When I finished reading Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, I was seriously bummed. Dumbledore dying? I mean, I expected it to happen at some point, but I just wasn’t ready for it this soon.
In a depressed state and not yet able to discuss it with my daughter (who hadn’t finished the book), I discovered a website dedicated to the proposition that Dumbledore was NOT dead, that he had somehow faked his own death and would soon be returning to the Harry Potter storyline fully alive.
Alas, the more I browsed that website, the more I came to the opposite conclusion. I thought the founder of that site was in the first of the classic stages of grief: Denial.
Further, it seemed he or she had seriously violated the scientific method by beginning with their conclusion (Dumbledore is not dead) and then working backwards trying to assemble all the reason that supported their conclusion. You are supposed to do the opposite. Examine the reasons and then come to a conclusion.
So, far from being satisfied, I investigated further. It was at this time that I discovered “The Leaky Lounge” forums here on “The Leaky Cauldron” website. And on the forum dedicated to The Half-Blood Prince, I discovered a most lively thread dedicated solely to a spirited debate about Dumbledore’s mortality.
It was through the give and take of this exchange that I came to the firm belief that the Hogwarts headmaster was indeed, “deader than a Dumbledorenail.” In fact over time, I found that I had distilled the evidence down to an even dozen reasons that Albus had joined “the choir invisible.”
I present them now for your review. I don’t know that I will change anyone’s mind. Belief (and its twin sister, Faith) is a tricky, stubborn thing, not easily swayed. Nor am I particularly happy that Dumbledore has assumed room temperature. None the less, I must go where the facts lead me. Herein are those facts as I see them that argue for Dumbledore’s death being the genuine article:
1. The Text Itself
This is the simplest argument, but admittedly the least persuasive. We hear Snape exclaim “Avada Kedavra.” We see the green jet hit Dumbledore. Adult wizards examine the body at the base of the tower and declare him dead. They hold a funeral for him.
Now, things are not always as they seem in the world of Harry Potter. Jo has proven quite adept at weaving plot twists into her narrative. But let’s keep of couple of things in mind as we move forward:
a.) Nearly all of the events in the first 6 novels have transpired exactly as she wrote them. The plot twists are few and far between. There is no reason that there must be more to Dumbledore’s death than meets the reader’s eye.
b.) The debate about Snape’s ultimate loyalty suggests there may already be one plot twist involved in the conclusion of The Half-Blood Prince. Two plot twists may be one too many.
c.) Any major plot twists (and this would certainly qualify) have been heavily foreshadowed by JKR by her use of multiple clues. As we move through this essay, we’ll deal with some of the so-called clues some have pointed to as “proof” that the greatest wizard of his age is still among the living.
For example, some on the “Alive” side have made a great deal about Dumbledore’s body being “blasted into the air” when he’s hit with Snape’s Avada Kedavra. They say we’ve never seen an Avada Kedavra curse behave that way before. Yet, we’ve seen how many Avada Kedavra curses hit a human being over the course of 6 novels? Before Dumbledore, the number is one – the groundskeeper of the old Riddle Mansion who gets cursed at the start of Goblet of Fire. We see a spider get hit with one – hardly comparable to a human being. But we do not see what happens when Cedric Diggory gets hit because the narrative stays with Harry and Harry has been knocked to the ground prior to Diggory getting hit. Harry only sees Cedric after he’s dead.1
Further, Mike Newell, the director of the film version of Goblet of Fire consulted Jo about the effect of the Avada Kedavra curse prior to filming Cedric’s death. “She gave me very clear things when I needed them, like, what did the Avada Kedavra Curse actually do when it hits you.” 2 In the movie, Cedric is blasted up off his feet. He does not merely crumple to the ground like a limp rag doll. Why would they consult her if they intended to ignore whatever she told them? We must assume that she told them the Avada Kedavra curse would cause a wizard to be blasted back, up off their feet because that’s what we see.
Immediately prior to being cursed, Dumbledore is leaning against the battlements on the astronomy tower of the castle. Battlements have sections that are higher to allow defenders of a castle to hide from incoming weapons and sections that are lower to allow defenders to fire back at oncoming invaders. We do not know how close Dumbledore is to one of these lower sections. Perhaps he was leaning near just such a section and was blasted through this lower portion. Or perhaps AK Curse performed very strongly against very powerful wizards can have the effect of blasting the body into the air.
As I said, having only observed one Avada Kedavra curse in action (against a Muggle), we can hardly make generalizations about “all” Avada Kedavra curses.
Further, none of the Death Eaters assembled on the tower finds anything strange about the way the Avada Kedavra curse hits Dumbledore’s body. As one or more of them were ready to curse him themselves, I assume they have some general familiarity with the this curse and the way a body reacts to it. As these seasoned dark wizards find nothing strange in the trajectory of Dumbledore’s body, neither do I.
Some on the Alive side have argued that maybe Snape was casting a non-verbal spell (non-lethal) while saying “Avada Kedavra.”
Maybe. But that requires a few jumps in logic.
First, the text says nothing about Snape thinking one spell while verbally casting another. Second, while one may cast a non-verbal spell, do we have anything that proves you can cast an Unforgivable Curse out loud and have it be utterly meaningless because you are thinking a different spell in your head? And this different spell takes precedent over the spoken spell?
In every other instance of non-verbal spells in the text, the casting wizard or witch is NOT speaking a different spell aloud. They are either not speaking at all or their talking does not involve any magical “spell words.” I would think JKR would have planted an example of casting one spell while meaning another somewhere in the first 6 books if she were going to use this trick to save Dumbledore’s life. As we have never seen this before, I don’t think it happened this way.
Now, I hear one or two of you exclaiming, “When did adults examine the body of Dumbledore?” Well, logic tells us they must have. Do you seriously believe that no teacher at Hogwarts examined the body of Dumbledore after it hit the ground? They just looked at it as they gathered around it and said, “Well, I guess he’s dead. Let’s get a funeral together. Have one of the kids scoop up the body and bring it round to Hagrid’s.”
To think that not one of them would examine the body to make sure he’s dead – that they would all just presume he’s dead and give him a funeral without checking to be sure stretches credibility past the breaking point. (I’m thinking of Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m not dead.” “Yes, you are.”)
2. The Unbreakable Vow
If Snape not only did not kill Dumbledore, but actually conspired to keep DD alive, that would be an action 180 degrees the opposite of what he has vowed to do. JKR did not name the Vow “Nearly Unbreakable Except in the Case of Fake Deaths” or “The Sometimes Breakable Vow.”
There is ample reason to believe that Snape is aware that Draco has been trying to kill Dumbledore all school year. He confronts Draco at Slughorn’s party. While Draco denies it, it’s clear that Snape does not take Draco’s denial at face value.
On the night in question, Snape is roused from his sleep, told Death Eaters are in the castle. He makes his way to the Tower where the Dark Mark (a sign of impending death) is in the air. He spends a moment or two taking in the whole scene. Draco is standing opposite Dumbledore. Clearly Draco has had an opportunity to unleash an AK. Another Death Eater informs Snape that “the boy doesn’t seem able.” This should really confirm the feeling Snape has had all year that Draco simply isn’t up to this task.
As it appeared Draco would fail, Snape needed to be the one to complete the task. Besides, JKR in a post-publication interview said that Draco was not able to kill Dumbledore.3 I just can’t see JKR saying, “Yes, I told you Draco would fail, but Snape never figured that out.” Don’t see that happening.
If DD were still alive, Snape should be dead via the Vow. Snape is still alive – ergo, Dumbledore is dead.
Some have argued that there is no time limit to the Unbreakable Vow. An Unbreakable Vow without a time limit makes no sense and hardly seems “Unbreakable.” In this scenario, Snape would have until Draco died or Dumbledore died of other causes before the Vow would kick in. Doesn’t sound very fearsome, does it? As Dumbledore is already far older than most wizards and Draco much younger than Snape, it sounds like Snape would probably die of natural causes before either of them kick the bucket and the Vow would never come into play. Just can’t see it happening that way.
Some say maybe Draco’s task was something other than killing Dumbledore. Balderdash. There is ample evidence in the plot of the book and in the dialog between DD and Draco, as well as what the Death Eaters say on the tower, that Draco’s task WAS to kill Dumbledore. It couldn’t have been to smuggle Death Eaters into Hogwarts. Draco says he only switched to that plan when the necklace and mead failed.
Some have said that if Draco decided not kill Dumbledore, it’s not the same as failing. Oh, really? If I promised you I would pay you back the $50 I borrowed from you and my sister vowed that she would give you the money if I failed, then I simply decided I was not going to pay you back, would you let my sister off the hook, saying I didn’t really fail because I decided not to do it? Giving up is the same as failing in my book. Draco accepted the assignment from Voldemort. You think Voldemort would buy the “I didn’t want to do it so I didn’t fail” argument?
3. Dumbledore’s Portrait
Not only does it appear in the Headmaster’s office, JKR says the portrait “joined the ranks of the dead headmasters.” If you join the ranks of the dead, are you dead or alive? Also, JKR has stated in a previous interview that all the portraits in Hogwarts are of dead people.4
Some have said that maybe Dumbledore planted a fake portrait on the wall prior to taking Harry to the cave. He might have. But we have nothing in the text to support that idea. And I find JKR’s turn of a phrase (“joining the ranks”) to be very persuasive.
Some have pointed to Dumbledore’s portrait being asleep as a clue that Dumbledore is not dead, but merely asleep. Well, we have seen the subjects in portraits asleep before this – and their counterparts in the real world are still dead.
Also, there is an excellent “writer’s reason” for the portrait to be asleep. If Dumbledore’s portrait were animated and talking in the final scenes of the book, it would greatly diminish the sorrow and the mood of mourning JKR is trying to create. It would seem in some way that Dumbledore was still with us.
I’m sure we’ll see the portrait awake and talking in the next book.
4. The Phoenix Lament
A “lament” is a specific type of song – it is a funeral dirge, a song of mourning. While Harry feels as if the song is coming from inside him – every type of phoenix song has this quality (seeming to come from inside the listener). Indeed, JKR named the chapter “The Phoenix Lament” not “Harry Feels a Lament Inside Himself.”
Some on the Alive side have said the song is only reflecting Harry’s mood. Yet, the phoenix song has never worked this way before. In Chamber of Secrets, it lifted Harry’s spirits and changed his mood. In Goblet of Fire, it strengthened his resolve. So we have two examples where the song reflects Fawkes’ intentions – not the mood of the listener. Fawkes’ lament is also described as being heard outside of Harry –echoing over the grounds at Hogwarts and being heard at a distance. Finally, it is definitely referred to Fawkes’ lament in the text.5
5. Similar Language Describing Harry & Snape
When both Harry and Snape are performing acts they know will hurt Dumbledore, their reactions are described in nearly identical language. When Harry feeds Dumbledore the potion in the cave, JKR describes him as “hating” & “repulsed” by what he was doing. When Snape unleashes the AK, his face is filled with “hatred” & “revulsion.” These 2 passages are about 20 pages apart. I do not find the wording accidental.
Also, if Snape is in on a plan to fake Dumbledore’s death why would his face show “revulsion?” If he were playacting, I’m sure he’d go more for maniacal glee. Perhaps an evil chortle, but hatred and revulsion seem to indicate to me that he’s doing something he doesn’t want to do.
6. Snape’s Reaction Fleeing Hogwarts
When Harry calls Snape a “coward,” JKR describes Snape as looking “demented,” in pain, and howling like a dog in a burning building. Previously, he had been his usual snide self. Why the very radical shift (especially in a man who does not like to show his emotions)?
If he knows Dumbledore is still alive, he knows he will be vindicated. Everything is going as planned – why fly off the handle? But if he has just had to kill the only man who has ever trusted him…if he argued long and strong that he did not want to do it (the argument Hagrid overheard in the woods), that would account for the pain and the dementia. Rather than being a coward, it was one of the bravest things he has ever had to do.
7. Dumbledore’s Pleading with Snape on the Tower
Clearly, Dumbledore would not be pleading for his life. Not only is it out of character, but he appeared very cool & calm when surrounded by a murderous werewolf and a pack of Death Eaters before Snape arrived on the tower.
If it’s a fake death, he shouldn’t have to plead to get Snape to do it. A fake death is going to save Dumbledore’s life. If Snape doesn’t go ahead with the plan, Dumbledore will die for real at the hands of another Death Eater or worse, a werewolf. It should have required zero pleading. Snape should be very eager to do it.
Dumbledore “putting on an act” for the Death Eaters makes no sense because:
a) He has not been acting afraid for his life when Draco, Fenrir or any other Death Eater threatened him;
b) The Death Eaters think Snape’s treachery will surprise Dumbledore – as Dumbledore should have no reason to believe that Snape is really working for the bad guys.
So, before Snape does anything treacherous, why should the Death Eaters think Dumbledore was afraid Snape would kill him? That by itself would appear suspicious.
But if Snape had told Dumbledore that he was not going to kill him, that Snape would rather die from the Unbreakable Vow himself, then Dumbledore would need to plead with Snape at that moment.
Why couldn’t he plead with Snape via mind-reading? Well, why does Dumbledore talk to members of the Order at all if mind-reading is so much simpler? Why do we accompany our speech with expressions and gestures? To help put our point across more emphatically. Clearly, Dumbledore needed his tone of voice and body posture to convince Snape to administer the killing stroke.
8. JKR Herself
In her post-publication interview with Melissa & Emerson she said she never deliberately misleads readers with things she says in her interviews. Later, when Emerson makes the statement: “The wise old wizard with the beard always dies.” JKR replies: “That’s what I’m basically saying, yes.” 6 Some have said she was just referring to the fantasy genre in general, but the discussion is about how that genre specifically applies to her work, especially the death of Dumbledore in Book 6. In her work, the wise old wizard with the beard can be no one else besides Dumbledore. If he always dies and she agrees (she says “yes”), it is hard to twist her words to mean anything else.
9. JKR’s American Publisher
Jo Rowling’s American publisher Arthur Levine is on record as believing that Dumbledore is dead.7 While I admit, this is not the strongest point; it is one more factor on the “deader than a Dumbledorenail” side.
Most of us have never talked to JKR directly. This guy has. One assumes he has had some conversation with her as they pertain to his company’s major publishing event of the last year. Even if he is merely expressing his own opinion, I feel his words should carry just a bit more weight than the average fan’s.
10. The Demands of the “Hero” Storyline
JKR has openly stated that she is following the archetypical “hero” storyline wherein a young apprentice comes of age under a wise old master. The old master must die before the young hero faces his final test so that the hero faces that test alone and at story’s end replaces the master in the order of the universe.8
Now, some on the Alive side have said the exact opposite – that the genre demands the return of the mentor who was presumed dead. Yet, the only three examples they can name to back up their argument are The Lord of the Rings (Gandalf), The Chronicles of Narnia (Aslan), and Star Wars (Obi-Wan Kenobi).
What they fail to have noticed is that in each case they mentioned, the mentor dies a very real death and only returns to the storyline through supernatural means. Gandalf is reborn as “The White Wizard” (previously having been the Grey Wizard). Aslan is returned to life in a resurrection (fitting as C.S. Lewis intended Narnia as a Christian allegory with Aslan as the Christ figure). And Obi-Wan simply exists as a spirit communicating with Luke “from beyond the grave.”
I’m not saying that JKR will use any of these devices (more on this immediately following). I’m just saying that in each of these fantasy classics, the mentor really dies. He’s not a party to a faked death.
11. The Funeral
Some on the Alive side have questioned whether it was really Dumbledore’s body at the funeral as it was covered and we never see it. If it was not Dumbledore, then how does one account for the fire, white tomb and brief glimpse of a Phoenix-like image at the funeral?
The Phoenix-like spirit could very well be Dumbledore’s spirit off to his next great adventure.
If we assume Dumbledore’s life cycle has some connection to the phoenix (which I’ll discuss more completely in a minute), Dumbledore is not “properly dead.” He is only “merely dead” (for those of you who like “Princess Bride”). His soul isn’t going anywhere until his body goes up in flames – sending his spirit/soul forth to be reincarnated in the clever JKR way I’ll hypothesize about in just a minute.
A few have argued that the Phoenix-like figure in the smoke may be Dumbledore’s patronus. I find this argument not at all convincing. Such an action is fraught with extreme peril. Why go to all the trouble to fake your death and then risk it all by sending out proof you’re alive (your patronus) in front of a multitude of witnesses?
Dumbledore’s funeral is being attended by the elite of the magical world. They are familiar with Patronuses. Indeed they discuss them at Harry’s trial in Order of the Phoenix. Simply because many in the crowd don’t know that the Order can communicate with Patronuses does not mean they can’t recognize a Patronus.
I mean, suppose the Order communicates with Mack trucks. If a Mack truck came roaring out of Dumbledore’s tomb, do you think no one would recognize it as a truck simply because they don’t know the Order is using trucks to carry messages?
If he’s still alive, Dumbledore has had a couple of days before the funeral and certainly will have all the time in the world after the funeral to be sending patronuses. Why pick the one moment when a crowd is gathered (a few of whom may be spies for Lord Voldemort) and then make sure the entire crowd’s attention is riveted on the very spot where the patronus will appear (by causing a loud explosion to focus everyone’s attention on the exact spot)? Why not wait until 15 minutes after everyone’s gone home? Surely the fall from the tower didn’t scramble Dumbledore’s common sense that much.
Besides, we know that Harry knows what a patronus is and he doesn’t think of a patronus when he sees the phoenix-spirit. Now some have said maybe it was Dumbledore’s animagus. Well, Harry also doesn’t think it’s an animagus (it doesn’t appear to be very solid) when he sees it, either. And it is only speculation on the part of Potter fans that Dumbledore even is an animagus. There is nothing in the canon that says he is.
All of which brings us to...
12. The Phoenix Symbolism
Dumbledore is surrounded by phoenix imagery. His pet is a phoenix. He names his anti-Voldemort squad “The Order of the Phoenix.” A real death is part of the life cycle of the phoenix. The bird does not fake its death. To remain true to that symbolism, Dumbledore would need to really die.
That said, I fully expect the phoenix symbolism to also carry with it some type of rebirth. I know JKR has said that Dumbledore is not Jesus and he will not be “resurrected” in a bodily fashion.9 However, JKR has proven she has an inventive mind. I’m confident she has a rebirth twist that will knock us all out in the final installment.
I think I am in full agreement with my brothers and sisters on the Alive side in feeling we have not heard the last from Albus Dumbledore and there is more to his story that we will learn when Book 7 finally reaches our eagerly awaiting arms.
But until then, Albus, rest in peace.
1. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic, 2000. p. 638.
2. Director Mike Newell. Quoted in “Goblet of Fire Press Junket”. October 22, 2005. The Leaky Cauldron. Jan 17, 2006. /pottercast/transcripts/gofpressjunket1.html.
3. Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Part Two.” July 16, 2005. The Leaky Cauldron. Jan 17, 2006. /extras/aa-jointerview2.html.
4. Rowling, J.K. “Interview Edinburgh Book Festival.” 15 Aug 2004. Quick Quotes Quill. The Floo Network. Jan 17, 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles2004/0804-ebf.htm.
5. Rowling, J.K. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. New York:Scholastic, 2005.Page 621.
6. Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Part Three.” July 16, 2005. The Leaky Cauldron. Jan. 17, 2006. /extras/aa-jointerview3.html.
7. Levin, Arthur. Quoted by Andrew Mangino in “Harry Potter Editor Comes to Silliman.” September 27, 2005. yaledailynews.com. Jan 17, 2006. http://www.yaledailynews.com/article.asp?AID=30038.
8. Anelli, Melissa and Emerson Spartz. “The Leaky Cauldron and MuggleNet Interview Joanne Kathleen Rowling, Part Three.” July 16, 2005. The Leaky Cauldron. Jan 17, 2006. /extras/aa-jointerview3.html.
9. Grossman, Lev . J.K. “Rowling Hogwarts And All.” July 17, 2005. Time Magazine. Jan 17, 2006. http://www.quick-quote-quill.org/articles/2005/0705-time-grossman.htm.