Dumbledore Is Death, Ronbledore Lives And Other Harry Potter Fan Theories
Here is an assertion: if Harry Potter didn't have the Internet, the franchise would never have become a cultural bellwether for fanfic – and general geekery – as we know it.
As the beloved wizarding series about the Boy Who Lived grew in popularity, so did the use of the Internet, especially in the ways in which fans could communicate about their chosen fandom on forums and fansites. The more mainstreamed the use of the web and all of its accoutrements became, the more others could use them to temper the drollness or almost distractionary anticipation between book releases. Within those periods, the frenzied joy of the Wonderful World of Potter, they – and let's face it, you and me, too – formed an interconnected nexus of fanfiction and fan forums, online 8-bit Quidditch games, and every variety of RPG, virtual and in real life.
But it didn't just end there, because with the help (and even encouragement) of the Internet, Harry Potter became a household name. Parents read The Sorcerer's Stone to their children instead of Goodnight, Moon, bands like Harry and the Potters started selling out their shows, wizard rock became a thing, and college campuses counted Quidditch teams among their student flock, alongside the more traditional sports like football and basketball.
In the history of Harry Potter, the Internet became both the great equalizer and the great mainstreamer; without these cultural concurrences, Harry Potter would not be the zeitgestian touchstone that it is today (and immersive experiences like Pottermore, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, or even the movie franchise would not exist, for that matter).
The close cousin of fanfiction is the fan theory, the textual piecemeal of canon. Like most in fandoms, fan theories run rampant within the HP universe — especially, it seems, when it involves the monolith of Albus Dumbledore. All in all, that is what Dumbledore is: an enigmatic, omnipresent force, and thus, hard to define. It's no surprise that a large swathe of fan theories attempt to do so.
You think you know Dumbledore? You have no idea.
Dumbledore is Death
This latest fan theory orbits around Dumbledore — namely, that the "Tale of The Three Brothers" featured in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the last book in the Harry Potter series, serves as a broader allusion reflective of the characters within J.K. Rowling's* tale than previously thought.
The narrative of the "Three Brothers" is an allegorical danse macabre — literally, as it recounts the story of the three wizarding brothers Peverell who attempt to dance around (i.e., cheat) death. As many Harry Potter fans know, the tale also features the Deathly Hallows, the three magical, talismanic objects that Harry searches for in the last book: the Elder Wand, the Resurrection Stone and the Cloak of Invisibility.
A quick recap of the tale: the three Peverell brothers — Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus — come across the figure of Death as they conjure a bridge to cross a deadly river. Death commends them on how they have managed to avoid drowning in the river — thus cheating him — and offers them a prize each. Antioch asks for "a wand more powerful than any in existence," Cadmus for "the power to recall loved ones from the grave" and Ignotus for "something that would allow him to go forth [from the river] without being followed by death." These objects, as any Potter fan knows, are the Wand, the Stone and the Cloak.
Antioch is murdered after using the Elder Wand to kill a rival, Cadmus ressurects a long-lost love from the dead, only to kill himself after, like the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, it all gets shot to hell. Only Ignotus evades death with his cloak until his twilight years, when he can finally "greet death as an old friend, and [go] with him gladly, as equals."
Fanfiction theorists have been afoot regarding the allegorical implications of the "Tale of the Three Brothers," assigning the quasi-characters** of Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus respectively to Voldemort, Snape and Harry. This is more or less textually assumptive and clean cut — and nothing new. However, one HP fan has questioned which character in the Potterverse serves as a parallel for death:
So, there you have it. Dumbledore, who has connections to all three Deathly Hallows and who directly or indirectly gave them to Voldemort, Snape and Harry, is the manifest figure of Death – or, if you're more into Western Judeo-Christian tropes, the Angel of Death.
Dumbledore is Christ
An even earlier theory makes this an even more complex, multifaceted wormhole. The parable of the Peverells utilizes a modal trinity; or, to put it another way, the symbolic use of the number three occurs heavily in Judeo-Christian narratives, and can correlate to a Christ-like allegory. This lends itself to another possibility: that Dumbledore is actually a combination of all three.
In the subreddit r/FanTheories, Reddit user PopsicleIncorporated postulates that Snape, Voldemort, and Harry are all parts of one entity, the cosmic vessel of Dumbledore:
"Albus Dumbledore represents a combination of all three brothers, in the order they were introduced. His lust for power in his teenage years are a reference to the first brother. His heartbreak after his sister's death and abandoning Grindelwald (who at this point is basically confirmed to have been Albus's love interest) is a clear indicator of the second brother. Finally, late in his years, he asks for death and welcomes it, exactly like the third brother."
To wit: Voldemort is a personification of the first stage of Dumbledore's life, Snape is the second, and Harry is the third, which in turn forms a Judeo-Christian triad. The result? Dumbledore is J.K. Rowling's stand-in for Christ. Take that, Aslan.
To add a bit more crazy to this fictive cauldron, let's introduce another Dumbledore-centric fan theory that has made its rounds around the Internet: that Dumbledore and Ron Weasely are the same person.
In 2014, Mallory Ortberg, founder of The Toast, posted a piece about a theory she had stumbled upon from an old forum thread on HarryPottersPage.com, a conjecture which posited Dumbledore and Ron were one and the same, supported by the feasibility of time travel introduced in Prisoner of Azkaban (i.e., using a Time Turner) within the Potterverse:
"Ron, our loyal Knight, will become a time traveler. He will be sent back in time to some point in the 19th century to live out the rest of his days as Albus Dumbledore, our venerable King. The exact mechanics of his journey in time are unclear, though we do believe it is unavoidable, and that it will in fact be the very move that enables Harry's eventual defeat of Voldemort (the checkmate) and that it will also have something to do with the White Queen (Bellatrix). Though you may think us a couple of nutters for making such an outrageous claim, we do indeed have evidence. Lots and lots of evidence."
The unknown superfan – or possibly superfans – reified this theory with some major tenets. The first is a little more cursory: Dumbledore and Ron bear physionogmic similarities (both are tall, thin, long-nosed, and apparently both redheads, according to the younger version of Dumbledore that Harry observed in The Chamber of Secrets via Tom Riddle's diary); have sustained injuries – and possibily even scars – on their left legs; and have a severe penchant for sweets, enough to warrant a textual repetition of that fact within the series. The theory then suggests that Dumbledore has a knack for the omniscent that seems to be directly related to when Ron is present, lending itself to the interpretation that Dumbledore knows exactly when to save Harry because he has been there before as Ron, a younger version of himself. This, too, explains why an all-knowing Dumbledore would let an 11-year-old Harry Potter in The Sorcerer's Stone wander into severe and imminent danger without batting an eye:
"...does anyone else think it odd that Dumbledore wasn't worried about what might happen to Harry after he leaves? Once again, Dumbledore sets Harry up to complete a very dangerous task. Either Dumbledore is truly mad, or he knows how it all turns out."
There are also a few uncanny textual close-reads that serve as forshadowing***, evidentiary support for the Ron-is-Dumbledore hypothesis; inasmuch to this, they are either genius(es) or completely unhinged:
In [The Order of the Phoenix], Draco composes a lovely song - Weasley is Our King. If that isn't foreshadowing, I don't know what is. One line in particular is given significance by Draco. He is heard singing it loudly during the game by Harry, and Draco later quotes it in italics - born in a bin. While Draco likes to make fun of Ron's poverty, the phrase has a double meaning. 'Bin' is also a prefix meaning 'double' or 'two' - think 'binary'. Was Ron 'born' twice? Leading a double life? Is Draco trying to tell us something important?
There is some textual creedence to the significance of "King," especially in conjunction with Ron's role as the knight on the chessboard in The Sorcerer's Stone:
"If the chess game in [The Sorcerer's Stone] is a metaphor for the series as a whole, and the pieces the characters play a metaphor for their roles in the series, how do we reconcile the fact that Ron Weasley plays, not only the role of the Knight, but also that of the King - the same role played by Albus Dumbledore in the larger war? Pretty simple, really -- Albus Dumbledore is Ron Weasley."
This feeds into the overt Christian allegory that Rowling weaves throughout the text, especially in tandem with Dumbledore-as-the-Holy-Trilogy.
So who is Dumbledore? Is he Ron? Is he Ron, Snape, Voldemort, and Harry? Is he a Christ-like deity, or is he the opposite, an Angel of Death? Or is there something that makes it nonparadoxical to be both? The possibilities are fathomless, depthless. In the end, the answers never matter, only the questions, which speaks to the lasting power of Rowling's beloved books. That is the true power of literature: to seek and connect and seek again, and to be both starving and satisfied by those self-same questions.
*I'd like to point out that I got away with not mentioning J.K. Rowling's name in the first five paragraphs of this piece – because she's such an icon, I didn't even have to. Now that's staying power.
**I say "quasi-character" because even though in the chronology of the Harry Potter universe the "Tale of the Three Brothers" was technically composed centuries before Harry was even born, in reality, the parable itself could not have existed without the establishment of Harry, Snape, or Voldemort first due to the necessity for Antioch, Cadmus, and Ignotus to be thematic congruents.
***One of these divergences had to do with socks. I won't go into it here – you should read the post yourself, which I have linked above – but it actually made me care about Ron's socks for a second. There, I said it.
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