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Dumbledore's Theory of Early Childhood Education
menchi
catvalente
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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Edit: Sorry, that should have been Cedric, not Sirius. V. tired.

Again, though, it's amazing that all D's gambits pay off in the precise psychological way he hoped--it could have gone off the rails so easily, and so many times.

In the end, Harry sacrifices nothing and never considers becoming a dark lord himself. Even Frodo succumbs. He is the bestest hero ever, and it might have been a more interesting ending if some temptation and consequences of his constant manipulation and psychological blitzing came home to roost.

Again, though, it's amazing that all D's gambits pay off in the precise psychological way he hoped--it could have gone off the rails so easily, and so many times.

That's what makes Rowling a mediocre writer in my book. Nothing ever goes south for her in the process of writing. It's always exactly the way she planned it. There's no "oh shit what I wrote earlier means that I have to throw away this nifty outline now omg omg what are these characters DOING oh fick" which sometimes happens. I personally was always puzzled how Snape manages to extract his thoughts after Nagini bites him and Harry is oh-so-conveniently nearby; it seems highly implausible to me that this combination of events would indeed come to pass, but it had to happen for Harry to Have an Epiphany.

I also agree with harp_of_israfel about the complete tone disconnect between the earlier books (which are surreal and firmly within the British children's lit tradition) and the grimy realism of the later books; it is especially jarring in the way the Dursleys are portrayed.

I also have a large problem with the way Rowling portrayed the whole Dumbledore/Ariana scenario - not because of what Albus D. says or does (we're all young and make mistakes), but because I am sick and tired of narratives in which the disabled kid conveniently dies. I say this as a mother of a disabled kid. Why was Ariana denied medical intervention? Why would she have to be taken away to St. Mungos? Why, if her parents chose to homeschool her, wouldn't they receive better support? Why couldn't she (and other magical kids with disabilities, of whom we see... nobody) mainstreamed in the wizarding school?

There's no "oh shit what I wrote earlier means that I have to throw away this nifty outline now omg omg what are these characters DOING oh fick" which sometimes happens.

...do you know her writing process? Do you know that this never happened for her?

I agree with the points in your latter two paragraphs.

...do you know her writing process? Do you know that this never happened for her?
You're right; I don't. Instead of "there's no X," I should have written "I feel that some of the key events portrayed happen the way they do because the author wants them to happen this way (such as in the example of Snape's memories)."

I'd say there's no "oh shit our plans aren't working" moments /inside/ the books--I don't know her process or anything, but within the narrative, when things seem to go badly, we find out later it was all part of a grand plan and went perfectly. There's no mistakes, and no real sacrifice at the end (no major characters die except Dumbledore, and mythically he had to, and Harry gets an absurdly happy ending, with nothing lost and everything gained, no PTSD or wounds, so that we return to the fairy tale of the early books in the midst of the gritty ones and arrrg), so much as I love the first four books, the last three do not pay it off for me.

within the narrative, when things seem to go badly, we find out later it was all part of a grand plan and went perfectly. There's no mistakes, and no real sacrifice at the end (no major characters die except Dumbledore, and mythically he had to, and Harry gets an absurdly happy ending, with nothing lost and everything gained, no PTSD or wounds
This. Well, Snape dies, but he also had to (so Harry would have his epiphany, I guess). Of the Weasley family, it's one of the twins who dies. That always disturbed me (oh yes, he died, but there's another one of him left!).

I confess I don't remember Ariana...

Ariana is Albus and Aberforth's little sister. When she was little, she was attacked and maimed by a group of Muggle children. Dumbledore the father, instead of getting his little girl to the hospital pronto, kills the Muggle kids and goes to Azkaban for it. The mother and brothers then hide Ariana -whose magic is unpredictable and who is prone to tantrums, but who can, as I understand it, speak, walk and interact. They raise her in secret (so that she won't be taken away to St. Mungo's.) Ariana is eventually killed in a skirmish between Grindelwald and Albus D.

Do you mind if I write about this in my own journal?

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