“Because I Was in Love With You:” The Blood Troth in “Secrets of Dumbledore”
by Dr. Beatrice Groves
The TV spots released by Warner Brothers for Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore have revealed rather more about the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald than the trailers. In one of the most recent when Grindelwald taxes Dumbledore with having once promised him that they would reshape the world together, Dumbledore explains the reason that he once said such things:
“Because I was in love with you.”
In another passage from the movies that has not (yet) been officially released, Dumbledore likewise gives this love as the reason that he created the “blood troth” with Grindelwald.
Both revelations take us much further than the clear hints of Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald (in which we had Dumbledore saying that they were “closer than brothers” and viewing Grindelwald, and the formation of the Blood Troth in the Mirror of Erised), but they also build on J.K. Rowling’s interview with PotterCast in 2007, which sees in Dumbledore’s seduction by Grindelwald’s ideas the textual evidence for his having fallen in love:
And I was asked that question by a young woman at Carnegie Hall who prefaced her question by saying, “These books have helped me be more fully myself.” Well, that’s just one of the most wonderful things anyone has ever said to me about the books. And then she asked, “Has Dumbledore ever been in love?” Now, I- so I was absolutely honest about how I saw the character. I always imagined that Dumbledore was gay. How relevant is that to the books? Well, it’s only relevant if you considered that his feelings for Grindelwald, as revealed in the seventh book, were an infatuation rather than a straight full friendship. That’s how I think- in fact, that I know- that some, perhaps, sensitive adult readers had already seen that. I don’t think that came as a big surprise to some adult readers. I think a child would see a friendship and a very devoted friendship. But these things also occur. So I- how relevant is it? Well, to me it was only relevant in as much as Dumbledore, who was the great defender of love, and who sincerely believed that love was the greatest, most powerful force in the universe, was himself made a fool of by love. That, to me, was the interesting point. That, in his youth, he was- he became infatuated with a man who was almost his dark twin. He was as brilliant. He was morally bankrupt. And Dumbledore lost his moral compass. He wanted to believe that Grindelwald was what he wanted him to be, which I think is what particularly a young person’s love tends to do. We fill in the blanks in the beloved’s personality with the virtues we would like them to have.
Rowling is arguing here that Dumbledore’s sexuality can be deduced from the Harry Potter text – something which Adeel Amini, John Granger, Katy McDaniel, and I discussed on a MuggleNet podcast a few years back. It is also interesting to see her using the phrase “dark twin” here – a phrase that will recur in Crimes of Grindelwald for the Obscurus: “An Obscurus grows in the absence of love as a dark twin.” We seem to have the genesis here – in the hint of Grindelwald as Dumbledore’s Obscurus – of a number of the ideas behind the new franchise.
But I also think that the current revelations from Secrets of Dumbledore were subtly signposted in Crimes of Grindelwald in a way in which (nearly?) everybody missed. This is in the naming of the magical compact between the two men as the “blood troth.” In the film itself, of course, it is called a blood pact:
NEWT: It’s a blood pact, isn’t it? You swore not to fight each other.
In Secrets of Dumbledore, we will hear it called the blood troth for the first time, but the stage directions in the script of Crimes of Grindelwald already provided us (sotto voce) with the more telling name:
The vial – blood troth – hands in the air between them.
A “blood pact” has clear intimations of a close friendship. It sounds a lot like the “blood brothers” friendship craze (that was still all the rage when I was a child) of mingling your blood and swearing eternal friendship. When we were five, a close friend and I intended to do this, drew up certificates and everything but never quite got up the courage… (though decades later we are still friends, I am pleased to say!). But a “blood troth” is quite different. It is a word most famous for its presence in the marriage service – the phrase “I plight thee my troth” from the Book of Common Prayer wedding vows.
The connection of the creation of the blood troth with wedding vows is likewise supported by the way in which the necklace hangs around Dumbledore’s hand and arm cuts into his skin. This creates crisscrossing lines of blood which recall the marks of the Unbreakable Vow (remember how Yusuf Kama was scarred with these in the second movie?). This vow is given strongly marital overtones in Harry Potter when Snape and Narcissa make an Unbreakable Vow at the beginning of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, as I have discussed here. I wrote up these marital overtones in the context of a discussion of Walt Whitman’s “Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances” – a poem that is one of Rowling’s favorites. It is a poem about the existential comfort brought to the speaker by holding the hand of the man he loves:
He ahold of my hand has completely satisfied me.
It is a poem, therefore, which might be worth revisiting in the light of the hand-holding between Dumbledore and Grindelwald that formed part of the creation of the blood troth.
It is notable that the modernization of the wedding vow in the Book of Common Prayer cannot find a suitable substitute for the word “troth.” “I plight thee my troth” becomes “I give you my troth” – suggesting that the word “troth” simply contains too much meaning to be easily jettisoned, despite the fact that “I give you my troth” is hardly a phrase that would count as modern usage. (“Troth” is present in one modern word though – another word that takes us back to marriage: “betrothal.”)
Etymologically, “troth” is a variant of the word “truth,” as the Oxford English Dictionary notes:
Originally a variant of “truth” and occurring in all the main senses of that word in Middle English. In the 16th and 17th centuries the abstract concept of correspondence with reality was already more typically expressed by “truth” with the present word largely restricted to personal acts of constancy such as public declarations of commitment between two individuals.
Troth is “the quality of being true to a person, principle, cause, etc.; the disposition to speak or act truly or without deceit; faithfulness, honesty, integrity, virtue” and “one’s faith or loyalty as pledged in a solemn agreement or undertaking; a firm promise, an engagement; specifically in reference to marriage.” Pleasingly, objects symbolizing such a solemn agreement (a betrothal) were known as “troth rings” – objects that recall the blood troth.
Secrets of Dumbledore’s reading of the relationship between Dumbledore and Grindelwald as something akin to a marriage – a love sealed with a hand-fasting and a vow – was already present in Crimes of Grindelwald, just hidden slightly out of sight in the stage directions.
Dr. Beatrice Groves teaches Renaissance English at Trinity College, Oxford, and is the author of Literary Allusion in Harry Potter, which is available now. Don’t miss her earlier posts for MuggleNet – such as “Solve et Coagula: Part 1 – Rowling’s Alchemical Tattoo” – all of which can be found at Bathilda’s Notebook. She is also a regular contributor to the MuggleNet podcast Potterversity.