Did Umbridge Have a Point?: Dumbledore's Giant Mistake
Abstract: Discussing the possibility that, though Hagrid is a beloved character and friend to Harry, his competency as a teacher is reasonably questioned by Umbridge.
Harry is faced with an interesting conundrum in Order of the Phoenix: “Snape and Umbridge, the two teachers he hated most … it was hard to decide which he wanted to triumph over the other.” (OP362) Even I, with my professed dislike for Snape, was rooting for him to triumph over Umbridge – the vilest character in the series. However, I found myself in a similar quandary to Harry’s when Umbridge went after Hagrid. Because while I love to hate Umbridge, I just really dislike Hagrid, and think he is an appalling teacher, who has no place teaching at Hogwarts.
I know most of you are reaching for torches and pitchforks as you read this, ready to crucify me for condemning Hagrid, a lovable half-giant and loyal friend to Harry. But hear me out. While I am sure Hagrid means well, and he is indeed a good friend to Harry, he is a danger to the students. We view Hagrid through a typical Gryffindor mentality, since the books are told from Harry’s point of view – Hagrid is good, and can therefore do almost no wrong. But taking a step back to examine Hagrid’s actions paints a very different picture.
The truth is that Hagrid is reckless, thoughtless, and downright stupid at times – and this therefore makes him dangerous. He has a fascination with powerful and deadly creatures, yet deems it perfectly acceptable to bring children in contact with these creatures. He therefore does a disservice to both the creatures and the students. And frankly, Dumbledore should never have hired him as a teacher.
The reason Hagrid is so beloved is because Harry loves him. Yet Harry is hardly objective, so things that are viewed as good in his eyes may not be so. He sees Hagrid as a savior, coming to deliver him from the horrible Dursleys. Hagrid is his first friend, and becomes a mix of friend and father figure to Harry, so naturally Hagrid is forgiven everything.
Now, I will not begrudge Hagrid his carelessness and his fondness for alcohol – we can’t all be Hermiones in this world. However, one of the first things we see Hagrid do is cast a spell on Dudley, giving him a pig’s tail. When I was younger, I thought this was great. The horrible Dursleys got their comeuppance! Hagrid was a hero! But as I got older, I took another look at the situation.
The provocation for Hagrid is Uncle Vernon calling Dumbledore a “crackpot old fool” (SS59). This certainly isn’t very nice, since Dumbledore is awesome. However, does this really warrant Hagrid cursing Dudley? For starters, Dudley is an eleven-year-old kid, who has done NOTHING whatsoever to Hagrid. Dudley has not insulted anyone. He did not keep Harry’s history from him. Dudley is an innocent kid who has done nothing to incur Hagrid’s wrath.
Yet Hagrid decides that the appropriate punishment for Vernon insulting Dumbledore is to traumatize Vernon’s kid? It’s small wonder Dudley is terrified of magic after this encounter. Moreover, why was Vernon not the one who got a pig’s tail? Hagrid making Dudley pay for the sins of his father is ironic indeed, when considering the persecution Hagrid later faces based on the atrocities his mother has committed.
Some months later, Harry finds that Hagrid has hatched an illegal Norwegian Ridgeback in his wooden cabin – the first dangerous and stupid thing we see Hagrid doing. As Hermione points out, Hagrid is attempting to raise an illegal fire-breathing monster inside a wooden hut.
This arrangement is hardly ideal for any of the parties involved. Poor little Norbert (or Norberta) is isolated from other dragons and forced to live cooped up in a tiny little hut. The Trio is also miserable, trying to keep Hagrid’s activities a secret. And then Norbert bites Ron, a bloody and poisonous bite that sends Ron to the hospital wing. And according to Ron, “When [Norbert] bit me [Hagrid] told me off for frightening it.” (SS237) This is our first indication that Hagrid cares more for his monstrous charges than the well-being of his human friends.
Again, seeing all of this through Harry’s point of view, we loathe Draco and hate him for tattling about Hagrid and Norbert. And true, Draco’s ardent desire to get the Trio and Hagrid in trouble is detestable. However, reporting that Hagrid is raising an illicit dragon seems to me the right thing to do in this case. It’s something of a miracle that the whole issue gets resolved by the Trio and Charlie. But Norbert is child’s play compared with the creatures to follow.
Chamber of Secrets
For me, the turning point in my opinion of Hagrid was Chamber of Secrets. This is the book where we find out that he took it upon himself to raise a creature that actively eats humans inside a school, and then created a colony of these creatures to live in the forest adjacent to the school. I am referring, of course, to Aragog and his army of acromantulas… giant spiders with an appetite for humans.
At this point, I should admit a bias: I am an enormous arachnophobe, so I am predisposed to be extra horrified by anything to do with giant spiders. I am therefore inclined to agree with Ron’s assessment: “Evidently, hatching Aragog in a cupboard wasn’t [Ron’s] idea of being innocent.” (CS281)
Once again, Hagrid’s determination to raise monsters as pets is detrimental to all the parties involved. Poor little Aragog lives in constant fear because of a basilisk lurking in the school; he tells Harry, “Well do I remember how I pleaded with Hagrid to let me go” (CS278). The animal pleads with Hagrid to be let go, Hagrid knows that what he is doing is illegal and a huge danger to those around him, and yet he persists.
But his stupidity goes one step further: he maintains the delusion that carnivorous monsters are completely innocuous, and sends his two close friends –Harry and Ron, at only twelve years old – on a trip through the Forbidden Forest for a heart-to-heart with an acromantula colony. The acromantulas divulge almost no useful information, and welcome Harry and Ron as a dinner treat. Once again, it’s a miracle the two make it out alive. Ron is slightly traumatized – he is “violently sick” and “shivering uncontrollably” – and then swears that he’ll “never forgive Hagrid.” (CS281). I completely empathize with Ron here, and placing myself in his shoes, I never truly forgave Hagrid for that either.
Prisoner of Azkaban
At this point, it’s established that Hagrid has no regard for the students’ safety, and no concept of how dangerous magical creatures can be. Why, exactly, Dumbledore then thinks it’s a good idea to hire him… it’s beyond me. Especially when considering that Hagrid was expelled from Hogwarts, and therefore has little education, and is not really allowed to perform magic. Then again, Dumbledore's hiring choices seem to have very little to do with actual pedagogical merit.
The best that can be said of Hagrid’s teaching is that he does not endanger his students this year. In fact, he’s in quite good form, worrying about the Trio’s safety and well-being. That being said, after the first lesson about hippogriffs, Hagrid essentially wastes a year of his students’ education, just letting them take care of flobberworms. At any other school, he would have been sacked for this. Still, my heart does go out to Hagrid in this book.
Goblet of Fire
Any goodwill built up from Prisoner of Azkaban is completely squandered in Goblet of Fire. Hagrid decides that it would be a good idea to create a new and dangerous hybrid that he knows nothing about, and to devote half a year to having his students learn how to take care of them. Um, isn’t the point of a teacher that the teacher knows his subject, and imparts his knowledge to students? Not to employ students as unwitting accomplices in researching illicit new creatures?
In Rita Skeeter’s scathing article about Hagrid, there are a lot of awful lies about the poor half-giant. Which is why an enraged Harry, and many readers, may miss the few valid points Rita brings up.
“[Hagrid] admitted breeding creatures he has dubbed ‘Blast-Ended Skrewts,’ highly dangerous crosses between manticores and fire-crabs. The creation of new breeds of magical creature is, of course, an activity usually closely observed by the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. Hagrid, however, considers himself to be above such petty restrictions.” (GF438)
While this is doubtlessly harsh, there is a ring of truth to that last sentence. Hagrid does consider himself to be above the law. Admittedly, in the wizarding world the law does not necessarily dictate the right thing to do, because the Ministry is so corrupt. However, I fail to see any injustice in laws forbidding the ownership of dangerous creatures. After all, in our world one cannot just own a pet lion and take it out for walks on the street. And for whatever reason, Hagrid has a complete disregard for these laws.
Rita’s assertion that Hagrid “terrifies” and “maims” his students may be an exaggeration, but there is a grain of truth to that as well. One just has to look at the scene Rita had walked in on earlier, where the students were rounding up some Skrewts that had run amok:
Harry noticed her eyes travel over Dean (who had a nasty cut across one cheek), Lavender (whose robes were badly singed), Seamus (who was nursing several burnt fingers), and then to the cabin windows, where most of the class stood, their noses pressed against the glass waiting to see if the coast was clear. (GF370)
But the point in Rita’s article that’s hardest to argue with is that Hagrid secured the “post of Care of Magical Creatures teacher, over the heads of many better-qualified candidates.” (GF438) There is just no escaping the fact that Grubbly-Plank is a superior teacher to Hagrid in almost every aspect, and should be teaching the subject full-time.
Parvati says, “That’s more what I thought Care of Magical Creatures would be like … proper creatures like unicorns, not monsters….” (GF441). Harry jumps down her throat of course, but then even Hermione, who is one of Hagrid’s best friends, concedes that Grubbly-Plank is a better teacher. “I’m not going to pretend it didn’t make a nice change, having a proper Care of Magical Creatures lesson for once” (GF442).
Most tellingly of all, even Harry realizes this after a while, and he is one of the most subjective characters we know. By Order of the Phoenix, after a lesson from Grubbly-Plank, Harry is “fully aware that he had just experienced an exemplary Care of Magical Creatures lesson and was thoroughly annoyed about it.” (OP261)
Abysmal teaching aside, Hagrid also plays favorites in his class and threatens Draco: “Yeh’ll do wha’ yer told […] or I’ll be takin’ a leaf outta Professor Moody’s book…. I hear yeh made a good ferret, Malfoy.” (GF234) Naturally, Harry (and therefore the reader) is elated at Malfoy getting his comeuppance from Hagrid.
However, consider the fact that Malfoy is a fourteen-year-old boy, whose teacher just threatened him and reminded him (and the entire class) of a past humiliation. When Snape threatens and humiliates Harry, he is portrayed as awful and unfair and a bully. Yet no one bats an eye when Hagrid does the same thing to Draco. This double standard is unacceptable.
Order of the Phoenix
While there aren’t acromantulas involved in the fifth book (thank Merlin), this book does more than any other to reinforce the idea that Hagris has no place teaching at Hogwarts. This comes up fairly early, before the school year has technically started. It comes from one Luna Lovegood, who has a “knack of speaking uncomfortable truths” (HBP311). And no truth is more uncomfortable to Harry than this one.
“I’ll be quite glad if [Hagrid] has [left],” said Luna. “He isn’t a very good teacher, is he?”
“Yes, he is!” said Harry, Ron, and Ginny angrily.
Harry glared at Hermione; she cleared her throat and quickly said, “Erm … yes … he’s very good.”
“Well, we think he’s a bit of a joke in Ravenclaw,” said Luna, unfazed. (OP200)
This is the classic Ravenclaw-vs-Gryffindor response. The Ravenclaw looks at it logically, and concludes that Hagrid is an unfit teacher. The Gryffindors jump to his defense out of loyalty, even though they know deep down that their statement is inaccurate. And Hermione, the Hatstall between the two Houses, gets peer-pressured into half-heartedly defending Hagrid.
However, Harry and his friends are in the clear minority here, and nothing is more telling than the passage describing Hagrid’s return to Hogwarts.
Hagrid’s reappearance at the staff table at breakfast next day was not greeted by enthusiasm from all students. Some, like Fred, George, and Lee, roared with delight and sprinted up the aisle between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables to wring Hagrid’s enormous hand; others, like Parvati and Lavender, exchanged gloomy looks and shook their heads. Harry knew that many of them preferred Professor Grubbly-Plank’s lessons, and the worst of it was that a very small, unbiased part of him knew that they had good reason: Grubbly-Plank’s idea of an interesting class was not one where there was a risk that somebody might have their head ripped off. (OP442)
It is clear that after two years of Hagrid’s tutelage, most of the students are thoroughly disenchanted with him… and that’s even without the knowledge of Norbert or Aragog. Even Harry, Hagrid’s most vociferous supporter, has realized that Hagrid is an inferior teacher to Grubbly-Plank. The Gryffindors, who are far more loyal to Hagrid than any other House, are also shown to not approve of Hagrid’s teaching. Lavender and Parvati made their preferences clear. And when Draco makes a snide comment about Hagrid bringing wild stuff to class, “a few Gryffindors looked as though they thought Malfoy had a fair point too.” (OP443)
And everyone’s worst suspicions are confirmed when we learn of Hagrid’s latest folly: forcing his younger half-brother, Grawp, to accompany him to Hogwarts. Once again, Hagrid shows as little regard for the creatures’ feelings as his students’, because Grawp “didn’ want ter come,” (OP690) and Hagrid has to keep him tied up. Hagrid also makes things far more dangerous for any students entering the Forest by alienating all the centaurs (who, to be fair, are understandably annoyed – if someone brought giants and acromantulas into my home, I’d be quite peeved). And then Hagrid has the gall to ask the Trio to take care of Grawp – a violent giant who’s managed to injure Hagrid, and would break one of the Trio in half quite easily – assuming they get past the murderous centaurs.
This is the last straw for Hermione, who gets quite hysterical and finally voices the unpleasant truth: “Of course he’s going to be chucked out and to be perfectly honest, after what we’ve just seen, who can blame Umbridge?” (OP701). Umbridge is horrible, she does the students a huge disservice by sabotaging one of Hagrid’s rare good lessons (on thestrals), and the way she kicks Hagrid out is appalling. But I can’t argue that Hagrid didn’t deserve to go, because he really is the worst teacher Hogwarts has to offer. We have seen our fair share of ineffectual teachers, as well as dangerous teachers, but Hagrid is an unfortunate combination of both.
By the time Hagrid’s fourth year teaching rolls around, the inevitable has occurred: no students are willing to take his N.E.W.T. class. Even the Trio declines to continue with the subject (telling, when considering that Hermione is taking seven N.E.W.T. classes), and “[t]hey knew perfectly well that nobody in their year would want to continue Care of Magical Creatures.” (HBP173) Ron admits he hated the class, declaring, “I haven’t forgotten the skrewts” (HBP218).
They patch things up with Hagrid eventually, after assuring him “untruthfully” (HBP231) that he was just as good a teacher as Grubbly-Plank. But his classes remain empty.
As a tangent, I did wonder why this seemed to be the first empty N.E.W.T. class Hagrid’s dealt with. But then I realized that the year above Harry’s (class of ’97) would’ve signed up for N.E.W.T. with Grubbly-Plank the previous year. The class of ’96 might have hoped for an easy class following Hagrid’s lackluster first year of teaching. And the class of ’95 would not have known what Hagrid’s teaching was like when signing up. So, tellingly, the first grade to know Hagrid’s teaching style and have the option to sign up for his N.E.W.T. class… they all opt out. If this wasn’t the ultimate sign that it was time to get a new professor, I don’t know what would be.
I was immensely relieved to find very little of Hagrid in the final book. However, even in this last book there are moments with Hagrid that made me cringe. Namely, the Battle of Hogwarts. The scene is this: Hagrid and his beleaguered allies are fighting for the future of the wizarding world in the most important battle in wizardkind’s history. Then an army of giant spiders – who tried to eat Hagrid a year ago – make an entrance, scattering the fighters.
Does Hagrid show any concern for his human friends, all of who are in very real danger of being eaten, if not killed in myriad other ways? No. Does Hagrid care about the fate of the wizarding world, that’s currently hanging in the balance? No. Instead, he yells, referring to the acromantulas, “Don’t hurt ‘em, don’t hurt ‘em!” (DH647). He then proceeds to jump into the midst of the giant spiders, and is carried off by them.
And this is Hagrid in a nutshell. He is selfish, caring more about his lethal pets than anything else. He is perfectly willing to throw his friends to the wolves (or spiders or dragons or giants), if his precious monsters are okay. And he does not even care about the happiness of the horrid creatures under his control, keeping them captive and miserable for his own amusement.
This is why, no matter how much I’m told that I’m supposed to love Hagrid, I can’t bring myself to do so. It’s a shame that only the most detestable characters ever bring him down – Draco, Rita Skeeter, and Umbridge – because I don’t want to feel like they’re in the right. But I’m forced to conclude that Dumbledore made a giant mistake by ever hiring Hagrid to teach children, and an even worse mistake by allowing it to continue after such disastrous results.