There’s something beautiful about fan theories. When an author creates a vast, fictional world, it is unlikely that he or she imagine the sheer mental acrobatics fans will perform in trying to decode its many secrets. While Game of Thrones may seem like the current king of insane fan theories, it pales in comparison to the vast array of conspiracies, postulations, and rampant speculation of the Harry Potter fandom. Just how insane do some of these theories get? Well, one says Draco Malfoy is a werewolf (because being a Manic Pixie Dream Nazi wasn’t enough); another claims Dumbledore is a time-traveling, geriatric version of Ron Weasley; another still that Professor McGonagall is a secret Death Eater.
Now, though, Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling herself is chiming in to say that there is one fan theory of which she approves implicitly: the “Dumbledore as Death” theory. On Twitter, Rowling wrote:
So, what is the “Dumbledore as Death” theory? Well, that’s precisely what I’m breaking down for you on today’s episode of The Dan Cave. Essentially, the theory stems from a close reading of “The Tale of the Three Brothers,” a fairy tale of sorts from The Tales of Beedle the Bard (which is kind of like Aesop’s Fables, but for wizards). The tale tells the story of the three Peverell brothers who find themselves staring Death in the face quite literally after they try to cross a roaring river. Rather than simply claiming their lives as his own, Death toys with them, offering them each a wish that he will grant.
The first brother, believing himself to be the greatest wizard of them all, asks for the most powerful wand in all the land, better known as the Elder Wand; the second brother, having lost his intended, asked for the ability to bring the dead back to life, so he was given the Resurrection Stone; and the third brother, a humble man, simply asked to walk through life without the fear of Death following him, and so he was given an Invisibility Cloak. In wizarding lore, these three objects became legendary artifacts known as the Deathly Hallows. Though they appeared to be lost for centuries, they were—as is often the case in the world of Harry Potter—quite real.
Savvy readers began tracing parallels between the “Tale of the Three Brothers” and the character arcs of Harry Potter, Severus Snape, and Voldemort. According to the theory, Voldemort is a stand-in for the first brother, who sought power at any cost and lusted after the Elder Wand; Snape is the middle brother, an emotional wreck driven by the loss of his one true love and the desire to see her again; Harry is, of course, the third brother, a humble man who is willing to face Death itself and greet him as “an old friend.” When Harry is struck by the Killing Curse and seemingly dies, he is transported to a heavenly version of King’s Cross Station where he is greeted as an old friend by—you guessed it—Dumbledore. Of course, unlike the myth, Harry Potter comes back to life to kick ass, take names, and chew Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum (and he’s all out of Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum). But still, those are a spooky amount of similarities right there.
As a diehard, dyed-in-the-wool Harry Potter nerd, I have spent a mathematically improbably amount of time in my day poring over J.K. Rowling’s text in order to see if I was missing some hidden meeting. With the advent of LiveJournal and other message boards at the time of the book’s publication, I had no shortage of like-minded conspirators with whom to hash out which theory might hold the most water. That being said, I never once considered the “Dumbledore as Death” theory, but it makes a startling amount of sense. And now it seems that Rowling herself agrees. Though I seriously doubt it was her intention while writing the book, it’s a tidy little piece of fan analysis that can be layered on top, like whipped cream on a sundae. Or chocolate on a frog. Or…you get the idea.
What do you make of this Harry Potter fan theory? What are some of your favorite fan theories? Let us know in the comments below. And, if you want to dive into another supremely creepy fan theory, here’s why some people believe that Totoro from Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbor Totoro is secretly the god of death.
Dan Casey is the senior editor of Nerdist and the author of 100 Things Avengers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. You can follow him on Twitter (@Osteoferocious).