Bell Curve The Law Talking Guy Raised by Republicans U.S. West
Well, he's kind of had it in for me ever since I accidentally ran over his dog. Actually, replace "accidentally" with "repeatedly," and replace "dog" with "son."

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Oh boy. Here come the wand jokes...

J. K. Rowling said yesterday that a crucial character in her Harry Potter novels, wizard and longtime Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore, was gay. This explained, she said, the stormy relationship between Dumbledore and another wizard (Grindelwald), and Dumbledore's complete lack of female companionship.

Her announcement was met with "gasps and applause" from the audience in New York City, to which she replied jokingly, "I would have told you earlier if I knew it would make you so happy." She noted that many fans had suspected this, to the point were they had written quite a number of explicit scenes written Dumbledore. Rowling laughed and said, "Oh, my god, the fan fiction...!" (No doubt a lot more such fan fiction revolves around Harry and Ron, but let's move on...)

While it is true that she never wrote anything explicit about Dumbledore's sexuality in the series, the series did not deal with much in the way of anyone's sexuality, straight or otherwise. And while it is also certainly true that Rowing waited until all seven novels were complete (and she became the first billionaire author) before making her announcement, it was still completely voluntary and the announcement may still negatively affect her.

Leaving aside philosophical questions of the extent to which traits not explicit in the text can be ascribed to a character, even by the author, this is a remarkable statement on Rowling's part. Putting at least a little money where her mouth is, she has said in no uncertain terms that she strongly supports gay rights. And I suppose all those muggles who always thought the Harry Potter series was kind of "gay" can feel vindicated too ;-)


Anonymous said...

I have to say I really never thought about it. Good for her. I'd sort of suspected Professor Mcgonagall was a lesbian, but that might be the women's college experience...

This will of course delight the nutjobs who want to ban Harry Potter books, but don't all classics eventually make it onto the banned list?

-Seventh Sister

The Law Talking Guy said...

Sorry, Dr.S., but this strikes me as a load of crap.

JK Rowling already sold a gazillion books, made billions of dollars for herself from the books, made a half dozen movies, and has no plans to do more. The religious right has already condemned her books in the USA, if that mattered to her. So, she risks basically zero by her strange statement about Dumbledore now. It would have been a courageous statement a decade ago, but then her books would not have been purchased.

Philosophically, I also think it ridiculous to say that a character has traits not revealed in a text. It's rather like saying that the fifth movement of Beethoven's 7th symphony is really jazzy. Or that Rothko's bluescapes are actually only small parts of larger red murals that never got painted except in his mind.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Do not make the perfect the enemy of the good. It would have been wonderful if she had indicated this earlier. It is still good that she says so now.

As for the risk Rowling takes by discussing Dumbledore's sexuality now, you are of course correct that it is not as great as it might have been since some in the religious right have already condemned her. But as you have reminded me on other occasions, Christianity in America is a diverse spectrum of thought. Now, Rowling will surely lose a larger portion of that spectrum. And unfortunately, it probably won't stop there. Alas, we must remember that homophobia is hardly exclusive to the religious right.

As for the philosophy of it... Although Dumbledore's sexuality was not explicit in the text, it was at least somewhat implicit, for the reasons Rowling explained. Delving into the unwritten psychology of characters has a long history in literary studies. Some would argue that not even the author can be, er, authoritative on the matter. But so long as there is some basis in the text, most people will be satisfied.

USWest said...

I must be dense because I didn't see anything implicit or explicit in Dumbledore that would mark him one way or the other. He was a wise man, too busy with the bigger picture to be distracted.

I agree with LTG on this one. I think it is a crock. And I don't think she is done with the books. She has said her next set will be for adults. Now, I am not assuming that the next set will be Harry Potter books, but who knows.

I haven't seen Rowling's comments nor have read any analysis of the book that would indicate a gay character. But if this "implication" about Dumbledore is being drawn because he was uncoupled, then that would lead me to much larger concern - the case of false logic. So since Dumbledore wasn't married or dating in the book, he must be gay. Is that what we are saying here? If you are a woman with a guy friend who hasn't hit on you, people start saying "he must be gay". My sisters never married and people ask me if my sisters are gay. Come on. I find the implication of all this quite disturbing. It would mean you'd have to partner to prove your orientation. That's just wrong.

USWest said...

One more thought, this reminds of the time I got kicked out of French class in college because the Prof insisted that "The Little Prince" was a sexual allegory about pedophilia. I told him that consistently applying Freudian interpretations to literature not only showed an amazing lack of true analytical ability, but that it told me more about him than about the literature.

Raised By Republicans said...

US West! You kill me! I can totally picture you telling this guy he's a perv.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Just to be clear, it was J. K. Rowling herself who said that Dumbledore was meant to be gay. And she cited a few instances in her books where she said that explained a few things that had been left open.

I heard she was writing a new series of books for much younger children, actually.

Dr. Strangelove said...

As far as I'm concerned, what it comes down to is this: things being what they are, Rowling has surely made more enemies than friends by making this announcement. Does anyone wish to claim otherwise? Does anyone truly believe this will have a net positive impact future sales?

I think she cares more for her reputation than for the money, at this point. At the very least, it is gratifying that she cares more for the good will of those who support gay rights than of those who oppose them. But I prefer to be less cynical... I think she wants to help support gay rights, plain and simple. And for that, I applaud her.

USWest said...

That's well and good, Dr. S. She can support gay rights all she wants. But I have a hard time accepting that you take a perfectly well developed character, and suddenly decide he's gay. It's irrelevant to the story and really to the character. So if she wants to support the gay movement, she should write a book that does so rather than saying, "oh I added two lines of text to book 7 and now Dumbledore is gay. Actually, if I were gay, I would be a bit put off. According to reports, Rowling was asked if Dumbledore ever fell in love and her response was, "he's gay." So I guess gay people don't fall in love? And falling in love is a very human and non-sexual act.

I think the quote that summed it up for me was, from Canadian children's author Eva Wiseman:

"If you have a character and if the fact that he's gay is important to the plot, of course you would mention it. If you needed it to make the book more relevant or advance the plot, then you would mention it ... but if it doesn't make any difference to the plot or it's insignificant to the story, then why bother mentioning it?"

All said, it is a wonderful break to argue over something like this for a change than whether Turkey will invade Iraq or if Fred Thompson is a decent candidate.

RBR, yes, it was pretty funny until I got to then end of the hall and realized that he was the only French prof in the school and French was my B.A. program. Then the panic set in.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Actually, Rowling said clearly that Dumbledore had been in love. You misheard.

The Law Talking Guy said...

Well, if every billionaire author feels free to retroactively proclaim any aging and sexless character "gay" because they had no obvious heterosexual relationship, then Stonewall was worth it. Or not.

Daring would have been making one of the students gay - any of them. And actually showing it in the text.

Dr. Strangelove said...

Rowling said the issue of Dumbledore's sexual orientation came up several months ago when she was reviewing the script for the upcoming sixth movie. The screenwriter had added a passage where, in some context Rowling did not specify, Dumbledore reminisced about past women in his life. At the time, Rowling wrote a note to the director explaining that Dumbledore was supposed to be gay, so this had to be excised from the script. (There were no past men in his life. The character who would be the "love of his life," Grindlewald, was not revealed until Book 7--and at any rate that was an unrequited love.) I add this only to point that it is not entirely a retroactive statement on Rowling's part. And I will say again that the lack of female companionship was not the only evidence in the text. But your cynicism is duly noted.

The Law Talking Guy said...

I'm not just cynical. I'm annoyed too. If you're going to make a stand for gay rights or puff yourself out about diversity and tolerance, be honest. Don't just make the totally non-threatening lovable old duffer gay. Make Harry gay. Or Ron Weasley. Or anyone else for that matter who is actually sexually active. I suspect that the current "gay thing" for Dumbledore is partly as a reaction to the total lack of gay characters anywhere (and to the white-on-whiteness of it all). I mean, it's hard to think of any other prominent teen drama these days with no gay characters in it and exactly one non-white person I can think of (Cho). And the really nasty muggles like Dudley are fat, in case you were wondering about whether fat people can ever be virtuous. It makes Dawson's Creek look "with it" by comparison. In the Harry Potter series, Fleur is what passes for diversity. And Harry Potter is, by book 7, plainly a teen drama.

By the way, I LOVED the Harry Potter books. They are magical in every sense of the word. But we should be realistic about their shortcomings. Also, the dog-latin bothers me, but that's for another day. Harrumphh.

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