Dumbledore: Evil, or just incompetent?

As Chamber of Secrets continues, we’re introduced to Gilderoy Lockhart, celebrity wizard, author, and new professor at Hogwarts. He’s obviously self-obsessed, vain, and incredibly arrogant. Over the course of the book, we also learn that he knows nothing at all about magic; the final reveal was rather obvious: he’s been using his one legitimate magical skill, charms that erase memories, to wipe people’s minds and claim their exploits as his own.

So…why was this guy hired? Especially to teach what sure sounds like it would be maybe the most important class the school offers: Defense Against the Dark Arts?

Sure, if everything Lockhart claimed had been true, he would have been immensely qualified for the job. But it doesn’t even take one full class for him to show that he has no magical skill, and Ron immediately points out that all of Lockhart’s books may have been lies. It took a second-year student less than an hour in the guy’s class to figure it out. Why didn’t Dumbledore?

And this comes after another teacher turned out to be evil the year before, trying to resurrect Voldemort and kill Harry. So you would think Dumbledore would have his guard raised when hiring that evil professor’s replacement. Furthermore, having seen the movies, I know that teachers will play major roles as antagonists for most of the rest of the series. The third installment has a teacher who’s a good guy, but also a werewolf, so he loses control and tries to kill people. The fourth has an evil henchman of Voldemort impersonate a teacher. The fifth has an evil teacher who takes over the whole school. The sixth has a teacher who’s good, but forced to act evil, kills the headmaster, and at least seems pretty damn evil to most people at that time. So in one way or another, teachers who are evil or just dangerous are a major issue at Hogwarts. And it all happens under Dumbledore’s watch.

So it begs the question: is Dumbledore evil, or just incompetent?

We’re told repeatedly that he’s a paragon of goodness, so evil seems out of the question. But what if all that goodness was just an act? I know it won’t turn out this way, but wouldn’t it have made some sense to find out that Dumbledore was working with Voldemort all along, and allowing all these dangerous teachers was his way of trying to help eliminate Harry while maintaining plausible deniability?

The other option is that Dumbledore is grossly incompetent and needs to be fired. How about a background check before hiring someone? I remember a scene in one of the movies where Snape tells Harry about a potion that forces people to tell the truth, but that it’s regrettably forbidden to use on students. But is it forbidden on job applicants? Because just from the first two books, here are some possible questions that Dumbledore could ask would-be professors while on truth serum:

  • Are you evil, and/or do you serve Voldemort?
  • If hired, are you going to try to kill any students, including but not limited to Harry Potter?
  • Do you actually know enough magic to be able to teach students?
  • Can you perform that magic yourself?

Dumbledore makes a comment later to Harry about what a difficult position to fill the Defense Against the Dark Arts job is becoming. I liked that comment, because Dumbledore says it with a smirk, and I view that as Rowling poking fun at herself and the premise she’s creating with a revolving door of bad teachers. But while acknowledging that at least the writer knew what she doing, let’s still view Dumbledore’s hiring problem from the view within the HP world itself. We know at this point that Snape desperately wants the Dark Arts job. So why not just give it to Snape? The reader at this point might still guess that perhaps Dumbledore doesn’t trust Snape; he didn’t turn out to be evil in the first book, but he’s still a jerk and seems like he might be a little shady. But I know from watching the movies that we’ll later find out that Dumbledore trusts Snape completely, maybe as much as he trusts anyone. So why wait until late in the series to hand that crucial position over to someone so trusted?

Naturally, I’m being a little tongue-in-cheek with all of this, because I know there’s another option beyond evil or incompetent: that Dumbledore has some master plan that all these trials will help Harry grow and become the wizard he’ll need to be to one day defeat Voldemort. Or presumably something like that, whatever.

But imagine you’re just some random Hufflepuff who isn’t the Chosen One, is only a so-so student, and doesn’t have all these grand adventures. How much dangerous stuff do you see happen at Hogwarts before you just kind of hate Dumbledore? Do you grow up wanting to work in the school’s Human Resources department, just so you can screen out some of the dangerous applicants Dumbledore might hire anyway? Or do you just decide that being a wizard isn’t worth it, and get the hell out of there?

1 thought on “Dumbledore: Evil, or just incompetent?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s