Albus Dumbledore and the Career Change
Seems like every time a new trailer comes out for Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, there is a large amount of debate regarding a perceived discrepancy with the canon. And we haven’t even gotten to the fact that everyone is dressed as a Muggle yet! But the latest hubbub was about Dumbledore teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts when he was the Transfiguration professor as far as we knew. So much as I did when we first embarked upon a new wizarding world franchise, I will do my best to set the record straight.
Let us talk about dates. This always gets confusing, because Jo isn’t really great at math sometimes, but I will attempt to paint a coherent picture with strictly the text we have.
First, the time when the scene in question takes place: the first half of the 1910s. We know Newt was born in 1897 (FB vi), which meant he would have started at Hogwarts in 1908/1909 and was intended to graduate in 1916/1917. So that’s the time period we’ll be pursuing through the text.
What do we know about what Dumbledore taught?
1. James Potter and Lily Potter “DIED 31 OCTOBER 1981” (DH 328) when Harry was one year old.
2. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, when Harry is 12 years old, therefore takes place in the 1992-1993 school year.
3. “We know the person who opened the Chamber last time was expelled fifty years ago. We know T.M. Riddle got an award for special services to the school fifty years ago” (CoS 233). So says Hermione, which means the first Chamber of Secrets episode happened in the 1942-1943 school year.
4. The Tom Riddle from that year, which was preserved in the diary, refers to “Only the Transfiguration teacher, Dumbledore, seemed to think Hagrid was innocent” (CoS 312). Therefore, we know for a fact that Dumbledore was the Transfiguration teacher in 1943.
5. The fact that Riddle refers to him as “the Transfiguration teacher” without any qualifiers – no “new Transfiguration teacher,” no “Transfiguration and Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher” – heavily implies that Dumbledore was the Transfiguration teacher for the entirety of Riddle’s tenure at Hogwarts, which was 1937-1945.
What do we know about who taught Defense Against the Dark Arts?
6. Per Tom Riddle, “In my fifth year, the Chamber was opened.” Per Item 4, this was 1943. So Tom Riddle graduated Hogwarts in 1945.
7. When he was leaving Hogwarts in 1945, he applied to teach at Hogwarts. “Defense Against the Dark Arts. It was being taught at the time by an old professor by the name of Galatea Merrythought, who had been at Hogwarts for nearly fifty years” (HBP 432).
8. “Nearly fifty years” could mean anything from 45 to 49 years, which means that Professor Merrythought has been teaching at Hogwarts since at least 1900.
9. Absent any qualifiers like “off and on,” that means Professor Merrythought was teaching at Hogwarts in the 1910s when Crimes of Grindelwald takes place.
10. Absent any qualifiers like “being taught by our usual Herbology Professor, Galatea Merrythought,” we can say that Galatea Merrythought has been teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts regularly for years by 1945.
So who taught what?
Given Items 5 and 10 above, which I hope you’ll agree have a firm foundation in fact, we have the following information to work with:
Both Galatea Merrythought and Albus Dumbledore were teaching at Hogwarts, regularly, from at least the 1910s through 1945.
During Tom Riddle’s time at school, Merrythought taught Defense Against the Dark Arts and Dumbledore taught Transfiguration.
The assumption up until last week was that Merrythought and Dumbledore taught Defense Against the Dark Arts and Transfiguration, respectively, for their entire pedagogical tenure. But as fans (with much more faith in the Fantastic Beasts franchise than I have) pointed out, that assumption could be incorrect, so Dumbledore teaching a Defense Against the Dark Arts class to Newt is plausible.
So the real question, in determining whether it’s canon-appropriate for Dumbledore to teach Defense Against the Dark Arts in Crimes of Grindelwald, is whether it’s plausible that both Dumbledore and Merrythought switched the subjects they teach sometime in the 1930s.
Looking at what we know of the teaching structure at Hogwarts from the 1990s, it appears fairly uncommon for professors to switch subjects. We are only given one explicit instance of that happening in the books, in fact: when Snape takes on Defense Against the Dark Arts in 1996, switching from Potions. Obviously, there is such a mass of extenuating circumstances and unique factors leading to that switch, it’s pretty much useless as a data point. So it would appear that Hogwarts professors generally stick to one subject.
There is a second instance, which isn’t explicitly stated in the books but has been theorized by fans and confirmed by apocrypha: Quirrell. Unfortunately for fans, Quirrell and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone seem to predate Jo having thought through the Defense Against the Dark Arts jinx, so the first book seems to heavily imply that Quirrell has been teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts already when the year starts. Obviously, this goes against everything we learn in later books. The fine folks over at the Lexicon tried to reconcile all this in “Quirrell’s Leave of Absence.”
Seemingly the last word on the subject was Jo’s in the Bloomsbury Live Chat in 2007, where she unequivocally states, “He was teaching at Hogwarts for more than a year, but NOT in the post of DADA teacher. He was previously Muggle Studies professor.” Despite any seeming contradictions, this is what we’ll go with for canon. Quirrell is the second known instance of Hogwarts professors switching subjects, from Muggle Studies to Defense Against the Dark Arts.
The number of extenuating circumstances here is based entirely on your reading of Sorcerer’s Stone. If you believe the perspective of Josie Kearns in her essay at the HP Companion, the appointment of Quirrell to Defense Against the Dark Arts was masterminded by Dumbledore to take the jinx into account, just as Snape’s was. Personally, I disagree with this theory, because it involves Dumbledore revealing his hand to Voldemort, which is very much not his style. As I see it, Quirrell switching subjects is the one instance we have in the books of a professor switching subjects with non-ulterior motives.
So the conclusion we come away with: It’s certainly possible that Dumbledore taught Defense Against the Dark Arts when Newt was at school. However, it would mean there were some unusual goings-on at Hogwarts to allow that to happen.
If the movie has a small bit about “our Charms professor Galatea Merrythought also happens to be good at Defense Against the Dark Arts,” or “Professor Merrythought is secretly a werewolf and Dumbledore is subbing,” then we can sit back and enjoy the rest of the movie. If this goes completely unacknowledged, then the Fantastic Beasts team is being precisely as sloppy as we expected.
So… which one do you think it will be? And what are your most interesting guesses for why Dumbledore is teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts?
If you want to read much more about Albus Dumbledore, check out The Life and Lies of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, the book Irvin wrote all about the controversial headmaster that comes out July 31.