"One sacked, one dead, one's memory removed and one locked in a trunk for nine months..."
-- Harry Potter (OP9)
An Explanation And A Bit Of History
Defence Against the Dark Arts professors are really something, aren’t they? None of them are what you’d call “typical” teachers, and there’s a fascinating element in the way nobody can hold onto the job for more than a single school year. I, personally, have been reflecting idly upon these remarkable men and women for several years now—especially in light of the many things I’ve seen theorized by other fans while we all while we wait for J.K. Rowling to bring us her next book.
I’ll never forget the AOL Chat Rowling had on October 19, 2000. Rowling had been dodging a number of questions on things like whether Lord Voldemort would die or not, and what jobs James and Lily held while they were alive. Then, at one point in the middle, someone named Emily asked Rowling, “Is there ever going to be female Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher?” and Rowling typed back, “Emily, I can exclusively reveal (because I’m feeling guilty I’m not answering so many good questions) that there WILL be.” Not too long afterwards, she also revealed that this woman would be showing up in the fifth book, the one we were all waiting for at that time.
Many of the theorizers in the fan community went wild, practically stumbling over themselves to second-guess who this woman could be. Considering how Rowling is about divulging information, this was practically a treasure trove of spoiler information on one of the more mysterious subjects in her series. Many people were certain they could pin the woman down, in part, because of the infamous “lack of strong female characters,” complained about by some fans back then. Eventually, two particular “candidates” gained the most popularity in terms of who was most likely to win the post.
I remember reading some of these posts, and thinking that, while there were some good arguments, they just didn’t match up with the way Rowling had handled the subject so far. Though the professors, themselves, were as diverse a bunch as you ever might find, there were certain parallels in the way Rowling introduced them to readers, the role they played in Harry’s life, and the effect they had on the Hogwarts school and storyline, that were strictly abided by. I will confess to a certain level of inward satisfaction while listening to an interview Rowling had given to Jeremy Paxman on June 19, 2003—two days before the fifth book’s release—and hearing her say, “it’s not Fleur which everyone on the internet speculates about. And it’s not …Who’s the other one they keep asking about? Mrs Figg. It’s not Mrs. Figg. I’ve read both of those.”
Then the fifth book came, and we read all about Dolores Umbridge. Once we had all gotten our breath back, we Harry Potter fans resolutely went back to the demanding task of waiting for the next book’s release. And theorizing. As of this writing, we are all still waiting for Book Six. In that space of time, I’ve seen people propose a number of new potential candidates for the sixth Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher that had me shaking my head. Tonks, Remus, Bill Weasley, Viktor Krum, even Fleur, whom Rowling personally rebuffed in that interview.
This, in particular, has led me to write this essay. Fans are free to theorize however they like, but I feel they are doing themselves a great disservice in overlooking the fact that there is a system at play where Defence Against the Dark Arts is concerned, which makes it hard to propose someone just because they are talented, or likeable, or whatever. When you draw all the proper comparisons, as I have, you see that approaching the question in such a way is almost entirely a lost cause.
The Defence Against the Dark Arts System
Let’s begin by reviewing a few facts. First: The Name Of A Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Never Comes Up Before the Book He Or She Teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts. It just never happens. Gilderoy Lockhart’s name isn’t ever referred to anywhere in the first book, even though he’s a popular author with so many famous exploits tied to his name. Dolores Umbridge not only holds the prestigious position of Senior Undersecretary, but is also slavishly devoted to serving Cornelius Fudge and flaunting her connection with him. Why is it she failed to accompany Fudge to Hagrid’s hut, or to the Quidditch World Cup?
If she’s such a big figure in the Ministry, why is it Arthur Weasley never mentioned the woman in any offhanded discussion about his job? I’m sure Umbridge would have been every bit as infuriating, sadistic, power-hungry and invasive among fellow government workers as she is with teachers and pupils—and people really don’t keep quiet if they’re being exposed to that kind of treatment. These are just two examples, but the fact remains that personal history, prestige, or no, these people might as well not exist for us readers until Dumbledore has granted them the Defence Against the Dark Arts post. Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers are meant to be an indeterminate x-factor, whose actual value is only revealed at the time of Rowling’s choosing.
My second point is smaller in terms of overall importance, but it’s always a given factor. It is that Harry Always First Learns Or Is Exposed To His Current Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Shortly Before Arriving At Hogwarts The Year That Teacher Starts Teaching. It’s like Rowling wishes to give her readers a sneak peek into these teachers’ personalities before they get to business at Hogwarts. Harry first meets Quirrell in the Leaky Cauldron over the first year’s summer. Harry meets Lockhart in Flourish and Blotts’, also during the summertime. He meets Lupin on the train, and while this is admittedly closer to Hogwarts in terms of time and geography, it is not actually Hogwarts, so my statement stands. Mad-Eye Moody detracts the most from the pattern set thus far; he only first appears bodily in Harry’s life at Hogwarts. Yet Arthur Weasley discussed Moody with his family and Harry at the Burrow, so he still was able to learn about Moody.
“Aha!” Some nitpickers might exclaim at this point, ‘But Moody wasn’t Moody there, Moody was Crouch Junior, whom Harry didn’t learn about until he had that face-to-face talk with Sirius, well into his school term.’ I would argue that Harry was exposed to Crouch Junior, at the Quidditch World Cup. Junior stole Harry’s wand. Harry even heard him shout “MORSMORDRE!”, though he had no idea who it was shouting. Thus, whether it’s Junior or Moody being focused on, the rule still applies. Harry met Umbridge at his hearing; he learned her name, saw her face, and heard her voice. You can bet that whoever is chosen to teach in Books Six and Seven, Harry will probably see them just prior to going to Hogwarts, and never before.
My third point concerns Severus Snape. Snape Already Had His Fling At Defence Against the Dark Arts. It happened in Book Three, where Snape filled in as a Defence Against the Dark Arts substitute because Remus Lupin was “unavailable.” I am making mention this, mainly, because we know from the fifth book that Snape has tirelessly applied for the full-time position year after year, and has always been denied it. Furthermore, there are those fans out there of the belief that Rowling is sure to make Snape into a full-time professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts in one of the last two books. This theory would’ve held more water with me, if not for the “fling” Snape was granted in Book Three. It revealed nothing new about his character—nothing outstandingly astounding which would justify Dumbledore’s turning him down for the position so determinedly.
Rowling just gave us enough here to let us know that Snape is just as loathsome teaching this subject as Potions, before handing command back to Lupin. Beyond this simple point Rowling takes a certain, shall we say, joy, in making characters she despises suffer some manner of yearly frustration. In the same way that the Dursleys are forced to have Harry under their roof summer after summer, so is Snape denied the pleasure of teaching what he really wants to teach. Besides, Snape is already multifaceted enough as Potions Master, Former Death Eater, Order Spy, Dumbledore Servant, Slytherin Head of House, One-Time Quidditch Referee, Dark Arts Expert, Potter Nemesis, Voldemort Foe, Hate-Filled Malinger, Pedantic Rule-Lover, Trauma-Inflicted Youngster, and Occlumency Expert. On one hand, I’m absolutely certain that Rowling will reveal still more about Snape’s character in future books, it won’t be in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
If there is one point which Snape does have in common with Defence Against the Dark Arts teachers, it is my fourth point, which is that Defence Against the Dark Arts Teachers Always Have A Big Secret That, If Exposed, Would Spell Ruin For the Teacher. Quirrell had Voldemort on the other end of his head. Lockhart is a coward and a thief of real heroes’ accomplishments. Lupin is a werewolf, and best friend to Sirius Black. Moody is Crouch Junior, a supporter of Voldemort who is supposed to be dead. Umbridge ordered Dementors to attack the-Boy-Who-Lived in the middle of a Muggle residential neighbourhood – also, she was subverting the truth about Voldemort’s existence. Having a dark and terrible secret, in fact, seems to be the only real prerequisite for the teaching position. These teachers all have very fatal personal failings. I would challenge those who think Bill, or Fleur, or Viktor might be the next teacher to come out and tell me what horrible skeletons any of these people are supposed to have into their closets. We know all these people already, and they offer no surprises.
Fifth Point: The Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Takes Center Stage At Hogwarts At Some Point. No Professor Flitwicks here. Lockhart couldn’t shut up about himself, and made a big stink about every opinion he had. He organized the Dueling Club and Valentine’s Day. Lupin had something of a “slow start” compared to his predecessor, but he quickly won the love of almost the entire student body. By the end of his term, they were all sad to see him go. Mad-Eye Moody was famous to begin with when he first stepped in; his brusque mannerism, knack for teaching, fascinating history -not to mention his involvement in the Triwizard Tournament, made him a real presence at Hogwarts. And Umbridge just couldn’t be suppressed, with all those decrees and the way she snatched control over the school. Quirrell, it can be argued, is the one who shies away most from the spotlight; yet after the whole school heard about the fight between him and Harry over the Sorcerer’s Stone, a flood of well-wishers sent Harry gifts. Would Bill, Fleur, Tonks, or Krum be able to inspire such renown?
More frightening for Harry is my sixth point, that, apart from the odd “practical application” test utilized by such teachers as Lupin and the fake Moody, The Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Places Harry Potter In Real Peril At Least Once, If Not More. There is just something in these people’s nature. Quirrell jinxed Harry’s broom and tried to kill him for the Sorcerer’s Stone. Lockhart would’ve blasted away Harry’s memory with that charm of his, destroying his ability to function in society, and landing him a long-term residence in St. Mungo’s. Lupin forgot to take that potion that one time, and Harry had to be rescued from his werewolf-self by Sirius. Crouch Junior arranged for Harry to be transported to Voldemort directly, and afterwards tried to kill Harry himself in his office. Umbridge arranged for Harry to have his soul sucked out, subjected him to torture, constant surveillance, derision, and a steady loss of privileges. Would Bill, Fleur, Tonks, or whoever else, ever have reason to attack Harry?
My seventh point is one of those I feel most strongly about: NOBODY WANTS THE JOB!!! I’ll come out and say that Tonks probably would make a very fine Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor. So would Bill. So would Fleur. If absolutely nothing else, they could probably get quite a lot of the students to like them. These people are competent and efficient, which is more of what Hogwarts, and Harry, needs in his life. They would be the sort of people you’d probably want for your own education, or those of your kids. Unfortunately, these people already have their own jobs, and their own interests that probably don’t involve teaching. Unfortunately, the job is jinxed, so even if Dumbledore offered half the gold in total tuition money, nobody would take it. Unfortunately, life for Harry and everyone good is going straight to Hell; so a nice, kind teacher who’s experienced in his subject, a friend to Harry, and well-balanced mentally is probably not in the cards. Whoever Dumbledore gets next is probably going to provide conflict for Harry in spades.
Albus Dumbledore has been scraping the bottom of the barrel since the death of Nofirstname Quirrell, who was mediocre enough to begin with. In the second book, he got an egomaniac who was only in it for one more “accomplishment” to pin to his name and a forum of listeners who’d be compelled to listen to him daily. In the third book, he got a guy who, while talented in his own right, couldn’t find paid work anywhere else. In the fourth book, he begged a retired friend into doing him a favor; Moody even told the class that he was only in it for a year. In the fifth book, Dumbledore was completely unable to find anyone, so good old Cornelius Fudge forced his toady on him.
Dumbledore doesn’t care so much about quality at this point. After Umbridge, he may reinforce a few better standards, but basically all he wants now is some warm body over seventeen years of age to stand up and keep the kids sitting in their seats for an hour each day. Viktor, Fleur, and Bill are all in enough danger without having to go into a job where a large stroke of bad luck is going to blindside them at the end of their first year. I actually shudder to think who Dumbledore does manage to get at the end of this year. A mental case? Someone who doesn’t even speak English? His brother, Aberforth?
My eighth point about these teachers is the one of the most maddening to fans striving to deduce the plot of future books, and that is that The DADA Teachers Are Unable to Be Predicted. In addition to not knowing their specific identities, we really have no way of knowing what they bring, as people, to the forefront. It’s always something big, though; these teachers always feature prominently into the plot, even as just a distraction, as Lockhart for the most part was. I defy any of you ‘old-timers’ out there, who remember the extent of our knowledge while we were waiting for Goblet of Fire to be released, to look me in the eye and tell me you saw Mad-Eye Moody and Barty Crouch Junior coming a mile away.
We knew Voldemort had supporters, but we didn’t know they were called “Death Eaters,” or that the soldiers who fought them were called “Aurors,”or that there were three particularly Unforgivable Curses. Could you have honestly predicted Remus Lupin based solely on the evidence shown in the first two books? Werewolves were mentioned in passing, but we couldn’t have guessed Harry’s father would be best friends with one, or that he’d be so kind, or that they had such good nicknames for themselves and were amazing cartographers. What about Dolores Umbridge? We knew Fudge was going to undermine Dumbledore. Our best guess would’ve been with dry lawyers and regulations. Who could’ve predicted Madame Poisonhoney? Who would’ve thought of things in terms of lacerating quills, technicolor kittens, the Headmistress status, and girlish tone-of-voice? Who, but Rowling? We were all so very sure it was going to be Arabella Figg or Fleur Delacour, remember? What makes you sure you can predict who it’s going to be this time?
My ninth and last point is that the Defence Against the Dark Arts Teacher Remains For Only One Year, And Then Leaves In Some Spectacularly Dramatic Fashion. This would seem to be a self-evident statement, but it’s important to note. Rowling gives them only a year. Given everything else I have noted, especially concerning the Dark Secret each of them have, it can be said that each professor is, in the end, so thoroughly undone by whatever personal failing he or she has, that they can no longer remain at Hogwarts.
Quirrell died in battle. Lockhart went off to St. Mungo’s. Lupin was revealed to be a werewolf by Snape, turning many of the parents against him. His love for Harry showed deeply as he left. Crouch Junior was robbed of his soul. And Umbridge was chased out of Hogwarts by Peeves and the entire school, a total disgrace. It is not that the position destroys them for good; but those that survive the teaching experience undergo some deep personal transformation, and must somehow find some way to move on with their lives, as is the case with Lupin and Umbridge. Before telling me why Krum or Bill would make a great teacher, tell me how you think he’d be removed from Hogwarts, and why?
This has been a long write, but I think I got everything out. I only wish to say that, even with all these points of my mine made, J.K. Rowling might well have something to negate everything I’ve discussed here. Perhaps it’ll be something she says in an interview, perhaps in her upcoming books, who’s to say? The Harry Potter fan community is a place where we flourish in the hypothetical. Yet, at the same time, the line of thinking which concludes “Fleur is sure to be the next Defence Against the Dark Arts Professor!” is something I’ve been exposed to for too many long years. It is a trap to observe and predict Rowling’s work with the same mindset in place year after year, leading to a lot of dead end thinking. With the Defence Against the Dark Arts professors particularly, I believe we should approach this not so much in terms of what we already know, what’s already been done, but rather in terms of, “Where have we not gone?” And this is going to be hard, because we know so very little about Book Six, as of this writing At any rate, I hope you all enjoyed reading this.
Standardized the use of quotation marks.