Deifying Characters, Or What Albus Dumbledore and Papa Pope Have in Common
Last week, I was lying around and I randomly started thinking about Dumbledore. Now, this isn’t necessarily a rare occurrence, as Harry Potter is a story that has shaped my childhood and undoubtedly my entire life, but what was interesting was how my brain took off in a direction I never expected to go. All of the sudden, I was thinking about how similar Dumbledore was to Rowan Pope (more affectionally referred to as “Papa Pope” by fans), the main antagonist in Scandal.
Now, there are obvious differences between the two. One is the greatest wizard of all time, one is a Muggle. One hides in the shadows, the other is extremely well-known. One works toward the greater good, one perceives himself to be working toward the greater good…hold up. See, that’s the thing. While both are in very different fictional universes, and while one is painted as good and the other as bad, when you think about it Dumbledore and Papa Pope aren’t really all that different. And so what becomes interesting about them is that while they are painted in different lights, they are characterized in similar ways.
Though Rowan is very clearly the Big Bad Guy in Scandal, he is also clearly deified, both by himself and the people around him whether they like him or not. People are afraid of him, do his bidding without questioning him, and if they fail they know there are repercussions. He is the head of a secret spy organization called B613, that’s purpose is to maintain stability of the United States by any means necessary. As a result, Papa Pope has a lot of power over the people who run the country. He can easily do anything from commanding the assassination of a potential threat from a foreign country, to ordering the shooting down a domestic airline. He knows everything that is happening in Washington, D.C. and is allowed to make decisions for the republic based on that knowledge. In a way, he is more powerful than the President, and he knows it.
This power carries into his personal life as well; though it is often blurred with his professional decisions. He seems to feel the need to control everything, be it the country, his daughter, or the men who love his daughter. There are so many times when he speaks as if he is God, telling Olivia once that she has “forsaken” him. This habit of his is actually what makes him one of my favorite characters on the show. While it definitely adds to his reputation as a villain, he often speaks in proverbs and makes biblical references in regards to himself. While that in and of itself may just be unsettling, what makes him so formidable is that he actually has power to back it up and therefore is terrifying. The people around him, including his daughter Olivia, do what he says because he never speaks empty words. So in this way, Papa Pope becomes deified both by himself and others.
And now to Dumbledore. While the characterization of Dumbledore is far more positive, one could argue that he is just as dangerous as Papa Pope. Dumbledore is the Headmaster of Hogwarts, though he also the Chief Wizard of the Wizengamot (wizard court for all you Muggles) and the Supreme Mugwump (head of the International Confederation of Wizards, again, for the Muggles). It is mentioned multiple times throughout the Harry Potter series that Dumbledore could have easily become Minister of Magic, but didn’t because he refused to run, opting instead to continue as Headmaster of Hogwarts. He is also the only person that Lord Voldemort, the most powerful Dark Wizard EVER, is afraid of.
While characterized as a kind and gentle man, it becomes apparent (and is, in fact a big plot point in Deathly Hallows) that Dumbledore was just as manipulative as, say, a Papa Pope. Dumbledore puts a lot of faith in the fact that people have faith in him. He never tells anyone the full story, only what they need to know in order to do what he wants done. As much as I don’t like Snape, he was right when in Half-Blood Prince, he told Dumbledore that he “takes too much for granted.” In other words, Dumbledore relies heavily on the fact that people idolize him and therefore will do what he wants. While technically in the Harry Potter series, Dumbledore’s goal is the defeat of the greatest Dark Wizard of all time, and while he doesn’t use the same tactics as Lord Voldemort, this doesn’t necessarily mean that his tactics are commendable. He often expects people to do the things he says without telling them why; at the same time he seems to know everything about everyone without them knowing anything about him. One of the most heartbreaking scenes in Deathly Hallows was when Harry realized after Dumbledore’s death that not only did his mentor not really give him any information on how to complete the task given to him, but that he did not even truly show Harry who he was in any real way. The reason Dumbledore was able to get away with this until then was because of his deification. He was able to maintain an air of mystery that stopped people from really knowing who he was and his past, which had become obscured over time.
Arguably, the most interesting thing about Dumbledore is his past. In Deathly Hallows it is revealed that Dumbledore was once friends with Gellert Grindewald, the most infamous Dark Wizard before Voldemort. Together, the two plotted to gather the Deathly Hallows and rule over the world, wizards and Muggles alike. They wrote that they would do this for “the greater good.” While Dumbledore eventually stopped being (wizard) racist and left Grindelwald, eventually defeating him in 1945, it isn’t as if he ever stopped working towards the “greater good.” Sure, his new “greater good” ended up taking the form of becoming a champion for Muggles and Muggle-borns, as well as supposedly limiting his own power because he felt he could be corrupted by it; however, for one to argue that Dumbledore didn’t really have power because he turned down the opportunity to become Minister of Magic is facile. I mean, sure, he doesn’t consciously go after power in the same way that Papa Pope does (which is probably the main difference between the two), but he does use the power he undoubtedly has to manipulate people, including – and probably especially – Harry himself.
This idealization of both Dumbledore and Papa Pope are interesting because they manifest in different ways. People are obviously aware of how problematic and dangerous Papa Pope is, but are blinded to the same characteristics found in one of the greatest wizards of all time. Of course, some of this is purposeful, and we do get some humanization of both characters in their respective stories, but it is very interesting to me the ways that people deify both characters in both good and bad ways, and how this deification relies on very similar characteristics.