Halloweenie!

I guess I’m a bit behind on this, but my own two cents on the whole J.K. Rowling’s outing of Dumbledore of the Harry Potter series is… well, it’s the feeling of why bring it up (besides for publicity purposes of selling the last HP book as much as possible)? Is it actually relevant? If you as the writer meant to have the character’s aspect demonstrated, write it – show it. I even find it irritating when Rowling tells to blogs, on-line interviews or book signings what happens to the Hogwarts students as adults – if so-and-so grew up to marry so-and-so, write the next book or story then. If so-and-so’s gay, straight, bi – if it’s that important, go ahead – write it! Have your kicks.

But, if you only have your overtones or impressions, well, I as the reader will take it as merely that, because the reality was that sexuality of the adults wasn’t relevant to the story and growth of Harry Potter. (The fact that the appearances of the adults’ emotions and fears – that of Tonks, Lupin, Sirius Black, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley – and even Dumbledore – were fleeting but relevant to HP made the HP books much more richer to me when I had read them).

I guess Rowling’s so mired in her characters’ universe (which is understandable; it’s her creation – and it happens to me too when I write my stories – the fictional world sometimes being that much more pleasant, that your characters feel real – hey, they have to be real to you to make it real to your reader) – perhaps she has it in her to write something else. Not an HP book, but re-visit the magical universe again someday. I won’t begrudge her.

I’ll just note some of the more interesting articles I came across. NY Times critic Edward Rothstein notes about the whole Rowling thing as something with its own life, other than how Rowling has it in her own mind:

But it is possible that Ms. Rowling may be mistaken about her own character. She may have invented Hogwarts and all the wizards within it, she may have created the most influential fantasy books since J. R. R. Tolkien, and she may have woven her spell over thousands of pages and seven novels, but there seems to be no compelling reason within the books for her after-the-fact assertion. Of course it would not be inconsistent for Dumbledore to be gay, but the books’ accounts certainly don’t make it necessary. The question is distracting, which is why it never really emerges in the books themselves. Ms. Rowling may think of Dumbledore as gay, but there is no reason why anyone else should.

Yes, of course, Dumbledore acknowledges that at the bleakest moment of his life, when he was still a teenager and feeling “trapped and wasted,” the appearance of a charismatic friend “inflamed me” and lured him into fantastical dreams of power and influence. “Two clever, arrogant boys with a shared obsession,” he recalls, resulted in “two months of insanity.” But his regrets lasted a lifetime.

What was that insanity? If it was primarily a matter of sexual attraction or sexual identity, it makes Dumbledore’s reaction less plausible. He felt there were profound betrayals latent in his behavior and his ideas during that period: He resented his troubled siblings; he took on an inflated idea of his own importance; he thought wizards superior to Muggles. These attitudes had tragic consequences that ultimately transformed his views of virtue and power and altered his ambitions. Gayness is irrelevant.

As for his later celibacy, it has the echo of a larger renunciation and a greater devotion. That is, after all, what the fantasy genre is all about. The master wizard is not a sexual being; he has shelved personal cares and embraced a higher mission. And if he indulges in sex, it marks his downfall, as it did, so legend tells us, with Merlin, the tradition’s first wizard, who is seduced by one of the Lady of the Lake’s minions. Tolkien’s wizards — both good and evil — are so focused on their cosmic tasks that sexuality seems a petty matter. Gandalf eventually transcends the physical realm altogether.

Ms. Rowling quite consciously makes Dumbledore a flawed, more human wizard than these models, but now goes too far. There is something alien about the idea of a mature Dumbledore being called gay or, for that matter, being in love at all. He may have his earthly difficulties and desires, but in most ways he remains the genre wizard, superior to the world around him.

There is really a puckish impulse at work in Ms. Rowling’s declaration, a provocation evident in the books themselves. She sets the epic in a British school long associated with landed privilege and wealth. But throughout she undercuts the claims of that old world. Those who believe in the importance of ancestry and inherited powers turn out to be easily corruptible and morally blind — tools for Voldemort.

Her heroes are the hybrids, the misfits, those of mixed blood, all bearing scars of loss and love: the half-giant Hagrid, the mudblood Hermione (whose parents were not wizards), the poverty-stricken Ron, the orphaned Harry. Perhaps speaking of Dumbledore as gay was just a matter of creating another diverse rebel against orthodoxy.

This is the formula for much popular fiction, but Ms. Rowling refuses to be content with simply rejecting the old order and championing a morally vague multiculturalism. The pure-bloods here are blinded by their pride, but Harry and his friends see something more profound, a threat that goes beyond self-interest and identity. This is why Dumbledore’s supposed gayness is ultimately as unimportant as Ron’s shabby clothes. These wounded outsiders recognize the nature of evil, and finally that is what matters.

I liked those thoughts – yeah, salute to diversity in the world and all that; but, the bottomline was how the actions meant something – that good won over evil – in the world of HP. The adults’ sexuality (while all very nice, I’m sure) just wasn’t that point. (I’m beating the dead horse now). I was more distressed over what Dumbledore did or didn’t tell Harry in Books 6 and 7 than to worry about… umm, other aspects of his life.

I mean, really, when you have a Columbia Law prof comparing Rowling’s authorial intent (which then doesn’t get explicitly drawn in her texts) to, say, Constitutional law (where the debate on Framers’ intent vs. what-does-the-text say is an endless debate) – well, I end up realizing how writing is way harder than people may imagine. As Prof. Dorf notes on his Findlaw column:

If the film version of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince makes Dumbledore’s sexual orientation explicit, then that will settle the matter, at least so far as the fictional cinematic version of Dumbledore is concerned. But given that the Potter books, now complete, make no mention of Dumbledore’s sexuality, Rowling would not appear to have any authority to declare the print version of Dumbledore gay, straight or bi. Her views on such matters are naturally of interest to fans of her books, but the work must stand on its own.

These principles may seem obvious enough when considering the relation of a fiction writer’s intentions to her text, but they are highly contentious when it comes to legal documents. In the balance of this column, I will explain why James Madison is no more of an authority on the meaning of the U.S. Constitution, than J.K. Rowling is on Dumbledore’s sexual orientation. [….]

NY Times’ book critic Michiko Kakutani reviews a book by Alan Bennett, who posits what would happen if Queen Elizabeth II were to become a big reader late in life. I just thought this sounded intriguing.

The passing of Robert Goulet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *