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Letters from Proxima Thule

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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.

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This has been a realy great and thoughtful essay. You're totally right.

As a kid (I was 8 when the first three books were given to me) I really bought Dumbledore's awesomeness line, and even when the final book came out (17) I was a staunch defender against the defamation of Albus Dumbledore. I totally went along with the blind trust of everyone else in those books.

With years and rereads, though (and I confess the films helped), I've begun to realize that Dumbledore is a bit of a dick. Because all that "keeping Harry safe" business is really doing quite the opposite. Let's look at facts:

-on Halloween '81, he sent a one-year-old child away to Bad People (though Petunia Dursley had the opportunity to redeem herself, she really... didn't) and didn't even bother to check in-- it's rather like he was storing a beloning he didn't carefor too much. My mother ensures better care is being taken of her piano at her cousin's house.
-in the 1991-1992 school year, he allowed a group of eleven-year-olds to skulk about and investigate seriously dangerous business; he even gave Harry the Invisibility Cloak, which any responsible adult should know was giving him free reign for mischief. AND. HE WAS ELEVEN. WTH?
-in the '92-'93 school year, he wasn't all that proactive about keeping students safe, and he certainly didn't take it easy on the indoctrination (that Dumbledore will be here if you carry him in your heart thing?) Again willingly let preteens put themselves in danger, didn't even make a PSA or, seemingly, put staff on alert
-in the '93-'94 school year, he put SERIOUSLY DANGEROUS creatures "guard" the school from a psychopathic madman who was known to be after it. Note that Harry's security detail was not at all difficult for his thirteen-year-old self to shake. When he went missing, it doesn't seem anyone was out looking for him.

And that's just the first three books, ignoring the parts about the deadly Triwizard Tournament and the fact that OH YEAH, he was "saving" Harry only in te sense of "saving him for later." Which still comes off as funamentally sick, even if my moral code is nuanced enough to get that there weren't a lot of other options.

Let's not forget that Invisibility Cloak was DEATH'S RAINJACKET.

HP really is more like Ender's Game than anything else.

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