Saturday, August 23, 2008

Dumbledore is Not Gay

I know it's been almost a year since J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay, but that's okay--because this post isn't really about Dumbledore, or even Rowling. Not specifically. It's about the nature of literary characters.

Dumbledore, of course, is a creature of fiction. J.K. Rowling made him up. He exists only in the pages of her novels. While many literary characters touch our hearts and minds and thus weave their way into our cultural consciousness, there is one thing they cannot do: grow outside the pages of the novels in which they are born, live, and die. As a character, he is fully formed within those pages or...he remains incomplete.

I couldn't care less what Dumbledore's sexual history is like, except for one thing: he doesn't have one. At least, not one we know anything about. And Rowling's "revelation" doesn't change that. It's a cheat. The shot at developing a character comes WHILE YOU'RE WRITING THE BOOKS, and you either take it or you don't. But if you don't, you can't make things up later.

Of course, no character's entire history can be revealed, detail by detail, in the course of a single novel--or even in a series. But the pieces that define the character are revealed through his actions, his interactions, his reactions, his backstory, the things other characters say about him. Sometimes that information is subtle and incomplete, and when a "revelation" like Rowling's makes the rounds, we readers say, "Ah, yes...THAT explains why in book three...." or "So THAT was the big secret in his past that he kept alluding to." Even those seem a little cheap to me, a kind of literary easy way out. After all, it's much simpler to announce a new detail about a character in an interview than it is to weave that characteristic or piece of history subtly into the story itself.

But even that didn't happen with Dumbledore. The announcement was "bombshell". Why? In part, perhaps, because some groups had a moral opposition to the idea of a prominent children's character being "outed", but it was more than that--it was because no one had ever suspected. I don't doubt J.K. Rowling's contention that she always thought of Dumbledore as gay, but she didn't convey that notion to her readers. Dumbledore is a man without sexual identity. Kind of rough on the guy, perhaps, but that's the way he was made. And coming back later with an "oh, and by the way..." doesn't change that.

6 comments:

Danny Lowe said...

Very good point. It wasn't very smart of her to reveal that anyways (unless she was targeting a specific audience). She blew her whole paycheck the day she cashed it. Imagine how much more money a spin-off would have made her in a gay witch tale. Oh well, its hers to blow.

soonergirl said...

I agree completely. Sounds more like a publicity stunt to me. Great blog!

Jennifer said...

Your post give me a great deal to consider as a person moving into fiction writing.
In one sense, I think Rowling portrayed Dumbledore as most children think of their teachers as asexual being who lack lives beyond the classroom.
Still, I take your broader point about character development.

YogaforCynics said...

I'm with you on this--even though it's interesting to hear her say that she always thought of him as gay, in saying he is gay, he's referring to a world that doesn't exist. I would have thought it was perfectly cool if she'd "outed" him in one of the books, though that of course would cause a storm of controversy and lead a lot of parents not to let their kids read them. As it is, she got a bit more publicity, as if she needed it, without taking such a risk....

Anonymous said...

I couldn't disagree with you more.

Wasn't the point of the whole series that if Dumbledore had taken action when he should have, the whole Death eater disaster could have been avoided? And the reason he failed to act was because of his love for another person. Yes, that person happened to be male. That's reason enough for Rowling to call Dumbledore "gay."

RockStories said...

Anonymous, what makes you think that his reason was "love for another person"? And if it was love, what makes you think it was romantic love? Aside from Rowling's comments outside the book, I mean. Did you derive the idea that Dumbledore was gay from his actions in the book?