines in the series were. There were many different responses — some gag lines (“Give her hell, Peeves!” is frequently mentioned), of course, and some were very serious (Dumbledore’s lines about choice, Cedric Diggory, and death being an adventure to the well-organized mind). More than half the respondents, though, mentioned “I am with you” as their first or second choice.

Why? I suppose it could be a several reasons. In one sense it is the passing of the torch from the Fisher King to the new and worthy champion. In another sense it is the satisfaction of mentor reposing in the care of his beloved disciple.

I think, too, the echo it invokes of “You are with me” makes “I am with you” resonate with our relationship to God in Christ, or if that is too “religious” a meaning for readers, a pointer to love’s victory over death being an eraser of the “I” and “Thou.” The Phoenix song “was inside him, not without” (chapter 30, p. 615) as the Kingdom of Heaven is within us (Luke 17:20) and this is a distinction of relationship. Christ’s prayers to God the Father in his sermon at the Last Supper (John, chapters 14-17) point to this communion and the safety therein:

While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name; those that thou gavest me I have kept. Neither pray I for these alone but for them also which shall believe on me through their word; That they may all be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they may also be one in us. (John 17:12, 20-21)

The “I am with you” also echoes the closing words of the Gospel of St. Matthew, the so-called Great Commission, in which Christ assures those who believe in Him, “Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). Dumbledore’s telling Harry that he feels safe has the odd effect of calming Harry and the reader, not because we think Harry is totally prepared for the responsibilities he has that night or that he will have at Dumbledore’s death, but that he may be ready as long as Dumbledore is with him.

Harry touches on this safe point later when re-buffing the Minister of Magic again at Dumbledore’s funeral. Scrimgeour tells Harry that he is admirable for his loyalty to Dumbledore’s memory “but Dumbledore is gone.”

“He will only be gone from the school when none here are loyal to him,” said Harry, smiling in spite of himself. (chapter 30, p. 649)

Harry does not expect Scrimgeour to understand the reference to Dumbledore’s promise in Chamber. We, I think, miss out on the reference to Christ’s promise and its link to Harry’s faith and confidence in Dumbledore’s continued presence if we do not take Dumbledore seriously as an image of Christ. We also will have trouble explaining the resonance of these stories with the human heart, the hearts of those of us living in nominally “Christian” cultures and of those around the world to whom Jesus of Nazareth is a stranger.


The question presented is, “Is Albus Dumbledore, affable Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and the greatest wizard who ever lived, a literary symbol of Christ?” My answer is, not obviously or mechanically, but certainly, yes, he is.

I say this because of his character as he has been presented in the book and because of the nature of his death in the most recent Harry Potter adventure, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. It is not a “crude” or “obvious” representation, which Ms. Rowling seems to have taken special care to distance herself from, but his sacrifice, his mercy, his suffering, and his unqualified love taken all together point to him as a symbol or “literary grace conduit” of Christ.

I am not saying in this assertion, which I have argued at unfortunate length, to make the case that Rowling is an Inkling wanna-be, a case I have argued elsewhere. Ms. Rowling is not writing Inkling Christian fantasy a la Focus-on-the-Family radio serial dramas, in which good and evil come in the paint-by-numbers colors assigned to them and we have resolution in a thirty minute program (with eight minutes of commercials for Christian pain relievers, cures for debt, and diets). Far from it.

Ms. Rowling is creating a masterful alchemical drama, satire, manners-and-morals fiction with components of detective stories, epic journeys, Arthurian romance, and Christian fantasy. Her readers are not looking for the “edifying entertainment” peddled by an industry “Christian youth” and “Family” marketplace that Lewis, Tolkien, Sayers, and Williams could hardly have imagined (if Narnia and Middle Earth are now the show pieces and touchstones of this industry). She is not writing to the audience that is looking for pious distraction or “literary faith-buttressing.”

What she is doing, however, is drawing from the depths, height, and width of the English literary tradition, a Christian tradition beyond commercial conventions, to write stories that affect her readers profoundly. She may not make the spiritually lame walk but her readers with good hearts are encouraged, even heartened by their engagement with her stories and their identification with the heroes they find there. Experiencing vicariously in the imagination Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s struggles, changes, and their transcendence of prejudice, magical mores, personal failings, even their fear of death, through their love, sacrifice, and moral courage, readers of Harry Potter are different and better people after their time spent at Hogwarts.

Is Albus Dumbledore a literary icon of Christ? He is not if you think this means he is a stock figure from the Christian back-lot. He is not an allegorical or obvious Jesus.

He is a symbol of Christ, though, in that Ms. Rowling uses the Dumbledore character especially in the last chapters of Half-Blood Prince to “baptize the imagination,” “smuggle the Gospel,” and train her readers “in the stock responses.” Dumbledore in his love, mercy, sacrificial death, and the promise that his followers feel they have in his continued presence after his death serves the symbolic function of opening us to the idea of a savior who is our best means of grace from the spiritual realm. Ms. Rowling’s success as a novelist, I believe, testifies both to her ability to bring this in under the increasingly sensitive radar of our times (forget watchful dragons!) and to the degree that her opaque or relatively subtle symbolism delivers the goods.

How does this key, traditional symbolism, jibe with the other keys in our Five Keys for the Serious Reader? If the stories are read as a postmodern fairy tale or epic with Dumbledore actually being narrative-misdirection-Snape on a Polyjuice bender, does that diminish the symbolism or its power? Hardly. But, if the action of Prince is staged for Scar-o-Scope viewing, the story is meant to have its transcendent effect on Harry, Voldemort, and we readers, too.

And, yes, before someone asks, Harry can certainly be a Christ symbol, too. As I’ll explain in another post, I think his decisions to choose his destiny makes him simultaneously the Christian Everyman and Christ in the Garden character of our times. Stay tuned.

I look forward to reading your thoughts.


  1. This from Carla at “Harry Potter for Christians” (see links for the url to her wonderful site):

    “because story and life both reflect transcendent realities. A story about good versus evil will also reflect this heavenly struggle as it shows itself in every generation and within every individual.”

    This was my favorite part of your post, and I think it sums up my feelings on the subject. I think Dumbledore is a reflection of God in many ways, but I don’t see him as being the symbolic equivalent to God/Christ… more like the ultimate Christian, as we are all to strive be reflections of Christ.

    J.K.’s symbolism sometimes feels like she took all the world’s most classic stories and some Biblical themes, put them in a blender, and came up with really healthy, tasty prose….lol, it’s like a literary V8 Splash.

    *If* there is an allegory of sorts at work, Harry is going to be the Christ figure come book 7. He and Voldemort will both kill each other (that wound his heel, crush his head deal), but Harry will be the one to defeat death (that is come back to life).

    I don’t believe Harry has symbolically *died* every book. He has gone through trials, test, etc. His death will only be required once….

    I also see it as a possibilty that Harry has already conquered death…in which case the allegory shifts a lot…

    I believe very strongly that Snape will emerge as a good guy. I think he and Dumbledore are acting out prelaid plans, even if the some of the details were unforseen. I believe Dumbledore was already dying…possibly from the start of the book…Snape’s killing him was done to preserve Snape’s life after making the unbreakable vow and to install him in Voldemort’s good graces.

    Hrm…I’d post this directly to your blog, but Word Press doesn’t seem to like me very much.


  2. korg20000bc says

    I really appreciated this post. Thankyou.

    Although you mention that what you have written is compatable with the “scar-o-scope” idea, I don’t really see how.

    If “The Cave” was a set-up and an act for Voldemort, surely the symbolic sacrifice of Dumbledore and afterwards at the astronomy tower is rendered meaningless. It seems to be a betrayal of Harry and the reader. Surely the inference would be that the symbolic sacrifice of Dumbledore( as a type of Christ) is an sham and worthless, so too is the real sacrifice of Christ for the world. I don’t think Rowling would do this to her readers.

    Also, you write that the pheonix is commonly called the resurrection bird… I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard a pheonix called this. It’s obvious that it could be called this but I have never read the term outside of your writings.

    I enjoyed this post but cannot see how it can be reconciled to the “scar-o-scope” theory.


  3. John, I am in agreemenmt with you when you say that DD is a Christ “symbol”. And that DD knew that Snape made the unbreakable vow and that is why he called for him on the tower. To save not only Draco, which I think is obvious, but Snape’s life as well. I am still not sure which side Snape is on, but I still have to say Voldemort’s at this point until book 7 comes out. Even if I have to eat crow.

  4. bubbygirl1972 says

    Even before I read that John spoke of the pheonix as the resurection bird, I got the symbolism of the bird rising from the ashes, andwhich reminded me of beauty from ashes, and the bird saving Harry and the healing tears. I think the pheonix as a Christ symbol is pretty obvious. I also think that dd is a symbol of either christ or of what a Christian should be. Like dumbledore telling Harry that basically love was the greatest power in the world. that has echos of that famous bible verse. I haven’t read John’s books yet as I am vision impaired and would have to buy them and scan them unless they were available electronically or via audio but I love reading everyone’s comments and discussions.

  5. Best John Granger essay ever! I am cracking up from your jibe at Focus on the Family and Christian pain killers.

    More importantly, you are right about Dumbledore. I hadn’t completely reconciled his death as being sacrificial until just now, but I can see how it is, however Snape fits into the story.

    The only point of contention here is that I don’t think Dumbledore was omniscient about the Vow (I’m afraid we won’t ever agree on this until this July), and that if Snape hadn’t been present on the tower (say, if he had been sleeping and missed the whole thing), the Vow wouldn’t have necessarily kicked in. So if Dumbledore had known, it would have made more sense for him NOT to ask for Snape.

    I see “severus … please” as more an “E tu Brute” moment where Dumbledore is realizing for the first time that he is being betrayed. Or if not realizing for the first time, then perhaps it is more analogous to Jesus saying to Judas to do what he was going to do (Just like Dumbledore said to Draco). Or the more heartbroken Christ “you would betray the son of man with a kiss?”

    This is horrifiying and sickening notion, I know, but Jo has stated in an interview that she believes taking a human life to be the ultimate sin, although some may not agree with her. God is not the author of evil. Neither Dumbledore nor Christ would demand someone to commit this sin.

    It seems inconsistent for me that Dumbledore has taken such great pains to protect Draco’s soul from being splintered, yet his order to Snape would result in exactly the same thing, just to spare Snape’s life. Wouldn’t death actually be preferable to a split soul?

    I think my version of events, while it detracts from Dumbledore’s omniscience and perhaps makes him slightly less “Christ like,” it is much more consistent with Rowlings portrait of Dumbledore as someone who is very lonely and isolated from others, and making emotional mistakes. Yes, I’ve referenced this quote again and again, because I think its significance cannot be understated. His weakness is seeing the good in others. He WANTED to trust Snape, in other words.

    I would agree that this is not very pleasant, but we are talking about a deep human tragedy. I agree with you that Dumbledore is Christ like in every other sense that you have mentioned, however. Remarkably Christ like in many different sense as you have eloquently pointed out for us, yes. Omniscient, sadly, no.

  6. Quite a late response to a 6-year old post, but maybe there are new readers interested in picking up the thread and discussing Snape on the Tower. I usually find the subsequent rereadings of the books revealed exquisite details missed on the first read because one is so focused on plot. However, the very first time I read HBP I was very focused on details and reading slowly as dread and tension built up in Chapter 27. I was immediately caught by Jo’s use of words when Snape appeared on the Tower. “….and there stood Snape, his wand clutched in his hand as his black eyes swept the scene,….” The use of the word “swept.” I could visualize him in slo-mo. A very interesting choice of word too, I thought. So clever and sneaky. With what does one sweep? A broom. Snape must have noticed the two broomsticks that were, of course, lying there. Snape was a perceptive man. He knew Harry possessed an Invisability Cloak. I think she was dropping the tiniest hint that Snape understood that Harry was present. It was bold of her to do so. When DD said “Severus…please,” and Harry heard a tone of pleading, he was perhaps, not only asking Snape to kill him (which we didn’t know at the time), but he was asking Snape to rise above his dislike for the boy and get the DeathEaters out of there quickly to protect Harry. It’s likely any previous plan hadn’t included the possibility of Harry’s presence. And of course, that is exactly what Snape did. He rushed them along and swept them out of the castle. The use of that one word, “swept,” revealed to me that DD and Snape were working as a team.

    And regarding DD as a Christ stand-in…well Jo said in 2010 that DD was John the Baptist to Harry’s Christ. She described him as the wannabe, the flawed one that didn’t quite make it. He knew he was not the One and so became the one who prepares the way. He says as much to Harry when he tells him, “…I’ve known for some time that you were the better man, Harry.” DD is content with his own role in events when he gets to know Harry and sees that his journey towards transformation is internalized, unconscious and not tainted with any desire for power. I think Albus perceived his role as the Alchemist helping to create and provide the right circumstances and environment to foster this process. The outcome is good, but Harry could not have done it without him. There’s a great line in the end of OotP that summed this up for me. It comes after Harry’s rage and DD’s reveal of the prophecy. He tried to explain to Harry about love, and (not for the last time) to make Harry see that it is his greatest weapon against evil. DD said, “In the end, it mattered not that you could not close your mind. It was your heart that saved you.” To me this indicated DD’s acceptance of the primacy of Harry’s journey. He, DD, was the one with the brilliant mind. He could defend against LV both physically and mentally, as we were shown at the Ministry. But in the end he recognized the Heart was the path to the sublime.

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