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Dumbledore's Theory of Early Childhood Education
I was knitting and listening to Harry Potter on audiobook (I should be sleeping! Instead, not.) like a good geek girl tonight, because after seeing the final film I was filled with nostalgia for the first four books, the ones I actually liked. Stephen Fry reads them, and I gotta go with Vonnegut on this one because I was sitting in a plush chair with a glass of wine knitting azure lace and listening to a beautiful British man tell me a beautiful story and if that's not nice I don't know what is.

But it occurred to me, whilst listening to Harry's hilariously over the top horrible treatment by the Dursleys, that this whole plan of Dumbledore's really could have gone very wrong. Because while, yes, it is true that being raised by normal people (albeit awful and they did know the Dursleys were awful, it just fit into a vague handwavey wibbly wobbly timey wimey protection spell sort of thing) instead of in a nonstop fame factory MIGHT create a gentle, humble, sweet-natured boy, it could also, quite easily, create a sociopath.

I mean, seriously. The cupboard under the stairs? This is the kind of shit that makes serial killers. It's the banality of evil, and though Voldemort's childhood was impressively Dickensian/Bret Easton Ellisian, Harry's is pretty much textbook on how to break a little kid. And though many kids come out of abusive homes relatively even-keeled and stable if defensively cynical (I did) just as many come out permanently broken, unable to make meaningful connections or even understand the concept of love, and certainly unable to perform the All Important Magical Feat of Believing in Yourself, which is Required for all Protagonists. In fact, that is kind of a problem with a lot of abused children--the inability to see themselves as protagonists in their own lives and stories, since they were treated in formative personal epochs as NPCs at best, villains at worst, and usually some kind of horrible side character who needs to be put down for the good of the Real People, ie, the abusers and those they deem part of their tribe of worthies.

I certainly see that growing up famous, rich, and adored/believed to be super powerful and important by all is a great way to raise a Gossip Girl-style horrorshow of a person, and often kids who have been raised just couched in comfort and unconditional love with no chance to fail or struggle on their own can be listless and spoiled and generally the worst. Sorrow and trauma is what makes us complex and compassionate, the experience of it personally allows us to predict, empathize, wish to avoid, and desire to protect others from it, and thus most social interaction is made. But that doesn't mean that in order to make the Most Compassionate Child, the Superhero of Being Really Nice, you should just beat down and crush a kid underfoot.

Which is more or less what Dumbledore does, and everyone is horrified that he's doing it, but he is Gandalf the White and None Shall Argue. I get that he is Wise and Male and Has a Job in School Administration, but really? (Don't even get me started on the absurd importance of a single public school in that world--and I honestly think it is a public school and not private, within the wizarding world any child with magical ability can go, there doesn't seem to be tuition beyond basic supplies, and the government is SUPER INVOLVED in the running of the place. Anyway.) Seriously, that is a DICE ROLL, YO. It could have gone the other way. Harry could have made Draco look like a kitten with a daisy in his paw.

File off the names and serial numbers and this could, easily and with great tragic muscle behind it, be Voldemort's origin story.

Now, now, I know that Harry and Voldemort are meant to have a lot in common, there are intended parallels, but the fact that the Dursley Shuffle is done deliberately, pretty much to make Harry not turn out to be a shithead makes it sort of darkly hilarious to me. Yes, you can turn out Ok. I like to think I have. But Not Ok is on the table at all times with this sort of thing. It is always in play.

Because if you lock ten children under the stairs for the first eleven years of their lives, I'll bet you a Time Turner that you'll get four supervillains, three deeply wounded individuals so desperate for love they will do anything they're told to by the first person who hugs them, two completely shattered psyches incapable of meaningful speech, and one Harry Potter, a basically normal, gently dented boy who is good at sports, naturally likeable, and willing to sacrifice himself for the group of your choice.

Them's some long odds, D-man. Glad that worked out for you.

I suspect that JKR's rationale for Harry turning out okay is that he was protected in an ongoing way by his mother's love - the same self-sacrifice that caused the Avada Kedavra curse to bounce back and turn Harry into a horcrux instead of a corpse.

It's the same lurve that Harry shows when he sacrifices himself at the end of Hallows and which permits everyone to resist Voldemort.

Hey, I'm not saying I think it's a GOOD rationale. I don't even understand why one emotion (lurve) and no others seems to pump up your magic so much. But within that logic, D-man's gamble would seem to be a wee bit better, seeing as H-boy is cocooned in lurve his whole life.

Re: The Power of Lurve

Well, except for, what, the first ten years of it?

Re: The Power of Lurve

No, I'd say even then - thus the good gamble. In JKR's world, lurve isn't just a special thing, it's its own kind of magic (this is the part that makes no sense to me within the realm of the books, but she places it in very clearly). So those ten years with the Dursleys, which should have produced a broken person by rights, are all mediated. Harry is protected from Voldemort by D-man's spell and from the Dursleys by his mother's lurve.

'Course, while there's ample evidence for lurve being magic, there's no evidence at all for what I'm talking about. Pure extrapolation.

Cue Huey Lewis.

(Deleted comment)
Meh. Never being hurt is impossible in life--it's not like there're a bunch of kids out there who never have been and never will be hurt in the first 13-16 years of their lives. There's a huge difference between learning to deal with life's pain and being repeatedly abused by the very people who are supposed to help you be resilient in the face of life's unavoidable pain.

There are totally people who have been shielded from pain and decision making at the crucial stages that develop character. I went to high school with them, and met up with some of them since then, and they are INSUFFERABLE BAGS OF ENTITLEMENT. Their first world problems are so much worse than other people's lack of access to medical care, etc., etc. that it makes dyed in the wool Democrats like me want to shake the actually thoughtful Republicans and beg them to throw those people out of their party's constituency.

Not that Dems don't have problems, but tha particular one is much less prevalent over here on the poor side of town.

We'll just have to disagree on this.

I've never seen any evidence for the truism that pain builds or develops character. I've never seen any evidence that suffering builds or develops empathy. I've never seen any evidence that not suffering enough produces right-wing assholes. I've never seen any evidence that being an insufferable bag of entitlement is based on not having suffered; indeed, my least favorite people who are insufferable bags of entitlement have often suffered (for instance, the kid I knew who was a total entitled asshole during both elementary and junior high whose father dropped dead in high school; He continue to be a total asshole during and after that, as far as I know, and of course there are others.).

I'd also never presume to know the ins and outs of somebody else's life and psyche so well as to be able to make the definitive statement that they've never suffered.

So, you know, I disagree with just about every single part of your statement.

Sorry, I must ask. After all this, Harry named his son after Dumbledore. Why?

The will to evil/zero empathy may be as common as 4 in ten abused children but two of those will more likely turn out as garden-variety narcissists/cluster B personality disorders, one paranoiac with crippling social phobias, and one all-the-bells-and-whistles classic serial killer like Voldemort.

I like Simon Baron-Cohen's take on empathy being the fundamental cause of what we think of as "good" and it's lack to be where "evil" originates. It make a lot more sense than the standard model which doesn't have an origin for the will to evil other than "it's a choice" but never explains why that would be a desirable choice.

one, rowling was a sloppy writer.
two, if u read the last book, dumbledore was a shit sociopath who thought if harry was broken and abused, he may look upon the wizard world as a saviour, be easily manipulated, used and walked to his slaughter.
he himself told snape to think of harry as a number.
rowling herself writes that an abused magical child can be dangerous, look at dumbledore's own siblings- ariana and aurelius.
i once read a very good evil harry fanfic that made far more sense than the book.
after dumbledore dumps harry at No 4, the Dursleys dump him at an orphanage. he is beaten, raped and in return kills 2 men, sets another on fire.
he becomes a slytherin and while he believes he is talking to quirrel, voldemort actually becmoes fond of him and even knows the boy is "my horcrux." he later turns harry into a monster who hates ron and dumbledore the most in earth.

Edited at 2019-01-08 08:54 am (UTC)