Editor's Cut: Brokeback Hogwarts? Well, Blast My Broomstick!

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Brokeback Hogwarts? Well, Blast My Broomstick!

Post by joequinn » 10-25-2007 02:10 PM

I am currently reading --- with great delight --- accounts of the brouhaha that erupted in Carnegie Hall on the evening of Friday, 19 October 2007, when author J. K. Rowling told an audience of one thousand children that she created the character of Albus Dumbledore as a homosexual. To hear people talk, you would think that the last feeble pillars of the Western literary tradition had buckled under the strain and that culture as know it had come to an end. Actually, things are by no means as dire… :D

Let me confess at the start that, while I have read the first four Harry Potter novels and have seen all five of the Harry Potter movies, I am by no means competent to judge on certain matters, since much of the controversy stems from events and recollections in the last two novels, which have not yet been produced as movies and which I have not yet read. Therefore, I am speaking here on the basis of what I have heard, and not on the basis of what I have read, at least not to date.

The occasion for Rowling’s remarks was a reading that was held for one thousand lucky winners of a Harry Potter contest sponsored by Rowling’s American (sic) publisher, Scholastic. During a question-and-answer session after the reading, a child asked Rowling if Hogwarts headmaster Albus Dumbledore “who believed in the prevailing power of love, ever fell in love himself?” Now this question is just as illegitimate as the question in Shakespearean circles about what Hamlet was like as a student in Wittemberg. Neither Dumbledore nor Hamlet is a real person, and therefore, it is quite illegitimate --- actually quite impossible --- to speculate on the nature of either one of their lives outside of the work of literature in which he appears. All that we have is the text, and on the basis of the text Dumbledore appears as a post-sexual, benevolent old man. Rowling would have been quite smart to make that point in response to the child’s question.

Instead, Rowling stated: “I always thought of Dumbledore as gay.” The audience gasped for a moment and then applauded wildly. A pleasantly surprised author then commented: “If I’d known this would make you this happy, I would have announced it years ago.” She subsequently urged the children to “question authority” and concluded with this telling remark about her series of novels: "The Potter books in general are a prolonged argument for tolerance, a prolonged plea for an end to bigotry, and I think it's one of the reasons some people don't like the books." And the fur has been flying in the media ever since!

As I have previously mentioned, there is nothing in the Harry Potter series of books or movies that would cause a reader to believe that Albdus Dumbledore is a homosexual. On the other hand, it must be granted that there is nothing in the novels or movies that would keep the reader from believing that Dumbledore is gay. The question simply does not come up in the course of the series, and Rowling may have erred in stirring the pot on this point when it was already bubbling for a number of cultural reasons. As things stand, Rowling’s observation merely provides an insight into her intentionality as an author, just as Shakespeare’s aside that he killed off Mercutio in Act III of Romeo and Juliet lest Mecutio take over the play from its principals provides an insight into his intentionality as a playwright. Both statements are interesting pieces of information which can help us to put matters associated with the work of art into a proper setting, but they are hardly essential to know in order to follow the plot or to enjoy the piece. The intentionality of the author has to come from the text alone, and by this criterion of judgment, Dumbledore’s sexuality is irrelevant to the reader’s enjoyment of either the novels or the films.

Of course, now that Rowling has opened her mouth, Albus Dumbledore has become the poster boy of the gay liberation movement, and I have no doubt that many gays will proudly wear their “Dumbledore’s Army” t-shirts during next year’s Gay Pride celebrations. And now the homophobes will hate the Harry Potter books as intensely as the Khristian fundi freaks do. Rowling erred greatly in believing that the set of fundi freaks and the set of homophobes are one and the same, especially here in Amerika. There are many Amerikans who hate gays every bit as much as they hate institutional Christianity, and now Rowling has made an enemy of them too.

Of course, there is a chance that Rowling may have been pressed to do what she did. Last month, the sixth Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, began filming. Rowling has always had script control over the movies --- in fact, their fidelity to the novels is one reason why they are going to stand the test of time --- and I have heard that Rowling had to exercise her editiorial right in order to excise a subplot involving Dumbledore in a heterosexual flirtation. Declaring that Dumbledore is gay would be one way of keeping that script change out of the final movie. Then too, October is supposedly “National Coming-Out Month,” and Rowling may have wanted to show her obvious sympathy with the gay rights movement by outing one of her major characters at this time. I don’t know, and while I think that the controversy over the matter has been wildly overplayed --- you don’t have to accept Dumbledore’s gay nature if you don’t want to do so! --- I would have preferred that she not have answered the child’s question in the way that she did, for the future well-being of the series itself.

Now, however, J. K. Rowling is committed. She is still a relatively young woman, and there is no reason why she can’t write other novels in the future. And if she does, I hope that she writes a novel in which a major character --- perhaps even the protagonist himself or herself – is openly gay. Now that would be the clearest way in which Rowling could show where her sympathies truly lay and where she could use her enormous cultural popularity to advance the cause of gay rights. Indeed, if she had deflected that child’s question at Carnegie Hall, then her “gay novel” might have made even bigger news than it would now in the wake of her recent remarks.

Let’s see what she ends up doing… And let’s be grateful that enough people still read to enable this literary controversy to have cultural implications. It’s been a long time since a book triggered a cultural firestorm, and any publicity about a novel advances the cause of reading, so desperately needed in today’s post-literary culture.

Hmmm… I think that I’ll saddle up this evening and trot down the mountain to see whether my library has a copy of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. As you can imagine, I just can’t wait to get to the sensational parts…. :D :D :D
"Fuggedah about it, Jake --- it's Chinatown!"

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Post by Captain Fantastic » 10-25-2007 08:54 PM

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