When Black Characters Are Cut: Dean Thomas’s Story
It’s a dangerous business, getting attached to minor characters in an epic fantasy series.
I really hoped Dean Thomas’s role in Deathly Hallows – Parts 1 & 2 would be as big as it was in the book. I wanted to see him chatting in the woods with Griphook and Ted Tonks, escaping Malfoy Manor with Luna and Ollivander, and helping Harry and Ron bury Dobby at Shell Cottage. Sadly, Dean didn’t even appear in Part 1, and he only had two short lines in Part 2.
For those of us who would gladly watch a ten-hour Potter film, it can be frustrating to see side plots and characters dropped from the story to keep the movies at a reasonable length. It’s especially frustrating to see this happen to a character of color, but Dean’s case is doubly disheartening. Dean’s plotline wasn’t just dropped from the movies; his original story was dropped from the books themselves.
Dean was originally more involved in the plot of an early draft of Sorcerer’s Stone. J.K. Rowling’s illustration of “The Midnight Duel” shows Dean (at the time named Gary) accompanying Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville on their midnight escapade to the third-floor corridor.
J.K. Rowling described Dean Thomas’s background in the “Extra Stuff” section of JKRowling.com, explaining her original intentions for Dean to begin discovering his past in Chamber of Secrets.
I had a lot of background on Dean, though I had never found the right place to use it. His story was included in an early draft of ‘Chamber of Secrets’ but then cut by me, because it felt like an unnecessary digression. Now I don’t think his history will ever make it into the books.
Dean is from what he always thought was a pure Muggle background. He has been raised by his mother and his stepfather; his father walked out on the family when Dean was very young…
Naturally when the letter came from Hogwarts Dean’s mother wondered whether his father might have been a wizard, but nobody has ever discovered the truth: that Dean’s father, who had never told his wife what he was because he wanted to protect her, got himself killed by Death Eaters when he refused to join them.
Despite the omission of his backstory, Dean was a fascinating side character throughout the series. He was never afraid to speak out in class, arguing with Umbridge openly during Order of the Phoenix and calling out Professor Binns’s faulty logic in Chamber of Secrets. Skilled with a quill, he made banners to support Harry during his first Quidditch game and the Triwizard Tournament.
Dean’s support of Harry went beyond Gryffindor pride; he was committed to Dumbledore’s Army early on and convinced a reluctant Seamus to attend one of their meetings. When he heard that Uncle Vernon hadn’t signed Harry’s Hogsmeade form during Prisoner of Azkaban, he offered to forge it for him. Overall, Dean was a clever, loyal, and courageous character.
I love imagining how Dean’s story would have changed if his backstory had been included in the books. I would have loved to see him explore pieces of his past during Chamber of Secrets, where blood status became such a crucial part of the plot. What if this knowledge had led to a closer friendship between Dean and the golden trio? Maybe Dean would have flown to London with Harry and the rest and battled Death Eaters in the Department of Mysteries.
Thanks to the Muggle-Born Registration Commission, Dean was forced to go on the run during Deathly Hallows, and I’m not sure that knowledge of his father’s murder would have changed his situation. He might have been able to prove he wasn’t a Muggle-born, but I don’t know how the Commission would have dealt with the son of a man who refused to join the ranks of Death Eaters. Either way, we know Dean wasn’t afraid to stand up against injustice, so he probably would have been targeted no matter what.
Ultimately, we’ll never know how Dean would have been affected, because he never discovered his father’s identity. Dean’s plotline was sacrificed for Neville Longbottom’s, whose backstory was more relevant to the central plot.
The books were incredibly long even without the few chapters that focused on Neville’s background, so I understand that there wasn’t room for Dean’s plotline. His race wasn’t the explicit reason for this exclusion, but it’s disappointing to see a Black character’s backstory cut when it was so close to being included.
As disappointing as this is, it makes me grateful for the extra information J.K. Rowling has given us about the books. Knowing Dean’s story, even if he doesn’t know it himself, puts his actions in a new context. Harry and Neville both lost parents to Voldemort and the Death Eaters during the first Wizarding War, and they felt the pressure to live up to the legacies their parents left behind. Dean didn’t even know that his father died protecting his family from Death Eaters, but he still joined Dumbledore’s Army, stood up for Harry, and battled Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts. Courageous of his own accord, Dean followed in his father’s footsteps without even seeing the footprints showing him where to go.