High Inquisitor = Grand Inquisitor?

As I have said here before, encountering Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov was a landmark event in my life as a reader and thinker. My mother gave it to me the Christmas of my junior year in High School. It was a Bantam paperback edition of Brothers translated by Andrew MacAndrew that she wrapped up with Anna Karenina and Ivanhoe, if my failing memory serves, in the hope that big books were what I wanted from Santa Claus. I worked that summer for my father at his auto body shop in Pennsylvania and started reading Brothers on the long drive to and from work each day.

Within a hundred pages, I was lost to the larger world and neglected my work as custodian and car-cleaner even more than usual to read every moment I could. As providence would have it, the novel assigned in my first semester as a senior that fall at Exeter was The Brothers Karamazov, the Garnett translation. I was able to read the whole novel again, discuss it with friends (and with a teacher who loved it), and write about it.

This work came to me at a critical point in my life, when my idea of myself was very much up in the air. When I, many years later, read about fantasy writers “smuggling the Gospel” “past watchful dragons,” I thought that Brothers had done that for me. As a high school senior, I was simultaneously jaded and naïve, sentimental and cynical; as the youngest of three brothers (and the most academic of the set), I wonder if I imagined myself more as Alyosha or Ivan. Regardless, reading this book when I did, reading it twice, and reading it attentively at least once, though I cannot remember any conscious recall of the book when making decisions about faith and direction later, clearly played a shaping part in my not-quite-conscious mind.

I hope you believe me when I say I was startled years later by an Exeter friend’s comment on learning my seventh child was named “Zossima” that this may be taking my Dostoevsky admiration too far (the boy was named, in truth, by his mother after the monk in St. Mary of Egypt’s life). I know people who say they became Christians largely because of the edifying influence, even the inspiration they felt from reading Lewis’ Narniad and Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings; I wonder if my seeking baptism and as an Orthodox Christianat that was not compelled in some subtle fashion by the way my soul was stirred as a very young man by The Brothers Karamazov.

Please forgive me this overly long autobiographical reflection. I do it only in the spirit of “full disclosure.” When I make links between the literary triptych of the soul’s faculties in Alyosha, Ivan, and Dmitri of The Brothers Karamazov and the starring triad of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter novels, as I have since Hidden Key to Harry Potter (2002), I am aware, even before readers roll their eyes and shake their heads, that this could very well be just my own “connecting of dots” between favorite stories near my heart. Who knows if Ms. Rowling has even read Dostoevsky, not to mention used The Brothers Karamazov as one of her prototypes? The triptych in her stories could be from other stories, the Hobbits on Mt. Doom, for instance, or popular television programs and movies (I have discussed the original Star Trek and Star Wars trios in this respect in addition to the Dostoevsky triptych). I assume your first assumption when reading Dostoevsky/Rowling parallels is a justifiable skepticism.

Given the breadth of Ms. Rowling’s reading, of course, I think it would be safe to assume, at the least, that she has read Dostoevsky and Tolstoy (Dolokhov being a pointer to the latter). Moreover, discussion on at least one thoughtful web site has begun the exploration of Snape’s literary genesis with his similarities with Raskolnikov in Crime and Punishment. I think, though, if we are seeking evidence of parallels or if we hope to demonstrate Dostoevsky’s influence on Ms. Rowling’s work, there is a more set place to begin than triptychs and Raskolnikov, namely, the character of Dolores Umbridge, the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.

There are words in English that have so few referents in history or literature that they immediately call to mind previous usage. The title Deathly Hallows, for instance, for many of us contained the inevitable echo of “Hallowed be Thy Name” from the Lord’s Prayer because, well, the Lord’s Prayer is the only place we use the word “hallow” in day-to-day existence, not to mention prayer lives. The word “inquisitor” is a word like this, too. If you say “inquisition,” in contrast, I suspect most minds immediately pop up with images of “The Spanish Inquisition” (or Monty Python sketches about same). “Inquisitor,” though, unless you live in lower Louisiana, is a pointed link to Dostoevsky’s “Grand Inquisitor,” the most famous and widely read part of Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov.

If you haven’t read The Grand Inquisitor chapter before or recently, please do pull it down from your shelf or read it online when you can. As you’d expect, Grand Inquisitor requires the context of the novel and the time to come into clear focus, both of which subjects are beyond the reach of this post and its author; I will note two things, though, not in the Wikipedia capsule-picture of the chapter.

First, Alyosha and Ivan are brothers (full-brothers; they are half-brothers with the passionate Dmitri) who in this symbolist drama represent faith and reason, or, better, the faculties of spirit and mind in each human person. Alyosha, the youngest and most innocent of the three siblings, is a novice at the monastery and the cell attendant of Fr. Zossima, the staretz and Dostoevsky’s “perfect man.” Ivan, in sharp contrast, is a well traveled, well educated man of his times who makes his way as a writer and journalist (if nothing like what we would call a “reporter”). Their conversation in Inquisitor at the heart of the book is not a stand-alone piece but the beginning of their relationship and a snap-shot of their understanding of themselves, each other, and the world. Coming as it does before Alyosha’s crisis of faith and his temporary descents to passion and skepticism (of a sort) consequent to his elder’s demise and seeming disgrace, the chapter holds an importance place in revealing Alyosha’s temptations and decisions in the next books, as well as Ivan’s eventual phrenesis and collapse. It’s not the whole play; it’s more of a prologue.

Second, as even Dostoevsky’s Catholic admirers acknowledge openly, the Cardinal in this piece is not a stock historical player whose religion is incidental to his authority. Assuming Prince Myshkin’s words in The Idiot are Dostoevsky’s thoughts, Catholicism to him was the religion of the Anti-Christ or simply atheism. Prof. Rodney Delasanta says the anti-Catholicism of The Grand Inquisitor can be read as Dostoevsky’s prophecy in antetype of the Soviet regime and authoritarianism in general, but that this reading neglects what shouldn’t be neglected. Dostoevsky chose a Catholic Cardinal as Ivan’s Grand Inquisitor because he thought of the Catholic Church as the enemy of human freedom and the life in Christ. Or so you would be led to think.

I hope that doesn’t turn anyone away from reading Brothers or even the remainder of this post; I mention it only because it is a point not often mentioned and we’ll come back to it later on when I attempt an explanation, even an apologia for what seems religious bigotry.

I have four points of correspondence to offer for your consideration between Brothers and Harry Potter. I am not a Dostoevsky scholar (duh) and have no idea if the arguments I make here are ridiculous, revolutionary, or critical commonplaces in the field of Russian Literature. I write them out nonetheless in the hope that they will (1) encourage you to read or re-read Brothers, (2) invite you to think about Dolores Umbridge, political authority, and the relationship of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in a different light, (3) challenge you to ponder the spheres of faith and reason, and (4) suggest that Dolores Umbridge as High Inquisitor is not the most interesting Grand Inquisitor echo in Harry Potter.

Let’s begin, though, with the obvious, that is, with a few compare-and-contrast questions:

*How is Dolores Umbridge an echo of Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor, if she is?

*What point is Ms. Rowling making with this outrageous character? And

*I suspect readers meeting Ivan and Alyosha for the first time in the coming fifty years will remember Dolores; in what ways might the Rowling retroactive influence color their reading?

The Connection

‘High Inquisitor’ and ‘Grand Inquisitor,’ as mentioned, are so assonant, because of the rarity of the word “inquisitor” in common speech, that the two are essentially synonymous in name and create the link we are obliged to examine.

If there is a link, the parallel in the stories would have to be between Dolores and the Cardinal, that is, between the two Inquisitors, and between Harry and the returning, unwelcome Christ. There are important hits and misses here, even if we allow (as I think we must) that the influence needn’t and cannot be a tit-for-tat correspondence or literary tracing and still be excellent story-telling. There are more hits than misses.

Professor Umbridge is not revered or feared by Hogwarts students as the Grand Inquisitor is by the people of his city. She is not especially intelligent or even rational or calculating, either, which the Cardinal certainly is. She also prefers pastel colors, kittens, and sharp outfits; the Cardinal dresses in a worn cassock rather than church finery. Dolores, however sadistic, is something of a joke, too: a viper in a Miss Kitty cartoon. No one in their right minds even grins when thinking about the Grand Inquisitor.

Both, though, are convinced that they are performing heroic service for their organizations, and, through this organization, for the people who are best off not knowing what is done in their name or enjoying real freedom. Dolores and the Grand Inquisitor do not hesitate to act boldly and independently for what they believe is best for the Ministry/Church; one arrests and plans to execute Christ (again), the other looses Dementors on Harry, tortures him and other students “for their own good,” and is even willing to use Unforgivable Curses if the situation justifies those means.

Professor Umbridge, as the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, is used by Ms. Rowling, as she uses each of her DaDa professors, as the moveable (and, alas, removeable) piece that colors each year’s adventure. It is no accident that Dolores’ year in the revolving door faculty post at Hogwarts, is the year of Harry’s nigredo. She is the crushing authority under whose thumb Harry’s identity is shattered. Let’s take a look at several points of Harry’s relationship with the High Inquisitor before returning to Dostoevsky’s pair and Ivan’s tale.

A large part of Professor Umbridge’s mission at Hogwarts is never stated explicitly in the many directives from the Ministry and Daily Prophet reports. She has come to Hogwarts, post Goblet of Fire and the supposed return of the Dark Lord according to Harry and Dumbledore’s reports, to insist on Harry’s silence and to do everything possible to diminish him in the eyes of his peers and the Magical World in general. Next time you re-read Phoenix, pay special attention to her scenes with Harry.

She is at Hogwarts, we know, as Fudge’s agent to investigate and eliminate any Dumbledore-inspired resistance to the Ministry of Magic. As such, we have a campaign of arbitrary Authority and even physical torture to subdue the feared, nascent Dumbledore’s Army. But however intimidating Umbridge is with other teachers and though she may use her detention pen on other students, Harry is her chief target. As Harry remains true both to his principles and, in large part, to the Headmaster, despite (or is it because of?) her cruelty, Phoenix is largely the story of Harry’s resistance to this False Authority and his near heroic martyrdom.

Umbridge, Fudge, and, later, Scrimgeour, of course, have a noble cause to justify their obscure personal motivations for sacrificing charity and due process. As representatives of the Governing Authority, it is their responsibility to look out for the Greater Good, though that may mean “breaking a few eggs” (and laws and individual lives). They are protecting the innocent public at large from the lies being spread about Voldemort’s return; they labor to attack and undermine popular trust and faith in Dumbledore and Harry as reporter and witness of this return, respectively.

This comes to a confrontation in Prince after Dumbledore’s funeral when Scrimgeour again asks Harry to play a part for the Ministry in its efforts to move public opinion in a certain direction. Harry, with no little bitterness, asks the Minister about whether Stan Shunpike is still in jail and if the High Inquisitor is still on staff at the Ministry. His attitude would be bewildering — this is, after all, the equivalent of POTUS or the UK Prime Minister he’s standing down — except that Harry has had the good fortune of seeing the back to the front of power and of those people in power who are willing to sacrifice individuals and principle for the Greater Good. This insight and experience-become-conviction is largely what immunizes Harry to the temptations of the Hallows in the series finale.

The Contrast

But back to Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor. Is he the model for Dolores Umbridge, and, if so, so what?
The enemy of the Cardinal in Ivan’s story is the compassionate Christ Who insists on understanding human beings as such rather than collectively. Only the authority of the church, her miracle and mystery inspired authority, can save mankind from choosing to forfeit their freedom for bread or to satisfy another temptation in exchange for liberty. The Cardinal is willing to remove any challenge to this authority, even Christ, because it is in collective and individual obedience to authority that the Cardinal believes the only lasting human “freedom” exists.

In brief, then, for his several, superficial differences with the High Inquisitor, the Grand Inquisitor is her original. Both insist on the silence of the unwelcome Savior in the name of protecting the innocent from a truth which they “cannot handle” and, in that process, to safeguard the authority of the regime.

Let’s not overlook the differences entirely, though. The High Inquisitor is a servant of the Magical World’s secular government; the Grand Inquisitor serves the Roman Catholic Church. That difference may seem just to reflect the dominant powers of Ms. Rowling’s and Dostoevsky’s respective historical periods but there’s more — and less — here.
Compared to this, even with its edifying alchemical trappings and story of love’s victory over death, both of which are shadows of Dostoevsky’s literary ambitions in Brothers, Dolores Umbridge as High Inquisitor is only a Cruikshankian caricature of political and religious “fundamentalism,” which, I keep reading, Ms. Rowling despises. The Ministry of Magic is a government-satire vehicle primarily, of course, but that Ms. Rowling calls it the “Ministry” and gives Professor Umbridge the title High Inquisitor with its inevitable Karamazov associations with the Spanish Cardinal of the Catholic Church, means she is including religious authority, especially hypocrites, in her portrait of Professor Umbridge as well.

I started off this amateur night look at The Grand Inquisitor with notes about the faculties of soul I think Ivan and Alyosha represent and Dostoevsky’s possible anti-Catholic bent. If I am right in understanding it as Ivan telling a story about himself and Alyosha as these faculties, with no little self-hatred and misgivings on Ivan’s part, the story is indeed a “double-edged sword” (a note sounded later in the book at Dmitri’s trial). It also explains, perhaps, or just points to the fountainhead of Dostoevsky’s supposed anti-Catholicism. For that we need some historical background and biographical data.

The Orthodox Church in 19th century Russia was not a “player” in State affairs (at least not in the way, say, Conservative Christians are in America or even as Buddhist monks are in Indonesia or Tibet). There was a Lutheran-like Synod of Metropolitans and Archbishops that advised the Czar and who were instructed by him as often as not; there was no single Patriarch, however, around whom resistance to State in the name of Church could coalesce effectively. And the Roman Catholic Church, except in its influence on Orthodox theology through the seminaries of that time, had little power to speak of in Tsarist Russia. Whatever Dostoevsky’s thoughts about Catholicism, the target of his story here, the danger to which Ivan is pointing in his conversation with Alyosha, is greater than State versus Church or the threat either represents to human freedom on its own.

This is just one dilettante’s opinion and I offer it only for your consideration vis a vis Harry Potter (an instance of retroactive influence? red flag this!). Ivan is not telling just a fable of faith and authority, what amounts to a Political Philosophy Parable; he is talking about his relationship with Alyosha. Ivan, in other words, is speaking to a man he knows is pursuing the life in Christ — and tells a tale with the Cardinal in Ivan’s role and the Christ in his younger brother’s. The story at the literal and figurative center of The Brothers Karamazov turns on the relationship of Ivan and Alyosha, discursive and noetic intelligence, their differences, their common origin, their life with the passions (Dmitri), and their hope, despite all appearances in the Divine Person and Logos, Who is Intelligence. Alyosha understands Ivan’s intention, his sorrow, and his hope, hence his kiss in imitation of Ivan’s Christ at chapter’s finish.

If this is true, we have something of an explanation for Dostoevsky’s supposed anti-Catholicism. If not, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect on an unconventional perspective on the relationship of faith and reason. That’s a Win/Win. Let’s go on.

Dostoevsky was a lay disciple of the Optina Elders He demonstrates his hesychastic understanding of the hierarchy of faculties in the three Karamazov brothers as human soul-triptych, in Brothers’ Father Zosimma, the “perfect man,” and in the several references to a collection of St. Isaac the Syrian’s wisdom at different places in the book. To the hesychasts, the noetic and neptic fathers of the Orthodox Church, reason as an instrument and discursive knowledge consequent to its exercise was a mixed value, and, if mistaken as man’s distinguishing soul trait, spiritual disaster. Only transformation of the human person through the purification and perceptions of the nous was passage from man’s fallen state to salvation or theosis.

Hence much of the historical Orthodox disdain for Catholicism, which they understood, rightly or wrongly, as Scholasticism and theoretical rather than empirical and noetic spiritual knowledge. Ivan is intellectually neptic (“watchful”) but not noetic (spiritually perceptive); as the stand-in for reason, he has misgivings, especially in front of his better, Alyosha. Thus the staged dialogue and the unflattering self-portrait of the Cardinal by Ivan. He wants to believe but is unable to via reason alone; he justifies his utilitarian and rational, if atheistic position before Alyosha in the Cardinal’s speech to the Christ. He longs for correction, which, in a way, Alyosha gives him.

Martin Lings, a tutorial student and lifetime friend and admirer of C. S. Lewis, described the right relationship of faith [Intellect/nous] and reason in his book Ancient Beliefs and Modern Superstitions (Quinta Essentia, 1991). This is a long excerpt and not something you can skim and understand; it does repay investment handsomely:

According to the doctrine of correspondence between macrocosm and microcosm, the holders of temporal power, that is, the king and his delegates, are the counterpart, in the macrocosm, of the faculty of reason in the microcosm, whereas the representatives of spiritual authority correspond to the Intellect [nous or faith]. Below the reason and normally under its control are the faculties of imagination and emotion and the faculties of sense. In order to exercise its royal function over these, the reason has need of the priestly sanction which comes to it from the Intellect, for it depends on the Intellect for knowledge of the higher principles upon which its government must be based.

This sanction may come mainly from the outside, that is, from religion, which has been defined as a partial revelation or exteriorization of the Intellect, made necessary by man’s loss of contact with the Intellect within him. The sanction may come also, as in the case of the true aristocrat, from the re-established inward continuity between the soul, which includes the reason, and the Spirit, which includes the Intellect. In this case the reason has become once more, as it was primordially, the projection of the Intellect, and the connection between the two is one of pure vision. As was said by a great spiritual authority of this century:

“Faith is necessary for religions, but it ceases to be so for those who go further and who achieve self-realization in God. Then one no longer believes because one sees. There is no longer any need to believe when one sees the Truth.” (Shaikh Almad al’ Alawi) Between such vision and the lowest degree of belief there are many intermediary degrees of intuition, certainty and faith. The less the outward guidance of religion is corroborated by inward certainty, the more the relationship between reason and Intellect becomes precarious; but provided that it is at least maintained, the soul may be said to possess a third dimension, the dimension of depth or of height.

Three dimensional thought, the only mode of thought that can be considered intellectual [noetic], means taking nothing altogether at its face value but always referring it back, along the third dimension, to some higher principle. Ethically speaking, for example, this means always valuing a human virtue as the reflection or symbol of a Divine Actuality rather than merely for its own sake. It would be a true definition of sacred art, that is, art in the original conception of it, to say that its function is to reveal or to stress the third dimension in whatever it depicts. Along this dimension, in the light of vision of the spiritual archetypes, or in the lesser lights of various degrees of faith, the authoritative reason is able to interpret the universe to the rest of the soul and to give it its true meaning.

The rationalist is one whose reason refuses to accept the authority of anything higher than itself. Now in the macrocosm, when the temporal power rebels against the spiritual authority, the rebel himself is sooner or later rebelled against. How far King James I deserved to be called “the wisest fool in Christendom” is open to doubt. But when he said “No bishop, no king,” he certainly showed wisdom in his awareness of this universal truth, and folly in his failure to realize that there already was “no bishop” in the sense that he and his predecessors had rebelled against the spiritual authority and usurped its function, thus sowing the seeds of trouble for their own royal successors. So also in the microcosm, if reason rebels against Intellect, then in their turn imagination and emotion rebel against reason. Having rejected what is above itself, reason is called upon to accept without question all sorts of infra-rational impulses and ends by being not a king but a drudge that is ceaselessly having to work out trains of thought under the dictates of the new tyrants of the soul. The faculty of reason in the humanist, who is the rationalist par excellence, is in a situation exactly analogous to that of the “constitutional monarch.” (pages 57-59)

Dostoevsky presents Ivan as a rationalist and humanist who recognizes the emptiness of his position. Ivan presents the Cardinal Inquisitor to the Intellect/nous, Alyosha in his Spanish parable as a stand-in for his rationalism. The Catholic prelate serves as a humanist because he argues without reference to third dimension of reason as the “projection of the Intellect [nous].” Though he refers to scripture, he argues systematically rather than spiritually that he is justified even obliged to kill Christ for the Greater Good because of the weaknesses of man. That Dostoevsky presents the rational/humanist position via this story dripping with anti-Catholicism is understandable, if perhaps still regrettable, because the traditional or hesychast understanding of faith and reason is turned upside-down in Catholic Scholastic philosophy and religious authority. Catholicism is western rationalism and empiricism from this perspective insomuch as it is the noetic faculty answering to reason (which, once the Intellect of faith is displaced, in turn is made a servant of the passions).

Dostoevsky’s anti-Catholicism, then, is anti-Scholasticism and the humanism born of a reason-focused idea of man. We think of the Catholic Church, after Pius IX at least, as the enemy of rationalist humanism, but historically the movement away from noetic to discursive theology, from empirical experience to conceptual thinking, has its origins in the Schoolmen. Rather than dwell on the superficial religious bigotry in Dostoevsky, the serious reader is asked by Ivan in his unflattering portrayal of himself as The Grand Inquisitor to think about faith, reason, and the passions – and the consequences for macrocosm (politics) and microcosm (individual men) of these soul faculties not being in a rightly aligned chain of command.

What does this have to do with Harry Potter?

Well, first we have to see the triptychs of the two stories, Dmitri, Ivan, and Alyosha in Brothers and Ron, Hermione, and Harry in Ms. Rowling’s works may both represent “Body, Mind, and Spirit,” respectively, but not in the same way or to the same end. Harry as “Spirit” may listen to and receive support from “Body” and “Mind” but, when push comes to shove, Ron and Hermione do what he says. The Hogwarts “terrible trio” are the rightly aligned soul (which we know is true if only because the several times they disagree the story becomes an agonizing experience) as befits an edifying fantasy.

This is not the case in Brothers, a realist drama if there ever was one, even more Real because of its symbolist qualities. Dmitri is the oldest brother, and, if deferential to his brothers on one level, is certainly a loose cannon who answers to no one. Ivan and Alyosha are full brothers and have a paternal concern for Dmitri their half-brother. Ivan, as we see in The Grand Inquisitor, on some level wants to defer to his younger, more innocent brother, but is unable to. Alyosha, too, without their support or the direction of his elder, is confused and disoriented. As Body, Mind, and Spirit, this trio represents the state of the Russian soul in the decades before the Soviet Revolution and Holocaust, when the Dmitris and Ivans joined forces to kill Alyosha.

Rowling and Dostoevsky each use their soul-faculty-triptychs for the instruction of their readers. Dostoevsky is writing a drama that is simultaneously hopeful and warning; Ms. Rowling is presenting a morality tale that ends happily ever after, Body married to Mind in friendship and loyalty to Spirit. When Dmitri and Ivan “hook-up,” as they did in Russian history, it would be without Alyosha, which, as Dostoevsky warns like a Prophet, is their national nightmare.

And I think there is one more interesting parallel between The Brothers Karamazov and the Harry Potter novels. The point-to-point connection that is hard to miss is the Grand and the High Inquisitors. The two literary triptychs as stand-ins for the faculties of the soul, I think, is also worth discussing even if the connection is not so strong that you’d want to say it’s an intentional echo or “undeniable influence.” If I’m right in suggesting that Ivan’s story is the mirror image of his relationship with Alyosha, Reason speaking to Intellect or Spirit, I offer for your reconsideration of both Dostoevsky’s short drama and Ms. Rowling’s series finale the possibility that there is another Grand Inquisitor parallel, this one in Deathly Hallows.

The discussion between the two brothers could have its Potter echo in King’s Cross and the Dumbledore denouement with Harry near the final confrontation in Deathly Hallows. The Headmaster’s confession of his inability to handle power responsibly and that Harry was a better man, indeed “death’s master,” may be Ms. Rowling’s less obvious and more important pointer to the heart of what many say is the greatest novel ever written. Dumbledore may be the greatest wizard of his generation, but his genius is calculating, borderline Machiavellian, and his mistakes that are calculations-without-heart (can you say “assisted suicide”?) are the difference between the Headmaster and the Pupil who surpassed him.

As Ivan, Dumbledore understands that love is the most real and perhaps the only power – and that his younger charge has more of it than he understands or appreciates. He yields to it, in fact, as much as he can (“I am with you”). His tears at King’s Cross, the intersection of horizontal reason and vertical faith/Intellect, and his apology to Harry with unqualified praise can be read as Ms. Rowling’s answer to the conflict Dostoevsky introduces in The Grand Inquisitor.

Will the influence of having read Harry Potter color future interpretations and understanding of The Brothers Karamazov? I think so. The Grand Inquisitor/High Inquisitor connection and perhaps the triptych and King’s Cross echoes may bleed sufficiently into the way we understand Dostoevsky’s accomplishment and meaning. The question is, then, will this “bleed” add or diminish our understanding?

Let’s stop there for tonight. Please forgive me the speculative excesses of this overly long adventure in the turbulent waters of comparative literature. Whether Ms. Rowling is a Dostoevsky wonk or cannot spell Karamazov, I hope you agree that this has been a valuable exercise for serious readers in looking for the hows and whys of Potter-specific characters with likely links to another novel and its specific characters. And, failing that, I hope I’ve given you the reason you’ve been looking for to pick up the The Grand Inquisitor, The Brothers Karamazov, and the rest of Fyodor Dostoevsky, if you’ve been looking for an excuse.

As always, but especially after this self-indulgent splurge with a favorite book, I covet your comments and your correction.


  1. James P. says

    Hi John,

    For me the connection with the exchange at King’s Cross seems more obvious and meaningful than the High/Grand Inquisitor connection, commonality in terminology notwithstanding. One connection you might be stretching in particular is the connection to religious authority by the word “Ministry.” In Britain, as in Canada where I live, all of the government departments are called ministries. For instance, the treasury department is called the Ministry of Finance, defense is called Ministry of Defense, foreign affairs is Ministry of Foreign Affairs, etc. The heads of all of these departments are called ministers, and their leader, the leader of the country, is called the “Prime” Minister. While your position that “Ministry” has religious connotations is possible, the term comes directly from the British parliamentary language so I wouldn’t expect Rowling use any other term to describe the government department responsible for magic.


  2. Thank you, James, for your comments on the subject of this post. I think that you are right; ultimately the Harry-Dumbledore denouement at King’s Cross is the stronger echo of the Grand Inquisitor than the High Inquisitor. It just takes more time to see.

  3. austen_n_burney says

    I have read this website for sometime, but never have dared post among such great thinkers. I must say that the two most profound things I have read regarding your research Mr. Granger are the above post and your work on shared texts. I got my degree in English and always thought that Comparative Lit. was fun, but not serious scholarly work to add to the conversation of a piece of literature (probably due more to my lack of reading and research than to the field itself). Your explanation above of Dostoevsky and Rowling (along with the connections you made earlier to Jane Austen and Dickins) is eye opening and top rate scholarly work in my humble opinion. Thank you for the time it took to compose such a piece for us all to ponder.

  4. Fascinating post, John.

    I am tempted to wade in, but I hesitate because of the amount of thought you’ve put into your essay. Whatever I say will not be 1/10th as carefully considered. Also, I don’t have the time to invest in the excerpt from Lings.

    So with that apology:

    I had thought that the Grand Inquisitor was a stand-in for Ivan, but I hadn’t thought that Christ was a stand-in for Alyosha. I think that my preferred reading is that both the GI and JC are parts of Ivan’s conflicted soul: the dictates of reason vs the dictates of the spirit.

    I can’t see the analogy between Umbrdige as the High Inquisitor and the Grand Inquisitor for a number of reasons, the preference for kitten plates and pink boucle not being one of that number.

    First, the Grand Inquisitor is a compellingly sympathetic character. He feels bound to imprison Christ, he justifies hiimself for pages and pages, but it’s clear that he deeply feels Christ’s message and understands its significance. What I hear when I read his well-reasoned diatribe is “You have a wonderful message to bring to mankind, but mankind isn’t strong enough to live according to your message. They are like chidren and they must be protected from your message for their own good.” It is also clear that he loves Christ, and what he is doing to him in the service of the Church is personally agonizing. His speech is fraught through and through with this inner conflict. And his final act, as we know, is completely contradictory: he sets Christ free.

    This is not Umbridge, who has no love (except a rather sick kind of loyalty to the Minister), no feeling for anyone’s goodness, no real regard for the “people”, and no compassion.

    The analogy between the GI-JC conversation and the DD-HP conversation at King’s Cross is an interesting one. I can see some similarities. As you say, DD has lived his whole life through deception and manipulation. He trusts no one, confides in no one, showing an attitude towards those less intelligent than him which is similar to the GI’s. No one can be trusted with the truth except him. And he is willing to sacrifice the one person he loves the most in the world – the embodied spirit of goodness and not coincidentally the Christ-figure in the series – in order to save the people. And in the end, like the GI, he is
    undone by the love he feels for that one person. Dumbledore’s tears, like the GI’s, redeem him. I think.

    For all these reasons, I believe that JKR pulled the High Inquisitor from the Spanish Inquisition – maybe even the Monty Python version (No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!) – rather than the Dostoevsky character.

  5. John,

    Care to comment on Lauren Faust’s most recent oeuvre? By which I mean, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/My_Little_Pony:_Friendship_Is_Magic

    I think it is also ripe for this kind of analysis. But YMMV 🙂

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