Dumbledore Was A Manipulative Bastard (And You Should Be One, Too)

SPOILERS FOR THE HARRY POTTER SERIES AND PSYCHO FOLLOW (in case you’re the one person on earth who is unfamiliar with them):

HBO has been running the movie Harry Potter & The Deathly Hallows Part 2 a lot lately.  Since it’s my favorite of the Harry Potter movies, I’ve watched it several times.

Love it.  A perfect ending to a great series.

One thing struck me on multiple viewings that hadn’t during all the years of reading the books and watching the movies:

Headmaster Albus Dumbledore was a manipulative bastard.

I cried like everyone else when he was killed by Snape in Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince.  You better believe I did.  For the longest time I didn’t want to believe he was dead.

But watching the last movie–wow.  It struck me that Dumbledore was a puppet-master like few others.  As Snape put it, he raised Harry “up for the slaughter.”  He always knew Harry would have to die for Voldermort to be destroyed.  That whole mentoring, surrogate-fathery-thing was so Harry would eventually agree to do it.

How about how he manipulated Snape?  He knew of Snape’s undying love for Harry’s mother.  He used his grief over her death to get Snape to protect Harry, even though Snape wasn’t exactly the boy’s biggest fan.  When Dumbledore knew he was going to die, he again manipulated Snape, this time into agreeing to kill him, so Voldemort would completely trust him.

He had to know that pretty much signed Snape’s death-warrant, too.

Even after death, he’s still manipulating people all over the place, right up to the point where he sends Harry back from the between-life-and-death place they meet for the last time.  So Harry can finish Voldemort once and for all.

I don’t mean this as a character analysis of Dumbledore–that’s a post for another day.  But it got me thinking about how writers are sometimes terrified of manipulating their readers.  Manipulation is BAD.  Manipulation should be AVOIDED.  You ALWAYS have to play fair with the reader.

Actually, I think it’s our job to manipulate our readers.  If you play fair all the time, you’re going to end up with a pretty dull, dry story.  Manipulation is what makes people laugh, sigh, cry, gasp.  If you’re not pulling their strings at least some of the time, they’re not going to be that engaged with the story.

Like anything else, there are right ways and wrong ways to do it. The key is not to make readers aware you’re doing it.  So heavy-handedness is out.

Learn from Dumbledore.  His manipulations are grand, but subtle.  So subtle that we still think of him as the beloved father-figure, not the sneaky guy who persuaded a bunch of people to die.  So subtle that Harry even names his kid after him.

A few years ago I watched a movie about a cop.  It starts with him chasing a criminal through a park.  It’s a long, long chase scene.  Finally, there are gunshots.  He got the guy, right?  Nope.  The camera zeros in on the person the cop shot: a pregnant woman.  Cut to cop cuddling his own kid.  Later on, cop is asked to investigate the death of a fellow officer.  He goes through the dead officer’s personal effects.  Among them is a sonogram image.  With the name the dead cop and his wife chose for the kid written on it.

Get it? Get it? GET IT?

That’s an example of heavy-handedness, in case I needed to point that out to you.

The director Alfred Hitchcock was a great manipulator.  One of the most famous instances is from his movie Psycho.  The first forty minutes follow a woman who is having an affair and wants to marry her lover.  The problem is, they have no money.  So she steals from her boss and leaves town.  She later stops at a motel and has dinner with the eccentric manager.  After talking to him, she decides to turn herself in.  She goes back to her room, steps into the shower and . . .

Yeah, I think you know what happens next.

By killing off the character he made the audience think was the protagonist, Hitchcock not only achieved a short-term shock effect, but a fundamental change in the direction of the story.  Most of the movie from then on is in the point of view of the killer, making the killer the protagonist.  Instead of hoping the killer will get caught, the audience worries the killer will get caught.

Neat, huh?

So call up your inner Dumbledore and start pulling the strings.  Your readers will love you for it.

They might even name one of their kids after you.

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11 thoughts on “Dumbledore Was A Manipulative Bastard (And You Should Be One, Too)

  1. I suppose this could also be referred to as the twist in the story? Because novels can be incredibly dull if they do not have a twist. And you’re right; we still all love Dumbledore despite what he did, haha. I cried buckets when he died!

  2. I love that you reference one of my favorite plot twists, the change of the main character. I think if you spend time getting them invested in one character it intensifies things if you shift focus to someone else

  3. A very insightful post on plot twists and thank you for distracting me from my revision! I love that you’ve used the Dumbledore/Snape + Lily/Harry example- it really makes me want to go back and watch the scene from the film/read the book again which I will hopefully have time to do over the summer!
    Phoenixflames12 x

  4. Aww I’ve waited for an essay like this! Yes I love manipulative characters, as I think they’re the smartest and most interesting in anything. I am manipulative sometimes, and not guilty at all, I can tell you it’s really fun seeing people do exactly what you expect them to without even knowing :))

    1. What I adore about Dumbledore’s character is he’s manipulative, and yet people love him! He’s a great character, a much more interesting take on the “wise old man” than you usually find in stories.

  5. Being Manipulative is one thing: it’s entirely another that dumb-@$$hole HAD to maintain the conditions for ensuring the “Prophesy” to be upheld. Dumbledore once told Harry that it’s not one’s birth that determines their fate, but their actions.

    That’s where I’d call the bastard out for his pointless duplicity.

    So set on simply ensuring the prophesy be carried out, he devised ONLY one method of destroying Voldemort.

    Too bad there were literally dozens of equally disastrous and intolerable social problems that permeated wizarding culture:

    Legalized Slavery of sentient/sapient beings.

    Corrupt justice system that was borderline Autocratic with so little legal protections of its citizens that weren’t filthy rich. Innocent people getting locked away whilst Murderers, Rapist, Thieves, and What-Have-You operating with impunity.

    Blood status driving a wedge between society’s elite and common people.

    Stagnation of education, of societal progress of rights between men and women, of remaining in such an insular community that they might as well have been time-hopped to the Eighteenth Century.

    Propagation of Bullies in Hogwarts school, from its youngest to eldest of its students, Snape enabled his Slytherin charges to continue acting like hateful bigots and convince them “Yes, continue to be as mean and hateful as you like; the authority will see right by you because of your family status.” Which continued into their adulthood. Then those same people grow up, become part of the Ministry of Magic, work together to create laws that benefit themselves alone while hindering their society at large and still get away with it.

    I could go on, but I’m sure someone MUCH more intellectual than I can already highlight additional points of contention.

    Point is, MANY of the things that make their Wizarding society abhorent were things Dumbledore was DIRECTLY involved in. Headmaster of the Student body: He could’ve punished the student accordingly and at least TRIED to show them the error of their ways. Supreme Mugwump; he was part of the legal/justice system and could have EASILY manaeged to gather enough support for the passing of concrete, secure, irrevocable laws to protect its citizens, their rights and freedoms, and partaken in the punishment of criminals to set a better example for wizards and witches alike to understand and respect law and not behave like we did back in the 1200’s and past when “Might Makes Right” and “I’m rich, I’ll do whatever the f@%* I want”.

    God I could fill a whole damn page on where that stupid F@!* went wrong and lost all common sense and understanding with the real world.

    I know, he’s just a fictional character.

    Yes, J.K. herself advocates for Dumbledore.

    Yes, Harry Potter is a just a story.

    Doesn’t change that so many glaring details just chafes me something raw when thinking about it. ESPECIALLY true with how such things are still happening TODAY, and many of us here and now, ARE LETTING IT HAPPEN!

    Bottom Line: Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore deserved to die unloved, undignified, and I honestly hope one day, if anyone decides to do a rehash of the Harry Potter series, Ol’ Harry Potter himself will visit his grave and piss on the old bastard’s dead body.

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