Saturday, October 20, 2007

Harry Potter and the Truth about Dumbledore

J.K. Rowling brings Albus Dumbledore out of the closet.

Harry Potter fans, the rumors are true: Albus Dumbledore, master wizard and Headmaster of Hogwarts, is gay. J.K. Rowling, author of the mega-selling fantasy series that ended last summer, outed the beloved character Friday night while appearing before a full house at Carnegie Hall.

After reading briefly from the final book, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows,” she took questions from audience members.

She was asked by one young fan whether Dumbledore finds “true love.”

“Dumbledore is gay,” the author responded to gasps and applause.

She then explained that Dumbledore was smitten with rival Gellert Grindelwald, whom he defeated long ago in a battle between good and bad wizards. “Falling in love can blind us to an extent,” Rowling said of Dumbledore’s feelings, adding that Dumbledore was “horribly, terribly let down.”

Dumbledore’s love, she observed, was his “great tragedy.”

“Oh, my god,” Rowling concluded with a laugh, “the fan fiction.”


Rowling, finishing a brief “Open Book Tour” of the United States, her first tour here since 2000, also said that she regarded her Potter books as a “prolonged argument for tolerance” and urged her fans to “question authority.”

Not everyone likes her work, Rowling said, likely referring to Christian groups that have alleged the books promote witchcraft. Her news about Dumbledore, she said, will give them one more reason.

In for a penny, in for a pound.

I’m sure the fan fiction, where other writers take it upon themselves to write their own version of the stories, is way ahead of her, as are the inevitable jokes — “So that’s what Dumbledore was talking about when he said he had a ‘powerful magic wand'” — and I’m also sure the Christian conservative book-burners will add this to their already-long list of objections about the series. They will raise the whole spectre of a gay teacher and his affection for Harry and turn it into their own twisted and fevered image of what really goes on at Hogwarts. (As Melissa notes, these people have their own issues when it comes to healthy sex.)

Rail on, supercilious twits. Your rants and outrage only point out how ridiculous and ignorant you are and prove once again that your predilection for focusing on irrelevancy pretty much confirms that you have no earthly business as literary critics or social commentators. And in an ironic way, making a big deal out of Dumbledore’s sexual orientation will only sell more books.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Harry Potter series has already served as an allegory for misunderstood and demonized people — witches and wizards — and it’s not too far a stretch to make the connection to the gay community. In Rowling’s world, the wizarding community has to live apart, they have their own language and traditions, and they do all they can to conceal their true selves as they move through the Muggle world. As the story is told through the point of view of a teenager, the additional layer of adolescent angst and hormones makes it even more allegorical, and I daresay that there are probably legions of young readers who are already coming to terms with their own identity — sexual or otherwise, gay or straight — who felt an affinity towards Harry Potter as an outcast based on nothing more than who he was by birth and yet the rest of the non-magical world cannot accept him. The fact that “the gay character” in the story is Dumbledore and not one of Harry’s contemporaries — Ron or Neville, for example — is understandable; these kids already have enough to worry about as teenage wizards. It also makes it clear that a gay man such as a teacher can be a mentor and a friend without any of the lurid overtones of pedophilia that is never far from the fevered imaginings of the Christian conservatives and their perpetual adolescent fixation with sex.

I have news for them: there is more — much more — to being gay than the basic matter of attraction, sexual or otherwise, to someone of your own gender. The fact that the fundies cannot get beyond that says a lot more about their hang-ups than it does about anything else. There have been gay characters in fiction since the beginning of time, and I daresay there have been gay characters in children’s literature as well. But there’s a difference between writing a “gay novel” and writing a story with gay characters, and the Harry Potter series hasn’t suddenly turned into the first because of the second. Not to blow my own horn too much, but Small Town Boys is a pretty decent example of what I’m talking about. The main characters are gay, but it’s not about gay sex; in fact, I’ve made it a point to keep that element out of it unless it was absolutely necessary for the telling of the tale. There is a hell of a lot more to Donny Hollenbeck or Albus Dumbledore than the gender of the people they fall in love with; it’s not about what they are but who they grow up to be that matters.

I applaud Ms. Rowling for her candor about the matter, but I also take the point of view that she didn’t have much of a choice; Albus Dumbledore and all the other characters — Harry, Hermione, Hagrid, even Voldemort — spoke through her and all she did was do a magnificent job of telling their stories.

(HT to Jeff Fecke.)