So, Albus Dumbledore is gay. My initial reaction was, so what? It really doesn’t make a difference to me, but the more I thought about it, the more disturbed I’ve become to the point that it now bothers me immensely. You see, I don’t care about the sexual preference of the character, but I am upset that the author, Jo Rowling, didn’t have the courage to out him in the pages of her books.
This past weekend, in response to a question about Dumbledore’s love life, Rowling was quoted as saying that she’s always seen Dumbledore as being gay. A liberal New York audience, after a moment of shocked silence, erupted into applause. A conservative religious right has been trying to pick its panties out of it’s collective ass ever since.
Simply put, this revelation makes a difference to a lot of people. It makes a difference to people who revel in the fact that a character that they consider to be one of the all time great sages, esteemed with the likes of Yoda and Gandalf turns out to be gay. It makes a difference to those who believe that children should not be exposed to homosexuality, that it is a sin and evil by nature.
It makes a difference.
It is my contention that revealing traits of a character which have such far reaching effects outside of the actual pages of the book themselves is irresponsible and amateurish.
I’ll stop here for a moment to point out that I enjoyed the entire series of Harry Potter books. I’ve read them each at least twice a piece. I admire Rowling as a storyteller. While she has her critics in the world of literary elitist and has endured much snobbish ridicule over her works, I think that her talent for storytelling is undeniable. I am a fan.
However, I’m compelled to side with those who say Rowling is amateurish on this issue. A good author says all he or she has to say in the pages of his or her work. What is left to the imagination should stay there—in the reader’s imagination. Property of the reader to play with in the realm of imagination for all of time. To continually add on to the characters, to give them lives and traits which were not introduced in the pages themselves, is a shame. It rings false.
Had Dumbledore’s sexuality been addressed in the books themselves, then it is part of the lore and the character. The reader is free to make any judgments they may wish to make. Whether those judgments are right or wrong, at least the author has the courage to stand up to them. By announcing to the world only now, after her series is done, that one of her central characters is gay, she fails her audience, her character and herself as a writer.
Rowlingites and Potterphiles seem to be unanimously in support of Jo Rowling’s decision. I’ve read several accounts praising her for portraying Dumbledore as she would any other character and never mentioning he was gay until after the series had concluded, as some sort of lesson to the intolerant that we are all the same. I’m afraid there was no such depth in this outing though. There wasn’t a lesson here about how we’re all the same, because we’re simply not. Everyone is different. Each of us have things about us that make us different from the next person. It is the collection of these things that make us who we are and it is the responsibility of the author to draw for her readership, the character as cleanly unblurred as possible.
It’s even more disturbing that Book Seven was in many ways, a Dumbledore expose’. It is in this book, after his death in the previous book that we really get a feel for man behind the curtain. This book is Dumbledore revealed. In previous books, he had always been something of an enigma. Not so in the series finale. Dumbledore is revealed to us. How can it be inconsequential and irrelevant that a man who preaches about the power and magic of love, chooses to keep his own love secret?
Anyone who’s ever taken any kind of creative writing class can tell you that writing is about making decisions. Being ambiguous only gets you so far, and is a special effect in the world of literature. A writer must make decisions. Rowling chose to not decide until the words had been printed, the money was in the bank and the praises had been spoken. She chose to alter what she wrote by what she said, thus depriving people of the experience of which they thought they had been a part.
Changing a character after a book has been written, changes the perspective of that character and his/her place in the world around them. To change things now, changes everything. If she’d had the courage to out this character’s sexuality, along with all of the other discoveries we made about him in Book Seven, I would applaud her. I am not ignorant. Dumbledore’s sexuality does not threaten me. An author, who can’t seem to let go, who can’t stop telling the story, who refuses to allow the readers to play in their own imaginations with the words she’s written, does bother me though.
I’m less a fan today than I was a week ago. Not because a beloved character is gay, but because a beloved author refuses to let go.