10.23.2007

Dumbledore, we hardly--ah, never mind.

So along comes Rowling with Dumbledore—a human being, a wizard even, an indisputable hero and one of the most beloved figures in children's literature. Shouldn't I be happy to learn he's gay?

Yes, except: Why couldn't he tell us himself? The Potter books add up to more than 800,000 words before Dumbledore dies in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, and yet Rowling couldn't spare two of those words—"I'm gay"—to help define a central character's emotional identity? We can only conclude that Dumbledore saw his homosexuality as shameful and inappropriate to mention among his colleagues and students. His silence suggests a lack of personal integrity that is completely out of character.

4 comments:

  1. Hi Charles,

    Just read the article, and it's interesting, and I'm tempted to agree with it. What saves Rowling's decision, though, I think, is the content of the books themselves, albeit not necessarily in the way Rowling thinks or has presented (i.e., it's okay, she implies, because I at least hinted that Dumbledore had an unrequited love for a male wizard when he was younger). I think it's more complicated. Rowling fundamentally presents Wizard society, in the Potter books, as foolish, pronvicial, backward, petty, and ignorant. Apart from the few hero characters, the Wizarding world is an intellectual, moral, and spiritual backwater, more or less. Plus, during the seven years in which the books' events take place, the world is under constant threat from a figure considered more dangerous than Hitler by the Wizards themselves. In light of all this, I'm not sure it's surprising that Dumbledore would have suspected his backward society would have thrown him out of power if he'd come out of the closest, and as he knew his replacements would be scoundrels (and the books themselves repeatedly remind us), he opted to save humanity and keep his personal "secrets" close. All of which means that kids who learn of Dumbledore's sexuality will ask precisely the question Time does--if Dumbledore's such a great magician, why couldn't he reveal his secret? And isn't that question exactly the one we want kids asking? Sometimes it's more, not less powerful for children to confront injustice head-on than to be presented with a world that doesn't mirror their own in which "outing" oneself has absolutely no cultural or familial or social or professional consequences whatsoever. Rowling has certainly set up Wizarding society in such a way that kids may well associate its general foolishness with its foolishness over the gay issue. In fact, Rowling repeatedly gives us occasion to "root for" Dumbledore specifically in his conflicts with the powers-that-be in his culture, and to see him win these conflicts, so his failure to even address his sexuality may indeed give some hint of the depth of his culture's bigotry, while giving kids another, retrospective opportunity to "root for" Dumbledore against the powers that oppress him.

    Just my two cents.

    Best,
    Seth

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  2. P.S. I still would rather Dumbledore had been out of the closet. I just think Rowling's decision has a certain logic of its own, based on the source material, and that that logic carries with it a message all its own, that kids might also "get."

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  3. Dumbledore, rather pointedly I think, almost never said anything about his past or anyone else's. Didn't share any personal stories with Harry about Harry's parents, etc., though Harry would have eaten them up. Didn't explain why he trusted Snape or why Hagrid got the boot from Hogwarts. Unless Rowling had written him as more chatty and open on other matters, Dumbledore's coming out in the books would have been bizarre. He was a very close-lipped character, and Harry was often written as being frustrated with Dumbledore's reticence.

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  4. Your excerpt matches my feeling pretty closely. If there were courage (or even me giving a damn) involved here, Rowling would have found a way to communicate it in the books, not after the fact in a way that comes off as a calculating ploy.

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