I’m mildly curious as to whether Rowling had any idea of how — given that nothing in the storyline until we had actually embarked on the final book could have ever given us at least a hint of who Grindelwald even was, and what he had tried to do — that we would even particularly care. Assuming she was expecting us to believe he had ever actually mattered? Even if the early connection to Albus had still come out of left field at the last minute, we ought to have at least been given some reason to think he was relevant before that.
Which she might very easily have done. There wasn’t any reason for the early connection to Albus to have been brought up in the public record. The connection to Bathilda Bagshott might have been harder to conceal. Particularly given that they were both pretty big names, even if for wildly different things on opposite ends of Europe.
Although perhaps not all that different really. She recorded (*cough*distorted*cough*) history. He made it.
But for Rowling to not give anyone any hint at all? All we had was a bit of puffery on Albus’s chocolate frog card which identifies him as a Dark wizard. Frankly, given the number of times we’ve seem people throwing around allegations and accusations of Dark magic at anything they don’t recognize in this series, that doesn’t give us much to reason frrom.
But, for the most part this article has been left in more or less it’s HBP-compliant form. There has been some adjustment and addition in reflection of DHs, but the basic premise hasn’t been reworked to reflect Rowling’s version.
Why should it? Exploded theories can still have entertainment value. You are all quite welcome to point and laugh.
• • • •
For years, one of the most widespread fanon theories floating about, regardless of a total lack of any support inside canon, was the conviction that — despite the fact that Rowling had shown us nothing in canon, whatsoever, of what kind of “threat” that the “Dark wizard Grindelwald” represented — it must have been considerable.
For that matter, the conviction seemed to be that whatever degree of threat he represented, in type it must have been political.
This conviction rests solely upon the premise that; if Albus Dumbledore, who defeated him, is reputed to be “Considered by some to be the greatest wizard in modern times”, then, if Dumbledore is great, and he is “most famous” for defeating Grindelwald, then it follows that Grindelwald must have been pretty hot stuff.
Why everyone was so convinced that it was all about politics seemed to be solely based upon the fact that the name sounds Germanic and he was defeated in 1945.
I’ll admit I was less than altogether convinced by that line of reasoning.
Linking the defeat of a Germanic-sounding Grindelwald and the year 1945 does not equate the defeat of the 3rd Reich, in our own world, in that year. It only pretends to. It is a false parallel.
In fact the parallel looked progressively more and more false as the series continued and Rowling repeatedly dismissed or ignored or contradicted any element which would have supported the contention that the Potterverse had ever had anything like a 3rd Reich goose-steping about in it. And in DHs she finally renders the whole assumption into gibberish by claiming that Grindelwald never took his war to Britain at all.
Despite Rowling’s apparent 11th-hour endorsement of that particular piece false reasoning, she provides nothing within canon to support it. She tells us ex-cathedra, that there were both wizard and Muggle global wars feeding off each other — with no explanation of how that was supposed to actually work, and then in the following book informs us that the wizarding war never touched Britain, which breaks every connection that the readers and theorists were attempting to establish between them. She then further tests our gullibility by trying to claim that all of this fighting was somehow ended by a one-on-one duel between two wizards — who Muggles do not believe exist.
All of this after having already summarily (and consistently) ignored the existence of any wartime conditions related to a Muggle conflict throughout the entire series, I find her whole postulation of any mid-century war about as insupportable as her claim that HBP and DHs were somehow two halves of the same story — which was another piece of hooey that she was palming off on us at about the same time as she was claiming that the Muggle and wizard wars were feeding off one another. The only thing in the entire series that would indicate that any kind of a war had ever taken place in the 20th century of the Potterverse was the fact of Frank Bryce having come home from one with a stiff leg.
• • • •
Most fan writers blindly accepted such statements, however, and almost universally run away with the 1945 date given for Grindelwald’s defeat, postulating a Germanic Dark Lord wannabe in the full-dress Lord Voldemort style, either working hand-in-glove with Adolf Hitler, or using the disruption of WWII as a cloak under which to conceal his own activities.
I didn’t buy that scenario either. Or not wholesale, anyway. I still don’t. Not even in the face of Rowling’s support of it. Rowling shows us no evidence in modern wizarding society that would indicate that such events had ever taken place. Certainly not with the scope she postulates. Not without either Muggle detection, or wizarding recollection and discussion for generations afterward. Wizards would not have effectively forgotten about it by Harry Potter’s day. It is simply not feasible.
I was particularly frustrated for some time in that there was allegedly an interview by a young fan by the name of Owen Jones who won the right to interview Ms Rowling as a part of a newspaper contest. This interview was allegedly posted somewhere online, in 2005, in which a number of questions concerning Grindelwald were allegedly raised. This posting steadfastly refused to load, so I have never been able to access it, and had to make do with a paraphrase. (I have yet to track down the transcript of this interview. It was made around the time of the release of HBP and printed in an Irish paper.)
However, a later round of dodging toppling dominoes resulted in some long-overdue development on this particular issue.
In a whole new direction, too. I thought I might be approaching some kind of a solution to the puzzle.
• • • •
With the release of HBP, I believed that I might have been missing what could be a key piece of the puzzle.
And the solution to that part of the mystery appeared to be more wide-ranging than simply being able to file Grindelwald into what seemed to be his proper context.
It was now suggested that my original contention that the Grindelwald affair was not unconnected to the matter of Tom Riddle might not be altogether incorrect — although the connection might be far less direct and not at all in the style that I had imagined it.
• • • •
We had been assuming since OotP was released in 2003 that Albus was appointed Headmaster around Dec ’56/January ’57 on the grounds of Minerva’s statement that she was hired at that time.
Albus had been the Transfiguration teacher in the early 1940s.
Minerva is the Transfiguration teacher now.
Ergo: Minerva was hired to fill Albus’s suddenly vacant former position when he was promoted. Right?
Well, it seems, not necessarily.
In fact it began to look like possibly not at all. After the release of HBP, the dominoes were falling like rain, and a couple of puzzle pieces finally clicked into place. One of them was a comparatively new piece, only introduced in HBP. The other has been lying around underfoot, and getting very much in the way, ever since the beginning of the series.
• • • •
The fact that Albus was once, and Minerva is now Transfigurations teacher for the school does not, in fact, establish just when Albus became Headmaster. We’d all been overlooking somebody. Admittedly this was somebody we were not aware of until HBP had been released.
Allow me to suggest the following adjustments to the Master timeline, while dishing myself up a nice helping of crow:
1945 — Tom Riddle sits his NEWTs to his typically outstanding results.
Long-time DADA Professor Galatea Merrythought finally announces her retirement. (Forgot all about her, didn’t we? Well, in all justice I can’t see any way in which we wouldn’t have since we hadn’t known she existed.)
Tom requests the DADA position from Headmaster Dippett.
On the advice of Albus Dumbledore, Dippett declines Riddle’s request recommending that he gain a few years experience first.
In order to sweeten the deal to Dippett — and to further remove the class from Riddle’s reach, Albus (fresh from his defeat of Grindelwald — according to this scenario probably during the Easter break) offers to take the class himself.
An offer which is happily accepted. Some solid information on the exact date and the circumstances of the Grindelwald defeat would come in awfully handy around this juncture, but I wouldn’t recommend holding one’s breath in hopes of it. (Just as well. Rowling gave us no more information on this issue in book 7 than she had in book 1.)
One does reflect that in our own world, V-E day was officially May 8. That’s well before the end of the school year and Grindelwald would seem to have been more likely to have been defeated before the end of the Muggle war than after. Or, in other words, before the end of the 1944–1945 academic Year. The year Tom Riddle was Head Boy. It is also probably not too much to speculate that the whole business may have had something to do with Professor Merrythought finally deciding to throw in the towel.
It finally fits.
1945 — Unidentified replacement Transfigurations teacher is hired.
December 1956 — Unidentified Transfigurations teacher is abruptly no longer at Hogwarts for unspecified reasons, in the middle of the academic year. Minerva is hired as his or her replacement.
Winter, exact year unknown (some 10 years after Riddle’s disappearance from the ww anyway) — Albus is appointed Headmaster. Riddle returns to request the DADA post — which he knows is vacant. And when Albus wouldn’t give it to him he jinxed it so no one else would have it either.
It ALL finally fits.
• • • •
Minerva tells us outright that she was hired in December/January. The snow falling outside the window when Riddle shows up to congratulate Albus on his Headmaster appointment is an open invitation to leap to the conclusion that this is the same December/January in which Minerva was hired. And of course it could be. But the narrative never comes out and tells us so. For that matter, there isn’t really anything to say that Tom wasn’t congratulating Albus on an appointment of some months’ standing. And we already know that Minerva isn’t the only teacher to have come on staff mid-year. Sybill also came on board after the academic year had commenced. But If Albus was suddenly appointed because Professor Dippett had just died, then his appointment might not even have been during a term break, although we can probably conclude that it was during the winter.
The remaining, and most significant “missing piece” is the date that Tom Riddle murdered Hepzibah Smith and absconded with two of her treasures. And we have never been never told that. Nor will we be.
Without knowing that date, we can’t really get a solid handle on the timing of the rise of Lord Voldemort. We can extrapolate any number of about equally plausible alternatives, but we haven’t anything solid.
For the record. I think that even if my theories regarding Tom’s boyhood, as outlined in the essay entitled ‘Minding the Gap’ are completely out to lunch, Riddle still got himself hired on at B&B specifically in order to look for traces of that locket that had been in his mother’s family. Morfin told him about that locket, Slytherin’s locket, when Tom finally made his way to the Gaunt’s hovel in the summer of ’42. Borgin & Burkes is probably one of the most prominent dealers in magical antiquities in wizarding Britain — a fact that Riddle was fully aware of by the time he finished school. The chances were that sooner or later the locket, or whoever purchased it, was going to cross the threshold there. And Tom was wagering his time and effort that he would eventually be able to trace the locket through the shop.
If he had access to the shop’s records dating back to the mid-1920s he might have done so very quickly. The transaction(s) concerning it are bound to have been in those records. It may have taken him very little time to ingratiate himself with Madam Smith, who appears to have been a serious collector and a valued repeat customer. His murder of Madam Smith and his decade-later return under a new name may have taken place every bit as quickly as we have assumed. But we just cannot be sure of it.
We do have less than a decade of potential spread, however. The earliest plausible date of a return would probably be around the same Dec/Jan 1956-7 that Minerva was hired. About the latest probable date would be a different Dec/Jan around 1960–’63. In any case, it was almost certainly earlier than the mid-’60s, when Fudge claims that the Ministry became aware of Lord Voldemort and his activities. Riddle was still visibly quite young before his first disappearance from the ww. Although he may perhaps have been as old as 25 or so. But he is not likely to have been significantly more than that.
Since it seems to have taken the Ministry until around ’66 or ’67 before it woke up and realized that this “Lord Voldemort” person was a real problem and he wasn’t going away, we don’t get a clear idea of just when his activities actually got started, either, although Albus appears to have picked up rumors before Riddle even asked him for that job interview (note: in retrospect that particular allusion may even have been referring to activities that took place before Tom’s trip to Albania). It also may have been a few years after their inception that the DEs started sending up the Dark Mark as their signature, which would further confuse the issue. (Hard for the Ministry to ignore that...)
But finally being able to fit Galatea Merrythought into the picture where she seems to belong does seem worth the effort and then some. After all, if she didn’t fit anywhere, why was she even introduced?
• • • •
Of course this now raises the question of why, in general. Why did Rowling decide to sneak this issue past us in such a manner? What kind of purpose is supposed to be served by the sudden suggestion that Albus was “oh shocking!” the DADA teacher before becoming Headmaster? And the last one to hold the position for more than one year. So what? Talk about elephants straining to bring forth mice. What is the point?
We don’t know what year Albus’s Headmaster appointment was. But I am pretty confident that Rowling doesn’t think we need to know. We, of course disagree with her, but a lot of effect that will have.
Frankly we are in danger of losing our way in the forest due to paying excessive attention to the individual trees. But this sort of opacity is nevertheless a real issue in this series.
Why is Rowling being so cagey about just when Riddle started his rise? Or when Albus became Headmaster? Or who taught what subject when? Hell, what year and month the ruddy Prophecy was even made?
And does any of it even matter to the tale that she is telling? By this time, I am not altogether convinced that it does. It matters to the tales that some of us want to tell. It matters a whole lot to the “grand unified theory of everything” that others among us want to build. But I cannot see that any of it was ever going to have any plausible impact upon where the Horcruxes were, or how Harry was supposed to defeat Riddle when he finally faced him.
And, perhaps worst of all, this coyness was no longer heightening suspense, it was being aggravating for the sake of being aggravating, and creating distraction and mystery that goes nowhere.
• • • •
Which brings us back to Grindelwald. As of the end of HBP, we still didn’t know why he was introduced to the series either.
It does look as if he was supposed to have been involved with some variant of WWII, after all. Even if Rowling never bothered to finish the job of building him (or WWII) into the Potterverse in any plausible manner. Hence my dinner of crow casserole.
But I still didn’t buy any of the Dark Lord Grindelwald theories which have been clogging the internet since the fandom found its way online. And I still didn’t see any reason why I should. And I am still not even convinced that they are feasible. No, not even in the wake of DHs. Although I have to admit that any number of them are more feasible than Rowling’s.
If Grindelwald had ever been any sort of Hitleresque Dark Lord wannabe, people would remember him. And they would talk about it. In our own world, now spinning apparently uncontrollably toward some new iteration of a major war somewhere, comparisons with WWII are on everyone’s lips. If the “Dark wizard Grindelwald’s” activities had ever been in that style, then his career would be under constant discussion. Even if only because, now that he is definitely out of the way, it would be safe to natter on about Grindelwald, as it is apparently not considered safe to speak of Lord Voldemort.
Unless, of course, Grindelwald’s career was nipped in the bud, and the threat never got into the Daily Prophet, or much into the public consciousness. Which — if he was a continental political power — seems most unlikely, and contradicts the whole myth about Dumbledore’s abiding fame for having defeated him, right there. You can hardly be all that widely famous over something that is, at most, a minor footnote in history, that nobody knows anything about.
Rowling belatedly attempts to beg the question by claiming that his activities took place at the opposite end of Europe, and that Britain wasn’t much concerned with him. But that really doesn’t wash. Particularly not when she also claims that people were begging Albus to take care of the problem for five years before he was finally shamed into doing it. (And why did they dump their problem on Dumbledore, he was a scholar, not a warrior. I say Rowling is just trying to have it both ways, and I don’t believe a word of it.)
• • • •
A friend of mine (reads the books, in fact was the person who pointed them out to me in ’97 so I was waiting when they jumped the pond — but who is not, himself, in the fandom) has mentioned that the books feel like they would play more smoothly if they had been set in the 1950s.
He is quite right, too. They would. The only thing at all that goes against such an assignment is some of the Dursley tech. Which is wrong anyway, as people have often enough pointed out. Some of Dudley’s various electronic toys didn’t exist yet at the date he was supposedly given them. Rowling is obviously writing the series off the top of her head and doesn’t even bother to keep the contemporary “history” straight.
But the more I think about it, the more it seems that Rowling really missed a trick by not setting the series in the 1930s. And, again, the only thing that flies against it is the Dursley tech.
If Harry was born in say, 1920 and started Hogwarts in 1931 the reader would actually get the weird parallels between the wizarding and Muggle worlds (or, rather, our world) that Rowling claims that she has in the back of her mind. The readers, at least the older ones, would definitely be able to pick the historical parallels up, and it would enrich the text. The characters might miss out on it, but they completely miss it as it is, and the characters don’t need to be aware of it.
You’d also get a far better context for reading the wizarding world vis-à-vis the Muggle one. From the standpoint of the 1990s the ww looks hopelessly backward. But it really isn’t. It’s only technologically backward, and it only looks like that because it operates on an alternate technology.
From a standpoint of the 1930s, the ww would look quite progressive socially, (which would have eliminated a fair degree of the flack Rowling catches for her portrayal of the status of females right off the top) and it would give us a bit of additional context to interpret the degree of agitation which is being demonstrated by the DE faction. And we’d possibly not be going; “But... but...” over the British Ministry of Magic’s authority over the Irish Quidditch League. Or at least not quite so loudly.
By throwing the whole boiling back to the ’30s just about everything falls more into place, Tom’s vaguely Dickensian orphanage would be an authentically Dickensian orphanage, the Gaunt’s primitive rural sty fits the era, the Dursley’s uptight concern for what the neighbors think also, any number of things play better if this is happening in the ’30s.
Frank Bryce would have gotten his stiff leg off in Afghanistan (along with Dr. John D. Watson?) it would have been a couple of years after that conflict before Tom showed up at the Riddle House, but there appears to be no reason whatsoever for why the war in which Bryce was injured needs to be an ongoing one when the murders actually took place. Rowling never actually showed us, or claimed, that there was a war in progress when those murders took place. In fact, at the end of the series, I’m not even convinced that there was one. Rowling makes no use of it as such in the course of the narrative. There is no indication whatsoever that the war that Frank was invalided home from had ever touched that village.
Grindelwald would probably be being conflated with Otto von Bismarck. Much of VoldWar I would have been carried on under the cover of the Muggle WWI, and the supernatural elements would have escaped Muggle notice.
Albus Dumbledore would have been born in 1821 (lost his father to Azkaban in 1831, his mother and sister to death in 1839 right around the time Victoria came to the throne) and if my own reading of the backstory is correct, he would have been a young boy during the time that the Hogwarts Quill was first put into commission and the MoM adopted the policy of aggressively seeking out and recruiting Muggle-borns. Kendra, if still intended to be a Muggle-born would probably have hailed from one of the traditional semi-wizarding villages, been identified young by a wizarding neighbor and trained as a witch. Moving the family to Godric’s Hollow in the aftermath of the scandal might even have been a return to her own childhood home. Or, she might have been acknowledged as the daughter of a Squib.
Albus would have started Hogwarts right about the time the first or second wave of newly discovered Muggle-borns identified by the Hogwarts Quill did. He would have defeated Grindelwald in 1885, and been appointed Headmaster somewhere between the start of 1897 to 1902.
Tom Riddle would have been born at the end of 1866. He’d have shown up at the Gaunt hovel in the summer of ’82. He’d have finished Hogwarts in ’85, and murdered Hepzibah Smith and gone into his first exile perhaps around 1887-1893.
(As an interesting side note, the Whitechapel/Jack the Ripper killings took place in London in 1888. The number of alleged victims varies by report. Generally accounted to be five, by some accounts as many as seven, or as few as four. A Horcrux creation, anyone?)
His return would have been sometime between the later half of 1896 to early 1903 or thereabouts. The Ministry would have finally realized that shutting down “Lord Voldemort” and his band of terrorists needed to be a priority at some point in the first decade of the 20th century. He would have rendered himself unmentionable around 1910. His first defeat would have been on Halloween of 1921.
The Marauder cohort would have been born in 1899–1900. Their Hogwarts years would have been 1911–1918. The Prophecy would have been made at some point between Halloween 1919 (right around the date of the Muggle Armistice?) and the beginning of January 1920.
Given how little attention to historical compliance Rowling expends in the version she did tell, dressing the series up in “period” costume wouldn’t have taken all that much extra work. Even if she put no more effort into historical plausibility than she has done as it is. But at least we would know from the outset that we were not expected to take any of the history seriously.
I mean it’s not like we would expect it of her. Or expect her to get it right. We would have seen how slip-shod her period research was by the time we got halfway through Book 1 and by this time we would not even try to hold her to any kind of an accurate historical context, but just blow it off as; “Well, it’s Rowling, all the history is bunk.”
• • • •
But, regardless of whatever “might have beens” may be lurking in the background; if there’d ever been an acknowledged national emergency over Grindelwald at the time, wizards would still be talking about it and about his era. They would be drawing comparisons of it to VoldWar I which started up no more than 20 years later. Out here in the mundane world we still hear people discussing WWI, and comparisons routinely get drawn between it and WWII. The landscape of Great Britain is littered with War Memorials commemorating these conflicts. But to the end of HBP has anyone in the wizarding world ever even mentioned Grindelwald?
Not a peep. Grindelwald, so far as we’d seen, was nothing more than a name on a chocolate frog card. If Grindelwald was ever indeed a threat to the wizarding community on the order that he is usually portrayed in fanfic, this would simply not be the case.
Or — Theories ’R’ Us — perhaps the nature of the threat of Grindelwald’s activities was of such a vastly different caliber to that of Voldemort’s that it never occurs to anyone to compare the two.
Well, Rowling allegedly (in the Owen Jones interview) claims that she sees the Potterverse as a reflection of ours, so Grindelwald was presumably kicking up his heels during the Muggles’ WWII, and that this is supposed to have had some significance. I cannot get at that interview, but she did give us a recap in the “joint interview” later the same month:
The following is excerpted from the joint interview of July 2005 shortly after HBP was released:
ES: Our other "Ask Jo" question (the one about James and Lily’s sacrifices), was from Maria Vlasiou, who is 25, of the Netherlands. And then the third is from Helen Poole, 18, from Thirsk, Yorkshire - also one of the "Plot Thickens" fan book authors. It’s the one about Grindelwald, which I’m sure you’ve been gearing up for us to ask.
JKR: Uh huh.
ES: Clearly —
JKR: Come on then, remind me. Is he dead?
ES: Yeah, is he dead?
JKR: Yeah, he is. (Well, he was by 2005, he wasn’t at that point in the series. She lied in her teeth there)
ES: Is he important?
JKR: [regretful] Ohhh...
ES: You don’t have to answer but can you give us some backstory on him?
JKR: I’m going to tell you as much as I told someone earlier who asked me. You know Owen who won the [UK television] competition to interview me? He asked about Grindelwald [pronounced "Grindelvald" HMM.]. He said, "Is it coincidence that he died in 1945," and I said no. It amuses me to make allusions to things that were happening in the Muggle world, so my feeling would be that while there’s a global Muggle war going on, there’s also a global wizarding war going on.
ES: Does he have any connection to —
JKR: I have no comment to make on that subject.
MA: Do they feed each other, the Muggle and wizarding wars?
JKR: Yeah, I think so. Yeah. Mm.
Do these interview quotes really sound as if she’d ever actually thought about it? Really considered it at all? She didn’t even claim that she thought about it. She says it was a “feeling”; it “amused” her to make the allusions. It sounds to me more like a vague “oh gee, that’s a cool idea, let’s have one of those, too.” without ever really examining it to see whether it made any kind of sense, let alone actually fit the story. To call it half-baked is to pay it a compliment!
She doesn’t even clue us in that Grindelwald did not die in 1945.
And while all that may have been her original intention, she certainly had not put any of it into the books. And by that point in the series she really ought to have.
• • • •
For that matter: taking Rowling at her word, that she sees her world as a reflection of this one, if Grindelwald’s “war” is supposed to be a reflection of WWII, then what — given that it lasted from approximately 1957 (or 1960ish) to 1981 — was VoldWar I? The Cold War? It certainly doesn’t appear to reflect that period very well. I lived through the Cold War. There was a lot of home grown paranoia being sown and reaped, but it certainly didn’t look like a shooting war from where I was standing. So is it Korea? Viet Nam? The IRA, perhaps? Well, maybe the IRA. The times are right as far as it goes, But, iirc, the IRA went on raising havoc for a good while longer than Voldemort did.
But from our vantage point at the end of Book 6 Grindelwald really sounded very much like something that Rowling had just tossed in off the top of her head without ever having taken the time to think the matter all the way through to the end, or to determine where it actually fit. Either he was a bit of flotsam connected to an original intention that she never was able to fit into the story, like Hermione Granger’s Muggle sister, or he was something she tossed in as set dressing and she never really intended to follow through on.
Or the other shoe was yet to fall, and the punch line would probably turn out to be another one of her silly jokes. Anything in the Potterverse that has to do with history usually did.
Rather like the whole issue of international wizarding Seclusion in itself, when you stop to examine it. That is a totally Euro-centric piece of legislation. It was a response to the fallout of the bloody (and it was bloody) Protestant Reformation. Most of the rest of the world didn’t have one of those. So we get all kinds of tribal wizards and shamans and medicine men at the World Cup, and I seriously doubt that they are living in wizarding seclusion in their native lands. But the wizards living in what were once European colonies and major European settlements in those very same countries probably were. There is bound to be an overlap, but “international” doesn’t necessarily mean “worldwide” — and it certainly doesn’t mean “universal”.
And we are the ones who get stuck with having to sort it out and try to reconcile it, because Rowling certainly wasn’t going to take the trouble. She had other fish to fry. But there is no reason why we should feel that we have to make every detail match up just exactly. Particularly since the whole idea seems to have been at least partially intended as an inside joke.
And it certainly isn’t supportable in any meaningful manner, not given the totally inadequate population numbers she seems to expect to have been carrying out this alleged global war. The woman claims that the whole wizarding population of Great Britain and Ireland is about 3000 for heaven’s sake! At that rate, the entire population of the wizarding world would be well under half a million!
• • • •
I’m having a real problem wrapping my brain around any practical manner in which wizards would be tinkering with full-scale, industrialized Muggle warfare. Particularly if not in any official capacity. Assuming that no one is sending out Armadas that could be routed by a conveniently-placed storm — which actually might be halfway plausible — but no one ever suggested that Grindelwald was doing that. Instead, Grindelwald now seems to have not attempted to take his war to Britain at all.
Considering the way wizards seem to view Muggle society in general, you would expect that they might wave the flag, mouth the national propaganda, and calmly sit the whole thing out. Viewing it as a sort of spectator sport, rather like Quidditch, only more inconvenient, and not as engaging.
Mind you, I don’t have all that much trouble believing that individual wizards with a higher than average degree of nationalism or social conscience might mix in — with or without the sanction of their national Ministries of Magic. We were all led to imagine that, back in the day, Albus kept an eye on the British Muggle war effort and that if he saw an opportunity to give it a nudge, might do so. (It’s nowhere nearly so easy to imagine it now. In fact, it’s hard to imagine it at all.)
But I certainly don’t see him leaving the country to do it. Particularly not when he already had a day job.
However, at that point in the series (the end of HBP) the field was still wide open for theorizing about Grindelwald and his activities.
Well, okay. I was up for that.
• • • •
From the vantage point of the end of HBP, whatever her original intentions, Rowling had not followed through on the issue of Grindelwald, and from what she showed us, rather than simply telling us (which was virtually nothing), certainly did not support the contention that Grindelwald was any sort of a continental super-power.
Conversely; it was also entirely possible that “Grindelwald” was about as authentic a name as “Voldemort”. Indeed, Grindelwald could have been the completely bogus nom de crime of a wizard whose day-to-day identity was something perfectly ordinary and whose public persona was perfectly respectable. Although I did not insist on that.
And I would still have hesitated to call it the “Grindelwald war”. We just plain hadn’t the information we needed to be able to call it that. He seems to have been involved in it, but we had no reason to believe that he was in charge of it. The fact that no one had ever seemed to even think to mention him suggested to me that he wasn’t that high in the hierarchy of it.
And IF he was involved in the war — as now seemed most likely — in what capacity would a wizard be best suited to meddling in a Muggle conflict in an industrialized era?
Not, I think, in leading charges and planning raids.
Probably not even as a sniper at the front.
No, I rather think that the most effective uses for magical ability in an industrialized war might be in espionage. And possibly sabotage.
• • • •
Well, being older than 80% of the fandom is usually an advantage when it comes to spinning theories, but sometimes there are disadvantages, as well.
In this case, the fact that when I was in school, there was a more-or-less unofficial 50-year moratorium on saying anything about recent history in the classroom, meant that any history class I was dragged into (sulking and grumbling all the way) rarely got as far as WWI, and they usually bogged down so thoroughly in the Reconstruction era that we barely made it to the end of the 19th century. Anything within the last 50 years you were evidently supposed to learn about outside the classroom. Probably from your parents or grandparents.
Consequently, I didn’t realize that those silly Nazis chasing around after the Ark of the Covenant in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ were based on something that actually existed!
Evidently there was a significant faction in the upper ranks of the SS who were very much into occultism. From the sound of it they had a whole premise and mythos they were working from that for fanciful self-delusion would have put most of the nut cults that have sprung up in the last 30 years to shame.
Well, hey, with something like that in the picture, I’d say it was an open invitation for some wizard to get ideas about mixing in.
And doing it just for the hell of it, even! Enter Grindelwald theory Mark II.
We don’t know what Grindelwald’s own motives were. It could have been the Willy Widdershins model of sniggering up one’s sleeve as one jerks the stupid Muggles around. It could have been the Lucius Malfoy model where you go; “Hm, so these Muggles want to make use of arcane powers, do they? I’ll bet if I showed them some I could take the whole thing over in next to no time.” Or he could have been a genuinely patriotic Nazi sympathizer who thought that a Nazi victory was such a Good Thing that it was worth breaking a few Ministry rules over.
So what does that all add up to?
Can you say: “gross violation of the International Statues on Wizarding Secrecy”? There, I was sure you could.
And that could have been what blew it up into a “global” conflict — at least on the wizarding front, and what classified Grindelwald as a “Dark wizard” right there. He was deliberately putting wizarding secrecy at risk!
Once the wizarding world realized that their Seclusion was in real danger of being breached, it wouldn’t have just been Britain who wanted to stop him, either.
It might also go some way toward why no one brings up Grindelwald when they are discussing Riddle. What Grindelwald was doing was almost the exact opposite to Voldemort’s avowed party line. Where Riddle’s activities, left unchecked, would simply make wizarding secrecy impossible to maintain, Grindelwald was actually sharing their secrets with Muggles.
Grindelwald probably wasn’t the only wizard who thought that collaborating with the Nazis (and it sounds like it was a fairly small, inner-circle segment of the Nazis who were the ones who were into the occult and trying to use it) was a good idea. But I very much doubt that all of the wizards even in areas where the Nazis were dominant agreed with them.
And I certainly don’t think that their Ministries agreed with him. The Ministries of Magic, upon the whole, have way too much invested in the status quo of maintaining wizarding secrecy for that to be the case. So, in those areas there may have been something perilously close to a civil war in progress, which would have had their neighbors very worried and possibly had them mixing in, in an attempt to settle things down. Which may well have resulted in little echoes erupting all around the world in areas where wizarding seclusion was practiced.
And the uproar would have all been doubled in the off chance that a Ministry somewhere did break ranks and attempt to dissolve seclusion.
Which would land the whole thing onto the laps of the International Confederacy of Wizards (Or Warlocks. I don’t remember just when the name was changed.) Albus may not have been Supreme Mugwump in those days, but it begins to look like he was a member already, by 1940, because that body was probably the group which was begging him to do something about the problem.
Just because Rowling claims that it was global, and that it fed off of the Muggle war is no reason to automatically assume that it was a direct reflection of the Muggle war, after all. The same geographic areas of both Muggle and magical worlds may have both been in some form of uproar, but they were not necessarily fighting for the same thing, or over the same thing.
• • • •
So where does that leave Albus, who supposedly defeated Grindelwald? After all, we know that Albus was still teaching daily classes in 1945. And V-E day was at the start of May, before the summer term was finished.
Well, once again, let’s consider those silly Nazis in ‘Raiders’, and reflect upon the possibilities.
I think that perhaps the mountain had come to Mohammed (or Burnham Wood to Dunsidaine) and Grindelwald was in Britain looking for one — or more — of the Hallows of Britain. (The title of Book 7 may have been announced by the time I thought of this theory. But there is actually such a thing as the ‘Hallows of Britain’ in folklore, so maybe not.)
Possibly Grendelwald was intending to destroy, or corrupt, or pervert them (as I believe Riddle did the fountain in the sea cave) in order to weaken the country — or, conversely, to steal them and haul them back to the Axis territories and use them against Britain.
Upon the whole, I really do like the idea that Grindelwald was sneaking around Britain looking for relics to corrupt. Maybe he was after something allegedly hidden at Hogwarts.
Let’s face it, the scale of such an operation is a lot more compatible with what we’d seen of the ww than that of someone in jackboots gearing up to a Normandy-like invasion in reverse.
And frankly, the idea of Albus and Aberforth standing in for Tommy and Tuppence and acting out some variant on ‘M or N?’ sounds potentially like a LOT more fun!
• • • •
The thing that no one using the conventional line of reasoning regarding the Grindelwald threat seems to recall is that Famous Wizard Trading Cards are marketed to schoolchildren and make a point of emphasizing the sort of accomplishments that are considered by their publishers to be of greatest interest to persons who collect such cards.
In the main these persons are adolescents whose sense of what kind of events are truly important is still unsophisticated and pretty immature. To anyone over the age of about 16 the discovery of 12 different uses for dragon’s blood is likely to look like it might be of vastly more sweeping significance to wizarding welfare than the defeat of what, in canon, was turning out to be one very obscure Dark wizard.
Particularly when Dumbledore seems to have averted a danger that no one was quite aware they were in. I’ll bet Binns’s class never makes it up to 1945, either. And I’ll just bet that Bathilda didn’t have a lot to say about her embarrassing great-nephew in the textbook that Binns’s class uses. (ETA: suspicion confirmed. Hermione tells us that Bagshott’s textbook doesn’t get into the 20th century.)
Besides, we’d already been told exactly why Dumbledore was considered to be the greatest wizard in modern times before we ever saw that chocolate frog card, and those reasons weren’t even on it. But since we didn’t have the proper context at that point in the series to interpret it, the information blew right past us.
Canon Albus Dumbledore was never presented to us in a manner which was consistent with the interpretation of his “immortality” being dependent upon his role as a Great War Leader. And this is despite the fact that there was a faction of the Wizengamot which had wanted to appoint him Minister for Magic as recently as 1990. For that matter, his association with what is possibly the most famous wizard of the Middle Ages, Nicholas Flamel, or his personal standing as a magical prodigy, which was evident by the time he sat his NEWTs, had probably been far more influential in the Wizengamot’s decision-making than Grindelwald ever was. Albus came out and told us at the virtual King’s Cross of Harry’s vision that he’d been offered the post of Minister more than once even while Gellert was off building his empire. Griselda Marchbanks, for one, has no doubt been solidly in Albus’s corner since around 1899. Indeed, solidly enough that it is evident that he had his own seat on the Wizengamot well before he was appointed Headmaster of Hogwarts. He’d been offered the post of Minister for Magic three times before becoming Headmaster, and I seriously doubt that the Wizengamot has ever appointed a Minister who wasn’t one of their own.
Dumbledore was manifestly not off leading teams of Aurors against Grindelwald in ’45, or against Voldemort’s supporters during the anything-up-to-a quarter-century durration of VoldWar I. Throughout the entire 20+ years of VoldWar I Dumbledore was quite clearly stated to have been solidly entrenched as the Headmaster of Hogwarts. A man of influence, certainly, an inspirational leader, probably, a statesman even, perhaps (hold that thought).
But not a General.
Not a “military” leader at all. For the third or fourth time, I repeat; the Wizarding World has no standing armies. They have an armed populace. Every qualified wizard or witch customarily goes about armed. It is not a military-based society. The only “peacekeepers” we have been told of in canon are the employees of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Magic. And Albus Dumbledore did not work for the DMLE, either.
Indeed, the manner in which Dumbledore was consistently presented to us within the series as it stood (at the end of Book 6, out of 7), placed him far more solidly among his world’s “Great Thinkers” or possibly as one of its “Great Humanitarians”. Someone whose reputation as being “considered by many to be the greatest wizard of modern times” could be “greatness” in the sense of a Winston Churchill possibly, but, failing that, is certainly more likely to be that of an Albert Einstein than of a Duke of Wellington.
And, as I state elsewhere; The information on that chocolate frog card is rather seriously off-kilter from general fanon perception. Albus Dumbledore’s activities during VoldWar I, if any, are not even mentioned on it.
• • • •
As I’ve also stated elsewhere, the purpose of training and employing Aurors is to find and catch renegade Dark wizards so the rest of the community doesn’t have to. And yet, that is exactly what Dumbledore is reputedly “most famous” for.
This is a crock. By the time that card settled down to listing Dumbledore’s accomplishments, the general narrative of the story had already told us everything we needed to know as to why so many people believed him to be the greatest wizard of modern times, and why there was a faction that continued to want to see him appointed as Minister for Magic. You can assure yourself that Dumbledore’s fame did not rest upon his abilities as a defeater of Dark wizards.
It does not even rest upon his accomplishments as a great researcher and a Master Alchemist. Although they certainly contributed to it.
Albus Dumbledore’s fame was based upon a “cult of personality”. One solidly, if covertly, grounded in the political arena.
Which adds a slight degree of nuance to the undercurrents of his long-standing conflict with the wizard formerly known as Tom Riddle.
It definitely adds an extra layer of context to the ambitions and activities of Lucius Malfoy.
By the time that card was issued Albus Dumbledore was, if not the greatest — which is at least arguable — he was certainly the most politically influential wizard in all great Britain. Despite his refusal to accept the post of Minister for Magic.
In his capacity as Headmaster, he works fairly closely with the Ministry of Magic. He does not work for the Ministry of Magic.
In fact, the Ministry of Magic, if anything, works for him.
It is the Wizengamot that appoints the Minister for Magic. Minister is an appointive position. The Minister is not elected, he is appointed. By the Wizengamot. Any legislation that the Ministry of Magic proposes to impose upon its constituency can only do so with the Wizengamot’s approval. And until the opening chapter of Order of the Phoenix, Albus Dumbledore was the Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot. Which explains exactly why Cornelius Fudge was sending weekly owls to the Headmaster over his first couple of years in office, and why Dumbledore was laying down the law as to what Fudge was supposed to do next about Voldemort’s return at the end of Goblet of Fire. Dumbledore was effectively Fudge’s boss.
Nor does it end there; Until the opening of OotP, Dumbledore was also the Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederacy of Wizards. At the very least this is the Wizengamot taken to the international level. It could, quite possibly, be something even more powerful yet. Now that office he could have owed to the Grindelwald defeat. But we will probably never be told one way or the other.
I was earlier inclined to think that perhaps Dumbledore is stated to be “most famous” for the defeat of Grindelwald, for no better reason than because it came as a surprise to everyone at the time, and it got written up in the Daily Prophet. And the reason the Prophet almost certainly would have made a big deal of it, was specifically because of who Dumbledore already was, and, at that point in time, he was not an Auror. In 1945 he was a member of the Wizengamot — although probably not yet the Chief Warlock — a well-known schoolmaster (and probably Deputy Headmaster) and, consequently, a “local hero”.
In fact he must have been a very well-known schoolmaster, in order to have been offered, and to have refused, the office of Minister for Magic three times before his appointment as Headmaster in 1957–’63.
I think we might want to dismiss the Grindelwald distraction from our reasoning altogether. We do not know how long a term that the MfM usually serves (the indications suggest a term of approximately 10 years), but it could well boil down to; “as long as he or she wants to, or until he or she blots his or her copybook badly enough to be summarily removed.” Those three offers almost certainly did not all come between 1945 and 1960.
Which suggests that, contrary to my original suppositions, back during the 3-Year summer, Dumbledore probably already had a seat on the Wizengamot while he was no more than Deputy Headmaster, or even when he was still just serving as the Transfigurations Master of Hogwarts Academy. Or — quite possibly — before he even started teaching at all. Even though he probably wasn’t yet Chief Warlock.
Albus Dumbledore was certainly not an Auror at the time he defeated Grindelwald. We saw with our own eyes that as recently as June, 1943, Dumbledore was blamelessly teaching Transfiguration. Even if he had suddenly had a brainstorm to go off and train to be an Auror ten minutes later, three years of Auror training wouldn’t have seen him qualify before 1946. And in any case we can conclude that he remained at Hogwarts at least until the end of June 1945, because the Chamber of Secrets remained closed throughout the remainder of Tom Riddle’s period as a student there.
There is adequate canon support of this reading of events. We have the statement of the Diary revenant himself that Riddle did not risk a reopening of the Chamber while he was still at school due to the oversight that Dumbledore kept on him.
(Although, since the memories that later informed the Diary revenant were supposedly already in the book before Riddle’s final year, and it consequently ought to have no authentic memory of that, we might safely dismiss that particular statement as a lucky guess. But Riddle evidently did not reopen the Chamber during his 6th or 7th year.)
And yet, by the end of 1945, (and possibly before Tom even sat his NEWTs) Albus Dumbledore is “famous” for having defeated the Dark wizard Grindelwald. (During the Easter break?)
In fact according to my original theory, Tom Riddle may have had a ringside seat to Grindelwald’s defeat. He certainly doesn’t seem to be much deceived by Albus’s dotty old man act.
• • • •
Well, like I say, I did have a theory about all that. I thought it was a very nice theory, too, and I was very pleased with it.
However, it was completely up-ended when we finally got the official Riddle backstory. So, while I was sorry to lose it, I’ve excised it here, since it was manifestly wrong. I’ve moved it into the ‘7th Son’ collection which is dedicated to the theories that didn’t make it past OotP (mostly), or HBP, and the reasoning behind where they came from. It may conceivably be of historical interest to somebody. Someday. Or entertainment, if not.
But, no, even after that one got shot down I still didn’t buy the “Dark Lord Grindelwald”, who appears in a fanfic near you. His existence clarified nothing of what we’ve been shown of the ww, in fact his existence as typically interpreted by the fandom directly contradicts what we had been shown. From the “meta” standpoint I was inclined to regard him as a “bright idea” left over from a very preliminary version of the earliest-developed outline of the series, much like the Granger sister or the Weasley cousin.
In short; a joke that Rowling turned out not to need, and could not use, and ultimately might have been better off never having brought it up in the first place. Leaving us with nothing more than a name on a chocolate frog card.
Although from her post-HBP interviews, it finally was beginning to look as if in the seventh book, she may at long last deliver the punchline. Or “a” punchline. We had no way of knowing whether what we finally got was the one she originally intended.
• • • •
And in the event, it looks like Rowling finally found a piece of history that she didn’t play for laughs.
Not that I find the “serious” version any more convincing.
But, hey, we’re stuck with it, and it made a fine distraction. Which is all she needed it for, since realistically considered, there is no way that the business of Albus and Gellert and their misguided 2-month partnership some 99 years earlier had any direct impact upon the situation Harry was left to have to deal with regarding Tom Riddle. All it did was to undermine his confidence in his “commanding officer”. And that certainly wasn’t going to keep Riddle from coming after him.
But all the resultant navel-gazing helped to string out the endless camping trip from Hell until Rowling could get little Teddy Lupin born, so she could finally buckle down and finish off the story.
• • • •
And, I did mention a potential Riddle connection to Grindelwald didn’t I? Not a very direct one, I’m afraid.
Well it’s not. It’s just really not. But given the demands of the academic year, it now looks as if Albus probably couldn’t actually step forward and oblige the ICW by dueling Grindelwald until at least a term break.
This is further suggested by the impression we had deliberately been fed over the whole series that the whole outcome of this alleged Grindelwald war was finally decided by a single one-on-one duel between the two wizards.
Excuse me; I know that I have been harping on the same string about the ww having no standing armies for a long time, but wouldn’t you expect a reigning, or rising, Dark Lord wannabe to at least have some supporters?
Particularly if he is successful enough to be building prisons to hold his enemies. What was he doing? Going out and kidnapping them, and locking them up all by himself? He isn’t supposed to have taken over most of Eastern Europe single-handedly is he? Riddle at least had his dirty five dozen or so.
So I really did have to ask; had Grindelwald’s movement already been defeated, and Grindelwald himself simply would not agree to give himself up?
The ICW begged Albus for five years to come and take out one wizard? That much is at least marginally more like being in scale. But why did it have to be Albus?
Did Gellert demand that it be Albus?
And Albus wouldn’t take on the job until he was shamed into it?
Is Rowling serious?
• • • •
But in any event; Harry, with his mystical magical window into Riddle’s mind leapt to the conclusion, very near to the end of the adventure, that as soon as Riddle was out of school he was off like a shot to Albania to recover the Ravenclaw diadem — not, mind you that Harry’s mystical magical window into Riddle’s mind could be bothered to have told him that the mystery Horcrux was the Ravenclaw diadem, or what it looked like, or where he’d hidden it (other than “at Hogwarts”) until after the fact, mind you. Evidently Harry’s mystical magical window into Riddle’s mind could only be depended upon to show him things that were basically irrelevant to the problem, or to show him things at points where it was impossible for him to do anything about them. (Was the whole “vision thing” being orchestrated by the prophecy demons? It certainly acted like it.)
But in any case; if Harry is right (and I’m certainly not convinced of that), Riddle was off to Albania in the summer of ’45.
Albania is in Eastern Europe you know.
Grindelwald maybe hadn’t even “officially” been defeated yet. That could have happened while Riddle was over there.
I don’t really think that everyone Riddle met was overjoyed by the fact. I mean, we know the types of wizards Tom hung out with. Even if Riddle didn’t hit town until after killing Hepzibah Smith a year or three out of school, I doubt this particular demographic would have been altogether resigned to the loss of the “Dark Lord Grindlewald”.
I think we don’t need to look very far to figure out where he spent at least some of the time he spent out of England after murdering Hepzibah Smith and absconding with her relics.
If Harry is to be believed (and I flatly don’t believe him) Tom didn’t spend any more time in Albania than he could get away with on his first visit (assuming there actually was a first visit), before returning and charming his way into Borgin & Burkes. In fact, he spent so little time there that most people aren’t even aware he went. And I don’t buy that line of reasoning at all. I don’t think Tom went to Albania until it seemed a good idea for him to get out of Britain. Because Albus Dumbledore was suddenly aggitating for Morfin Gaunt’s release from Azkaban. That alone would have sent up a warning flag that his modification of Morfin’s memory had probably gone awry.
But Tom was certainly in Albania within a handful or so years out of Hogwarts, and he knew that he would find any number of pissed-off and dissatisfied wizards there who were looking for a charismatic leader.