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Did the horn on the wall of Xenophilius
Lovegood’s house come from a Crumple-Horned Snorkack or an Erumpent?
On the surface, the answer to this question
seems obvious. Xenophilius claims that the horn belongs to a Crumple-Horned
Snorkack, a creature few people besides himself are qualified to
identify. Hermione recognizes the grooved markings around the base
from descriptions she’s read about Erumpent horns, and she warns
Xenophilius that the horn may explode at the slightest touch. In
fact, the horn is later hit by a spell and does explode, destroying
half of the building.
Apart from the fact that Hermione correctly predicted
this explosive outcome, we are much more likely to believe her than
Xenophilius because of the difference in their characters. Hermione
is one of the smartest characters in the book, and it is a hallmark
of her character to read widely and remember accurately everything
she reads. She has a mind like a steel trap and is not easily confused
or swayed, which makes her a great asset to the team.
Xenophilius, in contrast, seems to be little more than
a fool. He appears to have no idea how ridiculous he appears to
other people in his dress and manners. He resembles his daughter,
Luna, in being a dreamer and in his interest in unusual magical
items, animals, and plants, but he seems to lack Luna’s penetrating
mind, as we see when she recognizes the disguised Harry and Xenophilius
remains oblivious. Finally, Xenophilius is a seeker of the Deathly
Hallows, a quest which Harry and Dumbledore come to see as foolishly
misguided. When Hermione tries to pin him down about what being
“master of death” means, he is airily vague, displaying quite the
opposite of Hermione’s sharp and discriminating intelligence.
But there is a reason to entertain some doubt about Hermione’s conclusion.
When Xenophilius says that Hermione has a limited and stubbornly
narrow point of view, we may resist this accusation, feeling Hermione
to be superior to him, but he has a point. Xenophilius is a believer
in things you can’t see, and Hermione is a skeptic and doubter,
but Xenophilius is proved right about the existence of the Deathly
Hallows. What’s more, the brilliant Luna doesn’t doubt her father
for a second when Hermione tells her about the horn—even though
it has already exploded. Luna doesn’t argue with Hermione about
the markings or properties of the horn, she simply maintains her
faith in her father’s opinion, against all appearances. This sort
of behavior—loyalty in the face of negative appearances—is precisely
what Harry is failing to exhibit toward Dumbledore, and Luna’s faith
acts as a foil, making us see what Harry needs to do in a clearer
Throughout the book, Dumbledore’s
character is questioned by a number of characters, including Harry himself.
What is Dumbledore’s assessment of his own character, and how accurate
do you think that assessment is?
Dumbledore does not waste too much time lamenting
or running down his own character, being much more preoccupied with
helping Harry and the rest of the wizarding world rid themselves
of the scourge of Voldemort. However, he does accuse himself of
two major failings: he says that he can’t be trusted with power,
and that he is not nearly as selfless as Harry—in fact, that he
is immensely more selfish. Dumbledore has some justification for
this self-assessment, yet in an objective consideration of his life,
we may arrive at a less harsh estimation of his overall character.
Dumbledore’s statement that he cannot be trusted with
power reflects an opinion that he arrives at early in his adulthood,
after he realizes his great error in scheming to take over the world
with Gellert Grindelwald. Horrified at what he has almost done,
he turns down the post of Minister of Magic several times in his
career, preferring to stay at Hogwarts and lead the retiring life
of a teacher and headmaster. His statement that he is more selfish
than Harry is based on the fact that the year before, when he recovered
the Resurrection Stone, he used it to try to speak with his dead
sister and mother and atone for his mistakes, thus invoking the
Stone’s curse and bringing about his own death. Surely we may agree
with him that these are both serious and costly lapses of judgment.
Yet while we may agree with this honest and insightful
self-assessment, other considerations may temper this view. Dumbledore
makes mistakes, it’s true, but he does make up for them. He does
not truly abjure power, because his career is anything but retiring.
He wields great influence at the Ministry of Magic and with the Order
of the Phoenix, and is widely seen as the most powerful wizard alive.
He doesn’t truly keep a low profile or let things take their course,
he simply exercises his power responsibly.
Moreover, in his biggest mistakes, Dumbledore proves to
be not that unlike Harry, though his circumstances are very different. Harry,
like Dumbledore, shares the intense desire to resurrect the dead
and speak with them, and he might well have been tempted to do so
if he had gotten the Stone earlier than he did. Even if not, Harry
did not have the crippling burden of guilt toward the dead that
Dumbledore carried for so many years. And while it’s hard to picture
Harry plotting to take over the world, Harry did not have Dumbledore’s
experiences of seeing his sister harmed and father imprisoned. Dumbledore’s
famous penchant for granting second chances is based on the idea
that you can atone for your mistakes. By that yardstick, Dumbledore
measures pretty well.