Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Sunday, October 21, 2007

Non-Comic, but Everyone's Talking About It...

Okay, as a preface, I have to admit that I (GASP) haven't read the Harry Potter books past the first one. I thought it was cute, but not to my taste. But you'd have to be living under a rock not to hear the latest news.

So Ms. Rowling has said that she considers Dumbledore to have been gay. Which is cool, really, since it's so rare to see gay characters outside of a certain prescribed role. And it means a lot that a positive male role model is considered to be gay.

But it seems to me, it'd have been better to have established that in the books, ya know?

Okay, I've heard that the last book has a lot of subtext, like I said, I haven't read it myself, so to be fair it could be the most blatant scenes this side of "you've never flown with me". And by many accounts Harry's not the brightest bulb and probably wouldn't have noticed...

But still, subtext isn't text. And there are ways to very clearly establish a character's homosexuality while still retaining a young adult rating.

And if the excuse is that since Harry would never consider Dumbledore as a sexual being to begin with, and thus, it would never have occurred to him that his mentor might be gay...

Well then, is there really a triumph in asserting that THAT character gay? When for all intents and purposes he's functionally sexless?

It's true that establishing the character as gay officially in the books might have hurt sales, even aside from all the crackpots who banned it because of the "witchcraft", but you know what? That's what makes the decision courageous.

Waiting until after all seven books are published and having been sold for all those millions of dollars, then saying as a veritable afterthought "Well, I always thought he was gay." That means nothing. She doesn't lose anything from this action. Nothing is ultimately gained. Maybe a few people will reread with that in mind and it will affect them. Maybe some people will throw out their books, but it doesn't really matter. They've already been bought. And sooner or later, her assertion will be forgotten in all the other multitudes of interview material she's given.

What would have been admirable is to have it confirmed in the books. To risk sales and boycotts and banning in order to give her audience a positive portrayal of a man who is a wise and vital mentor figure, and incredibly powerful personality, and happens to be homosexual. I bet it would have meant a LOT to a lot of readers and even if a lot of folks did freak out and ban it, maybe she'd have been able to reach some people.

And hell, you can't tell me that it would have cost her sales that much to slide a direct confirmation into the seventh book. Not with everyone camped outside at the bookstore the way they were. They'd have to BUY the book to freak out at it.

I'm not writing this to try to attack Ms. Rowling. Of course she should write the story she wanted to write and she has every right to see her characters in whatever way she wants, and to choose what traits end up showcased in the stories themselves.

But I don't think she deserves kudos or cheering for this one.

(Edited to add, Chris Sims points out that Rowling IS writing the Encyclopedia for the series. If Dumbledore's sexuality ends up in an entry, THAT would impress me and I would hence rescind many of the criticisms in this post. But not until then. :-))


  • At October 21, 2007 10:12 AM, Anonymous Andy said…

    I love JK for doing this - she confirms the sexuality of one of the most important persons in Harry's life after the books were done. Dumbledore's sexuality didn't define him as a person. He was one of the most powerful wizards ever, certainly the best headmaster of Hogwarts, and his sexuality was not a preface to any of his accomplishments. He wasn’t the best gay headmaster of Hogwarts – just the best. I never understood the importance of having a gay character reveal him or herself to the reader – why is there such importance placed on our sexuality? It is just an aspect, a small aspect, of our lives.

  • At October 21, 2007 10:19 AM, Blogger Ununnilium said…

    But, the thing is... would it have made the books any better if she had shoved in "Oh, and he was gay" at some point? I don't think so.

    There was no good place to put it in the story. The relationship that she's talking about, first of all, happened back in the 1930s or 40s, and second of all, happened with someone who's the Wizard equivalent of Hitler. I doubt he would have ever told anyone, even Harry. (After all, we know how good Dumbledore was at keeping secrets from the people he loved.) Thus, there's no good in-character source to learn it from. And, thus, any in-story revelation of it would have inevitably felt forced. This, IMHO, was the better way of doing it.

  • At October 21, 2007 11:14 AM, Blogger C. E. Grayson said…

    I think, actually, it was clear that there WAS a relationship between these two characetrs, and that the only thing lacking was that YES, HE WAS IN LOVE WITH HIM! statement that would really have been forced. Harry wouldn't have really noticed, and Dumbledore would never have come out and said it because of who the other man was. It was his greatest regret.

    But if you were open to the idea and all, and NOT just if you were explicitely looking for it, it was right there on the page.

  • At October 21, 2007 11:44 AM, Blogger bellatrys said…

    Not only that, but the character who most seemed like an analogy for prejudice against GLBT teachers, from his introduction, and who WAS probably the most popular slash choice, she went out of her way to make Not Gay, Dammit! in one of the most-forced-out-of-the-blue romances EVAR. Which did feel a whole lot like she was doing it to "get" the R/S shippers, when it happened.

    So no, not particularly courageous.

  • At October 21, 2007 12:09 PM, Blogger Zaratustra said…

    What does she know? She only wrote the books.

  • At October 21, 2007 12:19 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    Andy, Unnunnilium and C.E.:

    :-) I'm glad it worked better for you than it did for me.

    I do however think that "would it really have been better?" or "if you were open to the idea and all..." are exactly the reasons I don't think she was courageous for making the choice.

    Like I said, she might have been as obvious as the sun coming up and I'd feel the same way. As long as there's still that level of deniability (and we have to consider that there were people who didn't think Apollo and Midnighter were gay until it was outright stated), I don't think it was a courageous choice.

    It probably is better this way from a story sense. That's fine, it's a narrative choice she made. But that does not mean an out of book revelation is something to be applauded in my opinion. To me, it's more trying to have one's cake and eat it too.


    I wouldn't know about that part, as I said, I didn't get that far in the books. It certainly sounds frustrating.


    Yes, she did. Which is why I'm unimpressed. If she meant it as something to be worthy of accolades (and to be fair, I don't get the sense that SHE was looking for accolades in revealing her opinion) she could have written it IN the books.

    This is essentially like the reams and reams of supplimental material Tolkein made for Lord of the Rings. Only the most diehard fans care enough to even notice, and most of the casual fans of the trilogy probably don't care.

    And unlike Rowling, Tolkein's supplemental assertions were actually published. Not a side quote in an interview whose memorability past our current generation is debatable.

    (Essentially as meaningful as this revelation might be to certain of us, if she had actually stated it outright in the books, it would have been that much more meaningful to our subsequent generations. What are THEY going to care about some interview quote that ultimately they're going to doubt even existed.)

  • At October 21, 2007 12:47 PM, Blogger Chris Sims said…

    Well, to be fair, she's writing that Harry Potter Encyclopedia thing now, and it might well be included more explicitly there, thus becoming part of the official Harry Potter canon.

    ...And damn you for making me use the word "canon."

  • At October 21, 2007 12:48 PM, Blogger kalinara said…


    Okay, I admit it, if she puts it in the encyclopedia? THEN I'll be impressed. :-)

    Not before though. :-)

  • At October 21, 2007 2:19 PM, Anonymous Andy said…

    Hi Kalinara - love your blog.
    I do agree that it would have been more impactful if she had included it in the book, but remember that Dumbledore is Harry's teacher - would it have been appropriate for him to mention it, even in passing, to his student? I think it is courageous for her to even mention it at all - she could be severely hurting her future royalties. I'm sure "those who are they" have their collective panties in a bunch and can't wait to get on the cable TV shows and decry this literary abomination. I still think that Dumbledore’s sexuality didn’t and shouldn’t define him as a character – that would do a disservice to his existence.

  • At October 21, 2007 2:49 PM, Blogger Flidget said…

    I agree with you on a fundamental level and, when it comes to pretty much any other series, this would have been a pretty big sticking point for me.

    That said, HP is such a huge cultural phenomena that I'm still going to count her informal announcement as a victory. She could have done it much better but she's still made me happy.

  • At October 21, 2007 4:05 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    Here's the thing: if it's not in the text, it didn't happen. No, subtext doesn't count. Subtext, by it's very nature, is subjective. That's where possibilities are, not facts.

    This is something that has pissed me off about Rowling for ages: she'll throw things out in interviews that never make it into the books. So Dumbledore's gay. Lovely! And I'm glad she didn't beat us over the head with it in the books.

    But she should have mentioned it in the books.

    Everything you want someone to know about your world, your characters, and whatnot you should put in the text. It's not canon unless it's in the damn text.

    I should be able to get all the facts of a given universe from the stories about it. I should not have to also have a collection of interviews or blog posts or whatever on hand to get the whole picture.

    Kudos to Rowling for deciding Dumbledore's gay, but if any fans continue to read him as straight (or whatever) when reading the books, they're not wrong.

    Sorry. I'm a textual purist; the text, and only the text, rules. There are ways to state these little details in text that don't break perspective or distract from plot. God knows Rowling threw in enough other random details; she could have done this easily, especially with all Harry was learning about Dumbledore in book 7.

    Now if Rowling actually puts this in her encyclopedia or whatever, my complaints will be withdrawn. But the series as it stands now? Dumbledore may or may not be gay; it's up to the reader until Rowling adds a new text to the canon with the answer.

    Frankly, I don't understand the "whatever the author says goes" mentality of some fans.

  • At October 21, 2007 4:12 PM, Blogger Ununnilium said…

    "Sorry. I'm a textual purist; the text, and only the text, rules."

    "Frankly, I don't understand the "whatever the author says goes" mentality of some fans."

    ...well, okay, but not everyone *is* a textual purist. It's fiction anyway; if you want to incorporate information from another source, go ahead.

    "if any fans continue to read him as straight (or whatever) when reading the books, they're not wrong."

    Indeed. And if fans read him as gay when reading the books, they're not wrong either.

    Also, Kalinara: I'm not sure what your point is with this whole thing, then. `.`

  • At October 21, 2007 4:32 PM, Blogger kalinara said…

    My point is to state my own opinion. I'm unimpressed by the declaration that Dumbledore is gay. I don't think it's any particular triumph and it's not particularly courageous either.

    And I'm with Alexandra. The text is the text. While you can choose to incorporate things from interviews and other material, unless it's been published in the books it's pretty meaningless. It doesn't negate anyone else's reading of Dumbledore as straight and given that the entire series is already out and sold and she's made her fortune off of it, I don't agree with folks who tout it as a major triumph.

    I'm not saying you can't disagree with me. I'm saying *I* am unimpressed.

  • At October 21, 2007 4:55 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    ununnilium (did I spell that right?) -

    ...well, okay, but not everyone *is* a textual purist. It's fiction anyway; if you want to incorporate information from another source, go ahead. [...]

    Indeed. And if fans read him as gay when reading the books, they're not wrong either.

    Oh, absolutely. As long as said fans realize that they're not working from canon.

    My problem is really with a certain subset of fans that believes that anything an author says, writes on a napkin, or sneezes out in her sleep is absolutely canon and should be given the same weight as text.

    To use a non-HP example, I get really pissed off at the Tolkien-fanatics who come down like a ton of bricks on fans who've not taken into account some detail from some letter he wrote to someone sometime before he died. (Tolkien canon's a gray area because of all the notes and stuff published by his son after he died - and he contradicted himself anyway.)

    Nothing wrong with reading a story as you want. There is something wrong with the people who insist on including every utterance in story canon.

    FWIW, I always thought Dumbledore was queer, if not gay. And it's certainly a plausible reading of the text. But that's my point - it's a reading, not canon.

    Not to make this any longer than it is (I have post-a-lot syndrome today): there's a difference between personal canon and common canon. You can include whatever you want in your personal canon (i.e., the stuff that you absolutely take as fact for a given fictional world). Common canon can only contain the published texts, or it rather loses its meaning.

  • At October 21, 2007 5:45 PM, Blogger Ununnilium said…

    Well, okay. Maybe you're just responding to stuff I haven't seen.

    "There's a difference between personal canon and common canon. You can include whatever you want in your personal canon (i.e., the stuff that you absolutely take as fact for a given fictional world). Common canon can only contain the published texts, or it rather loses its meaning."

    IMHO, it doesn't really have a such a meaning; common canon is just... well, the most common personal canon. Really, nobody should be coming down on anybody for what they do or do not decide "counts" in their entertainment.

  • At October 21, 2007 6:03 PM, Blogger Sheana said…

    Seeing as how sexuality wasn't in the books much at all, and most everything except one or two kisses happened off-screen, it would've been very out of place. Lots of explaining and shoe-horning in of stuff would've had to happen, and it just wouldn't have fit in well.

    JKR just didn't consider it a huge issue. She had it in mind when writing him, but didn't feel the need to put it in and be "look he's gay aren't I modern and open-minded?" obvious. It wasn't a big deal to her, and she only revealed it because she was asked directly.

    Heck, when she looked at the script for the sixth movie a little ways back, she had them take out a line where Albus reminesced about a girl and noted to the movie crew that he was gay. She was subtle about how she approached it. And I'll take subtlety over making a big fuss any day of the week.

  • At October 21, 2007 7:09 PM, Blogger Alexandra said…

    Really, nobody should be coming down on anybody for what they do or do not decide "counts" in their entertainment.

    Exactly. :D

    I'm a bit sensitive on this issue, having seen many fans (primarily in the Tolkien and HP fandoms, and, er, among Bible scholars) who stick just to published stories getting slammed repeatedly and extremely harshly by those fans who dig out every single stray comment the authors made.

    Common canon to me is the basics. What is the foundation of this world? What do I need to read to get, say, the Harry Potter experience?

    All I'm saying is that there is a certain subset of fans who will say "all 7 books, the little other books Rowling published, and all her interviews", and that seems excessive, obsessive, and near-impossible to me.

    I am not saying that you [general "you"] cannot yourself take into account those interviews or whatnot, just that it is unfair to insist that a line in an interview is equal to a line in the published text.

    And that's what irritates me about Rowling's interview tidbits, including this one. Someone coming into the HPverse, relying solely on the texts, would have no idea about those tidbits. It just wouldn't be part of the 'verse to them. So it seems a little cheap to me that Rowling just throws this out there. There's no weight to it. It's not connected to the 'verse like the books are.

    And on the one hand, that's kinda good, because it means that Dumbledore's sexuality wasn't something she felt needed to be codified into the canon. On the other hand, an undeclared sexual orientation is by default straight, just like an undescribed skin tone is by default white, and if it's not declared in the text, it's not declared.

    I am, I fear, victim of too many literary-criticism classes.

    It boils down to this: you can take Rowling's interview quotes as canon, or some of them, or whatever, but you cannot expect others to. You can only expect others to take the printed text as canon; everything else is added at personal discretion.

    I apologize if I've come across as harsh; I'm just very ... direct. And I'm having a bad brain day.

  • At October 21, 2007 8:54 PM, Blogger Mike said…

    "No good book has ever been written that has in it symbols arrived at beforehand and stuck in. ... I tried to make a real old man, a real boy, a real sea and a real fish and real sharks. But if I made them good and true enough they would mean many things. "

  • At October 22, 2007 6:08 AM, Blogger Lexi D said…

    Frankly, this whole issue of "interview-canon" will be meaningless once the Encyclopedia is out. For the past 3 months JKR had been revealing stuff from her notes that will make up the Encyclopedia, and this is no different. And 100 years from now, people will probably giggle if you were to tell them that HP fans argued for a couple of years before it was published how "canon" it was. I mean, she first revealed Lily's maiden name in an interview, and then it came up in OotP. I adhere to "interview-canon" because more often than not it becomes "text-canon"

  • At October 22, 2007 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    What's to say she wasn't joking?
    Just to create attention for the encyclopedia. And attention she certainly got.


  • At October 22, 2007 9:46 AM, Anonymous green with wheelpower said…

    I State this as a proffessional Teacher & Advocate:

    1 Save for sex education specialists, at no time is it apropriate for us to discuss sexuallity w/ or even in the presence of our students. Such is justification for immediate dismissal.

    2. She's stated many times she doesn't like to preach.

    3. I aplaud her for making this statement and remind every one that she has and hopefully for a long time further advocated universal understanding/acceptance IRL.

    4. Those people who would ban the books for this have already done so for other, equally pathetic reasons.


  • At October 22, 2007 11:24 AM, Blogger bellatrys said…

    kalinara, I found the last one a huge let-down, but I think the telling thing about the Tonks/Lupin romance was that *everyone* took it as coming out of left field, not one of the *characters* had a clue, neither of the two's closest friends and associates had any idea that they were (supposedly) nurturing this secret forbidden passion for each other. It was supposed to be capital-T Tragic but it ended up being more Marx Bros, imo.

    (And then they fight all the time (lending support to the "beard!" theorizers) and Tonks, the Punk Chick With Attitude, disappears entirely from the story to Have A Baby, until the end, and it's all bad.)

    As far as it being canon, if she puts it into print, then it is, but at this point it's retcon - and given the amount of heteronormative activity (Snog! Snog! Snog! Snog! sung to the tune of the Spam song) throughout the series, and the Huge Importance of Past Romance & Relationships in Harry's life (Snape x Lily, anyone? Or the House Black - House Malfoy connections?) anyone saying it wasn't relevant to the story that Albus was mixed up romantically with a previous Dark Lord Wannabe is just being wishful.

    There was plenty of good opportunity to include it, earlier, if it wasn't a retcon. Even having someone remark early on that it was odd that he'd never married, and never been involved romantically with any woman, ever, no matter how many women wanted him, would have been more than enough hinting - look how little it takes to get 'shippers going.

  • At October 22, 2007 1:33 PM, Anonymous Chad said…

    You have a good point, although I think it's also important to point out that, in the last book, a major subplot was that the media was beginning to defame Dumbledore and that one writer was suggesting that Dumbledore's relationship with Harry had a sexual element. It was a scathing, if still somewhat muted, critique of how the media treats famous gay people, and to me incorporating that in the book was just as gutsy as truly outing Dumbledore.

  • At October 22, 2007 4:46 PM, Blogger Thomwade said…

    Within the books, I can't see a moment where it would have made sense, really. Dumbledore is old enough that I would think he might have old fashioned ideas about sexuality (such as, "that is not something to be discussed with my students"). The Harry Potter world is a reflection of ours, and the wizards had many a prejudice, the idea that being gay would have been frowned upon even in the wizard world does not seem far fetched. Within the story, him not telling anyone makes a fair amount of sense.

    On the other side, it seemed odd to me to make the stand at a point where you know the protest is going to be far less than when it would have been a few months ago. ut then, nobody apparently asked then. Somebody asked now, and this would not have been stated without someone asking her (it is not as if she issued a press release or had a press conference for the purpose of saying "OH, I forget to say, Dumbledore is gay!").

  • At October 22, 2007 6:20 PM, Blogger Ferrous Buller said…

    I look forward to the day when the revelation that a character is gay is no longer the source of so much discussion. In fact, I would even go so far as to say it's probably a good thing Rowling didn't bring it up before now, because then that would've been the only thing anyone ever talked about when it came to Dumbledore.

  • At October 22, 2007 8:11 PM, Anonymous cameron said…

    I had a rant about it on my blog.

    For me it's a choice issue. How you address sexuality - any sexuality - is a sensitive issue for parents. Let me know he's gay upfront so I can deal with it when I'm reading the book to my kids (or choose not buy the book).

    To retrospectively make the declaration seems like a direspectful act from an author who's collected her cash and doesn't care.

  • At October 22, 2007 9:18 PM, Blogger Zadie said…

    You know, most people usually know me for a while before they learn that I'm gay. It's not because I'm ashamed or hiding, it's just that it's NOT the most important thing about me. I don't think it's the most important thing about Dumbledore either. It's interesting but wasn't really relevant in terms of the story... and that's why I think that Rowling never mentioned it -- because it was just small part of who the character is.

    The question now is will knowing he is gay change how YOU think about him? And, if so, WHY? And doesn't that say more about you than it does about about Rowling?

  • At October 23, 2007 7:06 AM, Blogger Mr. Bretterson said…

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  • At October 23, 2007 7:09 AM, Blogger Mr. Bretterson said…

    "The question now is will knowing he is gay change how YOU think about him? And, if so, WHY? And doesn't that say more about you than it does about about Rowling?"

    Um, sexual identity is part of anyone's identity, that's why they put the word "identity" in the term.

    Would you feel the same if now she said Harry was a coprophiliac?

    The reason it seems arbitrary and inconsequential, regardless of the weight such things are given in society, is that she didn't reveal it in the story itself...

  • At October 23, 2007 8:42 AM, Blogger Zadie said…

    Sexual identity is what sexual characteristics a person displays, ie male/female. Sexual orientation is about who one is attracted to. However, yes, I agree that orientation is part of an individual's overall identity but it's only one aspect of that identity.

    My point was: does knowing Dumbledore is gay change the perception of him as a great headmaster? Does it invalidate or change everything else we know about him?

    As for the reason of the reveal, of course it was arbitrary. Someone asked her a question about Dumbledore's romantic life (which was never discussed in the books, of course) and JK Rowling responded with what she thought. It was just a random discussion. If she said Dumbledore had loved a woman who had died tragically, it would have been no less arbitrary.

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