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In Defense of Dumbledore

Warning: there are spoilers.

It’s come to my attention over the past year or two that Potter fans online aren’t too happy with Albus Dumbledore.

They aren’t happy that he sent Harry to the Dursleys. They aren’t happy that he made mistakes in his past. But like most characters in the series, they all have light and dark inside of them. What matters, like Sirius said, is the part they choose to act on.

I, for one, don’t think Dumbledore is a bad character. Rowling’s characters often have shades of good and bad, but Dumbledore changed his life around to what I think is the better. Sure, he originally sided with a power-hungry wizard, but that was partially because he didn’t want to stand up against it and jeopardize their friendship. Not that I’m advocating for that, but the fact that he was able to turn against those ideals says a lot more than people who are power-hungry from the beginning and never learn. Voldemort was not one of them.

What about his relationship with Harry? Snape accuses him of raising Harry like a pig for slaughter, and sometimes, he doesn’t always explain things to Harry straight out. But in the magical world of prophecies that must come true–in this case, neither can live while the other survives–there isn’t really a lot that Dumbledore could have done other than prepare him for what is to come. That is a hard fact of wizarding life. It’s not the only hard truth either. One can wipe another’s memory, control another, or torture with one flick of a wand. These flaws make the wizarding world much more real. Such is true of prophecies. Overall, though, I have a hard time believing that Dumbledore doesn’t care about Harry. Does he make mistakes? Would it have been better to be honest from the beginning? Possibly. However, Dumbledore wanted him to have a childhood, so his intentions weren’t bad ones.

He did, however, do a good job of training up Harry for battle and unlocking the keys to Voldemort’s past. He couldn’t help his allegedly untimely death, so even though Harry was on his own by that point he had some good preparation and friends to help him out. (When he left out the Mirror of Erised, and discovered him in the dungeons at the end of the book, he certainly wasn’t disappointed in Harry. He knew where his life was going and wanted to give him a chance to take on Voldemort.) This isn’t so terrible, since Harry has proven himself to have solved complex mysteries with the help of Ron and Hermione. Dumbledore may not have been able to straight out explain the things he left out for them in the will, seeing that if it fell into the wrong hands, someone else may be inspired to try and take on Voldemort themselves (or worse), whilst the trio were more than capable of coming to their own conclusions.

And then there’s the matter of the Dursleys. No doubt that it’s an abusive environment. Still, Dumbledore did sort of take steps to protect Harry while he lived there. The Howler he sent to Petunia in Book Five was a good example of this; Petunia, in turn, listened and kept Harry in the house. Petunia would never have allowed anything truly terrible to happen; not that her behavior shows this, but it wasn’t obvious to Harry at the time. Harry was obviously fed and cared for to some degree as a child. He went to school. He didn’t sit in a cupboard for his entire life. Obviously, Petunia was willing to work with Dumbledore somewhat, so his intentions weren’t awful. Another detail that I’ve just picked up on, too, was the reminder of Mrs. Figg living down the street. Although the was a Squib, she was able to keep an eye on him. Of course, was this life at the Dursleys perfect? Definitely not. The important part was that he had a place to call home. Upon leaving his first year at Hogwarts, he also seemed more capable of leaving himself to his own devices. Again, not a perfect home life, but Dumbledore’s plan was better than leaving Harry with no protection at all.

With that, then, let’s go to another argument I often see against Dumbledore: why didn’t Dumbledore give Sirius a second chance and let him sit in Azkaban? Because anyone could have betrayed their friends. He probably thought that Sirius did do it. Not many would have guessed that Pettigrew would have betrayed his friends, yet that is exactly what he did. Dumbledore is not at fault for any of this. If we are going to attack Dumbledore for not giving Sirius a second chance, we also have to attack him for not seeing what Pettigrew did, and for not giving Pettigrew that second chance, which doesn’t make sense.

Now of course there is his past. A love of power, a terrible friend, and the death of his sister. Yes, Dumbledore probably wasn’t that great of a guy back in the day. However, he’s clearly changed. And I think that that change is important. After all…”it matters not what someone is born, but what they grow to be.” That is why Dumbledore is a strong character. He learned from past mistakes to be a great mentor to Harry and a legendary headmaster of Hogwarts. Being a wise old wizard of his type creates an illusion of perfect wisdom, which is why readers may see flaws and be fast to point out that as soon as he’s flawed, he’s a bad character. I personally respect him, and he is one of my favorite wise old wizards of all time.

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Stories of My Childhood: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

What is the book about?

For those who don’t yet know, a well-known candymaker has gone off the grid for a long time, but is reopening his factory to a lucky few. If you find a golden ticket in your chocolate bar, you’ve won a tour of the factory. The winners include greedy Augustus, spoiled Veruca, gum-chewer Violet, and TV fan Mike, but there’s also Charlie. Charlie comes from a poor family and doesn’t have much, but he’s about to get more than he ever dreamed.

How did I discover it?

Picture this. It’s 2005. You’re at your classroom library having just finished your independent reading book. You need a new choice. Choices are primarily:

*dated-feeling novels about kids living in super-rural America
*starring Chosen Ones in fantasy-based Middle Eastern environments
*starring kids who had wacky (but not wacky enough to be exciting or outlandish; more wacky in a “nontraditional” sense) relatives
*escapist classics like Anne of Green Gables, again in rural areas
*tales about kids traveling to Europe to find themselves or visit wacky (“nontraditional”) relatives, again usually rural (Rural settings were the “missing dad” trope of the 90s/early 2000s…they were EVERYWHERE.)
*kids living with strict grandparents, also often probably in rural areas

This was my problem. Kids today should thank their lucky stars that they have the book choices they do. And I had some good, modern-feeling series too…Junie B Jones, Abby Hayes, etc. But when it came to actual classroom choices, stories were more stuffy. While many of these books are fine, reading started to become the same thing over and over again. And then you come across Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Suddenly you’re not in the farm fields of the USA, but in a wacky factory. The kids are interesting rather than somewhat flawed do-gooders of my fifth grade books.

What do I like about the book?

If you’ve never read a Roald Dahl book, you should! His narration style is unlike any other. It’s very conversational and includes a lot of entertaining comments. It’s just a fun, exciting read that doesn’t try to impress you with prose. Dahl does not talk down to his readers and adults will find things to like too.

And it’s just a fun adventure. For the first time in a while, I was excited for reading time to see what would happen next and see what surprises were around the corner. [I liked James and the Giant Peach for many of the same reasons (my first grade teacher read it to us), but I haven’t read that book in so long that I’m not touching on it this series.] The characters were well-drawn, and I loved the grandparents. Finally, a kooky relative that wasn’t gruff or out of touch! Yes, I do like Grandpa Joe. Fight me.

The enjoyment also is in the reading of the prose. Reading detailed descriptions of the factory. Listening to Grandpa Joe talk about the wacky Prince Pondicherry. And there’s a good lesson to top it off. Granted, readers know what’s coming, but it’s presented in a really interesting way.

Digging deeper into the fandom

There is actually some really good fan fiction for the novel out there. In high school, I came across a particularly good one where each character was driving home in a taxi and describes their interactions with the driver. If I come across it again, I’ll post it here.

You might also find yourself torn between the two films and this has sparked debate. I personally like the original from the 70s. People complain that the original deviates too much, but I’d argue that the Depp version deviates even more (I find that most differences in the original are pretty minor and the things that they do change work very well with the movie).

Another way I see the fandom popping up is through Grandpa Joe hate groups on social media. The premise is that Grandpa is this lazy guy who pretends to be unable to get up until he gets chocolate or wins a golden ticket. But I’m inclined to disagree!

Favorite memory involving the books

Honestly, just reading it during silent reading time at school. Sometimes my best friend and I would poke each other and show the other a funny line or scene. I remember doing that here too. One particular day was a photo retake day for me, and I was miffed that I’d have to miss reading time to go retake my photo. As I said, it was a book that was different and that I really looked forward to reading.

My thoughts about the book now

It’s just an enjoyable today as it is now. Because the author doesn’t really talk down to people, these nostalgic stories have staying power.

Check out more books from my childhood:

Pig William
Go Dog Go
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing (+ series)
The Adventures of Captain Underpants (+ series)

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Is J.K. Rowling a Bad Author For Not Including Enough Representation?

I’ve been seeing this one all over Pinterest/Tumblr posts. J.K. Rowling’s wizarding world is so big, so vast, that many wonder: why aren’t LGBTQ issues discussed? Why aren’t there people of different sexualities? Unfortunately, these thoughts tend to turn into hateful remarks about Rowling herself.

So I’ll answer this question right now:

No.

Here’s why.

We already know Rowling is a tolerant person.

This may be irrelevant, but I don’t care. She speaks out against Trump, even though she’s not from the U.S. She donates a considerable part of her salary to charities. Her books speak volumes about the importance of coming together (more on that in a bit). We know that she’s a good person politically, so I’m not sure why the vile comments about her are necessary to begin with.

Some of these topics weren’t talked about much when the books were published.

Some gen-z Tumblr users may not even be aware that the first few books were fare of the 1990s. This wasn’t a hot-button issue yet. .Would it have been nice for the LGBTQ community to feel more respected in the 1950s, or the 90s, or whenever? Yes. But the truth was that it just wasn’t talked about very much, so you weren’t going to see it in a lot of literature. You can’t always blame people who grew up in a different time. Because it wasn’t a hot topic, you can’t really expect it to be written about. Rowling can’t just grab a Time-Turner and rewrite everything to accommodate. If these books were just being published now, though, it wouldn’t surprise me if there wasn’t a need for this argument.

It’s unfair to assume high expectations and politically correct things from authors whose novels were published in a different time. Take the time period with a grain of salt. Even so, there are enough messages about tolerance and equality here that I don’t think complaining about the lack of certain groups is worthwhile; the message in these books obviously spreads to all minorities. You just can’t expect to hold published authors to the standards of your day–that’s like criticizing a non-offensive 1950s novel for having the main character be a housewife. Maybe it wouldn’t fly today depending, but as a product of its time, it’s fine. And if the character is a good, well-drawn character, who cares if she’s not Wonder Woman even if it was written in 2010?

The books’ themes already heavily deal with topics of love and tolerance.

This is literally everywhere. Voldemort’s entire regime revolved around racism, or the idea that “pure bloods” (wizards from strictly magical families) were much better and “purer” than “half bloods” or “mudbloods,” wizards coming from families including non-magical people. In reality, this makes no difference just as white people are no better than those who are black. Additionally, there are characters of many races mentioned. As seen in early debates over the Cursed Child play, just because a character’s race isn’t stated doesn’t automatically make them white– Hermione could easily be black if you wanted her to be. There are many more instances of togetherness too…encouragements by side characters for the houses to get along; teamwork in the Triwizard Tournament; I could go on forever. Just because an author doesn’t discuss one particular facet of diversity, this doesn’t automatically make her a bigot and nowhere is this more obvious than in the Harry Potter series. I feel strongly about equal rights. So you wouldn’t call me a bigot for not writing about it in my last novella, would you?

Quite frankly, given that Rowling is presumably straight herself, the Tumblr community would probably be jumping on her for “getting things wrong” anyway. Either way, you’re looking at an argument.

Finally, it’s not like everyone is white and middle/upper class. Just a few diverse characters in the series for anyone who needs reminding: the Patil twins, Hermione (perhaps), Cho Chang, Dean Thomas (and arguably Seamus), Anthony Goldstein, and Angelina Johnson.

Not all authors delve into issues that aren’t their own.

Many writers tend to write their MCs from their own experiences. This can often be because they just don’t know what it’s like to be of a different race, country, or sexuality. I feel like many bloggers or authors would probably have a problem if Rowling tried to make one of her main characters gay and got details “wrong” (see previous paragraph). Also, considering the time period, doing research might have been trickier. On the other hand, equality in general is a longtime issue relevant not just to everyone in the real world, but in the books as well.

There wasn’t enough time to delve into romance issues to begin with–which is fine, because that’s not what the books are about.

Even with Harry, Ron, and Hermione, romance is barely touched on. (Keep in mind that most of what we see of the Harry/Ginny relationship are aspects expanded on by the fandom. There’s really barely anything between them in the novels.) And then there’s other characters. I really don’t want to be seeing Dean Thomas’ love affair with a Slytherin seventh-year male when I could be reading about the fight to defeat Voldemort. Similarly, I’ve also heard complaints about not enough Jewish wizards. Schoolmate Anthony Goldstein is indeed Jewish, but it would be distracting and irrelevant if Rowling focused too much time on a minor character’s religion (or even Harry’s, as it’s not relevant to the book at all). Some Tumblr folk might say that this could be as easy as dropping a detail, like two boys kissing in a corridor, but that can be distracting if you hear about it all the time. As a book blogger, I would probably call an author out on this type of thing for constantly distracting us with pointing out the sexuality or background of random characters. Doing so feels forced. A recent novel I read did a bit of this and rather than necessarily being diverse, it was kind of a distraction. You can’t cover every issue in books this size. However, what they do cover about acceptance, they cover well.

Still, we wonder: are gay characters ever going to become the majority? Maybe not, because it’s unrealistic…most of the world’s community identifies as straight. However, it’s also not realistic to not include people of other orientations. We’re a big world, and we should strive to get to know each other and showcase each other a bit more. I personally would like to see more books around LGBTQ characters where the focus isn’t their sexual orientation. But there are many more books for that.

Mostly I’d like to add that the vile, insulting, hateful comments towards a clearly well-meaning author that I’m seeing online completely erase the meaning of what the angry blogger is trying to say about tolerance. Authors’ failure to address a certain issue in their work doesn’t mean they are evil villains perpetuating privilege. Common sense 101: not everyone can talk about every issue in every book. If bloggers are writing spiteful things about well-meaning authors, the issue lies with the blogger, not the book. So-called social justice warriors would do well to make sure they are not accidentally practicing what they are protesting. As Dumbledore put it, accidental rudeness still occurs alarmingly often. I hope that we don’t give up on these great, important stories because a few internet bloggers decided that there weren’t enough minority characters to their liking.