Mailbag: Whence Dumbledore’s ‘I Am With You’?

A question I’m asked at almost every Potter speaking event I do — after “Have you met J. K. Rowling?” and “Are you related to Hermione Granger?” — is “What it is like to be a Potter Pundit?” I even had a young man write me a longish note about his plans to create eventually a career in which he could spend all day reading Harry Potter and writing about his favorite books, just like I had done.

The best part of being a Potter Pundit, hands down, is conversations in person and through correspondence with serious readers. I’m not sure how anyone can position him or herself to become a Hogwarts Professor professionally; I certainly didn’t, unless Classics major, Marine NCO, miso maker’s apprentice, grocery store cashier, yurt sewer, and Latin teacher constitute a calculated career path. Regardless, I really enjoy the letters I get every day, often several times a day, from readers who accept the invitation that is in all my books to write me with their comments and corrections and from HogPro All-Pros like you who write via this site’s Contact tab.

Today’s question arrived just after midnight. “Is Dumbledore’s great line in Half-Blood Prince as he and Harry escape the Cave of the Inferi an echo of the Psalter or what?” Here is the note with question and my attempt at an answer, with an invitation as well for you to share what you think:

LW wrote:

Hey John, not sure if you’ve already noticed this or not, but the following Biblical passage:

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,
I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me.
Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me.

Psalm 23 (NIV)

….sure does remind me of Dumbledore at the end of book six, telling Harry, “I am not worried; I’m with you.”

Dear LW,

Great question! Thank you for writing. This Dumbledore line is always mentioned in Top 10 collections of ‘Great Moments’ in the Hogwarts Saga and it’s worth a second look (and a third) to shake out why it hits readers as hard as it does.

Three quick notes about it:

(1) In my reading and conversations with serious readers like yourself, the line is usually keyed both to Dumbledore’s assurance in Prisoner that “help will always be given at Hogwarts” to those who seek it, i.e., that Dumbledore will always be with Harry in times of need, and to Jesus of Nazareth’s promise to His Disciples that He would always be with them (“Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world” Matthew 28:20).

Forgive me, but I pull back reflexively from almost every suggestion that Ms. Rowling is intentionally echoing Christian Scripture, even texts as familiar as the 23rd Psalm is to Church of England/Anglican Communion worshippers. The books have Christian content, but it is more subtle, which is to say, less transparent, and more powerful ultimately in its being subliminal.

(2) Dumby’s farewell to the Cave has also been explained as a Fisher King moment, in which the baton is passed from Master or Mage to worthy champion come to rescue him. I rather like this idea myself, especially given the sacrificial love, blood sacrifice, Grail imagery, and light-in-the-darkness we have just experienced in the Cave, Ms. Rowling’s hat tip to Dante’s River Styx and Inferno. This Arthurian association jibes, too, perhaps, better with your 23rd Psalm sense of dependence, Dumbledore to Harry as supplicant to Lord (?).

(3) The reason the line works as powerfully as it does, though, I think is less its resonance with Scripture passages, Arthurian archetypes, or with Dumbledore assurances in novels past than its “reverse echo” with the Dumbledore-Harry adventure that opens Half-Blood Prince, namely, their trip to find Horace Slughorn and persuade him to come to Hogwarts. As they set out from Little Whinging, Dumbledore assures Harry he needn’t be too concerned about being being attacked because “You are with me.”

These lines occur at the very beginning of chapter four, ‘Horace Slughorn,’ and the very end of chapter twenty-six, ‘The Cave.’ These chapters at the front and back of the book — as is true of almost every chapter of every book in the series — reflect one another in parallel events, characters, and statements. Ms. Rowling’s almost OCD adherence to Ring Composition formula, as I explain in my lecture notes on the subject complete with charts and exegesis of each book’s echoing (available here as book or file download), has the traditional, alchemical effect consequent to the reader’s unconscious, even cardiac recognition of contraries being resolved across the story axis.

Forgive me for saying this myself, but the revelation of Ms. Rowling as Ring writer pretty much means one of if not the first step henceforward in grasping the meaning of any scene will be checking the chapter opposite it in that book. This is certainly true of Dumbledore’s great line in Half-Blood Prince as it is with almost every signature event of the series — not to mention that the seven part series is a Ring Composition as well.

I hope that helps! Thanks for sharing the passage that came to your mind and for being part of the conversation at HogwartsProfessor —



Post: Your comments and corrections are coveted as always!


  1. Margaret says

    I have always believed in the intricate symbolism and deep meaning behind the Harry Potter books ever since I read the first one. However I have always had trouble trying to articulate these beliefs to others, particularly the anti Harry Potter crowd. I am SO happy i just came across your site. It is beautiful; it perfectly explains those things which I know but can’t spell, so to speak, and further goes on to explain the things I have never heard considered and yet make perfect sense. May I say I particularly love the way you explain the Dante/Harry Potter connection! I never liked Dante until now, though I have always acknowledged the deep symbolism in his work. Seeing Beatrice as Lily and Snape as Dante makes so much sense! Anyway your site is lovely & keep up the good work!

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