Once Again, The Vigilant Christians (TM) Denounce Harry Potter

In the November-December 2007 of the American Life League’s Celebrate Life magazine, there is an article by David Haddon called, The Deadly Agenda of ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.’ Those of you who have read Michael O’Brien’s post Deathly Hallows ramble, ‘Harry Potter and the Death of God,’ may recall David Haddon. Mr. O’Brien quoted him, approvingly, as a critic who understand the relativism and dangers implicit in Ms. Rowling’s dangerous stories:

As the critic David Haddon points out, “Harry has fulfilled Rowling’s stated belief that children are ‘innately good’, without need of repentance or redemption.” They just need to grow up and learn to use their powers “wisely.” There is no original sin in Potterworld. Just magic.

Messrs. Haddon and O’Brien sing the same single note in the new piece. Harry is the messenger of the Culture of Death who promotes euthanasia and homosexuality. If that part of the 4100 page epic escaped you, it’s because there is no assisted suicide or same-sex activity evident or endorsed in the seven books we have. Harry, though, is being used by the American Life League as a touchstone to keep its readers ever-vigilant for the encroaching Culture of Death, which battle they can help win by sending their end-of-year donations to the A.L.L. (you have to admire the acronym).

No assisted suicide? What about Dumbledore’s all but ordering Severus to kill him on the Tower? What was that?

You will see euthanasia there only, I think, if you want to see euthanasia. Dumbledore is already dead because of his mistake in trying to wear the cursed ring with the Resurrection Stone in it. He exists in Half-Blood Prince in a state of suspended de-animation courtesy of Severus’ golden Stoppered Death potion. Severus has the natural qualms of killing the Headmaster, though he is a literal dead-man-walking, but does the deed in obedience, charity, and to save Draco, himself, and all hope of defeating the Dark Lord. Killing a dead man isn’t the same thing as killing a “living man” or a “suffering man” or even a “dying man.”

Mark Shea, Catholic apologist extraordinaire, dismises this as a sophism. Mark thinks the euthanasia charge can only be dismissed this lightly if you are (1) a consequentialist who believes the ends justifies the means, (2) a Potter-phile determined only to see good in Dumbledore, or (3) a bit of both. He explains, however, that the Harry Haters who have decided to make Dumbledore’s “assisted suicide” the fulcrum on which they can finally demonstrate the darknes of Ms. Rowling’s sub-creation are making a big mistake. The point of Deathly Hallows is that Dumbledore was wrong and his assisted death an important illustration of his proportionately-greater-error. From his article in First Things:

Moral Problems: Till the release of Deathly Hallows, a minor “Harry is immoral” argument tended to get trotted out when critics started to realize that the charges above don’t fly. Failing to show that Harry was the spawn of Satan, the charge “Harry lies and bends the rules and gets away with it” was then granted Most Favored Damnation status—as though books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn did not exist and were not classics of the English language. Proponents of such arguments seem to really think that a book in which the whole point was the purification of the hero ought to have a hero who did not need purification.

However, it became hard to dismiss the charge of immorality when Deathly Hallows presented us with, in my opinion, the only really intellectually respectable basis for Christian criticism of the series: Snape’s killing of Dumbledore on Dumbledore’s orders.

Some fans of Harry have attempted to come up with excuses for this act. If Snape didn’t kill Dumbledore, the logic goes, then Draco Malfoy would have been forced to do it. So (the claim goes) this is a salvific act, not an act of murder. Some even go so far as to say it was OK because Dumbledore was dying anyway. And besides, he ordered it.

One wants to be generous to such people, especially after all the unjust guff they’ve taken as “dreaming slaves,” to quote O’Brien. But the fact remains that “You shall not do evil that good may come of it.” It is evil to kill an innocent man, as Snape himself points out. Mercy killing isn’t just wrong for Muggles. And “I was just following orders” was shown to have limited traction in 1946. Fans of Potter cannot escape the problem of Dumbledore’s and Snape’s actions by this route.

That said, I think this is only an intractable problem if we view Dumbledore as the source and summit of all moral and spiritual wisdom—which is precisely what Rowling labors to prevent in the final book. Indeed, the curious thing about Deathly Hallows is that Rowling repeatedly hammers home an attack on exactly the consequentialism that some Harry fans are mistakenly laboring to excuse in a whitewash not unlike Elphias Doge’s sentimental hagiography. Rowling inexorably takes apart such hagiography and does not permit us to turn Dumbledore into a plaster saint. Dumbledore’s great downfall was doing evil “for the Greater Good”—and that, I think, is the key. Deathly Hallows is the book in which, above all, Dumbledore gives way to Harry as the doubtful and imperfect Baptist gives way to Jesus, as the great but pagan Vergil gives way to Beatrice, as the greatest prophet gives way to the least in the kingdom of heaven. A reader of my blog perceptively writes:

“Let’s not forget that Rowling also depicts Dumbledore as a character with very significant moral flaws—[Rowling] has spoken of this several times in interviews, besides all the evidence she gives us in the books, particularly DH, where it is a major theme. Dumbledore himself is aware of this—his remorse for his sins against his sister is permanently chiseled into her grave stone, and he is still haunted by them when he talks to Harry in King’s Cross. He has also said that, with his very great gifts, he sometimes makes greater mistakes than others. Despite decades of good work defending the weak, giving second chances and defeating evil characters, he is still so prone to the seduction of power he cannot resist putting on the Resurrection Stone, which Snape rightly excoriates him for doing. In short, just because Dumbledore the character plans it, or does it, doesn’t make it right, even in the books. Nor are we required to approve of all his choices as they are presented in the books.

“Beyond that, Rowling makes clear . . . that Dumbledore’s grand plan doesn’t work! We are not to look at him sacrificing himself (as many try to see it) as the act of deep genius that makes it all come out OK. His choice to have Snape kill him was a way to get the unbeatable Elder Wand into the hands of the strongest wizard left standing on the anti-Voldemort side. Instead, events he had no control over lead things in a completely different direction. Draco didn’t kill him, but the wand became Draco’s when he pinned Dumbledore and it fell away. Though it was buried with Dumbledore, it “belonged” to Draco. In the chapter “Malfoy Manor,” the right to the wand passes to Harry when Harry bests Draco by wrestling three wands from him. And, in the end, Voldemort wields a wand he doesn’t really own against Harry. In fact, he murdered Snape in the mistaken belief it would make him master of the wand-murderer Snape because, in accord with Dumbledore’s grand plan, Snape should have inherited the wand when he killed Dumbledore. Instead, the Elder Wand responds to Harry’s “signature spell,” Expelliarmus, leaping from Voldemort’s hand to Harry’s and sending Voldemort’s hurled curse back upon himself. I’m paraphrasing here, but Rowling said that, “in the end, all Dumbledore’s plotting didn’t make the difference—instead it came down to a wrestling match between two teenaged boys.”

“Harry understands all (or almost all) of this when he leaves King’s Cross to confront Voldemort a last time. He thinks he will win, but he is ready to try it even if he fails because he has grown through struggling with his own flaws (and the flaws of Snape, Dumbledore, Ron, and others), and he has learned the key lesson taught by the Blessed Woman (Lily! That name!) and the hobbit of hobbits in the book, Dobby—real life, life stronger than death, is found by giving your life for another.”

Dumbledore is, like Vergil, a “great man” (in the words of Hagrid). But he himself acknowledges that Harry is the “better man.” Harry can do what Dumbledore could not. That’s not because Harry has mastered secret knowledge. It’s because Harry is the recipient of grace. Dumbledore’s death is marked by the sin that marred Dumbledore’s life: He does evil “for the greater good.” And the plan he hatches “for the greater good” is fruitless. The Elder Wand he aimed to give to Snape goes to Draco. But, in the mystery of grace, his failure is redeemed by Harry’s response to grace.

So it seems to me that Rowling is, in fact, remaining true to her rejection of consequentialism. Dumbledore’s consequentialist act of ordering Snape to kill him “for the greater good” results only in failure, and Rowling wants us to see that (if the interview is any indication). But sin and failure are not the last word—grace is. Harry’s imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection is rewarded with redemption, reconciliation, and healing, which save Harry’s world.

One need not find the novels to their taste. One can complain about Rowling’s style, etc. But the assertion that the books are spiritually dangerous or anti-Christian is, in my view, unfounded and, indeed, counterfactual.

I don’t agree that “killing a dead man is not murder” is sophistry or an inability to see Dumbledore’s faults. I do think Mr. Shea is on target in insisting that one of the main points of Deathly Hallows is not to canonize Albus but to criticize the Headmaster’s character and decision making. This was the “great twist” Ms. Rowling promised us in interviews and the great postmodern lesson we were to draw as a result of the magisterial narrative misdirection played out over the first six books.

A Catholic mom named Pamela didn’t like the A.L.L. magazine article linking an anti-Harry position with being pro-life. She contributes money to their organization so she called and wrote them to express her disappointment with the article’s errors. The story of her exchanges with A.L.L. can be read on Pamela’s Bravenet Blog beginning on 27 November. What I found fascinating was that, when confronted by a scandalized supporter of A.L.L. who was incredulous that Harry Potter was being categorized as an anti-life proponent, the editor, who has not read the books, took the default position that we all know Dumbledore is gay. How can a pro-life Christian-values woman like Pamela support a series of book with a homosexual character in the lead, a gay man one who committed suicide?

Pamela’s response is predictable and what I would have said vis a vis the “homosexuality charge” against Dumbledore, i.e., it’s not in the books, end of story. I am thinking, though, that there are two other ways of coming at this.

One would be to ask the person if, being gay, did she think Dumbledore’s assisted suicide also constituted a hate-crime? Dark humor but maybe it would lighten the conversation’s heaviness just a little. This is really bizarre that we’re pigeon holing people, at the best, and waste-canning them as often as not, based on which kids books they like and why. Have you read any Philip Pullman, Ms. Editor? Why don’t we share some crystallized pineapple and talk about evils in the real world we’re neglecting in order to bash each other’s faux faith and poor taste in children’s literature?

Another tack would be to say that we know that Ms. Rowling “always thought of Dumbledore as being gay.” She didn’t think it an important enough quality, though, to reveal this in the stories themselves (except by suggestion that no one not looking at the books under a gaydar lens could have picked up independent of author revelation). Ms. Rowling did, however, think one quality of Dumbledore’s was worth making sure we all knew and couldn’t miss. The Headmaster was familiar enough with Christian scripture to choose the line from the Sermon on the Mount that was put on his sister’s headstone. Ms. Rowling has said that the meaning of this scripture citation and the other one in this chapter “epitomized” the series of books.

Readers of the books have much more conclusive evidence, then, that Dumbledore was a Christian than that he was homosexual, heterosexual, or metro, bi, or asexual, whatever Ms. Rowling “always thought of him” as. This evidence is what the author chose to include in the books for her readers to consider, not any references about his sexual preferences or activities. If critics choose to focus on Dumbledore’s supposed sexual preference rather than his definite spiritual orientation, these critics have revealed something in their own ideological position that is more disturbing than even Pullman’s over-the-top atheism. Mr. Pullman is, at least, fairly transparent and typical of the sophomoric God-despiser, however great his skills as a story teller. When Christians neglect faith and the love consequent to faith in Love Himself for culture war tokens, touchstones, and litmus strips with which to gauge and judge others, we’ve left the rails.

I’m working on an alchemy-astrology piece but it will take me a couple days to find time to finish it. Keep taking your quizzes, folks!


  1. I agree that the distinction between killing a dying man, and “killing” a man who is already dead, is critical. It’s a dicey matter trying to apply real-life moral teachings to a fantasy world which includes such elements as “stoppered death.” I guess my biggest problem with the whole issue of Snape “killing” Dumbledore is not so much what actually happened; it’s more the issue of the language Dumbledore used to try to convince Snape to take on the assignment. Part of Dumbledore’s argument involved something to the effect of “sparing an old man pain and humiliation.” This isn’t a huge issue, since it’s obvious to anyone who read the books that this was not the real reason Dumbledore devised the plan. I just wish that particular sentence had not been included, since it gives fuel to the charges outlined in the article above. But no one ever said that the job of a Christian Harry-defender would be easy! One would think that the overtly Christian content of “Deathly Hallows” would settle the matter in Harry’s favor, but out of 4,100 pages (is that the right number?) there’s bound to be something opponents can latch onto. All we can do is try to explain the issue in context, and somehow try to avoid the “us-versus-them” mentality ourselves.

  2. Arabella Figg says

    This reminds me of what I wrote on the O’Connor, Shelley and Intentio Aucturis thread about the song Mellow Yellow. People are, for all intents, hollering, “my child is going to be smoking bananas! Ban bananas!” They don’t seem to be screeching, “Ack! There’s Christian stuff in there. My child will become a Christian!” when the Christian themes are stronger than ammonia. I believe the Skeeter media bears great responsiblity for this.

    It’s getting old, Christians using the “Dumbledore is gay” flag as a diversion tactic, in the face of the overpowering Christian content and intent of the book.

    Thanks for this post, John. It’s an excellent piece to share. Christians need to acquaint themselves with the concept of “red herring.” DD’s explanation to Snape was a red herring. So was the entire episode. His grave-marker choices were not.

    It seems that Harry-hating Christians will grasp at any straw and twist it until it’s un recognizable as such. So sad.

    I like Shea pointing out that only flawed people can be perfected. Put me in that crowd.

    Kitties think they’re perfect already…

  3. It is important to note that the editor of A.L.L.’s magazine “Celebrate Life,” Anita Crane, interjected some of her own wording into Mr. Haddon’s story. I called Ms. Crane the day that I got this magazine to complain about this story. She offered to let me write a letter to the editor, which I did. It turned out to be a 7 page diatribe that I posted on my journal (linked in my profile). I also obtained David Haddon’s number and talked to him. He is one of those adament “Harry is the Devil!” fundamentalists, but he admitted to me on the telephone that Ms. Crane changed some of the wording in his story, specifically the part about Dumbledore handing Snape “relativism” when talking about Snape’s soul. This is all on my blog, http://little_princess.bravejournal.com. Feel free to comment on the blog, too.

    When confronted with this via email, Ms. Crane called it “editing,” but put a disclaimer at the very top of the email stating that her email was “NOT FOR YOUR BLOG OR PUBLICATION OR DISTRIBUTION.”

    They also see to forget that God IS mentioned in the series, the characters even THANK GOD, for example, in Deathly Hallows when the group starts returning to the burrow after Harry’s flight from Privet Drive.

    I have requested the my name be taken off the American Life League and refuse to donate to the organization ever again.

  4. P.S. Haddon also seems to support the LOTR and Narnia series, stating the neither Tolkien or Lewis would have made one of their main characters a homosexual. Furthermore both were Christians but Rowling was raised outside Christianity, never attending church as a child.

    I thought it was an interesting take on WHY Christians should read one magical series, but not another.

  5. I don’t understand the difference between a ‘dying man’ and a ‘man who is already dead’ (but who’s still living). Is not a man who knows he will soon die from a curse dying as surely as one who knows he’s dying from disease?

    I think the more important distinction comes in the why. If Snape’s actions had not been able to preserve Dumbledore’s life up until that point and he died before Draco was able to get the Death Eaters in there would be no problem. Likewise, had Snape killed him in those circumstances (or, as he suggests rather morbidly, right then) it would effectively be euthanasia. To me, intent is the key here: does Snape kill Dumbledore to put him out of his misery? If the answer is yes, well, then, it is euthanasia. However, there is insufficient textual evidence to that effect. Dumbledore does not ask for it, and Snape does not do it. Snape does it because Dumbledore asks him to not to save him from pain, but, given circumstances in which he will die, to protect a young boy– both from death and from grave evil.

    In my highschool Catholic morality class, there was discussion of use of violence. If a sniper can take out someone who’s shooting people in the street, is it wrong to step in? My teacher taught no, and she’s basically a pacifist. Killing Dumbledore effectively minimised damage the same way. Nothing can make any killing right. However, would it have been better to have 3 deaths (Draco, Snape, and Dumbledore– as well as Harry, possibly) instead of one? I don’t think so. Also, just because something is wrong doesn’t mean it’s sinful. In the Catholic Church, sin requires intent, knowledge, and freedom. Snape intended to save Draco and he would have himself died had he not done it– so, okay, 1 out of 3. I think a moral theologian would agree with me.

    This is also why I think distinguishing a ‘dead man’ from a ‘dying man’ is ultimately distracting from the crux of the issue. Besides, is it so much better to desecrate the dead, which the ‘dead man’ issue basically makes Snape’s actions? Okay, less evil than killing, but splicing hairs really on that count.


  6. Personally, I don’t see much difference between a wizard slowly dying from a curse that can be contained for a time with magic, and someone in RL slowly dying from a disease that can be contained for a time with medicine.

    Also, a liberal Christian who has no problem with people being gay may not have a problem with euthanasia either. Taken at face value, Dumbledore’s words to Snape seem to support this. However, I think that Mark Shea’s interpretation offers a better way out for those who have a problem with this, than the stoppered death theory does. So does Nzie’s post by saying Snape doesn’t kill Dumbledore to help him out of his misery, but for other reasons.

    Ultimately, though, all these new allegations by the fundamentalist Harry-haters mean only one thing, IMO: they hate Harry, are determined to do so and will always find new reasons to keep doing so. Arguments will do little or nothing to change this, because the problem resides between their ears. But to the pure, all things are pure, aren’t they?

  7. JohnABaptist says

    To me, the primary factors are:

    1) Dumbledore’s hand is not ill, it is dead.

    2) That same death was spreading from the hand irreversibly and rapidly throughout Dumbledore’s body. According to the natural design, Dumbledore would soon have died.

    3) There is no known cure, nor any remaining hope of one being found in the vanishingly small time left to Dumbledore.

    3) Snape artifically put a “stopper” in the death process. It was not treatment, per se, it was only a temporary delaying of the inevitable by artificial means.

    In effect Dumbledore was now on Life Support. If at any point Snape’s charm failed (and Snape pointedly informed Dumbledore that it would fail within a year at the most) then the natural spread of death throughout Dumbledore’s body would proceed as it would have had Snape not interfered with the natural process.

    Whatever Snape did, it amounted ethically to no more than disconnecting life-support equipment. As only Snape knew the true situation, only Snape could end Dumbledore’s life by “pulling the plug (stopper)”.

    Should Draco or anyone else have ended Dumbledore’s life, ignorant of these facts, they would, unquestionably, be consciously killing someone. Snape, however, would only be undoing the artificial barrier that he himself had created. While the means were most spectacular, the end was simply pulling the stopper and allowing death to take its natural course.

    Rowling does leave room for a healthy discussion on the exact methods used, as traditional medicine does not disconnect life support by blasting the patient out of an upper story window. However, Rowling also offers us at least a hint of an answer to that in DH. When Snape, fleeing the wrath of Flitwick and McGonagall, leaps from an upper-story classroom (Chapter 30–The Sacking of Severus Snape), Harry presumes this would kill him; but Professor McGonagall replies: “No, he’s not dead”, said McGonagall bitterly, “unlike Dumbledore, he was still carrying a wand…”

    Since Snape had no way of knowing that Dumbledore had lost his wand, the possibility remains that within the window dressing of green light and spectacular falls what Snape actually did was remove the stopper, presuming that Dumbledore would have plenty of time to slow his fall (as he slowed Harry’s in PofA) and then die naturally lying in the grass at the foot of the tower.

    No moral or ethical guidance, that I am aware of, condones artificially continuing life when there is no hope of recovery, the artificial support is all that is sustaining life, and the process of life extension results directly or indirectly in pain and suffering for the dying person.

    The conversation between Snape and Dumbledore seems, to me, to be an exercise in irony wherein Dumbledore shows Snape, the former “Death Eater”, how radically he has changed.

  8. bubbygirl1972 says

    Hi. Interesting. I agree with what everyone has said. As for DD being Gay, the way I see it, DD turned away from or tried to turn away from lots of sins, and although it doesn’t say that DD turned away from homosexuality, it doesn’t say he didn’t either.. Besides there was no evidence of it in the books. There was however, evidence that he had at least read a couple of scriptures in the bible and understood their meaning. Did anyone notice that the potion DD had to drink in HBP was refered to as a poison a couple of times? I think the potion would have killed Albus and perhaps he was close to death anyway. I’m not saying it was right, but don’t believe it was assisted suicide, it was kind of more like, a plan tha twent terribly wrong anyway. Don’t we all make bad choices and are redeemed by grace?


  9. Arabella Figg says

    This is a great discussion. I really appreciate JAB’s comments.
    Catholic4Harry, is Haddon aware that Lewis became a Christian as an adult? What weird reasoning. I guess those of us who choose Jesus, after growing up in an unchurched home, are unable or unworthy of writing Christian literature.

    There go my future book sales.

    Even the kitties know idiotic reasoning when they hear it…

  10. The conversation between Snape and Dumbledore seems, to me, to be an exercise in irony wherein Dumbledore shows Snape, the former “Death Eater”, how radically he has changed.

    This really helped me understand that section better. Thanks, JAB.

  11. Unstoppering “stoppered death” still poses a moral dilemma for myself even if someone will certainly die despite being “plugged in.” So I can’t completely agree with JAB strictly on those terms, but tend to agree with Nzie regarding Dumbledore sacrificing himself to save Draco. The other bit of this plan no one has seemed to mention is the wand. Dumbledore planned to let Snape kill him, thereby disempowering the elder wand. So putting all of these together, I think Dumbledore was thinking, “Well the stoppered death is buying me some time, but precious little. If I can save Draco and render the elder wand useless by pulling the plug, then its no longer worth delaying the inevitable.” Lumped together in a package like this, I think it is a morally sound decision.

    As for the homosexual stuff, it is not a sin to be a homosexual person, but it is a sin to engage in homosexual behaviour. I can’t believe that a serious Catholic could not make that distinction. Oh well, as Dumbledore said to Snape about Harry, “You see what you expect to see.”

  12. Coppinger Bailey says

    This thread has been very helpful to me in working out some of the issues I’ve had with Dumbledore’s “planning,” the intended fate of the Elder wand & what went on between Dumbledore & Snape during HBP.

    I don’t agree with the blogger’s point Mark Shea references & agrees with above:

    “His choice to have Snape kill him was a way to get the unbeatable Elder Wand into the hands of the strongest wizard left standing on the anti-Voldemort side.”

    I can’t see how Dumbledore, knowing Snape’s lifelong temptations, would ever have plotted for Snape to wind up with the Elder Wand. I think, rather, that John A B. and especially James P. have gotten to the heart of the matter. “Removing the stopper” at that particular point in time did two important things – (1) it protected Draco and (2) it DISABLED the Elder wand; or at least that may have been Dumbledore’s original intent.

    Snape would not have become the master of the wand simply by removing the stopper. Dumbledore had already sealed his own fate with his use of the cursed ring. But while I can’t agree that transferring the wand to Snape was Dumbledore’s intent, this does not negate these other important points to which Mark Shea refers:

    “Beyond that, Rowling makes clear . . . that Dumbledore’s grand plan doesn’t work! We are not to look at him sacrificing himself (as many try to see it) as the act of deep genius that makes it all come out OK…. Instead, events he had no control over lead things in a completely different direction. Draco didn’t kill him, but the wand became Draco’s when he pinned Dumbledore and it fell away. Though it was buried with Dumbledore, it “belonged” to Draco. I’m paraphrasing here, but Rowling said that, “in the end, all Dumbledore’s plotting didn’t make the difference—instead it came down to a wrestling match between two teenaged boys.”

    Combining the “removal of the stopper” idea together with the “disabling the elder wand” strategy makes much more sense to me than interpreting Dumbledore’s actions as “evil for the greater good” via euthanasia. I do think that Draco’s disabling of Dumbledore obviously put a wrench in that plan – a “flaw” even… that as Mark Shea says, opens up the door for grace to enter:

    “Harry can do what Dumbledore could not. That’s not because Harry has mastered secret knowledge. It’s because Harry is the recipient of grace… in the mystery of grace, his failure is redeemed by Harry’s response to grace…So it seems to me that Rowling is, in fact, remaining true to her rejection of consequentialism…(S)in and failure are not the last word—grace is. Harry’s imitation of Christ’s death and resurrection is rewarded with redemption, reconciliation, and healing, which save Harry’s world.”

    I really love his interpretation of the difference between Harry and Dumbledore. And this entire discussion of Dumbledore’s best-laid plan & its failure has been very helpful. Thanks everyone!

  13. I think the book makes it pretty clear that Dumbledore did intend for Snape to become master of the Elder Wand. Dumbledore says as much to Harry when they meet in King’s Cross. On page 721 of Deathly Hallows, we find the following conversation:

    “If you planned your death with Snape, you meant him to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?”

    “I admit that was my intention,” said Dumbledore, “but it did not work as I intended, did it?”

    “No,” said Harry. “That bit didn’t work out.”

    I agree that it’s remarkable that Dumbledore would trust Snape to this degree, given his past. But it’s clear that Dumbledore meant what he said when he repeatedly told Harry that he trusted Severus. And in the end, we know that Dumbledore’s trust in Snape was not misplaced.

    This whole episode, I think, reveals a Dumbledore with good intentions who simply failed when he tried to control matters of life and death. The irony is that Snape dies as a result of this mistaken attempt to give him control of the Elder Wand; mastery of the Elder Wand is Voldemort’s only motive for killing Snape.

  14. But wouldn’t Dumbledore have known that his death brought about by Snape’s compliance with Dumbledore’s own will wouldn’t have sufficed to transfer true mastery of the wand to Snape? I think he did know, and he trusted Snape’s willingness– in effect, he trusted Snape to subordinate his own wish to Dumbledore’s, so that Snape would have wound up with custody, but not mastery of the wand… thus achieving what Harry intends to do, effectively taking the wand out of play as a factor of violence and power struggle in the wizarding world. Dumbledore wanted to use Snape’s willing acquiescence to break at last the awful cycle of “conquer and be conquered.”

  15. Arabella Figg says

    This has been a fascinating discussion, one of the best.

    However, I have a question. Since Snape knew nothing of the Hallows, how would he know what he had if he recieved the Elder Wand, either through custody or ownership?

    If Snape was not informed of what he had, then he would have died an unknowing owner; thus the EW would be “retired.” If Snape was conquered, his vanquisher wouldn’t know what it was and it would be therefore nulled, it seems to me. Isn’t this what DD intended–to die as Elder Wand master with the Elder Wand unconquered, thus ending it’s power?

    The DD/Elder Wand intention has confused me since I read the book. Any thoughts along this line above?

    Rumbleroar is trying to make off with my eyeliner brush…I hope he plans to use it for good.

  16. Harry’s conversation with Voldemort over the wand during the final battle is quite telling regarding Dumbledore’s intentions. From page 594 of the Bloomsbury international edition, Harry says to Voldemort:

    “Aren’t you listening? Snape never beat Dumbledore! Dumbledore’s death was planned between them! Dumbledore intended to die undefeated, the wand’s last true master! If all had gone as planned, the wand’s power would have died with him, because it had never been won from him!”

    From that quote, it sounds like the wand would have been rendered totally powerless (not merely disfunctional as it was in Voldemort’s hands because it was not held by its true owner) from the time of Dumbledore’s death. So it seems that Dumbledore would have known that Snape could be at risk regardless of whether he knew what the wand was or not. Perhaps Dumbledore gambled that Voldemort would not figure out where the wand was or that Voldemort would be defeated before he found it. Once figuring out where the wand was though, Voldemort would have some tough questions for Snape as to why the wand was not working. In that case, the two possibilities I envision are that events unfold as they were written in the book because Voldemort assumed he had to kill the killer of Dumbledore, or that he “obtains” from Snape the fact that Dumbledore’s death was mutually arranged between them and then kills Snape for his disloyalty. What isn’t clear is whether or not Snape knew the identity of Dumbledore’s wand. If he did, he would have known that it would be rendered powerless under the arrangement. If he didn’t, was this a secret Dumbledore kept from him in the interest of the “greater good?”

  17. Arabella Figg: “…The DD/Elder Wand intention has confused me since I read the book. Any thoughts along this line above?…”

    As luck would have it there is a (long) essay on this topic here:


    The Elder Wand conundrum is explored towards the middle/end of the essay. I hope it sheds some light on this topic from a different angle.

  18. All right, you’re all making a pretty strong case that Dumbledore did not intend for Snape to be the “master” of the Elder Wand. However, he certainly had to know that by creating the perception that Snape had defeated Dumbledore, Snape’s life would be in danger. I know I’ve been a bit harsh on Dumbledore; I’m just a little ticked off at him for getting my favorite character killed. You’d think I’d be over it by now…

    You know, even in the final confrontation between Harry and Voldemort, after Dumbledore has explained everything to Harry, Harry still isn’t sure that the wand has transferred its loyalty to him. “So it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?” whispered Harry. “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does…I am the true master of the Elder Wand.” Lo and behold, the Elder Wand does recognize Harry as its master, but this was not a foregone conclusion.

    In Chapter 24, Ollivander explains that wands don’t change allegiance according to absolute, scientific laws. He uses language like “usually,” “perhaps,” and “I think so” when explaining the effects of disarming an opponent.

    I found the whole Elder Wand allegiance issue a bit confusing the first, second, and third times I read the relevant chapters. Perhaps this is an example of what Joyce Odell is talking about when she says the book might have benefited from a bit more editorial involvement.

    It’s clear that murder is not necessary in order to defeat someone and claim mastery of their wand; Harry got mastery of the Elder Wand just by yanking three entirely different wands out of Draco’s hand. All I can say is, I hope Harry is never Disarmed or defeated by anyone under any circumstances for the rest of his life, or that Elder Wand, returned to Dumbledore’s tomb at the end of Deathly Hallows, just might have a new master!

  19. Coppinger Bailey says

    Thank you Mary N. & James P for going back to the DH text to point out Dumbledore’s intent. I obviously did not have the book in front of me before & played fast with the word “intent.”

    I, too, am still struggling with the “greater good” intentions of Dumbledore’s actions with both Snape & Harry. I think that – as James P. points out – Snape’s possession of the Elder Wand (with or w/o knowledge of its power and lacking mastery of it anyway) would get him killed.

    By the nature of his job Snape was always at the greatest risk of death. I actually think the crueler thing Dumbledore did to Snape was to trot out the final lie to him that Harry was going to have to die. Okay it wasn’t a complete lie, but he omitted telling Snape about the chance that Harry might survive because of the blood connection, emphasizing only that it was “essential” that Voldemort kill Harry himself. Now this omission at this point in the DH drives the plot forward, but it furthers our knowledge of the agony Snape must have suffered since the original timing of that conversation in HBP. Lily’s son is not going to live after all.

    That conversation (as revealed finally in DH) was brutal, and especially when you pay attention to Dumbledore’s body language – he closes his eyes (page 686). His eyes stay “tight shut” when he speaks of raising Harry up to his death (page 687). When he opens his eyes, Snape looked horrified. When Dumbledore sees the doe patronus, he cries. He is remorseful. He knows he’s just laid the biggest one on Snape – Lily’s son is going to the slaughter – but he’s done it “for the greater good.” As Dumbledore says to Snape a few pages earlier (684)…”It is not a question of trust…I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.” This is the last direct conversation between Dumbledore (alive, not portrait) & Snape we are privy to in the collected memories.

    When Snape dies, he is staring into Harry (Lily’s) eyes, but he also believes that because of what Harry will see in his memories, Harry in all likelihood is going shortly to his death. Dumbledore does not give any comfort to Snape by sharing that Harry has a shot at survival.

    Sorry for running a little off topic here. But since reading DH the first time I have always been struck by the callousness with which Dumbledore treated Snape. Dumbledore definitely manipulated that relationship “for the greater good.” The complexities of their relationship are impossible to do justice to in a blog post! From this thread, I understand more now what was going on with Dumbledore’s attempt to disable the Elder wand, but I agree with Mary N that protecting the Elder wand (or knowledge of it) is still a heavy burden for Harry to carry on with.

    What I still haven’t worked out is how I feel about Dumbledore’s manipulation of Harry. But I suppose without that dynamic, we wouldn’t even have a story! Still doesn’t give me warm fuzzies…

  20. Discussing this with my daughter the other day, it crossed my mind how similar Harry and Snape are and how well Dumbledore knows them. Let’s asume for a moment that Snape did know about the Elder Wand and that he knew he would be in great peril as the alleged defeater of its last owner (as if he did not live daily in peril anyway). While perhaps begrudgingly, knowing what’s at stake he accepts this responsibility. Similarly, Harry accepts his fate and takes his last walk “Into the Forest Again”. However, neither of these two would likely have so willingly accepted their fateful tasks had Dumbledore unloaded his plan on them from the beginning. He knew each of their hearts well and knew that by having them embark on their respective journeys with him, he could prepare their hearts/souls to bare the final burdens to be placed on them.

  21. One apologist for HP in the Christian world is Hugh Hewitt, a radio talk show host (2 million listeners a week according to his website), and a law professor at Chapman University. To be honest I had never heard of him until all the seniors at my daughter’s Christian high school were given a copy of his 2003 book, “In, But Not Of.” On p. 202 he states: “If you spent a lot of time worrying over whether Harry Potter would induce children to practice scorcery, we are not on the same page, and we aren’t likely to ever get there. The Potter books are wonderful stories of good versus evil. Just like Star Wars. Just like the Wizard of Oz. Just like Narnia. Myths intended to explain truths to us. As I watched the small storm of outrage explode over Potter, I again saw a measure of the Christian distance from the world.” Pastor Rick Warren states on the book jacket that he is giving the book to all the young adults in his life!

  22. Andrew Heenan says

    Dumbledore was not ‘already dead’ or ‘a dead man walking’; he was a man with a progressive, degenerative disease. And what he did was to ask Snape to kill him; that’s assisted suicide.

    It doesn’t need dressing up or excusing; JKR was not scared to write it, why should we attempt to rewrite it or conceal the facts?

    An increasing proportion of people – including among those adhering to ALL the main religions – do NOT see assisted suicide as ‘eveil’, but as a rational choice for some people who have irreversible, terminal illness.

    Not for all, of course. And those of us who believe in this choice respect the rights of those who would not make that choice. It’s a shame that respect seems to be a one-way street!

  23. Ah, the confident, patronizing posture of the man who knows that life is all about pleasure (and nothing more) so when the pleasure runs out — it’s time to be done!

    Alas, this was not DDore’s calculus and calling his death an “assisted suicide” is the subversion of the text for a political/anti-spiritual agenda that is alien to it.

    Here are some thoughts from a reader in the UK on the growing consensus where you live, despite its illogic and evident epicurean foundation, that death is just another one of life’s pleasure/pain choices.

    On Terry Pratchett and Suicide

    A Culture of Suicide

Speak Your Mind