Better Than Dumbledore

Harriet Hall

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like if you could actually meet a character from fiction and chat with him over dinner? Who would you choose? One character I would enjoy meeting is Dumbledore, the kindly wizard who is the headmaster of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. Here are some of his characteristics, culled from the books themselves and from descriptions by fans: tall and thin; white beard; aura of power; wears glasses; benevolent and wise; aura of serenity and composure; rarely displays intense emotions; eccentric and even slightly effeminate; sometimes wears flamboyant clothes; whimsical; uses humor to make people feel comfortable in his presence; has extraordinary powers, and his abilities as a wizard are combined with cunning, subtlety of mind, and understanding of human nature; never arrogant or pompous; deep capacity for love; immense brainpower, although it doesn’t protect him from emotional mistakes; has a pet phoenix named Fawkes; carries a wand; a late disclosure by the author reveals that he is gay.

Fortunately, there is something far better than meeting Dumbledore in person: meeting someone who is very much like Dumbledore but better because he has the advantage of being real. I’m talking about James (“The Amazing”) Randi.

Like Dumbledore, Randi is thin and has a long white beard. His stature is also noteworthy, although for shortness rather than tallness. He wears glasses, although he has been known to wear frames with no lenses in them to show people how readily they make false assumptions based on expectations. He too has an aura of power that can be seen in some of his iconic photos where he stares at the camera with hypnotic intensity. He is also benevolent and wise, maintains his composure, and is eccentric. Sometimes when traveling he wears a flamboyant wizard’s cape and hat. His sense of humor is notorious; he will tell funny stories at the drop of a hat. In fact, he even laughs at my lame jokes and puns, which says a lot. Like Dumbledore, he makes everyone feel comfortable in his presence; at conferences he tries to meet everyone present, shake their hand, and make them feel welcome. He is genuinely friendly, looks you in the eye, and gives you the kind of full attention that makes you feel that he really cares about you, whether you are a VIP or a young child. He is never arrogant or pompous. Like Dumbledore, he carries a stick—Dumbledore’s is a wand; Randi’s is a cane with a skull on the handle. Randi’s is bigger, in case you want to read something into that. Like Dumbledore, Randi is gay. Like Dumbledore, his homosexuality was revealed late in the game; unlike Dumbledore, he had the courage and honesty to reveal it himself rather than waiting for someone else to reveal it after his death. He, too, has an animal associated with him, but instead of a mythical bird, his is a symbolic flying pig. Just as Dumbledore sincerely cares about his students at Hogwarts, Randi sincerely cares about the people who are harmed by trickery. I have seen him fighting tears as he described the disappointment of a child who left a faith healing session uncured.

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