Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Trust, but verify

"Don't follow leaders
Watch the parkin meters"
-B. Dylan, 1965

NOTE: Please be aware that the following paragraphs contain spoilers to the Harry Potter series. Okay, you've been warned.

J.K. Rowling is touring the United States this week, meeting with thousands of school-aged children, signing their copies of the Harry Potter books, and doing interviews. MTV reports that she spoke on the surprising contrast of the characters of Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts, and Severus Snape, the Potions Master who finally becomes the Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher before replacing Dumbledore as Headmaster. Here's the excerpt from the MTV article:
"Although [Dumbledore] seems to be so benign for six books, he's quite a Machiavellian figure, really. He's been pulling a lot of strings. Harry has been his puppet," she explained. "When Snape says to Dumbledore [toward the end of 'Hallows'], 'We've been protecting [Harry] so he could die at the right moment' — I don't think in book one you would have ever envisioned a moment where your sympathy would be with Snape rather than Dumbledore."
Albus Dumbledore as a Machiavellian figure is one of the most surprising, if not shocking, parts of the final book in the series, The Deathly Hallows. In that book we learn more about Dumbledore than we could ever imagine, including learning that he is not Gandolf, or Merlin, or even Obi Wan Kenobi. He is a far more complex character that we could have imagined - but since we had only seen him through the eyes of a young Harry, it took new eyes to see him as his true self.

In the course of the final book, Harry learns what Dumbledore had intended for him all along and how he brilliantly (?) prepared Harry to make the decisions he would eventually make for himself (?) in the closing chapters of Deathly Hallows. Harry has to come to terms with facing a temptation that his own mentor, Dumbledore, was not able to resist - would he pursue the altruistic goal or would he pursue power? Would he follow in his mentor's footsteps and rationalize the pursuit of power as the way to achieve his altruistic goal? Or would he resist the temptation to pursue personal power and instead follow the way of the cross of sacrifice and giving up power?

That is at the heart of the entire series, now that we've come to the end and can look back. Harry's journey can be now contrasted with the journey of his mentor, Albus Dumbledore.

Why does Jo Rowling call Dumbledore Machiavellian? That is going to be a new concept to many young readers and perhaps not a few older ones as well. Who was Machiavelli?

According to Wikil, "Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli (May 3, 1469June 21, 1527) was an Italian diplomat, political philosopher, musician, poet, and playwright. He is a figure of the Italian Renaissance and a central figure of its political component, most widely known for his treatises on realist political theory (The Prince) on the one hand and republicanism (Discourses on Livy) on the other."

To be "Machiavellian" by today's standards is basically to be a person who seeks to be publicly above reproach but privately may be required to do things that could be seen as morally questionable - or even evil - in order to achieve "the greater good."

In Machiavelli's best known work "The Prince" (and isn't that an interesting name if you know your Harry Potter) Wiki describes the outcome of that work like this: "The primary contribution of "The Prince" to the history of political thought is its fundamental break between realism and idealism. While Machiavelli emphasized the need for morality, the sole motivation of the prince ought to be the use of good and evil solely as instrumental means rather than ends in themselves. A wise prince is one who properly exercises this proper balance. Pragmatism is a guiding thread through which Machiavelli bases his philosophy. The Prince should be read strictly as a guidebook on getting to and preserving power."

We learn that Dumbledore struggled with this conflict, to his very end. The person who appeared to be the most "Machiavellian" - Severus Snape - turned out to be far more the idealist than Dumbledore himself. While no doubt an unsavory character, Snape consistently saves Harry's life because of his love for Lily Evans, Harry's mother, and his loyalty to Albus Dumbledore. Snape is shocked to learn that Dumbledore plans all along for Harry to sacrifice his life to save the wizarding world from Voldemort and that Dumbledore's tutelage of his young student is in preparation for that anticipated event. Full stop.

What are we to take away from this? When one is working in altruistic or even idealist endeavors, there will come that moment when it is discovered that not everyone is on the same road. Many start out on the same road - Dumbledore certainly did - and then got sidetracked by the seduction of power (those deathly hallows). Even the best of leaders can have this happen. Power corrupts. Machiavelli seemed to think that power could be harnessed for "good" but that is an ideal in itself for it does not take into consideration the affect power has on the human soul. The best way to set aside such concerns is to downplay the existence of the human soul or better yet, to change the parameters of what is "good" and what is "evil." If words are just metaphor and that metaphor can be changed, then this can apply to even works like "good" and "evil" or perhaps to words like "sin" and "holy." In other words, your "truth" may not be the same as my "truth." The pursuit becomes the goal - and that slides into the quest and retention of power - the antithesis of the Gospel.

It is not hard to become Machiavellian, not hard at all - and the sooner we all know that, the better. The quest for the "greater good" can easily be lost as the quest to attain - perhaps even more so to retain - power takes over. No one is immune, not even Albus Dumbledore.

But we should also remember that those who quickly ascribe Machiavellian actions to others could only be certain by knowing those same principles in themselves. What was it Ronald Reagan said about the Soviets during the arms control negotiations? Trust but verify. Here's what Reagan said in his farewell address to the nation in 1989:
"What it all boils down to is this. I want the new closeness to continue. And it will, as long as we make it clear that we will continue to act in a certain way as long as they continue to act in a helpful manner. If and when they don't, at first pull your punches. If they persist, pull the plug. It's still trust but verify. It's still play, but cut the cards. It's still watch closely. And don't be afraid to see what you see."
Of course, he's talking about the Soviet Union, but it's not a bad piece of advice, especially when dealing with difficult and tension-filled times - or as Reagan said, "to work together to lessen and eliminate tension and mistrust."

Trust, but verify. Ask questions, get answers. Trust, but verify. When we stop trusting, we stop caring - so why question? Questioning means we care, we seek to trust.

Even Dumbledore answered Harry's questions - and he told him the truth.


inked said...

BB, I think you have the nail hit on the proverbial head here! In a world that pretends to pluriform truths and even the righteous are tmepted to use power incorrectly in the name of the greater good, no child left behind certainly means that exposure to reality politics cannot come soon enough. Sadly, the world being the fallen place that it is, even our mentors must teach us better than they did. And that is not hypocrisy, it is wisdom. That can be seen in the HP series even when one is yelling at one's parents that to forbid drugs on the basis of experience is "hypocrisy". Just don't tell the kids, okay?

Charlie Peppler said...

I have some bad news. JK Rowling just outed Dumbledore. She says he's gay. This may add some background reason for his... complexity.

BabyBlue said...

Who's bad news is it, Charlie?

It's important to read this last book. I'm not so sure this is good news to the gay community since we learn in Deathly Hallows that Dumbledore is not the kind and wise old man he has appeared to be throughout the series as is in fact a manipulator and schemer - a very conflicted one at that. Is this an accurate representation of an archtypical gay person? Or is it a stereotype? As we've written here, it turns out that Dumbledore was - as Jo Rowling has also stated - Machiavellian in his treatment of Harry Potter. Even Snape is shocked by the revelation.

Deathly Hallows does allude that Dumbledore and Grindewald engage in a friendship that is emeshed in one another and unhealthly. Their "breakup" leads to the death of Dumbeldore's little sister. Grindewald becomes one of the most evil characters ever - on par with Voldemort (who later kills him) and again, I wonder how the gay community will feel about that. It is not an idealized relationship by any means, not like the idealized relationships I would hear about during hearing testimonies at General Convention, for example, where everything is blessed and certainly not obsessive and idolatrous.

The article says this:

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. "Falling in love can blind us to an extent," Rowling said of Dumbledore's feelings, adding that Dumbledore was "horribly, terribly let down."

Dumbledore's love, she observed, was his "great tragedy."

What if I said that what happened to Dumbledore was obsession and idolatry and that led to his "great tragedy" including his own obsession with power, the "deathly hallows?"

Before Christians jump at this news, we should read the book. The "love" is destructive and it costs a girl her life. The 1940s wizard battle with Grindelwald parallels World War II and the atrocities committed by the Nazis. Is this the sort of image the gay community would like to see attached to their character? I don't think so.

I am very surprised that Jo Rowling would add the homosexual dynamic to the relatinship between these two titanic characters, for it reveals the inherent destructive nature of obsession and idolatry, which if you read Leanne Payne would tell us is at the heart of homosexual behavior. Both of these characteristics we learn was also the terrible flaw of the character of Albus Dumbledore. I am just surprised Jo Rowling would want to open up that can of worms.


Charlie Peppler said...

I have a confession. I have not read the last book, and the news hit me, and made me very angry at JK Rowling.

The last paragraph in her article said:
Not everyone likes her work, Rowling said, likely referring to Christian groups that have alleged the books promote witchcraft. Her news about Dumbledore, she said, will give them one more reason.

In reading that last paragraph, I picture JK Rowling, having waited until the last book tour after the last book, chortling to herself on the way to the bank, laughing at the Christian community, after revealing the underlying political message of Dumbledore being a mentor to the prototypical adolescent, while all along, having other intentions.

I see an author as being the "God" of the world that they create in their stories. They have the ultimate authority. I've only read the first couple of HP books, and have never grown to fully trust JK Rowling's world view, so I hesitate to commit myself into the author's hands, and absorbing the world that she's created. I can trust Tolkein and CS Lewis, and can fully immerse myself in the worlds they create, with a trust that they are not hiding ulterior messages, or if they are, they come from a world view that will lead them deeper into a trusting relationship with the creator.

I'm now a parent of 4 girls, and I'm concerned _deeply_ about the worlds they immerse themselves in, the underlying world view of the author, and how that will shape their mind. I have not yet come to trusting their minds fully into JK Rowlings hand.

I must confess, my immediate reaction was that she had deceived a Christian worldview, and piggy backed on several Christian themes, only to have the final twist, of injecting the political message of Gay is OK, and we can safely look up to wise old men who will watch over them, and point them in the right direction. Pictures of Greek culture, where becoming a "man" entailed having sex with an older man.

My confession is that these conclusions are not based on what she actually wrote.

I'm still not sure I completely trust the author's world view, and have become very wary of getting duped (particularly with such a cultural phenomena as the Potter series).

I'm also not sure I want to commit the time to plowing through the whole series, when I struggle to have the time to even be with my kids.

I posted this because I knew that you had really entered into this world, and I was sincerely interested in your reaction.

Trust, but verify. I haven't yet come to trust JK Rowling.

BabyBlue said...

But you see, that's the point, Charlie. We learn in Deathly Hallows - after six books - that Albus Dumbledore in fact is NOT the best "mentor to the prototypical adolescent." This revelation to Harry is devastating - Dumbledore's infactuation with Grindelwald - now in all its complexities - caused the death of an innocent girl's life, a death that haunted Dumbledore for the rest of his life. In fact, in Half-Blood Prince, when Dumbledore has the horrific visions in the cave, he is reliving that period of his life with Grindewald. This is not the positive remaking of a myth for the gay community. I would encourage those who are calling this a triumph to read the book first then make your case. Harry has to "break" from Dumbledore during the course of the seventh book and he has a huge confrontation with the "dead" Dumbledore in King's Cross near the end of the book (sorry, spoilers, but what can I tell you?). Dumbledore is all about choices and he chooses not to live out his same-sex attractions, he instead choses a celibate life, which is what evangelicals preach.

The character of Albus Dumbledore is not the stuff of children's fiction - you will not find Rowlings characters in Narnia, though you might find them in Charlotte or Emily Bronte or perhaps - on a good day - Jane Austin and Charles Dickens. Dumbledore is a tragic figure who makes better choices - but I'm not sure they are the choices advocated by the leadership of the Episcopal Church.

At the same time, am I comfortable with putting this piece of information to young children? I'm not so sure about that - and in that way I might argue that Jo Rowling was reckless last night. We'll see. I know she's received a lot of criticism from gay activists for not creating an "outed" gay character in the books (there was a lot of speculation about Remus Lupin but that was finished in seventh book as well - you sure could have read between the lines on him, if you know the books - but that was not to be). I can imagine the criticism she's received because I've seen the expectations in the HP reading communities. Lupin was a werewolf living a sublife because he was not accepted by the wizarding community - the analogies were all there. But in final book we see that was not the case at all, talk about a twist. If you know your Potter you will know what I'm talking about.

That Albus Dumbledore, the eccentric, celibate bachelor, headmaster of a school who liked candy and socks is a caricature again of the English Boarding School. But Dumbledore's inner world is far more complex, and again - perhaps not the one the gay community would like to have as a champion. That is one of the spoilers, one of the BIG SURPRISES of Deathly Hallows. I am surprised that Jo Rowling would want to do this at this time, but there we are. If we're going to raise up the standard of Albus Dumbledore, then its all of him. One of the big surprises in the final book is that the one who was most devoted to keeping Harry safe was not Dumbledore after all - but someone else we would never have expected or have known the reasons why (though some of us did guess!).

Contrasting the heterosexual relationships with the one homosexual "relationship" (and it's not clear it got that far, actually, since Rowling is saying it was unrequited) in Harry Potter is still in line with the Christian view. We are all born in sin, evil exists, and we have choices about what to do with what we know.

Dumbledore made his choice. Is it the standard by which gay activists would follow? I don't think so. That he reveals whether Christians truly love people, gay or straight - yes, that's a point. We can see by how people respond to this whether its the orientation or the actions that matter (and this goes for all sides).

Like I said, this is a fascinating development, but if we're going to discuss it, we would need to argue our points from the text. I will be interested to see - from the text, and not outside the canon - how this revelation will be handled.

I am not sure if Rowling should have sprung the news as she did, but my guess is because she has received criticism regarding the absence of gay characters in the series and with the characters that were "in question" turned out not to be so. But I don't know why she decided to do it now, at this point. She's not the only one to have speculated about Dumbledore, I might add. But what she did reveal about him in Deathly Hallows was far more shocking then even what she said last night in Carnegie Hall. And that's why people should read the final book before celebrating or not.


Charlie Peppler said...

I understand and respect your analysis, and as I said earlier, I have no arguments or even things to add to what you say from the content of the text.

Unfortunately, the public at large does not analyze literature. They typically read headlines, and that's about it. In that the headlines are all a big win for the gay agenda. Manipulating the press is the name of the game in marketing the gay message. In that, the simple announcement that "Dumbledore is gay" is a significant win in their marketing program.

It will also help to sell books.

Crass, I know, but I'm learning more and more about how the agenda is pushed forward, and the crew that marches in the streets of San Francisco are not particularly worried about the fine points of character development. To them, this announcement is simply a victory.

It makes me very sad, but we live in a brutish culture. Money (book sales) and short sound bite cultural affirmations (Dumbledore is gay) rule the day.

Whether Rowling did this intentionally or not, only she knows, but the end results will miss the fine points. The agenda rolls on.

May Christ have mercy on us.

DeeDee said...

Thank you for such a deep analysis of Dumbledor's character. I truly loved these books and as a Christian found their underlying principles a breath of fresh air expecially as they contrast to other modern books "for children" of this genre (although to be fair, Rowling said many books ago that she isn't writing with a young audience in mind.) She has also never claimed Christianity, so I agree with Charlie that one can't put themselves wholeheartedly into her hands as one might with Tolkein or Lewis. And before I go on to my own thoughts, may I wholeheartedly agree that I don't like Rowlings flippant "revelations" before young audiences --but such is the time we live in. Charlie, you're also right that soundbites sell and lack of analysis could make this a "win" for activists in the gay community.

That being said, I do believe that God's Truths leak into the darkest of worlds and I have been of the belief that this generation needs a story like Potter. The very fact that Rowling makes Dumbledore "gay" and yet has him lead a life quite apart from the modern gay persona is refreshing. He is complex and that seems "real" to me. His past is PAST -- he admits and is haunted by the sins of his youth -- and grave sins those are. Yet calling him simply "machiavellian" actually shows me that Rowling still doesn't completely understand the depth of the story she has created. Did not Albus Dumbledor ALSO give his own life for the betterment of the world? And I say he DID love Harry and wanted desperately to see him safe as long as possible, but he knew the extent to which Evil will seek to ruin the world, and he knew the price that is usually required to "atone" or "eradicate" that evil. Was God the Father "machiavellian" when he sent Jesus? The Bible goes to far to say "It pleased him" to offer Jesus to the world. No, I believe it greieved Albus greatly and it was Snape's immaturity that would truly cause him to miss the complex gravity of Dumbledore's actions.

It must seem odd for me to question what the author herself asserts about her character's motivations. However, although Rowling is the "god" of the Potter world to one extent, she is not coming from a worldview of God's Truth. There is a God greater than her who, once in a while, chooses to reach through even "pagan" artisans to grace the world with his truths. If this is the case in these books, I have no doubt that Rowling as of yet is incapable of fully fathoming the truths she has penned. Wouldn't it be fabulous for her to find a relationship with Christ then look back at her works with totally new eyes? I think she would be amazed at all she wrote without even knowing it.

Perhaps I am giving the books too much "glory" and if so, may I be proved wrong -- but I know that in our home they have led to nothing but deep and real reflections (at different levels with different ages) on the love of God and the great challenge of making loving choices in His world. I am eager to hear any response this illicits in you -- always willing to look deeper!

Charlie Peppler said...

[Note to other readers: DeeDee and I know each other, and our kids have grown up together]

I know your deep love for the Potter series. I also know that you have a deep love for God, and carry that with you, particularly when you travel closely along side your kids as you travel through the land Rowling has created. However, I believe that what you may interpret as God speaking through her writings may in fact be
you bringing your worldview into the interpretation of those writings.

I've done a little more research, not so much on the specifics of the Potter series, but the incredibly sophisticated machine of the forwarding of the gay agenda. I found this document called "After the Ball" that you really ought to read. It's been the textbook for the mass promotion and acceptance of the gay agenda in our society. It also may help you to see how effective it has been in shaping the emotional position of those around us.

I offer this quote from the book:

"When a bigot [any person not converted to the gay agenda] is presented with an image of the sort of person of whom he already has a positive stereotype, he experiences an involuntary rush of positive emotion, of good feeling; he's been conditioned to experience it. But, here, the good picture has the bad label--gay! (The ad [in this case, Rowlings books] may say something rather like 'Beauregard Smith--beer drinker, Good Ole Boy, pillar of the community, 100% American, and gay as a mongoose.') The bigot will feel two incompatible emotions: a good response to the picture, a bad response to the label. At worst, the two will cancel one another, and we will have successfully Jammed, as above. At best, Associative Conditioning will, to however small an extent, transfer the positive emotion associated with the picture to the label itself, not immediately replacing the negative response, but definitely weakening it .

You may wonder why the transfer wouldn't proceed in the opposite direction. The reason is simple: pictures are stronger than words and evoke emotional responses more powerfully. The bigot is presented with an actual picture; its label will evoke in his mind his own stereotypic picture, but what he sees in his mind's eye will be weaker than what he actually sees in front of him with the eyes in his face. The more carefully selected the advertised image is to reflect his ideal of the sort of person who just couldn't be gay, the more effective it will be. Moreover, he will, by virtue of logical necessity, see the positive picture in the ad before it can arouse his negative 'picture,' and first impressions have an advantage over second.

In Conversion, we mimic the natural process of stereotype- learning, with the following effect: we take the bigot's good feelings about all- right guys, and attach them to the label 'gay,' either weakening or, eventually, replacing his bad feelings toward the label and the prior stereotype ."

I think this is exactly what Rowling has done with Dumbledore on a massive, world wide basis.

All those positive emotions that have been built up in all those children's mind (particularly since they might not have been allowed to read the last book, or that the character/plot interweavings are too complex for them to sort out), transfer in their mind to a positive association with the concept of "gay".

Right out of the textbook.

I love you DeeDee, and I know how much you love these books. You carry that love right into your interpretation, and that is what protects your children, and God will use you to protect them.

I can't say the same thing for Rowling.