Yet Another Rowling Post
November 1, 2007

So, back on the 22nd of October I listed a few things that I intended to blog about after I recovered from the exhausting trip to Texas. I think I covered most of them, but was reminded that I had not yet discussed J. K. Rowling's announcement that Dumbledore was gay.

First, let me say that this is not going to be some emotional, reactionary piece. In fact, whilst it uses Rowling as an example, it's a post about children's literature ... how we treat kids ... and how we treat people who are different.

The Discussions:
Timing of the announcement.
The series is over. Why announce now that Dumbledore is gay?

The "controversy" of having a gay character in a kids' series. Is Rowling making it up now for attention now that the series is over? Were there signs? Why bring sex into a children's series?

First, why announce it now? Well I would think that the fact that the series is over and done with is certainly a major factor. The mad rush for the Potter books is somewhat over. It is, in one sense, relatively "safe" to make such declarations now. Had this been announced with, say book 3, there would have been much uproar which over-shadowed the excellent story telling and character development. Rowling is a business woman and has been quite canny about protecting her story and characters. Why open herself up to more criticism for something which was, ultimately, a behind-the-scenes bit of plot and characterization?
Dumbledore's love life, ultimately, is a non-issue in the series ... with the exception of the fact that there was a history/connection between Albus and Grindelwald. In other words, it didn't matter to the core of the series what ANY of the teachers' sexuality was. It is, after all, a children's series and about the children who grow up during the series.

Which leads me to two: why include this at all, were there clues, why bring sex into a children's series?

Rowling NEVER brought sex into the series.
Let's just get that out of the way. To those reactionaries who claim that to announce Dumbledore is gay is to bring SEX into a child's series, I say, bullshit. I know there are those who claim that if a person says "I'm gay" or they say "That person is gay," that they have brought sex ... or "who they sleep with" ... into the public arena. HomoSEXuality. Why broadcast it for all to know?

What Rowling did was simply to honestly answer a child's question: Did Dumbledore every find his true love? The adult answer is: not really. He fell completely enarmoured of the young Grindelwald. No one who has read the books would deny that there was a definite connection between the two young men.

From an adult perspective of the text, I think it's easy to see what happened. They fell madly in love. Infatuated with each other. Perhaps over their intellectual ideas as Aberforth certainly believed. But it became clear that through the course of their interactions, a very deep connection was made. One in which Albus was not thinking normally. He was blinded. When his eyes cleared and he could see ... well, obviously his first "big" love had not gone well.

Dumbledore states that he knew he should never have power. That he became too easily engulfed in power and therefore he could not be trusted with it. When I first read the Deadly Hallows book, I took this at face value. When Rowling said, Dumbledore is gay ... it fell into place. He knew he could not be trusted to have power, true. But he also feared something else. He feared that his falling in love caused him to be too easily influenced to do things he shouldn't. That to keep and enjoy that love, he would lose a piece of himself. Despite his telling Harry over and over and over that love was the answer, Albus always meant philia, the love between friends, rather than a romantic eros love. (I don't think he discouraged eros, just that he focused on philia or agape.) One of the great tensions and complexities of the books, and probably one of the reasons that the child asked about Albus finding his one true love: despite his great love for all people ... he held himself aloof from a great love of one partner.

At least, that's my interpretation of the sum of his life that we get in the books.

Rowling's books do not say that Albus and Grindelwald dated. What possible plot point could that really convey in a series whose books were often called "too long" by adults? We did not hear about Minerva McGonagall's dating life. Nor Professor Sprout's.

We knew that the Weasleys were married. And now I have a question for those people who think that saying "I'm gay" is declaring "who you have sex with." Isn't being married the same announcement? An even more specific declaration? Isn't announcing "I'm not gay" the same thing?

At any rate we see only the burgeoning relationships of the children discussed. And it's all age appropriate stuff. Harry and Ron being confused and scared. The girls' being disgusted with the boys awkward attempts and their painful misunderstandings. Hermione straining to be noticed.

And we see just one adult relationship begin and grow ... and end. We see how isolated and how much of an outcast Lupin is. We see that Tonks is really something of the same. She's young, she has unusual talents, she's clumsy. So even though she is more a part of society than Lupin the Outcast can be, she is still, like many of Rowling's characters, an outsider.

Dumbledore is a power unto himself in the series. He is apart from much of the society, but it is apparently because he is a private man who keeps close counsel. He holds himself apart.

Lupin is an outcast because of something he cannot help. He is not "normal" according to society. He is ill. He is defective. He is Not To Be Trusted.
Lupin is an outsider, a leper, a symbol of all of those who are cast out because of their differentness. He is the AIDS patient, the cancer patient (bald and wan and fading), the racial outcast, the one below the poverty line.

And yet, Lupin and Tonks together, despite being outsider and outcast, are ultimately greater together than they are apart. They accomplish more. Their sum is greater than their parts.

Just as Hermione, Harry, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna have a sum which is greater than their parts.

And it bears repeating now: Dumbledore is a power unto himself. Why discuss his relationships? They are not a part of the plot.

Why announce that Albus Dumbledore was gay? Because Rowling does not sugar-coat the truth in her books. She came under fire when the series became increasingly dark. Despite the fact that she said repeatedly from the beginning ... this is a story of war and it will be honest. Rowling likely knew from the beginning, or at least fairly early on, about the relationship between Albus and Grindelwald. Her books are too well thought out ... too coherent ... to suddenly spring this revelation after the fact. Besides, the clues are in the final book at the very least.

A child asked, Did Dumbledore ever find his true love?
A lesser writer would have said, no, he never did. Or perhaps, yes, he did, but it went badly and so he decided to always be alone.

But Rowling has some fervent beliefs. One is that people should be accepted for who they are ... and their differences should be looked upon as good things. Neville could so easily have been dismissed as a buffoon. She didn't let that happen. Draco could have easily been dismissed as "the bad kid" ... but things got more complicated than that. She did not want one-dimensional cardboard children, which leads to her second fervent belief: children are not stupid.

Given those two beliefs, how else could she answer that question, knowing the truth of that character? It was time to acknowledge the "missing piece" of the Albus/Grindelwald subplot. And, it might also have helped to explain Aberforth's turmoil with his brother as well.

To those gay rights activists who have lost their freaking brains and have been raving that "Rowling didn't do enough" ... that "Lupin was really the gay character and she caved and made him marry a girl" ... to those people I say: STFU.

Rowling had a story to tell. An important one. There were LOTS of little side paths.

But there was no place in the storyline for which sex Dumbledore preferred. There was a place for his story with Grindelwald ... but there was no place for their bedroom life, whatever that may have been. This is a children's series. The plot does not call for saying Albus slept over on many occasions and shyly stuttered or lost his voice when around Grindelwald. Why add a subplot which serves no purpose? Rowling is not Stephen King ... and the Harry Potter books are not It. (sidenote: that's one of my favourite books of all time ... I'm not knocking it ... just acknowledging differences)

There was no place in the storyline for the bedroom life of Arthur and Molly. Or for Lupin and Tonks. The difference is that we know it did exist because there was the issue of that activity.

I am sure there are some gay rights activists who might even scream, "Rowling is homophobic" because the relationship between Albus and Grindelwald turned into this Hitler-esque nightmare of ethnic cleansing.

Again, I say pish and tosh. Being straight did not make the Dursleys good people. And, honestly, we don't know that Albus never loved again ... only that he did not seem to ever settle down with a "one great love." And that answer does not belong in a children's series, so of course, it's not in the books.

Were the plot hints there? I think they were. And I think there were all the way through the series, and as age-appropriate and plot-appropriate as they could be in the final book.

And, ultimately, what does all of this mean? That Dumbledore was gay?
Not a darn thing ... except that it furthers Rowling's agenda of tolerance and celebration of differences.

I thought about simply naming this post YARP for Rowling's honesty in answering this child's question.
To paraphrase Whitman, "I sound a mighty, barbaric YAWP"
Well, YARP is darn close, anyway.

Rowling sounded a call to children and adults alike. That good can triumph over evil; that not every "bad guy" is clear cut (look at Draco); that differences among people can lead to a stronger group; that difference is not bad; that love for each other, that listening honestly to each other are good things.

That even our heroes are flawed ... Albus, the great man that he was ... sometimes didn't listen. How often did he tell Harry all the mistakes he had made? The stupid things that he had done? That he was human and only doing the best that he could, the same as Harry. The fact that Harry is heterosexual and Albus homosexual did not matter to the series.

I applaud Rowling for her honesty in the books. For her knowing what details to put in a children's series and what was not important. For saying what needed to be said, despite knowing that she would once again rile people up.

Who cares that Dumbledore was gay? I don't. Instead, it makes me sad that he never truly found a one, great love with whom he could share his life, that he was so traumatized and even frightened with what had transpired the first time, that he could not allow himself to risk it again.

Bravo, once again, to J. K. Rowling for honesty and a storytelling skill that surpasses most adult fiction published today. For knowing what to say, how much to say ... and when to say it.

Posted by Red Monkey at November 1, 2007 1:28 AM | Storytelling: She was, of course, supposed to be sleeping. | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |


jodi said:

One: I love when you dig in and write like this..
Two: Rhi was on the other night, you im'd?
Three: My connection went whacky and I lost you the night before
Four: When you write like this, do you miss teaching?

And lastly, I couldnt agree more!

November 2, 2007 7:14 AM
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