Dumbledore Spotted: Stoppered Death the Solution?

As a rule, I am several weeks behind on Fandom news. I don’t visit the websites that update every half hour with new still pictures of the naked Daniel Radcliffe or the cover of the Goblet DVD just released in the Netherlands (“what does that hippogriff head mean?!”) so, unless a friend sends me a note or one of my cadets asks me a question, I’m clueless about the larger media world of Potter-mania.

I gave a talk last Thursday called “The Five Keys and Seven Predictions for Deathly Hallows” at LaSalle University in Philadelphia where at least one serious reader had heard that Ms. Rowling had just renounced Dumbledore’s real death. I tried to explain “Stoppered Death” to her quickly but made a mental note to check Travis Prinzi’s website, www.SwordofGryffindor.com, when I got home.

Sure enough, Travis had posted something on this a week or so ago. The original article is here with commentary here. The meat of the subject is this:

Harry Potter fans around the world cannot help but be excited over Dan Radcliffe’s latest interview. In an interview that appears in today’s edition of The Sunday Times, Dan Radcliffe talks about being Harry Potter and he also talks about his roll in Equus, but the real reason Harry Potter fans are excited is because this interview includes a small bit of a conversation that Dan Radcliff had with J.K. Rowling. Dan shared this information with The Sunday Times:

“Jo came down to the set at one point and I said, ‘Oh hello, why are you here today?’ And she said, ‘Oh I just needed a break from the book – Dumbledore’s giving me a lot of trouble.’ And I said, ‘But isn’t he dead?’ And she said, ‘Well, yeah, but it’s more complex…’ I was like, [briskly] ‘OK, I’m not gonna ask anything else!”

In another version:

I ask Dan what JK Rowling makes of his new adventure.

‘She’s coming to see it!’ he says, beaming. ‘She’s very excited about it, which is great! I think it will be weird for her because – I’m not sure how true it is – someone said that when she first saw my screen test she said something about it being like she’d found the son she never had. So it’s going to be very weird for her to see her long-lost son blind horses! I look forward to hearing what she thinks.’

What does he think will happen in the final book? Will he die?

‘I think I will. I sort of hope I will, really. I think that’s really the only way Jo can end it, if Harry and Voldemort… Maybe one can only die if the other one dies. I don’t know that for sure. But I’m quite looking forward to doing a death scene, if I get that opportunity.’

But honestly, he says, he has no idea of how the series will end. Nor does he want to. He’s a Potter fan, like everyone else. ‘Jo came down to the set at one point and I said, “Oh hello, why are you here today?” And she said, “Oh I just needed a break from the book – Dumbledore’s giving me a lot of trouble.” And I said, “But isn’t he dead?” And she said, “Well, yeah, but it’s more complex …” I was like, [briskly] “OK, I’m not gonna ask anything else!”‘

More from MuggleNet.com on these articles can be read by clicking here.

The reason this is news is we all thought Ms. Rowling’s careful comments this summer about Dumbledore being “definitely dead” and “not doing a Gandalf” were meant to shut the door on “Dumbledore is not Dead” speculation. Now that she says she’s “having trouble” with the Headmaster and his death “is more complex” than just being dead, the speculation wagon seems to have been jump started again.

I think to get a grip on this we should review those Radio City Music Hall comments:

Cory Mayer: My name’s Cory Mayer and I’m 9 years old and I’m from Bordentown, New Jersey. I absolutely love your books. I’m not a big reader but your books make me want to read and that makes my mom happy (crowd and JK Rowling laugh). She loves your books too. In a recent interview you hinted at two main characters dying and possibly Harry Potter too. Was Dumbledore considered one of the main characters or will we have the chance to see him in action once again? Since he is the most powerful wizard of all time and Harry Potter is so loyal to him, how could he really be dead?

JK Rowling: Ohhhhhhhh (Jo puts her head in her arms and crowd cheers and applauds). I feel terrible (crowd laughs). The British writer Graham Green once said that every writer had to have a chip of ice in their heart. Oh no (Jo says half weeping while crowd laughs). I think you may just have ruined my career (crowd laughs). Umm, I really can’t answer that question because the answer is in book seven but … you shouldn’t expect Dumbledore to do a Gandalf. Let me just put it that way. I’m sorry (crowd moans and applauds).

But the stunner came when the Rushdies asked point blank the question many of us hoped Ms. Rowling wouldn’t side-step:

Salman and Milan Rushdie: Hello. We are Salman and Milan Rushdie (crowd applauds). Umm –

JK Rowling: I’m not that sure this is fair (crowd laughs). I think you might be better at guessing plots than most. But anyway, off you go.

Salman and Milan Rushdie: We are 9 and 59. And one of us is good at guessing plots, not me. And this is really Milan’s question and it’s kind of a follow up to the previous one.

JK Rowling: Alright. Okay.

Salman and Milan Rushdie: Until the events of Volume 6, it was always made plain that Snape might have been an unlikable fellow but he was essentially one of the good guys (crowd screams approval).

JK Rowling: I can see this is the question you all really want answered.

Salman and Milan Rushdie: Dumbledore himself – Dumbledore himself had always vouched for him.

JK Rowling: Yes.

Salman and Milan Rushdie: Now we are suddenly told that Snape is a villain and Dumbledore’s killer.

JK Rowling: Un hunh.

Salman and Milan Rushdie: We cannot, or don’t want to believe this (crowd laughs). Our theory is that Snape is in fact, still a good guy (crowd applauds). From which it follows that Dumbledore can’t really be dead and that the death is a ruse cooked up between Dumbledore and Snape to put Voldemort off his guard so that when Harry and Voldemort come face to face (crowd laughs). Harry may have more allies than he or Voldemort suspects. So, is Snape good or bad? (crowd laughs, applauds and screams and Jo chuckles). In our opinion, everything follows from it.

JK Rowling: Well, Salman, your opinion, I would say is … right. But I see that I need to be a little more explicit and say that Dumbledore is definitely … dead (crowd gasps). And I do know – I do know that there is an entire website out there that says – that’s name is DumbledoreIsNotDead.com so umm, I’d imagine they’re not pretty happy right now (crowd laughs). But I think I need – you need – all of you need to move through the five stages of grief (crowd laughs), and I’m just helping you get past denial. So, I can’t remember what’s next. It may be anger so I think we should stop it here. Thank you (crowd applauds).

A reader calling him/herself “Seriously Black” corrected my first take on this over at Sword of Gryffindor. Ms. Rowling is saying the Rushdie opinion that is “right” is the one that posits “everything follws from (whether Snape is good or not).” She doesn’t answer the question, “Is Snape good or bad?” The Rushdies suggested that Severus was a good guy and that the Astronomy Tower scene was a cooked-up melodrama. Ms. Rowling addresses neither idea in her “Dumbledore is definitely… dead” response. She only acknowledges, carefully, that “everything follows” from Snape’s being white hat or black hat.

Her follow-up “explicit” comment that Dumbledore is “definitely… dead” tells us, in fact, much less than fans in Radio City and readers everywhere have assumed – if it has derailed the “Dumbledore Lives” train. Because, as she told young Daniel Radcliffe, this death is a little “more complex” than, say, Cedric’s or Sirius’s deaths (zap, plop, dead, done and gone). As Mary wrote at the SwordofGryffindor.com thread, this is a world of ghosts, wand echoes, Inferi, and living, albeit soulless, human husks left by dementors. In what way could Dumbledore survive his death?

The answer is Stoppered Death.

My co-moderator in the August 2005 Discussion Room at Barnes and Noble University.com (BNU) was Cathy Liesner from ‚ÄúThe Leaky Cauldron.‚Äù Cathy was struck by the number of references in Half-Blood Prince to Harry‚Äôs very first Potions class way back in Philosopher‚Äôs Stone, chapter 8, ‚ÄúThe Potions Master.‚Äù Cathy realized that something Snape said in that first class could be an explanation of how Severus helped Dumbledore with his withered arm. Cathy‚Äôs idea is called ‚ÄúStoppered Death‚Äù because Severus told his ickle firsties that he could, indeed “stopper death.”

“As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this is magic. I don’t expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the senses….I can teach you how to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death Рif you aren’t as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach.” (Philosopher’s Stone, Chapter 8, pg. 137)

I developed Cathy’s theory online during the BNU classroom in some detail and several of those posts have been used by others to share “Stoppered Death” on the internet (sadly, without attribution, beyond noting Cathy Leisner’s first insight). You can read the LP version in Unlocking Harry Potter: Five Keys for the Serious Reader which you can order here and have by the end of next week.

The short version is just this: Dumbledore dies in Half-Blood Prince but he isn’t dead-and-gone. He is the answer to Snape’s question about what the difference is between an Inferius and a ghost. Severus or Horace stopper his death, so, though he is dead and his portrait appears in the Headmaster’s Office, he is still among the living, just not one of us.

When does this happen? One of two spots seem most likely.

The first was, as Cathy Leisner thought, when Dumbledore bungled the Horcrux Ring destruction. Frankly, I have my doubts about this. If Dumbledore had such a hard time defusing a Horcrux that it disarmed him (ouch), don’t you think he would have said something, anything, at some point in the year devoted to Horcruxes about how to handle these bad-boys and what not to do? I think the withered arm may just be a distractor so that Severus can stand in as Dumbledore all year and have a “signature” appearance that prevents his fellows from wondering if this guy really is Dumbledore.

But it is very possible that this is where Dumbledore “dies” and is put in a state of “suspended de-animation.”

The other time he might have died and been stoppered, is, of course, when he appears to die, after being blasted from the Tower. Horace could easily have administered the Stoppered Death potion at the base of the Tower and supplemented its efficacious powers with the flagon of Phoenix tears that Fawkes cried that night.

Dumbledore is “definitely… dead” either way and not able to “do a Gandalf,” that is, return from the dead as “Albus the White” even more powerful and vital than before his death, however humorous “Albus the White” is. Dumbledore will return in Deathly Hallows and look much like he does in Half-Blood Prince. But he is a dead man walking who will undoubtedly walk or fall through the Veil at story’s end, the Dark Lord having been vanquished and Harry having learned the Grand Master Plan the Headmaster and his Apprentice have been working since well before the Potters’ deaths.

Is this to suggest Ms. Rowling is not telling us the truth, that she lied at Radio City? Hardly. She confirmed that Severus is the key to the story, she did not deny the Rushdie theory that Professor Snape is a good guy and that the death on the Tower was staged, and she affirmed for us that Dumbledore is definitely dead. With “Stoppered Death” in mind, we can appreciate how complex this death has been and look forward to the Headmaster’s heading off to the next great adventure, post Voldemort.

Is not being able to let Dumbledore die just “reasoning-chasing-sentiment” or, as one wag would have it, Fandom stuck in the “bargaining” stage of grief? Perhaps it is, if, you’ll forgive me, as the person who predicted Dumbledore had to die in Phoenix and positively cheered at his demise in Prince, I doubt I’m the likeliest candidate for that mistake. The repeated element of faked deaths in the books, the Rowling signature of Narrative Misdirection, the Postmodern theme running throughout this series of “things seeming to us to be what they are not because of our prejudices,” as well as foreshadowed points that will be empty if Dumbledore has in fact left the scene before the final denouement all point to a grand twist on the Tower. Cathy Leisner’s Stoppered Death theory, based as it is on the repeated references in Prince to Snape’s first potion class, is a reasonable possibility of how the Headmaster could have survived his death before or at the end of the action in Prince.

While I can understand those who sneer at this kind of speculation, I cannot say I appreciate their uncharitable eagerness to snort “Delusional!” The game that is afoot is about learning how these books work and why they are as popular as they are, not figuring out or arguing about the ending (an exercise few will remember by August and, of that few, no one with a life).

Or so I think. Please let me know what you think! I especially would like to read the opinion of a serious reader who believes that Dumbledore has died a la Cedric and Sirius about how this death is consistent with the saga’s themes and artistry. We know it satisfies an aspect of the literary alchemy as Ms. Rowling seems to use it. We know “death and bereavement” are a theme in the books (if this death departs from the others in character). Anything else? This would be an excellent conversation and I hope to read such a contrary opinion fleshed out. It escapes me!

[John and Travis Prinzi talk some more about this idea over here.]


  1. John, I do tend to think, like Cathy, that Dumbledore actually died in June/July 1996. But, when you say “If Dumbledore had such a hard time defusing a Horcrux that it disarmed him (ouch), don‚Äôt you think he would have said something, anything, at some point in the year devoted to Horcruxes about how to handle these bad-boys and what not to do?”, you forget that, as Jodel has said, Harry himself is one of the horcruxes – or, at least, carrying one. It may well be they are programmed to “zap” anyone or anything that tries to defuse them other than the original maker.But, as far as the horcruxes are concerend, Harry *is* the original maker, and they won’t injure him the way they injured Dumbledore. So, you see, I see Dumbledore’s lack of instruction on this point as a clue to what Harry is and why he alone can destroy Voldemort’s soul fragments.

    Otherwise, of course, I like this theory. But, even though I like it and have mostly accepted it, I’m not at all sure that “stoppered death” is necessary. (And, playing devil’s advocate, someone said it might simply refer to brewing antidotes. It certainly doesn’t refer to brewing poisons!) I also really, really like Jodel’s original idea (which she’s moved away from, for some reason) that it was Harry who killed Dumbledore by making him drink that vile potion. So I don’t expect him to come back in DH at all. But we’ll see in a few months!

  2. Travis Prinzi says

    I’ve obviously already started reply to this over at SoG, but I wanted to jump into the conversation here a bit.

    First, Mary, I’m not sure Snape’s reference to “stoppered death” can be construed as “brewing antidotes” or any other such thing. He was trying to explain, in dramatic fashion, the power of potion-making. As Felicity has noted, Snape would hardly say, “I can teach you to brew fame, bottle glory, and even stick a cork in a bottle of poison” (or “brew an antidote). Sort of anticlimactic, isn’t it?

    John, I’m wondering how you’d respond to this potential hang-up:

    This theory rests on the idea that “stoppered death” produces a “dead man walking.” But how exactly does the potion work? Surely it doesn’t vivify an already dead person. It must “stop” the process of death from being fully realized. As such, whenever the potion was administered, Albus was not yet dead, and hence we do have a contradiction between Rowling’s statement that “Dumbledore is definitely dead” and Stoppered Death as an explanation for how Dumbledore is still walking around in Book 7.

    Thought? Am I misunderstanding?

  3. I always thought that if Dumbledore had been planning on dying, he would have made sure Harry would get to hear his “thrilling tale” about what happened with his hand. He did promise to relay this “thrilling tale” at some point.

    We are told that yes, he is dead. No, he won’t “pull a gandalf.”

    Why should we be surprised that it is “more complex?”

    And why assume that she is referring to Dumbledore in the present. We have much to learn about Dumbledore’s past that would also add more complexity to the story. All we know is that JKR was working on some plot point involving Dumbledore that was tricky for her to work out. This can mean any number of things!

    “Isn’t he dead?” assumes that just because he is dead, there is nothing more to learn about him, nothing regarding Dumbledore that is complex or difficult to work out.

  4. My guess as to how “Stoppered Death” works is that it prevents most of your body (and your mind) from decaying and keeps your soul in this world for a limited time. I think that the reason Dumbledore’s hand is black is because it’s the one part of his body that is actually dead, a telltale sign that the rest of him should be dead. It would make sense to me that you wouldn’t be able to keep your entire body incorrupt during stoppered death: I assume that Dumbledore’s hand was in the process of rotting away all during HBP.

  5. Firstly, I agree with the Dumbledore is dead crowd. It is entirely possible that in book seven, there will be some character that provides a Medium (yes, I watch too much TV)that can touch base with Dumbledore in his new happy hunting ground, the beyond.

    Secondly, I have a lot to say on the topic of Snape and Alchemy.

    In PS/SS first book, Snape mentions “bottled fame” and “stopper in death” in the very first DADA lesson. Here is the gun on the mantel for Chekov fans.

    In PS/SS, the trio assume that Snape is after the Philosopher’s Stone, eternal life. This Stone is something that made Nicholas Flamel famous.

    What if the Trio were right? What if the stone represents Snape’s motivation? What if Snape tells us in the very first lesson what he is most interested in?

    Snape wants Fame via figuring out how to put a Stopper in Death. So…
    Snape wants to learn to make a stone. Alchemical success would be showing the world your potion expertise by creating the elusive Elixer of Life.

    Hence, Snape joined famous Dumbledore to learn about the Stone, one method of putting a stopper in death.

    Another route to eternal life are horcruxes, dark magic. Snape luurves dark magic per the reports from the Mauraders and his stint at teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts gives credence to his fascination with that subject.

    Hence, Snape joined infamous Voldemort to learn about horcruxes, another method to put a stopper in death.

    Pursuit of knowledge is a powerful motivator and as a bonus, you become a better person by following the spiritual path of the Philospher’s Stone. Maybe that is what Dumbledore trusts about Snape.

    Pursuit of knowledge is a powerful motivator and as an added bonus you can achieve eternal life and flee death. Maybe that is what Voldemort trusts about Snape.

    This is why Dumbledore goes to Snape when he has horcrux related injuries. He knows of Severus’s interest in all eternal life possibilities and his death-eataer past.

    Snape saved Harry because:
    …saving Harry (book one) kept Snape on Dumbledore’s team (because Dumbledore is a good guy and doesn’t want kids to go splat on the Quidditch field.)
    …saving Harry (book six) kept Snape on Voldemort’s team (asssuming that Voldemort may think that Harry is a horcrux).
    …saving Harry may be useful if Snape is wondering if Harry is a horcrux as well.

    Maybe Lily was another student interested in the Philosopher’s Stone. This is why her expertise as a potions student is a big revelation.

    Also, In an earlier version of the HP series, (a draft noted on her website) Rowling wrote that James and Lily stole the Philosopher’s Stone. So at one point, there was a distinct Rowling line of thought that once directly connected Lily and James to the Philosopher’s Stone.

    Plus the Chocolate Frog card said Nicholas was the only Known owner of a Philospher’s Stone. One can’t help but note that Lily and James were very rich.

    Voldemort wanted knowledge about eternal life. If Lily has access to another Stone, that was why Voldemort initially decided not to kill her.

    The whole business of the Unbreakable Vow… Why take any kind of vow that could kill you if it was broken, if you are so much into eternal life?

    Well you don’t have anything to fear from such a deathly vow, if you are sure that you have already figured out a way around it.

    Snape understands mixing things up in his chemistry set. I don’t think he gets the purity of soul aspect that goes along with alchemy. So by killing Dumbledore, he has permanently closed the door to ever achieving alchemical gold. (torn soul and all that)

    Harry Potter became famous for defeating the Death Curse. Somehow that rug-rat defeated death while still in diapers and became so very famous! He loathes that kid.

    So Snape is not Dumbledore’s man nor Voldemort’s man. He wants to prove himself by understanding magic‚Äôs deepest mystery ‚Äì the secret of eternal life ‚Äì both by taking the Dumbledore high road and the Voldemort low road. He want to be the best authority on putting a stopper in death.

    He can see it all now…Front page Daily Prophet News: “Severus Snape Has Conquered Death!”

    Order of Merlin look out, I believe Snape very much wants some eternal glory.

    However, the exposure to Dumbledore and the Quest for Quientessence, has made its mark on Snape. I think he will be like the parable of the vineyard. He is one of those workers who gets in at the very last moment.

  6. chuckGleason says

    The “Stopperd death” concept resonates with me, but I have some disbelief that it means Dumbledore will continue being active in the present.

    I’m a newbie at looking this deep into the stories so maybe I’m missing something obvious, but does Dumbledore have to be present to be “involved” in Harry’s continued quest? Couldn’t Dumbledore have left a series of clues, or friends who will show up to pass on info, or memories in the pensive.

    ..Or could Dumbledore have made a mistake that Harry has to unravel.

    Just some thoughts.

  7. Chuck, after researching this very hard for a couple of years with the help of John and friends, I have come to the conclusion that DD can be an information source without being alive or doing a Gandalf. Lots of ways. The pensieve, diary, family, friends, co-workers, liquid memories etc…

  8. Exactly! Stoppered Death does not mean that Dumbledore is not dead now (as of the end of HBP). He is dead, and isn’t coming back, but he will be spiritually present and offering guidance in the ways Rumor suggests. I have high hopes for Aberforth, myself.

    I also agree with Regnia about how ‘stoppered death’ works, and that Dumbledore was a ‘dead man walking’ throughout all of HBP.

    A final theory – I think Jodel and Swythyv are right in saying that Dumbledore may not have been all that nice as a young man. He, himself, may have made serious mistakes and needed forgiveness. Maybe Rowling was having trouble in introducing his painful history to Harry? (But that’s speculation, of course!)

  9. Floo Powder says

    Just reread that portion of SS, and the first potions class. It struck me as saying that he could teach them how to put a potion that would cause death in a bottle. Not a potion that could stop death in a bottle.

    another thing I see bandied about is the “Drought of living death” (cue dramatic music..duuhhh, duuhhh, dduuunnhhhh). Again it is explained as being a powerful sleeping potion. The people are in a deep sleep, just sleeping. Not overly sinister to me.

    My 2 cents…love the site!

  10. Um – true, the “even stopper death” phrase has been interpreted that way, but does it make sense? For one thing, Snape (who’s quite a rhetoritician) seems to be using an ascending order of difficulty here. And even Muggles can brew poisons without the slightest problem. It doesn’t take much skill. So – would he really be saying, “fame, glory, deadly poisons?” Also, why would DUMBLEDORE allow the brewsing of poisons in the curriculum? Why would the ministry and board of governers? So, whatever Snape is talking about in his first speech, it isn’t brewing poisons.

    I initially interpreted the draught of living death exactly the way you do. In fact, I still do. This is something entirely different (IMHO) from ‘stoppered death’, and I’m expecting we’ll learn more about both of them in “Deathly Hallows”. I’m also expecting we’ll finally see both the draught of living death and stoppered death in use.

  11. Occam beckons.

    There are plenty of straightforward indications that Dumbledore is indeed dead in the common sense of the word, no stoppering.

    When Umbridge took over as Headmaster, the office didn’t let her. But when McG took over, it did, with a portrait of Dumbledore prominently in place.

    Ah! The portrait.

    No doubt there will be a conversation or two: a perfect explanation of Rowling’s words to the actor. Serious readers knew that Dumbledore had to die sometime, for the same reason that Obi-Wan had to die. No surprise, then, when Dumbledore continues to be a presence.

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