Albus Dumbledore Gay? Jo Rowling, Chatterbox!

Jo Rowling

Jo Rowling outed Dumbledore at a reading of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at Carnegie Hall last week, or so the buzz in the newspapers and blogs have said.

I disagree completely. She did no such thing.

It seems that Ms. Rowling cannot help but talk about what has become of her characters since the Battle of Hogwarts. Her initial indiscretion came in the epilogue to the serial, at the tail of book seven, where Ms. Rawlings gives us a glimpse of the all-grown-up Hogwarts batchmates, and how they are occupying their adulthoods. Sadly, we learn that they fought the Dark Lord so that they could become suburban, Volvo-driving, soccer moms and work-a-day dads, with 2.5 children and a mortgage. And you thought the Death Eaters betrayed the wonders of their magic!

Egregious and crushing as it was, the epilogue stands. Ms. Rowling wrote it and had it published. That was her right, and hers alone. She invented these characters, and if she wanted to consign them to an adulthood of vapid, upper middle-class conformity, it is her right.

Sadly, her chatter about the characters did not end there. On her book tour, shortly after the publication of the final installment, Ms. Rawlings gave a televised interview on the Today show, in which she “disclosed” a number of details about the supposed professional, romantic, and personal lives of the former Hogwarts students and other characters.

Last week, she stirred the cauldron again, at a reading in New York’s Carnegie Hall. Among other tidbits, she dropped the bomb that Albus Dumbledore is gay, and that his love for Gelbert Grindelwald “didn’t work out.” This, naturally, got the world gossiping.

Don’t get me wrong: I think the idea of a young Dumbledore, falling in love with the power-hungry fascist Grindelwald makes for an excellent backstory. It is a classic tale of erotic seduction played out as ideological seduction. It also provides a poignant counter-arc to the character development of Severous Snape, whose love for Lilly brings out the highest and most admirable aspects of his nature, which would otherwise have remained vestigial and inchoate.

But if Dumbledore was gay, it is something we’ll never know. You see, it wasn’t in the books.

In a work of fiction, there is only the book and the reader’s imagination. What the author may imagine for her characters beyond the pages of her books has zero ontological standing; it has no truth because the “facts” of literature can exist only in the text (or in the intertexual context, perhaps).

Jo Rowling’s declamations about her characters during television appearances and book readings are meaningless. They have no more weight than the extra-textual conjectures of any of her readers. I could say that Dumbledore’s flirtation with totalitarianism was a function of his sexual desire for Grindelwald and, if anyone paid me any mind whatsoever, they would either accept my premise as interesting speculation or reject it as blathering speculation. Either way it is speculation. When Ms. Rowling says the same thing, however, it is given a degree of credibility, as if it were true, or whatever “true” means within the context of a work of fiction. Yet her musings do not rise about the level of speculation any more than mine do. They represent a disappointing misuse of her privileged status – literally, her “authority” – on the subject.

Interpretation and guesswork concerning the characters, devices, plot twists, politics, and magic of the wonderful Harry Potter series is fun; and the forums like MuggleNet which are home to these “editorials” make for hours of good reading. But they are joyful pursuits because they engage the imagination.

When Ms. Rowling speaks of these things, however, there is little fun in it because we are made to forget the uncertainty. We overlook that she is also engaged in what-iffing, and wrongly accept her pronouncement as though they were so. Sadly for her, this is a game in which her position doesn’t really allow her to participate. Sadly for us, she insists on playing anyway.

Ms. Rowling’s indiscretions are all-the-more annoying since, as the author, she is in the unique position of being able to turn blather into literary truth by sitting down at her keyboard and writing it. We would gladly welcome book eight.

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13 Responses to “Albus Dumbledore Gay? Jo Rowling, Chatterbox!”


  1. 1 smita 26 October 2007 at 3:12 pm

    You shouldn’t be so hard on her. They’re her kids, let her dress them as she likes. Besides, you can hardly blame her for missing the vantage and exhilaration of riding high on our anticipation of each next book.

    Perhaps it’s just as well there’s no book eight, though. In book seven (especially the epilogue) the magic seemed a little threadbare. And as you say, words committed to paper would have far more impact on our feelings about the Harry Potter saga than all her indiscriminate chatter.

  2. 2 Cindy 30 October 2007 at 7:50 pm

    You’re not real big on the validity of backstory and character development, are you? Good writers have believable characters. The way they make these characters so believable is by making them as real as possible through assigning attributes and history to each character. Much more, in fact, than the reader ever becomes privy to.

    Heinlein had an entire universe with specific timelines, events, characters, and relationships that he created early on in his writing career. He maintained and developed it until the last moment in his life that he laid pen to paper. Do you think his books would have become so popular if he didn’t plan as well as he did?

    To say that a character’s sexuality has no impact upon his or her “reality” is like saying that it doesn’t matter if the character is male or female, has parents or is an orphan, was raised in poverty or wealth. Thank heavens true writers consider all these aspects and more rather than fill their books with amorphous blobs for characters. Otherwise, I’m afraid your brilliant imagination would be a little taxed filling in all the gaps the writer left out.

  3. 3 mbjesq 31 October 2007 at 1:09 am

    Cindy:

    No need to be sarcastic about my imagination, which does poorly enough without being made light of. You might as well be making fun of a three-legged puppy for running slowly. It’s mean, and not as funny as it might be otherwise.

    Beyond that, I don’t really know how to engage your commentary, which talks completely past the point of my essay. But since I’m a game for anything, here goes nothing.

    I hereby swear that I am big (huge, in fact!) on back-story, character development, believability, truth, justice, and any other pillar of literature you can think of.

    I have never read Heinlein. I have no belief whatsoever about him or his books, other than the belief that his given name was Robert. I am prepared to accept your representation that whatever it was he wrote was popular, and that its success was a function of his diligence and preparation.

    We probably agree about the sexuality of a character having an impact on their reality (if I properly understand your meaning), at least for many post-adolescent characters. And I bet we could come up with a vast number of counter-examples as well.

    Ms. Rowling, like the excellent writer she is, has fully imagined her characters. For example, we know that Harry was a boy, an orphan, and raised in effective deprivation (to run down your partial list of essentials). We also know he likes girls (to hit your other biggie) — and tons of other juicy tidbits. How do we know all this? It says so in the books.

    I am all in favor of Ms. Rowling sketching out vastly more intricate character details than might be included in the books if it helps her write as brilliantly and effectively as she has in the Harry Potter series. Hell, if she needs to strap a live chicken to her chest and dance the mambo to produce her magic, I’d pay for her bus-fare to the nearest poultry farm! But this is quite a different issue than whether she should blab about her musings, purportedly giving details about her characters, outside the pages of the books.

    This is the point I address in my essay. Read it sometime.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  4. 4 Reeti 14 November 2007 at 7:38 am

    I think it’s a fantastic post….most people are of the opinion that J.K Rowling did this only to make sure that she isn’t forgotten.I agree with you when you say that a book is purely interpretative-I mean the reader is as much involved as the writer is,and each reader brings with him/her a fresh new insight and perspective.Also,whether Dumbledore is Gay or not is completely besides the point,at least as far as the seven books are concerned.But if Jo Rowling wants to make more money by writing spin-offs,this could be one way of doing it;)

    Commendable Work.

    Best,
    Reeti Roy

  5. 5 Jessica 14 November 2007 at 10:43 am

    Hi, I am Jessica. I know you all have your points. I am quite mad at Rowling because she says he is gay. I think that dumbledore is not gay. Please leave him alone. Now people won’t want to read the books. I, in fact, wish, if I was there at hogwarts that I could be in love with him. Leave him alone and protect albus from all this crap. I wish I could tell him all the crap I hear.

  6. 6 Nina 6 January 2008 at 7:59 am

    I doubt she did it to make money. We love this woman for writing these books, and yet we still have such a bad opinion of her? What does it matter if she wanted to release the fact that Dumbledore is gay before or after her series has ended? It’s like knowing all those things we learned about the other characters; juicy tidbits that give us a little more insight into the character themselves. Just because she didn’t put it in the book doesn’t make her a money-grabber.

    We didn’t learn everything about her characters from the books, so why are you all harping on that fact? JK told us a lot about her characters from interviews, meetings, tv appearances and things like that. It doesn’t matter when or where we learned about Dumbledore’s sexuality; it just matters that we know that he was gay and that in JK’s mind he was in love with Grindelwald.

  7. 7 mbjesq 6 January 2008 at 11:27 am

    Nina:

    You misread me, if you read my essay at all.

    I don’t claim Jo talks about the characters to make money. I’m sure she does it because she loves them, as we do, and can’t help herself.

    What does it matter that she does so? It matters quite a bit, as I explained.

    The latest news is that she may not have left Hogwarts behind after all. So she’ll have a chance — the unique chance that no one else has — to add whatever detail she cares to add about whomever.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  8. 8 Concerned Reader 24 February 2008 at 8:39 pm

    @All of you:
    The fact that Dumbledore is gay was plain obviously in the seventh book. I respect the image of Dumbledore, because being gay doesn’t kill anybody except the people thinking being gay is bad. Look at Sir Elton John, he IS a gay man, but still he Rocks, and Knighted by the queen. Why do you have to think about that. Joanne is just saying the truth about her Characters, and I, for one think it is true, in the books that is. Even if she makes up any of that, I’m sure it is only for readers to understand the characters better.

    Concerned Reader

    P/s :No spellcheck/grammar check was made .(I’m Vietnamese)

  9. 9 mbjesq 24 February 2008 at 10:20 pm

    Dear Concerned Reader:

    You misread my essay — or perhaps didn’t read it at all — if you understand it to suggest that it is somehow a bad thing that Albus Dumbledore was gay. My point is that it is not altogether certain that he was gay. Specifically, I argue that Jo Rowling saying so outside the pages of her books carries no weight whatsoever and, indeed, is unhelpfully misleading. Your interpretation of Professor Dumbledore’s sexual preferences, as a reader of the books, is of far more interest than Jo’s extra-texual ramblings.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

    p.s. I can’t spell for-shit either.

  10. 10 Euric 15 June 2008 at 9:15 am

    Rowling’s fantasy world exists in her mind, and includes a trumendous amount of detail that is excluded from her books. The books are simply an account of a series of events that took place in this fictional world. If Rowling says that Dumbledore was gay, then he was, whether she included that detail in her books or not. This would be true of a historical text that omited certain details…I dont see any difference here.

  11. 11 Jake 3 July 2008 at 4:27 pm

    mbjesq:

    I did read you essay, the whole thing.

    So are you saying that if I created a world with hundreds of stories, characters, maps, etc. and then published a book concerning only one of those stories, only the one story would be valid?? If I wrote this book with the entire history of many characters in mind, but only included the information relevant to the one story, the rest is invalid?
    As I see it, this information was a part of the whole story, whether it was there or not.

    Rowling created her world, isn’t it her right to have created more in her world than what exists on the pages of the book?

    Also, you criticize, albeit while accepting, Rowling’s decision to make the heroes of the story “soccer moms.” As I see it, Rowling created a world that, while fantastical, exists as a reality. The epilogue takes place nearly two decades later, do you not think it is valid that Rowling has her characters settle down and have children of their own by the time they are 37 (this number is based on the fact that Harry was 17 at the end of the Deathly Hallows)?

  12. 12 mbjesq 3 July 2008 at 7:22 pm

    Jake:

    Perhaps the problem you and many of the others who have commented here is not in your reading, but in my writing. I don’t think the point I’m making is so abstract as to be beyond understanding; and yet you folks simply don’t get it.

    But I confess: I’m finding it difficult to be too hard on myself for your failure to comprehend.

    Cindy, Nina, Concerned Reader, and Euric before you have all taken the position that, since the new interpretations have come from Ms. Rowling’s lips, they must be “true”. I don’t even know what to begin to make of the comment by the idiotic Jessica, but she would seem to fall into your camp as well. You all assert the ontological value of Ms. Rowling’s commentary; yet none of you can conjure an argument in support of your assertion. Why do her narrative amendments matter? Your articulation (and I use that term with all intended irony) is perhaps worse than your colleagues, since you can do no more than insist, repeatedly, that Ms. Rowling’s extra-textual musings are “valid”.

    Valid? What-the-fuck is that supposed to mean?

    I assume, since you’ve sought-out, read, and commented on my essay, that you are a serious reader of the Potter heptalogy. Your speculations about the backstories, character motivations, and other narrative omissions from the text of the books may well add richness to my contemplation of the story and its meaning — and I dare say that we might spend a nice evening over coffee exchanging such ideas. This is the beauty and the power of imaginative literature. In painting such a novel (and, in this case, literally magical) reality, the storyteller will necessarily engender as many questions (and theories) in the minds of her readers as it could ever be expressly depicted. These are all “valid”, to use your poorly chosen, almost meaningless term.

    My point, if it needs repeating, is that Jo Rowling’s extra-textual commentaries have no more significance than yours do. But unlike the between-the-lines interpretations that you or I might offer, hers have a kill-joy aspect, precisely because of her “authority”.

    As for the epilogue: I always find it crushing to see those who have traced innovative, inspirational, socially-valuable, adventurous arcs with their lives settle into complacent, conforming, unchallenging convention — the exceptional ceding to the ordinary. This is as distressing when it occurs in literature — and especially in extremely influential literature like the Harry Potter books — as when it afflicts my friends and acquaintances.

    Cheers,

    MBJ

  13. 13 blargh 24 August 2008 at 3:24 pm

    If it was done with any humour, ‘outing’ Dumbledore would be believable. It’s the narrow-minded seriousness with which Rowling announces fortune-cookie addendums to a character whose actions are asexual, who likes fizz-bits, is fearless, and laughs at any attempt at concealment, that makes it seem completely superfluous. Why did she bother? If Dd ‘was’ gay, wouldn’t we know already? If we don’t, why on earth not?

    Rowling’s treatment of homosexuality in the novels is non-existent. It’s a nonsequitor. Either her thoughts were vital enough to be incorporated into the work, or weren’t. Her channelling Hogwarts like a guru-understandable between publications-is just dull. About the most interesting thing that we can say about it is that Dumbledore possesses characteristics which she considers gay. So what? I know a lot of eccentric, flamboyant people who aren’t.

    Now if she’d said Dumbledore wore women’s underwear, polished silver buckles in his spare time, or discovered the animagus gene in a lab in Gothenburg, that would have been interesting.


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