Fiction lets us fantasize about being brave. We can watch an action movie pretending that we are the hero bravely risking our life with confidence in our cause and abilities. Subconsciously we see little chance our hero will die. Similarly, stories can let us identify with a hero who determined to seek the truth, even if it hurts.
In Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Harry hears doubts about his mentor Dumbledore:
The accusations he had heard from Muriel at the wedding seemed to have nested in his brain like diseased things, infecting his memories of the wizard he had idolized. Could Dumbledore have let such things happen? Had he been like Dudley, content to watch neglect and abuse as long as it did not affect him? …
Harry thought of … mysterious objects left without explanation in Dumbledore’s will, and resentment swelled in the darkness. Why hadn’t Dumbledore told him? Why hadn’t he explained? Had Dumbledore actually cared about Harry at all? Or had Harry been nothing more than a tool to be polished and honed, but not trusted, never confided in? (p.177)
Harry is not brave enough to admit to his friend how much this upsets him, but he does feel brave enough to seek the truth, however disappointing:
He told Hermione everything that Muriel had told him. When he had finished, Hermione said," Of course, I can see why that’s upset you, Harry -"
"I’m not upset," he lied, "I’d just like to know whether or not it’s true or -"
"Harry, do you really think you’ll get the truth from a malicious old woman like Muriel, or from Rita Skeeter? How can you believe them? You know Dumbledore!"
"I thought I did," he muttered.
"But you know how much truth there was in everything Rita wrote about you! Doge is right, how can you let these people tarnish your memories of Dumbledore?"
He looked away, trying not to betray the resentment he felt. There it was again: Choose what to believe. He wanted the truth. Why was everyone so determined that he should not get it? (p.185)
Is it really a spoiler to say that Harry’s faith in Dumbledore was mostly vindicated? Surely six books of consistent Dumbledore heroism let readers feel safe in identifying with Harry’s brave truth-seeking on this point.
Consider the people you most admire that you know personally, such as your parents, spouse, or work mentor. Now imagine the worst sort of things someone might plausibly accuse those people of. Are you confident you really want to know if such accusations are true? If yes, why don’t you look them in the eye and ask them point blank, just to lay the issue to rest? Or offer to bet them on it? I didn’t think so.
(I read the novel on the plane to Sydney Saturday, where I’m staying for two weeks.)