Mailbag: Dumbledore a Manipulator?

I have spoken at an Augustana College retreat for students in Pastor Richard Priggie’s ‘Soul of Harry Potter’ class every Spring for the last nine years. Held at the remarkable Stronghold Castle in Oregon, Illinois, this retreat and my part in explaining the artistry and meaning of literary alchemy and ring composition there have been annual highlights for me and my family (especially my youngest sons).

I offer, in the Q&A session I do every year at the dinner after my last talk, help to the students with their end of term papers. The deal is, if they’ll write me their questions via email, I’ll send answers they can use, agree or disagree, in their arguments. I got this one last week:

Hello Mr. Granger, I am not sure if you remember me but I was on the Harry Potter retreat with Pastor Priggie. I am currently finishing up my final paper for the class and I have a topic I thought you might enjoy shedding some light on. The topic I picked for the paper is “Professor Dumbledore is a wise and compassionate mentor who guides Harry even from beyond the grave/ Professor Dumbledore is a flawed character who deceives and manipulates Harry in order to meet his own ends.” I decided to argue the side of Dumbledore being a manipulator as I feel Dumbledore used Harry for personal gain in much of the 5th and 6th books, as well as in Snape’s memory that Harry sees of Dumbledore in the Pensieve. So with that being said, I would love to know any opinions or examples you can give on the topic of Dumbledore being a manipulator. Thank you!

My off the top of my head answer — seven examples — was:

Dumbledore as manipulator? Here are my top seven —

(1) Sending Newt Scamander to NYC to hunt for Grindelwald, protect Credence, and learn (more) about Obscurials. Newt complains about this in Crimes of Grindelwald.

(2) Giving Harry and company the clues and opportunity necessary in Philosopher’s Stone to prevent Quirreldemort from getting the Stone from the Mirror of Erised.

(3) Sending Harry and Hermione to save Harry at the Lake in Prisoner of Azkaban and to save Sirius from the tower prison.

(4) Using Snape’s love for Lily to be a double-agent without ever explaining to him about the Horcruxes — and not about Harry’s scar until the very end.

(5) Not telling Harry anything about the Prophecy, the story underlying all the stories, until Order of the Phoenix and even then keeping back essential information.

(6) Sending Newt to Paris (or trying to get him to go) without telling him about the Blood Pact he made with Grindelwald (we have to assume he sent the Niffler to get it in the graveyard ampitheater because he learned about the object from brother Theseus in a cut barroom scene).

(7) Not telling Harry he was a Horcrux and that he would have to die sacrificially at Voldemort’s hands if the Dark Lord is to be killed.

Aberforth was right. His brother Albus was one manipulative dude!
What was I missing? Is there a definite answer to the either/or question of Dumbledore being a “compassionate mentor” or “flawed manipulative character”? Help this student out by leaving your answers in the comment boxes below…


  1. It seems to me that manipulation implies a selfish goal. Dumbledore keeps secrets, but often this is necessary to allow people to reach their own true potential. Dumbledore doesn’t keep these secrets for his own personal gain. He keeps them to protect the possibility of success. Like a great general or strategist, he reveals information only on a need to know basis. Even as a simple elementary teacher, I often have to limit the information I reveal to my students, in order to preserve a living search on my students part, so that they are fully engaged and grow to their own full potential. J.K. Rowling herself, doesn’t spell out her mysteries, but she allows her readers to go on their own journey of searching for the truth, which is in large part, what makes reading her stories so wonderful. This is not manipulation, but good writing.

  2. Brian Basore says

    Dumbledore used Harry’s change of address from 4 Privett Drive to The Burrows to orchestrate the Battle of the Seven Harrys. If that isn’t manipulation, as in conducting an unwitting orchestra, I don’t know what is. There were few surprises later at the Battle of Hogwarts as a result.

  3. David Llewellyn Dodds says

    Alas, Uselessly to the student, this makes me want to embark on comparative considerations of:

    Dumbledore and Merlin (in various (re)tellings);

    Dumbledore and Shakespeare’s Prospero;

    Dumbledore and Wagner’s Wotan;

    Dumbledore and Tolkien’s Gandalf… I’m confident various of those must have been conducted interestingly (even by your own good self!), but sadly do not know (or recall?) where and with what detailed results…

  4. Elaine T says

    everyone manipulates all the time, even pets manipulate us. So yes, Dumbledore does manipulate Harry.

    I don’t draw the line at selfish or unselfish, like Beniy, I draw it at whether the manipulating increases the other’s knowledge of circumstances and scope of choice. By that Dumbledore is a rotten manipulative bastard, whose machinations drive Harry into a position where there is only one choice: walking quietly to his death. All choices closed off.

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