Why Albus Dumbledore Isn’t Such a Terrific Headmaster

See here for the Finnish version: Miksi Albus Dumbledore ei ole mahtavan hyvä rehtori

Before I start, I would like to point out I never said I was only going to analyse serious real-world issues. All right? Thank you.

In J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books, Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, is quite an impressive and likeable character. In the story universe, he is justly liked by students and staff in the school as well, and regarded as very good headmaster. However, in one sense a surprising pattern emerges that suggests he has let other considerations go before the good of the school and its students. I am more inclined to see this as an inconsistency unintended by Rowling than something meant to rise from Dumbledore’s character, but nevertheless, it is there. (Mild spoilers from throughout the series will follow. Also, don’t take this criticism too seriously. And I apologise if I misremember any details.)

The issue is staff choices.

Severus Snape

This is why. (Image via Wikipedia)

I won’t say anything about the Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, as the position is literally cursed, and they have to get whoever they can each year. But quite aside from that, many of the staff at Hogwarts are completely unsuitable for their position, and only seem to hold it due to Dumbledore either having a soft spot for them personally or because he is saving them for some other future use.

  • Peeves the poltergeist. Not technically quite staff, but the distinction is unimportant. What is this troublemaking ghost doing at the school? Dumbledore could surely kick him out, but presumably is too nice to. However, this isn’t so nice towards the students and staff who have to suffer his mean-spirited “funny” antics year after year.
  • Mr. Filch, the caretaker. He is a Squib, a descendant of wizards who nevertheless cannot do magic. Dumbledore is probably employing him out of pity for this reason. This also seems to be the reason he’s so extremely hostile towards the students. The man is without any hyperbole glamouring for the use of medieval torture devices to punish them. Of course, as long as no-one equally crazy is in charge of the school, there is no chance he’s ever going to get to do it. Did I mention someone equally crazy is in charge of the school at some point during the series?
  • Professor Trelawney. Dumbledore interviewed her personally for Divination teacher and determined she had no skill in Divination whatsoever. However, he hired her anyway, apparently to keep her at hand, when she suddenly spouted some genuine major prophecy without being aware of it. As a result, Divination classes at Hogwarts have been complete and utter rubbish since then, and presumably no-one has ever learnt anything there except to believe in magic that isn’t real in a world where magic actually is real.
  • Professor Snape. Good grief, Snape. How could anyone think it is a good idea to put this person in a position of power over children, or generally near other sentient beings? What sort-of-good sides he has notwithstanding, he’s an arbitrary, prejudiced, petty, verbally abusive, cheating tyrant who terrorises students and plays favourites for his own House, while apparently (and, frankly, hopefully) being mostly despised by his peers. His behaviour isn’t within a million miles of acceptable, and he’s the complete opposite of good teacher material, though his success rate at making students learn is still better than Trelawney’s (as far as I can tell), in a few students’ cases literally in spite of his efforts. Having read the whole story, you’ll probably be able to see why Dumbledore keeps him around, but it isn’t for the good of the students, that’s for sure.
  • Professor Hagrid. All right, Hagrid is obviously a very sympathetic and unfairly treated person, and it’s great for Dumbledore to show trust in him. Letting him teach Care of Magical Creatures might even have worked. But why, oh, why send him to it without looking through the curriculum with him first and giving him some sensible advice? This is the guy who thinks horrible monsters are cute, and their mauling him is just being playful. How can you set him to teach children about exotic creatures by his own judgment and not expect it to end in disaster?

There isn’t really anything mysterious about why Dumbledore has made such silly choices. It’s presumably the same reason in Philosopher’s Stone the protections around said stone were mostly puzzles solvable by talented first-year students: Because plot elements demanded it and it wasn’t really thought through. Noticing things like this doesn’t mean I don’t still think Rowling is a great writer and her series highly enjoyable, as well as Dumbledore a very good character (as many of the others mentioned above, too). It does mean I have to ignore a few nagging things to fully enjoy the stories.

Sama suomeksi.

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