Three Dumbledore Quotes I Didn’t Appreciate When I Was a Kid
Dumbledore is one of the most quoted characters in the Harry Potter series, and his words are paradigmatic of the messages of love, acceptance, and free choice that the series is known for. When I first read the series (between the ages of 8–11), however, Dumbledore’s words didn’t speak to me at all. I knew they were supposed to be wise, and I knew I was supposed to listen, but I just didn’t like what he was saying.
Different Types of Bravery
The first Dumbledore quote that gave me trouble came at the end of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. The trio has just defeated Quirrell, and Gryffindor and Slytherin are tied for the House Cup. Dumbledore then gives 10 extra points to Neville.
It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends” (SS 17).
Now, many people have laughed at how Dumbledore single-handedly decides to give Gryffindor the House Cup. That, however, was not what I disliked about this moment. Harry, Hermione, and Ron were supposed to be the heroes, and yet here was Dumbledore, rewarding Neville for trying to get in their way. Hermione thought that sacrificing Neville for their mission was the right thing to do, but in this quote, Dumbledore reminds us that Neville also thought he was making the right choice. I did not want this reminder. The moral ambiguity of the situation made me uncomfortable.
The Importance of Choices
A year later, Harry is coming out of the Chamber of Secrets. He is worried that he’s actually similar to Tom Riddle and doesn’t belong in Gryffindor. Dumbledore then says one of his most famous lines:
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (CoS 18).
I don’t know how Harry felt about this response to his fears, but I was not satisfied. I wanted to be comforted by Dumbledore. I wanted to be told that of course Harry, my hero, was nothing like Voldemort. He was a Gryffindor because that’s what he was, and being a Gryffindor meant he was good and brave. And yet here was Dumbledore, telling me and Harry that the qualities we were born with weren’t that important. We had choices, and we could make good ones and bad ones.
The Power of Love
Skipping ahead a few years, Harry is talking to Dumbledore about the prophecy, which claims that Harry has a “power the Dark Lord knows not.” Harry is despairing, claiming that he doesn’t have any skill that could defeat Voldemort. Dumbledore then finally reveals to us what Harry’s secret power is.
“You are protected, in short, by your ability to love! The only protection that can possibly work against the lure of power like Voldemort’s!” (HBP 23)
I, like Harry, thought to myself, “Big deal!” Harry was supposed to be a hero, and yet his biggest power was that he could love? Didn’t he have any other skills that could defeat Voldemort? Dumbledore was supposed to be inspiring Harry and giving him faith in his ability to kill Voldemort. I was just left feeling that if “love” was all Harry had on his side, then he might as well give up right now.
Now, many years later, these are three of my favorite moments in the books. The very thing that originally made me so frustrated with them is what makes me love them now: In every single instance, Dumbledore refuses to comfort Harry or give him the simple answer. He does not pretend that life is black and white. As a child, I wasn’t used to this in my literature. It challenged me, intrigued me, unsettled me, and ultimately, made me keep reading, again and again, until I had understood and absorbed its messages. Even though the Harry Potter series is made for children, it does not dumb down its wisdom, forcing children to grapple with ideas they may find uncomfortable or unsatisfying.
Dumbledore quotes aren’t the only things that can be confusing to kids. Check out this video to see fans and staff discussing parts of the series that they missed, misunderstood, or didn’t appreciate when they first read the books!