Dear Guardian, Dumbledore Is Many Things, But “Kind” is Not One of Them
Several weeks ago, the Guardian posted a list of the kindest fictional characters in children’s books in celebration of Kindness Day. The website used the parameters of “a list of the tenderest, sweetest, and kindest characters in all of children’s fiction. We all love the good guy in a book, but the people who help the good guy are often the goodest of the good, so they might not be the people you were expecting…” to describe kindness. Dumbledore clocked in as NO. 2 on the kindest character list.
The writer of the article, Natalie Tipping, earnestly explains that while “Perhaps not as obviously kind as Grandpa Joe, Professor Dumbledore… frequently puts himself in danger to try to find a way to destroy Lord Voldemort and the [D] ark forces [that[ threaten the lives of witches and wizards everywhere. Dumbledore places Harry in the care of his aunt and uncle at the start of the series and watches over him from afar for his entire childhood before he starts at Hogwarts.”
Um. Not quite.
First of all, kindness is such a weird, subjective way to measure character. Even the definition that the author provided is contradictory – what exactly separates kindness from “good”-ness?
As expected, this article generated the best kind of heated debate among MuggleNet’s Creative Team. Then the conversation veered sharply off into the fascinating terrain of appearing kind, of being perceived as kind, when the character absolutely wasn’t.
*Cough, cough* Umbridge, the scourge of the HP ‘verse, donned in all that pink and with all those cats.
See also: Every Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, save for Lupin.
So. Let’s play a game of Is This Character Really Kind?
“I take so much issue with most of this list,” MN Journalist & Fan Interaction staff member Mary declares. “Seriously, though, I could argue the case for so many characters over Dumbledore. And Grandpa Joe! And Boo Radley. Because Dumbledore is relatively kind, but he isn’t without some major flaws. For example, using the bond of blood charm to protect Harry. And then in various interactions with Harry and other people, it’s like, ‘Hahaha, no, I basically used you to advance my own agenda. Sucker!’ And then Harry goes and names one of his kids after him.” She shakes her head.
Creative Team intern Eleanor thoroughly agrees: “Dumbledore was a ruthless maniac, as far as I’m concerned.”
MN Journalist Sophie chimed in, saying that “the use of Dumbledore seems completely contradicted, in the opening, when they say the characters are never selfish or mean.”
Overall, while he may have flashes of kindness, he’s too much of a mixed bag to be the most kind within the whole series. (There’s Creative Social Media intern Kelly, ever so delicate and politician-like with her final verdict, as anyone versed in social media should be.)
Is he really kind? No.
Kelly rallied behind Hermione as most kind. She explains that, “For me, I think kindness is about treating everyone with respect and being nice to those who are often neglected. I associate kindness with empathy, which she has a lot of. To that extent, Hagrid and Hermione both are very kind souls, always accepting and paying attention to the needs of creatures big or small.”
Eleanor absolutely dissents: “Hermione has her own agenda – look at her work with the house[-]elves. Yes, in the long run it was good, but she would not accept that her way may not be the best way despite evidence (Winky drinking and depressed after being dismissed, etc.) to the contrary. Hermione is many things, but her own judgement gets in the way of being truly accepting, unlike the kindness exhibited by people like Hagrid and Molly.”
Is she really kind? Maybe; it depends on your definition of kindness.
Sophie muses that, yes, Luna is kind, but that’s not her overriding characteristic. And indeed, the word “loyal” and “steadfast” are much more apropos in describing her than “kind” is. Something about the word “kind” is off-kilter – if we should apply it to Luna (as most things are).
HOWEVER. Luna is kind. She’s just not capital-K kind, as defined by the original article. She’s not beatific or tender or overwhelmingly sweet.
Is she really kind? Yeeeeeeees? *hesitant*
In the early days of HP fandom, a fabulous theory floated about – of McGonagall secretly being a Death Eater. While the overriding theory stems from McGonagall seeming boring – which, dear author, EXCUSE ME – the author of the essay comes up with a fabulous, very relevant point to this post: “Since when in Potterverse has being nice constituted being good?”
However, with the advent of Pottermore, JKR quickly put the boot into that theory: “I knew, however, that when the consummate outsider and non-Hogwartian Dolores Umbridge attempted to oust Sybill from the school, Minerva McGonagall, who has been critical of Trelawney on many occasions, would show the true kindness of her character and rally to her defense.”
Is she really kind? Yes.
Hagrid, oh, Hagrid. Yes, you are so very kind. He literally bookends Harry’s wizarding life, ferrying him into Diagon Alley and Hogwarts and then cradling his seemingly lifeless body back to Harry’s first real home at the near end of the Second Wizarding War.
Hagrid is the only character whose capacity for kindness actually gets him into hot water. He is so utterly trusting and willing to see the goodness in people, to see the best in people, that some of his actions can even be labeled foolish or naïve.
This is not a bad thing. In a universe that black-and-white subcategorizes good and bad with the ability to feel remorse versus the ability to manipulate others, Hagrid is refreshingly consistent and one-dimensional in that one, specific regard.
Is he really kind? Yes.
Molly effing Weasley.
At first, she was a wide-brushed caricature of a character, a woman the exact opposite of Petunia Dursley. She fussed after her family but in a way that was at complete odds with the gushing favoritism of Harry’s aunt. She was round and warm and had no qualms at taking in a proxy son. She was gentle and loving but had a temper that was to be feared, even in a family that was made up of mostly boys.
After settling Molly into her role as Weasley mother, JKR let loose the reins of caricature and began fully fleshing out her character. Not only was Molly a skilled housewife, but she could also hold her own in any battle, whether that was against the Malfoys’ snide remarks or against Voldemort’s right-hand soldier. Not only was Molly fiercely loyal to her family, but she was absolutely, to-the-last-second loyal to her extended Order of the Phoenix family.
Man. If any one character had a lasting effect on Harry, it’s not Dumbledore – the elusive, ever mysterious man, with motives and secrets kept resentfully close – it is Molly. And to put the cherry on top, she is both objectively good and subjectively kind.
Is she really kind? A RESOUNDING yes!
I saved the best for last: daring, clever, wonderful, complicated, funny, brave Remus Lupin.
Oh, Lupin, you hit me right in the feels.
You, who outlived all of your closest friends, only to die in battle, barely a decade older, much more weary than you had any right to be. You, who had been cursed with social stigma and outcast status because of a masochistic werewolf on a remorseless rampage. You, who were convinced that you had no right to any kind of happiness, so you foolishly withdrew from Tonks’s defiant love. You, who were one of the very few who saw Harry as a person in his own right, not the likeness of James, not the green-eyed legacy of Lily, not the Boy Who Lived.
Defining kindness as some sort of measure of tenderness and innate goodness, as a way to sort the good from the bad – these definitions don’t do the word and concept justice. Kindness is not just a way to identify those who help the hero/good guy. The ability to which someone can throw his or her life in the way of an incoming grenade or obstacle does not in any way equate to how kind he or she is.
To be truly kind is to be able to continue living, continue succeeding, continue persevering even in the face of trials, to either wait patiently in the background or to throw your lot in with whoever needs it, to look outside of yourself and try to see what impact even the tiniest of your actions can have. You don’t need to be a reclusive wunderkind or a self-sacrificing hero to be kind. You don’t even need to have a quirky catchphrase. Just think “What Would Lupin Do?” and you’ll be fine.
Is he really kind? ALL HANDS RAISED SAY AYE!
Who would make it onto your list of kind characters?