Monday, 20 July 2009

Nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak, thank you

Ever since I wrote an unhappy blog post about Harry Potter, I've been thinking I should write a happy one, to balance things out. I've always - or at least for a long a time - been fascinated by Dumbledore's welcome speech in the first book. Dumbledore himself could be the topic of an entire book, so I'm sure the speech is enough of a base for one measly blog post.

Nitwit: Ron said Dumbledore was "off his rocker", but still brilliant. From his very first day at Hogwarts - and probably even before that - Albus Dumbledore was different. I doubt that he appreciated it as an eleven year old, but by the time Harry meets him, Dumbledore is different with style. It's a bit like the way being a geek or a nerd can be a good thing, these days, if you do it with confidence. Perhaps we could class Dumbledore as a protogeek.

Blubber: I suppose the odds are that Rowling was thinking of whale fat when she chose this word, but that's not the association I have with it. 'Blubber' makes me think of the beginning of Lewis's The Magician's Nephew when Polly thinks Diggory should wash his face, especially when he's been blubbing. So to me, 'blubber' means 'cry', like Harry does in the hospital wing after saving the Philospher's Stone. Dumbledore, we are told, became very interested in a bird outside the window at that point.

I think it is very like Dumbledore not to notice that Harry is crying, but to do it actively, rather than passively. He's not embarrassing Harry and he's precluded any need for an explanation. He's definitely conscious of what's going on, though, and Harry knows it. Personally, I'm also inclined to think that Dumbledore was genuinely interested in that bird, but I don't have any evidence to back up that conclusion!

Oddment: in particular, one silver Put-Outer. In the first book, the Put-Outer is a fun gadget and our first real introduction to the world of magic. It's soon eclipsed by more exciting developments. When the Put-Outer appeared much later in the series, in the hands of The Order of the Phoenix, it struck me as ominously significant. It symbolised the moving of the series from something almost childish and whimsical to something darker and more serious. It's also a milestone along the path of Dumbledore's development from a relatively simple spin on the mad scientist stereotype to a complex, confusing and significant entity.

In the first book, the Put-Outer has a Nesbitt-ish feel too it. More than most of the story it is whimsical and light-hearted. Real and serious things are happening, but gloom does not threaten. When it next emerges, it is a tool in the battle against evil. The story has moved from bright, suburban Privet Drive to the unpleasant Grimauld Place. I wouldn't say that either type of story is better, but there's a very distinct difference between the two.

Tweak: Dumbledore uses a variation on some well known spells to knock out the ministry wizards before his escape in Order of the Phoenix. It's one of the moments when his sheer genius shines through. Despite the urgency of the plot, it was enough to make me stop and reevaluate Dumbledore's intelligence. I knew he was bright, of course. He has his own chocolate frog card. He discovered all those uses for dragon's blood, which I'm sure future Potions students will curse him for, like some Muggle Maths sudents curse Pythagoras.

Despite all that, it was the way Dumbledore tweaked the spells that impressed me. He did it on the fly. He defeated a fair number of powerful wizards. He did it thouroughly, and he didn't even break a sweat, or the magical equialent. He calmly issued instructions and moved on. That's not just smart. That was not the product of hours of hard work over a cauldron. That was mindblowing genius. It's probably harder to do than Numerical Analysis, which I hear is pretty bad.

Thank you: People often seem to leave this word out when they quote the speech. Admittedly, it doesn't have the ring that the body does, but it's still part of the speech. Because it's there, we know that Dumbledore's a gentleman. He's not always nice - I wouldn't like to stand in the shoes of some of the Ministry officials - but at the least I think he could be called suave. It comes full circle, back to the element of style.


  1. I enjoyed this post. I have not read Potter; I have left my knowledge of the books to the movie makers and my nephew, who is the walking, talking annotated version of all the texts.

    You make the character of Dumbledore accessible. I have seen him as a character who has learned from everything he has experienced and brought it all with him. Maybe that's why he can adapt on the fly.

    I think part of his wisdom is also his understanding that he must adapt to his circumstances to change them. He has the flexibility of mind that makes change, and leadership, happen.

    Thanks for this post. I like your blog very much.

  2. I really appreciate that, Sandy!

    I think you're spot-on about Dumbledore learning from experience. Especially *mumble*spoiler-for-number-seven*mumble. That is, it's a strong trait of his.

    Also: your nephew sounds awesome. Everyone should have a nephew/cousin/sibling/other relative like him.

  3. Great entry! These are really thoughtful comments regarding Harry Potter characters. I have had "read HP series" on my to do list for about a million years. This entry just might make me actually go to the library with a purpose this weekend.

  4. Thank you! I hope you do decide to read them now. If you need any more encouragement, they start off as fairly light, but very captivating, so really, the only effort involved is getting hold of it. [[End attempt to convert]]

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