What is it about ancient old men with grey beards that captures our imagination? Two irresistibly charming characters filled with wisdom and knowledge fit this description: Gandalf and Dumbledore. Guiding their young protégés, they are the drivers of the plot as designed by their respective authors. As a reader, I have felt a guiding hand from these two great old gentlemen as I was engrossed in their world and this piece of writing is my way of saying thank you.
Have you ever had the pleasure of the company of a tough and sweet old man? If not, read Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings. The first attribute that comes to mind when I think Dumbledore or Gandalf is this duality of their nature: kind and benevolent and tough and powerful. You don’t mess with them but they don’t scare you either. Oh and both are wizards. Let’s not forget that because then you would be bracketed in the same category as Vernon Dursley. You wouldn’t like that, would you? So we have two wizards whom kids, teenagers love and yet both are feared and respected by their peers and enemies alike. And this is something you love. Just imagine, your loving grandpa turns into a badass wizard and kicks ass anytime you are in danger. Cool? Super cool.
We don’t see a lot of Dumbledore’s fierce side till the end of the fourth part and even then that is only a glimpse. Similarly, we all are aware that Gandalf has great power behind his facade of a fireworks maker but we never get a complete blast until he goes head to head and toe to toe with the Balrog. Even then we are misled to believe that the battle is a sour and heart breaking tie. It is only later that we are informed of Gandalf’s victory. Clearly, these two are not in the plot for action sequences and that is one of the least important of their roles in the books. So what’s their job description?
Well they are the strategist-in-chief of their respective plots. They weave the web in such beautiful manner that it is almost impossible for the villain to escape. Poor Voldy was no match for Dumbledore and Sauron considered Gandalf too weak for his attention and paid his price. No matter how powerful the opponent, these two have the ability to know more about him than the opponent himself. Dumbledore understood Tom’s (yes I dare!) weaknesses: his inability to comprehend love, and used it against him. Sauron didn’t even consider that Gandalf and company would seek to destroy the ring and Gandalf knew Sauron that. Gandalf knew Sauron would never acknowledge that anyone could possibly not be enchanted by the ring of power.
Besides being strategists, they are also father figures to the two main characters: Harry and Frodo. Harry grows closer to Dumbledore and learns more about himself than about Dumbledore in the time they spend together. Similarly, Gandalf feeds Frodo little titbits of wisdom that help him grow as a character. They are also expert at making people feel safe. It is as if they carry a shield with them that makes the people around them feel safe no matter what the location: Be it the cave full of inferi or the mines of Moria, Harry and Frodo never despair when these guys are around.
An interesting aspect about these characters is the enigma that surrounds them, partly owing to the fact that the story is not about them. We see much of the universe created by J K Rowling or J R R Tolkien through Harry‘s and Frodo’s eyes respectively. And to them, Dumbledore and Gandalf are an inspiration but an enigmatic one. They never learn much about their personal highs and lows until much later. This is much more visible in Harry Potter than in Lord of the Rings which is why I love Dumbledore slightly more than Gandalf.
In the end, both of them represent to me the epitome of great, complex characters. They live beyond the age of their books and have embedded themselves in the history of men and their pens. In the end, I shall share two of my favorite quotes by both. As you would expect, they are dripping with wisdom, waiting for us to drink it all in.
“It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
“Many that live deserve death. And some that die deserve life. Can you give it to them? Then do not be too eager to deal out death in judgement. For even the very wise cannot see all ends.”
Beautiful. I am taking it all in. And you?
Sources for the quotes: