Heroes are a hallmark of fantasy literature, and the hero’s journey is one technique to trace those heroes. The hero’s journey is structured based on Joseph Campbell’s work, which lays out the steps almost every hero must take. The first steps are the call to adventure, the initial resistance to that call, and the hero finally crossing the threshold and embarking on their quest. Once the hero has embarked on their quest or entered the Underworld, they will be put to a series of challenges, culminating in a grand battle against their foe and the capture of the sword – or reward – at the end. The hero must next overcome their final barrier, that of resurrection. The hero must now leave the Underworld and return home, but first, they must overcome one more wall, which may be a physical one, such as locating the exit, or a mental one, such as resolving an internal conflict that has kept them there. The hero returns home victorious if they succeed. The implications will be far-reaching if they fail, affecting more than just the hero.

With that spelled out, it’s easy to see how Harry follows the hero’s journey and eventually succeeds. However, another character in the series, Albus Dumbledore, embarks on a much less successful quest. We don’t have all of his hero’s journey details, but we have a few. All know he continually refuses to confront Grindelwald, the called rejection. Everyone knows he eventually agrees to meet him, joining the fight and breaching the line. We also know he overcomes Grindelwald in battle and receives the Elder Wand. He has faithfully followed the hero’s adventure up to this point. He stumbles, however, at the moment of resurrection.


The decision to give up personal desires for a higher cause or greater good is one problem the hero may face during their resurrection. Dumbledore’s dilemma is that Grindelwald has perverted his understanding of the greater good. He desires to leave the Deathly Hallows and his link to Grindelwald and do good in the world, but he is scared of his possible acts. “I had learned that I was not to be trusted with power,” Dumbledore confesses (DH 717). As a result, Dumbledore’s resurrection is never completed. He is still paralyzed, unwilling to let go of the past, and fearful of what he may do in the future. As a result, he is unable to depart the Underworld. That has ramifications for everyone else. After all, if Dumbledore had chosen to become a minister instead of a headmaster, the series would have been substantially different. However, his failure has a more profound personal impact because it is ultimately what kills him.


Although Severus Snape delivered the ultimate blow, he was not the cause of Dumbledore’s demise. From the minute he took up the Resurrection Stone, he was dying. That was the final straw. And if the Hallows didn’t hold power over him and he wasn’t still tormented by his regrets over Ariana and Grindelwald, he would never have picked it up so casually. His reluctance to let go past and leave the Underworld forces him to stay there indefinitely. The worst part was that it has neither quick nor straightforward. Dumbledore had to stand there and watch as the history he had always feared began to consume him. He had to confront a visible manifestation of his heroism failing.


There is a glimmer of hope in all of this. Even though Dumbledore was doomed, he tried to reduce the effects on everyone else. He does not want to die and leave behind the knowledge of how to fight Voldemort. Instead, he spends the final months of his life tutoring Harry, attempting to ensure that the hero does not fail this time. As a result, it’s no surprise that Dumbledore is the one who greets Harry when he arrives at King’s Cross station. Dumbledore may no longer have a way out of the Underworld, but Harry does, and Dumbledore is there to assist him. Harry can turn away from the piece of Voldemort’s soul that accompanied him to King’s Cross to let go of his anguish and choose to return to the world, completing the resurrection that Dumbledore could never complete.

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