When J.K. Rowling was writing The Tragic Tale of Albus Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald, do you think she realized that she was actually writing a very scary version of Peter Pan? I had a minor brain explosion last week while rereading The Deathly Hallows, and the more I think about it, the more adamant I become…
…wanna go down a weird rabbit hole with me?
Sure, it’s not an exact parallel, but there are plenty of uncanny similarities that remind me of Peter Pan when I think of Albus Dumbledore’s youth. Before I go trying to explain my train of thought, let me first give you my cast of characters—
- Grindelwald: Peter Pan
- Albus: Wendy Darling
- Aberforth: John Darling
- Ariana: Michael Darling
Here’s the piece of Rowling’s text that put me in mind of Pan in the first place:
…and there on the window ledge sat perched, like a giant bird, a young man with golden hair. In the split second that the lantern’s light illuminated him, Harry saw the delight upon his handsome face, then the intruder shot a Stunning Spell from his wand and jumped neatly backward out of the window with a crow of laughter.
This is the section of Deathly Hallows that details Grindelwald stealing the Elder Wand from the wandmaker Gregorovitch. The parallels (though perhaps unintentional) are clear and simple; a young man lurking at a window who reminds one of a bird, mischievous and clever, “crowing” as he jumps from the sill into the open air. He sounds just like Pan.
Which brings me to Albus Dumbledore and his decidedly unhealthy relationship with Gellert Grindelwald—an older Albus tells Harry that he takes the blame for his family’s later sorrows due to that friendship. Albus is in a similar position to Wendy Darling—the eldest of three siblings, one who dreams of adventure and daring, but is required to keep his feet on the ground for the sake of his younger brother and sister (and his impending adulthood). And up pops Grindelwald, an ambitious young man who encourages those dreams of adventure, while simultaneously ignoring Albus’s responsibility to his family. Peter was also notorious for this, constantly redirecting John and Michael, or showing outright indifference toward them while discounting their importance to Wendy.
The difference in this version is ultimately down to Albus’s personality. As an extremely talented young wizard (Wendy would have never been granted the opportunities that Albus potentially had access to, being both a woman of her time period and station as well as a Muggle), Albus tells Harry that he resented having to look after his siblings, having to stay at home while others did great things. So he plotted with Grindelwald to gather all three Deathly Hallows, making them the Masters of Death. (Being a master of death is kinda similar to ruling over an island where no one ever grows old, and it becomes even more interesting when you account for the fables that Wendy’s mother had heard about Peter—specifically that he guided young children to the “other side” after their deaths.)
Albus’s hidden resentment toward his family sets up an alternate ending to the Peter Pan story, one that might have borne out in the original had Wendy not been so dedicated to her brothers—Aberforth starts a fight with Grindelwald, leading to a three-way duel between the both of them and Albus… getting Ariana killed in the process.
Keep in mind that this chapter in Dumbledore’s history occurs right around the same time as Pan; Grindelwald moved to Godric’s Hollow around 1898, six years before the debut of Peter Pan, or The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up, which was meant to be a contemporary story at the time. And Grindelwald’s subsequent rise to power and fascination with the Dark Arts shows what might have happened if Peter Pan had grown up—after all, a young man so capricious and cruel could have easily grown into an evil force bent on world dominion. Peter is already accustomed to having his way, to being the best at everything and manipulating others to do his bidding.
And if Peter Pan had grown up to be a tyrant, doesn’t it stand to reason that Wendy would have been the only person to stop him? The same way that it was down to Albus to stop Grindelwald? If Peter Pan truly went rogue, I can think of practically no other person that the world could call on. (Tinkerbell has the power, but she’d undoubtedly ally herself with Peter; her moral compass is entirely different from a human.) This is without even beginning to add the romance that permeates both stories—for as Wendy adores Peter, so too does Albus love Gellert. And just like Wendy, we can infer that it is a largely unrequited affair, with Grindelwald either ignoring Albus’s affections, or using them to his advantage when it got him something he wanted.
So there you have it. The story of Grindelwald and Dumbledore is Peter and Wendy all over again, with an ending that might break your heart even more than the first. (Though the first is still awfully bittersweet. *sniff*) It kind of makes me wonder whether Albus ever made it into Muggle London and saw Barrie’s play… and what on earth he might have made of it.
Emmet Asher-Perrin has far too many Dumblewald, but now has the added confusion of imagining Albus sowing on Grindelwald’s shadow for him. You can bug her on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her work here and elsewhere.