King’s Cross Dumbledore is Harry’s ‘Third Man’?

Scientists are asking not if there is a ‘Third Man,’ but “Who is the Third Man?”

Could it be Albus Dumbledore?

Sort of.

I think it is logos in the human ‘inner heart.’ I’m confident that when Harry goes to King’s Cross after his walk in the Forbidden Forest that his conversation is with this ‘Third Man.’

FYI: ‘The Third Man’ isn’t an expression from Orson Wells but T. S. Eliot, via Ernest Shackleton. From an NPR article about ‘The Third Man:’

One of the most famous instances of the phenomenon took place during Ernest Shackleton’s Antarctic expedition in 1916. The team’s boat was trapped in ice and they were forced to make a grueling journey across mountain ranges and glaciers to a whaling station in Stromness Bay. Shackleton later wrote: “I know that during that long and racking march of thirty-six hours over the unnamed mountains and glaciers, it seemed to me often that we were four, not three.”

Later, the poet T.S. Eliot read Shackleton’s account of a mysterious “fourth” man and took some poetic license with the idea, including it in his famous poem, The Waste Land. He turned Shackleton’s fourth into a third — and this is where the phenomenon gets its name:

Who is the third who walks always beside you?
When I count, there are only you and I together
But when I look ahead up the white road
There is always another one walking beside you
Gliding wrapt in a brown mantle, hooded
I do not know whether a man or a woman
But who is that on the other side of you?

“It’s an astonishing capacity if you think about,” Geiger says. “And it sort of hints at this idea that as human beings we are never truly alone, that we have this ability to call upon this resource when we most need it in our lives.”

Your thoughts? Have you met the ‘Third Man’?


  1. Interestingly enough, I was the fill-in Sunday School teacher today for the third-graders, as we were studying Shadrach, Meschach, Abednego, and their “fourth man” in the fiery furnace. (The lesson’s focus was actually on how God helps us face our fears, rather than on the extra person in the furnace. )The “third man” is also a companion in the crucibles of our lives, so the alchemical grand old man, Dumbledore, is not a strange person for Harry to meet in his crucible, in fact, there is no one more appropriate, though I hestiate to further fuel the Dumbledore=Christ camp : ) Do the shades of Harry’s loved ones, via the Stone, perhaps also serve as a collective ‘”Third Man”?

  2. Fascinating post, John, and an insightful follow-up comment from Elizabeth. Could another “third man” instance come when Harry sees himself (and doesn’t know he sees himself) conjuring his patronus in Azkaban?

  3. Davetheshortwinded says

    And how many times do we see “live” snapshots of his mom and dad and even their ‘appearances’ (?) in the Goblet of Fire cemetery scene; along with the oft-repeated comments, “You look a lot like your dad, Harry” and “You have your mother’s eyes”. When Snape dies…does he see only Harry, or does he see Harry’s mother, too? (OK, that’s reaching) A third or fourth “man”? Although, outside of HP, the one “like the Son of God” in the fiery furnace comes first to mind, as Elizabeth notes.

  4. There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother. Proverbs 18:24b

    In Him we live and move and have our being, as your own poets say, said St Paul to the Greeks at the Areopagus (see Acts 17, circa verse 28).

    The Fourth Man in the Furnace is in Daniel 3.

    Blessed be God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
    Praised and exalted above all forever.

  5. Emily Strand says

    Dave, you’re not stretching to say Snape sees Lily when he dies; this is why he asks Harry to look at him. It’s the eyes, Harry’s mother’s, Snape wants to see. Am I stating the obvious?

    I, like Elizabeth, saw those conjured by the Resurrection Stone as more third-man figures for Harry than Dumbledore in King’s Cross… but it’s an interesting thought, John.

  6. Interesting article, John. Thanks for the link. I also read the comments there, and find it interesting that some are so unwilling to accept the Third Man. I think there are many instances of the Third Man for Harry, whenever he is in mortal danger, but especially as others have said, in GOF in the cemetary, Harry’s walk with his parents and friends, and with Dumbledore.

    He first sees that they are still with him in Philosopher’s Stone in the Mirror of Erised. JKR said later that was a moment that was very personal for her in remembering her mother and her death that was too early. I wonder if she intentionally gave Harry these moments of experiencing the Third Man or if it is just one of those things so deeply a part of her that it just spilled over into the story.

  7. Arabella Figg says

    How about Felix Felicus, which “nudges” Harry to successfully overcome Slughorn’s resistance? A bit far out, but still.

    I definitely believe in Third Man…and know who He is and who He sends in our most precarious hours. I did have an experience in which I later realized that an angel had stood between me and an armed, dangerous and evil predator who tried to kidnap me–in broad daylight. There is simply no other explanation as to why he stopped abruptly in his tracks toward me and got back in his car, allowing me to escape.

  8. Very interesting connection. I like the idea of Dumbledore serving as Harry’s Third Man in the King’s Cross chapter. It fits with the descriptions in the artcle, because he both urges Harry to keep going (or to go back, in this case) and he disappears once Harry has made that decision.

    I found it interesting that both of the CNN and NPR articles made a point of saying that there was a probable scientific explanation for the Third Man, and not just a religious one. The CNN article notes that James Sevigny still had no use for organized religion after his profound experience. And while DiFranscesco may claim that it was a ‘higher being,’ John Geiger, the author of the book featured in the article, postulates an “‘angel switch’ in the brain that’s activated in life-or-death struggles. Similarly, the NPR article notes that Geiger says “there is strong science behind the third man.”

    I find this interesting, because it’s as though both articles have to emphasize that this is a “scientific” phenomenon rather than a religious one in order for their readers to take it seriously. The basic assumption is that, if there isn’t

  9. (sorry, I pressed submit too soon)
    As I was saying, the basic assumption is that, if there isn’t a materialist explanation for the phenomenon, it can’t be “real.”

    I look at this alongside the King’s Cross chapter in Deathly Hallows, at the end of which Harry asks, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?” to which Dumbledore famously replies, “Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” I can’t help but note the irony.

  10. Rachel, you’re exactly on the money with your thoughts. Essentially the presuppositions of those holding to a scientific rationale dictate that there can be no other reason for the phenomenon than a materialistic or naturalistic one. This material reality is all there is in their eyes, therefore everything has to have a material reason. Rowling is tweaking these naturalistic assumptions much the same way C.S. Lewis did. Dumbledore’s answer to Harry is quite similar to Professor Kirke’s answer to Peter’s question: “Well, sir, if things are real, they’re there all the time?” Answer: “Are they?”

    Btw, welcome to the various discussions. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say it earlier.

  11. It’s also interesting to note, with the other news this week, how many Native Americans (and other indigenous people)have a numinous worldview like Professors Kirke and Dumbledore. I always love teaching about the Cherokee, my neighbors here in Appalachia, who considered the spiritual world just as real as (and sometimes more important than) the material one.

  12. Davetheshortwinded says

    Can I return to the question of the third person ?
    I’m afraid that I have been guilty of anti-house-elf prejudice…Hermione, please forgive me. The first person to pop into my mind should have been Dobby. He not only appears at Harry’s side in the crucial moments when he is wanted, but he comes with a good heart and willing spirit to go to great lengths for Harry. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a Dobby around (as long as he doesn’t try to save your life)?

  13. “He turned Shackleton’s fourth into a third.”

    Not by accident! In his notes on The Waste Land, Eliot mentions Shackleton in connection with the lines cited by NPR, but the poet also confirms that the Emmaus journey is one of his themes in part V. The third Man is Logos indeed.

    The fourth in the furnace acts as protector. Christ on the road acts as teacher, “opening to us the scriptures” (Lk.24:32).

    I agree that Dumbledore at King’s Cross may be “sort of” a Third Man, especially in the role of teacher and guide.

  14. Thanks, revgeorge! I’d forgotten about that conversation in the Narnia books, but you’re right, it’s quite similar.

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